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Yes We Have No Bananas 09/09/2006 - 11:44 PM

2006_09_09_sharapova_1 Well,  I'll say this much: Maria Sharapova handled the match with which she wiped out the "One Slam Wonder" label much better than the ceremony celebrating the achievement. Did you see the way she lost the lid of the trophy? I guess the "hands of stone" rap isn't entirely unjustified, although if you ask me, there's a different reason that Po' doesn't hit the drop shot. She hasn't figured out how to shriek when doing it.

The other memorable moment in the presentation occurred when CBS's Dick Enberg gave her a nice, smooth lead-in to acknowledging her father, Yuri, and Po' suddenly went all girlish and said, "I love my daddy." It could have been a touching moment, I guess, but a kind of embarrassed silence fell over the assembled crowd and it didn't help that when they the camera went Yuri, he appeared to be too busy talking on his cell to notice.

Story of her life, in a way. That's what I think. For despite all the frilly and floozy bits cooked up by designers (ever notice how often their main ambition seems to be to get even rather than get right with women, which would be your ultimate passive-aggressive statement), Sharapova is still very much the gangly, slightly out-to-lunch, literal-minded girl whose mission in life thus far seems to be pleasing daddy. Forget the glam bits and all that money, the "real" Maria still  may be the awkward poorly-dressed waif with dirty knees, chasing after forehands and backhands on some gritty, badly lit outdoor court on a hot Florida night.

I actually prefer that one to the Nike model, but maybe I'm just being sentimental.

Given the flow of events here - I mean at TennisWorld - I think this result speaks volumes about fans and passions and just what constitutes a good tennis player.  I don't care how "good" Justine Henin-Hardenne is, aesthetically speaking; if having a pretty game were the whole point, they would score it with judges awarding points for things like the break-point pirouette, forehand follow through, and the all-important "overall presentation." Meaning, does the color of her dress match her complexion?

Instead, we have two players tacitly agreeing that they're going to hit the ball and count who hits it between the lines more often, and the only determining factor is going to be which one keeps it there more often. She is then called the "winner," which is sports-speak for good player. Or, at any rate, Gooder player than the other girl.

You would think that having such a simple, universally accepted standard of judgment would make things easy. It ought to. But it appears to make things harder; I guess, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth!"

Tonight, Sharapova was the better player, in a match suffused with and driven by the spirit of payback - of fairness, something in which we all are interested, if you want to make a morality tale of it. Payback for all those sacrifices made by a 19-year old who doesn't really appear to have much choice in the matter (yes, daddy). Payback for all those hours spent on the practice court, honing a limited game with the strop of ambition, day-after-bloody-day, for years on end, knowing that there were a few ways she could win, but on talent, with ease and grace and aplomb, was not one of them.

And those blood-curdling shrieks? Let's not kid ourselves, we know exactly what they are: cries for attention and acknowledgment, a petition for validity. See, see how hard I can hit the ball? See, see how hard I'm working? See, see how godawful hard this is and how good it feels and how terribly much I need to let loose and experience the sheer thrill of abandon, the one thing I can never afford to do when I see that ball coming toward me because - because, lacking the talent of Justine, lacking the flair of a Serena, lacking the versatility of an Amelie, this is the only way I can experience a little bit of what they have, and still somehow be good. And without being good - without winning that last point, I'm nothing.

At some point, Sharapova must have come to grips with that grim reality. If not, Sharapova would never have hoisted the trophy, even though she ended up bonking herself in the head with its lid.  I'm tempted to ask, is it worth it? I guess that's a question better asked of Maria by Maria, but we all know the answer, don't we? There isn't a player in this universe who would rather have been Justine than Maria after that last, winning point. Not even Justine.

I'm watching and listening to the presser here at the desk as I write this, and there's a nasty little bit of business going on in there, with the reporters challenging Maria's decision not to discuss the on-air images of Yuri and the now notorious banana, and hitting partner Michael Joyce holding aloft four fingers in what may have been some kind of coaching signal - which, of course, would be yet another violation of the endlessly violated rules against coaching. You can check the transcript for the prolonged, testy exchange. The original question about the issue came from Liz Clarke of The Washington Post, the unfortunate back-and-forth later was an exchange between Sharapova and Bill Simon, of the regional NoCal publication, Inside Tennis.

I'm not much interested in that controversy, if that's the right word for it. I saw no great change in strategy or technique developing out of it. On the other hand, the first thing Sharapova said when she walked into the presser was something like, "Okay everybody, let's keep this positive, okay." I took this to mean that somebody had already told her to be on guard.

I sensed all along that there was something pre-determined in tonight's clash, which ultimately seemed to me a triumph of will, effort and execution; to combat it effectively would have taken a player with an equal degree of hunger, something that seemed conspicuously lacking in H-2.

Whatever else you think, it would be mean-spirited to deny that she earned this moment. It didn't even last that long, as the trophy presentation showed. As Sharapova said in her presser: "I thought to myself, the second it happened, I thought, that's Maria, typical Maria. I just knew something like that was going to happen."

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Posted by Margolis 09/09/2006 at 11:50 PM

Wow. As with every post this U.S.Open, great insights and fantastic writing.

Posted by Nancy J 09/09/2006 at 11:57 PM

I just noted on the last thread, Maria's not wanting to discuss the "coaching" issue in her post match interview (its on TTC right now).

Also, Nick B was quoted somewhere on the net today admitting that he had given coaching cues to a former player of his (Lisa Bonder), but that on one occasion he lost the card with his cues, and had to be careful not to move and make her do something he did not intend!

The thing about Maria -- I don't see her as Russian. She talks like a "valley girl" (an LA saying). She looks like a valley girl. She acts like a valley girl. She was trained by American tennis pros. And yet, she's a Russian star? Yeah, right.

Lastly, that danged shriek has to GOOOOOOO! Its ridiculous.

Posted by VE 09/10/2006 at 12:01 AM

Pete, Bravo, I'm glad to see you taking issue with the fans who have decided Maria's not a great player because her shots aren't pretty or because she grunts.

Maria's a hell of a player, not that this US Open or any other title will silence the anti-Masha KADs, but truth is, with two majors and a stint at No. 1, Sharapova has already pretty much assured herself a spot in Newport.

Maria may be pretty, oh so pretty, but she's also won two of toughest tests in tennis, so there's something else we need to label this girl...a damn good tennis player.

Posted by vanfan 09/10/2006 at 12:09 AM

Again let's face it, the coaching issue is a non-issue. Who isn't coaching? except for the proud.

I think the four finger salute was in response to banana-gate. Let's see if Sharpie doesn't get a banana or banana republic endorsement. She should. She will. She won.

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 12:14 AM

i dont get it ,whats the penalty for coaching on court? does the coach get kicked off the court? this is gonna stink for awhile, for sure, and taint Maria's win a bit, i think... she's gonna have to deal with it, Nike's PR team better write up her talking points...

Posted by vanfan 09/10/2006 at 12:26 AM

Tim there is no penalty for coaching on court. It has been tolerated for years now.

I hope that you are not blind to the fact that Justine recieves on-court coaching as well.

Posted by flea 09/10/2006 at 12:37 AM

I looked up the rules... as far as is concerned, the rules against coaching are as follows:

"Players shall not receive coaching during a match. Communications of any
kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as
coaching.... Violation of this Section shall subject a player to a fine up to $250 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the
warm-up), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty
Schedule hereinafter set forth. In circumstances that are flagrant and
particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly
egregious, the ITF Supervisor may order the Coach to be removed from the site
of a match or the precincts of the tournament site and upon his failure to
comply with such order may declare an immediate default of such player."

The point penatly system is as follows:
THIRD and each subsequent offence GAME PENALTY"

So basically, Maria was definitely being coached as defined by the rules of the ITF, but no one warned her about it officially, so that's that. Maybe she'll be fined 500 bucks, $250 for the banana at the quaters, $250 for the four fingered salute tonight. I think with her 1.7 million dollar paycheck, she can afford it.

Posted by coke 09/10/2006 at 12:42 AM

Justine was gracious in defeat, she wasn't a bad sport - she said maria deserved to win and she was the better player! maria was serving so well and didn't allow JJH to get in the match at all. BUT justine was excepting and people can't keep bagging her for being a bad sport!

