Monthly Archives: February 2008

Quick Hit: China’s Young Athletes

Welcome to the first of a new and upcoming feature on MVN: Quick Hits

MVN is getting ready to roll out a new sitewide design and one of the new features is Quick Hits: posts containing short, undeveloped thoughts for your interest and commentary. I’m going to jump the gun here and post Quick Hits before the redesign kicks in.

There is an article in the New York Times today about table tennis player Wang Chen. Chen emigrated from China and will play play table tennis for the U.S. this summer at the Olympic Games in Beijing. When she was a first grader in China, she was chosen to train at a national sports training center because she managed to land three table tennis balls in a small basket.

For a first grader that’s pretty good but it’s hardly the sophisticated culling process I would expect. What, no fast twitch muscle tests or adult growth projections? No review of parental athletic genes? No DNA tests? I’m being a bit sarcastic but my point is that youngsters are plucked out of school and sent off to training centers by age 9 based on rather arbitrary criteria to be professional athletes. In Wang’s case, she was training eight hours a day by the time she was 11 years old.

Keep in mind that most Chinese families are allowed one child only so these kids are removed from their one-child families to become, literally, arms for the great country of China. I assume Chinese tennis players follow a similar path.

That feels like a pretty tough life to me. What do you think?

Zagreb and Memphis: Picks and Preview

The Acapulco draw isn’t up yet and I have to prepare for my Oscars party. Vanity Fair canceled its usual after-Oscars bash in solidarity with the writer’s strike and I live in Hollywood so I’m having the party instead. I invited Cate Blanchett and Ellen Page. No word on whether they’ll turn up or not.

I’ll do Acapulco and look at the women’s event in Qatar on Monday.

Welcome to the U.S. hard court/European indoor hard court/South American clay court swing of the ATP season. There appear to be three distinct tours playing out in different parts of the world. How are we supposed to build up excitement when players are strung out all over the world – well, not strung out, oh you know what I mean.

Television executives aren’t feeling it either; the coverage is sparse to nonexistent. You could have watched San Jose last week for $39.95 on top of your $60 cable bill and that’s a subject I’ll look at in the future because tournaments are increasingly using the internet to generate income with their own pay-per-view policies. Anyway, enough ranting, let’s get started.

Zagreb (indoor carpet)

Last week’s event in Rotterdam was so topsy turvy that no seeded player reached the quarterfinals. Most distressing of all? Rafael Nadal lost to Andreas Seppi in the second round because, he said, he lost focus. No idea what David Ferrer’s excuse was.

Rotterdam had 8 players in the top 20, Zagreb has no players in the top 20. The top players are all resting up for Dubai and the big money.

I’m desperately looking for someone in the top half of this draw who can beat Ivan Ljubicic because his game has been going downhill and I don’t think he’ll win a tournament this year. Thank heavens Mario Ancic is here. Andreas Seppi was the guy who beat Nadal last week and he beat Ljubicic indoors in Vienna last year but this is indoor carpet, not hard court, and that means the court is fast and slick which is well suited to Ivan’s serve, about the only part of his game that’s still firing.

Ivo Karlovic is in the bottom half of the draw and he could meet Michael Llodra in the second round. Llodra just beat Karlovic in Rotterdam and he beat him here last year so I have to go with Llodra in that matchup.

If Llodra has to meet up with Janko Tipsarevic he’s in trouble because he’s lost to him three straight time but I don’t think that’ll be a problem. I say Mischa Zverev beats Tipsarevic because Zverev took out Ferrer and Philipp Kohlschreiber last week.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is in Fabrice Santoro’s quarter and Garcia-Lopez did get to the semis this week in San Jose but he didn’t beat anyone notable to get there so I say Santoro gets to his second semifinal of the year.

Zagreb Draw

Semifinals: Ljubicic, Ancic, Santoro, Llodra
Finalists: Ancic, Llodra
Winner: Ancic

Memphis (indoor hard)

I picked the finalists in San Jose last week so that ain’t bad. This week has pretty much the same players – five of the top eight seeds are the same – so I should be alright.

Andy Roddick is here because he skips Dubai to rest up for Indian Wells. The problem is that Robin Soderling is waiting for him in the quarterfinals. Soderling has been eating up the ATP since he returned from a wrist injury – he’s in the Rotterdam final – and he was in the final here two years ago, but Roddick has been in the finals twice and also won the title once so I’m going with Roddick again.

Marat Safin is down off the mountain but I don’t think that will mean much. Radek Stepanek is in the San Jose final and the only competition in his quarter is Thomas Johansson. For some reason, Stepanek’s record in the North America is excellent so I’m going with Stepanek again. Boring I know but it’s not my fault. Tell the ATP to shrink its schedule if you want to see more excitement.

I don’t know what’s happening with Tommy Haas. He injured his shoulder recently and he’s looked bad since he came back. His first round opponent, Diego Hartfield, beat him in Delray Beach two weeks ago and John Isner beat him last week. Haas hasn’t been serving well so I’m going to assume that he has a lingering problem and say that Isner comes out of this quarter.

James Blake is a strange case. After reaching the final in 2002, he hasn’t been past the second round since. But there’s no one for him to lose to in his quarter except maybe Sam Querrery, so I’m going to advance him.

Memphis Draw

Semifinals: Roddick, Stepanek, Isner, Blake
Final: Roddick, Blake
Winner: Roddick

A Tennis Career in Six Words or Less

How would you describe Maria Sharapova’s tennis career, or anyone else’s for that matter, in six words or less?

Just before that Ray Davies piece in The New Yorker, there’s a story about a new book called Not Quite What I Was Planning, a book of six word autobiographies. Not Quite What I Was Planning, get it? It’s a six word autobiography.

