Monthly Archives: August 17, 2022

Federer and Nadal on a half clay/half grass tennis court and a suggestion for similar craziness in Las Vegas

Two days ago the organizers of the The Battle of the Surfaces announced that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would play an exhibition on May 2nd using a court that was half grass and half red clay. Very cool, I thought, and why not call it the Panama Red Match in honor of that red tinged grass with the same name that is famous in marijuana circles.

Then I started thinking a little clearer. What happens if Federer hits a wickedly angled volley? Nadal will take off like a jet and slide into the ball. His momentum will carry him past the netpost onto the grass – where there is no sliding – and he’ll tumble head over heels only to land on his amply muscled tush.

And how would they remember which side of the court they’re on? Sounds worse than remembering what side of the road to drive on if you’re an American driving in England – or vice versa. Federer is likely to run after a ball on the grassy side, forget he’s not on clay and start sliding and then we have two injured tushes.

Evidently the organizers came to the same conclusion because they announced yesterday that the surface would be changed to all clay. Bummer, I thought, and moved on to the Monte Carlo Open which is nowhere near as exciting if you ask me.

Wait a minute, the grass is back! Today organizers announce that the exhibition will go ahead as planned and Federer – usually the traditionalist – is looking forward to it.

It seems like these two guys are always playing exhibitions and why play it in Mallorca where everyone is already in love with their native son Nadal? Why not play it in a country that doesn’t adequately appreciate tennis?

Like the U.S. for instance. Why not pump up the tennis scene in the U.S. with regular events in Las Vegas. If Vegas can support a Rock/Paper/Scissors championship it should be able to get a few people out there for a tennis match. How about this for starters: unless Sports Illustrated is pulling our leg, and it wouldn’t be the first time – I was one of those people who fell for the infamous April Fools Sidd Finch article by George Plimpton about a pitcher who could throw a 168mph fastball (wow, did I really fall for that?) – Elizabeth Shue is training to become a professional tennis player.

Yes, the same Elizabeth Shue who appeared in the movie Leaving Las Vegas. Call it Coming to Las Vegas. Bring in Nicolas Cage – her co-star in the movie – to be her on-court coach, build a nice indoor court at the Rio in place of the midnight bowling alley, and offer people a twofer: tennis followed by Prince. A few weeks ago I drove to Las Vegas on a Saturday afternoon, took in a meal, saw Prince in his nightclub show at the Rio, then turned around and drove back Sunday morning.

That’s how it is these days. Instead of piling into a stadium with fifteen thousand other people after having been patted down by a surly security person just to get within 500 hundred rows of Prince or Elton John or Morrissey, everyone goes to Las Vegas where they can do some shopping, gamble a little bit, have a nice meal and go to a nightclub and watch their favorite performer while dancing to their hearts content without a security guard getting in your face and telling you to sit down. Really, it’s fantastic.

How about Elton John? He’s a fanatical tennis player. Billie Jean King actually wagged her butt and kicked her heels up on his piano during a stint as a backup singer for Elton. I’m sure Billie Jean would jump right in to help. And who’s still the best draw in U.S. tennis? Andre Agassi. Where does he live? Las Vegas.

I’d love to see a Federer-Nadal grass/clay match in Vegas. And how about inviting Roscoe Tanner if his probation office allows it. If Mike Tyson can still get work I’m sure Rosco Tanner could sell a tennis match. Put him up against Yannick Noah and let the winner shave the loser’s head. It’s not Donald Trump and Vince McMahon going at each other but it would be entertaining.

I’m not that much of a visionary so join in and suggest some matchups for an ongoing series of Las Vegas tennis exhibitions. It’s more than we have right now.

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

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A number of top players have miserable results this year. What’s the problem?

I considered going on at length here about the killings at Virginia Tech. I was shocked and scared. Had any of my 18 nieces and nephews, 47 great-nieces and nephews, or 22 grand-nieces and nephews wandered near Blacksburg? Most of them live in southeast Virginia.

