Category Archives: Tennis General

Celebrity Tennis: Gambling, Blow, and Poison

Join us for the WTA Championships final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 11th, 2:00pm Los Angeles/5pm New York.

Gambling, cocaine and poison provide more than enough content for a celebrity tennis show.

If Jim Rome is talking about tennis, then tennis is definitely cool again. Rome is the spoken word king of daily sports radio in the U.S. and he talks about tennis about as often as he talks about the ballet.

Why was he talking about tennis? How about this: Tommy Haas believes he may have been poisoned during Germany’s Davis Cup semifinal against Russia in Moscow earlier this year. German Davis Cup player Alexander Waske reported that a Russian man casually told him that Haas had been poisoned.

Haas became sick after losing his first match in the event and had to withdraw. He plans to get medical tests to see if there is any evidence of poison in his system: “I want to find out if any poison can be traced or confirmed,” he said. The International Tennis Federations (ITF) – which runs Davis Cup, is investigating the charge.

There’s a reason that gets a gazillion hits every day. If you want to know everything about O.J. Simpson’s latest legal problem or read Big Daddy Drew’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo, that’s the place to go. Controversy sells. Sex sells.

The top online celebrity site,, is so popular that it now has its own television show. If breaking news means cutting to Britney Spears making an illegal left turn from Coldwater Canyon onto Mulholland Drive – an actual feature on TMZ this week, be sure to tune in.

Celebrity, controversy, and sex are now making they’re way to the tiny screen – your cellphone. CBS’s mobile entertainment division introduced a show focusing on fashion and gadgets but they scrapped that idea when they noticed that viewer numbers went up when celebrities were on screen. They now have a twice daily show focusing on celebrity gossip.

Don’t think tennis isn’t affected by the world of cellphone entertainment. I can now watch Wimbledon on my tiny screen. All I have to do is hook up a Slingbox, record Wimbledon on my DVR, and the Slingbox will beam Andy Roddick to my cellphone screen. It doesn’t matter if I’m lying in my backyard or cruising the back roads of Baja.

If original tennis programming makes it to cellphones, it’ll probably focus on players such as Martina Hingis who recently retired after testing positive for cocaine – known on the street as “blow” – and retired. Check out this hilarious cartoon. It shows Martina snorting the sideline of a tennis court.

Dour, camera shy Nikolay Davydenko would be a regular on our Celebrity Tennis show. Suspicious betting patterns on Davydenko’s match with Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August of this year kicked off the current controversy over gambling on the professional tennis tour.

This week’s Davydenko episode would focus on the ATP’s demand that Davydenko turn over records for all of the phones he owns or uses. Davydenko’s lawyers have refused to comply.

The next episode would feature an interview with Davydenko’s lawyer, Professor Frank Immenga, who blasted the ATP this week for conducting a witch hunt against Davydenko by fining him $2,000 for “not trying” in one match and warning him about the same infraction in another. I have to agree with the professor on this one. The betting pattern in the August match clearly showed the fingerprint of a fixed match, but if the ATP can’t prove that the match was fixed and Davydenko was involved, don’t hound the guy to death.

Since Andy Roddick actually is a celebrity, he’d turn up on Celebrity Tennis because he complained in his blog this week that he was fined $20,000 for skipping Paris while Davydenko was only fined $2,000 for not trying. Roddick said he was recovering from a “tweaked” ankle and wanted to be sure he was prepared for next week’s year end championships in Shanghai. As you can see, Roddick didn’t accuse Davydenko of not trying but he did have a problem with the ATP:

…in essence they [the ATP] are setting the precedent that preparing and getting healthy for their year end event is worth a 20 grand fine, but tanking (again I have no opinion on guilt or innocence here) only warrants 2 grand….

Alessio di Mauro would be the star in today’s episode of Celebrity Tennis. The Italian tennis pro was suspended from the tour for nine months and fined $60,000 by the ATP for betting on tennis matches from November 2006 to June of this year. Di Mauro never bet on his own matches and reportedly his bets were small.

