Friday, June 01, 2007

Day 6: Rise of the Serbs: The Story Continues...

Is Paris going to be the site of a Serbian coronation? Or will this year's Roland Garros serve as a prelude to the day when all the Serbian would-be superheroes serve notice that they are capable of keeping watch over the entire tennis world? Together, as one.

Despite a decided lack of the money and commitment that so many other traditional tennis powers throw at the sport, there are currently three Top 10 players, two women (Jelena Jankovic & Ana Ivanovic) and one man (Novak Djokovic), who hail from Serbia. The small but powerful Fantastic 3 of Serbian tennis seem destined to be the icons that future generations of Serbian tennis stars remember as the childhood heroes that stoked the competitive fires that helped to distance them from their country's recent internal turmoil and war.

The Fantastics (or is it "the Fantastovics?") may not currently have that all-important fourth team member to fully rival their cinematic/comic counterparts, but the three that ARE in the fold share many of the qualities of their comic book alter egos.

Djokovic, of course, stands in for Mr. Fantastic... and looks to have the best chance to potentially upset the Federer vs. Nadal cart of croissants in Paris. He's the top remaining seed (at #6) in his quarter of the draw, with the next-highest being #12 David Ferrer. Could Roland Garros be the birthplace of the next phase of Novak's career? He might not win THIS title, but it's only a matter of time before he ends the current domination of King Roger and Rafa at the slams. It might not happen at all in 2007... but 2008? It's probably a good bet.

On Day 6 against Venus Williams, Jankovic took a turn at multiple Fantastic roles, as she sometimes does (see the U.S. Open semifinal against Justine Henin last year). In the 1st and 3rd sets, she was an unstoppable force ala the Thing, burning as hot as the Human Torch (with a similar wit) as she served at over 80% and coasted to victory, overcoming a 2nd set where she was the Invisible Woman in the 6-4/4-6/6-1 match. It was further evidence that Jankovic might just be ready to assume the leading role in the women's game that her results over the last ten months have hinted that she's capable of.

Ivanovic does't get her shot to reach the Round of 16 until Day 7 against qualifier Ioana-Raluca Olaru. She'll likely live to play multiple roles another day, as well, as her tendency to rise to great heights (two Tier I titles in the past year, incuding Berlin in May) but alternately disappear from the final weekends of tournaments (she reached no SF in '06 other than at the event she won in Montreal) in between her great accomplishments. As of yet, consistency is not her hallmark.

While Ivanovic is still learning to harness her powers, Jankovic's next step is to defeat her arch enemy, "The Queen." Djokovic is just waiting... for Federer or Nadal to slip, or for the moment to arrive when he catches one or both with their guard down. It'll happen one of these days... maybe even in Paris.

There are many "superheroes" in the tennis world, but few are as multi-layered and entertaining as the Fantastics, Three or otherwise. Maybe one day they'll have their fourth member (could it be Janko Tipsarevic, who upset Marat Safin in the 2nd Round?)... just give them time.

Look at how well they've used what little they've had of it so far. Imagine what could come next.

Love-Love...most of the singles matches on Day 6 went according to form, with only two mild seed-related upsets (#18 Bartoli over #13 Dementieva, and #20 Bammer over #16 Li) occurring on the women's side of the draw, where Daniela Hantuchova defeated Olga Poutchkova to join the Final 32 and eight women adanced to the Round of 16. On the men's side, #29 Filippo Volandri, who knocked off Roger Federer a few weeks ago, ago, took out #7-seeded Ivan Ljubicic... but, hey, it's a slam, so an early exit by the Croat isn't exactly a big surprise.
============================= a nod to the worldwide spread of talent on the women's side, the Russian Horde notwithstanding, the eight women who advanced to the Final 16 in the top half of the draw hail from eight different nations. The eight men who advanced to the 4th Round included three Argentines and two Russians.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Doubles 1st Round - Bondarenko(UKR)/Bondarenko(UKR) d. Cetkovska(CZE)/Safarova(CZE) 2-6/6-2/7-6(6)

...the "other" sisters live!

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Doubles 1st Round - Jens(POL)/Rosolska(POL) d. Azarenka(BLR)/Chakvetadze(RUS) 6-4/6-3

...apparently, there ARE Polish players not named Radwanska or Domachowska.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Doubles 1st Round - Bryan(USA)/Bryan(USA) d. Pless(DEN)/Spadea(USA) 6-2/6-1

...well, at least SOME American men can play on clay. Of course, even when the Bryan brothers win, another American man loses at the same time.

