Sunday, May 01, 2016

It's dirt season!

It's not been the friendliest of stretches for Rafael Nadal, but he has somehow found his groove again. Naturally, it's on clay. Nadal's about to go into the Madrid Masters tournament this week with three straight tournament wins, including this last one in Barcelona. I finally had a chance to check it out and wow, is Kei Nishikori looking good right now. 
But so is Nadal. He's hitting the ball with authority and not hanging back in the first row of stadium seats to return serve. One other thing: Nadal is still a great defender, but it looks like he's being more judicious about the balls he tries to run down. This isn't a bad thing. It's probably going to be better on his body, but the other advantage is saving your strength to keep yourself in points you can actually win. 
The draw is out for Madrid and right now, Roger Federer is at home thinking, "Of course. Of course, I'm the one coming back from injury and I'm the one who probably will get Nadal in the quarters while he's playing better than he has in a year. Of course." Now, Nadal has been showing some real improvement in his last three tournaments, sure, but I'd like to see what happens if he gets a chance to play Novak Djokovic here. (He's the top seed and in the other half of the draw.)

Other stuff worth mentioning:
  • So Nadal's been in the news for other reasons lately, too. Of course, with the recent buzz around Maria Sharapova and her failed drug test, (her hearing is in June annnddd she's still training pretty hard according to her social media accounts, so ...)  talk about doping always seems to circle back to Nadal and he's actually asking for his doping results to be made public. It probably is a pain in the ass to fall under suspicion when you've never failed a drug test. What I would like to see, though, is a list of every supplement Nadal and all the other players are taking, because there are probably certain meds out there that aren't on the banned list, but still offer some advantage. I, unlike this dimwitted former French sporting official, would never accuse anyone of anything without proof, but as a fan, I'm curious.
    How about that lady, though? There are some cases in which using the word "probably" is OK. "It's probably going to rain." "I'll probably be home in time for dinner." Et cetera. However, "Rafa Nadal probably got busted for doping and that's why he took so much time off back in 2012," during a TV interview? Not a great idea. Not. Just not. 
  • Serena Williams is not playing Ma-- ... OK, but more importantly, I need someone to explain the twerking scene to me in that Beyonce video. I'm not saying that she is not legit working it, but, like, what does it mean? Like, what does Beyonce's album mean? Does it not mean anything? Am I overanalyzing this? Probably, right?

Thursday, April 07, 2016

State of the game

Back up north, I played this one clay-court tournament a lot. Because there were never many women in the singles draw, all I basically had to do was win one match before I came up against the top seed. Let's call her Emma, because that was her name. Anyway, she was a pretty big girl, a lefty. So we're playing and I send yet another cream puff across the net and the next thing I saw was her closing in and unfurling into this forehand she hits for a winner past me. This image is forever stamped into my brain because it kind of scared me a little bit. Maybe it was her sheer size and that she was moving toward me, or maybe it was the knowledge that I couldn't do that. Now, I have played, and still play, against big dudes who hit ground strokes right at my face at the net and are imposing in other ways and generally nothing scares me. I don't know what it was about that forehand, but it was the only time I felt like a deer in headlights on a tennis court.
I only mention this because I can imagine it's how Svetlana Kuznetsova felt this weekend playing in the Miami Open final against Victoria Azarenka. I mean, good god. It's pretty safe to say she's back to pre-injury form and then some. I certainly expected Azarenka to come back and pick up immediately where she left off when she returned from that long layoff last year. But it took her a while to rediscover her confidence, but obviously, she has. It's great for the game. I'm gonna whisper this because I don't want to offend anyone, but she's a ... a better all-around player than Serena Williams. Better ball striker, better variety, better tactics. Movement? Push. Even if you don't agree with that assessment, you have to agree that it's about time that a strong and consistent foil to Serena emerged. There have to be contenders to make the game interesting (not totally sold on Angelique Kerber. Does she ever play only two sets? Why does everything have to take forever with her?), and Azarenka looks like she's gonna settle in to that role well.
Speaking of making the game interesting, a brief word about Novak Djokovic. To borrow a term from a longtime womens tennis sponsor (which I'm sure he'd love), he's come a long way, baby. Like, I still remember when he was pulling out of matches left and right and everyone was calling him soft. Now he is the undisputed king of mens tennis. Everybody's getting caught in the buzz saw, including Kei Nishikori this weekend in the Miami final. And this is someone who is thought to be a major contender. Oy. These men need to step up their game against Novak, or they'll be up for a pay cut.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Therapy with TWA: Equal pay

