As a tennis fan I cannot hide my enthusiasm about the 2011 season so far. My compatriot [Novak Djokovic] is No.1 and the level of play of others that other players (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray, Mardy Fish ) has been exceptional. Do you share my opinion that this year is one of the best tennis seasons ever? -- Zeljko Kuzmanovic, Novi Sad
What do you make of Roger Federer's comments about the court being slower this year? Why did they make it so? Given how much controversy was generated by the switch to Babolat balls at the French Open, I am surprised that this apparent slowing down of the surface has not generated much, if any, discussion. Roger lamented that the difference between grand slam surfaces has become smaller and smaller. Why the desire to slow down the courts? -- Mahsh Kalyana, Cary, N.C.
They come from worlds of their own, driven by passion, ingenuity and a competitive spirit. If you want to know what's missing in American women's tennis, be sure to catch Thursday's French Open semifinal between Francesca Schiavone and Marion Bartoli -- and take full notice of two women who dare to be different.
Tennis Channel has come of age, and at the perfect time: during a Grand Slam event, with the whole world watching.
A single piece of evidence can be a fluke, and even a second misfire can be misleading. But Rafael Nadal has now lost three straight matches to Novak Djokovic -- twice on hardcourts, once on clay -- and there was something about Sunday's Madrid final that spoke to absolute command.
While still recovering from the Djokovic-Nadal final, thought we'd do something different for this column. Hardly a day goes by that one of you doesn't write in about the Tennis Channel. (The usual disclosure: I've done work for TC in the past and root unabashedly for its success.) You love it. You want it. You hate that you don't get it. You wonder why they are broadcasting an old match while a live final is going on. Do they have rights? Do they not have rights? Who do you contact when your cable system doesn't carry it?
Shortly before the start of the men's final at Indian Wells, ABC's Chris Fowler dropped an annoying bit of information. A rumor, actually. There was a patch of blue tape on Novak Djokovic's left knee, and Fowler hinted at insiders' concern that he might be developing a case of tendinitis.
1. Faulty Federer falls. Both the gleeful Federer buriers and concerned Federer loyalists were out in full force this weekend. Their man dropped still another match to Novak Djokovic, a shank-o-rific Dubai final that saw Federer lose 6-3, 6-3. While Djokovic played stellar, complete tennis once again, Federer did himself no favors, framing shots, hitting destinationless backhands and finding few answers when Djokovic posed the difficult questions. Federer is now like a stock whose beta/variance is starting to widen. He's still capable of greatness -- that London win over Nadal wasn't even 100 days ago. Yet the dismal matches are becoming more common. Realistically, we knew the ride couldn't go on forever. And Federer's performance is in keeping with the life cycle of a champion. The consistency is the first thing to go. The old weaknesses, such as they are, start to surface. (In this case, the drive backhand.) There's still magic left in the wand, but it's not automatically
The scores made it seem so ordinary -- 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 -- but the Caroline Wozniacki-Francesca Schiavone quarterfinal was a beacon of contrast at the Australian Open and the ultimate showcase for women's tennis. We may not see anything like it, with so much at stake, until Schiavone returns to the French Open to defend her title.
While envisioning Dinara Safina, Donald Young, Ernests Gulbis and Ana Ivanovic in the same corner of the Melbourne watering hole last night, complaining about their rough days at the office ...
Will Kim Clijsters win a Slam other than the U.S. Open in 2011? Will Henin win a Slam other than the French? --Chris, Boston
1. Someone other than Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal will win a major title. Here is tennis' most preposterous stat now that Federer's streak of 23 Grand Slam semifinals is over: Since the 2005 French Open, only two men not named Nadal and Federer have won a major title (Novak Djokovic at the 2008 Australian Open and Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open). Ridiculous. Yet it's about time another player broke through. Whether it's Djokovic, Robin Soderling, a healthy del Potro (remember him?), Andy Murray or a total shocker, the ATP is due for at least one unexpected Slam winner in 2011.
We were prepared to offer our annual Baggie Awards. But several of you suggested we wait a week in order to give Serbia's Davis Cup a little love. We do as we're told. A quick 'Bag and we'll hand out awards next week.
You say: "To his credit, [Roger] Federer has taken questions on this unpleasant episode. And absent more information, we ought to divorce him from [IMG's Teddy] Forstmann's colossally bad judgment [in betting on Federer's match against Rafael Nadal in the 2007 French Open final]." So, Jon, why don't you "divorce" him from this? You bring it up more than anyone. But you brush it off when Nadal admits his uncle coaches him? --Anna Brit, Towson, Md.
If the tour's young players have difficulty relating to the Williams sisters, so adept at balancing tennis against off-court pursuits, imagine their take on Kim Clijsters. In a tournament fraught with peril -- the upsets, the heat, the humidity -- Clijsters moves quietly and comfortably in a world entirely her own.
