Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Art: Tennis Ball Benches

The used tennis ball as art. Dutch designer Tejo Remy designed tennis benches using steel and tennis balls. Visitors to the Rotterdam Museum Boijmans Van Beuninge can now sit on the benches and enjoy the rest of the art.

If only all old tennis balls could be refashioned as something other than dog toys.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Big W

I'm many days late with my French Open wrap-up, so let's skip it for now and maybe I'll get back to it. What you need to know now is where to follow Wimbledon on tv, from the computer and on the radio. Let's categorize them by good, better and best.


ESPN, Year 1

Monday begins
ESPN’s new Wimbledon deal. I’m fairly enthusiastic about it because I enjoy all the commentators, their match selection is greatly improved and they are adding special programming as well.
The coverage kicks off a new six-year agreement between the network and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. ESPN2's live coverage from London will begin at 7 a.m. and include all-day coverage the first week, a women's semifinal and a men's semifinal (July 3 and 4, respectively), and a one-hour "SportsCenter at Wimbledon" that will air after NBC's coverage of the women's championship (July 5 at 2 p.m.) and men's championship (July 6 at 3 p.m.). Dick Enberg, covering his 25th Wimbledon, will call the matches, sharing the duties with Cliff Drysdale. Analysts include Darren Cahill, Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe, and Pam Shriver.
The most important revelation is“SportsCenter at Wimbledon” after the championship finals. At last, tennis coverage that approaches the devotion the four-letter gives to golf. I say “approaches” for a reason, however. I’ll let you know how the coverage stacks up as time goes on. Hopefully this will grow. For now, adding analysis of the championship matches is a huge commitment from ESPN.

From your PC has live coverage for your pc. Follow the action from nine courts and get highlights and classic matches, PLUS video on demand, for a fee of 24.99 for access to all 14 days. There are cheaper packages as well. This year they’ve added to their classics vault, which is enough to make me subscribe…if I used a PC. But Apple and Linux users are left in the cold due to rights issues. Hopefully they will clear this in the future.

Free from your PC

You can enjoy Wimbledon highlights and interviews for free on the official Wimbledon website.


Wimbledon Radio…

I look forward to it every summer. Those wonderful two weeks of Radio BBC’s Wimbledon coverage. Describing tennis for the radio in a play-by-play fashion is difficult. Try it yourself for five minutes. Then try to describe all the action while leaving enough time the color commentator to add her analysis. Double-tough.

But on the BBC makes it sound easy and natural. And it’s an unbelievably relaxing yet exciting way to experience the game. During the inevitable rain delays they often read emails from around the world, including from many happy Americans contently listening while at work. And productivity nags never fear, I think I actually get more done during these two weeks. The hypnotic sounds of Wimbledon Radio will be good for me Monday-Tuesday, since I have a major piece of writing to accomplish.

Wimbledon Radio can be heard over the internet. In addition to the main channel, which features matches from all around the ground, plus interviews, news and pressers, there are two other channels. One covers Centre Court and the other follows the action from Court No. 1.

Also listen to Wimbledon
On Sirius Channel 123! I believe last year Sirius broadcasted BBC’s coverage, but I do not know if this is true in 2008.


DirectTV: Wimbledon Interactive Mix

I am jealous of
DirectTV subscribers this week. The provider will have 200 hours of tennis during Wimbledon’s first five days. The features include match selection, the perfect tool for the discriminating fan. That means those of you who have no interest in Serena’s first round match can tune into Robby Ginepri v. Fernando Gonzalez (aka matchup of the mental midgets, which should be highly entertaining), or big serving Aussie Chris Guccione v. next-big-thing Gael Monfils, or Michael Llodra v. Baby Goran. Another sure winner is Sam Querrey v. Juan Carlos Ferrerro, (but I’m sure that’ll make ESPN).
Matches On Now –Provides a view on the lower third of the screen of the latest scores of all current televised matches. Viewers can to tune-in directly to each one by pressing the Select button on the remote.
Matches On Later – This feature will present a schedule of upcoming matches on each of the court channels. Viewers see approximate starting times.
Instant Results – Viewers can access real-time scoring of all French Open matches in progress, and see scores for completed matches. Results from that day play as well as the day before will be available. Also upcoming matchups will be presented, all available without leaving the channel being watched.
Mike, let me know how green the grass is on the other side.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

They’ve Got Their Hash Pipes

Nothing like a little Weezer to kick off the morning. So you’ve heard the news obviously. Tatum O’Neal was arrested with two bags of cocaine in her front pockets. John McEnroe’s ex-wife allegedly asked the police if they could just forget it happened and commented that she was just “researching” a role. Obviously this can’t be right, since Tatum has been to rehab so many times that a judge actually gave John McEnroe the three kids.

