Archive for July, 2009
Thursday, July 30th, 2009
The Rog and I pretaped an interview with Martina Navratilova today for the August 6 episode of Aces. It was pretty funny throughout the segment as Lajoie and I kept chuckling when we spoke about her credentials. She won more than any tennis player. Ever. The numbers are ridiculous. The fact that she won Rogers Cup just three years ago in doubles at the age of 49 years old. Pretty staggering. I mean, my father is 53.
As a relatively old-fashion guy, it was a treat for me to listen to her go off about today’s athletes and even moreso, today’s youth. She took a stab at parents as well. Our children need to be more balanced in life. Compete in an array of sports and activities, not just 24 hours a day of tennis, or hockey, or whatever. She talked about how doubles made her a better singles player, and visa versa. But she also told us about how she loved soccer and other sports which helped her learn things for a long and successful career in tennis.
When we were finished the 14-minute interview, Roger and I sat there and recognized the fact that this woman has pretty much done it all, and yet continues to understand her role as an advocate for tennis. Hopefully the fans in Toronto will pay respect to her tennis greatness when she plays in the doubles exhibition with Seles, Serena and Wozniak.
Martina is a champion. No other description needed.
Sunday, July 26th, 2009
As the official hard court season begins with the completion of the first leg on the U.S. Open Series in Indy, I’m reminded how very different tennis is once it crosses back over the pond to North America. Europeans stay home to play in a few more clay court events, hoping to gain some added ranking points before attending major events like Rogers Cup. One look at the draw this week in Indianapolis will show you how thrilled Americans are that the tennis world has once again returned to the deco turf. Three semifinalists were from the States, and the fourth, a proud Canuck from Niagara Falls, named Frank Dancevic.
The pace of the ball, the spin, the length of the rallies, player movement and body punishment are all different when the hard court season arrives. With less than a month until Rogers Cup in Montreal (men) and Toronto (women), players are trying to get into ‘summer shape’ in smaller events before the Canadian stops, which act as a final tune up for the last Grand Slam of the year in Flushing Meadows. Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina are the defending champions north of the border. Rafa’s return and Poppa Roger will be two headlines in Montreal while the No. 1 ranking in women’s tennis will remain a hot topic in the Big Smoke.
If the Aussie Open is like a circus, Roland Garros is about flare, and Wimbledon is about tradition, then the hardcourt season and U.S. Open compare to the downtown club scene; a lot of noise, fast-paced action and a fun way to let loose.
Monday, July 13th, 2009
A big kudos to Stacey Allaster, officially, the new boss of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and arguably now the most powerful woman in pro sports. While outgoing chairman Larry Scott got much of the credit (and criticism) for the new roadmap, Allaster was involved every step of the way. It’s just as much her baby as it was his. So far, so good. Player dropouts are down 24% from this time last year but the litmus test will be the summer hard court season. Give me 8 or more of the Top 10 ladies in Toronto and you’ve got me sold … hook, like and sinker. The players seem to have accepted Allaster in this new role and the corporate world has always been a big believer of whatever she’s selling, north, south, east or west of the border.
Of course the other monumental task will be the renewal of Sony Ericsson as title partner of the Tour. Make no mistake about it, the job is huge. But I’ve seen Allaster in a boardroom and if anyone can make it work, it’s her. While at Tennis Canada, Allaster was a hard-nosed, tough negotiator with the fans, players and tournament always in mind. She will need to keep the same mindset heading into a challenging time.
Allaster takes the reins at a time when the game is more global than ever before. It will be a difficult chore to please everyone but in the end, the fans may be the ones to benefit the most.
She has helped lead the Tour at a time of massive change, which is proving, so far, to be working. Now she is the No. 1 and there’s much optimism on the courts.
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
How does a 24-year-old professional athlete die from a cardiac arrest? According to several news sources, preliminary autopsy reports suggest that Mathieu Montcourt, a product of the French Tennis Federation passed away from a cause we generally relate to older people. While there are still more tests that need to be made to detect whether or not there were extenuating circumstances, it’s a very sad story for the sport.
