Category Archives: U.S. Open

I’m in Love with Steffi Graf

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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Pro Tennis Players Could Lose Their Cellphones

Cellphones may be banned from tennis locker rooms to prevent the flow of inside information to gamblers.

I was sitting in the food court at the ATP Los Angeles event this summer when I happened to speak to an older Asian gentleman. He told me that he knows the families of some Taiwanese tennis players and he used to go to the U.S. Open regularly. When one of the players he knew would lose her match at the Open and go home, he’d take a press credential from someone in her entourage and he’d use it to get access to the players lounge for the rest of the tournament.

He’d never get away with that today. In fact, this year the media were even banned from the locker room at the U.S. Open. Now it looks like cellphones could be next.

The ITF, the ATP and the WTA – the three governing bodies of professional tennis – are considering banning cellphones and handheld communication devices from players lounges and locker rooms. No more watching youtube videos on your iPhone while you wait for your tennis match to start. Players will now have to be satisfied with watching Novak Djokovic do his imitation of Maria Sharapova in person.

Why such draconian measures?

Ever since Betfair voided all bets on a dodgy match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello in early August, new information about betting on tennis matches has been tumbling out of players mouths. Most of the time they described an anonymous phone call offering money to influence the outcome of a match or a stranger walking up to them and offering money. But last week, Belgian player Gilles Elseneer said that someone offered him $141,000 to throw his first round match at Wimbledon in 2005. That someone was not a stranger and it was not an anonymous phone call. It was a person who had access to the locker room.

I don’t know how banning cellphones will keep people out of the locker room but here’s a situation it could help. Let’s say Roger Federer is getting ready to play Guillermo Canas in the second round at Indian Wells. A person in the locker room sees that Federer’s ankle is all messed up and he’s getting treatment for it. That person flips open his cellphone and calls in a bet on Canas who is a huge underdog.

Maybe it was an Italian player who nipped out to the players lounge and used one of the laptops to lay down a bet on his internet betting account. An AP article reported today that “several Italian players had online betting accounts.”

That’s trading in insider information and that’s a big no-no.

In that AP article, by the way, notice that mainstream media finally caught up with the irregular betting pattern on the Poutchek/Koryttseva match a week after we first reported it here.

It isn’t just the players who are talking. British newspaper The Telegraph turned up a dossier compiled by a bookmaker that recorded suspicious betting patterns in 138 tennis matches dating back to 2003. No doubt many of those matches were not irregular but that still averages out to over 27 matches a year.

It’s a bit like the steroid controversy if you think about it. It’s been going on for years but no one has been talking about it. The Balco scandal broke open the steroid scandal in baseball and track and field. Gambling in tennis was broken open by that highly suspicious betting pattern on Betfair – an online betting exchange – during the Davydenko/Vassallo-Arguello match. If you’re using an online betting exchange, you can see the betting pattern right there on your laptop.

Is banning cellphones a draconian move? I’m not sure it’s draconian as much as ineffective. Unless tournaments ban cellphones from the entire tournament site, what’s to stop someone from stepping out of the locker room and making a phone call?

It would be more effective to require transparency for injuries. Any time a player gets treated for an injury, that information should be public knowledge. Players might run offsite to get treatment to avoid tipping off their condition to an opponent but that’s a lot harder than stepping outside the locker room and making a phone call.

It also shows you a problem with banning the media from locker rooms: it’s easier for players to hide injuries.

Speaking of those online betting exchanges, sometimes it’s the betters themselves who alert betting sites to suspicious matches. It doesn’t take an Einstein to detect an irregular betting pattern.

Tennis’ organizing bodies should require timely and public disclosure of injuries and find out who’s laying the bets that drive irregualr betting patterns. They should avoid adding yet another security procedure to the many we already endure.

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US Open Men’s Final Live Blog

Welcome everyone to our live blog of the US Open men’s final.

World number one Roger Federer is in his tenth straight slam final and could win his fourth straight US Open. The numbers just keep piling up and except for a funny string of breaks in the third set of his semifinal match against Nikolay Davydenko, he has looked invincible. Andy Roddick threw everything he had at Federer and still lost in straight sets.