Posted by dennis 09/10/2006 at 12:55 AM

It's true. There are alot of people, as pete mentioned, that hate sharapova's (limited) game and her overpowering will to make it a nonfactor through sheer grit. I am one of these people. Everytime I see Sharapova on tv, I turn the volume down a little lower and try to watch the other player no matter who before I, too, pick up a Sharapova forehand.
Right now the tide of anti-anti-Sharapova is high and with good reason. Sharapova's won her 2nd grand slam erasing the fluke status that comes w/ anyone's 1st grand slam. People write you off, break down your technical deficiencies, tell you the game's passed you by. Just go ask Andy Roddick how he feels. But with a 2nd grand slam all those deficiencies don't seem to matter anymore. The reasoning is if that's what gets it done, then there's no need to question it.
But I still stand by my opinion of Sharapova. Yes, her forehand had much more depth and consistency tonight. But I still despise it. I despise it as much as I love Blake's forehand, Roddick's serve, and Federer's...everything. I can't model my forehand after hers because it's not technically sound. It is the side that breaks down more often. Everyone knew this. Just remember back to Justine's repeated attacks to Sharapova's forehand tonight. The forehand that unforce errors didn't tonight and cost Justine her 2nd championship.
I suppose if I tried I could pick up Sharapova's forehand but I might as well stick with my own creation then since it seems to be one of those things that get better the more you do them. Yet if not technically sound, it will break down no matter how much practice you put. On one magical night it didn't but what about the rest of the year?

Posted by vanfan 09/10/2006 at 12:58 AM

dennis , please explain what is so limited about a game that defeated what some are calling the most talented of her generation

Posted by mariafan 09/10/2006 at 01:06 AM

Pete, what did you see in Sharapova's game tonight that made you think she didn't win with grace, ease and aplomb? Did Justine show more of these qualities than Maria ? A first serve percentage of 72 % is enough grace and aplomb for me, and I can't think of a better definition of "ease" than 6-4, 6-4.

Posted by Eugene 09/10/2006 at 01:10 AM

As a Russian , I may say , that Maria is anything but Russian. Check the other russian girls or men. This, "I don't give a damn" attitude on court is similar to Monica Selesh attitude. The common things shared between these two : they are Slavics brought up in America.
Apparently bad combination, though Max Mirny and Anna Kournikova prove this wrong.

Posted by Eliz 09/10/2006 at 01:35 AM

Where's Maria's mother? She's never at the tournaments and Maria never refers to her.

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 01:50 AM

Well, I'm unhappy, but Sharapova was the better player tonight. It was a pretty close match, but never in doubt. Justine just didn't play the tennis she's been playing, and Sharapova played her best stuff. Justine was making quite a few unforced errors, and wasn't going for her shots much. She let Sharapova take control of the points, and Maria was too good tonight. Justine would have needed to take control right away, and she was missing enough that she rarely tried to hit her big shots.

Sharapova was too strong on her serve. Letting her break back immediately in the first set was a critical point. Justine had been cracking winners, and took her foot off the gas a bit. Sharapova then got confidence on her serve, and it gave lots of high balls and service winners, and she sure put them away.

She was very accurate and hit with pace. She simply played better than Justine did, and deserved the win. I could see near the end of the first set that Justine was not aggressive enough, and was missing shots which are pretty easy for her, so didn't have confidence to go for the big stuff. There really wasn't much she could do. Her rhythm never quite clicked in, and Sharapova played so well that it was hard to get in any rhythm. After those initial serve jitters, Sharapova's serve was superb, and her return game was also terrific.

It's a shame Justine was a bit off tonight, but she still played fairly well. She was tight, and netted some crucial and eaay shots on the two breaks which gave Sharapova the win, and also the confidence to hit out and keep Justine on the defensive.

There were some terrific rallies, and some great winners from both players, but I didn't find the match that exciting, though some of that was watching Justine play pretty ordinary tennis and knowing she'd probably lose, even before she lost the first set. I kept hoping she'd find her range and start firing, but she never did. She was tight throughout the match, and although the numbers of unforced errors weren't huge at 19, that's a large number for her in a two set match when she wasn't really going for much.

All credit to Sharapova, though. She played great tennis, and the better player won tonight.

Fortunately, Ohio State played a great game, so it didn't bother me all that much that Justine lost, but I am such a fan of hers that I wish she had played better.

Posted by L. Rubin 09/10/2006 at 01:51 AM

The "I love my daddy" line and Sharapov's lack of reaction to it was rather embarrassing to watch. That trashy Yuri is a piece of work, no doubt: his daughter wins a grand slam and he acts as if he can't wait to continue his conversation with the stock broker. I guess, however, that he fancies himself to be above the simple, but sweet, gestures of cheering for his child and snapping a few shots with the family Polaroid.

Posted by Jessica 09/10/2006 at 01:53 AM

Thank you Pete for a well written article. Despite everything, I wouldn't trade my life for hers, even for a day.

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 02:02 AM

One thing which is hard to understand is why Justine didn't come in. She came in early and won the points, then stayed back the rest of the match. She even admitted it; that she didn't play the strategy which they had planned, to come in and put pressure on Sharapova. Especially when she was not winning from the baseline, she never came in. I did find that incomprehensible.

Posted by Matt Zemek 09/10/2006 at 02:08 AM

Hey Bob:

I'm sure an OSU win in Austin and a JHH loss is much better as a combo than the reverse.

Congrats on the Buckeyes.


Brilliant posts, as usual, on Roddick and Sharapova. I am making so many big-picture connections between and among the tennis community, the sports world, and American culture as a result of being here.

Posted by rgrace 09/10/2006 at 02:20 AM

Yuri was certainly calling his broker in Bermuda and telling him to expect another fat check. I sure hope his daughter gets wise to him someday and tells him to screw off. Maybe he'll wind up in jail like Steffi's father. I like the insight into her, that's not something you see anywhere else. The bit with the trophy was endearing.

I suspect that Sharapova could be on her way to double-figures in majors. Her power is just overwhelming in the women's game. Her height, wingspan and power could enable her to build a consistent serve-and-volley game, racket technology be d*mned. If she does, look out, shw could wipe everyone else off the court for a few years. F'r cryin' out loud - she's only 19! Of course her game is somewhat limited! Give the girl a break already. She kicked Henin's tochus thoroughly.

I think the only girl who could stay with her is an in-shape, motivated Serena.

Posted by Margolis 09/10/2006 at 02:21 AM

Bob (and others)
How would you rate the level of Justine's play tonight compared with the first half of her semifinal?

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 02:32 AM

Matt: Yes, the main thing was the Bucks, and they were incredible. They have all their tough games at home now, except perhaps MSU and Iowa, but even with Tate, I don't see Iowa as that great. They were pretty ordinary today. The defense was amazing, holding Texas to 7 points.

Margolis: Justine played far better tonight, in that she served better. She didn't play all the great, but better than the first set against Jankovic.

She needed to come in. Sharapova was hitting everything back, and Justine was the first one to hit an error; or give Sharapova a short ball. It was just mediocre baseline play from her, with a few brilliant exceptions. Why she didn't come in was beyond me. She was losing the baseline duel throughout the match, because of her errors. When that's happening, you might as well come in, even if you get passed, since you have no option. Justine did go down swinging however. She started hitting the ball harder after she was broken in the second set, but it was too late. Sharapova served very well after that, to close it out.

Frankly I'd still pick Justine to beat her on any surface. This was a sub-par Justine, both in play and in strategy, and I expect her to win more than 50% of her matches with Sharapova. This is two slams in a row where she was tight in the final, and didn't play her game. It's a difficult thing to do under that pressure. Fortunately she's only 24, and she has years to go. Making 4 slam finals is a great year, even with only one win.

Posted by mici 09/10/2006 at 02:46 AM

I am glad for maria, she was the better player all the us open, on the day and all summer.

I do think that the heat, and the anti maria Kad's is because pepole dont like young pretty grils to do so wel.

I am sorry but maria doesnt scrim any harder then any of the wiliams sisters, Pete and every body go and look again 2 wimbeldon sami final last year between maria- and VEE wiliams, she how scrim harder. why doesnt any one she a thing about the wiliams sisters- no maria is pretty and she makes a lot of money because she is pretty.

The coaching and banana- firest off all I see how pepole make think it's coaching, but for me coaching is got 2 do with tactics, and what shot 2 hit, not what to eat, or drink. is the same when there was bad line call and the coach says 2 the player it's in or out, 2 peace his mind the same think.

second- why didnt any 1 say- about gilbret and murry in TMS Cincy when you can see he game him coaching I think it was heman match.

the 4 fingers- it's not the firest time he did it, he didnt if I am not mistaken in the aus as well- and it doesnt got anything to do with tactics, its got to do with her drinking, 4 butalls of wother or some thing 2 pot in it.

I said maria would win this match if H2 didnt use the slice, she didnt use is enoght times any didnt do it good- so she lost.

why didnt any one in the prass ask H2 how she was hotting so hard 1 and 2 serves, back is allright??????? there maybe a reason good reason, but way the prass doesnt ask her the Q, confrent her. and even after the aus they didnt ask the right Q.

this is the reason why I always say that the is (-) in being pretty, some pepole, and most of all woman just heat you because of it the are jaulos.

that is what they did to ana- she was good player but let all the prass and the prasour get to her, and pepole heated her because so got momeny from her butey.

I always when I know there is the posablity that I will met a woman in power , I toan down the way I drass and look, as I know they guys will like it but not the woman, and I dont want 2 arise antigonizam.

