Saturday, August 17, 2013

Isner and Nadal, our two elevator friends, to meet in the finals

It's John Isner versus Rafael Nadal, the United States versus Spain, in the finals of the 2013 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati Mason, Ohio. Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych in the second semifinal on Saturday to set the matchup. 

The showdown is the Spanish-American war all over again, only this time it will go down in the friendly confines of the Lindner Family Tennis Center and control of Cuba isn't on the line, to my knowledge. It would be a really weird scenario if that were the case.

Nadal is undefeated against Isner in their three previous meetings, although it has been over two years since they last competed and a lot has changed since that opening round match in Roland Garros. For instance, John Isner now wears Lacoste instead of Nike; Nadal has battled knee injuries; and McDonald's offers an egg white substitute on all of its breakfast items. I encourage you to give it a try.

The Spaniard is the favorite entering the match and he's riding a 14-match win streak on hard courts, but don't think for one second that Isner is intimidated by his opponent. Isner has already defeated four top 11 players this week, including top seed Novak Djokovic, to get to the finals. Nadal is just another guy with a racket and a headband in his way.

Nadal and Isner will play in the first match of the day before the women compete for the WTA trophy in the tournament's grand finale. That matchup will be determined tonight with Serena Williams and Na Li, and Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka competing for spots.

It all ends tomorrow, friends.

The Magic of Federer-Nadal

In eight years of covering sports, I have been to a lot of great events. I walked 18 with Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup, sat court side as Lebron went after his first NBA title (in Cleveland) and stood on the court as my team won its eighth national championship. And as amazing as those events were, sitting 10 feet from the net watching the 31st edition of Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal may equalize them.  I am not the type that likes melodramatic, overly poetic attempts to explain the beauty of sport with majestic language that seems to leap off the page (maybe I don't like it in part, because I am not talented enough to do it). But sometimes we have to call a spade a spade and occasionally sports gives you moments that (to quote a guy I knew once in Middlesboro, Kentucky), "are just damn better" than others. No it wasn't a Grand Slam, and yes it was held on an otherwise routine Quarterfinal Friday in Cincinnati, Ohio. But for two hours, there was something special in the air in the otherwise routine Stadium Court here at the Two Directions Open. Two of the best to ever play the game hit new heights (at least for this season) in their game and turned back the clock to produce one of the best non-Grand Slam matches of the year. Andy Roddick tweeted that it was "another level" of tennis and if you watched it, you would most certainly agree. Nadal won in three sets, but the result was almost inconsequential. What mattered is the match happened and the excitement that only these two together can bring to tennis, was repeated once again.

When we started "The Outer Courts" at Indian Wells, I had one goal...see Federer and Nadal play one last time in person. For a lot of tennis media, that statement would lead to a collective groan and set of rolled eyes, because for them these two legends playing is old hat. Plus here is a secret about tennis media...they don't particularly love, or even watch, tennis as a spectator. Because their lives are built around the day to day minutia of the tour, big picture moments (especially those they have seen before) are a collective bore. But if you are an outsider, a tennis fan or simply one who loves great sports moments, the scene last night was why you appreciate the sport and it is why I got into doing this blog in the first place.

Because of the uniqueness of the event, Drew and I decided early on that we couldn't watch the proceedings in the press box. While the room is nice enough, the smell of stale pretzels, half-empty Diet Coke cans and collective desperation was not the surrounding we wanted for an event to be remembered. As any aspiring blogger would understandably want to do, we wanted to not only get the best view possible, but also bend a few rules in the process. So we made the executive decision (without telling our good Tennis Channel bosses) to sneak where we were not supposed to be and view Federer-Nadal from the best possible seats in the house. For those of you not familiar, there is one bench on court level where photographers are perched, able to sit and take pictures mere feet from the action, without any obstruction to the play. Because of the incredible access, it is for photographers only, and the poster next to the entry way says in big letters "ONLY THOSE WITH A 'M7" PASS MAY ENTER."  Looking at our passes. Drew and I realized that while we were blessed with the "M" credential (for media), we didn't have the "7" (we can't figure out what the 7 is for, but I will guess getting to sit about 7 feet from the action). For many, this lack of accreditation would mean the end of the battle to sit courtside. But not for us. You see, I learned two lessons long ago in life. (1) Pursue whatever you want to happen through all means available...the worst you can be told is "no" and (2) It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. If you find an opening, take it and if you are questioned later, play dumb. It nearly always works. Thus Drew and I, complete with no photo equipment more powerful than our iPhone followed a burly men with jeans clinging on to his waist for dear life, looked down as security glared at us and took our seat courtside for the big moment.

Our view for the matchup

What we were treated to next was an example of why I still believe that a great tennis match is at the very top of the most impressive sporting events in the world. What has always made Federer-Nadal great is the contrast in styles. The grace and elegance of Roger Federer's beautiful game versus the sheer brute strength and force of Rafael Nadal's pummeling of the tennis ball. Federer at his best seems like he is floating on air during play, producing tennis as art with each stroke a detail of exquisite importance to perfect. While in contrast Nadal seems to be in a perpetual, gruesome heavyweight boxing match with the ball, going for a fight-ending knockout with each bicep-flexing forehand. While I had always admired their games from afar on HD television, when viewed in close proximity, their characteristics become even more distinct. Watching Federer from ten feet away is like viewing a painting...his swings are perfect (even when the ball is mishit), his hair never moves an inch and his appearance is immaculate. During changeovers, he simply sits upright in his chair, looking totally at peace and with not a care in the world. In fact, Federer strikes me less as a tennis player than as a model who while posing in a tennis apparel advertisement never actually plays the sport, choosing instead to simply look the part to perfection. Contrast that with Nadal, who from 10 feet looks like as if he just wrestled an ox to the ground, drenched in sweat, clothes sticking to him (no person has ever pulled their underwear out of their crack more during a sporting event in world history), his wild facial expressions suggesting a feeling of constant pain and torture. Nadal doesn't ever look to be at peace during a match, even taking breaks during the match to take his shirt off (to screams of approval from the ladies in the crowd), fix his hair, alter his headband, change his shoes, always in perpetual motion. The contrast is striking and part of what makes their play together great.

As far as actual play, the first two sets of the match saw Federer at the top of his game, before slipping a bit (and giving away the match) early in the third. Nadal was rusty in set one (he later admitted he was surprised at Federer's good pace), before finding his stride in the final two. In the end, Nadal got the winning result he sought, bringing his overall record over Federer to a somewhat surprising 21-10. However ultimately when I look back at Friday night, my guess is that I will have little memory of the result. Nadal winning a tournament in August, even a Masters 1000 Event will be remembered by almost no one (outside of perhaps the one woman who sat two rows behind me who I overheard saying she has a Nadal pillowcase) when his great career comes to an end, and Federer's final legacy will not be tarnished by a three set loss that still amounts to one of his best performances of the year. Instead, what I will remember is how I felt while the match was taking place. It sounds melodramatic and to be fair it probably is. But there was something special about being so close as these two greats put everything into a battle they both wanted to win. An event is great when you can't find the words to describe it and the most articulate form I could produce occurred when I looked at Drew on the way out and said, "damn that was cool."

