Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Aussie Open Wrap

A quick note, as my computer time is limited. Will be back up on the home machine in the next few days, and verbosity shall reign again! Until then, brevity is my middle name.
As predicted, Maria Sharapova stepped forward as the woman to beat this year as she rolled to the championship. Along the way, she not only didn't drop a set, but she bageled the #1 player in the world. If you care to go through almanacs of tennis scores, you would be hard-pressed to find a similar occurrence. Remarkable stuff
On the men's side, the consummate counter-puncher Novak Djokovic took his first Grand Slam, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (he of the annoying Muhammed Ali comparisons) in the final. With his game, confidence, and conditioning, I agree with the pundits that there may well be more championships in his future.
A few points about the ball-bouncing controversty surrounding Djokovic in the final. Annoying or not, it is within the rules as long as he does not violate the time allotment between points, which he does not. Next, it is clearly not meant to be deceptive; there is a clear rhythm to it, which transitions to a smooth service motion. There are no interruptions or pump fakes. Clearly this is part of his pre-point ritual and should be taken as such. Lastly, the behavior of Tsonga, the crowd, and the erstwhile pleasant Dick Enberg were pretty weak. Complaining to the chair umpire, fans yelling "stop it", and Enberg commenting on it being annoying; just garbage. I expect a much higher standard from Enberg and the usually knowledgable Aussie fans.
Don't want to end my Aussie Open coverage on a downer note, though. The quality of play throughout the tourney was really first rate and sets a high standard for the rest of the season. Some great story lines too. The next big event is the Pacific Life Open in Palm Springs in March, and we'll be there!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Opportunities Seized, Opportunities Awaiting

Bravos, big standing bravos to those who've seized a semifinal berth! First the ladies: Though seeded fifth, no one (except the Tipsy Historian) had Maria Sharapova besting #1 Justine Henin. But best her she did, and in fine style! Hard to remember the top seed in a Grand Slam getting bageled, but Henin got dealt just such an ignominous blow by Sharapova. An unreal performance by the Russian.
Her opponent in the semis, Jelena Jankovic, recovered from being 3 match points down in her first round match to make it to a quarterfinal match with defending champ Serena Williams. In their clash, Jankovic did something that is exceedingly rare: she broke Serena down from the baseline. Serena was dealing with pace and vigor that she just didn't seem ready for, and Jankovic just ground her down. The semifinal between these two looks like an epic
Bravo as well to Ana Ivanovic, who topped Venus Williams, and Daniela Hantuchova, who is 5 years out from her last Grand Slam semi. They will face off in the other semi for the privilege to lose to Sharapova in the final. (I'm sticking by my initial prediction)
From the men, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has had the breakthrough tournament we've been talking about since my preview post. He's into the semis against #2 seed Rafael Nadal. #3 seed Novac Djokovic looks ready to close out his match against David Ferrer, up 2 sets to love. Should he hold on, he'll face the winner of the marquee quarterfinal in the men's draw; James Blake vs Roger Federer.
Though he's the prohibitive underdog, Blake has the chance of a lifetime sitting right in front of him tonight (the match starts just after midnight tonight on ESPN2) He's going to need another level to beat Federer, who has had his number for years, but what a time to seize the initiative and create a career-defining moment! Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gettysburg Day One Finished

I finished Gettysburg: Day One by Pfanz. Really a fantastic dissection of the action that took place on July 1, 1863. There is an topic I'm writing about with regards to General Robert E. Lee's leadership shortcomings on the day and what some of the underlying issues may have been. It will be posted sometime in the next week or two so look out for it! Moving on to Pfanz' Gettysburg: Day Two...

