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.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Into the Time Capsule

That video of Pete Sampras on the Charlie Rose show is not available yet, so let’s look back in the time capsule to December 19, 1996. The number 1 ranked player is Pete Sampras. He is 25 and has eight majors. You can tell it’s the 1990s because he’s wearing a flannel shirt.

His coach and best friend, Tim Gullickson, passed away on May 3. There’s something about seeing Pete Sampras cry or almost cry that makes me cry buckets. You can tell by the set of his jaw and the look in his eyes that he’s trying to keep it all inside, even before he says his first words in this interview. Tim’s twin brother Tom Gullickson joins him for the interview. Tom was the Davis Cup Captain at the time. The US won the Davis Cup in 1995 behind Pete’s spectacular defeat of the Russians, in Moscow, on clay, where he won both singles matches and the doubles (with Todd Martin). The Russians haven’t lost in Moscow since.

Tom and Pete are on the show to discuss the recently formed Tim and Tom Gullickson Foundation, which is a non-profit that helps families cope with brain cancer. With all the focus on curing these dreadful diseases, the everyday battles of patients and caregivers can get lost. The Gullicksons set out to change that. Tom and Pete were in New York to play in the Foundation’s first benefit, along with Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jim Courier.

Beyond that sad event, it’s fun to hear their assessment of Pete’s career so far and how the rest of the field stacked up. Tom and Pete said Agassi could continue be the biggest threat to take the number 1 ranking…if interested and motivated. That proved to be correct.

Pete correctly diagnosed Andre as having a letdown after the 1995 US Open final. As Pete notes, their rivalry was huge in 1995 with commercials and a major media blitz. Everyone hoped it would just continue into 96 and beyond, but it fizzled when Andre went on another one of his walkabouts, to use the Aussie term. This is pretty evident in the brief clip of Agassi at Gullickson’s funeral, with his chubby cheeks and close-cropped head. If you're trying to figure out when a clip or photo of Agassi was taken, his appearance is always a dead giveaway.

As the 96 Olympics coach, Tom noticed that Agassi was highly motivated to win the gold medal and did, then rode the crest of his Olympic win the following week in Cincinnati against a much tougher field. But Andre was just starting his longest slide down the rankings yet. Look for this same dynamic at this summer’s Olympics in Beijing. Tennis’s experience in the modern Olympics has been mixed, with unconventional winners every time. The first person to correctly post the name of the 2004 men’s gold medalist in the comments wins a CounterPuncher t-shirt.

Tom Gullickson will be appearing at the Tennis Masters Series in Cincinnati on July 25.

Pete and Andre did have a few more moments left in their rivalry. And tennis finally got its great men's rivalry from players, styles and countries that were not foreseen back in 1996.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Champions Roundtable at Tennis Week

Reaction to The Match continues to pour in.  Tennis Week has a spirited discussion with Fred Stolle, Alex Olmedo, Tony Trabert and Jim Courier, with all agreeing this was the greatest match. Trabert points out that Nadal-Federer have played more grand slam finals against each other, 6, than any of the other major rivalries in the men's game.  Fred Stolle had some interesting things to say about Federer:
The other thing we (John Newcombe, Fred’s broadcast partner) noticed was when Federer came to the net he almost never came in a hurry. He has got to learn when he comes in to come in with urgency! You come in against Nadal you better come in fast and close that net hard and get two meters closer. Contrary to what most people think, we don’t think Federer is a great volleyer. Now when I saw that this is nit picky a little bit: he’s a good volleyer, but he’s not a great volleyer because he doesn’t consistently get behind the flight of the ball. He tends to bring the racquet face down and sometimes looks to where he’s hitting and when you’re volleying against someone who can dip the ball with that much spin as Nadal you must get that racquet behind the flight of the ball. He’s got to practice that volley and approach more.
Fred gave both high praise for their sportsmanship and character:
Stop and think about what Nadal did this past month: he gave Federer one of his worst losses in the French Open final, he got on the train and came over to London with just a couple of days to practice on grass and then he played Queen’s Club and beat Karlovic, Roddick and Djokovic to win his first grass-court title. Then he plays phenomenal tennis to beat the five-time defending champion in the greatest match I’ve seen there and you have to think the guy must be completely buggered after all that, but he gets on the plane and flies to Stuttgart so he can personally tell the tournament organizers and press that he needs to withdraw. Now how many guys in the world do you think would do what Nadal did? For Federer it was a heart-breaking loss and he handled himself so well and showed his character. I don’t know if you picked this up on TV back in the States, but Nadal went outside and signed autographs for 15 minutes after that match. You could say the rain saved Federer a bit in that Nadal might have won in straight sets, but you saw the character of Federer that when he came back he fought with everything he had and in fact when he got it into a fifth many former players I spoke to there to a man thought Federer would win. These two guys are just a level above in what they bring to the sport.

