Monthly Archives: September 2008

ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for Tokyo and Metz

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 September 28, Sunday night, 10pm (EST) in the U.S./September 29, Monday morning, 4am (CET) in Europe.

The fantasy site lists three tournaments this week: Tokyo, Metz, and Bangalore, but the Bangalore event has been canceled. The ATP blamed security concerns in the area after a bomb blast killed one person and wounded at least 15 others in July. But Anil Khanna, an official with the Indian tennis association, assailed the tournament organizers for blaming security issues instead of admitting that they had trouble attracting star players and finding sponsors. I don’t know who’s telling the truth but if Khanna is correct, and there’s some reason to believe him considering that other sporting events in the area are going on as planned, the organizers have fanned terrorist concerns unnecessarily.

Tokyo is paying $135,000 to its winner and Metz is paying $90,923, so let’s pick five players from Tokyo and three from Metz to make up our eight player fantasy team.

Tokyo draw (hard court, first prize: $135,000)

Metz (indoor hard court, first prize: $90,923)

David Ferrer won the title in Tokyo last year but he’s having a terrible year on hard court. He hasn’t made it past the third round of a hard court event since the Australian Open and he just lost to Dudi Sela in the first round in Beijing. Sela is in this quarter and he beat Juan Martin Del Potro here last year, but Del Potro is 15-4 on hard court so far with two titles and a US Open quarterfinal, and I’ve only used him twice so he’s my pick for the top quarter.

Kei Nishikori beat David Ferrer at the US Open and this is Nishikori’s home tournament, but he’s not eligible for fantasy tennis because he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 at the beginning of the season. Richard Gasquet can probably beat Mikhail Youzhny on hard court but I’ve used Gasquet five times this year and, for some reason, haven’t used Youzhny even once. I considered picking Rainer Schuettler who reached the semifinals in Beijing this week, but Youzhny has beaten him the last four times they’ve met on hard court. Youzhny it is.

The third quarter has some firepower. Tommy Robredo got to the quarterfinals in Beijing this week though he didn’t beat anyone significant to get there. Tomas Berdych was on a run in Bangkok this week until he ran into Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Sam Querrey beat Tomas Berdych in the first round at the US Open, and Fernando Gonzalez can kick anyone’s butt on hard court when he feels like it. The Robredo/Berdych matchup is a tossup. They’ve beaten each other on clay and hard court. Gonzalez beat Querrey in their only matchup on hard court but that was two years ago. Gonzalez reached the quarterfinals in Beijing this week and I’ve only used him twice this year so Gonzalez is my pick. And since I need five players from this drawer and I’ve used Robredo five times already, I’m also taking Berdych.

I may have used my Andy Roddicks up too soon. He’s in the Beijing final and looking good. But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in the final in Bangkok and he beat his friend Gael Monfils to get there. I don’t think Tsonga can beat Andy Roddick but he should get to the semifinals so I’m picking him.

The Metz draw has last year’s semifinalists but no finalists and no quarterfinalists, so we’ll have to look at players’ indoor hard court records to evaluate them.

Ivo Karlovic is the top seed and he had a 13-4 record on indoor hard court last year, reached the semifinals in Rotterdam this year, and just won two Davis Cup matches on indoor hard court. However, he has a cruel draw in the person of his first round opponent: Marcos Baghdatis. Baghdatis reached the final in Marseille this year and reached the semifinal in an indoor hard court challenger last week. Guillermo Canas is also here and he was a semifinalist last year, but I think Karlovic and Baghdatis can beat him. I’m picking Karlovic for two reasons: Baghdatis retired during that semifinal and he’d just returned to the tour after a ten week layoff with a wrist injury, and Baghdatis’ indoor hard court record hasn’t been anywhere near as good as his record on carpet the past few years.

