Irina Falconi


Venus Williams (above) on Ashe Monday night.

Twenty-one time major champion Venus Williams withdrew from the 2011 US Open a little while ago, just prior to her 2nd round matchup with the 22nd seeded German, Sabine Lisicki, on Arthur Ashe.  Williams made a statement in which she cited that she has just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome which causes joint pain and extreme fatigue, among other things.

Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Today, as many as four million Americans are living with this disease.

Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.

With upwards of 4,000,000 Americans suffering from Sjögren’s syndrome, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. Nine out of 10 patients are women.

http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens-syndrome

What a shame for Venus, who looked to be in decent form Monday when she opened this year’s first US Open evening session with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Russian Vesna Dolonts in 78 minutes.  Though Venus is yet to speak directly to the media since her withdrawal, the speculation within the tennis community is that Williams will shut it down for the rest of the year.  We have seen a gutty Venus play through pain at majors many a time.  If she isn’t going to play at Flushing then we would agree with that speculation.  Venus has gutted out many an injury at the majors, even as recently as the 2011 Australian Open.  She had seemed upbeat about her chances here and reportedly had an excellent week of practice in Harlem in preparation for The Open.

Williams had a lot of pressure on her to defend her points from last year’s US Open, when she reached the semi-finals, giving eventual champion Kim Clijsters a good run.  By not defending those points, Venus will find herself outside the top 100 when the new rankings are published.  We would expect Williams to return to the game with a vengeance when she is able to, and we look forward to it.

For Lisicki, the walkover she received today was the first one in her career to come at a major.  To her credit, Lisicki was very disappointed by the walkover and she was sincerely concerned for Venus.  Lisicki looks like she will be facing Dominika Cibulkova in the 3rd round, who is on her way to victory right now against young American Irina Falconi.

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We were very lucky to sit front row at the US Open yesterday for American hopeful Sloane Stephens (serving above) and Reka-Luca Jani of Hungary.  From everything we saw prior, Sloane Stephens looked to us to be if not the best, then the 2nd best American tennis prospect in the land, and her 6-2 lead after one set seemed to bear that out.  And then the middle set and a half came.  Though the 18 year old Stephens gutted out the victory by winning a break of serve while Jani was serving for the match, and although she trailed 3-2 in the deciding breaker and then reeled off the last 5 points, we’d rather be hard on her than easy.  Let’s be real.  Is Stephens to be lauded for beating a 5’4 girl 2 years older than her who also never won a match at a major (or even competed in one before yesterday) and who is ranked about 225th in the world?

Stephens looked great early on.  She was so quick around the court, stalking the baseline, and it seemed like Jani could not hit an out and out winner.  Stephens was getting to everything.  The first set came and went and Jani looked headed for home.  In the 2nd set, Stephens looked tight, went down a break, and got no traction whatsoever on Jani’s service games.  She lost the set 6-3, and frankly, she looked like she was a junior again.  A lot of credit goes to Jani for the turn around.  Stephens has a laser beam forehand, not a lot of spin, that she gets on top of and that’s clearly her kill shot.  Jani has tactics, and variety, and against a one dimensional player, it was almost enough.

On American hards, Stephens has no business losing to a player like this, despite her limitations, to this point.  Did irk us that she hit only 3 volleys and blew an easy overhead?  Totally.  And by the way, if you are reading the match stats that counted her as 11 for 20 on her approaches, a poor percentage indeed, you might want to take more seriously the percentage than the credited approaches because she was moored to the baseline and we have good reason to question that stat.  Stephens is uncomfortable anywhere inside the tennis court.  Jani’s best play all night was the drop shot, which was a horrible sitting duck most of the time, but since Stephens can only go side to side and hates taking her hand off the racquet, just about every dropper hit to her backhand worked out for Jani, even when the droppers made the service line.

It’s not like Jani is Roger Federer.  She employed a little topspin, a lot of short balls, some approaches and some slice.  Stephens bashed flat forehands and hit looping backhands.  We can’t recall her hitting one slice backhand or taking her hand off the racquet, even for a lunge, once.  And she did not go for any winners on the backhand side.  It’s no way to win a match and at about the 1:40 mark, it looked like it had lost her the match, down a break at 4-5 in the 3rd.  Stephens did have a pretty live first serve, and she is well conditioned, and when doubt crept in for Jani in that 10th game, Stephens picked it up.  She had to or she was going home.  And she had the crowd, though there was a small but hardened Hungarian contingent annoyingly yelling out calls and shushing the rest of us, who we were happy to see, get shushed in the end.

