Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Djokovic Beats Murray To Win 11th Major (6th Aussie Open Title)

As I predicted, World #1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia defeated World #2 Andy Murray of Great Britain 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) in the men's singles final of the 2016 Australian Open to win his 11th major title, and a record 6th Aussie Open title. Murray lost a record 5th Australian Open title (four to Djokovic and one to Federer.)

Djokovic's win means he now has 11 major titles, tying Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg's tally at #5 on the list of greatest men's single champions. He is behind Roger Federer (17), Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras (14) and Roy Emerson (12). He is now 6-0 in finals at the Australian Open and ties Emerson for the most titles in Melbourne.

Djokovic is playing some of the best tennis of his career, and is dominating men's tennis in a way that has been seldom seen in the modern era. Since January 2015, he has a 92-5 record, which matches Roger Federer's 2006 season. In the last 12 months he has reached 17 consecutive tournament finals and has failed to win 3 of them (2015 French Open, 2015 Cincinnati Masters, 2015 Canada Masters). He has won 3 of the last 5 and 5 of the last 7 major tournaments. If he wins the 2016 French Open, he will complete the Nole Slam, and become the first male player to hold all major titles simultaneously in decades and if he's playing that well he just might go on to achieve the calendar grand slam as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] vs Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1]
This is my prediction post for the men's singles final at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I incorrectly predicted Andy Murray would beat Novak Djokovic in the men's final but correctly predicted Serena Williams would beat Maria Sharapova in the women's final. This year, I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview of this year's Women's singles final.

Men's Semifinals Review: How The Finalists Got Here
Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3.  With this win (that I predicted), Djokovic nudges ahead 23-22 in his career head-to-head with Roger Federer and with the trajectory of their careers in reverse directions it is hard to see that  there will be turning point in the Swiss Great's favor anytime in the near future. The first two sets were simply tennis at a level that we have not seen before. Djokovic was simply unbeatable, and Federer was lucky to come out of that first 54 minutes of this match with his dignity intact, despite managing to barely eke out 3 games to his opponent's 12. Federer did well to stay strong mentally on the court and when Novak's level dropped he was able to take advantage and snatch the third set. However, just a few errant shots in a service game in the fourth set and the World #1 was able to break and hold serve to close out the match and reach his 6th Australian Open final, where he is undefeated in his five previous appearances.

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] d. Milos Raonic (CAN) [13] 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2.  Murray showed why he is currently the #2 player in the world by dismissing a energetic and energized Milos Raonic who served impeccably to gain a 2-1 sets advantage over him in the semifinal. Murray refused to panic and Raonic's large (6-foot-5) body let him down as he suffered a hip injury which hampered his movement midway through the fourth set and made the result not in doubt for much of the fifth set. (Murray raced out to a 5-0 lead but Raonic stiffened his resistance but still succumbed in the end). Raonic has nothing to be ashamed of and he has more information about what he needs to do to breakthrough to compete in the ultimate test against the very top echelon of men's tennis. I would be very surprised if we don't see him there within the next year or two.

Men's Final Preview: Who The Champion Will Be
Djokovic is playing in his 6th major final here in Melbourne, and he is currently undefeated at this stage of the tournament having beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008, Rafael Nadal in 2012 and Murray in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Last year's final was particularly rough, because despite playing much better tennis than his opponent for most of the first three sets, Murray managed to lose two of them and then lost the last set 6-0. In fact, with Djokovic posting a 21-9 head-to-head lead over Murray, including 10 of 11 matches since Murray's 2013 Wimbledon final win, the final set in their most competitive matches have often been blow-out victories for the Serb.

