Tuesday, January 23, 2018

GRAPHIC: The racial/ethnic demographics of U.S. Top 10 metro area

Information on race in America, especially in metropolitan areas in the United States. This is from a recent deep dive into race, politics and demographics by the Boston Globe's award-winning Spotlight team as the paper tried to examine why Boston is perceived as "more racist" than other big cities.

Monday, January 22, 2018

2018 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Here are my predictions for 
the women's quarterfinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [6]. The current World #1 appears to have recovered from her epic (15-13 in the 3rd!) win over American Lauren Davis from the 3rd round when she dispatched hard-hitting Naomi Osaka with dispatch in the 4th round.  Pliskova is a former #1 and has reached a hard court final in New York  in 2016. However she has never advanced past the quarterfinal in Melbourne, and she lost in this round against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at this stage last year. Although Pliskova can pummel the ball, she is very limited in her movement, which is Halep's great strength. This has been the case in their first 6 matches, 5 of which have been handily won by Halep. I don't think this match will deviate very much from this trend. PREDICTION: Halep.

Angelique Kerber [21] (GER) Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [3] vs. Madison Keys (USA) [17] Caroline Garcia (FRA) [8]. Although technically the expected match-up in this quarter was a showdown between the #3 and #8 seeds, no one is that surprised to see the 2016 Australian Open champion and the 2017 US Open finalist fighting each other for this semifinal slot. Muguruza was dispatched by the amazing Su-Wei Hsieh who also eliminated Aggie Radwanska and came within a handful of points at eliminating Kerber in the last round. Keys has been bludgeoning her way through the draw, and has not even come very close to losing a set (after being down 3-5 in her first round match Keys closed out that match by winning the final 4 games). The head-to-head between Keys and Kerber is not good for the young American, with the German former World #1 leading 6-1. Kerber is an expert at blunting power and Keys has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to switch to another game plan when her power hitting game fails to blast through her opponent. Will 2018 be the year Keys figures out how to win matches against the world's best counterpunchers? I don't think she's there yet.  PREDICTION: Kerber.

Elin Mertens (BEL) [16] Venus Williams (USA) [5] vs. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [4].  Svitolina is one of the most winningest players on the women's tour but she is yet to match her ranking at a major. (You could call her the Sascha Zverev of the women's tour!) Despite being World #4, Svitolina has only reached the quarterfinals twice in her career, both times at Roland Garros on clay. This is very strange, because she is a hard-hitting player who moves well and is very consistent. That being said, I believe she will finally reach her first major semifinal by winning this match against her talented (but overmatched) opponentPREDICTIONSvitolina

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] vs. Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) [7]. Wozniacki is living on borrowed time after she came back from an astonishing 1-5 down in the 2nd round, saving multiple match points along the way. Since that freeing escape Caroline has not even come close to losing a set in the tournament and after winning her biggest title of her career by beating Venus in the WTA Year-End Championship in Singapore I believe she has the confidence to go all the way and finally end her reputation as "the best player to be ranked #1 and never win a slam." Suarez Navarro is a tricky player, but she is exactly the kind of player that Wozniacki has to be able to get past in order to reach her goal of becoming a major champion.  PREDICTION: Wozniacki. 

2018 AUS OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year  I did not predict the quarterfinal rounds. This year I will also predict the women's quarterfinals.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs Marin Cilic (CRO) [6].  This is the only quarterfinal match-up that was predicted to occur at the beginning of the tournament if results followed the seedings. In a tournament with lots of upsets it is significant that this match-up persisted. Nadal is playing excellent tennis and has only lost one set in four matches while Cilic has lost 2, one against Pablo Carreno Busta and another against Vasek Pospisil. The main problem for the hard-serving Croat is that he has played Nadal 6 times before and only won 1 match (and 3 sets out of 14 played) and half these matches occurred after he became a major champion himself. In fact, he has lost their 5 meetings in a row, including their one grand slam meeting, which was in Melbourne in 2011. That being said, Cilic does believe that he can beat Nadal and he has the game that could do it as well. I suspect he will win at least a set, and possibly even two but I don't see how he wins three. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [3] vs Kyle Edmund (GBR) Jack Sock (USA) [8]. Dimitrov has not been playing his best tennis for most of this tournament, but Melbourne often does bring out his best stuff, as he proved in last year's epic 5-set semifinal against Nadal. This year he had to survive a surprisingly tough early test against young American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round by coming back to win 8-6 in the 5th after losing the 4th set 6-0! I wonder if anyone has ever won a major tournament after suffering a bagel set loss in an earlier round? Fortunately for Grigor, after coming through a much-hyped showdown with Australian "It" boy Nick Kyrgios in 4 tight sets, his game seems to be peaking. He faces Briton Kyle Edmund who is playing in his very first major quarterfinal, which should give the now experienced Top 5 stalwart a key edge in this important match. Can we hope that lightning will strike 2 years in a row and we will have another amazing Dimitrov-Nadal semifinal match? I think we will, and this time I hope for a different result. Mad Professah's pick: Dimitrov.

