Thursday, August 30, 2007

This has got to be a strategy

Beth Mattek is a freakin' genius. Dressing "up" for these matches is clearly a twofold strategy:
1. Who wants to lose to someone wrapped in aluminum foil? This mindset obviously tightens up her opponents.
2. The aluminum foil blinds her opponents, and the crowd for that matter. So no one will see it, even when her boobs fall out of her top.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The night life

The Australian Open has its stuffed koala bears. Roland Garros has its red socks. Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream.
The U.S. Open has night tennis.
It had Andre Agassi winning his last match ever against a player he shouldn’t have beaten. It had each Williams sister winning a Grand Slam on a Saturday night in their Sunday best. It has Justin Gimelstob.
Who? Justin Gimelstob, a 30-year-old American journeyman who has never seen the second week of a major. He’s known more for his penchant for the dramatic than for any aspect of his game. His signature shot, which is diving for a ball – as opposed to running for it, might have been the catalyst for his bad back, but he’d hardly regret it. Gimelstob may have been a bit mentally flaky, but he is a character. Which makes him a perfect candidate for a retirement sendoff at Arthur Ashe stadium, New-York style.
Tuesday night’s match at the zoo featured Gimelstob playing against his friend, and fifth seed Andy Roddick. Roddick, whose coach is former U.S. Open fan favorite Jimmy Connors, also knows a little something about being a character. So, what do you get when you cross two characters, a stage and an audience with perhaps a little Captain in them? You get a performance.
Second set. A group of military men in nosebleed seats decides to leave, and the audience, feeling patriotic, applauds them for nearly a minute. (So Janet Jackson gets better seats than guys who fight wars? Where’s the risk in hooking them up with decent seats? You know there won’t be a wardrobe malfunction.) Once the hubbub dies down, the referee informs Gimelstob that he must take a second serve because he’d been penalized for a delay of game. Gimelstob tosses up his arms, walks to the referee and argues he should have a first serve, but is rejected. Enter Roddick, who also approaches. He overrides the ruling and gives his buddy a first serve. Gimelstob proceeds to double-fault, to which Roddick yells, “You go on for an hour, and then you do that?” The crowd laughs, and Gimelstob answers, “Trust me, I’m more disappointed than you are right now.”
And scene. There’s more later, after Roddick wins, and Gimelstob, who’ll now concentrate on a career as a commentator, interviews Roddick. “What did you think were the keys to the match?” Gimelstob gamely asks, and in moments, Roddick’s turned the tables on him, and is the one holding the microphone.
This doesn’t happen at Wimbledon, because there aren’t any lights, and too many manners, at the All England Club. But sometimes, when you expose a sport like tennis to
the dark side, it’s a good thing. Tennis is an Andy Roddick, a six-pack and a heat wave from breaking out of its box.
That could happen any time under the lights at Flushing Meadow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The 100th episode of TWA: The one where Naf correctly predicts the winner of the U.S. Open

Damn, TWA is getting old. 100 posts. Whew. I’m getting emotional here. I’d just like to thank the little people who made this possible, especially Blogger, before its update. Back when I’d be working on one of these gigantic previews and would lose all my work. Those nights were fun, and I will never forget them. Thank you!
All right, let’s get back to why we’re here. U.S. Open, baby. I can’t think of a better topic for the century post. Let’s rock.


