Monthly Archives: March 2006

Barry Bonds: race not race

I remember going to a Branford Marsalis concert in Miami one evening when he was in his hip-hop period. The band’s sound check morphed into a riff then turned into a full out improv when the rapper for the band burst onto the stage and cried out, “You know I gotta get in on this!” then proceeded to put words to the music.

Bud Selig has hired George Mitchell to look into steroid use in baseball just as Barry Bonds is set to break Babe Ruth’s career home run total and everyone is up in arms. African-Americans consider the timing to be racist, old-time baseball people consider it scape-goating and others are afraid the investigation won’t go far enough.

Is the timing of the Mitchell investigation racist? No doubt.

And you know I gotta get in on this. I talked about Bonds’ troubles before but it’s too complex and fascinating to leave alone.

Is the timing of the Mitchell investigation racist? No doubt. Babe Ruth is a larger than life icon and usually the favorite answer to the question: “Who is the most beloved baseball player of all time?” It’s bad enough that Bonds is a jerk but he’s also an outspoken black man and we don’t like that. We’d much rather idolize Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods who’ve never said a controversial thing in their lives.

But, as is often the case, there is more to it. Bonds already has the record for home runs in a season, it’s too late to do anything about that. But what if Selig lets Bonds break Ruth’s career home run record knowing that he probably used steroids?

The deeper problem is the fallout from the long-term collusion between players, management and baseball officials. If you stick your head in the sand for too long, when you finally do take action, you seldom penalize the appropriate culprits. Selig is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Selig punishes Bonds and not Giambi or McGwire, he’s being racist. If he doesn’t punish Bonds, that’s the defining moment in his career. He didn’t take action when he should have.

If Major League Baseball really wants to move on and handle the future in a much better manner than it handled the past, it should replace Selig. As long as he keeps his job, baseball will do the same thing it’s been doing for his entire eighteen-year reign, wait the problem out and try to wish it away until forced to take action.

It’s too late to penalize McGwire and it’s probably too late to penalize Bonds. Give him a thirty game suspension for lying to a grand jury then watch as the players’ union contests the suspension and a mediator reduces it to twenty games. Bonds will break Ruth’s record and retire at the end of the season.

Hopefully, Selig will go with him.

Sharapova: graceless under pressuressure

Kuznetsova and Sharapova get to the Nasdaq-100 women’s final, Federer and Blake play a fantastic point.

Make a separate post of K and M and the Federer Blake point.

Svetlana Kuznetsova is built like a tank and I mean that in the best possible way. Her thighs jump out of the skimpy, skin-hugging tennis skirt she wears and a tatto snakes above the top of her waistband. She’s just rounding back into form after a disappointing 2005 season. She went from winning the US Open in 2004 and a number 4 ranking to an injury plagued 2005 season that included an unprecedented first round loss as defending champion at the Open and a drop to number 15.

Kuznetsova may have won her first slam too early, at age twenty, but Amelie Mauresmo, her opponent in the semifinals at Miami, took to long. After losing her first grand slam final at the Australian Open in 1999, she waited seven years to get there again and take the 2006 title.

Golovin came back from 1-5 in the second set to get to the tiebreaker and take the second set. Sharapova had a few break points at 4-2 in the third set but Golovin wiggled out of it. Golovin was already the crowd favorite after Golovin’s heroics in the second set, escaping the break points helped even further.

There’s been a drought here in Miami. A dearth of good matches. No two players on the same court have played well at the same time. Svetlana Kuznetsova’s victory over Martina Hingis was the closest thing but I missed it.

It finally started raining this evening in the semifinal match between Maria Sharapova and Tatiana Golovin. Golovin was down 1-5 in the second set and managed to get to the tiebreaker and win the set to even the match. She was down break points at 2-4 in the third set but, again, managed to wriggle out of trouble.

After the second set heroics, the crowd was cheerly wildly for Golovin. She got a break point to even the second set at 4-4 but Sharapova hit a winner to get to deuce. On the next point, Golovin was running wide for a forehand when her left foot turned over and twisted underneath her. The replay was painful to watch.

After a lengthy medical timeout, the match resumed and she hit a return wide. After gingerly walking to the other side of the court, she broke down in tears and walked to the net. She could not continue. Sharapova held her hand in sympathy at the net and Golovin walked off on the shoulders of the trainer as the crowd, and Sharapova, applauded.