Halfway Done with the Australian

Action has just begun on the second week of the Australian Open, and as we get ready for the stretch run, a look back on some of the first week highlights is in order...
Thus far the hands down highlight has been the television coverage by Tennis Channel and ESPN2. Never has a tennis tournament been so comprehensively covered with multiple matches on the radar at any time, the best broadcasters, and hours of coverage every day. I really feel like I've been able to sink into the tournament, not just follow superficially. Now that the inimitable Dick Enberg is in the booth (right now he and Patrick McEnroe are calling the Federer/Berdych match), things are only going to get better.
The Men's Draw Aces:
-Jo Wilfried Tsonga blasting his way into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal
-Janko Tipsarevic stretching Roger Federer to the limit before falling 10-8 in the fifth set
-James Blake coming from two sets down to move into the second week
-Fabrice Santoro's smile
The Men's Draw Double Faults
-Andy Roddick not finding the extra gear a champion needs to top a player he should beat, losing to Philip Kohlschreiber in 5 sets
-Mardy Fish absolutely melting down after one bad call, falling to Jarko Niemenen after breezing through the first set
-the five set thriller between Marcos Baghdatis and Lleyton Hewitt having to end.
The Women's Draw Aces
-the Williams sisters marching through the draw towards a potential showdown in the finals
-local favorite Casey Dellacqua giving the home fans a thrill by beating Amelie Mauresmo
-a slew of new faces in the second week: Domachoska, Kirilenko, Wozniaki, Radwanska
The Women's Draw Double Faults
-#2 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova playing like she'd never been in a Grand Slam before, losing a third round gag-fest
-Elena Dementieva's serve (or lack thereof) It's been years of this, go practice for goodness' sake!
-Sania Mirza having to play under the shadow of a potential prison term for taking her shoes off. I just get the feeling things are going to end badly for this courageous woman.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blake to the 4th

Gotta just love the backbone that erstwhile softy James Blake has grown! Since winning his first 5 set match at last year's US Open, he seems like he's trying to make it a calling card. He showed just how much backbone he's developed, along with a couple of big brass ones, when he outlasted Sebastien Grosjean 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6, 6-2. When you're in a 2-0 hole, looking at hours of work and an uncertain outcome like Blake was, you've gotta have some serious stones to believe you can win. Good for Blake to have found a way; that kind of confidence feeds on itself.
Too bad for Andy Roddick, a popular choice to have reached the final. He ran into an absolute buzzsaw last night in 29th seeded German Philip Kohlschreiber, who played out of his mind to top a brilliant Roddick in a magical 5 setter. He's had such a great winter, leading the US to a Davis Cup championship, and he has really committed himself to improving under the tutelage of Jimmy Conners. Just goes to show how little separates the upper echelon of men, a match like that swings on a few points, and K was on another planet yesterday.
To follow up on yesterday's discussion of Sania Mirza, there's a nice piece about her at espn.com in the Aussie Open coverage there. She and Venus Williams face off a bit later.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Round 3

The third round tips off in about 20 minutes, and there are some delicious matchups. On the men's side, there's Aussie favorite Lleyton Hewitt vs Marcos Baghdatis, Novac Djokovic vs Sam Querrey, and David Nalbandian vs Juan Carlos Ferraro. For the ladies there's Elena Dementieva vs Shahar Peer, and Venus Williams vs Sania Mirza from India.
Now Mirza is an interesting story, and clearly one tough lady. She's a Muslim from India, and in 2005, because of the attire she was wearing on the tennis court (standard female tennis gear), a fatwa was issued against her. I'm absolutely serious, I remember reading about it in Tennis Magazine, and wikipedia.com has a well-footnoted paragraph about it.
Mirza was unfazed by this ruling and, while still wearing her regular garb, has risen to #31 in the world. If flying in the face of a fatwa weren't enough, she is doubles partners with the aforementioned Shahar Peer, who is Israeli. They even won a title together in San Jose last year at the Bank of the West Classic. Tough as nails that one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Aussie Open Day 4

Another of my dark horses went down, now it's my choice in the women's draw. Tatiana Golovin of France is no more. All eyes on Israeli Shahar Peer, who gets chokemeister Elena Dementieva in the third round. Winner of that likely gets my pre-tourney favorite Maria Sharapova, so we'll see...
Sam Querrey is putting himself in a really nice position. He knocked off Dimitri Tursonov to set up a third round matchup against #3 seed Novac Djokovic. This is the kind of opportunity that a young player has to capitalize on sometime or step aside.
I was really upset to see a fight in the stands yesterday, that just doesn't seem to happen at tennis matches. More disturbing, however, was how the security controlled the fracas. There were a handful of dudes pushing and slapping in the stands, and the guards started pumping pepper spray into the bleachers. Suddenly 20-30 people are covering their eyes and coughing, other pointing at the guards and yelling. Imagine what would happen here if that happened! What a mess.
Tonights play wraps up the second round; starting tomorrow evening, the third round begins. Now that we're (nearly) down to 32, we really start to see contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. Gonna start getting even more exciting. Stay tuned!

