Sunday, January 30, 2011

Australian Open Day 14: Chan

Curtain Call

Player: Yung-Jan Chan
Age: 21
Nation: Chinese Taipei
Current Doubles Ranking: 18
Mixed Doubles Partner: Paul Hanley (Australia)
Notable Conquest: Cara Black (Zimbabwe)/Leander Paes (India) (4th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)/Daniel Nestor (Canada) (2nd) in a super-tiebreak

Photo via French Open Tennis

The unseeded Chan and Hanley team lost in the mixed doubles final today. It was Chan's first mixed doubles final at a Slam. She is a former junior doubles champion in Melbourne, winning the title in 2004 with Sheng-Nan Sun.

My Tennis Fantasy

Current Standing: 19th
My MVP for the Week: Novak Djokovic (3rd, Serbia), defeating Andy Murray (5th, UK) in the final in straight sets for the title

Photo via Tennis Ticket News

And so, Djokovic finally racks up Slam #2 while Murray falls short once again. The first question of any Australian Open champ is can s/he run the table for the year? Djokovic certainly has the game to do it as he is strong on all surfaces. But he won't. Nadal, even as he nurses the latest injury, is still King. He'll certainly be the man to beat in Paris.

I still believe that Murray will eventually win a Slam. But when has become a serious question. A quick check on birthdays: he's six years younger than Fed, almost a full year younger than Nadal, a week older than Djokovic and a year older than Juan Martin del Potro, the only other player in the Slam title conversation for the moment. The pressure will always be greatest on Murray at Wimbledon but the hard court is his best surface. So realistically, the US Open may be his next best shot.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Favorite Athlete: Snowplow Level 2

Our Girl finished her second session of ice skating lessons this past week. She passed Snowplow Level 2 just fine but it seems she has lost interest in further lessons. I think a few issues are at play here. First, it made for a long day for her on Wednesdays. We'd get home afterward with barely enough time to feed her some dinner and get her to bed. Secondly, while she passed the requirements for the level, I don't think she was progressing as much as she herself would have liked. She expressed frustration one day that she can't go very fast, for instance, and gets nervous when asked to skate on just one foot. Finally, as she noted on the last day, she didn't have any friends in the class this time. Last year, she made a friend. That didn't work out so well this time.

Oh well. At least she has the basics now. She can get out on the ice, move around and not fall down. There's no point in continuing with lessons if she doesn't enjoy them. As a parent, I will only insist on a few things where activities are concerned. She has to do her homework. She has to take swim lessons in the summer. When the time for school band and orchestra comes in the fifth grade, she has to TRY playing an instrument but she doesn't have to stick with it if she doesn't like it. I owe my profession that much. If she takes lessons on the instrument, she has to practice. Beyond those things, everything else is up for discussion, as far as I'm concerned.

I do believe in winter hobbies. I think they help to keep people sane in the Great White North. My Wife and I would have to get better on the ice ourselves for skating to become a family endeavor. Snowshoeing is probably a better bet. We've got plenty of snow and we're getting more as I write. Perhaps we'll get out on the trails sometime this weekend.

Australian Open Day 13: Li Returns

Curtain Call

Player: Na Li
Age: 28
Nation: China
Current Ranking: 11
Notable Conquests: Caroline Wozniacki (1st seed, Denmark) and Victoria Azarenka (8th, Belarus)
Today's Result: loss to Kim Clijsters (3rd, Belgium) in three sets

Photo via BBC SPORT

Clearly, this is Li's event of choice. Doing well in Melbourne speaks to a player's off-season work ethic and it would seem Li is no slacker. I featured her here last year as the Curtain Call for Australian Open 2010 Day 11. A first-time Chinese champion would have been exciting but Clijsters is certainly worthy, reaffirming once again her decision to come out of retirement.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Australian Open Day 12: Ferrer

