Here is a video on FoxSports.com previewing the men’s draw at Wimbledon. I pick Rafael Nadal.
Click here to watch at Fox Sports.com
Here is a video on FoxSports.com previewing the men’s draw at Wimbledon. I pick Rafael Nadal.
Click here to watch at Fox Sports.com
“Love me Tender.’’
Huh? I asked Bjorn Borg over the noise, as he was jabbing his elbow into my ribs.
“If you write about this. I sang “Love me Tender.’’ OK?
Uhh. What are you supposed to do when you’re standing in a sports bar in Wichita, Kan., talking to your childhood sports hero?
Well, let me get back to that story in a minute. Bjorn Borg is back again. Two books and an HBO documentary are out now telling his story. His and John McEnroe’s. It was one of the great all-time rivalries in sports. But it lasted only 14 matches. Each won seven.
I don’t read a lot of sports books. And oftentimes, I like to take two or three books with me on the road to have a little variety, depending on my mood. At this moment, I’m going back and forth between two books:
One is Matt Cronin’s “Epic: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever.’’ The other is Stephen Tignor’s “High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the Untold Story of Tennis’ Fiercest Rivalry.’’
Surely you can see the variety. One mentions Borg first in the title and the other mentions McEnroe. Now, on Saturday we get the HBO Documentary “McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice.’’
I know Tignor and Cronin, like both, respect both. So far, these are both excellent books, though I’m a little disappointed to hear that Borg’s famously low pulse rate might not have been true. It was a great day in my teen years when my doctor suggested I wear a medical tag around my neck telling people that my pulse was 45, 46, or whatever it was. If I passed out or something, people might think I’m dying.
It was my connection to Borg.
That and my $8 Fila socks.
Well, I also used the Bancroft Borg racquet, which was a beautiful thing until the laminated throat would start breaking apart. Once, the head fell off. And while I was a big Borg fan, I’ll admit I did switch to the Dunlop Maxply McEnroe after that. Still, the looping topspin forehand and two-handed backhand were almost Borg-like.
With all this Borg talk lately, my wife dragged out a picture of my old high school tennis team. And it’s uncanny: I looked absolutely nothing like Borg. Continue reading
So tennis changed its cramping rules to avoid fake-cramping, and now what do we get? Fake not-cramping.
In the end, Albert Montanes was ripped off Sunday at the French Open. He should be in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, losing fair and square to Novak Djokovic. Instead, he’s out.
And, according to several reports, plenty of the world’s top players are furious.
Here’s what happened: Montanes was in a marathon against Fabio Fognini Sunday, and Fognini was serving, down 6-7, 15-30 in the fifth set. He single-faulted, then started hopping around, grimacing. His body was jolting around in that uncontrolled way that happens when it is cramping up. You don’t know what movement, or when, the sharp pain will grab the muscle and squeeze. After a minute, the chair umpire came down and asked him if he had an injury.
He said he did. Now, an injury and a cramp are not the same thing. Under new rules put in place to keep players from pretending to cramp so they can stop their opponent’s momentum, Fognini was not allowed to take a medical timeout for a cramp in the middle of a game without having the game taken away from him. If that game had been taken away, the match would have been over. So he claimed not to be cramping, but rather to have suffered an injury, which he is allowed treatment for.
Cramping is a fitness issue. An injury, theoretically, is not. Part of the test of tennis is fitness. So basically, this is what happened:
Montanes was about to win, and Fognini was 1) tired and 2) looking to break Montanes’ momentum. So Fognini sat down mid-game and took a little rest. Meanwhile, a trainer, who officially determines between injury and cramp, ruled that Fognini had an injury and gave a rubdown.
When Fognini came back, he won 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9, as Montanes pulled one of the biggest choke jobs you’ll ever see. In one game Fognini, flat-footed an unable to move normally, had five double-faults, including something I’ve never seen: a double-fault of two footfaults. Fognini was booed when he stood on the court afterward, theoretically to accept cheers and thank the crowd.
Montanes had kept hitting the ball right to him, and even started panicking. Maybe he should have taken a break and medical timeout for brain cramps? Continue reading
She was playing on a heavily taped ankle after tearing ligaments in an accident while dancing at a wedding. She hadn’t had much time to practice. But Kim Clijsters showed up at the French Open anyway, and courageously pla. . .
I don’t think so. That is not the narrative here.
Clijsters lost to Arantxa Rus, ranked somewhere in the low millions, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 Thursday in the second round of the French Open. She had match point for a blowout win, and then just, poof, fell apart.
This wasn’t about her ankle, fitness or rust. Instead, it was an incredible combination of all things wrong with Kim 1.0 (choker) and Kim 2.0 (inexplicable disappearing act), on both sides of her maternity leave/retirement. It was as if she picked out all the bad parts of a great career.
Up 6-3, 5-2, match point, she doubted herself against someone named Arantxa Rus? Then, she lost 11 of the next 12 games?
