Google Down the Line!: 2008-05-18

Friday, May 23, 2008

FRENCH OPEN 2008 PREVIEW: The ladies

(Hey y'all - I'll only be posting the ladies' preview today since it's long weekend here in the US for Memorial Day. I'll be back late Sunday for the opening day of Roland Garros. In the meantime, enjoy the preview!!!)

The Queen is dead!

Well okay, more like retired away at a tiny Belgian village for ex-tennis ballers. And, although she wouldn't have been a clear-cut favorite as say Rafael Nadal, four-time defending champion Justine Henin's unexpected retirement this month opened up the ladies' draw nicely for someone to grab the mantle and run like hell. Who are the main contenders for the crown? Let's take a look...

With Justine's retirement complete, Maria "Shriek"apova moved into the penthouse of the WTA Tour. The Russian earned her third Grand Slam at the Australian Open and went on a 17-match win streak until she was beaten at Indian Wells. The clay surface, where movement is an ingredient for success, is not a friend to the 6'2" Maria who once even described herself as a "cow on ice" when stepping onto the slippery stuff. But she made the semifinals of Roland Garros last year nursing a bum shoulder and won her first ever clay-court title at Amelia Island this year. And with her trademark mental strength and tenacity, never count her out. Plus, a win here would give the Russian glamourpuss a career Grand Slam at the tender age of 21.

Someone who never counts Maria out is Serena Williams (which is probably why she's beaten the Russian the last four times they've met.) She's the only baller left on the women's side who's actually won in Paris so experience, including seven other Grand Slams, is on her side. And, next to Maria, ReRe has been the best baller on tour winning three titles to date in Bangalore and Tier 1's in Miami and Charleston. The 26-year old owns arguably the best serve on the tour, powerful groundies, and superior strength. Add to the mix her incredible movement and ReRe looks to be the odds-on favorite now with Justine out of the picture.

Jelena Jankovic is one baller who's probably not sad to see Justine retired: the Serb never defeated the Belgian in nine attempts including the semifinals of last year's French Open. However, she's beaten everyone else in big matches including Maria and the Williams sisters and possesses the best backhand down-the-line in the women's game. Jelena is a fluid mover whose counter-punching style will serve her well the next two weeks. Her mental game, however, is still suspect and her serve still soft (though it's not as much of an impediment on the slow clay.) But if she's able to stay mentally tough in the key moments, she may very well reach her first ever Grand Slam final.

Jelena's sister Serb, Ana Ivanovic, is the new pin-up girl on the tour. But this beauty has a beast of a game including a strong, if sometimes inconsistent, serve and blowtorch forehand. Ana made her first Grand Slam final appearance here last year and followed that up with the finals of Australia. That being said, she has struggled with the pressure and expectation recently, falling in the opening round of Rome. But she has the ability to shut out bad matches with brilliant returns-to-form so expect a great showing in Paris.

Other lady ballers to keep your eyes peeled for:

Vera Zvonareva - Another baller from the Russian army, this 23-year old has already reached four finals this year, winning one on clay in Prague. She's another great mover that possesses tenacity and gritty determination but is prone to mental fits and crying on the court (no crying in tennis Vera!). If she keeps her head on straight, a career-making tournament isn't out of the question.

Alize Cornet - The 2007 French Open junior champion has been on a tear since reaching the finals of Acapulco (losing to Italy's Flavia Pennetta.) The 18-year old followed up that achievement with the semifinals of Amelia Island and Charleston and the finals of Rome. At only 5'8" and 132 pounds, a stiff wind could seemingly knock this Frenchie off her game, but not likely on her favored surface.

Victoria Azarenka - Another teen queen at 18-years old, Victoria has been quietly building a solid season so far. After reaching the final of Gold Coast to open the season, the Belarusian made the finals of Prague and the semifinals of Berlin. Victoria has a powerful baseline game, but her movement is still raw. Regardless, with a nice draw and some dumb luck, this up-and-comer could have a breakthrough tournament.

In case you missed it, click here for the boys' preview.

