Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beard Disses Phelps: Are Women Allowed to Be Funny in Sports?

Clicking around the TV dial Wednesday night I discovered "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." This is some Fox Sports Net show where guys sit around and try to make each other laugh. It was slightly funny. I left it on to see Serena Williams interviewed. She was repeatedly ribbed for skipping out on viewing the other Olympic events so she could play two events in six days and get back to the states to prepare for the US Open.

She took the laughs in stride. What caught my eye was American swimmer Amanda Beard's appearance later in the show. Earlier in the day Beard apparently had the audacity to crack wise when asked about rumors that she is dating Michael Phelps. "Ew, no" she said "I've never ever hooked up with Michael Phelps in my whole life. I have really good taste. He's not my type, personally." This little joke did not sit well with America. Beard was excoriated for this statement. Joke or no, she had to call the show from Beijing to apologize if anyone was offended. Surprisingly, the funny guys didn't play along with the joke or let her off the hook. They wanted to know if she found Michael to apologize to him in person. Beard pointed out that Phelps is pretty busy now. She didn't add that his ego could probably handle it. She also had to issue a statement about how wonderful Phelps is, and how proud we all are as Americans blah blah blah.

It got me thinking - can women be funny about sports, or is that illegal? The guys on the show were deadly serious when they asked her if she apologized. They even wanted to know if that could be a possibility in the future and how that rumor got started. I know what you're thinking "if the shoe was on the other foot a guy would need to apologize." Think again. We've watched an entire generation of sports anchors and writers collectively and publicly drool over some women athletes and mock ones they found less desirable. They do this on Sportscenter all the time. No apology needed because it's just dudes being funny, right? Can't the shoe be on the other foot for a day?

The whole undertone to this entire episode is kinda creepy since nothing Beard said was actually offensive. It was more along the lines of a preemptive rejection. I'm assuming we retain the right not to date Michael Phelps if asked. After all, it's usually the communist countries that go about the business of genetically engineering the next generation of athletes. There is no mandatory breeding between swimmers. We all know Phelps isn't going to have trouble finding a date.

Maybe Beard is nothing more than a Frosted Flake. However, even the President of the United States was allowed to slap the butt of a beach volleyball player since it was all in good fun. So why not lighten up?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Human Lighting Bolt v. DY: Monday Night Cincy Preview

Slow-motion sliding forehand by Monfils

The atmosphere will be electric on Monday night when Future meets Future. American Donald Young and Frenchman Gael Monfils are two young men with exceptional talent, exciting games and high expectations. DY is the Smooth Operator who makes everything look easy. Monfils cracks across the court like a Human Lighting Bolt. You never know where he's going to strike and he breaks several of the rules of tennis movement, as he demonstrates above by sliding on a hard court. Don't try this at home if you want to keep your knees and ankles intact.

Monfils, 23, is one of the most explosive athletes I've ever seen. When he turned pro he was an athlete who had no idea how to play tennis. Slowly but surely Monfils learned how to play the game and now he's harnessing is power -- he can crank his serve up to 140 mph - and rising quickly up the rankings. After Ali look-alike Jo Tsonga made the Aussie Open final, it touched off serious competition among Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet and Nicholas Mahut. Monfils made the semifinals at the French Open. Gilles Simon won Indianapolis and beat Federer at Toronto. The French are no doubt reaping the benefits of having several great young players compete with each other, much like the young Americans did in the 1990s.

Donald Young, now 18, was discovered in Chicago by John McEnroe and his agent. He has beautiful, smooth groundstrokes and soft hands. DY is the most promising young American out there. His career was initially mishandled by his parents and agents. Turning pro at 15, DY was at a physical and mental disadvantage against men twice his age. His handlers exacerbated the problem by accepting wild cards to get DY into the main draw instead of letting him play challengers and qualifying events. By playing the Phil Kings of the world, DY would have learned how to win. He would have developed confidence against players who were battle tested but not as tough as the top 100.

A few wild cards can be a good thing, but DY had a dismal first three years, barely able to win a match. DY's parents were a substantial part of the problem. In 2007 his mother referred to her son as an "icon" who faces a lot of pressure. I agree that he should be allowed time and patience to develop; nobody is the saviour of American tennis. But earth to the Young family: Donald isn't an icon. At least not yet.