Would the U.S. finally ban private ownership of handguns? Would that make any difference? There are a number of very complex issues to work out; least of all unraveling an American psyche that leads to frequent incidents of people killing everyone in sight because they happen to be angry.

It’s just too much to talk about at the moment so while we all try to work it out, I find myself doing the same thing I did after 9/11: reading each and every biography of the fallen and moving on to the sports pages soon thereafter.

This week we have a Masters Series tournament so I can watch matches all day long. It’s one of the few weeks we can see most of the top players in one place and I have to say, a number of them are looking decidedly raggedy and out of sorts.

After losing the final in Marseille earlier this year, Marcos Baghdatis flew all the way to Dubai then on to Indian Wells and finally ended up in Miami. A lot of good it did him; he lost in the first round at each tournament.

He did stop off in Cyprus to lead his country past Finland in Davis Cup but this week he lost his first match again. It hasn’t been a terrible year for Bagdatis – he won a title in Zagreb and he doesn’t have many points to defend between now and the grass court season since he’s a middling clay court player – but there is a disturbing pattern emerging.

Baghdatis plays by emotion and feel rather than analysis and that’s a problem because there will be times – and lately there’ve been a number of them – when his game is off and then what does he do? It’s like a baseball pitcher who doesn’t have his good stuff but still finds a way to win by outsmarting hitters. Baghdatis doesn’t have another way to win.

Take his match here with Max Mirnyi. Mirnyi came to the net all day long and Baghdatis didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t get to the net first to take it away from Mirnyi and he didn’t lob to keep Mirnyi back. Basic tennis strategy. Mirnyi hadn’t won a singles match since the Australian Open and he’s hardly a clay court maven and yet he beat Baghdatis in straight sets.

We used to call David Nalbandian Mr. Semifinals for a reason but he hasn’t won more than three matches in a tournament this entire year. And he retired during his third round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber with a back injury. He’s not moving well so either his body is wearing out or his interest is flagging.

Marat Safin got to the semifinals at Las Vegas but that’s a piddly little tournament and other than that he hasn’t done much. Since he returned from a knee injury early last year, he’s reached exactly one final.

It’s not like he doesn’t try. At 8-8 in the second set tiebreaker of his match with Kristof Vliegen, he threw himself at a passing shot and left himself sprawled and twisted in the red dirt with his right arm pinned underneath him. He’d won the first set easily, barely lost the second and got an early break in the third but he still managed to fritter away the match and lose.

The one place he’s excelled is Davis Cup. Russia won the cup on his racket last year and he won the decisive match over France this year to send Russia to the semis. That ATP final he reached was in Moscow and both those Davis Cup ties were in Moscow. Maybe he’s tired of all this ATP stuff and just wants to go home.

Fernando Gonzalez looks disorganized. He hasn’t gone beyond a quarterfinal since his final appearance at the Australian Open and he melts down more often that he plays well.

In the twelve step community – groups such as alcoholics anonymous for instance – people know that a relapse can be a necessary part of recovery. You will fall off the wagon because that’s one way you’ll remember why you gave up that life in the first place.

I’m not suggesting that Gonzalez is a recovering alcoholic but he is a recovering whacker. He used to whack everything as hard as he could before he added subtlety and strategy to his game. He’s going through a relapse at the moment but instead of accepting it as an opportunity to refine the changes he’s already made, he’s getting mad at himself and making inappropriate shots.

Gonzalez lost to Igor Andreev in the second round. I’ve been expecting Andreev to make his way back up the ladder after returning from a knee injury. Players who miss time due to injury get a protected ranking they can use for their first eight main draw events after their return. When Andreev injured his knee he was ranked number 27 and he was number 100 when he returned. He’s now down to 235.

He should have played challengers when he returned instead of jumping right into main draw events. Guillermo Canas tore up the challenger circuit after he completed his suspension for performance enhancing drugs. He, of course, did not get a protected ranking since he wasn’t injured and it may have been better for him. Martin Verkerk has a protected ranking after being off the tour for two and a half years with a shoulder injury. He played terribly in three challengers then jumped into main draw events where he has yet to win a match.

