Thursday, August 15, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: A Memory of Empire (Teixcalaan, #1) by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is the debut novel from Arkady Martine. It is a space opera, set on a planet called Teixcalaan which is at the heart of a large, multi-planet empire. The main character is Mahit Dzmare, the new Ambassador to Teixcalaan from Lsel, a small space station which is trying to maintain its independence  from the galactic powerhouse and survive its relative proximity to a colonizing force. As soon as Mahit arrives on Teixcalaan she discovers that the unfortunate, accidental death of her predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn, was probably not as "accidental" or "unfortunate" as it appeared at first sight.

The central tension in A Memory Called Empire is Mahit's unfamiliarity with and attraction to Teicxcalaani culture, language and society. She has two specific tools that are intended to assist her in becoming acculturated and successful in her ambassadorial tasks: a cultural liaison from the Ministry of Information named Three Seagrass and access to the memory/thoughts of the previous ambassador Yskandr via an implanted device in her head. Unfortunately, almost immediately after her arrival on Teixcalaan, her implant fails and she loses access to Yskandr and his years of experience and knowledge. So the book begins as a "fish out of water" story.

Mahit's sense of unease and unfamiliarity is mirrored by the reader, who is also being introduced to the entirely foreign world of Teixcalaan. However, Mahit has an advantage because she's been preparing for her ambassadorial posting for years, studying Teixcalaan and as a Lsel Station resident has been exposed to Teixcalaani cultural products her entire life. For the reader there are many aspects of Teixcalaan that are strikingly unusual, starting with their names, which typically have the form of "Number" combined with "Significant Noun." For example, the current Emperor is named Six Direction. It's appropriate that Ann Leckie has provided a rave blurb for this debut novel, because there are several ways that her Imperial Radhch novels resemble A Memory Called Empire. Teixcalaani names provide no information about the gender of the person they are denoting, and are so different from what we readers are used to that it can make distinguishing and identifying with the characters difficult. Teixcalaani culture is technologically advanced and its language is very different from ours; the use of poetry is central and ubiquitous. The culture is very hierarchical and highly ordered, with the Emperor being uniformly venerated but not worshiped. One of the key moments in the book involves Mahit and Three Seagrass (who is a highly skilled amateur poet herself, a prized ability in Teixcalaan) quickly forced to come up with a short poem that can be distributed widely to alert important observers (specifically a powerful frenemy named Nineteen Adze) the perilous and parlous status of our heroes as Teixcalaani society begins to fray at the edges.

Eventually Mahit (and the reader) becomes more familiar with Teixcalaan as the outlines of the plot (pun intended!) become clearer. There is an ongoing struggle to become the next Emperor (even though the current ailing one has publicly named three co-equal heirs Eight Loop, Eight Antidote and Thirty Larkspur) while the former and current Lesl ambassadors have important roles to play in resolving the situation. As one would expect, there is political instability which is sourced in the leadership struggle for control of the empire and Mahit is smack dab in the middle of it, along with her companions Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. The author resolves the conflict in a way that is quite surprising and rather satisfying.

Overall, I would say that A Memory Called Empire is a fantastic, intensely creative debut novel which science fiction enthusiasts who liked Leckie's Radhch and Herbert's Dune novels will almost certainly also enjoy. In my humble opinion, a bit too much of the "action" of the book is literally intertextual and involves subtle interpretations of things said (and not said) for me to connect viscerally with the novel in an entertaining or emotionally engaging way. However, I fully appreciate the difficulty of the accomplishment and applaud the author for its successful execution. This is the first book in a trilogy and I suspect I will read the rest of the books, because I want to find out what happens with Mahit Dzmare and spend more time on Teixcalaani space. So as a story, t A Memory Called Empire must be considered a success.

Title: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1).
Arkady Martine.
Paperback: 462 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 26, 2019.
Date Read: July 27, 2019.

★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

2019 CANADA: Rafa Wins 35th Masters Title; Bianca Wins Canada As Serena Sobs

19-year-old Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian woman in 50 years to win her country's Canadian Open tennis championship when Serena Williams retired down 1-3 in the championship match on Sunday. Williams said she had had back spasms the night before and that "she couldn't move" and started sobbing on the court. Later, she went to Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Financial Open tournament but withdrew from her match there. Presumably the next time we will see Serena will be at the 2019 S Open which starts August 26. Andreescu is now #14 in the rankings, achieving the amazing feat of having her ranking be less than her age in record fashion. he has won her first 7 matches against Top 10 opponents. Many expect her to be in the Top 10 soon herself, and she is considered (by some) to be "in the mix" for the US Open. Naomi Osaka (despite losing in straight sets to Serena) regained the World #1 ranking due to Karolina Pliskova's loss to Andreescu early in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal won his 5th Rogers Cup title in Montreal, demolishing Daniil Medvedev 6-3 6-0 in about 70 minutes. Amazingly, it was the first time in his career that Nadal had defended a hard-court (non-clay court) title, since he had won the 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto last year. It's Nadal's 35th Masters series shield, increasing his lead over his rivals (Novak Djokovic has 33 and Roger Federer has 28). Nadal is the first player to win 2 Masters titles this year (having also won in Rome), while Federer won Miami and Djokovic won Madrid.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

2019 CANADA: Serena In 1st Non-Major Final In 2 Years; Faces Bibi Andreescu (19YO)

For the first time in nearly two years Serena Williams is in the final of a regular tour-level tournament after reaching 3 major finals (2018 Wimbledon, 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Wimbledon) in that period. She will face 19-year-old hometown heroine Bianca (Bibi) Andreescu who is playing in her 3rd final of 2019 in the Rogers Cup final in Toronto, Ontario.

