Monthly Archives: July 26, 2021

For those followers of tennis who think the sport is way too prissy about players taking injury timeouts when there may be no real injury, or bathroom breaks when the only intention is not to pee but to confound your opponent, a current story from the World Chess Championships may be your cup of tea.

It seems a Russian and Bulgarian were dueling for the title in chess, but the match got bogged down when the Russian player was locked out of his private bathroom. He was suspected of getting up to something nefarious inside that bathroom. Did he whip out the Cliff version of chess crib notes? Does he sip from some magical elixir? We’ll never know, because it is the one area where security cameras do not go at the championships apparently. The Russian maintains he drinks lots of water and therefore has to pee a lot. Besides, he likes to PACE.

Oh well, that’s different! Pacing, why didn’t you say so in the first place? The Russian likes to use his private rest area for that, but it is small, so he added his bathroom area to his daily rounds. Once it was locked, he fomented mightily. The decision to close his holy of holies showed “severe bias” against his person. “My dignity does not allow me to stand this situation.”

Nor should it, we suppose. Can we eagerly await the day when Sharapova will utter such a line on her way into the locker room? There is so much gamesmanship now in tennis that it probably won’t be long until this situation occurs and someone gets locked out.

When Roger Federer gave us his week of ATP blogging recently from Japan, he sounded absolutely smitten by those state of the art bathrooms they have in Japan. Add technology to the usual nefarious player shennanigans and and we could be in for a whole new wave in tennis. Bathroom Strategies. Now players could soon ponder not only when to use their next drop shot, or inside out forehand, but what new ruses they can cook up on their way into the can. Stay tuned.

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We know we are in a slow time of year for tennis when we start exploring odd stories like the preceding. The year end championships take place in November, but around them are bits and pieces of a lot of little stuff in tennis. Last week I should have gotten delivery of my blessed Dish Network to my humble abode, but it was not to be. I am on the first floor, and my landlord will not allow any holes, nails, screws or whatnots on his property. Even though he hands out a consent form for provider and tenant to sign, it is pretty much irrelevant. If I were on the second floor, my balcony railing would suffice as a base. But I am not, alas. So, still no Tennis Channel.

We are left to wonder whether Roger is going to pop the marriage question anytime soon to Mirka. That’s what is happening in tennis this week, folks. Personally, I think Roger should stay focused on tennis. Marriage is not what is happening these days . My partner and I have lived in sin for over fifteen years. I like being able to tell people that. Their eyes usually light up in happiness, because everyone remembers how good sin was before marriage came along. Roger should get on that bandwagon too if he knows what’s good for him. Besides, with the loot he makes the sin should be flowing freely. Next topic, please.

Rafael Nadal took it on the chin in Stockholm this week at the hands of big-serving Joachim Johansson, back on the tour after a long injury time-out. Perhaps a surprise, perhaps not. Johansson could serve anybody off the court when his serve is working. Somehow the thought of Nadal playing indoors in such a wintry place does not speak well for his chances, in spite of him donning blue and gold colors for the host country. Still, a Blake-Nadal final would have been a lovely thing. Instead it was Blake and Nieminen. (Blake won that final).

Also trying to make amends this week was American cyclist Floyd Landis, who decided he would get a jump on his case coming up in January regarding his alleged use of illegal testosterone in the Tour de France by posting his case on his website. We love you Floyd, and we certainly like your hair. But we have heard this all before and just because you hauled out Powerpoint to make your case does not really change the central facts. You had high levels of testosterone in your system and a further test showed they didn’t get there by themselves. Clearly something synthetic arrived in your system and you’ve offered various defenses/excuses as to how it could have gotten there. I especially approved of the whiskey defense, but have you thought of osmosis? Frankly I think blaming the lab for mishandling the samples is getting to be like all those criminal cases since O.J., where defense lawyers claim the cops planted the damning evidence your lying eyes are looking at now. It is getting old and tired.

Can’t anybody in cycling just back down for once and fess up to doping? Besides Frankie Andreu? At this rate people will be so turned off no one will probably ever want to ride a bicycle again.

