Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten drunken New Year predictions

As promised, here are the rest of my tequila-infused predictions for tennis in the New Year. If even one of these turn out to be right, I will consider making it an annual event on this blog. Come to think of it, I might do that anyway. Just for a laugh of course.
  1. Mirka will discover that Federer has been secretly hiding three whores up in the attic. Turns out the women have been living up there for most of the past year. The whores will make the talk show rounds and will weep and cry and claim that Federer said that he loved them and promised to make their relationship permanent. Mirka will do better than Erin in the divorce.
  2. After learning of Kiefer’s retirement, Dustin Brown will give up his bid to be adopted by Britain and will instead offer himself to Germany, reminding them that he was actually born there. The Germans will have a good belly laugh.
  3. Kei Nishikori will fire Brad Gilbert half way through 2011. He will get fed up of hearing Gilbert drone on and on about nothing. Unfortunately for him, long after going their separate ways, he will continue to hear Brad’s voice ringing in his ears. This will cause him to have a brief nervous breakdown. The Taiwanese animation folks will capture the whole thing on video.
  4. Inspired by Kimiko Date and Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport will make a well-publicized return to tennis. Unfortunately she will get beaten in the first round of every tournament. She will get pregnant again as a face-saving maneuver and retire permanently.
  5. Brooke Shield’s tell-all about Andre Agassi will reveal many claims that we always suspected – that he went through a phase of bi-sexuality, that he was blackmailed for years by a former coach who had pictures, and that he had a secret love child with Barbara Streisand. Unfortunately for Brooke no one will believe a word of it and the book will tank.
  6. An angry transvestite will sue Serena Williams for a ghastly nail infection she/he acquired at one of Serena’s nail salons. The person will go on TV and claim trauma and stress from the manicure-from-hell experience. Serena will settle out of court for $100. and free pedicures for life.
  7. Tennis Channel will give Jennifer Capriati a job as a commentator. Unfortunately no one will understand a word she says half the time. I have no idea why.
  8. Venus Williams will start a new fashion collection called TwelVe that will focus on sexy tennis clothing for tweens, kids, and toddlers in tiaras. Unfortunately for Venus, that collection will sell about as well as EleVen.
  9. Martina Hingis will marry a rich Argentine gaucho. After moving to Patagonia she will discover that she is only one of many sister wives in his secret harem. In a daring escape, she and two of the Sister Wives flee Patagonia and escape to Europe. Their story is featured in a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law and Order LA. Everyone will end up feeling so sorry for Hingis that the tennis world will finally give her a second chance. She will stun everyone by winning the French Open.
  10. Sports Illustrated will contact the tennischick and offer her Jon Wertheim’s job.
Happy New Year everyone. All jokes about drinking aside, be safe and stay sober. We want you around in the New Year, resolving to stay positive, enjoy a good laugh from time to time, and continuing to play sweet sweet tennis.

(Part 3 of 3)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 31:  People toast their wine glasses as the annual New Year's Eve fireworks display illuminates the sky over Sydney Harbour on December 31, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. The 2009 into 2010 theme is 'Awaken The Spirit' with over 1.5 million people expected to gather around the harbour to watch the 12 minute show.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The fine art of predicting

Mystics, shamans, psychics and mediums tend to be very popular among the celebrity set. I’ve often wondered if there are any celebrity tennis players who hire psychics to help them forecast what’s going to happen in the future. I suspect that most psychics would turn out to be as accurate as Daphne on the Frasier show. Remember how she always claimed to be a little bit psychic?

In fact one of my favorite Frasier episodes was the one in which she and Niles finally got together and agreed to hire a scientific investigator from UCLA to determine if Daphne had any real psychic ability. The investigator showed her a number of cards and asked Daphne to predict what they were.

