short balls: an ailing andy (and rafa drinks rum!)

By Benjamin Snyder

Flip flop: As the Sony Ericsson Open winds down, two very different players are working their way up in the rankings. For the men, it’s Mardy Fish, who overtook Andy Roddick as the top American man with a win over David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. A sick Roddick succumbed to Pablo Cuevas in the second round of the huge hard court Miami event and was bounced out of the top ten for the first time in some years.

Maria’s back in the habit: While the Williams sisters fall outside of the top ten with illness and injury, Maria Sharapova is rising back to the top tier with decent showings at Indian Wells and this week in Miami. Masha has Andrea Petkovic in the semis, a player who flattened her when the two met Down Under in Melbourne. (More Maria: Those earrings!)

… but no royal wedding, yet: Apparently, the 23-year-old Maria is in “no rush to get married,” according to Show Biz Spy. And why should she be? We’d like to see Maria win two or three more Majors – she’s got them in her, we think – before strolling down to take Sasha’s hand. Meanwhile: No playoffs for his Nets.

But seriously, is Maria just getting cold feet? “In the beginning I was really, really excited, and all my friends were giving me like wedding magazines and wedding books. But I was quite overwhelmed with it, and then I just put them down and said, ‘Okay, I have plenty of time.’ We’re still very young.”

TSF Exclusive: Rumors say Djokovic has strolled down the aisle

Swan song for Petko’s dance? While Petkovic even has the ever-awkward Ana Ivanovic shaking her tail feather on the tennis court, the German – who is matching her play to her popularity this week – is retiring her famous jig following this week. She told the press that it’s time to move on from the ditty, which became an underground hit in tennis realms. Is she lending her dance skills to B-Spears? We sure hope so. But notice: She said “move on.” We’re sensing another dance number folks, just something new and, well, so Petko.

Rum like Rafa: Rafael Nadal recently signed a deal with Bacardi, receiving some backlash in the process. Says Nadal, “I am not presenting alcohol party, you know. It’s a responsible campaign, a social campaign. Anyway, I think alcohol is inside our lives, so is nothing new, no?” No Rafa, it’s nothing new to us. And we appreciate your push for responsibility. More: YouTube channel | Facebook

‘Round the world: Then there are the two Missoula, Montana, teens who just broke the Guinness World Record for the longest singles tennis match, ever. Isner-Mahut looks like a Roehampton side court to this Centre Court effort. The two high school seniors clocked in nearly 61 hours of tennis over three days before collapsing, raising $7,000 for charity in the process. Snaps for those court warriors.

(Image by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

in miami, a stroll down peekaboo street

When in Florida, do as the Miamians do — show skin! The ladies playing in this week’s Sony Ericsson Open did their part, with keyholes and other cutouts showing up in kits during match play.

From left to right: Dominika Cibulkova in Lacoste; Kim Clijsters in Fila‘s Center Court Cap Sleeve Top (Buy); Ana Ivanovic in the adiZero Dress (Buy). Not pictured: the adidas Response tank, worn by the likes of Andrea Petkovic during practice; see it here.

Brackets: Kimmie is still in the running for the SEO title after that super-close three-set fourth-round match against Ivanovic (poor Ana was up 1-5 in the third and had five match points). She now faces Vika Azarenka for a spot in the semis. (Browse: SEO Draws)

(images via Getty Images)

strokin’: when tennis met music

By Jonathan Scott

It may not be tabloid fodder like every Taylor Swift dalliance, and it’s not nearly as insufferable as Brangelina, but the marriage between music and tennis is itself a storied love affair. It stretches across decades and genres, and it knows no bounds – well, none other than those pesky white lines.

Try to set aside the disappointment that the artist Sergey with the song “Tennis” on iTunes is actually not Vera Zvonareva‘s ridiculously good-looking model/coach. And, however possible, repress the memory of Justine Henin‘s song-and-dance scareoke on TV. Yes, Novak Djokovic and Ivo Karlovic have tried their tongues at rapping, as has Vince Spadea with amusingly deplorable results, but that doesn’t mean you should try it at home after perfecting your Djokovic-ian down-the-line backhand, does it?

