Monday, December 10, 2007


I'm tempted to say good-bye to the tennis blogosphere, and I'll tell you why.  Just take a look at this post at "All Court Game Tennis Forum".

At issue here is whether Roger Federer is genuinely a nice guy, or whether he's just being nice to these ball kids in case he has to play them one day.

That's right - he's looking for an edge his game doesn't give him by being (fake) nice to ball-boys.

It's hard to take this medium seriously when you see comments like this, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. I can take it if someone doesn't like Federer - a lot of champions have been considered to be contrived or pre-meditated in their antics, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Federer's antics, while cloaked in niceties, is in part intended to make him everybody's the nice guy on tour.

My point:  big deal.

The last time I checked, unless we're talking about figure skating, you don't get points for personality in sports. There's a Nancy Kerrigan-esque phenomenon at play here, because a lot of athletes paint themselves to be more likeable than they really are.

But you still have to hit straight. You still have to have game. And you can't fake it for 4 years. You can get a few victories here and there, but you can't dominate one of the most competitive sports in the world by cheating/cajoling/faking your way to 12 grand slam titles. It just doesn't happen. Eventually, somebody better than you, who just doesn't give a rat's ass about your image, comes along and beats you. And typically sooner, rather than later.

I think the most interesting thing going on here is the common traits of all the Fed-haters out there:
  1. Invariably their favorite player is either Sampras, Agassi or Roddick, and they are motivated either by a disdain for the quickness with which their idol has been replaced in the tennis world as best/favorite player on tour or the iron grip Federer has over their preferred combatant.
  2. Invariably they seek to point out all of Federer's supposed faults - that he's arrogant, selfish, manipulative, etc., in order to (continue to) convince themselves that someone else is a more worthy champion. As if the above three "other" favorites were angels.
  3. This is the kicker: if you don't agree with them whole heartedly, then you're a sap who's been played by the tennis media and the Federer PR machine - they are, in fact, the only keepers of the truth!
I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest, particularly based on item # 3 above, that this is really a cult. The idea, that only they know the truth, and that anyone who doesn't agree with them is either a gullible stooge, or a part of the conspiracy, laughable at best and paranoid delusional at worst. It's exactly like, thinking that your local minister is Jesus Christ, and anyone trying to convince you otherwise is trying to destroy you and your faith, or are yet to bask in the glorious truth of your knowledge.

Mass suicides have been committed this way.

It's not hard to imagine that these people are little more than mentally imbalanced losers, who have nothing better to do than to commiserate with like-minded losers. But then again, I am knee-deep in the blogosphere that just can't be right!

But I know enough to know that no matter how you cut it, no matter what excuse you come up with, Federer is an extraordinary tennis player, and has been for 4 years. I've always wondered why athletes are always saying, "...they can't take that away from me." Now I know - when you win something, the only thing they can't say about you is that you didn't win - but they can say a hell of a lot more - good and bad - and if you get too caught up in the good, one day, the bad will replace it, and in a sense they've "taken away" the good things they used to say about you.

But if you win, you win, and they can't take that away from you no matter how hard they try. But boy are they trying hard to take it away from Federer.

I like Roger Federer as a tennis player - I learn a lot from watching him play, from his shot making to his shot selection to his movement and versatility. I think he's a great player. And for saying this, I'm castigated in the lunatic fringe of the anti-Federer blogosphere because to appreciate these qualities in Federer is to have been duped by the Federer religion.

I came to the blogosphere to see if I could find intelligent discussion on tennis topics, but it turns out that you have to look carefully, because sometimes what you'll find, in the dark recesses of the internet, where most dare not go, is a collection of anti-Federer enthusiasts, with misplaced energy, and a pathetic dedication to reveling in their own sorry, and deranged view of the tennis world.

I, for one, am done with them.

Monday, December 3, 2007


Despite my joy at the US victory in the Davis Cup, I have to admit it doesn't mean what it used to. There's too much money in tennis, and that money is distributed based on ranking and star power. Too often, the best players in the world avoid Davis Cup, because playing would be at the expense of their own careers. Basically, if they have to choose between their country or their own careers, they choose their own careers.

