Category Archives: WTA Championships

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?

WTA Championships Live Blog Broadcast

1830’s: Louis Daguerre and several others invent the process known as photography. We could now freeze time and hold the portrait of a loved one in our hand.
1844: Samuel Morse sends the first message by telegraph from Annapolis Junction (near Baltimore) to Washington. We could now send a message instantaneously.
1869: The last spike is driven as the Union Pacific tracks joined the Central Pacific Railroad to create the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. We could now travel from east to west in six days instead of three months.
1877: Leland Stanford, one of the four principals in the transcontinental railroad, pays Edweard Muybridge to take images of his celebrated trotter Occident to see if the horse ever lifted all four hooves at once. Muybridge’s system of tripwires and fast shutters gave us the stop motion images that pre-dated the the modern world of movies and television.
1891: Stanford founds Stanford University on the former site of his horse farm. Stanford researchers go on to start a number of pioneering Silicon Valley companies and host part of the ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet.

(Timeline courtesy of Motion Studies: Time, Space and Edward Muybridge, a fantastic investigation into time-shifting and the origins of cinema and the internet by Rebecca Solnit.)

2007: Please join us as we live blog the tape delayed final of the WTA Championships which took place earlier today in Madrid. Join Pat and me as we re-crown the champion in our own good time using our own version of time-shifting, television and the internet. Please join in by leaving comments so we can include you in the broadcast.

Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova are our finalists and one of those is a big surprise. Sharapova has played only 49 matches this year due to recurring shoulder problems. There’s wisdom in resting before the championships. Henin missed the last two months of the season last year’s season with a knee injury then turned up at the championships and won it handily.

Pat: Good afternoon everyone, we are nearly ready to start. I really like Sharapova’s chances today, I think it is important for her to win this match, more so than for Justine. I think Maria has more to prove today. She will be ready. Three sets do you think?

Nina: The way Maria is serving, three sets is a good guess. But I’m going with Justine. Not to be a stathead or anything but Justine is 5-2 lifetime against Maria and Justine played the fall indoor season whereas Maria did not.

Pat: I did not check their head to head, really, Justine is 5-2, eh?

Sharapova 1-1

Nina: Yep, and I agree with Tracy Austin: Justine is much more athletic. Any fashion comments by the way :0)

Henin: 2-1 (Henin breaks)

Pat: So Justine draws first blood with the break. She’s returning well, and I like how Maria moved into net even though she chipped the volley wide for the break.

Sharapova 2-2 (Sharapova breaks back)

Nina: Justine can move Maria around but she can’t win without a strong first serve. As Justine’s serve goes, her chances will follow. Not because she has a big serve, she doesn’t, but she can’t dictate a point with a second serve.

Sharapova 4-3

Nina: I suppose I agree that this event is more grueling than a two week grand slam event because it’s more compressed and you play more top players. But the conditions are much easier. There is nowhere near the pressure because the event has not been a big event on the calendar for some time. Not that many people turn up. Also, it’s round robin. If you lose a match, you’re o.k. You can play another day.

Pat: Somehow this week does not strike me as grueling for the players. The top players had way too easy a time. Maybe they will make up for that today, huh? Wow, how often do we see Justine netting two backhands in a row? That was an intense game 7. This is good stuff, wonder who will blink first?

Henin 4-4

Nina: Justine was the Backhand That Couldn’t for a while there. She almost blinked but the battle continues and I am so happy that this is a tough, competitive match. We’re due. By the way, Michael Joyce is beginning to look like Yuri Sharapov’s brother. They’ve been spending too much time together!

Sharapova 5-4

Pat: Hey, Michael is probably the Second Father Figure by now, you wonder how the guy does it(?!) We need a slam bang match after this week, these two girls have a lot of sins to atone for, if you will.

Sharapova 6-5

Nina: Yep, it’s Maria, Michael and Yuri – a trinity in it’s own right. I don’t understand why they don’t just give Michael his due and call him coach. As for the game, I’ve missed Maria smashing the ball for the past few months, all year long in fact. You can see how hard she hits the ball, Justine barely has time to get halfway to the net. Wow, what a fantastic Maria backhand on the deep corner for game point and another one to win the game.

Pat: Well Nina, she certainly smashed that backhand up the line! You’d have thought Maria had match point on that the way she reacted. Great stuff! Tiriac can come out of the shadows now and feel proud of his brood.

Sharapova 7-5 (breaks Henin, wins first set)

Nina: What was it, four double faults and how many second serves for Justine? Eight set points for Maria and I lost track of the number of deuces – wait, ten deuces. What a game! It was a combination of brilliant shots and ineptitude. If Maria had played the fall indoor season, she’d probably be up a break in the second set by now, she’d never let eight set points go by without putting the game away. I’m wondering if conditioning will be an issue for her in the second and (possibly) third set.

Okay, Pat, so what caused Justine’s problems: the pressure of expectations or ongoing problems with her serve? Love the trophies by the way but that cheap Rubbermaid trophy stand kinda takes away from the beauty and grandeur of the event.