Ivan Ljubicic, Michael Llodra, Feliciano Lopez, and Radek Stepanek look most promising in the next quarter. Ljubicic has a stunning 54-19 record on hard court over the past five years but he’s only 7-6 the last two years and his ranking is down to number 47. Llodra won the title in Rotterdam this year but as far as I can tell, that’s the only time he’s ever gone past the second round in the main draw on indoor hard court and he just lost in the second round of a challenger. Lopez has lost in the first round in his last four tournaments. I’m picking Stepanek, he’s by far the most consistent performer indoors.

Mario Ancic is back from a seven week break due to ongoing problems with mononucleosis. He’s 7-1 on hard court this year and he won his Davis Cup match on indoor hard court two weeks ago. Ancic is 3-1 over Paul-Henri Mathieu including wins over him indoors in Madrid and Paris last fall, but his first opponent is Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis was 18-2 in indoor hard court challengers last year and he reached the quarterfinals in St. Petersburg last fall. I’m going to assume that Ancic’s main draw experience is more valuable than Gulbis’ challenger wins and pick Ancic.

Andreas Seppi beat Arnaud Clement in the first round here last year but he’d probably lose to Gilles Simon if he met him in the quarterfinals. Marc Gicquel reached the semifinals here two years ago but he hasn’t done well on indoor hard court this year. Simon is the third player in this draw with a tough first round. His opponent, Nicolas Mahut, reached the semifinals here last year while Simon lost in the first round. Simon reached the quarterfinals in Marseille and Rotterdam while Mahut reached the quarterfinals in Marseille and just reached the quarterfinals in Bangkok. It’s a tough pick but since I’ve already used Simon five times this year and I only need three players from this draw, I’m skipping this quarter altogether.


My picks are: Del Potro, Youzhny, Berdych, Gonzalez, Tsonga, Karlovic, Stepanek, and Ancic.

Happy fantasies!

Has Rafa Peaked?

A short observation on the psychoanalytic development of babies combined with a look at Rafael Nadal’s amazing year of tennis.

Latest Sign that the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

And it has nothing to do with the US financial crisis. Last night I went to Chavez Ravine to watch baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers take one step closer to a division title and I saw something that laid me out. At most sporting events these days, spectators compete to see who can get their face on the Jumbotron. US football fans dress up as if they were auditioning for Mad Max 3, basketball fans throw down Cranky Soulja Boy moves, and baseball fans get their kids into the act.

The music in the stadium was blasting as a man held up his young son who was shaking and twisting. This kid was not a day older than two years old and I swear, in the middle of his act, he turned to the Jumbotron and pointed at himself. This kid had totally skipped what a psychoanalyst would call the mirror stage – the point in a baby’s development where they see themselves in a mirror and realize that they are a separate being from their mother and also the point where they become captivated by their own image – and gone straight to American Idol.

I wonder whether we should now create a new psychoanalytic phenomenon called the Jumbotron stage, the point where a baby moves past the mirror stage and right onto the performance stage.

Rafa’s Golden Year

The men and women are playing in Beijing this week. The men are also playing in Bangkok and the women in Seoul. So far there’s been only one upset though it’s a pretty big one. David Ferrer lost his first match to Dudi Sela in Beijing. David is having a miserable year on hard court. I’d fly to Asia to see what’s wrong with him but our Tennis Diary travel budget won’t allow it and I’m not feeling like getting up in the middle of the night to check out the live streaming from Beijing.

Meanwhile, the ATP has finally caught up with youtube. They’ve launched the ATP World Tour channel. It’s about time. Tennis fans have been posting illegal TV clips of matches for forever and the ATP has been wisely encouraging it by not asking youtube to remove them. Their first effort is a celebration of Rafael Nadal’s golden year: eight tournament wins, two grand slams, an Olympic gold medal, and, possibly, a Davis Cup title.

So, is this the peak of Rafa’s career?

It could depend largely on the other three members of the top four: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. After all, Federer would still be sailing along with Wimbledon dominance if Rafa hadn’t come along. I’ll give Rafa the French Open/Wimbledon double for the next few years but, of course, no gold medal and, likely, no Davis Cup. He doesn’t play Davis Cup that often and that’s really Spain’s only chance.