Afterward, almost offhandedly, he starts questioning her about how she first knew that she was psychic. She shares that she was the only girl growing up with a pack of brothers, when a relative told her that she had a special gift that only the Moon women inherited. Overhearing this, the astute Niles realizes the significance of this disclosure. He promptly puts an end to the experiment and insists to Daphne that they get to know each other without scientific interference.

I recount this as a way of saying that I do not believe in anyone’s ability to predict the future. And I say this as someone gifted with a kind of prescience that often tells me when the people I love are in danger or hurting in some unique way. But I have often found that in the moment I tend to dismiss these feelings. It’s only afterward, when it’s all over, that I recall a particular dream, or a moment of raised pores, and recognize the soupcon of possible significance. But that is not prediction, it’s empathy.

I truly do not believe that anyone in their sane mind could ever predict what would happen in tennis. To predict things with any kind of accuracy would require that you have some means of controlling all of the variables involved. Which is why Jon Wertheim’s so-called predictions are actually quite safe, based as they are largely on events that have already occurred. His are not really predictions in any true sense of the word. They’re safe bets, not based on any kind of risk but on a fair scrutiny of events that have occurred in tennis over the past year or so.

For example, it’s pretty safe to “predict” that an Old Fart will return to play excellent tennis. After all, Kimiko Date already did it and Muster has been making threatening noises. And then there’s Kim Clijsters who came back from motherhood to not only win the US Open but to defend it as well. And there’s Federer, no longer a spring chicken, but showing others how to protect the body, live a balanced life, and enjoy a long career. Let the younger Nadal wear out his knees with his style of play. Federer seems cognizant of the bigger picture. Old Farts rule.

Others of Wertheim’s predictions are equally embarrassingly safe. For example, while the allegations against Davydenko were the most publicized, there have actually been countless other investigations into possible match-fixing in tennis over the past few years. Some lesser known players have been fined and banned for corrupt behavior. So to predict a match-fixing scandal in tennis is also to play the odds. Statistically, this is a pretty safe prediction, empirically based on events that have already occurred. Even Psych 101 students know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

This is no really different from those so-called psychics who make a business of predicting what celebrities will get up to over the upcoming year. I mean how safe is it to predict that Lindsay Lohan will struggle with substance issues, that Rihanna will color her hair blue, or that Jennifer Aniston won’t keep a man? Safe crap.

True predicting involves risk. And true risk ideally involves a fair amount of alcohol. Because it is very unlikely that any of the following will ever occur, here are my no-holds barred drunken predictions for tennis in 2011. If any of these events ever end up happening, I will be as shocked as you.

Prediction #1: Serena Williams will spend her own money to finance a movie in which she appears as an action hero. She will persuade her ex, Common (with his fiiine self), to appear as the love interest that she disses and spurns. Unfortunately “Girl of Steel” will bomb at the box office, costing Serena millions. She will have no choice but to return to tennis. And then she will win another Serena Slam.

Now that is what I call a prediction. Hold on a sec while I squeeze some lime into my tequila. There’s more where that came from.

(Part 2 of 3)

392233 11: Gilia Chazan receives a healing treatment from Carol Francis during Fancis'' workshop on shamanism at the International Hypnosis Federation''s Mind, Body, Spirit, Fun Conference, July 20, 2001 in Long Beach, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Wertheim’s lame predictions

I’ve said before that I want Jon Wertheim’s job. It’s not the first time I’ve told a man that I wanted his job. The last time I said it the man’s jaw dropped in shock. I wasn’t being rude; I was just expressing my feelings. After making the statement, I moved on and started building my own successful practice. But perhaps because of the shock of my frank honesty, when he needed to go on sabbatical a year later, he contacted me and offered me the post. I ended up doing such a great job that the university found a way to keep me on after he returned. And he and I worked beautifully together.

This is by way of saying that yes, I am a competitive biyatch. But I am not underhanded. I did nothing deceitful in my dealings with this man. I told him honestly that I wanted his job but I never ever did a thing to try to get it. In the end he respected me enough not only to offer me the post temporarily but to welcome me as a partner upon his return. Now that’s what you call a secure man.