I didnt see any one in the prass talking about other players with ugly game.

Posted by L. Rubin 09/10/2006 at 03:56 AM

Mici wrote, in refernece to Anna K: "she got momeny from her butey." You native speakers of English will surely appreciate the unintended hilarity of this rather charming sentence.

Posted by Israel C 09/10/2006 at 04:39 AM

Great commentary Pete. Haven't posted since last year's Open, so I have a few thoughts here.

Congrats to Sharapova. I also thought Justine appeared very gracious in defeat (which was great to see). For being 19 years old, Maria consistently demonstrates a mental fortitude that is unmatched by anyone on the women's tour...except for Justine Henin-Hardenne. For all the scrutiny regarding the limitations of Sharapova's game, she soundly defeated a former champion in straight sets tonight (primetime, on arguably the biggest stage in the sport). I think her previous match against Mauresmo speaks for itself. Even when her game gets "ugly" (Golovin match), she finds a way to win. She plays the game as if she's "on the ragged edge of a never-ending emergency", but she does it with a winning combo of aggressiveness, competence, and a steely focus that I find incredible. I think some of the knocks about her game can sometimes be attributed to the fact that she possesses a smile that enlists support from men and admiration (or jealousy) from women.

She doesnt't need the talent of Henin, the flair of Serena, or the versatility of Mauresmo. She has beaten the "Talent" and "Flair" in straight sets in her two Grand Slam appearances, and delivered two bagel sets over "Versatility" in this year's semifinals. I wouldn't care if she shaved her head and eyebrows-- you have got to give the girl credit for her unrelenting drive and ambition, regardless of the source.

That being said, the post-match ceremony was painful. Maria Sharapova is still just a girl, albeit a pre-packaged one: meticulously trained from the time she stepped on court, not just on her groundstrokes, but on what to say, what to do, and how to act. She has got to be such a boring quote; The Billie Jean King acknowledgement was nice, in a been-there-done-that-already-over. The celebration, everything, just seemed muted. She is a 19 year old ascending the pinnacle of her sport; yet even in victory, her response feels robotic and pre-planned. Just like Father Yuri, whose instinct told him to take a cell phone call rather than listen to his teenage daughter's victory speech, including an acknowledgement of "her love for her daddy." It appeared that no-one, not even Maria, actually savored what was supposed to be her championship moment.

Final thought: Everyone has to respect her ambition and unrelenting drive. These qualities have contributed to shaping some of the greatest champions in all sports. Unrestrained ambition has also shortened or destroyed many a career. The harder people fight to get ahead and reach the top, the more important it is to stop and look at the scenery. It's the only way to know if you're running toward the mountaintop or off the cliff.

Posted by mici 09/10/2006 at 07:34 AM

L. Rubin, I am sorry I was lazy with my english in my last post.

but hy, I am sure every 1 understood what I ment 2 say, no? ;)

I also what 2 say good sport from H2 this time, I sow her post match interview and she was really fair, what she did right, what she didnt do and what maria doen.

I also looked and so that other sire talked about the bananagade and the 4 finger drink:

I dont get it, unless it got 2 do with tactics and what shot 2 hit- I dont have any problem with it, and I dont see it as any differnet, from what other coachs are doing, when they say 2 a player : heart, or the call was in or out, the rule says camunication at all of this as well as the banana with we go by that rule is camunication. Only when we are ralking about tactics I have problem with it.

The slice: I sow that is the prass after fed match they asked him about the slice, I gauss it 2 so long for them 2 see itm and they didnt see last year match with nalbandian, I said it so many times here for me fed best shot is his slice.

My Q is and till no body told me: WHY DO THE PLAYERS WITH 1 H BH HAVE SO MUCH PROBLEM WITH THE SLICE? and remember it's not like nalbandian and dvydanko have bad 2 hand bh. nalbandian 2 hand bh is among 2 best 2 hand bh in the world togever with safin and dandynko's 2 hand bh it's his best shoe he love it and it's so concictent, does any 1 know????????????? Pete, any one????????????

Posted by temes 09/10/2006 at 07:38 AM

I truly hope after 20 years people will remember Sharapova for all the majors she won and not for some bananas and fingers.

Posted by mici 09/10/2006 at 07:40 AM

I meant players with 2 hand bh have problem with the slice, more othen then not.

Posted by Mark Eckley 09/10/2006 at 08:10 AM

Thanks for a great post, Pete.
Not too happy to have to sit through a match between two players I am unenamored with,
I was overcome with positive emotion during the trophy presentation when Sharapova unwittingly dismantled the trophy and sent Dick Enberg scurrying on the red carpet. Such a heartfelt 'duh' came over her- she seemed like a normal teen. My friends and I TIVO'd the moment a couple times and laughed and laughed.
My first drink of Shriekapova kool-aid, I guess.

Off to do battle. Enjoy the Men's final, y'all.

Posted by Mark 09/10/2006 at 08:20 AM

Pete, it's avuncular of you to suggest that we give her a break for the four fingers business, but the rules about on-court coaching are the same as those for crime in general: it's fine if you don't get caught. She did. Twice in the same tournament. Presumably her camp are savvy and cynical enough to know that the cameras might be on them after what happened during the Golovin match, but they thumbed their noses at everyone and did it anyway. The fact that she tried to set the tone during her presser just showed that same spirit that she did in the match: to protect your weak points, attack is the best form of defence.

As for arguments about the relative beauty of their games, Sharapova's actual strokes are no more or less beautiful than, say, Davenport's, or those of about ninety of the other top hundred women. Personally I think her backhand has a certain bucolic splendour to it - she could fell trees with that thing.

What is ugly is the mean-spiritedness with which she plays, the acquisitiveness that goes beyond titles to lucre, the sheer disingenousness of it all. Don't tell me she came up with the idea for the 'pretty' commercial to help bullied kids feel better about themselves. Her team fed her that one so they could make more money. All these points go back to something you yourself have defended on countless occasions: that on a tennis court, you're by yourself, and you have to handle yourself independently. Sharapova is a fascinating, if distasteful, look at how you can build a one woman industry. It will be fascinating if she ever starts thinking for herself.

Posted by Ruth 09/10/2006 at 08:33 AM

I'd like to think that Yuri was making a cell phone call to his always absent wife, the mother of the new USO champion. It seems as if I'll have to get that tape of the match more for the post-match goings on than for the match itself.:)

Posted by daylily 09/10/2006 at 08:41 AM

beautiful writing, pete. these slams somehow bring out the best in you, even if you (and they) get off to a slow start. that's why you're the guru of our tribe, even if some of us wander from time to time. obviously i've spent less time than usual here the past few days, owing to an aversion to seeing roger canonized repeatedly, not by you, of course, but by the usual suspects. it does get old after awhile, though i will say he's a remarkable tennis player.

pete, you perfectly expressed the pathos that surrounds maria, if not overtly then certainly beneath all of the hype. as the song goes, "she works hard for the money," even though the execution of her labors may not be the loveliest of all. maria's life is very russian, regardless of where she lives, wouldn't you say?

can't say i'm thrilled she won, but she certainly outplayed justine last night for some reason. i am still chuckling at the expression on J2H's face during maria's speech, though. hilarious....

Posted by Spinless 09/10/2006 at 08:43 AM

I didn't see the final, it already seemed predestined that Screamopova would win, whether it be commercially, or that JHH seemed quite lackluster and mentally incapable of doing what she has done in the past given her performance against JJ. However, I got home in time to see Screamopova's tribute to dad was one of the most pathetic moments I've seen on TV with him on the cell. They are one scary twosome, let's hope that no Americans take a lesson in parenting from them, regardless of the millions of bucks they have in his account now.

Posted by daylily 09/10/2006 at 08:45 AM

oh, pete, sorry to add a postcript but.....

could you puh-leeeeeze do me one really HUGE GINORMOUS favor? besides dedicating rafa's post to me, that is? (besitos)

could you please NOT pick rafa to win anything ever again?

i love you forever, you know that, but man, this is getting to be the kiss of death if the tournament isn't on clay.....

xoxoxoxxoxo lol

Posted by jessie 09/10/2006 at 09:17 AM

I posted this in another site and i wanted ppl to know my opinion about justine, as i think 2006 is a year of "ironies" for the belgian.

Just think about it, justine is the last woman since hingis to reach all 4 finals, and hingis won 3 except for the one i bet she desired the most, which justine this year won. Also, i think justine should not feel bad about "only" winning one GS because when you think of it, she had a better performance this year compared to last year, which speaks volumes of her enormous skill and talent. But i too am beginning to worry about her nerves and fighting spirit, as they have been absent pretty much in the last 2 GS.

Also, still y all the hate for JHH? she already admitted after the us open loss that the better player won, but still she gets battered. I just imagine the comments if she indeed won, or if she won wimbledon and completed a career golden slam. Tsk tsk.

