September 28, 2008

Making His Comeback

Andy Roddick started out the year with a bang.

In February he won the SAP Open in San Jose, fitting as the company has sponsored Roddick for years. Then he beat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on his way to the title in Dubai.

But after that things slowed down a bit.

He lost his spot as the top-ranked player in the U.S. to my favorite James Blake, he suffered an upset in the second round at Wimbledon to the tattooed Janko Tipsarevic, and skipped out on the Olympics only to be humbled at the hands of Juan Martin Del Potro in the finals at the Coutrywide Classic in Los Angeles.

But this week Andy was set to argue that he should not be forgotten as one of the major forces in men's tennis. He went back to Beijing, one month after the Olympics ended, to take his shot at the China Open. And after four matches he found himself holding the championship trophy over his head.

China may not be the pantheon of tennis, but the tournament has attracted some top-notch players over the years. Last year's champ, Fernando Gonzalez, took the silver medal at the Olympics and the year before Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis won the title when he was ranked a career-high #8.

Roddick didn't have the toughest of draws to get to the finals in Beijing -- his best-known opponent was Juan Carlos Ferrero who has dropped percipitously in the rankings in 2008, from #15 in January to #48 now. For the title Andy took on #92, Dudi Sela of Israel, who actually had a much more impressive road -- he consecutively beat the top seed David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo and Rainer Schuettler for the right to play for the title.

To be fair, Andy never fell out of the top ten, so to designate this a "comeback" may not be entirely appropriate. But my hope is that the win gives him some of the confidence he needs to fight through what's left of the season. With the title Roddick's ATP Race ranking rises to #6, ahead of Ferrer and putting him in contention to vie for the year-end championships in Shanghai. We all know that a little bit of momentum can be all you need to pull out another victory!

Incidentally in another part of Asia, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated top-seeded Djokovic at the finals in Bangkok for the first title of his career. Tsonga, who sat out for three months this year recovering from knee surgery, avenged his January loss to Nole in the Australian Open finals and certainly improved his own chances to compete for the Tennis Master Cup as well.

Congratulations to all!

And to all of you, serve well and play hard!

September 24, 2008

Quitting While You're Ahead

The Number One ranking in women's tennis has been up for grabs this year.

So far in 2008 five different people have held the top spot -- the most unique names ever to claim the honor in a single year. Sure the ranking has swapped back and forth between two rivals in the past -- Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova traded off in 1979 and 1985; Steffi Graf and Monica Seles did the same in '91 (and again in 1995-96 after Monica returned); Steffi battled again in '95, this time with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Then there was the Martina Hingis-Lindsay Davenport rivalry in 1999-2000, Lindsay and Maria Sharapova in 2005, and most recently Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

But for so many to occupy the top spot in such a short time frame is somewhat unprecedented. It's like the #1 ranking is a hot potato and no one wants to hold onto it for too long.

This year's chain reaction was kicked off in mid-May when then-#1 Justine Henin unexpectedly announced her immediate retirement just weeks before the French Open. That passed the torch to Sharapova who stayed on top for three weeks before ceding the position to Ana Ivanovic. Fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic wrested the rank from her compatriot for exactly one week before giving it back, and since the U.S. Open Serena Williams has been at #1.

What's ironic about the musical chairs of women's tennis is that I'm not sure it would ever have happened if Justine hadn't left the circuit. She was clearly at the top of her game in May. She was only twenty-six at the time and had already won 41 WTA singles titles -- less than five months into the year, she'd already won two. In 2007 she had won both the French & U.S. Opens, and the previous year she was in the finals of all four Grand Slams.

Justine was an unlikely athlete -- she was so lithe and graceful, it was easy to mistake her for a dancer instead of a tennis star. She's teeny in a sport where success tends to follow the tall -- of the other four girls to hold the top ranking this year, Jelena is the shortest at 5'10"; Justine wasn't even 5'6", and her opponents towered over her.

