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Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline

Entries in Serena Williams (11)

Wednesday
Jan152014

Australian Open: And You Thought the Heat Played Basketball

Heat continues to be the biggest threat for tennis players trying to advance through the draw at the Australian Open.  The forecast for Day Three in Melbourne is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius sounds so much better, a meager little number, just 41.  

The players aren't so fortunate: kids staying cool at the steamy Australian Open. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

No matter how you count the notches on the thermometer, if these temperatures last through Thursday, it will be the worst heat wave in more than 100 years for Melbourne.

The heat is keeping Serena Williams up at night, though it didn't seem to hurt her on court Wednesday. She rolled through No. 104, Vesna Dolonc, 6-1, 6-2,  The win is her 60th at the Aussie Open, tying her with tennis great Margaret Court.

"I kept waking up in the middle of the night last night, just paranoid," said Williams.

"I just wanted to stay hydrated.  The last thing I want to do is to cramp in this weather.  It can happen so easy.

On the men's side, top seed Rafael Nadal plays his second rounder.  So does No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 6 Roger Federer.  Americans Jack Sock and Donald Young try not to melt against 24th-seed Andreas Seppi (Sock) and 25th-seed Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Despite the heat, there were plenty of marathon matches.  Daniela Hantuchova prevailed over Karolina Pliskova, 12-10, in the third set.  Florian Mayer upset 14th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  American up-and-comer Madison Keys was up-and-out after three sets against Jie Zheng.

Sabine Lisicki blamed the heat for the Wimbledon finalist's quicker-than-expected exit.  Australian Open.com writer Darren Saligari took issue with her excuse:

 

After her 2-6 6-2 6-2 loss to Monica Niculescu, Sabine Lisicki tweeted: "Got beaten by the heat today. Very unfortunate but that's life. Thx so so much for your support out there!!"  

Presumably she forgot it was Niculescu who was hitting all those winners, not the sun.

Unseeded American Sam Querry hung in there to beat 23rd seed Ernests Gulbis, who hasn't made it past the second round in his six appearances at the Aussie Open.  

Gulbis is an epic Tennis Hater.

 

The 25-year-old Latvian should kick the spare tire around his middle, not the racquet.  Time for me to take down the Gulbis picture posted at my cubicle at work.  

 

 

Sunday
Jan122014

Australian Open: Nadal Over Wawrinka, Li Over Azarenka

The Australian Open is about three hours away AS I TYPE.  Talk about Tennis Hate.  I'm hating 16 hour time zone differences and draw sheets.  I'm scrambling to submit mine by 7:00 PM Eastern Time for Tennis Channel's contest. Every day, at WNYC, I work under deadline pressure.  Why should my Sunday afternoons at home be any different? 

 

Serena Williams seems likely to pick up her 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her in the same company as Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova.  Yeah, she has to beat Victoria Azarenka, but she can do that.  She just did in Brisbane, and Williams' last take-down of Azarenka was for the US Open title in September.  It won't be easy, though.  Both of those matches were close, with Serena needing three sets to beat Vika at Flushing Meadows.

But there's Li Na lurking in the semifinal, to spoil it all for Serena.  Haters, you know how I love that.  If Li gets past Serena, she could see a rematch with Vika in the championship round.  Azarenka is going for her third consecutive Australian Open trophy.  

Li Na could upset the conventional narrative of this tournament in so many ways.  It would be awesome.

I want Li Na to beat Vika Azarenka in a go-for-broke three-set chamionship match.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: an early exit for 7th-seed Sara Errani, who suffers from Tennis Hate and doesn't think she belongs in the Top Ten.....an upset of Azarenka by young gun Sloane Stephens in the Round of 16, just like she last year to Williams in the quarters...a Kerber/Kvitova nailbiter in the Round of 16.....and, in third round action, Jersey girl Christina McHale besting 10th seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniaki, who's too distracted by plans for her upcoming wedding to Rory McIlroy.  

On the men's side, I'm actually predicting more unpredictability than on the women's half of the draw. Unconventional, I know.  I don't think Andy Murray is going to go very far.  He's recovering from back surgery. Philip Kohlschreiber can take him in the quarters, after he confounds John Isner, who will suffer a letdown from his skin-of-his-teeth 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu (who?) in Auckland.

I'm making a sentimental pick, by-passing a world number one Rafael Nadal/world number 2 Novak Djokovic dream final, for a championship match between Nadal and 8th-seed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

Stan will have to upset Djoko in the process.  He came close last year in the fourth round in Melbourne, leading at one point 6-1, 5-2 (ah, the Tennis Hate that ensued!).  It was one of the best matches of his life and in tennis. Stan's no longer languishing in the fading Federer's shadow.  He stepped up his game in 2013.  He climbed back into the top ten for the first time since May 2008 -- reaching his current spot of 8th in the world in July, a career best --  and collected his fourth ATP World Tour title at Oeiras, his first since 2011.  

