Monday, January 28, 2008

Australian Open: Djokovic defeats Tsonga for the Title

The No. 3 seed, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, won the Australian Open men's singles title by defeating unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(2).

Djokovic dropped just one set en route to the title. He hit 46 winners and 11 aces in the final.

I feel kind of relieved. I've played at least the semi-finals in every Grand Slam in the last year. I was pretty close in the US Open, so probably today I was a bit nervous at the start 'cause I found myself in the strange situation: that I am the favorite in the finals of a Grand Slam, which is not usual for me. So it was dangerous, but I managed to cope with the pressure well and to win... It's probably indescribable feeling, something that I always dreamed of... I think every player dreams about winning a Grand Slam. For everybody who wins a Grand Slam, you have to give them a lot of appreciation and respect. I just felt it now... Hopefully in the future I'm gonna feel it more.

The title solidified Djokovic's world No. 3 ranking. His performance in the tournament boosted Tsonga from No. 38 to 18.

Throughout the tournament, Tsonga defeated three top-10 players and served 100 aces, more than any other player.

Not everybody can beat the players who I beat, so to beat them gives me a lot of confidence. ...I'm very proud of myself. I'm happy for Novak, because he played unbelievable today. I don't know if I have to be sad or happy of this final, but I feel great. It's just unbelievable because the crowd was unbelievable. A lot of noise and everything. I had goose bumps. It was crazy.

This was the first slam of the Open era in which no American - in singles or doubles - made it past the quarterfinals.

It was also the first slam since the Australian Open 2005 in which the men's singles not won by Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

Speaking of... via the BBC:

Despite his victory, the world number three [Djokovic] does not expect an immediate changing of the guard and the imminent demise of number one Roger Federer.

No kiddin'.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Roger Federer: "I have created a monster."

Via the BBC:

World number one Roger Federer believes he is a victim of his own success after his shock 7-5 6-3 7-6 (7-5) defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open.

Hold the phone. "Shock" defeat? It's a "shock" that Roger Federer ever loses a tennis match? A TENNIS match? One might as well be shocked that a major league pitcher ever loses a baseball game. But Roger Federer ever losing a tennis match, even to a top-ranked player like Djokovic, is a "shock"?

No it ain't a shock. Calling it one is sexing up the "story."

In fact, any sportswriter who says such an ignorant thing has no business being a sportswriter. He or she should be writing sell copy for an ad company.

Federer, 26, lost at the tournament for the first time since 2005, ending a 19-match unbeaten run in the process.

Notice how the writer is all ho-hum about that 19-match winning streak. He plays that down. Instead he hypes up the one loss.

He said: "I've created a monster that I need to win every tournament - still, the semi-finals is not bad.

No, Roger, you didn't create the monster. The press is the monster, and you didn't create it.

Tennis isn't the big gig. To get noticed for assignments on the big gigs, you've gotta get the editors' attention. "60 Minutes" let the genie out of the bottle back in the 1970's by adopting fiction-writing techniques in journalism.

So, it's no longer "who, what, why, where, when, and how." Now it's all "conflict (controversy) and suspense."

You create suspense with story questions like "Oh my! Is Indiana Jones about to be emasculated by that raging rhinoceros?"

Suspense, guaranteed to tantalize the audience so they tune-in again tomorrow to buy more of what you're selling, in hopes of find out the answer to this excruciating question. It's called "hooking" your audience.

Kind of like the weather forecast does. The "news" is like that today: it's no longer about today, it's a big fat "what if" about tomorrow.

Nothing wrong with manipulating the audience that way in fiction, because fiction is supposed to be fiction solely for entertainment. But the news supposed to be fact solely for information.

To make it exciting entertainment instead, you just leave everything out of a news report except whatever can be trumped up into some kind or controversy or suspense hook. What does this warping and cherry-picking of the news do to it?

As in politics. The press couldn't be less interested in the candidates' stands on the issues. Their "story" is all about the race. "Oh my! Is So-and-So about to crash and burn? What if he/she doesn't win this primary?" If that worthless junk sells, fine, but don't try to pass it off as legitimate news.

And the candidates know that the only way to get any air time is to make some outrageous accusation against a political opponent. Nothing else is "newsworthy."

Similarly, in press briefings, reporters show no interest in getting information. Instead they spend the whole time arguing policy with government officials and trying to wrestle from them some statement that can be trumped up into some "controversy" or dramatic admission of failure or guilt or a story question that amounts to the headline: "Is Doomsday at Hand?" Tune-in tomorrow in hopes of finding out.

