Monthly Archives: July 29, 2021

Actually, it’s my Maria Sharapova bobblehead doll that has a broken neck. It doesn’t bobble, it just lists to one side. Sharapova does have an inflamed pectoral muscle, though, and that’s why we’ll see Elena Dementieva play Tatiana Garbin instead of the quarterfinal match between Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova.

On top of that, Peng Shuai injured herself in practice and has defaulted this evening’s doubles match so will see an exhibition by two players who would have been in the doubles match if there had been one. Welcome to Maria Sharapova bobblehead night at the JP Morgan Chase Open.

The injuries just keep piling up. Mary Pierce, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Vera Zvonareva, Elena Likhovtseva and Ai Sugiyama dropped out before the tournament started.

The WTA and ATP summer schedule is brutal. Two weeks of long tedious matches on the red clay at Roland Garros followed two weeks later by a fortnight of hard hitting on the quick green grass at Wimbledon. Follwed by ten tournaments in the US Open Series. Followed by the Open itself.

The year end championships are in November with only five weeks off before the Australian Open tuneups usher in a new season.

It’s not like basketball, football and baseball. At least there you have teammates and a four-month off-season. The NBA has 82 regular season games. A top ranked tennis player can play over 80 matches a year on many different continents. And that doesn’t include doubles. Tennis players are now bigger and stronger and they have more powerful rackets. It’s not men in long white pants hitting slices back and forth anymore. It’s a barrage of very hard hit ground strokes coming at you from all parts of the court. The spate of injuries in the men’s and women’s game in the last few weeks is not surprising.

Every single time an interviewer asks a tennis player, “What would you do if you were commissioner for a day?” they respond, “I’d make the season shorter.” You could argue that no one is forcing players to enter all of these tournaments but you could hardly blame Sharapova for playing this week. If she’d actually played in the semifinals, she could have claimed the number one ranking. It turns out that she will still get the number one ranking, the first Russian to do so, but a week later because Davenport is not playing in Toronto.

At the Mercedes Benz Cup tournament a few weeks ago, your parking fee was refunded if you owned a Mercedes Benz. Tonight it’s a Land Rover. Nobody could ever accuse tennis of being a working class spectator sport.

Tonight we are at The Home Depot Center and the field of the adjacent soccer stadium is tricked out like a dirt bike track. Instead of dirt bikes speeding around the track, Land Rovers slowly turn sideways and tip upwards as they crawl over the dirt hills. It looks like an ant farm in slow motion.

Elena Dementieva is playing Tatiana Garbin in this last quarterfinals match. Garbin is a quick and that’s a good thing because Dementieva is one of the hardest hitters on the tour. Garbin manages to hold serve in the first game but she spends a lot of time running down Dementieva’s shots.

Dementieva is overpowering as she breaks Garbin on her next three service games and wins the first set 6-1. You can see Dementieva’s shots get harder and deeper as her confidence grows and Garbin’s returns get shorter as her confidence drains away. One of Dementieva’s shots is so hard and flat it looks like it was shot out of a cannon.

Dementieva has a double fault in each of her first two service games. She has well-documented problems with her serve. In a loss at the finals of the 2004 French Open, she had ten double faults. Her serve is much improved, she’ll only suffer through four double faults this evening, but it’s still an adventure. She’s like a crafty baseball pitcher who tosses pitches at different speeds and different angles, you never quite know what’s coming. Garbin gets four break points in the third game of the second set but she’s unable to convert them and when Dementieva finally gets a game point, she lobs a 68 mph second serve that throws Garbin off – she returns it over the baseline and out.

Dementieva breaks Garbin twice in the second set and wins the match in fifty-five minutes, 6-1, 6-1.

Instead of the quarterfinals doubles match, we see an exhibition set between Bethany Mattek and Angela Haynes, two young Americans who have made it to the doubles semifinals. A courtside announcer reveals the contents of each player’s tennis bag as Mattek and Haynes joke around on the court.

