Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pet Peeve #2: People who don’t pay attention

So there I am at the Rihanna concert trying to get my dance on. I had the misfortune of sitting behind a hipster dude and his girlfriend. He was wearing typical heavy-framed glasses, tight purple hip-hugging jeans, and black underwear peeping out with a waistband that said ‘Blah Blah’. I don’t remember her outfit but I do remember her shitty attitude. And I do recall their incessant making out as poor J-Cole screamed his guts out trying to prove his worth as a warm-up act in the aftermath of Cee-Lo's decision to say "Forget you".

But once Rihanna came on stage, Hipster dude promptly forgot about kissing his girlfriend and started paying attention to the concert. Hipster chick was having none of that. She began to make a scene. She argued, she pouted, she stood directly in front of him blocking his view, she demanded that he stop looking at Rihanna and look at her. I knew then and there that this silly couple was going to inspire another tennis column.

And you’d have every right asking what business this was of mine. None of course, except for the fact that their silly shenanigans ended up distracting from my enjoyment of a concert I had paid good money to watch. And this happens also at tennis events. I am referring of course to those people who attend a tennis match but play zero attention to what is happening on the court. They annoy me.

Like the woman and her female friend who are too busy pulling their tops down low trying to attract the attention of the attractive guys sitting in the row above (give it up chicas – they’re gay). Or the folks who are too busy texting and sexting to give a crap what is going on in the court. Why bother to attend a tennis match if you’re unwilling to pay it any attention?

Look I get that everyone cannot be as fanatic about tennis as I am. Frankly I don’t expect everyone to be. And I would be a liar if I claimed to pay complete and focused attention for every single moment of every tennis match. Of course I too glance around. I chat with my neighbors between points. I run to the bathroom between sets. Tennis as a sport is constructed to give its fans many mini-breaks. There’s no harm or foul in taking advantage of these.

But I will never understand those people – we’ve all seen them – who spend the entire match absorbed in their Ipad or smart-phone, and when the crowd goes beserk, arouse themselves and start frantically asking: “What happened? What happened?” If you want to know what happened, pay fricking attention. If your Ipad or cell-phone matter more than the match, then give up your seat and go outside to the courtyard where you can google to your heart’s content while only occasionally glancing up at the screen.

I mean why come to a Rihanna concert if you’re not going to watch her perform? And how insecure can one young woman be that she cannot allow her glasses-and-tight-jeans-wearing boyfriend to look at a woman on stage whom he is never going to meet? With all of her histrionic acting out, she ended up distracting the entire row of fans behind her. We all wanted her chucked out of the event. But you can’t exactly go up to a security guard and complain that a fan is distracting you with her stupidity. So we all suffered.

Thankfully tennis does allow complaints for certain distractions. The Chair will ask people to sit to hell down, turn off their phones, stop calling lines, and shut to hell up while the point is in play. All asked nicely and politely of course.

And really I probably would give less of a hoot if Ms. Ipad would stay focused on her technology and choose to miss the entire match. What annoys me is her decision to outsource the responsibility for paying attention entirely to me. What irks me is her thinking that she can keep asking a complete stranger to let her know what she missed out on while she was busy playing with her tablet with her ear-buds in. that is what pushes me over the edge. Which is why I don’t hesitate to reply, “I’m paying attention, why don’t you?”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The front rows should always be clapping

I don’t get why people will pay for the most expensive seats at a tennis event and just sit there, glum, non-responsive, as the players play their guts out trying to win the match. Not at all tennis events of course, and not all spectators. Certainly some of the people invited to occupy the players’ boxes tend to get emotional. But even inside the box, you can see other attendees who seem to care more about looking pretty for the camera than supporting their guy. I find this very annoying.

If you’re not going to act like a fan, why attend the event at all? This is what I thought during Wimbledon as the cameras frequently caught an apparently sulking Sienna Miller as her boyfriend elected to pay more attention to the match than to her. She seemed to be doing everything within her power to recapture his attention. And all I could think was, why bother to go to Wimbledon if you’re not into tennis?

