Monday, September 24, 2012

If Rafa could take Djoko behind the school and get him pregnant...

The result would be the amazingness of Martin Klizan. Truly Klizan's game is the perfect distillation of Rafa's lefty forehand ferocity and Djokovic's bend-gumbiness (aka his flexibility). Klizan also favors Djoko in his litheness and deceptive underlying strength. He even looks like him a little, don't you agree? And while his butt no where approximates that of Spain's finest, it is not non-existent either.

And if you don't get the joke in the title, I wouldn't blame you. No one at the 2012 Emmy's seemed to know what to make of the big-bellied buffoon and his nunchuks. You'd have to be a serious fan of “30 Rock” to get what Kimmel was trying to do with Tracy Jordan last night. But, removed from the lunacy of his show, Tracy simply looked like a bloated fool. In the context of the well-dressed White people, not even his frequently uttered “take it out behind the school and get it pregnant” joke would have worked. But I so like it for my discovery of Martin Klizan. His is the ultimate fusion of Djoko and Rafa's tennis games.

I first saw Klizan at the US Open this year and I was impressed by his spanking of Alejandro Falla. It was a decisive three-set win over the man who seriously threatened Federer at the Olympics. But flashes-in-the-pan come and go and I wasn't going to get all worked up over a single result. So I dismissed him from my thoughts, convinced that Tsonga would put him away in the second round.

And then he spanked Tsonga in four. I was stunned. But I quickly started making excuses for Tsonga who had been so utterly charming at the Winston-Salem Open, posing for photos with myself and a friend. No I am not sharing them, you'll just have to take my word for it. But anyone so deliciously sweet to his fans was surely deserving of a pass? After all perhaps his tank was just half-empty from playing so much Big Man Tennis against Isner. (Nope, still can't let it go.)

It didn't fully register when Klizan beat Jeremy Chardy because I saw nothing of that match. Neither man makes enough of an impression in the USA to get any TV coverage. And then he went out to Cilic who bageled him in the third set, and I concluded that he was just another upstart who had run out of steam.

I changed my mind when I saw Klizan playing at the St. Petersburg Open. Yes he won that tournament, and gained his first ATP title, which was impressive. But it was really the semi-final match against Youzhny that convinced me that here was a new talent and he was here to stay. Indeed, if the ATP is fair, Klizan should receive their Newbie of the Year Award. He has been that impressive in 2012.

There was nothing that Youzhny didn't do to try to win that match. His coach/putative father looked on forlornly as Youzhny found himself stretched this way and that by the 23-year-old, less experienced clearly, but more gutsy, more creative in his play, more lacerating with his forehand blows. It was three hours and fifty minutes of scintillating tennis. I did not miss a ball.

Klizan's game is still a work in progress. He too predictably serves down the line when in a hole. He favors his forehand but can mis-time shots on the backhand. He goes for the dropshot a little too predictably at times. He needs to get fitter and improve his endurance. Toward the end of the match against Youzhny, Klizan seemed to be cramping, although that did not prevent him from winning.

Despite the fact that he was last to finish on court – having gone on to play doubles after the almost four-hour semi-final match – Klizan was nevertheless favored to win the finals against Fabio Fognini. With a game that is the perfect blend of the best of Rafa and Djoko, Klizan easily spanked the Italian who irritated me with his lackadaisical attitude even as he amused me with his loud self-muttering, silly racket-throwing, and occasional looks of consternation at the man across the net. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guest Column Part 2: The End of the Myth

According to the reports of many of his teammates, Lance Armstrong used various methods to cheat his way into victory. One tactic was to simply buy the race. There are reports that in 1993, at merely age 21, Armstrong bought a race for $50,000.00. It was a three-segment race in West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Armstrong apparently won the first two legs legitimately, but negotiated with other competitors not to contend the third leg and to allow him to win, in return for $50,000.00. Besides the prize for each segment, there was a million-dollar prize for the rider who won all three legs. Steven Swart testified under oath to being on the receiving end of this deal.Who knows what other backhand deals Armstrong may have employed in other subsequent races if he felt threatened for the win?

