Tag Archive | Marcos Baghdatis

Monday Musings: Spring.

The most difficult thing about Monday posts is that you inevitably search for sense, for meaning, and coherency where there is none. Life doesn’t exactly fall neatly into themes, and tennis – if anything – is a microcosm of life. Some weeks produce a motley crew of winners and grinners, from veterans to youngsters, surprise finalists to players in good form.

But this week, bizarrely enough, belongs to the other end of the spectrum. It folds neatly into a single, consistent theme, running through the entire week, that is the theme of revival.

Much like the weather in Melbourne lately, both Sveta and Nalby have been through a rough winter, plagued by injuries, underperformance, questioned by the media and no doubt by themselves on a dark rainy day. For those two, the first signs of spring couldn’t have come at a better time. But as always with the first warm days of the year, you wonder if it was all an aberration. Will Mother Nature lapse back to her wintry ways? Or are we headed for gradual warmth from hereon? With Ferrer and Sharapova first up next week for our winners, the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.

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And what of Jelena Dokic, whose career is more bleak than a Siberian blizzard? She won her third challenger title in 3 weeks, currently on a 15 match winning streak after taking out Virginie Razzano in Vancouver 6-1, 6-4. Good call dumping the boyfriend/coach duo then.

Other familiar faces popping up again in this week of tennistic revivals – Gilles Simon, Marcos Baghdatis. It’s difficult to string wins together when your body is the biggest variable in your game. Great to see all of them back in action, it’s almost like a high school reunion. Without the awkward judgements.

More importantly, is the man in hot pink taking note? More than anything, last week’s tennis has filled me with hope, that if Nalbandian, ranked 117 just 24 hours ago, can come back from hip surgery with a gutful of motivation and unrest; if Sveta can put her insecurities and self-chastisement aside to tough out a match against an opponent who’s far more in touch with her sense and sensibility, then surely, there’ll be warm signs of spring for Roger and Randy and Gonzo and Lleyton … and all those other players going through their own personal winters. Surely.

xx doots

Newsreel: Sam Stosur pulls out of the Commonwealth Games.

Appreciate the irony of the 2010 New Dehli Commonwealth Games slogan – “come out and play“, as the Games suffer yet another “high profile” withdrawal.

In October this year, India will host the Commonwealth Games for the first time. Given the popularity of the sport in Indian (and other Commonwealth countries), tennis has been included for the first time as a part of the Commonwealth Games. Yet the field is expected to be weak, with Stosur – the would-be top seed of the tournament – announcing her withdrawal.

The world number five has decided to skip the Games to focus on defending her Osaka points and securing a place at the WTA Year-End Championships. Lleyton Hewitt, who led Australia’s Davis Cup boycott of their tie in India last year due to security concerns, has also decided not to compete in India.

Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis are also expected to withdraw, although neither has confirmed their non-participation.

Good news for the Indian players attending the event, with Sania Mirza, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes all down to compete.

Miami: The Frazzle Post

Congratulations to Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick. Miami Champs for 2010.

Indian Wells: The Curse of Gwen.

Sorry for the rant folks, I’m writing this about 30 seconds after the tiebreak:

Can we make it a rule that Gwen stay away from Fed matches? And commentators, shut up with the “oh it’s a privilege to watch him play” crap. Somethings are truer unsaid. And please don’t “stick a fork” in anything until match point has been played and won. One guy had 3 of those, converted none. The other only needed 1 to win.

Here I was thinking that Fed had a fabulous opportunity to build on that No 1 lead in his push for the Sampras record, but a combination of a mercurial opponent, the commentator’s jinx and the Curse of Gwen saw him tumble out of Indian Wells, 57 75 76(4).

Along the way, he wasted 3 match points and blew a 4-1 lead in the final set. I hope Myla and Charlene pee on his precious Wimbledon blazer.


The lowdown

it was the best we’ve seen from Baggy since 07, but Roger was a bit hit-and-miss all night: a fabulous forehand followed by a wild shank; TMF one game, Ferd the turd the next.

From the end of the second set and mid-way through the third, his game just fell apart and the only thing keeping him in the match was his serve. Being the momentum-hogger that he is, Baghdatis took full advantage of it and earned his win.

In case you aren’t bitter enough: it was the first time Fed has lost a match after having match points since Rome 2006, back in the days when I still loathed his guts. (Bless his guts, and his lungs). If Baggy loses, or worse – retires mid-match tomorrow, there’ll be no gallbladder big enough for my bile.

