Here are some moments, and notable trends, from the 2006 version of professional tennis, part II.
Maybe we should start calling Connors Dr. Frankenstein.
- Brain transplant. As Jimmy Connors and Andy Roddick sat next to each other at the media session announcing their partnership in July, I sat in the second row envisioning a tube coming out of the top of Connors’ head and going into the top of Roddick’s brain. The brain transplant image might have been a bit extreme but it reflected the biggest question of their partnership: could Connors somehow implant his aggressive attitude into Roddick? It’s easy enough to teach someone how to hit a forehand and backhand, but how do you teach attitude? Especially to a player whose confidence had dropped so far that it looked like desperation led him to call Connors and ask for help. Connors moved Roddick forward to the baseline on service return and told him to get to the net as often as possible. It worked well enough to propel Roddick from a number 11 ranking to the final 8 in Shanghai where he narrowed the huge gap between his game and Roger Federer’s by getting three match points in their round-robin meeting before finally losing in the third set. Maybe we should start calling Connors Dr. Frankenstein.
- 14, 000 tennis fans can’t be wrong. Fantasy tennis has arrived. Yes, over 14, 000 tennis fans around the world repeatedly interrupted their workdays to log onto the ATP website and check the daily match results to see if their fantasy team players were winning. They spent a few more hours jawing with the Talk Tennis Forum fantasy fanatics about everything from the Federer-Nadal rivalry to Guillermo Coria’s case of the yips. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fantasy player called up Roger Federer’s management to find out if he really was going to play the Paris Masters event because they had one more Federer left and only needed a few more points to move up and take the championship of their fantasy tennis subleague. If they’d bothered to read my fantasy tennis column each Sunday they’d have known that Federer hasn’t played the Paris Masters since 2003. You might view this kind of behavior as obsessive and even a bit silly, but once you’ve played fantasy tennis, any other kind of fandom is boring. And before you dismiss it, consider that today’s fans require interactivity and if fantasy tennis follows the same arc as fantasy baseball and fantasy football, at the very least it’ll help improve the popularity of tennis and that’s a good thing.
- Tell it to the National Labor Relations Board. Too many tournaments and too little down time. If an ATP player makes it to the year-end championship in Shanghai, or even better, the Davis Cup final, their off-season will last just over 3 weeks. If you’re an Asian player, it could be even shorter. Sania Mirza, Leandro Paes, and Mahesh Bhupati just finished competing in the Asian Games so they’re down to 2 weeks for an off-season and it’s not like they played a few friendly matches either. Sania played through to the finals of the singles, mixed doubles, and women’s doubles. True, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played in only 19 tournaments for a total of 25 weeks action and that’s only half a year, but the season still starts in January and ends 11 months later and any labor union worth its salt looks out for the little guys too. Lower ranked players enter as many tournaments as their body can manage so they can rack up enough points to get into the main draw and avoid qualifying. Speaking of those bodies, injury withdrawals by top 10 WTA players more than doubled this season. The WTA has announced plans to cut back on their schedule, some tournaments will already be gone by 2008, and the ATP is cutting back too, but the ATP has also extended tournaments to 8 days to get more TV coverage and they’re changing some of the tournaments to round-robin format which means that top players will play more often. The season may end up being a few weeks shorter but the top players will end up playing more so how does that change anything?
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