USTA Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs Recap

Once again, I am so extremely sad to see the tennis end at the Australian Open Wildcard playoffs here in Atlanta at the Racquet Club of the South (RCS).  But here we are and I have to admit that the result somewhat surprised me, at least from the men’s perspective.

I was thinking that 16 year old Madison Keys would most likely come out the winner on the ladies side, and she did not disappoint.. winning rather easily in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 against 20 year old New Yorker, Gail Brodsky. The real surprise came to me on the men’s side however, with 24 year old Jesse Levine coming out the winner, and doing this so convincingly.. defeating Robby Ginepri 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 in just 1 hour and 24 minutes.

Madison Keys after defeating 21 yr old Alison Riske

Ginepri was also surprised by this outcome and quickly packed up his things and left, even before the trophy ceremony.  But one of the tournament executives ran him down, and made it clear to him that part of his responsibilities was to take part of the final ceremony and accept his runner-up trophy.  He graciously, although somewhat reluctantly, conceded and accepted his 2nd place fate. A very difficult thing to do in front of all the local Georgia fans of his.

The outcome was surprising to me for several reasons, but this was only after sorting through Sock’s retirement which came the day before at 4-5 in the third against Denis Kudla.

At only 19 years of age, you would think Jack could fight through minor cramping, especially at an indoor tournament, but unfortunately it was more than minor, and there were other obstacles for the teenager that most weren’t aware of.  You see, Jack was fighting off a cold and had taken some cold medicine earlier that day, which somewhat exacerbated the problem and dehydrated him more than he would have liked. When he fell on the court grabbing his legs in pain, I knew it was over for him and I thought okay, it’s Ginepri’s tournament to lose now.

After discussing my opinions with Jack later, he informed me that indeed Jesse would win the event and that he was so certain of this that he was willing to take a bet on it.  So, me being the extremely competitive person that I am, begged to differ, and took him up on the bet.  Let me assure you when I say, that I have never wanted Robby Ginepri to win anything more IN MY LIFE than I did at that moment.  I had a great deal to gain by winning this bet.. but unfortunately, and much to my surprise, I came out the loser.

What shocked me even more about the result was how convincingly Levine won against the veteran Ginepri. It just goes to show how much I don’t know, or my lack of keeping up with what is going on in the tennis world among players ranked in the world’s top 100. Shame on me.

So, a couple of things I learned at the tournament this year:  After a presser with Patrick McEnroe and Robby Ginepri, I was taken back by a couple of things.  McEnroe is a tough customer, taking nobody’s “bull” let me assure you.  I’m thinking this runs in the family what do you folks think? And Ginepri is nothing what I thought he was.  The first time I met him (in 2010) he seemed very aloof and not really the friendliest of sorts.  I came to find out that he is  somewhat shy and introverted and that this is not really indicative of who he is at all.  He was very friendly and seemed more than happy to answer the questions asked of him with a big smile on his face at all times.

On day 2 of the event, while some of the matches were still taking place at RCS, I was able to spend some time with 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles Champions Jack Sock and Melanie Oudin.  The two couldn’t be nicer and their friendship is somewhat adorable.  So much so, that fans came up to them asking for their autographs and subsequently asked them if they were dating.  They just laughed and said no they weren’t.  They do make a very cute couple if I do say so myself.  Although they will not be playing together at the 2012 Australian Open, I am certain we will be seeing Jack and Melanie play more mixed doubles together in the future. Of course, I had to put my two cents in and told the pair that they should indeed play together again.  I’m certain they took my advice seriously as who would be a better expert on the sport of tennis other than “moi”. Unfortunately,  Jack will not be going to Australia, but Melanie will be heading Down Under to play in the qualifying event and I’m hoping to see her do well there.

So, when I asked Jack how he liked being endorsed by Adidas now, rather than the Beaverton, Oregon giant Nike, he stated that he was loving it.  One of the big reasons: he has wide feet.. and Adidas makes a wider tennis shoe than Nike.  Adidas also has his name engraved on his shoes and a large “N” on his tennis jackets.  The “N” represents his beloved University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, where his brother Eric is a junior and plays tennis.  His father, Larry also attended Nebraska and played golf there.  Needless to say, there is a lot of athletic “giftedness” in the Sock family.

By the way, speaking of Melanie earlier, she is now training full-time down in Boca Raton, Florida with many other up and coming young American players (including Keys).  She’s hoping to take her game to the next level in the very near future.  By the way, did you know that Melanie is endorsed by Wilson now? (okay so I didn’t know that)

One last random thing to mention before I sign off:  Jesse Levine is so much SHORTER than I thought and Madison Keys is so much TALLER than I thought.  She’s 6’1 by the way.. I see another Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova in our future for sure.