Many believe that Armstrong never tested positive for illegal performance-enhancement substances because he simply owned Hein Verbruggen, the President of the UCI. Evidence for this ironically lies in Armstrong's cancer diagnosis in 1996. That same year, he competed for 10 solid months, either winning races or making the podium in Europe and the USA. Because he placed so high in the standings, he would have been tested multiple times throughout that year. Yet by the time his testicular cancer was diagnosed, it was already at an advanced stage. Had he been properly tested in the first place, his condition might have been discovered sooner. His boasts about never testing positive may be based on the confidence of his ownership of the individual responsible for having him tested in the first place!

Do you recall the Radio Shack commercials that featured Armstrong and a personal assistant named Alphonse? You won’t find them anymore on the Internet as Radio Shack has had them removed. The ads captured a domineering Armstrong who would repeatedly terrify the cowering assistant. I believe that that was the real Armstrong. He has since been described by those who had close interactions with him as a domineering, bullying, threatening man who used those same qualities to secure himself seven illegal wins.

I'd like to believe that tennis is a clean sport, but James Blake recently made waves with his statements implying that tennis may have its own Lance Armstrongs. After his first round loss at the 2012 US Open, Blake reportedly stated: “I'm sure there are guys who are doing it, getting away with it, and getting ahead of the testers. With this much money involved, $1.9 million for the winner of the US Open, people will try to find a way to get ahead. It's unfortunate, but I hope tennis is doing the best job of trying to catch those guys trying to beat the system.”

If Blake is correct, then tennis needs to take a page from the USADA and have the guts to go after any suspected cheaters. No more catching the small fry using cocaine. It's time to go after the big guns with big-monied corporations in their back pockets – if they exist. And ex-lovers should always be questioned. You know, hell hath no fury and all that. Indeed, anyone whose dominance seems suspect should be subjected to even more rigid and unexpected evaluations. If they are not cheating, they would have no gripes about these efforts to keep their sport clean.

Details of the 1999-2005 Armstrong-dominated era are flooding the Internet every day and USADA says that they will be revealing their evidence in due course. Kudos to Travis Tygart for standing up to this menace who, up till now, was accustomed to making life miserable for anyone who dared to question his record. When life started unraveling for Armstrong in 2010, he came 23rd in the Tour de France. That’s more like it. That’s exactly the kind of athlete he is—a good one, and one whose best effort lands him in 20-something place and no higher. Dominance should always be achieved honestly, with sweat and tears but without illegal blood.
(Part 2 of 2 submitted by Velopen)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guest Post: Does Tennis have its own Lance Armstrong?

Fiiiiinally, something’s been done about Lance Armstrong’s 7-year-long money-making, wool-pulling, public-duping fa├žade. And finally, good riddance to a huge menace to clean, wholesome competition.

Many say that although Armstrong cheated his way to the top, he was nevertheless a great athlete because others were also doping at the same he reportedly was. But perhaps there never was a level playing field in the first place, due to the possibility that he may have employed more than just illegal substances to make sure he won. I believe that Lance is (was) a good athlete, but he was never exceptional.

Armstrong reportedly began working with an Italian doctor named Ferrari who was one of the most advanced and skilled doctors in the science of the use and masking science of performance enhancing substances. Dr. Ferrari’s services reportedly became exclusively contracted to the US Postal team, making him inaccessible to rival teams. One of Lance’s former teammates, Tyler Hamilton (whose book with all its gory details was recently published) says about this doctor that his knowledge was two years ahead of everyone else’s. He was a genius at what he did.

Despite the clear advantages of doping, Armstrong has been accused of deploying other manipulations to increase the likelihood of his winning. One tactic was to have other competitors caught for doping. That way, he could control the peloton and the outcome of the race.

In 2004 Armstrong allegedly sent an email to the organization that owns the Tour de France (the ASO), the World Anti Doping Agency, and the world governing body of cycling (the UCI), about a specific substance that rivals were using (synthetic haemoglobin derived from cows’ blood). In that same year’s Tour, Iban Mayo—a serious contender for the overall win—dropped off the radar at Stage 15 and Armstrong won his sixth title. Mayo later was implicated in doping and was banned for two years.