Sharapova 7-5, 2-1

Pat: I think the pressure got to Justine there on her serve, but it got to Maria too, letting all those set points go by!

We’ve got a great one going, and I like Maria’s nerve fighting to hold serve there in the second set first game. Nice work, Justine had chances but Maria was there to slam the door.

Henin 5-7, 2-2

Nina: As close as the match is and as close as I think it will be, I predict that if and when Justine gets some firs serves in and Maria wilts just the slightest bit, Justine will pull it out. This match does make me wonder, though, how Maria has lost so many matches to Justine. Also, I wonder if her shoulder really is healed. And, while I’m at it, one more question: how much havoc can Lindsay Davenport wreak at the Australian Open. I am so looking forward to the Australian Open for lots of reasons

Sharapova 7-5, 3-2

Pat: That’s a big if, Nina, and also Justine has made a very high number of errors for her. So if her serve isn’t working right, and the errors are too many, I think her chances of winning are slight. I don’t think Maria will wilt, she took care of things when she had to so far.

Henin 5-7, 3-3

Nina: Right about now, Pat, you are definitely looking prophetic. Notice that little bit of star power there? Sharapova threw up her arms and started to move to the service line as if to say that Henin’s serve was an obvious fault and that moved the chair umpire to overrule a good serve and make it a fault. I don’t think that would have happened if the 100th ranked player on tour pulled that. That serve could have won Justine the game a few points earlier.

Pat: I did not notice that, but I get caught between typing/watching, which is why I am recording the TV also so I can see the match later.

Sharapova 5-7, 4-5 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Pat: Ooohh, maybe I spoke too soon Nina, Justine just got her break. Let’s see how Maria responds, if she can.

Nina: Yeah, I can’t wait for infallible voice recognition software so I don’t have to type. Whoa, that inside out forehand return by Henin was over the top. The woman has, um, cojones. It’s the only way she’s gonna get anywhere today because Sharapova is not losing her serve easily. And that could be the shot of the second set because Sharapova followed it up with a double fault. Those small things can make a huge difference. Henin breaks Sharapova to go up 5-4.

Sharapova 5-7, 5-6 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Can we say turning point :0) Three games and three breaks but Justine is starting to get some first serves in and Sharapova has played about as well as she can. I could, of course, be very wrong but either way, I love these marathon games. Three break points for Justine before she finally got the break. Definitely one of the best matches of the year. I’m scratching my head to think of another one. Pat, help me out – other good matches this year?

Henin 5-7, 7-5

Pat: Well, my tape is filled! This is going to be a very looonnnnggg match, since Justine is about to hold at luv it looks like, and off we go into a third set.

These two are going to interfere with our Shanghai men, who are about to come on Tennis Channel at 5 p.m. west coast time. Quel horreur! I think we should stay with the women though, what do you say? Can they make a match of it? lol

Henin 5-7, 7-5, 1-1

Nina: Time to get a DVR Pat. A match longer than three hours for a women’s championship, how cool is that? We haven’t had a competitive grand slam final all year. Marion Bartoli got five games off Venus Williams at Wimbledon at that was the most competitive slam final of the year.

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7. 1-2 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Hi Maria, thanks for joining us but you know the results already :0) (Maria lives in Madrid). You even know the results of the men’s matches! Keep commenting though, we’ll patch you in. In this part of the world, Maria (Sharapova) is indeed looking just the smallest bit tired and that was enough for Henin to break her. What do you think Pat, does Maria come back?

Pat: OK, Justine with the early break in the third. She really wailed on that backhand crosscourt, seems like she’s hitting the ball harder now than in the beginning.

Tracy Austin just uttered the “T” word about Maria, as in “tired.” We shall see.

Where’s that banana??

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7, 3-2

Nina: Maria is hanging in there but it’s sheer will on her part and now she’s called for the trainer. She’s having trouble breathing. It’s something to remember that Madrid is at altitude, all the more amazing that Sharapova has come this far. On the other hand, my guess is that this is a “convenient” time out to get her breath.

Pat: I am feeling whipped, I know how Maria feels. Uhoh, the trainer is out there, we may need more than a banana, huh? (I have a cocktail, nah nah ne nah nah).

You see what these women do? They lead me to drink!

Hi Maria, looks like you guys all got your money’s worth in Madrid today(!)

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7, 3-4 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Wow, what a difference a break makes. Maria breaks Justine to get even then give the break right back. Maria doesn’t seem to have quite enough energy to keep up the good serving and that’s critical.(Don’t worry Pat, it’s the men’s doubles from Shanghai, not the singles)

Pat: That was a tired looking double fault from Maria, I don’t know if she can come back Nina. But then she broke Henin in the last game, so who knows?

This is nervewracking. Tennis waterboarding, anyone?

Henin breaks Sharapova to win the title, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3

Nina: Wow, good to the very last drop. A marathon game at the end of the first set and another one here. Five match points and tons of grit from Maria and Justine finally does it. That Justine, she’s a killer and Maria is not far behind. Join us for the Shanghai event and see if it can be anywhere near as exciting as this.

