16 November, 2012

Five or Six?

2012 has seen the top ATP pros taking things up a notch.  Novak Djokovic's 2011 was superb, but he may have peaked in Australia this year; outslugging and outlasting a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal in the longest major final in tennis history.  Nadal bounced back from that epic loss with another claycourt campaign for the ages, claiming his record-breaking 7th title at Roland Garros (backing up his 8th consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters).  In the process, Nadal effectively ended any contrarian conversations about his King of Clay moniker.  Not to be outdone, Roger Federer put perhaps his most impressive record even further from the reach of mere mortals, winning his 17th major at Wimbledon.  Andy Murray even got into the act.  After years playing the lovable loser of the ATP's dominant Big Four, the Scot finally earned his stripes with Olympic singles gold (denying Federer in the final) and a maiden major at the US Open.  Will the world number five, David Ferrer, end this ATP season with yet another crowning achievement, or will sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych, deny him and in the process, secure a shard of greatness all his own?

25 October, 2012

Total Eclipse of the Star

Everyone knows tennis is a cruel mistress, most of all the players.  She’s exacting, calculating and fickle. Serves rained down at 130 mph are judged within millimeters; deciding matches, tournaments, seasons.  Every week the players (and anyone who cares to look) know exactly where they stand in the grand scheme of things; the tour’s 52-week rolling rankings, virtually unique in sport, do a fair job of minimizing conjecture.  Tennis moves on with devastating speed.  No sooner does a player kiss the championship hardware does the process to replace him begin, a process known all too well by Juan Carlos Ferrero

12 October, 2012

Wilson Congratulates Roger Federer

Check out the new Wilson commercial congratulating Roger Federer on his record-breaking run as the ATP World No. 1.  Quite a nice tribute to the Swiss champion.

31 August, 2012

Watching Them Go

Which is more heartbreaking, watching someone waste away to a shadow of their former selves before finally succumbing; or to have them gone suddenly, unexpectedly, in a flash?  Sudden loss serves up grief with a shock chaser; forcing you to stop abruptly, feel intensely, process immediately.  Extended farewells on the other hand, can be draining, threatening to blot out the memory of everything that came prior.  When the farewell drags on there's a desire to celebrate what once was, but simultaneously, an impetus to avert your eyes from the slow motion car crash that progresses in increasingly gruesome detail.

Ladies and gentlemen, the farewells of Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters in black and white.

Let's dispense with pretense for a second.  By the time it finally, officially happened, we were glad to see Kim Clijsters hang it up.  We're not "haters," disgruntled Justine Henin fans or heartless bastards.  To tell the truth, we were just sick to death of watching Clijsters' torturous death march to the end of her career.  The Belgian is a great champion, a World No. 1, a four-time major winner and from everything we hear (we've never graced her presence) a class act if ever there were one.  Not to mention, her game has always been fun to watch.  At her best, her nimble mobility rivaled that of Jelena Jankovic, while her unbridled power allowed her to stand shoulder to shoulder with the WTA glamazons and be much more than cannon fodder.  Clijsters' resume makes her a slam dunk Hall-of-Famer in her own right.

Disclaimers aside, Clijsters has been retiring since she unretired.  She was quick to point to the London Olympics as her goal and probably the signpost whereupon reaching, she would hang it up.  It was initially inspiring to see her return to the tour as a mother; winning the 2009 US Open as if she'd never really left, then adding more majors to her tally,but let's be honest, it's been a slog of late.  When she won the Australian Open just 20 months ago, it looked as if Clijsters would be recast forever as a tennis Artemis, holding her daughter in one arm and her weapon of choice, a Babolat, in the other; strong and beautiful all the way to the end.  Unfortunately, we all know how the story played out; injuries and inconsistency took hold.  After that brilliant run in Australia 20 months ago, reaching the final in Sydney and taking the Australian Open title, Clijsters went just 12-6 the rest of 2011.  Injuries to her ankle, foot, abdominals plus a plan to play a limited schedule to begin with meant Clijsters' victory lap played out in dispiriting fits and starts.  She briefly returned to No. 1 in early 2011, but 2012 was, for lack of a better word, sad.  At one point, her ranking fell clear out of the Top 50.  She reached just three semifinals this year, twice at that stage she withdrew, while the third time she was a beaten by current World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in three uneven sets.  The Olympics which she had dreamed of, ended with a straight-sets loss to Sharapova.  The US Open, her final event, would end with a 7-6, 7-6 loss to Laura Robson, a heralded young Brit, but one who on paper, Clijsters should have dispatched.

Let's keep it simple: not playing a regular schedule breeds inconsistent results.  The Serena Williams-types who can take extended layoffs and come back worldbeaters are few and far between.  Clijsters isn't one of them.  Sometimes she chose not to play, sometimes her aching body chose for her, but as the march toward the end progressed, more and more we found ourselves saying "Are we there yet?"  It's unfortunate, but it's been a while since Clijsters' presence in a draw seemed...of consequence.  Kim Clijsters is officially out the door, but the contender fans knew and loved, she's already been gone for a while.