Surprisingly, in major finals, Djokovic only has a 3-2 edge, with a 3-0 lead in non-final grand slam matches (2015 French Open semifinal, 2014 US Open quarterfinal and 2012 Australian Open semifinal). Most people expect that Djokovic will simply run away with this match in 3-sets but I actually think it will be much closer than that. I think it will be an epic war of attrition, and there is a possibility (a small one, but the opening is there, as a result of Djokovic's shockingly bad performance in his 5-set win over Gilles Simon in the fourth round) that Djokovic could go off. Everyone expects him to win this match, he expects to win this match, and he probably will win this match. But if things don't go as planned (like he loses the first set), then I think it is very possible this men's final could be as surprising (and entertaining) as the women's final. That being said, Djokovic is 10-8 in major finals while Murray is 2-6 in major finals for a reason.
MadProfessah's pick: Djokovic.

2016 AUS OPEN: Kerber Shocks Serena To Win 1st Major Title

Defying my predictions and confounding history, Angelique Kerber outlasted Serena Williams 6-4 3-6 6-4 to win her first major title, at the 2016 Australian Open. Serena was aiming to match Steffi Graf's career total of 22 major titles while Kerber was aiming to become the first German player since Graf to win a major title. Serena was 21-4 in major finals and had only ever lost to three women in major finals (Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur). Kerber was match point down in the very first round of the tournament but after coming through that she was able to play her very best tennis calmly and effectively and after getting a dream draw was able to come back from a huge deficit against Victoria Azarenka and continue that momentum to reach her first major final against Serena and win it! Now that's two consecutive majors where we have had first time slam winners. First Flavia Pennetta did it in New York last September and now 28-year-old Kerber is the champion in Melbourne.

How The Match Was Won
Serena had not dropped a set going into her 7th Australian Open final, the first time she had ever done that, and since she had won all previous six finals in Melbourne this was viewed as a positive omen. However, what happened when the final began was that Serena started nervously and was broken quickly. This was a slight surprise, but since it had also happened against Maria Sharapova most fans didn't worry and fully expected Serena to right the ship quickly. She did come back and evened the set at 3-all. Then surprisingly, Serena got broken again and Kerber's improved serve was able to carry her to take the first set in the face of  nearly two dozen unforced errors from her opponent and (ominously) no aces.

Surprisingly, we then discovered that Serena has only won 2 of 6 grand slam finals where she loses the first set, although she had never previously lost a 3-set major final (8-0). So, the key thing to do is win the first set when playing Serena in a final (because it usually means that she is having a very bad day and may actually go down in straight sets).

Serena finally started serving a bit better in the second set, but she never really punished Kerber's second serve like it deserved. However, she was able to get a break early and rushed out to a 4-1 lead, which she was able to maintain to take the middle set 6-3. (Kerber did well to hold after being down 2-5, 30-all to force Serena to serve out the second set and earn the right to serve first in the 3rd.)

The third set was one of the most compelling sets of tennis on the women's game in a really, really long time. Kerber hit 12 winners and only 3 unforced errors while Serena hit 19 winners and 18 unforced errors. Serena fell down 0-2 but was able to battle back to even the score at 2-all and after Kerber held the two played an intense 10-minute, 5-deuce game that Serena lost to go down 2-4 in the final set. Kerber was again able to hold despite not serving well (she was 56% first serves in for the match and won 60% of first serves points and 58% of second serve points, all stats in which she surpassed Serena today.)

Amazingly, despite being down 2-5 in the final set, Serena was able to come back and get back on serve, and she had a game point serving at 4-5, 40-30 but she missed that first serve and hit a very weak second serve which Kerber pummeled down the line for a winner to get to deuce. After a long rally, Serena went for a crosscourt winner but hit the top of the tape and set up championship point. Serena lost this point on a volley error (it was an easy volley that sailed well over the baseline).

Overall, a really great match. Serena was nervous, and frankly had the wrong game plan to come to net in an attempt to win points. Kerber was too fast and her lefty spin makes volleying difficult and it showed with Serena only making 15 of 32 net points. However, I'm happy to see Serena so fot so early in the year and I'm confident that if she stays healthy all year Serena will still reach Steffi's total of 22 titles this year (and probably end her career with 24 or 25). It takes the pressure off the rest of her year, so she should be extra motivated to get 22 in either Paris, Wimbledon (more likely) or New York (in addition to more Gold in Rio).

