Category Archives: Politics

Not the game of tennis itself. That’s not boring.

Serena and Venus Williams took home a pair of slams and we had a fantastic final at the women’s year-end-championships. Roger Federer still got his three slams but he missed out on four Masters Series titles by losing consecutive matches twice to an unexpected player. One of those unexpected players, David Nalbandian, not only resurrected his career, but he improbably took it further than it had ever gone before.

It’s not over yet. Next week Andy Roddick gets a chance to lead the U.S. to its first Davis Cup title since 1995 and leave his mark on the game as one of the great Davis Cup players of all time.

No, it’s the other stuff that’s missing. Look at the rest of the sports world, for instance.

Barry Bonds was indicted and Michael Vick reported early for his jail sentence in the past week. Alex Rodriguez’ superagent screwed up and upstaged the baseball World Series thereby damaging A-Rod’s reputation so badly that A-Rod sidestepped his agent and asked the Yankees to take him back. University of Alabama football coach Lou Saban got in trouble for comparing two straight losses to disasters such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. England lost to Croatia knocking them out of the 2008 European Championship and fired its coach.

Tennis has had a few drug suspensions this year but, hell, the entire peloton at the Tour de France was probably juicing up their blood. Last year’s champion was barnstorming the U.S. to raise money for his defense fund and this year’s yellow jersey holder was sent home because he’d lied about his whereabouts to avoid pre-race testing then got caught lying about his lies.

Tennis does have a gambling controversy. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of the investigation into whether he fixed a match and Alessio Di Mauro got a nine month suspension for laying down $15-20 bets on tennis but that’s all we got. Baseball had the Black Sox scandal which had eight players fixing games. And they also had Pete Rose who bet on baseball and lost his guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame.

Tennis is like ice skating: we have one criminal. Ice skating has Tonya Harding and we have Roscoe Tanner, though he’s old news. There is actually some new news about him and I’ll get to that in a few weeks.

Is tennis culturally relevant? Other sports are.

Baseball reflects cultural and political changes in the U.S. The number of Latino ballplayers is increasing yearly while the number of black ballplayers is decreasing. That reflects the U.S. culture as the Latino community is passing the black community both in economic and political power. The NBA reflects the growth of the global market with its high number of international stars including a new star from China this year, Yi Jianlian.

Same thing in tennis. Tennis in the U.S. is losing popularity and losing tournaments while the huge Asian market is getting new tournaments. Shanghai gets a new Masters Series event in 2009 and Roger Federer and Pete Sampras flew all over Asia – not Europe or the U.S. – for their barnstorming exhibition this week.

Tennis is exciting to watch and more or less culturally relevant. Two out of three ain’t bad don’t you think?

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Benjamin Becker is in the semifinals at Bangkok and you can watch it on a tiny TV window.

About 350 miles (575 km) northwest of Bangkok, Thailand, Myanmar’s military junta is shooting at peaceful protesters in the street. Only about 1% of people living in Myanmar (also known as Burma) have access to the internet but we are getting cellphone videos of the clashes.

Thailand hasn’t said much about the actions of it neighbor’s government. Maybe that’s because it’s ruled by a military junta itself and part of its population is under martial law. However, the internet in Thailand appears to work slightly better than in Myanmar.

If you go to planetstream.tv you can see a 24 hour webcam of center court at the Thailand Open tennis tournament. I was watching it at midnight Bangkok time a few days ago as two non-professional tennis players snuck onto the court and got in a little hitting. I’m pretty sure they didn’t know they were on camera.

Makes you wonder whether internet access is a good thing or not. Yes, it would make it harder for a dictatorship to censor information, but it also makes it easier to carry out surveillance activities.

We’ve been following Benjamin Becker’s career here at Tennis Diary since he was playing challengers. This week in Bangkok Benni has broken out of a three month losing streak and is into the semifinals.

Benni got to the semifinals by beating his fellow German Domink Meffert and I dragged myself out of bed at 5am this morning to see the match. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent futzing around with software that should automatically record internet video and let me sleep through the night, but it’s not ready for prime time yet.

Don’t get your hopes up, the live streaming window is small and the resolution is pretty low. As Benni entered the court, his argyle tennis shirt vibrated with baby blue pixels and you have to guess where the ball is going by the position of the players. Still, if you open up a live scoring window and listen to the commentators, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Benni had lost his first match in seven straight tournaments prior to Bangkok and that means there’s a problem with his game. I watched his match in its entirety so I could see what that problem is.

Meffert is a six foot six inch tree with a big serve who likes to get to the net. Benni is only five foot ten but he depends on a big serve too. Rather than going to the net he prefers to end points early from the baseline. This all sounds good to me. The shorter the match, the sooner I could get back to bed.

Benni was lucky to win this match. He saved two set points to get to the first set tiebreaker but this is only Meffert’s third main draw event and nerves got to him. Meffert served three double faults in the tiebreaker to lose it 7-2.

Benni hit a winner down the line to get a break point in Meffert’s first service game in the second set, but he followed that up by hitting a return into the net and then hitting an unforced error. This demonstrates two of the problems Benni has been having: too many errors on groundstrokes, particularly on the forehand, and poor footwork on the return. He stands at the baseline and takes the serve early, which is a good thing, but he’s way down in the ATP stats for break points converted.

Serving at 3-3 in the second set, Benni’s serve deserted him. He got exactly one first serve in while facing three break points and he went down a break. This is another problem: his first serve percentage for the year is just over 50%, not good enough for someone who depends on a big serve.

Having said that, he’s fourth in the ATP at saving break points and that’s a good sign because it means he plays the big points well. With Meffert serving for the second set at 5-4, Benni hit a good passing shot and a winner off return of serve. Meffert helped out by putting an overhead into the net but it was enough to put Benni back on serve.

In Meffert’s next service game, Benni hit another good passing shot to get a match point and won the match with another good return, this time at the feet of the big guy. The final score was 7-6(2), 7-5.

Benni has played exceptionally well this week. He beat number 15 ranked Carlos Moya in the first round and he’s reached his third semifinal of the year. That’s pretty good. It’s tough out here on the ATP tour though. You can fall as quickly as you rose and here’s hoping Benni can improve his weaker areas well enough to get back to a ranking somewhere in the 30’s and, in the future, even higher.

If you’d like to see Benni play his semifinal against Tomas Berdych, it’s streaming on Saturday at 3am (EST)/midnight (PST). Have fun and tell me what happened. I’ll be sleeping.


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