Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Heard Around

by Savannah

Yes that is how Rafael Nadal appears on one of the covers of the current New York Magazine. It's their fashion issue so they have a front and a back cover. Depending on how you look at it Rafa is the back cover. There are more pictures inside that will also set a Rafa fan's heart to racing.
There's this,

and this.

It's nice to see him getting some attention although I hope they don't end up doing the stereotypical Latin Lover shit with him. Above all else Rafa is a tennis player. It's too bad we live in a world where that isn't enough.

Once you get past the pictures - it does take some time - there is an actual tennis story associated with them. The title of the piece - How To Build An American Nadal says it all. The author, Geoffrey Gray, goes into the American tennis establishment's attempts to jump start it's program by tracing the career of one Chase Buchanan, an up and coming junior. It's an interesting read for someone like me who has been saying since 2003 that American tennis is in trouble. Here is a quote from the article.

...“We were getting blamed for not producing any champions, so we decided to do something about it,” says Jane Brown, the USTA’s president, who adds that cuts were made “across the board” to come up with the academy’s annual funding. “We’ve run out of material,” echoes Nick Bollettieri. “We had a very good eighties and nineties, but look around: the Samprases, Couriers, Todd Martins, and Agassis are all gone.”

Ironically, this Silent Generation began, some tennis people say, when the USTA first began its player-development program, in 1988. One reform the American tennis czars sought to make then was eliminating rankings for all kids under the age of 12. The goal was to replace preteen cutthroat competition with a genuine love for the game. “In hindsight, we made a huge tactical mistake,” says Kevin O’Connor, who runs Saddlebrook. “Our kids are now at least two years, and a couple hundred matches, behind everyone else in the world.”

So now everyone wants to restock the pool of American tennis talent, and the debate is over how this should be done. “There are multiple schools of thought,” says Nick Saviano, a former USTA coach who runs a private academy in South Florida. “One school is that the USTA should be a part of the development process. And the other schools are that they shouldn’t be involved in the process and that it should be left up to the free-enterprise system.” Saviano belongs to the latter school. His point is one of global economics: In order to create the Next Great One, the USTA must concentrate on what America does well, which means keeping the focus on this country’s traditional tennis ethos—independence and innovation.

To others, what worked before is just not good enough. “We’re competing now with the whole rest of the world, and the rest of the world are hungry mothers!” says Bollettieri, who considers himself a partner of the USTA’s academy, not a competitor. But is spending about $10 million a year to push two dozen kids (at roughly $416,667 a head) the best way to go about it? “I’m skeptical of its cost-to-benefit ratio,” says Colette Lewis, who’s been following junior tennis for the past three decades and now runs a blog, “With all the intangibles involved, it’s too risky to devote that much attention and money to a handful of young players.”

I think this debate is starting about five years too late. And do notice that not once is the woman's game mentioned. There were some great American women. One Chris Evert comes to mind. She also has an academy now. The article also ignores the fact that the Sanchez Vicario academy of Spain has opened in Florida as well.

The three former tennis powers, Britain, the United States and Australia have been eclipsed. It will take time to find out who will emerge from the pack of young tennis players. England has pinned a lot of it's hopes on Laura Robson who until February was an Australian citizen. The Brits also tried to get Novak Djokovic to change his citizenship as well but we know how that worked out.

I am not familiar with the Australian tennis situation but I can say this about the Americans and to some extent the British. Until they cast their nets a little wider it's going to take a very long time to rebuild their programs. In the article Chase's mother laments the fact that so many kids from the United States are pushed into the pro's too early. This made me think of Donald Young and the situation he finds himself in. It also made me think of Juan Martin del Potro from Argentina who has suddenly started living up to the hype that surrounds him after a couple of years of not doing well. Who knows, maybe Sam Querrey will step up to the plate the way Juan Martin has. Maybe there's an American girl who will be able to fill the very large shoes of Venus Williams or Serena Williams, the women who brought home tennis gold for the United States.

Talking about this is like beating a dead horse for me but I know that I will return to this subject again, and again.

Cupcake Draws

I will say it slowly. A champion proves him or herself by playing and beating the best his or her generation has to offer. If a draw comes out and the top player doesn't meet a seed until the quarters, or semi's in some cases, then what does that say about the champion? Does it force him or her to make adjustments to their game, think their way out of the problems the person across the net is throwing at them? I don't think so. When your opponents constantly talk about not being able to beat you and then don't, what motivation do you have? Do you start to believe your hype? Do you become a parody of yourself? Do you claim to have an illness that you don't in order to try and explain what is happening to you on the court while other players who do have the disease have to stop playing because to continue to play would put too much pressure on the spleen, one of those organs of the human body that needs to function well for you to be well?
Do you claim to have an injury that normally requires surgery and a long period of rehab in order to "heal"?
I'm just sayin'. I mean tennisheads can write all the essays they want, propose all the theories they want but in the end it comes down to the level of the challenges faced by the athlete. As we've seen in the Olympic sports where it comes down to the performance of the athlete and not some anonymous judges opinion of that performance you have to show who you are on the field of play. If you are constantly served up a diet of chumps, well, you get the picture.
And again, I'm just sayin'.