Jim Courier on Charlie Rose Show

Jim Courier appeared on the Charlie Rose show to break down the match, calling it a "revolutionary match" for the sport, especially in the US. Judging by the fact that people are still talking about it a week later, he's right.

Charlie is a true tennis lover.  Sampras was on Friday. We will post the link when it becomes available.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tennis Balls Used to Deliver Drugs in Jail

I think I just found a new way to get my drugs through customs. 

Chang Inducted to Hall of Fame

Above:  The Reebok pump shoe. Chang's Reebok ad slams Nike and "those rock and roll" tennis guys. Hmm wonder who that referred to? 

Chang was inducted into the Hall of Fame today. It made at least one blogger scratch his head and wonder why. Sean Randall wants to know why Thomas Muster and Sergi Brugera aren't in the Hall. He suggests any player who achieves the number 1 ranking should be eligible, then lays out his other criteria. I disagree with the kind of guidelines he advocates, where achieving a numerical benchmark garners entry. There are players who reached the top ranking who shouldn't be considered, like Marcelo Rios. (We agree on Muster, he should be in, but Brugera never had success on other surfaces and had neither the longevity nor the non-French achievements that Chang does. I believe a credible argument can be made in favor of Michael Stich and Juan Carlos Ferrerro, but there again, where is the consistency?? Part of the equation here needs to be not just how much you win, but how long you do it, the way you do it and and when you do it:  coming up with clutch victories in the most difficult and important circumstances ought to factor prominently. Venus Williams, for example, doesn't win a lot of titles. She just wins the big ones)

Statistics don't tell the only story. On longevity, accomplishment and degree of difficulty of the competition, I think Chang deserves this honor. I don't think Chang got in because he is American, or because he spurred tennis in Asia, as Tennis-X suggests. I think he got in because in addition to his French Open victory, he was near the top for an extended period of time in an era with many more outstanding players than there are now. Bud Collins writing for the Boston Globe said:
Perpetual motion personified, making few mistakes, swift 5-foot-9-inch Chang was a finalist in three other majors: 1995 French to Thomas Muster; 1996 Australian to Boris Becker; 1996 US to Sampras. He won 34 singles titles, among them the 1998 US Pro at Longwood, and 662 matches, batting .680. He inhabited the top 10 seven times, No. 2 in 1996, No. 3 the following year.
He may have gotten credit for being part of the greatest generation of American players, and I don't see what's wrong with that. That generation of players was among the greatest historically too. His fellow competitor, Pete Sampras, said "That little guy, Michael, inspired the rest of us. He was the first to win a big one, and we thought if he can do it, so can we."

Although Chang rarely played Davis Cup, he was part of one of the greatest American victories during the 1990 semifinal against Austria. Chang earned a place in Davis Cup lore by rallying from two sets to love down to Horst Skoff, in the face of 18,000 screaming fans, to win the fifth and deciding match in five sets. Again, Bud Collins:
Locked at 2-2 in a semifinal, the US seemed out of it as Chang lost the first two sets to Horst Skoff. "I didn't expect to play," Chang recalls. "We figured Andre [Agassi] would clinch in the fourth match by beating Muster. Didn't happen."
Trapped, he managed to win the third set before darkness intervened.

Maybe he could credit Alexander Graham Bell with the decisive triumph. Having watched the match on TV at home in California, brother Carl Chang, his coach, phoned Michael, calming him and outlining the winning strategy. That 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 result made Michael merely the second American to win the decisive fifth match from two sets down. The other was Don Budge over Germany's Gottfried von Cramm in the 1937 semis.
The US went on to win the Davis Cup that year. 

Chang was presented into the Hall by his brother Carl, who acted as coach for much of his career. That was fitting, because Chang was never really a part of the greater tennis scene. He wasn't the type with buddies or close friends on tour.  He and his family stayed away, focused on faith. Chang, who is finally giving up bachelorhood, was true to form in his speech, focusing primarily on family and faith.

In my youth, I had the opportunity to watch many a Chang match at the Cincinnati Masters. In his 16 consecutive appearances, he made four straight finals, won twice and is second in total matches won in the Queen City, to Stefan Edberg. I was there the day Stefan Edberg took revenge on Chang for that French Open final, beating Chang to become the no. 1 player in the world. I watched Chang jump rope for twenty minutes on the practice court just to warm up. The year Monica Seles was stabbed, when all the players were on guard against psycho fans, I saw Chang embrace a crazy lady who ran onto the practice court to give him a hug, waiting patiently for security. I remember thrilling night matches against Rafter and Andre. Once I saw Carl Chang preparing Michael to face someone's kick serve - possibly Patrick Rafter's- by standing inside the service box to create shoulder-high serves for Chang to take a whack at. In 1992 my brother and I briefly met equally diminutive boxer Tim Lewis, the bronze medalist, who was on his way to meet Michael. He was a constant in those night matches, electrifying the crowd with his effort on every point. 

