storylines

The Stories that weren’t

Now that it’s officially the off-season, which is all of one month long, you’ve probably seen many many retrospectives and “Best [insert tennis topic here] of 2010” lists. So, instead of doing my own “best of” this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the 2010 storylines that didn’t quite pan out.

It’s Finally Andy Roddick’s Year

The Rationale: Last year, Andy Roddick took part in one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals of all time. At 27, most people thought his chances of winning a second Grand Slam were slim, but he powered through the field, defeating hometown favorite Andy Murray in a great four set semifinal. Just like 2004 and 2005, Roddick would face Roger Federer in the final; however, unlike those two times, Andy went after the title with a vengeance, giving us an epic fifth set. Well, a 16-14 fifth set was epic before Isner-Mahut and for a championship match I still consider it pretty incredible. Anyway, we all know how that turned out. Poor Andy went home empty handed once again. Even though he didn’t win, reporters jumped at the idea that Andy was on the right track. So, when Andy posted a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open and backed that up with a finalist appearance at Indian Wells and a win in Miami during the US hardcourt season, a lot of people felt that he was on track to finally win Wimbledon.

The Reality: Unfortunately Roddick crashed out to Yen-Hsun Lu in the 4th round of Wimbledon. After losing in the round of 16 at Legg Mason in early August, Andy fell out of the top 10, leaving no Americans in the top 10 for the first time since the ranking system was instituted. He later confirmed that he was suffering from mononucleosis and had to skip the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The disappointments continued when he lost in the 2nd round of the US Open to Janko Tipsarevic. Then, he was forced to retire from his 2nd round match in Shanghai. However, Andy worked incredibly hard in Basel and Paris to salvage his spot in an eighth consecutive year end championship and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

Nadal’s Winning Ways Are Over

The Rationale: Rafael Nadal is pretty much the King of the French Open and in 2009, for the first time since he started participating, he didn’t take home the trophy. In fact, Nadal lost rather shockingly to Robin Soderling in the 4th round. Suffering from tendonitis in both knees, Rafa was unable to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title and eventually lost in the semifinals at the 2009 US Open. Rafa failed to defend his Australian Open title after being forced to retire in the quarterfinals against Andy Murray. Nadal’s last title came in Rome in April of 2009. By April 2010, he still hadn’t won a single title.

The Reality: Nearly one year after his title in Rome, Rafa decimated Fernando Verdasco in the Monte Carlo final. Proving his Monte Carlo title was no fluke, Nadal blew through the clay court season, winning Rome and Madrid, and capping it all off with his fifth French Open title. After that, Rafa went on to win his second Wimbledon title and completed a career Grand Slam at the US Open. After a slow start to the year, 2010 actually ended up being all about Rafael Nadal.

Justine Henin’s Magical Comeback

The Rationale: After a two year retirement, Kim Clijsters came back to win the 2009 US Open in just her third tournament back from retirement. So, when Justine Henin announced that she too would be returning to professional tennis, the expectations were high. Not to disappoint, Henin defeated Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, and Zheng Jie en route to the Australian Open final. She lost to Serena Williams in three sets, but was off to a good start considering this was her second tournament back from retirement. She reached the semifinals at the Sony Ericsson Open in March before losing to compatriot Kim Clijsters in three sets, but managed to crack the top 25 after starting the season unranked.

The Reality: Justine has won the French Open four times, but fell to Sam Stosur in the 4th round of this year’s tournament. No matter, Justine had mentioned that the purpose of her comeback was to finally win Wimbledon. Justine is a two time finalist and three time semifinalist at the grass court tournament and it is the only trophy keeping her from completing a career Grand Slam. Henin was seeded 17th by the start of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships but was set on a course to meet fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the 4th round. It was one of the most anticipated match ups of the tournament and Kim prevailed in three sets. The real disaster was not the loss, but a fall Justine took in the first set. After sustaining an elbow injury, she was forced to end her season after her Wimbledon loss. Henin is set to return to tennis at the Hopman Cup in January, and this story may very well become relevant again.