Federer and Nadal have played more important matches in their lives and the tension, while admittedly high for an August Friday before the US Open, is certainly nothing like it would be at a place like Wimbledon or Roland Garros. But I haven't been to those places. What I have seen however is the magic of Federer-Nadal in the most random of all locales, Mason, Ohio, a place best known for Pete Rose, chili and roller coasters. In this least romantic place possible, I felt that distinct tinge of awe you get when you realize you are seeing greatness in person. For the reporter who follows tennis around the world, Friday night may have been no more than a good match at the end of a long week. But for me, it was a special two hours that immediately leaps into my top 5 sports moments of all time. The semifinals and finals are still to come, but for me the Tournament ended the moment Federer declined to challenge Nadal's final shot (it was out) and a great memory was cemented into place.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Isner stared match point in the eyes and lived to tell about it

Score one more for the good guys. John Isner is moving on to the 2013 Western & Southern Open's final match.

The American defeated Juan Martin Del Potro 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 on Center Court this afternoon in the semifinals. The win is redemption for Isner after losing to Del Potro in the Citi Open finals in Washington D.C. earlier this month. Yesterday he told reporters he felt "fresher" this time around, and it showed.

Isner did get a little help from the Argentinian halfway through the match, though. Up 40-30 and serving for the match, Del Potro double faulted and opened the door for Isner to break back, which he did. The momentum swung, Isner flexed toward the crowd, and never looked back. 

Tomorrow he'll face the Nadal-Berdych winner in an opportunity to win his first ATP Masters 1000 singles title, something no current American has on their resume. He's also the first current American to reach a Masters final since he did it back in 2012 at Indian Wells.

The 22-year-old will again rely on his fellow Americans in the crowd to will him to victory against tomorrow's opponent, as he has throughout the entire tournament. I think they're up for it, too.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Andy Murray almost won a set and other happenings from Friday

The Outer Courts' personal kitchen for the week.
While The Outer Courts was caught up live blogging America vs. Serbia at Center Court, there were several other quarterfinal matches going on across the complex, apparently. Below you'll find a brief recap of the action we missed while enjoying our free pretzels and Diet Coke in the media center.

Berdych handles Murray, 6-3, 6-4.

Not long after world No. 1 Novak Djokovic fell victim to a John Isner upset, the ATP's second-ranked player was dismissed from the tournament as well. Andy Murray is now free to pack up his bags and leave the 'Nati to do as he pleases until the U.S Open. Take with you all the spaghetti infused chili your little heart desires, but you gotta go. Your time here is over, lad. Don't touch the roller coasters.

Berdych was awarded the grand prize of having to face the Nadal/Federer winner in the semis.

Serena Williams won, almost broke a sweat in the process.

Venus' kid sister needed only an hour to send Simona Halep home from the W&S Open. Serena won 6-0, 6-4 on Center Court before I even realized it was going on.

No, really, I walked back upstairs from Isner's press conference and it was over. Crowd dispersed.

Dmitry Tursunov lost but is excited about his Five Guys.
He Instragrammed this photo of a massive burger with the caption, "Whole Foods can only take you to quarter-finals, Five Guys Burgers can take you heaven. Twice! Now the chia and hemp seeds are under bacon attack #foorgasm #foodcoma"

I'll stick to my Hot Head Burritos.

Federer and Nadal XXXI in one hour...

Novak Djokovic: What He Said...and What He Meant

Life is pretty good for Novak Djokovic. While his quest to sweep all the Masters tournaments and have a season for the ages ended today with his loss to John Isner, he can still look back and realize he has had quite an amazing run in 2013. But in the immediate aftermath of a tough loss, especially to a player whose game Novak has outclassed in all areas but one, such perspective can be difficult. After the match was over, Djokovic exited the court in warp speed, setting a historic record for "Human being trying to get away from all other life beings the quickest." However with tennis stardom comes obligations, and that includes the perfunctory press conference that occurs when the #1 player in the world loses in the Quarterfinals. Thus Novak had to suffer fools and talk to the media, even though he clearly wasn't interested and would much rather have been anywhere else in the world. He sat down and gave the answers that were required, but it was quite obvious that he was only saying what was necessary and not what he truly believed. While Djokovic is usually one of the most open, honest players on tour, after one loses, the same happy personality usually goes into hiding, replaced by "player speak" that is devoid of any meaning. Thus I decided it was important to not only impart to you, "The Outer Courts" readers, what Djokovic said to the media, but also what I think he actually was thinking in head. Using my telepathic Novak-reading skills, here is a Djokovic "given statement to actual meaning" translation, so you can better understand what was really going through the mind of the world's top player after a disappointing upset:

QUESTION: Novak, obviously a tough match. You had a lot of chances on your serve that you kept fending off all until the last game. Did you notice something different than before? It seemed like he was getting more chances than usual.

ANSWER:  No, I just played a very bad match overall. Terrible match. From beginning to end, except the start of the second set, I was just a different player totally. Today I wasn't able to capitalize on my opportunities and serves. You know, in some important moments some double faults, and that's the way it is.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING:  You stupid idiot. Of course it was a tough you think I need you to tell me that? When was the last time you ever did anything that didn't involve trying to scheme the most free food out of the press room and rush the last few words of your article so you could catch the next flight home? What would you know about my serve? Yeah, it wasn't the best but getting analysis on it from you is like Pavarotti getting questioned about the pitch of his voice by the kids in "One Direction." Just stay over there and get the heck away from me before I smack you in the face. I sucked today and that is the way it is.

QUESTION: Was it a mental issue today, Novak, or physical?

Answer: I don't know. All together.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: Are you really asking me if it was a mental issue? Yeah, I mentally came in here hoping to lose...that was my goal. How do you people get paid for this?

QUESTION: Novak, just talk about Isner's serve today and how much trouble it gave you.

Answer: It's tremendous. These conditions here, very fast, and it's very difficult to return. I mean, you can see he didn't give me much second serves in the third set. I don't know what his percentage of the first serves in the third set, but it was extremely high. So he deserved to win.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: The dude is like 6'10". Do you seem him out there? He should be playing against Lebron and Durant, not me. What do you expect me to do when a freaking California Redwood hits the ball 140 miles per hour? So yes, I will "talk about" (by the way, can't you press people ask questions that don't start with 'talk about'? 'Talk about' is not a question it is a statement) his serve. It is dominant and he shouldn't be allowed to be that tall and still play.

QUESTION: Novak, after he beat you at Indian Wells last year he got into the top 10 for the first time, and I think a lot of Americans hoped he would stay there and be a regular top 10 guy. Do you think that still should be something that he's capable of with the kind of tennis he's shown you?

