Take Your Pick: Who’s the Favourite?

– All active American men’s tennis players have a combined ONE major title. 

– The highest ranked American is 9th in the world, and he is a 29-year old that no one has ever heard of (Mardy Fish). 

– The highest-ranked American under the age of 28 is Sam Querrey at #40.

Because of the historic low in which American men’s tennis is mired right now, most of the country is completely blind to the fact that we are enjoying one of the most interesting eras of tennis in a very long time.  In fact, I would argue that 2011 may be the most intriguing and interesting year of men’s tennis in my lifetime of fandom.  And, Wimbledon, which starts today, may be the most intriguing tournament of what could be an epic season of tennis.

The reason to get interested in men’s tennis right now is obvious – the Big Four.  As deep as the talent goes right now, the top of the men’s rankings is ripe with storyline after storyline, and the next two weeks at the hallowed grounds of the All-England Club should be absolutely fascinating!

After Rafael Nadal held on to his #1 ranking, by taking his record-tying 6th French Open title, I sent a text to the Lead BSB Tennis Correspondent, Alexi, that simply said “So…who’s the favorite now at Wimbledon?”  It was a simple question that drew upon an incredibly complex array of factors entering the 135th Championships at Wimbledon.  Let’s take a look at the four reasons (in reverse order of how I would have answered the question) why this normally simple and mundane question does not have such an elementary answer this year.

4). Andy Murray

While Tim Henman probably had what it takes mentally to break the British drought at Wimbledon, he didn't have it physically. Andy Murray looks like he is the exact opposite.

The last British male to win the singles’ title at their own heralded championship was Fred Perry in 1936.  But, now they have serious hopes of possibly breaking that heart-wrenching drought with their Scottish hero, Andy Murray.  However, as good as Murray has played and as serious of a contender he will likely be for many years to come, it still remains to be seen if he has the mental toughness to ever get it done.  He has made it to three major championships, but has not won a single set in any of them.  He has proven almost incapable of dealing with big-pressure moments, and Andy Murray in a Wimbledon final is probably a more pressure-packed moment than any player could possibly have, considering history and the fervor of tennis in the UK.  Because of all of this – and the fact that he is number 4 in the world and grass is not his best surface – Murray is clearly the #4 favorite to win the title this year.  But, just the fact that he’s Scottish and in the conversation adds greatly to the intrigue that these next two weeks will deliver.

3). Rafael Nadal
The #1 player in the world, who has already completed a career Grand Slam at the mere age of 25,

We were probably all correct when we believed that this generation of tennis players included the best that ever played. But, we may have all been too quick to figure out who was "The One"

is coming off a dominating performance in Paris to record his 6th French Open and 10th career Grand Slam title.  He is the #1 seed and has already won this tournament twice.  So, how is he the 3rd most likely to win it this year?  Well, I have no idea – and I am the one that made these rankings.  See, THIS is why this tournament is going to be so great!  The separation between the top 3 players on this surface, coming into this tournament is razor thin.  I have Nadal #3 not because of anything he can’t do (or hasn’t done), but just because I think that one of the other guys is playing slightly better tennis and one of the other guys is slightly better on this surface.  Would I bet against Rafa?  Hell no.  And, for the record, that Lead Tennis Correspondent I referred to above, he replied to my simple question with a simple answer, “I guess it’s gotta be Rafa.”  And, this from the biggest Federer fan I know.

2). Novak Djokovic

While this country was busy ignoring the world of tennis, Nole became the best player in the world

John McEnroe won 43 straight matches to open the 1984 tennis season, which still stands as the longest winning streak to open a season.  Djokovic was 42-0 this year entering his semifinal match against Roger Federer at the French Open last month.  Beaten by the great Federer left Novak one short of McEnroe’s record to open a season and only four shy of the overall match winning streak of Guillermo Villas in the summer of 1977.  Needless to say, the Djoker has been playing, far and away, the best tennis in the world.  If Djokovic had beaten Federer – win or lose in the finals to Nadal – he would enter this tournament #1 in the world and, probably, a somewhat clear favorite to take down his first Wimbledon title.  But, he didn’t.  So, despite playing undoubtably the best tennis in the world right now and enjoying a much-improved grass game, Djokovic has still never won this tournament, while some other guy has won it, oh, SIX times.

1). Roger Federer
It is strange to me that saying “Roger Federer is the favorite to win Wimbledon this year” would

He's only won this thing six times, why would we think he can do it again?

probably be greeted – by actual tennis fans – as a “bold statement.”  But, with Djokovic’s play this year and Nadal’s youth and health, the general consensus is that The Federer – the #3 seed – is probably the #3 choice for this title.  But, I saw something in the old champ at Roland Garros this year.  He looks, to me, like he has said to himself, “alright, Roger, let’s put together one last great season before forever relinquishing the world #1 to the ‘next generation’.”  And, with Wimbledon being his best surface, you have to believe that he is revved up and ready to make a run at a 17th major title next week.  I am not yet ready to throw dirt on the greatest player to ever play.  Let us, for one last time, treat this legend as the pre-tournament favorite – not for sentimental reasons, but for logical, emotionless, actual tennis reasons.

And…The Draw
While there are four players that seem a level above the rest of the world, the top three have probably all separated themselves from Andy Murray a little bit, as well.  That means that the 1-seed earned by Rafa really pays off because Federer and Djokovic are lined up in the semis again here in Wimbledon.  Let’s take a look at the draws, starting with the third-round, assuming none of these guys loses to an unseeded player:

RAFA:

  • 3rd Round –> #31 Milos Raonic – the Russian-Canadian, who is playing decent tennis, but should be absolutely no match for the world’s #1.
  • Round of 16 –> #15 Gilles Simon/#24 Juan Martin Del Potro – actually nothing easy here in the Round of 16, as both players are supremely talented, however neither excels on grass.  Simon is playing the best tennis of his career now that he’s finally healthy and Del Potro is slowly recovering from an injury that derailed his quest to the top after winning last year’s US Open
  • Quarterfinals –> #6 Tomas Berdych/#10 Mardy Fish/#21 Fernando Verdasco/#25 Juan-Ignacio Chela – Berdych will always be terrifying, particularly on this surface.  And, Verdasco – one of Rafa’s best friends who has beaten him before in a Grand Slam – is never a good draw.  But, if it’s either Fish or Chela, I don’t see Rafa having too much trouble.  As for as a QF draw, this could have been a lot worse.

MURRAY:

  • 3rd Round –> #27 Marin Cilic – This could also be the big-serving Ivan Ljubicic, but either way, this will be no walkover 3rd round match.  Murray will have to come to play from the start against whichever big-serving Croats most likely lines up here in the 3rd round.
  • Round of 16 –> #14 Stanislas Wawrinka/#17 Richard Gasquet – Murray will probably be rooting for an early upset of Wawrinka because Gasquet is not that scary here on grass.  He’s a grizzled vet with a head for the game, but will most likely be overpowered by Wawrinka in the 3rd round and, if not, should bow out to Murray.  Stan, on the other hand, might really pose a threat to Murray, as he has a big game and has a lot of big-match experience under his belt.  He also seems to play well on the faster surfaces, despite not possessing a killer serve.
  • Quarterfinals –> #8 Andy Roddick/#9 Gael Monfils/#23 Janko Tipsarevic/#30 Tomaz Bellucci – While it seems, by just the numbers, that Murray caught a break here with the 8-seed in his quadrant, but when that 8-seed is Andy Roddick and is coupled with an elitely talented 9-seed in Monfils.  Murray will need his best stuff to even reach the dream Final Four that we had at Roland Garros.

