Google Down the Line!: 2009-02-01


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Letter to DtL readers: Please stand by...

Hey guys,

It seems I'm having some internet issues today so I most likely won't be posting. Hopefully all will be back to normal tomorrow and I'll be able to wrap up the first weekend of FED CUP and all the WEEKEND WINNERS.

Until then have a good one!

RiCH

Friday, February 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: Murray on WADA procedure


The official who came to my home wanted me to produce identification to prove who I was. He insisted on watching me provide a sample, literally with my trousers round my ankles, and then insisted that I wrote down my own address even though he was at my private home at 7am.

- Andy Murray on undergoing tennis' new anti-doping testing under the WADA code

Uh, there's a lot I could say about this quote by the Brit baller but I'll stick to the point: These measures -- known location one hour of every day, 3 missed appointments warrants up to 2-year suspension -- seem pretty severe as he (and Rafael Nadal) have described it especially since the number of doping allegations in tennis are far under the numbers reported by other sports.

And I suppose during tourneys it's especially hard because of the constant change of match schedules.

But until the ballers can organize and fight the new measures, they better make sure to pee into that cup in a timely manner...and let them watch if they want.

(image via Gettty)

Shrieka finally playing points with serves, looks towards March return


Maria Sharapova, who withdrew from the Paris Open + Dubai, provided an update on her Weekly Doodles about the progress of her recovery:

I have been training in Florida the last few weeks and really working hard on getting the strength back in my arm. It's really amazing how you can do all the exercises and rehab in the world but nothing substitutes the time you spent on court running and hitting hundreds of balls. The biggest lesson I have learned throughout this whole process is that it takes so much patience to get back to where you were physically. You are never really going to forget 'how' to hit a tennis ball but what you do forget is how much work and repitition you must put into every single day in order to get back to where you were. And the only way to get back into good shape is by playing tennis. Unfortunately just because the doctor fixes the problem and gives you the green light to practice doesn't mean that you can just go out there playing tournaments. Yesterday I played my first few points with serves in about 6 months which was pretty exciting! Right now I'm aiming for Palm Springs, or Miami, depending on how things shape up. I cannot wait to get back to playing tournaments
It's pretty crazy that Shrieka just played "her first few points with serves in about 6 months". The recovery has been pretty slow at best but it's better to take it easy on the shoulder than rushing back. It's also interesting after all the speculation about her status recently we're finally getting some actual statements about her the withdrawal and her progress.

In any case, the earliest we'll see her looks to be March.

Heal on Shrieka, heal on.

(image via mariasharapova.com)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

(UPDATED) Rafa LIVE CHAT: Did anyone get through? Anyone??


I've heard from a few readers today (more like annoyed readers) who attempted to get into the Babolat-sponsored LIVE CHAT with Rafael Nadal and were unable to get through. Some even tried to stop by early and were told it was at capacity already.

Is there anyone out there who made it into the chat with the Mallorcan Matador? Let us know!

And for those of you who didn't (myself included), feel free to leave your uncensored thoughts in the comments section.

*still wearing very pissed-off face*

UPDATE: Click here for LIVE CHAT transcript in case you missed it (and no doubt most of you did. Boo.)

UPDATE #2: Thanks to Meri again for sending over Part 2 of the the Matador shooting a TV ad most likely for Banesto. We get suited up Rafa, casual clad in jeans Rafa, and I'm-about-to-bust-out-laughing-I-swear Rafa. CHECK IT -


VIDEO VAULT: Serena the "odd girl" visits Jay Leno and talks Oz, streakers, and superstitions

The WTA Penthouse's latest resident Serena Williams stopped by The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night to discuss winning her fourth Aussie Open crown and her return to World No.1.

The self-described "odd girl" also talks about the insufferable Aussie heat, the streaker who paid a visit to her doubles match with Venus, and her superstitions (which I thought she didn't have for religious reasons - but whatever).

I have to say ReRe looks really great in the salmon-colored dress and seems happier than ever before. Plus, she seems def comfortable in front of the late night crowd - no shocker there. I mean, the girl loves the spotlight.

CHECK IT:

Get your urban news at DimeWars.Com


(via dimewars.com)

THE LOW DOWN: Justine + Kim both prepping for exo tourneys - is a return to the WTA Tour next?


Retired lady ballers Justine Henin + Kim Clijsters are both reportedly prepping to play a few exhibitions during the 2009 season.

Belgian papers have noted that the 7-time Grand Slammer Justine is slated to appear at the Belgian Tennis Trophy exhibition in Charleroi on December 5 - 6 while former US Open champ Kim has been training on a regular basis with former sparring partner Wim Fissette and physical coach Sam Verslegers to prepare for some exhibitions this year as well according to her website.