Her height, however, didn't make her any less of a threat on the playing field. She had bullet-fast serves (clocked as high as 124mph), a powerful one-handed backhand that whizzed by her adversaries, and she could cover the court better than most girls twice her size. She was a role model to players like me who, at 5'4" didn't think they stood a chance on any playing field -- but Justine could beat players you never thought she'd be able to. When she left the game only three women had winning records against her -- the Williams sisters and Lucie Safarova, a Czech player who only played Henin once.

And as is appropriate with the greatest of athletes, Justine even had a long-running rivalry with fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters -- sometimes friendly, sometimes showing a real deep-rooted competition. Between 1998 and 2006 the two met twenty-two times with Justine holding a narrow 12-10 lead, but seven of those victories came when a title was on the line -- five in Grand Slam finals. Justine also outmanned Kim in the rankings, holding onto #1 for a total of 117 weeks compared to a relatively paltry nineteen. The numbers may have favored Henin, but any time these two met on the court, you knew you were in for a fight.

But then, without warning, Justine left.

There is something to be said for quitting while you're ahead, I suppose -- I can't imagine that the fall from the top is an especially fun trip to take, so why not staunch the bleeding before it starts? But given her performance so far this year, it just didn't seem like Henin was anywhere near losing her grip on #1. She was just days away from Roland Garros, the Slam she had won four of the five previous years; she was healthy, she was fit, and she was the heavy favorite.

I'm not here to pass judgment on Justine's reasons for retiring. Everyone is entitled to personal time and an opportunity to be with family and friends when needed, and I'm sure Justine really was justified in her decision.

But what upsets me is the gaping hole it left in women's tennis. Sure Maria and Serena certainly are fantastic players, but with Sharapova's shoulder injury and Serena's inconsistency in recent years, do either deserve to be at the top? And while both Ana and Jelena show signs of greatness now and then, let's be honest, don't we all sometimes feel that at our best even we could beat them?

I know retirements in sports aren't permanent -- in women's tennis alone Lindsey Davenport, Martina Hingis and even Venus Williams all came back after swearing themselves done with the game (admittedly with varying degrees of success). I hope that some day soon Justine will also return -- I miss having a woman I can consistently root for on the court!

But 'til then and to all of you, serve well and play hard!

September 21, 2008

Sidebar -- Davis Cup Update

As I feared, today Spain's Davis Cup team ended the U.S.'s hopes of winning their second team championship in a row.

Earlier this morning Rafael Nadal beat Andy Roddick in three sets to put his team up an insurmountable 3-1. It was basically inevitable -- when was the last time Rafa lost on red clay? (The Spanish eventually won all four singles matches to trounce the U.S. 4-1.)

Spain goes on to battle the winner of the Russia-Argentina series in November. Since my first choice won't be playing in the finals, in the name of good sportsmanship, I hope Spain follows through to win their third Davis Cup title. (I mean, c'mon -- look how happy they are for each other! That's what I mean by camaraderie!)

Congratulations to all, and ¡Viva España!

September 17, 2008

Defending Their Title

If you read last week's post you know that I question the validity of team tennis, at least on a professional level. I suppose Davis Cup is, in theory, no different, but like any real fan I reserve the right to be somewhat hypocritical in my opinions.

There's something fraternal about Davis Cup -- a feeling that the teammates really are rooting for each other, that individual victories don't matter unless the whole group wins. There's a spirit of camaraderie that you don't often see in tennis.

I actually enjoy these matches.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that the U.S. won its record 32nd title last year, which gives me something to cheer for.

This weekend the Americans fly to Madrid in their quest to defend their championship and face a formidable Spanish team. Like the Russians protecting their Fed Cup title, the Americans come to the semifinals with a slightly debilitated team. My favorite James Blake bowed out of this week's match after an exhausting summer schedule and yesterday Bob Bryan, half of the #1 doubles team, withdrew due to a shoulder injury. Andy Roddick and Bob's twin Mike will be playing instead with twenty-year-old Sam Querrey and the man who recaptured my interest two weeks ago, Mardy Fish.

