Category Archives: Culture

Is Tennis Boring?

Not the game of tennis itself. That’s not boring.

Serena and Venus Williams took home a pair of slams and we had a fantastic final at the women’s year-end-championships. Roger Federer still got his three slams but he missed out on four Masters Series titles by losing consecutive matches twice to an unexpected player. One of those unexpected players, David Nalbandian, not only resurrected his career, but he improbably took it further than it had ever gone before.

It’s not over yet. Next week Andy Roddick gets a chance to lead the U.S. to its first Davis Cup title since 1995 and leave his mark on the game as one of the great Davis Cup players of all time.

No, it’s the other stuff that’s missing. Look at the rest of the sports world, for instance.

Barry Bonds was indicted and Michael Vick reported early for his jail sentence in the past week. Alex Rodriguez’ superagent screwed up and upstaged the baseball World Series thereby damaging A-Rod’s reputation so badly that A-Rod sidestepped his agent and asked the Yankees to take him back. University of Alabama football coach Lou Saban got in trouble for comparing two straight losses to disasters such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. England lost to Croatia knocking them out of the 2008 European Championship and fired its coach.

Tennis has had a few drug suspensions this year but, hell, the entire peloton at the Tour de France was probably juicing up their blood. Last year’s champion was barnstorming the U.S. to raise money for his defense fund and this year’s yellow jersey holder was sent home because he’d lied about his whereabouts to avoid pre-race testing then got caught lying about his lies.

Tennis does have a gambling controversy. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of the investigation into whether he fixed a match and Alessio Di Mauro got a nine month suspension for laying down $15-20 bets on tennis but that’s all we got. Baseball had the Black Sox scandal which had eight players fixing games. And they also had Pete Rose who bet on baseball and lost his guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame.

Tennis is like ice skating: we have one criminal. Ice skating has Tonya Harding and we have Roscoe Tanner, though he’s old news. There is actually some new news about him and I’ll get to that in a few weeks.

Is tennis culturally relevant? Other sports are.

Baseball reflects cultural and political changes in the U.S. The number of Latino ballplayers is increasing yearly while the number of black ballplayers is decreasing. That reflects the U.S. culture as the Latino community is passing the black community both in economic and political power. The NBA reflects the growth of the global market with its high number of international stars including a new star from China this year, Yi Jianlian.

Same thing in tennis. Tennis in the U.S. is losing popularity and losing tournaments while the huge Asian market is getting new tournaments. Shanghai gets a new Masters Series event in 2009 and Roger Federer and Pete Sampras flew all over Asia – not Europe or the U.S. – for their barnstorming exhibition this week.

Tennis is exciting to watch and more or less culturally relevant. Two out of three ain’t bad don’t you think?

Celebrity Tennis: Gambling, Blow, and Poison

Join us for the WTA Championships final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 11th, 2:00pm Los Angeles/5pm New York.

Gambling, cocaine and poison provide more than enough content for a celebrity tennis show.

If Jim Rome is talking about tennis, then tennis is definitely cool again. Rome is the spoken word king of daily sports radio in the U.S. and he talks about tennis about as often as he talks about the ballet.

Why was he talking about tennis? How about this: Tommy Haas believes he may have been poisoned during Germany’s Davis Cup semifinal against Russia in Moscow earlier this year. German Davis Cup player Alexander Waske reported that a Russian man casually told him that Haas had been poisoned.

Haas became sick after losing his first match in the event and had to withdraw. He plans to get medical tests to see if there is any evidence of poison in his system: “I want to find out if any poison can be traced or confirmed,” he said. The International Tennis Federations (ITF) – which runs Davis Cup, is investigating the charge.

There’s a reason that gets a gazillion hits every day. If you want to know everything about O.J. Simpson’s latest legal problem or read Big Daddy Drew’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo, that’s the place to go. Controversy sells. Sex sells.

The top online celebrity site,, is so popular that it now has its own television show. If breaking news means cutting to Britney Spears making an illegal left turn from Coldwater Canyon onto Mulholland Drive – an actual feature on TMZ this week, be sure to tune in.

Celebrity, controversy, and sex are now making they’re way to the tiny screen – your cellphone. CBS’s mobile entertainment division introduced a show focusing on fashion and gadgets but they scrapped that idea when they noticed that viewer numbers went up when celebrities were on screen. They now have a twice daily show focusing on celebrity gossip.

Don’t think tennis isn’t affected by the world of cellphone entertainment. I can now watch Wimbledon on my tiny screen. All I have to do is hook up a Slingbox, record Wimbledon on my DVR, and the Slingbox will beam Andy Roddick to my cellphone screen. It doesn’t matter if I’m lying in my backyard or cruising the back roads of Baja.

