Paris In the Spring

May 26, 2011

Today in New York we got our first real spring day. I don’t mean a hint of sunshine in the air and no coat weather – I mean full on, summer-is-around-the corner HEAT. And it was lovely.

So while I contemplated the concept of relegating boots to the underbed storage compartment (yeah, I’m fancy like that) I was able to more adequately comprehend the notion that somewhere on the other side of the world, under a blazing sun in a pretty city we like to call Paree, there’s a host of ladies and gents lined up ready to compete for one of the toughest championships in the world (we tennis fans like to call it that. Other sportsmen can step aside, ahoy). There are stories aplenty as we embark on this two week adventure in Paris in the spring, and being that this year I’m not racing around town looking for wifi and streams and friendly bars that will play said streams for me*, I can actually pay a little more attention to the huge rush of mediated content that descends on us starved tennis fans and choose a few pieces for anyone who wants to read it. (Probably being, none).

If you’ve been exploring the sunshine and meadows outside of our very comfortable-thank-you-very-much tennis-fan cave, you might want to catch up on some of the big stories we’re contemplating this week. Such as:

– Novak Djokovic, man of the moment. No, really. The cyborg, crafted by a bunch of mad scientists attempting to see how long it’d take before we noticed that a man was actually a robot, was let out of his lab to wreak havoc over the last six months, winning every match from his December heroic patriotic showdown in Belgrade’s Davis Cup Final to the Australian Open to sweeping the American hard court masters in Miami and Indian Wells, and absolutely demolishing Rafa Nadal – the Rafa Nadal – on clay courts in Europe. That’s a lot of matches – 40, to be precise. So now the streak is on the line, the number one ranking isn’t far out of reach, and everyone who’s spent the last few years facepalming at Nole’s confidence breakdowns and asthmatic breakdowns while falling in love with his clownish, adorable personality is jumping for joy as he delights us on court, Sunday after Sunday.

– Rafael Nadal: Aside from a very sad day in June 2009 that Rafa’s fans try not to remember too often, the man’s been indestructible on the red dirt he likes to call his own, and in the House he has built, also known as Phillipe Chatrier Stadium in Paris. Last year he swept the clay season – this year, he snagged titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona while giving up the Rome and Madrid Masters titles to the man – or machine – who was once the object of a fairly adorable bromance. Rafa’s holding on to the number one ranking, he’s in contention for a number six Roland Garros title (up there with Bjorn Borg), and he’s not quite sure if he can handle taking the respectful rivalry he’s had with Fed all this time to the bromancey, football-watching, doubles-playing love he’s got with Nole in the trivalry.

– Roger Federer: Yeah, remember him? The news outlets are wondering the same thing. Watch those spaces for lots of “is-he-or-isn’t-he” on his way down prewritten pieces, especially when the inevitable “early” round loss happens. But honestly, with Nole running loose and Rafa charging like a bull, is anyone even paying attention?

Then there are the ladies:

– Caroline Wozniacki, The Williams Sisters, and the State of the WTA – Slamless number one is a phrase we’ve uttered before (Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, and a slew of others before they won their maiden titles) but never for as long as twenty-year-old Caro’s been sparking that conversation. The Williams sisters are out, and everyone is bored of ladies tennis. And I’ve just summarized approximately 95% of the tennis-related articles published on mainstream media these days. Wah.

– The Women’s Draw is Wide Open: Said at the start of every tournament but never truer than here. We’ve got the up-and-comers like Julia Goerges and Victoria Azarenka coming off great clay seasons; we’ve got last year’s champ-and-runner-up Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone apparently able to contest it; we’ve got Mommy Kim flexing her Slam-Only muscles; and the “indie-hits” known only to tennis fans who wouldn’t surprise if they made a run here – Andrea Petkovic, Petra Kvitova, Peng Shuai. Last year this time, Vera Zvonareva and Francesca Schiavone were ranked in the 20s and teens. Now look at them. It’s amazing what a good run in a Slam can do, hey?

Other boring stories:

– The Death of American Tennis: Wah, wah, wah. We heard you the first time. You know what, having two men ranked 10 and 11 in the world, or is it 11 and 12 this week isn’t so bad, even if Andy Roddick is the 2nd not the first. And having a bunch of guys trail the skirts of the top 100 isn’t so bad either. Check out Australia and get back to me if you want to talk about a Grand Slam hosting nation being too gracious and granting their trophy to other nations. And, oh yeah, the British and French are moaning too. Woo.

