Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Blood

Oz has come and gone but I didn't want to forget about Joker's victory over Tsonga to win the title. 

Tsonga has all the tools. Now comes the hard part: dealing with sudden fame, learning about consistency, figuring out how to use all those tools to win matches, and staying healthy.  To be fair we really ought to evaluate him 18 months from now to see how he handles himself.

Joker's straight-set domination of Federer was shocking. However, I did predict his ascent to the top of tennis. Hey, I'm wrong enough to make sure I point out that when I'm right, I'm right. When I first decided Joker was going to insert himself into the debate between Nadal and Federer, it seemed a little preposterous. The Mighty Fed and Nadal have such a rivalry, and their tennis is so many levels above everyone else it seemed hard to imagine anyone else joining the party. But when I saw him win Miami and I heard him talk, I just knew that the Serb with the unpronounceable name had the game and charisma to be an unlikely star.

Many observers are now noting that it's hard to remember another 20-year old with a such a complete game. Joker was already a mega-star in Serbia so I doubt his win will affect his ability to get through life. His work ethic is already phenomenal and he's not satisfied with one grand slam. As he said two years ago, his goal is to be number 1. To do that in this era you really have to want it, because Fed and Nadal aren't going anywhere. Having Joker get some of the attention will probably temporarily help Nadal, who has some issues in his game that he needs to work through. It takes the pressure off Rafa to be Fed's main rival. But clay is just around the corner for him so he will be fine. Fed, however, may not get his mojo back until Wimbledon.

Speaking of Wimby, Joker had this to say:
“And Wimbledon? My first memory of tennis was watching Pete Sampras lift the trophy. I think I was 6. I felt I should have been in the finals last year, but I was hurt. I have always imagined myself as Sampras.

“To be Australian Open champion is wonderful; to win Wimbledon, that would be amazing.”

Ukraine's Bondarenko Sisters Win Women's Doubles Title

Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko won the 2008 Australian Open Women's Doubles Title. The Bondarenko Sisters--sound like they ought to be 40s era showgirls, entertaining the troops or something.

Kateryna is more well known, having hovered inside the top fifty singles rankings for the last few years. Although she and older sister Alona have been around a while, they just started playing doubles together last year, as they explained in the post-match presser:
Last year we play not very good doubles because sometimes we fight on the court. But now we start to listen each other and understand, and maybe that's the key
The Bondarenkos used charmingly broken English to describe the thrill of winning and the placement of the nose rings (all-important tennis question, about the nose studs)
Q. What does this win mean to you both?

ALONA BONDARENKO: We don't know yet.

KATERYNA BONDARENKO: Yeah, probably not really know yet that we won a Grand Slam. I mean, we know, but ‑‑

ALONA BONDARENKO: ‑‑ we don't understand it.
Q. Is it pretty tough competition against each other since you know how each other play so well?

KATERYNA BONDARENKO: Yeah, I don't like to play against my sister.

ALONA BONDARENKO: Yeah, for me it's not easy because she play like more winner, good serve, good shots. For me it's very tough because she knows me and can easier win with me.
Q. An important fashion question for you. Why does one have a stud in your nose on one side and the other one on the other side?

KATERYNA BONDARENKO: That's because she saw that I have on one side and she decide to do the same thing, the other side.

ALONA BONDARENKO: I do it later, like one year later than her.

Mixed Champions: Sun Tiantian (China) and Nenad Zimonjic (Serbia)

Sun and Nenad defeated Indians Mahesh Bupathi and Sania Mirza to win the mixed doubles title.

This is a little bit of an upset since Mahesh has been ranked number 1 in doubles and has several grand slam titles under his belt, while Mirza is a top 20 singles player. 

Sun is one of a handful of good Chinese women who have made an impact on the WTA Tour. She and Li Ting won the 2004 gold medal in women's doubles, a huge upset at the time. The pressure on Chinese players to win this summer is intense and insane. Last year the Chinese were not allowed to play Wimbledon because the Chinese Federation wanted them to play a local tournament. China was widely criticized for that move.  Sun said winning in Australia will hopefully be a good experience for her Olympic Games preparation. She sure knows what the locals demand to hear, right? Winning the lowly Australian, not good enough. Winning the 04 gold was good, but not as good as winning at home in Beijing. Hopefully a Chinese team will win, so the government will allow them to continue to play professional tennis.

Nenad had won two grand slam titles in the mixed before the 08 Australian (French and Australian). Another triumph for Serbia. I remember when Slobodan "Bobo" Zivojinovic was the top Yugoslavian player in the 1990s. He was a good doubles player and a top twenty singles player for a year or two. I wonder what he thinks about all the Serbs excelling in tennis.

Tennis Ball to the Groin, A Scientific Study

FOX Sport Science found a stupid guy to be a Crotch Test Dummy for a tennis ball shot out of a ball machine... into his gonads, at over 50 mph.

No, seriously.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oz is Over; (B)dodo was Quiet

The 2008 Australian Open is over and Dodo was unusually quiet, for two reasons. First, no one paid for him to fly his sorry ass to Oz. Second, he is writing a book with Pete Sampras. Yes, I've known about it for a while now. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

I hate the word "interesting."

Now Dodo did have a little macho-outbreak after Fed won that five-set marathon against Janko Tipsarevic (this blog's favorite player). Dodo said this was Fed's first "warrior moment." This is a reference to an argument that went on for weeks on his blog, after one of his attacks on Fed's masculinity. You know, attacking Fed for not having won a match after being down a few sets is suspiciously like those people who are always pointing out that Tiger Woods has never had a big comeback on the last day of a major....

Of course he hasn't -- that's because he's usually winning by more than 8 shots, fools!

Earlier this week Dodo did come up with a fine post about what Fed's loss to this blog's other favorite player--new champion Novak Djokovic--means. It was measured, as it noted that Fed is far from done, but it is the biggest evidence yet that Fed is going to be in for some rough times. Rough compared to the smooth waters he usually cruises. 

Look, Fed is still going to break Sampras' record. His reign, which includes many stunning statistics (like the 10-straight slam finals) has been unprecedented because it has been so long. Other players have had spectacular years. John McEnroe in 1984, for example. To sustain that level of play for 4 YEARS is something no one thought possible. In my estimation, 75 percent of that accomplishment is all Fed. The other 25 percent is due to what Bodo called the "seam" that occurred when Sampras and Agassi were gone, and Lleyton Hewitt was on top. Bodo correctly notes that Federer pushed Hewitt out of the picture, but that the next generation of greats wasn't yet mature. (A similar situation happened when Hingis was number 1). 

I thought Bodo was right-on with his assessment. He did not say "the sky is falling" he just noted that Fed can't play untouchable tennis forever. But Dodo's groupies did not like that, oh no, what a bunch of whiny Fed Kool-Aid Drinkers (I can't take credit for that; KAD is a term of art on that overly chummy blog). They've lost their shizz over this one.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Wanna Be Sedated--Sharapova Wins Boring Women's Final

Sharapova beat Ivanovic in a 705, 6-3 final that featured more uninspired play. Women's tennis is rotten right now. They haven't had a compelling major final in two years. The error-riddled matches occasionally take dramatic turns, but those are brought about by the psychological weaknesses of stars who can't close out matches, along with the usual hijinks we've come to expect from the women's tour.