Number three ranked Novak Djokovic is the first Serb to reach a slam final and he’s well on his way to making the Federer-Rafael Nadal twosome a threesome. He got to the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon and now he’s in the final. He had to battle through a few slow starts and a marathon or two to get here and he had some breathing problem in his semifinal so it might be a bit much to expect him to win his first slam today. On the other hand, but he was the guy who beat Federer to win the Montreal Masters last month so he’s the best opponent we could have.

Settle in and enjoy.


Uh oh, overtime of the Miami/Washington NFL game on CBS. Not only that but with no time on the clock, Washington threw up a Hail Mary that Jason Taylor batted down in the end zone only to see it go into the hands of Washington player Antoine Randle El. Unfortunately for us, that means overtime because Randle El couldn’t find the end zone. So close!!!

Meanwhile, while we wait for football to end and tennis start, did you ever hear of the Heidi game? In 1967, the Jets and the Raiders played a football game and with 65 seconds left in the game, the Raiders scored a quick 14 points to come from behind and win the game. No one saw it though because NBC switched from the game to a presentation of Heidi and they’ve never lived it down so we’re unlikely to get our tennis until the damn game is over!


It seems we are waiting on Denver, they just kicked a field goal to win as the clock ran out!! Oy! Guess our boys won’t be waiting much longer in the tunnel to go on court.

You must be getting a different game from CBS ’cause you are in L.A. and I am up in the bay area.

God, I am feeling as nervous as a little porker at a Memphis barbecue! I wonder what the nerves will be out there, I’m feeling as nervous as Djoko is probably. I feel for him. His first Grand Slam final! I don’t want him to stomp my man Roger, but I hope the nerves are at least okay for him. Speaking of porkers, is everyone having a tailgate party out there? Or do tennis folks indulge in such?? Oh,oh, look out, we’re singing God Bless America…


Uh oh, Liza Minelli. Does that portend drama on the court? I hope so. I don’t want a straight set yawner like the women’s final.


Everyone’s wearing black at this event, how times change. When my boyfriend moved to L.A. in 1990 he was the only guy, beside a few Asians, who ran around in all black. He got lots of S**t for that. Today it’s de riguer for everybody it seems

Federer 1-0


Djokovic will be one of the more charismatic number ones if he gets there. He’s perfect for the youtube era with his player imitations. He even has Sharapova in his box!

Federer, 2-1


Well Novak looks ok as far as the nerves go, both guys are settling in nicely.

Federer 3-3


Federer looks like he’s trying to slam Djokovic off the court. Not the strategy I would take because Djokovic is all power. How would I play Djokovic? A bit of rope-a-dope and good serving. Djokovic is a good mover but not as goos as Federer. What strategy would you use Pat?

Federer 4-3


I would want to feel him out a bit more, maybe some of both, that is the power with the finessing. Roger needs to keep those first serves coming. Djoko is serving well, Roger has to find a way to crack his serve.

Federer 5-4


Nate just joined us: “djokovic has to be hitting himself for not taking advantage of that opening loose service game…” Yep, and now he coughed up an overhead and went for a big shot out of position. He’s probably a bit nervous. Nate and Mary Carillo disagree with me. They think Fed should take it to Djokovic to keep him from hanging around.

Djokovic breaks Fed, Djokovic 6-5


Oh oh, Roger looks a bit tight on that serve and those missed forehands. I like the idea of keeping Djoko running side to side, wear him out. Let’s see if Roger can break back.

Federer breaks Djokovic, Federer 6-6, first set tiebreak


Ooooh, Fed is lucky that Djoko finally realized the enormity of what he’s doing. One question though, if Fed wants to hit Djoko off the court, doesn’t he have to get to the net? I don’t think he can hit him off the court from the baseline.

Federer, 7-6


Oy vey baby! Can you believe that? Let’s all share in the tightness, shall we??? They’d both get tight, then come back, then get tight again. These guys are going to put me in my grave today, I tell ya! Great stuff. Almost too nervewracking to watch. Is everybody ok out there? LOL

Federer 7-6, 0-1


Nate called it a choke and that’s probably not too harsh. But Djoko should take heart that Fed still hasn’t found his game. He’s still hitting tons of errors and he’s giving Djoko time to get his head together. Not a good thing.

Federer 7-6, 1-2


I’m surprised Roger did not go after that second serve of Novak’s a little more, I would have thought he would be out there early taking it to him. To his credit Novak has not dropped off the radar. His mom though looks like she’s nibbled past her nails and up to her knuckles about now.