Roger Federer

The matchup that had been an early round focal point for me just finished with Roger Federer beating Fabrice Santoro 6-1 6-2 6-0. What looks like just another footnote in Federer's run toward the final is actually pretty special. Santoro is a guy that everyone on tour ab-so-lutely hates to play against. He puts virtually no pace on the ball, he gets to everything, and has the most dazzling array of trick shots. He's even reduced Marat Safin, who was ranked #1 in the world just before the reign of Roger, to say "being told I would play Santoro was being told I was to die."
Despite that reputation, Federer just dismantled the man known as "The Magician". Just took him apart, ran him side to side, forward and backward, with an array of spectacular winners that had Santoro himself putting his racket down so he could see one of the highlights on the stadium screen.
We're going to talk about this over and over again, because I think it's that important and that special to the world of sports. When you watch Roger Federer play tennis, you are watching an artist practice his craft. You're not watching a Hall of Famer or a Grand Slam champion. You are watching a man who transcends not just his sport, but the very conception of the way his sport can be played. He plays the game in a way that is almost inconceivable, and I say almost because he actually can move like flowing water, hit with heavy pace and the softest touch, and demonstrate an unparalleled creativity.
I have been asking myself and listening to various broadcasters expound on how this could be possible. Of course there are multiple factors at work: speed, size, instinct, focus, commitment, etc. All of these things contribute. To me, the crux of his performance, the backbone upon which all of his mastery can come from is his impeccable body control. First, Federer is a really big guy, tall and muscular, which gives him the ability to generate tremendous pace and spin. Second, he's unbelievably fast, though it's hard to tell because he moves so smoothly and gracefully over the court. There are lots of guys that have one or both of these tools, but no one has ever been able to combine them so elegantly and effectively.
Federer moves around the court in such a fashion that he is able to get himself in perfect position to hit the ball, and he has exquisite control over that movement. You never, ever see him out of position, and he would not be able to hit the shots he can if he wasn't properly positioned. When he gets to the ball, no matter how hard he's running, his form is always perfect; i.e. his foundation is always in place. Just watch him on slow motion replay, it's like a textbook every time he hits the ball. Racket back, shoulders turned, head perfectly still, eyes on the ball. It truly is magic.
If you want to see a brilliant example of this, go to youtube and type in "roger federer slow motion" in the search field. There are some brilliant clips of Fed that illustrate my point. He's just a breed apart, and you never know when an athlete like that is going to come along again.
I'll have a great deal more to say about him as the tournament goes on, just be sure you watch him play, because it's like nothing you've ever seen before or may ever see again.

Dolphins on the Right Track!