FEDERER:

  • 3rd Round –> #28 David Nalbandian – This is fascinating!  While, admittedly, David Nalbandian is not the same player he has been in the past, his “rivalry” with Federer is phenomenal.  Through this amazing run of Federer, no one in the world not named Rafa has given Federer more trouble than this pesky Argentine.  Nalbandian has won 8 of the 18 matches they have played and is not scared of The Federer.  In fact, these two guys clearly do not like each other with a personal rivalry dating back to their days in the juniors.  This could be really interesting.
  • Round of 16 –> #16 Nicolas Almagro/#18 Mikhail Youzhny – As tough as the 3rd round draw was for Roger, this Round of 16 draw is not nearly as bad.  Almagro is not much of a threat to Federer on grass, and Youzhny is still recovering from an injury, though he has been playing better as of late.  This shouldn’t be too much of a speed bump for the 6-time champ.
  • Quarterfinals –> #7 David Ferrer/#12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/#22 Alexandr Dogopolov/#26 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez – You can never hope for an easy quarterfinal match, and this draw is no different.  If it’s Ferrer, Federer may not be in jeopardy of losing the match, but he may be in jeopardy of needing every ounce of energy, which could carryover to a potential semifinal tilt with Djokovic.  If it’s Tsonga, he is in danger of losing, but he also might move on without breaking a sweat.  And, watch for the young Ukrainian, Dogopolov, who has a TON of game, which was on display in Australia this year when he beat Tsonga and Soderling to reach the semis, where he gave Murray a real fight.

DJOKOVIC:

  • 3rd Round –> #32 Marcos Baghdatis – Baghdatis, who plays a fascinating first-round match against James Blake probably doesn’t have the game left to push Djokovic in any way.  But, I guess there is a chance because, when focused and healthy, he is as good as there is.  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen all that often.
  • Round of 16 –> #13 Viktor Troicki/#19 Michael Llodra – An interesting draw here because Djokovic and Troicki are really close friends and countrymen.  I think that a personal closeness usually favors the higher-ranked player in the majors, for psychological reasons that I am not qualified to elaborate on.  I don’t expect Llodra to make any noise here.
  • Quarterfinals –> #5 Robin Soderling/#11 Jurgen Melzer/#20 Florian Mayer/#29 Nikolay Davydenko – Djokovic almost assuredly got the worst quarterfinal draw, by seed and in actualilty.  Robin Soderling may be closer to making it a “Big Five” than many people realize.  He is a legit threat and should make for a phenomenal quarterfinal here.

Two Rounds in the Books in Melbourne

Well, the first two round of the 2010 major tennis season have been completed and it is shaping up to be another great season on the men’s tour.  Let’s take a look at the goings-on in Melbourne so far with a bit of a third-round preview and then more of a look-ahead to this weekend’s Round of 16, as we will pick the 8 players that we think we still be standing after the next two rounds of play.

Federer Bracket – Top
(1) Roger Federer vs. (31) Albert Montanes
Federer, who is still working on one of the most amazing streaks in sports (21 straight Grand Slam semifinals), just does not lose early in a major.  He did, interestingly enough, drop his first set of this tournament to a rather tough unseeded player, Igor Andreev, but then turned it on and won in 4.  He then swept right through Victor Hanescu in the Second Round.  Federer’s third round opponent, Albert Montanes, won in a walkover in Round 1, but needed all of five sets in Round 2 to knock off Frenchman Stephane Robert.  Montanes, not commonly a seeded player, now has the biggest match of his life against Federer in the Third Round.

(22) Lleyton Hewitt vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Probably the Third Round match that we here at BSB are most looking forward to.  Not only does it involve the great Lleyton Hewitt (my favorite all-time tennis player), but it also involves one of the most charismatic and charming players of our generation, the Cyprian Marcos Baghdatis.  Baghdatis, after dispatching Paolo Lorenzi in straights in the First Round, got here with an epic 5-set win in the Second Round over 17-seeded David Ferrer (another BSB favorite, by the way).  Lleyton, on the other hand, had a couple of easy victories along the way, crushing Ricardo Hochevar in the First Round and knocking off young American Donald Young in straight sets in the Second Round.  Hewitt is playing great tennis in front of an adoring fan base, but Baghdatis is tough to beat anywhere.  This one is must-see tennis.

BSB’s Prediction
Clearly, we are going to take Federer to handle Montanes in straight sets in the first matchup of this part of the draw, but the other one is a bit tougher to predict.  We are going to go with Hewitt because, well, how could I not pick him?  But, with some objectivity, I would say that the 5-set marathon with Ferrer probably has the aching Baghdatis a bit fatigued.  We will take Hewitt in a black-and-blue 4-set war.  And, if Baghdatis brings his A-game, Hewitt will need everything in his tank, which will probably leave him without the necessary ammunition against the World’s #1.  Not to mention that Federer has absolutely owned Hewitt for many years now, so we are going to take Federer over Hewitt in 4 sets.

Continue reading “Two Rounds in the Books in Melbourne”

Wait, What Year is This, Again?

Juan-Carlos Ferrero?  Tommy Haas?  Lleyton Hewitt?  Andy Roddick?  Roger Federer?  Ivo Karlovic?

This sounds like a run-down of 1995’s Future Stars of Tennis.   Or the quarterfinals of a major in, say 2003.  But, 2009???  No chance.  Well, that is the case, as it is these six elder statesmen of the men’s tour making up 3/4 of the final eight at Wimbledon in 2009–joined only by young guns, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.  For my money, I find it incredibly exciting as there is a great combination of the youth (Murray and Djokovic), the accomplished (Federer and Roddick), the career revivals (Hewitt, Ferrero, and Haas), and the throwback late-bloomer (Karlovic).  So, what are we to expect tomorrow?  That is anybody’s guess.

#2 Roger Federer vs. #22 Ivo Karlovic
In the first match on Centre Court tomorrow, the five-time Wimbledon champ will take on a throwback to the days where groundstrokes were few and rallies were short, who, by the way, happens to be 6-foot-10. 

How They Got Here
The Federer has not exactly been as overwhelmingly dominant this year as he has in year’s past, but he still has only dropped one set–a third-set tiebreak to 27-seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.  He is coming off a straight-set win over 13-seed Robin Soderling in a rematch of the surprising French Open finale.  Soderling had chances in both the second and third set tiebreaks, but Federer showed exactly why he has won 14 Grand Slams and made an astonishing 20 consecutive Grand Slam semis–he wins big points.

