Friday, June 29, 2018

2018 WIMBLEDON: Men's and Women's Draw Analyzed


"It's the most wonderful time of the year" (for Roger Federer fans like myself!) That's right, Wimbledon is right around the corner, starting on Monday. The seeds and draws have been released, so this is my annual post analyzing and attempting to make predictions about this year's Wimbledon Championships. Last year's champions were Federer (winning his 8th Wimbledon title and 19th major defeating Marin Cilic) and Garbine Muguruza (winning her 2nd major and 1st Wimbledon title defeating Venus Williams).

Men's Draw 

Projected Quarterfinals
  • Roger Federer [1] vs. Kevin Anderson [8]
  • Marin Cilic [3] vs. Grigor Dimitrov [6]
  • Dominc Thiem [7] vs. Alexander Zverev [4]
  • Juan Martin Del Potro [5] vs Rafael Nadal [2]
Potential Matchups To Look Out For

FIRST ROUND
Dimitrov versus Stan Wawrinka
Andy Murray versus Benoit Paire
Gael Monfils versus Richard Gasquet
Dominc Thiem versus Marcos Baghdatis
Jeremy Chardy versus Denis Shapovalov
Fernando Verdasco versus Frances Tiafoe

LATER
R16
Federer versus Borna Coric
R3 Nick Kyrgios versus Kei Nishikori

Women's Draw 

Projected Quarterfinals
  • Simona Halep [1] vs. Petra Kvitova [8]
  • Garbine Muguruza [3] vs. Caroline Garcia [6]
  • Karolina Pliskova [7] vs. Sloane Stephens [4]
  • Elina Svitolina [5] vs Caroline Wozniacki[2]
Potential Matchups To Look Out For

FIRST ROUND
Angie Kerber versus Vera Zvonareva
Alize Cornet versus Dominika Cibulkova
Shuai Peng versus Samantha Stosur
Belina Bencic versus Caroline Garcia
Svetlana Kuznetsova versu Barbora Strycova

LATER
R3 Maria Sharapova versus Jelena Ostapenko
R4 Serena Williams versus Madison Keys

Thursday, June 28, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Dark Water (DCI Erika Foster #3) by Robert Bryndza


Dark Water is a strong 4.5 Stars rounded up to reward the author for improvements made from the first two books  (The Girl in the Ice and The Night Stalker) that resulted in a more sympathetic main character and a change to the criminal elements of the plot.

This is the 3rd book in the DCI Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza and probably the best book by him that I have read so far. One of my complaints about the first two books was how similarly the main character's behavior and treatment was (Erika  acts irresponsibly and unprofessionally multiple times and eventually gets put in mortal danger in both).

Happily, in the third book the obnoxious behavior Erika frequently displays in the previous books is greatly reduced, although she does still behave rashly and inappropriately. But most of this behavior is in her interpersonal relations and not in her professional police capacity.

There are lot of other differences in this book than the first two. The major crime here is a kidnapping (of a 7 year old girl) whose body is found in the first chapter of the book some 26 years after her disappearance. Also, Erika is now in a different setting, having asked for and received a transfer from her previous posting so she has a new boss and new subordinates to lead. Happily, her sidekicks from the first two books make another appearance in Dark Water: DI Peterson, a tall, handsome black guy with anger management issues and DI Moss, a short chubby white lesbian with a tart tongue (these two characters are some of the strongest aspects of each of the books, IMHO). Sadly, Dr. Strong, the openly gay pathologist who is Erika’s best friend makes only a brief cameo in this book . This was disappointing since he was almost a primary character in the previous book, The Night Stalker. Erika’s sister (and her three young kids) has an important storyline in Dark Water as well. As I have said before, a key strength of most murder mystery/police procedural/detective novels is the complexity the author brings to the secondary characters in addition to the protagonist. Moss and Peterson are a sizable portion of why I am interested in reading rest of the books in the DCI Erika Foster series.

The marketing for the Dark Water boasts about a "killer twist" but the twist was not really that surprising to me, although the person(s) responsible for the deaths that occurred in the story was something of a surprise.

Overall, I felt both the plotting and characterizations were much improved in this third book; I am very happy with the changes Bryndza made from the first two books in the series. Erika is a much more likable character in Dark Water without losing any of the suspenseful impact of the story. I look forward to reading the next books in the Erika Foster series and hope that Bryndza continues producing them in rapid succession.

Title: Dark Water (DCI Erika Foster, #3).
Author: 
Robert Bryndza.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: October 20, 2016.
Date Read: July 1, 2014.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

#EqualityDay: Anniversary of Multiple LGBT Legal Victories!


