practice session

Weekly Debrief – Lil Wayne Gives his US Open Picks, Federer’s Coaching Change, and ATP Pros’ “Busted Racquets”

The US Open goes into full swing today, but the week leading up to the event is sometimes even more full of headlines! There are coaching changes for Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt, Murray has a chance to pocket $2.7 million, rapper Lil Wayne gives his picks for US Open champs on both the men’s and women’s side and Sergiy Stakhovsky captured his fourth title in New Haven over the weekend. I leave you off with links to free live streaming of the US Open online and a heart-warming racquet-busting story.

Murray could pocket a cool $2.7 million

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic

AndyMurray shakes hands with Novak Djokovic after their practice session on Saturday, August 28, 2010.

Andy Murray clinched the 2010 Olympus US Open Series, edging out Roger Federer and Mardy Fish who took second and third place, respectively. It was Murray’s title in Toronto and finals’ appearance in Los Angeles this summer that allowed him to take the lead. If he goes all the way at Flushing Meadows, he could walk away with a cool $2.7 million, the largest payout in tennis history. At that point, I’m sure he could pretty much hire any coach he would like. After all, it would be hard to say ‘No’ to a US Open slam champion.

Federer hires Paul Annacone as coach

Speaking of coaching changes, Roger Federer announced on his website that he would be working with Pete Sampras’ old coach, Paul Annacone. During a media conference at the US Open on Saturday, Federer stated that Annacone has “moved from a test trial to integrating him into the team now.” Severin Luthi, Federer’s current coach and Swiss Davis Cup captain, will continue working with Federer as Annacone finishes his commitments to the British Lawn Tennis Association this fall. Afterwhich, the three will work together: “I just think the dynamics work really well with Severin and Paul and me,” Federer stated. “I can go with a very clear mind-set into the matches.”

Roger Federer with Paul Annacone

Roger Federer on the practice courts at the US Open. (Image via GoToTennisBlog)

On top of coaching Sampras to nine of his major titles, Annacone has also coached the greats of Marat Safin and Tim Henman. Federer has already worked with coaches Darren Cahill, Peter Lundgren, Jose Higueras and Tony Roche, so it will be interesting to see how long this new relationship with Annacone lasts. But for now, we are convinced he is a good influence on Federer’s psyche: Annacone brings “his experience … he’s a very nice guy and he’s very calm and speaks as experience from a player and as a coach, as well,” led on Federer. “We speak occasionally about Pete [Sampras] and about how he was with him or about his experience and stuff. I know so much about Pete already that I never try to copy him. I never try to be like him, but I tried to learn from him as a junior because he was my hero growing up. So definitely when I do hear stories from Paul about Pete it can be inspiring.” Federer, being a family man himself, then continued on: “I guess he also had kids early as a player, so he knows how to handle that. You know, it’s just nice to hear, you know, a different voice for a change.”

Hewitt going coachless into US Open

On the flip side, Aussie Lleyton Hewitt will be going ‘coachless’ into this year’s US Open. Citing family reasons, coach Nathan Healey has parted ways after only one year with Hewitt. Hewitt has only had two full matches on the hard court this summer and that could pose a problem as far as gaining a rhythm against his tough first-round opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu. He could then face Roger Federer in the third round.

Rapper Lil Wayne chooses his picks for the US Open from jail

This week, the tennis world found one of its biggest and most-famous fans in an unlikely place: a New York jail. American rapper Lil Wayne is currently serving out an eight-month weapons charge sentence on Rikers Island, but has always been an avid tennis fan.

Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne responded to a Sports Illustrated request via SI stationery and gave both his men’s and women’s winners for the US Open. Before revealing his picks, he showcased his knowledge of tennis stats and history and even counted himself as a fan boy of Andre Agassi growing up.

He claims to “love the Williams sisters” and “simply adore Maria Sharapova” but neither were his pick to win the US Open. He chose to give “the edge to Clijsters … due to Serena’s right foot” on the women’s side.