All in all it’s pretty disappointing except for a fascinating conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Her name is Terri Ford and she is the Director of Advocacy for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). She is off to South Africa for the tenth time to visit AHF’s hospital. They treat AIDS patients with antiretrovirals. She shows me images that will soon be in a gallery show. They are portraits of patients in South Africa and Uganda – where AHF has another hospital – who are surviving with the Foundation’s help. One portrait shows a mother who has lost six children to AIDS. Another shows a mother with one surviving child who hopes to live long enough to raise him. There is a happy, smiling family of two parents and a child. The entire family is being treated for AIDS.

It’s a sad but hopeful intrusion into the world of make believe at a tennis tournament where Land Rovers play at climbing over rough terrain. In Africa it’s the real thing.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 185 user reviews.

Tonight we are in Montreal at Uniprix Stadium for the first round of the Rogers Masters Cup. It’s a weekday evening, the place is rocking and there are 11, 000 people packed in here. Good stuff for tennis in North America.

This is the fourth men’s tournament in the US Open Series leading, naturally, to the US Open. The clay court players have finally arrived. Rafael Nadal will take on his fellow Majorcan Carlos Moya later in this round. French Open finalist Mariano Puerta is here along with Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio. Roger Federer is still resting a foot injury.

We are going to watch Andy Roddick play Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. Roddick has been in the finals of this event for the last two years and won it in 2003 – when Brad Gilbert was still his coach. The courtside announcer tonight, Brad Gilbert, who should still be his coach, points out that the court is very fast. Strangely, given the supersonic speed of Roddick’s serve, Gilbert says that Roddick is not that comfortable on very fast courts because it’s harder for him to get to ground strokes.

I was never one of those people who thought that Tiger Woods should return to Butch Harmon. He left him for a good reason. If he didn’t smooth out his golf swing, he was concerned that he would re-injure his knee. Woods thinks big, he wants to break Nicklaus’ record of eighteen grand slams, and he can’t do that if he isn’t set up to play for the next twenty years.

Roddick seems to have two goals. One is to win a lot of majors. The other is to increase the popularity of tennis in the United States. Getting to the number one ranking and staying there is a good way to increase the popularity of tennis. Trying to be the number one ranked player and the P.R. department for U.S. tennis, that’s too much. Evidently Gilbert and Roddick’s father Jerry clashed over Roddick’s schedule. Gilbert felt that Roddick’s outside commitments interfered with his goal of getting to number one. I’d have to go with Gilbert on this one.

Roddick and Mathieu have never played before though they do have history. Mathieu was the number one ranked junior when both players were sixteen years old. Mathieu is ranked number 67 after missing much of last year with an injured wrist. I’m beginning think that wrist surgery is the provenance of two-handed backhanders. Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Kim Clijsters all had wrist surgery. Do players with one-handed backhands ever need wrist surgery? If you can send me an example, I’ll give you a free subscription to the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Gilbert felt that Roddick’s outside commitments interfered with his goal of getting to number one. I’d have to go with Gilbert on this one.

Roddick and Mathieu trade breaks in the first two games and stay on serve until Roddick serves at 5-6. There are two surprising things about this. The first is that Mathieu has fifteen winners to Roddick’s five. The second is that Mathieu has five aces to Roddicks’s two. Roddick may be tired from his title run at last week’s tournament in Washington, his conditioning has been suspect at times. And what about those outside commitments? But Mathieu is also helping himself by looking like Andre Agassi on service return, he’s getting them all back.

Roddick plays points loosely and loses the game and first set 5-7. Not only that, but in his first service game in the second set, he does it again. He doubles faults on break point to go down 0-2. Amazingly, Mathieu wins the next game with four straight aces! Who is this guy?

Normally the pressure of Roddick’s serve would push a much lower ranked player into errors. They know they have to win their service game because Roddick certainly won’t lose his. But that pressure is gone tonight and Mathieu keeps serving up aces and winners. Roddick gets two break points to get back on serve but he hits an error on the first one and Mathieu hits a 126mph service winner on the second. That’s the last chance Roddick gets.

Mathieu punctuates his dominance this evening with a top ten highlight in the sixth game. After Roddick returns and approaches, Mathieu hits a forehand down the line that Roddick barely gets over the net. Mathieu rushes in to get the short shot and hits it past Roddick’s backhand but Roddick manages to lunge at the ball and put up a lob volley. Mathieu turns his back and runs as fast as he can to the baseline, spins around and hits an inside out forehand that races past Roddick at the net.