As the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival just wrapped its annual song-a-thon in Austin, Texas – soon to be the site for a volatile USA vs. Spain Davis Cup tie in July – here’s the skinny on the latest hot shots in tennis-tinged music and an homage to some of the greats.

Best Newcomer: James Blake is a dub-step soulman and a veritable crooner. The British JB, that is. His American counterpart is a best-selling author and owner of a laser forehand whose best days are past, but Blake the Brit is taking the music world by slow-burning storm, releasing his rave-reviewed eponymous debut in February and – well before that – igniting the blogosphere with his faithful but quirky cover of Feist‘s “Limit to Your Love.” Let’s just pray that, when we hit up a James Blake concert sometime, his fans aren’t half as annoying (adorable?) as the American Blake’s J-Block can be in the tennis stands.

Dainty she is not. Our fave album cover from Blonde Readhead’s 23. (Image via band website)

Best Dressed: Sometimes it’s okay to judge a band by its cover. Oxymoronic indie rockers Blonde Redhead out of New York City put out the best, most elegant tennis-themed album art when they dropped 23 in 2007. But, no, the song “Top Ranking” has nothing to do with disputed no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

Worst Dressed, but Best Sound: Yea, there is a band simply called Tennis, a married duo specializing in ’60s surf-pop for 2011. This act released its debut Cape Dory in January, and though the song “Marathon” doesn’t harbor the words “Isner,” “Mahut” or “Wimbledon” anywhere in the lyrics, it’s solid stuff. Consider it your soulful throwback soundtrack for this summer – but steer clear of wearing skintight aqua as with the album cover. It looks like leftover fabric from a hideous Nadia Petrova creation.

Best Tournament Run: This has to go to the ginger-haired heroine in the video for Vampire Weekend‘s “Giving Up the Gun.” She rips through a draw that includes Joe Jonas, a Daft Punk-helmeted doubles team, and even a flask-swilling Jake Gyllenhaal in tear-away pants. It’s a great song, and the immaculately-white indoor court is sharp – even if the choked-up strokes from the damsel look laughably bad in reality. Girl, who taught you to grip a racquet like that? Topping it off: RZA from Wu-Tang Clan serves as the chair umpire, and Lil Jon offers astute on-court coaching. Brill.

TSF Vault | The many lives of tennis-themed music vids

Best Clay-Court Match: French DJs Martin Solveig — oddly in tasteful Wimbledon whites — and Bob Sinclar, sporting some hot-magenta vintage-Agassi styles, squared off on Roland Garros‘ red dirt for the video for Solveig’s dance track “Hello” sung by Dragonette. The match and music video are both visceral, a veritable heartbreaker. Check out the cameo by that flashiest of the current French tennis stars as he comes on the scene and devastates the darling DJ.

Hello? Could Martin Solveig look any cooler? We think not. (YouTube screengrab)

Best Charity Hit: Andy Murray and Thom Yorke of Radiohead teamed up for charity single “Two Minute Silence” to benefit serving and former British troops and their families. Strangely enough, its title is no lie. “Hear” — but really just see — it here. British Prime Minister David Cameron and more also got in on this quiet riot. Truly the oddest not-quite-a-band lineup ever, but hey, can’t wait for their episode of “Behind the Music.” Finalist: Wozniacki put out a charity single called “Oxigent” (or “Oxygen”) to benefit Danish and Polish Paralympic athletes. Because, you know, she has oodles of free time.

Top Passing Shot: Meg Baird‘s lovely, lilting “Waltze of the Tennis Players.” It’s just pretty, and we do pretty.

More of Jonathan’s music musings (including “Best Grunt” and “Best Musical Ode to a Tennis Player”) after the cut. [Read more...]

stay, don’t go

By Jonathan Scott

Another brand of March Madness is upon us: With the unisex goodness that is the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells tournament, the 2011 pro tennis campaign kick-starts into high gear. This 1-2 punch of Cali and Miami makes for a full month of top-notch tennis. Indeed, spring’s done sprung.

