Category Archives: AMS Hamburg

I was watching Allen Iverson drop 51 points on the Los Angeles Lakers last week and I wondered what Iverson could have done as a player if he’d been more willing to play a team game. When Iverson played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the team switched its practices to the afternoon because Iverson slept in late. Not that it helped much.

When his coach at the time, Larry Brown, criticized him for missing practices, Iverson went on a two and a half minute rant about the insignificance of practice in which he mentioned the word practice 19 times in some variation of the following sentence:

We talking about practice, man. How silly is that?

The best NBA player in history was Michael Jordan and he was the first NBA player who was promoted as a global individual star. The players around Jordan were role players, Jordan most certainly was not.

Bill Russell was the second best player in NBA history in my book. He won nine championships as a player and two more as a player-coach. But he was a role player, believe it or not. He rebounded and played defense.

There was no free agency in Russell’s time, the players did whatever management told them to do and the league marketed teams rather than players. Today it’s the opposite: players dictate team moves, individual stars are marketed globally, and it’s the stars who determine what time practice starts.

Is tennis developing the same star syndrome? Tennis is obviously an individual sport but are its young stars dictating their own careers to their detriment?

I’m thinking, in particular, of Andy Murray. He recently fired his coach Brad Gilbert and announced that he has assembled a team of advisors instead of hiring a new coach. Murray is essentially decentralizing the power a coach would have and placing himself in charge:

I wanted to take the opportunity to be in control of what I was doing. I feel much more relaxed about my tennis now, as I feel like I’m in charge of the decisions. The responsibility is on me to sort things out, and that’s the way I wanted it to be.

Is this a good thing? Can Murray continue to improve if his coach has little effective power?

Roger Federer manages without a coach just fine but he is the very, very rare exception and he had already won slams by the time he jettisoned his first coach, Peter Lundgren, and hired Tony Roche to work with him part-time.

Murray is 20 years old and somewhat immature. His tennis isn’t immature, his mind is. He rants and raves at himself and generally gets in his own way. Twice this year he bageled an opponent but lost the match. I’d wonder what goes through his mind but I don’t have to, he spits it out for everyone to hear.

Gilbert’s method of dealing with Murray’s raving was to tell Murray to direct it at him. Part of what the British Lawn Tennis Association got when it was paying Gilbert $1 million was a conduit for Murray’s frustration. As Murray walked off the court after injuring his wrist in Hamburg, you could hear him swearing at Gilbert.

Murray is a pretty smart tennis player and he might make this work. But my guess is that he could use stronger direction than he’s going to get on two fronts. First, he needs strong direction to prod him into maturing mentally. Second, he not only needs to improve his conditioning to play longer matches better but to avoid injuries.

I’ve gotten to the point that I roll my eyes when he tweaks yet another body part on the court but manages to win the match anyway.

What do you think? Is Murray ready to be the master of his own ship at 20 years old?

Player of the Year

Okay, nominations are in. Please go to the poll on the right side of the page and vote away for the first Teddy awards category.

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Madrid will replace Hamburg, Shanghai will replace Madrid, and Monte Carlo will be left out.

I assume everyone here knows the game musical chairs. If not, just think of it like this: someone starts up the music and a bunch of people walk around a collection of chairs. As soon as the music stops, everyone has to find a chair to sit on. Problem is, there’s one less chair than there are people so someone ends up on the floor.

In the musical chairs game that comprises the 2009 ATP schedule, Monte Carlo found a chair but could still end up on their butt.

When the ATP settled its suit with Monte Carlo last week, they allowed it to keep its Masters Series designation – Masters 1000 as it will be called – but removed it as a required tournament.

Madrid will move from the fall indoor season to the spring clay court season. This is important because the sneak-peek 2009 calendar I’ve seen puts Madrid into Hamburg’s slot and since Monte Carlo is no longer a required event, people like Roger Federer will probably play Rome, skip a week then play Madrid, then rest one week before playing Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal usually plays Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome before resting up for Roland Garros. This year he played Hamburg too and lost because he was tired. Nadal will surely play Barcelona and Madrid as he is a Spanish player and that means he will likely skip Monte Carlo because that will be one tournament too many.