But look on the bright side: it’s Baggy. Coulda been worse…? No? No then.

This Aus Open honeymoon is so over.

xx doots

Down Under Day 6: Oh you tease.

Q. You spoke on court after the match about the fact that your father worked here for a few months, and there was a chance for a while that the family could have emigrated to Australia. Could you elaborate on that?

ROGER FEDERER: I don’t remember quite ‑‑ I was maybe 12, 14 years old. I remember actually my parents having a debate, are we moving away from Switzerland to come live over here.

At the end, they just said, Look, we have all our friends over here. And even though it’s lucrative and nice to go to Australia, they love the country, they also asked us kids. And we were like, whatever the parents decide. What are we gonna decide here?

So at the end they decided to stay in Switzerland. So, yeah, it was interesting time, you know, but it was quickly decided on. I think we even went ‑‑ I mean, went on vacation here maybe before I joined the National Tennis Center at 14.

We went on a big vacation here through Melbourne and Brisbane and Cairns and everything to maybe get a better idea of the country. Beautiful vacation, but at the end we decided to stay in Switzerland.

Q. What was your father doing out here? And secondly, Australia Day is coming up, and traditionally any new citizens who want to change nationalities choose that day to do it. You’ve still got time.

ROGER FEDERER: I would probably move first to South Africa than Australia, because I have that passport, too. No, my father was working in the paper industry. I don’t know how you call it in English. Ask him yourself. He’s in the corridor sometimes.

Hello Roger?! You big tease. WE’RE SO READY TO ADOPT YOU: you’re easygoing enough for this country. You play cricket. You’ve hired numerous Australians – EASING THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN THIS COUNTRY. Rod Laver loves you. The crowd loves you. I celebrate your puny left arm every Friday. You’d be the next Pat Rafter, but clothed.

COME TO MAMA!

Umm … back to the tennis. After a day of upsets and close shaves, Day 6 of the Australian Open turned out to be an underwhelming affair.

Roger Federer progressed safely past Montanes. After a sharp first set, Federer shanked a few backhands in the second and third sets and elicited a few miffed roars.

But he stayed solid on serve throughout, facing no breakpoints and only one deuce. Did what he had to do, and we’re safely through to the next round.

Oh, and Monkey made his 2010 debut today. Hi Monkey! Long time no see.

Roger’s history with his fourth round opponent plays like a broken record. Lleyton Hewitt may not be the player he once was, but he’s still one of the safest bets you can make for fourth round. He’s through after Marcos Baghdatis pulled out of their encounter, down 6-0 4-2 with a shoulder injury.

I’ll spare you the picture of Lleyton, how about Bec instead?

Looking back on the last few years, it seems that all my memories of Baghdatis involve him collapsing onto a court in pain, or getting some part of him rubbed during a medical time-out.

You can either blame the Tennis Gods for that, or you can blame Baghdatis’ level of fitness for allowing someone so young to spend so much of his career injured. And that part, he can control.

His shoulders certainly looked alright when he visited Brighton Beach today.

Dude, that’s not how you play cricket.

Let Roger show you.

See Roger? You’re definitely an Aussie inside.

In other matches of the day, Verdasco had an easy day at the office as Fed’s sometime hitting partner Stefan Koubek retired with an illness after losing the first set 6-1. Djoker needed no retirement to bonecrush a third round opponent ranked more than 100 places below him, defeating Istomin 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. Talk about cupcakes, Nole faces Kubot in the fourth round.

You’ll excuse my peevishness at these presscon questions.

Q. Has the locker room respect for Davydenko grown over the past couple months?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: In my own opinion, I don’t look at him in a different way. I always had the respect for him because I always was aware of his quality as a player. He’s an incredible fighter.

As I said, he was one of the players that was kind of underestimated in the last five years. He’s already five years in a row in the top 10, top 5 in the world were you got to give him credit for that. Basically 80, 90% of tournaments he’s reaching quarters. That proves his quality.

Lately he just stepped it up. I think he feels it as well. He feels that he can beat anyone now.

Q. Are you still one of the least‑known players? Do you get bothered for your autograph? You said no one in London did at all. Are you becoming a little bit more…

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: If I go outside now here, it’s be difficult to do in autograph. But in the street in the city, yes it’s easy. Nobody recognize me and it’s good feeling really. Really good feeling.

