Category Archives: AMS Madrid

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for fannation.com, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between si.com and the hugely popular espn.com. S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

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Join us for the Paris Masters final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 4th, 7:30am Los Angeles/10:30am New York/3:30pm London (remember to set your clock back one hour Saturday night if you live in the U.S.).

Nicolas Kiefer lost his concentration then lost his nerve to lose his first round match in Paris today.

Two weeks ago, Nicolas Kiefer – known as Kiwi to his friends and his website – beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round of the Madrid Masters tournament, 7-5, 6-3. Today he lost to Wawrinka in the first round of the Paris Masters tournament, 7-5, 6-3.

If you’d listened to the Tennis Channel commentators for today’s match, you’d say the difference between this match and the one two weeks ago was the court speed. The Madrid surface was faster than the Paris surface and Wawrinka took advantage of the slower court to draw Kiwi into baseline rallies, most of which Kiwi lost. Maybe, but I’ll get to that later.

Wawrinka did draw Kiwi into baseline rallies and that does suit Wawrinka’s game better than Kiwi’s, but Kiwi played an awful point at a critical time and he never managed to recover.

Kiwi was serving at 5-6 in the first set when he hit a double fault that gave Wawrinka a set point. Kiwi followed that up with a lazy backhand into the net and that was that, he’d given away the first set. Serving to stay in a set is always a bit nerve-inducing but in Kiwi’s case, it carried over to the second set.

Kiwi had camped out at the net in the first set and even threw in a few serve and volleys. Wawrinka wasn’t far behind. He voluntarily got himself to the net at every opportunity. For a minute there I thought I’d entered the Twilight Zone and jumped back twenty years to a time when tennis players actually liked going to the net. It didn’t help that Wawrinka’s shirt was exactly the same shade of blue as the court. The shirt had a white stripe down the back of it so Wawrinka looked like a blurry blue skunk running back and forth to the net.

Kiwi, however, stopped going to the net in the second set. Wawrinka was already flying high and now he could see that Kiwi was playing into his hands by staying on the baseline, so he took over the the second set to go up a break and get to 4-1.

Kiwi got one break point with Wawrinka serving for the second set but it was too little too late.

Kiwi’s had a curious career. He spent a good nine months in the top ten in 1999 and 2000 then he dropped down the rankings. He was on the verge of climbing back into the top ten in May 2006 when he was forced to take a year off for a wrist injury. Has any other player dropped out of the top ten then dropped back in again six years later? If you can think of one, leave a comment below.

Kiwi hasn’t made his way back to the top ten yet but he has had three semifinals and two quarterfinals in his last eight tournaments and one of those semifinals was at Madrid. I wouldn’t think he could get back to the top ten with the young talent out there these days but those are solid results.

Back to court speed. How do you measure court speed? I suppose you could bounce a ball on the court and measure it’s momentum after the bounce. That wouldn’t account for changes in the weather and other environmental considerations and besides, who’s going to do that every year?

The faster the court, the easier it is to hold serve because the serve will travel faster. That means there should be more games played per set. By that measure, is Paris faster than Madrid?

If you look at this table on tennisform.com, you’ll see the number of games played per set averaged over the past ten years. Over that period of time, Paris is clearly faster than Madrid.

If you go to tennisinsight.com’s tournaments page and look up the court speed for this year’s tournament in Madrid and this year’s tournament in Paris, Paris is slower than Madrid. However, the measurement for Paris only accounts for the matches played in the first two days of the tournament and there were only two matches on Sunday so those results are incomplete.

Paris could be slowing down but we won’t really know until much later in the week. In any case, it’s unlikely that it is significantly slower than Madrid and we’re left with this conclusion: Kiwi lost a crucial point then lost his bearings. He stopped doing what had been working for him – going to the net – and played right into Wawrinka’s strength – baseline play.

It’s not the same as giving someone a set point with a double fault but it’s not all that different either.


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David Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic one day after beating a tired Rafael Nadal. Was Djokovic tired too?

