Category Archives: WTA Players

It hardly seems fair: the men are nearly knocking the fuzz off the ball with their serves while the women can barely get the ball over the net. Can anything be done about this? Or to paraphrase Professor Higgins, can a woman be more like a Rottweiler?

It’s the off season in tennis, the slow-mo portion of the year, when we can turn to our little pet peeves and wonder “why?” Lately I’ve been obsessing about why the women on the WTA Tour can’t serve well. For the most part, that is. This has been a frequent rant in these environs, and lately it’s driven me positively Freudian. So I have come up with my own private theory I’d like to share with you.

The women can’t serve because they don’t let themselves really develop the level of aggression that goes into the making of a good serve. They just can’t handle that. It’s not ladylike.

What? After years of the feminist revolution you mean to say the girls can’t get their act together on this point? Yeah, that’s what I mean. We still need those assertiveness training classes.

But what about all those big baseline games we’re getting from most of the women on tour? Why can they whack superwomen forehands all day long but still not serve as if they meant it? Why the one and not the other? That makes no sense, does it? A strange dichotomy is going on here. Somehow it’s ok to wail on your forehands and backhands with all the power you could want.

But ground strokes are different than the serve, I would maintain. Off the ground it’s about you and your pace, and your opponent and her pace. The serve is all about you, and only you. There’s no one to play off of. You are totally responsible for your serve. It’s the one shot in the game of tennis that puts your ability – or inability – squarely in your hands.

Kinda brings a lump to a girl‘s throat, huh? That’s the problem. Too many lumps, too too many throats. There is definitely a fear factor entering in here. Most women players are probably just hoping they can get into a rally. Once in a rally they are ok, the nerves may subside a bit.

When you step up to the line to unload a first serve, your train of thought should be: kill that so and so on the other side of the net, blow it right by her, smile knowingly when she nearly falls out of her socks trying to return your serve. Pump your fist aggressively when you land an ace or a service winner, let your opponent know she’s in for a long afternoon of being your personal mopping device out on the court. Rub it in. Then rub it in again. Enjoy being Ivan Lendl, if only for a few hours(!)

Tennis doesn’t have the same degree of warfare as pro football but it approaches a war when the player is serving. At least it should. You want that first strike capability, and you want to be ready to crush your opponent.

Are there any Amazons out there who can haul off and whack the serve on a steady basis, or are the women pretty much pat ball dummies? When we do have good serving, it’s really really good. Right now I would put three women in the mix: two of them are sisters we know well, the other is a Serbian newcomer who takes the serve seriously, and it’s already starting to show in her game.

The two best serves on the women’s side belong to Venus and Serena Williams. You sense that these two are using their serve not just to kick off the rally but to win the point outright. The difference is that the Williams sisters view the serve as it should be viewed: it’s a weapon. You have to lift the intensity level and feel your oats. Peter O’Toole once said about acting that if you weren’t prepared to go out on stage and be King or Queen of the world, then you shouldn’t be on stage. A bamboo tree would serve you better. Serving is the same thing.

Why are the Williams sisters the lucky ones in the serving game? I would argue that the sisters had so much to contend with as black outsiders in the whitest of all sports, save possibly swimming, that it made them and their games stronger and tougher. They got used to competing and clawing their way into tennis acceptance, and they grew up having no problem taking things out on a poor little ball. They brought power to the women’s game like it had never seen before, and that included big serving. Forehands and backhands may break down but the Williams sisters always seem to have a serve or two left over to punish an opponent with.

Ana Ivanovic is the third member of the Serving Female Assassins. She’s got a sweet nature, too sweet some might say, and her disposition kind of works against my theory, because her serving game is all muscle and pace and power. And placement too. I especially like to watch her serve out wide in the ad court. She can use variety with this shot, hitting a kicker wide as well as a flat ball. She is just as comfortable going up the T as well.

How did a babe like Ana slip through the cracks and become a big mad bomber? Before we chalk this up to something in the Serbian water back home, we can’t say the same of her countrywoman, Jelena Jankovic. Her serve is rather lackluster by comparison. Jelena just puts the ball in play. But Ivanovic treats it like a weapon, like the Williams sisters, and as time goes on it’s going to be a big factor in her winning ways. It also helps that Ivanovic is a strong six footer. It is easier to serve well when you know you’re that big. You should be pouring in one first serve after another.

