Monday, December 28, 2009

Memorable Tennis Moments of the Aughts

It is the end of the year and this is my 200th column. As promised, I kept my resolution of writing 100 entries per year. Non-tennis spillover can now be found on my other blog. Yes I did cheat and made some last minute transfers. I am after all a wordy, opinionated chick.

This being my last entry for 2009, let me ask you in advance to please forgive its length. Instead of focusing only on the events of 2009, I thought that I would take a shot at summarizing the aughts (00's). The decade of the aughts is coming to an end and there seems to be a kind of reckoning taking place. There is a sense that things are not quite in balance, and that somewhere the Gods may be having a chuckle over our puerile humanity.

For instance, the best golfer ever is elected Athlete of the Decade even while his personal life continues to unravel with one whorish embarrassment after another. But Roger Federer is declared a distant third, behind Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. I listened to the MP3’s (the Pitt brothers) give their chatty opinions about this on NPR. They dismissed poor Roger completely, treating him almost as if he had no business even being part of the conversation about greatness in sport. Sometimes tennis gets so little respect.

Some are still debating whether Serena deserved to be called the greatest female tennis player of the year, because she behaved so badly at the 2009 US Open. As far as I am concerned, she has been the best female tennis player of the decade, period. The NY incident highlighted the importance of picking the right people to be Chairs and line judges. A good umpire gets a feel of a match and uses the right tone to control players’ emotions. Mohamed Lahyani is widely respected as one of the best tennis umpires for exactly this reason. But a bad line call at the wrong time can completely ruin a match. Ent?

When Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi faced each other for the very last time at the 2001 US Open, it was declared the end of an era. But my most memorable tennis moment involving Sampras was watching him squirm at the 2009 Wimbledon as Federer erased his record. I also enjoyed Roddick’s desperate all-out efforts to keep history on American soil. Who knew Andy was capable of almost greatness?

I have enjoyed Agassi’s candid interviews as he takes responsibility for his life, admitting to past errors and transgressions. But the decade of the aughts has been characterized by few such admissions. Some were busted for using drugs. All claimed innocence. Hingis queried how could she possibly have done coke and gone out and played tennis. Gasquet said he kissed a girl with coke on her lips. Hingis has retired and is now riding horses (see photo). Meanwhile, Gasquet plays on.

The aughts saw the decline and rise of Davydenko. If anyone had predicted that a balding dude facing serious allegations of match-fixing would end up closing out the decade with one of tennis’ biggest accomplishments, I would have called them a wishful thinker. But that is exactly what Nicolay has done. I hope there’s more great tennis left in that skinny body. I’d like to see him be a serious Slam contender in 2010.

We said goodbye to some awesome tennis players during the 00’s. Amelie Mauresmo said that she had lost the fire. Marat Safin has other businesses he’d like to pursue. Anastasia Myskina climbed as high as #2, and then disappeared, but not before scandalizing all of Russia with topless photos and a fatherless baby boy. Jennifer Capriati came back from drug use, and then disappeared without saying a word. Monica Seles finally acknowledged that she was through long after this was clear to everyone. Tim Henman gave it his best but never made it past Wimbledon semis. Like many other players, he has found a new career as a tennis commentator. But Henman Hill has proven so far to be no Murray’s Mound.

Other players said 'goodbye' when they really meant to say 'hasta la vista'. Certainly there was no other return as triumphant as that of Kim Clijsters or as heart-warming as that of Kimiko Date-Krumm. Meanwhile Esther Vergeer continues to quietly make herstory.

On the men’s tour, the decade of the aughts (00’s) belonged principally to Nadal and Federer. Among the women, there is no question that the William sisters were dominant. And while Nadal and Federer carved out a rivalry from the get-go, the sisters initially struggled when facing each other. Serena has since decisively won the mental game against her sister. But it was Venus who stepped up bravely for equality of pay for men and women. Few even noticed or commented.

We saw three Olympics events during the aughts: 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, and 2008 Beijing. Yevgeny Kafelnikov won men’s gold in Sydney. Venus Williams not only won singles gold but teamed up with her sister to win doubles. Nicolas Massu surprised everyone with his 2004 win over Mardy Fish. And Nadal and Dementieva became the king and queen of Beijing, while Federer unexpectedly won in doubles.

