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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 Rafael Nadal (12)


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 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.  



Wimbledon: Nadal Out in First Round

The freshly-groomed, bright green grass of Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club did nothing to muffle the sound of Rafael Nadal, crashing out of Wimbledon.

 Nadal wipes disbelief from his face in 1st rd Wimby ouster. Photo courtesy

Rafa, just weeks from his triumphant and record-breaking 8th victory at Roland Garros, petered out against Belgium's Steve Darcis, 76 (4), 76 (8), 64.  Darcis is ranked 135th in the world.  

It's the first time Nadal has lost in a first round in 34 Grand Slam appearances.

The match stats show Nadal played a sloppy game, with 24 unforced errors.  That is the same number of errors Darcis racked up, but he hit 53 winners, while Rafa hit just 32.

Nobody was expecting me to win. So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game.  That's what I did. -- Steve Darcis

Here's how Ben Rothenberg tells it in The New York Times:

Nadal was often exposed during the match when trying to run around his misfiring backhand to strike a forehand. It is a tactic he often uses with great success on clay but the quicker grass courts proved less forgiving.

The 29-year-old Darcis has never beaten Top 5 players. Until writer Barry Newcombe notes that this early exit is worse than the second round beat-down Nadal suffered last year at Wimbledon at the hands -- and awesome serve -- of Lukas Rosol.  Rosol played out of his mind, the best of his career.  Darcis' win was impressive in a different way.  He did what Nadal often does.  He took control of the match from the get-go, holding six break points in Nadal's first four service games.

The odds were surely stacked against Darcis. He had played at Wimbledon only three times before – and was a First round loser a year ago. In twelve of his previous Grand Slam appearances he had lost in the First round.

Darcis's best performance at Wimbledon before today was to reach the second round in 2009. His best results have been on the Challenger circuit but he did have one good year on grass at Eastbourne in 2012 when he reached the semi-finals before quitting with a back injury against Andy Roddick. Today at Wimbledon Darcis kicked away his previous record for ever. He gained one of the historic wins of any era at the Championships. Moreover he did so against one of the unquestioned giants of the game. Nadal had 20 wins on grass going into this First round match

But Nadal had not played the Wimby warm-up in Halle, Germany this year.  Nadal doesn't like to give excuses for his losses, but he hinted at this one in his post-match face-the-press conference.

"The opponent played well.  I had my chances.  I didn't make it," he said.  "So in grass is difficult to adapt yourself, to adapt your game.  When you don't have the chance to play before, I didn't have that chance this year, is tougher.  I didn't find my rhythm."

Nadal says his knee didn't hurt in his loss to Darcis. But what about his confidence? Courtesy AFP/Getty Images.But sports reporters -- those hungry beasts -- would not let this go.  They were on the hunt for Tennis Hate, and there's no better Hater story line than the one that posits that the 26-year-old King of Clay plays too punishing a game and is grinding his troubled knees right out of the sport.

Q.  You turned a lot around your backhand to play your forehand, and also you didn't move that well.  Was your knee 100% today?

RAFAEL NADAL:  I think you are joking.  I answered this question three times or four times already.  I don't gonna talk about my knee this afternoon.

Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis.  He played a fantastic match.  Everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse, and I don't like to put any excuse when I'm losing a match like I lost today.

He deserve not one excuse.

Q.  You talked a little bit in Paris about your schedule, adjusting it.  I'm wondering if you think you might need to look at that more closely.  Obviously you love playing on the clay, but it's a lot of matches.  Is that something you think going forward you need to look at more closely? [TRANSLATION: IS IT YOUR FAULT YOU LOST BECAUSE ARE YOU PLAYING TOO MUCH?]

RAFAEL NADAL:  What?  I didn't understand that.

Q.  In Paris you talked about your schedule, maybe adjusting it.  I'm wondering if you think physically it's a lot on your body to play so much on clay, even though you love that surface. [TRANSLATION: IS IT YOUR FAULT YOU LOST BECAUSE YOU ARE PLAYING TOO MUCH?]

RAFAEL NADAL:  If I play too much?  That's the question?

Q.  I'm wondering if you need to look at your schedule. [TRANSLATION: SHIT, HE'S ON TO ME, HE REALIZES I WANT TO KNOW IF HE'S TO BLAME FOR PLAYING TOO MUCH.]

RAFAEL NADAL:  In which way?


RAFAEL NADAL:  To play less?


RAFAEL NADAL:  I cannot predict the future.  I cannot say when I do a calendar if it was wrong or if it was positive.  Since six hours ago was a perfect calendar, now is a very negative calendar.  That's not true.