Armstrong’s team seemed to have enjoyed a “protected” status. None of his US Postal teammates ever tested positive, until they left his team for another. Tyler Hamilton says that after he left the USPS, he organized his own system of doping with his new team; he was caught and suspended twice. Floyd Landis was caught when he was riding with Phonak and was stripped of his Tour de France title (in 2006 after Lance retired). Some others never tested positive although they have admitted to using drugs to help them win while they were riding with Lance.

Which brings me to Lance’s worn-out old line that he “never tested positive”, which that he holds up as proof that he never doped. Frankie, George, and Jonathan (and others) never tested positive either, yet they admitted their use. (George hasn't publicly admitted but he has talked to investigators and Landis and Tyler have said that the entire team engaged in systematic doping.) Do you believe that tennis has a similar problem?

(Part 1 of 2 by Velopen)

Monday, September 3, 2012

So...Isner lost after playing “Big Man Tennis”?

No, I'm sorry but I can't let this go. As long as that misogynistic dweeb, Justin Gimmelstob, keeps promoting this piece of plagiaristic crap, I will insist on commenting on it. So there is John Isner about to enter Ashe Stadium to face Phillip Kohlscreiber at the 2012 US Open, and what does Gimmelstob ask him? He asks him about playing Big Man Tennis. Yes, he actually went there.

Here is a literal translation: GIMMEL-STOP: “I often hear from you about Big Man Tennis, from you and your coach, what exactly is it?” And Isner dutifully replies, “I see it to play aggressively and or lose a point on my terms. If I can do that, er...whether I win or lose the match, I walk off the court pretty content”.

So let's deconstruct this. Now Gimmelstob seems to be claiming no ownership of this plagiaristic piece of crap. That is actually a good thing because I would like to believe that the Tennis Channel would not persist in having an ignoramus on their payroll. And look I get that the economy sucks and I would not wish job loss on anyone at this time, not even a misogynistic jackass. So it was great to hear Gimmelstob crediting the notion of “Big Man Tennis” to Isner and his coach. If only he would have the intelligence to stop promoting this non-starter of a concept.

So I decided to do an Internet search to see if I could find a statement from either Isner or his coach claiming that Isner plays Big Man Tennis. I found nothing. This is not to say that neither Isner nor his coach have made this claim, but only that I could Google no evidence of it. Maybe when Isner and his coach look in the mirror at the 6 foot 9 inches lanky player with his ill-fitting shirts, maybe they both gasp and exclaim in delight that he is such A! Big! Man! Who knows?!

Instead of statements from Isner and his coach making claims for the Big Man-ness of his game, I found a You Tube video titled “Big Man Tennis”, created in 2010 as a video tribute to Isner for winning the longest tennis match in history. The video is so impressive that (at the point that I am writing this article), it has attracted a total of THREE comments. Yes you read right, just THREE. (Of course Gimmel-Crap et al can feel free to prove me a liar by developing a special bot to add two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-seven more comments as proof of the Bigness of the Man named John Isner.)

But the reason why there are so few comments I believe, is because there is no one on this planet who believes that that match between Isner and Mahut was anything other than a prolonged crapfest. It was a long pointless piece of tata match of which both men should be thoroughly ashamed. I have never regarded it as anything that tennis should be proud to include in its history. No offense to the tennis fan who put together this spectacularly bad video. But the absence of comments is elucidating.

OK so back to the Gimmel-Please-Stop pre-match interview in which he attributed the label of Big Man Tennis to Isner and his coach. And Isner, surprisingly, seemed to own this. And he proceeded to define Big Man's Tennis as “playing aggressively” regardless of outcome.

Did I miss something? That's all it takes to play Big Man Tennis? To play aggressively? To win or lose on your own terms? Well in that case, I know a whole lot of women who play Big Man Tennis. Come to think of it, I often play it myself! In fact I was playing it just this morning! You should have seen me, penis-less of course, but aggressive as all get out. And I lost on my own terms too. I told the 75-year old woman who beat me that I was not surprised by a single point that she won against me. Had I known that this was all it took to play Big Man Tennis, I would have slapped my chest in pride every single time she aced my ass down the line. Woo Hoo, I would have shouted. I am losing on my own terms! I am content! I am playing Big Man Tennis!