Andy Roddick, on the other hand, had different expectations.  He hadn't won a major since 2003, though in fairness to him, what men have?  That aside, Roddick's been quite consistent at his level. He won what will likely be his last tournament a bit over a month ago, once and for all reclaiming his mojo from Gilles Muller in the BB&T Atlanta Open final.  That title run was his second this summer.  After crashing out of Queens Club in the first round, Roddick righted himself with a title on the grass of Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon.  While his Wimbledon wasn't exactly the stuff of legends this year (he fell in the third round), losing to David Ferrer at a major isn't something to hang your head over.  Neither was his career.

In a period obsessed with superlatives of the type regularly associated with Roger Federer, Andy Roddick's career is often unfairly dismissed.  The man was a World No. 1 who was ranked among the ATP top ten for eight consecutive years, he won a major (and reached five major finals), won five Masters titles and led the US to a Davis Cup title.  He wasn't Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, but as the record stands today, Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray are all just about even for next best career of this era.

With his announcement yesterday that this US Open would be his final tournament, Roddick ripped off the bandage.  There would be no farewell tour beyond what we've already seen.  Another match, versus Bernard Tomic tonight; maybe another small handful afterward, but that's it, the end.  When he mentioned in the presser, "I don't know that I've ever been someone who's interested in existing on tour."  Two things came to mind, one his oft-reported retort to a sponsor seeking a performance guarantee that when he dropped out of the Top 15 he'd retire and also, Clijsters.

Roddick chose to go out playing something approximating his best tennis, still winning titles, but knowing that without the will or physical health to put the hard yards into tennis anymore, he couldn't compete at the highest level, so why compete at all.  Clijsters chose a farewell tour, each performance looking less and less like a true competitor and more like a retiree popping into the office to visit old colleagues, chatting away, while everyone else is on deadline, trying to build their own careers.

As we write this, we know that these feelings are fleeting though.  At some point, probably 2017, up the road in Newport, we'll look at Roddick and Clijsters through a different set of eyes, ones not cloud by their waning moments.  We'll remember Roddick in his prime on the lawns of Wimbledon, battling valiantly for the title against the greatest player of his era.  We'll remember Clijsters as a triple US Open champion, a hardcourt specialist perhaps, but one who helped take the physicality of the game to new levels.  With the passage of time, we won't remember how they left, just what they did when they were here.

Mortality is a condition of life.  We forget about it, stash it in the darkest corners of our minds, but it's always there, looming, oft silent, but always there.  It's as true in the big picture sense as it is in terms of tennis careers.  Two of our greats are moving on, may their tennis lives rest in peace.

29 August, 2012


One of the best things about the US Open is court-hopping.  Today there were sixteen courts with matches being played at the tournament, from the awe-inspiring "big house," star-studded Arthur Ashe Stadium to the field courts where you can feel as if you're watching the best public park match in the history of the game, the US Open is a veritable smorgasboard of choice...and we like to gorge.  When you're on site, you're not beholden to who a broadcast network thinks you'll want to see, or the TV courts streaming matches, you get to see as much or as little of the event as you want in as leisurely or manic a fashion as you want.  It's truly a "choose-your-own-adventure" event.  In case you can't make it out to Flushing Meadows, here's our take on some late afternoon court-hopping.

28 August, 2012

US Open Day 1 Pix Post

A few visuals from Day 1 at the US Open. for more, check us out on Facebook at: Facebook.com/BlacklabelTennis

27 August, 2012

2012 US Open Women's Bracket Breakdown

Out of chaos, the women's tour suddenly seems amazingly orderly...ish  Three of the top four women: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are reigning major champions, while the fourth, Agnieszka Radwanska was the losing Wimbledon finalist.  Will the year's final major be a chance for Radwanska to get on the board; for Azarenka to burnish her bona fides as a hardcourt champion; for Serena or Sharapova to build their brands; for Kim Clijsters to ride off into the sunset in style or for some other woman to make her name?

Who will claim the year's final major prize?  Also, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open women's draw preview to find out...

26 August, 2012

2012 US Open Men's Bracket Breakdown

The Grand Slam tennis season winds to a close with the US Open, but there's nothing to be wistful about; not yet anyway.  The two weeks when tennis' non-stop carnival decamps on our doorstep here in New York always yield some of the most dramatic, heart-pounding action of the season.  With one quarter of the men's game's Fab Four, Rafael Nadal, sidelined with a knee injury, this year's tournament is certainly down a few watts in terms of star power.  On the other hand, the Spaniard's absence is a crack in tennis' great wall that means opportunity for the rest of the field.  For the first time in a long time, the US Open has been rendered wide open.

So who will seize the day and emerge as the champion?  Almost just as importantly, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open men's draw preview to find out...

25 August, 2012

Blacklabel Tennis Fan Guide To The 2012 US Open

Last year when we launched BLT, one of our first posts was a Fan's Guide to the US Open.  We decided there were some updates in order to help you maximize your 2012 Open.  Without further ado, here's the Blacklabel Tennis Guide to the 2012 US Open.