I am thrilled with the Dolphins' hiring of Tony Sparano, who was the Cowboys' assistant head coach, and longtime Bill Parcells prodigy. This move closes the leadership loop for the Fins with Sparano on the field, Jeff Ireland as GM, and Parcells running the whole show. Now, for the first time since I became a Dolphins fan. there is a united approach and philosophy to building a team. Parcells, who begat a laundry list of successful coaches (Bill Belichick), gave Ireland and Sparano their breaks, and they have been molded according to his philosophy. Say what you will about this philosophy; the bottom line is it is a winning one.
For twenty years the Fins have flailed around trying to put a product on the field. They have the greatest pure passer ever to play the game and an unyielding offensive line, but put yokel running backs like Audra Franklin, Woody Bennett, and Sammie Smith just to name a few, behind it. Marino also made it easy to ignore the defense because the 35 points the offense put up was usually enough. Until they reached the playoffs, of course. As the offense and Marino began to fade in the late 90s, the defense pulled itself together and became one of the league's premier units. However, no efforts were made to bring a revitalized and retooled offense to the field.
Underlying this failure was the single-worst front office in professional football for the past 20 years. Yup, the worst. No team has had more ineffectual drafting and more foolhardy trades, not even close. The Dolphins have also gotten the worst production out of their free agent signing, and that takes also takes a toll. In 2004, the death rattle for any team started; a coaching carousel. Dave Wannstedt left, Jim Bates took over. Bates left, Nick Saban (spit on the ground) took over. Next, Saban (spit on the ground) in all his gutless, traitorous splendor, left and Cam Cameron took over. Ugh!
So there is the perfect storm that gave us the 2007 season, where the once-mightly Fins went 1-15. You have a coaching staff in tumult and no clear cut vision for the program's direction. You have an aging defense that has not been retooled. You've got an offense with no leader at the helm and it's best weapon, Wes Welker, traded to divisional rival New England for a second round pick and 12 pack of Diet Slice! You've got a draft that brings, instead of a pedigreed quarterback like Brady Quinn, an injured, undersized punt returner and a butterfingered QB. Throw in a slew of injuries with no depth of talent ready to step in, and you've got a disaster of a season.
Now, in just one month, the Dolphins have gotten back on the right track. Owner Wayne Huizenga finally spent some cash and brought Parcells in as the Vice President of Football Operations, also known as the man behind the curtain. Randy Mueller was thrown out of the GM's office, and Ireland came in. Finally Cameron was sacked, and Sparano brought in. I absolutely agree with firing Cameron, there needs to be unity in this team, and like Ireland said, they weren't sure that Cameron could get on board.
There is going to be stability in the front office and in the coaching staff, and an effective talent evaluation and selection system in place. Next, and you can bet money on this, there are going to be major personnel shakeups: dropping of dead weight, movement with the #1 pick in the draft, and work in the free agent market. Don't get me wrong, this is not going to be a fast cure, because there is a long way to go, but the sun is definitely starting to shine in South Florida!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

First Round wrap-up

Because Melbourne is 19 hours ahead of us, live play takes place overnight, and even though I'm off work and a huge tennis buff, I am not staying up all night to watch Oscar Hernandez blow out Ivo Minar. Kind of a bummer tonight, as my tourney favorite Maria Sharapova is playing Lindsay Davenport today. Davenport left the game for about 2 years and had a baby, but now that she's back, she's only lost one match. Got her work cut out tonight though. But I digress...
The first round saw the demise of my pre-tourney dark horse and Aussie favorite Chris Guccione. So tough for young players to break through, he lost to a quintessential grinder named Hyung-Taik Lee. I actually saw Lee play live a few years ago; no big weapons, but mentally tough, consistent throughout, and really experienced. That's a perfect storm to knock out a young upstart. Another perfect example of this phenomenon is what happened to John Isner yesterday. Isner is 6-10, played at University of Georgia then turned pro last summer. He started out ranked 849 in the world; three months later, he had exploded up to 109 in the world, and took a set off Roger Federer at the US Open along the way. Yesterday, however, was his turn to face the oldest player still on the tour, Fabrice Santoro This cat will slice and dice anybody, and yesterday was Isner's turn. Believe me, Isner's hoping he never faces the dude in the multi-colored stripety Lacoste shirt again.
Tomorrow night will bring us a match that will be a real treat to watch: Federer vs Santoro (see my preview entry). While no one expects Fed to have much trouble, I promise, you won't see a match with more creative shotmaking all this year, if ever. Tune in if you can!

Aussie Open Day 3

Oooh boy, Serena is looking really good right now. Fit, mobile, and hitting the absolute bejesus out of the ball! Last year, she came out of nowhere to take the title; this year everyone knows she's coming, and it just doesn't seem to matter. She just finished dispatching her second round opponent, and she's into the third round. She's also, I'm sure, as enigmatic as ever.
I've always been very conflicted about rooting for Serena. There is no doubt she has a bigger game than every single woman on the tour, there's no one even close. Similarly, she's clearly got a Hall of Fame career under her belt, what with 8 Grand Slam titles thus far. However, it always seems like she's taken it for granted; she disappears for months at a time, she mails in big matches, she lets her conditioning fall apart. If she kept an untrammelled focus, she would be on a very short list for best of all time. It just seems like she doesn't care, her talent will always overwhelm the vast majority of opponents, thus she's content with popping her head in and out of the game. When you combine her apparent disregard of her gifts to her churlish and crass behavior anytime she loses (read: her loss to Henin at last year's US Open when she said Henin, ranked #1 in the world, got "lucky") and it can get pretty tough to get behind her.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Day 2 continued

