The Madrid semifinals, and final for that matter, were not interesting. I was more affected by the news that Chris Evert is divorcing her husband Andy Mill after eighteen years of marriage. It pains me when things change unexpectedly. Not that I would have known if the couple had been having problems. Last summer, two couples I know broke up when one member of each couple decided to fall in love with each other. I was the last to know and that was discomforting also.

The semifinals continued one of Madrid’s themes – bad crowd behavior. The crowd booed throughout Tomas Berdych’s first service game and increased the volume when he made a mistake. It wasn’t unexpected considering Berdych kissed off the crowd at the end of his victory over Rafael Nadal. That also may not have been Berdych’s problem. He has a habit of getting a big win then losing easily in the next round. Fernando Gonzalez beat him, 6-3, 6-1.

In the other semifinal, Roger Federer beat David Nalbandian, 6-4, 6-0, then laid another bagel on Gonzalez in the final, 7-5, 6-1, 6-0. As you can see, that match went from o.k. to bad to just plain awful. Federer won the last eleven games. The only excitement happened after the match when Gonzalez accidentally aimed a sharp spray of champagne into Federer’s eye during the postmatch celebration and momentarily stunned him.

I saw more fireworks at the Calabasas Challenger, an event held about 30 minutes north of Los Angeles. Challengers are one level below regular ATP tour events.

Late in the second set semifinal between Mark Philippoussis and fellow Australian Nathan Healey, Healey complained to the umpire that Philippoussis was moving too much and distracting his serve. The umpire warned Philippoussis and he erupted. “Look, I’ve been doing this for twelve years. Please sit up there and do your job. Don’t tell me how to play tennis, ” he said loudly, “I’ve never heard of this before.” Healey then walked towards Philippoussis and pretty soon the umpire had to jump down out of his chair and separate the two players.

Philippoussis was sitting in the tournament office after the match still complaining to an umpire when he said something that made the situation much clearer. Philippoussis said that Healey began to move laterally during his serve to distract him and he thought to himself, That’s a good idea, I think I’ll do that too. Then Healey complained about him to the umpire.

That’s pretty smart if you think about it. First distract your opponent during his serve then complain when he does the same thing to you. It has multiple levels of gamesmanship. It didn’t work, though, Philippoussis won the match, 6-2, 7-5, then took the Calabasas title with a 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Amer Delic.

I spoke to Philippoussis after his semifinal. (Click on the video above to see Philippoussis play a point in the match. Video has replaced photo in the sports column world.) He’s been going to Las Vegas and working out with Andre Agassi’s team in Las Vegas, in particular, coach Darren Cahill and trainer Gil Reyes. We wondered what that crew might do after Andre retired and it’s not clear yet, but a tennis training center wouldn’t be unexpected.

Philippoussis’s goal is the same as everyone else’s in challengers: get into the top 100 and earn direct entry into ATP tour events instead of having to slog through qualifiers. The main thing he’s working on at the moment is getting back to playing as aggressively as possible after a slide down the rankings the past two years.

The ATP has slowed the game down since Philippoussis first joined the tour in 1994. Balls are bigger and the courts are slower. I asked him if he thought this was a good thing since he’s a serve and volleyer. He agreed that they’d slowed the game down to make the competition more even but, he said, “the good news is that they’re starting to quicken up again.”

He thought the American hard court season had quicker courts this year and he also said that the Australian Open court will be faster in 2007. I don’t know if the summer hard court season was faster, it seemed like wishful thinking to me, but if it helps him to think that, good enough.

I wouldn’t usually trade Calabasas for Madrid, but this weekend I preferred it.

See also:
2006 Madrid Quarterfinals: Is Berdych Better Than Nadal?
2006 Madrid Third Round: The Young And The Talented
2006 Madrid Second Round: Everything Is Upside Down
2006 Madrid First Round: Don’t Jump
2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Madrid Masters

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