Category Archives: Culture

exalting Roger, Justine de Sade and other thoughts

One of our readers left a comment about Pat Davis’s take onRoger Federer’s strategy at Wimbledon. He decided that Tennis Magazine writer Peter Bodo had the better explanation for Federer’s decision to stay at the baseline during the final: “He wants to outplay Rafa in Rafa’s style, as he outplays everybody else.”

would he really screw around and lose the opportunity for an eighth grand slam and a fourth Wimbledon title by trying demoralize his opponent?

Peter Bodo is a great tennis writer but why do people believe that? As much as Bodo talks about Federer KAD’s (people obsessed with Federer, or any other player for that matter), here Bodo is trying to exalt him by saying that Federer is so great that he can use a grand slam final to make a point instead of just trying to win the damn thing.

You’re telling me that Roger Federer sat down with Tony Roche and said, “I know I can beat him by attacking the net but I’m gonna beat at his own game and play from the baseline, that way he’ll really know who’s the king.”

I’m sure Federer doesn’t care about a forty-eight match streak on grass but would he really screw around and lose the opportunity for an eighth grand slam and a fourth Wimbledon title by trying demoralize his opponent?

maybe Clijsters should be called Justine and Henin-Hardenne should change her name to Juliette

Athletes have been known to do things like that. There were times that Boris Becker insisted on playing baseline tennis when he should have been at the net because he fancied himself an all court player. But Federer isn’t stupidly stubborn.

I’d be much more willing to believe that he was fearful when he refused to attack the net than I’d believe that he was trying to make a point. It was a tactical mistake at Roland Garros and it made him look bad, but it was the right decision at Wimbledon borne of two weeks superlative play staying, mostly, at the baseline.

What do basketball great Bill Walton and Justine Henin-Hardenne have in common? I’ve just finished reading David Halberstam’s excellent book about the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers NBA season, Breaks of the Game. Halberstam talked about the small but distinctive ways that Walton tried to establish his dominance on the team. For example, when Coach Jack Ramsay called the players together after practice, Walton made a point of being the last one to join the huddle:

“Ramsay might be talking to the team about that night’s game plan and Walton would take one last shot after the talk had started. Or perhaps two. Nothing big. But something that was always there.”

Henin-Hardenne also does small annoying things that are designed to assert her dominance. Raising her hand to call time out as Serena Williams served then denying she did it when Williams served a fault in the 2003 French Open semifinal. Having a coughing fit right after Kim Clijsters broke her in the third set of their semifinal match at Wimbledon this year which gave Henin-Hardenne the excuse of going to the sideline so she could slow Clijsters momentum. Clijsters is so guileless that she’s ill-equipped to deal with this kind of behavior, a prime reason Henin-Hardenne has won six of their last eight matches.

Perhaps we should start calling Henin-Hardenne Justine De Sade except that the character Justine in the Marquis De Sade’s book – from whence comes the word sadism – was virtuous but suffered for it. It was Justine’s sister Juliette who behaved badly and yet was rewarded. Okay then, maybe Clijsters should be called Justine and Henin-Hardenne should change her name to Juliette.

Tennis Week reports that the ATP doesn’t plan to make significant changes to the tournament schedule until after the 2008 Olympics, meaning that changes would start in 2009. The ATP chairman, Etienne de Villiers, wants to spread the slams thoughout the year and build the tournament schedule around them. For example, the US Open has a series of tournaments called the US Open Series which lead up to the US Open. It’s a good thing someone is finally listening to us columnists. The Australian Open is currently in the third week of the season and Wimbledon starts three weeks after Roland Garros ends, which is ridiculous. Good luck, though, Monsieur de Villiers. The slams have all the money and the power. Moving them might be like moving a mountain.

De Villiers would also reduce the number of Masters Series tournaments which currently stands at nine. I like Masters Series events. Besides the slams, that’s the only time everyone turns up. Look at this week’s schedule: the Stuttgart tournament is paying over $131,000 to the winner and it doesn’t have one top ten player in the field. I’d be pissed off if I was the tournament director.

