Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Australian Open Notes: Day Three Henin and Wozniacki Advance

It was a case of old being new on day three at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Belgian Justine Henin out slugged Russian starlet Elena Dementieva to progress through to the third round. Henin coughed up two match points on serve before squeezing past Dementieva in a tie break.

Neither of these ladies is known to be ruthless in closing out matches and that was evident again here that both seemed ready to lose.

The disappointment continues for Dementieva's camp. No matter how much promise she's shown throughout her career, it seems increasingly unlikely that she'll never win a Grand Slam. She's been twice a runner up(French and US Open), but both came way back in 2004.

As I predicted yesterday, Caroline Wozniacki had little trouble with Aleksandra Wozniak. Wozniacki knocked off Wozniak off four out of five times last year and really has her number.

Maria Kirilenko backed up her first round victory over Maria Sharapova with a solid straight sets victory over Yvonne Meusburger. I'm happy to see that, nothing annoys me more than when a player upsets a bigger name player and then falls apart in the next round. It's very important to build on a big win and show that it wasn't a fluke, and Kirilenko has done that here.

She should be able to advance past Roberta Vinci in the third round too.


Two for three from yesterday is not a bad start, so here's to improving that record today.

Day four features some absolute cracking match ups so let's see what we can do.


German Sabine Lisicki had an injury plagued 2009 and the big server is expected to be a force this year if she can stay healthy. She lost only five games in her opening match and I expect her to blow past Alberta Brianti in straight sets.


Ok, I really only want to talk about the Ana Ivanovic and Gisela Dulko matchup because it's the sexiest match up on Thursday. Ever since she won the French Open in '08, Ivanovic's game has been in decline, especially her weak serve but she's still young and I think she can recapture her form that saw her a runner up here also in 2008. Dulko is the Argentine stunner, who has never made it past the second round in Melbourne.

So, Ivanovic should win here, but it will no doubt be tougher than it should be for the 20th ranked player against an unseeded one, but don't expect the crowd to mind. It should be a full house and with these two babes sweating out, nobody will mind if this match is a looooong three setter, with the Serb to prevail.


Three-time semi finalist in Melbourne, Tommy Haas is one of the oldest dudes on the men's circuit these days and while his best days are behind him, he's still seeded 18th here. However, I really like his opponent, Serb Janko Tipsarevic. He's got a big, powerful game and I think he could be in for a big year. It won't be a stroll, but take Tipsarevic in four.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Australian Open Notes: Day Two Federer and Serena Through

After a rain-interrupted day one in Melbourne, day two of the Australian Open was much more enjoyable for players and spectators.

Top seeds Roger Federer and Serena Williams both advanced, although big Rog was given a test by Russian Igor Andreev.

Andreev took the first set and had three set points - on serve - in the third but failed to convert and against Federer, that is just asking for trouble.

Andreev's problem was that he went away from what had gotten him into the lead and he tried to hit every shot for a winner. Rog just watched him capitulate in that set and then devoured him 6-0 in the fourth to take the match.

Serena Williams belted Urszula Radwanksa off the court to extend her record of never having lost in the first round of a Grand Slam. 41-0 Serena's record is, which is pretty impressive. She's going to be very hard to beat, although she did play her first match with her right thigh bandaged up which might give her opponents some hope going forward.

I wasn't really surprised to see US teenager Melanie Oudin knocked out in the first round. The US media slobbered over her run at the US Open last year, and while her scalps there included Sharapova, Petrova and Dementieva, they all played shocking tennis. It wasn't that Oudin wiped the court with them, she just got on a very good, very lucky run.

Her test will come throughout the year, but the early signs are that Oudin isn't quite as good as the US media make out her to be.


For those that don't mind a little wager to add to the enjoyment of tennis watching, here are a couple of matches to follow on Tuesday night (East coast USA time).


Still a couple of first round matches to be completed on Wednesday morning, the most notable is the matchup between Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki versus Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada.

Wozniak made it to as high as 21st in the world last year, but hasn't been able to maintain the form that got her there while Wozniacki is coming off the best year of her career. She's seeded four here and shouldn't have any problems seeing off her Canadian almost namesake in straight sets.


Other matches to look out for on day three include James Blake against Juan Martin del Potro. The Federer-slayer del Potro probably feels a little bit harshly treated having to face such a well known opponent so early into the tournament, but after his defeat of Federer at the US Open last year, big - no HUGE things are expected from the Argentine this year and it will be interesting to see how he handles it. Take del Potro in five.