By the way, see what might happen if the women synchronized their schedules with the ATP and played all of the Masters Series events with the men. I’d be watching men and women this week. The ATP and the WTA are adding two combined events: Madrid and Beijing. It would be a good idea to add even more. The top six draws on the calendar are the slams, Indian Wells and Miami – all combined events.

And here’s an item from the Bad Transcription Department. Look at this exchange after Julien Benneteau beat Monte Carlo resident Benjamin Balleret in the first round:

Q. What does Balleret need to do become to Top 100?

JULIEN BENNETEAU: … I saw he was a rooster in Bangkok. He passed around. He plays well. …

I don’t think he meant to call him a rooster. I believe the word was “loser” as in lucky loser. Balleret lost in qualifying in Bangkok but got into the main draw as a lucky loser and beat Alexander Waske. No idea what “He passed around” means. Any clues anyone?

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Don Imus should not have been fired and rappers should be getting a bit more love.

Excuse me if I slip away from tennis for a day. The Monte Carlo Masters starts on Monday so we’ll have plenty of tennis next week. I’ll also do a preview of Monte Carlo tomorrow.

It’s been a wild week for American discourse on ‘isms. As for racism and sexism, Don Imus managed to invoke both by calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

On Wednesday, sports columnist Jason Whitlock wrote a piece in the Kansas City Star subtitled: “Instead of wasting time on irrelevant shock jock, black leaders need to be fighting a growing gangster culture.” On Thursday, two black leaders, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, met with Imus’ employer: CBS. By the end of Thursday, Imus had been fired.

Micheal Ray Richardson was fired from his job as coach of the Albany Patroons in the CBA basketball league after saying that he had “big-time Jew lawyers” and “in this country the Jews are running it.” Richardson played basketball in Israel. His second wife and their child are Jewish. I seem to remember that Jesse Jackson had a few problems with anti-semitism. When he was running for President in 1994, he called Jews “Hymies” and New York “Hymietown.”

Whitlock himself was fired from ESPN for calling ESPN basketball writer Scoop Jackson a clown and also criticizing Mike Lupica. No ‘isms there but Whitlock still thought the firing was unjust.

By Friday morning, Whitlock was all over the sports talk shows. Dave Smith on Sporting News Radio was particularly happy with this paragraph from Whitlock’s column:

While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant, bad shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.

Smith was happy because he’s been asking the same question for forever: “Why is it that blacks can use the N word but whites can’t?” In this case, why is it o.k. for rappers to call black women hos but not Don Imus? Or, as Whitlock also said in the column:

Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius.

Don Imus has been insulting people for almost thirty years and a lot of people have been listening to him. He’s in the National Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. He’s been walking the tight rope between being shocking enough to compete with Howard Stern but not so shocking as to get fired and finally, he fell off. It was bound to happen because the landscape is constantly shifting. Rappers can trash black women and Dave Chappelle can trash both black and white people, but Don Imus can’t.

Do I agree with Whitlock? Mostly. I’m not in favor of firing someone after they’ve been on the job for twenty years or so because it’s unlikely that they all of a sudden did something different than they’ve already been doing. Suspend them then explain the new rules and make them toe the line. If they don’t, then fire them.

I also agree that there is a dearth of black leaders and those that exist have been ineffective in stopping the war on drugs which has left so many of the black community in jail. But Whitlock excoriates rappers and I think that’s shortsighted. Whitlock is a good sports columnist but I would not hire him as the music critic for the New Yorker or the Village Voice.

Rappers have filled some of the void of black leaders and they’ve carried out their jobs as artists. From Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash forward, rap has been a voice of protest and a strong voice of cultural identity. If rap is rooted in jail culture, that’s because so many young black man are in jail or, if not, many of their friends are.

Imus lost his job because the black community has finally had enough of the negative stereotypes aimed at them by white people and members of their own community. Rappers have done their job by reflecting the culture around them and they’ve done it well enough that they might have finally fomented a big enough outcry to bring about some change.

