Saturday, January 18, 2014

Previewing The Men's Singles Sweet Sixteen

The fourth round of the Australian Open gets underway today, meaning only 16 players remain in the tournament field. That number will soon be trimmed to eight quarterfinalists, but not before The Outer Courts previews the next two days of men's singles action.

Below you'll find eight stories for the eight fourth round matches...

Congratulations, Kei Nishikori! Now go play Nadal.

After trailing 2-5 in his first set against Donald Young, Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori won 17 of the last 18 games to defeat the American, 7-5, 6-1, 6-0.

His reward for not quitting in the first set and finishing strong? (And capitalizing on Young's collapse?)

Rafael Nadal.

Nishikori is 0-5 against Nadal lifetime and he'll get a sixth shot at the world No. 1 in the Australian Open's fourth round.

You know what the say in Japan: "六回目は魅力だ" or "6th time's a charm."

Stephane who?

Robert. His name is Stephane Robert.

Robert, the lowest ranked player still in the field, got here the hard way, by losing in the last round of the qualifying tournament and benefiting from Philipp Kohlschreiber's injury at the last minute. Like, literally, the last minute. Robert got the call 10 minutes before the start of play on Tuesday. He took that opportunity to defeat Aljaz Bedene in straights set to advance to the second round, where he eventually lost... right?

Wrong. Robert took down Michal Przysiezny and followed that up with a win over Martin Klizan, who also wasn't supposed to be there, in the third round. That luck Robert needed to enter the tournament carried over to his draw and that is why he's still around. Top-seeded Rafael Nadal had a tougher road to get here.

His luck may be running on E, though, as he gets ready to face fourth-seeded Andy Murray in the fourth round. Win or lose, Stephane Robert will be going home with a six-figure paycheck.

Del Potro and Paire down, Dimitrov to go...

Roberto Bautista Agut upset fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro and then 27th seed Benoit Paire to reach the fourth round, where he'll look to ride his hot hand against Grigor Dimitrov. Bautista Agut is playing as well as anyone in Melbourne and Dimitrov, though very good, is not unbeatable. In fact, Bautista Agut won the only previous head-to-head meeting between the two, in Beijing last season.

The match marks the first fourth round appearance by Bautista Agut or Dimitrov in a Grand Slam, so they're both in new territory. It's anyone's match to win.

Tomas Berdych owns Kevin Anderson in Australia and, well, everywhere else too.

Nine times they've met, and nine times Tomas Berdych walked away victorious against Kevin Anderson. He'll look to make it a double-digit win total on Sunday in Melbourne. If he does, it'll be the third time in three years Anderson left Australia at the hands of Berdych. They met in this same spot last year and in the third round in 2012.

If I'm Kevin Anderson and I lose this time, I do whatever it takes to avoid Berdych in the future.

David Ferrer is in his 15th consecutive Grand Slam fourth round.

The Spaniard has reached the field of 16 in every Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon in 2010. Last year he made it all the way to the Australian Open semifinals, losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.

Ferrer's opponent, Florian Mayer, was upset by qualifier Ričardas Berankis in the second round one year ago. He has won three of his seven meetings with Ferrer dating all the way back to 2004, most recently in the fourth round at Shanghai last season.

Wawrinka and his backhand get "Disco Jack."

Never mind Stanislas Wawrinka's undeniable talent and crushing backhand, let's talk about how I'm just now finding out Tommy Robredo is sometimes called "Disco Jack."

From his Wikipedia page:

Some fans refer to Robredo as "Disco Tommy" for the long, wavy hairstyle he began cultivating during the 2006 tennis season; after Robredo mentioned that he calls his coach "President Palmer" while his coach calls him "Jack Bauer" (from 24), fans also began referring to him as "Disco Jack."

That's an awesome nickname.

And awesome nicknames call for photoshop.

Federer set to run the gauntlet.

Federer coasted through the first three rounds on cruise control, but as Matt mentioned in his Federer love piece below, the competition is about to get real for Fed. He'll see a top ten player in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, followed by probable opponents Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic if he reaches the finals, an unlikely task. That's a brutal stretch for anyone, about as bad as it can get.

But never count the game's greatest out.

I See Shades of the Old Roger Returning

I am about to admit something I probably shouldn't to our wonderful "Outer Courts" readers. When it comes to Roger Federer, I am not an unbiased observer. Unlike in virtually every other match that we have watched since we began this journey with Tennis Channel, when Roger Federer plays, I have a distinct rooting interest (this is also true when Jack Sock plays, but that is actually to root against him, so I don't think that counts). I am an unabashed Federer fan and when he is on the court, I will most certainly be pulling for him with a rooting interest that has only been topped by four other sports entities in my lifetime (of course the Kentucky Wildcats, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Braves and the childhood agony of following the human heartbreak, Greg Norman). My reasons for liking Roger Federer are many, but they boil down to this. In addition to envying his elegance, fashion sense and hair, I find his brand of tennis to be the most visually satisfying of all that have ever played.  At his best, he does for me what even my other favorites like McEnroe, Edberg, Agassi and others could not. In his most elevated state, he makes tennis more beautiful to watch than any other player and it is that level of play, even more so than Roger the person, that I cheer to see.

However since we have been on the Outer Courts beat, this hasn't been the Federer that I have witnessed in person on the court. We have covered three tournaments live (Indian Wells, Cincinnati and the US Open) and in all of them, I have watched Federer lose, a couple of times rather painfully. While witnessing his match against Nadal from the front row on a cool summer evening in Cincinnati was transcendent (maybe the best Roger played all year and probably one of my three favorite sports experiences of all time), watching him lose to the mediocre Tommy Robredo in the intense August New York sun was extraordinarily difficult. As he shanked forehand after forehand with his new "modern" racket, shades of Willie Mays dropping fly balls in center field with the Mets passed through my mind and I wondered if the era of Federer should come to a close sooner rather than later. Would Roger go so long that we forget the "religious experience" Roger and instead only remember the end of the line struggles instead? That Robredo match stayed with me throughout the offseason and caused me to look upon 2014 with hesitance...which Roger would show up...the majestic version that makes the case to be the best tennis player alive, or the painful one that had looked incapable of staying on the same court with an aging Tommy Robredo?

Well if the first three matches of The Australian Open are any indication, the 2014 version of Roger looks a bit more like his usual self than what I witnessed at the end of last season. During his victory on a cool Saturday over Teymuraz Gabashvili (6-2, 6-2, 6-3), Federer gave us a number of promising signs that his play has improved and he is taking seriously the thought of re-establishing himself as a functioning member of the "Big Four." His backhand was brilliant as usual, but we also saw an improved forehand, one that Roger seems to have more confidence in and thus is willing to unleash with more aggression. Federer actually played more aggressive all the way around, showing a confidence in his return game that turned it away from his mere "chip it back" strategy that paid so few dividends last season, and instead going for winners on the crucial points. He broke Gabashvili five times, but more importantly played those points with aggression and confidence, something that he seemed to lack on crucial returns in 2013.

Last year at Indian Wells, I shared my encounter with Roger Federer (you may remember that we met him and had him on our UK basketball post game show) with a British journalist who was kind enough to actually speak to two young reporters from Kentucky. I said I was shocked that Federer would be so kind to a nobody blogger from the United States, and the journalist said that kindness was a central part of Roger as a person. But then he followed up by saying, "however on the court, Roger needs to go back to his warrior status. At his best, he knew he was better than everyone and he showed that confidence by being playing brilliantly and having an elegance on the court that no one else could emulate. I don't see that in him now and it needs to return so that we know Roger is back."

