Friday, June 30, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Serena Williams Reveals Her Very Pregnant Body In Vanity Fair Cover

Whoa! Serena Williams reveals her very pregnant body on the cover of Vanity Fair in a stunning nude portrait taken by the celebrity photographer Annie Liebowitz. The 35-year-old discusses her pregnancy and her future important life events (birth of the child in September and upcoming nuptials) as well as her intention to return to competitive tennis in 2018!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Miracles is the third and final book in the Divine Cities trilogy that began with City of Stairs and continued with City of Blades.

I had difficulty finishing the first book in the series when I tried it back in 2015 but after some false stops I persevered and I'm glad that I did. It made such an impression on me that I pre-ordered copies of both the book's sequels from Amazon, and it turned out that City of Blades is probably my favorite entry in the The Divine Cities sequence.

The story and characters in City of Miracles are very closely connected to those that appeared in the first book, City of Stairs. This is a good thing because that book introduced us to two awesome characters: Shara Komayd (the niece of the Prime Minister of Saypur who has a knack for chasing down the remnants of the divine beings who used to rule the now colonized Continent) and her bodyguard, Sigrud je Harkvaldsson (a large blond giant of a man who has a curiously high tolerance for pain and a penchant for inflicting violent death around him). A third awesome character is Turyin Mulaghesh, the military commander who participated in an atrocious war crime at an early age and who later befriends Sigrud and Shara despite being introduced in City of Stairs as an ideological enemy. While Mulaghesh is essentially the main character in City of Blades, Sigrud is the key figure in City of MiraclesIn fact, the third and final book in the Divine Cities trilogy is not only centered around Sigrud but introduces Shara's adopted daughter Tatyana as another key figure.  Sigrud seeks  her out after hearing about Shara's death by assassination several years after the events depicted in City of Blades occurred.

I don't want to spoil the plot of  City of Miracles, but I do want to share the themes of the book, which on the surface are somewhat similar to the themes addressed in the other books in the Divine Cities trilogy. Namely, these include the nature of belief and worship, the singular nature of the relationship between parent and child and the perils of omnipotence and cultural appropriation. (We are dealing here with stories that revolve around the existence of gods, usually called "Divinities" in the books, as well as their  numerous offspring who are demigods.) Another central theme is how the echoes of the past can influence the present, and the future. The famous aphorism by Faulkner, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" is quite true in all three books as the effects of historical incidents and events are unearthed by Shara, as she often has to separate  obfuscation due to the passage of time from deliberate historical revision. The central role that memory and history play in the story is an authorial device that Bennett uses to deepen and strengthen the salience of the world-building he achieves in the Divine Cities trilogy. The reader really gets a sense of what these places are like and have been like by the end of the story.

City of Miracles contains a lot of action and suspense (moreso than the first two books, I think) because our heroes spend a fair amount of time being chased by very powerful creatures who clearly want to do extreme harm to them. These scenes are done very well, especially since it is the third book the reader is particularly emotionally invested in the fates of characters we have grown attached to over several hundred pages.

Overall, City of Miracles  is a strong and fitting end to a compelling fantasy trilogy which is quite original in scope, setting and story.

Title: City of Miracles (Divine Cities, #3).
Robert Jackson Bennett.
Paperback: 464 pages.
 Broadway Books.
Date Published: May 2, 2017.
Date Read: June 13, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.83/4.0).


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Australians Becoming Much More Godless!

There's some interesting news out of Australia and the changing (decreasing) prevalence of religiosity among their populace. They conduct a census every 5 years and one of the questions they ask is about religion.

The 2016 results were published this week:
After decades of rapid growth, the number of Australians marking “no religion” on their census forms has for the first time surpassed Catholicism as the most common answer to a prompt in the country's 2016 Census about religion, according to data released Monday. If all Christian denominations are considered together, they would make up just over half of respondents. 
The number of respondents who identified as nonreligious — 30.1 percent — almost doubled from 15.5 percent in 2001. Less than 1 percent identified that way in 1966, the year Australia lifted its “White Australia Policy,” which opened up immigration to non-Europeans and kicked off broader demographic changes. Australia's population has also more than doubled since then.
Hmmm, so we learn several things from this excerpt. First, Australia had a "White Australia Policy" until 1966! Secondly, 30% of Australians identify as essentially irreligious (or "Godless" as we like to say around here). That compares pretty favorably to the rate in the United States, which PRRI estimates to be 25% (in 2016). The following graph also indicates that the growth in the fraction of the population in the United States that is "religiously unaffiliated" has changed dramatically in the last few decades.