American Sam Querrey, who's about 6-9 (and lived in my hometown of Santa Rosa, even played at my old racket club for a few years) just knocked off Olivier Rochus, who, at 5-5 is the shortest professional male out there. When they shook hands at the net, all I could think of was Willow shouting "You are great!" to Val Kilmer. Wow, just channeled Dennis Miller with that obscure movie reference.
Now James Blake is on court, and he has so much sunblock on his face he looks like he's scared to death! Geez, man, someone in the locker room or the tunnel should have thrown the guy a friggin bone; he looks goofy! Reminds me of Patrick Rafter from back in the day and the gobs of zinc oxide he used to wear.
Guess 2007 Wimbledon finalist and 10th seeded Marian Bartoli still hasn't mastered those chopsticks yet, she just got bounced out by someone named Sofia Arvidsson. Like I said, though, the Australian Open is the place for the Sofia Arvidsson's of the world to make their move or get out of the way.
See you tomorrow

Australian Open Day 2

Let's start the second day of the Australian with a few first principles...
The Australian Open is the first of four Grand Slam tournaments for both the professional men's and women's circuits and is the kickoff tourney for the year. There are 128 entrants in each draw, and it's single elimination (think of your March Madness bracket; looks about the same) After a match, there is a day off for the player before they take the court again. A good way to start to learn names, follow seeded players, and look for interesting matchups is to watch the draw sheets posted online at the tourney website.
Every tennis tournament takes on a pulse and rhythm of it's own, and the early days help set that tone. Are there lots of upsets or a hot new name making an early move by taking out a favorite (read Jo-Wilfried Tsonga yesterday)? Is the weather a factor like usual at the Australian, where temps routinely hit 100+ on the court? At a Slam, those themes are amplified one hundred fold, and make the first week just delicious.
Because it is a Grand Slam, the Australian has the unique ability to launch a player into the forefront of the sport, and, because tennis is so popular worldwide, into the international spotlight. You hoist that championship trophy, and you're on the cover of just about every sports page in the world. These tournaments are such a big deal that you don't even have to win the thing; if you're a fresh face and you make a surprising run, you get the coverage, the ranking points, the loot, and the name recognition, which honestly never goes away.
A perfect example of how the hot lights of a Slam can forever sear someone in the sports consciousness is Marcos Baghdatis, who just rolled to a first round victory. At the start of 2006, the smiling Cypriot was known more for a successful junior career than any real tournament impact. At the Aussie; however, he upset Andy Roddick on his crazy run all the way to the final, where he took a set off Federer The Great before losing. His ranking shot into the top twenty, his smile was everywhere, and his crazy fans with their waving Greek flags and ouzo-fueled singing became part of his exploding fame. Since then, he's made one run at Wimbledon, but otherwise is best known for his marathon 5 set battle against Agassi in 2006 at the US Open, which he lost.
Not exactly the stuff international fame is made of, right? Well, ever since that 2006 run, he has had a film crew following him around filming everything he does for two different movies: a documentary about him, and another about the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France where he trained as a junior. Not only that, but he is has a huge fan following at every tournament he participates in. Even in tennis, charisma can trump talent, and there's no better stage to showcase it than a Grand Slam.
A local touch: there is a 5 year old named Zach who plays at Pacific Beach Tennis Club, where I take my lessons, who is an absolute prodigy. He was actually in the recent issue of Tennis Magazine. Anyway, the Mouratoglou Academy contacted his parents a few months ago and offered them just over $1 million to come train there. Thankfully, his parents declined the offer.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Aussie Open update

