Monthly Archives: June 2007

At Wimbledon: A Little Play, A Lot of Water

Join us for the men’s Wimbledon final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, July 8th at 6am PST/9am EST/2pm BST. Join in by writing comments and we’ll respond in real time.

Today the weather interfered with life at the Big W in a major way. Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova moved easily through their matches just before the deluge but a whole flock of other players are backed up on the runway.

On Friday we saw the shedding of the first real blood. James Blake lost in four sets to Juan Carlos Ferrero. A bit of a surprise perhaps but Ferrero played Blake well last summer in Cincinnati and Blake has been all over the place this year. A bigger upset occurred when number 5 seed Fernando Gonzalez lost a rough five-setter to yet another Serb, Janko Tipsaravic. And just when I started to think Ivan Ljubicic might have a chance to enjoy another round or two, he lost in four sets to Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Mathieu has started to make good noises this year. He is another one of those crossover French guys who can play on surfaces other than just clay. His compatriot Richard Gasquet is still in the draw and moving easily through his matches too. On the women’s side, Martina Hingis was not expected to do that well here after some weeks off due to injury but I did not expect her to go out in the third round to….Laura Granville?

We keep hyping upcoming matches that promise good stuff only to have them peter out into rather ho-hum affairs. From my perspective at the end of the first week, it has not been a thrilling tournament this year. The Williams sisters blew hot and cold in their initial offerings. Venus especially had to maintain her poise before she was nearly booted out while Serena looked a bit scratchy. Now they are getting themselves in gear and their opponents are paying the price. So are we. ESPN2 is rubbing our noses in their slaughters, over and over again.

Ditto the Henman-Moya classic five-setter, which really was a classic when it happened. But now we’ve been so beaten over the head with the repeats of it during rain delays that I frankly don’t care if I ever see these two again – playing each other or anyone else for that matter. ESPN2, we love you!

We were also salivating at the prospect of Roger Federer meeting his first real challenge from Marat Safin. Someone should have told Safin I guess. He tried to make a bit of a run in the third set but the train had left the station by that point. Federer rolled through him in three straight sets.

In fact, if anything has generated heat here at Wimbledon it’s been all the flaming comments from fans who don’t exactly adore ESPN’s coverage right now. I added my own snide comment on a rival site about Dick Enberg, saying the remote buttons of the world were probably designed with him in mind. When he comes on the mute button is my stalwart ally; I keep the TV muted for long stretches. It’s not worth turning it up to hear the ping and pong of the ball hits because Enberg is talking right over them. Have we ever heard such a useless stream of drivel? It used to be that most commentary stopped when the play began; now it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

The level of public uncouthness has spread to the commentary booths, so now it’s pretty much continual babble that we get to hear. And those little tidbit stories of “entertainment” the network tosses out to fill time really have little to do with tennis but we’re going to get them anyway, so shut the hell up and act like you’re enjoying the tennis. And they wonder why the rankings of the sport have plummeted over the years. gives you a nice package online for about $25 to watch the whole tournament and next year I may sign up for it and just bypass ESPN2 altogether. Unless of course The Tennis Channel does us all a big favor and acquires a few more rights to tournaments. I would much rather hear their guys because they tend to be far more technical and less interested in the trivia.

Roger Federer’s wardrobe has been another source of heat. A lot of people hate it, they think it reflects an arrogance. Has anyone looked at the wardrobes of Americans lately? I’m not even talking the gang banger styles, just those of normal people. We’re all so incredibly dressed down now – and it’s all, like, kind of gross. So to see a guy like Fed waltz out in the white long pants and matching blazer with the gold trim, well, we’re in another world. I think it looks hot as hell. One thing some of us females like about Roger: we won’t ever have to take him shopping, like we would Vince Spadea. Federer could take us shopping, truth be known.

We did get one nifty match on Friday. Jelena Jankovic and Lucie Safarova played a tense three-setter that felt like a semi-final. Jankovic pulled it out but just barely. When I saw her draw I knew Safarova could be a real challenge to Jankovic who has pretty much buried her opponents here. Lucie played attacking tennis early on, she had lots of errors but also a lot of winners. Jankovic found herself playing a ton of defense. After grabbing a tight first set 7-5, Jankovic figured she’d better not count on Lucie making mistakes and she started going for her shots more.

