Thursday, July 18, 2019

Tennis Poetry, Wimbledon 2019

Hi. I am tennis writer Chris Oddo. I am here to write a Wimbledon poem.

Wish me luck.

[Begin Tennis Poetry]

Wimbledon 2019

Every year I get down on my knees
and snap a grass selfie
it's usually like the Saturday before the Championships
dreaming of all the possibilities
this is where they all came
this is tennis Mecca
this is where McEnroe qualified and made the semis
where white catsuit maxed out
where Ashe smoked Connors like a rusted cigar
where viking god Borg came after pillaging Roland Garros
where the Williams ran roughshod,
superwomen, avengers, skyscrapers among duplexes.

Every year I see the light as it fades,
contemplate the absurdity of tennis on grass,
the sound of a bounce y'all
the sound
of a bounce...

Every year I flip through the compendium for an arcane fact about a Wimbledon that was,
a bridge connects me to another time, way back before the bombs,
and I get closer to what tennis really is at its essence.

How it's a literary sport,
a sport for thinkers,
lovers of nuance and embracers of the slow creep of the ivy that climbs the Centre Court walls,
how everybody thinks you're cool that you're there
or is that just you thinking you're cool and projecting it on them?

And every year I marvel at the visuals.
If those vivid livid green carpets could tell stories they'd tell you who was hard on them.
They'd tell you who smashed what stick on what baseline and who spat at the ground when the forehand lost its range.
They'd tell you of years full of tears,
of flying ants of happenstance.

It doesn't even matter who wins.
Or how much sleep I get.
Or if it rained
or if it shined.

Just as long as time stood still--and it always does.

[End Tennis Poetry]

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.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Federer's Backhand the Key to Victory Over Nadal

Lot's of lingering thoughts regarding Roger and Rafa's 28th tilt, so I figured I'd take to the blog to express some of them.

Federer's win—his first on an outdoor hardcourt vs. Nadal since 2005—was made possible for two reasons:

1. His backhand was amazing today.


2. Nadal refused to flip the script.

Let's start with the backhand. I've long felt that the key stroke in any Nadal-Federer match is Roger's backhand. It's no secret, pretty much everybody agrees with that, even Roger and Rafa. What's usually so fascinating about their matchups is the way that each works to either hide or expose Roger's backhand, and to what degree.

But yesterday, try as he did (especially with the serve), Nadal found nothing to expose when it came to Roger's backhand. Federer used the shot eloquently, whipping it cross-court, even on Nadal's nastiest of slice serves on the ad-side, all afternoon. I think Federer's day was actually made a lot easier by the fact that Nadal kept going there. Perhaps Nadal just assumed that he'd break it down eventually, but I think he really lost the match when he didn't adapt his game to what was really happening out there.

Nadal's reluctance to deviate from the script probably made it a lot easier for Federer than it might have been. Think about it: Somebody serves to your backhand 95 percent of the time, even though you are in the zone. What could be better than that?

Am I being naive here? To me it seemed like Rafa needed to try something different in this match, yet he never did.

He even alluded to his problem after the match, commenting that his topspin/kick serve was not getting up as high on Federer due to the conditions, wind, etc...

Was this just a poor match played in tough conditions, or was it further proof that Rafa is a better active player than a reactive one? Is Rafa a problem solver? We know he's a problem creator, but based on his work against Djokovic over their last seven matches, there's some pretty compelling evidence that he's not making the highest marks when it comes to solving.

(Who could blame him for being stubborn, really, or sticking with what has worked so often?)

Federer was able to do two things that he usually isn't able to do with his backhand against Nadal yesterday: First, he hit over the cross-court ball and stretched Rafa out by creating some sick angles. Second, he used the down-the-line consistently, which kept Nadal honest, and probably more importantly, kept him from unleashing his fearhand.

This was the perfect match for Federer in terms of the backhand, and it reminded me of his 2011 World Tour Finals victory over Nadal when he also did lots of damage from that side. Also, I can't help wondering if going three sets with Thomaz Bellucci in the fourth round helped Federer get the reps that he needed on one-hander.

If it did, would it be possible for Federer to pay Bellucci more than he earns on the ATP tour to be his practice partner?

Either way, yesterday's 28th Nadal-Federer match was, like all of them have been, a fascinating encounter that highlighted tennis in all its chess-like glory. All of the elements that fascinate were present: the quest for each player to find each other's backhand, the constant battle for court positioning, the never-ending search for short balls to pulverize, the finer points of shot selection, as in where to put the ball, with what spin, and how often? and of course, the ability of each player to deal with mother nature.

Everything was in play yesterday, but somehow Nadal seemed to miss the big thrust of the match. Federer's backhand was on fire, and Nadal should have left it alone for a while in the hopes that it would have cooled off by the time he resumed his exploitation of it.

Moving forward, does it mean that Federer's backhand has turned a corner? Perhaps all these years of getting worked over by Nadal's buggy-whipped topspin drives is helping him improve?

Will he be able to use the shot in the future with more versatility, power and consistency like he did today?

Could this be yet another twist—another evolution so to speak—of the rivalry?

Hard to say, but easy to think and write about.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ode to Vika

On the eve of a colossal WTA final between the two top players in the world, I'm going to take some time to praise Victoria Azarenka for her amazing run.

She's notched 22 consecutive wins in 2012—the longest such streak to start a WTA season since 1997—and it's clear that Azarenka is no longer the fragile, temperamental girl she was for the last few years on the tour.

Not anymore. Where there used to be a look of angst, frustration or fear in Vika's eyes, there is only a cold, steely determination now.

What happened, what flicked the switch?

Hard to say, but easy to recognize. Azarenka has played forceful tennis all year, with a rare combo of desire, flair and killer instinct that has been missing on the WTA tour for quite some time.

Remember when we all thought Petra Kvitova was going to take over the No. 1 spot in Australia? That seems like another century now that the era of Azarenka has begun. The Belarusian has swiftly begun to dominate the game, and tomorrow in the BNP Paribas final open she'll have the chance to make another strong statement against Maria Sharapova, a woman that she has defeated in three consecutive title matches.

"For me it's her mental approach now," said Mary Jo Fernandez in an ESPN conference call on Wednesday. "I mean, she plays within herself, she doesn't get down on herself, she manages her emotions so much better."

All true, and while it seems strange that she is being called the "Novak Djokovic of the WTA," the precision of her return game makes Vika seem like a Nole doppelganger if there ever was one. Case in point: she's won 29 of 49 return games in five matches at Indian Wells.

"She's the best player in the world right now, there's just no question about it," added Fernandez. "She's very solid, and she's got weapons and has done a remarkable job to start off the season."

Now the big question: Will she be the best player in the world three months from now? Is she a model of success on the tour for years to come or is she a tennis comet, destined to burn out and become yet another struggling player that we're left to wonder about?

It's hard to say. She's always struck me as a person who was a little too mental to ever become a model of consistency on tour. But now that she's finding out that her game is good enough to dominate anybody on tour—more importantly, on a regular basis—perhaps she'll never turn back. Perhaps the dominating force that we all thought the WTA would forever lack is here?

Is this the beginning of the age of Vika we're witnessing? Is she that good?