Monthly Archives: August 2006

bunnies and donuts

Yeah, Soderling is a reach. You know what I think happens, I don’t have any Ferrers left or many other Latino players so I unconsciously inflate the prowess of my unused players in hopes that they will be a money player and I can make up for the two times I actually forgot to submit my team – and one of them was a Masters Series event.

I am such an absent minded professor type that I was having breakfast this morning when I realized that I hadn’t actually submitted my team for the Open yet.

I spent my morning in bed reading about the mathematicians who solved Poincare’s conjecture – among other things it says that humans can be reduced to a donut shape because they have a hole in the middle of them. It makes me think that I should switch my focus to doing some statistical analysis on past years and see if you can predict winners – for instance, what’s the connection between performance in Masters Series events and slam results? – rather than be in a fantasy league.
Yes, bunnies and humans can be reduced to donuts. Therefore, I have decided that I should focus on the more abstract, statistical aspects of fantasy tennis instead of actually trying to win at it. So, I will continue on two paths. One will be to develop a screen scraper program to download all of those annouing pages into an excel file and the other is to develop magazine articles on the more personal aspects of tennis – for instance, why I symphathise with athletes instead of their accusers when they are accsed of sexual assault even though I was the victim of a sexual assault.

U.S. Open 2006: ATP fantasy league picks

I’m happy to report that our favorite up and coming player, Benjamin Becker, is into the U.S. Open draw as a qualifier. Since his first round loss at Los Angeles he’s climbed from number 140 to 112 by playing well in challenger events.

I don’t really expect Nadal to be in the final but I can’t see anyone who can beat him.

It was crazy last week in New Haven. Blake went out in the second round after throwing away five match points while Nikolay Davydenko got to the final. When was the last time Davydenko was in a final on outdoor hard court – let’s see, Adelaide in 2003.

Yep, it’s time for the U.S. Open again. Is Blake ready to duplicate his exceptional run to the semifinals in last year’s Open? Doesn’t look good. If Blake gets to the second round he could face Tamuraz Gabashvili who beat him in their only previous meeting. If Blake gets to the third round he could face Agustin Calleri who also beat Blake in their only meeting, is also in the New Haven final, and is 17-3 in his last twenty matches. If Blake gets to the fourth round he could face Tomas Berdych. Blake beat him in Washington last year but this year I don’t think so.

If Berdych and Dimitry Tursunov meet in the third round, it will be flat-shot heaven with two of the harder hitters in the game. Berdych is hard to classify. This year his best results have been on clay and grass while he’s been slightly better than average on hard court. I’ve been all over him because he hasn’t played top ten players very well but he’s only 21 years old and it may take his game longer to develop because he can play on all surfaces well. Berdych has a slightly better record than Tursunov so I have him in the quarterfinals.

I planned to save Nalbandian for the slams because he’s usually a fixture in the semifinals, but if Marat Safin makes it to the second round against Nalbandian that could be trouble because Safin has a 5-1 career record against him. Olivier Rochus has beaten Safin both times they’ve met this year. Not that Safin is in much shape to go far. His own coach, Peter Lundgren, recently took a shot at Safin about his conditioning.

If you have any David Ferrer uses left in the ATP fantasy game, consider that Robin Soderling is 3-0 against him on clay, grass and hard court.

I have Gasquet over Ljubicic in the fourth round. The best Open Ljubicic had was the third round last year. Where he lost to Gasquet.

Fernando Gonzalez against Andy Murray in the fourth round is hard to pick. If Gonzalez doesn’t unravel emotionally he could take it, particularly since Murray is getting tired from going so deep into tournaments, but I’m going to guess that Brad Gilbert, Murray’s coach, can maneuver his client around Gonzalez. How often do we ascribe a victory to a coach? Not only that but Murray has been to the finals, semifinals and the quarterfinals since hooking up with Gilbert so I have him in the semis where he loses to Roger Federer.

Now is the time to use Marcos Baghdatis, the grand slams are his performance space. He got to the final of the Australian Open this year and the semifinals at Wimbledon. I just realized he’s up to number eight in the world, that’s what happens if you play the slams well. Can he beat Gasquet if they meet in the quarterfinals? Since it’s a slam I’m going to say yes but I expect Gasquet to join Baghdatis in the top ten one day soon.