Djokovic breaks Federer and holds serve, Djokovic 6-7, 4-1


See why I say he can’t hit with Djoko from the baseline? When Djoko’s forehand is on, it’s just too powerful.

Djokovic, 6-7, 4-2


He has to use it judiciously. He can hit with him on the forehand side, I am more worried about Fed’s backhand. I wonder where the higher gear is today

Federer breaks Djokovic, Federer 7-6, 3-4


Nate and I think Fed is out of rhythm and he was out of rhythm because he was letting Djoko take it to him from the baseline. However, we may be seeing why Fed doesn’t need a coach let alone our help. He just kept plugging along with his strategy and now it’s paying off.

Federer 7-6, 5-6


We’ve hit a lull here but Nate thinks it could be over if Djoko doesn’t do something exceptional soon and I agree with him. That’s the power of Federer. Once he does get into a groove, it’s becomes a metronomic march towards the end result.

7-6, 7-6 Federer


Guess Roger was hiding those laser first serves, huh Nate? Scary when he does get it going, it’s just he seemed so la de da there and then suddenly, there he is! Djoko should throw his hands up. But he had his chances. Maybe Federer got a bit of luck too. Now Djoko probably will go away mentally. And yet I still feel Federer hasn’t put all his cards out there yet.

Federer 7-6, 7-6, 3-2


Djokovic just let a ball land on the baseline that was good. A rookie mistake indeed and that’s how I thought this would go. Djokovic would play well, which he has, but it’s his first slam final. I’m expecting him to win at least a few slams and possibly overtake Nadal but today, the poor guy is missing just a bit of experience.

Nate: “top-spin’s a pain in the ass, huh djokovich?” I assume you are referring to Fed’s serve.

Federer 7-6, 7-6, 3-2


Uh oh, Mirka just checked her watch. Not a good sign at all for Djoko. Must be waiting on dinner at Le Cirque. Novak just held, to his credit. But no cigar today, baby

Federer 7-6, 7-6, 4-3

Nate: “commentators have made jokes about it before, but i’m beginning to think fed really does make dinner reservations counting on a straight sets win. so many times you see mirka checking her watch when fed gets a break or a break point in the third set…” Okay, we all agree, it’s over.

Federer breaks Djokovic to win the US Open title,7-6, 7-6, 6-4

Nate: “4-5, 0-15: gorgeous point. djoko’s drop shot was a good one, but not good enough…” Yep, a beautiful backhand overhead hit with grace and prudence, hit just hard enough to get the angle and the point. Quintessential Roger Federer and now he has slam number 12.


Alright, I guess dinner won’t wait! Djoko’s dropshot was great but he seemed a little surprised, and a tad late, in tracking it down crosscourt. As if he didn’t realize Federer could get to it. And then that backhand overhead, nifty stuff.

Nice show for the kid, and he’s made me a believer, he will be back next year and I’d wager the result might be different. He’s gonna make a huge leap up in his learning curve from this match.

Henin Mows Down the Sisters

Join us for the men’s U.S. Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, September 9th at 4pm EST

Justine Henin took out both Venus and Serena Williams at the US Open, mid-match coaching, and the New Yorker does tennis.

US women’s tennis consists of Venus and Serena Williams these days. The US expects one sister or the other to come out of the woodwork and snatch every slam away from the rest of the field.

This year it worked pretty well. Serena got the Australian Open title and Venus took home Wimbledon. Justine Henin took the other slam, the French Open, and now she has beaten both Serena and Venus at the US Open and that makes her the best woman tennis player in the world.

Henin was already ranked number one but Serena and Venus, the conversation went, would be fighting it out for number one if only they played enough tournaments. Potential always seems to get a higher ranking than reality and not only has reality set in for Venus and Serena, but they handled the news very well.

Serena lost to Henin in the quarterfinals and was rather ungracious about it afterwards. She said Henin hit lucky shots then denied that her level of tennis had dropped.

Venus was the next to go down in the semifinals and, perhaps covering her sister’s butt, made sure to give Henin credit in her very first utterance at the post-match media session. She didn’t avoid trouble altogether though. She called a trainer during the second set of the match and she described her ailment like this:

I got sick a little bit in the first week. I’m not sure what’s happening right now. But I’m just looking forward to getting healthy and then I can play lots and lots and lots and lots of long points.

