Monthly Archives: December 2005

Roscoe Tanner’s Double Fault: redemption on hold

Roscoe Tanner’s book, Double Fault: My Rise And Fall, And My Road Back, written with Mike Yorkey, is a redemption book, a genre of Christian publishing that tells the story of people who accept Jesus Christ and come to terms with their past, sinful lives. A minister gave Tanner a bible during his stay in a German jail. Reading the bible led to Tanner’s conversion experience.

The book is written as a confessional. The problem is that a confessional tells only half the story, the half of the person that commits the transgressions, not those who are affected by them. When do you ever believe only one side of the story, even when it’s as bad as Tanner describes it? Tanner’s life would make a good television show: My Name is Earl without the restitution. The list of sins includes, but is not limited to:

Cheating, repeatedly, on his fiancée.
Cheating on his wife.
Divorcing his wife to be with another woman.
Cheating on his second wife.
Impregnating a woman from an escort service during his second marriage.
Marrying a third wife and writing a bad check to pay for their honeymoon.
Writing a bad check to buy a $39,000 boat then getting a $10,000 loan with the boat as collateral.
Skipping out on his debts by moving to Europe.
Spending ten months in jail in Germany, Florida and New Jersey for failing to pay child support and an outstanding debt.

When I wrote about Tanner in a column called Roscoe falls again, a number of people left comments because they wanted to tell the other side of the story. Two of Tanner’s daughters, a friend of Tanner’s ex-wife Charlotte, the man who received the bad check for the boat, and even a bounty hunter who has arrested Tanner, all weighed in on Tanner’s character. The bounty hunter calls Tanner “Runnin’ Roscoe”.

According to Tanner, he had an accountability group composed of friends and religious advisers when he was a tennis instructor living in Southern California. Tanner made an agreement with his accountability group that he would work towards building a relationship with his daughters, who lived nearby. According to a comment left by his daughter, Anne Monique, “My sister Tamara and I did try to rebuild our relationship with our father, but the only time we ever saw him was at court, and I don’t mean the tennis court.”

And sometimes they didn’t see him there. After the book was written, Tanner skipped out on a California court hearing for nonpayment of child support and went to England to appear in a tournament. The next time I have to take my shoes off in the security line at an airport, I will ask myself how a fugitive managed to get on an airplane and fly to a foreign country.

Another problem with the book is a lack of analysis, the Freudian kind. It’s unlikely that such a pattern of behavior started suddenly. Yet Tanner tells of an idyllic family life growing up in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. His father hectored him because his junior career was not going well but Tanner made an agreement that if his father didn’t bother him for one year, Tanner would win a national junior tennis event. Tanner won two.

There are clues. Tanner was given the name Short Fuse for his temper on the court. In one memorable incident, Short Fuse retaliated against Brad Gilbert after Gilbert taunted his female teammates in a World Team Tennis event. Tanner hit a serve on the fly that landed, well, as Tanner says, “let’s just say I hit him where it counts.”

Tanner shunned his sister and brother-in-law because they had the temerity to visit with one of his rivals, Stan Smith, a college teammate of his brother-in-law. He refused to spend time with his parents when they came to see him play at the US Open.

Tanner blames selfishness for his chronically bad behavior: “The most important person in my life was Roscoe Tanner.” You can hear the follow-up coming a mile away: “instead of Jesus Christ.” Such long-term behavior suggests a deeper problem than selfishness born of a professional athlete’s privileged lifestyle. There are many cases of domestic abuse and drunken behavior in today’s sports pages, but the behavior generally has roots in family dynamics and personal problems, not the perks of being a star athlete.

In front of him, Tanner has a line of people willing to help him by providing jobs, money and counsel. Behind him, there is a group of angry people asking for their due.

Tanner’s life has not been easy. After he divorced his first wife, all he had left of his career earnings was $100,000; his wife had the $700,000 house. By the time he divorced his second wife, Tanner owed alimony to two women and child support to three. This set him on a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul, not the ideal relationship between a born again Christian and the apostles.