At the time I wasn't quite sure what my British friend meant. But after following Federer throughout 2013 and then watching him again in Melbourne, I can see the change he referred to last March. The Federer of last year looked like a nice player, but one that was trying to get by, rather than imposing his will on others. The Federer of Australia is different, gliding on the court like the old days and hitting winners that with an unadulterated confidence. While lacking some of the pace and precision, the on-court confidence is that of Roger Federer in his prime, and that makes him so much more fun to watch and cheer on to victory.

With that said, the road is about to get much rougher and some of this early excitement is sure to be abated. The path to success gets much more difficult beginning now as Federer hits a murderer's row that could include Tsonga, Murray, Nadal and then Djokovic. The probability of him even getting an opportunity to play all of those matches is slim and chances are high he will be dismissed within the next two rounds. But for the first time since I saw him last March at Indian Wells, the excitement of the possibility of a return of the old Federer, even sporadically, has returned. I see a Roger that believes again and thus I can't help but be excited about his 2014 prospects. While I still may not have his flowing locks, impeccable wardrobe or slicing backhand, Roger's versions of these are all back to their confident, elite status and maybe, just maybe, ready for another Grand Slam run somewhere down the line.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Running Diary of Sam Querrey vs. Fabio Fognini When I Should Be Sleeping Instead

Hello, friends and readers of The Outer Courts -- Drew here, burning away the midnight oil. It's currently 3:00 a.m. in Kentucky and I have a decision to make... Do I go to bed so I'm moderately rested for that 9:00 a.m. breakfast date followed by a full 10-hour day of work with Kentucky Sports Radio? Or do I hold my eyelids open with scotch tape so I can watch Sam Querrey vs. Fabio Fognini in the third round of the Australian Open?

The answer is obvious. I attempt to watch Querrey vs. Fognini in its entirety because the Australian Open only comes around once a year. And I think I should do a running diary of the match, and my struggles to stay awake for it. Yeah, that sounds fun. Let's do this...

3:12 am

Tuned in to see Fabio Fognini walking out to the court. He looks like he has sunscreen on his face. Or maybe that's war paint. I think it's sunscreen. Rub that in, man.

My television tells me the current temperature is 27 C/81 F in Melbourne, much cooler than it has been all week. So that's good.

Now the players are warming up. There are very few things that are less exciting than watching Sam Querrey and Fabio Fognini warm up with no commentary, 9,500 miles away, when I should probably be sleeping.

3:20 am

Querrey serves first and holds.

We're really doing this, aren't we? No turning back now. I'm committed.

**Cracks open Red Bull**

3:27 am

Every time the camera cuts to a close up of Fabio, it makes me think about all the women he probably gets and all the ones I don't get.

And while trying to find the words to perfectly describe his cheek bones, Fabio double faults to give Querrey the early break.

3:31 am

It's starting to rain. We have a break in the action.

Really? This has to happen right now?

3:37 am

Play continues... Querrey serving, up a break. He recently said he feels like his serve is better than it has ever been right now and it's showing early in this one.

He takes the fifth game to go up 4-1, and with that, I'm going on a hunt to find more caffeine.

3:53 am

I'm back with more Red Bull, just in time for an important break point for Fognini. He trails Querrey 3-5 in the first set but can get back in it here.

And he does with a forehand winner.

4:00 am

Tennis is on the back burner right now as I focus on this Google search for "Fabio Fognini girlfriend."

She's OK, I guess. I'd probably say yes if she ever invited me to Tennis Channel's Sadie Hawkins dance.

4:03 am

Fognini just smashed his racket on the ground after a crucial unforced error while knotted up at 40-40 in the 11th set. It took a good bounce -- the racket, that is -- off the surface. A solid foot, I'd say.

He responds and breaks Querrey's serve again to go up 6-5. Things aren't looking good for the American here in the first set after a great start.

4:09 am

Fabio wins the first set after going down a break early on. Italy leads America, and I don't like that.

4:15 am

The rain is really coming down this time as the players head back to the locker room. I immediately regret everything about this idea.

The stadium announcer just told the crowd it shouldn't last long and they'll get the court dried as quickly as possible.

Define "quickly as possible," sir.  Asking for a friend.

4:25 am

Now we have an interview with Eugenie Bouchard to pass the time. She's pretty hot, eh? (Bad Canadian joke.)

Sorry. (Another bad Canadian joke.)

4:46 am

I count 18 people on their hands and knees drying off the court with towels. It's 2014; is this really the best way to dry off the court?

4:55 am

Welp. This is awkward and not how I expected things to go. Maybe I should've gone to bed instead.

8:12 am

Just woke up. Whoops. I guess I dozed off somewhere in the 5:00-5:30 am range. Tennis Channel tells me Querrey lost in straight sets, therefore the American dream is no more. It was fun while it lasted.

A look back at Serena's record 61 Australian Open singles victories

With a third round win over Daniela Hantuchova on Friday, Serena Williams can now say she has won more singles matches at the Australian Open than any other woman. The win was Serena's 61st victory in Melbourne, breaking Margaret Court's 39-year-old record. 

Serena also tied Lindsay Davenport's record of 69 main draw matches at the Australian Open. She will break that record by simply showing up for her fourth round match on Sunday.

In honor of No. 61, The Outer Courts has a match-by-match breakdown of Serena's 16-year run at the Australian Open:

1998 | Second Round
| W | (6) Irina Spîrlea, 6-7, 3-6, 1-6
| L  | Venus Williams, 6-7, 1-6

1999 | Third Round
| W | Raluca Sandu, 6-2, 6-3
| W | Magüi Serna, 6-1, 6-3
| L  | (14) Sandrine Testud, 2-6, 6-2, 7-9

2000 | Fourth Round, No. 3 Seed
| W | WC Amanda Grahame, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
| W | Nicole Pratt, 7-5, 6-1
| W | Sabine Appelmans, 6-2, 7-6
| L  | (16) Elena Likhovtseva, 3-6, 3-6

2001 | Quarterfinals, No. 6 Seed
| W | (WC) Janet Lee, 6-3, 2-6, 6-0
| W | Nadia Petrova, 6-3, 6-2
| W | Tamarine Tanasugarn, 6-1, 6-4
| W | Dája Bedáňová, 6-2, 6-2
| L  | Martina Hingis, 2-6, 6-3, 8-6

2002 | Withdrew, No. 5 Seed
Withdrew hours before first match, citing ankle injury

2003 | CHAMPION, No. 1 Seed
| W | Émilie Loit, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5
| W | Els Callens, 6-4, 6-0
| W | (26) Tamarine Tanasugarn, 6-1, 6-1
| W | (18) Eleni Daniilidou 6-4, 6-1
| W | (25) Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-2, 6-2
| W | (4) Kim Clijsters, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
| W | (2) Venus Williams, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4

2004 | Withdrew
Withdrew, citing left knee injury

2005 | CHAMPION, No. 7 Seed
| W | Camille Pin, 6-1, 6-1
| W | Dally Randriantefy, 6-3, 6-0
| W | (WC) Sania Mirza, 6-1, 6-4
| W | (11) Nadia Petrova, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
| W | (2) Amélie Mauresmo, 6-2, 6-2
| W | (4) Maria Sharapova, 2-6, 7-5, 8-6
| W | (1) Lindsay Davenport, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0

2006 | Third Round, No. 13 Seed
| W | Na Li, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2
| W | Camille Pin, 6-3, 6-1
| L  | (17) Daniela Hantuchová, 1-6, 6-7

2007 | CHAMPION, Unseeded
| W | (27) Mara Santangelo, 6-2, 6-1
| W | (Q) Anne Kremer, 7-6, 6-2
| W | (5) Nadia Petrova, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3
| W | (11) Jelena Janković, 6-3, 6-2
| W | (16) Shahar Pe'er, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6
| W | (10) Nicole Vaidišová, 7-6, 6-4
| W | (1) Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2