The Spanish, on the other hand, come with their guns a-blazin', literally -- world #1 Rafael Nadal, he of the monster biceps, leads the team comprised of a few other noteworthy names: David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.

I'm hoping the visiting team isn't too intimidated -- after all both Querry and Fish had their hugely successful U.S. Open runs ended at the hands of Nadal.

But the shake-up on the American team brings up a point that many tennis commentators have been harping on -- the future of men's tennis in the U.S.

After the glory days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi (and the real glory days of McEnroe and Connors), American men haven't really held onto the top spots. Roddick was ranked #1 for thirteen weeks in 2003-04 but has spent the majority of the last three years in the mid- to low-single digits. And my dear James, despite all his power and speed and resilience (not to mention his loyal fan base), has never won a major title.

Mardy had a great run in Flushing, of course, but still hasn't made it back into the top twenty. Robby Ginepri has had spotty success in recent years and both Taylor Dent and Justin Gimelstob have given up playing for commentating.

So the best hope in future U.S. Davis Cup titles lies in the likes of Querrey, who at #39 in the world is the highest ranked of the American "upstarts".

It's not a totally bleak picture. Querrey won in Las Vegas this year and made it to the semis in Indianapolis. He even beat former #1 Carlos Moya and took an impressive set from Nadal in New York.

But beyond him I feel our best hope lies in a few players who aren't quite in the top 100.

John Isner was my guy last year. At 6'9", the former University of Georgia star might ostensibly be better suited for a career in basketball, but in 2007 he was a menace on a different kind of hard court.

He had beaten Tim Henman and Tommy Haas en route to the finals in Washington and earned himself a wild card entry to the U.S. Open, where he made it to the third round. Earlier this year he cracked the top 100 for the first time in his career. He hasn't quite followed through during the summer season in '08, losing in the first round at all four Grand Slams, but I'm hopeful that with time we'll see more "W"'s in his book.

My other hopeful is nineteen year old Donald Young. The former Juniors champion both in New York and at Wimbledon steps onto the court with so much bling that I'm jealous, but that doesn't make him any less intimidating -- he took Blake to five sets in the first round of the U.S. Open this year and made my DVR cut out in the middle of the match since I didn't think it could possibly last as long as it did. He'll be a force, I imagine, in the coming years.

And what about Ryler DeHeart? He had to win three qualifying matches just for the chance to play Olivier Rochus at the U.S. Open. He didn't even have clean clothes for his night match against Nadal in the second round! Even though he lost in straight sets, you have to give him credit for not blanking out -- he even converted the one break point opportunity he had during the match!

It'll take a lot of work for these guys to make it to the big leagues, but they definitely can get there.

In the meantime, I'll keep rooting for my American boys this weekend. I know the road is rough, but you've all overcome worse! Good luck!

And to everyone else, as always, serve well and play hard!

September 13, 2008

The Fallacy of Fed Cup

I'm not sure I ever understood the point of the Fed Cup.

The theory is good, creating a team spirit in a sport which is almost entirely an individual effort. Outside of doubles, these athletes never have someone else on the court to encourage them when they're down or help pick up their slack if they're having a bad day. In team tennis, however -- whether it holds Fed Cup implications or if the combatants are simply playing for their high school or college -- one point, one game, one match won't determine who walks away with the trophy.

But in that case does the winner really reflect the landscape of tennis?

Take for example the 2008 Fed Cup final being played in Madrid this weekend. The Russian team is defending their title against the women of Spain, who haven't won the honor in ten years when my all-time favorite female player, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, was leading the team.

