0 Comments · Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Robert Geathers is entering his ninth
year with the Bengals and is now the most tenured member of the team. He
was drafted in the same class as Chris Perry, Keiwan Ratliff and Madieu
Williams. He’s been a member of all three of Marvin Lewis’ playoff
teams, seen the high times and low, but has rarely been in the
spotlight. That’s pretty much how he likes it.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 29, 2012
For a few months the Pirates were a nice,
uplifting story, but deep down everyone knew the Cardinals were the
real threat, the real enemy of the Reds.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 22, 2012
When the Reds announced that Joey Votto
needed knee surgery and was going to miss a month, most thought the
best-case scenario would be the first-place Reds treading water and
hopefully keeping the Pirates and Cardinals at bay. And even that was
seen as a bit optimistic.
by tt stern-enzi
Posted In: Tennis
at 09:24 AM | Permalink
Saturday semifinals and on the men’s side, the only real
intrigue comes from looking ahead to the finals, although any player
will tell you that they can never overlook the opponent immediately
across the net.
Novak Djokovic, the number two seed, goes toe-to-toe with
the sixth seed from Argentina Juan Martin Del Potro, the first man other
than Rafael Nadal to steal a Grand Slam from Federer during his amazing
run from a few years ago. Del Potro has dealt with injuries, which
slowed him down following his US Open win, but he’s back and clearly has
what it takes to reach the finals here.
Djokovic has definitely brought that return game of his,
which will be key against the taller Del Potro who takes advantage of
his height. The first set stays on-serve until Del Potro litters a serve
game with two double faults and Djokovic breaks for a 4-2 lead. From
that point, it’s a routine set of holds with Djokovic winning the set
Djokovic breaks Del Potro during his second service game
in the second set. A pair of holds before Djokovic breaks again (Del
Potro fails to win a point during this service game) for a 5-2 lead.
Watching the latter portion of this set, its curious to see Djokovic
pushing Del Potro further and further off the baseline with punishingly
deep shots. And he pushes and shoves him right out of the match with a
final ace [6-3, 6-2].
The other semifinal match is all Swiss, all the time. The
number one-seed and world’s number one player Roger Federer against
Stanislas Wawrinka. The two teamed up to capture the gold in doubles in
the Olympics and having served as practice partners over the years,
there’s a real familiarity that could make this match intriguing.
Federer comes out and it is apparent that as the man is
king of all he surveys. The crowds are overwhelmingly behind him,
granting him home court advantage, although its not like he needs it.
The first set features flashes of brilliance from each man
as they hold serve with Wawrinka confirming that he has a powerful
weapon in his serve. He logs more aces than Federer, yet Federer's net
play and shot selection more than keeps him in the match. By the
inevitable tiebreak, the all-around game of Federer leads to a 7-4 win.
The second set is more of the same as they trade holds up
through 3-games all, and then Federer sneaks in a break and a strong
hold for a 5-3 lead. The expectation is for a Wawrinka hold and then
Federer to serve it out, but an untimely double fault for Wawrinka gives
the game and match to Federer [7-6 (7-4), 6-3].
Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic. The number one seed
versus the number two seed – the first time the two top seeds have met
in the finals at the W&S Open. This is the match everyone was
waiting for and the crowds are raucous.
On court, the action takes an unexpected turn. Federer
breaks immediately, holds and then breaks again for a 3-0 lead. He holds
again at love and unbelievably breaks once more for 5-0. Is Djokovic
hurt? He makes no calls for his coach or a trainer and simply lets
Federer serve out the first set [6-0]. Has he ever been blanked in a
set, in an event final?
When Djokovic holds to start the second set, the crowd
whoops it up, hoping to provide him with a charge. And now both players
look like the top seeds we came to see. The service games add up and
there’s the sense that a tiebreak is in store.
When it arrives, the temperature seems to rise. Heat and
excitement generate a palpable jolt. Federer grabs a mini-break on
Djokovic’s first serve and holds his two points. Before the air deflates
out of the stands, Djokovic holds and breaks back. Back and forth they
go. At 6-6, with the crowd firmly in his corner, Djokovic holds to take a
7-6 lead, but Federer scores a huge smash before taking the next two
points and the match.