Kerber will move up to World #2 when the rankings come out on Monday, bumping down Simona Halep to #3 and elbowing out Sharapova out of the Top 5 as Radwanska and Muguruza round out the top 5. Amusingly, Pennetta is still in the Top 10 at #7 even though she retired at the end of 2015! I think it will be tough to end the year at #2 but I do expect her to remain in the Top 5 and to see Azarenka return to the Top 5 by the end of the year.

2016 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Serena Williams (USA) [1] vs.  Angelique Kerber (GER) [7]
The women's final is now set at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. This year, I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals, 2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also published a post predicting the men's singles final result.

Women's Semifinals Review: How They Got Here
Serena Williams (USA) [1] d. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4] 6-0 6-4. As expected, Serena was not troubled by the wiliness of her Polish opponent and was even inspired to raise her  performance to another level and completely blew away the World #4 seed in the first set. The second set was a bit closer but the result was never really in doubt and now Serena has won all 9 matches she has ever played against Radwanska.

 Angelique Kerber (GER) [7] d. Johanna Konta (GBR) 7-5 6-2. This was the end of an excellent tournament by the Briton who had only been to the 4th round once before (in the previous major) in nine tries. She joins a list of other players who have had breakthroughs into the semifinals in Melbourne (Sloane Stephens in 2013, Genie Bouchard in 2014 and Madison Keys in 2015). Hopefully Konta will have a better post-breakthrough period than those players. For Kerber, her win here is a reward of her increased fitness and recognition of the great progress she has made in the last year and her consistency as a Top 10 player for the last four years. Kerber showed all that in her assured dismantling of her less experienced opponent, allowing her to make far too many mistakes to let the match ever be competitive.

Women's Final Preview: Who Will Win
Kerber and Serena have played 6 times before and Serena leads 5-1 in their head-to-head. However, this means that Kerber does possess a win over Serena (in the 2012 Cincinnati W&S Open) which should do something to calm the nerves of the German player appearing in her first major final and feeling the weight of an entire nation who have been waiting for an heir apparent to the great Steffi Graf. Graf looms large over the match because she is the reason why both players are here. Kerber treats Fraulein Forehand as role model and hopes to follow in her footsteps as a major champion. But Graf is also an inspiration for Serena as well, as she is attempting to match the German's gaudy total of 22 major titles with a 7th major title here in Melbourne to cement her claim to be the greatest player of all time.

Tactically, Kerber is extremely fit and as a lefty, possesses a spin that Serena rarely sees. However, there's a reason why Serena is playing for her 22nd major (21-4). She has only been beaten in a major by three people Venus Williams (twice), Maria Sharapova (2004 Wimbledon) and Samantha Stosur (2011 U.S. Open). Very few players have won their very first major appearance, and it is unlikely indeed that Angie Kerber will join that group.
MadProfessah's pick: Serena in 2 sets.

Friday, January 29, 2016

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Mariah Carey Engaged To Aussie Billionaire

Mariah Carey is in the news this week because she has announced that she is engaged to an Australian billionaire, James Packer. Packer, 48, is the 4th richest man in Australia, worth at least $4.7 billion. Mariah is 45 years old and has two 4 1/2 year old twins (named Moroccan and Monroe). She is recently divorced from her second husband, Nick Cannon.

