Second to none.

•February 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Over the weekend Roger Federer won his 16th grand slam and further solidified his status as the greatest male tennis player of all time. Not only did he win, but he did so in impressive fashion, beating Andy Murray in straight sets. Tennis fans are somewhat split on who they consider to be the best to ever play the game. The contenders have pretty widely been narrowed down to Pete Sampras.  There are plenty of men who make the argument very interesting if you narrow it down to surfaces. But when you are talking about consistent, overall performance, the evidence incontrovertibly leads to Roger Federer.

I am a huge Sampras fan, but when it comes to deciding who is a better tennis player when the two played at separate times, certain factors and statistics cannot be overlooked. This goes especially for the two men in question because so many of their records coincide with one another. Grand Slams titles won, consecutive weeks at number one and performance at certain grand slams just to name a few. I won’t even count Federer winning the only meeting between the two since Sampras was close to retirement at the time.

These two champions have quite a bit in common but the Swiss has moved faster and is still going strong. Federer won his 16 slams out of 27 played while Sampras needed 47 to win his 14. Sampras has won seven Wimbledon titles but Federer won five in a row and has six now. Fed is the only male tennis player to win five consecutive grand slams at two separate events (Wimbledon and US Open). Fed is the first male tennis player to win his first four grand slam finals. He’s in the lead for consecutive weeks at number one as well at consecutive grand slam final appearances with twenty-three. The list goes on. He is tied with Sampras in a few categories but again, he is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s already said he plans on staying on the tour long enough to have his twin daughters watch him play.

Some argue that Federer cannot possibly be considered the greatest of all time because Rafael Nadal “owns” him. When you look at the Federer-Nadal rivalry, it’s important to break down their head-to-head. Let me preface this by saying that I think Nadal is the most dominant clay court player of all time. He leads their head-to-head, 13-7. Eleven of these matches took place on clay courts, with Nadal winning nine and only three on grass, with Fed winning two.

This is my theory. As I said before, Nadal is a beast on the clay. But Federer is a close second and is certainly the best right now on grass. The fact that so many of their matches have been on clay supports the idea that Fed is second best on that surface and the best on everything else. Of the twenty, sixteen have been in the finals. So Roger is getting to the finals on clay where nine times out of eleven, he has lost to Nadal. Nadal, however, is not performing the same way on other surfaces and getting to the finals where he would face Federer. My point is that if Nadal performed better on hard and grass courts, there would have been way more meetings between the two in the finals on those surfaces and there is no doubt in my mind that it would bring their head-to-head numbers a little closer.

For those who say Federer would have no chance if Rafa were injury-free, please know that’s part of it. Federer manages to stay relatively healthy year after year by playing efficiently and training smart. I do not know a lot about Rafa’s training regimen. All I’m saying is that something is wrong when a 23-year-old man is taking chunks of time off the tour to deal with injuries. Meantime, Roger Federer is almost 30 and still going strong. Longevity matters in this game not short bursts of impressive performances. These are fun to watch but do not carry much weight in this particular argument.

Roger Federer has set records that no one ever imagined and that seem to be unbreakable. It is so difficult to dominate on the ATP tour and Federer has been doing it and proves that he can continue to do so with his latest grand slam title.

unsportsmanlike conduct.

•October 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In his new book, ‘Open’, tennis great Andre Agassi reveals that while on the ATP tour, he used crystal meth. Not only did he use it, but he was caught. The former number one didn’t let that stop him. He lied to authorities about it and got away with it. There’s more. He also admits that his father basically intimidated him into playing tennis and he developed a serious hatred for the man as well as the sport. For me, the most shocking admission in the book is Andre informing us that the crazy hair he had in the beginning of his career did not grow out of his scalp! The fact that he used at one point doesn’t surprise me nor does the severity of his drug of choice.

For those of you who are surprised (but wouldn’t be if Agassi was a professional basketball or football player) should forget this notion that tennis is such a proper sport for only the privileged and  “>trouble free. We’ve seen sports start off with a clean cut reputation only to develop into more accessible and ‘everyman’ types of sports. In other words, Wimbledon might be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of tennis but don’t use that traditionalism and formality as a gauge for all things tennis.