Chang is playing on Courier's Champions Tour, taking seminary classes and working with players in China and the US. He was a proponent of the Beijing Olympics and acted as an official ambassador. I bet he will be there carrying the Olympic Torch around the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. 

For my thoughts on how exciting a player he was, why he was a better player than Lleyton Hewitt and what Chang's experience could mean for Rafa Nadal, review my January post on Chang.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sampras Reacts to The Match

Bodo wrote a book with Pete Sampras that was published last month. Today he published a short interview with Pete on his blog for Tennis magazine about Pete's reaction to Nadal-Federer.
Two all-time greats, at their prime, playing great on the best court on earth. if you wrote a script it couldn't have been any better - Roger coming back from two sets to love, Nadal showing his heart. . . I thought it was great tennis and great drama.
I think Roger handled himself with a lot of class. What I really liked is that the match goes to show that when you come right down to it, great moments aren't about controversy, and they aren't about personality. They're about two great players who manage to reach beyond the usual audience for the game - that's especially big in this country. It was impressive that two guys who aren't American could capture the American sports fans that way.
I love that his comment was a dig at the personality nonsense that constantly dogged his career.

Sampras texted Federer to offer encouragement:
"Bad luck, too bad there had to be a loser in that one." I said he should take pride in the way he and Rafa are taking the sport way beyond the usual audience. He should feel great about that. He texted me back to say thanks.

I know it was disappointing for him, I'm sure he's still playing that match in his mind. But in years to come, he'll look back on this match and appreciate the moment. No question in my mind about that.

Pete believes Roger still would win seven out of ten meetings with Nadal on grass. I'm not surprised he feels that way. I'm thinking maybe it's four times out of ten but his larger point is right on target: this is not the end for Roger, it's just the beginning of a tougher ride. Pete provided extra reassurance for all the crushed Fed fans; he still expects Roger to break his grand slam record:
Oh, absolutely. It's inevitable. He'll be in contention for all the majors, and he'll win a few more Wimbledons and U.S. Opens before he's done - no doubt in my mind.

What major will you be attending next?

The one where Roger is poised to break my record. I'm kind of selfish about it, though - I told Roger that if that happens to be at the Australian Open, I may not make the trip. It's far, I've logged a lot of miles in my life going to tennis tournaments. I half-kiddingly told him he'll have to do it at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, so now we'll just have to see what happens. Emotionally, I'd like to see him do it at either of those two places, preferably Wimbledon. And I want to be there out of respect for him, but I also would like to go back to Wimbledon someday, because I love that place.

Mr. Pete Sampras, always a class act.

Bodo, by the way,
finally decided that Federer finally had his "warrior moment" last weekend. You may recall Bodo's rants about what a ball of wuss Federer was and how manly Nadal is in comparison. Bodo is bothered by Fed's hair, his stylish clothing and his total domination of men's tennis. The domination wasn't enough for Bodo because, gosh darnit, Federer seems like a wimpy little Euro. Bodo, much like Don Imus loves to wax poetic about his testosterone-filled ranch but spends most of his life living in Manhattan. I'm so happy he's concluded that Roger is indeed a man.

Because of my love for Pete Sampras I have to buy the Bodo book, so I need to get my (B)dodo bashing in now so I can give it an honest review.


You know men's tennis achieved something truly epic when the match transcends the court and spills over onto... The Gossip Pages.

That's right, Nadal hit both TMZ and gossip guru Ted Casablanca on E! (who judged Rafa as a hottie on the do-me meter). So Rafa apparently has a "secret" girlfriend (yeah, we all wondered about those man-capris) who is banned from his matches due to her magical powers. Deadspin and TMZ have a gaggle of photos of Nadal and said girlfriend- "Xisca"- on the beach. She's 18, white bikini, white hot - you know, the usual.

So who has girlfriend bragging rights, Nadal or Roddick?

I'm thinking Roger needs to tell Mirka to go back to blonde, that dishwater brown isn't working out.

Meanwhile, naughtier, guiltier pleasure Perez Hilton featured tennis several times over the last two weeks. If you're on Perez you're certainly at the top of the zeitgeist meter (just check out the Perez-effect on iTunes). TMZ also got into the, ahem, "act" with Venus and Serena. All this gossip attention can only mean one thing: major celebrity/poseur activity at the US Open.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mom to Serena: Grow up!

To those of you who think we just pick on Serena unfairly, consider this:
(H)er relatives willingly take much of the blame for her inability to deal with defeat as an outgrowth of them always spoiling her as the baby of the family. Her sister, Lyndrea, who flew in from Los Angeles yesterday, said Serena to this day can't even bear to lose when they play the card game "spoons."