At first, some media outlets assumed it had something to do with his five-week ban for gambling on other players’ matches (he was waived of influencing any match). Everything thinks Hollywood mafia style. But no matter what the final outcome is, Montcourt was gone too soon. He had family, friends and other guys on Tour who loved him.
I’m a self-proclaimed ‘stats geek’ but it still bothers a tonne when reports add a player’s statistics during a story of this nature. I’m all about reporting the facts, but I don’t think someone’s yards passing or first serve percentage is all that important right now.
Two months ago he reached a new professional high, advancing to the second round at Roland Garros and climbing to No. 104. Most people think about Roger, Rafa, Serena and Venus, but guys like Montcourt are the heart of professional sports. Just making enough money for a decent living but enjoying the travel. Working hard to crack the Top 100 and get automatic berths into Grand Slams. Scraping for every point you can earn in every Challenger in every corner of the globe. The guys on tour are a pretty tight knit group. Think about it, the season is nearly 10 months long. It’s like a family.
It all seems pretty trivial now. Sports lost a very kind, humble and well-liked man. Don’t let the bad headlines from gambling erase the fact that a young man has died. Hard to believe that one night someone can be watching a movie with friends in a town in France, and the next minute you’re gone.
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
Tennis Canada announced Tuesday the official player field for the 2009 edition of Rogers Cup Toronto. The player list includes each of the current Top 25 players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and 33 of the Top 35. Rogers Cup Toronto is scheduled for August 15-23 at Rexall Centre on the campus of York University. The defending champion is world No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia. Wimbledon champion Serena Williams and finalist Venus Williams of the United States round out the top three players.
“Women’s professional tennis is one of the most widespread celebrated sports in the world,” said Rogers Cup Toronto tournament director Karl Hale. “A great amount of work and collaboration were needed by the players, the Tour and the tournaments to create a roadmap that has helped change our sport for the better, resulting in the top players competing in the best events such as Rogers Cup. We made a commitment to our fans by remaining a Premier 5 event that included increasing our prize money by an additional $660,000 (US). The roadmap has proven successful this year on Tour and we expect a magnificent player field in Toronto.”
The total prize money for the women’s singles event at Rogers Cup is $2 million (US) with the tournament champion receiving $350,000 (US) and 800 ranking points. There will be 56 players in the main draw consisting of 39 direct entries, five wildcards and 12 qualifiers. The qualifying draw, which takes place August 15-16, will have 48 players while the doubles main draw will consist of 28 teams. Both the qualifying and doubles entry lists will be announced at a later date.
With Blainville, Quebec native Aleksandra Wozniak currently ranked at No. 22 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, the 2009 version of Rogers Cup will represent the first time since 1996 (Patricia Hy-Boulais) that a Canadian is a direct entry into the main draw (non-wildcard) on home soil.
A diverse 22 nationalities are represented among direct entries with eight Russians (20%) topping the list. Other countries that will see its flag flown atop Rexall Centre are (number of players in parenthesis): France (4); China (3); Italy (3); Serbia (2); Slovak Republic (2); Spain (2); United States (2); Austria (1); Australia (1); Belarus (1); Belgium (1*); Canada (1); Czech Republic (1); Denmark (1); Estonia (1); Germany (1); Hungary (1); Israel (1); Poland (1); Switzerland (1); and Ukraine (1). *Includes a wildcard granted to Kim Clijsters.
Five former champions will be part of the exciting lineup in Toronto: Dinara Safina (2008); Ana Ivanovic (2006); Kim Clijsters (2005); Amelie Mauresmo (2004, 2002); and Serena Williams (2001). A total of eight participants have earned the No. 1 ranking on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour including each of the five former tournament winners along with Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.
Serena Williams confirmed her attendance when she appeared on the premiere of Aces on The FAN 590 in Toronto, while Sharapova expressed her excitement to return to Toronto during a video conference held during Wimbledon.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Rogers Cup and seeing all of my great fans in Toronto,” said Sharapova.
