Monday, December 15, 2008

New Sampras Racket Revealed!

Tennis Warehouse has a cheesy yet funny video on the new hotness that is about to be dropped on the public, the new Sampras Wilson [K]Pro Staff 88 tennis racket. Dubbed "The Log", the specs are 12.8 ounces, 68 flex, and a swingweight of 346. That is one man-sized racket. Comparatively, Federer's KSix-One Tour 90 is considered one of the most physically demanding rackets on the market at 90 sq inches, 12.5 oz, 67 and 336. Should be an interesting demo, for sure. A couple of screengrabs from the movie:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dude, we're still cool though, right?

Agassi's longtime friend* and business partner sues his wife, Graf.

*Assuming this lawsuit doesn't, you know, put a dent in the friendship.

Friday, November 28, 2008

SB Tennis Misadventures

Thanksgiving-day tennis at Birnam Wood Country Club, in Montecito. You've probably heard about Montecito due to the devastating Tea Fire that whipped through here recently, burning 210 houses, but before that Montecito was known as the Richy Rich area of already-rich Santa Barbara. Various celebrities have called this oceanside enclave home over the years, and most recently Oprah plunked down a cool 50 million for her mansion in the hills. Suffice it to say that these estates are guarded by large gates, and Birnam Wood is no exception. Pulling up to the security gate, my window goes down and my shades go up (so the guard can get a good look at my face) and these words get me through: "Jesse, here to play tennis with Anthony!"

Inside, the air seems crisper; the sun shines just a little brighter. Even the squirrels that dart from tree to diamond-encrusted tree seem healthier and more spry than the poor souls locked outside. Lest you think I'm some kind of baller, my in is Anthony, one of the teaching pros here. Today Anthony was running a 8 man round-robin, with a twist: we were going to play with wood rackets.

I came of age when graphite rackets were already dominating the market, and wood rackets were considered yesterday's technology. But, I play with the nCode Six-One, a 90 square inch racket that is one of the most wood-like rackets currently on the market, so I figured I'd make the switch pretty easily. I picked up a Dunlop Maxply and trotted out to the baseline. Right from the start I could tell that I had underestimated the task. When I made contact the racket head felt barely bigger than the ball. The racket also flexed more than I expected; I could feel the racket bend back, which was disorienting. I couldn't even pick a ball off the ground by doing a quick bounce off the strings. I had to drag the ball over to my shoe and pick it up the n00bifier way.

I dialed in the forehand pretty quickly, but my backhand was a different story. I have pretty high confidence in my backhand, it's usually my more dependable stroke. Still, I must not hit it as cleanly as the forehand, because I kept shanking the ball. I warmed up with two other guys, Matt Devorzon and Aaron Webster. Aaron is one of the legendary Santa Barbara "Webbies"; 3 brothers (the 4th isn't as gifted) who dominated the SB tennis scene. The oldest, Dan, is the head pro at Birnam. Aaron worked at Birnam years ago, but most recently served as a hitting partner for Ashley Harkleroad, she of the Playboy fame. The youngest and probably most talented, Adam, is one of the pros over at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club. Aaron worked out the wood racket in short order and was soon belting line drives off both wings. He's this thin, wiry guy with seemingly endless energy, the type of guy you can imagine played at the club all morning as a kid, then hit the pool, and still had enough energy to play another match in the afternoon. Despite his size, he can smack the ball. I teamed up with Wooten's younger brother, Eli, against Aaron and Matt. The strategy: hit to Matt. Even so, Aaron carved us up, and we ended up with the dreaded bagel, 6-0.

Beer Thirty: must be noon somewhere in the world. Despite this being a morning hit, we took advantage of Birnam's coffer to break open a few bottles of Bohemia and Corona. Life, I thought as I settled into a chair courtside, does not suck in Santa Barbara. So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the privilege of living in a sunny, warm climate year-round, and the tennis opportunities it provides. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stefanki punks Gonzo, goes with Roddick

Well all the news outlets are reporting that Roddick has hired Stefanki to be his new coach in 2009, but almost no one seems to be talking about how Stefanki dumped the player he was currently coaching, Fernando Gonzalez, to take up the job!

When I first read the news, I thought "That's odd. I don't even remember when Stefanki and Gonzo broke up; I wonder what caused the split?" Looks like Roddick caused the split! Gonzalez posted a notice to his website on Nov 19th stating that Stefanki had received the proverbial offer-you-can't-refuse to work for the USTA. Nov 20th the news came out that Stefanki would be working with Roddick. What's going on here? Did Stefanki pull a fast one on Gonzo? Or is the USTA footing the bill, in a program similar to the one the English LTA had with Brad Gilbert and Andy Murray?

Drama aside, this is a strong hire for Roddick. Stefanki is an extremely well-respected coach, who took previous charges Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov to #1 under his tutelage. Stefanki stresses fitness and building a strong foundation in the legs. As Roddick is a suspect mover compared to the rest of the Top 10, I think this will be a beneficial partnership. Come to think of it, Roddick is not unlike Gonzo; a strong forehand, weaker backhand, and an average to below-average mover. Maybe Stefanki can stop Roddick from making those ill-timed approaches to the net. It should be interesting to gauge Roddick's form come Jan 19th in Melbourne.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Davis Cup Final

The Thrill of Victory!

The Agony of Defeat!

Write-up coming later...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dan Patrick pisses off Andy Roddick

With a fiancee like this... Brooklyn Decker was on the Dan Patrick radio show and ended up putting Roddick on the spot. Dan Patrick tried to get a rise out of Roddick by flirting with his girl and proving that his life is better than the World #8's. When that strategy proved a little too successful, they testily broke off the exchange. Yikes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sometimes those towels ARE really far...

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga unleashed his Inner Diva today after losing to Nikolay Davydenko, 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 6-7 (0-7).

"I lost a lot of energy because today when I ask (for) my towel, my towel didn't come," Tsonga said.

"When I ask for a ball, the ball didn't come. Sometimes you are tired and you play a long point and you say you want your towel and the guy (ball boy) looks (and says), I don't know (where it is).

"You say one time, two times, three times, and then you ask the other guy.

"Sometimes I have to take my towel alone. So for me it's maybe 10m more.

"But if you count at the end of the match, it's like 1km."

Oh, Tsonga. Sometimes we all just have to take our towel alone.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stunner in Shanghai

Gilles Simon def. Roger Federer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. This was the headline that greeted me this afternoon as I surfed the sports-related news of the day.

I got home and watched this match anyway to see what exactly happened to Federer. ESPN gave up coverage of this tournament, along with two other major tournaments in the spring, to get coverage of the US Open, and we're now paying the price. Tennis Channel hasn't ponied up for this event (yet), so we're stuck with Fox Sports Net. FSN did the coverage for Indian Wells and Key Biscayne and did such a poor job that it was with much trepidation that I clicked through my DVR and hit "play" for the ATP Masters Series.