On the men’s side, he also claimed to be a “huge Nadal fan …. He simply plays with pure passion and leaves it all out there on the court,” Lil Wayne wrote. “With Del Potro pulling out of this year’s Open with injury, Nadal’s only threats are obviously Federer, Djokovic, and Roddick’s aggressive play, but the player that scares me the most is Andy Murray, who’s beaten Rafael four times. Even still I say ‘Nadal wins it all.'”

You can go hear to read Lil Wayne’s full letter: http://us-open-tennis.si.com/2010/08/27/lil-wayne-backs-nadal-clijsters-in-u-s-open/

2010 US Open Men’s Preview with Steve Flink

TennisChannel.com columnist Steve Flink is a long-time veteran of tennis, having been both a statistician for televised matches and an editor for a tennis magazine. He gives us an in-depth preview to the men’s side.

Stakhovsky caputres fourth career title and “ready for the US Open”

Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky captured his fourth career title this week in New Haven, CT at the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament, defeating Uzbek Denis Istomin 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In what has become tradition for tennis players, Stakhovsky kisses his Pilot Pen trophy.

Stakhovsky not only overcame the rain delay this week by playing two matches on Thursday, but his run included three three-setters as well — a grueling task for any player. As his reward, he gained 250 ATP World Tour points, $93,360 and improves to 23-18 on the season. He also went up 11 spots and sits at a comfortable 36 in today’s published ATP rankings.

“It was really an exhausting week for me,” stated Stakhovsky. “A lot of three sets. A lot of tiebreaks. Just a lot of time on court. Just now I have to get myself together and get ready for the US Open. I’m really glad to win this title. It pushed me to another level again. But I just need to think forward again and get ready.” Stakhovsky is slated to take on Aussie Peter Luczak in the first round of the US Open which kicks off today, and could face seed #15 Ivan Ljubicic in the second round.

Watch the US Open online for free!
Don’t have access to the televised matches at this year’s US Open? No problem! You can now watch online via several websites. I actually prefer the multi-court coverage on USOpen.org’s own site (http://www.usopen.org/en_US/interactive/video/live.html?promo=subnav) or ESPN3.com’s interface. Other free (and international-friendly) notable sites include:

Live Score Hunter: http://www.livescorehunter.com/Livescores/Livescore-Tennis.html

MyP2P:  http://ht.ly/2wYcC

ATDHE: http://atdhe.net/index.html

Channel Surfing: http://channelsurfing.net/

ATP Bonus:

Ever wonder what happens to those busted racquets players demolish in a rage of fit on-court or in the locker room? Well, wonder no more. ESPN.com contributor Patrick Hruby takes a unique look at a little-known secret showcased on the walls of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC.

Racquets of ATP pros Gael Monfils and Marat Safin, only two of the many racquest on display.

For the past few years, head laundry/locker attendant Alex Cordier has started ‘velcro’-ing racquets that ATP pros have broken while at the tournament. There is nothing like it in the world and you won’t find this “wall of shame” at any other ATP tournament either. But, it’s pure gold and worth a look at the photos and stories — had me laughing! http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=hruby/100827_atp_broken_rackets

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP Tour. We’ve got you covered!

Polansky Gives Canadian Tennis A Big Boost

It’s safe to say that when you’re ranked outside of the top two hundred and find a way to defeat a guy ranked 15th in the world it’s likely the biggest win of your career. Such was the case Monday night with 22 year old Canadian Peter Polansky who defeated a big-time player in Jurgen Melzer.

Playing in the first match of the evening session, Polansky delighted the home town fans with a stirring display of shots worthy of a player far more experienced than he.

With both players staying on serve throughout the first set, a tiebreak was required to decide the opening frame. Unbelievably it would take Polanksy eight set points to gain the upper hand in the match and close out the set. In the process he saved one set point against him.

After the match I asked him if he was starting to sweat it after failing to capitalize on the first seven of those set points.

“Yeah, those were a little bit tought, I mean, having all those set points. But I knew even if it went to a breaker I was just going to stay with him. Even if I lost that first set, I was going to try not to let it get to me. I don’t think it was going to. I knew no matter what, he would have been in for a long match, because I was going to stay right there with him.”

