Monthly Archives: July 26, 2021

This is the last year that the WTA women’s tour championship will be held in Los Angeles due to lack of interest. The WTA must be getting desperate for coverage, they even gave me press credentials.

That is why I was sitting at a round table with Mary Pierce and four or five journalists in the media center at Staples Center yesterday afternoon. This is Pierce’s first appearance at the championship since 1999 so we were asking her questions such as, “Why do you think you’ve been so successful this year?” and “What’s the biggest improvement you’ve made in the last few years?”

During a break in the love fest, a journalist sitting opposite Pierce asked in a very aggressive voice, “Mary, three out of the four grand slam winners are not here this week. How can you call it a championship without three of the four grand slam winners?” Pierce said that there are many players who play well week in and week out and not just a few weeks a year, but that wasn’t a satisfactory answer. “How can you say that it’s a championship if three of the slam winners aren’t here?” the journalist asked again. Pierce bared her teeth and said, “Go and speak to Larry Scott at WTA, he makes the rules.” Scott is the CEO of the WTA.

That shut him up for a bit but after another journalist asked Pierce a question, the grumpy guy chimed in again. “Go ahead, give a politically correct answer, ” he said, in a sarcastic reference to Pierce’s reluctance to answer his previous question.

The missing grand slam winners are Serena Williams (Australian Open), Justine Henin-Hardenne (French Open), and Venus Williams (Wimbledon). Henin-Hardenne has a hamstring injury and the Williams sisters have other things to do.

At the end of the session, I walked up to the man and introduced myself. He said his name was T.J. Simers. “Oh”, I said, “now it all makes sense.” Simers is a sports columnist for the LA Times and is well known for lambasting anyone and everyone. He call Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt a parking lot attendant and refers to McCourt’s wife, Jamie, as the screaming meanie.

Our roll models today are Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Neither player ever said an unpleasant thing about anyone.

Simers did have point. He wasn’t asking Pierce to change the ranking system or change the rules for getting into the year-end championships. He was asking her to state her opinion. Does she think this is a legitimate championships without three of the four grand slam winners present or doesn’t she?

If Simers had been a bit less grumpy and followed up on his question, he could have gotten to the heart of a big problem with the WTA tour. Everybody agrees that the tour is too long but nobody does anything about it. The US Open Series, for instance, has five tournaments – six for the men – that lead up to the US Open then two weeks for the Open itself. That’s seven straight weeks of tennis.

The problem is that the WTA represents both the players and the tournament directors. Amelie Mauresmo said that players have had many meetings with the WTA but the only thing they’ve done is reschedule Fed Cup, which shortens the season by two weeks for some players only. Changing the Fed Cup schedule, that’s not quite the same as eliminating the Bank of the West Classic in Palo Alto or the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The result is that players skip a significant number of tournaments, sometimes pulling out at the last minute, and WTA doesn’t stop them because their job is to support the players.

If the players want to challenge the WTA, they need to take some kind of job action, boycott a tournament or threaten to create a players union separate from the WTA. But that requires someone who is willing to speak out and, as we saw with Pierce, players are not willing to speak they’re mind let alone mount a challenge. Our roll models today are Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Neither player ever said an unpleasant thing about anyone. Jordan refused to support a black senatorial candidate running against Jesse Helms because “Republicans buy shoes, too.” When Woods was asked to criticize Augusta National, the site of the golf Masters Tournament, for refusing to allow women members, he said, “It’s not the players’ fault.”

Pete Sampras is the best tennis player of all time but Billie Jean King is my number one because she was the most important player in tennis. She was the leader in the movement to start a separate women’s tour and, in so doing, played a huge roll in the creation of women’s sports as it is today. She became a lighting rod of controversy for the feminist movement, and, unwillingly, for the gay and lesbian movement after a former lover bought a palimony lawsuit against her. Even with all of that psychic baggage, she was able to win twelve grand slam singles and twenty-five grand slam doubles titles.

Players today don’t have to be pioneers, they only have to threaten job action and be willing to go through with it. They will be criticized for being whining millionaires but that’s a small price to pay for getting reasonable working conditions.