If original tennis programming makes it to cellphones, it’ll probably focus on players such as Martina Hingis who recently retired after testing positive for cocaine – known on the street as “blow” – and retired. Check out this hilarious cartoon. It shows Martina snorting the sideline of a tennis court.

Dour, camera shy Nikolay Davydenko would be a regular on our Celebrity Tennis show. Suspicious betting patterns on Davydenko’s match with Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August of this year kicked off the current controversy over gambling on the professional tennis tour.

This week’s Davydenko episode would focus on the ATP’s demand that Davydenko turn over records for all of the phones he owns or uses. Davydenko’s lawyers have refused to comply.

The next episode would feature an interview with Davydenko’s lawyer, Professor Frank Immenga, who blasted the ATP this week for conducting a witch hunt against Davydenko by fining him $2,000 for “not trying” in one match and warning him about the same infraction in another. I have to agree with the professor on this one. The betting pattern in the August match clearly showed the fingerprint of a fixed match, but if the ATP can’t prove that the match was fixed and Davydenko was involved, don’t hound the guy to death.

Since Andy Roddick actually is a celebrity, he’d turn up on Celebrity Tennis because he complained in his blog this week that he was fined $20,000 for skipping Paris while Davydenko was only fined $2,000 for not trying. Roddick said he was recovering from a “tweaked” ankle and wanted to be sure he was prepared for next week’s year end championships in Shanghai. As you can see, Roddick didn’t accuse Davydenko of not trying but he did have a problem with the ATP:

…in essence they [the ATP] are setting the precedent that preparing and getting healthy for their year end event is worth a 20 grand fine, but tanking (again I have no opinion on guilt or innocence here) only warrants 2 grand….

Alessio di Mauro would be the star in today’s episode of Celebrity Tennis. The Italian tennis pro was suspended from the tour for nine months and fined $60,000 by the ATP for betting on tennis matches from November 2006 to June of this year. Di Mauro never bet on his own matches and reportedly his bets were small.

Wow, maybe I should produce Celebrity Tennis. I’ve already got a week of programming in the can.

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Dude, Pass the Panama Red

Federer and Nadal on a half clay/half grass tennis court and a suggestion for similar craziness in Las Vegas

Two days ago the organizers of the The Battle of the Surfaces announced that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would play an exhibition on May 2nd using a court that was half grass and half red clay. Very cool, I thought, and why not call it the Panama Red Match in honor of that red tinged grass with the same name that is famous in marijuana circles.

Then I started thinking a little clearer. What happens if Federer hits a wickedly angled volley? Nadal will take off like a jet and slide into the ball. His momentum will carry him past the netpost onto the grass – where there is no sliding – and he’ll tumble head over heels only to land on his amply muscled tush.

And how would they remember which side of the court they’re on? Sounds worse than remembering what side of the road to drive on if you’re an American driving in England – or vice versa. Federer is likely to run after a ball on the grassy side, forget he’s not on clay and start sliding and then we have two injured tushes.

Evidently the organizers came to the same conclusion because they announced yesterday that the surface would be changed to all clay. Bummer, I thought, and moved on to the Monte Carlo Open which is nowhere near as exciting if you ask me.

Wait a minute, the grass is back! Today organizers announce that the exhibition will go ahead as planned and Federer – usually the traditionalist – is looking forward to it.

It seems like these two guys are always playing exhibitions and why play it in Mallorca where everyone is already in love with their native son Nadal? Why not play it in a country that doesn’t adequately appreciate tennis?

Like the U.S. for instance. Why not pump up the tennis scene in the U.S. with regular events in Las Vegas. If Vegas can support a Rock/Paper/Scissors championship it should be able to get a few people out there for a tennis match. How about this for starters: unless Sports Illustrated is pulling our leg, and it wouldn’t be the first time – I was one of those people who fell for the infamous April Fools Sidd Finch article by George Plimpton about a pitcher who could throw a 168mph fastball (wow, did I really fall for that?) – Elizabeth Shue is training to become a professional tennis player.

Yes, the same Elizabeth Shue who appeared in the movie Leaving Las Vegas. Call it Coming to Las Vegas. Bring in Nicolas Cage – her co-star in the movie – to be her on-court coach, build a nice indoor court at the Rio in place of the midnight bowling alley, and offer people a twofer: tennis followed by Prince. A few weeks ago I drove to Las Vegas on a Saturday afternoon, took in a meal, saw Prince in his nightclub show at the Rio, then turned around and drove back Sunday morning.