Wow, maybe I should produce Celebrity Tennis. I’ve already got a week of programming in the can.

Check out our myspace page and add us to your friends network!

Will Video Tennis Overtake the Hard Court Version?

Tennis joined the world of popular video games with Wii tennis and Prince has joined in by making a Wii tennis racket.

I was watching football on TV yesterday when an ad came on. The camera panned a diorama of toy soldiers engaged in a horrific battle. Fireballs were frozen in mid-explosion. Soldiers sat stunned on the sideline. Frozen smoke billowed out of firearms. I thought the Democratic Party had kicked off its 2008 presidential campaign with an anti-Iraq war ad but, no, it was an ad for the video game Halo 3.

There’s even a “making of” documentary for the Halo diorama which is dedicated to the hero of the battle, Master Chief Petty Officer John 117.

Video games are so pervasive I’m having trouble distinguishing them from political ads. I haven’t even bought an XBox 360 yet and Halo is already making mockumentaries about its heroes.

Life in tennis is much simpler. We’ve never had a good video game – unless you count pong – and those that did exist were never popular enough to generate interest from manufacturers of tennis gear.

That has now changed on both accounts.

Ninetendo’s Wii video game has become wildly popular and today, Prince Sports announced the release of tennis rackets for Wii tennis. To play Wii tennis, you swing the Wii controller as if it were a tennis racket and hit the ball coming at you on the screen. Wii Tennis has a generic white controller but now you can play with a hot pink Prince racket.

To see Wii tennis in action, start up Tennis Diary TV on the right side of this page, click on the Channel Guide and watch Wii Tennis Anyone?

In its press release, Prince says the following:

Playing Wii Tennis has led to competitions at local bars, Wii Tennis as part of school PE curriculums, and the first ever “Wimbledon” tournament held earlier this year.

Really, it’s part of the physical education curriculum at schools? For sure it’s a lot cheaper to play Wii Tennis than build a tennis court but wouldn’t our youth be better served if they ran around a playground or played kickball?

That Wii “Wimbledon” tournament took place at the Brooklyn tavern Barcade in June. About 600 people wanted to play in the tournament but there was only space for 128. I ask you, when was the last time a “real” tennis tournament turned away 472 players?

All of which leads me to wonder: How many years will it take till tennis video has more players than the real version? Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years? Never? Cast your vote in the poll to the right.

I’d like to think the answer is never but it’s a whole lot easier to stand in your living room and wave a tiny racket around than it is to go out on a tennis court and figure out how to hit an overhead without swinging and totally missing.

We like instant gratification when we can get it and tennis is a difficult sport to learn. Most professional athletes grew up playing a variety of sports but young tennis players are encouraged to start at around seven or eight years of age and focus solely on tennis.

The Wii tennis game is in its infancy at the moment. You don’t even control your player’s movement, only the act of hitting the ball. With newer versions that should change and I’m pretty sure you’ll also be able to play as Roger Federer or choose Ana Ivanovic as your luscious onscreen avatar.

Meanwhile, go outside and play tennis on a tennis court while you still can.

Check out our myspace page and add us to your friends network!

Tennis 101 Part II

Part II of a Q and A with Debra, one of our readers, who is blind.

Debra: I gather there is a way to score more than one point at a time. What is that?

Tennis Diary: Not unless you’re John McEnroe. When a point ends, the winner gets one point only. However, Brad Gilbert tells a story about a match he had with McEnroe. Not surprisingly, McEnroe pitched a fit when the momentum in the match started to go against him. He ranted and raved at the chair umpire. Finally play resumed but, incredibly, it was Gilbert who got a warning for delay of game. If that had been Gilbert’s second warning, he would have lost a point to McEnroe.

Theoretically, if you won a point and your opponent goes ballistic in response and is penalized a point, you could win two points, but it’s very, very rare.

D: What’s a match point?

TD: If either player can win the match by winning the current point, then it is a match point.