In the second set she stepped it up. The key game was at 3-3 where Lucie finally held serve through eleven deuces. Did Jelena go away in disappointment? No way. She fought back, broke Lucie, even had a set point, but then gave the break back to. Jelena won the tiebreaker then clinched the match with a break in the third set that held up. Safarova should be near the top ten by the end of this year. She’s a lefty with a good powerful serve and deep, well-paced shots off both wings. She still gets a little tight in big moments but she’ll get over that. I like her game a lot. These two will have a good rivalry.

Good matches on tap for Monday include David Nalbandian facing Marcos Baghdatis. I look for Marcos to take that in four sets. He is starting to look consistent now and, besides, he is one of my Fantasy Tennis picks. Rafael Nadal also takes on Sweden’s Robin Soderling. This may be one we have vast hopes of being competitive when we all know it will turn out to be anything but.

The Pit Bull Contingent should take up some slack for us, namely Lleyton Hewitt who will face off against Guillermo Canas. I keep forgetting Canas is even in the draw. He has had mixed results since his earlier two triumphs over Federer this year, and I guess no one really expects much from him on this surface. It’s a battle of two counter-punchers but Hewitt will probably spend a fair bit of time at the net where he can use those attacking moves. I think this one will go the distance with Hewitt pulling it out.

Now, let’s all pray for a heat wave.

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See also:
Wimbledon 29 Years Back
Wimbledon Joins the Hard Court Season
B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Wimbledon Picks

Wimbledon 29 years back

Join us for the men’s Wimbledon final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, July 8th at 6am PST/9am EST/2pm BST. Join in by writing comments and we’ll respond in real time.

Except for Tatiana Golovin’s red knickers and another national disappointment for the British – Tim Henman lost to Feliciano Lopez in the second round, Wimbledon hasn’t picked up a personality or thrown out any really delicious stories yet, so I’m taking a one day trip 29 years back.

I’m reading a book titled Inside Tennis by Peter Bodo with photography by June Harrison. It covers the entire 1978 season of professional tennis. Let’s look at the book’s coverage of Wimbledon that year.

There’s plenty of luminous writing in the book. No one captures the psychological makeup that separates the best players from the lowly-ranked masses quite as well as Bodo. Other writers describe players, Bodo describes the human condition. Here’s an example of what I mean:

But the game held out its customary promises: the promise of success against all odds, the promise that hope could prevail over reason, the promise that for a blessed two- or three-hour span, a man could recapture all that eluded him through years of struggle.

Couple that with this comment by John Newcombe:

You can find out anything you want to know about a person by putting him on Centre Court at Wimbledon. It has a lot to do with your breaking point…

And now you understand the true measure of the value of sports: it tells you what you’re made of, taffy or steel.

Here’s what Wimbledon looked like in 1978.

There were numbers:

Two hundred twenty officials work the matches. Eighty-five students are recruited from a nearby technical school to serve as ball boys. …The armed services provide close to two hundred volunteers who serve as stewards and ushers. The Fire Brigade contributes well over fifty volunteers. The tournament uses up twelve hundred dozen Slazenger balls…

That last number was the excuse that Wimbledon officials used when Tim Henman wandered into a Wimbledon office a few years ago and found containers of unpressurized tennis balls earmarked for the tournament. They’d taken all of the balls out of their cans because it was easier than opening them during the tournament, so they said.

Tim was gobsmacked as the British say. An unpressurized ball will be less lively making it harder for serve and volleyers like Henman to win here. This is the first difference we see between then and now. Wimbledon wasn’t worried about finding enough people to open hundreds of cans of tennis balls during the tournament, they wanted to slow the game down to make the surface more equitable and they’ve more than succeeded.

There was rain. It was heavy enough to wipe out an entire day of matches for the first time in eight years. This year is marginally better but in two years, finally, there will be a roof over Centre Court.

There was another national disappointment. John Lloyd never got past the third round at Wimbledon. In 1978 he went out in the first round. See above for this year’s disappointment.

There was discrimination. Teddy Tinling was a fashion designer who created elaborate tennis dresses for the top players in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. The book suggests that players such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova wore Tinling’s clothing because the world of apparel endorsements wasn’t yet ready for lesbians. That situation is marginally better today. Out lesbian Amelie Mauresmo has no problem but Marina Navratilova never grabbed endorsement opportunities appropriate to her status and her career lasted a long time.

