Sunday, February 17, 2008

Davis Cup Round-Up

A week late with this, however, it's worth mentioning that the first round of the Davis Cup is history.

The defending champs, the USA, took on Austria in Vienna and won easily. All the guys who have played so faithfully for seven years showed up. Kudos to Blake, Roddick and the Bryans for making the trip so quickly after the Australian Open. You didn't see Nadal or Federer in action, did you? Nope. A match on clay in Austria was actually dangerous and one we could have lost. For once, they played well on clay. You have to think the team is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

The Yanks take on France in the next round. This will be a blockbuster between two traditional Davis Cup powers. The French boast one of the world's best doubles teams, Arnaud Clement and Michael Llorda, and top singles players Richard Gasquet, Jo Tsonga and Sebastian Grosjean. They easily defeated the Romanians.

Speaking of traditional powers, it seems strange not to see Australia in the World Group this year. This marks just the second time Australia was relegated to zonal play. Australia has won the Cup 28 times, second only to the US (32 titles).

Russia hasn't lost in Moscow since Pete Sampras beat them singlehandedly to win the 1996 Davis Cup. The streak held, as the Ruskis beat a flu-decimated Serbian team that should have been a threat to win this year's cup. But Joker missed the opening singles match with stomach flu, as did Tispsarevich. That left doubles specialist Nenad Z and a player I never heard of playing singles on the opening day. The player I never heard of, Troiki, almost came through, losing a five-set epic. Joker played and won the doubles and made it halfway through the second singles day before having to quit and go to the hospital. The Serbs managed enhance their reputation even in defeat.

Span dominated Peru but promised to help Peru build tennis courts. The country is still recovering from an August 2007 earthquake. The Spanish Federation is celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

Sweden narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of the Israelis, who put on a show for the home crowd in a hotly contested 3-2 loss. Good for Erlich & Ram, the doubles champions in Australia, for making it competitive.

Sweden faces Argentina in the next round, in South America. This one should be interesting.

Japanese 18 year-old Stuns Blake to Win Delray Beach

Well well well, an unheralded Japanese player, qualifier Kei Nishikori beat James Blake to win his first title. Interested in knowing how he did it? So am I. Too bad that this AP article doesn't fill us in on the how and why behind the final score. Although it hints that James wasn't "there emotionally" (huh?), there is no match analysis in this article. Just the final score, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 and a few quotes.

This is the type of useless tennis writing that it's hard to believe someone gets paid for. Even match statistics would tell us more than this.

Kei is 18 years, 1 month and 19 days old, the youngest to win an ATP Title since Lleyton Hewitt. According to the ATP Website he turned pro in April of 2007 and has shot up to 244 in less than a year. This is quite impressive. Look at the players Kei beat: Floridan Mayer, Amer Delic, Bobby Reynolds, Sam Querrey and James Blake. All pretty tough customers. Kei trains at Bolleteris in Bradenton. One to watch.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

UK v. Argentina: Jamie Murray Attacks Kid Brother

Left: Andy Murray. Right:  Jamie Murray

Andy Murray, the McEnroe-in-Waiting, is skipping the British Davis Cup tie against Argentina. The thinking is that he's just coming off an injury-plagued year and after a rocky start to 2008 he wants to avoid a flight halfway around the world to play on clay against some of the world's best clay courters, just to switch back to hard courts again. In the pantheon of excuses for playing Davis Cup, I think that's a fair enough assessment for a player to make. It's not as if Britain has a chance against Argentina, a Davis Cup powerhouse with David Nalbandian (No. 9, Wimbledon finalist a few years back, beat Federer twice last year), Augustin Calleri, Guillermo Coria, Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Canas (also beat Federer twice last year)...And if they all break legs they can rely on Jose Acasuso and Juan Martin Del Potro.

In other words, they are contenders to win the whole thing, while Britain just made its way back into the top tier of teams allowed to play for the whole thing.

Moreover, Andy Murray has a legitimate shot to be a top five player someday - if his body holds up and his attitude straightens out. But the pressure on him to top Henman - since he's got more talent than Henman had in his little finger - is immense. He's at a rocky stage in his career and his body has been fragile.  The press is going to blast him any time he breathes wrong.

