Monthly Archives: July 26, 2021

Since we covered the men last week, this week we are reviewing the top moments in 2006 from the women’s game. Please feel free to chime in with your comments if you feel something deserving needs to be added here.

Number 10.
The Withdrawals. Many of the top women players fell by the wayside due to illness and injury. This played havoc with fields this season and drove many a tournament director up a tree. At the end of the season the WTA announced proposed changes in its so-called Roadmap 2010, now 2009, designed to curb the injuries and maybe deliver a few players to where they are supposed to be playing.

Number 9.
Maria Opens a Fruit Stand. The infamous banana episode at the US Open, where Sharapova got coaching from her father on the intricacies of peeling that banana. If this doesn’t shame the WTA into doing something about illegal coaching, nothing will. They did. They basically threw up their hands and decided to make it legal.

Number 8
Maria wins the Open. She gets over her banana attachment and grows fond of snagging a second Grand Slam trophy instead. Much better for business anyway, as her agent has probably told her already. It had been over two years since her first Slam win at Wimbledon and we were starting to wonder, “Whither Maria?” I know, I know, if we look at another advertisement of her we’ll all scream in unison. But when Maria is healthy to play, nobody plays the power game better. Or serves bigger. Or has a better killer attitude. This girl isn’t afraid to break a nail, kudos to her for knowing how to kick ass. Five titles, a jump from #4 to #2 in the world and a 59-9 record prove it.

Number 7
Justine Henin-Hardenne wins Roland Garros. She worked very hard this year and managed to stay healthy long enough to get into every major final. She capped the season by taking the year-end Championship in Madrid. She nearly had us liking her again. With 6 titles, a 60-8 season record and that #1 ranking at the end of it all, how can we ignore her?

Number 6
A flock of new kids hit the block. Nicole Vaidisova continued to build on her growing success in 2005 with a good run at Roland Garros and her entry into the Top Ten, although consistency is still something she needs. The Eastern Europeans kicked forward two “Ich Girls” from Belgrade, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic who give every sign they’ll play even better in ’07. Anna Chakvedatze of the Ukraine won two tournaments and showed some steady play in the second half of the season, boosting her ranking to #13, just ahead of Jankovic at #12 and Ivanovic at #14.

Number 5.
Those ever so boss Boss ballboy models in Madrid. Maybe if the sponsors of the event when it was held in Los Angeles had thought of this luscious innovation they might still have the tournament, who knows? Who says there’s no lust anymore in tennis?

Number 4.
A three-way tie at the top. While the men’s field had a hard time whipping up some steadfast rivalries, the women revisited ancient Rome and came up with a triumvirate of sorts. Sharapova, Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne tossed the number one ranking back and forth among themselves, giving some semblance of conflict and interest in the women’s game. Fortunately for us as viewers we are seeing three distinct styles of play. And certainly three distinct personality types. Sometimes endearing, sometimes not. Sharapova corners the market on the power game when her serve is working; Henin-Hardenne has harnessed both power and touch to her game, while Amelie has finally gotten a grip on her seesaw mentality. No reason this could not continue into next year, providing they all stay healthy.

Number 3.
Martina Hingis returns to the game. I realized I had nearly left her off my list altogether because somehow I was not as won over by this blessed event as much as I thought I would be earlier in the year. Hingis captured our fancy as an underdog against the really big hitters. But now I feel like I’ve been there and done that and I am ready for the next chapter. What is her next chapter? It had better not be coasting on her laurels, her game cries out for more powerl. Look at what Henin-Hardenne has done to improve her game and she’s even smaller than Hingis. I hate to sound like a drone, but Hingis needs to find a bigger gear for next year otherwise she’s going to get permanently mired at #7 ranking. Her game is about finesse, but she needs to add some power. Won’t somebody take her into a gym and chain her to the deltoid press? You can break a nail or two, darling, it won’t hurt!

Number 2
The ugly debacle of the final at the Australian Open. Justine retires in sad fashion against Amelie Mauresmo depriving the Frenchwoman of the glory that attends one on the winning of your very first slam. Justine to her credit went from Ogre of the Year to a stellar finish at the top of the girly heap. I think I’m over it now.

Number 1.
Amelie wins Wimbledon. A moment of loveliness for all of us Mauresmo fans, and thank God. Some iffy performances ensued later in the year from Mauresmo, but she backed up her win in Australia with an even more impressive one at Wimbledon. And against her nemesis Henin-Hardenne. This one was for real.