So, payback time for Stan when he meets Djokovic in the quarters.  I think he can do it, and defeat Berdych, too, in the semis.  But he won't get Rafa.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: Ryan Harrison, losing his cool and busting some racquets over the shots of quicksilver trickster Gael Monfils in the first round....16th seed Kei Nishikori, newly empowered by advice from Hall of Famer Michael Chang, giving Nadal a scare in their fourth round match....the battle of the beautiful one-handed backhands in the fourth round between Wawrinka and 9th seed Richard Gasquet....a first-round battle of the old-timers, American Michael Russell and might-as-well-be-American Dmitry Tursunov (Russian, seeded 30th)....and how quickly the Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will get sent home to his pregnant wife and twin daughters.  

 

Saturday
Sep072013

US Open: Wake Me When the Women's Final is Over

Haters, don't call me during Sunday's US Open re-match final between defending champion Serena Williams and number 2 seed Victoria Azarenka.  

I don't want my nap interrupted.

So familiar: Serena exhultant, after beating Li Na in semifinals. Photo courtesy of AP.

Yes, this year's US Open has been a real snooze-fest, especially for fans who've paid hundreds of dollars to score prime seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the show court of the US Open.   The matches have not been very compelling, especially if you've been following world number one Serena's march through the draw.

Williams has lost 16 games in six matches.  In her semi-final against 5th-seed Li Na of China, she dropped just three games, 6-0, 6-3. That bagel in the first set was one of seven she's buttered up for her opponents so far. Her double-bagel beat-down of Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals took 55 minutes. Anyone who took a bathroom break during that match missed much of it.

Up until Saturday's five-set thriller between world number one Novak Djokovic and 9th seed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, Arthur Ashe ticket holders were not getting any better value for their dollar from the men.  Djokovic, last year's US Open runner-up, has been carbo-loading on bagels, too, delivering a 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 platter to Spain's Marcel Grenollers in their fourth round match.  Defending champion and Wimbledon winner Andy Murray wasn't exciting to watch, either.  He won his early matches easily and then, just as easily, went down to Wawrinka. Wawrinka's more well-known countryman, Roger Federer, looked inspired in his 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 dismissal of Adrian Mannarino of France, but seeing Federer in top form was the only thing going for that lopsided match. Two days later, on Ashe again, the once-dominant Federer was upset by 19th seed Tommy Robredo. That match was compelling because of Roger's early exit, and not because of the quality of the match.  Federer went down meekly in straight, sloppy sets.

The tennis I'll remember from the 2013 US Open won't be the marquee names and the center court matches.  It'll be the matches on the outer courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, between the lesser stars in the pro tennis constellation.

This is where the best fan experience is.  It's real tennis, as in, tennis you can sink your teeth into.  Tennis you can see, for one, without binoculars.

I was one row back from the baseline in Louis Armstrong Stadium for Wawrinka's fourth round upset of 5th-seed Tomas Berdych of Czechoslovakia.  I watched them pace in front of me, toweling off, muttering under their breaths.  I could see, without the benefit of TV close-ups, how keyed in they were to the flight of the ball, how fast they were reacting to each shot, could see the ropes of the muscles of their forearms jump as they walloped the ball. It was a see-saw battle between two evenly-matched players that took 2 hours and 47 minutes to decide, nothing like the easy victories being played on Ashe.

On Court 17, another memorable match was the grueling, sweaty five-setter between the young Canadian, Milos Raonic and the veteran Frenchman, Richard Gasquet.  It was a day session match that had stretched into a humid night.  The stands were packed equally with Canadians and French. Chants of "Let's go, Rao-nic!" were countered by "All-ez, Gas-quet!"

I felt swept up in the moment, the madness, the sport.  It's why I love tennis on the smaller courts.  It's what made my US Open special.  And it's what I hope, but don't expect, for the fans in the gilded gold seats of Arthur Ashe Stadium when Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka take the court for their final. That bagel in the first set was one of seven she's buttered up for her opponents so far.

Wednesday
Jun262013

Wimbledon: Tennis Hate Flows into Week 2 with Serena Upset

Tennis Hate continues to be as thick as the clotted cream on the strawberries at this year's Wimbledon.  The latest Greatest to go down: Serena Williams.

The reigning Queen of Wimbledon, uncharacteristically humbled. Courtesy Agence France Presse/Getty Images

Sabine Lisicki, the 24th seed, improved her record against the defending Queen of The Grass to 1-2 with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 upset.