For everyone bemoaning the loss of serve and volley, you could have watched unadulterated serve and volley at the Newport semifinal today between Mark Philippoussis and Jurgen Melzer. But therein lies the problem. Newport is an orphan child, the only ATP grass court tournament in the US. The ATP grass court season consists of four wamup tournaments in two weeks followed by Wimbledon with a little spit at the end that few players attend – Newport. So you can lay some of the blame for the demise of serve and volley on the schedule.

If you want to see more of it, not as much as you saw a decade ago because Wimbledon has been methodically slowing the grass and they now use bigger balls – there’s an ad campaign in there somewhere, then put a grass court season into the calendar. Spread the four slams evenly throughout the year and create a series of grass tournaments leading up to Wimbledon.

You won’t get the reincarnation of Stefan Edberg or Pete Sampras but you will get a lot more serve and volley than you presently have. By the way, Justin Gimelstob, surprisingly, beat Andy Murray in the second semifinal at Newport and will meet Philippoussis in the Newport final. They should play golden oldies as the players walk onto the court tomorrow.

One last thing. My estimation of Steffi Graf just jumped a mile. Gary Smith has written one of his typically emotional, overdramatic pieces for Sports Illustated, this time about Andre Agassi’s career. The image of Agassi in the article is a portrait by Graf. It’s a straightforward black and white headshot but it is a naked, haunting image that is unlike any other image you’ve seen of Agassi. She looks deep into his soul.

If have a subscription to Sports Illustrated, you can view the image by going here and clicking on Tennis: Coming into Focus. If not, you’ll have to borrow it from a friend or find it on a newstand. It’s worth it.

Wimbledon 2006; American out of fashion

Maybe it’s becuase I read a New Yorker profile of the designer Balenciaga, he dressed the royalty of Europe during an era when an aristocratic women might require three outfits in a day, but I found myself thinking about fashion instead of tennis while I was watching Shenay Perry play Elena Dementieva in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

We knew that Andy Roddick’s ranking was going down, we knew that Andre Agassi was going to retire, we can assume that Lindsay Davenport is very close to the end, we’re not sure whether Taylor Dent will be able to play again, and who knows anything about Robby Ginepri.

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, especially among the male population, but I didn’t like the baby doll tennis dress trotted out earlier this year by Maria Sharapova. Besides the infantile look, it makes it hard for me to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch. The men’s clothes are way too big – baggy of course – and the women’s are too small. Seriously, a women’s large t-shirt looks like it belongs on stick-thin supermodel of the past, Twiggy. Besides, wouldn’t you want to look intimidating instead of childlike?

Shenay Perry had this part right. She was wearing shorts. Is there another sport where women wear dresses and skirts while they compete? But’s that’s about the only thing she had right. There was another reason I was thinking about fashion. My mind wandered because Perry was playing so awfully bad. She had the right idea, feed Dementieva slices and try to blunt one of the hardest hitters in the game. But she was a bit predictable with the slice and it kept landing short, fodder for the swift moving Dementieva. Dementieva didn’t have her usual high number of double faults but that’s only because the match was so short. Besides, she didn’t have to worry about holding serve, she broke Perry six times and won the match 6-2, 6-0.

Perry explained the loss by saying that she was nervous. After the match she said, “…being the last American, it is a little nerve wracking.” And that is the story. She was the only American to make it to the second week of Wimbledon. We knew that Andy Roddick’s ranking was going down, we knew that Andre Agassi was going to retire, we can assume that Lindsay Davenport is very close to the end, we’re not sure whether Taylor Dent will be able to play again, and who knows anything about Robby Ginepri.

But I don’t think anyone realized that the US wouldn’t have anyone in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1913. That tells you how bad it is.

James Blake should be able to stay in the top ten if he continues to improve. He worries me though. It’s not that he’s 0-9 in five set matches, it’s that he seems to have no idea what to do about it. I know why I lose close matches, all I have to do is take a look at my mind and it becomes pretty evident. Is he so out of touch?