15-30...nothing official yet, but with Sybille Bammer's 3rd Round victory today, and Tamira Paszek's star-turn (well, in miniature, at least) in the early rounds, I'm leaning toward crowning the Austrians as Roland Garros' "Revelation Ladies." Realistically, only the Italians (with Karin Knapp) could also potentially claim the title... but they won it in Australia a season ago, and it might be too soon for a repeat.

[women's top half]
#1 Henin d. #20 Bammer
#8 S.Williams d. #10 Safina
#4 Jankovic d. #18 Bartoli
#6 Vaidisova d. #19 Garbin
[men's top half]
#1 Federer d. #13 Youzhny
#29 Volandri d. #9 Robredo
#15 Nalbandian d. #4 Davydenko
#19 Canas d. Monaco

============================= was 40 years ago today that Sgt.Pepper allowed us to hear his band play.

Nothing to do with tennis, of course. But as significant a moment in the history of rock music as there is at least merits a throwaway mention. I just listened to the album again today, and it still holds up as a uniquely superior piece of art. Hard to believe anyone's never listened to at least some of it, but if you haven't you should... from beginning to end, as it was intended by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

(And, in an aside, I'd like to think all the players with Backspin nicknames could be cobbled together as the famous faces are on "Sgt.Pepper's" iconic album cover... as sort of a combination in-joke/homage to all the joy and pain they go through, essentially for our entertainment, as well as some spare change and hardware for themselves.)
MATCH, "Is it too early to start talking about the "dream" match-up coming true?"...hmmm, yeah, it IS too soon. That'll have to wait until the potential combatants reach the quarterfinals. Of course, this year there is more than one possible match that meets the criteria, isn't there?

TOP QUALIFIERS: Timea Bacsinszky & Ioana-Raluca Olaru
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Justine Henin
TOP MID-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Severine Bremond (1r- M.Krajicek)
IT GIRL: (vacant)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 6.


Blogger Zidane said...

I love the new name for the Serbians (Fantastics or Fantasticovics). It fits so much more than the rajikas... Plus, it includes Djokovic, who is as cool as his women partners. As Jankovic and Djokovic are two of my favourite players (I really like their attitude), it fits perfectly.

For the Revelation Ladies, I can help you. Bartoli is not Italian, she's French, so the Noodles need not to be considered. (plus, yesterday or the day before you included Garbin as a French player, but she's Italian). I think the Austrians would not be relevant, because there is only one player who reached the third round.

Noodles, on the other hand, have Garbin and possibly Knapp in the fourth round, plus Santamgelo and Schiavone who reached the third one.

Fri Jun 01, 10:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

me likey :)

Fri Jun 01, 10:24:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

just out of curiosity, what do you do? are you a sports analyst? how do you have time to have two blogs (granted about related subject matter -- men's and women's tennis)? i know you're supposed to make time for things you love, but your dedication to tennis is so inspirational!

when you have time, you should have a link to an "about Todd Spiker" page (kind of like Pete Bodo has on his blog)! you can put stuff like your tennis USTA ranking (if you play), your regular daily life profession, awards that you've won, etc...maybe even tennis tournaments you attend so that people can meet the man behind the blog :)

and if that's too personal, maybe your blogging history...i remember in one post you said you used to blog for jelena dokic...and then what? and how did that turn into backspin?

i don't know about the rest of your readers, but i wonder about stuff like how you were requested to blog about a tennis pro...and then what you did after that tennis pro didn't end up doing well...(did you have to go to every match she played and write about it? that would be so cool)

yeah...reading over my comment i realize i sound like a crazed stalker again, i hope you don't take this the wrong way...

Fri Jun 01, 10:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Zidane, you've torn the scab off my wound. :)

Thanks, though. The Bartoli/Garbin, France/Italy thing gives me so many headaches I can't tell you. No matter how many times I try to pound it into my skull, in my mind, I always immediately associate Bartoli as Italian rather than French (probably because the name SOUNDS like it's Italian), and whenever I have to mention Garbin in the same breath I end up screwing up both of them. I fixed that Top 32 list... where I saw that I did have Bartoli listed as French for once (I was so proud), but since I had Garbin listed as French, too, it sort out cancelled out the "accomplishment." And then I made the aggravating Bartoli mix-up that I'd managed to avoid 24 hours later. :(

If those two ever play each other I think I'll just curl up in a ball in the corner of the room.

