06 December, 2013

Blake Serves For A Cure At Armory in New York

The James Blake Foundation brought tennis to New York’s 69th Regiment Armory last night for the 2013 edition of Serving for a Cure.  The event, first held in 2005, raises money for the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Research Fund, supporting early detection cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. 

04 September, 2013

Survivor: Jill Craybas On The Eve Of Her Retirement

Jill Craybas on the Madrid blue clay in 2012
*Josh Meiseles of The Sixth Set contributed to this article:
(August 30, 2013) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – For nearly 18 years, Jill Craybas represented the United States on the WTA Tour. Her famous work ethic, charisma and longevity made her an instant fan favorite. At the age of 39, the Rhode Island-native revealed she will be hanging up her racquet following the US Open.
Craybas peaked at a career-high singles ranking of 39, in 2006, and will be best remembered for reaching the Round of 16 at the 2005 Wimbledon Championships after stunning Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 in the third round.

26 August, 2013

James Blake Will Retire After The 2013 US Open

The following article was written by Vito Ellison (@vblacklabel) for Blacklabel Tennis and Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) for The Sixth Set, it appears on both sites.

It is a rite of passage; a somber yet appropriate custom that those who have carried the mantle of American tennis have partaken. Saying farewell to the game you love is never easy, but having the opportunity to do so surrounded by 22,000 people chanting your name provides a poetic sense of closure.

Cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium never feels so united, so intimate as it does when an American standard-bearer takes his final on-court wave nestled in the loving embrace of his home crowd.  Over the past decade, that scene has been replayed repeatedly. Rather than abruptly end their runs mid-season, or play out the string of European indoor events, most of the top American men have chosen Flushing Meadows as the last stop in their journey as ATP pros. Pete Sampras started the trend in legendary fashion, turning back Andre Agassi for the 2002 US Open crown, in what would be Sampras’ final match (though he didn’t officially retire until a year later on that same court). Michael Chang, Todd Martin and Agassi continued the tradition in 2003, ‘04 and ‘06, respectively. Last year it was Andy Roddick’s turn to say goodbye to the Ashe faithful.   In the footsteps of his predecessors, Roddick showed flashes of his vintage form in his last outing.  He ultimately he suffered a valiant defeat, this time at the hands of Juan Martin del Potro, before an appreciative crowd.

25 August, 2013

Blacklabel Tennis 2013 Guide To The US Open

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 2013 Open.  Without further ado, here's the Blacklabel Tennis Guide to the 2013 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 didn'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 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.

Janko, Looking Up

Given the volume of press ink and keystrokes they generate, writing a post about tennis without the names Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray, Sharapova, Azarenka or either Williams seems almost as valuable a modern day skill for tennis writers as quill pen mastery.  That said, if we're taking the shot, why not turn our attention to one of the sport's other most compelling characters, Janko Tipsarevic.  The bespectacled, Dostoevsky-tatted, sometime EDM DJ who was ranked a career high 8th in the world a year ago talked to myself and Josh Meiseles of the Sixth Set in the run up to the year's final major.  Despite a tough go of it on court lately, the Serb found plenty of reasons for optimism.

20 August, 2013

5 Minutes With Maria

Rather unexpectedly yesterday, I found out that I'd have five minutes to talk with Maria Sharapova on behalf of Tennis Panorama.  I have to say if I was planning to have five minutes with Maria, I wouldn't have necessarily have selected a chic Fifth Avenue boutique as a venue.  Nor would I have invited in about 30 cameras, ten other reporters (and/or bloggers), various handlers, a couple hundred adoring fans or the WTA superstar's ATP pro boyfriend, who loomed about thirty feet away, largely unnoticed.  Still, no complaints here.

While it's been a tumultuous summer filled with injuries, coaching intrigue and uncharacteristic losses on court for Sharapova, we found her to be quite calm in the center of the media frenzy that frankly, she must be used to by now as arguably the most famous female athlete in the world.   The four-time major champion was amiable and not at all intimidating despite looking runway ready and matching my 6'3" height in her heels.  Maria was in New York, obviously for the US Open which commences on Monday, but also to launch Sugarpova's second set, an accessory collection, in association with Henri Bendel New York.  So, how did we spend our time together?  Maria and I discussed working with brands (ed. note: my own day job), building Sugarpova, connecting with her fans and of course, her tennis summer leading up to the US Open. I'm done rambling, here's my interview with Maria Sharapova.

19 August, 2013

5 For The Open: Rafa Playing For History

5 for the Open is a look at five storylines that will be major plot points going into 2013's final major, the US Open.