With that huge boost of confidence Polansky kept the ball rolling by breaking Melzer in the opening game of the second set. His pre-tournament practice session with Roger Federer must have taught him a thing or two as he continually made shots you’d expect from a much higher ranked player.

Any nerves or jitters that Polansky was feeling were well hidden as he won four straight points leading 5-4 on serve to secure the 7-6(6), 6-4 victory.

After the match Polansky revealed that despite his struggles of late, he was inspired by some positive results in practice the past few days. During that time he revealed that he took a practice set from Tommy Robredo of Spain and split sets with Frenchman Arnaud Clement.

Next up for Polansky is 54th ranked Victor Hanescu. The Romanian toppled one Canadian hope earlier today in Milos Raonic and Polansky joked that he might text Raonic for some inside information before his second round match.

“…Milos and I are friends, so I’ll get some tips from him. And the whole Tennis Canada staff, they were watching as well. I’m sure they’ll have something to say. I mean, regardless, I’m going to go out there playing my game and doing what I can.”

For now Polansky can take a big sigh of relief at the ranking points he defended from his first round win a year ago in Montreal and hopefully also find time to enjoy the moment before his next match here in Toronto.

Legg Mason Finals: Practice Session Fun; Press Conferences & Analysis of Nalbandian, Baghdatis

It was a gorgeous sunny day here in Washington, DC as I stepped onto the grounds of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic to witness history being made in both the doubles and singles finals.

I arrived before the crowds were allowed in so I got a sneak at a practice session between doubles partners Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek on stadium court before their 12:30pm match. They were focused yet jovial, practicing forehands and backhands before working on their serves and returns. Even though this was their first finals together as a pair in a tournament, they were enjoying the heat and joking with each other. With about 10 minutes to go in their session, Mark Knowles, half of the doubles team they would face shortly in the final, came out. He warmed up by jogging around the court and even remarked to a winner Stepanek sent down the line: “Save that for next week, partner!” I quickly searched my memory and remembered seeing that they were teaming up in this week’s Rogers Cup because his usual partner, Mardy Fish, decided to take a week away from doubles.

Five minutes later, Mardy Fish himself came out, cheerful and talkative. He jogged over to Stepanek’s extra racquet asked to see it and jumped in as a doubles partner to Berdych who was serving. It was 2-on-1 vs. Stepanek. They played a couple intense points while Fish checked out Stepanek’s racquet. It was an enjoyable few minutes as I found myself wishing I had brought my camera from the media tent to tape it. I wasn’t expecting any kind of camaraderie between guys who were about to play each other in an hour! Three of the four players in today’s doubles are singles players and the lone doubles specialist has already reached over 700 career wins. Clearly, these guys know each other well and enjoy the company. It’s always pleasant to see light moments like this as a fan. The doubles fun ended when Stepanek and Berdych played their last volleys. The final shot found Berdych tumble to the ground on his back in fear of Stepanek’s racquet smacking a ball that was only two feet away. He came up laughing. I made the conclusion that as non-expressive as these guys sometime seem on-court, they know how to have fun and enjoy tennis.

The fun was over and it was time for the matches, or was it? I happened to run into a familiar face in the ladies’ restroom about 20 minutes later. In the split-second I had to contemplate whether I would say anything, my mouth worked quicker than my mind and I found myself asking: “Are you Stacey? Mardy’s wife?” She pleasantly responded “Yes” while looking up. I had a quick chat with her and wished her husband good luck in the match. She mentioned that it was very hot in Atlanta two weeks ago when Fish won the singles title. It was her first time there and she wasn’t expecting the humidity. But, as a loving wife, she said “Mardy made it worthwhile.” This brought a tender moment as I once again realized what a great support system means to a player on and off the court.

As I made my way over to the stadium and sat down, I spotted another familiar face in a red official’s t-shirt, the infamous line judge Serena Williams cursed out at last year’s US Open. She was measuring the net and adjusting the height, slumped over it, barely reaching the tape. It struck me that she was quite petite and I was even more surprised then at how well she handled the situation last year. Williams is an intimidating character, especially in the heat of a match, but this line judge held her own.

