Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open 2011: 1.3 Billion Folks Cheer

Nails looked like she was going to lose it, as her normally flat strokes just could not get through the running backboard that is Caro the Golden Retriever.

Then she finally clued in, began to spin the ball more, and spread the court more. It turned into a physical match. Guess who was in better shape?

Nails d. Caro 36 75 63

I think Kim is still the favorite, but I don't know anyone who would be delighted if Nails made a Cinderella run and won the whole damn thing. I'll be yelling "Jia You, Nails" during the women's finals.

This post match interview showcases what a goofball she is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Semifinals Picks

For the women, I'm calling

  1. Nails d. Caro because Nails does everything Caro does but better. She just needs to keep her head together, and all signs point to that

  2. Kim d. Bepa because Kim can handle the big moments better and batten down the hatches despite a leg strain

  3. Your Aussie Open 2011 Women's Single Champion: Nails! Because it would be awesome for 1.3 billion Chinese

  1. Mandy d. Ferru: It's a hard court, it's not in England, and Mandy is playing calmer.

  2. Fed d. Djoker: The last time the Djoker beat Fed, the Annacone effect hadn't fully taken, and Fed was looking too far ahead to playing Rafa the next day. He won't make that mistake again.

  3. Your Aussie Open 2011 Men's Single Champion: Fed for the 17th time! And we'll see the him try to chase The Mighty Babes across Rod Laver Arena, and he'll turn into a blubbering dorkball that we all know that he is

Australian Open 2011: Bepa

Bepa easily dismantled Petra 62 64. Not much to say about this, and she's playing solid.
She has an excellent chance of making it to her third consecutive major final. Can she close it out?

Australian Open 2011: The Mum Train Soldiers On

Kim had an easy opponent in Aggie, as even Aggie's normal drop shot-lob pattern ought to have been nullified by Kim's speed and movement.

Unfortunately the close score (63 76[4]) was just the surface plot to how annoyed Kim was. On several points both players were incredulous that the match was so close. Aggie could not believe some of the winner she was hitting, and Kim just looked like she was about to boil over thinking "I'm not playing and moving good enough to win this tournament."

Let's hope Kim recovers enough to compete at her best against Bepa. She'll need it.

Australian Open 2011: Mandy Figures out ADog

The hopes of Britain's first major winner in 150,000 years continued as Mandy made it past a tricky opponent in ADog (76 63 67 [3] 63).

I must say I went to bed in the 3rd set, convinced that Mandy had the match in the bag as ADog was brain farting too much. But all credit to Mr. Pony Tail for making one last go at making Mandy earn it.

While I'm sure Mandy would have loved the challenge of beating Rafa, he won't be taking his match against Ferru lightly. His head to head with Ferru is 2-3 with all of his wins coming on hard court and all of his losses on clay. Mandy will have to earn it, but is surely the favorite.

Australian Open 2011: No More Rafa Slam

Rafa fans have seen this far too often. This time it wasn't his knees but his hamstrings.

Doesn't this make you want to hug him? Nothing means more to him than to feel like he could compete at his best level, and his

All credit to Daveed for playing a clean game and winning it in straights. Rafa is a gentleman and tried to deflect attention from his injury to Daveed. Let's just say it: Daveed did beat Rafa. Let's honor both of them: Rafa walked out on court, stayed on court and he was well enough to compete. He doesn't need any excuses.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Bert Wins The Battle of Sesame Street

Bert only seemed to have trouble against Big Berd in the second set, and teased the ball basher into unforced errors. From the score it is pretty easy to see that Big Berd faded quickly in the third (61 76[5] 61). Bert will face Fed in a rematch of their US Open 2010 semis. Beware! The last time they met in an Aussie Open semi, Bert beat Fed and won the whole thing.

Bert had time to add a sponsorship deal for Petkorazzi.

Gotta supplement that meager income from being a professional tennis player.

Australian Open 2011: Caro Knocks Out Franny

You'd think if your opponent had just played the longest Grand Slam women's singles match in history at almost 5 hours, you'd have easy pickings, right?

Instead Franny took it to Caro, and raced out to 63 31 lead. I certainly thought we were head toward the Golden Retriever getting an old-school tennis lesson. But Caro stepped up, and started to take the ball a little bit earlier, and made Franny earn her points. Franny made 4 consecutive unforced errors, and suddenly we had a close match.

You may not like the fact that Caro doesn't hit a lot of winners, but then again she's very similar to Mats Wilander who had a very unflashy game, which was good enough to win the Aussie Open.

Props to Caro for digging deep and getting through to the semis (36 63 63): she's going to need to show this kind of play against Nails who will pounce all over her.

