Monthly Archives: July 26, 2021

Serena Williams met Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Moscow semifinals and warfare broke out.

I look at Serena Williams and Roger Federer as our part-time professional tennis players. Federer plays the slams, the Masters events and his two home town tournaments: Dubai, his current home base, and Basel, his home town. That’s it. That’s all he needs to get enough points for his number one ranking.

Serena likes to drop into slams with little preparation and snatch them away. The difference between the two is that Federer is fanatical about staying in shape and practicing. One of the advantages of living in Dubai is the opportunity to train in brutal heat.

You can play part time if you’re that good and tennis is your all-consuming passion, otherwise you’ll suffer injuries at critical times because you’re not in match shape.

Serena has been playing much more this year and that may have something to do with her sister Venus. Venus came out and won Wimbledon this year and Serena does not want to be left behind. Serena currently has eight slams and Venus has six.

That may be why Serena could be found in Moscow this week for the first time since 1997. That and the year end championships. Only the top eight players get into the championships. Serena is currently ranked number six so she should get in but Venus is number eight, she’s in more peril.

Given the situation, I’m not sure why big sister Venus didn’t get to play the Kremlin Open instead of Serena. Kremlin is a Tier I tournament which means it has more points while Venus is toiling away at a Tier III tournament in Bangkok. And that’s after Serena played Stuttgart last week which is Tier II while Venus played a Tier III tournament in Tokyo.

The sisters don’t like to play each other – too bad for us but there’s not much we can do about it – but the way they divvied up the tournaments hasn’t helped Venus and she lost to 49th ranked Flavia Pennetta in the Bangkok semifinals.

I wonder how the sisters decided who would play which tournament. Did they flip a coin; have a pillow fight; play rock, paper, scissors? I’d love to know.

Serena’s opponent in the semifinals at Moscow was Svetlana Kuznetsova and it was a rip-roaring affair despite the misleading final score in Serena’s favor: 7-6(2), 6-1.

Kuznetsova started slowly and went down a break early in the first set. From then on it was a slugfest between the two hardest hitters in the women’s game. Kuznetsova is one of the few players whose best strategy is to go toe to toe with Serena and she did.

With Serena serving at 3-4, Kuznetsova got a break point to get back on serve. Serena gave Kuznetsova another break point with an overhead into the net but it took one more break point and a smart play before Kuznetsova finally won the game: she mixed a high looping shot into the middle of the warfare and it threw Serena’s timing off.

This match was as close to a men’s match as you’ll see. Of course, Serena and Venus playing each other would be close too if they were willing to take each other on but, well, never mind.

The battle continued in the next game. Williams returned a second serve too hard for Kuznetsova to handle and got a break point. On the next point Serena hit a short ball and after Kuznetsova hammered it for a winner, she screamed like a victorious predator. She looked only slightly less primal than Serena looks in this image..

Kuznetsova has the desire and the game to be as intimidating as Serena but she’s not mean enough or imperious enough. Serena, and Maria Sharapova for the that matter, have been raised to rule the kingdom, to expect domination. They take names and kick ass.

And they’re most aggressive on the big points. In the first set tiebreaker, Serena went to the net right away and got out to a 3-0 lead. Kuznetsova hit a double fault and added an error and Serena won the tiebreaker and the first set.

At the beginning of the second set, Kuznetsova attacked the net herself but failed mostly because Serena was hitting the ball too hard. Serena went up an early break and she was ahead 4-1 but it was closer than the score indicated. Kuznetsova had failed to convert two break points.

By this time, though, Kuznetsova was worn out and she didn’t win another game. Serena had been hitting hard, serving hard, and returning hard and it had finally taken its toll.

Kuznetsova is up to a career high ranking of number two and she beat Serena in Stuttgart last week for the first time. She has a career record of 2-15 against the number one ranked Justine Henin, however, and she hasn’t beaten her since 2004.

Henin, Serena and Sharapova are the most competitive women tennis players on the planet. Kuznetsova is in the second tier of the most competitive players on the planet. Not bad, but not good enough to be number one.

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Are athletes receiving fair treatment at the hands of anti-doping agencies?

