Monthly Archives: May 2008

Robby Ginepri’s Staff

How many coaches does it take to make a top tennis player these days?

I apologize in advance for focusing on the U.S. players so much this week. That will change pretty quickly in the coming rounds. And I did want to see how the hell Ivan Ljubicic beat up on Nikolay Davydenko but I’m going to look at the last standing U.S. player, Robby Ginepri, because of something he said in his postmatch media session.

After Ginepri won his third round match against Florent Serra today, someone asked him about his next opponent, Fernando Gonzalez, and this is what he said:

He obviously has a huge forehand and likes to run around the backhand. He’s had a lot of clay court experience, and luckily my coaching staff is going to have a pretty good report for me.

And there you have it. These days it’s not enough to have a physio and a coach and an agent, a “coaching staff” is necessary. Remember, Ginepri is currently ranked number 88 in the world and he has a coaching staff.

I suppose I can’t complain. I have a yoga teacher, a trainer, a chiropractor, a homeopathist, a tantra teacher (honest, I do), and, of course, a tennis coach, and I’m an intermediate hack who has on court temper problems. I suppose you could call them my staff but they are not on call and, for Ginepri too, it’s not like Jose Higueras is his exclusive coach. Higueras also coaches one Roger Federer and maybe a few other people.

What does this coaching staff do for Ginepri:

Yeah, just with the new coach, with Jose kind of working with Roger and another guy coming on, Diego [Moyano]. Just another voice to listen to, another person to get me going in the morning, to get me going in the afternoon, just any time of day.

The first thing that pops into my mind is the relationship between former Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his 24/7 therapist, Eugene Landy. In the 1970’s, Wilson’s family hired Landy to treat Wilson’s mental illness. Landy’s approach consisted of 24 hour supervision such as locking the refrigerator door to keep Wilson from eating too much and dousing him with water when he didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

New York Yankee baseball player Alex Rodriguez had two therapists at one time. It’s not easy being a professional athlete, especially if you play in New York. And I don’t mean to be hard on Robby. His problem is not his game, it’s his confidence level, and if a coaching staff can build up his confidence level by helping him with his game, then bless him, he’s made the right choice. I’m just wondering where it all might end.

Will furtive courtside coaching be replaced by the real thing so that coaches can surround their players with positive vibes at all times? Are full time chefs far behind? A traveling sports psychologist would be nice. I’m envisioning a traveling sports academy for each player on tour.

Andy Murray is the current model for “coaching by committee.” He has a team of fitness experts, a main coach in Miles Maclagan, and assorted other coaches as necessary.

And James Blake actually should get a coaching staff. Note that I’m not suggesting he change his longtime – very longtime – coach, Brian Barker. I’m suggesting that he get an advisor who can add just the teensiest bit of variety to his game so he doesn’t spend his postmatch media session saying “See, I told ya!” the next time he loses a match in which he uses some variety instead of just hammering the ball all the time.

Jim Courier had a coaching staff and Higueras was one of them.

Further back, Martina Navratilova is to blame. She’s the one who started the whole entourage thing. She had a nutritionist and a trainer and a coach at the height of her career. Her coach at one point, Renee Richards, a transgender woman who played on the WTA tour, told a friend that, believe it or not, she was the most normal person in the group.

Whatever Higueras and Moyano are doing, it’s working. Ginepri has made it to the top 30 twice in his career, the last time when he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2005. By this February, he was down to number 171 but he’s now climbing his way back up. He’s reached three semifinals on hard court this year and a quarterfinal at Poertschach on clay two weeks ago.

Psychologically Ginepri is an interesting guy. The ad images of him look like hunky steam room shots but this is a shy, quiet spoken guy who uses cool bravado to cover up his more gentle self. He’s the kind of player who needs a few wins to get on a streak but can, conversely, take a big dive if he gets a few losses instead. Once he gets into a dive, he appears to be going through the motions.

Right now he’s on one of those streaks and here he was, playing a match against a French opponent in front of a French crowd and he looked totally focused. When he was serving for the match he had to battle through three break points and a disastrous first match point – he failed to put away two overheads instead losing the point to an overhead by Serra. On the next match point, no problem, and then he celebrated in his low key, shy kind of way.

If Ginepri makes his third trip all to the way up the rankings, then Higueras is due a lot of credit. If Ginepri makes it there then slips back down again the next year, maybe he’ll need three coaches to get him back on track next time.