Agassi is not the first person to come out with a shocking admission just before a book is released. Maybe he just wanted to sell books. Maybe this had been weighing heavy on him for a while. Maybe he figured since he has turned his life around so drastically that he was in good enough standing to finally come out with it. Whatever the reason for coming out with this now, it’s not a big deal. Are we surprised that rebel Andre Agassi experimented with drugs a long time ago? Really? It doesn’t make me more or less likely to go out and buy the book. It doesn’t tarnish his legacy either. This is not one of the admissions that discredits an athlete. Crystal meth isn’t exactly a performance enhancer. So I certainly don’t feel cheated. What I’m more curious about is the acknowledgement that he hated tennis and despised his father. I think professional athletes are some of the luckiest people in the world. Of course they put in a lot of work and it certainly isn’t easy to come out on top, especially in tennis where you have to win to earn a living. We assume that they love what they do but you know what happens when you assume.

Everything that this man went through has led him to be the man that he is today, especially his father forcing him to practice for hours on end on the family court. Without all that practice, he wouldn’t be the champion that he is today and we might not even be talking about him at all. For better or for worse, his past experiences molded him and have made him the champion, philanthropist and person that he is today.

This affects the ATP more than Andre Agassi. The excuse he gave at the time is shockingly similar to the recent excuse of Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Gasquet tested positive for cocaine. He was suspended at first but then cleared after explaining that he must have ingested the drug while kissing a woman at a party. When Andre tested positive he said that a friend accidentally spiked his drink and was let off the hook. Gasquet tested positive for such a small amount of the drug making his story plausible. So was Andre’s though, right? I mean, what if Gasquet comes out with a book in 20 years, saying he used cocaine throughout his entire career?

The world anti-doping agency has an eight year statute of limitations preventing them from taking action against Andre. All of this seems like a slap in the face to the WADA and tennis authorities even though it wasn’t meant that way. The ATP officials are at fault here for believing the story and allowing him to continue to play without any repercussions. They need to learn from this and figure out a way to make sure that a caught player is truly caught. This puts them in a very awkward position and they have Andre Agassi to thank for that.

 

 

don’t call it a comeback.

•October 2, 2009 • 2 Comments

A few weeks ago Justine Henin announced that she will be coming back from retirement for the 2010 season. Excuse me for a minute while I attempt to feign surprise. *GASP* You’re kidding! You mean the woman who left the top of the game at age 25? *GASP* The woman who retired just before being able to defend her French Open title for the third time? The woman who retired  when she was ranked number one? *GASP*

How was that? Did you buy it? What……? Too many gasps?

As a pure tennis fan, the matchups next year will be great to watch. I’ll be interesting to see her go up against the Williams sisters, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and others. But, I’m not necessarily excited to have her back. Let me explain.

I’ve heard conflicting reports about her public reason for returning. I heard that she wrote a letter to Clijsters saying that her US Open win has inspired her to return to the game. I’ve also read that when asked if that indeed was the case, she brushed that off and said it was Roger Federer finally winning the one major title that had always eluded him, the French Open. She wants to accomplish the same thing by winning Wimbledon.

And people want to say that Serena Williams stole the attention from Clijsters with her angry foot fault reaction? Look, Serena was fighting to stay in that match the entire time and it was looking like she was going to come up short that night regardless. She hardly stole Kim’s thunder in my opinion. So then two weeks later, Henin feels like she needs to announce on live tv in Belgium that she is making a comeback. I’m not really getting any sense of sincerity with this move.  She should have just held a press conference and said, “Anything you can do, I can do better” and walked out.

Seriously, we all knew you were coming back. Can young people who are at their peak in sports and clearly love it to death stop saying they’re going to retire? I mean, did anyone not see Kim’s return coming?Maybe you are  not allowed to say you want to take a break. Is that a unwritted WTA rule? As we had come to see over her career, Justine is an extremely competitive person. How can someone like that stay away from the game when they can clearly still win? Come on.

