Monthly Archives: June 14, 2021

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are turning political.

I was walking down the street this afternoon when a man walked up to me and said he was doing a survey for a college course and he wanted to ask me a few questions. Okay, I said and kept on walking – if he wanted to ask me questions, then he’d have to keep up with me. These are the questions he asked me:

When did you have your last haircut? One month ago.
Did people work harder 50 years ago? People work longer hours today with all the technical crap you have to deal with but people worked harder physically fifty years ago.
What’ was the first thing you noticed about the interviewer?

I wasn’t sure what to say to that last one because I was looking where I was going, not at the interviewer, but I finally decided that his Bermuda shorts were the first thing I noticed. I think that the first two questions he asked were distractions. The subject of his survey was probably perception – what was my perception of him? My first thought was preppy. He was probably middle or upper class. Poor people don’t wear Bermuda shorts.

But it’s that second question that interests me today because there is a labor problem with the ATP tour. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are all running for a seat on the ten member player council. The player council elects the three player representatives on the board of directors. There are also three tournament director representatives on the board. The CEO of the ATP, Etienne de Villiers, has the tiebreak vote.

If I’m the number one, two, or three tennis player in the world, all I want to do it practice, play, get in a few rounds of golf now and then, and spend the rest of my time doing a whole lot of nothing. Instead, Roger, Rafa, and Nole are getting political and that means the players are angry.

The player council recently jettisoned player rep Perry Rogers. Rogers was Andre Agassi’s longtime manager and agent so you’d think he’d do what’s best for the players. But he was a strong supporter of de Villiers and that made the players angry so they fired him.

What do the players want? They want to make as much money as possible for as little work as possible. We all do. What do the tournament directors want? They want sponsors for their tournaments, TV contracts, and record attendance at their events. What does de Villiers want? He wants to make everyone happy but, like most CEOs, his job is to make his company grow.

And that is at odds with the players wants. For instance, the tour has awarded a Masters level event, now known as a 1000 series event, to Shanghai. That means players will have to schlep off to Asia in the fall when they might otherwise have skipped it because 1000 series events are mandatory. It also means that the ATP had to dump a few of its current Masters series events because that was the deal – the players would only have to play in eight Masters series events if the ATP was going to make them schlep all over the place.

And here is the biggest problem of all. The ATP managed to get rid of the Masters event in Monte Carlo by allowing them to keep their Masters designation but removing it from the players required attendance list. They weren’t so lucky with Masters event in Hamburg. The Quatar tennis association owns part of the Hamburg Open and they have a lot more money that Monte Carlo so they weren’t willing to accept a deal. They also have a lot more money than the ATP.

Qatar and Dubai – two lucrative stops on the both the ATP and WTA tour – are transforming their oil-based economies to more dependence on tourism and sporting events bring tourists. According to my sources, the ATP has spent $8 million dollars fighting Hamburg in court. The New York Times reports the amount as $7 million. My sources put the ATP yearly budget at around $11 million so you can see the problem.

Villiers is in trouble no matter how the court case turns out – the case will be heard in a U.S. court in the state of Delaware next month. If the ATP wins the court case then the players are unhappy because that means there’ll be one less clay court Masters event. If Hamburg wins the case, the players are still unhappy because de Villiers will have spent a whole lot of the ATP’s money for naught and now there’ll be nine Masters events instead of eight.

De Villiers’ contract ends in December and clearly he hasn’t done his job because the players are very angry at him and one of the tournaments is dragging him through a lengthy court case. The three player reps and the three tournament director reps on the board of directors choose the CEO and they will decide de Villiers’ fate. According the Charlie Bricker at the Florida Sun-Sentinel, the other two player reps will also step down and all three player reps will be chosen at a meeting of the player council at Wimbledon.

Clearly the player council is putting itself into position to remove de Villiers. If the three player reps refuse to vote for him, the board of directors will have to choose someone else. It’s a rare show of power by the players and I welcome it. But if the player council is replacing all three player reps, that means the reps weren’t doing their job, and that means the player council wasn’t doing it’s job . If they’re going to the trouble of ousting de Villiers, the players might want to fix that before the next CEO comes on board.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 221 user reviews.

