thomaz

2011 Set For a Cracker

With the dust still settling in our memories over the stunning year that was 2010 the new tennis calendar is already upon us. It seems not too long ago that Federer was dismantling a shattered Rafa Nadal at London’s o2 Arena in the ATP Tour Finals. But with Christmas coming and going with its ever-rapid characteristics Down Under has opened its tennis season with aplomb.

Everyone has their favourite star and their own pantomime villains. And everyone has an ideal year mapped out in their mind with their top men and women coming out trumps at all the major tournaments, myself included.

So, as a year-beginning blog I have decided to look ahead to the 2011 men’s tour and predict, not entirely seriously, what may (or probably not) happen throughout the year ahead…

January

The early hard court season jumps in to life at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha building up to the first slam of the year in Australia. Andy Murray falls in the second round blaming the heat and a low-flying seagull and promptly sacks his coach. Juan Martin del Potro is still suffering with his troublesome wrist but plays his way to the quarter finals using only his good hand. The final is slightly predictable with Rafa and Roger battling their way there but to spruce things up after their recent exhibition exploits on water, centre court is flooded and the pair do battle in full scuba gear. Roger comes out as winner in four sets. As January winds down in Santiago, Chile, Juan Ignacio Chela wins the Movistar Open and is touted as this year’s big hope to challenge Rafa in the clay season.

February

As the early hard season slowly slides in to clay, Thomaz Belluci lifts his home Brasil Open title while Gael Monfils dances his way to the Open 13 in Marseille where he celebrates with a perfectly executed Moonwalk across court. Four Americans reach the semifinals at Memphis and again at Delray Beach. Wayne Odesnik wins both tournaments which causes mass outrage throughout the sport. He is touted for a Davis Cup call but Jim Courier decides to take a seething Mardy Fish instead.

March

The first Masters events of the year begin and fresh off Davis Cup victory Andy Roddick, Fish, The Bryans and John Isner are on fire. A sulking Sam Querrey falls early in both. Andy Murray comes out on top at Indian Wells beating Roddick in the final but then typically falls early at Miami and promptly sacks his coach. Nadal faces Robin Soderling in the final who has been slating the ‘Big Two’ all year. Rafa takes it with two bagel sets bringing tears and tantrums from the egotistical Swede.

April

April begins with Rafa rubbing his hands and licking his lips at the prospect of another clay season. Young Yank Ryan Harrison takes the title at Houston and is the latest star to be labelled ‘the next Sampras.’ Rafa takes Monte Carlo as expected with a straight set win over Fernando Verdasco in the final. Most notably throughout the tournament he seems to be multitasking while on court, even seen filing his nails whilst rallying with his compatriot. There is no real sign of Chela. Novak Djokovic again takes the Serbia Open in Belgrade and is installed as ruler of the nation for his achievements. He decides to sit out the rest of the 2011 season to concentrate on his new role.

May

Madrid and Rome are again taken by Rafa who now appears to be growing bored on court. Whilst dismantling Marcos Baghdatis in the final in Rome he appears to give interviews to Spanish television during the match. As everyone arrives in Paris the shocking news emanates that Rafa has decided he is bored of lifting the French Open with such ease and has decided to umpire the tournament instead to see who else can win it. With the new celebrity chair the French players really kick on in the race to be crowned their nation’s new hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retires from his first round match injured while Michael Llodra comes through an epic five set semi with R-Fed to face Monfils in the final. The marathon man then takes Monfils through six hours of stupendous Gallic play and the greatest French Open final of all time ends with Monfils on the floor in a tantrum pounding the floor with his fists. Llodra is crowned the saviour of France.

