Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Halep(1), Muguruza(12), Kasatkina(11), Dimitrov(8), Murray All Lose early; Serena-Venus XXX Looms

Oh my! The first three days of the 2018 US Open have concluded and with it, most of the first two rounds of play. The tournament started with a bang with World #1 and #1 seed Simona Halep becoming the first top seed to lose first round in the 50 years of the US Open. Halep was my pick to win the whole thing this year, but hard-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi knocked her out in straight sets! Other seeded upsets in the early rounds were 2-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, the wily Daria Kasatkina, #9 seed Julia Georges and CoCo Vandeweghe.

On the men's side the wailing was a little quieter with only Top 10 seed to go out was #8 Grigor Dimitrov, who unsurprisingly lost to Stan Wawrinka for the second consecutive first round in a slam. Other male players who lost early are Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kyle Edmund, Jack Sock and Roberto Bautista Agut.

In the first rounds to watch, Caroline Wozniacki got past 2011 champion Sam Stosur and amaria Sharapova ended Patty Schnyder's dream run to a main slam draw at nearly 40 years old. On the men's side the young Canadian Clash between Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime took on a scary turn when 18-year-old Felix was forced to retire due to a racing heartbeat despite splitting the first two sets and competing well in the 3rd.

The marquee event is now going to be the thirtieth matchup between Venus and Serena Williams. I didn't expect this matchup to happen in this tournament and I doubt anyone expected that the two sisters would play 30 matches against each other when they both became professionals well over 20 years ago. Serena leads the head to head 17-12 overall and 9-5 in grand slams. They have only met this early in a major tournament once before, in their first meeting in Australia in 1998. It should be a good match, but I'll pick Serena to get through, even though Venus won their last meeting in Indian Wells earlier this year. They are both playing better than I expected. I didn't really think Venus would get through her first round match with Sveta Kuznetsova or her 2nd round match with Camila Giorgi. as for Serena, after reaching the Wimbledon final her summer hard court prep has been horrific.

Sadly, I don't arrive in New York until tomorrow, so I will only be able to see one of them play on Sunday.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Temptation (Tony Hill/Carol Jordan, #3) by Val McDermid

The Last Temptation is Book 3 in the brilliant crime thriller series by Val McDermid featuring Dr. Tony Hill (a psychologist who profiles serial killers) and DCI Carol Jordan (police detective who investigates major crimes).

The first two books (The Mermaids Singing and The Wire in the Blood) were primarily about Carol and Tony teaming up to track and bring to justice two very different (and very sick) serial killers. McDermid does not make the identity of the perpetrator into a mystery, because in these books (and the third) the reader is given first-person insight into the serial killer and follow them as they plan and commit their crimes. Then we can see how well Tony does at discovering the killer’s motivations from their choice of victims. There is also suspense from the question of whether Tony and Carol will be able to capture the criminal before he kills again. 

However another feature of McDermid’s books is that during the course of the investigation she often puts the police into extreme peril. This is particularly true in Books 1 and 3 and in both cases Tony is placed in situations which could conceivably lead to his demise. In some sense it is probably progress that McDermid avoids the damsel-in-distress themes by putting the male protagonist in mortal danger instead of the female protagonist. But in my opinion it’s a little too facile a tactic to use to imbue the books with suspense (although we know there are well over a dozen books in the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series so even though Tony is often in mortal danger at the back of the reader's mind we know it is very unlikely that Hill is actually going to ever be killed in one of these scenarios). In The Last Temptation Carol is also placed in danger and an event occurs which I suspect will have significant impact on their work together in the future.

The key strength of the Hill/Jordan books are their very clever plots as well as their very interesting settings. Each of the first three has been very different, with the common theme being the presence of a very sick and violent serial killer, Tony being placed in extremely dangerous situations and a complicated emotional relationship (even sexual tension) between Tony and Carol. Also, the secondary characters in the series (primarily other police officers assisting in the investigation) are generally well fleshed-out in the books, with their own thoughts and motivations provided to the reader as well. 

Overall, The Last Temptation is another strong entry into the British crime thriller/police procedural genre, although with a slightly fantastical plot point involving a doppelgänger around which the entire book revolves it is not as strong as the first two in the Hill/Jordan series. However, I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series and am sad that there's only a total of ten published so far.