The fact is that fewer and fewer of the top players have played Davis Cup in the last 25-30 years. The reason most often cited is schedule and the need for rest, yet players continue to play exhibitions for money, so clearly this is not a complete answer. Furthermore, since Davis Cup has no bearing on points, a player is forced to choose between on the one hand:
  1. Earning a better living
  2. Saving themselves for tournaments that count towards ranking
  3. Playing Davis Cup.
Often Davis Cup loses out. Davis Cup is still a compelling competition, but has been diluted over the years as a result. I think it's a shame that the abstract concept of playing for one's country isn't so important to many of the top players, but I think the competition could be improved if there was a way to get players to consider Davis Cup as a chance to do both - represent your country and earn some ATP tour points.

For this reason I suggest counting Davis Cup results in the entry ranking system - just like they consider results in the "official" head to head records. It's not like taking points for something arbitrary - these are tennis matches played in earnest by professional players.

The intent is to ensure more participation in Davis Cup from top players, by eliminating the need to sacrifice tour points by playing Davis Cup.  I would do so by awarding tour points for victories in a Davis Cup tie. The problem is that players not able to play Davis Cup cannot access those points, and thus would be at a disadvantage to those who can/do play Davis Cup.

To rectify that, I suggest ATP sanctioned tournaments scheduled on Davis Cup weekends, for players who cannot play in Davis Cup (either because they haven't been selected, or because their countries don't/aren't participating).  Because in Davis Cup a player might lose one match and still earn points in another - not possible in single elimination tournament play - I suggest a round robin format giving players not playing Davis Cup the same opportunity to lose one match but still have a chance at tour points.

So in the end you have the following:
  1. Points awarded for victories in Davis Cup
  2. Additional points for winning a match in a Davis Cup tie away from home (mitigating the home court advantage)
  3. Points awarded in round robin competitions outside of Davis Cup
  4. These competitions are scheduled on Davis Cup weekends (no scheduling advantage)
  5. Any player (Davis Cup player, or not) can earn points on that weekend (no ATP points disadvantage)
  6. Players can skip those tournaments and rest, but sacrifice the points (just as they would any tournament they skip)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


A strange thing is happening in the tennis blogosphere: a brewing war in tennis heaven between the supporters of Federer and Sampras over who is the fairest champion of them all. In case you haven't heard it, the debate goes something like this:

Sampras is the king of tennis history with more grand slams than any other male player in history, but even if Federer surpasses his record, Sampras will still be the greatest because he did it against better players, for longer, and he did it quietly without the paparazzi or IMG.

Fed-heads counter that, Sampras may have more, but 1) not for long and 2) he's so much better than the competition he's doing it even better than Sampras did.

Along the way there are a few silly arguments about whether their single match in 2001 is an indicator of who was the better player, but I beg to differ. One match does not really give a basis for who was the better player. Sampr-assers will argue that Pete was not in his prime, but Fed-heads will counter that neither was Roger. Both points have merit, the only time head to head comes into play is as a tie breaker when the two players in question played in the same era, against the same pool of opponents with similar results. At that point we can start to ask how they fared against each other, but until then there are far more representative measures of superiority.

For me the most important is the number of grand slams they've won. Sampras has 14 and Federer has 12 - as far as I'm concerned the argument ends there. Of course, if Federer scores another trifecta in 2008, I can't say the debate doesn't reopen - and why shouldn't it? Years at #1 are a factor, but to me, less so than grand slams because even Marcelo Rios was ranked #1 at some point and he never won anything even remotely important.  For that matter Nadal is, for me, a much better player historically, and he's never been ranked #1.

So if Federer can overhaul Sampras, I'd give him the edge.

Interestingly, the debate is almost as much about how they've gone about amassing their grand slams as how many they have. A lot of people have referred to Sampras' battles, and the pedigree of players he overcame to win his titles, like Chang, Courier, Agassi, Becker, Kafelnikov, Kuerten, etc. For me, this is a strange argument - because in a round about way it sounds a little bit like this:

Federer wins all the time, so he's the best, but it's not that impressive because he wins all the time.  Implicit in this is a couple of things that call into question Federer's pedigree against that of Sampras:
  1. It's harder to win close matches than it is not to drop a set for 2 weeks
  2. It shows more character to win in the fifth, than it does to win in straight sets
On the face of it, it seems to make sense - if a boxer never got punched hard by anyone and retired undefeated, would we say he was better than a guy who got pounded, got up off the canvas several times and still never lost a fight? Probably not. We'd be more impressed with the latter, because that's obviously harder. And it's true that while Sampras lost a few grand slam finals in Australia and at the US Open, along the way, Federer's losses have only come at the French Open (a final Sampras never reached), and has only been pushed to 5 sets once in all those finals he's won.