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

Who needs the big, overblown, traditional holidays?  You can keep your thanksgiving turkeys, your 4th of July fireworks, your Santa Claus.  For this guy, the most wonderful time of the year is the start of another US Open tennis tournament.  Oh, it's not absolutely perfect; the weather always seems to veer from sweltering when the first ball is struck to sweatshirt weather by the end; the food prices always make me wonder why the USTA can't hire Kanye West's jeweler to build a platinum and diamond encrusted roof over Arthur Ashe stadium and frankly, there's always a point where I get tennis fatigue and have to leave a bit early for the day, but there's no time of the year I look forward to more than the US Open.

So, why am I writing this unofficial guide to the US Open when there are so many official sources out there?  Well, to be frank, because I'm me.  Living in New York, the US Open is my hometown major, one of the biggest events of the year and the tournament I know the best.  Unlike the professional beat writers who generally spend the tourney shuttling off to the press conferences and have cordoned off seats at the show courts, I've only ever experienced the Open like you, as a fan.  I boil in the summer heat like every other fan, I get no closer to the players than anybody else with an oversized tennis ball, I pay $4.75 for my Evian just like the rest of the hoi polloi.  In other words, for most of the last decade, I've experienced the Open in the exact same way you will and have learned a few tips and tricks that I think will help you (whoever you are) maximize your trip to the US Open.

18 August, 2012

Down On Your Knees? - The Rafa Fan's US Open Backup Plan

With tennis fans processing the disappointing, if not shocking, news that Rafael Nadal's grand slam season is over, there are a number of questions.  The knee injury keeping the Spaniard out of the US Open, is surely disappointing to him, but just as much, if not more, to the legions of Rafael-ites.  We can't do much for Rafa's knees, but we can hopefully help some of the fans out.  We know fans love Rafa for any number of reasons and some might even have a little trouble getting fired up about the Open in the absence of their usual cheering interest.  Well, as always we're here to help.  Here's the Blacklabel Tennis guide on who to watch if you're missing Nadal at the 2012 US Open.

06 August, 2012

Stop And Smell The Redemption

The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Times, I didn't read them this morning, but I hope that Andy Murray read them all.  Worst case, I hope his mother/sometimes coach Judy has copies of all the British dailies stashed away so that he can read all the writers who spent years lambasting him suddenly singing a new tune (if only for a day).  I hope Andy Murray pulls out of the Rogers Cup with "fatigue" in the form of a lager drenched headache and a long, long night of partying with his mates and an afterparty with Kim Sears.  Professional tennis is a grind like none other in sport: solitary, crisscrossing five continents, playing tournaments from New Year's Eve to Thanksgiving, with every week's results dissected, overanalyzed and recounted by the press corps, fans and coaches alike, not to mention a ranking system that tells you every single week of the year where you stand in relation to your competition.  Murray was considered, for lack of a better phrase, the most accomplished "non-winner" the game has ever known.  Having forever rewritten his narrative with his win over Roger Federer for Olympic gold yesterday, I sincerely hope the Scot is indulging in the sweet taste of victory.

04 August, 2012

The Age of the Extraordinary?

Is it us, or are we witnessing tennis' version of the "Greatest Generation?"  Of course, every generation of athletes is faster, stronger, better equipped than the prior, that's what makes the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) discussion that's dominated the men's game of late so difficult.  If 1969 Rod Laver with his wooden racquet and archaic playing style touched down fresh out of a time machine on Centre Court today's Roger Federer, the Aussie would be thrashed.  The same goes for 1980 Bjorn Borg up against today's Rafael Nadal.  But it seems to be more than just the physicality and sport science in this case.  In a sport whose list of potential achievements has been largely unchanged since the Open era commenced, the records just keep falling for the current crop of tennis stars.

28 July, 2012

Who "Deserves" Olympic Gold: Sentimental Favorites

Believe it or not, tennis bloggers are people too.  With apologies to Shakespeare, If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?  If you show us the Brian Baker story, do we not discreetly fist pump in the press seats when he wins?  A little something different today, with the Olympic tennis draws being released, we profile three players who we would love to see on the medal stand this Olympics.  We're not talking true favorites like Roger Federer or Serena Williams, but sentimental favorites; players, like 2008 gold medalist Elena Dementieva.  The two-time major finalist with the mind-bendingly horrendous serve capped off her fine career with an Olympic win and then said, "...the Olympic Games, they're so much more important to me [than majors]. Here are five players who might at least put the Olympic gold on par with a major win if they can pull off the feat in London.

20 July, 2012

Coeur Contre Corps (Heart Vs. Body) Again...

This isn't the way it's supposed to end, is it?  When we discuss sport, the word we often reach for is "heart." Less to describe the physical muscle that keeps a player upright and functioning than the concept of the heart as the athlete's storage place for "fight."  The central point in the athlete's body where the will to compete pulses, rises, falls and ultimately leads the way to his or her fate as a champion or an also-ran.  While we could never deny the impact of the figurative heart on the sporting landscape, days like yesterday remind us that there is far more than the heart at play.