You raised some interesting points last week in your column about fixing some of tennis' marketing problems. But I'm surprised you didn't address the problem of style. Too many players just smack the ball without thinking. Hard, flat strokes. No volleys. No strategy. Two-handed backhand. Big forehand. No variety. Just bashing. I'm not sure what can be done about this, but to me that's a bigger turnoff than anything. --Doug, Texas
Perhaps there's no resurrecting Roger Federer. Maybe he dropped the definitive hints at recent Wimbledons, strolling onto the court in those over-the-top evening jackets, as if preparing for a bit of pipe smoking with Alistair Cooke. Perhaps the rest of his career is just one big barnstorming tour -- "Come see the greatest player who ever lived!" -- as he swats those legendary groundstrokes, generally dominant but occasionally laying a massive egg.
We had fog and Fognini. Cat fights and chat fights. Discussions about lace (Venus) and discussions about pace (Nadal). Oh, and they played some tennis, too. Through seven days at the French Open -- and Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin deadlocked at a set apiece -- we dispense midterm grades.
1. Rafa returns: Clay season is upon us, which, of course, means it's time for Rafael Nadal to reduce the rest of the field to rubble. Never mind that he'd failed to win a title in nearly a year and looked a smidge off -- "Like 87 percent Rafa," a friend estimated -- in the first four months of 2010. Nadal was up to his old domina-tricks last week in Monte Carlo, winning the title for the sixth (!) straight year and nearly double-bageling two opponents including Fernando Verdasco in the final. As we saw last year on the middle Sunday of the French Open, anything can happen on any given day. But if Nadal stays injury-free and sustains anything close to this level of tennis over the next two months, he's your favorite at Roland Garros again.
That was some nice work by Sam Querrey in Houston over the weekend. He fought back the forces of evil and undoubtedly heard from countless well-wishers in the tennis community. If only he'd finished the job.
Hope you're at the Miami tourney in person. You might actually get to see the matches. We've had two days of "coverage" by our local FSN affiliate, and I have yet to see a women's player hit a ball. To us, the women are just a rumor at this point. Supposedly Venus, Henin, Clijsters, and darn near everyone is there, but I've yet to see any evidence. Maybe someday we'll get Tennis Channel (probably in time to see Jada Clijsters retire), but until then, we'll have to wait for the Family Circle Cup. At least they know how to promote women's tennis, and will have a full stadium for the matches IW failed to promote. --Stew, New York
At a bare minimum, when you've represented Robert Kennedy, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan, and Jimmy Connors, among others, you ought to have some good stories. And Donald Dell doesn't disappointment. A well-known figure in the tennis world for being the sport's first agent, helping to found the ATP Tour and serving as a U.S. Davis Cup captain, Dell, 71, mixes practical advice and war stories in his new book, Never Make the First Offer.
Ooof. Larry Scott is leaving as the head of the WTA? This can't be good. -- Greg Smiley, Washington, D.C.
The Tennis Channel has canceled plans to broadcast a tournament in Dubai because an Israeli player was banned.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- I snuck out to the indoor practice facility at Melbourne Park Tuesday during a break in my commentating responsibilities for the Tennis Channel when, of all people, Roger Federer was finishing up on my court. Typically, the greatest player of all-time was using his off-day to hit tennis balls.
Open the Mailbag boasting about how clean tennis is, and look at what you get: "As the NBA grapples with a betting scandal, tennis must now confront a potential gambling scam of its own. Officials on Friday were investigating suspicious betting patterns on a match involving top-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, who retired with an injury against a low-ranked opponent at an ATP tournament in Poland." -- Jim Bartle, Huaraz, Peru
Halfway through the French Open, the hosts are hard to come by, as are the Americans. But a certain Spaniard and Swiss Mister are still on course to meet in the final. And we get our Henin-Serena match, plus a resurgent Sharapova and a Serb in insurgence. All in all, a fine first week. Herewith, our midterm grades.
PARIS -- "Rain, rain, go away," has been the mantra around the grounds at Roland Garros the past few days, and nobody has been more frustrated than the players. A rain delay during the early stages of a Grand Slam is the equivalent of sitting in a dentist's chair for an extensive root canal.
You want your constant foil to Roger Federer? I think Guillermo Canas is making a strong statement. This guy has helped make tennis more exciting for me. Give this guy his props! -- Chris Rodgers, Omaha, Neb.
I just looked at the draw sheet for last week's Tennis Channel Open: first a qualifying bracket, then a "main draw elimination" bracket (e.g., more qualifying), followed by a round-robin competition and then finally the "finals round." Is it just me or is this complete madness?
Along with postal service, driving traffic, and jumbo shrimp, we add tennis offseason to the list of our favorite oxymorons. So, here it is the first week of January -- barely six weeks after the Masters Cup final -- and tennis is back in the agate type. Herewith, a quiz of divinations for the new season. And if you miss a few, no worries. It's round robin, so you can re-enter the draw!
Lleyton Hewitt reached the quarterfinals of a tournament for the third time this year by defeating Jan Hernych 6-3 6-3 in the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas.
Top seed Andy Roddick has pulled out of this week's Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas due to weariness.
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