Friday, June 14, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Stefanie Graf Turns 50!


Stefanie Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles championships (one less than Serena Williams) turns 50 years old today.

Happy Birthday, Steffi!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Nadal Wins 18th Major, Record 12th(!) Roland Garros Title





As I predicted, Rafael Nadal won his 12th Roland Garros title on Sunday, defeating Dominc Thiem for the second year in a row  6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1. The King of Clay is now 93-2 on the clay courts in Paris, having only ever lost to Novak Djokovic (2015) and Robin Soderling (2009).

The win brings Nadal, 33, to 18 major singles title, just 2 behind Roger Federer, 37 and 3 ahead of Djokovic's 15. Djokovic still is the World #1, but Nadal has reached two major finals this year and won one of them. Djokovic has the maximum number of points to defend at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open while Nadal has semifinals points to defend in both (Wimbledon l. Djokovic, US Open l. Juan Martin del Potro). To me there's no question that Nadal is the greatest of all time on clay, but I think the question of who is the greatest tennis player of all time it's still too early too tell, but currently Federer occupies that spot with his astonishing 20 major singles title. Amazingly, Nadal's 12 titles at Roland Garros is more major titles than Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg and many other great players earned in their entire career. Only 4 players, (Don Budge, Pete Sampras, Djokovic and Federer) have won more majors than Nadal has won French Open titles. To me, Nadal's extreme dominance in one area is a counter-argument to his claim to greatness because he has only won3 US Opens, 1 Australian Open and 2 Wimbledons, which are not really "notable achievements" taken together. Regardless, the conversation and arguments will continue until all 3 retire, which hopefully will not be for quite awhile!

Monday, June 10, 2019

EYE CANDY: Nana-Kofi Adams (3rd time)




Nana-Kofi Adams  is a British-African bodybuilder who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (February 25  2019 and October 8, 2018). Nana-Kofi is on Instagram (@nanakofi_adams) where to my surprise he only has 16K followers. Trust me, dear readers, you will not regret checking it out!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Barty Wins First Major Title, Reaches World #2





As I predicted, #8 seed Ash Barty, 23, defeated Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova, 19, in the final of the 2019 French Open, 6-1 6-3. Barty's win means that her new ranking will be World #2 on Monday. In fact, she will be less than 200 points behind World #1 Naomi Osaka who has won the two previous majors (2019 Australian Open and 2018 U.S. Open).

In the final, Barty was quickly up a set and a break (6-1, 2-0) and unlike the last two women who were in that situation in the Roland Garros final (Simona Halep in 2017 and Sloane Stephens in 2018), Barty did not falter and went on to win the title, instead of losing in three sets.

Barty had never passed the second round in her five previous appearances before this year. By winning the major she became Australian's latest major champion after a gap of 8 years (2011 US Open) and her ascent to World #2 is the first time an Aussie woman had been ranked that high since 1976.

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)


This is my prediction post for the 2019 French Open men's final. Last year I correctly predicted that Rafael Nadal  would defeat Dominic Thiem This year I predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals correctly2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly


 MEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW


Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] d. Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 6-3 6-4 6-2. This was the 39th meeting between the two tennis greats and despite Federer's improved backhand the result on clay was what was expected--an unsuspenseful win by Nadal, bringing his head to head lead back up to 24-15. The match was greatly affected by the weather as the wind was extremely high. Nadal was able to play more of his game in the weather than Federer was and was able to break Federer early in all 3 sets. (In the second set the break was a break-back which effectively ended Federer's chances to make the  match competitive.)

Dominc Thiem (AUT) [4] d. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5. This match was played over two days and was disrupted by weather multiple times. Thiem's win was quite a surprise, because Djokovic had won 26 consecutive grand slam matches. However, since Thiem had beaten Djokovic at this stage in the tournament before it was not out of the question it would happen again. It signals a significant breakthrough for the post-trivalry generation of another player under 30 reaching their second major final and signals that at some point in future the Prince of Clay may become the king.


 MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW

This is a reprise of last year's final which was easily won by Nadal. Since then, these two have played an epic 5-set match at the U.S. Open which was also won by Nadal, despite Thiem winning the first set 6-0! It's hard to see any other result beside Nadal winning his 12th French Open, but I think atleast the match will be extended to either four or five sets. PREDICTION: Nadal.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) vs Ash Barty (AUS) [8]
This is my prediction post for the 2019 French Open women's final. Last year I correctly predicted that Simona Halep would defeat Sloane Stephens This year I predicted 1 of 1 men's semifinals correctly2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly


 WOMEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW

Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8] d. Ananda Anisimova (USA) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3. Barty lost the first set to the teen phenom Amanda Anisimova but then was able to remain calm and simply outlast and outplay her opponent to win the last two sets relatively easily to reach her first major final and prevent an all-teen major final, the first since the 1999 US Open with Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d. Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] 7-5 7-6(2).  As I predicted, Vondrousova was able to use the complexity of her game to outlast her more experienced and more powerful opponent to win, although it was a rather close match the winner depended on being better on just a few very important points. Surprisingly, the younger player was able to be that player.



 WOMEN'S FINALS PREVIEW

The 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova has reached her first major final without losing a set over 6 rounds at this year's French Open. In fact, the Czech lefty is playing in her 3rd final of the year (she lost the first two) and has reached the quarterfinal or better of every tournament she played this year. She is the first teenager in a major final since Ana Ivanovic did it in 2007. Vondrousova has a 28-6 record for the year (27-5 since the Australian Open), which is the best on tour. She will face 23-year-old Ash Barty, whom she has played twice before (on grass in 2017 and hard court on 2018) and lost both times without winning a set. Barty will reach World #3 by reaching the final and can get as high as World #2 by winning the tournament, which would make her the highest rated Aussie female player in over 40 years(!) What's nice about the match is that it should be entertaining, since both Barty and Vondousova have crafty, smart games and tend not to overwhelm their opponents with power. Barty in particular is one of the few players who is in the Top 10 in doubles and singles, which shows in her comfort in all portions of the court. That, and the extra experience she has give Barty the edge. PREDICTION: Barty.

Friday, June 07, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 French Open I have also predicted the women's semifinals. This year I predicted 0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly.


Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Dominic Thiem (AUT) [4]

