croat

Romi’s Raves at Legg Mason – Troicki Flips Out, Nalbandian Hot & Sweaty

As I approached the grounds of the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, I was surprised to see the parking grounds almost full. And it was only noon. The first day of qualifying was already underway, but I didn’t expect such a turn-out. Then I remembered. Not only were three locals in the draw, teenagers Denis Kudla and Junior Ore, as well as UVA alum Michael Shabaz, but it was also Kid’s Day, moonbounces and all.

The weather was near perfection, warm with partly cloudy skies. But the courts were a different story. They felt least 40 degrees warmer. Each player that stepped off the court was drenched in sweat and even the surprisingly dry heat wasn’t cool enough for these pros. Enough about the weather, let’s check out what was happening around the grounds today

  1. The first player I spotted was Croat Marin Cilic practicing. He was on-hand for the draw ceremony yesterday that included DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, who named the week of July31-August 8 as “Tennis Week.” Cilic was sporting new red Fila shorts and they popped with color. I approve.
  2. Behind me a crowd started gathering and I noticed a legend, well, a legend to me at least. 28-year-old David Nalbandian was hitting with Viktor Troicki. I only caught the end of their session, but while Troicki looked like he could go on for another 3 hours, Nalby was dying in his own sweat. His fitness has definitely improved and his forehand is as strong and dominating as ever, but he still needs better footwork and to lose those ‘last few pounds.’ Later in the day, I spotted him practicing again with Radek Stepanek. Not sure how to read Stepanek’s game today. He would fire 10 aces in a row, hit some great down the line shots, and then come up empty for the next 10 minutes. I’m still not decided on whether being a newlywed is helping or hurting his game.

  3. Gilles Simon was on the practice courts for quite a while. Surprisingly, he looks much stronger in person and his game is much more explosive standing 15 feet away. The camera does not do him justice. He was friendly and personable taking ten photos with fans and stopping to sign autographs. With each photo, he didn’t just stand there like most players. He reached his hand around and practically gave each person a hug. He is a hugger, ladies! This warms my heart. Girls got giddy around him, men stood staring in confusion, and I was happily enjoying viewing a former top 10-er in person.
  4. I then checked out some of the Devin Britton/Brian Dabul match and I was startled when Britton stood in at tall 6’4’’ next to me. Somehow he always looked smaller to me on camera, but not today. And his eyes are a piercing blue color. Sadly, he is still very much a serve-and-volleyer. If he hasn’t changed his tactics by now, he may not for a long while. Point proven: he lost today after being up a set to Dabul.
  5. I then had more French action. A shirtless Michael Llodra was practicing with Julien Benneteau and they were enjoying themselves and the heat. I would try to analyze their play, but I was in awe of Llodra sun-glistening. I had forgotten how good tennis players look sans shirt.
  6. Kevin Anderson won his 1st round qualifying match earlier today, but his coach got him back on the horse. He was out working on his cross-court forehands and down the line backhands. At one point his coach said was trying to tell him to make his point-of-contact with the ball more in front of him, but it came out like this: “Take a smaller swing on your forehand so you can go through the motion more.” Anderson tried this new tactic with hesitation and the next ball went straight into the net. Coaching fail. Anderson then exclaimed: “I’ll just prepare earlier!” and he went on his way to hit winners. Whatever works.
  7. I was able to sit in on center court for a while because a friend happened to have box seating his family bought 20 years ago. Now, that’s my fail not knowing this in years past. Anyway, I watched Michael Shabaz stay neck-and-neck with youngster Donald Young. Young has been the talk of the town for the past few years, but his talents never translated into a higher ranking than 73 two years ago. Maybe that will change this year as he won this matchup.
  8. The #1 seed of the tournament, Tomas Berdych, was on the grounds today. As I was watching Troicki practice with Kei Nishikori (more on that hilarity later), a friend told me to turn around. To my shock, it was Berdych. In full view, with his coach. If you know me, you know I follow his game and love his style on- and off-court. As I walked closer to take a photo, I noticed not a single spectator was around him. Did they not know who was standing 10 feet from them?! How could they not realize that the Wimbledon finalist was right there!? Well, I’m sure most people are as concerned about this as me, but when I started taking photos, people finally started asking if it was Berdych. I coolly replied “Yes” trying to at least not seem like a fangirl. He was doing squats with resistance bands. And I’m not just talking about those dingy resistance bands you and I have, no. His were heavy-duty, dually-strapped silver magic bands. I now no longer have to wonder how he gets those legs into such amazing shape. It’s those damn bands. I’m making my boyfriend buy some. Well, if I had a boyfriend. Moving on …
  9. As Berdych was practicing with Niskikori, I stood in awe yet again. Berdych continues to embody balance in tennis. Some may think his open stance, that looks as if he’s almost sitting in chair, is “awkward.” Not me. It takes so much strength to look like that and still keep your balance and poise. And he does it all with a smile. What’s not to love?
  10. Back to the Troicki incident and the best moment of the day. We all know Troicki is hot-headed, but perhaps more so if you’re Serbian or Croatian and understand his obscenities. As he was hitting with Nishikori, balls kept rolling across his side of the court from the neighboring court occupied by Andrey Golubev. He was as patient as any man could be on a hot day in the sun, but after the 20th ball rolled across, he walked towards it and started yelling and swearing at the ball. In Serbian. And it was beautiful. He said something to the effect of “$#@ the $#*)* in the %#*)$+ ball %(*#_)@ every time!” On the next point on Golubev’s court, guess what happened? Yes, the ball started rolling onto Troicki’s court. What followed next was even more impressive than Troicki’s outcry. Golubev started swearing at the ball for about 10 seconds. In Russian. This moment was pure gold and only a few understood what even happened.

