short balls: wimbledon goes mainstream on week 1

There’s no doubt that the British press has a heyday when Wimbledon comes around. From the Monica Seles-inspired Grunt-0-Meter to headlines screaming (desperately) for a British champ. It really is the people’s Slam. But Stateside, it’s always nice to see the mainstream folks picking up on the secret we’re all privy to: tennis is damn cool. Below a collection of week one’s rumblings across the non-tennis media.

The grunting! Doesn’t this happen every year? Sure, this was a British-inspired headline. But The Daily Beast kept with it for a solid morning on Wednesday, even putting together a gallery of grunters themselves. We think they left off a key founding mother: Monica Seles.

More: The Daily Beast‘s “perfect matches” tennis couples


The return of the Sisters Williamses: With Venus and Serena back, The Huffington Post saw the perfect opening to do a gallery of the sisters from through the years — Wimbledon and beyond. | ESPN takes on V’s fashion

The BMS side show? Just when we thought Bethanie Mattek-Sands had cemented herself as a legit third- and fourth-rounder at the slams she unveils this (see below) which prompts headlines from Britain to the U.S. to Australia and crashes out in the first round. So long, Bethy. | More: BMS inks deal for eye black flare
(AFP image)

More headlines to come…

venus: the forever 21 of tennis

Objects on TV are nicer than they appear: We’re not going to lie — watching Venus Williams play her first-round Wimbledon match left us deflated (and no, it wasn’t the grueling workout we just finished, we’re sure); that repurposed wedding gown just did not look good on the decorated AELTC vet as she gracefully pranced around the court in a first-round clinic over Akgul Amanmuradova. The scoreline: 6,3-6-1. (Brackets: Chris has Venus dropping out in the round of 16.)

And about that lace jumpsuit with gold trim (Golden Girls meets Project Runway?): le sigh. On TV, the shorts seemed a little too billowy, especially since we’ve seen how Venus can rock a cute pair of hot pants on the Wimbledon lawns. The gold-zippered top flopped in awkward ways as she hit her groundstrokes. The sleeves seemed as though they were missing whole panels.

(At least her trends are on point, ish? Venus, on her outfit: “Jumpers are very ‘now,”‘ she explained, “as is lace.” As is gold, really. That’s the advantage to producing one-offs for match play: your design schedule is not beholden to the super-long lead time associated with retail.)

Suprisingly, it all seemed to come together in the photos snapped during the match (see below). Just a good photographer? Maybe we were glancing up at the TV at the wrong time? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, since no one can buy this stuff. Picture worth a thousand words, but zero dollars in revenue.

More photos: Check out other looks at Venus’ EleVen outfit after the cut…

bracketology: the women at wimbledon

By Christopher Phililps

For Wimbledon, our resident bracketologist, Chris Phillips, takes a look at both the men’s and women’s draws and breaks down who he thinks are going to be the winners — and losers — in the London this year. -NM

Look who’s back! Both Williamses are seeded for the Championships — and on opposite sides of the draw. (Photo by Stuart Tree via Flickr)

Caroline Wozniacki
Prediction: R3

Caroline’s only made it as far as the fourth round here twice in the past, including last year. Unfortunately, we don’t think this time she’ll be as lucky as her likely third round opponent will be hard-serving Jarmila Gajdosova. A loss to the upstart Gajdosova will only cast more doubt on her no. 1 ranking.

Vera Zvonareva
Prediction: QF

Last year’s finalist should feel good coming into the Championships winning a tough three-setter over Serena Williams in Eastbourne. Her consistency alone could ensure her another run to the final, but we think she’ll only make it as far as the QFs. Even in this questionable era of women’s tennis, Vera just doesn’t have what it takes to win a Major.

Na Li
Prediction: R2

Historically — well, the past couple years at least — it seems the women’s French Open champion hasn’t fared too well (Ivanovic, Kuznetsova and Schiavone are a combined 4-3) at Wimbledon. Given Li’s post-Australian Open slump, I fear history is set to repeat itself.

Victoria Azarenka
Prediction: R3

She’s only been a QF here once and went out to Marion Bartoli in Eastbourne — with an injury. Vika’s just too mercurial for us ever to put too much hope in her. She’s beginning to beg the question: is it ever going to happen? So far, it doesn’t look like it. Vika’s results just don’t live up to the hype (or the grunt).

Maria Sharapova
Prediction: Winner

It’s been a long, hard road for Maria back to the top and this will be the title that signifies to the world that she’s finally back. The one achilles’ heel will be her serve — it must stay on. But Maria loves the grass, and seven years after she won her first Slam we think it’s due time for a little bit of dejå ju in the final. Over Serena in the semis? Why  not.

Francesca Schiavone
Prediction: R16

If she can get past her first match with the recently-hot Jelena Dokic — which could be awfully difficult on grass — she’s got a pretty soft draw until she’ll run into Andrea Petkovic or Shahar Peer in the fourth round.

Serena Williams
Prediction: SF

How she’ll do is anyone’s guess. (Not even Serena knows!)  She could take the whole thing, but with probably the most unfavorable draw of the top eight seeds, she’s going to have a hard time getting there. If Serena gets past Aravane Rezai in her opener, she may have to deal with tricky Serbian Bojana Jovanovski in the second round, with sometimes giant-killer Maria Kirilenko possibly waiting in the third round and former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the fourth. | More: Ladies’ draw

Petra Kvitova
Prediction: Finalist

One of last year’s surprise semifinalists and this year’s Eastbourne finalist should do well on the grass courts this year again. Kvitova shouldn’t have too much trouble until running into Venus Williams or Zvonareva in the QFs, but she has a good relationship with the All England Club and will go a step further this year, solidifying her spot as a contender for future Slams.

Marion Bartoli
Prediction: R16

Even though Bartoli won Eastbourne, we’re still a little concerned about a (groin?) injury she seemed to obtain. Assuming she’ll be fit enough to play, Marion has a soft draw until she’d meet Serena in the fourth round.  The winner of that match — likely to be a slug-fest — should make it to the SF. Serena’s superior movement should get her past the French Open semifinalist, even if she isn’t at her baseline best.

Samantha Stosur
Prediction: R16

Another player who’s grass court play hasn’t seemed to have lived up to her potential. Another big server who’s yet to make it past the third round.  That’ll be her first battle here where her likely opponent will be the Chinese player Shuai Peng. But like Sharapova, if Stosur can get along with her serve and make it work for her, she could be dangerous.

Read Chris’ “Best of the Rest” (that includes Venus!) and see the most anticipated first-round match-ups after the cut. [Read more…]

venus' smooth transaction

Portfolio boost: Who’s the newest smoothie gal in town? That’d be one Venus Williams. The American signed a letter of intent to open five D.C.-area Jamba Juice stores, the first of which is said to open its doors sometime this summer. We tapped the illustrative genius of Troy Venechanos to help us begin to formulate what sort of customer service skills V might bring to the cash reg. “Would you like a free boost with that?”

(tsf illustration by Troy Venechanos)

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…]

sunday survey: week 1’s wackiest?

Week one of the Australian Open is over and done with: seven days of play down, seven to go. But there were seven instances out of the tennis norm that caught our eye, and we’re wondering for today’s Sunday Survey: which moment was the wackiest? Choose in the survey below. And if you’re not sure what we’re referencing, check out videos on each occurrence after the jump.

Click here for a video vault on all seven moments. [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)