Tennys Sandgren (USA) Dominic Thiem (AUT) [5] vs Hyeon Chung (KOR) Sascha Zverev (GER) [4].  This is the most unlikely men's major quarterfinal in years. 21-year-old Chung was ranked #58 coming into the tournament and is the first player from South Korea, male or female, to reach a major quarterfinal. His opponent, World #97 Tennys Sandgren is the American male player to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals in over 20 years. They both had very impressive wins to reach this round. Sandgren eliminated Dominic Thiem in 5-sets while Chung was even more impressive by defeating 12-time major champion (6-time Australian Open champ) Novak Djokovic without losing a set. The las time these two played there were 20 ATP ranking points, this time there will be 720 points, which is more than the final of all regular ATP tournaments except at the Masters Series or Majors. One key factor here will be which player will fare better in their first high-stakes showdown. Here I give the edge to Chung because he won the 2017 NextGen championships last year. Mad Professah's pick: Chung.

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs Tomas Berdych (CZE) [19] David Goffin (BEL) [7].  This a rematch of last year's 3rd round match when it became clear that Federer's form after a 6-month gap was high enough that he might actually have a shot at winning the tournament. These two have played 25 times on tour and Federer has a commanding 19-6 lead, but that means Berdych has beaten Federer 6 times before so that he should be confident that he can do so again.  Federer has looked fine all tournament long, and despite his draw looking much tougher than Nadal's at the beginning of the tournament, it has not turned out that way. If he gets past Berdych (which should happen), it is very difficult to see him not reaching the final, where perhaps another Fedal final awaits? I can't wait, eihter! Mad Professah's pick: Federer.

EYE CANDY: Adrian Conrad (reprise)

Adrian Conrad has appeared as Eye Candy once before (December 11, 2017). He has well over 135,000 followers on Instagram (@adrianconrad_) for reasons I think are apparent. Hat/tip to Pop Glitz for initially introducing me to Adrian's looks.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

2018 AUS OPEN: First Week Complete

Well! The first week of the 2018 Australian Open is complete which means there are 16 players left in the men's and women's draws.

Women's Draw
The first big upset f the tournament happened on Day 1 when 2017 finalist Venus Williams lost to Belinda Bencic in straight sets. Bencic is a former Top 10 player and this was expected to be a bad matchup for Venus. Other upsets were #3 seed Garbine Muguruza losing to Su-Wei Hsieh (who then followed that up by ousting Agnieska Radwanska in the most entertaining match of the tournament).

The remaining Top 10 players in the Round of 16 are Simona Halep [1] (who played the match of the tournament by outlasting American Lauren Davis 6-4 4-6 15-13 in 3 hours 45 minutes), Caroline Wozniacki [2] (who survived a 5-1 deficit in the 3rd set of her 2nd round match against Jana Fett by winning the final six games), Elina Svitolina [4], Karolina Pliskova [6] and Caroline Garcia [8]. However, the most dangerous player in the draw is probably 2016 Australian Open champion Angie Kerber (who demolished 5-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-3 to reach the 4th round).

Men's Draw
The top seeds are still in the draw after 3 rounds of play: Rafael Nadal [1], Roger Federer [2], Grigor Dimitrov [3], Dominc Thiem [5], Marin Cilic [6] and Pablo Carreno Busta [10]. The #4 seed Sascha Zverev lost to Korean Hyeon Chung in a battle of #NextGen stars. The only big upset (of sorts) in the men's draw was the defeat of 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, coming back after knee surgery and 6-months absence from the ATP tour.

R16 Highlights
The upcoming matches which look interesting are Nick Kyrgios versus Dimitrov, Halep versus Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys versus Garcia.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A very solid 4 star read.

I really did not know very much about this book before I started Sleeping Giants except for what one learns in the blurb.

It turns out Sleeping Giants is about the discovery of a giant metallic hand (which unsurprisingly leads to the discovery of a giant robot).

The key conceit of the book is that the story is told exclusively in third person documents: transcripts of interviews between the main characters, news reports and other non-prose texts.

It's actually quite surprising how well this works. I have seen this done in smaller ways in other books (the famous epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Frank Herbert's Dune series immediately come to mind) but never really thought about how it would work as the entire text of a book.