And don't get me started how many times I've hit myself upside the head because I've spelled Srebotnik's first name wrong (Katarina, not Katerina)... but I usually catch that one.

This is a hard slam to pick Revelation Ladies, because since the Serbs are sort of off the board no group of players really are more eyebrow-raising than all the others. If Knapp beats Schnyder, that WOULD definitely make me pick the Italians.

Sat Jun 02, 12:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Oh, the things that I do are too boring to talk about, why do you think I take the time to keep Backspin as current as possible? :)

Seriously, though, I may take that suggestion about a "Getting to Know" page in the future. Plus, the blogs don't take up that much time, really. The WTA version is only a once a week thing (usually), and the ATP just once a month. I've got little forms that I transport to each post and fill in, so I don't really have to write everything out each time. I've gotten it down to something of a system so that its now takes half the time it used to. And during the slams, the idea to have the "Point-by-Point" has made that come off quickly, with less confusion than the few Daily Backspin periods that I attempted without it's help. Really, the work comes in just taking a little time each day to get the day's scores and see if anything important happened. The column is written a little bit every day during the week, and by the time the finals are being played I've got a few different directions to go for the opening section depending on who the champions are (and if I'm out of ideas, I'll do one of those gimmick Backspins... oh, wait until you see ONE of those I'm planning for one of those "nothing to say" weeks).

I've been a tennis fan since I was 9 or 10, and really only NFL football has ever rivaled my interest in the sport. I try to play every weekend (there's a picture of that when you click the "Contact Me" button in the sidebar), but I'm just a "weekend warrior." I was actually writing reviews of grand slam tournaments for myself when I about 12 or 13. Hopefully, at some point, my writings that have nothing to do with tennis will be something that could be read somewhere else, but we'll have to see about that... I'll just leave it at that. :)

I don't really travel around to tennis tournaments. I don't have the money for it. I might try to get to the ITF event in the Washington D.C. area this year, though. But I watch anything that I can (thank you, Tennis Channel... a big help), and read what I'm able. I tell you, though, without the internet it'd be impossible to truly follow tennis in the U.S.. There's just not enough -- any, really -- coverage of what's happening on a week-to-week basis here.

As far as how Backspin came about, well, I guess I have to say it wouldn't exist if not for the ol' Tennisrulzer himself, Pierre Cantin. I offered to help him out with columns on, and then just couldn't help myself (I have a tendency to go overboard with things at times, and when you have OCD tendencies as I do things can get pretty hectic) and ended up making awards lists for the entire tour every week. Eventually, as Dokic waned, Backspin outgrew the Jelena Corner column and, ultimately, outlived it. The 5th anniversary of the first "official" Backspin is actually the week after this year's Wimbledon.

Anyway, as I said, without Pierre doing all he did with Tennisrulz, I wouldn't be doing this. Of course, now I find myself "hounding" him to help out with the Royale and Backspin Volley columns, so maybe he's regretting that development, huh? :)

Really, though, Pierre's been a very good friend from the start, with things that aren't even related to tennis and the like. You won't find a more trustworthy and level-headed person out there, I'd say.

There's a little history at the end of the 2002 and 2003 Archive pages, too, if you're interested:

2002 and 2003

Whew! I don't if that hit all the areas you mentioned or not, Eric. If not, well, I tried. I'm glad you enjoy the column. :)

Sat Jun 02, 01:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Topaz said...

I second Eric's suggestions!

I recently maxed out my credit card with tickets to every session of Legg Mason, and by proxy the women's ITF tourny that happens with it. I enjoyed watching the women's matches because, first of all, I am a woman and I play, so I feel like I can learn more by watching them, and also because they play on courts where the spectators are really up close. I had front row seats for the final between Camille Pin and Tzipi Obziler. When Pin almost took out Sharapova in Australia, I was rooting for her so hard!

Sat Jun 02, 10:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I was at a match once where I watched Boris Becker -- one of my all-time favorites -- blow a two sets to none lead and lose to Brad Gilbert. That was pretty discouraging. :(

Plus, I just about threw up from heatstroke in the stands, so that didn't help matters, either. Boy, I was eying a place over the side of the stands that I could make a mad dash for if I had to. Thankfully, I didn't. ;)

Sun Jun 03, 09:09:00 AM EDT  

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