Answer: Well, he was there, so that means he's capable. But one tournament, two tournaments doesn't change anything. He has to be consistent and be successful in order to stay there.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: No, he doesn't deserve to be in the top ten! He is just a top 100 player who is best with the blessed serve in the game because he was born the tennis Manute Bol. Look he won and I am trying to be nice, but he will only be a top 10 player if his return game gets to above a Challenger level. I am trying to be nice so let's just leave at that, ok?

QUESTION: Novak, will this loss affect your preparations for the US Open at all?

Answer: No. I'm going to prepare as best as I can. Of course now I'm disappointed because I really wanted to win. But it's sport; I'll move on.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: Yes, I am just going to pack it in and quit the sport. OH NO! I LOST TO JOHN ISNER...WHAT SHALL I DO?  Why even go to the US Open?  Maybe I should just go back home, grab a guitar and play emo music to ease my pain, because clearly my tennis career is over.

QUESTION: Were you focusing on getting to win all the Masters at all here? Does it make it more disappointing than a normal Masters loss?

Answer: Yeah, it is. It's disappointing that I played this way. For me, it's very disappointing.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: Nope, doesn't bother me at all that I had a chance to become the first person to win every Masters' event and I blew it losing to Mark Eaton. So for me, this is just a jolly good day. I am amazed this group didn't become brain surgeons.

QUESTION: What's next for your schedule after Cincinnati? How many days off and then...

Answer: I'll see. I just came off the court. I really don't know.

ACTUAL NOVAK MEANING: I just got off the court you dolt. I don't have my day planner right in front of me. And why do you need to know anyway? Are we supposed to go shopping at Home Depot this weekend? Who are you my wife? I will do what I want and chances are high I will not inform you. I cannot wait to get away from you people.

And there you have it. As you can see, what Djokovic said was probably slightly different than what he truly meant, but that's the joy of a tennis press conference. The same bored press corps asks the same tired questions and then writes the same "plug in quote" stories, while the players count the seconds until they can leave. That is why there might be a need for a new kind of blog on the tennis scene...just saying.

Isner wins, God bless America, Isner wins

Novak Djokovic woke up Friday morning, three wins away from becoming the first men's singles player to complete the Career Golden Masters by winning all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles. When he goes to bed Friday night, visions of John Isner dialing up those monstrous first serves will dance in his head.

The 28-year-old American upset top-seeded Djokovic in the W&S quarterfinals today, his second career win over the Serb. Isner called it one of his greatest memories as a tennis player. 

"It was a fantastic win for me," he said after the match.

For Djokovic, the post-match feelings were quite different, as one would imagine. This is a tournament he wanted to win badly, knowing it is the one title he lacks from completing the Career Golden Masters. It was evident in the press conference that Djokovic was extremely upset with himself for letting this one slip away.

"I just played a very bad match overall," he said. "Terrible match. From beginning to end, except the start of the second set, I was just a different player totally." 

Djokovic, a runner-up here a year ago, doesn't believe the loss will affect his preparation for the Open. The disappointment in Cincinnati will eventually wear off and he'll move on. "It's just a sport," he reminded reporters.

Isner, on the other hand, is all smiles and will find himself back in the top 20 where Americans were absent this week for the first time in the history of the rankings. He'll go head-to-head in the W&S semifinals with Juan Martin Del Potro, a familiar opponent with a similar playing style he saw earlier this month. Del Potro defeated him 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the finals of the Citi Open in Washington D.C. on August 3. Isner said he feels a little fresher this time around -- he was coming off back-to-back events heading into D.C. -- and he's looking to ride the momentum from Friday's win.

Not to be ignored from the match, the crowd at Center Court was electric in favor of the American. Playing in the States has been good to Isner all year and that couldn't have been any more apparent than it was against Djokovic. He said his record in the U.S. compared to outside the country is "shockingly different."

So, please, stand beside him and guide him again tomorrow, Cincinnati.

God bless America. And God bless John Isner.

Isner vs. Djokovic LIVE BLOG

By The Numbers: The W&S Open ATP Singles Quarterfinals

With four exciting matches on the schedule for Friday, including another Nadal-Federer clash, let's take a look at the Western & Southern Open's men's singles quarterfinals, by the numbers....

94... Weeks at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for Novak Djokovic over the course of his career. He's No. 9 all-time in the history of the rankings.

79... Degrees, the high for Friday, according to the forecast on Only a 20-percent chance of rain.

77... Career titles for Roger Federer ties John McEnroe for third in the Open Era titles list.

44... Current ranking for Dmitry Tursunov, who upset No. 3 seed David Ferrer to reach the quarterfinals.

40... Aces for John Isner, the tournament's leader. Dmitry Tursunov is second-best with 30 aces.

37... Wins and 15 losses for Tomas Berdych so far in 2013. He won a career-high 61 matches in 2012.

32... Year-old Roger Federer is the oldest player in the ATP top 10 since April 17, 2006, when 35-year-old Andre Agassi was ranked No. 10.

30... Head-to-head meetings between Federer and Nadal going into Friday evening's 31st competition. Nadal leads the overall series 20-10. 

27.5... Average age of the eight W&S Open quarterfinalists.

24... Million dollars in combined prize money in 2013 from the eight remaining players.

23... Times the winner of the first set went on to win the match in Federer and Nadal's 30 matches.

20... Matches won this year for Tursunov, his highest total since winning 34 in 2008.

16... Months and 29 days since Isner defeated Djokovic, his only win in their four-match history.

12... Consecutive hard court matches won by Rafael Nadal this year. He's lost zero.

9... Head-to-head matches between Murray and Berdych. Berdych leads the series 5-4 with a win in their most recent match, in Madrid earlier this year.

8... Singles titles for Nadal this year. He has reached the final in 10 of 11 tournaments in 2013.

6... Wins apiece for Federer and Nadal in their 12-match history on hard court.

5... Western & Southern Open singles titles for Federer. He hoisted the trophy in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

4... Second place finishes for Djokovic at Cincinnati in the last five years.

2... Meetings between Del Portro and Tursunov entering Friday's match. Del Potro won the last outing in Valencia in 2011 in straight sets.

0... ATP players have completed the Career Golden Masters by winning all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles. With a win this weekend, Novak Djokovic will become the first to ever do it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Join The Outer Courts for a LIVE BLOG Friday afternoon

We're so excited for the Djokovic-Isner matchup Friday afternoon that we're going to live blog the entire match with our friends and readers. If you've never participated in a live blog with us before, I encourage you to stop by and join in on a fun and interactive discussion with topics ranging from what's going on in the match to whatever else we decide to talk about, based on your submissions.

So, please, stop by here at The Outer Courts tomorrow afternoon during Djokovic vs. Isner and I promise you we'll have a good time. Bring your sense of humor, too.

*** Note: Due to radio obligations from 10:00 a.m. to noon, the match may start before we get there to live blog, but we'll drive as fast as we can to be at the tournament by 12:30ish.

Nadal and Federer to meet tomorrow night

Rafael Nadal took care of business tonight and did what he needed to do to move on to the Western & Southern Open quarterfinal, where Roger Federer awaits. Nadal defeated Grigor Dimitrov, Serena's "man with the black heart," to advance past the round of 16. The fourth-seeded Nadal won 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 on Center Court Thursday night.