Serena has been playing excellent tennis in Canada. In the quarterfinals she finally got her first win over Naomi Osaka (in straight sets!) on Friday 6-3 6-4. Defending champion Simona Halep retired against Marie Bouzkova after losing the first set, Serena was forced to win a 3-set semifinal 1-6 6-3 6-3 against the Czech qualifier.

Andreescu is the first Canadian woman in 50 years to reach the final of the Canadian Open. She has made incredible strides and will be in the Top 20 on Monday for the first time.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

08/08/19: Married 11 Years Today!

Although we have been boyfriends since 1991 and living together since 1994, domestic partners since 1999, and civilly united (in Vermont) since 2000, we were only married in California on August 8, 2008 (Roger Federer's 27th birthday!) before Proposition 8 passed and after the California Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in the Golden State with the In Re Marriage Cases decision and upheld my marriage (and 18,000 others!) in Strauss v. Horton.

The above pictures were taken on our latest vacation in Valencia, Spain in July 2019.

Happy anniversary, hubby!

BOOK REVIEW: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility is a short but affecting read; it is revelatory, informative and inspirational. The author provides insight into the myriad ways that white people respond to discussions about race and white supremacy. This excerpt (from page 2) basically encapsulates the primary thesis of the book:

Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable--the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy. I conceptualize this process as white fragility.
The author Robin Diangelo uses the words "we" and "ours" in this quote and throughout the book to be explicit and forthright about her positionality as a white woman discussing racism.

I imagine White Fragility would be very difficult for white people to read this book without experiencing some of the reactions that the author describes above. In fact, the author recognizes this and spends a significant amount of time in the book speaking directly to white readers of the text, to attempt to modulate and potentially forestall these reactions. I have to imagine how white readers will respond to reading about the ubiquity and resilience of white supremacy because I am not a white person. 

Despite this fact, the experience of reading White Fragility as a non-white person is an exciting experience. My primary feeling was one of admiration (at the thoughtfulness and precision of the language of the book and the cogent and contemporaneous nature of the ideas included) and amazement (at the sheer number of "secrets" revealed and taboos broken about discussing race, anti-blackness and white supremacy).

While it is well under 200 pages, White Fragility provides numerous resources for facilitating the process of getting white people to talk about racism, such as the pages of footnotes at the end of the book providing evidence for claims made in the text, as well as "Books, Articles and Blogs" for the reader to continue their education on the subject(s) of race, racism and white supremacy. Additionally, there are very useful lists included in the book which distill and highlight some of the key concepts. An example is this list of the functions of white fragility (found on page 122):
  • Maintain white solidarity
  • Close off self-reflection
  • Trivialize the reality of racism
  • Make white people the victims
  • Hijack the conversation
  • Protect a limited worldview
  • Take race off the table
  • Focus on the messenger, not the message
  • Rally more resources to white people
Another strong aspect of the book are the particular chapters devoted to "White Women's Tears," "Anti-Blackness," and "The Good/Bad Binary."

Overall, White Fragility is a tour de force explication of why it is so difficult to have conversations about racism and (therefore begin) the process of dismantling white supremacy. In the end, I found the book somewhat depressing because it makes the prospect for improved race relations in the United States appear to be unlikely by analyzing and enumerating what would be entailed in producing such a future. With that said, the problem is not with the book, which does a great service to us all by illuminating and elucidating ideas and actions about race and white supremacy, but with us, the reader(s).


Title: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.
Robin Diangelo.
Paperback: 462 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 26, 2019.
Date Read: July 27, 2019.

★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

UPDATE: Michael Johnson (Black, Gay ,HIV+ Man) Released From Prison Early!

Michael Johnson (left) with Dr. Steve Thrasher

There's an exciting update in the ongoing saga of Michael Johnson (also known as "Tiger Mandingo"), a Black gay man with HIV who at the age of 23 in 2015 was sentenced to 30-years in prison for knowingly exposing several gay men to HIV (some of whom subsequently tested positive for HIV later). Johnson's case was a textbook case of HIV stigma combined with racial animus leading to a problematic criminal justice result. Happily, this conviction was overturned in 2016 and last year Johnson agreed to a 10-year Alford plea deal with the last 3 years converted to parole.

One of the key journalists and activists who raised the media profile of the Johnson case was Steve Thrasher (@thrasherxy) (seen pictured with Johnson above the day he was released from prison on July 9, 2019).

