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: