Tuesday, 27 July 2010

FedaCone: “There’s more than one way to skin a Sod”


Dear Fans
I've been looking to add someone to my team and I've decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone. As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test period. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences.
See you soon


Call me a nutter but I was never on the “Fed needs a blinkin’ coach” bandwagon the first time round back in 2008.


The implicit suggestion being that he was somehow resisting the natural forces of change – geez, what a stubborn git, huh.


It wasn’t that I was totally averse to the idea of a coach after what was, by all accounts, an unprecedented period of mediocrity -- not surprising he might want to explore other options. I just didn’t buy into the notion that a coach, be it Cahill, Annacone or the Scarlet Pimpernel, was the answer to “Life, the Universe and everything”.


Even so, the idea made more sense then than I think it does now.





When we look at Fed’s fortunes since he won Wimbledon last year, two things stick out.


1) His poor performance outside of Slams.


So…..no change there then (unless you want to believe that trend’s actually gathered pace).


2) His losses at critical stages in Slams to Delpo (Final), Big Rob (QF) and Tomas (QF) - players that are to the ATP what Krakens are to mythology.


During the same period he raced to an Aussie Open win so emphatic, it had both fans and critics (mostly mutually exclusive) cooing like it was 2007 all over again.


Call me a nutter (again), but I don’t think that quite qualifies as a crisis.


Nor does it seem reasonable to suggest that 23 Slam SFs and almost 7 years at the top have no role to play in extricating himself from this crisis, if indeed it is one.


You only need to win so many matches at that level before those winning ways begin to rub off on your DNA – which is why I’m a little suspicious of his “needing a coach”.


Fed lost to those guys for the same reasons anyone else would have – and it wasn’t for want of form or technique.


We’ve been conditioned to expect media speculation on his demise every time this happens. What’s been peculiar this time round is the way elements of his fanbase seem to have lost faith too.


Fed can’t have too much of a problem turning things around because, quite simply, there’s not that much to “turn around”.


He’s simply gone from dominating most of the field to dominating most of the field minus a handful of players everyone’s having trouble with.


“We are all creatures of habits,” Annacone said. “Roger has won a lot a certain way, and when you’ve done that for four or five years and then in year six or seven, that shot that used to be a winner isn’t a winner anymore, the tendency in human nature is to overplay a little bit. And that’s what’s happening. His couple of patterns that used to be very dominant are still successful against 95 percent of the guys — just not against that last five percent.”


What, perhaps, elicits such a reactionary response from people  is that he’s dropped to #3 in the world – though that’s only because he’s run into three of the hottest players on the planet during Slams: anyone not named Rafa would likely have suffered the same result.


So part of me says, well, if nothing much is broke, then why call on the services of someone else to fix it?


On the other hand, the emergence of Krakens is nothing if not a game changer: it might not, very well, have changed everything, but it kinda hasn’t left anything unchanged in it’s wake either.


So the other part of me says that Fed would be a fool not to dignify this new assault on his senses with a slightly different sort of response.


Far be it from me to complain if Annacone can help out with that.


Equally, though, don’t kid yourself into thinking Annacone will magically equip him with skills that lay mysteriously dormant for the best part of a decade.


His influence is likely to be as cerebral as it is tactical or technical. And very likely more so.




Rafa didn’t beat Sod in the RG final by taking him on head on (the way he might have with, say, Novak).  He did so by recognising “there’s more than one way to skin a Sod” and then taking his chances when they came - this despite Rafa being more vulnerable, technically speaking, to a Sod or a Tomas, than Fed will likely ever be.


Both areas in which Fed could, frankly, do with some improvement.


Skinning a Sod”


I’ve never bought into the idea that Fed’s ego is some out of control petulant child getting in the way of his development as a player – but his reluctance to embrace change, whether it’s HawkEye or the drop shot, is a matter of record.


“Taking his Chances”


His break point conversion rate this year speaks for itself and is also, unfortunately, a matter of record.


If Fed needs help with anything it’s in reconditioning himself mentally so that he considers it ok to lose every once in a while, to not consider it a disgrace to be seen to be winning ugly and to be more open to the prospect of experimentation.


“There are definitely some parallels,” said Paul Annacone, Sampras’s longtime coach, in an interview this week. “Just as it was for Pete, it’s a particularly interesting, challenging time in Roger’s career. But I would look at it with Roger in the same way as for Pete. For guys like that, it is daunting but not that daunting. They are so skilled, they can adjust, but a lot of the adjustment is mental.”

-- NYT


In other words exactly the kind of attitudinal shift his detractors would say he’s been unwilling to countenance up till now through what they see as sheer stubbornness or something worse.


All are changes of temperament rather than of tactics.


Can Annacone help with that?


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Who is Keyser Söze? And is he playing the USO?


So, tennis. Remember that?


Or a trimmed down version of what I care to comment on.


Big Rob reached the finals of Bastad before losing in three to Nico Almagro.


Nico admitted to having spent the night before thinking about how Sod might play and even said that he “tried to be him”.


I’m interested in how that works.  Is it like method acting?  Does it involve dolphins and jelly beans? Or dolphin-shaped jellybeans even?


Big Rob, meanwhile,  has now pulled out of Washington citing “personal reasons”.


Though not before this emerged.




…and the legend, evidently, wouldn’t let go.


They can be clingy like that.  Koala-bear clingy.


Coming into Russia’s Davis Cup Tie with the Argies, Kolya had this to say on his state of play:


"I haven't played for three months and have just had a couple of matches on grass, which I do not like," ... "So I cannot say right now how I am playing. Only time will tell."


Leaving aside his aversion to grass “which I do not like” much either, time did tell: a sorry tale of a 2nd round loss in Stuttgart followed by a 3rd round exit in Hamburg – an event he won last year.


That’s a loss of at least 400 points in Hamburg and counting, during what’s normally quite a prolific section of the season for him.


Word is he’s no longer being coached by Eduardo either. His wife Irena is. Make of that what you will.