Curtain Call

Player: David Ferrer
Age: 28
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 7
Notable Conquest: Rafael Nadal (1st seed, Spain)
Today's Result: loss to Andy Murray (5th, UK) in four sets

Photo via World Amazing Sports Players

I have to admit that I really would have loved to see Ferrer take out both Murray and Djokovic (3rd, Serbia) for the title, partly because I find it difficult to root for either of the finalists but mostly because Ferrer so richly deserves it. He's not even the third most glamorous Spaniard on the men's tour and yet he's been camped out in the sport's top tier for ages. He is one of the toughest outs in the game. Look at his overall history in the Slams and one sees that, while this is only his second time in the semis, he hasn't lost in the first round of a major since Wimbledon '05. The fittest player in the world, he can outlast anyone: a classic grinder. Nadal himself showed how much he respects the man by even showing up for their match, never mind his adamant insistence that his loss not be attributed to injury. I'm genuinely disappointed that Ferrer's tournament is over.

On to the final we go. Without Fed or Rafa, I'm not sure I'll be overly eager to crawl out of bed on Sunday morning to watch. I'm sticking with my Djokovic pick but it would be kind of nice for Murray to win if only to get everyone to shut up about the fact that he hasn't won a Slam yet. Of course, as My Wife pointed out, they'll all find something else for which to browbeat him.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open Day 11: Rojer

Curtain Call

Player: Jean-Julien Rojer
Age: 29
Nation: Netherlands Antilles
Current Doubles Ranking: 40
Doubles Partner: Eric Butorac (USA)
Notable Conquests: Lukasz Kubot (Poland)/Oliver Marach (Austria) (4th seed) and Mark Knowles (Bahamas)/Michal Mertinak (Slovakia) (12th)
Today's Result: loss to Bob and Mark Bryan (1st, USA) in straight sets

Photo via TennisBetSite

Ha! You thought it was a typo, didn't you? You assumed I meant Mr. Federer. Ha!

Rojer is a full-fledged doubles specialist, not even ranked in singles at present. His semifinal result is a significant improvement over last year's third round finish. Thanks to him and Wikipedia, I now know that Netherlands Antilles was dissolved last year. Rojer is from CuraƧao, previously part of the Antilles but now a constituent country, still under the Dutch flag. Courtesy of tennis, my knowledge of world geography is now updated.

Djokovic has been my pick to win the tournament all along so it would be disingenuous for me to claim I see his win over Fed as surprising. For the first time in eight years, Roger will not be the current title holder of any of the four Slams. An era has passed. It was going to happen eventually. His story's not over yet. He's way too good to just ride off into the sunset. Nonetheless, the Djoker's comprehensive victory may be a signal of a turning point in his own career. We shall see.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australian Open Day 10: Dolgopolov

Curtain Call

Player: Alexandr Dolgopolov
Age: 22
Nation: Ukraine
Current Ranking: 46
Notable Conquests: Robin Soderling (4th seed, Sweden) and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (13th, France)
Today's Result: loss to Andy Murray (5th, UK) in four sets

Photo via Technorati Sports

This was a break out performance for Dolgopolov. His take down of Soderling qualified as the tournament's first big upset. This was, in fact, Dolgopolov's first Australian Open. Not bad for a rookie! We'll see him again.

Of course, the big story is Ferrer's upset of Nadal. Whenever there is discussion of leg injuries where Rafa is concerned, there will be rumblings as to whether it's the beginning of the end. The answer to the obvious question is yes, his career will be shortened by injury. The story is not over. He'll be back. He'll win plenty. But it is hard to imagine Rafa playing into his 30s. There will be a price to pay for playing with such glorious, unrelenting fury.

The lesson here is that we should enjoy him while we can. Really, is there a more gratifying athlete to watch in the world? And he is so gallant. He could have just taken a walkover today. But no, he respects his opponent too much to deny him a match. He gave his countryman full credit for the victory as well, not wanting to diminish it by playing up his own injury.