A New York Times report on Johnson's release said:
In theory, H.I.V. exposure laws are meant to encourage H.I.V.-positive individuals to disclose their status before having sex, and to practice safer sex, with the ultimate goal of preventing the spread of the virus.
But there is no evidence that these laws have reduced risky behavior or encouraged disclosure, said Catherine Hanssens, the executive director of the Center for H.I.V. Law and Policy, which provided legal support for Mr. Johnson’s case.
In the eyes of the law, an H.I.V. diagnosis is conflated with malice, she added.
“These laws effectively treat an H.I.V. diagnosis itself as evidence that the person acted with bad intentions when sex or other types of physical contact are involved in a crime,” she said.
Congratulations to everyone who worked on this case. Johnson will be moving to and living in Indiana with a friend and says he plans to continue his education and would like to share his story as part of advocacy for HIV prevention and treatment,

Monday, August 05, 2019

EYE CANDY: Alan Valdez (4th time!)

Alan Valdez returns to Eye Candy after a long break! He has previous appeared here (April 30, 2012; April 4, 2011; and January 18, 2009). He doesn't appear to be on Instagram. (There is another model named Alán Valdez on Instagram with over 220k followers but I don't think it's the same guy because he has lots of tattoos?) Then again it has been awhile since I last posted pictures of Mr. Valdez so it is very possible they are the same person.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars is the (Nebula and Locus) award-winning book by Mary Robinette Kowal about the 1950s space race but set in an alternate time line where a meteor hits the Earth near Chesapeake Bay, decimates the Eastern Seaboard and catalyzes the greenhouse effect, endangering human survival on Earth. The main character of The Calculating Stars is Elma York, a former WASP pilot and mathematical genius who ends up working as a “computer” for the International Aerospace Coalition, the space agency responsible for managing the race to the stars. The impetus behind the space race in this timeline is not a US-Russia proxy war but a race to get to space in order to save humanity before Earth becomes inhabitable due to the runaway global warming caused by the long range after-effects of the asteroid collision.

One shorthand view of the book is that it is a version of “The Right Stuff” and "Hidden Figures" told from the perspective of a Jewish white woman who is obsessed with going into space but has to combat social conservatism and sexist mores in order to achieve her dream.

Elma is a fun character and it was fun to spend time with her. She has a pretty severe undiagnosed anxiety disorder; during episodes where this manifests as panic attacks  she tries to get through by doing mathematics. For example, she will mentally recite the beginning of the list of prime numbers or the Fibonacci series or do 4-digit arithmetic operations in her head. Her husband, who is also Jewish, an engineer and eventually becomes her boss at the IAC, helps to distract/calm her down at times of stress (such as facing a room full of reporters). Elma becomes internationally known as “the Lady Astronaut” through her advocacy in the media of the idea that women should join the space program. This is an interesting SFnal twist because in real life no one but white men were considered by NASA to become astronauts in the equivalent time period (1950s to 1970s).

Although I like Elma I’m not as enamored with the book as a whole. Of course, as a black gay mathematics professor I’m in favor of the author’s depiction of the regimented/stilted mores of the 1950s and the spotlight she puts on the senselessness of the discrimination based on gender (and race) that occur(red) in such an important science/engineering enterprise. I also love the fact the story is infused with a love of mathematics and science/engineering and was intrigued that  it is told from the perspective of a white Jewish woman. But for me there was a spark missing which prevented me from emotionally connecting with the story. I think this may be because ultimately the stakes are too low. Since this is an alternate timeline (caused by a very unlikely event) the overarching idea that the space race needs to be successful earlier in time in order to save humanity is not that compelling. And even though I want Elma to succeed at breaking barriers, she will/would be fine even if she didn’t go into space. So although I enjoyed spending time with Elma and love the centering of math and science in the rare context of a SFnal book which pays close attention to identity and positionality of its characters,  I ended somewhat unmoved by  The Calculating Stars. I admire it more than I adore it. However, I will most likely read the sequels in the trilogy because I am curious about how the story ends, and when that occurs with any first book, it must be considered a success. There's a reason why it is very likely to win the 2019 Hugo award for Best Novel in addition to its other accolades.

Title: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1).
Mary Robinette Kowal.
Paperback: 432 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: July 3, 2018.
Date Read: July 20, 2019.

★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.83/4.0).


Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Expanse Season 4 Premiere Date Is December 13; Season 5 Is a Go!

There is absolutely awesome news about The Expanse, the television adaptation of my favorite space opera novels of the same name written by James S.A. Corey. The first three seasons (covering the first 3 books) aired on SyFy which then cancelled the show. But it was picked up by Amazon Prime after an energetic campaign by fans (like yours truly), The release date for Season 4, which is based on Cibola Burn (not my favorite of the books) is December 13, 2019. But also announced (today!) is that the show has been renewed for season 5 on Amazon Prime, which presumably will be based on Nemesis Games, which is probably the best book of the 9-book series. It features an "oh @!$@&*#!!" moment akin to the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones which I absolutely can not wait to see.