So of course the rumor mill is buzzing with talk (and lots of hope) that the two Belgian ballers will eventually make their returns back to the WTA Tour (and, boy, does the Tour need them.)

As the saying goes, never say "never" but who really knows. Personally, I'd love to see both of them back.

Do you guys think this signals their intentions to return to full-time play or not?

DO TELL!

(image via Getty)

PHOTO OP: Madona in full dress, served bagels by Galina


Madona Najarian was spotted in Perth battling Galina Voskoboeva in their Asia/Oceania Group FED CUP tie today. Unfortunately the Iranian was served double bagels by her Kazakhstani foe - ouch.

Regardless, what a stirring image it is to see a lady baller in full Islamic dress cracking groundies in a FED CUP match. You can never say tennis isn't a truly international, far-reaching sport, eh?

(image via TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

(UPDATED) THE LOW DOWN: Shrieka withdraws from Paris + Dubai, officials cite "failure to fully recover" from shoulder injury

More bad news for the MIA Maria Sharapova.

The 3-time Grand Slammer, who's been forced out of action since last August with a balky right shoulder, has withdrawn from next week's Paris Open and Dubai the following week after failing to fully recover, tournament officials confirmed.

This announcement is murky at best but it could mean a few things: either her shoulder is still tender from surgery, her overall competitive fitness still needs a lot of work, or, worst case scenario, it's been reinjured.

In any case, the Shrieka camp must be seriously worried about her long-term prospects considering this is her dominant side.

The WTA Tour desperately needs her back in the fold so this is very troubling news.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Shrieka finally released a statement about the withdrawal via her website -

I'm very disappointed to be unable to compete in the upcoming Open GDF SUEZ and Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, both of which are great events that I was very much hoping to be able to play. My shoulder continues to improve every day and I am working very hard on the practice court. I'm looking forward to being back on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour very soon.
(image via Getty)

MEDIA MASHUP: Rafa shoots TV spot in Palma, posts final blog from Oz



Thanks to DtL reader (and def rabid Rafanatic) Meri again for a new behind-the-scenes video featuring Rafael Nadal!

A day after getting mobbed at the airport, the world's top baller was spotted back in Palma shooting a TV spot. I'm not sure what it's for or what the newscaster is saying here (feel free to add translation in the comments section) but does it really matter?

Rafa looks great and def in a relaxed, happy mood.

Ah, to be 22-years old, loaded, and on top of the (tennis) world.

*hides face from Starbucks patrons, cries into backpack*


BONUS: The Aussie Open champ posted one last blog for The Times after his big win on Sunday. Here it is in case you missed it:

HI everyone, I am writing this last blog from the Australian Open. I say from the Oz Open and not Melbourne since I am writing it on the plane on my way back home. There are many questions that you can ask me and most of them have been answered at the press conference. I just want to say a few more things... First that I didn't have that much time to celebrate. Let me explain why:

I got to the hotel at around 3.30 am. The work doesn't finish on court with the prize giving ceremony... After that a lot of things are still happening: TV interviews, Anti-Doping Control, press conference, more TV interviews, radio interviews, live interviews with some radios in Spain and finally back to the locker room to celebrate with my team. We had some sparkling wine there and we celebrated a bit. We also brought in the Spanish media reps tha travelled all the way to Melbourne and stayed there these weeks with us.

As I say I got back to hotel at around 3.30am and I know that Benito, my PR guy, had a party ready at a local club. We thought about going but I had something to eat and had to do massage or I would have been really tired. So we decided to stay in the room. It as around 4.30am and anyway the club was closed then. So we stayed and watched some football on TV. There was nothing we could do. It was too late!!! We ate and simply stayed there.

I had to wake up pretty early since had to do more press. The Spanish media came to the hotel and I talked to them. Also to Neil Harman from this newspaper. Then the official photo with the trophy that you have probably seen in the paper. Then more one on ones. After that we went back to the hotel and had lunch at my favorite restaurant. We ate Japanese and then went back to the room to get all the luggage ready. Lots of bags, lots of them. Got to the airport and here I am. I am getting back home after 30 hours traveling...

Anyway, it has been an amazing tournament. I am very, very happy as you can all imagine and I am also happy I have now 2/3 days at home before going to Rotterdam to my next tournament. I didn't play well there last year and I would love to do well.

Thanks all for reading this blog, for all your questions, for all your support and for following this. I also have a great time although I missed a couple of blogs... Apologies for that.