Ivo Karlovic won his first-round match against Slovakian Lucas Lacko in straight sets.  But, Lacko did something that no one else has done yet against Karlovic–he earned a break point.  In fact, Lacko had 4 break points in that match.  He was 0-for-4.  Since then, Karlovic has gone through three more rounds, including matches against 9-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 7-seed Fernando Verdasco, without facing a single break point.  Yes, you read that correctly–IVO KARLOVIC HAS NOT BEEN BROKEN IN 79 SERVICE GAMES AND HAS ONLY FACED 4 BREAK POINTS ALL TOURNAMENT, ALL IN THE FIRST ROUND!  He has made 71% of his first serves (and they are bombs) and won 91% of the points on that first serve.  Unbelievable!  Needless to say, Karlovic is on an absolute roll with his serve.  However, this is not to say that he has cruised because his lack of an all-around game makes it difficult for him to break.  He broke Tsonga once in the third round, winning 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, and Verdasco once in the fourth round, winning 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

Wednesday’s Matchup 
Needless to say, we will probably see a tiebreak or two.  I will at least go out on a limb and say that Karlovic will NOT break Federer–that much is pretty sure.  So, it is going to come down to the big points in a tiebreak or a Federer break.  In both cases, I like Federer, but not easily.  I could see Dr. Ivo winning at least one tiebreak and making Federer really work for his 21st straight semifinal.  Federer is 8-1 against Karlovic all-time, but the one win was on hardcourts in Cincinnati last year, where Karlovic beat Fed without a single break, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.

The Pick
Federer in 4.  Look for Federer to break once and win a pair of tiebreaks (the big points), but it will not be a walk in the park.  Karlovic is serving as well as anyone ever has, and, as boring as it is to see no breaks, it is pretty incredible to see someone do something better than any else does in the world.  Then again, the game is tennis, not “serving,” and Federer is better at tennis than anyone else in the world, so we will go with him to win this one.

Continue reading “Wait, What Year is This, Again?”

Who Would Have Guessed These Four?

The Final Four at the French.  He who protests to have predicted these four is he who lies.

The Top Half:
SEMIFINAL FRIDAY – #12 Gonzalez vs. #23 Soderling

Robin Soderling, the giant killer who slayed Nadal, went into the quarters as the underdog again, but he sure didn’t look like it.  He absolutely smoked 10th-seeded Nikolai Davydenko, winning the first set in 23 minutes and only losing 5 games in three dominant sets.  Soderling is hitting right through the clay (which is playing VERY fast this year) with a powerful, hardcourt-like game.  His court coverage is good, but it is his baseline groundstrokes that have carried him to the semifinals.

12th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez has also pounded his way to the semifinals.  He did finally drop a set–the second set–against 3rd-seeded Andy Murray, but pounced back with a bagel in the third and a 6-4 win in the fourth to get him to the semis.  Though his game seems best suited for the hardcourts (and it probably is), he did grow up in Chile playing on clay courts, so he is very comfortable on the dirt.  He looks incredibly good and is playing with immense confidence.  He looked like the top-3 player and Murray looked like the guy trying to pull off an upset (complaining about his racket and such) on Tuesday.  Gonzalez is going to be a very, VERY tough out.

BSB’s PICK:  Gonzalez in 4.  Yes, it is very difficult to pick against Soderling right now, but it seems viable.  They both have very similar games, which means that Soderling will not be able to take advantage of matchup issues, like he did in his past two upsets.  Gonzalez is more than happy to sit at the baseline and exchange forehands.  Gonzalez is just better on the ground.  Soderling’s one big advantage might be his service game, but we think that Gonzalez’s ground game will be enough to get him to the finals…at least.

The Bottom Half:
SEMIFINAL FRIDAY – #2 Federer vs. #5 Del Potro

Juan-Martin Del Potro–the BSB-proclaimed favorite to win this tournament–has rolled through pretty much every match so far.  The only set he lost was a tiebreak to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and he came right back and won the following set 6-1.  He made short work of experienced, solid clay courter, Tommy Robredo in the semis, in straight sets and just over two hours.  He is probably the best player in the world that no one has ever heard of and this is his best surface.

Roger Federer, as we expected here at BSB, put it all together and is seeming to grasp the moment now that Nadal is out.  He has said himself, “I don’t have a clay court problem; I have a Rafael Nadal problem.”  Now, that that “problem” has been solved, he is a man on a mission to tie Pete Sampras in all-time Grand Slams and end all arguments as to who is the G.O.A.T.  Federer knocked off Gael Monfils, who pushed him to the brink in last year’s semis, with complete ease on Wednesday, with a straight set quarterfinal victory.  Federer now has an absolutely AMAZING streak of TWENTY consecutive semifinal appearances in Grand Slam events.  That means every Grand Slam for 5 consecutive years has included Roger Federer.  To put that into some perspective, the second longest such streak is 10.  He has DOUBLED the longest Grand Slam semi streak…DOUBLED!

BSB’s PICK:  Del Potro in 4.  It may be blasphemy, but we here at BSB are consistent.  Nothing has changed our mind about thinking that Juan-Martin Del Potro is going to win this tournament, so we are going to have to go with him again.  And, we have to do it in 4 not because we think it won’t be a close, hard-fought match, but just because if it goes five, Federer will probably find a way to pull it out.  Del Potro must win the first set.  Federer is most vulnerable at the beginning of matches and is the easily the best front-runner that has ever played.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Monfils what happened after he dropped the first set in a tough tiebreak.  But, if Del Potro can win the first set (and I think he will), I believe he can win two of the next three and avoid that pressure-cooker of a fifth set.  Either way, BSB has a “vested interest” in both Del Potro (+450) and Gonzalez (+450) to win this tournament.

Quarterfinals – The Second Half

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here is the rest of the Quarterfinal preview at the 2009 French Open.

The Djokovic (4) Quadrant:
QUARTERFINAL WEDNESDAY – #5 Del Potro vs. #16 Robredo

The top half of this quadrant showed continued dominance by the one guy that I think is WAY too far under the radar right now–5th seed, Juan Martin Del Potro.  After two easy matches in the first two rounds, Del Potro then discarded 25th-seeded Igor Andreev in straight sets to enter the Round of 16.  Meanwhile, the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 9th-seed, after struggling through two rounds, also blasted his third round opponent, Christophe Rochus, in straight sets:  6-2 6-2 6-2.

That set up a nice Round of 16 match between Del Potro and Tsonga, where a lot of people believed Tsonga might roll, I thought the other way around.  It turns out neither were correct, as the match did go 4 sets, but it was still a pretty convincing win for the Argentine, whom I believe to be the favorite to win this whole thing right now.

The bottom half of this quadrant looked like it was going to produce a nice Round of 16 match between the World’s #4 Novak Djokovic and the accomplished clay tactician, Tommy Robredo.  Robredo held up his end of the bargain, though he struggled through splitting the first two sets, he recovered to smoke the young Maximo Gonzalez, 6-1 and 6-0 in the 3rd and 4th sets to advance to the Round of 16.  However, Djokovic laid an egg against German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Third Round.  Not that Kohlschreiber doesn’t have the game to beat Djokovic, but he clearly doesn’t have the game to beat him in straight sets in a Grand Slam event.  Djokovic looked distracted and distant.  Kohlschreiber took advantage.