Friday night's showdown marks the 31st meeting between the two tennis icons. Nadal currently holds a 20-10 record over Federer, including two wins in their only two head-to-head competitions this year. Federer, however, is the W&S defending champion and has won 19 more career singles titles than Nadal.

Federer vs. Nadal is one of tennis' top five all-time biggest and best rivalries, and tomorrow night could be one of the last times we see it played out. It's going to be a packed house at Center Court at 7:00 p.m. and we can't wait to see it.

Get your popcorn ready.

Roger Federer Survives and Makes Us All Happy

"I didn't come here to watch Tommy Haas."

That statement, made by a fan sitting next to me after Haas raced out to a set and a break lead over Roger Federer, summarized the feelings of nearly everyone at the Two Directions Open on Thursday afternoon. No offense to Tommy Haas, his backwards hat and his old man swag, but this much is clear, tennis is a sport about stars and everyone wants to see the two brightest play on Friday night.  The moment the brackets for this tournament came out, everyone circled the possibility of a Federer-Nadal quarterfinal match under the lights on an evening where we need not work the next day. It would almost certainly be scheduled for primetime, with the national television ESPN audience able to tune in and a chance for tennis to maintain the center of the sports world's stage. It is a matchup that is almost as good as it gets for a non-Grand Slam tennis tournament and everyone from the players to the fans to the tournament organizers were praying that it would take place.

But it almost didn't happen. Roger Federer played a first set today that one tennis reporter called "one of his worst sets for over a decade." If you were to have blinded yourself to the familiar face on the body, watching the first set, you would have insisted that Tommy Haas was playing a qualifier who had made it one step farther in the tournament than his skill set could support. Simply put, for forty minutes, it may have been the worst tennis we have seen from Roger Federer since before he began his reign of dominance. He made errors in a myriad of ways, shanking forehands, blowing volleys and at one point, missing a second serve return so poorly that it bounced up and nailed him in the face. It would have been a comedy of errors if not for the thought that it was potentially unbelievably sad. Sitting in the crowd (next to a woman who put three glasses of wine down before Haas even had his second break), I did what any aspiring blogger would do...I thought ahead to what I was going to write after the match. My angle was going to be sad, but necessary. I was going to produce the obituary for Roger Federer as a untouchable champion and usher in the era of "lets hope for one more Jimmy Connors-esque run before he packs it in and heads back to Switzerland."

But like all simplistic stories, this one was quickly destroyed by a comeback that showcased flashbacks of vintage Roger at his best. As old man Haas began to tighten with the burden of a huge win in his grasp, Federer found his stride down 3-1 in the second set. He was able to force Haas into longer rallies, hit a dazzling array of shots around the net and utilized his signature backhand slice to such perfection that Haas simply had no answer. The crowd, which just a few minutes earlier had been talking itself into the idea of Haas-Nadal ("well maybe it will be good honey...Tommy seems like a fine chap and you can still stare at Nadal like you do at home"), now was on its feet with tennis's most marquee match back on the table. Down 6-5, Haas served his worst game of the match, throwing in a double fault and some contemptible forehands to lose the second set and concede all momentum in the battle, culminating in a brilliant display of temper, hitting a tennis ball outside of the Center Court Stadium on set point (for what its worth, I followed the ball path from my high perch and saw it land on the ground outside the stadium. A man walked by, picked it up not realizing it came from Haas-Federer and calmly threw it back towards a practice court, thereby unknowingly giving away a priceless souvenir).

After the comeback, the result of the match was a foregone conclusion. Federer was never pushed in the third set and closed out the match to the cheers of an adoring crowd. The adulation was in part based on seeing potentially the greatest player to ever play the game, win in their medium-sized Midwestern city. But it was also about anticipation as much as excitement. Just like Brooks and Dunn, Simon and Garfunkel, Laurel and Hardy or Franklin and Bash, Federer-Nadal is composed of two excellent individual parts, but they become magic only when combined together. It looked as if Roger was almost certain to not hold up his end of the bargain, but he reached back into his reserves and won the matchup of graceful old farts. Therefore tomorrow we get magic, and while the final performance may not be quite on the level of their legendary past battles, the anticipation and excitement will make it quite the event.

Assuming of course Dimitrov (who has been known to ruin a few relationships) doesn't screw all of this up tonight....

Isner advances, Sloane goes home

Isner's grandfather wearing his grandson's ESPN: Body Issue photo

John Isner is moving on to the semis to face top seed Novak Djokovic. Isner gave Milos Raonic a much-needed break from tennis, winning their Thursday afternoon match 7-6, 6-4. 

Raonic wasn't at 100-percent, though; he called for a trainer early in the match to check out his shoulder. Isner said it was unfortunate for Raonic, but fortunate for him. "He didn't have his normal pop on his serve today like he usually does," he added.

The win will move Isner back into the top 20 after he slid down to No. 22 on Monday, creating an absence of American men in the top 20 of the ATP rankings for the first time since it began in 1973.

While Isner advances to play in the W&S quarterfinals, another American came up short in her quest to move forward. Sloane Stephens was knocked out by former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. Sloane lost the last two sets, 7-5, 7-5, after winning the first, 6-4. She called it "a tough day," saying she didn't play her best and didn't serve well at all. Better now than at the Open, I guess.

Keeping Up With The Karlovic

Our man Ivo Karlovic failed to qualify for this year's Western & Southern Open, leaving The Outer Courts heartbroken and searching for our new Ivo. But the fact of the matter is, there isn't another Ivo Karlovic. We've looked and looked and looked. Ivo is our one and only.

So before things get rolling here today, let's take a look at what Ivo has been up to since we last saw him at Indian Wells, in this new feature titled, "Keeping Up With The Karlovic."

He eats asparagus for two reasons and two reasons only. Why else would he eat it?

He's a big fan of Candy Crush, Words With Friends, and several other iPhone games. Wait til he discovers the Morphie iPhone case with built-in charger. He'll never stand up.

He's not a fan of you hogging the arm rest. I assume he has issues with the leg room, too.

Yup. He does. He should be allowed to call all-time emergency exit row.

He doesn't take it easy on the younger generation. Enjoy returning that serve, kid.

His chivalry isn't dead. There's a lesson for the ladies. Date Ivo, not rappers.

Nicki Minaj reminds him of mistakes he's made in the past. On second thought, maybe he doesn't need the built-in charger.


ICYMI: Marion Bartoli retired last night

The tennis world received some unexpected news last night during Marion Bartoli's press conference following her loss to Simona Halep. The reigning Wimbledon champion announced that she will be retiring from the sport. She cited injuries as part of the reason behind the decision to hang it up.

"My body just can't do it anymore," she told reporters when asked why now. "I've been already through a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year. I've been on the tour for so long, and I really push through and leave it all during that Wimbledon."

