Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Roddick vs. Federer, Round 18

Roddick hopefuls like to remember that he beat Federer in their last match, in Miami. The ugly truth is Federer owns Roddick 15-2 in the head-to-head matchup, and the loss last year came in the midst of one of the worst slumps in his career. Let's look at what the players are really saying in anticipation of tonight's match:


Q. You've said on court that people haven't given enough credit to Andy, but you always have. He's lost some weight and he's moving better on the court. You've always upped your level against him. How is that going affect your game plan?

Translation: It won't.

We have played many times, which is nice as well. You go out there and you know what's going to happen on the big points.
I know exactly what that n00bifier is going to do, and it's not going to be enough to stop me.

Just a matter of who's going to play better on the day. I mean, look, seems like he's playing well.
Just not well enough to beat me.

On top of that, I think he beat me last time we played. Maybe now he's in better shape. I should have no chance.

Of course, I'm not going to expect a result like what I did today or what happened two years ago against him. I expect to be in a real battle.
I expect the same thing as 2 years ago: a whitewashing.

Q. You've talked about facing Federer, and now it will be 18th time without playing matches on your own terms. Talk about playing matches on your terms and not on his terms. Talk about what exactly that would mean.

ANDY RODDICK: Well, you know, the thing about Roger, one of the things that makes him great, is he makes that very difficult.
Translation: Have you seen this guy play, dude? He only loses to one guy, and it ain't me.

You know, I think it helps that I, you know, stopped a big streak against him last year in Miami.
Because, you know, maybe lightning strikes twice.

He has nothing to prove. He's the greatest.
No really, I believe I can win this match.

The beatdown commences at 3:30am EST.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oz Open Screws Djokovic

What's that? A little tough on the way down? Novak Djokovic had to retire against Andy Roddick last night, admitting defeat to a man who previously called him out for complaining about questionable ailments.

Djokovic started out on fire, but in the end couldn't match the heat of the court. ESPN's courtside thermometer measured the on-court temperature at an astounding 142 degrees (61 C). What should have been a thrilling quarterfinal turned into an ugly retirement as Djokovic quit trailing 7-6(3) 4-6 2-6 1-2. Why didn't they close the roof? How much hotter did it need to get before the excessive heat policy kicked in?
The Australian Open Extreme Heat Policy (EHP) will be applied at the Referee’s discretion and may be altered at any time.

At the Referee’s discretion, when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature only (WBGT) is equal to or above the pre determined threshold, the Referee may suspend the commencement of any further matches on outside courts.

Any matches currently in progress will continue until the end of the current set. At the completion of the set, play will be suspended.

Where play in any match commences outdoors (or with a roof open) and the WBGT temperature is equal to or exceeds the pre determined threshold, the match will continue until the completion of the set. At the end of the set a decision may be made by the Referee to close the roof for the remainder of the match and the following matches, when the EHP is still in effect.

A roof will only be closed because of extreme heat if a decision has been made by the Referee to suspend the completion or commencement of matches on the outdoor courts.

This is slightly unclear. It's left up to the discretion of the Chair Umpire, but it also states that there is a pre determined threshold. Surely 61 C is over that threshold? I couldn't find an answer on the website, but a report from '05 states that the policy goes into effect when the temperature is 35 C.

I'm going to call a spade a spade: Tennis Australia really screwed over Djokovic, the defending champion. You can make the argument that Djokovic wasn't fit enough, that the 15 lbs Andy lost enabled him to withstand the heat better, but I'm not buying it. Djokovic is a fit player, and we've seen him go the distance before. Yesterday he lasted only a set before his level plummeted.

Djokovic's previous match started after 11pm, and 4 sets later he finished off Baghdatis at 2:30am. By the time he finished post-match activities, press, cool down, etc, he didn't go to bed until 5:30am. There's just no way you can properly recover that quickly to play in the kind of extreme heat he faced Roddick in yesterday. Djokovic requested a night match against Roddick but was rejected (I think a night match would have only been fair). Federer is hugely popular Down Under so TV mandated that he play in the prime-time slot. The least Tennis Australia could have done was close the roof. Let it be noted that Djokovic did *not* make this same argument in his press conference, and instead chalked this up to not being as fit as Andy.

