Alessandro Nicolo

an obtuse freelance writer living in obscene obscurity. He runs Intersportswire with grace and his dedication to writing is to be commended.

Richard Williams Does Little Service To Daughters Venus and Serena

For a man who’s the father of two successful tennis stars, Richard Williams sure has a hard time containing his bitterness.

Williams recently had these things to say to a newspaper in India:
The first dealt with the explosive and sensitive issue of race. “People are prejudiced in tennis. I don’t think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be.”

He then proceeded in conspiratorial fashion to attack the media; among other things, he accused them of preventing Venus and Serena Williams from ever achieving Grand Slam success. He went so far as to claim it “the worst media job that they have done on any human being in the world.”

Finally, Williams closed out the verbal festivities by insulting former stars Tracy Austin and Chris Evert-Lloyd. “But if you get some little white no-good trasher in America like Tracy Austin or Chris Evert, who cannot hit the ball, they (the media) will claim this is great.”

Ouch.

Let’s consider these comments and allegations further.

On the issue of race, they say you can never understand a man until you walk in his shoes. I can’t possibly comment on what a black person goes through on a daily basis; however, sometimes there are more effective, if not graceful ways to get your point across. Smearing an entire sports community with one brush is unfortunate as much as it is distasteful.

If in his heart he feels there is a racial divide in tennis, then he would be better off channelling his efforts into educating people about it.

The second proclamation regarding the media has two faces to it. The first is that the media is an easy target to chastise when things don’t go your way. Conversely, it is your best friend when all is well and exposure is necessary. In other words, the media is both your friend and enemy.

The other side of that face cuts right to the issue of accountability. That the Williams sisters have not been able to match their enormous potential with a boat load of Grand Slam titles is something only they can answer. Pointing a finger at others is a feeble attempt to try and skirt away from this fact.

Finally, his attack on Austin and Evert is easy enough to debunk. In fact, for a person who is a tennis insider, it is quite astonishing, if not absurd, to assert what he did. Saying Evert could not hit the ball is a little like saying Elvis was a poor guitarist – just like there were better guitarists that existed before and after him, many tennis players before and after Evert could “hit the ball” with more power than she could.

The Williams sisters indeed prove this. In many ways, they took tennis onto another athletic plane. This impressive achievement is a testament to their talent. To chastise those who brought the game fame during a time it was played differently is patently unfair, if not ignorant.

Nonetheless, Williams would do well to remember that technology has also had some say in this. For example, in ice hockey, today’s players shoot the puck harder since the introduction of new composites such as titanium. In tennis, a racquet can play a significant role in adding power to one’s game.
Evert has an added dimension to her legacy, which is decorated with 18 Grand Slam titles. Presley emerged at a time when teenagers were ready to rebel through music. Evert came during a time when women were fighting to be treated with respect and equality. The late 1960s and early 1970s, lest we forget, was when the birth and golden age of women’s liberation happened; tennis jumped on that revolution.

Evert was also in the middle of one of sports’ great rivalries in the 1980s as her melodic and patient baseline style took on the ferocious, powerful serve-and-volley approach of Martina Navratilova. Oh, how tennis aged with grace and beauty!

Richard Williams should be proud of and satisfied with what his gifted daughters, who have amassed great wealth thanks to tennis, have contributed to the evolutionary process and that they remain a welcomed addition to the sport.

Yet, for Mr. Williams, it seems that the fact that his daughters are part of tennis’s great heritage is not enough.

Perhaps it is time for Richard Williams to stare into the mirror and see what the reflection gives?

Roger Federer is Great for Tennis – and Sports

Written by Alessandro Nicolo

Here’s the thing: tennis is one of those sports I play more than I watch. It’s just one of those things. There’s not enough time in a day for me to watch every sport. On the other hand if someone would pay me – trust me – I’m watching anything.

You’re reading the words of a guy who has watched curling on more than one occasion.

Tennis is a great game. The athletic demands are complimented by the technical aspects of mastering the sport. A few years ago my close friend, a former tennis player and instructor, told me that by the time he’s done Roger Federer may very well be the greatest tennis player who ever lived. I took those words seriously since my friend was not into hyperbole. More sober and sane than he they don’t come. “There no weaknesses in his game,” he said.

Well, Roger Federer won his 10th men’s singles grand slam title, winning in straight sets over a feisty Fernando Gonzalez at the Australian Open. That’s good for fifth all-time, which ties Federer with Bill Tilden. He’s two titles behind Ray Emerson and only one behind Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver.

More importantly, at 26 he is just four grand slam titles away the all-time leader Pete Sampras.

Wow.

Tennis has a problem on its hands. Through most of the sport’s history tennis was blessed with classic rivalries. Who can forget those battles in the 1970s and 1980s between Borg, McEnroe, Connors and Lendl? Sampras and Agassi had a thing going too. But who will dance with Roger?

Andy Roddick has the attitude and will to challenge him, but if his serve is off he struggles. Rafael Nadal has flair and is blessed with a more complete game but outside of clay he’s a mere mortal.

In modern tennis there is no one that comes remotely close to Roger Federer. His dominance is pure net – excuse the bad pun. What captivates me is how smooth and beautiful his game really is. He’s perfect in all aspects of the game without looking like a robot.

Let me take this a step further. Forget statistics. I’m dropping the gloves here. Forget Tiger Woods. Forget Babe Ruth, Pele, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Forget Michael Schumacher and Mohammed Ali – to name a few.

Yeah, I may be getting excited here but I’m going with a sports junkie’s instinct here. People will always debate Montana or Unitas? Chamberlin or Jordan? Lemieux, Orr, Howe or Gretzky? Even Pele has legitimate challengers in Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano. Some even swear that we wasn’t the greatest Brazilian player ever. For this they look to Garrincha.

For his part, Ali is sometimes not referred as the greatest heavyweight of all time. It’s notoriously hard to judge auto racing or cycling – though Eddie Merckx can easily plead his case as the greatest cyclist ever. Come to think of it, he Woods come as the closest challengers that I can think of. But even experts admit Tiger has some weaknesses to his game. I’ve yet ot hear that about Federer.

I know I’m mixing some team sports in there but you get the picture. Yes, tennis has had its fair share of dominant players. The consensus however has Rod Laver as the greatest and most complete player ever. Sampras has the numbers to back him up.

I recognize all that. Still…

There is a very real chance that when Federer retires he may close out his career as the most dominant professional athlete ever.

Just for that I’ll be watching. There may not be any parity in tennis (sometimes dynasties are just plain good) but Federer’s class and elegance may just enough for sports fans to forgive and forget.

Alessandro Nicolo – the hack with a knack – is a freelance writer and sedentary bon vivant living in Montreal.