The US Open

I hope to be spending a lot of time out at Flushing Meadows so this space may not be updated as frequently as it could be. I'm playing it by ear. I hope to bring you the sights and sounds of the Open as well as report on the tennis I get to see at least every other day. Craig is going to be in Denver at the Democratic National Convention exercising his citizenship rights. While he may not be there there are several tennisheads who will be able to step in and post in his stead.
Qualifying play has begun. The Main Draw comes out at the end of the week.

End Note

This is how the ATP welcomed it's new number one on Monday. It's a first. Some fans are grumbling about how it's never been done before. Whatever. ¡Enhorabuena Rafa!


cate said...

I'm not a huge fan of today's American tennis; Roddick is the last American I really liked.

I think the problem is not the "lack of talents". If you can play, then you can improve. It's living up to the expectation the media is putting on them that causes major disappointment. I mean, every time I click on a Wikipedia article of an American up-and-comer, I always see, "Already labeled to be the next Roddick or Davenport." And what brought that up? A win at a challengers/futures event that nobody REALLY cares about. They get WC or direct entry into GS or MS draws and the bow out in the first rounds against non-American unknowns. I don't see del Potro being labeled as the "next Nalbandian" or Stan Wawrinka, when he was not yet a top 10 player as the "next Federer".

Look at James Blake. Took him long enough to FINALLY show what he's capable of. Roddick, now... he's a real talent. There was a time when the US players were REALLY good. Now, it seems as though the Spanish are overtaking them, if not already.

As for the Women's tour.... I'm not a huge fan of it either. What is an "upset" for the media doesn't come as a huge surprise for me. It's an open field: no REAL number ones who have the staying power, no one with that BIG shot (apart from Safina's backhand lately)... pretty much, if you're VERY pretty, you have potential to be a top player even if you're not very good so to speak. *cough*Vaidisova*cough*

And even if you're good, nobody will notice you anyway.

Savannah said...

I totally agree Cate and I'll take you one step further about the women.

All they were looking for was the antidote to the WS. Anna Kournikova was a decent player before they started blowing smoke up her ass. When she faltered they brought in Maria Sharapova. First they tried to pass her off as an American thinking no one would notice she is a Russian citizen. She became the "golden girl" of tennis and the highest earning woman athlete. I guess they also thought no one would notice that she doesn't have much of a game other than hit hard and if that doesn't work hit harder. She is not a fan favorite but she is a media darling. Despite her nationality she is still an American product and the big shots claim her as one of their own. Who knows how many girls suffered the fate of that little girl in China who was good enough to sing but not good enough to be seen in American tennis's quest for the "All American Girl" as if Venus and Serena aren't All American Girls?

Nicole Vaidisova has taken the pressure off of herself now. Sharapova is injured. Dinara Safina, a product of Spain and Russia, is on the ascendant. AnaI is not ready. Jelena, well, the less said about her situation the better. There are no American women on the horizon. Our juniors are being pushed too hard too fast. Let them develop like a Wawrinka or a Safina. Madison Brengle, Coco Vandeweghe, Asia Muhammad, all of them should be allowed to develop on their own at their own pace.

cate said...

My friend and I were just talking about Jankovic a while ago during a rerun of the 2007 US Open against Venus. When she became number one for oh five days, there was this mini uproar about how she's "Junk". I don't think she's not good. But I think the ruckus came about because she's "not pretty enough". They couldn't play that card with Justine because she's simple waaaay better than the others are. As questionable as her sportsmanship is/was, she did have a shot to kill them all... a backhand. Single-handed, no less.

Bethanie Mattek caught my attention the last time I saw her against Flavia Pennetta (before Rogers Cup, Safina also won this). She has a great forehand. But people remember her for receiving a double bagel from Sharapova. -_-

I simply don't get Ivanovic. I just don't. When I ask my friends who are fans of her why they like her, they say it's because she's cute. Cute doesn't make a good player. If you ask me, I'd take Jankovic over Ivanovic anytime. The broken English with the cute accent is good only in interviews.

Savannah said...