This is one of the reasons that Mathieu has been inconsistent on the tour. He just went for a winner when he was in a totally defensive position. He’s up a set and a break, he doesn’t need to do that. Mathieu holds onto the break and wins the match, 7-5, 6-3.

Mathieu has just hit fourteen aces with 56% of his first serves in and won 82% of the points on his first serve. Is this an aberration or is this the start of Mathieu’s climb up the rankings? I looked at the statistics for the matches he won at Indian Wells and Miami, both hard court Masters events, earlier this year. He averaged six aces, 47% first serve percentage and won 74% of the points on his first serve. Mathieu is still alive after the third round at Montreal. Even if you take away the match with Roddick, he is averaging nine aces, 51% first serves in and 81% first service points won.

Mathieu has a new coach, Thierry Tulasne, as of three weeks ago. Monsieur Mathieu has not granted me an interview so I don’t know exactly what he’s done but it looks like his coach has encouraged him to take something off his first serve and move it around more.

By the way, at Indian Wells he was knocked out by Lleyton Hewitt, at Miami he lost to Agassi, at Monte Carlo it was Guillermo Coria, and in Estoril Moya beat him. No shame in that. Mathieu doesn’t look like a top ten player yet but this win doesn’t look like an aberration either.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 276 user reviews.

I’m beginning to think that performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) should be a new category in sports columns and websites right after Nascar and just before rugby (is there a pro Quidditch league yet?).

Tennis is right there in the thick of PED culture. Argentine Guillermo Canas has just been suspended for two years after testing positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide (HCT). He is the fourth Argentine to be supended for a drug violation. Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Coria and Mariano Puerta all served suspension for banned PED’s.

Puerta was suspended the longest, nine months. That’s a long time but it’s nothing like two years. That’s a lifetime to a tennis player. Can you imagine if Rafael Palmeiro had received a two year suspension? End of career.

Canas received an automatic two year suspension because tennis adheres to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s guidelines, the same as those used in the Olympics.

If a two year suspension wasn’t bad enough, Canas also has to repay $276, 070 in prize money and forfeit 525 singles and 95 doubles rankings points. How is this determined? Do they figure out how long the banned substance stayed in his body, calculate how much he won during that period then ask for the money back?

Mybe they should do that in baseball. Calculate how long the stanozolol stayed in Palmeiro’s body then go back and take away all of the hits he had during that period. By the way, you can see why the Major League Baseball union is fighting tooth and nail against being subject to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s policies.

Can you imagine if Rafael Palmeiro had received a two year suspension? End of career.

I am not convinced that steroids are bad for you. You can read more about that here. If it turns out that DHEA will extend my lifespan with few side effects and I find a doctor willing to give me a protocol for it, what right do I have to tell a ballplayer that he can’t use steroids under medical supervision? The bigger problem here is the decade or so of lies and the continuing lack of disclosure. The collective bargaining agreement between baseball and the players’ union has a confidentiality agreement. When a player tests positive, the test results are not released.

Tennis is smarter than baseball. As Harvey Araton pointed out in The New York Times this morning, if you go to the ATP website you can find all the information you want. Click on Press Room then Anti-Doping and you will see links to a list of banned substances and yearly testing reports. You can even print up your own anti-doping wallet card with a list of banned substances. There are at least nine categories and more than one hundred and twenty substances – including 18 _-homo-17ß-hydroxyestr-4-en-3-one and, yes, chlorothiazide.

If you click on Information, you get a list of every anti-doping decision, in English, Spanish and sometimes French, every player sanctioned and the substance they were sanctioned for. This is what we call full disclosure

A few years ago I read an article in the New Yorker about a military officer whose daughter died unexpectedly during a stay at a military hospital. The officer was convinced that medical personnel made a mistake and covered it up. He spent a number of years and all of his resources pursuing a legal decision in the matter. He was in the military, he knew that mistakes happen, but when you make one, the best way to diffuse the situtation is to fully disclose what happened.

