Monthly Archives: July 27, 2021

The ATP has started its Fantasy Tennis game for this coming week’s tournament in Monte Carlo. This is basically a fan-based game whereby participants pick eight players in each tournament in the coming year, along with a doubles team too. The team with the most winning players wins the grand prize, whatever that is. I have no idea what it is; we’re all doing this for the love of sport though, aren’t we? I hope so, because they aren’t giving out big bucks for this.

Basically, we’re betting on human horses, but the catch is you can only use a player five times throughout the year. So you can’t pick Roger Federer every tournament he enters, we must save him judiciously for the Slams, and maybe one or two other hard court events in the summer.

So here are my picks for my singles players for this coming week:

Rafael Nadal
Ivan Ljubicic
David Ferrer
Tommy Robredo
Carlos Moya
Sebastian Grosjean
Marat Safin
Tim Henman
David Nalbandian (alternate)

Doubles: Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi

As I look over the list, what strikes me is there are only three guys here who are actually in the top ten, Nadal, Ljubicic and newly-arrived David Ferrer. So, am I crazy or what? And some of the guys who usually do very well on clay are not among my picks at all, like Gaston Gaudio (seeded #7 in the tournament), and Guillermo Coria (#6).

There is method to the madness, I hope. Basically I drew up a list of who the Round of 16 guys would be, and proceeded from there. Here they are, picked as of Sunday past. The Tuesday update as to how they fared occurs in brackets at the end of each paragraph.

Nadal over Nieminen: This will be one of the easier matches to call, and although Nieminen had a good year last year, Rafa had a better one. (As of Tuesday evening, Nieminen lost his first round match, so kiss this Round of 16 goodbye).

Ljubicic over Santoro: Lube should win this match, but Fabrice the Magician can insert himself into any match, on any surface. These guys have a 3-3 record, mostly on hard courts. Look for a lot of nice touch and shot-making here. (Santoro lost his opening match, but Ljubicic won in three sets over Nieminen).

Moya over Davydenko: I like Moya on clay, his career is winding down, but he has shown some stuff early this year and given the pride he has in his game I think Moya would like to go out in style. Frankly, I am still something of a Davydenko Doubter, and the fact Moya holds a 4-0 edge on the Russian makes me vote for Carlos coming out of this bottom section of the draw. (Well, both guys are gone by Tuesday night, the Russian leads me to doubt him even in the opening round, going out to local favorite Paul-Henri Mathieu, and Gonzalez proved too powerful for Moya).

Ferrer over Chela: This will be a battle of two good clay courters. Chela has done pretty well lately, but David Ferrer has worked his way steadily into the mix this past year. Even though Chela is 2-0, Ferrer is hot, so he gets the nod here. (They both got through their opening round matches, hooray here).

Robredo over Nalbandian: This was a tough one, both guys have good, solid games but they have both been a bit streaky of late. Robredo is 1-3 against the Argentine, but I like Tommy’s game better on the clay. (Both guys got through their respective first round matches).

Safin over Kiefer: If these two crazy guys hook up, it will be one crazy match. They are dead even, 3-3. But Safin is playing healthy and he gets the nod here. This could be the most entertaining match in the Round of 16. Of course, Safin has to get by Guillermo Coria first, but I’ll take the giant Russian against the Argentine midget most days. Coria is in the dumps even though it is spring and clay court time, and Safin can walk on water anytime he wants to, when he’s healthy. (Kiefer survived the opening round, Safin did not. He looked good last week in Valencia, but that was last week. And Coria looked good against Mikhail Youzhny, so if he survives his second round match-up with Mathieu, he can get in line to sue me along with his countryman Mr. Gaudio).

Henman over Stepanek: Henman has a 5-2 record against Radek over the years. Even though Stepanek has the higher ranking now, I know Henman can play on clay. I want to see him do well, because I know a serve and volley player can win on clay. Henman to win, and yes, I did just happen to notice he has to play Gaston Gaudio, the #7 seed, in the opening round. I’m also checking out Henman’s Slazenger Pro X-1 racquet to purchase for myself this week, and while it’s a very nice-sounding piece of work it is also rather hard to find. Like the serve and volley style of the man who plays with it. So, in a nutshell, I like the racquet, I like the man, I like his game, so go ahead and sue me, Gaston. After all, they did call this Fantasy Tennis. (Yes, Gaston, you can sue me. And you should. Henman got manhandled by Gaudio rather easily).

