Sunday, November 23, 2008

Davis Cup musings, or "Ohhhh-ohhhh-ohhhh"

For the most part, I am a purist, but today, the zoo in Argentina gave me a major revelation about tennis.
First off, wow! Great doubles between Argentina's Agustin Calleri and David Nalbandian and Spain's Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco! It's not often that you can squander a 5-1 lead in any set. Nope, that only happens when it counts, and you really want to win.
But this is where my revelation comes in, the second off. In the third set, when the Argentinians came back to force the tiebreaker, and were leading 5-1, something happened that seemed to change the course of the set. Someone in the crowd shouted out just as Nalbandian was serving -- and he double-faulted. After that, the Spaniards ran away with it, and set point was played with the crowd going berserk, banging drums, playing trombones, hitting whatever was around.
In theory, Davis Cup is a chance for teams to play for their country. I believe they even invite tennis fans to attend. And they do. With band accessories. Anyway, that's what makes Davis Cup great. (What makes Davis Cup suck is the way it's organized. But I digress. For today. With great hesitance.) Yet, the umpires are shushing the fans like they're in fifth grade again. Sorry, but isn't that what tennis is missing -- excitement? So my question is, "Why is tennis the last sport that needs to be played in utter silence?"
Answer: It doesn't. For the four thousandth time, tennis is 99.921842% mental. That means that if some drunk fans want to scream bloody murder during your service motion, that shouldn't mean you drop your serve. For those of us who don't play in clubs every week, how many times has a car alarm begun blaring during your tennis game? Or a kid started crying? Or a cell phone began ringing? Or a flock of seagulls took flight overhead? And how many times has your foursome just stopped playing until there was complete silence? (If you guys did, I am wagging a severely punishing finger at you right now. Shame.)
The point is, it's time to stop insisting on silence in order to play tennis. It's the last sport to hold on to such an archaic standard. Can you imagine a football game being played as long as the fans keep their pieholes full of beer and hot dogs? In fact, attempts at breaking concentration in football is a common strategy among coaches. How about trying to "ice" a kicker just before he kicks a key field goal? It's sport, people. Not tea and crumpets.
The great thing about not playing the silence game during tennis is that it becomes more of a crowd event, which is one thing tennis needs to gain traction. Note: tennis does not need to change the way it plays tiebreaks or the doubles game in order to gain traction. It needs the little things -- letting Andy Roddick throw his racket if he's a little irritated about that missed volley. We know that for Andy, there will be many.
Point is, this is a small factor that could change the culture of tennis -- for good. Watch the Davis Cup matches this weekend. There is excitement that you don't see in Grand Slams. That should be encouraged. And as for players, it's time they learned to play through fan noise, as Lopez and Verdasco did.
So, what do you think? What could possibly be the downfalls of letting fans be more of an active part of tennis?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The week (or so) that was