Nole pulled out of LA citing “personal reasons” too.


The same event Muzzard just accepted a wildcard into.


It’s difficult to read too much into any of that. The trouble I find with this part of the season is no ones played enough tennis post-Wimby to be able to say anything substantive about their USO prospects and most of what’s going on isn’t broadcast here anyway.



There’s been the odd pic of a freshly-shorn ARod braving the Atlanta heat winning over Xavier Malisse. But to be honest I’m having a tough time believing that one’s even happening.


With that in mind it’s been curiously entertaining watching the whole Delpo situation unfold given that he hasn’t actually struck a ball in 7 months.


The train of thought goes something like this.


Delpo says he will be playing Thailand –> Which means Delpo might have recovered enough to play the USO –>Delpo will play the USO, or so it’s claimed –> Except, isn’t the USO a mandatory event? –> And Delpo hasn’t officially signalled his withdrawal either –> Which means what exactly?


Nothing mostly.


It also leaves us back where we started.


Thankfully Delpo took charge to confirm that whilst he’s improving he doesn't actually know when he’ll return.


Which is kinda what most people thought anyway.


Even so, a small part of me wishes he’d let the Twitter frenzy snowball even further – after all, Lord Lucan and Keyser Soze haven’t said they’re not playing the USO either.


Sunday, 18 July 2010

“And the lion fell in love with the lamb.”






Adorbz. As I’m sure most of you will readily agree.


Hopefully this will see an end to the “what do women see in him anyway” gibes.


I get that he’s no Edward Cullen. He’s not Frankenstein on a bad hair day either.


And if we are talking looks, not everyone “gets” the current fixation with swarthy Dasco and his Adonis-abs either (“Swarthiness”, in itself,  is totally overrated anyway. For every swarthy, smouldering type you can name, I can name ten others with the face of a bulldog that are about as smokin’ as a discarded cigarette butt. I can do the same for non-swarthy types).





Hopefully this will also see an end to laments over Nicole’s lost career too….which had slunk so far back it was neither funny nor newsworthy anymore.


And yes, the good news is that at 21, she is still young enough to make her retirement “pseudo”.


Saturday, 17 July 2010

GOAT Theory 101: Transcendental “Qualitative” Meditation.


So which is it people?


Is she or ain’t she?


For those that missed it (report to the headmasters office), Wertheim thinks she is and  opened up the latest chapter in the debate no-one-wants-to-admit-to-wanting-to-debate with this little number.


The subsequent response has, by all accounts, been overwhelming – both in it’s support and it’s vitriol.




“Hate her”?  Never mind.


Tignor was one of those who didn’t agree


Me, I’m on Wertheim’s side.


Whether or not you choose to crown her GOAT, DOE or any other category of thoroughbred livestock, it does now seem reasonable to speak of her in the same breath as the “tennis greats” – what’s more, is you can do this without getting into how many Slams she has or might yet win.


Tignor set out his stall by deconstructing, piece by piece, the central tenets of the pro-Serena lobby (both those coming from Wertheim and his mailbag respondents).


I agreed with most of what he said, just as I agreed with most of what Wertheim had to say – which shows, I suppose, the utter folly of it all.


Not that that’s going to put anyone off any time soon.


Then Steve began talking about H2Hs and intra-era domination and I was back in Camp Wertheim again, this time watching a more self-assured version of myself deconstruct Tignor’s deconstruction.


» “None of the others had to play her sister in a final.”


Not that playing Venus doesn’t represent a unique psychological proposition, but still – why exactly is this relevant?


(Tignor 1, Wertheim 0)


» “She has also won 12 major women’s doubles titles, two major mixed titles, and two double gold medals.”


I accord doubles a unique position in the game and I still don’t think it gets quite the respect it’s due. But do I think it should factor into the Best-Ever debate?


No I don’t.


(Tignor 1, Wertheim 0)


» “She’s been winning them since she was 17.”


As Tignor shows, you can use this to argue anything you want. Just as you can take any other stat and extrapolate from it any conclusion that fits the bill – your particular  bill.


(Tignor 2, Wertheim 1)


»  “The most important stroke in tennis is the serve, and Williams’s is the most fearsome in women’s history.”


No question about that, and certainly talk of how the serve makes the job of dominating that much easier might reasonably add fodder to the debate - in the same way that popcorn sometimes does.


By the same token, however, and as Tignor shows, “greatness” is about more than any individual stroke, however devastating.


And popcorn is sometimes just popcorn – a fluffy, insubstantial, low calorie food substitute.


(Tignor 3, Wertheim 1)


» “If you matched tennis’s female legends head-to-head—all at their best, with identical equipment—Williams wouldn’t just beat the others; she’d crush them.”


This is the argument that carries most weight with me. Dunno about “crush”, though distil it further and this amounts to simply saying that Serena is better than anyone and everyone else.




That, all things being equal, on a level playing field, adjusting for inter-era disparities of age, physique, technology & nail-filing abilities,  playing under a moonless sky with wooden racquets on hallowed turf within the hedgerows of that halfway house that lies somewhere in between the yellow-brick road and the end of the rainbow, with Mohd Lahyani officiating and with a diet of moonshine and “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers” served up during the changeovers, Serena comes out on top nine times out of ten.


I love this hypothetical “ground-zero” setup. I love it for it’s simplicity. I also love it for the fact that it’s a complete nonsense.


But most of all, I love it for the way it cuts both neatly and indiscriminately through those needless swaths of statistics and subjectivity – for the way it applies Occam’s Razor to the GOATs beard and ends up shaving it clean off.


(Tignor 3, Wertheim 2)


Allowing us, mere mortals,to abtract ourselves away from all that shite about H2Hs and Calendar Grand Slams to focus on what should matter: how all these greats stack up against one another, viewed in a purely transcendent qualitative light.