Australian Open 2011: The Fed Express Wins the Battle of Swisses

Fed is not the only player who has made coaching change for the better. Ewok his Olympic doubles partner and good friend hired Fed's old coach, Peter Lundgren to get the most out of his career. It has led to a quarterfinal appearance at the US Open and at the Australian Open. This year it led Wawa to handed out decisive victories to pretty good players such as ARod and La Monf, leading some media types hacks to think he had a fair chance of beating Federer. Of course, no one seriously thinks anyone not named Rafa has a better than 50-50 chance to close out a match against Fed in a Grand Slam, but I doubt anyone ever thought it would be such a decisive beatdown (61 63 63).

There was even time for the little wanker to hit another tweener. The fellow fessed to saying: I was aiming for a lob.

You know it's a cruise fest when the most exciting part of the match is Fed fessing up to stealing 20 Aussie Open towels (and counting) in his on-court interview with Jim Courier. Naughty boy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Nails Charges On

Workman like effort from Nails who beat Petko 62 64. Petko never really had any chance as she was constantly on her back foot because of Nails' footwork & movement. She's into the semifinals, and will face the winner between Caro & Franny. She has an excellent chance of winning the whole damn thing. Do it for China!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Impressions on the Week Thus Far

Federer is more than just a beautiful player to watch. In tough 5 setter, He showed real heart to fight off a comeback from Gilles Simon who gives him trouble. For an account from someone who was there, see Dootsiez' story. You really must check it out.

You haz a 16-2 head to head record against someone but you're coming back from 6 plus month layoff from tennis. You would think you might be rusty, but you hope you're in your opponent's head. Well, not this time. JuJu lost to Sveta. Sob!

Coming back from a knee injury, strained psoas (groin) muscle, screaming in sharp pain ... Props to you Vee for coming back to beat your 2nd round opponent, Zahlavova, but it doesn't take a genius (much less your mum) to tell you that it's OK to give Petko a walkover. Get your health back, and take as much time as you need. The sport needs you.

Caro is the world number 1, hasn't won a Slam (yet), gets accused of giving boring pressers, but she's got real smarts. You've got to see the video of the presser for yourself. See transcript). Matt Cronin, you just got pwned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Break of Return

Yep, you read that right. What always happened in baseball finally happened in tennis.

ARad breaks her racquet returning KDK.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hacking the Ball: Movement Can Be Taught

As befits a geek like me, I've been focusing a lot on my technique to up my consistency. But my primary focus hasn't been my strokes. Rather it's that under-rated part of the game: movement. Now, there's certainly a school of tennis instruction that thinks you should just do what comes naturally. One consequence of this school of thought is that the way to improve your movement is to play other sports like soccer or basketball as there's nothing all that special about movement in tennis. If you suck at moving in those sports, you're doomed to tennis mediocrity.

Yes, when a high-level pro moves around the court, it does look natural, you can always bet they've logged umpteen million hours drilling to move better so that it looks natural. When a tennis journalist evaluates a pro's game, they'll focus on the mental aspect (Bozo), how their play makes them feel (Tigs), the jugement de jour of their peers (Cronin), technology that they're using (JMac), etc. These days I suspect that if you ask a tour-level pro who has to compete against their peers, one of the first things they'll look at is movement. These folks have a post-doctoral knowledge that far exceeds the fundamentals of movement.

Why am I ranting on movement, that most numinous aspect of the game? Because many gurus have noticed that the key to TMF's balletic game is his movement. In particular the article I just linked pointed me to David Bailey an Aussie coach who developed an entire system around it. After a year of dawdling I took the plunge and invested in the DVD. Knowledge, I figured, is a good thing, and if it gives me a better eye for movement as a tennis fan, that's well worth it. Well, the Bailey system did that and helped me think much more deliberately about how I moved when I play.

Here is the basic outline from 10,000 foot view. Every point has a cycle of five parts (5 Rs). In the first part, you get READY by getting into an athletic posture (i.e. on your toes, knees bent, and butt out) by taking a split step of some form when your opponent contacts the ball. As soon as your opponent contacts the ball, you READ the approaching ball and determine what zone is the ball heading into. The zone the ball heads into will limit your footwork choices. You REACT to the ball by moving to it, decide the kind of ball you want to hit (forcing, rally, defensive, a winner, attacking or counterattacking). As you RESPOND with your stroke, you hit the ball out of a contact move with its corresponding balance move. finally, you RECOVER by getting to the midline recovery positon (middle of the opponent's angle of play) using footwork patterns, brake & recovery steps. The cycle then repeat itself if you haven't hit a winner or your opponent gets the ball back.

One thing to notice about this system is that movement is part of every phase. Most of the instruction I see on movement doesn't attempt to view movement as such a comprehensive and systematic package. If a player actually practices this system, they could gain an advantage of 0.5 - 1.0 second per shot over the opponents. By the time you get to the 2nd or 3rd shot of a rally, your opponent can be in such a disadvantaged position, that you don't have to hit a great shot to win the point.

One highlight of the system is that there are 15 moves that any pro could execute when contacting the ball at the baseline. Which move to execute depends upon the kind of the ball one receives and the intent of the stroke that you want to respond with. Here is a sampling for what one can do from the back of the court. Focus particularly on what their feet, legs and hips are doing and how they use their lower body to facilitate what their upper body is doing when they hit the ball.