Hat/tip to People

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

The men's semifinals are now set at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. This year, I predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview of the 2016 Australian Open Women's semifinals.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs  Roger Federer (SUI) [3].  This will be the 45th meeting between these two champions and the two are currently evenly matched at 22-all. However, a more significant feature of their recent rivalry is that in 5-set matches, Djokovic has prevailed three consecutive times (2015 US Open, 2015 Wimbledon and 2014 Wimbledon). Federer-Djokovic XLV is occurring on turf where Djokovic is the most comfortable, since he has won a record 5 Australian Open titles in Melbourne, and he has played in the final here every year since 2011 except for 2014 where he lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. If Federer has lost to Djokovic twice in two consecutive Wimbledon finals where he ostensibly plays his best tennis how can he possibly win on a slow hard court at night in Melbourne where Djokovic has been most successful? Additionally, Federer has lost in the semifinals of Australia the last four times he was here, losing to Djokovic (2011), Nadal (2012 and 2014), and Murray (2013). I'm a huge Federer fan and would love him to win this match with all my heart, but my head says that today is not the day that will happen (and I do think he will win his 18th before he retires). Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic in 5 sets.

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] vs Milos Raonic (CAN) [13].  Interestingly, both semifinal matches are between competitors who have completely even head-to-head records. Raonic and Murray are playing for only the 7th time (although they have been scheduled two other times they have each ceded a walkover to the other player). Raonic is playing in only his second ever major semifinal, while Murray is playing in his 6th major semifinal here (in the last seven years) and the 18th of his career, the most ever for a British male player. Raonic actually has a slight advantage 3-2 in hard-courts but the one time they played at the US Open in 2012 Murray dismissed the Canadian youngster  on his way to winning his very first major. Raonic has definitely improved and I am rather bullish on his chances of (eventually) reaching a major final. However, I just don't think that he has the mobility or fitness to outlast Murray in a 5-set match at this stage of his career. He did incredibly well serving and volleying to upset World #4 Stan Wawrinka in the 4th round but I just don't believe that will be an effective against one of the best service-returners in the game. Mad Professah's pick: Murray in 4 sets.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

The women's semifinals are now set at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals, 2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. This year, I predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview of the 2016 Australian Open Men's semifinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [1]  vs Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4]. As expected, Serena continued her dominance over Maria Sharapova, despite a poor beginning which saw her down 0-2 but she quickly recovered for a routine 6-4 6-1 win, her 18th consecutive victory over her putative rival. Radwanska was similarly efficient against Carla Suarez Navarro in the other quarterfinal played two days ago, also winning in straight sets. Serena has never lost to the Polish player in 8 meetings and there's no reason why that should change now. But after Serena's heartbreaking (and puzzling) loss to Roberta Vinci we now know anything is possible, and Radwanska can replicate those low-bouncing slice backhands that gave Serena so much trouble in New York. However, now that there are no other major champions in the tournament, Williams can surely see her history-making 22nd major in her future, as well as her chance to possibly replicate Steffi Graf's Golden Slam of 1988 twenty-eight years later. Serena will take Radwanska seriously (Radwanska has won the most matches on tour in the last major tournament but Serena was M.I.A for that period) but her record speaks for itself. This is her 30th major semifinal (25-4) and she has never lost an Australian Open semifinal (or final). Mad Professah's Pick: Williams in 2 sets.

 Angelique Kerber (GER) [7] vs Johanna Konta (GBR) Venus Williams (USA) [8]. This was the match-up I did not expect to see, since I picked both of their opponents to win. I was convinced that Azarenka would continue her dominance of Kerber, but the German dug deep and came back from a double-break deficit in the second set to win the last five games of that set and the match. It was a streaky match at time from both players (Kerber had raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first set before Azarenka settled down and made the first set close). I'm happy for her and believe that she deserve to be a major finalist and a Top 5 stalwart. I guess there's magic in that #BackTheBrits hashtag after all. They have three British players in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals (Men's singles, Men's Doubles and Women's singles). I thought the qualifier from China would prevail since she was more mach tough and had played higher ranked opponents but Konta is fearless. Imagine is Venus Williams had not lost their first round encounter. Would the American be competing for a second all-Williams Australian Open final? Konta has a chance but I think the player with more experience will come through in the end. Mad Professah's pick: Kerber in 3 sets.

