Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not With A Bang...

by Savannah

The French have been making a lot of noise and pointing fingers at entire countries in the last few weeks haven't they? Just my opinion, but were they doing that to distract people from asking why France, given the huge investment made in it's players, can be said to have the biggest bunch of underachievers in tennis right now?

I mean let's look at the facts. We saw the type of player Richard Gasquet is when he refused to go out and play a critical Davis Cup rubber for his country opting to play the meaningless dead rubber a couple of years ago.

Then there is Gael Monfils. When Gael is focused, and healthy, he is among the best on the tour but how many times have tennis fans seen him play brilliantly only to get distracted and go on walkabout?

Of the two I'd say more has been invested in Gasquet. His backhand has been described in rapturous terms by many fans and tennis writers. The infamous "Pamela" incident is something else that comes to mind when talking about the money the FFT has invested in the man who was declared the future of French tennis a few short years ago.

Why the discussion of French players?

The ATP WTF final was played Sunday afternoon. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, officially coachless, played Roger Federer for the right to hoist the crystal trophy. Watching that match, with some of the eminences gris of French tennis courtside, Tsonga, in the second set, showed the best and the worst of the French system. The defining play for me came in the second set. Tsonga, who worked hard throughout the match, was in position to hit a cross court volley. He was practically standing on the net. Federer was out of position, and hitting cross court was the shot. Instead Tsonga went for the smash - and missed. Although Tsonga did eventually win the set in a tiebreak in my mind there was no way he was going to win the match. If Federer had had that same opportunity the cross court volley would've been played and he'd have had the point.


That is the difference between the French system and that of other European countries. Whenever French players have a chance to make a pedestrian shot for a winner they go for the bling, playing a high risk shot just because it would be so pretty.

So Jo ended up with the tray and Federer lifted the trophy. When the French decide to stop pointing fingers and have a serious discussion about what has gone wrong with their system the disappointing results can be turned around. It's not going to happen overnight but it can happen.


Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi are the WTF doubles champions. I watched a lot of the doubles play and Nestor and Mirnyi played good smart tennis all week.

The 2011 ATP season is now over. The Davis Cup champions will be crowned this weekend. 2012 starts in five weeks.

Friday, November 25, 2011

There Is No Favorite

by Savannah

Wonder of wonders. The ATP has given tennis fans truly wide open semifinals for its year ending WTF at the O2 in London England. I know the PC thing is to always spell out World Team Finals but if they had the balls to call it that knowing what the abbreviation would be I'm just the person to keep using the abbreviation.


David Ferrer who played the best tennis of the tournament didn't drop a set until today against Tomas Berdych. Due to the arcane rules of year ending round robin play Ferrer gets to face a man he's never won against,
Roger Federer.


Federer wanted this more than any of his top ranking peers and the level of his play during round robin showed it. It would appear that his road to the final is clear since he's going up against Ferrer who will be coming in with less than twenty four hours rest after his three set match against Berdych.


Berdych isn't the favorite against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In fact I think that this match up is pretty even and could turn out to be a barn burner if both men play up to their potential.

The WTF's need for both semi's to be good. The level of play hasn't been the best and some appeared to sleep walk through their matches.


The usual thoughts come to mind. The season is too long. Scheduling sucks and the players are required to do more than just show up and play tennis. Of course some of the off court requirements have to do with the endorsement deals players sign but the tour requires a lot of it's top players as well.

Enough of that though. Regular readers know I don't do predictions and I'm not going to do that now. As I often say I'm a fan of tennis before anything else. Matches like Ferrer vs Berdych today are what creates tennis fans. The first two sets were riveting. Ferrer lost focus in the third set and was lucky to win a game. Of course that neon pink shirt could've had something to do with it but again I digress.

Tsonga and Federer will come in rested. I think the collective FFT will do cartwheels if Tsonga makes it to the Final no matter who he would face. I wonder if Yannick Noah will be courtside?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Emilio Sanchez Vicario - The Four C's Are Our Magic Potion

The following is an English translation of an open letter sent by Emilio Sanchez Vicario to Yannick Noah in response to Noah's comments about Spanish players and what he called a "magic potion".

Translation credit at the end of the article.