Here is a sample of what one can do from the forecourt.

Despite the cheesy music, if you watch a professional tennis match, you'll actually see players execute most of these moves. And I can tell you from actually trying it myself, you will hit a better ball more consistently.

This video of Jedi-mode Darth Federer against ARod shows two long points that I'll focus upon.

At 2-all of the first set (0:43) on Roddick's serve, there's some very solid hitting for a 10 stroke rally. Fed hits a block return off a two foot pivot. ARod uses at two foot pivot to hit a topspin forehand down the middle to keep the point neutral. Since the point is neutral and Fed knows he can outrally Arod, he keeps it neutral by hitting a rally topspin forehand down the middle out of a two-foot pivot. ARod tries to establish some progress in the rally by hitting a topspin forehand to the backhand out of the two-foot pivot. Since Fed only has to take a few steps to get to his backhand, he hits a topspin 1HBH out of a step down pivot deep and wide to the ad court into ARod's backhand. ARod tries to angle Fed off court into the ad court alley with his topspin 2HBH. Sinc ARod's backhand has a lot of spin but less pace, Fed has plenty of time to track down the ball and hit a BH slice DTL out of a closed stance. ARod tries to take advantage of the open court (which Fed is already trying to cover with one carioca step) by hitting a crosscourt forehand out of a step down stance. Fed has no problem running down the ball and hitting a forehand DTL winner out of a mogul move.

Everything ARod did would win the point against any player outside the top 10, and on most points against Fed. It was Fed's slice that set up the winner. Because the closed stance comes naturally to a one-hander, it is easy for Fed to generate racquet head speed for a tough shot. Once ARod tries to respond to the shot, he plays a response that is a bit two cautious. Perhaps the same shot shot (CC forehand) with a different contact move (front foot hop) would be more aggressive and more difficult for Fed to reply to. Regardless, Fed's quick recovery towards the deuce course, and his choice ot the mogul move gives him that extra pop to accelerate the racquet. By the way, the mogul move is usually a counter-attacking move when you respond to an attack from your opponent that is not quite good enough. Even if ARod had gotten to Fed's shot, Fed's mogul had already set him up for a perfect recovery towards the ad court.

Again there is some very solid hitting in the next game, but I conclude that Fed's movement is what gives him a crucial advantage over ARod. ARod wide ad serve successfully angles Fed off court, which Fed chips out of a closed pivot. ARod immediately tries to take control of the point with an inside in forehand out of a low spin. Fed has to neutralize this with reverse forehand into the middle out of a lateral hop. ARod hesitates a bit going forward, and opts to hit an inside out forehand out of a high spin to the around the midpoint of the ad service box. The point now neutral and Fed can hit a rally backhand out of semi closed stance down the middle. ARod hits an inside-in FH out of a high spin to the deep deuce court corner. Fed hits his second forehand out of a lateral hop (but it's the windshield wiper) out of a lateral hop to the middle of the baseline. ARod tries to hit a forcing inside out forehand out of a lateral transfer move where the shot lands in the middle of ad no-man's land. Fed hits one of his signature finesse shots, a chip backhand cross court, of a closed stance, which is the gambit move to bring ARod in. ARod takes the bait and hits an inside in forehand out of a step down pivot but the ball doesn't quite have enough weight behind it. Fed has no trouble running down the ball and passing ARod cross court with a reverse forehand out of a mogul move.

You can repeat the analysis of the last point for this point. ARod did everything right which would work against almost any player, but not against Fed. Fed not only knows that his slice troubles ARod, but because ARod's transition movement is tentative (he choses a less aggressive and "safer" contact move off of approach shots), Fed has an excellent chance of passing ARod. And again the pass is off of the contact move that best fits the situation.

I hope both of these point analyses takes away some of the mystery behind modern tennis movement. If this doesn't help you become a better tennis player, I hope it makes you a better fan.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Prognostications (Women)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30: Serena Williams of the United States of America addresses the crowd after winning her women's final match against Justine Henin of Belgium during day thirteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

1st Quarter:

Caro has earned the dubious title of WTA World #1, without a Grand Slam. She is the #1 seed that gets no respect. She won a lot of matches last year, but underachieved at the majors (lost to Nails in 4th round AO 2010, Franny in the quarters of RG 2010, Kvitova in 4th round of W 2010, Bepa in semis of USO 2010).

Frankly she faces a difficult draw. In the first round, she faces a very good player in Dulkbag, who will be fresh after having a great doubles season with Flavs. She could meet Domi in the 3rd round, who beat her 3 and 3 in Sydney. In the same half of her quarter, she could meet ball bashers in Wicky, Mono or Jarka Groth. All of them on their best days can beat anyone.