And of course because she is Sienna Miller, the cameras elected to keep cutting away to her theatrics rather than keeping focused on the match. So not only was I pissed that I couldn’t afford to go to Wimbledon but I was doubly pissed that instead of seeing all of the match, I had to endure constant cutaways to simpering celebrity drama queens who could clearly give a crap about tennis and were only there to be seen.

All of which very much annoys me. I guess that this is going to be an entry in which I vent about annoying non-tennis fans who clutter up the best seats in the house and don’t even bother to pretend to be interested in tennis.

It is rather infuriating that so many of the people privileged to get courtside views of the best tennis players in the world, often just seem to sit there like so many pounds of lard. And as much as that annoys me, it must be doubly frustrating for the players on the court.

After all, instead of being able to trust that they can look left or right and see people nearby ardently supporting them, they have to endure being circled by people more interested in themselves than in either tennis or its players. Is it asking too much that the people sitting ringside at a tennis match should be clapping and rooting for one player or the other? Is it asking too much that the best seats in the house be occupied by sincere fans of the sport?

Apparently it is. And sadly this problem is not at all unique to tennis. It even happens at entertainment events. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I attended a Rihanna concert. My daughter pointed out that the people in the first two rows were all standing there with their i-phones recording every minute of the concert. Unlike the rest of the crowd, these folk were not dancing, singing, or in any way enjoying the performance. Smart-phones held aloft, all they did was record her, supposedly for enjoyment at a later date. Or for profit, whichever came sooner.

And I thought what a raw deal this must be for her. To have to get up there and self-generate all of the energy to put on a performance when the fans closest to you are not interested in vocally lending their support. They’re too caught up in the technology.

Of course there is no way to prevent non-tennis-fans from attending events, nor would anyone want this. After all, there’s nothing sadder than a tennis event with a whole bunch of empty seats. But I wish there was a way that people buying the more expensive seats could receive some kind of insert along with their ticket stub with the reminder that tennis is very much a psychological sport and that positive emotional support from fans can sometimes make all of the difference in the outcome of a match.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Novak passes Rafter, ties with Moya

It’s really hard to become the #1 player in men’s tennis. It’s even harder to remain #1. Just ask any of the players who have had that sniff of greatness only to watch the rest of their careers plummet away into oblivion. Andy Roddick, for example, once spent 13 glorious weeks as the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world. But 13 was clearly not his lucky number. He seems to have lost top form along with what’s left of his mojo.

This is at least partly because it is really really hard to become #1 in men’s tennis. And as hard as it is to achieve this goal, it’s ten times harder to remain at the top of the pile. Withstanding that competition week in and week out is not only hard on the body, but it is even more challenging of your mental fortitude, and quite probably wrenches your soul.

It must also be difficult to keep a perspective on the responsibilities involved in being #1. Your time suddenly no longer becomes entirely your own. You are expected to fully represent the entire sport. It will be interesting to see how Djokovic embraces this challenge. I would hope that he would do at least as well a job as Federer.

More than any other player, I believe that Roger Federer not only rose to this challenge but he fully embraced it. Becoming #1 requires selfishness. Remaining #1 also demands of you the selflessness to address the needs of your sport. Federer understood this like no other before or since. For this I am deeply proud of him.

Djokovic currently stands at the top of men’s tennis. His reign has thus far lasted a total of two weeks. His closest challenger, Rafael Nadal, can take away this spot before the year is over. And there is no doubt in my mind that the real contest between these two men is for the position as #1 in tennis. Sure winning tournaments are great too, but the real contest is for the honor of being called the best in the world.

There is no other reason why Rafa played Barcelona instead of using that week for rest and preparation for Roland Garros. He was seeking to shore up points that he could cash in later and possibly become #1 again. This I believe is the honor that drives both of these men. And isn’t it interesting how much Federer has played the role of incidental tie-breaker.

