Strong is Beautiful

Written By: achangeofends - May• 17•11

As tennis fans, we all know our sport is under appreciated. On Sunday morning, while I was sitting at brunch, the restaurant was showing ESPN. This was during the incredible final match in Rome between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You may be wondering what famed sporting event would be more important to ESPN than the final of a Masters 1000 event contested by the two best players in the world. The answer: lacrosse, college lacrosse.

So, if men’s tennis is the ugly stepchild of the sports world, what does that make women’s tennis? An astonishing amount of tennis fans will happily admit that they do not enjoy women’s tennis. Clearly, the WTA needs to attract some new fans if they want to keep getting sponsors for their events. This week, the WTA took a step in the right direction, unveiling their new advertising campaign, “Strong is Beautiful.” I’ve heard nearly unanimous praise from tennis fans about the ads, which is almost unheard of because tennis fans never agree on anything. The advertisements feature thirty-eight different WTA players, including famous stars like Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, and Ana Ivanovic, as well as up and coming players like Rebecca Marino and Heather Watson. I love the fact that they used such a wide variety of players. They didn’t just choose the stars that any ad agency would suggest. Sure, it’s a no brainer to include beauties like Ana and Caroline, or super stars like Serena and Kim, but they weren’t afraid to use less conventional beauties as well. The photography is absolutely stunning. Each woman looks great, and some look downright spectacular. Petra Kvitova and Alisa Kleybanova show off some serious glamor in their photo shoots. With the variety of players in this campaign, almost everyone will find one of their favorites, or perhaps even find a new favorite.

The videos ads are great as well. Each one tells a story and they’re all pretty touching. I absolutely love that the WTA has the players speak in their native languages. They sound so much freer than they would speaking English, and the accompanying music makes every video sound dramatic.

Li Na talks about almost single handedly carrying the hopes of a nation of over 1 billion people.

Ana Ivanovic spent her childhood learning tennis amidst near constant bombings in war-torn Serbia.

Serena Williams is overwhelmingly confident as usual, but it’s endearing, and particularly poignant considering she hasn’t played in nearly a year. Plus, I really like this explanation for having so many outfits.

Tim Smyczek Answers Our Questions

Written By: achangeofends - May• 09•11

In the wake of Donald Young’s Twitter outburst, Patrick McEnroe called the USTA wildcard playoffs a way to “try to send a message to our players and to everybody out there that you need to earn what you get.” No one understands earning your spot better than Tim Smyczek. The 23 year old, Wisconsin native secured his first ever spot in the main draw of a Grand Slam last August by winning a wildcard playoff for the US Open and captured a spot in the main draw of this year’s French Open when he defeated Denis Kudla and Donald Young to win the US reciprocal wildcard. Unfortunately, Donald Young’s spiteful tweet garnered most of the attention, while Smyczek was relegated to the footnotes of most articles. The USTA even held a long press conference to “set the record straight,” which focused exclusively on the Young controversy. It was easy for the real story here to get a little lost in the shuffle.

Lately, a lot of young, up and coming players have been accused of harboring a bad attitude or a sense of entitlement beyond their ranking, but you won’t find that kind of behavior from Smyczek. On the court, he seems genuinely grateful for what he’s achieved so far and is willing to put in the hard work to keep getting better. Off the court, he’s the guy next door, a friendly young man who enjoys playing golf and spending time with his fellow tennis players at home in Tampa, FL. I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Tim before the start of the Savannah Challenger.