If I were to write my own six word autobiography it might look like this: “Honest, I’ll eventually get it right.” What about tennis professionals? What would theirs look like? Instead of exactly six words, we’ll allow six words or less.

Maria Sharapova is finally developing a net game or, maybe it’s safer to say, her allergy to the net has improved much as I can now drink milk without, well, you don’t want to know. Still, her game is power so I nominate the following for her career autobiography: “If I could hit it harder…” The obvious unsaid ending is “I would” but we’re only allowed six words.

Roger Federer’s might be “Fly like a butterfly sting like a bee” which is more than six words and is completely stolen from Muhammad Ali, so how about this: “Most dominant except for Tiger.”

Pete Sampras, poor guy, he gets so much grief for his charisma shortcomings so we could go with this: “Everything was boring but my game,” but I prefer, “Will throw up for a win.”

Martina Hingis has now retired to her horses and her boyfriends, but when she was playing, there was no smarter player out there and that little grin of hers let you know that she knew it. Therefore I give you: “The cerebral assassin strikes again.”

In this month’s issue of Tennis View, a new lifestyle magazine by Teresa Thompson, Teresa asks James Blake to complete the following sentence: “I wish journalists would stop asking me…” I’ll let you guess his answer but I will offer you this as his six word tennis autobiography: “Stop asking me about my goals.”

When Daniela Hantuchova turns her back to her opponent at the beginning of each point to psyche herself up, I always assume she’s singing the refrain from the Pointer Sisters song, Yes We Can Can. I imagine her singing, repeatedly: “Yes I can can, can can.”

Many six word autobiographies could describe Ana Kournikova and most of them would focus on her many assets, but here is one that highlights her assets without directly mentioning them: “Who needs titles to be famous?”

Lastly let’s tackle one of the best ever, Chris Evert. She was a conservative little miss in her earlier years. That changed over time as only it could if you were thrown into a locker room with rabble rousers Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, but one thing that never changed was her dominant will. I offer this with all due reverence: “Less than perfect, don’t be ridiculous!”

As you can see, this kind of thing is not exactly my forte so help me out here in two ways:

1. Give us your autobiography in six words or less.
2. Give us an autobiography in six words or less for your favorite and least favorite player.

Best set of autobiographies gets a copy of the book, Not Quite What I Was Planning. For real.

Quick Hit: Chrissie Evert’s Shoes

My sixtieth birthday is coming up next year and I’m planning a birthday party at Kalani Oceanside Retreat in Hawaii. Why not, it’s a huge birthday. Anyway, I’m flying out a band from New York called Paprika and I have one request: I wanna close out the evening by jumping onstage and belting out Lola – the Kinks’ 1970 tranny anthem – with the fantastic musicians in the band.

I can see it now. The breeze off the ocean will float over the beautiful gray-blue Hawaiian evening as everyone chants Lola’s beautiful name and the girls in the band put down their instruments and pick up their drums, come down off the stage and circle the delirious crowd and we dance the night away. Perfection.

Ray Davies wrote Lola and he also sings it. A few weeks ago he was walking around his old haunts in New York with a writer from The New Yorker when he passed the Tip Top shoe store. It turns out that he used to buy his stage shoes there and he bought girls shoes. He bought the largest size he could find from a line of shoes put out by one Chrissie Evert. Yes, that Chrissie Evert.

Who knew?

Acapulco Picks and Preview

Let’s finish up this week’s picks and previews for Acapulco and hopefully I’ll get to Maria Sharapova on Wednesday.

I did pick one finalist and one semifinalist in Buenos Aires last week, otherwise everything is a total bloody mess and the week has barely started. Aj, would you please write the picks next week, you seem to know what’s going on. As you correctly predicted, Michael Llodra has withdrawn from Zagreb.

Not only that, but Fabrice Santoro retired against Olivier Rochus in Zagreb with an elbow problem and in Memphis, John Isner has already lost and James Blake pulled out with a knee injury of some sort. That’s three of my picks down and it’s only Monday. Oh, and Tommy Haas looks like his shoulder is o.k. and he eats Memphis up when he’s healthy.

Acapulco (clay)

It looks like they packed up last week’s tournament in Buenos Aires and shipped it here. David Nalbandianand Potito Starace sit in the first quarter along with two other players who were also in the top quarter at Buenos Aires. Unless Nalbandian is tired from taking the title at Buenos Aires, he should meet Starace in the quarterfinals again.

Unlike last week, I think Starace wins this because the match was close and Nalbandian struggled a few times in Buenos Aires.

Carlos Moya jumped over Juan Monaco in the rankings so Monaco is anchoring the second quarter with Juan Ignacio Chela. Chela won this tournament last year and got to the finals the year before. Agustin Calleri should be his second round opponent and Chela beat him here last year so Chela should get to the quarterfinals.

I’m picking Chela over Monaco because Monaco has a 1-3 record at this tournament and Chela has beaten him the last two times they’ve met.

Igor Andreev lost his first round match to Alberto Montanes. Montanes had a pretty good year on clay last year but he’s 0-4 against Jose Acasuso who’s in his quarter. If Acasuso can’t take out Guillermo Canas, Montanes is 0-2 against Canas.

Canas hasn’t played on clay this year and Acasuso got to the final last week so I’m putting Acasuso in the semifinals.

The bottom quarter is pretty strong. Nicolas Almagro, Filippo Volandri, and Moya are here. Almagro has a slightly better record than Volandri here and he’s beaten Moya in their last two matches so he’s the final semifinalist.

Acapulco Draw

Semifinalists: Starace, Chela, Acasuso, Almagro
Final: Starace, Almagro
Winner: Almagro