It must gall the highly competitive Federer that his chances of equaling and passing Pete Sampras’ dominance of the #1 slot seem to be becoming bleaker. Sampras had a total of 286 weeks at #1. Federer has 285. Two more weeks and he can make a different and lasting kind of history. Already he has the record of holding the most consecutive weeks at #1 – 237 weeks that he accumulated between FEB2004 and AUG2008. I don’t believe that this record will ever be eclipsed. I think that Federer is still playing tennis today because of the dream of getting those two extra weeks. In other words, I believe that he is playing tennis for history. And it is so totally worth it.

Blocking his path are two men – Rafael Nadal who has 102 weeks total as the #1 player, and Novak Djokovic who has only two. But Djokovic should not feel badly about this. Everyone starts at one, and most tennis players never even accomplish that much. Besides, with two weeks of dominance, he has already passed Australia’s Patrick Rafter who has the ignominy of being the only player in history to last only a single week at the #1 spot. (Rafter also has the pointless honor of being the only player to have his racket strings blown open with a Sampras serve. I will never forget that hilarious moment.)

With two weeks of dominance, Djoko has now tied with Carlos Moya who spent two sweet weeks as the best tennis player in the world. I’ve always believed that if Moya had celebrated a little less and focused a little more, he might have eked out a few more weeks of dominance. He certainly had the talent to do it.

This week I saw pictures of Djokovic with his girlfriend Jelena Ristic enjoying the sun and beaches of St. Tropez. I don’t at all fault him for taking some time off. He has truly earned it. As long as he doesn’t do a Moya and begin to lose focus. And as long as he remains aware that Rafa and Uncle Toni are probably somewhere darkly planning, while Federer with Annacone is probably busy shoring up his confidence that yes, he can still do it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spain wins again without Nadal

I know that players love to whine about the length of the tennis season but I have never had any sympathy for their false complaints. The truth is that, given half a chance, these same players would not hesitate to fly to Monaco to play an exhibition in front of affluent supporters willing to wine and dine them. So enough already with the whining I say.

I therefore had zero sympathy for Rafael Nadal when he started the obligatory whining over the Davis Cup schedule. Following his Wimbledon loss, Rafa struggled to clarify that he was not just being selfish in his decision not to make the trek to Austin, Texas:

“The problem is the ITF, my opinion. They don't want to change nothing. They are never able to change nothing on the calendar, nothing in the format of the Davis Cup competition. And some thing they are doing bad, because the best player of the world, a lot of times we are not able to play. For me is hard not go to United States and play for my country. For somebody can think, ‘Well, he only is think about himself. He is playing his own things. Doesn't matter about the Davis Cup.’ It's not my case…I cannot be in every place. I cannot be competitive every week of the year. My body needs to rest.”

Too bad Rafa apparently didn’t have the cojones to cut out all the blaming the ITF crap and simply acknowledge that he could not play Davis Cup because he needed to give his body a well-deserved rest. And who could possibly blame him? After all, in the past few months he has not only won Roland Garros but has made it to the finals of just about every tournament he has played since. Of course his body is tired and in need of rest.

To place blame on the ITF is, in my opinion, an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his choices. It highlights a reluctance to accept responsibility for a personal (and yes, quite possibly selfish) decision. And maybe this even shows how exhausted Rafa’s mind must be. After all, he needs time to figure out why Djokovic keeps beating him.

Thank goodness the Spanish team can win without him. And it is my opinion that any team belonging to the World Group should be able to win without their top player. You don’t get to the top by relying on a single individual. Under the capable hands of Albert Costa, the Spanish tea showed convincingly that they were not reliant on Nadal. This is their second win without him. I would have admired his honesty if he had admitted that he could afford to be selfish because the team had proved that he was dispensable.

The Davis Cup competition was founded in 1900 as a challenge between the USA and Britain. Initially titled the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, the competition was renamed to honor the American, Dwight Davis, who won the first three matches against the Brits. Other countries soon signed on and the field has since been expanded to include some 137 countries. Because of the size of the competition, countries had to be clustered into zones and tiers.