Bye and thanks.
Rafa

PHOTO OP: Nando bares it for Spanish Men's Health, faux hawk secret revealed


Fernando Verdasco is featured on the cover and inside shots in the latest edition of Spanish Men's Health.

I'm not sure what the actual story is about but I imagine it has something to do with the Aussie Open semifinalist's nutrition, game, fitness, blah blah blah. I mean, it is Men's Health now.

But really, who needs silly words when you have a body to look at like Nando's. Plus, we get to see how he keeps that hair from never EVER moving. Seriously, isn't it about time to retire the mountains of gel AND the up-do, faux hawk mess? Me thinks so.

Anyway, prepare to drool...




(image via ATP Men's Tennis Blog)

Rafanatics rejoice: Babolat sponsors LIVE CHAT with Oz Open champ


Now that he's survived his smoochy arrival back home, Rafael Nadal will have the safety of the internet to be able to interact with fans this time around.

His racquet-maker, Babolat, is sponsoring a LIVE CHAT with the newly-crowned Aussie Open champ this Thursday, February 5th. Just click on the "Register Me" link to sign up for the chat and a chance to win a racquet signed by the Matador.

Okay Rafanatics, prepare yourselves and your questions - but keep it clean, if you can.

PS - Thanks Barcelona2012 + Isabelle!

(screen capture via chat-rafa.com)

Kiri dumps coach, talks Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue


Like Ana Ivanovic, Maria Kirilenko has also made some changes in her personnel to help awaken her slumbering game.

The Russian, who fell in the first round to Sara Errani at the Aussie Open, has dumped her coach, Eric Van Harpen, for someone a little closer to home - her father Yuri Kirilenko:

It’s like in the life, sometimes you feel you need to change something. Especially in sport, when something doesn’t work. Eric helped me a lot, I learned a lot of new things thanks to him. We are still good friends with him and his daughter Laura.
Good news Kiri fans! It seems she's never had a clear idea of what her strengths and weaknesses are and, therefore, never had a solid game plan when taking the court. Hopefully, this new arrangement will spark new energy for the petite lady baller.


And, thanks to DtL reader Damien for tipping me off to Kiri's thoughts on her upcoming spread in this month's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue:
I have very good memories of the photo shooting for Sports Illustrated. I went to Dominican Republic with my mother. I was there for three days and I had a great time ! All days on the beach posing :-) I can tell I was busy all the days but it was so nice ! A great team worked with me. The great photographer Walter Iooss, I think it is a greatest photographer I ever work with. So, I can’t wait when the pictures come out ! There are coming 15th of February I guess.
Here we go again. I'll be curious to see if this lady baller can pull off the whole modeling/sex kitten moment.

*sigh*

(images via Getty)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

(UPDATED) VIDEO VAULT: Rabid Rafanatic breaks through, plants *smooch* on Oz Open champ


Thanks to DtL reader Meri for send me this link of Rafael Nadal arriving at the Palma de Mallorca airport after his stirring win at the Aussie Open.

The world's top baller is seen being mobbed by the media and also by some eager fans including one woman who breaks through the crowd to plant a wet *smooch* on the Matador's right cheek only to have him wipe it right off!

Gotta give the rabid Rafanatics credit, though. You can't keep 'em down though Rafa may want to try - you never know what they may do when given the chance (seriously, just check the comments section here for some detailed ideas...if you dare.)

CHECK IT:



UPDATE: Thanks to Barcelona2012 for sending me the link to photos of the incident in question. Rafanatics - which one of you is the culprit? Announce yourself!

The Times' Harman wants these awkward post-match moments to stop - can you blame him?

"Seriously, do I have to get up there and spill my guts? Didn't I just do that on court??"

Neil Harman has had his fill of watching awkward post-match moments (join the club) and he's not gonna take it anymore.

After watching Roger Federer literally dissolve into tears after his heartbreaking loss to Rafael Nadal at the Aussie Open, The Times' exasperated correspondent is pleading with tennis officials to go the way of most sports in the world and stop forcing the "loser" to get up in front of millions of spectators and viewers around the globe and speak:
No, someone, somehow has to take the bull by the horns and tell the television companies that we actually don't want or need this any more and whoever thought it was right in the first place should have seen how they would have liked it. Whether or not Federer should have reacted in the manner he did (the Net Post prefers a stiff upper lip but everyone is entitled to their opinion) that he need not have been placed in that position is without question.
"Just pretend you're enjoying this JD. It's for the fans girl."