That’s how it is these days. Instead of piling into a stadium with fifteen thousand other people after having been patted down by a surly security person just to get within 500 hundred rows of Prince or Elton John or Morrissey, everyone goes to Las Vegas where they can do some shopping, gamble a little bit, have a nice meal and go to a nightclub and watch their favorite performer while dancing to their hearts content without a security guard getting in your face and telling you to sit down. Really, it’s fantastic.

How about Elton John? He’s a fanatical tennis player. Billie Jean King actually wagged her butt and kicked her heels up on his piano during a stint as a backup singer for Elton. I’m sure Billie Jean would jump right in to help. And who’s still the best draw in U.S. tennis? Andre Agassi. Where does he live? Las Vegas.

I’d love to see a Federer-Nadal grass/clay match in Vegas. And how about inviting Roscoe Tanner if his probation office allows it. If Mike Tyson can still get work I’m sure Rosco Tanner could sell a tennis match. Put him up against Yannick Noah and let the winner shave the loser’s head. It’s not Donald Trump and Vince McMahon going at each other but it would be entertaining.

I’m not that much of a visionary so join in and suggest some matchups for an ongoing series of Las Vegas tennis exhibitions. It’s more than we have right now.

See also:
What Is Wrong With Baghdatis, Safin, Gonzo Et Al.
Bitch and Sing Dept: Monte Carlo
2007 Monte Carlo Preview and Picks

Don Imus, Rappers and Dave Chapelle

Don Imus should not have been fired and rappers should be getting a bit more love.

Excuse me if I slip away from tennis for a day. The Monte Carlo Masters starts on Monday so we’ll have plenty of tennis next week. I’ll also do a preview of Monte Carlo tomorrow.

It’s been a wild week for American discourse on ‘isms. As for racism and sexism, Don Imus managed to invoke both by calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

On Wednesday, sports columnist Jason Whitlock wrote a piece in the Kansas City Star subtitled: “Instead of wasting time on irrelevant shock jock, black leaders need to be fighting a growing gangster culture.” On Thursday, two black leaders, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, met with Imus’ employer: CBS. By the end of Thursday, Imus had been fired.

Micheal Ray Richardson was fired from his job as coach of the Albany Patroons in the CBA basketball league after saying that he had “big-time Jew lawyers” and “in this country the Jews are running it.” Richardson played basketball in Israel. His second wife and their child are Jewish. I seem to remember that Jesse Jackson had a few problems with anti-semitism. When he was running for President in 1994, he called Jews “Hymies” and New York “Hymietown.”

Whitlock himself was fired from ESPN for calling ESPN basketball writer Scoop Jackson a clown and also criticizing Mike Lupica. No ‘isms there but Whitlock still thought the firing was unjust.

By Friday morning, Whitlock was all over the sports talk shows. Dave Smith on Sporting News Radio was particularly happy with this paragraph from Whitlock’s column:

While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant, bad shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.

Smith was happy because he’s been asking the same question for forever: “Why is it that blacks can use the N word but whites can’t?” In this case, why is it o.k. for rappers to call black women hos but not Don Imus? Or, as Whitlock also said in the column:

Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius.

Don Imus has been insulting people for almost thirty years and a lot of people have been listening to him. He’s in the National Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. He’s been walking the tight rope between being shocking enough to compete with Howard Stern but not so shocking as to get fired and finally, he fell off. It was bound to happen because the landscape is constantly shifting. Rappers can trash black women and Dave Chappelle can trash both black and white people, but Don Imus can’t.

Do I agree with Whitlock? Mostly. I’m not in favor of firing someone after they’ve been on the job for twenty years or so because it’s unlikely that they all of a sudden did something different than they’ve already been doing. Suspend them then explain the new rules and make them toe the line. If they don’t, then fire them.

I also agree that there is a dearth of black leaders and those that exist have been ineffective in stopping the war on drugs which has left so many of the black community in jail. But Whitlock excoriates rappers and I think that’s shortsighted. Whitlock is a good sports columnist but I would not hire him as the music critic for the New Yorker or the Village Voice.

Rappers have filled some of the void of black leaders and they’ve carried out their jobs as artists. From Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash forward, rap has been a voice of protest and a strong voice of cultural identity. If rap is rooted in jail culture, that’s because so many young black man are in jail or, if not, many of their friends are.

Imus lost his job because the black community has finally had enough of the negative stereotypes aimed at them by white people and members of their own community. Rappers have done their job by reflecting the culture around them and they’ve done it well enough that they might have finally fomented a big enough outcry to bring about some change.

