Monthly Archives: June 15, 2021

Nicolas Almagro isn’t making as much progress on hard court as we thought he would. What does he need to do?

What is up with Nicolas Almagro? This is a strongly built guy with a big serve and flat hard shots yet he can’t get it going on outdoor hard court and he’s even worse indoors.

Almagro lost to Simone Bolelli in the first round in this week’s Masters Series event in Madrid. Not only was Bolelli a lucky loser but Almagro went on to lose the second set by the frightening score of 6-1 after losing the first set in a tiebreaker. And that’s the second week in a row he’s done it. Last week in Metz he lost the second set to Eduard Schwank 6-2 after losing the first set in a tiebreaker. That was a first round loss too.

Losing the second set that badly was a weak response to a disappointing but not disastrous event – losing a tiebreaker. Almagro’s first response was to get mad. After missing a shot to go down 15-40 on his serve early in the second set, Almagro smashed his racket on the bottom of his shoe and mangled it. The racket that is, not his foot. Though I imagine it couldn’t have felt good.

He followed that up by mistaking the Pista Central for rush hour in Barcelona. He was down 0-3 in the second set when he bunted a soft overhead long. Two points later he served the ball before Bolelli was ready. At the very least, smashing a racket implies that you’re stopping and thinking about the situation, but here was Almagro blithely marching forward in a downward spiraling direction. I’d have faked a foot injury or something, anything, to slow the world down a bit and give myself a good talking to. The dead quiet of his home country spectators probably made him feel even worse.

In times like this, a player has to take the smallest glimpse of hope and pump it up into something encouraging because there’s no stasis in competitive sports. You’re getting better or worse, it’s very seldom that you cruise, and that’s what was disturbing. Almagro is number 17 in the world and he was accepting his thrashing. He wasn’t exactly lying down and saying “hit me, ” it was more like a grim march with no self-reflection or change in tactics or even despair outside of that smashed racket.

Somewhere in his psyche Almagro has to find that desperation. Maybe it’s as simple as refusing to look bad in front of spectators or fellow players. Maybe it’s throwing caution to the wind and hitting out until he finds something that works. Anything to change things up – especially himself. When passion should take over, disappointment followed by a dejected acceptance seems to take over.

Players do different things when they’re behind. Rafael Nadal holds steady and, when a situation presents itself, he jumps right in and takes advantage of it. Other players change their strategy. Things are going badly as it is and no one is as steady as Nadal, so players usually need to do something different. James Blake suffers from this problem: he has no backup plan and he bristles at the idea that he should have one. Some players have the opposite problem: they give up their game strategy without giving it significant time to succeed, but that’s rare.

The truly successful players raise the level of their game but how do they do that? Sorry about going on and on here. I’m still recovering from the death of one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace. I’ve been reading his essays nonstop and he was known to go on a bit. Don’t worry, though, I won’t resort to the footnotes and addendums on footnotes he was famous for.

What Wallace did well was to get to the heart of the matter and the heart of the matter here is: What does it mean to raise the level of your game? And how do learn to do it? You have to find a place within you that wants to win more than anything else in the world (okay, with a few exceptions such treasuring your loved ones as much as yourself). If you’re a professional athlete and you can’t find that place inside you, you’re in tough luck because what other profession gives you as much license to be self-absorbed except maybe movie stardom or hedge fund trading.

It took Pete Sampras a few years to figure out that he was willing to be the guy with a target on his back and not the guy who was more willing to live with the pain of ending tournaments with a loss than be the target of the sniping and jealousy that goes with being number one; that winning was important enough to put up with feeling separate from other players rather than being one of the guys, or having the media bug you and dissect you and misquote you and ask if maybe it wasn’t time to retire when you still had a few slams left in you.

In other words, someone who would rather hide than sit in full view like those people at charity fundraisers who sit on a platform over a bucket of water waiting for someone to hit the target and collapse the platform sending them hurtling into the water. It’s purposely embarrassing to fall in the water and most of us, me included, would rather throw at the target.

