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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.

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Entries in Injuries (6)


US Open: Halep Upset, Giving Romanian Newsman His Headline

It was a bad day of Tennis Hate for Number 2 US Open seed Simona Halep of Romania, making for a helluva story for Grigor Culian.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is stunned by her victory over #2 seed Simona Halep. She's through to the 4th round of a Slam for the first time in her 17-year career.Culian is the founder, publisher, editor-in-chief, senior reporter, chief cook and bottle washer for New York Magazin, the Romanian language bi-monthly.  He's been covering the US Open and its Romanian players since he founded his paper 18 years ago.  "I have followed her for a couple of years," he said of the 22-year-old Halep, as we watched her play veteran grinder Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia in the Grandstand.

Halep, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the final at Roland Garros and the semifinals at Wimbledon, wilted under Lucic-Baroni's powerful forehand and blistering return game. Simona lost in straight sets, 7-6 (6), 6-2 to a veteran player who leads Halep by ten years and trails her in the WTA rankings by 119 points.

You're not supposed to let your opponent back in a game," said Grigor

Lucic-Baroni is a perennial early-round write-off.  She's lost in the first round 18 of her 31 appearances.  With her straight set 7-6 (6), 6-2 upset of the 22-year-old French Open finalist, she moves into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.  

"This is incredible!" she gushed through tears in her on court interview afterwards.  "I'm sorry, I'm goofy!"

ISimona Halep's bags are packed for China, as the WTA tour heads east to Asia.t was incredible, a result that, in the beginning, neither I nor my Worthy Comrade, Grigor, would have expected. Lucic-Baroni was hitting hard and flat and strong, but she was also hitting the ball wide and long. Culian, who played tennis in college and continues to play today (doubles now, the 62-year-old said, in Juniper Park in Middle Village, Queens), said, "She is overpowering Simona, but she makes too many unforced errors. That is the difference between these two.  Simona," he added, "knows how to win the big points."

Ah, but that was before Halep, serving at 5-2 for the first set, crumbled against Lucic-Baroni's aggressive returns, giving up the game and the set on a third break point.  She got a second chance to put Lucic-Baroni in her place, serving at 5-4, but she was broken at love with a double fault.  

"You're not supposed to let your opponent come back in a game," mused Grigor.  "Simona doesn't play aggressive enough."  He said you're supposed to have a killer instinct when you've got a lead.  "

Grigor Culian has that instinct.  He fled Ceausescu's Communist regime in February, 1989, taking advantage of a trip to the United States to visit his sister.  "I filed for political asylum the moment I arrived at JFK airport," he said.  In December, a month after the Berlin Wall fell, Ceausescu's regime collapsed.  Culian was able to bring his then-wife and daughter Stateside.  "I got so lucky," he said.

So many years!  My God, this is so incredible! Every painful moment is so worth it!

Before us, under bright sunny skies on the Grandstand court, dark clouds of Tennis Hate were clouding Simona Halep's game.  She double faulted again to give Mirjana the tiebreak and the first set.  In the second set, she's broken in the third game.  

Culian was matter-of-fact about Halep's Tennis Hate predicament.  "What she has in her mind is two things. Number 1, she was leading, 5-2, in the first set.  Number 2, it was 6-7 in the tiebreak and she lost with a double fault.  And it stays in her mind for a long period.  And when she looks up, the game is over."

And so it was.  Halep's opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who had won two qualifying matches last week after being 4-2 and 5-2 down in the third set, never let her wake up from her first set regret.  Lucic-Baroni won the econd set handily, 6-2, with back-to-back aces.  She dropped her racquet, put both hands in the air and beamed.  She trotted over to her coach, hugging him as if she had just won the whole US Open.

"I had a game plan, I believed in it the whole time," she said through tears on the court.  "I just kept fighting. So many years! My God, this is so incredible!  I live for this!  I'm so lucky to be here!  Every painful moment is so worth it!"

Lucic-Baroni has struggled long and hard to make good on the promise she showed at age 15, reaching the third round at the US Open in 1997 in her very first appearance.  Two years later, she was a semifinalist at Wimbledon.  But injuries and what referred to as "off court struggles" hindered her progress. She barely played for much of the 2000s.  It's only in the last four years that she's started to get beyond the first round in tournaments.  This year, she retired in the third round in Doha against Aggie Radwanska, after her back seized up.  During qualifying rounds at Indian Wells, she herniated a disk in her neck.  She didn't play for three weeks after her first round loss at Wimbledon to Victoria Azarenka.