Now a curious trend seeped into tennis again in 2010: jumpy observers of the sport seeking to retire players -– good, even great stars who reaped some solid results -– before they themselves are ready to hang up their racquets. The guilty parties: too many tennis writers and other observers and “personalities” involved to various degrees. Their victims? Among them, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, and even Roger Federer, proving that not a single star is exempt from these hasty calls to exit.

But Roddick won Memphis last month, dousing the ballyhooed, raging fire that is young Milos Raonic and coming up with possibly the best championship-point winner ever. He also ignited his fellow Americans’ effort on the Chilean clay in Davis Cup, punctuating his clinching win with a scissor kick (Video: here) that would make Sally O’Malley salivate. Too many quickly forgot that Venus seized some early 2010 titles and vaulted to no. 2 in the world before injuries in part derailed both her autumnal and 2011 Aussie exploits. (Oddly, she’s now singing 311 karaoke on a MIA-to-Turks cruiseship and showing off some fly dance moves for someone with chronic knee issues.). Fed himself ran the table at the London year-end championships in December, outdoing even Rafael Nadal in the final, and snagged an early 2011 title before a taking-all-comers Novak Djokovic rolled over him in Melbourne.

Still, retirement happens. It’s inevitable. Justine Henin’s departure has itself turned into a piece of music with multiple movements, the strings swelling and falling at different points. Henin has been like that lover who breaks it off and then loiters for attention: Mercy. And merci.

All of the brouhaha catalyzed a thought: Who or what in the sport truly needs to go?

Without further ado, a few items –- persons, peccadillos, and other pesky minutiae –- that best get gone. Now. Conversely, some other talents and trends are welcome to get comfy. So there it is: Stay, or Go.

GO: Foremost, let’s be done with the freak injuries. Some stars are making the maladies on TV hospital dramas seem realistic: Victoria Azarenka scarily passed out on court after bopping her head during a warm-up run, and then Anna Chakvetadze did her best Vika impression. Meanwhile Andy Murray strained his hand by playing video games excessively (okay, that one proved a fib). It seems a few players just need to be grounded.

Granted, Serena’s recent pulmonary embolism/hematoma scare is more than legit. Anyone who relishes compelling tennis, even if no fan of hers, whether onlooker or media, can only hope she makes it back into the mix again. Tennis needs her fight and her bite. Not every player needs to be Mama Kim Clijsters, portrait of civility.

Speaking of, GO: Can we just be done with all the talk about Clijsters’ motherhood? Cute turned to precious in a hurry there, and not in a good way.

GO: That hand-strain hoax aside, Murray might want to consider tempering his video gaming: Girlfriend Kim Sears reportedly already broke up with him once over the habit. Word to the wise, young gun: the lady has you on watch.

Judy Murray, we heart thee.

GO. STAY. Good dog: Not to pick on the Murray familia too much (see below), but what of these tweets from the family’s resident cur, this Maggie? So let it be written, so let it be done: No more Murray mutt tweets, at least not until Andy bags that virgin Major. It’s no less lame to put your pet on Twitter than it is to fashion a Facebook profile for it.

STAY: Judy Murray, British tennis coach and mom to Andy and Jamie. Yes, she advises her son. She also isn’t afraid to shoot a witty retort at a former player who yaps about her spawn’s chances at winning big with her on board.

GO: Boris Becker. Just let it be, Boorish. You were a fine player, a flame-maned, serve-and-volley stud on grass. Then you knocked Murray and his mum for his underperforming at Slams, chiding him for his closeness to Judy and (good grief!) for standing by his girl at age 23. So a former player cheats on his pregnant wife with a Russian model (in a closet), resulting in a lust child, and then doles out unsolicited relational advice? Laughable. Not content to merely stand by his statements from the fall, BB waxed on again after Murray’s mopey, one-sided loss to Nole in the Aussie final. Sigh. Everyone’s a Carillo. Click to read more, kids. You don’t want to miss these musings.

