Saturday, June 29, 2019

2019 WIMBLEDON: Analysis of Men's and Women's Draw

The draw for 2019 Wimbledon is out! On the men's side World #1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic is seeded #1. On the women's side, the (brand new) World #1 is Ash Barty, who is also seeded #1 but the defending champion is Angie Kerber.

The projected women's quarterfinals by seedings are:
  • Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [1] v Angelique Kerber (GER) [5]
  • Kiki Bertens (NED) [4] v Petra Kvitova (CZE) [6]
  • Naomi Osaka (JPN) [2] v Simona Halep (ROU) [7]
  • Karolina Plisova (CZE) [3] v 8 Elina Svitolina (UKR) [8] 
The projected men's quarterfinals by seedings are:

  • Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] v Stefanos Tsitsipas(GRE) [7]
  • Kevin Anderson (RSA) [4] v Alexander Zverev (GER) [6]
  • Roger Federer (SUI) [2] v Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8]
  • Rafael Nadal (ESP) [3] v Dominic Thiem (AUT) [5]

First Round Matches To Watch:
  • Coco Gauff (USA) versus Venus Williams (USA)
  • Alison Riske (USA) versus Donna Vekic (CRO) [23]
  • Samantha Stosur  (AUS) versus Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) [30]
  • Dominic Thiem (AUT) [5] versus Sam Querrey (USA)
  • Frances Tiafoe (USA) versus Fabio Fognini (ITA)[12]
  • Lucas Pouille (FRA) [27]  versus Richard Gasquet (FRA)

Serena Williams is seeded #11 on the women's side while some people are complaining that 2017 champion Roger Federer was moved up to the #2 seed, but he also drew Nadal into his semifinal bracket, while Djokovic gets last year's finalist Kevin Anderson who has been hampered with an injury all year. The last time Federer and Nadal met at Wimbledon was in the 2008 final, now called the "Greatest Match of the Century."  Can history repeat itself?

Friday, June 28, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Alphonso David, 48, Named President Of HRC, Largest LGBT Lobby In The USA

Alphonso David, a 48-year-old Liberian refugee and civil rights attorney who served as counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been named the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest LGBT political advocacy organization.

I haven't given HRC a red cent since they endorsed a Republican senator (Al D'Amato) instead pf a Democratic challenger (Liz Holtzman) in 1992! This decision may cause me to reconsider my boycott.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#LGBT #EqualityDay June 26 Anniversaries: Obergefell (2015), Windsor (2013) and Lawrence (2003)

Today is a big day in LGBT equality. Three landmark Supreme Court decisions have previously been announced on June 26 (2003, 2013 and 2015), all written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired last  year and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh. Respectively, these cases overturned bans on private non-commercial sexual conduct (Lawrence v Texas), struck down the  Defense of Marriage Act which purported to prohibit recognition of legal same-sex marriages by the federal government (United States v Windsor) and struck down all state laws banning marriages of same-sex couples (Obergefell v Hodges).

Tomoorow is the last day of the 2018-2019 Supreme Court term and some existing cases (on the legality of partisan gerrymandering and pretextual manipulation of the 2020 Census for partisan gain by the Trump administration) will be decided.

Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Barty Gets WTA #1; Feliciano Wins Singles (and Doubles!) in Queens; Andy Returns With Doubles Crown

37-year-old Feliciano Lopez, ranked 113 in the world at the beginning of the week won all 8 matches he contested in the singles and doubles this week to become the first person since Mark Phillipoussis in 1997 to win the singles and doubles title. He defeated Gilles Simon 6-3 6-7(4) 7-6(2) to win the singles title for the 2nd time in three years. It was his 3rd final at Queens, and all three had gone to a deciding championship tiebreaker. Teamed up with 32-year-old Andy Murray, the two beat the #1 seeds in their first match and won the championship match despite having to finish the quarterfinal and semifinal on Saturday night (after Lopez won his semifinal singles match against 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime in 3 sets). Following this historic performance, Lopez rose 60(!) spots to #53 in the world in singles.

