Category Archives: Wimbledon

Join us for the Paris Masters final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 4th, 7:30am Los Angeles/10:30am New York/3:30pm London (remember to set your clock back one hour Saturday night if you live in the U.S.).

Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine and Roger Federer lost to David Nalbandian twice in a row. What is the world coming to?

A friend sent me an email invitation to an event at a local S&M parlor this weekend. I’m pretty vanilla so I didn’t accept the invitation but I was interested in the title of one of the workshops: Crack Addict. What’s crack got to do with S&M I wondered? Is that a new kind of kink I’ve never heard of before?

There are no doubt plenty of kinky acts I’ve never heard of but this one refers to whips. As in cracking a whip. Get it?

Crack is also connected to cocaine – it’s a diluted cocaine in the form of a rock – and I was even more surprised to hear it connected with Martina Hingis. I’m not naïve enough to think that rich athletes don’t try cocaine now and then and more power to them. I did enough acid and marijuana in my youth to get my fill, let others do it too. How else will they know what they’re missing?

Martina, however, tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon and that’s bit of a problem because cocaine is a stimulant which makes it a banned substance. Her response? I didn’t do it.

Here we go again. In the famous words of Rafael Palmeiro who sat in front of a congressional hearing on steroids, pointed his finger and said:

I have never used steroids. Period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.

Five months later he tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and suggested that the positive test had come from a liquid B-12 vitamin given him by a teammate. Later that season Palmeiro went home and he hasn’t played since.

Hingis is doing the retiring thing too and she’s denying that she ever used cocaine. This is her stated reason for retiring: “I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities.” I can sympathize with that. I’ve written about the unfair balance of power held by anti-doping organizations over athletes and you have to wonder why it takes them four months to process a positive test.

But Martina, you can’t have it both ways. If you didn’t do cocaine, retiring sends a decidedly mixed message. The positive test result will stand if you don’t challenge it.

Does this taint Martina’s career? Not in the least. Party on girl, just be smarter about it. It’s not like cocaine is helpful in a tennis match. It’s a short lived high.

Martina’s return to tennis in 2006 after a three year layoff has been pretty cool. She’s done about what I expected. She got into the top ten, reached the quarterfinals at three slams, and won three titles. She can be proud of that.

Still, if she doesn’t fight the cocaine thing, she’ll go down as just one more big fat denier in a long line of deniers. And that’s really unfortunate because a huge part of Martina’s appeal was her unedited mouth. If she didn’t think much of an opponent’s game, she’d say so. If she was mad at the WTA, she’d say so.

And now she’s giving up because the case could drag on for years? Where’s your sense of outrage, Martina? It just doesn’t wash.

I’m hoping my co-writer Pat Davis will write one of her wonderful remembrances on the occasion of Martina’s retirement. How about it Pat?

Nalbandian Beats Federer Again

David Nalbandian beat Roger Federer again today in Paris. I don’t have time to write about it tonight but I’ll weigh in tomorrow.

I will say one thing. I expected Federer to lose early since he needs to get his rest for Shanghai – this is his third straight tournament – but I didn’t expect Nalbandian to keep rolling and how wrong I was.

Okay, I’ll say two things. Federer was beaten by Guillermo Canas in two consecutive tournaments earlier this year and now he’s been beaten twice by Nalbandian within three weeks. Federer’s hallmark is his ability to figure out an opponent’s game so we can assume the problem is not strategy. And as far as we know, he’s not losing brain cells.

That means Federer is not able to execute his strategy. It’s a very slight drop, he still won three slams this year, but it’s a clear indication of slippage in his game.

That brings us to today’s poll because Federer is also losing his grip on the number one ranking.

Pollster

The year end rankings for 2007 will have Federer as the number one player, Rafael Nadal as number two, and Novak Djokovic as number three. Here’s the question:

Exactly one year from today, who will be the number one ranked player in the ATP?
Roger Federer? Rafael Nadal? Novak Djokovic? None of the above?

Go to the poll on the right of the screen and to vote.

Tennis Diary TV Feature

Some of my favorite shows of all time are the Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. The hapless coyote Wile E. repeatedly tries to trap the annoying little Road Runner for dinner and Road Runner repeatedly escapes, usually leaving Wile E. to suffer in a contraption of his own making that has backfired on him.

It’s all very simple, stupid, and hilarious. Just my style.

In that vein, I bring you this week’s Tennis Diary TV Feature: Tennis Funnies (If Tennis Funnies is not currently playing, click on Channel Guide and select it.)

It’s simple, sometimes crude, stupid, and really funny. Have a laugh. Why not? The world is falling apart.


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Steffi Graf or Pete Sampras, who’s slam record is most impressive?