24 yr old Jesse Levine after defeating veteran Robby Ginepri of Georgia

So lastly, let me say that Levine is extremely excited to play in the “big show” in Australia and both he and Keys are carrying a great deal of confidence going into the first Grand slam of the year.

So let’s get Down Under already shall we!

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2011 Delray Beach ITC Recap

South Florida has never been hotter in February; the reason:  The Delray Beach International Tennis Championships has never had such an elite line-up of players as they had this year.  #1 seed Andy Roddick did pull out of the tournament at the last minute due to illness, but even so, with players such as del Potro, Fish, Querrey, Karlovic, Tipsarevic and Isner there was no need to worry.  This is not to mention the legends on the Champions tour John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and of course, Mark Phillippoussis.  This is one of the wonderful and singular things about this tournament.  Delray Beach is the only tourney in the world to have both the ATP World Tour and the Champions tour play simultaneously.

Speaking of the Champions tour, it was such a pleasure to see them compete, but most notably was McEnroe with his notorious antics.  Some things never change I guess and neither has Johnny Mac in all his glory.  While playing Aaron Krickstein in the semi’s, he got a little, “upset” over a call that was called in when he thought it was out.  After he starting cursing at the line judge and the ranting getting him nowhere, he then moved on to the chair umpire.  When the umpire didn’t budge on changing the call to his favor, he proceeded to call him a “pompous ass”.  What’s truly befuddling to me is how no one seems shocked by these things and the sheer, utter silence that ensues after his rants just never ceases to amaze me. Even funnier, half way through the match, a woman in the crowd yelled “C’mon John get your sexy on”.  So what does McEnroe do?  He pulls down his pants and moons her.  Love it!  

Johnny Mac in his SF Champions match vs Krickstein in Delray

Regardless, it was wonderful to see McEnroe compete.  He is still an amazing tennis player, just a little slower now that’s the only difference.  Krickstein did manage to defeat him in three sets, and his form was very impressive as well.  When I first saw Aaron on the court, I was brought back to Andre Agassi’s Autobiography… when he referred to Krickstein as one of the first men he competed against.  When I finally saw the man compete in person, it was nice to see him actually brought to life on the tennis court.

So, one of the Champions biggest highlights was undoubtedly to see Mark Phillippoussis out there competing on the court again with that awesome serve of his.  At the age of 34, Phillippoussis was acing his opponents with serves reaching close to 130 mph.  I mean seriously, there are men competing on the ATP World Tour that can’t serve ‘em up like this.  His desire is to come back and play some main ATP tour events soon and I know many of us are really looking forward to his return.  Mark was to take a Wildcard in to the Qualifying event of the BNParibas Open in Indian Wells this month, but couldn’t accept it because of a conflicting Senior event in Zurich, where he has already been entered.

Phillippoussis in his Final mach against Krickstein in Delray

Speaking of awesome serves, how about the Awesome Argentine Juan Martin del Potro?  What a pleasure to have him back competing again on the ATP tour.  Since his wrist surgery in May 2010, Juan Martin has come back in 2011 playing his best tennis in his last three tournaments, all in the U.S.  Making the semi’s both in San Jose (lost to Verdasco), and in Memphis (lost to Roddick), del Potro won the championship in Delray, his first title since the 2009 US Open, where he defeated Roger Federer in 5 sets.  Juan looked exhausted in the Final against Tipsarevic and at one point looked as if he was all but ready to walk away the loser in that match.

del Potro in his SF match against Roddick in Memphis, where Andy defeated him

Somehow Delpo kicked in another gear however, only to be helped out by Tipsy’s onslaught of errors and lack of mental toughness, which ultimately left him the winner defeating Tipsarevic in straights (6-4, 6-4).  Unshaven and looking close to death, Juan Martin addressed the crowd in his native Spanish, which we all know makes him feel much more confident whe he speaks.  The look of complete bliss and utter joy in the 22 year old’s face was so precious, so sweet… like a child getting his first chocolate egg on Easter Sunday.  I couldn’t help but smile looking at his picture with the winner’s trophy.  I feel an incredible urge of excitement when I think of Delpo playing in Indian Wells and Miami.  He will come with a new found confidence… and so let the games begin!