In 2008 DY finally played some lower tier events and
he agreed with me about their importance:
His junior success earned Young several wild cards into U.S. tournaments. But Young wasn't able to capitalize at first. Now he's happy to get in on his own.
"I like being able to get in to tournaments by myself without having to ask or have someone give you access into the tournament," Young said.

Young said his confidence grew after winning a Challenger tournament in Aptos, Calif., last summer.
"Mentally, I felt I could play with those guys," he said. "I started to see other guys I had beaten win (tour matches). I realized I could do it, too. I started believing and I did it."
DY shot up over 350 places in the rankings this year, breaking into the top 100 for the first time. He accepted a wild card into the main draw and is entered in doubles as well. He and the Human Lighting Bolt play Monday night after Russians Marat Safin and Dimitri Tursonov.

YouTube Sensation Leads Day 1 of Tennis Masters Cincinnati

Mikhail Youhzny, aka "The Skull-Cracker" draws blood 

Despite the top seeds receiving a first round bye, there are great matches all day long at the Tennis Masters in Mason.

The afternoon session closes with Mikhail Youhzny v. Tommy Haas. Youhzny became famous earlier this year for busting his head open with his tennis racquet. Haas can be flashy and is at his best on the hard courts.

The twelve seed, Tommy Robredo, once Spain's Next Big Thing, plays Mardy Fish, the flaky but lovable American who once upon a time made the finals here.

Later Tom Berdych plays Fernando Gonzalez. Gonzo is a hit or miss guy. When he's on, he's a real heavyweight who smashes opponents right in the mouth with huge groundstrokes and a massive serve. When he's off, he's off. Berdych is thought by some to be a top tenner, but I'm not buying it.

The oldest man in the draw, Jonas Bjorkman, makes his final appearance here. Bjorkman won three doubles titles in the Queen City: in 1999 with Byron Black, 2004 with Todd Woodbridge and 2006 with Max Miryni. He played through the qualies to earn a first round match-up with Robby Ginepri, the talented but flaky American. (Are we sensing a pattern yet?)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weekend Pressure Cooker #1 to #377

Roger Federer reacts to a missed shot on Saturday in Cincinnati

Roger Federer is the #1 ranked tennis player in the world and owns 12 grand slam titles. Phil King is ranked #377 and toils just to make tennis’s major leagues. But both were in the pressure cooker over the weekend, each facing more questions than answers. 

King won two junior US Open titles before deciding to postpone turning pro to go to college. He graduated from Duke with a double major. This is the road rarely traveled by professional tennis players. Now he finds himself ranked in the 300s, struggling to accumulate points in the challenger and qualifier rounds that function as tennis’s minors. King wonders about the road not taken - what if he had turned pro at 18 instead of going off to college to compete against inferior players? He wouldn't give back his degree but...

On Saturday King took on Kevin Anderson, a tall, thin South African with a wicked serve and a stinging forehand. At 5’9, King is small for this era of tennis players, populated mostly by behemoths like Anderson who are over six feet tall. Anderson is 6’8, five years younger than King. He actually spent three years playing for the University of Illinois before turning pro in 2007. Anderson has the talent to be in the top twenty in the next two years. He surprised the tennis world by quickly making the finals in Las Vegas and beat world no. 3 Novak Djokovic in Miami in the spring.

In the first set it was easy to see that King was overmatched in the talent department. He runs down everything and competes well, but is hampered by not having that one big weapon that can wipe another player off the court. Still, players like King can win a lot of matches, especially if their opponents lose concentration or get frustrated by King’s ability to keep running around the court. I should know. That’s how I win most of my matches. King quickly fell down two breaks of serve. But he’s a battler. Instead of giving up, King broke Anderson back and crawled back into the set. I yelled “c’mon king!” as he walked toward the changeover. King looked up at me and gave a nod and half a smile. When you’re on the road 44 weeks a year trying to scratch out a living, you can use a little encouragement no matter whom it comes from.

King has a better than average serve and an excellent backhand. His backhand return caught Anderson by surprise several times. Anderson has a tendency to stop and admire those rocket serves - not expecting King to get a racket on it – then was caught off guard by having to hit another shot. He steadied himself and closed out the set. The first few games of the second set would tell me a lot about Anderson. Would he have a mental lapse and assume the match was over? Would errors creep into his game? 