They´re special, same as you were

Dear Yannick,
I write to you as a tennis player and friend, but I could also do it as the President of the Athletes’ Association of Spain, and the content of this letter would be very similar.

When I heard your inappropriate statements, I thought that probably your words were taken out of context, or that they were said in the heat of the moment. However, when I saw that the statements were from an article which was thought, written and sent from you to a newspaper for publishing, I felt a profound disappointment. You have hurt the Spaniards, the athletes and me; I think it is not fair to discredit the triumphs of Spanish athletes by treating them all as cheaters. You, who always defended sportsmanship! Is this a sportsman’s behavior? I don’t think we deserved it.

You and I competed together, we are friends and we have even discussed this topic at some dinner. The truth is that I am still stunned, you give to understand that being physically strong or having a privileged body is because of taking magic potions. Then, those who competed with you, what should we think? We had before us a much stronger and athletic player, faster, more explosive, and we thought: “he is the Great Yannick, pure talent, naturally strong, how lucky he is”. We never thought that you had the potion of Asterix.

What we do have in Spain, and you were a great paradigm of this, is that we have channeled the energy to create the best means to compete, and this goes beyond tactics and technique. These four factors are the head (cabeza), the condition (condición), the heart (corazón) and the balls (cojones). If you channel these four factors, it appears this energy that makes the difference. This Spanish four Cs, the four principles of the great Severiano Ballesteros, is what today leads most of Spanish athletes. This is our potion, dear Yannick.

I take this opportunity to tell you that Spain began sports competition in a continuous manner 30 years ago, the same stage where we improved as a country and got to the level of Europe. This social improvement gave us the confidence to believe more in ourselves and to be able to believe in our four Cs, mainly due to the hunger for successes not achieved before. The success in sports of Spain has been a process in which each generation has overcome the previous one, but not an overnight success as you declare.

For example, talking about our sport, tennis, where Spain leads the circuit, my generation was followed by the one of Bruguera, who won two Roland Garros. Then it came the generation of Corretja and Costa, surpassing the success of the previous one, and then the one of Moya, who achieved the number one position of the world for a few weeks, followed by Ferrero, who managed to be a solid number one.

Next it came the generation of Nadal and all the other great players we have in the top 100, which have been inspired by the previous generations and have surpassed them. The same has happened with other sports, like soccer or basketball, in which we have been gradually improving. You, who understand about soccer, can see that our players win because of their game, but not because of physical power. The same happens with our basketball players, who do not have the athletic body of your son, but they ended up beating him in the final. An exceptional generation, as Spain has in basketball, is not made overnight, indeed this is the fourth generation that succeeds. Slowly and progressively we have most of our national team playing at the NBA.

We all know that our Rafa, the only one with an outstanding physical condition, very similar than yours, wins because he channels better than anyone else the four Cs. The great champions do not win because of magic potions, they win because they are special and are able to create this unique energy, just as you did. 
Traducción de Alex Costa alexandra@sanchez-casal.com

Others have also commented. When there is a translation involved I've done some slight editing that will be shown in parentheses.

Christophe Rochus:

Yes, it(he) only tell the truth ... If you remember, there are two or three years, I also stated that there were doped on the circuit, which had incurred the wrath of ATP. But we must stop the hypocrisy. It's not just the Spanish who are the top-level sport. And why are they suddenly all before today? Let's stop pretending to believe in clean sport is everything. We must empower athletes because, after doping, there is a real danger.

The FFT French Tennis Federation issued the following statement that was posted by ESPN.

"The French Tennis Federation wishes to express its disagreement with regards to the comments made by Yannick Noah," the FFT said in a statement Tuesday. "Faced with the scourge of doping, accusations without proof and provocative comments are inappropriate."
There is also this comment by Andy Miah of the University of the West in Scotland.

"The doping is a disturbing dogma, that leaves little room for serious debate on the ethical practices of elite sport. Those who issue a contrary view are disliked by the sports world," observes Andy Miah, professor at the University of the West of Scotland.For this researcher Ethics and Emerging Technology, author of "The Olympics", "it is time for what is said is heard: the fight against doping is broken."
No one is mentioning the fact that Major League Baseball is going to start testing for HGH (Human Growth Hormone) or that if the Pod that briefly, and I mean briefly, made news during the US Open provides what was called "blood doping" a lot of this will become moot. How do you test for the effects of using a pod?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I find it odd that all of the uproar comes when a non Northern European country is dominating tennis and many sports dear to Europe. The revelation of the active coverup of Andre Agassi's use of illegal drugs was met with mild outrage and much less drama among the tennis "media".