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The BNP Paribas Masters event takes place at the Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy (POPB) in Paris, France. The POPB looks like a green building – a building that uses the surrounding environment to preserve and generate energy by using, for example, grass on a roof or solar energy for heat. The building has slanted walls covered by lawns and erector set glass pyramids. To see a panoramic view and walk around the neighborhood, click here

If the tournament had laid down some of that lawn on the indoor court, Andy Roddick might have pulled off an improbable win in today’s semifinal. Though he’s won five tournaments and is currently ranked a solid number three, Roddick is running in place. Federer beat him in the Wimbledon final, Lleyton Hewitt psyched him out at the Australian Open, Gilles Muller dismissed him in the first round at the US Open and he hasn’t won a Master Series event this year.

Federer received a “Men of the Year” award from GQ magazine in Munich this week. He beat out a field in the International Man category that included Pope Benedict XVI. I am not a fan of the Pope, he is far too conservative for me, but what does that say about our priorities?

Ljubicic beat Roddick in the deciding match of the first round Davis Cup match between the US and Croatia in March. Roddick was extremely upset about the loss, he’d love to beat Ljubicic today, but he strained his back in his quarterfinal match with David Ferrer and that could be a problem. Ljubicic has played a lot of tennis lately. He appeared in the final in three of the of the last four tournaments and won two of them. He has already secured a spot in the Masters Cup in Shanghai. He could take a huge sigh of relief and lose his focus.

Ljubicic will be joined in Shanghai by Federer, Nadal, Roddick, Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Guillermo Coria, and Nikolay Davydenko. The tournament will be played on Gerfloor, a fast indoor surface, much to the chagrin of Nadal. He can play on a hard court surface but grass and fast indoor courts make him beatable. Why did Shanghai do that? It doesn’t make sense. Why not choose a surface that benefits a wider range of player styles?

It’s funny to see Roddick in Lacoste clothing. Lacoste has a staid corporate reputation in comparison to Reebok’s rebellious image. One of Reebok’s clients is Allen Iverson and they just signed Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees. Maybe Roddick is too mainstream. He might want to fire a ball at a referee’s head or test positive for steroids if he wants to get signed by Reebok again.

Maybe Roddick is too mainstream. He might want to fire a ball at a referee’s head or test positive for steroids if he wants to get signed by Reebok again.

I sat behind Ljubicic in his Davis Cup match against Andre Agassi. From that vantage point I could see Ljubicic’s second serve bounce high and curve sharply to the left. It causes Roddick to hit an error on the first point of today’s match.

This is a battle between two very hard servers on a fast synthetic surface. You can hear their feet on the boards as the players run around. Roddick attacks the net relentlessly but he puts one approach shot long and an easy volley into the net to give Ljubicic two break points. Roddick grimaces as he walks back to the baseline after saving the first break point. He loses the second to go down 0-2. Roddick is attacking the net because he can’t move well enough to play the baseline effectively. Ljubicic takes advantage of this by hitting drop shots, one from the baseline and one at the net, to go up 3-0.

In the sixth game, Roddick reaches for a wide forehand and cuts the stroke off because his back hurts too much. Later in the game, he leans sideways in discomfort after a missed return. Players have been backing out of tournament commitments with regularity this year, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova left Philadelphia without it’s top two seeds this week, but here is a case where Roddick should default before he hurts himself further and affects his chances in Shanghai. There will be another match for the spectators to watch today and he’s already given them an exciting match. He fought off two match points to beat Ferrer in three sets. He has fulfilled his responsibility to this tournament.

Ljubicic takes the set 6-3. During the set break, a trainer stretches Roddick’s back. After he wins his second service game to get to 2-1, he gets more work from the trainer. Roddick is too gracious. Mary Pierce might take every injury timeout she can find, but Roddick doesn’t take an injury timeout for either treatment. Instead, he uses the two minute break between sets and the ninety second break between games. What’s his hurry?

By this time, Roddick’s strategy is obvious. He puts all of his energy into winning his serve as fast as possible and bides his time on Ljubicic’s serve hoping to save his energy for a tiebreaker. Roddick might as well stay in his seat while Ljubicic serves. Ljubicic gets three aces including a second serve ace to get to 5-5. It doesn’t look that much different when Roddick serves. By the time this match is finished, Ljubicic will have won 90% of his first serve points and Roddick a very respectable 78%.