Happy #EqualityDay! Today is June 26, which is an auspicious day for LGBT equality in the United States. In 2003, the Supreme Court finally affirmed the basic humanity of LGBT citizens and eliminated the remaining state laws banning sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas; In 2013, the state struck down the odious Defense of Marriage Act which had prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages in United States v. Edith Windsor and also ruled in Hollingsworth v. Perry that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional; in 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges the Supreme Court struck down all state-based bans on recognition of same-sex marriage (including California's Proposition 8) effectively legalizing marriage equality nationwide! (A curious fact is that all of these LGBT-supportive decisions were written by Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee and Republican conservative jurist.)

TENNIS TUESDAY: Coric Outplays Federer In Halle; Kvitova Wins 5th Title of 2018; Cilic Outlasts Nole On Grass; ATP #1 Flips Again; France Picks Amelie


FEDERER LOSES TO CORIC IN SEARCH OF 10TH HALLE TITLE (IN 12TH FINAL)
After saving 2 match points against an inspired Benoit Paire 2 rounds before, Roger Federer's luck finally ran out when a determined 21-year-old Borna Coric outplayed the world's best grass-court player 7-6(6) 3-6 6-2 to win his first grass-court title and notch his first win over the G.O.A.T. It was Federer's 12th final in Halle and he was seeking his 10th title there, but now he is 9-3, having lost to Corci (2018), Lleyton Hewitt (2010) and Tommy Haas (2012).

FEDERER SWAPS RANKING PLACES WITH NADAL (AGAIN)
Federer's failure to defend his 2017 Halle title means that he ends up with, 8,220 ranking points, 50 less than Rafael Nadal, so the two will swap places at the top of the ATP rankings again. his has happened several times this year already. However, unlike last year, this time as the defending champion Federer has 2000 points to defend at Wimbledon while Nadal has almost none (180) so it is likely Federer wil not be able to regain #1 until the end of the summer hard court season.

CILIC OUTLASTS DJOKOVIC TO WIN SECOND QUEEN'S CLUB TITLE
Novak Djokovic is showing vastly improved form and demonstrated this by reaching the final (and earning championship point!) against 2017 Wimbledon and 2017 Queens Club finalist Marin Cilic. Despite boasting a 14-1 record against Cilic, Djokovic lost the match by being broken (for teh first time in the tournament!) i the 3rd set and his Croat opponent was able to serve out the win 5-7 7-6(4) 6-3. Cilic clearly deserves to be near the pinnacle of the men's game, having reached two major finals in the last year. Even though Djokovic is improving, this loss shows h's not back to 100% and for the first time in over a decade, he goes an entire 12 month period without winning an ATP tour title.

KVITOVA SHOWS SHE IS IN NEAR PEAK FORM WITH FIFTH 2018 WTA TITLE
The 2014 and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is demonstrating her return to form with another grass court title, this time in Birmingham over her friend Magdalena Rybarikova 4-6 6-2 6-1. Kvitova leads the tour with 5 titles in 2018.

AMELIE MAURESMO NAMED CAPTAIN OF FRANCE'S DAVIS CUP TEAM
In other good news, 2-time major champion and former World #1 Amelie Mauresmo has been named the first female captain of France's Davis Cup team. Interestingly, Julien Benneteau will take over coaching France's Fed Cup team. Both appointments go into effect for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Friday, June 22, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Octavia Butler, Black female sci-fi icon, honored by Google

Today would have been Octavia Butler's 71st birthday. Butler is one of the rare non-white, non-male individuals to have a successful and influential career in science fiction. She is best known for her dystopian novels (many of which won her chosen genre's highest awards) such as Wild Seed, Parable of the Sower, fledgling and (of course) Kindred. She was the first sci-fi author to win the prestigious MacArthur (genius) grant.

Google honors butler with today's Google Doodle!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Silent Scream (DI Kim Stone, #1) by Angela Marsons


This is the first book I have read that was written by Angela Marsons featuring Detective Inspector Kim Stone. 

I am a big fan of the police procedurals, and recently seem to be discovering a new niche category: the British police procedural featuring psychologically damaged female protagonists. Could this be a reaction to PBS’ Prime Suspect series (based in the work by Lynda La Plante)? Examples of books that fit into the category I’m talking about include the work of Robert Bryndza (featuring DCI Erika Foster), Angela Marsons (featuring DI Kim Stone) and to a lesser extent Stuart MacBride’s DI Roberta Steel.

That being said, there are a lot of male protagonists of murder-mysteries that have checkered pasts: Agent Will Trent (by Karin Slaughter), DI Tom Thorne (by Mark Billingham), Sean Duffy by Adrian McKinty and (of course) DI John Rebus by Ian Rankin.