So about my wanting Jon Wertheim’s job. I would welcome the opportunity to tell him this to his face. I think that Sports Illustrated is way too white and too male. And in all the years he has written for them, Wertheim has not done enough to garner the level of respect that tennis deserves. We need some women up in there, preferably women of color, equipped with clout and mouth.

Perhaps I’m being hard on Jon Wertheim. And probably ungrateful because he is clearly a true fan of tennis. For that I apologize. But I still want his job. I remembered this as I read his recent bullshit column with predictions for Tennis 2011. What a list of safe, lame, non-threatening crap, I thought. Yes, I get that SI don’t want a lawsuit on their hands by any outlandish predictions. But really did he have to be such a wimp? After reading his lame-assed list I wanted to call him up and say, “Dude, go brave or go home”. (Of course truth be told if I had his number I would probably only say “Dude, I want your job”).Here is a summary of Wertheim’s insipid predictions for Tennis 2011:
  1. Someone other than Fed and Rafa will win a Slam. Duh.
  2. Tennis will be rocked by a match-fixing scandal. Er…tennis has already faced match-fixing allegations.
  3. The Williams will continue winning despite injuries and no interest in tennis. Duh, already happened. 
  4. Another Old Fart (like Kimiko Date) will return to dominate. Say something original.
  5.  Other Old Farts (like Kim Clijsters) will win matches. See above.
  6. Tennis Channel should hire Mary Carillo. Say that they WILL and it becomes a prediction.
  7. Slams will have electric mid-week matches and dull finals. Was he not watching tennis in 2010?
  8. Russia will continue to decline. Er…that is not news.
  9. Tennis will have to do something about illegal mid-match coaching. Agreed, but that is like saying that the US Open will get a roof.
  10. Tennis will continue to expand in non-US markets. Already happening dude, including in China and Asia. If SI was less white and male you might know this.
  11.  No matches will last as long as the pointless one between Isner and Mahut. (OK, 'pointless' is my word not his).
No offense to Wertheim but that is one lame set of predictions. Or maybe he doesn’t understand what a prediction is. A prediction is when you boldly state what is going to happen, with such definitiveness and certitude that folks look at you bug-eyed. Like that bizarre psychic woman inhaling the electric cigarette on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Did you watch that insane crapisode of utter dinner hell a couple of weeks ago? If you didn’t, let me fill you in.

Camille Grammer, soon to be the former plastic wife of Kelsey Grammer – most famous for playing the role of Frasier, a neurotic psychiatrist on my favorite show of all time – said Camille Grammer got into an insane fight with another housewife named Kyle, who is married to a gorgeous hunk of a man named Mauricio who apparently is the Grammers’ real estate agent. Camille felt that Kyle had snubbed her for being a nobody who only got a name for herself after marrying Frasier. I mean Kelsey. So Camille invited some friends, to include a psychic, over for dinner. Things soon spiraled into a passive-aggressive showdown with Kyle.

While smoking furiously on her electric cigarette and drinking like booze was going out of style, the psychic – or was she a medium? – started making some bold predictions. She said that she knew when Kyle would die and what would happen to her family. Kyle’s husband would never fulfill her and her marriage would fall apart after the kids grew up.

Now that is what I call a prediction. And since Wertheim did not have the courage to really predict anything, I thought that I would fill in for him. Hang on a sec while I pour a shot of tequila. True predicting is a drunken art.

(Part 1 of 3)

Woman holding crystal ball

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A ball machine for Xmas

I gave myself a ball machine for Xmas. I’ve been lusting after one for years but never really needed to own one before because I mainly happened to live in places where tennis could be played all year round. But now that I inhabit the tundra and folks seem to run indoors the minute the temperature drops under 65, I decided that the only way I could maintain my tennis form and my sanity was through buying myself a constant partner. Its name is the Silent Partner Star.