Meanwhile here's an official synopsis for The Expanse Season 4 from Amazon Prime Video:
Season 4 of The Expanse, its first as a global Amazon Original, begins a new chapter for the series with the crew of the Rocinante on a mission from the U.N. to explore new worlds beyond the Ring Gate. Humanity has been given access to thousands of Earth-like planets which has created a land rush and furthered tensions between the opposing nations of Earth, Mars and the Belt. Ilus is the first of these planets, one rich with natural resources but also marked by the ruins of a long dead alien civilization. While Earthers, Martians and Belters maneuver to colonize Ilus and its natural resources, these early explorers don’t understand this new world and are unaware of the larger dangers that await them.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Storm of Locusts is the second book in the Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse that began with the award-winning Trail of Lightning (see my review). The Sixth World is set in a future/alternate United States where more than half of the land mass has been inundated and billions of people worldwide have been killed by an apocalyptic event called The Big Water. Basically everything west of Colorado and east of Kansas is destroyed in the deluge. So the setting for our story is Dinétah, the land of the Diné (which is the word in Navajo used to describe the Native American tribe).

One of the primary features of Storm of Locusts is the pleasant feeling of reading a book with characters and world building which are new and unfamiliar. After all, the book can be classified as an action-packed, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy with a powerful, violent woman of color protagonist. You don’t read one of those days every day!

The main character is Maggie Hoskins, a 20-something Navajo woman who is known as the Godslayer and Monsterslayer for some of the events that happened in Trail of Lightning. The sequel Storm of Locusts is both better and worse than the first book, in different aspects. There’s more action in Storm of Locusts and far less of the emotional energy is centered on the romantic tension between Maggie and the handsome stranger Kai Arviso which loomed large in Trail of Lightning. To me, these were good things. However, some of the things I was disappointed by in Storm of Locusts were the too-brief appearance of the openly gay, multiracial character from the first book and the fact its problematic pacing was repeated in the second (basically most of the primary plot points in both books are resolved apparently hastily in the concluding 10 pages). I was neutral on the addition of a new, teenaged, gender-nonconforming orphan named Ben in the second book. I liked the fact that Maggie’s emotions are most often connected to Ben and her sudden in loco parentis role as Ben’s protector. However, the story is still muddled with the inclusion of a romantic relationship between two side characters. (Other readers who are more positively disposed to romantic elements might view these aspects as pluses.)

Another strength of Storm of Locusts is the reduction in the presence of gods compared to how visible they were in Trail of Lightning. In the Sixth World, people have “clan powers” which tend to manifest themselves after an extremely traumatic or near-death experience. Maggie‘s powers include super-speed, expert facility with weapons and a killer instinct. Additionally, in the Sixth World various Navajo legends, spirits and gods are walking-about real. I understand that these books are urban fantasy but as an atheist the inclusion of creatures who are actual “goods” and not just people who have god-like powers which may just be really advanced technology always irks me. (This was part of the difficulty I initially had with Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy but I would argue the supernatural/mystical elements are handled more effectively in those works than they are in the Sixth World books so far.)

Anyway, overall I would say that on balance Storm of Locusts is about as good as Trail of Lightning, and I look forward to reading the still-untitled third book in the Sixth World series when it comes out.

Title: Storm of Locusts.
Rebecca Roanhorse.
Paperback: 313  pages.
 Saga Press.
Date Published: April 23, 2019.
Date Read: July 14, 2019.

★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Djokovic Outlasts Federer in 5-hour, 5-set Thriller to Win 16th Major

In one of the most exciting matches since the classic 2008 Wimbledon final, Novak Djokovic outlasted 8-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) in a match which lasted nearly five hours ad featured the very first ever 5th set deciding tiebreaker (at 12-all). For the 3rd time in a major grand slam match (following the 2010 US Open semifinal and 2011 US Open semifinal) Djokovic saved double match point and went on to win. Federer broke Djokovic at 8-all and was serving 9-8, 40-15 but was unable to win either of the points thanks to Djokovic's excellent serving (and Federer's own nervousness). This was particularly curious because the Swiss great had an amazing serving day with 25 aces (including one at 30-15 in that all important 18th game of the 5th set). Even though my prediction that Federer would win did not pan out, I feel good that my belief that Federer would confound critics (who gave Djokovic the edge) was very nearly correct.

In fact, in most aspects Federer was the better player for most of the match. He broke Djokovic twice in both of the sets he won while his serve was only broken three times: up 5-2 in the fourth set, early in the fifth set and up 9-8 in the fifth set (but two of those times were when he was serving to close out the set). Federer had 40 more winners (94 to 54) and only 10 more errors (62 to 52) than Djokovic. Often times Federer has difficukty converting breakpoint chances in big matches, but he won 7 out of 13 while Djokovic only won 3 of 8. The big problem was the 3 tioebreaks they played where every point is essentially a breakpoint. There Federer played his riskiest tennis and it generally did not pay off. That basically was the match. The third set tiebreak Federer was up 5-3 when he made some uncharacteristic forehand errors and ended up losing four points in a row and the pivotal 3rd set.

