Monthly Archives: July 30, 2021

Tracking down the broadcast of the Roger FedererRafael Nadal semifinal match at the French Open was harder than getting crosstown at rush hour. The match was moved from ESPN2 to NBC though it was still on the ESPN2 schedule and NBC listed Jane Pauley at 10am. When I clicked on Jane Pauley I got a tape of the Nadal-Ferrer quarterfinal followed by the Henin-HardennePetrova semifinal. Evidently there was a ninety-minute rain delay before the five set DavydenkoPuerta semi-final which preceded, yes, Federer and Nadal. Since NBC didn’t show the Davydenko-Puerta match, we watched retreads till the main event arrived. And that was later than it should have been because NBC showed the match live on the east coast and tape-delayed on the west coast. Tennis. It stills gets no love.

This is the big bang we’ve been waiting for. The number one player, Federer, against the white hot clay court player, Nadal.The last time these two played, on a hard court in Miami, Federer pulled out a highly improbably five set win after coming within two points of losing the match.

After all of that mishegoss this morning, is there still enough time to get this match in before dark and can I keep myself from looking at the live scoring on the web?

The answer to that last question is…no. Let’s see how the rest goes.

Nadal opens with a passing shot down the line on the very first point and goes on to break Federer who has three forehand errors in the first game. This will all start to look pretty familiar. Federer is having trouble with his forehand and Nadal is targeting his backhand. It’s harder to go up and meet the ball over your shoulder when you have a one-handed backhand, even a gorgeous backhand like Federer’s.

Federer’s strategy is clearly to attack the net and make the points as short as possible so he doesn’t have to run down too many of those high spinners. He doesn’t move as well on clay as Nadal. How many clay court tournaments has Nadal won this year? Five. How many clay court tournaments has Federer won? One.

Problem is, if you are fighting off high shots to your backhand and making loads of errors with your forehand, it’s very hard to attack. By the end of the first set, Federer has 18 unforced errors, over 75% of them forehand errors, and Nadal has broken him four, count’em, four times. When was the last time Federer was broken four times in one set, elementary school?

Worse than that, they are not entertaining me. In the last game of the set, Nadal screams a return down the line for a winner from outside the doubles alley, otherwise there’s not a lot to report.

Federer improves his first serve, comes to the net more – four times in one six point game – and keeps more of his forehands in the court. It’s a big turnaround and gets him to 5-1 in the second set. His forehand is still a bit shaky, though, and Nadal breaks him and holds serve enough to get to 4-5 before Federer wins the second set 6-4.

Is Federer going for too much on his forehand because he knows that Nadal is a superior defensive player or is he just having a bad day? Some of both. Federer is mishitting an unusually high number of balls. One chopped backhand slice makes it only halfway to the net. The long delay before the game seems to have bothered him more than the French Open rookie Nadal.

And the conditions seem to be bothering him more. Let me set the scene. There has already been a short rain delay, the flags are blowing and the wind is whipping the players shirts as the clock reads 8 o’clock. It’s starting to get dark. Evidently they don’t believe in lights at Roland Garros.

In the third set the players trade breaks and Federer serves at 4-5 to stay in the set. Nadal drops a perfect drop shot to get two breaks points at 15-40. Federer manages to get to deuce then hits a backhand slice long. On the second break point he attacks the net with a good enough shot to get an overhead to hit but Nadal tracks it down and sends it back hard enough to go on the offensive and win the point, and the third set, with a forehand approach down the line. The kid knows how to play the big points.

At this point, Federer has 54 unforced errors to Nadal’s 27, exactly twice as many. It is now 8:35pm. The announcers tell us that the television screen makes the court look lighter than it really is.

It looks like the long delay, the rain, the darkness, a man yelling in the crowd and, most of all, Rafael Nadal’s tennis game, unnerved Federer.

Federer breaks Nadal in the third game of the fourth set as Nadal makes four unforced errors. Serving with a 3-2 lead and the score at deuce, Federer serves up his fifth double fault after someone yells at the beginning of his service motion. He gets back to deuce but loses the game on another dreaded forehand error.

At the end of the next game he goes up to the chair umpire and asks him to suspend the match due to darkness. Evidently the plan is to complete the fourth set and then suspend the match. All Federer has to do is hang on and win this set.

The next game is a microcosm of Federer’s tennis game today. Serving at 3-4, on the first point he gets to the net and repels three point blank hard shots from Nadal finally putting the last one away with a winner. At 30-30, he hits an approach winner after a strong serve. Then he misses an inside out forehand and completely mis-hits a backhand to give Nadal the opportunity to serve for the match.

Nadal takes advantage of the first match point he sees and get to the title match with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.

It looks like the long delay, the rain, the darkness, a man yelling in the crowd and, most of all, Rafael Nadal’s tennis game, unnerved Federer. In the last set his first serve percentage was 33% (!) and he had three times as many errors as winners. In the same set, Nadal served at 85% with almost the same number of errors and winners.