Can a nice girl like Ana keep coming up with a big dominating serving game? So far she’s been able to. I like her positive actions out on court. She pumps her fist when she scores a good serve so you know she is honed into this most important aspect of the game. Now, whether she has the stuffing to lift her ranking into the top three in the world remains to be seen. So far, though, so good. Too bad there aren’t many women who want to keep her company.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 192 user reviews.

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for fannation.com, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between si.com and the hugely popular espn.com. S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 211 user reviews.

Why Marat Safin has a few slams and David Nalbandian does not.

Our intrepid reader Jenny placed David Nalbandian in the same category as Marat Safin: supremely gifted but lacking in commitment. I had never really thought to compare Nalbandian and Safin but after I thought about it for a while, I realized the comparison may explain why Safin has two slams and Nalbandian has none.

When I look at Safin I think to myself: “Extreme talent but, Lord, can he ever get out of his own way?” When I look at Nalbandian I think: “Solid, solid player but he’s missing the world class monster-eating-must-win-at-any-cost gene.”

One of them has too much fire and the other doesn’t have enough. I’m not sure it’s fiery competition that gnaws at Safin. He’d have a tortured soul if we’d never heard of him and he worked at a fish market. That’s just his personality. And he’s Russian. Russian literature is crawling with tortured souls.

Tennis has had a few of its own. Boris Becker qualified. Becker railed at himself on court and put himself in difficult positions off it. He married a black woman in post-war Germany and suffered through silly misdeeds such as fathering a child from a quickie encounter in a restaurant while his pregnant wife was in the hospital.

Nalbandian is missing that fire. Nadal has it, Djokovic has it, Henin lives and breathes it. I think Mauresmo had it too though not any more. Nalbandian is a bit removed. There’s nothing cerebral about wanting to kill your opponent. It’s a very visceral feeling and there’s something about Nalbandian that isn’t visceral. He’s there but floating just a bit above himself looking down and watching instead of being down and dirty in the mud slogging it out for all he’s worth.

Some people are more comfortable being runners-up. Nalbandian may be one of them. I used to play tennis with my friend Tremell every week. He was a much better player so I started each set with a three game lead. I was very proud when I reached the day that I didn’t need a three game handicap but there was a problem. Tremell preferred starting each set down three games because he was more motivated when he was behind.

Once you’ve reached a number one ranking or won a slam and have to defend it, your job description changes. You’re no longer part of the crowd trying to knock off the top player, you’re job is fending off challengers. That requires even more confidence than it took to get to the top and that’s why players like Safin and Mauresmo win one or two slams then stop. Their talent got them there but they don’t have the personality to stay for any amount of time.

It’s getting harder to say that Nalbandian doesn’t have the personality to win a slam. He won the Madrid and Paris Masters Series events this fall and that ain’t half bad. But I’m still gonna say it. I don’t think he gets a slam.

I expect Andy Murray, one of those other tortured souls, to win one first.

Teddy Awards

Let’s continue with our Teddy Awards voting. Next up: Most Surprising Player. Please go to the right side of the page and vote.

Also, if you’d help me out I’d appreciate it. I’ve been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please go here and vote for moi (Nina Rota).

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 227 user reviews.

Let’s use quality points to see how some players might perform next year.

Who would have picked David Nalbandian to win two Masters Series events after never having one before? Not I.

We’re always looking for predictors in sports. Predictors are statistics that will predict future outcomes. The most valuable predictor in tennis tells you who’s going to get better and who’s going to get worse. I’m not smart enough to come up with such things but I have a secret weapon: Bob Larson’s Daily Tennis News. It has the results of every professional tennis match in existence and periodic statistical analysis of those results.

Tennis News has found that quality points are a good predictor of movement up or down the rankings. At least they were in the women’s game when quality points were part of the rankings. The ATP never used them as far as I know. Quality points are points that get added to a ranking based on the ranking of an opponent. If you beat the number one player, for instance, you get 100 quality points added to your ranking. If you beat the number 50 player you get only 10 quality points.

Tennis News calculated the quality points rankings for 2007 and found that Nalbandian would have been ranked number four instead of number nine if we added quality points to his ranking. That means he beat a whole lot of highly ranked players. In fact, he beat the number one, two and three ranked players in Madrid.

Andy Murray is another player who would have ranked higher with quality points. But what about the downward movers? Richard Gasquet beat up on a lot of lower ranked players and would have been ranked number 19 with his quality points instead of his real ranking of number eight. That’s a big difference. Nikolay Davydenko would have fallen even farther to number 24.

