By David Kane
Two tweets from former World No. 2s, Vera Zvonareva’s announcement that she would be missing the upcoming Australian Open, and Svetlana Kuznetsova’s suspense-filled declaration that she indeed loved life, seemed to sum up the status quo for Russian women’s tennis these days. It feels like a lifetime ago that to be a Russian on the WTA Tour usually signified a player with a high ranking who made deep runs in major tournaments and, if nothing else, was a fierce competitor, a member of a contingent strong in numbers. As recently as 2009, there were four Russian women in the top 10, two in the top 4. As the 2013 season approaches, only Maria Sharapova remains among that elite group, with three others floating around the top twenty.
The formerly proud and prolific Russian horde even found themselves the butts of a light joke from Tennis Australia, who boasted that their best player, Samantha Stosur, could beat anyone with an “-ova” surname. That Stosur has failed to beat a player inside the top 50 Down Under since 2006 (and has a paltry head-to-head record against most Russians in general) illustrates how far things have fallen for what used to be the game’s most indomitable force.
With Christmas only hours away, imagine if you will, jaded tennis fans, several midnight visits from three of the most knowledgeable spirits: the Ghosts of Tennis Past, Present and the always ominous Ghost of Tennis Future. Allow these spirits to remind you of what has already been, and perhaps warn you of that which is soon to be.
It was a little over a decade ago that “Anna’s Army,” led by the glamorously talented Anna Kournikova, burst onto the women’s tour. While their leader failed to win a singles title, those who followed in her footsteps took full advantage of the road she paved. In 2004, thirty years after Soviet Olga Morozova reached the finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the first three Russian women won Grand Slam titles at major tournaments that featured two all-Russian finals. While Sharapova has won most often on the sport’s biggest stages, compatriots like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva have more than made names for themselves with multiple Slam titles (Kuznetsova), 26 weeks atop the world rankings (Safina) and multiple Slam finals and semifinals (Dementieva).
The year 2009 represented a second crest on the wave of Russian dominance: Kuznetsova won the third all-Russian final of the Open Era, Safina was ranked No. 1 for most of the year, and Dementieva came within one backhand passing shot of upsetting Serena Williams for a place in the Wimbledon final. As the decade came to a close and talented youngsters like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Kirilenko began to post impressive results, the Russian horde looked as strong as ever.
Barely two years on, the Ghost of Tennis Present presents a wholly grimmer reality. Vera Zvonareva may have been the breakout player of 2010, reaching two Slam finals and peaking just behind the top spot in the rankings, but since then, “Anna’s Army” has done an almost complete about face. What could explain such a dramatic reversal of fortune? Ostensibly, injuries and early retirements are to blame. Dementieva retired at the end of 2010. Safina is indefinitely absent with a broken back. Kuznetsova and Zvonareva are rehabbing injuries in the hopes of reviving their stalled careers.
Truthfully, however, most of the Russian contingent could be diagnosed with problems that are as mental as they are physical. Over the years, it has become increasingly uncomfortable to watch these talented women fail to get out of their own way time and time again in important situations. Matches that look to be straightforward from the outset end up having more twists and turns than a Tolstoy novel, complete with double-digit double-faults and screaming into hands. Where most of the top men could have their names etched in to the final rounds of major tournaments in pen, even the faintest pencil tracing could derail what should be unassailable progress.
In fact, Maria Sharapova has been so successful at deviating from this tragic formula that, despite bearing the Russian flag at the London Olympics, American journalists and commentators hardly believe her to be of the same ilk, and frequently attempt to claim her as their own. This is wrong. Not only is Sharapova as Russian as her compatriots, but she has also suffered her own heart-wrenching losses to prove it.
The average Russian tennis player can be accused of many things, but rarely can it be said that she does not want success badly enough. In the last decade and a half, this diverse group of women has taken passion in this sport to a level where every point is a battle, every match a war. Painful as it can be to watch, the inherent entertainment value cannot be denied. More often than not, when a Russian takes the court, she takes on two adversaries: her opponent, and herself. When she wins, then, the victories are twice as sweet, for her and those who were swept up in her almost spiritual fervor and feel as if they helped will her over the finish line.
All of this is why what the Ghost of Tennis Future has to say is so important. Because they are so rarely the champions at the end of the fortnight, they may appear inconsequential to the many storylines in the canonical WTA soap opera. However, the drama that the Russian contingent brought and continues to bring (although on a muted level) kept viewers interested. They emit a passion for the game that could convert any causal fan (Bah Humbug!) into a diehard (Merry Christmas!).
Once, it was said that the Russians were coming. For a few brief-shining moments, they had arrived. Now, there are more than a few ghostly moans in the night, calling for their return.
By Luís Santos
As a die hard Elena Dementieva fan I was rooting for the fairytale thing to happen at this year’s Australian Open final but alas, I was brought back to reality – just like when she was around.