June

As the ATP Tour comes to Britain tennis stars snap up as much Royal Wedding memorabilia as they can get their hands on as the traditional Wimbledon plate is switched for a porcelain edition bearing the faces of beloved Wills and Kate. Andy Murray takes both Queens and Eastbourne and is believed to be a dead cert for Wimbledon. But he crashes out in round three and promptly sacks his coach. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut somehow weave their way to the final and the tents are brought out in preparation for the impending marathon. Isner wins in three sets. Roger Federer makes some possible unsavoury comments about Mahut after he overcame the Swiss God in the semis and the world’s media call him unsporting and a scurvy dog for the next six months before involving him in another betting scandal claiming he and Rafa betted on many of the matches the Spaniard had chaired at the French Open.

July

Serbia’s Davis Cup title defence ends at the quarter final stage and King Djokovic has the entire team executed for letting their nation down. Federer re-hits form late on again by taking Bastad and Gstaad while Roddick is doing well by taking Hamburg and Los Angeles. The Americans work themselves in to a fervour over the home prospects for the US Open and many pundits are with them because of the top form of A-Rod, Harrison and Isner. David Nalbandian wins in Atlanta and everyone once again remembers who he is. There is talk of a possible push in New York. Surely not…

August

Nalbandian again wins at the Legg Mason Classic. He takes a marathon final against Baghdatis, his other eternally injured friend. Andy Murray loses in the second round in Montreal and sees his title slip away. He again blames a lack of love for tennis and promptly sacks his coach before announcing his retirement from the sport. Roger takes the title before losing the Cincinnati final to Roddick. America is literally on the edge of its seat. Rafa ruptures the tendons in both knees in the third round at Cincy against Ernests Gulbis and will miss the rest of the season.

September

The final Slam of the year in New York explodes in to life with the partisan crowd firmly behind Roddick. He finally puts all the pain behind him by overcoming Federer at last in the semis in five sets. Federer is immediately written off by the world’s media, again. In the other semi Soderling falls to a resurgent Nalbandian and America gears itself up to crown Roddick their new leader. But he falls apart. His serve leaves him, his ground strokes are erratic and Nalbandian triumphs in four to become the second Argentine in three years to silence Arthur Ashe court. He quickly sees his title switch from the best player of the last decade not to win a major to the sixth best player of the last decade to win one.

October

With no Rafa, Murray or Djokovic to compete with Federer once again silences his critics by beginning a clean sweep of the late tournaments. He takes the China Open, Shanghai, the Kremlin Cup, Vienna and Basel without losing a set. Over in Valencia David Ferrer shoots to the final after a quiet year where he meets the marathon man Llodra. Ferrer takes the final in five much to the delight of the home fans. Murray decides he was wrong to be so hasty and announces his return to tennis, promising he will win that first Slam in 2012. Djokovic declares that all Serbian children will take karaoke lessons as well as practice tennis at school as of 2015.

November

In Paris, Federer finally runs out of steam and drops a set against Brian Dabul. Critics are again on his back saying he is finished. He manages to reach the quarter finals where he falls to Ryan Harrison. The American youth then falls to Del Potro in the semi who in turn loses to Soderling in the final. The Swede moves to No. 3 in the world and says he is ever so close to breaking the Top 2 but nobody is listening anymore. The ATP Finals kick off with a somewhat decimated lineup. Federer, Soderling, Roddick, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Isner, Ferrer and Verdasco do battle in London with the eyes of the tennis world watching on. Ferrer, Verdasco, Nalbandian and Roddick fall at the group stage leaving Soderling and Federer to battle it out in the final after overcoming Del Potro and Isner respectively. Federer triumphs in straight sets and the Swede storms off court refusing to take part in the ceremony, predictions in tatters. The USA take the Davis Cup home after defeating Russia in the final and it is seen as a victory for politics rather than tennis.

Well, stranger things have happened!