So far the stories are a’creepin’. The British ladies have made history, there are no Aussies left, and despite the whingeing the Americans aren’t doing too badly. Caro is dismantling her opponents and Sam, lovely Sam, has cruised through her first two matches and pleaseohpleaseohplease will stay calm and collected as the week goes on.

So halfway through week one, the stories are still abuzz and now ones are being created every day. So let’s jump into the springtime and waltz down the dark green leafy streets and inhale the red dust and get DIRTY ON CLAY!

* Shoutout to the wonderful staff at The Gov in Jerusalem, Israel for looking after me so well last year, plying me with Stella and keeping me in streams; and the fabulous barstaff slash receptionists at Peace and Love Hostel in Paris for showing me the way to RG.


Let’s Talk About Lleyton

May 11, 2011

Remember him?

The Australian media have given us our latest Lleyton update, informing us that he is strong, tough and ready and able to contest the Roland Garros title. According to the excellent Darren Walton, or more likely the subeditors at News Limited, this is an “audacious” bid and a “shock comeback” – and this lady here who is purely a basement clicker-clacker is inclined to agree. Wanna call it the ‘Slam-oriented stripped-back schedule’ a la late-career powerhouses like Kim and last-year Serena? This is one-man bandaid-application operation, with surgery after surgery with a tournament thrown in the middle… and the weight of a nation behind it. Then again, there’s been no retirement announced yet, so why is it a shock comeback? (I’m still waiting for Tommy Haas to debut in singles, personally…)

Based on an interview with Tony Roche, the Aussie supercoach-to-the-stars talked all about lovely Lleyton: He’s big, he’s strong, he’s lean, he’s mean, he’s ready for a comeback and we’ll probably see him win the title at Wimbledon, if that’s what “very, very well” means.

Roche gives Lleyton a title I feel may be credible – “the toughest competitor that I’ve seen” – “prepared to play through the pain barrier” despite recent foot surgery, numerous surgeries last season, and his creeping age (thirty, to be precise).

“I think he’s used to that. Look, he’d be,” Roche told AAP on Monday. “He’s had a lot of setbacks the last couple of years but he keeps bouncing back. He keeps wanting to improve and he’s so keen, which is great for Australian tennis because we need him to hang in there.”

Thing is, even if he’s tough competing, and whatnot – other guys may actually be better, well, players these days….

Of course, this is Roche’s “highly qualified” opinion, so we just need to bite our tongues and say, oh yes, Australia will have another Slam champion one day. And we do need him, because there are Davis Cup ties to be played, and Australian Open posters to pose for, and young ‘uns who need to see a great player on TV much like Rafter and them boys before him, who can say, “I wanna be a tennis player one day.”

History shows that Lleyton has been good at surgical recoveries, this is true – the article mentions his beating Federer for the Halle title during last year’s grass season and coming close to topping Nole at Wimby, all following an earlier half of the season that saw him give the fabulous Aussie health-care system a run for their money.

The stats for Roland Garros are also pretty impressive: According to the piece, here are some handy facts:

–          Hewitt is the ONLY active player, including Federer and Nadal – to have made the last 32 on over the last 10 years in Roland Garros.

–          Four of the last five years, his losses at Roland Garros have been to – guess who? None other than king of the Court, Rafa Nadal

Which means that all going well with seeding, he needs to win a few rounds, get some match practice, unleash all hell in Halle and – here’s the clincher – show his stuff in SW11.

“I know he’s looking forward to Wimbledon, getting on the grass,” Roche said. “He sees that surface as being well suited to his game…. So if he gets the matches under his belt and good preparation, he can do very, very well at Wimbledon.”

But citing tales of previous victories with little preparation or still-lingering injuries  – 2006 US Open quarterfinals with a knee injury, apparently, and a marathon five-setter against Ferrer at Roland Garros in ’08 without any clay-court match practice – isn’t really going to change the fact that the difference between 2006, 2008 and 2011 is a lot of years – and years tend to do things to bodies, if the beauty companies (damn them!) and the medical industries and all them people who know stuff about the human body are to be believed.

I want to believe it, I really do. I want another Grand Slam trophy in the pool room as much as anyone who’s not Spanish or Swiss (though maybe a little less than those scary Brits – I won’t crucify a man to get it, for example). But as Aussie fans once again bust out their yellow-and-green singlets and blue-and-red-flag-printed-headbands (thanks to the girls at Flushing Meadows who lent me theirs) and start hoping and praying for the man we once knew I tend to wonder… will it ever really happen again?