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 tennisdiary.com. We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

Pay attention because this week’s submission deadline is Sunday morning, June 15, 4am (EST) in the U.S./10am (CET) in Europe.

The top players are resting before the start of Wimbledon next week except for David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet. Ferrer skipped the grass this week and Gasquet started the recovery from his confidence crisis with a quarterfinal finish at Queen’s Club. They are the top two seeds at s’Hertogenbosch. The other tournament this week is Nottingham which also has a few good players and would have featured Andy Murray too if he hadn’t fallen on his thumb at Queen’s.

We need eight players for our team so let’s pick four players from each draw, in other words, the semifinalists.

Nottingham (grass, first prize: $90, 923)
s-Hertogenbosch (grass, first prize: $90, 923)

David Ferrer is the top seed in s’Hertogenbosch but Mario Ancic is in his quarter and that’s bad news. Ancic reached the third round at Queen’s this week and he went 9-1 on grass two years ago after missing the grass court season last year due to mononucleosis. Ferrer, on the other hand, has won four matches on grass in the last two years. I’m going with Ancic.

The next quarter is a real mess. Jarkko Nieminen reached the semifinals at Halle last year. Arnaud Clement reached the semifinals at Queen’s and the final at Notthingham last year. Michael Berrer reached the quarterfinals here last year as a qualifier. Juan Martin Del Potro also reached the quarterfinals but the highest ranked player he beat was number 92.

Clement isn’t doing well on grass this year. He lost to the 153rd ranked player at the Surbiton challenger and to Andreas Seppi in the first round at Queen’s. And his ranking has dropped from the 30’s this time last year to the 80’s. Nieminen lost to the 97th ranked player in the first round at Halle this week. Instead, I’m picking Fabrice Santoro because he’s having a more consistent year than any player in this quarter on faster courts and he’s a decent grass court player.

Ivan Ljubicic is in the next quarter and he won this tournament last year. Robin Haase is a player waiting to break out. He beat Ljubicic at the Australian Open this year and he already has three quarterfinal finishes on faster surfaces but he’s 1-3 lifetime on grass so I’m going with Ljubicic over Haase and Guillermo Canas.

Assuming that grass has revitalized Richard Gasquet, he’s a good pick here because he has two titles and one quarterfinal finish at Nottingham in the last three years. But should you save him for later? Remember, you can only use a player five times in one season. I’ve used him twice already and I want to save him for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and he can probably make a whole lot more money at one of the Masters Series events or a hard court fall event. So I’m not going to use him and you should save him for at least three more events this year. Igor Andreev hasn’t won a match on grass in three years but it’s not as bad as it looks. He only played two matches in that time period and lost those to James Blake and Gael Monfils. Overall he’s 8-8 on grass with victories over Gasquet and Andre Agassi so I’m going with him.

Radek Stepanek is the top seed at Nottingham. He reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2006 but he didn’t do much on grass last year and he lost to Tommy Haas – who just returned from injury – in the first round at Halle week. Julien Benneteau is in this quarter and he did reach the semifinals here last year, but that was the only time he’s gone past the second round on grass. He lost this week in the first round to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Halle but Kohlschreiber is in the final so that doesn’t tell us much. Grass tournaments are tough to pick because there are so few of them so we don’t have much to go on, but I’m picking Gael Monfils to come out of Stepanek’s quarter because he has a better record on grass in the past year.

Ivo Karlovic tops the next quarter and he won this event last year but he has some competition. Jonas Bjorkman reached the semifinals here last year and Andreas Seppi reached the same round two years ago. Still, looking at those 35 aces and three tiebreakers again Rafael Nadal in Queen’s last week, Karlovic is my pick.

The next quarter is a tough call because both Robin Soderling and Nicolas Mahut are there. Soderling reached the quarterfinals at Halle this week and the third round at Wimbledon last year. Mahut reached the quarterfinals at Queen’s this week and also reached the third round at Wimbledon last year. I’m giving Soderling the slightest edge because he beat Mahut here two years ago. They won’t meet till the quarterfinals, though, so either one could be a good choice.

Dmitry Tursunov and Paul-Henri Mathieu are by far the strongest players in the bottom quarter and it’s a tough call because Tursunov beat Mathieu at Queen’s last year, but they’re pretty evenly matched on grass. Tursunov lost in the first round at Halle this week but he had the misfortune of drawing Mikhail Youzhny. I’m taking Tursunov because he had a slightly better grass court record than Mathieu last year.