Last year the champion Russians won all four matches against Italy. But this year they're missing Olympic champion Elena Dementieva and U.S. Open Series winner Dinara Safina. Maria Sharapova is out with a nagging shoulder injury and Anna Chakvetadze isn't playing in the final matches either. They have six players ranked in the top fifteen in the world but only two are on their Fed Cup team: #7 Svetlana Kuznetzova and Vera Zvonareva, #9.

But despite their holes, the Russians still have a more intimidating lineup than the Spanish where the highest ranked player, Anabel Medina Garrigues, is only #29 in singles and won't even have the advantage of playing with her usual doubles partner, Virginia Ruano Pascual, with whom she can really do some harm.

One of these two teams will be named the best.

Sure, it's been a good year for Spanish athletes. The national soccer team won their first trophy in 45 years at the European Championship, Carlos Sastre claimed the Tour de France's top spot, and the country took eighteen medals at the Beijing Olympics, five gold. Not to mention, of course, Rafael Nadal's ending Roger Federer's four-and-a-half year run as the top player in the world last month.

But, truth be told, I'm almost surprised the Spanish women made it to the finals at all. In the first round Spain faced Italy, winning by a narrow 3-2 margin. Against China they had a better result, losing only one match to Jie Zheng, the unexpected Wimbledon semifinalist.

Russia on the other hand has had more success on the court this year, but of the women playing in the finals, only Zvonareva has won a tournament this year -- the ECM in Prague.

Who should be in the finals?

Well as much as I hate to say it, the Williams have had a great year, winning one Grand Slam each, and Serena even regained her #1 world ranking. On the doubles side Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond both played in the finals at the U.S. Open -- admittedly against each other, but regardless, they've proven their continued worth.

And what about the Serbs? Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are ranked #2 and #3 respectively. Jelena gave the younger Williams a run for her money in New York and Ana played in two finals this year, even winning in Paris.

Instead we have a relatively unknown Spain and a slightly debilitated Russia. Both of which are of course talented in their own right -- I don't mean to discount their ability. But I'm not sure either represents the best in women's tennis -- at least not this year or in their current form.

By Saturday afternoon Russia was already up, two to zero -- both Svetlana and Vera had won their singles matches -- and Spain faced a gargantuan deficit from which they hope to come back on Sunday. I'm sure the underdogs are eager to prove their place in the finals, and I'm hoping for a few well-fought matches on the last day of battle.

And to the eventual winner, of course, congratulations!

Thanks for reading again -- and, as always, serve well and play hard!

September 12, 2008

Separated at Birth -- Tennis Edition

Today, I'm taking the opportunity to relax after a grueling U.S. Open season (yes, watching matches deep into the night and getting constant score updates during the day take their toll on a girl) to make a few, more light-hearted and innocuous observations on some of the best players in the game.

My mother is always saying that everybody she sees looks like someone else, and tennis is no exception.

Take for example, the case of Roger Federer. Mom can never seem to recall his face, and my standard response is, "He's the one that looks like Orlando Bloom."

See what I mean? Both are dark, brooding, and arguably sexy.

But they're not the only look-alikes.

Current #1 Rafael Nadal has an impish face and a bohemian style that remind me of one of my favorite Disney characters.

I would argue there's a little bit of magic behind both of their games. After all, is there really such a big difference between soaring through the air on a flying carpet and leaping to great heights to smash an overhead? (They're even both left-handed!)

And, while I don't mean to be rude, doesn't Novak Djokovic bear a striking resemblance to everyone's favorite high school nerd?

No offense, Novak! You're definitely much cuter and, I predict, will age much better than Screech did -- but I would steer clear of any reality TV offers, just to be safe.

If you've read my earlier blog post, you already know my feelings toward U.S. Open runner-up Andy Murray, but I'd be willing to bet that even an objective party couldn't ignore these similarities:

A little tip, Andy -- a quick shave would work wonders.

Finally, lest you think I'm just being catty (I promise, I'm not!), I leave you with my favorite "They Could've Been Brothers" duo -- my dear Pete Sampras with an Entourage star.