The answer was a resounding no. Anderson really put the hammer down in the second set, pounding forehands and whipping serves all over the place. King had to work really hard to stay in it. In the end he lost 6-4, 6-4. A very respectable score, considering the way Anderson played. As both players left the court you wouldn’t have been able to tell who won. King looked disappointed, Anderson looked beaten and worn out. Anderson’s coach was probably pleased with the progress his charge made on Saturday. Not every win against a lower ranked opponent will be a cakewalk, and all too often talented players slop their way through matches like this. Instead he actually played better in the second set. That his display didn’t result in a bigger margin of victory is a credit to King. 

Anderson won his second qualifying match and advanced to the main draw.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer arrived at Cincinnati much earlier than he is accustomed to. Historically The Mighty Fed would be in the finals of Toronto this weekend, not playing a practice match against German Tommy Haas. But this is Roger’s year from hell and welcome to it. First at the Australian Open he had mono and then was dispatched by a player he hates, Novak Djokovic, who went on to win the title. Then came early losses to Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick, then the French Open where he was humiliated by Nadal. And we all know what happened at Wimbledon. 

We’re more than halfway through the tennis year and Roger has yet to find his sea legs. He lost to Gilles Simon in his first match since The Match. Two losses in a row? That’s unheard of for Roger. Of course the fact that we’re surprised that a player lost his first match after a long layover is a tribute to Roger’s greatness. Roger is human after all. We just didn’t expect it. We thought he would be tying or even besting Pete Sampras’s record twelve majors. Instead the writing is on the wall – his rival will overtake him and finish the year at number 1.

On Saturday Roger practiced with Tommy the Tease Haas. We all expected Haas to spend most of his career inside the top ten, but with a series of injuries and an inability to string together good play for longer than a match or two, that has never materialized. Haas is a fun player to watch, he can hit every shot in the book, he will tease you with potential. He had fun with the Roger-loving crowds. Federer looked a little agitated. Nadal’s climb to the top seems like a forgone conclusion to everyone but him. The players steamrolled by Nadal in Toronto declared that he is the true best player in the world. Simply stated, the Mighty Fed is in denial. He isn’t ready to lose his ranking and is banking on winning the Olympics and the US Open to prove everyone wrong. What we have here is a champion with a chip on his shoulder, and lots of pressure to boot. 

Should be a fun week.

Post-Wimbledon Success for the French

Le Chat Fabrice Santoro 

The French have a had a pretty good post-Wimbledon run, led by Gilles Simon, who captured Indianapolis and made it to the semifinals in Toronto, beating Federer in the process. Other French success: 
  • Fabrice Santoro defended his title at Newport. Meanwhile, his namesake, le chat, easily conquered Big Ben.
  • Alize Cornet continues to impress, winning the Gaz de France in Budapest.
  • Marion Bartoli lost in the finals of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
  • Pauline Parmentier captured a Tier III event in Austria.
Simon's big breakthrough should goad the other French players to, in the words of Emeril Lagasse, kick it up a notch. Tsonga and Monfils need to follow-up their Grand Slam successes (Australian final and French semi) with hard court wins.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Did CNNSI Fire Gimelstob?

We've noticed that CNNSI hasn't published one of former player Justin Gimelstob's "columns" since his little radio tirade that occurred during Wimbledon. Did they deep six the douchebag or what?

Sound harsh? Excuse me for not feeling very charitable toward the jerkoff. He appeared on some radio show during Wimbledon to call Anna Kournikova a "bitch" "scumbag" "douche" and someone he "despised to the maximum level, right below hate." 

Had enough? But there's more - noting he was scheduled to play a mixed doubles match against her this summer during World Team Tennis, Gimel-dick talked about how he was going to "kick her asshole" and hit her with a 129 mph serve right in the stomach, "if she's not crying by the time she comes off court I haven't done my job."

Oh really? Who's strong enough to hit that 129 mph serve for him, Serena Williams?  We all know Justin can't get it up anymore.

Gimelstob's Brother Murdered a Cop

Gimeldork offered to have Kournikova sleep with his brother, who is "kind of a stud." Yeah he's a stud alright. None of the articles about this controversy mention that said stud Josh Gimelstob pled guilty to negligent homicide for the hit and run death of a Tulane campus police officer in 1997. He left the scene and tried to get his jeep repaired to cover the crime up. The asshole served a lousy six month prison term. Maybe Justin has his own fantasies about Josh's studliness. 