He raises his arms and grants Mirka a knowing nod as he
walks over to towel off before the trophy presentation. This match sets
the field on notice that Federer is ready to extend his Grand Slam
singles title count even further and everybody, including the defending
champion, better watch out.
The women’s finalists, ninth seed Na Li (CHN) and the
fifth seed Angelique Kerber (GER), have the distinction of being the
players who took out the Williams sisters on the way towards this
meeting and each of them has proven capable of slugging it out or
exerting their will through carefully constructed points.
Much like the men’s final though, this one starts off
rather one-sided. Kerber follows up an all-business hold with a quick
break of Li and another hold. Li
finally hangs on during a service game, but what has undone her thus
far is an inability to rein in her shots. Serves and groundstrokes sail
far and wide in an-ever increasing avalanche. She seems confounded by
her lack of control, but by the time Kerber has earned the first set at
6-1, Li has no answers and yet, it is Kerber who calls for an on-court
conference with her coach.
The second set offers more of the same, as Li continues to
push shots, except for her swinging half-volleys, which she nails with
surprising accuracy. Somehow, she settles into a groove and evens things
up at 3-all. Kerber lapses into a funk and before you know it, Li has
secured the second set 6-3.
Li breaks to open the third set and suddenly, the two have
completely switched games. Kerber can’t keep the ball on the court or
as the games mount, it looks like she’s frustrated by Li’s ability to
power shots all over the court. Kerber begins to stop chasing down shots
that she consistently reached in the first set. She calls for a second
pow-wow with her coach after falling down 3-0. Li aces her to take the
fourth game, but Kerber digs deep enough to win her next service game
and the crowd perks up for a minute, checking Kerber’s resolve. Unfortunately, Kerber had nothing left in the tank and she allowed Li to sweep her off the court without much resistance.
The final score [1-6, 6-3, 6-1] doesn’t quite reflect the
curious lack of sharp precise play. It will be interesting to see if
either player can use today’s effort as a springboard into the US Open.
The women’s side of the upcoming Slam appears wide open, ready and
waiting for someone, anyone to step up to the big stage, like Stosur
last year. At this rate though, it will take far more from either of
these finalists to own that epic moment.
by tt stern-enzi
Posted In: Tennis
at 05:39 PM | Permalink
As the tournament progresses, it
challenges us to keep up with the evolving storylines — the sudden
defeat of major players and the quiet emergence of those who have
escaped notice, the silent assassins.
My day started on Court 3, a make-up
match between the ninth seed Na LI (CHN), the first Grand Slam winner
from China, and qualifier Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who, on the
morning of this match, was celebrating her 24th birthday
and in her debut here in Cincinnati.
Li has been in the spotlight, with two
Slam finals last year, but at 30 years old, one has to wonder if she
has peaked too late. She is six years older than her opponent, but
today, it is best to focus on experience rather than age because she
displays a potent blend of wisdom and execution as she forces her
younger foe to work harder and harder for the points she wins on her
serve, while Li cruises through her own service games. She breaks
Larsson twice with surgically precise shot placement, moving Larsson
around at will. When Li captures the first set 6-2, it is plain that
she is firmly in command and using the match as practice because
thanks to the suspension of play from the previous night, the winner
here will end up playing again tonight.
Another holdover from the rain delay is
the battle between Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) and Anastasia
Pavlyuchenkova (RUS), which was called with Pavlyuchenkova already up
a set (6-4) on the number six seed and former number one player in
By the time I settled into the stands,
Wozniacki was down 4-3 in the second and Pavlyuchenkova held to take
a 5-3 lead. The Russian woman looked like a pounding brawler, but a
couple of points dispelled that misconception. Pavlyuchenkova
tempered her obvious strength with well-placed balls that unerringly
found line and corners of the court just beyond Wozniacki’s reach.