There is a good young player the US can look to. Eighteen year old, six foot six, two hundred pound Sam Querrey recently won a challenger event, his first tournament as a pro. And he took a set off Blake in the second round at Indian Wells.

When I wrote about the controversy over foreign players in US college tennis earlier this year, German players have won the last three men’s Division I titles, I said that American players should welcome the competition. If these foreign players had been good enough to turn pro out of high school, that’s what they would have done. IMG sports agents would have snapped them up readily enough and clothing companies would have given them contracts.

While I was reading an article about the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, the article mentioned that Andy Murray had trained there, I read about a British player at the academy who knew he wasn’t good enough to turn pro so his next plan was to get a tennis scholarship at an American college. If American college players can’t deal with that level of competition, American tennis won’t get any better.

Two of those German players, Benedikt Dorsch and Benjamin Becker, made it into the draw here at Wimbledon. Evidently they learned a lot of tennis at Baylor University. The US has good university coaches and excellent tennis academies, they have no excuse.

But maybe that’s not the problem. It’s not that the US is doing worse, it’s that every other country is doing much better.

ATP fantasy tennis: ’s-Nottingham and ’s-Hertogenbosch

What’s up with that name? ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It looks like part of the name is missing and that’s accurate in a way. It’s name comes from “des hertogen bosch”, Dutch for the Duke’s forest. The name also brings to mind the painter Hieronymus Bosch who painted The Garden of Earthly Delights, a fantastical and somewhat gruesome painting of the garden where Adam and Eve wandered. That would be accurate too, Bosch was born and lived in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The city lies in the south of Holland and was founded as a fortress town in 1185. It won the award as European Fortress City of the year in 2004. I’m not sure why such an award is necessary in our day and age unless they’re expecting modern day marauders. Probably won’t help. Most violence today comes from within the city, not without.

It was originally name Snotingaham, “the home of Snot’s people,” after the Saxon chieftain Snot

Nottingham, England, goes back even further. It was founded around the year 650 by Anglo-Saxon invaders. It’s name was shortened too. It was originally name Snotingaham, “the home of Snot’s people,” after the Saxon chieftain Snot. I’m not making this up. Actually, it should be ‘s-Nottingham.

If you’re wondering why I’m going on and on here it’s because there isn’t much happening in tennis this week. To give you an idea, Nicolas Alamagro, the clay court surprise of the year who has played, and lost, only one match on grass his entire professional life, is seeded at Nottingham. Andy Roddick should be playing after losing to fellow American James Blake just for the practice. Roddick hasn’t exactly been playing deep into tournaments in the last few months.

I have the number one seed at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Nikolay Davydenko, losing in the first round to Philipp Kohlschreiber since Davydenko is 1-8 on grass. Juan Carlos Ferrero has a surprisingly good record on grass so I have him through to the semifinals. Joining him are Tomas Berdych and Kohlschreiber and my winner, Mario Ancic. Ancic won his first, and only, title at ‘s-Hertogenbosch last year.

Max Mirnyi has a good record on grass so I have him in the semifinals at Notthingham. I have Olivier Rochus there too because I don’t trust Paul-Henri Mathieu. I’ve picked Richard Gasquet to win it but I’m not being entirely original this week. He also won his first, and only, title at Nottingham last year.

My team is made up of my eight semifinalists: Gasquet, Paradorn Srichaphan, Rochus, Mirnyi, Kohlschreiber, Ancic, Berdych and Ferrero. Doubles team: Martin Damm and Leander Paes, that was the only team I recognized in either of the doubles draws.

fantasy tennis and the matrix

Fans are disillusioned with professional sports. Barry Bonds and the steroid lies, Kobe Bryant’s ego, Terrell Owens borderline case of narcissism. Hmmm, when does borderline mean on the edge and when does it mean over the edge. In either case, if you’re diagnosed as borderline, it’s probably pretty bad.

