Monthly Archives: September 22, 2021

American Andy Roddick beat Fernando Gonzalez, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2, to clinch the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against Chile.

In the third set of the Davis Cup match between American Andy Roddick and Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, Gonzalez and Roddick had traded breaks and Gonzalez was serving at 3-4 when all hell erupted. Gonzalez hit a backhand slice cross court and Roddick went outside the court to run around his backhand and hit a ball down the line.

it probably would have been a riot if this had been a soccer match between the US and Chile

The ball appeared to land just outside the line. But it was called good. Gonzalez walked up to the offending linesperson and put his hands up in the prayer position to ask for justice but it wasn’t forthcoming. Hans Gildemeister, the Chilean captain, protested so long and hard that the offical Davis Cup referee had to come out and tell Gildemeister to sit down. Roddick said after the match that “it turned into a riot.” A bit overstated perhaps – nobody left their seat – but it probably would have been a riot if this had been a soccer match between the US and Chile.

It’s bad enough that the call looked wrong but it also gave Roddick a break point. On the next point, Gonzalez hit a forehand long and Roddick had his break.

After the game, Gonzalez prowled behind the baseline within intimidating distance of the same linesperson as Roddick prepared to serve to go up two sets to one. I would have been much happier if Gonzalez had held his serve so that it remained a fair match.

Gonzalez is not immune to gamesmanship. As the commentators put it, “… he’s very calculated in his maneuvers.” In his victory over James Blake in the first match of this tie, he took two medical timeouts to get treatment for cramps in his left leg. The rules restrict a player to one medical time out per medical complaint. But’s that’s Davis Cup. Not only that, it’s pretty standard for any tournament these days. But he’s a fierce competitor who lifts his game for Davis Cup. He’s 12-3 in singles and Chile is 8-3 when he plays singles.

Even so, the match with Blake was exhausting. It lasted four hours and twenty minutes with the fifth going to 10-8 and here he is stuck playing on a temporary grass court in the middle of a windy desert in enemy territory. That’s lot to ask of anyone and it’s too much to ask of Gonzalez today. He lost his first service game in the fourth set and never recovered. Roddick won the match, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2, and the US had its third win of the tie sending them into the Davis Cup semifinals against Russia in Moscow this September. We can be sure the match won’t be on grass.

when McEnroe Sr. said that Gonzales should have been defaulted for complaining and smashing his racket, well, that’s like the father of the pot calling the kettle black

Roddick won both of his matches in this tie and looks rejuvenated. In his match against Gonzalez, he came to the net as if he really meant it. I’d given up on asking Roddick to be more aggressive but team captain Patrick McEnroe, who is back home in New York awaiting the imminent birth of his daughter, said in a phone interview that he wants to see Roddick at the net more instead of blasting forehands from behind the baseline. Maybe Roddick should hire McEnroe as his coach.

Still, Roddick is not out of the woods yet, this is grass not clay, and he is acutely aware of his position. After the match an interviewer congratulated him for closing out a Davis Cup victory for the seventh time but Roddick wasn’t exactly celebratory: “I always play first on the last day until in about two weeks when James (Blake) takes the first American spot away from me.”

Blake is not the star yet. Acting captain Dean Goldfine made him play scrub Paul Capdeville in the meaningless fifth match instead of letting Bob or Mike Bryan take a shot at it. Blake didn’t appear to appreciate it. He lost easily and quickly, 6-3, 6-4. John McEnroe’s father sat in the booth with Barry McKay and Leif Shiras after the match and chided Blake by saying that “John used to take these dead rubber ties very seriously, he’d go out and try like hell to win.” Fair enough, but when McEnroe Sr. said that Gonzalez should have been defaulted for complaining and smashing his racket, well, that’s like the father of the pot calling the kettle black.

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Fernando Gonzalez of Chile beat American James Blake, 6-7(5), 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 10-8, in a titanic five set match and Andy Roddick evened the tie at 1-1 by beating Nicolas Massu, 6-3, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), in quarterfinal Davis Cup action.

Welcome to Wimbledon in the desert. It’s time for Davis Cup again and the US is sticking it to Chile by erecting a temporary tennis stadium with a grass court for the three day event. The Chileans are clay court specialists. Five of Fernando Gonzalez’s seven career victories have been on clay. For Nicolas Massu, the number is five out of six.

