Monthly Archives: April 2007

Federer Transcends the Sport of Tennis

Mike Penner, sportswriter for 23 years at the Los Angeles Times, came out this week as a transsexual. Mike will now become Christine. I started as a female and I still identify as female but I can honestly say that figuring out exactly which version of female has been like trying to catch a slithery fish in a murky pond. It would be nice if we didn’t have to choose between the polar ends of the male/female spectrum, but given that it’s our only choice at the moment, I applaud Christine for her bravery.

Roger Federer is transitioning too though not in the same arena. In the past few weeks he’s taken a more active political roll on the ATP tour and now he’s been photographed by Annie Leibovitz – surely the ultimate sign that one has transcended their individual discipline – in a profile appearing in this month’s Men’s Vogue.

There are currently two controversies in the ATP world and Federer was in the thick of both of them at the recent Masters events in Monte Carlo. The first concerns Davis Cup. The ITF, which runs Davis Cup, has been unresponsive to the players’ request to schedule the Davis Cup ties the week after slams. The second concerns the broad sweep of changes suggested by ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers. He wants to eliminate one Masters Series clay court event, downgrade another, and change the ranking points structure.

Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the ITF, flew to Monte Carlo and asked to meet with Federer. De Villiers also flew in and met with Federer, and three other players. After the meeting Federer said, “We’ve gone from Mark Miles [former ATP CEO] doing nothing to Etienne doing too much.”

Don’t expect the players to set up a separate players’ union just yet and don’t expect Federer to morph into a political activist any time soon. It’s not in Federer’s interest to fight for Monte Carlo – it’s on clay and clay is his weakest surface – and he doesn’t play much Davis Cup.

According to the Men’s Vogue article, Federer has turned to Tiger Woods for a rivalry because he can’t find one on the tennis court. Well, hard courts anyway, Rafael Nadal is clearly superior on clay. Federer and Woods have become fast friends. If Federer follows Tiger’s example, we’ve probably seen the limit of his political activism.

Tiger is known for sidestepping controversy whenever possible. He had a chance to chastise Augusta, site of the PGA Masters, because it still does not accept women as members. Instead, as is often the case, Tiger said something that ended up being nothing. Yes, he believed women should be members but Augusta is a private club so it can make its own rules.

It’s not fair to expect Federer to be the greatest player of all time and Billie Jean King all rolled into one so we’ll settle for transcending the sport. The Men’s Vogue profile officially propels Federer beyond the sport and into the celebrity mediasphere and that’s a great help for tennis. Federer has fashioned himself, literally, into a suave man of the world complete with a charity in South Africa and a home base in the Middle East emirate of Dubai.

Dubai is a curious choice for the Swiss Federer. Instead of ancient mountain villages where new Swiss chalets look exactly like old Swiss chalets, Federer lives near a marina that is still under constructions in a glass and steel city where new archipelagos pop up as fast as they can fill in the sand. Las Vegas has hotel versions of New York, Venice and Paris but Dubai will have an archipelago shaped like a map of the world.

Maybe that’s the perfect place for a person undergoing transition.

See also:
Etienne de Villiers Is Smarter Than Larry Scott
ATP’s Brave New World

Etienne de Villiers Is Smarter Than Larry Scott

I haven’t seen Etienne de Villiers, the ATP CEO, and Larry Scott, the WTA CEO, square off on Jeopardy yet, but if I were to gauge their intelligence by the future grand plans of their respective organizations, I’d put my money on de Villiers.

Both leaders are pushing new plans because their top players are skipping too many required events. Players pick and choose their schedule by coming up with mythical injuries as justification for skipping high profile events ATP players routinely skip the last Masters event of the year even though it is required and the WTA had a record number of withdrawals by top ten players last year.

The WTA plans to remedy the situation by creating a new set of required tournaments and suspending players for two subsequent tournaments if they skip a required event. They also plan to charge lower level tournaments a lot of money for going over their quota of top ten players to discourage top players from signing up for tournaments at the last minute. The WTA would rather have players turn up at the tournaments they already committed to

That’s one way to make lower level events less attractive though it’s expensive and rather threatening. The ATP has found a less confrontational and less expensive approach to the matter and I want to thank Bob Larson’s Tennis News, the best site for tennis news out there, for pointing this out.