Currently ranked No. 175, Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check) achieved a career high ranking earlier this year of No. 158 and reached his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal in San Jose. He also recently signed an endorsement deal with Dunlop rackets. In terms of his success so far this year, Tim told me, “it’s been kind of a process because I’ve been putting in some good work for a while now and I think, you know, just now, the last couple of months, it’s starting to pay off. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been reflected as much in my ranking. You know, I’ve had a couple of good results in some tour events and, you know, hopefully the ranking will come and keep having some good results. I’ve just been putting in the work, on and off the court, and spent a lot of time in the gym, just kind of trying to do everything I can.” The Tennis Served Fresh team got some photographic evidence of Tim’s work in the gym when they caught one of his practices in Indian Wells. It’s been a pretty steady climb up the rankings for the American, but he hasn’t quite found that one breakthrough result that will send him skyrocketing up the rankings. When I asked him about the slow process, he laughed and told me, “I sure wish it could go a little faster.” But in all seriousness, he said that, “if you’re moving the right direction the whole way, then that’s all you can ask for.” Unfortunately Tim was hampered by an injury in his first round loss to Fernando Romboli in Savannah, but what I saw was promising. At 5’9”, he may not have the ability to serve his opponent off the court, but his movement is pretty incredible. David Ferrer has done well crafting a strategy revolving around his retrieving abilities, so it can definitely be done. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find Tim firmly in the Top 100 by the end of 2011.

Smyczek will have the chance to better his ranking this month when he makes his debut at the French Open, a tournament he hasn’t even attended since the juniors. The qualifying rounds at the French Open always draw a tough crowd because of the clay court specialists so Tim was relieved to receive the wildcard into the main draw. As he put it, “being an American and clay isn’t my favorite surface, and so, being able to just get into the main draw without having the…cause you know, qualifying, there’s a lot of dirtballers, a lot of really tough players on clay, so to not have to go through that, and maybe just get a chance to get a look at another one of the main draw players. It’s a good opportunity, definitely.” In order to prepare for his first appearance in Paris, Tim will fly to Nice this week and try to qualify for the Open de Nice Côte D’Azur next week. As is the case with most Americans, Tim admitted that he wasn’t the most comfortable on clay and attributed his lack of confidence on the surface to the lack of clay court tournaments in the United States; however, he also said he wouldn’t, “complain about [the lack of clay court challengers in the States] because I’m not entirely comfortable on the stuff.” The few American tournaments played on clay are mostly played on green clay, which he considers a poor substitute for the red dirt because each green clay court is so different while red clay courts share more similarities. (more…)

Friday Funnies

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 22•11

Before there was the Petko dance, there was…whatever this is. This clip comes from Philipp Petzschner’s victory over Daniel Koellerer at the 2010 BMW Open in Munich. If you look closely, you’ll also notice Koellerer snapping his racket in half in the background.

You can watch the full clip below.

The dancing starts around the 2:23 mark and there’s a slow-mo at the 3 minute mark.

Friday Funnies

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 15•11

It is entirely possible that by Roland Garros this will be Andy’s actual hairdo. However, if it takes a bad hairdo for the guy to win a match, I say embrace it.

I Miss This…Monte Carlo’s the Best

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 14•11

I like to consider 2010 my own version of Eat Pray Love, except instead of searching for spiritual enlightenment, I was looking for tennis. Instead of Bali, Rome, and Mumbai, my trip led me to Rotterdam, Monte Carlo, Estoril, Paris, and then back to the States. Most of these journeys were focused on the tennis, but my trip to Monte Carlo was about something else. If you ask any of my closest friends, they will tell you that the top two items on my bucket list have always been to visit Monaco and to own a castle. Before you ask, no I do not own a castle. However, there is still time for that. Last April, I did get the chance to cross at least one thing (the No. 1 thing) off my bucket list when I visited Monaco.

By sheer coincidence and luck, my trip to Monaco happened to be during the first weekend of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament. This year I may be stuck watching from my couch, but at least I still have the memories for the amazing weekend I spent in Monte Carlo. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from around the tournament and mostly from around the beautiful country of Monaco.

 

We all know Monaco is famous for its wealthy visitors and it’s just as magnificent as you might imagine. Here’s the harbor by Monaco-Ville with some pretty amazing yachts. In the foreground of the photo, they were setting up stands for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

No trip to Monaco would be complete without a visit to the Monte Carlo Casino. This place is the stuff of legend. Beware, the interior is less impressive than you might imagine, but it was totally worth the money to say I gambled in Monte Carlo.

I found this on the way to my hotel and I instantly fell in love.