Kohlschreiber continued his excellent effort in this Grand Slam by really pushing Robredo in the Round of 16, but he just didn’t have enough at the end on a surface that greatly favored his opponent.  Robredo eventually won in 4, moving on to the Quarterfinals for the fourth time here are Roland Garros (every odd year since 2003).

BSB’s PICK – Del Potro in 4.  BSB’s current favorite to win the whole tournament, Juan Martin Del Potro should be able to handle Robredo.  It is more likely to go 3 than 5, but we believe that Robredo can take a set from the red-hot Argentine.

The Federer (2) Quadrant:
QUARTERFINAL WEDNESDAY – #2 Federer vs. #11 Monfils

The top half of this bracket was a good story for two countries that have been starved for male tennis stars recently.  The lone American to get out of the first round was 6th-seeded Andy Roddick, who swept through the first two rounds in 6 sets and got another straight set win in the Third Round against Marc Gicquel.  France is going to other direction with its male tennis stars.  They are up-and-coming, and 11th-seeded Gael Monfils might be the most exciting of a bunch that had three top-11 seeds in this draw.  Monfils had no trouble in his first two rounds.  He did drop a set in the Third Round match against 24th-seeded Jurgen Melzer, but looked pretty good in an unthreatening 4-set victory.

That all set up an American-French clash in the Round of 16.  The most anticipated (at least by me) of the 8 matches in this round actually turned out to be a blowout.  Monfils made short work of Roddick, in a straight set 1 hour, 51 minute domination.  Monfils was just too mobile and flat-out too good for Roddick on this day and cruises into the Quarterfinals after a Semifinals performance last year.

The bottom half of this quadrant opened with the only Third Round match between two unseeded players, as Tommy Haas knocked off 22-year old French prodigy Jeremy Chardy in four tough sets.  Then there was the bottom part of this quadrant–where all the eyes have turned since the Nadal loss.  2nd-seeded Roger Federer (only missing this tournament for the career grand slam and an argument for the greatest of all-time) had struggled a bit, but gotten through the first two rounds.  His Third Round match was against veteran Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, playing in his 8th French Open.  Federer, as has been more common recently, came out slow and dropped the first set before stepping it up and beating Mathieu in 4 to set up a date with Tommy Haas in the Round of 16.

Haas has been around the block, so to speak, so he was not intimidated by Federer, winning the opening set in a tiebreak and then the second set, 7-5.  Federer, who watched the defeat of the one man who has stood in his way at this tournament yesterday, was now staring at a 2-set deficit, himself.  He hit a big forehand down 3-4 and 30-40 to spark a rally to win a hard-fought third set, 6-4, before hitting the switch and steamrolling Haas, 6-0 (in 21 minutes) and 6-2 in the final two sets.  A truly impressive performance by The Federer, but how much did it take out of him?  Though it was a 5-set match on clay, it didn’t even reach the three-hour mark because of the two big servers and the quick holds, so he should be, at least a little rested when he takes on hometown hero, Gael Monfils in the Quarters.

BSB’s PICK – Federer in 5.  If Nadal were still in this tournament, this might be different, but there has to be even more incentive for Roger now that he sees a clear path to a record-tying 14th Grand Slam and the completion of the career Slam, which only 5 players have ever done.  He probably let up a little with Haas in those first two sets after watching Rafa go down, but he realized what was at stake and turned it on when he needed it.  Oh, by the way, this is a pretty awesome rematch of an epic Semifinal from last year’s French Open, in which Federer was lucky to survive in 4 sets.  John McEnroe actually believes that Monfils is the favorite in this match, but I am going to pick Federer.  Experience and, dare I say it, destiny may be in play here for The Federer.  Either way, it’s going to be great!

More Ridiculous Stats

There are a lot of them today…

1). Jamie Moyer won his 250th game the other night, making him the 44th pitcher to ever reach the mark–and just the 11th left-hander.  That means that there have only been 10 left-handed pitchers in the HISTORY OF BASEBALL to have more wins than Jamie Moyer.  That’s ridiculous.  What is even more ridiculous is to think that one more win and he will be tied with…..BOB GIBSON!  What?!?  Would anyone believe that Bob Gibson and Jamie Moyer would have the same number of wins? 

2). The Padres had a recent 10-game hitting streak, in which they hit .197.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they won the first 7 games without getting more than 7 hits in any one of those games–no team had ever done that before.

3). All 10 of the Padres wins in the winning streak came at home.  Ironically, they had a simultaneous 10-game road LOSING streak.  That’s ridiculous that one team can have simulataneous 10-game winning and losing streaks and home and away.

4). The Yankees just played their 18th consecutive errorless game last night–a new Major League record.  Not coincidentally, they are 14-4 in that stretch.  I think a lot of the credit for the defensive turnaround has to go to Mark Teixiera.  That guy is AMAZING at first base.  Speaking from a former shortstop, a good defensive firstbaseman makes everything easier for the other infielders (thanks, Bonz).  Throwing the ball across the diamond is as mental as it is physical and if you do not feel like you have to hit the guy in the chest every time, everything is more relaxed and you actually hit him in the chest more often–if that makes any sense.

5). The Dodgers have averaged more runs per game WITHOUT Manny Ramirez than they had with him in the lineup.  They have EIGHT guys with 20 RBIs already.  A lot of it has to do with Juan Pierre, who is hitting like .420 in Manny’s stead.

6). Rick Porcello became the first pitcher in 25 years to win 5 consecutive starts before he was legally allowed to drink.  The last one to do it?  Doc Gooden.  Porcello is, already, a bonafied Major League pitcher and probably the #2 guy, behind Verlander, on a legit contender in Detroit.

7). Joe Mauer, in 28 games, has 11 home runs–just two shy of his career high FOR A SEASON.  This guy was a stud before he started hitting for power, but now he is literally one of the game’s three or four best players.  And, I am very glad he is having this power surge after the Steroid Era because, as I opined earlier, he is my #1 least likely guy in the majors to be on the juice.

8). Ivo Karlovic’s 55 aces in his first round loss to Lleyton Hewitt were, as of last round, still enough for him to lead the French Open without playing another match.  I know, I know, you are all probably sick of hearing me talk about tennis, but I don’t really care.  I think this goes to show you three things:  (1) Karlovic is one of the best servers on tour, (2) Karlovic has one of the worst all-around games on tour because he can get 55 aces on clay and still lose the match, and (3) Lleyton Hewitt, formerly one of the game’s all-time best at returning serve, may be staring at the end of his great, great career.

Two Round in the Books (Part Two)

Check out Part One of a French Open update.  This is Part Two…

The Del Potro (5) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #5 Del Potro vs. #25 Andreev

In the top of this pod, the 5th-ranked player in the world, Juan Martin Del Potro cruised, untested, in straight sets over Frenchman Michael Llodra and Serbian Viktor Troicki.  Del Potro has been as good as advertised so far in this tournament.

