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.

fila rises to davis cup challenge

Kudos to Fila for stepping up to the challenge of dressing their athletes in some festive clothing as they compete in this weekend’s Davis Cup ties. Janko Tipsarevic, currently embroiled in a close match against Tomas Berdych (the Serb is up in the match two sets to one; they’re on serve in the fourth), wears a crew with the country crest on the chest. In the tie’s first rubber, Radek Stepanek took out Troicki in four. (Follow: Tie info and live scores available here.)

In Sweden, Italian Fabio Fognini had a bright blue canvas on which to showcase his country’s red/white/green flag. He lost his singles rubber to Robin Soderling, putting them at 1-1 against the Swedes (Potito Starace won the other match against Vinciguerra).

No word yet from Fila about whether Janko’s Davis Cup crew is for sale (much like how they did it for Marin Cilic‘s Croatia shirt).

Update: Checked with the Fila folks and they said Janko’s shirt will be eventually on sale at TW.

(images via Getty Images)

do not sit idly, berdych

It looks like the Serbians really want to get to the Davis Cup final. As if having 2010 US Open finalist Novak Djokovic on their roster isn’t enough, they brought the Langoliers along to nip at the Czech team’s heels.

Tie: Most of the Belgrade Arena (capacity: 16,842) will probably root for the home team. Nole and Radek Stepanek are up first; Janko Tipsarevic and Tomas Berdych will follow. Nenad Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki will play Jan Hajek and Ivo Minar in the doubles rubber, and the singles players will switch opponents. More info here.

(image via daviscup.com)

nic’s six: author nic brown provides observations from this year’s uso

As the US Open winds down, we wanted to corral author Nic Brown into throwing over a few of his thoughts the TSF way. We asked the Doubles novelist to send us a list of five things from the last 10 days and he came back with one extra in “Nic’s six”. The guy has a way with words, no? If you didn’t notice, Nic’s good friend and former ATP doubles expert Tripp Phillips was featured as a recruiter on the Straight Sets tennis blog. -NM

1. The Serbian (Fashion) Equation
Exhibit A: In the past, the cast in the Novak Djokovic box have simultaneously removed their shirts in celebration.
Exhibit B: During Djokovic’s fourth round match against Mardy Fish, his father wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with a huge airbrush-type image of his son.
Exhibit C: Djokovic’s new wardrobe is decorated with dragons seemingly inspired by Ed Hardy.

Closing argument: I do not know much about Serbia, let alone Serbian fashion. But I do know quite a bit about the sun-burnt population of the Carolina coastal region. Hence, I think during this Slam, I have, for the first time ever, uncovered a direct cultural parallel between monster truck fans in Myrtle Beach and Djokovic supporters in Belgrade.

2. Wheel Me It Isn’t So
The Dostoevsky tattoos, the on-court glasses, the beard: Janko Tipsarvic is clearly rad. I have always loved this guy. But when he trotted out on court to play Andy Roddick wheeling behind him a giant tennis bag on wheels, he shot into the stratosphere for me. I guess he’s already been sporting this thing for a few weeks this summer, but this was the first I saw of it. He clearly doesn’t give a damn about toeing the traditional tennis line, and I love him for it. On a more complicated note, he has confounded my previous theories about Serbian fashion. There is definitely no one in Myrtle Beach who looks like Janko.

3. Spraying Balls as Performance Art
In the first seven points of Feliciano Lopez’s round of sixteen match against Rafael Nadal Tuesday night, Lopez sprayed three balls into the stands off miss-hits. I don’t takes cuts like Lopez does, and I’m not playing Nadal in post-Earl wind gusts, but still – if I lose one ball a set I’m embarrassed. Also, I’m not in the top twenty-five. I’ve never seen anything like it. It immediately erased any consideration I had that it was going to be a good match. And it wasn’t. More interesting, though, is the fact that I just learned Lopez plays himself on a Spanish sitcom. Very performance art of him. Perhaps that’s what was going on with the stray balls, too?

4. Back, And Looking Fabulous
Everyone seemed to think Roger Federer’s Wimbledon back injury was caused by some infection of sour grapes, but I had some inside sources who told me it was quite serious. I still thought it was sour grapes. But I now have to say I think he really was injured in England, because he’s moving so well again and looks better than he even did in Australia. If Nadal can’t pick up his return game by Sunday, and if Federer gets past Djokovic in the semis, Federer might actually win a grand slam final against him for the first time in three years.

Sign language and shoe-tastrophes to finish off Nic’s list. [Read more...]

tipsarevic rolls to beat of his own drum

We already know that Janko Tipsarevic is different from the average bear, but he has shown this even more so while in Los Angeles for the Farmers Classic ATP Tour Stop. Over at Sweet Spot, James LaRosa got some taxicab confessions out of our munchkin Serb (something about sheep looking at doors?).