D: How do you get a tie break started? Is there a spot on the court where the ball has to land that tells you that you to have one?

TD: You have a tiebreak after the score of a set gets to a to 6-6. The players stay on the same side of the court and the person who was receiving serve gets to serve the first point in the tiebreaker. After that, players alternate serve every other point. Every six points, the players switch sides.

The first player to seven points wins but he or she must win by two points. All other rules are the same as during a set.

D: What’s a drop shot?

TD: A drop shot is hit so that it lands just over the net. A good drop shot will bounce a second time before it reaches the back of the service box. This means that your opponent has to run all the way to the net to get to the ball which is a long way if he or she is back at the baseline. Even if your opponent does get to the ball, the ball is usually so low to the ground that it’s hard to hit a good shot off it because the player has to hit the ball up go to get it over the net.

D: I don’t think you can explain forehand, backhand, slice, or top-spin to me. I just take it that those are things one can do with the ball. For forehand and backhand, I think you’d have to physically show me how to hold the racquet. I’ve never held a racquet so I know nothing about the way you hold it in your hand. I don’t have any sighted friends who are remotely interested in tennis, so I’m on my own.

TD: You should try to find someone who has a Wii game. It’s a video game but you move the controller to simulate the movement of a baseball bat, or a bowling ball, or a tennis racket. To play the tennis game on Wii, you swing the controller in a forehand or backhand motion to hit the ball as it comes towards you on the screen. Someone would have to tell you when the ball is coming but it would be a good start. There is a game coming out designed for the sight impaired that uses the Wii remote as a controller. You can read about it here.

Having said that, if you picked up a stick and wrapped your fingers and thumb around it, that’s the same way you grip a tennis racket to hit volleys at the net. If you pointed the stick away from your body then rotated your hand to the right on the stick, that would be a forehand grip. If you rotated your hand to the left, that would be a backhand grip. That’s for a right-handed person. It would be the opposite for a left-handed person.

Send me an email with your address. I’ll send you a tennis racket and you can try it. I will not be responsible for any lamps that get broken while you’re fooling around with the racket or friends who end up with a concussion after getting accidentally whacked in the head.

D: What is the difference between holding serve and return of serve?

TD: Holding serve means to win a game in which you serve. Return of serve is the act of returning a ball that has been served. If the person returning serve wins the game, it is called a break of serve.

D: Apart from men playing five sets during slams, is there really any difference between men’s and women’s tennis?

TD: As far as the rules go, no, there is no difference except that on court coaching is allowed in some women’s tournaments but not the men’s. A woman can ask to speak to her coach on breaks between sets or when her opponent takes an injury or bathroom timeout.

Other than the rules, there is a lot of difference. Men are bigger and stronger and they hit the ball a whole lot harder. The hardest women’s serve is around 128 mph (206 Km/h). For men it’s over 150 mph (241 km/h). There are very few women who play serve and volley (serve the ball then run to the net). There aren’t a lot of men either but there are many more than women.

Readers, could you please help out here and add any other differences between the men’s and women’s game.

D: Is Roger a tennis player’s tennis player? By that I mean, do you appreciate him more if you either play or have played tennis and thoroughly understand the game, or is he the kind of player that a casual person, knowing very little about tennis can watch and appreciate?

Roger is not only a tennis player’s player and a non-tennis player’s player, he’s a writer’s player and a tennis reporter’s player. Consider this from a September 8 op-ed in the New York Times:

I have watched lots of televised Federer – every tennis fan has – but only live, now, do I understand. I’m surrounded by tennis reporters, and they are giggling. Federer hits an improbably perfect cross-court backhand, and laughter breaks out. Our expectations are outrageous, and seeing them met is somehow uproarious.

Or this from a New Yorker writer:

He can hit winners from anywhere, against anyone, at any time, and he does it with a deceptive casualness that’s startling even to people who have studied the game for years. Indeed, it’s fun to troll YouTube for Fed videos and listen to sports commentators come unglued over his shotmaking.