Title: The Last Temptation.
Val McDermid.

Length: 448 pages.
Original Publisher:
 Harper Collins.

Date First Published: February 4, 2002.
Date Read: March 24, 2018.
Version Read: Kindle.

GOODREADS RATING: ★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (3.67/4.0).


Sunday, August 26, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Draw Preview and Tournament Predictions

The 2018 US Open, the last major of the year, starts tomorrow on Monday August 27. I will be attending the tournament, as I often do, in the middle weekend this Saturday to Monday. I'm looking forward to seeing the new Louis Armstrong stadium. Hopefully neither roof will be necessary while I'm in New York.

The defending champions are Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens. Interestingly, both reached the final of the French Open this year, with Nadal winning his 11th title in Paris and Stephens losing her first ever tour final against Simona Halep. Halep is the #1 player in the world and the #1 seed, as is Nadal.

Women's Draw (Preview and Predictions)
Serena Williams was seeded #17 and is in the same quarter as her sister Venus, which could lead to a 3rd round match-up. I doubt that will happen though, because Venus, who reached the semifinal last year before losing to the eventual champion, will face an in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. Other first-round matches to watch are Garbine Muguruza versus Zhang Shuai (who upset Venus in the French Open first round this year), Johanna Konta versus Carolina Garcia, Maria Sharapova versus Patty Schnyder (blast from the past!) and Andrea Petkovic versus Jelena Ostapenko. The expected  women's quarterfinals (if seedings hold) are:

  • Simona Halep ROU [1] versus Karolina Pliskova CZE [8]
  • Sloane Stephens USA [3] versus Elina Svitolina UKR [7]
  • Angelique Kerber GER [4] versus  Caroline Garcia [6] 
  • Carolina Wozniacki DEN [2] versus Petra Kvitova [5]
However, I am picking my semifinalists to be Halep versus Stevens, and Ostapenko versus Kiki Bertens, with a Halep-Ostapenko final and a Halep win.

Men's Draw (Preview and Predictions)

The men's side should be exciting with all of the Big 4 (or 5) competing in the same tournament for the first time in nearly two years. Andy Murray will be playing his first grand slam match since Wimbledon 2017 against Jamie Duckworth of Australia. Amazingly, for the second major in a row, Stan Wawrinka will meet Grigor Dimitrov [8] in the first round. This time when the Swiss wins it will not be considered an upset, because his level of play has risen since Wimbledon while Dimitrov's has fallen. Other mouthwatering first-round matchups include: Frances Tiafoe against Adrian Mannarino, Felix Auger-Aliassime versus Denis Shapovalov, and two all-Spanish matchups: Nadal versus David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez versus Fernando Verdasco.

The expected men's quarterfinals (if seedings hold) are:

  • Rafael Nadal ESP [1] versus Kevin Anderson RSA[5]
  • Juan Martin del Potro ARG [3] versus Grigor Dimitrov BUL [8]
  • Sascha Zverev GER [4] versus  Marin Cilic[7] 
  • Roger Federer SUI [2] versus Novak Djokovic [6]
My predictions are for the semifinals to be Nadal versus Del Potro (like last year!) and Cilic versus Djokovic, with a Nadal-Djokovic final and a Djokovic victory.

MadProfessah championship predictions: Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

2018 CINCY: Djokovic Beats Federer To Complete Masters Set, Bertens Saves MP To Beat Halep

Novak Djokovic won his first ATP Cincinnati Masters title in his 6th final, beating Roger Federer 6-4 6-4 on Sunday. It means that the 13-time major champion has now won all of the biggest tournaments in tennis (all 4 majors, the World Tour final and all 9 ATP Masters shields) at least once, something Rafael Nadal and Federer have not done. The fact that the 2018 Wimbledon champion won this important US Open series event means that Djokovic is one of the favorites for the 2018 US Open, which starts on Monday August 27. Also, with Djokovic's return to firm and his head-to-head leads (27-25 versus Nadal, 24-22 versus Federer and 25-11 versus Andy Murray) against all his rivals in the Big Four is rekindling the G.O.A.T discussion. Djokovic is back to World #6.

On the women's side Simona Halep was playing for history as well on Sunday, trying to become the first woman to pull off the Canada-Cincinnati double. However, despite having a match point against Kiki Bertens, the World #1 lost 2-6 7-6(6) 6-2. She is still the #1 seed for the upcoming US Open, while Bertens reached her career high ranking of World #13 after the biggest win of her career.