Whoo boy. Now that the air has cleared a bit, let's attempt to unpack this debate over equal pay on the pro tennis tour. We've got some old-man tennis organizer Raymond Moore talking about women being on their knees, we got Serena Williams saying in essence, "Excuse me?" We also got Novak Djokovic saying that old man is kind of right because a lot of people love watching men's tennis, and we got Serena again reminding him that the women's' U.S. Open final sold out before the tournament started because Serena, and we got Andy Murray holding his newborn daughter and saying to Novak, "C'mon mate ...," then we got Djokovic kind of apologizing. We got Roger Federer saying that we have to consider a tournament's history (??) but yeah, equal pay, yay!
So ... what's the right answer here? I've written about this before, but given the context of how this round of the equal-pay debate started, it's worth restating and expanding. As your average American woman who works a regular job, I'm a bit more concerned about the fact that in this country, women make 79 percent of what men make. In Florida, that number is up to 85 percent -- and that's regardless of men and women handling the same workload on the same job. Now that is nonsense.
With that in mind, it's hard for me to really outraged about this particular debate for the reason I've referenced before. Women don't play best-of-five-set matches. I believe that only Billie Jean King and Venus Williams are the only players I've heard of who are in support of this. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Serena in three tough sets this week in Miami, says it's impossible, that a woman's body can't hold up to five sets. But she's in favor of equal pay because male players can get married, have kids. She can't. That's a interesting argument I hadn't thought about. If you are a woman player and you want to get married and have a child, you need to take a year off -- at least. If you wanted to breastfeed your child, that's a change in lifestyle, basically, that would fly in the face of your training. (Incidentally, this is why those in the equal-pay debate outside of tennis say that women should be paid less, because they take time off to have children.)
Kuznetsova is proposing compensation for making that sacrifice, which I can't agree with. It's a choice she made. Maybe no one laid bare the lifestyle she was going to take on when she was 13, 14 years old. But she knew it by 19, by 20. What she's suggesting is a sort of hazard pay for being a woman, and while that sounds great just because I'm a woman, in principle, it makes me cringe a little bit. I know I don't want to be treated special because I'm a woman. I want to be treated the same.
So I have to stay with my original thoughts from almost a decade ago (whoa, I've been doing this for a decade?!!!?). It's great that the Slams are offering equal pay, as are a lot of the top-tier tournaments. But if women aren't willing to go five sets, then I'm not very passionate about this particular debate. I've got my own equal-pay issues.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

IW review: That Nadal celebration

Admittedly, I didn't get to catch the entire Rafael Nadal/Alexander Zverev match last night. When I turned it on, Nadal was down 5-3 and it was deuce and I was like, "Oh, here we go with the next round of 'Is Rafa done?' stories on my Yahoo page ..."
I guess I just missed this epic miss on Zverev's match point, but his eyes were in full saucer mode by the time I turned it on. As much as I root for Rafa, I felt bad for the kid. Anyone who plays tennis would. It's one of those things -- losing a match while standing at the precipice of victory -- that stings like a mofo for a while, but it can focus you. True story: I once lost a league match in which I was up 5-1 in all three sets. True damn story. I also didn't lose another league match that season. So not the end of the world for young Alexander.
That was probably also a pretty big win for Nadal. He's been on the struggle bus lately, but to his credit, when Zverev began flagging, Nadal stepped up and made him play. I am perplexed by the new celebration mode by Nadal. Is that a buzz saw or squeezing out of a tight spot?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Family reunion

If you haven't read Venus Williams' essay about why she's taking the court today at Indian Wells for the first time in 15 years, do it.