There were exceptional women players. Billie Jean, Martina, and Chris Evert were in the women’s draw. That’s three of the top five women of all time (Steffi Graf and Margaret court being the other two). Today we have the promise of Maria Sharapova and the ongoing career of Justine Henin. A definite downgrade from 1978.

By the way, Navratilova showed her considerable sense of humor when her state of mind was questioned:

Reporter: How do you keep your head together?

Navratilova: I stick it between the door and the frame in the locker room.

That’s almost as good as this one which I think I also read in a Bodo book:

Reporter: Are you still a lesbian?

Navratilova: Are you still the alternative?

There was a rivalry for the ages. Britain did have one good hope in this tournament. Virginia Wade won the title the previous year, a magical feat as it was the hundredth anniversary of Wimbledon, but Evert beat her in the semifinals. Navratilova beat an ailing Evonne Goolagong in the other semifinal setting up the first meeting in a slam final for one of the biggest rivalries in sports history: Evert and Navratilova.

Navratilova beat Evert for her first slam title and first of nine Wimbledons. Interesting to note that Navratilova’s opponent when she won her first 13 slams was a U.S. player and this brings up a huge difference between then and now. Today there is exactly one U.S. woman in the top thirty and this year, for the first time in the open era, only three U.S. men got past the first round at Wimbledon.

There were exceptional male players. Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg met in the Wimbledon final in 1978. Thankfully we have the same thing today. Federer could meet Nadal in the final. Connors has the career record for most ATP singles titles, one of the few records Federer hasn’t yet snatched away. Connors lost the final easily and Borg won his third of five consecutive Wimbledons.

Five is also the the number of consecutive Wimbledons Federer hopes to match this year.

Check out our new myspace page and add us to your friends networkSee also:
Wimbledon Joins the Hard Court Season
B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Wimbledon Picks

Wimbledon Joins the Hard Court Season

Join us for the men’s Wimbledon final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, July 8th at 6am PST/9am EST/2pm BST. Join in by writing comments and we’ll respond in real time.

Wimbledon used to symbolize the end of the grass court season but now it’s playing more like the opening of the summer hard court season.

Every year I look forward to Wimbledon so I can settle in and watch a bit of serve and volley. It’s beautiful to watch because serve and volley players are acrobatic and graceful. Players move backward and forward and side to side. Tennis flows over the entire court in a constant ballet of movement.

In a parallel universe, maybe. Tim Henman may serve and volley and Nicolas Mahut would serve and volley too if he hadn’t lost in the first round, but if you look at the grass courts, the only place they’re worn down is along the baseline.

Instead of serve and volley I’m seeing a lot of kick serves and they’re bouncing high. Listen to this from Henman: “Kick serve now works on grass. You can get a lot of sideways movement on it.” And Roger Federer: “You can use the kick too these days, because of the slower conditions…”

So much for my prediction that Rafael Nadal will fail to reproduce his 2006 run to the final. At this rate, the conditions suit him fine.

What’s slowing things down? Let’s start with the ball. Todd Woodbridge has won nine Wimbledon doubles titles dating back to 1993. He always saved one ball from each final. When he compares today’s balls with his mementos, the current version is clearly bigger and fuzzier.

You can’t hit a bigger ball as hard and a fuzzier ball grabs more. Trying grabbing onto a hairless dog. You can’t do it, your hands slide off. Yes, there are such things as hairless dogs. Anyway, grabbiness is important because it allows players to put spin on the ball.

Then there’s the court. Tennis-X reported this quote from an International Herald Tribune article by Richard Evans: “Moss was removed from underneath the grass to make the ball bounce higher – right into the hitting zone of clay-court masters.”

The higher the ball bounces, the worse it is for serve and volleyers. If the ball stays up it’s easier to track it down and a player at the net becomes target practice for all those clay court defensive specialists.

The organizers of Wimbledon slowed the courts down because everyone got tired of seeing three stroke rallies and one-dimensional tennis. But when Rafael Nadal gets to a final, hasn’t it gone too far to other way? Now we’re seeing defensive specialists reach later rounds of Wimbledon.

What hurt Britain’s past hero, Henman, might help their future hero, Andy Murray. Power is not his game and at this rate, the conditions might turn out to be perfect for his mix of intelligence and defense.

Personally, I’d rather see one month of purely offensive tennis. Players are much better returners these days – that’s one reason why Roddick has only one title this year – so we don’t have to worry so much about one dimensional tennis. It’s slightly insulting if you think about it because Wimbledon is slowing the courts down so players can catch up to the big hitters.