1. Roger Federer: Who’s gonna stop the F-train at Grand Slams? Surprisingly, there are a few suspects. Federer hasn’t looked great this summer, but his version of lackluster also includes a title and a finals showing. Still, a potential fourth round against Richard Gasquet, a quarterfinal against Andy Roddick/Paul-Henri Mathieu and James Blake in the semis? Tall order. Or as Federer would say, “Yawn.”
2. Rafael Nadal: The U.S. Open has not been kind to young Rafa. If it’s not Blake, it’s guys like Mikhail Youzhny ruining his U.S. Open. Nadal, though, looks like he’s improving quickly, especially this season. He’s obviously comfortable with changing his game to get better. So it’s hard not to see another Fed/Rafa final in a Grand Slam. Right, Novak?
3. Novak Djokovic: Believe it or not, he doesn’t agree. Djokovic has made a believer out of a lot of people, and his game’s maturing, too. He’s probably the first guy to beat Federer and Nadal in a tournament. So repeating that feat to win his first major won’t faze him. The question is: Is he ready? Ready for Mario Ancic in round one and the heartbroken Radek Stepanek in round two?
4. Nikolay Davydenko: How far can he go? Only his bookie can know for sure.
5. Andy Roddick: David Ferrer. Frank Dancevic. Novak Djokovic. Well, Djokovic isn't a terrible loss, but Roddick's spent most of his summer losing to people he shouldn't have. After the Ferrer loss, Roddick tried really hard to sound nonchalant by saying he knows what's wrong. Uh-huh. Well, the first thing that's wrong is that he might drown in the depth of men's tennis. The second thing is Roger Federer in the QUARTERS! Really, though, if he can fend off Mathieu in round four, that’d be a feat in itself.
6. James Blake: It looks like Blake's rounding into form just in time for the Open. He's bludgeoning the ball right now, and although he's shown some lapses during matches in New Haven, he's recovering from them, which Blake hasn't always been able to do. His quarter o’ the draw includes the likes of Sam Querrey, (who’s beaten him this summer) Tommy Haas, Marcos Baghdatis, Guillermo Canas.
7. Fernando Gonzalez: He might get Marat Safin in round three, which these days is: 1. an easy win and 2. a chance to be hit with a racquet. Other than that, his results have tailed since Australia, and so even getting to Nadal in the quarters isn’t certain.
8. Tommy Robredo: Does he still play tennis? Oh. I thought I saw him as the centerfold for Playgirl magazine. (The articles are spectacular.) Anyway, I see him squeezing in a fourth round loss to Youzhny before a photo shoot over at TWA Quarterly. (Seriously, Tommy. Answer my calls. My photographer’s waiting.)
9. Tomas Berdych: I think his third round against Mathieu is going to be great theater. Whoever wins gets a crack at Roddick.
10. Tommy Haas: Props to Haas for fighting his way back to the top of men’s tennis. He’s not made any waves at a major, though. I think he can beat Baghdatis in a tough third round matchup. If he does, he’s got a strong shot against Blake.

Mikhail Youzhny (11): Nadal’s nightmare from last year has a good shot at the quarterfinals, and I think he could give Djokovic some trouble.
Ivan Ljubicic (12): Who? Really, what happened to this guy? One second, he’s threatening Nadal at the French a couple years back, the next, he’s folding in early rounds of majors. It’s like he’s Safin without hair.
Richard Gasquet (13): The feisty Frenchy probably wishes he were in Roddick’s quarter of the draw instead of Federer’s. Now do you see the benefit of slipping the draw committee a $20 around this time of year?
Guillermo Canas (14): His results have really taken a dive since whipping Federer twice since his return. He’s in a really vulnerable part of the draw, with Andy Murray questionable after his injury and Davydenko possibly dealing with fatigue after a few tough weeks, on the court and off.
David Ferrer (15): Always good for a few upsets. Another good potential round-three matchup: Ferrer v. Nalbandian.
Lleyton Hewitt (16): Little Lleyton’s all grown up. No more getting bageled from Federer. Seriously, he picked a good time to start looking good. I’d say he’s got a clear look to a fourth round against Djokovic. After that? How about the Baby Gap in Times Square? (I’m looking at Hewitt’s picture on the ATP Web site, and that’s the most rehearsed smile I’ve ever seen, Lleyton. It smacks of staring in the mirror for hours, asking yourself, “How about this expression?”)
Carlos Moya (17): Old Man Moya’s on the second wind of his career, but he won’t get very far here, thanks to either Youzhny or Hewitt.
Marcos Baghdatis (18): Poor guy. Think he still has nightmares about last year’s U.S. Open match against Andre Agassi? This year, it might be James Blake disturbing his sleep patterns.
Andy Murray (19): Is he or isn’t he ready? He’s taken some beatings this summer upon his return from a wrist injury. Of course, it’s better to test that wrist in Cincinnati than the ’Apple. His second round’s against Jonas Bjorkman, who may be 82, but he’s no slouch.
All right, I'm going to stop here. Men's tennis is freakin' deep.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Federer v. Mathieu, Haas v. Blake, Youzhny v. Djokovic, Gonzalez v. Nadal
Semifinals: Federer v. Blake, Djokovic v. Nadal
Final: Federer v. Nadal
Winner: Nadal, by a wedgie.