Djokovic has been overlooked a bit in this year of Rafa dominance. Nole actually improved over last year. He beat Federer in the semifinals at the Australian Open and won his first slam even if Federer later announced that he was suffering from mononucleosis at the time. Nole got to the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon, same as last year, and slipped just the slightest bit by going out in the semifinals at the US Open. Last year he reached the final. Okay, so maybe he only held steady as the year wore on but he’s still good for at least a few more slams which means a few less for Rafa and Roger.
[Correction: Djokovic lost in the second round at Wimbledon so he slipped a bit further.]

Roger looks good for a few more US Opens. He’s the only player who doesn’t seem to wear himself out by the end of the summer. The Australian Open is less predictable because it starts so early in the calendar.

Murray started off the year miserably in grand slams with a first round loss at the Australian Open and his US Open final was the first time he’d been past a quarterfinal in a slam. He seems to have trouble with startup. He lost his first round match at the Olympics after failing to adjust to the time change properly. So I’m not expecting much from him in Australia and he’s never done much on clay, so that leaves Wimbledon and the US Open. I’m thinking he’ll get one of the next few US Opens. Roger’s Opens might not come consecutively.

There’s one more person I’d watch beyond the top four: Juan Martin Del Potro. I’m not a stat person but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a guy who’d won four straight tournaments on two different surfaces that didn’t reach the number one ranking. Del Potro may not get there because there’s a logjam at the top but he could get pretty close. He followed up his four straight wins with a US Open quarterfinal and two singles victories in Davis Cup. This kid’s gonna fly.

Is this Rafa’s peak? My guess is that he’s not going win a US Open after a French/Wimbledon double. The only way he surpasses this year is to win three slams and that won’t happen at the same time he wins a gold medal and a Davis Cup. So it’s a peak that will only be surpassed if he picks up an Australian or a US Open to go along with his French/Wimbledon double.

I think those other top players will just keep getting better and take away enough slams to keep Rafa from getting his three in one year.

Spain and Argentina Will Meet in the Davis Cup Final as the US Loses on Clay Again

The US lost badly to Spain in Davis Cup as that slippery, slidy clay got in the way again.

These are not the words you want coming out of Rafael Nadal’s mouth at the end of a clinching rubber in the Davis Cup semifinals:

Today I played very well. I shocked myself with some of the winners I played, was near perfect tennis.

Nadal had just beaten Andy Roddick on red clay, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, to give Spain an insurmountable 3-1 lead over the US in a bullring in Madrid. Rain delayed the start of the match and that made things worse because wet clay is slow, muddy clay which is a good antidote for a big server like Roddick. But it wasn’t supposed to come down to this match.

If the US wanted to beat Spain and get to the Davis Cup final for the second year in a row, Roddick had to beat David Ferrer, give Sam Querrey a chance to do the same thing, and hope that Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan could win the doubles rubber because no one was going to beat Nadal. Only one of those things happened and it wasn’t in singles as Spain beat the US 4-1.

It looked promising when Roddick went up two sets to one on Ferrer in the second rubber, but Roddick was making a lot of errors and, ultimately, if the road to a Davis Cup final goes through Spain or Russia on clay, Roddick can fight his heart out as he always does, but it’s too much to expect him to pick up two wins in that situation. It took Ferrer 3 hours and 17 minutes and 14 games in the fifth set, but he finally put Roddick away, 7-6(5), 2-6, 1-6, 6-4, 8-6.

While the US is still developing big serving hard court players like Roddick and Querrey, Spain and Argentina are developing good all round players. Nadal is a ridiculous 39-7 on hard court this year and Ferrer has reached the semifinals at the US Open – which is better than James Blake I might add. And this weekend, Juan Martin Del Potro saved Argentina’s butt by winning both his matches in Buenos Aires. Del Potro won four straight tournaments this summer, two on clay and two on hard court, and he reached the quarterfinals at the US Open. That’s what we call all round tennis.