I give Sharapova credit though. After slipping from the top 5 in 2007, Sharapova really worked hard to get back to where she is. Her work ethic was always evident, even at the beginning of her career, when the marketing gods decided to turn her into a Kournikova.

Sharapova dedicated her win to Jane Joyce, the mother of Michael Joyce, her longtime hitting partner. Jane died last year after struggling with cancer for many years. The awards ceremony featured Sharapova paying heartfelt tribute to Jane. We know Yuri didn't put those words in her mouth.

You know, Sharapova also said some wonderful things about Billie Jean King last year during the US Open, and she has handled her terrible 2007 with a lot of grace. We conclude that she is a nice young lady who is capable of winning and losing with class. What a shame, then, that she is saddled with another one of those evil tennis fathers, the kind of father that makes you root against his daughter because you hate him so much. Illegal coaching, crass comments, ugly jeering at opponents, pathetic attempts to claim he's her real "coach" and the now infamous throat-slash just goes on and on. 

And now the WTA has bought into his claim that the throat-slash was just an inside joke with Maria since the two shared a joke earlier in the tournament about him being an assassin. You see, Yuri's disgusting move is just fine with the WTA. Richard Hinds, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, had this excellent take on it:
Even the American NFL, the world's most violent football code, banned the throat-slashing gesture - which some players had called "the OJ" - eight years ago.

This was one of those clear-cut incidents when there was no alternative but to act.

And, as a bonus, by punishing Sharapov, the authorities would send a message to those who believe women's tennis is run by starstruck sycophants who tread on egg shells around the players and their families in the knowledge they are more dispensable than the divas and prima donnas upon whom their livelihood depends. It was a chance to let everyone know who is boss.

When the verdict was delivered we found out. Is that one lump of sugar or two, Mr Sharapov?
Unfortunately for Sharapova, this wasn't Daddy's only blowup of the tournament. Post-throat slash, he went ape on some reporters who politely approached him for his thoughts on the women's final. "You like sharks! You like sharks!" he screamed. Then another member of the entourage started yelling "you don't care how she plays!" Whatever. These guys are so New Russia, aren't they? Intimidating thugs flush with the spoils of capitalism/mafiaism or whatever they're calling Putin's Russia these days.

After years of allowing its players to pull out of tournaments on a whim, sucking up to entourages, failing to penalize them for illegal coaching (and in fact enabling it by the short-lived on-court coaching experiment), never fining their stars for skipping pressers and disgracing the game on the court, the WTA is reaping what it sowed. When the sponsorship money dries up and the fans go away, the WTA will have no one to blame but themselves for tolerating this conduct.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ivanovic Rallies, Down a Set and Break, to Defeat Legs

I can't vouch for much of the tennis since I gave up on Ivanovic after she was down a set and a break. I had to sleep sometime! Apparently, while I was counting sheep Ivanovic clawed her way back into a match that Legs was completely in control of. In fact, Legs won that first set 6-0 and was relaxed and smacking winners. I don't know what happened with the tennis since the articles on the match were filled with whining by Legs about Ivanovic squeaking her shoes during Legs' ball toss. Repeatedly. And then there was the usual carping and drama and fallout that always appears in the women's matches these days. You know the drill, fake injuries, phony bathroom breaks, illegal coaching hand signals, screeching and porn-grunting, complaining, blaming your opponent for daring to breath and throat-slitting by one's father.

Can't these ladies just play a damn match, shake hands and be over it. I can't wait until this era of *cutie-pie or Big Babe Tennis is officially over.

*Both terms coined by Mary Carillo

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tsonga Resembles Sampras, Plus Notes on Rafa and Roger

This brief video shows Tsonga's Samprasian tendencies. His instinct is to follow huge groundstrokes into the net. This aggression is important against Nadal. In fact, last year Sampras said he didn't understand why Roger stayed at the baseline during his clashes with Nadal, since the way to neutralize him was to blast him off the court. A few months later, Roger looked more like Pete than ever, in the fifth set of his final against Nadal. Nadal was winning but Roger just controlled that set with his serve. He didn't allow Nadal to touch the ball.

But we are here to analyze Tsonga's game. Onward:

First point. Ali in the far court. He punishes Nadal with a wicked forehand. He takes the return shot and slams it crosscourt. Then he does the very Samprasian move of following that stroke into the net. Where he hits a beautiful volley.

Point two. Ali still in the far court. They trade a few groundstrokes and then Ali smashes a forehand, blowing Nadal off the court. It takes a special player to hit a clean winner from that position.

Third point. Ali serving. He hits a pretty good crosscourt backhand and then takes Nadals reply and pushes a backhand down the line. Then he moves to the net and hits a gorgeous, almost behind-the-back touch volley.

Fourth point. Ali serving. He hits a strong first serve. Nadal's return is a bit short and Ali pummels it for a forehand winner...All while moving to the net. Attack, attack, attack. That was Pete Sampras. He could hang at the baseline and hit winners, but he was always looking to take control of the point.

Fifth point. Ali serving. Hits a crosscourt serve that has Nadal on the run, hits a strong forehand to the opposite court, pushing Nadal way behind the baseline. Jo moves to the net and finishes with an overhead. Look at the way Nadal is the one on the string, reacting to Jo. Usually Nadal is the one who is running his opponents off the court. 

Sixth point. Ace. Significantly, it is out wide, with more spin than pace. Pete did this too. He could throw the heater down the middle and follow it with an off-pace serve that curled away from the returner. 

Now watch it all again and just watch Tsonga's feet. Remind you of anyone? Sampras just danced around the court, he almost resembled a tap dancer at times. His footwork was so relaxed, it was like watching someone skip from shot to shot. I always thought he looked cool out there. Oh, to have your tennis game look so effortless.

It all looks so simple, doesn't it? Although today's players are all-court players, there's often little rhyme or reason to their movement around the court. I keep thinking that the guy who changes his game to a more focused attack will have great success. Pete Sampras thinks so too, and some have speculated that he told Roger that when they played those exhibitions in Malaysia last year. 

It seems funny to be saying Roger needs to change his game. But Tiger Woods broke down his entire swing after winning his first few majors. Why? Building it for the long haul, staying in front of the competition. Last year there were a few cracks in Roger. Back to back losses to Canas in the spring; back to back losses to Nalbandian in the winter. Plus Nadal. Don't misunderstand me, Roger is still superb, but he knows his competitors are raising their game. I totally agree with Pete Sampras that Roger would be brilliant as a more traditional serve and volleyer. He surely has the ability.

In Roger's first couple of matches in Australia he came to net more than ever before. But he reverted a bit against Tipsarevic in that five-setter. I think Roger understands that he has to tweak his approach to stay far ahead of the pack. I've always argued that his serve was underutilized. Well he used it in that Tipsaravic match as well, to the tune of more than 35 aces, the most in his career. So we may be seeing Federer's game evolve. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

First Women's Semi: Tragic

Speaking of bloody awful things, that first semi between Sharapova and Jankovic was horrendous. I feel for Jankovic with her "injury" (she's injured every match but so far has made up for it with her giggly on-court charm). Sharapova didn't dominate this match because of her play, it was all Jankovic playing bad. This was by-far Maria's worst match of the tournament. 

