Monthly Archives: September 2007

U.S. Up 2-1 Over Sweden in Davis Cup

If the U.S. beats Sweden and Russia beats Germany, I get a trip home. So far, the odds look about 50/50.

Here’s the plan: the U.S. wins its Davis Cup semifinal over Sweden and Russia wins its Davis Cup semifinal over Germany. The Davis Cup final will then take place in the U.S., probably in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and I’ll have an excuse to fly to the east coast and visit my sister in North Carolina.

Problem is, Russia is not cooperating and neither is U.S. player James Blake. Russia is down 2-1 to Germany after the doubles and Blake looked awful in his four set loss to Sweden’s Thomas Johansson. Luckily, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers are coming through for me.

Roddick dusted off Joachim “PimPim” Johansson in Gothenburg, Sweden, to win the first rubber and the Bryan Brothers played what they called “our best Davis Cup match by far” to beat doubles specialists Jonas Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin easily after struggling through a 24 point first set tiebreaker.

Was Blake awful or was Thomas Johansson just too good? Let’s look at the first set. Blake had a double fault on his second serve of the match and five double faults in his first five service games. If Blake was serving badly then we can say that he played poorly. But Johansson was also punishing Blake’s second serve.

When someone is punishing your second serve you try one of two things: hit a safe first serve or go for more on your second serve. Judging by Blake’s first serve percentage he didn’t try the first option and the second option probably led to all of those double faults.

Return of serve is one of Blake’s strengths too but he wasn’t doing well with that either. He had four winners off service return for the entire match, not nearly enough when your opponent is getting 70% of his first serves in.

Blake had a great summer hard court season because he played aggressively. I’ve never seen him go to the net as much as he did at the U.S. Open where he reached the quarterfinals. In this match, though, he had exactly zero winners at the net.

After going up two sets to none, Johansson faltered a bit in the third set, and, ever the aggressor, took a huge swing at a volley and dumped it into the net to lose his serve and the set. It’s not like Blake had the momentum, though. He hit two double faults before he finally managed to serve out the third set and then hit two more double faults to lose his serve in the fourth set.

Johansson won the match, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Johansson may not have been too good but he was definitely much better. Roddick will play Johansson on Sunday. If Roddick wins it, the U.S. will be in the final and Blake’s next rubber will be meaningless.

Joachim “PimPim” Johansson was a surprise guest at this party. He hasn’t played a match in eight months due to a second surgery on his right shoulder. But he shares the record for the most aces in one match – 51 – and he had a chance against Roddick because the surface here in Gothenburg is Taraflex, a very fast indoor carpet.

At the risk of being impolite, I’m going to call Joachim Johansson “PimPim” to distinguish him from Thomas Johansson.

PimPim played exceptionally well considering the layoff. He faced three break points serving at 2-3 in the first set then reeled off four aces and a service winner to win the game. Wow. If this guy could stay healthy, he’d be scary.

When you have a long layoff, you lose two things: conditioning and focus. When you lose focus, you play the big points poorly and that’s why PimPim lost the first two sets.

In the first and second set tiebreakers it was Roddick who raised his game. As Roddick put it after the match, “…the most important stat was I didn’t lose a point on serve in either one of the breakers which is not easy to do. If you do that you’re not going to lose the tiebreakers.”

By the third set, conditioning joined focus as a problem. Serving at 3-4, PimPim got a ball at the net that was too high to volley and too low for an overhead. He put it into the net and gave Roddick three break points. On the next point, Roddick hit a short return and instead of putting it away, PimPim put it into the net. All Roddick had to do was serve out the set to win the rubber. Not a difficult task on this surface. Roddick won the match, 7-6(4), 7-6(3), 6-3.

If the U.S. does win and Germany ends up beating Russia, the final will be in Germany. I love Davis Cup but not enough to fly to Germany.

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tennis funnies

We’ve run into a small problem with tennis funnies, something about using photos with, um, copyright protection. Pat and I are working on a solution and we’ll be back with tennis funnies as soon as we can.

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tennis funnies contest

Time for our weekly caption contest. We call it tennis funnies.

See that image of Tommy Robredo up there? Come up with the best caption for the photo and you’ll win the following prize: free use of Tennis Diary for one day. Yes, write anything you want as long as it’s not libelous and doesn’t contain any dirty words and isn’t plagiarized and we’ll publish it.

Please leave your entries in the comments section. Pat and I will choose the winner. We take bribes.

(Debra, if you’d like to join in, the photo shows Tommy Robredo on his hands with his feet flipped up in the air in the middle of a tennis match.)

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tennis funnies winner

I think Roger was pulling my leg when he said he blows on the ball to get so good. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

jmauss is the winner of last week’s tennis funnies contest. You can see his caption above. To enter this week’s contest, look at the next photo up the page.

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Tennis 101 Part II

Part II of a Q and A with Debra, one of our readers, who is blind.

