Friday, December 29, 2006

Wacky coach-player pairings

Jimmy Connors will travel with Andy Roddick nearly full-time next year. The improvement and fire in Roddick's shows that it turned out to be a good idea. So... which pro players today would benefit from the advice of a former player? Let's find out.

Marat Safin/Pete Sampras
Why?: Safin did take out Pete Sampras to win the U.S. Open in 2000, but his results have been inconsistent at best. He has been known to party quite a bit, and let's face it: he is the definition of "ladies' man". Pete would bring a championship mentality to the party. This is the guy who played through finding out his coach was ill and also managed to puke up his pre-match meal and still beat Alex Corretja. Match made in heaven.
What the first session would be like: Marat walks in with three half-dressed chicks, who sit on the courtside bench and titter every time he hits the ball. Pete's talking.
"OK, Marit, the first thing we need to do with you is ..."
"Hey, is Marat, all right. You still can't get my name right!"
"Sorry. Marat. Anyway, you've got a great game, but you get distracted way too easily ... Hey, Marat, are you listening to me?
Marat is not, unfortunately. One of his girlfriends has just bent forward.
"That's it," Pete says. They're outta here!"
How long it'd last: That was it. Marat needs his cheerleaders.
The second session: No. Seriously. That's it.

Maria Sharapova/Billie Jean King
Why?: Oh, she can grip it and rip it. But can Maria Sharapova add variety to her game? The former Slam winner, world No. 1, and Fed Cup captain says yes.
The first session: Billie starts Sharapova at the net, and is perplexed when Maria begins taking full swings.
"Whoa, sweetie," King says. "This is where you volley."
Maria looks at her quizzically, then at her father, seated courtside. He uses hand signals to tell her to speak.
"How do you do that?"
Billie shows her a classic volley, and Sharapova seems to enjoy it. But on the fifth ball, she can't help herself, and takes a roundhouse swing.
Billie smiles patiently and backs her up to baseline. "We're gonna try some slice backhands."
"But I can hit a lefty forehand!" Maria beams.
"That's nice, honey, but sometimes you want to change the pace on a ball, you know?"
Maria looks again to her father. He, too, seems confused.
How long it'd last:
The second session:

Elena Dementieva/Goran Ivanesevic
Why?: Duh.
What the first session would be like: Elena's warming up, hitting sizzling groundstrokes. After about five minutes of this, Goran speaks up.
"What you doing?"
"Hitting. Is that OK?"
"Too much. In my day, I hit serve, volley, maybe two. This why your game so bad."
"Fine then. I need to work on my serve."
"Really. I had no idea."
Goran watches her slice her serve weakly over the net. "What is that?"
"My serve. I had an injury a few years ago, and ..."
"You injured now?"
"No, I just ..."
"Hit the ball, then."
How long it'd last: This is long term, baby. She'll hate him, but hey, she'll squeeze out at least one major.
The second session: "Actually, that groundstroke thing look like fun. How you do it?" Goran inquires.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lindsay Davenport out for nine months

Lindsay Davenport, who's been on the fence about whether she'll retire, has allowed biology to make her decision. The three-time Slam winner is pregnant with her first child, due in early summer.
"I hate the word 'retirement' but this season was such a struggle physically for me and I can't imagine playing again," the 30-year-old told Davenport says farewell to a fine career that has seen her rise to No. 1 in singles and doubles. She holds 88 singles and doubles titles and comes away with more than $21 million in earnings over the years.
Yes, it's been a fine career for Davenport, but you just can't help but think how much better it could have been. She is one of the cleanest ball-strikers in women's tennis, and she has a great, reliable serve. All the technical tools were there for Lindsay. If her head game had been more solid, we could be talking about someone with six or seven Slams to her name.
But I'll miss the only American woman left with a chance at top 10. Even with the injuries, the slight underachievements, you could still bet on her being part of the late stages of just about any tournament she entered. Try to think of one other American female who fits that description.
One last thing: Anyone else suspicious about the timing of this kid? If she were to return in 2007, it'd be just in time for Wimbledon, and oddly, just missing the French Open. Man. Some people will do anything to get out of the dirt.