"Serena thinks everything is supposed to go her way, that's the bottom line," said mom/coach Oracene Price, who had finally removed the large sunglasses she hid behind during the match. "She thinks that's the way it's supposed to go in life. But this is life."
For her mother's part, however, she believes it's time for Serena to grow up and experience a reality check on life in the real world.

"Well, you know, she's going to have to learn how to suck things up," Price said. "[She needs to] say, 'OK, I'm not going to win everything. This is going to make me a better person. This will build character for myself and I have to learn how to lose. I might not be happy about it, but I just have to go on, go on and say, you know what, I didn't get this one, but I'm getting the next one.'"

While Price compassionately understands Serena's disappointment in being outplayed, she would prefer her daughter to deal with defeat in a different way -- her present style of going AWOL is disturbing. Most recently, Serena tuned out after her shocking third-round exit at the recent French Open, in which unlike Saturday's final, she played sloppy, dispassionate tennis.

"I'm not going to say nothing," said Price, smiling when asked how she might go about consoling Serena. "Before she won Australia [2007] that time and she lost in Hobart I didn't see her for two days. She didn't answer my e-mails, no texts, nothing. And when she lost at the French Open [2008], which was the worst, nothing for a week or two. You can't talk to her because she's not communicating with anyone."
The rest of Sandra Harwitt's story is here.

I'm with
Jon Wertheim, who said discovering Serena is a classless loser even when the victor is big sis is sort of a relief.

Revoke His Press Credential

I've always liked William C. Rhoden. He's a thoughtful writer who defies the sound-bite loudmouth culture of American sportswriting. He has never been afraid to take a tough stand on whatever hot button issue comes along to activate the American sportsfan's hypocrisy, racism or whatever boneheaded obsession the country has got on about. I even enjoyed today's column for the New York Times.

But dude, you can't go to watch a Will Smith movie when Nadal is up two sets to love and looking like a runaway winner. That's what he and his family did.

Up to this point, the highlight of a tennis vacation in London had been the extraordinary journey of the Williams sisters, carrying the flag for American tennis — and their meeting for the championship at Centre Court on Saturday. What could beat that? Federer was going for a sixth straight title and Nadal, who had fallen to the champion the previous two years, was simply trying to win Wimbledon for the first time.

What could beat it? Bill, where have you been buddy? Last year's final was a classic and Nadal was playing much better than he had in 2007. Federer was not going to go quietly. Many of us predicted a thriller. Sure, maybe not the greatest match ever, but close observers knew it would be as historic as the all Williams final, even if it was a three-set beat down. Yet he still went to the movie:
We re-emerged an hour and a half later, fully expecting to hear somewhere along the road that Federer had nearly come back but had finally lost. The television at the Goat and Boots had what we thought were highlights. But who won?

Another tavern. More highlights, we thought.

We reached the Hereford Arms, saw the large crowds, heard the whooping, and realized that these were not highlights. This match had become an epic. Nadal was near exhaustion but fighting with a determined verve that had long since won over even the most skeptical fan. A classic. The crowd cheered lustily, and by this point rooting interests had given way to deep respect for two champions. All that remained was to crown a champion, not determine the better man.
Mind-boggling to choose Will Smith over Wimbledon, especially when you're live in London. Maybe it was old hat, maybe they'd been there many times before and needed a tourism break. Even sharing a pint at the Goat and Boots has got to beat watching a flick you can see anywhere, anytime. (I'm sure bootlegged copies will be plentiful in Beijing during the Olympics). But hey, this is the equivalent of walking out on your employer-sponsored trip for a day of frivolity on the employer's dime. We all know I would NEVER do a thing like that... :->

Other than that he penned a good article. However, if Rhoden is thinking of turning in his credential for next year, I'll gladly trade him my space at whatever LawyerPallooza is happening then.


And the Great London Circus.

There was a moment today, right before the rains came (the first time), when I had to take a deep breath to realize what we were witnessing. Rafa, who was favored by many to win Wimbledon, was taking out Roger like so much trash. And Roger – normally so brilliant at making adjustments – was totally windblown, completely off course. I can’t remember another time when the great champion looked so confused. He was about to lose in straight sets, and then all the whispers he’s heard all year (Federer has lost it, Nadal is better, Djokovic thinks he can be beaten, he won’t tie Sampras, Federer is through) would become roars. But the rains did come, and not a moment too soon. Would this be shades of the Andy Roddick final in 2005? Roddick, playing brilliant aggressive tennis, was tied at 1 set all, and up a break, looking like an upset winner. Something happened during that rain delay. Federer figured Roddick out and was unbeatable on grass for the foreseeable future.