Bartoli took a month off after her Wimbledon win, her first Grand Slam title, and returned to the tour last week in Toronto. An abdominal injury forced her to withdraw from a third-round match.

"My body is just done," she said.

But she leaves behind a long and successful career, and most importantly, that Wimbledon title. She called that tournament the last little bit she had in her. 

I guess you can say she's leaving the game at the right time, and with the prestigious hardware she always dream of.

Hello, Thursday

The intensity at the 2013 Western & Southern Open is picking up as the tournament's top players advance and the weekend approaches. Today, we have an exciting order of play on deck with a Center Court lineup featuring Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams. 

The two matches we're looking forward to the most are Federer vs. Tommy Haas and Nadal vs. Grigor Dimitrov. Not only will those two matches determine whether or not we see a Federer-Nadal quarterfinal, but their two opponents, Haas and Dimitrov, are two players The Outer Courts has been fascinated with this week.

Also on the card today is John Isner vs. Milos Raonic, maybe our third favorite match of the day. The last remaining American in the tournament looks to carry that "elevator magic" into a tough bout with the somehow-not-exhausted Milos Raonic. Too bad it'll be going on at the same time as Federer-Haas, but thank God for smart phones!

Time for a quick bite to eat before a packed Thursday of W&S tennis action...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goodbye, Wednesday

Wednesday at the 2013 Western & Southern Open is no more, now we're counting down the hours to an exciting Thursday slate of matches. Matt and I have retired to our hotel rooms for the evening but I have a quick recap of the day before lights out. Let's run through it...

The elevator magic continues.

After sharing the elevator with me prior to his match Wednesday morning, John Isner defeated No. 8 seed Richard Gasquet 7-6 (6), 6-2. That makes two upsets in as many days for players who ride with The Outer Courts on the way to their match. Last night, Sloane Stephens defeated Maria Sharapova minutes after our heartfelt, one-sided moment in the tiny capsule of destiny.

Plus more elevator magic to come!

Murray, Djokovic and Nadal cruised to victories.

Aside from Djokovic's first set against Juan Monaco, it was pretty smooth sailing for three of the top four seeds on Center Court. Djokovic, the tournament's top seed, defeated Monaco 7-5, 6-2; Nadal followed that up with a seemingly easy win over Benjamin Becker; and Andy Murray won 6-2, 6-3 over Mikhail Youzhny in the first match of the day.

Only Grigor Dimitrov and Tommy Haas stand in the way of the Federer-Nadal quarterfinal showdown.

James Blake needs Dri-Fit tennis apparel.

Never mind his loss to Dmitry Tursunov, we need to talk about James Blake's gear. It looked like he was wearing a 100% cotton grey shirt and hand-me-down tennis shoes. These days professional athletes wear top-of-the-line, performance-enhancing apparel with Dri-Fit UV fabric and mesh panels for ventilation -- whatever that means. But Blake? He looked like he's endorsed by Goodwill and I think it ultimately cost him his match.

Get with the times, James.

Martina Hingis is playing tennis again.

I thought someone was joking when the draw came out, but she's really back. And she looked pretty good.

Unfortunately, Martina and her partner, Daniela Hantuchova, drew the one-seeded Errani/Vinci doubles team so good wasn't good enough today. Hingis and Hantuchova lost 6-4, 6-4.

Venus Williams lost.

But she has a new clothing line!

Milos Raonic is still going strong.

Eight matches in nine days? No problem. Raonic slipped passed Janko Tipsarevic in two sets to advance to the round of 16. The Canadian will face John Isner, the last remaining American in the tournament on Thursday.

Milos is one of the hottest players in tennis right now.

I got a serious sunburn.

It's the price we pay to cover the sport we love.

Rafael Nadal will win the tournament.

How do I know this, you ask?!

The elevator strikes again!

Rafa and I sent SnapChats to friends

Matt can hardly contain his excitement

Watching the Pros Do Work: The Outer Courts Visit the Booth

Your Outer Courts bloggers with the great Ian Eagle

Being a blogger has its advantages. What you wear rarely matters (unless Tennis Channel decides to do a surprise feature on you and zoom in on your feet in HD...), you are able to take a detached look at the proceedings while feeding your audience's passion for snark and you aren't under the pressure of deadlines or editors trying to hold down your brilliance with antiquated notions like "journalism" or "grammar." However occasionally one wants to connect to their inner mainstream Jim Nantz. We all have a part of us that yearns to be a true professional and it is with that mindset that we visited the Tennis Channel booth to watch the experts call a match. The invitation was given to us by the great Ian Eagle, the epitome of professionalism, a master of his craft and a surprisingly hilarious person with a dry sense of humor that rivals a young Larry David with hair. He is a fan of "The Outer Courts" and he said we were welcome to watch he and Lindsay Davenport commentate the Maria Sharapova-Sloane Stephens match in the booth, so long as we didn't break anything or make sounds that could be audible over the airwaves. We agreed and the magic was allowed to happen.

When we bid farewell to old Kentucky, the place where we were born and raised, it was not without any experience in the area of television. We make appearances on a local television network there and have been fortunate to be around newscasts and sports reports for the last few years. But when one thinks about national television and the glamorous world of the ATP/WTA Tennis Tours, visions of pomp and circumstance immediately come to mind. This would not be me standing in the middle of a Lexington television studio talking about John Calipari, wearing a jacket, tie and khaki shorts. No, this would have the feel of  a luxurious event with all the accoutrement that accompanies stars of the sporting world on the Eagle/Davenport level. Thus walking into the Tennis Channel booth, I was surprised to see it look like this:

What I imagined in my head to be a palace of luxury was actually a room resembling a small closet, with five chairs, one desk, multiple sheets of paper stuck to the walls with masking tape and four empty water bottles. It had all the necessary technology, multiple monitors, a computer with stats and the required cough button, but as far as any add-ons for comfort or excitement, it was bare. My dreams of tennis matches past, with Bud Collins and John McEnroe receiving neck massages while being fed grapes during an Agassi-Sampras battle, were quickly diffused by the sight of Ian Eagle trying to such the remaining drops of backwash out of his depleted water bottle. Drew and I sat down to observe (in some nice outdoor patio furniture) and began to take notes of what was an impressive display. As the match began, we saw that Davenport did a good deal of communicating with the producer in the truck, suggesting camera angles, letting the technical people know who individuals were of note in the crowd and giving hints as to points she would like to make after a particular rally. Ian Eagle showed that he is a pro's pro, calling the match flawlessly, while coming up with random statistics (clearly based on research he had done beforehand) and keeping the commentary flowing. It truly is an art to be able to be a play by play person for any sport and Eagle is able to do it across a multitude of platforms including NFL Football, NBA basketball and college basketball. The fact that he also throws in tennis, a sport with little on the surface in common with the others is even more impressive. The first few games, I sat in awe of him and his ability to go through the notes on Stephens and Sharapova, while also setting Davenport up to make her expert comments on the technical part of the play. If one ever wanted to feel inadequate at their knowledge or broadcasting ability, watch Ian is quite the impressive display.