And yes, there's even more from the New Jersey Sage. He said women's tennis players "lack the social skills, they don't go to high school, they don't go to parties." Yeah. Frat parties. Dudes develop tons of top notch skills from slurping on the beer bong and passing out in dirty bathtubs.

Justin had some other locker room barbs for Nicole Vaisidova and Alize Cornet. Vaisidova didn't take offense, but that's because she's used to dating with losers like
Radek Stepanek. Kournikova's only comment was that she was going to take the high road. She's grown up a lot since she was on the tennis tour and lives a relatively quiet existence. 

Unlike Vaisidova, Serena Williams took up for Kournikova
"Being pro-women's rights, I just think we've come farther than to be referred to like this," said Williams.  "Anna is a great girl. For anyone to say that about her is not professional. It's just totally uncalled for. Unless you really know these people, you talk to these people, you never know what people go through. It's not good to say those things about people."
Truth and Consequences

Gimelstob was suspended by Team Tennis for one match and he issued an apology. A far bigger issue is his recent election to the ATP Board of Directors, which happened before the incident. Gimelstob was hired by CNNSI to write tennis columns but that seems to have stopped. The columns were mostly wastes of time, like when he defended his bro Andy Roddick from what he perceived as unfair criticism by Jon Wertheim, the real tennis journalist at CNNSI. That was ridiculous, since Wertheim is a frequent Roddick defender and all Wertheim said was that Roddick needed to do something about the attitude he developed with Jimmy Connors. (He did; he parted ways with Jimbo)

Unfortunately the usually strong Wertheim sort of defended Gimelstob after the incident. I wish Wertheim and CNNSI would weigh in on this. If the guy has been fired they need to say so. My take on it is simple:  you have free speech, but private employers retain the right to make you suffer the consequences. That's apparently a tough concept for the Gimelstob family.

Real Estate Market Hits Tennis Stars

The rich and famous aren't immune from the housing mess.  Of course not many have had to hit the pavement yet, but still, I'm sure Pete Sampras never imagined having to shave two million off the $25 million sale price to move his English tudor in L.A. The 10,000 square foot house has five bedrooms and twelve bathrooms. Twelve bathrooms are ideal for those of us who hate to clean the bathroom. The LA Times has no info on where he's moving. Pics here

Meanwhile, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have pulled out of their plans to invest in a new resort in central Idaho. Tennis Magazine cited market conditions and litigation as the reason the doubles team is cutting their losses. The Tamarack resort was slated to be a four-season resort with property starting at $450,000. Development of its ski and leisure areas planned for a measly $1.5 billion. A spokesperson for Agassi Graf Development said the pair still hope to do business in the area in the future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Greg and Chrissie: Instant Karma and All…

...It’s a Bitch

You would think from watching the ABC golf talking heads over the weekend that the two blonde icons of the ‘80s, Greg Norman and Chris Evert, were living the Greatest Love of All Time. They apparently did. It was just a few weeks ago that they had a
$2 million wedding in the Bahamas, where it rained (which Greg described as the spittle of heaven consecrating their union). The wedding featured cameo appearances by Bill Clinton and George Bush I. And the man with his half-a-billion dollar golf empire was able to send goons out to hassle the paparazzi and rent the sky over the wedding site to prevent anyone from taking pictures. (The better to preserve them for eventual sale to an Australian tabloid. At press time there was no word on any Branjelina charity donation)

And even better than Bahamian Godly Spittle is finding one’s Magic Driver in the shapely thighs—um, I mean
closet…of an 18-time major tennis champion. As this year's British Openo began, the other famous golfing Animal was back home with a bad Tiger paw, and according to the Golden Bear himself, these young, non-mammalian golfers were weak candy-asses. So how about a Shark attack? Sure Greg hadn’t won a tournament in ages, only played in four during the last three years, and had almost stopped practicing altogether. (Greg claims to play more tennis than golf, which is why after three rounds he said he wasn’t tired, while fat guys half his age wheezed around the golf course like little blowfish).

So there they were, improbably back on center stage. Greg led the first round and it was a nice story, resulting in a good many columnists saying “Chris Evert married Greg Norman?!” After the second round the old guy was still the leader. Chrissie was seen dutifully lugging a gigantic diamond around the golf course after her man. The buzz became an avalanche after the third round when The Shark, assisted by the Ice Maiden, vanquished everyone on a day of 60 mph winds.