Then there was a piece by novelist David Foster Wallace titled, simply, Federer as Religious Experience.

See what I mean?

Feel free to ask any other tennis 101 questions and we’ll answer them.

Check out our myspace page and add us to your friends network.

The ATP’s Gambling Problem

In early August, Nikolay Davydenko played a second round match against Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Orange Prokom Open in Poland. Davydenko is one of the top tennis players in the world and Vassallo-Arguello is a journeyman who has never reached the final of an ATP event.

By the time the match was over, the world of tennis had its very own gambling problem. Users on, an online betting exchange based in England, played out a pattern of irregular betting that looked an awful lot like someone had fixed the match.

On a betting exchange, users offer bets to each other setting their own odds. Users can either accept someone else’s bet or offer their own. Bets can be placed throughout a match.

Matt is a Betfair user and professional gambler who writes the blog (betters are called punters in England). He bet on that match between Davydenko and Vassallo-Arguello and here’s what it looked like to him.

Several hours before the match, Davydenko opened at 1-5 odds, meaning that he was the prohibitive favorite. One hour later, Davydenko had gone from the favorite to the underdog. His lowly ranked opponent was now the favorite and nothing had happened, no ball had been struck.

Did someone have insider information about Davydenko? Did he have a previously undisclosed injury? Even if he had, according to Matt, “this is very, very unusual, even with a well known serious injury players rarely drift by this much.”

If Davydenko was injured, it didn’t stop him from winning the first set easily and he showed no visible signs of distress doing it. And yet Vassallo-Arguello was still trading as the favorite at the end of the first set. Not only that, but after he broke Davydenko’s serve and went up just 2 games to 1 in the second set, he was trading at incredible 1-17 odds – almost a certainty to win – despite the fact that he was still a set down.

How did this happen? Someone was repeatedly offering large bets with favorable odds for Vassallo-Arguello and it was too much for Betfair users to turn down. They couldn’t resist taking the bets because the odds were so good.

Think of it like this. Andy Roddick and Vince Spadea play a match. Roddick takes the first set easily then Spadea manages to break Roddick’s serve at the beginning of the second set. If someone offers Spadea as a 1-17 favorite at this point, do you take the bet? You’d probably run over your closest friend to get to the keyboard fast enough.

As the betting continued, Matt couldn’t believe what he was seeing: “I sat here laughing in shock at what I was witnessing, my jaw was on the floor.” As far as he was concerned, “this was very blatant match fixing, on a grand scale.” He decided to take action. He called up a fairly senior person at Betfair and explained the irregular betting patterns.

By the time Davydenko retired early in the third set – thereby losing the match – users had bet over $7 million on a second round match in a small tournament in Poland, more than ten times what you’d expect on such an event. Betfair investigated the incident and agreed that the betting was irregular. They took the unprecedented step of voiding all bets on the match.

Here’s what’s bothering me. I can’t think of any way this fix could have worked without Davydenko’s cooperation. Vassallo-Arguello isn’t good enough to beat Davydenko based on sheer will.

Someone might have know before the match that Davydenko was injured – he’d been having problems with his toes earlier in the week – but no serious gambler would have offered bets against him at the end of that first set.

Seven million dollars is a lot of money, by the way. Why would betters draw that much attention to themselves if they wanted to fix a match? In Matt’s opinion, “this has been done several times, so they were not expecting Betfair to void the betting on that match.” They probably thought they could get away with it because it had been done before.

The ATP is currently investigating the incident and they’ve enlisted the help of The British Horseracing Authority. No doubt they have more experience in such matters.

If the ATP decides there was no fix, they need to come up with an alternative explanation if they expect anyone to believe them. Both Vassallo-Arguello and Filippo Volandri have been involved in multiple matches showing irregular betting patterns as you can see in this report on

Matt thinks Betfair should remove players from the betting market if there are repeated cases of irregular betting on their matches. Surely the ATP should take action against a player before it reaches that point.