 Unlike the women's tournament, where there will be a first-time grand slam winner and there are two unseeded teenage players in the semifinals, the men's tournament features a player in his 4th consecutive Roland Garros semifinal, and he's the least accomplished player of the quarter remaining in the draw! This is the 8th meeting between Djokovic and Thiem and the 15-time major champion leads 6-2, including 3-2 on clay. But Thiem beat Djokovic in the semifinal round here 2 years ago in straight sets, when Djokovic was close to his nadir. However, the World #1 has now won 26 Grand Slam matches in a row and there's pretty good chance that he will win his second career Nole Slam on Sunday. Such a feat would cement his status as the future G.O.A.T, ahead of his two contemporaries in the golden "trivalry" of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic. Only the Prince of Clay stands in his way from a potential (record!) 55th meeting with Nadal in the final of Roland Garros on Sunday, the most difficult feat in tennis, one that he has accomplished once before. It's hard to bet against him, and I wouldn't. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 
Well here we are! After skipping the clay for the last three years in the second wind of his career to concentrate on winning Wimbledon, Federer surprised the tennis world by agreeing to play the clay season. I agree with most observers who think this will probably be the last time we see Federer play on clay, and this is one reason he is happy to have made the semifinals (and the concomitant ranking points) as well as this last opportunity to meet Rafa on clay, where he has lost 13 of 15 matches the two have played.  Interestingly, this semifinal result is the best Federer has had in the last four slams, having lost in the fourth round in Australia (to Stefanos Tsitsipas) and New York (to John Millman) and the quarterfinal (to Kevin Anderson). Presumably, he expects his results in the next four slams to be decidedly better as he prepares to retire after the Tokyo Olympics (as he chases the elusive Singles Gold medal). This Federer-Nadal XXXIX or #Fedal39 and even though Federer has won the last 5 meetings against Nadal (bringing the head-to-head deficit to only 15-23 thanks to a tennis racquet with a larger head and a more forceful and aggressive topspin backhand) the matchup has never been great for the Swiss Maestro, especially on clay. I would love for Federer to win this match, but I find it hard to even see him winning a set, frankly. And I'm okay with that. I wish the draw had been different and Thiem was in Federer's half and Nadal in Djokovic's. Then I would think there's a VERY good chance of a Federer-Djokovic final. This year, I don't think that's gonna happen. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 French Open I will also predict the men's semifinals. This year I predicted 0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] Ananda Anisimova (USA) vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8]. 17-year-old American phenom Amanda Anisimova, who Matt Roberts of the Tennis Podcast says "has the best backhand in women's tennis" pulled off the biggest upset of an already surprising women's tournament at Roland Garros. She defeated last year's French Open champion and the prohibitive favorite Simona Halep in straight sets. In fact, Anisimova has won all 10 sets of tennis she has played at Roland Garros this year!  She will face Ash Barty who is the only player to be ranked in the Top 10 of both singles and doubles simultaneously on either side of the draw. Barty has been playing excellent tennis all year, having won her biggest title in Miami by defeating World #2 Karolina Pliskova. Barty was able to blunt the power of last year's semifinalist Madison Keys to reach her first major semifinal. Barty is now the highest rated player remaining in the draw, and has an excellent chance of winning her first Grand Slam singles title (she has two Grand Slam doubles titles). She has never played Anisimova before but her game is difficult for anyone to handle, with lots of spins and fearlessness at the net. Who will feel more nerves, the 23-year-old favorite or the 17-year-old upstart? Anisimova showed (almost) no nerves in her dismissal of Halep, so I suspect it will be Barty, but I think the Aussie's game will get her to the finish line. PREDICTION: Barty.

Sloane Stephens (USA) [7] Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] vs Marketa Vondrousova (CZE).  What is it about the French Open that so many players win their first (and perhaps only) major title here? Jelena Ostapenko (2017), Francesca Schiavone (2011)  and Anastaasia Myskina (2004) are just a few that come to mind. Can Johanna Konta join this list? She had never won a main draw match at Roland Garros yet when she defeated last year's finalist Sloane Stephens in straight sets Chris Evert said it was one of the best clay court performances she had ever seen. I definitely did not expect that to happen! Her opponent in her first major semifinal will be the 18-year-old Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova who has reached the quarterfinals (or better) in every tournament she has played this year.  She already has demonstrated that she has made a quantum improvement in her game by defeating Petra Martic in the quarterfinals, a player she had lost 4 consecutive matches to  (including a clay court final this year). The two have  a 1-1 head-to-head record but Konta beat Vondrousova on her way to reaching the final in Rome just a few weeks ago (where she lost to Pliskova, who is no longer in the tournament). Konta has only one style of play while Vondrousova's game is much more creative and stylish, thus she can find multiple ways to win, and I think she will. PREDICTIONVondrousova

BOOK REVIEW: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S.A. Corey


Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth and penultimate book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.
I have eagerly bought and quickly devoured each of the previous books in this fast-paced, high-quality space opera after I stumbled into the first one, Leviathan Wakes, giving it a chance because of  the recommendation from George R.R. MartinThis series (and the author) are at the very top of the short list of my favorite reads and authors. (Others on this list would be anything by Peter F. Hamilton, Tana French, and Richard K. Morgan.)

Tiamat's Wrath takes place a few years after the events depicted in Persepolis Rising. The main characters of the series (James Holden, Alex Kamal, Naomi Nagata, and Amos Burton) are scattered across multiple star systems while more recent additions to the crew/family like Clarissa and Bobbie have also experienced big changes since they were added to the original inner circle. 