Q. You live your life.

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: Yes. I like what ‑‑ how I enjoy my life, yes, like this.

Q. If you make the final, would you like to play on Margaret Court Arena? You’ve spent a lot of time out there. Are you disappointed that you haven’t played on center court yet?

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: No, no. Why? It’s always I know I starting here at Australia at Show Court 2, Margaret, then maybe Vodafone, like before was, yeah.

I don’t know. Rod Laver, it’s from quarterfinal always I starting to play. That’s was I think it’s good. I know I’m not like No. 1, No. 2 like always will need to play on center court.

But, if I know if I reach quarterfinal and I play center, it’s also good feeling, you know, like coming here, 2010, I play if center court Australian Open.

Lemme get this clear: For years, all the players and true tennis enthusiasts have known Kolya to be one of the most dangerous players to have never won a slam. Tennis media has been the one under-appreciating him all this time. And now they’re trying to spin a story of the charismatic Russian, overlooked by superficial fans and flashy fellow players, when they’re the ones doing the overlooking?

Oh just pass me a bucket.

Jo-Wills had a tougher time in his match, overcoming a slightly injured but spirited Tommy Haas. In probably the highest quality match of the day, the two went toe-to-toe for the majority of the first two sets. Haas lost his head a little in the third set, conceding it with a breadstick, but went up 5-3 in the fourth.

Just when Tommy was looking to level at 2 sets apiece, Jo-Wills mentally checked back into the set and simply overpowered and outgunned the German.

After the match, Jo took his time to show Jim Courrier how to properly do the happy-jump.

Gotta say, I like Jim, but he’s gotta stop cracking all these “dad jokes”. They bring back memories of personal trauma.

While it’s all about the two Belgians on the women’s side of the draw, it’s easy to forget that for the first time in tennis history, two Chinese women, Li Na and Zheng Jie, have made it through to the fourth round of a slam.

Just goes to show how much I know about the Chinese players – both Li Na and Zheng Jie are married to their coaches. How when why?

Q. Are you talking with Zheng during this (slam) process?

NA LI: Yeah, we are talking a lot. We can go like eat together and shopping together. We are not against, so we are friends. (Laughter.)

Q. Both you and Jie Zheng are married and have a coaching husband. So this relationship works pretty well for a woman’s tennis player?

NA LI: I think they have different player. I don’t know how is another player. For me, if my husband come with me, if I have something, I can just talk to him next second. We can communication fast. I think for me it was the best way. I don’t know how is another player. Everyone is different. Yeah.

Li Li Na Na is closing in on her goal of making the Top 10 in 2010 after defeating Daniela Hantuchova in 3 sets in one of the more competitive matches of the day.

The two were evenly matched in both their shot-making abilities and brainfarts, but Li was by far the more athletic one of the two.

Watching Dani’s beautiful ball-striking today, I couldn’t help but wonder what would her career have been like if she came with just 20% more mobility. How can someone so slender and light move with such heavy feet?

In other matches, Serena and Venus continued their march towards a semi show-down as they both overpowered their opponents to reach the fourth round. Very impressed with Venus’ elevated form so far this tournament, not so impressed with the banana peel dress.

Venus has to watch out next round, as she faces a red hot Francesca Schiavone, after Franny pretzeled Aga 62 62 to equal her best ever performance at the Australia Open. Vika, Carol and Zvoom Zvoom Zvonareva also made it solidly through to the next round, all in straight sets.

See what I mean about an underwhelming day of tennis?

xx doots

Down Under Day 4: Karolina’s Sprem.

 

Meet Marcos Baghdatis. Every usher’s nightmare. Incapable of finishing a match “on time”, but utterly capable of bringing in mobs of rowdy, excitable fans armed with flare canisters. 

For two sets, Baghdatis struggled on the “business points”. Whilst there was very little between Marcos and Ferrer during the first two sets, Ferrer – with his sheer doggedness and consistency – always played a fraction better towards the tail end of the set.

Had it been any other crowd, the vocalists would’ve been silenced at this point.

But this wasn’t any other crowd. Fun fact – Melbourne is the second largest Greek speaking city in the world after Athens. On a day like this, it comes in handy. 

