2009 US Open: The Highs and Lows

September 16, 2009

USREPORT-US-TENNIS-OPEN-WOMENWell, the U.S. Open has come to an end. And I’ve gotta say it was CRAZY!!! It was easily the most bizarre Grand Slam I’ve ever witnessed. So let’s go over the highlights and the low-low-lowlights.

High Points:
1) Juan del Potro: Pretty much no one gave him a chance, except my brother, actually, who picked Juan to win in five. I, on the other hand, had picked Roger in a three-set steamroll. I really should leave any and all predictions to my brother in the future. Anyhow, Juan fought like hell, and when he connected with that thunderbolt forehand, there was really nothing Roger or ANYBODY could do. He’s still got areas to improve–namely his movement–but he’s crashed the Federer-Nadal-Murray-Djokovic Party in a major, major way.

2) Kim Clijsters: I had mixed feelings about Kim winning because it showed how little the women’s level of play has improved in the last couple of years. That being said, Kim clearly put in a heck of a lot of work, and she clearly earned the win. Seeing the joy evident in Kim and her family took the bad taste out of my mouth after what happened in the semifinal–more on that later.

3) Caroline Wozniacki: She obviously benefited from a draw that opened up to her red-carpet-style, and I’m still skeptical that she has a top-level game. But one thing she doesn’t lack is pure star quality–she’s the Taylor Swift of tennis–and her smile lit up Arthur Ashe Stadium. As sexist as it may sounds, the WTA needs its share of pin-ups, and Caroline fits the bill to a T.

4) Tennis itself: This U.S. Open provided roller-coaster drama on almost a daily basis. It was Grand (Slam) Theatre, and I’ve gotta think that many new tennis fans were born during the fortnight.

5) Melanie Oudin: The kid’s goin’ places. She’s got good power, she’s a born fighter, and she hustles with the best of them. If she just stays healthy and keeps on learning, she should be in the Top 15 by this time next year.

Low Points:

1) Serena: Oh, Serena. We all knew she was a diva, with all that implied. But she went over the line (no pun intended) with her actions. Some people have tried to make the issue about gender and race, but they’re really grasping for straws. The bottom line is that Serena did wrong. I was worried that Serena would put on her nothing-ruffles-me mask and refuse to admit wrongdoing, but she has gone on to apologize, and I was very glad to see that. I do think she has learned her lesson, and suspending her–as some have suggested–would just be counter-productive, hurting both Serena AND tennis. Like Venus suggested after she and Serena won the doubles title, “Let’s move on.”

2) Roger Federer: He’s still Roger (i.e. the Greatest Ever), and the man’s got nothing else to prove. Still, I can’t help but feel a touch of hubris has crept up into his persona, and that played a part in his loss to del Potro. He had the match in his hands, in absolute control, and he stopped pressing on the gas pedal. At one point, he hit a casual behind-the-back shot, which del Potro easily put away. It was Roger showing off, when he needed to just focus on the task at hand. By the time he regained his full intensity, del Potro had risen like an awakened giant, and the match was out of his control.

3) The Officiating: The umpires and the linespeople put on a bizarre sideshow at times. I actually excuse Serena’s “victim” from this, because I can’t help but think that the woman simply called what she saw: Serena foot-faulting. But the umpire in the men’s final was weak and ineffective (Roger ended up telling him, “Don’t tell me to be quiet. I don’t give a shit…”), and the line-calling in Roger’s semifinal against Novak Djokovic was just terrible.

4) The WTA: Kim hadn’t played a major in two years, but she swept through the field without a whole lot of trouble. It supports the belief that many players at the top of the game are there almost by default, not because they’re true champions. I’ll excuse the Williamses because Venus was clearly suffering with a bum knee, and Serena’s situation was just too out there. But Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and pretty much every other established player–besides Kim–seemed to lack that extra fighting spirit that marks true champions.

Serena – Duncan Sheik


The Kween is Back…

August 16, 2009

Michelle Kwan is now once again officially a skater. She skated two programs at the Ice All Stars Show, and it was just surreal seeing her (even if it was hours after the fact, and I was watching on the computer monitor, not a TV screen). First off, she has lost none of her Kweenly presence. And her jumps–two double axels, two triple toes–were clean and secure. I was actually even more moved by the delicate, artistic moves that she performed, the falling leaf, the Charlotte, and above all, that lingering spiral which is still just glorious.

