Monthly Archives: September 22, 2021

Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens handle drug accusations slightly differently.

When Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon last year she called the accusation “horrendous” and “monstrous” then promptly retired. She did have a hair test to prove that she never took the white stuff but it was too little too late.

I just faxed the results of a hair test to my doctor. A hair test tells me what minerals I’m missing – plenty – and what toxins are in my body. My test didn’t find any cocaine either. I tried it once but my nose got all clogged up. I didn’t like the feeling of that at all.

Anyway, by the time Hingis’ positive test was processed by the drug testing lab, there may not have been any cocaine left in her body and that could explain why the hair test showed nothing. The International Tennis Federation didn’t buy the hair test result. They slapped her with a two year ban.

Contrast this with Roger Clemens. Clemens is one of the best baseball pitchers of all time – only seven pitchers have won more games than he has. He’s been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs by his trainer who says he injected Clemens in the butt with steroids.

Clemens first step was to do…nothing. His lawyer issued a statement denying the charges but Clemens took his time in responding. Why? Instead of saying something dumb in the heat of the moment, he was very corporate about the whole thing. He took his time so he could devise a strategy to deal with the public perception of the accusation.

Consider Floyd Landis for instance. Right after he tested positive for high levels of testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France, he blurted out a lot of silly stuff. Among other things, he blamed alcohol for his positive test. Clemens, on the other hand, put up a video statement on his foundation’s website and got 89-year-old Mike Wallace out of mothballs to interview him on the television show 60 Minutes.

Clemens is in a different situation than Hingis because baseball didn’t test for performance enhancing drugs when he allegedly used steroids. He’s fighting his trainer’s sworn statements, not a positive drug test. But I bring this up to show you the newest strategy for dealing with drug accusations: P.R. You still deny the charges vehemently but it’s done in the same way that a company might handle bad publicity: every step is planned and calculated.

Notice that it doesn’t really make much difference. If you sound silly or call the accusations horrendous we don’t believe you because you went on to lose the case and get a two year suspension. If you crank up the P.R. machine we don’t believe you either because it comes across as way too calculated.

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Let’s hand out the Teddy Awards. Tomorrow I’ll look at the contrasting way that Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens are handling their illegal drug use problems.

I’m disappointed that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Iowa presidential caucus – the opening state primary for the U.S. presidential election. But the Teddy Awards votes are finally in and I can’t complain about them.

1. Best Player: Justine Henin and David Ferrer

Both players got the same number of votes and, really, the only surprise here is Ferrer. He deserves the vote even if he was helped along by Federer-fatigue (the state of being tired of talking about Roger Federer).

2. Most Improved Player: Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer

Another tie for this category. Fair enough though Anna Chakvetadze probably suffered because we didn’t have separate categories for men and women. Djokovic shot up like a rocket. He won two Masters series events, five tournaments, and, unbelievably, reached the semifinals in two slams and the final in another. What more can you say about Ferrer? While Djokovic jumped by leaps and bounds in his physical and mental play, Ferrer aged. What else can you call it when a player doesn’t figure out he’s a top five player until he’s 25-years-old?

3. Most Disappointing Player: Marat Safin

I personally am over my disappointment in Safin. I’ve been disappointed for too many years. Besides, he really hasn’t been the same since his knee surgery.

4. Most Surprising Player: David Ferrer

No need for more comment except that David Nalbandian got more than a few votes in this category and Marion Bartoli might have done well if she’s had any good results after her Wimbledon final appearance.

5. Male Centerfold of the Year: Feliciano Lopez

6. Female Centerfold of the Year: Ana Ivanovic

There wasn’t much competition in the centerfold category. There was a little Rafael Nadal and some Carlos Moya in the mix but Ana was the unanimous choice for the women.

7. Player in Most Need of a New Coach: James Blake

Poor Brian Barker. People have been trying to take James Blake away from him ever since Blake hit the top 20. Blake will never leave his coach. Barker has drilled the idea of improving as the main goal into Blake’s head since he was an adolescent. Improving is just nebulous enough that Blake feels comfortable with it. If Barker had set the goal of winning a slam instead, Blake might have fulfilled it by now. As it is, Blake will continue to justify playing poorly in high profile events by coming up with something, anything, that can be counted as improvement. Lose yet another five set match in the fourth round at the U.S. Open? No problem, at least he won his first career five set match in the second round and that’s an improvement. See what I mean?

8. Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008:

There’s no winner here because I asked the question incorrectly. Some people thought I was asking who’d win the most slams in 2008 – Federer got those votes – and some people thought I was asking who would improve the most in 2008 – Andy Murray got those votes. I meant to ask who would improve the most and I agree with the choice of Murray. I think he can compete with Djokovic in finally taking a slam from Federer and Nadal. Then again, that’s what I said last year.

9. Player Who Should Really Think About Retiring: Mark Philippoussis

Philippoussis won by a landslide and deservedly so. Last year he was heard saying that he thinks his best tennis is still ahead of him. I believe in pumping yourself up but that comment was surreal. Anyway, he reinjured his knee during the competition for an Australian Open wild card so it’s probably the Outback Series for him from now on.

Pollster

Since I botched the Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008 award, let’s do this. Mosey on over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player most likely to break Federer and Nadal’s stronghold on slam titles. Ferrer is ranked number five in the world but I just don’t think he’s got enough offense to win a slam. You could say the same thing about Murray and he’s only got three titles to his name so far though that might change tomorrow – he’s in the Doha final. But he’s one of my two choices. Djokovic is the other. I just can’t picture Nalbandian doing it.

What say you?

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I lost the internet for a few days, the gutters were leaking onto my carport, my carport was leaking into my office, even my refrigerator was leaking. Things can only get better in 2008 so let’s put 2007 to rest by finishing up the Wayback Machine: a look back at last year.

Gambling Blows Up

Rafael Nadal continued to battle injuries. Donald Young moved a lot closer to fulfilling his promise. David Nalbandian resurrected his career and took it higher than ever before with consecutive Masters titles.

These were all very important events in 2007 but they were on court events. The biggest news in tennis was off the court. Gambling came out of the shadows and ended up dominating tennis news.

Gambling on tennis is nothing new but the volume of gambling has increased dramatically and for that we can credit technology. Online gambling has made gambling much more accessible. Unless you live in the United States – offshore gambling is illegal in the U.S. – all you have to do is logon to betfair.com and start placing bets on tennis matches.

Technology cuts both ways. It makes it easier to lay down bets but it also makes it easier to uncover suspicious betting patterns which may indicate match fixing. That’s exactly what happened during a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Prokom Open in August and everyone, and I mean everyone, has been tripping over themselves to assure us that gambling will not happen at their tournament.

Australian Open organizers are going crazy to make it clear that they won’t tolerate match fixing. They moved a bookmaker off their premises and banned laptops from the stands. Meanwhile, someone can sign on to betfair.com and fix a match and we might not be able to prove it. An investigator might be able to trace the gambler through an internet address but might not be able to connect a player in the fixed match to the gambler.

What if the gambler is part of a larger organization? Consider this as a hypothetical example. Tony Soprano, head of the fictional Sopranos mafia family, fixes a tennis match. If the ATP were able to track down Soprano’s whereabouts, the FBI might be much more interested in murder and mayhem than a possible fixed tennis match and the ATP would be limited in its investigation.

Since August my gambling education has gone through the roof. I know how to convert US odds to fractional odds and fractional odds to decimal odds. I know what a suspicious betting pattern looks like and I even broke the story of a possible fixed match between Tatiana Poutchek and Mariya Koryttseva in September.

Gambling has been out there all along. Onthepunt.com reported a number of suspicious betting patterns on tennis.com and no doubt tennis players have a few stories of their own. The tennis world is finally catching up to the horse racing world and the rest of the sports world. Professional tennis now monitors betting patterns on internet betting sites.

It’s not a horrible development, it’s just a fact of sports life. Gambling might even help increase the popularity of tennis. Heaven knows we can use it.

The 2008 tennis season has begun. There are tournaments galore on both the men’s and women’s side. I’ll get on to that tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Teddy Awards

Please go to the right side of the page and vote for the player who should really think about retiring. That’s it. This is the last Teddy Awards category. We’ll hand them out in a few days.

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It hardly seems fair: the men are nearly knocking the fuzz off the ball with their serves while the women can barely get the ball over the net. Can anything be done about this? Or to paraphrase Professor Higgins, can a woman be more like a Rottweiler?

