Monthly Archives: January 2009

Federer Survives, Gasquet’s Lionheart

Roger Federer go to the quarterfinals but he’s looking shaky and Richard Gasquet needs a few anatomy lessons.

2009 Australian Open: Day 7

As I was getting ready to go to bed last night I saw that Roger Federer was down two sets to none to Tomas Berdych in his fourth round match at the Australian Open. I was surprised to see Berdych’s name in that line score but not so surprised to see Roger there. Roger has already lost to Andy Murray twice this year and though he probably treated those events as tuneup time as he likes to ease into the season, he can’t have missed the psychological importance of losing his last two sets 6-2 to Murray who has now beaten him four straight times.

And here’s another four. This is only the fourth time Roger has come back from two sets down to win a match in his career, most likely because he didn’t often need to. Now he does. Roger broke Berdych at 5-4 in the third set to get one set back and normally, I would have gone to bed thinking he’d pull it out. It is Berdych after all. He’s been ranked as high as number nine but has reached a total of one slam quarterfinal his entire career. Now you can see why the ATP changed the way rankings are calculated to favor good results at big events.

Instead I slept restlessly but I needn’t have. Roger pulled out some magic and he was already up 3-1 in the fourth set when he hit a slice backhand sorta drop shot that left Berdych flat-footed. Those were the days weren’t they? You knew you’d see something magnificent in every match. That slice/dropshot was part of the problem, however, because Roger was down two sets because he was spraying his hard core offensive shots all over the place, and he got back into the match partially because Berdych made errors on critical points. And then, at 4-2 in the fourth set, Berdych tweaked his already injured left leg and he spent the rest of the match trying to end points as soon as possible.

That worked better than it should have. Roger needed a bunch of aces to hold serve and win the fourth set when he should have been running Berdych’s shots down. Roger looked more like his old self in the fifth set but I’m telling you, I’d put a few hundred bucks on Juan Martin Del Potro beating Roger in the next round, and I’d wager $500 on Novak Djokovic in the round after that if I’m wrong about Del Potro. I believe online gambling is illegal in the US else I’d ask for takers.

As soon as I saw the Chileans in the crowd explode with pleasure after Fernando Gonzalez hit a hard shot down the line at the beginning of the third set tiebreaker, I knew Richard Gasquet was in trouble. Gasquet had won the first two sets of the third round match but he’s been here before, and the situation goes to the heart, so to speak, of Gasquet’s career at the moment: he’s searching for his lion heart and Dorothy is nowhere to be seen.

In April of last year, Gasquet bagged out of a Davis Cup match against Andy Roddick even though France desperately needed him and it got worse from there. He seemed to have forgotten the reason he plays tennis. After failing to win a match in Rome or Hamburg, he took off a month to find it. He changed coaches and headed into the grass season with a renewed sense of purpose and the same root problem. He got up two sets on Murray at Wimbledon then lost the third set tiebreaker, lost the fourth set 6-2, and lost the match.

The root problem is clear: failure to show courage when the game calls for it. And is it a cultural problem or a systemic problem? Has Gasquet been playing tennis on the strength of others’ expectations rather than his own burning desire? Have those expectations crippled him at big moments? Or is he a very talented tennis player who just doesn’t have the mental fortitude to consistently reach the later rounds of a slam?

Gonzo thought he’d won the third set tiebreaker 7-5, but the linesperson made a late out call on a Gonzo volley and there was no Hawkeye on Margaret Court Arena to review the call. Someone, of course, yelled out right in the middle of Gasquet’s service motion but he managed to get a match point. Could he close it out?

No, but he made a beautiful volley for a winner to get to 10-10 and he and Gonzalez put on a better fight than you’ll see on HBO pay per view boxing any day. Gonzalez took the last two points of the tiebreaker to win it 12-10 and Gasquet lost the fourth set 6-2 – look familiar?, but this was a knockdown drag out fight of the highest order. Both players limped through the fifth set on troublesome toes and both players were grandstanding for their people. Gasquet actually did a victory dance when he got two break points at 4-4 in the fifth set, but Gonzo put in three good serves to get to 5-4 and put the Chileans into momentary heaven.

Gasquet had done something wonderful by this time. He’d earned the respect of the Chileans. They still yelled crazy for their guy but they were respectfully quiet for the points and Gasquet had whipped up the naturally more reticent French crowd to a respectable level of competitive craziness.