In the world of Davis Cup, Albert Costa and his Spanish Armada have become the force to be reckoned with. But the decade of the 00’s also saw charges of racism made by former USA Fed Cup leader, Zina Garrison. The worst part of this for me is that, despite this, the same people still seem to be in charge of tennis USA. Like Barack Obama seems finally, belatedly, to be appreciating, putting an African-American in a position of leadership is one thing. Supporting their efforts to do the job is quite another.

Happy New Year to all of my readers. I hope that 2010 brings you many things that you want and everything that you need. Thanks as ever for reading. My New Year resolution is to play more tennis and to remain just as opinionated. What's yours?Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Karen disagrees with the TennisChick

One of my readers, Karen, submitted the following comments to my criticism of Serena's 92K mission. It was so well-written that I decided to give it pride of place as it's own entry. I think that Karen makes some excellent points, particularly about the tennis establishment's lack of appreciation of Serena. Here's the sentence that I most agree with: "I strongly believe everyone should move on. It happened. She apologized and she is trying to find the platinum lining within the dark clouds. We should all do that." I agree. And I wish that Serena herself had been guided by Karen's excellent advice and just paid the damn fine and let it go. 



TC, you know I love your blog, but I disagree with your take on this. She is mad, yes, but self pity. No. She has, as we say in Jamaica, reached the end of the rope and she is making sure everyone knows it.

I know where she is coming from as it does seem as if she has been the target of some really unjust line calls. Up to today I was watching a youtube match of her A005 semis with Sharapova, and there were a few really bad line calls. I also watched youtube clips of her match against Clijsters at the AO03 and she was booed by sections of the crowd after coming back from 5-1 down in the third set. This girl has suffered a lot and has usually kept her cool. I can see why she went ballistic at the Open.

Sometimes I too wonder whether there is a plot afoot to get her out of the game (I know that comes to my mind like 5 seconds and then disappears), but you have to see her point. I think of any player in this sport Serena has been the most castigated in terms of how her career has been viewed.

She has knee surgery in 2003, her sister is killed and she basically abandons tennis and when she returns fat and out of shape, all you hear is people in the commentary booth and in the blogosphere and so called journalists who call her out of her name and write and speak disparaging things about her. Compare that to Sharapova who just had shoulder surgery and all you hear is sympathy.

Henin decides to retire, as does Kim, and all you hear is sympathy about how tough this sport is and how you need everything and everyone commisserates and talks about how much the Tour needs them, yet Serena gets called out worldwide for trying to make it as an actress and designer of clothes, something that Sharapova seems to get a pass on. They laugh about Henin finding herself and how Kim has found herself as a result of getting married and having a child and coming back to beat both William sisters (WS).

Unless you are a diehard fan of Serena or do not read the nonsense being spouted by all and sundry about the demise of this girl's career, you have to wonder about the intentions behind some of the commentary. I strongly believe everyone should move on. It happened. She apologised and she is trying to find the platinum lining within the dark clouds. We should all do that.

The tennis establishment, and that usually includes media personnel, have never been big fans of the WS. One would have thought that with American tennis in the doldrums, American media would at least try to rally behind the WS. However, in reviewing the year end standings of the Top 10 women, this is what Abigail Lorge wrote about Azarenka: "The Belarusian's play in the first half of the year announced her as a starlet in the making, and the poise she showed in defeating Serena Williams in the Key Biscayne final seemed to clinch her status as the "next big thing" in the women's game: She's athletic and powerful, blond and bubbly.

I have no idea what blonde and bubbly have to do with playing tennis (and frankly speaking Azarenka is certainly not bubbly), but this is only one of many articles that are written, playing up not the attributes of players who have beaten Serena, but pointing out that said person is blonde, bubbly etc. You hardly see anything that mentions that Serena was basically hobbling around on one leg and yet Azarenka was beating herself up still trying to win the match. In addition, everyone states that had Azarenka not fallen ill in Australia she would have won that match. Hmm. I guess that is why they play the matches because we all saw what happened at Wimbledon later in the year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Serena’s 92K mission: Charity or passive-aggro?

Serena has just announced on her blog the launch of her new 92K mission. The figure refers to the actual amount she was just fined by the ITF (having already paid $10,000., only 82K was reported in the media). Serena says that she plans to match her fine by raising another $92,000. towards her Africa school project. She plans to auction off personal clothing items to include some of the outfits she has worn at Slam events. I wonder if that will include the cat suit? I know some men who would pay for that.