Justin Gimelstob is back commentating, somewhat surprising since his recent controversy had wiped him from the tennis landscape. His partner in the booth though was Leif Shiras, of whom I'm a fan, and a big improvement from the n00bifier they trotted out before, Barry Tompkins. Gimelstob has an irritating habit of repeating himself word for word and is still prone to talking too much, but he's improved as a commentator. He's cut back on the over-the-top exclamations, and eased up on the predictions that often left him eating crow.

But let's get to the match. Hewitt part deux, I mean, Gilles Simon, is a classic counterpuncher who hits a relatively flat ball, and has exceptional foot speed. The first time they met, Federer was coming off the long layoff after Wimbledon, with question marks about how he would handle the crushing defeat by Nadal. This time around, Federer had been out for 10 days, and there was uncertainty about whether a back injury would flare up. Back in August Federer won the first set, then went down in a flurry of forehand errors in sets two and three. What a bit of foreshadowing that turned out to be. This time, Federer came out with a very specific gameplan; stay aggressive on the forehand, change the height of the ball by throwing in some heavy topspin, and slice the backhand short crosscourt to bring Gilles up to the forecourt where he is less comfortable.

Federer took the first set on the strength of that short slice, despite some scratchy serving. Simon looked confused as to how to reply to that shot, awkwardly dumping it into the net, or following it in only to get passed by Fed. The times he did get his racket on the volley he made an absolute mess of it. It was not unlike this guy I played this past weekend. We were looking for a 4th for a Saturday morning doubles match, and Dan pulled in this unknown guy. As we were warming up I was impressed; the guy had some decent groundstrokes. Then he came to the net to warm-up and I found out that he couldn't volley to save his life. At all. It was literally an auto-point every time someone hit the ball at him at net in the match. Federer saved the one break point he faced and took it 6-4, and I wondered what was going to make the tide change in this match.

In the second set Federer broke early to go up 2-1, and I started to get really confused as to how he lost this match. Simon quickly broke back to level though, and that was key. The errors started to creep in on Federer, especially on the forehand side, but I was ok with that. Against a player like Simon you need to stay aggressive, and Federer bailed himself out of trouble with some timely first serves. Halfway through the set, Gimelstob astutely noticed a shift in the pattern of play; Simon was becoming the aggressor. His go-to play was to serve out wide in the deuce court, then step in to take the next ball early and drive it into the open court. Federer also stopped slicing the ball short; he kept slicing it, but he floated it deep to Simon's backhand, which was less effective. Federer got into trouble serving at 3-4 but pulled through. He fell behind again at 4-5 and this time wasn't so lucky. Simon broke him and we headed to the 3rd set!

On the changeover Federer seemed to dwell on his forehand misses. Simon served to open the 3rd and Federer smoked some forehands, losing the game in a flurry of errors. Simon impressed me with his intelligence on court. He's a bigger hitter than I initially gave him credit for; the ATP's site illogically doesn't post the winners to errors but he did hit a good share of winners against Federer, and also out-aced him. Simon is not known as a power player, but he did an excellent job of recognizing when Federer started to just rally with the forehand, looking to get back into a groove. Simon stepped around and cracked a few winners off those shots, and kept Federer from getting comfortable again on the forehand. At 2-3, Federer went down 0-40 and I thought "this is it!", but Federer took it to another level, somehow bearing down on the forehand and reeling off 8 straight points to hold and then go up 0-40 on Simon's serve! At this point I was a believer, sure that the Internet reports had all been wrong and that Federer was going to win this thing right now. My notes from this section read: first point, Federer chip and charges, Simon hits an inside in forehand down the line pass. Ace. Rally for a while, finished by a Federer forehand miss (badly). Federer chip and charges again, Simon lob, on the line! Rally, another bad forehand miss from Federer. With those two misses, Federer lost the range on his forehand and continued to misfire. Simon broke and served out the match in style, firing an ace up the T on match point.

Andy Murray took out Andy Roddick, so Federer will need to win out from here in order to have a shot at progressing from the round robin stage. He'll also need Murray to lose to Simon (a big ask) so as to not have the losing head to head if it comes to a tiebreaker. Less than ideal, to be sure, but remember, this is exactly what happened last year, as Federer lost the first match to Fernando Gonzalez before going on to win the whole shebang.

Tomorrow: Tsonga vs. del Potro and Djokovic vs. Davydenko. Looks like FSN coverage is 2-6pm everyday, if you can find it. Good luck.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Alright, hur we go, Year-Ending Championships start this Sunday. Top 8 in the world (minus Nadal - knee injury) in a round-robin format. Lez do this.

Aaaand in the corner to my right, wearing the Red Trunks:
1 Roger Federer (crowd goes wild)
3 Andy Murray (polite applause)
5 Andy Roddick (raucous cheering with some boos
mixed in)
8 Gilles Simon (*crickets*)

Aaaaand in the corner to my left, wearing the Gold Trunks:
2 Novak Djokovic
4 Nikolay Davydenko
6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
7 Juan-Martin del Potro

I tried to lift the html code for a nice head to head graphic from our friends over at the ATP, but that didn't work out so hot so I'm embedding an image of it:

Wow, that 0-12 and 2-15 against Federer really stick out, don't they? But no one ever confused Davydenko and Roddick as contenders to this title. Interesting that Simon (lowest ranked player in the tournament) has a decent record against the field, even though he's been owned by Roddick.

I like Federer and Murray to advance from the Red Group, with Tsonga and Djokovic coming out of the Gold Group. Let's do Federer over Murray for the final.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


USTA's Kantarian resigns as CEO:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Arlen Kantarian is resigning as CEO of professional tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association, leaving after running the U.S. Open for nine years.

Kantarian told staff Thursday that he will depart at the end of the year.

The USTA was planning a formal announcement later in the day.

Kantarian is a former NFL and Radio City executive who brought instant replay to Grand Slam tennis and launched the U.S. Open Series of summer hard-court tournaments in North America.

This year's U.S. Open broke tournament records for attendance and revenue.

Maybe Arlen's getting ready to make the jump to ATP Chairman...?

Friday, October 24, 2008

If I were tennis commissioner...

"Daddy, where are the Sampras jerseys?" My son asked me as I steered him past the All-Alcatraz lineup of Bengals jerseys. His question stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't believe that in my tenure as commissioner of tennis the idea had never occurred to me. My boy wanted to be outfitted in the same Swoosh that Pistol Pete took the court in; wouldn't others as well?