So Kim Clijsters finally won outside of NYC and she shattered the hopes of millions of people and also of Li’s. Now this might have been yet another Aussie Open that has gone by me without me watching much of it – it’s either that or me failing my college exams to watch countless hours of tennis – but a few things come to mind when reminiscing about Down Under.
First, of course, the notable absence of Elena Dementieva, who would have probably swept away the title just based on elegance, and because it wouldn’t seem right not mentioning, the absence of Serena William whose foot keeps on delaying her.
Henin retiring (for good) was also a headline that made the news on the eve of the women’s semifinals to the dismay of her antagonists. A kind word for Justine is in order though. Personal preferences aside, she was a great champion, who made the most out of what she had. I just hope she stays retired – indecision is not something a champion should have.
Finally, Li’s superb level throughout the fortnight, and the overall level of tennis displayed by the ladies with names such as Makarova, Kvitova and Schiavone coming to mind.
On a final note and in case you haven’t heard, Elena Dementieva won was well this week. It might not have been on the court but she still pocketed the Jean Borotra World Fair Play Diploma for her sports career. Elena was the fifth female tennis player to win such award and first since Chris Evert won back in 1989. Instead of attending the award ceremony she played a charity match in Moscow to help orphan children in her city.
Last week’s article looked at whether Russian star Elena Dementieva’s shock retirement outlined a tendency for money-rich stars to get out of the sport for other pursuits more readily. Over the past few days interviews with top players have seen calls for a shorter tour due to the physical strains the current setup puts on players contributing to early retirements.
The professional tennis tour currently lasts through nearly eleven months of the year with a bevy of tournaments and challengers being hosted every week for players to choose from. During the Dementieva piece it was highlighted how the Top 10s on either side can afford to pick and choose their tournaments more carefully as they already have a host of ranking points backing them up.
For everyone else, however, it’s a case of scrounge every point you can get. It’s like an expensive, and slightly more entertaining, version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. It makes for a long and exciting tour for us fans but what about the pros involved week-in, week-out?
Over recent years a number of top pros have “fizzled out” due to injury or mental strain after a bright start. Jennifer Capriati faced all sorts of issues off-court while players like Marcos Baghdatis and David Nalbandian have never quite reached where they should have because of continual injuries.
As we speak, Nikolay Davydenko has had his 2010 ruined due to wrist injuries while we can only hope that Juan Martin Del Potro returns as exciting and vigorous as he was throughout 2009 next year.
And further down the ladder, American Taylor Dent has finally given up the goose after doing so well to fight back from a debilitating back injury. It is so sad to see such problems happen to genuinely worthy individuals. Of course they are always thankful for what they have experienced and accomplished. But there is no doubt that they will always feel they could, and probably should, have had more.
With Rafael Nadal’s mentor Toni admitting that Rafa is going to have to play a reduced calendar from 2011 to prevent complete destruction of his knees, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have also been calling for a reduced tour to help the physical and mental conditions of people who, for all the fame, riches and glory, do spend roughly ten months of the year away from friends and family having to keep themselves in peak condition for fear of losing touch with the top.
“I think it’s time we shifted back a bit and we get a proper off-season,” said world No. 2 Federer. “Four weeks is just not enough. I think six is much better as you can take two weeks off… practise three, four weeks which is a lot for us in our world.”
Federer also added that it may help the closing tournaments of the year who are often hit with withdrawals from top players who have either long-since secured their places at the WTA/ATP Finals, or want to end the year earlier to enable them to recuperate and prepare for their assault on the Australian Open.
The calls have previously been backed by Nadal and also world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who both sit with Federer on the Players’ Council.
Andy Murray also added that players such as Dent, Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt would be helped by a less demanding schedule being placed on their body.
“There’s no time for you to take a break to get rid of an injury,” the 23-year-old Scotsman told The Sun newspaper. “Instead players end up playing through it and that actually shortens careers.
“There should be fewer mandatory tournaments because you get punished so much for being injured and I don’t really think that’s fair. If after the US Open you had two or three months when you could actually take time off to recover, players would have longer careers.”
It’s not just the length of the tour which proves a gripe for some players either. Some despise the constant switch between surfaces and the changes in speed from one tournament to another prove a problem for consistency. Before this week, 64 ATP Tournaments had been played this calendar year. We’ve had 36 on hard courts, 22 on clay and six on grass.
“I like varying surfaces… indoor tennis should be fast,” said Murray. “But it’s annoying when it changes week to week. Last week [in Valencia] was one of the slowest courts we’ve had all year, and here it was lightning quick.
“It would be nice for the players to have a run of tournaments on the same surfaces. It’s tough to play tennis week in, week out if you’re always changing the surface. You’re not going to play your best tennis after just two days.”