The Williams Sisters Go Down in Paris

Serena and Venus Williams lost at the French Open today. One of those losses was surprising but the other was pretty shocking.

Serena Williams is the leading vote getter in our poll asking who will win the French Open this year. Curiously, Jelena Jankovic is second and Ana Ivanovic third. Didn’t Ana get to the final last year? Weren’t people watching? Now Serena is gone and so is her sister Venus.

Serena lost to Katarina Srebotnik. Srebotnik doesn’t have much of a serve and she doesn’t have enough power to play toe to toe with Serena, but she has an all court game and is also the number four ranked doubles player in the world. And she’s a very smart cookie.

When Serena did make her way to the net, Srebotnik hit behind her or passed her. Srebotnik purposely hit drop shots to get Serena moving forward because she knew that Serena’s footwork suffers on clay. After exchanging early breaks, Serena was serving at 3-3 when she sent Srebotnik scrambling with a huge forehand. Serena stumbled instead of sliding into Srebotnik’s response and that gave Srebotnik enough time to run around her forehand and unload a winner.

That’s a good example of the importance of footwork on the slippery stuff. Serena should have won that point and she should have won the match but she kept slipping up, so to speak. Serena lost that game to go down a break and in the next game, she got caught moving too slowly back to the baseline. Meanwhile, Srebotnik pulled off a fantastic lunge volley on a dipping ball that was tailing away from her – did I say that she’s the number four doubles player in the world? – and Serena got caught out of position on the baseline yet again to go down 3-5 in the set.

Can Serena win the French Open these days? When she won her French Open title in 2002, she played Mary Pierce and Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and her sister Venus in the final. That was three rounds of power tennis players she plowed through but now it’s a different story. Since 2002, she’s lost to Justine Henin twice and last year, Henin knocked her out of the last three slams of the year. Henin is, uh, I mean, was, the quintessential all court player with just enough power to handle Serena.

But Justine’s not here anymore so who can compete with Serena, the only one left who’s actually won this tournament? Serena is 1-0 over Ivanovic though they’ve never played on clay and she’s 3-3 with Jankovic and they’ve never played on clay either. Serena is 5-2 over Maria Sharapova and 4-1 over Svetlana Kuznetsova with a win over both players in their only clay court match.

The answer is that only Serena can beat herself and she did a pretty good job of it today. I’m trying to figure out whether her footwork has worsened or whether she was just having a bad day. She’s bigger than she used to be and that does make it harder to change directions on slippery surfaces. She hasn’t gone past the quarterfinals here since 2003 and though she did win a clay court title in Charleston earlier this year, it was on that green stuff, not the red stuff, and it was her first clay title since her French Open title.

So yeah, I’m gonna say that Serena’s movement is worse on clay than it used to be and that doesn’t bode well for a title here.

Srebotnik was serving for the first set at 5-4 when, again, Serena had her on the run. Again she lost the point when she sent a crucial backhand volley long because she didn’t get her feet set. Srebotnik meanwhile was coming up with more great shots. She went almost to her knees to dig out a Serena forehand, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this before, she got off such a good shot from that position that she followed it to the net and finished the point off with a volley.

Serena’s footwork threw everything else off. She hit two easy volleys into the net and then hit a drop shot on break point that put her down 4-5 in the second set. Srebotnik won the match 6-4, 6-4, and Serena looked a bit shocked at the postmatch media session. She looked down at her lap in between questions and her voice faltered.

I think Serena’s got a pretty good shot at the hard court slam titles but time may be running out for the clay version.

I’d actually forgotten that Venus was here. She’s had health problems since last year – anemia is the closest explanation I’ve heard, and I thought she’d skipped Paris. She’s averaging about one tournament per month this year, though she did play Rome as a runup to the French Open, so we can hardly expect much out of her with that playing schedule.

And she’s only gone as far as the semifinals in one tournament, a Tier II event in Bangalore which was underpopulated because everyone else was taking a rest week before Indian Wells. Today, she went out to Flavia Pennetta, a clay court specialist who’s never been past the third round here and has never won a Tier I title. Third round is a bit early for Venus to go out but the only time she went past the quarterfinals was 2002 when she lost to her sister in the final.

The loss wasn’t surprising but Venus’ passiveness was. The match went well past 9 pm and Bud Collins, who was sitting courtside, said he was having trouble seeing. Venus had lost the first set 5-7 and was down a break in the second set but never said a word or shot a dirty look at the chair umpire. When both players returned to the court for Pennetta to serve at 4-3, the crowd cheered because they were surprised to find out that they’d see more tennis.