Translation to sports, where the story question is "Oh my! Is the great Roger Federer about to crash and burn?"

Subliminal message: "Tune-in again tomorrow in hopes of finding out, so we can make more money selling ad space."

That's why they aren't interested in the match itself - only in whatever suspense and controversy they can manufacture from selected facts in it.

In other words, they are deliberately making something out of nothing.

They do the same thing to Venus and Serena Williams all the time. Don't listen to them. Don't let them make you think you should feel terrible about losing a tennis match. That's ridiculous, and everyone but them knows it.

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Australian Open Champions

Maria Sharapova of Russia captured the title of Australian Open Women's Singles Champion by defeating Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in the finals 7-5, 6-3. Sharapova went through the tournament like a hot knife through butter, not losing a set in capturing this, her third Grand Slam singles title.

Both women showed shakiness in brief unforced-error or double-fault streaks. But both also showed the ability to get hold of themselves before the problem did major damage to their effort. Knowing that they can do so should be a great confidence booster to both women.

Sharapova clearly dominated, winning 70 of 120 points.

Men's Doubles Titlists: Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel, who defeated Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra of France in the final 7-5, 6-4.

Llodra and Clement narrowly escaped two consecutive service breaks at the start of the match when rain forced a delay with Clement serving at 15-40.

Women's Doubles Titlists: Alona and Kateryna Bondarenk of Ukraine, who defeated Victoria Azarenk of Belarus and Shahar Peer of Israel 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Men's Singles Titlist and Mixed Doubles Titlists are yet to be decided.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Australian Open: Final Round Match-Ups

Here are the match-ups in the final round of Australian Open.

Men's Singles: Novak Djokovic of Serbia v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France

Women's Singles: Maria Sharapova of Russia v Ana Ivanovic of Serbia

Men's Doubles: Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel v Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra of France

Mixed Doubles: Tiantian Sun of China and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia v Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi of India

The women's doubles is finished. Victoria Azarenka of Belarus Shahar Peer of Israel won the title by defeating Ana and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer to reach the final

Today down under in the land of tommorrow Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer yesterday 7-5 6-3 7-6 (7-5).

Something unsettling about that picture.

Roger Federer is one of the few players who actually says something in his pressers. So, let's see what he said about the match.

"There's no doubt I've played better in my life," Federer said afterwards. "I've not been really serving like the way I wanted to, maybe the last few matches. Look, it happens. But he covered the court well. He didn't give me much."

"So that obviously played a role in the way I played tonight. But … I wasn't completely satisfied. He's come through the draw convincingly. He's been playing very solid. He had a tough draw, you know, if I compare it to maybe Rafa's (Rafael Nadal's). So he absolutely deserves to be in the final."

Having started the tournament in convincing fashion, particularly when he conceded just three games against Fabrice Santoro in the second round, Federer had to dig deep to get through his third-round meeting with Djokovic's compatriot Janko Tipsarevic.

And while he followed that victory with straight-sets wins over Czech Tomas Berdych and American James Blake, Federer added later that he hasn't felt completely comfortable throughout the fortnight.

"No, I don't, I didn't think I was moving that great," he said. "I think I played really well the first two matches, in terms of movement also. I don't know if the surface got a bit quicker."

"I definitely wasn't as good on the defensive like I usually am. I couldn't come up with the passing shot when I needed to. Yeah, that definitely hurt me, especially today."

Still coming to terms with the defeat when he faced reporters shortly after the match was over, Federer did manage to find some positives in the fact that he made Djokovic earn the win.

"There's some sort of a disappointment. But, you know, from the spirit, the way I fought, the way I tried, it's all I could give, you know," he said. "When you give a hundred per cent, you know, you're sort of happy with your performance."

"It can't always go your way. I know that. I've won, many, many times when I didn't expect myself to win. So tonight's one of those nights where you're a little bit disappointed. But it's going to go over and I'm going to look forward to the rest of the year."

According to Federer though, the turning point of the match was clearly when he dropped his own serve at 5-4 in the first set when he was serving for it.

"We all know if I would have served it out the match would have been a bit different," Federer said. "Sure, he could have come back and still beaten me, but circumstances of would have been different. He wouldn't have played that freely in the second set."

"He usually doesn't play that well. That was unfortunate for me. You know, I paid the price twice, not only losing the set, but also the second set. You know, I missed many opportunities the third set."

