Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Ten Wishes For Tennis in 2012

It’s that time of year isn’t it? The time when all over the world people join in mass delusion over our ability to control things. At this time many of us engage in studious list making about things we would like to accomplish in the coming year.  Weight loss, I am thrilled to say, is no longer on my list. Whoopee! But of course improving my tennis fitness remains a perennial goal.

This year I would also like to propose a list of the things I would like to see happen in the world of professional tennis in 2012. And I am inviting you to share with me the things that you would like to see happen as well.  There is no rank order to my list. I write them as they occur to me.

1.     I’d like Petkovic to stop dancing in 2012. And if she won’t stop dancing – which she probably won’t – then I’d like her to at least take some damn lessons so that she can do it properly and stop embarrassing herself. I know that in some parts of the world shaking your ass might pass for dancing. But where I come from dancing is so much more than shaking your ass for the camera. I really wish she would stop doing it.
2.     In the New Year, I’d also like Donald Young to continue to stay off Twitter. Social media is not meant for everyone. Twitter in particular is perfect for people with emotional self-control and a great sense of humor. Donald Young and Chris Brown, among others, need not apply.
3.     My third wish for the New Year is for Serena Williams to dial down the drama. I can’t take anymore. It’s becoming exhausting dealing with the detritus of her emotional explosions. I say this completely with love.
4.     Speaking of Serena, my next wish is for the USTA to stop developing rules based on the behavior of a single player. If it’s illegal to scream after hitting a winner, then no one should be allowed to do it. Just saying.
5.     Tennis Wish #5 is for Federer to win another Slam. I don’t care which one but Australia would be nice. I’d like him to start the year strong, keeping up the momentum with which he ended 2011.
6.     My sixth wish is for Milos Raonic to remain strong and healthy and to continue to deliver on the promise he showed in 2011. I love that dude. I think he’s the future.
7.     I’d also like for some of the young Americans to step up and show the world that American tennis is far from dead. And I’d really like it if the guys with promise – like maybe Jack Sock and Ryan Sweeting – would please realize that patterning your game after Andy Roddick’s is a recipe for failure. Please, I’m begging. There are so many other better players whose games they could emulate. Why copy a dude whose backhand never graduated from kindergarten?
8.     In 2012 I would love it if women tennis players found a better balance between their desire to be sexy and the importance of wearing practical clothing in which to play their best tennis. Nuff said.
9.     My ninth wish is for tennis commentators to shut the hell up and let viewers watch tennis matches without so much rambling and ad nauseam commentary.  Trust me dudes and chicas, you are all massively annoying. You’re so annoying that I would rather listen to Mexican commentators shouting “Goooooooooal!!!!” at the top of their lungs while vuvuzelas contribute to the chaos of noise in the background. Yes even that is less annoying than most tennis commentators. If you want to know how to do the job well, find any old match commentated on by the retired John Barrett. That is how commentary is done.
10. My last wish involves that Asian lineswoman whose career has clearly blossomed ever since her showdown with Serena. I’d like for someone in the WTA to please help me understand how it is that this woman has suddenly started showing up at events all over the world. And if her eyes are that keen that tournaments are suddenly begging for her services the world over, then the ITF should consider getting rid of hawk-eye and just hire her to work at every damn tournament. Because clearly hawk-eye technology is apparently still too costly to be featured at all tournaments. So let’s just get to cloning those special pair of Asian eyes. Too much?

Now it’s your turn to tell me your tennis wishes for the New Year. I’d like you to post at least three tennis wishes. Whoever posts the best ones get a free T-shirt featuring the logo.

And thanks as ever for reading my blog. I very much appreciate your visits and comments. And I wish you all good health, enough wealth, and plenty of great tennis in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How I celebrated the Tennis Channel’s victory

It’s been years of my paying the cable company for the privilege of watching tennis on a regular basis. This has long felt to me like a violation of some kind of basic right. I’ve felt caught up in the nightmare of corporate greed.

What made it worse is that I was never interested in any other channel but the Tennis Channel. So other than the initial free trial of a couple of premium movie channels, I’ve really spent the past few years paying through my teeth for the privilege of watching tennis.

For a while I considered transferring to a satellite company but found out that, like my cell phone, I was locked into a contract that did not prevent the cable company from raising its prices but prevented me from going anywhere. And then the contract ended but by then I simply got so used to paying for tennis that I simply continued to do so.