The match could end sooner if Ljubicic was patiently constructing points instead of making errors by trying to hit the ball out of Roddick’s reach at every opportunity. At 5-5, Ljubicic blocks a very hard Roddick serve down the line for a winner and passes Roddick to finally get a break. There will be no long rallies in this match. Ljubicic serves out and wins the match, 6-3, 7-5.

… it looks like Roddick and Agassi put themselves in harm’s way to compensate for less conscientious players who drop out of tournaments at the last minute, leaving tournament directors without top seeded players.

Roddick is a very conscientious guy, sometimes to a fault. He takes responsibility for making tennis more popular in the US by making a lot of appearances which take time away from his training. Today he felt a responsibility to play out the match even though he was obviously in pain. Andre Agassi did the same thing at the French Open. He limped through a loss to Jarkko Nieminen though he could hardly move due to sciatica.

I appreciate their sense of responsibility, but it looks like Roddick and Agassi put themselves in harm’s way to compensate for less conscientious players who drop out of tournaments at the last minute, leaving tournament directors without top seeded players. They can’t carry the game by themselves.

After the match, a woman in short shorts with a bazooka-like gun slung over her shoulder shoots t-shirts into the stands. She runs around the court accompanied by swirling lights and pounding rock music as the kids in the crowd squeal with delight. That might have been more entertaining, and just as strange, as the tennis match they just watched.

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The organizers of the Tour de France accused Lance Armstrong of using EPO by testing a urine sample from the 1999 Tour. Since there is no second sample, a positive result requires a positive test on an A and B sample, the Tour can never prove that Armstrong tested positive and Armstrong can never prove that he didn’t test positive. Ignoring the problem that the Tour says it has correctly identified Armstrong’s sample even though samples are labeled anonymously, this is the cheapest, lowest method possible for discrediting someone just because they don’t happen to be French.

Not that I approve of Woody Allen’s personal life choices, but it reminds me of Mia Farrow accusing Allen of child abuse after finding out that Allen started a sexual relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi. The district attorney stated that he believed that there was abuse but decided not to prosecute. The authorities could not prove abuse and Allen could not prove his innocence.

I once attended a film music conference in the south of France. The French, and honestly, much of Europe, is not happy about the glut of American films that flood their entertainment market. When it came time for the American group to address the conference, they assigned us a translator who was not able to translate our statements. The slight was very transparent. “If you’re going to insult us”, I thought, “at least be respectful enough to do it subtly.”

When I expressed my anger about the Tour’s treatment of Armstrong to a French citizen, she said: “Yeah, it’s cheap, but we hate George Bush.” I understand, I hate him too. He started a war in Iraq that he can’t finish and he holds prisoners without trial and tortures them. We, as Americans, deserve a slap in the face. But Lance Armstrong doesn’t. He won seven straight Tours fair and square. He deserves to be celebrated.

We, as Americans, deserve a slap in the face. But Lance Armstrong doesn’t. He won seven straight Tours fair and square. He deserves to be celebrated.

With the exception of Sebastien Grosjean, who delayed a match for over nine minutes by disagreeing with a call then encouraging spectators to protest in his match with Rafael Nadal at the French Open, there are some excellent French players who are very nice people. I’ll take the high road here and cover the French players instead of retaliating by ignoring them. This week the ATP is in Paris for the Paris Masters event so let’s take the opportunity to watch Fabrice Santoro (France) play Gauston Gaudio (Argentina).

The Tennis Channel is broadcasting eleven and a half hours a day of this event. You’d think it was a grand slam. Which brings up the question: why schedule a Masters Series event before players have to fly to Shanghai for the Tennis Masters Cup, the year-end championship? Master Series tournaments were created to reduce pressure on players to play too many tournaments by giving some tournaments more value than others – you get more ranking points if you win at a Masters Series event. The idea is good but which tournament is more important – a Masters Series event or the year-end championship? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won all eight Masters Series events this year but they have wisely decided to sit out this event and rest up for Shanghai.