This phenomenon can also be explained by the observation that it’s obviously hard to sustain a multi-book series centered around a specific protagonist if they don’t have vast wells of character development and/or psychological angst to plumb and explore through multiple volumes.

Clearly DI Kim Stone has a lot of this drama which we will learn more about as the series continues. What we already know from the first book Silent Scream is that she was in “care” (equivalent of child protective services) from around age 6 and that she had a twin brother who died due to some misbehavior by her biological mother, who is still alive but that Kim clearly despises.

So of course it turns out that the first mystery where we meet Kim Stone involves the murder/disappearance of three girls at a care facility for teenage girls a few decades ago as well as the contemporary murder of 3 staff members who used to work at the facility.

In my opinion, an important component of a successful series is the quality or complexity of the sidekicks or secondary characters. In the case of Kim Stone the side characters are not that interesting but she more than makes up for it by being such a strong-willed and complicated character all by herself

Overall, Silent Scream  is an intricately plotted mystery and quite suspenseful thriller. I look forward to reading others in the DI Kim Stone series.

3.5 Stars.

Title: Silent Scream (DI Kim Stone, #1).
Author: 
Angela Marsons.
Paperback: 390 pages.
Publisher:
 Bookouture.
Date Published: February 20, 2015.
Date Read: June 16, 2018.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: B.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: B.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Federer Returns To #1; Venus Turns 38, Murray Is Back; Bartoli Retires (Again)


FEDERER RETURNS TO #1 WHILE WINNING 98TH CAREER TITLE
Roger Federer won his 98th career ATP tour title in Stuttgart by defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets. Federer is now the oldest player in the Top 100 on the ATP tour, and he is at #1! However, he has to win Halley for a record 10th time (defending his 2017 title win here) in order to remain #1 although one would think that Federer with his 8 titles will be seeded #1 at Wimbledon over Nadal with his 2 titles despite whatever the ranking order is at the time.

MURRAY RETURNS TO ATP TOUR IN QUEEN CLUB TO FACE KYRGIOS ROUND ONE
Former World #1 Andy Murray makes his return to the ATP tour after a 342-day absence in which he had hip surgery and approximately 6 months of rehab. His last match was a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon to Sam Querrey; his first match back will also be on grass. It is at Queen's Club where he is a 5-time champion. UPDATE: Murray lost to Nick Kyrgios in a tough 3-set match 2-6 7-6(4) 7-5 and to my eyes looked like he was limping for part of the match.

VENUS TURNED 38 ON JUNE  17
7-time major champion Venus Williams turned 38 on Sunday. The current World #9 has not indicated that she intends to leave the WTA tour any time soon even though she has been playing tennis professionally since age 14(!)

BARTOLI GIVES UP ON RETURN TO WTA TOUR
The 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli has retired from the WTA Tour for the second time. After returning a few weeks after winning her first and only major title in 2013, Bartoli attempted a comeback to the tour last year, but struggled with injuries almost immediately and did not make into the main draw of any of the major tournaments.

Monday, June 18, 2018

EYE CANDY: Roly Vizcay (reprise)





Roly Vizcay is an underwear model with a large (45k) following on Instagram (@rolyvizcayofficial) who has appeared as Eye Candy here once before (April 23, 2018). As you can see, it's clear he looks good wearing underwear or even less!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018 STUTTGART: Federer Wins 98th Title (Defeating Raonic), Will Return To World #1


Roger Federer resumed his presence on the ATP tour as the grass season began with a first-ever title in Stuttgart. In two consecutive rounds, Federer defeated Nick Kyrgios (in the semifinal) and Milos Raonic (in the final).

Both of these matches were quite significant. The 6-7(2) 6-2 7-6(5) win over Kyrgios resulted in a return to the top of the ATP rankings by Federer. For the third time in three meetings their match was decided by a 3rd set tiebreak, this time won by Federer; he now leads the head-to-head 2-1.

The final was also significant, and was a 6-4 7-6(3) win, extending Federer's win streak on grass to 16 (including wins at Halle and Wimbledon in 2017). It was Federer's 148th ATP tour final, and he now has a 98-50 record, with an 18-6 record in grass finals. This was Federer's 98th final win (65 of which he won in straight sets) and 3rd title of the year. The all-time record is held by Jimmy Connors at 109. Can Federer reach or exceed this number? It's more likely now than it was last week.