THE EXPANSE (S1E06): "Rock Bottom"

The sixth episode of Season 1 of The Expanse is called "Rock Bottom" and was first aired Tuesday, January 12th. Since that date was my 25th anniversary I did not see the episode until I got back from my Hawaiian vacation this week so that is the reason my recap is delayed.

S1E06: Rock Bottom.

The episode begins with a showdown at gun point between Fred Johnson and Holden & Amos on Tycho Station. Eventually,  we learn that Holden is willing to barter his safety for the safety of his crew by agreeing to do an errand for Johnson: take a ship out to Eros Station and investigate what happened to the Scopuli (Julie Mao's ship). 

Back on Ceres, Miller is being tortured and interrogated by Anderson Dawes and OPA muscle to find out what he knows about  Julie Mao and the Scopuli. Dawes figures out that the source of Miller's obsession with the Mao case is that he is in love with her.

Out in the belt, an MCRN ship finds a Belter ship crewed by an uncle and his nephew who are mining space rocks. The MCRN Marines board the ship and harass the Belters and we begin to see the source of the mutual animosity between Belters and Martians. There's something "off" about this scene, however. The acting of the Marines or the dialogue just simply doesn't work. After the Marines leave, the older Belter suddenly kicks his nephew out of the airlock and takes his ship on a suicide mission to hurl his space rocks at the Martian ships, and gets his ship blown to smithereens. The scene ends with the nephew whimpering all alone out in space, in a suit, with a beacon and a limited amount of air. We don't really understand why the older Belter decided to kill himself, and we are wondering if he also killed his nephew, and his reasons aren't completely clear.

On Earth, Avasarala is doing what she does best, bullying someone into giving her what she wants. This time it is access to someone else's spy on Tycho Station. While ostensibly out with her grandson at an aquarium, she threatens some dude that she can make his son's parole go away if he doesn't help her.

On Tycho Station, we see Amos and Alex having a drink in a dive bar and Amos reveals that he "grew up in places like this" while Alex reveals that flying the Rocinante was the best feeling he has ever had. We also see Holden and Naomi having a drink together (in a much nicer bar) where they toast their former crewmate, the recently deceased Shed. However, the scene ends with a guy recording Holden and Naoimi with a pretty nifty camera embedded in his pupil and we're pretty sure we've discovered who Avasarala's spy is.

On Ceres, Miller barely escapes a painful death by being dumped into an airlock when his ex-girlfriend shoots the OPA muscle who were trying to kill him. He finally was able to access the information that Julie Mao obtained from the data broker and now he knows that some kind of bioweapon was involve din the incident at Phoebe Station. As soon as he confronts the head of Star Helix with his big news she cancels all his access accounts, deletes his files and fires him, demonstrating that she was completely under the control of Anderson Dawes' faction of the OPA.

Overall this episode was significantly less coherent than the previous episode and the direction of certain scenes (Especially the one where the MCRN Marines bully the Belters, the private tete a tete between Holden and Johnson on the Roci and the interrogation scene between Dawes and Miller) were all problematic.

  • The interactions between the crew were highlights (we discovered pieces of the backstory of both Amos and Alex; saw Naomi and Holden enjoying each other's company and saw the crew really start to gel together
  • The scene on the ice hauler was puzzling (only after I read recaps did I realize that the nephew on the ice hauler was the same kid named Diogo who was busted by Miller stealing water back on Ceres but then sent packing with a warning.
  • There was something really wrong with some of the spoken dialogue in this episode (especially the scenes I mentioned above) which lacked authenticity in the acting, I felt.

GRADE: 7/10.

