Monday, September 17, 2007

"Whatever the mess you are, you're mine, okay..."

2007 U.S. Open Recap
Note: yes, I realize this ended a week ago. What do you want from me? I'm pretending to go to law school here! Stay tuned for my World Series preview in December.

I wanted to come up with some Esquire-"Dubious Achievement Awards"-inspired witty titles, but, to be honest, that takes a lot of work, so let's just go with "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down."

Thumbs Up: Roger Federer. I think we're all running out of superlatives year. I purposely avoided doing a running diary for the men's final for fear that would end up as follows:

4:05 - Federer walks out onto the court. Science Dammit is he stylish!
4:12 - Ohwhatabeautifulshot
4:14 - Ohwhatabeautifulshot

And so forth. (You know how I know you're gay?) True, it wasn't the most compelling of finals, as Federer--aside from his serving, which was magnificent--seemed a little bit off, but watching him on even a so-so day is better than watching pretty much anyone else at their best.
Thumbs Down: The Women's Final. Fun fact: the last U.S. Open Women's final to go three sets was...1996, when Graf beat Seles 7-5, 6-4. [Pumping my fist.] Since then, the runner-up has managed to win an average of 6.6 games in the final. This year, Svetlana "All these zeros on this oversized cheque are real, right?" Kuznetsova, who played a solid tournament but was, let's be honest, just happy to be there, managed to drag that number down, winning just 4 games against Henin. Ouch. Remind me again why the women's final airs on Saturday night? At least Dr. Quinn had some suspense. (Note: starting next year, it's moving back to its original afternoon timeslot between the two men's semis).
Thumbs Up: Justine Henin. I really didn't think she had enough weapons to win in New York this year. I was, of course, dead wrong. Thanks to what seems like an improved serve (110+ on the radar gun), her always reliable killer backhand, textbook volleying, and the fact that she's--by far--the best tactician on tour, Henin cruised to her second U.S. Open title. There was a bit of scare against Venus in the semis, but she managed to prevail. She's had a terrific summer.
Thumbs Down: Serena's classless remarks.
Can a girl be a douchebag? If so, I would definitely describe Serena as such. Here's the quote in question, coming on the heels of her straight set loss to Henin: "I just think she played better. I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors." Now, I won't belabor the point since she's already been (justifiably) excoriated by the media, except to say: grow the fuck up.

Thumbs Up: Novak Djokovic. This kid--who is only three months older than my brother--is the real deal. He's gone 19-4 in the slams this year, with all four losses coming from Nadal (two, one due, at least partly, to injury) and Federer (the other two). He capped this off with an impressive run at the Open. He didn't always look his best, but, even when he wasn't in top form, he still managed to gut out a couple of tough wins (see the epic 4:44 5-setter against Stepanek in Round 2 and a gritty four-set win against Juan Monaco in the Round of 16). He then crushed Moya (who beat him in Cincinnati), hammered Ferrer in the semis, and, really, could've beaten Federer in the finals (Taylor swears that he should have won). Plus, he's dating Sharapova to boot. All in all, an impressive year. I'm still a bit concerned about his net play (generally weak) and the way he played all those set points against Federer (in a word: tightly; it looked to me like he was waiting for Roger to make a mistake, to which I say: don't hold your breath. To borrow a boxing analogy, you need to knock the champ out, and I didn't see that killer instinct last Sunday), but his strokes are top-notch and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.
Thumbs Down: Crap Seeding. How is it that Federer, the top seed, played Roddick (the 5 seed) in the quarterfinals, while Djokovic (the 3 seed) was slated to play Tommy Robredo (the 8 seed)? Why doesn't the seeding committee use the standard 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5 formula? This is a question that has always bothered Taylor and I. Turns out, the unofficial answer is: we want to avoid the same top seeds playing each other in the same round every tournament. Well, I'm just bored enough to investigate this. In the previous ten grand slams, the top eight seeds haven't been identical once, thus negating the ATP Tour's argument. This really isn't that big of a deal (Fed would've won regardless), but it does strike me as somewhat silly. And also, as for the original argument, here's something that would never come up in an NFL meeting: "hey, isn't everyone tired of Pats-Colts in the playoffs?? Let's mix it up!!"