She covered her face and started crying when Daily News reporter Filip Bondy gently asked her to sum up her career so far.

"I'm a little emotional," she said.  "I'ts been really hard.  After so many years, to be here again, so many times.  I wanted it so bad, I would burn out."

Haters, you know I was on the edge of my seat hearing this.  I, too, have wanted success on the court so bad. I've wanted some return on my investment, of time, money, energy, love, and yes, Hate.  Why wasn't I succeeding?  I was trying SO HARD.  I believed that energy, that willingness, that will, should be rewarded with, well, some W's.  Some wins.

A welcome task for former teen phenom Lucic-Baroni: signing balls for adoring fans courtside at Grandstand.But Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has learned something that I'm beginning to experience, too.  That too much will gets in the way.  That a tight grip on the racquet and the mind ruins your game.  That setting a goal, and then letting go of it, sets you free.  Free to win, and not just by vanquishing Tennis Hate.

"I wanted it so bad, I was paralyzed, I couldn't do it," she said.  "Now, I just relax.  I just play tennis."



These Swiss Don't Miss: Federer, Wawrinka, in Monte Carlo Final

It's an all-Swiss final at the Monte-Carlo Rolex tournament on Sunday, with Stan Wawrinka going up against Roger Federer.  How convenient for the citizens of the Principality of Monaco that they share the same national colors of red and white with the Swiss!  Fans can don face paint for either player and not draw the ire of Prince Albert II.  

The Stanimal feasts on David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6(3), to reach Monte-Carlo final. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

In a twist, it's Stan who enters the match as the top Swiss men's tennis player in the world, not Fed.  Wawrinka is ranked third in the world, behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and Fed is fourth.  Roger could elbow his Davis Cup teammate aside with a win tomorrow.

Federer defeats an injured Novak Djokovic, showcases his healthy wrists, in Monte-Carlo semifinal Saturday. Photo courtesy of USA Today.

Beside that bit of ranking friction, there are other story lines that recommend this match.  Fed has never won Monte-Carlo.  It, and Shanghai, are the only ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies that have eluded the Greatest of All Time.   He has come close.  He was runner-up to Rafa, King of Clay, three years running, from 2006 to 2008.  

While Federer has 22 Masters 1000 trophies to dust, Wawrinka has none.  He, too, has come close.  This is third Masters 1000 final (there was Rome in 2008 and Madrid last year).  Though he's a daunting 1-13 against Federer, Wawrinka has been having the year of his career.  He won his first Slam, the Australian Open, in January.  To get it, he had to shake off another losing streak by beating world number one Rafael Nadal for the first time in 12 matches.  A month earlier, Wawrinka snared the title in Chennai for a second time.  He is 19-3 since the start of the season.  As my husband often says as he stares at his cards at the blackjack tables, "he's due."

And if all of that isn't compelling, Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Moratoglou, likes the Monte-Carlo final because it's a one-fingered salute to all those teaching pros who are coaching their kids to hit two-handed backhands.

It was Wawrinka's backhand that demolished David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6 (3) in their semifinal.  Stan avoided Ferrer's fierce forehand as much as possible, wearing him down through backhand-to-backhand duels.  He raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set in under 30 minutes.   He reined in his unforced errors for the second set tiebreak quickly enough to get a 4-0 advantage early on Ferrer.  

"It was important to move well, be aggressive. That was my plan," said Stan.  At one point in the match, after handing his towel to a ball kid, Wawrinka crouched down on his haunches, sprang up, and did a series of football-player-running-through-the-tires steps  while waiting for Ferrer to serve.  I thought, uh oh, is he cramping? No. He was just reminding himself to move his feet.

Roger Federer reached the final by upsetting defending champ and wounded world number 2 Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-2.  Nole's been nursing a wrist injury all tournament long, but it didn't seem to hurt him until today.  He walked onto the court with his right forearm heavily bandaged and a heavy look on his face.

"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort," Djokovic was quoted as saying in USA Today. "This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could, really. I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections." 

Djokovic said he's going to take some time away from tennis.

"I just rest now. I cannot play tennis for some time. How long, I don't know," Djokovic said. "I'm going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court."  His next scheduled stop on the tour is in Madrid, which starts May 4.  And the French Open is beckoning.  It starts May 25.  


