Duval’s Debut

by garrettfail August 27, 2013

imageToday didn’t really look like a good day for tennis youngsters. ATP rising stars Jerzy Janowicz and Grigor Dimitrov fell in rather unexpected fashion. Albeit Janowicz was critically injured, but Dimitrov’s loss was a head-scratcher for sure. The women’s side faired somewhat better, with 18-and-under Nationals champ Sachia Vickery coming through and Christina McHale pulling out a win against hard-hitting Julia Görges. McHale toughed it out and turned around a 5-match losing streak, but it was shaky success against a player whose biggest weapons (the serve and forehand) have become far too unreliable to bring her back into the top 20 where she sat a year ago. The star of the day was an unheralded American hope.

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17-year-old Victoria Duval has the kind of rags-to-riches story that has really blown back the bougie background tennis has always been known for. Like Ivanovic and Jankovic and the Williams sisters, Duval probably wasn’t supposed to be on the court today. While a child in Haiti, she was apparently held up at gunpoint by a robber alongside an aunt and cousin — a sure “death sentence,” according to commentator Mike Tirico. Immediately after that, her mother picked up the family and moved to the U.S. When her father was gravely injured during the infamous Haitian earthquake that a occurred a few years ago, he was flown to the U.S. Luckily he survived. Which may explain why Victoria is so grateful for where she is at such a young age.

Duval’s epic and thrilling win over 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur proved so many things to me. The major takeaway for me was how unique an on-court personality Duval has. She’s just as athletic as fellow American star Sloane Stephens, but moves with more elasticity. Unlike Stephens’s big serve and groundstrokes, which explode with a disciplined crispness, Duval’s strokes seem to sling back across the court with massive speed — a result of the kind of bouncy athleticism that she exhibits as she whirls like a slinky through the court. Stephens explodes from 0 to 60 to get a seemingly impossible shot or to rocket a groundstroke for a winner. Duval gets to just as many improbable shots and launches them back just as potently because, like a chaotic bundle of energy, she can’t seem to stop herself. When she cracks her racquet on the court, as she so commonly does, it’s to immediately halt the spontaneous burst of momentum rushing from one end of her body to the other and to sling back the other way.  

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In my mind, Duval is the final third of a truly exciting trio of rising U.S. WTA stars that includes New York Daily News's new “IT” girl Stephens and 18-year-old Madison Keys. What I love about this trio is the kind of talent and power they all bring to tennis. Stephens and Duval produce some really amazing racquet head speed that gives them the power and shot acceleration. Keys, on the other hand, has easy power, which allows her shots to blast through the court like a Davenport or Kvitova.    

Duval is also a lot of fun on court. She’s a bubbly teen who wears her heart on her sleeve. Whenever she missed a winner on a crucial point or watched Stosur blast one past her, Duval furiously whipped her head upwards to the sky or smacked her racquet in frustration. As soon as she had beaten the U.S. Open champ, Duval jumped sky-high with the kind of glee so characteristic of “sweet seventeen.” Make no mistake though, Duval has poise and composure far beyond 17 years of experience. When down 4-2 in the second, she fought back to win it. As the match got tighter and tighter in the third, she held her nerve and kept going for her shots, which is a big ask for a teen facing a Slam champ playing at a pretty solid level. She has a really delightful, gracious, and unassuming personality, which makes her so easy to root for. When you hear her talk, Duval’s voice squeaks out of her mouth, seemingly trying to push out the thoughtful comments contained within. Here’s to hoping she can figure Hantuchova out come Thursday and flash that glass slipper for the rest of this year’s U.S. Open.

"Accountable Tennis," Part 1: Breaking down the Bad

by garrettfail August 26, 2013

Earlier today, as ESPN began its coverage of the 2013 U.S. Open, Pam Shriver referenced phrase that she claimed is a favorite of her fellow commentator Darren Cahill: accountable tennis. She was talking about Sloane Stephens shaky first-round win over a much much lower-ranked Mandy Minella. But her comment brought me back to the original discussion of “accountable tennis,” which happened during the 2013 Rogers Cup semifinals between 2011 French Open champ Li Na and up-and-comer Sorana Cirstea.

The term is not entirely obvious upon first glance but means what it says: playing the kind of tennis that is measured, patient, yet still powerful. The not-so-obvious meaning of the phrase led me to parse the brand of tennis that is currently making women’s tennis a one-sided affair (i.e. Serena dominating every player without an “Azarenka” in their name).