How great was it to see Carillo's reaction when Mary Jo said the second semi couldn't possibly be worse... It was definitely an "oh yes it could...
shudders" look.

Pam Shriver is Hilarious / Maria's Dad is a Jerk

Good to see that famous old sense of humor again.

So far tonight, Shriver said the tournament director was going to keep the roof closed "to keep my hair from frizzing out." She blamed him for retaliating against her for something she said 15 years ago when he was an umpire.

Earlier she interviewed the delightful, chatty mother of Jelena Jankovic. Before throwing it back to the booth she said "that's the only parent I'll be speaking to tonight." The commentators cracked up, because Sharapova's father Yuri is a first-class wack - job. His latest antic? Making a "slit throat" sign as Maria's match with Henin ended. 


Remember the controversy in the States when football players started making the slit throat gesture? Maria said he was just putting up his hood, but earlier in the tournament she told the press he likes that sweatshirt since it makes him look like an assassin. Last time I called a Russian a jackass on this blog I got reprimanded by CYCLOPS. But seriously, when it comes to Yuri Sharapov, there's a whole range of blue words I could use.

The above video shows the throat-slit, at about the 48 second mark. I can't stand this generation of tennis parents on the women's side. They're bloody awful.

Chang Highlight Reel

The picture quality isn't the best, but watch his court coverage. It's amazing.

What's he doing now? Coaching in the US and China. Fishing. Attending seminary part-time. According to Wikipedia, hitting 400 yard drives in golf.


Photo: Legs, the original.

Michael Chang was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI, today. Chang is the youngest male to win a grand slam tournament. He was just 17 and a few months when he triumphed at the French Open after an inspiring two weeks of tennis. That wasn't the apex of Chang's career, though. He would be the first to tell you that he was a much better player at 30 than 17.  Chang's highest ranking was #2 and he spent seven consecutive years in the top ten. He came oh-so-close to winning the US Open and played some memorable matches there.

Ask fans who saw tennis in person during the 1990s "who was the most exciting player to watch in that era?" The answer might surprise you. Agassi and Sampras were magnificent, but you never failed to get your money's worth with Chang. Although listed at 5-7, Chang was not taller than 5-5, believe me. His small stature and lack of power on the serve meant he had to work so hard for each point. With his piston-like thighs (the most muscular I ever saw), Chang raced around the court - all of it. Every match was competitive because of his height and weight, yet he never failed to disappoint.

And he competed like a gladiator. I often thought it odd that no one compared Chang to Jimmy Connors, because he was Jimmy's heir in competitiveness and heart, but (thankfully) not attitude. Sportswriters have a habit of only comparing black with black and white with white. Since Chang was neither he was beyond their frame of reference. But watch video of Chang, fist pumping and chugging around the tennis court and tell me that doesn't remind you of Connors. 

It's amazing that Chang played a style that was so physically demanding and destructive to the body and yet remained in the top ten for seven years, in an era that I believe was a little more competitive than today on the men's side. To illustrate how hard this is to do, look at Lleyton Hewitt - champion at Wimbledon and the US Open, former #1- now out of the top ten. His Chang-like style has already let him down.  Andre Agassi had ten times the talent of Chang, yet he spent his career crashing out of the top hundred and then back in the top ten, a roller coaster for all but the last half-decade.

I also look at Rafa Nadal and think of Chang. Their styles are different. But the abuse to the body of playing full-bore on every point and not winning many free points is taking its toll on Nadal already in terms of injuries and running out of gas by August. Even though Nadal is unbeatable on clay and challenging Roger, everyone in the tennis world is assuming Nadal will have to adapt his game in the years ahead if he wants to stay near the top.


It's Jelena v. Maria followed by Daniela v. Ana.

A name ending in A is popular now, no?

Two Serbs, a Slovak and a Russian Walk Onto a Tennis Court...

Photo: Ana Ivanovic

Sounds like a joke about a bar, but it is nice to see new blood in the women's semifinals. The Serbs of course are part of the story I've been writing for two years (that the media has now picked up on, duh) of the five fantastic Serbs who are shaking tennis up. I suppose people are going to get sick of hearing it, but it bears repeating:  this is a country that was in the midst of a war when these players grew up. There were no tennis courts, let alone a national federation spending hundreds of millions of dollars, like we have in the US, France, Australia and G.B. And the comport themselves awfully well, so different than the caricature of a Serb that we conjured up when Milosevic was mass murdering his way across the Balkans. They are so open and outgoing in personality, acutely aware of what the world thinks of Serbs and wildly talented. Oh, one last thing. They speak English better than the entire state of Florida. Novak Djokovic speaks five languages and his accent is...almost gone. Jankovic gave an interview the other day and used the word "temperament" correctly. (When's the last time you heard that happen in Florida mom?)

So Legs Hauntuchova, as nicknamed by David, has had a big game for a long time now. She's finally made a semifinal. She's been around for so long people had sort of written her off, but she's only 24. She seems to have put the eating disorder issues to bed for now, and I think everyone is glad to see her excel. She'll take on Jelena Jankovic later today.

Meanwhile, Sharapova takes on Ivanovic in a fascinating match. Ivanovic will need to raise her game. No matter what happens though, she'll be taking over the #2 rankings spot after this, her third consecutive semifinal. I understand why everyone thinks Sharapova is so hot, but in a head to head looks battle with Ana Ivanovic, I don't see how she can win. When it comes down to it, Maria is just another blonde.

Credit the Williams Sisters (I'm serious)

For not using the old "I was injured" excuse to explain their losses to the two higher-ranked Serbs, Ivanovic and Jankovic. Venus and Serena both lost in a similar fashion, going down a bit meekly in two sets. 

Carillo and McEnroe pointed out that these younger women play games that are similar to the Williams sisters, and they wondered whether they've figured out that these players have caught up to them. Perhaps. I agree with their overall assessment that the sisters can still be a factor, but only if they're willing to put in the time and commitment to tennis. 

Meanwhile, Justine Henin showed an unfortunate side to her personality after she got smoked 6-0, 604 by Sharapova. She blamed injury - of course! I've said all along that Henin is as classless in defeat as Venus and Serena, and her comments yesterday -"If i play my best I can't lose"- were straight out of the old Serena playbook. In reality, Sharapova looks sensational. The serving problems that plagued her last year appear to be gone. Nobody beats Henin 6-0 unless they're on fire.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gossip: Stepanek and Vaidisova to Marry? Or it's a Prank.

I almost forgot to post about Radek Stepanek and Nicole Vaidisova applying for a marriage license in Bradenton, Florida, where they both train. (Hat tip:
Tennis Info Blog).

Nicole was on ESPN last week denying it in a half-assed, giggly way. When I saw it I thought "oh shit, how stupid are you."

All I can say is, Nicole--DON'T. You were jailbait until a few months ago. And Stepanek got engaged to Martina Hingis a year ago. Then sometime in the summer, they got un-engaged, he got his game back and had significant wins, and depending who you believe, Hingis snorted some blow.

This just leads me to believe that Stepanek is skeevy. When the cocaine story broke, I was surprised that they didn't link it to her bizarre year of personal angst. 

Besides, Nicole, YOU ARE 18! He is 29! 