Santoro, known as the magician, is the pro version of the player who drives amateurs crazy. You know them. They hit the ball wherever you can’t get to it whether it looks pretty or not. Drop shots, slices, lobs and sometimes towering lobs – everything that drives you totally crazy. Worse than that, these players often win because they take you completely out of your game.

Santoro, known as the magician, is the pro version of the player who drives amateurs crazy.

Believe me, Santoro’s shots are not pretty. He has a two-handed backhand, a two-handed forehand – including the volley – and a slice that starts out two-handed but ends up one-handed. We see what Santro is about right away. He plays a drop shot on the first point of the match. By the time he’s won the first game, we’ve seen another drop shot, a serve and volley, and an ace.

This is the first time these two players have met so Gaudio will have to adjust to some of Santoro’s favorite tactics. In each of the first two games, Santoro hits a dropshot to get Gaudio to the net then lobs him. It doesn’t work for Santoro yet but Gaudio will see it again and again.

Santoro saves his second service game with a point that features a series of low slices to Gaudio’s backhand, a topspin lob out of nowhere and, finally, a backhand cross court to get Gaudio out of the court followed by a backhand down the line. This is what you call working a point. In the next game, Santoro chips and charges on a Gaudio second serve then chips and charges on a first serve. How often do you see that? Gaudio is no slouch either, with great touch at the net, he runs down a passing shot and deftly drops it sharply cross court to stay on serve at 2-2.

Here’s another typical Santoro point: serve then approach with a cross court shot, drop the returning shot just over the net on the sideline so his opponent has to run the longest distance possible to get to the ball, and, if they do manage to get to the ball, hit a topsin lob over their head. So far, though, Gaudio’s too good. He covers the court very well and Santoro’s lobs are turned into smashes or they go long. In the fourth game, Santoro hits seven straight slices. Unfortunately, they drop short and Gaudio gets his first winner of the match. One point later, Gaudio turns the table and lobs Santro to break him and go up 3-2.

Santoro must have the weakest serve of any player who comes to the net regularly. Tonight it costs him. He may be tired from a tough three setter with Jarko Nieminem last night. Santoro’s not getting close enough to the net and ends up hitting a lot of half volleys. Gaudio breaks him to go up 5-2. It looks like we’re not seeing the magician on one of his best nights.

Santoro has an excuse for being tired. At twenty-nine years old, he’s one of the older players on the tour and he’s played in twenty-nine consecutive grand slams, second only to Dominik Hrbaty with thirty-six.

Gaudio’s mind leaves the building as he serves for the set. He hits balls long then does something very strange. On break point, Santoro hits a soft slice return that lands on the baseline. Gaudio looks at it but doesn’t hit it and doesn’t protest the line call. After the point, he walks in a circle behind the baseline and has a conversation with himself. No doubt he’s reminding himself that this is a relatively important tennis match. If he does well in this tournament and other players falter, he could qualify for a spot in the year-end championship.

Serving at 3-5, Santoro disagrees with a call then lets a ball go at the net that he thought was long giving Gaudio set point. Still unhappy with the bad call, Santoro hits a ball, on the bounce, towards the umpire’s chair as he walks back to the baseline. It hits the umpire, albeit gently, but Santoro doesn’t get a warning, the umpire doesn’t say anything. Would Lance Armstrong get away with that?

On his third set point, Gaudio gives Santoro some of his own medicine. He hits a drop shot that is untouchable and wins the first set, 6-4.

This is not the match it could have been. Santoro looks tired and Gaudio, like most players on the tour, would much rather play anyone but Santoro. He doesn’t allow you to get into a rhythm and that makes it hard to play excellent, exciting tennis. Then again, that’s the idea. You don’t want your opponent playing excellent tennis.

Santoro’s game forces you to play his style of tennis. If you want to beat him, you have to construct a point patiently and meticulously. Gaudio lobs Santoro often and attacks his forehand until he gets a good opportunity to approach the net. Utimately, Gaudio’s serve is the difference in the match. Santoro faces nine break points while Gaudio faces only two and none in the second set.

Gaudio converts one of those break points to go up 6-5 and serves for the set. Gaudio takes the match with another unreturnable drop shot. He wins the match, 6-4, 7-5.

Gaudio was a good student. He studied the magician, played the magician’s game and beat him. If an athlete plays well, I don’t care where they come from, I respect that.

