Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Great Indoors
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The Great Indoors 10/02/2006 - 10:41 AM

2006_10_02_bondarenko We’ve seen four Grand Slams, seven Masters events, the Fed Cup, and every Davis Cup tie but one. Now only one thing remains for 2006. It’s time for everyone’s favorite whipping boy, that part of the year when tennis' pointless schedule and most bizarre trophy designs are on full display: the indoor season!

This year, I’m not going to complain. Really, do any of us want less tennis? That seems to be a rather ungrateful thing for a fan to say. I think we want as much as we can get; we’d just like it to be organized in a meaningful way. Since that ship has sailed for 2006—last week the pros were scattered to Palermo, Mumbai, Bangkok, Luxembourg, Seoul, and Gangzhou, China—I’m just going to take in as much as I can. Unfortunately, there wasn’t nearly enough on U.S. TV over the weekend.

After broadcasting the Bangkok men’s event the last two years, the Tennis Channel limited itself to the women in Luxembourg this year. Too bad: Bangkok showed the newfound resilience of James Blake, as he bounced back from Davis Cup disappointment to win a by-all-accounts outstanding three-set semi over Marat Safin and then recorded his first career win over world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic. Blake, who’ll be 27 in December, is back up to No. 6 in the world and has won four tournaments this year. The late-bloomer is still a viable concept in men’s tennis.

Luxembourg was not without its entertainment value, however. While it started as a potential all-Russian showdown between Elena Dementieva and Nadia Pertrova, the tournament was quickly hijacked by two much-lesser-known Eastern Europeans. First, 17-year-old Agnieszka Radwanska beat Venus Williams and Dementieva. Despite losing to Francesca Schiavone in three sets in the semis, Radwanska was impressive. The Polish high-schooler was a top-ranked junior, winning the Wimbledon girls’ last year. Rather than simply bashing, she showed off a precocious control game and a level head over the week, typically choosing the right shot for the right moment.

Alona Bondarenko, a 22-year-old Ukrainian ranked No. 62 in the world, was even better. She simply bounced the Top 20 Schiavone off the court in the final, 6-3, 6-2. Bondarenko does bash in the now-classic Russian style: flat forehand, terrific two-handed backhand, penetrating strokes powered close to the lines, long legs, tight blond ponytail—you know the look, I think. While this was the biggest win of her career, she showed no sign of nerves. Even after a couple close calls went against her, Bondarenko stepped back, flipped her ponytail, and was ready to play the next point. During the match, I was under the impression that Bondarenko had recently graduated from a stellar junior career. “She’s going to be a good one!” I thought. Turns out I was thinking of her younger sister, Kateryna. Alona? Well, it’s taken her six years to reach the Top 60, which is hardly a sign of future greatness in women’s tennis—Martina Hingis probably could have been in the Top 60 at age 6—but she looked good today.

Without any more matches to report on, here's a quick look at the other happenings in tennis over the last week.

Gael Monfils heads for Bollettieri’s
The French kid, who’ll train at Nick’s with his own coach, was due for a change of scenery. His results have been wildly up-and-down this year, and he hasn’t utilized his immense athletic skills up until now. Instead, he’s played like a typical well-rounded Frenchman and been content to rally from way too far back in the court. Maybe the Bradenton philosophy—gun the forehand, control the center of the court—will be the right one for him.

Filippo Volandri wins Palermo after losing two straight finals there
The no-frills Italian baseliner is the definition of words like lunchbucket and workmanlike. He even walks around the court with a slight limp.

Dmitry Tursunov reaches the final in Mumbai
Next year, the Top 10. He may even become a better player than he is a blogger. Did you see his entry at the U.S. Open about drowning his sorrows by feasting at a hot dog stand?

Alex Corretja retires
I first saw him at the U.S. Open on a side court the round before he lost to Pete Sampras in the boot-a-thon of 1996. I liked the one-handed backhand and the gentlemanly attitude. He peaked with two French Open finals and a World Championship title in 1998, and he knew how to take apart even the biggest-hitting opponent with heavy spins and angles on clay. The Spaniard’s later years, though, when the hair got wilder and the ranking significantly lower, weren’t pretty.

Davis Cup first round highlights for 2007: Spain goes to Switzerland; the U.S. travels to the Czech Republic
These should be tough, down-to-the-wire ties, and we’ll get a glimpse of Federer and Nadal competing against each other in the biggest event of all for them.