Associated Press: Huh?

Jelena Jankovic beat Serena in straight sets. If Serena is injured, that's a shame because she played well over her first four matches.

Now, the AP's article says that Jankovic reached the semifinals of a grand slam "for only the third time." 

Only? She's 22. I'd say three semis is a pretty good start to a career. Nothing "only" about it.

By the way, she has a really slick website. You should check it out.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Slow-Mo Venus-Butt Controversy

Lleyton Hewitt's ex-coach, Roger Rasheed, is in a tiny bit of hot water after playing a slo-mo of Venus' butt and commenting that it looked pretty good. I can't argue with that, can you?

Rasheed's comment may be a tad to the inappropriate side of things, but not by much. Women commentators (and men) make remarks about Rafa's giant arms or James Blake's modeling career. Venus designs these short shorts, so it should come as no surprise that they end up a topic of conversation. 

For me the line involves the sexualization of minors. Nothing Rasheed said here begins to compare to the vile public drooling that happened whenever Anna Kournikova took the court as a 14-year old. I wonder if You Tube has video of the ESPN Sportscenter anchors with their tongue's hanging out every night. It was terrible public pedophilia, if you ask me. Kournikova brought nothing but bad things to tennis. Her "success" was a blueprint for disgusting parents eager to pimp out their pre-pubescent daughters for money. (See Harkelroad, Ashley). This unfortunate trend has spilled over into other sports. This is probably a topic for another time, but here goes. I think it's great to show off your body. But it's also a dicey proposition. Where does self-promotion become objectification? I hate golf, including women's golf. A few years ago there was talk by the LPGA that they needed their women to be more trampy to improve the ratings. THAT is the kind of bad stuff I'm talking about.

Now if Rasheed would've commented on Serena's big booty, well, that would be a different story and is a topic you best steer clear of if you want to have a job. I have a feeling that discussion would provoke an international incident. 

Bottom line (I know, I know, I just had to use that pun):  The Slo-Mo-Butt-Cam was a mistake. However, our Australian friends haven't convened a tribunal to sentence Rasheed, nor are they going to spend the next two months debating this. Perhaps it is we Yanks who  ought to lighten up. 

Blake's Big Breakthrough

Above: James meets an Aussie snake.

James Blake has turned a huge corner in his career, in three important steps.

Step 1. Win a five-set match. Players don't make their reputations by playing great in New Haven. They are made during grand slams and Davis Cup, where the stakes are highest and the matches are long. Going into the US Open, Blake was an appalling 0-10 in five-setters. He broke the streak by beating Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, the stylish, gritty, tricky French veteran that this blog loves.

Step 2. Win an important match in Davis Cup. Roddick carried the US Team for the last five years. Blake was 14-8 in Davis Cup. Pretty good, but he needed to pull his weight against the top teams. Roddick sports a 26-9 singles record,
4th all time for an American. Even better, Roddick is 9-0 in clinching matches, ranking him first among all US singles players, especially when you consider who those other Americans are. For the US to win the Cup, we needed James to win a big match. And he did, beating Mikhail Youhzny of Russia last December. The US won the Davis Cup 

Step 3. Get a signature win. I was like a broken record in 2007 "James Blake hasn't had a signature win yet." For all his spectacular tennis, he went AWOL for big matches and had yet to win a memorable one. Until last week, when he came back from two sets, two breaks down to beat Sebastian Grosjean in five sets. Unbelievable victory. Blake spent the first 2 sets and five games hanging his head, looking testy, doing all that typical Blake stuff that happens when he just checks out mentally. No one thought a comeback was in the cards. He did it, and changed his attitude and game in notable ways. 

First, he didn't rely on emotion to get him back in the match, which was an old trick of his. It's a trick that goes nowhere when you're that deep in a hole. Second, he finally picked his spots, at times anyway. We've all criticized Blake for going for everything on every shot. Why aim for a line when aiming six inches inside the court wins you the point? He had been so stubborn on the issue that the entire tennis world concluded he would never learn. He appears to be getting it.

Most importantly, Blake translated the incredible comeback into a fourth round, straight-set victory over the dangerous newGoran, Marin Cilic. Consolidating a big win with a victory in the next round is often the toughest thing to do.

Blake is a Giants fan who was quite happy with the outcome of the NFC Championship game. He and the Giants are now in the same boat:  trying to stop history from happening. Their opponents are the undefeated Patriots and the-about-to-break-Pete's record Roger Federer.

Serena and Andre: Joined by Bike Pants

Nike made a fairly big deal out of Serena's new thigh-covering spandex bike pants, yet no one noted that we've seen this before, with Agassi. You can attribute that to Aggasi dumping Nike for Adidas a few years ago, after Nike refused to give Agassi money for his charity.

Nike. Still dumb after all these years.

All these comments about Serena being like Andre must be annoying the piss out of their respective camps. Actually, I'm sure he'd be happy to help her out. I said two years ago she ought to grab Agassi's trainer, Gil Reyes.

Typical Women's Match

I see we've settled into a fairly typical women's match, circa 2008:

Deuce, deuce, deuce.

Error, error, error.

Grunt, scream, grunt, scream, grunt, scream.

Real injury? Fake injury? Real injury? Fake injury.


Jo Tsonga Plays the Young Cassius Clay

Ok I was skeptical of this whole Tsonga looks like Ali line of reporting. I've only caught a few points on tv, and his ATP profile pic is not very Ali-like. The photo above is from his junior US Open win in 2003. He sure looks like Cassius Clay to us at Counter-punch.

I remember Jo from last year's Wimbledon, where he reached the fourth round. He also made the third round of the US Open in 2007. Consider that Blake just recently figured out how to get out of the second round at grand slams, and how difficult it is to master the mentality that it takes to compete in a best of five. I think Tsonga is a safe bet for a very bright future.

French Are Flying High

The petit French feline Sophia, CYCLOPS' best friend, wanted to make sure we didn't forget about French success Down Under.

It's been a glorious tournament for French tennis, with 29 players starting the tournament and several making it to the fourth round. With the exception of Amelie Mauresmo, the players have made their mark.  French Tennis has been building for years, with a definite, different methodology at work. They find great athletes and turn them loose on tennis, and are not anxious for stunning results until the player is into his twenties. No angst over non-performing 24 year-olds from this country.

The breakout star is Jo-Wilifred Tsonga. Tsonga's mother is French and father Congolese. All his press refers to him as the Muhammad Ali of tennis because he looks like Ali. His run has been impressive: beating Andy Murray, last year's finalist Gonzalez ,and today his friend and countryman, Richard Gasquet, to advance to the QF.

Steve Bierley, writing for The Guardian, discusses Tsonga's long road back from a herniated disk. Tsonga was once the #2 ranked junior. (Who was ahead of him? Marcos Baghdatis). Since Tsonga beat the Great British Hope in the first round, you have to wade through several paragraphs of woe-are-we-British-tennis to get to the part about the French. The Brits are so jealous.

Other articles say that Tsonga and Gael Monfils used to pretend they were Andy Roddick when they were young juniors, mimicking his serve. That ought to make Andy feel prematurely old.

The French showing is remarkable when you consider that Monfils is out with an injury, and he's a firecracker, amazing athlete and tennis talent.