Thumbs Up: HD Tennis. In a word: ohmygod. So, so sexy. If it were socially acceptable, I would take my brother to court in and sue for full custody of his new television. Consider yourself on notice, Taylor.
Thumbs Down: TSN's Maddening Schedule. Back to back nights in week two were interrupted for the ridiculous Super Series (who was even watching this? Couldn't they have cancelled the rest of the series after Canada won? What's the deal with playing in different provinces on consecutive nights? Pace yourselves, lads. Even Misha--the biggest hockey fan I know--could barely be bothered to pretend to be interested.) As a result, I missed all of the V. Williams-Jankovic match (arguably, the only great match of the entire tournament on the ladies side) and most of Roddick-Federer. Speaking of...

Thumbs Up: Andy Roddick. I know, I know, he's now 1-14 against Federer all-time, but he played Roger tough in the quarters. Truth be told, the outcome never really seemed in doubt, but at least he made Federer work for the win.
Thumbs Down: Andy Roddick. I didn't see his post-match interview (though I imagine it involved Andy banging his head against the podium repeatedly) but, my God, this has to be deflating for him. At least in the past Andy had something to hang his hat on (I could have served better, I need to improve my backhand, he's mentally tougher than me, etc.), but now? I really don't know. He played a (fairly) terrific match (notably: a 71% first serve percentage, 77% of first serve points won) and still got fucking clobbered. I'm bummed for him and he's made over $12,000,000 in prize money in his career. Federer is just too good. Which brings up an interesting (at least, I think it's interesting) question: is he happy being world class (he hasn't been out of the top 10 in years) but, compared to Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, decidedly second-tier? I mean, it's conceivable (in fact: more than likely) that he'll never win another slam, which has to be disheartening for him. And yet, he can probably go on winning two or three non-majors a year for another six years. There's certainly no shame in that, is there? For a much more sophisticated meditation on the whole "being mind-boggling good at something, but far from the greatest" issue, seek out David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay on Michael Joyce, then the 79th-ranked men's tennis player in the world, now Maria Sharapova's (at this stage, I'm guessing embattled) coach.

Thumbs Up: Ana Ivanovic. Carrie says that, once a year, I'm allowed to call one other women "gorgeous" with impunity. So...even though we've got about 100 days to go in '07, I'm using up my "get out of jail free" card right now. Goddamn...she's hot!
Thumbs Down: to the impending postponement of our nuptials. But, baby, you said you were cool with this...

Thumbs Up: Men's Tennis. What with Federer's absolute dominance on grass and hard courts, Nadal's superior clay court play, the emergence of Djokovic as a legitimate rival to both, and a series of riveting matches at the Open (Blake-Santoro, Blake-Haas, Djokovic-Stepanek, Nalbandian-Ferrer, and Nadal-Ferrer to name a few), it's just a really exciting time to watch men's tennis. Yes, it's cyclical and, yes, the women's game is bound to get hot again, but, in the meantime: let's just enjoy the ride.
Thumbs Down: Women's Tennis. Part way through a rather dull early round Serena Williams beatdown, USA Network announcer Ted Robinson casually mentioned to Tracy Austin (the color commentator) that, while he was completely in favor of equal prize money for the men and the women (a recent change), he wondered if it wasn't time to consider reducing the women's field from 128 to 96 players. His reasoning--though unstated--seemed to be: Tracy, these early matches are soooooo boring. I'm as likely to sprout wings and flap out of this booth as Serena is to drop this match. Whaddya say we blow out of here and get some KFC?
Austin (not, um, my favorite sports personality) was, predictably, mildly offended, and replied that, why, just yesterday Hantuchova (the 9 seed) and Santangelo (the 23 seed) had both lost, in essence, replying: Ted, you fool, can't you see that upsets are a regular occurrence? Thinking the segment over, I just shook my head, but, amazingly, Robinson retorted that pointing to the defeat of two seeded players that absolutely no one thought were threats to win the tournament doesn't exactly prove that the women's draw was deep. And he's exactly right. If anything, it seems to prove the reverse: how bad is women's tennis if Daniela Hantuchova, a perfectly serviceable player who, nevertheless, is prone to mental breakdowns during her matches (to the point where I've actually witnessed her cry while serving), who is most known for having the longest legs on tour (this is true), and who has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in a grand slam event (and not past the 4th round in the last four years--wtf?), how depleted are these fields that she's the 9th seeded player in this year's U.S. Open? (To prove that I'm an equal opportunity hater, it also strikes me as insane that James Blake-whom I'm happen to really like--was the 6-seed in the Open, despite only making it to two grand slam quarterfinals in 23 tries.) Another excellent example would be Martina Hingis. Hingis, who was once #1 in the world, retired, at the age of 22, due to injury in 2002, only to return three years later and play her way back into the top 10 by year's end. This is made all the more impressive when you consider that she serves like someone who has severe osteoporosis and a possibly life-threatening aversion to sweating.