No one has died here but if you want to make a situation much worse that it otherwise might be, screw up and then lie about it. Ask Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton about that.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 245 user reviews.

Not only is there a seniors’ league in the USTA but there is also a super seniors’ league – for players over 65. On the WTA tour, thirty or over qualifies you for super seniors and today we have a super seniors’ final.

Mary Pierce and Ai Sugiyama are playing for the championship of the Acura Classic. When was the last time we had a WTA final with two players thirty years or older?

We are in Carlsbad just north of San Diego and the beach isn’t far away but it’s hotter than hell and the players can’t wait for the marine layer to roll in and cool things off. ESPN is televising all US Open Series finals every Sunday in August. There are good things and bad in a calendar dictated by the television schedule. You get excellent exposure but you play when they tell you to play. In my league, we fight like cats and dogs for those early morning match times. Middle of the afternoon match time in August? You better hope you have a lot of team members because a good number of them will not show up.

Not much is happening in this match. Pierce is up 5-1 in the second set having already won the first set 6-0. Though she did break Pierce once, Sugiyama hasn’t had a game point on her serve yet.

Pierce hits three winners to get to her first championship point. To give you a picture of her dominance today, consider this: she now has more than ten times the number of winners Sugiyama has. She looks like a prize fighter out there just wailing on her opponent. If she continues this level of play, she has a chance to win the U.S. Open.

Then it gets interesting.

Sugiyama saves the match point and throws her hands up in the air as if she’s just tossed the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. If your down 0-6, 1-5, a little humor helps. Pierce loses her second and third championship points on errors and Sugiyama takes the fourth with a winner. Another Pierce error gives Sugiyama a break point then Pierce double faults to lose the game. Uh oh.

When you’re close to getting something you really, really want, your heart starts pumping faster, your throat gets dry, your mind jumps into the future.

It’s been four years since Pierce won a Tier I tournament and four years since she was in the top ten. Being right on the edge of reaching those two markers after such a long time would make anyone anxious . Pierce is usually the queen of routine. Nothing takes her out of her slow, methodical service preparation. I always wonder what she’s thinking about when she stands at the baseline and looks in her opponent’s direction with empty eyes for a good five to ten seconds before bouncing the ball a few times and finally starting her service motion. Here on defense, however, she starts rushing. Sugiyama runs everything down and finally gets a game point, which she wins, to get to 3-5. Nobody wants to lose a match that doesn’t go at least an hour long. That’s embarrassing.

Another strong serve gives Pierce her fifth championship point. She pushes Sugiyama around until she gets a sitter but her volley clips the top of the net and sails long. Worse than that, on the next point she sets herself up for an easy overhead and totally shanks it. She hits it with her racket handle! Her brother, David, who is also her coach, is doubled over in laughter and, luckily for Pierce’s state of mind, so is she. What else can you do?

When you’re close to getting something you really, really want, your heart starts pumping faster, your throat gets dry, your mind jumps into the future. “Hmm, one hundred and eighty nine thousand dollars, that’s a lotta money.” “Wow, maybe I can win the Open!” “O.k. now, CONCENTRATE!”

But you can’t concentrate. Your mind has gone off on its own and it’s very hard to rein it back in.

Pierce goes back to the ballboy and towels off then stands at the baseline and stares in her opponents’ direction even longer than usual. If she can get herself back into her routine, she can gather herself. It must work because she settles right back into her dominating game on the next point. She moves Sugiyama around like a puppet yet again and gets her seventh championship point. She gathers herself one more time then hits an ace to finally win it, 6-0, 6-3.

Pierce is done for the day. She’s peaking as she moves towards yet another slam and even those hiccups at the end of the match will probably be laughed off. Sugiyama still has a doubles final to play. Luckily for her this event is being played at the La Costa Resort and Spa. She might want to sign up for whatever treatment boxers receive after a good whupping. She’s been a good fighter but she got beaten badly today.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 153 user reviews.