Don't get me wrong. Use of PED's, chemical or not, is not within the spirit of competition on any level, professional or amateur, and where it is found should be exposed and punished.

It's going to be interesting to see if this story has legs or like the contretemps of the summer be allowed to fade away.


Special mention must be made of the blog TennisHasASteroidProblem where more extensive commentary on this topic can be found. I don't agree with what they seem to be implying by the tennis players pictures featured on the site but for this subject they've done a good job of putting all the information in one place. Internal links referenced here can be found at that site.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

As The Stomach Churns

by Savannah

The following is an article that featured comments by French Open winner Yannick Noah that originally appeared in Le Monde, the French newspaper. The translation was done by another French newspaper, Le Figaro.


Singer and former athlete Yannick Noah has unleashed a  tempest in both France and Spain with statements published in the French newspaper Le Monde this weekend. He accused Spanish athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“How can a nation start to dominate a sport to this degree overnight?” questioned the former tennis player, who is famous for winning the 1983 French Open. “Sport today is a little bit like Astérix at the Olympics: if you don’t have a magic potion, it is hard to win. And now it seems like the Spanish have fallen into the cauldron. Lucky devils.3

The French celebrity finished in addressing the legalization of drug use.
“The best attitude to take is to accept doping,” he said. “Then everyone will have the magic potion.”

These statements unleashed severe responses from either side of the border. Noah’s son Joakim is a basketball player for the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. While playing for the French national team in August, lost to Spain.

Spanish Sports Minister José Luis Saez said Yannick Noah was “jealous” of Spanish players after his son’s loss.  French Sports Minister David Douillet said Noah’s statements were “serious and, certainly, irresponsible.”

Players and their families also reacted violently to Noah’s statements.

“It shocks me that someone whose honesty has been questioned would allow himself to speak so negatively of Spanish athletes,” said Tony Nadal, uncle of the famous Spanish player Rafael Nadal. “It is really just ridiculous for him to come out saying that because there have been lots of rumors about him. I’m sure that ‘Rafa’ and David Ferrer have never taken anything in their lives.”

Suspicions about Spain

As often happens, Yannick Noah spoke spoke his mind, setting aside whether or not his comments were politically correct.
However, his questions on the brazen success of Spanish athletes summed up the skepticism of a fair number of observers.

Dr. Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, a specialist in performance-enhancing drugs, confirmed this.

“We can’t actually say he’s wrong on this point, because we have similar suspicions about Spanish athletes,” Mondenard said. “Today, anti-doping tests are incapable of proving who is cheating and who isn’t. Most tests happen during the competitions and thus predictable for the athletes. Tests administered unexpectedly, during training, are better indicators. Finally, history tells us that each time a country dominates a sport, there is doping behind it.

Germany, China, Italy… examples of this proliferate…

In an article published in French sports journal L’Equipe, David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed that users were ahead of the game.

“We have created a anti-doping industry that is humming,” he said. “In 2010, we had 36 positive cases out of 258,267 tests; that’s ridiculous.”

Circus Games and Health Risks

Critics say that legalization of performance enhancing drugs endorsed by Noah (and others before him) is an extremely dangerous solution. Above all else, it is a public health risk.
“Taking drugs while fully exerting yourself physically is excessively dangerous,” said Mondenard. “There were numerous deaths in the 1990s connected to the use of erythropoietin. In the long term, there are grave consequences. Your life expectancy is practically amputated.”

Legalization would make the sports world into “circus games” say critics. They say that the biggest problem with total liberalization is that all athletes would be obliged to take drugs to win, even those who currently shun this scourge on the sports world.

Moreover, allowing chemically enhancers would give a huge advantage to athletes from rich nations.  If this happened, the sports world equity so important to Yannick Noah would once again be ruined.
Where to begin in assessing Noah's comments? 

Let's be clear. Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all good players. They're just not great players. Much of the success of Spanish players has to do with their mental preparation. You can't say the Spaniards have the beautiful games or style of the French players but they've won not only Slams but Davis Cup ties as well. 