You might know the actor Hugh Laurie as Dr. Greg House from the U.S. television show House. Or you might remember him as Bertie Wooster, the hapless employer of Jeeves in the British television show Jeeves and Wooster. Maybe you watched him in Black Adder, a British television show that starred Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean.

Laurie is another one of those ridiculously talented British actors. He’s a successful novelist and he’s also a singer/songwriter. If you go to the right side of this page and tune in to Tennis Diary TV you can see Laurie perform the song, “I’m in love with Steffi Graf.” (Click on Channel Guide if it’s not the current video.)

Laurie’s Steffi is an angel who “folds her wings and walks like you and me.” And it doesn’t matter whether it’s clay or grass, “she’ll flay your ass.”

For some reason I had forgotten that Margaret Court holds the record for most slam wins with 24. Graf is second with 22. I consider Graf the better tennis player because her era was more competitive. Graf beat Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis to win slams.

Of course it would have been much more competitive if a crazed fan of Steffi’s hadn’t stabbed Seles in the back but here’s the question: Is Steffi Graf’s record of 22 slams a bigger accomplishment that Pete Sampras’ 14 slams? Go over to the right side of the page and cast your vote.

On the face of it, you might think it’s a no-brainer. Steffi won all four slams at least four times including the golden slam in 1988 (all four slams and the gold medal at the Olympics). Sampras won the gold medal at the 1987 Olympics but he never won more than two slams in one year and he never won the French Open.

But the top women won a lot more slams than the top men. The number five woman on the list, Chris Evert, has four more slams than Sampras. And the women won a whole lot more career titles. Martina Navratilova has 58 more titles than the men’s leader in that category: Jimmy Connors. That’s pretty ridiculous.

Clearly the men’s tour is more competitive. The slams even more so. Steffi won her 1988 French Open final by the score of 6-0, 6-0. Has that ever happened on the men’s tour? Then there is that little matter of five set matches. All of the men’s matches in slams are best of five sets while the women play best of three sets.

Whaddya think?


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Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic has jumped to the top of her sport – time to take a look at “Our Favorite Alien”

It was barely a year ago when Jelena Jankovic began to turn her moribund career around. Her start to 2006 was so abysmal she contemplated quitting the game altogether and returning to her studies. Then she started to play better, and capped her Wimbledon last year with a solid win in the fourth round over Venus Williams. She was ranked Number 26 then; now she is Number 3 in the world. Amazing what a little confidence can do for a girl!

This year she had another good Wimbledon, even though she lost in singles in the Round of 16 to surprise finalist Marion Bartoli. Jankovic then hooked up on the spur of the moment with Jamie Murray, brother of Andy. He needed a partner for the Mixed Doubles. Never one to enjoy the practice courts, Jankovic figured it would give her some practice, now that she had been bounced from the singles. Low and behold, this rather quaint pairing got all the way to the finals, where they beat Jonas Bjorkman and Alicia Molik.

Jamie and Jelena became the talk of London. Are they dating, the British press wanted to know. They were all set to babble deliriously over yet another Murray. Brother Andy had to pull out just before the tournament began, so the Brits were on the lookout for anything or anyone from their tribe who could take up the slack. Jamie and Jelena were Heaven sent. Jankovic played coy about the rumors; Murray sounded just relieved he had found a decent partner who could, basically, carry the team. Mommy Murray just sounded…well, annoyed her son had to share the limelight.

Judy Murray is probably going for The Gloria Connors Tennis Mom Award. And nobody will stand in her way, for sure. Have you seen the chin on this chick? It’s made of granite, at least. I bet it takes a punch pretty good. Mom poo-pooed the rumors, basically implying like any good mom that my son – that’s MY SON, got it? – is way too good for that strange-looking girl with the long sculpted face that could have been lifted from a Modigliani painting. He drew roomfuls of elegant long women with elegant long faces. Some of us refer to Jankovic as “our little alien, ” a term of endearment and ownership.

Where does she get those rather Asiatic-looking cheekbones? Her mom is a pleasant, plump bottle blonde who travels everywhere with Jelena. She looks nothing at all like her daughter. I figured she got the look from dad, but we never saw dad. Then he showed up just before Wimbledon at an event, and he looks pleasantly relaxed and also nothing like his daughter. Jankovic says she doesn’t know where her foreign looks come from. “Maybe it was the postman, ” she quipped to Ubaldo Scanagatta.

Joking around seems to be a big thing for Jankovic. Also perhaps an excellent way to relax yourself in a sport that gives you little opportunities for relaxation. The notion that one can “have fun” in tennis these days is nearly non-existent. Sadly, it may be part of why interest is draining out of the sport. Thank God for Jelena, who takes the cake in the personality department. Why not, she’s probably baked it too. The girl is a ham. Wherever she hatched from, we are glad of it. But where does she go from here with her game?