I don’t like when people say they “hate” celebrities or anyone in the public eye that they don’t know personally. So I’m definitely not going to say that. Anyway, there was one incident in particular that made me lose some respect for her. You know what I’m talking about. The French Open when she held her hand up during Serena’s serve and basically didn’t own up to it when Serena called her out on it.

I know it’s the chair umpires responsibility to moderate and take control of the match but really though? Please, play fairly. It’s like when Capriati was playing Serena in US Open and had a TERRIBLE call in the beginning of the third set. Serena hit a winner called in by the line ump to give her the advantage on her serve. Chair umpire calls it out and gives Capriati the break point. Being competitive is one thing but do you really want to win knowing that the match wasn’t played out in the most fair way? Is it totally out of the question to step up and say something? I just don’t get that. But seriously, try playing fairly. When balls are in, the person who hit it should get that point.  I promise you, you’ll feel better about yourself.

Also, I’ve already made clear how much I dislike the way certain players rely on their coaches too much. Justine Henin is one of those players. But she is worse because she tries to hide it. She couldn’t do a more terrible job if she tried. She creepily peeks around the brim of her hat and out of the corner of her eye up at her box to get coached by Carlos Rodriguez. WE CAN SEE YOU!

Let’s not forget how she retired in the Australian Open final against Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo was going for her first grand slam title, she’s doing well winning 6-1, 2-0 and Henin retires due to stomach flu symptoms. I cannot pretend that I know exactly how she was feeling and know for a fact that she could have continued on. I don’t.  However, if you can walk and still hold on to a racket, I need for you to finish the match. I can’t imagine what has to be going through someones mind to think that retiring in a grand slam final is an acceptable thing to do. You just can’t do that. No one would want to close out an amazing two week performance with a match like that. Fortunately, Mauresmo proved it wasn’t a fluke by winning Wimbledon later that year.

So as you can see, I didn’t exactly lose any sleep when Justine Henin retired. But now that she’s back,  I’m sure she’ll do really well. When you’re as good as she is, time off (as long as it isn’t too long) doesn’t have too big of and impact on you except to make you more hungry. Anyway, maybe she has changed with the time she’s had to relax and reflect. It is possible that she has learned how to harness her competitive edge in a more positive way. One can only hope…

operation domination.

•September 13, 2009 • 1 Comment

So clearly I lied about weekly posts but I definitely did not intend to leave so much time before my next one. Anyway, being at the US Open during the labor day weekend has given me the necessary fuel to get back on here.

Normally the first week is filled with lop-sided matches for seeded players who seem to advance to the 4th round and quarterfinals relatively unscathed. I’m mainly talking about the women’s side here since men tend to have much more competitive matches in the earlier rounds. The 2009 Open has been much more interesting to watch because, for the most part, you could really never be too sure who would come through. You had Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Amelie Mauresmo, Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova ALL go out either in or before the 4th round to players who you would bet against nine times out of 10. 

Only half of the final eight are seeded, three of which are in the top ten (S. Williams, Caroline Wozniaki and Penneta). Thanks to women like Oudin, Bondarenko and Clijsters, we have more than the usual two or three suprising upsets. There have been plenty of exciting matches that have made it great to be a tennis fan during the last major of the year. The mens draw has certainly had its share of exciting matches but look at who is in the final rounds. The only person really missing was Andy Murray, who seemed to be down and out from the beginning of his final match.

I felt like I had to comment on this because there are a lot of mens tennis fans out there who choose not to watch women’s tennis saying it is predictable and therefore, boring. It’s just interesting that when you look at it, specifically with regards to grand slam winners, mens tennis is more predictable recently. Let’s start with the 2004 Australian Open. We are on the 24th grand slam since then.  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won all but three of those titles. ALL BUT THREE!! Do you understand what you’ve just read?

When you look at the same grand slams on the women side, those titles are split between nine different women. Only Serena Williams and Justine Henin have won more than three. So please, spare me the whole why-watch-when-we-know-who-will-win argument because it isn’t valid. I have no problem really when people say they don’t like women’s tennis. I’m not offended if that’s how you feel. To each his own. I just want you to dislike it for the right reasons.

