Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Home Stretch: In Search of a New Rooting Interest

Caught a little bit of the Cubs-Pirates game last night but the rout was on pretty early. The Cubs were up 6-0 after 4 innings and that score held until the end. Unfortunately, the Rockies won their game, too, so playoff hopes are over for this year. Unlike the O's, the Cubs weaknesses are on the offensive side. Looking at the stats for the year, I'd say the heart of their order is pretty strong. If they're to go shopping in the off-season, I'd say look for a better leadoff hitter. Team speed in general could be a big help - not necessarily more steals but certainly a stronger threat to steal. Having power in your lineup is great, but it helps to have decent runners on the base paths to extend an inning.

Of course, the big question for the Cubs is what new ownership will bring. The Cubs are a strong brand in baseball. Unfortunately, the caretakers of the past have been more than happy to market the team on the lovable loser label. It has been a profitable approach for a long time. Hopefully the new folks will take more interest in actually winning. Championships can be great for the bottom line, too. Given the chance, there's no reason why the Cubs couldn't become the new Yankees.

With the Cubs eliminated, I lack an obvious rooting interest for the playoffs. Here I am deep in the heart of Red Sox Nation and I just can't bring myself to become a Boston fan. I've tried. I always root for them to beat the Yankees (lesser of two evils). I was delighted when they finally won the World Series and I rooted for them against the Rockies for the second one. But when they took on the Rays last year, I just couldn't do it. The Cinderella story was too good. A rooting interest is a complex emotional reaction. Sometimes, it's best not to question it.

If the current standings hold, I think I'll go with the Rockies to start. I like it when teams who've never won finally do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

All Part of My Fantasy: Mork Calling Orson

Score for the week: Orson Welles 66.87, Squid 56.34
My MVP: Derrick Mason (WR, Baltimore) with 5 receptions, 118 yards and 1 touchdown
Melodrama: Vernon Davis (TE, San Francisco) had a monster game with 7 receptions, 96 yards and 2 touchdowns. Why is this melodramatic? Because I had him sitting on the bench. That's 15.84 points in our league and I couldn't use them.

I cooked up a trade with the Commish to resolve my quarterback fiasco. I gave up more than I wanted but in the end, I had Philip Rivers - not too bad. Unfortunately, I'm now looking at an 0-3 record. What burns me is that I've racked up more points than some of the teams who are enjoying 2-1 records. I would have beaten two of the teams who won this week with the points I had. The schedule has not been my friend.

Can't help wondering what a fantasy league might look like in a completely different arena: Fantasy Symphony, for instance.

"I've got problems, man. My 2nd chair french horn (Vienna) is out with the flu and I don't think I can make up the points with my weak viola section. I guess I could pick up that bassoonist on waivers who's playing at Carnegie on Saturday."

Or Fantasy Congress (one that passes good laws in a timely manner - yuk, yuk):

3 points for voting YES on a bill that passes
5 points for writing the bill
2 points for appearing on
Meet the Press
4 for appearing on
-10 for an indictment
and so on...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Home Stretch: My Wife and Her Cubbies

I caught about 6 innings of the Cubs game with the Giants today, which they ultimately lost 5-1. The Cubs are my National League team as they are my wife's team. I would forgive you for forgetting that the Orioles were once a great team but everyone who knows anything about baseball knows the Cubbies' sob story. With today's loss, the chances of making the playoffs fade just a little bit more and with them, a shot at ending the 101-year-long World Series drought. They're 6.5 games out with 7 to play. If the Rockies win and/or the Cubs lose on Tuesday, it's just wait until next year all over again.

For me, the Cubs have always seemed my best shot at drawing my wife into my sports interests. She calls herself a Cubs fan. She's certainly a fan of the brand: a sticker on her car and a plastic beer mug. She even gave me a t-shirt. But in reality, I think she mostly likes the Cubs because they remind her of Chicago. She used to live near Wrigley. She doesn't actually like to watch the games, you see. She thinks of them as a great opportunity to take a nap, even believing that if she watches, they're sure to lose. That's the funny part to me. She wants them to win. She just doesn't want to have to watch.

