Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, RIP, and Michael Joyce

The literary tennis world is reeling today, on the news that David Foster Wallace hung himself at his home in California. (The literary world alone is doing a bit more than just reeling.) For the record, DFW wrote the best thing ever written about tennis since John McPhee's "Levels of the Game." I'd like someone to get in touch with Michael Joyce, the former tour pro and current quasi-coach of Maria Sharapova, who was the star of DFW's essay "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry," which was anthologized in A So-Called Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

In fact, I wonder what the tennis world generally will have to say about this.

Tennis benefited greatly from having perhaps the most famous and skillful writer of his generation often turning his attention to the sport. I can't find "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry" anywhere online, but here's DFW's take on Roger Federer, for the NYT's Play magazine.

Enjoy, be sad.

(The Wii Tennis avatar of DFW is the only thing I could find that showed the guy in a true tennis context. I think it's pretty depressing that, for all he did for the sport in terms of establishing it as a legit framework for literary exploration, nobody ever seems to have thought of getting a picture of some video footage of him in action.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fed Forehand Breakdown

Here's a good analysis of Da Rodge's recent forehand woes, from Steve Tignor, who I'm increasingly growing to admire as a tennis hack who actually seems to be able to grapple with tactics and technique at the same time.

One thing I'm noticing though in all this fretting over Fed is the appalling lack of historical depth when it comes to assessing his problems. Tignor musters Graff and Sampras, bien sûr, but given the generally complete and neo-classical (although updated for the modern game) nature of his strokes, it would make sense to ponder some pre-1990s antecedents. Maybe Bill Johnson or Ellsworth Vines? Because if you think about it, Fed's forehand is kind of a lonely stroke, in the sense that he doesn't use a full Western grip, while just about everyone else does.

Here's Wikipedia summary of the history of the shot, for purposes of making a judgment.

OH, and BTW, Guilles Simon, FYI, is a "pusher"--a player in the Brad Gilbert "Winning Ugly" mold. Shotmakers like Fed always have trouble with those guys because they get frustrated and over-force the issue, as Fed was in his Toronto loss on his forehand side.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Leagues Beneath the Sea

Yeah, I'm not even sure why that headline. Anyway, I re-joined a tennis league that's run out of Beverly Hills Tennis on La Cienega in the 90210 (last foray was about three years ago). I guess I thought it would be fun to get outside. And actually, it is. Although right now my tennis is kind of the poo, while my squash is pretty good (I won the last tournament I entered).

The way this league works is you play 13-game sets, and whoever amasses the most games wins (6-6 and you play a breaker). I lost 5-8. That just means I have to try to win something like 11 games the next time I play, to even things out. Probably a tall order right now. I'm playing at the 4.5 level these days.

What's really striking to me these days is how SLOW I am. Other aspects of Da Game, while tatty, aren't technically too outta whack.

Another match on Sunday, and I think I will be using on older Dunlop racquet, setting up my Summer of Throwback Tech subplot. It's a Dunlop "McEnroe VPS" that I picked up for $1 at Goodwill. Looks to have an 18-19mm beam, 16/19 pattern, and to weigh around 12 oz. Seems like 90-93 inch head size. Weirdly, the strings are a-pinging like they're relatively new--appear to be some kind of basic synthetic gut. I suppose Dunlop produced this stick to capitalize on J-Mac's usage of the 200G, but the design seems more modern, more like a Wilson Pro Staff.

If I wind up not liking the more open pattern, I may fall back on my FlexPoint Prestige Mid, which I've been enjoying.

Federology of the Absurd

All this blah blah type type coming from the tennis commentariat--which, I'm afraid, is showing itself be be far less well-suited to its trade than practitioners of eras past--is beginning to wear on me big time.

Here, for example, is Tennis mag's Kamakshi Tandon's take on Federer's first round loss to Gilles Simon yesterday in Toronto.

Some sort of weird journalistic hysteria seems to sweeping the Web, as our fuzzy-ball scribblers ponder the state of the Rodge. I mean, c'mon, Tandon has the (for the moment anyway) world number one in tears, yet again. I think an adjustment of attitude, based on facts, is in order. To wit:

-Fed hasn't played in almost a month

-He's probably still kinda sorta sick from whatever was ailing him at the end of last year

-His confidence vis a vis Nadal may be declining, but I would hasten to point out that he has gotten to the finals of two of the past three slams, and was damn close at Wimbly. And besides, wasn't that supposed to the Greatest Match in the History of Mammals with Large Brains and Delicate Opposing Thumbs Walking Upright?