It was an excellent comeback by Michelle, but now the question turns to what she’s going to do next. We know she’s not going to compete in the Olympic-division side of skating this year. But is she going to keep training hard for professional shows? As good of a start as this obviously was, her fans have come to expect so much from her, and with Michelle’s own high standards for herself, she’ll likely want to continue to up the difficulty level, especially with her jumps. Will she be able to do that while attending graduate school? What’s next for her?

Of course, only Michelle can decide her course from here on now. Until she makes her next move, her fans will have Friday night’s programs to relish for quite some time. Thank you, Michelle, and welcome back.


Michelle Kwan Is Here…

August 12, 2009

MichelleKwan

Yup, Michelle Kwan is HERE in Korea. She’s actually here to skate publicly–in Yu-Na Kim’s Ice Stars show–for the first time in three years. How cool is that???

I won’t be seeing it in person (the ticket prices are astronomically high reaching up to $170!), but I’ll be glue to the TV on Friday. I’ll actually be attending a rock concert on the same night (a high school student of mine will be taking part with his band), so I’ll be making a mad dash home afterwards to not miss a minute of Michelle.

A short video clip of Michelle practicising went up on Youtube, and she looks to be in awesome shape. It’s a short clip, of course, but she seems to be skating with a lot of speed and power, quite different from the ethereal, flowing style she was known for much of her career. Whatever she does, I just hope she doesn’t fall, and pulls it off with her usual class and style. I am so psyched!!!

And here’s the music for Aranjuez, which is my all-time favorite program from Michelle.

Aranjuez


Williams vs. Williams: Little Sis Takes All

July 5, 2009

Serena

After a bit of a hedonistic Friday night (interesting, I’ll leave it at that), I stayed in Saturday night. It may be more accurate to say I went into hibernation mode, as I slept from 6:30 pm right through 10:00 am on Sunday, not counting the few minutes I was awake around midnight, when I fumbled with the remote just long enough to see that the Wimbledon ladies’ final was already over before going back to sleep. I guess I needed it.

After I woke up, I was bummed that I missed the Williams vs. Williams Wimbledon showdown, but behold, there IS a God, as MBC/ESPN showed the match again this morning. I just finished watching it a few minutes ago.

From the get-go, I had picked Venus to win. My prediction grew even stronger before the final as I thought Serena would be too tired (more mentally than physically) after her war againt Elena Dementieva in the semis. Well, so much for my tennis predictions yet again (I’m still not giving up; Federer over Roddick in straight sets in the men’s final).

You’ve got to hand it to Serena. She’s an absolute tigress. She may be flailing, she may be making error after error, but when the stakes are down, she brings out her best. Win or lose, she wants to end the match on her own terms, not her opponent’s, meaning there’s none of the ‘Let’s hope my opponent makes an error’ attitude with Serena on big points.

In the first set of the final, I thought Venus was actually hitting the ball cleaner and more effectively than Serena (just like Elena did throughout the match). But it didn’t really matter, because Serena’s serve kept her hanging in time and time again (again, just like the semi). It was a set played on ATP terms, with everything decided on just a few points here and there, because both players were holding serve so well. By the way, I have to rant a little bit about the sexist ‘Oh, the women don’t deserve equal prize money because their matches are so more one-sided than the men’s’ argument. There’s a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with depth or women’s (lack of) mental strength. It’s all about the serve. Men serve harder and better (due to greater natural strength), and as such, breaks of serve become more rare, which makes the men’s scores naturally closer. Women are much less reliant on the serve, which means that the great majority of points gets decided by who’s hitting the ball better from the baseline. So if Player A is hitting better than Player B, then Player A is going to win the big majority of points, because Player B isn’t likely to have a big serve to keep things close. Look at the Federer-Karlovic match. Federer was on a completely different plane when it came to everything but the serve (strokes, speed, variety, whatever). Yet Federer was stretched to two tiebreakers to win (6-4,7-6,7-6). If Karlovic didn’t have his serve, then the match would have been every bit as one-sided as the whole Venus-Safina 6-1,6-0 debacle. Okay. Rant over.

