locker room

Weekly Debrief – Djokovic’s Raindance, Verdasco Gold, “Indo-Pak Express”

As the US Open unfolded and the player field began to dwindle, storylines were made, but none more so than the unexpected win by Novak Djokovic in the semis and his ensuing raindance. Fernando Verdasco also had his celebratory dance after his win over comrade David Ferrer. And the Indian Pakistani duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi made their mark for peace. I leave you off with a little known locker room video that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. Let’s take a look at this week’s top stories in tennis!

Novak Djokovic as a True Contender

The biggest story this week may be Novak Djokovic’s defeat of the king of tennis himself, Roger Federer, in the semifinals of the US Open, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Federer not only had a winning head-to-head ratio against Djokovic (10-5), but he was 184-6 after winning the first set in a grand slam. Djokovic overcame all odds and pulled off the greatest win of his young career.

As the two weeks in Flushing Meadows were unfolding, it seemed like there was a natural pull for a Federer-Nadal final, something that had never happened here before. It was as if all the pleading by journalists, fans and commentators was paying off. Well, until Djokovic came out from “under the radar” and spoiled the party.

It’s slightly disconcerting that the #3 player in the world was given little thought for a run to the title here. He has been a steady member of the top 4 for the last three years, yet his respiratory problems and tendency to fold under pressure situations made him seem like just another bump along Federer’s route to the final. In Federer’s post-match press conference he even acknowledged that “The guys who overlooked [Djokovic] don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.” What makes the story more comedic is that CBSNews’ twitter feed had this up even before the Djokovic-Federer semi was over: “Rafael Nadal Reaches First U.S. Open Final, Moves on to play Roger Federer for Championship and Career Grand Slam.”

But enough of the hilarity, let’s get back to the tennis.

While easily dropping the second and fourth sets, it seemed that Federer had turned it around and was on his way to a ‘W.’ He held two match points on Djokovic’s serve, up 4-5, 15-40 in the fifth but allowed the Serb to dictate both points. If you are a Djokovic fan, you know to await disappointment because he succumbs to the do-or-die moments 95% of the time. However, this day was different. He not only won both rallies convincingly, he did it on his own terms: blasting forehand winners on both occasions to bring the score to deuce. He then earned the only break of the set at 5-all and sealed the win when Federer’s forehand went wide on match point. Djokovic stood there stunned, staring at his box, almost not convinced he had just beaten the Great Federer.

In his post-match press conference, he revealed exactly what was going on in his head during the match: “I got a bit nervous end of the first and third set, and that’s why I lost those sets. But anything except that, I think I played overall a great game, fighting really and being aggressive when I had chance, and defending well. I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it. Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for the shots. I was lucky.” Very lucky indeed.

Furthermore, Federer struggled at the net in the two sets he easily lost and his first serve percentage wasn’t even hitting 50% until more than halfway through the match. On the other hand, Djokovic was more consistent on his first and second serves percentages. And if you don’t believe me that Djokovic has been serving extremely well during this whole US Open, take a look at this stat: he’s #6 on first serve percentage with 69%. What’s more is that all of the other men on the list only played 1, 2, or 3 matches each for these high percentages, Djokovic played 6 matches. (Source: http://www.usopen.org/en_US/scores/extrastats/f_srv_pct_ms.html )

Djokovic Must Have Done his Raindance

In what turns out to be the third-straight year the Men’s Singles final will be played on a Monday due to rain, there is increased talk about the US Open having a covered stadium to avoid this. While Roland Garros doesn’t have the need for a roof as clay dries faster, the Australian Open and Wimbledom both jumped on the track and built roofs atop their marquee stadiums. So, why not the US Open? One of the reasons is that Arthur Ashe stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world and estimates are that it would cost around $150 million dollars to build. Tough obstacle.