[Read more...]

short balls: ladies in wanting

Aussie Open contributor Benjamin Snyder is back for more. Taking on the longest of tasks: short balls.

Back in the habit: Vera – circa USO 2009 – got the meltdown bug again last week in Thailand. (Getty Images)

Well, it looks like we’re back to some shaky form for the top women — and, man, you girls were all looking so sharp in Australia, according to Tennis.com’s Tom Perrotta. Check out how world no. 3 Vera Zvonareva allowed a line call and a swearing violation get the best of her big game. She lost it versus Daniela Hantuchova in the Pattaya Open semis, prompting this charged statement: “There is a big difference between being mentally tough and being emotional. It’s a huge difference. I will always be emotional. As long as I use those emotions to my advantage, that’s only a plus to me. If I need to break the racquet to pump myself up, then I will break the racquet. I don’t care.” | Watch the drama

At least Vera stayed on her feet. This week in Dubai, Anna Chakvetadze collapsed due to a stomach bug against Caroline Wozniacki. Déja vu? Good thing she chopped her pony or she really could have hurt herself.

Before you call Petra Kvitova the next big thing, waiting for her to win everything, Federer-style, get this: she choked in her first-round match in Dubai.

Speaking out. Former world no. 1 Amelie Mauresmo isn’t scared to voice her opinion, especially when it relates to her home Slam at Roland Garros. She recently lowered the boom on French officials who bid to keep the clay-court major in Paris. “We are the smallest of the four grand slams and I think it is important to have the chance to grow, and for the public to have more room,” she said.

Ana Ivanovic split with coach Antonio van Grichen (just what we were thinking… who?!) last week, saying she plans to keep the solo mojo going for longer. Maybe that’s not working too well, Ana. The ’08 FO champ lost to veteran Patty Schnyder in the first round of Dubai, just three short months after snacking on her in the final of Linz.

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)

short balls: dent says farewell to tennis

Taylor-made: Taylor Dent announced his retirement from pro tennis this week, following a 12-year career that saw him reach as high as no. 21 in the world. Dent, now 29, won four career titles but saw his progress cut short due to a high volume of injuries. He returned to the tour over the last 18 months after being out for much of 2006 and 2007, amassing a 12-19 record in 2010 and a ranking of no. 85. We’ll miss ya, Mr. Serve-and-Volleyer. TSF Vault: The Dent Diaries.

The way of the ladies: Ana Ivanovic ended 2010 unlike any recent ending she’s had to a season, winning the title in Bali with three impressive victories and vaulting herself back into the top 20. Ivanovic won 13 of her final 15 matches of the year with her title in Linz. Ravi Ubha gave Ana the thumbs up to become a major Slam contender in 2011 or 2012, while giving the exact opposite forecast for countrywoman Jelena Jankovic (who finished 2010 6-11). Ubha had his crystal ball out for the WTA contingent on ESPN.com. The WSJ Weighs in: The Wall Street Journal had a piece last week on how – just how? – Caroline Wozniaki took the top spot in tennis.

A geographical version of ‘Whatever happened to…?’ Now that Dent and Elena Dementieva have said farewell (as has Martin Damm to coach Ryan Harrison), we got to thinking about some former (and current) pros and wanted to check in on see where folks have landed. Dustin Brown, our favorite wearer of the neon-color palette, is taking his allegiance to Germany from Jamaica. The top 100 player cited a lack of funding for the move. His mother is German. The Uberoi sisters, Shikha and Neha, both former top 200 doubles players, have made the return to the academic world and are at Princeton finishing their undergraduate degrees. Both sisters contribute on their dual web site, and recently Neha had an entry up on her own blog about an interview with Venus Williams in her journalism class, taught by the one-and-only L. Jon Wertheim. Picture this: Ana & Enrique taking it easy in Hawaii.
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Before the jump: We wanted to wish the hard-working and always-on-top-of-a-story Aaress Lawless the best of luck as she departs from her operating gig at OnTheBaseline.com. OTB will be managed now by Justin Pohn, and will continue to be the source of all things women’s tennis.