You would be forgiven if you missed the anger underlying Serena‘s statements of generosity. This is an angry woman. She seems to be seething actually. But it is all couched in such passive-aggression that I would not at all blame you for mistaking her charitable fronting for real compassion. Serena seems to be settling a score.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out where she is quoted as making a more honest and direct statement. She claims that she faced “the biggest fine EVER in tennis” for an incident that was “dubbed” an “outburst” during which she was accused of “getting mad and using the F-bomb at a line Judge“.

OK you know I love me some Serena but let’s clear some things up. First of all, what happened in New York wasn’t dubbed an outburst. It was called a complete loss of control. Second, Serena wasn’t accused of merely getting mad and dropping the F-bomb. She was alleged to have threatened to ram the ball down the diminutive line judge’s f**king throat and of wanting to kill her. Look up the clip yourself on you tube.

But even if we go with the unsanitized version of what went down in New York, does this justify Serena being charged a historic fine? Is she the victim of sexism? She seems to believe this as she proceeds to compare her situation to that of two men who behaved badly but were fined less than she was.

First there is the HE who was fined less than half of what she was after “someone in his camp” attacked an official. She is of course referring to Jeff Tarango whose wife once famously slapped a chair umpire. Serena fails to mention that this happened in 1995. Fourteen years ago, Tarango’s fine for his wife’s behavior was considered historic.

Then there is the HE who made arguing with officials “cool”, which can only be a reference to John McEnroe. Except that as far as I can recall, Johnny Mac has paid out countless fines in his career despite never having threatened to kill anyone. Yes he did once accidentally hit a kid with a water bottle which is the moment for which I will personally never forgive him. But Serena doesn’t mention this.

Instead she lapses into self-pity. She had me until she lapsed into self-pity. Serena proceeds to recount the countless unfair experiences she has suffered in tennis to include being robbed of a US Open trophy because of bad line calls, and being unfairly booed by the Indian Wells crowd. Serena then becomes enthralled in her self-pity. She goes from being the strong warrior female making her case of unfairness, to being a sniveling, histrionic victim. She encourages the reader to imagine what it must be like to work day in and day out for 20 years only to see yourself denied a much deserved promotion, which she imagines would drive anyone to their “boiling point”.

She then concludes:  “Well this is what happened to me, and to be honest I believe I reached my boiling point. After yet ANOTHER wrong call I began to wonder- Was I being ‘overlooked’ or wrongly judged on purpose!??? Is this being done to keep me from achieving my best? Why does this keep happening at the same place?”

Serena says she doesn’t mind being fined, that “if” she did wrong she is willing to "accept the repercussions", and all she asks for "is to be treated equal". Earth to Serena: You did wrong, you were fined, and being charged a hefty fee is actually a marker of equality. Deal with it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why don’t players offer free exhibition matches?

It always cracks me up when tennis players gripe and moan about the length of the season, only to turn around and play exhibition matches the minute the season comes to an end. Players that you think would be resting up and healing their supposedly sore muscles suddenly find the energy to fly to all kinds of places to put on matches for the natives, for beaucoup money of course. I don’t mean to begrudge anyone their easily-earned millions, but the stank of greed sometimes gets to me.

When I started writing this year, I initiated a series of articles on the top ten changes I would like to see in tennis, starting with getting rid of some of the old farts who have been controlling tennis since time began, and allowing some new blood and energy to infuse the administration of the game. Somewhere along the way I not only lost track of my series but, like Tiger Woods’ mistresses, I also lost count.

I think that I got up to change # 5. Which means that the year is coming to a close and I have not met my quota of suggested changes. Apologies to any readers who have been keeping track. I promise to complete the series in the New Year. Feel free to remind me.

So here is the sixth change I would like to see in tennis. I’d like for players to stop whining about the length of the season and start appreciating the opportunities with which their lives have been blessed. I’d like for some of them to become a tad more grateful, not just for their blessedness but also for their amazing fans. And if they’re going to put on exhibition matches, I’d like for some of these pros from time to time to consider doing some free exos that their fans can attend at no cost. Now that we are heading full swing into the season of giving, I’d like some of these pros to start giving back. To say thank you to their fans and mean it.