Nonetheless, I think I have a shot if they ever make it back to the World Series. Even today, she looked up from
War and Peace a couple of times to cheer an extra-base hit by the Cubs or boo a single by the Giants. Will she ever be a summer-long fan? I am quite sure the answer is no. But someday, I hold out hope that we'll find ourselves watching a game together in late October and she'll have more than a passing interest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

All Part of My Fantasy: My First Foray

As I have written in a previous post, I have joined a fantasy football league for the first time in my life this year. I'm in a league with a bunch of old college friends. They've been doing this for years. I'm pretty sure I remember an early incarnation of the league holding their first draft in a dorm lounge some 17 years ago. I was invited, too - not sure why I didn't take them up on it. In fact, I really have no idea what's taken me so long. Part of it is the fact that I haven't followed pro football so closely since the First Gibbs Era in Washington. The commissioner, an old and dear friend, finally talked me into it this year and I'm glad he did.

There are 18 teams in the league: gargantuan by fantasy standards. 16 men and 2 women. All but one attended a small, quirky liberal arts college in the midwest in the early '90s. There is quite a range in how well I know them. A few, I would consider close friends. Others, I barely remember. Some, not at all.

It has been a great addition to my life in that it provides a means by which to be in touch with all of them again. For that reason alone, I regret not having done it sooner. I am a little freaked out, however, by how easy it is to take all of this way too seriously.

My first week opponent was the Commish himself. I first remember meeting him in the dining hall freshman year. I was friends with the kicker for the football team (also in the fantasy league) and he introduced us. Commish and his lovely future wife (fellow alum and league member) were very hospitable to me when I moved to New York at 25 and, more importantly, introduced me to my own bride.

Score for the week: Commish 69.16, Squid 59.24
My MVP: Santonio Holmes (WR, Pittsburgh) with 9 receptions, 131 yards, 1 touchdown
Melodrama: Donovan McNabb, my starting QB, goes out with a broken rib.

Fantasy football makes you wish for weird things. I had the lead going into the Monday night games but he had three players left to play whereas I had none. I was hoping for alien abductions before kickoff but that plan fell through.

My second week opponent was someone I've not seen since graduation. Good guy, though, and we share a love for Japan. He was there for all of his junior year. I spent two years there after college.

Score for the week: Waseda Alum 52.24, Squid 51.16
My MVP: Kellen Winslow (TE, Tampa Bay) with 7 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown
Melodrama: Matt Hasselbeck, my backup QB, starting for the week, goes out with a broken rib. I have no third QB. Commish tells me he's never seen anything like it before. The mad scramble begins.

This one was quite exciting - suspenseful until the very last play on Monday night. I had a hefty lead going into the game. I had the Indianapolis defense. Waseda had Miami RB Ronnie Brown. Unfortunately for me, Brown had a phenomenal game: 24 carries, 136 yards, 2 touchdowns. The Colts had an interception on the last play of the game which won me a point but it wasn't enough.

Now I have the QB problem. I think I've worked out a deal to solve it but nothing's definite yet.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Checking in with the Orioles: The Importance of Shrinky Dinks

I only made it through the second inning with the O's today. Starting pitcher Jason Berken only lasted an inning longer. David Hernandez did have a quality start last night but the Birds lost anyway. Series sweep for the Sox. In all, Baltimore only beat Boston twice this summer. They lost 16 times.

But there were more important things to do today. Today was my daughter's first Shrinky Dinks experience. It was also, evidently, my wife's. I will say, the process is far less aggravating than it was when I was a kid. Pre-cut: genius! Still pretty cool to sit in front of the oven and watch the magic. Who needs baseball?

Off My Duff: iPicking Macs

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Checking in with the Orioles: Dennis Eckersley Is a Betazoid

"Captain, I sense malice. I think we can expect some chin music on the next pitch."

I am the sports fan equivalent of an ex-pat. Even worse, I have spent most of my adult life in enemy territory. Living in northwest Vermont, most people's sports allegiances reside in either Boston or New York, homes to many of the most hated teams for a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs. I don't get to watch my long-suffering Orioles on television very often but several times a summer, they do take on the Boston Red Sox and NESN provides.

This weekend, the two teams are playing in Baltimore. I tend not to watch the entire game as my wife has limited interest and all things being equal, I'd rather watch something we both like. But I do catch snippets here and there, enough to match faces to the names I see in the box scores.

