Someone asked me recently, "What are the big stories in tennis these days?" I led with the emergence of Djokovic. Sadly, my second topic was the decline of Federer. He is, of course, being held to the absurd standards he himself set. But by now only those in serious denial must acknowledge that Federer is not the player he once was. Last week's loss to Jurgen Melzer was only the latest indignity. While we recently offered a glass-half-full stat and pointed out that Federer was 53-1 against players outside the top five, we now come with a glass-half-empty stat: in 2011 he has yet to beat a top-10 opponent. I still think it's entirely within the range of possibility that he wins another Major. But time is finally doing its cruel dance.
The question becomes: how does Federer confront this opponent? He is well within his rights to concede to nature, as Kobi implies, and go gracefully into that good night. But, the same way we buy dentures or color our hair or get an artificial hip, why not fight back a little and try to reverse the aging process? If Federer chooses this option, realistically what he can do? He's not going to emulate Jeter and tinker much with the mechanics at this point. He can make a few personnel moves and rely on his team, as
But, ultimately, he takes the court alone.
Or he can change his equipment. Like many of you, I'll note that Pete Sampras claims he could have won a few more Majors had he been less stubborn and switched to a larger racket later in his career. But in Federer's case it seems particularly apt. He's not only shanking balls at an alarming clip -- another missing tennis stat -- but players are now pushing him around the court taking big cuts like never before. If Federer can switch to a frame that would give him a bigger sweet spot and give him a cushion even when he doesn't strike it perfectly, it would help him immensely. As it stands now, when Federer hits the ball cleanly, he's as good as ever. But when he's off, there's no margin for error. And when you're losing a match and knowing that you'll pay dearly for a miss, the racket -- as reader Eric Walsh put it -- "senses your fear and spins out on you."
Federer could quit tomorrow and go down as the GOAT, as far as I'm concerned. But as long as he's still around, as long as he's still supremely talented, why wouldn't he give himself the best chance possible to make one more run?
First let's be clear: the ITF is cutting the deals here, not the ATP. And the "plea agreement" was purposefully vague. Odesnik agreed to "cooperate" in exchange for a reduced sentence following his HGH bust. This could mean anything from selling out other players to explaining the supply chain. I agree that if the ITF is in the business of chopping suspensions in half, it would be nice if we had more transparency and more concrete proof that Odesnik upheld his part of the bargain. But that's not realistic. It's easy to envision a scenario in which information provided would be rendered useless -- or, at a minimum compromised -- if it were publicized.
Remember in high school, there were those "awards" and "honors" that were essentially available to anyone shameless enough to purchase them. "Who's who in America" and whatnot. They were meaningless but they looked good on paper and, who knows, maybe you could pull a fast one by the admissions office. Or better yet, you know those Best Plastic Surgeon "award" or Best Steakhouses in America "award" you see in airline magazines? It's not like the Continental Airlines editorial staff is doing exhaustively researched polling. No, folks are just paying a fee and hoping gullible consumers believe this "award" really has clout.
Anyway, the U.S. Open Series is tennis' answer to this. I know, I'm obsessed with this. But we haven't touched on this in a while so here goes. The U.S. Open Series is the biggest waste of money since Y2K insurance. It does nothing to induce top players to change their schedule -- which is the main goal. It does nothing to promote tournaments. It has zero cache among players. It simply rewards players from doing well in MANDATORY events. Last year, Kim Clijsters won a $500,000 bonus from the USTA because she won the Cincinnati event. Then she reached the quarters of Montreal (mandatory) before losing in part because of an injury. Then she. Oh, wait, that's it. One tournament win and one quarterfinal -- and both events will be mandatory next year -- and she takes home $500,000?
A few years ago, a USTA executive spun a yarn to
Sorry for the rant. Neither Indian Wells nor Key Biscayne count toward the U.S. Open Series.
It's funny, I never really gave much thought to the Hall of Fame. But every week we get multiple questions on this topic. So we grudgingly continue the discussion. Bert Blyleven never came close to winning a Major? Dude won 287 games. Only 26 other pitchers -- over the course of more than a century -- have ever done that. David Ferrer made a Grand Slam semifinal and Fernando Gonzalez made a final. Know how many other tennis players have done that?
This was the 30-inning baseball game or the MMA fight that ended with a
It was a fun novelty, not an enduring sporting event.
If Nadal breaks down we will likely point to this (and his doubles play) as questionable scheduling decisions. Balance the risk with the reward of a) a hefty appearance fee, b) an additional event in his home country sure to please the domestic sponsors and c) a likely title and the points that come with it. At some level, you make like Pac Man and gobble up what you can, while you can. But yes, given Nadal's physical concerns -- and complaints about the length of the season -- you're in your rights to question his decision to play this optional event.
From ITF Rules of Tennis:
If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.
However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player's own control (not including a permanent fixture).
