Friday, November 28, 2008

SB Tennis Misadventures

Thanksgiving-day tennis at Birnam Wood Country Club, in Montecito. You've probably heard about Montecito due to the devastating Tea Fire that whipped through here recently, burning 210 houses, but before that Montecito was known as the Richy Rich area of already-rich Santa Barbara. Various celebrities have called this oceanside enclave home over the years, and most recently Oprah plunked down a cool 50 million for her mansion in the hills. Suffice it to say that these estates are guarded by large gates, and Birnam Wood is no exception. Pulling up to the security gate, my window goes down and my shades go up (so the guard can get a good look at my face) and these words get me through: "Jesse, here to play tennis with Anthony!"

Inside, the air seems crisper; the sun shines just a little brighter. Even the squirrels that dart from tree to diamond-encrusted tree seem healthier and more spry than the poor souls locked outside. Lest you think I'm some kind of baller, my in is Anthony, one of the teaching pros here. Today Anthony was running a 8 man round-robin, with a twist: we were going to play with wood rackets.

I came of age when graphite rackets were already dominating the market, and wood rackets were considered yesterday's technology. But, I play with the nCode Six-One, a 90 square inch racket that is one of the most wood-like rackets currently on the market, so I figured I'd make the switch pretty easily. I picked up a Dunlop Maxply and trotted out to the baseline. Right from the start I could tell that I had underestimated the task. When I made contact the racket head felt barely bigger than the ball. The racket also flexed more than I expected; I could feel the racket bend back, which was disorienting. I couldn't even pick a ball off the ground by doing a quick bounce off the strings. I had to drag the ball over to my shoe and pick it up the n00bifier way.

I dialed in the forehand pretty quickly, but my backhand was a different story. I have pretty high confidence in my backhand, it's usually my more dependable stroke. Still, I must not hit it as cleanly as the forehand, because I kept shanking the ball. I warmed up with two other guys, Matt Devorzon and Aaron Webster. Aaron is one of the legendary Santa Barbara "Webbies"; 3 brothers (the 4th isn't as gifted) who dominated the SB tennis scene. The oldest, Dan, is the head pro at Birnam. Aaron worked at Birnam years ago, but most recently served as a hitting partner for Ashley Harkleroad, she of the Playboy fame. The youngest and probably most talented, Adam, is one of the pros over at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club. Aaron worked out the wood racket in short order and was soon belting line drives off both wings. He's this thin, wiry guy with seemingly endless energy, the type of guy you can imagine played at the club all morning as a kid, then hit the pool, and still had enough energy to play another match in the afternoon. Despite his size, he can smack the ball. I teamed up with Wooten's younger brother, Eli, against Aaron and Matt. The strategy: hit to Matt. Even so, Aaron carved us up, and we ended up with the dreaded bagel, 6-0.

Beer Thirty: must be noon somewhere in the world. Despite this being a morning hit, we took advantage of Birnam's coffer to break open a few bottles of Bohemia and Corona. Life, I thought as I settled into a chair courtside, does not suck in Santa Barbara. So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the privilege of living in a sunny, warm climate year-round, and the tennis opportunities it provides. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stefanki punks Gonzo, goes with Roddick

Well all the news outlets are reporting that Roddick has hired Stefanki to be his new coach in 2009, but almost no one seems to be talking about how Stefanki dumped the player he was currently coaching, Fernando Gonzalez, to take up the job!

When I first read the news, I thought "That's odd. I don't even remember when Stefanki and Gonzo broke up; I wonder what caused the split?" Looks like Roddick caused the split! Gonzalez posted a notice to his website on Nov 19th stating that Stefanki had received the proverbial offer-you-can't-refuse to work for the USTA. Nov 20th the news came out that Stefanki would be working with Roddick. What's going on here? Did Stefanki pull a fast one on Gonzo? Or is the USTA footing the bill, in a program similar to the one the English LTA had with Brad Gilbert and Andy Murray?