In the opposite half of her draw, she could face very experienced players like Franny, and even more dangerous Allez Bitch. Unfortunately her best hope of getting past these potential quarterfinal opponents lies in Sveta, who has 2-16 head to record against her potential 4th round opponent in Allez Bitch. So Caro's best chance of legitimizing her status as the World #1 by winning a major lies in stepping up her game and beating the best. She's quite capable of the folks in her quarter, but beating an experienced Grand Slam champion like Allez Bitch is an entirely different story. In their only head to head meeting in Miami, Caro did take Allez Bitch to three sets, but this seems to be more a function of a first-time meeting than any real pattern to the match up. If they do meet in the quarters, Allez Bitch won't be surprised by Caro's tactics.

Lurker: Jarka, Socks

Semifinalist: Allez Bitch

2nd Quarter:

As athletes get older and past their prime, the competitive advantage they once had shrinks. In Vee's case, it has apparently so much that there is constant talk of her retirement despite the fact that she was the World #2 during the clay court season last year. The biggest question is her knees, where the only matches she had since Wimbledon were at the US Open. Even if she has recovered enough, there are plenty of players who can hit just as hard as her, and recover as many balls as her. This can be said to various degrees for almost all the seeds in her draw: Petkorazi, Kanepri, Sharpie, Nails, Rezzy, Dani and Vika. All except for Dani have a good chance of beating Vee. Dani, unfortunately, may have to withdraw from the AO because of a tear in her Achilles tendon.

Vee's best chance of making it the semifinals is to use her experience to grind her opponents down. This may be good enough to get her through the first few rounds, but it's tough to see if it can get her to the semis. Unfortunately, grinding really hasn't been a go-to strategy she has employed throughout her career, because the consistency of her serve and forehand can disappear under pressure. She could lose to a very motivated Masha/Kanepri in the 4th round.

Masha has had a long route of recovering from shoulder surgery. While many think it is her serve that explains the long road to her becoming a contender for majors again, I don't think that's the entire story. The rest of the tour has simply closed the advantages she once enjoyed in a big strokes and mental fortitude. If almost everyone can hit as hard as you, you have to play defense, which was never (and never will be) Masha's strength. Her loss to Caro at the US Open shows exactly the limitations of her game. An athletic tennis player with great movement can open up the court against her and beat her. Unfortunately for Masha, there are a lot of those on the tour these days.

In the quarters, I expect that she would have to beat the best between Nails, Rezzy and Vika. Vika almost beat ReeRee last year, but is vulnerable to having her movement attacked. Rezzy is dangerous when she can really tee up for her shots especially on clay. Nails always seems to play well down under. If she can keep it together mentally, it wouldn't surprise me if she repeated her semifinal appearance from last year.

Lurker: Sharpie

Semifinalist: Nails

3rd Quarter:

Almost everyone is picking Kimpossible as the favorite for Oz. As far as her game is concerned, there are no real holes: she can serve well, play great defense, moves well, and create her own offense. She's beaten other contenders in handy fashion (e.g. Vika, Bepa, Caro), and she's a three-time US Open champion. The hard courts of Melbourne Park ought to suit her game.

But she does have a tendency to go off the boil sometimes. Last week in Sydney she had a 5-0 lead in the first set, and apparently collapsed with double faults and errors to donate the title to Nails. Last year, she only won one game off of Nads. So the question for her is whether she can stay focused enough through seven matches to win her first major outside of New York.

And she will need to stay focused, because if she goes off the boil, anyone in her draw is capable of taking advantage. Lady JaJa is in the other half of her draw and is coming back from a disappointing second half of the year, and eye surgery. Kleybs will be able to hit her way to the 4th round, but then her fitness or her movement might not be good enough to go further. Aggie is coming back from a foot injury, is the mirror opposite player to Kleybs: not a hard hitter in the least, but counts on her speed and craftiness (esp. the drop shot-lob combo) to throw opponents off their rhythm.

On her half of the draw, Kimpossible well need to get past the crafty lefty MJMS (a S&V who hits lots of drop shots), and then get past either a resurgent Adje Gal or Nads. When she's not focused, it would be unsurprising if Kim would lose to Adje Gal (or even Nads). But a focused Kimpossible is simply too good for the rest of her draw.

Lurker: Adje Gal

Semifinalist: Kimpossible

4th Quarter:

Bepa is the number 2 seed whom nobody takes seriously. This, despite making the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open last year. The negatives on her part is that she only won one tournament last year, and a perfectionist like her has a well-deserved reputation for being too mentally fragile. On the other hand, you don't appear in two Grand Slam finals by accident, and she seems to have made progress with her mental game.

Bepa, I think will have to like her draw. On her side of the draw, she faces a potential second round clash with Bojangles who made the Sydney semifinals, and a third round class with Miss Berdy or Zakopalova. While any of her opponents can hit a hot streak and she can have a bad day, one would expect that under normal circumstances Bepa ought to make it through. In the 4th round, she is seeded to meet Pavs or Makiri, both of whom could give her a tight match. Bepa is the player who has done better on the big stages, and should be able to get through.

