Monthly Archives: June 15, 2021

Not the game of tennis itself. That’s not boring.

Serena and Venus Williams took home a pair of slams and we had a fantastic final at the women’s year-end-championships. Roger Federer still got his three slams but he missed out on four Masters Series titles by losing consecutive matches twice to an unexpected player. One of those unexpected players, David Nalbandian, not only resurrected his career, but he improbably took it further than it had ever gone before.

It’s not over yet. Next week Andy Roddick gets a chance to lead the U.S. to its first Davis Cup title since 1995 and leave his mark on the game as one of the great Davis Cup players of all time.

No, it’s the other stuff that’s missing. Look at the rest of the sports world, for instance.

Barry Bonds was indicted and Michael Vick reported early for his jail sentence in the past week. Alex Rodriguez’ superagent screwed up and upstaged the baseball World Series thereby damaging A-Rod’s reputation so badly that A-Rod sidestepped his agent and asked the Yankees to take him back. University of Alabama football coach Lou Saban got in trouble for comparing two straight losses to disasters such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. England lost to Croatia knocking them out of the 2008 European Championship and fired its coach.

Tennis has had a few drug suspensions this year but, hell, the entire peloton at the Tour de France was probably juicing up their blood. Last year’s champion was barnstorming the U.S. to raise money for his defense fund and this year’s yellow jersey holder was sent home because he’d lied about his whereabouts to avoid pre-race testing then got caught lying about his lies.

Tennis does have a gambling controversy. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of the investigation into whether he fixed a match and Alessio Di Mauro got a nine month suspension for laying down $15-20 bets on tennis but that’s all we got. Baseball had the Black Sox scandal which had eight players fixing games. And they also had Pete Rose who bet on baseball and lost his guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame.

Tennis is like ice skating: we have one criminal. Ice skating has Tonya Harding and we have Roscoe Tanner, though he’s old news. There is actually some new news about him and I’ll get to that in a few weeks.

Is tennis culturally relevant? Other sports are.

Baseball reflects cultural and political changes in the U.S. The number of Latino ballplayers is increasing yearly while the number of black ballplayers is decreasing. That reflects the U.S. culture as the Latino community is passing the black community both in economic and political power. The NBA reflects the growth of the global market with its high number of international stars including a new star from China this year, Yi Jianlian.

Same thing in tennis. Tennis in the U.S. is losing popularity and losing tournaments while the huge Asian market is getting new tournaments. Shanghai gets a new Masters Series event in 2009 and Roger Federer and Pete Sampras flew all over Asia – not Europe or the U.S. – for their barnstorming exhibition this week.

Tennis is exciting to watch and more or less culturally relevant. Two out of three ain’t bad don’t you think?

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Roger Federer and Pete Sampras make a lot of money in the biggest new tennis market: Asia.

Roger Federerappeared to be taking it easy on Pete Sampras in the first of their three exhibition matches in Seoul, Korea, on Tuesday. Roger isn’t the biggest server on tour and he took something off his serve. He still managed to beat Pete rather easily by the score of 6-4, 6-3, but the question I have is: why is he doing this?

Roger is the ten million dollar man – the first player to earn $10 million dollars in one season on the ATP tour. That means he could easily afford that gorgeous vehicle you see pictured above I happened to see on the street in Los Angeles today. It’s a McLaren Mercedes Benz and it runs about half a million bucks.

He doesn’t need it because he won a Mercedes for taking the title at the year end championships but he does need an offseason. He should be on his way to Australia for the Kooyong tournament in about six weeks. After three exhibitions this week in Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and Macao, that’ll be five weeks. Assuming Roger needs a few weeks to prepare for the new season, that gives him a three week vacation.

Roger is the ten million dollar man because he got $1.5 million from the ATP Masters Series Bonus Pool for winning the most Masters Series points and playing both Madrid and Paris. He hadn’t played Paris since 2003 so you’d think he’d want a month off.

I suppose I should be generous and thank him for raising the profile of tennis in Asia but I’m guessing it’s more about the money. I’d love to know how much Roger and Pete will take home for their exofest. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

And anyway I’m jealous. The world of tennis – and basketball – used to run through the U.S. at one time and now the money is drawing both sports to Asia. Well over a million people in China watched the first matchup between Chinese NBA stars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian earlier this month. You can even buy 24 karat gold coins commemorating the event. Gold coins are usually reserved for championship collectibles.