Ever since [jeez, what did they call it when they developed gloves and masks so you would be in an imaginary world? what was Billy’s friend’s name who was in the forefront of it?], we’ve been promised that we can play in an imaginary world and it’s here. Many adolescents would rather play and NBA video game than sit and watch a seven game first round playoff series. And they’re not limited to playing with friends either. Put on the headphones and sign onto the web and choose your [link]Halo opponent from anywhere in the world.

Philosophy has told us that we make up the world. We ignore anything that contradicts our view of ourself and heartily embrace something that inflates our preferred view of the world. [link to the movie]The Matrix was able to express complex philosophical ideas because we were already familiar with alternative worlds, we had already gone through the levels of [link]Myst or [link]Doom and could easily move forward or back through layers of a make believe world, through layers of reality?

The Matrix, the movie by the Wachowski brothers, was such a huge hit and spawned so many video games, followups (movies that come after the first movie) and even [link to animatrix]animation because it has a fundamental and common theme of science fiction -the battle with technology – are we running the show or are out computers running us? – and there are few religious and philosophical ideas it does not reference. In the Matriz, the AI robots (?) are running the simulation and Neo and his friends have to free us from their control.

If you’re Christian, Neo is the second coming and will save us. If you are a Hindu, the message is that the physical world we live in is, literally, an illusion. Neo wants to know what is real so he is lifted out of his vat and the computer cable is removed from the back of his head so he can take the red(?) pill and opt for reality. Which is, of course, is the path to God and may (does Neo die?) result in Neo’s sacrifice (resurrection?).

Professors of philosophy at Oxford University get off on it too. Nick Bostrum has written a paper titled [link] “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation.” Bostrum suggests that computer technology has advanced enough that we could be the forebears of a later generation that is running us as a simulation. To what end, I’m not sure. I can’t imagine what we could provide unless it’s a particularly amusing video game. That could be good enough I suppose.

I remember reading about out of body experience by reading the work of Bob ???. He was stunned to discover, on one of his out of body experiences, that our purpose in life was to generate love which acted as fuel for the race of people who were controlling us. If so, given our penchant for wars, the system has 50% efficiency at best.

In either case we can applaud our search for our purpose here in life and it’s interesting to note that it often parallels our day to day life. We use each other to get what we want. We start wars to ensure our sources of fuel.

I played computer simulations early in their development [find a name of one] – they were text driven at that time, no images, just text that told you where you were and asked you a question whose answer determined the next step in the game. When I studied biology in high school I delighted in drawing detailed pictures of structures which I knew nothing about. I spent most of my time drawing complex images of the world that the text driven game was spelling out and never got very far in the game.

And even though I write about fantasy tennis, I’m not that good at it. I’m currently number 7179 out of the 11,000 teams in my league. But there are 11,000 teams in my league and there are (??) fantasy baseball players and (??) fantasy football players in the US and there were (??) video games sold last year.

Video games enthusiasts have often been viewed as nerdy escapists pale from hours in their room beating this or that game or an opponent on the internet. That is changing now that companies are beginning to switch endorsements from athletes who play in real dirt to the gamers and they have become stars in a similar way that skateboarders originally became stars.

At some point in the future, I might be writing regular columns about combatants in a tennis video game.

Still, we view video games as an escape because the world is made up and you can shoot and kill people without going to jail. Fantasy sports has been [and I gues this is the point at the moment – are video games escapist and fantasy sports interactive, but how does that tie in simulation] viewed as interactive in the sense that consumers are no longer satisfied with watching, they want to play too. They want to be George Steinbrenner. A fantasy league is formed, team owners draft players then sit them or play them as they choose and trade them if they want to. That is more interactive than sitting alone in your living room watching a game.

This has been covered in books. What do I want to do here? A comparison between fantasy leagues and video games?

fantasy tennis league: real game, fantasy team. Video games: fantasy game, real players.

survey (talk tennis?): do fantasy players watch the matches less and focus more on the results, in other words, do they become like gamblers who are not so interested in the players or the team but whether or not they won.

fantasy sports: it’s not enough to be a passive spectator any more. We demand to have a team, to be come team (or player) owners.