Tatum O’Neal is still the youngest person to have won an Oscar, which she picked up at 10 for the movie Paper Moon. She was raised by Ryan O’Neal, an actor famous for his temper and probably resentful of her success. Then she married John McEnroe (daddy complex much?) Substance abuse runs in the family. Brother Griffin O’Neal was high during the boating accident that killed Francis Ford Coppola’s son, leading to a manslaughter conviction. Last year he attacked Ryan with a fireplace poker.

Which is all to say that having John McEnroe as an ex-husband is enough to trigger a relapse in anyone. Get well soon, Tatum.

Meanwhile, over at Chez Noah, Yannick Noah is nonplussed by news of his son’s arrest for (count ‘em): open container, possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Jokim was arrested last week in Gainesville and will pay a fine. Jokim was an obscenely popular member of the Gator’s back to back national championship basketball teams before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls. It’s no surprise to anyone that Jokim ended back in Gainesville partying, since he’s always been a unique personality who thoroughly enjoyed the college lifestyle.  Jokim Noah has had some problems fitting in off the court in the NBA. 

I know what you’re thinking, “what, they don’t smoke pot in the NBA?” 

No, it’s more to do with the younger Noah’s rather laissez faire attitude toward rules and seriousness, and the NBA, like all professional sports leagues, tends to have a “no fun” policy. Daddy Noah basically shrugged his shoulders at his son’s arrest, and can you blame him? It’s not that big a deal. Besides, Noah always had a laissez faire attitude himself. When he retired from tennis he became a popular reggae artist. Reggae… now there’s a drug free environment.

Ignorance in Tennis Media Nominee: NBC Sports

Today’s nominee is NBC. The Peacock network, the former gold standard for tennis coverage, which has been in freefall for a decade, has now entered a phase of steep decline. (Does it have anything to do with firing Bud Collins last summer?) 

Now the coverage is all but unwatchable. ESPN and The Tennis Network are garnering more coverage hours and more praise. ESPN was once in the wilderness in tennis, speaking for endless hours about Americans and only showing American matches, or matches featuring popular players. But starting about four years ago the four-letter left the jingoism behind and showed an acceptable variety of players and matches. But NBC is a horror show.  That was obvious this past Sunday when they inexplicably showed Nadal v. Verdasco in its entirety. With no Americans left to show and the beauty queens not playing, NBC chose to showcase Nadal. That would have been fine if the match lived up to the hype, but it didn't. 

It was a total beat down, it was hard to tell if Verdasco was on a tennis court or home with his feet up watching tv. The coverage was so rotten that Ted Robinson (criminally overrated), John McEnroe and Mary Carillo spent hours chattering about Nadal eating just the tops off of several bananas (insert joke here), having blisters on his feet, calling the trainer, getting mysterious tennis bags dropped off during the changeovers and chaging racquets.

What’s next, a discourse on the ways Nadal picks his wedge?

I know the action was sparse in the rain-filled first week but there were plenty of matches the network could have featured that would have shown us high quality tennis. This was a waste of time and what's worse, the match was tape-delayed, so the network knew it was a turkey and went with it anyway. That is just giving up, so I gave up on their coverage.

Compare NBC’s lackluster (and now mostly taped) tennis coverage to the slobbering it does over the US Open of golf and it’s nauseating. I told you that bumping off Bud Collins and installing Resident Hobbit and Golf Gnome Jimmy Roberts in his place would sound the death knell for NBC tennis. And so it has come to pass.

Monday, June 2, 2008

An American [Success] in Paris

Programming note: For an enhanced blog experience, today's posts are meant to be read while listening to the New York Philharmonic play George Gershwin's An American in Paris.
To properly assess American failure and success in Paris, we need look no further than Robby Ginepri. The 80th ranked Ginepri made the fourth round! He is the last American in either singles draw. Ginepri is a great athlete and lazy ass who once made the semifinals of the US Open. When he’s working hard he’s a top 30 player. He had never won a match at the French before 2008 and had a dismal 6-24 career record on clay, but rededicated himself to tennis in late 2007 when he started working with Jose Higueras.

Jose was a two-time French semifinalist, but became a world-renowned coach, steering Jim Courier to the number 1 ranking and working with Chang, Sampras, Martin, Moya, Brugera, Dmitry Tursonov and Guerillmo Coria. Ginepri said that under Jose’s tutelage he’s viewing clay court tennis in a different way and [finally] learning how to construct points. Learning to construct points is probably the number one reason our players on both the men and women’s sides can’t win on clay… As Ginepri succinctly explained:
"Playing on clay is totally different than playing on a hard court," Ginepri said. "The movement, how you need to construct a point, the patience required, Jose and Diego have really helped show me how to best use my game in order to be successful on clay. I grew up on hard courts, so my mindset was always to try and win points, but on clay you can't always go for winners. It is the combination of offense and defense that is most rewarded on clay and that is something that has taken me a long time to figure out."
The go-for-broke Americans, including 2nd round losers Venus and Serena and James Blake, should just go ahead and get that quote tattooed on their foreheads right now. Blake was last seen around Roland Garros proudly talking about his refusal to ever not go for broke.