A hold from the higher seed set up an opportunity for Pavlyuchenkova
to serve out the match, much to the chagrin of the vocal fans on the
Grandstand who possibly hoped to be able to catch a glimpse of Rory
McIlroy later in the evening. Alas, it was not to be. Pavlyuchenkova
slammed that book shut, earning a spot opposite Petra Kvitova to
compete for a coveted semifinal match, where maybe the fans might
join her cause.
Next up on the Grandstand, Venus
Williams and the three-seed Samantha Stosur (AUS), the reigning US
Open champion. Venus has had to exert a great deal of effort along
the way and would probably appreciate an easier match here, but with
the formidability of Stosur and her compact, punchy power that’s
It is apparent though that Venus wants
to be the aggressor, as she stands on top of the baseline for
Stosur’s first serve and a foot inside on the second. This allows
her to get the jump and force Stosur off-balance. An early break and
a tough hold for Venus, followed by a quick hold and a break for
Stosur, and any hope for a quick two-setter are completely out the
window. Even though Venus breaks right back on her opponent’s next
two service games and ends up taking the first set 6-2, something in
the way Stosur carries herself says, this isn’t close to being
On Center Court, Novak Djokovic and
Marin Cilic (CRO) have already completed a set, which Djokovic took
6-3. Djokovic has had a fairly easy path thus far, especially his
previous match, which ended when Davydenko retired after losing the
first set 6-0, before last night’s rain. Today, he is a cat toying
with his well-contained prey. Cilic is definitely in a tight corner
with his back to the wall because before fans can blink, Djokovic is
serving for the match with a 5-2 lead and just like that, it’s
over. The cat has gobbled his prey up.
Stosur forced Venus to go back and
forth with her on their way to a second set tiebreak, which she
seized 7-2, but then Venus immediately broke her in the first game of
the third set. As Venus reaches 3-1, most thoughts start to drift to
a possible fantasy match-up of the Williams sisters in the final.
Serena is set to start on Center Court and has dominated her court
appearances thus far.
Television coverage of the end of the
Venus-Stosur match means that Serena and Angelique Kerber (GER) are
forced to wait.
A gritty battle for the final set goes
to Venus (6-4) and we are tantalizingly closer to the dream.
Joe Morgan handles the coin toss to
determine who serves to start the Serena-Kerber match. Serena serves
and promptly gets broken, although she does seem too bothered. Her
shots were either just a bit long or subject to the fickle fate of
bounces off the net cord, which she will certainly adjust to as the
Kerber, a much shorter player with
reasonable power, works on moving Serena around and capitalizing on
her error-prone play. There are flashes of Serena’s gifts – games
where her serve, one of the best in the women’s game, cannot be
touched – but those moments are fleeting. Instead, we see a Serena
who has trouble timing her shots, sending swinging volleys into the
net that should have been clear and rousing winners. She ends points
staring off at either where the winner should have fallen or confused
by the absurdity of this predicament she found herself in.
She seemed to be wondering where the
real Serena Williams was, and she wasn’t alone. The only person not
asking that question was Kerber, who took the match from whoever
happened to be standing there in Serena’s lime-accented attire.
Final score: 6-4, 6-4.
It is time to
dream another dream, it seems.
by tt stern-enzi
Posted In: Tennis
at 03:45 PM | Permalink
Monday was a bit of a wash, and yes, I mean that literally.
Unable to journey out during the daytime session, I braved rush hour
traffic in order to catch the evening match-ups.
News trickled in from loyal colleagues as the afternoon
progressed. Andy Murray felled by lucky loser, the Frenchman Jeremy
Chardy who had already dispatched Andy Roddick. Unfortunately for him
there are no other Andys in the draw. And Roger Federer was Roger
Federer, making routine work of his opponent.
So I just knew the night would be worth the trip, right?
Novak Djokovic versus David Davydenko. I imagined that the
Russian would force Djokovic to find his groove early. There would be
no time for half-stepping against the veteran. But from the start,
something was off with Davydenko. He wasn’t crisp and clean with no
caffeine, although Djokovic certainly was as he fired off aces and
returns. He wasn’t at the top of his game yet, but he was ready to shift
into that next gear when necessary.
It wasn’t necessary, not at all. He took the first set 6-0
and before I could blink — I actually had a wild hair in my eye that
was bothering me — he called for a trainer. No diagnosis was announced,
but Davydenko retired and the audience was quite gracious.