Sharapova is seldom the crowd favorite. It doesn’t help that she hardly ever plays a match in her home country and she hasn’t been the underdog since she was seventeen years old – the year she won the 2004 Wimbledon.

Her god-awful, primal scream upon hitting every groundstroke also doesn’t help. Is there a correlation between screaming volume and personality? Are prima donnas more likely to be big screamers? The first two examples that came to mind are Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport. Seles very much liked to be the center of attention and Davenport does not. Davenport does not grunt. Seles most definitely did and was very loud about it. If you think of a counter-example, a shy person who was a big screamer, please leave a comment.

Sharapova is not a prima donna off the court. It’s not her fault that she’s beautiful enough to have the biggest commercial portfolio of any professional tennis player since Anna Kournikova and she’s pleasant in press conferences. Her bravado comes from her confidence, not attitude. It’s not like Serena Williams’ unwillingness to grant her opponents credit after a loss. Serena is fond of saying that the other person doesn’t matter, if she’s on her game, no one can beat her. Meaning, of course, that the loss was due to Serena’s bad play not her opponen’s skill.

On the court though, Serena is all business and I respect that. Sharapova’s on court behavior does not endear her to fans. First of all there’s that serve. It’s loaded with attitude. She rocks back on her heels, comes to a pregnant pause and tilts her head to the side as if to say,

More importantly, she doesn’t relate to the crowd. She celebrates by turning to her box and pumping her fist. “Hello, Maria, it’s me, the spectator. I’m the one applauding. There’s someone else here besides your father and hitting partner. I’m freezing my butt off here in the evening cold to come out and watch you and I don’t care in the least where your father is sitting. In fact, I don’t particularly care anything about him at all.

Maria took a bathroom break at 5-3 in the second set after losing a 5-1 lead – that was the start of the booing – then took a shirt change break after Golovin won the set in a tiebreaker – more booing.

If you want to look behind Maria you can see part of the problem. Her father, Yuri, is graceless and has trained Maria to be singleminded – a good trait in the competitive world of tennis – without the grace. It’s all good and well to be the face of tennis both during the competition – this is her second straight final in a Masters Series Event – and during commercials, but the fans have to be able to connect with you. If you’re graceless, if you choose to keep yourself isolated so that you can stay ready (yuck) instead of showing compassion for an obviously hurting opponent, we are not happy.

Ho-Humming In Miami

The other shoe finally landed on us in Miami this week, and no, it wasn’t the one in the Lotto ad running non-stop and featuring Sanja Mirza. It was probably inevitable. After all the fireworks and upsets of the first week, we have settled into the Ho-Hums this week. The draws on both sides are moving along in earnest now, the players who should be winning are winning. Things are so routine in fact that many of these matches are not being covered.

Amelie Mauresmo really hasn’t gotten any TV time at all, but she keeps doing her thing nonetheless. Yesterday she took out Nadia Petrova 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Brad Gilbert at least has been keeping an eye on Amelie, and reports she has really improved her forehand. Hopefully we will soon get a chance to see it. Svetlana Kuznetsova will face Mauresmo in the semis, as she got by Ai Sugiyama, 6-0, 7-6(4). Two Russian girls who have faced each other a lot will meet again tonight. Anastasia Myskina, the 10th seed, takes on #4 Maria Sharapova. There may be an outside chance for a Myskina upset here, but it is very outside. Sharapova struggles in every match it seems, but she is getting a lot of practice at knowing when to turn the heat up.

Today’s morning match featured Tatiana Golovin, of France, and Jie Zheng of China. Golovin is a big girl with a big forehand when it gets going, and she was a strong favorite here. But the Chinese girls are making their presence known. Zheng is only 5’4″, Golovin is 5’9″, but you would have thought Zheng was the taller by the way she played much of the match. She moved aggressively into the court, standing close in on first and second serves. The challenge for Golovin was to remember she’s the bigger person with the bigger shots, and to start playing that way. Zheng moved her around the court admirably, setting up points well, only to come into net and dump volleys repeatedly. We love that she is thinking like a linebacker, even though she is one of the smallest women on the tour. The Chinese have around four women moving up the ranks now, and they may infuse some new energy into this tour of giants. What they lack in height and shot power they more than make up for with their intelligence and movement around the court. Golovin hung on to win, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The men moved through the round of 16 yesterday, with few surprises really, beyond Nicolas Kiefer going down to Agustin Calleri 6-3, 3-6, 5-7 in something of an upset. Mario Ancic took out Nikolay Davydenko, the #5 seed in straight sets, also something of an upset. According to Brad Gilbert though, Davydenko is not long for his Number Five spot anyway. James Blake will be in the Top 5 says Gilbert by year’s end. Roger will still be #1 and Nadal #2. But all bets are off for the guys from 3 through 5, who are right now David Nalbandian, Andy Roddick and Davydenko. Blake could even be Number 3 by year’s end.