Drama aside, this is a strong hire for Roddick. Stefanki is an extremely well-respected coach, who took previous charges Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov to #1 under his tutelage. Stefanki stresses fitness and building a strong foundation in the legs. As Roddick is a suspect mover compared to the rest of the Top 10, I think this will be a beneficial partnership. Come to think of it, Roddick is not unlike Gonzo; a strong forehand, weaker backhand, and an average to below-average mover. Maybe Stefanki can stop Roddick from making those ill-timed approaches to the net. It should be interesting to gauge Roddick's form come Jan 19th in Melbourne.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Davis Cup Final

The Thrill of Victory!

The Agony of Defeat!

Write-up coming later...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dan Patrick pisses off Andy Roddick

With a fiancee like this... Brooklyn Decker was on the Dan Patrick radio show and ended up putting Roddick on the spot. Dan Patrick tried to get a rise out of Roddick by flirting with his girl and proving that his life is better than the World #8's. When that strategy proved a little too successful, they testily broke off the exchange. Yikes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sometimes those towels ARE really far...

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga unleashed his Inner Diva today after losing to Nikolay Davydenko, 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 6-7 (0-7).

"I lost a lot of energy because today when I ask (for) my towel, my towel didn't come," Tsonga said.

"When I ask for a ball, the ball didn't come. Sometimes you are tired and you play a long point and you say you want your towel and the guy (ball boy) looks (and says), I don't know (where it is).

"You say one time, two times, three times, and then you ask the other guy.

"Sometimes I have to take my towel alone. So for me it's maybe 10m more.

"But if you count at the end of the match, it's like 1km."

Oh, Tsonga. Sometimes we all just have to take our towel alone.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stunner in Shanghai

Gilles Simon def. Roger Federer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. This was the headline that greeted me this afternoon as I surfed the sports-related news of the day.

I got home and watched this match anyway to see what exactly happened to Federer. ESPN gave up coverage of this tournament, along with two other major tournaments in the spring, to get coverage of the US Open, and we're now paying the price. Tennis Channel hasn't ponied up for this event (yet), so we're stuck with Fox Sports Net. FSN did the coverage for Indian Wells and Key Biscayne and did such a poor job that it was with much trepidation that I clicked through my DVR and hit "play" for the ATP Masters Series.

Justin Gimelstob is back commentating, somewhat surprising since his recent controversy had wiped him from the tennis landscape. His partner in the booth though was Leif Shiras, of whom I'm a fan, and a big improvement from the n00bifier they trotted out before, Barry Tompkins. Gimelstob has an irritating habit of repeating himself word for word and is still prone to talking too much, but he's improved as a commentator. He's cut back on the over-the-top exclamations, and eased up on the predictions that often left him eating crow.

But let's get to the match. Hewitt part deux, I mean, Gilles Simon, is a classic counterpuncher who hits a relatively flat ball, and has exceptional foot speed. The first time they met, Federer was coming off the long layoff after Wimbledon, with question marks about how he would handle the crushing defeat by Nadal. This time around, Federer had been out for 10 days, and there was uncertainty about whether a back injury would flare up. Back in August Federer won the first set, then went down in a flurry of forehand errors in sets two and three. What a bit of foreshadowing that turned out to be. This time, Federer came out with a very specific gameplan; stay aggressive on the forehand, change the height of the ball by throwing in some heavy topspin, and slice the backhand short crosscourt to bring Gilles up to the forecourt where he is less comfortable.

Federer took the first set on the strength of that short slice, despite some scratchy serving. Simon looked confused as to how to reply to that shot, awkwardly dumping it into the net, or following it in only to get passed by Fed. The times he did get his racket on the volley he made an absolute mess of it. It was not unlike this guy I played this past weekend. We were looking for a 4th for a Saturday morning doubles match, and Dan pulled in this unknown guy. As we were warming up I was impressed; the guy had some decent groundstrokes. Then he came to the net to warm-up and I found out that he couldn't volley to save his life. At all. It was literally an auto-point every time someone hit the ball at him at net in the match. Federer saved the one break point he faced and took it 6-4, and I wondered what was going to make the tide change in this match.