I've been tuned to ESPN 2 HD since 4:oo gorging on some fantastic tennis presented in the crystalline beauty of high-definition, and we have...
...the first big upset of the tourney. As The Tipsy Historian predicted, unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga just knocked off the 9th seed Andy Murray 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (5). Wilfried was on the brink of having it slip away at the end of the fourth set, getting his serve broken when he served for the match, but put together the sort of mental effort that can launch a player into the upper echelon of tennis. Clearly fatigued and tight, he kept the ball in play, kept it deep, and got a high percentage of first serves in. When you play that way against a circus animal like Murray, with his pentance for idiotic drop shots and unbelievable tantrums, you can bet he's going to come undone. Lo and behold, at 4-4 in the tiebreak, Murray throws in the double fault, and Tsonga rolls to the biggest victory of his career. Oh yeah, the UK hothead skied a ball out of the stadium when he dropped match point. Putting a victory like that in your pocket is a deposit that the big names draw on again and again.
Compare his effort to the hacking gasps of Tamira Paszek as she tried to put away #3 seed Jelena Jankovic in what would have been a huge upset, but turned into a mere drawing out of the expected ending. Three match points on her racket, Pascek coughs all of them up and goes on to lose a marathon match 2-6, 6-2, 12-10 (the third set took 90 minutes). Simply put, the big players win the big points in the big moments. That's a theme you'll see in every match you watch
ESPN 2's coverage (channel 30 or 730 for HD on Time Warner Cable)has been fantastic thus far. They've teamed with Tennis Channel (channel 410 on Time Warner) so there are 6 courts with TV coverage, plus remote feeds, which is more than any previous tourney except the US Open. This way, they are able to jump to the best matches going on at the moment. Plus they've got the best broadcasters all with links to each other, so the banter is really interesting and entertaining. Check your guides so you can watch for a few minutes, you really won't regret it.

UCLA hoops

OK, 4-0 in the Pac-10, wins over Stanford and Wazzoo, a (finally) healthy Josh Shipp, Kevin "Double-Double" Love, and the fastest point guard since Tyus. Oh yeah, the Bruins also closed out a game against a team that hits 7 three pointers in 90 seconds by going 17-21 from the free throw line. Those are the pieces that add up to a team that's going to be really tough in March. They play lock-down defense, shoot the three well, can run with anybody, and have big men to bang around the middle. They also have an X-factor, one of those things that's hard to put a finger on but absolutely essential to any championship team: Kevin Love's outlet passing. It's been talked about before he came to school, but actually seeing him snap the ball out to Collison or Westbrook when they are already past half-court is pretty incredible. That ability is giving the Bruins at least 2-3 free baskets a game, which will be a huge difference maker down the stretch.
I have the 1995 team locked into my memory forever, and I have to say, this team looks like it's got the same set of tools. If a leader steps up a la Ed O'Bannon (I hope you're reading this, Josh Shipp), this team is going to be cutting down the nets April 7th in San Antonio. For now, time to beat up USC on the 19th

Australian Open Preview Part Three

they're playing on a new surface in Melbourne this year, and it's apparently quite a bit slower than the old stuff. Gonna make a big difference? Well, if the temperatures get up into the low hundreds again like last year, some of the less fit players may struggle with the longer points. Beyond that, don't have much to say about it.
If you're interested in tuning in, ESPN2 has coverage every day, usually in the morning and mid afternoon.
I just tuned in, Wow, Serena looks really good in purple and white!
Enjoy the tournament everyone!

Aussie Open Part Two (the ladies take the court)