Friday, June 15, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: London Breed Elected First Black Female Mayor of San Francisco


London Breed will become the first African-American female mayor of San Francisco when her main rival for the position, openly gay former State Senator Mark Leno conceded defeat. San Francisco is California's 4th largest city (behind Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose) and the nation's 13th largest. Breed, 43, is the President of the Board of Supervisors and will become the only women of color to currently lead a major American city.

Breed will serve out the rest of Mayor Ed Lee's term (until January 2020) and has not said whether she will run for re-election in November 2019. It is worth noting that te next Governor of California is likely to be Gavin Newsom, who became known to voters as the Mayor of San Francisco. Breed will be the second woman to serve as Mayor; the first is Dianne Feinstein, who is now California's senior U.S. Senator.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

QUEER QUOTE: Heterosexual Supremacist Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Says Something Nice About #LGBT Youth For #Pride


Today's Queer Quote is from Senator Orrin Hatch, who has announced his retirement (after 42 years!) and will not be seeking re-election to the United States Senate. His seat is likely to be filled by Mitt Romney (2012 GOP nominee for President).

On Thursday, in celebration(!) of LGBT pride month, Sen. Hatch tried to support LGBT youth by saying on the Senate floor:
“No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support. They deserve our validation and the assurance that not only is there a place for them in this society, but that it is far better off because of them. These young people need us—and we desperately need them. We need their light to illuminate the richness and diversity of God’s creations. We need the grace, beauty and brilliance they bring to the world.”
This is the same guy who said (in 1977):
“I wouldn't want to see homosexuals teaching school anymore than I'd want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school."
As the Washington Post put it. "The Times, they are a changin'"!

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster #2) by Robert Bryndza



The Night Stalker is the second book in Robert Bryndza‘s DCI Erika Foster series. Although the central plot of The Night Stalker is very different from The Girl in the Ice there are several common elements between the two books. First among these is Erika herself, of course. There are multiple other characters that reappear as well.

I don’t really have a problem that Erika is an intriguingly damaged character (her husband was also a police officer and he was killed in the line of duty on a drug raid that Erika was leading). The main problem I have with Erika is that she’s literally a vigilante and she doesn’t respect the chain of authority of the British Constabulary. This was my main drawback of the first book because I believed that it strained credulity to believe someone as “half-cocked” as Erika would still have a job as a police officer.

But in the second book, again Erika gets suspended from the investigation that she was leading by her boss and ignores direct orders not to continue specific theories of the case in her investigation. But she does this even though the perpetrator contacts her directly, violates her personal space and threatens her life. In both books, Erika downplays the seriousness of these events and eventually ends up in a 1-on-1 dangerous confrontation with a multiple murderer. This situation is a direct result of her unwillingness to follow orders and her eagerness to solve the case “by whatever means necessary.” The fact that it happened twice in the first two books greatly diminishes the verisimilitude of these books as police procedurals, in my humble opinion.

But, overall, I enjoyed this book and the series as a whole. I love Erika's sidekicks, DI Moss (pudgy lesbian with a tart sense of humor), DI Peterson (handsome straight Black guy with excellent interpersonal skills) and Dr. Strong (openly gay, tall white forensic pathologist). I look forwarding to reading the next books in the series and hope that Bryndza switches things up so Erika becomes more professional.

3.5 Stars.

Title: The Night Stalker.
Author: 
Robert Bryndza.
Paperback: 382 pages.
Publisher:
 Bookouture.
Date Published: June 2, 2016.
Date Read: May 30, 2018.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.4/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B.
WRITING: B.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Nadal Wins 17th Major (11th French Open) By Beating Dominic Thiem






As I predicted, Spaniard Rafael Nadal won his 11th French Open title in Paris on Sunday, his 17th major overall by defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria by the score of 6-4 6-3 6-2. Nadal won the tournament by only dropping a single set (in the quarterfinals of Diego Schwartzman of Argentina).

HOW THE FINAL WAS WON
Thiem started off the match very badly, losing the first 6 points in a row and was broken immediately. However, quite surprisingly he was able to break back and even the score at 2-all. Games went on sere until Thiem was serving at 4-5 when suddenly he payed a horrible game, going down 0-40 (triple set point for Nadal) and lost the next point to lose the first set. He also got broken almost immediately in the second set ad it was basically all down hill from there, with another straight sets win for Nadal.