Also isnt it strange? Justine, in all the 3 GS she lost, she won a tournament just before the major events, but before the French open, she lost the clay tuneup tournaments but eventually won the FO. Is that strange or what.

Posted by marie 09/10/2006 at 09:29 AM

although i somehow correctly predicted Sharapova's chances in the Open i wonder if she and Roddick ( well, in case the rumors are true ) are having a bet about each other's chances before the tourney started? :):):)

Posted by Sam 09/10/2006 at 09:30 AM

"Justine played far better tonight, in that she served better. She didn't play all the great, but better than the first set against Jankovic."

She also played a tougher opponent. Sharapova's serve was impressive, after the first few games, and she played aggressively. I thought Justine did not dictate play nearly enough, and should have come to net more.

No excuses though. Congratulations to Sharapova - she deserved to win. I'm still not a fan of her game, but if she can play this kind of tennis in the majors, she will win some more of them.

Posted by Sam 09/10/2006 at 09:40 AM

"to combat it effectively would have taken a player with an equal degree of hunger, something that seemed conspicuously lacking in H-2. "

That was a big surprise to me. Usually (even when she doesn't play her best), JHH shows more hunger.

Also, I agree with those who said that JHH was gracious in defeat. If people slam her for not being this way in other losses, she should get credit here.

In back to back matches against #1 & #2, Sharapova only lost a total of 14 games. Impressive.

Posted by Furnunculus 09/10/2006 at 09:42 AM

Communism's back people. 4 fingered salute?

Posted by Sam 09/10/2006 at 09:44 AM

Bob had the OSU win to take away the sting of JHH's loss. Hopefully the Eagles and Federer will do the same for me today. Both should win.

I am more disappointed than upset about JHH's loss last night.

Posted by dude 09/10/2006 at 09:45 AM

I think that Clijsters could have beaten Sharapova even when sharapova was playing that well. its a shame Clijsters couldnt play.

Posted by my 09/10/2006 at 09:48 AM


I don't about others, but I find myself reacting against players almost reflexively when I find myself being pushed towards them by the giant corporate machine that is the Open.

Hey, I understand that if they didn't make money off tennis I wouldn't get to see it on television, but do they have to be so over the top with their 'chosen' coverage?

For example, Federer comes into the tournament with a 5 GS final streak--that doesn't get covered til yesterday. Federer is one of the most successful (on a world wide basis) tennis players, that doesn't get covered.

Even Rafa gets very little coverage (other than a piece that was the male version of a t and a personality piece).

Every day great stories are going on and they don't get covered.

On a long term basis I do not see this as a way to 'grow' tennis in the US since most people have never heard of the great majority of the major players in the sport.

It leads to a warped understanding of the game. Again, for example, Roger is not 'emotionless' on the court. He may not have over the top body language, but hell, he is fairly easy to read. He laughs, he swears (not often, but it happens), he yells at himself (in more than one language). Yet yesterday, not long after it was mentioned on the air that he cried at both Wimbledon and AO, once again we are told that 'he should try and show some emotion'.

They stick Nadal off on the second court when he is playing an important match--when there is drama--he is trying to chase Federer, if Nadal wins we still have a chance of, for the first time, the same two men facing each other in three straight GS finals. All these stories are ignored.

I am focusing on the men's side because if I even think about the women's side I hit the roof.

sigh, I don't know if I can even bear to watch the men's final. I hate having corporate giants attempting to whipsaw my emotions. I hate having to listen to them lie about events that I know they were wrong about since I was there (they constantly tell us how 'the crowds felt this' and 'the crowds felt that' when I was there and I know more than them what the crowds felt).

A story.

Some number of years ago at the UO a certain commentator spoke of how a certain player was playing with a new found inner sense of peace. The commentator specifically mentioned that player's summer circuit performances as evidence. I had been at one of those tournaments and had witnessed that player a) cheating when playing with his practice partner--and I mean cheating not doing cute b) saw that player routinely hide balls when the balls were changed so that 6 games later on a break point he could serve with a new ball and surprise his opponent and c) swear viciously and repeatedly at his opponents and just about everyone in a language other than English. Since I was with someone who spoke that language I got the instant translation.

Later I found out that the commentator in question had not even been there, they had talked to said player and that player's coach on the phone and talked to them at press events leading up to the UO.

So much for expert inside commentary. I knew it was crap since I had see/heard/experienced otherwise but for the literally millions in TVland the fact that that player had a meltdown in an early round of the UO came as a shock. Not to me it didn't--in fact I predicted ahead of time with witnesses.

One of my few 'good calls' in tennis. But it I can do it why can't the people who get paid.

Again, sorry for the long passionate post--had to get that off my chest.

Posted by Masha sucks 09/10/2006 at 09:53 AM

I hate sharapova

Posted by Observer 09/10/2006 at 09:59 AM

Does anyone ever notice that Sharapova is more of a gamesmanship player than Justine ever was?? Justine has always gotten that bad reputation because of two unfortunate events. Sharapova, on the other hand, has always got her gamesmanship going on. First of all, did anyone notice how she barely grunted when she was winning?? This PROVES that she only grunts when she's losing to intimidate her opponent (which is the LOWEST of the low) especially since her grunt is the loudest women's tennis has ever heard. Second of all, she was wearing a sparkly dress. If I were Justine, I sure would have been dazzled by that dress and lose my concentration because it's so distracting. Notice also how Maria only takes bathroom breaks when she is losing, and so she didn't need one in the final. Finally, she was being coached. Yes, I know it's just a banana and water, but tennis players are supposed to think for themselves out there. This completely detracts from the sport. She cheated, and she knows she did. "Well eating a banana isn't going to make a difference in whether she wins the match or not." Yes, I am aware of this, but I think that if she has already started getting tips from her coaches at the sidelines, how do we know that they will not start to give her even more vital coaching during matches?? Sharapova is a disgrace to the whole sport of tennis.

Posted by May 09/10/2006 at 10:02 AM

My wrote about Federer: "He is fairly easy to read."

This is one of the things that drive me crazy when people call him "robotic" or "boring". Sometimes I just watch his face instead of watching his game. You see the intent look, the occasional mini-frown, the look when he concentrates even harder, the smiles after a really amazing shot, the way he pumps himself up. If people need to see bold letters on his forehead saying: "I HAVE TO TRY HARDER" or: "THAT WAS GOOD, WASN'T IT" that's their problem, not his.

And after the last AO, who can claim Fed has to show more emotions? Isn't it enough that he made the great Rod Laver look in pain, amazed all the spectators, and turned every journalist into a psychologist trying to explain: "what happened to the cool Swiss?"

What happened to him? He was born a human being, and it's not so hard to observe this surprising fact.

Posted by Mark 09/10/2006 at 10:04 AM

You're right, Justine is ALWAYS gracious in defeat. Justine is the greatest. I can't wait until Serena comes back fully and bagels Maria in two straight sets in the first round of the Australian. You better watch out Shriekapova!! Someone with better, more effortful grunts is gonna hit you off the court and you're gonna lose your job FAST!!!

Posted by Mark 09/10/2006 at 10:06 AM

Sharapova is the worst

Posted by skyhooke 09/10/2006 at 10:09 AM

Good article by Bud Collins in todays Boston Globe about the divas SCREAM now being tolerated by the WTA because she sells tickets and the tour.

Did any of you find it strange that the name Nick Bollettieri was never mentioned by the Sharapova..............matter a fact I don't think I saw him once at this years open..........did Agassi even bring up his name in the tournament?


Posted by Bajanfrances 09/10/2006 at 10:21 AM

I am not a fan of either finalists, but Justine was off last night. She also appeared tired after the first set. At the beginning of the second she was breathing heavily.

Has anyone else noticed that for the last four or five slams, Maria had easy draws into the semis? Is it coincidence? Was Dokic unto something? I mean everytime the draws have been completed, the analysts say: Sharapova has an easy draw and should not be tested until the semifinals. Something is wrong!!!!!!!

Now my letter to Serena:

Get out there and return to being superfit. Find a way around that bum knee. Forget the new conservative Serena. You are the original diva of tennis. I did not like many of your outfits, but they made a statement: I am superconfident Serena. I am happy with me, all of me, as I cannot change what God and nature endowed me with. You had fire and drive when wearing those outfits.

Don't try to be mature and sweeet. For heavens sake, you are the baby of the family. You are supposed to be spoilt and think the world revolves around you. Please, please Serena, return to being the boldest and brashest woman on the tour. Do what ever you have to, to earn the right to walk out on court donning the glittering tiara again.

Oh Serena, double figures are just 3 majors away. Make it happen in 2007.

Posted by marie 09/10/2006 at 10:24 AM

still on the banana and fingers incident, i think it is a bit hypocritical of Sharapova to have said earlier ( on the subject of WTA's experimental on-court coaching ) that she's the type "who plays on instinct" and she does not want anyone telling her what to do.

funny how the marketing industry shapes the behavior of a tool like Sharapova.