This strikes me as something of a cynical argument, however, because in order for Federer to be adjudged the equal of Sampras, he'd actually have to do worse against his contemporaries than he has (thus improving their collective pedigree). So in order to be considered the greatest, he has to have lost to some of his contemporaries along the way. That sounds counter intuitive to me, and as such I cannot endorse it as a good measure of Sampras' superiority - I think Sampras' record is enough for that, and if you throw in the number of years he's been #1, and his longevity, (the time between his first and last grand slam was 12 years) a good case can be made that he's the greatest, even if Roger gets to 15 or 16 in 2008.

Another knock against the both of them is that they've never won the French. Of the two, I think Roger has the best chance because he's been in 2 finals already, and many have questioned his tactics at the French. Perhaps if he can employ a more attacking version of his game on clay, he just may find the way to break his duck at Roland Garros.

Ultimately these questions are primarily aesthetic. Whether you prefer the one or the other, it's pretty clear that objectively Sampras is the greater champion...for now.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


First of all, don't call me a hater - not only do I hate being called a hater, but also I think it's the stupidest term on the planet. Some kind of rogue amalgamation of a verb and an adjective to describe someone consumed by the green-eyed monster of envy.

That Maria Sharapova is the most annoying person in tennis is debatable (Lleyton Hewitt is still playing - albeit less boisterously - and I believe Marcelo Rios still plays on the Champions tour), but I'm pretty sure if you took a poll at any tennis court in Moscow, you'd find her name at the top of the list. There are so many reasons to be fed up with this woman, it's hard to choose just one. But let's just delve into this Fed Cup debacle for a moment, and you'll see what I mean.

But first some background.

She may have a russian name, and she may have been born in Siberia, of all places, but she's about as Russian as she is a damn monkey. Her unbearable father, Yuri, is Belarussian, and moved from Homel to Siberia following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear accident. At age 7, her father moved her (without her mother) to train at the Bollettieri academy in Bradenton, Florida...big surprise there. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, she has retained her passport, but that, and some american accented Russian, is about the run of it.

So what about this Fed Cup business? Well she was scheduled to play against Spain in April, but had a shoulder injury. Then she was supposed to play against the US in July, but this mysterious shoulder injury recurred, and she skipped out again. Finally, she indicated that the shoulder was still giving her problems after the US open, and pulled out of the Fed Cup final in September, but somehow managed to offer herself as a practice partner and supporter of the team.

So imagine how it felt for Anna Chakvatadze and Svetlana Kuznetzova to bust their humps selflessly, after longer and more arduous efforts than Maria's at the US Open, to win the Fed Cup for Russia, only to have this woman steal their limelight without even lifting a racquet. Not only did she have the temerity to galavant around the court in a lap of honor normally reserved for those who actually won the Fed Cup, but she has added to this a blatant, and rather hollow attempt to disguise her desire to play in the Olympics.

Keep in mind that she's never played Fed Cup for Russia - she's probably the only Russian woman in the top 100 who hasn't. It's amazing because you would think someone with this grand desire to play in the Olympics would want to represent their country in other competitions, like, oh...I don't know...say, the Fed Cup! But that assumes Sharapova has any interest in anything other than herself. Why she wants to play in the Olympics is probably a two-pronged motivation. 

First, there's a lot of money in it for her if she wins, assuming there's someone out there that has not already been bombarded with her unbearable image plastered everywhere the sun shines (and some places it doesn't). And because the IOC defers to the ITF, just so the ITF will pressure top professionals to play in the Olympics, rules stipulate that if you want to be considered for an Olympic tournament, you have to have made yourself available for Fed Cup. Sharapova being Sharapova, has done no such thing. Thus the soulless publicity stunt flurry of showing up at the final, and running around waving the Russian flag, etc. If she loves Russia so much then why hasn't she played Fed Cup - ever?

And why the Olympics?

Well, that's the other:  you see, in tennis the Olympics is the one place where a tennis player can engage in the illusion of patriotism while still playing and winning for him/her self a gold medal. Nothing would make her happier than being able to say she's won a gold medal, because the value of that financially is tremendous, and it only comes along every four years - and who knows if she'll still be playing when the Olympics go to London in 2012. If she does win the gold, then every time the Olympics roll around, for the rest of her life, someone will be there to hand her a load of cash to take a picture with her medal and some loser product that would otherwise be sold at a steep discount at WalMart.