Not that watching the Orioles is much fun these days, anyway. The main suspense is seeing whether or not their starting pitcher will make it through the first six innings - he usually doesn't. The team last won the World Series 26 years ago. I was 10. From the time the team had first moved to Baltimore until that moment, they had been one of the most successful franchises in the major leagues. Both pitchers and hitters had spent Hall of Fame careers there. They were a well-run organization - the sort of team which engendered the loyalty of good players. No one could have known on that glorious day what would come next. In the years since they have, far more often than not, been absolutely horrible. Cal Ripken, Jr. was wonderful, of course. The man could run for governor and probably win unopposed. But otherwise, there's been little to cheer.

The Orioles' deficiency this year has been starting pitching. It's a bad sign when the ace of your staff leads the majors in home runs allowed. A ridiculous number of pitchers have made their first major league start with the Orioles this year and while there does seem to be young talent in the organization, current ownership is not known for its patience. I'd love to see them invest in player development so they could be respectable again in a few years but recent history has not tended that way.

They lost last night's game 3-1. Guthrie, the starter, fell one out short of six innings.

"I sense that he's hiding something, Captain. I think the ump should check his sleeves for an emery board."

On a brighter note, if you've never heard Dennis Eckersley do color commentary, don't pass on the opportunity. Those who watch NESN regularly know that it's not his usual role. Most nights, he's sitting at a table in the studio doing the postmortem with fellow Hall of Famer Jim Rice. He really should be doing color more often for the simple reason that the man is freakishly good at calling pitches. I listened to him through one long at-bat with Clay Buchholz on the mound. Eckersley called every single pitch exactly right. He was getting pitch and location, usually before the sign went down. I've seen other commentators try to call pitches but they're nearly always wrong. I've never seen any of them go through a batter the way Eck did. One could easily imagine that, body willing, he could have gone down and pitched the game himself. I almost never feel that way about the color guy.

That's gotta be a marketable skill! Maybe he's perfectly happy doing what he's doing but I can think of a certain Baltimore team in particular which could do with his consulting services. They have a very young staff with a lot to learn about how to make it through a major league game one batter at a time. I think they should give him a call. The man is a savant. Plus, he has a man crush on right fielder Nick Markakis so there's an added bonus for him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US Open Day 15: A New Story Begins

Curtain Call
Player: Juan Martin del Potro
Nation: Argentina
Age: 20
Current Ranking: #6
Notable Conquests: Rafael Nadal (Spain), 3rd seed and Roger Federer (Switzerland), 1st seed
Tour Page:
Player Website:
Today's Match: win over Roger Federer (Switzerland) in five sets

What a player! That forehand is just about the scariest shot I've ever seen in tennis. And he could hardly have been more gracious. And how great was it to see Federer looking so at peace even in defeat? His life has changed. Losing is no longer such a disaster. Was this a passing of the torch?

I think it's safe to say that del Potro will win more Slams. Most players have about a year-long hangover after winning their first so we probably shouldn't expect too much too soon. But this guy's the real thing. Let's just hope he can keep his head together. I was most amused yesterday to listen to the McEnroes while JMDP was dismantling Rafa. It was as if they'd never seen him play before. His performance was a revelation for them, too.

Federer's certainly not finished - not by any stretch. I think he still goes into Melbourne in January as the man to beat. One streak is over. There is finally another men's champion at the US Open. But another streak is alive and well. In the past 22 Slams, he has either won the whole thing or lost to the guy who did. Astonishing!

Alas, the major challenge for me today was being able to watch the match at all. The local CBS station here in northwest Vermont apparently didn't think interrupting their normally scheduled programming was a good idea. I tried to watch online but that was highly unsatisfying. They finally cut into live coverage at 8 p.m. so I got to watch the glorious end. Blame it on the rain!

What an amazing tournament it has been. I hope those of you who have read my humble musings have enjoyed them. I will, no doubt, write more about tennis in the future but other topics may creep in as well. Peace.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

US Open Day 14: The Space Cowboy

Curtain Call
Player: Novak Djokovic
Nation: Serbia
Age: 22
Current Ranking: #4
Tour Page:
Player Website:
Today's Match: loss to Roger Federer (Switzerland) in straight sets

The Djoker played brilliantly today - well enough to beat just about anyone. Just not Fed.