ANALYSIS OF THE RESULT
Amazingly, Federer and Nadal have won the last 6 major titles, both over the age of 30. It means that Nadal, 32, is still only 3 major titles behind Federer's 20, and is 5 years younger (Federer tuns 37 in August). Today's win also means Nadal maintains the possibility (perhaps even the likelihood) of eventually evening and perhaps surpassing Federer's total of major singles titles. I would argue that the fact that Nadal is clearly the best on clay ever and has won 11 of his 17 titles on clay actually is an argument AGAINST the claim that Nadal is te G.O.A.T. It demonstrates that the source of his greatness is his dominance of clay (which is amazing) but the same cannot be said for either Grass (where he has 2 Wimbledon titles to Federer's 8) or hardcourts (where he has 4 major titles: 3 US Open and 1 Australian to Federer's 11: 5 US Open and 6 Australian).

The baton now switches to Federer to see if he can raise the G.O.A.T stakes again by winning Wimbledon, like he did last year. Only time will tell.

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] vs. Dominic Thiem (AUT) [7].
Here are my predictions for the men's final at the 2018 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted Rafael Nadal would defeat Stan Wawrinka in the 2017 final. This year I correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals2 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men's seminfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals.


MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] d. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) [5] 6-4 6-1 6-2.  Surprisingly, this match was less competitive than the match Nadal played against a different Argentine, the diminutive Diego Schwartzman, in the previous round. Del Potro apparently suffered a hip injury midway through the first set and the ruthless Spaniard took advantage of the diminished mobility to punish and pummel Del Potro into submission.


Dominic Thiem (AUT) [7] d. Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1. nThis was a surprisingly competitive match between the #8 player in the world and someone barely into the Top 100. That is a strong statement in support of the play of the Italian, who had an almost magical run here in Paris which was just barely stopped before he could reach the final, but not before he has won several hundred thousamd Euros as an unseeded 2018 Roland Garros finalist.

MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW

Thiem is the only player to have won 2 sets on clay against Nadal in the same match in the last three years. He did it twice (2018 Madrid quarterfinals and 2017 Rome quarterfinal) and is clearly the second best clay court player in the world. However, the distance between the best player and the second best is huge, as Nadal has demonstrated time and time again. Nadal joins his nemesis/frenemy Roger Federer in the record books as the second man to play in 11 major finals on the same surface. (Federer has done it at Wimbledon, of course and is 8-3 with 1 loss to Nadal in 2008 and 2 losses to Novak Djkokovic in 2015 and 2016). Nadal is 11-0 in finals (and semifinals!) at Roland Garros and has only ever lost two matches there: 4th round to Robin Soderling in 2009 and in the quarterfinal of 2015.) It's hard to imagine  a more prohibitive favorite than Nadal. Amazingly, it would mean that for the second year n a row Federer and Nadal would have split the first two majors of the year between them.

MadProfessah's pick: Nadal.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Simona Halep Wins 1st Major (Over Sloane Stephens)







As I predicted, World #1 Simona Halep of Romania won her first major title today, defeating American Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1. This was a seesaw match that resembled last year's final with Jelena Ostaphenko but this time Halep was the one who came back from a set and break down to even the match and then ran away with the deciding set as Stephens seemed to tire and lose focus as she lost the first five games and then avoided the bagel by holding once but lost the match when Halep easily served it out to win the championship.

Halep joins great players like Chris Evert and Kim Clijsters who lost their first 3 major finals and then went on to win multiple majors. She strengthens her case as the best player in the world, having been ranked #1 for most of the last year and is now also a major champion.

HOW THE FINAL WAS WON
The match began with Halep looking extremely tight and making several unforced errors in the first game. One of Stephens' strengths is her metal equanimity and she calmly broke early and consolidated it to go up 3-1. Play stayed on serve with Sloane making very few errors and Halep pressing and overhitting; she lost the set 6-3. She then had the worst possible start to the second set by losing her serve and Sloane again consolidated and went up 2-0. Then, amazingly in the 4th game, serving 2-1 up, Sloane appeared to get nervous and and started making errors to lose the next three games and go down 2-4. However, the plot twists continued because now Halep was unable to maintain her lead and was broken while serving up 4-3 and the score was tied all up at 4-all. Halep then held her serve and in the 10th game earned a breakpoint which was a set point. She won the point and the match was dead even. Stephens definitely looked shaken and Hlep looked determined. She got behind in the first service game of the third set but was able to hold and after that really didn't look back, racing out to a 5-0 lead and eventually won the match 6-1 in the 3rd.


2018 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs Sloane Stephens (USA) [10]
Here is my predictions post for the women's final at the 2018 French Open. Last year I incorrectly predicted that Simona Halep would defeat Jelena Ostapenko. This year I correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals2 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

WOMEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] dGarbiñe Muguruza (ESP) [3] 6-1 6-4.  This was expected to be a tough 3-setter but the World #1 ran away with the first set, doing to Muguruza what she did to Sharapova in her quarterfinal match. The second set was far more competitive, with Muguruza earning an early break but then was unable to maintain the advantage to the end of the set and was broken in the 8th game. The key turning point of the match was the epic 9th game with Halep serving. Muguruza had multiple breakpoints but was unable to convert, despite the fact Halep was missing more than two-thirds of her first serves. However eventually (after 13 minutes) she was able to hold and serving to stay in the match Muguruza faded quickly, succumbing to a love break to lose the set and the match.