Significance of Today's Result
With his win, Djokovic improves to 26-22 over Federer head-to-head and is now only 2 majors behind Nadal's 18  who is only 2 behind Federer's 20. He has now beaten the best grass-court player of all time in three  Wimbledon finals (2014, 2015 and 2019). Federer's major final record falls to 20-11 while Djokovic's record improves to 16-9. Federer has now played 12 Wimbledon finals and won 8.

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

This is my prediction post for the 2019 Wimbledon men's final. Last year I did predict that Novak Djokovic would defeat Kevin AndersonThis year I correctly predicted the results of  2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals, 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [23]  6-2 4-6 6-3 6-2Roberto Bautista Agut had beaten World #1 Novak Djokovic two times this year but as expected the Serb was able to get through this match relatively unscathed, with the loss of one set. The problem with "Robbie Bats" as some call him is that there's nothing that he does on the court that Djokovic does not do better. The Spaniard is having an excellent year, having won  the title in Doha (beating Djokovic along the way).

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] d. Rafael Nadal (ESP) [3] 7-6(3) 1-6 6-3 6-4. 11 years  after Federer and Nadal played the greatest match of all time, the two rivals faced each other on the grass courts of Wimbledon again this year. Many observers believed that Nadal would win this match due to the fact that Nadal had dismissed Federer in the semifinals of Roland Garros less than a month before and the fact that the Wimbledon grass courts are playing more like clay courts than hard courts. However, Federer has now managed to win 6 of their last 7 meeting, and the head-to-head is now a mere 24-16, which means that on non-clay court Federer leads 14-10 since Nadal leads on clay 2-14. This match was generally of a very high quality, except for the second set, where after losing his serve and failing to break back within 2 service games Federer basically ceded the set and marshaled his energy to make a push in the third set where he was rewarded with an early break. The ending of the match was incredibly stress , with Federer needing 5 match points in the last two games of the match to close it out. At that stage of the match both players were at their peak, playing their best tennis simultaneously. It was awesome!

For the 48th time Roger Federer will face Novak Djokovic. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 25-22 and has a pretty surprising 2-1 head-to-head against the 8-time Wimbledon champion at Wimbledon, having beaten him in the 2014 and 2015 finals while Federer won their 2012 semifinal matchup. The two have not played in a major since the 2015 US Open final (also won by Djokovic) and last year's 2018 Paris Masters was viewed by many as the best 3-set match of the year (and won by Djokovic).

All the stats and history predict a Djokovic win on Sunday. (Federer is the only one of the big 3 who have never beaten the other two back-to-back to win a tournament) but I believe that Federer will take great confidence from his win over Nadal and the fact that he has been tested by playing the #3 (Nadal), #8 (Kei Nishikori), #17 (Matteo Berrettini) and #27 (Lucas Pouille) seeds in the tournament while Djokovic has only faced the #21 (David Goffin) and #23 (Roberto Bautista Agut) to reach this level. Of course I am also a huge Federer fan and would love to see him win a 9th Wimbledon and record 21st major. Federer is 20-10 in major finals while Djokovic is 15-9. However, Federer now has the most match wins on tour in 2019 and maybe this will lead him to a surprise victory. MadProfessah's prediction: Federer.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Halep Stuns Serena To Win 2nd Major Title

To the surprise of most observers, World #7 Simona Halep put on a devastating display of accurate, defensive, propulsive tennis on Wimbledon Centre Court to defeat 23-time major champion Serena Williams 6-2 6-2 in 56 minutes to win her second major title.  The loss means that Serena is still stuck at 23 major singles trophies, the most in the modern era, but still 1 behind the odious Margaret Court, who won 24 (although 11 were from her home country's tournament in Australia, at a time when it is quite difficult to really consider the Australian Open a grand slam tournament). The 6-2 6-2 drubbing she received is her worst loss in  a major final (where she is now 23-9) since she lost the 2014 French Open to Garbine Muguruza by the same score. She has now lost 3 major finals in a row, to Kerber, Naomi Osaka and Halep.