One has to wonder at this point what path lies ahead for Djokovic. I still put him a notch above Murray, no matter what the rankings say. But he's clearly not in the Federer/Nadal class yet. He is a year younger than Nadal so one would think he could outlast him and pick up a Slam here and there. But he must be a little nervous about the rise of del Potro, two years younger than he. Let's face it, even Roger will have his hands full tomorrow if JMDP plays as well as he did today. Will Novak win his share or is he destined to follow a Hewitt/Safin path: a great player caught between two power generations? I'm guessing the next year will be a good one for him. But beyond that, who knows?

Hats off to Kim Clijsters, of course. But Caroline Wozniacki is way cool. How many people give a speech - ANY speech - in English, Danish and Polish?

Men's final on a Monday afternoon - what a stinker!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

US Open Day 13: A Mac-Specific Mute Button, Please

Curtain Call
Player: Yanina Wickmayer
Nation: Belgium
Age: 19
Current Ranking: #50
Notable Conquest: Virginie Razzano (France), 16th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~11787,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) in straight sets

Wickmayer had never even made it past the 2nd round of a Slam before. She goes home $350,000 richer and her ranking will improve substantially. She's only 19. The future looks bright.

The end of the Clijsters/Williams match was tough to watch, no doubt. I do think it's a shame but I don't feel badly for Serena. And frankly, John McEnroe should not be allowed near a microphone in that situation given his history. To say that a foot fault should not be called because of the late stage of the match is absolutely ludicrous. I watched the replays and I'm not sure the call was right but the call was made. Good call or not, Serena's reaction was completely inexcusable. I see no gray area here. Not only do I think she deserved to lose the point but I think a fine and a public apology are in order as well.

That's two posts in a row in which I've slammed McEnroe. I'll be fine once I get that selective mute button on the remote.

On a brighter note, you've gotta love Nadal. He knows he's gotta beat the rain and he really wants to be done so he can rest before tomorrow. And so, he takes all of 34 minutes today to breeze through a tiebreak and a 6-0 third set to dispatch of Gonzo. I could write extensively comparing the competitive attitudes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray but the last couple of rounds have demonstrated the contrast perfectly. When Nadal decides he's had enough, he blows the other guy off the court. When Murray decides he's had enough, he rolls over. Fortunately, del Potro finally looks like he's ready for a good fight. Both semis should be great fun.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pete and Me: The Day I Became a Tennis Fan

Mother Nature reminded us all who's in charge today. And so, what to do on a rainy day? I say it's story time...

I know the exact moment when I became a tennis fan. It was a Saturday and I had just started my senior year of high school. I was relaxing at home when my father came in from the other room and said, "Come watch! Some 19-year old kid is about to beat John McEnroe!"

It is worth noting that my father has never been much of a sports fan. A tennis match was the sort of thing he'd watch while doing some mindless task, probably ironing on that particular day. But he knew enough about McEnroe to dislike him intensely - the archetypal loud, obnoxious American who did little to endear himself to the casual fan. And here he was, losing to somebody neither of us had ever heard of before. Suddenly Johnny Mac looked the dinosaur as 130 mph serves went rocketing past him. A new day was dawning before our eyes and we didn't even know it yet. The teenager would win the match in four sets and go on to take the US Open title against the more famous Andre Agassi in the final. His name was Pete Sampras. The year was 1990.

Up until that moment, I'd considered myself a big sports fan but tennis had never been my cup of tea. I'd watched occasionally but I was a team sport fan mostly. Sampras changed my entire perception of the game in a single weekend. For starters, Pete was only a couple of years older than I. Like me, he was tall and skinny. He even had bushy hair not unlike mine. He was kind of quiet, too, which I liked. In as much as I'd followed tennis at all, I much preferred Ivan Lendl with his down-to-business attitude to his more boisterous contemporaries. Sampras fit that mold. But his game was far from dull. It was fast, aggressive, precise and relentless. Sampras at his best was a force irresistible like nothing I had ever seen in tennis before.

And so, I became a fan, though still more a Sampras fan than a tennis fan. I'd watch his progress over the years from afar, only occasionally tuning in when he'd made it to the late stages of a Slam. But then, he hardly needed me cheering him on as he essentially took over the sport by the mid-90s. In fact, I developed a superstition that he'd lose when I watched. But I knew his game well enough to know after just a few points whether or not he would win his match on a given day. Quite a simple formula really: if he were hitting backhand winners from the baseline, there was not a player alive who could touch him. There was simply nothing left for an opponent to exploit. The trophies kept piling up as he went on a record streak of six years finishing as World #1.