There’s no need and if they keep going, they’ll look more like the opening of the summer hard court season that the closing of the grass court season.

Check out our new myspace page and add us to your friends network!

See also:
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Wimbledon Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time

B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time

Join us for the men’s Wimbledon final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, July 8th at 6am PST/9am EST/2pm BST. Leave a comment and we’ll respond in real time.

Wimbledon Gets Under Way – A Little Rain, A Little Sun, So Far So Good

Day One began at Wimbledon yesterday with the usual intermittent rain delays and the clammy-looking crowd of Anglo-Saxon faces peering out from under their rain gear. Pale dumplings in search of a nice warm broth. Were we ever in Rome? Seems like ages ago.

The grass courts are almost preternaturally lush and beautiful this year. The green courts and the all-white clothing of the players provide a striking contrast. Particularly when Roger Federer took to the court yesterday for his opener. My God, Da Man not only acquired a new white blazer this year but he added long white pants as well! If I could whistle, I would. And they weren’t just for show, either. It’s pretty bloody cold in London today.

The good news for Federer is that he whipped through his opponent Gabashvili in straight sets. He finished before the rain came and lowered the boom on a whole bunch of players yet to play. The bad news for Federer is that those lush courts may be…well, TOO lush. They appear groomed so they are thicker, and consequently the balls are not staying low like they normally do on grass. They are riding high and moving more slowly. For Rafael Nadal it’s nearly perfect. Maybe that explains why a lot of guys were using kick serves out wide. If we can’t use our slices as effectively, we’ll try and make the ball hop over your racquet, and take that, fella!

Nothing too outrageous occurred on Day One. The Yanks had mixed results, which seems to be the way of their world this year. Andy Roddick looked the best in his win over buddy Justin Gimelstob and Serena Williams looked spotty in her close first set before she ran off with the second set and the match.

Robby Ginepri had the toughest assignment in his opener against Fernando Gonzalez. ESPN2 must have shown a total of three minutes of this match so we had to rely on the second-hand commentary. Ginepri won the first set and was up 4-2 in the second set tiebreaker, had an easy smash for 5-2, but missed it badly. That was followed by an abrupt right face from Ginepri and into the sauce he went losing in four. Ouch! Sam Querrey, a big-serving Californian who should have done well on grass, went out rather meekly in three sets to a clay courter, of all things. As of Tuesday night, we had three American males left: Roddick, James Blake and Amer Delic.

Leave it to the Geriatric League to provide the best show of the day. Carlos Moya (age 30) and Tim Henman (age 32) fought it out in a very high quality match that was still going on Tuesday, having been called late Monday because of darkness. When they resumed play in the fifth set, Moya served and volleyed better than Henman at some points while Henman actually dominated some of the baseline rallies.

Henman caught a lucky break when Andy Murray pulled out because his wrist is still not one hundred percent. Suddenly Henman was, once again, the great hope for the Brits. Fortunately he pulled the match out when Moya double-faulted on match point. The huge crowd assembled on Henman Hill went crazy. Yes, it’s gone back to being HIS hill again, thank you. Who would have thought they could turn to Henman, instead of Murray, for their thrills and spills?

As Tuesday began, Venus Williams faced the toughest task when she had to overcome a one-set, 2-0, deficit against Russian youngster Alla Kudryavtseva. She came out and socked it to Venus hitting deep and powerful shots off both sides, seemingly without nerves. How did Venus come back? We could state the matter two ways: Venus kept her nerve and hung in there well, or women on tour get a really bad case of the heebie-jeebies when crunch time comes around, and what does that say about the state of the women’s game? Probably it was lots of both. I did not think Venus could aright herself, and yet she did.

God only knows how this victory improves her disposition and her game. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you can enter a Slam and play your way into fitness so I have mixed feelings about the Williams sisters when they do this. Yet they do it, and that probably gives fits to the other players in the locker room.

For some reason Federer’s side of the draw seems mundane and predictable. He will probably get Roddick in the semis. Nadal’s half is the wild and woolly side. I don’t even have Nadal making it into the semis: my pick there is Marcos Baghdatis to face Tomas Berdych. Yes yes, I know, two of the bigger head cases on the men’s side, but I don’t quite trust in Novak Djokovic yet, and I don’t really like Nikolay Davydenko’s chances on grass. Nadal could have his hands full with someone like Robin Soderling, who serves big and plays attacking tennis, or with Berdych later on in the quarterfinals. So I see Ivo Karlovic entering the fray on this side of the draw. This is Dr. Ivo’s favorite time of year, he blossoms from 6’7” tall to something like 7’6” on this surface.