He even goes on to lambast the Aussie Open's love for daily on-court interviews after every match citing Alicia Molik's talk with Jelena Dokic after her third round match and Jim Courier's embarrassing moment during his discussion with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:
The Australian Open is the only grand slam where on-court interviews are a matter of daily, often cringe-inducing routine. This year they reached their nadir when Alicia Molik, an above-average former Australian player and the latest of such renown to join the Channel 7 team of former players, said to Jelena Dokic "give me a hug, girl" at the end of her third round match on Rod Laver Arena. Never have one's toes curled so much.

Dokic could hardly refuse but she clearly wanted no part of such manufactured sentimental guff. And then we had Jim Courier, a fine commentator, putting on a Muhammad Ali mask to interview Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who, you've guessed it, looks like Muhammad Ali. M. Tsonga went along with the gag like a good sport. It was pitiful.
OMG - so hysterical! Yeah, and of course we'll never forget Nole mouthing off about A-Rod and the NYC crowd at the US Open last year. Don't they know you NEVER give a bitter man the mic?

It really doesn't make any sense to force someone who may have had their heart ripped from their chest (yes you Fed) to get up and tell everyone how they feel about getting their heart ripped from their chest - like we can't tell. Plus, do we really learn anything interesting right after they've just played their match? They're usually tired, worn out, sweaty and ready to hit the locker rooms - and that's usually what they tell us.

Let's give the winner some time to soak the moment in and let the loser go on their un-merry way.

What do you guys think about these post-match moments?

DO TELL!

(image via Getty)

Rafa backs Phelps, "In the end sportsmen are just not machines," says Nadal


Rafael Nadal has Michael Phelps' back.

The Aussie Open champ was asked about the record-setting Olympian's current PR fiasco in which Phelps was caught on camera holding a bong though he claims he did not smoke any marijuana. A sympathetic Rafa told the press:

It does not portray the best possible image, but everyone can have a slip-up. In the end sportsmen are just not machines. Everyone is free to do whatever they want.

The Spaniard, who met the champion swimmer during his own gold medal-winning run in Beijing last summer, believes Phelps shouldn't be criticized for personal actions taken while on break from competition:
He has been on holiday for some time. He has attained all his goals and he is taking a sabbatical leave and he is totally free to be able to do it. He will have plenty of time to get back and prepare for the coming Games.
Agreed. It's troubling from a sponsorship/PR standpoint but that's about it. What he does on his personal time is his choice but he def needs to be more careful about who he hangs out with and what he's doing in front of cameras.

I mean, hello, you're kinda famous.

(image via Getty)

THE LOW DOWN: Will Dave Rineberg become Ana's new coach?


Speaking of Ana Ivanovic, The Tennis Times is reporting DH Management, who represent the Serb, has been in talks with Dave Rineberg as a potential coach.

Ana most recently worked with Sven Groenefeld through adidas' baller development program but this set up prevented him from traveling with her full-time or coaching her if she competed against another adidas-sponsored baller. The 21-year old announced the split prior to the Aussie Open but the pair were spotted working together during some Melbourne practice sessions.

Rineberg previously coached Venus + Serena Williams and penned the book Venus & Serena, My Seven Years as Hitting Coach in 2005.

The Boca Raton-based coach was quoted as saying about the potential partnership,

I’d be honored and thrilled to coach Ms Ivanovic back to #1 on the WTA, I think there are only a few coaches who have coached a player to the #1 spot and for me well, I’ve coached the best girls in the world and I think Ms Ivanovic could out do them all.
Well Rineberg certainly has the right credentials so it could be a great move. But in any case, it's good to hear her management is moving quickly to get this coaching issue settled before Ana suffers any more bad losses.

(image via Getty)

PHOTO OP: Murray gets frosty in Roehampton, frolics in surprise snow


Andy Murray was spotted at the National Tennis Center in Roehampton frolicking in the snow, building snowmen and throwing snow balls during the recent surprise snow storm that swept through England and handcuffed the parts of the country.

Believe you me Andy, it may be all fun and games now but I'd like to see you after the 10th snow storm like here in New York.

Egads! Here it comes again....



(image via andymurray.com)

More images from Ana's Rolex ad campaign, discusses rumored Melbourne moves


Team Ana have released more images of Ana Ivanovic doing her modeling, sex kitten thing in an ad campaign for sponsor Rolex.

I have to say the above image is the best one out of the bunch - she looks stunning and she seems relaxed and comfortable. The bottom two? Meh - trying too hard for sure.

Could it be she's not comfortable showing a bit of skin? Or maybe she feels better having a big stick near her face (not that I know ANYTHING about that)??