Darcis, meanwhile, credited his serve (13 aces to Rafa's 6) and his resolve to "do something today" with his unexpected triumph.

"I think today I serve very good.  I could use a lot of slice.  And I think he didn't like it so much," he said.

"Of course, he didn't play his best tennis.  But I knew it is the first match on grass for him.  Me, I played already four.  So I think it helped me today."

Haters, I zeroed in on what Darcis said he did to prepare mentally for his match with one of the greatest players of the sport.  He said it was "easy."  He actually used that word.  EASY>

"Nobody was expecting me to win," he said.  "So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game.  That's what I did."

Huh.  Nobody expects ME to win.  Even me.  Ah, but there's more from Zen Master Darcis:

"But I really wanted to do something today.  You know, if you go on the court, if you try to have fun, it's not the good point.  So I really try to fight.  I knew I could have a chance if I play a good match.  That's what happened today."

One can get TOO relaxed in a lop-sided match and giggle your way right into the locker room.  You still have to want to win.  You still have to be willing to fight, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, to chant a favorite sports cliche during changeovers.  

Darcis will need to keep chanting.  He faces Lukasz Kubot of Poland next.  And he could see John Isner or veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the Round of 16, should he beat his personal best and get past the third round in a Grand Slam.



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.




Monte Carlo: Djokovic Will Try to Stop Nadal's 9th Straight Title

The excitement around a Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer final feels so five years ago.  The match-up generating words like "blockbuster" is the one on Sunday at Monte Carlo between Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic.

He huffed and puffed and blew Tsonga's surge down. Rafa and his "champion luck" escape a 3rd set against Tsonga. Courtesy Getty Images.

It will be their 34th meeting (Nadal leads 19-14) and a re-match of last year's final, which Nadal won handily in straight sets.  

Fed and Nadal have played fewer matches, just 29, but they're the stuff of awe and history.  Nineteen of those matches were finals, including the epic, twice-rain delayed 2008 Wimbledon championship match that Nadal won in the dark.  

But those legendary Rafa-Rog moments appear to be waning.

Click to read more ...


Indian Wells: Azarenka, Stosur, Withdraw; Nadal Beats Error-Prone Federer

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells continued its bid to be the most Tennis Hate-filled tournament of the 2013 season with the quarterfinal withdrawals of top seed and defending women's champ Victoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur.

Let's go to the (physio) tape: Azarenka throws in the towel after crying into it over injury withdrawal.

It's the latest weirdness to happen in a tournament that saw aging Aussie Lleyton Hewitt oust last year's finalist and 15th seed, American John Isner, and South African Kevin Anderson taking an hour and 55 minutes to kick the Spanish Bulldog and 4th seed David Ferrer to the curb.  Or to the cactus.  After all, it IS the California desert.

Azarenka was set to meet Caroline Wozniaki before she pulled out of the tournament with tendinitis and inflammation in her right foot and ankle.  It's a holdover from an injury she sustained in Dubai.  According to Sports, the feisty, competitive Belarussian was seen hobbling around during her practice session and crying into a towel.

"I tried absolutely everything I could to do, but I have been advised by the doctor, by my own team, that it's just a very, very high risk already," she said.  

Wozniaki will face Angelique Kerber, who's beaten her in their last three meet-ups.

Stosur pulls calf, pulls out of Indian Wells. Sports Illustrated says it's only the second withdrawal in her career. Photo courtesy Getty Images.Stosur's withdrawal handed Maria Kirilenko a walkover and sets up a Kirilenko/Maria Sharapova semifinal.

If Sharapova wins, she bumps Azarenka out of the world number 2 position.  

It's a shame.  Azarenka is unbeaten on the court so far this season, with a 17-0 streak that includes her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Stosur also realized the extent of her injury during practice.  In a statement, she said she "felt something go" in her right calf muscle while serving for the match against Mona Barthel.  


"I had a bit of a rough start to the year and I feel like now my tennis has really picked up, and I've been playing really quite well these last few days," she said in a statement.  "I don't know if you can get any more unlucky than that."

It FELT like a walkover: Nadal breezes past Federer in quarters, 63, 62. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.Unlucky is not the word to use for defending champ Roger Federer, who was felled by long-time rival Rafael Nadal in straight sets.  The word of the match, instead, is sloppy.  They say the most telling statistic in the men's game is the second serve percentage.  Federer won the point on his second serve a measly 29% of the time, compared to 52% for Rafa.  Mr. Bad Knees now has a 19-10 record against Mr. Bad Back.



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