The next day at work I stopped by the office of our Manager of Operations, Jesse Lusk, to find out what he thought of the jerseys. A day didn't go by without him telling me about the death of serve-volley, Round Robin formats, or which doubles team took the tournament with a 10-8 win in the Match Tiebreaker last week in Hong Kong. "Hey, how come there aren't any jerseys for tennis players?" I asked him. He shrugged.

"It's not a big deal. The tours have bigger fish to fry. They've got player withdrawals, too short of an off-season, and tournament directors that are threatening to cut doubles off at the knees!"

"Yes, but... jerseys!" I could only exclaim. "Every sport has them! This is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Not only is it a great way for fans to connect with players, but it provides another source of revenue. This is a win-win!" Jesse gave me a dismissive wave and headed back to his desk.

Unwilling to be deterred, I pitched my idea to a rep at Nike who I knew from college. Before I knew it, my idea made it to Phil Knight, who suggested it to the King of Swing himself. The idea caught fire in the locker rooms of the ATP and (Sony Ericsson) WTA Tour, fanned into flames by the agents that inhabited these locales. Most of the players were all too eager to see their name in lights or, at least, in bold print across their shoulder blades.

By the time the U.S. Open rolled around the jerseys were in full swing. I walked through the turnstiles with a young Sampras in tow, or at least one dressed like him. My son was happily eating an ice cream cone, decked out in a jersey hanging down to his knees. "Sweet shirt!" said an attendant as she gave him a tummy tickle. She passed out fliers that read: “The Tennis Channel: Write to Roland Garros." After the jersey revelation I wanted to see what other ideas people had about the game.

Back in the office the following week, I walked by Jesse's desk and noticed he had on a brand-new Safin jersey. I walked closer and could see him filling out the flier. "Commissioner for a day, huh?" I teased. "Why don't you tackle something meaningful, like curbing racket technology, or the Davis Cup schedule?"

"One thing at a time," he smiled. "One thing at a time."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Death of a Serve-Volleyer

We're continuing on in our quest to tackle some of the most important issues facing tennis, and today's post focuses on the death of serve-and-volley. One of the things that makes tennis so enjoyable to watch is contrast; battles between Sampras and Agassi showcased a huge server (Sampras), following his delivery into net and looking to pressure with the volley vs. a power baseliner (Agassi) with laser passing shots. Attacking vs. defending. Even their personalities were opposed: the conservative Pete vs. Agassi, the Vegas showman. Matches between them were the pinnacle of the sport in the 90s.

Today's pro game has evolved into a power-baseline contest, where two combatants sit on the baseline and trade haymakers until one of them errs, or manages to exploit a small opening and rips a winner. I think that the reason this sameness hasn't totally bored the tennis-watching populace is Federer and the artistry he brings to the table. His ability to elevate a normal tennis match to the sublime by hitting jaw-dropping winners makes you forget that the style he and everyone else employs is relatively low-risk.

That in a nutshell is why serve-and-volley is Must See TV; it's a high-risk high-reward proposition. When a player starts to rush forward, you know the point is going to end, one way or another, in the next couple of shots. It's the climax of the point. Charging the net is a way of throwing down; in essence the player is saying "I'm bringin' it! What are you gonna do about it?"

The generalization of court speed is one of the reasons for the death of serve and volley. Clay courts play a little faster and grass and hard courts have been slowed down a bit. This narrower spectrum allows for a power-baseline game to translate well from surface to surface. But the unrecognized-until-recently main factor behind this problem is the new string technology. Namely, polyester strings such as Luxilon. The polyester is a "dead" string, which means that you drop the tension by 10%, take a huge swing, and the ball still won't go out. The huge cuts you can now take enable you to generate incredible amounts of spin. The importance of topspin in the pro game is best explained in David Foster Wallace's Roger Federer As Religious Experience (relevant section copied here):
Extreme topspin is the hallmark of today’s power-baseline game. This is something that Wimbledon’s sign gets right. Why topspin is so key, though, is not commonly understood. What’s commonly understood is that high-tech composite rackets impart much more pace to the ball, rather like aluminum baseball bats as opposed to good old lumber. But that dogma is false. The truth is that, at the same tensile strength, carbon-based composites are lighter than wood, and this allows modern rackets to be a couple ounces lighter and at least an inch wider across the face than the vintage Kramer and Maxply. It’s the width of the face that’s vital. A wider face means there’s more total string area, which means the sweet spot’s bigger. With a composite racket, you don’t have to meet the ball in the precise geometric center of the strings in order to generate good pace. Nor must you be spot-on to generate topspin, a spin that (recall) requires a tilted face and upwardly curved stroke, brushing over the ball rather than hitting flat through it — this was quite hard to do with wood rackets, because of their smaller face and niggardly sweet spot. Composites’ lighter, wider heads and more generous centers let players swing faster and put way more topspin on the ball...and, in turn, the more topspin you put on the ball, the harder you can hit it, because there’s more margin for error. Topspin causes the ball to pass high over the net, describe a sharp arc, and come down fast into the opponent’s court (instead of maybe soaring out).
So, today's composite frames have a bigger sweetspot, which means you have a higher margin for error when swinging at the ball. Coupled with dead strings that also let you take a huge cut, pros can now swing away like a juiced-up Barry Bonds and not only impart tremendous pace to the ball, but enough topspin to bring it down into the court. This is a double-whammy for those brave souls who would charge the net. Not only are the balls coming at them with the speed of rifle shot, they are also dipping like crazy due to the jacked-up spin. When Sampras saw the way the strings turned Zeros into Heroes, he dubbed it "Cheatalon". Cheat-a-lon! Like Cheat-to-win. Clearly a shout-out to me.

Some experts in the game have posited that the lack of serve-volleyers is only cyclical, and in time some will show up. I state that this is bogus. The advantages that Luxilon offers baseliners doesn't apply to volleyers. When you volley, you apply a slight bit of underspin to the ball, and the dead string ain't doing a thing for you there. If anything, it takes away a bit of the "feel" you need to control touch volleys. And once that ball bounces on the other side of the net, a pro with half a second to set up for his shot is going to use you for target practice.

When Blizzard saw that the Archmage was nuking the competition thanks to a way-too-strong Water Elemental did they say "I think that this is part of a cycle. Eventually a maverick Death Knight player will come in and we'll have balance"? No, they Nerfed the Archmage! We need to make the proactive step of speeding up hard and grass courts. One variable at a time here, Lords of Tennis. We changed surface speeds AND brought in new string, and the pendulum swung all the way to the baseline. Let's speed up the surface again and see if we can't get volleys to become a viable option again. The resulting contrast in styles of play would help put a stronger, more appealing product back on court.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

SB Tennis Misadventures

"C'mon, let's do this David Wells-style," I said to myself, trying to get pumped up for my imminent match with Marcus. I was in the car, driving over to the courts for our 1pm match, severely hungover.