Are we actually more unhinged from reality – will young people be less able to deal with day to day life problems and be less able to relate to others – or will we be more sophisticated about reality?

Hamburg to St. Poelton to Pörtschach

Since I’m one of the doofuses who chose Nadal and Federer on my ATP Fantasy Tennis team for Hamburg this week, I’m very thankful to Tommy Robredo. He’ll meet Radek Stepanek in the Hamburg final tomorrow and, if he wins, I’ll get that $430,000 I’ve been looking for. When Federer and Nadal dropped out, the draw opened up and allowed Stepanek get to the final. Who says Martina Hingis’ boyfriends always have bad luck?

This week’s ATP tournament had been held in St. Poelten for the last thirteen years but has moved to Pörtschach this year. Both towns are in Austria.

I couldn’t find out if there was a saint named Poelton but I did unearth the town’s coat of arms. It’s that snarly looking wolf you see here. Pörtschach lies on the alpine lake Wörther, thus the fish with what looks like a leaf in its mouth. It’s interesting to note that the wolf was passed down to St. Poelton from the abbey of Passau when St. Poelten was one of its fiefs in the 1500’s. The abbey had a wolf in its coat of arms.

I knew the bible story about the multiplication of loaves and fish but I didn’t realize that Ichthys, the Greek word for fish, is also an acronym describing Jesus: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Now I ask you, shouldn’t St. Poelten have a fish on its coat of arms instead of that rabid wolf?

Pörtschach doesn’t have it’s trip together yet. The doubles draw is actually a copy of the singles draw so we don’t know what doubles teams are entered. Qualifying ends on Sunday, the same day that first round matches start and after the deadline for choosing our eight player team, 10am Sunday morning. That means we won’t have the full draw when we make our picks. You can bet that when Almagro was a qualifier I picked him. Besides, I’m not sure Lapentti can beat anyone at the moment let alone a qualifier.

What’s the matter with you people at Pörtschach, don’t you know there are fantasy tennis players out here desperate for that information???

Sometimes that first victory gets into a player’s mind. A player can start thinking about what he did to win that tournament instead of what he needs to do in the current match.

I have Oliver Marach over Vince Spadea because Marach is Austrian and Spadea has yet to get past the first round on his current trip to Europe.

Wow, there’s not much to choose from if you’re putting a team together. Very few of these players have done much this year. Two players I like very much are Nicolas Alamagro and Nikolay Davydenko but they’ll meet in the third round. Almagro beat Davydenko in Rome but only because Davydenko had to retire. It’s important to remember that this tournament is at the bottom of the pile in terms of prize money. First prize is $44,100 which is quarterfinal money at a Master Series event and Davydenko could easily get to the quarters at a slam. So, even though Davydenko beat Melzer for this title last year, Almagro it is.

Chela should have an easy road to the quarterfinals.

Horna hasn’t done anything since he won at Acapulco. That was his first career win. Sometimes that first victory gets into a player’s mind. A player can start thinking about what he did to win that tournament instead of what he needs to do in the current match. He thinks his mind is in the present but it’s not, it’s still trying to reproduce that victory instead of focusing on the technique that got him where he is.

I used to have a similar problem when I was training in Alexander Technique. Alexander Technique teaches you how to change movement habits and improve your posture. One of the guiding principles in the technique is to allow your neck to be free so that your head can move forward and up and your back can lengthen and widen. This allows you to move in a light and easy way. I kept trying to recapture that light and easy feeling by copying the movement that gave me the feeling but I couldn’t do it. Instead, I had to go back and use the guiding principle that produced the feeling in the first place.

If I chose my team from my quarterfinals predictions the players would be Davydenko, Almagro, Melzer, Chela, Seppi, Muller, Simon and Hewitt. I can’t pick Davydenko so I have to pick an eighth player from the third round. Even after everything I said, I’m picking Horna. Has he figured out how to move forward? I hope so.

As always, feel free to join our subleague,, and don’t hesitate to add a comment/opposing opinion.