Hat/tip to Washington Post and PRRI

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Federer, Lopez, Kvitova, Win On Grass; Djokovic-Agassi Duo Set For Wimby; McEnroe Puts Foot In Mouth (Again)

The 2017 grass court season (all 3 weeks of it!) continued into its 2nd week and ended with some people with strong grass court credentials doing quite well. 7-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer reached his 11th final at Halle and won his 9th title, defeating Sacha Zverev in two humiliating sets 6-1 6-3. A 2-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, playing in only her second tournament after suffering a violent home invasion which led to her left hand being stabbed with a knife and a 6-month hiatus from tennis. Kvitova defeated Ash Barty in the finals of Birmingham 4-6 6-3, 6-2. However, the performance of the week was provided by 35-year-old Spanish hunk Feliciano Lopez, who saved match points in not one but two different contests on the way to  winning the Queen's Club tournament. The best was saved for last, with Lopez beating 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(8) in dramatic fashion. 3 year ago, Lopez had lost the final to Grigor Dimitrov after holding a match point.

And they said it wouldn't last. 8-time major champion Andre Agassi will return to the coaching box for the second consecutive major tournament to provide advice and support to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, it was announced this week. And this time Agassi will be able to be in attendance for all 7 matches, if the 3-time Wimbledon champion gets that far. (Djokovic lost in the 3rd round against Sam Querrey last year, signalling a sharp change of fortune for someone who at the time was the reigning champion of all 4 major tournaments.)

John Mcenroe has a new edition of his memoir coming out and is doing a media tour. Unfortunately, he was asked about Serena Williams by NPR and while he acknowledged that she is "no question" the "best female player ever" he also raised hackles by saying this: "Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world." Lots of Serena fans thought this was disrespectful, although Serena herself has said that men's tennis and women's tennis are completely different sports, she hit back at McEnrroe by saying "Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based." I think htat's the equivalent of saying "Bless your heart" in the South!

Monday, June 26, 2017

#EqualityDay: Today is Anniversary of Obergefell, Hollingsworth and Windsor

Today is June 26, which some people are calling #EqualityDay, since it is the anniversary of numerous landmark Supreme Court decisions that have expanded equal rights for LGBT citizens. The most recent are 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges, which resulted in the dissolution of all the remaining state-based prohibitions on marriage equality, and 2013's U.S. v. Windsor which struck down the section of the so-called federal Defense of Marriage Act that had barred the U.S. government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples and 2013's Hollingsworth v. Perry which invalidated California's Proposition 8, restoring marriage equality to the nation's largest state. Amazingly, June 26, 2003 was the day that Lawrence v. Texas was announced which struck down the last remaining state laws criminalizing consensual homosexual relations between adults. June 26 is a important day in the history of LGBT equality!

The Williams Institute has analyzed the impact of these decisions and these results can be summarized as:
  • As of June 2017, nearly 1.1 million LGBT people in the United States are married to someone of the same sex, implying that more than 547,000 same-sex couples are married nationwide. 
  • Since Obergefell, at least 157,000 same-sex couples married. 
  • Since Windsor, at least 317,000 same-sex couples married.
  • 10.2% of LGBT adults are married to someone of the same sex (Source: Gallup)
Gallup also notes that the latest data indicates that 4.3% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT and that even today in 2017, a larger percentage (13.1%) of LGBT people are married to someone of the opposite-sex. More men (11.4%) than women (9.3%) are married to a same-sex spouse.

Happy LGBT #EqualityDay!