But Novak Djokovic doesn’t seem to mind the final has to be pushed back one day. After his grueling on-court battle yesterday against Roger Federer, he welcomes the delay, and even his fellow female player knows it! As Djokovic had just learned of the postponement, he was leaning against a wall in the locker room, smiling. A Russian player currently vying for the Women’s Doubles trophy, Nadia Petrova, walked past him and said, “You are lucky! Seriously lucky!” Djokovic just stood there nodding and replied, “Another day in New York.”
When Rafael Nadal was questioned, he diplomatically responded: “There’s nothing you can do about this; it’s New York in the rain. For sure it’s fairer like this. I think it’s better for both of us to have a day of rest.” I’m not so sure I agree with him as he didn’t have a tough semifinal match with only 20 hours to recover. If the final had been played Sunday, it would have favored Rafa for sure. And his uncle, Toni, seems to agree: “For us, it would have been better that it had not rained today, because Djokovic might have been a bit more tired. But it was fairer like this.”

The two opponents share the same publicist, Perez Barbadillo, and he jokingly said: “Obviously, Rafa would have preferred to play today, and Novak was praying for rain, so I suppose what I take out of things is that God is Orthodox,” referring to Djokovic’s Serbian Orthodox faith. “He’s been listening to Novak.” (Read the full New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/sports/tennis/13tennis.html )

To further spark conflict for the US Open title, it seems that the ATP website has already picked it’s winner — even before the match has been played! (I took a screenshot knowing very well it would be corrected within a couple hours.)

Rafael Nadal’s faster serve

Imagine playing tennis since the age of 4, turning professional at 15, and playing the same heavy-topspin lefty game until you break the top 10 at the tender age of 18 and achieve #1 just three years later. If this were my track record, I wouldn’t look to change anything about my game. Not only is there no need, but technically-speaking, if the change brings a worsening in results, it may be hard to revert back to the old ways.

This is not the case with Rafael Nadal, who, two days prior to the start of the US Open, changed the grip on his serve.

Rafa swung by the commentators’ booth in Arthur Ashe stadium during the Gael Monfils-Novak Djokovic quarterfinal and chatted with ESPN’s Brad Gilbert and Chris Fowler about the change. “I am trying to serve a little bit more like Wimbledon because the ball here is very soft,” said Rafa. “It is not getting a lot of topspin, I try to play a little bit more flat. And for that reason, I am serving faster, that’s it.” Changing his grip didn’t happen overnight though as the media would have you believe. While hitting his fastest serve ever at 134 MPH in Flushing Meadows, Rafa is quick to say that “I worked a lot to serve well during my career and I have to keep working hard.” It looks like then that there is no such thing as a quick-fix — hard work is still what achieves results.

Fernando Verdasco’s Golden Moment

Although the fourth round featured some great matchups, the duel between Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer on Louis Armstrong stadium was pure heart on full display. And I wouldn’t expect any less from the passionate Spaniards. Both men won 70% of their first serves and hit a combined total of 23 aces, not something that either is usually known for. However, Verdasco had 73 winners to Ferrer’s 38.

Even though the match lasted well over four hours, aggressive play with plenty of marathon sprints to and from the net were seen up through the last point from both players. Ferrer had quickly gone up 4-1 in the fifth set tiebreaker, visibly frustrating Verdasco. His run ended there, however, as he never converted another point. Verdasco pulled off the shot of the tournament with his sprinting forehand volley that looped around the net pole and into the deuce corner on Ferrer’s side. Verdasco fell on his back in joy, and after shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire, proceeded to continue his excited 12-year-old celebratory dance. As he double fist-pumped his way into the hearts of fans, he dropped to the ground on both knees and slapped the court seemingly giving gratitude to the tennis gods, all the while yelling “Yes! Yes!” I even heard from a friend they could hear Verdasco yelling all the way up in Canada. Dude, gets around!

Check out Verdasco’s match-winning point:

“Indo-Pak Express” Leaves Mark

Even though the Bryan Brothers came through for American fans in capturing the US Open Men’s Doubles title, their opponents in the finals received perhaps even greater recognition globally. The duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi began their “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign back in Wimbledon as part of the effort to support peace between the two embattled countries they come from, India and Pakistan, respectively. They have quickly gained not only the support of fans, but the leaders of their countries as well for showing there can be great respect and partnership between the two countries.