1. Justine Henin: Please, someone, beat her. Because you know you’re gonna hear about that sore shoulder in the final once Sharapova starts beating her.
2. Maria Sharapova: Not to say the defending champ’s got a ticket into the finals. Although it’s looking good. I don’t know how she keeps ending up with all these cream puff draws, but it does her no good. If the only real threats in your half are an upcoming Russian (Anna Chakvetadze), one who’s rediscovering her game (Nadia Petrova) and one who can’t win titles (Svetlana Kuznetsova), what’s your tough prep for the final?
3. Jelena Jankovic: Watching Tatiana Golovin rip up Jankovic’s Ms. Softee serve a couple weeks ago makes it clear that she’s got a real liability. That’s why I don’t think she’s a lock for the quarters for this tournament. She could run into a real problem in Elena Dementieva.
4. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Always the bridesmaid. She did win the Pilot Pen this week, sort of, in a walkover or three. (Three walkovers in one tournament. What, is she taking tips from Amelie Mauresmo?) One problem for Kuznetsova: There’s no on-court coaching in Slams. What’re you gonna do now? Figure it out yourself? (gasp!)
5. Ana Ivanovic: Can she beat Venus at the U.S. Open, even though she got creamed at Wimbledon by same?
6. Anna Chakvetadze: Could be the only player to keep Sharapova out of the final. For the sake of our eardrums, let’s hope so.
7. Nadia Petrova: Still looking for confidence. Not gonna find it against Daniela Hantuchova.
8. Serena Williams: Who knows. Really. She could flame out against Lucie Safarova or Justine Henin, or she could win it all. I have to admit curiosity about the shape she’s in right now after an injury layoff, even though I know the answer is that it doesn’t matter.
9. Daniela Hantuchova: It seems she lacks belief at the big events. Witness the meltdown against Serena at Wimbledon. She blinked, plain and simple. Her section of the draw could give her a shot at the quarters against Kuznetsova.
10. Marion Bartoli: Unbelievable. She's in the top 10? Extra 17 pounds and all? C'mon, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles. I don't care if you can barely walk. This is your time.

Patty Schnyder (11): All that playing through the summer, and all she scores is an 11 seed. Well, that worth it, wasn’t it Pat? (Can I call you Pat?) Was it worth it to have to face Chakvetadze in the fourth round?
Venus Williams (12): You know what's really impressive about Venus Williams? Her ability to come from the brink in the early rounds of Wimbledon. You know what else is impressive? Her ability to toss in 79 unforced errors -- in one match. So, really, who knows? What she should consider doing is getting some grass soles for her sneakers. It might help.
Nicole Vaidisova (13): Unstoppable. Those blasted Vaidisova commercials are. So is the problem with her shoulder. She’s been citing it since the Montreal tournament. So Shuai Peng might be the one to clean her clock in round two.
Elena Dementieva (14): OMG. Look who’s been working on her serve. I don’t know what took her so long, but she’s finally trying to turn it into a weapon. In New Haven, she was hitting them at 107 mph. They were in, too! Anyway, this is why I think she can stage the upset against Jankovic. Dementieva can attack a weak serve and has a potent ground game.

The way it’ll go down:
Quarterfinals: Henin v. S. Williams, Dementieva v. V. Williams, Hantuchova v. Kuznetsova, Chakvetadze v. Sharapova
Semifinals: S. Williams v. V. Williams, Kuznetsova v. Chakvetadze
Final: S. Williams v. Chakvetadze
Winner: Serena, for her portrayal of an injured tennis player trying to find her way back to the top.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Worcester: PR disaster

From the wires:
Lindsay Davenport's return to professional tennis was delayed by rain. Her doubles match was bumped to Wednesday.
Davenport gave birth to her first child in June and has not played since last September.
"I had to go Lindsay and the doubles match and say, 'Your match is not essential,"' tournament director Anne Worcester said. "We have to get the first-round matches played."

Actually, Anne, you didn't have to tell anyone their match wasn't important. You could have just said, "Hey Lindsay, the rain's screwing up our schedule here. I'm sorry, but we'll have to move you back to Wednesday." They let you out of the office?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another disappointing ride on the U.S. Open Series bus