I don’t really expect Nadal to be in the final but I can’t see anyone who can beat him. I suppose Baghdatis is a good candidate but Nadal has beaten him on hard court and grass this year. Federer could lose to Berdych, maybe, but Murray’s not in good enough condition to beat Federer.

My eight quarterfinalists are: Federer, Berdych, Tommy Haas, Murray, Baghdatis, Gasquet, Soderling and Nadal. Robredo might be worth a try too since Soderling and Robredo are in the weak part of the draw.

How many of you think it will be a Federer-Nadal final? How many of you think Baghdatis knocks off Nadal? Will Nadal get that far? Whaddya say?

You can read last week’s picks here.
You can read about Marcos Baghdatis at the Australian Open here.

The WTA and Davenport: biting the hand that feeds you

Imagine this: you’ve been on the WTA tour for thirteen years, won three grand slams, fifty-one singles titles and an Olympic gold medal. Early in the year you’re diagnosed with a bulging disk and while you’re recovering you get a concussion from a freak injury. You finally decide you’re ready to play the U.S. Open and ask for a wild card to San Diego and Montreal to play a few tune-ups before the Open – wild cards can be given to top ranked players if they decide to enter a tournament past the entry deadline. The head of the WTA, Larry Scott, says no, you can’t have one, you’re not eligible for a wild card. Meanwhile the Montreal tournament is desperate for players since Maria Sharapova dropped out leaving only four of the top ten players entered

The WTA has a huge problem on its hands. It can’t give tournament directors the top players they need to sell their tournaments. Too many players are injured or they’re too tired to play. The schedule is out of control and the level of play is so inconsistent that a player who retired three years ago due to a foot injury, Martina Hingis, looked at the field and decided that it’s not as competitive as it was before she retired. She returned at the beginning of the year and eight months into the season she’s in the top ten.

If he let her bend the rules, how could he get a handle on those unruly players like Sharapova who skipped Montreal because she was tired?

Lindsay Davenport is the player who had the bulging disk and the concussion and when she was ready to rejoin the tour and play in San Diego, Mr. Scott decided to use her as an example. If he let her bend the rules, how could he get a handle on those unruly players like Sharapova who skipped Montreal because she was tired?

What rules are we talking about here? WTA players sign a Player Commitment Contract (PCC) each year which commits a player to a minimum number of tournaments plus certain designated tournaments. Davenport didn’t want to sign a PCC for 2006 because she wasn’t sure she could play the minimum number of tournaments. According to rule II.D.2.c., one of the penalties for not signing a PCC is that she’s not eligible for wild cards.

There was another penalty if you want to call it that. Players receive compensation for signing the PCC. In Davenport’s case, because of her high ranking, she would have received $500,000 if she’d signed a PCC for 2006. That means she was willing to forfeit half a million dollars to play a reduced schedule. Surely that’s punishment enough. By the way, Davenport is about half a million dollars from being the top prize money winner in women’s tennis history.

Wait a minute, you might ask, isn’t there a veteran’s exception rule or something like that? Indeed there is. Rule II. A. 2. allows the tour to confer Gold Exempt Emeritus Status on a player who has won a minimum of three slams or titles, has been ranked number one at least once in her career and has “demonstrated an exceptional level of commitment and excellence on the Tour over an extended period of time.” Such a player can receive unlimited wild cards.

Davenport satisfies all of those conditions and more, so what’s the problem? I left one condition out: “The player has provided at least 14 years of service to the Tour.” According to Liz Robbins’ interview with Davenport in the NY Times earlier this week, that rule was put in so that a semi-retired Monica Seles could play on the tour. I guess the tour felt that they owed her that much.

Davenport is owed that much too. Never mind that she loves the game so much that she’s dragged her retirement out for three years. After the 2003 Wimbledon, she said she might have played her last singles match because she had to take cortisone shots for a foot problem just to get on the court. After that injury she said that she’d retire rather than deal with another significant injury yet here she is after a bulging disk and a concussion. Meanwhile, she won six tournaments last year and played in two grand slam finals, the second one a heartbreaking loss to Venus Williams in one of the best Wimbledon finals ever played.

Sharapova was fined $150,000 for skipping Montreal. That’s fair enough, it sends a message to other players that they can’t pull out of tournaments at the last minute. But what sense does it make to penalize Davenport, she wants to play in tournaments for heaven’s sake, she’s not pulling out. Clearly rule II.A.2. applies to Davenport’s current situation, she’s in semi-retirement after a long and illustrious career, and she should have received the exemption.