Big serving Russian Alisa Kleybanova saw off home hope Jelena Dokic in the first round and faces Romanian Sorana Cirstea in round two. While she's got a powerful game, Kleybanova can rely on her serve a bit too much and I really like the look of Cirstea's game. She's dropped a set in her first round win, but I think she will bounce back strongly here and defeat Kleybanova, again in three sets.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Serena Williams: Still the Best Female Player On the Planet

The last time Serena Williams played in a Grand Slam, it didn't end particularly well.

Rather than saving her agression and power for her opponent, Williams instead served up a volley of abuse to a lines woman who had incorrectly called her for a foot fault.

She was assessed a code violation which came when she was facing match point and promptly lost.

Comeback queen Kim Clijsters then went on to win the event.

Clijsters who had retired to have a baby, was playing in her first Grand Slam event in over two years.

Hollywood script writers must dream of being able to think up stories like it.

With the 2010 Grand Slam season about to start in Melbourne on Monday, Clijsters will be joined on the circuit by fellow un-retiree and Belgian, Justine Henin.

Added to the field also is the ever popular Maria Sharapova who missed last years Open after winning it all in 2008.

The women's draw will be full of worthy candidates.

But still, Serena Williams remains the clear favourite. She is by far the most dominant woman on the tour when she decides to play at her best. She doesn't always perform to her optimum level at non-Grand Slams, but when she is on her game, no other player can match her.

She is too strong and can simply overpower her opponents. There's been instances in the past when she has been beaten, such as the Wimbledon final in 2004 when Sharapova out-thumped her, but that was the exception, not the rule.

It was disappointing to see the way that Serena exploded at the lines woman during the US Open last year and I think that she'll use that incident and resulting embarrassment as motivation to show that she is the best.

She constantly mocked Russian Dinara Safina last year who unconvincingly held the No. 1 ranking for most of last year, for being unable to win a major.

Serena over took Safina at the end of last year and Williams has what she believes is hers - top spot on the official rankings. However, as defending champion, Serena will need to win in Melbourne to guarantee that she stays there.

At 28, Williams could play this game for a lot of years, but she is already wealthy and has many interests outside of tennis so it's reasonable to think that she's beginning to think more and more about the next stage of her career.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Australia Open's the Sports Year

I love this time of year. Christmas and New Year's is done and so begins another year of sport.

2010 is going to be a massive year. Any World Cup year has to be massive. I can't wait for South Africa in June and July. Australia has Germany, Ghana and Serbia in their group. Tough, but I think we can get through to the knockout phase. If we finish second and the Poms win their group, we will meet ye olde enemy in that first elimination phase.

It will be huge.

But, that's still a long way off and might not even happen. What we do know is that in just under two weeks, the Australian Open kicks off in the beautiful city of Melbourne.

From as young as I can remember, the Aussie Open is always the first major international sporting event each year. In the old days, it used to be held on the grass courts of Kooyong, but in 1988, it was moved to Flinders Park, now known as Melbourne Park.

Watching the tennis was always a fun part of the summer.

Me and a good friend, Dan Mousley, used to eat icey poles and watch the matches on my back porch. I still remember when John McEnroe was booted out of the tournament in 1990. I was actually disappointed because he didn't chuck a complete spaz, it was more a gradual build up of obscenities and abuse and finally, the chair umpire had enough and disqualified him.

I wanted to see a good old fashioned tantrum from the great man.

One of my all time favourite players was Martina Hingis. She was a six-time finalist and three-time champion.

She was (still is) sexy.

Melbourne loved her and she loved Melbourne.

I live in Toronto now so I can't go to the matches, but I will be following the tournament closely.

I love the surprises and upsets. In the men's draw, there is often a player who goes deep into the second week. Marcos Baghdadits in 2006, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 07, Rainer Schuttler in 03 and Thomas Johansson actually won it all in 2002, but the biggest shock was in 1998 when Petr Korda defeated Marcelo Rios in the final in straight sets. Really, I could have busted the racquet out and I probably would have at least made the semi's that year!

Melbournian's love and support the event very well. For 10 straight years, the attendance has been over 500k and the last two years, they've had over 600k, including setting a one-day Grand Slam record of 66,018 last year.