The new, lightning-quick surface at Paris is proving a hit with the players who feel that many have been slowed down too much in recent years.
“It’s a different type of tennis,” said American No. 1 Andy Roddick. “I believe it’s become so monotonous … it feels like there is a slow court available nine months of the year.”
Federer backed up those sentiments: “It’s nice that some tournaments have made the courts faster again. I’m not saying it should be the trend for all the tournaments, but indoors is supposed to be faster. We only have one indoor Masters 1000, so I think it should be the fastest one, which is the case.
“Shanghai was brutally slow; Toronto was very slow as well. The only other one that is a little bit fast is Cincinnati, then Miami and Indian Wells have been also slowed down drastically. It’s good for the players, honestly, to experience a faster court again, and a bit of two-shot tennis is fun for a change to do. It’s tricky, it’s not easy—but it’s fun.”
Could the change in surfaces be contributing to the increase in injuries? Could the continuing change of pace be a problem? The Sports Medicine Information website lists common tennis injuries along with treatment and prevention techniques. Surely one of the biggest preventions of all would be to reduce the strain on tennis pros?
The ATP schedules for 2012 and 2013 will be finalised during a series of board meetings to take place during the ATP Finals in London in the next couple of weeks. It remains to be seen whether they will listen to their top pros or whether the dollar signs will continue to be too hard to resist.
There is no doubt what the biggest story in tennis has been this week. Elena Dementieva, the Russian Ice Queen, has left us almost as abruptly as she arrived.
Dementieva strove to show us that, after Kournikova, Russian women could actually compete at the top of the game and weren’t there to earn the WTA megabucks in sponsorship and marketing campaigns for their pinups.
And compete she did. She never lifted a major and many of her fans claim she is the greatest player of the last generation not to do so. But she does own an Olympic Gold as well as a Silver and that’s more than many could ever hope to achieve.
But we know how well she has done. We have followed her intense battles with Serena Williams over the years and admired her elegance and shot selection as she graced the worldwide courts in search of fame and glory.
What is very intriguing is her decision to hang her racquet up at 29. She is citing motherhood as her new dream. And few can deny her that wish. But this action hasn’t always been the case, and what does it mean about modern sport and the athletes that compete?
It is a well-argued cliché that the tennis tour has evolved in to a physically and mentally demanding money monster which can suck the life out of the most physically astute of athletes. To keep up with the Serenas and the Rogers you have to fight for every available ranking point and, in the case of many players, play through injury for fear of falling too far behind in the tables and the seedings for the major tournaments.
One shocking statistic following the early exits of Fernando Verdasco and Thomas Berdych this week was that they were both competing in their TWENTY SIXTH ATP Tournament of the year. No wonder they looked exhausted.
It makes it almost impossible for a lady chasing the Top 10 in the rankings to spend near enough as much time with her newborn kids as she would like. Kim Clijsters doesn’t play as many tournaments as she used to for this reason. But then she is good enough to play the big guns without as much practice anyway. Many others are not.
It mirrors the fight between career and family women in the twenty-first century and the usual debates over how to juggle work and children arise once more.
But what about the other factors of modern sport? Dementieva reached two Grand Slam finals, two WTA Championships semi finals and was ranked at No. 3 in the world at her peak. She won 16 WTA Titles, a WTA Championships in doubles and amassed a career record of 575-271 (singles) and 152-85 (doubles). A good record, yet not the greatest. How much did she earn for her troubles in her twelve years on the tour? Answer: $14,117,437. And that was just prize money. She would have earned a bucket-load more through endorsements.
The modern sportsman earns so much in their short careers that they can afford to cut their terms short and not have to worry about their futures. This wasn’t the case even fifteen-twenty years ago where only the best of the best could expect to live over-comfortably after retirement, unless they chose to go in to coaching/punditry/another line of work of course.
In sports like American football, rugby, baseball and football, stars earn obscene amounts of money for a day’s work which makes them millionaires at such tender ages. The stories of when players go wrong are endless but it also means that they can almost pick and choose when to play without having to worry about their finances.
As fans we would never dream of finishing early as all we want is to experience being a top tennis pro for as long as possible. But imagine if you’re knees were starting to give you great pain and you were already sitting on $15m. Would you go on?
In recent years we have seen many early retirements in tennis. And the trend goes back too. From Bjorn Borg to Clijsters and Justine Henin we have been robbed of top talent at an “early age” but what does it say of those three that they later returned?
Now we also have Taylor Dent, James Blake, Rennae Stubbs and Lleyton Hewitt talking of possible quits.
Has Dementieva made a rash decision? Will she regret her choices and look to hit the comeback trail in two years’ time? Of course it will be harder for her being in the 30+ threshold by then but just look at Kimiko Date Krumm and you really do have to think twice about it.