Grosjean over Federer: I’m nearly gagging, but if I have to save Roger for another tournament down the road, then he has to go down to the Frenchman in this round. It would be either Grosjean or maybe Ljubicic who would have a shot at him, going into the final. It feels very weird to not be picking Federer to win this entire tournament, but we have to hold our horses here. We’ll make Roger the main guy at the French instead. It will be a cold day in hell when Grosjean beats the Fed again, even though they are 2-2 officially. The Frenchman grabbed those two wins in ’04, back before Roger became The Fed. (Grosjean did well, Roger too, but he struggled. A struggle for Federer means he loses a set). Grosjean can be an obstinate player; just when you think his career is on the fritz, he’s back in the draw bothering people. Just don’t move his fromage.

Fortunately, the doubles will be rather easy to pick for this tournament, we think, and the nod here goes to that classic duo, Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi.

More Tuesday Follow-Up:

Ouch! My guys are dropping somewhat fly-like going into Day Two. But of the top eight players you get to pick in Fantasy Tennis, my other choices are still living: Nadal, Ljubicic, Ferrer, Robredo and Grosjean.

Stay tuned, and onward! Next week my co-writer, Nina Rota, and I will be able to tell you whether we’re dining on pheasant. Or crow. As the case may be.

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After I wrote the column about the controversy over foreign professional tennis players in the NCAA, I wandered a half hour up Route 5 from Los Angeles to the Santa Clarita Challenger tournament at the El Paseo Club to enjoy the tennis and ask some of the players about the controversy. I hit pay dirt.

While I watched Benjamin Becker and Tyler Cleveland play in the semifinals, I happened to sit next to Becker’s host family for the week – members of the club host players to defray their expenses – and they told me about Becker’s troubles with the NCAA. After winning the match, Becker graciously spent time talking to me as he prepared for his doubles match that was about to begin.

Becker, a German, was a player at Baylor University which is featured prominently in the New York Times article I referred to. Becker is named in the article. He won the 2004 NCAA singles title and his teammate, Benedikt Dorsch, also from Germany, won the 2005 title.

Becker was investigated by the NCAA every year during his college career. “The NCAA called me about so much stuff, it was unbelievable, ” he said. His coach sat him out for the first round of the NCAA championship in his sophomore year because they weren’t sure whether his German league was professional or not.

In Germany, there is no high school tennis so you have to play on club teams if you want to improve. The clubs compete against each and players are paid. Becker did not play in any professional league while he was in college and the NCAA allows a professional to accept a scholarship if their expenses outweighed their winnings.

Becker also got into trouble because his father made a website for his son that called him a professional tennis player. Another call came because Becker is an employee of his father’s company so the NCAA accused him of being a player’s agent.

You might think that the NCAA is harassing foreign players, and it’s possible that opposing coaches turned up the heat by calling the NCAA just before an upcoming match with the player in question, but the truth is probably much more mundane. When I asked Becker for the solution to the controversy, he said that the NCAA should become more familiar with the leagues and tournaments in Europe.

As I said in my previous column, the NCAA has a $6.2 billion contract for March madness, they’re not spending their time becoming intimately familiar with the ins and outs of German club tennis. The result is that the NCAA ends up dealing with complaints one by one which penalizes the players and wastes everybody’s time. If they educated themselves properly, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Becker said that the NCAA instituted an upper age limit of twenty years old for incoming college players when he was a sophomore. This penalizes Germans because they finish high school later than in the U.S. and then have civil service duty, which can be difficult to delay. It also helps explain why some foreign players are older. However, I haven’t found any information about this age limit. If anyone knows, please drop a comment.

If you’re wondering why so many foreign players come to American universities if the foreign players are so much better – why not stay home and play against better competition? – the reason is that foreign universities don’t have athletic scholarships and competition such as you find in the NCAA. “There is nothing. Either you study and play tennis on your own or you come to America and study and play tennis here, ” Becker said.

Becker expressed frustration with the articles and complaints about foreign players. He’s obviously biased and more than a little blind to the U.S. college sports system when he says that coaches should welcome the competition: “If you really care about your player and you want them to get better, then you should have them play against better guys.” The name of the game in the NCAA is winning championships, that’s how you keep your job and get a better job. American coaches are not for or against providing a free education for foreign players, they just want to win matches.