Rus hit eight winners the entire match. Clijsters made 65 unforced errors, with 10 double-faults. Think about that: 65 unforced errors in 28 games. That’s 2.32 per game.
I’m not big on stats, but Rus won 101 points in the match. Clijsters handed her 65 of them. Continue reading
This was about the big serve and relentlessness of the marathon man, John Isner. It was about some mysterious new tennis balls that fly like missiles, and no one is used to. But most of all, it was about the unease of Rafael Nadal.
He’s trying to protect his No. 1 ranking, trying to catch Bjorn Borg in history. And he’s trying to fight off Novak Djokovic.
Nadal can hear him from the other side of the draw.
So it all added up, and Isner nearly pulled off what could have been the greatest upset in tennis’ history Tuesday in the first round of the French Open. Instead, Nadal won 6-4, 6-7 (7-2), 6-7(7-2), 6-2, 6-4.
“The most difficult thing,’’ Nadal told reporters afterward, “was everything.’’
Nadal is in some real trouble here. He couldn’t get comfortable with the flight of the new Babolat balls that they’re using, couldn’t feel his own trademark spin. Meanwhile, a day earlier, Djokovic showed amazing calm and confidence in his first-round match. Advantage Djokovic.
It’s true that if you’re feeling a certain unease, playing Isner makes it worse. With his crushing serve and freakish height and angles, you can’t find a rhythm. He wins points, he loses points, and it’s hard to get any control.
On top of that, the clay at Roland Garros is faster than it used to be, and now the air is warmer, and they haven’t had any rain. All of that makes the court faster, and less like a traditional slow. . .red clay. . .French Open. To that, U.S. players say one thing: Thank you. Continue reading
We’ve accepted all different kinds of tennis champions, from artists to bashers, heavy-spinners to flat-ballers, serve-and-volleyers to baseliners. Why can’t we accept Caroline Wozniacki? Or at least, why can’t I?
I’m not just talking about her No. 1 ranking. In tennis, the rankings are just a sidebar to what makes a champion. Champions win majors, and she never has. But it’s more than that. It’s her style of play, her defensive, wait-for-the-other-guy-to-miss style. I want a champion to win a match, not to not-lose it. Winning a championship is supposed to be an active pursuit, not a passive one. You go take it.
Maybe that’s just the American in me, but I’m having a hard time thinking of past champions who weren’t killers deep-down. It’s not coincidence that has kept Wozniacki from winning a major while winning most everything and everywhere else. It’s not just a matter of time for someone so young and so good. It’s her style, her non-champion style.
That’s my theory, anyway. I wrote about it a couple weeks ago, and it seemed to stir things up some in Denmark, where she’s from. How’s this for modern media: Based on my blog post here, I ended up on Danish TV that day via Skype from my home in Chicago.
But the path has been cleared perfectly for Wozniacki at the French Open, where she plays her first-round match Monday against 40-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm. The Williams sisters are out with injuries and illness; Kim Clijsters, who has won the past two majors, is trying to play on a heavily taped ankle with torn ligaments; Justine Henin, the queen of the French Open, has retired again.
This is Wozniacki’s big chance. And maybe I’ve been a little unfair to her. She’s just 20, so she has plenty of time to develop some sort of attack. But maybe her current style is, in fact, what can make a champion in this era.
Maybe Wozniacki is defining a new champion. I don’t think so, but maybe. Continue reading
There is no easy path to a French Open title, no way to envision a draw that can neatly avoid having the names Djokovic and Nadal on the line next to your name. After seeing the draw, I’m sticking with my pick: Rafael Nadal is going to win.
He will have won four of the past five majors. Yet he still might lose his No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic, who’s being called the most dominant athlete in the world. If Djokovic wins, I agree.
In looking for a longshot, though, I’m going to dig deep into the scrap heap. You might laugh when I pull this name out of the past, if you can even remember him. Well, here goes:
I like his draw. He has a chance. The feelings about Federer among tennis fans have gone a little overboard. They always have. First, he was defended to the death, and now he’s forgotten about. Moderation, people.
Seems to me that not one year ago, Federer fans were packing my email for consistently pointing out the obvious, that Nadal was better. Well, everyone knows that now, and it’s also clear that Djokovic is better. But now, Federer is treated as if he’s gone.
Look, he beat Robin Soderling in straight sets in Madrid this month. That re-established him as the world’s third-best player and stopped the slide. Then, he fought Nadal evenly before losing in the third set.
He’s not perfect anymore. He has real shortcomings. But the third-best player can win, especially if he has won here before and has been the second-best player on clay for years. Continue reading
I can finally see how this might work. Women’s tennis might not be about to die, afterall. It has been clinging to the aging bodies and fading interest of the Williams sisters, the hopeless prayer that Kim Clijsters will just keep extending her comeback, and of course the thrill of the return of Justine He…Oops, Henin is already gone again.
No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki just doesn’t play like, or seem like, a champion. Not yet anyway. Besides that, she hasn’t won a major. Now, in waiting for a new star to emerge, along comes. . .