But by the end of the decade, the rest of the world was catching up with him. The #1 ranking was no longer a foregone conclusion and the days of winning multiple Slams in a calendar year were past him. And yet, he came in to the final of the 2000 US Open riding quite a wave. Earlier in the summer, he had won his seventh Wimbledon and 13th Grand Slam tournament overall to break the career record. In the final, he was to meet a young Russian named Marat Safin, a first-time Slam finalist.

Safin won the match, which was upsetting enough in itself. But what was truly unbearable to me was how Pete had lost. Safin made him look old. He was clearly tired at the end. That wasn't good. Sampras was over the hill at 29. If Pete was old, what did that mean for me? I'm not sure I've ever taken someone else's athletic result so personally.

With the loss, I started following tennis more closely. I started paying attention to things like the year-end championship. Wouldn't you know, my closer attention was doing little to help Pete. Not only was he not winning Slams, he wasn't winning any tournaments big or small. Sampras went two years without winning a singles title. Even Wimbledon was no longer a sure thing. In 2001, he fell in the fourth round to a then-unknown Roger Federer in five sets. And then, during Wimbledon 2002, the unthinkable: Pete Sampras lost in the second round to George Bastl, the 145th ranked player in the world. Never before in his ATP career had he lost to such a low-ranked player. It seemed the writing was on the wall. Many in the press were calling for him to retire. But the faithful among us hoped for one last title. After the Bastl loss, any title would do.

And so, I began to follow the week-to-week tour, learning about annual tournaments in places like Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Still no titles for Pete. Finally, at the US Open, it all came together for him. Playing as the #17 seed, he took the title, again topping his old rival Agassi in the final. He had the storybook ending, nothing left to do but ride off into the sunset. He had played his last professional match.

It took the rise of Pete Sampras to draw me into tennis but it took his decline to get me hooked. By the end of the tournament, I was a true addict. I'd already found a new pony with Sampras apparently finished: Paradorn Srichaphan, a flashy, yet well-mannered player from Thailand whose career followed a completely different path. But through him, and the miracle of the Internet, I was able to follow the tour year-round, learning about things like Davis Cup zonal ties, something I didn't even know existed a year earlier. I'd discovered that I could watch a match with great interest even if I didn't care who won. In fact, I knew I was hooked when I could enthusiastically watch a tape-delay match even if I already knew the outcome.

Seven years later, my appreciation for the game continues to grow. Sadly, it is an interest I've pursued almost entirely on my own. My wife and daughter will watch matches with me but don't really care too much. I have loads of friends who are into sports but few with much interest in tennis. In truth, part of the inspiration to start this blog was the hope that a few of them might want to learn more. We'll see.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

US Open Day 11: The Tournament's Best Kept Secret

Curtain Call
Player: Marin Cilic
Nation: Croatia
Age: 20
Current Ranking: #17
Notable Conquests: Andy Murray (UK), 2nd seed
Tour Page:
Today's Match: loss to Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina) in four sets

In my mind, there's no doubt that Cilic's win over Murray was the biggest upset of the tournament thus far. Kvitova over Safina was good but the vultures were hovering over the top seed from the first round. This was supposed to be Murray's break out tournament and Cilic stomped him hard. This is likely just the beginning for this young man.

But the real story of the match today, and don't be shocked if this is an even bigger story come Sunday, was the guy on the other side of the net. When Roger, Rafa, Andy and Novak look behind them and see Juan Martin del Potro breathing down their necks, they've got to be more than a little nervous. He's younger than all of them and he's really, really good. Before this year's French Open, he was the guy who'd play lights out until he came up against one of his idols, i.e. Federer or Nadal, and then he'd go quiet and lose in straight sets. But in Paris, he was visibly upset about letting his semifinal match against Fed get away from him. Right now, he's playing like he's tired of waiting his turn. He's not giving anybody a free pass this time.

I'm gonna go out on a limb. Even if it doesn't happen for him here, del Potro is the future of men's tennis.