And here’s the part of the rebuttal I have a problem with:


Serena would crush Court and Evert, I agree, and beat Graf and Navratilova most of the time. But I would also say that the 500th-ranked man on the ATP tour right now would beat Don Budge—at his best, with identical equipment—like a drum. Does that make No. 500 from 2010 a greater player and champion than Budge, or Tilden, or Gonzalez?


Saying the 500th ranked male could beat Budge or, indeed, Laver in his prime is not so much an argument against Serena being GOAT as it is against anyone being GOAT.


In any case, it’s yet another variation on the folly of inter-era comparisons.


Though if GOAThood is such a flawed concept (and it is), you can’t argue Serena isn’t GOAT anymore than you can that she is.


(Tignor 3, Wertheim 3)



Ditto, saying that you can’t penalise players for being born in years gone by.


Every player, obviously, is a product of his or her era. The best player of any era has trained and designed her game to beat the opponents she has to face on the court—nothing more, nothing less. You can’t penalize Graf and Navratilova for not making themselves good enough in their primes to beat a hypothetical future opponent.

If Serena had made her debut, say, three years after Graf’s debut, and Serena had started taking Slams from her, Steffi would have been forced to change her game to meet this challenge. We’ll never know how that would worked out, so all we can do to compare them is to look at their overall records during the times when they were playing.


An admirable but ultimately flawed sentiment.


People will always talk of GOATS for the same reason people will always buy talk of GOATs.  And when they do, it seems to me that they’ll prune whomsoever they want from the debate – mostly, it has to be said, players from years gone by.


You can argue against doing that, but it’s the same logic that sees us prune the Pre-Open Era in it’s entirety, and I don’t see half so many people arguing against that.


(Tignor 3, Wertheim 4)


Despite that, Tignor’s point about unfair penalisation does sound reasonable. It’s not Steffi’s fault, after all, that she turned pro in 1982 (at the age of 13…ulp)  anymore than it’s Suzanne Lenglen’s fault that she was born in 1899.


(Tignor 4, Wertheim 4)


Though it’s worth remembering that the converse hold true too: It’s not Serena’s fault that she turned pro in 1995 and thereby unwittingly made herself unavailable for foolproof comparisons with Billie Jean King.


Furthermore, consider for a moment what precisely it means to never be able to penalise anyone for being born in a previous era.


Every time you pronounce Federer, Serena, Sampras, Steffi or, for that matter, BJK or Margaret Court, “the GOAT”, you are at once, in a single sweep and in no more than six syllables, penalising everyone that came before them.


Obeying the “no penalisation” rule completely and without compromise, precludes us from ever discussing GOATs, their sub species and any further genetically-cloned derivations thereof.


Which is fine, say, if you’re calling for their abolition  - it’s a deeply flawed, deeply populist idea, after all,  that deserves to be shown for what it is.


You’d also be well within your rights to  preface anything you might want to say with the standard “I don’t do GOATs, but….” disclaimer.




Once you accept the plausibility of the debate (if not the integrity of it) and dive in, however,  it’s utter folly to shy away from wanting to penalise anyone.


(Tignor 4, Wertheim 5)


And as with the Federer-Nadal head-to-head argument, the fact that someone can beat another player doesn't make them "greater"—top players play to win tournaments, not beat certain individuals.

The same will be true when a young serve-and-volleying Russian starts racking up Slams 15 years from now. We won’t be able to look back and penalize Serena for not having made her game consistent or versatile enough to have beaten her.


In other words, H2Hs should neither determine nor detract from claims to greatness.


I agree.


I would go a step further: it’s less important what your individual head-to-head against your greatest rival or the world #2 or, indeed, any other player is, than is the question of your head to head against the rest of the field.


The latter is a true measure of domination, the former just popcorn.


In any case, head to heads only ever feed into the GOAT debate – they don’t define who or what GOATs are. If we must question Federer’s GOAThood, it shouldn’t be because of his less polished record against Nadal.


» “Williams plays in a far more competitive and demanding era.”


You can argue for or, as Tignor does, against this. More interesting, however, are his thoughts on dominance. Intra-era dominance:


The more important point, though, is that the perceived level of competition in every era is skewed by the level of dominance of the top player. If Graf had never existed, Gabriela Sabatini would likely have been a five-six-seven-time Slam winner rather than a one-timer. If Court had never existed, we’d be talking about Billie Jean King as the best of all time. And while Serena has been the best player of the last decade and of her era, she hasn’t dominated the best player not named Williams, Justine Henin. Serena is 8-6 overall against Henin, but 2-4 at the majors.


If Serena’s claim to greatness is diminished because she hasn’t dominated Henin, then so is Federer’s. Except that’s all rather at odds with what was being suggested before, that individual head to heads “neither determine nor detract from greatness” – it seems they do at least factor into the question of why you’re not the greatest.


(Tignor 4, Wertheim 6)


I haven’t got a beef with Steve (even though I agree with Wertheim). My point here is to illustrate that anyone engaged in “best-ever” pub talk will inevitably, at some point, run into another version of themselves arguing the exact opposite of what they thought they believed in – and their equally well-versed counterpart will be armed with equally well-reasoned arguments that they’ll be equally willing to bash you over the head with. Leading to a series of equally well-rounded welts.


The bottom line is that in each era, the women we’ve mentioned took on the best competition in the world at that moment and raised themselves above it. That’s all you can ask.


Well if that’s all we can ask, then we’re really shafted. And we probably shouldn’t ever talk about GOATs


More seriously though, it seems as though we’re stuck debating the best-ever question whether we like it or not, it piques the romantic sensibility of the populace like nothing else. Wertheim and Tignor don’t seem to mind either.


It would appear instructive, however, to do so in purely transcendent qualitative terms, without getting bogged down with all that statistical baggage about H2Hs and Slam-counts, which, as we’ve seen, can be used to prove that the moon is made of mushy-peas. Or, indeed, that it isn’t.


Which seems to me to be what Jon Wertheim was hinting at:


But I think it counts for a lot that no one has ever played tennis at a higher level than Serena has. (It's the same reason, incidentally, that I was early to pronounce Federer the male GOAT. You just know watching him that no one has played better tennis qualitatively and surely that has to count for something.)