Perhaps Noah and the FFT should look inward and see why so many of their players are mentally and physically fragile and seem to value style points more than anything else. Perhaps the French should look at their internal tournament schedule and put less demand on their professional players.

The current crop of Spanish tennis players has set the bar high and the rest of the tennis world, instead of whispering in private and whining in public about doping should be looking to see why, without the assistance of the pod used by some and to now no proof of doping despite all the wishing it were true, are the ones to beat between the lines, whether they're drawn on concrete, grass or clay. Technically sound games and good mental preparation beat style, flash and expectations any day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The 2011 London Draw

Group A 

Novak Djokovic 
Andy Murray 
David Ferrer 
Tomas Berdych 

Group A head to heads.

Djokovic/Murray 6-4
Djokovic/Ferrer 6-4
Djokovic/Berdych 7-1

Group B 

Rafael Nadal 
Roger Federer 
Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga 
Mardy Fish

Group B head to heads

Nadal/Federer 17-8
Nadal/Tsonga 6-2
Nadal/Fish 7-1

Miscellaneous Information

Surface: Indoor Hard
Ball: Head ATP

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Wish I Could Quit You...

by Savannah

I had no intention of being away from blogging as long as I was. I went for a standard eye check up and ended up needing eye surgery with a recovery time of four weeks. I was told I was able to return to a normal existence last Monday, but today, things are less blurry so I feel okay getting back to blogging. I was actually going to wait until the WTF was over but here I am. Nothing to say except that tennis is a hard addiction to overcome.

As regular readers know I don't usually talk about the ATP but a few things did catch me by surprise, one of which is the the sudden fascination with the main stream tennis media with appearance fees, specifically the fees paid to Andy Murray during the Asian swing and the man ranked ATP #1 Novak Djokovic. Murray is said to have received a ton of money for his appearances including Shanghai where he was the top player after Djokovic withdrew. To my knowledge no figure was ever released.

Then there's the controversy about the $1.6 million Djokovic was paid to in effect one match in Paris.


The $1.6 million was paid to a man who has not played much recently due to injury. To be honest I was surprised that he played a match in Paris. It can't be that he needs the money. I have read the defenses of Djokovic playing and taking the money and running. I've also read the comparisons being made by his fans to Rafael Nadal who, due to injury, withdrew from some top level tournaments.

The thing is: Rafa played until he couldn't. To my knowledge he hasn't ever played under the same conditions Djokovic did in Paris. I watched him at the 2008 US Open play despite pleas by his family to quit. Does it look bad for Djokovic to do what he did? Yes it does. There is no way to get around that fact.

Then again I wonder why the topic of appearance fees come up now when they were never an issue when Roger Federer was at the top of the sport. Some did mention not only the appearance fees but the perks a tournament was required to provide to ensure Federer's appearance.

 The other big ATP controversy centered around Alex Bogomolov Jr announcing that he wants to play Davis Cup for Russia, the birthplace of his father. The argument was made that the United States tennis establishment paid for Bogomolov's training and that his first obligation is to those who have supported him throughout his career.

I have to say that that argument is surprising since Maria Sharapova, who has lived and trained in the States from childhood, was never called out when she decided to play Fed Cup for Russia. There were those who mewled that she was after all Russian and had every right to play for the land of her birth though.

After the announcement by Bogomolov Jr a brawl broke out on Twitter between Dmitri Tursunov and the blogger who was bagging on Bogomolov. I think the blogger, if he knew Tursunov's history with the USTA, as well as those who came out in defense of the position the blogger took, would have realized Tursunov has every right to call bullshit on those who say Bogo Jr owes the United States.

If you recall Dmitri, who is more of a Californian than a Russian, asked the USTA for help in getting his American citizenship so that he could play Davis Cup for the United States. The USTA respectfully declined. So I ask again why is Bogomolov Jr a traitor and Sharapova isn't? Just sayin'.

