young man

The LA Open Day 6: Semi Final Saturday

The Beach Boy does it again! Top seed defending champion Sam Querrey fights back yet again, showing some seasoned craftiness, testing his guts to the limit to ward off a match point and set sail for another final at the Farmers Classic LA Open.

It was hotter than yesterday, only by a few degrees, but in tennis everything is margins, inches, nanometers, and things sway by the slightest hitch in the universe, and today was no different. Sam’s opponent was the philosophical, wise beyond his years, Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, who is seeded sixth in the tournament. Janko has a tattoo of the nineteenth century Russian literary giant Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ on his person and when listening to him in the press conference, one gets the impression that tennis isn’t what Janko only thinks about, but when directing his lofty thoughts on the subject can offer an uncanny insight that is concise, just, well articulated (even in English, which isn’t is native tongue), and is devoid of any pretense. Most athletes when interviewed sound like terminator cyborgs, spewing off rehearsed answers to questions without the slightest note of feeling. If you’ve ever seen a Shaquille O’Neal interview, you know what I’m talking about. I walked into the press room and saw Janko seated in his chair at the head of the room with a look of calm discontent. He wasn’t sad, but he wasn’t thrilled either. I was surprised most of all that a player had actually arrived on time for their meeting of the press, a first for the tournament, and when Janko described the match, whereby he lost in a bitterly fought three setter, I was even more surprised to hear the free flowing candor and wisdom come from this young man. “I should not have lost this match,” Janko said, in response to the first question about his feelings, and he didn’t sound bitter or resentful at all, just right to the point and he supported his statement with a play by play account of what he “should” have done. “I was forcing the ball in big points, instead of returning the ball into play. I was going for too much when there really was no need.” The Serbian was steadfast in his assessment of his serve. “My serve was not there at all today. I don’t know what happened. My ground game was good, and I felt I could hit any ball back but my serve completely left me.”

Tipsarevic’s claim to fame was his long five set war with Roger Federer in the Australian Open of 2008 where the holy one barely got by in a grueling fifth set. One of the reporters asked Janko what he thought of Querrey’s game, and the Serbian spoke without hesitation. “I think he has top ten potential. He is a steady top twenty player, but to be top ten you have to have great results at grand slams and masters series events.” I agree with the soft spoken Serb. He should have won the match. But, I also think that Sam Querrey looked about as good as I’ve ever seen him. Aside from a mental snap toward the end of the first set, where a convincing ace registered for Sam was snuffed by the umpire who called it a let, Sam looked like he definitely could be a potential top ten player. His first serve consistently fired in the lower 130’s and even registered in at 139 once, his fastest for the match. His decision making, to my humble eyes, appeared to finally transcend that barrier between novice green to that of touring professional honing his craft and making choices, which have to be made in a matter of seconds, that provide evidence of a steady evolution. Steadiness, movement, well-timed aggression, and the ability to hold back when he needed to, were on display and Querrey even managed to shoot a few smiles toward his SAMURAI posse of shirtless hooligan supporters after a forehand winner or ace up the T. The fact that he has won two matches in a row that he was losing for the majority of the time, shows me that he is ready to make a deep run at a slam.

Murray and Lopez faced off for the second semi-final of the day under the lights, which makes me wonder how Murray will do playing in the hot afternoon sun against a Beach Boy born and bred under these conditions. All of Murray’s matches have been at night, and he managed to wiz past Mr. Beautiful with relative ease, even though he dropped a level yet again after a first set steamroll handing over the second like a platter of potato salad. Lopez was outmatched, outwitted, and out played. I think if he ever wants to be considered a serious threat he needs to acquire a backhand. The slice and dice game just won’t cut it against top players. Neither will the profile of Adonis. You relinquish too much control with the slice, and if it’s not picture perfect Roger Federeresque, you’re offering up a tee shot for your opponent. Murray was quick to pounce on the mismanagement of the Lopez slice, and turned a second set let down to a third set triumph.

Dare I make a prediction? But of course… Sam in three. The defending champion repeats. I will be there for finals Sunday, please join me at tennisgrandstand.com for all the latest.

FEDERER DEBUTS, GORAN PUKES, GILBERT IS UGLY, GUGA SAYS GOODBYE

May 25 is chock full of historic – and interesting – happenings in tennis history. Here’s a list as it appears in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

1999 – Ranked No. 111 in the world, 17-year-old Roger Federer plays in his first main draw match at a major tournament at the French Open, losing to two-time reigning U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter of Australia 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. Writes Rene Stauffer in the book The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection, “He (Roger) jumped out to win the first set against the world’s No. 3-ranked player who then was at the peak of his career. However, the sun came out and the conditions became warmer and faster. The clay courts dried out and balls moved much faster through the court. The Australian’s attacking serve-and-volley style seemed to run on automatic and he won in four sets. ‘The young man from Switzerland could be one of the people who will shape the next ten years,’ the French sports newspaper L’Equipe wrote during the tournament. Rafter shared the same opinion. “The boy impressed me very much,” he said. “If he works hard and has a good attitude, he could become an excellent player.’”