It’s a testament to Tanner’s consummate ability to charm people that many of his supporters also wrote comments. A tennis pro left a comment offering Tanner a job. A religious adviser described a “great time of fellowship” with Tanner who had just left his house. In front of him, Tanner has a line of people willing to help him by providing jobs, money and counsel. Behind him, there is a group of angry people asking for their due.

As far as his helpers are concerned, Tanner can’t earn money for child support sitting in jail so they are doing him a favor. But Tanner does not pay his debts unless he has to pay them to get out of jail. If you give him cash, it doesn’t make its way back to his children. As one of the commenters said, “true friends try to help their friends get better, they shouldn’t facilitate dysfunctional behavior.”

After Tanner returned to the United States to face the court hearing in Southern California, he moved back to Tennessee. The aforementioned bounty hunter, Mark Regan, discovered Tanner’s whereabouts by reading comments on this site left by Tanner’s well-wishers, including his daughter Lauren. Regan called the authorities in Florida and New Jersey, where Tanner still has outstanding debts and unpaid child support, and Tanner was in jail once again.

Changing dysfunctional behavior is never an easy task. Addicts know, for instance, that they are likely to slip back into old behavior at some point. Ten months in jail wasn’t enough for Tanner to change his behavior. He probably needs psychological help in addition to jail time. I hope, for the sake of his family, that he gets it.

On the book jacket there is a blurb from former tennis professional Michael Chang: “…no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, it’s never too late to seek redemption.” That’s good news for Roscoe Tanner.

the grumpiest tennis player in the world

My USTA rating has gone up so I was put on the number three doubles team in my league match last week. Each team consists of a higher and lower ranked player. Being the best player on the third team is a promotion over being the second best player on the second team. Presumably I would be able to lead the lower numbered team to victory instead of playing second fiddle to a better player.

Things were not going well. I expected our match to start at 11:30 but no courts were available. We started an hour late. In one of the matches that had already started, our opponents were calling balls out when they landed on the line. My teammates had to resort to line call monitors to make them honest.

Once my match started, my opponents repeatedly hit solid groundstrokes and penetrating volleys. One of them lifted an impossible stretch volley over the net at such an angle that it went from one side of the court to the other and landed only a few feet away from the net. It was then that I realized our opponents had flipped their teams. We were playing the number two team, not the number three team. This is a common strategy in our league. You sacrifice your number three team to your opponents’ number one team and win the other two matches by playing your number one against their number two, and your number two against their number three.

I floored the accelerator in my turbocharged baby station wagon and moved in front of him. Not such a good idea. His bumper clipped the backside of mine.

I was also not happy that my opponents’ fan base yelled loudly whenever they made a good play. Fair enough, I suppose, but it pissed me off. I don’t like looking bad and I didn’t like insult added to injury, in this case the sound of clapping and stamping feet as the ball spiraled weakly off my racket and into the net.

I was not in a good mood and I was not a gracious opponent. After yet another good reflex volley landed beyond my reach, I turned my back on my opponents and walked to the baseline.

On the way home from the match, I entered a crowded freeway with a poorly marked entry lane. A man driving behind me in a large SUV became impatient with my lack of progress and shot out in front of me and into the next lane. That pissed me off even more. I floored the accelerator in my turbocharged baby station wagon and moved in front of him. Not such a good idea. His bumper clipped the backside of mine.

Now I had to pull over and face the music. I didn’t want to pull over on the freeway exit so I made him drive all the way into Griffith Park and pull over next to some playing fields.

I got out and walked over to his car. At first I was defensive. “What’s the damage? What’s damage?” I yelled over his justifiable criticism of my driving skills. I finally realized that aggression wasn’t the best approach here, I was at fault, so I calmed down. “Look”, he said, “I’m a nice guy, I wanted you to pull over so I could tell you that you can’t drive like that. It’s not right. I could have rolled that little car. What’s the point of that?”

He was right. I hung my head. When he asked me if it made sense to scratch up a car just to get onto a highway, I sank deeper and shook my head no. We looked at the scratches on his bumper. “They can probably be buffed out, this is a lease, I don’t care that much, but is that the way you should drive?”

“No,” I said, “I apologize.”

He let out a sigh and accepted my apology. “Alright then, have a nice day.” He walked round to the driver’s side and drove off.