Pat: It really did not turn out to be a battle of “One Serves, the Other Doesn’t.” It really came down to the superior athleticism of Henin, her conditioning and nerves. But Maria is no loser here either, she had a great week, it was a great match for her, considering how little prep/match play she had coming in.

Now the ball is in the men’s court: can they deliver a final as good as this? Whew!

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WTA Championships: Can Anyone Here Play The Game?

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

Performance enhancing drugs, match fixing, and now poisoning (I’ll get to those in my next post). There’s too much going on in tennis so I’m a day late in catching up with the WTA Championships. I hope to get back on track tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s look at the second evening of round robin matches.

I was looking forward to some good tennis as I settled in to watch the evening’s fare at the WTA Championships in Madrid. The top eight women in the world are here – minus Venus Williams – so it seemed like a safe bet.

It wasn’t. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or just plain nervousness but I had to wait until the very end of the last match before anything exciting happened.

Justine Henin started the evening off by swatting Jelena Jankovic, 6-2, 6-2. Jelena was completely out of rhythm. Here forehand went long, her backhand went into the net, and her return of serve was all over the place. Except for the serve and volley – which weren’t working so well either – that’s pretty much all there is to the game of tennis.

Jelena is 0-8 against Henin. Part of the problem is psychological and that’s fixable. Part of the problem is firepower and that may not be fixable. Jelena is a wonderful defensive player and a very smart strategist but she doesn’t have any big weapons short of her quicksilver feet. It worked for Lleyton Hewitt round about the turn of the millennium but it doesn’t work today.

Here’s an example. Jelena lost the first set 6-2 and was down 0-1 in the second set when Henin served her way through an interminable nine deuce game. Out of those nine deuces, Jankovic had only three break points. Jelena can hang with Henin but she can’t apply enough pressure to beat her.

After the match, Henin understandably said “I was feeling tired on my serve” in the game and yet Jelena still couldn’t take advantage of it.

Jankovic is the number three player in the world. Her fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic is right behind her at number four, and Ana has two big weapons: serve and forehand. Jelena should stay around the top ten for some time if she wants to, but I can’t see her getting to number one. Given her quirky self, that might be enough reason for her to ride off into the sunset sooner than another player might because she has a life outside of tennis.

Serena Williams is actually in Shanghai and I was really excited about that. I figured she’d dust off Ana Chakvetadze in her first match and then I hoped she’d exact revenge on Henin for beating her at the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open this year. No doubt Serena is pissed off by that.

Serena has eight slams, one WTA Championship and an Olympic gold medal in doubles. Henin has seven slams, one WTA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in singles. I’m sure Serena does not care to fall behind in that race. Watch this youtube video to gauge Serena’s true feelings about the matter.

When Serena’s match with Chakvetadze started, she looked pretty bad too. First of all Serena came out with athletic tape that wandered down her thighs then circled both knees. She looked like she had on a skeleton suit and was on her way to the nearest Halloween party. What was all that tape for? “Prevention,” she said, “just prevention.”

Yeah right. Serena had trouble getting her serve into the court and she was spraying the ball. She asked for new rackets because the tension wasn’t right. To be fair, Madrid is at altitude and the ball carries further in thinner air.

By the time Serena was down 3-5 in the first set, she looked like she was going to cry. The trainer came out and Serena told her, “I can’t move. I’m really in a lot of pain.” The pain was in her left knee. Her surgically repaired left knee.

The professional tennis injury charade continues. Two and a half weeks ago Serena retired from her first round match with Patty Schyder in Zurich. Schnyder was ahead at the time, 6-0, 3-0. Players never divulge the extent or nature of their injuries until they can’t hide it anymore.

Clearly Serena wanted to play in Shanghai but the tape job gave the game away. No doubt the double leg tape job was designed to confuse the issue. She gets so much crap for not playing enough tournaments that it’s hard to give her crap about trying to play. But now that she’s withdrawn, her substitute, Marion Bartoli, is in a very tough position because she only gets to play Serena’s two remaining matches and that’ll make it very difficult for her to advance to the semifinals.

And I’m bummed because now I have to wait until the Australian Open to see Serena go at Henin. Actually, I think I should stop looking forward to anything and just prepare myself for a Serenaless Australian.

I was lying when I said I had to wait until the end of the third match to see some tennis. Daniela Hantuchova pulled herself together after losing the first set to Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, and played an excellent second set. It was the second set tiebreaker, though, that redeemed the evening.

Hantuchova twice challenged calls and got both points replayed. Ivanovic hit a killer serve to get her first set point at 6-5 then Hantuchova fought off an excellent return of serve to save the set point. Ivanovic hit a superb running passing shot that clanked off Hantuchova’s racket to get to 8-7 and it went on like this.

Ivanovic kept getting set points and Hantuchova kept saving them then getting her own set point. Every single time. In fact, when Hantuchova finally hit an approach shot into the net to lose the tiebreaker 11-9, it was the first time in the entire tiebreaker that the server lost a point.

How often do you see that happen?

Someone here really can play this game.

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