2008 | Quarterfinals, No. 7 Seed
| W | (WC) Jarmila Gajdošová, 6-3, 6-3
| W | (Q) Yuan Meng, 6-3, 6-1
| W | (26) Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-4
| W | (12) Nicole Vaidišová, 6-3, 6-4
| L  | (3) Jelena Janković, 6-3, 6-4

2009 | CHAMPION, No. 2 Seed
| W | (WC) Yuan Meng, 6-3, 6-2
| W | Gisela Dulko, 6-3, 7-5
| W | Peng Shuai, 6-1, 6-4
| W | (13) Victoria Azarenka, 3-6, 2-4 R
| W | (8) Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-5, 5-7, 6-1
| W | (4) Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 6-4
| W | (3) Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3

2010 | CHAMPION, No. 1 Seed
| W | Urszula Radwańska, 6-2, 6-1
| W | Petra Kvitová, 6-2, 6-1
| W | (32) Carla Suárez Navarro, 6-0, 6-3
| W | (13) Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 6-2
| W | (7) Victoria Azarenka, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2
| W | (16) Na Li, 7-6, 7-6
| W | (WC) Justine Henin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2

2011 | DNP
Out with a foot injury sustained during 2010 season

2012 | Fourth Round, No. 12 Seed
| W | Tamira Paszek, 6-3, 6-2
| W | Barbora Záhlavová-Strýcová, 6-0, 6-4
| W | Gréta Arn, 6-1, 6-1
| L  | Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2, 6-3

2013 | Quarterfinals, No. 3 Seed
| W | Edina Gallovits-Hall, 6-0, 6-0
| W | Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-2, 6-0
| W | Ayumi Morita, 6-1, 6-3
| W | (14) Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 6-0
| L  | (29) Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6

2014 | TBD, No. 1 Seed
| W | Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 6-1
| W | Vesna Dolonc, 6-1, 6-2
| W | Daniela Hantuchova, 6-3, 6-3

Biggest Win: 2003 Finals vs. Venus

Serena defeated her sister in three sets to win her first career Australian Open title in 2003. With the win she held all four Grand Slam singles titles at the same time, completing the career Grand Slam, also known as the "Serena Slam."

Close second: 2010 Finals vs. Justine Henin

Worst Loss: 2012 Fourth Round vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Having won 17 consecutive matches in Melbourne before the loss, Serena's fourth round exit at the hands of 56th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova in 2012 is the worst of her Australian Open career. She served up seven double-faults with 37 unforced errors.

Serena's five games won in the loss to Makarova ties a career low for Grand Slams, along with the 2004 Wimbledon and 2011 U.S. Open finals.

Fun Facts

-- Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Nadia Petrova share the honor of losing the most Australian matches to Serena. They are both 0-3 against the five-time champion in Melbourne.

-- Serena went 41-2 in Australian Open matches from her first title run in 2003 to her fifth title run in 2010.

-- The 6-0, 6-0 victory over Edina Gallovits-Hall in 2013 was only the third time Serena kept her opponent from winning a single game in a Grand Slam. She followed that win with a 6-2, 6-0 win in the second round.

-- No other woman in the Open Era has won five Australian Open titles.

Beads (circa 1998)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who The Heck Are These Guys?: The Unseeded Players Left in Australia (Part One)

On the surface, the first four days of the Australian Open have given us little in the way of upsets. Only the loss of "Mr. Handsome" (not my name, but the name the woman who was my waitress tonight at Roosters gave him when he popped on the television screen) Juan Martin Del Potro was a bit of a shock, and even that doesn't qualify as a "Breaking Bad" type surprise (think more like the surprise you have after a good episode of "Justified").  Still, even if the top players are moving forward, we do have some names that you might not be familiar with that have crashed the Third Round party. All in all, of the 32 seeded players, 22 moved to their expected round, leaving 10 unranked warriors trying to crash the party and potentially make a Round of 16 move. In the interest of putting faces to these names, the next two posts will be a short introduction to all ten, ranked in the likelihood of each making the Fourth Round:


We know for certain that at least one of these "unknowns" will make it into the Round of 16, because two of the players are matched up in the Third Round. Klizan seems the most likely winner, as he has reached a height that none of his other compatriots in this group have seen. At one point in 2013, Klizan was ranked 26th in the world before losing to Rafa Nadal in last year's French Open (even taking the first set and scaring Nadal in the second). But soon after, his career collapsed and he proceeded to have a brutal end to the season, culminating in an embarrassing loss to Donald Young (also on this list) at the US Open, in which he only won two games. Klizan does seem to be rounding back into form however, and at his peak, he is probably the best of these players. Klizan got here in part due to John Isner's inability to handle the Australian heat, but his initial entry into the field was via the bizarre "Lucky Loser" system that we have spoken about previously. Lucky losing and heat exhaustion got him here, but can his talent get him farther?

Fun Fact about Klizan: Klizan can speak 6 languages fluently and often likes to surprise fellow tennis players and journalists by breaking out their language unexpectedly when conversing.


Want a feel-good story left in this field?  How about our French friend, Mr. Robert?  Stephane is 33 years old and if one were to look up the phrase "tennis journeyman" in a dictionary, Robert's picture would almost certainly be there (please don't test me on this). Robert has been on tour for 13 years and this is the farthest he has ever gone in a Grand Slam Tournament. Like his opponent Klizan, he made this year's field via a "Lucky Loser" entry after seeded Phillip Kolschreiber was forced to withdraw. This opened the field up for Robert and he has made the most of his opportunity. Stephane's career is best known for his upset over Tomas Berdych as an unranked qualifier at Wimbledon in 2011. But with a win tonight over Robert, he can find himself in the Round of 16, with a chance to make history against (most likely) Andy Murray.

Fun Fact about Robert:  In his spare time, he says he likes to read Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels. As a fellow Fyodor devotee, this has immediately made the Frenchman my favorite for the rest of the event. Very few (if any) athletes could even name "Crime and Punishment" except as a description of much of their off the field activities. Bravo Stephane!


Besides the two "Lucky Losers" paired against each other, if you were to place a bet on one of the ten remaining unseeded players, you would probably be best to go with Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Roger-Vasselin came into the tournament ranked #40 in the world.  Edouard is playing the best tennis of his career, at the ripe old age of 30 and this tournament is the culmination of a rise that really began during the latter part of the 2013 season. Then, he reached his first ever ATP tour Final and made his way to the Semifinals at a 500 level event in Basel. His section of the draw opened up after the retirement of Tommy Haas due to heat in his first round match, and Roger-Vasselin now takes the court against a beatable Kevin Anderson to reach his best Grand Slam result of his career.

Fun Fact about Roger-Vasselin:  Edouard seems like the type of guy that you would introduce to your friends by describing, "well he's nice."  He lists "watching movies with his girlfriend" as his favorite hobby. His favorite movie is "Pursuit of Happiness" (no comment) and he lists his favorite meal as "Chicken and rice."  Don't count on Edouard to be the life of any party, unless that party is a retirement community.


The most familiar name on this list to hardcore tennis fans is Florian Mayer, who has bounced around the 20-50 stage of the ATP rankings his entire career. He came into Australia just outside the seeded area, ranked 37 and he arrived in the Round of 32 after upsetting Mikhail Youzhny in Round 2. Mayer is one of my favorite players to watch primarily because he plays old man tennis. He hits the ball with crazy amounts of spin, long high flowing swings and ridiculous slices that can frustrate players who aren't prepared for his game. Because of the way he plays, he is susceptible to the "beat anyone or be beaten by anyone" mentality, as Mayer has defeated Rafael Nadal in a Masters event and lost to countless qualifiers in results that leave you scratching your head. Going against Jerzy Janowicz (the type of player often frustrated by Mayer's style), I like his chances of pulling an upset here and making his way to an interesting match versus David Ferrer.