In the second set Federer broke early to go up 2-1, and I started to get really confused as to how he lost this match. Simon quickly broke back to level though, and that was key. The errors started to creep in on Federer, especially on the forehand side, but I was ok with that. Against a player like Simon you need to stay aggressive, and Federer bailed himself out of trouble with some timely first serves. Halfway through the set, Gimelstob astutely noticed a shift in the pattern of play; Simon was becoming the aggressor. His go-to play was to serve out wide in the deuce court, then step in to take the next ball early and drive it into the open court. Federer also stopped slicing the ball short; he kept slicing it, but he floated it deep to Simon's backhand, which was less effective. Federer got into trouble serving at 3-4 but pulled through. He fell behind again at 4-5 and this time wasn't so lucky. Simon broke him and we headed to the 3rd set!

On the changeover Federer seemed to dwell on his forehand misses. Simon served to open the 3rd and Federer smoked some forehands, losing the game in a flurry of errors. Simon impressed me with his intelligence on court. He's a bigger hitter than I initially gave him credit for; the ATP's site illogically doesn't post the winners to errors but he did hit a good share of winners against Federer, and also out-aced him. Simon is not known as a power player, but he did an excellent job of recognizing when Federer started to just rally with the forehand, looking to get back into a groove. Simon stepped around and cracked a few winners off those shots, and kept Federer from getting comfortable again on the forehand. At 2-3, Federer went down 0-40 and I thought "this is it!", but Federer took it to another level, somehow bearing down on the forehand and reeling off 8 straight points to hold and then go up 0-40 on Simon's serve! At this point I was a believer, sure that the Internet reports had all been wrong and that Federer was going to win this thing right now. My notes from this section read: first point, Federer chip and charges, Simon hits an inside in forehand down the line pass. Ace. Rally for a while, finished by a Federer forehand miss (badly). Federer chip and charges again, Simon lob, on the line! Rally, another bad forehand miss from Federer. With those two misses, Federer lost the range on his forehand and continued to misfire. Simon broke and served out the match in style, firing an ace up the T on match point.

Andy Murray took out Andy Roddick, so Federer will need to win out from here in order to have a shot at progressing from the round robin stage. He'll also need Murray to lose to Simon (a big ask) so as to not have the losing head to head if it comes to a tiebreaker. Less than ideal, to be sure, but remember, this is exactly what happened last year, as Federer lost the first match to Fernando Gonzalez before going on to win the whole shebang.

Tomorrow: Tsonga vs. del Potro and Djokovic vs. Davydenko. Looks like FSN coverage is 2-6pm everyday, if you can find it. Good luck.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Alright, hur we go, Year-Ending Championships start this Sunday. Top 8 in the world (minus Nadal - knee injury) in a round-robin format. Lez do this.

Aaaand in the corner to my right, wearing the Red Trunks:
1 Roger Federer (crowd goes wild)
3 Andy Murray (polite applause)
5 Andy Roddick (raucous cheering with some boos
mixed in)
8 Gilles Simon (*crickets*)

Aaaaand in the corner to my left, wearing the Gold Trunks:
2 Novak Djokovic
4 Nikolay Davydenko
6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
7 Juan-Martin del Potro

I tried to lift the html code for a nice head to head graphic from our friends over at the ATP, but that didn't work out so hot so I'm embedding an image of it:

Wow, that 0-12 and 2-15 against Federer really stick out, don't they? But no one ever confused Davydenko and Roddick as contenders to this title. Interesting that Simon (lowest ranked player in the tournament) has a decent record against the field, even though he's been owned by Roddick.

I like Federer and Murray to advance from the Red Group, with Tsonga and Djokovic coming out of the Gold Group. Let's do Federer over Murray for the final.