17 July, 2012

Federer, Greatest, Case Closed (For Now At Least)

All seemed to be said and done, didn't it?  Sixteen majors, year-end ATP No. 1 five times, the Career Grand Slam and an Olympic gold (albeit in doubles).  That's not just a fine resume, it's arguably (but maybe only just), the best resume in tennis history.  That Roger Federer, in lieu of lying on his significant laurels, kept pushing for an ever greater seat on tennis' Mount Olympus is remarkable in and of itself.  That's he's succeeded in further distancing himself from the other greatest men of all-time is all but otherworldly, but them's the facts.  Now, with the Swiss having amassed his 17th major and his 287th week as World No. 1 as of today, can we once and for all, can we cut the crap and officially start calling Federer the Greatest of All Time (Male Division)?

11 July, 2012

Bloggers Bar Special Edition: Time Machine Predictions

We can't be the only ones who at the end of a major take deep breaths and can barely be arsed to think about tennis for a few days, can we?  A bit of travel, plus some important non-tennis stuff taking root elsewhere in life and voila, we've been silent for four days past the end of Wimbledon.  Let's start our penance here: First, since we've already feted ladies' champion Serena Williams, a hearty congrats to 2012 and seven time men's champion Roger Federer.  To say Serena and Roger emerging as the champions was unexpected, would be insulting; but we would say if you picked BOTH to win at SW19 this year, you're either in the minority or a time machine.

When we did our last Bloggers Bar post (random aside: what do you think of the name: Blacklabel Roundtable in the future?), we asked our fellow writers whether Serena Williams or Roger Federer was more likely to win another major.  On one hand, egg meet faces.  On the other, whichever player we selected, we were right!  Given the fact that both wound up winning their next time out, I thought it would be fun to see why we thought one of two was  more likely to claim another major.  Without further ado, here are our pre-Wimbledon takes on who: Serena Williams or Roger Federer was in our eyes, best positioned to win another major.  Here are the answers, from the four at the bar:

  • @AlvaroRama Alvaro Rama of EuroSport2 & Quality Sport (AR)
  • @TennisNewsViews Lisa Marie Burrows of TennisNewsViews.com & World Tennis Magazine (LMB)
  • @TheFanChild Chris Oddo of TennisNow.com & The Fan Child (CO)
  • @VBlacklabel Vito Ellison of BlacklabelTennis.com (VE)

07 July, 2012

Serena, Serene & Winning: 2012 Wimbledon Women's Final Recap

Just over two hours after taking the court, Serena Williams was crowned the Wimbledon ladies' singles champion for the fifth time.  Ten years after she first claimed the Venus Rosewater Dish, the American powered her way to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska.  Serena's opponent in that match ten years prior, older sister Venus, was in the stands, having been dispatched from singles earlier in the fortnight, but still alive with her baby sister in the doubles.  As much as the one-time grass court dominatrix Venus was in a different position than she was ten years ago, so too was her Serena.  The brash exuberance of Serena's youth having been replaced by the anxiousness of a veteran champion knowing that she only has so many chances to climb the sport's highest heights again and knowing that the tests would not be any easier because of who she was or what things she's done.  She knew she had to take the victory, and although there were nerves, ultimately that's what Serena did today.

05 July, 2012

2012 Wimbledon Mens Semifinal Previews & Predictions

It's almost the final four we expected: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray.  Of the vaunted "Big Four," only Rafael Nadal failed to make the semifinals here at Wimbledon this year.  When one of them goes down, the others pick up the slack.  The last time fewer than three of the ATP Big Four made the semifinals of a major was way back at Roland Garros in 2010, when Nadal romped to the title. With three of the top four in the world in the semifinals, it seems odd that we could have a surprise champion, but we could.  Neither of the men on the bottom half of the draw, Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, were truly considered championship favorites, except in particularly hopeful quarters of Great Britain or France, but one of them will be in the final and in with a chance to claim the title on Sunday.  So who'll have Breakfast at Wimbledon on Sunday?  Read on:

04 July, 2012

2012 Wimbledon Ladies Semifinal Previews & Predictions

After a week and a half of tennis, we're at the business end of this year's Wimbledon.  In the ladies' event, AKA the Run for the Rosewater, our four semifinalists are Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena Williams.  Two of these players have been World No. 1, hoisted major tournament trophies and played Wimbledon semifinals before.  Naturally, those two will play each other in the semifinals. The other two are (relatively) new entrants to the highest echelon of women's tennis, first time Wimbledon semifinalists and will vie against each other for their career-defining first major final.  How do we expect these ladies' semifinals to pan out?  Read on tennis lovers:

01 July, 2012

Wimbledon Middle Sunday Bloggers' Bar

It's the middle Sunday at Wimbledon.  Which means the punters can get back to that favorite British pastime, downing pints at the local pub.  For those of us not necessarily at the All England Club, following the tournament on TV and Twitter has almost the same feeling.  Our barroom conversations may take place over fiber optic cable, but it doesn't make them any less compelling.  Welcome back to the Bloggers Bar, this is a becoming a regular feature on Blacklabel Tennis where we pose questions to some of our favorite writers in a virtual roundtable.  Our esteemed bloggers and writers today are:

In this installment, we discuss some of tennis' burning questions:
  • Who had the most disappointing first half of 2012?
  • Who has been the biggest positive surprise of 2012 thus far?
  • Which man is most likely to end the Big Three's dominance?
  • Will Maria Sharapova bea dominant World No. 1?
Find out which question half of our panel didn't even hazard a guess at...