Anyway the Serb, who slipped to World No.8 this week after falling in the Oz Open third round, also discussed the rumors that the year's first major might move it's location from Melbourne saying:

I’ve made no secret of my love for Melbourne or this tournament. I was therefore concerned when I heard reports that its long-term future is not entirely safe.

For me, it simply isn’t even a question: the Australian Open should remain in Melbourne. I am very young and admit I am no expert on the history of the game, but for me as a player I feel that this tournament belongs here as much as any of the other three Grand Slams belong in their current locations. To move any of them would be unthinkable.
The fact that Ana's publicly discussing the possibility of a move makes me think it's definitely a concern for Tennis Australia and the rumors aren't unfounded. Very interesting indeed.


And how does the Roland Garros champ feel about the idea of moving the Slam back in the calendar?
I would not move this tournament from its current calendar position either. I always spend up to a month training in Australia beforehand, and I can feel the public’s holiday spirit during the summer months. It also ensures that we get great crowds.

It makes sense to keep it in January, when so many people are on holiday. Moving it to February, to allow players more warm-up tournaments, is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Looking at the matches this year, it’s clear that the players are already in great form, because they prepared well.
Eh, did you forget you just got embarrassed by Alisa Kleybanova and lost early in Melbourne, Ana? I certainly wouldn't say you were in "great form" and "prepared well". You may want to rethink that last part of your blog because you def looked like you could've used a bit more prep time.

Just sayin'.

(images via anaivanovic.com)

Monday, February 2, 2009

2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN WRAP-UP: The Ladies


The ladies’ draw started off missing a major component: defending champ Maria Sharapova, who withdrew when her surgically repaired right shoulder rendered her unfit for the Melbourne fight. However, a slew of other eager lady ballers were already prepared to stake their claim on the first Grand Slam of the year.

THE LADIES

Serena Williams knows what it takes to win the Oz Open crown – she’s won the title every odd year since 2003 – so would fate be on her side this time around? It wasn’t so clear at the outset when she fought through some scratchy patches in her opening rounds and lost the first set to Victoria Azarenka in the Round of 16. But, as luck would have it, Vika retired from their match after having been ill earlier in the day and gave safe passage for ReRe into the quarterfinals where she battled familiar foe Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 27-year old lost the first set but as luck would have it again, the scorching Aussie heat caused the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof to be closed and in turn caused ReRe’s supreme game to open up.

The rest, as they say, was history as were her opponents including Sveta, semifinal foe Elena Dementieva, and Dinara Safina in the final. She earned her second consecutive Grand Slam, a 10th career major moving her past Monica Seles on the all-time list, regained the keys to the WTA Penthouse, and topped the list of career prize-money earners in all of women’s sports (surpassing golfer Annika Sorenstam) by winning the doubles title with sister Venus and making the final. ReRe will be on the short list of faves for Roland Garros and if she grabs that one too watch out!

Dinara entered Melbourne with a some matches at the Hopman Cup and a finals appearance in Sydney but her form, particularly the serve, were still off. She needed needed 3 sets in 3 of her matches including her fourth round tussle against Frenchie Alize Cornet. After going down 2-5 in the third set, the Russian found the range on her groundies and saved 2 match points along the way to make her first quarterfinal in Oz. Unfortunately for D, she got spanked by ReRe in the final 6-0, 6-3 but it was a solid effort nonetheless for the new World No.2.

There’s a big difference between reaching No.1 and actually staying there. Such is the problem for sister Serbs Jelena Jankovic + Ana Ivanovic. After a 2008 breakout season which saw both lady ballers rise to the top spot and both make a Grand Slam final - JJ in Flushing Meadows and Ana at Roland Garros where she grabbed her maiden major – their games have tailed off considerably. Like Nole, outside concerns may be to blame: JJ switched clothing sponsors from Reebok to ANTA, was rumored to be leaving Prince, and battled a flu at the JB Group Classic that left her short of matches. Ana had her off-season romance and on-season breakup with Fernando Verdasco and announced she was no longer working with adidas baller development coach Sven Groenefeld though they reconnected during the fortnight.

In most winning scenarios, consistency is THE key and these issues seemingly left them with no confidence and both lost early – JJ to Marion Bartoli in the fourth round and Ana to the unheralded Russian teen Alisa Kleybanova in her third rounder. Let’s hope their focus turns back to tennis or their slippery Serbian Slide may have no end in sight.