Gambling is the raging subject in the tennis world today and steroids are on the back burner. I’ll get back to gambling soon enough but in light of the recent decision in the Floyd Landis case, I want to look at the process of handing out drug suspensions to athletes.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is currently 35-0 in cases brought against athletes suspected of using banned substances. In other words they’ve haven’t lost a case yet. If the athlete never wins, is the process fair?

One way to answer the question is to compare an illegal drug case in a court of law to a case brought by an anti-doping agency against an athlete. Since the USADA is based in the U.S., I’m going to use the U.S. judicial system for my example.

Let’s say a police officer finds you holding a bag of cocaine before you can flush it down the toilet or, heaven forbid, swallow it. The police officer arrests you but he trips over his drug-sniffing dog and sprains his ankle then forgets to give you the Miranda warning (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”)

When you get to court, the judge throws the case out because the police officer forgot to read you your rights. Now let’s look at the Landis case.

Landis tested positive for an abnormally high testosterone to epitestosterone ratio after stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Landis had given urine samples in previous stages of the Tour but the samples hadn’t tested positive for any banned substances. After Landis’ positive test, the USADA went back to those previous samples and ran more sophisticated tests which showed the presence of synthetic testosterone.

Three weeks ago, the USADA ruled against Landis and stripped him of his Tour de France title. In the decision, the USADA threw out the results of the initial positive test because the test wasn’t done correctly but accepted the second set of tests for synthetic testosterone.

Was Landis guilty of using performance enhancing drugs when he won the Tour de France? Yes, he probably was but so was the guy with the bag of cocaine. If correct procedures were not followed, the case would have been thrown out in a U.S. court of law.

Let’s look at another case involving Argentinean tennis player Guillermo Canas and the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which is based in Switzerland.

Canas tested positive for the diuretic Rofucal in February 2005. The Association for Tennis Professionals (ATP) suspended him for two years. Canas appealed the decision to the CAS. At the CAS hearing, Canas presented witnesses to show that he had been mistakenly given a prescription that was meant for a tennis coach who’d been at the same tournament.

The CAS believed Canas’ witnesses but didn’t give Canas the maximum reduction in his suspension because he didn’t present those same witnesses at his initial hearing with the ATP. Think about that. Let’s say you were convicted of a crime but you later found evidence that exonerated you. I can’t imagine an Argentinean or Swiss court sending you back to jail because you didn’t come up with the evidence soon enough.

I’m still suspicious of Canas’ evidence and I wonder why he didn’t come up with it earlier too, but he should have gotten the maximum reduction if the CAS believed him.

Anti-doping agencies can’t possibly satisfy the laws of every country represented by the athletes it passes judgment on, but the process is currently weighed in favor of the anti-doping agencies. If an athlete’s career can be taken away, that balance needs to be adjusted to give the athlete a fairer decision.

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Steffi Graf or Pete Sampras, who’s slam record is most impressive?

You might know the actor Hugh Laurie as Dr. Greg House from the U.S. television show House. Or you might remember him as Bertie Wooster, the hapless employer of Jeeves in the British television show Jeeves and Wooster. Maybe you watched him in Black Adder, a British television show that starred Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean.

Laurie is another one of those ridiculously talented British actors. He’s a successful novelist and he’s also a singer/songwriter. If you go to the right side of this page and tune in to Tennis Diary TV you can see Laurie perform the song, “I’m in love with Steffi Graf.” (Click on Channel Guide if it’s not the current video.)

Laurie’s Steffi is an angel who “folds her wings and walks like you and me.” And it doesn’t matter whether it’s clay or grass, “she’ll flay your ass.”

For some reason I had forgotten that Margaret Court holds the record for most slam wins with 24. Graf is second with 22. I consider Graf the better tennis player because her era was more competitive. Graf beat Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis to win slams.

Of course it would have been much more competitive if a crazed fan of Steffi’s hadn’t stabbed Seles in the back but here’s the question: Is Steffi Graf’s record of 22 slams a bigger accomplishment that Pete Sampras’ 14 slams? Go over to the right side of the page and cast your vote.

On the face of it, you might think it’s a no-brainer. Steffi won all four slams at least four times including the golden slam in 1988 (all four slams and the gold medal at the Olympics). Sampras won the gold medal at the 1987 Olympics but he never won more than two slams in one year and he never won the French Open.