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

The women's quarterfinals are now set at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview the 2016 Australian Open Men's quarterfinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [1]  vs Maria Sharapova (RUS) [5]. I'm convinced that someday Serena's win streak against Sharapova is going to end while the two are actively on the tour. It is currently at 17 matches in a row over 11 years. However, I think it is exceedingly unlikely that the streak will end at a major tournament. Serena is just too emotionally invested in maintaining her dominance over the highest paid female athlete in the world and cementing her historical legacy to allow anything untoward happen at a major tournament. So far in this year's Australian Open, Sharapova has been serving really well, while Serena has not been doing so. In fact, Sharapova has twice as many aces (52) than Serena (25) over the first four rounds, even if the Russian has a lower overall first-serve percentage (57% to 61%). While I am firmly convinced that Serena's win streak is going to end sometime, but I do not think that it will be today. Mad Professah's Pick: Williams in 2 sets.

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4] vs Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) [10]The Polish ninja is slicing through the draw in her typical noiseless but deadly fashion. Despite being the #4 seed and her surprising victory at the WTA Year End Championships in Singapore no on seems to be thinking about the #4 seed as a potential winner of this tournament. Of course, this is probably because whoever wins this quarterfinal will be facing a multiple-time major champion in the semifinals and will be a prohibitive underdog. Radwanska almost got taken out of the tournament in the round before when she was down 5-2 in the third set against Anna-Lena Friedsam but was able to take advantage when the younger player started cramping and put up increasingly less resistance as Friedlam lost the last five games of the match. Her opponent got bageled in her previous round against the local favorite Daria Gavrilova but managed to come back and win the last two sets relatively easily as the young Aussie crumbled emotionally under the hopes of the host nation. This match should be emotionally resonant match as both players would love to reach their very first Australian Open semifinal. Radwanska has a slight 2-1 head-to-head lead over CSN but the Spaniard beat Radwanska on her way to the final of the Miami tournament last year (where she lost to Serena). However, this Radwanska is much better than the impostor who was haunting the tour last Spring. This Radwnska is on a double-digit winning streak, which I expect to continue. Mad Professah's pick: Radwanska in 3 sets.

 Angelique Kerber (GER) [7] vs Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [14]. Kerber was down match point in her very first match of the tournament and managed to come through that test with more resolve that has brought her to her first ever quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Unfortunately for Angie, she will be facing a resurgent Vika Azarenka who is a 2-time Australian Open champion (2012 and 2013) who sports a 6-0 head-to-head undefeated record against her, including a win in the Brisbane final just two weeks ago. Whoever does win this match is almost guaranteed a ticket to the 2016 Australian Open women's final since they will be facing an unseeded(!) player. I would really like to see Kerber reach her first major final, but I suspect Azarenka will announce her return to the upper echelon of women's tennis by reaching the final. Mad Professah's pick: Azarenka in 3 sets.

Simona Halep (ROU) [2] Johanna Konta (GBR) vs Venus Williams (USA) [8] Shuai Zhang (CHN).  This is the battle of the upset queens. One of these unseeded players will reach their first major semifinal, earning more money in one tournament than they have in their entire career to date. Interestingly, both Konta and Zhang have followed up on stunning upsets in the first round, taking out #2 seed Simona Halep and #8 seed Venus Williams to win three more matches over other opponents who they were not expected to beat. Zhang took out 2015 Australian Open semifinalist Madison Keys after the American's mobility was hampered with an upper thigh injury occurred in the second set, while Konta took out Ekaterina Makarova who often plays her best tennis in Melbourne.  Konta has become the first British woman to reach a major quarterfinal since 1984. Zhang is a qualifier but I think because she has had to get through a tougher draw I will give her the edge to continue her dreamlike run Down Under. Mad Professah's pick: Zhang in 3 sets.

