Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roland Garros - The 2009 French Open

If you like red clay, long rallies and lots of unforced errors, then you should be watching the French Open. The French Open has long been a place where relatively unknown players from countries such as Argentina, Chile or Spain can make names for themselves. The slow, red clay used at the Roland Garros has created a vein of players that dominate on the surface, but struggle to translate their game over to grass or hard courts.

Rafael Nadal started out as one of these clay court specialists back in 2005 when he won his first French Open title in his first attempt. Since then he has won three more French Opens, but has also proven that he can play on more than just clay. Last year, he won his first Wimbledon title, becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1979 to win both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same season. Nadal then proved he could win on hard courts when he earned his first Australian Open to start off 2009. That win denied Roger Federer his chance to tie Pete Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles. Federer still needs a French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam (winning at least one title at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open), but he has lost to Nadal for four consecutive years. Could this be the year where he finally breaks through?

The Clear Favorite:
Rafael Nadal - As I said earlier, Nadal has won four straight French Open titles, and he's never lost a match at the French.

The Contenders:
Roger Federer - While Federer has never won a French Open, he has been to three straight finals, losing to Nadal every time. Age is no longer on his side though, as no man over 26 has ever won a French Open title.

Novak Djokovic - Djokovic won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2008 and has been to the quarter-finals or better in three of his last four Grand Slam appearances. He has also made the semi-finals of the French Open each of the past two years.

Andy Murray - Andy Murray still has not won a major, but he made it to his first final against Roger Federer at the U.S. Open last year. He has risen to #3 in the world and his incredible fitness and his defensive style of play make him a tough out for any opponent.

The Dark-Horses:
Juan Martin Del Potro - Del Potro has never been past the quarter finals of a major, but he is playing as well as anyone lately and should easily live up to his seeding, and will be tough for anyone to play in the quarter finals.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga - Tsonga hasn't played in a French Open since 2005, but he has been one of the hottest players on tour over the past year. He'll have the backing of the French fans, but he is on a collision course for a fourth round matchup with Del Potro.

Gael Monfils - A local favorite, Monfils made it to the semi-finals here last year, but injuries have kept him from making a serious run at a title since then. However, with the backing of the French crowd, a return trip to the semi-finals is very possible.

Just Hoping to Win One Match:
The American men - There used to be a time when American's such as Jim Courier and Andre Aggasi would regularly compete for, and win, French Open titles. However, in the past few years, they have struggled in France. No American man has been past the second round since 2005 (I think).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Five Goals for this Summer

So I decided I'm going to make some goals this summer, so I don't go crazy from work and school.

Goal #1:
Get A's in all three of my classes this summer.
If I get straight A's, I'll finally get my GPA back over a 3.0. This is a very attainable goal because two of the classes are online, and the other class is tennis.

Probability of Success: High

Goal #2:
Improve my serve in tennis. I absolutely love playing tennis in the summer, but any of you who have played me before know that my serve has always been a mess. I would be a much better player if I can improve my serve at all. Luckily, I have tennis as a class starting in July, so that will help.

Probability of Success: High

Goal #3:
Perform well enough at my job that I can get a letter of recommendation from my Prof. if I ever need one. I just started today, this job is going to be pretty demanding it seems. I hope I'm up to the task.

Probability of Success: Medium

Goal #4:
Attend at least one Phillies road game. I love my Phillies and will see them at least twice in Philadelphia this summer. I would love to see them play the Natinals in Washington, or the Pirates in Pittsburgh or the Mets in New York. I have a car, and I don't mind driving, so it really all depends on if it fits my schedule and if I can find someone to go with.

Probability of Success: Medium

Goal #5:
Code a small computer game. I'd really like to dust off my Java skills and write some sort of game this summer. I dunno if I'll be able to though, it's been awhile since I've written any sort of code.

Probability of Success: Low

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals

I really need to stop predicting winners. I'm apparently terrible at it. Anyways, I'm not sure if there has been a more exciting conference semi-finals in recent memory. Some notes:

-Three series went 7 games, and the fourth went 6 games.

-The NHL got 6 great games from their dream match-up of Ovechkin vs. Crosby, but the Capitals started their summer vacation a game early and were massacred in the series decider.

-Carolina and Boston played an exciting game 7 that went into overtime before Scott Walker knocked the game winner in with less than a minute to go in OT.

-Detroit and Anaheim continued their trend of tightly contested games and it took a late third period goal by Dan Cleary to finally send the defending champs into the conference finals.

-Chicago's 7-5 win over Vancouver in game 6 was the highest scoring playoff game since Buffalo beat Ottawa 7-6 in 2006.

Eastern Conference Finals:
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
Pittsburgh returns to the Eastern Conference Finals just a season after going to the Stanley Cup. It's Carolina's first trip here since they won it all in 2006. The Canes are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, but Pittsburgh is showing their experience as they were able to erase the Caps 2-0 series lead and eventually win that series. Pittsburgh has had some trouble with winning elimination games this season. They failed to eliminate the Flyers and the Capitals on the first attempt.

The Prediction:
My head says Pittsburgh, my heart says Carolina. I'm going with the Canes to get it done in 6.

Western Conference Finals:
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #4 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are the youngest, and possibly the most exciting team left in the playoffs. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat have really carried the team offensively, and Nikolai Khabibulin has been fantastic when he's needed to be (as I write this, he stoned Johan Franzen twice at the goal line). Detroit has the experience in this series, but they have also failed to go to back to back Stanley Cup Finals since the late 90's when they won consecutive titles.

The Prediction:
Again, the head says Detroit, but the heart says Chicago. I like Chicago a lot, but I just don't see them getting it done this time. They'll push Detroit to the limit though. Red Wings in 7.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round Two

So my picks were a little off last round. Here is an updated preview for round two.

Eastern Conference Semi-finals

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The 'Canes season was over with about 1:30 left in game seven against the Devils. 45 seconds later, they were suddenly hanging on for a surprise win in game seven. Boston cruised through their first round matchup against Montreal, just as many thought they would. Boston has already won game one against Carolina, and they haven't lost to Carolina yet this season.

The Prediction:
Boston wins in 5

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Capitals staked the Rangers a 3-1 series lead, while the Penguins were outplayed by the Flyers in games 2-5. Both teams managed to win their series and now the NHL has their dream matchup. Sidney (read: Cindy) Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins have the better defense, but the Capitals have the most explosive offense in the league. This will be an exciting series to say the least.

The Prediction:
Washington wins in 6

Western Conference Semi-Finals

Detroit Redwings vs. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks managed to upset this years President's Trophy winner, the San Jose Sharks, in six games. Detroit swept playoff first timers Columbus Blue Jackets. Game one was a tightly contested game, but Detroit stayed perfect in this season's playoffs and eeked out the win. This promises to be the hardest hitting series of the second round, and it should make for some great playoff hockey.

The Prediction:
Detroit wins in 6

Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver swept through St. Louis on the back of Roberto Luongo. Chicago won their first playoff series since the 90's as they sent Calgary packing. This series features some of the NHL's best young talent that doesn't get a lot of exposure.

The Prediction:
Vancouver wins in 7