Thursday, May 14, 2009

This and That

by Savannah

Maria Sharapova's website has been updated to show the following schedule:

Warsaw Open
Roland Garros
AEGON Classic - Birmingham

An aggressive schedule no?

Match Fixing in Tennis

Hannah Karp has posted the following article on the Wall Street Journal's online site.

Four months ago in a hotel room overlooking the landscaped gardens of the luxurious Dusit Thani hotel in Pattaya City, Thailand, Dmitry Avilov sat deep in thought for several hours, he recalls, nervously composing a message in Russian to Ekaterina Bychkova, a tennis player now ranked No. 169 on the WTA Tour.

Mr. Avilov, 25, who says he makes a modest living betting almost exclusively on women's tennis, had decided, for the first time, he says, to approach a player about fixing a match.

While Ms. Bychkova refused the overture and no money ever changed hands, Mr. Avilov's story highlights a growing concern among some coaches, officials and corruption experts: that lower-ranked tennis players are easy targets, especially with the rise of social-networking sites that make it simpler for strangers to contact them.

In the U.S., tennis bets can only legally be made in person at Nevada sports books. While online betting is legal in many countries outside the U.S., including Russia, match fixing is prohibited almost everywhere. In Russia, however, the penalties are relatively light. Individual violators are subject to arrest and to a fine of up to 200,000 rubles (about $6,000).

"I feel like I can just do whatever I want," says Mr. Avilov, a father of two who lives in a one-bedroom flat in western Russia. "Professional tennis doesn't want to deal with fixes, period."

The article comes complete with pictures and makes it seem like there are guys like this all over the world plotting to fix WTA matches. This is one of the many issues the new WTA CEO will have to face. Jon Wertheim tweeted today that based on news out of Madrid the search could get quite nasty. Between this, the lack of popularity among tennisheads let alone the casual fan for the WTA product, the uproar over mandatory or be fined events and on court coaching the incoming man or woman will have their hands full.

The Dust Bowl

Reports are still filtering out of Madrid about player dissatisfaction with conditions on the ground at the Magic Box. One of the problems has to do with climate and location. Let's not forget that this is the event that replaced Hamburg, a locale infamous for it's damp wet weather and heavy slow clay courts.

I noticed during Rafael Nadal's match yesterday that as he slid to make a shot a mini dust storm erupted. The effect is seen in the above picture of Novak Djokovic. The grounds crew is being maligned by the TennsTV commentators and while they acknowledge that the courts have yet to settle and that once they do things will be better it's to the point now that at every changeover the court is being watered. This results in the surface being too wet to play on. Once it dries however it's back to the dust bowl. It also appears to be very windy in Madrid this time of year. One fan noted that her car was pushed sideways by the wind as she drove to the site yesterday. This same fan also noted that she had a wonderful time at the complex and posted the pictures to prove it.
Please click HERE to read Elisat's blog post and view her wonderful pictures.

One of the things this fan posted in her blog was about the on court coaching given Juan Martin del Potro and Fabio Fognini. I thought about this as I watched Caroline Wozniacki destroy Alisa Kleybanova. It wasn't even a contest. All Caroline had to do was wait for Alisa to make a mistake. The match stats showed Kleybanova had 44 unforced errors compared to 21 for Wozniacki but I digress.

Caroline was cruising along up 4-0 in the second set when horror of horrors Kleybanova won a game. Totally flummoxed Caroline called on her coach to explain what happened and what she should do to avoid it happening again. Lo and behold Kleybanova won another game. I expected to see Caroline come totally unglued but she managed to pull out the set 6-2. I'm sure she drank a cup of chamomile tea and took immediately to her bed. For me all I could think of was Venus Williams inability to play "military tennis" as Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall call it. When Wozniacki wasn't benefiting from a Kleybanova error she was moving her opponent side to side, left, right, left right, along the baseline. Ms Kleybanova, a throwback to the days of the unfit woman player, didn't have the stamina to keep up.