30 June, 2012

Wimbledon Day 6 (Three Thoughts)

Take A Bow:  Of the many tragic figures of Wimbledon, Andy Roddick looms among the largest.  The quick-witted American with the muscular serve is a three-time finalist at the All England Club, only Federer and Nadal have fared better here during this generation.  Like everywhere and everyone else on tour (Save Novak Djokovic), Roddick's road to tennis immortality has been largely blocked by the Spaniard and the Swissman who've dominated this era of tennis.  Roddick is a combined 6-28 against Nadal and Federer, with Federer particularly playing his bogeyman, boasting a 21-3 record versus Roddick.  Roddick's big serve and aggressive game have always felt Savile Row-made for the grass, but he's a combined 0-5 against Nadal and Federer on grass.  At Wimbledon specifically, four times the end of Roddick's road has been at a dead end called Roger Federer.  While almost everyone remembers Roddick's heartbreaking loss 16-14 in the fifth to Federer in the 2009 final, that might not be the one that Roddick ought regret the most.  Most know that in 2003, THE Roger Federer came into being by winning Wimbledon over Mark Philippoussis in the final. To get to that final, he knocked off Roddick in the semis 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.  Such began the Yank's hard luck at Wimbledon; today may have been the end of it.

29 June, 2012

Staring Into The Abyss

As if you missed the news Rafael Nadal was stunned yesterday in the 2nd round of Wimbledon by Czech journeyman Lukas Rosol  6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.  How big of an upset was this?  Rosol came into Wimbledon no tour level singles titles to his name, Nadal has 11 major titles.  Then suddenly, deja vu of Roland Garros 2009, Federer goes down 2 sets to love in is next match, to French veteran Julien Benneteau.    Benneteau was as close as two points from the win in the fourth set tiebreak.  For a wild couple of hours this Friday, tennis fans were forced to consider the very real prospect of losing Nadal and Federer on back to back days in the first week.  Were Benneteau to have come through, it would have marked the first major semifinal without Nadal AND Federer since the US Open...in 2003.  In other words, if a major semifinal happens and neither Federer nor Nadal play in it, did it really happen?

26 June, 2012

Wimbledon Day Two, Three Thoughts

Two days of Wimbledon 2012 are in the books.  We're still in the first round, but there's already been a fair bit of drama, upsets and sparkling tennis at the All England Club in SW19.  Here are Blacklabel Tennis' 3 thoughts from Day 2 at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon 2012 Day One (3 Thoughts)

Last Dance: Did You Realize Kim Clijsters is still playing professional tennis?  Well, Clijsters is quasi-semi-demi still playing professional tennis.  The Belgian former World No. 1 is on a lengthy farewell tour set to conclude after this year's US Open.  Clijsters' long goodbye could rival Cher farewell tour in everything except maybe the sequin count...there's still time, Fila.

25 June, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 Women's Bracket Breakdown

With Wimbledon about to kick off, once again, we find ourselves with less time than we'd like to handicap the ladies' draw of a major, but our picks are both thought-through and binding nonetheless.  What follows is our take on the 2012 Wimbledon ladies' brackets, the matches worth catching ESPN3 for and your next Wimbledon champion.  The BLT take on the Wimbledon ladies' draw commences after the jump.

Wimbledon 2012 Men's Bracket Breakdown

With Wimbledon fast approaching, Blacklabel Tennis' hiatus is over.  Here is our look at the 2012 Wimbledon men's draw, the players who should emerge to take the court on the final weekend, plus twenty matches you should keep an eye out for on ESPN3 in our new "First Round Five" capsule plus just more general Wimbledon bracket busting madness.  Without further ado, let's get to it:

12 June, 2012

7, 4, 11 - Roland Garros Mens & Ladies Recap

Probably the most riveting aspect of sports is the ability of the narratives that surround them shift and flex, reverse and bend back upon themselves with an unpredictability that neither admittedly scripted, nor “reality” programming can touch.   Rafael Nadal came into Roland Garros with a head of steam.  His title runs in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome looked downright pedestrian given the beatdowns he would inflict once he reached claycourt tennis' biggest stage.  The King of Clay flat-out embarrassed some of the world's best clay court players.  To wit, the following Nadal scorelines: versus World No. 13, Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-0, 6-0; versus World No. 6, David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, what else ya got, his snarl seemed to chuckle as he romped through the field.  

Then suddenly, the man whose serve had been broken once all tournament was broken…and broken…and broken over and over again, seven times in all.  At one point, Nadal went from leading by 2 sets and a break to dropping eight straight games (or a set and a break) to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.  Fitful, frustrated and feeling his grip on the match slipping away, Nadal’s old friend, the rain, intensified.  Fitful and frustrated with the turn of events, he and Djokovic left the court, for the night as it turned out.   Once they returned it took Nadal just over 50 minutes to win French Open No. 7, halt Djokovic’s bid for four majors in a row and increase his own majors tally to 11.