What are the odds of Rafael Nadal winning the 2013 US Open?  Well, they're infinitely better than they were back in February when we weren't sure if his balky knees would even let him play the tournament, let alone be marked as a prohibitive favorite.  Since those nervous first steps back onto the battlefield in Chile, the Spaniard has won his 8th title at Roland Garros, a record tying five Masters 1000 titles this season (Indian Wells, Rome, Madrid, Montreal and Cincinnati) and a season high 55 matches in 58 starts, including 15 consecutive wins on the North American hardcourts.  This is clearly the most steam the Rafa Express has ever had buggy-whipping its way into Flushing Meadows.  On the other hand, his biggest rivals Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all searching for answers after uneven hardcourt runs.  As always, the draw will have its say, but all things being equal, it's hard not to consider Nadal the US Open favorite at this moment.

20 July, 2013

The Truth About The Fed

Alright, we've bitten our tongue more than once on this one, but it's really obvious isn't it?   Do we even really need to say it?   Sit down; it's time to talk about Roger.  Yes, Roger the GOAT...Swiss guy, likes English grass, chocolates and Rolexes.  Well...

01 June, 2013

Playing Fair

As often happens at big events such as Roland Garros, the story is often simmering below the money quotes.  What we all heard yesterday was seven time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal complaining that his opponent scored an unfair advantage when officials scheduled his second round match on Thursday latest than that of his future opponent, Fabio Fognini.  Nadal's profile ensures that the press will run with the quotes ruefully filed out to the press.  .... "You think this is fair.  I tell you this is not fair," opined the Spaniard.  In fact, the fairest thing might be that it was happening to a top player for a change.  Sport is the world's purest meritocracy, except when it just quite isn't. 

27 May, 2013

Roland Garros 2013 - Day 2, Three Thoughts

Gael Force - The consensus "best match on paper" of the first round, turned out to be the barnburner we all hoped for; 5th seeded Tomas Berdych vs. the wild card (in more ways than one) 81st ranked Gael Monfils, the former top 10 Frenchman on the comeback trail from injury.  On Court Phillipe Chatrier, Monfils known as Sliderman had the big stage he relishes, the big opponent he loves to face and seemingly for the first time in too long, the health to play at the highest level of the sport.

26 May, 2013

Roland Garros 2013 - Day 1, Three Thoughts

Roger Rolls - World No. 3 Roger Federer coasted past a potential challenge from Pablo Carreno-Busta, launching his Roland Garros campaign with a rather routine 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win.  Coming into today's meeting with the all-time major champion, the Spaniard was the reigning King of the Futures, having amassed a 39-1 record on the lower-level circuit this year including a 25-0 run on clay.  His success at lower levels encouraged some prognosticators to assume he would give the Swiss an early test.  Federer, on the other hand, indeed proved that the future is not now, not yet at least.  The Swiss master won 83% of his first serve points and going 7-for-7 on break points.  Long story short, Federer blitzed the Barcelona native in a miserly 80 minutes as if he had lunch reservations at L'Entrecote.  Federer will face another less-heralded qualifier in his second round match, 28 year old Somdev Devvarman of India.  Federer won their first meeting back in 2011 and he'll be heavily favored to double up.

Roland Garros 2013 Bracket Breakdown - The Women

After a few years in the wilderness, women's tennis has re-emerged with a cache of compelling storylines and its own big three: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, the queen bees dominating the current era of the game.  The question going into this major is pretty much the same as it has been for the last two years.  Will Serena Williams win the title...or beat herself so someone else can do it?

For the 2013 French Open men's bracket breakdown, click here

Roland Garros 2013 Bracket Breakdown - The Men

Apropos, no?
It's the most wonderful time of the year to be a tennis fan.  The annual European swing between Monte Carlo and Wimbledon heralds the start of the northern summer which means as many hours on court as a man can stand, not to mention on TV, two of the tennis calendar's crown jewels - Roland Garros and Wimbledon; to say nothing of the most venerable events on tour jammed into this period: Monte Carlo, Rome, Stuttgart, Queen's Club, and on and on.

With Roland Garros, aka, the French Open upon us, we take a look at the draws to find out who will leave Paris with shiny new hardware and who will leave as annoyed as a Parisian waiter who was just asked for ketchup.  First up, les hommes (the men).

For the 2013 French Open women's bracket breakdown, click here

11 May, 2013

The Sunday Line: Madrid Finals

Blacklabel Tennis' take on this weekend's ATP and WTA finals.

(1) Serena Williams v. (2) Maria Sharapova

When Maria Sharapova defeated Serena Williams to win Wimbledon (her first major) in 2004, she was all steely serve and stinging groundies; a player perfectly crafted to dominate the field on fast courts.  Yes, she's won Wimbledon and the US Open, but the Siberian Siren who stands before us today has morphed into a clay court colossus.  With 25 consecutive wins on the red clay, including seven at Roland Garros that completed her career grand slam, Sharapova should be considered the runaway favorite any time she plays on the surface.  But yeah, there's Serena.