Just a few weeks after winning her very first major in Paris on her least-favorite surface, Ash Barty became only the second female Australian tennis player to reach World #1 on the WTA tour (after Evonne Goolagong Cawley) spent two weeks at the top spot in the 1970s. Amazingly, Barty had a zero ranking a mere 3 years ago, after her sabbatical from tennis to play cricket in her native Queensland. Barty deposed Naomi Osaka, whose 21 weeks at #1 already have her tied with Maria Sharapova and Tracy Austin and ahead of multi-slam winners like Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Kim Clijsters. Barty defeated her double partner Julia Goerges in straight sets to win the Birmingham tournament and get enough points to reach #1. Barty is on a 12-match winning streak and will be seeded #1 at Wimbledon.

Just 5 months after undergoing hip surgery following a tearful press conference which most observers thought was his retirement from professional tennis, Andy Murray teamed up with Feliciano Lopez to win his 3rd double title of his career. He also announced that he would be playing doubles at Wimbledon with Pierre-Hughes Herbert (who made the semifinals of Halle last week) and was actively looking for a female partner to enter the Wimbledon mixed doubles, having been turned down by Ash Barty and Kiki Mladenovic. I hope Venus takes his call!

Federer won his 19th career grass court  title, extending his lead in this category, by claiming his 10th trophy in Halle, Germany. Other veterans like Gilles Simon and David Goffin both reached grass-court finals (l. Lopez and l. Federer, respectively) and each gained 10 ranking positions which will ensure that they are seeded at Wimbledon. And of course Lopez showed that he loves the grass courts at Queens Club with his incredible performance to win both singles and doubles. youngsters Felix Auger-Aliassime and Matteo Berretini clearly have bright futures on the surface as well.

Monday, June 24, 2019

EYE CANDY: Diego Barros (reprise)

Diego Barros is an Instagram thirst trap (and underwear model, primarily for Coconut Supply, a clothing brand which he also owns) who has nearly 800k followers on Instagram (@diego_rodrigob). He has appeared as Eye Candy here once before (March 11, 2019). He appears  to be Brazilan but lives in London and I have been unable to find information on his age, height or weight. Regardless, he is fun to look at! So, enjoy....

Sunday, June 23, 2019

2019 HALLE: Federer Wins 10th Halle Title, 102nd ATP

As predicted, Roger Federer won his 10th title in Halle, Germany, by defeating David Goffin. The score was 7-6(2) 6-1 and it was the 102nd ATP tour of Federer's storied career and 19th career grass court title (the most ever). Amazingly, Federer has been in 15 (consecutive!) semifinals at Halle and 13 finals, and now has a 10-3 record at that stage of the tournament. His 10 titles have come at the expense of 10 different opponents and he is now the second man to win a tournament more than 10 times. Rafael Nadal has won the French Open 12 times and Monte Carlo and Barcelona 11 times. Federer is a mere 7 titles behind the all-time career record of 109 titles set by Jimmy Connors and is the first player on the ATP tour to win 3 titles in 2019.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Weekend Tennis: Grass Finals Set: Federer-Goffin, Lopez-Simon, Barty-Georges, Kenin-Bencic (Birmingham)

The grass court season (which is basically a month long) is in full swing. Wimbledon starts July 1 but nutil then there's a fair number of warm-up tournaments going on, generally in Europe. This weekend there are finals in London (Queen's Club), Birmingham, Halle and Mallorca.

Roger Federer is into his thirteenth final in Halle, Germany, where he has a 9-3 record, after defeating Pierre-Hughes Herbert in the semifinals. The person who will try to prevent the 20-time major champion from winning his 10th Halle crown is Belgian David Goffin, who stopped the amazing win streak of Matteo Berretini (who won Stuttgart last week) in his semifinal. Federer is 7-1 against Goffin and is the favorite in this match. My Pick: Federer.