I brought it home a few days before Xmas. Well I didn’t actually bring it home; UPS delivered it. The UPS guy commented on the size of the box and asked if I was getting something extra special for Xmas. He has been flirting with me for most of the year and I usually look forward to our exchanges as he is rather cute. The glow of his attention usually lasts me until his next delivery. But this time the poor man was non-existent, his dimples irrelevant. My eyes locked on the Silent Partner logo on the side of the box and would not let go. I got so excited I started signing my name upside down.

I made the purchase through eBay – the place where large companies seem to outnumber everyday people trying to off-load merchandise that an economy ago they would have gladly re-gifted. But in guava season, every penny counts. And so instead of looking for a new machine, I decided to find one that was hopefully gently used.

I researched this carefully, snooping around in tennis forums like Tennis Warehouse for chatter on the pros and cons of this or that ball machine. Over at Amazon the entry model for the Lobster came with such a scathingly negative review that I decided that there was no way I was going that route.

The Prince Half-Volley seemed by all reports to be a very decent and manageable machine, but when I contacted the dealership they told me that I had to buy one through their distributors. Coincidentally, at the time I called, the distributors were all in a meeting at headquarters. A woman helpfully put me on the phone with the distributor living closest to me. He told me that he did not ever have used models; I would have to buy new.

In the end, the folks chatting at Tennis Warehouse seemed convincing that my best choices would be between the Tennis Tutor (the square black box) and the Silent Partner models. I promptly started bidding on eBay on both. If the response from bidding is any indication, Tennis Tutor ball machines re-sell rapidly. In fact they sold so quickly that I never managed to win any of the better-looking models I pursued. I even figured out a way to secretly bid while at work, but that made no difference.

At the same time I was also bidding on Silent Partner models. I came close to a couple of wins but never managed to close the deal. Finally I got lucky. The company posted some six or seven options. (Really, ordinary folk re-selling their machines don't stand a chance). I bid on the Star. Despite it being a bit more expensive than the entry models, I picked it because it came with a remote control. No one was happier than I when I won. I don’t think Silent Partner has ever been paid as fast.

The machine arrived four days before Xmas. That’s the day usually reserved for eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Me I got a tennis ball machine and a case of Penn tennis balls.

Unpacking it was a breeze. It came fully assembled. All I had to do was plug it in and charge it up. Because it was a gently used machine, it was fully charged in less than an hour. In the meantime, I emptied my hopper of the old balls that I had no further use for, and loaded it with 72 brand new Penn championships. I was ready to play!

And then I looked out the window. It was clearly freezing cold. Snow was predicted in a few days but the smell of it was already in the air. I had two choices. I could delay gratification like most sane people, or I could put on five layers of clothing and hit the courts. I started dressing.

I was the only person playing tennis that day. It took me a while to figure out how to pin down the basket at the back and get the machine to work properly. It would have helped if I had read the manual before leaving home but excitement got in the way. My nose watered, my eyes ran, my lips started turning blue. But eventually I figured out that I had to push down really really really hard on the back of the blue plastic basket and pin it down with the steel rod enclosed. And then it worked like a charm.

I only played one basket. Really it was too damn cold. And besides the people living nearby the courts had started looking out of their windows to see what the racket was all about. Because let me tell you something, I don’t care what this machine is called, the last thing you can call it is 'silent'. It is loud. The sound of the balls popping out is loud. It’s a sound almost like a modified gunshot. I don’t know if it was the noise, the cold, or my eventual self-consciousness that finally drove me to pack it in. But I was happy that I had tried it out.

The ball machine is now sitting in my garage waiting for warm weather. Every single time I drive in, I can almost hear it asking when did I become such a wuss.