Shanghai gets the new Masters Series event in 2009 which is a true money grab because the 2009 calendar was supposed to have one less Masters Series event. The idea was to take it easy on the players by reducing the number of required tournaments but just the opposite will happen. There are still nine Masters level events, one of the clay court events has been eliminated and clay is easier on the players’ bodies, and now they have to travel to Asia instead of getting on a train from Monte Carlo to Hamburg.

My neighbors are taking off for Singapore tomorrow morning on a “frequent flyer points run” so they’ll have enough points to fly first class next year. I might have to do the same thing if I want to sit in the stands at top flight tennis tournaments in the near future.

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Good day everyone. The Davis Cup final is around the corner but today we have the last ATP event of the season: the Tennis Masters Cup final between Roger Federer and David Ferrer. Six months ago I did not expect to utter those words. David Ferrer? But he’s been on fire. The only player hotter was David Nalbandian who won the last two Masters Series events of the year after failing to get past a quarterfinal in the previous nine months.

Federer has stumbled into the year end championships here in Shanghai: two straight losses to Nalbandian, an early loss here to Fernando Gonzalez and consecutive losses for the first time in four years. He found his game against Andy Roddick, however. He looked like his old silky smooth self spinning out slices and reflex volleys like the best in the game.

So sit back and enjoy as the energizer bunny Ferrer tries to run the calm and cool Mr. Federer off the court. Please leave comments and we’ll include you in the conversation.

Nina Pat, whaddya think, Ferrer is 0-7 against Federer. Can he beat him today?

Pat Well, stranger things may have happened I suppose, Ferrer did manage to get a set off Roger in Hamburg this year. But Roger looked so sharp last night against Nadal, what a bell-ringer that was. So Ferrer is going to have to run like crazy, just for starters.

Nina Wow, I didn’t realize Roger won 20 out of 21 points in the match with Nadal yesterday. I have to go with Patrick, I don’t see any way. Having said that, if Roger’s stats drop just a bit and David can get a break, he has a chance. If the sets go to a tiebreaker with the way Roger is serving, it goes to Roger.

Ferrer 1-0

Pat There was a streak there early in the second where I think Roger won something like eleven straight points? Ferrer had a good hold in the first game, interesting Fed is so eager to challenge and yet the one he needed he did not challenge. Oh well. And the things Ferrer had to do to win the last point, up one line and then way over to the other, that is just too high a level to maintain though. Great game for Ferrer.

Nina This is something we haven’t talked about enough this week: the surface. This has historically been faster than an ice skating rink and the clay court players used to complain about it but you don’t hear the Spanish players complainingthis week and that’s one reason David is here. Remember, by the way, that players have three challenges here per set, not the usual two.

Federer 1-1

Nina Holy crap, they’re right! David is number one in three of the four return categories in the ATP stats. Wow.

Ferrer 1-2 (Federer breaks Ferrer)

Nina That game explains just how perfectly David has to play to beat Federer. No loose ground strokes into the net. He just can’t afford it.

Pat You’re reading stats now too? God, how many screens do you have open, Nina? lol Ferrer did not stick that volley and his game went off from there, he is feeling the pressure already and a few errors creeping in.

Ferrer 1-4 (Federer breaks Ferrer)

Nina Uh oh, this is the worst scenario imaginable. Roger serves lights out and David can’t keep his shots in the court. By the way, I have six windows open. I feel like I’m at a military command post. Pat, is it’s David’s incompetence or Roger’s transcendence?

Federer 6-2

Nina Okay, the match isn’t enthralling us so we have to go on to other subjects. I agree with the “calm” theory – the idea that hitting the ball in a relaxed manner is a good thing to develop. Pete Sampras had the same relaxed manner and he played a long time, Agassi had very efficient strokes. It does two things: it gives you a long career and it enable you to be relaxed in very stressful match situations – in particular in slams, and it means you can perform better.

Pat Whoops, sorry about not keeping up there. You are at a military command post, didn’t we tell you we’d drafted you, Nina? haha Being relaxed is vital, but how does a player develop that except by gaining confidence and that comes with more wins. I know when I am serving I tell myself early on to keep my shoulder girdle loose and relaxed, just by putting a moment’s concentration in that area. It helps. Then the trick becomes, how do you achieve that state MOST of the time you are on a court.

