Monthly Archives: March 2010

Isner or Querrey – Who’ll Go Farther?

Sam Querrey and John Isner

Sorry, just getting my feet wet at Indian Well so I missed Novak Djokovic going down tamely to Ivan Ljubicic today on an outer court. I was riveted to the Rafael Nadal and John Isner match.

See that image above? Isner (on the right) is three inches taller than Sam Querrey but look how much longer his limbs are. I’d love to see a tale of the tape comparison between those two like they do for boxers. And I’m curious. Who’ll go farther – Isner or Querrey?

First, let’s look at the match. Long about 5-5 in the first set I’m surprised by how much Isner goes for his shots and how good his forehand is. Here’s Rafa’s take on his game:

He has good movement around the court. He can improve his volley but he volleys well and he has a very good forehand so it’s gonna be really difficult to stop him if he keeps improving.

Okay, so I’ll give Isner the edge over Querrey for movement. With Isner serving at 5-5 in the first set, Rafa tightened the noose a bit. He hit a deep return that Isner flubbed and then hit a net cord that drew Isner to the net whereupon Rafa passed him. Bad luck but it’s all in the timing at the top level of tennis and Rafa is a master at it.

Isner suffered through the usual lull after a first set loss – why is it that a tall tall player hanging his head looks so mournful compared to a shorty? – but he managed to hold on long enough for Rafa to play a horrible game in the fourth game of the second set to go up a break. As someone in the media center blurted out, “Blimey.”

Isner took the second set but lost his serve early in the third set and here’s the problem: Isner is ranked #48 in converting break points while Querrey is #10. Isner couldn’t put enough pressure on Rafa to break him and when he did try, he repeatedly overhit. Match to Rafa in three sets.

Querrey has played Rafa three times and every time he’s taken a set off him. Querrey beat Isner for the Memphis title this year but Isner beat Querrey here in the third round. Querrey is probably the better clay court player but Isner has already passed Querrey for career high ranking by two places at #20.

They look like twins to me and given the current state of tennis in the U.S. and its long in the tooth top players, maybe the question isn’t who’ll be better but do either of these players have a chance of matching Andy Roddick’s run at the top? And can either bring home a slam?

If they’d both turned up at the same time Roddick came along, yes, they’d have a chance because they have better all court games than Roddick and only slightly worse serves. I’ll give them a few slam semifinals on hard court and a some hard court Masters titles but there are too many all court players with incredible reflexes for me to give them any more.

I’m gonna say that Roddick and James Blake will be replaced by two players who’ll consistently hang around between #10 and #20 but they won’t touch their forebears combined record for appearances in the final eight at the year end tournament.

“Always a Girl”

U.S. Open Player Party Presented by Heineken - Arrivals

Heard at the lunch table outside the media/player’s restaurant today – a new term: Nadal years. If a dog ages seven years for every human year, then Nadal ages two years for every year of an average professional tennis player’s career due to his hard style of play.

Bob Larson of joked about taking credit for the term but it actually came from Lornie Kuhle who was sitting next to him. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he was Jimmy Connors longtime friend and practice partner.

Nicole Vaidisova retired from the WTA tour yesterday at the age of 20. Yes, 20, and the retirement is not due to injury. Vaidisova joined the tour in 2003 when she was 13 years old so with a career length of seven years she’s operating in Nadal years too but for a different reason: the pressure that comes with the current tennis star making machinery.

There are lots of things we could point to – sixth youngest title winner and 12th youngest player to reach top ten – but let’s look, instead, at Kim Clijsters response to the retirement announcement. After Clijsters lost to Alisa Kleybanova on Monday, a journalist suggested to Clijsters that Vaidisova never seemed to have fun playing. Here’s Clijster’s response:

I think with her we never really had that feeling that she was out there for the fun of it. I think she felt a lot of pressure as well.

Clijster couldn’t say whether the pressure came from her entourage or from Vaidisova herself in the form of expecting perfection. Either one would be enough make you want to run away and get married which is exactly what Vaidisova is doing. She’ll marry Radek Stepanek later this year.

Vaidisova also had the requisite parental coaching figure in her stepfather and his comment on the retirement was rather interesting:

Her agent told me last week. She’s fed up with tennis and that’s understandable. She started very young.

If it’s that understandable shouldn’t we develop young players more slowly? Granted, it’s expensive to send a kid to a tennis academy, but if a player doesn’t look like she’s having fun when she’s younger, when will she have fun? Clijsters also said something else about Vaidisova:

You know, she was always a girl, especially in matches, was very down and showed a lot of emotions.

Forgetting the gender stereotyping, especially from one of our own, that tells me that Vadisova’s tennis matured long before she did and when there’s that much of a lag between the two, early success means later distress.

Baggy is Back, Almost

BNP Paribas Open

I’m not sure whether I’m more surprised that Roger Federer lost or Marcos Baghdatis won last night here at Indian Wells. Wait, I am sure. It’s the latter.