Groups of Cypriots and expat Greeks in the stadium cheered like energizer bunnies as Baghdatis clung onto the third set. Before we knew it, Baghdatis smelled a drop in level in Ferrer and clinched the fourth set. By then, the elderly and corporate ticket holders were leaving in droves to escape the “OLE OLE OLE MARCOS” chants booming through Hisense Arena. 

Was anyone surprised? Who would Marco Baghdatis be without Australia?

Be it his inspiring 2006 run or his 2008 dusk to dawn epic against Lleyton, no matter how further down the rankings Baghdatis slipped, he’s always been treated like a superstar down under. And today, it took some superstar treatment for Baggy to finish the duel. But he did it the hard way – cramping, smashing rackets, shanking shots, missing opportunities … He did it. 4-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. 

By the way, Sprembag = an item or not?

 

 

In the non-upset of the day, Gisela Dulko claimed her second glamour scalp in the last 12 months, downing Ana Ivanovic in 3 sets, 67 75 64.

I did not see it, nor do I wish to see it, with both players leaking a total of 146 unforced errors in the match.

I do not even wish to talk about Ana Ivanovic. why kick a player when she’s down and fading into irrelevance?

Her press conferences of late have filled with therapeutic “bingo words” like “balance”, “just enjoy”, “relax”, “the positives”. Exhibit A: 

 

I think every athlete goes through it. You know, you just have to sort of, yeah, be positive and stay positive. Sometimes it’s hard.

But, you know, it’s like you have families that support us a lot and you can go through it together. And then, you know, I’m sure, you know, we learn from it. We’re not going to let it happen again.

 Q. What do you do this year to give yourself a break when you’re away from tennis? How do you unwind and relax? Is there something different in your routine this year?

ANA IVANOVIC: Yeah, you know, I still have to find things that’s gonna make me relax. I really like reading and watching movies. Sometimes I spend too much time in the room; it’s not good either.

Just find something, go for a walk just to keep your mind off of tennis, you know, surround yourself with positive people.

 

At some point, you just say “whatever makes you happy dear” and look the other way.

 


While 2010 hasn’t brought about a change in fortunes with Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams seems to be regaining her form. Against a potentially tricky Sybille Bammer, Venus was back to her “hard, flat and fast” best. While the first set went in a flash, she stayed aggressive throughout the second set, despite suffering a slight drop in form half-way through the set. 

Although truth be told, Sybille Bammer managed a total of 4 winners in the match, and not for the effort of trying either. There is only so much you can do against Venus when you have zero offence game.

Venus plays her third lefty in a row – Casey Dellacqua next round, who enjoyed a 3-set victory over Karoline Sprem, while lil sis Serena enjoyed an equally sharp victory against ex Safina-conqueror Petra Kvitova.

The Williamses liked their lefty cupcakes, it seems.

 

 

Later on in the night, the Federer Funhouse resumed business as Roger sealed an easy win over Victor Hanescu, 62 63 62. 52 winners to 17 unforced errors. So shiny I’d like to wear it on a chain around my neck.

On a good day, mere mortals run, the all-time greats fly. Our man, he soars

And even Jim Courrier couldn’t keep his hands off him.

 

 

 

Oh by the way, Prince Whatever walked in during the middle of the match. Apparently, it was a big deal. 

 

 

 

 

Yes folks, feel the love I have for the royal family of Bri- err “Australia”.

xx doots

Tokyo/Beijing: You too, boys?

 

The boys caught a bad bout of the upset bug today as Roddick and Del Potro both fell in straight sets to qualifiers Kubot and Roger-Vasselin. What a shi-

Oh hang on, it’s the ATP. ATP = depth. WTA = shithouse.

Got it. 

What depth in men’s tennis! All just further proof of my conviction that the quality outside the top 100 these days is truly astounding. 

 

But seriously del Poop, when I told you to lose to Roger, I did NOT mean Roger-Vasselin. Although he is cute as a button. 

 

 

Less cute was Lukasz Kubot, didn’t see his match against ARod, so I have no idea what happened. But I’m guessing Andy wasn’t feeling the love. 

 

 

And somewhere in a hotel room in Beijing, a Serb is popping open a bottle of champaign.

In other matches, Rafael Nadal took 3 sets to overcome Marcos Baghdatis, who is still playing tennis. Apparently.

But it’s a long way back from the Temple of Lost Souls, and Baghdatis isn’t someone I’d bet money on to ever make it back. 