When I tried to find my way out of Griffith Park, a police car blocked the freeway entrance I needed. I drove onto Griffith Park Drive thinking it was Griffith Park Boulevard, a street that runs near my house. After a number of turns, I was back at the playing fields. I finally got onto the freeway going in the wrong direction, took an exit to get turned around, then headed home.

You never know when you’ll run into a nice person who’s willing to straighten you out.

By the way, my team won the match, 2-1, despite the other team’s tactics.

Davis Cup 2005 final – a pain in the neck for Ljubicic

Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) woke up with a stiff neck on the morning of the fourth rubber of the 2005 Davis Cup Final against Slovakia. Ljubicic and Mario Ancic had put Croatia ahead 2-1 with a win in the doubles match the previous day and the title will be decided by today’s reverse singles matches. Ljubicic and Dominik Hrbaty were scheduled to play first. Five minutes before the deadline for withdrawing, Ljubicic still had not decided whether he was fit to play. He was 11-0 in Davis Cup play for the year and he’d beaten Hrbaty all five times they’d met, contributing factors, no doubt, to Ljubicic’s final decision to play the match.

If Ljubicic can win this match, Croatia wins the title. If not, Ancic will play 139th ranked Michal Mertinak in the fifth and deciding rubber.

The noise level was deafening in the building, the Sibamac Arena National Tennis Center in Bratislava, Slovakia. BNP Paribas must have put free thunder sticks on everyone’s seat. Spectators had big base drums and whistles. A popular Ghanaian singer who lives in Slovakia was dressed entirely in military green and held a large military green bell which he repeatedly banged with a wooden mallet. The fans groaned every time a ball landed on the line and helped officials by calling balls out, whether they were or not. As the match progressed, the crowd got louder and made noise for a longer period of time. By the fifth set, the chair umpire had to quiet them before each point could start.

The fans groaned every time a ball landed on the line and helped officials by calling balls out, whether they were or not.

In the opening set of the match, Ljubicic does what Ancic did not do in his second rubber loss to Hrbaty: change pace. Ljubicic hit a lot of backhand slices to make Hrbaty provide his own pace and hit short shots to get Hrbaty to the net where he frequently passed him to easily win the first set.

In the second set, Ljubicic suffered brain lock and got into a hitting match with Hrbaty; a bad idea considering that Hrbaty is one of the most consistent baseline players on the tour. Hrbaty forced Ljubicic into three errors to get a break in the second game and held on to the break to win the set, 6-3. At the end of the set, Ljubicic took a bathroom break and threw up; his stomach was upset from the medication he took for his neck injury. I suppose rushing through a set is preferable to vomiting on the court.

Ljubicic won only 33% of his second serve points in the second set because his neck was so stiff he couldn’t look straight up. The second serve toss is thrown over the player’s head while the first serve toss is thrown in front of the player’s body. Stiff necks only get stiffer, in the third set it was worse: he won 25% of his second serve points. “I was probably tossing the ball low and couldn’t kick the serve as well as I wanted,” he said.

Since his second serve wasn’t working, Ljubicic used his first serve for both serves and it cost him. In the third set, he hit two double faults in his first service game and another in his second and was quickly down 0-3. Even so, it was his serve that kept him in the match. In between sloppy baseline play and errant service returns when he tried to attack Hrbaty’s second serve, he hit enough service winners and aces to stick around till the middle of the fourth set. At 4-3, Hrbaty hit two double faults of his own to give up the break and Ljubicic won the set to pull even at two sets each.

Ljubicic is miserable in five set matches, his record is 4 and 14 including losses in finals to Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Masters and Tomas Berdych at the Paris Masters.

Ljubicic is miserable in five set matches, his record is 4 and 14 including losses in finals to Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Masters and Tomas Berdych at the Paris Masters. Since we can assume that poor conditioning played a part in the five set losses, it’s even worse for Ljubicic that Davis Cup does not play a fifth set tiebreaker, the match continues until someone wins the set by two games. Hrbaty’s conditioning is superior to Ljubicic’s and Hrbaty is fresher, he didn’t play in the year-end Masters Cup in Shanghai.

But the fifth set doesn’t get to 6-6.