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Memphis Regions Morgan Keegan Recap

The tournament in Memphis last week was such a treat for tennis fans in more ways than one.  Not only did Memphis provide an outstanding line-up of elite players, but their venue is so intimate, it is such a priviledge to see tennis being played at that high of a level live.  Television does not do justice to the way the ball is hit with such power, speed and preciseness.  There is no substitute for being there.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the highlights of the tournament were these: 1. Milos Raonic 2. del Potro’s return  3. Roddick’s match point 4. Milos Raonic. Yes, the kid’s got game, but what is so impressive is his off court persona as well.  In the pressers, Milos carried on like a man at least 10 yrs his senior.  Answering questions like he’d been doing it for decades and with such maturity and wit.  After each win, he was more spirited, more emotional, and with increasingly bigger smiles on his face.  When asked how he was doing so well in back to back tournaments, his response: “I am confident”.  I mean what more does a man need to say?

Raonic in SF match against Fish

Speaking of pressers, the man who impressed all of us the most was Mardy Fish.  He takes these press conferences seriously and listens with intent to your questions.  Upon answering, he looks at you straight in your eyes to really ensure that he is answering your question properly.  SO impressive.  And so was his game.  He took Raonic to three sets and said to us afterwards: “He played like a top ten player today, I did the best I could” .. and this was no lie on both counts.

Fish in his SF match against Raonic

So this was the first time I was able to see the 2009 US Open Champion, Juan Martin del Potro live,  and I can tell you that watching that man belt a 100 mph forehand winner just re-defines the word awesome.  Delpo’s shots just punishing and he can do it from both wings too.  This is why my love of the men’s game just keep’s getting deeper and deeper.  As racquet technology makes the game come at us faster and harder, it impresses me even more that these men (and women for that matter) can get these balls back in play let alone return any of these serves.

When he finally defeated Russell in his quarterfinal match, del Potro screamed out an “AAYAAHHHH! when he finally won.  As someone who is thrilled to see Delpo back in great form, I was thrilled to see him yell with glee like that, to see the joy in his face was so utterly beautiful.  This is a man who won the US Open against Roger Federer in 2009 and is jumping for absolute joy to get into the semi’s of a 500 level tournament after coming back from injury.  Yes, it was pure JOY.

Looking forward to seeing del Potro, as well as 7 (yes 7!) American men play in Delray this week.  Most of the men who played in Memphis will play in Delray, the only difference being that it is a 250 event, and of course, and outside tournament.  Roddick did pull out, however, but this is no surprise to me.  He looked pale in the pressers while coughing through half his questions.  I actually felt for the man.  Needless to say, his dive in his final match against Raonic didn’t help matters.

SO much wonderful tennis yet to come in Delray, and this year!!  Looking forward to seeing the awesomensess of Philippousis serve… it’s been a long time.

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Verdasco vs Raonic in Memphis

Wednesday night in Memphis was a real treat for us tennis fans.  After playing in the Finals in San Jose just days earlier, Fernando Verdasco and Milos Raonic battled it out again, but this time at the 500 level tournament of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships.

The tennis was incredible, but especially because I had never seen either of these two men play live before.  I already knew of Verdasco’s talent, but Raonic is really just emerging on the “big” scene and the boy just downright impresses me in more ways than one.

At 6’5″, Raonic’s serve is an absolute bomb.  One bomb exploding after another,  just frustrating Verdasco to no end.  Fernando just kept putting his head down in disbelief not knowing how to combat his opponent.  All the while, Milos just had this devilish grin on his face looking like he had no care in the world, just a walk in Central Park for him.  If he felt pressure, he certainly didn’t show it on the court.  Always composed was Milos.

Furthermore, Raonic moves around the court like someone who is so much smaller than 6’5″.  He gets from one side of the court to the other with relative ease and typically can do something pretty impressive with the ball once he gets there.  Not only this, but the kid is so composed.  He is a 20-year-old that behaves well beyond his years for sure.  In today’s presser after his match with Stepanek, Milos was unflappable, soft-spoken and very confident.  So far my impression of him is that he is a CLASS act on and off the court.

But speaking of pressers, Verdasco on the other hand, looked like he had been run over by a Mach truck.  Also, soft-spoken, but I think because of the defeat more so than his personality.  He kept his head down much of the time and not really having an answer for what happened. He just kept saying “was not a tennis match for me, no.  Just serves, no rallies.  Was not a tennis match for me.  I want to play him on clay…”  But he did offer up a laugh after that comment which kept a little levity in the room.