The clincher. You just know. When you’re in the presence of greatness. Don’t you?


After all, I can say without any reservation whatsoever that I don’t believe Chris Evert is the best ever. No slight intended, though feel free to hurl Mississippi Mud Pies at me.




I’m less sure about Navratilova. And when it comes to Serena and Steffi, I’m almost certain I’m in the presence of, if not the very-best,  a darn good approximation of whatever my intangible, unspeakably subjective notion of the “greatest” might be.


(Tignor 4, Wertheim 7)


It’s not foolproof. It’s not meant to be. But then neither is talk of Slam-counts, domination, and H2Hs, all of which still feed into the debate – but no longer own it.


The one rebuttal that does carry some weight turns out, funnily (or un-funnily) enough, to be the “weak era theory”.


Serena dominated at a time when Henin, Masha and, to a lesser extent, Davenport were her greatest competition.


Contrast that with Steffi who dominated the way she did in a field comprised of Navratilova, Seles, Hingis and, again, to a lesser extent, Davenport. Not to mention the “lesser champions”, a category that includes Sanchez-Vicario and Sabatini, making up IMO, a better overall field.


(Tignor 5, Wertheim 7)


Even that, however, doesn’t preclude us from pronouncing Serena or, for that matter, Steffi a better player than Navratilova or Evert or Court or Lenglen…that’s the unabashed qualitative beauty of it.


If, based on the evidence supplied, you still want to say Serena is the best of her time (as Tignor headlines his piece) and leave it at that, then that’s fine.


Though you can’t have it both ways and should probably stand on the “Greatest-of-their-time” side of the fence rather than the  “Greatest-of-all-time” side of it whenever the question comes up.


Including when it comes up in relation to Federer.


(Final Score: Tignor 5, Wertheim 7)


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

“Everybody was Kung-Fu FIghting”


My fondness for the tennis on offer in July lies only marginally above my fondness for Steven Segal movies and considerably lower than Andy Roddick’s fondness for clay. Which probably means I should be making more of an effort.


Point taken.


» France d. Spain 5-0


Love it or loath it, Davis Cup has an indisputable knack for bringing the best from talent that should, but doesn’t always quite, cut it at tour level - preferably at home, preferably coming back from a set down and preferably in front of hundreds of face-painted hopefuls wielding breadstick-balloons.


Conspire to arrange all of that, and you’ll find them transformed into something altogether more formidable.





Whenever I talk about La Monf, I end up lamenting how his remarkable shotmaking ability is only outdone  by his very French insistence on squandering his talent and life away behind the baseline playing, what amounts to, clay-court tennis.


He was joined by Llodra, Bennetau and a Gilles Simon on the comeback from injury. No shortage of talent, but hardly a bastion of dependability.


And yet Spain somehow came away without a single rubber to their name - not even a dead one – and quite possibly scarred for life.


LaMonf’s shotmaking sticks out.  Dasco going down in four to Llodra sticks out. As does Simons straight sets win over Almagro.


As, indeed, does Bandian’s electrifying performance against Russia over in Moscow.


Very romantic.


But it’s a familiar old Davis Cup “picture of imperfection”, is it not?


You need talent to succeed at DC, which is after all a tennis tournament like any other. But you feel it’s precisely this grizzled, vulnerable, intensely patriotic and, dare I say it, French sort of talent that’s so perfectly attuned to doing well here.


Nadal and Federer may leave us in awe, but they ain’t got nothing on that.


Argentina d. Russia 3-2

Serbia d. Croatia 4-1

Czech Rep. d. Chile 4-1


» World Cup: Spain d. Netherlands 1-0


After winning the Channel Slam and securing the #1 ranking until, quite probably, the end of the year, do we really want to see Rafa playing DC?


Or do we want to see the dork dressed like this:





I wasn’t the only one to predict he’d do this:






My Precioussss……






Alright. I’ll admit it wasn’t the most cleanly contested final Holland have ever played. It certainly wasn’t “Total Football”, unless that is you’re thinking of “totalling” the opposition.





What’s a little axe-kick amongst overpaid footballing superstars anyway?


Point is, they had to come through Denmark, Cameroon and favourites Brazil to reach this point. And it’s not their fault they only had to play competent football to get there.


Which brings me to my other point.


Now that it’s all over, can we agree that, with the exception of Germany and Spain, how uniformly shite the top teams and, in particular, their top players were?


Ronaldo, Rooney, Messi and a raft of other top talent all underwhelmed.


Germany began the event by missing a penalty, which happens to be about as frequent an occurrence as Federer going out in the first week of a Slam.


None of the favourites seemed willing or able to produce anything more daring than draw after draw.


Argentina went down Germany 4-0. No shame in going down to the Germans, but that score-line, really?


France? Let’s not even go there. Oh ok then.


And the defending champions went out to Slovakia. A competent enough side but still, no comment.


If I wanted to argue asterisks, I’d say Germany had the tougher route through and were a better team, qualitatively, than Holland. There’s that word again.


In the end, however, the #2 ranked team hoisted the trophy having had to go through powerhouses Portugal, Germany and a Dutch side where “everybody was kung-fu fighting”.


The best team won.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

Post Womble Ramblings: The Bestest of The Restest.


» "All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World."


No really. That’s the official inscription on the Wimbledon trophy.


Rafa_trphy_afp_getty AFP/Getty


Whether Fed wins any further Wimby Titles or not, it might be time to rethink that.


» Delpo and ElenaD


Nothing like an extended injury layoff to bring some perspective to how invested in a player you are. Both sorely missed.


Also, does Delpo work as a Mintoaur for you? Amongst Krakens and Centaurs I mean.


» Belgian tennis: Not even close, and still no cigar


Henin continues to suffer the effects of her dangerous (and what now seems failed) liaison with pace.


Kimmie, never the sturdiest of players at the best of times, continues to traverse that rocky path between brilliance and blah.