When he was asked why he had never beaten Ljubicic before, Hrbaty said, jokingly we hope, that he hasn’t beaten Ljubicic “Because I haven’t played against him at home.” It was no joke to Ljubicic in the last game of the match. With Ljubicic serving at 4-5 during the third deuce of the game, Hrbaty ran around his backhand and hit a forehand down the line that looked out but was called good. The television announcers were shocked, “No, that’s surely out,” one said and “That was out, definitely out,” said another, their authority verified by their line of sight: “We are looking almost right down that line.”

Earlier in the game, Ljubicic had gone for a big second serve and it was called out. He and Croatia’s Davis captain, Niki Pilic, were incensed by the call. When Ljubicic was asked about officiating, he said: “Dominik, (he’s) much more relaxed because he knows if I hit the line it’s going to be called out. It’s much easier to play like that.”

Hrbaty won the game with an approach shot that Ljubicic hit into the net. The score was 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

This match was very similar to the Masters Cup final between Roger Federer and David Nalbandian. Despite poor conditioning due to an ankle injury that sidelined him for six weeks, Federer came within two points of winning the match in five sets. Despite his various ailments, Ljubicic came within one point of evening the fifth set at 5-5.

It’s hard to criticize Ljubicic. He finished the year in the top ten, he won his match in the first rubber, and he almost managed to pull this match out despite a stiff neck, an upset stomach, a persistent opponent and a few timely home line calls.

And he has a Davis Cup title. Ancic beat Mertinak in the fifth rubber and Croatia has its Davis Cup.

Davis Cup 2005 final – Ancic loses then wins

Let me correct that, it is no longer called Davis Cup, it is now called Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. The Croatians have won their first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title beating Slovakia 3-2.

It’s not that I am being negative but we are going to look at the two matches the Croatians lost because those were the best matches. We’ll start with the second rubber (match), a victory by Dominic Hrbaty (Slovakia) over Mario Ancic (Croatia), and, in the next column, look at the fourth rubber, Hrbaty’s victory over Ivan Ljubicic. The only thing that doesn’t have a sponsor name is each rubber. How about the Rubbermaid rubber and the Goodyear rubber? Trojan is unacceptable because Slovakia and Croatia are Catholic nations.

The only thing that doesn’t have a sponsor name is each rubber. How about the Rubbermaid rubber and the Goodyear rubber? Trojan is unacceptable because Slovakia and Croatia are Catholic nations.

We are in Bratislava, Slovakia at Sibamac Arena National Tennis Center. The Center seats 4100 people, only 100 above the minimum 4000 needed to host a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas match. This will be the first title for whichever country wins. Understandable considering that Croatia, except for the tenth century medieval kingdom of Croatia and the short-lived Independent State of Croatia in World War II, became a nation only in 1991 while Slovakia became a nation in 1993.

Sportswriters love controvery and, luckily, there is some here. The controversy surrounds Karol Beck (Slovakia) who was supposed to have played Ljubicic in the opening match. There is a report that Beck tested positive for a banned substance. The ATP is not allowed to announce a positive test until after a tribunal has taken place. If it turns out that Beck did test positive and he took part in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie, any matches he won would be forfeited. Beck denies that he tested positive and says he is not playing due to a knee injury. Karol Kucera, who never got past the second round in a tournament this year and will retire after this tie, will take his place. An independent doctor is required to validate an injury if a player replacement is made. Beck passed that test.

Kucera was no match for Ljubicic, Kucera’s strokes looked like they were in slow motion relative to his opponent. Croatia took a 1-0 lead with Ljubicic’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win.

There might be only 4100 seats in this arena but every one of them is filled and there are a lot of Croatians here – Slovakia and Croatia are separated only by Hungary. The hall is full of thunder sticks, drum, whistles, bells and horns. When someone wins a point, it sounds like a three-ring circus has come to town. Many Slovakian fans are dressed in shirts with the Slovakian soccer team logo on it. Hopefully they will behave better than soccer fans.

Hrbaty and Ancic both reside in that convenient country of tax-free financial exile, Monaco. As does Ljubicic and even Kucera for that matter. Monaco would have won a number of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas trophies if their tennis refugees were required to play for them.