After a few games, my view changed (Justin Gimelstob walked in and...I am not kidding here...had to get on the computer to do what looked as if it were homework and an exam of some sort. I am not sure what it was, but Gimelstob was attacking it intently) and I ended up standing behind the twosome. One thing became increasingly clear...there is a great deal of silence in tennis announcing.  When I have watched on television, I am not sure that I realized just how much time is spent letting the sounds and visuals of the match take over. I come from the worlds of basketball and football, where every single moment of silence is engulfed by the chatter of announcers who seem to get paid by the word. But the tennis commentary of Eagle and Davenport was almost elegant, gliding through the match and allowing the visuals to tell stories that they need not. It was slightly, dare I say it, artistic and again is a testament to how good both of the two are at finding the right moment in which to interject. The fact that the two have good chemistry, like to needle each other (again, Eagle is hilarious) and clearly enjoy working together only increases their communicative ability. And without the distraction of anything resembling snacks or comfort in the booth, their focus can be intently on the strong product they produce.

The above may sound like a shill for the company's product (ok it "may" not sound like it, it does sound like it), but I honestly truly believe every word. Everyone from Tennis Channel puts a ton of work into making the telecast you see on television, and watching that come to fruition up close was fascinating. While I may still give Ian a hard time about his suit, company haircut and professional glasses, watching him do his job is a must for anyone who wants to be in this business. He is as good as it gets and when combined with a partner with the knowledge level of Davenport, you can see why the broadcasts from the Two Direction Open have been so strong.

(And by the way, I really feel like too much of a company man right now...I need to go out and photoshop Gimelstob's head on a picture of Justin Beiber now to reconnect with my rebellious self).

Watch The Outer Courts on Tennis Channel's pregame show

The Best Hair Matchup in Tennis is Now Set

When the draw was released for the Two Directions Open, a few things immediately stood out to me. First, the possibility of the best server in tennis (in my mind John Isner) and possibly the best returner to ever play the game (Novak Djovakic) were set up to play in a Quarterfinal that would be exhilarating for exactly half of the games. Second, Jack Sock was given a Wildcard into the field and we at The Outer Courts were contractually required to follow him as we did at Indian Wells and wait for his antics to anger us (that took place last night). And finally, a round of 16 matchup featuring the greatest hair duo in modern sports was possible. With today's relatively easy victory by Tommy Haas over Marcel Granollers (6-4, 6-1), Roger Federer awaits making this epic battle now a reality.

More than any other sport, fashion is a key component of the game in professional tennis. Uniforms pervade in virtually all team games, and while golf has its occasional Rickie Fowler, what passes for a fashion statement on the links is Tiger Woods wearing red on Sundays. But tennis is different, looking good is as much a part of the game as playing well, something that showcases itself all over the grounds. The Williams sisters have made no secret of the fact that they consider themselves fashion aficionados and the influence of female fashion is ubiquitous in the crowds, where otherwise normal housewives come to the matches in short tennis skirts looking tan and fit to mimic their favorite players on the court. In no other sport does this occur...have you ever seen baseball fans wear stirrups to a game? No, but in tennis looking the part is how you express your personality in the arena.

This mindset is also a part of the men's game (even 20 years after the Agassi "Image is Everything" commercial) and nowhere is this more obvious than when tennis' two elder statesmen Haas and Federer take the court. As David Foster Wallace famously noted, watching Federer play can be a religious experience, in part because of the elegant way he seems to glide across the court. Fashion is a key component in creating that experience, specifically Federer's flowing hair. At all times, it seems that not a piece of Roger's hair is out of place, even after chases down a smacked forehand down the line. Similarly, Haas has made the decision to rock the backwards hat, a look that completely when I attempt it, destroys my meager attempts to contain my hair and produces instead the phenomenon of "hat head." But for Haas, the moment he removes the hat, his sweeping locks are right back in place, never missing a beat. Both players have found a way to bypass the boring crew cuts of their fellow competitors and join Rafa Nadal in an attempt to walk the runway while also acing the competition.

From an age perspective, I am in the same region as Haas and Federer. However when it comes to hair, we might as well be living on different planets. As I try to maintain and preserve the hair I have (a fight I trudge through every day), they are one step away from a shampoo commercial. Tomorrow they take the court in a match that on the surface is about who will make it to the Quarterfinals, but deep down it is about Follicle Supremacy in the one sport where it matters deeply. May the best conditioner win.

Five Burning Questions For Wednesday

I'm about to walk over to watch John Isner versus Richard Gasquet but there are five questions weighing on my mind this morning that I'd like to share before I go...

1.) Can James Blake advance to the round of 16?

James Blake is in the Western & Southern Open's second round for the second year in a row and he has a favorable draw, compared to other potential opponents, in today's matchup. He'll face qualifier Dmitry Tursunov in the third match of the day on Court 9.

The 33-year-old American upset No. 16 seed Jerzy Janowicz in the first round in Monday night's grand finale at Center Court. He has a 2-1 career record over Tursunov, today's opponent.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

2.) Martina Hingis still plays tennis?

Forgive me for not knowing this, but I was unaware Martina Hingis still played professional tennis. The woman who spent a total of 209 weeks atop the WTA singles rankings throughout her career is back in the game competing with Daniela Hantuchova in women's doubles competition. Today, they'll face top-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the tournament's second round.

It was so sad to see Hingins forced into retirement at such a young age with injuries. Glad to see she's back on the court.

3.) Does Milos Raonic have any gas left in the tank?

I was surprised to see Raonic get the win over Sock yesterday, especially after losing the first set. Raonic had a long run in Montreal over the weekend with only Monday off before returning to action. He'll give it a go again today against Janko Unchained in his eighth match in nine days.

Does he have anything left in him?

4.) Will we see an upset on Center Court?

And Murray just won soundly in the first match of the day with Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Li Na still left to play.

Will we see any upsets against the tournament's high seeds?

Probably not.

5.) Why do so many spectators dress like they're about to play?

Just wondering. I'm trying to get this gigantic tennis ball autographed but I can't tell who's a professional and who took the day off from work to come out and watch. The tennis apparel industry must be booming.

Talk to you soon.

New elevator ride, new connection, new winner on the way?

I piled into a crowded elevator this morning and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't stop for new passengers on the way up to the top floor. It did. And in stepped John Isner, on his way to a pregame snack before his match against Richard Gasquet.

The two of us were very close in the crammed elevator, closer than I generally like to be with another man. It didn't help that the elderly women in there with us were pushing me closer to him so they could badger him about his height.

"Oh my, you're tall," one woman said.

Yeah, lady, he is. Now stop body-checking me into him.

When the doors finally opened to let Isner off on the super-secret floor for players and coaches, I pulled my mouth away from John's chest where it had been awkwardly resting thanks to the over-populated elevator -- on second thought, why were we facing each other? -- and I hit him with my signature "Good luck!" as he walked away.

