29 January, 2012

They'll Be Back - 2012 Australian Open Finals Recap

One tough thing about being a writer is that sometimes the words just don't flow.  Well, there's certainly no writer's block on the back of this year's Australian Open and particularly finals weekend.  The matches couldn't have been more different.  Newly crowned World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka subdued 2008 champ Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0; while defending champion Novak Djokovic found his way past 2009 champ Rafael Nadal in five lengthy, byzantine sets 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5) 7-5.  As disparate as the scorelines were, is as similar the compelling storylines were both coming into and going out of the first leg of tennis' fabled Grand Slam.  Without further ado, here's how Blacklabel Tennis looks back on the 2012 Australian Open singles championships.

26 January, 2012

Australian Open Semifinal Previews - Final Four Men

When the top four ranked men in the world tangle in the Australian Open semifinals, the one thing that won't be missing is familiarity.  Novak Djokovic has faced Andy Murray ten times in tour-level matches.  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have seen each other across the net 26 times in tour-level matches.  To say the players know what to expect from one another is a gross understatement.  At the same time, to say the results are written in stone is just as inaccurate. What we can say without qualification though is that the four best men in our sport will take the court with a (roughly) 50/50 chance of reaching the Australian Open final.

Which of the superstars will play for the title Sunday morning?  Here's your Australian Open men's semifinals preview:

25 January, 2012

Australian Open Semifinal Previews - Final Four Women

Hisense Arena
Did tournament director Craig Tiley and crew at the Aussie Open REALLY get this lucky entering finals weekend or was there some deal with the devil?  Despite its usual thrilling matches, twists and turns, this year's Australian Open has yielded four blockbuster semifinals.  Three of the top four women in the world are still in the tournament, the fourth is the defending champion.  As we write this, three of the top four men are already in the semifinals, while the fourth, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is prepping to play David Ferrer (World No. 5) in the final men's quarterfinal.  Either way, four of the top five men will be in Melbourne's final four.

Looking ahead, which of the women will play for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup...well, we've got an idea or two.  Here is your 2012 Australian Open Women's Semifinal Preview.

23 January, 2012

Australian Open - Week One Stories & Matches That Matter

As often happens when you follow something as closely as I follow tennis, you lose a bit of the everyman's perspective of the game.  Case in point, a new acquaintance asked me if I had seen that Christina McHale lost her third rounder to Jelena Jankovic.  Before I could reason that, "Hey, it's nice that a non-fan even knows who McHale is" (he didn't mention Jankovic by name), or "At least I can replace some of my pre-scripted small talk with a tennis discussion of some depth," my insidery, knee-jerk response was "Eh, does it matter?"  A beer or two fewer down the gullet by that point and I likely would have demurred and gone into a broader discussion of the game and other players worth watching, but the fact remains, I said it and I meant it.  We...fans...all know, there are two distinct tournaments in every major and two distinct sets of storylines.  They can simply be defined as week one and week two. Every match and player in the draw matter, but some matter exponentially more than the others.  With all due respect to the often impressive American prospect, she's strictly a first week story at this point in her career.  You see, moving from the former group to the latter is perhaps, not the US Open as advertised, the toughest test in tennis.

21 January, 2012

Australian Open - Back From The Beer Garden

As many of you know, I'm not a full-time blogger.  Sometimes the day job demands my attention and the couple of hours a day I would love to spend writing here have to be put aside for...you know, the matters that allow me to have the disposable income to watch tennis.  In any event, that doesn't mean I haven't been catching some Aussie Open tennis over the last few days and I certainly have some thoughts to share on what I've seen.  Let's backtrack a bit, shall we?