Novak Djokovic got a taste of it this year after he won a slam in Australia. Last year he was the darling of the slams with his imitations of Nadal and Andy Roddick and any other player with the slightest tic. This year Roddick teased Djokovic about his medical injury timeouts and he didn’t respond well. The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium booed him mercilessly when he complained about Roddick’s comments after beating Roddick in the quarterfinals at the US Open. Djokovic will survive and win more slams because he’s willing to put himself in that situation. Winning is more important than having everyone in the stadium love you.

So, ultimately, I can sympathize with Almagro because I’d rather be loved than admired. But going up the rankings is a step by step process and he could start with a baby step. Personally, I’d send him off to a hypnotherapist to learn how to relax when he gets behind in a match instead of getting mad or giving up, but he might consider that too esoteric and, in any case, he’s not likely to listen to me. At the very least, he’s going to have to do something different and risk looking worse before he gets better because losing badly while trying is a whole lot better than giving up.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 228 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.

This week’s submission deadline is Monday morning, October 13, 4am (EST) in the U.S./10am (CET) in Europe.

This week we have the next to last Masters Series event of the year in Madrid, so make the most of it because Masters Series events pay a lot of money and the European Masters events pay more than the US events. We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists, two players from each quarter.

Madrid draw (indoor hard court, first prize: $553, 846)

Rafael Nadal has a pretty easy path to the quarterfinals. In the past three years he’s reached the quarterfinals twice and won this event. However, I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t used Nadal five times already and I’ve used up my Richard Gasquets. Nicolas Kiefer did reach the semifinals here last year but Nadal beat him indoors in Davis Cup this year. Since Kiefer is Nadal’s first opponent, I’m going to have pick three players in one of the other sections.

The next section is virtually impossible to pick. First of all, four of the players reached the quarterfinals or better this week in Vienna or Stockholm. Second of all, that number does’t include the seeds in this section, Stanislas Wawrinka and David Ferrer. Ferrer didn’t play and Wawrinka lost in the first round in Vienna to Philipp Petzschner who beat Feliciano Lopez to get to the final. Carlos Moya just reached the quarterfinals in both Metz and Vienna after winning a total of three matches indoors in the past four years. What am I suppose to make of that? Philipp Kohlschreiber got to the semifinals in Vienna and he reached the semifinals in Moscow and St. Petersburg last year.

I’m picking Lopez because Kohlschreiber has never played in either Madrid or Paris, Wawrinka has never gone past the second round on indoor hard court outside of Vienna, and Lopez beat Ferrer in both their matches on indoor hard court including Madrid last year.

Dmitry Tursunov just won the title in Metz and he won the Bangkok title last year, but I don’t think he can beat Novak Djokovic in the second round. Most of us have used up our Djokovics so that leaves us to pick between Robin Soderling and Ivo Karlovic. Soderling is 14-4 on indoor hard court this year and he just reached the final in Stockholm. Soderling it is.

I still have one Nikolay Davydenko left but he’s never gone past the third round in Madrid. Then again, James Blake has never won a match here in four attempts. However, Blake beat Gilles Simon twice this year, he’s 5-0 over Igor Andreev, 2-0 over Michael Llodra, 6-0 over Nikolay Davydenko including two matches indoors, and he beat Safin in their only meeting indoors. Safin is in the Moscow final tomorrow so he’s a viable pick, but I’m going to say that Blake finally has to win a match here and I’m picking him.

I’ve used up all five of my Andy Roddicks but that’s okay because he’s never been past the third round here. Gael Monfils just reached the semifinals in Bangkok and he’s in the final in Vienna, and Fernando Gonzalez has reached two quarterfinals and a final here in the past three years. Andreas Seppi and Tommy Robredo haven’t done much on indoor hard court this year so I’m choosing between Monfils and Gonzalez who have never played each other. I’m going with Gonzalez because Monfils has never been past the first round here.