The ladies draw is one that doesn't carry a huge amount of suspense in the early going. The top tier of women are so far ahead of the pack that I don't see much in the way of a new face rocketing through. It'll be interesting to see if Henin, Sharapova, and Williams et al are on form early, or just barely squeezing through. Also looking forward to see what sort of collapsa imperfecta magna the Russian choke artist Elena Dementieva will come up with this year. With her, anything is possible.
Mark's Matches: Ashley Harkleroad vs 30 seed Virginia Razzano, Shahar Peer (now coached by former Wimbledon champ Conchita Martinez) vs Renata Voracova, and Marion Bartoli vs Sofia Arviddson, because it's hard to believe that someone who's tennis game looks like they're using chopsticks for the first time could be the number 10 seed
Upset Special: in the early rounds, don't bet on anything big, but in the 4th round...
Dark Horse: 13th seed Tatiana Golovin is ready for her Grand Slam breakout, and it's gonna be a big one. Justine "The Belgian Backhand" Henin is in for a rough start to the 2008 season when they clash in the 4th round. It'll be Golovin rolling into the quarters
My Predictions:
Quarters: Venus Williams stomps the still-not-ready-for-primetime Ana Ivanovic, Anna Chakvetazde pretends that Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the people who robbed her in her home in Moscow (that really happened) and beats the holy hell out of her, Golovin gets stopped in her tracks by Maria Sharapova, and Jelena Jankovic knocks off Serena Williams
Semis: Williams rolls over the mentally exhausted Chakvetazde, and Sharapova out-slugs Jankovic
Finals: Sharapova steps up as the person to beat on the WTA circuit this year

Australian Open Preview Part One

So we're about 30 minutes away from the first point of the 2008 Australian Open, so I've got just enough time to get my pre-tourney analysis and predictions into the world. I love this part, just before a tournament sitting down with the draw sheet and digging out the potential matchups that'll leave you drooling with anticipation.
The best of the first two rounds is a potential second round match between Roger Federer and Fabrice Santoro. Not that Santoro has a chance, but this would be a shotmaker's paradise; Santoro is the most creative and fit players on tour and can absolutely bedevil and opponent while charming viewers with his slice 2 hand forehand and neverending repertoire of trick shots. Federer is, well, Federer. Watching him play is to watch high art. This would be one not to be missed
Mark's Matches: 1st round look for John Isner (easy to spot, he's 6-10) vs Santoro, Tsonga-Murray, and Thomas Johannsen-Marcos Baghdatis
Upset special: look for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to knock off 9th seed Andy Murray. Tsonga has a monster game and a few months to get healthy. Murray is an injury-prone headcase without a coach. The French heavyweight moves on.
Dark Horses: look for Tsonga to make it through to the 4th round. Australian redhead Chris Guccione blazes all the way into the quarters
My Prediction:
Quarters: Novak Djokovic tops David Nalbandian in a classic, Federer puts out the, um, fiery Guccione, Richard Gasquet over Michael Youzny, and Roddick over Paul-Henri Mathieu
Semis: Roddick overcomes his 07 US Open gack and crushes Gasquet, Federer gives Djokovic a beating that's going to stick in his head all year
Finals: Federer raises the trophy. And the bar for the whole 2008 season

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tennis Lessons

Over the next months (years?) of posting, we will most assuredly discuss all manner of sporting issues ranging from achievement to scandal to Andre Agassi's shiny noggin. There is one sport that will always range above and beyond the rest both in my daily life and in my rooting world, and that is tennis. For some it's soccer, others it's football, for me tennis is the one that can hold my rapt attention and swing my emotions the most dramatically. It's also the only sport that has made me vomit. Discovering tennis as a kid and really applying myself to something, learning how to handle losing (which happened oh so much back in the day), and getting to write about tennis professionally (meeting Agassi in the doing), just beautiful! Rediscovering tennis after my knee healed, taking lessons again and becoming a solid 5.0 player, carefully watching and dissecting matches live on TV, such sublime joy. Add the fact that Jess has become a die hard fan and joins me on the couch or in the stands and damn I love this sport!
Had a lesson with Simon Shen at Pacific Beach Tennis Club today. I make sure that I get at least one lesson during each of my weeks off, so gotta make the most of it. I've worked with a number of coaches over the years, some who have coached pros, some who were pros. I've also met with and interviewed some of the premier names in tennis Brad Gilbert coaching. For my money, and not that much money, I might add, Simon is the best. Now that he's rebuilt my strokes and my serve, we're working on match play and point craftsmanship.
The biggest roadblock in my tennis game is the same thing that has helped me find so much success and happiness in other facets of my life; my mind. Damn thing just won't turn off the negativity. I've always been a great hitting partner, but getting that same ability to come out during a match? Not so much. Until, I think, today.
It's simple really. Instead of plowing through points just trying to get them over with when I'm feeling nervous, we're working on giving each point a life of it's own. Gotta give it a chance to start, so every point starts with a visualization of the first live ball, either serve or return. Now we must build it into something with structure, so unless my opponent gives me an absolute melon to attack, I want to get a rally of at least 5 balls going. This structure helps me relax and settle down without having to do too much, and shows my opponent that he's gonna have to work to beat me. This is the stuff, I'm telling you! I joined the San Diego Tennis League yesterday, which is all about singles match play, so I'm gonna be able to put it to the test soon enough. Will keep you up to date...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Roast It!