Fun Fact About Mayer:  When asked in an interview to name the most interesting thing about him, Florian said it is the fact that he is nicknamed "Flo."  Now no offense to Mayer, but if that is the most interesting fact about you, I might choose to party with Edouard Roger-Vesselin over you. Come on folks, let's spice it up a bit!


We all are waiting for Sam Querrey's big moment. Maybe this is it. Possessed with one of the biggest serves on tour (he still holds the record for most consecutive aces in a match with ten), Querrey always seems on the verge of a breakthrough that never quite arrives. He is 26 years old and in the prime of his career, and has hinted that he thinks 2014 could be his best season yet. He has risen to 17th in the rankings and has more titles than any player on this list (five). However waiting on Sam to fulfill the American promise has seemed to be a continual game for US Tennis fans, who want to see the big fella get the one match that puts him in the category of an elite player. He upset Ernests Gulbis in round two (a good draw for Querry considering the stifling heat) and now plays another hotheaded player in Fabio Fognini. The two players couldn't have more contrasting styles, but if Querry jumps out early in the heat, a second upset in a row could take place. A win puts him in a career-making match in the Round of 16 versus Novak Djokovic. Could this be Querry's time?  He must beat Fabio first to find out.

Fun Fact about Querry:  Sam is also a tremendous baseball player, once hitting two home runs while taking batting practice with the Florida Marlins. He is also very tall.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

While You Were Sweating: Day Four at the Aussie Open So Far

I had plans to make it big tonight. After a few days of watching only a couple of hours of Australian Open coverage daily due to my other job, I was planning on pulling an all-nighter this evening and following the tennis until the early morning hourts. With Nadal, Federer and Murray all taking the court, the possibility of some heat-inspired upsets and a 2 liter of Mountain Dew in the fridge (don't say I don't do it big), this looked to be the type of night where we could make it a tennis party. Alas, the matches have slowed due to the extreme heat and we are left with yawning that could lead to me hitting the hay. But while the players in Melbourne hide from the sun, here are some thoughts on the early play:

It is Really Hot

The early rounds of major tennis tournaments rarely get much, if any, mainstream sports coverage in America. This is especially true of the Australian Open, which falls in the middle of the NFL Playoffs, making it very hard for even Rafa and Roger to compete with Manning and Brady. However the weather in Melbourne is so extreme that tennis is getting into the news, albeit not for play but rather the conditions. Today stories about the heat were a part of all the major sports television and radio shows as commentators used the conditions to describe their aversion to extreme heat. Pictures of players in various stages of duress have lead to heat-porn for those that know little about tennis minus a Grand Slam final.

With all the lead-ins about the extreme heat coming into today, the conditions on Thursday were even more brutal than at any point this week. For the first time, an Extreme Heat Delay was instituted that has stopped play after conditions that commentators were calling some of the worst they had ever seen. The effect could be see on everyone, but especially  Varvara Lepchenko, who struggled so mightily during the second set of her loss to Simona Helep that she began weeping on the court and doctors had to check her blood pressure to confirm her ability to play on. The pictures of the players dealing with the conditions is fascinating from a "train wreck" perspective but it is clearly affecting play to a high degree and causing matches to be played in different ways (primarily with players going for more chances to try and shorten the points). The 2014 Australian Open will be remembered for the early heat, but with the exception of Hewitt/Seppi, it has also prevented any real great matches from taking place. As cooler temperatures come in this weekend, my hope is the match quality inversely increases as well.

Maria Sharapova is a Warrior

The match of the day so far took place at Rod Laver Arena as Maria Sharapova won a grueling three-set thriller over Karin Knapp (I learned during this event that the pronunciation I had always used for Knapp "Nap", was incorrect and I should be saying "Kuh-Nap."  To me that seems like an absurd way to pronounce a name and it is clear that the "K" should be silent...but others would argue that since it is her name, she should pronounce it however she likes. I don't agree but will nevertheless acquiesce.)  The final set was brilliant to watch, as the Extreme Heat Delay was instituted halfway through, but players were first required to finish the set. Both players were obviously exhausted, but came through with some great tennis and both left many chances to close out the match on the court. For Sharapova, a loss would have been particularly devastating as she was unable to convert match points in two games prior to the set completion. Knapp was able to extend the match to extra games, but never able to seriously push on Sharapova's serve late and Maria held on as the temperature reached 108 degrees at completion.

Afterwards, the crowd saluted both players and Sharapova noted that it was the best she had ever seen Knapp play. But for a neutral observer, the takeaway was the amazing fortitude both women showed. The match lasted over three hours (the longest of Sharapova's Grand Slam career) and both players never let their energy wane during the closing games. Because of her beauty and fame, Sharapova never gets credit for the warrior that she is on the court and her dedication to fitness and toughness is often forgotten. For any critics ready to fault her play (and there will be many if she loses, as she almost certainly will, to Serena Williams again), I would hope they would first be forced to watch the third set today on Laver Arena and see her grit in action. Being second (or third now to Azarenka) best is still a worthy accomplishment, especially when it requires performances like the one Maria brought forth this afternoon.

Donald Young Blows it Again

I cheer hard for Donald Young. I don't really know why I do it. From all indications, Young isn't the most likable kid in the world and the two experiences I have had watching him in person have both left negative impressions with me (the way his entourage and he acted at the US Open last August was almost embarrassing). With that said, I still remember his run in the 2011 US Open fondly and there is something about the kid's confident strokes, consistent swagger and perpetually askew hat that makes me want to see him have success. But sometimes he makes it really hard. As I write this, he is on a heat delay on Court 3 in his match with Andreas Seppi, awaiting the deciding fifth set. But I don't need to watch that set, because I know what the result will be. Seppi, the master of the fifth set (7-1 in Grand Slams) is going to handle Young and move on to the Round of 32, escaping a match he should have lost.

How do I know this? Because I have seen this movie before. After playing excellently for the first three sets, leading 2-1 (and dropping the other set in a tiebreak), Young was situated to get a win that could have been a huge leaping point for his 2014 season. He broke Seppi early in the fourth and was serving at 3-2 to put the final pressure on Andreas and close out the match. Instead Young went into bad Donald form, framing three wild forehands during the game, yelling at himself and his entourage in the stands, and wilting under pressure, allowing Seppi to break back. The rest of the set was a mere formality as Young, seeing the Heat Delay coming, went for wildly aggressive shots and quickly was dispatched to even the match at two sets apiece. Fortunately for Young, the heat delay gives him a chance to regroup and still have a fighting shot at the victory, something that would have been impossible had the match gone on. But unfortunately, as much as I root for Young and want to see him get some traction (a win would see him go up against Kei Nishikori in the next round, a match he might be well-suited to compete in), the result is probably a foregone conclusion.

I hope I wake up tomorrow however and find out that I am wrong. Tennis could use a successful Donald Young.

10 Things You Should Know About The Special Ks

Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios crashed the Aussie Open second round party when he upset Benjamin Becker in the tournament's first round earlier this week. The 18-year-old is 102 spots behind Becker in the ATP rankings at No. 183 in the world, but he's the one who advanced when the two met for the first time in their careers. Kyrgios won 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-2) to set up today's match with Benoit Paire, the No. 27 seed.

Another young Australian, 17-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis, made an even louder noise when he defeated 73rd-ranked Igor Sijsling, ranked 497 places above him. The win set Kokkinakis up with a second round match against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Rod Laver Arena later today.