2016 AUS OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

The women's quarterfinals are now set at the 2016 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also written a preview the 2016 Australian Open women's quarterfinals.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs  Kei Nishikori (JPN) [7]Djokovic had a bad day at the office with 100(!) unforced errors during a 5-set win over Gilles Simon the round before while his opponent Kei Nishikori dismissed 2008 Aussie finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets. Although Djokovic has a 5-2 head-to-head lead over Nishikori, although the Japanese player won the first time the two met in a major was the 2014 US Open semifinal, which is the last time the World #1 failed to reach a major final. Djokovic has to be happy that despite not playing his best tennis against a dangerous opponent he is still in the tournament and is playing in his 27th consecutive major quarterfinal (just 9 away from Federer's record of 36). I had picked Nishikori to go out early but I am pleased that it looks like he has managed to end his slide in the rankings and is playing excellent tennis but I would be shocked to see him eliminate Djokovic in two consecutive meetings in a major, especially a hard-court slam. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic in 5 sets.

Roger Federer (SUI) [3]  vs Tomas Berdych (CZE) [6]. Tomas Berdych has two consecutive wins at a major over Roger Federer, even though Federer leads their overall head-to-head 15-6 with a lot of those wins coming in 3-set matches. Both players are coming off strong performances in their 3rd round wins (Berdych had a 5-set win over Roberto Bautista Agut and Federer demolished David Goffin in straight sets). Berdych had an incredible win over Rafael Nadal here last year and when he's playing his best he can beat anyone. Federer should win this match but I fear he might have peaked too early in his win over Goffin. However, I am sure that Federer is looking forward to a 3rd consecutive major meeting with World #1 Djokovic in the semifinals and will fight hard to get that opportunity. Mad Professah's Pick: Federer in 4 sets.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [5] Gael Monfils (FRA) [23] vs Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [4] Milos Raonic (CAN) [13]. This was expected to be a blockbuster quarterfinal reprise of the 2014 Australian Open men's final but after Nadal was upset in the first round this year by fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco Wawrinka was expected to have a fairly easy path to the semifinals. However, he ran into an energetic Milos Raonic who served and volleyed his way to a 2-0 set advantage and then somehow managed to gut out the win when the Stanimal mounted an incredible come back to force a fifth set. Monfils has an excellent chance to reach his first major quarterfinal in Melbourne, since he has played Raonic twice before and never lost to the Canadian. However, the two have not played since 2013 and Raonic is a much better player now, and believes he can become the first of Generation Next to win a major. To do so, he is going to have to show that he can come back from a 5-set battle and be competitive the next round. For Monfils, he is playing in his 7th major quarterfinal and is only 1-5 so far.   Raonic is playing in his 4th quarterfinal, and his record is 1-2. That being said, I really want to see Monfils reach a major final. He has the game to do it, but he needs to be much more aggressive and use all his athletic prowess to get past Raonic. Either way, one of these players will reach their second ever career major semifinal. Mad Professah's pick: Monfils in 5 sets.

Andy Murray (GBR) [2] vs David Ferrer (ESP) [8].  Murray's tournament is being overshadowed by what is happening off the court. His wife is back home, ready to give birth to their first child any day now and Murray has said that he will fly home in order to be there with his family if that happens. Then his weekend's his father-in-law (Nigel Sears, Ana Ivanovic's coach and his wife's dad) collapsed on the court and things did not look good. However, Sears has stabilized and he is being flown back to Britain for treatment. All this drama off the court had not had an effect on Murray's play on court, and he has very good chances to reach his 5th final here in Melbourne (0-4 so far). The first obstacle is David Ferrer who ended American John Isner's hopes and is the only player in the men's singles draw who has yet to lose a set. This streak will almost certainly end during this match since Murray has an advantageous 12-6 head-to-head record against Ferrer. Mad Professah's pick: Murray in 4 sets.

EYE CANDY: Topher Di Maggio (reprise)

Topher Di Maggio has appeared as eye candy before (July 13, 2015). He is a well-known adult performer who is also a model. Enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2016

FOOD REVIEW: Providence (Melrose District, Los Angeles, CA)

The Other Half and I celebrate January 12th as the anniversary of the beginning of our relationship. Since we met in 1991 this year it was our 25th anniversary so we decided to splurge and made a dinner reservation at Providence, which is widely recognized as the best restaurant in Los Angeles. We then planned a trip to Maui (Hawaii) for the rest of the week to continue the celebration.