Gasquet got a break point at 7-7 – there’s no fifth set tiebreaker here – but Gonzo attacked the net to save it, and on the next point he uncorked a fabulous passing shot that left Gasquet with a rueful smile on his face. Gonzo was up 10-9 when he lunged for a winner off a Gasquet serve wide to get a match point. Gasquet came back with a hammer forehand winner just inside the line and then let out a piercing scream of relief. Gonzo finally caught on that Gasquet was living at the net – 99 approaches for the match and that’s no typo – and hit a lob for his second match point then finally put an end to this magnificent match.

A flare went off in the middle of the Chileans and it looked like the aftermath of an Israel air strike for a while there. Red smoke filled the arena. How the hell did they get a flare inside? Jeez, don’t they have security checks down there? Do I have to start taking a gas mask to tennis matches now?

Nobody who saw this match could say that Gasquet doesn’t have a big heart but maybe that’s not what he’s looking for. If a lion heart gives you courage, what body part is it that gives you eminent domain – the unshakable feeling that the match is yours for the taking? I think it’s somewhere up there in our noggin. Maybe scientists will find an area of the brain called eminent domain.

Until that time, Gasquet should be conducting his own research into the subject.

Honestly, I missed seeing Marion Bartoli take out Jelena Jankovic by the shocking score of 6-1, 6-4. What the hell happened? Someone, please, check in. And speaking of misses, despite my prediction that Jelena Dokic would not return to the upper echelon of the sport, she rolled into the quarterfinals with a three set victory over Alisa Kleybanova. Hmmmph.

Has Dokic Run Out of Time?

Jelena Dokic is one a great run at the Australian Open. Is it too late for her to get back to the top?

Sports News - January 23, 2009

We’ve had precious few upsets at this year’s Australian Open and no big ones yet, so, to my mind, Jelena Dokic is the story here so far. Sadly, it’s an old story. Abusive parents are as old as time and, I would submit, a subject of public discussion only in the past half century. Okay, it’s there in the bible, but I mean public discussion leading to corrective policies

In the tennis world it’s mostly women players who have the abusive parent syndrome and that’s because they develop quicker than men physically to the point that a 14 year old professional is not at all uncommon. It’s harder to control a strapping 17 year old male athlete. Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce joined the tour at age 14 and they both managed to recover from their family drama in time to win two slams. Dokic I’m not so sure about.

In 2000, the WTA suspended her disturbed father, Damir, for drunken and violent behavior in the players’ lounge at Wimbledon. After Dokic dropped her father and hired a new coach, Damir accused the new coach of kidnapping her. In 2006, he claimed that he was going to kidnap Dokic and bring her back from Australia to Serbia, the family’s home country. At the same time, he said he’d even thought about killing an Australian as revenge for the country brainwashing his daughter.

Amidst all this, Dokic understandably fell apart. After her first round win here over Tamira Paszek – her first victory in a grand slam since 2003 and remember, people, she was once ranked number four in the world – she covered an entire pain cycle of family issues that are unique only in that athletes are in the unenviable position of having to work through these family matters well enough to resume their career before their bodies give out. Here’s what she said:

I went through hell and back. I battled severe depression for about two years. Didn’t play for months at a time and was really seriously thinking about not playing. It was a tough time in my life. I had a lot to go through, a lot of family issues. I don’t talk to my father, I haven’t for years. I talk to my Mom, we are mending that relationship. It’s really a miracle for me. It’s real emotional to win today. [For] what I had to go through, it’s really great to have this win and I don’t think a lot of people know what it means to me.

Dokic took out top twenty player Anna Chakvetadze in the second round and that was surprising because you’d think there might have been an emotional letdown after the first round. But then she took out number 12 ranked Carolyn Wozniacki in the third round and now she’s starting to look like the player who beat number one ranked Martina Hingis in the first round at Wimbledon in 1999 – a huge, huge upset at the time.

It looks like Dokic has just jumped out of nowhere but she played a full season last year and ended up with a 35-10 record. Having said that, she only beat three players in the top 100 and those victories were all in the first tournament of the year. She didn’t beat a top 100 player the rest of the season. So, has she run out of time?

If the question is: Has Dokic run out of time to reach the upper echelons of the sport and return to the number four ranking and get to a semifinal or two at a slam, I’d have to edge towards saying yes, she’s run out of time. It may seem like I’m being a spoilsport, but in that complex world of inner confidence, she’s lost a very valuable commodity: collective momentum. When a young player comes along and knocks off top players and rises up the rankings, fans around the world sit in awe and expectation. You can feel it in the crowd, in the media, in the tennis blogs, and in the player’s home tennis association which can be crucial in providing support to help young players develop. As Dokic said in an interview in October 2008:

I feel like I am starting from zero. You lose everything that you had before. The only thing you have to go on is experience. You lose the confidence and the match play and everything, so you really are starting from zero.