Andy Murray has the easiest path of all to the quarterfinals. The only thing that could hurt him is inactivity. He hasn’t played an ATP event since the US Open but then, neither has Marin Cilic. Cilic reached the semifinals in St. Petersburg last year but that’s the only time he’s won a match on indoor hard court. Fernando Verdasco just reached the quarterfinals in Vienna but Murray is 3-0 over him including a win last year at St. Petersburg. Murray it is.

David Nalbandian is at it again. He took both the Madrid and Paris titles last year after a down year and this week he’s in the Stockholm final. Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro are in this section too as are Rainer Schuettler and Jarkko Nieminen. Schuettler just reached the quarterfinals in Stockholm but he’s 0-3 in Madrid, and Nalbandian just beat Nieminen in Stockholm. I’ve already used Berdych five times so that leaves me with this question: can Del Potro beat Nalbandian? Nalbandian beat him in their only meeting here in Madrid last year, but that was before Del Potro won four tournaments in a row. Still, Nalbandian has a title, a final, and two semifinals here in the past four years so I’m taking him.

After faking everyone out last week by announcing on his website that he was skipping Stockholm and he wasn’t sure when he’d return to the tour, Roger Federer is playing in Madrid. I saved him for one fall tournament and since he has a title, a final, a semifinal and quarterfinal in his four appearances here, I’m using him.

Since I didn’t pick anyone in Nadal’s section, I need one more player. I’ve got two more Del Potros so I’m going to use him because he’s should get to the third round.

Picks

Here are my picks for the week: Lopez, Soderling, Blake, Gonzalez, Murray, Nalbandian, Del Potro, Federer.

Happy fantasies!

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 191 user reviews.

Are players wearing themselves out because they’re greedy or is the tour asking too much of them?

Further proving that Roger Federer should one day run for political office, he issued the following statement on his website last week:

2008 has been a tough year for me as I was always playing catch up after being diagnosed with mononucleosis at the beginning of the year. I feel fortunate to be healthy again, but I want to remain at the top of the game for many more years to come and go after the #1 ranking again. In order to do that, I need to get a proper rest and get strong again so that I am 100% fit for the remainder of the year or next year. At this point, I am not sure when I will be ready to play again, but I hope to be back at some point before the end of the year.

True to the tradition of standard political disclosure, this statement says everything and nothing. It hints at the possibility that Roger will skip the rest of the tour schedule or, at the very least, a large part of it. He scheduled himself to play Stockholm, Madrid, Basel, and Paris, and now he might not play any of them. So wha’ happened?

His statement says that he’s “healthy again” but he’s not 100% fit. We’ve been hearing that “healthy again” part all year and he may have believed it himself else he wouldn’t have entered four tournaments in four weeks. But clearly his viral levels are preventing him from playing the fall session of the tour schedule.

Mario Ancic suffered from mononucleosis last year and he had a relapse this summer, and now we learn that Vera Zvonareva had the same problem. I saw her play in the 2004 year end championships – the last time they were held in Los Angeles – then she dropped off the map and I always wondered what happened to her. In 2006 she learned that she’d had mono for some time and it took her a year and a half to recover and two years to feel good again.

I’ll throw one more thing into the pot before I get to the main question today. In case you were wondering if pro tennis players travel too much, Agnieszka Radwanska didn’t play in this week’s WTA event in Moscow because Russian authorities wouldn’t let her in the country. Why not? There was no space in her passport for a visa because all the pages were filled up! That’s a big deal for her. She’s currently number 10 in the rankings and it could mean the difference between making the year end championships or not.

So, should the pro tennis tour have required events? Or, to put it another way, do required events ease the players’ workload or add to it?

Masters Series events were designed to make it easier for tour players because their workload was clearly delineated. ATP rankings points tally up the results of the four grand slams, nine Masters Series events, and the five best results at lower level tournaments. That’s 18 tournaments and 24 weeks of work on three continents.