The night before I had gone to an Oktoberfest party, and one of the activities was a beer-tasting contest. There were 11 beers listed, and they came out with a tray of paper cups for each round. You had to name the beer as it came out. Now, those who know me know that I'm no Joe Sixpack. More like Jesse Onepack. I have a high-performance system, people! You can't just be throwing crap into this body and not expect bad things to happen! Anyway, I know my limits and am usually pretty good about staying within them. I had one beer with dinner before starting the contest, and all told, the taste tests added up to maybe half another beer.

By the time I got back to my apartment I knew I was going to be in trouble. Apparently the mixing had done me in (I maintain if I had even 2 beers of the same kind, I would have been fine). I wrapped a kitchen trash bag around my trash can and went upstairs to bed, hoping to take my punishment like a man. Sure enough, I spent the night calling Ralph on the porcelain telephone, and not sleeping soundly. The times that I did sleep I had some crazy dreams. Doesn't alcohol always give you the weirdest dreams? I had this one recurring dream that I had gotten in touch with the host of the party, and had boiled down my condition to a small chromosome in the beer that was giving me trouble. I learned that the host of the party also had a problem with this chromosome, and that she had thrown up one more time than I had, and I was convinced that I had to throw up one more time "just to get it out of me". Sure enough, I woke up and booted one final time.

I woke up for good around 10am, wondering if I was going to be able to make my match with Marcus. In my current state I was in no condition to play, but I didn't want to let Marcus down, and I thought if I could hydrate myself that getting on the court and sweating this out might be the best thing for me. Taking a sip of water just reminded me how sore my throat was. You know those spikes that some parking lots have, where you can safely roll forward on them, but DON'T EVEN THINK about backing up over them? That's what my Saturday dinner turned out to be; smooth on the way down, incredibly slasher-esque on the way back up. Toast was worse, but I forced myself to eat a slice and a half. An hour later I ate a baked potato and decided that I'd be able to make the match after all.

Marcus was mercifully late and I got to spend a little time sitting in the shade before we started our warm-up. Usually when I'm sick at night I wish that it were daytime, and that I were somewhere else instead, a soccer field or tennis court, as if puking onto a chain-link fence would be somehow more acceptable to me. For whatever reason, the tennis court is very comforting to me, and I was able to forget my recent tribulations in the repetition of hitting balls. We moved to the baseline and I cautiously opened up a bit more, hitting out on my shots and testing my stomach to see if it would hold up to sudden starting and stopping. It did.

Three quarters of the way through the first set I could feel myself start to flag. My explosiveness was gone; my first step just wasn't there. Balls that I normally could dig out and force Marcus to hit one more shot were flying by me. I could feel myself mentally checking out. "There's no shame in losing today," the voice in my head said. "You're sick, why even bother running for that?" I fought hard against that mentality, and pushed myself to try and win the 1st set. If I could do that, I would consider it a moral victory. I pushed the set to a tiebreaker, but that was as far as I was going to get that day - Marcus pulled away 7-4. I mentally checked out in the 2nd set, and although it was fun to just blast with abandon, Marcus wrapped it up 6-3.

Oh and next time? No Spaten Optimator for me, kthxbai.

Making the Horse Drink

Slow couple of weeks, tennis-wise. I started this blog up around the time of the US Open, which provided ample storylines and matches to analyze, and now that it's all over I've been a bit... flat. Oh sure, I've tried to bluff my way through it, posting occasional reports of my own tennis matches and the odd fluff picture of my wife and myself with Lincoln Brewster, but I haven't been able to come up with the TLC that readers of this blog have come to know and expect. No more! During the possibly-Federer-less leadup to the Year Ending Championships (and beyond), I'll try to tackle some of the important issues facing tennis today.

As alluded to above, the first topic up deals with the big story in tennis the past couple of weeks: Federer's decision to drop out of Stockholm, and possibly shut it down for the rest of '08. Here's the money quote from his website:

"2008 has been a tough year for me as I was always playing catch up after being diagnosed with mononucleosis at the beginning of the year. I feel fortunate to be healthy again, but I want to remain at the top of the game for many more years to come and go after the #1 ranking again. In order to do that, I need to get a proper rest and get strong again so that I am 100% fit for the remainder of the year or next year. At this point, I am not sure when I will be ready to play again, but I hope to be back at some point before the end of the year. I apologize to the tennis fans in Sweden as I was looking forward to playing in Stockholm again. The country has produced so many incredible tennis players and the tournament has such a great history. I hope to be able to come back at some point in the future."

This opens up the broader Pandora's box of player commitment and tournament promotion. Tournament directors want players to play; they bank on them showing in order to sell tickets, gain sponsorship, and grow their event from year to year. But injury and fatigue conspire to prevent players from meeting these commitments. Sometimes it's not even injury or illness, but just a lack of interest in the sport. Part of the reason I can't get into the womens' game is because the top females can't pull it together to show up consistently enough at events to create a compelling narrative. On the other hand, over the past 4 years Federer (and to a slightly lesser extent Nadal) has been an absolute workhorse, playing all year long and honoring his commitments.

Part of this lies in the nature of the sport. The international travel required of tennis players must be hugely draining; I can't imagine what it must be like to travel from one culture to another, trying to maintain some sort of balance so that your level of play on court doesn't suffer. When I travel I freak out about eating chicken in unknown restaurants for fear of salmonella (I know, I'm weird). Also, as a singular sport, you have no one to lean on when you're injured; you can't go on the DL and leave it up to your teammates to take the field in your absence. A better comparison would be golf, or even boxing, and the same holds true there. Let's face it, when Tiger doesn't show up for an event, it just ain't the same.

So what's the answer? How can you alleviate the stress of the tour so that players can hold up their end of what Pete Bodo calls the player-fan pact? There are those (and I include myself here) that have called for a shorter tennis season. This would ensure that players have sufficient time to recuperate, as well as giving fans time to "miss" the sport and want to see it again. I've decided this theory is bunk. First, most players take plenty of breaks during the season anyway. After the Australian Open and early US hard court swing, there's a break until the clay court season. To be fair, it's a torrid couple of months to get from there until the end of Wimbledon, but then you've got another break. Last year Federer took something like 4 or 5 weeks off after Wimbledon. Then you've got the 2nd half of the hard court season concluding with the US Open, break, and the weird European indoor season ending with the Year End Championships. Second, live tennis is already plenty scarce on TV. I've got the Tennis Channel and I still don't see a ton of tennis (although Kerry might beg to differ). However, the most important reason this isn't going to happen is because of the way the tour is set up. The ATP "sells" weeks of the year to promoters, and at this point the calendar is all bought up. To create more of an offseason, the ATP would have to buy back those weeks AND give up the income they generate. That friends, would be a legal and financial nightmare.