Just noticing that a Mariah Carey lyrics blog has been updated before mine. Wow.
1. A belated congratulations to Venus Williams for winning the women's year-end event. There were a lot of good things going on for ol' girl this tournament. She dominated matches that could have been tight. Venus actually changed the pace on a few balls, too. (I really thought the first two were mishits.) She also didn't wilt in the third set, which she's done all season. Her forehand was on point, but her serve was not. I really don't understand how you have a first serve that'll break someone's wrist, and a second serve that strongly resembles Elena Dementieva's first serve. Especially after all these years, you'd think Venus would have developed a stronger weapon with it. However, we know that forehand of hers wasn't built in a day.
Plus, it was nice to see Serena Williams stick around to watch her sister, if that's what she wants to call it. Seems she didn't stop texting rap lyrics to Common until the end of the tournament.
2. Also nice to see Tracy Austin still with a job. Did she really say that the women's field had just seven players -- singling out Vera Zvonareva, who made the final? I'm not sure if that's worse than her saying Kim Clijsters had nothing to hurt Jennifer Capriati with just before the French Open final in 2001, which ended with a 12-10 tiebreaker.
I'm just going to make a quick suggestion for Tracy. If you've never heard of someone (and I don't know how you could not know who Zvonareva is after all these years -- and after her really solid season), refrain from speaking. Just ride the camels in Doha and shriek until I have to turn the television off and count to 60.
3. And on to the men. First, has anyone seen the promo shots for the Shanghai tournament compared to the Doha event? Not only do the men look totally hot, but the ATP appears to have planned the shoot in advance. Notice the similar clothing and controlled environment. It looks like it was organized.
The women? Seriously. What the hell is that? It's just a microcosm of what is wrong with women's tennis.
4. Anyway, put on your blindfolds and stick your hand into the hat. Pick the two men's finalists. That's how random it seems to have Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko as the last men standing. I thought it was kind of lame for Davydenko to admit he'd rather play Andy Murray than Roger Federer because he had a better record against Murray. (Sure, they all think that way, but actually says it?) I'm like, "Yeah, like you'd beat either of them." But Davydenko looked good this week, dumping water on red-hot Jo-Jo Tsonga and Juan Del Potro. Of course, the only person he didn't beat in his group was Djokovic. Their first match was tight, so we'll see.
Of course, all eyes were on Roger Federer, who went 1-2 in this event, losing to Andy Murray and Gilles Simon. Poor guy. You win one Slam and finish the year at No. 2 in the world, and everyone thinks you're washed up. See, this is why you don't establish a record of excellence. You miss a step, and you're a failure. Now, if you wade in mediocrity, and win a major every now and again (ahemMaratSafinahem), everyone thinks you're doing well ... for you. You decide which is better.
5. A lot of great doubles on this week in Shanghai. Three doubles matches only in Doha. Wow. Now that's suspense.
Oh, I feel a rant coming.
Yup. That's definitely a rant.
Look, WTA, tennis fans love doubles. Four teams in Doha? Are you people out of your tree? It's bad enough that we have "deciding points" and ridiculous "champions tiebreakers" instead of a third set. The powers that be at the WTA must think their singles lineup is waay too stellar to have doubles get in the way. That would be wrong. Doubles would have helped. How disrespectful to the players who concentrate on doubles to delegate them to "whenever we have time." Hopefully, they watched the men's tournament to see what they could have had.
6. Sigh. Let's try again about the men's doubles. It's great stuff! Despite the deciding points crap and everything designed to take the suspense out of doubles. I am suppressing the rant. How about the teams of Luis Hornas and Pablo Cuevas and Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski (hell, yes, I cut and pasted those names. Are you kidding me?) making a deep run against the more established teams out there? When you think about it, it makes sense. Looks like some of those other teams didn't know what to do against new-ish teams that don't really play the run-o'-the-mill doubles. The final match is down to the Bryan brothers and Danny Nestor (so does not look like a Danny) and Nenad Zimonjic. Should be a good one.
One more thing on doubles: There's positive reinforcement between partners, and then there's "OH MY GOD, WOULD YOU GET PLEASE YOUR HAND OFF OF ME?" What is the deal with all the hand slapping after every single point? Regardless, by the way, of who won the point! What do these pros know that rec players don't? I don't even talk to my husband after every point, let alone some random person. What cracks me up the most is that even teams not used to playing together fall right into this. Is the confidence really that thin? Yikes.
Well, at least we know we won't be seeing that kind of behavior from the Bryan brothers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Doha -- Day Two

Due to Election Day obligations and work deadlines, I found myself unable to watch the matches today. But Jankovic over Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-4? That was my match of the day!? So with that as prologue, a look at tomorrow's matches:
Ana Ivanovic v. Vera Zvonareva: Yikes. I'm actually going to go with Zvonareva here. If I'm wrong, a match might ensue.
Elena Dementieva v. Venus Williams: Despite the serve, Dementieva is always a threat. And rightfully so. Everyone has a weakness in their game, and hers is considerable. Although it's interesting that she can hit her serve all right until a match gets tight. Then it's back to that weak slice serve heading to the forehand. Anyway, Venus has been the opposite lately: Her serve is working, even when nothing else is. So this should be interesting.
Dinara Safina v. Serena Williams: Serena. Sorry. Obama just became president of the United States. Gotta fly!

Monday, November 03, 2008

No pressure, ladies, but ...