RODDICK NEEDS TO GET A GRIP ON HIS EMOTIONS: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Rattled Roddick – In the second round encounter earlier this week at the Australian Open between Andy Roddick and Thomaz Bellucci, Bellucci hit a shot on match point down that was initially called out. Bellucci challenged the call. Hawk-eye showed the ball in, and chair umpire Fergus Murphy awarded the point to Bellucci. At the end of the match, Roddick railed on Murphy for awarding that first match point in Bellucci’s favor, refusing to shake Murphy’s hand at the end, which earned him a round of boos from the crowd. After viewing the tape, Roddick admitted he may have been wrong than he realized but still felt on a big point like that, Murphy should have ruled to replay it. Why? If Murphy felt Roddick didn’t have a play on the ball, how is it fair to not award the point to Bellucci, the player who was match point down? Furthermore, while Bellucci played well, Roddick was schooling him out on the court. Barring a miracle, there was no way Roddick wasn’t walking off that court the winner, whether it took one match point or ten. Roddick needs to learn to get a grip on his emotions. He’s developed a habit of arguing with chair umps, and it’s embarrassing. American tennis has already had to endure the tirades of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. It shouldn’t have to endure those of Roddick, too.

New Year, Same Serena – For those of you who saw ESPN2’s coverage of Day 2, you know that Serena Williams was interviewed and asked about her reaction to the ITF’s ruling in her infamous US Open outburst. While Serena claimed to be sorry and turning the whole incident into a positive by holding an auction to raise money for her charity, she also had the audacity to claim the fine was excessive given the behavior of past players and implied it would have been less had she been a man. First, while her raising money for her charity is a good deed, it in no way makes up for her behavior at the US Open. Second, it’s ludicrous she thinks the fine is excessive and would have been less if she were a man. I realize this is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but when someone like Martina Hingis gets slapped with a two-year ban for a flimsy positive cocaine test, or Yanina Wickmayer faces losing up to a year of her career for violating the controversial “whereabouts rule,” I’d say Serena got off easy for going out on the largest court in the world in front of television audiences from all over the globe and threatening to kill a line judge by cramming a tennis ball down her throat. It’s clear Serena hasn’t learned her lesson, and I give props to ESPN’s Darren Cahill for being the lone commentator who had the guts to say she should have been suspended, as she certainly would have if she played any other sport.

Sharapova Stutters – Maria Sharapova’s comeback from injury suffered a major setback, as she lost in the opening round of the Australian Open to countrywoman Maria Kirilenko. Sharapova looked rusty, and much like Pam Shriver on ESPN, I was left to question Sharapova’s preparation. She’d hardly played competitive tennis since her early exit at the US Open, yet she chose to play an exhibition instead of a sanctioned tournament to prepare for the first major of the year? It was painfully obvious she didn’t see the problem with this either, as she stated in her interview that she didn’t know what lack of match practice had to do with failing to put the return in play when her opponent was down break point. Maybe her coach Michael Joyce should explain to her the fundamental differences between exhibitions and sanctioned matches.

Great Match, Bad Timing – It was arguably one of the greatest second-round matchups in Grand Slam history as Elena Dementieva took on Justine Henin, the latest top player to come out of retirement. This match definitely lived up to its billing as both players traded bludgeoning groundstrokes and refused to give up ground as they dashed about the court in a desperate attempt to swing the momentum to their own side. In the end, it was Henin who held her nerve longer and took the match in two tight sets. The great tennis aside, it’s a tragedy that the Australian Open so needlessly lost one of the top contenders for the title in the second round. Tournament organizers were given the green light to seed Henin, despite her lack of ranking, and opted to take a pass. I think they missed the boat on that one.

Coverage Woes – I’m grateful that ESPN2 is covering a fair amount of the Australian Open, as I don’t currently get the Tennis Channel. That said, the amount of filler interviews and commentary they have is ridiculous. The first night of coverage started late due to a basketball game running over the allotted time, but instead of going straight to the tennis, viewers had to hear what each of the commentators had to say about players’ chances at the opening major of 2010. And whose bright idea was it to interview Sam Querrey while Kirilenko was upsetting Sharapova in Round 1?  When coverage started on Wednesday night, Patrick McEnroe informs the audience that Baghdatis is in the process of staging a comeback from two sets down against David Ferrer, but do they go to the match?  No, because viewers must be subjected to the two cents’ worth of every commentator on the network. People tune in to watch the tennis, so if anyone at ESPN is reading this, less talk, more action.