Breakout Performance (tie):
Jelena Dokic's inspiring run to the quarterfinals, taking out 11th seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round; Borna Bikic and his arms making their welcomed appearance in her baller box

Most Disappointing Performance: Venus Williams second round debacle, going down to Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro after winning the first set, leading 2-5 and holding a match point in the third

Kudos also go out to Elena Dementieva who came in with two warm up titles under her belt and reached her first Oz semifinals; Bart for schooling JJ, Alisa for schooling Ana; Vera Zvonareva for serving 4 bagels in her early matches before going down to Dinara in the semifinals; and Carla for making good on her defeat of V and reaching her second major quarterfinal (surely one to watch during the upcoming clay-court season.)

So what were your fave moments from the ladies' draw?

DO TELL!

(image via Getty)

2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN WRAP-UP: The Boys


The first major of the year, the Aussie Open, is now in the history books and the champions have been crowned. If you're anything like me, you had a number of questions running around your noggin but left Oz with even more. Regardless, the 2009 tennis season is now shaping up to be one for the ages.

THE BOYS

Can enough be said of Rafael Nadal and his effort of the past fortnight? The world's top baller entered Melbourne with a new look (it's got sleeves!) and concerns about some '08 season-ending injuries that left him short of match play and with a little bit of rust. Plus, he'd just lost early in Doha to Gael Monfils and had never been to a hard-court major final in his career. Like that mattered.

The 22-year old blew through his draw in blazing form up until the now-classic semifinal heavyweight bout against compatriot Fernando Verdasco. The pair threw body blow after body blow for 5 hours 14 mins (an Aussie Open record) and in the end Rafa's trademark mental toughness pulled him through in 5 sets. And with only a day to recover and practice for the final against Roger Federer, pundits and fans (including his most loyal Rafanatics) wondered if there was anything left. But the steely-eyed Spaniard put all concerns aside, dug in his Nike heels and put on one of the most impressive physical displays ever seen in the sport, going another 5 sets to defeat the Swiss stylist for his first Aussie Open title (the first Spaniard to do so) and sixth career major (the second youngest to earn six majors by 22 behind Bjorn Borg.) And with only the US Open title eluding him, a career Golden Slam is within his reach as is the ultimate prize: the calendar-year GRAND SLAM this season.

Roger Federer came into Melbourne healthy this time around after beginning the '08 season with mononucleosis. He also began in fine form but bumped up against a zoning Tomas Berdych in the fourth round, needing 5 sets and his bag of tricks to get by his Czech foe. But his biggest test came in the final when he battled Rafa for the 19th time in their respective careers. On paper the 27-year old held the advantage: multiple hard-court majors titles in his pocket including 3 Oz Open crowns and a fatigued foe in Rafa. Like that mattered.

His poor record of not converting break point chances in their past matches continued (only 6 of 19) and his serve (52% success on first serves) was nowhere to be found during the match. He fell to Rafa for the sixth time in a Grand Slam meeting, third consecutive time in major final meetings, and a added a fifth consecutive loss to the Spaniard. His post-match pool of tears bared the naked truths: he may be further away from a record-tying 14th Grand Slam crown than ever before and, more strikingly, Rafa is clearly the better baller now and may be the better baller when all is said and done. Let's hope he gets a full-time traveling coach sooner than later.

Defending champ Novak Djokovic flew mostly under the radar and gained more attention for his switch to HEAD from Wilson than for his game. He made his way to a third round encounter with American via Bosnia Amer Delic which included a violent encounter between fans from the respective countries outside the stadium. Nole then faced a rejuvinated Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, their first since the contentious US Open meet up in the same round last year. The Serb won that encounter but wasn't so lucky this time around, retiring mid-match after struggling mightily with the heat. It seems his personality has become prickly and his game more stagnant which leaves the outlook for the rest of his season very muddy.

Andy Murray entered the Aussie Open as the prohibitive fave to take the Aussie Open crown to the dismay of a few after going undefeated in the warmup tourneys, earning wins over Rafa + Fed. But the Brit baller had the unfortunate luck of running into the buzz saw known as Nando and was shell-shocked in the fourth round. However, the 21-year old is still developing his vast arsenal and should be a contender at any tourney he enters for the rest of the year.

The breakout star of the tourney was, of course, Nando. The 25-year old was the Davis Cup hero when Spain defeated Argentina in the final last season and spent the off-season not only romancing Ana Ivanovic but also training intensively in Las Vegas with Gil Reyes. He entered the Aussie Open with high hopes and a confidence-building appearance in the Queensland final but nothing could predict what would happen next: defeat of Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and his first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal. Nando, of course, made the trip worthwhile by playing a now-classic epic encounter with Rafa. Unfortunately for him, a double-fault on match point sealed his fate but if Nando keeps the focus and dedication on building his game he should be in the mix for the rest of the season.