And then the rain began.
After the 45-minute delay Monday night, I was ready for a
brief wait and the promise of more tennis, because really I hadn’t
gotten much tennis at all thus far. But alas, it was not to be. The rain
fell steadily and lightning flashed like aces in the night sky and
tournament officials suspended play.
And so we all retired for the night.
by tt stern-enzi
Posted In: Tennis
at 10:37 AM | Permalink
After the more leisurely pace of the first day, which
afforded me the opportunity to settle in for whole matches at a time,
the second-day schedule presented quite a change right off the bat. As
always, I find myself drawn to a few select players, in the early
rounds, who don’t get the same level of attention as the top seeds but
who might be sleepers.
Center Court launched with Venus Williams as a wild card
facing the 12 seeded Maria Kirilenko (RUS). Williams, working her way back
into form while recovering from illness, still seemed more than capable
of handling Kirilenko and the first set, which she won 6-3, sent me off
in search of other signs of life.
Court 9 played host to another American wild card, Sloane
Stephens, who has attracted interest as a possible upstart in the
Williams sisters mold. She’s a solid African-American player who has
risen up through the U.S. system and has become one of the marketable role
models for kids in the summer recreation center programs around the
Her match, against Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL), offered an
up-close glimpse and she did not disappoint. Pironkova is a game
competitor with second-week experience in the majors, but she lacks the
power of the top players. She craftily uses finesse and movement to keep
herself in points, but Stephens seized the opportunity and dispatched
her handily (6-4, 6-1).
What was impressive about Stephens was the fact that she
went in with a game plan and executed it flawlessly. She knew
Pironkova’s weaknesses and attacked with power and pinpoint accuracy.
Stephens looks strong and fit, although the comparisons to the Williams
sisters seem forced. She’s not as tall as Venus or as strong as Serena.
Physically, she’s a step removed from each of them, yet a good blend of
their strengths. It remains to be seen if she will be able to harness
her talents and catapult forward, but the potential is certainly there.
Back on Center Court, Venus was prepared to serve out the
second set against Kirilenko, but a funny thing happened on the way to
that forum. A few slips at net and erratic serving led to a tiebreak,
which Kirilenko won (7-5) to force a third set.
The third was little more than a wake-up call for a
snoozing Venus who definitely looked a bit more like an awakened giant.
She took the match [6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2] and enjoyed the full support
and admiration of the fans on Center Court.
The fans would be on-hand to bolster the spirits of several others over the course of the day.
The second match on Center Court, between Andy Roddick and
lucky loser Jeremy Chardy (FRA), appeared to be more red meat for the
crowds. In the early going, Roddick used his booming serves to feed the
frenzy, routinely registering aces in the 130-range before dropping the
pace for a sneaky 110 mph kicker that completely froze his opponent.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As he sat at a podium in Mason,
Andy Murray wasn’t quite sure where his gold medal was. Murray, a week
removed from winning the Olympic gold medal for singles in men’s tennis,
was in Cincinnati while his prize was far away.
by tt stern-enzi
Posted In: Tennis
at 01:12 PM | Permalink
All of the qualifying matches, on both the men and women’s
sides, have been played and today marks the official start of the main
draws. There are preliminary press conferences scheduled with a select
group of top players and while the interviews may have star power and a
hint of intrigue – especially in light of the impact of inserting a
grass court Olympics event into the already crowded summer schedule – I
am drawn more to a few first round match-ups.
Veteran Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) dispatched the 13th seed
Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) with such ease and efficiency [6-1, 6-1] that I
never even made it out of the press box above Center Court down to
watch the match from inside the stadium. Dolgopolov fumed a bit, but was
clearly not ready for the steely Davydenko who is never unprepared.
I was able to march over to the Grandstand though for the
second match of the day on that court, featuring two Americans – the
qualifier Jesse Levine and young upstart Donald Young who has cracked
the mid-to-upper ranks (world top 30) thanks to strong recent Grand Slam
showings. He’s got natural athleticism and solid command of his shots,
but the knock on him has been that he’s not as disciplined mentally as
he needs to be to truly make a sustained run.