EYE CANDY: Jovan Campbell (reprise)

Jovan Campbell has appeared as Eye Candy once before (May 1 2017). He is a 28-year-old model from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago who now lives in New York City. Follow him on Instagram (@ironaddictjovan) for more pictures of this muscular hottie.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GOT Season 7: Watch 2nd Trailer For Game of Thrones #WinterIsHere

The second trailer for Season 7 of HBO's Game of Thrones dropped this week. New episodes will be available for illegal downloading viewing starting July 16, 2017.

Friday, June 23, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: The Next Governor of Colorado Could Be Openly Gay Jared Polis

Openly gay Congressman Jared Polis, 42, has announced that he is running to become Governor of Colorado. Polis has represented a Boulder-area Congressional district (CO-02) since 2007 and is one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. House, with assets estimated in the $400 million range. If elected to succeed termed-out John Hickenlooper in 2018, he would become the first openly gay governor of a state, although Kate Brown of Oregon is the nation's first elected LGBT governor (she is bisexual). Brown was Oregon's Secretary of State when the previous governor resigned and then won election as the incumbent governor. Polis' task of winning a competitive election as an openly LGBT person to become chief executive of a state would be a landmark achievement.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Hateful San Antonio Mayor Loses Re-election

Today's Godless Wednesday is about bad things happening to people who attack godless people. Ivy Taylor was the mayor of San Antonio, Texas (which is the 7th most populous city in the United States) when she said that one cause of poverty is a failure to believe in God. This was pretty shocking, but happily Ms. Taylor received her comeuppance soon afterwards, when she lost her bid for re-election to Ron Nirenberg. The Friendly Atheist comments:
The mayor’s remarks about poverty reflect an astonishing and willful ignorance. Perhaps more important, there is something deliberately cruel and profoundly vicious in Taylor’s attempt to claim the root cause of poverty is people who don’t share her religious superstition, and that those individuals who do not share her religious superstition are somehow “broken people.”
Bottom line: Mayor Taylor is an intolerant conservative Christian with no respect for poor people or atheists. Her remarks indicate a callous and insensitive disregard for both. As such, she has no business serving as Mayor of San Antonio.
Hear, hear!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gay app GRINDR Valued At $240M After Purchase By Chinese Firm

The gay app GRINDR is now valued at nearly a quarter billion dollars following the sale of the gay-owned and operated company to a Chinese-based firm named Beijing Kunlun Tech. Joel Simkhai created the app in 2009 and says he will remain as CEO despite selling the remaining 38% of the company to Kunlun for $152 million dollars this week.
The takeover comes at a time when China, the world’s most populous nation but lagging the West in achieving equal legal status for its homosexual citizens, is cultivating a lucrative industry catering to the social needs of the gay community. 
Grindr, founded in 2009 in the United States, is the world’s largest LGBT social-network application, counting over 27 million registered users across 196 countries and territories across the world. 
The Chinese company expected to bank on Grindr as a new growth engine, as the eight-year-old app proved to be a cash cow that had posted US$13.7 million in net profit for 2014, thanks to its rapidly growing membership.
Hat/tip to Queerty

Friday, June 16, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Crystal Griner and David Bailey

Since the names Crystal Griner and David Bailey are on people's lips this week they are today's Celebrity Friday entry. These are the names of the two Capitol Police officers who were with U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) on Wednesday when a gunman opened up fire on a group of Republican congressmen practicing for the annual baseball game.

Joe My God reports that Griner is openly lesbian and has a wife. She is credited with firing the fatal shot that stopped the assailant and was visited at the hotel by President Trump.

Others have noted the irony that two not only did Black people saved the life of Majority Whip Scalise who has been linked to white supremacists, but that it was a lesbian with a wife who arguably saved his life even though Scalise is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage and full citizenship for LGBT people like Griner.

Trans Civil Rights Are Law Everywhere In Canada

International LGBT journalist Rex Wockner reports that Canada now has universal transgender rights, i.e. every province and territory in the country has enacted non-discrimination statutes which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and allow legal changes in gender.

However, Xtra points out that there still is no federal trans rights bill enacted, although one is currently under consideration in the Senate:
The bill’s sponsor, Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, told the Hill Times he’ll fight to get the bill passed before the June 30 summer break, even threatening to use time allocation — a parliamentary motion that curtails debate and forces a vote, but often prompts opponents to delay other bills in retaliation.
“It’s a hill I’m prepared to die on. This has to be passed before the summer break,” Mitchell said.
Hat/tip to Rob Salerno

UPDATE: C-16 passed its third reading in the Canadian Senate on Thursday and will almost certainly go into effect soon!