(image via Getty)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

FASHION FIX: Sharapova French Open dress finally revealed...and the crystal (tennis) ball has bragging rights

As my crystal (tennis) ball predicted, Maria "Shriek"apova will be working the Nike Paris Dress during her run towards a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros. According to Tennis Week:

The "Paris dress" by Nike is a 1920s-inspired design that reflects her dynamic sense of style. Designed in collaboration with the three-time Grand Slam champion, the performance Dri-Fit dress is dark obsidian blue with contrasting chalk white satin ribbons and double layered pleated skirt. The elegant, ultra-light creation is finished with a luminous Tiffany pearl button closure that fastens at the back of the dress.

The Russian glamourpuss will also be donning Tiffany designer Elsa Peretti’s Wave earrings in 18K gold. The partnership will last for the next two years and Maria will be showcasing Tiffany jewelry at all four Grand Slams.

Very glam, very Paris. Just don't lose them in the red dirt Maria (says the lucky ball girl...or boy).

(image via

SIGHTING: Relaxed Rafa hits the practice court

A relaxed-looking Rafael Nadal was spotted practicing at Roland Garros today. The Spaniard is, of course, the 3-time defending champion and is perfectly primed to make it four.

Can he hold off all the pretenders on his way to the crown?

(image via AP)


(DtL! contributor Jimmy takes a look at the year's second major and offers insight into the big stories to watch out for on the men's side. I'll be taking a peak at the ladies so check back tomorrow for that preview. Take it away Jimmy!)

Another intense clay court season comes to a close with the grand daddy of 'em all: the French Open! The obvious question here is whether or not Rafael Nadal will be able to continue his dominant streak and win a fourth consecutive title. As always, Roger Federer is breathing down his neck (although he’s dealing with a few issues of his own) and Novak Djokovic has emerged as a top contender for the title as well. Let's take a look...

It’s been a given that Rafa owns the terra bateau but not much else, thanks to Federer’s dominance on every other surface. But the Spaniard has prevented R-Fed from a complete domination of the men’s game, stopping the world no. 1 from achieving a calendar grand slam in 2006 and 2007. For years people assumed the Swiss would just naturally fall from grace and cede the #1 position to Rafa, who is several years his junior. Judging by Fed’s game recently, it appears 2008 could be the year it happens.

But not so fast! That young whippersnapper Novak Djokovic has become a serious threat to the established order. The Serb came within one set of taking the #2 spot away from Nadal in the Hamburg semifinal this year. And he’s already come up with big wins in Melbourne, Indian Wells, and Rome so far in 2008. Suddenly, instead of patiently waiting for Federer to stumble from his perch, Rafa is in a tight three-way race for #1, and youth is no longer on his side, with Nole a full year younger than him.

It’s been a tough few months for Nadal. The Mallorcan matador had to defend a ridiculous amount of points during the clay court season, and now more than ever the pressure is on to be the best. However, despite Nole's ascension I still think Rafa has a lot of life in him, and he may not even have peaked yet. He always turns it up when the going gets tough, and I still pick him to win the title this year, but his road to the top may be bumpier than ever.

Speaking of bumpy roads, no one has had it tougher than Federer. He's only picked up a single title this year: the Estoril Open in Portugal. The last several years Fed has felt the pressure of winning the French Open and completing a career Grand Slam. But ironically, losing the Aussie Open means the pressure of the Slam could be off this year. Plus, he's been picking up his game considerably since the win in Portugal. Could this be Fed’s year at Roland Garros?

Of course, the ATP doesn’t revolve around the top three players, as much as it may seem. There are more than a few stories to keep an eye on during the next two weeks in Paris:

Can the always-reliable Nikolay Davydenko maintain his game this year and finally contend for the title? (He reached the semifinals in 2005 and 2007).

Can any of the up-and-coming players make an impression? I think Stanislas Wawrinka has a decent shot. He made it to the semis in Barcelona and the final of Rome.

And what about the sad case of Frenchie Richard Gasquet? He’s having a terrible year and has been threatening to skip the tournament, to the disappointment (or is that delight?) of the French fans.

Who do you think are the top picks + darkhorses on the boys side?

Like the ladies? Click here for their preview.

(image via Getty)

THE LOW DOWN: WTA Tour exacts revenge, gives Sharapova no-star treatment on photoshoot

Note to Maria "Shriek"apova: be careful what you ask for...