This weekend the US faced off against Spain for a spot in the semi-finals of the World group. The winner of this contest would face the French on the terre battu of Roland Garros. I did not see the match on Friday between Feliciano Lopez and Mardy Fish. I read that it went to an exciting five-setter which Deliciano pulled out 8-6 in the fifth. But I did see the match between Ferrer and Roddick. By the third set, Roddick seemed to have accepted his fate and seemed only too willing to throw in the towel. I was glad that I had not spent the $$$ to make the trip to Austin. I could not bear the disappointment.

The Bryans of course delivered on Saturday. Once again I could have done without the whole chest-bumping thing. It is soooooo played out. But despite this I was happy for the hope that they brought to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin TX.

But Ferrer was not to be denied, was he? And today he spanked Mardy in four sets. It could so easily have been three. Who knew that Ferrer would best Fish in a tie-break? Who knew that Ferrer would turn out to be the hero of the weekend? Who knew that fans might even be asking “Rafa who?”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who knew Djokovic had an inner Juliet?

I read in yesterday’s NY Times that Uncle Toni apparently felt that the celebration of Djokovic’s victory at Wimbledon was over-the-top and unseemly. The Times quotes Uncle Toni’s comments as they appeared in the Spanish newspaper Marca: “I don't want to get involved in others’ celebrations because it would be ugly of me. But in life, you have to conduct yourself with a certain humility.”

It’s easy to dismiss Uncle Toni’s comments as mere sour grapes. After all, Djokovic could not have been humbler in victory. He spent most of the interview with Sue Barker praising the talent of his opponent. And in another post-match interview, he graciously acknowledged that he has become as good as he now is because of having to figure out how to play against the great Nadal and Federer. Surely even Uncle Toni would allow that his words were tasteful and humble?

But Uncle Toni’s comments were taken by the Times as referring to the boisterous celebration participated in by the Djokovic clan and their supporters just outside of the Wimbledon tennis courts. Apparently Djokovic’s father was being tossed in the air by a group of proud and happy Serbians as they shouted, stamped, and clapped with glee.

And while I agree that the Spanish were more vocal in their celebration of their World Cup victory than they were the first time Rafa won Wimbledon, surely the extent of the celebration was only a matter of degree? And while the Spanish do not always toss people in the air preferring to pile on top of one another in a deliciously gay heap who’s to say how exactly a victory should be celebrated?

Which all led me to thinking about the whole business of celebrating victory. Who gets to decide when the manner of a player’s or his family’s celebration is just too much? Who is the arbiter of form or taste that can dictate how a family may celebrate a cherished son’s huge accomplishment, plus the rewards of their years of sacrifice in support of their child achieving his goals? In other words, when is it all just too much?

Some years ago Richard Williams was roundly castigated for jumping over the NBC broadcasting booth and performing a dance of triumph as his daughter Venus spanked Lindsay Davenport at the 2000 Wimbledon. I personally had no problem with his spontaneous moment of celebration.

But I understand why the sound of feet pounding on the roof of the booth may have frightened Chris Evert who apparently thought that the roof was about to cave in. And for that reason alone perhaps Richard should have contained his impulses. But in the heat of the moment, his pride and happiness in his and his daughter’s achievements (Serena and Venus had also won doubles) could not be contained. And that I totally get.

I believe that there is a cultural aspect to how people celebrate and that we need to become more tolerant of such differences in emotional expression. I don’t mean to stereotype but it made perfect sense to me that an African-American man would want to get his dance on. I also got it when the Swiss celebrated Federer’s first Wimbledon victory by giving him a cow. And Serbia, with its murky political history, is probably deeply grateful to Djokovic for showing the country in a positive light. Which is why he was driven for hours yesterday in Belgrade in an open-topped bus as throngs of people feted him.

But I have to admit that there is nothing cultural that explains Djokovic’ bizarre decision to uproot some leaves of Wimbledon grass and proceed to chew on and swallow them. In the heat of the moment people do strange things. Or maybe Djokovic was just getting his cow on. Who knew he had an inner Juliet?