And 'til next time, serve well and play hard!

September 8, 2008

Chasing the Dream, or The Destiny of Roger Federer

All is right in the world again.

After a relatively quick and admittedly unexciting three sets, Roger Federer claimed his fifth straight U.S. Open championship.

It was a totally foreseeable outcome, but lately tennis fans were left to worry it might not happen. Roger's opponent, Andy Murray, had placed second in the U.S. Open Series of tournaments and had bested #3 Novak Djokovic and #1 Rafael Nadal in the past month. He had just received his highest ranking and was now number four in the world.

Roger, on the other hand, just ended a 237-week run at the top and hadn't won a singles tournament since June.

But the tables reverted tonight.

Unlike the women's final on Sunday, this game wasn't much of a fight, and the former World #1 owned the match basically from the get-go. I've already spent ample time discussing why I didn't want Murray in the final to begin with, and since the match itself wasn't very noteworthy, I won't waste any more space here analyzing the play of today.

Instead I choose to expound on why Roger's win was destined to be.

When 2008 began I was a bit worried. A record long-held by my all-time favorite player was in jeopardy. Six years ago Pete Sampras came to Flushing Meadows seeded as low as he'd been in years -- number seventeen. His storied career was over, the critics said. But Pistol Pete proved everyone wrong, and he left New York with his fourteenth Grand Slam title, two more than any other man in history.

But his record was about to be challenged.

By the start of this year, Roger Federer had earned himself twelve major championships and had set his own slew of records. He was on a roll -- he owned grass and hard courts, had become a serious threat on clay and was ready to defend the three Grand Slam titles he won in both 2007 and 2006.

Roger was going after Pete both in the record books and on the court. In March I had the great privilege of witnessing the two players take each other on at an exhibition match in Madison Square Garden.

Though this was a friendly match, both men poured their souls into the game, and after three hard-fought sets, a handful of gunshot-fast serves from Sampras, and match points on both sides of the net, Roger held the trophy above his head.

I resigned myself to the fact that Pete's reign as the Greatest Ever would end within twelve months.

But then Federer lost in the semis in Melbourne to Djokovic, the Serb who went on to win the tournament. Okay, I thought, if he's gonna beat Pete this year, Roger will really have to bring it in Paris.

Roger's loss in the French final was disappointing, I'm sure -- he definitely has more game on that surface than Pete, whose best showing at Roland Garros was one appearance in the fourth round -- but not entirely unexpected since Rafael Nadal just dominates there. But I was somewhat mollified -- the best Federer could do in '08 would be a tie.

When he fell to Rafa at Wimbledon, though, tennis fans were stunned -- devastated, even. In what many consider the best match of all time, Roger came back from a two-set deficit to force a fifth, but finally went down after sixteen more games and 75 more minutes were played.

And so, I rejoiced, Pete's record would remain in tact for yet one more year.

"Is Roger’s career over?" the pundits wondered. "Will he ever regain his place at the top?"


Sure, it hasn't been Federer's best year. He's only won two tournaments in 2008, one in Portugal before the French and the other in Germany leading up to Wimbledon. He lost tough matches not just to Rafa and Nole, but to Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish.

But it didn't take tonight's win in Arthur Ashe Stadium to know that Roger isn't done quite yet. Today he broke his year-long deadlock with Roy Emerson and earned Slam #13, becoming the second winningest player in Grand Slam history.

Unlucky #13?

Roger joked that he didn't want to hold onto that number for very long, and I don't believe that he will.

As much as I adore Pete Sampras and would love for him to be forever known as the best tennis player of all time, I know it's just a matter of time before Federer ties, beats and far surpasses his record.

He's only twenty-seven after all, one year younger than Pete when he won number thirteen at Wimbledon in 2000. Maybe thirteen was unlucky for Sampras -- he couldn't get past it for more than two years -- but I have a feeling Roger might not be able to wait that long. He's still at the top of his game.