"But, like I said, he came up with some great shots, some great serves, and, you know, saved himself that way."

The loss kept Federer from reaching his 11th straight Grand Slam final.

Today Djokovik will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in yesterday's final tomorrow ... or something like that.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Australian Open: Sharapova and Ivanovic in the Finals

Today in the semis, Maria Sharapova defeated Jalena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1, and Ana Ivanovic defeated Daniela Hantuchova 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The women's final will pit Sharapova against Ivanovic on Saturday. Sharapova is playing very well and must be considered the player to beat.

Hantuchova accused Ivanovic of gamesmanship by squeeking her shoes (in the receiver's split-step to "unstick" themselves) while Hantuchova's service toss was in the air.

That reminds me of the princess who slept on nine matresses and was bothered by a pea she felt underneath them all.

Not that I believe Ivanovic made that noise intentionally, but I don't care if she did. If Hantuchova is going to be that upsettable, her opponents are going to exploit it.

And there was the unsporting "handshake" at the end. Childish.

Hantuchova is her own worst enemy.

In fact, she won more points than Ivanovic. Ouch, a little problem with pressure maybe?

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Australian Open: Unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga destroys Rafael Nadal to Reach the Final!

6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Less than two hours. 'Nuff said.

In that short match, Tsonga hit 49 winners, 17 aces and broke Nadal's serve five times.


He played better than me, and for that reason he beat me. His running was unbelievable, physically he was very explosive, everything. What I can say? There was nothing bad about his game.

A few days ago I thought about a post contesting the proposition that France is about to dominate the tennis world. Not on the grounds that France doesn't have a whole passel of great tennis players, but on the grounds that none seem to have that "fire in the belly" of a great champion.

I think maybe I was wrong!

Hey, you gotta like a guy who looks so much like "the greatest and the prettiest," don't you?

Tsonga is ranked 38th in the world and eliminated Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, and Mikhail Youzhny before doing his thing to Rafael Nadal today. He will face either world number one Roger Federer or third seed Novak Djokovic (who play on Friday) in the final on Sunday.

Nina Rota over at Tennis Diary has a nice piece on Tsonga's game: Is Tsonga Only a Serve and Volleyer?

Judging by his defeat of Andy Murray in the first round, you'd probably say so. Especially when he's so successful at charging the net like that on a relatively slow hardcourt. Indeed, his friend and compatriot, Richard Gasquet, who knows Tsonga's game well, felt compelled to do the attacking himself. Taking the net to keep it away from Tsonga? No matter, Tsonga won from the baseline, looking like Federer beating Gasquet from there.

So, it appears that we may have something new here, a truly all-court player.

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Tennis Confidence - A Kind of Magic - Not

All tennis players know that confidence is everything. When you play with confidence, you play well, and most of your shots go in. The opposite of confidence is diffidence. When you play with diffidence, you play poorly, and most of your shots go out – simply because you fear that they will.

It is no wonder then that players get superstitious about confidence. They view it as a kind of magic.

Success builds confidence, and failure erodes it. So, how do you gain confidence when playing badly?

In other words, how do you make yourself believe in yourself when reality seems to contradict that belief? Stating the question in these terms shows how akin belief in yourself is to a religious belief, which often likewise seems contradicted by observable reality.

The problem then becomes a question of how to maintain this belief in the face of facts that constantly challenge it.

Many people resort to manufacturing an artificial confidence, convincing themselves that they have this mysterious magical power despite all evidence to the contrary. It's a kind of self-delusion, a psyche job. Though it negates reality, they call it "positive thinking," which it ain't.

Since tennis is head-to-head competition, they forget that this "magic" is simple confidence and view it instead as some kind of inherent superiority to their opponents.

Delusions are powerful. They can work. As Bill Tilden said, you can impress belief of your inherent superiority on your opponent = make him or her feel inferior and psychologically dominated.

But the problem with delusions is that they are constantly assailed by reality. Therefore, it's a struggle to maintain them. You must keep brainwashing yourself and repressing self-doubt as it threatens to surface to consciousness and break the spell.

Sooner or later, it will. Then it's like you lost your mojo, and your game falls apart.

Venus and Serena Williams are not the only pro players afflicted with this superstitiousness. So are Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. In fact, many players are. It can make you a flash in the pan, but it will desert you someday so that you don't build a career like Pete Sampras did or Roger Federer is doing.