The bottom half is a completely different story for the seeded player there.  25th seed, Igor Andreev, has survived to the third round, but just barely.  He survived, 7-5, in the fifth set against Italian qualifier Fabio Fognini, only to get another test in the second round.  Andreev needed five more sets to take out clay-court specialist Martin Vassallo Arguello, coming back from down 2 sets to 1 to win the last two sets 6-3 and 6-4.  Andreev’s second round match was one minute under 5 hours–that after a 3+ hour first round match, so he’s been on the court for well over 8 hours already.  And, now he gets one of the hottest clay court players in the world.

BSB’s PICK:  Del Potro in 3.  Del Potro is too good for even a well-rested Andreev, but after 8 hours of court time, Igor’s tournament will most likely end on Saturday quickly and mercifully.

The Tsonga (9) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – # 9 Tsonga vs. Rochus

The top of this draw was supposed to be won by Russia’s Dmitry Tursurov, the 21-seed, in this year’s tournament, but Tursurov was upset by the crafty veteran, Arnaud Clement, a former Grand Slam finalist (2001 Australian Open) and former top 10 player.  That opened the door for Christophe Rochus, a Belgian veteran to finally make it out of the second round in Paris.  He has made the second round three times in his career, which dates back to 1999, but this year he finally broke through to win twice on the dirt.  He is also probably France’s enemy #1 right now, as he has already taken out two Frenchmen–“The Magician” Fabrice Santoro and Clement–and now he has a shot to make it three in a row.

The bottom of this pod was probably the best–on paper–foursome in the draw.  It featured the #9-seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking on countryman journeyman Julien Benneteau in one match and the ever-popular Cyprian, Marcos Baghdatis facing clay-court wizard Juan Monaco.  Well, it did not turn out to be as good as it was supposed to, as Tsonga, though dropping a set, defeated Benneteau and Monaco crushed Baghdatis.  Then, Tsonga won a decent match against Monaco in the second round.

BSB’s PICK:  Tsonga in 4.  The run of knocking off Frenchmen on their home soil probably ends here for Rochus, as Tsonga is just too good of an all-around player.  The only reason I’m not picking a straight-set win is because Tsonga tends to lose focus in the middle of matches, as he did in both his first two matches here.

The Robredo (16) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #16 Robredo vs. Gonzalez

Tommy Robredo, a good all-around player whose best surface is here on clay, has cruised to straight set wins over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino and fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, so he is well-rested heading into the third round.

More American frustration in Paris has gone on this year and it included a disappointing first round loss for 22nd seeded Mardy Fish to 71st-ranked Argentinian Maximo Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s upset of Fish seemed to clear the way for the solid Italian Andreas Seppi to move into the third round on the back of his first-round defeat of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but Gonzalez pulled off another upset, with relative ease, in a straight set win over Seppi.  Gonzalez now tries to make it three in a row against the heavily favored Robredo in the third round.

BSB’s PICK:  Robredo in 3.  We here at BSB are not all that impressed with the level of upsets that Gonzalez has pulled off thus far.  On the other hand, we are very impressed by the level of play of Tommy Robredo and fully expect him to cruise into the Round of 16–probably to face Mr. Djokovic, which could be a fascinating match.

The Djokovic (4) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #4 Djokovic vs. #29 Kohlschreiber

Philipp Kohlschreiber has always had the game to be a star in professional tennis, but, for some reason or another, has never fully put it together.  And, at not even 26 years old, this certainly could be the year.  He smoked Bernard Tomic in the first round, 6-1 6-2 6-2 and then won a hard-fought 5-set match with former #1 and former French Open champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero.

As good as the Spaniards (Nadal, Robredo, Verdasco, Ferrer) have looked in their first two rounds, no one has had it easier through two rounds than the big Serb, Novak Djokovic.  His first-round opponent, Nicolas Lapentti, retired down a set and a break, and then his second-round opponent, Sergiy Stakhovsky might as well have retired as Djokovic cruised through that match in straight sets.  With only 4+ sets of tennis under his belt, Djokovic is plenty fresh heading into the third round showdown with Kohlschreiber.

BSB’s PICK:  Djokovic in 4.  I like Kohlschreiber and think he might have a nice year, but Djokovic’s game is just too big right now.  It looks like Novak is heading for a long Round of 16 match with Robredo, so it might be good for him if he got out of this match in 3.

The Roddick (6) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #6 Roddick vs. Gicquel

Another American nightmare in Paris has been avoided by one man–Andy Roddick.  Roddick, who has never enjoyed a lot of success here on the clay (in fact, this is only the second time he has ever been out of the second round and the first since 2001, when he lost in the third round), has absolutely cruised in two matches.  He beat Frenchman, Romain Jouan, and Czech, Ivo Minar, in straight sets.

The big question about the bottom of this pod is…what in the world happened to Rainer Schuettler?  Frenchman Marc Gicquel–a solid veteran who specializes on the clay courts–won the first two sets from 27th-seeded Schuettler without dropping a game.  Schuettler was down two sets in 51 minutes.  That’s right, Schuettler’s French Open began by being bageled in the first two sets, before bowing out in straights.  Gicquel then moved on to beat Andreas Beck in 4 sets in the second round, setting up a date with Roddick.

BSB’s PICK:  Roddick in 3.  Yes, Andy Roddick will finally make the fourth round of the French Open and should do it easily.  Then again, it is a dangerous thought to have a crafty veteran clay-courter–on his home turf–against a big-serving, confidence-lacking American in the French Open, so anything can happen.

The Monfils (11) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #11 Monfils vs. #24 Melzer

The top of this pod has seen Jurgen Melzer, the 24-seed, cruise through two rounds of straight set wins.  He beat Argentinian Sergio Roitman in the first round and then Frenchman Guillaume Rufin in the second round.  He was tested in neither of these matches.

The bottom half of this pod is much the same, with the seeded player cruising without being threatened by either opponent.  11th-seeded Gael Monfils, who may have the largest gap between physical ability and mental stability (dare I say Safin-esque), is right on the edge of breaking through in a major way.  He cruised past Bobby Reynolds and Victor Crivoi in the first two rounds and now gets Melzer.

BSB’s PICK:  Monfils in 5.  Melzer is tough.  Monfils?  Who knows.  But, we may find out on Saturday.  There is no result from this match that would surprise me.  If you told me Monfils won in straights in an hour and a half, I would say makes sense.  If you told me that Monfils imploded and Melzer just methodically took him apart, I would believe that too.  Part of me just wants to see if Monfils can stand the heat of a five-set match, so I am picking that.  I really want this guy to break through, he is exceedingly fun to watch.

