Monthly Archives: December 2007

2007 Tennis Wayback Machine Again

Installment two of notable tennis events in the year 2007.

Round Robins and Monkey’s Balls

The subject of round robin tournaments churned up a lot of strong feelings among tennis fans. I love round robins and I posted an online petition to drum up support. I didn’t get much. In fact one guy was so annoyed that he told me I should do something unsavory with monkey’s balls. I declined but I understand why everyone was so upset. People like tidiness, they don’t like chaos. Look at this for instance, it describes the possible ways that Jan Hernych could have advanced to the quarterfinals at the ATP Las Vegas event which was a round robin tournament:

Hernych will advance to the quarters by winning a set OR by winning eight or more games in a loss UNLESS one set loss goes to seven game, in which case he advances by winning nine games or more in a loss.

You weren’t the only one who couldn’t follow that. Juan Martin Del Potro retired during his match with James Blake and thereby robbed Blake of the chance to advance to the quarterfinals because he had fewer completed matches. Etienne de Villiers, president of the ATP, ignored the rule and advanced Blake anyway though he came to his senses the next day and advanced the proper player.

Here’s the thing. De Villiers doesn’t have the power to shorten the calendar – see below – so the round robin format is a good idea for small tournaments because everyone plays at least two matches. That’s a good thing because fans can count on seeing the top players at least twice.

And tennis fans should get over it. Tennis could use some unpredictability and complexity when it comes to tournament structure. Thousands of people in the U.S. spend days filling out tournament brackets when the NCAA basketball championship rolls round. Tennis fans should be able to figure out a round robin draw with a little practice.

Match of the Year

Most people are picking the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal or the WTA Championships final between Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova as the best match of the year. But my favorite was the knock down, drag out drama between Andy Murray and Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. Already down a set, Murray stumbled and injured his ankle and bruised his side but still managed to win the match on one good ankle, a mixture of moonballs, drops shots, and slice forehands and a ton or heart.

Surly Serena

Serena Williams falls into the same category – players with heart. She strained her calf and bruised her thumb in her third round match at Wimbledon against Daniela Hantuchova. After Hantuchova tried to take advantage of her with a drop shot, Serena got mad and pushed herself to victory. That’s a good thing because Serena is a bad loser. After she lost to Justine Henin in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, she was most ungracious. She blamed the loss on her errors and Henin’s lucky shots instead of giving Henin the credit she deserved. No wonder you can find a video on youtube showing Serena mouthing the word “bitch” during her match with Henin.

Benni Becker’s Rookie Year

I got all excited about Benjamin Becker after he ended Andre Agassi’s career at the 2006 U.S. Open. Especially as I had been following his career and he is one of the few ATP players who grant my interview requests. He had a few semifinal finishes at the beginning of the year but then he dropped like a stone. His only highlight was a 129mph(208kph) serve to Marc Gicquel‘s private parts. I’d never seen that in a tennis match before. Benni’s got game. Here’s hoping he rises back up the rankings in 2008.

The Shorter Calendar Is Not Shorter

The ATP put a lot of work into shortening the tour calendar so that more top players would turn up at top events. It was also supposed to help reduce the number of injuries. It failed on both accounts. The ATP tried to take away Monte Carlo’s status as a Masters level event and failed. Monte Carlo organizers took the ATP to court and the two parties reached a settlement. Monte Carlo is still a Masters level event but it is not required. The ATP did succeed in reducing Hamburg’s status but then added a hard court Masters event in Shanghai. The upshoot is that there are still nine Masters events but one less on clay. Therefore, the calendar is no shorter and injuries are more likely because bodies take a bigger pounding on hard courts than on clay.

One last thing. The ATP also extended many tournaments to eight days so they could cover two weekends and increase attendance. Many tournaments will now start on Sunday and end on Sunday. The calendar is not shorter and the tournaments are longer. Exactly how does this help players?

Arlen Sticks Up for Federer

This is actually a news event from today but I want to put it in here anyway. Arlen Kantarian, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated wondering just what Roger Federer has to do to win Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award. This year it went to Brett Favre instead. Good job Arlen, we ask the same question here every year.

2007 Tennis Wayback Machine

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for fannation.com, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between si.com and the hugely popular espn.com. S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

Quick Hit: Male Centerfold of the Year

It’s that time of the year. Roll on over to the right side of the page and vote for your choice of Male Centerfold of the year.

The Tangled Web of Sport, State, and Organized Crime in Russia

When you talk abut business or government or sports or even organized crime in Russia, it may be hard to tell the difference.

After I wrote a piece about the Russian Mafia and tennis, Nina Alberti of TennisInfoBlog contacted me with more information about organized crime in Russia. When I asked her for sources, she came up with information that led to a complex web of connections between sports, business, government and organized crime in the country.

Not to be left out, the K.G.B. – Russia’s communist era C.I.A. – is right in the middle of this mess. And not just in the presidency. Russian president Vladimir Putin is a former member of the intelligence agency that succeeded the K.G.B. but so are many prominent businessmen in Russia according to an article in the New York Times this week.