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We are in Linz, Austria for the finals of the Generali Linz Open. The Danube River flows next to the Intersport Arena where the tournament is being played on an indoor carpet. Whenever I hear that the surface is carpet, I expect janitors to come out during the set break and run over the court with vacuum cleaners.

Nadia Petrova, a Russian, is playing Patty Schnyder, a Swiss national. In a recent interview on The Tennis Channel, Petrova was asked why there are so many good Russian women tennis players. She said that Anna Kournikova inspired many young women in Russia to play tennis and that the competition between the Russians has made them good players. Petrova shares a dubious distinction with Kournikova: she has never won a tournament. If she can win today, she will climb to number eight in the rankings and give herself a good chance of getting one of the eight spots in the year-end championship tournament in Los Angeles.

Schnyder is currently sixth in the standings. Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo have already qualified for Los Angeles.

Schnyder is an emotional player. During her semifinal match, she threw her racket down on the ground and it bounced up and cut her hand. She’s experienced controversy during her eleven-year career. When she was nineteen, she became involved with a controlling man twice her age named Rainer Harnecker. He put her on an extreme diet and used bizarre healing techniques on her. The contoversy isolated Schnyder from her peers. Her parents were so concerned they sent a private detective to extricate her from the relationship. Schnyder responded by falling in love with the detective, Rainer Hofmann, and now they are married.

Schnyder may be trying to find a parental figure or someone to give her direction in life. If so, Hofman might not be the best choice. He was convicted of fraud in a German court and given an eighteen month sentence that was later reduced to a fine.

…so now we have two women swinging rackets at the ground in disgust. Doesn’t anyone here enjoy playing the game of tennis?

This should be a good match because Petrova and Schnyder have complementary games. Petrova has a powerful serve and likes to come to the net. Schnyder stays on the baseline and moves her opponent around with slices and heavy topspin ground strokes. The problem is that the pressure of winning a tournament and getting to the year-end championship seems to make Petrova nervous. She fails to get a first serve in and double faults in the third game of the match to fall behind, 1-2.

Schnyder keeps you off balance with an abundance of tactics. In one thirteen-point rally, she hits high looping shots, runs Petrova wide then hits behind her, and attacks Petrova’s forehand, her weaker side. When Schnyder’s not punishing herself with her racket, she’s punishing her opponent.

I hate to complain about a player’s net play because there is so little of it in the game today, but Petrova doesn’t yet know what to do once she gets to the net. On some points, Schnyder’s best option is to pass down the line but Petrova fails to read it, stays in the middle of the net and gets passed. Despite failing to cover down the line at the net and squandering five break points, Petrova finally breaks Schnyder to get back on serve at 3-3 then immediately hands the break back with a double fault and missed first serves. There’s a pattern here.

With Schnyder serving for the set, Petrova goes up 40-0 but can’t win the game. She drops her racket on the court in dismay. Luckily it doesn’t bounce up and hit her. Petrova fails to play the critical points well, she converts only one of nine break point opportunities, and Schnyder wins the first set, 6-4.

Schnyder and Petrova trade breaks early in the second set then Schnyder goes on a walkabout. She loses the measure of the court; balls go sailing over the baseline or into the net. Petrova takes advantage of Schnyder’s wayward state and breaks her to get back on serve then breaks her again. Schnyder finally wakes up but she’s not controlling the points as she was earlier and it’s making her mad. Petrova is already mad at herself for failing to convert break points so now we have two women swinging rackets at the ground in disgust. Doesn’t anyone here enjoy playing the game of tennis?

Petrova is hitting approach shots for winners, which is a good idea because it means she doesn’t have to play the net. After trading breaks yet again, Petrova gets another break to win the second set, 6-3, and even the match.

Schnyder loses her first two service games in the third set to go down 0-3 and is so discouraged that she doesn’t even bother to yell at herself. She wins only one more game and Petrova gets her first title, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

The day after this final, Justine Henin-Hardenne announces that a hamstring injury will keep her out for the rest of the year. Both Petrova and Schnyder will go to Los Angeles where they’ll be able to play in more pressure packed tennis matches. Thankfully, they seem to thrive on it.

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