When you lose all that and you lose, or purposely remove yourself from, your family’s support, it’s a lonely world out there. Mary Pierce suffered with an abusive father and I can imagine it helped immensely that her brother David coached her for many years. One of Dokic’s great regrets is the lost contact with her younger brother. Patty Schnyder’s parents hired a cult expert to extract her from a cultish relationship with her coach and she ended up marrying the cult expert. At least it was an upgrade. The point is that the support has to come from somewhere if you’re going to compete in such a high pressure profession.

If the question is: Has Dokic run out of time to have a professional tennis career, say a ranking in the mid 100s over the next few years, I’d say no. Looking at her play now, I think she can be a solid player and she’s only 25 years old so she’s got four or five years left.

It’s just that I can’t see a third round run at a slam happening with any regularity. The yearly grind is long and hard enough and then you have to rise to the occasion in the upper level tournaments and once again in the slams. Unaccountably, Dokic took off last September and most of October and only played one more event the rest of the year though there was no report of injury.

I think she’s in for a lot more ups and downs, the kind that mark most careers, especially mid-level careers. And a mid-level career would be a huge victory in itself. It’s just that it could have been so much more.

Carla The Baby Faced Assassin Takes Venus Out

Carla Suarez Navarro took out Venus Williams at the Australian Open. David Nalbandian is long gone too and is there any better player who didn’t won a slam?

Sports News - January 22, 2009

I fell in love with Carla Suarez Navarro at the French Open last year when she got to the quarterfinals in her first appearance in a slam main draw as a qualifier. She got that baby face and I love baby faced assassins. She’s baby sized too at only 5ft 4in (1.62m), and most people not named Justine Henin would have been intimidated by 6ft 1in (1.85m) Venus Williams but it didn’t seem to bother Carla and now Venus is out of the Australian Open.

After Carla hit some crucial shots at the beginning of the third set she turned to her box and did half a fist pump then got back to work. Still, she managed to find herself serving just to stay in the match at 5-2 in that third set. She got through that game then found herself down a match point in her next service game. She kicked in a first serve which threw Venus off, but Venus messed up two more returns. I know Venus was anxious because she was hitting everything long and she hit a double fault. Baby Carla was the cool one tonight, not the veteran.

As much as I love Carla, she hasn’t done much outside clay court events and that’s a testament to how slow the courts are here. Oddsmakers had Venus and Serena as favorites, but I crossed Venus off as soon as I saw Andy Roddick getting into protracted rallies. The Aussies got rid of the Rebound Ace courts but now they have a surface that doesn’t do much justice to their hard serving younger players.

Carla borrowed her backhand from Ivan Ljubicic who made news on a few fronts this week. First of all he played in the best match of the tournament so far, a four setter with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that was tighter than – as Vic the Brick, a Fox Sports announcer, often says – an Aretha Franklin jumpsuit. Did you hear her bring it at Obama’s inauguration? And check out that hat, who could not love you Aretha?

The first three sets were tight anyway: 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (8/7). Ljubicic tired out in the fourth one and maybe that’s because this has been a busy week for him. There was a raucous player meeting before the tournament began and Ljubicic was in the thick of it because he’s a player representative on the board of directors.

Guillermo Canas in particular was mad because the new tour structure gives the higher ranked players a bigger share of the prize money. The higher prize money was the buyoff for getting top players to accept higher penalties for missing required events. Players are mad that Ljubicic allowed this to happen on his watch. Canas probably also wasn’t happy with Ljubicic for saying that players who served drug suspensions should not be awarded wild cards right after Canas came off a two year drug suspension. Canas is still very mad about that suspension and he expressed it by getting up and walking out of the meeting when Stuart Miller, the ITF’s drug guy, got up to speak.

Ljubicic resigned from the Board of Directors after his first round win here under that tired old excuse of wanting to spend more time with his family. I wish someone would just come out and tell the truth now and then. I’m actually glad to see that the SEC – the U.S. agency that oversees the stock market – is investigating Apple CEO Steven Jobs to see whether he made misleading statements about his health. I was just about to buy one of those aluminum Mac Book Pros and I want to know if the guy’s gonna be around or not.

Anyway, if I was Ivan I would have thrown some crap back at the players. He’s been working as a representative of the players for a long time and if they want to complain, they should get more more involved rather than walk out. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic did the right thing: they got themselves elected to the player’s council. Ivan deserves better treatment.

I’ve been watching Yen-Hsun Lu out of the corner of my eye for the past few years. He took out Andy Murray at the Olympics last year but that was probably Murray’s fault for not being prepared for the conditions. Lu popped up again for another big victory, this time taking out David Nalbandian in the second round here and I wondered if I should, similarly, blame Nalbandian for the loss.