The first set was a battle of serves. Ancic hit three service winners, a double fault and an ace to even the set at 4-4. This surface is very quick. Hrbaty’s serve isn’t quite as hard, his toss is so high he could drink a beer in the time it takes for the ball to go up and come down, but he served well and dictated play in the few points that had a rally. After the match, when reporters asked Ancic what surprised him most about Hrbaty’s play he replied, simply: “His first serve.”

As Ancic got more frustrated, he hit the ball harder, exactly the wrong thing to do against Hrbaty.

With Hrbaty up 3-2 in the tiebreaker, Ancic played a point that explained why he lost the first set. He hit a second serve then, twenty one strokes later, Hrbaty pulled him wide and hit a winner down the line. Ancic is vulnerable in long rallies and his second serve is short – he won 38% of his second serve points in the first set.

Ancic made a few corrections in the second set: he put more pace on his second serve and attacked by serving and volleying and approaching on Hrbaty’s second serve. But he didn’t attack at critical times when he should have. In the sixth game, Ancic served Hrbaty wide then hit the ball into the middle of the court allowing Hrbaty to get back into the point. Later in that game, Hrbaty hit a forehand winner for a break point and got the break on an Ancic backhand into the net. Ancic lost the set on a double fault – one of the pitfalls of going for too much on the second serve.

In the third set, Ancic hit drop shots to get Hrbaty to the net, not his favorite place, but it didn’t work. As Ancic got more frustrated, he hit the ball harder, exactly the wrong thing to do against Hrbaty. He should have fed him slices because Hrbaty doesn’t generate a lot of power by himself. Still, Ancic managed to stay in the set and, on the last two points in the tiebreaker, corrected his previous mistake. This time he served Hrbaty wide and hit winners to the open court to win the set.

Ancic missed another opportunity to attack in the fourth set. Hrbaty was down 0-30 on his serve yet Ancic stayed at the baseline. It cost him. In the next game, Hrbaty hit a running forehand down the line past a diving Ancic to win the point and break Ancic. As he had during the entire match, Hrbaty held serve to win the fourth set and the match, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4.

Ancic is young, he’s only twenty-one, and still learning the strategical aspects of tennis. After the loss to Hrbaty, he still had not won a critical singles match in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play. In the fifth rubber, Ancic corrected that. He defeated number 139 ranked Michal Mertinak – who actually does live in Bratislava – to win the title for Croatia.

Anna’s Army: why the Russian women are so good

Quick now, what’s the answer to this question: Who was the president of Moscow’s first tennis club? Hint: the year is around 1895 and he was a prominent literary figure.

The answer is Leo Tolstoy and the date tells you that Russians have been playing tennis for more than one hundred years. Nicholas and Alexandria played tennis with their children. Even Lenin played tennis.

So why is it only recently that we’ve seen a group of highly ranked Russian players? Anna’s Army: Behind the Rise of Russian Women’s Tennis, a documentary available on DVD, answers this question by tracing the history of Russian tennis, and politics, in the past century.

Russia has had very good tennis players for a long time. We never saw them because the government didn’t allow them to leave the USSR. Instead, they played in an Eastern Europe/Russian tennis circuit. Why didn’t they defect if they were top-flight players? When Margaret Smith Court won all four slams in 1970, her income for the year was $15,000, hardly enough reason to leave your family and friends forever.

Russia has had very good tennis players for a long time. We never saw them because the government didn’t allow them to leave the USSR.

Martina Navratilova defected from Czechoslovakia so she could have the freedom to play tennis where and when she wanted. But Russia was different. In the documentary, Navratilova tells us that families left behind by defecting Russian players would have paid a great penalty. Forced exile to Siberia is a good guess.

Maria Sharapova’s family was in a different kind of exile, they moved to Siberia after the Chernobyl accident. She was born in the town of Nyagan. When she was seven years old, Sharapova and her father Yuri Sharapov left Russia and came to Florida to find coaching for young Maria’s tennis game. Last year, Sharapova earned $23 million dollars as the highest paid female athlete in the world. Sharapova should give Anna Kournikova a finder’s fee. Kournikova is the pioneer for glamorous, endorsement-laden Russian female athletes.