That’s a pretty cushy job if you think about it, so is player greed to blame for everyone getting worn out? Partially. Players fly off to Dubai before coming to the US for Indian Wells and Miami because Dubai pays far more than other optional events. Federer had lucrative Asian exhibitions planned this fall in his very short off-season.

But a players’ job is to chase the rankings and you can’t afford to skip parts of the tour schedule and expect your ranking to stay steady. That means filling up passports: an early season fling in Australia followed by a trip to South America for the spring clay court season or, alternatively, the spring indoor season in Europe or the US, a quick stop off in Dubai on the way to Masters Series events in the US, the European clay court season followed by the European grass court season, the summer hard court season in the US, the fall indoor season in Asia, and then back to Europe for the end of the season. That’s seven seasons with a few side trips thrown in.

The players dropped the ball when they let Etienne de Villiers trade the Masters Series event in Hamburg for a fall Masters Series event in Shanghai. They fired their player representatives on the ATP Board of Directors but by then it was too late. A required event in Shanghai all but made a fall trip to Asia mandatory.

Notice that there will be one less required event next year because Monte Carlo is no longer required, but so what if it means a trip to another continent? The problem isn’t that Shanghai is required but where it is, and it’ll be interesting to see if de Villiers did a good thing by spreading tournaments all over the damn place. Did he insulate the tour against the current financial crisis by diversifying its portfolio, so to speak, to Asia? Or did he spread it so thin that his main product – the players – will be too tired to turn up at required events? Some of them are already too tired as it is.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 291 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.

This week’s submission deadline is Monday morning, October 6, 2am (EST) in the U.S./8am (CET) in Europe.

This week we have three tournaments in Vienna, Stockholm, and Moscow. We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick three players from Vienna and Stockholm and two from Moscow.

Vienna draw (indoor hard, first prize: $213, 846)
Stockholm draw (indoor hard, first prize: $177, 692)
Moscow draw (indoor hard, $171, 000)

The top half of the draw in Vienna is packed. We have a finalist, semifinalist, and two quarterfinalists from last year’s event. Stanislas Wawrinka is the top seed and he was the finalist. Gilles Simon is his main competition in the first quarter and Simon has a semifinal and a quarterfinal on indoor hard court this year. This is a tough pick but I’m going with Wawrinka because I’ve used up all my Simon picks for the year.

The second quarter is especially packed. Ivan Ljubicic and Feliciano Lopez both reached the quarterfinals last year. Lopez has three quarterfinals and a title here in the past five years, but he’s 0-4 on indoor hard court this year and he’s now lost in the first round of his last five events. Ljubicic just missed 10 weeks with a back injury and lost in the first round at Metz this week. Juan Carlos Ferrero reached the semifinals last year and Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Robredo are also in this quarter. However, I’m picking Jurgen Melzer because he’s 2-0 over Ljubicic, beat Ferrero here in 2006, is 4-0 over Karlovic, and I’ve used up all my Robredo picks.

Juan Martin Del Potro is in the next quarter and it’s hard not to pick him because he’s on such a roll. But I want to save him for Madrid and Paris which pay a lot more money. And that leaves us picking between Fernando Verdasco, Andreas Seppi, and Guillermo Canas because they can’t meet up with Del Potro till the quarterfinals. Verdasco reached the semifinals in Bangkok and the final in St. Petersburg last fall, but he hasn’t played much indoors this year. Canas just lost in the first round at Metz as did Seppi who lost to 181st ranked Adrian Mannarino. Seppi did get to the semifinals here last year but Verdasco because has a career 4-0 record over Seppi so he should come out of this quarter.

Fernando Gonzalez is the second seed and he reached the quarterfinals here last year, but I’m saving him for Madrid where he’s never finished lower than the quarterfinals in three tries. Ernests Gulbis could beat Gonzalez but I’m not counting on it. Radek Stepanek is now 10-2 on indoor hard court and he reached the semifinals at Metz this week. Gael Monfils got to the semifinals in Bangkok but Stepanek is much more consistent indoors so Stepanek it is.