It’s not like Nalbandian doesn’t have his rhythm yet. For sure, Argentina’s Davis Cup loss must have been tough to swallow and Nalbandian got into it with Juan Martin Del Potro in the Davis Cup locker room for playing too much tennis in the fall season instead of saving himself for Davis Cup – Del Potro pulled out with an injury after losing his first Davis Cup match. But Nalbandian took the title in Sydney last week so he looked like his head was back on straight. On the other hand, I was a bit shocked to realize that he hasn’t reached the quarterfinals at a slam since 2006

That’s all about conditioning. Running around on indoor fast courts playing short points suits him fine, but Nalbandian’s not up for those best of five outdoor matches in the searing heat. So I will blame him. I got excited at the end of 2007 when he won the Masters events in Madrid and Paris, but I think it’s now more or less official, Nalbandian goes on the list of the best players never to win a slam.

Who else is on the list? Let me think.

Todd Martin was the first player who came to my mind. He reached two slam finals and four semifinals and that’s not bad. Marcelo Rios did Martin one better by getting to number one in the rankings – Martin reached number four – and Rios may have been cheated out of his slam. Petr Korda beat him in the 1998 Australian Open final then tested positive for steroids at Wimbledon that year. However, Rios had no slam semifinals, just the one final, so Martin would win that pairing if we were doing bracketology.

Nalbandian looks to be just a hair behind Martin with one final and four semifinals but he edges closer when you consider that he has a year-end championship and Martin doesn’t. Alex Corretja might come next though his two finals and one semifinal were all at the French Open. He does have a year-end championship though. I’m sure there are many more. Help me out here. Who else am I forgetting from 1997 forward?

It makes you marvel at those who have won a slam doesn’t it, and even more for those with lots of them.

Will We Have Two First Time Winners at the Aussie Open ?

We haven’t had too many first time slam winners in the past few years, especially on the men’s side, could we end up with two of them at the Australian Open?

2009 Australian Open: Day 2

Our little enclave in the middle of Hollywood, Tinseltown, put up a big television screen in front of the Beachwood Market and gathered at 9am this morning to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. This tells you the importance of today because I’ve lived through quite a number of presidents by now and I’ve never seen any community I lived in join together and bear witness to an inauguration.

There was also a dose of reality. One of my neighbors had to leave early because, he said, “I’ve got to get to work. I have to lay off a few people today.”

I was thinking that Serena Williams might have turned up at an inauguration ball in some stunning outfit or other until I remembered that Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to steer clear of politics. In any case, she’s in Melbourne looking for her fourth Australian Open title and the cycles favor her. She’s won it every other year since 2003.

She looks like a deadhead with her quasi tie-dyed tennis outfit, albeit in very undead shades of the same color – aqua blue – that make her dress blend into the court at times. I almost wondered if she’d dive into the court and cool off like those kids who catapult into the basketball court in the Sprite “Liquid Freedom” ad . Would that be surreal or what? It certainly would have gone through my mind, especially as you’d think the organizers would stop torturing the players and close the roof under these flaming conditions. Isn’t that why the roof’s there?

Elena Dementieva looked like frozen fruit juice in her all orange outfit as she hugged a long bag of ice to her chest during the changeover. If I’d only seen her serve and had to guess which player it was, I might have been wrong because her serve actually now looks like a serve. There’s a knee bend, a trunk twist, and a toss that puts the ball more or less where it should be. Most of all, she serves with a nice rhythm, but her serving problems are not all physical. She lost her serve six times in her match with Kristina Barrois before winning in three sets.

Elena and Serena are the story here since defending champion Maria Sharapova isn’t quite finished rehabbing the tear in her shoulder and Ana Ivanovic is still shaky. I love, love Jelena Jankovic but I don’t have her winning a slam against a heavy hitter like Serena. On the other hand, Elena, like Jelena, has never won a slam and that brings up today’s question: Will the Australian Open end with titles for two first time winners?

Not on the women’s side. Elena is in Serena’s half of the draw so Jelena could very well reach the final, but my money is on Serena and here’s why – as if I need any more reasons than she’s already given us. She’s in shape and she’s feisty. She got mad early in her first round match when she couldn’t convert break points and then she threw in some attitude. After slamming a short lob into the court and over the court boundary in the second set, she struck a pose and stared down her already overpowered opponent, Meng Yuan, in case she needed any more convincing that Serena is a bad dude. Serena passed through to the second round in straight sets.