Listen, I'm no Djokovic apologist. And I give plenty of credit to Roddick for grinding Djokovic down. If Djokovic had to play me, for example, I'm pretty sure he would've been ok, even in the 140 weather. Roddick's new quickness allowed him to get to some very impressive drop-shots and send winners back over the net. At the end of the day though, this was less about tennis and more about survival, and I don't think Tennis Australia did right by Novak.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Love for the Worldwide Leader

What a weekend of tennis! It was a lot to take in, from the 5 setters with Gonzalez, Federer, and Verdasco, and I'm not sure where to start. Let's do a drive-by:


Let me preface this by saying we've seen life without ESPN, and it isn't pretty. When ESPN dropped coverage of the Indian Wells and Key Biscayne tournaments last year, FSN "stepped up" with some horrible coverage and awful commentating (I'm looking at you, Justin Gimelstob and Barry Tompkins). So, welcome back ESPN, and please don't leave us!

The worldwide leader always seems to take some flak over the way they structure their tennis coverage. I was part of that chorus a few years ago when they would stick with the same match, even if it was a blow-out, in order to show Americans, rather than cutting to a more compelling match featuring foreigners. Worse, they would repeat the same match the next day in the Taped timeslot! This infuriated me, as they usually showed Williams sisters matches repeatedly. Federer had yet to turn into a living legend, and so wasn't a big TV draw yet.

ESPN wisely realized the short-sighted nature of this approach, and started giving viewers more Federer and Nadal lest they ascend as virtual unknowns. The coverage these days is excellent; it's not uncommon for a single camerman to set up camp in the bleachers of an outer court to bring in a live feed. This year we saw Delic take out Mathieu in a 5th set from this vantage point, as well as a 16 yr old Christina McHale succumbing to cramps. I don't know how many hours of coverage ESPN is doing, but it's a lot. Between them and Tennis Channel you can watch almost the entire tournament. I know there are complaints about the number of talking heads that ESPN employs, but I can accept even that this year. I watched a little bit of tennis with my friend Matt, a sports fan in general but not a tennis fan, and when the split-screen graphic showing 8 or 9 commentators came on he said, "Wow this is a big deal!". ESPN: Impressing upon casual viewers Grand Slam importance since 2008. Besides, I DVR all the matches and just fast-forward through that stuff anyway.

Along with the coverage, the quality of the feed is excellent. I don't know what the difference is between the two, but when I flip from Tennis Channel to ESPN it's like I feel my eyes relax. And it's not just visual - the audio is vastly superior. The acuity is so good you can pick up the courtside camera shutters as they snap shut right before players hit the ball, like an overzealous church not quite clapping on the beat: clip-cli-cli-clip-THWOCK! The Murray Verdasco match was satisfying just to hear the canonshot noise coming from Verdasco's forehand. At one point in the 4th set Fernando hit an overhead so hard it made a lightning-like crraaaack-BOOM! as the ball met his strings and the court in quick succession. Speaking of Verdasco...

Murray v. Verdasco

Good on ya, Verdasco. Much has been made of his offseason training regimen with Gil Reyes in Las Vegas. That physical work is significant, but just as important was the belief he gained by pulling out the deciding win in the Davis Cup final last year. I kept waiting for Fernando to get tight in the 4th and 5th sets and leave the match up for the taking. To his credit, Verdasco kept going for his shots, stepping up and erasing a breakpoint with a 130mph+ serve up the T.

The Mighty Fed

No 'thing' was happier about Federer's turnaround in the 3rd set than my couch, which I had been abusing for two sets as Berdych bullied my hero around the court. To me, Federer's movement looked off. He was misfiring badly on his forehand, and it looked like he wasn't even trying to run down Berdych's winners. Paul Annacone said Sampras' best attribute was that he never panicked, and Federer sure looked the same way against Berdych. I mistook the calm exterior for a sense of resignation, but he revealed his desire to win once the match turned and the fist-pumps and C'mon's started flowing. Federer cut down his errors and started forcing Tomas to hit one more ball each rally, and Tomas responded with 3 bricks so hard that they rebounded off the rim out to the 3 pt line. Federer's forehand misses are disconcerting though, and he'll have one match to get them worked out against Del Potro before he faces off against Roddick or Djokovic, where he'll absolutely need to be on top of his game.


We've got a rematch of the US Open quarterfinals, with Roddick and Djokovic squaring off circa 11pm EST. Pays to be on the West Coast :) I'm really looking forward to this match, as we'll get to see where Roddick's game really is. He's had a Betty Crocker draw so far (easy bake), but he'll need his best stuff to beat Djokovic. Roddick will need to serve and return extremely well, as Djokovic outclasses him by more than a little in the backhand and movement categories. Let's see if slimming down really does mean moving up for Andy Roddick.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's Eating Roger Federer?