Together, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis won the boys doubles event at Wimbledon in 2013, months after they faced each other in the boys singles finals in the 2013 Australian Open. Today, they'll each try to shock the tennis world again by advancing in the Australian Open with another improbable win.

Before we all jump aboard the Kyrgios and Kokkinakis train for their upcoming matches, we should take a minute to learn a thing or ten about the two youngsters who call themselves the "Special Ks."

1.) Nick chose tennis over basketball.

He showed early signs of potentially pursuing a basketball career when he represented ACT and Australia on the hardwood at a young age, but he hit a fork in the sports road at the age of 14 and hung a left to focus on tennis, leaving the hoop dreams behind.

That has proven to be the right decision thus far.

2.) Thanaki took the longest victory lap ever.

Soaking it all in following his first round upset win, via +Australian Open.

3.) Nick is afraid of the dark, heights, snakes, sharks and being alone.

Kyrgios admitted to his fears in his "Kia Open Drive" interview at this year's Australian Open.

One thing he's not afraid of: Benjamin Becker.

4.) Thanasi's favorite movie is Superbad.

"Wait... you changed your name to McLovin?"

5.) Nick takes mirror selfies.

But he doesn't smile. Real men don't smile for selfies. You know that.

6.) Nick has a crush on Victoria Azarenka.

Kyrgios admitted to falling in love within 20 minutes of being around Azarenka during a recent event. But when asked who he would like to "pash" (that's Australian for tongue kiss, according to Urban Dictionary) on the WTA, he went with the obvious answer: Maria Kirilenko.

7.) Thanasi has a crush on Liz Hurley.

Hurley is engaged to a famous cricketer but Kokkinakis would still love the opportunity to take the English actress on a date.

She's 31 years older. Sound the cougar call.

8.) Nick listens to Lil Wayne and Rihanna.

And here I thought all Australians only listened to Keith Urban and Gotye.

9.) They both love the NBA.

Nick is a fan of the Boston Celtics, while Thanasi follows the Los Angeles Clippers.

So don't mention Doc Rivers next time you see them practicing together.

10.) They're in trouble today. 

Paire and Nadal?  Good luck with that, boys. You especially, Thanasi.

Sam Querrey for America


We have one of our own in the Australian Open's third round, America. Sound the trumpets. Wave the flags. Grill the hot dogs.

After an unexpected exit from John Isner, the American No. 1, on the second day of the tournament, hope was lost for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave in Melbourne in 2014. But that hope has been restored in the form of the Cali boy, Sam Querrey, who won his second match of the tournament on Day 3. 

Querrey defeated 23rd seeded Ernests Gulbis in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, to advance to the third round. It marks the second consecutive year Querrey has reached the third round in the Aussie Open, and the second time he has accomplished that feat in back-to-back years. He found himself here in 2007 and 2008, his first two appearances in Melbourne.

Querrey will face the Fabio Fognini-Jarkko Nieminen winner for a spot in the fourth round, where Novak Djokovic will be waiting should things go as expected. Querrey was one win shy of meeting Djokovic in that match last year, but he couldn't slip past Stanilas Wawrinka to get there.

Two other Americans, Jack Sock and Donald Young, remain in the mens' tournament field with upcoming second round matches on Thursday. Sock will face 25th seeded Gael Monfils and Young will get 24th seeded Andreas Seppi, who knocked out fan favorite Lleyton Hewitt. Barring an upset, Sock and Young will join Isner, Ryan Harrison, Tim Smyczek, Bradley Khlan, Wayne Odesnik, Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson, and Michael Russell on the early flight back to the States.

That leaves Querrey, the "Great Red, White and Blue Hope," to make a run for the second week of the 2014 Australian Open. He said after his win over Gulbis that reaching the third round makes it a successful tournament for him already, but we, the United States of America, are not settling for a 32nd place trophy. We want Sam Querrey to continue winning, because that's what America does. It wins. 

Ask the 1980 U.S. national hockey team if it was content with a draw against Sweden to open group play in the Olympics. The answer is no. It was content with a win over the Soviets and a gold medal.

Ask Rulon Gardner if he was satisfied after finishing fourth at the 1993 NCAA Wrestling Championships. No. Rulon Gardner was satisfied when he defeated that scary Russian guy who hadn't lost in 13 years to win the gold medal in 2000. That dude was terrifying. 

Ask Amelia Earhart if she just shut it down when she flew a third of the way across the Atlantic Ocean. No. Amelia Earhart was just picking up speed on her way to becoming the first female to fly solo across that salty pond.

You see, Sam Querrey is our Amelia Earhart. He's our Rulon Gardner and he's our Herb Brooks. America believes in miracles, it fears no one, and we're not turning around and flying back home empty-handed because we got a third of the way there.

Sam Querrey for America. Let's win this thing.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Highlights of Day Two

Gilles Simon won the match of the day in a 16-14 final set over Daniel Brands. He then spontaneously combusted due to heat 

From a sheer rankings perspective, Day Two at the Australian Open offered little surprise. Most of the favorites ended up winning and only three seeds (one male and two female) fell in what could be categorized as a fairly "by the book" day in Melbourne.  With that said however, there are always story lines that develop and for me, these were the highlights of a sweltering Day Two:

John Isner Lets a Brilliant Chance Slip Away

When it comes to majors and John Isner, the best opportunities always seem to slide through his fingers. Isner's Australian Open draw looked quite appealing when announced, as injuries and good fortune produced a bracket that seemed perfectly set to allow Isner to slide into a Round of 16 matchup with Andy Murray. Alas, it wasn't meant to be as Isner succumbed to an ankle injury and intense heat after falling two sets behind to Martin Klizan. It was a valiant effort from Isner, who seemed ready to take the second set tiebreak after a 4-0 lead, but according to the giant, then his ankle acted up, he dropped a number of points and he could no longer go forward. For John, it is another opportunity lost, forcing him to potentially head home to spend time with his girlfriend (whose photo montage pictured above shows a couple that loves close-up selfies as much as any twosome in America). We at The Outer Courts are now left without are best American hope down under and explanations as to the result, the best of which was shared by a television announcer:

The Heat Continues to be a Massive Story

Players passed out, players threw up and everyone seemed to have a jolly old time lamenting the extreme heat that has overtaken the Australian Open. At one point the temperature hit 107 degrees and it looks as if no relief is in sight. Most of the complaints about the heat relate to the late afternoon matches when it is at its most extreme, and players have commented that the situation is "brutal" and "inhumane." Heat is a hard feeling to translate over the television and where I am watching the matches (in my living room), it is a cozy 71 degrees at this very moment. But one can certainly tell that the heat is speeding up play (both in terms of ball speed and the desire to get off the court) and causing those players who didn't spend the offseason training (hello Mr. Tomic) much difficulty.

Lleyton Hewitt Loses Another Epic

The Australian Open comes on at a hideous time here in Kentucky, thus one has to truly want to see an afternoon 5 setter to fight off the overnight sleep requirements and make it to the end of such a marathon. But Lleyton Hewitt's defeat at the hands of Andreas Seppi was exciting enough that I was able to fight through and make the ends. Hewitt lost again, as happens all to often in these big matches, and he left many of the Australian fans somber following the ordeal. None however may have had quite the reaction as this Australian columnist, who took it very seriously:

THERE's no way we're going to sit here and offer copious amounts of sympathy to millionaire tennis players competing in appreciably lung-busting, fatigue-inducing conditions when bushfires are devastating families and destroying homes on their rampage through the more combustible areas of Victoria and Western Australia.
Still, Lleyton Hewitt's marathon heartbreaker at the Australian Open came on an A-grade scorcher. The Blue Jasmine court inside Rod Laver Arena shimmered in impossible heat while Hewitt was mowed down 7-6 6-3 5-7 5-7 7-5 by the 24th-seeded Italian Andreas Seppi in four hours of ultimately non-profitable slog.
The only possible positive to emerge from the wreckage: Hewitt's schedule was cleared for his Harlem Globetrotters doubles appearance alongside Pat Rafter at 5pm today.