She needs to start beating the very top women on a regular basis. She’ll be seeing a lot of them now as she gets more and more into the later rounds. She has beaten some of them, now she needs to beat more of them. Especially someone like Justine Henin. Although Jankovic has yet to beat the Belgian, they have had a medley of interesting, competitive matches. It’s only a matter of time. She had a good win over Maria Sharapova at Birmingham, a run-up event to Wimbledon. Jankovic had to come back in that match, and it gave her a ton of confidence. She needs to gather herself better at the big moments in big matches.

There is one specific change I would suggest: work on that serve, honey! She is so solid off both wings, she can hold her own at net, and her retrieving capabilities are tremendous; she can run down any ball because of her great movement and athleticism. Her fearlessless and ability to compete are top flight. But her serve should be as powerful as her ground strokes, and it’s not. Her second serve is about as horrible as Elena Dementieva’s, and we all know how horrible that is(!) It needs to be more of a weapon, not something that merely starts the point off.

Because she doesn’t like to practice much, Jankovic enters a lot of tournaments. Way too many. She should take a page from the Federer playbook: longer periods off, but go for quality play in challenging tournaments that you select carefully. A little discrimination is a good thing. It will add longevity to her career while keeping her energy level high. Besides, I for one am looking forward to a good decade with Jelena, she is certainly the most fun we’ve had on the women’s side for a while.

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Roger Federer discovers the rearview mirror, and guess who’s coming?

Usually after I tape a tennis final I don’t like to see it right away. Mostly I am just tennised out and loathe to see anything further that even slightly resembles an orb-like object, particularly when colored yellow. Yesterday though I couldn’t resist dipping my hand back into that cookie jar that was Roger FedererRafael Nadal at Wimbledon ‘07 again. Talk about your instant classic. It’s so classic already that ESPN’s classic channel showed it last night. Like seeing a great movie, reading a fine novel, enjoying a good wine, this match left us with a feeling of keen satisfaction.

First off, let’s simply congratulate the lads for showing up, in one piece, fully prepared to play. No whining about my aching this or that. They are performers. That’s been a problem at Wimbledon this year, particularly late in the second week, when the rain delays put an undue burden on the capabilities of the players to get through matches. Nadal had already played all seven days, even though it was five matches. It didn’t seem to faze him though; at times he seemed fresher than Federer. From the mental standpoint, Federer may have faced the greater burden: he simply doesn’t play that many five-setters, so just getting his mind around that prospect may have been taxing. He couldn’t finish his man off in three sets this year or even four. That sent a message Federer didn’t want to hear. He displayed more crankiness during this match than we have ever seen from him before.

Isn’t it great to know that even the mighty Fed can suffer from bugs up his alimentary canal? I tell ya, that restored my faith in tennis humanity. When he uttered the “s” word about Hawkeye I felt like standing up and applauding.

What made the difference in this match on Sunday? It came down to the serving. Nadal served well enough, but it was Federer serving well at the crucial points which made the difference. Nadal was asked this in his presser. For him there was no doubt where the difference in the match resided.

Maybe if we have to find any difference, maybe the difference is the serve. He serve better than me, and that’s important in every surface, but in this surface more, no?

Federer echoed this in his comments:

From the baseline he was not outplaying me, but I always thought he had the upper hand for some reason and I couldn’t really play that aggressive like I wanted to, maybe like last year. But my serve kept me in, and I definitely won the big points today, which was most important.

Federer was only playing the Pete Sampras style of winning sets: you go through a set making sure you take care of YOUR serve. Of course you try to break HIS serve too, but you’re not obsessed about it. Then you get to the tiebreak and you turn on the afterburners. You serve lasers at the proper moments, grab those ever so few key points and your opponent’s ass is grass.

Nadal has learned a lot of new skills for grass court tennis. He’s shortened his windup on his ground strokes, he was coming into net more than Federer, and he’s learned how to angle volleys sharply off to the sides. You’d almost think he thinks he’s Patrick Rafter or Stefan Edberg the way he volleys.

But he needs to make one more change, and that’s to his serve. I want to see him hit through the serve more, rather than roll his racquet over and around the ball, creating a ton of spin. Spin is good, but sometimes you need the laser beam, right up the “T”. I said this about Richard Gasquet’s game last week after he dusted Andy Roddick in what I think is still the most brilliant match of Wimbledon. It occurs to me now that this can be said of Nadal’s game too.