The Championships had been nearly devoid of rain in 2008, so the storm clouds were fortuitous, perhaps even evidence that the gods favored Federer after all. Still, after the rain delay Federer would have to rally from two sets to love to become the first man in 100 years to win six straight at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. Nadal was just two games from winning the match and becoming the first man since Borg to pull the French/Wimbledon double.Nadal had pushed Federer all over the court. When Roger came to net he was missing volleys, getting passed, looking hesitant. McEnroe’s little nugget about practicing with Rafa earlier in the tournament was instructive. Mac was surprised by the heaviness of Nadal’s ball, which was full of spin that stayed low to the ground, making it very difficult to volley effectively 

Roger was different right out of the box. . Instead of going to serve and volley, he picked up his serve and started lashing his forehand, dictating play, moving in when he had the chance. Federer's forehand was an incredible weapon. He won the third set in a tiebreak.

The fourth set tiebreaker was a marvelous example of grit, heart, guts and glory. It rivaled Borg and McEnroe’s 1980 epic. Nadal had two match points but Roger, like Borg, came up with the goods. Now they were even. How could Nadal, who sobbed in the locker room after last year’s five-set loss, stand to lose another heartbreaker? More importantly, could he keep himself from thinking about losing another heartbreaker? While everyone was pondering this, including Nadal, Roger started the fifth set in full flight. He had all the momentum, just as Rafa had the year before.
You want a piece of me? He seemed to say. You can’t have it. Come and get me Nadal.

The fifth set was a match all on its own. It included two rain delays – the last we would see on center court, as a new roof will be ready for 2009 – increasingly dark rain clouds and rapidly decaying light. And no tiebreak. The players would see it through until someone broke serve, even if that meant reconvening on Monday. Nadal played from behind that whole fifth set. Every time he was down 0-30 it felt like Roger would close the door. But time after time, Nadal steadied himself. When Rafa pressured Roger the same thing happened. He would not fold. Federer was going to make him pry that trophy from his cold, dead hands.

Neither man was a villain. On the changeovers the crowd was evenly split, simultaneously chanting "Roger! Roger!" and "Rafa, Rafa!"  People were in a frenzy, it was a religious experience, the closest most of us will get to speaking tongues. I paced around the living room while Cyclops looked on anxiously.

Finally, in the near dark, at the last possible moment before the dying of the light, Nadal broke serve. Fittingly, he still had to serve it out at 8-7. I thought about all the times all the tennis players all over the world had stayed on the court a touch too long, playing right up until dark, not wanting to go inside. When Nadal earned his third championship point Roger unleashed his best backhand of the day for a clean return winner. Maybe we would be seeing tennis again tomorrow after all. Then at last, Nadal finished it off, flashbulbs popping the way they did for Pete Sampras when he won his fourteenth, a spectacular sight. Nadal fell to the court in shock, the King deposed.

Long live the King.

Where Nadal rates as a tennis prodigy is overlooked because he toils in the shadow of The Mighty Federer. He seemed physically and mentally a man from the moment he burst onto the scene, winning his first French Open at age 18. With bulging biceps and massive energy, Nadal scared the hell out of half the field. Now with four French Open titles at just 22 years old, he still hasn’t lost at Roland Garros. During the last fifteen years we witnessed the rise of the tennis-version of the Spanish Armada, but those players didn’t really aspire to anything beyond the French Open. Sergei Brugera, Alberto Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrerro – all won in Paris. Yet they often skipped Wimbledon altogether and barely made a dent when they showed up. There were two exceptions to this rule. There was Alex Corretja, who more of a hard court player than a clay specialist. Alex went on to star in one of the most memorable matches in US Open history with his gut-wrenching five-set loss to Pete Sampras in 1996. And Carlos Moya, a French winner and fellow mellow Majorcan, who made the finals of the Aussie.

Unlike his predecessors, Nadal announced he wanted to win Wimbledon right away, and he meant it. Nadal's declaration was an awfully lofty goal considering what appeared to be the limitations of his game: big loopy groundstrokes, a soft serve, no net experience and a penchant for playing ten feet beyond the baseline. But Nadal proved to be an exceptionally quick study, and you could watch him improve at a rate that had to be alarming to the rest of the field. Flattening out his groundstrokes, bolstering his serve, discovering he had good hands at net, and bending the laws of physics to his will, Nadal made two Wimbledon finals. The first time he was overmatched (2006); in the second, he fought valiantly, making Federer step it up a notch to regain control and win in five; it was a modern classic (2007).

The third Wimbledon final for Rafa was destined to be a match for all time. From the moment Nadal humiliated Federer in the French Open final four weeks ago, the two were on a collision course – irresistible force vs. immovable object. Federer was the seemingly immovable object. Five straight Wimbledons. Success on all four surfaces. Roger was able to beat everyone in every type of tournament, fast or slow, big or small. He took on all comers and was frighteningly accurate. We watched many matches where Roger scattered a paltry ten unforced errors over three sets. We watched him transcend his sport and project himself into the sporting arena the world over, drawing comparisons with Tiger Woods. We watched him move without an entourage, traveling only with his girlfriend/business manager and a chef, a feat unheard of in this era of athletes and their traveling support groups and sycophants. The Mighty Fed even coached himself, mainly, with occasional support from coaches who only made it to tournaments a half dozen weeks a year.