However, I must say I agree that American players can only improve playing against superior competition.

Becker lost in the finals of the tournament. His host family waited around after the match to take him to the airport and onto his next tournament. He still gets help with his expenses here and there but he doesn’t have to answer anywhere near as many questions.

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Typically when you hear someone say “don’t ask, don’t tell, ” you think they must be discussing the absurd U.S. military policy towards gays and lesbians. In Tuesday’s New York Times sports section, it was used in an article about tennis.

No, a male tennis professional has not finally come out of the closet, the term referred to the strategy of U.S. college coaches recruiting professional players for their tennis teams. Recruit the best player you can and don’t ask if they played professionally and don’t tell the NCAA if you find out that they did.

Tatsiana Uvarova from Belarus plays tennis for Virginia Commonwealth University. She won $39, 000 on the WTA tour last year. Her coach said that she played under the control of the Belarus Tennis Federation and made no money. Caroline Basu, a student at the University of Georgia, played almost 100 professional tournament in Europe. Evidently she didn’t do all that well. She was able to show the NCAA that she had spent more money than she earned and was allowed to play for Georgia.

If IMG didn’t take you and your family out to dinner when you were twelve or thirteen years old, if you didn’t win a lot of Junior championships, you don’t turn pro, you go to college.

If I were Jeremy Bloom, I would be very unhappy with this turn of events. Bloom is an Olympic moguls skier who was also a wide receiver for the University of Colorado football team. In order to train for the 2006 Olympics, he had to take on commerical sponsors to pay his training expenses which is against NCAA rules. Bloom had to choose between going to the Olympics as a skier or playing football.

The NCAA contended that the US Ski Association would cover his training expenses but an AP article on ESPN.com reported that “Bloom said the U.S. ski team tried unsuccessfully to set up a fund to help him, but officials were wary because of the NCAA’s position. ‘There was nothing they could do for me, ’ he said.”

So here’s the scenario. If you played in professional tennis tournaments then proved that you were so bad at it that your expenses outweighed your earnings, the NCAA will let you accept a college scholarship and compete for the NCAA championship. If you’re very good at a sport that is different than the one you play in college and you need sponsorship to make it to the Olympics, then you’re out of luck, no college sports for you.

This is particularly egregious when you consider that a professional baseball player can play in the minor leagues for a few years then decide to give it up and return to college to play a different sport. Josh Booty, a former LSU quarterback is an example. If you got a salary as a professional, no problem. If you accepted endorsements, unacceptable.

Are these older foreign players impeding the development of American tennis professionals? Probably not.

Are these older foreign players impeding the development of American tennis professionals? Probably not. If you’re a college tennis player, you’re probably not a good candidate for the professional tour. If IMG didn’t take you and your family out to dinner when you were twelve or thirteen years old and you didn’t win a lot of Junior championships, you don’t turn pro, you go to college.

An NCAA coach’s job is to win a championship. They always recruit the best player they can possibly get. Would Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski pass over a foreign player who could help him win the NCAA basketball title so he could give the scholarship to a less developed American player? The answer is no.

Speaking of the NCAA basketball championship: The NCAA is in the middle of an eleven year contract with CBS that pays them $6.2 billion dollars to televise March madness. In other words, the NCAA is much more concerned about basketball than it is about tennis.

The NCAA allows players who’ve played in professional events to accept a scholarship if they give up their winnings, well, their net winnings, and that’s a good idea. Donald Young should play Futures and Challenger events and accepts wild cards into ATP events, how else will he know if he’s cut out to be a professional? If you look at Caroline Basu and see that she has played almost 100 tournaments, you think that there is no way she should be a college player. But few players make a living playing Futures and Challengers.

The complaint is that she has played tennis all over the world professionally while many American players have gone straight from Juniors to college. There is a disparity and the foreign players are beating the Americans. All true. But the Americans won’t get better by avoiding superior players.

Everyone agrees that the NCAA has to tear themselves away from basketball and football long enough to enforce the rules for tennis, but I can’t say that I see anything wrong with the rules as they are.