So...here's my solution: seed the top 12. If, for some reason, the Williams sisters are not among that group, they should be made the 11 and 12 seeds. As much as I dislike them, there is, at no point, more than 10 women on the WTA Tour better than these two. Trust me. Those 12 seeds get a first round bye. The first round will then consist of the remaining 104 players playing for 52 spots in the second round. From that point on, it's a six round tournament (just like March Madness, except with more grunting!). This reduces the field from 128 to 116 and would, invariably, lead to stronger early round matches.

Still not convinced about my lack of depth on the women's tour argument? Hot off the presses: in her comeback tournament, 31 year old (that's roughly 285 in tennis years) Lindsay Davenport defeated Hantuchova in the final of the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic in Bali today. She also beat Jankovic (the 3-seed in the U.S. Open), in the quarters.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention: she gave birth to her first child 95 days ago.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Re: Federer - the guy is unbelievable, but I can't for the life of me understand how guys who play against someone this good, can walk on to the court like they've already lost, and expect anything to happen except for them to get crushed. Obviously psyching yourself up for Fed is quite the chore, but no one looks like they even THINK they've got a shot - with the exception of Nadal on clay.
When Fed when from - Roger 'I could crack 3 racquets at any moment' to 'Nobody can touch me, I look like I'm taking a ride on a scooner' Federer he begun to get a little mopey rather than upset. What I think this means is that for guys like Djokovic, Roddick, etc. they've to got to go after him a little more and play with more of an edge...
On an unrelated note, I think the most impressive thing about Fed is how consistently he plays week in and week out. If you were to compare Fed, to say... Sampras (who many consider the GOAT) and compare the number of first, second, third round losses... Federer rarely loses early round matches where guys like Sampras, Agassi, etc. would lose their share of first rounders at Masters' Series level tournaments.

Re: Djokovic - tremendous run to the finals and yes he beat Roddick, Nadal, and Federer in Montreal, but he's still been prone to some awful losses to guys outside the top 50. So, while he's clearly number 3, I'd be hesitant to say he's 'there' yet.
Oh, and I'm a big, big, fan of the impressions. They were lengen... wait for it.... dairy...


Re: Roddick - if he was actually interested in being good he would have hung on to Brad Gilbert. Although, by all accounts he seems like a good guy, ie. he never makes comments like the Williams' sisters 'The only reason I could conceivably lose at tennis is because I didn't play well....', he didn't have the brains, or couldn't suppress his ego enough to travel to get Gilbert's coaching. Now Gilbert has turned a guy with the body of a 14 year old boy into a legitimate top-10,who was the only guy to beat Fed on the hard courts last year.

Re: Women's tennis - I'm longing for the days of Graf, Seles, Hingis, Sanchez-Viccario, and the Williams-Spirlea bump....

Sidebar - What did you think of idea to move the finals to Monday night?