Second Set
Ferrer 2-6, 1-0

Nina Look at it this way: Filippo Volandri’s serve is awful but how can he change it now? If you don’t learn relaxed strokes from the get go, you’re not gonna get it after five years on the tour. Having said that, the players we’re talking about are hard court players. I’m trying to think of a graceful relaxed clay court player. Strangely enough I’d have to say Borg. He had the extreme grip and his calmness was skin deep but he was efficient. Can you think of someone else?

Federer 6-2, 2-1

Pat Wow, Federer’s defending really well. Ferrer hit two good shots right up the line, the first time he did not come in and lost the point, the second time he did come in and Roger passed him with the backhand up the line. What’s a boy to do? Love those legs, David. Maybe you’ll let me pet them, if I’m good. How about Thomas Muster, I know they consider him one of the grinders, but he seemed like a guy who looked relaxed enough, played within himself. Seems like they have to be tremendously fit though, and Muster was.

Ferrer 2-6, 3-2

Nina I wonder if Andy Roddick gets embarrassed when Lacoste shows that panning crotch shot in the middle of their ad for him (for people watching this on ESPN2 (US)). Reminds me of the beer ad that overdubbed the sound of a horse to suggest something about size. My attention is slowly getting back to the game. Two solid holds by David and the match is evening out. David still isn’t getting any long points though and until he does, Roger has the upper hand.

Ferrer 2-6, 3-4 (Federer breaks Ferrer)

Pat You cannot be serious, Nina, Roddick probably LOVES that commercial. I think I know the scene you mean, pretty racy if it’s the one I think you mean. I think Roddick should sign on with Jockey, what with all that crotch-grabbing he does. It’s a nervous thing I figure, the front end version of the Nadal Butt Pick. Someone with a camera should follow players around and put together a reel of their little tics. We could call it that: My Little Tics.

Federer 6-2, 5-3

Nina David got what he wanted – long points. Two backhands into the net – one of them a volley – and that was enough to lose the break. Yeah, I don’t understand why Roddick doesn’t get lampooned just as much for his crotch grabbing as Nadal does for wedgie diving. Anyway, back to the subject at hand. David has to be perfect today and he is not. Strategically, Roger is feeding him a steady diet of slices and David can’t generate any depth or speed, or even consistency, off the low ball. By the way, luckily for David, this is a best of five final. One other thing, that slick backhand passing shot shows another thing he’s doing: hitting the ball very early. That’s how you deal with speedies like David.

Ferrer 2-6, 3-6 (Federer breaks Ferrer to win the second set and is now two sets up)

Pat I liked that Ferrer tried to hang with him early in the set, but then the gap opened up again. I am thinking back to the women’s final a week ago, and how nerve wracking that was to watch. I could use a little frayed nerves right now. It would liven things up.

Third Set

Federer 6-2, 6-3, 1-0

Nina How many deuces in the last game of the second set, a ton. Ferrer is getting better and better but he’s still only just hanging in there. And now he’s not making his bread and butter shots – an easy passing shot into the net. The only hope we have is the length of the match. Three sets is a long time to go without a letdown. And here we see a little one as David gets three break points but he still can’t convert.

Pat I was hopeful too when Ferrer had that break point in the opening game. Oh well. Frankly I am glad this won’t be going to five sets, don’t think we could take it, could we? Do you think Roger will come out against Sampras this coming week and try to blow him away or will it be polite?

Ferrer 2-6, 3-6, 1-3 (Federer breaks Ferrer)

Nina Oh noooo, Roger is the scooter and the energizer bunny today. I can’t believe he ran all the way to one corner then all the way back to the other corner then hit a passing shot that landed in a such a small window that David couldn’t handle it. I’d have to say it really is over now. By the way, I don’t like the three challenges per set. It begins to slow the game down too much. It’s moving towards US football where replays take forever. Whaddya you think about three challenges Pat?

Ferrer 2-6, 3-6, 2-4

Pat I don’t have a firm opinion yet on the three challenges. I want to see it play out a bit more. Some matches seem to run out of challenges, and that is not good. Maybe the powers that be should just make the system workable for any close call, but I suppose they feel that would take some of the strategy suspense away from the game.