Pam Calls Out Serena

Oh, it's on now. After Chris Fowler pointed out that Serena isn't limping and hasn't called the trainer, Shriver said Serena needs to get fired up, since that's what players do when they have "niggling" injuries in the QF of a slam.

True dat.

The folks over at Black Tennis Pro's are going to be all over Shriver. They complained about Mary Carillo for saying that Serena and Venus have made their share of "kooky" comments over the years. 

So? Read Serena's blog, it's full of kooky comments right now. Look, criticizing Serena for being a flake is fair. A lot of players are flakes and kooks. I pointed out three of them (Serena included) the other day.

Serena Injured?

That's what ESPN's Pam Shriver is reporting from courtside. Apparently a quad strain that they worked on in the morning.

The question is whether Serena is injured, or is she injured? With the Williams and Henin, you never really know. 

But Serena fights hard out there and depending on the nature of the injury, she can win this match. I'm not hedging my bets with that "depending" clause, I'm just saying that Jelena Jankovic can be a joy to watch but she hasn't proven herself to be the most mentally tough player out there. In fact, she isn't mentally tough at all. So I'd bet even money on Serena winning anyway.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dumb Americans Part III

(Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid Some rights reserved.)

"My coach is from Australia. He lived in Melbourne. So he's here with his wife and his parents and their friends. It's kind of nice, they can show me around. It's just a nice city.

I'm not a big sightseer. And sometimes when you go to Europe, you have to see the Eiffel Tower and places like that. You don't have to see anything here, and I like that."

-- Twenty year-old American Sam Querrey

Ugh. Where to begin with this monstrosity? First of all, I must tell you that I forgive Andy for his boorishness and hope it is short-lived. And I forgive Serena for her Serena-ness because her blog is genius (and I'm not the only one who thinks so, the press at the AO love it).

Second, the only thing that saves Sam Q-boy is his age. Otherwise I'd become a Sam Q-Hater for sure. This is just so classic "Ugly American" it hurts.

Third, let's just say it: Oh, how terrible for poor Sammy-boy. He is forced to travel around the world and get paid for hitting tennis balls. Paid for wearing clothes. Paid for using a certain racquet. And worst of all, he feels pressured to see some of the world's most beautiful places. "Damn! That stupid Eiffel tower. I wanted to just sit home and play video games at the hotel, but now they're forcing me to tour Paris. God my life sucks!"

Fourth, it's kind of a shot at Melbourne. Dude, you're in Australia. You think there's nothing to see? Get over yourself. That was one hell of a dominant performance against Tursunov. But Djokavic kicked your ass all the way back to Cali. I guess I'm supposed to learn to like you because you're a Yank and I'm a Yank.

I can only hope you'll grow out of being a total moron, because that's the only way it'll happen

Dumb Americans Part II

"Shut up!"

--Andy Roddick to German fans.

"Do you need to be a second-grade dropout to be an umpire? Stay in school kids or else you'll end up an umpire!"

"You're an idiot."

"You need to do your job! Do you have ears connected to your head? You can't hear him yelling?"

--Roddick to chair umpire.

I've always been an Andy Roddick fan. I've defended him for years because honestly I never thought he did anything wrong - other than show terrible court sense and poor judgment in selecting coaches. But after his five-set loss to German Philip Kohlschreiber, it's clear he's taken on too much of Coach Jimmy Connors's persona. This is a shame, because Roddick has always been a fan favorite Down Under. It's sad to see him booed off the court.

Roddick was unhinged and boorish in berating the fans and the umpire. In fact he should have been docked a point for his continual tirades against the chair. I'm no prude; there are times a little rant at the officiating is fine. This was totally uncalled for. I've seen Roddick angry many times, but he's never resembled Connors and his fuck-you-everyone attitude. Until Friday.

Five years ago David and I diagnosed Roddick has having mental meltdowns that came in the form of little fits of anger, and we talked (from our armchairs in the living room) about how those meltdowns broke his concentration. Unfortunately the pattern has held. When things get tight in a match, Roddick blows off steam at the umpire and then he loses focus. I suggest a sports psychologist or a new coach to work through these things, because Andy isn't really mad at the officiating. That's the difference between him and McEnroe. McEnroe believed in his heart he was getting screwed. I just don't think Andy thinks that way. It's more inappropriate stress relief and poor stress management. 

Kolschreiber played brilliantly: 104 winners v. 33 errors. Kolscrheiber is not known for his serve yet he hit 32 against Roddick.Can you imagine posting numbers like that? If I was in Andy's shoes, I'd be frustrated too. But we've seen other guys do this to Roddick: put up huge numbers of winners and aces. It's not just running into players having a great day; it's Roddick allowing it to happen. Connors has done a decent enough job of putting Roddick's game back together after a few terrible years. And Andy has given something back to Jimmy too. He's given Jimmy a way back into the game, and a way to pass on what he learned from his mother Glorida (who passed away just before the 07 Aussie Open). 

The second big Connors problem is that Andy is starting to play like Jimmy. You are definitely asking me "what could be wrong with playing like Connors? The man won seven grand slam titles."

The answer is, "plenty."

Andy is twice as big as Connors. He's always had a tremendous amount of hustle, just like old Jimbo. But his game is not about that. There are other counterpunchers and pushers out there who are better at it than Roddick. His is a power game. Big serve, big forehand. He ought to be the aggressor in these matches, not the guy reacting to the other player. This is a flaw that has been in Roddick's game since the juniors, when he was a little guy running around like Michael Chang. When Roddick grew two feet he didn't learn how to effectively harness his power. 

Brad Gilbert got him to No. 1 by teaching him how to control matches. I'm not suggesting that Roddick would be No. 1 or even No. 2 if he was still being coached by Gilbert. The game changed and he and Hewitt got stuck in the middle of that shift. But surely he should be winning and losing by playing the kind of game that suits his abilities. I can't watch any more matches where Andy flails away from BEHIND the baseline. Please get a clue, man.

We noticed Roddick getting tight during the 4th and 5th sets. He was playing great, but he didn't go for broke. That has to change if he has any hope of remaining in the top 10. That sounds like a drastic statement. However, the other younger players are maturing quickly. Roddick certainly has the skills to stay where he is. The question is, will he?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dumb Americans, Part I

"I have honestly never been like in a happier state than what I am now. I'm always happy and smiling. I think because I have kind of made it all about me, I put Serena as A, and A is first."

--Serena Williams

As annoying as Serena can be, right now she might be the smartest American left. Wait till you read what the rest of them said and did.

Tennis Rocks and Rolls All Night with ESPN

(Above: Dwarf Rockers Mini-Kiss)

Five years ago ESPN was in a dismal state with its tennis coverage. I can always find things to nitpick but their efforts (on the tv side only) have vastly improved since the network got expanded rights to the AO, French and Wimbledon. 

This year they added Bud Collins to the announcing team, allowing him to do expanded sideline reporting and commenatry in the booth. 

It all culminated in an outstanding day and a half of coverage that spanned four five-set matches on the men's side. This was coverage for tennis junkies. A fifth set is compelling no matter who the players are. This year they've had the remarkable luck to have the greatest of matches featuring the greatest of players: Federer, Roddick, Baghdatis, Blake, Hewitt.