In last night's fantasy draft, I picked Santonio Holmes in the 4th round: 83 yards and a touchdown so far tonight. At least until Sunday, I get to feel like a genius.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

US Open Day 10: Back Down to Earth

Curtain Call
Player: Melanie Oudin
Nation: USA
Age: 17
Current Ranking: #70
Notable Conquests: Elena Dementieva (Russia), 4th seed; Maria Sharapova (Russia), 29th seed and Nadia Petrova (Russia), 13th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~13174,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) in straight sets

The fairy tale came to an end this evening. If you've followed the tournament at all, you are already acquainted with America's new sweetheart. Marketing opportunism aside, Oudin's achievement here is pretty darn impressive: a virtually unknown teenager taking out three seeded players in three consecutive rounds. Is she for real or just a flash in the pan? Will we find out in Melbourne? She'll be old enough to vote by then.

The wheelchair competition begins tomorrow and I'm delighted to see that the Tennis Channel intends to provide some coverage. Alas, I doubt I'll be home in time from work to see it. The mixed doubles final is also tomorrow.

Fantasy football draft is over. Bed soon. Dentist tomorrow morning - ick!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

US Open Day 9: Girls Can Be Knights, Too

Curtain Call
Player: Flavia Pennetta
Nation: Italy
Age: 27
Current Ranking: #10
Notable Conquest: Vera Zvonareva (Russia), 7th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~6578,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Serena Williams (USA) in straight sets

By the time most players hit 27, their best tennis years are behind them. Pennetta, however, has had an amazing summer, rising to the highest ranking of her career on August 17th. Coolest of all, at least in my daughter's eyes, is the fact that she is a Knight in Italy. It all came to an end tonight against Serena but there's certainly no shame in that.

I just love the murderer's row that is the men's tennis tour these days. In an earlier post, I mentioned that the gang lining up behind Federer and Nadal gets scarier all the time. Today, they got a new recruit. Marin Cilic has been dogged by high expectations for a while now and his straight-set pasting of Murray today was a coming of age. Sure, Murray wasn't at his best but the scoreline (7-5, 6-2, 6-2) shows that this one wasn't even close. Gonzalez's triumph over Tsonga was nowhere near as shocking but still served as a wonderful indication that with so many of the top players still around at this stage, there will be no easy matches from here on out. As I write this, Monfils sure doesn't look like he intends to give Nadal a free pass.

The Champions' Team Tennis competition begins tomorrow - a new format for the old-timers portion of the program. Team King vs. Team Lendl is on the docket. Does this mean Ivan will actually be playing? Sounds like it's worth stopping by.

Monday, September 7, 2009

US Open Day 8: Happy Labor Day!

Curtain Call
Player: Petra Kvitova
Nation:Czech Republic
Age: 19
Current Ranking: #72
Notable Conquests: Alisa Kleybanova (Russia), 27th seed and Dinara Safina (Russia), 1st seed.
Tour Page:,,12781~13403,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium) in three sets, 7-5 in the third

Taking out the top seed would really have been enough to have called the US Open a success for Kvitova. But she also took out another seeded Russian and has improved significantly on last year's first round result. Her ranking took a hit earlier this year when she missed the French Open. This will help her get back up the rankings.

It's Labor Day here in the States, always a great day to watch tennis. Labor Day is usually (always?) a part of the Open's middle weekend and it feels like I'm playing hooky by watching. I spent the afternoon with Oudin and Petrova then the early evening with a spatchcock chicken and a Weber grill.

Football (American style) is in the air. My fantasy league, the first I have ever joined, is holding its draft on Wednesday night. In a facebook thread, my wife suggested to my soon-to-be competitors that I was planning to fill my NFL squad with tennis players. I could only wonder what that particular dream team would look like...

One must first acknowledge that few tennis players have appropriate football physiques. I would have to go with Federer at QB: calm, cool, collected in the pocket and the ball always seems to go exactly where he wants it. Nadal and Serena Williams would be the bruising RBs out of the backfield. Venus Williams at wide receiver along with Gael Monfils perhaps? I like del Potro for tight end but my man Jesse Witten is a tempting choice. He'd be a good late round pick as a backup, I suppose. Kicker? I'm going with Marcos Daniel. If there's a ball to be kicked and there's a Brazilian on the board, I'd say it's a no-brainer.