The doubles teams of Berdych/Stepanek and Fish/Knowles made their way onto the court and the atmosphere became more spirited. Berdych, Stepanek and Fish are normally singles players, but a couple of years ago the ATP changed the formatting of the doubles game. They shortened it with no-ad scoring sets where players could use their singles rank to enter the doubles. This promoted top singles players to showcase their talents in the doubles field encouraging more fan support.

The match got underway and each player’s talents and weaknesses were quickly exposed. While Fish excelled in his backhand return game, Knowles struggled a bit to get into the rhythm. And although Berdych’s net play has improved by playing more doubles, he was still the weaker of the two at the net; Stepanek’s variety and quickness to read the ball well gave them the early break. Fish/Knowles weren’t able to bounce back from this and Berdych/Stepanek took the first set 6-4.

The second set, however, was more hotly contested. At 4-3, deuce, Berdych double-faulted and this inevitably changed the rhythm for the rest of the match. Fish/Knowles held their serve, Berdych became more loose at the net not anticipating balls well and we found ourselves in a second set tiebreaker. Fish then double-faulted on his fourth set point saying to his partner that the sun was “right in my toss” bringing the score to 6-6. Two mistakes by Berdych gave Fish/Knowles the second set, and the match was decided by a 10-point super tiebreaker. Fish/Knowles got off to a quick start and never looked back. They took the match 4-6, 7-6(7), 10-7. This was their second title as a doubles team, Fish’s eighth doubles title and Knowles’ 53rd. All-in-all, it was an excellent doubles match for the championship.

The singles match quickly got underway and featured wildcard David Nalbandian and the #8 seed Marcos Baghdatis. The two players have very similar games: both are baseliners, pressure their opponent’s second serve by standing well inside the baseline and their most accurate shot is their backhand. Nalbandian is known for his great return percentage and Baghdatis for being able to quickly go from a defensive to an offensive position.

From the first couple games, I was getting the sense that Baghdatis was moving gingerly on his left ankle that he tweaked yesterday. He made several errors in the first game dropping his serve, while Nalbandian further responded by blasting winners past Baghdatis to go up 2-0. I recoiled thinking this was quickly going to turn into a beating and I simply hoped that Baghdatis’ ankle would hold out.

As luck would have it, Baghdatis became a little more comfortable with his backcourt lateral movement and began holding his serve. Even though Nalbandian was still more aggressive in his shots, Baghdatis began mixing up the pace making it harder for Nalbandian to keep his rhythm. What made it easier for Nalbandian to beat Cilic the other night was that Cilic hits hard and flat, and Nalbandian easily responds to that. Baghdatis, on the other hand, uses more topspin and changes it up with harder balls and comes into the net more, giving Nalbandian trouble with the pace. Even with this, Nalbandian’s forehand was brutally ‘on’ hitting winners, while Baghdatis was still searching for his game. A few times though, the audience got a spark of Baghdatis’ great talent as he took Nalbandian’s second serve so early, absorbing the pace and placing it deep in the middle catching Nalbandian on his back foot and off-balance. Not to be outdone, Nalbandian at one point stopped a rally midway and challenged a baseline non-call. He was right, the point was his and he gained even more confidence. What’s surprising is Nalbandian’s ability to hit on the run. At 3-2, Nalbandian hit a backhand on the run, followed by a perfectly placed running overhead lob that just nicked the line behind Baghdatis. Even though Nalbandian also has a few extra pounds like Baghdatis, he was moving with relative ease making contact with nearly every ball and demonstrating his physique.

At 4-2, Nalbandian was clearly dictating points, hugging the baseline and forcing Baghdatis further back, making him more defensive and not able to do as much with his shot. At deuce, a backhand error by Baghdatis gave Nalbandian another break opportunity. On the next point, Baghdatis tried to pull Nalbandian wide on both wings, followed a deep down-the-line forehand to the net, and Nalbandian excellently executed a crosscourt backhand passing shot that Baghdatis simply stared at as it went by. Nalbandian had once again broken and served for the set. Two back-to-back backhand returns into the net by Baghdatis gave Nalbandian the set, 6-2.