We’re here at Mission Hills Country Club, the site of last week’s Kraft-Nabisco LPGA major, in Rancho Mirage, California. As I was wandering around the site looking for the media trailer, I ran into Joey English. She was wearing a bright red dress and pointy high heels and was looking for the media trailer because she had been chosen to sing the the National Anthem. I flagged down a golf cart and Joey and I caught a ride to the opening gate. Joey was rushed because she had to get back to her local radio show right after the opening ceremonies. I asked her what she covered on her show. “Everything from Ernest Borgnine to mad cow disease, ” she said, “and tennis.”

Mission Hills should consider keeping the grass court stadium. In between Davis Cup matches they could hire a herd of cows to keep the grass groomed. Cows don’t get mad cow disease if they are entirely grass fed.

The ball was out, why was there a replay? Good question.

You never know what’s going to happen in Davis Cup. Patriotic pride can lift a player’s game. They wander around the world most of the year playing for themselves; this is the one time they get to play a team sport. I always enjoy the opening ceremonies because the teams are introduced one-by-one then they run out onto the court and slap their teammates’ hands as if it was a basketball game. It’s not the self-centered game tennis can often be. Chile is not helping my fantasy. For some reason they chose to introduce their captain, Hans Gildemeister, and the player in the first rubber, Fernando Gonzalez, and no one else. No Nicolas Massu, Adrian Garcia or Paul Cadeville. Ms. English was asked not to wear high heels but she didn’t listen, she stilettoed right onto the grass and sang her song.

Gonzalez played James Blake in the first rubber and Gonzalez had a plan. He repeatedly hit short backhand slices to draw Blake to the net then passed him or forced an error. This is much easier to do when your opponent is serving a lot of second serves and Blake was complying. He got 56% of his first serves in during the first set.

The strategy doesn’t work so well if you start hitting errors. Gonzalez began to lose his concentration and gave the break back to even the set at 5-5. In the tiebreaker, Gonzalez gave Blake set point after he drew Blake to the net yet again then missed the passing shot. First set to Blake.

Gonzalez continued to disintegrate in the second set. The crowd was yelling during his serve and he complained repeatedly to the umpire. Someone sitting near me yelled out, “We want France!” (France is playing Russia this weekend) , then started yelling at Gonzalez in German. Blake helped himself by upping his 1st serve percentage to 68% and swept the set, 6-0.

At this point you would have thought that Blake was on his way to sure victory, but that’s not how it works in Davis Cup. Blake broke Gonzalez early in the third set then, serving for the set at 5-4, hit a winner to get a match point. Except that the umpire overruled and called the ball out and ordered a replay. Gildemeister, the Chilean captain was outraged. The ball was out, why was there a replay? Good question. After the match, Blake sounded more than a bit frustrated with Gildemeister’s reaction (and his girlfriends): “I’ve had girlfriends that complained a lot, but he took that to a whole new level of complaining when they [got that call].” Gonzalez took advantage of the situation to break Blake and it was onto another tiebreaker where Gonzalez hit three winners and forced two errors to take the third set.

Gonzalez had already played a heroic match, both players had, but here he outdid himself

In the fourth set, Gonzalez returned to his strategy of drawing Blake to the net and Blake returned to his poor first serve percentage. Gonzalez got one break and evened the match at two sets apiece. We’d been out in the exceptionally hot sun for two and three quarter hours and we were going to be there a lot longer.

The first four sets of the match were close but they weren’t memorable. That was about to change. The fifth set was full of huge points.

Blake hit three straight service winners to cover two breaks points and hold his serve in the third game then hit the shot of the match, a running forehand passing shot down the line, to get a break point in the fourth game and go up 3-1.

After Blake held his serve in the next game, Gonzalez took a medical timeout to get his leg massaged. Gonzalez would take two timeouts in the fifth set for the same leg – players are allowed one medical timeout per injury – and this irked Blake: “when you take one injury timeout and get your leg rubbed, then five or six games later get the same leg rubbed and say now it’s cramping, … you tell me what that is. You think that belongs in the Major Leagues or in the Bush Leagues?”.

After Gildemeister’s outburst in the third set, Blake went on to lose his serve and the tiebreaker. After Gonzalez’ tactical timeout, Blake lost his serve to give back the break.

With the set even at 5-5, Gonzalez got a break point with a superb forehand cross court. On the next point, he hit a forehand return deep to force Blake into an error and put himself in position to serve for the match. The Chileans went crazy. They were chanting “ole ole ole ole, Chile, Chile” while the Americans, who are deficient when it comes to cheering because they’re not huge soccer fans, countered with a smattering of discordant “USA”s.