-Best 2/3 tourneys are quite a different story than best 3/5

Nobody wants to see R-Fed bow out early, least of all the Rogers tournament organizers, but I think we should also be conscious of over-worrying the man's recent struggles (if you can even call 'em that). What I saw in the first set yesterday, which he nabbed handily 6-2, was a player who still has more shots, more options, and more tactical variety than anyone else out there.

So how about we just relax and not fret so much? This playbok is well established. Later in his career, Sampras went through years when there were no Slam victories and he played not very well. In fact, my sense is that right now Fed may be going through a bit of a retuning of his overall game, to prepare for the next 2-3 years. A lot like what Tiger Woods has done several times now, retooling his swing, and generally coming back tougher. In Rodge's case, it looks as if he's trying to do more with his first serve.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Tears, The Hug

Well, as much as I adore Bud Collins, we never got anything like this from HIM. There's has been some debate here and there about whether John McEnroe was being a ham or offering Federer an out to the traditional post-match Wimbly final interview, as Fed was obviously on the verge of...well, let's just call it an emotional moment.

Now somebody has thankfully posted the vid to YouTube so we can all make up our own minds.

Looks to me like Fed was pretty ragged and about to drop some weepage. So who knows, TV does blur such things, as maybe Mac saw that he needed an escape and, being Mac, he just did something goofy. Of course, McEnroe is a connoisseur of emotionalism and sport, both for the best and the worst, and when he told Fed that it was best match he had ever seen, I think he meant it heart and soul. Regardless of what you might think of Mac and his showboating, his egomania, etc. etc., there's no bickering with his record and his place in tennis history. When he says he's seen something special at Wimbledon, he might as well be saying, "Thanks, RF, for outdoing what I did almost 30 years ago when I lost to Borg in the former Greatest Grass Court Match That Ever Was." Think about doing the hugging here: one of the most cussed and ornery SOBs every to bring a inappropriately hypercompetitive nature to the court. PLUS, Mac knows what it's like to achieve transcendent greatness in defeat. I don't think Mac ever felt that he had that much of a connection with Sampras, who was more of a straight-up jock, but in Fed he sees both the opposite of himself and a player who shares some his artistic attitude toward the game.

McEnroe bring SO MUCH to the commentators booth that I think we can let him off the hook for this one.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

2008 Wimbledon Men's Final

Woo-wee! That was monumental. Clearly, however, Nadal has had his teeth in this idea of going 1-2 with the French and Wimbly this year for some time, and today, he brought his goal to fruition. Props to the guy for becoming the first since Borg to pull it off.

Props to both men for making McEnroe insist that it was the best match he had ever seen. And then cry.

Assuming you haven't got the result yet, Fed dropped the first two sets, 4-6 4-6, then recovered to win the next two in tiebreaks, fending off championship points in the fourth set to force a fifth. No breakers at the All England Club, so they play it out. Fed has the advantage of serving first, but every time he nibbles into Rafa's service games, Rafa is up to the challenge. The Nadal breaks to go up 8-7, Fed pulls off a single great backhand return to stay in it, but Rafa closes it out 9-7. QED, five-time Wimbledon champ DETHRONED!

In all honesty, I think you have to give credit to RF for hanging tough against a RN who is definitely playing out of his mind right now and is certainly the true World Number One, not by the official ranking but by locker-room consent. I think Fed had his moments but as many have already noted, he did not look as if he had much more left in him once that fifth set pressed into the twilight. Nadal, on the other hand, looked as if he might keep holding serve until 2010.

Tactically, Fed's return was exceptionally not good and probably cost him the final. He simply did not seem capable, in the final set, of taking Nadal's serves and putting them back across the net with any urgency. This is of course a consequence of the decline of the importance of dagger-like returning on grass. If anything, Roger's serve is even more impressive than in years past.

