Monthly Archives: July 30, 2021

Here are some hints:
1. Play the match of your life
2. Play him on clay, his weakest surface.
3. Catch him at the end of a long winning streak when he is likely to be worn down from the physical stress of playing so many games on Sunday and the pressure of the expectation to win every tournament he enters.

Let’s see how this is done. We are at the Masters Series Monte Carlo tournament on April 15, 2005, and Richard Gasquet is Federer’s opponent.

To open the match, Gasquet loses at love to his idol, Federer. It doesn’t get any better as Gasquet is broken in the second game. Federer is a bit shaky himself. He has thirteen unforced errors in the first five games and he seems easily annoyed. We’ve already heard four or five “oy oy oy”s from him and he’s talking back to the fans. Gasquet breaks back in the third game to get to 3-3.

By this time we start to get a picture of Gasquet’s game. He was the number one junior in the world at age 16 and he has spent most of the last two years playing challenger events after and up and down career. He looks serious, worried even. Federer himself was the number one junior at age 17. Gasquet is probably experiencing the immense pressure Federer felt until he finally won his first grand slam, a victory that brought as much relief as it did joy.

I can see why Gasquet is up and down. He goes for everything all the time. His sharply angled cross-court shots barely pass over the net before catching the tape only a few feet beyond the service line. He doesn’t fully rotate his trunk on his forehand. He runs around so far behind the baseline I’m surprised he doesn’t run into a linesperson. It’s hard work to cover a court that is bigger than your opponent’s.

But that one-handed backhand, it’s a hammer.

With break point on Federer’s serve in the seventh game, Gasquet gets an impossible pickup of a low dipping passing shot to his backhand and angles a cross-court winner to go up 4-3. Up and down again, Gasquet give the next game back at love as Federer begins to attack the net.

Gasquet is two points away from losing the first set when he drops a drop shot on a dime then gets to the tiebreak with two service winners. This guy is fearless. He creeps in almost halfway to the service line to pressure some second serves. Even Agassi doesn’t come in that far. If Gasquet can learn to combine his fearlessness with a bit more strategic play, he has the tools of a champion. At the very least he is exciting, reckless and a very entertaining player to watch.

Federer starts to track down some of Gasquet’s smashing backhands and hits only one unforced error to Gasquet’s four to win the tiebreak 7-1.

This tournament is in Monte Carlo in a beautiful scene with the tennis court looking out on the ocean. Today is the funeral of Prince Rainier who died on April 6th after a long illness. The procession will leave from the 17th century Palatine Chapel in his palace and end at the Monaco Cathedral where Rainier married Grace Kelly in 1956 and where he will be buried. In deference to the funeral, the tournament halted play from 11am-2pm. Three hours, I suppose, was all they could spare.

Federer and Gasquet trade breaks in the second and third game of the second set but then Gasquet breaks Federer again to go up 4-1. We have a match. True to his style, Gasquet is still hammering backhand winners sharply cross-court and attacking second serves. He is even hitting some winners down the line when Federer attacks his backhand. Federer did the same thing in the Australian Open. He hit down the line to counter Agassi’s attacks on his backhand but he wasn’t hitting them for winners.

In the next game, Federer finally takes advantage of Gasquet’s deep position behind the baseline and gets a dropshot winner, a weapon he should have used more often against Rafael Nadal in Miami. Nadal also likes to run around way behind the baseline.

Federer is now serving at 5-2 to stay in the set. In this game we get a marvelous sequence of points that shows just how special this match is. On the first point Federer runs Gasquet wide to get an open court then pushes the backhand long. On the next point, Gasquet rips a backhand down the line to pull Federer wide and gets to the net for a winning volley. Federer is tired of the rocket shots from the baseline and comes to the net to cut them off. He stabs at a net chord passing shot for a winner then serves Gasquet wide. Gasquet barely returns the ball and gives Federer a swinging volley but Gasquet tracks it down and blasts a forehand passing shot cross-court to take the game and second set, 6-2.

This is tennis at its best.

Gasquet survives the first game in the third set but he’s still on fire and hits three winners in the second game to go up 2-0. He’s still going for winners at the slightest opportunity but Federer is mixing up volleys and drop shots and his serve is starting to heat up. Gasquet’s break holds up for a 5-3 lead. Gasquet is now serving for the match and the crowd is on its feet. They would love to see the Frenchman to win this tournament but they’re clearly applauding both players.

As amazing as this day is for Gasquet, this is a match that will get him out of the challenger circuit and into the realm of players who will be expected to win a major, it is stunning that Federer ever gets to a place where he has a match point.