I need three players from Vienna and Del Potro is likely to beat Verdasco, so I’m going with Wawrinka, Melzer, and Stepanek.

David Nalbandian is the top seed in Stockholm. Will we see another fall run for Nalbandian like last year when he won both year-end indoor Masters titles? The pattern is set. He got to the third round at the US Open last year just as he did this year, and his record on clay and hard court is actually much better this year. And he’s 2-0 over Nicolas Mahut and Albert Montanes, two other players in this top quarter. But Thomas Johansson beat him in their only meeting indoors and Johansson also reached the final here last year so I’m picking Johansson in this quarter. Keep at least one Nalbandian pick if you have it. He’s finished in the semifinals or better the past four years in Madrid

It’s hard to find a player in the second quarter. Jarkko Nieminen and Arnaud Clement both reached the quarterfinals here last year but they both have losing records indoors this year. Jose Acasuso has one victory on indoor hard court in the past three years. Thomaz Bellucci has never won a match on indoor hard court. I’m going with Nieminen in this quarter because he’s still ranked number 33 while Clement has slipped down to number 88.

Robing Soderling is 12-4 on indoor hard court this year and he reached the quarterfinals at Bangkok so he’s the clear pick in the third quarter.

Marcel Granollers is the eighth seed here but he’s never won a match on indoor hard court. Kei Nishikori isn’t eligible because he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 at the beginning of the fantasy season. Steve Darcis won the title in Memphis this year which accounts for all five of his indoor hard court wins. Mario Ancic lost in the first round at Metz, but he’s 7-2 on indoor hard court this year and he reached the quarterfinals here last year. Ancic beat Darcis in their only meeting on grass, which may not mean much, but I’m going with experience and picking Ancic.

I need three players from Stockholm and the second quarter is weak, so I’m going with Johansson, Soderling, and Ancic.

I’m only picking two players from Moscow so I’ll pick the top and bottom half of the draw.

Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Moscow and I saved him for this event because he’s won it three out of the last four years. I’m a bit concerned about his first round opponent, Florent Serra, because Serra reached the quarterfinals here last year, but Serra has a losing record indoors.

Janko Tipsarevic is in the second quarter of the draw as are Mikhail Youzhny and Mikhail Zverev. Tipsarevic reached the semifinals here last year, and he beat Youzhny in Rotterdam this year. Zverev reached the quarterfinals at Rotterdam as a qualifier but Tipsarevic just beat him at Zagreb. Tipsarevic should come out of this quarter.

Davydenko beat Tipsarevic here last year so Davydenko is my pick for the top half of the draw.

Michael Llodra won the title in Rotterdam but that’s the only time he’s gone past the second round indoors this year and that includes a challenger he entered a few weeks ago. Fabrice Santoro is not having a good year indoors. Victor Hanescu beat Ivan Ljubicic in Metz last week but Hanescu is more of a clay court specialist. That leaves us with Paul-Henri Mathieu, especially as he reached the final here last year.

Dmitri Tursunov won his last four matches over Igor Kunitsyn and he beat Robby Ginepri in their only meeting indoors. Lu Yen-Hsun reached the quarterfinals at San Jose this year but Igor Andreev has two quarterfinals and title in four trips to Moscow and he has a 5-1 record over Tursunov. If you have Andreev, use him. I used him up in the clay court season.

I’m expecting Andreev to pick off Tursunov so I’m picking Mathieu for the bottom half of the draw

Picks

My picks this week are Warinka, Melzer, Stepanek, Johansson, Soderling, Ancic, Davydenko, and Mathieu.

Happy fantasies!

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 166 user reviews.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is injured again and thus we enter into a discussion on biomechanics.