It is not just tennis either. In football, top stars like Carlos Tevez have voiced exasperation at having to adapt to foreign cultures so often and all the travelling involved in modern day sport. They have voiced quit sentiments. Eric Cantona left early to become a film star, as did Vinnie Jones, while Ian Wright quit at the peak of his powers to chase a career in British television. Gavin Henson and Danny Cipriani of rugby fame have recently had spells out of the game to spend time with their celebrity families and chase television ventures. While in Formula One Michael Schumacher left and later returned to the sport.
Is this a trend that will continue as the years go by where stars become disillusioned with life in, and then out of, sport? Will we continue to be left shocked at the sudden departures of our favourites and then relieved later on as they announce their return? Will this make the sport more exciting?
It certainly fits in with the “instant gratification needs” of Western Society in these days of post-modern thinking. Jump in, earn a few million, try to win a Slam, move on to something new. Many tennis purists will argue that it undermines the sport and brings in a sort of circus atmosphere and I’d have to say this is probably my thinking too.
I am a hopeless sporting romantic and love the stories of hard graft and achievement against the odds. I love seeing the emersion of the likes of Roger and knowing there is greatness to come. I love the Goran Ivanisevic’s of the wildcard world winning Grand Slams and I love reading up on the stories of the likes of Ernests Gulbis coming from small towns in struggling countries escaping to fame and glory.
Will it ruin tennis? I don’t think so. But it will certainly mean a demise in the long-staying Champions of the Martina Navratilova ilk. Watch this space to see if Elena returns to us. That will give us an indication of if the trend is a bad thing or not.
After the final round robin match of the Doha Championships, all of the players gathered on the court for a special announcement. Elena Dementieva, a stalwart of the women’s tennis tour, was about to upset the delicate balance of the tennis world by announcing her retirement, effective immediately. In a very touching ceremony, Elena thanked her supporters while the audience, her mom, Vera, and the other YEC competitors looked on. Everyone, even stony faced Sam Stosur, looked a bit teary eyed by the end Elena’s speech.
Elena’s abrupt departure set the tennis world abuzz. Were there more high profile retirements on the horizon? Later that day, Kim Clijsters announced that she would wrap up her career, for the second time, after the 2012 Olympics. Thanks for the warning Kim, but you’re at least a year ahead of yourself. Talk about the longest goodbye tour ever.
The way I see it, neither extreme is the way to go. I’m not a huge fan of Elena Dementieva, but even I felt jilted by her sudden exit. I wanted a farewell tour damn it, but not two years worth of farewell. We’ve seen both mistakes before. Justine Henin almost retroactively announced her retirement even though she was the world number one at the time, depriving fans of a proper goodbye. On the other hand, Marat Safin, a former number one player, gave us a full season’s notice, and by the end of the season he’d been asked so many retirement questions that the actual day couldn’t come fast enough. If you want my suggestion, the best time for a player to announce their retirement is before the last major event they plan to play. Clearly there are exceptions to any rule, but this allows the player a proper farewell in front of a large crowd and gives fans enough time to accept the inevitable.
As much as I hate to say it, I think the next couple of years are going to be full of these tearful goodbyes. Many of our favorite players are pushing 30 and for tennis players, that’s just about ancient. Here are a few of my best guesses as to who will be trading in their racket for retirement in the coming years.
The Honor Roll
My honorable mentions go out to players who will almost certainly retire Slamless, but who have given us a great deal of entertainment and heart over the years.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Tommy play anymore tennis, which is unfortunate because he deserves a nice send off. This former top 10 player is already 32 years old and his ranking has dropped down into the 300s after undergoing hip surgery earlier this year. Nothing’s out of the question, but the chances of Tommy coming back strong at this point are slim.
This 30 year old New Yorker has had recurring knee issues and lackluster results this year. I attended James’ 3rd round match against Novak Djokovic at this year’s US Open and I couldn’t help but think of it as a kind of last hurrah. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake pulls the plug any minute now.
Davydenko broke his wrist earlier this year, which kept him out for the majority of the season, but his ranking has stayed high. The 29 year old has often been considered a contender for a major title but has always fallen short, way short, when it comes to the Grand Slams. I’m basing this one solely on age, not performance. If he stays in shape and avoids more injuries, Nikolay could prove me wrong.
The Cum Laude Society
I may not shed a tear over this one, but I know someone will. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Williams sisters, an opinion based purely on behavior, not talent. However, I also don’t really know how to picture the tennis world without Venus and little sister Serena. Venus turned 30 this year and underwent knee surgery after this year’s US Open. She actually posted great results at the Slams this year, reaching two quarterfinals and a semifinal, but I question how much longer she can keep it up. I have a feeling Venus will let us know pretty early on when she plans to retire. She strikes me as the type that wants a long farewell tour.