My first glimpse of the mysterious Monte Carlo Country Club. The Club is situated so their a direct view of both the Mediterranean and the Alps. It is absolutely breathtaking. Perhaps most interestingly, the MCCC is actually located in France, not Monaco; however, this isn’t terribly surprising, considering the country is less than 1 square mile.

Court Central is not only beautiful, but it’s a wonderful venue to see your favorite players in an intimate setting.

It may not have been the prettiest day, but there’s no way to detract from the amazing view from Court Central.

I was lucky enough to fulfill a life long ambition by making the trip to Monte Carlo, but even if you’ve never thought about before, I would recommend a visit. If you can’t afford the sky high prices, consider staying in nearby Nice (also a gorgeous city on the French Riviera) and taking the train into Monaco to visit the city.

The Casual Critic: Top Spin 4

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 13•11

Game: Top Spin 4 for the Wii

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Several weeks ago, I received an email asking me whether I would be interested in reviewing the new Top Spin 4 video game. I’m not one to turn down the opportunity to share my opinion (or add to my collection of tennis related items) so I said I’d be happy to give the game a try. I requested a copy for the Wii, the only game console I own and it arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later. Now, I should tell you all that the reason I own the Wii is because I can stream Netflix on it and maybe break out the Wii Fit when I’m feeling sporty. I’m not exactly what anyone would consider a video game enthusiast. For a while, I considered someone more qualified to review the game, but then I realized that most of the consumers are probably more like me. What was I looking for from Top Spin 4? A few things.

1. I wanted to be able to play tennis as my favorite players.

2. I wanted to play at Wimbledon.

3. I wanted the experience to be relatively life-like, or at least better than the tennis in Wii Sports.

I will let you know how my three goals worked out shortly, but here’s a short recap of my first time playing the game. Being as technically inept as I am, I chose to go through the full tutorial. It was kind of long and complicated, which discouraged me a little right from the get go. The most frustrating part was that it clearly wasn’t registering my movements. The tutorial wouldn’t end until I hit 3 of each type of shot, but every time I made the motion for a topspin ball (down to up), it registered as a slice (up to down). When I finally made it to match play, my first opponent ran into the wall and got stuck. It was some kind of technical glitch and I was forced to quit the match. To make sure that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about the controls, I invited a couple of friends over to help me out, one of whom is a huge tennis fan and the other has never picked up a racket. The tennis fan struggled through the tutorial and grew frustrated when she ran into the same recognition issues I did. After watching the two of us complain, my other friend opted not to complete the tutorial at all.

We started playing a doubles match featuring Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva against Eugenie Bouchard and Jelena Jankovic at the BNP Paribas Open. A few things stood out immediately. You use the nunchuck to move the player around the screen as well as to place the ball. The reaction time is quite poor and the players moved very slowly, which meant they often missed the ball. I would say I fared slightly better than my friend who chose not to complete the tutorial, but it didn’t seem to matter all that much. The other glaring error: the “chair umpire” voice pronounces Caroline Wozniacki’s name wrong. Each time I played the game as Caroline, the chair ump insisted on calling her Caroline “Woznianki.” How did that make it through the trail period? It’s not like she’s Eugenie Bouchard (we’ll get there in a second). She’s the No. 1 player in the world and the a video game that uses her likeness should pronounce her name correctly. In terms of actual tennis, the characters often run off screen which makes it impossible to tell whether they’re going to return the ball or not. This could be easily remedied by zooming out 10%.

Let’s quickly return to my three wishes.

1. Could I play as my favorites? Mostly. There are 25 current and former professionals featured in the game, including, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko, Stanislas Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Bernard Tomic, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Vera Zvonareva, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Eugenie Bouchard, Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, Pat Rafter, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang. Clearly, you can’t encompass everyone’s favorites in just 25 characters, but you could do a significantly better job than this. Bernard Tomic made the cut? Really? I’m not sure about you guys, but I would’ve liked to see 2 time Grand Slam champion, Lleyton Hewitt, in the game before Tomic. To be perfectly honest, there are 179 current male players more deserving of a spot in this video game. The same goes for Eugenie Bouchard. I know she’s only 17, but she’s ranked No. 372 in the world and I would venture to guess that pretty much everyone who plays this game has never heard of her. In my opinion, the exclusion of players like Maria Sharapova, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Venus Williams, and Kim Clijsters is a big detraction. Also, did no one tell the creators that there are WTA “legends?” Not one of the retired players is a woman.