Sadly, I went 0-for-2 in my predictions of the Cincinnati men's and women's finals. Hopefully I have a return to form at the US Open!

BOOK REVIEW: The Wire in the Blood (Tony Hill/Carol Jordan, #2) by Val McDermid

The Wire in the Blood is a very strong mystery-thriller police procedural from Val McDermid. 

I am very psyched to have finally started reading her series of books featuring psychologist Tony Hill and homicide detective Carol Jordan. I’m not a big PBS watcher so I was unaware these books had been adapted into a popular television series. (I also didn’t know that another of my favorites, the DCI Alan Banks series by Peter Robinson has also previously appeared on PBS as well, again presumably imported from the BBC.) 
The Wire in the Blood is only the second book in the Hill/Jordan series and already the author has distinguished herself by the level of insight she provides on her protagonists’ thinking, inclusion of first-person accounts of the motivation and actions of the perpetrators and ruthlessness of placing her characters in mortal danger.

I found t
he first book (The Mermaids Singingwas needlessly gory and excessively violent in some places so I’m glad to see that in the second book McDermid leaves more to the imagination instead of including gut-churning details of bodily defilement that were a "highlight" of that first entry in the series.

The presence of Jacko Vance, one of the nation’s most popular television personalities, as a primary character (and suspect) demonstrates the author’s confidence in her craft and raises the stakes of this book to an extremely satisfying level.

I look forward to seeing how the relationship between Tony Hill and Carol Jordan will develop as well as seeing how and whether British policing will change as a result of the establishment and evolution of Hill’s national criminal profiling center.

Overall, this is a very impressive series. I find that most mystery thriller series usually improve as they develop so with the first two books easily being five-star reads I hope McDermid is able to maintain the quality for a long, long time! Surely every book in the Hill/Jordan series can’t be worthy of five stars?

Title: The Wire in the Blood.
Val McDermid.

Paperback: 528 pages.
 St. Martin's Paperback.

Date Published: March 1, 2005.
Date Read: February 24, 2018.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Monday, August 20, 2018

2018 HUGOS: Jemisin Completes Historic Trifecta With 3rd Consecutive Best Novel Win

She did it! N.K. Jemisin won her third consecutive Hugo award for Best Novel, science fiction's most prestigious honor, for The Stone Sky, the third book in the Broken Earth trilogy. Jemisin became the first African-American woman to win the Hugo award for best novel in 2016 for The Fifth Season and after she repeated this feat in 2017 with The Obelisk Gate there was great suspense as to whether the Broken Earth trilogy would become the first science fiction trilogy where every entry won the Hugo award when nominations were announced earlier this yearOrson Scott Card (Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead) and Vernor Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky, A Fire upon the Deep) each have won 2 Hugos for the first two entries in a series and Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold have each won 3 Hugos for books in a series.

Here is her incredible acceptance speech

Amazing news!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

2018 CINCY: Finals are Halep-Bertens, Federer-Djokovic XLVI

The finals of the 2018 Western and Southern Financial Open in Cincinnati are set. The ATP Masters  tournament has two players remaining: 2018 Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic and 2018 Australian Open champion Roger Federer. This is an epic showdown that is occurring for the 46th time in their careers (with Djokovic leading their head-to-head 23-22) and for the fourth time in the Cincy final. Federer won the three previous meetings which have occurred like clockwork every 3 years since 2009. Djokovic has won all of the other 8 ATP Masters tournaments and would become the first man to win all 9 ATP Masters shields in his career (Miami, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Canada, Cincinnati, Paris, Shanghai). Both Nadal and Federer have only won 7 of the 9. Nadal is 0-5 in Miami finals and Djokovic is 0-5 at Cincinnati finals. Nadal has the record for the most ATP Masters shields with 33 (Djokovic has 32), and won one last week when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the finals of Canada's Rogers Cup in Toronto.