Big props go out to Andy Roddick for putting in the hard yards during the off-season and making his fourth semifinal appearance Down Under; Juan Martin del Potro for making his second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal (though his mental game needs a tune up); Yen-Hsun Lu for his second round upset of David Nalbandian and his mustached belly bump; Gael Monfils + Gilles Simon for their PDA; and Marat Safin who most likely played, and lost, his last match ever in Oz. *still wearing sad face*

What were your fave manly moments from this year's Aussie Open?

DO TELL!

(image via Getty)

(UPDATED) PHOTO OP: Rafa raises his chances for calendar-year GRAND SLAM


Rafael Nadal was spotted at a photo call for the Aussie Open sporting the new silver hardware he won after defeating a teary Roger Federer in the Sunday final.

I'm thinking this win and momentum bodes well for Rafa and his first attempt at the calendar-year GRAND SLAM especially since Regal Rog may be reeling from this loss for a while. But no pressure, really.

My eye would be on Andy Murray, though, to be his biggest obstacle this year. Anyway, congrats again on the big win Rafa!



UPDATE: After the big win, Rafa repeated his plea directed at the tennis officials to reconsider the number of hard-court tourneys on the large-scale calendar to help prevent injury and lengthen careers on both Tours:

This calendar I am playing with this surface—hard court surface—is tougher than grass or clay for the body, and all the time we are playing more on this surface.

In my humble opinion, we have to change that a bit more. I can say that because I won a grand slam on hard (courts).

Before if I say that, a lot of people think `He wants to change because he’s a clay player.’ But believe me, I don’t think anything about if I am a clay court player or not.

When I say this, I think about the best for the players and for the future. It’s not possible to have a lot of injuries on tour like this. So we have to try to change something.

...To play with this aggression and with this rhythm all the time from the 1st of January to 31st of December is impossible.
He also deemed winning the Davis Cup this year his main goal now. I guess he'll be standing in Roger Federer's way here too!

(image via WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

VANtage Point: Welcome to Van, a look at Johannesburg

(Hey readers! Meet Van Sias, writer of the blog Tennis Talk, Anyone? and a new contributor to DtL. He'll be taking a weekly look at one of the upcoming tourneys and giving his picks on who'll come out on top. Welcome Van!)


Now that the Australian Open is out of the way, we can get on with other things, such as the launch of VANtage Point!

What’s up? My name is Van Sias and I publish a blog called Tennis Talk, Anyone? In a whole cross-marketing, cross-over, cross-pollinating thing going on, I’m going to write something for Down the Line! each week where I spotlight one of the many tournaments on the ATP and WTA tours — even taking into consideration the Challenger and ITF tournaments, too.

In case you’re wondering why you’d want to check this out, just know this: There’s almost nothing I’d rather do than break down draw sheets and make predictions on tournaments, and I’ve been that way for 20 years now. (Well, there are other things I like to do, but this stuff is near the top!)

Anyway, here’s how it goes: First , I’ll comment on an event last week or the one I spotlighted, then I’ll mention this week’s pick. I’ll give you a “Player to Watch” and make my predictions for the semifinals.

So without further ado, here’s the first VANtage Point!

A Look Back: The first major of 2009 has come and gone with Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams taking the crowns. My favorite moment of the tournament? The trophy presentation after the men’s final. Not many guys will admit this, but I’m a pretty emotional dude and I think I was bawling right along with Rog Federer! Good luck to him and hats off to the winners.

This Week’s Spotlight: To me, this is when the season really starts. You have months before another major, so it’s just players getting out there doing the work to set themselves up for the remaining Grand Slams. That being said, there’s a lot of action going on this week and the first tournament I’ve got my eye on is the ATP 250 stop in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This is the first time in a long time the Tour’s been in SA with a regular tour event and there’s a few big names sprinkled in the draw. The top two seeds are my boy Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (yeah, he is: Dude is the real deal) and David Ferrer. Check out the draw here.

Player to Watch: Now this is who I really have my eyes on there, and I’m saying it here first at the Point to look out for him the rest of the year: Marcos Baghdatis. I think if he’s healthy, he’s going to do some damage this season. Plus, he seems pretty dedicated: I mean, anytime someone gets a haircut that means they’re focused, right?

The Final Four: Jo-Willy over Bjorn Phau; the Bagh Man over Benjamin Becker.

And the Winner Is: Tsonga in a tough one.

There you have it: the first VANtage Point! It won’t be so long next time, but check back to see how I made out.