At least it’s not as bad as the Mercedes Benz Cup last week. Only three seeds were left after the first round. Here at the Acura Classic we’re in the third round and we still have half of the top ten seeds playing. The number one seed, Lindsay Davenport, is injured and didn’t show up. Serena Williams and Davenport have both dropped out of next week’s JP Morgan Chase Open. I applaud the U.S. Open Series, the set of ten events leading up to the U.S. Open, but we shouldn’t be surprised that players drop out. It’s too much tennis in brutally hot weather. Maybe they should hold a few tournaments in Alaska, it is part of the United States you know. Or at least hang out in the Bay Area for a few more weeks. It’s freezing when the fog rolls in.

There are four players from France here and two of them are playing this evening. Mary Pierce is positively resurgent. She was the tear-filled runner up at the French Open and made it to the quarters at Wimbledon. She’s come a long way from the fourteen-year-old who turned pro, surely too early, then suffered through a split with her domineering father and a series of injuries that derailed her career for a few years. She is now a thirty-year-old with two majors and an almost regal bearing who seems very happy with her life and thrilled to be playing well on the tour.

That is when she’s not pissed off. Her opponent is Nathalie Dechy. On the first point of the match, Dechy hits a beautiful forehand return that lands on the sideline. Pierce is beside herself. She is sure the ball was out. I’ve had to create a new shorthand notation on my tennis chart, PPO, Pierce pissed off, because we will see it often this evening.

Dechy has great athleticism and solid strokes but Pierce has rocket-propelled shots, particularly her forehand. She gets so low to hit her groundstrokes that she looks like a Sumo wrestler stepping into the ring, minus a few hundred pounds. She also has a hard first serve. Dechy’s serve is serviceable. By comparing the two players, you can see one of the reasons that Dechy’s serve is weaker: she barely bends her knees. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, some of us more of the weaknesses, but I don’t understand how someone could practice so hard for so many years and still not figure out how to bend their knees. It’s like Vic Braden says, “Whaddya mean you can’t bend your knees, how do you manage to sit down for dinner every night?”

Dechy hasn’t beaten Pierce in three tries. If she wants to win tonight, she must avoid errors and pressure Pierce with strong service returns else Pierce’s power will dictate the match. Dechy’s plan works in the first game, she hits three good returns and breaks Pierce. Unfortunately she gives it right back with groundstroke errors.

After two more PPO’s and two more overrules by the chair umpire, both, interestingly, in Pierce’s favor, the players are even at 5-5. At one point the umpire shakes her head at a call. Hey, if the umpire has no confidence in the linespeople, the players certainly don’t.

Twice Dechy sets herself up for a winner and hits a swinging volley into the net giving rise to a huge collective groan from the crowd. The second volley would have given her a break point. Instead, Pierce is up 6-5 and Dechy has to serve to stay in the set. When Pierce is facing a break point, she serves hard and hits harder. Dechy doesn’t have a power serve and she doesn’t have a killer shot. At the very least she needs to move the serve around and play error free. In this game she can’t do either. She double faults, looks tentative on her other serves and loses the game at love to give Pierce the first set, 7-5.

She gets so low to hit her groundstrokes that she looks like a Sumo wrestler stepping into the ring, minus a few hundred pounds.

Dechy goes toe to toe with Pierce hitting the ball hard and running down most of Pierce’s arsenal. At one point Pierce approaches the net and Dechy hits a passing shot that Pierce barely gets over the net and onto the sideline. Dechy comes all the way from the opposite corner to hit a backhand down the line and past Pierce. But she keeps making critical errors. She gets broken at love to go down 1-3 after yet another errant overhead.

Dechy never gets the break back and the match ends the same way it started, with Pierce pissed off. She was halfway to the net to exchange pleasantries after hitting a match-ending ace when the serve was called out. Instead, Pierce pushes Dechy into a position where all she can do is hit an awkward lob over Pierce’s head. Pierce responds with a lob of her own that looks like it could jump over the Empire State Building. Dechy, again, dumps it into the net. Pierce wins 7-5, 6-3.

This is a Tier I event with $3.1 million in prize money. That’s a lot of money and there are fifty-six players here from twenty-six countries including Madagascar trying to get a piece of it. Eleven players, six of them seeded, are from Russia, but not one of them will make is as far as the semifinals. Instead, two of the four Japanese players and the one player from China will battle each other and Mary Pierce to get to the final.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 267 user reviews.