Maria Sharapova came to Paris with the wind at her back as well.  She had warmed up with titles in Stuttgart and Rome, things looked great for her to finally conquer Paris...except she was drawn to face a fit and focused Serena Williams if she reached the final eight.  Before the tournament even reached its stride, that specter was erased in a topsy, turvy match that left Williams a shocking 4-for-4 in poor showings (for her) at majors.  Serena's shock loss to Virginie Razzano eased Sharapova's path, while on the other side of the draw, a player who had never before advanced past the third round of a major was doing the hard yards herself.  Italy's Sara Errani knocked off two recent Roland Garros champions just to face another recent finalist for good measure in the semis.  Sara Errani wasn’t through though, she won her way all the way to the final before finally being outcompeted by a determined Sharapova.  

Nadal and Sharapova, as we predicted, are your Roland Garros champions...so what does it all mean?  Keep reading.

08 June, 2012

Semi Charmed Lives: Roland Garros Men's Semifinal Previews & Predictions

Four men left at Roland Garros and surprisingly enough, it's exactly the four we expected to see at the outset.  With all due respect to Andy Murray, the Big Three are here as well as the best player on clay outside of the top troika, No. 6 ranked David Ferrer.  There are no easy matches at this stage and no man int he draw who would not prove a worth champion of this tournament.  Roger Federer is seeking his record-extending 17th major title, but just his second at Roland Garros.  Rafael Nadal is seeking his 11th major title and his record-breaking 7th win in 8 attempts at the French Open.  Novak Djokovic is out to win his sixth major and more importantly his fourth in a row, a non-calendar year Grand Slam.  Winning in Paris would give Djokovic a sixth major and make him more importantly, the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four majors at once.  If 30 year old David Ferrer wins this tournament, he might just up and quit right there, and who could blame him.  Ferrer could become only the second man to win a major outside of the Big Three since the 2005 Australian Open.  To do it, he'll have to go through Nadal and either Federer or Djokovic.  Trust me, there's no way his career could go up from there, it's just not possible.  Who will play on the big Philippe Chatrier court on Sunday?  Here's our take:

07 June, 2012

Semi Charmed Lives: Roland Garros Women's Semifinal Previews & Predictions

Out of the 128 women who entered Roland Garros this year, only four are left with a chance at taking home the Suzanne Lenglen trophy.  If Sara Errani wins the whole shooting match, it will be her first major...and she still might miss the Top 10 on Monday.  For Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur, a win in Paris would further legitimize their recent results.  An all-important second major title would take both women beyond any thought of being one fortnight wonders and launch them into the conversation for future Hall-of-Fame candidacy.  Sharapova, already a veritable lock for Newport with three major titles to her name is playing for the Career Grand Slam, the No. 1 ranking and vindication that the four years of hard work coming back from her shoulder surgery indeed was worth all of the pain (physical and otherwise).  As Roland Garros draws to a close, we will break down Roland Garros match-by-match.  Up next, the ladies' semifinals.   Our thoughts on both matches after the jump:

03 June, 2012

Holy Sunday!

Alert: The Perrier supply at Roland Garros needs to be tested.  There was obviously something in the water today at Roland Garros and whatever it was, it was toxic to the top seeds.  For a heady couple of hours, the tennis galaxy of the Twittersphere was abuzz that perhaps the biggest day of upsets in the history of Grand Slam tennis could be upon us.  The seed-pocalypse that began with the fall of World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka threatened to fell Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer simultaneously on Phillipe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen, respectively.  Had those seismic events happened, they would have left a hole big enough in the top half of the draw for Juan Martin del Potro to walk through...or Tomas Berdych, same difference.  All three superstars (Azarenka, Djokovic and Federer) walked onto the court today heavy favorites.  All three walked off the court having faced far stiffer challenges than any of them (or us) could have imagined.  In the end, despite a trio of underdogs bringing the drama, it was only the highest seeded of them, 15th seeded Dominika Cibulkova, who finished the job.  She helped Azarenka book a ticket back to Minsk, with a surprising victory.  Here are my three thoughts from a wild and wooly day at Roland Garros.

02 June, 2012

US Olympic Tennis Watch

As you're no doubt aware by now, the rankings released at the end of Roland Garros will not just mark the success or failure of touring pros over the last 52 weeks, but also the culmination of a four year race to represent one's country at the Olympics.  The June 11th ATP and WTA rankings will be used as the official ITF cutoff for Olympic eligibility.  Over the course of the tournament, one narrative (at least for American watchers) has been around the question of which women will make the US Olympic team.  We wanted to help clear the air a little.  Ultimately, well...we don't quite know yet, but we're close.  Read on to see how things are playing out.

30 May, 2012

It Happens To The Best Of Us

She came into Roland Garros fitter than we've seen her in years; with a 17-0 record on clay in 2012 and as the consensus favorite to claim her second title on the Parisian clay, her 14th career singles major.  Serena Williams left Roland Garros without that trophy, in fact, she left without a singles victory at all.  Three days (and for Williams, one round) into the tournament and one of the WTA's brightest was exiting the City of Lights. Serena Williams was a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loser in the first round to French journeywoman, Virginie Razzano.  With Serena's tournament over, there's only one real question, left: How?