But Roger’s 2008 has been dismal by his standards. He “only” made it to two grand slam finals and lost in the semis of the Australian. Playing virtually perfect tennis for more than four long years was unprecedented. He was bound to fall a little sooner or later, and there were miniscule cracks in his game in 2007. He started '08 year with mono, which he apparently played through. His Aussie Open loss was startling because he looked drained and almost resigned to his fate. Once the mono was disclosed most people thought the worst was over. There were other shocks to come – a loss to Pete Sampras in a spring exhibition match, losses to Mardy Fish (!!) and Andy Roddick (!) in Indian Wells and Miami. He rebounded at the French by making the final. The humiliation by Rafa was all the more startling because there were times when Roger hung his head, appearing to give up on the match.

Roger was anxious to put Paris behind him and head to the grass, telling the post-match interviewer that Nadal was just too good on clay at the moment, but reminding everyone (and himself) that he had beaten Nadal just as badly in the past. Then it was on to Wimbledon, where many had assumed Roger would be tying Pete Sampras’ 14-slam record this summer. Instead, the stage was set for what we saw today. It is an earthquake for men’s tennis, a seismic shift that heralds the beginning of a new era. Does this mean Federer is through? Hardly. His loss burnishes his reputation, probably more than a routine win would have. This is hard for Fed to believe now, but give him a decade and he may understand why I regard this as the finest match I have ever seen at Wimbledon, and probably anywhere else. After today no one can question Roger’s pride or his heart. However, Rafael Nadal is #1 for now. Roger will turn 27 soon. While not old even by tennis standards, time moves for no man. Regaining his ranking may not be in the cards.

You know who deserves an assist in these events? The man everyone (but me) loves to hate: Novak Djokovic. Joker doesn’t hide his ambition to be #1. He took the lead in piercing Roger’s aura by beating him in Australia and insisting on crashing the Nadal-Federer party. In this space six months ago I wrote that Joker’s rise puts more pressure on Nadal than Federer because Nadal hadn’t played well in six months and was looking a bit complacent. It wasn’t a given that he would be #2, let alone #1. So give Joker credit for breaking the logjam, although he better be prepared for more hard work. It’s suddenly getting pretty crowded at the top.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

(B)dodo Droppings & Other Idiocy about Women’s Final

This poster and other Demotivators and Despairwear can be found at Hang one in your office today.

There was a lot of hot air in the atmosphere after the Williams sisters played a very good final. The Dodo was at it, calling it the best match he’s ever witnessed.

What? Is he fucking nuts? Was this only the third or fourth final he’s ever seen? That is so bogus. I can think of a dozen of three-set matches with better quality play and drama. Venus was involved in one of them three years ago when she beat Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 final.

Unfortunately this lunacy was repeated by others. The often-stupid Luke Jensen told Bud Collins he thought it was the best match he’d ever seen the women play. Jensen and (B)dodo have a lot in common, they’re only impressed by the girls when they hit the ball hard. I’d take error-free play over pace any day.

Bud Collins had the last and best retort though (By the way four-letter, why has Bud been exiled to reporting with Jensen, in a report called “Advantage Luke Jensen?”) Jensen said “I think we’re in agreement that was one of the best finals we’ve ever seen.” Watch Bud nearly have a heart attack as he said: “The women’s final?” [heart attack] Jensen then said because, you know, the girls hit the ball hard! And Bud said “Oh, they’re powerful, they’re wonderful but you’ve gotta go right down to the wire into a third set.”

Thank god for someone sane.

[Note: the deeply uncool AOL Video, with its partner ESPN, won't allow its videos to be embedded in blogs. And it forces you to watch a 10 second commercial you can't close. The kicker:Advantage Jensen is sponsored by IBM.]

Venus Owns the Venus Rosewater Dish Again

Venus beat Serena Williams Sunday to win her fifth Wimbledon title, breaking a tie with Billie Jean King and bringing her within two of Steffi Graf’s seven championships. Serena came out like gangbusters, winning ten of the first eleven points. Everyone was thinking ‘here we go again’ because it certainly looked like Serena would beat thrash Venus one more time. Venus went down an early break, 3-0, and then came roaring back to win, 7-5, 6-4, on an unusually cold and windy day. She also went down a break in the second before carrying off her eponymous dish.

Bud Collins on ESPN radio broke down the tactical reasons for the victory: Venus repeatedly served into the body, handcuffing Serena on the returns. Then she took charge of the points, pushing Serena back toward the baseline. Serena didn't approach the net, and she still isn't moving as well as she did when she was on top. 

This serving development should have made John McEnroe happy. For years he’s bemoaned the focus on serving aces or for speed, saying that the most effective way to stop these big returners was by hitting into the body. I felt Venus really surprised Serena to sticking with this throughout the match. 