The creators made some attempt to give the characters separate personalities, but I would’ve loved to have seen even more of this. They have the Ana fist pump and Rafa’s victory celebrations, but Roddick didn’t tug at his shirt once. There is huge room to expand here. I would love to see Andy yell at the chair ump or Vera hide under her towel. If they decide to include Marat Safin in Top Spin 5, I can only imagine the glorious racquet smashing that would ensue.

2. There is no Wimbledon, and that makes me sad. I’m sure this had something to do with licensing, but I would venture to guess that Centre Court at Wimbledon is the most iconic tennis venue in the world and is a must in any tennis game.

3. As I said earlier, the motion recognition is not great, but that is likely isolated to the Wii. There’s really not that much movement involved in the game. You don’t even have to move your arm to serve if you don’t want to, just press the A button. However, after a grueling match on Rod Laver at the Australian Open, my shoulder was sore the next day.

This review may seem a bit critical, but only because I believe there are way to make this game even better. Overall, the game is fun and only die-hard tennis fans would nitpick the way I have. Casual fans and Wii enthusiasts will have no qualms with the choice of characters or whether they pronounce the names correctly. For true tennis players, the game does offer the ability to produce life-like shots, but the controls are sometimes difficult to master. I got significantly better at the controls each time I played and that made the game a lot more fun. There’s also a career mode where you can build your own character and work your way up to the pros. I haven’t gotten very far, but I think this could be a fulfilling long term endeavor.

*The extended version of this review includes the game trailer. Caution: it plays instantly (turn down your volume if you are at work or in class) (more…)

Friday Funnies

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 08•11

This is how Bag Checks should be. I’m still curious about the spoon…

Excerpts from All Access: Family Circle Cup 2011

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 07•11

By now, you’ve probably read about my discussion with Nadia Petrova at the Family Circle Cup All Access Hour. It seems to have become quite popular over the past couple of days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I got Nadia to open up about her on court fashion choices and it wasn’t pretty, much like the outfits. To be honest, this was certainly the most entertaining conversation I had at the All Access Hour on Monday, but I did have four other conversations. Here are some clips from my All Access experience.

Sam Stosur

Q. You won this tournament last year and then you went on to make the finals at Roland Garros, does that add any pressure this year?

A. Um, no.

Q. Being defending champion?

A. Oh, I mean, sure, obviously that gets said when you are the defending champion. I mean, but it’s one of these things that I think you can look at it and think of it all as pressure all the time and yeah, maybe it’s sometimes easier said than done, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be coming here as defending champion than the loser first round. So it’s, I guess it’s one of these things that you just have to deal with play and all because you won the tournament last year doesn’t mean you’re going to walk into the final again this year. So you’ve got to take every match as it comes and play everyone on its merits.

Q. You said on your website that this is your favorite tournament to play. Is there a reason for that, other than that you won last year?

A. Oh, I enjoyed this tournament even before I won, when I was losing first and second round. Overall all it has to be one of the most player friendly tournaments I think there is on tour, and Eleanor and Bob make it very easy for all of us here. As for Charleston, I really love the city. I mean, if I was going to live somewhere in the States that wasn’t Tampa right now, I’d probably choose here. I really love the city. Everyone’s really nice and it’s always a good week. I came here a week ago. I had nowhere to go after Miami, so I came here. I wouldn’t go to too many tournaments a week before I have to play (laughs).