The strange thing about seeing a former top player struggling in minor tournaments and losing in early rounds is that it’s incongruous with our mindset. In my head, and probably many other fans, Davydenko, Ferrero, Nalbandian and of course Hewitt – are supposed to be winning all the time. Ditto for Tsonga, Verdasco and all those others who did their time in the top 10 only to flounder outside it for far longer. Lleyton can meet a seeded player in the first round and out he goes – but it just seems wrong to me, somehow.

Now ranked 64 in the world, Hewitt has only a handful of points keeping him from obscurity outside the top 100 – including his title in Halle last year, where he defeated Roger Federer in the final, bringing hope to the hearts of many Aussies who don’t want to acknowledge that we are without a champion on the men’s side, for the time being. So he’s welcome to Paris, I invite him there with all my heart. If he can scrounge up some points, I will be forever happy and wave my flag and leave it flying. There’s no one who wants to see Lleyton succeed more than me. I spend my days trying to get Aussies to care about tennis – of course I want him flying high. But there are other places I don’t want him either… And it may be time, before that inevitable downslide where Marinko Matosevic becomes Australian #1 – that he hang up that sweaty backwards cap of his and go out with a nice-and-classy, tastefully-farewelled (not holding my breath for that either) – well, bang.


A Word from @Noleksa: Nole’s Numbers – or Top 9 Reasons Why Novak Djokovic is Particularly Amazing

April 8, 2011

One person who’s been making a fair few headlines lately is the incredible Novak Djokovic. A long-time favourite on this blog, we’ve been more than delighted to see the awesomeness streak that Nole’s been leaving across Australia, the Middle East, and the USA – in fact, Dubai excepting, pretty much any continent where I’ve been over the last few months. Huh, how’s that.

But there’s one continent that matters more than the rest, and that’s Nole’s home of Belgrade, Serbia. Luckily there’s one lady who knows better than the rest of us just how fabulous this man has been – because she’s our resident Serbian on Twitter, and lover of all things Nole. Even my Davis Cup envy can’t get in the way of jumping into a Nole Love Bubble with this girl during his matches.

To wax lyrical from her fountain of knowledge, I present to you… the lovely and fabulous NOLEKSA!

9. Nole finished ATP World No. 3 for the four straight years and he achieved it in the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (2007-2010).

8. Novak has won 7 ATP Masters Titles which makes him the 6th player on All-Time list of Masters Champions behind Rafael Nadal (18), Roger Federer (17), Andre Agassi (17), Pete Sampras (11), andThomas Muster (8).

7. Only four active players have reached semi-finals of all Grand Slams: Roger Federer, David Nalbandian,Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. And the feat was achieved in that chronological order.

6. Also, in 2008 at 20 years of age by reaching Australian Open semi-finals, before winning his first Grand Slam Trophy, Nole has become the youngest player in Grand Slam Open Era history to reach the semi-finals of all four Grand Slam events, separately and consecutively.

5. Nole is the fourth player since 1990 to win the three biggest titles (Australian Open, ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells, and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Miami) in the first three months of theseason (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras).

4. Nole is the first player since Roger Federer in 2006 to win both Indian Wells and Miami in the same year.

3. Nole has won 24 straight matches since the start of 2011, which is the third longest streak to start theyear behind Ivan Lendl (started 25-0 in 1986) and John McEnroe (started 39-0 in 1984).

Bearing in mind that during the aforementioned streak Nole has achieved 5:0 score vs. the Rafael Nadal and the Roger Federer we can arguably call it “the mother of all hot streaks”.

It takes greatness to inspire greatness.

2. Nole is 23 and Rafa is 24 and yet they have played each other 25 times already.
Rafa leads their H2H 16:9 but Nole is the only player to score 9 wins against Rafael Nadal.
Out of these 25 matches Rafa and Nole played thus far seven (7) were Finals matches, eleven (11)were Semifinals, three (3) Quarterfinals, three (3) were Round Robin matches at the ATP Year End Championships (World Tour Finals), and one (1) was Round Robin match in Davis Cup World Group tie.

1. Nole is the most loved athlete in Serbia, a very sport-centric country, and is a proud double winner of the award ‘The Best Sportsperson of Serbia’ and award for ‘The Best Sportsman by Olympic Committee of Serbia’.

NUFF SAID. THANK YOU, ALEKSA!

Now I’ll say my bit… Here are some of my own reasons we love this man:

He’s hilarious when he talks, entertains anyone and everyone, looks fabulous with his shirt off and, oh yeah, he plays a mean game of tennis.