I was preparing some comments to heckle Stephens with, or rather, constructive criticism, to nail her with if she lost.  I was gonna yell, “No variety Stephens!”  That would have been putting it kindly.  She’s only 18 and she has time to get comfortable with her secondary shots and develop more tennis sense and work on her backhand.  But still, I was not that impressed.

We’ve been away.  Now we’re back.  Odds for today’s tennis out at Flushing:

12:30 PM EST

__ __ __

Juan Martin Del Potro:  – 10000

Filippo Volandri:  + 2500

____________________________________

Rui Machado:  + 600

Robin Haase:  – 1200

____________________________________________

Denis Istomin:  – 175

Ryan Sweeting:  + 125

_________________________________________

Shuai Peng:  – 400

Tsvetana Pironkova:  + 250

__ __ __

1:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Alex Bogomolov:  – 1200

Steve Johnson:  + 600

___________________________________

Somdev Devvarman:  + 2500

Andy Murray:  – 10000

_________________________________

Marion Bartoli:  – 225

Christina McHale:  + 165

__ __ __

2:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Ricardo Mello:  + 1000

Gilles Simon:  – 2500

__ __ __

2:30 PM EST

__ __ __

Robby Ginepri:  – 180

Joao Souza:  + 130

______________________________

Nadia Petrova:  – 300

Polona Hercog:  + 200

_____________________________________

Coco Vandeweghe:  + 700

Sam Stosur:  – 1500

__ __ __

3:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Dominika Cibulkova:  – 400

Irina Falconi:  + 250

__________________________________

Venus Williams:  + 110

Sabine Lisicki:  – 150

__ __ __

4:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Jack Sock:  + 185

Marc Gicquel:  – 275

_____________________________________

Yanina Wickmayer:  – 375

Alla Kudryatseva:  + 235

__ __ __

4:30 PM EST

__ __ __

Angelique Kerber:  + 550

Agnieszka Radwanska:  – 1000

_________________________________________

Flavia Pennetta:  – 400

Romina Oprandi:  + 250

__ __ __

5:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Marcos Baghdatis:  + 200

John Isner:  – 300

__ __ __

7:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Andy Roddick:  – 1500

Michael Russell:  + 700

__ __ __

9:00 PM EST

__ __ __

Anastasiya Yakimova:  + 1200

Maria Sharapova:  – 3000

……

A couple of things to mention here.  How often does Venus get a plus next to her name?  Nightmare matchup for Lisicki.  We’d like to see ugly 2-handers, Peng and Bartoli, out of here.  Especially Bartoli, facing young Jersey girl Christina McHale.  Angelique Kerber defeated our little darling, Lauren Davis.  We could see her being a nice bet against Radwanska who seems to be an awfully big favorite.  Who’s betting 1000 to win 100 on a Radwanska girl?  We’d like to think Coco and Jack have a shot today.  Especially Sock, against the very ancient Gicquel.  We are liking Hercoq against the burly Petrova, especially after she steamrolled Mattek-Sands, 1 and 3.  We like Falconi over Cibulkova, thinking she’s played well and that it’s a great matchup for her.

Romina Oprandi in action after predictably taking out Oudin (does she have to get bageled in every loss?).  Isner-Baghdatis might be the best match of the day.  We like Steve Johnson, USC’s NCAA champ, against Bogomolov, who we have never seen as – 1200 against anyone, and maybe never even seen as a favorite. 

Big day for USA potentially.  And Madison Keys could have gotten us off very well by finishing off Lucie Safarova.  Not to be, once again showing it takes more than defense to win at this level.

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Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (above), who “upset”  15th seed Jelena Jankovic today, as we expected.