That's why I don't like hearing big brother Jamie ripping little bro publicly for skipping the tie:

"It's a shame he decided it was best for him not to come here," Jamie said yesterday. "It kind of affects the way we feel about him. I think from what I've heard he hasn't actually said that he was injured, it was more of a preventive thing. If he really wanted to push himself, he really could have come here to play the tie."

"There isn't really much to say. I'm here working hard for the team, trying to do the best I can and he's at home doing whatever he's doing." Asked if he would try to clear the air, he said: "I don't know, that's kind of up to him. I don't see why I should go to him or anything like that. From his point of view I guess that he doesn't have anything to apologise for as he's taken the decision not to come."

You're saying the decision affects how you feel about him? I would never rip my infinitely more talented younger brother publicly, even if he was (hypothetically) moody, and had more talent than he knew what to do with. Jamie should be sticking up for kid brother and fighting it out in private if that's what he must do. It's easy for Jamie to play Davis Cup: he's a doubles specialist and the spotlight is on him in Davis Cup in a way it isn't the rest of the year. The pressure is all on Andy to come up with some kind of miracle and carry the team. 

I gave Jamie credit last year for winning the mixed doubles at Wimbledon last year, even though Jelena Jankovic carried him to the title. It was a charming story though, seeing as how Jamie asked her to play doubles as a way of asking her out. No recent news on whether their relationship is still a relationship. 

I understand where the team is coming from if they feel abandoned. Argentina has a whopping 19 players ranked higher than England's number 2, Alex Bogdanovic. Argentina nearly impossible to beat at home. They need to suck it up and take their inevitable lumps.

Now Andy, having fired Brad Gilbert, needs to get on with his career. He's already said he'll play the next round, which will once again find Britain one match away from relegation to the minor leagues. Perhaps he ought to call John McEnroe for a bit of coaching, seeing as how his sullen pouting between points, followed by flashes of brilliance during the points, mirror John so much.

Not to mention Andy's propensity for deliberately pushing people's buttons. The latest? He'd rather win the US Open than Wimbledon. This is another comment meant to remind people that he's Scottish and doesn't consider himself English so bugger off already. He's got some growing up to do and he might need Jamie's advice on a few things. But airing the dirty family laundry in public... I don't like it. 

John McEnroe for...All-Bran?

Beautiful photo courtesy of Katie Meigs. Some rights reserved.

Hat tip to Mike for alerting me to John McEnroe's new association with All Bran. Here's the Yahoo All-Bran Group (yes, really):
I’m John McEnroe. I’m not only the spokesman for the All-Bran 10 Day Challenge™, I’ve done it myself. After 10 days, you too could be amazed at the results.

Become part of a regular movement in the All-Bran® 10 Day Club. See what Club members from coast-to-coast are saying about the benefits of All-Bran®.
Become part of a regular movement? So all those years Johnny Mac was just constipated?

I'm not saying he's a horse's ass or anything but All-Bran must have some serious money, or else John needs some. Showbiz Spy confirms the existence of a commercial featuring McEnroe arguing with some guy about his, um, plumbing.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sarah Silverman: "I'm Fucking Matt Damon"

Non-tennis related post again, but I'm pretty sure I just watched this ten times.

This is the best thing Matt Damon has ever participated in.

Earth to Senator Eagles Fan, It's Time for You to Go Now

So. There's no way for me to justify writing about this NFL "spygate" insanity on a tennis blog. Except to say that perhaps next year Senator Clinton will demand hearings into that horrible line call Serena Williams got at the 2006 US Open, because that is indeed where we are headed, after the weekend's ridiculous actions by Senator Arlen Specter. See, Senator Single-Bullet-Theory is mad! Because he's an Eagles fan and he thinks the Patriots cheated to win that super bowl and... and... He's going to make them pay! He actually compared the NFL's destruction of the videotapes it confiscated from the Patriots earlier this year with Nixon's hijinks. 

Huh. Oh Arlen.... Turn up your hearing aid for a moment. You might want to investigate our sitting president, since his destruction of evidence on the torture alone makes Nixon look like fucking Ghandi! GET A GRIP!

Just for a brief review, the NFL fined the patriots for filming the signals of the Jets earlier this year. Actually, that's wrong, although that's what people are going to say for decades. They got fined for filming from the wrong place, instead of from the authorized place... Now some disgruntled ex employee of the Patriots is saying he might maybe know something BAD about the Patriots but he'd only tell if Congress or the NFL asked..