On the women's side, Simona Halep is facing Kiki Bertens in the Cincy Open final, one week after she outlasted Sloane Stephens in a thrilling 3-set reprise of the 2018 French Open final. If Halep wins today, then the 2018 French Open champion would become the first woman to win the Canada/Cincinnati double. She is currently on a 9 match winning streak. Bertens is having a remarkable 2018, having already beaten 9 Top 10 players, including Venus Williams at Wimbledon and Petra Kvitova yesterday in Cincinnati and last week in Montreal, Canada. The Dutch player had been known as a "clay court specialist" but has been having remarkable results on grass and hard courts this year.

Federer d. Djokovic.
Halep d. Bertens.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Mermaids Singing (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, #1) by Val McDermid

The Mermaids Singing is the first book in the long-running mystery series written by Val McDermid which features  Dr. Tony Hill (a psychologist and criminal profiler) and Carol Jordan (police detective) as the main characters. The series has been adapted for British television as "Wire in the Blood" (the  title of the second book) which ran for six seasons. 

This first book is a surprisingly gory but excellent entry in the British police procedural genre. The primary distinguishing feature between this series and numerous others I have read in this genre (Peter Robinson, Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George all come to mine) is the chemistry between the leads (it doesn't seem to be romantic tension at this point, but I suspect that will change as the series continues). The dialogue is excellent, and we get first-person perspectives on the action from both Tony and Carol, which immediately illuminates how each views the other.

The main criminal in  The Mermaids Singing is a serial killer who is abducting and murdering men and dumping the bodies in the gay district of Bradfield, a fictional West Yorkshire city in the North of England. Mcdermid provides TMI (too much information) about the gory details of the vicious ways the serial killer dispatches his victims. Eventually, the reader gets access to the thoughts of the killer as well.

Two of the key character dynamics in The Mermaid Singing  are Tony's battle to have his work as a psychologist appreciated by the police and Carol's battle with ingrained sexism in the police force.

Overall, I was very impressed with the suspenseful nature of the plot and the level of details provided about the police activity in pursuit of the killer. Both Carol and Tony are very interesting characters and I look forward to reading more books featuring them.

Title: The Mermaids Singing.
Val McDermid.

Paperback: 364 pages.
 St. Martin's Paperback.

Date Published: June 17, 2002.
Date Read: September 17, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Monday, August 13, 2018

EYE CANDY: Marti Frieson (reprise)

Marti Frieson has appeared as Eye Candy once before (September 4, 2017) modeling underwear by Hunk. He also has an Instagram page (@martitwelve) with not as many followers as he should (less than 7k) considering the quality of the images that he posts there. You're welcome!

Thursday, August 09, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Savage Run (Joe Pickett, #2) by C.J. Box

Savage Run is the second book in C.J. Box’s Warden Joe Pickett mystery series set in Saddlestring, Wyoming. I rad the first one, Open Season, earlier this year and liked it a lot. I know the series is quite popular, because on Goodreads these books often have thousands of ratings and hundreds of reviews which are overwhelming positive in general.

There are several good features of the Joe Pickett books: they are relatively short (under 300 pages), feature characters and settings that are unusual (wide-open countryside, cowboys and other rural residents) and are relatively suspenseful with thriller elements.

There are problematic aspects of the books as well. Joe Pickett is VERY taciturn and shockingly inept when it comes to the political aspects of his job as a state Fish & Game Warden in Wyoming. He is stubborn and doesn’t seem to make great decisions furthering his interests. His family of a wife and 2 girls is living in a state-furnished house and paycheck-to-paycheck but his actions frequently endanger his employment status. He often puts himself in danger by following leads by himself without any back up. He doesn't appreciate the unwritten rules which maintain the power structures in his state.

Savage Run  was interesting because the plot was basically about the fight between environmentalists and ranchers in the 1990s. The body count is larger than in the previous book but this serves to raise the stakes of what and who are involved. Also this time we were provided the perspective of the perpetrators, not just Joe's as he tries to figure out why and how someone was killed by an exploding cow. (The wry humor is another point in favor of these books.) In the end Joe is lucky to survive his showdown with some “tree huggers” and their opponents. (I don't really think this is a spoiler since this is book 2 in a series which is approaching 19 entries.)

Overall I enjoyed the book but I’m not convinced that these mysteries will be able to keep my attention to finish out the entire series. As I've said before, an important factor in evaluating the strength of a series is the attention the author pays to fleshing out the secondary characters (or sidekicks) in addition to the coplexity of the character of the protagonist. Joe is not complex, but he is an unusual "front man" for a murder mystery/police procedural and the setting of the books is definitely interesting. The secondary characters are basically his wife Marybeth and his young daughters. In, Savage Run Marybeth plays a larger role but his daughter Sheridan (who had a pivotal role in the first book) does not. Pickett does a lot of his work as a "lone wolf" and that's both a strength and weakness of the book(s).