The Russian blogged about her 90-minute experience on the infamous WTA Tour "Superheroes" photoshoot and revealed that she got anything but the 5-star treatment:

About the I had mentioned in my interviews, it was cut down to 90 minutes. I arrived doing my own hair and make-up, wardrobe, etc....shot 2 was in a car, literally driving over a bridge 9 times, looking out the window and 'talking on the phone'...second was walking into a hotel. ZZZZ!! Chip chop and I was outta there! This is certainly one commercial I will not be dying to see.
So that explains her sullen look (fashion and otherwise) during the shoot. But taking a peak at the other lady ballers from their part of the shoot, it seems to me they were definitely done up (check out Serena's 'do - def blown out.) I don't think Maria realized that 'compromise' meant 'self-service'.

Revenge is a bitch.

(image via Getty)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

VIDEO VAULT: What will tennis look like in 2083? Lacoste has a (brilliant) idea...

Lacoste is taking us back to the future.

The sportswear brand is continuing its 75th anniversary celebrations with the launch of a new website called Lacoste Future featuring vintage clips of the legendary baller Rene Lacoste playing old-school and a viral video showcasing their vision of tennis in 2083, another 75 years later.

It looks to be a mix of tennis, TRON, and jai-alai with full body armor - a masterpiece:

(image capture via

FASHION FIX: Federer really loves himself and he's not afraid to show it!

Roger Federer, who lost his Hamburg crown to Rafael Nadal, joined Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo + Richard Gasquet on the practice courts of Roland Garros this week.

I think he's looking fashionable and fit. But, is there any other baller out there that looks this put together in a practice session? Also, does anyone else find it strange to see him wearing his own Nike t-shirt?? I think the 'RF' hat is okay but with the t-shirt it's a bit overkill.

In any case, Fed really loves himself!

(image via Getty)

A-Rod laying low in Manhattan - will we get some street sightings now?

Andy Roddick is laying low in his new Manhattan pad since he was advised by his doctor to pull out of the French Open with shoulder inflammation. A disappointed A-Rod wrote about on his blog saying,

Hey everybody… I am sure by now you have heard the crappy news that I will not be playing at Roland Garros this year. I am very, very disappointed because I was showing better form on clay than I have in the last couple of years leading into it… so I got a general check up on my shoulder with my doctor here in New York and he saw some stuff that he was concerned about…. we had an MRI and it showed that the shoulder was inflamed… this was great/ crappy news all at the same time. There is no tear and long term everything will be as normal.. he just wanted to make sure that I took the proper measures on treating and taking care of it.

Unfortunately for me, that means laying down the sticks for 10 days or so… He said that the structure of my shoulder overall looks great, but that we had to take a long term mindset when making this decision…Obviously I was wrecked by this news, but know that he is right at the same time.

To be fair, I have gone 9 years on tour without anything in the shoulder and this decision will help make sure that I can have nine years more if I wanted to…..I already miss playing and cannot wait to be back and 100 percent healthy for the grass… I will check in with an update in the next 4-5 days…thanks for your support!

Honestly to be quite honest, A-Rod is really lucky he hasn't sustained a shoulder injury with his serve. But not that he's laid down the racquets for a bit, does that mean we'll get some stalkerazzi sitings of A-Rod + Brooklyn around NYC? One can hope!

(image via Getty)

Hantuchova handcuffed by foot injury, may miss Roland Garros

Daniela Hantuchova is still dealing with the nagging stress fracture in her foot which forced her to pull out of recent tournaments. Now it seems the injury may force her to skip Roland Garros, a tourney she loves:

Coming off of Miami and then a match in Amelia Island, all my doctors were shocked that I was able to play through at both events. As you all know, with much disappointment I had to pull from Fed Cup and three Tour events. It has been a very frustrating time to tell you the truth. So here we are… the foot is continuing to be problematic. It was a very bad injury. I had an MRI early last week which confirmed the foot needed more time to heal. Right now I am trying to stay hopeful for Paris. I miss the game so much and Roland Garros is wonderful. And what's not to love about Paris!

If I am able to play, I realize that I will not be prepared as I would like typically moving into a Grand Slam. All I can do is play my best, considering the circumstances, and expect to have a positive experience regardless of the outcome.
I still think this injury is very worrying for Dani because it's the type of injury that can become chronic and shorten careers. It's a shame since she finally made a career-breakthrough earlier this year in Melbourne.