It looks like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga whom I call Ti-Ali has no qualms about expressing his opinions on his peers. Tsonga has been quoted as saying that "winning against Djokovic means less than winning against Federer or Nadal". The actual quote, in French, is as follows: "Djokovic n'a pas encore la même aura que Nadal ou Federer" which Google translates as "Djokovic has not the same as Nadal or Federer will". Babelfish translates it as "Djokovic...not yet the same will that Nadal or Federer ". If you are a native French speaker I welcome your clarification. One could say, that just like Ali could do back in the day, Jo's trash talk got to Djokovic in Paris.

I'll end my ATP musings with something I got in my email from http://www.tenniswire.org/
Serbia's Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, is expected to take over the country's tennis federation, according to a report on Serbian television picked up by AP. 
The official announcement is set to take place at a meeting on Nov. 24. Apparently there was a dispute between Novak Djokovic's father and the heretofore Serbian tennis chief, Slobodan Zivojinovic, who has resigned. 
While Zivojinovic played professionally -- reaching No. 19 in singles and No. 1 in doubles -- it is unknown what is Jeremic's on-court experience. 
However, as the sport has launched the small country into the spotlight in recent years, Jeremic's official role has involved tennis business. 
Earlier this year the Foreign Minister elevated Serbia pro tennis players to "diplomat" passport clearance so they can travel more easily. He was reported as calling Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, and others "ambassadors," and saying, "I am honored to promote to diplomatic service people who have contributed to the popularity of Serbia in the world." 
Many headlines and stories have discussed tennis being Serbia's top export. And in September, Greg Bishop of The New York Times wrote that there is no explanation why the country has suddenly turned out so many top players. Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic were quoted here on the subject. 
With the success of Djokovic and others, it's likely tennis has been an affair of the state for some time. Jeremic's impending appointment ties the two games -- politics and tennis -- even closer, perhaps.
And now to the WTA.

Does the #1 ranked player for two years in a row automatically get player of the year? That seems to be what some people think. Caroline Wozniacki who was given the nickname "Sunshine" by no lesser being than the CEO of the WTA has been ranked at the top of the heap for the last two years and is praised for her consistency. So what if she's never won a major and didn't even make a Grand Slam final in 2011. She is ranked number one and by default is player of the year right? Wrong. I think she needed a strong showing at the YEC to be able to make the claim that she's player of the year. I think there were those who were strongly leaning to Maria Sharapova as well. But despite her post Wimbledon slide Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon Champion came to Turkey to take names and she did showing the form that won her her first Slam.

What got my panties in a bunch is Sabine Lisicki winning comeback player of the year. I mean really people? When you have survived two foot surgeries along with life threatening blood clots and come within an inch of winning both Wimbledon and the US Open I'd think you were a shoo-in for comeback player of the year. I could go into why Serena Williams didn't get the nod but that would be beating a dead horse...then again maybe I should.

During the US Open Serena was called for "hindrance" when she roared after winning a point. It was said that her roar was "intimidating" to her opponent. Imagine my surprise when Petra, in front of the same chair umpire, was screaming in her opponents face after almost every winning point and not a word was heard from the chair.

There was also a lot of stage whispering about the WTA and ATP combining their respective YEC's. At first glance this would only benefit the WTA although the turn out in Istanbul was nothing sort of fantastic for women's tennis. I'm waiting to see the attendance in London.

End Notes


There will be tons of ink, cyber and otherwise, devoted to the era of FedAl. Tons of ink has already been spent. But the one thing no one will ever be able to say, no matter who they stan for, is that either man ever disrespected the sport of tennis. Both men have shown nothing but respect and carried themselves on court with respect not only for each other but for the sport that has made both men unbelievably wealthy.

That is why the joy I saw on Federer's face after winning Bercy was so refreshing. He's had a rough year and the death watch was already gathering steam but there he was, on a court some were whining was too slow, adapting to it and winning. And at the end there was no smug expression on his face. Instead there was the joyous satisfaction of winning. You all know I'm not a Federer fan but I think he deserves to be recognized for his pride in winning a title some feel is undeserving of being counted as a  Masters 1000.


Then there is Venus Williams. Wounded warrior though she is her love of competition, of the sport of tennis, has her aiming to try and come back despite a chronic health condition. The same can be said about her sister. The only reason these women keep playing is because they love the sport that made them wealthy. I think it's safe to say that looking back at those who have defined their sport for the last decade or so when they're gone they will be taking something with them that will not be seen again in tennis for a very long time.