(image via Getty)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Quote of the Day: Rafa on Fed


It was an emotional moment, and I think this also lifts up sport, to see a great champion like Federer expressing his emotions. It shows his human side. But in these moments, when you see a rival, who is also a comrade, feeling like this, you enjoy the victory a little bit less.

- Newly crowned Aussie Open champ Rafael Nadal on Roger Federer's post-match pool of tears

True enough Rafa, though I doubt all champions feel this way about their rivals - friends or not. But maybe that's why this particular rivalry has such a special quality and transcends even the sport.

I guess we tennis fans can consider ourselves very lucky.

(image via Getty, via GOTOTENNIS)

VIDEO VAULT: Emotional Fed drowns in pool of tears during Aussie Open trophy presentation

"This is SO awkward..."

In case you missed it, here's video of the Aussie Open men's final trophy presentation which featured the usual happenings - tons of "thanks", some trophy lifting, praise, consolatory words - and something very unusual: Roger Federer completely shattered.

The usually serene Swiss was left in a pool of tears and unable to address the crowd, the pain of the loss written all over his face. He eventually makes his way back to the mic after some coaxing from Rafa but continues to sob uncontrollably throughout the rest of the presentation.

This one REALLY hurt.

CHECK IT:



(image via Getty)

(UPDATED) PHOTO OP: Rafa tops Fed, earns first Aussie Open title and sixth career major


Rafael Nadal may have felt the after effects of his Friday night spectacular but you wouldn't know it.

The world's top baller, who only had a day to recover from his 5+ hour semifinal versus Fernando Verdasco and needed treatment in today's third set, left everything he had on the court and defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 in the Aussie Open final for his sixth career major title and first on hard-court. He becomes the first Spanish baller to win the title in Oz and ties Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg on the all-time list with six Grand Slams each.

The 22-year old has now beaten his rival 5 consecutive times, leads their head-to-head 13-6 (6-2 in Grand Slam meet ups) and currently holds three of the four major championships with only the US Open missing from his resume.


In his post-match presser, Rafa was asked about grabbing his sixth Grand Slam:

Well, very special, no, for me. Is a dream win here, one Grand Slam on hard court. I worked very hard the last ‑‑ well, all my life for improve the tennis outside courts, well, outside of clay.

Very happy, no? Very happy for the title. Today was really lot of emotions on court. I was there with the best player I ever saw, like is Roger.

My uncle always told me Rod Laver was the best because he win two times the Grand Slam, the whole Grand Slam, the four in a row, and for like six or seven years he didn't play. So for that reason he can be.

Everything was very special. Sorry was tough moment for Rog today. I know how tough must be there in important situation from him. But, you know, no, he's a great champion. He's the best. And he's, for sure, very important person for our sport, no?

So sorry for him, but at the same time congratulate him for everything.
And what does he think was the key to winning the match in the end?
I think he had more mistakes than me in the fifth. I was more solid than Roger on the fifth. For that reason I won the match, no?

In the game when I had the first break, he has one mistake with the important ‑‑ important mistake with the backhand on the breakpoint. That was very important for me.
Kudos go out to the Mallorcan Matador for showing real grit and determination and, above all, the mental strength to come back a day after the grueling semifinal 5-setter and take the title. I wasn't sure if he would have any legs left to fight the battle against Fed but he proved me wrong.

CONGRATS!








UPDATE: Thanks to DtL reader Johanne for tipping me off to Rafa's updated blog celebrating today's Aussie Open win...

Hello Everyone!

Where should I begin….!I’VE WON THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN! YES!

When I finally celebrated my last point I felt something I’ve never felt before, it was a more peaceful victory compared to the one in Roland Garros and Wimbledon but at the same time, it was come completed. And I know why it was that way.

I grew up as a clay-courter and my style of game adapted to that: I learned to push my opponents out of the court and that made me wear out my physic with some much running around and long rallies.

But my uncle Tony and I knew that my game had to have more dimensions to it so that I could have the same kind of results on other surfaces. I had to change my game radically, more direct and aggressive. I had to improve my service as well and control my game when going up to the net. Make my shots flatter and my volley more accurate.

We had lots of work ahead of us for sure.

Every year we’ve had improve my game on hard courts and even though I bit Djoko in the final of the Olympic games, this final against Roger Federer, (who has recuperated his form) was going to be a test of fire for me.

But we made it!

All the hard work, the dedication I put into it was well worth it. And that is what sport is really about. A victory tastes amazing only if it is the result of hard work.

THANK YOU ALL OF ALL OF YOUR SUPPORT!

Rafa


UPDATE #2: Here's Rafa being interviewed by ESPN's Chris Fowler after the huge win...




(images via Getty)

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