Sloane Stephens (USA) [10] d. Madison Keys (USA) [13] 6-4 6-4This was a closer match than their match at the 2017 US Open final, because this time Madison could actually control some of her emotions and was able to show the hard-hitting tennis that makes her one of the most feared opponents on the WTA tour. But her good friend Sloane, who is just two years older (25 instead of 23) appears to be more than 2 year more mature than Madison and this shows in how they treat big matches. Sloane has only lost 1 set in her 6 tour finals she has appeared in, while Madison has only won 3 titles. Despite all that the match score line ended up being relatively close, even if the result of the match never felt much in doubt primarily due to the lack of unforced errors coming off the Sloane racquet compared to the large number Madison was hitting.


WOMEN'S FINAL PREVIEW

For the second time in the last three major tournaments both of these players will be appearing in their secod major final. Sloane at  the 2017 US Open while Halep's was at the 2018 Australian Open. (Halep is also appearing in her 3rd Roland-Garros final). Sloane is definitely the mentally tougher of the two, sporting a perfect 6-0 in WTA tour finals while Halep has a less than stellar 16-14 record in finals. However the two have played 7 times before and Halep leads 5-2. Interestingly, most pundits seem to be giving Stephens the edge in this match up but I'm not so sure. I'll be happy with either player winning, but I think I would be happier if Halep were to finally get that inaugural slam win and cement her standing at the top of the women's game. After all, if she loses her first four major finals that may start reducing the belief that she will actually win one of these eventually. Last year Halep was the prohibitive favorite against Jelena Ostapenko and played like it for a set and a half but when thing started to get tight Halep crumbled and lost after being up a set and a break ahead. I do believe she has learned from these experiences and the fact that Sloane is a known quantity should assist Halep in treating this like a regular tour match, in which case she would win easily. The problem is that it's not just a tour match and as the end of the match approaches I think Halep will have even more difficulty handling the pressure. However, with all that being said, I still give her the edge to (finally) win her first major title. PREDICTION: Halep. 

Friday, June 08, 2018

GRAPHIC: Per Capita Spending on Education in the United States

Education Week released its analysis of per capita spending on education by the various states in the Union. The national average is $12,526 but Utah spend $7,207 per student while Vermont ($20,795) and Alaska ($20,640) are at the very top. At this link you can mouse over the map and see how your state compares.

California is at $9,417.

Hat/tip to Education Week.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the 2018 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals1 of 2 women's semifinals4 of 4 men's quarterfinals, and 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals, 2 of 2 women's semifinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) [5].  For the second round in a row the World #1 will be facing off against a player from Argentina. As I predicted before the quarterfinals, diminutive Diego Schwartzman was able to end Nadal's streak of 37 consecutive sets won at Roland Garros that extends back to 2015. In fact for a full set and a half, "Little Diego" outplayed the King of Clay on his home turf of Court Philippe Chatrier. Del Potro continued his dominance of Marin Cilic, extending his head-to-head record to 11 and 2. The decidedly not diminutive Argentine is in his first semifinal at Roland Garros since 2009 as a result and will face Nadal. Interestingly, although the two have played 14 times, Del Potro has a healthy 5 wins. Unfortunately, none of these wins have come on clay (oddly, the two have only met twice on that surface including one straight sets win for Nadal way back in 2007 at Roland Garros). The two have also met a fair number of times in major tournaments (four) and Nadal leads that head-to-head 3-1. In fact, the two met at this stage of the 2017 U.S. Open and Nadal prevailed relatively easily on his way to winning his 16th major title. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Marco Cecchinato (ITA) Novak Djokovic (SRB) [20] vs Dominic Thiem (AUT) [7] In one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam history, an unheralded and unseeded Italian who had never won a Grand Slam match prior to the beginning of this tournament outplayed and outlasted the 12-time major champion to win in four sets. This result was not due to bad play by Djokovic, it was more of a result of great play by Cecchinato. He is the first Italian male player to reach a major semifinal since 1978. (Of course two Italian female players have won majors in the last decade: Flavia Pennetta won the US Open in 2016 and Fancesca Schiavone won the French Open in 2010.) However now Cecchinato will play the world's second best clay court player in Dominic Thiem, who dispatched an ailing Sascha Zverev in his quarterfinal and is seeking to reach his first major final, at the place where most people think he is most likely to be successful. This will be the Roland-Garros final that we have been expecting for awhile, although it must be said that this is Thiem's third consecutive appearance in the semifinals at Roland-Garros and he is yet to win a set. I'm confident that will change on Friday and Thiem will finally realize his potential to compete for the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Mad Professah's pick: Thiem.