But the top women won a lot more slams than the top men. The number five woman on the list, Chris Evert, has four more slams than Sampras. And the women won a whole lot more career titles. Martina Navratilova has 58 more titles than the men’s leader in that category: Jimmy Connors. That’s pretty ridiculous.

Clearly the men’s tour is more competitive. The slams even more so. Steffi won her 1988 French Open final by the score of 6-0, 6-0. Has that ever happened on the men’s tour? Then there is that little matter of five set matches. All of the men’s matches in slams are best of five sets while the women play best of three sets.

Whaddya think?

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David Ferrer beat Richard Gasquet easily in the Tokyo final on Sunday. Let’s find out why Ferrer is on fire this year and Gasquet is not.

Poor Richard Gasquet. This is the second week in a row he’s reached a final, he just slogged his way through a tough three set semifinal, and who does he have to play now? The energizer bunny of the ATP, the guy who outgrinded the biggest grinder of them all at the U.S. Open, one David Ferrer. Ferrer is the player who finally wore out Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open this year.

If Ferrer is an energizer bunny, Gasquet is more like a rechargeable battery – he doesn’t last anywhere near as long. Two tournaments in a row is Gasquet’s max running time. He dropped out of this week’s tournament in Vienna after playing this match whereas Ferrer is playing Stockholm this week and will also play next week in Madrid.

That could also explain why Gasquet has bounced back and forth between a ranking of 8 and 14 since June while Ferrer is in good position to take one of the final eight places in the year end championships. Playing the summer hard court season is a lot harder on the body than gliding around on clay, Gasquet’s favorite surface.

Speaking of conditioning, in the Metz final on Sunday, Andy Murray took the first set from Tommy Robredo 6-0 and ended up losing the match which tells you he ran out of gas. Murray explained it like this:

The lesson to learn is that you must not ease the pressure after winning a set easily.

Another lesson might be to go to the gym more often though in this case, Murray has a legitimate excuse because he’s just coming back after a long layoff for a wrist injury. Still, he’s another one of those guys who could be running more stadium steps and going to a few more spinning classes.

Ferrer was aggressive from the very first point in the match but that’s not so hard when your opponent loses his first two service games while getting less than a quarter of his first serves in.

Ferrer is not an overpowering player but he’s a smart guy. He uses his speed to get to the net and once he’s there he volleys well. This is rarer than you’d think. There are lots of quick players on tour but they seldom use their speed to move forward. They spend all of their time running horizontally behind the baseline.

Gasquet may be smart but he wasn’t during this match. He made two silly plays while he was serving to stay in the first set. First he tried to be cute with a difficult short hop volley and put it into the net. Then he tried to run around his backhand and hit a shot down the line over the highest part of the net. He was too tired to try a shot like that and it gave Ferrer three set points. It took Ferrer only one of those to win the first set 6-1.

Believe it or not, Ferrer is the top returner in the league. Check it out: he’s second only to Nadal in points won returning first serve and he’s number one in the following three categories: break points converted, points won returning second serve, and return games won. That means he’s number one or two in all four return categories. That is impressive!

Except for getting a lot of first serves in, you won’t find Ferrer at the top of any serve statistics. Yet here he was hitting two aces and a service winner to go up 3-0 in the second set. Ferrer was moving the serve around well but it also helped that Gasquet was too knackered to get to the ball.

One more break of Gasquet at the end of the second set and Ferrer has his third title of the year, 6-1, 6-2.

Will Ferrer be one of the eight players left standing at the end of the year? The two biggest tournaments left are the Masters events in Madrid and Paris and they’re both fast indoor events. Ferrer got to the quarterfinals in both places two years ago but he has a losing career record indoors and there are lots of young players who can beat him indoors these days. The main guy he has to worry about is James Blake but Blake has never won a match in Madrid, strangely enough, and he’s never been past the third round at Paris.

Ferrer looks like he’s in but I’ll say this, whenever Gasquet and Murray figure out how to last more than a few tournaments in a row, that’ll be the last time we’ll see David Ferrer at the year end championships because Gasquet and Murray will be there instead.