I cringe when I hear bitch and ho on the radio. I did not appreciate Lauren Hill’s rap, “so why you imitatin’ Al Capone/I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.” It’s definitely time for that and many other things to change. If they do change, though, rappers deserve some of the credit.

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A Failure of Serve, A Failure of Nerve

The early demise of the world number one woman, Maria Sharapova, and the number one man, Roger Federer, in Miami recently has fueled speculation as to what this portends, if anything. Could it be that a minor upheaval may be taking place that could render the game of tennis very interesting? If they can’t be dominant, who can step up in their place?

We are wondering. For Sharapova, Miami was the tournament where her serve really went south. Suddenly, the best serve in women’s tennis (Serena is a very close second) had degenerated into something resembling her countrywoman’s, Elena Dementieva. She had some injury concerns, shoulder and hamstring, and that may have been just enough of a problem to throw her off. Her toss and approach to the ball look normal, although not having a fully healthy leg to plant and push off from was troublesome.

After watching the tape of her loss to Serena Williams, Maria appeared to be having more problems with the finish of her serve, how her wrist pronated at the end of the shot, or failed to. She was alternately spraying balls long, or dumping them into the net. Whether this derived from the hamstring problem or is symptomatic of mental yips we can’t tell yet. I am leaning toward the former.

While Maria was suffering from a failure of serve, Roger Federer was coping with another failure of nerve. He should have won his match with Canas. It was there on his racquet just as it was last spring against Nadal in Rome and again at Roland Garros.

His comments afterwards are revealing, both for what they disclose, and what they don’t.

I was really expecting myself to win tonight, but it’s one of those matches I should have never lost.”

Well, Roger, why did you lose? I kept waiting for some intrepid soul in that presser to step up to the plate and wrestle him to the ground with a question like, “What happens to your nerves at those points?”

Or this: The big points didn’t go my way in today’s match, but that happens.

Well, Roger, why didn’t they go your way? You speak as if something untoward came down the pike and had its way with you. Like there was nothing you could do. Nobody ever wants to admit that they choked the victory away. But that’s all it was.

Or this: I guess he played well against me both times, and I couldn’t put him away unfortunately.

These comments raise the questions: is Roger Federer too much of a nice guy? Can he stick the knife into an opponent? Normally we say yes, we’ve seen him beat players week after week for what seems an eternity. But every once in a while, the nerves beset even Roger, he grows tentative at a crucial moment or two.

In tennis these days, a blink of a moment is all you need to lose a match. What I liked about Roger Federer from the get-go was that he belied the old saw that nice guys can’t win big and win steadily. He showed us otherwise. I would hate to see anything in his make-up as a person change drastically to adapt to new circumstances but I would love to see him return to his winning ways. Even if he has to get up a little crankier in the mornings.

It bothers me that he speaks of the disaster as if it happened to someone else, in a galaxy far far away. Partly that is a protective device people develop to distance themselves from the catastrophe. Look at Djokovic after losing last year at Roland Garros to Nadal. To hear him talk, he was in total control of the match even though he lost. You store the evil stuff until a later time when you are more ready to process it.

Clearly, there should be some processing going on here. For starters, Roger should say what the problem is. Don’t talk around it, guy, smack it on the head. Maybe Roger does this alone with Tony Roche, his coach. I hope so, because he hides himself in his public comments.

In another television interview I saw recently, Roger Federer was quoted as saying that what he needed to do now was to remember “how to play the big points again.” Sometimes, the big points come and the player is not ready, the nerves close in. Even though Federer felt he played a high quality match against Canas in Miami, I have never seen Roger look so tight on a tennis court before. It was the most nerve-wracking match I’ve ever sat through with him, and believe me, I have sat through many. I think the nerves really got to him at key moments; enough that anyone would forget how to play the “big points.“

After it was over and Federer was packing up his bags, I thought, “My God, Roger Federer was frail today.” Suddenly his body even looked frail. He is not exactly a physical specimen with that rather bony frame and those pointy elbows. For a moment I even thought I detected a tear or two rolling down his cheek. Because we know Federer doesn’t sweat, right?