There are some great stories at the 2019 edition of the Queen's Club tournament, Andy Murray, with a brand-new metal hip is into the doubles final with partner Feliciano Lopez in his very first tournament after a 5 month layoff following hip replacement surgery. Murray has announced he will play Wimbledon doubles with Pierre-Hughes Herbert and that he is actively looking for a mixed doubles partner (Ash Barty turned him down). 37-year-old Lopez is an amazing story himself, having reached the final of Queen's Club for the 3rd time by defeating someone less than half his age, the 18-year-old Canadian phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime (who defeated Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Tsitsipas in 24 hours) in 3 sets 6-7(3) 6-3 6-3. There Lopez will face Gilles Simon, who has been wearing down his opponents with his metronomic style of play. Every match Simon played this week have gone the distance and some have been well over 3 hours. Lopez holds a 5-2 advantage and has won every meeting the two have had on grass. My Pick: Lopez.

2019 French Open champion Ash Barty is a handful of points behind World #1 Naomi Osaka in the rankings but if she wins her next match the Australian will be the new World #1 on Monday. To do that she has to continue playing well on her best surface, by beating her doubles partner Julia Georges (who is now slouch on grass herself, having reached the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals). The two have an even head-to-head but Goerges beat Barty at this very tournament last year. The two were scheduled to play their doubles final together but Barty pulled out with an "injury" presumably demonstrating hos important she's taking this match. My Pick: Barty.

This Bencic-Kenin final is not a final showdown anyone expected. Anastasija Sevastova had made the final in Mallorca 3 consecutive years (winning in 2017) but American Sonia Kenin ended that streak in the semifinals. Reigning Wimbledon champ Angelique Kerber has looked sharp on grass all week (starting with an imperious dismissal of Maria Sharapova) but lost to the always-dangerous Belinda Bencic. The two have never met before so I would give the edge to the 22-year-old Swiss over the 20-year-old American. My Pick: Bencic.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Smoke and Iron (The Great Library, #4) by Rachel Caine

Smoke and Iron is the fourth book in The Great Library series, a YA fantasy-adventure series written by Rachel Caine. The story is a set in an alternative historical world where the Library at Alexandria is never destroyed and in modern times becomes the most powerful organization in the world by hoarding the world’s information, controlling technological advances and prohibiting the private ownership of books.
The world of The Great Library is very different from our own. The fastest means of transportation is by train or boat, although there is also a near-magical way of moving people that resembles teleportation but is somewhat dangerous. They also have automata which are more advanced than any robots that we currently have, but these automata are basically weapons of control (in the forms of large, deadly animals like lions or dragons). Instead of books they have "blanks" which electronically (and wirelessly) can be sent the content of (approved) books but the content is removed after a certain amount of time. They are sorta like Amazon Kindles except none of the content is really ever yours to own.

The main character of the series is Jess Brightwell, who is one of a group of teenagers that this YA fantasy is centered around. Other members of the group include Jess’s twin Brendan, Khalila, Thomas, Dario, Morgan and Glain. They are all people who started the series as apprentice Scholars of the Library in Book 1 (Ink and Bone) and who now have become fugitives and its declared enemies. Between then and now they discovered that the Archivist, the head of the Library, is an evil, power-hungry man and the rationales that they have been told for why the Library seeks complete control over information and knowledge are false. The Library has been using its forces to hunt down our heroes and kill them, to stop them from spreading the "heresy" that information should be freely available, and alerting people to the existence of the printing press, which would allow anyone to create their own books.

In Smoke and Iron the overarching story of the series has basically calcified into a power struggle between our talented teenage heroes and the forces of the Library. The highlights of this book in particular are its pacing and action scenes. Basically I’m still reading the series because I am invested in what will happen to the characters, especially Jess and Morgan, who are a (straight) couple and Scholar Christopher Wolfe and Captain Niccolo Santi (a gay couple). I also am curious to see how the evil Library will be either destroyed or reformed. The premise is a good one and the books are enjoyably diverting; the entire enterprise would work rather well as an animated TV series or a teen-oriented movie trilogy.