I hear there are lots of clay courts in Florida but Roddick and Fish both learned their tennis in Florida and it didn’t help them. Querrey grew up in California about an hour away from my home. Now and then I see a broom pushed up against a chain link fence and a green clay court beyond it, but that’s about it.

I think the USTA should develop an exchange program with the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain for its promising junior players. The US can teach Spanish players to serve hard – Feliciano Lopez could have stayed home – and US players can learn to slide on clay. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that registration at the Sanchez-Casal Academy has been growing much faster than registration at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy in Florida for the past few years.

Luckily for Argentina, the Davis Cup final will be on their soil but which surface should they choose? According to my research – though it’s hard to believe – the two countries have only met twice in Davis Cup history, once in 2003 and one in 1926. Both ties were played on clay and Spain won them both.

Argentina should pick a fast indoor surface such as carpet like the US did in the final against Russia last year. The US would have picked an ice rink if they could have gotten away with it. David Nalbandian took both indoor Masters Series events in Paris and Madrid last year and Del Potro is passable indoors. Nadal’s worst results are on carpet and Ferrer has a losing record on the surface and, did I say this already?, no one is going to beat Nadal on clay.

Let me know what happens because I’m loading up my car and taking off in search of red clay courts in the area and it might take me a few months.

ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for Bangkok and Beijing

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.

Pay attention! This week’s submission deadline is Sunday evening, September 21, 9pm (EST) in the U.S/Monday morning, September 22, 3am (CET) in Europe.

We have two tournaments in Asia this week in Bangkok and Beijing. The prize money is similar in both tournaments and we need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists in each event.

Bangkok draw (hard court, first prize: $94,000)

Beijing draw (indoor hard court, first prize: $85,000)

Sorry to be late with the Bangkok picks but time difference and weekend partying got in the way. Bangkok didn’t get its draw out until yesterday evening west coast time in the US, and by that time the party at my house had started and didn’t end until 3am. So here I am the morning after, surrounded by empty beer bottles and potato chip crumbs but, more or less, ready to go.

Novak Djokovic is the number one seed in Bangkok but most people have used him five times already this season and can’t use him again. If you can still use him, save him for one of the two remaining Masters Series events left on the schedule. Robin Soderling is a good second choice. He’s 10-3 on indoor hard court this year which ain’t bad at all.

Novak’s brother Marko is in the second quarter. Since he’s currently ranked 1728, I’m guessing his wild card came along with Novak’s appearance fee. Nicolas Mahut just won a challenger on indoor hard court and he reached the quarterfinals here last year, so he could beat Jarkko Nieminen. But Tomas Berdych is 3-0 over Nieminen lifetime and Berdych beat him in Canada this summer. Berdych also reached the semifinals here last year so he’s my pick.

In the third quarter, Marat Safin, Mischa Zverev, and Gael Monfils are eligible for our fantasy team and it’s tough to pick between them. Safin used to be a very good indoor hard court player but he’s not doing well this year. Monfils hasn’t won a match indoors since 2005 but he’s only played in four indoor events over that period. Zverev plays well indoors and he did reach the quarterfinals at Rotterdam as a qualifier this year, but most of his results indoors have been in challengers. I’m picking Zverev because he reached the quarterfinals here two years ago as a qualifier and he has a better record indoors this year.

Benjamin Becker reached the final here last year but he just lost in the first round in an indoor challenger. Fabrice Santoro’s best results indoors lately have been in challengers. Jurgen Melzer is having a good year – he’s reached three quarterfinals and a final, but he hasn’t gone past the second round indoors in the past year while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had a quarterfinal and semifinal indoors last fall so I’m going with Tsonga.

It seems like only yesterday we were staying up all hours of the night to watch swimming and tennis and all sorts of other sports at the Beijing Olympics and here we are, back in Beijing again. This is a rare opportunity to compare performances on the same court only a few weeks apart.