17 January, 2012

Australian Open - Day 2, 3 Thoughts

You know this isn't the way it was supposed to be, right?  People look back to the day Justine Henin retired as the flash point of the chaos in the women's game...people have it wrong.  Yes, Henin was a seven time major champion and the No. 1 player in the world when she inexplicably pulled the rip cord just shy of Roland Garros in 2008.  Like any successful company, there was a natural, clear succession plan in place.  The woman who would become No. 1 (again) was Maria Sharapova.  Sharapova was a three time major champion and had just won that year's Australian Open in a ruthless display that saw her win every set she played and finish off the now World No. 2 Ana Ivanovic comfortably (7-5, 6-3) in the final.  Ivanovic, for her part, would win Roland Garros just weeks later.  Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams were still in the Top 5...then, the Sharapova shoulder injury.  Forget that Serena would play less, Kuznetsova would become increasingly erratic and Ivanovic would fall as quickly as she rose.  Sharapova was more than a marketing machine; she was a fierce competitor coming into her own.  She was also a player who would have had precious few rivals until well, now, if not for her devastating injury. Maria Sharapova's shoulder injury negatively affected the trajectory of the women's tour for the last four years.  Today's 6-1, 6-0 demolition of Gisela Dulko was the best match we've seen from her since her shoulder changed the game forever.

16 January, 2012

Australian Open - Day 1, 3 Thoughts

We knew somehow, someway, we would be discussing Bernard Tomic after his 1st round match with Fernando Verdasco.  We dubbed the tilt our Super Fan Special in that section of the draw, figuring it was going to be a barnburner.  There were some shaky moments, but the 19 year old certainly made sure the boisterous crowd got their money's worth on Rod Laver Arena.  Tomic edged past the 22nd seeded Verdasco 4-6 6-7 (3) 6-4 6-2 7-5 in  more than four hours to get this Aussie Open off to a rip-roaring start.  It was a tough draw for Verdasco, ranked 24 himself playing the World No. 38 who narrowly missed being seeded himself.  Add to that, he was playing the No. 1 Aussie on Rod Laver Arena in the opening match of the tournament and it was a recipe for disaster for the Spaniard...until it wasn't.  

15 January, 2012

2012 Australian Open Predictions: The Men (Blacklabel vs. the Computer)

Those four guys are still around, right?  You know, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray right?  So why do the full on Australian Open men's bracket breakdown?  Don't we already know who's going to be around at the tail end of the tournament?  Maybe.  Anyway, let's have a little fun with this.  We got such positive feedback about our collaboration at the Bloggers' Bar at the ed of last year that we thought, why not bring in some outside perspectives again.  To that end, I've been corresponding with my fellow New Yorker Jeff Sackmann who runs a really interesting tennis blog called Heavy Topspin.  What I immediately loved about his take on tennis predictions is their bloodlessness.  Jeff's developed an algorithm that takes into account the quality of opponents (adjusted for surface), recency of result over two years and head-to-head results and then runs a million simulations of the ENTIRE draw to predict the outcome of a tournament.

What happens when V Blacklabel takes on Jeff and his computer?  Well, read on to find out:

2012 Australian Open Predictions: The Women

It's hard to believe that it's already been a year since Kim Clijsters solidified her hardcourt bonafides with her fourth major title, as the 2011 Australian Open champion.  "Aussie Kim," the Belgian with an American husband, will contend for her fifth major when the Australian Open kicks off on Monday.  To win, Clijsters will have to face down the usual top tier foes like 2008 champ Maria Sharapova, 5-time Aussie winner Serena Williams and home favorite Samantha Stosur.  Not to mention the young gunnettes of generation next who are threatening to make their move in 2012, namely Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, embattled WTA No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and longtime next big thing Victoria Azarenka. Which of the women will clutch the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy two Sundays from now?   Here's your 2012 Australian Open Women's Bracket Breakdown.

08 January, 2012

Getting Into The Groove

Milos Raonic, winner of the 2012 Aircel Chennai Open

Are we here already?  I mean, really?  Seriously?!?!  It feels like yesterday we were just settling in for the interminable tennis offseason. We were trying desperately to figure out how we would spend all that free time now that there weren't pivotal second round clashes from some far-flung outpost of tennisland to hold our attention.  Well, the reality is, we didn't even have enough time to build a decent Spotify playlist before they were at it again.  Here's what we saw this first (official) week of the 2012 season.