The second set saw some of the most brilliant tennis all week as both players refueled and showed us their best A-game. The first six games saw four breaks of serve. And yes, there were a few choice double-faults, especially on Nalbandian’s first service game to give Baghdatis a 2-0 advantage, but mostly, it was the pressure each was giving his opponent that made the difference. The shot-making, placement of the ball and strategy from both players was impeccable. In the third game, Baghdatis began not defending as well and in the fourth, Nalbandian seemed to be running out of steam, giving Baghdatis five break opportunities.

If ever there was a point in the match that was the defining moment, it was game four of the second set. Nalbandian double-faulted to give Baghdatis his first break point. A couple of bad errors from Baghdatis took it to deuce as he couldn’t control Nalbandian’s surprisingly heavy second kick serve. At the same time, Nalbandian double-faulted four times in the second set so far and I wondered if he was finally feeling Baghdatis’ pressure or if it was because he hadn’t played in the day yet and the sun was only getting stronger. Nalbandian kept spewing errors giving Baghdatis the opportunity to break, but he could never convert. Both tried problem-solving and finally Nalbandian came out the winner holding his serve. We will never know what could have happened had Baghdatis been able to break and go up 3-1 — it may have been a completely different match. I began to wonder if Baghdatis would be able to hold his serve after such a letdown.

At 2-2 as expected, Baghdatis’ serve goes to deuce. At ad-out, Baghdatis sent a winner down-the-line. Or was it? Nalbandian challenged again, the ball was clearly out, and Nalbandian went up 3-2. In the next game, Baghdatis wins a Hawkeye challenge of his own and breaks Nalbandian on a perfectly placed overhead. Three bad second serve returns by Nalbandian int eh seventh game allows Baghdatis to hold and go up 4-3. At this point, Nalbandian starts asking his camp what to do? He’s known for his aggressive second serve returns, but he couldn’t handle the depth and kick of Baghdatis’ for three in a row. He was stunned and it would be interesting to see how he would respond in his own service game. Nalbandian’s errors begin to pile up before he save two break points and ties the score at 4 a piece.

For the next three games, each player holds their serve at love. But again, not without some Hawkeye challenge drama. Nalbandian fires what seems to be an ace. Baghdatis challenges, but when he walks over to the mark, he nods his head and audibly says “It was good, it was good” before walking over to the ad-court. Surprisingly, the mark was out! Baghdatis, of course, got happy, sprinted back to the deuce side. A beautiful return to Nalbandian’s backhand that was just out of reach, gave Baghdatis a set point. Nalbandian saved it by forcing a wide forehand error from Baghdatis. A few more similar exchanges like this before Baghdatis once again challenged a baseline non-call. As we waited for the replay, Baghdatis stood on top of the line, smiling, staring at it, looking up into the crowd asking if it was in or out, crouching around it and just joking at the matter. It was a very clean shot just inside the baseline, but by this time the line judges were not dependable anymore. Two points later, on a supposed ‘ace’ of Nalbandian’s, Baghdatis challenges again and gets it right! By this time, the chair umpire was furious at the line judges and at Hawkeye. We could hear him softly yelling that he was very unhappy to the chair supervisor on the radio. Eventually, a backhand return by Baghdatis into the net gives Nalbandian the game, and forces a tiebreaker.

At the start of the tiebreaker, I could really hear the Argentine support from the crowd: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Daveeeeed, Daveeeeed!” He quickly went up 5-1, then held three championship points, before double-faulting. He won on his fourth attempt and was fired up!

As Nalbandian shakes hands with Baghdatis, puts his racquet down and runs over to his team in the corner to congratulate as well, I could once again hear the deafening Ole!’s. By the time Nalbandian got back to his chair, his name was already being added to the banner of past champions. As Juan Martin del Potro won the last two years, Nalbandian kept the Argentine streak to three years in a row in DC.

A few moments later, the trophy ceremony began with Baghdatis first accepting his runner-up glass trophy and check. In his on-court speech, he was gracious, smiling like he had won, and congratulated Nalbandian on a great win: “[David’s] a pain in the ass when he plays good!” The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers for a great competitor.