See also: The WTA Gets A Grip

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“I lost the sense of the ball. I was thinking, how can I play tennis possibly?”

Yesterday in Moscow it was David Nalbandian who crumpled under the pressure of carrying Argentina to a Davis Cup title. He had troubling serving and returning in the doubles match and, as you can imagine, that made it rather difficult to win. Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri lost to Marat Safin and Dmitry Tursunov as Russia went up two matches to one. Nikolay Davydenko did not have to carry Russia to the title this weekend, he has capable teammates, but today he could have clinched the title with a victory and he was crumpling under the pressure too.

Davydenko double faulted and made some errors to go down a break in the fourth game of the first set. He had another double fault and gave up a second break of serve and that was that, the first set belonged to Nalbandian and Argentina.

Nalbandian was no doubt very pissed off that he performed so poorly yesterday. He couldn’t win the Cup title today but he could avoid being blamed for the loss, a fate he would certainly have suffered if he let Davydenko beat him.

Nalbandian versus Davydenko matched power against speed. If Nalbandian is on his game, and thankfully for the Argentines he was, his power should push Davydenko around the court. Hindsight is never wrong because you always know the result but it’s fair to ask whether Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev might have been better sending Dmitry Tursunov onto the court against Nalbandian. Tursunov was punishing the ball yesterday, I’m surprised a few balls didn’t burst in midair. I can see why Tarpishchev played Davydenko, it’s insulting to sit down the third ranked player in the world especially when he won the first match for you, but he wasn’t the best match for Nalbandian’s power and Tursunov beat Andy Roddick in the semifinals to put Russia in the finals so he might also have been better at dealing with the pressure.

In the second set Davydenko double faulted a fourth and a fifth time, both times losing his serve. Do you detect a pattern here? Nalbandian now had the first two sets. In case you’re not convinced that it was the pressure that led to all of those double faults, listen to what Davydenko said after the match:

I felt like my muscles wouldn’t obey me. I lost the sense of the ball. I was thinking, how can I play tennis possibly?

Davydenko finally calmed down long enough to get a break and take the third set and now the match was looking like a contest. Each player got two breaks in the fourth set until Davydenko’s error-prone ways returned and Nalbandian broke him one more time and it was all over. Russia now had to depend on the decidedly unpredictable Marat Safin to win or lose the Davis Cup.

Safin’s opponent was Jose Acasuso who’d beaten him two out of their three meetings. Acasuso was also nervous and lost his first service game but he was pretty solid after that. That break gave Safin the first set but in the second set, Safin got a bit discombobulated and lost his serve to go down 2-4 and the Argentines exploded.

I love Davis Cup. The French will yell for a French player at the French Open and Americans will yell for an American player at the U.S. Open but this is different. Every point is a cause for celebration. Even an opponent’s service fault gets a big whoop. You’re allowed to cheer for your country’s player at a slam but its poor form to overdo it.]Here you can act like a complete idiot every time your player wins a point and it’s perfectly o.k., in fact it’s expected.

The Russians weren’t whooping it up as much as they were desperately hoping Safin could hold his temper at bay well enough to stay in this match knowing full well that he’d totally failed to do so on Friday. He’d even yelled at his coach, Tarpishchev. He didn’t lose his temper just yet but Acasuso had evened the match at one set all.

I’ll tell you another thing I like about Davis Cup: on court coaching. Safin’s job was to take advantage of the fast surface and get to the net on his serve. He failed to do that in the second set and that sank him. He was also having trouble with Acasuso’s serve. Safin could have solved those problems by himself but it’s also likely that Tarpishchev told him to attack on his serve and move further back to return serve because Safin broke Acasuso after a long battle to go up 2-0 in the third set.

Up 4-1 Safin came to the net again for the best point of the weekend. Acasuso hit a passing shot that Safin sliced barely over the net. Acasuso flashed to the ball to hit and hit an approach shot but Safin anticipated the direction and lobbed the ball over his head. Acasuso got to it and hit the first lob I’ve ever seen seen hit between the legs. Safin responded with a weak overhead – he may have been as surprised as I was – and Acasuso came to the net where he sliced a ball down the line out of Safin’s reach. Wow, that was worth a trip to Moscow.

After exchanging breaks, Safin served out the set and Russia was up two sets to one. The Russian crowd was now more comfortable because Safin was holding emotionally steady and the two players settled in for a fourth set that was uneventful and went to a tiebreaker.