Tennis courts are seen after a sever winter storm dumped 20-30 inches on the Washington metro area, in Washington on February 6, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Monday, December 27, 2010

“Schiavo Nothing Impossible”

It is time for reflection. The 2010 tennis year is coming to a close. Already we are gearing up for the start of the 2011 tennis season. But I can’t move forward without first looking back. And having gone silent for some weeks back there, there is much that I neglected to comment on at the time. So here’s my chance to reflect, to look back on some of my favorite moments in tennis, to give my own belated perspective.

The first match I want to reflect on is the tremendous win by Francesca Schiavone at the 2010 French Open. I’ve taken to calling Schiavone ‘the Italian queen’. There’s something regal about her. Not the cold, stiff upper-lip, distant and unapproachable kind of royalty that we think of traditionally, but a more human, passionate, heart-on-her-sleeve kind of majesty that we all hope Kate Middleton will come to represent. (How’s that for a tie-in, lol).

Schiavone won her first Slam at Roland Garros 18 days before her 30th birthday. This was her third ever tournament win. Prior to this she won in Moscow three years ago, and fittingly in Barcelona earlier this year. But regardless of what happens from here on in, winning Roland Garros will remain the pinnacle of her career. At a lot of levels it was a most significant achievement.

It was significant because she has been a pro tennis player for some ten years. She could very easily have closed out her career as the female version of Potito Starace, a decent enough player with no career titles behind his name. Instead, she is the Italian queen. And when she lustily started singing the words of her national anthem during the presentation ceremony, you knew that we were looking at a player who understood the larger national significance of her win.

This win was also significant because of her age. For a moment there it started looking as if tennis was becoming a young person’s game to which old farts need not apply. When Jennifer Capriati became the youngest player to go pro, that moment hall-marked the start of a new trend in tennis, one in which older players found themselves increasingly ignored, eclipsed by the arrival of your Laura Robsons and your Donald Youngs. Even the ATP seemed to endorse this trend some years ago with its offensively titled “New Balls Please” campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for welcoming the young ones, but this need not be at the expense of experienced players determined to still offer their best. Some people are simply late bloomers. They offer their best as they age. They peak when others begin to decline. Schiavone peaked in August 2010. Good for her. Her win was great encouragement to the Kimiko Dates of this tennis world, other seasoned players who think that they still have something to say with their rackets.

The title of this article was taken from the words written in white capital letters on the black t-shirts worn by a group of Schiavone’s supporters at Roland Garros. Their numbers did not even approximate that of a typical J-Block showing at the US Open. But what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in belief and passion.

At the time I was struck by the use of the double negatives. Nothing Impossible. In the English language, two negatives produce a positive. So in essence the message of the t-shirts was that anything was possible. (Let’s be honest, if Schiavo were American, her people probably would not be caught dead wearing a t-shirt featuring any kind of negative language – we just don’t roll that way.)

Kudos to Schiavone for her gutsy performance. Despite Samantha Stosur’s very hard work, despite her frankly labored performance, she turned out to have no answers in the second set tie-break. And Stosur had worked much harder to get to the finals. She beat Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic to get there. Unfortunately for her, she faced an opponent who believed deeply that nothing was impossible.

PARIS - JUNE 05: Francesca Schiavone of Italy celebrates with the trophy after winning the women's singles final match between Francesca Schiavone of Italy and Samantha Stosur of Australia on day fourteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2010 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Is Rafa more popular than Fed?

Over on, they’re running a poll asking “who’d you rather, Rafael or Roger”? As of this writing over 14,500 entries have been calculated. Mine was among the 32% that voted for Roger. No doubt my daughter’s is among the 68% favoring Rafael. She thinks he’s hot, hot, hot! That’s a quote. I love me some Rafa and wish I did not have to pick. But if ever I am forced to choose between these two men – and it seems that we so frequently are – I will always toss my garters in the Federer pile.