Gasquet is either tired or feeling the pressure and hits a few lazy shots but he does get a match point only to hit set up a swinging volley and anxiously hit it long. He had a sitter for the match! He smiles at himself as he walks back to the baseline, he knows he wanted it just a bit too much. On break point he serves and volleys on second serve, did I say he was fearless, and Federer botches his own easy shot. After getting to the net for the fifth time in the game, Gasquet nets a volley then follows with another unforced error and we are back on serve. You could never fault Gasquet for being cautious.

Gasquet gets two return winners and a beautiful cross-court volley that bounces off the line to get another match point in the next game but Federer wrong foots him and hits two very good serves to get to 5-5. Federer sniffs after the service winner as if to say, “No problem, I’ve done this before. In fact, I did it in my last tournament, in the final no less.”

Both players hold serve and the match will be decided with a tiebreaker. Gasquet is hitting inside out forehands to pull Federer wide and Federer is attacking Gasquet’s forehand. At 5-5, Federer approaches with a backhand down the line and gets his first match point.

As amazing as this day is for Gasquet, this is a match that will get him out of the challenger circuit and into the realm of players who will be expected to win a major, it is stunning that Federer ever gets to a place where he has a match point. Gasquet has unloaded a barrage of deep and sharply angled winners and attacked everything in sight. Federer keeps attacking the net after he gets passed, keeps swinging for the lines even though an unusually high percentage of them sail long, and keeps attacking Gasquet’s gorgeous backhand.

Gasquet hits a service winner to get to 6-6 then gives Federer his second match point by hammering an inside out forehand into the net. Federer gets yet another match point, his third, but sends a forehand wide. Gasquet finally hits an inside out forehand for a winner to get a match point and hits a backhand passing shot from, no lie, eight feet behind the baseline that flies down the line and past Federer’s racket. Gasquet has finally won the match. He’s happy, his father and coach in the stands are happy and we’re happy.

As for Roger, you never know what a player is thinking and he certainly isn’t going to tell me, but if I was him, I’d be disappointed in the high number of unforced errors but pretty comfortable that my clay court preparation was on schedule.

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Wouldn’t you think it strange if you read a magazine article about a historically significant boxing match three weeks before the high profile release of a Hollywood film with the same title about the same boxing match and the movie is never mentioned in the article?

There is an excerpt from Jeremy Schaap’s new book, Cinderella Man, in this week’s Sports Illustrated. On June 3, Universal Pictures will release the movie Cinderella Man. Notice the similarities in the title. Sports Illustrated is owned by Time Warner. Universal Pictures is owned by Vivendi Universal. Schaap’s book is published by Houghton Mifflin which is, as far as I can tell, one of the few independent media outlets remaining.

We live in an era of multi mega merger media companies. Click here to get an outdated yet fascinating look at the holdings of the seven largest media entities. Time Warner’s current holdings include forty eight music labels, four film studios, thirty four television stations, three professional sports teams, twenty five publishers and forty four magazines. You get the picture.

In addition to the hardcover edition of Cinderella Man, there is a large print edition and an audio book both published by Random House, which is a global publishing conglomerate all by itself. Its holdings include ten publishing groups which in turn own over fifty five imprints.

Time Warner’s current holdings include forty eight music labels, four film studios, thirty four television stations, three professional sports teams, twenty five publishers and forty four magazines. You get the picture.

I’ve seen Sports Illustrated do this in reverse. They wrote a story about Million Dollar Baby in the runup to the Oscar awards. The article called it possibly one of the best fight films ever. Million Dollar Baby was released by Warner Bros. which is, of course, owned by Time Warner. The readers were not fooled. Sports Illustrated itself printed a letter from a reader castigating them for pretending to write an independent review of the movie.

We know that there are not too many of those any more. Time Magazine is owned by Time Warner. The new big Hollywood film on its cover does not belong to a studio in a rival media company, we can be sure of that.

Even Google is clamping down. They’re changing the rules for Google news searches. The website you are currently visiting, mostvaluablenetwork.com, is registered with Google news. If you’re looking for the results of yesterday’s Yankees game, Google news will return a set of links that could include a link to yankees.mostvaluablenetwork.com.

But now Google is going to filter sites by the length of the article, the number of employees and the traffic to the website. The larger media outlets which are owned by even larger media companies are going to get a still larger cut of the pie, as if they needed it. I assume the media companies have lobbyists. I wonder if they visited Google.

So here we have a book and movie with the same title but different media parents coming out at the same time with the same title. What to do? Print an excerpt of the book in Sports Illustrated and act like the movie doesn’t exist. Call it piggyback press – free publicity.

I wonder who chose their title first?

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Justine Henin-Hardenne is only two inches taller and three pounds heavier than I am but, unless I take up steroids some time soon, she hits a tennis ball at least twice as hard as I can hit it. I don’t expect to meet her or anyone like her in league play. Then again, I haven’t met any women in league play. For the past two and a half seasons I’ve only ever played against men in my singles matches.