And yes I know that there are a lot of tennis players who help support some wonderful charities. Federer has been doing some awesome work in South Africa. Agassi generously funds a school in Las Vegas. Roddick’s charity helps out programs for neglected and needy children. Serena Williams contributes to a number of charities including one that funds schools in Africa. Lindsay Davenport was very giving following hurricane Katrina and did not seek publicity for it. My intent is not to discredit any of these acts of generosity. But I think that tennis pros can and should give more, specifically to their fans, especially during their time-off.

And while I mentioned that I would have expected some of these players to be resting and healing, the truth is that unless you sat on and broke a glass table like Sam Querrey, it’s probably best for your game that you remain physically active. So instead of Serena Williams flying down to Barbados to play an exhibition match against Caroline Wozniacki for pay, I would have liked to see her do the same thing for free. It would have been great to see Serena and Caroline giving generously of their time and talent to encourage Caribbean girls and boys to play tennis. I can dream can’t I?

The same goes for Justine Henin who just played an exhibition match against Flavia Pennetta. I get that Juju needs the practice. But she didn’t need the money; neither did Flavia. They could have put on two exhibition matches, one in Belgium to inspire Justine’s young fans, and one in Italy for Flavia’s young homies. Are two free exhibition matches too much to ask for?

Apparently so. Because now comes word that Sampras will be hauling his creaky ass out of retirement to play an exhibition match against Verdasco, who recently was inspired to help his country win the Davis Cup. Kudos to Verdasco, to his team, and to the great Albert Costa who inspired them all. But how great would it be if Verdasco and Sampras did the whole thing for free. It’s not like either of them needs the money. The sixth change I’d like to see in tennis is for the pros to learn how to redefine generosity, particularly to their fans.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mauresmo has lost the fire in her belly

I used to own a book titled “A kick in the seat of the pants”. It was written in the 1980’s by a guy named Roger Von Oech. In this book Von Oech outlines a model of creativity. He believes that there are four aspects of our personality that must work in tandem if we are to be truly creative and achieve our fullest potential.

First we have to unleash the Explorer. That is the side of you that is curious and that remains open to new experiences. Then there is the Artist which is the side of your personality that takes the information gathered by the Explorer and generates new ideas and ways of working. Then there is the Judge whose role it is to determine if an idea is feasible, if the timing is right, or if modifications need to first be made before the idea can be implemented. And then there is the Warrior whose job it is to take action. Von Oech’s first instruction to the Warrior is to put a fire in your belly. The other facets prepare the groundwork, but it is the Warrior who gets the job done.

I have used this model when doing personal achievement training. I love helping people be all that they can be. I believe that many of us are capable of greatness and that we hold ourselves back with disbelief and self-doubt. Sometimes all we need is a kick in the seat of our pants to get going again.

But sometimes the fire in your belly just goes out. I don’t think that this is ever something that accidentally happens to people. I believe that the decision to quench the fire is always a choice, sometimes made unconsciously, sometimes with full awareness. In Amelie Mauresmo’s case, she seems to be fully aware that she no longer feels the urge to stoke the tennis fire in her belly. She has decided to extinguish her inner Tennis Warrior. She is hanging up her racquet.

In the interview explaining her decision to retire, Mauresmo stated: “I don’t want to train anymore. I had to make a decision, which became evident in the last few months and weeks. When you grew older, it’s more difficult to stay at the top…If I were able to enter the court, play and shine, of course I could continue. But to achieve this you need to put in such hard work. And I’m not capable of that.”

How can you not love her honesty? I admire the straightforwardness of her admission. The fire has gone out. She’s not feeling it anymore. And she is ready to move on. Tennis is not always known for such honest or graceful exits. Hingis anyone?

At age four, Mauresmo was inspired to play tennis when her countryman, Yannick Noah, won the French Open. Unfortunately for Mauresmo, this is one of the tournaments that eluded her. She has won the Australian Open as well as Wimbledon, both in 2006. In fact, she spent much of that year as the #1 ranked woman in the world, thanks to an awesome serve, precise volleys, and a sweet sweet backhand.

But her attempts to win matches in front of her homies often resulted in embarrassing mental collapses. She was disparaged for her mental fragility, particularly when playing in high stakes matches. But paradoxically, Mauresmo was also known for her courage. She continued to play tennis despite a series of serious physical injuries and setbacks. She played Fed Cup for over ten years, leading her team to victory in 2003. And she never hid her sexual orientation, not even after reportedly facing disparaging comments from the likes of Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport. Mauresmo was always a class act. And she always wore the cutest outfits on the tennis court!