Nadal's not finished by any means but someday, he'll walk away before we're ready for it. That will be a very sad day for the sports world.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Australian Open Day 9: Those Antananarivo Nights

Curtain Call

Player: Stanislas Wawrinka
Age: 25
Nation: Switzerland
Current Ranking: 19
Notable Conquests: Andy Roddick (8th seed, USA) and Gael Monfils (12th, France)
Today's Result: loss to Roger Federer (2nd, Switzerland) in straight sets

Photo via Sporting Life

Wawrinka was clearly demoralized by Fed this evening. I hope he shakes it off quickly because he had a great run. It's my second Slam in a row featuring him here (US Open Day 11). He took out two higher seeds and his run to the quarters is his best-ever showing in Australia.

Here's an interesting question from My Wife: where would be the best time zone to watch all four Slams? The most convenient one to watch from Eastern Standard Time is, obviously, the US Open as it is in the same time zone. Wimbledon is also a really nice one for me. As a teacher, I'm home in the summer and I can watch without annoying My Wife. Aussie actually isn't bad. I'm a night person and almost always outlast her so I can generally get my fix after she goes to bed. Roland Garros is the toughest. I usually only get to watch on the weekends.

But where would be better? I looked at Hawaii and Madagascar (a far more appealing choice than Moscow, weather-wise), both temporally equidistant from New York and Melbourne. In Hawaii, Roland Garros and Wimbledon would each start in the wee hours so that's not so good. Perhaps Madagascar is better, though I think that would mean the Australian would start at an awkward time. Any thoughts out there? (By the time I finished exploring the question, I'm fairly certain she was sorry she'd asked.)

Another funny wife story. My Wife is a Chicago Bears fan - sort of. Please remember she detests football. But she loves Chicago. She insisted that I occasionally check the score of Sunday's game but had zero interest in watching. She was, in fact, resigned to the fact that they would lose, muttering something about years as a "Cubs fan." Self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Jurgen Melzer (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 13) - 'Twas another great tournament for Melzer. His fourth round result - losing to Andy Murray (5th, UK) - improves on last year's first round exit. Plus, he teamed up with Philipp Petzschner (Germany) to reach the doubles quarters, finally losing to the Bryan brothers (USA). Just as with Kamke, this is Melzer's fourth consecutive mention here and as such, he qualifies as my second Golden Squid!

Photo via Live Tennis Guide

Photo via

I am not the only one honoring Melzer. He was named Austrian Sportsperson of the Year for 2010. Congratulations, sir! We shall follow your future progress with great interest.

Australian Open Day 8: O Canada

Curtain Call

Player: Milos Raonic
Age: 20
Nation: Canada
Current Ranking: 152
Notable Conquests: Mikhail Youzhny (10th seed, Russia) and Michael Llodra (22nd, France)
Today's Result: loss to David Ferrer (7th, Spain) in four sets

Photo via Isabelle Chrun

The Montenegro-born Raonic has been the story of the tournament thus far. The guy came out of nowhere to qualify for the main draw, then took out two seeds. Beating Llodra is one thing. Youzhny, on the other hand, is not one to go quietly - definitely one of the great warriors of the tour. Raonic has a great power game going but there are a lot of wild pitches - too many errors to get by a grinder of Ferrer's caliber. The future seems bright but he needs some Crash-to-Nuke style mentoring to clean up his game (one guess as to which classic sports flick I watched last week).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Open Day 7: Sevastova

Curtain Call

Player: Anastasija Sevastova
Age: 20
Nation: Latvia
Current Ranking: 46
Notable Conquest: Yanina Wickmayer (21st seed, Belgium)
Today's Result: loss to Caroline Wozniacki (1st, Denmark) in straight sets

Photo via Tennis Earth Bet

Sevastova lost today but I like the way she plays so fearlessly. She did not seem overawed by the moment at all. She even tends to smile during tense moments. She made some great shots but simply lost to the better player. I see big potential here.