Both underwhelming in the way they went out rather than the result itself.


Contrast that with Masha, who went down all guns blazing in what was one of the best ladies matches of the fortnight.


Think she couldn’t have won that 11-9 tie break instead of Serena? Think again.


» For Fred Perry’s sake, and for the last time: IT WASN’T A SOMERSAULT…


Yes there is a difference.



This was just a plain old forward roll. Not that different to my first PE lesson at primary school.


Not that it wasn’t awesome.


» Rain stops. Play Doesn’t.


For the first time since 1995 in fact.


Great, except we didn’t get to see very much of…..


» That “very expensive sun shade”…


Tim Henman’s term of endearment for the Wimbledon Roof.



Trouble is we only got to see tennis played beneath it once – during that day one barnburner between Djoko and Rochus.


The match was awesome. The timing wasn’t. Like seeing a fairly routine friendly between England and Hungary at Wembley Stadium after they’ve been kicked out of the World Cup. Oh wait, that is actually taking place…


» Word just in: Cilic is not “this years Delpo” 


TBerd/Centaur is.


» Pironkova/Kvitova


Whatever else happens from this point on, I hope we get to see a lot more from both these two.


Pironkova’s a lot more than the “craft” we’ve been hearing so much of, by which I guess they’re referring to the tendency to slice (off both wings). There’s that ability to send big serves out wide for one thing.


And what’s not to like about Kvitova, a lefty that actually doesn’t have a panic-attack every time she veers close to the net?


No-frills tennis, I salute thee.


» ‘Mahisner’/’Isnut’


Everything that needed to be said about this match already has, and I’m still no closer to believing that we’ll benefit from the introduction of final set breakers.


Mahut donated his shirt, shoes and racquet to the Hall of Fame Tennis Museum this week. Nice, but Wimbledon museum anyone?


» Queens visit


Was it just me that thought JJ looked and conducted herself with the most grace?

Everyone else struck me as just a little uncomfortable.



ARod turned up looking like he’d just stepped off a boat party. And after all the furore over Serena’s assignment to court two, the Queen buggered off after watching Muzz close out Niemenen in straights.


If anyone was snubbed I’d say it was CazWoz, who was on court next.


Questions: Why does this fill me with glee? And does that make me a bad person?


» Kvitova’s outage of CazWoz and Vika


I guess I’m about done bashing CazWoz. Now I’m mostly into not caring.


Anybody playing tennis so benign it makes ARad look positively belligerent in comparison, has no business in the top ten. Ditto, anyone fashioning a top five ranking on the back of compressing two seasons’ worth of tennis into one. It cannot last, it never does.


Loved Vikas comments on falling to Kvitova which were neither disrespectful nor gave false credit. They were also refreshingly unrehearsed.


» What was that about Rafa’s nightmare draw again? And Fed’s cake-walkey one?


Anything can happen. And you thought you’d reach the end of this post without hearing that.


» Rafa fined $2000 for illegal coaching.


During the final, Berdych consulted his box in deciding upon whether or not to challenge. Twice in fact, and he wasn’t the only one.


The funny thing is Rafa pretty much took everything on the chin. "The rules are the rules,….Sometime in the past, maybe Toni talk too much," Nadal said, "but not this time, in my opinion."


Don’t even get me started on the WTA – and I don’t just mean Henin.


All or nothing, if you please.  In any case, I’d rather see him called for time violation, something he’s more obviously guilty of.


» Hanescu, outburst provoked and uncharacteristic by all accounts.


Blimey Victor.


You spend the best part of your career in the no man’s land of the public eye and then one day, BOOM, it’s all out there on court: Blood, guts and…..spittle.


Those reported arrests turned out to be unrelated, and there can be no condoning his little outburst.

What beggars belief, however, is why the offending “tennis fans” weren’t expelled after, according to some reports, insulting his sick mother.


And of course it all happened out on…


» Court 18.


I want a live webcam broadcasting everything that goes on here - round the clock, all year round. Even when there’s not tennis being played on it.



Even those pigeons making love on the scoreboard. A union that will probably result in the conception of a heavily scarred Eaglet that can utter expletives in seven different languages.


Because that’s the kind of sh*t that happens  here.


» Safardych/Berdarova


Power couple? Not quite, and not until they start winning more.

But there’s certainly box office potential there.


» German tennis


Petzschner and Brands. Frakkin hell.


Remind me again why they don’t have more players in the top 20? Oh, there isn’t a reason?


» Could someone explain what exactly is so “intelligent” about Rafa’s  new “intelligent scheduling system”?


And what precisely it consists of, besides missing Barcelona?


Coz frankly? I don’t see it.


So far he’s done everything he did last year (not playing Wimby was not his choice) besides play Barcelona.


There’s even reports of of him playing Roger’s Cup. Which can’t do much for his USO chances.


Post Womble Ramblings: “Tennis is not Tennis without a violin-playing GOAT.”

» Don’t believe in GOATs, never have never will.


marc chagall10 

Were such a fabled creature to exist, it’d probably be zapped out of existence by the sheer weight of its own existential implausibility.


I should suppose even the GOAT itself has made it’s peace with it’s “fading rock star” status and is now leading a passable existence teaching courses in organic farming somewhere in the outskirts of Dorset. Doing the odd Chagall violin-playing cameo on the side to make ends meet.


Problem is, most fans and media merchants alike are having trouble letting go.


I keep hearing three things since Rafa’s victory, each of which are being used to either bolster or diminish his claim to tennis greatness:


1) That he’ll now begin to post “Federer like numbers” winning 3 Slams a year.


B*llocks. Pathological, fanciful dogs b*llocks.


The last (and only) time he won a hard court Slam, his injuries prevented him from being a factor at either of the other three. Nadal’s knees have spoken – and I suggest we take note.


Contrast that with Federer winning three out of four Slams for three out of the four years running from 2004-2007.


Nadal being Nadal, I’d not want to be the one that ruled him out from doing it once. But no more than once. Unless, that is, you happen to believe in violin-playing goats. Which of course many of us do.