Brad Gilbert was singing Karlovic’s praises yesterday; he thinks Ivo can make a dent here. He also likes the chances of my man Nicholas Mahut. I wanted to pick Mahut for my Fantasy Tennis team but because he was ranked outside of the Top 100 when the draw began, I could not use him. He wasn’t even listed. So I held my nose and picked Richard Gasquet instead, although he has caused nothing but heartbreak this year to his fans.

Gilbert and I part company on Nadal’s chances. Brad thinks “Ralph,” as he’s taken to calling Rafa, will beat Federer in four sets in the final. I think that’s a leap into the void but that’s what I like about Gilbert. Most of his picks are right on usually, but he likes to throw in one that screws with our heads and makes everybody wonder, what planet did he breeze in from?

Unfortunately I have a feeling the Roddick-Federer semi-final will BE the final, and I don’t give Roddick much of a chance. Federer in the final against whoever would not be much of a match, I’m betting. Not on the green stuff.

The women are much more mundane: the quarters seem like a cakewalk for Amelie Mauresmo to face Nadia Petrova, Kuzie gets Shrieker, Justine Henin faces Serena again, and Jelena Jankovic should have an interesting duel with Martina Hingis.

Cheers all,

Grass is good.

Out on Sports Radio

Sports radio is slowly becoming comfortable with gay and lesbian culture and that is good news on the weekend when many cities in the U.S. celebrate gay pride.

Last Thursday I flew to San Francisco for the weekend to celebrate gay pride. After claiming an aisle seat on the airplane, a woman and her 5 year old settled in beside me. The child was loud and squirmy but I was more disturbed by the mother who turned to her child and said: “If you don’t stop screaming, I’m leaving you home with a babysitter next time!” That, of course, made the child even more upset. There was more to come. After the child asked her to call “Daddy”, her mother said: “With what, a line straight to heaven? Yeah, like that’ll work.”

Oh my God, is that child’s father dead and her mother just said that to her?

I leaned back in my seat and thought about the sports radio show I’d listened to that morning: the DeMarco Farr Show with Kevin Kiley on the Los Angeles ESPN radio affiliate. They were interviewing Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of, who regularly appears on the show as an “alternative lifestyle” reporter.

As Ziegler read a top ten list of the hottest professional athletes according to gay men, you could hear DeMarco Farr pretending to throw up in the background. Some of the athletes on the list were football players and Farr had been a professional football player himself. He was uncomfortable with the idea that his football heroes were being viewed as cheesecake pinups by gay men. Kiley was o.k. with it and went as far as saying that he’d pose nude for a photo shoot knowing that gay men might purchase and appreciate looking at his image.

One listener called in and accused Farr of being homophobic and another said he should just get over his objections but Farr responded by saying something very interesting. Farr said that every time Zeigler comes on the show he says something that makes him feel so uneasy he has to tune him out mentally. But every time he speaks to Zeigler, he gets a bit more comfortable talking about the gay lifestyle.

This is how change takes place. Someone like Zeigler establishes a gay website about sports and two radio hosts like DeMarco Farr and Kevin Kiley invite Zeigler onto their show. The three of them agree and disagree and Farr sometimes wants to throw up, but they’re all willing to listen to each other and keep talking.

Gay athletes will become accepted in major professional sports eventually but it will take time and effort. More former professional athletes will need to come out and professional coaches will have to educate themselves about “alternative” lifestyles. The media will have to educate themselves too, there’s no such thing as a fan who doesn’t read the sports sections or listen to sports radio or watch ESPN SportsCenter.

For their part, Farr and Kiley and Zeigler deserve a lot of credit.

As the plane approached San Francisco, I got into a conversation with the mother sitting next to me. Her husband was dead. He’d died while she was pregnant with her daughter. She’d also gone through the death of one of her children. She was returning from seeing her boyfriend and planned to move in with him after another daughter graduates from high school next year.

She’d met her boyfriend online and she wished me luck because I was planning to have a face to face in San Francisco with someone I’d met online. I still don’t like her communication skills but I have much greater respect for her after our conversation. That’s how respect and understanding grow: ongoing conversation.