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We’re deep into the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out my Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

Sign up and join our subleague! It’s called We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

Deadline for picking your team this week is Sunday morning: 1am in Los Angeles/4am in New York/10am in London.

Rear View Mirror a look at last week’s picks

My fantasy team is currently #53 out of almost 14, 000 teams. That puts me in the top .4 %. I picked both finalists in Tokyo and one of the finalists in Metz.

I got an extra round out of Sebastien Grosjean with a bit of luck. Grosjean was losing to Stefan Koubek when Koubek blew his top after an overrule by the chair umpire went against him. Koubek was defaulted and lost the match. Wow, that doesn’t happen very often.

We have three tournaments this week and they’re all very big prize money. Let’s pick three from Vienna, three from Moscow and two from Stockholm.

Vienna (indoor hard, first prize: $183, 752)

The top ranked player this week is playing the most lucrative tournament but should I pick him? Novak Djokovic can make over $183, 000 by winning in Vienna or he could make around $234, 000 by reaching the finals at Madrid or Paris. He isn’t likely to win Madrid because Roger Federer is playing it and Djokovic may or may not play Paris since he’s already qualified for the year end championships.

Djokovic’s quarter of the draw is easy but Ivan Ljubicic and Marcos Baghdatis are lurking below him. I think Djokovic can beat both of them and I’m using him for the last time this year to get the sure money. I may regret it when Madrid and Paris roll around.

Ljubicic has won this tournament the past two years and Baghdatis is 9-1 indoors this year. It’s hard to pick between those two because Baghdatis was 3-0 over Ljubicic till he lost to him in Beijing three weeks ago. What the hell, I’m taking Ljubicic.

This is a tough tournament to pick. Richard Gasquet is in the same quarter as Carlos Moya. Gasquet just played two weeks in a row and he’s notorious for his poor conditioning. Carlos Moya doesn’t do well in the fall indoors season. Feliciano Lopez is in that quarter too and he has a 9-2 record here, but that was from 2003-2005 and he’s 1-5 indoors this year.

Guillermo Canas and Fernando Gonzalez are in the bottom quarter. Canas is in the final in Metz this week but he didn’t beat anyone important to get there. Gonzalez continues to be up and down. He lost to Dudi Sela in Davis Cup two weeks ago as Israel defeated Chile. But he got to the final here last year and he also got to the final in Beijing. He has an excellent record in the fall indoor season so I’m taking him. If you have only one pick left for Gonzalez, save him for Madrid.

Vienna Draw

Moscow (indoor carpet, first prize: $142, 000)

I can use Nikolay Davydenko twice more so I’m using him here and in Paris. He doesn’t do well in Madrid but he plays well in Russia. In the last four years, he’s won the title in Moscow twice. Of course, the two years he didn’t win, he lost in the first round. Typical Davydenko.

Andy Murray is in the next quarter and he’s my second pick. He’s a ridiculous 12-1 indoors this year and I’ve only used him twice so far.

There’s nobody frightening in the third quarter so I have to pick between Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlscheiber from the bottom of the draw. This looks like a no-brainer because Youzhny is 10-2 indoors this year, but Kohlschreiber has a 3-0 record over Youzhny all within the last 12 months. One of those wins was a first round victory over Youzhny here last year. Gotta go with Kohlschreiber.

Moscow Draw

Stockholm (indoor hard, first prize: $132, 384)

James Blake has won this tournament the last two years. I can pick him twice more and he doesn’t do well in Madrid and Paris so I’m taking him.

I only need one more player this week to make up my eight man team so I’m looking in the bottom half of the draw. David Ferrer is the second seed but he’s not a good indoor player and besides, Joachim Johansson and Ivo Karlovic are in his quarter. Johansson may not be in match shape yet and Karlovic isn’t great indoors.

There’s a better pick. Tommy Haas looks like he’s a good indoor player but that’s because he plays well in Memphis every year which isn’t that hard. Still, his quarter has two clay court players and a wild card substitute who’s ranked 687 so I’m taking Haas.

Stockholm Draw

My Picks

Here’s my team: Djokovic, Ljubicic, Gonzalez, Davydenko, Murray, Kohlschreiber, Blake, Haas.

Happy fantasies!

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