A break is not a break until you hold serve in the next game and Gonzalez couldn’t do it. He lost the game at love and the score was 6-6. There’s no tiebreaker in the fifth set in Davis Cup matches. The players had been on the court for almost four hours and there was no end in sight

With Blake serving at 7-7, Gonzalez hit a forehand winner that would have given him his second break point of the game if the chair umpire hadn’t overruled the call. Gildemeister was incensed yet again. Dean Goldfine was the Davis Cup captain this week while Patrick McEnroe sat in New York and awaited the imminent birth of his daughter. Not that it mattered. Those are two of the mildest personalities in tennis. In any other sport, the opposing coach or captain would have been right there with Gildemeister standing up for his players. It didn’t seem to bother Blake. His only regret was that Goldfine couldn’t have “come out and made a few first serves for me.”

Blake held on to win the game but gave up a break on his next service game with a double fault – evidently he needed Goldfine to hit second serves for him also – and Gonzalez got his second opportunity to serve for the match.

Gonzalez had already played a heroic match, both players had, but here he outdid himself. He’s ranked 48th on the ATP ace list and averages 4.2 aces per match but somehow managed to smash four aces when he needed it most. The last ace was a Roddickian 143 miles per hour that gave Chile the match and brought an end to a memorable and clamorous Davis Cup battle.

Sorry but I’m just too tired after four hours and twenty minutes in the hot desert sun to do much justice to the match between Andy Roddick and Nicolas Massu. Roddick hit at least one 150 mph serve and both players took nasty falls on the grass. Massu had bad luck in the second set tiebreaker when a Roddick backhand passing shot bounced off the net and over his head to give Roddick a mini-break.

There was a bit of controversy when Roddick had a good serve overruled and was given a first serve instead of a second serve – another strange call – but altogether it was a relatively quiet straight set victory.

Something tells me that quiet won’t last for long.

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One of the perks, at least I think it’s a perk, about covering a large tournament like the NASDAQ-100 or Indian Wells is that we get to see these fun tennis commercials along the way. At least, I think they’re fun. Actually, they aren’t showing tennis per se, but rather a few players who have been in the news of late. They’re interesting to look at because of what they are attempting to promote, we presume, about our beloved sport.

The first thing we should say about tennis commercials is that quite often they end up being way out of sync with what may be happening in that player’s career at the time. American Express found this out last year when they ran their commercials featuring Andy Roddick. Then Andy started losing, and – to their credit – AMEX worked that right into the mix too. Andy helped the cause out by searching for his missing Mojo in a wonderfully deadpan style; he nearly let himself look as flustered there as he has proven to be this year on court.

Recently the Lotto Sport Italia company has gotten into the mix. They have been running a finely airbrushed ad highlighting Indian newcomer Sania Mirza and basically flung it at us, ad nauseum and in duplicate it seemed, on every commercial break. Just when we thought nothing would change, the Lotto people gave us a new face to look at. Sort of. Dominik Hrbaty now appears on the TV screens. Hhmmm. Dominik Hrbaty, a name that rolls easily off tennis tongues everywhere, I’m sure. But unfortunately for Lotto, Dominik has achieved fame not for his foot gear, but for the shirt he wore at last year’s U.S. Open. Do you need reminding? Oh, you do. Well. It was pink and black for starters. But the piece de resistance was the backside of said shirt. I believe I wrote at the time that it looked like some outfit Dominik had lifted from Serena Williams’ locker and then managed to put on backwards. It had two symmetrical cut-out sections, one over each shoulder blade.

It was a low moment for fashion in men’s tennis. Just when we thought we were in the clear too, and that the worst thing we would ever see is Rafa – God forbid – running around in those pirate pants for ever and ever. It was also a moment when some of us suddenly found ourselves taking Lleyton Hewitt’s side, for once, when he uttered his famous sneer, “I just couldn’t lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that, mate.”

So when the Lotto commercial ran featuring Hrbaty, I had to burst out laughing on first viewing. What ARE they advertising, I wondered. Is it supposed to be about shoes? But the images barely tell us that. Instead they focus on his upper body, with that shirt. Hrbaty did not even have to turn around in the commercial, we never get to see the offending backside. They assume we will already share fond memories of it. And if we do, well what then? The associations would make us run screaming from the brand altogether, one would think. An odd way to advertise your product, and even though they sell jerseys too, Lotto is more known for their footwear. And in this case, you would think they would want to be known more for footwear than for the atrocity on Hrbaty’s back.

These guys did not take Advertising 101.