The rain fell yesterday, meaning that the roof was closed. The matches went on consecutively rather than simultaneously and ESPN stayed on through the night. A big thank you to the four-letter for sticking with Federer - Tipsarevic and Baghdatis - Hewitt, amounting to about 11 extra hours of live tennis. They Aussie fans stayed for the entire five set Hewitt match, whic ended at about 5 am Aussie time. 

Send ESPN an email commending them for going live rather than tape-delay. The four-letter will be replaying the matches this afternoon, which is great for the casual fan to tune in and see what all the fuss is about.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

From the You've Got to Be Kidding Me File: Turk-Cypriots Want Baghdatis Banned

When I first started following tennis all those many years ago, part of its appeal was that it was an international game that taught me a lot about geopolitical issues. Boris Becker, for example, burst onto the scene in 1984 at an interesting time in German (then West German) history. It seems like ancient history now, but there was considerable tension for Germans as they made their way in the world, and German athletes were certainly not immune to it. When the 17 year-old Becker won Wimbledon the newspapers ran headlines about "Blitzkrieg Becker" and "Bombs Over Britain."

A funny thing happened on the way to that title though. The British people fell for Becker like game, set, match. From then on it was Beckermania. His cultural impact was huge. You may dismiss it, but over the years there have been many articles examining Becker's significance to Germans. As they tell it, Boris was the first thing they could feel proud of, both publicly and privately, since WWII. Bekcer's entry onto the world staged marked the first time they could express any kind of nationalism that was enencumbered by guilt, shame, fear and international admonishment. Becker of course, was easy to love. (Click here for a 2001 Time Magazine article examining the effect these things had on Becker the man. Put simply: it freaked him out. Becker was so frightened of what the Germans would do after reunification he refused to support the country's Olympic bid. Becker later married a black woman and that relationship became the subject of public debate, leading Boris to become an anti-racism activist).

I bring this up in part to prepare you for a later post about my favorite topic of the last two years - the Sensational Serbs - but also because the ugly side of geopolitics really hit the fan yesterday when police subdued 10 Greek-Cypriots with pepper spray. One of those people was the president of a nationalistic group of Cypriots called Hellas Fan Club. What in the world does this have to do with Marcos Baghdatis?

Well let's back up. Tuesday night the police subdued about ten tennis fans with pepper spray (I am not making this up) during Chilean Fernando Gonzalez's match with Greek player Konstantinos Economidis. The officials took a hard line against the fans, including the aforementioned Greek-Cypriots, because of last year's giant mess, when 150 Serbian and Croatian tennis fans beat the shit out of each other with flag poles. It is rare to see this kind of behavior away from Davis Cup, but we are learning that these old blood feuds die hard.

So what did Marcos Baghdatis do? Well, back up again, just for a minute. Melbourne has the largest number of Greeks outside of Greece itself, and is considered the largest Greek city outside of Greece proper. Baggy is a Greek-Cypriot and he really packs the house Down Under. His matches are a rollicking good time for all, he has enough fans support that the matches feel like soccer games. Apparently last year our Baggy attended a barbecue thrown by the Hellas Fan Club and was caught hanging with the president, Mr. Expelled-from-the-Open, in a series of videos that found their way to You Tube. In the videos Baggy says some things about Turk-Cypriots, chanting nationalistic slogans about kicking the Turks out of Cyprus. The Turks living in Australia are in an uproar. They want him thrown out of the tournament and out of the country.
"The community and I have view this breaches the state Racial Vilification Act and when someone gets a visa to come to Australia to play tennis there are certain visa conditions and he's breached all these conditions."
The Australian Greek community is also outraged. Their spokesperson pointed out that in the video you can't tell what Baggy is saying because his arm is in front of his face and he's in a crowd of people who are chanting. They also claim that whatever was said was not racist because "It's not exactly expressing a view which doesn't conform with the UN resolution or with the general global view of that incident." The "incident" refers to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the continuing hostility that has partitioned the island.

As his country's only star that burns brightly beyond their borders, Baghadtis shoulders an extra burden. When he made his incredible run to the finals of the Australian two years ago, Cyprus declared the day of the finals a national holiday. It wasn't just that he did it, it was how he did it. We tennis fans are smitten with the exuberant personality and style that he is capable of on his best days. (If he isn't eating bonbons with Serena in the locker room). Baggy's popularity at home is such that deals with issues that are bigger than the 46-weeks a year tennis grind. Being the public face of your country is a role fraught with land mines and he just found one.

Baggy had this to say in his defense:

"There has been a lot of coverage of me appearing in a video on"

"In that video from 2007, I was supporting the interest of my country, Cyprus while protesting against a situation that is not recognized (sic) by the United Nations.

"Now I would like to concentrate on the tournament and ask everyone to respect that.

"I love the Australian Open and want to do well here."

I have no opinion on his appearance at the barbecue or whatever he said or did not say. As always, I completely reject throwing someone out of the country for words. I am not an expert on Australian law or the Racial Vilification Act, but I do not like this kind of legislation, wherever it appears. I can agree with it in spirit, but when it comes to free speech I tend to be something of an absolutist.

Above: the incendiary video with commentary from Aussie tv, whose tv personalities can be heard chuckling about a roe started by a barbecue. You have to love them for that.

Magaret Court Slams Tennis Australia

Legendary Australian Margaret Court has publicly admonished Tennis Australia for their dismal failure to produce anything resembling a championship-level women's tennis player for twenty-five years. She offered to work with Alicia Molik. The 26 year-old went crashing out of the tournament to the Czech upstart Nicole Vaisadova - 18. Longtime readers of mine might remember my prediction of a grand slam title for Vaisadova, and soon.

There have been times when Alicia Molik looked like she had plenty of potential but I've never been sold on her viability as a top ten player. Court's larger points, however, are all good ones. She correctly notes that there is no reason why the country shouldn't be able to come up with a couple of top-notch women. Australia is a sports-obsessed culture where the sporting goes beyond the coach-potatoing that takes place in the US. In Australia sports participation lasts from cradle to grave. They continue to grow stronger in international competitions of all stripes and are expected to take a huge number of medals later this summer at the Olympics in Beijing. So what gives?
"They keep saying our players are very young, but you look at the top players winning grand slams when they're 17 and I think we've got to stop making excuses. We've got to search for the potential — and a lot of it is coming from country areas.

"You take a good athlete at an early age and you can make them into a player and that's why it's so important for the coaches to start them out on the right foot and with the right stroke production. We've also got to do away with the two-hander because it limits reach. Look at (Roger) Federer — it looks so easy and we should be coaching more like that."
I don't know if she's right. The trend is away from the two-handed backhand, but the attack on that stroke is misplaced. Two-handers continue to thrive (just check out the rankings). If anything, I'd expect Court to attack the death of serve and volley tennis, as other great Aussies and our own Pete Sampras and John McEnroe have done over the last couple of years.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Overruled: CYCLOPS Says Lay Off Marat!

I'm taking heavy fire from CYCLOPS over my comments about Marat Safin being a jackass. CYCLOPS loves them some Marat, especially the Russian Blue half.