Wimbledon is probably not a fair test for the best clay court player in the world. Let’s see if Nadal can get deep into the US Open draw. Then we can officially call him a crossover star.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 248 user reviews.

Watching the lopsided and rather boring blowouts that occurred today in the women’s semis, I could not help but think on the piece I had read earlier in the week, in the New York Times, all about how the French should bring the women’s pay up to the men’s.

The French so far have resisted. The men make 1, 106, 000 dollars for the winner, the women’s champ earns 1, 090, 000. Not much difference between the two, really.

But it’s the principle, I know. Well, it’s also economics, so thinks Jean-Claude Blanc, the head of the French Tennis Federation. He very rationally points out three reasons why this cannot occur, and try as I would like, I cannot get out from under the logic of his argument.

Number one, the men simply put in a lot more hours on court in a Grand Slam than the women do.

Number two, the women’s field is not nearly as dense down through the first fifty seedings, say, as the men’s.

And number three, which really touches on the heart of the economics of the matter, the networks prefer the men’s matches in terms of their perspective.

But all this raises a new and interesting question, would we really want to SEE five sets of the women’s matches today? Would most of the women’s tour be physically ready for that? I would say not, many of them seem to be suffering mightily just getting through two, or even three, sets let alone five. I know everyone’s working out harder these days on conditioning, but even so it is probably not to where it could be.

And I’m afraid I would, as a spectator, be obliged to suffer right along with them. Not fun, thinks I.

God, I would want to pay them equal pay just to get them the hell away. I could not take five sets of this kind of tennis. Or, at least, three sets of what we saw today. Which could not end soon enough for me.

Call me sexist, and yes maybe I am. But I want to see the women improve more. They are getting there, but Mr. Blanc is correct and the TV networks bear him out. The men’s matches are better for ratings. Because it is a better, more exciting brand of tennis.

The guys yesterday, finishing up the bottom part of the draw in the quarterfinals, put on spectacular five set marathon displays of high-spirited tennis, albeit well-seasoned with many errors.

The RobredoDavydenko match took turns shifting back and forth. Just when the Russian seemed to falter in energy and started to give up a few games, he would recover and then reassert himself.

Robredo did the same. He has what could become a very stylish all court game if he could play the big matches more consistently. He has been hovering in the 10th-25th ranking for some time now, he is ready for a move up perhaps. He seems to have the skills, he needs to develop the head strategy to go along with it.

As fraught with errors as the match was, it was also a lot of fun. We got to see two guys ready to make a move up put on an entertaining display of tennis. It was close right down to the finish. Davydenko won the match, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

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If they ever erect a statue at Roland Garros of Mary Pierce, who after all is nearly French, and should she win the final on Saturday against Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne, it should probably be styled after the classic painting of Venus stepping out of her bath in the giant seashell.

She gives new meaning to the term, a Pregnant Pause. Mary has many of them. For adjusting her hair, shaking her bracelets, gazing over the net at her opponents as if she were dreamily sizing them up for her next barbie. And they were the star pieces of meat.

It is probably one of the rare times on a tennis court when the opponent was intimidated by smiles rather than ferocious focused anger. Mary took her own sweet time, and she was very sweet about it. Very relaxed. This could have been a day at the spa for her, instead of on unforgiving red clay. She hammered Likhovetseva all over the court.

After the match Brad Gilbert sweetly chastised poor Likhovtseva for allowing herself to get whipped so soundly. He told the story of an early coach he had who admonished him, “When you lose the first set 6-1, you have to do something, anything. Give him junk! Give him moonballs! Otherwise it’s a blowout for sure.”

But she didn’t, she played the second set exactly as she had the first pretty much. And the score was the same, 6-1.

Justine Henin-Hardenne is not likely to be so sweet about Mary’s penchant for squandering time on court between points. Just go up and tell the referee ahead of the match your concerns about Mary staying within the time constraints. That way she will be clued into it from the start. So said Brad Gilbert, and also apparently Justine’s longtime coach, Carlos Rodriguez.

He is trying to get her to move forward more in her matches, to come into net more often. Justine says she feels a lot of tension from attempting that, she is not fully comfortable at the net yet. Fortunately, today she could rely on her greatest strengths, her backhand, her variety, and her intensity of play, to get her by a rather lackluster Petrova on one of her lesser days. She will worry about her net play some other day.

Petrova is a big power hitter, but not consistently enough that she can go for outright winners. She kept trying to do that through much of the first half of the match, overhitting balls or netting them. She needed to just keep the ball in play a bit before she went for her big shot.

By the time she started doing this, the match was nearly over. No surprises here.

So, the call please. I say Justine will give Mary’s bell a good ringing Saturday in the final, I would be very surprised if she even got a set off Justine.