Posted by my 09/10/2006 at 10:25 AM


Thinking about your comments

I am glad someone else finds Federer easy to read (other than my SO)

I have a thought/question/observation

The broadcaster's prefer players who respond in ways that make it easy to put together clips and promos (notice I say easy, it is not impossible to do so, just it takes more than a few minutes)

And second

You don't have to pay a lot of attention to the match when the player sends signals that can be read on Mars. Heaven help us that they actually watch the matches they are covering.

Which leads me back to the metacommunication comment I made several days ago

Tennis commentators constantly send signals that they themselves think that the sport is boring--what else is the new watcher to think?

To quote from an article on the TennisWorld site "New Andy may or may not have a new girlfriend in Maria Sharapova, who was contesting the women’s final just a few hours after he won his semifinal. Earlier in the tournament, he denied rumors that the two are dating, but there were faint signs of a blush when he was asked what would be watching later that night – an important football game involving his home state of Texas, or the women’s final?"

I don't know how the author intended this, but most commentators make it clear that they think a 'real man' would watch the footbal game. I think a real tennis player would watch the women's final whether or not he is dating one of the players. (the article may also be implying that he will watch the football and get in trouble with his 'date', either way, bad message)

Apologies to the author, they may not have meant it that way, but hell, CBS broadcasts the men's final 'time uncertain' after the (insert sarcasm) really important first day of a long season football games (end sarcasm)

Posted by my 09/10/2006 at 10:28 AM

This is rude and nasty but what the h?

If AR and MS really are dating can you imagine the quality of the conversations those two have? And does MS need to get signals from Yuri with AR get signals from JC--what fun they all must have!

Posted by VE 09/10/2006 at 10:55 AM

It's funny that we're having the same discussion as tennis fans (about non-issues) that was had 15 years ago when Monica Seles won the US Open. That said, I'd like to remind you what happened at Wimbledon 1992 when Seles tried to mollify the press and the noise police and stifle her grunting. She was thoroughly embarrassed by Steffi Graf in the final, 2 and 1. She promptly went right back to grunting. She may

We're also having the same debate about coaching as we had post-French Open with Federer's accusations against Uncle Toni Nadal. Yes, coaching is against the rules of the ITF and the respective tours, save an experiment in 2 WTA events this year. Yes, tennis is a battle of individual wills and should be. However, as I said in that debate back in June, any fan who's been to a tournament and been close to the court has probably seen some semblance of conversation or signaling between the player and his or her box. I know I have, and almost nothing has EVER been done. This is not a Sharapova issue, it's a system issue. The system allows for coaching, the "regulations" against it are virtually never enforced, not against Maria, nor Rafael, nor anyone else.

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 10:55 AM

vanfan re why not just let the coach sit on the court with the player, then? if it happens all the time, why is it technically still illegal? i say, if Kutzie or henin were caught on camera sending signals, they would get nailed... maria is off the hook because the WTA ITF and Cannon rake in bucks, and ultimately, that's all that counts... cheat, lie and scream, who cares, just win ... that's America, baby!

I admire maria's guts and poise under pressure on big points, but the rest is just ugly..

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:00 AM

I think Andy and Maria are a match made in corporate heaven; maria can take power shots and Andy can pay for dinner with his American Express card, both while looking pretty and being vapid, shallow and utterly manufactured ...

This Open is showcasing the worst side of American culture; please, please Roger, bring this down a notch, and silence all the corporate obnoxiousness!

Posted by dude 09/10/2006 at 11:03 AM

Clijsters would have beaten either one of them last night. it seems sort of.......incomplete - sharapova's title that is, knowing that Clijsters, who is probably better than Maria on the surface, was not in the event.

Posted by Erik 09/10/2006 at 11:04 AM


I noticed the opposite with Sharapova's scream. My wife even commented on Sharapova's muted qualities early in the match, when MS was losing: "She doesn't sound all that loud to me." It was after Sharapova took the lead in the first set that she got louder, as if in pirahna-like response to the blood in the water.

I'm not particularly fond of Maria Sharapova(TM) that much either, but the depths that many posters-- here and on other forums-- are willing to go to detract from her victory are pretty pathetic. JHH played poorly and was pretty gracious afterward, so it's kind of hard to pick on her; let's find something about Sharapova to bitch about. Daddy on the cell, Bananagate, the trophy-lid falling off.... Talk about putting blood in the water; give the fans a reason to dislike you, and they'll find a hundred more. (Soon to follow: lengthy discussions of Roddick's unibrow and Federer's hair.)

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:05 AM

but VE, no one EVER caught Uncle Toni signaling so clearly to Rafa, no one but Federer saw anything, as far as I know... this was red handed stuff and again, I say becuase maria's everyone's meal ticket, it'll slide for sure ...

is it any wonder so many of us love and admire Fed's minimalist, gracious approach to the game, much less his on court grace?

Posted by steffilover 09/10/2006 at 11:07 AM

I have to say, there are some strange people watching and commentating on tennis these days. Firstly, people seem to take umbrage at the fact that Sharapova wants to win. Erm, ok....Secondly, if she shrieks, let her opponent complain to the umpire, do things by the book. Thirdly, the "coaching" incidents with this any different to getting your racqets re-strung, or looking up to see a positive sign from your camp, or whatever? Fourthly, Pete, you seem to hail in Roddick the same strengths which make Sharapova one-dimensional, even though she is already a greater talent and more titled winner. Lastly, what bull about her personality! She's 19. You expect her to have the aplomb and skill of a seasoned after-dinner speaker the minute she's just landed one of her life's ambitions AND you criticise the girl for saying she loves her father, in a sport where terrible parents are ten a penny. Something stinks in all of this. Know what? The girl is pretty, fashionable, gracious in defeat and in triumph, savvy, talented, enormously self-motivated, still really young and on the way up and is popular and rich to boot. Deal with it.

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:07 AM

does Roddick have a unibrow?? lol ... Im sure Maria's stylists would not allow that, c all in the Fab Five, pronto!

Posted by daylily 09/10/2006 at 11:13 AM

tim, sometimes you really do make me want to many times and in how many different configurations of the english language do you have to drool over roger? i cannot think of another person on this board, samantha included, who slavers over their fave as much as you. i hate to say it, but for those of us fence-sitters and nay-sayers, it does more to turn us off than roger's own unfettered words that he plays so well.

really. you need to calm down, rock. sometimes i even feel that your consolatory words are patronizing. are you a baptist, by any chance?

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:15 AM

steffilover the alternative to 'dealing with it', is to grab the remote and not watch or maintain a alternate opinion about the pretty maria, which is eveyrone's right ... you make some solid points, but others' are valid as well, and I'm in the latter camp, Im afraid ... some of us enjoy champions with a different vibe than maria's, thats all...

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:16 AM

a baptist!!!! lils, you're killing me ...

Posted by daylily 09/10/2006 at 11:16 AM

and tim you jumped on the coaching controversy with toni and rafa faster than anyone. i am so sick of everyone criticizing every bloody thing rafa does.....maria is far worse, and so are other players, in so many ways. sometimes i think rafa isn't cut out to be part of this mess emotionally -- he thrives on the competition, but i think the hype drives him mad....

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:19 AM

lils, you think its time for me to take another stint in Roger Rehab? hmmmm...I think i hear a knock at the door, it must be you, kbomb, Stegs and Sherlock, with the cuffs and club, taking me by force, if necessary! lol

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:25 AM

but you go for it lils, you dont censor yourself, love that, you have some valid points to be sure ... but what can i do? maybe if Rog wins today, ill just get over it, and retire until the French 07 ...

Posted by Kim 09/10/2006 at 11:27 AM

jessie: thanks for the very interesting observation.

dude: Kim wouldn't have won Maria the way she played last night. Kim demonstrated too many times to be all of sudden "subdue" when the other side is over-powering and she would be very similar to H2 last night.

Pete: it would be the worst thrilling horror if Maria figured out how to shriek a drop shot :)

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 11:27 AM

My wrote about Federer: "He is fairly easy to read."

Who would you rather play poker against, Fed or, say, Blake or Roddick? Watching Fed, I'm always amazed by the way you can hardly tell whether he's up 5-0 or in the fight of his life. I think that level-headed approach would serve many players well.

Clijsters' absence is irrelevant -- get over it. Maria's win is no more incomplete w/o Kim and Venus here than Justine's French or Amelie's Wimbledon were no more incomplete without Serena and Lindsay competing. You play your draw, seven matches to win it all... them there are the rules.

Well done Pete in saying what's long needed saying. The idea is to win. I've got no problem with personality fans here lathering up over their favorites "beautiful strokes and lovely appearance," as I marvel at Fed's game quite often, but the bottom line is about winning. We remember many all-timers like Connors, Lendl, Evert, Seles etc., because they were great champions, not because their games weren't as "pretty" as Adriano Panatta or Gabriella Sabatini. In the end, this game is about competing and winning.