And earlier this week he mentioned a racquet bag change via Twitter. He rolled out the new look for his opening dubs match with Feli.

They’ll resume their partnership for a match today against the team of Ross Hutchins and Jordan Kerr.

Draw: See who’s left playing singles and doubles at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles.

(bag image by TSF; screengrab from Twitter; match images via Getty Images)

short balls: california girls (and boys)

TSF takes over the West Coast this week as I made the drive from Cottonwood, Idaho, (yeah, it exists) to San Francisco yesterday for a little R&R and a day at the Bank of the West Classic tomorrow in Palo Alto, at Stanford. Meanwhile, Erwin is holding court in LA for the Farmers Classic, making sure that the boys adhere to the warm weather shining on SoCal and going shirtless on the practice courts.

This week’s version of short balls comes on Tuesday, a little earlier than usual. Enjoy!

I’ll make the drive down to Palo Alto tomorrow for a day at the 40th annual Bank of the West Classic, now the longest-running women’s event on tour. Bank of the West has been the title sponsor since 1992 at this event, something that is unheard of in the days of fast-moving money. (Remember the Lipton Championships? Or the Kraft WTA Tour? Seems like centuries ago… ) The Bank of the West has been at Stanford’s Taube Tennis Pavilion since 1997, and just this year announced partnership with Rebounces, a green company that runs a tennis-ball recycling program nationwide. Balls brought in by members of the public (and those used in the tournament) will be collected and recycled by Rebounces, with the help of FedEx to get them shipped and donated to a local youth tennis program. Thumbs up to that!

There’s always plenty of tennis action on the pages of Twitter, and this week a few more tennis names added themselves to the never-ending world of Tweets. Janko Tipsarevic asked his followers to “bare” with his bad English (gladly, Janko, gladly). WTAers Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Alisa Kleybanova have also joined the Twitter ranks. Anastasia is playing in Istanbul this week, whiles Kleybs was already dismissed from Stanford by a studious Ana Ivanovic. Before she was bounced outta the Bay Area, Kleybs sat down with Chris Oddo for an interview featured on On The Baseline.

The USTA announced yesterday that it is partnering with longtime supporter American Express for a program called Fresh Courts. The program will invest money in 17 different tennis courts in three urban centers, including Los Angeles, DC and New York. In NYC, the benefactors will be our friends over at McCarren Park in Brooklyn. The USTA will head up the fixing up of the courts themselves, as it oversees around 700 refurbishing projects each year.

For a little bit of a fashion fix, I’m digging this Lacoste v-neck (and the model!) I ran across yesterday. $40 online. Meanwhile, Serena might be questionable for the US Open itself, but that’s not keeping Nike from prepping itself for her outfit at said tourney. The Control Court dress (seen here via TennisConnected) is $85 and might – just might – be made famous by ReRe if she’s able to show at Flushing Meadows come late August. This is the black version of her Wimbledon get up, which helped her to her 13th slam title.

short(er) balls are happening after the cut. [Read more...]

davis cup: mostly quiet on the eastern front

The boisterous crowd who came to cheer the Croatian Davis Cuppers at the Spaladium Arena in Split could not boost their home team past the more experienced Serbian posse at this weekend’s Davis Cup quarterfinal tie. The decisive 4-1 rout puts the team of Djokovic, Tipsarevic, Troicki, and Zimonjic in the semifinals — a first for their country in Davis Cup history. (Scoreline: Tie details)

Still, props to Marin Cilic for wearing his checkered Fila tee and notching the one “W” for Croatia (the second singles rubber, against Troicki). The lanky 21-year-old was gracious in his post-match presser, picking Nole and his team to the take the Cup this year.

The Serbs — pampered in their digs — showed up in a variety of kits all showcasing their country’s colors. Nole picked a solid red polo from Sergio Tacchini while Nenad opted for a more playful version in Lacoste. Troicki sprinkled some blue in his Los tee while Janko and his bangs stayed safe with Fila. On the Croatian side, Ljubicic and Dodig‘s Li Ning kits were both as uninspired as their play.

(images via Getty Images)

tattoo watch: black, like janko tipsarevic’s heart

Ask and you shall receive: Thanks to Amy for sending us links to some Janko images with his new tattoo. As he had explained on his website, this latest addition (on the back of Janko’s left arm) is the chinese/japanese character for “black”.

Tattoo watch: Read some more from the Tattoo Watch blotter here.

(image via Getty Images)

janko 2.0

That’s right, folks. Sury Serbian Janko Tipsarevic now has his very own website. It loads a little slow (which, in this age of seemingly unlimited bandwith, is “unacceptable”, as they say), but we’re definitely looking forward to keeping in touch with the munchkin.

Tattoo watch? In the fan question section (“Ask Him“, someone asked about the meaning of Janko’s new tattoo. His response? “Black”. Is there really a new tat? If you have info (or images), please send our way!

(screengrab via jtipsarevic.com)