Nina One other thing about three challenges: the more challenges you have, the less strategical you have to be. You don’t have to worry as much about when you can use them.

Pat That’s true, I think overall the goal should be: what can we do to make the game more compelling? So maybe they should stick to two per set. I liked how Federer used a lot of backhand slice cross court to create things, then he hits the flatter backhand up the line for the winner.

Federer 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 Federer wins his fourth straight Tennis Masters Cup.

Nina We’ve all been looking at the downside of Roger Federer’s career and even though I think that day is here, he’s still going to win at least a few slams for the next few years and how would you like that for the downside of your career?

Pat I think we should do something about that BNP Paribas baby commercial. Any ideas? Serve him up? A roasting perhaps? Turn him into a coach? Ferrer is speaking now, you know his English will improve a lot ’cause I think he is going to get interviewed a few more times next year. Speaking of next year, I quite concur with Pat Mc’s comment about Roger wanting to send a major message to the field for next year. Lately we have started to doubt Da Man, but no doubts today.

Nina The only way we’ll get rid of the BNP Paribas baby is to improve tennis’s popularity. I might sound obnoxious but I’m happy we don’t have to suffer through ten million ads for lite beer – a product that it slightly better than water and requires endless silly commercials to try and make it interesting. On the other hand, it might be nice if we had some tennis stars that appealed to the beer crowd instead of the Mercedes crowd. Then we’d get some damn viewers!

Pat Actually Corona used to have some great, racy beer commercials, they have cut them back a bit now. Lite beer I would not want for tennis, but Corona would work. I thought the American Express ones of Roddick last year were terrific and funny. Maybe others will join the fray.


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Join us for the Tennis Masters Cup final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 18th, at 9 am (PT)/12 pm (ET).

What to do when a match fixer approaches you and how Roger Federer made it to the semis in Shanghai.

Call 1-800-FIX-MATCH

After Novak Djokovic lost his third match at the Tennis Masters Cup on Thursday, someone in the post-match media session asked him this question:

Q. Let’s say someone approaches you and asks you to lose a match. …what do you think you should do at that moment? Go and say to someone that someone approached you? Would you be afraid to do that because maybe he’s a criminal and he could do some damage to you, to your family?

Djoko was noncommittal in his answer but the question does explain why players never called up the ATP and said: “Hey, this guy just walked up to me and offered me $50, 000 to throw a match.” The players were rightfully careful about pissing off the wrong person.

The ATP rules currently require a player to call the ATP or the police but I’m guessing the ATP won’t get very many calls.

Match of Futility

Speaking of gambling, in the first match on Friday evening in Shanghai, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez met to see whether Davydenko could knock Gonzo out and therefore pass Roger Federer onto the semifinals.

It was a match of futility. Gonzo injured his right knee and lower back in Paris and that explains why he kept falling down in his loss to Andy Roddick two days ago. He didn’t do much better on Friday, falling down a few more times.

Davydenko couldn’t hit the side of a barn. He had almost twenty unforced errors in the first five games. When you know your opponent is injured, sometimes it takes you out of your game. Davydenko was attacking more than usual because he knew Gonzo was having trouble pushing off on his right knee and it threw his game off.

Gonzo had trouble warming up and Davydenko broke him right away and won the first set with the break. Once Gonzo got going, though, he fought hard. He lasted until the late in the second set when he started to tire. You could tell because he was going for winners on every shot.

Davydenko broke him to go up 5-3 and served out the second set to win the match, 6-4, 6-3.

Practice Match

Since Federer was now through to the semifinals and his Friday night opponent, Andy Roddick, had already qualified for the semifinals, Roddick’s brother John called this a practice match.

Didn’t look much like a practice match. It looked pretty the same as they’re previous ten matches, all of which Federer won. Whereas the match between Davydenko and Gonzo was full of missed shots, break points and deuces, this match was as fast as a speeding bullet. It lasted about half as long.

Federer got 83% of his first serves in and won an incredible 88% of the points on his second serve. Roddick, on the other hand, won only 35% of his second serve points because Federer jumped all over them. This is how bad it was: Roddick didn’t win a point at the net in the first set.

Roddick must have felt like he was being served up for whatever was ailing Federer. It’s been a rough week for Federer. He lost his first match to Gonzo and beat Davydenko in his second match but looked shaky doing it. He hit 38 unforced errors..