2004 – Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement finish play in the longest-recorded match in tennis history in the first round of the French Open as Santoro edges Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14 in 6 hours, 33 minutes. The match is played over two days and is suspended from the previous day with the two playing for 4:38 the previous day – stopping at 5-5 in the fifth-set – and for 1:55 the second day. Santoro saves two match points during the marathon – one on each day. The first match point comes with Santoro serving at 4-5 in the fifth set on day one and the second comes at 13-14 on the second day. Says Santoro, “I came very close to defeat, it’s a miracle. I tried to stay relaxed on the important points and if it looked that way, then I did a good job because I was very tense.” Santoro and Clement break the previous record – curiously held by two women in a straight-set best-of-three match – held by Vicki Nelson-Dunbar and Jean Hepner, who played for 6 hours, 31 minutes in the first round of the WTA event in Richmond, Va., in 1984, Nelson-Dunbar winning 6-4, 7-6 (13-11). Says Clement of establishing the new record, “”I don’t care. What do I get? A medal? There may be an even longer match tomorrow. I don’t play tennis to spend as much time possible on court.”

1976 – Adriano Panatta saves an astonishing 11 match points in defeating Kim Warwick of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the first round of the Italian Championships. The result becomes even more significant when Panatta goes on to win the title, defeating Guillermo Vilas in the final.

1958 – In one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the French Championships, Robert Haillet of France beats 1950 French champion Budge Patty, 5-7; 7-5, 10-8, 4-6, 7-5 in the fourth round after Patty serves at 5-0, 40-0 in the fifth set and holds four match points.

1993 – Three-time French Open champion Ivan Lendl experiences one of the worst losses of his career, losing 3-6, 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (2) to No. 297th ranked qualifier Stephane Huet of France in the first round of the French Open. The match marks the first ATP level match victory for Huet, against Lendl’s 1,027 match victories. It was also Huet’s first Grand Slam match against Lendl’s 51 Grand Slam events.

1993 – Brad Gilbert wins his first match at the French Open in six years, registering a two-day 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 10-8 first-round victory over fellow American Bryan Shelton. Gilbert and Shelton share 87 unforced errors in the three-hour-and-52-minute match. Says Gilbert, the author of the book Winning Ugly after the match, “It was a chapter out of my book…Unequivocally ugly.”

1928 – George Lott defeats China’s Paul Kong 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 in the Davis Cup second round in Kansas City, Mo., to become the first U.S. Davis Cup player to win a match without losing a game. Lott would register another triple-bagel in Davis Cup play in 1930 against Mexico’s Ignacio de la Borbolla. Frank Parker is the only other American to win a Davis Cup match without losing a game, turning the trick in 1946 against Felicismo Ampon of the Philippines.

1993 – Goran Ivanisevic overcomes throwing up on court in the first set to defeat Franco Davin of Argentina 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the French Open.

2005 – No. 2 seed Andy Roddick is eliminated in the second round of the French Open, blowing a two-sets-to-love lead in his 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 8-6 loss to Argentina’s Jose Acasuso.

2008 – Three-time French Open singles champion and former world No. 1 Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten bids goodbye to tennis, playing the final singles match of his career losing to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round at Roland Garros. Kuerten plays the match wearing the canary yellow and blue outfit he wore when he won the first of three French titles in 1997, but due to the wear and tear at this ailing hip, the 31-year-old was unable to compete at the same level that saw him rise to the world’s No. 1 ranking in 2000. Says Kuerten following the match, “I think I’m very satisfied, especially with the memories that are going to stick with me from this match. I thought I played much better than I expected, and there wasn’t a single shot I didn’t make. I played forehand, backhands, serve, drop shots, volley. I did everything I think I was able to do in the past, just not with the same frequency. But at least I had the feeling to do it once more.”

MURRAY RUNNING OUTTA LOVE

Rather than pick one topic to rant at/praise today, I have decided to produce a post of some random aspects of tennis I have noticed recently.

However, what cannot be ignored was Andy Murray’s revelation this week that he has “fallen out of love with tennis.” Following on from his horrific 4-6, 4-6 defeat to American Mardy Fish he looked like a lost individual, a man gripped in a mid-life crisis.