I think the key is to create a compelling cast of characters so that even when one or two don't show up, you have other stars there to shoulder the load. I'd like to see the ATP loosen up on the rules of behavior for players while they're on court. Maybe we don't need a racket or ball abuse warning every time the players let off some steam. Tennis players are coached to avoid wasting energy on emotion, but this is precisely what fans want to see and connect with. Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lincoln Brewster

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a shot of me and Kerry with my guitar hero, Lincoln Brewster, after his concert in Santa Clarita.

That is all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

David Ferrer Channels His Inner McEnroe

Well besides the gang-related shooting on my block (I'm serious), it was a busy weekend in the tennis world. Andy Roddick took the China Open, beating Dudi Sela in the final. It was David Ferrer, however, that stole the spotlight. This guy always impressed me as a quiet, hardworking, slightly boring player. Boy was I wrong. In the clip below he reveals himself to be a hot-head extraordinaire, and a bit of a misogynist:

A loose translation of the incident goes like this:

"I can't hit the fucking ball! I just can't hit it! My head is full of shit! Of SHIT! It's impossible to play like this."

"Warning, Mr. Ferrer. Code violation, audible obscenity."

"Why are you warning me? I'm just talking!"

*silence from the chair umpire, who is female*

"It's normal, you're a woman. Women can't do anything."

Wow! That ought to please the faction that long for the days of McEnroe and Connors flipping out on court, Ultimate Ninja Power-style.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bull and the Matador

"SQL" Querrey managed to get more than three blinks. He got a set and 2-0 up before his disembodied head rolled to a stop on the dusty clay of the Las Ventas Bullring. Not bad - he certainly impressed this skeptic. Somehow thesmallspot got some misinformation on Friday, thinking that Roddick vs. Nadal was going to be the first match up. Not to worry, we've fired our whole QA department over the weekend and are bringing in some top-notch fact checkers.

Anyway, back to the USA-Spain Davis Cup semifinal. On Friday, Roddick lost a heart breaker to Ferrer, 8-6 in the 5th. The tie was effectively over at this point, but Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan played a great match to salvage the doubles, and Sunday brought us the marquee match up. Current #1 vs. Former #1. Rafa Nadal and Andy Roddick. There was a sense that Roddick could turn a miracle here; Rafa was tired from a long year, maybe Andy could ambush him, and with the decisive rubber coming up, who knew what Sam Querrey could do?

From the start Roddick had a game plan and was committed to it; he knew he didn't have a prayer of trying to out-rally Nadal from the baseline, so he attacked the net at every opportunity. Taking a page from Querrey's moderately successful strategy, Roddick served out wide to Rafa and followed the ball in to the net. I'm still amazed at how well top pros return Roddick's serve, even on clay. I mean, that sucker is coming in at 140mph! But that was Rafa, putting balls back into play from deep behind the baseline. Roddick showed some good hands and improvisation, massaging some drop volleys over the net and slicing others deep. Nadal has world-class speed though, and caught up to balls that looked surely out of reach, banging them down the line for winners. You could see PMac urge Roddick to continue attacking; he probably told Roddick that if he didn't get passed 20 times, he wasn't coming in enough. Roddick's serve bailed him out and he continued to hold. In one return game, Roddick ripped a backhand up the line off a second serve from Nadal and followed it in. It was a Big Boy play, and I was impressed to see Roddick come up with it. But Nadal scrambled to his left and ripped an even more impressive forehand pass up the line that Roddick couldn't even touch; it seemed to be a sign. Nadal started catching up to more of Roddick's volleys and found the range on his passing shots. He broke soon after and secured the 1st set, 6-4.

In the buildup for the second set the commentators, Leif Shiras and Barry McKay, talked about how despite the setbacks, Roddick needed to continue attacking. They trotted out the bullfighter analogy for the 2^9592065 time. Really, though, that was just confusing. Is Roddick the Bull, or is he the Matador? I mean, doesn't Rafa have to be the Bull? He even has a bull branded on his tennis shoes! Yet Roddick is the one pawing the clay and charging the net, only to be bamboozled at the last second by a Rafa passing shot. And really, I've had just about enough of Barry McKay. The dude sounds like he's hunched over an In n Out double-double, muttering "'s good." anytime a ball goes remotely near the line. We ALL know it's in Barry. That's why the linesman hasn't said anything and the players continue to chase after the ball. Tennis Channel, if you want to be taken seriously, you're going to have to shell out for some higher-quality talent. Leif Shiras is a good start; Barry McKay needs some serious coaching to stay and Doug Adler just has to go.

Watching this match, you get a sense of the conversation Roddick and Patrick McEnroe might have had as they were strategizing. "So Andy," Patrick might have started, "you have a phenomenal serve, mediocre volleys and solid if unspectacular approach shots. What about attacking all day and putting Nadal under heaps of pressure? Do you think that he has what it takes to come up with tough passing shots all day in the pressure-filled atmosphere of Davis Cup?" The answer to that is an emphatic yes. Nadal annihilated Roddick in the 2nd set, 6-0. He was hitting return winners off Roddick's 1st serve (sursly, how do you do that?!) and missed only a couple of the passing shots he attempted. Roddick backed off the go-for-broke strategy a bit in the 3rd set, and his traditional game plan was only able to get him 4 more games as Nadal wrapped up the 3rd set and the win for Spain, 6-4.

On the other side of the globe, Argentina finished Russia off in a closer-than-I-expected tie, 3-2. Spain will travel to Argentina for the final, to be held Nov 21-23 on fast, indoor carpet. Hard to pick against Nadal right now; this seems to be a year destined by the Fates, even if he is slightly injured (Nadal supposedly almost didn't play Roddick due to an injury in his famous posterior). Argentina will be going for their first Davis Cup championship ever, and the home crowd will be pulling for them like crazy. Who's your pick?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So you're telling me there's a chance!

There's a chance, but it is anchored in Andy Roddick taking out David Ferrer in match 1. Davis Cup this weekend, and the US is up against it, away at Spain for the semifinals. Ravi Ubha has an excellent rundown on all the ties happening, so I'll avoid piling on and instead focus on just the US tie (thesmallspot: xenophobism, ur doin it rite, akshually!).

The key to this tie is Roddick putting the US up 1-0 and instilling belief in his teammates. They believe they can beat Spain, but they don't really believe it, if you know what I mean. I get the feeling that they look at losing the semifinals against Spain as an acceptable loss, especially away on clay, with less than the A team. Except for Roddick. That guy is a Davis Cup animal! If he wins and the patchwork doubles team of Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan can pull through, there's no telling what could happen on the final day.