Davenport got into the tournament this week in New Haven through regular entry – she’ll play the final against Justine Henin-Hardenne tomorrow – but she should have had her pick of tournaments. She deserves to be treated the same way she’s treated tennis, with great love and appreciation.

You can read about similar problems with WTA players pulling out of a tournament here.

Rain In Montreal, Carnage In Cincy

Hopefully the weather will break today (Sunday) up in Montreal, so the women’s final between Martina Hingis and Ana Ivanovic can finally get under way. If not, we will have to pick apart some more the past week’s craziness from Cincinnati, where the men’s field underwent a good butchering before two manly men could finally emerge.

We had the rather unlikely pairing in the final of Juan Carlos Ferrero, resurrected from an early death these past two years or so, and Andy Roddick, resurrected from a winless season so far this year and a game that seemed headed south until about two weeks ago.

Did we wish it had been Roger and Rafa in the final instead? But of course, dahlings. However Roddick and Ferrero worked just fine. It’s one of those finals where we can say we are just happy to see these two guys there, rather than whether it was brilliantly played or not. It was brilliant only on one side. Roddick just never let Ferrero get his teeth into anything. It has been that way their last several meetings.

So at least the wealth was spread around in Sunday’s final. That helps the game. And I mean that both ways, wealth in opening up the game and in actual dollars. Ferrero pocketed $200k for his second place effort. Roddick got $400,000.

Roddick made a serious case for the Class Act Award of the week, with his comment post-victory about how deserving Juan Carlos was to get himself back into the game. People gave up on Ferrero getting his game back on track as they pretty much have with Roddick this year. So Roddick let it be known how ugly that can make a guy feel. That little moment of gracious empathy with Ferrero resonated to the happy applause of the crowd.

Ferrero made a serious case for being there. He climbed over a pretty impressive stack of bodies this week, including Number 5 seed James Blake in the second round, and Number 7 seed Tommy Robredo in the semi-finals. And the shocker of course was his upset of Number 2 Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. I liked especially the fact that he showed you don’t have to be a Superman to beat Rafael Nadal. But you do have to do a number of things really well, like serve with steady consistency, step in when you get chances and go for shots, and know when the big points arrive and be ready. It also helps if you catch Nadal when he is having a less than stellar day. Somehow Nadal seemed muted by the heat, he looked like he was suffering out there. Ferrero sweated too, but he seemed by far the heartier player.

It became pretty much apparent also this past week that Rafael Nadal will not, and is not, making an instant success on the hard courts this season. The man from Majorca has struggled harder than we might have thought on these surfaces. Partly it may be due to the heat, which was oppressive along with that heavy midwestern humidity. Do they get such heat on Majorca? Nadal spent a month there after the final of Wimbledon. Roger took the same amount of time off, and retreated to the blast furnace that must be Dubai in early August. The time away seems to have hurt Roger less than it did Rafa.

Well, up until Federer ran into Andy Murray, who made his new coach look like Socrates with his win over the world’s number one. When Roger Federer plays a flat match, which was pretty much how we could characterize this one, sometimes he radiates a feeling of disinterest. He must have stopped off at the Waffle House, as my co-writer said the other day in her piece. Along with Rafael Nadal, because they were both as flat as pancakes this week.

In his post-match interview Roger made comments about how difficult he found the schedule, with back to back Masters events in Canada and Cincinnati. Roger has to expect he is going to be around for all the rounds each of the two weeks. So he is correct, it is probably a lot of tennis. But then isn’t that partly why you took that month off in Dubai? To recuperate from a rather strenuous spring and also in preparation for these two weeks? Besides, you have to be here, it is a Masters event. Unless you want to pull a Sharapova and withdraw for a measly reason and get slapped a hefty $150k fine.

The schedule though favors the players coming to Cincinnati; it is the big event starting two weeks before the Open, giving you at the end of it one week rest before the Open. If you played the Toronto tournament before the Cincinnati week, and not Cincy, then you are left with two weeks off before the Open. That sounds like two weeks too long. Unless you want to play in the smaller event in New Haven this coming week, which most of the big names will not. This is a scheduling glitch that should be addressed, but probably won’t.