My problem with Jelena is the whole method acting thing. Robin Williams has a routine where a soccer player falls to the ground apparently mortally wounded and on the verge of death. When he sees no one is anywhere near him he jumps up and says "just kidding".
That is how Jelena acts to me. It's made me go from being a fan to dreading her matches. I know she had to be stung by the criticism she got on her ascension to number one. I hope she takes it to heart and cuts out the bull. If you main weapon is to disconcert your opponent by taking medical time outs or going ballistic over minutiae then you don't deserve to be number one. She has the basics of a good game and is a good player.
I don't see her problems as being her looks. I think she was uncomfortable with them hence the surgery but she needs to focus on her tennis.

This whole cute thing has got to stop. It's destroying Sveta, and back in the day would have destroyed Steffi. Chrissie was attractive but no raving beauty. There were other issues surrounding Martina aside from her looks so I don't put her in the same category.

Ana is an attractive girl. Fine. But is she ready for number one? I don't think so. It's a shame that when it comes to women's tennis this whole "it" thing is a major part of the discussion.

cate said...

Haha, Jankovic's voice is irritating to me. It's whiny. And yeah, medical timeouts and tantrums are part of every match. Ain't complete without 'em.

I remember the almost 8-minute timeout she had in Garros for her arm. Went on to win the match in straight sets. Pfft. I'm actually happy that Dinara is kicking her ass twice in a row now.

As for the cute/pretty thing -- well, tennis has a reputation of being a "pretty sport". I mean, more oft than not, the players look attractive. SOME fans become fans because the player is "hot, cute, handsome, pretty" and NOT because of their game. (Stupid, I know.) It just so happens that it affects the women more than the men; if you're pretty, I don't care if you're not good as long as you're easy on the eyes. Aside from the already mentioned, do you know of other players like that in the WTA?

The ATP simply has a higher quality of tennis talent than the WTA, methinks. Pretty boys get fans because they are pretty but they also have a workable game. Feliciano Lopez can make you stop and stare (whether you are a man or a woman). He's no Nadal in the level of play but QFs in Wimbledon, taking a set off Federer, Roddick in some of their matches, and having a nice serve -- he's far from being a pushover. Speaking of Feds and Rafa, their staying power at the top of the sport is merely a dream for WTA. Post-Hingis, nobody dominated women's tennis. Justine did, but still she was shaky at times.

Let me just go back to American tennis. My friend mentioned that there is nothing wrong in the training and such of tennis in the US. It's just that the players (juniors and professionals alike) fail to deliver. And if they do, they are pushed into the shadows of past champions. Look at Blake and Mardy Fish. One mention of them and you HAVE to mention Andy Roddick even if the article has nothing to do with Roddick.

Savannah said...

Oh I think there is plenty wrong with American tennis training. American trained players have no idea how to construct a point. It's why we have such miserable records on clay, where the mental aspect is on par with the physical and technical parts of the game. With all the training being focused on hard courts the approach is to attack and attack and score quickly. This may change going forward but is the major problem with Blake and Roddick. You also have to throw Sharapova and Vaidisova into the mix here as well since they are from the hit hard and harder school of tennis.
I've seen Blake play live and have to say he has one of the ugliest games I've ever seen. He hits very hard and when he's on he can beat anyone but if he can't outhit you he has no plan B. Same with Roddick.
Of all the Americans I think Donald Young has the most potential. He is not a big guy and could become an all court threat with the consistency of a Davydenko who is roughly the same size. Whether this will happen I don't know.

As for American women, who is there to talk about after the WS? The up and comers are from France and until proven otherwise, England with Laura Robson. We may, just may, have a dominant woman in the form of one Dinara Safina.

cate said...

Haha, I see what you mean. :D Isn't it because of American tennis that the schedule have gone loony? With the TV broadcast between tennis and college basketball in the US? I'm not entirely sure but I've heard some players bitch about it indirectly.

Blake is slow on court. Commentators say he's fast but compared to the other players, he's slow. He's just lucky that Federer wasn't at his best when they met at the Olympics, methinks. And Andy, I do like him... but his backhand scares me. Again, I've read articles that it has become a weapon lately but I don't see that. It's still more of the power hitting.

Unfortunately, the only game I saw of Donald Young was the one against Rafa in Miami. He opened his service game with a double fault and went on to lose the match being OVERmatched. Rafa didn't even break a sweat (figuratively haha). I know he won a Junior Wimbledon title but I have yet to see him against someone on the same level as he is.

As for Vaidisova and Sharapova... blond pretty girls who play tennis. That's it. I was so pumped when Safina put Masha back to her place at the French and after all the buzz about Vaidisova and her "successes" at Wimbledon, seeing her bomb out at first rounds make me laugh so much.