What's more, when your mojo is gone, your opponents come out from under the spell of inferiority, as Brad Gilbert did when John McEnroe tried to make sure he got the message in their 1984 match: "Gilbert, you are the worst! The f***** worst! You don't belong on the same court with me!" Gilbert smelled blood and went on to win. McEnroe immediately took a sabbatical from tennis and never won another major tournament after he returned to the tour.

Unbelievable. John McEnroe, the guy who gets mad at himself for every error. Never won another major tournament. That is gross underachievement for a player of his caliber. It happened because he became dependent on his mojo and didn't think he could win without it = that he couldn't beat an opponent who thought he could win. Baloney.

So, you see this artificial confidence is no substitute for the real thing – a realistic level of true confidence in your ability, true confidence that isn't undermined by every error or sent skyrocketing by every great shot. A stable, tranquil self-confidence that nothing can shake. One based on an accurate perception of the facts. One that disregards whatever your ego is yakking at you.

During the early part of the decade Venus and Serena dominated women's tennis, largely through psychological warfare that upset the other women, most of which was waged off court – in the locker room, on the practice courts, and on the tournament grounds.

Over time though, the other women caught on. They recognized the contemptuous haughtiness as a mind game and stopped letting it get to them. Venus and Serena have not dominated since.

I bet they never will again. But that is no reason to think that they aren't good enough players to still win their share of tournaments. Serena, especially, just needs to lose the superstitiousness and replace it with Andre-Agassi style modesty and hard work.

In the midst of all the gobbledygook and conflicting messages she sent during her presser yesterday, Venus said this in answer to the shark who asked "If people start talking about the Williams era being over, what would you have to say to them?":

I've been a champion. I have full expectations and aspirations to continue to play high-quality tennis and to continue to be a champion.

And she should have. Her track record proves that to be a realistic appraisal of her ability. She needs no self psyche job to achieve it.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Operation Doubles Tennis Connection - January issue

The January 2008 issue of the Operation Doubles Connection is now online. Sign up for your free copy every month here.


Featured Tennis Website of the Month
This Month's Tennis Quiz
This Month's Q & A
Tennis News & Upcoming Tournaments
This Month's Shot-Making Tip

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Australian Open Semifinalists

Men's Singles

My man Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France reached the semifinals by defeating 14th seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 7-5, 6-0, 7-6.

The No. 2 seed, Rafael Nadal of Spain, earned his place in the semis by defeating 24th seed Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.

The other half of the semifinal draw will be filled by the winners of the following two matches:
  • Top seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland v 12th seeded James Blake of the United States
  • 3rd seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia v 5th seeded David Ferrer of Spain
(Go, James!)

Women's Singles

Maria Sharapova of Russia, seeded 5th, reached the semifinal by defeating Justine Henin of Belgium, seeded 1st, 6-4, 6-0.

Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, seeded 3rd, defeated Serena Williams of the United States, seeded 7th, 6-3, 6-4.

The winners of the following quarterfinal matches will advance to fill the other half of the semifinal draw:
  • Venus Williams of the United States (seeded 8th) v Ana Ivanovic of Serbia (seeded 4th).
  • Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia (seeded 9th) v Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland (seeded 29th)

Men's Doubles

Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie of South Africa advance to the semifinals by defeating 4th seeded Martin Damm and Pavel Vizner of the Czech Republic 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

Seventh-seeded Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra of France earned a place in the semis by defeating 2nd seeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4.

The other two slots in the semis will be filled by the winners of the following matches:
  • Top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States v 6th seeded Mahesh Bhupathi of India and Mark Knowles of the Bahamas.
  • Marc Gicquel and Fabrice Santoro of France v 8th seeded Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel.

Women's Doubles

Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine won a spot in the semis by defeating top seeded Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the United States 6-3, 6-2.

12th seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Shahar Peer of Israel defeated 13th seeded Janette Husarova of Slovakia and Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-1, 6-1.

7th seeded Zi Yan and Jie Zheng of China defeated Venus and Serena Williams of the United States 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

4th seeded Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and Rennae Stubbs of Australia vie with 10th seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain for the remaining semifinal slot.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Australian Open: One Week Down

Great tennis Down Under!

Craig Hickman has a nice post that sums up the spirit of battle bewteen Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, which ended a 4:30 AM with Lleyton winning 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3.

Marathon men. That's what they are. More than four-and-a-half hours. Two titanic chokes. An ankle injury. Five match points. Unruly fans. Weary ball kids. Blind linespeople. Delirious commentators.