Hat/tip to TransGriot

Thursday, June 15, 2017

SHOCK! Federer Loses Grass Comeback Match To Haas; Now 19-2 IN 2017

Roger Federer played his first match since winning the Miami Open in early April on grass in Stuttgart against his good friend, 39-year-old Tommy Haas. Since, Federer is 35, this was the oldest combined ages of two players on the WTA tour since 1982. For the second time this year, Federer had a match point but ended up losing to Haas 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.

After skipping the entire clay court season and seeing Rafael Nadal dominate it and win his 10th French Open, this could not have been the way that Federer hoped to begin the blink-and-you'll-miss-it grass court season this summer.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Nadal Wins 15th Major, La Decima at Roland Garros

As expected, Rafael Nadal won his 15th major and 10th French Open title at Roland Garros today by defeating 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka by the lopsided score of 6-2 6-3 6-1. Nadal's "La decima" is a historic sports achievement because no other player in the Open era had  ever won one of the major tennis tournaments ten times before. (Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon 9 times and Margaret Court won the Australian 11 times but *seven* of those wins were before the Open era began in 1968.)

For the third time in his career (2008 and 2010) Nadal won the French Open without dropping a set, in fact no one even won more than 4 games in any of the 27 sets he played this year, and he only gave up a grand total of 35 games, his stingiest performance yet.

The win means that Nadal is now by himself in second position on the all-time grad slam singles list, at 15, a mere 3 major titles behind Roger Federer who is five years older. There is a real question as to how many more French Opens Nadal can win, because no one expects him to stop competing at the tournament where he now sports a 85-2 record. If he ties Federer's record of 18, will Nadal be considered the G.O.A.T? In my opinion, he would have to surpass Federer's tally to convincingly win that argument, and Is still think that is unlikely to happen, but only time will tell!

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] vs. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3].
Here are my predictions for the men's final at Roland Garros. Last year I correctly predicted Novak Djokovic would beat Andy Murray in the men's final and incorrectly predicted Serena Williams would beat Garbine Muguruza in the women's finalThis year I did not predict that Jelena Ostapenko would beat Simona Halep in the final, but I did correctly predict 1 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 2 men's semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. 

Below is my review of the men's semifinals and my preview of the men's final at the 2017 French Open.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] d. Andy Murray (GBR) 6-7(6) 6-3 5-7 7-6(3) 6-1. Although the final result was not that surprising (to me) the overall quality of the match was (to almost everyone). The World #1 and 2016 Roland Garros finalist had not been playing his best tennis in 2017 while the 2015 Roland Garros champion had not dropped a set in the first five rounds of play this year. However, somehow Murray was able to finally play some of his best tennis since he won this match-up last year, and Wawrinka (again) rose to the occasion, blasting an amazing 87 winners past Murray on clay!) The match was actually in Murray's control after the 3rd set but for unknown reasons he played an awful 4th set tiebreak and was quickly down 5-0 before putting up some more spirited resistance to dodge the final bagel set humiliation.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] d. Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6] 6-3 6-4 6-0. As the 9-time French Open champion demolishes the field on to his seemingly inevitable 10th title (called La Decima by the press) he is constantly setting new records.  By only losing 7 games in this semifinal (against someone who had beaten him on clay in the last month and who dismissed the defending champion in straight sets the round before!) Nadal reached the final here only dropping a total of 29 games, just two more than the all-time record set by Bjorn Borg. Although some people had given Thiem a chance of pulling the upset here it seemed like a near impossibility to me. Even when Thiem opened the match with a break of serve, he was still down 4-1 fifteen minutes later, and in the end only the first two sets were even "competitive" and that is stretching the meaning of the word. TheAustrian youngster, who almost certainly will win a French Open title at some point, was unable to avoid the humiliation of a final set decimation, which I am pretty sure was intentional on Nadal's part.