It all came down to the tiebreaker, and you could see Serena set her flames to Extra-High, while Venus played on at the same level. That ability to fire herself up for important points is really what divided the two sisters in the match. Serena finished off the tiebreak with a gorgeous backhand topspin lob, and after that, she raced through the second set, never in doubt of anything, showing both her innate power and also her underrated variety. People see her huge putaway shots, but seem to overlook the angled shots she uses to set those up; Serena is also awfully smart at knowing when to hit behind her opponents. Her techinique is also not talked about nearly enough. Her shoulder turn on her backhand and her low knee bend are both textbook and big parts of why she can execute those huge shots under so much pressure. Serena’s one main weakness is her footwook, which can be awkward at times, but no one seemed to be able to withstand her power long enough to take advantage of it.

All in all, it wasn’t a great match (Serena was still patchy at times; Venus was just flat in the 2nd set), but even that was a testament to Serena. Like the champions before her (especially Steffi Graf), Serena gets the job done even when she’s not playing at her very best. She may be a self-described ‘brat,’ but she’s a lot more. She’s a champion brat, the most dangerous kind there is.


Federer, Federer-er, and the Federer-est…

June 13, 2009

FRANCE TENNIS FRENCH OPEN
A week ago (a day after Dinara Safina crashed and burned, to be exact), Roger Federer not only cemented as a part of tennis history, he declared himself as the epitome of tennis history itself. He’s simply the greatest player ever. No doubt, no argument, no denying it, no nothing: he’s the best that ever was.

Hold on, hold on, you may say, what about Rod Laver? He won two Grand Slams (winning all four Majors in one year), and Federer’s never done it even once. What about that? Well, let’s take a closer look. In the 60’s when Laver completed his historic feats (’62 & ’69), all the Slams were played on grass, except for the French, which was played on clay as it is now. It’s not like now, when you also have to adapt to different kinds of hard courts used at the Australian and the U.S. Opens. And no one can deny that the depth of competion has grown exponentially since Laver’s salad days. Laver was a true great, but even he falls short of the -est suffix that can only be bestowed upon Federer.

Roger’s only other real rival in history is Pete Sampras, and they now both share the record for the most Major wins, with 14 Slam titles each. But with Roger’s French win, he left Pete behind in a glorious swirl of red clay. Roger, History, you are now one and the same…

My List of All-Time Tennis Greats in the Open Era (Men):

1. Roger Federer: Like I said, undeniably the greatest ever.

2. Rod Laver: He won less Majors than Sampras, but you have to remember he couldn’t play any during the years he was a pro, until the Open Era finally arrived (he was already 31 by then)

3. Pete Sampras: Awesome, but the missing French link holds him back behind Laver

4. Bjorn Borg: It’s mind-boggling how much he achieved before retiring at 25(!!!).

5. Ivan Lendl: Perenially underrated due to his “personality” (or lack thereof), but he was supremely consistent (held the year-end No. 1 ranking for four years, reached a Slam final for 11 straight years!)

6. Jimmy Connors: My all-time favorite player. Was oh-so-close to a Grand Slam in ’74, when he won all the Slams but the French, from which he was suspended for playing in World Team Tennis. D’oh!!!

7. Andre Agassi: Andre won less Majors than some players ranked below him, but he won all of them at least once.

8. John McEnroe: Truly mesmerzing when he was at his peak, but his years at the very top were relatively brief.

9. Rafael Nadal: He’s blazing up this list muy rapidamente (hey, I took Spanish for 3 anos, gotta use it any chance yo puedo). If only his knees will hold up…

10. Stefan Edberg: Was never a hugely dominant No. 1, but his gutsy performances (particularly during his 2nd U.S. Open run) give him the edge over Boris Becker.

Here’s the most entertaining moment from Federer’s win (aside from the emotion-laden match point and trophy presentation, during which I kept getting chills at what it all meant):

*Can you imagine if the guy had unnerved Federer to the point he ended up losing the match?!? He would’ve been hung from a steeple by his testicles with no argument from anyone…


The French Open: And Then There Were Four (and Two)…

June 5, 2009

DinaraWell, what can I say about French Open predictions except they sucked ass? Ana Ivanovic crashed out to Viktoria Azarenka (yup, Azarenka’s the real deal; look for her in the Top 5 soon), and as for Rafael Nadal, well, we all know what happened there.