The Blake (15) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – Haas vs. Chardy

There is always one, especially in the French.  There is always one pod that gets blown wide open.  This happens to be it, much to the dismay of American tennis fans (and actually to the joy of yours truly–an admitted Tommy Haas fan).  James Blake, the 15th-seed here in Paris, bowed out, unremarkably, in the first round in straight sets against Argentinian Leonardo Mayer.  That opened the door for Tommy Haas, who smoked Andrei Pavel in the first round, to make it to the third round and continue a nice comeback story, though it wasn’t easy, as it took him five sets to defeat Mayer.

The bottom have of this pod was eerily similar, as 19th seeded Tomas Berdych also lost in the first round, though he did manage to at least send it to five before losing to Italian qualifier Simone Bolelli.  Bolelli then ran out of gas in the fifth set against France’s Jeremy Chardy, who won a straight-set match in the first round against Thiago Alves.

BSB’s PICK:  Haas in 4.  I like Tommy Haas, and I think he manages a solid effort in a third-round win over Chardy.  Interestingly, the winner of this match will have reached the Round of 16 without facing a seeded player.  And, that trend will end, probably abruptly, with a date with Roger Federer.

The Federer (2) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH SATURDAY – #2 Federer vs. #32 Mathieu

The top half of this pod was dominated this week by Jean-Henri Mathieu, the 32nd-seeded Frenchman.  Mathieu made quick work of both Laurent Recouderc and Pablo Andujar (who disposed of Robby Ginepri in the first round).

The bottom half was the half of Federer.  Roger did cruise against Spaniard Alberto Martin in the first round, but actually struggled a good bit against the gritty Argentinian, Juan Acasuso, in the second round.  Federer dropped the first set in a tiebreak, then won the second set 7-5 and the third in a tiebreak, before cruising in the fourth, 6-1.

BSB’s PICK:  Federer in 4.  This will not be an easy match for The Federer, and he better not come out slow, as he has had a tendency to do recently, because Mathieu is solid, experienced and unflappable.  Because of this experience and the fact that he loves the clay and has his home fans behind him, he will not be intimidated by Federer.  I still see Roger prevailing, but it won’t be easy.  Fortunately, for him, an unseeded player (either Haas or Chardy) awaits in the Round of 16 before a possible quarterfinal date with either Andy Roddick or Gael Monfils.

Two Rounds in the Books (Part One)

NOTE:  This was written prior to the start of Round 3 (not that anyone is paying attention to the French Open or, for that matter, even reading past this note now that they realize this post is all about the French Open)

Well, the great tournament that is the French Open is now two rounds complete and, as always, it is getting interesting.  The bracket, itself, is a bit daunting to look at and analyze, but if you break down the first three rounds into 16 eight-team tournaments, you can make a little more sense of the craziness that is the first week.  So, that’s what BSB is here to do.  Each eight-team mini-tournament will be referred to as a “pod” and will be named after the top seed in that pod.

The Nadal (1) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #1 Nadal vs. Hewitt

The top half of this bracket is where the top-seed and #1 player in the world sits.  Unsurprisingly, Rafa cruised through the first two rounds, beating two qualifiers (Marcos Daniel and Teimuraz Gabashvili) in straight sets. 

The other seeded player in this pod was 26th seed, Ivo Karlovic, but he ran into one of the all-time great fighters, Lleyton Hewitt, in the first round.  Karlovic won the first two sets in tiebreakers, but Hewitt’s bulldog mentality won him the third set in a crazy tiebreaker and then battled through the fourth and fifth to win yet another 5-setter in a Grand Slam.  Hewitt then smoked Andrey Gobulev in the second round to set up Friday’s matchup with Nadal.

BSB’s PICK:  Nadal in 4.  As much as it hurts me to say it, but Hewitt just isn’t the same player he once was and Nadal is, well, the best tennis player on the planet and quite possibly the best clay-court tennis player of all-time.

The Ferrer (14) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #14 Ferrer vs. #23 Soderling

The top of the bracket features 23rd-seeded Robin Soderling, who, if he puts it all together, could have a terrific year this year.  Soderling beat Kevin Kim and Denis Istomin in straights to move into a big third-round match.

The bottom is where “Mr. Fifth Set” David Ferrer has been placed.  Ferrer actually won in straights in his opening round match with Frederico Gil, but Nicholas Kiefer tested “Mr. Fifth Set” in the second round, which is generally a bad idea.  Ferrer, who is clearly the fittest player on tour and who LOVES five-set matches, won another one over Kiefer in the second round to move into a nice second-round match.

BSB’s PICK:  Ferrer in 5.  “Mr. Fifth Set” will do it again against a game Soderling.  Interestingly, this will set up a Round of 16 matchup with Ferrer’s countryman Rafa Nadal, with the winner probably staring at yet another Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, in the quarters.

The Davydenko (10) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #10 Davydenko vs. #17 Wawrinka

Nickolai Davydenko cruised in the first round match against Stefan Koubek, but needed four sets to beat Argentinian Diego Junqueira in the second round.  The gritty professional now moves into a tough third-round match.

Federer’s doubles partner, Stanislas Wawrinka, has started to make a name for himself in the singles arena, as well.  Though, he seems to have plateaued between 15-20 in the world now and can’t seem to crack the top 10.  This tournament could be big for him, though it didn’t start that way.  He was down two sets to one in the first round against French qualifier, Nicolas Devilder, but he rallied to win.  He then moved on to the second round where he regained his form and absolutely pummeled Nicolas Massu, 6-1 6-1 6-2 to advance to this third-round tilt with Davydenko.

BSB’s PICK:  Wawrinka in 4.  Maybe I’m swayed by the “potential” of Wawrinka, which he doesn’t seem to be realizing.  Or, maybe I’m just biased against the perpetually over-ranked Davydenko (because he plays EVERY single week), but I like Wawrinka in this one.  However, I think that if Davydenko can get it to a fifth set, he would have the advantage, being the much fitter of the two.  I think Wawrinka needs to win this in 4 or probably face elimination.

The Verdasco (8) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY:  #8 Verdasco vs. #31 Almagro

The top of this pod features perennial under-achiever Nicholas Almagro, the 31st seed here.  Almagro did beat Agustin Calleri in straight sets in the first round, which is a pretty good win, considering that Calleri is a pretty solid clay court player.  He then dropped the first set to Ernests Gulbis, but came back to win in four.

Fernando Verdasco, who has catapulted himself into the top ten with some fantastic tennis recently, has cruised through the bottom of this pod, crushing a tough Frenchman Florent Serra, 6-2 6-1 6-4, and punishing Phillip Pelzschner, 6-1 6-2 6-3, in the second round.

BSB’s PICK:  Verdasco in 3.  He is just playing far too well right now.  Even though Almagro has a really good all-around game , his mental makeup is just not what it needs to be to deal with the consistency and shot-making ability of Verdasco.  Expect a Verdasco-Nadal quarterfinal that should be epic.

The Murray (3) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #3 Murray vs. Tipsaravic

Andy Murray, who has established himself as one of the “Big Four” in men’s tennis, enters the French as the least accomplished of the four in clay court tournaments.  And, he got at it right away, with as tough of a first-round match as a seeded player could have, facing unseeded Juan Ignacio Chela.  Murray was up to the task and smoked the clay court specialist 6-2 6-2 6-1, in one of the more impressive results of the tournament thus far.  He did then drop a set to Potito Starace in the second round, but came back to win a tough third set and the 6-4 in the fourth.