I’ll leave you on this warm thought for today and will be back tomorrow to report more. It will be the second and final day of qualifying as well as the first two main draw matches consisting of Giraldo vs. Malisse and Przysiezny vs. Zeballos. Ciao!

CAREERS REJUVENATED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

Careers Rejuvenated – Raise your hand if you had Caroline Wozniaki vs. Jelena Jankovic in the Indian Wells women’s final and Andy Roddick vs. Ivan Ljubicic in the Indian Wells men’s final. While credit has to go to both of the losing finalists for a fine effort in the desert, hearty congratulations are due to the winners, Jankovic and Ljubicic. Jankovic, who has seen her ranking slowly plummet as she struggled to win matches, finally got her act together to bag the big title and put herself back on the map. Even more impressive was Ljubicic. Well into the twilight of his career, it would seem that the big Croat’s best days were behind him. But Ljubicic proved the critics wrong and held his nerve to knock off Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal (“accident” or not), and Roddick to win his first Masters 1000 title. If this is a sign of things to come, the men’s and women’s games just got a little more interesting.

More Rumblings at Roland Garros – Gilbert Ysern has once again reiterated the fact that the French Open may not only have to move away from the Roland Garros site, but from the city of Paris itself. The reason for the move is the current inability of the FFT to enact site upgrades, such as the construction of a retractable roof, due to opposition from the public, primarily environmentalists. Some predict this will all blow over, that there’s little chance of the move. They feel that the public will cave, as they can’t imagine the second major of the year being played anywhere but Roland Garros. I’ve got my fingers crossed that a compromise can be reached so that fans around the world can continue to enjoy springtime in Paris.

A Split Decision – Politics once again has the opportunity to influence an upcoming Davis Cup tie, as Serbia is set to take on host Croatia in the city of Split. The Serbian coach, Bogdan Obradovic had requested that the tie be played in the capital Zagreb, as he felt it would be less nationalistic than Split. I’m with the ITF on denying the request, especially given the significance of Split to Croatian tennis as the hometown of local hero Goran Ivanisevic. That said, I’m not Serbian, nor am I Croatian. I can’t fathom the levels of tension that may exist, but I have seen players from both nations making great strides to get along and set an example. While this could potentially be ugly, this may also be a viewed as a golden opportunity. This is a chance for tennis to set politics aside and perhaps through sport, start mending fences between two nations.

Hewitt Headed to Houston – Aussie Lleyton Hewitt has announced that he will be making his return to the ATP World Tour earlier than expected at the clay court event in Houston.  Bouncing back from a second hip surgery will be difficult, but Houston is the perfect place to test the waters. The soft clay coupled with a middle-of-the-road field should give Hewitt the opportunity to ease back into competition. And with guys such as Ivan Ljubicic and Juan Carlos Ferrero mounting their own comebacks in the latter years of their careers, there’s no reason two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt shouldn’t expect he can do the same.

Tiger Tim Ready to Return – Well, he wasn’t ready to sit in the captain’s seat of the British Davis Cup team, but Tim Henman, still one of the most popular figures in British sports, has stated that he is ready to consider making a return to competitive tennis. He’ll play his first event at the AEGON Masters in London at the end of the season. Having reached a career high of No. 4 and one of the best serve-and-volleyers in his day, Henman was always a crowd favorite and will undoubtedly be a welcomed presence to the tour. I for one hope everything pans out, and that as Henman said, the AEGON Masters is the “first event of many for me on the ATP Champions Tour.”

“NO MORE DJOKING ABOUT MY STRENGTH” BLASTS NOVAK

Serbian Novak Djokovic and the big Croat Ivan Ljubicic take to the court Wednesday once more to do battle in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open ATP Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells.

It is the fifth time the two will duel over the net and the second this year, Djokovic coming from a set down to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 in Dubai.

In fact, Djokovic has won all four encounters between the two and that first set in Dubai is the only one the bald eagle of Croatia has managed to nip off his younger and more flexible opponent.

I watched match-up number three between these two, the first round of the 2009 US Open in New York. Sitting courtside in the blazing mid-afternoon heat I watched a man many were tipping as favorite dismantle his older foe without too much trouble in straight sets.

I had been talking the match up beforehand citing it as one of the potential big upsets of the early tournament matches. How disappointed I was when play came to fruition. Not so much with Djokovic. His tantalizing service game was too much for a man who often uses that weapon himself. But on this occasion Ljubicic’s serve was abandoning him and nearly every drive and volley was dropping an inch too long.

