Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thoughts on Hindrances (actually a rant, as it turns out)

Let me just get to the point with this one: I think it's funny that the most annoying grunters on tour are not getting penalized while the innocent—namely Virginie Razzano—evidently are.

Okay, maybe funny is the wrong word, and maybe hindrance is the wrong word too. How about annoying? How about I can't hear myself think when your match is on the telly?

Can we just implement a new rule and stick it in the ITF/ WTA rulebook right along the hindrance rule that lends a little more clarity to the debate that never seems to die.

Wait...Is it even a debate? Is there anybody out there who thinks that Victoria Azarenka's (sorry for singling you out kid, but your name just seems to come to mind) tennis soundscape is even remotely okay? The fans hate it, the commentators hate it, her peers hate it—I mean what else do we need to know to realize that it's basically bad for the game and should be made to stop?

And yet, several years on—decades, really—the debate that shouldn't even be debated continues...


Well, because there is a lot of grey area in there. How do you penalize a player without a rule designed to penalize them? Can we just stop the match and have a vote? If you think Victoria Azarenka's yodeling is unsuitable for the modern game, vote to strip her of her ranking until she pipes down! And if she ever grunts again while knocking off a touch volley at net, she will be suspended for at least one year!

Ah, but it's not that simple, it really isn't. Truth is, as much as it is clearly in poor taste to grunt like many professional tennis players do, the inmates are clearly running the asylum here. You don't believe me? Look at the the WTA rankings. No. 1 and No. 2 could start a thrash-punk band with all the dissonant wailing they do while they play.

I could ramble on, but really what's the point? The wrong people are getting penalized for the wrong things, and the two most egregious grunters in the history of the world are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

The only thing I can think of is this:

Let's let the fans decide. Give each fan a handful of tennis balls prior to each match that they attend. Tell them that if they find any players vocal stylings to be a "hindrance" that they are then free to toss said tennis balls at said player. Consider it justice prevailing in an otherwise unjust world.

In closing, I'd like to point out that tennis is a sport where decorum has always been a major part of its tradition. It's a sport where people say sorry for getting a point from a lucky let cord; it's a sport where fans are forced to be quiet during points; it's the safe haven of the sporting world, where bookworms, geeks, and those who appreciate how much a little silence can say congregate.

No flash cameras here; wait in the aisles until the changeover, please; Shhhhhh!!!! Quiet Please!!!!

All that is well and good, but how good is it when the players on the court are screaming such bloody murder that the paying customers can't even hear the strings pop?

I'll answer that for you: NOT VERY GOOD!

And yet, the debate that shouldn't even be debated lingers on. This is one of those things, like death and taxes, that we'll be destined to complain about and never, ever solve.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Djokovic Nadal Rome 2012

Colossal day tomorrow with Nadal and Djokovic about to play their second clay-court final of the spring. Here's 5 quick and random thoughts about the upcoming clash:

1. Of all the surfaces that this match could be on, clay is probably the best.

Not that a Djokovic-Nadal match up wouldn't be must-see tennis on any surface, but clay works for me the best. Clay will limit aces and return winners, so each player will be forced to play tactically on the return, looking for a place to put the ball that will generate preferred patterns and keep the ball out of the wheelhouse of the other.

But the server will be looking to elicit a weak return, and of course, be hoping to make a lot of first serves. For Nadal, this should be no problem. The guy makes first serves almost as good as he pays his bills. For Djokovic it will be key: He'll need to make a fair amount of them.

So it will be a battle of who can get the most out their serve and return to gain the most advantages in the early phases of what are sure to be a lot of baseline rallies that exceed 8 strokes or so.

2. Expect Nole to be much better than he was in Monte-Carlo. 

Judging from Djokovic's play yesterday in his semifinal against Roger Federer, he's playing with as much passion as he had in Australia. We have been building to the next month of the season since early February. Here we are now at the jumping off point.

3. How important is this match? 

Look, this isn't Roland Garros. Let's get that straight right off the bat. That said, this might be the biggest possible non-Slam final that Djokovic and Nadal could play. Both clearly covet the Rome title. If you don't think so, check the facts. Either Nadal or Djokovic has won the last seven. Clearly each comes to play here.

Additionally, each has the next week off, so they'd like nothing more than to be pushed to the limits by the other in a three set battle for the upper hand. Barring injury, both are primed to go has hard as they possibly can for this title.

And when it comes to momentum, both know that a victory in Rome would be the ultimate impetus for a French Open push.

4. Who needs it more? 

I think Djokovic needs it more in a way. I don't think a hard-fought loss would be catastrophic but a blowout might really put some doubt in the Serb's head. To have the streak end was inevitable, but if Nadal takes a second straight convincing decision over Djokovic, won't he start to wonder if he's run out of his luck and won't he start to suffer from the defeatist attitude that comes with it if he does?

I think Nadal can afford to lose, because Nadal proved enough to himself in Monte-Carlo to have a good feeling heading into his chase for the all-time French Open title lead. But, if he's beaten soundly in the same fashion that Djokovic beat him soundly in Rome last year, Nadal might start to think his Monte-Carlo win over Nole was a blip. There's danger in that, too.

5. Who will win? 

I think Nadal in three. I said that only after I had decided that it would be Djokovic in three. It's really a tough call.