It was like last night's magical elevator ride with Sloane Stephens all over again, the one that willed her to victory, only slightly more uncomfortable and not as special. But the connection, though incredibly awkward, was still there.

So does that mean Isner will win today?

We'll find out soon in the second match of the day on the Grandstand court. If he does, I'll be calling my bookie after every magical elevator ride for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Day 2 at the Western & Southern Open is in the books

Sloane moves on.
It was another fun day for The Outer Courts at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Here's a rundown of the Tuesday action...

I told you my moment with Sloane Stephens in the elevator was magical.

Ten minutes prior to Sloane Stephen's Tuesday night match with third-ranked Maria Sharapova, I guaranteed an upset from the American. I made it very clear: it wasn't a prediction; it was a guarantee. And Sloane delivered.

Sharapova, the 2011 Western & Southern Open champion, won the first set convincingly, but my optimism never wavered. Not even after two double faults on two match points did I think Sloane would end up on the losing end. It was her night. I felt it when her gigantic tennis bag pinned me against the wall in the elevator. I felt it again when I yelled "Good luck!" as she walked away without ever acknowledging me standing there. That connection, that one-sided connection, it was real and her win tonight proved it.

See you in the elevator on Thursday, Sloane. I'll ride it up and down until we meet again.

Grigor Dimitrov broke another heart today.

This time, it was mine.

The one Serena Williams calls "the guy with a black heart" broke mine today when he sent Brian Baker home from singles competition. I was just growing fond of Baker too, after learning he is from a family of Kentucky Wildcats fans. On Tuesday I was told Mama and Papa Baker are from two western Kentucky towns, each within an hour drive from my hometown. Brian is from Nashville, a city I frequent when looking to casually bump into several bachelorette parties on the weekends.

It would've be nice to see him get a win over Dimitrov, but it just wasn't in the cards today.

Jack Sock is 0-2 lifetime when we sit courtside.

Matt and I have now seen Jack Sock play twice in our tennis-blogging careers. Both times he won the first set. And both times he lost the match.

So if you're on the ATP tour and ever find yourself up against Sock in the draw, shoot us an e-mail or a tweet and invite us to the match. It'll work out in your favor.

One step closer to a Federer-Nadal quarterfinal. 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal need to win two matches apiece to set up a head-to-head meeting in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Federer took care of his first opponent in the final match at Center Court on Tuesday.

Federer defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-6 (7) in his first hard court match since March. He'll face the Tommy Haas/Marcel Granollers winner next before the potential showdown with Nadal.

Nadal meets Benjamin Becker at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night in his first match of the tourney, with Grigor Dimitrov waiting in the next round.

One win down. Three to go.

We crashed the broadcast booth with Ian Eagle and Lindsay Davenport.

Ian Eagle leaned in for a selfie while doing play-by-play.

See what happens when Ian and Lindsay forget to lock the door to Center Court's broadcast booth? The Outer Courts bloggers show up and crash the party. I applaud their ability to stay composed and professional, though.

Ryan Harrison made David Ferrer work for it.

The 21-year-old American put up a hard-fought match against fourth-ranked David Ferrer on Center Court. After losing a first set tiebreaker, Harrison won the second set and had a 40-15 lead in the 10th game of the third. Two game points weren't enough, though, as Ferrer climbed back and took the third set 6-4, winning the match 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4. 

Only John Isner and James Blake remain for the United States in Cincinnati.

Check out Tennis Channel's pregame show at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

We had a fun time shooting a segment with Ian Eagle about our first two days at the tournament. It's set to air during Tennis Channel's pregame show Wednesday morning.

See you back here in a few...

Sloane Stephens will win tonight because I almost talked to her in the elevator

I have a confession, friends, and I trust you'll keep it between us if I tell you. We good? Okay, great. I knew you were good people. Here it is:

I have an obsession with Sloane Stephens.

I wouldn't call it a HUGE obsession, just like a 99 on a scale of 1 to 100. That's not so bad, I think.

It all started during Sloane's win over Serena Williams in Australia earlier this year, when everyone else who wasn't already on board the Sloane Stephens Bandwagon joined the train. I, like the rest of America, was amazed by her composure, competitiveness, and aggression against the dominant Williams. A 19-year-old with a glowing smile taking down Serena at a major? That's not supposed to happen. But it did.

Nowadays Sloane's fan base is as big as anyone else's in the sport and her game is catching up to the hype. She's currently ranked seventeenth in the WTA singles rankings, and tonight she has an opportunity to continue her climb up the list with a match against third-ranked Maria Sharapova on Center Court. And after sharing an elevator with Sloane just moments ago, and seeing her confidence on the way to the match, I'm predicting an upset win for my favorite women's tennis player. No, I'm guaranteeing it.

On a side note from that elevator ride: I started to strike a conversation with Sloane but only managed to repeatedly open and close my mouth, like I was chewing air. I did get out a "Good luck!" after she had already taken four steps out of the elevator on her floor, though. That's how NOT to handle the moment, guys.

The match is starting now. Remember that guarantee.

Interviewing Tommy Haas

I am predisposed to like Tommy Haas. In large part this is due to our relative similarity in age and in my view at least, mindset. Haas is 35, in the best shape of his life and still finding a way to play at a very high level in the sport that he loves. I am 34, in the best shape of the last three years (we went through a rough stretch there) and finding a way to write at a mediocre level about the sports that I love. But the similarities (in my mind at least) don't end there. In Tommy Haas, I see a man attempting to turn back the hands of time, and play a young man's game far beyond the years it would usually be normal. His outward appearance even showcases this fact, as he remains in ridiculous shape and wears a hat on backwards while playing, a statement that essentially tells the world, "NO, I WILL NOT GROW UP!"  It is that last fact that I find the most fascinating, as it goes against any notion of what is common or acceptable behavior. In no other profession would a 35 year old man wear a hat backwards (or a similar uniform equivalent, like wearing a skinny tie in the courtroom), but Haas does it and does it with reckless abandon.

That is why I try not to miss a Haas match. His epic battles at the French Open were must-see television and I am was looking forward to seeing his play here at the Two Direction Open to watch the fight against Father Time in person. Unfortunately other duties kept me from seeing Haas dismantle Kevin Anderson earlier this morning(6-4, 6-4). Yet I wasn't going to miss a chance to see a Haas interview and see if his personality showcased the same jovial, fun-loving emotion that his backwards hat gives off on match day. However I am still new to this tennis media gig, so when I walked into "Media Room 3" and saw this set-up, I became somewhat nervous:

While it may be the case that I find Tommy Haas fascinating, apparently when it comes to the greater tennis media, he is not one of the more marquee stars. While Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both interviewed in a massive room with over 75 chairs, Haas was assigned to what resembled a 8 year old's bedroom, with six chairs and four people hovered around. This was not the type of intimacy that I was hoping for and instead it led to cramped interaction that I found uncomfortable. The safety of distance was gone and now I found myself just feet from Haas and his magnificent hair (honestly, I didn't know I was jealous of Haas' hair until he walked in...the hat had always covered it up, but now I was faced with it flowing directly in front of me). The moderator asked for questions and the room was silent...four of us were present and no one had anything to say. The awkwardness just hovered over the room for seconds and it became excruciating to sit through. To understand just how bad this can feel, right now walk in your office to your neighbor's cubicle. Sit five feet in front of him and then just stare at him and say nothing for seven seconds. You will quickly see this is an eternity, especially when you are face to face with a tennis player waiting with a perturbed look on his face.