Read the rest: Day 6 Epilog.

Hey, toldja Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France is for real!

Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, and Serena Williams advanced to the quarterfinals.

In the men's doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan have reached the quarterfinals, along with Jonathan Erlich - Andy Ram, Martin Damm - Pavel Vizner, Arnaud Clement - Michael Llodra, and Daniel Nestor - Nenad Zimonjic.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Australian Open: Federer defeats Tipsarevic

Roger Federer just defeated Janko Tipsarevic in a cliff hanger 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-1) 5-7 6-1 10-8. In the fifth set, the first 16 games went to the server until Federer came back from 40-0 down to break the Serb's serve. Federer then served out the match.

His next opponent will be either Juan Monaco or Tomas Berdych.

James Blake (12) also advances, beating Sebastian Grosjean, whom he'd never beaten before, battling back from down two sets and then a double-break in fourth.

"That's got to be my biggest comeback — down two sets to love, two sets to one, two breaks; 4-1 in the breaker, 5-3 in the breaker," Blake said. "Just seemed like every time there was a mountain to climb ... couldn't have been a better feeling than to accomplish what I did."

Blake said the key was keeping calm.

"I don't think a lot of people like my chances, but I always do — no matter what my body language says."

Now Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis are vying for a spot in the fourth round.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Australian Open Buzz

As play gets underway on Day 6 (Saturday), the big news is the fall of Svetlana Kutnetsova to Agnieszka Radwanksa of Poland.


The big news of the day on this side of the International Date Line was Philipp Kolhschreiber defeating Andy Roddick in what has been billed "a thriller," 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 8-6.

Sean Randall at the X-Blog writes:

Time and time again we’ve seen Andy hit his backhand reply crosscourt, and in this case that very response goes right into Kolhschreiber’s preferred weapon of choice. That’s why I gave the German a chance in this match. Until Andy can make a serious impression with his backhand down the line shot, he’s going to keep struggling with guys like Kohlschrieber, Richard Gasquet, Tommy Haas and Roger Federer who can consistently fire winners off that backhand wing.

Kohlschreiber also made liberal use of an excellent dropshot, which I don’t recall him ever really missing. Again, a great tactic by the 24-year-old since Roddick was perched around the “Melbourne” lettering, which looks to be about four feet behind the baseline on Rod Laver.

That backhand isn't just a problem when Andy is pinned behind the baseline. Hitting approach shots crosscourt is another one of his problems, because it makes him easier to pass.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's performance so far isn't such a big surprise. Some were picking him as a dark horse before the tournament began.

Peter Bodo over at Tennis World writes:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - JoWilly has now played three fine matches in a row, which could be a personal best. Did you see how his beaten opponent Guillermo Garcia-Lopez quit at the end of that match, even though he was dressed in some weird all-red costume that, presumably, was supposed to suggest aggression and passion? JoWilly fears no man - least of all some sympathy dude with a hyphenated name who appears to be angling for a contract with Red Hots candy. JoWilly plays Reeshard Gasquet next - unless Reeshard comes down with a sniffle or hangnail or something and calls it off. You can take all that "Baby Federer" stuff and stick it, as far as I'm concerned. I prefer JoWilly's game.

It's an all-out attack style game, something rarely seen these days. I like it too.

We saw Pete Sampras's attacking game take a match off Roger Federer recently. I think the reason players like Andy Roddick have tough luck with it is because they don't have good enough approach shots, not because rackets today have made the attacking game too difficult. You won't get by with so-so approach shots as you could in the past. Gone are the days when you could get by with crosscourt approach shots, when you could blindly follow conventional wisdom and just push every approach with underspin, thus missing quite a few and having many more land a bit short.

For more on that great match between Marat Safin and Marcos Baghdatis, hop over to the Tennis Diary, where Nina Rota has an interesting take on it.

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Australian Open: Day 5 Roundup

In the third round of the men's singles, today's winners are Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER), Rafael Nadal (ESP), Richard Gasquet (FRA), Nikolay Davydenko (RUS), Jarkko Nieminen (FIN), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Mikhail Youzhny (RUS), and Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA). The 24th seeded Neiman deafeated Mardy Fish, and 29th seeded Kohlschreiber upset 6th seeded Andy Roddick.