For the second year in a row, Serena lost in the Wimbledon final after making it through the draw in dramatic fashion, but without having to play a Top 10 player before the championship match. Last year she lost to Angie Kerber in straight sets and today it was Simona Halep. In both cases the reasons for these results are complex, but I feel like in today's match too many people are chalking it up to amazing play by Halep and downplaying the weaknesses that Serena revealed. It is true Halep had a mere 3 unforced errors in 2 sets today. But Serena had double that number of unforced errors in the first two games. Her serve was NOT ready to go at the beginning of the match, and after 11 minutes she was down 0-4. Both her serve and her return, two of the best parts of her game, and probably the best in women's tennis, completely disappeared. I suppose that would be enough to rattle anyone, but there were multiple times when she was in a winning position with a ball to hit out of reach that she would overhit it, trying to bludgeon it and intimidate her opponent. Instead, she hit the ball over the line. This must have happened at least a half-dozen times. Also, Serena seemed unprepared for Halep amazing defensive skills, powered by incredible anticipation and stupendous movement. Serena would hit what she thought was a winner, Halep would get it back and Serena would hit another shot that would win the point against most players, Halep would make a ridiculous get and then Serena would hit an error. I believe these mistakes were primarily caused by her lack of match play and the fact she hadn't played a top player in the tournament up to that point and she has had almost zero match play outside of the majors since she returned to competitive tennis in May 2018. She is yet to have won a title of any kind since the January 2017 Australian Open. At age 37 (38 in September) it is becoming increasingly clear she just simply can not continue to just focus on the majors, unless she finds a way to completely overhaul her mental approach to playing  a major final, which is a very unlikely prospect. I still believe (and hope) that she will win 24 (or more!) grand slam singles titles, but even if she doesn't, there's no doubt in my mind that Serena Williams should be considered the G.O.A.T.

Friday, July 12, 2019

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

Serena Williams (USA) [11] vs Simona Halep (ROU) [7]

This is my prediction post for the 2019 Wimbledon women's final. Last year I did not predict that Angie Kerber would defeat Serena WilliamsThis year I correctly predicted the results of  2 of 2 men's semifinals, 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals


Serena Williams (USA) [11] d. Barbora Strycova (CZE) 6-1 6-2.  This was a devastating performance by Serena; she had 28 winners to just 10 errors. Although there was much ink spilled about how Strycova was replacing Roberta Vinci as the oldest first-time major semifinalist and what this might portend for Serena's chances to win this match. However, by playing first-strike tennis Serena was able to rush her opponent and not give her a chance to deploy her net-based skills and tricky spins Strycova also did not player her best. She attempted multiple drop shots that failed to clear her side of the net and suffered double faults at inopportune times. For Serena it was an awe-inspiring performance.

Simona Halep (ROU) [7] d. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [8] 6-1 6-3. Each of the first two games of this match were extremely high quality and were tense, 10-minute affairs that featured over 10 deuces between them, and multiple break points and game points and very long rallies. But Halep won both of these games and did not look back from there as she served out the set quickly. In the second set Svitolina put up much more fight but once the first break happened Halep took advantage and never looked back.


Despite now holding the record for the oldest woman to appear in a major final, Serena has to be considered the overwhelming favorite to win her 24th major title. Serena has a dominant 9-1 head-to-head record against Simona Halep. But this is the third time in a year when she had an opportunity to win her 24th major title and in the first two (2018 Wimbledon loss to Angie Kerber and 2018 US Open loss to Naomi OsakaSerena was unable to play anywhere close to her best tennis. Most observers attributed these results to Serena's nervousness and tension caused by finally confirming her G.O.A.T status by winning her 24th title. I agree that the emotional/mental side was part of the reason she lost those matches (especially the  US Open final) but also she never looked like she was moving as well as she has in the past and her serve was not as effective as it has been in this tournament. With all that said, I think Halep has a non-trivial chance to win the match. The courts are playing more like a clay court and Halep is a better mover than Serena on clay (or slow) courts. She will get a lot of balls back in play and this may frustrate Serena if she has to hit 2 or 4 winners to win the point. But I think Serena will be mentally prepared and physically to do so. MadProfessah's pick: Serena.  

Thursday, July 11, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Men's Semifinals Preview (and Predictions) #Fedal40

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [23]. Roberto Bautista Agut has beaten World #1 Novak Djokovic two times this year but the Serb has an overall head-to-head of 7-3 but the two have never played on grass. Djokovic has only lost one set this Wimbledon (a tiebreak set against Hurkacz) and is playing in his umpteenth major semifinal while his opponent is playing in his first. It's disparities like that which allow the Big 3 to continue dominating the rest of the men's tennis tour, and it frankly doesn't look like that will end any time soon, since Djokovic is the youngest of the trivalry at 32 years old. Djokovic has a 5-3 record in Wimbledon semifinals and 4-1 record in Wimbledon finals.   Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [3] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [2]. For the first time in 11 years, there will be a Fedal match at Wimbledon. The two have played 39 matches and Rafael Nadal leads 24-15 and won their last match in the 2019 French Open semifinals in straight sets.Tennis fans are salivating over the possibility of a reprise of the Greatest Match of All Time which occurred when the two met in the 2018 Wimbledon final, which was won by Nadal 9-7 in the fifth set. I seriously doubt the match will meet those impossible standards, but it is incredibly significant. Federer has 20 major titles and Nadal is breathing down his neck with 18. If Nadal wins this match and subsequently wins the title on Sunday, he will be only one behind Federer and most people think that the Spaniard will win at least one more Roland Garros title. Nadal has been relentless at this year's Wimbledon, which many people is playing so slowly it resembles a clay court. If that's the case one has to give him the edge over Federer. However, I still think it's a grass court and Federer, even at age 37 is the best grass court player in the world. Mad Professah's pick: Federer.