Kournikova’s career was the result of a long chain of events. Olga Morozova, the first Russian tennis player to have international success, tells the following story about Nikita Kruschev. A reporter asked Kruschev why there weren’t any Russian players in Wimbledon. His response was “What’s Wimbledon?” then he turned to an aide and asked why Russia didn’t have any players in Wimbledon. We don’t know if the story is true but not long after, Russian players started to turn up at Wimbledon and other international tournaments.

But only two at a time so the government could keep a close watch on them. Russian players had an entourage but it wasn’t composed of trainers, hitting partners and stringers, it was a political entourage charged with insulating players from exposure to anything contradicting communist ideals. It’s bad enough that players were tailed but they were also required to give every cent of their prize money to the Russian Tennis Federation. Communism indeed.

By the late 1980’s, the political atmosphere had freed up enough that players started to push for change. The documentary shows fascinating footage of eighteen-year-old Natasha Zvereva after she had just lost the 1988 French Open to Steffi Graf. Zvereva is holding her prize money, a check for $24,000, as Bud Collins interviews her. She starts out vaguely by saying that she wishes the Russian Tennis Federation would change something, “you know what I mean.” Collins knows what she means and helps her out by filling in the blanks: “You would like them to pay you the money you’ve just won.” Zvereva then holds the check up and says: “This $24,000, it’s not money, just the paper.” One of her handlers squirms uncomfortably in the stands and shakes his finger, this is a no-no. How often do you get a chance to see political protest at a tennis match? Shortly after Zvereva’s stand, the Federation changed its policy to allow players to keep their prize money.

This was a critical step in the history of the current wave of good Russian players. The average income in Russia is $1400 per year. Russian parents realized that their children could make a lot of money playing tennis.

On the outskirts of Moscow, a large tennis community grew up around a mangy set of tennis courts that constitute the tennis club known as Spartak. Many retired tennis players taught at the center and lived nearby. One of them was Rauza Islanova, a former top ten player who trained a lot of the current Russian players including her son, Marat Safin, and her daughter, Dinara Safina.

Students started at Spartak when they were five or six years old and trained with the same coach, sometimes for as long as ten years. Kournikova, who was seven years old when Zvereva made her protest, was one of these students. Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina were also in her age group.

Kournikova became a glamorous and rich tennis player. One year she had more internet hits than Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan combined. All of this was rather un-communist and young Russians took note. You could be a glamorous star and make a lot of money playing tennis even if you didn’t reach number one and never won a singles title. You can see why most junior tournaments are dominated by Russian women. There is promise of gold at the end of the rainbow.

You could be a glamorous star and make a lot of money playing tennis even if you didn’t reach number one and never won a singles title.

Sharapova has won a singles title, she has ten of them, and she won a slam: the 2004 Wimbledon. Russian women won three of the four slams in 2004. Even though you can barely turn a page in a tennis magazine without looking at an ad featuring her, Sharapova’s management and her company, SW19 (the postal code for Wimbledon), have sued the makers of this documentary for using her image to sell their product. Sharapova should get over it. Filmmakers are allowed to license footage and tell a story. It’s not like they make her look bad, it’s a respectful and well-made documentary.

Maybe she took exception to the characterization of Russian people at the conclusion of the film. The filmmakers suggest that Russians aren’t ruling the world any more so they’ve turned their focus to ruling the tennis world implying that they are still the same old imperialists and only the subject of conquest has changed.

Clearly the story of Russian tennis is deeply affected by its communist past and it would be hard to call Russia a democratic nation when it jails corporate leaders for political reasons, but it makes the United States look jealous (the producers are American). Russia has a lot of good tennis players and we don’t, it must be because the Russian mentality is to take over and dictate. If anything, the United States can be accused of trying to rule the world at the moment.

The United States is also the country that has a yearly championship called the World Series even though it is restricted to teams within the United States and Canada.

With the exception of the unnecessary Russian bashing, this is a fascinating look at the recent history of a nation through the evolution of a sport that has come to represent that nation. Give anyone a little political and financial freedom and they really can take over the world.