Also, along with a lovely little elf called Juan Martin Del Potro, he is the only man aside from The Big Two of Nadal and Federer to win a Grand Slam within the last six years.

I rest my case.


Rant Warning: Is this a global tennis site, or what?

April 6, 2011

I’m first to admit that despite this blog being about tennis, it leans heavily to the side of those competitors who prefer to wear gorgeously ugly green-and-gold trackies when it’s Fed Cup, Davis Cup and Olympics time. Being that my love of tennis was first cultivated on the holy blue (then green) courts of Melbourne Park, I’m an Aussie tennis fan, first and foremost. Sure, I find it hard to love and embrace some of those purveyors of my beloved sport on home soil (Lleyton, meet Bernard. Bernard, Lleyton) but the adorable ones more than make up for it (Hey Sam! ‘Sup, Jarka? G’day, Patty Rafter) and anyway, blood is thicker than water. I’ll yell my guts out for Lleyton til the fifth set in the freezing cold at 2am if need be (that was so unfair, Nalby) and alienate myself from the rest of the Flushing Meadows crowd (I’m looking at you, Paul Henri Mathieu). So while I understand the importance of patriotism and whatnot, I’m also a lowly blogger and acknowledge the fact that it’s okay if I discuss my country’s players, because, after all, that’s what most of you are after. Australian Open fans want to know how Aussie players are doing – so I make sure to let them know, and bask in a bit of glory once in a while.

Now, this is not what the wonderful folk at ATP World Tour dot com believe, as evidenced by the latest spate of headlines bemoaning the lack of Americans in the top echelons of our sport. (If they can use cliches, so can I). Sure, Tennis Australia are more than welcome to focus on Australian tennis results, and The Age is all over when Sammy makes it to the next round with a bit of Rafa and Fed sprinkled in. That’s what they do. The Australian Open site is always highlighting photos and video of Aussie players – because that’s what people are visiting their site for.

ATP, on the other hand, last time I checked, was an international brand with an international appeal. Allow my Twitterfeed to back me up, which is filled with only a percentage of American fans and bloggers, with the rest coming from diverse nations such as Australia (oh yeah) and New Zealand, the UK, Europe, Asia – pretty much everywhere that tennis is played. Sure, I have a higher percentage of English speaking fans than the lovely French and Argentinean fans who occasionally pop up, but that’s called language commonalities. It most certainly does not affect which players we support… as evidenced by the high number of American fans who are quite happy to support Rafa over Roddick, or Aussies going for Feli over Tomic. We’re tennis fans, first and foremost, though obviously nationality plays a part, as mentioned above.

Which brings me to where we get our tennis news from, and the importance of journalists who are being fancypants high-profile oracles of the truth. If you’re writing for the New York Times, talk to me about American tennis, and I’ll pretend to be the dude in Westchester reading the news over coffee who likes to get out and have a hit on the weekend. Write for The Age, and I know you’re targeting a Mum who likes to take her kids to Melbourne Park on sunny summer days and wants to keep up with “Our Sam” and “Our Case” along with the big guys. If you’re a British media correspondent – oh, I won’t even start. Keep your thesaurus handy and a cricket bat, and you’ve got bashing Andy Murray down to an art. Be a blogger like me, and hell, write about whoever you feel like that day – the nicest proponent of a well-shaped torso, perhaps, or the lady who shares a nationality with you. Or just post a video of the girl with the cutest smile or the guy with the funniest accent, and you’ll be apples, mate.

Write for ATP World Tour dot com, dearies? Talk Muzz, talk Rafa, talk Nole, talk Fed. Ruminate over Muzza’s headcaseyness and slamlessness; ask the umpteenth question over Fed’s decline; and analyse Rafa’s muscle twinges just like we expect you to. Talk about Nole all you want – the man deserves it, and rightfully so. You can even debate whether Caro deserves to be number one, reference Kim’s role as – whaddya know – a wife and mother, and mourn the state of women’s tennis during the long-term absence of the Williams sisters. They’re overdone journalistic topics, true, but it’s okay for you to talk about them – because that’s what you’re supposed to talk about.

You can mention Mardy Fish going to number 11, you can talk about the lack of American top 10s, you can gasp with horror at Roddick’s “plunge” to number 14 – but don’t try to tell me it’s headline news in a way that displaces any other national sporting phenomenon.