But does anyone really think he won’t find his way back on track? He has to. Now he’s on a Swiss stamp, it was revealed today, holding his Wimbledon trophy in that lovely white jacket. No backing down off the mountain now, Roger. Onward!

As for Maria Sharapova, she’ll be back too. Hopefully when she is physically ready this time. Then we can really see more clearly if her service hiccups are injury-related, or signs of other, deeper troubles.

They will both regroup because they have high standards and they know there is a level of competence that they, as leading tennis players, cannot slip below. If anything, their losses will be a wake-up call of rather major proportions. I think they will still be the number one players by year’s end. Anyone want to be bet otherwise?

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Picks for this week’s tournaments in Houston and Valencia

This is the official start of the clay court season, the cluster of tournaments leading up to the French Open at the end of May. Clay court specialists have been at it for a while but they will now be joined by players who are allergic to clay; namely, U.S. players.

All the more unfortunate, then, that the U.S. will probably lose its only ATP clay court event. The tournament in Houston started in 1969 and ends this year. If the ATP doesn’t replace it with another clay court tournament, that’s it, there are no more. On the WTA side, Amelia Island ends this year leaving Charleston as the only clay court event on U.S. soil.

Now that Andre Agassi is gone, it’ll be a long time before another U.S. player wins the French Open, let alone one of the Masters Series clay events, especially if this allergy to the red stuff continues.

HOUSTON (outdoor clay)

Watch out for Luis Horna, James Blake’s first round opponent. He’s 9-2 on clay this year and I have him into the second round because Blake usually starts slow on clay. Also watch out for Nicolas Devilder who plays Tommy Haas in the first round. He hasn’t played a lot of ATP level tournaments but he’s 96-63 on clay overall for his carrer.

Mardy Fish and Jurgen Melzer should meet in the quarterfinals. Fish beat Melzer in the final here last year but that was the only ATP level clay event Fish played last year so I’m going with Melzer.

If Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas meet in the semis it doesn’t look good for Roddick; Haas has beaten him all four times they’ve met on clay. That’s if Roddick makes it here. He still hasn’t completely recovered from a strained hamstring.

What is Argentine Juan Monaco doing in Houston? Why isn’t he in Valencia where he can speak Spanish? Probably the same reason Luis Horna and Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo are here: it looks easier to pick up rankings points off the fast court U.S. players than those clay court specialists over there in Valencia. Last year Monaco lost in the first round to Fish but I have him all the way to the final where he could meet Tommy Haas. If he does, I think he beats him.

Quarterfinals: Roddick, Michael Russell, Haas, Sebastien Grosjean, Melzer, Fish, Monaco.
Semifinals: Roddick, Haas, Melzer, Monaco.
Final: Haas, Monaco.
Winner: Monaco.

VALENCIA (outdoor clay)

Oscar Hernandez has played 312 tournaments in the last five years – the vast majority in challengers and qualifiers. All but eight of those tournaments were on clay. You can bet he’s not playing in a U.S. tournament any time soon. His probable opponent in the second round, Igor Andreev, should beat him.

Gilles Simon beat Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals here last year but that lookes like an aberration. Verdasco should knock Simon out in the quarterfinals this time around.

David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco are closely matched on clay. When a match is too close to call I would normally pick the hometown player – Ferrer lives in Valencia – but he lost in the first round last year. I’m picking him anyway because he’s 17-7 on the year and Verdasco has a losing record.

Nicolas Almagro has beaten Juan Carlos Ferrero both times they’ve met so I have him facing Ferrer in the final. Then again, Ferrer has beaten Almagro both times they’ve met so Ferrer could get his second title of the year.

Quarterfinals: Ferrer, Evegeny Korolev, Verdasco, Simon, Andreev, Almagro, Florian Mayer, Ferrero.
Semifinals: Ferrer, Verdasco, Almagro, Ferrero.
Final: Ferrer, Almagro.
Winner: Ferrer.

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