Following on from that soul-destroying tennis lesson from Federer in the Aussie Open final in January, Murray really hasn’t had things all his own way. And as noted by fellow columnist Melina Harris he may be beginning to believe his own hype.

But to come out and declare this? It screams of spoiled brat syndrome. But read on:

“I need to start enjoying my tennis again. This has been going on for a few weeks now,” he said. “I’ve been very happy off the court but just not on it, and that’s where I need to be happy because that’s my career, this is what I do. It’s only me who can figure it out.

“People think sportsmen are different to other people but we’re not – we all go through bad patches. I’ve got to get back to how I felt in Australia at the start of the season.”

Still feel the same way readers? You can understand him. The tennis tour is now so complex and all-encompassing that there is no escape without a prolonged break that can heavily disadvantage your ranking. So players may feel the need to continue regardless of their health and happiness in fear of losing ground on their rivals.

It’s a very sorry state for a young man who was being declared as the best in the world after taking the Miami title this time last year.

Great Britain will be hoping Murray pulls through and doesn’t drop out of the sport a la Borg, or a certain Mister Tim Henman may need to get out the old tennis shoes again.

*Is it me, or is tennis becoming more and more ‘showbiz’ by the day? I think during the recent matches in Miami we have had more players’ box shots of model girlfriends and celebrity chums than ever before. Gwen Stefani got more TV time in Federer’s box at the US Open last year than any participating player. And it is always a curse during Wimbledon fortnight when we have to watch Cliff Richard’s perma-tanned, beaming, puppet-like face every day for two weeks.

*That hugely cringe worthy confrontation between Sampras and Agassi at the HitForHaiti event recently – does anybody else agree Federer should look at a career taking over from Jerry Springer when he hangs his racquet up?

*I, for one, am disappointed to see Sam Querrey failing to live up to his fantastic year in 2009. The boy is a true gentleman and could well be a great ambassador for the sport for many years to come. The saying has always been that “nice guys finish last” but in Querrey’s case I really hope this is not true. Another sporting cliché: “form is temporary, class is forever.” I think that’s a better one to keep in mind.

*One for British readers: am I the only one who likes to use the red interactive button to view matches so I don’t have to listen to the Sky commentators? Their constant attempts to make each other’s careers look laughable are very tiring. If you don’t have anything interesting to say during breaks in play please keep your traps shut.

*What a joy it has been watching Marin Cilic in Miami. Despite losing to Fernando Verdasco in straight sets the man’s game continues to improve following his marathon-esque court time Down Under. He now looks more and more like his coach, and the further he progresses the more we get to see and hear from fan-favourite Goran Ivanisevic about his protégé. Goran is never one to disappoint.

*I, for one, will be screaming Mikhail Youzhny on in his upcoming Miami quarter-final with the pantomime villain Robin Soderling. There are many players I love in the modern game, and none I love to hate more than Robin.

*With Murray, Federer and Djokovic falling by the wayside early on Miami gives Rafa Nadal a real chance to put a troubled year behind him. A win here could give him the confidence he so desperately needs and imagine a rejuvenated Rafa going in to the clay-court season. It’s not going to be easy but a few lucky breaks he hasn’t received recently and this could be a real turning point.

*Finally, I should really stop making predictions! Those who read last week’s blog will have noted how wrong I was yet again with my quarterfinal picks. However my late prediction that this tournament would be a goodun has come true, so I can take small consolation in that!

Cut Richard Gasquet Some Slack

 As you know by now, French player Richard Gasquet has been suspended for testing positive for cocaine back in Miami this spring.  I am by no means suggesting drug use is appropriate, only that this punishment seems a little harsh for him.

How many athletes use drugs or alcohol off season when they aren’t being tested, when they are away from the public eye?  That’s right.  You can claim they probably don’t.  Honestly, you don’t know what people, these role models, are doing around the end of tournament season.  All we know of these players is how they conduct themselves at press conferences.

Worse, why is there a double standard in sports that partying with alcohol is given a “cool” pass while drugs are “bad?”  For anyone wanting to make the argument about being a good role model for kids, I want to hear your side on why overdoing alcohol is acceptable for NBA and MLB stars at the same time when Michael Phelps gets grilled in the media over one pot incident, possibly losing huge sponsors.

Hollywood actors can make comebacks after a few stints in rehab and if Britney can return with a concert tour, come on, give Richard Gasquet a chance.  I personally would have banned the guy from a few tournaments until he cleans up his act.  Keep in mind, this is a young man who probably spends most of his life not acting his age to become a top player.  Cut him a break and see if he can keep his promises.  If by then, he is still doing drugs, that is when you need to think about long term bans.