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…]

trophy watch: never been kissed

OK. Not never. But almost never. Jelena Dokic kissed a WTA trophy for the first time in nine years (Sarasota, 2002). Dokic shot up 30 spots from no. 91 in the world to no. 61. In Kuala Lumpur, she took out top seed Francesca Schiavone in the first round before rolling into the final. It was there that she beat B-Lister Lucie Safarova, 2-6, 7-6(9), 6-4, saving two championship points en route. Tough day for the Safarova-Berydch family.

Pablo Cuevas gets a little hoist from his teammates following his tie-clinching win in Montevideo. None of those gents on the sidelines seem to care much for the celebration. Uruguay beat Colombia 4-1 in a Group I Americas clash. Davis Cup: All results

[Read more…]

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)

tsf presents the 12 days of giftmas

We realize that we’ve been a little MIA lately, but don’t blame us, blame all that Thanksgiving tofurkey that has been weighing us down for the last two weeks (and that is sure to weigh us down two weeks from now). But said tofurkey hasn’t – and won’t! – disallow us from helping all you last-minute shoppers find the perfect gifts for the tennis-loving loved ones in your life. With that, we present our 12 Days of Giftmas where we present to you a cache of gift ideas from the year that has passed and the year that is to come. But first, oh – first! Some Christmas thoughts from those ladies dangling above.

We asked the ladies of the WTA Season Ending Championships what thoughts they had on the upcoming holiday and luckily, even among the palm trees of Doha (in October, no less), they let us know what was on their minds.

Holiday wishes: The now-retired Elena Dementieva wants to be with her family for the holidays and get a dog next year. Well, you’re taking the right steps by shucking your career, lady! Victoria Azarenka is hoping to learn some French to communicate with… her coach: “I really want to learn French! It will really help my communication with my French coach, Sam Sumyk.”

Caroline Wozniacki wishes “for a new Sony Ericsson phone,” wait, really?! No… maybe not: “Actually, I really like to give gifts. I like to buy them something special from me that I know they’ll like. Something unique. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s important that it means something.” And what about 2011, Caro? “This year my resolution was to focus on something positive from each day, even if every now and then you might be feeling a bit sad, it’s just important to find something positive. So I think for next year I’ll be continuing to do that and focusing on being happy.” Being no. 1 in the world might help too, right? And what about the down-on-her-luck Jelena Jankovic? “You know the only thing I ask for this Christmas is something you can’t buy, and that’s health for my family and for myself. It’s the most important thing. [For the new year], I promise not to be so lazy at times! People don’t know, but I can be quite lazy sometimes, so I’m going to be working on that for 2011.”

(illustration by Troy Venechanos)

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.
x
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.

green, and maybe with envy

Jelena Jankovic got booted from this week’s China Open in the second round. She lost to qualifer and fellow Serbian Bojana Jovanovski in three sets: 6-4 2-6 2-6. As the de facto third seed, Jovanovski will face Shahar Peer in the next round. Other notable third round matches: Dementieva vs. Ivanovic, Zvonareva plays Kirilenko, and Li Na squares off against the weight of the Chinese hometown crowd. (Brackets: See them all here.)

Seesaw in sea foam: Jankovic continues her sloppy second half of 2010 (after running deep into events up until Wimbledon, including a title at Indian Wells), losing to Kanepi twice, to Yakimova, Kleybanova, Benesova, and Akgul. Jelena wore a sea foam Anta dress with a flora print at the neck. It reminded us of the Maria Sharapova skyline-inspired day dress from the 2007 US Open.

Up close: See a few more pics of the dress after the cut…

jelena jankovic goes yellow and purple in tokyo

Jelena Jankovic‘s purple ANTA dress from the 2010 US Open has given way to a yellow version, showing this week at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. She’s pariing them with white shoes with purple detail.

Bracket: In the singles draw, Jelena is still on track to defend her finals appearance last year (she lost to Maria Sharapova) with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Alona Bondarenko. She’ll play the winner of Kanepi vs. peer in the the quarters. Meanwhile, Masha, the defending champ, bowed out to Kimiko Date-Krumm 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in her first meeting against the Japanese veteran. (Draw: Singles)

(images via Getty Images)

in flushing meadows, the anta girls sputter

2010 US Open fourth seed Jelena Jankovic wasn’t really in the conversation as a gunner for this year’s title, as seen by her immediate hiccup in the first round against Simona Halep, who served for the match against the Serbian before falling 7-5 in the third. JJ also needed three sets to beat qualifier Mirjana Lucic (two snaps to her for making it to the main draw, btw) and then fell to Kaia Kanepi in the third round.

We love that she added the pink sports bra and hot pants under the purple ANTA dress that she’s been wearing for the summer hardcourt swing; way to rejuvenate an outfit, no? Note the purple detail in her shoes, and the pink in her fingernails.

And on 21st seed Zheng Jie, the Chinese brand went with swirling shades of white and blue — an underdeveloped version of what Fila put on their ladies (Clijsters, Agi Szavay). Zheng crashed into the resurgent Ana Ivanovic in the second round and only won three games.

More: Detail pics (including Zheng’s warm-up jacket) after the cut…

who needs wags? tsf has your habs right here

Husbands And Boyfriends, that is. With all the love for the Wives And Girlfriends out there, we figured it was about darn time to make sure that this game of payment equality was also about equality in and about the scouring of the player boxes for attractive looking people – of both sexes. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the HABs of the 2010 US Open.

We’re leading off the pack with a known entity: Tomas Berdych. You can find Berdych in the corner for longtime-GF Lucie Safarova. Both are Czech. Both are beautiful.

WTA looker Dominika Cibulkova - herself included in Urban Daddy’s list – has tattooed fella Miso Navara giving her thumbs up during her matches.

Are these two still together?! Mladjan Janovic with Jelena Jankovic. What a household the Janovic-Jankovic home would be, no?

More BAHs after the cut. (It’s worth the click.)

[Read more…]

sunday survey: halfway grades

Halfway through 2010 we have two players who have each won two Slams: Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer started the year in strong fashion, winning the Australian Open and re-asserting himself into the top seat of men’s tennis. Since then it’s been a slippery slope for Fed, while no woman has had the consistent results to keep up with Queen Serena.

Andy Murray and Justine Henin both almost had big-time breakthroughs in Melbourne, but neither have proved themselves since, sending more question marks about what their futures hold. Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone made big names for themselves in Paris, while Venus Williams has lost to three B-list players in her three Slam outings this year (while going 22-3 otherwise).

The men have welcomed Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling into the circle of current greats after their respective Slam runs, while Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic have underperformed in many peoples’ eyes. The same can go for Elena Dementieva, Kim Clijsters and Jelena Jankovic, all who have had opportunities to make big runs and stumbled in one fashion or another.

So we ask: Who gets the best first-half grade for the season from you? Choose from the big guns, or let us know a player or two (perhaps Dustin Brown?!) who you think might be knocking on the door as the next big thing in tennis?

(photo by ratsj via flickr)