Wawrinka has been in 3 major finals and sports a perfect 3-0 record. Nadal has been in 21 finals and has an impressive 14-7 record. It's pretty amazing that after losing a major final in Melbourne to his arch-nemesis, Nadal has another opportunity to re-insert himself into the G.O.A.T. discussion by becoming only the second player in history to win 15 majors and to again bring himself within striking distance of Federer's total of 18. The discussion about the greatest clay court player of all time is over: Nadal is the winner by acclamation.

It is true that Wawrinka is incredibly mentally tough and credits this aspect of the game with allowing him to have his incredible breakthrough at the age age of 28. The problem is I think the final will come down to who is physically tough. The weather forecast indicates that it will be well over 90 degrees and Nadal is perfectly ready, willing and able to spend 5 to 6 hours on court to claim this 10th French Open title. I believe Wawrinka is willing to do the same, but is he able? He just spent well over 4 hours winning his 5-set match over Murray and he has spent almost 5 hours more on court than Nadal has in the last two weeks. I believe that will be the edge and that Nadal will again be biting the French Open trophy after the last point is played.

MadProfessah's pick: Nadal.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Ostapenko Wins 1st Major By Out(b)lasting Halep

Jelena Ostapenko shocked the world  (and yours truly) by defeating Simona Halep to win her very first WTA Tour title at Roland Garros. Amazingly, she becomes the first player on either tour since Guga Kuerten did the same thing on June 10, 1997 which was the day Ostapenko was born! I was incorrect when I said that the 25-year-old Halep would be the mentally tougher player, because despite leading 6-4 3-0 and having three break opportunities for a 4-0 double break lead, the Romanian player threw her racquet to the ground when she squandered these chances, giving hope to her 20-year-old opponent. Ostapenko held serve and resumed going for broke on her groundstrokes and this time the balls hit the lines and Halep was soon on even terms in the second set and eventually down a break. Halep then decided to abandon her game plan of refusing to hit errors and started going for more, but instead she started to make more errors (and didn't really hit very many more winners). The end result was that Ostapenko won the 2nd set 6-4.

Halep did very to hold serve in the very first game of the 3rd set, despite facing two break points and used this momentum to go up 3-1 in the deciding set. But, similar to Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal in this year's Australian Open men's final, Ostapenko negated the score by holding her own serve and creating relentless pressure in her service return games and ended up winning the last 5 games to win the match 4-6 6-4 6-3. The pivotal point was at 3-all in the 3rd set with Halep serving and facing breakpoint when Ostapenko hit a backhand down the line that was going a foot wide but hit the net and bounced high and onto Halep's side of the net for a winner to earn the break. That was basically the coup de grace because then Ostapenko was able to hold serve to go up 5-3 and basically picked on Halep's weak serve return in the final game, ending with a down-the-line backhand service return winners on match point.

With the win Ostapenko will rise from #47 to #12 in the world. She is a former Junior Wimbledon champion and should be expected to have even better results on faster surfaces like grass and hard courts. Halep rises to #2 in the rankings and Angelique Kerber who lost on the very first day of play of Roland Garros 2017 will remain #1 the day after it.

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) vs. Simona Halep (ROU) [3] 
Here are my predictions for the women's final at the 2017 French Open. Last year I incorrectly predicted Serena Williams would beat Garbine Muguruza in the women's final and correctly predicted Novak Djokovic would beat Andy Murray in the men's finalThis year I correctly predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. 

Below is my review of the women's semifinals and my preview of the women's final.

