Category Archives: Andre Agassi

Installment two of notable tennis events in the year 2007.

Round Robins and Monkey’s Balls

The subject of round robin tournaments churned up a lot of strong feelings among tennis fans. I love round robins and I posted an online petition to drum up support. I didn’t get much. In fact one guy was so annoyed that he told me I should do something unsavory with monkey’s balls. I declined but I understand why everyone was so upset. People like tidiness, they don’t like chaos. Look at this for instance, it describes the possible ways that Jan Hernych could have advanced to the quarterfinals at the ATP Las Vegas event which was a round robin tournament:

Hernych will advance to the quarters by winning a set OR by winning eight or more games in a loss UNLESS one set loss goes to seven game, in which case he advances by winning nine games or more in a loss.

You weren’t the only one who couldn’t follow that. Juan Martin Del Potro retired during his match with James Blake and thereby robbed Blake of the chance to advance to the quarterfinals because he had fewer completed matches. Etienne de Villiers, president of the ATP, ignored the rule and advanced Blake anyway though he came to his senses the next day and advanced the proper player.

Here’s the thing. De Villiers doesn’t have the power to shorten the calendar – see below – so the round robin format is a good idea for small tournaments because everyone plays at least two matches. That’s a good thing because fans can count on seeing the top players at least twice.

And tennis fans should get over it. Tennis could use some unpredictability and complexity when it comes to tournament structure. Thousands of people in the U.S. spend days filling out tournament brackets when the NCAA basketball championship rolls round. Tennis fans should be able to figure out a round robin draw with a little practice.

Match of the Year

Most people are picking the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal or the WTA Championships final between Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova as the best match of the year. But my favorite was the knock down, drag out drama between Andy Murray and Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. Already down a set, Murray stumbled and injured his ankle and bruised his side but still managed to win the match on one good ankle, a mixture of moonballs, drops shots, and slice forehands and a ton or heart.

Surly Serena

Serena Williams falls into the same category – players with heart. She strained her calf and bruised her thumb in her third round match at Wimbledon against Daniela Hantuchova. After Hantuchova tried to take advantage of her with a drop shot, Serena got mad and pushed herself to victory. That’s a good thing because Serena is a bad loser. After she lost to Justine Henin in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, she was most ungracious. She blamed the loss on her errors and Henin’s lucky shots instead of giving Henin the credit she deserved. No wonder you can find a video on youtube showing Serena mouthing the word “bitch” during her match with Henin.

Benni Becker’s Rookie Year

I got all excited about Benjamin Becker after he ended Andre Agassi’s career at the 2006 U.S. Open. Especially as I had been following his career and he is one of the few ATP players who grant my interview requests. He had a few semifinal finishes at the beginning of the year but then he dropped like a stone. His only highlight was a 129mph(208kph) serve to Marc Gicquel‘s private parts. I’d never seen that in a tennis match before. Benni’s got game. Here’s hoping he rises back up the rankings in 2008.

The Shorter Calendar Is Not Shorter

The ATP put a lot of work into shortening the tour calendar so that more top players would turn up at top events. It was also supposed to help reduce the number of injuries. It failed on both accounts. The ATP tried to take away Monte Carlo’s status as a Masters level event and failed. Monte Carlo organizers took the ATP to court and the two parties reached a settlement. Monte Carlo is still a Masters level event but it is not required. The ATP did succeed in reducing Hamburg’s status but then added a hard court Masters event in Shanghai. The upshoot is that there are still nine Masters events but one less on clay. Therefore, the calendar is no shorter and injuries are more likely because bodies take a bigger pounding on hard courts than on clay.

One last thing. The ATP also extended many tournaments to eight days so they could cover two weekends and increase attendance. Many tournaments will now start on Sunday and end on Sunday. The calendar is not shorter and the tournaments are longer. Exactly how does this help players?

Arlen Sticks Up for Federer

This is actually a news event from today but I want to put it in here anyway. Arlen Kantarian, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated wondering just what Roger Federer has to do to win Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award. This year it went to Brett Favre instead. Good job Arlen, we ask the same question here every year.