Halfway through the event, it's pretty smooth sailing so far on the men's side. The top 7 seeds are all alive and well. The seas have been rougher for the women with only the top 3 still in action. I see no reason to abandon my initial pick of Djokovic though it won't be easy with all of the big guns still in the mix. I didn't make a pick for the women in the beginning so I'll just go with my rooting interest: Schiavone all the way!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Australian Open Day 6: Hernych

Curtain Call

Player: Jan Hernych
Age: 31
Nation: Czech Republic
Current Ranking: 241
Notable Conquest: Thomasz Bellucci (30th seed, Brazil)
Today's Result: loss to Robin Soderling (4th, Sweden) in straight sets

Photo via Wikipedia

Forget today's match. At 31, Hernych came through qualifying, beat a seed and achieved his career-best finish at a Slam tournament. Were I to meet you in Melbourne this evening, I would buy you a beer, sir.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Australian Open Day 5: Manasieva

Curtain Call

Player: Vesna Manasieva
Age: 21
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 146
Notable Conquest: Marion Bartoli (15th seed, France)
Today's Result: loss to Anastasija Sevastova (Latvia) in straight sets

Photo via Hamburger Abendblatt

Manasieva got tuned today but she had a great tournament. She went through qualifying to reach her first Australian Open main draw, then took out Bartoli in the second round. The ongoing parade of talented Russian women tennis players continues.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Richard Gasquet
(Curtain Call, US Open Day 8) - Gasquet fell to Tomas Berdych (6th, Czech Republic) in straight sets. Nonetheless, his third round finish is an improvement on last year's first round exit. His ranking points will increase accordingly.

Berdych is, in many ways, a fitting opponent to end Gasquet's tournament. The two are less than a year apart in age and their careers have striking similarities. Both are extremely talented and much was expected of both early in their professional tenures. Alas, both fall squarely in the head-case category and have not exactly lived up to potential. (I would argue, too, that even from a layman's perspective, Berdych's footwork is highly suspect.) Berdych's strong run to the Wimbledon final last year gives him a higher ranking for the moment. Neither man appears to be a threat to win a major, particularly with the Age of Roger and Rafa still going strong. Berdych has never been to the quarters of a hard court major. His fourth round opponent is Fernando Verdasco (9th, Spain), a former semifinalist in Melbourne.

Australian Open Day 4: Kavcic Returns

Curtain Call

Name: Blaz Kavcic
Age: 23
Nation: Slovenia
Current Ranking: 98
Today's Result: loss to Mikhail Youzhny (10th seed, Russia) in five sets

Photo via Info Sport

I featured Kavcic in this spot a year ago in the same event, Day 1 of the 2010 Aussie Open. He has since attained a career high ranking at #96, the highest ever for a Slovenian male. Kavcic reached the main draw through qualifying. Youzhny's a tough customer on any surface and Kavcic went the distance with him.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Lourdes Dominguez Lino (Curtain Call, US Open Day 6) - Dominguez Lino crashed out in both singles and doubles today. She first lost to Flavia Pennetta (22nd, Italy) in straight sets. Then she and her partner Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) fell to Eleni Danilidou (Greece) and Kaia Kanepi (Estonia), also in straight sets. However, as she did not play in last year's tournament, this still qualifies as an improvement as the 29-year-old continues to play well late in her career.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australian Open Day 3: Volley Practice

Curtain Call

Player: Regina Kulikova
Age: 21
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 114
Notable Conquest: Daniela Hantuchova (28th seed, Slovakia)
Today's Result: loss to Chanelle Scheepers (South Africa) in three sets

Kulikova was born in Kazakhstan but claims Russian citizenship. This is her best-ever finish in Melbourne. Taking out a seed is always nice, too.