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 11:30 AM

Well, we'll see what happens in the future. I do feel bad for Justine, since I'm such a fan. I've never seen her be anything but gracious on and off the court, and she's so small and fights so hard against this giant ball-bashing which I frankly find boring. Sharapova represents everything I don't like abut current women's tennis, her beauty aside. The game is almost nothing but "I'm bigger and taller and stronger, and I can hit the ball harder than you."

Kim is a basher, but she isn't a giant, and is such a nice person, with great athleticism.

I was very surprised and disappointed at the level of Justine's play, but it happens, and part of it was her own decisions; and part of it was great serving and groundstrokes by Sharapova. Fortunately we have four slams a year, and other events; but I am such a Justine fan that I get bummed when she loses a slam, particularly when she doesn't play very well. Ever since her illness, we've seen her play spectacular, and whip everyone, including Sharapova, and we've seen her play like she did last night. At least she was healthy for all four slams, except the AO final.

I did find the fingers/banana stuff to be ridiculous. I don't mind that stuff, or the grunting, since it has no effect on the play of the match, but it does show a machine-like approach to tennis and winning, without regard for rules or courtesy, which does turn me off subjectively, in terms of how I enjoy that player.

I am in a tiny minority though. Sharapova regards herself as bigger than the game, and so do the networks, the advertisers, and almost everyone else. I don't like the direction women's tennis has taken in recent years, generally. Her behaviors and Jankovic's are just two examples. Tennis is dynamic, so we'll see what happens, and I'm glad Justine is around, to display all aspects of tennis. Without her, I'm not sure how many matches I'd be watching on the women's side. She and Kim really re-kindled my interest in women's tennis, which had been fading with the retirement of Steffi.

It's hard to feel sorry for a woman who makes millions by playing a sport she loves, but I do for Justine and Kim, when they lose. They have both suffered unusual adversity, and are such great players.

Fortunately at least Justine has several years remaining to show her stuff. Go Justine!

Posted by May 09/10/2006 at 11:33 AM

I think I have discovered what made Roddick improve so much:

Yuri told him that no player who is slowly making his way out of the top ten will have anything to do with his precious daughters. Such mediocrity would be bad for the family business.

So, it's not Connors who worked the miracle: it's Yuri Sharapov. Money, that is, love, makes the world go round.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 11:40 AM

Bob, being a fierce Justine fan, your generous comments about Sharapova are a breath of fresh air. There's more than enough veiled animus toward Maria in the many other comments about her dad, her speech, her shrieking, etc. 'Tis a shame that what's getting overlooked is her totally ruthless, dominating performance -- she never gave Justine room to maneuver, effect any changes or feel confident that she could come back.

Interesting to hear your take on Justine's future. This once super-tough closer has now lost three of four Grand Slam finals. Had she started her career this way, she'd be viewed as a major choker or underachiever, considering her considerable talent -- the Federer of women's tennis as too many like to say. Her nerves MAY be affecting her, as you surmised, but isn't that bass-ackwards? She already has five slams under her belt... why is SHE tightening up instead of the other gals who have MUCH more on the line? The gorillas on Amelie's and Maria's backs were huge this year, yet they rose to occasion against Justine while she may have shrunk to less than her already diminutive 5'4". Might this not be a trend of her deteriorating ability to compete against the very best in finals? (That serving exhibition against Jankovic was pathetic, and Justine had no business getting off that hook if not for Jelena's youth and inexperience.)

The coaching "controversy" is a red herring, and Peter gave it the attention it deserves. The same gal who is derided mercilessly by so many for being a one-dimensional basher with no variety to her game can benefit from coaching? How? She's a one-dimensional basher, remember?!? She can't implement any tactic or execute a strategy beyond bashing the ball the same way, over and over.

I was AMAZED by Maria's performance the past three matches, but last night I saw more variety and nuance to her game than in the previous three years combined. She played great defense (for her), took pace off shots during rallies to work the point, came to the net VERY effectively, served like a champ, and hit big winners off both wings consistently. It was a scary good performance for a 19-year-old girl.

Posted by my 09/10/2006 at 11:42 AM


Re Federer and poker

Well right now any good poker player could read him most of the time. And since I have seen him get the giggles I don't think that he is immune to showing emotional responses.

[insert boring academic stuff here] Most people communicate an enormous amount nonverbally (not necessarily silently, just without words). They sigh, they twitch, they sweat. All are forms of communication. Good poker players read these nonverbal 'tells' consiously or unconsciously. A good poker player isn't interested in what you scream, they are watching your respiration, the throbbing in that vein, the tiny twitch you have developed in one of your fingers.

Surprising people can be good poker players. People who are normally over the top sometimes do very well, since they can almost bury all their other responses in the overwhelming 'noisiness' of their communicative behaviour. People who you think are 'poker-faced' are often very easy to read since they send out such few signals the few they send out shout [end boring academic stuff]

I would prefer to play poker with someone who responded to cards emotionally and bet out of a need to feel emotionally satisfied rather than on the basis of the cards. That would be more important than whether or not I could 'read' their face. They would, end the end, make really stupid decisions.

Roger MIGHT be a good poker player because he has a keen, calculating mind.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 11:42 AM

Bob, so we're back to a variation of the "no balls" theory for Justine last night? I don't think enough credit is being given to Maria's power, depth and consistency keeping Justine on her heels; check out Tigor's match analysis on the other side of Tennis World if you haven't -- it's worth reading.

Nerves are a given in the semis or finals, but why is Justine seemingly managing hers worse rather than better as her career progresses? I'm no longer as big a Justine fan as you (she rankled me at the AO), so I'm seeking ideas from you and others who study her more closely. This was the fiercest big-match player in women's tennis just a year ago... yet in '06 she throws down a 1-3 mark against previously flaky or unproven foes like Mauresmo and Sharapova? Bizarre to say the least for a player with all that talent and game, no?

Federer's been in a baseline fog twice against Nadal at Roland Garros. If he gets the chance in '07 and does it again, well, Roche may need to stage an intervention with Edberg and Rafter.

Roddick will need to step up today. I thought his form dropped significantly from quarter to semi, and he can't afford to have that happen today if he wants to press Federer and stay on court more than 90 minutes.

Posted by Rsquared 09/10/2006 at 11:43 AM

Mark Eckley's post just about sums it up for me. I can't begrudge a 19-year old her happiness over winning her second slam. But her giddiness in victory is such a stark contrast to her meanness and desperation during play and the off-putting image she and her handlers have crafted for her in those horrible commercials. She's really hard to like.

Of course, she's likely to win more slams. But I can't see her dominating the game with Henin still at the height of her powers, Mauresmo building her Slam confidence, and the Williams sisters occasionally finding their form and focus. Serena will beat Sharapova the next time they play--mark my words. Venus has already proven that when she's on her game she can dismantle the young Russian. Both Henin and Mauresmo have shown they can dominate her--the H2H records don't lie. Sharapova was perhaps the only top player to go into the Open fully fit and in form. Plus she's still a bristling teenager. It's really not a huge surprise that she won.

Posted by Tim 09/10/2006 at 11:46 AM

I have to think that Maria's role as the "It" girl of tennis might be the best motivation Serena is ever going to get ... who's the bigger diva, right? now THAT would be an amazing prime time final... maybe next year?

Posted by tina 09/10/2006 at 11:48 AM

Don't like either women's finalist. Didn't watch the match. Returned from a dinner party and wanted to watch my GOAT, the Original Martina - but it wasn't on (I don't have TTC) and the US Open Radio cut out just after Damm's speech. But surely CBS will do some hommage to Navratilova this afternoon before the men's final. Should TMF win, how many Slams will he need to dethrone Sampras?

Reflecting back on Seles and the Wimbledon grunt-o-meter, it might very well be the same discussion, but that was mere whispers in comparison to Bratapova.

PETE: thank god you have a new photo on here, the other one didn't look like you at all, I couldn't stand it!

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 11:49 AM

my -- sorry you missed my point or took me too literally. I'll try again. My comparison wasn't to pro or expert poker players, or even dissecting the actual game of poke, it was to other tennis players, and a simple comparison at that.

I've never subscribed to Fed as being stoic or emotionless or cold; he merely manages his emotions on court in the way that is most effective for him to play his best tennis, an evolving process that he had to work hard to optimize. I suspect Roddick, Blake and other less-accomplished pros are going through the process of figuring out what works for them.