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I remember how suffocating it became to hear the phrase uttered over and over to condemn each error that came off of Li’s or Cirstea’s racquets during that match, but I also can’t blame Shriver or Stubbs for lingering so long on the topic. Li was giving them plenty of fodder. As is typical in a Li Na loss, the Chinese superstar basically blasted herself off the court. Sure, Cirstea has amazing racquet speed that allows her to rocket shots from both wings whenever she pleases, but Li couldn’t seem to get a ball in the court — let alone down the middle of it. She could’ve very well been having a bad day and I don’t mean to pick on her. Unfortunately, Li’s play is indicative of a larger problem for the WTA’s biggest stars.

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Li is just one of a few top players who seem to play with a certain reckless abandon that immediately ends in an winner or an error. Getting the ball in or extending the point appears to be secondary to pure pace. Petra Kvitova, for example, has made her 2011 Wimbledon win seem like beginner’s luck with the kind of inconsistent ball belting (or belting inconsistency) she relied on during her run to and eventual collapse in the final of the New Haven Open last weekend. Opponents that should be mincemeat for her are setting her up to blast shot after shot out of the court. 

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Like Kvitova, Sloane Stephens exemplified the kind of UN-accountable tennis that led to errors piling up at a frightening rate before she tightened the reigns and eked out the win. What accountable tennis targets in the women’s game is the recent tendency to wail on the ball. Obviously, wailing on the ball isn’t new, but wailing on the ball in awkward positions seems to be. Again, high-risk tennis isn’t new to tennis, but women like Kvitova or Li seem intent on forcing hyper-aggressive tennis down their opponent’s throats. The thing is: they don’t seem able to control their own aggression. 

Of course the commentators never really identified who exactly is supposed to benefit from players like Li or Kvitova employing “accountable tennis.” I’m assuming it’s a win-win-win that will give fans longer rallies and more interesting matches, give the players a better shot at winning, and (perhaps tangentially) give the commentators more material to dissect. I mean saying, “there’s another error of Li’s racquet to end the game” can only be so much fun. Which is where accountable tennis comes in. Martina Navratilova said it best today when she suggested that tennis is a game where winners are simply icing on the cake. The real job is to avoid the errors. 

by garrettfail August 12, 2013

Garrett and Melian here, bringing you INK’s first MUSIC MASHUP! Today we discuss the topic on everyone’s lips: will ROAR or APPLAUSE be more successful??

See the lyric video for ROAR here!

Listen to APPLAUSE here!

by viciouskitchen August 12, 2013

A blooper! I accidentally uploaded the wrong audio file. Listen in for 3 seconds of mild hilarity as I screw up the recording.

5 Tennis Players That Need to Come Back (Already!)

by garrettfail August 10, 2013

Tennis.com posted an interesting “what if” article a week or so ago, entitled "5 Tennis Players We’d Pay to See Come Back." Which got me thinking: who are the tennis players I want to see come back? I don’t have the kind of money to “pay” to see them come back, but that doesn’t mean the desire isn’t there! Tennis.com has listed as its big five:

  1. Jennifer Capriati
  2. Robin Soderling
  3. Nicole Vaidisova
  4. Lindsay Davenport
  5. Mario Ancic

My list certainly pulls from this list (I stole 2…guess which ones!), but there are a couple other players I added/changed for reasons of feasibility or interest.

Toward the top of most “Sports Stars Who Retired Too Young” lists are Justine Henin and Bjorn Borg, but both of them have had pretty successful careers in my opinion, so I’ve got some smaller names on this list. With Hingis coming back for a second time, anything’s possible! I’m starting with the player I most want to come back and restore some order to the tennis world.

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    Nicole Vaidisova (age: 24): Dubbed the next Maria Sharapova when she was only 16, Nicole had the smoothest “big babe” game I’ve ever seen. Her serve and forehand were the perfect combination of simplicity and beauty. When she made her maiden semifinal at the 2007 Australian Open, I hoped that both booming strokes would take her past eventual champion Serena Williams. She gave Serena all she could handle for two very tight sets. “Big Babe” tennis hasn’t been quite as aesthetically pleasing since she left. With her and Radek Stepanek divorced, she could focus on her own tennis for a change.

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    Elena Dementieva (age: 31): She will likely go down as the infamous “Best Player to Never Win a Slam” — and for good reason. Starting her career with an abysmal serve that welcomed double faults as frequently as it did crushing returns, Dementieva managed to turn her biggest weakness into a stable shot on the way to her 2008 Olympic Singles gold medal. She made it to two Grand Slam finals, despite a pitiful serve, with the help of her trademark thumping groundstrokes. With a gold medal in the basket, she could fill the void of consistency that is currently taking over the WTA. 