In the opposite half of her quarter, Aussie hopes rest on Sam who is hitting the peak form of her career. Unfortunately, Flavs is also in the same half of the quarter. Should Sam and Flavs meet, Sam's chances aren't very good as her head to head against Flavs is 3-0. Their head to head is one-sided thus far because Flavs has no problem returning Sam's main weapon: her kick serve. Sam's best hope of making it to the quarters is for someone to take out Flavs for her, and for her to make it past the hard hitting Kvitova in the 3rd round. In either case, I think the odds look good for Bepa should she meet Sam or Flavs.

Lurkers: Flavs

Semifinalist: Bepa

Semifinals: Allez Bitch d. Nails, Kimpossible d. Bepa

Finals: Kimpossible d. Allez Bitch

Australian Open 2011 Prognostications (Men)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 31: General view of Rod Laver Arena in the men's final match between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Andy Murray of Great Britain during day fourteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 31, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The first act of the professional tennis season begins with a bang at the Australian Open, aka the Happy Slam. For years it was neglected because many players such as Borg and Connors refused to make the long trek Down Under in December/January because they wanted a longer off-season. When the event moved to the hard courts of Melbourne Park, it developed its own distinctive identity. For tennis fans in colder climes of the Northern Hemisphere, it reminds us that we can hope for summer where we can get to hit balls. Australia, of course, has a wonderful tennis tradition in birthing the greatest players to play the game in Laver, Rosewall, Newcombe and Court. Australian tennis fans are knowledgeable, and it's always a pleasure to hear Aussie commentators such as Killer or Stubbsie. Most importantly, this is the slam that's in the middle of the Australian Summer. No other major has an extreme-heat policy where play can be suspended because it is too hot. This Slam tests a player's stamina.

Tournament Site: here

Draws: men's singles and women's singles

Injured List: ReRe

Switzerland's Roger Federer and Great Britain's Andy Murray hold teir trophies after the men's singles Final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia on January 31, 2010. Roger won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6. Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/Cameleon/ABACAPRESS.COM

1st Quarter:

Everyone, of course, is talking about the player of the year, Rafa, who completed a career slam by winning the US Open. He has also won Wimbledon and Roland Garros. If he wins the Australian Open, he will be the first man since Rod Laver in 1968 to hold all 4 majors at once. The Rocket doesn't think the 'Rafa' Slam should be called a Grand Slam, sticking to the tradition that one must win all 4 in a calendar year. Nevertheless, if Rafa does do this, it is possible that he may be anointed the GOAT despite winning less majors then Federer. Regardless of the GOAT debate, winning 4 consecutive majors says a lot about the peak form of a player over the duration of one year, but not necessarily about how they've done over the entire course of their career.

Rafa's quarter does contain some dangerous players, but none who could challenge him over the course of a five set match. In the 3rd round, he could meet Feli, who did beat him on the grass courts of Queens. Tree and Cilic are seeded to meet in the 3rd round, but any optimistic predictions for Cilic are bound to meet with disappointment. Tree's big serve does have the game to take Rafa out of his rhythm. They met twice this year with both matches in Rafa's favor.

In the other half of the quarter, Head Banger is seeded to meet the Mika Llodra, and Nalby to meet Daveed. There can be real surprises in this part of the draw. Kevin Anderson plays a very big game, and looks to be maturing. For another, the first-rounder between Rusty and Nalby will be a real cracker for sure. Rusty looks ready to make a late career push and claims to be in great shape.

Lurker: Rusty.

Semifinalist: Rafa

2nd Quarter:

Sod blasted through ARod this past weekend to win Brisbane, and won his first Master's 1000 last year in Paris. He is also a two time Roland Garros finalist. Most importantly, he is not overawed playing either Fed or Nadal. There aren't many guys who the ball as hard as he does. In his half of the quarter, it's doubtful whether Belluci or Curls can get past someone as confident as Sod. Belluci tends to do better on a clay, and it is always a question whether Curls will be mentally prepared, as he underachieved last year in the majors. Though Tsonga had the best result of his career in 2008 making the final, I wouldn't pick him to go further than the 4th round.

Delpo is making his return to the tour, and opens his AO campaign against Sela. If he gets past Sela, he is likely to face bags. But there seeded players are certainly in better form than Delpo. Melzer had the best year of his career (Wimbledon doubles champion, RG semi-finalist). Bags committed to dropping weight in the off-season, and loves playing in Oz. GGL beat Rafa down in Thailand. But most importantly, Muzz the great Scottish hope of the UK is looking to get past the finish line, and finally win a major. Muzz beat Soderling handily in the WTF in London. I think his rope-a-dope game, and his retrieving skills should be enough to frustrate Soderling should they meet in the quarterfinals.