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Walt Landers was only 53 years old when he passed recently from a brain tumor. Walt was a long-time trainer and masseur with the ATP, the guy who handled bodies on a regular basis trying to get them in shape for the rigors of the tour. It was a rather sudden end to a solid career. Ivan Ljubicic, the newly elected Players Council President, wore a black armband in his memory during a match in Vienna this past week. Another good guy gone.

See also:
A Demi-Gods Demise
Dick Pound and WADA Reach Altitude

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I’m not crowing or anything, well, yes I am, I picked two upsets in Moscow. I had Jan Hernych over Filippo Volandri and Teimuraz Gabashvili over Gilles Muller. Okay, that second one was a minor upset but Volandri was the fifth seed. More incredible than that, I actually remembered to submit my team.

I picked four of the six finalist and it would have been five if Rafael Nadal hadn’t crashed out to Joachim Johansson in the second round. That was totally unpredictable. Johansson has a big game, in particular one of the best serves on tour, but this is only his second ATP regular tour event in more than a year after having shoulder surgery. He played in San Jose in February but dropped all the way to the futures circuit – the bottom of the minor leagues – in recent weeks.

By the way, here’s a bit of insight into how the ATP tour works: tennis-x.com and tennis.com cited an article in the Austrian newspaper Obersterreichischen Nachrichten that put Andy Roddick’s appearance fee in Vienna at $150, 000.

Madrid Masters

The Madrid Masters plays on indoor hard court and pays $477, 792 so get it right!

If you’re wondering why Johansson got into the main draw despite his ranking of 690, I am too. I believe it has to do with the concept of protected ranking, a player who loses time to injury gets special consideration. But that’s been addressed by using two different rankings: the Indesit ATP rankings stretch over the last 12 months to account for time off during that period and the Indesit ATP Race rankings count results during the calendar year only. Nikolay Davydenko should take Johansson out so it shouldn’t end up being an issue.

Tommy Haas has a career record of 42-16 on indoor hard court but Dominik Hrbaty beat him this week in Vienna with a bagel in the third set and also beat Haas last year in Madrid so I’m going with Hrbaty. Not only that but Hrbaty is 3-1 over Nadal winning all of their matches on hard court. Who knew?

I have two Nadals left so I have to use him in Madrid and Paris but the bigger question is whether to use my one remaining Roger Federer here or in Paris. Federer has been known to drop out of Masters Series events if they’re too close to each other. He essentially pulled a no show in Cincinnati after winning the week before in the Toronto Masters. Madrid and Paris don’t follow each other but the Masters Cup is one week after Paris and that’s enough for Federer to find a way to skip Paris. I will use Federer this week because I know he’ll show up.

In fact, you should use your big guys in Madrid because players come up with “opportune” injuries so they can skip Paris when they’re already in the year end Masters Cup.

Mikhail Youzhny is a bit of a wild card. He’s in the qualifying tournament because the seeds were drawn up before he made his semifinal run at the U.S. Open. He’s not that good on indoor hard court but check at the very last minute to see where he is in the draw and adjust your picks if necessary.

Mario Ancic has been in two finals and three quarterfinals in his last five tournaments. He’s highly motivated because he’s close to getting into the final eight at the Masters Cup in Shanghai and that should get him to the quarterfinals again this week.

Marcos Baghdatis is fighting for a final eight spot too but his second round opponent is likely to be Marat Safin. Baghdatis had an exceptional record on indoor hard court in challenger and futures tournaments but he’s only won one match there on the regular ATP tour so I’m going with Safin.

In my upset pick I have Novak Djokovic over Jarkko Nieminen. Nieminen got to the final in Stockholm this week but Djokovic is 11-3 on indoor hard court and 44-15 for the year.

I’m picking Davydenko over Fernando Gonzalez because Davydenko is 3-0 over Gonzalez lifetime. If Davydenko gets as far as the quarterfinals and meets Ivan Ljubicic, he should lose because Ljubicic has beaten him the last two times they’ve met including indoors at Metz.