So it's pretty warm in Melbourne right now

Victoria Azarenka and Roger Federer survived Tuesday's sweltering temperatures in Melbourne and escaped their first-round matches in straight sets, but not everyone at the 2014 Australian Open has been so lucky.

Over on Court 8, Peng Shuai needed a quick vomit before recovering to take the second set against Kurumi Nara: 

Minutes later, Canadian Frank Dancevik fainted courtside while trailing Benoit Paire on Court 6:

Ball kids are collapsing and water bottles are melting to the surface as play continues in 107 degree heat. Players are relying on ice packs and ice towels to carry on, and the extreme heat rule effect is now in place, enforcing a 10-minute break.

Meanwhile, back in Kentucky, I just cracked another Red Bull as I try to stay awake for the remainder of today's matches. I guess I can't really complain about being tired when I'm sitting on my couch, with air conditioning, watching the action on television.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Luckiest (and most talented) Loser of Them All

I am one of those people that likes the bizarre eccentricities of every possible event. For instance, one of my favorite things about professional football is the fact that in today's modern technological world, we still decide whether a team has achieved a first down by the decidedly unscientific method of measuring with two sticks and a chain . Similarly tennis, while on the one hand being obsessed with rankings, numbers and statistics, then throws out all of this mathematical data and finalizes the field to its biggest events by a system so completely random and bizarre, that it looks more like a carnival game than a professional sport. The concept of a "Lucky Loser" in a Grand Slam tennis event is one accepted as normal in tennis circles, but would be mocked by anyone not accustomed to it.  After three rounds of qualifying and fights to the metaphorical death to determine who will be fortunate enough to get into a Grand Slam field and have the potential for a major rankings bump, you can be saved after falling short by simply having your name drawn out of a hat in the final hours before the event begins.

That is exactly what happened this week for American Irina Falconi, who took the mantle of "Luckiest Loser" into the second round of the Australian Open yesterday with a win over Anna Medina Garrigues (6-3, 6-1). Falconi lost in the final round of Australian Open qualifying, a painful defeat that looked to have continued her streak of five straight majors where she had failed to make the main draw. It was a bitter disappointment and one that would have affected Falconi's prospects for the rest of the season, due to the corresponding points loss that was forthcoming. So how did Falconi handle this event?  She explains, "I was out with my friends having ice cream, when I got the email  from the WTA saying, "Lucky! You play first round on Monday against Medina." (as a side note, I find it hilarious that in 2014, this is how we tell players they have made a major it not even worth a phone call?  What if she hadn't checked her email?  What if the email got sent to spam?  These are the questions that make me rack my brain).  Falconi put the ice cream down, headed home and prepared for her big match.

So how was Falconi given this honor? Well of course, her name was drawn out of a hat. As one of the four highest ranked qualifiers to lose in the final qualifying round, Falconi was given the chance to make the field after Jamie Hampton withdrew. Four names went in the pot, Falconi's name was picked, and the other three "losers" got to finish their ice cream. It is a crazy and absurd system, but that is precisely why I love it. Rational people would suggest we should go by highest ranking, have the top two players compete or even just a hearty game of friendly, but competitive Spades. Critics would tell you that anything resembling a merit-based system is appropriate, but they are obsessed with concepts that are no fun like "rationality" or "fairness." Instead, we choose a completely random draw gives someone like Falconi a chance, and the other "Losers" a long flight home in misery (and by the way, the term "Lucky Loser" has to be one of the most backhanded compliments in the history of professional sports. I like to think of the designation as being the equivalent of a "L" that the player is forced to wear all tournament long, while her fellow competitors shun her in the cafeteria and hold the "L" sign to their forehead every time she walks by).

Fortunate or not, Falconi has now taken advantage of the moment and has a chance for a huge win on Wednesday versus 22nd seed Ekaterina Makarova. Just a few months ago, I saw Falconi play at a Challenger event on a scorching August day in Lexington, Kentucky, in front of a couple hundred fans at most. Now she gets a chance to play in front of a packed stadium and a worldwide audience with the possibility of matching her career best Grand Slam finish with a victory....all because her number was drawn out of a hat. The tennis world is a strange, but amazing place.

Sloane Returns to Melbourne and Other Day 2 Matches I'll Be Watching

It was in Australia one year ago when Sloane Stephens shocked the tennis world by upsetting third-seeded Serena Williams to advance to the semi-finals. Like many great moments in sports, I remember exactly where I was when it happened. I was on my couch, probably eating something unhealthy, watching it on live TV. It was a Tuesday night. And that's when Sloane Stephens got me hooked on Sloane Stephens.

Sloane makes her return to the Aussie Open stage tonight -- Are we calling it tonight or today in Australia? -- against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. If the match is anything like Shvedova's middle name, Vyacheslavovna, it's going to be long and very difficult to get through.

Other matches on my must-watch schedule tonight:

James Duckworth vs. (6) Roger Federer

Meeting for the first time in their careers, Roger Federer and wildcard entrant James "Jack" Duckworth of Australia are set to clash in the second match of the day in Rod Laver Arena. I'll make a point to watch this one because it's Roger Federer and only because it's Roger Federer. I watch him every chance I get because we just don't know how much longer he'll be around.

Johanna Larsson vs. (2) Victoria Azarenka

I've grown close to Azarenka since I started following her on Instagram a couple months ago so I feel it is my duty as her friend to tune in to her match against Johanna Larsson. That's what Instagram friends do, they support each other.

Did you know she was driving a tram with Novak Djokovic a couple days ago or that she met SpongeBob SquarePants in Brisbane? Of course you didn't. Because you're not close like we are. I bet you didn't see that smiley face omelet back in the summer, either. You don't know vichka35 like that.

So I'll be watching my vichka35 in action tonight, whether you do or not. It may be a one-sided friendship, and she may not have any idea I exist, but I'm going to be there for her as she chases a third consecutive Australian Open title. No woman has done that since Martina Hingis in 1997-99, ya know.

Tobias Kamke vs. Jack Sock

This is the one time I will root for Germany over America. When Jack Sock loses, The Outer Courts wins.

I want to like Jack Sock, I really do. But I'm afraid that's impossible.

(24) Andreas Seppi vs. Lleyton Hewitt

Australian No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt is looking to ride the momentum from an undefeated week at Brisbane against 24th-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy. Hewitt and Seppi are 3-3 head-to-head over their careers but Hewitt enters the match 5-0 in 2014 while Seppi looks for his first win of the year.

It's Hewitt's 18th consecutive Australian Open start since his 1997 debut. He said that first match, a three-set loss to Sergi Bruguera, was the only time he hasn't played on Melbourne Park's center stage.

We have to watch the Aussie in Aussie, right?

Olga Govortsova vs. Ying-Ying Duan

I have Olga going far in my Racquet Bracket for so there is a lot riding on this otherwise lackluster showdown.

Why the faith in Olga, you ask?

Why not?  She's my Florida Gulf Coast basketball.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Bernard Tomic

This is one of the matches that caught everyone's attention when the draw was released on Friday. Australia's own Bernard Tomic, a top 60 ATP player, versus Rafael Nadal, the world No. 1, in a first round matchup.