But you know EXACTLY when Blake and Roddick are incredibly happy or incredibly annoyed on court, and THAT'S not a poker face. By that standard, Fed is much more "unreadable." If Roddick drew a bad hand, he'd roll his eyes, lean back in his chair, and shart fidgeting madly. Regardless of what hand Fed drew, he'd invariably have nearly the same bemused expression on his face, certainly less revealing than either Roddick or Blake. None would likely stand a chance against a great poker player. Hope that makes more sense.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 11:59 AM

I see a lot of similarity between the young Agassi and the young Sharapova, and it'll be interesting to see if her career evolves and matures in any way like his. At 19, he was a punk with a lot of money, impressed with his cash, his cars and spouting the "image is everything" ad line that he would take an entire career to live down. He had a dad who had manipulated and controlled his career less like a loving parent and more like a puppetmaster. The hostility toward Andre was pronounced among the traditional tennis types, much as Maria is pilloried here, there and everywhere for all the peripheral stuff, as well as a one-dimensional power game.

Agassi was a "haircut and forehand," a "punk," etc. Well, we all know how that story ended. I misjudged Andre early and grew to appreciate the champion, role model, spokesman, father, husband and man he became. Learning from that experience, I for one am certainly willing to give Maria a fairer shake as she grows up in the harsh spotlight of early success, hyper-celebrity and icon status.

Posted by May 09/10/2006 at 11:59 AM

Kbomb, Fed isn't easy to read in comparison to other players; You don't HAVE to read the other players – they read aloud for you. All My said (and I agree) is that if you are willing to watch Fed closely, you CAN read him. It isn't like he never, ever, changes expression, or has no body language. He is just more subdued and subtle than the others.

Posted by my 09/10/2006 at 12:07 PM


Yup, I think I get you--I was responding to what most people think is the ultimate "gotcha" when one says he is readable.

However, I still would content the Fed is more readable than do you. I don't know if you are an American, but we all tend to read in the grammar of our own culture. There are moments when I find players to be virtually screaming their emotions to the audience only to have an American commentator tell us that they are 'unreadable'. So, while I understand (I think) where you are coming from, I disagree greatly. I don't find that Federer always has the same bemused expression. He walks out on the court and I can almost always tell the mood he is in. He hits shots and I can often tell what he thinks of the shot he just hit.

Put it another way, Roddick or Blake have American body-language. More specifically the body language associated with particular American sports.

The reason for the long talk about poker is to point out that many of the people who are perceived as 'poker faced' are just communicating in a way the audience has trouble reading. Well, if all the press conferences were in Catalan few of us would be able to understand a word being said, but it wouldn't mean the players weren't communicating, just that we didn't have the keys necessary to decode their comments.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 12:14 PM

Then we're in total agreement, my and may -- my mistake in misreading your comments! (It's morning in Phoenix and I'm still working the sleep out of my head!) I find Fed to be an interesting study, both during and after the points. BUT, and it's big but, you have to take the time to watch carefully, as you noted. I struggle with those who dismiss him as a stoic, icy, uninteresting personna on court. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He ain't no song & dance man, but he ain't a doorknob either! :-) Having followed Borg and Edberg closely, I have great experience in sifting out the cryptic signals from nuanced tennis champs.

Posted by tennis fan 09/10/2006 at 12:14 PM

Judging by various comments, are roddick and sharapova dating. Any interesting links related to this?

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 12:18 PM

We're on the same page, my. I see the same things in Fed's face and body language, whether it's a furled brow, a minor smirk or narrowing eyes, or even how quickly he sifts through the balls to find the right two to serve. To the general tennis public, he's a stoic borg who shows no emotion and, thus, is dismissed as uninteresting to some and not worthy of their time to watch. Well, hell, if you don't watch more than a time or two, how can you dismiss him so readily? The same folks who laud Agassi can be dismissive of Fed, yet the two were much more alike than dissimilar in their on-court personnas during their years playing on tour together, at least compared to the histrionics of other players when dealing with success and adversity.

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 12:30 PM

kbomb: All the players suffer from nerves, no matter how many slams they win. Federer was very nervous and choked some shots against Blake. When you are well ahead, it's easy for all of them, but when you are missing, they all tighten up. Sharapova was tight at the beginning, but once she found her serve, she hit out on everything. Justine never did swing freely until she was down that final break. Then she started crushing the ball, but it was too late, and she never did come in after that initial success. The mental pressure affects all of the players. They tend to retreat to a more defensive style of play when things aren't going well, when often the exact opposite is what's needed. That clearly happened to Justine.

It also happened to Roddick for a very long time, until he hooked up with Connors, who has made it clear that you must "win" the matches, and be aggressive on each shot which offers you the opportunity. That's what Roddick does now.

Justine didn't try to win the match. She seemed to just hit from the baseline against a player whose baseline game is too big for anyone when she' hitting her shots like she was last night.

It reminded me a bit of the mens' FO final, where Federer seemed content to stay back and get beaten playing Nadal's style of play. Justine seemed content to play Sharapova's game, and she ended up losing, just like Federer did. It seemed inevitable to me in both matches that what would happen did happen. I think these nerves affect everyone, no matter how good, or how many slams.

I don't think Federer will do that again against Nadal, and I don't think Justine will play that strategy again against Sharapova. You can't hope to win matches against baseline players who are really on by trying to rally with them. Some of it you have no control over. Sharapova's serving was so good that there wasn't much Justine could do, but when she did get opportunities, she'd hit terrible shots. One passing shot which was an easy forehand she hit wide by a couple of feet. That's nerves, and/or simply not being on your game. She wasn't getting many opportunities, so the pressure on her was much higher when she did get them, and that showed in her errors.

It will be interesting to see how Roddick deals with the pressure of Federer, who will be under some pressure himself. Federer has such a great all-around game that he will be a far different opponent than Youzhny, but Roddick sure is playing some tennis.

Posted by May 09/10/2006 at 12:33 PM

Yes, we are in agreement. You have to take your time to read Fed, that's all. Most people are too lazy: they are used to players screaming bloody murder with their body language. Fed doesn't sing an aria about his feelings: he hums.

Posted by Speed of sound 09/10/2006 at 12:35 PM

I don't see what's so hard to figure out about the dislike for Sharapova:

1) The grunting. Not just because it's annoying, but because it's arguably a form of cheating: it keeps her opponent from hearing the sound of the racket connecting with the ball, which is very significant information when you have to make a split-second reaction (did she hit it cleanly, or frame the shot? etc.). Anyone who doubts this, talk with a pro-level player for two minutes.

2) The coaching. It's simply illegal, and no umpire wants to take it on because, as Bud Collins wrote regarding the shrieking issue: "What, and be put on her agent's hit list?"

3) The horrible, smug, disingenuous and deeply cynical attitude. The "I-feel-pretty" commercials. (The irony being that the girl is not especially pretty at all. Tall, yes; blond, yes; pretty? Barely, especially compared with Camille Pin, Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza...) The callous disregard for Golovin when she blew out her ankle. "Make every shot a power shot." The total lack of sportsmanship, and conversely, considerable degree of gamesmanship.

Having said all this, I have no particular problem with her game, and actually rooted for her when she won Wimbledon (though I can't stand Serena Williams either, so there you go). She's got good weapons, she fights relentlessly, and when she's in the zone is a far more rewarding player to watch than some of the other big hitters (i.e. the Williams sisters, for one).

But basically, the girl is at the top of a machine that will do anything to keep her in the public eye. Because she's "pretty" (and because legions of men and their sexual fantasies will cough up $$$ to see her, watch her, and attempt to "own" her in some way), people will overlook things, make exceptions, wink-and-nod, and generally do everything they can to lay down a red carpet for her. If she cheats or behaves badly, no one will want to confront her, because there's too much $$$ to be lost ("Oh, sorry, Mr. Tournament Director, I seem to have strained my quadriceps...wish I could be there!").

She's a cash cow, a profoundly cynical girl, and her relationship with her father makes my skin crawl. Her U.S. Open title is well-earned -- and so is her reputation for being a moderately loathsome person.

Posted by Karen 09/10/2006 at 12:37 PM

I always root for the underdog because that's what makes sports exciting...if Maria upset Justine...that can only be good for the game of tennis...and great for the next generation of tennis players who hope to get a crack at beating the top player...say what you will about Maria...but she is a champion now, and no critics can ever take that away...she deserves her moment in the sun to be glorious...

Posted by Luke 09/10/2006 at 12:49 PM

Speed of sound - I agree with some of your comments, but I still can't figure out why Maria is singled out as the "poster girl" for all the negative qualities you mention.

On a separate note, if Maria could just ditch Yuri and turn down the volume just a little bit (maybe a few less "come on"s), the perception of her might improve (she's 19, she still has plenty of time).

Posted by tennistar 09/10/2006 at 12:56 PM

did anyone else noticed that when the very first game of the match was played with hardenne serving that $hriekpova didnt shriek once. does she always do this?

Posted by Speed of sound 09/10/2006 at 12:58 PM

Luke - well, I don't think that she's particularly worse on the coaching front than at least ten or fifteen other players, so the point's taken there. But her shrieking is the loudest, so she deserves to be singled out on that front.

