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Ana Ivanovic’s Play Sure Has Dropped Off

83372629MH043_US_Open_Day_2For all the time I spent pumping up Ana Ivanovic last year following her win at the French Open, I have to be fair by mentioning how much of a downturn her career has taken since. Since winning at Roland Garros, Ivanovic hasn’t advanced past the 4th round of any major, including a first-round exit this week at the U.S. Open. She battled a thumb injury last year and has endured bouts with a virus and a knee injury this year. Still, even with the typical type of wear and tear most players go through, you figure she would make at least a quarterfinal appearance or two. Her record this year is a miserable 22-13 and she has routinely exited tournaments by midweek. It’s not even about the competition getting better — most of these ladies are players Ivanovic should rip through but ones she’s losing to.

Whether it’s injuries, coaching changes, or a struggle playing with the bulls eye on her back, Ivanovic hasn’t responded well to her success last year. At this point she’s fallen so far and she’s so far removed from her Grand Slam win that the bulls eye excuse no longer applies. I don’t know if she grew complacent with her win, focusing on her vacationing and her new boyfriend because she was pleased she reached the mountaintop, but she needs to regain focus before she becomes a one-hit wonder. This awful streak of constant underachievement is simply disappointing. She needs to turn it around.

Federer Winning Majors Without Beating Nadal Raises Questions

Maybe it’s the nature of our society to be critical and look for the negative angle in stories, but on the day that Roger Federer became the first player to win 15 majors, the critics already began chirping. How can Roger be the greatest when he has a losing record to Rafael Nadal? Doesn’t his lone French Open title come with an asterisk because he didn’t have to go through Rafa to get it? And what about winning his 15th title that separated him from Pete Sampras — Nadal, the defending champ, didn’t even play in it because he was injured. How can Federer be the greatest when he lost his top spot in the world to Nadal and only regained it once Rafa was out of the picture?

I’m not a big guy on longevity and instead prefer absolute dominance. For instance, give me Pedro over Maddux any day even though Maddux has many more wins. But for this argument, I’m comfortable saying Roger Federer is the best of all-time. Here’s the reality: you can pick on anyone and find holes in their resume. Sampras wasn’t worth the hair on his ass on clay, Borg never won the U.S., and nobody else won enough to deserve a mention in this conversation. Yes, Nadal appeared to have overtaken Federer last year, but just when he was counted out, fast forward a year and you realize who the last man standing is — Federer. That counts. Roger can’t help that Nadal got knocked out of the French Open and that Nadal plays so hard that he hurts his knees. All Roger can do is beat everyone in front of him — no easy task — and he’s done that. 15 times at majors, more than anyone else.

Just when it looked like Federer’s days on top were ending, he’s now taken over 2009 and made it his year, and he still has one more major to go! Going back to a few more of the arguments, I never felt comfortable with all the majors Steffi Graf won after Monica Seles’ stabbing — Seles had been dominating the scene and had taken over but had her career derailed by a psycho fan. Nadal’s downfall this year is not the result of a crazy fan but of himself and his injuries. Federer, with every obstacle that faces all players in front of him, has managed to make it to the semis of 21 straight majors. Maybe his only problem is he makes it look so damn easy people lose site of realistic expectations.

Video: Pete Sampras Congrats Roger Federer in Nike Commercial

From showing up at Wimbledon to watch Roger Federer in person, to calling him the greatest ever after Roger tied him by winning the French Open, Pete Sampras has been quite gracious in losing his standing as the player who won the most grand slam events. In fact, Nike rolled out the red carpet in their commercial congratulating Roger Federer for winning his record 15th grand slam:

Yes, that’s John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and the rest of your friends at Nike congratulating Fed on the record. That’s a pretty sweet cast to assemble but I guess it’s easy when they’re all pulling in paychecks from the swoosh. Oh yeah, and what does Tiger have to say now that Roger’s passed him up?

Robin Soderling on Facing Roger Federer: Nobody Beats Me 11 Times in a Row

When Roger Federer beat Robin Soderling in the finals of the French Open to win his 14th grand slam title, Soderling injected some humor into his runner-up speech. The Swede was just yoking around when he said this:

With the two set to meet once again, this time in the 4th round at Wimbledon, Soderling could be preparing his “nobody beats me 11 times in a row” speech for after the match. Soderling did upset Rafael Nadal on clay so I guess it’s possible he does the almost equally unthinkable task of knocking out Roger on grass. If he pulls it off, he would be ending one of the more impressive streaks in all of sports: Federer’s reached 20 straight grand slam semifinals. That’s like reaching the Final Four in March Madness 20 years in a row. Impressive.