The ATP plans to double the number of rankings points for winning a slam to 2000 points and create two levels of Masters events: one worth 1000 points and one worth 500 points. But they haven’t said they will increase the points for the lower level tournaments and what they haven’t said is important.

Last year Roger Federer got 1000 points for winning Wimbledon and 250 points for winning Tokyo. In the new plan, he’d get 2000 points for Wimbledon but still only 250 for Tokyo. Essentially, this will make lower level tournaments half as valuable as they are now. Winning Tokyo will be worth one eighth as much as Wimbledon while previously it was worth one fourth as much

In the ATP, a player’s ranking is based on his results in the slams, the Masters events and any five additional tournaments. Those five additional tournaments will become less valuable which should encourage players to actually turn up at all of the Masters events since that’s where all the points are.

It’s a smart approach because de Villiers may not have enough power to eliminate tournaments so he’s made them less valuable. He may have gone too far though. As the Tennis News analysis points out, those lower level tournaments could attract far fewer players since they aren’t worth as much and that would hurt the ATP. If so, de Villiers is not so smart and Scott wins.

See Also
ATP’s Brave New World
WTA Roadmap Reigns in Players

Bitch And Sing Dept: Dear Roger,

What gives, guy? Your loyal fans are wondering. Two days later and your rather swift and decisive loss to Nadal in Monte Carlo is still going down hard. Maybe you need less time off in that fancy new penthouse in Dubai before you end up in the doghouse. (Check out the Annie Liebowitz pix here. Of the penthouse, that is).

Watching you is normally such a joy, Roger. One of the great joys of my life, actually, because your matches are so pleasurable to watch. For the most part. Monte Carlo was very annoying. All the things we thought you had taken away from previous encounters with Rafael Nadal seemed to go right out the window. “I feel like this match gave me some information,” you were quoted as saying afterwards. “I’m absolutely in the mix with him on clay. I feel like I’m in good shape for the rest of the clay-court season, and it’s going to come down to the French Open to see who wins.”

Keep whistling, baby. What more information could you possibly digest? You probably dream about it you know it so well. You serve Nadal like gangbusters, you return his serve well, you make major use of your forehand to open up the angles, and then you charge the net like you were born to live there. And you offer signs of some heat like you really want to rip this bouncing baby Spaniard a new one and win the bloody match already. Think semi-finals, Shanghai. What are you, Swiss or Swedish? Sometimes we wonder. But I understand that the reason you didn’t was that you didn’t feel it in your bones, you did not have confidence yourself, so we wouldn’t expect you to show it in your demeanor.

The good news is – and you hinted at this in your presser afterwards – that you were still able to keep it somewhat close even with all the misfiring going on. But guy, where is your learning curve that you were supposedly going to show us this spring on clay? Maybe I should clean my contact lenses once in a while, but I did not see it on Sunday.

After your losses to Canas, you defined your own problem by saying that you had forgotten how to play the big points. That could be said of Monte Carlo as well. In the first set, Nadal held the door open wide for you to break him in the 8th game. But your forehand suddenly committed three bad errors, in one game alone. You had two break points, gifts from on high, but you could not turn them your way, and this cost you the match.

When was the last time we saw your forehand break down to the point where you lose three points in a game? It’s hard to stay pumped up when your numero uno shot takes its leave of you. By this point in the match, you had already run up ten errors on the forehand side alone, compared to only one winner. One of the Tennis Channel guys commented how he felt you were hitting the forehand too flat; it needed more spin. What it probably really needed was a better sense of timing. I heard a lot of shanking sounds for a final match.

At the start of the second set, you saw you were getting your butt kicked and you tried to make some changes. Time to break out that kitchen sink. You rushed the net five times in your opening service game. Too little too late, we say. In the third game your serve really added to your woes and you quickly got down 0-30. At 15-40 you missed another first serve then tried to come in behind the second. Desperation time. Nadal knows where to park that one and it‘s where you‘re not. He had the only break in the second he would need. 6-4, 6-4 was the final score and it probably doesn’t convey how thoroughly Nadal held you in his grip Sunday.