But I have become intrigued by the question of what determines popularity. There is no doubt that there are some people who become and remain exceedingly popular while others seem to struggle to muster up a friend or two. What determines this? And is popularity a fixed state or does it change with circumstances? I’ll answer this latter question first as it is the easiest of the two.
Popularity changes. It waxes and wanes with time and circumstances. It ebbs and flows from one setting to another. Federer will always be more popular in Switzerland. Nadal will always be popular in Spain. In front of their homies, both will always be treated like royalty. In other settings, both men will lose out in a popularity contest against a lowly-ranked home grown talent. Akgul Amanmuradova is hugely popular in her home country of Uzbekistan. But I had no idea who she was the first time I saw her on TV.

Popularity is also affected by age. America is a youth-driven culture for the most part. A younger player will always attract an insane amount of attention and popularity – remember the summer of Oudin? – long before they deserve it. Fickle fans get tired of older players. Their attitude queries a version of ‘why are you still here, shouldn’t you be retired already?”

Faced with this fickleness, Federer has no chance of ever winning a popularity poll against Nadal. And Nadal will one day also find himself usurped by a come-upper, say the cute Japanese Kei Nishikori who has now committed to working with Brad Gilbert.

Research shows that physical attractiveness is a huge component of popularity. But so too is personality. There are many massively popular people who would never win beauty contests, but whose attractiveness lies in their mastery of wit or having a sense of humor that simply makes them likable.

Take any of the guys in the “Hangover”. Or Seth Rogan for example. Not a good-looking man. But even during his more obese phase, he probably got more action than most men his age. The same is true for tennis popularity. Better looking players are guaranteed to appear on the cover of tennis magazines.

But I believe that talent trumps all of the above. No matter how good-looking a tennis player is, no matter how witty and likable, if she or he can’t play and win matches, they will not rise to the top of the ranking. And thank goodness for that. Because if ascendancy in the ranks was based on popularity alone, the Williams sisters would never have achieved the stellar amounts that that have achieved. No, the top of the rankings would be reserved for the likes of Melanie Oudin and Anna Kournikova.

And then there are those cases where talent and good looks seem to coincide. And yet they do not seem to be accompanied by widespread popularity. As good-looking as she is and as much as she has worked hard to achieve, the world still does not seem to know Caroline Wozniacki. I’m not saying that she is completely lacking in popularity, but outside of her native Denmark, her fame has not spread in waves.

Kim Clijsters is far more well-known and widely beloved. And it’s not because of her beauty but because of an intangible quality that probably cannot be quantified. And interestingly, it’s a quality that both Nadal and Federer have in spades. I wish folks would stop asking me to choose between them, or that tmz had included an option for “both”.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seasons Greetings

Apologies for my silence. Real life intruded and I was forced to spend some time away from the blog. Things are finally beginning to fall into place so that I can once again start giving tennis some focus. The cold weather has not helped at all. I miss living in the west and being able to play tennis all year. This east coast cold weather is seriously trying. It's supposed to snow tonight. Bummer.

Apologies for not having met the assigned quota of 100 articles per year. I have had more than 100 ideas, but not even 100 minutes to write them. I suppose I could go on a mad writing spree and try to meet the assigned quota. But this blog has always been more about quality than quantity so do just forgive.

The good news. Roger Federer has closed out the year in style. It was fitting that he faced Rafael Nadal in the finals of the year-end championships. It was fitting that he beat him, convincingly. I can't begin to capture how happy I am that Roger ended the season on this high note. And then for both men to turn around and join in support of each other's charities.

I hope that the next generation of tennis players are watching and learning. The Sampras-Agassi era ended with the ignominy of a tasteless exchange during a charitable match for Haiti. Roger and Rafa represent the best of tennis rivalries, where competition is paramount but the rivalry is not fueled by hate. What a sweet message for this season that is supposed to be about love and peace.

Merry Xmas to those who celebrate it. Season's greetings for those who don't. Peace and love to everyone. And may the New Year bring you all of what you need and most of what you want.


LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the trophy after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain in their men's final match during the ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 28, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)