Back to work tomorrow...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

US Open Day 7: A Glimpse of the Future

Curtain Call
Player: Francesca Schiavone
Nation: Italy
Age: 29
Current Ranking: #28
Notable Conquest: Victoria Azarenka (Belarus), 8th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~7820,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Na Li (China) in straight sets

Tough loss today but Schiavone deserves high praise for taking out Azarenka. Over the course of her career, she has had more success in doubles than in singles but this singles result is a big improvement on last year's second round finish.

The junior tournament began today. The Boys' Singles competition has been a part of the US Open since 1973. The Girls' Singles has been going since 1974. The junior tournament is for players under the age of 18. Players must have permission from a parent/guardian to participate. No prize money is involved. Success in the junior ranks is no guarantee of a great professional career but a few have done well on the senior tour. The last US Open Boys' Singles champion to later win the Men's Singles title was Andy Roddick who won the juniors in 2000 and the seniors in 2003. It's been longer for the women with Lindsay Davenport the last to do it. She won the junior title in 1992 and the senior title in 1998.

The top seed for the boys is Yuki Bhambri of India. The top seed for the girls WAS Kristina Mladenovic of France but she has already lost her first match. Don't feel too bad for her. She's only 16. She'll be back.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

US Open Day 6: A Creamsicle Has His Day

Curtain Call
Player: Jesse Witten
Nation: USA
Age: 26
Current Ranking: #276
Notable Conquest: Igor Andreev (Russia), 29th seed
Tour Page:
Today's Match: loss to Novak Djokovic (Serbia) in four sets

Jesse Witten is the man! I love this guy. Sign me up for the fan club. He looks like a guy who just got up off the couch and picked up a racquet - certainly more at home on a football field than a tennis court. But here he is, just having played the tournament of his life. He'd never won an ATP-level match before this week and nearly walked away from the sport earlier this year. And make no mistake, he made the Djoker earn it today. Hats off!

I feel we must discuss Djokovic's shirt today. Now, full disclosure, I am never a big fan of orange. I feel it is the one color that looks terrible on just about everyone. But he really looked like a Creamsicle. The streaks of red could potentially suggest something a bit more dignified: a nectarine, perhaps. But they also made him look like he was bleeding. Complete disaster in my book. I know these folks get paid ridiculous amounts to wear whatever their sponsor tells them to wear so I'm sure Novak's crying all the way to the bank but I'd be on the phone begging for something else.

Gotta get ready for the gaggle of girls coming for my daughter's birthday party. Tennis will have to wait until later.

Friday, September 4, 2009

US Open Day 5: Climbing Rung by Rung

Curtain Call
Player: Aleksandra Wozniak
Nation: Canada
Age: 21
Current Ranking: #39
Notable Conquest: Amelie Mauresmo (France), 17th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~9813,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Flavia Pennetta (Italy) in straight sets: 6-1, 6-1

There's no denying it. Ms. Wozniak got tuned today by the 10th seeded Pennetta. But there's also no denying she had a successful tournament overall. In round 2, she took out Mauresmo, a player who, I will grant you, is a shadow of her former self. But she's still a seed and taking out a higher ranked player is always good.

And with her third round finish, Wozniak is likely to be a seed herself in Slams to come. To improve one's ranking points, a player must better the previous year's performance in a given week. Last year, Wozniak lost in the first round of the US Open. First to third may not seem like much but if it's enough to propel her into the top 32 in time for the Australian Open, it could mean a seed in Melbourne.

Wozniak is currently the highest ranked Canadian singles player. She is young, turning 22 on Sunday. Perhaps today's undoubtedly brutal loss will motivate her in future tournaments.

By my count, there are seven matches tomorrow pitting seeded players against one another. Sounds like a great day on the grounds to me!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

US Open Day 4: A Cavalier Performance

Curtain Call
Player: Somdev Devvarman
Nation: India
Age: 24
Current Ranking: #162
Tour Page:
Today's Match: loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany) in 4 sets

Devvarman is another qualifier playing in his first ever Slam tournament. He won his first round match and fell in the second round to the 23rd seeded Kohlschreiber. He is a former two-time NCAA singles champion at the University of Virginia and the first Indian male to play in the singles draw of a Slam since 2002.

The third round begins in the women's singles tournament tomorrow. The third round is a magical moment in a Slam as it is the round when the seeds begin to play each other. There used to be 16 seeds in the Slams which would protect them from playing one another before the fourth round but now, with 32, it happens one round earlier.