You done? OK, let's talk.
There's actually not much more to say. She says it pretty well, doesn't she? What she gives right now to the Indian Wells debacle is perspective. Even I, at some point, have at least thought to myself: "Oh, come on. Get over it already."
But Venus was 20 years old when grown-ass adults began yelling at her in the stands, watching her sister's match. Serena's on the court, winning the tournament, hearing the same thing, at 19 years old.
The average person might not have recovered from that incident at that age by having a successful career. Folks have wilted under a lot less than that. But somehow, it would appear that the both of them managed to use this incident to make them stronger. And now, having processed through that day to now release that hurt and rejection to come back to the same tournament?
For years, the likes of Chris Evert and other big-name pros have encouraged Venus and Serena to come back, effectively placing the onus on them for bringing the ugliness to a close. In a way, today will do that, but let's be clear: They had every right to take exactly however long it took to get past this. If they never went back, it was their right. If this were a false narrative, you wouldn't stay away for so long ... and then go back. It's been a process for them and fortunately, they had each other throughout.
Venus says in her essay that for her, it's all about the tennis. OK, but when her career is over, this essay will be evidence that she and Serena are giants in the sport for other reasons that actually are bigger than tennis.
Play at IW starts at 11 a.m. and Venus has got the day session against Kurumi Nara and Serena's got the night match against Laura Siegemund.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Sharapova announcement was not about candy.

The last thing I did last night was watch Maria Sharapova's press conference. Of course, by then, I knew the gist -- that she had failed a drug test in Australia -- but I wanted to see what she had to say and how she said it. I forgot my pen and pad to take notes, so instead I sent myself emails with the questions I had in the subject line. Here they are:

12:57 a.m.: Remember to compare effects of Sharap drug to steroids
Looks like a few people have considered this one already. Duh. Based on what I've read so far, it looks like mildronate is taken by athletes to increase blood flow, which gives you the ability to work out more, gives you endurance. According to online medical guru WebMD:
Anabolic steroids are used to build up muscle. Corticosteroids are used to dampen overactive immune responses and reduce swelling.

1:04 a.m.: What are today's athletes on anyway?
There are a certified megaton of various vitamins and supplements out there, and sure, it makes sense that athletes have doctors who keep them informed about anything that could give them an edge. If it was so hard for Sharapova to realize a drug she was taking had been banned, was it because she takes so many meds that it was hard to keep track? Are the bodies of all modern athletes manufactured somehow?

1:05 a.m.: Why does Sharapova get special drugs for flu and I don't?
I suppose this one could have been bitterness talking. In the presser, Sharapova said her family doctor prescribed mildronate because she was getting sick a lot, and because of a family history of diabetes. I've read a few descriptions and listings for this drug so far, and I haven't seen anything about beating back the flu or diabetes with it. You can buy it online, although it isn't approved by the USDA. (Which is a little surprising to me. Have you seen the drug commercials on American television? The stuff they give you for minor maladies can have side effects such as depression and sleep deprivation. So this mildronate stuff must be pretty bad. Or no one here has figured out how to make money on it yet.) One listing someone tweeted yesterday actually suggests a dosage for athletes.

Some people, including Sharapova, have cast this as an innocent mistake -- she failed to look at the updated list of banned drugs, and so, apparently, did her highly paid training team. I buy that because it doesn't seem to me that you would continue to take a banned substance with no fear of a failed test. What I don't buy is that this is some supplement that she took to ward off illness. She took it to get an edge. On its face, that sounds really bad, and it is.
But again, are all our athletes manufactured now?

Sunday, March 06, 2016

No, those shoes don't match the pants. Goodbye, Bud.

I don't remember which major it was, but it had to have been the first I watched as a tennis fan. During a break, this guy whose outfit hurt my eyes was introduced as a commentator. I'm thinking: "OK, what could this weirdo have to say?" Then he opened his mouth and fluent tennis knowledge came out of it. Humor and a love of the game came out of it.
When someone such as Bud Collins becomes an ambassador for a game like tennis, it might be difficult for the longtime fan to understand the effect. Tennis is not baseball or football. Everyone does not love tennis. When new tennis fans come along and turn on the TV and Collins waxes about tennis history in an accessible and non-snobby way that even I can understand, that's important to growing the game.
Collins died on Friday and of course, those who worked with him paid tribute. Having only watched him on television, I have no personal memories like that. I'm only grateful that when I was starting to watch the game, I had Collins to tell me why Martina Hingis' next major victory would be historic, or whether the Sisters Sledgehammer (otherwise known as Venus and Serena Williams) had potential to make and break records.
In reading Collins' obit, it would seem his passion for the game actually cost him broadcasting duties at NBC back in the day. He lost the play-by-play job for "Breakfast at Wimbledon" because he was "overwhelming," according to the executive producer back in 1983. That guy said he thought less was more. Some people would have taken that as a sign to rein in the passion a little bit, to wear more beige and white, to please his bosses.
Collins? Well, Collins remained Collins, and became an ambassador for the game to millions of fans.