28 May, 2012

Roland Garros Day 2 (3 Thoughts)

All The Yankee Ladies: American tennis has been dead to rites time after time, but eventually someone starts putting up results and the narrative changes.  While it would be quite early to say an American tennis renaissance is underway, there are unmistakable signs of life from the women's draw.  Youngsters Christina McHale, Lauren Davis and Sloane Stephens joined veterans Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Varvara Lepchenko and Vania King in advancing to the second round at Roland Garros today.  Rather unexpectedly, there are ten American women (including Alexa Glatch, Melanie Oudin, Irina Falconi and some player named Venus Williams who won yesterday) in the second round of the claycourt major.  Oh, plus Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton have yet to take the court.  You have to think, somewhere Billie Jean King is grinning ear to ear.  What's behind the Parisian push for the Yankee ladies?

Roland Garros Day 1 (3 Thoughts)

The Anti-Rafa: We're accustomed to Andy Roddick struggling on the red clay of Roland Garros, it's almost annual rite of spring.  He came into the claycourt major with a 9-9 career record that one could describe as shocking given the fact that seven times he has played the event as a top eight seed.  Roddick in Paris is as the anti-Rafael Nadal.  Where Nadal's game on the clay becomes transcendant, Roddick's becomes maddeningly earthbound.  Where Nadal's servicable serve helps him set up the points to his advantage, Roddick's muscular delivery is neutered by the slow clay.  Nadal's movement and court positioning feels embedded in his DNA on this surface, while Roddick looks and presumably feels as if the Parisian clay is Martian versus anything he's encountered here on Earth.  Most tellingly, Nadal at Roland Garros looks all but invincible.  Sliding and stomping across every centimeter of the vast backcourt at Philippe Chatrier, there's a glint in Nadal's eye when he plays this tournament that all but verbally growls "This is my house."  Roddick, on the other hand, just looked like he wanted to go home.  It didn't take long before the American got his opportunity.

26 May, 2012

2012 French Open Bracket Breakdown: The Men

You might be asking why we're bothering to do a Roland Garros men's draw breakdown.  We all know there's a favorite, Rafael Nadal, what else is there to say?  Well Nadal has certainly earned that mantle with his six titles in the last seven years, but it's far from a foregone conclusion that the Man from Mallorca will hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires in two weeks time.  That's why we watch sports.  Let's be honest, who would have predicted the Brian Baker story (first ATP event since 2005 and reached the finals, for the uninitiated) even a week ago?  Hell, who even remembered the guy's name before he won the USTA's reciprocal wildcard.  No one.   Among "others," there's of course, Novak Djokovic, the winner of the last three major finals (all against Nadal) going for four majors in a row, the "Nole Slam," a feat accomplished by neither Nadal nor Roger Federer.  Federer is still not retired, in case you were wondering.  You know he's 30 right?  You also know he's still clearly no worse than the 3rd best player in the world and certainly knows how to win a major.

But picking the champ is not the only reason for the Bracket Breakdown.  We also point out the most interesting first rounders (Grounds Pass Specials), dark horses and (projected) matchups you should be watching throughout the tournament, that at least stateside is better known as the French Open.

Want to know how this year's tournament will play out?  Read on.

25 May, 2012

One on One with Bethanie Mattek-Sands

While we were at the Mutua Madrid Open earlier this month, we had the opportunity to not only see some of the best players of the world, but to sit down and talk with a few of them.  Thus marks Blacklabel Tennis' first one-on-one interview, dare I say, conversation, with one of the players we watch week in, week out.  American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her husband Justin were generous with their time in Madrid (not to mention open and engaging).  Each granted us an interview, but with Roland Garros (aka the French Open) kicking off this weekend, first we're going to share our wide-ranging talk with the always interesting Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  

Over our time together, Bethanie discussed...well, just about everything!  

For example:
  • Why you can't lose her or her cars in a parking lot
  • The frustrations of being injured
  • The (perhaps) surprising top ten player she dubs "a closet badass"
  • World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka's "one weakness"
Want to know more?  Read on.

13 May, 2012

That's A Wrap Mutua Madrid Open (3 Thoughts)

For all the hand wringing about the blue clay, this year's Mutua Madrid Open wrapped with two rather familiar figures holding the rather odd Ion Tiriac trophy.  Roger Federer and Serena Williams were crowned the champions earlier today at the Caja Magica.  Here are our final thoughts from the 2012 Mutua Madrid Open.

10 May, 2012

One To Watch: Varvara Lepchenko

Name: Varvara Lepchenko
Residence: Allentown, PA, USA
Age: 25
Current World Rank#77
WTA Tour Level Titles: 0
Signature Win: def. (11) Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3 1st Round, Mutua Madrid Open 2012

This year's Mutua Madrid Open has certainly not wanted for headline material.  From the controversial introduction of the terre battue bleu, to Fernando Verdasco shockingly reversing his 13-match losing streak to Rafael Nadal, the 2012 tour stop in the Spanish capital has made about as much news as any single week on the calendar can handle...maybe more.  With so many other goings-on, the buzz-worthy performance by American Varvara Lepchenko has flown under the radar.  First, Lepchenko won two matches to qualify for the main draw.  Then she worked her way past 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, as well as Shahar Pe'er and Anabel Medina Garrigues to book only her second WTA tour level quarterfinal at the $5.2MM combined event in Madrid.  With wins like those Lepchenko won't be under the radar much longer.