Blake’s match last night with Juan Ignacio Chela was a pretty nifty entertainment most of the way, and it offered James a variety of ways to consolidate his game. Early on he was very erratic, almost too juiced up to play steadily. Chela went after his backhand and started to get errors from it. Blake had to steady himself and wait for his moments without getting impatient.

“I was really pleased with the fact I hung in,” said Blake in his press conference later. I didn’t let him get any free points. That’s something that’s important to do at this level.”

After dropping the first set, Blake started going for his shots in the second, and things turned around.

Roger Federer looms next in the quarters for Blake. Can he make a dent this week in Roger’s game? We are all hoping so. But Roger is being bothered by practically nothing and no one this week. Tommy Haas went out in disappointing fashion earlier to Federer, and yesterday Dmitry Tursunov got his turn, succumbing 6-3, 6-3. I feel good when Roger Federer wins, but it makes me nervous. I start my feelings of “this is not good for tennis” when he wins so convincingly. Is there any challenger who will step up and pull the sword from the stone? Because that is what it is starting to feel like now. He’s getting too good. If only he were a little more….hhmmm, surly, perhaps?

Unfortunately for the American fans, James Blake and Andy Roddick are on Roger’s side of the draw. If Federer gets by Blake tomorrow, he will likely face Roddick in the semis. Roddick got some breathing room here this week, he is playing well and building up some confidence. Mary Carillo has predicted good results for Roddick here in Miami; for him just to be sticking around is a good thing, it will take a lot of the pressure off him.

Sticking out the Neck:

Federer in three over Blake
Ljubicic in three over Calleri
Nalbandian in two over Ancic
Roddick in two over Ferrer

And for the women:

Mauresmo in two over Kuznetsova
Sharapova will come close to offering a bagel to Golovin, but she is from France, and will accept only a croissant. Let’s make it 1 and 2 in scores.

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deconstructing blogging

This week’s Sports Illustrated (dates on issue) has an article about people like me – sports bloggers – and the current state of sports journalism
Explain that this is about the S.O. article.

The term blogger is no longer ueful. Peter Bodo is a blogger[link and explain who he is]. Would you tell him he’s not not a journalist.

[blockquote]The distrinction is between those who get press passes or conduct interviews and those who never leave thir bedroom.

The Sports Guy (name?), said in the S.I. article that he didn’t want to meet the players lest he find out that they are, well, I don’t want to use the term that S.I. asterisked out, let’s just say he doesn’t want to find out that a player is a jerk. That’s probably a fib. He already knows that there are a fair number of players who are not only jerks but worse, much worse. They drive drunk and beat up their wives. It think it might have more to do with havng the freedom to tee off on someone you’ll never meet.

My mother always told me – actually she didn’t tell me much, she mostly yelled at me, but, in my fanatasy – she told me not to say anything about another person that I wouldn’t say to their face. Would I tell Andy Roddick that standing far behind the baseline on a second serve is like a dog rolling over and offering up his tummy as I have written here? Probably not.

But I do go to tournaments and I do get press passes and go to press conferences. And I want to sleep well at night. Yoga says that you have far fewer dreams – and more peaceful sleep – when you resolve all your issues by the end of the day. If I’m calling someone an idiot or passing on a rumor just so that I can increase the traffic on my site, I would feel uncomfortable about that. I might get more readers but I’d also have more dreams.