14 January, 2013

2013 Australian Open Day 1: Three Thoughts

It always screws with our heads to see that first dispatch from Melbourne.  Michael Russell's in full fledged, sleeveless, "gun show" mode while we're wondering if things at the office will be casual enough for us to wear our down puffer jackets versus our grin and bear it in wool car coats.  Soon enough though, we reconcile ourselves to where we are, where they are and get down to the business of enjoying the tennis.  The first day of this 101st Australian Open didn't deliver much in the way of major surprises, but it did deliver a strong start to the 2013 tennis calendar.

The Audacity of Promise: Every now and then ESPN or Tennis Channel or whichever network gives your tennis fix will inevitably display a graphic about the dominance of the Big Four men in Grand Slam play.  Yes, 33 of the 36 majors played since 2004 have been won by just four men: Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  That consistency has been great for TV, providing a steady narrative and stars who can be depended on to appear at the business end of the majors.  It's also yielded consequences for the rest of the tour, locking the rank-and-file into the existing world order and all but smothering the tour's young talent.

Today, two potential future stars moved in opposite directions in  Melbourne.  Grigor Dimitrov lost in straight sets to 32nd seed Julian Benneteau while Ryan Harrison reversed the result of his Olympics opener getting past Santiago Giraldo in four.  Dimitrov had become a fashionable sleeper pick after a run to the final at the warm-up tourney in Brisbane.  Unfortunately, the Bulgarian nicknamed "Baby Fed" looked more like "Baby Chuidinelli" getting routined 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 by the Frenchman out on Court 13.  Harrison, on the other hand, kept his temper in check after dropping the first set 2-6 in just 24 minutes.  Harrison was out of sorts in that first frame, serving 48% and gifting 15 unforced errors to the Colombian's cause.  His first serve percentage though perked up in the next three sets and he closed out Giraldo 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.

The reason at least this pundit saw such an opening for Dimitrov had less to do with his opening match than the fact that he fell in the presumably weak Ferrer/Tipsarevic quarter.  With no offense to the solid Ferrer who won a tour leading 7 ATP titles last year, the opportunity to get through a few matches unimpeded by one of the Big Four was a huge one that has rarely been afforded to the young guns of the last decade.  Dimitrov squandered that chance and will have to wait who knows how long for another one.  Harrison, for doing things the right way, has a very different opportunity in his hands: a date with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the second round.  The last time Djokovic lost this early in a major was Wimbledon 2008.  That said, the best way to make a breakthrough is less sneaking through a hole in the draw than blasting your own, right?  We'll see how Harrison does.

Maria Dominant: 2nd seeded Maria Sharapova blew past her compatriot Olga Pouchkova as if she wasn't there, 6-0, 6-0 in 55 minutes.  With a dominant display of the power tennis that is the bedrock of Brand Sharapova, the Russia establishes herself as a contender again in the 2013 edition of the Australian Open.  The stats that matter today are that Sharapova landed 68% of her first serves and won the same percentage of receiving points.  In other words, despite a collarbone injury that kept her from playing any warm up events, she's in devastating form early.

The narrative on the Siberian Siren seems to have shifted a bit in the last couple of years.  In the wake of stinging defeats to the likes of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, plus the shoulder injury that derailed her during what could have been the most productive period of her career, it seems some have begun considering Sharapova an also-ran.  The reality is she remains a steely competitor, one of just ten women to ever earn the Career Grand Slam and a threat to win every event she enters, especially if she can keep the yips at bay.

At Last:  We couldn't help but smile that Samantha Stosur won her first round match today.  Stosur is a thoroughly likable, no frills workhorse of a player who seems to have brought her best tennis everywhere but her home country.  Stosur came home to Australia after winning the US Open in 2011 expecting a hero's welcome, which she received.  It was short lived though.  For all the moxie she showed in claiming her first major title, over Serena Williams in the final no less, Stosur seemed to crumble under the pressure of her homeland's expectations.  Her 7-6 (3) 6-3 win over Kai-Chen Chang was heartwarming after five consecutive losses (dating back to last season) in Australia.  A tough date with Jie Zheng of China awaits, but for the moment, good on ya, Sam! 

13 January, 2013

2013 Australian Open Women's Bracket Breakdown

Dare we say it, for the first time in what seems like a decade, the best stories in Grand Slam tennis might just be on the ladies' side this year.   Who's going to win it all?  Here's our 2013 Australian Open Women's Bracket Breakdown:

12 January, 2013

2013 Australian Open Men's Bracket Breakdown

Tennis is officially back!  Two weeks after the tours kick off the season in real terms, all of the best players in the world (and those who love to watch them) will converge upon Melbourne for the Australian Open.  With less than 48 hours until the TV gets locked upon those azure blue courts for a fortnight, we take a look at the 2013 Australian Open Men's Draw and do all the demystification for you.  Here's your Aussie Open Men's Bracket Breakdown.