I suppose it's also possible that through some rather free flowing osmosis, because her father is Belarusian, he has infused in her an admiration for the Olympics. Nobody loves the Olympics more than Russians. Needless to say, the shameless Chinese, and the insatiable commercial appetite of the IOC are likely all in favor of her "so pretty" face doubling billboard advertising rates all across Beijing in 2008. This is the perfect storm for another in a long line of so many galling acts of self mutilation the WTA and professional tennis promoters have conducted in deference to Ms. Sharapova (e.g. the absurd experiment with on-court coaching in the US Open Series following Yuri and Maria's 2-week homage to Marcel Marceau at Flushing Meadow in 2006.)

Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at these comments from the ITF:

"Her presence in Moscow certainly didn't hurt. She was injured and couldn't play, but by being here she clearly demonstrated her commitment to the Fed Cup and that will certainly enhance her chances (of playing at next year's Olympics). It's a big plus for her."

I can just hear the accounting calculator buzzing away in the coffers of oh so many unnamed charlatans at the IOC and in Beijing. What was it that Mark Felt told Woodward and Bernstein? (or was it just Woodward?)

"Follow the money."

I hate to be a cynic, but everything about her little act stinks to high heaven, and the comments of her "teammates", if you consider her a member of the "team", clearly concur. World number two Svetlana Kuznetsova said:

"Personally, I don't know why she came; I mean, she said she wanted to be our practice partner but if you can't play how then can you practice?"

Good point. And Chakvetadze had this to say:

"If you haven't played Fed Cup all year, it wouldn't be fair to just show up for the final. It's not fair to all the other girls who committed themselves to the team's cause."

You think?

Clearly they resented her presence, and weren't shy about saying it - one thing these Russian girls are good for, besides abnormally loud grunts and 4-foot pony tails, is catty comments about each other. They don't pull punches when it comes to other Russians, and certainly not when it comes to the most unbearable (sort-of) Russian in tennis today.

I'm sure they'd join me in asking for the granting of a single wish: that Miss Sharapova would just go away. But as long as lap dogs buy the crap she's selling, there'll be no end of her, or her atrocious father, in sight.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Personally, I have had just about enough of Novak Djokovic's cheering section and shamless pandering to the media. I know that he's trying to make a career for himself, and the US media is so predictably hungry for a "star" to replace its wayward obsession with Andy Roddick, who is clearly not the real deal, that it's easy to see why he and his "team" have been so successful in capturing the (absence of) imagination.

At the US Open it began with their incessant camera-begging gesticulations each and every time their little boy did something right on court. They're well aware that US television cannot resist the opportunity to invent the drama of on-looking family and friends, and with this crew, have taken it to a whole new level (I'm not going to say if it's high or low....let's just leave it at a whole new level). With the father leaning against the "ropes" screaming like he's winning the points himself, and the mother, biting her nails to a nub (wouldn't surprise me if her nail-polish were flavored, just to make the charade more tolerable) and a gushing Dick Enberg going on and on about the family, is it any surprise that they got almost as much air-time during the tournament as his opponents?

Then the disgraceful Serbian flag color stunt they pulled in the semi-final. Such shameless pandering, just so everyone knows they come from a war-torn country and had to dodge US bombs to fulfill their sons dreams, etc. But for me, the topper was their uniform in the final. All wearing Djo-ker-vic's Adidas costume, like over-zealous parents at an 8-year old's youth soccer tournament. Add on top of that the shameless shit-stirring stunt of "inviting" Sharapova to his box (which she eagerly obliged...I wonder why...) and the invitation of De Niro and his tennis-loving wife. That was truly the coup de grace, and disappointed as I was that he accepted the invitation, I can't help but chuckle at the equally conspicuous absence of the actor at the conclusion of the match. I'm glad he chose to get out of Dodge before the circus left town. Of course by then the damage had already been done.

I like Djokovic as a player - he's one of the few that I enjoy watching these days. He's got a good range of shots, has a lot of power, is mobile and has a good serve. He also displays good touch and feel with is drop shots and volleys although his power volleys could probably use some improvement...well, nobody's perfect. At the end of the day, I think he's as good as his results show, and it wouldn't surprise me to find him on the winning end of the Australian Open final in 2008.