My identity crisis in not a gender issue though, I’m pretty sure I am a woman, and even in tennis I’m taking care of that. I’ve found a women’s USTA 3.5 team whose players seem happy to see me.

This identity crisis is more a matter of aggressive versus passive, the human hammer versus the human backboard. I would love to go for the sharp short cross-court winner or hit a backhand slice down the line then approach or hit an inside out forehand deep into my opponent’s backhand corner.

And I can, in practice. My singles league matches, though, are one set long. You don’t get three or four tries at a half volley or an impossibly angled winner, they now count against you and the set is over 3-6 before you know it. Many times it turns out that the most effective strategy is to hit the ball back to my opponent in the middle of the court and let them play too aggressively and hit it out.

The paradox here is that an aggressive tennis player has to be able to “just get the ball over the net” consistently enough to stay in a match and get the opportunity to hit a winning shot.

I’ve often wondered why tennis is not a more popular sport. Kids play soccer and kickball, not tennis. The new hot game in youth sports is lacrosse. You don’t even have to know how to cradle the ball very well if the stick has a deep pocket. You just pick up the ball, run down the field and shoot at the goal.

No doubt there are a number of reasons that tennis is not more popular. It can be very expensive and it’s not a team sport. It’s also not so easy to learn how to hit well enough to hang in there through long rallies. It takes years of practice and patience.

The paradox here is that an aggressive tennis player has to be able to “just get the ball over the net” consistently enough to stay in a match and get the opportunity to hit a winning shot.

Evidently I have more of that these days. I had my usual periodic appointment with my homeopathist today. I used to be a nux vomica homeopathic personality. Nux vomica personalites tend to be workaholics and are very impatient. In my case, I also tended to call people stupid instead of sympathizing with them.

I now take causticum. People who take causticum tend to be emotionally sympathetic to other people’s problems and fight against injustice. Don’t get me wrong, when I read about a man who’d had bypass surgery dying the day after he completed a 2400 mile bicycle trip, I did say to myself, “that’s stupid, why would you do that if you’d had quadruple bypass surgery?”

But I do now seem patient enough to realize that becoming a good aggressive competitor is not a matter of being an impatient workaholic, it seems to involve sympathy for the learning process and a fair amount of time.

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A disgruntled ex-business partner, Lindsay Jones, has accused Lenny Dykstra of taking steroids while he was an outfielder for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. The bodybuilder who allegedly supplied Dykstra with the drugs, Jeff Scott, says in a sworn statement that Dykstra greatly increased his steroid use in spring training of the 1993 season. That season he hit 19 home runs. The most he had ever hit before 1993: 10 home runs. The most he hit after 1993: 5 home runs.

Oh, and he also led the league in hits, walks and runs and came in second to, you guessed it, Barry Bonds in the MVP voting.

Dykstra averaged 10 home runs over 162 games throughout his career and that includes 1993. So let’s say that steroids accounted for 9 home runs in 1993. Not a lot by today’s standards but almost double Dykstra’s previous maximum output.

As you can see by looking at these figures, more home runs means more money.

He received a four year contract extension in 1994 worth, according to these figures, $24.4 million. I don’t believe that inflation was on a rampage during that period so we can safely assume that his marvelous 1993 season accounted for the jump in salary – a salary that was the highest ever for a leadoff hitter at that time.

True, his salary tripled after the 1990 season but he had 192 hits in 1990, only two less than in 1993 with 47 less at bats. The major difference between 1990 and 1993 is the number of extra base hits.

Information abhors a vacuum. If we don’t have it, we’ll make it up. That means that baseball might well ending up looking worse than if certain players had never taken any steroids at all.

Dykstra was a tough, productive baseball player. No doubt his salary would have gone up without the 19 home runs but it’s doubtful that it would have doubled. He barely played half a season in 1991 and 1992 and only made it through the second year of his new contract before retiring.

As more and more information about steroid use finally makes it’s way into the light, I find myself calculating it’s influence on baseball through inference. Since baseball purposely turned a blind eye, we’ll never really know for sure. That’s unfortunate because many players who would have had fine careers without taking steroids now find themselves subject to a lot of speculation. Hall of Fame careers are in danger.

Information abhors a vacuum. If we don’t have it, we’ll make it up. That means that baseball might well ending up looking worse than if certain players had never taken any steroids at all.

This is the classic failure of a deal with the devil. The hopeful supplicant takes a magic potion to lift their skills above their fellow players and ends up tainting accomplishments that did not need the benefits of steroids.

Would you rather let your career speak for itself or leave it in the hands of people like me?

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