Roddick is 5-3 over Ljubicic and it could have been 6-3 if he hadn’t been injured at Paris last year. Still, I’m going with Ljubicic because he won this week and got to the finals last week.

Zero Counter

Each week we add up the number of matches between players who’ve never played each other before to explain why the ATP doesn’t have any rivalries – you don’t get rivalries if players never meet after all. You’d expect the number to be lower this week because this is a required tournament and these are the top ranked players on the tour and you’d be right. Up until now, one third of the matches have been Zero Counter matches but this week it’s one fifth of the matches.

Still, look at some of the players who’ve never met before: Andy Roddick and Tomas Berdych who’ve been on the tour for a combined total of nine years; Dmitry Tursunov and James Blake who’ve been on the tour for a total of thirteen years; David Nalbandian and James Blake, also a total of thirteen years on the tour. See what I mean, these guys never meet.

Picks

First tier picks: Federer, Ancic, Nalbandian, Blake, Davydenko, Ljubicic, Roddick, Hrbaty. Second tier picks: Robin Soderling, Tommy Robredo, Tim Henman, Safin, Gonzalez, Djokovic and Berdych.

Correction
Thanks to vive le beau jeu! on the Talk Tennis forum, the issue of protected ranking and Joachim Johansson has been cleared up. The protected ranking rule is described here. If a player doesn’t compete due to injury for more than six months, he can petition to keep a ranking equal to his average ATP ranking during the first three months of his injury and he can use this ranking for his first eight tournaments back on the tour.


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U.S. tennis is turning out players, they just don’t happen to be American.


When a person puts an X in the box next to the word Caucasian, they are aligning themselves with Europe and Asia. The word Caucasian comes from the Caucasus Mountains which, with the Ural Mountains, form the border between Europe and Asia. I was always confused about this because the Caucasus Mountains wander through Russia so does that mean Russia is part of Europe or Asia? The answer is that the western part of Russia, Moscow included, considers itself European and the rest of Russia considers itself Asian.

What about Maria Sharapova, is she an Eastern-European? She was born in Russia but she’s lived in the U.S. since she was seven years old. Then there’s Tatiana Golovin. She was born in Moscow, moved to France and now lives in Miami. When we say that tennis in the U.S. is slipping because there are no women in the top ten and the men aren’t filling up many grand slam final slots, that’s not totally accurate. U.S. tennis is turning out players, they just don’t happen to be American. These players train in the U.S. – often from an early age – it’s just that they don’t carry a U.S. passport.

And even if they didn’t come to the U.S. at an early age, they might play tennis at a U.S. university. More than fifty percent of the top male NCAA tennis players are foreigners. Benjamin Becker, a German who beat Andre Agassi in the last match of Agassi’s career and got all the way to the Tokyo semis this week, spent four years at Baylor University.

Three of the four semifinalists in Stuttgart this week are Eastern-European if you count Golovin. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova are the other two. Why are there so many Eastern-Europeans on the tour and why do Russian women make up half of the top ten?

If you want to make money as a female athlete, you can play tennis, golf, basketball, volleyball or go into track and field. You could also be a bowler. This year Kelly Kulick became the first woman to qualify for the Professional Bowling Association tour. And Michelle Wie is doing her damndest to qualify for the PGA tour. But there aren’t so many golf courses in Eastern Europe. There are beaches in Russia but Russia is the largest country in the world. Going to the beach there is not like hopping a plane to Florida from Chicago to play a little volleyball.

You could play basketball if you’re tall enough, many of the Eastern-European women on the WTA tour are certainly tall enough, but there’s not a lot of money in it. The average WNBA salary is around $50, 000. Serena Williams wouldn’t go halfway to Dubai for less than four times that in appearance money alone.

Not many hundred meter races give out a fire engine red Porsche along with first prize money as they do at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix – the name of the tournament here in Stuttgart. While we’re at it, see if you can give me the name of a famous Russian female track athlete. I can’t think of one either but I did think of a famous Russian tennis player: Anna Kournikova.