I cringe when I hear bitch and ho on the radio. I did not appreciate Lauren Hill’s rap, “so why you imitatin’ Al Capone/I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.” It’s definitely time for that and many other things to change. If they do change, though, rappers deserve some of the credit.

2006 Paris Masters: The French Armada

Tommy Robredo and Fernando Gonzalez needed good results here to get one of the three remaining spots in Shanghai and they had to go through a French player to keep their hopes alive.

I had heard of the Spanish Armada, a fleet of ships that picked a fight with England in 1588, and there’s even a tennis Spanish Armada which refers to the recent load of successful Spanish tennis players such as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya. But I didn’t know there was also a French Armada.

Two hundred and ten years ago, a French Armada consisting of forty-seven ships carrying 15,000 troops sailed to Ireland in order to end British rule and establish an independent Irish Republic. It didn’t succeed. Ten ships went down in a bad storm that made ship-to-ship communication difficult – they didn’t have cell phones back then – and the remaining ships limped home.

This week at the Paris Masters tournament, we have a new French Armada. Half of the twelve matches at the Paris Masters on Wednesday featured a French player. Two more matches featured players from France’s neighbor, Belgium. Tommy Robredo and Fernando Gonzalez needed good results here to get one of the three remaining spots in Shanghai and they had to go through a French player to keep their hopes alive.

The French crowd can be brutal and the French players can also be difficult. Sebastien Grosjean staged a nine minute delay of game in a match with Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open. Grosjean stopped play after the chair umpire refused to come onto the court and look at a ball mark. He walked around the baseline with an impish smile on his face as the crowd booed and yelled.

Grosjean behaved well on Wednesday but he must have felt like beheading the nearest person. He won the first set and was serving for the match at 5-2 in the second set when the trouble started. Grosjean couldn’t get his serve in – his first serve percentage dropped from 81% to 53% – and Robredo won the next five games to take the second set.

Grosjean could have been tired, it’s the last tournament of the year after all, but as hard as it can be for foreign players in Paris, it’s not so easy for French players either. They face tremendous pressure to perform well on French soil. Only two French players have won this tournament in its thirty-one year history – Grosjean won it in 2001, and only one French player has won at Roland Garros in the Open Era – Yannick Noah won the French Open in 1983. Grosjean must have felt the pressure as the games slipped away.

In the first game of the third set, Grosjean had break point when he pulled off the shot of the tournament. Robredo hit a drop shot and Grosjean came in and tapped the ball barely over the net. Robredo responded with a lob but Grosjean got back to the baseline, spun completely around and smacked a passing shot past a stunned Robredo.

It was short lived. Grosjean continued to lose his serve and Robredo took the match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. This was a huge win for Robredo because he’s barely holding onto the eighth position and only eight players go to Shanghai. Still, Robredo didn’t win the match as much as Grosjean lost it.

Gonzalez is sitting in ninth place in the standings and had to go through Julien Benneteau who didn’t behave so well. Everything went right for Gonzalez in the first set so Benneteau tried something different in the second set. He served and volleyed a little and came up with his own version of delay tactics. He repeatedly called time out or wiped himself off with his towel during Gonzalez’ serve.

With the score at 3-3 in the third set, Gonzalez had had enough. Benneteau came to the net and hit a sitter as hard as he could. Gonzalez sent it back twice as hard then yelled at Benneteau as if the say, “Take that, you @#$%%@@!!! Gonzalez now had triple break point and the enmity of the French crowd. But Benneteau thrilled the crowd by getting to game point and now Gonzalez was so annoyed he sent a ball to the top of the stands. Amazingly, a ball boy retrieved it and Benneteau won the game

With Gonzalez serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Benneteaul broke him and won the match, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Gonzalez must be bitterly disappointed. He’d dragged himself into ninth place in the 2006 Race rankings with three straight final appearances, one of them at the Madrid Masters. Since working with his part-time coach, Larry Stefanki, Fernando has developed some touch to go along with the sledgehammer ground strokes. Maybe he should have hired Stefanki a week or two earlier.

As always happens in Paris, the players who’ve already qualified for Shanghai stayed home because there’s no reason to risk injury. And even though I had a Nadal, a Ljubicic and a Roddick left to play on my ATP fantasy league team, I don’t mind because the matches are more thrilling without the big guys.

Look at this for instance: yet another French guy in the mix, Paul-Henri Mathieu, beat Novak Djokovic, 7-6(11), 7-6(4). Long live the French.

See also: 2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Paris Masters