In addition to the world-class tennis tournament, a special Opening Night program is scheduled for Monday, August 17 when former greats Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles join Serena Williams and rising Canadian star Aleksandra Wozniak in a special doubles exhibition.
Sunday, July 5th, 2009
Who the h-e-double-hockey-sticks am I to comment on what happened today at Wimbledon, and more so the status of one Roger Federer. I feel slightly ridiculous sitting here, after all the hoopla surrounding a historic day for tennis, and pontificate about the impact one man has played on professional sports.
After claiming a record sixth Wimbledon title and (I repeat) a record 15th Grand Slam today, Federer said he would leave the comparisons to greatness for the end of his career. However, since every water cooler in the free world will be having this debate Monday morning, I might as well take a stab at it too.
Make no mistake about it. Roger Federer is the greatest professional athlete on Mother Earth. More dominant than Tiger Woods, more accomplished than The Great One and with more major victories than that Olympic swimmer who swears he didn’t inhale. Finally, after today, nobody can argue, he is also better than Pete Sampras.
If we’re going to measure tennis greatness by the number of Grand Slams then the debate is quick. Roger wins with No. 15. Let’s also talk about dominance. Pistol Pete captured his first major at the 1990 U.S. Open. It was not until 2002 at the same tournament that the American claimed his 14th Grand Slam crown. In comparison, the Swiss master won the 2003 edition of Wimbledon and just six years later, cements himself as the most successful tennis man of all time. (Of course I’m a little biased because Sampras never won Rogers Cup – he lost to Andre Agassi in the 1995 final, while Federer has won two titles and was also finalist in Canada).
If he remains healthy, Tiger Woods will surpass Jack Nicklaus one day with his 19th golfing major, but he has already played in 54 majors to claim 14 titles. Roger took his 15th title in just 41 Grand Slam finals and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Oh, and Tiger has also played a few more years on Tour than Roger. I’ve always wondered what North America would think of Roger if he had stars and stripes beside his name instead of a white cross on a red flag.
What’s even more unbelievable about today’s Wimbledon win for Roger is that he had to do it with the icons of tennis right there. Tennis greats and those greatly admired by Federer, such as Laver, Borg and Sampras were looking over his shoulder sitting in the front row. They stared at every masterful backhand and punishing serve. Talk about pressure. I’m quite certain Jack won’t be walking beside Tiger for every swing he takes.
You can look up all of the records and stats about Federer and make your own comparisons, but a few things about today stood out for me to complete my love-in for the man (in a totally sports-only kinda love). Andy Roddick, who I’ve avoided mentioning thus far on purpose, had a 5-1 lead in the second set tie break. The man was sweating profusely while Federer casually went about his business. Even as the match wore on to the record 30th game of the fifth set, Federer occasionally asked for a towel while the American looked like he could use a shower after every point. Roddick played his butt off today but for a third time in London, he fell to Federer in the final.
Throughout his entire illustrious career (with the odd sign of being a human being), Roger Federer has carried himself with grace, dignity, respect for his sport and appreciation for his place in tennis. His place, is no longer up for real debate.
Three months ago the world was ready to write off Federer. Now, he is the world No. 1 once again, winner of three of the past four Grand Slams and the most prolific athlete of our generation.
Today, he said for the 15th time in his career, that he was “the luckier man.” But we’re the lucky ones to witness such a spectacle. We could not ask for a better role model for our kids who want to pick up a racquet.
Saturday, July 4th, 2009
Happy Fourth of July. Sorry, I had to. Some of my American friends and colleagues read my blog on fan590.com so I just had to rub it in that the Canuck and his Serbian partner took away what might have been an All-American sweep in London.
While it took an American team for the gentlemen’s doubles final at Wimbledon to be shown on major TV outlets, the world was able to watch Toronto-native Daniel Nestor successfully defend his Wimbledon crown with Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic. A great day for Canadian sports.
I’ve known Daniel for about four years and he rarely shows any emotion on court. To see his clench his fists in joy when Nenad served an ace on match point was pretty special.
We’re in for a real treat tomorrow with the singles final but until that time, let’s relish in a great Canadian accomplishment.