It was a competitive, very good final Afterward, Venus was subdued in her victory, yet also visibly thrilled. She did her best to console Serena but she didn’t lay it on very thick. This is not a task to be accomplished in fifteen minutes after the match. Both retreated into separate corners to deal with the very different reactions. 

Remember that lecture I gave about personality differences? It was in full effect in the post-match, with Serena doing her same pouty, lack-of-credit to-the-opponent act that she does to all the other pros who aren’t related to her. She sort of gave credit to Venus, but as usual, Serena mostly blamed herself for not playing well. She said she was playing for herself only and she never thought about the fact that Venus was her sister. Venus said she never forgot that she was playing her sister, not for one moment, since being a big sister was her first job.

Serena was, in the words of Bud Collins, “morose” in defeat. I had a feeling this match was going to be less love-filled than previous efforts, for the reasons I said yesterday. This was less awkward and did feel like every sister for herself. Venus desperately wanted to prove she could beat Serena, especially at the W. In her presser she said to win five championships at any slam would be awesome, but here it is more special because this is THE ONE. We at the blog agree.

Venus won us over last year with her incredible pre-tournament essay on why women deserve equal prize money, then after that when she thanked Billie Jean King after her victory. Thanks to those two, there is equal prize money at SW 19 today, even if the suits over there had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the equality party. She thanked BJK again today, saying “Billie you know I love you.” She may only play serious for two or three tournaments a year, but we’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

So can Venus, at age 28 now, win two more, catching Graf?  I say Yes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Breaking News: Sister Andrea Admits to Throwing '83 Final

Well well well. Sister Andrea Jaeger admitted to throwing the 1983 final against Martina Navratilova. I know what you're thinking...1) "Sister" and 2) gambling?

Answers: 1) Yes; 2) No - family fight.

Former pro Andrea Jaeger retired after a brief and notable career. She was the youngest player to be seeded at Wimbledon at 15. She reached the 1983 final as an 18 year-old. Her father was a former boxer, and one in a long line of tennis-father bullies. He was tyrant. She abruptly quit the game. She then famously and selflessly opened a cancer camp called the Silver Lining Ranch in Aspen, Colorado. After sinking all of her prize money into the project, she attracted sponsors like Nike and received financial and other assistance from celebrities and tennis players.

A few years ago Jaeger became a Dominican nun. As you know, nuns are a dying breed who are desperate for recurits, so she was allowed to keep running her ranch. But there was something a bit odd about the whole Dominican nun bit. I guess it's just my lack of belief in all the hocus-pocus that made the whole thing seem kooky. Jaeger is a great humanitarian; why take up the habit?

Probably so she could "confess," via the British tabloid The Daily Mail, that she threw the final after a fight with her dad. Her story:
'I'd beaten Martina on grass at Eastbourne just before the tournament, but the afternoon before the final, my dad saw an empty crisp packet in my room, which I wasn't supposed to have.

'He also asked me about something he heard that happened in the locker-room. I refused to answer. If I'd told him some of the things I encountered on the tennis circuit, he'd have hurt people and pulled me out of that final. Over the years, I took a few beatings from my father to protect players and staff.

'Dad was so angry that I would choose to protect them and not answer his question that I thought he was going to get his belt. I said I was sorry, grabbed my bra and my wallet and ran outside, aware dad wouldn't hit me in public.

'I wanted to order a cab, so I went to the flat next door where Martina was staying. I was upset and kept pounding on the door and ringing the bell until Martina's trainer, Nancy Lieberman, opened the door and took me to the kitchen.

'Martina was sitting in the living room. She glanced round at me briefly with a look on her face to say that I'd interrupted her preparation for the final. She stayed seated and didn't look at me again.

'I couldn't have done that in her position, but all I thought at the time was: "I've changed her routine and affected her. I can't go out and try in the final now''.

'Martina missed her chance to help her neighbour who was suffering in order to fulfil her desire, so I had to make it right. I gave up my desire to give someone their help.

'I went on court in complete peace knowing that giving the match away was the right thing to do. I had to look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. It meant more to Martina anyway.

'During the match I missed balls on purpose. I hit right to Martina and when I was getting whipped in the first set 6-0, I tried to look upset about it. I glanced at my dad. He knew something was wrong because I never got nervous and always started great.

'I needed to make the second set closer and I did, but not close enough to worry Martina. At changes of ends, I didn't want to look at the crowd. I felt bad that I wasn't giving them the best match as the fans were so good to me over the years, but I also felt that if they knew what had happened they would understand.

'When Martina won the second set 6-3 - and the match - I was happy for her. She walked around with the trophy and everyone wanted her picture. In the press conference I said she played too well.