In the 3rd round of the women's singles today, the following players advanced: Justine Henin (BEL), Jelena Jankovic (SRB), Casey Dellacqua (AUS), Maria Sharapova (RUS), Serena Williams (USA), Elena Dementieva (RUS), Nicole Vaidisova (CZE), and Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE). Dellaqua upset 13th seeded Amelie Maurismo of France.

The first round of the mixed doubles got underway today, and Nathalie Dechy (FRA) - Andy Ram (ISR), Agnes Szavay (HUN) - Leander Paes (IND), Zi Yan (CHN) - Mark Knowles (BAH), Janette Husarova (SVK) - Mariusz Fyrstenberg (POL), and Meilen Tu (USA) - Marcin Matkowski (POL)all advanced.

In second round men's doubles, Daniel Nestor (CAN) - Nenad Zimonjic (SRB), Bob and Mike Bryan (USA), Jonathan Erlich - Andy Ram (ISR), Martin Damm - Pavel Vizner (CZE), Frantisek Cermak - Lukas Dlouhy (CZE), Eric Butorac (USA) - Kevin Ullyett (ZIM), Christopher Kas (GER) - Rogier Wassen (NED), Julien Benneteau - Nicolas Mahut (FRA), and Arnaud Clement - Michael Llodra (FRA) all advanced.

In women's action the winners were Cara Black (ZIM) - Liezel Huber (USA), Serena and Venus Williams (USA), Zi Yan - Jie Zheng (CHN), Iveta Benesova (CZE) - Galina Voskoboeva (RUS), Anabel Medina Garrigues - Virginia Ruano Pascual (ESP), Nicole Vaidisova - Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE), Kveta Peschke (CZE) - Rennae Stubbs (AUS), and Maret Ani (EST) - Meilen Tu (USA).

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Australian Open: Marcos Baghdatis defeats Marat Safin

Marat Safin surprised himself today.

He came out to his second round Australian Open match against 15th seeded Marcos Baghdatis in the usual frame of mind, believing that he was going to screw up.

And he did.

Despite whatever he was telling himself consciously, deep down he believed that he was going to screw up. And then did.

If you know anything about this big Russian, you know that he thus serves as is his own worst enemy. Head case extraordinaire. And the frustrations of a year battling injury only compounded his struggle with a mindset that amounts to a deep seated belief that "I can't."

But we all know that Marat is a terrific tennis player who can.

How does this happen? Indeed, this is a common problem tennis players have, and it should comfort the rest of us to see that even a great player like Marat Safin can struggle with it.

Like so many human behaviors, this low opinion of oneself is actually a complex, a reflection of its opposite. For example, people with low esteem often go into denial of that, repress awareness of it, and seek to negate it through an internal narrative that pretends an equal amount of the opposite – high self esteem. Hence, an inferiority complex comes off as a superiority act. Deep down, no one has a lower opinion of himself than a malignant narcissist does.

This is something like that. It stems from the perfectionism that, for many reasons, plagues many tennis players. They actually think they should make every shot.

Not consciously, of course. I'm sure that if you asked Marat, he'd say that he knows errors are part of the game. But when you miss an easy shot, you think, "That was an easy shot, one I shouldn't have missed." The better player you are, the tougher that shot can be and still make you think that.

John McEnroe is probably the best example. To this day, he gets mad at himself for virtually every error. Ironically, no one ever came closer than he did to flawless tennis. But after two flawless sets, he can go off over one unforced error. Perfectionism.

This stems from the mistaken belief that you err because you do something wrong, that every error is some sort of personal failure. It's not.

To the contrary, every good shot is somewhat lucky. When you think of all the calculations and estimates the brain must make in judging the ball and timing and coordinating your stroke, you can see why. All this calculating and estimating is almost never perfect. Why? Because, tennis happens too fast: for example, the brain hasn't time to take enough snapshots of the approaching ball to judge its speed perfectly. It must guestimate. Sometimes an imperceptibly slight gust of wind or a grain of sand on the court can throw those calculations off enough to produce an error.

Of course, the quieter your mind, the more brainpower you have free to devote to judgment and coordination = the better you'll play. But nobody ever plays perfect tennis. We all regularly miss shots we are good enough to make.

That happens. Every shot has a probability of error. Even if the probability of error for a particular shot is low, sometimes you ARE going to miss it. Them's the odds. Accept them or find a different sport.

It's crucial to take your errors in stride as part of the game. Don't view them as personal failures, as shots you SHOULD have made. If you do, your ego pipes up, and you get distracted by the internal tongue-lashing it starts giving you. That just wastes brainpower on thinking rot and makes your play worse. It can destroy your game.