A lot of other Spanish players will do the same thing and clearly the hard court players won’t waste their time in Monte Carlo if they don’t have too. No one cares about the hard court players but the Kings of Clay come from Spain so Monte Carlo will be left with a bunch of second tier players trying to make Masters Series money.

By they way, completing our game of musical chairs, Shanghai will get a new Masters 1000 event and take over for Madrid. That means we now have eight required Masters 1000 events instead of nine and that was the point.

Here they are: Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris.


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Federer Resuscitates Himself, Just In Time

In film school they used to yak at us about the mythical structures that occur in films and novels. The story of the Hero is a primal one: he rises, he doubts, he sputters, pitfalls occur, he may lose faith and purpose, he may part with the trusted souls who have helped him to this point. Then he reemerges, reinvents himself and is reborn. I thought of all this ancient stuff when I saw Roger Federer really take it to Rafael Nadal on this Sunday past in Hamburg. He even baked the lad a bagel in the final set. I thought for sure I had woken up not only on the wrong side of the bed but on the wrong planet.

If any athlete approaches the heroic ideal these days, it would have to be Roger Federer. I might be inclined to add Tiger Woods to that, but golf for me is not a sport requiring the same athletic skills as tennis. It is still rather mind-boggling to contemplate what happened on Sunday, especially given how strong Nadal looked in roaring through the first set, 6-2. I had hoped Federer would carry with him the imprint of how he had played in the second part of his semifinal match against Carlos Moya. He finally got his serve going, his forehand started to motor, and the level of aggression in his game had picked up. If he comes out doing that against Nadal, I thought, he may have a chance. Well, a chance to get a set off him at least. That was the best the Number One could hope for.

Instead he came out and looked rather flat in the opening set against Nadal. None of those aforementioned shots were working in his game. Nothing had been really working in Federer’s game for a while. The week before in Rome he lost a dismal match to a player far down in the rankings. Before that Guillermo Canas had rung his bell twice on Roger’s favorite hard court surface. The locker room was suddenly awash in newly-confident guys who now thought they all had a shot against the world’s number one. It seemed that the only thing Roger hadn’t misplaced was his coach. He got fired him instead.

That dismissal probably roiled Federer up good inside. Who knows, with his clay court season plans fast disappearing up in smoke, he may have even wondered why he was playing Hamburg at all. Now he was faced with the prospect of a long afternoon, having just dropped the first set to Nadal and giving no signs he was going to recover from the drubbing.

How did he turn it around? My co-writer Nina Rota put it this way…..”Who else coulda hung in there emotionally well enough to let his game emerge like that…he must have a deep reservoir of self-awareness and confidence.” She adds, “When Federer does something like this I wish I was a much better writer because he is transcendent and exceptional in a way that I’m not sure I have the language for.” We are still inventing that language, Nina, hang in there!

Theories are circulating as to why Federer started playing better in Hamburg. One suggests that Federer’s separation from Roche triggered a kind of emotional release. He wanted to separate from his coach for a while and was uncertain how to go about doing that. The men were friends, after all, and it sounded to me like Roger was feeling a bit guilty about wanting to make a change. But he knew the change needed to be made, the question was when.

Filippo Volandri provided the impetus in his drubbing of Roger in Rome. Federer had to act immediately. The Roche Coach rolled away. Suddenly, it seemed someone had flung open a window for Federer. In his earlier matches his play, while not exactly sparkling, showed renewed signs of life. The feet were moving happily, his game slowly started coming together. He played his way out of his emotional morass on Sunday. Who knows, maybe Federer ended up playing exactly the way Rochie would have wanted him to play. Does this reflect discredit upon Roche? Not necessarily. Tony may be smiling to himself somewhere Down Under.

There should really be no secrets as to how players can go after Nadal. Good steady serving, at least one of your ground weapons working well and a decent dollop of aggression can get the job down. Nadal was probably quite sincere when he said after the match that, given his druthers if he had to lose, he would rather lose to the world’s number one. How bad would it be to pick up the papers and read how Nadal’s fabulous 81-match winning streak on clay came to an abrupt end because of – Lleyton Hewitt??? As the teenyboppers say, “EEeewwww!”