(More after the jump)

Madrid 5/9: Three Thoughts

Viva La Vida: "I used to roll the dice, feel the fear in my enemy's eyes / Listen as the crowd would sing 'Now the old king is dead, long live the king.' / One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me / And I discovered that my castles stand on pillars of sand, pillars of sand"  

When the house DJ dropped Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" on a changeover deep in the third set of Roger Federer's epic three set tussle with Milos Raonic, the lyrics seemed as if Chris Martin had specifically written them about the 16-time major champion.  Well, Federer staved on an extraordinary effort from Milos Raonic to continue his Madrid Open with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) win over the towering Canadian.  Looks like the old king isn't quite ready to pack up his things and move along.

09 May, 2012

Viewpoint: The Djoker's Wilds

The easiest way to go from prohibitive favorite to questionable, to steal a phrase from Serena Williams, "Life."  I didn't blog about Djokovic's comments on the terre battue bleu last night, I felt the rest of the press corps had you covered there.  Reflecting on the remarks, certain things became clear to me.  The switch from red to blue clay here in Madrid may not have only represented a change to the optics of the event, but to Novak Djokovic's fortune.

08 May, 2012

Madrid Masters (5/8): Three Thoughts

School is Out: Milos Raonic is a young gun we've been hearing about for a long time, we'll hear even more in the next 24 hours as tomorrow he's scheduled to be Roger Federer's second round opponent.  For the second year in a row Raonic had a strong run on the hardcourts in the first quarter, claiming his second and third ATP titles in Chennai and San Jose respectively.

Of course, as you recall, Raonic's breakout 2011 season was hampered by an injury at Wimbledon that left him off the tour for a good chunk of the year.  Prior to that however, Raonic's momentum slowed during the European red clay court season.  The Canadian who grew up playing on green clay "quite a bit," opened up about his outlook for the remainder of the clay court campaign and 2012.

Madrid Through My Camera Lens

Took this Sharapova pic with my cellphone as our camera was malfunctioning at the time.
While we're hanging around Madrid, running to press conferences, tweeting our cell phone battery into oblivion, catching matches, chatting up our fellow press, doing some interviews and enjoying the press cafeteria, we're also running around with our trusty point-and-shoot and capturing some images of fans, players and the environs around the Mutua Madrid Open.  Some we'll use in our posts; most of our favorite shots will appear in a daily recap on our Facebook page, but here, for the blog faithful, are some of the best looks at what we've seen here at this Madrid Open including a close up of the blue stuff. 

Even more...with better quality, after the jump

07 May, 2012

Serena Shuffles Through Madrid Open-er

With the fire in her belly burning at full strength, even though it was just a first round match, Serena Williams dismissed Russia's Elena Vesnina in a ruthless display, 6-3, 6-1 in an hour and nine minutes.  The former top 30 player Vesnina just couldn't consistently contend with Williams' weight of shot and laser like accuracy as the World No. 9 breezed her way into the second round.

While Williams has often been considered a player who works her way into tournaments, letting her considerable talent do most of the work in the early stages, that was not the case today.  The highest ranked American rained down 14 aces and won 89% of her first service points to dominate the proceedings in her first round match.  

While Williams seemed to be in good form, she was not 100% pleased with her game today.  She took more than a few shadow swings and took exception with a couple of the (few) errant balls off of her racquet.  "I'm feeling good, but I wasn't thrilled...I mean it's just the first round, I would be thrilled if I get into the finals or something."

Williams was however thrilled as the stadium DJ, who apparently has been spending time with Williams' Twitter feed, played her karaoke go-to "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" as she was leaving the court. Serena sang along and told reporters afterward, "That's the first song I always choose when I go to sing in karaoke bars...I have a whole performance to that song..."  Today, Serena's performance on court earned an encore...no known audio exists of the vocal.

While Serena, at 30 is a veteran of the tour, she still enjoys her ability to command an audience.  She said in the post-match presser "I love playing tennis, I love being here, I love walking out on the court and having people come and see me and my opponent play and that is a thrill you can't get anywhere...I just think it's really cool that I have a talent that people come to watch, to me it's the ultimate compliment."

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06 May, 2012

Enter The Magic Box: 6 May 2012 Three Thoughts

Today marked our first day on site at the Madrid Masters in the Caja Magica and our first Masters event credentialed as official press.  I have to say, things do look different from the other side of the fence, but more about that later.  For now, as always, we're gonna focus on what you care about and that's the tennis.  Here are my three thoughts from Sunday in Madrid.

04 May, 2012

The Blue Clay Strikes Back

With statements flying in from both ATP and WTA players slating the Mutua Madrid Open's move from the traditional red to blue clay courts this season, the tournament has released the following video on the making of the controversial new terre battue.  The main takeaway is that the players should have nothing to worry about.  See the video to find out why after the jump: