aussie preview: dark horses

Can Lleyton cruise through the draw? If son Cruz had anything to say about it, he would. (photo by getty)

No, “dark horses” is not the name of Martina Hingis‘ favorite Lifetime TV movie, it’s a look at the ladies and gents who might make a kangaroo hop in your draw into a round you just didn’t expect him or her to do. But before we get to those who have been springing spryly lately, let’s take a look at who’s been have a tough time chalking up any “Ws” lately.

Feeling down Down Under

Men: Things have been rough for Fernando Verdasco as of late. The current world no. 9 made quite the impression two years ago in Melbourne when he lost an epic semi to Rafael Nadal that many called the match of the year. But after a solid 2010 US Open, in which he made highlight reels with a spectacular around-the-net post shot to  beat David Ferrer in the round of 16 (he lost in the quarters to – you guessed it – Nadal) Verdasco is a jaw-dropping 2-6, unable to win a match against a player inside the top 50. He’s 0-1 in 2011 and has a tough draw with Rainer Schuettler in round one and a potential second-match against giant-slayer Janko Tipsarevic. | On TSF: Shirtless Fernando

Honorable mention: Juan Martin del Potro. The 2009 US Open champ is ranked no. 236 and is 1-3 since his return in September.

Women: What’s the deal with Sam? For much of 2010 it seemed like Samantha Stosur – the no. 5 seed here – had the whole mid-career transition thing figured out. She made her first appearance in a Slam final (the French), battled past big guns, and held her own in the best women’s match of the US Open in the quarters against Elena Dementieva. But now, the hometown gal seems to have fallen apart. She finished 2010 3-5 and has started this year 2-2. She has the game’s biggest serve and a wicked forehand, but if she can’t corral the power, her backers might not see her get out of week two.

Honorable mention: The Russian duo of Nadia Petrova and Svetlana Kuznetsova are the latest ladies to leave us scratching our heads. Sure, there are plenty of WTA head cases out there, but these two veterans should be a bit more steady.

On the up and up (Down Under, of course)

Let’s start with the ladies: There’s Jarmila Groth, the home-country lady who has a sudden following after winning Hobart on Saturday. Her round one opponent? The “other” Belgian: Yanina Wickmayer. Wickmayer was a finalist in Auckland on week one of the year, so the 2009 US Open semifinalist is a tough cookie to take. Big hitters: Expect Petra Kvitova and Alisa Kleybanova to threaten for spots in week two. And Andrea Petkovic is starting to walk the talk of a big-time player. Petko could face a shaky Venus in the third round. Oh right, Li Na! Li Na!

Where do we even go with the men? Most namely (and recently) there’s David Ferrer, who took out David Nalbandian to win over the weekend in Auckland. Another winner over the weekend was Gilles Simon (Sydney), who is making something of a comeback after missing much of the fall to be a new dad. Stanislas Wawrinka, Kevin Anderson, Xavier Malisse and Janko Tipsarevic all had good starts to the year, as did Lleyton Hewitt who won the exhibition tourney in Kooyong. And another Serb, Victor Troiki, was who Simon conquered in Sydney for the title. The big-serving tall fella could be a test for countryman Novak Djokovic in the third round.

sunday survey: your melbourne master(s)

Feel free to comment on if you’ve ever seen Rafa’s hair more frizzy. And we want proof. | On SI: Media day

There are so many questions that could be asked. But what about the ultimate one: Who is going to win the Australian Open? We’re sure you’ve filled out your AO brackets on the Tennis Channel web site already, and have them printed out next to your remote for tonight’s opening-day action. So who’s is gunna be? Men and women, go. | Full TV sched

(photo via getty)

aussie preview: the power list

Since we’re done with our fashion coverage for the year (we only kid!), we decided to look a little bit closer at the tennis that will be played at the upcoming Australian Open, which begins Sunday night on American television.

Tomorrow: Who’s Up, Who’s Down and the Dark Horses of the AO | Follow us on Twitter @TSFtennis

The Power List – How the top men (and women) stack up

 

1. No one can come into the AO feeling better than Roger Federer. The Swiss Mister won his season-opening foray in Doha without dropping a set, beating Nicolay Davydenko in the final. Along with his win at the World Tour Finals, Federer has notched 10 straight matches. Federer played three exhibitions during the off season – all against Rafael Nadal – and looks primed to defend his title in Melbourne.

2. Serena Williams. It might be strange to see Serena’s name second on this list, but the current world no. 4 will be the biggest female force in this year’s draw – absent force, that is. The defending champion hasn’t played a match since winning Wimbledon, and the ladies look lost without her. Serena beat Justine Henin in the most memorable Slam final of last year here, and the sticky courts of Australia won’t have the same female ferocity without her.

3. Rafael Nadal is appropriately third on our list – especially seeing that he has won three straight Slams. And there are three factors that play into Rafa winning an illustrious, fourth straight Major: his health (most namely his knees); his focus against lurking dark-horses (there are plenty – check back tomorrow); and his ability to rise against the Roger challenge. He failed in two of those in losing soundly to Federer in London in November, but will look to build his confidence one match at a time at the AO.

4. There is hard to find a more like-able – or more important, match-savvy – player on the WTA right now than Kim Clijsters. Clijsters captured the US Open for the second straight year in 2010, and then went on to dominate the women’s season-ending event. Her loss in Sydney’s final on Saturday to Li Na? We say that’s a good thing: A more-focused Kimmie won’t produce any 6-0, 6-1 third-round catastrophes this year.

5. Robin Soderling and Andy Roddick and Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. OK, it’s a little unfair that we bunched these four gents together, but at this point, it’s hard not to. Soderling had a hot start to 2011, winning Brisbane and once again proving that he is no flash in the pan. As for Roddick – who lost to Sod in the Brisbane final – the American is said to be in some of the best shape of his life had seems as hungry as ever. And it’s hard to believe that Murray and Djokovic have just one Slam between the two of them. How is that possible? (See Nos. 1 & 3 for answer.) Any of these fellas could walk away from Melbourne the champ, and few would be surprised…

6. Is there more of a mystery than Justine Henin on the women’s side? She is the female version of Juan Martin del Potro, hasn’t played since Wimbledon, but might be playing second fiddle to Kim’s current reign. Justine shocked us all by making the finals last year. It was in 2010 when she toughed through a straight-set win over now-retired Elena Dementieva, and again has a Russian seed (that’d be Kuzy) in the Round of 32. | Full women’s draw

7. While Tomas Berdych continues to be a mystery since his French-Wimbledon brilliance (he’s 12-13 since July), Nikolay Davydenko and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have made their own noise to start 2011: Davydenko took out Nadal in Doha and Tsonga fell to Roger at the same tourney. Tsonga is a former finalist here (downing Fed in the semis in ’08), while Davydenko has (shockingly) still not been to the last two of a major. Any of these three could fit in with our group at No. 5, but do they have what it takes to run seven matches straight?

8. Here’s a new trio for you folks: Jelena JankovicAna Ivanovic and … Bojana Jovanovski. While we could have included Janko Tipsarevic in this line-up, but this new ladies three-some is sure to have the eyes of some WTA followers over the next two weeks. Our guess: the three gals will chalk up 7 total wins (AI 4, BJ 1 and JJ 2) over the two weeks. The ultimate question? Who will have the best year of the bunch? Jelena is a dismal 9-13 since a French open semis run and Jovanovski beat Kanepi, Pannetta and Rezai last week alone. And another new coach for Ana… | Ana just wants to have fun?

9. Venus Williams didn’t win a set in two round-robin matches last weekend in Hong Kong. She hasn’t played a WTA match since the US Open. And before that? Wimbledon. It’s anybody’s guess for Family Williams in Melbourne this year.

10. Three ladies who have a solid shot at a week-two run and a decent chance of a first-round crash out include Caroline WozniackiVera Zvonareva and Maria Sharapova. Wozniacki won just one game in an exo with Zvonareva last weekend, and both had bizarre early losses in Sydney. Sharapova’s ’11 debut? A second-round crash against Greta Arn. Just another (four) reasons that this might be Kim Clijsters’ Aussie to win.

Tomorrow: Who’s Up, Who’s Down and the Dark Horses of the AO

(federer photo future capetown; soderling photo via getty)

mah-aking it work

Sad that you haven’t seen more fashion coverage from us this year? Well here it is. In one post. For the entire year. Now we’re hanging up our measuring tape, magnifying glasses and red pen and watching The Devil Wears Prada in German over, and over, and over again. Click image to watch the video.

Nicolas Mahut, the famous Frenchman who was on the losing end of the epic Wimbledon battle with John Isner last summer, made quite the ruckus at the Hopman Cup in Perth recently, donning matching outfits with mixed doubles partner Kristin Mladenovic. Even Bethanie Mattek Sands, the queen of quacky outfits was giving some giggles. And dang, isn’t Mahut looking good? We think so. | 28-year-old journeyman Mahut into round 2 of Aussie qualies

(image via youtube)

short balls: giving a damn

Giving a damn: We made note of Ellen’s powerful words last week after the disturbing rash of suicides among LGBT youth. The nation has banded together in a variety of ways, including the We Give a Damn project that was launched by the True Colors Fund. This past Sunday night, activists held a candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park in New York City.  Actor and blogger, Andrew Kennan Bolger, documented the evening on video.  More to watch: We Give a Damn has a few of their own videos, featuring some of our favorite big and small screen faces – among others. Check them out. Plus: Zachary Quinto says (Tweets?) the right thing after 50 Cent runs his mouth again.

Commercial offerings: There’s plenty to see on YouTube if you go and type in ‘tennis’ in the search bar and sift through the many (dozens? hundreds?!) of homes for sale that happen to include tennis in their property in one way or another. One good find we had this week was an old Heineken commercial that hadn’t crossed our path before. Watch the video – camera tipping and all – here. Meanwhile, we found the newly-released Australian Open commercial (below), tagged “A Whole New Level” via the ladies over at OntheBaseline. None other than Ms. Sam Stosur makes five appearances in the 31-second clip. Joining Serena, Roger and Rafa as the faces to be seen at the AO 2011.