Safin went up a mini-break at 3-1 with a killer shot down the line. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was shaking his fist and the crowd was ecstatic. A service winner put Safin up 5-2 then an ace gave him championship point at 6-4. Two points later Safin had done it, Russia had its second Davis Cup. Safin’s teammates mobbed him and threw him up in the air. Acasuso’s teammates surrounded him as he sat on his chair completely disconsolate.

I’d like to think that this could be a notable turning point for Safin. I certainly don’t expect him to turn into the Buddha-like Roger Federer on court but winning a Davis Cup for your country by keeping your cool could be big enough to smooth out, just the slightest bit, even the most intractable temperament.

It’s worth noting that there were no international incidents in this match because this was the first Davis Cup with Hawkeye technology. The most obvious way to cheat a visiting team has been removed. What’s left? I remember when fans in Rome used to pitch pennies at foreign players. And I suppose someone could hack the Hawkeye computer system so it malfunctions. If the ATP approves on court coaching we could have fights between coaches and opposing players. Argentina’s coach Alberto Mancini was mad at Safin for challenging an obviously good ace and the two of them went at it for a bit.

If the ATP takes away some of the emotion by automating line calling, they’ve got to put it back somewhere else. Let’s put a coach on the bench and while we’re at it, the player’s personal trainer and his agent. It’ll look like the bench at a basketball game or the sideline at a football game and it’ll have that team feeling that I love so much about Davis Cup.

See also:
2006 Davis Cup: A Tale Of Two Enigmas
2006 Davis Cup Final: I could have predicted that.
2006 Davis Cup: From Russia with Love

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 259 user reviews.

If the chance to become a national hero isn’t motivation enough, what is?

I don’t usually watch many doubles matches because they’re seldom important but today was an exception. Russia and Argentina were tied at 1-1 after the first day of the Davis Cup final at Olympic Stadium in Moscow. Whoever won today would need only one of tomorrow’s reverse singles matches to take the Davis Cup title..

Davis Cup doubles is curious. It’s the exceptional country that has two top level doubles players – the U.S. is the only country I can think of at the moment and the Bryan Brothers are twins, not much chance of them having been born in separate countries. So most Davis Cup doubles teams are made up of top level singles players who seldom play doubles except for Davis Cup..

You gotta hand it to the Argentine fans. They traveled to the other side of the world for this tie and the match felt like an indoor soccer game. Lines of blue and white striped shirts sang and moved side to side in alternating waves joined by the biggest Argentine sports figure of them all: soccer god Diego Maradona. Can you imagine Michael Jordan or LeBron James turning up at a Davis Cup match, even a final? Okay, Tiger Woods came to the U.S. Open but that was a slam and he wasn’t there to root on Andy Roddick, he sat in Roger Federer’s box. Not very patriotic of him.

Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, retired tennis player Yevgeni Kafelnikov, and former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch – lots of retired people, certainly, but celebrities nonetheless – joined the other Davis Cup crazies in the crowd.

Argentines Agustin Calleri and David Nalbandian are two broad and big dudes. Not necessarily the best thing for doubles where quick movement is crucial, though it doesn’t seem to affect top doubles specialist Max Mirnyi, what is he, 6’ 5”? Russian Marat Safin is not tiny either, he towered over his doubles partner Dmitry Tursunov, but it was Tursunov who provided the firepower. You don’t have move around the court nimbly if you can hammer a first serve and produce return errors. It also helps that Tursunov is an exception to the singles only crowd, he’s actually ranked number 57 in doubles.

Maradona is a legend for a reason. Under the pressure of performing on the biggest sports stage in the world, he led Argentina to a World Cup. Nalbandian has the opportunity to do something similar. He won his first singles match by beating Safin easily yesterday and if Argentina wins today and Nalbandian can take his singles match tomorrow, Nalbandian can lead Argentina to its first Davis Cup title and become an instant national hero.

Nalbandian is hard to get a handle on. He can be very funny, check out his musical performance on this video to see for yourself, and I’ve seen him be very personable on interview shows. But he doesn’t really tell you anything about what goes on inside him. If you ask him what makes him go, he says something hopelessly general like this:

For me, it’s all about motivation. When I’m motivated, everything seems possible.