Why should Congress be worried about this issue? You won't read a better defense of Specter than the one written by Gregg Easterbrook, who has been crying about spygate for months:

Think Congress has no business investigating sports? Most NFL teams play in publicly subsidized stadiums, and NFL games are aired over public airwaves controlled by federal licenses. The licenses, among other things, prohibit any pre-arrangement or artifice in what is presented as live competition. If a Super Bowl were affected by cheating, that would be a legitimate matter of concern to Congress. Plus, the recent lesson learned via baseball and steroids was that Major League Baseball did not clean up its own house until Congress put some pressure on.

Oh, boo-freaking-hoo! I disagree with Gregg. If this is the best argument you can make, then you're shit out of luck because this is insane. And who said baseball is clean now? Naivete, thy name is Gregg with two gs. Even worse was Mike Florio over at Pro Footbal Talk, who claimed Congress needed to investigate because it might send a bad message to kids. Always about the kids! The kids! If Congress cared about our kids, we'd have hearings to figure out why the US has the second worst infant mortality rate in the developed world. But that just doesn't get high ratings.

I've said it over and over for ten years now:  revoke the various anti-trust exemptions the leagues have and move on. Don't use them as excuses to grandstand. I heard Specter on the radio this morning. After his appearance, Mike Greenberg described him as a "disgruntled Eagles fan." I heard that! He sounded like a whining baby. If there is fraud in the outcome of games, like points fixing or other things that suggest that the games are equivalent to professional wrestling, that may indeed be a matter for Congress (emphasis on the may). But anything less than that is preposterous. Specter suggested that it was no problem for Congress to deal with the war, the economy and pro football because "we have plenty of time" to do all of them. Oh no you don't, because you aren't doing it. What about the anthrax terrorist? Interested in finding out who did it any time this century? How about VOTER FRAUD since we've had two stolen elections now. No? Ok, what about our troops being stranded at the mold and roach-infested prison camp known as Walter Reed? Forgot about that one pretty quickly, didn't you.

As a Cleveland Browns fan you'd think I would be contractually obligated to hate Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but I don't. Belichick didn't move the team to Baltimore, Art Modell did that. I've screamed for years about how unfair that was, how the NFL and the new Browns ownership then held a gun to the city's head to get them to agree to public financing for a new stadium, and I've gone on record before opposing public financing for non-dome stadiums because they can't be used enough to derive financial benefit on their cities. But none of this should be a matter of Congress, even though I would love to see Modell answering questions under oath and squirming like the leach he is. What they are trying to do to the Patriots is just sour grapes and jealousy writ large by a US Senator. 

There is a saying that "the people get the government they deserve" and episodes like this convince me that it is true.  We place too much emphasis on sports and too little on important things like life and death. But to some extent our elected officials are just mirroring our interests. Super Bowl Sunday, while occasionally fun -- once every eight years, I'd say -- is the ultimate example of everything that is wrong with this country. Lip-synching no talents singing the national anthem, fake concern for "troops" watching around the world, which is really just window dressing for making ourselves feel less guilty, an entire day devoted to commercials, no wonder Bush said the thing we should do after 9/11 was shot till you drop....

What else... Oh yeah, wardrobe malfunctions, wherein millions of Americans claim that a half-second of Janet Jackson's nipple burned their retinas and caused their children to be scarred FOR LIFE, never mind the fact that they'd already seen Bob Dole's erection and Britney Spears' nether regions and lived to tell the tale...

Enough. I didn't plan to live blog the Super Bowl of Chips, as CYCLOPS calls it....

FOX Sports and the NFL Dramatize the Declaration of Independence

Um... What the hell was that? Fox opened its eighth hour of super bowl coverage with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence by the likes of Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, Steve Larget (boo, hiss, Mr. Conservative Senator prick), Don Shula, Roger Staubach and others. Why? I demand to know the meaning of this. Perhaps this only proves the point I will soon be making: that the country is getting the government it deserves, one where the Congress hold hearings about sports leagues. 

I can't wait till next year's US Open, when Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King and Roger Federer dramatize the Bill of Rights.