Lisicki pulled it off despite being 0-3 down against Serena in the third set.  Normally, with the kind of tennis Williams has been playing lately (she came into the match with a 34-game winning streak), that kind of lead has pundits talking about who Williams will play in the next round.  Heck, after Maria Sharapova's upset in Wacky Wimby Week One, everyone had given Williams her 8th Wimbledon title.  

To add more nails to the coffin that everyone thought Lisicki was building out there on Centre Court, the German was 0-40 down, after having clawed her way back to 3-4 in the deciding set. Haters, it was Tennis Hate at its finest.  After a string of errors, seemingly bewildered by Serena's strong, deep returns, Lisicki made some big, clutch serves and leveled the game to deuce.  Wow!  

Lisicki does a victory face plant on Centre Court. Courtesy Getty Images.Then, serving for the game, Lisicki moved up to a short reply from Williams and decides to dink a little drop shot into the deuce court.  Huh?!  Serena put it away to bring the game back to deuce.  Lisicki shook it off, slammed an ace wide, then drew an error from Williams to wiggle out of what could have been a confidence-deflating loss.  

Here's how the WTA website described Lisicki's unexpected escape from Serena's clutches:

"[A] few huge serves here and a couple of big forehands there and Lisicki was right back in it, catching up to 4-all and, after an overhead that just missed the baseline from Williams, getting an opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4. And she converted - with one last inside out forehand winner, the No.23-seeded German finished off the No.1-seeded five-time Wimbledon winner." 

Lisicki was shaking and crying in her post-match BBC interview.  

"I'm so happy!" she cried.  

Uh-oh.  That's not the thing to say when Serena's around.  She recently mocked Maria Sharapova in  Rolling Stone for cooing the same phrase in interviews about her love life with Williams' former flame, tennis player Grigor Dmitrov, "the guy with a black heart."

Williams has called such sentiments "boring."  Her exit from Wimby spells the end, for now, of that delicious little story line.

All smiles on Centre Court for Lisicki....except while hitting. Courtesy Getty Images.Asked by the BBC interviewer how she was able to keep from dissolving into self-defeating self-loathing and other aspects of Tennis Hate when facing 3 break points -- and blowing a match point -- Lisicki said she just "hung in there."

"I was able to enjoy it," she said of the match.  Indeed, she SMILED, even when Serena got two successive points after her shot hit the net and wobbled weakly onto Lisicki's side of the grass.

She also said she was feeling some mojo from the clay court season.

“[It] gave me a little more energy knowing that she won the French Open and I beat the French Open champion three times in a row in my last three appearances, so…good omen."

Williams acknowledged that Sabine "played really well."  She also flatly said she should have done better.  "I definitely, probably should have made some shots.  Huge room for improvement."

When those sorts of results can happen to a player as good as her, there's absolutely no reason why it can't happen to me.” - Andy Murray on Serena Williams' loss

When SERENA WILLIAMS, one of the best female players of all time, says there's "huge room for improvement" in her game, it takes a bit of the bite out of my own despair at ever getting this game.

Meanwhile, Serena's ouster is acting as a weird omen of sorts for Andy Murray, who worries that he, too, is going to be hit with the Upset Virus going around the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

"When those sorts of results can happen to a player as good as her, there's absolutely no reason why it can't happen to me," he gulped. "That's why I'm not getting ahead of myself, and no one else should.”

Murray straight-setted Mikhail Youzhny and will face a resurgent Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals, who's playing better since ridding himself of that super-gelled mohawk he'd been sporting.  The product was limiting his movement on the court.

The other quarters in the men's draw:  Novak Djokovic (no surprise there) vs. Tomas Berdych; David Ferrer takes on Juan Martin Del Potro, through to the Wimby quarters for the first time;and  an all-Pole match between sleeper Jerzy Janowicz vs. Lukasz Kubot.

Sabine Lisicki is on to the quarterfinals, where she'll take on Kaia Kanepi.  In the other quarterfinal matches, it's Aggie Radwanska against Li Na, Petra Kvitova vs. Kirsten Flipkens and Marion Bartoli against the last American standing, Sloane Stephens.

The Sloane Ranger rallied from a set down to beat Monica Puig, who has had an outstanding first Wimbledon as a pro.  She said patience is what has helped her get over her own recent bout of Tennis Hate.

This photo says it all about winning and losing, Tennis Hate and Tennis Love. Can't we just wave at the winner? Must we TOUCH them? Puig and Stephens at the net.

As the WTA's website noted, Stephens hit a plateu after a breakthrough run at the Aussie Open.  

She won only two of her next nine matches and stayed put at No.17 in the world. But in the last month and a half she has won 11 of 14 matches, and is now primed to keep clawing up those rankings - how did she break out of her spell?

