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.
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.