Yesterday David Nalbandian trounced Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters Series event, 6-1, 6-2. I don’t think Nalbandian would have won that match if Nadal had been at full strength. Nadal was clearly reeling from his tough match against Andy Murray and his knees were suffering from playing on the gritty indoor hard court.

Today Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-6(4). Was Nalbandian lucky again?

If Djokovic did enough things wrong, then Nalbandian was lucky. If Nalbandian did enough things right, then Nalbandian was playing like his old self. The player that used to be the number three player in the world before Djokovic took over the spot.

What did Djokovic do wrong and Nalbandian do right?

Djokovic’s Problems

1. Too much tennis. This is Djokovic’s ninth match in two weeks and a third of those were three set matches. He had trouble getting his feet underneath him. He stumbled a few times and had trouble with his footwork on return of serve.

2. Double faults. Djokovic hit two doubles faults in his first service game and five double faults for the match. His last double fault gave Nalbandian a match point. As Djokovic put it: “It happens, sometimes you play bad.”

3. Unforced errors. As far as I could tell, Djokovic had zero winners from his backhand side. That’s rare. He hit 34 unforced errors in two sets. That’s a lot.

4. Rhythm problems. In his second service game, Djokovic twice hit errors by trying to end the point too soon and lost his serve. Serving at 2-2 in the second set, he hit two drop shots on one point and added another on a later point. He lost both points. He couldn’t figure out when to attack and when to change pace.

Nalbandian’s Positives

1. Attacks. Nalbandian played excellent attacking tennis. He attacked off return of serve and he hit the corners with his ground strokes. He attacked Djokovic’s second serve and he attacked the net. What else is there to attack?

2. Big points. Nalbandian played the big points well. He saved the two break points he faced. In the second set tiebreaker he hit two service winners, a backhand winner, and an excellent return off a tough serve down the middle.

3. Good serves. He served himself out of trouble when he had to.

So which is it? Nalbandian did meet Djokovic on a day when he played badly but Djokovic could have won this match. He pulled even in the second set but Nalbandian kept attacking and played lights out in the tiebreaker.

Nalbandian was lucky. But other players have met Djokovic on one of his bad days this year and they seldom came away with a straight set win.

Nalbandian will play Roger Federer in the final tomorrow. There’s no way in hell Nalbandian wins that one. Is there?


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Rafael Nadal lost a lopsided match to David Nalbandian today but he could lose much more.

People at the Madrid Masters Series event saw Rafael Nadal noticeably limping after his win over Andy Murray yesterday. If you knew that, you would have been surprised but not shocked with the score of Rafa’s loss to David Nalbandian today: 6-1, 6-2.

When was the last time Rafa lost a match that badly? In October 2002, he lost to Albert Portas in a Barcelona challenger, 6-2, 6-1. Rafa was 16 years old at the time.

The match with Murray was brutal for both players. I’ve seldom seen two such exceptional defensive players go at it so hard on such a fast surface. It looked like a compact version of an interminable clay court match. The kind of match you’d get if you kept all the good points and threw away everything else.

This is Rafa’s first event since the U.S. Open and only his fourth hard court event since the spring clay court season ended. His knees were already hurting by the time Wimbledon rolled around and he broke down in Cincinnati altogether. He arrived at the Open with bum knees.

And now, the day after a very tough match, he can barely play. If it keeps going like this, and it certainly could, he’ll end up focusing on the clay court season and Wimbledon and live with that.

Nalbandian wasn’t just twiddling his thumbs on the other side of the net. He took the ball early and he flattened out his strokes to take time away from Rafa. Still, you couldn’t see Rafa limping on court but you could see he was in trouble.

In Rafa’s second service game, Nalbandian hit a ball behind him but Rafa couldn’t stop and change his direction well enough to get to it. Stopping and starting on these gritty indoor surfaces is very hard on knees. Serving at 1-5 in the first set, Rafa twice went for winners much earlier in the point that he normally would. Both times he hit errors and the second one gave Nalbandian a set point which he converted.