Debra: I gather there is a way to score more than one point at a time. What is that?

Tennis Diary: Not unless you’re John McEnroe. When a point ends, the winner gets one point only. However, Brad Gilbert tells a story about a match he had with McEnroe. Not surprisingly, McEnroe pitched a fit when the momentum in the match started to go against him. He ranted and raved at the chair umpire. Finally play resumed but, incredibly, it was Gilbert who got a warning for delay of game. If that had been Gilbert’s second warning, he would have lost a point to McEnroe.

Theoretically, if you won a point and your opponent goes ballistic in response and is penalized a point, you could win two points, but it’s very, very rare.

D: What’s a match point?

TD: If either player can win the match by winning the current point, then it is a match point.

D: How do you get a tie break started? Is there a spot on the court where the ball has to land that tells you that you to have one?

TD: You have a tiebreak after the score of a set gets to a to 6-6. The players stay on the same side of the court and the person who was receiving serve gets to serve the first point in the tiebreaker. After that, players alternate serve every other point. Every six points, the players switch sides.

The first player to seven points wins but he or she must win by two points. All other rules are the same as during a set.

D: What’s a drop shot?

TD: A drop shot is hit so that it lands just over the net. A good drop shot will bounce a second time before it reaches the back of the service box. This means that your opponent has to run all the way to the net to get to the ball which is a long way if he or she is back at the baseline. Even if your opponent does get to the ball, the ball is usually so low to the ground that it’s hard to hit a good shot off it because the player has to hit the ball up go to get it over the net.

D: I don’t think you can explain forehand, backhand, slice, or top-spin to me. I just take it that those are things one can do with the ball. For forehand and backhand, I think you’d have to physically show me how to hold the racquet. I’ve never held a racquet so I know nothing about the way you hold it in your hand. I don’t have any sighted friends who are remotely interested in tennis, so I’m on my own.

TD: You should try to find someone who has a Wii game. It’s a video game but you move the controller to simulate the movement of a baseball bat, or a bowling ball, or a tennis racket. To play the tennis game on Wii, you swing the controller in a forehand or backhand motion to hit the ball as it comes towards you on the screen. Someone would have to tell you when the ball is coming but it would be a good start. There is a game coming out designed for the sight impaired that uses the Wii remote as a controller. You can read about it here.

Having said that, if you picked up a stick and wrapped your fingers and thumb around it, that’s the same way you grip a tennis racket to hit volleys at the net. If you pointed the stick away from your body then rotated your hand to the right on the stick, that would be a forehand grip. If you rotated your hand to the left, that would be a backhand grip. That’s for a right-handed person. It would be the opposite for a left-handed person.

Send me an email with your address. I’ll send you a tennis racket and you can try it. I will not be responsible for any lamps that get broken while you’re fooling around with the racket or friends who end up with a concussion after getting accidentally whacked in the head.

D: What is the difference between holding serve and return of serve?

TD: Holding serve means to win a game in which you serve. Return of serve is the act of returning a ball that has been served. If the person returning serve wins the game, it is called a break of serve.

D: Apart from men playing five sets during slams, is there really any difference between men’s and women’s tennis?

TD: As far as the rules go, no, there is no difference except that on court coaching is allowed in some women’s tournaments but not the men’s. A woman can ask to speak to her coach on breaks between sets or when her opponent takes an injury or bathroom timeout.

Other than the rules, there is a lot of difference. Men are bigger and stronger and they hit the ball a whole lot harder. The hardest women’s serve is around 128 mph (206 Km/h). For men it’s over 150 mph (241 km/h). There are very few women who play serve and volley (serve the ball then run to the net). There aren’t a lot of men either but there are many more than women.

Readers, could you please help out here and add any other differences between the men’s and women’s game.

D: Is Roger a tennis player’s tennis player? By that I mean, do you appreciate him more if you either play or have played tennis and thoroughly understand the game, or is he the kind of player that a casual person, knowing very little about tennis can watch and appreciate?

Roger is not only a tennis player’s player and a non-tennis player’s player, he’s a writer’s player and a tennis reporter’s player. Consider this from a September 8 op-ed in the New York Times:

I have watched lots of televised Federer – every tennis fan has – but only live, now, do I understand. I’m surrounded by tennis reporters, and they are giggling. Federer hits an improbably perfect cross-court backhand, and laughter breaks out. Our expectations are outrageous, and seeing them met is somehow uproarious.

Or this from a New Yorker writer:

He can hit winners from anywhere, against anyone, at any time, and he does it with a deceptive casualness that’s startling even to people who have studied the game for years. Indeed, it’s fun to troll YouTube for Fed videos and listen to sports commentators come unglued over his shotmaking.

Then there was a piece by novelist David Foster Wallace titled, simply, Federer as Religious Experience.

See what I mean?

Feel free to ask any other tennis 101 questions and we’ll answer them.

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