"Coffee should be dark as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love" -Turkish proverb

I found the above quote in my new issue of Imbibe magazine (imbibemagazine.com) and it is the perfect realization of my expectations for my daily brew. I use Wolf's Coffee (a Northern California institution, check out wolfcoffee.com) that is delivered to me ground for paper filters. I prefer the Mocha Java and Machu Picchu beans. Chocolately, rich, with a nice caffeine boost in the morning. On the weekends, we indulge in a French Press using the same grind. 2 tablespoons to 8 oz boiling water, steep for 4 minutes, depress the plunger and go for it! Believe me, french press coffee is a different sport entirely and one that is reserved for long, mellow mornings.
The next frontier, however, will be to roast my own beans at home. Basically you take the green beans, roast 'em, rest 'em for 24 hours, then grind 'em and drink 'em. I'm on the prowl for a West Bend Poppery II air popcorn popper, which according to www.sweetmarias.com, is the ideal choice for roasting at home. Ebay is probably going to be my best bet as I pulled a Ryan Howard (MLB record holder for most strikeouts in a season) on craigslist. My feeling, and I don't want to raise the bar to Sergei Bubka heights before my first attempt, but I think we're going to set a new standard here.

Happy New Year!

What a fantastic New Year's Eve!
A strong start was needed because I was wiped out after admitting on Sunday, and that's just what happened. Slept late, a few West Wings (we're wrapping up season 7) and then the best DVR move of all time. All of ESPN's year in review programs were on back to back and I was lucky enough to find 'em.
Jess had a whole menu planned and spent the afternoon putting it together. I continued my Gettysburg study, we will spend some time discussing the 6th Wisconsin at the railroad bed in another post, and got the bar ready.
At the last minute, some New Year's classics, Jenny, Shane, and Kristin joined us for a mellow celebration, and we definitely hit our stride with the nutrition
The Dinner
persimmon, arugula, butter lettuce, walnut, blue cheese salad w/ curry vinaigrette
roast Russet potatoes w/ Gruyere cheese from Zingermans (check out zingermans.com)
Rubachkin chicken breast w/ tarragon sauce
broccoli w/ lemon butter sauce
for dessert, a pear tart tartin
The Libations
Old Fashioned
Sour Apple Martini
Shapiro's Chatham Artillery Punch (backstory: Jess and I channeled "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" on this one. "One part fruit, 3 parts liquor. Whatever's available on both accounts" As this drink is prepared and consumed, you must speak with a Savannah twang. The South will rise again!
Start with a first class pitcher, pour in large quantity fresh squeezed OJ. Next crack a new bottle of Ketel One Citroen, throw fear to the wind, and let it pour. As you stir this blend together, your trusty henchman will juice 3 limes, 2 lemons, and one orange all into the same container. This beautiful, opaque volume is then added with brisk stirring to follow. As the mixing continues, splashes of grenadine and simple syrup is folded in (careful here, this is more for color and a touch of sweet, too much and the citrus tang will be overwhelmed). Now 12 cubes ice, more stirring, and the first tasting. POW! Unreal stuff, just unreal. Tangy, cold, smooth, and refreshing. So much citrus power with just perfect alcohol sizzle.
Now the scary part. We had a bottle of limoncello made with Everclear that, to my slightly foggy mnd, sounded like a perfect addition to the leftovers after the first round was finished. In it went, down it went. Beautiful!
2007 definitely was washed down in style, now it's on to 2008! Happy New Year!