So I find myself scratching my head over these ads. It’s a company not well-known in our woods here in the States, featuring players no one will know, outside of tennis folk. Sania Mirza’s ranking is 39th in the world now. She has one tournament win under her belt, in her home town of Hyderabad. My co-writer, Nina Rota, thinks she will be in the top twenty soon. I have my doubts about that. She has not exactly set the women’s tour on fire yet, so some of us are wondering why she needs her own commercial. She doesn’t deserve it, goes the reasoning, although God knows neither did Anna Kournikova, and we had to look at her for a while before the advertising blitz slowly petered out.

But Sania Mirza is no Kournikova. The Lotto ad unfortunately reveals some of her chubbiness, and it’s not very flattering as far as her strokes go either. One shot in the ad shows Sonia serving, with a strangely bent elbow that gives it a cramped feeling, ditto on a forehand shot too. I wonder what the other girls on the tour feel about Mirza getting her own commercial. A recent visit I made to a tennis chat room showed me that I am not alone in feeling she doesn’t deserve this yet. Prove it to me, baby, that’s our attitude.

Sania is not so much a tennis player as she is a curiosity. She is Muslim, and she has happened along at a time when various peoples in the world have their various agendas. Sania Mirza figures into some of those agendas. That is why she is in the commercial, for that reason and no other.

You’re being picky, I am told, Sania is not unattractive to some people and she has a lot of personality. She’s already a big deal in southeast Asia, and there is a large Indian community in the States who wish her well. People will be curious about her, and perhaps go to see her play. Along the way they may grow to love tennis.

But along the way they may also feel the game is phony, because it is promoting a player who is not the best the sport has to offer, and their initial impression may be poor enough that they never come back. That’s why I object to the hype surrounding the Lotto ads, and maybe the earlier commercials too. The player never seems to be, at the moment of that commercial, able to live up to it. He or she is either ahead of the curve, as Sharapova is finally becoming, or they end up behind the 8-ball, like Andy Roddick.

But that’s also what makes them entertaining, we see the disparity going on and it becomes amusing. So bring on the airbrushing, and the new and startling fashions. I’m nearly ready for it.

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A very astute commenter pointed out that my statemenent about Maria Sharapova:

When you approach excellence, we expect more from you. It’s not enough to be the best at what you do, we want to be able to relate to you.

is exactly the reason that Federer is not popular in the United States. We have trouble relating to him because, the commenter said, he is “too cold, too distant, too unapproachable, too unloveable. Hardly relatable.”

She makes a very good point. Federer pales in comparison to Rafael Nadal and certainly Marcos Baghdatis and it’s much easier to relate to Andy Roddick’s current problems than it is to Federer’s calm, controlled, ceaseless dominance.

We see Roddick whipping himself and self-imploding during a loss against Igor Andreev or Marat Safin breaking rackets and we sympathize.

But I don’t find Federer distant or cold. Look, for instance, at his torrent of tears at the Australian Open victory. He comes across as a friendly, open guy on the court and in interviews. People have trouble relating to Roger because he stays calm in the face of a grand slam final while we are swearing and kicking the soda machine because it ate our money. We see Roddick whipping himself and self-imploding during a loss or Marat Safin breaking rackets and we sympathize.

It’s unfortunate in a way because Federer is one of the very few players in tennis who does exactly what all of the mental coaches tell you. Trust your game. If your game is strong enough to win the match, all is good. If you’re playing your best and the other player still beats you, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re not likely to develop new skills in the middle of the match, that takes months and years of practice, and getting upset with yourself just makes things worse.

Of course it’s much easier to be calm when you’re winning every match but it’s also that approach that helps you win. After the Nasdaq-100 win Federer said, “…I never panic, you know. I think that’s the key in the end.”

After his loss to Federer in Indian Wells, someone asked Ivan Ljubicic to name two things that set Federer apart from everyone else. His answer was, “return and movement.” My answer would be mental and movement.

Ljubicic probably has the widest range of skills next to Federer, though he’s not as comfortable at the net, and he doesn’t self implode. But he has a terrible record in five set matches and only once in the three tiebreakers against Federer at the Nasdaq-100 did he come up with a big play when he needed it – a 139 mph serve in the third tiebreaker. Still, it wasn’t enough. Federer responded with a service winner and an ace.

My co-writer, Pat Davis, pointed out that Bjorn Borg was also absurdly calm, more so than Federer. But we didn’t talk about him being boring because he had legitimate, tough rivalries. Federer doesn’t and so, since we’re not spending our time talking about the exciting finals at Indian Wells and Miami – they weren’t that exciting, we don’t have much else to do but to pick apart Federer and wish that he could offer us more because, clearly, his opponents cannot.

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