BOOK REVIEW: The Twelve (The Passage, #2) by Justin Cronin


The Twelve is the second book in Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy about a (man-made) zombie apocalypse. The story in this book is primarily set in the post-apocalyptic era when human civilization is slowly recovering and rebuilding almost a century later after the events in the first book (The Passage).  It depicts a world completely transformed and dominated by the existence of superhuman, near-immortal creatures that feed on human blood and can transform regular humans via infectious contact.

The Twelve is both better and worse than the first book The Passage. It’s better in that it’s more suspenseful and full of even more horrifying scenes of death and destruction than those that appear in the fall of civilization (and immediate aftermath) depicted in the first book. This book also spends a fair amount of time depicting the details of the collapse of society(from a different perspective) but then it focuses on the society that replaces the one that fell. It is the portrayal of the replacement society where The Twelve gets even more horrifying because the perpetrators of death, destruction and inhumane behavior are not mindless beings infected with a a virus that turns them into bloodthirsty killing machines but humans who are intentionally and self-interestedly behaving in an inhumane way and setting up an absolutely perverse society. These are all elements of the book which are stronger in the sequel than in the first book.

The parts of The Twelve that are weaker than The Passage are generally related to the writing. It seems a little churlish to complain about realism in a book about superhuman bloodsucking zombies leading to the collapse of  human civilization. But there are multiple scenes and chapters which involve mystical, supernatural powers and several discussions of  spiritual connections between characters that were somewhat impenetrable and incomprehensible to me. I'm a fan of speculative fiction in general but when it veers off into horror or supernatural I'm just not interested.

Overall, I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Cronin has created a compelling (and terrifying) world and has a knack with suspenseful plotting. His characters are well-drawn and easy for readers to connect to and become worried about which will survive. Although many of the story lines are resolved there are still important plot points left which will presumably be completed in the third book, The City of Mirrors which I intend to read sooner rather than later.

Title: The Twelve (The Passage, #2).
Author:
Justin Cronin.
Paperback: 626 pages.
Publisher:
 Ballantine Books.
Date Published: October 16, 2012.
Date Read: May 20, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.33/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B.
WRITING: B.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2018 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals1 of 2 women's semifinals4 of 4 men's quarterfinals, and 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals; I am also going to predict the men's semifinals.

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) [3]. These two have faced each other 4 times and Muguruza has only lost once; this happened to have been on clay (in 2015). They are facing each other in a major semifinal so of course there is a lot at stake. However, in addition to a berth in the 2018 French Open final, the winner of this match will grab the WTA #1 ranking. Of course, Halep is the current World #1 and is a 2017 French Open finalist so she is trying to defend both of these achievements. Muguruza is a 2-time major champion and won the 2016 French Open title while Halep hasn't won a major title yet but has reached 2 of the last four major finals: 2018 Australian Open and 2017 French Open. Muguruza demolished Maria Sharapova in the previous round, losing only 3 games in just over an hour. Halep was also impressive in her quarterfinal win but in a very different fashion, surviving a 3-hour war of attrition against Angelique Kerber by losing the first set in a tiebreaker and coming back to win the last two sets fairly easily. Muguruza is playing at a very high level, but I believe that Halep has the skills and mental resilience to survive almost anything Muguruza throws at her. PREDICTION: Halep.

Madison Keys (USA) [13] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [10].  This is a reprise of the 2017 U.S. Open final. I don't think very many people would have predicted these two players would become the faces of American tennis after the Williams sisters but it is looking like the Keys-Stephens rivalry will be one that will not only be defining American tennis, but very possibly women's tennis, at the very highest level of competition. Curiously the two have only met twice on tour and Stephens has won both matches. An important feature of the 2017 U.S. Open final was the fact that Madison was completely overwhelmed by the occasion and could not  play anywhere near her best tennis and the match turned into a mismatch. I think her coach Lindsay Davenport will be able to prepare her so that this won' happen this time. The problem is that Sloane is simply a better athlete and mover than Madison and this is likely to be rewarded on clay.  Madison is the better server and the (much) harder hitter, so if the match was on grass she would have a distinct advantage, but it's not and she doesn't. PREDICTION: Stephens. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)


Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2018 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the women's quarterfinals.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs Diego Schwarztman (ARG) [11].  Schwartzman showed his mettle in the previous round coming back from being hammered  in the first two sets against Kevin Anderson to win in 5 sets. Can the diminutive Schwartzman put an end to Nadal's streak of sets won at Roland Garros? Possibly, yes. Can the Argentine win the match? No. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [3] vs. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) [5]. Amazing that the one country that has two men in the quarterfinals is not Spain, France or Italy but Argentina! Del Potro is playing excellent tennis, and was very sharp in his straight set dismissal of John Isner in the round before, but Cilic is an even sterner challenge due to his better movement. However, for some reason the head-to-head between these two Big Boys is skewed way in favor of the Argentine. The two have played twelve times and Cilic has only won twice, with 7 consecutive losses sets including all three of their career meetings on clay. Cilic will be motivated to win this match, but his enthusiasm may be dampened realizing that he gets Nadal as a reward. I think this will probably be a tough 4 or 5 set match, which just gives the winner even longer odds against Nadal in the semifinals. Mad Professah's pick: Dimitrov.

David Goffin (BEL) [8] Marco Cecchinato (ITA) vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [20].  It looks like Djokovic may actually be getting his groove back, even though he is still not back to his colossal form of 2016 (and may never return to that form again). He is a 12-time major champion playing against a first-time major quarterfinalist who has won a handful of Grand Slam matches. Cecchinato did well to take out the very good clay court player David Goffin in the round before. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [7] vs. Sascha Zverev (GER) [2].  This is the popcorn match of this round. Thiem is widely considered the heir apparent to Nadal on clay and Zverev is the breakout star of the Next Generation cohort, having won 3 ATP Masters Shields before his 21st birthday (by contrast, Del Potro just won his first ATP Master Shield in Indian Wells this year) and has earned his #2 seeding. However, Zverev has played three consecutive 5-set matches to reach his very first major quarterfinal, while Thiem has reached the semifinals of Roland Garros for two consecutive years and is the only player to beat Nadal on clay this year. But that win in Madrid was followed by a relatively straightforward loss to Zverev, so this is not an easy match to call. However, it's hard to see how Zverev has enough to go the full distance with Thiem. However since they both know that isn't it possible Zverev could come out and blast Thiem off the court like he did in Spain? Possibly, but that's awfully hard to do on a clay court. Mad Professah's pick: Thiem.

Monday, June 04, 2018

2018 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2018 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Angelique Kerber [12] (GER). These two have faced each other 8 times and split the meetings evenly. Kerber has won the one match they played on clay while Halep won their last meeting in a major (the 2018 Australian Open semifinal). This is basically a pick 'em match. PREDICTION: Halep.

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) [3] vs. Maria Sharapova (RUS) [28]. After getting past Serena Williams for the first time in over a decade due to the 23-time major champion's withdrawal in the 4th round, Sharapova's reward is a match with one of the hottest players in the tournament, the #3 seed who is yet to drop a set. Surprisingly, Sharapova has never lost to  Muguruza in 3 matches, but none of their meetings have come since Muguruza broke through and became a major champion herself by beating Serena here two years ago. The two have a very similar style but Muguruza is younger and more athletic. I'd put my money on youth versus experience in this match up.  PREDICTION: Muguruza.

Madison Keys (USA) [13] vs. Venus Williams (USA) [5] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ).  I was in the stands when Venus Williams lost her first round match on the first day. That opened up this section of the draw and the surprise is that the diminutive (but hard-hitting) Putintseva is who was able to take advantage of the opening and reach her first major quarterfinal. Keys has been slipping through the draw under the radar but with her powerful groundstrokes and serve she is a threat on any surface, although one would expect clay would be where her game would be the least effective. However she has not lost a set in 4 rounds. I doubt that will change in this match and so she should reach her first French Open semifinal.  PREDICTIONKeys

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] Daria Kasatkina (RUS) [14] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [10]. Many tennis watchers are entranced by Kasatkina's game, which is reminiscent of that of Martina Hingis in its versatility and virtuosity. She basically dismantled and befuddled the #2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the round before to reach her first major quarterfinal at age 20. Stephens is the reigning U.S. Open champion but has not really been talked about much as a potential winner here. But her game is well-suited to clay. Interestingly, these two have played twice before and each came away with a win with Stephens having won their (green) clay court meeting while Kasatkina won their meeting on hard courts this year. Stephens has much more experience at this level, so I give her the edge here but Kasatkina seems unfazed by big stages so I think it will come down to who is the better player on the day, and there's no question in my mind the American is the better athlete. PREDICTION: Stephens. 

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin