Category Archives: WTA Players

Can Serena Williams defend her Australian Open title? Can Jelena survive another 22 game third set?

Serena

While Serena Williams was obliterating Jarmila Gajdasova in her first round match at the Australian Open today, I wondered if Serena is in the proper state of mind to defend her title.

Serena can’t sneak into town this year and run off with a title like she did last year. She’d been missing for most of two previous years and her opponents no doubt relaxed just the slightest bit. This year they’ll know better.

How is she emotionally? While her sister Venus recently got engaged to her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne, Serena is working through a breakup with her boyfriend, Jackie Long. All you have to do is read a few sentences of this very personal blog Serena posted about the breakup to see the pain she felt. The timing of her sister’s engagement must have some sting to it.

Physically Serena should be happy because she played all four slams last year and did no worse than the quarterfinals. On the other hand, she suffered injuries at critical times. She injured her calf at Wimbledon and reinjured her surgically repaired knee at the year end championships. At least she made it to the year end championships. That’s a victory in itself.

All things considered, Serena is in pretty good shape but that will not be enough to defend her title. Justine Henin skipped the Australian Open last year to deal with her divorce and Serena’s three quarterfinal losses last year were all to the same player: Justine.

Jelena

Here’s the main reason to push the Australian Open back to the end of February: nobody is in match shape, people. If you’re a French player and you live in Switzerland to avoid the high French taxes, you can run up and down mountains all day long, it doesn’t matter, you still won’t be match tough by the third week of the season.

Look at the opening round match between Jelena Jankovic and Tamara Paszek. After splitting the first two sets, they got to 5-5 in the third set and both players forgot how to hold serve.

Nine straight breaks of serve followed. Yes, nine. Paszek served for the match five times unsuccessfully. It’s not that there weren’t some great points, there were. Jankovic hit a beautiful stretch volley for a winner after a protracted rally featuring sharply angled shots that pulled both players off the court. That shot ended Paszek’s third attempt at serving for the match.

But for each of those points, there were two gimmes hit into the net or beyond the baseline. And neither player could serve anymore. Jankovic hit 14 double faults in the match and Paszek served five straight faults at one point. Jankovic also needed two injury timeouts for lower back pain that was visibly bothering her.

They were like two drunken sailors throwing punches at each and missing badly. Here’s the next suggestion for the Australians: join the 21st century, use a third set tiebreaker. It’s not tennis after awhile, it’s survival.

Jankovic managed to find a way to win the match, 2-6, 6-2, 12-10. She deserves a lot of credit for that but it’s not clear how long her body can last. She retired three times during Hopman Cup matches and now she’s injured her back.

Jankovic’s fellow Serbian, Ana Ivanovic, passed Jankovic in the standings last week and moved into the number three spot. Jankovic has repeatedly said that she plays tennis for one reason only: to reach the number one ranking. I think her shot at that may have passed, especially as Maria Sharapova seems to be healthy again.

If I’m right and Jankovic does slide down the rankings to no better than fifth or sixth, I’ll be interested to see how long she sticks around.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 163 user reviews.

Product placement has made its way to the Independent Film Channel and Jelena Jankovic is right in the thick of it.

I’m hanging out in Portland, Oregon, for a few days running up to the Australian Open. Portland is a quaint, family friendly town with miles and miles of lush greenery courtesy of the omnipresent rain. I went into a local library today to print out the Australian Open draw and I saw this sign behind the desk:

sign up here to read to the dog

Huh? Read to the dog? Do dogs in Portland need help with their school work? Do they need to be advised of their legal rights or need help filling out their PETA membership?

No, it’s a reading program. Young readers are encouraged to sign up for half hour sessions to read to trained dogs because the dogs are very accepting and nonjudgmental. I guess it’s a good idea but I do wonder what kind of corporate titans we’re generating if kids are too frightened to read out loud.

Speaking of corporate titans, just outside of Portland lies Beaverton and there resides the campus of the mighty Nike sports apparel company. Nike is doing pretty well but it looks like it just got outswooped by Reebok.

Reebok has a new show on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) called Framed and tonight Jelena Jankovic got framed by actress Brittany Snow. You can see the trailer above and see a schedule of additional shows here

This is how it goes. Music and film stars interview athletes who all happen to have endorsement contracts with Reebok. Singer Nelly interviewed basketball star Allen Iverson for instance. The hook is that the music or film star gets to direct the show and often it’s their directorial debut.

Look, I’m happy to gaze at Jelena’s abdominal muscles as she does her leg lifts and I’ll watch her beautiful face any time, but, tell me, how is this different than a commercial? Reebok produces the show in partnership with IFC and why not? What better way is there to get your product into the middle of a television screen? Short of a segment selling Reebok sneakers on QVC, what could be more direct?

I love interview shows and the best part of this job is talking to athletes. And I suppose you could learn something by having celebrities interview athletes. If you watched the show, leave a comment and tell me what you learned. It’s just that we’re losing independent media left and right.

Most television stations, newspapers, and film studios are owned by huge conglomerates. When you see a splashy magazine piece about an actor who’s just come out with a new movie, you can bet the magazine is owned by the same media conglomerate that owns the film studio. The IFC itself is owned by Cablevision which controls Madison Square Garden and all of the sports teams that play there.

When the IFC starts doing infomercials disguised as short movies, that’s just one less time slot that could be used for independent media.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my Australian Open preview. Stay tuned.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 241 user reviews.

Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens handle drug accusations slightly differently.

When Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon last year she called the accusation “horrendous” and “monstrous” then promptly retired. She did have a hair test to prove that she never took the white stuff but it was too little too late.

I just faxed the results of a hair test to my doctor. A hair test tells me what minerals I’m missing – plenty – and what toxins are in my body. My test didn’t find any cocaine either. I tried it once but my nose got all clogged up. I didn’t like the feeling of that at all.

Anyway, by the time Hingis’ positive test was processed by the drug testing lab, there may not have been any cocaine left in her body and that could explain why the hair test showed nothing. The International Tennis Federation didn’t buy the hair test result. They slapped her with a two year ban.

Contrast this with Roger Clemens. Clemens is one of the best baseball pitchers of all time – only seven pitchers have won more games than he has. He’s been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs by his trainer who says he injected Clemens in the butt with steroids.

Clemens first step was to do…nothing. His lawyer issued a statement denying the charges but Clemens took his time in responding. Why? Instead of saying something dumb in the heat of the moment, he was very corporate about the whole thing. He took his time so he could devise a strategy to deal with the public perception of the accusation.

Consider Floyd Landis for instance. Right after he tested positive for high levels of testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France, he blurted out a lot of silly stuff. Among other things, he blamed alcohol for his positive test. Clemens, on the other hand, put up a video statement on his foundation’s website and got 89-year-old Mike Wallace out of mothballs to interview him on the television show 60 Minutes.

Clemens is in a different situation than Hingis because baseball didn’t test for performance enhancing drugs when he allegedly used steroids. He’s fighting his trainer’s sworn statements, not a positive drug test. But I bring this up to show you the newest strategy for dealing with drug accusations: P.R. You still deny the charges vehemently but it’s done in the same way that a company might handle bad publicity: every step is planned and calculated.

Notice that it doesn’t really make much difference. If you sound silly or call the accusations horrendous we don’t believe you because you went on to lose the case and get a two year suspension. If you crank up the P.R. machine we don’t believe you either because it comes across as way too calculated.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 238 user reviews.

Let’s hand out the Teddy Awards. Tomorrow I’ll look at the contrasting way that Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens are handling their illegal drug use problems.

I’m disappointed that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Iowa presidential caucus – the opening state primary for the U.S. presidential election. But the Teddy Awards votes are finally in and I can’t complain about them.

1. Best Player: Justine Henin and David Ferrer

Both players got the same number of votes and, really, the only surprise here is Ferrer. He deserves the vote even if he was helped along by Federer-fatigue (the state of being tired of talking about Roger Federer).

2. Most Improved Player: Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer

Another tie for this category. Fair enough though Anna Chakvetadze probably suffered because we didn’t have separate categories for men and women. Djokovic shot up like a rocket. He won two Masters series events, five tournaments, and, unbelievably, reached the semifinals in two slams and the final in another. What more can you say about Ferrer? While Djokovic jumped by leaps and bounds in his physical and mental play, Ferrer aged. What else can you call it when a player doesn’t figure out he’s a top five player until he’s 25-years-old?

3. Most Disappointing Player: Marat Safin

I personally am over my disappointment in Safin. I’ve been disappointed for too many years. Besides, he really hasn’t been the same since his knee surgery.

4. Most Surprising Player: David Ferrer

No need for more comment except that David Nalbandian got more than a few votes in this category and Marion Bartoli might have done well if she’s had any good results after her Wimbledon final appearance.

5. Male Centerfold of the Year: Feliciano Lopez

6. Female Centerfold of the Year: Ana Ivanovic

There wasn’t much competition in the centerfold category. There was a little Rafael Nadal and some Carlos Moya in the mix but Ana was the unanimous choice for the women.