The Shark led for three rounds and now it was time, the people seemed to agree, for Norman to chase away all his demons by achieving The Greatest Golf Victory of All Time. The guy who did more for the game of golf than anyone since Jack Nicklaus had a chance to better his elder by becoming the oldest man to win a major. Norman has a tragic record in grand slam events, with just two wins and several horrifying, embarrassing losses. There are the ones he lost when other players made ridiculous, lucky-shot chip-ins. And then there are the ones he surrendered faster than Henri Petain in the Battle of France, by choking away huge leads. By the time he went into Sunday with a two-shot lead he had a non-stellar 1-6 record when he was the leader going into the final day of a major.

All of this might lead you to believe that karma was on Greg Norman’s side. A win would erase even the disaster at the Masters. 

But Karma, boys and girls, can be a real bitch. Norman collapsed and lost.

Once upon a time on the way to the wedding chapel…

…Chris Evert and Greg Norman stabbed their spouses in the back, a fact Evert is now acknowledging in a new interview with Vogue.
Instant karma’s gonna get you.

Observers already knew the dirt on this one. Evert’s ex-husband Andy Mill was Norman’s best friend. Norman had been married for 24 years, Evert 18. The foursome vacationed together and it is said that Evert and Norman first hooked up during one of their fishing trips (in the middle of the night no less).
Gonna look you right in the face.

Evert announced she was divorcing Mill in the fall of 2006. She accomplished the divorce in record time: about six weeks (lawyers can’t even clear their throats that fast), generously paying Mill $7 million to end it ASAP. He stepped aside gracefully, but the word around South Florida was that he was totally devastated.
He told People magazine "Greg Norman at one time was my best friend, and a year and a half ago, I would have taken a bullet for this guy. But I didn't realize he was the one that was going to pull the trigger." With three kids to co-parent, he gets to tough it out with Evert over the long haul. Better get yourself together darlin.

Norman’s ex, Laura Andrassy, did not go quietly. At all. She took Norman to the cleaners. Alex Rodriguez, take note: They repeatedly denied the affair. Norman was fighting Andrassy tooth and nail over his golf empire.  Until Andrassy subpoenaed Evert for a deposition. Had that deposition taken place Chrissie would have had to produce every gift and love letter and discuss them in gruesome detail. Greg would not let this happen. He surrendered before the deposition could go forward. When it was all said and done he agreed to pay Andrassy $100 million to keep the truth out of the tabloids.
Join the human race

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Evert is now confessing the affair to Vogue: the Teflon Twins took more hits to their respective images over this than they’ve ever taken before. South Florida and Australia covered the divorces closely. People in Florida were utterly shocked, there had been no rumors, Mill was extremely well liked. Evert is now a two-time loser, with both marriages being dogged by her affairs.
How in the world you gonna see

If the respective exes are to be believed, they never saw it coming. Evert is now saying that it was
“an irresistible force” that drew them together. “How do you explain something like that?” she said. Laughin at fools like me

Oh Chrissie, don’t try me. There’s always the hormones-and-Viagra explanation, or the public-attention-deficit disorder explanation. Or maybe, just maybe, even true love.
Who in the hell do you think you are

Vogue probably can’t believe its luck. Had Greg Norman not gone out and almost won at major at age 53, their little revelation would have been mostly unnoticed. Instead of publishing a nice little article about glamorous has-beens living fabulous lives, Vogue is now sitting on a hot piece of gossip.
A super star?

It’s a great story. Who are we to judge? I cheered for The Shark on Sunday. I always liked Evert and like her still.
Well right you are.

The Karma Police would probably agree with me if it weren’t for the way they pushed the details of the affair in their exes faces. Airing this kind of dirty laundry in Vogue, for your kids and all the world to see? That’s a little much even for me, a feckless lawyer. And the damage control aspect of the Vogue article will now work in reverse, as a peak at the web today surely reveals. Maybe living well is the greatest revenge. (Ask Andrassy, she oughta know.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blake Research Fund

James Blake has established the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Research Fund in memory of his father.

The Blake Research Fund invests seed money in leading-edge science in order to speed up the most promising work and shorten the time it takes to turn laboratory discoveries into better treatments for patients.
The Blake Fund has raised $500,000 with the goal of $1 million by the end of 2008.