2) That Federer’s record of 16 Slams is in jeopardy.


Discussed this already.


Not as improbable as it was once considered, though still highly unlikely.


Most commentators have Rafa at the top for no more than four more years (give or take a year).


Were Rafa to win 4/4 RG titles, a couple of Wimbys and a single hard court Slam over those next four years, he’d still only be within spitting distance at 15.


Were we to be generous and throw in another two on the grounds that “weird shit sometimes happens” and that,Rafa being Rafa, his “winningest” years may last a year or so beyond 28, he’d still hit the wall at 17 Slams.

Were we to be even more generous and assume Federer won’t ever win any further Slams…..


Were goats to play lutes as well as harps and violins……


3) That he’s now in GOAT contention


Even if I suspend my disbelief in goats for a while, it seems to me that any such GOAT criteria would have to have “total Slams won” (asterisked , weak-era or otherwise)  at it’s heart.


I realise the shows not quite yet over for either of the two, but the last time I looked, 16 was still greater than  8.


What it boils down to is this: were Rafa to somehow start winning more hard court Slams without compromising either his knees or his form at the other Slams (something I’d argue is nigh impossible), you could make the case for either, or indeed, all three of the above.


As it stands, however, any talk of goats belongs in the same domain as the one in which they play stringed instruments in.


» Serena Williams: Greatest viola-playing, nail-designing Doe of all time.

I defy you to fashion a farmyard acronym out of that.


serena_getty Getty


Yes I know Steffi has 22 Slams, which is why I said it’s time to “start the debate” rather than to end it.


Though you can certainly make the case for Serena being a better qualitative player than Steffi.


Yes I know Wertheim just said the exact same thing; yes I arrived at the same conclusion independently.


No I don’t care that you don’t believe me.


I even said “qualitatively” first.


» Federer is not Deaderer


End of an era in so far as domination is concerned, yes. End of being a contender at every Slam he enters until (quite possibly) the day he retires? Err no.


And for goodness sakes, can we not call him….


» “Low Rent”


It sent out waves across the twitterverse within minutes of the words being uttered. And I wish he hadn’t said it.


“Shabby” I can understand. Shabby is about cutting corners. Shabby speaks to a lack of attention to detail, to propriety even.


“Low rent”, on the other hand, seems to conjure up all sorts of confused images of two-bit hustlers and sub-prime mortgages.


The language seems deliberately designed to rankle, which of course it is. It’s perhaps, also,  not the language to use for a 16-time Slam Champion after an uncharacteristic outburst.


My own feeling is Wertheim felt almost journalistically bound to correct a perception amongst some that Fed’s standing in the game means he gets a free-pass from the media once too often. He just over shot a little.


Monday, 5 July 2010

WombleTown: But does YOUR Newsreader have 8 Slams?




Buenas tardes. Today’s headlines:


1. I won. But you already knew that.


2. Tomas lost. You probably knew that too. You really should have figured it out when I told you I’d won, at any rate.


3. It wasn’t a classic match. Not even that good a match. In fact, like Serena yesterday, I didn’t play my best tennis - not once over the entire two weeks. Surprised yet?


4. They let me bite on that silver gilt cup even though I only get a rather smaller replica to place on my mantelpiece. Spain should fly me out to bite on the world cup if they win it. Because that’s what I do.


5. I now own 8 Slams. Half as many as that other guy.


6. Some people think that puts his record in jeopardy. They figure I’ve got another four years at the absolute peak of my physical prowess.


I’ve no idea where they got that figure from, but during those four years they figure I should make four RG titles, a couple more Wimbys and at least one hard court Slam, which leaves me with a grand total of…..15 Slams.


Can we throw one more in….on the grounds that I’m something of a specimen and that weird sh*t sometimes happens? We can? Bueno. 16 it is then.




7. Tomas is going to be ok. He wasn’t able to “bring it” today. Not many people do in their first Slam final. I did at RG in 05. But I’m awesome. Tomas is awesome too. Just not quite enough.


8. If he’d come through today, he would have beaten the top three seeds in the QFs, SFs and Finals of a Slam – something that we’ll never tire of telling you hasn’t happened before.


Point is, that really would make him awesome. And we’d probably have to anoint him as some kind of Kraken or something.


9. That he didn’t come good here should not be held against him. It simply means he’s not a mythological sea monster just yet. Not even a mythological sea mobster.


But he’s well on his way to being awesome. If that counts for anything.


10. I don’t think he came enough to the net today. Neither did I, for that matter. Not normally a problem if you’re flat-lining every ball in the way he was against Federer for example. But if you’re unwilling or unable to do that, I’m probably the last guy in the world you should be playing.


11. I confess I’m rather proud of those two double faults and the rash of UFE I made in that first game of the second set. I’m guessing Tomas isn’t too pleased at not converting a single one of three break points. The rest of the media seem to think it should haunt him.


Get real. As shoddy a game as that was from me, did you not see what an absolute rock I was in defending those three break points? During one of them I probably served my best second serve of the Championships.



12. Tomas now forms one part of the triad that has Delpo and Sod as its other “angry young men”. Or “angry, young sea-mobsters”, even.


13. When Sod pulled off what he pulled off by beating me at RG last year, it came as a shock to everyone.


That he was able to come back 12 months later and repeat against Fed, a feat that was almost but perhaps not quite as seismic, should leave us in no doubt that he’s here to stay.


Delpo, you’ll remember put out Fed in the final of a Slam, the first guy besides me to be able to do that.


Both awesome achievements. Both, not quite yet matched by TBerd.


He’s done good, but needs to perform just as well over the course of the next year if he’s truly to be considered a part of that esteemed threesome.


14. Whatever the case, if TBerd were to feature in mythology, I’d say he’s rather closer to a Centaur than a Kraken anyway.


Kraken’s are big, burly beasts. Gigantic in fact. They brew up storms, overturn ships and tend to bellow quite loudly. Nasty and uncouth.