[changes were made to the original post on April 15, 2006 to correct information]

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Yes, it’s time. I’m about to join the crazies who ignore their family and slack off during the work day to feed their fantasy team fantasy. I’m joining the legion of Rotisserie leage baseball manager wannabes who crowd Major League Baseball team phone lines with calls trying to find out if the top pitcher on their fantasy team is on the d.l. or not of when he’s likely to come off. I haven’t hired a statistician at the Jet Propulsion League to pore over the endless array of baseball stats for pitchers and hitters, let’s see there’s:

WHIP and OOPS.
pitchers: K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts per walk), WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) and OOPS (opponent on-base plus slugging).
defense-Independent ERA (dERA), evaluate a pitcher solely according to those events governed solely by the pitcher’s performance, regardless of the strength of the defensive players behind him.

# LOB – Left on base – number of runners not out nor scored at the end of an innning.
# OBP – On base percentage – times reached base (H + BB + HBP) divided by at bats plus walks plus hit by pitch plus sacrifice flies (AB + BB + HBP + SF).
# OPS – On-base plus slugging – on-base percentage plus slugging percentage

PVR:SI ranked the position players in the major leagues from 1 (the best) to 400 and the pitchers from 1 to 350, based on projections of their statistical production this season. The categories considered for position players were batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases; for pitchers the categories were wins, saves, ERA and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). We also took into account each player’s career stats as well as his role on his team, his prospects for improving or declining, and his injury history and physical condition. Using these criteria, SI determined each player’s value ranking, or PVR, which appears next to his name in his team’s projected roster in the scouting reports.

but that’s only because [blockquote]fantasy tennis is harder than fantasy football, basketball or baseball – you actually have to pick the winner. How novel is that? I could look at 1st serve % and number of forehand errors and percentage of break points converted, number of wins on clay when the temperature was below 50 degrees and the wind was above 13 mph while the player’s father was sitting in the player’s box – that could affect the player’s performance you know. I could play in a league where only the statistics matter and – in stock market investing it’s call technical analysis. But it’s much harder to be a better – that person has to choose the winner or at least cover the spread. It seems to me that it harder because you have to take into account more personal, harder to quantify [note to Peter about this and fantasy tennis, does he have any opinion about it] such as facing Pedro Martinez in a world series knowing that he’s likely to go head-hunting. It’s true that this would be reflected in statistics but there’s a finality here – if you lose the game that’s it. Your leftfielder might have gotten three hits but the team lost.

Maybe you subscribe to the talented mr. roto’s website, http://www.talentedmrroto.com/

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It’s been sixteen years, just about, but it still registers as a defining moment in the game of tennis. A bold new talent appeared on the scene. This one was especially sweet and we all recognized it. My partner and I were watching the just-concluded final of the U.S. Open which newcomer Pete Sampras had won. It was his first of fourteen Grand Slams. We remembered the comment from the booth, Dick Enberg said it, I believe, something like, “Folks, here’s the future of American tennis.”

Well, he certainly nailed that one correctly. We could all sense the vibe that day, this kid will be the True Blue, a guy for all seasons. He was going to be a great champion and there were no two ways about it.

Now the pistol-packing Pete is back. Sort of. The news of Mr. Sampras’ return to the game occurred several weeks ago but people are still digesting it. The man feels the bug again, and this is a good thing. But not to resurrect his career on the ATP tour, he’s made that very clear, he wants to play team tennis.

Team tennis? Hhmmm, that’s what I said to myself, with some surprise. What is surprising is that Pete Sampras was a champion who retired with all the big questions answered. Well, nearly all, except his inability to win the French. But his footprints are everywhere else in tennis. Pete took a good long swig at all the tennis world could offer, and he picked about the most ideal moment to go out, right after winning his home country’s tournament for the 6th time. Why would he ever care to pick up a racquet again, let alone come back, after all that?

This would mark something of a change in how Sampras chooses to display himself as a public person. He has been “above the fray” often as a tennis persona, something of a mystery. Robert Redford once said that the actor needs in, some respects, to hug his craft close to his chest, you want the mystery to always be there in your work. Once I read someone describing Pete as too “opaque” to be a really popular champion. He did have that reserve about him, and it seemed to shield him from being more accessible. So in a way it is good he wants to get back out on court with a different take on things.