Photo via WTA

During the Berdych/Kohlschreiber match, mention was made of the Cara Black volley drill videos on YouTube. Naturally, I had to check them out. Here they are:

I'm particularly impressed by #2, shown here first. Not only is her speed extraordinary but also her control in keeping the ball above the net line.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Rebecca Marino
(Curtain Call, US Open Day 3) - This was Marino's first Australian Open and she matched her US Open success with a second round finish. Plus, she gave sixth-seeded Francesca Schiavone (Italy) a great match, pushing her to 9-7 in the third. She is now Canada's #1 and her career definitely appears headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Australian Open Day 2: The Over 30s

Curtain Call

Player: Anne Kremer
Age: 35
Nation: Luxembourg
Current Ranking: 196
Today's Result: loss to Simona Halep (Romania) in three sets

Photo via Tennis X

Kremer went through qualifying to reach her ninth Australian Open main draw. She is a Stanford grad and has been named Luxembourgian Sportswoman of the Year three times, first in 1993. She has also dabbled in politics, though she failed to win a seat in the Chamber of Deputies.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Greta Arn (Curtain Call, Wimbledon Day 5) - At 31, Arn is playing the best tennis of her life, having recently won the title in Auckland and attaining a career high ranking of #58 just a week ago. Alas, she drew a seed in the first round in Melbourne, losing to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (26th seed, Spain) in three sets.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Australian Open Day 1: The First Golden Squid

Curtain Call

Player: Jamie Hampton
Age: 20
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 132
Today's Result: loss to Elena Baltacha (UK) in three sets

Photo via daylife

Hampton is an Auburn, Alabama native, having qualified for her first Australian Open. This is, in fact, only her second slam overall, having played in the 2010 US Open.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Tobias Kamke
(Curtain Call, RG Day 4) - Kamke drew countryman Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round, definitely a tough customer. Kohlschreiber came from two sets down to win it in five. I'm sure Tobias is smarting from the loss right now but this is his first Aussie Open and, as such, it does amount to his best result at the event. This is, in fact, the fourth consecutive slam in which Kamke has qualified as either a Curtain Call or Catching Up feature here on The Armchair Squid - the first player to do so. I feel this is worthy of special distinction and so, I award Tobias Kamke of Germany the first ever Golden Squid!

Photo via The Times of India

Photo via

I won't go too deeply into how I select my curtain calls but basically, it's a player who plays well on a given day and improves on the previous year's result. I keep up with those who continue to have good results in further slams. Kamke is the first of my Curtain Calls to show improvement through an entire calendar year. Congratulations to you, sir! I hope this honor serves as a small consolation.

I am not the only person honoring Tobias these days. He was named the ATP's Newcomer of the Year for 2010, having improved his ranking from #254 to #66. Here at The Squid, we shall follow his future progress with great interest.

My Tennis Fantasy: Gulbis

Current Standing: 34th
My MVP for the Week: Ernests Gulbis (Latvia) with $19,180, losing in the semifinals at Medibank International Sydney to Gilles Simon (France) in straight sets

Photo via Any Given Surface

My introduction to Ernests Gulbis came a few years back in Montreal. We went up for the free passes for the last day of qualifying for the Rogers Cup in 2007. We caught Gulbis's match on one of the outer courts. The first thing you notice is his height. 6'3" is a lot more impressive in real life than it is on television. Then there was his serve, quite a thing when it's coming right at your head! I hadn't even heard of him before that day but he's carved out a nice little career since.

Melbourne looms: the first big payday. Time to play the big boys. I'm going to be boring and pick the top 5: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Soderling and Murray, all five strong on hard courts. For what it's worth, the Djoker is my pick to win.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bowl Season: Ninth Place

I will finish in 9th place for our college bowl pick'em group. There's not a thing to be done about it. Tonight's outcome doesn't matter. The tenth place guy is too far behind and the eighth place guy is too far ahead. So, I need not be shy about the fact that, for one night at least, I shall be a Quacker Backer! Go, Oregon!