Other parts of your game crashed too. Your backhand let you down a bit. Not like the forehand side. But still. The backhand went for topspin nearly the entire way, a bit of slicing here and there might have helped. Were you afraid it would sit up on the clay, unlike the grass where it stays lower, and you’d get it knocked back down your throat by Nadal? Something to worry about, but this is the kitchen sink time, guy, you have to try it. On the return of serve you couldn’t find the groove either. You talked about this earlier in the week, saying how the return game gave you trouble early in the clay season. It’s a timing thing. It wasn’t that Nadal kept you OUT of the points, guy, it’s that your own game’s deficiencies sunk you on Sunday. Your serve didn’t really let you into the points, nor did the forehand, or your baseline play in general. You will never beat this guy from the back of the court. At least not this court.

But knowing these things, Roger, should you not have been better prepared for them? What happened to that get up and go you felt for the clay season? You supposedly were going to mount a big campaign to do well on the red stuff this year. Maybe you hoped to play your way here into contention, and for a moment there – against Ferrer and Ferrero – you nearly had me convinced you could do it. But that was Ferrer and Ferrero, “F” as in flyweights, not Nadal. You have to come prepared, and I did not sense you were ready. And you have to be, when you are facing an opponent who looked in great form throughout the week.

So back to the drawing board, Roger. It’s clear to us that you have hit the first real snag in your otherwise rather spotless, and fortunate, career. Fortunate because you have paced your body well and suffered no major injuries, and that is important if you want to not only reach the top but stay there a while. But you are having a hiccup. Don’t obsess about it, just do your homework better next time. Put down your fine Gucci threads and take up the hair shirt, my son. I want to see you in better form in Rome.

It worries me though when you say things like this: that you expected to see better results against Nadal in Rome, Hamburg and then (curiously) Monte Carlo NEXT year. Roger, aren’t you forgetting something? Was that a Freudian shank, or what?

The good news though is that Mats Wilander has already said you would win the French this year. As long as Nadal doesn’t make it to the final. So work harder on your game, but line up a hit man. Just in case.

Federer and Nadal: What Rivalry?

Federer looked worse than ever in his loss to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final

After Rafael Nadal took another clay court Masters Medallion by beating Roger Federer in Monte Carlo on Sunday, Vamosrafael posted the following comment:

7-3 lol, what rivalry? When Queen Roger loses tennis wins.

Vamosrafael is right about one thing – there is no rivalry on clay – but wrong about most everything else and homophobic on top of that. I’ve never found lecturing particularly useful so instead of suggesting that we keep phobias out of our tennis discussion, I answered with a question: “Who has the longest hair, Rafael or Roger?” Hopefully he or she will get the point.

What was Vamosrafael wrong about? There may be no rivalry on clay but there is a rivalry on hard court and Federer leads it 3-2. And tennis does not win if Federer loses because no else is faring any better against Nadal on clay. Who else is there?

Guillermo Canas knocked off Federer in consecutive tournaments and he took the title at Costa do Sauipe – a clay court event – earlier this year. Canas is in Barcelona this week along with Nadal but he’s still recovering from a leg injury and he’s 0-2 against Nadal on clay. That’s all we got, we have to look at unknowns because we’ve run out of other possibilities.

Can Federer claw his way back into the clay court season and beat Nadal at Rome, Hamburg or Roland Garros? It’s possible but he looked farther behind on Sunday than he was last year. This was the first time Federer has ever lost the first two sets to Nadal on clay. Tough luck, then, that the ATP eliminated best of five finals for clay Masters events.

Federer has now lost three matches this year and in each one, he failed to rise to the occasion. I didn’t see the Indian Wells match but in Miami, Canas outhustled Federer. Canas’ desire outperformed Federer’s poise. Federer will never be a grinder but on the big points, Canas outplayed him. His opponent rose to the occasion and Federer did not.

Against Nadal on Sunday, he not only failed to convert two early break points but he was unable to adjust to Nadal’s game. Federer’s best shot to beat Nadal is to attack the net at every opportunity. That way he can rush Nadal and take away some of his speed and it’s the one area on clay where Federer is better than Nadal.

But you can’t get to the net if you don’t hit a hard, deep ground stroke because Nadal will pass you quicker than you can say vamos. The pressure of needing a better shot against Nadal led to a lot of forehand errors by Federer. And you might think the serve has nothing to do with Nadal either – Federer also served poorly – but even there an adjustment is necessary. Look at this comment by Federer after the match:

Well, he’s a left-handed player, so you serve differently…You have to play different against Rafa than when you play against Ferrer or Ferrero. I play 95% against right-handed, so when I play left-handed it’s obviously a bit different.