Tortured Tatar geniuses stick together.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good Bodo, Bad Bodo

I told you will give credit when it is due. Over at, Bodo wrote a short post about legendary tennis coach Robert Landsdorp and his ties to second round opponents Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova. Landsdorp also schooled Tracy Austin and Pete Sampras on their groundstrokes. 

Of the four players, Sharapova is the odd woman out and just as that thought entered my mind, Bodo concurred:
Davenport might be Lansdorp's greatest success story, because he shaped her game in a way that minimized her liabilities (relatively poor mobility and a surprising degree of awkwardness in someone with such great hand-eye coordination) and maximized her assets. He once told me "the thing with Lindsay is that if she had a coach who was heavy into top spin, she would never have seen the top 50, no matter how much desire she had. She was kind of lucky that I taught a flatter game. Lindsay surprised me when she won her first pro event at 16, on clay. I was like, 'How the hell did you win a clay-court tournament?'"
As a Lansdorp project, Sharapova is not nearly as fully realized. The stroking discipline we saw in the built-by-Landsdorp ground games of Davenport, Austin and Sampras are fitful in Sharapova. Maybe that's what she gets for hedging her bet and coyly playing Bollettieri and Lansdorp off each other, while Uri (Sharapov) claimed exclusive coach status. The most successful players who were developed by Lansdorp are, not coincidentally, the ones who most completely trusted his abilities.

Sharapova is capable of blasting Davenport off the court (remember, at 31, Lindsay is 11 years older than Maria), but I like Davenport's chances if stroking consistency and discipline become issues.
He's right-on with this analysis. Sharapova has so much ability but half the time she can't hit the broad side of a barn. Only an egomaniacal tennis parent would think he knows more than Landsdorp. (In the same article Sampras says if he wanted his kid to learn groundstrokes he would send him to Robert Landsdorp).

Landsorp's comments about Davenport bear repeating because Lindsay's flatter groundstrokes are indeed unusual in this topspin obsessed era. We wish more coaches would bother developing a game to match the player instead of a one-size-fits-all, hit-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can, never go to net, grunt-and-squeal game. Fortunately this problem is mostly on the women's side of the net now. Here's hoping they grow out of it, and soon.

(B)dodo Droppings--He's Straight, in Case We Didn't Know

Bodo's Tennis Mag blog was pure drivel today. His aim was to pen a few paragraphs about all the men in action on Day 2. His writing was supposed to be clever and witty but the jokes were flat. It was like this:
Michael Russel - Co-Journeyman of the Century with Paul Goldstein (hey, where the hail is Goldie, anyhow?), he survived a five-setter (6-3 in the fifth) against Fabulous Fabio Fognini, who as all of you know was named for the pasta special served at the popular Roman restaurant, House of Medici
Yikes. We all have bad days, big guy.
I wouldn't be panning Peter today if he didn't resort to the usual "I'm straight, get it!" jokes. Again. I'm sure at one point in history it was really funny to watch middle-aged, straight white guys get all jokey about the fact that they are heterosexual. But with Bodo it goes beyond writer having a bad day because asserting his masculinity is always uppermost in his mind.

Hence all the "Federer is a girl" posts. 

This is why it was no surprise to find him asserting his distaste of Fabrice Santoro and his pastel shirts and Frenchy ways. (The French are also on Bodo's list of things that bother him. (Is he auditioning to be George Bush's best-friend or what?) Bodo goes out of his way to slam Santoro for his record number of grand slams played and then links to a goofy picture of Santoro to emphasize his point that Santoro is a dope. Yeah, he kinda looks like Bodo in that picture so...

But back to the hetero-ness that is Peter Bodo. He has this to say about Fernando Verdasco.
Fernando Verdasco - I'm a male heterosexual, so a huge portion of this guy's appeal gets little more than a shrug out of me, except when it comes to his game.
You're giving yourself away Bodo - Verdasco is only occasionally noticed for his looks. There are better looking players out there if you want one.

And then there's that other game. "I don't know what the appeal is." Oh please, as if heterosexual men don't "get" the appeal of Johnny Depp. You don't need to want to sleep with him to understand why you might want to look like him. 

Match Worth Staying Up All Night For: Day 2

Big John Isner v. Fabrice Santoro. One is 6'7, American, power tennis. The other is French, stylish, crafty and has all the mental tricks in the book. Just ask James Blake and Roger Federer. 

Le Magician is so creative and retains incredible foot-speed for the oldest guy out there. If Isner serves Fabrice off the court then we know the new courts are playing super slick this year.

I doubt ESPN will show much of the match so perhaps sleep is the best course.

News & Notes

American Amer Delic (left) won his first round and got a studio interview with ESPN. The Bosnian-born Delic moved to the US when he was 14 and played college tennis for Illinois. Don't worry Pat Buchanan, Delic speaks English better than your average redneck and does it without an accent. Also, he ain't ugly.

Lindsay Davenport won an unexpectedly tough first round match. The mental aspects of playing in a major for the first time in a year probably accounted for that. She got a huge ovation from the Aussies.

Donald Young lost a tough five-setter. I still love this kid. So much variety and a serve and volleyer to boot. At 18, now's the time to get him a coach, mom and dad.

Marcos Baghdatis is blogging for the ATP website. Today's entry: Boring. Note to ATP, just because someone oozes charisma on-court doesn't mean their blog will be interesting. Hopefully it'll pick up as the tourney goes on.

Meanwhile, Ana Ivanovic is blogging simultaneously for her website, USA Today, The Age (Australian), and the WTA. Women. We know how to multi-task. Today's entry talks about gossip but doesn't dish any.   

Andy Murray got beat in round 1 by Jo-Wilifred Tsonga. Murray had a tumultuous off-season. He fired Brad Gilbert and continued to recover from the wrist injury that ruined 2007. Not a good start for baby McEnroe. The blog Black Tennis Pro's has a synopsis.

American Sam Querrey won his opener. He's the big-serving Californian who Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe said needed to develop a better work ethic in order to compete consistently.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mary Jo F - Refreshingly Blunt

Great exchange earlier between Mary Carillo and Mary Jo Fernandez during the Sveta Kuznetsova match. Noting that Sveta is ranked #2, Carillo asked Mary Jo if she thought the Russian was ready to win her second grand slam title.

"No." said Mary Jo F.

Well played, MJF. This blog, minus the Russian Blue half of CYCLOPS, agrees.

Finessing a Weighty Issue

Bud Collins is back on television, six months after being unceremoniously dumped by NBC. ESPN wisely brought Bud on board and he got more screen time on the tournament's first day than he got in years with NBC. Bud's opening salvo was that it was good to see Serena Williams, although there's less of her to see! The others quickly chimed in about a little less Serena. This was a tasteful way of bringing up the weight issue. 

And when it comes to Serena, unfortunately we must address her physical endurance, speed and strength. I would feel differently if the commentators were openly mocking a spectator or person on the street. But Serena is a professional athlete and as such is held to a different standard. I think everyone involved with tennis on the journalism side is aware of the struggles with eating disorders that plague young women, especially professional athletes - particularly tennis players, who have occasionally struggled publicly with anorexia and bulimia. I have never heard a commentator say something I perceived as unkind on this topic. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Sadly, I think much of the pressure to stay rail thin comes from coaches, parents and agents who are looking to peddle the flesh.