Centaurs, on the other hand, are quieter, sensitive types. They can be quite gruff, suspicious and tend to keep themselves to themselves.


Once you win their trust however, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more loyal.


What they’re not that good at, is final end-of-days-style conflicts. The epic season ending face-off between good and evil.


They don’t believe in violence (except as a last resort) and despise it’s effects on society, even though they’ve been known to put down their lives for it’s greater good.


None of which should be that surprising, as they’re allied to the forces of good. But that’s no good to you if you’re looking to bring down an empire.


Lost? Need your sword sharpened? Or to be put in touch with a half-decent apothecary? Centaurs are your man…horse…thingy.


Armageddon, or a Grand Slam final even? Best to look elsewhere.


Which is why I think TBerd came unstuck today. They sent in a Centaur to fight a Krakens battle.


There’s no reason to think that TBerd won’t, at some point, graduate into a Kraken. But he’s not there just yet.


Big Rob’s a Kraken. TBerd, a “mere” Centaur.


Distinction clear I hope. I’m still working on what exact mythological order of being Delpo is.


15. In any event, I make sport of slaying Krakens. It’s why I stride on to court at every Wimbledon final carrying nothing other than a racquet. The way a Paladin might.


I see every Slam as “David and Goliath Reloaded”. Only in my retellings, I play the role of David and he tends to be bigger than Goliath. He hits a scary forehand too.


Anyone know if Babolat are doing a good deal on broadswords this summer?


16. All of that said and done, what Centaur achieved here, knocking off Fed in particular, is pretty darn exceptional and deserves recognition.


Instead, people have started calling him “The Berdman”. 




Can we stop doing that?


Rafa will be back later in the week with a further review of the fortnight in it’s entirety.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

WombleTown: Noticeboard (Day 14)






….and if you think that’s funny, consider this: If you win tomorrow, you’ll have beaten the top three seeds consecutively at the quarters, semis and finals of a Slam.


That’s never been done before. Evah.


Still never been done before. You obviously knew something I didn’t. :’(




























Grass court pedigree. Sort of.

Red hot. Cilic Peppers need not apply.

Finalists (enlarged).


WombleTown: DoeHood – It’s Time to Start the Debate


Serena didn’t serve 89 aces en route to her victory here last year.


I still thought it was one heck of a performance. Better, qualitatively speaking, than this year in fact.




This time round, Serena had herself been insisting she’d not hit top gear as late as the semis – an assertion I was taking about as seriously as one of Fed’s Hawkeye challenges.


Perhaps she hit top gear on court opposite Vera today, who didn’t get a look in after getting broken at the business end of the first set.


Perhaps she didn’t need to.


Perhaps, and here’s a scary thought, perhaps she overcame a field that included Masha, Henin and Clijsters -- players whose return was, you know, meant to shake things up a littlewithout having to play her best tennis.


Or even as good as last year for that matter.


Either way, the difference in class between her and the rest of the competition is now all the more pronounced.


89 aces. 13 GS Titles. One more than BJK.


DoeHood. It’s time to start the debate.




Commiserations Bepa, who hasn’t had a half bad event.


She’s one of very few complete players we have out there. And when injuries, or towel-wrapped hot-headedness aren’t getting in the way, she can be a real pleasure to watch, in a watered-down-Kuzzie kinda way.





Dig out highlights of her match against Flavlova at last years USO if you’re still not convinced.


She’s to be applauded for her disciplined return from injury after winning IW last year (a win that saw her reach #5 in the world), she’s to be applauded for her very classy runners-up speech today and she’s to be applauded for keeping her infamous emotions in check…..almost.


Saturday, 3 July 2010

WombleTown: Go Easy.



Can we not give him a hard time? Seriously?


Because, the thing is, he did very little wrong.


In fact, in terms of execution, I’d say he did nothing wrong.




Then there’s this guy. Who never seems to do anything wrong when it matters most (besides actually believing ‘Impossible is Nothing’).


He’d probably attempt to remain suspended in that gravity-defying victory pose if you asked him to try his hand at it. Because that’s the way he rolls.


We like to shoot Muzz down for playing passively. Yeah, I’m gonna vote we stop doing that now. He’ll never be a Delpo, but he didn’t do it in Oz and it’s not the reason he went out here either.


He didn’t serve poorly either. Big serving was far and away his best chance of winning this match and, aside from at set point in the second set breaker and relinquishing the break that came of Rafa’s only letdown of the entire match in the third, he largely pulled off that part of the bargain.


This is a problem of technique and matchups maybe, but certainly not execution.


If he “fell short” at all (and if that’s even the right phrase) it’s in the forehand, which is capable of all manner of touch and finesse but is not, unfortunately, a put-away shot.


It’s a testament to his talent that despite this little shortcoming he’s had the success he’s had against both Federer and Nadal, and was a very viable contender for the title here.



Which is why, I suppose, for the second Slam this year, he’s been left in tears by a guy that was able to execute that much better.


Muzz came closer than that blasted scoreline suggests. And I suspect telling him he “lost to a better man” won’t help.


So how about we STFU about Bunny Austin for a while? It doesn’t have to be twelve months (US Open anyone?).


Can we leave him be?


WombleTown: A Whole Lot of Not Wobbling.


I’ve almost as much sympathy for Djoko as I have for Murray today.


djoko_afp_getty    AFP/Getty


Anyone that saw the way he saved four set points in that second set tie break – the last of which saw the best defence I’ve seen from anyone at this event – against an opponent armed with bigger, badder weapons than he’ll ever possess, will not, I hope, remain unmoved.


But, unlike Murray, he didn’t start well.


And Berdych, unlike his former headcasey self, hardly wobbled once.




He didn’t wobble very much against Fed either.


If he comes through against Nadal on Sunday, he’ll not have wobbled, consecutively,  past the top three players in the world..


That’s a whole lot of not wobbling.