The injury diaries: The injured Justine Henin is set to test the competitive waters in an exhibition against Kim Clijsters in Antwerp on December 9th. Things aren’t as peachy for Robby Ginepri, who broke his arm in a biking accident and will be out of the game for the rest of the season. We’re hoping for a Sam Querrey kind of return for the current world no. 118… not a James Blake kind of return.

Tennis shavings: Things are feeling a bit more Blake than Querrey over at NYC-based Tennis magazine. The publication announced earlier this week that they would cut four of nine editorial positions and begin outsourcing most of its art and photo work, focusing more in-house on Tennis.com. The magazine recently shuffled Sarah Unke from her role on the print side to be online editor following the departure of Abigail Lorge. It’s unclear who is still calling Tennis his or her work home, though assistant online editor Ed McGrogan posted an ESPN blog item earlier today. 10tenmedia, a New York creative firm, will handle much of the mag’s print design.

Body games: Former Tennis cover girl Anna Kournikova made an appearance on the small screen on NBC’s “Biggest Loser” last night. Kournikova served up some motivation for the contestants, and they seemed to inspire her, too. ESPN the Magazine hits newsstands this week with their annual “The Body Issue.” The mag always chooses several different covers to print (six this year), and wheelchair tennis queen Esther Vergeer got the nod for one of those covers in this cover print. The US women’s water polo team also has a cover, as does golfer Camilo Villegas (yeah, we’ve never heard of him either).

More of short balls, including a giggling Roger and an all-inclusive short(er) balls, after the cut.

[Read more...]

it must be lonely at the top 400

Caroline Wozniacki leads the field at this week’s Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships as the event’s top seed. She’s off to a decent start so far, beating Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 7-6 (2) in the opening round. And in what could be a duplication of what happened last month in Melbourne, Caro next faces Dubai newbie Shahar Peer, whom the Dane beat at the Australian, and then faces Li Na in the round after, who Caro lost to. (Draw: Women’s Singles.)

And two snaps to the Woz for reaching a career-high No. 3 in the SEWTA rankings; she’s currently the only Dane in the top 400.

In the flesh: This live version of the tennis performance dress from adidas by Stella McCartney‘s spring/summer 2010 collection is more fun than we anticipated. The preview pics we saw didn’t show off the mesh on the upper back of the performance dress (it adds an extra layer of sexiness, no?). FYI, Caroline wore the bloomers-esque shorts for Fed Cup play last week.

Buy: Shop for the adidas by Stella McCartney goods here.

More: A few detail shots from Wozniacki’s outfit — including her Delibuta gym bag and pom-pom socks in those Lucrari shoes (with a Barricade V skeleton) — all after the cut…

how many pleated plackets could a placket pleater pleat?

Tathiana Garbin is the main mascot for Sergio Tacchini now that Flavia Pennetta has switched over to adidas.

Say that ten times fast: At the 2010 Australian Open, Garbin wore both a tank top and a polo for competitive play; the pieces both have some bold detailing (a pleated placket for the polo; pleated vents for the tank).

And at this week’s Open GDF Suez in Paris, Garbin’s switched to a white polo with more classic construction (but also with a brighter — teal — color). She lost in the quarterfinals to former STer Pennetta 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Flavia will be facing Lucie Safarova (wha??) in the semis.

More: A few looks at Garbin’s Sergio Tacchini after the cut…

alize cornet’s fed cup warm up jacket

A cute pic of Alize Cornet as she gets ready to play in this weekend’s Fed Cup tie against the United States. She’ll play the tie’s first rubber (against Bethanie Mattek-Sands). The varsity lettering on the french warmup jackets are cuuute.

In Melbourne, Cornet bageled 17th-seed Francesca Schiavone before losing 6-0, 5-7, 0-6. Ouch. At least we liked her orange and white Lacoste separates. Note the horizontal orange stripes near the hem of her skirt.

(Fed Cup photos by Corinne Dubreuil; aussie images via Getty Images)

feliciano lopez’s heavy breathing

… and nope — it has nothing to do with those pictures of Fernando Verdasco in CK chonies.

Instead, this other Spaniard is struggling with the high altitude of Johannesburg, South Africa, where a bunch of the ATP dudes are currently playing in the SA Tennis Open. Feli will face Rajeev Ram in the third round before possibly facing top seed Gael Monfils in the semis. Waiting on the opposite side of the draw is second seed David Ferrer.

We’re not quite sure what’s going on with this filmstrippy print on his Joma crew — his first kit of 2010 — but it was fun variation from the usual color blocking they’d done in years past. Lopez made it as far as the third round of the Australian Open before falling to Andy Roddick.

Joma adds a second: And speaking of the Spanish clothier, they’ve added former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero to their roster. The partnership began at the beginning of this year. He was previously with Lotto.

More: A few more looks at Feli’s Joma kit after the cut…