Janko Tipsaravic has a big game, but cannot find the consistency to crack the top 20 (which is where his talent suggests he ought to be).  Well, Tipsaravic has put it together so far, beating a tough Spaniard Albert Montanes in the first round and then upsetting the 28-seeded Feliciano Lopez 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-3 in the second round.  The big test remains now for the young Serb here in the third round.

BSB’s PICK:  Murray in 3.  As good as Tipsaravic is, Murray is just too tough and too experienced for him.  Tipsaravic will have some good results this year, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him give Murray a match here, but Murray should prevail and should do it without dropping a set.

The Cilic (13) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #13 Cilic vs. #18 Stepanek

Radek Stepanek is the 18th seed in this year’s French Open and he drew a former French Open champ, Gaston Gaudio, in the first round.  Well, Gaudio is not quite the player he was back when he won the title in 2004 or in 2005, when he was #5 in the world, and Stepanek quickly dispatched him in straight sets.  He then moved on to beat a very game Frenchman Mathieu Montcourt, to advance to the third round.

In the bottom of this pod, Marin Cilic, the 13th seed, beat Czech qualifier Jan Henrych in straights and then Israeli Dudi Sela in straights.  He started each match with a 6-0 bagel in the first set and only lost a total of 11 games in the 6 sets, so he cruises into the third round with barely even breaking a sweat.

BSB’s PICK:  Cilic in 3.  Stepanek is a solid all-court player, but Cilic is tough on the dirt and should be able to cruise into the Round of 16, where Andy Murray should be waiting–and should be worried.

The Gonzalez (12) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #12 Gonzalez vs. Ouanna

The top of this pod has the hard-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez–who has quickly become a really good all-court player.  Gonzalez cruised by both Jiri Vanek and Rui Machado in the first two rounds, never dropping more than 3 games in any of the 6 sets.

The bottom of the pod had featured 20th seeded Marat Safin, in his swan song (so he says) in Paris.  Safin beat Frenchman Alexandre Sidorenko in straight sets in the first round.  The other first-round match in the bottom of this pod was another Frenchman, Josselin Ouanna against Spaniard Marcel Granollers.  Ouanna won a fourth-set tiebreak to even the match at two sets apiece and then rolled, 6-1 in the fifth to move on.  Safin, trying to eliminate a second straight Frenchman, lost tiebreakers in the first two sets, before winning the third 6-4 and the fourth 6-3 to send it to an epic fifth set.  Ouanna ended up winning 10-8 in the fifth, in the longest match of the tournament so far and ending the French Open career of great Marat Safin.

BSB’s PICK:  Gonzalez in 3.  Ouanna has survived two five-setters, including the most recent against Safin that went 10-8 in the fifth.  Even a well-rested Ouanna would be a heavy underdog against Gonzo, but with all that tennis already under his belt, he is probably out of gas and should get rolled by the Chilean.  Then again, the French crowd can do wonders, but don’t expect it here.

The Simon (7) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #7 Simon vs. #30 Hanescu

A relative late-bloomer, the Romanian Victor Hanescu has, at the age of 27, achieved his highest world ranking and is seeded 30th in this year’s French Open, where all the way back in 2005, he reached his only Grand Slam quarterfinal.  He has won two interesting matches so far, beating Belgian Steve Darcis in three straight tiebreakers, then defeating a really tough unseeded player, Mikhail Youzhny, 7-5 7-5 7-5, in the second round.  The true test for Hanescu’s potential breakout tournament is coming up on Friday.

The bottom of this pod is highlighted by the emerging French star, Gilles Simon.  The 24-year old is ready to have a terrific season, leading a truly resurgent French tennis culture, that expects big things in this, their national event.  However, Simon did not start auspiciously, dropping the first set of his tournament and needing five sets just to get out of the first round against South African Wayne Odesnik (ranked 77th in the world).  Simon did recover and play much better, albeit against an exhausted and overmatched American Robert Kendrick, with a straight-set second round win, in which he only lost 1 game total in the final two sets.

BSB’s PICK:  Simon in 4.  Hanescu is playing the best tennis of his career, but Simon is young and hungry.  In front of his countrymen, he should be able to get past Hanescu and into the Round of 16, where a real test should await him, in the form of Fernando Gonzalez.

Yes, I Care…A Lot

I know I’m one of only 17 people in this country not named McEnroe who care about professional tennis, but it is certainly in my “Big Four” sports (MLB, NFL, NCAA basketball, and the ATP).  The Australian Open is always so incredibly interesting, being the first major of the year, usually played in extreme heat in front of raucous late-night crowds of sports-loving, beer-loving Aussies.  It is also the only major that does not closely precede or succeed another major on a different surface.  The players get revved up for the hardcourts in New York in September and then have the entire winter (barring any Davis Cup matches) to keep their “hardcourt legs” under them to play the Australian Open.  Plus, it is almost four months before the French Open, so no one is looking ahead to the clay court season.  It is all about the hardcourts and starting off one’s season on the right foot, so to speak.  Plus, you can throw in the fact that it takes place when only two NFL teams are still playing, spring training has yet to start, the NBA is still in the first half of its marathon season, and college hoops is good, but just beginning its crescendo to March.  For all these reasons, the Australian Open is my favorite major of the year.  And, it has NOT disappointed this year, in any way.

Check out these Round of 16 matchups, leading into the quarterfinals:

  • #1 Rafael Nadal vs. #13 Fernando Gonzalez – The #1 player in the world has been absolutely phenomenal so far, and Gonzalez has struggled through two 5-setters so far.  But, Gonzo, a finalist here two years ago, is supremely talented and he is just learning the importance of “heart.”
  • #6 Gilles Simon vs. #12 Gael Monfils – Two young, exciting, and extremely athletic Frenchmen will play for the right–probably–to play Nadal in the quarters.  These two are big parts of the “next wave” of great players
  • #4 Andy Murray vs. #14 Fernando Verdasco – This might be the “Year of Murray,” but watch out, as Verdasco has been playing very well, and he has the experience to pull the upset if Murray isn’t careful
  • #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. #9 James Blake – Tsonga, last year’s surprise finalist, was hampered with injuries.  But, now he seems healthy and is ready to return to the forefront of men’s tennis.  But, Blake is always a tough out on hardcourts and is playing with a lot of confidence right now.
  • #7 Andy Roddick vs. #21 Tommy Robredo – I took too long to post this, and now this side of the draw is complete, but this match was not that big of a surprise, as Roddick rolled over Robredo.  Roddick is now 10-0 against Robredo in his career and has only dropped one set to the talented Spaniard.  Roddick is looking strong, but the toughest is still to come.
  • #3 Novak Djokovic vs. Marcos Baghdatis – Baghdatis, the only unseeded player to make the Round of 16, is hardly your typical “qualifier,” and he showed that in taking Djokovic to 4 sets–losing a tough tiebreaker in the second, before winning the third, but falling short in the fourth.  Djokovic and Roddick’s quarterfinal collision course is now set–it is going to be fantastic.
  • #8 Juan-Martin Del Potro vs. #19 Marin Cilic – Two BIG-hitting 20-year olds that are the core of the “next wave.”  The 6’8″ Del Potro was just a little too tough for Cilic, but both players have a VERY bright future ahead of themselves.
  • #2 Roger Federer vs. #20 Tomas Berdych – In, what looked to be the shocker of the men’s draw, Berdych took the first two sets–rather convincingly–from “The Federer,” but in majestic fashion, as always, Federer roared back and won in 5.  It could have been different had Berdych made one of two easy volleys that would have given him a 5-3 lead in the third set.  He would have forced Federer to hold and break to avoid losing in straights.  But, the Czech tightened up and dumped them both into the net, ended up being broken and lost the last three sets.  In the round before, Federer looked like the 2007 version as he dismantled a very game Marat Safin, in straights.