It’s the off season in tennis, the slow-mo portion of the year, when we can turn to our little pet peeves and wonder “why?” Lately I’ve been obsessing about why the women on the WTA Tour can’t serve well. For the most part, that is. This has been a frequent rant in these environs, and lately it’s driven me positively Freudian. So I have come up with my own private theory I’d like to share with you.

The women can’t serve because they don’t let themselves really develop the level of aggression that goes into the making of a good serve. They just can’t handle that. It’s not ladylike.

What? After years of the feminist revolution you mean to say the girls can’t get their act together on this point? Yeah, that’s what I mean. We still need those assertiveness training classes.

But what about all those big baseline games we’re getting from most of the women on tour? Why can they whack superwomen forehands all day long but still not serve as if they meant it? Why the one and not the other? That makes no sense, does it? A strange dichotomy is going on here. Somehow it’s ok to wail on your forehands and backhands with all the power you could want.

But ground strokes are different than the serve, I would maintain. Off the ground it’s about you and your pace, and your opponent and her pace. The serve is all about you, and only you. There’s no one to play off of. You are totally responsible for your serve. It’s the one shot in the game of tennis that puts your ability – or inability – squarely in your hands.

Kinda brings a lump to a girl‘s throat, huh? That’s the problem. Too many lumps, too too many throats. There is definitely a fear factor entering in here. Most women players are probably just hoping they can get into a rally. Once in a rally they are ok, the nerves may subside a bit.

When you step up to the line to unload a first serve, your train of thought should be: kill that so and so on the other side of the net, blow it right by her, smile knowingly when she nearly falls out of her socks trying to return your serve. Pump your fist aggressively when you land an ace or a service winner, let your opponent know she’s in for a long afternoon of being your personal mopping device out on the court. Rub it in. Then rub it in again. Enjoy being Ivan Lendl, if only for a few hours(!)

Tennis doesn’t have the same degree of warfare as pro football but it approaches a war when the player is serving. At least it should. You want that first strike capability, and you want to be ready to crush your opponent.

Are there any Amazons out there who can haul off and whack the serve on a steady basis, or are the women pretty much pat ball dummies? When we do have good serving, it’s really really good. Right now I would put three women in the mix: two of them are sisters we know well, the other is a Serbian newcomer who takes the serve seriously, and it’s already starting to show in her game.

The two best serves on the women’s side belong to Venus and Serena Williams. You sense that these two are using their serve not just to kick off the rally but to win the point outright. The difference is that the Williams sisters view the serve as it should be viewed: it’s a weapon. You have to lift the intensity level and feel your oats. Peter O’Toole once said about acting that if you weren’t prepared to go out on stage and be King or Queen of the world, then you shouldn’t be on stage. A bamboo tree would serve you better. Serving is the same thing.

Why are the Williams sisters the lucky ones in the serving game? I would argue that the sisters had so much to contend with as black outsiders in the whitest of all sports, save possibly swimming, that it made them and their games stronger and tougher. They got used to competing and clawing their way into tennis acceptance, and they grew up having no problem taking things out on a poor little ball. They brought power to the women’s game like it had never seen before, and that included big serving. Forehands and backhands may break down but the Williams sisters always seem to have a serve or two left over to punish an opponent with.

Ana Ivanovic is the third member of the Serving Female Assassins. She’s got a sweet nature, too sweet some might say, and her disposition kind of works against my theory, because her serving game is all muscle and pace and power. And placement too. I especially like to watch her serve out wide in the ad court. She can use variety with this shot, hitting a kicker wide as well as a flat ball. She is just as comfortable going up the T as well.

How did a babe like Ana slip through the cracks and become a big mad bomber? Before we chalk this up to something in the Serbian water back home, we can’t say the same of her countrywoman, Jelena Jankovic. Her serve is rather lackluster by comparison. Jelena just puts the ball in play. But Ivanovic treats it like a weapon, like the Williams sisters, and as time goes on it’s going to be a big factor in her winning ways. It also helps that Ivanovic is a strong six footer. It is easier to serve well when you know you’re that big. You should be pouring in one first serve after another.

Can a nice girl like Ana keep coming up with a big dominating serving game? So far she’s been able to. I like her positive actions out on court. She pumps her fist when she scores a good serve so you know she is honed into this most important aspect of the game. Now, whether she has the stuffing to lift her ranking into the top three in the world remains to be seen. So far, though, so good. Too bad there aren’t many women who want to keep her company.

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