Worst of all, he looked a bit hangdog out there in the second set. Our intrepid reader Maria was not happy about it:

As the match went by I couldn’t stand Federer’s body language and face expression, what was going on in his mind? The number one can lose but not in that way, without fight and ambition.

True enough, Maria. Let’s see if he can find his nerve before Rome rolls around

See also:
What Is Wrong With Baghdatis, Safin, Gonzo Et Al.
Bitch and Sing Dept: Monte Carlo
2007 Monte Carlo Preview and Picks

Cañas beat Federer but he can’t beat Nadal

Preview and picks for this week’s tournaments in Barcelona and Casablanca


Believe it or not Ivo Karlovic and Jarkko Nieminen present an interesting match in Barcelona. Karlovic has been lights out this year taking the title in Houston. Big deal you say, it’s Houston, where they use green clay and women’s tennis balls to speed up the proceedings. But Karlovic actually got to the quarterfinals in Barcelona last year and so did Nieminen. Karlovic drove everyone crazy in Houston with that slice approach shot. None of those clay court players with their extreme grips could get underneath the ball. Karlovic should get to the quarterfinals again where he’ll meet Tommy Robredo and finally lose.

Nikolay Davydenko is having an awful year. He’s 15-10 with two losses in his only clay court matches. I was beginning to wonder if he’d finally worn himself out by playing more tournaments than anyone else year after year, but then I looked at this statistic: Davydenko played 99 matches last year and Federer played 97. So, is it more tiring to be a top player and always get to the semifinals and finals or it is more tiring to run all over the world playing the same number of matches in different tournaments? In this case the answer is easy because Davydenko played in 35 events last year (including Davis Cup) and that is almost exactly twice the number of events Federer entered: 18.

Davydenko is at the top of the second tier of players – right behind Federer and Nadal – and he’s never going to get past either player so number three is the maximum ranking he’ll likely reach. At this point, might it not be smarter to play fewer tournaments and prolong your career and be happy with a top 10 ranking instead of traipsing all over to stay at number 3 or 4?

Having said that, I think Davydenko gets to the quarterfinals where he could meet Guillermo Cañas. Cañas is burning up the circuit with a 17-4 record on the year and two straight victories over Federer. He has two victories over Juan Carlos Ferrero this year also and should meet him in the quarterfinals. There there’s his 4-1 record over Tommy Robredo – his possible semifinal opponent. It’s easy to forget how good Cañas was before his disputed fifteenth month suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

Nadal should meet Cañas in the final. He has a 2-0 record over Cañas so he’s not likely to suffer the same fate as Federer. Speaking of which, tune in for Federer-Nadal X early tomorrow morning. Nadal should win that too.

Quarterfinalists: Nadal, Juan Ignacio Chela, Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Ivo Karlovic, Robredo, Cañas, Davydenko
Semifinalists: Nadal, Ferrer, Robredo, Cañas
Finalists: Nadal, Cañas
Winner: Nadal


I’m embarrassed to say that I can never quite remember exactly where Casablanca lies on the world map. That’s how it is when you live underneath the Hollywood sign. Things seem more real in movies than in real life. Even worse, I live just a few blocks away from a house once shared by Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall, so I know where they lived but not where Casablanca is.

Turns out it’s on the coast of Morocco not far from the tip of Spain. The top ranked player in the tournament is Dominik Hrbaty who is ranked number 24. It can’t be easy to promote a tournament when your top seed has a losing record for the year and he’s only likely to get as far as the quarterfinals.

Nicolas Massu looks like he should be able to get all the way to the final and beat Jose Acasuso. Massu, by the way, is ranked number 55. You have to skip north to top of Spain and veer east to the coastal city of Barcelona if you want to see a top ten player or two.

Quarterfinalists: Hrbaty, Massu, Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo, Sebastien Grosjean, Marc Gicquel, Diego Hartfield, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Jose Acasuso
Semifinalist: Massu, Grosjean, Gicquel, Acasuso
Finalists: Massu, Acasuso
Winner: Massu