"I just kept believing in myself," she said. "I mean, it was a bad time. But just knowing that I am a good tennis player helped. I'm Top 20 in the world for a reason. I didn't all of a sudden snap my fingers and get good. I put in a lot of work, a lot of sweat, bad hair days, all that other stuff, to get where I was.

"I realized I couldn't just let that go to waste."

Haters, I've got the sweat and the work down.  All I need is the bad hair day.  Anyone want to grease me up for a mohawk?

I'm happy for Sloane, but I'm rooting for the veteran, Marion Bartoli.  She's come close to winning Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams in 2007. She's such a grinder.  She's a loner.  Everyone mocks her wacky warm-up swings, her unconventional double-handed forehand, her herky-jerky service motion.  

A victory for Bartoli at the end of this wild Wimbledon of slips and falls, upsets and injuries, would be fitting.  

Monday
Jun242013

Wimbledon: Djokovic: Path "Not Easy" to Final, Eyes Roll 'Round the World

Novak Djokovic wants to convince you that it's going to be hard work, not an easy draw, that pulls him into the Wimbledon men's final in a fortnight.  

"Some people would say I was lucky with the draw," the world number one and 2011 champ said. "But it's a Grand Slam, so I don't think there is any easy way to the title."

Thanking his lucky stars: Nole gets easy draw at Wimby. Photo courtesy Getty.

Puh-leeze.  Nole is the only Top Five player in his half of the draw.  His toughest opponent is the 35-year-old German Tommy Haas, seeded and ranked 13th, whom he wouldn't meet until the fourth round.  

Let me pause here, though, to say I'll be looking forward to that match, and rooting for the old guy. Haas is seeing a late bloom on the rose bush of his career.  He upset Djokovic in the 4th round in Miami, the third oldest to beat a Number 1 since August 23, 1973, when the ATP rankings began.  His other two wins in his 3-5 record against Djokovic came in 2009, at Wimbledon and at Halle, another grass court tournament.  If Nole is feeling over confident, or is tested at all by, possibly, American big server Ryan Harrison or Jeremy Chardy in a third round, Haas could slip through.  

The grass is DEFINITELY greener on Djokovic's side of the Wimbledon draw.Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal gets to make Roger Federer's life miserable in a likely quarterfinals matchup, while Wimby runner up and Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray could see trouble in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their section's quarters.

Don't tell me Djokovic wasn't high-fiving everyone in his camp when he saw his draw. 

As I write, Roger Federer opened the tournament by calmly dispatching Romania’s Victor Hanescu in straight sets, 63, 62, 60. There was no sign of any sweat as he pulled his bandana off his head following match point.  All in a day's work, folks.  

On the women's side, who is likely to beat world number one and defending champ Serena Williams?  Except, maybe, herself.  Serena stirred up a bunch of grass clippings coming into Wimbledon with her thoughtless musings on the Steubenville rape case and Maria Sharapova while in earshot of a reporter for Rolling Stone.

"Do you think it was fair, what they got?" she said, referring to the two high school football players who were convicted of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl while others watched and texted the details.  "They did something stupid, but I don't not.  I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people."

Ugh.  And then there was her end of a phone conversation with sister Venus, in which she appeared to be talking about Sharapova, who's dating a guy Serena used to date.  

"She begins every interview with, 'I'm so happy, I'm so lucky' -- it's so boring," Serena sniped.  "She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties.  And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

According to the New York Times, Serena said she approached Sharapova at one of those cool parties (it had to be cool, Serena was invited), last Thursday's WTA pre-Wimbledon soiree, to apologize in person.  

"I said: ‘Look, I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.’ ”

I'm sorry if anyone was offended: Serena's apology tour stops at Wimbledon.IF Maria was offended?  I suspect she was.  In her pre-Wimby media interview, she took a swipe at Serena's relationship with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. 

"If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship, and her boyfriend that was married, and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova hissed.  

Oooh, cat fight!  Let's hope they get a chance to settle the score with their racquets, on Centre Court, in the final.  That's where Serena and Maria would meet, as they are on opposite sides of the draw.

In first round news, fifth-seed Sara Errani was bounced by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico in straight sets, 63, 62.  It was Puig's first match on grass as a pro.  

Sports Illustrated sums up the Tennis Hate for Errani, the runner-up in the 2012 French Open and a semi-finalist in three of the last five Grand Slams:

The loss marked another humbling Wimbledon exit for Errani.

Last year, the Italian went an entire set without winning a point in losing 6-0, 6-4 in the third round to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. Shvedova was the first player in a Grand Slam to achieve a so-called "golden set" by winning 24 straight points.