Monthly Archives: September 22, 2021

This week the men’s tour has landed in Washington, D.C., for the Legg Mason Classic. Today’s quarterfinal match featured Andy Roddick against that humongous pituitary case, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia. All 6’10” worth. Size 18 shoes. Yes, I’m eating my heart out over that one. The announcers in the booth did a slowmo analysis of Ivo’s serve. It’s a wonderfully smooth, powerful serve, and by the time he makes contact with the ball, we’re talking about ten feet off the ground. For the other guys on the tour, it must appear that Karlovic is serving from the treetops. Or so Brad Gilbert described it.

That serve nearly carried the day for Karlovic. It had to, the temperature on court was around 100 degrees, with the usual heavy humidity of Washington at this time of year. Karlovic was not raised in a hot climate like Andy Roddick, and he suffered for that. He was counting on his serve, and it nearly pulled him through. The guy looked like he was about to croak though, like the woman in the stands who was stretched out on the benches, being fanned after she passed out.

Both guys came out ready to serve at least, if not to play. There were hardly any rallies today. It was just too exhausting to maintain them in this heat. They wanted to end the points as fast as possible. If you took a bathroom break, yawned, or maybe even blinked, you would have missed a lot. It was that kind of match.

Both guys held serve into the first set tiebreak. Karlovic was serving at 80% through the first set, Roddick was at 69%. They traded breaks, then Karlovic caught a lucky moment when Andy let down just a fraction. He double-faulted, giving the first set to the Croat. That should have inspired big Ivo, but instead he kind of melted down in several changes of shirts. Andy hung on, and his superior conditioning eventually carried him to the victory. Lately Andy Roddick has played (and lost) a number of matches that turned on a few dimes here and there. He’s had to keep his cool and mentally try and fight back from those little lapses in his attention. Today was such a day, and he managed to do that, winning in three sets, 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-4.

The American boys are performing well here this week. Roddick, along with James Blake and Bobby Reynolds, have made it into the quarterfinals. Who would of thunk it.

The match today was also of interest because of some of the commentary, particularly when former pro Donald Dell dropped by the booth. Brad Gilbert and Cliff Drysdale asked him, if you could change something about tennis today to make it better…..

And Dell replied that players pulling out of tournaments just before they start is killing the game. This week in Los Angeles a host of women players did just that, as have the men at the Washington event. Something probably has to give here, on the one hand the players complain that the season is too long. On the other hand, the tournament directors complain when players don’t show up. Both sides probably need to devise a middle ground here. Between Greed And Exhaustion, I guess we can call this movie.

Brad Gilbert’s peeve about the game was that the plans to start electronic line calls are now delayed for the U.S. Open and some of the tournaments leading up to it. Apparently the Powers That Be don’t feel the system has been quite perfected enough.

Hhmm. Most unfortunate. Guess we have another wretched summer to look forward to of imperfect human beings calling those lines.

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First Ben Johnson tested positive for stanolozol. Then a bottle of androstenedione turned up in Mark McGwire’s locker the year he broke Roger Maris’ home run record. A few years later the Balco scandal blew up followed closely by Jose Canseco’s book, Juiced. That got the politicians all upset and led to congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball. Now we’ve come full circle. Rafael Palmeiro, who categorically denied any drug use at those congressional hearings, has tested positive for stanolozol.

Steroid hysteria is in full bloom. Palmeiro is getting brutal treatment from the press. Sports radio hosts are so sick of talking about him that a radio host cut off a first time caller this evening because the caller abruptly changed the subject to Palmeiro. I understand why fans are so outraged. Years of lies, and bad ones at that, will piss anyone off. But does that mean that steroids are necessarily bad for you?

Steven Kotler has written an excellent article about the history of steroids, Sympathy For The Devil, What If Everything You Think You Know About Steroids Is Wrong?. He traces the development of steroid research from the 1700’s to the present and looks at the effect of drug laws on current research.

As far back as the 1940’s, experiments showed that steroids could alter moods for the better and increase sex drive. There was also evidence that it could extend our lifespan. But the bias against steroids was so great that they were outlawed in the 1990 Steroid Control Act. The 2004 Steroid Control Act added twenty-six new substances to the banned list. The problem is that these laws discourage scientific research. Research that could show the benefits and correctly assess the dangers of these substances.

Current studies of large populations of adult steroid users show that there do not appear to be adverse effects with steroid use.

Kotler points out a parallel between the treatment of hallucinogens and steroids. After initial promising experimental results, hallucinogens such as psilocybin and LSD were outlawed in the U.S. in 1967. Experimentation didn’t start again until 1990. In Timothy Leary’s appropriately titled autobiography, Flashbacks, he describes an experiment called the Concord Prison Experiment. In the 1960’s, Leary and his fellow professor at Harvard, Richard Alpert, better know as Ram Dass, gave psilocybin to prisoners in a clinical setting and found that the prisoners had a reduced rate of recidivism.