And now come news that the Tennis Channel has won in its battle against the cable giant, Comcast. The Tennis Channel successfully argued that Comcast was being discriminatory in its practices by showcasing Versus and the Golf Channel but placing obstacles against more viewers being able to watch the Tennis Channel by charging for it.

Now Comcast is required to show the Tennis Channel as part of its basic line-up. That decision alone is estimated to attract some 50 million more viewers to the Tennis Channel, which can only advance the growth of this sport that we all love so much.

This is good news. I celebrated by gifting myself a house and a satellite dish. Now I can watch the Tennis Channel to my heart’s content – to be fair I was doing this anyway – but it is costing me so much less! I celebrated further by toasting a glass of wine to corporate fairness.

Comcast has of course disagreed with the new ruling by the FCC. It plans to appeal the decision on the grounds that the fact of a cost to consumers is not evidence of discrimination. And indeed we really shouldn’t celebrate too soon because there is a window of 50 days before the ruling becomes final.

50 days vs. 50 million tennis fans. I know which decision your average sports fan would make. I am confident that tennis fans everywhere would like to be able to do like golf fans and tune into their favorite sports channel whenever they feel like it without having to pay anything for doing so.

But I also know that these cable giants don’t give up easily. I had to call like five times and remain on hold for over two hours in order to cancel my service. As I waited I had to endure a barrage of ads telling me why the cable company was superior to everyone else. But it was all worth it to get out of their greedy grasp.

Friday, December 9, 2011

More impressive in 2011: ATP or WTA?

Of course the question is unfair. But what fun would this blog be if I stuck to asking safe and easy questions? I could for example ask who the greatest male player was for 2011. Everyone and the Tennis Chick would answer Novak Djokovic.
And indeed, Djokovic’s 70-6 match win-loss statistic for 2011 will withstand the strongest tests of history. Indeed, his record will likely remain one of the most impressive of all time, coming in as it does after Connors’s 99-4 winning spree in 1974, John McEnroe’s 82-3 record established in 1984, and Federer’s 81-4 season in 2005. And as impressive as Federer, Nadal, Murray, Raonic and Tsonga – to name just a few – have been this year, 2011 remains indisputably the year of Novak.
But if I asked who the most impressive female player was for 2011, well we just might come to blows. Some would say that it has been the year of Petra Kvitova. After all, she won Wimbledon as well the year-end championships among her six titles of the year.
But diehard Wozniacki fans would rightly point out that their player won as many tournaments as Kvitova during 2011, while amassing a record 63-match wins, and holding on to her #1 ranking. Of course such diehard Woz-defenders would do well to ignore the fact that her wins came under such dubious conditions as New Haven and Charleston.
Others would say that Li Na was the most impressive woman in 2011. After all, she made it to the finals of the Aussie Open and is now the defending champ at Roland Garros. Or should the honor go to Samantha Stosur who survived Scream-Gate at the US Open to post her first Slam win?
Or perhaps we should scan past the Slam winners and look at those who impressed us with their overall improvement in 2011. That list includes tennis ninja Marion Bartoli, Ms. Mental Fitness Vera Zvonareva, and of course such power-hitters as Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic. But if we are going to go second tier, is it fair to exclude the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska, both of whom showed in 2011 why they deserve to be ranked in the Top Ten? So many women, so many choices.
Some believe that the lack of a clear leader among the WTA women – as compared with the dominance of Djokovic on the ATP side of the fence – is proof positive that the ATP has enjoyed the more impressive year. And certainly ATP has a long history of singular dominance. If it wasn’t McEnroe, it was Sampras. And when it stopped being Sampras, it became Federer. And for a while it was el tiempo de Nadal. And now that Nadal’s game has been deconstructed, we seem to be in the era of Djokovic.
But by focusing on the issue of dominance, we miss appreciating the one factor that truly makes the ATP’s season the more impressive of 2011. It wasn’t the dominance – it was the rivalries that it produced as pretenders tried to knock the Great One off his throne. 2011 gave birth to some spectacular tennis rivalries that produced instant classic matches that will be watched for years to come.
Pick any match between any combination of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Tsonga, Murray, Ferrer, Fish, Berdych, Tsonga, Del Potro, Raonic, Dogopolov, and Tipsarevic – to name just a few – and you will nine times out of ten witness simply brilliant tennis. 2011 has more than anything else, in my opinion, been the year of truly awesome men’s rivalries.
Which is not to say that the WTA has been lacking herstorically in either the dominance or the rivalry departments. For a while there, it was all Chrissy vs. Martina. And then it was Steffi vs. Monica. And then it became the Sisters vs. Everybody. And now it…well there’s no clear leader is there? It’s really any woman’s game right now, isn’t it?
By which I don’t mean to give the impression that the absence of dominance or reliable rivalries make the women less impressive than the men. In fact I don’t much believe in comparing these two at all, a point I have made before in other contexts. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese, I say. Men’s and women’s tennis are almost two different sports. I’ve written before about how ironic I find it that the men on the ATP with their sweet flourishes and delicate dropshots, seem far more to be the sons of Hingis, while the women remain hell bent on muscling up and beating down each other. What a thing!
But the comparison between ATP and WTA is also pointless because it risks missing a crucial difference between men’s and women’s tennis that bears highlighting. No I am not referring to the old debate of the Best of Three vs. the Best of Five. No I am done arguing about the whole Equal Pay thing.
What is impressive among the women is the cultural and ethnic diversity represented at the top of the sport. The top 20 women of tennis are from 14 different countries. The top 20 men in tennis hail from 10 different countries. There is more diversity in the women’s game, which means that women’s tennis attracts audiences from almost every country of the world. Now that is truly and deeply impressive.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When Tsonga plays with urgency…