Mauresmo has won 24 singles titles. She is one of a small handful of players who won the Proximus Diamond Games in Antwerp three times within a five-year period, for which she was gifted a highly coveted diamond-encrusted tennis racquet. She won a silver medal in singles at the 2004 Olympics, and in 2007, was granted the French Legion of Honor award. And she collects fine wine. How’s that for balance!

It is somehow fitting that Mauresmo’s last title should come in Paris. In February 2009, she won the Open Gaz de France, playing on indoor hard courts in front of her homies. A month later, she won the prestigious Sony Ericsson Open doubles with her partner Svetlana Kuznetsova. In celebration of the impressive career of this French Warrior, let’s all have a glass of fine merlot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A man is only as faithful as his options

A friend said this to me. She said that it wasn’t original and that she had no idea who said it first but that the person was right. At the time we were talking about Alicia Keys and the drama behind her relationship with Swizz Beatz. My friend’s point was that Swizz Beatz may have been perfectly happy with his wife Mashonda until the option to date Alicia Keys fell into his lap. At which point it was bye bye Mashonda and hello Alicia.

The drama apparently came to a head because of Twitter. Alicia Keys twitted, “I don’t pretend 2 no wht luv is 4 every1, I can tell u wht it is for me”, which triggered an outpouring of venom from Mrs. Swizz Beatz who thought that it was in poor taste for Alicia to be tweeting about love when she was nothing but a home wrecker. Mashonada’s tirade went on and on. Girlfriend had a lot to get off her chest.

But thereafter the drama seems to have cooled. Mashonda had her say and then moved on to raising her children with the dignity she claimed to have. Alicia has been busy performing with Jay-Z. Everyone has gone back to behaving civilized. Time will tell if Alicia and Swizz Beatz will work out. Or if he will leave her for Lady Gaga or some other performer with more talent. Right about now, Tiger Woods would probably pay any amount of money to have his situation be so easily resolved.

Every so often the American public becomes fascinated with the destruction of a life. We pull up seats and take in the spectacle. For a while there it was Jon and Kate Gosselin who clearly got more than they had bargained for when they pimped out their children for fame and money. The latest spectacle is Tiger Woods and his apparent mistresses. Each day a new mistress emerges. This story will not die any time soon.

When black celebrities face scandals, it is not uncommon for them to retreat to the loving and forgiving embrace of the black community. For example, even though Michael Jackson looked more and more like a white woman as he aged, when he got accused of molesting young boys, he quickly remembered that he was a black man. And sure enough there were the expected representatives of black voices coming to his defense. Al Sharpton attended every day of the trial. Jesse Jackson made clear his support. Michael was a brother and black folk were not going to turn their back on him even though he had acted the fool.

Tiger will enjoy no such embrace. And this is because despite the blackness of his skin, and despite the fact that it was to his African-American father that he owes his very ability to play his sport, Tiger has for all of his career gone to lengths to make it clear that he does not consider himself a black man. Is the Asian community going to come to his defense? I don’t think so. Will the white community? The European? Or is Tiger all on his own? Time will tell.

In the meantime, his personal unraveling has become a good lesson for sports men everywhere. I hope that some of our tennis stars have sat up and taken notice. This could so easily, so frighteningly, be their story.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Tiger scandal. For a start, one lesson seems to be that whores will sell you out for a quick buck and 15 minutes of fame, so if you’re going to sleep around, make sure and pay your whores so well that no amount of money from US Weekly will tempt them.

Another lesson seems to be that if you’re gonna cheat, don’t be cheap. Spend the money to get private cell phones that your wife doesn’t know that you have. Or let your bodyguards run interference for you so that no whore can ever contact you directly.

But of course the best lesson is quite simply not to cheat on your wife. And that if you are not ready for marriage or not mature enough to embrace the emotional obligations of family -- if in other words you still want to be a player -- then for goodness sakes don’t get married. Put it off until you’re good and ready. No one will  fault you for this. Sleep with as many whores as you need to in the interim, but the minute you elect to marry and bring children into the world, it’s time to fricking grow up. I hope that some professional tennis players are taking note.