Nalbandian then took the court, with more singing and was beyond ecstatic with his win. He also thanked the sponsors, volunteers, and fans before giving us this little gem. He pointed up into a particularly rowdy Argentine crowd and said: “Somebody up there said they’ll buy me a drink if I win!” He said that it “looks like I’m in Argentina!” He loves the fan support and making a few extra friends in the process. He also stated that he “enjoys this moment because it’s tough to come back and do this” after all the injuries he’s had and not playing since April. He is $262,000 richer and is tied for first place in the Olympus US Open Series. He is also the first wildcard to win here at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

After both players made their commitments to all the tv crews and commentators, they each made their way to the media for their press conferences. It was once again my chance to hear a player’s perspective on the day’s happenings.

As Baghdatis came in, you would have thought he had won the tournament with his big smile and light demeanor. He said that he couldn’t have been happier with his play in the second set minus not being able to convert in the fourth game. He also knew Nalbandian was “returning good” so a lot rested on his own serve and he felt that he “served really bad” in the first set. He mentioned that he did have “a bit of pain in my leg” and it took some time to get better, but that Nalbandian was the better player today. “If I was serving better, I could win today but I didn’t have that.” When asked if Nalbandian is playing like a guy outside the top 100, Baghdatis quickly said “No, he can beat top 10 [players].” I asked a question about all those Hawkeye challenges that players were getting right. He responded with a smile and said that they both started challenging “even if you saw it out because there was no confidence in the line judges.” Baghdatis then addressed his performance this year versus last: “I will never forget where I came from. I was ranked 150 last year and now I maybe touched top 20 this year. I am looking forward to the future and playing better.”

Nalbandian came in a few minutes later, happy, confident and on top of the world. He again stated that he “played good all week” minus a few select games and that he was very happy with his performance today as well. He felt that he didn’t return well on Baghdatis’ second serve in the second set, but that it was more his ability that let him down than Baghdatis’ placement. “I have to believe in my shots and my game.” When asked whether he was surprised to come back after time off and win his first tournament back he responded: “For sure I didn’t expect to win the first tournament when I came. If I continue to play this good, I’m going to go far for sure.”

Nalbandian’s ranking will jump from #117 in the world to #45, while Baghdatis will climb from #25 to #20. I know that I am looking forward to seeing where Nalbandian falls into the draw at the US Open. He will be a threatening headache for any player if his body holds up.

Day 2 of Legg Mason – Roddick, Fish, Berdych & Benneteau Practice Shirtless, Isner Gets Lost, Verdasco & His Twin

The last day of qualifying and the first day of the main draw here at the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament in Washington, DC has come and gone. With it, we welcome six well-deserved qualifiers to an already full list of notable names lined up in the main draw. Let’s recap some of the excitement around the practice courts today!

  1. The first practice session I walked into was the world #1 doubles’ pairing of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor. Sometimes fans are so focused on the top singles players, we forget how truly amazing the top doubles’ game is. As I was watching Nestor hit from the baseline and Zimonjic volley, I was struck by two things: Nestor’s lefty forehand is strikingly powerful and Zimonjic’s forehand volleys are so precise and crisp. I started wondering how these guys weren’t better singles players in their time.

  1. As I was snapping their pics, John Isner was roaming the grounds behind me until he appeared to my left. “There he is!” yelled Isner, pointing to Nestor, “What court is this?” Nestor jokingly replied: “You’re on the other side, aren’t you? Isn’t that where the big guys hang out?” Cue crowd laughing.

  1. Nestor obviously knows his way around the grounds unlike Isner, who continued looking for his court until he nearly made a round-trip back to where he started. But then we got a glimpse of the big man in his yellow ‘Livestrong’ t-shirt. I had forgotten how extended his elbows are when he makes contact with the ball on the backhand side. Look unreal!

  1. He was in good spirits, but it took him a while to loosen up his right shoulder. Hopefully it’s not an indication of any kind of injury. Isner then took on his coach in a game utilizing only the cross-court backhand slice. First one to hit out loses, and they played some points. The video below is some of the fun footage.