As for the men’s semi-final, I say Federer will lay it down pretty good to Nadal in four sets.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 167 user reviews.

Somewhere during the middle of the first set in the Venus Williams – Maria Sharapova semifinal slugfest at Wimbledon on Thursday, the camera alighted upon the person of father Richard Williams, seated in the rather dubiously named Friends’ Box. This was about the time it was apparent to all in the stadium that Venus Williams had come to play, with her “A” game in tow. Richard was watching his daughter’s match intently, with a certain fierce gleam in his eye. Given his uncannily accurate statements in the past about his two daughters’ fortunes, I wondered if he already knew that Venus would triumph today when all was said and done.

He was seated in front of Yuri Sharapov, Maria’s dad. Talk about a vicious seating arrangement. The Friends’ Box can probably tell a tale or two of opposing families who have sat there over the years.

At least the daughters get a net between them. The dads just have to make do. Do cups of coffee ever get spilled, accidentally of course? Do they acknowledge each other during the match? I know they do probably both before and after. But otherwise?

It was a wonderfully intense match, even with Venus running up a 5-1 lead in the second and final set. You never felt like it was over until it was over. Maria is not one to take anything lying down. She fought and shrieked her way on every point. These women not only go in for racket abuse. They go in for lung abuse. Don’t they need at least a soothing throat lozenge when it’s all over? I feel I drink more water that usual when I watch these two.

The decibel level of the shrieks must have been startling, especially to those staid Brits. Waves of murmuring ran through the crowd as the rallies were prolonged, and the girls upped the shriek level even more. Is it like a nail across the blackboard for them? I mean, the Brits aren’t rowdy and just plain loud like those crowds that frequent the U.S. Open, especially into those late night matches; they can’t be rude the way the French crowds are, either, they’ll openly applaud a non-French player if he defaults while he’s playing one of theirs. They certainly aren’t like the Italian crowds in the Foro Italico at their Open, who have no qualms about giving anyone and everyone on court the business, if it strikes their collective fancies. That is, when they’re not making out right there in the stands with the ladyfriends they’ve brought along. There’s a lot of that you used to see at the Italian, before the ESPN network dropped it and it migrated over to the Tennis Channel. Bjorn Borg tried out the Italian a few times and declared he would never play there again. He did marry one later on, but that’s another story. He got tired of fighting the crowd as well as his opponents. No wonder he did well at Wimbledon, his style fit in easily with the British reluctance to display.

But we’re the ones at home who should be shrieking, because the women today in both semifinals gave us all an intense run for our money. They were the epitome of women’s power tennis today. No fooling around here, it was a battle of the titans. Three of the four women are six feet and over. Mauresmo is the little shrimp in the group at 5’8″. Long rallies full of deep shots and crisp play at the net dominated. The mental chess going on in both matches was nearly as compelling as the physical presence each competitor showed.

And the serving. Especially Amelie’s. Green is her magic color after all. Maybe the Brits and the French should do a swap, Henman for Mauresmo. He has played well recently on clay, and grass shows off her wonderful game better on this surface than any other. But then I am an unrepentant devotee of the nearly extinct serve and volley game. Watching her on a number of occasions serve powerfully to Davenport and then rush the net, where she executed a neatly angled volley, is a thing of beauty. Why doesn’t she do this more often, I say to myself. Like, why doesn’t she just do it all the time? Like Patrick Rafter did? Just head for the net on every serve that’s big, and camp out there. Dare them to drive the ball back through your navel. Of course they’ll pass you, but Amelie’s a big girl now, she can take a few hits at the net. Her attitude was impeccable throughout, she didn’t seem to be down mentally, her body language was pretty good.

Of course, she still may lose the match tomorrow once play is resumed. But she can still take away a lot from it, I hope it’s more confidence in her ability to play more serve and volley. She is tall enough to serve consistently well, and she has a great motion with a lot of power behind it. She’s speedy enough to cover ground and get into the net, and when her serve is working well her volleying technique is good enough that she can put away nearly everything. Today, she saw how easy it was for her. Let this be a good lesson.

Her head may get in the way of this happening. She waits for the action to come to her too much of the time, she waits on the baseline and reacts rather than getting in there and taking charge at the net. If she drove the ball flatter, this would increase her chances, but she tends to loop the forehand too much for my taste and it detracts from her power. Another reason she should focus more on serve and volley.

Davenport’s demeanor went through a similar dynamic, she teetered on the brink of negativity at certain moments, and that has always been a bugaboo for her before. But she kept her cool, her focus, and fought it off. I expect Lindsay to come out and win it tomorrow. But Amelie has played magnificently. She hasn’t managed to wrangle a set out of Davenport in over five years of playing her. So today she has already surpassed herself.

I don’t know about the rest of the women’s draw, but these four players today definitely deserve equal pay with the men. Get ready guys, the day is coming when you’re just gonna have to cough up.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 162 user reviews.