BOOK REVIEW: The Burning by Jane Casey

I’m reasonably picky about the books I read. Usually my criteria is an average rating of 4.0 or better so The Burning by Jane Casey (with an average of 3.78) is unusual. But I have been looking for a good police procedural murder mystery with  a female protagonist and the books by Maeve Kerrigan have been on my TBR pile for quite awhile so I decided to give Book 1 in the series a try. I’m glad I did!

If The Burning is the lowest rated book in the DC Kerrigan series then I am in for a treat as I read this series because I thought the first entry was fantastic! In The Burning we are introduced to Maeve Kerrigan as a first person character, a tall,  female Police Detective of Irish descent in an all-male, chauvinistic murder squad trying to find the “Burning Man” serial killer who is bludgeoning women all over London to death and then burning their bodies. Maeve is an interesting character and when the book starts she gets assigned the case of a murder which initially appears to be the 5th Burning Man corpse but may be an attempted copy cat. The victim is Rebecca Haworth, a rich, young beautiful 
woman who everyone thinks “had it all.”

In addition to Maeve's we also have chapters that are POV’s of Louise North, Rebecca’s best friend, who is suspicious of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Gil Maddick. Gil definitely sets off Maeve’s police intuition as NOT being a good egg and we (the reader) have an interesting set up for an intriguing puzzle.

I quite liked The Burning. It is a bit simplistic in the way it fulfills it’s genre trappings but I’m quite okay with that. (I love the police procedural British murder mystery genre!) However, I was a bit annoyed by the seemingly inevitable romantic sub-plot (with one of her co-workers, no less). Although I didn’t guess who the murderer was  before it was revealed (even though it’s really not that difficult since there really are only two options to choose from ) I’m quite looking forward to reading the other books in the Maeve Kerrigan series, and I believe other fans of Peter Robinson’s DCI Alan Banks, Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan & Tony Hill or Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae will enjoy these books.

Title: The Burning.
Jane Casey.
Paperback: 354 pages.
Date Published: November 1, 2010.
Date Read: July 4, 2019.

★★½☆☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Women's Semifinals Preview (and Predictions)

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships This year I correctly predicted the results of  4 of 4 men's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals. Last year I correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [11] vs. Johanna Konta (GBR) [19] Barbora Strycova (CZE).  This is definitely not the semifinal Britain expected (or wanted) to see. British #1 Jo Konta led 4-1 in the first set against the crafty Strycova but somehow managed to lose her lead and then a tight tiebreak (7-5). For some reason, instead of buckling down and summoning another come-from-behind victory like she had done against two major champions, Konta unravelled completely and lost in straight sets 7-6(5) 6-1. Meanwhile Serena was locked in the most exciting match of the tournament so far with fellow American Alison Riske, who had taken out the reigning World #1 in straight sets the round before and used her burgeoning confidence and grass-suitable game to go toe-to-toe with the G.O.A.T. The result was a highly entertaining (and high quality) 6-4 4-6 6-3 win for Serena. The 23-time major champion is trying to reach her 32nd major final by playing in her 37th major semifinal and become the oldest woman in the modern era to reach a major final (older than Martina Navratilova was in the 1994 Wimbledon final by 33 days!) She faces Strycova who is now the oldest player to become a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist (older than Roberta Vinci who did it at the 2015 US Open). These records are a bit ominous for Serena but the good news is that she has played 3 matches (6 sets) against her semifinal opponent and has won all of them. I expect that streak to continue on Thursday. PREDICTION: Williams.

Elina Svitolina (UKR) [8] vs. Simona Halep (ROU) [7]. Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep are beginning to develop an interesting rivalry, which Svitolina leads 4-3 (but Halep won their last meeting earlier this year in Doha). Halep is playing in her 7th major semifinal (4-2 record) while Svitolina has finally made her first one here at Wimbledo this year. Halep definitely has  experience on her side while Svitolina has current form on hers. This semifinal will probably be the more exciting of the two matches and I would be surprised if it does not go to three sets. When matches are this tight unless there is some external factor (like an overly lopsided head-to-head) I usually go with the person who I think is the better "athlete." In this case, I think that is the Romanian former #1 and major champion. PREDICTIONHalep