On the men’s side: maybe. Maybe Andy Murray will win it. I wouldn’t put my money on him but I wouldn’t put money on anyone else on the men’s side either. People said Murray lost last year’s US Open final to Federer because he was exhausted from his semifinal victory over Nadal and he was, but Federer also out-maneuvered him with the short ball. Murray played a lot of four set matches and one five set match in that slam. If you look at Federer’s slam resume, you’ll find very few four set matches and precious few five set matches, and that could be an advantage in Australia with the court temperature hovering around 120 degrees Fahrenheit/49 degrees Celsius. If Murray does the same thing here – and long matches are one of the hazards of being more of a counterpuncher than a puncher, Federer has a chance to tie Pete Sampras with 14 slams.

Or, Murray could win by default. He’s beaten Federer twice this year already and as you can see, Federer now needs help to win a slam in the form of, for example, an exhausted finals opponent. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a bad back, Novak Djokovic is screwing around with a new racket, Juan Marin Del Potro isn’t quite ready as he himself said this week, and Rafael Nadal’s body is unlikely to weather these broiling conditions.

Who would you put your money on?

TennisTV Has Arrived On the Web

Having trouble finding a broadcast feed of your favorite tournament? Take heart, maybe it’s one of the many events will broadcast online this year.

There’s so much going on at the moment that I can barely figure out where to direct my attention. Tomorrow the US will swear in its first black president. My local village – meaning the eclectic group of people who live up under the Hollywood sign – will drag out a large TV and gather in front of the village grocery store to watch the swearing in. As the event announcement said, it’s not something to watch alone.

Then there’s the Australian Open which started on Sunday Aussie time/Saturday US time. A slimmer Andy Roddick is through the first round, a taller Juan Martin del Potro is also through, Gilles Muller beat Feliciano Lopez 16-14 in the fifth set (that adds up to 30 games by the way), and I’m gearing up to see if young Aussie Bernard Tomic can possibly emerge from the tennis-mad media blitz down under with his psyche intact. As far as I can tell, his first ever professional match was the qualifying event for last year’s Aussie Open and this year they gave him a wild card into the main draw. Oy, what are doing to this boy?

I will get to all that in the next few days but first I want to look at the state of tennis broadcasting by looking at, a new internet channel that will broadcast 35 ATP and WTA tournaments in 2009 and even more in 2010. (Here’s a list of this year’s tournaments.) No longer will I have to stay up until 2am watching camel racing in Dubai so I can track down an illegal feed of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships and then, when I find it, strain my aging eyes looking at a grainy postage stamp-sized screen trying to figure out if the ball was in or out since, for some reason or other, I never found time to learn Arabic and thus do not understand a word the commentators say.

No, I can just pay $129.95 for a year’s subscription and watch the ATP Masters 1000 events, both the women’s and men’s year-end championships, and a number of other events in between. Or I can pay $84.95 to watch just the men’s events or $69.95 to watch just the women’s events. There are lots of issues to look at here and in this day and age, first and foremost is economics.

I already pay a premium to get the Tennis Channel from my satellite provider and now I’ll have to pay more. Then there’s the technology. If I watch a match on my satellite TV feed, I can record it on my digital video recorder. I can’t do that on the web. Yet. There are a number of programs that will record directly off a computer screen but they frequently freeze up and, in any case, you’d have to get up in the middle of the night and start the recording mechanically because their scheduling features don’t work yet.

I don’t know about TennisTV yet because its season doesn’t start until early February with the WTA event in Paris and the ATP event in Rotterdam, but the ATP Masters Series TV website charged an extra fee to watch past events when it was broadcasting the Masters events online.

Having said that, I sometimes pay a fee to watch a web feed for one of the many, many events I can’t find on TV and those events are more likely to turn up on TennisTV. And that’s how I think this will all work out.

Sooner rather than later, we’ll be watching every tennis match online. Sporting events, and broadcasting in general, are migrating to the internet. If you missed an episode of the Simpsons you can point your computer at and catch up. Or you can take your iPod out of your pocket and indulge in Entourage on Itunes. Rather than having to pay for hunting shows on the Versus channel so you can get the sports package which has the Tennis Channel, you’ll be able to pay for tennis matches only online.

And that’s a good thing because, currently, satellite and cable providers have too much power. I recently had to sign up for a new two year contract just because I upgraded to HD. I liked watching the summer Olympics online at my leisure and I’m going to enjoy watching tennis online.

Oh yeah, and speaking of the Aussie Open, rather than switching back and forth and picking up points here and there in matches featuring, mostly, US tennis players on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, I can sit down with my computer and pick a match and watch every point from beginning to end. How cool is that?