As you know, we were on Radek Stepanek today, and unfortunately for us, after taking the first 2 sets from Fernando Verdasco, whom we think is a quite poor big match player, the Spaniard got out of jail, winning 3 straight sets, and 9-7 in the extended fifth.  We aren’t about to apologize.  This is the kind of action we like, and we’d go the same way if there was a rematch of these 2 on grass tomorrow.  Some of other picks did a little better.  We think that Gonzo is officially back, after popping 25 aces and playing very clean tennis against Alexandr Dolgopolov, who got stung by an abysmal draw.  Gonzo hit 50 winners and had only 19 UFE in a very entertaining match in which Dolgopolov played pretty well, save for his weak second serve, now very exposed come fast court season.

We loved Ryan Harrison and along with Gonzalez and Martinez Sanchez, we were very happy with a nice trio of wins from those dogs.  Simply put, Dodig was not the same player he was last week against Harrison, who dominated every positive category except aces.  Harrison will play David Ferrer in round 2, and we’ll be liking him again in that matchup on Thursday.  Harrison is a very tough kid, for an American.  Very atypical of the sort of tennis brats our nation has been raising.  Speaking of brats, how about that Melanie Oudin, who caught a bagel and a breadstick from Ana Ivanovic, in the route of the day.  Oudin should give it up.  How sad was that performance, in which she won a mere 15 points out of 39 on serve, and a meager 8 points in the return game?

Frankly, we are absolutely sick of seeing her touted as a rising American.  She has gotten by too long on her opponents double faults.  If we trot her out for Fed Cup again, I’m gonna puke.

We thought Lleyton Hewitt would out-tough Kei Nishikori on the grass, and he did, for his 104th career win on grass.  We also thought talented 1-hander Sergiy Stakhovsky would roll British hack Daniel Cox, and he did.  We had Isner going through, if you recall, with few breaks of serve, and we loved Dimitrov, and fully expect him to come through when his match is resumed tomorrow.  The Bulgarian 1-hander who has been called by some a Federer clone wass up 7-5, 7-5, 3-3 when darkness fell.

On the women’s side, sure we went against Wozniacki, as we will in every round until she is eliminated.  We weren’t impressed with the short work she made of Parra Santonja, and have no respect for her game or rank.  As we expected, Irina Falconi, a terrible favorite, fell easily to Stephanie Dubois of Canada, 2 and 2.  Tamira Paszek came through againt Ayumi Morita in 3 sets, and will draw suprise winner from New Jersey, Christina McHale in the second round.

And before we get to the morning’s odds, we’d just like to mention that Serena had a very tough match and seemed, by her post match comments, just happy to be there and to have won a match.  We have seen her get hot many times, and many times, off of long layoffs, notably dusting Justine Henin, and silencing the “Serena is fat” bandwagon by winning at Melbourne while fat, but we just feel like this may be a bit too much for here here, despite a favorable draw.

Serena may bow out early.  And we might be betting against her.  As for tomorrow’s odds:

Nadal:  – 12000

Sweeting:  + 3000

___________________________

Fish:  – 400

Istomin:  + 250

__________________________

Hanescu:  + 700

Roddick:  – 1500

____________________________

Paszek:  – 175

McHale:  + 125

_________________________

Dulgheru:  + 250

Kuznetsova:  – 400

……..

We think Kuznetsova’s movement is suspect on grass, and we don’t like her as a big favorite here.  McHale has a fighter’s chance in what is basically a toss up.  We hate Roddick at minus 1500, and Nadal at minus 12000.  I mean, who really wants to lay 1500 units or 12000 units to win a 100.  I’ll take my chances with the dogs at those rates.  We also don’t like Mardy Fish much at (-400), and don’t think he’s much good in the big spot.  There are a lot of 1st round matches yet to come off, and we spoke about some of them yesterday.  We didn’t mention Kristina Barrois,  a one hander whom we have a soft spot for.  We are pulling for her, a slim favorite over Petra Cetkovska.  And Bethanie Mattek-Sands is (-600) against Misak Doi.  Wow.  Another sign of how bad the women’s game is.  Gun to our heads, we’d say Hanescu/Istomin would be our long shot parlay of the day.  Maybe throw in Ryan Sweeting if we are feeling really crazy.  A 5 unit 3 team parlay there would net 4340 units, if the stars aligned.

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Impressive young American Ryan Harrison, who once again bulled his way through qualifying, with Pistol Pete Sampras (above).