This one will be a little bit tougher. Lleyton Hewitt’s a pretty likeable guy, so I’d imagine fans will be sad to see him go. I mean who can resist the Aussie accent? Hewitt was once number one in the world but his career has been riddled with injuries. Lleyton’s career peaked early on when he became the youngest man ever to be ranked number one at the age of 20, the same year he picked up the US Open title and the World Tour Finals. He followed up those results by winning Wimbledon in 2002 and defending his WTF title. I wouldn’t exactly say that things have been downhill since then, but a man who’s won two Grand Slam singles titles does not aspire to be ranked 50th in the world and very rarely making an appearance in the second week of a major. Lleyton’s wife recently gave birth to their third child and I have a feeling that this 29 year old’s tennis days are numbered. I hope that Hewitt gives us a little notice and decides to wrap things up at the Australian Open. He deserves a good hometown send off.
I’m dreading this, a lot. Andy has always been one of my favorite tennis players and I’ve always felt he had the talents to win several Grand Slams. Roddick triumphed at the 2003 US Open against Juan Carlos Ferrero, but in every subsequent Grand Slam final he’s been thwarted by Roger Federer. The current total is at four, three Wimbledon and one US Open. Most recently, in what I consider to be one of the most heartbreaking matches of all time, Andy lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final 16-14 in the deciding set. As much as I would love to see Roddick keep playing for years to come, Andy has said that he will not overstay his welcome in the tennis world. If he cannot maintain a high ranking, Andy will retire. Lucky for us, Andy is currently still in the top 10 and on course to appear in his eighth consecutive World Tour Final, so maybe we’ll get a few more years.
Honestly, I don’t even want to discuss this. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player and really the reason I fell in love with tennis. I think he’s the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had and an incredible example of what a star athlete should be. For me, Federer’s retirement will leave a gaping hole in the tennis world. Even if you’re a Rafa fan, you should be able to appreciate that the famous rivalry has helped make both players as great as they are today. Luckily, Federer is on a quest for the one trophy that has eluded him, an Olympic gold medal. Although, he did recently say that winning one more Wimbledon is actually more important to him than the Olympic gold. Roger has confirmed that he will definitely continue playing through the 2012 Olympics, but after that all bets are off. I personally believe Fed is not done winning Grand Slams and would love to see him go out on a high note (maybe a late career title at Wimbledon, I think that would be fitting.) However, if he’s not winning, I can’t imagine Roger will stick around. Currently he possesses a record 16 major titles and is ranked number two in the world. If his ranking starts to slip and he starts losing to nobodies, you can count on his retirement. Finally, Roger better not pull any of this surprise retirement crap. I have yet to see Federer play live and I fully intend to do so before he retires, so I’m going to need plenty of notice.
*29-year-old world No. 9 Elena Dementieva has shocked the tennis world by announcing that she will retire from the sport following the WTA Championships in Doha. She reached the finals of the French and US Opens in 2004 as well as the semi finals in Australia (2009), Wimbledon (2008, 2009) and at the WTA Chmps. (2000, 2008) whilst also holding both an Olympic Gold (Beijing) and Silver (Sydney) medal. In 2005 she starred for Russia in their Fed Cup triumph and currently stands as their most successful competitor ever in the competition and in 2009 she reached a career-high No. 3 in the world. But she says it was at the beginning of the year she made her decision and that, despite her family’s best attempts, she’s sticking to her guns. “This is my last tournament,” she told the Doha crowd after her group-stage defeat to Francesca Schiavone. “Thank you to all of the people that I have worked with for such a long time. I would like to thank all of the players for an amazing experience. It’s very emotional. I would like to thank all of the people around the world for supporting me through my career. And I would like to thank my family, especially my mum.” For more from Dementieva as well as reaction from her fellow pros visit the BBC Tennis website as well as the WTA site.
*Belgian super mum Kim Clijsters defeated Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki to lift the WTA Championships for the third time in Doha. The 27-year-old fought to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory despite having not played since lifting the US Open at Flushing Meadows back in September. “I’m glad I won and it must be disappointing for Caroline, but I don’t know how many more years I’m going to keep doing this,” said Clijsters. “It was just a great battle, great fitness and I think we showed the crowd some great women’s tennis.” Wozniacki said: “This has been a fantastic week for me. Kim just played amazing today and she deserves to win. In the third set it was very close. She played really well, especially in the important moments. Definitely the experience mattered a little bit today.” Gisela Dulko and Flavia Penetta won the doubles.
*The men’s season isn’t quite over yet but time is seriously running out for the remaining hopefuls looking to qualify for the ATP Finals in London later this month. Andy Roddick returned from a three-week layoff in Basel and defeated compatriot Sam Querrey 7-5, 7-6(6) to keep up his finals charge but there was not such good news for Tomas Berdych and Fernando Verdasco. Over at Valencia, Verdasco lost to Frenchman Gilles Simon in just fifty-seven minutes which deals a major blow to his finals hopes. Simon was on fire, winning an astonishing 81% of points off of his first serve. It was even worse for Wimbledon finalist Berdych. He went down 4-6, 1-6 in Basel to German lucky loser Tobias Kamke and now his qualification chances will be severely dented too.