RT Murphy said...

Q: What time does Sean Connery usually get to Wimbledon?

A: TENNISH.

Kyle Wasko said...

Robbie, I'm assuming this is you. If it's not, I apologize.

1. Interesting discussion re: beating Federer in Wertheim's Mailbag (which has become a weekly staple of mine). I'll just cut and paste the whole thing, but the whole column can be found here (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/jon_wertheim/09/26/mailbag/2.html):

Your mission is to defeat the current in-form Federer, and you cannot use Rafael Nadal on clay. If you had your choice of any player, from any year to put up against Darth Federer, who would you choose? You may also have home court advantage and pick the court surface and location. My choice: Andre Agassi circa 2000, healthy and supremely fit coming off of running up hills in Vegas. The surface is Rebound Ace on a sweltering Australian summer day. Agassi wins 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, and the match is more comfortable for Agassi than the score indicates.
-- Sean, Tallahassee, Fla.


Before we get to the question, it is just me or is Sean's last line hysterically funny? If you're making up your own hypothetical pairing, why is the match, "more comfortable than the score indicates"? I mean, why not just make the numbers different! (And for my next impression, Larry David.)

Anyway, Sean's question is fun and I like his answer. While the rest of the tennis world was either on the Exhibition Gravy Boat or dirty dancing in the clubs of Ibiza, Agassi was training like a madman in Vegas. He'd arrive in top shape and simply mauled the field. Federer has never been fond of extreme conditions and the hot rubber court might impede his attacking.

Other thoughts: Guga on clay. (In fact, they met at Roland Garros in '04 when the Brazilian was past his prime and he still won.) Sampras at Wimbledon, circa '97, is still an option. Becker too?

What about this one: Keep the oppressively hot conditions and give me an attacking player who will put pressure on Federer and, perhaps, unnerve him with athleticism. Rafter in '98 at the U.S. Open or Australian? Edberg at the '92 Open? Federer is obviously a superior player but he sees he so few out-and-out attackers that it might be a jarring experience to face a guy who never stops coming in.


Thoughts?

2. Novak's still young, so I can't really fault him for the occasional mental lapse (though, obviously, I'd prefer if he didn't lose to the likes of Viktor Troicki--falling to Clement is far more forgivable). That said, there's no doubt that gears up for the grand slams (see 19-4 record), which bodes well for him.

3. Dunno about the whole Roddick-Gilbert thing. Like in most sports, I think tennis coaches get a bit too much credit for the successes of their charges (yet, intriguingly--as this differs from other sports--very little blame when their wo/man gets knocked out early). Additionally, despite John Hatch's efforts to convert me, I've never been a big Gilbert fan. (I continue to be amazed that someone who played in precisely one Grand Slam quarterfinal is a top-flight coach...even though I realize this is a ridiculous way of looking at things.) Not really sure what I'm getting at here, so I'll just mention:
a. I think you underrate Murray slightly.
b. from everything I've heard, I think that I, too, would quickly tire of travelling with BG.

4. A Monday night final sounds like a great idea, but, since they'd be going up against Week 1 of MNF it seems unlikely. Also, now seems like as good a time as any to correct something I mentioned in this post. Again, from Wetheim's mailbag:

After the U.S. Open, my colleague Richard Deitsch caught up with CBS prez Sean McManus. Here's an interesting exchange:

SI: The prime-time ratings have been sinking. Are you still committed to a final in prime-time?

McManus: The ratings have been disappointing, no question. Having said that, it's a Saturday in early September before the television season has started. You are talking about replacing repeat television on a Saturday night. There is no real downside. It is important to the USTA that they get a showcase in prime-time. It is important that the sponsor specifically of the women's final get a prime-time showcase so it's folded into our overall deal. I hope the numbers get better but were not planning to move it out of prime-time. Our new deal anticipates it will remain there for the next four or five years. That's the intention. If the ratings continue dramatically downward, I guess we look at it differently. But there's no real downside. It's not going to do any better in afternoon.


Whoops. I had heard otherwise.