From 2011 Friend at Court (The USTA Handbook of Tennis rules and Regulations):
35. Grunting. A player should avoid grunting and making other loud noises. Grunting and other loud noises may bother not only opponents but also players on adjacent courts. In an extreme case, an opponent or a player on an adjacent court may seek the assistance of the Referee or a Roving Umpire. The Referee or the Roving Umpire may treat grunting and the making of loud noises as hindrances. Depending upon the circumstance, this could result in a let or loss of point.
Thanks, now all we need is for the rules to be enforced. Speaking of regulations:
Good question. Anyone?
Here, again, tennis stats fail us. Players with a preferred wing tend to run around their "un-preferred" wing and often have many more attempts on their preferred side; yet this isn't reflected in the stats. I bet a player like Roddick hits 100 forehands for every 50 backhands. If he has 15 forehand errors and 10 backhand errors, are we to believe that the backhand is his stronger side?
I'll say it again: the first players to use real analytics, will confer on themselves a significant advantage. If you had the data, for instance, that facing break point, Serena Williams serves up the middle XX percent of the time, you could really benefit.
You don't recall the great Fauve tennis player, Xavier Matisse? Very artistic in his shotmaking. (Presumably his mixed doubles partner is Roberta da Vinci.) It's not just the final product. The generalists will attend news conferences and ask questions such as "Are you tired after having so many long volleys out there today?"
Good question. If Azarenka and Sharapova sounded as if they were being waterbaorded, De Brito might be shriller still. Sadly, her career appears to have trailed off a bit. She's now
We've heard from players of all levels. The consensus seems to be that it's more humiliating to gift a game than to serve a double-bagel. "I don't need your charity!"
One man came in the name of love. For all the musicians who have a tennis jones -- from Tony Bennett to Ronnie Woods to Gavin Rossdale -- I can't say I'd heard Bono's name mentioned much in the context of tennis. Anyone know more?
• Anna Chakvetadze has retired from three straight events now; yesterday she retired in Stuttgart with dizzy spells. We went through a version of this with Azarenka at the 2010 U.S. Open. Discuss: Can the WTA Tour can impose the equivalent of a unilateral medical suspension?
• Per this report,
• Thomas Dzomba, Missoula, MT: The next column you write please consider giving a shout out to two Missoula teens who just set a record for the longest tennis match (they played for around 60 consecutive hours), and in the process raised over $7000 for a local charity. It's a
• Ryan Crinnigan, Chicago, IL: A notable grunting story .. .I was once waiting for a friend to arrive on court, so I slapped a few balls against a backboard installed on the fence. A few minutes later a very young girl, 8 or 9 years old, started hitting against the backboard next to me, as her father played on a nearby court. She had very good groundstrokes for her age, so I offered to hit with her for a moment. I walked back to the baseline and fed a ball to her forehand. She took her racquet back and hit a nice, deep, but soft forehand -- accompanied by an outrageous "HUHHH-NYUHHHHHHHHH!" A "grunt" totally disjointed from her stroke. My heart sank. A few more rallies and a lot more screaming later, I asked her who her favorite player was. You can take a wild guess at her answer.
• Six-time U.S. Open champion Chris Evert and ESPN's Mike Greenberg came up short in their bid for a wild card into the 2011 U.S. Open today, losing their mixed doubles second round match at the U.S. Open National Playoffs USTA Eastern Sectional Qualifying Tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. Evert and Greenberg lost to a pair of local teaching pros, Bea Bielik, the 2002 NCAA singles champion, and Darrin Cohen, a former standout at the University of Virginia, 6-1, 6-4. Bielik made her return to the site of the US Open, where she reached the third round in 2002 and lost to Justine Henin.
• This week's featured news release: "Tennis legend Jimmy Connors is back in business and is reaching tennis fans in a whole new way. The 'Tennis 109 with Jimmy Connors' App for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch has hit the App Store with a bang and tennis fans young and old are learning the game with just the touch of a button."
• Here's a curious USTA lawsuit. A riveting read. Provided
• Three Californians won singles titles on the final day of the 44th annual Easter Bowl USTA Junior Spring National Championships on Sunday.
• UCLA-bound Marcos Giron, who comes from the same Southern California city as one of America's top pros, Sam Querrey, won his 18th consecutive match to capture the ITF boys' 18s title in a 6-1, 7-5 straight-set win over Alabama's Mac Styslinger at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort.
Coincidentally, Thousand Oaks' Giron became the first boy since Querrey to win both the Carson International Spring Championships and Easter Bowl titles, a feat accomplished by Querrey in 2005.
"That would be unbelievable to have the same career as Sam," Giron said. "To be No. 20 in the world wouldn't be so bad. Let's see how this summer goes and then at UCLA. But I'm ready to start playing some challengers right now. I couldn't be more confident."
• Jason of Leander, TX: Have you seen
• Brian of Pasadena, CA: What's is the obsession among tennis players with the movies Braveheart and Gladiator?
Have a great week, everyone!