And don't tell me that there's a chance Querrey beats Nadal. Please. I saw that US Open match where Querrey surprisingly took a set off Nadal, and that was because Nadal went on walkabout while up 5-2. Quick side story: When I was in 7th grade I was on the wrestling team, and our first meet was against Octorara. I was a decent but unproven wrestler, not unlike Querrey in the Davis Cup. The weight class lists were revealed right before weigh-ins, and it turned out I was going to wrestle the unknown-to-me-Matt Wood. "Matt Wood?!" one of my teammates exclaimed, "You're going to get KILLED!" Another wrestler, Keegan, jumped to my defense before my confidence was totally shot. "Shut up man, Smallz is good, and he's quick." I nodded at him, glad for the encouraging words. The meet opened and I raced out to the mat to wrestle what turned out to be a cyborg stuffed into an 8th grade boy's body. To this day I still don't really know what happened; this guy did "SHOCK and AWE" in a way that would've eliminated terrorism. As soon as the referee's whistle blew he bowled me over; I don't think he even used a real move and I was pinned in 10 seconds flat. They say that when the guillotine chops off your head you have time to blink twice before you're dead. It was like that for me. *Blink, blink* and I was back on the bench watching the 95 lb match.

Sorry Querrey, but Nadal makes Matt Wood look like the tooth fairy. My advice? Try to last three blinks.

TV Schedule for the matches:

Friday, September 19
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 1) Versus (L)
3:00 pm - 6:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 2) Versus (L)

Saturday, September 20
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 3) Versus (L)
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 3) Tennis Channel (T)

Sunday, September 21
12:00 am - 3:00 am Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 3) Tennis Channel (T)
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 4) Versus (L)
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 5) Versus (L)
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 4) Tennis Channel (T)
11:00 pm - 2:00 am Davis Cup: USA vs. Spain (Rubber 5) Tennis Channel (T)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New blog banner/logo!

The old one, you may recall, looked like this:

You like?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SB Tennis Misadventures

Pulling up into the parking lot, I nestled my car into a row of gleaming 'Benzes. Odd, I thought. This _was_ Santa Barbara, but I was going to play in a public park, not in one of the country clubs. A cry from a nearby court caught my attention. "ohmigod!" the anguished kid screamed as he made another error. A guy wearing a shirt with 4 vibrant colors (I kid you not) walked past and realization dawned; I was catching the tail end of a junior tennis tournament. The kid's meltdown was in full flight as I neared, and I smiled inwardly, glad that those days of junior tennis were behind me. I passed a group of well-heeled tennis parents hovering by and walked onto an open court for my regular match with Marcus, one of my buddies.

Despite being 42 years old, Marcus has a face and game of someone closer to half his age. He serves big, moves well, and has a point-ending forehand that he can drill into either corner. He's also extremely competent at net, and looks to pressure you by moving forward and ending points with the volley. The backhand is his weaker wing, and is the Italy of his game's Axis; it is the stroke that I target to take the advantage in rallies.

We begin our warmup, rallying from the baseline in a smooth, controlled manner. One of my favorite things about watching live tennis is to see players rally, making it look effortless as they strike the ball. I derive immense satisfaction from doing the same. Groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, and then serves. We've done this so many times now that I know when Marcus is ready to switch, and move over to the ad court before he says "Mind if I take a few from the other side?"

The set starts and it takes a few games for both of us to find the rhythm. At one point I hit the ball into the net 3 times in a row. "Just get the ball in," I mutter, totally disgusted with myself. I had played a match against Wooten earlier in the week and I was up 5-0 in the tiebreaker. Game is to 7, win by 2. A 5-0 lead is virtually unbeatable, until I proceed to drop the next 6 points, and eventually the set, 9-7. I couldn't even look at a tennis racket for 3 days after that match. I wonder if I'm feeling the after-effects. Anyway, Marcus and I play a scratchy first set, full of breaks, but I eventually come away with it 6-4. Now here comes the pain. In the last 5 (!) matches we've played, I've won the first set each time and then gotten obliterated in the 2nd. Marcus is some sort of 2nd set specialist. The pattern seems to be holding again and I'm down at 1-4, only one break, but struggling to stay in it. A couple of errors later I unleash a "cohoyo mielchina!" that they hear 7 courts down. Not quite "ohmigod!", but maybe I haven't left behind those junior days as much as I'd like to think. Marcus quickly runs out the rest of the set, 6-1.

On the changeover I pound Gatorade and try to get myself together for the 3rd set. I resolve to "miss less". If I make 4 errors in a game, I want to cut that to 2. If I make 2, cut it to 1. Just Miss Less. It becomes my mantra. The set starts and I'm very happy when I come out serving well. I had taken a look at some pictures of Sampras serving and noticed how far into the court he tossed the ball. From that position you wonder how the ball could possibly NOT explode into the corner. I copy this, tossing the ball farther out into the court than I think I should, and all of a sudden I've got extra pop on my delivery. After an easy hold I fight hard to get a foothold on Marcus' serve. "Miss less," I continue to tell myself. I eventually get the break and hold again to make it stand up. Marcus' serve disappears on him and he makes it easy on me, double faulting and pressing on the forehand. I wrap up the third set and the win, 6-1.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Roger Federer def. Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.

On Monday Roger Federer became the first man to win 5 straight US Opens since "Big" Bill Tilden in the 1920s (he said the 1920s!). That's pretty heady stuff, and puts Federer back on track to surpass Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles (Federer's now at 13). It also saves his year and re-establishes Federer at the top of his game, halting the penstrokes of various sportswriters in the midst of writing his obituary.

If you're looking for objective analysis of the final you'll have to move on; nothing to see here. I was incapable of watching this match from anything other than a fanboy perspective. The first set you almost had to spot Federer; Murray was clearly tight in his first Grand Slam final appearance, and Federer came out with guns blazing. The second set was a hard fought affair and could/should have been tighter had Murray gotten the break that he deserved (TV replays confirmed one of Federer's shots was out on break point). Once Federer broke at 6-5 and served it out, the match was effectively over. Federer was able to fully relax and went into full-out attack mode, while the air went out of Murray. The set was not even as close as the scoreline, 6-2.