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) d. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) [30] 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3.  The birthday bash between the two birthday girls was won by the younger player, to my surprise. Ostapenko, who turned 20 years old on Thursday, has now hit 245 winners in 6 matches, which is more than any of the male remaining players in the draw.  She outlasted her more experienced and 8-years-older former doubles partner to reach her very first major final, the lowest ranked player to do so in well over thirty years. This was a surprise because the young Latvian was playing in her very first major semifinal while the 28-year-old Swiss player was in her 2nd major semifinal at Roland Garros. It was expected that Bacsinszky would figure out a way to win this match, and she did do well to win the second set and at least make it a match instead of a mismatch. In the end, though, Ostapenko's power was too much for Bacsinszky to handle.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] dKarolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] 6-4 3-6 6-3. This was a contest with the World #1 ranking at stake. Pliskova needed to win to become World #1, while Halep needs to win this match and the final in order to claim the top spot in women's tennis. Halep demonstrated what an advantage her movement and defensive prowess gives her over one of the hardest hitters on the tour who is most definitely NOT one of its best movers. In fact, Halep has a pretty good record (13-3) against other Big Babes like Madison Keys, Petra Kvitova and Pliskova. The Czech player did well to sneak out a break and a hold to snatch the second set but Halep displayed her newly developed mental toughness and just continued her astounding ball retrieving to force Pliskova to go for another line and eventually hit another error (attempted winner) and lose the match.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] vs. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)It must be admitted that Simona Halep is the favorite to win this match. Ostapenko is unseeded and an unseeded player has not won a major final on the women's side in the open era, although it has happened (rarely) on the men's side  (Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001, Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1985). But this does not mean that the hard-hitting Latvian has no chance of winning on Saturday. Anyone who is hitting more winners than anyone else in the tournament, and whose average speed of her forehand is faster than World #1 Andy Murray's clearly has a chance to win any match she plays. She will be facing Halep, who faced a match point in the second set tiebreaker against another hard-hitting player in the quarterfinal, Elina Svitolina. Ostapenko should take a look at that match because Svitolina basically blew Halep off the court for nearly 90 minutes, wracking up huge 5-0 and 5-1 leads in the first two sets. The key point, though, is that despite facing those huge deficits Halep did not give up and ended up winning that match by winning the deciding third set 6-0!

I expect Halep will win this match, but it will probably not be in straight sets. I think Ostapenko will have a very good first set but that as the finish line gets closer she will get more and more nervous and Halep will repeat her performance against Svitolina (without allowing such a huge deficit this time). It is also very possible that Halep will follow the blueprint of her match with Pliskova and stay close enough to her hard-hitting opponent to frustrate her with her defense and draw errors. I think this will be harder to do, because Ostapenko moves better than Pliskova and Bacsinsky tried this game plan against Ostapenko and it didn't work out that well, but Halep has many more weapons than Bacsinszky. I do believe that Halep is the mentally tougher player, it says something that Ostapenko has been in 3 career finals in the last 9 months and has lost all three. Halep is a woman on a mission to finally win her first major, and the bonus is that she will claim the World #1 ranking as well.

MadProfessah's pick: Halep.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the 2017 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I have also predicted the women's semifinals.

Andy Murray (GBR) [1] vs. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3]These two over-30 players have played seventeen times before, and the World #1 leads the Word #3 10-7. Interestingly this match is a rematch of last year's semifinal in which I correctly predicted Murray would prevail. However last year Murray was having much more success on the clay and other courts, having won the Rome title. This year, neither player has been playing that well but Wawrinka is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros while Murray has dropped 3 but never more than one in any match so he has not been in danger of losing. That being said, Wawrinka has already won this tournament (d. Djokovic in 2015 French Open) and leads 2-1 in their clay meetings while Murray leads 3-2 in 5-set matches. I would be shocked if this match does not go to 4 if not 5 sets, if it doesn't then almost certainly Wawrinka would have bashed Murray off the court. That is unlikely to happen, but I believe the end result will be the same, leading to Wawrinka's 4th major final. Mad Professah's pick: Wawrinka.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] vs. Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6]. This is the popcorn match of the clay court season, the equivalent to the Simona Halep-Elina Svitolina quarterfinal on the women's side between the two players with the best clay court records this year. Thiem is in his second consecutive Roland Garros semifinal, after dispatching the defending French Open champion in surprisingly easy fashion without dropping a set against Novak Djokovic. There is no question Nadal is the best clay court player of all time, and now sports an unbelievable 77-2 record at the French Open. His two losses came in 2009 to Robin Soderling and 2015 to Novak Djokovic. In fact, Nadal losing on clay at any tournament is a rare event. Interestingly, though, Thiem has had 6 meetings with Nadal on the surface and won twice (making him one of the very few active players to have multiple wins over Nadal on clay), including just a few weeks ago in the Rome quarterfinal. It should be noted that beating Nadal in best-of-5 is something that Roger Federer has never done, for example. I doubt it is something that Dominic Thiem will do tomorrow (but it is something I believe he will do in the future). Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2017 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) vs. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) [30]. Amazingly, this semifinal is being played on the birthday of both players: Ostapenko is turning 20 while Bacsinszky is turning 28. Ostapenko is playing in her very first major semifinal, having extended her winning streak to 4-0 against Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinal, while Bacsinszky is plying in her second, after dispatching the French crowd's favorite player, Kiki Mladenovic in straight sets in their quarterfinal. The two have never met before so this will be a new experience for both players. On one hand, Ostapenko is so young that the significance of her accomplishment has probably not sunk in yet. This is the blessing of youth, but it usually does not last for the entire duration of the match. For Bacsinszky, she has been here before (in the 2015 Roland Garros semifinal) and will most likely use that experience and her superior movement to outlast her hard-hitting opponent. After all, Bacsinszky has already showed that her superior defense could defeat the offense of Mladenovic and Venus Williams already in this year's tournament and will almost certainly repeat this performance to reach her first major final. PREDICTION: Bacsinszky.