No word from Venus yet about her state of mind but she looked like she just wanted it all to be over.

Improbably enough, Robby Ginepri is the only U.S. player left in the draw after taking out Igor Andreev. Ginepri now shares a coach with Roger Federer in Jose Higueras. Federer can only hope that Higueras is as helpful to his clay court game as he has been to Ginepri’s.

Who’s Protecting Tennis Bettors?

When there are suspicious betting patterns on tennis matches, who looks out for the bettors interests?

In May, the ATP announced the completion of its “Environmental Review of Integrity in Professional Tennis.” In other words, is there match fixing going on in professional tennis or isn’t there?

The answer is: yes and no.

First of all, the co-authors, Ben Gunn and Jeff Rees, former police officers who specialize in anti-corruption programs in sports, have found “no evidence of any ‘Mafia’ involvement” in gambling. However, they don’t doubt that “criminal elements” might be involved in corrupting players and officials and those criminal elements might include “organized criminal gangs.”

The report also says that a “number of [] account holders are successfully laying higher ranked players to lose/backing lesser ranked players to win” and it appears that those bettors used inside information to make those bets. If you remember, this is what put this whole “integrity” movement in motion: there were suspicious betting patterns on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello in Sopot last August. Some Betfair users laid a whole lot of money on Vassallo-Arguello, who was ranked much lower than Davydenko, and made him the favorite before the match had begun. And Vassallo-Arguello remained the favorite even after Davydenko won the first set. Davydenko retired in the third set and Betfair made the unprecedented move of voiding all bets.

The report then talks about tanking tennis matches (not trying hard enough), unauthorized use of credentials to get access to the players’ locker room, and abusive behavior towards players by coaches and “other related persons.”

Despite those problems, the co-authors conclude that “professional tennis is not institutionally or systematically corrupt.”

I don’t have any problem with these conclusions though I’m not exactly sure that there’s much difference between “organized criminal gangs” and “Mafia.” I suppose it’s a matter of scale. A small time organization doesn’t qualify for the term Mafia. Or maybe tennis is just sensitive to the term Mafia ever since the Russian Mafia was attached to the Davydenko case because the bettors laying down the big money came from Russia.

But I am concerned about something at the moment. There have been a suspicious betting patterns since the Davydenko/Vassallo-Arguello match and yet Betfair did not void the bets. Professional tennis is watching out for itself by churning out an environmental integrity report and creating an integrity unit, but who’s protecting the bettors?

On April 14, Oscar Hernandez played Juan-Pablo Brzezicki in an ATP match in Houston. Brzezicki won the first set and was up 2-0 in the second set and yet his odds of winning the match on Betfair had dropped since the beginning of the match while Hernandez’ odds of winning the match had increased. Hernandez finally did win the match in three sets. Betfair users contacted Betfair to alert them to the suspicious betting pattern on this match but Betfair settled all bets very quickly after the match ended.

On May 21st, Teimuraz Gabashvili played Blaz Kavcic in Poertschach. Even though Gabashvili was ranked number 125 at the time and Kavcic was ranked number 357, Gabashvili’s odds of winning the match dropped after he won the first set and they continued to drop after he won the first game of the second set at love. Gabashvili ended up losing the match to Kavcic in three sets.

If you go to the Betfair Forum on the day of this match, you’ll see 15 pages of complaints about the suspicious nature of the betting pattern. On page 10, Betfair officials posted this message:

We are aware of customer concerns in relation to the above market and are currently investigating. On completion of the match we will follow our normal procedure for these circumstances: the market will be settled and we will suspend the accounts and freeze funds of any accounts which we believe warrant further investigation. Additionally, we will liaise with the ATP In accordance with our Memorandum of Understanding with them.

Betfair may decide to suspend or freeze an account, but once the market is settled, it’s too late for bettors who lost money on that match. Their money is gone.

The Davydenko/Vassallo-Arguello match brought a huge amount of unwanted publicity to tennis because Betfair had never voided all bets on a match before. People who previously had little interest in tennis were all over the incident and not because they cared about tennis. Despite repeated messages from Betfair users calling for all bets on the Hernandez-Kavcic match to be voided, Betfair did not void bets and has not voided any match since Davydenko/Vassallo-Arguello.