And, probably more dangerously, he's hungry. Nothing motivates like starvation, and Roger, after one long sparse year, is nothing if not hungry for more.

So with a heavy heart I concede Pete's spot at the top and applaud the Best Tennis Player of All-Time, Roger Federer. I'm optimistic that he'll wear the crown admirably.

And for everyone else, 'til next time, serve well and play hard!

September 7, 2008

A Final Upset?

It's funny that Jelena Jankovic was seeded second at this year's U.S. Open and Serena Williams, the far more familiar name, fourth. Jelena's been ranked number one as recently as August (for one glorious week) while Serena hadn't been at the top since 2002 and started the year with a seventh seed in Australia, even though she was the defending champion.

Yet there are few people who would've expected Jankovic to defeat Williams at this year's tournament, despite the fact that the Serbian notched a victory over Serena on a hard court just in January, or even to put up much of a fight.

Serena clearly had experience on her side going into tonight's final. She's older -- twenty-six compared to Jelena's twenty-three. She's been on tour longer, turning pro in 1998 vs. 2001 for Jankovic. She's been in eleven Grand Slam singles matches playing for the championship and come out the victor eight times. Jelena was playing in her first major final.

With the odds stacks so much against Jelena, commentators were saying that the real women's final was played on Wednesday night when Serena took out her sister Venus in straight sets in the quarters.

But the women's championship turned into something much more exciting than I what I expected.

Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams walked onto Center Court a little past nine p.m. on Sunday night, a day late thanks to a rain delay that wiped out most of Saturday's play. Jankovic got the first break of the match to go up 2-1 in the first set. But Williams immediately broke back. Jelena had a chance to serve for the second set at 5-4, but lost her service game and, soon after, the match. There were eight breaks, serves of 120 miles per hour, two-plus hours of squealing, grunting, screeching and splits (CBS even put up a statistic of how many times the competitors went spread-eagle on the court).

And the number four seed "upset" the second-ranked player in the world in straight sets.

That's the thing about matches like this -- they seldom reflect the true battle that transpired. A mere ten points separated Serena and Jelena, eighty-nine to seventy-nine. The second set lasted 77 minutes. We came dangerously close to a third set -- something that hasn't happened since Steffi Graf beat Monica Seles in 1995. But what goes on the scoreboard is a 6-4, 7-5 romping.

You wouldn't know it from reading the box scores on Monday morning, but it was one of the best women's matches I've seen in a long time.

There was criticism that Jelena acted unprofessional and juvenile after the match when she jokingly questioned how much prize money she won and commented on the "gift" of a number one ranking she gave Serena. But, come on! Serena jumped up and down (and up and down, and up and down) like a five-year-old on a trampoline after her win, a reaction that her sister also had after winning Wimbledon last year. If you can excuse that flagrant behavior, how can you not applaud Jankovic for her sportsmanlike conduct?

Jelena is a phenomenal defensive player and got balls back into play that most pros would be happy to watch sail by them -- she just needs to work on dictating points, if she wants to win the majors. And even though I always root against the Williams' family (did anyone notice that patriarch Richard was wearing a baseball cap with Venus's logo during Serena's match?), the younger sister is obviously deserving of her newly-regained top ranking. I actually enjoyed watching her play tonight, maybe as much for how Jankovic was able to respond to her as for what she was able to do with her racquet herself. For two women who seemed so unevenly matched, I can't imagine any others who were more worthy of being in the final.

In the spirit of sisterhood (and because griping over Andy Murray's win has sapped me of a whole bunch of energy) I congratulate Serena, and Jelena too.

Hope to see more great, powerful, exciting, cheer-provoking play in both of your futures!

Now it's almost midnight and I have to be up in five hours to get ready for my real job. So good night! I'll see you back here after the men's final.

Thanks again for coming!

'Til next time, serve well and play hard!

I'm So Over Andy Murray

I'm sorry, Andy Murray, but I'm just not that into you.