Nadal and Gasquet both need that silver bullet. If Nadal adds that shot to his repertoire, he will win Wimbledon next year. He needs to feel confident that he can whip out an ace when he really needs it. But what about his high serving percentage, you’re saying. Doesn’t that count? Yes, it does. But you don’t want to give your opponent a way into the point by rolling in a serve that he can still get a racquet on. And Roger managed to at least get most of those serves back into play. You need to blow a couple right by him. End it fast. You can see what Federer does with that serve, and the enormous confidence that comes to him from hitting that shot when he needs it. That made the difference on Sunday.

Luck also entered into the equation. When it was over I immediately felt that Federer caught more than a little of it on this day. Nadal outplayed him overall. But Federer won the crucial points at the crucial moments. It was so nice to hear that Federer said that to Nadal during the handshake.

Da Man is definitely looking over his shoulder now, and if Nadal makes those few changes to his game by next year, he’s going to be the one watching his opponent recede in that rearview mirror.


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If you could pick two images that stand out from this year’s Wimbledon, what would you pick from the men and women?

Whoa, you’re saying, what about Mssrs. Federer and Nadal in tomorrow’s final? Won’t that provide us the visual treats we’re always on the lookout for? Especially since my co-writer Nina Rota and I are dragging our sorry asses up at six in the morning tomorrow to cover the final live. They’d better show me the money. ALL the money, ok guys?

Frankly though I have my favorite tournament images firmly secured in my brain already. Whatever Batman and Robin whip up for us tomorrow, my favorite moments involve Venus Williams, stretched out probably ten feet wide at the net, and Richard Gasquet’s wonderful backhand disappearing up the line in another breathtaking shot.

There must be a reason Venus Williams wore that big chunk of green stone on a chain around her neck; green is definitely her color. She emerged as the dominant female player on grass, with emphasis on the word dominant. After being tested early on, Venus just kept on rolling as she beat up the draw. Her father Richard Williams predicted his elder daughter would win this event, and he was proven correct once again. Serena’s earlier demise at the hands of Justine Henin paved the way for her sister Venus to take up the slack and carry on the family banner. Not having to face her sister in the final may have been that little bit of extra motivation Venus needed to win her fourth Wimbledon title. The sisters don’t like to play each other, but everyone else? Cannon fodder, baby!

Venus Williams will never show the grace of Roger Federer on the court. But on the other hand Venus shows us something that I don’t think Roger would ever let us see: the naked desire with which she wants to win this tournament. She doesn’t move so much as she pounces, lunges, stretches, and sometimes overruns the balls. Pretty? Well, maybe if you like seeing a praying mantis pounce on its victim.

Is there any way to get a ball by her when she’s on her game? Probably not. At least not wide to the sides. Maybe you could whip a quick little lob over her head, like Marion Bartoli did today in the women’s final. But it had better be a good one. I’m surprised more players don’t try and go directly at her when Venus is blanketing the net. Handcuffing her with a fierce dipping shot may be the only way to go. Her ferocity grew, along with her appetite for winning matches, until by the final you wouldn’t be surprised if nobody showed up on the other side of the net. It wouldn’t have mattered if Henin was there, or God herself, Venus was going to take this title.

As for Richard Gasquet, well. And well again! I love this guy’s game. Maybe his quarterfinal win over Andy Roddick will be the asterisk in his career where we say, “This is where Gasquet started to deliver the goods.” God knows we have been waiting. And waiting. He showed us qualities we always wondered if he had. Like mental toughness, for one. In the past, the words “grit” and “Gasquet” did not go together in anyone’s mind. Yet he showed surprising fortitude, mentally and physically, coming back from two sets and 4-2 down against the game’s biggest server.

Gasquet himself also served a lot better than he has before. He was generating more pace to go with the good placement he already has. But he could use even more pace. If I could make one change to his serve, I would like to see him work on just hitting a simple, flat, hard ball right up the T. His serve has too much spin and he could use more pace in the big moments. It should be more of a weapon, in other words.

The Gasquet backhand was the most stellar shot of this year’s Wimbledon. Even Federer’s comes in second. And if I wanted ever to see Roger Federer lose to anyone, let him lose to Gasquet, the man who probably in his overall game most closely resembles Federer’s.

Unfortunately the guy left it all on the court on Friday. Today he had no game left against Federer. What else is new. Grand Slams are always wars of attrition, after all. But how does Gasquet proceed from here? WILL he power his way into the Top Ten and stay there? I am hopeful. But then I’ve been down this road before with his compatriot, Amelie Mauresmo. Another fragile soul with every inch of class and stylishness to her game that “Reeshard” has in his. She won her first two Grand Slams last year but then slipped away.

So I for one am holding my breath still with Gasquet. He may not win any Slams soon (nobody is really going to be winning any Slams unless it’s the two guys at the head of the pack, and that is just a fact of tennis life right now). Being in the Top 5 though is a goal I think he can reach.

In the meantime, as the people of France like to say, formidable!


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