How would you complete that sentence? What are your observations about Tsonga’s game when the pressure is on and he starts playing with urgency? My personal observation is that quite often, that is when he plays his worst tennis. But interspersed between the bad shot selections are moments of breath-taking brilliance that make the crowd ooo and ahh as Tsonga once again pulls out a simply amazing shot.

It is those moments of brilliance that probably impelled Leif Shiras to observe, “When Tsonga plays with urgency you can see how awesome he is.” The occasion was the year-end championships in London. The match was Tsonga vs. Federer, one that I never doubted for a moment that Federer would win. Indeed I noted from the start that Federer was the favorite to win this entire tournament and I was not at all surprised when he did so.

But this entry is about Tsonga, and about what would propel Leif Shiras, an otherwise decent partner in commentary with Jimmy Arias, to make such a jaw-dropping comment.

In fact, if you want to analyze what is wrong with Tsonga’s game, all you have to do is look at those moments when he is playing with urgency. In those moments, your average tennis player does the sensible thing and goes for high-percentage shots. Not Jo Wilfred Tsonga. Caution be damned. Tsonga prefers to dazzle. He has drunk the Kool-Aid of comparison with Mohammed Ali and now seems to believe that he can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, all while dancing with amazing light-footedness for such a big guy.

And part of the problem is that the crowd eats it up. They go crazy when Tsonga pulls out one of his moments of brilliance out of his ass. Their reaction reinforces his risky behavior. You can see him tuning into and responding to their applause. (He must miss the fact that the tennis pros in the audience do not seem to be similarly thrilled).

And if I were his coach I would sit his ass down and tell him that that is not how you play winning tennis. Winners are not always brilliant. What they are is intelligent. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer can all have moments of sheer brilliance that would make your jaw drop. But more often they have a dedication to forcing their opponents into playing just the right shot that they can take advantage of and crush for a winner.

Tsonga’s game is not at all purposeful. He has no game plan that involves factoring in what his opponent is capable of doing. There is no real intelligence behind his ploys. Not that I am calling him an idiot because he is not. But he makes no adjustments, no changes to playing different opponents. Instead he goes on a high from having beaten or challenged that individual in a previous encounter, and then plays his brand of unnerving, daring, risky tennis to try to beat him again.

It is clear that Tsonga does not have a coach. It is also crystal clear that he needs one. His high-risk game has won him seven singles titles. It has propelled him once again to #6 in the singles rankings, a position he previously occupied in 2008, after which injury pushed him out of the game for a while. Now he is back, and he is healthy, and he is playing riskier tennis that ever. His style of tennis can best be described as high risk, high gain. When he pulls off one of his moments of brilliance, there is just nothing that his opponent can do. But that is not a formula for getting to the top tier.

So a part of me understands what Leif Shiras meant when he said, “When Tsonga plays with urgency you can see how awesome he is.” But I would trade all of those moments of awesomeness for a measure of consistency and reliability. I would trade all of those flashes of brilliance for a disciplined game in which he tackles his shots with proper form. I would give up every moment of the crowd gasping in shocked delight for a game in which Tsonga doesn’t simply alternate between crushing the ball and playing one of his high risk gambits. This type of risky tennis will not get him into the Top Four.