But it was the controversy with which the match finished that struck me most. With Ljubicic serving at 3-4 a ball dropped questionably close to the outside tramline to hand Djokovic a break and the chance to serve for the match at 5-3. Ljubicic challenged and we all sat with baited breath awaiting the all-seeing Hawkeye’s decision.

And waited.

And waited.

Hawkeye was asleep. So the players took up their positions once more to replay the point. “Game Djokovic,” came the booming voice of the umpire over the tannoy. Djokovic wasn’t going to argue and trotted to his seat. But Ljubicic was seething and launched in to an angry protest which lasted a good few minutes.

After the Croat was finally pacified play resumed and Djokovic served out the match.

Interestingly, I noticed that for the rest of the tournament the message “In the event of Hawkeye failing the official’s call will stand” was emblazoned on the big screens during breaks in play. I’m not surprised after that drama.

At 30, time is getting on for Ljubicic and his quest for a Grand Slam is coming to an end. His semi final placing at the 2006 French Open remains his best result and based on his much younger opponents these days I will put my money on it staying that way too.

Djokovic, however, is still desperately trying to add to his 2008 Aussie Open crown. At 22 he is still very young and with time and improvements on minor aspects of his game he will surely do so.

That victory over Ljubicic last autumn was a welcome one for the 6 ft. 2 in. Serb. Having received criticism for his perceived feigning of injury, too many early retirements from matches and a lack of respect shown for opponents through his jibes and impressions on court, he won over a lot of fans with his new more serious on-court demeanour.

“I’m in the transition,” Djokovic had said earlier that year. “It’s not easy because I’m very emotional. Some things really hurt me, and maybe I express myself a little bit too much – people didn’t get used to that. But at the end of the day, you sit and think to yourself, ‘I’ve reacted the way I felt that’s right.’ Maybe it’s wrong, but you learn from your mistakes. That’s why life is testing us all the time.”

It seems the media and crowds may be warming to him again somewhat. And for a player who obviously takes so much to heart that can only help him take his game back to the level which led him to that first Slam two years ago.

If he keeps this run over Ljubicic going then it will be the winner of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Juan Monaco in the quarters before a possible semi final against Rafa Nadal.

It’s tough going in modern tennis and only the headstrong survive. Only Novak knows if he has the mental stability to march onwards and upwards and that semi final could see a battle of two men that some corners of the media are already beginning to slate as finished despite their tender ages.

RIVALRY RENEWED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Rivalry Renewed – Australian Open tournament organizers couldn’t have planned it any better if they had tried.  The women’s final will pit current Australian Open Champion Serena Williams against former world No. 1 Justine Henin. Though Serena has never said as much herself, the media has been speculating that the return Henin has provided a new source of motivation for Williams, who may want a piece of the Belgian who was her main rival before Henin shocked the tennis world in 2008 by retiring while she was still at the top of the game. It will be interesting to see how Henin’s nerves hold up in what is just her second event back since returning to the sport, but there can be little doubt that sparks will fly. And one can be sure that this is only the beginning; those sparks are going to get brighter and more intense as the 2010 WTA season unfolds.

A Niggle in the Knee – After a relatively positive start to the season, Spaniard Rafael Nadal had to be disappointed to have to pull out of his semifinal encounter with Scot Andy Murray due to his niggling knee problem. All credit to Murray who played a brilliant match and would have won anyway, but there has to be concern in the Nadal camp going forward in 2010. For a man who bases his game around tracking down every ball and bludgeoning it around the court, a bad knee is a death sentence for his career. He’s going to have to seriously consider overhauling his game, or his career, which started so brilliantly so early, may now well be over.

The Captivating Croat – Put me down for jumping on the bandwagon of Croat Marin Cilic. After putting together a stellar run at the 2009 US Open, he followed it up by going even further at the first major of 2010. He was the tournament’s marathon man, who showed nerves of steel with his five-set victories over Bernard Tomic, current US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and American Andy Roddick. He may have bowed out to British No. 1 Andy Murray in the semifinals, but there’s no doubt that this young up-and-comer is going to be a Grand Slam champion in the near future.

Change in Weapon – U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller has stated that he plans to temporarily trade in his skis for a tennis racquet as he attempts to win a wildcard into the US Open qualifying draw. Miller has reason to think he might be successful, as he is no stranger to the game of tennis. He won the 1996 Maine State Singles, and his family owns the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, New Hampshire. If Miller does make it into the US Open qualifying draw, it could definitely create more pre-tournament buzz than ever before.

The Chinese Charge – For the first time in tennis history, China had two players in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event. Na Li and Jie Zheng gave the world’s largest nation something to smile about as they fought their way into the final four of Melbourne, which included Na Li’s narrow escape from the jaws of defeat against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. While Na Li and Jie Zheng both lost in the semis (to Serena Williams and Justine Henin respectively), their continuing success bodes well for the future of tennis in China.