I’m not suggesting that Eastern-European women are only in it for the money, I’m suggesting that they’re smart enough to choose the most lucrative sport with the best press coverage that lets you travel all over the world.

The fourth semifinalist in Stuttgart is Patty Schnyder. She’s currently ranked number nine and needs to get to number eight to qualify for the year end championship in Madrid. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Tennis-X reports that half of the top fifteen WTA players are out with injuries – wait a minute, how do you divide fifteen in half? Anyway, Amelie Mauresmo pulled out of Stuttgart with a shoulder injury and Golovin got a walkover when Elena Dementieva strained a quad muscle. Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, and Serena and Venus Williams are all out for one reason or another. At this point, Schnyder could end up ranked number fifteen and still get to Madrid because so many people in front of her could drop out due to injury. Hell, I might as well get a ticket to Madrid and see if they can use me.

Why are there so many injuries? Let’s go over it again:

  1. The new racket technology is hard on a tennis player’s body because there is greater shock to their system when they hit the ball.
  2. Women players usually start on the tour when they’re teenagers and sometimes start in their early teens. By the time they reach their twenties, they can wear out physically.
  3. The off-season is too short.
  4. There are too many tournaments in too many parts of the world.

This last issue is a place where I disagree with Tennis Magazine’s Peter Bodo. He thinks the number of tournaments the WTA requires you to play doesn’t add up to a big workload, it’s the players who wear themselves out by running all over the world chasing money and ranking points. But the tennis season is set up to make it a long haul. The first part of the year is preparation for the Australian Open with the spring and summer for the other three slams. That leaves the fall for grabbing enough ranking points to get one of the eight positions in the year end tournament. Who in their right mind doesn’t want to be one of those eight players?

As for the off-season, it’s even shorter for the Russian and Argentinean men this year. The Davis Cup final between those two countries starts on December 1st so they have less than a month off. That’s ridiculous.

Both semifinals in Stuttgart followed the same line of action. Golovin, playing against Schnyder, and Petrova, playing Kuznetsova, both won the first set easily, lost the second set, then held on to win the third set and the match. Petrova beat Golovin in straight sets to take the title and that beautiful red Porsche.

Eastern Europeans won two of the three tournaments last week. Alona Bondarenko from the Ukraine won the title in Luxembourg and Anna Chakvetadze from Russia won the tournament in Guangzhou. Don’t look for this trend to change any time soon. A wild card named Iroda Tulyaganova from Uzbekistan made it all the way to the finals in Tashkent – where on earth is that? – this week before losing to Sun Tiantian of China. If Uzbekistan can turn out tournament finalists, can’t the U.S. states of Alabama or Tennessee do the same thing?

Name me one player with a one-handed backhand who’s had wrist surgery.

Here is a trend I would like to change immediately. The women’s final in Tokyo this week was the first final in WTA history featuring two players who hit two-handed off both sides. Marion Bartoli hit enough awkward two-handed shots to beat Aiko Nakamura and take the title.

I cringe when I see players hit two-handed volleys. A two-handed forehand escalates that cringe into a full-on upset stomach. It’s not a new thing, Monica Seles won nine grand slams with two hands on both sides, but I’m afraid it’s a monster that will multiply.

With the powerful rackets players use today, the focus has turned away from the development of an all-court game with the occasional use of touch into a monster slamfest where each player stands on the baseline and hits the ball as hard as she can. Technique is reduced to using whatever stroke gets the most power no matter how ugly it looks.

Besides looking ugly, it’s an error to think that you can hit the ball harder with two hands than one. The one-handed backhand will generate more power because it has a greater range of motion than a two-handed backhand. You can swing the racket much further. And anyway, tennis instructors teach you to hit the two-handed backhand, if you’re right handed, by swinging the racket with your left hand only. The right hand should be used for balance, not power. So you’re essentially hitting the ball with your weak hand through a shorter range of motion. That gives you the worst of both worlds.