To sum it up, I think that Verdasco will do a lot of soul-searching as he heads down with his team to Acapulco trying to figure out how this kid got the best of him twice in one week.  Meanwhile, Raonic will figure out how he can stomp out his next opponent, Robert Kendrick, who he said defeated him in Vancouver last year 6 and 4.  He also said that he is a different, fitter, more improved player so he is expecting to give him a better match this time around.  Next tournament for Raonic: Davis Cup vs Mexico

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Memphis Regions Morgan Keegan 2010 ATP Re-Cap

So as I sit with much anticipation for the Memphis Tournament this year, where I will be ONE week from now, I think about last year’s tourney and how special it was for me as  the big tennis fan that I am.  The 2010 Regions Morgan Keegan Championship was the first ATP/WTA Pro tournament that I witnessed LIVE.  Yes it’s really true.  I decided to make the long drive from Atlanta to Memphis when I saw that two up and coming Americans were getting through the rounds with relative ease.  Those two Americans: Querrey and Isner.

Good Friends Querrey& Isner 2010 Memphis Dubs Final

Since I am an American and I am somewhat partial,  yes I wanted to see Quisner go far.  And go far they did.  They both made it to the finals in both singles and doubles.  Honestly, I was thinking the entire time that Isner was going to walk away with the title, but Sam was not going to have any part of that plan, no.  John was up a set and a break in the 2nd set and I was all but walking out of the stadium thinking “I wonder when the dubs match will start”?  But Sam came roaring back like thunder, and then a bolt of lightning struck!  He broke John, and came back to win the set in a tie break.  I was like.. wait, whooaa, hold on a minute! Umm, John was a few points from the title here Sam, like.. what are you doing?  Isn’t he like your best friend?  Hahaha, friends aside, you have to go out there and compete regardless of who is on the other side of that net and compete is what they did.

Isner and his intimidating, booming serve against Querrey

So when you’re Isner, you have the advantage of being almost 7 feet tall, and what does this mean for a tennis player?  You have so much Geometry to play around with that many of your opponents cannot “prove the theorem”.  Yes, I think even Descartes himself would have trouble figuring out the mathematics of Johnny’s serve (and possibly Euclid and others…) LOL… ANYWAY, well there was a slight, minor problem in this because, you see Querrey has a bomb of a serve too.  So, when Sam got the ball back in play, he was dictating and punishing it.  In the third set subsequently, after Isner was broken, all Sam had to do was stay the course… and the match was ultimately his.  It was bittersweet for me to say the least.  To see Querrey hold the trophy was beautiful, and to see Isner not hold it was unthinkable.

During the trophy ceremony, Isner looked despondent, still unable to comprehend how that match got away from him.  And I have to admit, I was sitting there thinking the same thing.  When the interviewer went on to Querrey, Sam says “Oh I’m sure we (he and John) will laugh about this later”.  Well guess what: I don’t think Isner was laughing about it later. In fact, when John got back to his hotel room, I bet he wanted to put his (very large) fist through that hotel’s wall.  Nothing of this nature would ever happen though because the man has too much composure.  I mean, when Lady Gaga wrote the Song “Poker Face”, I’m certain she was thinking of Isner when she wrote the lyrics. Lololololol.

Isner and Querrey def Hutchins and Kerr in the Memphis Dubs Final

So the good news is that after that wonderful 3 set singles match, Quisner went on to win the Dubs final shortly thereafter, swiftly beating Ross Hutchins and Jordan Kerr in Straights (6-4, 6-4).  Beautiful smiles ensued from all four players when it was over and Isner was consoled lifting up the winners trophy with his good friend Querrey, who had just defeated him in singles a couple of hours earlier.

So, what do I think will happen this year?  It is a BIG mystery to me for sure, that much I can tell you.  The field of players is so strong and several of the players are former top 20 (and even top 5) who have been out injured over the past year (i.e. Del Potro).  The pun is definitely intended. Look at all the BIG men who are competing: Delpo, Karlovic, Querrey, Isner, Monfils.  I mean it is going to be one big Ace Fest, at the very least I can assure you.  And anyone who has ever been to Memphis before can attest to the fact that you are SO close to the players (in any seat), so BEWARE if you are there… because you could get a serious black eye from those serves coming at you. Not kidding folks.  Also, one thing to note, I think Querrey will go far in this tourney.  Why?  I saw him defend his title in LA against Murray, and I saw a focus there that I don’t typically see with him.  I think the fire will be in his eyes again and he has had time to rest up. FOR SURE.

And by the way, this is totally random but earlier I mentioned being so close to the players…  Well, Sharapova is SO much smaller (and what I mean by that is, skinnier) in person. She really is… TALL but TINY.  Anyway, more to come later tennis friends, so stay tuned.

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