Here is a short photo essay on our Providence experience.

Amuse Bouche: nasturtium leaf with sushi rice and 
Amuse Bouche: wagyu beef masquerading as cigars or fancy Slim Jims

Even the bread, with butter and salt, was exemplary
maine lobster, orient charm eggplant, smoked sesame, miso
new bedford scallop, cauliflower, vadouvan
A5 Wagyu Beef (sweet potato, aged vinegar, parmesan)
troll-caught salmon, sunchoke, peas, black truffle
Dessert: Ganache chocolate with lemon paste and
glazed, roasted hazelnuts
Dessert: coconut/lemon drop, macaroon,
mexican chocolate with marshmallow

For our twenty-fifth anniversary, the Other Half and I wanted to do something special, so we made a reservation at Providence, widely regarded as the best restaurant in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, we realized it must have been well over five years since we had last eaten here.

Providence is famous for its 2 Michelin stars and its eleven-course and seven-course prix fixe menus, with exquisite wine pairings. The full eleven-course menu takes at least 3 hours to complete, but there is a 7-course version for $180 per person ($265 with wine pairing) while the four-course menu is $115 ($160 with wine pairing).

We decided that both of us would try the 7-course menu with one of us getting the wine pairing and the other not. The service was exceptional, and even the bread (brioche, sourdough or white) was memorable. The meal started with a comically long sequence of amuse bouches (there were five!) Particularly good were the wagyu beef cigars (pictured above) and the smoked salmon with potato crisp.

Among the courses, we decided to pay extra and upgrade the wagyu beef entree but although it is the highest cut of this beef available, it is really an acquired taste, one which I don't think I have acquired.

The favorite thing we ate that night in my opinion was the scallop, closely followed by the wagyu beef cigar and the chocolate dessert.

Overall, the dining experience was a memorable one, but with an overall cost of roughly three times the price of an evening at other excellent places like Union, Ledlow and Baco Mercat  think I would rather go to each of those once before I go to Providence again. However, I would strongly recommend it to commemorate an extremely memorable occasion, which it was for us.

: Providence.
Location: 5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
Contact: 323-460-4170.
Visit: January 12, 2016.

FOOD: A+. 

OVERALL: A (4.0/4.0)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

YAY! Netflix Announces 10-Episode Deal To Adapt Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon

Wow! The number of my favorite works of fiction that are becoming multimedia projects is increasing. Of course if you follow this blog you'll know that I have been a big fan of Game of Thrones (adapted for HBO from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin) and I'm currently ecstatic that the first season of James S.A. Corey's The Expanse series is on SyFy.

Yesterday, Netflix announced that is going to adapt Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon into a 10-episode streaming series. There are three books in the Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies), which are set in the 25th century and are an exciting combination of noir mystery and far-future cyberpunk science fiction. Here's the description by io9:
Altered Carbon is set in the 25th century, where humans live all across the universe and consciousness can be transferred from body to body, making death a thing of the past. It follows a centuries old soldier who is “resleeved” (their word for transferring consciousness) into the body of a police officer and must then explore a huge conspiracy. 
Writer and producer Laeta Kalogridis, who co-wrote Avatar and Terminator Genisys, bought the rights to the book and its sequels several years back, after co-writing a movie script that didn’t get picked up. She’ll now serve as writer and executive producer. 
“Altered Carbon is one of the most seminal pieces of post-cyberpunk hard science fiction out there,” Kalogridis said at that time. “A dark, complex noir story that challenges our ideas of what it means to be human when all information becomes encodable, including the human mind.”
It looks like the production team is strong as well (although Terminator Genisys mostly sucked) the studio SkyDance is well-versed in big special effects movies and is exactly the right place for this adaptation. VERY psyched about this news!

I don't understand why producers are not knocking down the doors of two of my other favorite sci-i authors Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth saga and Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space books would make awesome movies or television series.


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