Current studies of large populations of adult steroid users show that there do not appear to be adverse effects with steroid use. Kotler quotes Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, champion power lifter and noted authority on performance enhancing drugs, “As used by most people, including athletes, the adverse effects of anabolic steroids appear to be minimal.” The news is not all positive. Teenagers should not take steroids. If you take excessive amounts over a long period of time, you will have problems. There is also no way to know what goes into substances cooked up in the homegrown designer drug labs which provide the steroids used in gyms around the country.

This brings up another parallel with hallucinogens. Back in the sixties when I took my fair share of acid trips, it was rare to get an acid tab that wasn’t cut with speed. I was as jumpy as a firewalker. Sometimes I could hear the plumbing in the walls clang so loudly that I had to go outside to calm myself down. The one time I did get pure LSD, I had one of the most profound experiences of my life. Though I could hardly call my experimentation scientific, it does demonstrate that some of the side effects that steroids users have can be be traced to non steroid substances found in black market supplies of the drug.

Two areas where steroids are beneficial are AIDS treatment and anti-aging medicine. A regimen of nutrition, exercise and steroids can increase T-cell counts significantly and prevent death from AIDS wasting syndrome. As you age, your hormone levels drop. If this loss can be reversed, the aging process can be slowed. Current anti-aging regimens use DHEA, a steroid hormone, to increase energy levels and restore sex drive.

If you still want to rant and rave at the long line of indignant liars with bad excuses who have tested positive for steroids, go ahead. But don’t let the anti-drug hysteria blind you to scientific research. Read Mr. Kotler’s article and get an accurate picture of the current state of steroid knowledge. Anything we can do to prevent future ill-advised drug laws could help us live longer and reduce the prison population, in more ways than one.

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Lately my co-writer, Nina Rota, and I have been discussing the career of Amelie Mauresmo, both her playing style and her persona as a female sports personality. She is an interesting player to examine, because she has a ton of talent, and yet we feel she can’t consistently put it out there enough to start winning the big tournaments. Something seems to tie her up. We want to explore that now in this column.

We are both struck by the rather obvious dichotomy in Amelie’s personality: at times she is all strength and power on the court, and then suddenly it all melts away. Her shots become tepid. The creampuff interior takes over the girl with the strong, almost masculine body. It’s as if her body gets handcuffed by its own mind.

I think Amelie is at war with her body. Her mind wants to do one thing with the racquet, her body another. She’s got to decide who’s in charge here. Her body is, has been, developed to be capable of bringing a complete game to the tour. She can really do it all. She is big, she is fast, she has a good strong serve, she can crush you with the forehand, yet her backhand slice shot can be rather delicate and she has a wonderful one-hand topspin backhand as well. One-handers are especially lovely in my book anyway, hers is really nice. She can play net, but she seems happy staying in the backcourt.

So, what’s her problem? Why hasn’t she won the French twice now, and maybe the Aussie at least once? I keep waiting along with the rest of us, I keep hoping things will change for her, that we can rub the magic lamp and out will come finally a wonderfully successful genie of a tennis player, who can show us what it’s like when a really talented female player puts it all together.

Dammit, I want my payoff with this woman. Capriati finally delivered, ditto Davenport. Venus is starting to deliver again. Probably more women players too than I can think of now.

It’s Amelie’s turn. Step up to the plate, as we say in American baseball.

“I need to play with more…aggressivity.” So said Amelie in a TV interview I heard during one of her matches. I remember being charmed by her quaint inventiveness with the English language. And she was certainly defining her difficulty very well. But looking at it now, this comment oddly enough shows her real attitude exactly. She’s speaking with the heart of a Frenchwoman here, swept up as always by the drama of the intellect, the idea of ideas.

She hadn’t a clue what real aggression is. It’s just an idea to her. Instead of wooing me with a lovely turn of phrase, why not come out with, “I’m going to attack her backhand, I’m going to get the returns in play….I’m basically going to rip her a new one with my serve and volley, which I am going to do a lot of in this match.”

Pete Sampras once said, on his upcoming match with Jaime Fillol, that he “was going to go out there and kick his little butt.” I was surprised they let it pass the censor, although Pete did say it with a funny hint of the sarcasm I had heard about but don’t hear often enough.

Now, I pose a question here to the readers: who is more likely to win the match? The guy who kicks butt, or the one who speaks of “aggressivity.”

Who would you put your money on?

That’s the problem with her game. Amelie can’t really go in for the kill. She can’t even say she’d kick a little butt or two. Well, then why are you here? What are you doing on the tennis court?