I was rooting for Rafa just like the whole of Arthur Ashe Stadium was tonight. I was surprised, and a little disappointed, that you made it to the semis but was willing to concede that because, I figured, there was no way you would beat the world's number one player. You don't have the style, the power, or frankly, the fan base. It was a foregone conclusion.

You gave me a fright on Saturday. Between the raindrops and on a secondary court, you managed to win not one but two sets from Nadal, something you'd never done before. You were on a roll, it seemed, and I was nervous. But the arrival of a Tropical Storm named Hannah suspended play in the middle of the third set, and, I thought, you'd never be able to maintain your momentum over the break.

I was wrong.

On Sunday evening you managed to nudge a half-court backhand past your opponent on break point and earned your place in the finals. Thus the match everyone expected and most fans wanted, #1 Rafael Nadal versus #2 Roger Federer, was not to be.

It's not that I have anything against you, Andy -- well, that's not entirely true, but let's pretend that it is. Your win precluded tennis history -- the Nadal-Federer match would have been one for the ages. Sure, the two have met eighteen times before, but this would have been the first time they played when Roger didn't hold the top ranking and the top seed. Nadal took both over on August 18th after winning the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic Gold all this year, a task I'm not sure has ever been accomplished before. Roger would be fighting to regain his position as the King of Tennis, and Rafa would have been a step closer to winning the U.S. Open Series prize and solidifying his reputation as an all-court force.

Instead we get Federer and Murray. A twelve-time Grand Slam champion versus a first-time finalist. You do have the chance to go down in history -- a win tomorrow would make you the first Brit to claim a major title since Fred Perry did it in 1936. I guess it's interesting, but on a much less exciting level (no offense to the great Fred Perry!).

Despite Roger's experience, higher rank, multiple trophies, it turns out you actually have a winning record against the amazing Mr. Federer, Andy -- two to one, including a victory this past March in Dubai. The fact that Roger has been struggling this year is not news. A bout with mono sent him packing early at the Australian Open, and he missed the chance to win his sixth straight Wimbledon title in what might go down as the greatest match of all time. In fact he's only won two singles tournaments this year and not a single Slam, something that hasn't happened since 2002.

But his time isn't over. He's got plenty of wins left in him. And, sorry again, I'm hoping that the next one comes at your expense tomorrow night.

It's not you, Andy, it's me. You've definitely got talent, I grant you that. I watched you last Wednesday playing Juan Martin Del Potro and was impressed by your drop shot. I gritted my teeth as you ran Nadal back and forth across the court and dictated the play during the semis. You were seeded sixth coming into the final Slam of the year and, win or lose tomorrow, you'll climb to your highest ranking, number four.

But I don't think I can ever forgive you for beating my favorite Englander, Tim Henman, three years ago in Switzerland, and suggesting they re-dub Henman Hill as Murray's Mound at the All England Lawn Tennis Club -- far too presumptuous and entirely premature.

So, Andy, I feel it's best we part ways now. No hard feelings. I wish you the best of luck in your future, but I'm over it.

I. Am over. You.

And to all the rest of you reading, thanks to you!

'Til next time, serve well and play hard!

A Few of My Favorites

I woke up this morning at 6 a.m. feeling particularly inspired and so decided, on this last scheduled day of the 2008 U.S. Open, I would start a blog. Admittedly I wish I'd come up with the idea a few weeks (or months) ago, but hey -- better late than never, right?

Anyway, the women's final was postponed until today, thanks to some crazy rain yesterday, courtesy of Tropical Storm Hanna, and the second men's semi-final was stopped in the middle of the third set, with Britain's (or Scotland's) Andy Murray holding a surprising 2-set lead over Rafael Nadal.

But for now, I don't feel like predicting who the eventual singles champions will be. Since I've missed two weeks of what could have been interesting commentary, I'll instead reflect on some of the players that caught my eye.