Organized crime has its connections to business too and it’s more than just skimming the top off their profits. The Times also reported that organized crime laundered money for offshore shell companies that were tied to Russian business interests. One case tied the Russian Mafia to $70 billion that ended up in a tiny island nation in the Pacific.

Nina’s research showed that organized crime became interested in sports in the 1990’s because sports organizations had tax and duty exemptions. One of those sports organizations was the National Sports Fund and its exemptions allowed it to import cigarettes and alcohol tax free. In fact, the NSF became the largest importer of cigarettes and alcohol in the country.

What has this to do with tennis? Current Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev controlled the National Sports Fund while those cigarettes and alcohol were flowing in. Much of that money made its way into political campaigns and, no doubt, created a billionaire or two.

While this tangled web made a lot of people rich, it certainly didn’t help tennis players if you look at Moscow’s Spartak Tennis Club. It’s a dump.
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Spartak is the facility that trained Marat Safin, Anna Kournikova, Elena Dementieva and other Russian tennis stars. Its outdoor tennis courts are only usable six months of the year due to the cold climate and its one indoor court is sporadically heated. Spartak’s training methods are responsible for all of those Russian women in the top twenty.

Organized crime has not only diverted money away from sports but they’ve carried out some deep wounds. The director general of Russia’s most popular soccer team – also called Spartak – and the head of the country’s Ice Hockey Federation were both murdered in contract killings because they weren’t willing to pay the mafia a cut of their profits.

Organized crime might have used sports for tax evasion in the 1990’s but now it has a different use: match fixing. Tennis is an individual sport and it’s much easier to pressure one player to cooperate than an entire team. Combine that with easy access to online gambling and you could have one good explanation for the proliferation of suspicious matches in the past few years.

There’s no quick fix for this and a tennis player would be a double victim if organized crime threatened them or their family to get them to fix a match and the ATP or WTA followed that up by kicking the player out of the game.

This situation could get much uglier before it gets better.

Get Out the Vote

I have been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please help me out by going here and voting for moi (Nina Rota) on the right side of the page. I need some help. One guy seems to have half of India voting for him.


Read more about the Russian Mafia and tennis.

Why Nalbandian Will Not Win a Slam

Why Marat Safin has a few slams and David Nalbandian does not.

Our intrepid reader Jenny placed David Nalbandian in the same category as Marat Safin: supremely gifted but lacking in commitment. I had never really thought to compare Nalbandian and Safin but after I thought about it for a while, I realized the comparison may explain why Safin has two slams and Nalbandian has none.

When I look at Safin I think to myself: “Extreme talent but, Lord, can he ever get out of his own way?” When I look at Nalbandian I think: “Solid, solid player but he’s missing the world class monster-eating-must-win-at-any-cost gene.”

One of them has too much fire and the other doesn’t have enough. I’m not sure it’s fiery competition that gnaws at Safin. He’d have a tortured soul if we’d never heard of him and he worked at a fish market. That’s just his personality. And he’s Russian. Russian literature is crawling with tortured souls.

Tennis has had a few of its own. Boris Becker qualified. Becker railed at himself on court and put himself in difficult positions off it. He married a black woman in post-war Germany and suffered through silly misdeeds such as fathering a child from a quickie encounter in a restaurant while his pregnant wife was in the hospital.

Nalbandian is missing that fire. Nadal has it, Djokovic has it, Henin lives and breathes it. I think Mauresmo had it too though not any more. Nalbandian is a bit removed. There’s nothing cerebral about wanting to kill your opponent. It’s a very visceral feeling and there’s something about Nalbandian that isn’t visceral. He’s there but floating just a bit above himself looking down and watching instead of being down and dirty in the mud slogging it out for all he’s worth.

Some people are more comfortable being runners-up. Nalbandian may be one of them. I used to play tennis with my friend Tremell every week. He was a much better player so I started each set with a three game lead. I was very proud when I reached the day that I didn’t need a three game handicap but there was a problem. Tremell preferred starting each set down three games because he was more motivated when he was behind.

Once you’ve reached a number one ranking or won a slam and have to defend it, your job description changes. You’re no longer part of the crowd trying to knock off the top player, you’re job is fending off challengers. That requires even more confidence than it took to get to the top and that’s why players like Safin and Mauresmo win one or two slams then stop. Their talent got them there but they don’t have the personality to stay for any amount of time.

It’s getting harder to say that Nalbandian doesn’t have the personality to win a slam. He won the Madrid and Paris Masters Series events this fall and that ain’t half bad. But I’m still gonna say it. I don’t think he gets a slam.

I expect Andy Murray, one of those other tortured souls, to win one first.

Teddy Awards

Let’s continue with our Teddy Awards voting. Next up: Most Surprising Player. Please go to the right side of the page and vote.

Also, if you’d help me out I’d appreciate it. I’ve been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please go here and vote for moi (Nina Rota).