Therefore implying that she was not at full strength. This bit of information was passed along to Henin when she turned up at her media session. Yes, I know, the media was doing its part to sow discord, but it’s hard to blame us when we spend each week trying to decode the latest announcement from one sister or the other explaining why they will be skipping yet another tournament.

Anyway, someone asked Henin if she was disappointed that Venus mentioned her health in regard to the match and Henin didn’t want to touch the subject:

No, I don’t care. I mean, I’m focused on myself and I don’t care. I just want to be a little bit…no more comment about that. It’s better.

That response probably refers to Serena’s comments too. And I have to tell you, I’m beginning to feel the same way. Maybe I’m just crabby because the sisters won’t be bringing home the US Open title but I’m tired of the drama.

Luciano Pavarotti, may he rest in peace, was the drama queen of all drama queens. Towards the end of his career he was notorious for canceling appearances. It’s getting to feel like that with the sisters. I find myself looking forward to the return of Lindsay Davenport. She plans to play a limited singles schedule next year and hopes to participate in the Beijing Olympics. She might not win a another slam but at least I know she’ll turn up and be ready to play.

Having said all that, Venus didn’t play badly against Henin. She gave up an early break in the first and second set and played an aggressive game to get both breaks back but didn’t apply pressure consistently. Henin won by the score of 7-6(2), 6-4.

Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Ana Chakvedatze in the earlier semifinal, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. The match appeared to be a contest to see who could play worse.

Chakvetadze actually pulled off my favorite amateur tennis move: swing and completely miss an overhead then spin around and try to get your racket on the ball before it bounces a second time. Like most amateurs, Chavetadze’s comical lunge at the ball failed to work. No worries, Chakvetadze will be in a few more slam semifinals before her career is over.

We will now have a US Open final between the real number one and number two ranked players (Kuznetsova reached number two this week) and that’s as it should be.

Coaching at the US Open Is Nothing New

My new burglar alarm went off at 6am this morning and I was none too happy about it. Was I supposed to actually get out of bed and walk around the house so I could meet up with my intruder? No thank you.

Turns out that it was a problem with the alarm system so I returned to bed and read John McPhee’s short but excellent book, Levels of the Game.

McPhee follows the 1968 semifinal between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner at Forest Hills, the precursor to the US Open. The match is the background for a fascinating study in contrast between the two players. Graebner was raised in a rich, white Republican family in Lakewood, Ohio, and Ashe was raised in a poor, African-American section of Richmond, Virginia.

I bring this up because Graebner and Ashe retired to the locker room for a break between the third and fourth set. Evidently this was a player perk at the time though we should keep in mind that players didn’t have chairs to sit on between games.

While they were in the locker room, they both received a visit from Donald Dell, the Davis Cup captain at the time, who advised each player how to continue the match. They received coaching, in other words, and all within the rules.

For those who disagree with on court coaching during matches, I’m not one of them, at least you can’t say it’s entirely new.

By the way, Kuznetozova and Chakvedatze got a 10 minute break between the second and third set of their match due to heat conditions but they were not allowed to receive coaching.

The New Yorker Does Tennis

Speaking of excellent writing, check out US Open coverage from that venerable publishing institution, The New Yorker Magazine. Give me my New Yorker and my Sports Illustrated and I’m a happy camper.

Check out Tennis Diary’s very own mention on the sidebar under Links. Also click on the link for the New York Times interactive US Open draw. Run your cursor over the matches in the draw and popup links to relevant Times’ articles appear. Cool.

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Read more about Serena’s comments and the match between Henin and Serena

Serena’s Mouth, Federer’s Brilliance, and Boris Becker’s Tongue

Join us for the men’s U.S. Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, September 9th at 4pm EST

Serena’s Mouth

Tennis players have different ways of dealing with a tough loss in the post-match media session that is required attendance. Andy Roddick has had a meltdown now and then. Roger Federer is as cool as a cucumber. Always. And Nikolay Davydenko might call your question stupid.

Serena Williams is known for being ungracious to her opponent. She seldom gives her opponent credit for winning the match. Rather, she’ll say that she played poorly and, more so, the outcome was totally under her control.