And I think the master is losing some speed, which is an inevitable occurrence as one gets on in years. Sampras replaced quickness with strength as he matured--note how much beefier he looked and played in later Slam finals, compared with his early wins--and could always focus on huge serving and brisk points, combined with one-service-break sets and tiebreaks, to carry him through. RF, on the other hand, has a complete game that unfortunately also requires more ongoing maintenance to keep sharp. As quick as Nadal is, Fed needs to remain speedy to compete. Sampras would have tried to blow Rafa off the court with S&V. And if RF wants to restore parity, that's where he needs to go.

And he needs to improve his return--which as we know, Pete once remarked was the key to his winning at Wimbledon.

My goodness, though, could Nadal be more effective with his remarkably hideous yet joyfully successful game? He's kinda sui generis, if you ask me. Like some kind of weird hybrid of McEnroe, Borg, and Connors.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Recap Time

As we barrel into the weekend, it's time to sum up what's happened in the past few days. And so, without furtha ado:

1. Andy Murray is a Man-God/Andy Murray is a miserable putz

After Andy's big win over Gasquet, UK journo Sue Mott was practically having an Andy-gasm--and slinging big dissage in the direction of poor Tim Henman, who just never did it for here. Too bad "Muscles" Murray got his clock cleaned in the qaurters against Rafa "Mine Are Bigger" Nadal. Straights! Ouch!!! In a span of just a few days, Murray goes from flexing to sulking.

2. Fed, what more can you say? Maybe a thing or two...

Looks like the Man is back. He clobbered Mario Ancic and barely broke a sweat in the process. However, he does have to face Safin now, and as I wrote several years ago in a story for the New York Observer, Fed-Safin matchup tend to have an epic, Old World flavor to them, like a pair of duelists meeting their natural fate. Apart from Nadal, Safin's brutal pace is the only thing that's given Fed trouble in Slams in the past 4-5 years. Doesn't bode well for a easy semi for Rodge.

3. Meanwhile, on Rafa's side of the draw

The way Nadal is pounding all challengers, he looks to have by far the easier semi. Arnaud Clement or Rainer Schuettler... I mean, c'mon.

4. The women

Um, let's just call it a Williams sisters final and be thankful. Maybe the winner should get to be Number One in the world for a while, just...JUST BECAUSE!!!

5. The turf

Sad to see the grass playing so slowly that both the S&Vers, Ancic and Lopez, got their heads handed to them in the quarters.

6. The commentary

Everyone got it up for the Murray match against Gasquet, but overall it's felt kinda sleepy to me. Sort of a victory procession for either Nadal or Fed. Let's be grateful for Safin's interloping, to provide the spritz of color that the commentariat is failing to provide.

7. The scheduling

On TV, that is. I can't figure it out, among NBC, ESPN2, and The Tennis Channel. I still don't think I've been able to capture a full match, from beginning to end.

Lucky 7. OK, I'll end here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


The guy has already allowed him named to be made fun of, amusingly and self-deprecatingly, for a Tennis Warehouse commercial, so I'm not breaking any new ground here. Like seemingly everyone else, I have intermittently found Justin Gimelstob kinda funny, kinda worth listening to, and kinda worth reading (he wrote for Sport Illustrated's website for a while). However, you gotta question the wisdom of the comments he made on a D.C. talk radio show, promoting his World Team Tennis franchise, the Washington Kastles. Calling them "comments" is really too generous, since he basically spent his air time talking crude smack about Anna Kournikova.

Now, Kournikova may be all that J-Gob says she is, I have no way of knowing. But one wonders: WTF was he thinking? He's actually managed to position himself, in spite of his not terribly impressive career and his extremely slender calves, as an up-and-coming analyst on the tube. He's basically been offering up much of the expert opinionating for the Tennis Channel's Wimbly coverages, and by and large, he's been fairly good. Now this.

Mind you, he has been doing his work while sitting next to Martina Navratilova, who cannot be the sort who would have taken kindly to what he had to say about Anna K., or any of the other female players Gimelstob, um... brought up while his was on the radio. Credit to her professionalism that she hasn't slipped in a comment of her own. I hope she gave him a talkin' to off air--evidently the Tennis Channel "reprimanded" him, which probably means that they couldn't ditch him during the Wimbledon coverage because they didn't have anyone else to fill in.

What he said provides him with no upside and actually borders on semi-suicidal, career-wise. A lot of ladies he mentioned let him off the hook. Lucky man.

Anyway, the doofus apologized, as they always do.