And, unfortunately, today’s match offered proof to support
these claims. The duel between the two American lefties kicked off with
loose play from Young as he was broken easily in his first service game
and then sloppily dropped enough points for Levine to hold. Watching
Young, it felt like he started out in a much lower gear, so low, in
fact, that I would argue it’s a gear that the top players don’t even
have anymore at this stage. The guys in the Top Five start in third and
shift up from there, but Young was definitely in first and seemingly
stuck, although Levine wasn’t ready to jump on the opportunity. He
played down to Young’s level and I found myself pondering how quickly
the winner here would exit in the next round.
In a fit of frustration after a listless point, Young
muttered to himself that his shot “was the worst ever” and sadly, it
would have been hard to disagree with him. That attitude though, without
a corresponding rise in the level of play, is going to knock the wind
out of his sails and those of his fans. Buck up, Young man!The next match on the Grandstand, I was sure, would be
better. In another battle of countrymen, Francesca Schiavone (ITA) faced
off against wild card Camila Giorgi and I was hyped for a passionate
display from Schiavone who impressed me during last year’s W&S Open
with her never say die approach and gritty shot making. She has won a
Grand Slam on clay, which lines up with her skills (and robs the larger,
stronger players of their strengths), but the shots have to fall and
alas that was not the case against Giorgi.
Schiavone struggled to withstand the power of Giorgi, a
player who certainly looked equal to her in stature. There was
discipline and poise in every move Giorgi made, while Schiavone settled
into a surprising degree of resignation over the shots she was spraying
all over (and beyond) the boundaries of the court. She quickly
transitioned from frustration to acceptance that today, in this match,
Giorgi was simply better, but she fought to the last point, as we would
expect. In this case, as opposed to the Levine-Young match, I give
Giorgi solid odds to possibly advance further, mainly because she didn’t
simply let Schiavone give her the match; she earned it by seizing
control of points and making shots.
My final match of the day, the first of the evening on Center Court featured the 13th
seed and former Number One Jelena Jankovic (SRB) against Shuai Peng
from China. Jankovic won the women’s W&S title back in 2009, but has
been struggling to rebound back into the top ranks of late.
Rather than watch from the sheltered remove of the press
box, I ventured down to the photographer’s pit on court and by chance
ended up next to Peng’s coach. While I offered little more than a nod of
greeting when he initially sat down, I found myself alternating between
my own study of the match and a sneak bit of observation, focusing on
his reactions to his player’s efforts.
Much is made of the idea that players should not receive
coaching during a match, but a simple clap of encouragement or a
reminder to keep your head in the game or to watch a stroke seems
perfectly acceptable. Peng’s coach did these things, sparingly, and
often, it was little more than confirming something Peng (and many of
the observant fans in the stands) already knew. It was intriguing
interplay that never crossed the line, but also wouldn’t intrude upon
the player’s ability to think and strategize for herself. She is the one
out there in the match and any adjustments, whether large or small,
must come from her and their arrangement certainly gave her the control
Peng is a crafty and solid player who primarily uses a
two-handed swing on both sides. I’m not much of a fan of the two-handed
backhand because I believe that it limits the full range of the player’s
stroke and forces them to get into position faster to reach and make
certain shots, but watching Peng’s form, I must admit that she nearly
won me over. When she was set and on top of the ball, the two-hand swing
allows her to generate a great deal of power, which she can control and
direct to either side.
The best facet of her game though is her discipline and
mental toughness. Peng never once succumbed to rushing either a shot or
the pace of her play. There was always a sense of an inner calm and this
match certainly ended up pushing her to the limit.
Peng and Jankovic slugged it out for three long sets, the
final going to a tiebreak, alternating between brilliant shot making and
loose points. In addition, they suffered through a 45-minute rain
delay, but in the end, Peng stood triumphant, as Jankovic seemed ready
for the match to be over. After nearly 3 hours, it was hard to blame
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 8, 2012
It’s tough enough to make it to the big
leagues — but when an MVP blocks your way, the road to the majors is