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Men's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals. Last year I predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly. I also correctly predicted 3 of 4  women's quarterfinals this year.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs David Goffin (BEL) [21].  Djokovic has yet to lose a set at this year's tournament and is currently on 31 of 32 Grand Slam winning streak. His only loss since winning Wimbledon 2018, US Open 2019 and Australian Open 2019 is a semifinal loss to Dominic Thiem on clay at last month's Roland Garros. He holds a 5-1 head-to-head lead over David Goffin but the two have never played on grass. People are saying the grass courts this year are playing like clay courts, which is Goffin's best surface. The big 3 have been putting on a clinic on how to dismantle opponents; Djokovic only gave up 8 games in his previous round. I don't think the score will be that lopsided in the quarterfinal but the result will be the same. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Guido Pella (ARG) vs Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [23]. Before the tournament started the draw (and who should be seeded #2, Federer or Nadal) was a large point of contention. Djokovic was the winner in both respects because both of his fellow members of the trivalry are in the other half this year, and his top half of the draw has collapsed. To reach the final, the world #1 will face opponents who he has a 13-4 advantage against. Guido Pella did amazingly well to outlast 2016 finalist Milos Raonic. Amazingly, Pella has defeated 3 former Wimbledon finalists in the last 2 years (2017 Finalist Marin Cilic last year and  2018 finalists Kevin Anderson in the 3rd round this year). Bautista Agut is having a great year and he has already beaten Djokovic twice this year already. Mad Professah's pick: Bautista Agut.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [3] vs Sam Querrey (USA). Sam Querrey and Rafael Nadal have not played for more than 2 years, but the American's last meeting was a victorious one on the hard courts of Acapulco. Querrey is putting on a serving clinic in this tournament and has only had  his serve broken once! He knows that he can beat the very best at Wimbledon, having done so in 2016 when he defeated Djokovic, who had just achieved the historic Nole Slam. That defeat lead to a 2-year spiral for Djokovic which he only pulled out of at last year's Wimbledon. The problem for Querrey is that the courts are resembling a clay court and that is a bad sign for anyone not named Nadal. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs Kei Nishikori  (JPN) [8]. Kei Nishikori has a respectable head-to-head of 3-7 against the Greatest of all Time, and even won their last meeting in straight sets at the 2018 Year-End Championships in London. Federer won their only grass meeting in Halle. Nishikori has done something unusual for him at this year's Wimbledon: he lost only 1 set and won 12 to reach the qurterfinals. Typically the Japanese #1 gets caught up in long 5-set matches in early rounds of majors and thus doesn't get very far in the second week. Will it matter the way Federer is playing at the moment as evinced by his demolition  of young excellent grass-court player in Matteo Berettini? Probably not.  Mad Professah's pick: Federer.

2019 WIMBLEDON: Women's Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals. Last year I predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly

Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8] Alison Riske (USA) vs. Serena Williams (USA) [11]. Alison Riske is one of the closest things tennis has to a grass-court specialist. Her winning percentage on grass is 20+ higher than it is on all other surfaces. She has the most grass court wins of any player (14!) on the WTA tour this year. So it was an upset but not exactly a surprise that the 29-year-old American was able to oust the #1 seed Ash Barty from the tournament today. It hasn't been easy for Riske; all 4 matches she has won have gone three sets. excellent tennis. Serena has (again!) played her way into excellent form in a major again, and her last two matches have demonstrated the qualities which always make her a threat at SW19: best serve of all time in the women's game and her overwhelming power combined with deadly accuracy. Happily for Serena she played Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in the Round of 16, a player who has lost every set the two have played, never having won more than 3 games in those sets. Serena won 6-2 6-2 this time. Riske and Serena have never played before, but the two do know each others games, somewhat, having played doubles together. I do think Serena will have much more trouble with Riske than Suarez Navarro, but I don't see her losing a set on her way to yet another major semifinal. PREDICTION: Williams.

Johanna Konta (GBR) [19vs. Barbora Strycova (CZE).  Johanna Konta is Great Britain's great hope to win a major on the women's side. She is coming off of a semifinal run at Roland Garros, which since it is her worst surface, should provide her great confidence that she can at least reach that level here at her home major. Mental toughness is becoming a hallmark of Konta's resurgence. She has won 14 of the last 15 three-set matches she has played, including two against two major champions in Sloane Stephens in the 3rd round and Petra Kvitoba in the 4th. To reach the Wimbledon semifinals for the second time in 3 years she will need to outlast the tenacious Barbora Strycova who likes grass and has defeated Elise Mertens and Kiki Bertens, two seeds, in the last two rounds. Hometown advantage should prevail. PREDICTION: Konta.

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] Karolina Muchova (CZE) vs. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [8]. Elina Svitolina has reached 5 major quarterfinals but has never been able to win a match to reach a major semifinal. She will be facing a first-time major quarterfinalist in Karolina Muchova who won an epic match of the Czech Karolinas by defeating #3 seed (and 2019 Eastbourne champion) Karolina Pliskova 13-11 in the third-set. This is Svitolina's best chance to finally breakthrough at a slam, and I suspect she will make it count. PREDICTIONSvitolina

Simona Halep (ROU) [7] vs. Shuai Zhang (CHN). Halep finally ended the fairy tale run of 15-year-old American Coco Gauff who made the round of 16 in her major tournament debut, becoming the youngest player to reach this far in well over 20 years. Halep won relatively easily, 6-3 6-3, and is now the highest seed remaining in the draw. She earlier dismissed 2-time major champion Victoria Azarenka surprisingly easily, in a match many observers expected her to lose. Shuai Zhang has completed multiple upsets, having beaten Caroline Wozniacki and Caroline Garcia in straight sets earlier in the tournament. I doubt that she will be able to complete another one and expect Halep to reach her second semifinal at Wimbledon. PREDICTION: Halep.


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