Take this exchange after Serena lost to Justine Henin, 7-6, 6-1, in the quarterfinals at the US Open:

Q. Are you saying that you lost the match rather than Justine won it?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think that’s usually the case with me, that it’s for me to win or lose.

And this:

Q. You fought pretty hard to get back into the first set. She played a good tiebreak. Second set, your level seemed to drop.
SERENA WILLIAMS: No, I just think she played better. I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors. I don’t think my level dropped.

Serena’s demeanor belied her comments. When someone asked her if she was devastated by the loss, she denied it, but she was snarky from beginning to end. She said she wouldn’t have done the media session but she didn’t want to pay the fine and twice she asked, “Any more questions?” clearly hoping the answer was no.

The match also belied her comments. Henin was crushing the ball and beating Serena at her own game. By the end of the media session, Serena conceded as much. When someone asked her if she’d go back and look at a tape of the match to figure out what happened she said:

Yeah, I got to go back and study and figure out how to beat her. That’s it. Bottom line.

Federer and Serena go about it in different ways but both are loathe to betray the slightest chink in their armor. Federer will dismiss a tough loss as insignificant and Serena will dismiss her opposition much as she does in her Compaq commercial where she picks up an opponent and tosses her aside with an air of dismissal.

In the case of Serena, this kind of behavior comes with the territory. She will not be denied and that’s why she can turn up at the Australian Open after missing six months of tennis and blow the field away. We want her to feel indomitable because that’s what champions are made of.

But Henin knocked her out of the three remaining slams this year. True, Serena was playing with an injured thumb in the Wimbledon loss, but the veneer of domination could be undone by denial if she doesn’t take Henin as a serious opponent.

And that means admitting that Henin outplayed her.

Federer’s Brilliance

Here’s all you need to know about the quarterfinal match between Roddick and Federer. The score was 2-2 in the second set and Federer had game point on his serve.

Roddick hit a return so hard that Federer barely got his racket on it. Roddick hit another rocket to the baseline and Federer had to short-hop that ball too. By this time Roddick was at the net and hit a crisp volley to the other side of the court that also landed near the baseline. One more Roddick volley to the opposite corner and Federer had to put up a desperation lob that landed so deep that Roddick had to hit the ball between his legs. It didn’t work.

Roddick had hit four balls that should have won the point and yet he here he was, trying to save the point with a trick shot.

Okay, let’s throw in a few more things.

In the first set tiebreaker, Roddick was serving at 4-5 when he hit a forehand approach that kicked up high off the baseline. Federer calmly flicked a passing shot cross court and out of Roddick’s reach. In the second set tiebreaker, Roddick was serving at 4-4 when he hit a 140 mph(225 km/h) serve. Federer blocked it back with a half swing and the ball landed on the back of baseline. Roddick was so surprised that all he could do was flail at it.

Roddick was bringing it, I mean he was slamming balls and playing the game of his life. But he had no chance. Power met finesse and was eaten up by it.

All that running around and slamming caught up with Roddick in the third set. He faced his first break points serving at 2-3 and lost his serve. He didn’t win another game as Federer won the match, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 6-2.

After the match Roddick said:

I’m not walking off with any questions in my head this time. I’m not walking with my head down. I played my ass off out there tonight. I played the right way.

He did play his ass off and on another night, it might have worked. At the very least, I won’t automatically assume Federer wins next time they meet up. With Roddick’s record against Federer currently sitting at 1-14, that’s progress.

Boris Becker’s Tongue

Andre Agassi sat in the commentary booth with John McEnroe and Ted Robinson during the match between Roddick and Federer. USA should hire Andre immediately. His commentary was as intelligent as I’ve heard at a tennis match.

He covered details about positioning and strategy you expect from a former top player – but don’t always hear – and it told you why you saw so many fantastic matches from him. He misses absolutely nothing.

Check this out for instance. He figured out that Boris Becker tipped off his serve with his tongue. That’s right, his tongue. If his tongue was in the middle of his mouth, his serve was going down the middle. If his tongue was over to the side, he was going wide.

We know McEnroe didn’t pick up on the tongue because he thought Agassi was joking. Maybe that’s why McEnroe was 2-8 against Becker and Agassi was 10-4.

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You can read about the match between Serena and Justine here