Don’t get me wrong, I hit a two-handed backhand. I have no choice, whenever I hit a one-handed backhand I get tennis elbow. But I wouldn’t do if I had any other choice and most of us can at least choose a one-handed forehand.

One last comment about all of this and I’ll shut up. Name me one player with a one-handed backhand who’s had wrist surgery. Then tell me the names of players with two-handed backhanders who’ve had wrist surgery. I can think of two right away: Jimmy Connors and Kim Clijsters.

If you can think of others, either one-handed or two-handed, who’ve had surgery, you know what to do: leave a comment.

See also: State Of The Women: The Serve, The Nerve, The Size

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See, I told you not to go with David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero last week even though they were the number one and two seeds in Metz, they both lost in the first round.

The Madrid Masters Series event will be held next week in, of all places, Madrid and will pay the winner over $477, 000, but this week is almost as lucrative. If you manage to pick the winner in all three tournaments – Moscow (indoor carpet, pays $142, 000 to the winner), Vienna (indoor hard court, $137, 270), and Stockholm (indoor hard court, $121, 3440) – you’ll win a total of $400, 614.

That’s a good thing for me because I need the money. Last week I figured out the draws, sent out my subleague email, posted on the Tennis Talk forum, then, for the third time this year, forgot to submit my fantasy team! I give up, I’m just hopeless.

Our guy Benjamin Becker is racking up more footnotes. His first footnote was being the player who beat Andre Agassi in the last match of Agassi’s career. Becker picked up his second footnote last week in Tokyo. He beat Jiri Novak in a match that ended at 3:24 am, the latest finish of a match in ATP history. Just as I was getting concerned that his career might consist entirely of footnotes, he managed to get all the way to the semifinals before falling to Roger Federer. Good work Benni.

Moscow

It’s shouldn’t be a surprise that I have an all-Russian semifinals in Moscow, there are seven Russian players in this tournament.

Be careful about Nikolay Davydenko. He won this tournament two years ago but he could meet Max Mirnyi in the quarterfinals and Mirnyi has beaten Davydenko in Moscow. Also, Davydenko lost to Daniele Bracciali in the first round here last year.

Davydenko is 2-0 lifetime over Mikhail Youzhny and even though that was a few years ago, I’m still going with Davydenko because Youzhny lost in the first round on carpet last week. If that sounds like contradictory information about Davydenko, well, life is full of contradictions isn’t it. Besides, does anyone have any Davydenko choices left after the clay court season?

I have Igor Kunitsyn in the quarterfinals only because he made it to the semifinals here last year.

Dmitry Tursunov also got to the semis last year and he’s been doing well but he always makes me nervous. He insists on hitting the ball as hard as he can regardless of the score so his results are inconsistent. Sometimes I think it’s his revenge on an overbearing father who pushed him into tennis. When I was growing up I was extremely mad at my mother because she was so critical, but she’d hit you up the side of the head if you talked back to her so I proceeded to act out indirectly. I’d break things I was supposed to be cleaning and, worst of all, I’d take it out on myself by moping around instead of pursuing things I really wanted to do. That’s what Tursunov does: he plays mindlessly even though he’s a very intelligent guy as if to prove to the world that he really shouldn’t be playing tennis. He should be a writer for Saturday Night Live or performing with an improv group in a small theater in Hollywood, neither of which would thrill his father.

If Paul-Henri Mathieu gets to the quarterfinals and faces Marat Safin it could be interesting because Mathieu has beaten Safin here in Moscow and he beat him this year at Monte Carlo, though that was on clay. Safin should win it though.

Safin has played two indoor tournaments this fall while Tursunov has been fooling around on clay and outdoor hard courts so I’m picking Safin. And Safin has beaten Davydenko twice on hard courts this year so he’s my pick in the final too.

Vienna

Ivan Ljubicic is the defending champion and he’s 13-2 indoors this year but remember that there are two Masters Series events left and they’re both indoors. Besides, Marcos Baghdatis is 2-0 over them and they could meet in the semifinals. I have Baghdatis in the finals but he’s had a strained shoulder so I’d save him for the Masters Series events too.