Tomic recently said he can beat top-seeded Nadal, who has reached only two Aussie Open finals in his eight attempts, a low number for the game's hottest name. Nadal missed last year's tournament while recovering from the knee injury, but 2013 was his year after his return to the court in February.

It's going to be a fun night -- or day in Australia.

While We Were Sleeping: Day 1

Covering the Australian Open from America isn't easy on one's sleep schedule, especially while balancing the tennis with another full-time job. A man's gotta get at least a little shut-eye each night and the 16-hour time difference between Melbourne, Australia and Lexington, Kentucky isn't the ideal setup when pulling double duty. That 7:00 p.m. primetime match in Rod Laver Arena each night? It airs over here in the States at 3:00 a.m., right around the time my eyelids tend to throw in the towel. I can only drink so much Mountain Dew before the high fructose corn syrup coma sets in.

Each American morning we'll review the Australian Open results and happenings while The Outer Courts was resting its eyes 9,500 miles away. Here is the first edition of "While We Were Sleeping"...

Novak Djokovic is one step closer to Aussie history.

Three-time defending champ Novak Djokovic won his 22nd consecutive match in Melbourne Monday night (or early Monday morning) by defeating Lukas Lacko, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-1. Djokovic, who called himself "rusty" after the win, is chasing his fifth Australian Open title, a feat no man has achieved since the Open Era began in 1968. Djokovic is currently tied with Andre Agassi and Roger Federer at four titles apiece.

Roy Emerson won six titles when it was the Australian Championships, but we're not here to talk about the Australian Championships.

Serena Williams beat a 17-year-old.

Five-time Aussie champ Serena Williams defeated the local girl, 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty, in two quick sets. Barty held serve to take the first game, which brought on a huge roar from the crowd, but the match was over in under an hour. Williams advances to face Vesna Dolonc in the second round.

Fun Fact: Barty was six years old when Serena won her first Australian title in 2003.

Denis Istomin and his glasses defeated Marcos Baghdatis.

2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis was given an early exit from Melbourne by Denis Istomin in three straight sets. The win was a controversial one, at least to me, considering Istomin was wearing Google Glass during the match.

I demand an investigation. Istomin could've been watching YouTube, checking Twitter, taking photos, or reading The Outer Courts during play. I bet he was reading The Outer Courts. And that's an incredibly unfair advantage.

Ivo Karlovic, our Ivo Karlovic, gone too soon from Melbourne

It's with a heavy heart that The Outer Courts bids adieu to Ivo Karlovic from the Australian Open. Anyone who has followed this site through other tournaments knows how much we love Ivo and want the best for him in every match. We had hoped to see him in the finals in two weeks -- ridiculous, I know -- but fellow Croatian and 32nd seeded Ivan Dodig defeated Ivo on Day 1 of the tournament, 7-6 (8), 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Dodig joins Stanislas Wawrinka (US Open '13), Adrian Mannarino (Western & Southern Open '13), and Sam Querrey (BNP Paribas Open '13) as guys we can never forgive for sending Ivo home from tournaments we cover.

Good thing he still has Twitter. No one can ever take that away from us. Ever.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Watching Venus Lose Makes Me Sad

Why did they have to start with Venus Williams?  Did the Aussies want to intentionally suck away my energy in the first match of the tournament? Look, I follow the same routine for every big tennis tournament, Olympic Games or any other event that goes on a long period of time. I am uber-excited for it to begin and thus I get unbelievably giddy for night one. I put everything else aside and focus on consuming every moment of action of the first day, before slowly seeing my excitement dwindle over the next few days, as my energy drains. Life usually gets in the way, I make the decision that interacting with my friends and family is more important than a 3 am Court 8 Fabio Fognini match, and then I consume the events by doing what rational people do, focusing on the highlights. But the eagerness of Day One is always something I look forward to and this year the Australian Open schedule makers completely ripped it away from me.

They knew what they were doing. It was completely forseeable that Venus Williams would lose tonight to (22) Ekaterina Makarova. Not only was Makarova the higher seed, but she also has a history of Australian Open magic, specifically against the Williams sisters, knocking out Serena in 2012. When the draw was released, I groaned at the matchup, knowing that Venus's early season positive form could potentially come crashing to a halt in round one at Melbourne,  before I even had a chance to get comfortable.  Venus has a history of painful Australian open losses and the matchup with Makarova seemed destined to add another page to her general disdain for this place. Unfortunately the match completely followed the script. Venus won the first set, gave up the second and seemed to be cruising in the third, going up 3-0 and setting up a potential major move for the American into the fourth round. But then history bombarded us, Makarova won five straight games, served out the set and we witnessed another painful Venus loss.

Here is the reality. I hate to watch Venus lose. I have always found the eldest Williams sister to be somewhat of a tragic figure. On the surface that seems silly. She has won seven grand slams, has more money than she will ever need and by all accounts, lives a healthy, well-rounded life in which tennis is only a part of her overall makeup. But I can't help but still feel bad when I see her lose. Part of it is because even as the older sibling, she will always be the lesser tennis Williams. While still having a Hall of Fame career of her own, she will never be remembered without a comparison to her sister and the ways in which she has come up short will be part of every memory about her. Most of the time when siblings play sports, one is markedly better than the other and the dynamic becomes clear and defined. Whether it be the Lopez brothers in basketball, the Waltrips in auto racing or the McEnroes in tennis, it is almost always the case that one sibling is a star and the other is a successful, but clearly lesser version.

But the Williams sisters are different. Venus was the star first. She was a trailblazer in sports, breaking barriers from the moment she entered tennis and bringing a powerful, athletic game to the sport that completely changed the way all of the female players approached being a professional. When Venus Williams came on the scene the game shifted on and off the court, as her rise was one of the single biggest draws the sport had ever seen. However just a couple of years later, along came Serena and everything changed. There were a couple of years of great competition as the two sisters dueled for the best player in the world status, but very quickly it was clear, Serena was the more dominant force. Venus became an afterthought as Serena did everything her little sister did, only better. She took the mantle as likely the best player to ever play the game and Venus was left as a multiple major winner, always in her (younger) sister's shadow. The closest sports equivalent one can find is the Manning brothers in football, but only if Eli somehow turned into football's Babe Ruth, while Peyton retreated to Stan Musial status (a legend, but not the GOAT) . But that didn't happen...even if Eli wins more rings, Peyton is the superior player and both can take solace in their individual accomplishments and stable relationship to each other.

I am sure Venus feels none of the disappointment I project on her. She seems to be her sister's biggest supporter and has never looked to me to be the jealous type. I love that the sisters still play doubles together and their friendship has never wavered, at least in public. But as I watch Venus's career wind down, her losses inevitably sadden me. I project what would likely be my own insecurity in a similar situation (hating someone younger, cooler and more talented than you in your own profession is why I have a dartboard with Drew Franklin's picture on it in the Outer Courts' office), onto Venus when it is probably not needed. She seems fine with it, and I should be too. But I can't help it. Watching Venus lose makes me sad and has dampened my excitement for Day One in Melbourne. I now am not sure if I can stand to stay up all night, and even Chris Fowler's late night puns are not having the same effect on me. Hopefully something will fix this quickly and get my giddi...oh wait, did you say Ernests Gulbis just threw a racket and is having a temper tantrum, while using language that would make the producers of "Wolf of Wall Street" blush?

Ok fine, I am back in.