With the top seeds all struggling more or less with fatigue, injuries or rust, me thinks it’s about time the Sod got it together to power home this fantastic year for him. 

 

xx doots

Sad Face: the Wimbledon Injuries Roll.

Rafa revealed his Wimbledon gear yesterday against Lleyton at the Hurlingham Club. They went without the pocket on the polo.

I love the purple swoosh, goes well with the white. Just wish they came up with a different design for the jacket, it’s been worn too many times this year. Very cute though, fingers crossed he’ll get a chance to wear it at Wimbledon.

 

 

 

 

Okay, I may have been a leeeetle optimistic about Rafael Nadal’s recovery. Don’t blame me – when a guy takes off his knee tapes, I generally take it as a sign of improvement rather than a deteriorating injury. I certainly didn’t pick up any signs of Rafa struggling with his movement at Roland Garros, granted I wasn’t looking for any. 

 

But with Nadal losing to Hewitt in straight sets at the Hurlingham Club, you’d be mad not to believe something is direfully wrong to those knees. With all due respect to Hewitt, who can be a tricky opponent for a lot of players, he is just not the type of guy I expect to trouble Rafa. The match-up of their styles should work overwhelmingly in Nadal’s favour. The fact that it didn’t – well, uh-oh

 

 

Nadal looked increasingly frustrated against the hard-serving Hewitt, repeatedly failing to get to balls he normally reaches and struggling with unforced backhand errors. He frequently muttered to himself in Spanish after missed shots and often had to rely on his top-spin forehand to escape trouble.

He did not speak to reporters, but uncle and coach Toni Nadal said it was still uncertain whether he can play at Wimbledon, which starts Monday.

[Omitted]

“If it’s me, I’m (flying) to Mallorca,” he said, referring to the island where Nadal grew up.

Source: Tennis.com

 

Eurosport gave some more worrying details on Rafa’s performance during the match.

 

Rafa is having difficulties bending his knees and it (seems) that his various treatments are not enough,” his coach and uncle Toni Nadal said.

Asked if the Spaniard would turn up to defend his title on Monday at the All England Club, he added: “I don’t know, we have to wait for tomorrow (Friday)“.

The match had started promisingly for Nadal as he stepped on court without wearing any support around his troublesome knees. In his first service game, which lasted four deuces and eight minutes, he bent low to flick a volley winner and also ran around court chasing down the ball during a 17-shot rally.

But as the contest progressed, Nadal and his camp began to get more and more worried.

As Toni Nadal urged him to “bend down” to the ball during the second set, the Spaniard appeared to mutter, “I can’t”.

By the time the one hour 20 minute match finished, Nadal looked world weary and barely resembled the man who ended Federer’s five-year reign at Wimbledon last July.

“He burned out both physically and mentally, he played too many tournaments in a row and it just got to him,” Martina Navratilova said this week referring to Nadal’s failure to win a record fifth successive French Open title.

“He just didn’t look that happy on the court.”

Source: Yahoo UK & Ireland

 

Where’s my panic button?

I want Rafa at Wimbledon, ya hear?! Somehow, I’ve gotten myself to thinking that Nadal’s achievements, far from taking anything away from Federer’s career, actually validates it. Win or lose, I want those two to continue validating each other’s greatness til the end of their careers. Above all, I want to see Rafa fight like a dog to defend his Wimbledon crown against a hungry Federer, an ambitious Murray and a vengeful Djokovic. That was supposed to be my narrative.

 

Not happy. 

 

 

I keep bringing this up, but I am uber-angry at Rafa’s ill-advised decision to play a packed clay season schedule right now. Monte Carlo? Barcelona? On knees that started bothering him during Miami? Are you friggin kidding me Rafa?

Sure you probably have a special connection to an ATP500 tournament in your own country that you’ve won year after year, but what about that clay court slam that you’ve also won a few too many times? And what about your “special connection” to Wimbledon, your place of many triumphs and disasters?  Arrrrggh. 

 

Also on the Wimbledon Injuries Roll – Gael Monfils, whose wrists took him out of Wimbledon. 

And Marcos Baghdatis, who was carried out on a stretcher during his match at Eastbourne. My heart breaks for this kid. Cry cry cry. Why do the Tennis Gods do this to him? Why can’t good things happen to good kids? 

 

 

This sucks. Sad face. Sad face for all you lovely peeps and a hug for Rafa.