Whoa, Sebastien Grosjean is 8-0 over Xavier Malisse. I don’t remember seeing such a lopsided record outside of Roger Federer’s 11-1 record over Andy Roddick. On the other hand, Roddick is 7-1 over Grosjean should they meet in the quarterfinals.

Can you believe that Roddick and Richard Gasquet have never played before? If not, see Zero Counter below. They should meet in the second round. Roddick has an excellent indoor hard court record so I’m going with him.

David Nalbandian is an unknown. He’s had an abdominal injury and a case of wavering attention. I’d save him for the Masters Series events and use this week to see if his head is back in the game of tennis.

Stockholm

Mardy Fish versus Paradorn Srichaphan is a tough call. Srichaphan got to the semis last week but Fish got to the third round and Fish is 2-0 over Srichaphan. Fish has a better record this year so I’m going with him.

I give up on Robin Soderling, I keep picking him and he keeps losing.

James Blake should get to the final and beat Rafael Nadal but, and this is the mantra this week, save top players for Madrid and Paris. Choose second tier players and hope they can bring home some of the big money out there this week.

Zero Counter

Safin has been on the tour for nine years and Fernando Verdasco for five and they’ve never played each other. Carlos Moya and Nicolas Almagro are both Spanish clay court specialists and they’ve never met. Moya has been on the tour for eleven years, Almagro for three.

Each week I add up the number of matches between players who’ve never met each other. I call it the Zero Counter. I’m keeping track so I can see if this improves when the ATP introduces round-robin tournaments next year. The ATP needs new faces but it needs rivalries more and you don’t get rivalries if players never meet.

Zero Counter for this week: 30 matches. That means that one third of the matches this week are Zero Counter matches, same as last week. Notice that this number would be even larger if I knew the names of the qualifiers because you can be sure that some of the qualifiers have never played their opponents before.

Picks

First tier picks: Davydenko, Safin, Nadal, Blake, Baghdatis, Roddick, Tursunov, Tomas Berdych. Second tier picks: Youzhny, Mathieu, Kunitsyn, Gonzales, Grosjean, Novak Djokovic, Jarkko Nieminen, Rochus.



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After the US Open concluded, the men’s game was criticized as boring because of Roger Federer’s dominance over the rest of the field. On the other side of the fence, the women are going through exactly the opposite problem: no one has really emerged this year to dominate the women’s game. Does this make for more exciting tennis? Not necessarily. I wish it did but, in fact, we could level a number of criticisms at the women’s game. Several things occurred at the Open which bring the subject up again: namely, whither women’s tennis?

Really, I want to like women’s tennis, but the women sometimes make it very hard for us to get behind them. Consider some of the problems that bother several of the big stars on the women’s tour. They deal with the serve, or lack thereof (Dementieva), the nerve, or lack thereof (Hingis), and the size factor (Serena Williams).

The fact that these players have been slow to address their respective issues makes me wonder when they are going to get their acts together and really try to develop as players, rather than just hang out in the bottom half of the Top Ten.

So much has been said about Dementieva’s gruesome serve, as I like to call it, because of the huge disparity between the rest of her game (powerful and consistent off both wings) and her serving problems. At the Open she probably reached her nadir with that serve, losing to rising Serbian player Jelena Jankovic without winning even one service game. Talk about taking it hard on the chin.

Why should we care? Who gives a can of Penns if Elena Dementieva wants to try and get by on the rest of her game without a decent serve? Why should some of us, myself included, take this serve as nearly a personal affront to our highly tuned tennis sensibilities?

The reason I get so annoyed is that it’s a bad reflection on the state of women’s tennis. For Elena to have the serve she does, and still rise to the top five of women’s tennis is not anything to crow home about. For some people, women’s tennis is still one of the best jokes going in women’s sports. Look at the early draws of any major tourney, the bagel jobs, the 1, 2 and 3 scores come in droves. When you add Elena and that sidearm delivery of hers, the smiles get even broader.