Picks

Here are my picks for this week: Ancic, Santoro, Ljubicic, Andreev, Monfils, Karlovic, Soderling, and Tursunov.

Happy fantasies!

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 202 user reviews.

How did Rafael Nadal fare against Ivo Karlovic on the slick grass surface at Queen’s?z

It’s been cold and damp in London this week and that means everyone has been slippin’ and slidin’ on the grass at Queen’s Club. Andy Murray fell four times and somehow managed to land on his thumb during one of those falls. Of course, Murray is always falling down then getting up and playing magnificently so we can’t go by that. But it happened to Rafael Nadal too and it cost him a point as he slid into the net.

It coulda been worse. Fernando Gonzalez was playing Ivo Karlovic and he got just a tad frustrated. First he smashed a ball – ball abuse, warning. Then he smashed a racket – racket abuse, loss of point. Then he sent another ball flying – ball abuse, loss of game. And that was match over because he was down 5-6 in the second set and he’d already lost the first set. Maybe he got confused and thought John McEnroe was on the other side of the net meaning that such behavior was allowed.

Since the court is slippery enough to let balls skid across the surface instead of grab and spin, I wondered how the match between clay court master/topspin killer Rafael Nadal and super-tall serving machine/totally frustrating Karlovic would play out.

Here’s one answer: At 2-2 in the first set, Karlovic hit a second serve ace, a service winner – the ball careened off the frame of Nadal’s racket, and an almost ace – Nadal started to walk to the other side of the court and Karlovic challenged the call but it was just wide. The game ended on another ace and the longest point had two strokes (who says grass it too slow these days?).

The points on Nadal’s serve were a bit longer but not much. And since Karlovic is 6ft 10in (208cm), his movement isn’t as nimble as most other players so Nadal was able to hit behind Karlovic and generally make his life miserable if he didn’t get his first serve in. Nadal is number one in three of the four return of serve statistical categories in the ATP statistics, while Karlovic is ranked 56th in three of the four return of serve categories.

It’s tempting to say that this was a match of opposites given those statistical rankings – the return of serve expert versus the guy who can’t return but does have the most aces on tour and holds his serve more often than anyone not named Andy Roddick, and it did work out that way as Nadal got only two break points – neither of which he converted – and Karlovic got no break points while serving up 35 aces.

But there was one more statistic that contributed to this match and it’s a surprising stat: Karlovic’s career record in tiebreakers is 129-127. I don’t know Roddick’s career tiebreak record but I do know he once won 18 tiebreaks in a row and it’s surprising that Karlovic is barely even in tiebreaks with that serve of his. That may also explain his mediocre record at Wimbledon. He’s lost in the first round the last three years and during that time he lost five out of seven tiebreakers.

As you should have guessed by now, there were no breaks and we were treated to three straight tiebreakers (who says grass is too slow these days?). Did those tiebreakers give us any clues to Karlovic’s tiebreak problems?

Karlovic won the first tiebreaker by one point – a double fault by Nadal – and served up two aces. Karlovic lost the second one by one point – an excellent return on a tough first serve by Nadal followed up by a passing shot – but Karlovic hit zero aces. In the third one, Karlovic again had two aces but the difference was another beautiful return by Nadal who won the tiebreaker and the match, 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(4).

Today the defensive skills beat the offensive skills despite those incredible 35 aces. The difference was a few points and the best players win those points – that’s why they’re the best players. Sorry Ivo, the only thing I can tell you is this: “Play the critical points with more focus and you too can make your way into the top ten. You’re only 12 rankings places away after all.”

This match tells me more about Nadal than Karlovic in any case. I was talking to a tennis buddy this morning about Bjorn Borg’s back to back Roland Garros/Wimbledon titles and how much harder they must have been in an era where the grass was faster and Borg faced many more serve and volleyers, a few of them legendary. No doubt Queen’s is still slower than the Wimbledon of old, but you gotta give it to Rafa, this was an impressive performance and tomorrow he gets to do it again.