A Tennis Fan's Guide To Melbourne, Australia

Welcome to The Land Down Under, tennis fans! 
You look lost. You're lost, aren't you? Don't be embarrassed, Melbourne can be overwhelming for an out-of-towner like yourself. Why don't you sit back, let those binoculars rest around your neck, and allow me to assist you in your journey so you can focus on other things, like tennis. 
Here is The Outer Courts' travel guide to Melbourne...
Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne, conveniently located in the state of Victoria, was founded by John Batman, a young bounty hunter, in 1835 and it is now the second most populous city in all of Australia.  4.17 million people call Melbourne home and all of them absolutely hate it when Americans rave about the blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse.
Notable Melbournians
Some of our favorite famous people were born in Melbourne, including Kyrie Irving, NBA point guard; Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus' ex-fiance; Cate Blanchett, Academy Award-winning actress; Kylie Minogue, pop star; Rupert Murdoch, really rich gold guy; and the late Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter."
Five Things To Do In Melbourne
-- Tell a stranger, “G-day mate!”
-- Attend a cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds! (Look up the rules of the game first.)
-- Enjoy a walk through Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, one of the best-landscaped gardens in the world!
-- Eat bush tucker! What is bush tucker, you ask? It’s Australian food! Try the kangaroo, and, if you don’t like it, just cover it ranch and force it down.  You’re on vacation!
-- See a show at the Regency Theatre! Or a concert!
Five Things You Shouldn’t Do In Melbourne
--  Do not ask for showtimes for any of the Crocodile Dundee movies while visiting the Regency Theatre.
-- Drink Foster’s beer.  It’s only popular in American convenient stores and homeless shelters.
-- Litter.  Australians take the cleanliness of their streets very seriously.
-- Crocodile wrestle. Yeah, you saw Steve Irwin do it, but you’re not Steve Irwin.
-- Tell an Aussie, “Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie!” because you thought it was funny when Lloyd Christmas did it.  He was talking to a girl from Austria, anyway.
Australian Open Quick Facts
-- It draws the second-highest attendance of all tennis tournaments across the globe
-- Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka are the defending singles champions. Djokovic won the last three Australian Opens, Azarenka won the last two.
-- It was first played at the Warehouseman's Cricket Ground in 1905.
-- This year's overall player prize compensation is $31 million in U.S. dollars. The singles champions will win a cool $2.35 million apiece. That'll buy a lot of bush tuckers.
-- Wilson supplied 4,000 tennis balls for the tournament.
-- and are the two best websites on the internet for all of your Australian Open needs.


(That means goodbye.)

The Outer Courts Brings The Australian Open to You!

Hello my fellow tennis fans! I hope you have enjoyed the offseason layoff and are ready for a new year of tennis action here at The Outer Courts. It has been a long time since we last saw many of you, and you have likely wondered when we would return to update the site and allow you to read something other than the post on perspective of line judges (admittedly, not the most exciting way to end our last year). But we are now energized and ready to come back on tour with all of our favorite tennis personalities. But first,  we must be honest with you. Your favorite Kentucky bloggers (I say that assuming you don't know a ton of Kentucky bloggers) have been following the worlds of college football and basketball lately (here's an update...UK football had an awful season, Kentucky basketball is pretty good once again and Louisville has hired a serial adulterer for every one of its college sports teams). Thus we are hitting the 2014 Tennis Season in a way that is likely very similar to how you are approaching a new year. Even though there have been a number of early tournaments, we haven't paid much attention until the Australian Open. Yes, I know there were early events and Juan Del Handsome, John Isner and 62 year old Lleyton Hewitt got early titles, but my interest really had yet to be piqued. The other early tournaments are essentially only played in America for tennis diehards, melancholy insomniacs or those knee-deep in a mid-life crisis with little to do in their lonely new apartment communities except watch any television event overnight that is not an informercial rerun. For the rest of us, our lives are more fulfilled and tennis starts under the scorching sun in Melbourne with tennis' first and least-loved major.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Australian Open precisely because it is the red-headed stepchild of the Tennis major championships. Like the PGA Championship in Golf, the Preakness in Horse Racing and the Brickyard 400 in NASCAR, we are told that the Australian Open is equal to the other major championships in its sport, but as Americans, we don't really believe it. The French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open all have the special qualities that make them seem exotic, dignified or patriotic, but Australia is for most of us just a country to allow us to use funny accents and make terrible jokes. Even as a passionate tennis fan, you would be hard pressed to include more than one Australian Open moment in your top ten tennis memories of all time, and chances are you can't remember one thing that happened in the tournament last year except Sloane Stephens. In America, the Australian Open is in a no-win part of the sports calendar, deep in the NFL playoffs, with college and pro basketball hitting their full stride and the weather outside so cold that watching people sweat across the globe seems a bit bizarre. But that is unfortunate, because the Australian Open provides some of the best tennis television of the year. Whether it is the unbelievably passionate crowds that attend, the occasional epic matches that take on a life of their own under the sun or even Chris Fowler on ESPN sharing smirky, inside jokes that only tennis fans would understand (because he knows no one else is watching at 4 am), I find the televised coverage of Australia to be one of my favorite parts of the tennis year.

And with that in mind, we are covering the Australian Open in a different manner than the other Outer Courts tournaments, at home from our couches. Now you could suggest that in actuality we are doing this because it is the heart of college basketball season, Australia is very far away and Tennis Channel wasn't thrilled of the idea of Drew and me racking up an expense account down under (we draw up quite a budget of official tournament pullovers), but I would say that regardless of the truth of those statements, the different perspective is still valued. Since nearly all of our readers here will be watching the event in the exact same manner, why not share the collective "dose in and out of sleep while eating cheetos" Australian Open experience together? Thus Drew and I will cover the event in a way that other tennis reporters could only dream, from the heart of Kentucky, giving you the stories that matter to you the home viewer.

With that in mind, it is important to note how you can watch the event. Here is the television schedule for the first four days of the Australian Open:

SUNDAY:          7 pm - 7 am   First Round Coverage   ESPN2

MONDAY:         7 pm - 9 pm  First Round Coverage   Tennis Channel

                             9 pm - 7 am  First Round Coverage    ESPN2

TUESDAY:        7 pm - 9 pm  Second Round Coverage  Tennis Channel

                             9 pm - 7 am   Second Round Coverage   ESPN2

WEDNESDAY: 7 pm - 9 pm  Second Round Coverage  Tennis Channel

                             9 pm - 7 am   Second Round Coverage   ESPN2

Clearly, over the next four days, you can become immersed in the Australian Open in ways that you never deemed imaginable. For many of you reading this site, such in-depth coverage of an event may not be normal. Staying up in the middle of the night and ignoring your families to watch players you don't know sweat under intense heat (when they aren't being wimpy and playing under a roof) might not be something that you have ever previously considered. So you probably are thinking, how should I attack this endeavor?  Well first let me suggest, why don't you make a bracket with Tennis Channel and have your own picks?  You can find my men's bracket here and from there, you can make your own. Now I will be quite honest, I have no idea who will win most of these matches and many of my picks were made on the, "if I had to hang out with a person with one of these two names, who would I go with." By taking my usual, "the more interesting the name, the more interesting the person" mantra to heart, I picked a group of players who possibly have more letters than skills, but who I will have no problems pulling for over the next two weeks.

So sit back, relax and enjoy The Outer Courts' coverage. We will bring you whatever there is to know about the Australian Open that can be known by watching television. I have the DirectTV package so I can see six matches at once, so I will keep you updated on the doings on the Outer Courts, Drew will bring the jokes/photoshops and we both will make fun of anything and everything that pops up on our television screen. This is our time as tennis fans to revel in the enjoyment of something the rest of the sports world can't understand. It is the Australian Open and let those other meatheads have football, basketball, the Golden Globes and American Idol. We have Australian tennis while we are supposed to be sleeping and that my friends, is why we are better! We hope you enjoy the ride.