(image via Getty)

VIDEO VAULT: Nole visits Eurovision 2008, gets the party started

Novak Djokovic always has a backup plan if this tennis thing doesn't work out. The singing Serb, who got all gussied up in a peak-lapel grey suit, took part in the semifinal round of Eurovision 2008 where Belgrade is the host city.

Nole hums a tune then throws a giant yellow tennis ball into the crowd to get the voting started. What a ham.

Check it out:

(image via

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SIGHTING: Mauresmo + Gasquet practicing something for French Open...hopefully it's tennis

They were supposed to be two of France's best bets for a homegrown French Open champion but they had other plans. And both were spotted today getting in practice for their native Grand Slam next week.

Amelie Mauresmo, who hasn't played a match since losing in the quarterfinals of Amelia Island to finalist Dominika Cibulkova citing a rib injury, will make an attempt at the draw if her fragile body holds up:

I'm in Paris already, I cannot wait to be able to play at a full flow and be free of this sly and persistent pain. I'll go for a hit on Court Central if weather permits,the rest of the schedule is training and care.

Richard Gasquet, who seems to be ignoring my recommended mental sabbatical, practiced with new coach Guillaume Peyre on Court Central and looks to still be having fits and punishing his racquet for it (though he may want to try actually hitting a ball with the thing.)

Let's be honest - what are their chances for making any impact at the tourney? I'm thinking Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with his bum knee and Alize Cornet's inexperience are the better bets right now. I'd even put down Fabrice "the Magician" Santoro with one wand tied behind his Lacoste-wearing back over either of them.

(image via Getty)

SIGHTING: Petrova in Istanbul, t-shirt reveals her inner workings

Total headcase Nadia Petrova was spotted hitting with kids at Kalyon Shopping Mall in Instanbul where the Russian is the no. 3 seed at this week's tourney. She defeated American Lilia Osterloh 6-1, 6-2 to reach the second round.

So what's up with the t-shirt Nadia's wearing ? It says "What you see is what you can not get". Hmmm - I wonder if that's her tennis mantra?

(image via Getty)

THE LOW DOWN: Evert publicly responds to Richard Williams' controversial comments

Chris Evert recently spoke with's Bonnie D. Ford about the tennis season so far and her predictions for Roland Garros. The 18-time Grand Slammer also publicly responded, for the first time, to the controversial comments made by Richard Williams which included remarks directed towards herself:

Ford: Chris, there was a controversy earlier this year -- Richard Williams made some comments and you were included in those [at a tournament in India, Williams said his daughters were still not "accepted by tennis" and referred to Evert and Tracy Austin as "little white no-good trashers.''] I know your history with the family is a bit complicated, but did that bother you, or did you try to tune it out?

Evert: This is my history with the family. When Venus was, like, 9 years old, her father called my dad and said, "Could we come to your house, Venus would love to see Chrissie's trophies." She came to the house with Richard, walked around, looked at my trophies, had her picture taken with my Wimbledon trophy. The first year I had my Pro Celebrity [charity event], I invited Venus and Serena to play, they were like 9 and 11 and nobody knew of them. They came and they played a little exhibition.

They went on to be No. 1 in the world. Then when Serena was having some difficulty with her tennis and that beautiful game she has and her dominance, I wrote that letter, one of my columns in Tennis Magazine. I thought I was very positive in that article, encouraging her to dedicate herself and be the player she was meant to be, and all her other interests could wait a few years, and sometimes you have to devote yourself if you want to be No. 1. You could be the best player who ever lived. Everybody was rooting for her. I don't think they took it that way.

As far as Richard, the quotes, I don't know what to say. I kind of feel sorry for him if he is that angry and bitter about tennis players and about white tennis players. When people lash out like that, they must be miserable people. I'm not going to compound it. I think it's unacceptable. If my parents had come out with quotes like that, I think people would make a bigger deal about it. He has a history of saying things that are unacceptable. And I don't really think many people in tennis listen to him anymore. So if I make a stink about it, it's just going to draw attention to it. That's why I didn't say anything.