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Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet are very close to growing up.

David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal raced into the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Cup with straight set victories in Shanghai today. Nadal was the third person in this event to beat up on Novak Djokovic winning by the score 6-4, 6-4.

Okay, Rafa didn’t beat up on Djoko but Djoko hasn’t looked the same since he had wisdom tooth removed just before the Paris Masters event. I thought he should have gotten a $20, 000 fine for not trying hard enough in Paris. Why not I reasoned? If the ATP thinks they know when someone isn’t trying hard enough, slap the fine on everyone.

I was being facetious of course and even the ATP has come to its senses and rescinded the $20, 000 they fined Nikolay Davydenko for “not trying hard enough.”

Djoko still hasn’t recovered and either something’s wrong with him or he’s just plain pooped after two slam semifinals and a final and two Masters Series titles in a breakout year. Either way, it dampened my enthusiasm for Richard Gasquet’s opening match victory over Djoko since everyone has beaten Djoko this weak. Gasquet has subsequently lost both of his matches and today’s loss was a beatdown. He lost to Rafa 6-1, 6-1.

I was over the moon for Gasquet when he got into the final eight. Either I’m very optimistic or, more likely, very demanding because once a young player makes a breakthrough, I want him to shoot for the moon and make it. One win isn’t bad I suppose but I wanted more.

Thinking about Gasquet took me back to a 2004 article about Roger Federer in Sports Illustrated written by S.L. Price. Federer was a drama queen when he was a junior player. He’d scream at himself and throw his racket across the court when things weren’t going well. His father tried to curb his behavior by yelling at him from the stands. Federer yelled back at him.

Federer cried if he lost a match. If you watch the Bjorn Borg documentary that’s in heavy rotation on the Tennis Channel, you’ll see tears in the teenager’s eyes after losing. Borg wasn’t a drama queen but you never doubted his, or Federer’s, desire.

I don’t know if I doubt Gasquet’s desire. I just don’t see it. It’s in his game. I’d have to think hard to name another player who goes for such big shots from anywhere on the court. And though screaming and yelling are not the only expressions of deep desire, you can usually see it somewhere if you look hard enough.

I don’t remember Andre Agassi screaming and yelling but he certainly acted out. It wasn’t just the bleached hair, earrings, and ‘do rag. He was clearly trying to fit his personality into his game. He was another player who had trouble making the transition from child prodigy to self-motivated professional tennis player.

Agassi finally had to take a break from the tour and hang out in a therapist’s office before he could work out his issues. Gasquet comes from a similar place: tennis coach parents, cover of a French tennis magazine when he was nine years old, the hope of French tennis.

Andy Murray I have no doubts about. He wants it. He’s still in his immature, yelling at himself phase – the phase most players grow out of when they get to the main tour – but you can hear the desire in his yellling.

One more sign of his immaturity: he can’t keep a coach. He doesn’t agree with the coach. He knows better. Today he fired Brad Gilbert, his garrulous supercoach of the past year and a half.

Maybe Murray will be like Federer. He knows the game of tennis well enough, and his own game in particular, and doesn’t need a coach. Strategically that might be true but physically he still needs to improve and how could you not benefit from the best coach in the game even if he is a motormouth?

I think Murray will be in the final eight at the end of next year but you never know what it’ll take to push someone to his full potential.

That article about Federer describes a huge turning point in his life. His juniors coach and mentor, Peter Carter, died in a car accident when Federer was 20 years old. It marked his passage from adolescence to manhood. Federer had been a highly skilled but erratic player and now he became a mentally tough player.

The next coach Murray gets, if he gets one, will be paid out of Murray’s pocket. Until Murray fired him, Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was paying $1.5 million a year for Gilbert’s services. Maybe that’s the way Murray wants it to be. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity.

For sure it marks Murray’s passage from LTA foster child to self-supporting tennis professional and that’s a good thing.

As for Gasquet, I’ll keep looking and see what I find.


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