Finally, a reporter broke the silence and asked some random question about what Haas thought about womens' players being in feuds with each other. He clearly didn't have any real comment besides acknowledging that he himself was not a women's player and so I felt I had to break in and try to get this thing off to a rollicking start. Even though I had no interest in asking an actual question, I wanted to begin the Haas train and see that winning personality, all the while showcasing that I too was a fun-loving reporter. And thus I started to ask my question and...well I choked. Here is what I said:

MATT: "Tommy, I asked listeners to my radio show to come up with questions for you and four different ones wrote in with this one....why do you wear a backwards hat while you play?"

It was truly an awful question and as the words dripped from my mouth, my brain oozed regret. I tried to diffuse all responsibility for it at the outset, claiming that it was of strong interest to my radio audience. This wasn't entirely correct however, as it was more a girl that is a friend of mine who wanted me to ask it because she thought it made him look silly. Then another of my friends said that Haas was the only person he knew with a backwards hat, I heard one journalist reference a backwards hat at Indian Wells and then I too had some interest in why he didnt simply wear a regular hat or bandana. That added up to four people, and it felt like saying "radio listeners" was more concise, even if somewhat of a cop out. In such an intimate setting, the question stung like acid rain, and Haas responded by looking at me with puzzlement and essentially saying, "to keep the sweat from may hair out of my eyes." As answers go it was sort of evasive (lots of things could keep sweat out of your eyes, why a backwards hat?), but I decided that such a poor question wasn't really worthy of a even shakier follow-up.

For the rest of the ten minute session, I sulked. Haas waxed poetically on a number of issues and confirmed my belief that he is an interesting player on tour, but I had nothing else to add. With my backwards hat arrow out of my quiver, I was left to just sit awkwardly and hope the question session in the dark room would end and no one would judge me any more. I leaped out of my seat after the final question, ran out and attempted to lick my wounds. I know Haas still has to play again versus Marcel Granollers in the second round, meaning I will get another chance if he is victorious. I have until tomorrow to regroup, come up with a different question and try to reconnect with my kindred spirit on the tennis tour. It may not be perfect, but assuming I can avoid the dreaded "Interview Room 3" and lay off all mention of his hats, one has to believe my second interaction with Tommy Haas will hopefully far exceed my first.

The Outer Courts on Tennis Channel with Ian Eagle tomorrow morning

Now we're official.
Matt and I just wrapped up taping a TV segment that will air on Tennis Channel's pregame show tomorrow morning -- that explains our absence from the blog this afternoon. Ian Eagle, a good friend of The Outer Courts, welcomed us into the friendly confines of his three-chair, makeshift set behind Center Court's third level seating, where he quizzed us on what it's like to be members of the tennis media in Cincinnati.

Guided by Ian's Mike Wallace-like questioning, Matt and I shared our stories and observations from the first two days at the 2013 Western & Southern Open. From Matt's barefoot approach in the media room to my mind constantly wandering across the street to ride The Beast, it was a fun, and hopefully entertaining, television bit.

So tune in tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. -- like you were already planning to do -- to catch a glimpse of two aspiring tennis scribes in our first sit-down interview with Tennis Channel.

Is it Emmy-worthy?


The Outer Courts Previews Day 2

Good morning, tennis fans, and welcome to Tuesday at the Western & Southern Open in sunny Mason, Ohio. Today is the first full day of action for The Outer Courts crew after we spent most of yesterday learning our way around the grounds and making impulse purchases in the merchandise tents, which has become a tradition at tennis tournaments. Now we're ready to buckle down and watch some ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier 5 tennis. And then write about it, of course.

Tuesday's order of play features several riveting matchups, interesting personalities and a few people we've never heard of, so you can imagine our excitement as we devour our Egg White Delight McMuffins on the way to the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Below you'll find a rundown of what we're looking forward to the most...

The Outer Courts Match of The Day

Milos Raonic [12] vs. [WC] Jack Sock
Grandstand, 7:00 p.m.

Rogers Cup runner-up Milos Raonic jumps right back into action on Tuesday with only one day off since his loss to Rafael Nadal in Montreal. He's up against the young man Matt Jones loves to hate: Jack Sock. Raonic and Sock have one previous meeting, a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 victory for Sock in Memphis earlier this year.

Last time we saw Sock he was hitting balls out of the stands and mouthing off to officials in the BNP Paribas Open. We want to like the guy, we really do, but with the attitude he showed that day at Indian Wells, he has a lot of ground to make up with The Outer Courts.

With that said, the short turnover for Raonic will open the door for Sock to advance.

Prediction: Sock

Kicking It Off At Center Court

[Q] Vania King vs. Victoria Azarenka [2]
Center Court, 11:00 a.m.

Her boyfriend's "Party Rock Anthem" was played no less than 20 times at Center Court on Monday, so expect Victoria Azarenka to have a similar dominance on the tournament's main stage Tuesday. The world's second-ranked woman drew qualifier Vania King, ranked 140th in the world. King's Twitter bio says she is a macaron expert.

Prediction: Azarenka (feat. Red Foo)

Will Gulbis Keep His Cool?

Ernests Gulbis vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Grandstand, Match #2

Forget about the tennis, we'll be front and center for this one only for the potential Gulbis tantrum. We want to see flames. Throw a racket!

Prediction: Gulbis meltdown, hopefully


Hot Head Burritos
Food Court, #8

Spicy chicken burrito with rice, black beans, pico, lettuce, sour cream and cheese.

Prediction: Gas

Let's go, Sloane!

Sloane Stephens vs. Maria Sharapova
Center Court, 7:00 p.m.

We'll be watching Sock versus Raonic during this one, but we'll be rooting for America's tennis sweetheart from afar and following along on our iPhone devices in what is arguably the real 'Match of the Day.' 

No 17. Sloane Stephens is 0-3 versus No. 5 Sharapova in her career; the two last met at this year's French Open. But today, it's Sloane's time to take down the Russian bombshell.

Prediction: Sloane Stephens. God Bless America.

The Main Event

Roger Federer [5] vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Center Court, Match #6 (Not Before 8:30 p.m.)

Tonight's grand finale at Center Court features Roger Federer versus a man whose name I'm not certain I spelled correctly. It has been a down summer for Federer -- as you learned in yesterday's "What's been distracting Federer?" post -- but he is ready to rebound and he is eyeing that potential quarterfinal showdown with Rafael Nadal. 

He wins this one without blinking, then goes back to watch Breaking Bad on Netflix.

Prediction: Federer

We'll be back later this afternoon with more from the 2013 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati Mason, Ohio.