On the women’s side, Venus and Serena Williams beat a lot of highly ranked players – no surprise there – while Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic beat up on a bunch of lower ranked players.

What’s the point of all this? If quality points are good predictors, then Gasquet, Davydenko, Kuznetsova and Jankovic will fall in the rankings next year while Nalbandian, Murray, and the Williams sisters will rise.

Of course, it depends. Nalbandian was injured for part of the last year and the Williams sisters are in a perpetual state of injury. Still, it means that Nalbandian could do very well in the Australian Open and Murray will continue to climb.

You might not need statistics to come to these conclusions. You know the Williams sisters will take home slams when they’re healthy and motivated. You know that Jankovic is not likely to reach number one because she doesn’t have enough offense and Ana Ivanovic is nipping at her heels. You know that Murray is only going to get better.

Davydenko is a little harder to figure out. He gets his high ranking by playing a million tournaments. He went into free fall at the end of the year due to the pressure of being the focus of an endless gambling investigation. Until the ATP comes up with a verdict, he’s likely to keep sinking.

Gasquet is a surprise. I figured he was in the top ten to stay. Check back at the end of next year and see if he is or not.

What do you think? Are these predictions accurate?

Awards, Awards

I’ve closed out voting for the Most Improved Player Teddy Award so it is now time to vote for the Most Disappointing Player of 2007. Please go to the right side of the page and lay down your vote.

By the way, I have been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please help me out by going here and voting for moi (Nina Rota) on the right side of the page. I need some help. One guy seems to have half of India voting for him.

In the Flow, In the Zone, Out of Your Head, etc.

Many people have tried to describe the state of being in the flow, in the zone, or whatever you want to call it. The game flows to you and you act without thinking. You’re in a heightened state of attention but totally relaxed. If you can keep it up, you win. Here’s a particularly good description of the state from Chip Brown. He wrote it in an article about basketball player Steve Nash in the November edition of Play Magazine:

Flow, of course, being shorthand for that state of mind that artists and athletes strive to enter into, and which in full flood entails an ecstatic expansion of consciousness that releases them from confines of the self and produces crowning moments of creation and performance.

It never occurred to me that it was an egoless state but it should have been obvious. It’s hard to be egotistical if you’re not thinking and are just doing. Too bad it’s such an elusive state. I’d like to visit it much more often.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 267 user reviews.

If Sports Illustrated won’t give the Sportsman of the Year award to tennis players, we’ll hand out our own awards, thank you very much.

National Football League player Brett Favre has been chosen as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. At this rate, Roger Federer will have to win the grand salami – all four slams in one year – to get the award and that’s if Tom Brady doesn’t lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl in January.

Roger should be sure to throw in the Olympic gold medal and get himself a golden slam while he’s at it. Let’s see if SI would be dumb enough to ignore that too. They probably would be. SI has given out the award for 53 years and it’s gone to exactly three tennis players: Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Arthur Ashe.

Oh well, let’s just hand out our own awards shall we? Let’s call them the Tennis Diary Awards –Teddys – and let’s do this all together.

Pat and I will lay out the categories and we’ll all nominate the best players for each category. Leave a comment with your choices and your reasons for those choices. The better the reason, the better your nominee will do. Then we’ll put a poll up for each category and we can choose the winners.

Pat and I will, of course, join in. Prediction market theory suggests that the best predictions come from a group of independent people who range from experts to idiots. I’m not exactly sure where I fit in there but I’m sure that between all of us, we can cover that spectrum.

Oh, and if you have a category you think we’ve missed, suggest that too. These are coed awards. Men and women will be competing in the same categories except in the centerfold category. It’s probably unfair to make Ana Ivanovic duke it out with Feliciano Lopez in the looks department. Besides, our sexual preferences differ.

Okay, here we go. Here are the categories for the 2007 Teddys.

Player of the Year
Most Improved Player
Most Disappointing Player
Most Surprising Player
Male Centerfold of the Year
Female Centerfold of the Year
Player in Most Need of a New Coach
Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008
Player Who Should Really Think About Retiring

One last comment. The Sportsman of the Year SI has exactly one page of Davis Cup coverage. That’s two pages less than the high school sports section. Pretty amazing considering that Davis Cup is an international title. That tells you where tennis ranks in the U.S.: below high school sports.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 277 user reviews.