Tiamat's Wrath begins with the news of the death of Chrisjen Avasarala, one of the most popular characters in the series (played irrepressibly by Shohreh Aghdashloo in the television adaptation of the books) and probably my favorite character in The Expanse overall. That devastating news basically sets the tone for Tiamat's Wrath, because since it is the penultimate book it is becoming more likely that not all characters will survive each installment, and clearly not everyone is going to make it to the conclusion of the story. In fact, Tiamat's Wrath has the biggest body count of significant characters who die in any of the previous books in the series. In addition to Avasarala, there are other significant deaths in Tiamat's Wrath as well, which I won't mention here but are shocking and saddening when they occur.

The situation in Tiamat's Wrath  is definitely not good for our heroes and for most of humanity in the solar system and the nearly 1300 other star systems that can be accessed by the alien gates discovered at the end of Book 3, Abaddon's Gate. By dint of superior technological and military firepower (fueled by the mysterious alien entity called "the protomolecule" discovered in Book 2, Caliban's War), High Consul Winston Duarte of Laconia is now the de facto Emperor of the known Galaxy and Bobbie, Alex, and Naomi are trying to organize what little resistance there is to Laconian hegemonic rule of humankind. Holden is a prisoner on Laconia, an "honored guest" (read: prisoner/hostage) of Duarte and has been for years since the events at the end of Persepolis Rising. Amos is missing and assumed dead after not being heard of for years after volunteering for a special ops mission on Laconia several years before. Naomi has put herself into a self-imposed isolation as she works as the chief strategist for the Laconian resistance. Alex is piloting the Resistance's biggest ship under Bobbie's command.

The POV characters we get in Tiamat's Wrath are Elvi Okoge (an exobiologist who we first met in Book 4, Cibola Burn, who is now an important scientist in the Laconian Science Directorate), Alex, Bobbie, Naomi, Holden and a surprising new one: Teresa Duarte, the 14-year-old daughter of the most powerful man in the known Universe, Winston Duarte.

While the main storyline is how our main characters fight (and die!) to resist (and successfully!) end Laconian domination of the Sol system and others, another even more important story is how the aliens who destroyed the other aliens who developed the ring gates are apparently trying to figure out a way to eliminate the consciousness of every human in every system where humans live. It is clear those aliens know how to affect the consciousness, because during the course of Tiamat's Wrath there are multiple times that the entire human race (on all planets) simultaneously loses consciousness for a brief (but not insignificant) time. Only Elvi seems to realize how serious the threat to all human life is; all the other main characters are focused on the Laconian threat.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the plot in Tiamat's Wrath is the inside look at the putative Laconian Empire, as seen from the perspective of the 14-year-old Teresa. The way that everyone defers to Winston Duarte, and  by extension his daughter is fascinating (and frightening). The warping of the social fabric of an entire society is clearly depicted and manifests in unusual ways. For example, crushes and friendships between teenagers are nonsensical when one member of the group has the ultimate power to have anyone expelled, vanished or worse. We also get the perspective of Naomi Nagata as she becomes the head of the underground resistance and finds a way to undermine the seemingly omnipotent Laconian empire, even as the attacks by the evil aliens become more disruptive.

For me, an incredibly attractive aspect of Tiamat's Wrath and The Expanse series as a whole is the diversity of the characters. This is (obviously)  easier to see in the television adaptation but the authors make it explicit in the book as well. Non-white characters (such as Naomi, Elvi, the Duartes, Cortázar and Bobbie, to name a few) have incredibly significant parts to play in the story. The inclusion of non-heterosexuality happens casually but intentionally among various secondary characters which for an LGBT reader like myself is quite affirming. The effort to be consciously inclusive is a clear feature of the book (and show).

SPOILER ALERT!!


By the end of Tiamat's Wrath  our four main characters are actually back together (on the Rocinante no less!) which was incredibly satisfying (if a little improbable). It brought back nostalgic memories of where the entire story began, way back in Book 1. It’s nice that Book 8 basically has a “happy ending” but this does make me suspicious that Book 9 may not....

Regardless, things are teed up perfectly for an exciting conclusion to the entire 9-book series in the final book. I can't wait!

OVERALL RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)
Author: 
James S.A. Corey.
Paperback: 534 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: March 29, 2013.
Date Read: May 24, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

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

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