Jelena Jankovic

Q. Some people were surprised by your choice, for Andrei to be your coach. How did that happen? How did you decide that?

A. I was going through some options. Obviously, you know, when you are looking for new coach there are times when you like somebody then that person doesn’t want to travel. It’s really not easy to find a coach who can really be with you fulltime on the road, who’s going to dedicate all his time to you and really be focused on the work. A lot of them, either they cannot travel or their already under the contract or there’s something, so it’s really difficult. But I think I made a pretty good choice. It’s just the beginning of the relationship, we just started working with each other so it’s pretty new and fresh, so we’re going to see how things are going to work out.

Q. You had a great stretch between winning Indian Wells and then [your performance at] the French Open. Going into that part of the season, clearly Indian Wells already happened, but do you feel any kind of extra pressure, defending points?

A. I don’t really think about defending points. I’m just thinking about gaining some new ones. Not even gaining new ones, I’m thinking about playing my game, my tennis. Like I said, I’ve been working really hard on my game on the practice court and I really want to show that in the matches and really, you know, play my tennis and have fun competing, because I love competing. I miss that a lot because I was injured, I really couldn’t move. I couldn’t really train so I really miss that. For like 6 months of last year, for the second part of the season, I can’t really do it so I was really struggling, you know, really disappointed with myself that I couldn’t do it. There were some times when I really, I felt like I would never be able to play good, you know, be good again. Because, my ankle was really, I have pain, even now I sometimes I have some pains here and there but it’s fine because I can still go out and play so I’m really grateful. Now maybe I appreciate the things a lot more and I try to have fun on the court because when I was younger I was kind of thinking, you sometimes take things for granted. You’re just like, ‘Ok, I was No. 1 in the world, it’s ok.’ Then you get injured and things start going downhill and you’re like, ‘wow, I didn’t appreciate it when I was there.’ I thought it was so easy and it was normal to be up there, but it’s really not. So now, you think in a different way. It’s a learning experience and you’re just learning and you’re getting more mature and more experienced as you’re getting older obviously.

Shahar Peer

Q. Being from Israel, you really don’t have many pro players in the Top 100. Actually, there’s no one but you in the To p 100. Do you find that hard at all on tour, or do you like kind of being the center of attention?

A. Um, I got used to it actually because, I mean when I came up there were a few, two more girls on the tour, but they already retired because they were much older. But, I got used to it and there is one more girl, she’s like 180. (Yawn) Sorry. The wind, you know. I don’t know, it makes me feel…So, I enjoy. I wish there were more Israelis, that would help the tennis in the country, but there is nothing I can do about it.

Q. So when you’re on tour, do you stay mostly with your team or do you have other friends?

A. Yeah, I mean I do have friends but it’s not like going out for dinner, that is more with my team, with my family, with the travel. That’s the part that obviously I would prefer to have somebody from Israel because it would make it easier.

Q. And, you’re not travelling with a coach at the moment?

A. I do. Now I do, yes.

Q. Who’s coaching you?

A. I started, it’s a bit of a trial and I hope it will keep going, with Harold Salomon. Yeah, so he’s here with me this week and we’ll see how it goes.

Q. When did that start?

A. After Miami. I mean, after I lost the tournament there, so it’s like…

Q. Brand new.

A. Yeah. A week.

Q. Alright, so it’s the first tournament you guys are doing.

Q. Your WTA profile says that you love visiting the US. What are some of your favorite places?

A. I like all US, but my favorite I think is New York. I really enjoy that city and I like it a lot.

Q. What are your favorite things to do when you have an off day?

A. Anywhere, you mean?

Q. In New York, let’s say.

A. I mean, obviously I like to go shopping and just go around. All the energy there, I like it, it’s very, I really enjoy that place.

Marion Bartoli

Q. You had such a successful run at Indian Wells, do you ever feel like, when you make the final or you win a tournament, that the next week is kind of a letdown? Like, you have to start all over again.

A. It’s a new start. Definitely every single week is a new start. What is difficult between Indian Wells and Miami is it’s a very short time period you have to get it back together before you start the other one. It’s so different. You have to fly from coast to coast and it’s very humid in Miami. I feel like really the fatigue kind of hits me as, the more I was staying in Miami, the more fatigue I was feeling. For the first few days, you’re kind of on the road from being in the final, a big success. You’re kind of dealing with even the fatigue, but then you start to play the first match and you start to play the second and on the third.

Q. So it’s kind of a delayed reaction? Like you didn’t feel so bad when you got there and then it just hits you one day?

A. Yeah. No that’s, that definitely was tough, but I will learn from it. It’s ok.

For a more cohesive wrap up, check out my article at TennisGrandstand.

Nadia Petrova: “Those are not my choices”

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 05•11

Between her outfits at the 2010 US Open and the 2011 Australian Open, Nadia Petrova made pretty much every worst dressed list out there. Her US Open outfit was comprised of separates, both of the same rainbow striped pattern. Let’s just say it was neither flattering nor aesthetically pleasing. Things didn’t get much better when Nadia appeared at the Australian Open in a dress that resembled tie-die cotton candy. The dress was purple on top and bottom and blue in the middle, and it was all frills from the waist down. Once again, poor Nadia ended up on a lot of worst dressed lists, including mine.

Nadia Petrova of Russia hits a return to Ksenia Pervak of Russia during their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic (AUSTRALIA – Tags: SPORT TENNIS)

So, when I found out that Nadia would be attending the media All Access Hour on Monday, I immediately wanted to ask about the fashion choices. But how do you ask someone why their clothes are so ugly? You call them bold, that is how. I asked Nadia a couple of ‘real’ questions about tennis and she seemed extremely open and friendly. I decided the fashion question was in. Here is a copy of our exchange.

Q. Recently you’ve made some pretty bold fashion choices on court. How much input…

A. Oh my god. That has nothing to do with me. Those are not my choices.

Q. That’s what I was wondering, how much input do you have in your outfits?

A. This is what Ellesse sends me.

Q. So you don’t say, ‘this is what I want,’ you don’t meet with them? They just send them to you?

A. I don’t have a say. Um, I did actually provide them with some of my sketches because I know what really flatters my physique, my figure.

Q. Do you think they’ll take them into account?

A. Well they haven’t done it yet…and actually this is my last year with them. So I don’t see why they would compromise. They do what they think are selling in Japan and they are just sending it to me.

I could barely stop laughing during our exchange because she sounded so exasperated by the situation. I can’t even imagine her reaction when she opened the box and found the rainbow number from the US Open. As she said in the interview, her contract with Ellesse expires at the end of the year, and I have a feeling she won’t be renewing. I’m interested to see if her kits will become a bit more tame.

On another note, I have never been to Japan, but I really hope that rainbow outfit wasn’t a bestseller.

Friday Funnies

Written By: achangeofends - Apr• 01•11

Spanish language television may very well be one of my favorite things ever. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Sábado Gigante, you know what I’m talking about. Spanish speakers have taken variety shows to a whole new level. I was unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is El Hormiguero until I ran across some YouTube clips last night. This Spanish show, which translates to “The Anthill,” is hosted by Pablo Motos and includes ridiculous made up games, weird science tricks, cooking, and puppets, all while filming in front of a live studio audience which often gets in on the action. I’ve provided two of the approximately twenty clips I watched (while I was supposed to be packing for my trip to the Family Circle Cup). They are both from the episode featuring Fernando Verdasco as the guest. Unlike most American talk shows, where the guest appears for maybe ten minutes, Fernando spent well over a half hour participating in all the activities. I realize the majority of my readers are English speaking, so I promise you these clips are pretty funny regardless of what language you speak. Honestly, it might be funnier if you can’t understand it. Making up your own dialogue always makes things more fun.

It’s like everything you could ever want in a TV show all wrapped up into one hour. There’s the underwear kicking competition, sticking pencils through ziploc bags full of water without spilling, a nifty science lesson, and frozen vodka/watermelon treats. How could this be bad? Also, the cooking lady is totally in love with Fernando, but I can’t say I blame her. If you enjoyed these clips, El Hormiguero has also featured players like David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Tommy Robredo, and Novak Djokovic.

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