*There’s an early Davis Cup final setback for France as world No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has withdrawn from the squad to face Serbia due to his recurring knee problems. He ruptured his tendon once more playing at Montpellier last week having only returned to action a few weeks previously. The 2008 Aussie Open finalist will also miss the Paris Masters next week where he would have been hoping to push his way in to the ATP World Tour Finals to be held in London later this month.
*Great scenes in St. Petersburg last week as world No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin humbled top seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6(2) to break his ATP Tour title duck. “For me it’s just incredible, this feeling, because I never think that I can win a tournament right now because I was ranked around 90,” he said. “When I came here I didn’t think I can even play quarter-finals, semis here. I was just concentrating on every match.” It was also his first final on the tour. A full interview with the Kazakhstani star can be seen at the ATP website.
*Caroline Wozniacki of course had already secured her berth as the year-ending world No. 1 but what did Doha mean for the rest? Kim Clijsters’ win has seen her climb back to No. 3 in the world meaning Serena finds herself sat at No. 4 as her injury woes continue. Aussie Sam Stosur finds herself back at No. 6 while much further down the scale, Croatia’s Karolina Sprem finds herself back up to No. 97 in the world having sat at 106 last week.
*The Christophe Rochus doping row has taken the interest of many tennis fans this week and it once again brings tennis in to contact with that horrible term and concept. There is an interesting debate on the issue over at Tennis.com between Steve Tignor and Kamakshi Tandon.
*Ana Ivanovic and coach Heinz Gunthardt have parted ways despite Ana’s recent resurgence. Gunthardt couldn’t commit to a full-time coaching role and Ana has decided to find somebody who will be able to follow her more permanently.
*It’s retirement central currently with American Taylor Dent hinting he may quit if results begin to slip. After overcoming terrible back injuries over the past few years the former world No. 21 has been fighting to climb the ladder again and save his career. “If I feel like I’m making headway, I’ll keep going,” Dent told the Charlottesville Daily Progress ahead of this week’s Charlottesville challenger. “If not—if I’m floundering or taking steps backward—then I’ll make that decision [to retire] sooner rather than later.”
*Another American is talking pipes and slippers, this time Rennae Stubbs. She says she plans to call time on her career in February after the Aussie Open and America’s Fed Cup tie against Italy. “If we win [in] Fed Cup and get to the semis, there’s a small possibility that I’d still like to be a part of that journey, having been on the train for so long,”’ the 39-year-old doubles specialist told the Melbourne Age. “But the plan is that Fed Cup will probably be it.”
*Dustin Brown is now competing under the German flag, having earlier represented Jamaica and expressing interest in representing Great Britain. He has clashed with the Jamaican tennis authorities over a perceived lack of support and famously travelled between tournaments in a camper van to save funds. He was born in Germany to a German mother and Jamaican father.
*There has been a lot of fuss made this past week about the fact that Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt announced the name of his new baby daughter via a paid-for text message service which fans could subscribe too. Hewitt, of course, is defending his “service” available to fans but many of the world’s press think badly of the venture. Although the argument is a little old now, there is a great tongue-in-cheek article on The Star website looking at the whole debacle from a typically Aussie perspective. Check it out, it’s a good read!
So we tearfully farewelled Elena Dementieva, my favourite, the “Slamless Swan” and saw “Little Miss Sunshine” Caroline Woznaicki and her magical yellow panties, cement the world No. 1 ranking for the year, and Sam Stosur reminded us (with the help of Fran Schiavone) that sadly, all the love in the world can’t stop a choke. Vika Azarenka stuck around Doha for another girlie sleepover while Jelly Jankovic limped home. And finally, Kim Clijsters reminded us that her best days are far from over. There is credit going where credit is due, and that is to the fabulous field of eight women who showed us some beautiful, well-crafted, athletic and gutsy tennis last week in Doha.
It’s time to turn the volume back up now for my legitimate favorites, the boys of the ATP. It’s a big week, as the contenders for the Top 8 to reach the World Tour Finals in London scrabble to pick up as many loose points as they can, even if it means stealing it from an old lady. (Oh no wait, Kimiko Date is in Bali!)
While the Big Four (And Sod!) have already qualified, competition for the last three spots is tight, most of it depending on this week’s 500 tournaments in Valencia and Basel. Next week’s Masters in Paris Bercy will clinch the lineup.
There are six guys competing for the last three spots, and they’re all awesome. (And hot. Random, amazing, true.) These guys have all had a great season, for one reason or another, and would be great additions to challenge the “B4AS” and give us some depth in London. (Except Tomas, sorry – unless he leaves his brain at home).