'God knows the truth. I knew the truth. I emailed Martina three years ago to say it doesn't take away from her win, but she never replied. Had I tried fully, would I have won? I don't have that answer. But I don't want people complaining now and asking for refunds.'
I'm not sure what can be gained from this confession. If I'm Martina today, I'm pretty pissed off about this story. It sure seems like this is a passive-aggressive way of painting Martina in a negative light, and Sister Jaeger in a positive one. Did Martina know what was going on with Roland Jaeger when Andrea showed up right before the final? If it had been you, what would you have thought or done?  I doubt I would have acted differently unless she told me the whole story. And if so, what do you do about that before the Wimbledon final? And if you got an email like that more than 20 years later, then what? This seems to be weird territory to me.

Ironically, Lieberman, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame known as "Lady Magic," (as in Johnson), was there to get Martina in physical and mental shape. By the 83 final, Martina was had transformed her often chubby body into a lean mean fighting machine. Equally important, Lieberman was teaching her how to be mentally tough. She had  a hard time being friendly and competing against her friends later. This was a pretty big problem when your main rival, Chris Evert, was mentally tougher than 99.9 % of players before and since.  So Lieberman turned her into a different person for a while. Eventually that posturing ended.

The other interesting thing about this confession is all that bother in the first few paragraphs about taking beatings to protect players and staff, since daddy wouldn't have liked what went on in the locker room. What are you hinting at Jaeger? Why hem and haw? Why talk to a tabloid like the Daily Mail instead of another newspaper? Maybe we need to look at the Daily Mail itself. The good folks at Wikipedia say the paper "considers itself to be the voice of Middle England speaking up for "small-c" conservative[11] values against what it sees as a liberal establishment. It generally takes an anti-EU, anti-mass immigration, anti-abortion view, based around what it describes as "traditional values." Now we're getting somewhere, aren't we?

Best Lines of the Morning

"Of all the presidents I ever met, Mugabe was the least impressive." John McEnroe, explaining that Kevin Ulyett is a South African who plays on the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team. Robert Mugabe has been in the news recently for rigging the election by murdering and imprisoning his opposition. Mac said he knew Mugabe was bad news all the way back in 2000.

"I like to think they were rooting for me." Venus Williams, answering the question about how agonizing the match with Serena must have been for her family.

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves

[Venus and Serena during their win in the Ladies Doubles Semifinal]

So now that we’ve established that Venus and Serena didn’t cure cancer, it’s time to examine the match they are about to play. It’s time to give credit where it is due.

The first time I saw Venus play I couldn’t wait to see her on the lawns at SW 19, because she obviously had a style that was ideally suited for grass court tennis. She glides around the grass elegantly like a swan, in the great American tradition of exceptional grass court players lead by John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras. They were the finest grass court players of their generation; now Venus is the greatest of hers. 

We will never know why (or if) Venus took a deliberate step back in her career to make way for Serena. At times that certainly seemed to be the case. Although Serena is the one who battles more fiercely on court, no matter how her form is at the time, we can’t underestimate Venus’ drive to win. Who can forget the anguish on Venus’ face when little sister shocked the world by winning the US Open, becoming the first sister to pick up a major? It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But Venus endured another year; and who can forget the overwhelming joy the next year, when Venus finally got hers, that first Wimbledon title? Venus loves Wimbledon more than any other tournament, and brings her A game there no matter what.

On Sunday the Williams sisters will face off for that Wimbledon title. They practice together, eat together, warm up together and often live together. The idea that it is easy or rigged is preposterous at this point. These two women want to win. If they consistently trained and practiced like top players they very likely would have played each other in major finals again and again. That they find the proposition too painful makes perfect sense to me. On the one hand it’s a win-win, since the title stays in the family. But these sisters are best friends. Niether wants to see the other experience the devastation of losing a final. If I’m playing armchair psychologist, then I think Venus’ poor performances against Serena come from an unconscious desire to protect little sis, the thinking being that she can handle the loss with more stoicism than Serena, who wears her heart on her sleeve.Do I think Venus will win? I’m not sure. All signs point to Serena. She hasn’t won at Wimbledon in five years. She’s hungry. She never tires of beating big sis. She is serving better than I have ever seen her. Most importantly, she’s 5-1 against Venus in finals.

They’ve never played an exceptional match against each other as professionals. I feel like this could be the one because they are playing so well. They’re old enough to know you don’t get many chances in tennis, they dwindle with age.

By the way...

They're different you know. The non-tennis media tends to write about the sisters as if they are interchangeable. Now that they've been around for ten years, here's a handy guide for stupid sportscasters and their progeny:
  • Venus is ice; Serena is fire.
  • Venus is tall and lanky; Serena has a low center of gravity.
  • Venus is an intorvert; Serena an extrovert.
  • Venus is studied and intellectual, more prone to spend her time away from tennis studying; Serena is flighty and emotional, wowed by fame, runs around with high profile beaus and Hollywood.
  • Venus is Pete Sampras; Serena is Andre Agassi.