So then, how did Federer turn it around and get back to his vintage form, when Jim Courier stated that Federer was still recovering from mono and a step slow, even in this tournament? It's a good question; I'm not sure myself. The biggest difference between the dominant Federer of the past 4 years and the shaky Federer of the past 4 months has been his forehand. That shot was absolutely lethal; Federer could hit a winner from anywhere on court with it. No less an authority than John McEnroe deemed it the "biggest weapon in the history of the sport". This year though, Federer had been misfiring from that side, and the critics came out en masse. "His confidence is shot", "He needs to use a bigger racket" (Federer plays with the smallest racket head on tour, at 90 sq inches), and others. I thought an entry from his post-match presser proved illuminating:

Q. An argument could be made that you had the mono early on and it's taken you all this time really to fully recover. Do you think that's possible?

ROGER FEDERER: Possibly. I mean, I didn't feel like I was moving all that great still, you know, for the last couple of months. I thought it was okay, you know. I think I was okay on clay and on grass. Then when I came back to hardcourts, I think just my coordination was missing a little bit, because first of all, I haven't played on hardcourt for a while, and usually that comes back quite automatically, without me having to force the issue. But I didn't feel like it was all that great moving, especially in Cincy and Toronto.

I think there were some good moments at times, occasionally, as well as the Olympic Games. And I think here as the tournament went on, I started to feel like I was moving better and better. I think that was a good sign for me, and that also gave me a lot of confidence being able to know I could play defense and offense, because sometimes I just had the feeling I had to play offense because my defense was just not acceptable in my standpoint.

Andy Roddick once made the observation that everyone talks about Roger's ability on offense, but defensively "he has no peer". It's really an underrated aspect of his game (still). Federer is the rubber-band man out on court, ranging wide to slice back would-be winners and stretching for balls beyond the reach of most other players. With his movement, and by extension defense, compromised by the mono, Federer felt the need to press on the forehand and started missing. The resulting losses had to have hurt his confidence, which only exacerbated the problem. However, starting with the Djokovic match, Federer moved brilliantly, and he continued that pattern into the final. I did NOT think he moved all that well against Andreev, so it's interesting that he chalks up the poor movement to the mono. It will be interesting to see if his movement stays at this level now, and how he will fare in the indoor swing.

So what's the tennis forecast going to look like heading into 2009? Will Federer return to the #1 ranking and dominate again? I do think Federer will return to the top spot, but I don't think he will dominate as he did. And this may surprise you: I think Federer's return to the top will be less a function of his own play than the decline of Rafael Nadal. I can't imagine how Nadal's managed to play so well this year given the style of play he employs. Just looking at his schedule wears me out. He's been pushing so hard for so long to get past Federer and now that he's had his golden year I think he will have a hard time sustaining that drive. Hard thing to say about Nadal, but his body has to give out at some point, right? I think Federer's main competition for 2009 is going to be Djokovic, who has the ability to win without expending a lot of energy. Looking farther ahead, I'm not buying Marin Cilic; that forehand take-back is way too busy. But keep your eye on Ernests Gulbis. I'm predicting a Top-5 future for him, and maybe more.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fueling the Fire

Two points from leveling the match at 2 sets all, Roddick steps up to serve. His matte-black baseball cap is further dulled by the sweat that soaks through it, making it look like a cast-iron skillet. An apt comparison, to go along with his searing serve. On the other side of the net Djokovic bounces up and down, his spiky jet-black hair shining in the glow of Ashe's floodlights. Roddick's first delivery misses. He gambles on his second, going for the ace. Clips the tape. 30-all now, and Roddick again misfires. Two double-faults in a row! 20,000 fans in Ashe murmur in shock. At breakpoint Roddick hits the panic button. For Andy, that means rushing the net at inopportune times. He kicks his first serve out wide, rushes in to play a backhand volley, and is trapped as Djokovic's lob sails over him and lands inside the baseline. The 4th set goes to a tiebreaker, but becomes a formality as Djokovic captures the early advantage and withstands a late rally by Roddick to finish the deal.

A couple minutes later Djokovic managed to turn those cheers into boos during his on-court interview with Michael Barkann. Djokovic obviously had a huge chip on his shoulder, and basically said that he was happy to beat Roddick since Roddick said he had "16 injuries". Barkann tried to rescue the interview but Djokovic would not let it go. He kept talking about how it "wasn't nice that Roddick was telling the crowd he was faking injuries". I think this event got blown out of proportion, so I'll just say that I agree that Roddick's previous interview (see below post) was mostly in jest, and also that Djokovic never broke the rules by calling the trainer when he played Robredo. If you've got a problem with that, beat him, or change the rules.

So what happened in this match? Roddick was in such a hurry to lose the first set that I only caught the tail end of it when I got home from work. Djokovic was blocking Roddick's first serve back, deep, and waiting for Roddick to make an error, which Roddick was only too eager to oblige. The second set was more of the same. Djokovic would push Andy behind the baseline with a deep shot to the middle, then swing him out wide to his backhand, but with margin; a safety shot. Roddick's reply was to hit his backhand hard crosscourt, where Djokovic was ready and waiting to send his next shot down the line for the winner. Simple but very effective. Roddick also seemed unable to finish off short balls for winners, sending them long. He changed tack and started hitting these balls as approaches to finish off the point at the net, but Roddick's forehand doesn't lend itself to an approach shot. His extreme Western grip makes it harder to get down to low balls, and his heavy topspin makes the balls jump up into the strike zone, instead of penetrating through the court. Roddick's black-and-white striped shirt was the zebra to Djokovic's lion, watching passing shots zip through him all night.

At 2-1 in the 3rd set Djokovic played an extremely loose game and Roddick took advantage to get the break. This seemed to give his serve the shot it needed, as up to this point Roddick was aceless. Now it was raining big buckets of Roddick aces. He made the one break stand up and took the 3rd set. The 4th set started and Roddick really seemed to hit his stride. He abandoned the panicky bluff-my-way-to-net strategy and started going for his groundstrokes, especially on the forehand, hitting several nicely angled inside-out winners. He started anticipating Djokovic's down the line strike and recovered closer to the center line after hitting backhands. Djokovic, clearly rattled by the pro-Andy crowd and the suddenly powerful groundies, began to press and miss a bit more. Roddick broke at 3 all and it looked like we were heading to a 5th set. John McEnroe was happy, Ted Robinson was happy, and it looked like the USA Network would get the send-off that they were looking for. And then they didn't.

To his credit, Roddick showed good sportsmanship at the end of the match and walked off the court waving to the crowd. From their press conferences later, it appears that they cleared the air in the locker room afterward. And although he lost and extinguished the dream of an American man winning this year, I think Roddick's run has to be considered a success. Since he seems to thrive on people writing him off, I'll add some fuel to his fire; you'll never win another major, Andy!

Bulletin Board Material

The stage is set - tonight's prime-time match at the US Open features two of the sports biggest showmen, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic. Roddick has had an up-and-down year, and this match is large for him. A chance to claim another Top 3 scalp. A place in the semifinals. A shot across the bow to remind the tennis world that he's still a top player.