  1. Radek Stepanek was waiting for his court by doing some in-place running drills, swinging his arms while increasing the speed.

He practiced with Xavier Malisse who had a first round match later that afternoon, which he ended up winning in three sets. Nothing really of note on their practice other than the fact that Stepanek was sporting a red, white and blue racket. Looked like he was supporting Team USA — isn’t he Czech?!

  1. Other notable players waiting for a court: Tomas Berdych, Julien Benneteau, Benjamin Becker and Rendy Lu.

Berdych seemed to be the only one actually stretching. Maybe that’s how you get to be the #1 seed in a 500-level tournament like Legg Mason. Boys, take notes!

  1. When Berdych walked over to the middle court, he promptly took off his t-shirt. And it stayed off the entire practice. The sun was fairly strong but not strong enough to burn from it. He then seemed to dare Benneteau to take his off as well, which he willingly accepted. For such tall slender-looking men, they are very fit and lean. Their practice session covered all the shots and when they took breaks, they chatted up a storm, along with Berdych’s coach.

  1. The next stop in my day was one of the best sights I have yet to see in tennis. Andy Roddick was taking on Mardy Fish in a grueling set. Recalling that Fish had recently beaten Roddick in Atlanta, this was any tennis fan’s highlight. Fans were pouring in on all possible sides and I was lucky enough to get a bird’s eye view to catch all the action. There were laughs, jokes, yelling, high-fiving, and, as the theme of the day seems to be, both were shirtless as well. Sidenote: Roddick’s left, yes, LEFT arm is ripped! Mardy Fish, on the other hand, is looking quite slender. Yes, he has lost 30 pounds in the last year, but seeing it in person, I’m starting to think he needs to bulk up a little.

Near the end of their session a hilarious moment occurred to top it all off. Roddick, loving being the center of attention, shot a 1st serve that was a questionable line call. Roddick kept asking what his next serve should be “1st? 2nd? 1st? 1st?” wanting to try again for an ace. Fish got ready to receive, and then asked: “Wait, 1st or 2nd?” “2nd, 2nd,” Roddick repeated. Fish then moved in closer to the baseline. Unfortunately, Fish doesn’t seem to realize he’s playing against a trickster, and Roddick fired an explosive serve down the line … which Fish miraculously returned while standing just inside the baseline. Roddick followed behind his serve and tried to volley the return, but his attempt went straight into the net. Karma. The crowd roared in laughter. What a sight to behold!

Here’s footage of the best video I was able to capture. This point was brilliant. Roddick was hitting winner after winner, but Fish was able to return each one. His footwork is evident here and the crowd clapped in amazement at the level of both players’ play.

  1. I then made my way over to the Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki practice session on the opposite side of the grounds. Both players looked strong, but were all about business. Seeing as these two speak the same Serbo-Croatian language and played each other in Davis Cup recently, it was surprising to see once again, that not many words were exchanged between the two. I remember them practicing last year with each other, so they must be friends, but on-court, you would think they were simply matched together for a hit due to space constraints. Either way, it was fun to be reminded of the wind-up to Cilic’s serve. It’s surprising his legs muscles are not bigger for the incline he takes in preparation.

  1. I made my way back to the media center at this point to check on the scores of the qualifiers. “Nothing too surprising” I said to myself. I then went on twitter to upload some photos, and guess whose feed came up? Fernando Verdasco. “Going to practice in 30 minutes!” As I was walking up to the media desk to check what court he is slated to practice on, I crossed my fingers that he was actually IN town. To my relief, he was and the media desk did their magic and spewed out a court number to me.

I walked over to the court about 5 minutes before the hour and caught his hitting partner just arriving to the court, dressed in a grey Adidas shirt, white shorts and hat, and black Adidas shoes. I was the first one there and so I sat down and waited. A moment later, I happened to look up to my right, and there was Verdasco, walking in from the parking lot by himself on the other side of the fence. I nearly jumped out of my seat in anticipation.