There's a funny commercial airing about the U.S. Open
Series, a group of warmup tournaments that's billed
"the greatest road trip in sports." It ends with an
outtake from Maria Sharapova. She appears to stumble
over a line disclosing the prize money for the summer.
"Thirty million dollars?" she repeats. "That's it? I'm
getting off this bus."
She's joking, but it makes you wonder. Where has
Sharapova been this summer? Well, she hasn't been
spending a lot of time on the road. She played a
tournament and a half this summer, pulling out of the
Los Angeles tournament earlier this month with a shin
At least Sharapova's made an appearance. Serena
Williams is featured in a commercial on the bus trying
to choose the right earrings. Apparently, that's taken
a little longer than she imagined, what with the bad
thumb and all. She was entered into the Pilot Pen in
New Haven this week, but pulled out at the last
minute. Her status at the U.S. Open, the final stop,
is in question, too.
The women's number one, Justine Henin, has also
appeared in one tournament, winning in Toronto. Her
right shoulder's acting up, though.
It looks like there's a trend here. A lot of tennis'
big names -- especially the women -- are skimping on
this year's road trip. It's not just injury, either.
Henin apparently didn't sustain her injury until she
played last week. Venus Williams made no mention of
injury when she decided to play just one tournament
this summer. And she seemed so enthused about this
road trip in the ads, too. After a surprise
quarterfinal loss in San Diego, I guess she asked to
be dropped off at her house in Florida. So no Venus.
What about the guys? Well they -- Roger Federer,
Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, James Blake -- are
actually showing up at a lot of these tournaments, at
the risk of injury before the last Grand Slam of the
year. Why? Could it be because there's more
advertising dollars available to the women? Maybe the
women players aren't as fit as the men, as John
McEnroe theorized last week.
Whatever the cause, these "Road Trip!" commercials are
a bit misleading. They imply that Sharapova, the
Williamses and Justine Henin are coming to a city near
you. The reality though, is that Patty Schnyder's
played almost every tournament this summer, but she
isn't in any commercials. I guess someone's interested
in that cash. Especially when you consider that
Sharapova probably makes more money rolling over in
her sleep than Schnyder earns in a year of playing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Doubles Revolution! (really.)

Last week's Masters tournament in Montreal did have
its share of surprises. The biggest was Novak Djokovic
defeating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win
the whole thing. Djokovic has shown a lot of
improvement over the last year or so, but winning a
tournament at this level against that kind of
competition showed that he's a threat at the U.S. Open
later this month.
There was another big surprise, though. Did anyone see
the doubles draw for this tournament? Federer and
Djokovic were playing, along with James Blake. (Nadal
was to play with Lleyton Hewitt, but they withdrew
before their first round match.) Federer's first round
was against the top-seeded Bryan brothers, Mike and
Bob. The best player in singles up against some of the
best in doubles? Well, who wouldn't want to see that?
No one, that's who. At least that's what ESPN thinks.
The beefed-up doubles draw barely got any attention in
the television coverage of the tournament, except
brief glimpses of Federer and one of the Bryan
brothers (They're twins. I can't tell them apart)
swinging away. By the way, Federer and his partner,
Yves Allegro, lost.
The irony about TV's cold shoulder to doubles is that
not so long ago, in 2005, the male doubles players
filed a lawsuit against the ATP, the ruling
organization of men's tennis. They were miffed at
proposed changes they thought would minimize the
doubles game, such as shortening sets and reserving
places in the doubles draw for singles players. After
the groundswell, the ATP ditched that idea, and
compromised on the scoring, replacing the standard
third set with a super-tiebreaker (played to 10
points) and also launched a massive campaign to draw
attention to doubles, the Doubles Revolution. The
"revolution" seems to have sparked interest among
singles players, but not among channels broadcasting
See, those who make decisions about which matches air
operate under a couple of severe misconceptions. One
is that in America, we want to see only American
players. That's a topic for another column, though.
The other misconception is that although most tennis
viewers play more doubles than singles recreationally,
they have no interest in watching doubles on
No question, there's something about singles that
appeals to the casual viewer. It's like a boxing
match, one-on-one and points are usually more drawn
out. Doubles is a different game. There are more
people on court, fewer places to hit the ball and more
strategy involved. Decisions have to be made quickly,
and mistakes are pounced upon more often than not.
Does that sound intriguing, by chance? Tell ESPN. Or
The Tennis Channel. Or both. I've taken the liberty of
finding their contact information for those of you
tennis warriors who want to see more of the game that
you play. Tell 'em Tennis With Attitude sent you.

ESPN, Inc.
Viewer Response
ESPN Plaza
Bristol, CT 06010

The Tennis Channel
Corporate Headquarters
2850 Ocean Park Blvd. Suite 150
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: (310) 314-9400

Thursday, August 09, 2007

There's no betting in tennis!