But it was probably the Hewitt match that took enough of the stuffing out of Nadal so Roger could maneuver his way in. Nadal did not look especially strong in his earlier matches and he came as close this week to looking a bit fatigued as we have ever seen him. Still, he showed up to play and he had no excuses, especially when he was so totally outplayed in the last two sets. When was the last time anyone bageled Nadal? On clay? I don’t think such a rarity has ever happened. Federer managed one in the first set at Wimbledon last year, but that was on grass. There’s always a first time we suppose.

Does this victory entirely restore Federer? Was he ever really that far off track? For the most part it does restore him, but the French will involve a five-set final if Federer makes it that far. Certainly a much bolder test. But bring it on, we can’t wait. And how about a really strange scenario: Roger wins the French, but Rafa takes Wimbledon?

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Another screwy week in tennis, but tasty tidbits abound.

It’s up to the northern climes this week on the ATP Tour, we’ve abandoned the sunshine of Rome for the dour look of Hamburg. And dour it is. We know we’re in Germany because the weather is off and on, the people look cold and bundled, and the men are all running around in jeans. Some of them actually look good enough to be seen in jeans. Gone are the colorful styles and warmth and crazy crowds that inhabit Rome. Sniff sniff.

Yesterday saw one interesting upset in Hamburg, Chela took out Canas in three strangely scored sets, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. My co-writer Nina and I joke about looking at the weekly draws and finding out where Canas is placed so he can bother Roger. He’s located on the far side of the draw from Federer, so they would not have chanced to meet unless it were the final. Contrary to earlier rumors, Federer and Nadal are both here, and so far give no sign of bailing out.

By now everyone on the planet of tennis, if not indeed THE planet itself, knows that Roger Federer is coachless. Tony Roche got the sack over the weekend, although the official word was that the parting was amicable on both sides. Well, ok, take that one with a good dollop of salt. Roger needed to do something different and new, I just didn’t think he would take this step quite so soon. Hell, for all we know the roller coaster ride is just beginning. Before he’s done he’ll probably dump Mirka, dye his hair blond (again), and convert to Islam. “That’s tennis, ” Roger would say.

The AP reports him saying, “I‘m definitely not going to take a coach for the French Open and Wimbledon because I know what it takes and I don‘t want anybody interfering with my preparation and with my tournaments.”

Touchy touchy! Keep your arms away from the cage, please, the lion is restless right now.

“Maybe down the road I’m going to look again for someone who’s going to be able to help me out for practicing.”

Practicing, he calls it. Biff bam socko! I kind of like his man-against-the-wilderness attitude. After all he was coachless for quite a long spell, he can do it again until he lands the proper man. It will be fascinating to see who he picks, and why.

Roger’s situation was one of the many interesting tidbits to emerge out of the week in Rome. Here are a few of the others….

  • Good Boys, Bad Boys: Gasquet, Berdych, Djokovic and Gonzalez started off in Rome looking good in their early matches. Then Gasquet and Berdych ran into Volandri and the upstart had his way with both of them, with a tasty slice of Fed beef in between. What’s with the young lions that they play well on a Monday and then just vanish in their next round? Djokovic and Gonzalez had a great week in Rome also, yet both must feel rather letdown that their games didn’t have enough left for Nadal. They failed to make what they would probably consider a decent showing against the world’s number two.
  • The second best thing I will take out of the Rome event was the intelligent play of Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals against Rafael Nadal. That match should have been the final. Who would have thunk it that Nadal could be pushed around by Davydenko and his uncanny ability to hit the ball so early? What a great tactic against the Spaniard! Everyone thinks in terms of hitting big forehands out wide to him, or even just up the middle, and of course serving well on first serves especially. But not enough praise is sung for those early strikers of the ball. Quite a tactic to use on Nadal, and hopefully one that will be tried again. It’s just not enough players seem able to do what Davydenko did. Maybe hitting early is one of those skills you either have naturally or you don’t. You have to see the ball so well so early to play like this. It may be nearly impossible to teach. Most guys (and girls) seem content to let the ball roll into their comfort zone a little more, whereas Nikolay moves out to greet it. Necessity imposes this style upon him: he is neither very tall nor very strong and he has no capacity for thunderous shots. But just by stepping in and lasering a ball he had Nadal scrambling for his life. By far this was the most entertaining match of the week. Good to see the Russian getting back into form, he’s had a tough opener to his year what with injuries and inconsistency.
  • The highlight of the week has to be the play of Filippo Volandri, number 53 in the world, a clay court player of decent strength who put together a fantastic week for himself. He beat Gasquet, Federer and Berdych before going rather quietly at the hands of Fernando Gonzalez. His play was all heart, all crowd-driven. Don’t you love the names those Italian moms give their kids, like Potito and Daniele and Filippo? With a name like Filippo Volandri, no wonder this guy was flying high. He comes with wings! He has a so-so forehand, and an even more so-so serve, but they both were firing away with remarkable pace and consistency. He wailed repeatedly on a lovely one-handed backhand that seemed hit with so much joy and confidence. God, I want to kiss the man, but I suppose I have to wait in line. They should make a bust of him and put it on the grounds of the Foro Italico, to join the other gods. He certainly played like one. In a week where one of the big sporting idols in Italy, cyclist Ivan Basso, was embroiled in further doping headlines, the inspired play of Volandri probably came at just the right time. Good fortune continues to smile on him into this week. He suffered a miserable first set at the hands of Andy Murray today in Hamburg, only to find himself getting the win anyway after Murray tweaked his wrist and had to retire.
  • Most luscious sighting of the week: Ana Ivanovic’s mom watching her equally beautiful daughter win a juicy WTA title in Berlin. On Mother’s Day we like to thank moms for being supportive, for being good cooks and housekeepers and whatnot, but how about thanking them for just looking absolutely HOT! in a cream-colored jacket and top with a lovely matching choker, streaked blonde hair and dark shades.
  • Even in Rome, she would have stood out like a sore thumb. Happy Mother’s Day!