The problem for Isner, I believe, is that he is finally paying the price for his inability to close out a frigging match. He may want to believe otherwise but he is no marathon man. Even the match against Mahut was distributed over three days. But this year alone he has lost in four sets to Feliciano Lopez at the Australian Open, in a record-setting long-assed five-setter to Paul Henri Mathieu at the French Open, and in a fith set lost to Alejandro Falla in the first round of Wimbledon. Add to that today's humiliating loss in five sets to Kohlscreiber and we are beginning to see a pointless pattern. If this is Big Man Tennis, he's welcome to keep it. But if he keeps playing it, his career will be over soon, never mind his top American ranking.

Add to that the childish temper displays evidenced during the match against Kohlscreiber today and we are seeing a player who is neither Big nor a Man. After double-faulting to give the fourth set to the German, Isner was penalized for a foot fault in the fifth set. I was so proud of Jim Courier for noting in his live commentary that foot fault calls at these tournaments are never wrong. In fact Courier suggested that foot faults are often not called and that players tend to get away with sneaking their feet across the line.

But Isner went beserk by the call. He yelled at the Chair. He smashed his racket to smithereens after sitting down. He received a point penalty. He was having not just a temper tantrum, but a major meltdown from which he never recovered. If there was a Big Man on the court I'm sorry but I would need Gimmelstob's help in finding him.

Should Mardy Fish consider checking his feet?

I'm serious. A friend of mine recently developed heart palpitations. He went to a cardiologist who had him submit to a series of expensive tests at the end of which they could find nothing wrong with my friend's heart. It was strong, it pumped his blood smoothly, and the arteries extending from it were clear and unblocked. Naturally the cardiologist suggested that my friend might consider talking to a shrink. Perhaps there were things in his life causing him to feel stress and anxiety?

Because my friend is notoriously cheap, he elected to call me up rather than pay to sit on anyone's couch. I told him that I could not treat him, of course, but could only respond as a friend. I suggested that he could start by examining his life to note if there were any significant changes or new developments that may be at the root of his anxiety.

Like the cardiologist, I assumed that because no organic cause could be found for his symptoms, the heart palpitations must indeed be due to stress and/or anxiety. And truly, walk into any emergency department of any hospital and you will find a slew of people who swear to God they are having a heart attack and are about to die, but for whom the eventual (and dare I say, life-saving) diagnosis will be an anxiety or panic attack. After submitting to a gazillion expensive tests, such patients are then told that they should consider seeking psychological treatment. This of course after having already forked over a fortune on EEGs and other tricks of the cardiologic trade.

My friend duly noted experiencing some job stressors related to a competitive co-worker whom he felt was always trying to show him up. This in addition to the stress of dating a seriously crazy woman to whom he appears to be hopelessly addicted.

Because he is my friend, I know better than to do anything other than suggest that maybe he should be patient, maybe he may have misunderstood her, maybe he can do better but if this is where he's at right now, I'm fully supportive. And so on. You know the drill. We've all been there.

So I strongly urged my friend to set aside his cheapness and find the money to spring for a psychologist, one who was not his friend and could therefore confront him honestly on his history of messed-up relationship choices that clearly indicated serious commitment issues that he sorely needed to address. Not that I said any of that. I'm too much his friend to be that honest.

What I said instead was that he should stop being such a cheap-assed Scrooge and dip into his damn pocket and spend some of his fricking money on a real shrink instead of trying to get me to advise him on my off-time when I would rather be watching the 2012 US Open, pissed as I am over not actually being there, thank you very much much. You know, like a true friend.

Thank goodness he had the sense to completely ignore me. Instead he talked to his mother. She, being a woman grounded in common sense, suggested that it did not make any sense that he was having heart palpitations just like that out of the blue. She pointed out that if it was anxiety, then why hadn't he had heart palpitations when his brother died five years ago? And why didn't he have heart palpitations when she finally worked up the courage to leave his father after years of abuse? Surely there must be another explanation? Was he by any chance taking any new medications?

The answer was yes. The only recent change was that he had decided finally to take medication for the foot fungus that had haunted him since his NCAA days.

This being the age of Google, mom instantly got on the internet and did a search on heart palpitations and foot fungal treatment. And guess what? It turned out that they were an uncommon but possible side effect of the drug he was using to treat his foot fungus. My friend immediately stopped taking the medication. The palpitations started becoming less and less frequent as the drug gradually dissipated from his body. A month later, his heart has completely settled down. No more palpitations. Problem solved.