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] vs. Simona Halep (ROU) [3].  I still believe the most important match in the draw was the showdown between Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep in the quarterfinal. Obviously Halep ended up winning it, but it was an incredibly tense and thrilling affair. Svitolina quite simply outhit Halep for nearly 2 sets. She wracked up huge leads in both sets, going up 5-1 in both of them. In the first one she ended up winning 6-3, but in the second she ended up losing 5 games in a row to go down 5-6. Then, Svitolina survived 4 set points on her serve (starting at 0-40) to force a tiebreak where she earned a match point at 6-5 but lost that point and 2 others in a row to lose the 2nd set. The Ukrainian then completely "lost the plot" and failed to win a game in a 20 minute bagel set. Karolina Pliskova dispatched the other French hope Carolina Garcia relatively easily and is now just one win away from being ranked #1 on the WTA tour. Sadly, it is very doubtful that Pliskova will reach #1 this week, because Halep has a 4-1 head-to-head record against Pliskova. If Halep could survive the barrage of Svitolina, she should have little difficulty outlasting Pliskova's offense to reach her second major final at Roland Garros in four years. PREDICTION: Halep 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2017 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the women's quarterfinals.

Andy Murray (GBR) [1] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8]. These two have played ten times on tour before, and the 3-time major champion leads their rivalry 8-2 however the last time they played was in the 2016 U.S. Open quarterfinals and Nishikori won a come-from-behind victory 7-5 in the fifth set. In 2017 both Murray and Nishikori have not been playing well, with the current World #1 amassing a 16-7 record (1 title, in Dubai) while Nishikori is 20-8 (no titles). Murray reached the final here last year and he has exceeded expectations to reach the quarterfinal but he actually has a pretty good chance to reach the final again this year. Mad Professah's pick: Murray.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] vs Marin Cilic (CRO) [7].  Both Cilic and Wawrinka have been blasting their way through the draw for four rounds without dropping a set, so clearly for at least one of them this streak is going to have to end. Surprisingly, these two have played 13 times and Wawrinka has won all but two of these matches. Clay is one of Wawrinka's stronger surfaces, and two years ago he won this title by shocking Djokovic in the final after the Serb easily defeated Nadal in the quarterfinal. He's looking in a similar form and will almost certainly be looking forward to a rematch of last year's semifinal he lost to Murray last year to see if he can flip the script. Mad Professah's pick: Wawrinka.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] vs Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) Milos Raonic (CAN) [5]. This is the only quarterfinal which is missing one of the Top 8 seeds, with the surprising Pablo Carreno Busta defeating the #5 seed Milos Raonic to grab his first major quarterfinal. Sadly, his reward is to play his countryman who clearly takes extra pleasure at dominating other Spaniards. Nadal has only lost once on clay and even though he has not won a major since 2014, he is the prohibitive favorite to win his tenth Roland Garros this year. Any other result would be the upset of the decade. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2] vs Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6].  This match-up should be the most intriguing and exciting of the four quarterfinals. Thiem is the only player to have defeated Nadal on clay this year and last year had his breakthrough into his first major semifinal here at Roland Garros and is now firmly ensconced in the Top 10. It must be noted that Thiem is another one of the four quarterfinalists who has not dropped a set at this year's French Open but also note that last year he was completely outclassed by Djokovic in that major semifinal. However neither Thiem nor Djokovic are the same player they were last year, with Thiem is playing much better than last year while Djokovic is playing much worse. Although Thiem has won two consecutive sets in one match against Nadal, Djokovic has won three consecutive sets at Roland Garros, and he is the only active player on tour to do that. However, ever since winning the Nole Slam here last year Djokovic has not been the same player and it is not clear which player has the best chance at stopping Nadal from winning his 15th major. My guess is that it will be whomever wins this match. Mad Professah's pick: Thiem.

