Sunday, February 22, 2009

The week (or two) that was

So, I joke a lot about how some players shouldn't even bother to show up to events (ahemAndyRoddickatFrenchOpenahem), but everyone should have a chance, right? Specifically Shahar Peer, who, being an Israeli, was denied a visa this week so she could play in the Dubai tournament. Organizers claimed there was concern about her safety because of Israel's incursions into the Gaza Strip. But essentially, Peer was denied the chance to work because of her nationality, which I thought was called discrimination. And credit is due to the WTA and the Tennis Channel for fining and boycotting the event, respectively. More credit is due to Andy Roddick for speaking out about it and marking it off his calendar in support of Peer (although the Dubai organizers classily pointed out that Roddick wouldn't have made it to UAE if he made the final of the Memphis tournament anyway. Like I said, classy). The tournament gets a little bit of credit for clearing Andy Ram to play in the mens draw next week, I guess.
Here's something, though, that I have to put out there. Where is the outrage? Does anyone know what would have happened if Venus Williams was told she couldn't play because she was black? I actually do know. That tournament either would have been canceled or participants would have been forced to drop out, even if they didn't care, just because of the public outcry. Not really clear yet on why some discrimination is okay, while other forms are not. Maybe because if the tournament had not been bleeding cash like Dubai, there would have been a bit more outrage.

Speaking of the sisters Williams, don't they appear to be in the way-back machine. On the way to winning the tournament, Venus had to take on (and took down) Serena in the semifinals. Both women spoke early and often about the two of them being the best players in the world right now. Hunh. Well, I guess that's half-right. Serena is No. 1 in the world, but Venus lost in the third round of the Australian Open, right? Is that what one of the best players in the world does? (OK, it was Carla Suarez Navarro and a tight match, but ...) And you can't be the two best players in the world and be streaky as hell. This is why Jelena Jankovic hangs around, by the way. That's nit-picking, though. Women's tennis needs the sisters to make some noise right now. Be nice to have some other players making some noise, too.

Like Amelie Mauresmo. She beat Elena Dementieva last week in the final in France for her first win in two years. Others who just found themselves in Mauresmo's way were Aggie Radwanska and Jankovic. Very impressive for Mauresmo. She is a two-time Slam winner, and still has a dangerous game, obviously. I never quite understood how she just fell off the radar AFTER winning two majors.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fed Cup time. Woo.

It's Fed Cup time again, and really, who wouldn't be thrilled about the prospects?! Most of the United States, plus the world. Hard to get excited about a world competition that is played whenever the calendar allows.
I watched some of Melanie Oudin's match against Argentina's Gisela Dulko, and besides being dumbstruck by the lack of quality of the match (it's rare when a match is so bad that I turn off the television), I had a couple more thoughts. I will share them now.
1. U.S. tennis is in trouble. Did you know that there are four American women in the top 10? Yes, four. And two of them are the Williams sisters. Another is Jill "Gramma" Craybas, who at 34, is decidedly not the future of American tennis. The last one, Beth Mattek-Sands, isn't even playing this tie -- and by the way, married some insurance guy in November. So, yeah, four. There are five Russian women in the top 10. Bad shape, people. The worst part is that the new crop doesn't exactly exude hope for even eventual dominance. If you wonder where all the U.S. women are, let's try the 100s: Julie Ditty, Vania King, Carly Gullickson, Oudin, Ashley Harkleroad, Alexandra Stevenson -- the mediocrity roll goes on and on. It's not even their fault. You have to ask: What's going on over at the USTA? How's that player development program going? Let's ask ...
2. Mary Joe Fernandez? Look, she's seems to be a really nice person. But Fed Cup coach? Hell, she's never even struck me as a really great commentator of the game. I'm guessing she was hired because she gets along with everyone. (Has she ever said anything critical about any player?) But what is it about Fernandez that made the USTA think she's going to be able to crack the whip and be a teacher? Even Pam Shriver would have been a better choice. She has a clear grasp of the game and is not afraid to point out shortcomings in players as she sees them.
Not that the criticism is limited to Fernandez. Her predecessor, Zina Garrison, was no Billie Jean King, either. Quite far from it. Come on, USTA, let's show Martina Navratilova the money! (If she's not busy playing hockey. Or making her 18 millionth comeback to tennis.) And who says the captain has to be a woman? There's Brad Gilbert (who, quite clearly, would have something to say), Robert Van't Hof, who coached Lindsay Davenport, Darren Cahill, Patrick McEnroe (hey, Shamil Tarpishev coaches both Davis and Fed Cup teams. Everybody has a price.), etc., etc. Sure, the real development starts way below the Fed Cup level, but what's happening right now at the top is not a good sign.
Oh, yeah, the U.S. and Argentina are tied at 1-1 right now, thanks to Gramma.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. IX: Post Script, part 2

So, I'm trying to explain to my husband why I had to watch the Roger Federer v. Rafa Nadal final live, at 3:30 a.m. -- instead of getting up and watching the 9 a.m. replay on ESPN. I stumbled through a lot of reasons, which boiled down to the same thing, which was "It's just not the same," until I realized what it really was. Fed v. Nadal is like crack cocaine to a tennis buff. You just have to have it, and you don't know why. That explanation, by the way, didn't go over all that well, either.
Regardless, while watching this match unfold, I found myself asking: Is Nadal rope-a-doping? Not in a disrespectful way, but really, in that third set, did he not look like he was foundering, down break points in his last two service games? And then, did he not suddenly rediscover his legs after that massage (trainer bonus, puh-leeze) and dominated that tiebreaker? You don't think of Nadal usually the same way you think about Serena Williams, but there is that refusal to lose that they seem to have in common. Even after Nadal blinked and lost the fourth set, he charged back in the fifth and didn't flinch at all after that. If there was any question before about Nadal's ranking, there shouldn't be anymore. Not until he gets beaten in a Grand Slam final again.
Which brings me to Roger Federer, who has been beaten in a few major finals lately. I want to say glowing things about the way Fed dug in in the second and fourth sets to get it to a fifth set, about how he flattened out his backhand at times and approached the net at others. All I can think about are bad double faults and very bad errors. If Fed ever wants to see the No. 1 ranking again or a Grand Slam champions trophy again, he really needs to address the fact that his backbone comes oozing out of his racquet every time he plays Nadal. If I can see someone tensing up from thousands of miles away on television, then he's freakin' tense. You could literally see Fed checking his swing -- on both wings -- as the match got tighter. I hate to say this, but it appears we're watching the process of Federer getting owned. He hasn't beaten Nadal since late '07, fer cryin' out loud. And his goes schizo against the world No. 1. Now he's attacking the net. Now he's running around his backhand. Now he's hitting drop shots. Nadal doesn't alter his strategy at all. He slugs away at the backhand and it might take a while, but it works. Federer seems to try something for about 15 minutes, and then abandon it at the first error.
Anyway, it was tough watching Federer post-match. And it was nice to see that someone raised Nadal right. He handled watching his opponent weeping in front of him like a real man -- and this is why I'm grateful that tennis is not football. Can you imagine Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens resisting the urge to talk about how great they just played? Sheesh.
All told, AO'09 delivered in drama. We've got the apparent deterioration of the women's draw, only to come up with a familiar winner and the men's draw coming down to the best possible match up and delivering the quarterly fix we tennis junkies need. Some props to for the Williams sisters, the Bryan brothers and Mahesh Bhupati and Sania Mirza (now a doubles specialist??) for winning the -- as follows: womens doubles, mens doubles, and mixed dubs. Um ... woo!