The women, in a nutshell, seem able to get by with less in their games. They are able to get to the top tier because the top tier gives them plenty of room to hang out there with skill levels that may, or may not be, top flight. You would never see this happening with the men.

Elena Dementieva’s serving troubles are being mirrored lately by Martina Hingis’ problems. Martina recently ran into reality too. It was not pretty. She thought she could continue her dominance over the lesser ranked women and make a few more inroads against the power hitters. At least that seemed her game plan coming back at the start of the year. Then Virginie Razzano pushed her out of the Open in strong fashion and showed that any number of girls ranked lower than Hingis could beat her on any given day.

We all praised the return of Hingis at the start of the year as a welcome return to the game of someone who really knew how to play it. Mentally Hingis has great court sense and good strategy, as our dear leader would say. I used to root against her when she was on top, so call me a Flipflopper but I fell for Martina, and like everyone else, we fell hard as we got behind her comeback.

But now the comeback has gotten bogged down. The rather thorough defeat she suffered in New York seems to have put the fear of God into Hingis; now she’s gone out and reverted to playing the girly tennis equivalent of triple A ball. Tier IV events they’re called. Let’s just hope this is a temporary loss of nerve, that Hingis took this on as a way of building up her confidence.

Several weeks ago she played in a really really small tournament in India. She whipped through the field. Not a hard task given the field consisted of only one woman who could bother her, Sania Mirza, and Hingis flew past her 1 and 0 in the semis, then crushed Poutchkova in the final, 0 and 4. Pooch who? you may be asking. That’s Olga to you, ranked 85th in the world. But then last week in Korea, another small tour stop, Hingis went out early to Mirza.

So, where are you going little girl, I want to ask Hingis. What are your goals? Just to hang out in the top ten, or do you really want to make a run again for the very top? And can you make a run to the top when your confidence seems shaken to the point that you’re now playing triple A ball, in India of all places?

The fact that Hingis could leap forward in the rankings as easily as she did would be unheard of in the men’s game. Again, I am cringing, this is not a good state of affairs. For Hingis to lose to “one of the lessers” and for Dementieva to get clocked good by a newcomer are strong wake-up calls. Let’s hope they are heeded. The women’s game will be the better when they can address their respective issues.

For Elena, she needs to correct her serve. Whatever it takes, whoever you need to hire, she should do it. No more waffling. She is a disciplined, technically sound and well-trained player who knows what it is to have a work ethic. There is no reason she cannot master this important part of the game. The woman is 5’11” for heaven’s sake. Now try and act like it.

For Hingis, it is a matter of working harder to improve specific parts of her game. Yes, the serve, for sure in her case too. And her ground strokes are not as strong as they could be, and really need to be, if she is serious about making herself competitive again. I mention Hingis in the same breath as someone like Justine Henin-Hardenne. They both face the same problem: how do “little girls” (defined as anything under 5’7″) win on the tour these days? Justine is even smaller than Hingis, but Justine got fired up and trained like a banshee and added that extra pop on her serve, and more pace on her groundies.

Why can’t Hingis do the same? I think she needs to or this comeback is going to smell increasingly like some PR stunt, like the woman never really intended to make a serious dent in the women’s field.

For Serena Williams, none of the above mentioned problems will ever be a factor in her world. She suffers from no illusions that women players should always look ladylike on a court. She can belt the ball with intense ferocity on her serve and she’s got the big groundies. But she’s got a big can too, and that’s her cross to bear.

If she can take the weight off and keep it off, hopefully with a lot more tournament play, she should be the one woman player who will get back to the top. But her knee is going to continue to act up unless Serena can keep the excess weight off. I was surprised she moved as well as she did at the Open, considering her new-found heft. But she won’t be moving well for long on that knee unless she gets rid of the weight.

There will always be a space for a player like Serena. As for Dementieva and Hingis, that remains to be seen. They are good B players who somehow managed to get into the top ten. For a while. Let’s see if a new year can bring some new changes in their games. Both of them have a lot of potential that we haven’t fully yet seen on a court.

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