Baggy walked on the court to face Roger last night after a long and bumpy road that tumbled him out of the top 100 at one point. Every time he stepped onto the court it seemed like something else broke – a knee or his back or, after he won Sydney earlier this year, his shoulder in the form of tendinitis.

Is Baggy injury prone or is he having trouble figuring out that hitting the top ten in a sport with an 11-month season requires prodigious practice habits? Baggy reminds me of Allen Iverson, the recently retired American basketball player who was as famous for the passion and heart he showed during games as he was for his disdain for practice. Iverson will be forever remembered for a two minute rant in which he spits out the word “practice” 19 ½ times. As if 19 weren’t enough.

Baggy is all heart on the court too. When Roger started overhitting towards the end of the second set – Roger looked like he was rushing so he could get on to something that counts, a slam maybe? – Baggy not only took advantage of the errors but he valiantly fought off a number of tough shots off the baseline. And, except for a bad game early in the fourth set, his serve was consistently good.

Baggy also fought off 6 of 8 break points but we expect that because that’s what performers do – they rise to the occasion. It’s the boring stuff they have problems with such as focus. When someone asked Baggy if growing up had something to do with his win over Roger he said:

Experience. Experience. Experience…. I think I needed some time to understand those things, and I hope I continue this way.

Intoning the benefits of experience is a whole lot better than complaining about practice but I would recommend that Baggy make friends with Andy Murray and join him for his offseason sprints in muggy hot insufferable Miami. Murray has had his share of injuries too and he still gets exhausted as shown by his recent one month break after the Australian Open, but Murray consistently works at his conditioning and so far it’s pushed him to two slam finals, one more than Baggy.

And Baggy clearly has more work to do. Today he went down to Tommy Robredo in three sets after bageling Robredo in the middle set.

Depression and Dubai

trophy for Djokovic

[correction appended]


I’ve had a weird weekend. It’s been all about depression. Not my own but our current understanding of it.

First there was the review of a book which concludes that we are not, contrary to popular opinion, overmedicating our children with Ritalin, Prozac, etc. And this is despite the fact that the author went into the book convinced otherwise.

Then an article by Louis Menand in The New Yorker about the medicalization of depression. Studies show no discernible difference in recovery between people who take antidepressants versus those that get therapy but, Menand asks, would you really want to take a pill to avoid mourning the loss of a loved one? No, I would not.

And now, an article in the New York Times suggesting that treating depression with antidepressants can take away a valuable opportunity to solve difficult problems in our lives. Reminds me of my friends who skip the depression of ending a relationship by immediately jumping into another one thus keeping themselves in an endless pattern of bad relationships because they learn absolutely nothing from their past mistakes. Honestly, the only thing keeping me from doing the same thing is my difficulty in finding dates.

According to the last article, a helpful treatment for mild depression is writing a personal essay about your feelings. I’m depressed about Dubai. I’m going to write about it.


Roger Federer didn’t show up in Dubai, neither did Rafael Nadal, and though Andy Murray did, he used it as a practice session for the slams and went out in the second round.

Juan Martin Del Potro has a wrist injury as does Nikolay Davydenko. Novak Djokovic isn’t sure he wants to be number one. He pulled out the title over Mikhail Youzhny today in three sets but he has a ton of points to defend in the coming months and doesn’t look up to the task.

Most depressing of all: Dubai was presented with the award for the 2009 ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the Year.

Let me think about this for a minute. Dubai refused entry to Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich in 2008 though we don’t know why because neither the players, nor their management, nor the tournament, nor the ATP would talk about it. Dubai refused entry to Shahar Peer in 2009 because, the tournament organizers said, they couldn’t guarantee Peer’s safety.

One week later Andy Ram was given a visa to play in the men’s event and thus Dubai is crowned tournament of the year.

Dubai takes care of its players. It’s a rich tournament that plays hefty appearance fees and it has great attendance, but what was the ATP thinking? The ATP and WTA may have played their diplomatic cards correctly by allowing the men and women’s events in Dubai to continue in 2008 and 2009 after players were denied entry. Clearly they were successful because Ram got his visa and Peer played in this year’s event.

But the timing of this award makes it look like the ATP is rewarding Dubai for something it should have done long ago. And it’s not like Dubai doesn’t feel loved. This is its sixth Tournament of the Year award and 14th ATP award. I can’t imagine the players are happy about this and there are three player representatives on the ATP Board of Directors. Were they consulted?
[correction: Scratch that. The players vote on their favorite tournament and this is the one they choose. Now I can be mad at the players too. What were they thinking?]

The sports world can’t help but find itself smack dab in the middle of the world’s political conflicts. Last year alone the Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden had to be played to an empty stadium due to widespread protests in Sweden, and Australia refused to play in India after terrorists attacked Mumbai in late 2008.

This is a tough thing for the tennis world to negotiate and there are no easy answers. But the Tournament of the Year award should have been easy. The ATP should have had the spine to give it to someone else.