Eliot Teltscher quits as head of USTA high performance
He said he didn’t feel like doing it anymore. Nationalized junior development in this country is at best a work in progress, at worst a quixotic adventure. ET follows fellow smart ex-pros like Paul Annacone and Tom Gullikson out the same office door.

Francesca Schiavone goes to 0-8 in finals
She appeared tired and didn’t put up much of a fight yesterday, but she’s become a consistent performer nonetheless.

Tim Henman defeats fellow Brit Andy Murray in Bangkok
There’s a first, and perhaps a last, time for everything.

Sam Querrey defeats Donald Young in Tulsa challenger 7-6 (7), 7-5
Querrey avenged his three-set defeat at Young’s hands in the Kalamazoo final last year. Then he lost to fellow American Phillip Simmonds. Who lost to fellow American Robert Kendrick. Who lost to fellow American Bobby Reynolds. It’s still a long way to the top of the Next Great American list.


Posted by dennis 10/02/2006 at 11:14 AM

welcome back, steve

Posted by Fan of Tennis 10/02/2006 at 12:42 PM

Thanks for the update Steve...and I'm like you - WHERE IS THE TENNIS!!!! Just because the grand slams are over doesn't mean the TV stations have to stop broadcasting tennis! Look at golf! We get a tournament every week. (and they wonder why golf is more popular in the US than tennis!)...we see it every freaking week!

I wonder why all the cable companies, satalite companies, etc., broadcast the 'Golf Channel' but you have to use a magnifying glass to find who carries the "Tennis Channel"? I remember when ESPN first started a lot of folks didnt get that station.... Now it's a household name. Maybe I can dream of the coming years when "The Tennis Channel" will become another ESPN and actually broadcast live tennis year-round... that off my chest...

PS Don't forget to visit Roger Federer's blog on the site from Toyoko since that will probably be all the 'tennis' we'll get to see/hear about from that tournament!

Posted by richie 10/02/2006 at 01:33 PM

Steve - Out here in the hinterlands we can never get enough tennis. Thanks for this latest update on matches and tennis news that sometimes finds its way to the very small print on the last page of out local newspaper when they need some filler material. I was glad to see Blake win - he has alway seemed to be just about to reach his potential and then takes a tough loss. The last part of your blog was interesting - this is news that never gets this far out. Alex Corretja was always a favorite of mine until he decided to play longer than he should have.

Posted by chloe02 10/02/2006 at 02:13 PM

Hi Steve - great news about Blake's performance in Bangkok. Although the final was a let down (to this Ljubicic fan, anyway), JB was impressive against Maratski especially keeping his cool when the big Russian lost the plot in the second set. So it looks likes there will be 2 Americans in the YEC, Shanghai and all those commentators will have to stop wringing their hands and stop writing 'US tennis is dead' articles.

Posted by Jennifer 10/02/2006 at 02:46 PM

Awesome that James Blake beat Ljubicic in the Thailand final. We now have two American men in the top ten and ready to qualify for YEC. Andy and James are representing.

Time to put the American-tennis-is-dead focus on the women where we have no top ten players for the first time. Ever.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 10/02/2006 at 09:23 PM

Bondarenko spent all her nerves in a tortuous semifinal, Steve -- that's why she didn't have any left!

Posted by Eck 10/04/2006 at 01:52 PM

Thanks for that American pecking order of the moment. That was very cool.
I saw Ryan Sweeting at DC tournament in August; he killed Gimelstob. Was that result an aberration in your opinion, Steve?
Is Sweeting for real?

Posted by Steve 10/04/2006 at 06:01 PM

Eck, this was my assessment of sweeting from a post i did at the open this year:

"Ryan Sweeting vs. Olivier Rochus
I started by getting a glimpse of the young American bad boy, Sweeting, a college player who was recently involved in a DUI incident. Sweeting looks like the prototypical U.S. player: tall and thin, with a backwards hat, a gun for a serve, and a two-handed backhand that limits his range. I was most impressed with his forehand, which he hits with more control and topspin than most other young players. He can create severe angles with it both crosscourt and inside-out. He won two sets from the always-solid Rochus yesterday before getting hurt in the fifth. Verdict: A pleasant surprise."

Posted by Eck 10/05/2006 at 10:27 AM

Thanks, Steve. I guess I could have done the legwork to find your blurb on Sweeting. I'll be more proactive next time.
Interesting about the DUI- I thought the kid was younger, for one thing. Pleasant truly describes the surprise when one finds a possible contender among the American men.

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