Let's say you're a world-class tennis player. One who loves shopping,
or playing poker online.
Well, let's say July was a particularly rough month. Huge Neiman-
Marcus bill. Tough poker night. First round ouster at Wimbledon.
Whatever. Point is, you need money fast. Maybe you owe someone some
money. You could play a tournament, but you've got to wait until it's
over to cash in. What if you could cash in faster? What if you played
one match, and bet the house on the result -- because you could
affect that result?
What if it wasn't the tennis player, but his trainer? His coach? His
racket stringer? How can you really know if said tennis player was
involved in betting at all?
Right now, the Association of Tennis Players has got its hands full
with these questions. They center around Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko.
Davydenko was playing in the second round against Martin Vassallo
Arguello at a tournament in Poland when a British online gambling
company, Betfair, noticed some irregular gambling activity on the
match. Almost $7 million was bet on that match, and most of the bets
were against the Russian -- in favor of a player most folks have
never heard of. Stranger yet, the bets against Davydenko picked up
after he won the first set. Davydenko withdrew in the third set with
a foot injury and, with the smell of a rat in the air, the gambling
company canceled the bets.
Naturally, Davydenko's camp denies any wrongdoing. Also, it’s
entirely possible that word filtered out from the locker room that
the Russian was playing hurt. But what about bets spiking after he
won the first set? Again, that's for the ATP to decide. It's not the
first time they've had to answer these questions. At Wimbledon last
year, Betfair noticed irregular wagers on a first-round match between
Richard Bloomfield, a wild card, and Carlos Berlocq. In 2003, the
bets on a match between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente were
suspended when the odds went heavily against the higher ranked
ATP rules say players and their "support personnel" can't bet on any
amateur or professional tennis matches. They also are not allowed to,
"directly or indirectly, solicit, induce, entice, persuade, encourage
or facilitate any other person to wager on the outcome or any other
aspect of any event." Players can be fined $100,000 (a real drag on
the pocket) and be barred from tour events. Were any of the above
players busted, however, despite the evidence of an inside track in
wagers? Nope.
Tackling the issue of gambling in tennis is definitely harder than it sounds. Anyone can place a bet. Hell, Davydenko could ask his mother's third cousin's stepkid to place a bet for him, and it wouldn't touch him. Even with the unusual patterns in the betting on the Davydenko match, the ATP can't clip a player's career because of what it looks like. It seems like the only solution is banning gambling in tennis. That solution doesn't seem so bad. The lottery is one thing. Blowing your social security at the casinos is worse. Betting on tennis? That, folks, is a gambling problem. Cue the 'Afterschool Special' music.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Open Letter to Andy Roddick

Andy, Andy, Andy.
I get it. It must be hard, trying to carve out your piece of history playing alongside the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It took you awhile to try to adjust, but finally last year, you hired all-American bad boy Jimmy Connors to help you with your game. It seemed to work – at first. He helped you shore up that weak backhand of yours, and encouraged you to be more aggressive, to come into the net. You made it to the 2006 U.S. Open final, and even though you lost to Federer, you had to be encouraged by your best Grand Slam showing in more than a year.
But the worm has turned this year, hasn’t it, Andy? In Australia, Federer beat you again in the semifinals. The second-set score was 6-0. Ouch. At the French Open, possibly your least-favorite event, you lost in the first round to some guy named Igor Andreev, and headed straight to London to get some practice at Wimbledon. How did that work out? Not great, Andy, not great. You lost in a quarterfinal debacle against Richard Gasquet, in a match in which you had a 2-0 set lead before it all fell apart.
Trying to shake it off, no doubt, you headed to Indianapolis. You looked really good – until the semifinals on Saturday, where you lost to Canadian Frank Dancevic. Did you know, Andy, that Dancevic’s 2007 win-loss record before that tournament was 9-12? After the match, you claimed you had a stomach bug, but on Monday, you admitted that a late-night fast-food meal slowed you down.
Andy, I’m ashamed of you. Are you nuts? A Big-Mac? A Taco Supreme? Can’t you afford real food? You’re a millionaire, for crying out loud!
Almost worse than that, you had the audacity to say that you didn’t put a lot of stock in the Dancevic loss because you weren’t playing at full strength. Is that right? First: Whose fault is that? Did Coach Connors force a Whopper Jr. down your throat? Second: Face it, Andy, the fast food might not have made a difference. You are at a crossroads. (Please don’t enter the Wendy’s.) When you first started on the tour, you dominated a lot of players with your 150-mph serves and big forehand. Now that they’ve adjusted, what are you going to do? When you hired Connors, you wanted to be able to beat Federer. Truth is, if you want to beat Federer, you’ll have to get to more finals. If you want to get to more finals, you have to stop making excuses, and start strengthening your weaknesses. That means learning how to volley. And not that chopping motion you’ve been perfecting, either. Developing more variety on your backhand wouldn’t hurt either, now that you can actually hit one.
So get to work, Andy. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that with your current arsenal that you can go to battle with Federer or Nadal. If you’ve got your hands full with the Dancevics of the world, you’re just not ready.