The men’s draw in Cincinnati was pretty much ravaged by mid-week, revealing yet again how so much of men’s tennis these days, in early stages of draws, is just given over to absolute carnage. Anyone can nearly beat anyone, and they do.

If only we could say the same of women’s tennis. Which for various reasons only seems to get good and bloody around the quarterfinals. What devastated the women’s field this week were all the pull-outs before the tournament even began, and the high-ranked retirements that occurred as the draw advanced.

Kim Clijsters re-injured her already battered left wrist. At times like this I am glad to have a one-handed backhand instead of a two hander. In watching the replay of the fall on court that injured her, it was clear that she put the arm out first to absorb her fall. But that jammed the wrist. Could we speculate whether she should have tried to roll onto her shoulder instead, and spare the wrist? Easy to second guess now, the natural impulse is probably to do what she did, which is the one thing that would probably be the worst thing for that wrist.

I don’t know how you guys would fall on court, but if I had a chronic wrist like Kim’s I would take great pains to guard against re-injuring it. Now she’s out again for two months because of this, and you have to ask, how badly does she want to stay in the game?

Well, the rain stopped in Montreal long enough for Ana Ivanovic to deliver the coup de grace to Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-4, after their match carried over from a rain delay on Saturday. But her final with Martina Hingis was delayed, so ESPN planned to tape it and show it “at a later time.” Whatever that means. Probably 2 a.m. Monday night or some awful time like that. I like Ivanovic’s game. She might be able to take it to Hingis with that powerful game of hers.

In the required reading department, you should check out the brilliant essay in the August 20th NYTimes piece by David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” I can’t get the link because the date has passed, but it is well worth the read.

Yes, our man has finally achieved apotheosis. Who would have thunk it? My God.

New Haven 2006: ATP fantasy league picks

The last stop before the U.S. Open is the New Haven Pilot Pen Tennis tournament, a 48 player event paying the winner $84,000. Andy Roddick sewed up the U.S. Open Series Challenge with his win earlier today in Cincinnati. That means he gets twice the prize money for whatever round he reaches at the U.S. Open. Crashing out at the first round of the Open last year was bad enough for Roddick but he also won the Series Challenge going in so he left a lot of money on the table.

The hard court specialists have been playing in the U.S. for a few weeks so there aren’t a lot of those around for New Haven. There are three top ten players but only James Blake looks strong enough to win here. Nikolay Davydenko is weak on hard courts and Marcos Baghdatis is unpredictable unless he plays in a slam. I can’t remember a player since Pete Sampras who focused so strongly on the slams. I don’t think Baghdatis is in Sampras’ class and I don’t think it’s intentional on Baghdatis’ part. He loves playing to big crowds but hasn’t figured out how to play well week in and week out. He took a wild card here because he lost early in Cincinnati last week, ditto for Monfils who is average on hard courts.

The clay court specialists are getting in a tuneup before they make their perfunctory appearance at the noisy, overcrowded U.S. Open. The Open is not high on non-U.S. players’ lists of favorite slams, they prefer a more stately atmosphere and don’t always appreciate the scheduling at the Open. Prime time matchups with a U.S. player take precedence over the scheduling concerns of non-U.S. players whether they’re ranked higher or not.

Don’t confuse Julien Benneteau with those clay court specialists. At age 24, he’s making a late career push. He started the year at 160 and now he’s at 50 with a 13-8 record on hard courts. I have him in the semifinals because I don’t have confidence in Baghdatis.

Wawrinka beat Nalbandian last week but who knows what’s wrong with Nalbandian. He’s fallen off the map for some reason. Wawrinka started the year ranked number 54 and his current ranking is 54 so we can expect a third round finish at best because he’s consistently average.

Blake is a tough pick. He had a 6-2 record on indoor hard courts last year and there are a lot of indoor hard court tournaments left. You have to pick him this week because he won last year and this is his home tournament. If he does well then you have to pick him for the U.S. Open and you’ll be like everyone else, you won’t have a lot of players left to pick for the fall indoor season. Hopefully Nalbandian will wake up and start playing well.

My eight quarter-finalists are: Blake, Jose Acasuso, Jarkko Nieminen, David Ferrer, Julien Benneteau, Baghdatis, Olivier Rochus and Arnaud Clement.

You can read about Blake and Federer losing this week in Cincinnati here.
You can read about Nadal losing in Cincinnati here.