Nalbandian got five breaks of serve in the match. Rafa didn’t even get a break point. That’s how bad it was.

This must have been very tough for Rafa to swallow but it could be worse than just a lopsided loss. If Novak Djokovic keeps rolling, he could pass Rafa for the number two spot in the year end rankings. Djokovic has already qualified for Shanghai so he would be smart to skip Paris and I don’t see him listed as entering any tournaments next week.

Rafa might not lose his number two ranking to Djokovic this year but it doesn’t look good from here on out. And that is very sad because Rafa had the skills and the will to overtake Federer. As Rafa sat in his chair towards the end of the match, he looked sad himself.


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I wanted to write about the Andy MurrayRafael Nadal match but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow because there was too much good tennis for me to do it justice tonight. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a funny video about a grunter, a new poll to figure out who’ll get the last spot in the year end championships, and a short bit about Federer and trading on betting exchanges.

Federer Beatdown

By the time I’d arrived in Indian Wells in March, Roger Federer had already lost his first match to Guillermo Canas. I was just plain annoyed but many people were shocked.

We understood it psychologically. Canas was convinced that he’d been suspended unfairly for being mistakenly given a banned substance by a tour-approved doctor. If you can’t trust a tournament doctor, who the hell can you trust? And what better way to express his frustration than knocking off the number one player.

As luck would have it, Canas got Federer again at the next tournament in Miami and beat him once again. Something appeared to be wrong with Federer in the first match but Canas outplayed him in the second. Federer was up a break in the third set and had two chances to go up another break but still lost the match.

This brings up an interesting question. Let’s say Federer was injured at Indian Wells, sprained ankle, blisters, whatever. On the one hand you don’t want to reveal your injury else your opponent will smell blood. On the other hand, if your opponent beats you and thinks he’s beaten you straight up, that could give him a huge psychological advantage and that advantage may have carried Canas through the match in Miami.

In case there was any doubt about the matter, Federer reminded us today that Canas is not someone he worries about. It took him only 21 minutes to bagel Canas in the first set. That was a statement.

Federer was all over Canas from the get go. Federer won 80% of the points on Canas’ second serve and he won 25 more points than Canas in the match. That’s a huge margin in a two set match. The final score was 6-0, 6-3.

Traders and Punters

I realized this week that users on betting exchanges are sometimes traders, not betters. (Betters in England are called punters.)

A betting exchange is an open market – like a stock market – and the commodities being traded are odds. In this case, odds that a tennis player will win a match or a horse will win a race or a soccer team will win a game.

Tennis punters bet on a player at particular odds. They research a player and figure out the likelihood that the player will win the match. Traders bet on the pattern of the odds. They study price patterns and figure out the likelihood that the odds will go up or down.

It’s like betting on the direction of the Dow Jones Index instead of buying or selling a stock.

Lots of trades in stock markets are made by software programs not humans. According to this report by Aite Group, about one third of U.S. trades in 2006 were made by computer software.

Given that, I wondered if there were software programs for trading on the tennis market on a betting exchange. And if there were programs, could they have contributed to some of the irregular betting patterns we’ve seen. Computers can trade a whole lot faster than humans and it’s possible a piece of software went wonky and started spewing out repeated $30, 000 bets.

I spoke to a Betfair user and he told me that some traders use software to make their trades but it’s not likely that they produced irregular results. After all, I now realize, an irregular betting pattern isn’t a random betting pattern.

If you were fixing a match or had inside information, these irregular patterns would look very regular to you. They’d be exactly what you expected.

One last comment about gambling. Betfair pays out bets on any match that completes the first set. Wouldn’t it make sense to pay out on a match only if the match was completed by both players? It wouldn’t stop match fixing or trading on insider information, but it would help if there was insider information about an injury that led to a retirement.

This, by the way, is a plausible explanation for the Nikolay Davydenko/Martin Vassallo-Arguello match that started our recent fascination with gambling in tennis.


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