That being said although the writing device is successful, the plot is less so. Honestly, it is somewhat simplistic, since in some ways not much actually happens, although in other views once can consider that quite a lot happens, since one of the main characters gets killed about halfway through the book. Interestingly, even though we never get any internal dialogue of any character we still get to know them well enough that one definitely cares about what happens to them in the story.

Another fun aspect of Sleeping Giants is that it features a seemingly omniscient narrator (he conducts the vast majority of the interviews for which there are transcripts) who has several conversations with many increasingly important people at the White House. It's a very unusual book when we really never get actual dialogue between characters, instead we get characters talking about conversations that they have had with other characters during interviews with the narrator.

Overall, Sleeping Giants is a fun, quick read that one can enjoy for its intriguing premise and clever execution; I am definitely looking forward to reading what happens next in the sequel(s).

Title: Sleeping Giants.
Sylvain Neuvel.
Paperback: 320 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: April 26, 2016.
Date Read: January 6, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Dawkins Responds To "What If You're Wrong?"

For today's Godless Wednesday we have a treat for you. At the top of this post is a fun video of Richard Dawkins responding to a supposed "gotcha" question from a religious student at Liberty University and gives a near perfect reply.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 AUS OPEN: Draw Preview and Predictions

The draw for the 2018 Australian Open is out. The defending champions are Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Serena has withdrawn because she is not quite ready after giving birth to her first child about 4 months ago. 

Women's Draw Preview
The women's draw features only two former Australian Open champions: Angelique Kerber (2016) and Maria Sharapova (2008). If the draw goes according to seedings, this would be the women's quarterfinals:
  • [1] Simona Halep (ROU)          vs [6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
  • [3] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)  vs [8] Caroline Garcia (FRA)
  • [4] Elina Svitolina (UKR)         vs [5] Venus Williams (USA)
  • [2] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) vs [7] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
I doubt anyone thinks this will actually happen. Kerber is (again) playing excellent tennis and is on a 9-match winning streak, which allowed her to win the Sydney warm-up tournament. However, I think that other "K" layers will have even bigger breakthroughs this year, including Konta, Kvitova amd Keys. So, I am predicting the following:

  • Semifinals: Kvitova versus Keys and Wozniacki versus Svitolina.
  • Final: Keys versus Wozniacki.
  • Champion: Keys.

Men's Draw Preview
The men's draw features the return of 6-time Aussie Open champion Novak Djokovic, and of course last year's finalists Federer and Nadal resume their rivalry. Of course, Djokovic ends up in Federer's half, along with Dominc Thiem, Sascha Zverev, David Goffin and Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal has an amazingly gentle draw, and even though he has not played a professional match all year and has fueled speculation about his fitness, the current World #1 has a very good shot at winning his second consecutive hard-court major. However, it is long past time for a member of the "new" generation to step up and win a major. Surely this will happen in 2018, but can it happen in Melbourne?

If the draw goes according to seedings, this would be the men's quarterfinals:
  • [1] Rafael Nadal (ESP)            vs [6] Marin Cilic (CRO)
  • [3] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)     vs [8] Jack Sock (USA)
  • [4] Sascha Zverev (GER)        vs [5] Dominic Thiem (AUT) 
  • [2] Roger Federer (SUI)          vs [7] David Goffin (BEL)

This is more likely to happen than on the women's side  but still it is relatively unlikely. Instead, I am predicting:

  • Semifinals: Nadal vs Dimitrov, Federer vs Zverev
  • Final: Dimitrov versus Federer.
  • Champion: Federer.
We shall see!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

2018 AUS OPEN: Murray and Serena Withdraw, Novak Returns

The first major tournament of the 2018 tennis season begins next week when the Australian Open kicks off on January 15 in Melbourne. Sadly, 5-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and 7-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams announced recently that neither will be competing in the 2018 edition of the tournament.

Murray has a hip injury which has kept him sidelined since Wimbledon and although he went to Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala Exhibition tournament to test his fitness, the answers were not positive.
“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete. I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”
Serena also made the trek to Abu Dhabi where she lost an exhibition match to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. This was her first public appearance on a tennis court  in over 11 months and apparently the result convinced her that trying to defend her 2017 Australian Open title a mere 4 months after giving birth to her daughter Alexix Ohanian Junior was not in the cards.
“My coach and team always said ‘only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way’. I can compete -- but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time. With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.”
Serena and Andy will be missed. Happily, it looks like World #2 Roger Federer and World #2 Rafael Nadal will both be competing this year, and the return of 6-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic looms large over the tournament.


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