Lurker: Melzer, Bags

Semifinalist: Muzz

3rd Quarter:

The man to beat in this quarter is the Djoker, who won the only major of his career here in 2008. With the Djoker, one always wonder how the heat will affect his stamina or his asthma. But he's bringing in a lot of confidence from winning the Davis Cup for Serbia, and he beat Fed at the US Open in a tough semifinal. The best years of his career are ahead of him. He could face compatriot Troicki in the 3rd round; and then Nico or Ljubs. I doubt any of these guys can beat the Djoker, so I'm counting on him at least making the quarters.

The opposite half of Nole's quarter is full of dangerous players. Big Berd had a break out year, making the finals of Wimbledon and semis of RG. Unfortunately he didn't do great since as he has admitted to struggling with being the hunted scalp. Reeshard might be returning to form that matches the hype of his early career, but he still looks like he plays too much defensive tennis. Playstation struggled last year with a wrist injury. His recent semi-final appearance in Doha may signal a return to the form that made him a dark horse last year. Nando, of course, had the best result of his career in 2009, taking Nadal to an epic 5-setter. The young American, Ryan Harrison, has an impressive all-court game, and is capable of winning 3 or 4 matches in a row at this level. But Harrison doesn't like like the only dark horse in the draw. One should also watch out for Kohly and Kei.

Lurker: Kohly, Harrison, Kei

Semifinalist: Djoker

4th Quarter:

Fed, of course, won his 16th major here last year. Two weeks with the flu in February led to a mid-season dip in form that saw his streak of 23 consecutive semi-finals appearances in majors ended at RG, and then a very disappointing lost to Big Berd in the quarters of Wimbledon. In the summer, Fed knew it was time to make a change by adding Paul Annacone to his team. The results speak for themselves. He has won 5 out of the last 9 tournaments he has entered (Cincy, Stockholm, Basel, WTF and Doha), and made the semifinals or better of the rest (US Open, Montreal, Shanghai, Paris). Even folks who are not Fed fans admit that he is the player that is currently in the best form.

In terms of his quarter, Fed doesn't face anyone that can probably threaten him. Opposite him in this quarter is his pigeon ARod. His compatriot Wawa looks to have more hunger to advance farther than the great French counterpuncher, La Monf. Fish and Samurai are likely to take each other out. Montanes could take out Fed in a clay court event like Estoril but not on an Australian hard court.

Let's face it. In the men's game for the last 5-6 years, it has been about Federer or Nadal in the majors. Only Delpo, Nole and Safin have managed to pry away a major championship from these two. And the rivalry between these friends looks to be swinging in favor of Federer. Some of the important adjustsments Fed seems to be making is implementing a rip and charge off of backhand returns, which helps his ability to handle the high kicking heavy topspin of Nadal's forehand to his backhand. He is also looking to hit the set-up shot to get the short ball so that he can take the net earlier. If Fed continues to earn a high percentage of his points off of first serves, he is the man to beat in Melbourne.

Lurker: Stakhovsky, Wawa

Semifinalist: Fed

Semifinals: Rafa d. Muzz, Fed d. Djoker

Finals: Fed d. Rafa

Sydney 2011: Nails Did It

If you're down Love-5 in the first set after 15 minutes, most tennis players would feel like they're getting owned. Me, I've been tempted to throw in the towel and get at least one game to save my dignity.

Not Nails.

I was 5-0 down & I saw the time...only 15 min. I was like, Yeah, the fans, they pay a lot of money for half hour the match is over. (Smiling.)

She indeed sunk her dragon claws into Kim, and clawed back to win her first Premier-level WTA tournament (76 63). Then again she had done the same to Sveta and Bojangles, so this is nothing new for her.

Doesn't she just glow?

Not entirely sure what turned around the match, but will post an update as soon as I find out more.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Rally for Relief

If you haven't been following the news lately, you should know that the floods in Queensland are just apocalyptic. Over 200,000 people have been affected, and the flood has touched an area over the size of France and Germany combined.

Yes, a week ago in Brisbane a tournament was being played, and now this.

Roger Federer announced today on his Facebook account that they will have the Rally Relief exho on Sunday at 3pm to help raise funds for those affected by the floods. It is expected that Rafael Nadal, Kim Clijsters, Novak Djokovic, Sam Stosur, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Pat Rafter will also participate.

Last year, a similar crew participated in the "Hit for Haiti" which was full of light-hearted fun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sydney 2011: Nails on On-Court Coaching

Nails' coach is her husband, and during her presser she was all kind of awesome about her husband's on-court coaching sessions

Monday, January 10, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Practice Again

For those of us up in colder climes of the Northern Hemisphere, nothing can make us feel more envious than seeing balls getting smacked in Oz.

Sharpie christens Rod Laver Arena to work on her forehand.

Here's JuJu Bear playing practice points.

A shirtless Nando posing for the ladies.

Lawnmower getting advice from Ivan Lendl.

Le Monf looking serious

Finally more Masha (can't she work on her defensive skills?)