Still, I can take solace in the fact that it’s been a great roller-coaster of a tournament, with great matches galore in both the men’s and (finally) women’s draws. After all the drama, we’re now down to the final four men and the last two women left standing. So let me take another crack at the whole predicting thing to salvage what little remains of my tennis credibility.

WOMEN’S FINAL: Dinara Safina vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Safina’s really impressed me; it’s mind-boggling how much she’s improved in the last 18 months or so (I still remember watching Kim Clijsters trample a not-in-shape Safina at the WTA tournament in Carson a few years back, and now Safina’s a completely different player). She moves better, she fights harder, and she’s added a lot more power to her forehand, which used to fall short a lot of times.

As for Kuznetsova, she’s fought so well during the tournament (especially against Serena), but in her semi against Stosur, she was having ankle problems, which doesn’t bode well for her. Also, her loopy strokes are consistent and heavy, but they lack pace, which means she finds herself on the defensive too much of the time (Stosur was dictating play with her huge forehand for long stretches in the semi). I think, Safina’s flat shots are simply going to overpower Kuznetsova, unless Safina has a major choke-a-thon. I pick Safina in two (6-4,6-4?). It’d be great to see Safina remove the Number-One-but-never-won-a-Slam asterisk next to her name for once and for all.

MEN:

There are four men remaining: Federer, Del Potro, Gonzalez, and Soderling. But we all know that it’s all about Federer. We talked about Safina removing an asterisk; well, Federer has the chance to remove an asteroid-sized asterisk (“But he’s never won the French!”), tie Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Slam wins, and prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he’s the greatest player to ever pick up a tennis racket. Nadal’s gone. The other three semifinalists are all solid players, but they’re all mere mortals playing alongside the tennis God that is Roger. We’re talking about sheer destiny, and Federer’s playing well enough to make it happen and then some. His movement and footwork are back, he’s found a major new weapon with the drop shot, and he’s using angles as well as ever. It’s gotta happen, and it will be historic. All hail Roger, the greatest ever.

Here’s Roger’s magic on display against Gail Monfils in the quarterfinals:


French Open Week One: Drama Queens Galore

May 31, 2009

Well, well, well, women’s tennis has come out of the stupor it’s been in for quite some time just in time to inject a whole lot of drama into the French Open. Venus never looked comfortable and crashed out to Agnes Szavay. Maria Sharapova survived a couple of nailbiters but is still in it, proving me wrong in the process (I’d picked Petrova to take her out; D’oh!). Safina and Ivanovic are both looking strong, and I still think one of those two will wil the title.

Despite the number of hard-fought, close matches, the REAL drama came from the catfights. First, the whole grunting debate (natural part of the game or a tactic of distraction?) came to a head once again, thanks to plucky, noisy 16 year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito. I must say, I grunt myself, but young Michelle is something else, on a whole different level than Seles or Sharapova. She may call it being “aggresive,” but it sounds more homicidal than anything else (click on below for an auditory sample, if you dare). The Frenchwoman Rezai took her out, but not before the two both started snipping at each other and the chair umpire after Rezai started complaining about Brito’s grunting. Meow, meow, ladies, play nice.

The best catfight of them all came earlier today, and perhaps not surprisingly, it involved the grande dame of drama herself, Serena Williams. But to her defense, Serena was absolutely in the right in this situation. Here’s what happened: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez hit a drop shot. Serena rushed to the net and crushed a backhand at Maria. The ball hit Maria’s forearm THEN her racket and went over to Serena’s side of the court. The umpire awarded the point to Maria, to Serena’s understandable dismay. The umpire didn’t even bother asking Maria if the ball hit her, which instant replays show it clearly did.

Here’s the video:

Serena was absolutely livid (I would have been, too), but she came back to win it in three (Hurray for justice!) After the match, she called Maria a cheater, while Maria dismissed the whole situation, saying it was “stupid.” Hmm. No, Maria, what IS stupid is trying to pretend that you didn’t feel a nearly 100 mile-per-hour rocket crashing into your arm. For that, here is a song dedicated just for you and your (lack of) honor:

Shame On You – Indigo Girls