He walked onto the court coolly and seemed to be in a good mood. He started hitting and then something made me laugh. Verdasco was dressed in the exact same clothes as his hitting partner! Twins! Only difference: Verdasco was in white shoes. Who raided who’s closet, here?!

I was surprised to see that it took about 5-7 minutes for fans to start showing up for his practice. But at the same time it was nice: not crowded, no kids trying to climb over me for a peek, nobody stepping on my toes. All-in-all, a pleasant hitting session to view. The tennis wasn’t bad either. I’m just kidding! I was completely taken aback by Verdasco’s forehand when he started to let it rip! He would hit a few strong forehands and backhands, and then all of a sudden, take flight and practically levitate off the ground with an explosive forehand winner. Each time he did this, “ooohs” and “aaahs” came from the crowd in admiration. By the time I left, it started raining and cut his practice short, but not before showcasing his incredible talent. I’m looking forward to seeing him play this week and expect him to go deep in the draw.

  1. And as a bonus (because I’m so nice), a close-up of hunk Michael Llodra. Shirtless, of course!

Enjoy the day and I will be back later this week with more coverage from Legg Mason. As the main draw begins, I will start focusing more on the actual matches. But don’t worry, the practice courts always have someone on them and I will be there to catch the action as well.

The Friday Five: Hingis ban has been lifted

By Maud Watson

WTA Woe in Tokyo – As one of the Premier events on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, the Toray Pan Pacific Open drew a great field, including 9 of the current top 10 players.  Fans and tournament organizers alike should have been able to pencil in some mouth-watering quarterfinal match-ups.  But as it seems has happened so often throughout the year, the draw fell apart, with 7 of the top 10 seeds losing before the third round.  Like ‘em or hate ‘em, the WTA needs some players with consistency, who show up week in, week out, and win Majors.  One hopes the nation of Belgium might soon be providing such competitors…

Great Panes – This past Monday, American up-and-comer Sam Querrey suffered what has to be considered among one of the most freak accidents in the world of sports.  After his practice session at the PTT Thailand Open, Sam sat on a glass table, which he fell through, resulting in him badly cutting his forearm and requiring emergency surgery.  He is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.  As one of the great hopes for American tennis and a player who has really turned it on over the past couple months, I hope to see Sam back in action sooner rather than later.

The Comeback Bug Continues – Perhaps not as notable as the return of both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, two other players making their comeback appearances earlier this week were Paradorn Srichaphan and Joachim Johansson.  Srichaphan ended a two-and-a-half year absence from the tour by pairing up with fellow countryman Danai Umdomchoke.  Though the pair lost in their opening match (and a successful Srichaphan comeback is unlikely), it was still nice to see one of the players so largely responsible for helping to put Asian tennis on the map have another go at it.  I was more excited about the return of big Swede Joachim Johansson in Malaysia.  With an impressive win over Lleyton Hewitt and a relatively tight three-set loss to Richard Gasquet, Johansson proved he still has game.  And at the age of 27 with his big serve, there’s no reason he can’t still do some damage on the ATP World Tour.

Rafa Ready – Contrary to some of the news you might have read in recent days, Rafael Nadal has declared himself fit and ready to go, and with the absence of Swiss maestro Roger Federer in Shanghai, Rafa will be looking to regain some of the ground (and aura) he lost over the summer.  More importantly to him, Rafa is prepared to represent his country in the Davis Cup final to be played in Spain against the Czech Republic December 4-6.  All I know is, I don’t envy the tough decisions Spanish Davis Cup captain Albert Costa is going to face!

The Ban is Lifted – This is a story that might fall through the cracks, but this past Wednesday marked the end of the two-year Martina Hingis was forced to serve, which effectively ended her comeback and her career.  I personally hated to see the ban slapped on her, because she brought a craftsmanship to the game that few of her peers could, not to mention the fact that the foundation of the case against her was suspect.  Her ban seemed even harsher and more ridiculous when Richard Gasquet got off with a mere two-month ban for essentially the same offense.  Hopefully the powers-at-be will learn from this miscarriage of justice, and hopefully Martina will continue to contribute to the sport in a myriad of other ways.