There are some very interesting matchups, as well as odds, for Day 2’s action at The Championships.  Take a look at the odds and our thoughts, below:

Ivan Dodig:  – 275

Ryan Harrison (USA):  + 185

______________________________

Alexander Dolgopolov:  – 400

Fernando Gonzalez:  + 250

________________________________

Grigor Dimitrov:  – 225

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe:  + 165

_________________________________

Nicolas Almagro:  – 180

Jarkko Nieminen:  + 130

_________________________________

John Isner:  – 250

Nicolas Mahut:  + 175

______________________________

Kei Nishikori:  – 110

Lleyton Hewitt:  – 130

_______________________________

Bernard Tomic:  – 180

Nikolay Davydenko:  + 130

________________________________

Ernests Gulbis:  + 175

Dimitry Tursunov:  – 250

________________________________

Frank Dancevic:  – 500

Ricardo Mello:  + 300

____________________________

Andreas Seppi:  – 225

Albert Montanes:  + 165

_____________________________

Wozniacki:  – 5000

Parra Santonja:  + 1500

_______________________________

Medina Garrigues:  + 165

Goerges:  – 225

____________________________________

Kerber:  – 200

Robson:  + 150

_______________________________

Falconi:  – 175

Dubois:  + 125

____________________________

Jankovic:  – 300

Martinez-Sanchez:  + 200

………..

We didn’t know much about Ivan Dodig, to be honest, until we saw him play a few very sensible grass court matches last week.  Still, we see young Texan Ryan Harrison as a special player to be, and we like his recent work, most notably, a big win against a very hot Milos Raonic at Indian Wells.  We’d take Harrison, who is looking for his 1st win on European grass (he had a couple of wins in Rhode Island last July).  We like Gonzo as a big underdog.  Dolgopolov has underwhelmed on specialty surafaces, and though it’s hard to know how well Gonzo has healed from his knee problems, he is a big time player with an immnse serve and forhand when right.  you know we love our one hander Grigor Dimitrov, especially in this matchup with a relative unknown.  Dimitrov has progressed very well in the last year, and a win tomorrow would be a nice step for him.  Giant John and Mahut set to rumble again.  Mahut is a kid we just love because he has a great attitude, great hands, and plays the right way.  But we’ll take Isner.  Neither guy has much of a return game, which hurts Mahut more against the 6’9 ace machine.  Japan’s finest, Kei Nishikori, against former champ Lleyton Hewitt…hard to tell how right Hewitt is, but he’s a fighter.  Keep that in mind.  Welcome back to high level tennis for Dimitry Tursunov, who had 3 major ankle surgeries in the last 2 years.  Against Gulbis, we should see some giant groundstrokes, and not much holding back.  Would be a great win for either guy.  We have always loved 1-handed Canadian Frank Dancevic, a heavy favorite tomorrow.  Good luck to James Blake against Baggy…he’ll need it, and he desperately needs a win and some confidence. 

On the ladies side, we think Caesar’s is crazy to put such a ridiculous number on Caroline Wozniacki.  We’re taking APS and the plus 1500.  It girl, flavor of the month, talk of the villages, Julia Goerges, is such a slight favorite over AMG…can it be right?  Just another shining example of how weak the women’s game is.  We’d love to Laura Robson, the young Brit, come through.  American youngster Irina Falconi, who has perhaps played 1 or 2 good weeks of tennis is her young career, is favored tomorrow.  We’re skeptical.  We love Martinez Sanchez, probably the best lady Spaniard on grass, and think she will give Jankovic, whom we despise for her gutless, hack style, much trouble.  And though not listed above, we like Radek Stepanek a lot at (+ 150) for an upset special over Cahill’s special boy, Fernando Verdasco.

Nice parlay opportunities tomorrow with the dogs.  If you want to get crazy, go Parra Santonja, Harrison, Martinez-Sanchez, Verdasco, and Gonzo.  A 5 unit wager on that combo would pay out 5,985 units should the stars align.  And please remember that we like certain bets, but don’t necessarily believe they will come in.  That’s why it’s gambling, kids.  May as well try to win big if you are going to play.

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2011 Rome Masters Champion, Maria Sharapova (above).