Good luck against Stan tomorrow. I hope some of this is just rust. Maybe he’ll find his feet on grass in his second match. Fingers crossed.

In a time of mediocrity …

I was saying in the previous post about what a joke the No 1 spot in the WTA has become, well I just came across this fantastic FoxSports interview with Carlos Rodriguez, Henin’s former coach, about the state of WTA tennis, which I thought was an accurate summary of the current field – the Williamses and Sharapova, by far the best, both physically, technically and mentally, yet all three lack the commitment and regularity to play a full schedule and stay healthy all year long. Jankovic and Ivanovic, not quite there mentally. In particular, Ivanovic’s game unravels in the most fugly fashion when her Plan A fails. 

 

Interesting to see Rodriguez pick Vaidisova as the next talent. I like Nicole’s game, but she’s turned into a bit of an imploder this year. If she’s going to turn herself into a major contender, she needs to step up mentally big time.

 

Meanwhile, Justine Henin’s also double/triple/quardriple confirmed she will NOT be coming back =(

“No, no competition is over for me. For me, it’s definitely over. When I took my decision I knew it was forever. So I don’t say I will never be back for an exhibition or for another event in the future. But for me (playing) on the Tour? Yeah, it’s in the past and I won’t come back. I made the right decision and I stick to my decision. I will never change my mind about that decision.”

 

Boohoo Justine! Someone knock some sense into that woman before we descend from mediocrity to utter fugliness. 

 

Yes, Sharapova appears to be dating Charlie Erbersol. Good to see she’s making good use of her early offseason.

 

In other news, Roger’s confirmed his attendance for Kooyong, so has Stan the Man, Ernests Gulbis, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez, Marat Safin and James Blake. Awesome, since I’ll most likely be going next year. Nadal, as I understand will not be participating for fear of fatigue. I think now that he’s got Wimbledon in the bag, he’s really looking to win a hard court slam, and he’s more likely to get the job done at the Australian than at the US Open. 

 

Rewatching the Henin v Sharapova AO 08 QF, what a match! 

 

Anyway, here’s the whole article:

***

 

If Belgian and seven-time grand Slam champion Justine Henin had not unexpectedly retired in May at the relatively young age of 26, this topic might not be ripe for discussion. But with Henin joining other former Slam champs under the age of 29 like Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters and Anastasia Myskina in early retirement, it’s worth noting.

“That’s the face of tennis today, with a player who is reaching No.1 without winning a Grand Slam,” Henin’s coach Carlos Rodriguez told FOXsports.com of Jankovic, who was 0-9 against Henin. 

 

“It’s a sign. She’s a good player, but when you see Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters, they not only win Grand Slams, but they have the charisma. They give something extra, not only hitting balls. There’s more behind them.”
An intense and thoughtful man who took Henin out the juniors to tennis fame, Rodriguez and Henin just opened a branch of their 6th Sense Tennis Academy at the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. They both see an opportunity in the U.S., where many parents of juniors are looking for intelligent coaches with proven track records who understand that teaching children to be champions is more than just about stroke production.

 
Rodriguez says that one of the reasons that Henin is retired is that she’s looking to prove to herself that she can do more than just “hitting the ball” and will only likely consider a comeback once she has taken a very necessary mental break.

But what Henin left after she retired from her most dominant season ever in 2007 is a tour with three legitimate Hall of Fame players and a bunch of developing competitors who really couldn’t hold her worn out pair of socks. (Amen to that)

 

“I have a lot of respect for the other players, but outside of the Willamses and Sharapova, the rest are still really poor,” Rodriguez said.

It’s not like the Argentine doesn’t like the potential of some of the kids — it’s just that they are so wildly inconsistent. Take Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic, who is just 5-5 since winning her first Slam crown in Paris. Sven Groenefeld, whom Rodriguez considers the best coach on tour today, coaches the Serbian, but the 20-year-old is struggling mightily.

“I think Ana can do big things, but she needs more maturity,” Rodriguez said. “It’s very difficult for a player to learn what to do when she’s in trouble. Ivanovic is not able to have a Plan B or C to solve the situations, and she loses complete control. The coach can help with this, but in the end, it’s up to the player to find for herself what possibilities will work. The coach can only help you to a certain point.”