Roddick has been in sizzling form the past week, obliterating Gonzalez, his most recent foe. Djokovic has struggled, with his opponents and injuries. He survived a 5 set battle against Tommy Robredo in the last round, but Roddick isn't buying the ailments that supposedly plague Djokovic:

Q. When asked about his injuries today, mentioning the right ankle as opposed to the left ankle, the other day ‑‑

ANDY RODDICK: Isn't it both of them? And a back and a hip?

Q. And when he said there are too many to count.

ANDY RODDICK: And a cramp.

Q. Do you get the sense right now that he is...


Q. Lot of things. Beijing hangover.


Q. He's got pretty long list of illness.

ANDY RODDICK: Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold.

Q. Got a lot of things going on with him.


Q. Do you think he's bluffing?

ANDY RODDICK: No, I mean, I'm sure ‑‑

Q. The way you're saying it, almost means you feel like...

ANDY RODDICK: No, if it's there, it's there. There's just a lot. You know, he's either quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time. I think it's up for you guys to decide.

That, friends, is bulletin-board material. Roddick v. Djokovic, tonight, 8:15pm EST, USA. Be there.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

SB Tennis Misadventures

A post on my own tennis misadventures...

The other night was our league match again, and I played at #2 with this other young guy named Ryan. The two guys we were playing were pretty old, in their 50s probably, so I thought we'd roll them. The match starts and one of them turns out to have a pretty big serve, a decent forehand, and good volleys. Actually they were both quite good at the net; they had really soft hands and hit a lot of drop volleys that I wasn't expecting. Anyway, I lose serve and then Ryan does too, and we lose the first set 6-2 in like 15 minutes. Second set we get our act together and go up an early break, and I'm thinking we're gonna roll, but we just keep the one break advantage and hold out to 6-3. However, the other team figures out that we're not that great on overheads. I'm average, ditto for Ryan; we just can't put these things away. We hit a hard serve and *poof* they launch one skyward. Then they keep lobbing us until we hit it hard enough that they can't return it, or we miss. And of course when you miss an overhead you feel like a total ass, because you should win that point outright.

Third set comes up and I get broken immediately. We're caught in this vicious lob cycle and can't seem to break them. I'm serving again down 1-3, 15-30. I serve, *poof* goes the lob. I'm tracking this sucker down and drill it... into the bottom of the net. That was just it for me so I grab the ball, whirl around, and launch that sucker out of the courts. I had only meant it to hit the back fence, but I took a squash-shot forehand to it, and the backspin made it keep rising. It sailed over to a dude's house across the street, bounced off one of his pillars, and rolled back to our side of the street. That tension release must have done a little good because I came back from 15-40 to end up holding, and we all held serve. They served for the match at 5-3, but we played a miracle game to break back, held into a 3rd set tiebreaker, and finished it off 7-5! By far the most competitive match I've had in that league.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pounding Young Nails

James Blake took on Donald Young last night in what turned out to be an electrifying late-night match at the US Open, winning 6-4 in the 5th set. The point is, James should have never let it become electrifying; he was up 2 sets to 1 and 2-0, 30-0 in the 4th. That's where the elite players put the hammer down and get out of there with a routine win.

This has become something of a habit with James, particularly with young players. Blake often tells a story of when he was an up-and-comer himself, taking on Patrick Rafter. Until that point Blake never seriously believed in his chances to make it on the pro tour, but he extended Rafter to three sets before losing. At the handshake at the end of the match, Rafter pulled Blake close and said "You could have beaten me today. You could beat me on any given day. It’s just that maybe you didn’t believe you could." James took this advice to heart, but seems too eager to pass the same lesson on.

Blake took on Kei Nishikori in the final of Delray Beach in what was expected to be a white-washing. Nishikori had made an incredible run to the finals all the way from qualifying, but conventional wisdom said that his inexperience in big moments coupled with Blake's superior game would result in a straight-set beating. James got off to a fast start, winning the first set 6-3, but dropped the momentum and the match, losing the next two sets 1-6, 4-6. Contrast that with top dog Andy Roddick, who took on Nishikori a couple of months later in San Jose. Roddick used every tool in his arsenal, including verbal intimidation, to subdue Nishikori 6-2, 6-4.

It's almost as if James holds back on drubbing the young players and destroying their confidence until late in the match, and then it's a dogfight. Blake is 3-1 head to head against Sam Querrey, another young American, and all 4 of their matches have gone the distance. Donald Young, a prodigy trying to live up to high expectations and not known for his mental strength, is the perfect example of a player Blake is hesitant to crush. In his post-match interview Blake talked about Young's potential and future:

Q. Lots of people talked about him having those tools and unfairly or not, put the pressure on like the next wave. What's separating him at this point? You saw a flash tonight but just in your veteran estimation, what was it?

JAMES BLAKE: There really isn't that much separating him. Like I said, him getting down and practicing with the top players more is going to make a big difference. I remember seeing him at Davis Cup last year as a practice partner, and you could almost see him improving by the day. Just getting that confidence of hitting with us and working hard, and putting in the hours is going to make a huge difference. I really don't think there's much difference between him and guys top 20, 30 in the world... Once he gets that little experience and figures out what kind of game style he wants to play and plays matches like this, I don't see any reason he's going to be held back by anything.

You can almost hear the post-script echo off the walls "...including me."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Franklin Templeton arrogance

Well Roger Federer lost today. That's great. Maybe I'll get to that in another post, but no promises. I must have said to Kerry "I still can't believe Federer lost to Blake" 5 times over the course of the day.

No, today I get something off my chest that's been bugging me for months now. You've seen them, those snide, insipid Franklin Templeton commercials. It seems the whole point of these commercials is to point out exactly how much of a n00bifier the viewer is at making investments. "YOU see a troubled steel business. WE see an opportunity to invest in a re-engineered steel company poised for a turnaround." How do they know I don't see a re-engineered steel company poised for a turnaround? In fact, I'm considered one of the world's foremost experts when it comes to evaluating steel companies and whether or not they are going to bite the dust in the next 12 months, or whether they're going to be Working Their Way Back (to you, babe). Ok that's not true, but these commercials make me doubly glad I'm with American Funds.

While I'm riffing; Womens Gymnastics - love Nastia Liukin. Lezzgo, Nastia. But what is the deal with Chellsie Memmel? She seems incapable of an open-eye hug. And did you catch the team final, the way the teammates cheered each other on? "C'mon, Shawn!" They said it with a pitiful desperation, the way I can imagine someone doing alone in the locker room after the meet is over, absently muttering to herself "c'mon shawn...c'mon."