Unfortunately, there are only two matches tomorrow which pit seeds against each other. Amazingly to me, one of them isn't even on a show court. Vera Avonareva (Russia, 7th seed) vs. Elena Vesnina (Russia, 31st seed) has been relegated to Court 13, still a TV court though for the folks back in Moscow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

US Open Day 3: Is It Really Such a Sin to Lose?

Curtain Call
Player: Kai-Chen Chang
Nation: Chinese Taipei
Age: 18
Current Ranking: #212
Notable Conquests: Kaia Kanepi (Estonia), 25th seed
Tour Page:,,12781~13135,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia) in 3 sets, 6-2 in the third

Big tournament for this young woman. Kai-Chen Chang went through qualifying to reach her first ever Grand Slam tournament. Then, in the first round, her first ever Grand Slam match, she takes out a seed. Very impressive!

Did anyone else watch the Sam Querrey/Michael Yani match on the Mix Channel yesterday? It was a perfect demonstration of what drives me nuts about tennis commentary, especially in the early rounds. To be fair, Michael Yani hardly played the match of his life but can you blame him? Here's a veteran player in a rare Grand Slam opportunity facing a seeded opponent in a televised match. Not to mention the fact that he's playing the match at Louis Armstrong which used to be the main show court at the U.S. Open. It's stinkin' huge! And yet, if we are to believe the on-air commentary, we should be appalled by his presumption of even showing up for the match.

I hate to generalize here because not all of the folks on the tube do this but so many seem to regard the lower-ranked players with such disdain. But I actually had to turn the sound off it was so awful. It is why I have chosen to approach the story of the Slam from the angle I have. In either singles draw, one player will be crowned champion while 127 others will go home having lost their last match. It's not as if all of those 127 others will have had horrible tournaments. Quite the contrary, for some just playing in this one tournament will represent the high point of a career, a story they can tell for the rest of their lives. Who are we to be so dismissive?

I am grateful for the expanded coverage. The Mix Channel is nothing short of a life quality improvement in my mind. But boy, I'd love to be able to push a button that would mute the commentary while still allowing us to hear the sounds of the match. Surely, the technology must exist.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

US Open Day 2: Double the Fun

Curtain Call
Player: Monique Adamczak
Nation: Australia
Age: 26
Current Ranking: #164
Tour Page:,,12781~291,00.html
Today's Match: loss to Alize Cornet (France) in 3 sets, 7-5 in the third

Adamczak is another qualifier making her first career appearance in the US Open. She fought tough in her first round match. Bravo!

The men's doubles tournament began today with the women's and mixed doubles beginning tomorrow. I'm a big fan of doubles and wish that it would get more air time. With four people on the court, it's almost like an entirely different sport, at least from the spectator perspective. The ball seems to fly around a lot faster and at really funny angles, sort of like a human pinball machine. There is a lot more play at the net than in singles, which is always fun, particularly when all four are up there exchanging volleys. It always takes me a minute to get used to the change in sidelines but it's good to stretch the brain a bit. One wonderful argument I've heard for expanded doubles coverage is the fact that most recreational players play doubles rather than singles.

The Tennis Channel has made an effort to include doubles in its coverage of tournaments and if you are fortunate enough to have DirecTV, the Mix Channel shows more doubles as the week moves along. Unfortunately, doubles will essentially disappear from the TV in the second week, just when the top teams start to face off against each other.

To a point, I can understand the problem from a marketing perspective. Not all doubles partners are steady dates, as it were, so establishing a rooting interest is complicated. Partners are also rarely from the same country which may also make it difficult for fans to gain a foothold. On the other hand, the relationships between partners are occasionally soap opera-worthy as they were a couple years ago when longtime pals Daniel Nestor and Mark Knowles announced their split and then won the French Open together. Davis Cup, for all its myriad flaws, does pretty well by doubles, integrating it as a meaningful part of the whole. It is a little sad that it's so difficult to catch a glimpse at the Slams.

What the heck, my picks to win:

Men - Mahesh Bhupati (India) and Mark Knowles (Bahamas)
Women - Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spain) and Virginia Ruano Pascual (Spain)
Mixed - Lisa Raymond (USA) and Marcin Matkowski (Poland)