7. Player in Most Need of a New Coach: James Blake

Poor Brian Barker. People have been trying to take James Blake away from him ever since Blake hit the top 20. Blake will never leave his coach. Barker has drilled the idea of improving as the main goal into Blake’s head since he was an adolescent. Improving is just nebulous enough that Blake feels comfortable with it. If Barker had set the goal of winning a slam instead, Blake might have fulfilled it by now. As it is, Blake will continue to justify playing poorly in high profile events by coming up with something, anything, that can be counted as improvement. Lose yet another five set match in the fourth round at the U.S. Open? No problem, at least he won his first career five set match in the second round and that’s an improvement. See what I mean?

8. Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008:

There’s no winner here because I asked the question incorrectly. Some people thought I was asking who’d win the most slams in 2008 – Federer got those votes – and some people thought I was asking who would improve the most in 2008 – Andy Murray got those votes. I meant to ask who would improve the most and I agree with the choice of Murray. I think he can compete with Djokovic in finally taking a slam from Federer and Nadal. Then again, that’s what I said last year.

9. Player Who Should Really Think About Retiring: Mark Philippoussis

Philippoussis won by a landslide and deservedly so. Last year he was heard saying that he thinks his best tennis is still ahead of him. I believe in pumping yourself up but that comment was surreal. Anyway, he reinjured his knee during the competition for an Australian Open wild card so it’s probably the Outback Series for him from now on.

Pollster

Since I botched the Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008 award, let’s do this. Mosey on over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player most likely to break Federer and Nadal’s stronghold on slam titles. Ferrer is ranked number five in the world but I just don’t think he’s got enough offense to win a slam. You could say the same thing about Murray and he’s only got three titles to his name so far though that might change tomorrow – he’s in the Doha final. But he’s one of my two choices. Djokovic is the other. I just can’t picture Nalbandian doing it.

What say you?

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 199 user reviews.

I lost the internet for a few days, the gutters were leaking onto my carport, my carport was leaking into my office, even my refrigerator was leaking. Things can only get better in 2008 so let’s put 2007 to rest by finishing up the Wayback Machine: a look back at last year.

Gambling Blows Up

Rafael Nadal continued to battle injuries. Donald Young moved a lot closer to fulfilling his promise. David Nalbandian resurrected his career and took it higher than ever before with consecutive Masters titles.

These were all very important events in 2007 but they were on court events. The biggest news in tennis was off the court. Gambling came out of the shadows and ended up dominating tennis news.

Gambling on tennis is nothing new but the volume of gambling has increased dramatically and for that we can credit technology. Online gambling has made gambling much more accessible. Unless you live in the United States – offshore gambling is illegal in the U.S. – all you have to do is logon to betfair.com and start placing bets on tennis matches.

Technology cuts both ways. It makes it easier to lay down bets but it also makes it easier to uncover suspicious betting patterns which may indicate match fixing. That’s exactly what happened during a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Prokom Open in August and everyone, and I mean everyone, has been tripping over themselves to assure us that gambling will not happen at their tournament.

Australian Open organizers are going crazy to make it clear that they won’t tolerate match fixing. They moved a bookmaker off their premises and banned laptops from the stands. Meanwhile, someone can sign on to betfair.com and fix a match and we might not be able to prove it. An investigator might be able to trace the gambler through an internet address but might not be able to connect a player in the fixed match to the gambler.

What if the gambler is part of a larger organization? Consider this as a hypothetical example. Tony Soprano, head of the fictional Sopranos mafia family, fixes a tennis match. If the ATP were able to track down Soprano’s whereabouts, the FBI might be much more interested in murder and mayhem than a possible fixed tennis match and the ATP would be limited in its investigation.

Since August my gambling education has gone through the roof. I know how to convert US odds to fractional odds and fractional odds to decimal odds. I know what a suspicious betting pattern looks like and I even broke the story of a possible fixed match between Tatiana Poutchek and Mariya Koryttseva in September.

Gambling has been out there all along. Onthepunt.com reported a number of suspicious betting patterns on tennis.com and no doubt tennis players have a few stories of their own. The tennis world is finally catching up to the horse racing world and the rest of the sports world. Professional tennis now monitors betting patterns on internet betting sites.

It’s not a horrible development, it’s just a fact of sports life. Gambling might even help increase the popularity of tennis. Heaven knows we can use it.

The 2008 tennis season has begun. There are tournaments galore on both the men’s and women’s side. I’ll get on to that tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Teddy Awards

Please go to the right side of the page and vote for the player who should really think about retiring. That’s it. This is the last Teddy Awards category. We’ll hand them out in a few days.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 194 user reviews.