Ernests Gulbis Is Ending His Slacker Ways

The Rationale: Ernests Gulbis is only 22, but he’s already compiled quite a reputation on tour for having lots of untapped talent, but little motivation. Some days he looks absolutely inspired and some days he looks anything but. However, 2010 started off as a great year for the young Latvian. In February he reached the semifinals at the Regions Morgan Keegan event in Memphis and went on to win his first ATP title at Delray Beach. At the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Gulbis reached his first semifinal at an ATP Masters 1000 event. The real story from Rome was that Gulbis beat World No. 1 Roger Federer in the second round. While he eventually lost the semifinal to Rafael Nadal, he was the first player to win a set against Rafa in the 2010 clay season.

The Reality: Gulbis was forced to retire in the first round of first round of the French Open and skipped out on this year’s Wimbledon. He proceeded to lose in the first round of the US Open as well. Articles popped up everywhere in May about Gulbis’ new dedication to tennis, but as soon as he started losing consistently again, those articles were nowhere to be found. He ended the year without progressing past the 1st round of any major. However, he did manage to finish the season at a career high No. 24.

Clearly this is just a small sampling of the stories that weren’t quite right. We aren’t psychic so journalists can only go off the information they have at hand. All of these stories made sense at the time but fortunes change and injuries occur. Since this is certainly not a comprehensive list, feel free to send me some of your favorite false stories of 2010.

Adios Carlos Moya – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Baby Steps

Well, the bad news is that the USTA isn’t putting a roof on any of their courts…yet. The good news is that they have approved a more than $300 million budget to begin making a string of much-needed upgrades to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The first change to be made is the immediate construction of a mini-stadium that will be adjacent to the hospitality area. It is expected to be ready to go no later than the 2012 US Open and may even be given the green light for the 2011 championships. The bigger change, however, which isn’t slated to begin for another six to eight years, will be tearing down the beloved Louis Armstrong and Grandstand stadiums to create two new stadiums. When all is said and done, approximately 3,000 – 5,000 seats will be added between the two new Armstrong and Grandstand courts. And while neither stadium will have a roof, they will at least be “roof ready.” Of course the USTA has still not yet listed a solution to the no-roof over Ashe issue, but this latest bit of news is encouraging that they are moving in the right direction.

Adiós Amigo

It wasn’t a shocker, but it did become official. On Wednesday, Carlos Moya, the first Spaniard to reach the number one ranking since the Open Era rankings began in 1973, announced that he is retiring from the game. The 1998 Roland Garros champion stated he was forced to arrive at this decision due to a niggling foot injury that doctors have been unable to agree on how best to heal. It’s unfortunate that the retirement did not go as Moya had planned, which was to have the opportunity to say his good-byes at some of the grandest venues in the game, but with a Slam, the number one ranking, and a Davis Cup title to his name, he should have no regrets.

Plethora of Proposals

With so many other thrilling storylines as the season nears its close, the possibility that the French Open might be forced to leave its current Parisian venue was put on the backburner. It’s come back as one of the top stories this week, however, with the news that the city of Paris has presented the FFT with a plan to build a new (albeit small) stadium across the street from the current site. This new court would replace the current Court 1, affectionately known as the “Bullring,” which is slated to be torn down. The proposal will be competing with three additional proposals from other Paris suburbs. In the end, fans and players will want what’s ultimately best for the second Grand Slam event of the year, but it would be hard to see it move from its current historic venue.

Notes from Paris

The season may be nearing its conclusion, but there’s still plenty of good tennis left to be played in the final week if the Paris Masters was any indication. With Rafael Nadal the only name in the top five who didn’t play, the field in Paris was plenty strong. The semifinals were thrilling to the end, and included home crowd favorite Gael Monfils saving five match points against Roger Federer to reach the final where he eventually lost to the big-hitting Swede, Robin Soderling. It will be interesting to see if the win spills over as Soderling competes in London this coming week. No doubt the players could use a longer off season (and we may just hear about that next week), but hats off to the players for still delivering a quality product after a long year.

Now That’s Determination

The next time someone complains about ticket prices, just think of Gayus Tambunan. The Indonesian tax official not only shelled out over $40,000 in order to walk out of prison to watch the WTA’s Bali event, but he donned a wig when he did it. It was one of the quirkier stories of the week, and definitely one of the more amusing anecdotes. Tambunan stated his reasoning behind going to see the Bali event was due to stress at being detained and the need for a vacation to deal with that stress. Still, it would be nice to think he brought a new meaning to the phrase “for love of the game.”

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