ADDITION: Woger Federror working on his serve and playing practice points

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hacking the Ball: Become a Better Fan

A month ago Fuzzy Yellow Balls marketed a great online tennis instruction course called Tennis RX. The premise of that course follows a medical theme, where they teach tennis players to "become the doctor" for their own game. It means analyzing what is wrong with your own game, diagnosing the problem and then prescribing a cure. This empowers players to improve incrementally instead of making the same mistakes time and time again, and frees them from depending too much on their own coach.

To summarize, this course has three parts:

(a) Layering is the process of focusing on one area of your game (e.g. the serve) by improving your skills starting from the simple skills (e.g. the toss) to more complicated skills (e.g. a right hander placing slice serve down the middle to the ad court at 80% accuracy). The concept of layering works because if you think about a skill like driving, most of us mastered the fundamentals first (e.g. controlling the accelerator pedal) and built up to more complex skills (e.g. driving along an unfamiliar road to an unfamiliar location) to the point that we no longer think about the fundamentals.

(b) Personalization is the process of figuring out what your own particular skill set is and learning to play the kind of game that maximizes your strengths and minimizes your weakness. Skill set is something that can range from a physical one (e.g. speed), through strokes (e.g. a very strong offensive forehand) to a mental one (e.g. calmness when taking risks). Personalization is applicable at all levels of the sport. For a beginner who is already quite athletic, it might mean running a lot of balls down and pushing them back This tops out very quickly if the pusher means a player who can also run a lot of balls down but hit them all in technically correct fashion. At the pro level, one notices that pros will almost always have an excellent skill set for the fundamentals (e.g. rally groundstrokes, returns and serves), but they play very different games. Nadal used to play a very defensive tennis but has evolved to an aggressive all-court player. Federer has always been an aggressive all-court player but since he's hired Paul Annacone this summer, it looks like he's evolving to rushing the net more. Even if we compare the kinds of aggressive all court games that both of those guys play, they both express that style in different ways with the most obvious difference being Nadal's lefty reverse forehand and Federer's flatter windshield wiper forehand.

(c) Profiling is the process of thinking about how your own game matches up against other players and defining the strategy that you need to play that's most likely to beat them. For me, at the recreational level, if I figure that my opponent doesn't have consistent rally ground strokes (which I do have), I'll try to get them into long rallies around my most consistent shot (the forehand). At the pro level, one of the most famous match up problems is Nadal's lefty reverse forehand which bounces high to Federer's one handed backhand. In the recent World Tour Final in London, Federer was able to negate Nadal's game plan by ripping sharply angled backhand winners by taking the ball on the rise. A reason is that he was able to do that effectively is that (my guess) is that he had been practicing his backhand drive returns off of kick serves. A kick serve to the backhand and a high bouncing reverse forehand are the same kind of ball, so it's no wonder that this is an effective point of focus in practice for Federer. Note in this explaination I've given that Federer has profiled the strategy he needed to beat Nadal (e.g. minimize a matchup problem of Nadal's forehand to his backhand), layered an improved skill set (e.g. hit drive backhands on the rise for high bouncing balls, be it a kick serve or a forehand), and personalized it (e.g. try to angle Nadal off court).

The Tennis Rx course assumes that you actually play tennis (and want to get better). How can knowing its essential principles help you become a better fan? Rather than analyzing your own game, you can apply the same principles to analyze games of the players that you're watching, and begin to understand why matches turn out the way they do. Too often in tennis fandom, we get emotionally attached to our players, and stop paying attention to what is actually going on out there. This demonstrates a lack of brains.

Right now, as I write this Tennis Channel is playing a replay of the Brisbane final between Sod and ARod.

From quick glances of a few points, I can apply the Tennis Rx course and explain why ARod lost the match and why his head to head record with Sod is 2-6.

a) Profiling: ARod hits very spinny crosscourt groundstrokes that sit up in Soderling's strike zone. This makes it easy for Soderling to tee off with his flat groundstrokes, and put ARod on his back foot. Both guys have great serves, so if they both return at the same success rate, their match isn't going to be determined by the return.

b) Personalization & Layering: ARod has gotten very comfortable with a grinder's game by emphasizing consistency with spinny groundstrokes, mixing in slices, and earning a few free points per game with his serve. Over the years, Soderling has improved his consistency by getting in better shape, staying calmer on court, and improving his movement. If both guys serve equally well, and hitting cleanly, Soderling will win every time, because his strokes penetrate through the court faster than Roddick, and he will push Roddick back. Roddick's best chance against Soderling is to coax errors from Soderling with his slice backhand. Unfortunately Roddick's slice and dice game is not at the level of Federer, where he can turn the match up around to consistently hurt Soderling. To get to that level, Roddick has to be able to tee off of returns to his slices. Usually the highest percentage return to a slice shot will be another slice shot or a rolling topspin shot. In both cases, I think Roddick has to improve hitting forehand approach shots out of the neutral stance.