Roddick got a walkover today because Murray pulled out with that offending thumb, so Roddick will meet up with Nadal tomorrow in the semifinals. There are lots of parallels between the match today and tomorrow but there are also a few important differences. Roddick can do tiebreakers and he can also move better than Karlovic. He can’t cover the net as well but with the way the grass is playing, if he can’t get past Nadal, that’s a problem. Roddick could meet Nadal as early as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and that will play a lot slower. If he can’t beat Nadal here, it’s not likely to happen at Wimbledon.

Who’re you taking, Roddick or Rafa?

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 232 user reviews.

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 [Betfair.com] 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.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 265 user reviews.

Rafael Nadal won the French Open today by beating Roger Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Can you believe it?

I came across an excerpt from Bjorn Borg’s 1980 autobiography, My Life and Game, on the Men’s Tennis Forum a few days ago. In one section, Borg explained his definition of percentage tennis:

My synonym for percentage tennis is patience. I want to hit one more ball in court than my rival. I want him to think I’m much more patient so he’ll make a mistake either in execution (racquet error) or in picking a low-percentage ripper for the lines.

It worked well enough to win six French Open titles, four of them consecutive. Rafael Nadal was going for his fourth consecutive French Open today and his opponent for the last three has been Roger Federer. I don’t know what Rafa’s odds were but you wouldn’t have made much money off him because he hasn’t dropped a set here and only one player, Novak Djokovic, pushed him to a tiebreaker.

You’d have made a bunch of money, though, if you’d bet that Roger would win a total of four games in the match because no one expected that. How could Rafa – who’s undefeated at the French Open – have possibly improved? This is how: he played slightly lower percentage tennis.

He didn’t stand way behind the baseline and he didn’t play patiently. No, he didn’t turn into James Blake or Dmitry Tursunov overnight and rip every ball in sight, but he did move closer to the baseline and he did flatten out some balls that he would have hit with topspin in the past. This is how he explained it after the match:

I play more inside the court…so I play more aggressive. Not the typical clay court style, for sure, but I play more aggressive than usually.

Roger was surely watching Rafa’s matches here so it’s surprising that he seemed so shell-shocked. Rafa was up 3-1 in the first set when he hit some flat backhands and broke Roger at love. Roger was already walking around with his head down – the official pose of the befuddled – and it didn’t improve as Rafa’s court positioning allowed him to hit passing shots before Roger had fully arrived at the net.

Roger recovered his state of mind briefly with a break to get to 1-2 in the second set – only the second game he’d won in the entire match. Three games later, he hit one of those extreme angled cross court backhands he used against Rafa earlier this year but Rafa calmly hit a winner off it and Roger tipped his head back in disbelief.

Roger was playing more aggressively himself and it was working as he held his serve twice in a row to get to 3-3 in the set, but his mental state was still in the doldrums. In the next game, Rafa hit a winner off a net cord – which you expect after all – and Roger looked like a bedraggled rag doll as his head drooped and he threw his arm down in frustration. He never really recovered and, unbelievably, he didn’t win another game.

Roger, baby, Rafa has been nearly impossibly to beat on clay the entire tournament so we didn’t expect you to beat him, but dropping your head and flailing away, that is too much to bear. Three all in the second set and you couldn’t win even one more game? Novak Djokovic put up a better fight than you did. And what’re you going to do at Wimbledon?

The match was so short the network was reduced to showing last year’s Wimbledon final and somewhere in the back of Roger’s mind he must be thinking: if Rafa is playing this much better on clay by being more aggressive, how good is he going to be on grass? And what do I have to do to keep up with him?

After the match he admitted that Rafa had improved:

He no longer plays short balls as he did in the past. You can no longer attack him on his forehand, as I could in the past. He is getting much more aggressive, and it’s becoming much more difficult.

Difficult isn’t the half of it. Rafa’s performance was masterful. But Roger was decidedly absent and we didn’t hear his usual “I’m getting close to beating Rafa on clay” because he isn’t. He’s as far away as he’s even been and it’s hard to see that changing.

It looked like Djokovic might be the one to move pass Rafa and Roger, especially with his hard court skills and Rafa’s problems on hard court, but Rafa isn’t done yet and a title at Wimbledon, which looks a whole lot more likely after today, might get him to number one first.

And what if Rafa improves on hard court? That’s a scary thought.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 264 user reviews.