After every major tennis tournament, I inevitably come away with a few new favorites, a couple guys and girls who did more than their part to entertain and battle on the court, and this year was no different.

On the men's side I have two picks, one who's been around a while and one who seemingly came out of nowhere.

I've always liked Mardy Fish, and quite literally found myself in the Fish Tank last month in New Haven when he played in the final at the Pilot Pen. He's cute, seems like a nice guy, and can smack the hell out of a serve. At this year's Open though, he committed a crime that could have doomed him in my eyes -- he beat James Blake. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love Blake, and I thought their third round match-up would be a fun and lively exhibition. Two good friends would slug it out for a while, joke around a bit, but eventually the more experienced Blake would triumph. But a little past midnight, after three relatively short sets, it was Mardy that was walking away the victor.

I don't forgive people on the tennis court easily, and when you beat someone I love, you're persona non grata in my book (someday I'll share my thoughts on Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and the like). As punishment, I sentenced Mardy to a fourth round loss to France's Gael Monfils, who turned twenty-two that day.

Mardy didn't obey.

But with a quarter-final meeting with world number one, Rafael Nadal, I figured he'd finally get his due. For the first time in recent memory, I was cheering against the American. The thing was that after having been at Flushing Meadows for ten hours already that day, I went straight home and at one-thirty in the morning found myself rooting for Fish again. He arguably played the best tennis of his life, and despite being the sore loser that I am, I wanted him to follow through with his first set win and pull out the upset.

He didn't, of course. Rafa's just amazing. But at nearly two-thirty, when the match finally ended, Mardy had made a legion of new fans.

Two-thirty. I think John McEnroe said that was the third latest finish for a match at the U.S. Open in history. Why so late? Partly due to my other new favorite player, Juan Martin Del Potro (and not Del Porto, or Del Portro, or De la Puerta, as the chair umpire seemed to think).

I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of Juan Martin until he beat Andy Roddick in L.A. a few weeks back. He's a kid too, gonna be 20 later this month, but he's got some serious game, came into the U.S. Open having won four straight tournaments, eighteen straight games, was seeded seventeenth at the Slam. He's got a long and unwieldy name, it's hard to cheer for him, as I found out during his nearly four-hour match with Andy Murray. But that didn't stop me from shamelessly screaming for "Juan!" or "Del Pot!" or whatever else I could come up with until my throat was dry. He's got a lot of tournament wins left in him though, I predict. I'm sure someone will think of some clever rally cry we'll be hearing soon.

On the women's side, sadly, I have to say I was less inspired. I'm a big Elena Dementieva fan, and I'm disappointed that she won't be playing in the finals. I also found myself rooting for Dinara Safina, despite my feelings for her brother, but her hope for the million-dollar U.S. Open Series prize money ended on Friday at the hands of Serena Williams. But they've both been around a while, won Olympic medals, earned their top-ten rankings.

There is one new girl I'll keep my eye on though, and I do mean girl. Coco Vandeweghe lost in the first round to Jelena Jankovic on opening night, but she's playing in juniors' final today. She's a sixteen-year-old, pretty California blonde, and she's got spunk. I saw her playing Kristie Ahn (who lost to Safina in the main draw) on Wednesday, and she definitely showed signs of promise. We'll see.

Before signing off on my first post, I want to congratulate the doubles champions that have been crowned so far. Bob and Mike Bryan won their sixth Grand Slam to regain their number one ranking, and Cara Black and Leander Paes teamed up to take the mixed title. Paes incidentally was also runner-up to the Bryan brothers in the men's doubles draw (which I love to see -- go India!) and Cara will pair with the US's Liezel Huber, who she defeated in the mixed championship, in the women's final. It is my firm belief that doubles matches don't get the attention they deserve -- some of the best points I've ever seen came from four players going nuts at the net. So, hats off to you guys!

And thanks to you for reading!

'Til next time, serve well and play hard!