Jose Higeuras rarely travels anymore, but the part-time coach is pulling triple-duty during this French, with players Ginepri, Shaheer Peer and…. The Mighty Federer, his newest charge. Federer has seen the draw part like the red sea, leaving him with what could be his best opportunity to win this event, especially since he has struggled so much this season, slightly lowering public expectations. Watch out…

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dear Over-Tanned ESPN Anchor: You Are Dumb

Not to be outdone, some random ESPN-anchor bonehead wearing too much makeup over his fake tan came up with this gem yesterday: The French Open has never been kind to the Americans.

Actually, that’s a flat-out lie and it only reinforces the whiny-baby attitude that our current US players adopt every time they’re forced to show up at the French. “We hate clay!” they cry. “It’s so European!” they scream. “It’s too slow!” they bawl. Enough already. Our players aren’t setting the world on fire, but they are good enough to win a few rounds at the French. They just aren’t mentally tough enough to figure it out.

As for the historical statement that the French Open has “never” been kind to Americans, that simply sells the Americans short. They haven’t dominated the way they did at Wimbledon, but no player won more most singles championships in the modern era than Chris Evert-7. American. In fact, since 1925, the America ladies have racked up 27 championships. Impressive, non?

It’s true that the American men have had several long droughts at the French.  Non-French players rarely participated in the French Championships before 1925. After ’25, Frank Parker won twice (’48-’49), followed by Budge Patty in ’50 and Tony Trabert in ’54-55. Then there was a long wait until Michael Chang broke through in 1989. Two years later he was joined by back-to-back winner Jim Courier (1991-92). In 1999, Andre Agassi won. Although that represents just four championships in the open era (1968-present), that’s three more than the French men got during the same period.

Even more significant is the number of runner-up appearances notched by the American men in the Open era. They are: Harold Solomon (’76), Brian Gottfried (’77), Vitas Guerilitas (’80), John McEnroe (’84), Andre Agassi (’91 losing to Jim Courier), Jim Couier (’93), Michael Chang (1995). That’s seven appearances, including an all-American final.

If ESPN wants to argue that the American men have stunk up the joint on clay in recent years, I will readily agree. These years have produced a record number of clay-court specialists. But even given the number of experienced clay courters, there is no excuse for American men (and now women) losing unceremoniously in the first two rounds. 

This is just another example of totally ignorant US media. It has been so bad this year that at the end of the French, Cyclops shall bestow an award for Ignorance in Tennis Media.


Cyclops thinks you are stupid.

We now interrupt the 2008 French Open for a Stupid Headline Alert.  I missed much of the first week of the French due to work obligations. Copious amounts of rain means I didn’t miss much. But CNNSI didn’t see it that way. The American sports website ran two gigantic headlines during the tournament’s first three days. They were:

“Huge American Breakthrough at French.”


“Federer and Nadal Survive Upset Bids.”

How are these statements wrong? Let us count the ways.

Blake Wins First Round. I was skeptical of any huge American breakthrough seeing as how the first round hadn’t even been completed yetWinning a first round match isn’t a real breakthrough. But click through to the tennis page and the title became “American breakthrough” minus the “huge” qualifier. Click through again to the actual article and the headline was “Blake’s breakthrough.”

Ugh. Finally. The headline should have been “Blake wins first round.” End of story. So desperate are they to make every tennis headline an American headline that they exaggerate routine wins.

Blake Needs Higher Standards. Blake winning a first round in a grand slam should never really be a story, no matter how bad his previous records on clay.

The headline is overly-desperate. True, Americans have sucked hard at the French in recent years. But I’d avoid lavishing praise on the US players for winning single rounds, or even a few. That’s setting the bar too low and it’s a betrayal of all the Americans who went before our current crop of bad players.

Federer Wins in Four Sets. There was a time when Federer losing a set would be a headline in and of itself. But that time isn’t now, and it has never been that way at the French, which Federer has never won. Consequently, Rog beating Montanes 6-7, 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 is not an “upset bid.” And there’s nothing to “survive” if, after losing a close first-set, you bash your opponent’s head in during the final three sets.

Nadal Routines Unknown Frenchman. In tennis we use routine as a verb, and it applies in situations where the match was both easy and unremarkable. Nadal beat Nicolas Devilder 6-4, 6-0, 6-1. The only thing to survive about Devilder’s game is his surname. Nicolas the Devil should be a player you need a few prayers to survive, but using this logic Ana Smashnova would be the number 1 player too.

In conclusion:  

There are four-set matches that are indeed upset bids. That applies only to four very tight sets. And there are three-set matches that a man is lucky to survive. That applies to three tiebreak or 7-5 sets. CNN’s framing suggests that every match between an underdog and a favorite is an “upset bid” from the moment they step on the court. The only way CNN’s headlines make sense is if they apply the same logic to other sports, so that when the Celtics beat the woeful Knicks by 20 they have “survived” the “upset bid.”