Indeed, it would be more correct to think that you SHOULD miss every shot. So, be glad to make the ones you do. The object of the game is to maximize the percentage of good shots you make, but perfection is unattainable.

The overemphasis on form contributes to this psychological problem in tennis players. It tends to make us think that every time we miss a shot, it's because we swung wrong. Wrong. You can hit a great shot with lousy form and a terrible shot with "perfect" form. Tennis technique isn't an exact science: it's just a set of parameters to keep your strokes within, parameters that make it mechanically effective, efficient, and minimize the probability of error. But it doesn't guarantee success.

After losing the first two sets to Baghdatis 4-6, 4-6, Safin turned his game around. How?

Not by any pep talk he gave himself. He simply got his attention focused where it belonged, on strategy and tactics. This is a simple matter of shoving aside the stupid things your ego is yakking at you and thinking about the GAME.

Marat didn't suddenly become a true believer in himself. He didn't suddenly find his mojo. He simply changed the way he was playing. He stepped up inside the baseline and started taking shots on the rise. He wins the next two sets 6-2 and 6-3.

Obviously, he has made this strategy change because he has occupied his mind with strategy and tactics, tuning out the noise his ego was making.

But then, as so often happens in these cases, in the natural letdown after catching up, Marat took a mental breather and gave away some cheap points early in the final set. Then the racket abuse blow-up. Note to Marat: Don't encourage your opponent that way!

Baghdatis is just too good and too determined to get away with that against. Safin let him back in the match, and Baghdatis was mentally tougher under the withering pressure and won 6-2.

Nonetheless, this match serves as a confidence builder for Safin. Via the BBC:

Safin said he had paid for making a slow start.

"It's a pity," said the 27-year-old. "I consider I should have won in three, four sets.

"The first two sets should not have happened. That's the first and last time I make that mistake."

Still learning at 27? That's a good sign!

However, the Russian said his performances in Australia had given him belief that he could rejoin the game's elite.

"It's actually a little bit surprising for myself to be in such a good shape and to play good tennis and be able to compete against top players for five sets with a chance to win.

"The year is pretty long, so I'll have my chances, that's for sure."

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Australian Open: 2nd Round, Day 4

It's late tonight in Australia, and Marat Safin of Russia is still playing Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. Baghdatis won the first two sets 6-4, and Safin came back to win the next 6-2. He leads 5-3 in the fourth.

Earlier today, Roger Federer defeated Fabrice Santoro 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 in just 1 hour and 20 minutes.

This was Santoro's 62nd Grand Slam tournament appearance, breaking Andre Agassi's record.

"It was a tough match for me," Santoro explained. "It was not easy to have fun, but I tried to have some."

Despite the rout, Santoro was ready to take on Federer again.

"Because it's so beautiful, what he's doing," the 35-year-old Frenchman said. "At my age, you can be able to play your match and appreciate your opponent, too.

"Today, I feel like he's coming from somewhere else. I served quite good. I was moving well. I was fit physically. I was hitting the ball well. And I won three games."

What a breath of fresh air. Here's the whole interview. See also Federer out-foxes Santoro.

Lleyton Hewitt, Novak Djokovic, David Nalbandian, James Blake, Juan Carlo Ferrero, David Ferrer, Fernando Gonzalez, Tomas Berdych, Sam Querrey, Sebastian Grosjean, Vince Spadea, Juan Monaco, and Marin Cilic also advanced to the third round of the men's singles.

On the women's side, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova, Anna Chakvetadze, Nadia Petrova, Sania Mirza, Na Li, Katarina Srebotnik, Maria Kirilenko, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marta Domachowska, Virginia Ruano Pascual, Ekaterina Makarova, Sabine Lisicki, and Caroline Wozniacki (Whew!) advanced to the third round.

With a name like mine, I'm pretty good at slavic names, but this list has me reeling! Some of them I have no idea how to pronounce even.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Australian Open: Day 4

It's tomorrow morning Down Under, and Day 4 of the Australian Open will begin in a few hours.

The big surprise so far was 9th seeded Andy Murray of the UK losing to the talented Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round, 7-5 6-4 0-6 7-6(5).

Murray actually won more points. Tsonga hit both a ton of winners (57) and a ton of unforced errors (61).

Today in the second round, Roger Federer, the world No.1 and top seed, takes on the 35-year-old Frenchman, Fabrice Santoro, and Marat Safin takes on 15th seed Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, who reached the finals here in 2006.

