Category Archives: AMS Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo, Madrid and Musical Chairs

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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Bitch And Sing Dept: Dear Roger,

What gives, guy? Your loyal fans are wondering. Two days later and your rather swift and decisive loss to Nadal in Monte Carlo is still going down hard. Maybe you need less time off in that fancy new penthouse in Dubai before you end up in the doghouse. (Check out the Annie Liebowitz pix here. Of the penthouse, that is).

Watching you is normally such a joy, Roger. One of the great joys of my life, actually, because your matches are so pleasurable to watch. For the most part. Monte Carlo was very annoying. All the things we thought you had taken away from previous encounters with Rafael Nadal seemed to go right out the window. “I feel like this match gave me some information,” you were quoted as saying afterwards. “I’m absolutely in the mix with him on clay. I feel like I’m in good shape for the rest of the clay-court season, and it’s going to come down to the French Open to see who wins.”

Keep whistling, baby. What more information could you possibly digest? You probably dream about it you know it so well. You serve Nadal like gangbusters, you return his serve well, you make major use of your forehand to open up the angles, and then you charge the net like you were born to live there. And you offer signs of some heat like you really want to rip this bouncing baby Spaniard a new one and win the bloody match already. Think semi-finals, Shanghai. What are you, Swiss or Swedish? Sometimes we wonder. But I understand that the reason you didn’t was that you didn’t feel it in your bones, you did not have confidence yourself, so we wouldn’t expect you to show it in your demeanor.

The good news is – and you hinted at this in your presser afterwards – that you were still able to keep it somewhat close even with all the misfiring going on. But guy, where is your learning curve that you were supposedly going to show us this spring on clay? Maybe I should clean my contact lenses once in a while, but I did not see it on Sunday.

After your losses to Canas, you defined your own problem by saying that you had forgotten how to play the big points. That could be said of Monte Carlo as well. In the first set, Nadal held the door open wide for you to break him in the 8th game. But your forehand suddenly committed three bad errors, in one game alone. You had two break points, gifts from on high, but you could not turn them your way, and this cost you the match.

When was the last time we saw your forehand break down to the point where you lose three points in a game? It’s hard to stay pumped up when your numero uno shot takes its leave of you. By this point in the match, you had already run up ten errors on the forehand side alone, compared to only one winner. One of the Tennis Channel guys commented how he felt you were hitting the forehand too flat; it needed more spin. What it probably really needed was a better sense of timing. I heard a lot of shanking sounds for a final match.

At the start of the second set, you saw you were getting your butt kicked and you tried to make some changes. Time to break out that kitchen sink. You rushed the net five times in your opening service game. Too little too late, we say. In the third game your serve really added to your woes and you quickly got down 0-30. At 15-40 you missed another first serve then tried to come in behind the second. Desperation time. Nadal knows where to park that one and it‘s where you‘re not. He had the only break in the second he would need. 6-4, 6-4 was the final score and it probably doesn’t convey how thoroughly Nadal held you in his grip Sunday.

Other parts of your game crashed too. Your backhand let you down a bit. Not like the forehand side. But still. The backhand went for topspin nearly the entire way, a bit of slicing here and there might have helped. Were you afraid it would sit up on the clay, unlike the grass where it stays lower, and you’d get it knocked back down your throat by Nadal? Something to worry about, but this is the kitchen sink time, guy, you have to try it. On the return of serve you couldn’t find the groove either. You talked about this earlier in the week, saying how the return game gave you trouble early in the clay season. It’s a timing thing. It wasn’t that Nadal kept you OUT of the points, guy, it’s that your own game’s deficiencies sunk you on Sunday. Your serve didn’t really let you into the points, nor did the forehand, or your baseline play in general. You will never beat this guy from the back of the court. At least not this court.

But knowing these things, Roger, should you not have been better prepared for them? What happened to that get up and go you felt for the clay season? You supposedly were going to mount a big campaign to do well on the red stuff this year. Maybe you hoped to play your way here into contention, and for a moment there – against Ferrer and Ferrero – you nearly had me convinced you could do it. But that was Ferrer and Ferrero, “F” as in flyweights, not Nadal. You have to come prepared, and I did not sense you were ready. And you have to be, when you are facing an opponent who looked in great form throughout the week.

So back to the drawing board, Roger. It’s clear to us that you have hit the first real snag in your otherwise rather spotless, and fortunate, career. Fortunate because you have paced your body well and suffered no major injuries, and that is important if you want to not only reach the top but stay there a while. But you are having a hiccup. Don’t obsess about it, just do your homework better next time. Put down your fine Gucci threads and take up the hair shirt, my son. I want to see you in better form in Rome.