With the 3665 points he picked up from basically being a badass this year, upsetting big ‘uns at the important moments, he had us all thinking he could do it before running back to the happy choking cave and refusing to win since Wimbledon. He’s in Basel for the week, but so are Nole and Fed, which means it’s likely the head case came too, packed and wrapped in a shiny red ribbon. Sweet.
The sexy Spaniard’s been aiming for this goal all year – unlike the dudes who pretend they have no interest whatsoever – and he’s done pretty well to get there, with an incredible clay season and consistent hard court results throughout the year. With 3325 points, he has an almost sure chance of getting in, even if he doesn’t pick up any spares in his backyard in Valencia.
It looks like a lackluster season, but we forget how well he did on hard courts at the start of the year, in Miami and Indian Wells. His 3305 points make it very easy to catch up to Mr Ferru or even Tomas, should Tomas lose early and Rod make it all the way. Though honestly, it’s Basel that he’s chosen for the week, and scary Fed is there. Boo.
Fernando Verdasco is trying to remind us of the inspired second half of a match he played in New York when he stole our hearts with that incredible matchpoint, hoping for a deep run in Valencia that’ll supplement his 3150 points. Got to remember though, that even if he takes the whole thing, that still leaves him shy, and who knows what else the other boys might pick up during the week.
My boy Misha is a worry. His 2910 points could have put him in contention if he’d done what he was supposed to do after beating Dima, and actually finished off Kukushkin for the St Petersburg title. Instead, he waltzed around the tennis court for an hour and now has to show us his stuff in Valencia or risks falling back down into top 20 land. He made the final last year, so Race aside, he could also fall significantly, dammit.
Whatever, Jurgen. We know you had a great year, but take what you got in doubles and shuddup now, okay. You got your Vienna title, but there’s no way you’ll make it to London for singles unless you somehow take Paris. I’ll snigger at the prospect now but let me bite my tongue – hell, this is tennis.
Honorable mentions go to Jo and Marin, who everyone’s going, what, them? They haven’t had such great seasons –until we remember they were our Melbourne semifinalists, though Marin has basically reached irrelevance and Jo’s pulled out of Valencia with an injured knee. Nico’s done great, and I’m proud, but that’s enough for now boy. Leave the Valencia points to the boys who need them.
One of the things that I like about the US Open is the media buzz and thanks to one of my Facebook friends I found a great article created especially for the Open. You can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/08/29/magazine/womens-tennis.html
The video features Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur and Vera Zvonareva. The video is produced by the best newspaper in the world: The New York Times.
The article that goes with it is about the hard hitters in tennis. The article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/08/29/magazine/tennis-hard-hitters.html
Photo shoots don’t come much bigger than this. Bright lights, incredible cameras and glitter-laden tennis balls awaited Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva, Sam Stosur, Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka on the set of the New York Times photo shoot ahead of this year’s US Open. Decked out in glamorous fashion attire, the players looked incredible for photographer Dewey Nicks.
The making of the video can be watched here:
Who’s got the fastest hands on tour? Rafael Nadal or Justine Henin perhaps, or were you thinking of Andy Murray or Elena Dementieva? Try thinking outside of the box, or, more specifically, outside of the court. I’m not talking about the video review operator on center court or Roger Federer’s racquet stringer. Take your search into the players and media area and you will find a woman whose fingers are infinitely faster than any of the above.
Meet Linda Christensen, one of the ATP and WTA Tour stenographers. Able to type between 260-300 words per minute is a regular occurrence for this behind-the-scenes specialist who captures every sound uttered by the players in their post-match press conferences. Employed by ASAP Sports, Christensen gets the transcripts completed within moments of the players leaving the press room and into the hands of reporters and tournament organizers who can then share these valuable moments with tennis fans all over the world. In her spare time she also works as a CART provider (Communication Access Realtime Translation) which specializes in translating classes for deaf children who are in junior high and college.
A tennis enthusiast since the 1970s when her grandmother got her to watch Chris Evert, Christensen was initially trained as a court reporter, a role she fulfilled for 23 years. After years of working in the high-stress environment of the legal world, Christensen, a self-described sports enthusiast, decided to make the transition into the world of professional sports transcribing. Since the fall of 2007 she has covered college football, golf and most recently tennis where she began at the 2008 Australian Open.
I had the chance to talk with Linda last summer while covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto. There were many late nights where the two of us left the press room well past midnight. Getting back to the hotel past 2am is one of the tough realities of her job that she balances with the many positives she described to me one afternoon. Here is a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the vital role that Christensen plays in professional tennis.
Q: How does this fantastic process work with the machine and the audio and how do you put it all together?
A: It’s a training where you learn to write phonetically and it’s a different language. So instead of typing one individual letter on a keyboard like your laptop, phonetically we make words and phrases and even whole sentences at a time so that we’re able to take down up to 260-300 words a minute. And then that data is sent wirelessly into our laptop, fed into our database, and it is translated into English.