Yes, you can't justify comments from a person that's clearly off his rocker.

(image via Getty)

Davydenko shows off his modest size...I mean 'side'!

Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed at this week's Hypo Group Tennis International 2008 in Pörtschach, Austria and has offered his blogging skills to the ATP.

The Russian is traveling with the whole clan, including wife Irina, brother and coach Eduard, and Eduad's son Philip, a 15-year old baller himself who lost in qualifying. During their off time, the group decided to do some fishing and hit the spa though the reserved Kolya is not feeling the local tradition of going full monty in a unisex steamroom:

I've been enjoying the spas at the tournament hotel here in Austria, but I must say they do things a lot differently than in Russia. Back at home they separate the men and women, but here not only do men and women take spas together, many of the hotel guests don't have anything on beneath their robes. Which all makes for some interesting sites. At times it's like watching the Playboy channel. Some of the guests don't like the idea of us wearing shorts, but I'm not ready to adopt all the local customs just yet!

Call me conservative, but I am just not ready to bare all at this point. As you can tell in this photograph (which shows Eduard, his wife, Philip and me) we all have something underneath, and that's the way it's going to stay!
Oh Kolya, you're so modest. But it begs the questions: at what point would you be "ready" show off the goods? C'mon, we're all friends here...

(image via ATP)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gasquet looks to revive career, dumps coach Deblicker

You'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to see this one coming: Richard Gasquet, who I've been none-too-kind towards for his failings this season, has decided to split with his coach since 2004, Eric Deblicker. The Frenchman will now be coached Guillaume Peyre from Team Lagardere, his management company.

The world no. 9 had this to say about his former coach:

Eric remains my friend and the one who helped me into the top 10.
Well this is a great first step in reviving his career and fulfilling his great potential - but I'm not holding my breath just yet.

(image via Getty)

PHOTO OP: Sharapova arrives in Paris, practices on Philippe Chatrier

Maria Sharapova is getting a head start on the competition. The new world no. 1 looked recovered from the calf injury that forced her out of Rome when she was spotted getting her practice on at Roland Garros' Philippe Chatrier stadium.

Let the baller arrivals begin!

(images via Getty)

THE LOW DOWN: Henin's retirement not completely what it seems, door open for return

Is Justine Henin just taking a long-deserved break and not a permanent retirement as was reported? Quite possibly.

The Independent is reporting that the former world no. 1 had been dealing with serious personal issues recently, including the death of her sister Sarah's premature new born boy and a failed romance with a South African doctor that began last winter and ended only weeks ago. In fact, she almost withdrew from the epic final of last season's WTA Championships against Maria Sharapova but was urged to win it for her sister and her son.

Those amongst her inner circle are speculating the door is not completely closed on a return to tennis. Her brother Thomas, who she was hitting with recently, said,

Maybe, I don't know. In six months to a year, if she hasn't found happiness in real life, it is possible. We don't know about the future.
Her father Jose with whom she was estranged also raised questions about her motives saying about her recent relationship,
That's over, and Justine felt that men don't want her for the person she is but because she is the worldNo 1. She believes she will have a much bigger chance of meeting a good man and then having children in the future if she is not playing tennis any more.
But he also believes she's left the door open for a return:
It might be possible to see her come back one day, just a chance. When Kim Clijsters quit she stopped completely. Justine is already playing again, so who knows?
As intensely private as Justine has been historically, I wouldn't be surprised if she called it a 'retirement' in order to keep the media hawks out of her business...even for just a little while. Nothing is ever what it seems with her.

(image via Getty)


Hamburg - Rafael Nadal

So Rafa defeats Roger Federer 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3 in an epic Hamburg final to win the only major clay-court title he had yet to own and improves his head-to-head with the world no. 1 to 10-6. Oh yeah, he also beat the best baller this year in Novak Djokovic to keep the no. 2 ranking. Not that he needed much more confidence on the dirt, but do you think he's feeling a fourth Roland Garros title now?

Rome - Jelena Jankovic

Jelena defended her Rome title and solidified her chances for Roland Garros by demolishing Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-2. With nemesis Justine Henin out of the way (she never defeated the Belgian in 9 tries), don't be surprised to see the Serb in the final weekend of next week's Grand Slam.

(images via Getty)

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