Peter O’Toole once said that an actor who “can’t go onstage feeling he’s king and fully in charge shouldn’t be out there.”

She lets down in big moments because she is not fully committed to the idea of taking victory yet.

If she’s not careful, Amelie is going to be known as the biggest choker in the game, women’s and men’s tours.

I feel Amelie’s lesbianism may factor into this discussion. In Camille Paglia’s book of essays, Vamps and Tramps, there is a passage discussing Martina Navratilova and her rivalry with Chris Evert. Paglia describes the contradiction between the two, and the reversal of expected roles. Navratilova is the swashbuckling, aggressive dyke tennis player, and Evert is the ice queen, heterosexual groundstroker. Yet Navratilova was the one who broke down in tears if she lost a slam final. Evert was the one who hung tougher emotionally. I recall an early match from her career, when Chris was down match point and 2-5. She pulled herself back and won the match.

My take on Amelie is that, from early childhood, she was perceived as being athletically talented and encouraged to pursue sports. It was ok for her to develop musculature. But the more the muscles developed, perhaps it made it more difficult to reach that female inner part, it somehow got a bit lost in the excitement of a physical life. I imagine the French tolerated her rather masculine appearance. They are more willing to accept male energy when it appears in women, as if often does, than Americans.

Some part of Amelie may want to get off that fast-moving train. Amelie was taught how to be strong and muscular, but not how to deal with the fact she is also a woman. And a lesbian as well. How to incorporate that in such a physical life? It’s difficult, and when the burden is too great, she loses. She lets herself lose it, she chooses to screw things up as it were. There is pressure and more responsibility when you win. Just ask Kuznetsova, who has had a terrible season since winning the U.S. Open last year. This week she lost in the first round of the Open. Amelie views it with trepidation.

She’s got to get over this hurdle. It’s a mental thing. This is my take on it.

If I were coaching Amelie, what would I tell her? This past week I’ve heard Brad Gilbert covering a number of the men’s and women’s matches from the east coast, and I thought he would be a perfect man to ask about Amelie. Lo and behold, he volunteered his own opinion when Amelie played at the Pilot Pen last week.

Brad said he would work on her serve, which he thinks is not nearly as powerful as it could be. He would juice up the first serve, and try to get her to do more with her rather weak second serve. Basically, it sounds like Brad wants to tweak her game a bit, he thinks they are small adjustments but crucial when it comes to deciding who wins a Slam and who doesn’t.

I would take the critique a few steps further. The lack of power Amelie shows in her serving game sometimes is also reflected by her other “loopy” style of hitting the ball. Everything seems to have a ton of topsin on it, including her serve. Now topspin can be a wonderful thing, so they tell me. Having grown up in the era of the serve and volley game, I found the arrival of Mr. Borg both fascinating and rather perplexing. No one really uttered the word “topspin” before he came along. The main reason you want topspin is to give yourself a margin of error. But how much margin does Amelie need before she starts sacrificing power for control?

Amelie needs to reclaim her power. This would be more than just a little “tweaking” of her game. She may need to rework her swing, which is very elongated. I would try to work with her on getting more flatness on her forehand shot. Go for more power in other words. I noticed in her play the last few weeks that, when she encounters a rival equal to her like Henin-Hardenne, she has a tendency to hit topspin forehands which may confound nine out of ten of the other women on tour. But when she hits the other big girls in the draw, that loopiness won’t work. Her shots tend to sit up, and Henin-Hardenne was able to really drive them back for winners.

Some coach needs to come into Amelie’s life who can tell her, day after day, that the shortest distance between two points is a straight, flat line. Draw her a picture if you need to. In an ideal world, she should be coached by someone like Jimmy Connors, who knew all about flat, driven shots and how to crush his opponents. The fact he went out and totally decimated a wonderful player and a gentleman like Ken Rosewall suggests to me he’s the perfect guy for a player like Amelie. He had no qualms at all. Amelie has qualms up her wazoo, I would guess.

She needs to get over that. Get her off the baseline. A little man in a red cape with a triton should run along the baseline and prod her in the butt each time she’s inclined to retreat behind the baseline.

Make her come to net more. She so dominates the lesser players in the early rounds of tournaments, that I am surprised she does not try and work on her game more during those matches. They are learning opportunities. She should practice serving and volleying on them. As a female player, you can still do that in the early rounds. It’s not like the men’s field, which is now solid just about from top to bottom of an average tournament. Any guy can almost beat any guy. You have to play for real, no practicing allowed.