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Title: Savage Run.
C.J. Box.
Paperback: 304 pages.
 G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Date Published: May 6, 2003.
Date Read: August 4, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.33/4.0).


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

08/08/18: My 10th Wedding Anniversary Is Today!

Today is 08/08/18, the tenth anniversary of my wedding day on 08/08/08. Here are some rare pictures of MadProfessah with The Other Half, taken on our recent trip to Reykyavik (Iceland) and Paris (France) in summer 2018. (See my Instagram feed for more images from our trip, and lots of pictures of my the outfit I wear every day!)

Coincidentally, August 8 is a famous tennis birthdate: (Roger Federer is 37 and Felix Auger-Aliassime is 18)

Friday, August 03, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Openly Gay LA School Board Prez Resigns After Admitting Felonious Behaior

Ref Rodriguez appeared to be a rising political star when he was elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District school board in May 2015. He's openly gay, with a Ph.D. and was elected chair of the 7-member board by his colleagues soon after the 2017 LAUSD elections. He represented a majority that was in support of expanding charter schools in the nation's second largest school district.

That all came crashing down last week when Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a felony and immediately resigned from the school board on Monday July 23rd. The Los Angeles Times reported:
Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez pleaded guilty Monday to a felony count of conspiracy and resigned from office, marking a dramatic fall for a widely admired educator who became the first charter schools executive elected to the Board of Education.
Rodriguez, 47, was once the leader of the charter school-backed majority that took over the board a year ago after the nation’s most expensive school board elections ever.
But two months after becoming school board president, the criminal charges compelled him to step back — giving up his presidency but retaining his seat amid the distractions of defending himself.
Under the deal with prosecutors, Rodriguez will avoid jail time. Instead, he will get three years’ probation and 60 days of community service.
Pretty shocking!

Thursday, August 02, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power is  very thought-provoking work of speculative fiction which attempts to portray an alternative world where women develop a power to inflict pain and grievous bodily harm (primarily through self-generated electric shock), that results in a world where gender roles are upended and women become the dominant sex.

The key strengths of the book are its setting and the ways in which the author riffs off aspects of our culture and societal norms in depicting how the world in the book is impacted by the sudden change in the power dynamics between the sexes. Would women really abuse and sexually dominate men if the roles were reversed and women now have the power to physically harm men whenever they want? In the world depicted in Naomi Alderman’s The Power, the answer is a full-throated yes.

A key weakness of the book in my opinion is the depiction of the characters around which the story is centered. For the most part, there was no character that I identified with strongly enough to become emotionally invested in their future. The one exception is the primary male character, Tunde Edo, a Nigerian boy who turns into scampi’s journalist and chronicler of the extraordinary events resulting from the discovery of The Power by women. Tunde was interesting and I definitely cared about what happened to him but as for the other characters, Ricky, Darrel, Allie, Roxy, Jocelyn and Margot, not so much. I don't think this is because of my own gender identity as a cisgender man; Tunde is continually depicted sympathetically, something which really can't be said about any of the other characters in the book (with the possible exception of Jocelyn and Margot).

It wasn’t until I reached the end of the book that I noticed another interesting feature. The entire work is characterized as a work of fiction by a guy called Neil Adam Armon who is exchanging letters about a book (which we have just read) with someone named Naomi, who are discussing different points about the ideas depicted in the story. it's clear from their interaction  that women being the dominant sex is perfectly natural in their world and the idea that men could be soldiers and commit atrocities on women is entirely fanciful and somewhat titillating. One of the last communications from Naomi is the suggestion that the book might do better if it is published under her name instead of a man's.... Also, between chapters there are illustrations of "historical artifacts" which purport to depict ancient examples of women in the past who had the power, demonstrating that the power has been a reality for a very long time. It’s the inclusion of similar clever subversions of gender like this which makes The Power a compelling (and quick), if flawed, read.

Title: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Paperback: 341 pages.
Date Published: October 27, 2017.
Date Read: July 21, 2018.


OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).



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