The Marias – a fashion show

Maria Sharapova beat her friend, Maria Kirilenko, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the fourth round at the Nasdaq-100

The Nasdaq-100 looks like most people’s brackets for the NCAA basketball championships – lots of the favorites are gone. Some of the them didn’t show up: Andre Agassi is still hurting and conceded that his career could be over though he’s optimistic that he can continue; Lindsay Davenport (back), Serena Williams (knee), Venus Williams (elbow) and Mary Pierce (foot) have all withdrawn with injuries that range from back to front and top to bottom. Some of them were knocked out: Justine Henin-Hardenne was beaten by Meghann Shaughnessy in the 2nd round and Kim Clijsters lost in the same round to Jill Craybas; Rafael Nadal lost in the first round to Carlos Moya – what is that about, is his ankle still bothering him?

There is one other connection between the NCAA basketball tournament and tennis: the University of Florida is in the final four partially due to the excellent play of six foot eleven center Joakim Noah, son of French Open winner Yannick Noah. Noah, the son, went to the same school as John McEnroe, Collegiate School in New York City, before graduating from Lawrenceville High School in New Jersey. Collegiate can be a wild place. When I was living in New York, Collegiate had a student who insisted on wearing a dress over his school uniform. His father was appropriately supportive, I’m happy to say. He said that his son was just going through a sexual identity crisis.

I never saw a picture of the dress or the student but I’m sure he’d appreciate the fashion show that is the fourth round match between Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko.

I never saw a picture of the dress or the student but I’m sure he’d appreciate the fashion show that is the fourth round match between Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko. Sharapova is debuting a new outfit with a form-fitted black-and-white top and a black skirt that wraps around her very thin body. The skirt starts out shorter in the back and gets longer as it wraps around the front. Kirilenko was just as fashionable. She wore a white dress with a frilly skirt that is two-tiered in the back and she had a taupe colored sleeveless shirt over her dress. The outfit was designed by Stella McCartney. Kirilenko has been signed to represent McCartney’s new tennis line.

If I seem off topic and distracted it’s because the tennis here in Biscayne Bay has not been holding my attention. Andy Roddick and James Blake have both breezed through their matches. Last night, Tommy Haas tried to take out Roger Federer and failed miserably, 6-1, 6-3. Let’s take a look at the Sharapova – Kirilenko match and see if things are any more interesting.

Kirilenko is Sharapova’s best friend so she knows Sharapova’s game and she has a good strategy: stay on the baseline, take the ball early and run everything down. Sharapova is stronger but Kirilenko is quicker and moves better. Just one small problem: Kirilenko ran out of gas while running everything down.

It’s easier to improve your conditioning than it is to change your psyche.

People say that Amelie Mauresmo, the new number one by the way, improved her mental approach so that she can win big matches. I think the answer lies in her conditioning. Now that Mauresmo runs up mountains in Switzerland, or whatever it is she does in the off-season, and takes rest periods during the season, she can win by getting every ball back and exhausting her opponent instead of being the aggressor, a style that doesn’t fit her personality. It’s easier to improve your conditioning than it is to change your psyche.

Not that Mauresmo can’t hit the ball very hard, she can. Kirilenko can too. When she hits a ground stroke, Kirilenko looks like Mary Pierce as she gets into a sumo-like squat and hits it deep from everywhere on the court. But she’d lose if she went toe to toe with Sharapova.

Speaking of Sharapova, it’s time to induct her as the third member of The Fight Club along with Elena Dementieva and Marcos Baghdatis. The club is for players who never give up in a match and find a way to win even when their forehand is not working and the unforced errors are piling up.

After losing her serve on the first game of the match, Kirilenko broke back to get to 2-2 then won five straight games as Sharapova’s forehand went completely awol. Sharapova had twenty unforced errors at the end of the first set.

The second set wasn’t much better with eighteen unforced errors but Kirilenko was getting tired and Sharapova survived two double faults to win the last three games and even the match at one set apiece.

Good players can sniff an injured animal. “I could see that she was physically getting a little bit tired, wasn’t getting to as many balls. I started to pick up my game, ” Sharapova said after the match. Sharapova tightened her game up and hit only five unforced errors in the third set while winning all five points when she came to the net.

But it wasn’t easy and though Kirilenko isn’t ready for The Fight Club yet, it took Sharapova five match points in the last game of the third set before she finally put Kirilenko away to win the match.

Kirilenko is no stiff, she’s ranked number twenty-two in the world. She’s a good strategical thinker and plays great defense. But she might want to run up and down a few mountains.