My affection for the state of Oregon goes far beyond one game. We spent our honeymoon in Oregon, mostly in the Willamette Valley sampling pinots. But we did make it to Eugene for one day of the Oregon Bach Festival. It is a wonderful town and an absolutely stunning state. If it weren't so far away from our families, we might well have settled in the Pacific Northwest rather than Vermont.

My knowledge of Alabama in general and Auburn in particular is considerably less. Wild Turkey did spend one year at Auburn studying agronomy before transferring to our little college in the Iowa cornfields - a move for which we are all grateful, her husband especially. I'm pretty sure that even without the Cam Newton debacle, I'd be pulling for the Ducks tonight.

Mock has already made it clear that we're definitely doing this again next year. I do enjoy it and, as I noted last year, it has certainly encouraged me to follow the bowls more closely. Finishing ninth out of ten is more respectable than sixth out of six, I suppose, but I'd like to pursue the title more aggressively next time. I'm not sure of the best approach. More conservative picks? Following college football more closely in general? (Somewhere, My Wife is groaning in despair) Even a dart board might improve my performance over the past two years.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: A New Game in Town

Oh yes, dear friends, that's right. Tennis is back after its joke of an off-season and brings with it a new and exciting fantasy tennis site! Check out Fantasy Tennis Tour if you're interested in trying it. The basic idea is that each week of the year, one picks a few players in each ATP tournament, benefiting from the prize money won by each of those players. There are limits on how many times you can pick each player so you can't just pick Federer and Nadal every time they play.

Current Standing: 36th (out of how many, I don't know)
My MVP for the Week: Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) with $92,360 in prize money, losing to Roger Federer (Switzerland) in the final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in straight sets

Image via Live Tennis Guide

All three of this past week's affairs (Doha, Chennai and Brisbane) are ATP 250-level tournaments, allowing for 3 picks in each. Despite having such a low rating, Doha is one of the big money grabs on the ATP calendar, as much for its seven-figure appearance fees as for its prize money. As such, Davydenko provided my biggest score of the week, despite the fact that Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland), another of my picks, actually won the tournament in Chennai.

It's fair to say that Davydenko had a disappointing 2010 season. He came into the year as one of the hottest players on the tour but suffered a nasty wrist injury at Indian Wells, forcing him to miss the clay season entirely. One of the world's best clay courters, he was seen as one of very few who could pose a meaningful threat to Nadal's dominance. (Rafa, of course, ran the table)

But Nikolay served notice that he's back in form with a big-time take down of Rafa in the semis this week. Now, Doha is not Melbourne but any win over the World #1 is a big deal. On to Sydney and Auckland!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bowl Season: Out of the Running

It hasn't been such a terrible week for my picks, actually: 3 for 5. I picked Texas A&M and Kentucky, both of whom lost. But as I have left my big confidence points wagers until the end, the cost is high at this stage. I am currently in ninth place out of ten. I can finish no higher than seventh.

Mock and Marc are both out of the running two. However, my two new recruits (one from high school, one from the Tree Farm) currently reside in 2nd and 3rd place so I'll be rooting for them the rest of the way. Only two more games to go!

While I'm still hoping to stay out of the cellar, it is rather disappointing to discover that I've already made more wrong picks this year than I did last. In fact, I could have just picked all favorites and done much better. Clearly, my "system" didn't work this time. I guess I'll need a new strategy should we do this again next year.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bowl Season: Tough Road Ahead

It's not looking too promising for me in the bowl pick group at the moment. I'm in last place in current points and second to last in possible points. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were both brutal for me. On the 31st, all of the underdogs won and I only had one of them picked (South Florida). On the 1st, all of the favorites won and I only had two of them picked (Mississippi State and TCU). But there are still seven games left and I'm not out of it yet.

In fantasy football news, Wild Turkey is our champion in the college league, taking out her own husband in the final. Yup, we were all thumped by a girl! We're seeing them soon. I hope resentments won't linger.

Happy New Year!