It worries me though when you say things like this: that you expected to see better results against Nadal in Rome, Hamburg and then (curiously) Monte Carlo NEXT year. Roger, aren’t you forgetting something? Was that a Freudian shank, or what?

The good news though is that Mats Wilander has already said you would win the French this year. As long as Nadal doesn’t make it to the final. So work harder on your game, but line up a hit man. Just in case.

Federer and Nadal: What Rivalry?

Federer looked worse than ever in his loss to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final

After Rafael Nadal took another clay court Masters Medallion by beating Roger Federer in Monte Carlo on Sunday, Vamosrafael posted the following comment:

7-3 lol, what rivalry? When Queen Roger loses tennis wins.

Vamosrafael is right about one thing – there is no rivalry on clay – but wrong about most everything else and homophobic on top of that. I’ve never found lecturing particularly useful so instead of suggesting that we keep phobias out of our tennis discussion, I answered with a question: “Who has the longest hair, Rafael or Roger?” Hopefully he or she will get the point.

What was Vamosrafael wrong about? There may be no rivalry on clay but there is a rivalry on hard court and Federer leads it 3-2. And tennis does not win if Federer loses because no else is faring any better against Nadal on clay. Who else is there?

Guillermo Canas knocked off Federer in consecutive tournaments and he took the title at Costa do Sauipe – a clay court event – earlier this year. Canas is in Barcelona this week along with Nadal but he’s still recovering from a leg injury and he’s 0-2 against Nadal on clay. That’s all we got, we have to look at unknowns because we’ve run out of other possibilities.

Can Federer claw his way back into the clay court season and beat Nadal at Rome, Hamburg or Roland Garros? It’s possible but he looked farther behind on Sunday than he was last year. This was the first time Federer has ever lost the first two sets to Nadal on clay. Tough luck, then, that the ATP eliminated best of five finals for clay Masters events.

Federer has now lost three matches this year and in each one, he failed to rise to the occasion. I didn’t see the Indian Wells match but in Miami, Canas outhustled Federer. Canas’ desire outperformed Federer’s poise. Federer will never be a grinder but on the big points, Canas outplayed him. His opponent rose to the occasion and Federer did not.

Against Nadal on Sunday, he not only failed to convert two early break points but he was unable to adjust to Nadal’s game. Federer’s best shot to beat Nadal is to attack the net at every opportunity. That way he can rush Nadal and take away some of his speed and it’s the one area on clay where Federer is better than Nadal.

But you can’t get to the net if you don’t hit a hard, deep ground stroke because Nadal will pass you quicker than you can say vamos. The pressure of needing a better shot against Nadal led to a lot of forehand errors by Federer. And you might think the serve has nothing to do with Nadal either – Federer also served poorly – but even there an adjustment is necessary. Look at this comment by Federer after the match:

Well, he’s a left-handed player, so you serve differently…You have to play different against Rafa than when you play against Ferrer or Ferrero. I play 95% against right-handed, so when I play left-handed it’s obviously a bit different.

Worst of all, he looked a bit hangdog out there in the second set. Our intrepid reader Maria was not happy about it:

As the match went by I couldn’t stand Federer’s body language and face expression, what was going on in his mind? The number one can lose but not in that way, without fight and ambition.

True enough, Maria. Let’s see if he can find his nerve before Rome rolls around

See also:
What Is Wrong With Baghdatis, Safin, Gonzo Et Al.
Bitch and Sing Dept: Monte Carlo
2007 Monte Carlo Preview and Picks

What is wrong with Baghdatis, Safin, Gonzo, et al.

A number of top players have miserable results this year. What’s the problem?

I considered going on at length here about the killings at Virginia Tech. I was shocked and scared. Had any of my 18 nieces and nephews, 47 great-nieces and nephews, or 22 grand-nieces and nephews wandered near Blacksburg? Most of them live in southeast Virginia.

Would the U.S. finally ban private ownership of handguns? Would that make any difference? There are a number of very complex issues to work out; least of all unraveling an American psyche that leads to frequent incidents of people killing everyone in sight because they happen to be angry.

It’s just too much to talk about at the moment so while we all try to work it out, I find myself doing the same thing I did after 9/11: reading each and every biography of the fallen and moving on to the sports pages soon thereafter.