The first person who pops up is Fernando Gonzalez and he’s in the third quarter of this draw. He won this event last year and he reached the final at the Olympics. Gonzalez beat Sam Querrey, the main competition in his quarter, in their only meeting but that doesn’t mean much because Querrey had just joined the tour. Both players reached the fourth round at the US Open but I’m picking Gonzalez because Querrey lost in the first round at the Olympics.

David Ferrer is the top seed and he has Tommy Robredo in his quarter. Robredo lost in the final here last year. This is actually a tough match to pick because Robredo has a losing record on hard court this year but he reached the fourth round at the US Open. Ferrer got to the third round at the US Open and both players lost in the first round at the Olympics. Ferrer beat Robredo in their only hard court meeting last year but I can only use Ferrer one more time so I’m saving him for Tokyo – which he won last year – or Paris. Robredo it is.

Yen-Hsun Lu is in the second quarter and he beat Andy Murray at the Olympics and made it to the third round. Murray was probably tired and we can’t pick Lu anyway because he wasn’t in the top 100 when the fantasy season started. Richard Gasquet has been all over the place this year. He barely has a winning record on clay and isn’t much better on hard court. He didn’t go to the Olympics and he lost in the first round at the US Open though his opponent, Tommy Haas, is a very tough player. Rainer Schuettler is here too but he’s never gone past the second round in five tried in Beijing and he’s only 3-7 on hard court this year.

This is tough luck for me because I’ve used up all my Gasquets so I’m going to have to pick Schuettler. Should you pick Gasquet if you have him? He could get to the final but he’s not likely to win this event because Gonzalez and Andy Roddick are in the bottom half and Robredo, who is in his half, beat him the last two times they met on hard court. Gasquet reached the final in Tokyo last year – which pays more than this event – and he reached the semifinals in the Masters event in Paris so I’d consider keeping him for an event where he can make more money.

Fernando Verdasco, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Andy Roddick are in the bottom quarter. There’s lots of star power here for what is a low paying event in the fall schedule. I have one more Roddick left but should I use him? He hasn’t lost to Fernando Verdasco since 2005, he’s 4-0 over Juan Carlos Ferrero, and he just beat Gonzalez in straight sets at the US Open so he should get to the final. Curiously, he’s only 2-3 against Ferrer on hard court but he’s 8-0 over Robredo. He said he was going to play four events this fall but he seldom plays more than two so I’m getting my money while I can.


My picks are: Soderling, Berdych, Zverev, Tsonga, Robredo, Schuettler, Gonzalez, Roddick.

Davis Cup Identity Crisis and David Foster Wallace End Notes

The US Davis Cup team isn’t looking like itself this weekend and an appreciation of David Foster Wallace.


That image above is the Roger Federer CrazySmiles Nike Pro Figure, created by Michael Lau for Nike. I found Roger, along with his broken racket, at Undefeated, a sneaker shop in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. I tried to buy it and take it home with me but the very nice young man working there said the figure was probably worth a few thousand dollars. I like Roger but not that much. That price is not right but it’s not far off. The figures are going for $800 on eBay. It is a crazy smile, by the way. Almost demonic.

Roger is playing Davis Cup this weekend as is Rafael Nadal and it’s Nadal’s tie I want to look at because his Spanish Davis Cup team is hosting the US team in Madrid. The winner of this tie will play in the Davis Cup final and I’m not about to put any money on the US. And it’s not just because the matches will be played on slow red clay.

If things weren’t already bad enough in the US – top financial institutions are dropping like flies and tropical storms are bashing the Gulf Coast, the US Davis Cup team is undergoing an identity crisis. Honest, half the players have changed and this is a team that is usually chiseled in cement: Andy Roddick and James Blake play singles and Bob and Mike Bryan play doubles. It’s like clockwork.

But Blake is too tired to travel to Madrid and slide around on clay for hours at a time and I guess it’s believable considering his performance at the US Open. He only made it as far as the third round where he lost to his buddy Mardy Fish. I did wonder whether choosing Sam Querrey to take his place was a quiet suggestion that Querrey was the better clay court player, but when I looked it up, Blake ain’t so bad on clay. He has an 8-5 record this year with a quarterfinal at the Rome Masters.