This summer I read an article about baseball pitcher ”Tiny” Tim Lincecum, a stringbean body who regularly throws a baseball at 98 mph (158kph) for the San Francisco Giants. Teams were reluctant to draft him because they were afraid his body would break down. If he threw that hard with such a skinny body, they asked themselves, how could he possibly survive the long baseball season without breaking down?

His body hasn’t broken down and the article asks the obvious question: Why is it that Lincecum is thriving and injury-free while 6’5” (196cm), 225lb (102kg) Chicago Cub pitcher Mark Prior cannot stay out of the doctor’s office?

The answer is body mechanics and I thought about Lincecum when I noticed that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from a match in Tokyo today after winning the first set against Viktor Troicki. Jo-Willie strained an abdominal muscle and that adds one more injury to his long list of injuries: herniated disc 2005, two right shoulder injuries 2005, back and abdominal injuries 2005 & 2006, knee surgery 2008.

Baseball teams now hire consultants to look at pitching prospects and identify mechanical flaws before they invest millions of dollars in these guys. Junior tennis programs might want to follow suit. If someone breaks down repeatedly, they’re clearly doing something wrong mechanically and it’s much easier to identify and correct earlier rather than later, and, to put it in a crass way, they’d be protecting their investment.

I’m not a biomechanical expert but if you look at the Jo-Willie’s forehand above and compare it with this video of Roger Federer’s forehand, Jo-Willie’s arm does not appear to move as freely as Federer’s.

Think of it like this. If you move your trunk like a block of ice and keep your arm stuck to your side, you’ll hurt your back because the spine is meant to move vertebra by vertebra, not as one piece. That also puts pressure on your knees because they’re being asked to rotate instead of the spinal vertebrae.

If, instead, you move as a spiral with the shoulders, ribcage, and hips rotating and the arm following – a la Federer, you’ll use your body the way it was designed to be used and you’ll hit the ball a whole lot harder because you can generate so much torque. That goes for the serve as well as ground strokes. A service motion is a whole lot like pitching a baseball, it’s all about generating arm speed through body rotation.

The first player that comes to mind when I think of Jo-Willie is Marcos Baghdatis. They both rose to stardom with magical runs to Australian Open finals and they’ve both been injury prone since. Baghdatis just returned to the tour after a ten week layoff for a wrist injury and promptly retired in both tournaments he entered. This week it was Metz where, a newspaper reported, Baghdatis “screamed with pain and fell on to the court” after a serve in his first round match with Ivo Karlovic. Ouch, that doesn’t sound pleasant.

Look at this video of Bagdatis’ forehand, he looks less flexible than either Jo-Willie or Federer. Baghdatis and Jo-Willie are both broad muscular guys, well, doughy might be a better word for Baghdatis but, for sure, he is broad. That doesn’t mean they can’t move, these are two agile tennis players, but it probably does mean they have to work much harder to be flexible than someone like Federer.

Baghdatis is not known to work hard and that’s part of his problem. Jo-Willie is credited with working hard to come back from his injuries, but his time might be better spent changing the mechanics that lead to injuries. And if he wants to increase his flexibility, I could direct him to a good Rolfer. Those guys will pound the crap out of you but you’ll be more stretchy when they’re done, guaranteed.

Yellow Fuzzy Balls

I don’t think you can correct injury producing mechanics by watching a video alone – a tennis instructor with good biomechanical knowledge might be necessary, but you might learn something by going to yellowfuzzyballs.com and looking at their instructional videos. It’s distance learning for tennis and it’s free, kind of. Ads streams across the bottom of the videos while they’re playing.

Those streaming ads might be the future of google advertising if not youtube. Currently I only have to put up with some invasive but innocuous text ads down the side of my gmail page – I’m still trying to figure out how they came up with a text ad for golf in response to an email about a vulva puppet, but I can see where video ads might replace text ads sometime soon and then I’ll have to learn to tune them out too.

Meanwhile, check out yellowfuzzyballs.com, it can’t hurt.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 193 user reviews.