This week we have a Masters Series tournament so I can watch matches all day long. It’s one of the few weeks we can see most of the top players in one place and I have to say, a number of them are looking decidedly raggedy and out of sorts.

After losing the final in Marseille earlier this year, Marcos Baghdatis flew all the way to Dubai then on to Indian Wells and finally ended up in Miami. A lot of good it did him; he lost in the first round at each tournament.

He did stop off in Cyprus to lead his country past Finland in Davis Cup but this week he lost his first match again. It hasn’t been a terrible year for Bagdatis – he won a title in Zagreb and he doesn’t have many points to defend between now and the grass court season since he’s a middling clay court player – but there is a disturbing pattern emerging.

Baghdatis plays by emotion and feel rather than analysis and that’s a problem because there will be times – and lately there’ve been a number of them – when his game is off and then what does he do? It’s like a baseball pitcher who doesn’t have his good stuff but still finds a way to win by outsmarting hitters. Baghdatis doesn’t have another way to win.

Take his match here with Max Mirnyi. Mirnyi came to the net all day long and Baghdatis didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t get to the net first to take it away from Mirnyi and he didn’t lob to keep Mirnyi back. Basic tennis strategy. Mirnyi hadn’t won a singles match since the Australian Open and he’s hardly a clay court maven and yet he beat Baghdatis in straight sets.

We used to call David Nalbandian Mr. Semifinals for a reason but he hasn’t won more than three matches in a tournament this entire year. And he retired during his third round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber with a back injury. He’s not moving well so either his body is wearing out or his interest is flagging.

Marat Safin got to the semifinals at Las Vegas but that’s a piddly little tournament and other than that he hasn’t done much. Since he returned from a knee injury early last year, he’s reached exactly one final.

It’s not like he doesn’t try. At 8-8 in the second set tiebreaker of his match with Kristof Vliegen, he threw himself at a passing shot and left himself sprawled and twisted in the red dirt with his right arm pinned underneath him. He’d won the first set easily, barely lost the second and got an early break in the third but he still managed to fritter away the match and lose.

The one place he’s excelled is Davis Cup. Russia won the cup on his racket last year and he won the decisive match over France this year to send Russia to the semis. That ATP final he reached was in Moscow and both those Davis Cup ties were in Moscow. Maybe he’s tired of all this ATP stuff and just wants to go home.

Fernando Gonzalez looks disorganized. He hasn’t gone beyond a quarterfinal since his final appearance at the Australian Open and he melts down more often that he plays well.

In the twelve step community – groups such as alcoholics anonymous for instance – people know that a relapse can be a necessary part of recovery. You will fall off the wagon because that’s one way you’ll remember why you gave up that life in the first place.

I’m not suggesting that Gonzalez is a recovering alcoholic but he is a recovering whacker. He used to whack everything as hard as he could before he added subtlety and strategy to his game. He’s going through a relapse at the moment but instead of accepting it as an opportunity to refine the changes he’s already made, he’s getting mad at himself and making inappropriate shots.

Gonzalez lost to Igor Andreev in the second round. I’ve been expecting Andreev to make his way back up the ladder after returning from a knee injury. Players who miss time due to injury get a protected ranking they can use for their first eight main draw events after their return. When Andreev injured his knee he was ranked number 27 and he was number 100 when he returned. He’s now down to 235.

He should have played challengers when he returned instead of jumping right into main draw events. Guillermo Canas tore up the challenger circuit after he completed his suspension for performance enhancing drugs. He, of course, did not get a protected ranking since he wasn’t injured and it may have been better for him. Martin Verkerk has a protected ranking after being off the tour for two and a half years with a shoulder injury. He played terribly in three challengers then jumped into main draw events where he has yet to win a match.

By the way, see what might happen if the women synchronized their schedules with the ATP and played all of the Masters Series events with the men. I’d be watching men and women this week. The ATP and the WTA are adding two combined events: Madrid and Beijing. It would be a good idea to add even more. The top six draws on the calendar are the slams, Indian Wells and Miami – all combined events.

And here’s an item from the Bad Transcription Department. Look at this exchange after Julien Benneteau beat Monte Carlo resident Benjamin Balleret in the first round:

Q. What does Balleret need to do become to Top 100?

JULIEN BENNETEAU: … I saw he was a rooster in Bangkok. He passed around. He plays well. …

I don’t think he meant to call him a rooster. I believe the word was “loser” as in lucky loser. Balleret lost in qualifying in Bangkok but got into the main draw as a lucky loser and beat Alexander Waske. No idea what “He passed around” means. Any clues anyone?