Day saved? Maybe.
You need a real champion. You need a rivalry. You need marketability. You need breakthrough appeal. Check. Check. Check. Check. And it’s not just Sharapova, either, but also what she can do to put a check mark next to Wozniacki for all of those things.
We go into the French Open Sunday, and women’s tennis is on the verge of being supercharged with a new, unexpected potential rivalry: Sharapova-Wozniacki.
Too many people gave up too fast on Sharapova after her shoulder became a mess and then her mind fell apart on her serve. Despite being around for so many years, she is still just 24. And it’s not as if the women’s game is leaving her behind or progessing one inch. In fact, I picked her to win the U.S. Open last year. Then, she got jittery and lost to Wozniacki.
I’ll never make that mistake again, I thought.
I’m making it again. My pick for the French: Sharapova. It is the softest, weakest, most unstable pick anyone has ever made. I actually would have picked Serena, even though it’s her worst major. But she’s still out while recovering from blood clots in her lungs. Clijsters, who has won the past two majors, tore up her ankle when she fell off high heels dancing recently. She’s going to try to play the French with heavily taped ankles. Wozniacki? Well, this would seem to be her moment, but she just lost to Sharapova in Rome. Maybe Francesca Schiavone can repeat, but I think her moment last year was a one-time, beautiful, face-in-the-clay thing.
No, Sharapova is the one. I’m sure of it (Hah!).
But even if this isn’t it for her, she continues to show that she’s getting better, inching along. She is now ranked No. 7. Her serve is no longer the weapon it was early in her career when she became so easy to market: a supermodel who wins Wimbledon. But it is not the disaster it has been for the past few years, either. It’s mediocre. That’s probably good enough.
Though I didn’t figure Sharapova was done, until seeing her on the court with Wozniacki in Rome, I never really thought about the dynamic of the two of them together. Continue reading
This is to update a story about tennis’ heart. Turns out, the sport has one afterall. The tour is a traveling world community that bickers plenty, but works together amazingly well overall. And I think that heartbeat might actually start with Roger Federer.
But let’s go back: The most embarrassed I’ve ever been for tennis — when I’ve been there in person anyway — was last year at Indian Wells. When this sport, which fights an image as spoiled and self-absorbed, decided to put on a Hit for Haiti exhibition to help earthquake victims, it was a touching thought. Right in the middle of a tournament, athletes would take time away to help others.
And then, well, you know what happened. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, playing doubles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, started bickering about their petty differences and rivalry through their microphones over the p.a. system. Sampras served one at Agassi’s head.
Hundreds of thousands dead or hurt, and tennis stars, supposedly playing in their name, were upset because Agassi wrote in his book that Sampras was a bad tipper. Can you imagine?
That didn’t change the game’s image. It stuck it in concrete. But it seems that that moment does not define tennis’ heart anymore. And I just wanted to say that here, talk about something beautiful that has emerged in the game more than in any other sport.
“It feels like `The Team,’ ’’ Kei Nishikori told me at the U.S. Clay Court Championship in Houston.
In one tournament after another over the past year and a half, tennis has stepped up to help after tragedies around the world. We’ve seen exhibition tennis matches, or soccer games with tennis players. Auctions. Top players, such as Kim Clijsters, going into the stands with cups to personally ask people to donate.
Hits for Haiti, Chile, Queensland Flood Relief. And now, ongoing events for Japan.
So what happened here? I think tennis is uniquely positioned for this. When disaster strikes in Chile, they know someone from Chile, Fernando Gonzalez. Disaster in Japan? They know Kei Nishikori.
The tennis tour is played all over the planet by people from everywhere. That could lead to endless problems, distrust and discomfort. Moreso, it seems to be leading to harmony. Who could have imagined a doubles team called the Indo-Pak Express? Continue reading
Venus Williams sat in the stands at the Fed Cup in Germany this weekend, barely staying awake while clapping for a U.S. team she had no interest in whatsoever. And to think: The whole charade was done to try to convince Olympics officials that yes, the Williams sisters really are loyal to their national team.
What a joke. What a dysfunctional mess. What a waste of time.
And how unfair to Melanie Oudin. Meanwhile, the U.S. team lost 5-0 to Germany, relegating itself to some sort of loser’s bracket next year in the Fed Cup’s confusing system.
I’ve already written in the past weeks about why Williams was there. She and the USTA were trying to skirt rules to find a way to get the Williams sisters into the 2012 London Olympics. We’ll have to see whether it works. Under the spirit of International Tennis Federation rules, players needed to play on their Fed Cup teams in two calendar years between 2009 and 2012 to be eligible for the Olympics. Under the letter of the rule, though, players only had to “make themselves available’’ to play. So Williams, who hasn’t played Fed Cup in years, was said to be making herself available, even though she was hurt and wasn’t going to play. She flew to Germany and watched, hoping that would satisfy the ITF.Continue reading