But frankly I wouldn't mind if the camera spent more time on him and his opponents than it did on his posse.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


It's hard to put into words my disappointment at the atrocious behavior of Serena Williams at her post-match press conference on Tuesday night after being handled rather easily by world #1 Justine Henin. The Williams sisters are very popular among younger sports fans, particularly those recently interested in tennis, but within the tennis world, there is little support for these two, particularly when they show little to no grace or respect towards their opponents when they lose.

It's one thing to be competitive and confident, and it's another to insult your opponent by suggesting that she made lucky shots and that this, and every match, for that matter, is yours to either win or lose. You may have this mentality before the match to put yourself in the right mindset, but what's done is done, and once you've been served like yesterday's lunch, the right thing to do is take a big bite of humble pie and live to fight another day.

Years ago I used to fully support Richard Williams in his complaint that Americans didn't seem to take to the Williams sisters the way they did to other American tennis players, particularly cute little blonde ones - in fact, it wouldn't have been a stretch to say that even cute blonde Russian players were more popular with Americans than the Williams sisters. Underlying this statement is, and always has been, the question of race -  are American sports fans ready to go ga-ga for a couple of black tennis stars? But it turns out that this lukewarm reception to the sisters from Compton may have less to do with their race, than with their attitude.

It's all well and good to stand on your tippy-toes and wave kisses to the crowd, like Mary Lou Retton at the '84 Olympics, when you win. And since kids don't tend to watch press conferences, or read interview transcripts (or much of anything these days, for that matter) they don't see the other side of Serena that has everyone who actually follows tennis so up in arms.

Does she honestly believe that Justine Henin was making "lucky" shots Tuesday night? Were these the same lucky shots she made at the French Open and Wimbledon, where she also handily beat Serena? And by the way, what's all this talk about luck? Are we talking about some journeyman who was given a wildcard into the main draw, or the deservedly #1 ranked tennis player in the world? Perhaps what really has Serena behaving so petulantly today is that there is no excuse for her failure this time around:
  1. She can't claim Henin cheated (as she did at the French Open 4 years ago)
  2. She can't claim she was injured (as she did at Wimbledon)
  3. She can't claim it's not her best surface (as she does at the French Open)
  4. She can't claim lack of preparation (since she won the Australian with a similar run-up)
The bottom line is this: she lost to a better player. Maybe not always a better player, but definitely Tuesday night. And that's all anyone expects her to say when she loses to a better player. Not that she lost due to her own mistakes, when in fact she was clearly outclassed. And not that her opponent made lucky shots, when in fact Henin raised her game, and Serena couldn't.

There is one thing tennis players hate, and that's when big name players think they're entitled to victories and titles because they have a big pedigree. Years ago, Pat Rafter got into it with Pete Sampras because each time he won something big, or beat Sampras, Sampras had some injury excuse. Sampras went so far as to say that it was "annoying" to see Rafter lift the US Open trophy in 1997, because he felt it was rightfully his.

Excuse me?

It's hard to give a great champion like Sampras a hard time, because he generally had a lot of class, and perhaps the comment was taken out of context. (BTW if you want to see the context of Serena's comments, here they are). But in sports, nothing rightfully belongs to anyone - the reason we play the game is to determine who deserves to win, otherwise we can hand out the trophy and prize money at the same time they do the draw.

And even if injuries are a factor, we don't know what the winning player is experiencing, and anyone who's played highly competitive sports will tell you that they're always carrying some kind of knock or discomfort or injury that presents a challenge. That's part of sports, and not an excuse for losing. If you're fit enough to be on the court, then you're fit enough to win. End of story.

Serena should take a lesson from Sharapova in this regard - even though we know that this woman is completely in love with herself, she at least has the good sense to FEIGN humility when she loses, and even when she wins. Yes, I get tired of her phony, "all this for little ol' me?" routine, but to be fair when she loses, she doesn't sound off like a spoiled child who thinks she deserves to win every match regardless of how well her opponent plays. She congratulates her opponent and moves on.

And one last thing...she should not, as some have suggested, have skipped the press conference. She should have just been a little more gracious and honest, because that's what is expected of anyone in any disappointing situation, and not just big tennis stars.

Good riddance to you, young lady. Come back next year when you've learned some manners.