Betting exchanges are here to stay and tennis has joined horse racing and soccer as a viable betting opportunity. That’s not a bad thing for tennis, but it will be if betters can’t trust that they’re watching a fair match.

Thanks very much to Matt for answering all of my questions.

Check out our myspace page and add us to your friends network!

Dude, Pass the Panama Red

Federer and Nadal on a half clay/half grass tennis court and a suggestion for similar craziness in Las Vegas

Two days ago the organizers of the The Battle of the Surfaces announced that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would play an exhibition on May 2nd using a court that was half grass and half red clay. Very cool, I thought, and why not call it the Panama Red Match in honor of that red tinged grass with the same name that is famous in marijuana circles.

Then I started thinking a little clearer. What happens if Federer hits a wickedly angled volley? Nadal will take off like a jet and slide into the ball. His momentum will carry him past the netpost onto the grass – where there is no sliding – and he’ll tumble head over heels only to land on his amply muscled tush.

And how would they remember which side of the court they’re on? Sounds worse than remembering what side of the road to drive on if you’re an American driving in England – or vice versa. Federer is likely to run after a ball on the grassy side, forget he’s not on clay and start sliding and then we have two injured tushes.

Evidently the organizers came to the same conclusion because they announced yesterday that the surface would be changed to all clay. Bummer, I thought, and moved on to the Monte Carlo Open which is nowhere near as exciting if you ask me.

Wait a minute, the grass is back! Today organizers announce that the exhibition will go ahead as planned and Federer – usually the traditionalist – is looking forward to it.

It seems like these two guys are always playing exhibitions and why play it in Mallorca where everyone is already in love with their native son Nadal? Why not play it in a country that doesn’t adequately appreciate tennis?

Like the U.S. for instance. Why not pump up the tennis scene in the U.S. with regular events in Las Vegas. If Vegas can support a Rock/Paper/Scissors championship it should be able to get a few people out there for a tennis match. How about this for starters: unless Sports Illustrated is pulling our leg, and it wouldn’t be the first time – I was one of those people who fell for the infamous April Fools Sidd Finch article by George Plimpton about a pitcher who could throw a 168mph fastball (wow, did I really fall for that?) – Elizabeth Shue is training to become a professional tennis player.

Yes, the same Elizabeth Shue who appeared in the movie Leaving Las Vegas. Call it Coming to Las Vegas. Bring in Nicolas Cage – her co-star in the movie – to be her on-court coach, build a nice indoor court at the Rio in place of the midnight bowling alley, and offer people a twofer: tennis followed by Prince. A few weeks ago I drove to Las Vegas on a Saturday afternoon, took in a meal, saw Prince in his nightclub show at the Rio, then turned around and drove back Sunday morning.

That’s how it is these days. Instead of piling into a stadium with fifteen thousand other people after having been patted down by a surly security person just to get within 500 hundred rows of Prince or Elton John or Morrissey, everyone goes to Las Vegas where they can do some shopping, gamble a little bit, have a nice meal and go to a nightclub and watch their favorite performer while dancing to their hearts content without a security guard getting in your face and telling you to sit down. Really, it’s fantastic.

How about Elton John? He’s a fanatical tennis player. Billie Jean King actually wagged her butt and kicked her heels up on his piano during a stint as a backup singer for Elton. I’m sure Billie Jean would jump right in to help. And who’s still the best draw in U.S. tennis? Andre Agassi. Where does he live? Las Vegas.

I’d love to see a Federer-Nadal grass/clay match in Vegas. And how about inviting Roscoe Tanner if his probation office allows it. If Mike Tyson can still get work I’m sure Rosco Tanner could sell a tennis match. Put him up against Yannick Noah and let the winner shave the loser’s head. It’s not Donald Trump and Vince McMahon going at each other but it would be entertaining.

I’m not that much of a visionary so join in and suggest some matchups for an ongoing series of Las Vegas tennis exhibitions. It’s more than we have right now.

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