But here’s the problem I have with Team Tennis and someone of the caliber of Pete Sampras playing it. It’s like taking this tremendous talent, akin to Niagara Falls, and pouring it into a thimble. I mean, Team Tennis is not the gut-wrenching affair that ATP tennis can be. We’re trying to re-invent Pete for the Common Man. I am not sure I like this, or will be able to watch it. Team Tennis is a more gregarious kind of thing from the regular tour, with a different emphasis. It might be more fun to watch, in a way, but do we feel the same competitive zeal? I’m shuddering already, and I really don’t want to. Someone help me down off my dilemma.

In film school, my teachers told us writers and directors to construct stories where the characters have a lot at stake. This is how you hook your audience and keep them. What’s at stake about Pete Sampras playing Team Tennis?

Tennis is a unique sport, one of the more idiosyncratic of all the individual sports out there. You see the athlete all the time, they are not covered in padding, armor or otherwise, obscured from view. You get to see their charming faces. Faces from across the globe, nowadays. You get a feel for them and their little quirks. God help me, I find myself missing Marcelo Rios some days. Not many. But some. Seeing the quirks on display makes for a particular player’s game, which makes for our happiness as spectators. Can the idiosyncrasies of Pete’s game shine forth in the venue of Team Tennis? This remains to be seen.

Pete handled himself well, I appreciated and admired how he went about his career. He could make the tough personal choices it must take to stay atop the field for as long as he did. He carved his own calm and poised style into that framework. So this is why team tennis seems like a completely different tangent for me to digest.

Athletes who retire are not an enviable lot. They’ve been in such a whirlwind for so long of playing and touring and touring and playing and trying to have something like a private life along the way, that when the merry-go-round finally stops, as indeed it must, it can often feel like a jarring thing. Suddenly you are out of the game and you are only early 30’s-something, what’s a boy to do with the rest of his time? What’s life going to be like for the next thirty some years?

For me it’s surprising to ponder that Pistol Pete may be bored. But that may be what this boils down to.

Pete wants to smack a few more balls around it seems, he is speaking of this as something “fun” that he now wants to partake of. Just having fun out there on a court, what a novel idea for a guy who was probably the most disciplined player of our time. I grew up hanging out with swimmers and swam a great deal myself, so the idea of just jumping in a pool and playing around is a novel idea. Especially when you’ve been trudging up and down lap lanes for years on end, logging thousands of yards. The notion of play gets lost in the shuffle sometimes.

Did Pete take a hint from his two young sons? Did he say, “Well if they can have fun, why can’t I?” Hey, maybe we give the guy an A just for thinking like this, how outside the box is that?

So how would Pete do once he’s back in the fray? Recently, tennis player and blogger Justin Gimelstob reported on playing with Sampras, and Justin was impressed by how strong his game still appeared. The serve and volleys were still very sharp, as was the cross court forehand. This after only a handful of times Pete has stepped on court since his retirement.

So a lot of the game is still there. Now, some people on the internet are feeling encouraged enough that they think Pete should come back on the regular ATP tour. That is not what he has said he wants, and I would tend to doubt that he would hanker to play on the regular tour.

But somewhere in the mix of whatever it is bringing Pete back, I cannot help but wonder if he wants to stay close to Federer. Not that they will ever meet again head to head, it’s too late for that now. But Pete has no doubt followed the drumbeat about Roger and how touted he is. Maybe Pete wants to throw a casual reminder of sorts, that before the Fed there was the Pistol, and don’t you forget it. Has anyone else picked up on the fact both guys are Leos? Born four days apart from each other. Not only do they walk the walk, they feel themselves kings of their walks. Another similarity they share is that both faltered for a time after their first big moment on the tennis stage. Sampras languished without winning a major tournament for several years after he won that first U.S. Open. And much later in his career, he suffered an absolute dissection at the hands of a teenage Federer at Wimbledon in 2001. But then Roger needed several years after that to catch up to himself, so to speak.

But if Team Tennis gets boring, maybe Pete should think of signing onto Jim Courier’s new Senior Tour sponsored by Outback Steakhouse. They might provide him – and us – with more of the taste of the Sampras of old. And along with Pete, we’d all get another look at that Master of Idiosyncrasies himself, Mr. Rios, who is currently atop the elders’ tour.

Sampras is 2-0 against Rios, but they have been very very close matches. I for one would pay to see them again, “seniors” or not. As for the Team Tennis thing, let’s wait and see.

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