MY 4th ROUND PREDICTIONS: 

  • Nadal beats an exhausted Gonzalez easily in straights
  • Murray drops at least one set, but outlasts Verdasco
  • Blake upsets Tsonga in 5 (now that he has gotten over the 5-set hurdle)
  • Simon capitalizes on a lot of errors from a game Monfils to win in straights
  • Federer, Djokovic, Roddick, and Del Potro have already won

MY QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS:

  • Nadal overmatches Simon, wins in straight sets
  • Murray beats a tired Blake in straight sets
  • Rod Laver Arena is just too big for the 20-year old Del Potro, as he loses to Federer in straights
  • Roddick upsets Djokovic in a 5-set thriller (I know it seems that I am too pro-American with the Roddick and Blake picks, but I really am not.  I actually usually pick against the “homeboys,” but I think that it actually looks good for Blake and Roddick in their next matches)

MY SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS:

  • Nadal, after dropping the first set, turns on the jets and cruises past Murray to win in 4
  • Roddick throws everything he’s got, but it’s only good enough to take one set from The Federer

MY FINAL PREDICTION:

  • Federer beats Nadal in yet another INCREDIBLE match.  A five-setter that puts Federer in the record books, as tying Pete Sampras’s 14 Grand Slam titles.  This is a tough one because I think that if Federer needs more than 7 sets to win in the quarters and semis, he might not have enough to outlast the Spaniard.

The Best That’s Ever Been

I do not claim to be an expert on anything, really (especially writing regular columns on BSB).  I have loved baseball my whole life–playing it, watching it, reading about it, etc.–but, in my days growing up in the United States, I have met people that I would consider bigger baseball fans than me (not many, but they exist).  I have also loved basketball and football my whole life, but, again, I have met people that are more “into” each of those sports than me.  This is all mainly because these three sports are so incredibly popular in mainstream America.  You would be hard-pressed to find someone who calls himself a sports fan that does not follow the “Big Three” sports, in some fashion.  That is just the way of America.  And, honestly, they are my three favorite sports as well, but as I said, I have met people who are “bigger” fans than me for each of those sports.  However, I can honestly say that I have never met a person who keeps a closer eye on, enjoys more, or follows as deliberately the game of tennis than myself.  That is not to say that I am a tennis expert or anything close to that.  I am just an American sports fan who, for some odd reason, fell in love with the sport of tennis at a young age and has never looked back.  To me, there is a “Big Four Sports,” and the fourth sure as hell is not hockey–it is tennis.  With that segue, I feel strangely qualified to, at least attempt, to put into perspective what happened in the world of tennis on Sunday morning/afternoon at Wembley Stadium in downtown London.

By now, I am sure that most people have heard the result of the 2008 Gentlemen’s Final at Wimbledon.  Rafael Nadal, the young Spaniard, halted Roger Federer’s 41-match winning streak at Wimbledon with a thrilling 5-set victory 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.  If that score line does not mean much to you and/or you had other things to do on a Sunday from 9:00 in the morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon, let me put this match in its proper context:  This was the greatest tennis match ever played!

For two and a half sets, it looked like Rafael Nadal had become what Roger Federer has been for six years now.  He was facing a fearsome opponent, coming up with incredible shots at the most opportune moments and winning every, single big point.  At one point in the middle of the third set, Nadal had saved 12 of the 13 break points against his serve in the match, while converting 3 of the 4 he had earned against the Federer serve. 

But then, the tide shifted and Federer was the one that looked like the old Federer.  Down 2 sets, serving at 3-4, Federer faced three break points in a game that would have led to a straight-set Nadal victory.  Federer dug deep, hitting back-to-back aces (very Sampras-like) and finishing off the game with some monster forehands to remain on serve in the third.  Four more thrilling holds of serve later and we were on to a third set tiebreak, in which the champion showed why he has won 5 straight Wimbledon titles.  He even resorted to a counter-punching style against the vicious Nadal forehands, but he held on to win the 3rd set. 

The fourth set was more of the same, which if you are a fan of sports, was a true gift.  The level of play was extraordinary and these two giant competitors went at it, point after point after point.  Again, though, a whole set was played without a break (though there were chances), and Federer’s title streak rested upon winning another tiebreak.  He won the first point on Nadal’s serve, going up a mini-break, but Nadal came back and won both Federer’s serves to take a 2-1 lead.  Federer won a point back on Nadal’s pair of serves and took the balls on serve in the tiebreak, 2-3.  This is where Nadal stepped up by again taking both of Federer’s serves, to take a commanding 5-2 lead, only having to serve out the match to be crowned Wimbledon champion.  But, the young Spaniard started to feel the heat.  He double-faulted and then hit a forehand into the net, letting the champ back up off the mat–AGAIN!  The next five points were breathtaking.  Nadal hit two ridiculous winners to garner himself a match point on his serve at 7-6.  Federer answered that match point with an immortal backhand (his weaker side all day) up the line to even things at seven.  He then hit a blistering forehand to put the set on his racket, eventually serving out the fourth set tiebreak and forcing a deciding fifth set.  [Foreshadowing alert:] In Wimbledon, they do not believe in final set tiebreaks.

So, the fifth set was an absolute joy to watch.  It was two men, at the absolute peak of their sport–and their sport’s history–drilling forehands at one another.  It was a battle of heart between two ferocious competitors on the grandest of stages.  Back and forth they went, until Rafael Nadal finally broke through in the 15th game of the set, to take an 8-7 lead and could serve for the match.  But, Nadal’s nerves hit him again, as he dumped a forehand into the net on the first point.  But, this guy the heart of a champion and, for the first time ALL MATCH, he came up with a serve-and-volley.  Federer, obviously not looking for that, hit a return right into Nadal’s racket, which he returned for a winner.  With calm nerves, he won the next two points, to gain himself a pair of match points.  On the second one, Federer hit a forehand into the net and Nadal collapsed–a champion.  The first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.  It was unbelievable.

I wish I had the words to truly give this match justice.  The only phrase I can think of is to say that this was the greatest tennis match ever played!