Title: Smoke and Iron.
Rachel Caine.
Paperback: 448 pages.
 Berkley Books.
Date Published: July 3, 2018.
Date Read: June 10, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.3/4.0).


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Grass Court Season Begins with Berrettini, Garcia, Riske Titles; Woz Gets Hitched; Venus Warms Up

Matteo Berrettini is having a sensational year. The 23-year-old Italian beat Felix Auguer-Aliassime 6-4 7-6(11) in the finals of Stuttgart to win his 3rd title in the last year. This was the 18-year-old Canadian's first grass court tournament and he reached the final. Berrettini i up to #22 in the rankings while the man he beat is at #21 despite never having completed a Grand Slam main draw match. In fact, it is looking like Auger-Aliassime's grand slam debut will  be at Wimbledon, where he will be seeded! Other grass court titlists were Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia who outlasted Donna Vekic in a 3-set thriller  2-6 7-6(4) 7-6(4) to win Nottingham and Allison Riske defeated Kiki Bertens in the Dutchwoman's home turf in even more dramatic fashion, losing a bagel set and saving 5 championship points to win 0-6 7-6(3) 7-5.

Caroline Wozniacki got married in Tuscany,  Italy over the weekend, to David Lee. WTA players Serena Williams (bridesmaid), Angelique Kerber and both Radwanskas (Ursula and Agnieszka) were in attendance.

Now 39-year-old Venus Williams is still doing new things! She signed up to play doubles with 22-year-old British player Harriet Dart as a wildcard doubles pair at the Birmingham tournament. The two lost in the first round. Venus will play her first round singles match Wednesday against Alexandra Sasnovitch

Friday, June 14, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Stefanie Graf Turns 50!

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

Happy Birthday, Steffi!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

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

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

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

Monday, June 10, 2019

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

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

Sunday, June 09, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Saturday, June 08, 2019

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

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


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

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


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

Friday, June 07, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 06, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

★★★★  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)

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

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [1] Madison Keys (USA) [14] vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8]. Although it may seem surprising, Madison Keys actually plays some of her best tennis on clay courts. She reached the semifinals in Paris last year (where she was again not able to play her best tennis against her best friend on tour Sloane Stephens in another huge match). Both of these players have not been talked about much this year while 4/5ths of the World top 5 was crashing out in the early rounds (#1 Naomi Osaka and #2 Karolina Pliskova lost early  while #4 Kiki Bertens and #5 Petra Kvitova withdrew) but both have reached the business end of the tournament playing excellent tennis. Curiously, their head-to-head is tied at 1-apiece with Barty having won their last match (in Fed Cup) but Keys having won the one time that played on clay (two years ago). I'm going with Maddy. PREDICTION: Keys.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] vs. Ananda Anisimova (USA).  This is Anisimova's major second week debut, which is pretty amazing for a 17 year old. The American phenom becomes the first person, male or female, born in the 21st century to reach a major quarterfinal. Halep completely destroyed her opponent in the previous round and is the defending champion here. I believe she will reach the final again, although I do think the youngster will acquit herself well. PREDICTION: Halep.

Kiki Bertens (NED) [4] Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [7].  This may be the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. Konta has never won a match in the main draw of the French Open before (is she going to try and pull a feast-or-famine performance reminiscent of 2017 winner Jelena Ostapenko?) while Stephens was in last year's final. Konta has been getting reasonably good results on clay, however, and has beaten Sloane twice this year (just a few weeks ago, on clay, in Rome as well as in Brisbane. However, I think that Sloane's game is bigger and more flexible that she can find different ways to win, which is really not true of Konta. PREDICTIONStephens

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) vs. Petra Martic (CRO) [31]. Yet another teenaged phenom in the final 8 of a major. Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova has been one of the hottest players on tour all year long. Curiously, these two have already an established rivalry going, with Martic up 4-0 in the head-to-head, including in the final of the clay court tournament in Istanbul a month ago. Sometimes a bad matchup is a bad matchup. PREDICTION: Martic.


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