Betfair has its own team of integrity experts as does the ATP and WTA. But Betfair seems to be handing the problem over to tennis by using the “normal procedure” of settling the market. It saves the world of tennis further embarrassment by not voiding the bets, but it doesn’t protect Betfair users who aren’t sure they’re betting on fair match.

The Dirtballer’s Convention

The U.S. men actually looked like they belonged on the dirt in Paris for a change.

I feel like I just stepped into the annual United States Dirtballer’s Convention. Five of the U.S. men won their first round matches at the French Open in Paris. One of them, Wayne Odesnik, actually won a second round match if you can believe that.

U.S. tennis players don’t typically have the mindset for grinding on dirt. Pete Sampras preferred his points shorter which may explain why he only got as far as the semifinals here, which, if you think about it, was a surprisingly good result. Andre Agassi won a title here but he wasn’t a grinder, he was a dictator. He moved the ball around and his opponent had to run after it.

Michael Chang won a title here too but he wasn’t a grinder as much as a trickster. I can still see John McEnroe muttering loudly to himself as Chang sent lob after lob over Mac’s outstretched racket. Then there were those underhand serves that knocked Ivan Lendl out of the French Open on the way to Chang’s 1989 title.

Jim Courier, now he was a grinder and he won two titles here. On the other hand, he also won two Australian Opens and reached a Wimbledon final before losing to Sampras, so he was an all-surface grinder.

Okay, so the U.S. isn’t immune to dirt but look who played well this year on clay: Andy Roddick got to the semifinals in Rome before he retired with an injury that is keeping him home this week, and Sam Querrey got to the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo. Querrey is one of those overfed, overtall U.S. players whose games are designed for concrete. Didn’t Querrery hit ten straight aces past the far from slow James Blake last year?

John Isner is even taller, almost Ivo Karlovic tall, and here he was up two sets to none before losing to Juan Ignacio Chela in five sets. I notice, by the way, that the French tennis federation is suppressing videos of the tournament uploaded to youtube. Wasn’t it bad enough that they tried to stop gambling on the French Open, do they have to take away our viewing pleasure too?

Vince Spadea is the ultimate scrapper. His goal is to annoy the hell out of you and that’s true off the court too. And I’m not referring to his rapping. He wrote a book called Break Point: The Secret Diary of a Pro Tennis Player in which he dished some dirt from the locker room. I haven’t read it yet and the dirt didn’t amount to much as far as I know, but players don’t appreciate their business leaving the locker room.

Spadea crawled back from two sets down in the first round to even his match with Julien Benneteau before losing in five sets. While he was at it, he got in the face of a few of Benneteau’s home crowd spectators. Feisty and scrappy tend to go together. Spadea is a poser with all his rapping and styling but you know what, he’s a poser who’s grown on me over time because his intensity is real.

I don’t know that he’ll ever develop an entertainment gene or write anything close to an interesting rhyme, but the guy has spent most of the past 14 years in the top one hundred and that says a lot. In 1999 he got just inside the top 20 then dropped down to the 200’s before climbing back to the top twenty in 2004. Can you think of anyone else who’s done something like that besides Agassi? Spadea started dropping out of the top 100 this month. If this is the end, it’s been a long and intense career.

U.S. player Donald Young played U.S. player Robbie Ginepri in the first round. Unless Young somehow managed to flip over the net and crash into Ginepri causing a double wipeout of epic proportions, a U.S. player was likely to win that match.

I’ve always worried about Young because he hasn’t grown with the rest of the crowd. He was 5ft 9in (175cm) while other U.S. players were sprouting to 6ft 6in (198cm) and higher. His profile says he’s six feet tall but that’s probably an exaggeration and he still looks like a spindly kid to me.

I love Young’s aggressive net game but I just don’t see him launching himself into his ground shots with as much forward directed force as I see with other players. Gustavo Kuerten, who played his last ceremonial match here this week, was also spindly but he generated a lot power. Young could go far with his speed but the other players who have less power and lots of speed – Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer immediately jump to mind – have more physically imposing games than Young.

Bobby Reynolds is Ginepri’s roommate and he beat Frenchman Thierry Ascione without annoying the crowd. Mardy Fish took out Agustin Calleri and that’s pretty good considering that Calleri is an Argentinian dirtball specialist who reached the semifinals at Casablanca last week.