 

Rodriguez spent a little time this past summer working with former world No. 4 Anna Chakvetadze but couldn’t make it work with the Russian, who has spiraled downward to No. 12. On the outside, Chakvetadze appears to have all the ingredients that Rodriguez would like: foot speed, soft hands, the ability to take the ball on the rise and smarts. But he couldn’t get through to the 21-year-old.

Anna seems like she wants to work, but I told her, at the end of the day, deep inside of you, you don’t want to try to go further and to push yourself more to succeed,” he said. “I cannot help you if you don’t have the will to do something, even if I’m the best or worst coach in the world. She has the talent. But she’s really confused as to what she needs to do to succeed to do to become a No. 1 or No. 2 player in the world. She’s not ready to make the sacrifices it takes to go to the top, there’s not question about it. A champion is one inside and outside the court, and when you take Anna outside the court, she’s really a disaster.”

 
Somewhat incredibly, Rodriguez tabbed Nicole Vaidisova as the young player with the most potential. The Czech has the height, power and ball-striking capabilities to do major damage and has reached two Grand Slam semifinals, but the 19-year-old has had a depressing year, falling to No. 22 in the rankings. Vaidisova doesn’t always play smart or look motivated.

“She’s amazing,” Rodriguez said. “It comes back to the entourage she has around her. It’s so important. When you are talking mental, these girls are very strong, but when you are talking emotional, it’s very hard. The emotional takes over the mental and she completely loses the way. It’s a pity. I hope someone can take care of her because she’s charismatic and is a really good player, but her emotional (state) and the intelligence is not that good.” – LOL

 

Outside of the Williams sisters and Sharapova, there are no players on tour who can consistently win ugly when the chips are down, their bodies are aching and their foes are zoning on them. That’s part of the make-up that Henin had, her innate ability to fight like an alley cat even when being attacked by every mangy dog in the alley. 

 

“You can’t teach that,” Rodriguez said. “You can learn a lot of things, but you cannot change the natural personality of a player. With Serena, Venus, Justine and Jennifer Capriati, they have the personality that even when they weren’t enjoying it, they could go through. There’s no question that Maria, Serena and Venus are far and away from the other players. Their quality is too good.”

 

Henin put a hurt on all of those players, who also got back at the Belgian in some of the finest matches the tour has seen this century. They may not miss losing to her, but Serena and Sharapova have admitted to missing the thrill of the battle against Henin, trying to figure out which strategy would work against the cagey all-courter’s high-variety game.

But Henin isn’t coming back anytime soon, if at all, so now it’s up one of three other elite players to see if they can dominate like the Belgian did in 2007.

Sharapova just shut down her season due to her inability to recover a tear in her right rotator cuff, and when she returns to defend her Australian Open title in January, she will have more than likely have fallen out of the top 10 and will have missed the vast majority of the second part of the season. Whether the three-time Grand Slam champion can ever truly dominate is an open question.
 

“She showed that she’s able to dominate, but it’s not a question of once in a while, it’s a question of regularity and the only way she can do it is to concentrate 100 percent on her tennis,” Rodriguez said. “If Maria doesn’t do that, she’s never going to find the consistency throughout the year. In tennis, to be a champion, you have to choose to do everything you have to succeed in your sport. I think today Maria is unable to do so.”

Crossover celebrity Sharapova has always stressed that her tennis comes first, and it’s hard to argue with her resume. But it’s also clear that carrying a $26-million off-court portfolio every year can be demanding. Rodriguez doesn’t think that it’s only her injuries that are holding her back. “She has to concentrate, practice and live for her tennis — no endorsements, publicity and wasting time outside of the court with other things that distract you from No. 1,” he said. “Once and for all, in front of the mirror, she has to ask herself, ‘What do I want to achieve in my career?’ I have all the possibilities to be No. 1 and stay there for a long time, but this is the price I have to pay.”

 
Then there’s Serena, she of nine Grand Slam titles and with the ambition to go well into the double digits. Now 27-years-old, Serena appears to be on a one Grand Slam per year pace. She’s capable of doing better, but time is running short, and there’s little room for the party circuit if she’s ever going to dominate again.

She, Venus and Jankovic will tee it up in Stuttgart this week. If Serena wants to stay at No. 1, she’s going to have to keep her mind focused on the next six weeks — not an easy task after a hard year and when the offseason beckons.
 

“Serena has the quality, and everything she needs mentally and physically to do it she has,” Rodriguez said. “But is she going take care of herself and prepare to go into action? If she does that, I think Serena has another two or three great years left.”