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If Nadal takes the week off, look for the latest Federer-Canas meeting in the final at Hamburg.

We have a new game in tennis: find the player in the draw who’ll beat Roger Federer this week. If Filippo Volandri – a wild card – can beat him in Rome, anyone can. Federer was obviously none too happy about that loss because he fired his coach Tony Roche this weekend.

Federer hired Roche to put more attack and volley in his game but it seems to have knocked Federer out of his rhythm. It could be that focusing so intently on improving his clay court skills and winning the French Open has thrown the rest of his game off. Let’s see if going solo returns some semblance of normalcy to Federer’s game this week.

Federer’s Half of the Draw

Robin Soderling should be Federer’s quarterfinal opponent because Soderling has beaten David Ferrer all four times they’ve met and he’s better than Ivan Ljubicic on clay.

I expect Novak Djokovic to find a reason not to play Hamburg even though it’s a required event because he’s looking pretty tired. That’s what happens when you’re tied with Rafael Nadal for the most wins this season: you get worn out. Even if Djokovic did play, he’d meet Mikhail Youzhny in the third round and Youzhny has beaten him twice this year. Youzhny has also beaten Tomas Berdych three times this year and that should get him a semifinal match against Federer.

I’ve ignored James Blake because Berdych should be able to beat him on clay.

Nadal’s Half of the Draw

I think Nadal will find a reason to drop out too. That dizzy spell and hospital visit in Rome set up the perfect excuse for Nadal to claim a health problem. I could be wrong – and if I am, I’m sure you’ll let me know about it – but I’m proceeding as if Nadal is not here.

Guillermo Canas beat Nikolay Davydenko in Barcelona. That was before Davydenko found his game and played a superb match against Nadal in Rome, but Canas is also 3-1 lifetime over Davydenko so I’m going with Canas. Canas is also 3-1 over Tommy Robredo and has beaten him this year.

I don’t know who’ll win if Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet meet in the third round, they’ve never played before. Gasquet is a better clay court player but Gonzales has found his game again and reached the final in Rome. It might not matter, though, because Canas beat Gonzalez the last time they met in Hamburg and Canas also beat Gasquet in their only meeting. Jeez, Canas has a winning record over everyone, including Mr. Federer.

By my calculations, that gives us a Federer-Canas final and that’s a match I’d love to see. I do not believe that Federer would let Canas beat him for a third time this year.

Hamburg draw

Picks
Quarterfinalists: Federer, Soderling, Youzhny, Berdych, Robredo, Canas, Gasquet, Igor Andreev
Semifinalists: Federer, Youzhny, Canas, Gasquet
Finalists: Federer, Canas
Winner: Federer

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