Google Down the Line!: 2014-07-27

Friday, August 1, 2014

FASHION FIX: Victoria Azarenka loses to Venus Williams but wins in Nike

Last night we were treated to an all out battle of WTA titans when former top lady ballers Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka faced off in the Stanford second round. There was much anticipation for this match up and it didn't disappoint. They both hit stinging groundies and created acute angles as they ran each other to all parts of the court.

The pair had played three times before this match with the American winning all in straights sets. During the match, you could see why. Vika's favorite pattern is to go cross court with her backhand to open up her opponent's forehand side for her down-the-line shot. But Venus' backhand is also her favorite and she holds her own, and then some, against the Belarusians' play. In fact, Venus' all-around game, when at her best, is superior to Vika's. And last night it was again. Since Wimbledon her game has been on point. Vintage, I dare say.

It was Vika's 25th birthday yesterday and, unfortunately, she was hit with another loss to Venus, this time 6-4, 7-6 (1), and a fall out of the top 10 to number 11 in the WTA rankings (switch places with Ana Ivanovic). It's not a surprise since she has tons of ranking points to defend after her great summer last season. She's still shaking off the rust from her injury layoff and should be back to full form soon.

Vika did get some new Nike duds for her birthday match. The now 25-year old was working the Fall Premier Sleeveless Polo in fuchsia and grey and the Fall Victory Short in grey. It's a very sporty look with the classic sleeveless polo getting a severe update. The shorts, of course, are MAGICAL for Vika. If you remember, she first starting wearing shorts for matches during her victorious run to the 2012 Australian Open title. Even though other lady ballers have worn shorts, they've become something of a trademark for her. Sadly, the MAGIC didn't rub off last night.

There was plenty of grumbling on Twitter about this kit. Some liked it while others just hated on it (try "horrid" and "terrible"). Personally, I liked the look for her. It's bold and she prefers to be a little out of the box (think: RedFoo). It certainly doesn't resemble anything else out there right now and that's a good thing. When Nike tries to put her in uber-feminine looks, it never works. Vika has the body type and attitude to pull this look off. One thing: She did seem to be fiddling with the top a little bit which could mean a fit issue or something. Otherwise, it's a winner for me.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

FASHION FIX: Nike or adidas kicks?

It pays to be a baller. Check out the swag Nike sent Grigor Dimitrov and adidas gave to Fernando Verdasco recently. They're similar in style but which one is better? I'll take the Nikes, pleeeeease.

Grisha: "Fortunate to have @nike supporting me with only the best and the most unique products! Always keeping me fresh! Nike Air Force 1! #SpecialEditionRio"

Fer: "Special delivery from Adidas"

Knee injury knocks Li Na out of the U.S. Open

Today Li Na announced her withdrawal from Montreal, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open on her Facebook page because of a lingering knee injury:
I wanted to let all of my great fans know that unfortunately I am going to have to withdraw from the upcoming WTA events in Montreal and Cincinnati, as well as the US Open. Since March, I have been struggling with my knee and it is just not where I need it to be in order to play at the highest level. My medical team has advised me that I need to take some time off to rest my knee so it heels. I look forward to getting back on the court this fall in Wuhan and Beijing. - LI NA
What started off as such a promising season with a win at the Australian Open, her second major title, slowly began to unravel during the spring. She reached two quarterfinals at Madrid and Rome and then was upset in the first round of the French Open by homegirl Kristina Mladenovic. The slide continued at Wimbledon where she fell to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round. It was announced soon after her exit from the All England Club that her coaching partnership with coach Carlos Rodriguez was ending. The news reportedly surprised and upset Li.

Her results after Oz were perplexing not only to me, but also anyone who watches the sport. I kept wondering how someone who just won her second Grand Slam could be lacking in that much confidence? If she's been feeling the knee since March, it would explain why after Indian Wells and Miami, where she reached the semifinals and finals, respectively, Li's form took a nosedive in the spring and the start of summer. The break will be good for her physically and mentally.

As a result of her withdrawal from the three tourneys, Simona Halep will rise one spot to a career-high number two in the rankings next week according to the WTA.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wrist injury puts Rafael Nadal's U.S. Open defense in jeopardy

Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the upcoming Masters 1000 tournaments at Toronto and Cincinnati with a right wrist injury. In a statement published by The New York Times, the 14-time Grand Slammer flew to Spain to have an MRI done, and based on his doctor's recommendations, will have to "be out of competition for at least 2-3 weeks." The timing puts his participation at the U.S. Open in jeopardy. During last year's North American hard-court swing, he went 17-0, including winning his second title at Flushing Meadows over Novak Djokovic.

Injuries are as common as clay-court titles for Rafa. Earlier this season, he was hindered by a back injury during his loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final. And, of course, his knees have been a constant issue over his entire career. While the wrist hasn't been a recurring problem for Rafa, it's becoming one for the sport, with Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Laura Robson, and now Rafa, dealing with injuries recently.

So, what about the Spaniard's chances of making the U.S. Open? Based on the carefully worded statement Team Nadal put out, it's a big question. They said "at least 2-3 weeks" away from the tour which means it could be longer depending on his recovery. According to the statement, his return is "initially scheduled for the U.S. Open" but it all depends on how the wrist recovers, doctor's recommendations, and another MRI. They certainly left it open.

The U.S. Open begins in about three-and-a-half weeks. Even if he decided to play, Rafa would certainly be lacking in match play. If it heals quickly, he could theoretically take a wild card into Winston-Salem the week before the Open starts to try to get in some matches. I don't see that happening, though. The more likely scenario, if he plays, would be for the defending champion to try and work his way into match shape. If Rafa can get through his early matches, he'll be able to find his rhythm, feel more confident his game going forward, and be with colm - a winning recipe for the Spaniard.