Q: And phonetically, it’s a hard concept to grasp for someone who is used to just your typical keyboard. But when I look at that machine there, you’ve got far less keys, they’re not labelled at all. So does each key correspond to a sound?
A: A sound. Or combinations of keys. Lets just take the word “much.” If you were on your laptop you would type m-u-c-h. When we write “much” it could be the initial “m” the “uh” and the final “ch” sound so we can write “much” all in one stroke. Or in court if you want to just say commonly used phrases, when an attorney addresses the jury he or she might say, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” and we have that in one phrase, one stroke of our shorthand keyboard.
Q: Would you do the same thing in the tennis world then?
A: Yeah. “Backhand,” “cross court,” “hard court,” “grass court,” “clay court” are all pre-programmed in there as one stroke on the keyboard.
Q: Is it conceivable that someone could, with a regular keyboard, keep up with it all?
A: I don’t believe so. I don’t think anybody’s ever been able to type that fast.
Q: What’s your evaluation process like? How are you evaluated or how are you reviewed each year or what kind of process do they have in place for that? Or are you just on your own when you go to tournaments?
A: A little of both I guess. People read our transcripts in the company and we usually work with colleagues. This kind of tournament (Masters 1000 level) we work solo because they’re smaller, but at the Slams we work in tandem with a computer person and a writer. And so we evaluate each other and challenge each other to be faster and more accurate.
Q: How hard is it to pick up? When you started in 1983, how long did it take you to become comfortable with this process?
A: Well, I can say that the attrition rate in court reporting is very high. If I were to say a beginning class, let’s say, is 25, I would be hard-pressed to say that maybe one or two other people that started when I did are still doing it. It’s a very high-stress job. I’m talking legally. And then there’s a whole other part of the business end and dealing with personalities like lawyers and paralegals, and deadlines. If they’re in trial and they need something right away, you have to pull an all-nighter to get that transcript to them. And, you know, with ASAP, we say “When all is said we’re done” – journalists have a deadline to meet and we know we’re under the wire to get them their quotes from these interviews.
Q: In terms of tennis, who are some of the more difficult players to keep up with or understand and transcribe?
A: At the French Open in 2009 – the Serbians all speak very good English but they’re very fast and fortunately they have a good cadence with how they speak. And Ana Ivanovic can be very quick, very rapid-fire. I was working as the writer for her interview at the French and I had a scopist – meaning the computer person – a young man working with me, and we are able with our software to gauge how many words a minute people talk. Anyway, Ana Ivanovic came in from a win and she just “took off,” and my colleague, after the interview, said that she had at times during the interview gotten to 330 words a minute. She was pretty quick. Others have very heavy accents. Dinara Safina can be very difficult to understand, as is her brother Marat. They have a very heavy accent. James Blake,(laughs) all the journalists know that he speaks very fast. And it’s kind of a joke and he realizes that he’s our nemesis, because he’s even looked at us and said, “I know you hate me.” ‘Cause he just really likes to talk.
Q: Do you ever get to a point where you’re struggling to keep up or has it ever happened to you that you’re falling behind – how do you compensate for that? How do you deal with those situations?
A: Yes, that is difficult. You learn a skill called trailing or carrying where you learn to be behind a sentence or two and you keep it in your mind and you catch up. If we have any questions, everything is also recorded to our hard drive simultaneously, so if we think we might have missed something or misheard, we can listen to that at the time we edit it before we send the final transcript.
Q: Any memorable moments in particular? Particular tournaments or interviews that stand out for one reason or another?
A: Well, yeah, the Australian Open of ’08 my colleague and I – there were just really long matches, and everything for the women went three sets and everything for the men went five. And it being Australia, we took Lleyton Hewitt, he won over Baghdatis, and we took Lletyon’s interview at 5:30am. We stayed up all night waiting for that. And the tennis fans of Australia are true fans. There were kids in the audience and nobody left (early). Last year at Montreal Marat Safin threw in some choice words. He’s funny. He’s very funny. He was retiring and was asked a question about his sister and just held nothing back and let the expletives fly. So that was fun.
Q: Do you have to transcribe those expletives word for word, verbatim?
A: Yes, pretty much.
Q: Any awkward moments between reporters and players
A: I can’t think of a specific. Only when players lose and they don’t like to be asked what they think are seemingly stupid questions. So they get kind of testy.
Q: Favorite tournaments for you in the year and a half that you’ve been doing this?
A: Indian Wells is wonderful, as is the Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne. The Slams – the French is great, everything is translated and the translators are great. The US Open is gruelling because they have lights that they can start matches very late at night. So last year every other night is 3 to 4 AM into bed, and that gets a little tough after two-plus weeks