Did Serena look awesome today or what? I know that Venus certainly didn’t play her best tennis in the second set but the younger sister was on fire. Can’t wait to see her in Toronto this summer. It will be the first time that both sisters play Rogers Cup together. When they’re on, there’s no stopping them. End of story.
So six weeks until the tennis world comes to the Big Smoke. A lot can change in that time. As the U.S. Open Series starts and the tennis turns to the hard courts, it will be interesting to see who is the fittest.
It’s been a fun two weeks of Wimbledon. Let’s sit back and enjoy the final match of a memorable fortnight for Canada and a great celebration of a pretty cool sport.
Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Sorry, but I need to rant.
Yes, I know, doubles tennis is not as sexy as its singles counterpart. But considering a vast majority of the four million Canadians who played tennis last year participated in doubles action, you would think there would be more respect for Daniel Nestor. There is more news about a hockey team re-signing a fourth-line winger tonight than Toronto native Nestor coming back from down two sets to advance to his second consecutive Wimbledon final with Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic.
When Nestor hoisted the Wimbledon trophy last year, the man joined Andre Agassi and the Australian Woodies as the only men to capture the career ‘Golden Slam.’ That means all four majors AND an Olympic gold medal. Federer just reached the milestone when he won doubles in Beijing and the singles title at Roland Garros. Mac didn’t do it. Pistol Pete didn’t either. Maybe it’s because Nestor is on the road representing Canada for practically 10 months of the year and only at home for eight weeks. Maybe it’s because he’s a pretty quiet guy who doesn’t get excited very often. Either way, Nestor has accomplished more in his chosen sport than most other elite Canadian athletes, and yet his accomplishments are generally an afterthought. Today in the sports headlines he followed hockey free agency, a tour golf event and a player fined in the CFL.
So on Saturday, Nestor and Nenad will face the rival Bryan Brothers from the United States in surprisingly, their first Grand Slam meeting. The Canuck will be going for this sixth Grand Slam crown to go along with his 60 Tour titles. Did you know that he’s won more tournaments than any active player?
And as we all get back to work after celebrating Dominion Day, take note that Nestor, a dedicated Davis Cup player, will return to Toronto for just two days before hopping on a plane and joining the Canadian Davis Cup team in Peru for an Americas Zone Group I relegation match. I can almost guarantee you that most star tennis players would skip a match like this so close after a Grand Slam. But Nestor has continually answered the call for the red and white. We should all be proud of this humble Canadian, even if he is a die-hard Habs fan.
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
Federer vs. Murray. I would argue there might be more hype for this potential Wimbledon final than a rematch of Federer vs. Nadal. To think that the BBC had 54% of all TV viewers in the UK watching Murray’s five-set quarter-final victory. What would the numbers be if he makes it to the big show? No pressure at all on the guy. I mean, so what, her majesty has cleared her calendar to attend the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club if the Great Scot plays.
By the way, if you haven’t already seen it, there’s an 8-minute documentary on Murray’s hometown of Dublaine floating around. I watched the piece 10 minutes before having to go on air for a tennis broadcast and had to compose myself after tears rolling down my cheeks, honestly. Have a look for it online (I think you can find it on a particluar U.S. sports tv station’s website).
As if British fans don’t hate the U.S. already, now Andy Roddick, who has played some of his best tennis on grass the past two weeks, will face up against the chosen one. Every time Roddick touches the ball, I presume the typically polite local crowd will boo as much as the Habs fans did for Burkey during the NHL Draft. Roddick has nothing to lose and Murray has the weight of a kingdon (United Kingdom that is) on his shoulders. Beware of the newly married Yankee.
As for Federer, he should stramroll through Tommy Haas, but I’m sure Novalk Djokovic was thinking the same thing. At 31, Haas realizes there’s not much left in the tank and has relished every moment en route to his first Wimbledon semifinal While most have already written the German off, he will quietly crack the Top 20 once again.
Friday should entertaining. Don’t look ahead to Sunday. I know Roger and Andy won’t.