Nalbandian is actually harder to figure out than that other enigma across the net in today’s doubles match: Marat Safin. Safin is merely and totally unpredictable. He lost him temper during his loss to Nalbandian yesterday and had a few cross words for his coach, Shamil Tarpishchev. Safin doesn’t seem to have that part of the brain that inhibits inappropriate behavior. He apologized afterwards but he also said that his coach “should understand me” as if to say: that’s just how I am and there’s nothing to be done about it. As a result, you might get a brilliant match from Safin or a brilliant mess. If the conditions are to his liking – Russia chose the surface but Safin complained that it was too slow and the practice surface too dissimilar – and his game is working, he’s a top five player and can win slams – he has two so far. If not, watch out, because if the ATP ever legalizes on court coaching, Safin might find it difficult to find a coach who’d be willing to come down to the court and sit next to him. Who knows what could happen?

Having said that, I have never questioned Safin’s desire and it’s not that I question Nalbandian’s desire, it’s just that I don’t know what it is. Why does he play tennis? What does he dream about? What drives him?

Whatever it is, it wasn’t enough to overcome the pressure he must have felt. After performing exceptionally well yesterday, Nalbandian returned poorly and lost his serve twice in the first set to let the Russians get out to a one set lead. He lost his serve again in the second set as Tursunov and Safin won the match easily, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

As Safin said after the match, “”He just didn’t motivate himself enough.” If the chance to become a national hero isn’t motivation enough, what is?

Russia needs only one more match to win the title but it’s not over yet. UCLA stunned USC in U.S. college football today. Anything can happen in the world of sports. First up tomorrow will be the best match up so far: Nalbandian and Davydenko. Nalbandian leads the series 4-2, has won the last three matches and beat Davydenko on carpet at the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup. And Davydenko has been fading towards the end of matches lately. I can’t imagine getting married last week could have helped his conditioning. Marriage ceremonies are notoriously stressful affairs. It could be up to Safin – who is scheduled to play Chela if Davydenko loses – to win or lose the Davis Cup.

2006 Davis Cup Final: I could have predicted that.
2006 Davis Cup: From Russia with Love

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In my Davis Cup preview, I had David Nalbandian flying into Moscow with his James Bond gizmo jet pack doing his best to steal a Davis Cup for Argentina. I predicted that Nalbandian was unlikely to get much help from his teammates but I left out an important piece of information – a particularly bad omission considering that I’m the resident fantasy tennis stats geek: Juan-Ignacio Chela had a 5-0 record over Russian Nikolay Davydenko with two of those wins on hard court.

As of today, that record is 5-1. Davydenko beat Chela 6-1, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, in the first match of the Davis Cup final to put Russia up 1-0. When I saw that result and realized that I hadn’t bothered to look up their head-to-head record I thought to myself, hmmm, 5-0, that’s a nice record but none of those wins were on carpet, were they now? I decided, after the fact, that I still would have picked Davydenko to win the match.

I think the phenomenon may be related to “Monday morning quarterbacking”. The Free Dictionary defines a Monday morning quarterback as “One who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight.” After the 9/11 disaster, citizens in the U.S. understandably wanted to believe that if they went back in time and looked at the intelligence the government had before 9/11, they could have predicted the actions that led to airplanes flying into buildings and so the government should have known what was going to happen.

New Yorker magazine addressed this issue shortly after 9/11 and cited an interesting study. If you ask a person to predict the result of an event before it happens then ask again after the event has occurred, people will change their prediction to make it closer to the actual result. If you had asked me whether I thought comedian Michael Richards would follow in Mel Gibson’s footsteps and explode in a racist tirade I would have said, “Wait a minute, that’s the guy who played Kramer on Seinfeld, right? He’s not that dumb, how could anyone be that dumb?” If you showed me the youtube video of his outburst, I might have said something like, “You know, I thought there was something funny about him. Looked to me like he had a lot of anger issues underneath all that goofiness.”

In actuality, predicting terrorist acts is more like finding a needle in a haystack but hindsight narrowed down the possibilities to the point where the outcome was obvious. Maybe I would have chosen Davydenko anyway, who knows, but Clive White, journalist for The Sunday Telegraph, had a more realistic position on the matter. When he was asked to predict the outcome of the Davydenko/Chela match he said:

You’ve got a guy ranked number thirty-three in the world against number three. It should be a formality for the higher ranked player, Davydenko, and yet he’s lost all five matches against Chela. It’s impossible to call.

Same thing for the second match today. David Nalbandian had a 2-6 record against Marat Safin and yet he beat Safin rather easily, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The only thing we could have safely predicted is the quality of David Nalbandian’s singing voice: pretty bad. Click on the video above and find out for yourself.

See also: 2006 Davis Cup: From Russia With Love

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