And I think she is more baldly cynical and openly self-involved than other players in her category. I mean, if Kournikova (to take one kind of example) saw someone maim herself on court like Golovin did, I think she'd have been a little more compassionate (or at least pretended to be!) than Sharapova was.

Henin-Hardenne can be pretty grating, but she's (1) generally more gracious, (2) is in some ways a more sympathetic character, despite her bad behavior over the past couple years, and (3) at least doesn't use good looks as a way of getting what she wants.

So I still think Sharapova deserves the singling out on at least 2 out of 3 counts.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:03 PM

Nerves are a given, Bob, but "no balls" from a five-time Grand Slam winner? Are we back to that as theory de jour? ;-) I think we're not giving enough credit to Sharapova for pushing Justine back onto the baseline and making her play from her heels. She did the same thing to Mauresmo for two bagel sets. Something's wrong when the world #1 and #2, multiple slam winners, can't sort out for themselves how to change tactics and right the ship. Maybe they need some on-court coaching of their own?

Check out Tignor's write-ups on the other side of Tennis for both the women's semis and final -- funny and insightful.

If Fed gets into another baseline funk against Nadal at Roland Garros ever again, Roche will need to stage an intervention with Edberg & Rafter... and maybe a cattle prod.

Roddick will need to up his level if he hopes to press Fed beyond three sets and 90 minutes today. I thought he regressed considerably between the quarters and semis; some credit is due Youzhny's stellar play in sets one and three, but it was also Youz's indifferent play in those other sets that gave Andy his express ticket to the finals. Then again, those quarters (Fed-Blake, Nadal-Youzhny, Roddick-Hewitt) were tough acts to follow no matter what would've happened.

Posted by Tennis fan 09/10/2006 at 01:04 PM

Sharapova played very well last night - the best I've ever seen her. Good for her on that.

I agree with the Agassi analogy at the same stage. It applies to many young athletes in this kind of stratosphere. The difference was he got beyond it and most of them don't. Let's see if she can. (Why he was able to is an interesting question? Is it all about adversity either doing you in or making you stronger?)

Coaching - it was ridiculous and we shouldn't be just saying it's fine. Others do it for sure and they should be called too, but the Sharapova camp are so blatent about it. I can't understand why Pete implied it was uncivil for journalists to ask her about it at the pc. I'm tired of journalists giving athletes (and politicians) a pass in favor of fawning...
My husband got into trouble a couple of weeks ago for shouting out to our 10 year old daughter to take a drink at the changeover during a match on a day when it was 103 (and who knows how hot on the court itself) when she hadn't drunk anything for several changeovers, and he started to worry she might get heatstroke... But you know what, he was in the wrong and she ought to be able to remember to have a drink. So should a 19 year old multimillionaire competing at a grandslam. It's not preschool....

Posted by cmac 09/10/2006 at 01:09 PM

I'm guess I'm the only person in the world who doesn't find Maria attractive.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:12 PM

Lots of "brats" in women's tennis, depending on who's doing the looking and analyzing. But, as Tignor wrote in his wrap-up, it's a win-win for the game is your glamour gal AND the villain that fans love to hate. It can only bode well for more spirited rivalries and "entertainment" for the masses, no?

P.S. I hate Shriekpova's shrill screams, but, hey, it's hardly illegal or jurting her opponents. If it was truly obstructing the other players in any significant way, you can bet it would've been outlawed back in the Seles era, when her grunting was as bad as it got. It's just part of the cacaphony in women's tennis these days, a little less so (and at a lower frequency) on the men's side.

I'll say it again... Sharapova's story is a LOT like the young Agassi in terms of the early riches, the image being everything, the hype, the puppetmaster dad, the polarizing way she appeals to Madison Avenue but turns off many hard-core tennis fans, the hyper-criticism of everthing she says and does (as a 19-year-old girl?!?). Andre was loathed like Sharapova during his early years, so let's give her a little time to grow up and settle into her role as tennis' It Girl. I suspect she's going to be around for a long time.

Posted by Luke 09/10/2006 at 01:18 PM

kbomb - LOVE the Agassi comparison! Here's hoping Maria also matures over time, both on and off the court. She may not reach the "Legend" status as easily as Andre, but she can certainly try to make her way through the same circumstances and become another tennis great.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:26 PM

tennis fan... no human being should have any problem with a father telling his child to drink more fluid during a very hot day in a junior tennis tournament. Being a parent and protecting your kid comes first. If officials wanted to default your daughter and boot your dad from future tournaments, that's their prerogative. And if it was other parents who bitched, so be it -- but shame on them. But letting your daughter possibly overheat in lieu of saying something? Your husband is a good man... and hopefully your 10-year-old daughter learned a valuable lesson for her next match on a very hot day.

If anyone expects a 10-year-old girl to understand the ins and outs of regulating her body's ability to perform and wants to throw the back at her, so be it... at least she lives to compete another day.

I find the coaching controversy about Sharapova to be almost laughable. A lot of the women spend an inordinate amount of time staring up at their boxes after every point. It's an impossible task for the umpire to try and catch a coach or adviser in the act of actually "coaching." I think that's why the women's tour experimented with on-court coaching a few tournaments back; it's only a matter of time, I think, before it's implemented. Maria's style has been pilloried here as one-dimensional, power ball-bashing of the most boring kind. Bang, bang, bang. So what kind of coaching can possibly be benefiting her? Hit harder? Hit deeper? Grunt louder? The first set played just like the second, with Maria's depth, power and serve keeping Justine pinned to the baseline. Not much coaching strategy to make out there... Maria had to execute, and she did.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:27 PM

Luke -- one thing is for certain. Maria's going to make a LOT more money than Agassi did during his career.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:33 PM

cmac -- I don't think Maria is especially pretty, but she's not ugly either. A 6'3" blonde with legs to THERE is striking and turns heads, to say the least.

Whether she's your cup of tea versus, say, Serena, Mirka or Martina is a highly personal preference. I wouldn't reject ANY of 'em out of hand without first having the chance to sit down and fire up a connection over conversation and coffee (or Coke).

Posted by Bob 09/10/2006 at 01:40 PM

kbomb: These people are human, and they display that periodically. Fortunately there are lots of events and four slams per year, so they can put one behind them, and move on. It's hard to feel sorry for a woman who made four slam finals and won one, and also hard to criticize her, given that feat. I am such a huge Justine fan that I was bummed, and still am a bit, but being a fan is a big part of the enjoyment of any sport, and you have to take the good with the bad. The only sports I really care about are tennis and college football, and fortunately Justine's loss was far overbalanced by Oho State's win. They don't get another chance coming around in five months. One loss in college football and you have a huge uphill battle to contend for the National title.

Texas is a great team. The game was closer than the score, and I expect them to beat almost everyone, but it will be almost impossible for them to contend for the National title.

I think Justine learned from that loss. I've said repeatedly that she needs to go for her shots to win. She says it herself. Yet she didn't do it. Perhaps Carlos needs to hold up bananas which form an A, for aggression. That could turn things around pretty quickly, in my view.

It's great that we have so many events, and we'll see different strategies from Justine next time. You learn from losses, and she's had two straight finals where she got tight and didn't go for her shots. Sharapova will have her ups and downs, too. Everyone has a tendency to make too much of a single tournament or match. The media was obsessed with Maria's failure to make a slam final. They hype everything all out of proportion. Justine has another six years left of great tennis, if she stays healthy, and she should win several more slams. Sharapova has 10 years or so, and should also win several of them. She is clearly the best of the young players, but others might come along. I just hope Justine stays healthy.

Posted by kbomb 09/10/2006 at 01:46 PM

I don't start paying attention to college football for a few more weeks... and certainly not the early rankings. I have no idea how good Texas is this year, despite the hype and projections. Not sure how we can call Texas "great" when they got decidely outplayed, AT HOME. Last year's team was great. This year's is a work in progress. It's clear that Ohio State is pretty good, but it's a long season.

Your girl Justine should be fine, but I'd be concerned about her keeping up much longer with this bigger, stronger breed of player. A more confident and improved Maria bodes poorly for a lot of the other top players, as would a sleeker, motivated Serena, plus the ascendance of that entire crew of big young power players like Vaidosova, Ivanovic, Safina, Petrova, etc. It keeps the game interesting as we end one season and speculate about the next, that's for sure.

Posted by Myskina+Trains=Tolstoy 09/10/2006 at 01:46 PM

The Agassi comparison is great and one that I hadn't thought of. Does anyone remember how polarzing Seles was in 1991? The shout-out to Donald Trump, the last-minute withdrawl from Wimbledon and those ineptly-staged tabloid photographs that were either meant to add mystery or comic relief to the proceedings. Regardless, it all seems rather innocuous now (and I thought it was then), but in her brazen attempt to become the Madonna of tennis, Seles couldn't get a break in the press. All of a sudden, Steffi Graf -- probably the coldest, most selfish #1 player in the history of women's tennis -- became sympathetic. Funny.

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