Monday, June 05, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2017 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) Samantha Stosur (AUS) [23] vs Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [11]. Ostapenko is a hard-hitting 19-year-old who eliminated a probably injured Samantha Stosur in the 4th round to reach her first career quarterfinal. There she will face former World #1 Caroline Wozniacki who has been playing excellent tennis all year but has been unlucky in the multiple tour finals she has been in. Wozniacki delivered a rare double bagel in her 2nd round match and outlasted 2009 French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 4th round to reach her 9th career quarterfinal. Surprisingly these two have already met 3 times in the last year, including twice on clay and the younger player has won every time. Can Woz turn things around this time? I think the person who can play the most nerve-free tennis will win, and there youth usually has an advantage. PREDICTION: Ostapenko.

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) [13] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [4] vs Venus Williams (USA) [9] Timea Bacsinsky (SUI) [30].  This should have been a marquee showdown between two major champions but both stumbled on their way to this quarterfinal berth. Kiki Mladenovic took out the defending champion in yet another dramatic 3-set battle, again utilizing the partisan French course to power her to her best ever showing at her home slam. For the second year in a row, Bascinszky took out Venus Williams in the 4th round of Roland Garros, although this time it was a 3-set thriller, where the Swiss player's movement and unorthodox game befuddled her more powerful opponent, leading to double-break advantages in all three sets they played. Last year, Mladenovic won the women's singles title here with fellow quarterfinalist Caroline Garcia but has recently strongly criticized her former partner for ending their partnership with a text. It would be quite a drama if one or both of them ended up in the singles final this year. PREDICTION: Mladenovic.

Elina Svitolina (UKR) [5] vs Simona Halep (ROU) [3].  This showdown is the most anticipated match of the clay court season. These are the two best players on the surface this year, and most analysts believe whoever wins this match has probably the best chance to win the 2017 Roland Garros title. The two met in the final of Rome, which Halep was on the way ti winner when she injured her ankle which made her questionable to even appear in Paris. Halep has not looked hampered by injury in her first 5 rounds, and demolished a very good clay court player in the 4th round (Carla Suarez Navarro) to get here while Svitolina had to come back from a beak down in the final set repeatedly to gut out a win 4-6 6-3 7-5 over Petra Martic. Svitolina is probably the mentally tougher player but I think Halep should have enough confidence to prevail, although if it gets deep in the third set, I would give Svitolina the edge. PREDICTION: Halep

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] vs. Alize Cornet (FRA) Caroline Garcia (FRA). Karolina Pliskova is the highest ranked player remaining in the draw, and is two wins away from grabbing the World #1 ranking from Angelique Kerber. Despite having one of the most powerful serves on tour for year, Pliskova had never advanced past the 3rd round of any major tournament before the 2016 US Open where she reached the final by beating both Williams Sisters before losing to Kerber. Caroline Garcia is finally starting to realize her potential by reaching her first major quarterfinal. To get there, she had to dispatch a countrywoman, which she did in pretty convincing fashion by overpowering Alize Cornet. Whether Garcia can reach her first major semifinal may depend on the order of play on Wednesday, and whether she is the only French hope remaining for the title this year. Head-to-head the two are matched 2-all with Garcia winning their one clay court meeting. However, I think that if the two play their best tennis (which probably won't happen) Pliskova should prevail.  PREDICTION: Pliskova. 


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