The organizers of the Tour de France accused Lance Armstrong of using EPO by testing a urine sample from the 1999 Tour. Since there is no second sample, a positive result requires a positive test on an A and B sample, the Tour can never prove that Armstrong tested positive and Armstrong can never prove that he didn’t test positive. Ignoring the problem that the Tour says it has correctly identified Armstrong’s sample even though samples are labeled anonymously, this is the cheapest, lowest method possible for discrediting someone just because they don’t happen to be French.

Not that I approve of Woody Allen’s personal life choices, but it reminds me of Mia Farrow accusing Allen of child abuse after finding out that Allen started a sexual relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi. The district attorney stated that he believed that there was abuse but decided not to prosecute. The authorities could not prove abuse and Allen could not prove his innocence.

I once attended a film music conference in the south of France. The French, and honestly, much of Europe, is not happy about the glut of American films that flood their entertainment market. When it came time for the American group to address the conference, they assigned us a translator who was not able to translate our statements. The slight was very transparent. “If you’re going to insult us”, I thought, “at least be respectful enough to do it subtly.”

When I expressed my anger about the Tour’s treatment of Armstrong to a French citizen, she said: “Yeah, it’s cheap, but we hate George Bush.” I understand, I hate him too. He started a war in Iraq that he can’t finish and he holds prisoners without trial and tortures them. We, as Americans, deserve a slap in the face. But Lance Armstrong doesn’t. He won seven straight Tours fair and square. He deserves to be celebrated.

We, as Americans, deserve a slap in the face. But Lance Armstrong doesn’t. He won seven straight Tours fair and square. He deserves to be celebrated.

With the exception of Sebastien Grosjean, who delayed a match for over nine minutes by disagreeing with a call then encouraging spectators to protest in his match with Rafael Nadal at the French Open, there are some excellent French players who are very nice people. I’ll take the high road here and cover the French players instead of retaliating by ignoring them. This week the ATP is in Paris for the Paris Masters event so let’s take the opportunity to watch Fabrice Santoro (France) play Gauston Gaudio (Argentina).

The Tennis Channel is broadcasting eleven and a half hours a day of this event. You’d think it was a grand slam. Which brings up the question: why schedule a Masters Series event before players have to fly to Shanghai for the Tennis Masters Cup, the year-end championship? Master Series tournaments were created to reduce pressure on players to play too many tournaments by giving some tournaments more value than others – you get more ranking points if you win at a Masters Series event. The idea is good but which tournament is more important – a Masters Series event or the year-end championship? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won all eight Masters Series events this year but they have wisely decided to sit out this event and rest up for Shanghai.

Santoro, known as the magician, is the pro version of the player who drives amateurs crazy. You know them. They hit the ball wherever you can’t get to it whether it looks pretty or not. Drop shots, slices, lobs and sometimes towering lobs – everything that drives you totally crazy. Worse than that, these players often win because they take you completely out of your game.

Santoro, known as the magician, is the pro version of the player who drives amateurs crazy.

Believe me, Santoro’s shots are not pretty. He has a two-handed backhand, a two-handed forehand – including the volley – and a slice that starts out two-handed but ends up one-handed. We see what Santro is about right away. He plays a drop shot on the first point of the match. By the time he’s won the first game, we’ve seen another drop shot, a serve and volley, and an ace.

This is the first time these two players have met so Gaudio will have to adjust to some of Santoro’s favorite tactics. In each of the first two games, Santoro hits a dropshot to get Gaudio to the net then lobs him. It doesn’t work for Santoro yet but Gaudio will see it again and again.

Santoro saves his second service game with a point that features a series of low slices to Gaudio’s backhand, a topspin lob out of nowhere and, finally, a backhand cross court to get Gaudio out of the court followed by a backhand down the line. This is what you call working a point. In the next game, Santoro chips and charges on a Gaudio second serve then chips and charges on a first serve. How often do you see that? Gaudio is no slouch either, with great touch at the net, he runs down a passing shot and deftly drops it sharply cross court to stay on serve at 2-2.

Here’s another typical Santoro point: serve then approach with a cross court shot, drop the returning shot just over the net on the sideline so his opponent has to run the longest distance possible to get to the ball, and, if they do manage to get to the ball, hit a topsin lob over their head. So far, though, Gaudio’s too good. He covers the court very well and Santoro’s lobs are turned into smashes or they go long. In the fourth game, Santoro hits seven straight slices. Unfortunately, they drop short and Gaudio gets his first winner of the match. One point later, Gaudio turns the table and lobs Santro to break him and go up 3-2.

Santoro must have the weakest serve of any player who comes to the net regularly. Tonight it costs him. He may be tired from a tough three setter with Jarko Nieminem last night. Santoro’s not getting close enough to the net and ends up hitting a lot of half volleys. Gaudio breaks him to go up 5-2. It looks like we’re not seeing the magician on one of his best nights.

Santoro has an excuse for being tired. At twenty-nine years old, he’s one of the older players on the tour and he’s played in twenty-nine consecutive grand slams, second only to Dominik Hrbaty with thirty-six.

Gaudio’s mind leaves the building as he serves for the set. He hits balls long then does something very strange. On break point, Santoro hits a soft slice return that lands on the baseline. Gaudio looks at it but doesn’t hit it and doesn’t protest the line call. After the point, he walks in a circle behind the baseline and has a conversation with himself. No doubt he’s reminding himself that this is a relatively important tennis match. If he does well in this tournament and other players falter, he could qualify for a spot in the year-end championship.

Serving at 3-5, Santoro disagrees with a call then lets a ball go at the net that he thought was long giving Gaudio set point. Still unhappy with the bad call, Santoro hits a ball, on the bounce, towards the umpire’s chair as he walks back to the baseline. It hits the umpire, albeit gently, but Santoro doesn’t get a warning, the umpire doesn’t say anything. Would Lance Armstrong get away with that?

On his third set point, Gaudio gives Santoro some of his own medicine. He hits a drop shot that is untouchable and wins the first set, 6-4.

This is not the match it could have been. Santoro looks tired and Gaudio, like most players on the tour, would much rather play anyone but Santoro. He doesn’t allow you to get into a rhythm and that makes it hard to play excellent, exciting tennis. Then again, that’s the idea. You don’t want your opponent playing excellent tennis.

Santoro’s game forces you to play his style of tennis. If you want to beat him, you have to construct a point patiently and meticulously. Gaudio lobs Santoro often and attacks his forehand until he gets a good opportunity to approach the net. Utimately, Gaudio’s serve is the difference in the match. Santoro faces nine break points while Gaudio faces only two and none in the second set.

Gaudio converts one of those break points to go up 6-5 and serves for the set. Gaudio takes the match with another unreturnable drop shot. He wins the match, 6-4, 7-5.

Gaudio was a good student. He studied the magician, played the magician’s game and beat him. If an athlete plays well, I don’t care where they come from, I respect that.

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