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    Robin Soderling (age: 28): The big-hitting Swede left the ATP tour in 2011 because of mono and has had a kid since then. His consecutive runs to French Open finals (downing the King of Clay on the way to his first) proved he could blast through even the slowest of surfaces. A return to the top doesn’t seem completely unlikely when you consider the kind of raw power and talent he possesses.

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    Anastasia Myskina (age: 32): The 2004 French Open champion has been focused on motherhood since she quietly left the tour. Career-threatening injuries forced her off the tour in 2007. She was known for a wily style of tennis à la Hingis, which would be a welcome reprive from the 1-2-bang tennis favored by most of today’s top players. Radwanska can’t be the only one holding up the “court craft” flag, after all. 

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    Guillermo Coria (age: 31): He lost the 2004 French Open to surprise winner Gaston Gaudio, who seems to have taken a similar path to tennis obscurity. Sly and quick like a fox on the court, Coria’s groundstrokes and deft drop shots led him to the clay-court final. There’s probably no more room for another clay-court specialist, especially in the era of Nadal, but it would certainly be interesting to see go up against the King of Clay and to see how well he could transfer his game to success on other surfaces. He made more than a comeback in 2003 after a brief ban from the game, so who’s to say he couldn’t do it again?

by viciouskitchen August 8, 2013

Podcast #16 wrapping up Week #16: listen in as we discuss our mixed thoughts on the 2013 Emmy Awards and the role of Netflix in the future of television.

(And stay tuned for the ending where Mark’s fan and keyboard drown us all out!)

Reality TV Roundup

by garrettfail August 5, 2013

It’s almost time for reality TV to start back up again in full swing! Sometimes the drama of who’s going to judge the contestants each season is more intriguing than the season’s actual content. Take last season’s American Idol for example. The Mariah-Nicki added as much, if not more, to the Idol brand than Candice Glover. Her win, in my mind, was all but assured once they hit the final rounds. But you never really knew what kinds of sparks were going to fly between Mariah and Nicki during live shows or off the air. As America’s Got Talent (and those other summer reality shows) winds down, I think it’s time we check in with the judging panels for our “Big Three” singing contests.

THE X FACTOR

The X Factor is the first one of these three shows to return to the small screen, so we’ll start with the Simon Cowell import. The show is struggling, to be honest. It hasn’t immediately lived up to the huge hype Cowell lavished on it before the show’s launch in 2011. Cutting the winner’s purse to $1 million from $5 million only substantiates that contention. After a second season that wasn’t much “fun” according to the big bad judge of all judges, both in terms of judges’ chemistry and of content (though there was some excitement with the final four), Cowell has assembled an all-female trio to join him at the “X Factor” table. Alongside Demi Lovato, who’s returning from last season, are Mexican superstar Paulina Rubio and Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland.  

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Cowell couldn’t be more pumped for the new panel, which is also a nice turn away from the typical male-female-male judging format. There is finally a female-dominated panel. And the excitement does certainly seem to be there, which is great to see. 

THE VOICE

There isn’t much to talk about here, so I’ll be brief. The original gang of four — Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton — is back for the fifth season. Last season’s crop, which kept Levine and Shelton but traded Green and Aguilera for one-namers Usher and Shakira, will be back for season six. I personally think this is a smart switch for the series, negating the perception that a standard set of judges defines and refines a reality show’s brand.  

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AMERICAN IDOL

We have to wait till January for this juggernaut to return and that is a good thing. The drama around this storied judging panel has been high-octane since Cowell left it for The X Factor. Mariah and Nicki abandoned ship after sensing the tepid response to their stints and Randy Jackson, who we all thought was going to go down with the ship, is no longer a full-time judge but, reportedly, will still have a role on the show.

The new lineup is an interesting mix of old and new. Last season’s voice of reason, Keith Urban, will be joined, per today’s news, by the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am. The sugary sweet Jennifer Lopez, judge of seasons 10 & 11, should be finalizing her contract any day now. I’m not so sure about the choice of Will.i.am, but he may prove to be the wild-card jolt of fun that Urban and Lopez can’t wait to have — a wonderful upgrade from last season’s contentious and just plain boring judging panel chemistry.

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While I was really hoping for an Idol all-stars panel (Hudson, Lambert, Daughtry?) and though the format is the traditional male-female-male one that Idol has become known for, season 13’s crew of arbiters looks to be just as much fun as X Factor’s does. Which means things are looking up on the reality TV front. This may all be petty drama and petty concern, but the judges have a major role in dictating the tone and level of excitement of its shows. Which couldn’t be more integral, especially with some singing competitions struggling to stay afloat and others really hitting their strides.