There's no doubt Team Nadal is doing everything they can to get him fit in time for the year's final major. One other thing is for sure; if Rafa is given the go ahead to play, he will leave it all on the line. No question about it.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

[UPDATED] VIDEO VAULT: Sabine Lisicki throws downs a 131 mph serve and sets new record

During her opening round match against Ana Ivanovic in Stanford, Sabine Lisicki served a 131 mph bomb that the WTA tour certified as the fastest recorded woman's serve in history. The former record was 129 mph held Venus Williams.

It was certainly a phenomenal consolation prize since Boom Boom ended up losing the match in straight sets.

UPDATE: Here's Boom Boom's tweet about the record-setting serve. Even she admits it's a pretty good consolation prize:

Will the U.S. Open Series mark a return to form for Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka?

Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka aren’t as different as it might seem from the outside. They both own two majors, and won one title in 2012 and another in 2013 (the U.S. Open and Wimbledon for Murray and two Australian Open championships for Azarenka). Both of them prefer the firm footing of a hard court. They can be, eh, vocal when playing - he to his baller box and she to basically anyone who is in earshot of the stadium. And, for the last few weeks these former top-five ballers have been sitting at number ten in their tour’s respective world rankings. With the North American hard-court season and the US Open Series underway, Muzz and Vika will be looking to salvage a so far forgettable season on a surface where they thrive.

No one was really surprised about the let down that occurred after Muzz became the first British man in 77 years to lift the Wimbledon trophy last summer. He had spent years hearing the voices and feeling the pressure of being “the one” who could finally end the drought. When he converted match point against Novak Djokovic during the lengthy final game of the men's championship match, like a pressure valve, the years of expectation were released in a primal scream.

At the U.S. Open, Muzz, the defending champion, reached the quarterfinals but also dealt with a recurring lower back injury. He underwent surgery at the end of 2013, and entered 2014 not in the best form. At the Australian Open he reached the quarterfinals falling to Roger Federer, and the fourth round and quarterfinals at Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. It was during his campaign at the Miami Masters where he and coach Ivan Lendl parted ways. Lendl was looking to play more on the Champions Tour and it affected the amount of time he could dedicate to Muzz.

After getting thumped by Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals, the 27-year ended the speculation about his coaching situation by announcing the appointment of Amelie Mauresmo for the grass-court season (he is expected to officially announce Amelie as his full-time coach soon). Wimbledon, where Mopey Murray rose from the dead during a straight-set loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, was too soon for the partnership to show any effect. But Muzz will be hoping the fellow 2-time major winner can help him rediscover his motivation and reestablish his confidence.
“I have a very strong coaching team already in place, but I think Amelie brings with her experience and tactical expertise and will push us all to improve, “ he said about the decision. “Everyone I know talks very highly of Amelie, as a person and coach, and I’m convinced that her joining the team will help us push on – I want to win more grand slams.”
A good start would be reaching a tour final, something he hasn’t done since winning Wimbledon (a pretty shocking stat for a baller with his resume). He’s certainly been hard at work. The Brit has been posting a constant stream of photos and videos on his Facebook page showcasing some of his workout regiment under the watchful eye of the Frenchwoman. But it’s not all work; he took some time out to catch up with fans during a hilarious #AskAndy Facebook Q&A. Andy’s first tourney in the U.S. Open Series will be the Rogers Cup Masters on Aug. 4th where he’s a former champion. Ballers say going back to a place they’ve had success gives them confidence they can do well again. Let’s hope he has better luck in Toronto than he did at Wimbledon.

Vika had a solid start to the 2014 season reaching the finals in Brisbane where she lost to Serena Williams. As the two-time defending champion at the Australian Open, she eased here way through the draw, not losing a set until the quarterfinals where she was defeated in three sets by a zoning Agnieszka Radwanska in a breathtaking, jaw-dropping display of all-court tennis.

A left foot injury forced the Belarusian to withdraw from the Qatar Open in February where she was also the two-time defending champion. She attempted a return at Indian Wells but did not look anything close to healthy in her loss to American Lauren Davis in her first match at the tourney. Withdrawals from Miami, Monterrey, Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros followed. While she was certainly frustrated by her absence from the game, Azarenka took a decidedly philosophical approach telling the French sports newspaper L'Equipe,
“I've really played very well the past three years, and this is maybe my body sending me a signal, finding a way to tell me to take a step back. This has given me the opportunity to do different things, analyze why I miss tennis at this point."
Azarenka announced her return to competition at Eastbourne where she received a wild card. Although she lost in her first match against Italy’s Camilla Giorgi, it went three sets and nearly three hours, and her foot held up. Wimbledon soon followed where she fell in the second round to Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski in another tight three-setter.

Both matches proved that, although she was lacking match play, her fight was still very much intact. Ever the fierce competitor, it wasn’t enough for Azarenka to just be competing again; she expected to win. “The thing is that I created a lot of things to make happen for me today,” she said at the time. “I just didn't use any of those opportunities. All that stuff that I built up was good, but not taking advantage was not great.”

Her summer hard-court campaign begins this week at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. It will be good measure for her game with the likes of world number one ReRe, Angelique Kerber, Dominika Cibulkova, Ana Ivanovic, and a resurgent Venus Williams in the draw. Vika reached three finals last summer, including at the U.S. Open, which means she could fall even further down the rankings with some early losses. If Azarenka wants to begin the climb back to the top of the sport and save what's left of the season, she'll need to start with a strong showing during the U.S. Open Series.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

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