Can Roger Federer Capitalize on Rafael Nadal’s Biggest Gift?

One of the biggest upsets you’ll see in sports this year occurred over the weekend. Spaniard Rafael Nadal, undefeated in his career and a four-time champion at the French Open, lost in four sets in the fourth round to Robin Soderling. Now the loss isn’t significant because of its impact on Nadal — he was bound to lose at Roland Garros eventually; the loss is most meaningful to former number one player in the world, Roger Federer.

While Federer has enjoyed tremendous success throughout his career, the major knock against him was that he never won the French Open and that his dominance was limited to the grass and hard court surfaces. Sure, Nadal may have passed him up recently and even beaten him at Wimbledon, but winning the French would cap off one of the top careers the sport has seen. What would Rod Laver supporters have to say should Federer win on clay? Moreover, a win at the French Open would not only give Federer the coveted title he’s been missing, it would also tie him with Pete Sampras for the most all-time singles grand slam titles at 14. With the U.S. Open and Wimbledon coming up, it’s highly likely that Fed would break Sampras’ record by the end of the year.

Following his surprising loss to Soderling, Nadal said that Federer was the favorite to win it all. Roger didn’t look like anyone’s favorite going five sets to beat Tommy Haas, but the message is clear: The title is tangible for Federer. While Roger could use the French to quiet all the detractors, his legacy will still be strong without it. He still has an excellent chance of beating Sampras’ mark of 14 and unlike Pete, Federer actually competed well at Roland Garros, making it to the finals three times. It just so happens that he was defeated by the man who might be the best clay court player of all time, Rafael Nadal. It might also be that this was Rafa’s gift to Roger for making him cry at the Australian Open.

Venus, Serena Dropped the Ball with Shahar Pe’er in Dubai

Earlier this week the Barclays Dubai WTA tournament didn’t let Israeli player Shahar Pe’er play in the tournament. Specifically the United Arab Emirates did not allow her a visa into the country citing security issues because she’s Jewish. The WTA considered canceling the tournament but determined it wouldn’t be fair to all the other players who had already arrived in Dubai and were prepared to play. They also threatened not to return to Dubai next year. Since then, the UAE has said they will grant a visa to Andy Ram, an Israeli male, so he can participate in the men’s tournament next week. I’m particularly perturbed that more tennis players didn’t stand up for Pe’er and threaten to boycott the tournament for their blatantly discriminatory practice. I’m also upset with Venus Williams and Serena Williams for not stepping up when the opportunity presented itself. Here was Venus’ reasoning:

“I have to look at the bigger picture. The big picture is that Shahar Peer didn’t get a chance to play, but making an immediate decision we also have to look at sponsors, fans and everyone who has invested a lot in the tournament.

There are so many other people involved. Sponsors are important to us,” Williams said. “We wouldn’t be here without sponsors and we can’t let them down. Whatever we do, we need to do as a team – players, sponsors, tour and whoever – and not all break off in one direction. We are team players.”

What disappoints me is that in a time when Venus had a chance to step up and make a statement against what she knows is wrong, she decided to recite the company line and cite economical reasons. The reason I single out the Williams sisters is because they are two of the biggest names on the tour and because they have experienced racial discrimination in their lives. If anyone would know how badly Pe’er feels and how important it is to speak up at a time like this, I would think it would be them. Moreover, from what I could tell, they were the only American women (and certainly by far the most prominent if there were others) in the tournament, representing a country that stands for equal rights and democracy. If ever there was a time to take a stand, this was it. It’s a shame that they and the other women didn’t speak up.

Video: Roger Federer Cries Following Loss to Rafael Nadal at Australian Open

Man, I wish Australia wasn’t on such a different time schedule from us because they really screwed up my sleeping routine as I had to stay up late watching this epic battle. The awesomeness of the competition between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the finals of their five set match in Melbourne is indescribable. Both players raised the game of tennis to new levels. It wasn’t about choking or collapsing, nor was it about unforced errors or double faults. It was about who could top who with the better shot. These two shot-makers were on top of their game. They hustled to every ball, produced winner after winner, truly showing that they were the top two players in the world, and two of the best ever. Balls you never thought a player could get to, they retrieved. Shots you never thought they could make, they pounded. Just when you thought Roger could get a break, Rafa blasted one up the line. Just when you thought Rafa would get a break, Roger responded with an ace. In the end, Nadal appeared to be the fresher body as he rose up to a new height and dominated Fed in the final set. Though he was unfairly playing on less rest, Nadal was in excellent condition and persevered.

While the play of the match was astounding, one of the lasting impressions I’ll have was Roger Federer’s post-match acceptance of the runner up’s trophy (video below).

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