Seriously though the hand holding for WTA players is getting to be a bit much. If a player has to have her hand physically held to get through every point of every game why is she playing tennis? This is not to say that the situations noted above are better but I doubt if we'll ever see an ATP player calling down his coach to tell him what to do. There may be examples of coaches and players seemingly talking to themselves - something I've seen personally - but on court coaching sucks. Sorry. One of the reasons I feel the women's field at Roland Garros is wide open is because of this reliance on "Big Daddy" holding a players hand. Maybe Carlos Rodriguez can give a crash course to the coaches of these players on the proper way to "guide" your player through a match.

Richard Gasquet

There's really nothing new to report. Some fans are citing the revised figures of 151 nanograms over a base of 50 but the figures still show a level three times the base rate that was originally reported. The outgoing head of the French Olympic committee chimed in in support of a reduced sentence for Gasquet while the head of the FFT said he wished Gasquet had withdrawn from the tournament with his shoulder injury the day before the party and therefore avoid the test being categorized as "in competition". I guess he's not trying to see that the very fact that Richard withdrew AFTER the party leads to some disturbing conclusions about the timing of the withdrawal. Meanwhile Richard's fans are citing everything from a change in his anti inflammatory to his being duped by nefarious beings at a party. They're ignoring drug abuse forums that say orally ingested cocaine numbs the mouth and the esophagus and results in poor absorption of the drug. That is why the drug is either snorted, smoked or injected.

I wonder if all of this sympathy for Richard is because this was supposed to be the man at the top of the tennis heap now? Instead, if he is given a two year suspension it looks as if his career would be over. This has to be a blow - no pun intended - to his Federation and his financial backers. What if one of the Spaniards or South Americans had tested positive for cocaine in Miami? I don't have to go into the snide remarks and winking that would be going on do I?

In case you're thinking I'm exaggerating think about the reported drug use of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg? No big deal right? What about the seven ATP players who were caught using nandrolone back in the day but whose names were never made public? What about the oft rumored drug suspension of a very popular male that was said to be covered up as an injury break? The rules were changed in January of this year to make the names of drug offenders in sports public. The only names we've heard recently were South American, which have been proven or suspected to be false, and Richard Gasquet. There was Greg Rusedski but for some reason his offence was/is overlooked while another man's career was stolen from him.

Don't get me wrong. There is tragedy in L'Affaire Gasquet but in the end he was caught with three times the base level of cocaine in his system. Maybe this is the universe's way of forcing him to take a time out, to decide if he really wants to play tennis, I don't know. I remember in the wake of the Davis Cup incident versus the United States there was a lot of talk about Richard being coddled by both his parents and his Federation. With the head of the FFT coming out and saying that Richard shouldn't be given a two year suspension doesn't this give credence to those arguments?

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

TennisTV and the WTA - Again

I have truly enjoyed the coverage of the ATP provided by TennisTV this week. I had a problem with my transmission once and it was solved quickly by the tech support staff. I've seen men's matches on all three show courts up to and including the final match of the day. Even with today's double withdrawals the commentators kept their audience informed as to what was happening to the schedule and reassured viewers that they would see the substitute match which was a very good one.

Agnes Szavay
I wish I could say the same about the WTA coverage. I think they've managed to show two matches a day, three at the most. So what since I seem to be bitching and moaning about the state of the WTA ad nauseam? Let's take today for example. What did paid subscribers miss? There was this match between Victoria Azarenka and Agnes Szavay. Agnes was being touted as an up and comer a couple of years ago but due to injury had fallen off the radar. She's been playing well, WTA well anyway, of late and the match up was intriguing. I've posted action shots from the match which was all I could see here in the States.

Victoria Azarenka
Then there was this little set to between Dinara Safina and Lucie Safarova. It went three sets. It was nip and tuck for Dinara for awhile there. Guess someone decided it wasn't worth viewing by potential fans. Here's a picture of Lucie so her family knows where she was this afternoon.

I seriously don't get it. It seems that once again if there is an interesting men's match somewhere on the grounds the fans - and TennisTV, try to cover it. If it's not on a television court you're kept informed. With the WTA you can't keep informed because they're not broadcasting the daily matches. Apparently attendance was low - even for an early in the day match in Madrid between Jelena Jankovic and Elena Vesnina. I missed it this morning so I have to go by fan reports. Something is very very wrong with the live streaming approach of the WTA. Why pay for such minimal coverage?