Friday, 2 July 2010

WombleTown: I’ve seen the future of women's tennis – and it has no frills in it.

kvitova_getty pironkova_reuters


» Pironkova: a serve that most of the top ten would kill for.

» Kvitova: one of only a few lefties and with a net game to die for.


Neither were household names – heck, much of the crowd hadn’t even heard of Bepa.


Yet both women held up their part of the bargain putting on an inspired, no-nonsense display of guts, talent, nerve and physicality that I’m 99.9% certain would outstrip some “low-rent”, sorry-ass play-off involving CazWoz or Marion Bartoli.


Sorry Woz and Marion fans….but there it is.



All the while, Serena still hasn’t dropped a set and still claims not to have reached top gear.


I’ve seen the future of women's tennis – and it has no frills in it.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

WombleTown: ‘Surly Fed’ and the Case of the Linguistic Warthogs




It’s a sorry state of affairs when a presser assumes more importance than a Wimbledon QF featuring the world’s best player being played on Centre Court.


Even sorrier when those contending it are Rafa and Sod. One of the most tantalising rivalries of our age.


But that’s exactly what happened today.


Some time after his defeat today, and some way into the Rafa/Sod QF,  details of Fed’s “surly presser” as it’s now known, began to emerge.


Judging by the reaction it garnered on Twitter, you’d almost think he’d begun extolling the virtues of cannibalism. Baby cannibalism.


The effect was as overwhelming as it was immediate. Suddenly, no one cared when Rafa got cheated out of being allowed to replay a point Hawkeye had ruled in Sod’s favour, but one in which he, nonetheless, got a racquet on the ball – a disagreement that saw him get more unhinged than I’ve ever seen.


No one seemed to care Sod almost got his way with….how-you-say….an opportune injury timeout. A situation, Rafa thankfully righted by winning the set.


No siree, it was all about Federer and his newly stated intention to boil babies for a living. Or, you know, this:


Q. How do those physical things affect you the most?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, when you're hurting, it's just a combination of many things. You know, you just don't feel as comfortable. You can't concentrate on each and every point because you do feel the pain sometimes. And, uhm, yeah, then you tend to play differently than the way you want to play.
Under the circumstances I think I played a decent match, you know. But I've been feeling bad for the last two, three matches now. It's just not good and healthy to play under these kind of conditions, you know.
So if there's anything good about this it's I'm gonna get some rest, that's for sure.
Q. Some of these big, flat hitters seem to be having an effect on you. Do you need to alter your game to adjust to that?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, if I'm healthy I can handle those guys, you know. Obviously it's a pity that Del Potro is not around, because I think he would have a run at world No. 1 or a run at another Grand Slam. It's unfortunate for him.
But, you know, he's been playing well, and these guys do play very well. I played these guys 10 times. They're not going to reinvent themselves in a year, you know.
But I'm definitely struggling at the moment. That's a bit disappointing.

Q. I wonder if you think this might be his [Murray] year, given some of the really threatening players haven't been doing so well this year.
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, true, Rafa played terribly lately; Soderling is not a threat either. He's got an easy ride to this victory, that's for sure. Djokovic can't play tennis anymore it seems like.
Got to make your own work, please. Respect the players. Obviously Andy is a fantastic player and he's got all the chances to win here. We all know that.



Let’s deal with the last question first, partly because it provoked the most controversy, partly because it’s the easiest to tackle.


Sarcasm people. As caustic as hell. And yet, it’s evidently still lost on some people. People with the reading age of a 6 year old and the comprehension of a warthog.


People that have no business reading press conference transcripts. And certainly no business professing opinions about them. It’s rather closer to opinionated misinformation at any rate.


You’d think Fed’s appeal to the assembled hacks to “make you own work” and to “respect the players” would have caused the penny to drop.


And drop it did, but it sure took it’s time – and not before making one last bid for immortality by claiming Fed’s snarky remarks were actually a sophisticated ruse – a verbal smokescreen that enables him to say whatever he wants about other players whilst providing him with the very viable, very protective cover of irony.


But what do they know? These are Neanderthal-cum-conspiracy-theorists we’re dealing with. The same people that claimed my cat shot JFK. Which of course he did.


But what of those injuries? There was a less hawkish feeling prevalent throughout the day from what I’d guess you’d call the mainstream – a feeling that this portion of Fed’s presser wasn’t entirely what the situation called for, something they, frankly, found a little disappointing.


I’ve no desire to defend this. I found it a little disappointing too.


The unrelenting, brazen-faced assault TBerd waged today warranted, nay, DEMANDED respect. More respect than a conventional nod to his talent alloyed with a litany of Fed’s own physical complaints.


How many opponents he’s vanquished over the years have played through similar complaints? And perhaps more importantly, how many times has he done so?

It doesn’t seem like him. Nor is it like Venus ("I don't talk about injuries ever").


Like Venus, I subscribe to the school of thought says if you’re fit enough to play, you’re fit enough to lose without mention of injury.


As to his claim of being able to “handle those guys [big hitters]” – there is some truth in that: up to a point, it’s long been my belief that Fed handles pace better than anyone else on tour. Up to a point.


Beyond that threshold, “The Delpo-Sod Barrier”, I don’t believe anyone can. Not in this form. You weather the storm and hope for, pray for it to relent. You don’t try and “handle it” unless you want to get burned.


What’s quite revealing however is within minutes of the “surly presser” he’d talked to the BBC, this time extolling the virtues of TBerd’s play, how he was outplayed by Falla (taking care to emphasise the absence of any physical niggles) and focussing more on what life will be like outside of the top spot.


He had similar unqualified praise for Sod’s win over him in RG.


So maybe it’s not as sinister as it seems after all. After what I witnessed on my twitter feed today, I know there’s an element that will seek to advance it’s cause at any cost.


But we should be able to call him on it. Whether it was the grumpiness that might understandably come from dropping to number three in the world after one of the worst losses of his career, or a simple off-court miscue, Fed had no business going there.


It wasn’t a great day for him either on or off the court – but we’ve no business shooting him down for it. Even though my cat might.



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