The “Indo-Pak Express” as the two are fondly called, had a great run only dropping one set before going out in two hotly-contested tiebreakers in the final. In his post-match presser, Bob Bryan said that “This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy.”

With United Nations ambassadors Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan sitting together in the audience, the crowd cheered and gave Bopanna and Qureshi a standing ovation during the trophy ceremony for their peace-loving efforts. Qureshi went on to say that he was dedicating his share to the 21 million flood victims in Pakistan and thanked the Bryan brothers for donating a portion of their winnings to the Pakistan flood victims as well. In the interview room of Ashe stadium, the UN ambassadors from India and Pakistan presented the Bryan brothers with ceremonial Pakistani garments called ‘ajraks’ and thanked them for their benevolence. “A lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street,” Mike Bryan stated. “Sport can bring people together.”

ATP BONUS

And if you haven’t had enough of Djokovic yet, check out the Bryan Brothers Video Blog in the locker room of Ashe stadium with the ‘Djoker’. He’s not only shirtless and ‘buffed up,’ but he’s doing pushups and shaking hands with Jimmy Connors in his skivvies! Eat it up, Djoker fans, he’s a world-class chatter.

http://www.tennischannel.com/video/index.aspx#4d172bf3-e066-4881-bd16-f2c938b89707

IT’S BROOKLYN DECKER WHO GRACES THE COVER OF THE NEW SPORTS ILLUSTRATED!

Andy Roddick’s wife, Brooklyn Decker, was unveiled today as the new Sports Illustrated (SI) covergirl. She’s been in SI five times before but never graced the cover.

When asked if husband Andy Roddick was even a little jealous Decker replied:

“No. He’s so proud. I think this gives him a one-up in the locker room for the next year or so.”

On how she felt to be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, Decker said on the USA’s Today Show, “It’s the equivalent of being the MVP of the Super Bowl” – Decker choosing not to use a tennis analogy.

More news about Brooklyn Decker is that she is also the new face and body of La Senza’s Valentine lingerie.

Enjoy the photos!

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MARIA KIRILENKO IS LOOKING SWELL AT THE AUSSIE OPEN!

So is it a surprise that the ever swell looking Maria Kirilenko has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open? To me it is. I never expected her to reach the second week of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  But like I wrote in my “I’ll supply the love: Maria Kirilenko” post and I quote:

I have high hopes for her this upcoming tennis season. I am actually hoping she will grab at least one title and make it into the fourth round of any Grand Slam tournament.

And she has exceeded my expectations already by reaching the quarter finals of the AusOpen 2010. Now it’s time for her to be consistent and I hope that she will be throughout the rest of the 2010 season. Just one step at a time. There is no need to rush.

When asked what she is going to do for her birthday she replied with the following:

Q. I believe it’s your birthday in an hour.

MARIA KIRILENKO: That’s true.

Q. What are you going to do?

MARIA KIRILENKO: I mean, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I had a dream, you know, to be in a Grand Slam main draw in Australia when I have a birthday. I think my dream comes true.

Q. Do you get to have champagne or do you not have that because you’re still in the tournament?

MARIA KIRILENKO: No, I don’t want to get drunk before my next match (laughter). It’s going to be difficult for me to play then. But, yeah, maybe after when I finish with my tournament I will celebrate with the girls from the locker room, with all my friends.

Anyway I am sure you have enough of my ramblings and so here we go with the photos:

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Serena’s Slap On The Wrist: The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