We thought Caesar’s was rough on the men, and they were, if you aren’t Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal–the only men given a shadow of a chance to win at Roland Garros.  Wait until you see the odds for the ladies chamionship:

French Open Ladies Champion Odds

Agnieszka Radwanska:  + 5000 (wager 100 units to win 5000, plus initial wager)

Alexandra Dulgheru:  + 10000

Alisa Kleybanova:  + 10000

Ana Ivanovic:  + 2500

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:  + 4000

Andrea Petkovic:  + 3000

Aravane Rezai:  + 10000

Caroline Wozniacki:  + 500

Daniela Hantuchova:  + 10000

Flavia Pennetta:  + 8000

Francesca Schiavone (defending champion):  + 1500

Jarmila Groth:  + 10000

Jelena Jankovic:  + 1500

Kaia Kanepi:  + 10000

Kim Clijsters:  + 1000

Maria Sharapova:  + 800

Marion Bartoli:  + 6000

Na Li:  + 2500

Nadia Petrova:  + 12500

Petra Kvitova:  + 1000

Samantha Stosur:  + 800

Svetlana Kuznetsova:  + 1500

Vera Zvonareva:  + 1000

Victoria Azarenka:  + 450

Yanina Wickmayer:  + 5000

Yaroslava Shvedova:  + 12500

Field (Any Other Player):  + 800

Comments:

Right off the bat, we find it very interesting that only 4 players have odds better than or equal to any other player in the field.  That’s a huge indicator that this field is wide open, and that the odds makers do not have a lot of confidence in anyone.  By the way, did we miss the newsflash about Petra Kvitova?  She’s been given good odds despite having reached the 4th round at Roland Garros only once, and having only a 3-2 lifetime record there.  She has had a good year, and won Madrid, but considering the depleted field, we can’t even call it impressive fashion.

Kim Clijsters, fresh off of a long layoff due to an ankle injury suffered at her cousin’s wedding, is strapping up for Roland Garros, knowing the window for this major is closing for her.  We usually like her after long layoffs, but not when she’s hurt.  She’s a + 1000, and normally, you’d have to jump all over that, except, how many people win the Frech with serious ankle injuries?

We like Zvonareva a bit at + 1000, who has an 18-7 record at Roland Garros, a quarter-final appearance in 2003, and 2 round of 16 appearances, though only one “recently” (2008).  Zvonareva is a smart player and we like her style.  She may be able to navigate such a downtrodden field.  As for Stosur and Sharapova, we like neither, and Stosur especially, has shown us nothing in the big spot.  Stosur has definitely been the better clay courter here recently, and yet Masha destroyed her Sunday in Rome, and is 8-0 lifetime in the matchup.  We aren’t rushing to put anything down on any of these ladies though.

There’s lots of respect for the favorite, Victoria Azarenka, and she is the favorite with good reason.  She has power and mobility, and keeps the ball in play, unlike world #1, Caroline Wozniacki, who has no power.  Now would be a great time for either of these ladies to step up and grab their first real hardware, but neither look that good to us.  Azarenka recently came up lame and retired in the 2nd set against Sharapova last week, and Maria simply took Wozniacki to school.

Gun to our head, we’d probably lay the money on Sharapova, the most tested and true champion in the field, who also happens to be playing a lot, and playing well.  The weaknesses in her game on real tennis courts, like her inability to move forward, volley, and hit over-heads will affect her less on clay, where she will be content to play everything from the baseline.  And, she may get a little extra motivation from her man, Sasha Vujacic, who has been travelling with her since the Lakers got swept.  Otherwise, we’d be all over Clijsters, but a bad wheel at Roland Garros is very bad news.

With this diluted field, maybe even a young American can catch a break.  If Sloane Stephens can take out Anastasia Pivarova in the final round of qualifying, then Sloane is into the main draw, along with the diminutive Irina Falconi, who won the USTA’s French Open wildcard competition, and not our girl Lauren Davis, much to our chagrin.  World #124 Jamie Hampton, an Alabama product, is also one win away from qualifying for the main draw.  It’s also nice to see Pennsylvania’s Alison Riske is in to the main draw, and will be playing in her first French Ope.  And here’s to the field getting healthy for Wimbledon.  We can live with a piss poor champion in the mud, but not on the royal lawns.

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