Serena herself has been open and honest about the fact that she's struggling with her weight. Is she honest about the fact the a big part of the struggle comes from an aversion to hard training? Yes and no. Serena knows that she's an unstoppable force when she's 30 pounds lighter. She just needs to decide whether it is worth it to spill her guts on magic mountain like Agassi did when he decided to get in shape.

The point is that someone's weight is a valid issue for discussion. I've tried to be fair by pointing out overweight and out of shape men's players when they exist. It is here where I think the sports media is usually biased, because they go to great lengths to avoid calling a man "fat". They use euphemisms like "he doesn't have legs" or "he may run out of gas in the fourth set." Well...yes, a guy may run out of energy or lack legs because he's out of shape, rehabilitating an injury or... because he's FAT. And lazy. (I'm talking to you Marcos Baghdatis).

Calling an African-American player lazy carries with it a slew of negative stereotypes. I am aware of that and am not making a racial slur. My discussion of Serena's problems is based on years of watching her play and listening to her discuss her own training methods and lack of interest. Venus is often disinterested but I would never describe her as "lazy". Venus, like many women other women hate, is also blessed with the tall/thin body type that little sister did not inherit.  Conversely, Serena rarely looks disinterested during a match, and I've seen her fight like hell even when she is clearly out of gas and lacks legs. 

I thought Bud and the four-letter handled the weight issue well, what do you think?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lindsay Davenport is 18-1 as a Mom

Chris Clarey over at IHT has a wish list for tennis in 2008. He hopes Maria Sharapova has a healthy shoulder. Clarey says Sharapova's intensity trumps her screaching and grunting, albeit "barely". I don't know Chris, I still have to watch the Shrieky-one with the volume off.

If Sharapova gets through to the second round she will probably play Lindsay Davenport. When Davenport announced she was pregnant, everyone assumed she intended to retire. So did she. But there she was last fall, playing team tennis a mere six weeks after giving birth to her son Jagger. Davenport has already won three titles during her comeback, beating several top players along the way. 

Davenport's comeback is one of the biggest stories to hit tennis in quite a while. If she gets by Sharapova, Lindsay is a definite contender for the championship. The LA Times has a nice article about Davenport's return to tennis, which will include appearances at Wimbledon, the US Open and possibly the summer Olympics in Beijing. Lindsay will almost certainly be seeded by Wimbledon. If so, watch out. Before her temporary retirement, Lindsay had the 2006 title in the bag before choking it away to Venus Williams. She was playing the best tennis of her career then, and she appears to be picking up right where she left off.

Her peers are impressed. "I'm speechless because she looks better than me and she's seven months out of having a baby" said Serena Williams. "I'm convinced if I had a baby, seven months later I'd probably still be in the hospital trying to get over the pain." She said it, not us. 

Australian Open: The New Year's Resolution of Slams

When the Australian Open switched from being an end of season/Christmas affair to kicking off the tennis calendar, it quickly became the New Year's Resolution of Slams. Tennis' notoriously short off season hardly gives the players time to take a breath, let alone time to fine tune their games and physical fitness. However, some players use the Aussie the way the rest of us buy a new stationary bike from QVC. More often than not these are the players who don't work so hard during the season. The challenge for them, as it is for us, is to see how long it takes before stashing the bike in the junk room closet.

We saw this most dramatically with Andre Agassi. Even before Agassi stopped being a bonehead, he usually came to Australia fit and on fire, as if he knew he was wasting his talent by vacillating between eating bonbons in Hollywood and embracing his identity as a tennis player. He has four titles down under, all but one predating his tennis (and life) Renaissance. 

Serena Williams, who is perhaps destined to be the Agassi of  her generation, came away with the title last year after several years of up and down efforts. Like Agassi before her, she came into the AO sounding like a walking self-help manual. Problem is, judging from her website chats, Serena hasn't quite mastered the self-help genre. 

Marat Safin is another underachieving jackass who seems to show up Down Under intent on taking tennis seriously. Safin has three appearances in the finals and one title to his name. His body of work at the Aussie includes a classic five-set victory over Roger Federer in the 2005 semis. Safin has the ability to challenge Federer on every surface, he just doesn't have the interest or the will. Safin is a dark horse to win every tournament he plays, and just as likely to lose in the first round. Still, Safin thinks his best tennis "could happen at any moment."

(B)dodo Droppings

During the next month I'll be introducing a few regular features here at Counter-Punch. The first one is (B)dodo Droppings. Peter Bodo is a longtime writer for Tennis Magazine. A few years ago he started a blog over at, which he uses mostly to discuss his political views, including how they manifest themselves in the tennis world. 

For example, Bodo thinks Roger Federer is a great big sissy with a man purse who probably would vote to turn the world over to Muslim terrorists. He also thinks Roger is probably the greatest player ever.

Yes, Dodo is a Macho, Macho Man all right. He writes extensively about his farm and all the manly activity that goes on up there when he's in town, which isn't as often as he would like, seeing as how he is forced to live in Manhattan with all the super-liberals. He worships Nadal's masculinity and is extremely disturbed by Roger's aggressive, metrosexual grooming. He's a Super-Christian who writes about the excessive commercialization of Christmas at the hands of secularists like me.... and then goes on to write about his son's half-dozen secularized present-fests. (Come to think of it, I did send the kid a present last year to turn him into a Godless Liberal).

I spent some time arguing with Bodo in the comments section to his blog. He is an arch neo-conservative and that's fine, so long as it doesn't monopolize his writing. I will be monitoring his blog to see if he, or Tennis, has decided to tone it down. Bodo still puts together some excellent columns when he wants to.

You may think I'm being hard on Dodo. I invite you to read his archives and see for yourself. 

Serena Writes a Poem (and Guess What It's About)

Serena has posted a new poem on her website. And it's about Serena's favorite subject. "Me me me me me me......."

An excerpt:

I love to act
I love to play tennis
I love to design
I dream of people watching me holding up my third Wimbledon trophy
I dream of people watching me on the big screen in movie theaters
I dream of having every person owning at least 1 piece of my Aneres designs.
I dream
I dream not only at night
I dream during the day
When I want things to go right
What type of dreams make sense?

Most of all I dream of being a good person to all that are inspired by me
I dream of having girls, women, boys, men being fond of not only what I
have done on the tennis court, or on the big screen or what I design but
I dream of what people think of me as a person.
I dream that people think of me as a giving person as a person that
loves life and is fun to be around.
I dream

We hope this poem isn't Serena's version of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream Speech. Note how Serena's idea of inspiring the masses includes giving of herself so we can all see her on the big screen, or with her "designs". 

We could write a dissertation on the crap Serena is plastering all over her website. Sports psychologists tell athletes to use visualization to achieve their goals. But this is not quite what they meant. In order to get that trophy in your hands there's a process you must go through. It's a process called work. This is a concept that Serena has always struggled with. She wants to be No. 1 but refuses to put in the hours to make that dream come true. 

Serena is the defending Australian Open champion. What last year's tournament proved, yet again, is that Serena could be the greatest player to play women's tennis... If she works at it. If she doesn't, she will never measure up to Justine Henin. Those words must chill her to the bone. The truth's a bitch.

In case you haven't guessed, Serena will get nothing but tough love from this space. 

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