In case it hasn’t come across, I happen to love the ATP site. It’s full of awesome news, videos, tidbits, player profiles, and a great design and layout. I check it religiously and love the iPhone apps. It’s the email news that’s gotten me down lately, with news of Mardy Fish’s rankings rise deemed more important than other, larger jumps last week; and news articles headlining the dismal nature of American sport making links and front page above and beyond all else. If this site is an international tennis site, built for international tennis fans, the Americano bias has got to go.

Or, you know, start a blog. Cos that’s what I’ve done.


State of the Nation: Tennis

March 22, 2011

For those of you who aren’t perpetually linked in to the world of tennis via a plethora of fancy tools that your parents call “hi-tech” and you call “my life, dammit”, you may not have had the same last several weeks as the rest of us, watching a little piece of yellow fuzz being hit back and forth by exceptional characters clad in various fashions showcasing specific examples of the amazing strength of the human body. Such shenanigans were going on in the state of California, in a little-known place just off Palm Springs, called Indian Wells.

Indian Wells is supposedly an oldies resort, where tennis courts and golf courses stretch on for mile after green mile, overlooked by the oh-so-purdy snow-capped mountains in the background. As players converge on this little spot of the California desert in the beginning of March for the first Masters Tournament of the season, it’s all about seeing just who’s held up since the last time the boys and girls got together in Melbourne: Will the up-and-comers (hi, Dolgy, Bernie, Milos, yeah you) live up to the hype? Is Novak Djokovic really on fire? Can Roger Federer cash in his superannuation yet? Does Caro really DESERVE the Number One ranking? (Yawn.) And, more importantly: How fat is Fernando Verdasco? Does Jada need a haircut for those cute blonde curls? Are all Serbian fans really that awesome? Will John Isner EVER get the girl?

The questions of tennis fans never cease, and we tend to have the important stuff covered: Food, fashions, children, celebrity friends, rumoured relationships, bromances with other sports, how men look with their shirts off. Tennis journalists, on the other hand, and dabblers in the sport we like to call “casual fans”, all have just one question, constantly, and damn it does get boring:

OMG, So, Like, Do you think, like, Roger Federer, isn’t he, just the BEST EVER? *gush* Followed by: How about that Nadal dude? What’s wrong with Andy Murray?

And lately, if you get just the right sort of tennis fan: “What’s up with Djokovic? He won the Australian Open, hey?”

And the zinger: “So are Federer and Nadal over?”

I love reading responses to this question because everyone pretends to know and no-one really knows and the fun part is, we’ll never know, until it happens, and THAT’S WHY WE LOVE THIS SPORT SO MUCH.

We love sport BECAUSE it’s unpredictable. Because there is no way of knowing what’s going to happen next. Because tennis, of all glorious wonderful sports, is so wondrous precisely because you can be staring three match points in the face at 5-4 in the 2nd set only to have it turned around to face ANOTHER match point in the tie-break to TURN IT ALL AROUND and win the goddamn match in the third set and then WIN THE TOURNAMENT. Because when your friend texts you to find out what time you’ll be done watching the tennis and you say “I don’t know” it’s because, You really don’t bloody know.

And that’s why it’s awesome.

We don’t know if Nole will end the year number one, or Rafa, or even (please not) Roger. We don’t know if Nole’s luck will snap, or he’ll finish Miami with the hard-court-major-trifecta (Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami) and get the longest streak ever, or take over Number One by riding through clay season.

Or if Rafa will join a soccer team tomorrow and Roger opens a day-care center and leave the rankings open slather for the rest of the top 10. Andy Murray could win the next fourteen slams after this, and everyone will laugh hysterically at the hiccup of the first few slam finals he was in.

I’m happy to say that the Indian Wells results were true to life, in my humble, stream-watching-incessantly-tweeting opinion. I *do* think Caroline Wozniacki deserves the Number One spot, and I’m glad she proved it. I *do* believe Novak Djokovic is on an unbelievable hot streak and the better player of the big three – as he so proved to us this weekend. Having those two as our champions this weekend says something about the state of the nation in sport – and having two kids who are both pretty awesome, as far as kind, generous, funny (ok, only Nole, but Caro does give good tweet when Jisner is around), good-looking ambassadors to a sport that needs a bit of marketing help – is a total plus. As for what happens next? Who the hell knows. But I sure as hell can’t wait to find out.

THIS SPORT IS THE BESTEST, YOU GUYS.

Because no matter what happens tomorrow, I know I’ll be sitting somewhere in the world – whether in a hot and sweaty bar in Thailand, on a laptop in my apartment in Brooklyn, in an Irish pub in Spain, or courtside at a Grand Slam – and waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.


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