It's very important because Sydney and some Asian cities are trying to poach this lucrative event, but the Victorian government and Tennis Australia do a great job of ensuring that they maintain the highest of standards.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vinny Del Negro To Go? Or Eddie Jordan?

Let's start with the Top 10 plays from Wednesday nights NBA action.

You'll notice that the only two plays involving the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers were that they were on the receiving end of the highlight. It sums up the situation facing those teams right now.

In Sunday's power rankings, I wrote that Indiana Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien is my tip to be the most likely coach next to get the gun, but seeing the Chicago Bulls go down to the Atlanta Hawks by 35 points really means that Vinny Del Negro has stormed into favouritism.

It was the Bulls ninth loss in 10 games and second 30+ point hammering in the last three games. In between? A two point loss to the New Jersey Nets, who by the way won on the road for the first time this season.

There's no fight in the Bulls and it they give up too easily. It hasn't been a great year for sophomore Derrick Rose which has been really surprising. He was so good last year, especially in the playoffs, but he looks unsure of himself at the moment.

At 7-13, Chicago starts a six-game homestand tomorrow night which Del Negro's fate will likely be decided by, but, with the Celtics and Lakers coming to town, if I was a betting man, I'd have a few bob on Vinny to be unemployed by Christmas.

The euphoria of the second coming of Allen Iverson as 76er has worn off pretty quickly.

Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer "On Monday night in Iverson's emotional return to the Sixers, 20,664 people packed the Wachovia Center. Last night, that number dropped to 12,136.

Along with the attendance, so too dropped Iverson's effectiveness. He played 33 minutes, scoring 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting with three assists, six turnovers and no rebounds.

Last night's game should have been the streak's end: The Sixers were at home, playing an injury-wracked opponent, a team with double-digit losses."

The Philly faithful saw Iverson and fell in love for one brief encounter, but the 11 straight losses is just too much. For the record, Philadelphia is only better than the New Jersey Nets in the eastern conference.

Maybe Philly's head coach Eddie Jordan will also be looking for another job soon. If so, it will mean he has been sacked twice in 12 months.

Is this really Tom Cruise?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Cavs Need to Stand Up to LeBron, Bryon Russell Just Needs to Shut Up

LeBron James posturing and dancing upset Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah.

Sitting on the bench, Noah said something to James to the effect of "You're not a very good dancer".

LeBron took offence and the biggest pussy-est scuffle in NBA history broke out.

James didn't need to approach Noah. Nothing was going to happen physically, and LeBron was just being the smaller man of the two.

It's exactly this type of incident that James needs to be at least spoken to about by Cavaliers management.

There was no need for him to go over to Noah. But, because head coach Mike Brown and GM Danny Ferry are merely more of LeBron's "yes" men, no action was apparently taken.

Just like last year in the playoffs when LeBron sulked his way off the court after the Orlando Magic had just dispatched the Cavs.

LeBron's "I don't shake hands" was accepted as a manly thing to do by Cavs management.

Somebody involved with the Cavs needs to get the balls to say something that LeBron might not like, because otherwise he will just treat the organization with little or no respect.


One of the stupidest hoaxes comes from Utah.

Apparently up to 7,500 fans turned up expecting to see the real Michael Jordan take on Bryon Russell (or Byron, whatever his f*cking name is) in a charity one-on-one match.

This is an extension of the challenge Russell issued after Jordan mentioned him during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

What gets me is that Russell couldn't even tie Jordan's shoes when they were both in the NBA, so why does he think he could beat him in a one-on-one game now?

All this is, is Russell desperately trying to cling onto anything that connects him to Jordan other than being the guy that MJ nailed his real final shot of his career over.


Every kid wants to go to work with their Dad for a day. It's a bit different for this kid.


More insight into the Mike D'Antoni-Nate Robinson fued.

Robinson might have some of the MSG crowd behind him (chanting for his name), but D'Antoni has the support of Knicks GM Donnie Walsh.

I'm fully in D'Antoni's corner on this one. The Knicks are a bad team and Robinson hasn't been taking his business seriously.

I have been a critic of D'Antoni in the past, saying that he lacks the discipline required to coach a team like the Knicks, but he's definately got my respect on this decision.

Oh yeah, the Knicks are 3-1 with Robinson DNP-CD'd.