Santoro is delighted at this chance to play Federer at least once before he retires.

Note to Lleyton Hewitt: Don't call your coach "Roachey."

More later when the matches are underway.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Aussies Stosur and Philippoussis Out of Australian Open

Australians Samantha Stosur and Mark Philippoussis will not be playing in the Australian Open.

Stosur, 23 years old and ranked 46th, battled viruses (including meningitis) all last year. She resumed training a few weeks ago but won't be in shape in time for the Australian Open series of tournaments this month and has withdrawn from them.

Philippoussis, 31 and ranked 119th, was sidelined with a knee injury last year and tore the cartiledge in that knee in a wild-card playoff match on December 15.

Stosur will be back on tour after the Australian summer, but Philippoussis' career may be over.

Speaking of his fourth round of knee surgery, he said, "And I'll be honest, you've got to understand it's more a mental battle getting back from injury after injury."

Doesn't sound good, but a little time could brighten his attitude. Mark may be the best player never to have won a grand slam.

Stosur said:

I am very disappointed I won't be able to compete during the Australian summer. I have been back training for the last three weeks but I've realized that I won't be fully ready to compete at the Australian Women's Hardcourts, which starts in six days, and I've also withdrawn from the Australian Open.


I always love competing at home in Australia and have had some of my best results here, which makes the decision not to play especially hard. But I need to concentrate on the long-term goal of getting my health and fitness 100 percent again, so I don't want to start competing again until I'm fully ready.

It isn't worth getting sick yet again because you tried to come back and play such grueling events in a weakened state.

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Can't stand the heat? Quit: Hewitt

Hard to believe here in Wisconsin, but it's hot Down Under in the run-up to the Australian Open (beginning January 14).

Via The Sydney Morning Herald

LLEYTON HEWITT advised his fellow professionals to shape up or quit the sport after several raised concerns over soaring temperatures on day one of the Adelaide International at Memorial Drive.


"It's not comfortable for anyone to play sport on days like this, but that's what it's about, gruelling out matches," Hewitt said. "There shouldn't be a heat rule regardless. We're athletes, and if you don't put in the hard yards then don't play.

"The Australian Open is the only tournament that has a heat rule. There's been a lot of guys cramping in the past in the US Open in tough conditions, and they've never brought in a heat rule there.

"So it's only fair the ATP week-in, week-out [don't]. We're only playing best of three sets, too, so if you can't last in that, then get a new job."

That got Lleyton Hewitt some admiring attention. Which is what he's all about.

Unlike the author of this article, who subliminally suggests his opinion, I mostly agree with Hewitt. But like the author, I doubt he'd be saying that if he hadn't just lost in the first round of the doubles, so that HE won't have to play both singles and doubles in this week's heat.

That's the real problem. Professional players should be able to take the heat, especially when it's only best-of-three sets. But this extreme heat does require more time between matches to recover and rehydrate for the next match. If you want players to enter both the singles and the doubles, you must accommodate.

There is no easy solution. The existing heat rule is unfair.

This is how it works: When conditions reach a red line, no new matches are started, but matches underway are completed. The winners of those completed matches are at a real disadvantage in the next round against the winners of matches delayed until after dark.

Closing the roof on stadium courts is also unfair, because not all players get to play their matches on stadium courts.

Probably the best solution is to just make sure there is a safe minimum time between matches. And longer breaks between sets.

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When to Play the Both-Back Formation in Tennis Doubles

I usually advise to stay out of the Both-Back Formation unless you're forced into it. For example, if the opponents are blasting service returns at me when I'm at net, I won't go back to the baseline, I'll snarl at my partner for setting me up with his poopy service returns.

It's a psychological thing. That gives him something to be afraid of that's worse than whatever he's afraid of ;-)

He suddenly forgets whatever else it was that he feared and stops hitting poopy returns that get me blasted. Problem solved.

The reason I say to never fall back into the Both-Back Formation unnecessarily is because it has no vantage points or angles, and it covers less territory than either of the other two formations.

But Stan Smith has an article on the website that gives a good example of when you might try the Both-Back Formation. He explains the reasons for what he says, too.

Notice the situation he describes: It's a tight set with the score something like 5-5, and your opponents are delivering hard serves that you haven't had much success in returning.

If you set up to receive in the Both-Back Formation some of the time (at least on first serves), you change important aspects of the match in a way that just might win you that set.

Read the article here.

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