Topspin doesn’t have to be floating loopiness. Look at Nadal’s game, he hits a ton of topspin too, but it has tremendous bite on it. I don’t want to change his game to make him hit more flat drives. I would be terrified if Nadal learns how to hit a flat drive. The ball may end up travelling at the speed of sound. God help us. Ditto Fernando Gonzalez’s forehand. Topspin for sure, but it is the scariest looking shot, as McEnroe said once, in tennis today.

I would work with her on her attitude. Against a match last week with Medina-Garrigues of Spain, commentator Mary Jo Hernandez observed that Amelie never really went for her shots. She kept getting the ball in play, hoping her opponent would miss. Amelie should be imposing her game. Even when she had break points, Amelie was not being aggressive enough.

Just for the hell of it I focused on watching only her legs move. This was against the big newcomer Groenefeld, whom Amelie should have been pushing around from the start. But she wasn’t. Her tendency is to want to hug the baseline. And not even the baseline: often she drifts several feet in back of it. She would advance a step or two as she hits the ball, but then she retreats behind the baseline.

The problem with Amelie is not in her body, it’s in her mind. But how do you change that without leaving the woman a complete basket case? Does her being gay factor in here at all? Does loving women mean you can’t go on there on a court and crush them good?

If I sound exasperated with Amelie Mauresmo, it’s because I am. If she were like Amanda Coetzer in build, small in stature without any “power” shots, I wouldn’t care as much about her game. But she’s 5’9″, strong as a rock, she should really be wailing on the ball, and eager to rush the net every chance she gets.

Everything about this woman’s game says, “I am going to be in your face!” Power everywhere you look.

But the attitude keeps her from achieving that.

Why she hasn’t reconciled this is one of the greatest mysteries in women’s tennis today.

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If I had arrived in a Mercedes Benz, the organizers of the 79th Mercedes Benz Cup Tournament would have refunded my parking fee. Not quite motivation enough to run out and buy an E320 but a nice touch anyway. With one top twenty-five player in the field and only three seeds left after the first round, I’m sure the organizers would have offered E320’s as doorprizes if their sponsor had been willing to donate them. Luckily for the organizers, the top seed, Andre Agassi, made it to the final and their tournament had the third largest crowd in its history.

Agassi is returning to the tour for the first time since his painful exit at the French Open with a bad case of sciatica. He seems to have settled into a rhythm as the week has progressed dropping one set only to Paradorn Srichaphan. His opponent today is Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. Muller is the first Luxembourgian to get into the ATP top one hundred. Anne Kremer has been as high as eighteen and Claudine Schaul as high as forty-one in the WTA rankings. Not bad for a population of less than half a million.

If you want to go far on the tour, it’s helpful to have a wide variety of strokes and at least one killer stroke. Either that or absurd left-handed spin like Rafael Nadal. Muller is left-handed but he’s not a spinner, his ground strokes are relatively flat. Also unlike Nadal, he has a power serve.

After you get all of the strokes, the next skill is to win the critical points. Agassi is going for his sixtieth title today, we know what he can do. Muller has yet to win a tournament though he did beat Agassi to reach the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic last year. Let’s see how he plays the critical points.

Winning the first game is critical and Muller fails to do that. He sprays the ball long, wide and into the net to go down a break. He faces another break point in his next service game but gets out of it with an 86 mph second serve winner. Agassi is such a good returner that he usually takes a step inside the baseline for the second serve but here he backs up at least six feet behind the line for Muller’s high kicker. It’s his second service game and Muller already has five aces.

Muller uses the backhand slice to take the pace off Agassi’s shots and shows a good drop shot. Somebody may have forgotten to tell him, however, that Agassi has one of the best backhands in tennis history because he keeps attacking it. Both players hold serve through the rest of the first set and Agassi wins it 6-4.

After you get all of the strokes, the next skill is to win the critical points.

The start of the second set is full of critical points as both players have trouble holding serve. Muller saves a break point with a good serve in the first game. He gets a break point in the second game but makes a backhand error and loses his opportunity. In the third game, he fights off three break points to stay even.

Muller hits three winners, including a beautiful drop shot approach, on Agassi’s serve at 5-4 to get a set point. It’s bad enough that he fails to get the next serve in play and loses an opportunity to even the match. Even worse, he loses the next game at love to allow Agassi to serve for the match. This is the mother of all critical situations and costs Muller the match. Agassi wins, 6-4, 7-5.

What is the critical point tally for Muller? He failed to win his first service game, failed to convert two break opportunities – one of which would have evened the match, saved five break points, and lost a super critical game at love. That’s five for nine. Not bad but not good enough. Muller’s critical point tally says more about Agassi than Muller. Agassi seldom puts himself in critical situations. He faced only two breaks points and needed only one break in each set to get his fourth Mercedes Benz Cup title.

Sometimes playing critical points well means avoiding them altogether.

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