But there is a sexist aspect to the celebration of sporting victories that always unnerves me. I don’t remember Serbians going ape-shit when Jelena Jankovic achieved her blink-and-you-missed-it moment as the #1 player in the world. And while all of Croatia went ape-shit when Goran Ivanisevic finally won Wimbledon, I don’t remember poor Iva Majoli becoming similarly celebrated when she won the French. I could give many more examples of such inequity. It’s sexist and unfair. Why are we so much more comfortable celebrating the achievements of great men? 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

“The Complete Wimbledon” … minus Kvitova

My workplace has blocked all access to sporting channels. There was a time when I could bring up the IBM scoreboard and take a peek in between clients but even that is no longer allowed. So during the day I become dependent on Google for score information. But Google only gives you three matches and sometimes switches over to another match without letting you know how the one you were tracking has ended. On my lunch hour I would convince my co-workers to put the TV on tennis. But the TV in the lunch-room is so old that it is impossible to read the scores. It’s been torture going to work these past two weeks.

So when I get home, I check the TV to see where tennis is being replayed. For the first week of Wimbledon there was no problem – the Tennis Channel in particular offered a generous heaping of replayed matches. By week two, things became a little tighter as I became more reliant on ESPN.

On Thursday evening I noted that ESPN had advertised a show called “The Complete Wimbledon”. I couldn’t wait. I had seen a little bit of Sharapova vs. Lisicki – some odd random moments when I snuck into the lunch-room on the pretext of needing water. But I had seen none of Kvitova vs. Azarenka. I settled down in front of the TV at 7:58pm. I was about to be treated to 120 minutes of tennis! I was not going to miss a ball.

Because this was a 2-hour show, I figured that we would be treated to Sharapova vs. Lisicki for one hour and Kvitova vs. Azarenka for the second half of the show. It was not to be. At 8:00pm, Cliff Drysdale, Mary Jo Fernandez, and Lindsay Davenport started blabbing about this and that. I didn’t pay attention. At 8:02pm we began to see some of the match between Kvitova and Azarenka. By 8:04pm, coverage of that match was over. For the remaining 116 minutes, we were treated to an entire replay of the match between Sharapova and Lisicki.

“The Complete Wimbledon” turned out to be minus Petra Kvitova.

I was stunned and upset. What a f**king travesty! Did none of these talking heads have any clout to influence the decision-making at ESPN? Or was the assumption that a Sharapova victory in the finals was so absolutely guaranteed that there was no point in getting to know this Czech upstart who would be trying to give Maria a bad hair day?

I don’t know what the thinking was that went into this programming decision, but I do know that while I was indifferent regarding a Sharapova victory throughout this tournament, by Thursday night I really wanted her to lose. I wanted Kvitova to deliver on the promise she showed at Wimbledon last year and spoil the plans of the Sharapova Corporation.

Because have no doubt that this programming decision had everything to do with the fact that Maria Sharapova represents a huge corporation. My anger was not at Sharapova personally – she was only another tennis player trying to win her matches. My anger was at the reach and influence of the Big Money invested in her. And those powers-that-be clearly decided that Petra Kvitova was not deserving of equal respect.

In particular I became irritated with the way Mary Jo seemed excessively emotionally invested in a positive Sharapova outcome. You’d swear Sharapova is American and that she can play for Davis Cup. The Williams sisters have never attracted this kind of emotional partisanship from Mary Jo. But she was salivating over the expectation of a Sharapova victory.

Thanks to ESPN3.com, I managed to eventually see the match between Kvitova and Azarenka. Because of a let-down by Kvitova in the second set, Azarenka finally made some forays into the match. But this match was all about Kvitova.

It was wonderful to see how much she has improved in one short year. It was great to watch a woman tennis player who doesn’t shriek as she plays, but who lets out a delightful victory yelp when she knows she has hit a good shot. As I watched her dismantle Azarenka in the third set, I found myself becoming confident that she could do the same to Maria in the finals. And she did. “The Complete Wimbledon” may have disrespectfully overlooked her, but there’s nothing like having the last laugh, is there?