Any way, with the Australian Open, tennis fans will get plenty of tennis to watch. And Aussie commentators just rock, because they understand the game! I hope this helps you become just as smart as them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Another Day, Another Fed Tweener

Fed hit another tweener. It's part of his day job.

Oh, he's done this one before to Henman.

Of course, anything Roger does, Rafa has to try.

All credit to Rafa for getting the hardest part of the tweener right (the footwork). He'll get it in some day.

Without naming names, the ressentiment against Fed that this tweener generates is astounding. It's just a game. These boys are having fun. Just saying. After all, all these guys learned the shot from the Magician himself.

Tennis 'Experts' Build Frankenstein

Sports Illustrated has decided to ask their panel of 'experts' to build their version of an ideal tennis player based on the current form of today's ATP and WTA players for your mass consumption in 90 seconds.

If you want to read the article, go here. Or your could just look at the summary table below.

Jon WertheimS.L. PriceBruce JenkinsRichard DeitschBrian Armen GrahamAndrew Lawrence
ServeIvo Karlovic / Venus WilliamsAndy Roddick / Serena WilliamsAndy Roddick / Serena WilliamsJohn Isner / Venus WilliamsIvo Karlovic / Venus WilliamsRafael Nadal / Serena Williams
ReturnAndy Murray / Vera ZvonarevaAndy Murray / Caroline WozniackiAndy Murray / Venus WilliamsAndy Murray / Victoria AzarenkaAndy Murray / Victoria AzarenkaNovak Djokovic / Jelena Jankovic
ForehandJuan Martin del Potro / Ana IvanovicJuan Martin del Potro / Samantha StosurRobin Soderling / Samantha StosurFernando Gonzalez / Kim ClijstersRoger Federer / Samantha StosurRobin Soderling / Venus Williams
BackhandNovak Djokovic / Justine HeninRichard Gasquet / Venus WilliamsRafael Nadal / Justine HeninNovak Djokovic / Justine HeninNovak Djokovic / Kim ClijstersRichard Gasquet / Francesca Schiavone
Net PlayBob Bryan / Samantha StosurMardy Fish / Francesca SchiavoneMichael Llodra / Francesca SchiavoneBob Bryan / Francesca SchiavoneMardy Fish / Francesca SchiavoneMichael Llodra / Cara Black
FitnessDavid Ferrer / Francesca SchiavoneRoger Federer / Kim ClijstersNikolay Davydenko / Caroline WoznaickiNikolay Davydenko / Samantha StosurNikolay Davydenko / Caroline WoznaickiRoger Federer / Justine Henin
FootworkRoger Federer / Kim ClijstersNovak Djokovic / Jelena JankovicRoger Federer / Kim ClijstersRoger Federer / Caroline WozniackiDavid Ferrer / Justine HeninAndy Murray / Maria Sharapova
Mental ToughnessRafael Nadal / Serena WilliamsRafael Nadal / Justine HeninJohn Isner / Maria SharapovaRafael Nadal / Serena WilliamsRafael Nadal / Serena WilliamsAndy Roddick / Kim Clijsters

Some of these choices are trivial: Rafa & ReeRee for mental toughness, Federer for footwork, Djoker & JuJu for backhand, Andy Murray's return or ARod's serve. Others deserve this reaction.

Sharpie's footwork? The cow on ice is a smooth dancer. Vee's forehand or serve? Every commie points out those strokes get wonky because she doesn't keep her head still. Izzy's mental toughness? Yeah it was great for the Wimbly marathon but he hasn't won any majors. Bob Bryan and Cara Black getting consolation prizes for their net play so that the present top players like Nadal and Federer don't take all the top spots? Rafa's serve? Sure it has improved but is it the best?

More to the my present point, this assemblage is a Frankenstein. A player with the serve like Dr. Ivo or Tree will be tall (over 6' 6") but will he actually move as well as Fed to hit punishing inside forehands off of slices skidding at shoe lace level? If you've seen ATP pros up close and personal, many will hit slice shots that well. Or if a player actually had a backhand like Reeshard, how does a player avoid letting such a strength take over his game so much that it prevents him (or her) from rounding out the rest of his game?

If you do want to use your brain a little bit to actually analyze the game of tennis, allow me. My main criticism of this "dream player" meme is that it treats a player's game as an additive summary of parts. If you've consciously tried to improve your own tennis game beyond the beginner level, you know it isn't as simple as acquiring a different forehand. Changing a stroke will have ripple effects on the rest of your game which requires adjustments to your other skills. Justine Henin's game over the last several years is a perfect case in point. She's always had an excellent backhand, but it's her forehand that's improved the most to the point that it's now her main weapon. Her backhand went from being her main weapon to her set-up shot. Yes, it's still a thing of beauty to see her flick a sharply angled top spin BH roller that puts her opponent in the stands, but she can now do that with her FH too. Present-day Henin is so solid from both sides of the court that she's one of the few pros who won't hit a running reverse FH, because she probably feels she doesn't need to.