I mean, the reasons are there: top players don’t perform at smaller tournaments, there are too many breaks, players get injured too often, you don’t like the players that seem to get most of the air time, blah blah blah. But again, predictability shouldn’t be your reason to prefer men over women. I think this makes it more fun when a player does have a period where they dominate the rest of the field.  For example, if Serena Williams could have won the US Open this weekend, she would have won three out of the four in 2009. For me, that’s a great story. It isn’t boring, it’s impressive. Nevertheless, the womens final will have unseeded, comeback kid Kim Clijsters against the ninth seeded Caroline Wozniaki of Denmark and the mens final will have Juan Martin Del Potro against Djokovic or Federer. You tell me which matchup is more surprising.

save opportunities.

•August 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So I’m sitting here getting ready to watch about 5 hours of tennis with the Rogers masters final followed by the western & southern open final. Murray and Del Potro are going head to head in somewhat of a surprise final with both Nadal and Federer having been in the tournament and both going out before the semis. I’m a little hestitant in calling in a surprise final since Murray was threatening to surpass Nadal for the number 2 ranking in this tournament and del potro showed the tennis world what he was really made of this time last year when he came in 3rd in the US open series and followed that up with a QF showing at the Open.

            So anyway, I want to address something I heard Brad Gilbert say during one of the earlier matches. A player was struggling at an important stage of the match and BG was speculating what his coach would say to him at that moment and went on to say that he thought the ATP tour should adopt the rule that the WTA recently has that coaches can come out on the court to give their player advice during a changeover. What an unbelievably terrible rule.

One of the reasons tennis is so special is that while the pro is competing there is no one else out there for them to rely on or blame. You don’t get a teammate (excluding doubles) or a coach to draw up a play for you or help you realize patterns in the match that are working against you. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this rule. Clearly, it’s a choice and there are plenty of players that choose not to use it. If you’re a professional tennis player and you can’t figure out how to turn a match around and need someone to tell you, you shouldn’t be out there. That’s what scouting is for. Its not like players have never figured out what was going wrong in a match, changed the strategy around and ended up coming out on top. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advancements in the game. I love the idea that they can challenge line calls with the shot spot to be sure and be able to let a close call go and not affect them throughout the match.

PAUSE: wow! Amazing point by del po to get to the first set tiebreaker! Kind of feels like Del Po stole that first set. How’d he do that?

Anyway, remember when Serena Williams would pull out notes during the changeovers? After I saw that, I started doing it for my own matches so I can attest to how helpful it is. You can write notes for yourself for any possible situation you could find yourself in. For example: Not serving well? Get the toss up and make sure you finish into the court. Relax your arms and explode up into the ball. Blam! Fixed! I hope it doesn’t seem like I think its easy being a pro. I’m not saying that, but I do think that pros should be able to get themselves through a match without needing to be coached after every set. Like I said before, I support improvements in the game as time passes but that certainly doesn’t apply to everything and on-court coaching is one of those things that has no place in the game.

Right on cue just as I’m finishing this up, Dinara Safina is losing to Jelena Jankovic and a commentator says “She needs her coach to come out and give her a new attitude”. WHAT!?! This is the number one female in the WORLD and you’re telling me she can’t figure out how to turn this match around on her own? Vomit.

training camp.

•August 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m new to blogging, but once I decided to try it out… picking a topic was easy. I’ve been into sports since I can remember. I played tennis, basketball and soccer growing up but eventually had to make a choice on which one would be my focus. I was really into tennis, stuck with it and have been playing ever since.  I’m most knowledgeable on pro tennis , then NBA basketball with NFL football in a close third.  Other than that, I pretty much dig anything as long as its playoff/major time. 

I majored in journalism in college and wow, what an ideal situation would it be to be a sports reporter. Not the case just yet but maybe this will set me out on the right path. I’d like to think I’ve got some pretty awesome opinions about what goes around out in this crazy sports world of ours and I’m looking to write about one or two topics a week. So I hope you’ll check me out here once in a while and let me know what you think!