Federer's been irritable the past couple of weeks. My crackpot friend Jacobs might call this a more "interesting" Federer, but I think we all know what it is - a shout-out to me! Clearly Federer's seen the Top 5 Tennis Villains list and was disappointed to not make the cut.

Q. Still seems a bit strange when you said “former champion like me.”

ROGER FEDERER: Former No. 1 I said.

Q. Former No. 1. Does that seem a little bit strange?

ROGER FEDERER: For both of us. I didn't say former champion. I said former Grand Slam champion and former No. 1.

Q. I misspoke.


Sheesh. This comes on the heels of Federer scoffing at the suggestion that Murray is one of the favorites. Federer's also made it clear that he dislikes being introduced as the World Number 2, stating that he's either #1, Grand Slam Champion, or nothing. Why so serious, Fed?

Pete Bodo boiled it down to this: "Last year in Melbourne, TMF had mono - so that edition of the Australian Open isn't relevant. The implication is that this year, it will be back to business as usual - meaning, another silken Federer triumph. In the Federer era, this will be the grand restoration." Maybe Federer doesn't have anything left to prove. But I think he's feeling the pressure in Australia to live up to this idea, that last year was a fluke. He did win last year's US Open, but I'm not sure if that's a boon (he's already proved he can still win majors) or burden (people are expecting him to win all the majors again).

The pressure hasn't seem to affected his match play so far. He subdued a strong Seppi in the first round, and then took Korolev out behind the woodshed in round 2. His forehand and movement are crisp. The marquee match tonight against Safin would have more cachet if Marat hadn't pooped all over his chances in an interview with Brad Gilbert. "It's going to be impossible" were his exact words. Roger's expected to beat these characters, though. If the semifinal match against Djokovic materializes, that will be a good indication of how he holds up under expectations. As tough as his game is physically, Federer's just as strong mentally. I'm sticking with my prediction that he meets this challenge and holds up the trophy on Feb 1st.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Australian Open Draw Released

Draws available here. Let's take a look at the paths of the Big 4, a few notables, and then I'll make my predictions.

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal's got an easy first couple of rounds but could then meet Tommy "The Gun" Haas or "Hollywood" Tursunov in the 3rd round, followed by Jerkstore Hewitt or Gonzo. There are some challenges in his quarter, as Monfils and Gilles "My name is See-moan" Simon loom, but I find it hard to see Monfils replicating his feat from last week, although Wertheim apparently sees it differently.

2. Roger Federer
The early talk is of how tough Federer's draw is. Let's break this down. Federer starts with Andreas Seppi, Carlos Moya and then Safin in the 3rd round (potentially). Roger JUST beat Seppi and Moya easily in his last warmup tournament, and while Safin is a dangerous 3rd round, Federer has won 6 of the last 7 matches they've played. A rematch with Djokovic in the semis is likely, but Federer is lucky that Nadal, Simon, and Murray all are in the opposite half.

3. Novak Djokovic
The defending champion should open with two easy matches, but things step up in a hurry from there. He could meet Jarkko Nieminen in the 3rd round, something he'll be hoping to avoid since he just lost to the Finn yesterday. Baghdatis is also a dangerous floater in this quarter.

4. Andy Murray
Murray starts off with the veteran Andrei Pavel and could meet the rising Kei Nishikori in the 3rd round. I believe Nishikori is injured though, so most likely it'll be Jurgen Melzer, followed by Fernando "Tobasco" Verdasco, and either James Blake or Tsonga. Just to get to the semis! This is a brutal section of the draw, and the hardest quarter for any of the top 4, IMO.

Other Notables:

7. Andy Roddick
Top American gets a qualifier in round 1, but meets the crafty serve-volleyer Michael Llodra after that. Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sam "SQL" Querrey and Roddick's conqueror from last year, Kohlschreiber, are possible 3rd round opponents. Stefanki will need to have his pupil ready to go from the start.

9. James Blake
Newest Fila sponsor has progressed one round farther the last 4 years, leading to a quarterfinal showing in 2008. A repeat performance is not out of the question, but he'll have to get by the powerful Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

14. Fernando Verdasco
Tobasco ended 2008 as a Davis Cup hero, and is picking up right where he left off. An extremely tight match with Federer (7-6(5)) in the 3rd shows his game is in fine form. With any luck some of the Aussie love being showered on his girl Ivanovic will land on him. 3rd rounder against Stepanek could be a good one.

