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.