So, after hearing that Fish had withdrawn from the US Open on the advice of his doctor, my friend calls me tonight to ask if I have any suggestions about how he might get in touch with Mardy Fish. My friend believes that as a professional tennis player, Mardy must be dealing with his own foot fungus issues. Heck didn't Brad Gilbert admit (in “Winning Ugly”) that he had an entire toenail removed in response to its constant reinfection?

Surely Mardy needed to quit it with the ablations and other invasive procedures on his poor heart? Surely there was a way for him to tell Mardy that there was nothing wrong with his heart that stopping (assumed) foot fungal treatment would not cure? Did I have any suggestions on how he might get in touch with Fish? Or with that fine-looking wife of his? Either would be fine but preferably the wife.

I told my friend that maybe Fish just panicked when he thought about facing my darling Federer who has been playing tennis with the energy of a spring chicken. Maybe his problem was anxiety after all. Or a deep fear over facing my Fed. My friend called me a cynical biyatch and hung up the phone.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Winston-Salem Open: A very intimate tournament

There are many wonderful things I can say about the Winston-Salem Open in a bid to convince you all to go next year. This was my first year of attending this event that inaugurated just last year on the ATP schedule. I plan to make it an annual event. I only made it this year for the semi-finals and finals. Next year I think I will spend most of the week there. It is so worth it.

It was clear that the event was still having some teething pains. Ushers weren't always sure where people were supposed to sit. The section with the TV cameras wasn't cordoned off, causing a poor volunteer to act like a Femi-Nazi as she ushered people away from the camera-man. The woman making the slushy-margaritas dumped a pile of salt inside the margarita instead of just lining the lid of the glass. Tiny mistakes, all very natural at a brand new event, facilitated by brand new people at a brand new stadium. I overlooked them all in favor of enjoying this event.
Like I said, I only made it to the semi-finals and finals. So apart from the doubles teams, I can only speak about Jo Wilfred Tsonga, Sam Querrey, Tomas Berdych and the eventual winner, John Isner.

So this is what local support looks like, I thought, as the crowd geared up en masse to help Isner ride the wave of Berdych challenges to final victory. I have never seen a crowd as happy. Not even the folks at the US Open who seem to be trying their best to give Roddick a proper send-off, come close to the folks in North Carolina, proud as peacocks about their local hero, vocal and unrestrained in their joy.

And John basked in their love. Children and parents formed a long line of well-wishers and he patiently signed autographs. One young boy called out to him to remind him that they had met before and Isner dutifully responded, “Hey, how are you doing buddy?” My friend got in on the act and asked him to sign her fan. I looked at the scrawl afterward wondering where in there I could find either John or Isner. Truly it seemed random. But I know that it was not. Isner is too heartfelt, much too desiring to please.

But Winston-Salem as an event, needs to outgrow him. It has to attract the top men in the sport who can see the benefit of playing an event so closely scheduled to the US Open. And that remains its only possible detraction – that it is scheduled the week before the US Open. Thus far this has hurt neither Isner nor Berdych. But both Tsonga and Querrey are already out of the US Open. I can't say that I blame this on Winston-Salem because both men also lost there.

What I especially liked about the Winston-Salem Open was the intimacy of the event. The stadium is small. No seats can really be considered nosebleeds because you are never that far from the action. Always I was close, so close that it felt like I could talk to the players and give them pointers if I dared. I did not dare. I was too busy being in awe. But up close I realized that the speed of their strokes is not as fast as it seems on TV. And their getting to some of these returns is not as amazing as it seems when you're watching from a distance.

At the same time, I could get a closer look at the intelligence that goes into the crafting of a point. And I could see clearly those moments on which the outcome of a match can turn – like when Berdych went for an aggressive backhand volley on match point and ended up dumping it into the net, when a simple easy, soft play would have won him the match. That's the kind of perspective you get when you go to an event that truly gives you a close-up view of tennis. And that's why I am going back next year.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos. Who knew Berdych had such a fine-looking butt?

all photos remain copyrighted by the tennis chick and may only be used with my permission