Querrey beat Richard Gasquet on his way to the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo but Gasquet’s clay court record is worse than Blake’s this year if you can believe it. When a journalist asked Querrey how he could put a scare into Nadal, Querrey suggested making faces at him. It’s worth a try because Querrey will play the first singles match and Nadal is his opponent.

Roddick’s first opponent is David Ferrer and while Roddick is actually 4-1 on clay this year – he reached the semifinals in Rome before he had to retire, and he is the gutsiest Davis Cup player on the planet, he’s unlikely to beat Ferrer and very unlikely to beat Nadal. Roddick pushed Nadal to two tiebreakers and took one set off him in the 2004 Davis Cup final but that was before Nadal was unbeatable on clay.

Bob Bryan is back home rehabbing his sore left shoulder. He is the lefty, right? In his place, Mardy Fish is madly practicing those complex poaching or not poaching signals with Mike Bryan. One thing’s for sure, you can’t impugn the patriotism of today’s players. This is not the Davis Cup era of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who played when they felt like it. Fish is getting married on September 29th and here he is, off to Madrid to fill in for Bob Bryan at a moment’s notice.

There is one positive note. Madrid is at altitude and that means the ball will travel a bit faster because the air is thinner. That’ll help our big servers. But it probably won’t be enough.

David Foster Wallace End Notes

My favorite sports writing doesn’t come from sportswriters. David Halberstam won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam War journalism but he also wrote a book about the Portland Trailblazers NBA team titled Breaks of the Game. Once you’ve read that book, you’ll understand the economics of modern sport franchises as well as the psychology of a professional athlete. And his biography, I guess you’d call it, of Bill Bellichick, is about as close as you’ll get to knowing anything about the taciturn curmudgeon who coaches the New England Patriots in his cutoff hoodie most Sundays. When Halberstam was killed in an automobile accident last year, he was on his way to an interview with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle.

Michael Lewis has written books about Wall Street and Silicon Valley but Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a masterful take on the New Idea. In this case, new ideas in baseball that dramatically changed the way fans watched the game and baseball teams evaluated players. I read that book three times to figure out what made Lewis such a great writer and I came up with plenty of reasons. The main one is storytelling and his book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, is a great story about a poor young black man named Michael Oher who is adopted by a rich white family in Tennessee. Oher is a freakishly talented football player who ends up playing college football for his adoptive family’s alma mater, and you’re left wondering how much that motivated the largesse of his new family.

My favorite tennis writer? That would be David Foster Wallace. We talked about his Federer piece in Play Magazine recently because some people thought Wallace made too much of Federer as the beautiful tennis player in contrast to Nadal as the workaday grinder. That’s quite possible but I loved the piece because Wallace is always over the top – the title of the piece is Federer as Religious Experience – and exceptional athletes are best celebrated by the grand writers of our time. Wallace was in the category.

But Wallace wrote about lesser athletes too and he was as over the top for the lower level tennis player as he was for every other subject he took on. Here’s the title of a piece he wrote for Esquire Magazine on Michael Joyce, former top 100 tennis player who is now Maria Sharapova’s coach: Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness. Never before, or since, has a tennis player toiling on the challenger circuit come to symbolize such heady existential issues.

I haven’t read it yet but Wallace also wrote a 25 page review of former tennis prodigy Tracy Austin’s memoir. No doubt Wallace’s review is ten times more fascinating than its subject. Wallace was a junior tennis player himself and the protagonist of his complex and hugely entertaining novel, Infinite Jest, was also a junior tennis player.

Wallace suffered from depression for many years and last Sunday he gave up the battle. He committed suicide. I can’t blame him. My dearest good friend William appears to be on the losing end of a similar battle and I have nothing but immense respect for both of them. I’m proud that they’ve led such productive lives under such difficult conditions. But I’m also, as a one memorial to Wallace suggested, infinitely sad.