One look at Roddick, though, and Federer’s game seems to flow off his racket. Federer’s next opponent, Rafael Nadal, has no chance if Federer plays this well but he won’t play this well because it’s the power players he eats up. Those annoying energizer bunnies make life much harder for him.

Roddick will face his own energizer bunny in David Ferrer. Ferrer is on fire and Roddick has to be a little discouraged. Federer and Ferrer final anyone?


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Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet are very close to growing up.

David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal raced into the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Cup with straight set victories in Shanghai today. Nadal was the third person in this event to beat up on Novak Djokovic winning by the score 6-4, 6-4.

Okay, Rafa didn’t beat up on Djoko but Djoko hasn’t looked the same since he had wisdom tooth removed just before the Paris Masters event. I thought he should have gotten a $20, 000 fine for not trying hard enough in Paris. Why not I reasoned? If the ATP thinks they know when someone isn’t trying hard enough, slap the fine on everyone.

I was being facetious of course and even the ATP has come to its senses and rescinded the $20, 000 they fined Nikolay Davydenko for “not trying hard enough.”

Djoko still hasn’t recovered and either something’s wrong with him or he’s just plain pooped after two slam semifinals and a final and two Masters Series titles in a breakout year. Either way, it dampened my enthusiasm for Richard Gasquet’s opening match victory over Djoko since everyone has beaten Djoko this weak. Gasquet has subsequently lost both of his matches and today’s loss was a beatdown. He lost to Rafa 6-1, 6-1.

I was over the moon for Gasquet when he got into the final eight. Either I’m very optimistic or, more likely, very demanding because once a young player makes a breakthrough, I want him to shoot for the moon and make it. One win isn’t bad I suppose but I wanted more.

Thinking about Gasquet took me back to a 2004 article about Roger Federer in Sports Illustrated written by S.L. Price. Federer was a drama queen when he was a junior player. He’d scream at himself and throw his racket across the court when things weren’t going well. His father tried to curb his behavior by yelling at him from the stands. Federer yelled back at him.

Federer cried if he lost a match. If you watch the Bjorn Borg documentary that’s in heavy rotation on the Tennis Channel, you’ll see tears in the teenager’s eyes after losing. Borg wasn’t a drama queen but you never doubted his, or Federer’s, desire.

I don’t know if I doubt Gasquet’s desire. I just don’t see it. It’s in his game. I’d have to think hard to name another player who goes for such big shots from anywhere on the court. And though screaming and yelling are not the only expressions of deep desire, you can usually see it somewhere if you look hard enough.

I don’t remember Andre Agassi screaming and yelling but he certainly acted out. It wasn’t just the bleached hair, earrings, and ‘do rag. He was clearly trying to fit his personality into his game. He was another player who had trouble making the transition from child prodigy to self-motivated professional tennis player.

Agassi finally had to take a break from the tour and hang out in a therapist’s office before he could work out his issues. Gasquet comes from a similar place: tennis coach parents, cover of a French tennis magazine when he was nine years old, the hope of French tennis.

Andy Murray I have no doubts about. He wants it. He’s still in his immature, yelling at himself phase – the phase most players grow out of when they get to the main tour – but you can hear the desire in his yellling.

One more sign of his immaturity: he can’t keep a coach. He doesn’t agree with the coach. He knows better. Today he fired Brad Gilbert, his garrulous supercoach of the past year and a half.

Maybe Murray will be like Federer. He knows the game of tennis well enough, and his own game in particular, and doesn’t need a coach. Strategically that might be true but physically he still needs to improve and how could you not benefit from the best coach in the game even if he is a motormouth?

I think Murray will be in the final eight at the end of next year but you never know what it’ll take to push someone to his full potential.

That article about Federer describes a huge turning point in his life. His juniors coach and mentor, Peter Carter, died in a car accident when Federer was 20 years old. It marked his passage from adolescence to manhood. Federer had been a highly skilled but erratic player and now he became a mentally tough player.

The next coach Murray gets, if he gets one, will be paid out of Murray’s pocket. Until Murray fired him, Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was paying $1.5 million a year for Gilbert’s services. Maybe that’s the way Murray wants it to be. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity.

For sure it marks Murray’s passage from LTA foster child to self-supporting tennis professional and that’s a good thing.

As for Gasquet, I’ll keep looking and see what I find.


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