Blake is the last of the five players still alive and he has a pretty good shot at reaching the fourth round. He’s lucky, though, because Odesnik gets Novak Djokovic next and Ginepri gets Igor Andreev so enjoy it while it lasts.

ATP Fantasy Picks for the French Open

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our 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.

This week’s submission deadline is Sunday morning, May 25, 4am (EST) in the U.S./10am (CET) in Europe. Pay attention because the French Open starts on Sunday this year so pick your team before you go to bed Saturday night.

This is the first of three slams in the Fantasy Tennis Season and since each slam pays more than twice as much as Masters Series events, slams are by far the most important events of the season. We need eight singles players for our team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists, two players from each quarter.

French Open draw (clay, first prize: $1,384,615)

Poor Sam Querrey, he’s been showing real promise in the clay court season and now he has to play Federer in the first round. Is there anyone who can prevent Federer from getting to the quarterfinals? Mario Ancic reached the quarterfinals here two years ago but he’s 1-5 against Federer and he hasn’t gone past the third round on clay this year. Juan Monaco looks the most promising and he did take Federer to three sets in Monte Carlo on clay last year, but he hasn’t gone past the third round of a clay Masters events this year and he hasn’t beaten any highly ranked players. Thus, Federer is my first pick.

Richard Gasquet is in the bottom half of Federer’s draw but he’s been talking about needing a break from tennis so I’m not using a pick on him. Fernando Gonzalez did win two minor clay court tournaments this year but he hasn’t been past the third round here since 2003 and he withdrew from Rome with a hamstring injury.

Igor Andreev is 8-9 on clay this year but he does have victories over Mikhail Youzhny, Nicolas Almagro, and Monaco so he could well meet Stanislaw Wawrinka in the fourth round. Wawrinka is having a breakout year. He reached the final in Rome and the semifinals in Barcelona. This match is a tossup because Wawrinka is playing better this year while Andreev has a better record at the French Open. Wawrinka has never gone past the third round while Andreev has never done worse than the third round. Andreev reached the quarterfinals last year so he gets my second pick.

Nikolay Davydenko has reached the semifinals or quarterfinals here the past three years and his path to the quarterfinals looks pretty good. Juan Carlos Ferrero hasn’t gone past the third round since 2004. Gael Monfils is always dangerous but he hasn’t been past the third round of an ATP tournament this year. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his first ATP match on clay exactly two weeks ago. Davydenko is my third pick.

It might be tough to come up with a pick from the bottom half of Davydenko’s quarter. David Ferrer reached the quarterfinals three years ago but hasn’t gone past the third round since. He is 12-4 on clay this year but only 3-3 in clay Masters events. Tommy Robredo has been solid this year. He reached two quarterfinals at the clay Masters events and he’s reached the quarterfinals here the past three years. Can he get past Radek Stepanek? He’s 3-0 on clay against him so I’m guessing he can. Robredo is my fourth pick.

Novak Djokovic is the obvious choice in the bottom half of his quarter but the top half is the toughest to pick because no player sticks out. Tomas Berdych has never made it past the fourth round here and he went out in the first round last year. And he just missed five weeks due to injury. Who else is there? Marcos Baghdatis has been injured and hasn’t played a match on clay yet. Janko Tipsarevic is 4-4 on clay. Both Baghdatis and Tipsarevic beat James Blake on clay this year. See what I mean? It’ll probably come down to Baghdatis and Berdych, who can both beat Tipsarevic on clay, and since Berdych has played four clay court matches in the past two weeks, I’m going to cover my eyes, hope for the best, and make him my sixth pick.

Rafael Nadal is also the obvious choice in the bottom half of his quarter. The upper half has two very strong players in Nicolas Almagro and David Nalbandian. Almagro has beaten Nalbandian on clay twice this year but Nalbandian is the better slam player. Almagro has never made it past the second round here while Nalbandian has reached two semifinals in the past four years. I dropped out of the top 100 in the Fantasy Tennis Season standings last year because I didn’t believe in Nalbandian in the Paris Masters event, but here I am again and I still don’t believe in him. Almagro is my eight pick.

One last thing: two years ago four seeded players reached the quarterfinals and last year it was five. It’s likely to be five this year again since the top three ranked players are so strong on clay, so if you like an unseeded player, remember that at least three of them are likely to make it to the quarterfinals.

My Picks

Here are my French Open picks: Federer, Andreev, Davydenko, Robredo, Berdych, Djokovic, Almagro, Nadal.

Happy fantasies!