Tomorrow begins the end for the women's season, and let's be honest: It should have happened right after the U.S. Open. The fact that five women have held the No. 1 slot this season might suggest a high level of competition to some.
Well, only two guys held No. 1 on the ATP tour. So I'm gonna nix that theory.
The women's tour has lacked any real rivalries, few really good matches, and about as much depth as my bathroom sink. If this season's to be saved, this year-end event in Doha is going to have to be a classic.
It's almost like the organizers knew it, too. The Serbians are together in one group. The Williams girls are in the other. A look at the first day in the desert:
Svetlana Kuznetsova v. Vera Zvonareva: This is going to sound terrible, but has anyone else wondered if Zvonareva's wearing that much eye makeup as a preventive measure against crying? Anyway, there's a big-time head case in this match-up, and it's not Zvonareva. Kuznetsova's had a good year, but has come up short in the big matches. Although Kuznetsova owns Zvonareva big-time in career meetings, that goes out of the window until Kuzzy proves she can close.
Jelena Jankovic v. Ana Ivanovic: Ooh. My interest is piqued. Right after I questioned whether Ivanovic is a one-Slam wonder, she stepped up, playing Venus Williams tough in Zurich and then won in Austria. (I'm gonna go ahead and take credit for that.) So Ivanovic is warming up just as her countrywoman's getting ready to shut it down for the season, after this, her 73rd tournament of the year. I don't think Jankovic's got enough left in the tank to get out of the round-robin, um, round.
Has anyone seen those "Looking for a Hero" commercials with Jankovic, by the way? While she's becoming a "superhero" by going through those revolving doors, I can't help but think that in real life, she would have definitely injured herself doing that stunt.
Dinara Safina v. Venus Williams: A match-up between the Jan Bradys of their families. I think that next year, this match will be more competitive, but Venus will probably steamroll Safina until she believes she belongs in the upper echelon. It's all in Safina's head right now.
Quick note about Shanghai: Rafa Nadal is OUT! We can blame the schedule or Nadal's wildly successful year, but the year-end championships should have THE best, so this is bad news! So this means Gilles Simon is in. I'm already way more excited about Shanghai without Nadal than a "full" field in Doha. Sad.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Freaky Friday (or Jo-Jo Tsonga, Your Life is Calling)

Now you know things in Paris are officially on the flip side when Andy Roddick is blocking serves back.
Sorry, but that's more shocking (but barely) than Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal begging out of their quarterfinals. Federer never got on court because of a bad back. ("Who cares anymore?" he's thinking. "I'm only number two.") Meaning, of course, that James Blake advances to the semis, because he would have beaten Fed anyway. (...)
Then Nadal lost his first set against Nikolay Davydenko and pulled out after complaining of pain in his right knee. With the kind of year Nadal has had, going deep in every tournament, this late-season injury is no surprise. But how about this exchange in the locker room between Fed and Nadal:
Nadal said: "I saw him in the locker room five minutes before my match and he told me he had a pain in the back.
I said, maybe we are both going to be going home tonight."

Hopefully, their injuries are nothing a little time off can't heal, because if Fed and Nadal aren't in Shanghai, it's got to be cancelled. It just wouldn't be right not to have two of main characters of the drama that's been men's tennis there. When they're out of a tournament early these days, the vacuum they leave behind is definitely felt.
But that's not to say the remaining cast of characters in Paris aren't interesting.
For example, registering high on the weird-o-meter was David Nalbandian beating Andy Murray in straight sets. Murray's been hot stuff this season, no doubt. But can anyone derail Nalbandian's annual end-of-season run? What is up with that? That man owns the month of October. How about getting warm a wee bit earlier, David? Like, when Grand Slams are being contested?
Then there was Roddick and Jo-Jo Tsonga, the other two players to actually get on court and complete their matches. And it was very Halloween-ny. I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen it myself, but Roddick finished several points at the net. And it wasn't because he lost his string dampener. He was actually trying to volley. Emphasis on trying.
Then there was the bizarre half-hour conference over whether Roddick had any challenges left. The scoreboard said there were none. The ref said there was one. Chaos ensued. Seriously, if there's no disagreement between the players, why the delay in game? And I thought I was mathematically challenged.
Eventually, Tsonga came out on top in a third-set tiebreak. Looks like Tsonga's looking to salvage the rest of his season, and he's been impressive here. He wasn't at his best against Roddick, but he kept his head just a bit longer. As for Roddick, I'm just starting to feel sorry for him. What does this guy have to do to catch a break?
Hopefully, the answer isn't getting on a plane.