Thursday, May 29, 2008

My French Open Stars

Ones To Watch


Selima Sfar

Age: 30
Country: Tunisia
Ranking: 241

Throwback-style unseeded challenger who made a match of it with Venus Williams, whose WTA ranking is 234 places ahead of the No. 241 Tunisian. Any other player with even the slightest power game would have upset Williams, who played a typically sloppy and inconsistent game full of unforced errors and poor technique. But the petite (5-5, 121 pounds) Sfar, she of the one-handed backhand (a beauty), drop shots and slices, just didn't have any go-to weapons besides physical fitness and guile. Still, her 2-6, 4-6 loss to Venus was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests. As the UK's Guardian reported: "Williams will encounter few more perplexing assignments. Sfar, with her penchant for serve-and-volley, elegant one-handed backhand and willingness to mix looped topspin ground strokes with chipped drives, is a throwback to a bygone era. Faced with the Tunisian's variety of shot and tactic, Williams rarely looked settled."

Sfar, on the other hand, looked lovely, wearing a form-fitting one-piece that left little to the imagination and paid tribute to her washboard abs and taut legs. You can have your supermodels, Hooters waitresses, and pin-up girls; to me, nothing is sexier than a fit female tennis player with long, lean legs and a one-handed backhand(schwing!).


Sfar's Pilates-worthy abs

Sfar, who has been ranked as high as 75th in the world (July 2001), achieved most of her success in B-circuit ITF tournaments, where's she's won 11 singles tournaments and 17 doubles titles. But at 30 and with a finese style that doesn't fit today's power game, don't look for Sfar to win any major WTA tournaments; watch her simply for enjoyment of "the beautiful game" itself. That in itself makes this graceful athlete a winner.


Janko Tipsarovic
Age: 23
Country: Serbia
Ranking: No. 33

There's a new Serb gunslinger in town and he's got game. While the world rightly raves about Novak Jokovic - and Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on the women's side - Janko is the latest Serbian tennis star whose name ends in "vic" with a game ready to break into the Top 10. His trademarks, besides the noseguard over the bridge of his nose (what's that all about, anyway?) and the plentiful tattoos that peek out from under his shirt (forearm and back of neck), are his unbelievable power and baseline game. His forehand is a force to be reckoned with - this guy hits winners that leave no doubt about their intention - and his two-handed backhand is not far behind.

Tipsy started 2008 by reaching the third round of the Australian Open, where he more than held his own against World No. 1 Roger Federer, losing the deciding fifth set by 10-8 in a match that lasted 4 1/2 hours - no wonder they call the guy "Marathon Man"! He made it to the quarter finals at Zagreb, the third round of Monte Carlo (beating Paul-Henri Mathieu and Nicolas Lapentti before falling to David Ferrer), and barely lost a third-set tiebreaker to big-serving Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in Rome. He's also beaten James Blake this year. At the French Open, he lost in the first round, in four sets, to Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, but is still alive through the third round in men's doubles with fellow Serb partner Victor Troicki.

Oh, and about those tattoos. According to Wikipedia, they reflect his love of classic literature (rather unusual for a pro athlete): his left arm features a quote from Fyodor Dostoyesky's The Idiot ("Beauty will save the world") written in Japanese characters (after deciding it didn't look as cool in Russian), while a tattoo on his right arm represents the first two letters of the names of his father, his mother, himself and his brother, also written in Japanese Katakana. The tattoo on his back is a quote from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Word has it that he reads Goethe and Nietzsche - for fun.

Tipsy is quite the entertaining character to watch. Besides the tats, he also has piercings (he has a labret and a barbell in the right brow) and at one time sported glasses, which is rarely seen on today's tour...



...and even sunglasses - which you never see in the pro game (I wonder why?).


Future's so bright he has to wear shades

The Guardian's Robert Kitson was so impressed that he wrote a poetic piece about Tipsarovic following a 2006 loss at Wimbleton to Andy Roddick. "Imagine a fly fisherman on the deck of a deep-sea trawler and you will get an idea of how Tipsarevic operates. In a world full of power-hitters he directs balls to improbable corners of the court with more subtlety and skill than the pile-driving Roddick will manage in his entire career."

These two are definitely ones to watch, one as a coming contender, the other simply for the beauty of her game.

Honorable Mentions:
I was also very impressed by the play of Brazilian qualifier Tomaz Belluci in that first set (which he lost 5-7), First Round match against Nadal, Frenchman Julien Benneteau who gave it his all against Federer in the Fourth Round (4-6, 5-7, 5-7), and especially Latvian Ernests Gulbis - the 19-year-old phenom who became the first player in the history of his small Baltic homeland to enter the top 100. He's currently No. 80 in the world, but should move up after making it to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in three tight sets 5-7, 6-7 (3-7), 5-7.

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