Ernests Gulbis
thessmallspot is bullish on this Latvian's game. His 6'3" frame allows him to generate the power needed for a Top 10 ranking, but he's still prone to lapses in concentration. Look for Gulbis to make some noise in the early rounds against Andreev and possibly Blake.

Lleyton Hewitt
Brutal draw for the hometown favorite, as the Jerkstore gets the Number 13 seed right off the bat. In his prime Hewitt would've destroyed Gonzo, feasting on all the unforced errors and relentlessly targeting the Chilean's backhand. However, Hewitt's been dogged by injuries and isn't as consistent as he used to be. I'll take Lleyton over Fernando, but don't expect him to get much further.


Hard to pick against the Big 4 right now, but how boring is that? The Australian Open always seems to produce one surprise finalist ie. Schuettler, Johansson, Baghdatis, Gonzo, and Tsonga.


Simon v. Murray
Roddick v. Federer


Murray v. Federer



Monday, January 12, 2009

Top 5 Tennis Villains

We've been riding high on the coattails of unprecedented traffic here based on the previous post about Sampras' new racket, but it's time to show thesmallspot some love. Let's ramp it up in anticipation of the Australian Open, shall we?

Early results: Murray looks good notching wins over Federer and Nadal, Roddick makes it to the final of his first tournament working with Stefanki, and Djokovic is scrambling to get extra matches after losing early. Personalities help liven up rivalries, and tennis likes to trump up its Good Guys. That's fine, but we only have people to root for. Let's take a different tack and identify some you can root against:

Name: Andy Roddick
How he earned his Bad Boy Stripes: Surprise! America's golden boy is Tennis' #1 Villain. A lot of Andy's bad behavior gets glossed over by the US media, but Roddick doesn't enjoy the same treatment in the rest of the world. Roddick directs his venom at chair umpires, and in last year's Australian Open had this to say to the unfortunate soul in the chair: "shut up", "have a bit of class", "[Your ears are] connected to your head, use them", "I'm going to speak very slowly to you, so you can understand me" and "Kids, stay in school or you'll end up being an umpire". Yowch.

Lleyton Hewitt
How he earned his Bad Boy Stripes: Hewitt's in-your-face attitude and fist pumps are well documented, and he's turned many of his coworkers against him by cheering their errors. One of his most notorious incidents came in 2001 at the US Open, in a 4th round match against James Blake. After being called for multiple foot faults, Hewitt requested that the line judge be removed from the match, yelling at the chair umpire, "Look at him. Look at him and you tell me what the similarity is. Just get him off the court." Blake (and many others) interpreted these remarks as racially motivated, but James ultimately took the high road and gave Hewitt the benefit of the doubt. Marriage and children have mellowed the fiery Aussie, but watching him (incorrectly) dispute a call at the Hopman Cup reminded us of his ugly side.

Name: Nicolas Kiefer
How he earned his Bad Boy Stripes: This is another Hopman Cup revival. Kiefer's fallen off the map a bit these days, but seeing his surly disposition and general disdain for the ballkids brought back a flood of memories. I have an extreme dislike for players who treat the ballkids poorly. Bad boy highlight: a 2006 Australian Open match (what is it with players behaving badly Down Under?) against Sebastien Grosjean. A rally ended with both players up at net for a volley exchange. Kiefer hit a soft reply and as Grosjean prepared to volley to the open court, Kiefer tossed his racket toward the net. Distracted, Grosjean volleyed wide and appealed to the chair umpire, claiming hindrance. Kiefer quickly picked up his racket and wagged his finger "no", and to my utter amazement, got away with this completely bush-league behavior.

Name: Robin Soderling
How he earned his Bad Boy Stripes: Seriously, is this not the face of Pure Evil? Add Soderling to the Doesn't-Play-Nicely-With-Ballkids group. His 2007 Wimbledon matchup with Nadal also got ugly. Frustrated with Nadal's deliberate pace, Soderling engaged in gamesmanship, imitating Nadal's wedgie pick and slowing down the pace of the game himself. After losing in 5 tight sets, he took his feud public with comments to the press, endearing himself to no one.

Name: Novak Djokovic
How he earned his Bad Boy Stripes: This is a rough call as Djokovic has largely cleaned up his act. Early in his career Djokovic was known for taking dubious injury timeouts, trash talking opponents through the press, and enabling his ridiculous parents to attend tennis matches. Novak showed he hasn't lost his touch at the 2008 US Open, turning the crowd against him by very publicly taking exception to comments Roddick had made about him in the press. As boos rained down, an unrepentant Djokovic stalked off to the locker room.

Disagree? Think I left someone out? Sound off below!