A Slap for Serena – It didn’t come as a surprise when I read the ITF’s verdict on Serena Williams’ infamous US Open tirade. Nonetheless, I was sorely disappointed to read that she was merely fined $82,500 and will serve a two-year probation at the Grand Slams. If she commits another “major offense” at a Grand Slam event during her probation, the fine will double to $175,000 and she will be banned from the following US Open. For me, there are several things wrong with this ruling. First, be it $82,500 or even the $175,000, that’s pocket change to a player who made a little over $6.5 million in 2009 prize money alone. Secondly, if the second “major offense,” is what gets a player banned from a Slam, shouldn’t her US Open tirade have been that second offense? Why was she never punished for her comments at the 2009 Roland Garros Championships where she accused Spanish player Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of cheating and remarked, “I’m going to get you in the locker room; you don’t know me.” Maybe it lacked the foul language she unleashed on the lineswoman at the US Open, but it was a clear threat that got swept under the rug. I also question what message the ITF’s verdict sends to the rest of the top players. If they feel ripped by a call, they should feel free to have a go at the officials?  They get one freebie, so why not? And what after those probationary two years are up? Clean slate and players get another freebie? My personal favorite is how the Australian officials are saying they now expect Serena to be on her best behavior. It’s nothing against the Australian officials who are just answering questions from the press, but shouldn’t this be expected of all competitors anyway? Most competitors know what’s expected of them, and they don’t need the threat of breaking probation hanging over their heads to act in a respectable manner. I firmly believe Serena got off easy because her name is Serena Williams, and I hope that if she commits another “major offense” in the next two years (or at any other time for that matter), the ITF has the backbone to do something about it.

The Silent Assassin – That’s the nickname the commentators were giving to Nikolay Davydenko, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate for the slightly built Russian who quietly made his way to the first big title of his career at the ATP World Tour Finals event in London. Davydenko took out all three of the 2009 Grand Slam winners en route to the title (including his first win over Roger Federer in 13 tries), and passed Roddick in the rankings as a result of his good form.  It’s been great to see him rise above the ugly betting scandal he endured earlier and become known for something positive.

Bryans Back on Top – The most famous set of twins in tennis are back at the top once again.  The Bryans had more recently been overshadowed by the likes of Nestor and Zimonjic, but with their 7-6(3), 6-3 win over Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram to claim their third season-ending championship title, the Bryan Brothers also reclaimed the No. 1 doubles ranking.

End of an Era – It appears that Indianapolis may lose its right to host a professional tournament. A victim of the recession, Tournament Director Kevin Martin explained the event’s nonprofit group had looked at a variety of options, but is now faced with selling its sanctioning rights to the ATP event. If the event does move, or get cancelled altogether, it will mark the end of nearly 80 years of great tennis in the Hoosier capital, which has hosted names such as McEnroe, Borg, Sampras, and Roddick.

Au Revoir, Amelie! – On Thursday, French tennis star Amelie Mauresmo called time on her career. The announcement was not a complete surprise given Mauresmo’s latest struggles with injury and lack of form, but it was sad to hear all the same. A former World No. 1, the winner of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon Championships in 2006, and owner of one of the best one-handed backhands in the sport, Amelie had one of the most complete games on the WTA Tour.  She will be missed, but we wish her all the best!

Bump, Set, Tweet?

tennistweets

Serena Williams and Andy Murray are leading the charge of top-level players who are using their Twitter accounts as means for communicating with their fans.

Last week, Williams created a stir when one of her Tweets complained about a ‘new rule’ in the locker room regarding no food. Wimbledon officials went on the address the situation, but it marked one of the first times in the tennis world that Twitter has been used a means of unofficial communication, giving the social networking site even more power on the web.

TennisTweets.com is a free online service that offers Twitter users and non-users alike to follow professional tennis players. Players such as Andy RoddickAmer DelicSabine Lisicki and Laura Robson are constant Tweeters, while others like retired commentator Jim CourierMurphy Jensen and Justin Gimblestob also use the service.

The Twitter craze has reached such a height on the pro tour that even the ultra-private, introverted Venus Williams has signed up this past weekend. Her first Tweet: “Just won my 2nd round singles match and 1st round doubles match at Wimbledon!”

And speaking of Wimbledon, the tournament itself is the most addicted of all, Tweeting match scores, updating fans on weather, inside gossip and the like. Oh, and don’t forget to add TSF to your Twitter after you add all those A-List tennis folks. Can’t forget the little Tweeters in life!

But who’s most popular of all in the tennis-Tweeting world? That would be Serena, of course, with over 487,000 followers.

(screen grab from Twitter.com)