Mountains out of Mole Hills

Andy Murray
This morning I read the following comments by Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic on the ATP ranking system as reported by The Ticker

Andy Murray on the ranking system: "I don’t think it was a problem for the last few years, I think that it has only become a problem for Novak in the last few weeks."

A day earlier, Djokovic had said, "Playing three Masters Series finals in a row and winning a 250 event is incredible success and even then you are dropping a spot down in the rankings.

"That shows how cruel the ranking system is in this sport."

Sounds like an "a" and "b" conversation right? Well here's how the same situation was reported on

"Playing three Masters Series finals in a row and winning a 250 event (in Belgrade) is incredible success and even then you are dropping a spot down in the rankings," "That shows how cruel the ranking system is in this sport. Federer or Nadal have been winning four or five grand slams in a row and they haven't [added] a single point. I think this is an issue we have to talk about."
Interestingly, but oddly, Nadal said he had talked to Djokovic about the issue and agreed the system needs changing, to what appears to be a more complicated one. "I think a ranking based on two years would be much better in terms of being relaxed and, from my point of view, would allow me to lengthen my career,"...
The reality is that while Djokovic has played very well, so has Murray, who by the way, is still carrying a zero-pointer in his 18 tournaments fro putting out of Indianapolis last week. And, had Djokovic won just one of the recent Masters Series, it would not even be an issue.
But Djokovic wasn’t getting on Murray's back, just the system. "I think that I have played fantastic tennis and have had huge success on both hard courts and clay courts so I will be very patient and I am sure that if I continue this way I will get my spot back," said Djokovic. "Andy absolutely deserves that place because he's been winning a lot of matches lately and playing good tennis but it is still a long way for him and for me."

Guys, keep hoping that the chances of the ATP merging with the WTA still seem slim to none. Be very very careful what you wish for.


Karen said...

I almost forgot to comment on this. Recently I was taken to task over at another message board for commenting about Dinara and her use of her coach during a match. I made the comment that I did not think it bodes well for her at ITF events where on-court coaching is not used. Someone I think posted that at 5-2 serving for the match during the change of ends against Sveta in the finals, she had to consult with her coach. The commenter was of the view that if you have gotten all this way doing one thing, why would you not rely on yourself and do the same thing. Also, I remember during IW and AnaI's match with Vera, Ana consulted her coach about serving and returning serve and she very audibly asked her coach where she should serve and where she should stand to receive serve and where she should direct her return of serve. I was embarrased for her. That is the main reason why I am not hopeful that Dinara will win a major unless she starts to rely on her own abilities. Now the talk is that a Tier I is an even greater accomplishment than winning a major. I am really getting tired of people trying to subscribe to the view that mediocrity is better than excellence. I hope you saw Jon Wertheim's comment over at where he said that he is not going to apologise for Serena making her comments about being the true No. 1 because the time had now come to start calling out those ladies who are unable to step up and take their opportunities. CaroW also relies too much on her coach coming on court and that is going to be her major downfall. What is the WTA going to do next, tell the ITF to allow coaches to come down during a Wimbledon final and coach his charge. I am sure the AELTC will have a big laugh about that one.

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show you how the press manipulates comments to cause "wars." Anyhow I hope Murray loses. he he

Kia said...

I'm aware of the rumors concerning a WTA player's absence from the game but you'll have to give me a hint because I'm drawing a blank on her male counterpart...

Savannah said...

Karen Wertheim is one of the only main stream bloggers to back Serena in her statement and I support him 100%.

I saw Dinara Safina sitting with Feli Lopez today during Rafa's match. I wondered what she would've done in that second set if she went down 0-4. ;)

I hope the ITF holds firm and doesn't allow it. IMO Dinara's coach should've been declared the winner of her match. Same goes for Caro.

RG is going to be vewy vewy interesting on the women's side.

Karen said...

Savannah so true on that one. Whilst Dinara may have confidence in winning the tour titles etc, the fact is that the poor girl can hardly play a point without calling on her coach, the same as you say goes for Wozniacki. Wozniacki I like but she has just got to stop calling her dad at every given opportunity. I also thought that the calling of coaches was supposed to engage the fans - how can the fans be engaged when most of the players converse with their coaches in their native languages. Of the view who speak in English, we get it, but most players prefer to converse in their mother tongue. How does that help me ascertain how the coach is helping his charge?