Petkovic Wins, Weeps, at Family Circle Cup Semis

She won, so why was Andrea Petkovic crying into her towel?  She rallied after a shaky first set to beat hard-charging Aussie Open semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard, 1-6,  6-3, 7-5 in Charleston, S.C.  She beat Tennis Hate in the third set, steeling herself to come back from a 4-2 deficit.  Why the tears?

Not Tennis Hate, but Tennis Love: Petkovic cries with relief on reaching Family Circle Cup Final. Photo: Amy Eddings

Well, maybe it's because she hasn't been a finalist since last August at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where she fell to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.  Maybe it's because it's the farthest she's gotten so far this year. She was booted in the first round in three of the seven tournaments she's played; in Dubai, she didn't even get out of the qualies. Maybe it's because she's injury-free for the first time in three years, playing the way she used to.

"I was just so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again,” she said, according to the L.A. Times.

Petkovic had a breakout year in 2011.  She won her first WTA tournament at Brisbane.  She was the only player on the tour to reach three Grand Slam quarterfinals (Australian, Roland Garros and US Open).  She broke the Top Ten for the first time, reaching ninth in the world in October....and then the wheels started to come off.  Her wheels.  First, it was her knee that gave her trouble after her US Open run.  Then, in the second round of her comeback tournament in Stuttgart, Petkovic rolled her right ankle so hard, the bottom of her shoe was parallel to her shinbone.  Then, more knee problems, and a back problem, and she's down to 143 in the world one year later.  

Petko is now ranked 40th in the world, and I am rooting for her.  She gave my husband a sweaty hug after beating Roberta Vinci at the US Open in a match on the Grandstand court.  We had slipped into second row seats behind the baseline.  Andrea had run over to her coach nearby to embrace him when Mark leaned over the rail and shouted, "Hey, Andrea, can I have a hug, too?"  She flung herself up and into his arms, making us fans for life.

She faces Jana Cepelova of Slovakia, who, too, resurrected her game from the dead, down 4-1 in the third set tiebreak against Swiss qualifier Belinda Bencic.   


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.  


Butthead: Bernard Tomic's Dad Suspended After Alleged Head-Butt of Partner

Haters, there's plenty of tennis action going on in Madrid -- Federer returns after 8 weeks off, Djokovic is upset in Madrid by #28 Grigor Dmitrov, newly-minted Guiness World Record-holder Anabel Medina Garrigues halts Madison Keys' run  -- but it's the tennis hate off court that has drawn me to the keyboard.

Crying over unspilt milk: Thomas Drouet says John Tomic head-butted him. Courtesy AFP/Getty Images.

John Tomic, father and coach of Aussie up-and-comer Bernard Tomic, has been barred from future ATP tournaments pending the outcome of an inquiry into whether he assaulted the 20-year-old's hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, last Saturday outside a Madrid hotel.

Drouet says Tomic head-butted him in the nose, breaking it, in an argument that began when Drouet refused to buy milk for the Tomics prior to their flight to Spain for the Mutua Madrid Open.

Tomic, the Herald Sun's "Poster Boy of the Mad Tennis Parents Club,"is claiming it was in self-defense.

It seems the head is a favored target of Coach Tomic.  According to the New York Times, Drouet told the French sports paper, L'Equipe, that Tomic punched his son in the head during a training session, hard enough that Bernie's mouth was bleeding.  

“All that because Bernard had told him that he had had enough of hearing his criticism. I didn’t intervene as I have read I did other places. Afterward, John took Bernard’s three rackets and destroyed them. Bam. Bam. Bam. A half hour later, he was joking with Bernard."

Ha, ha, my boy, better the Yonex than you.  

Sadly, the apple hasn't fallen very far from the tree.  Bernie has had his own I Hate Tennis moments, most notably when he was accused of tanking in a lackluster US Open loss last year to Andy Roddick.  He got surly with a reporter from Reuters and said, darkly, "I'll remember you." 

Maybe this is why I haven't seen any quotations yet from Bernie.  Reporters are too busy ordering face masks first.

Tomic needs a new coach.  Currently 53rd in the world, he was as high as 27th last June.  His 2013 season has been spotty.  He won his first ATP Tour title in Sydney last January, but has played little, and done little, since then, except rack up a notably I Hate Tennis moment: Tomic failed to convert 5 match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Marseille.  


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