Welcome to The Backboard, the new home for some of my tennis thoughts and musings. This column will appear every Tuesday here at The Changeover. You can find past editions of The Backboard here.
A Tweet Extravaganza
For some reason, we just went through a fantastic tennis week on Twitter. Hence, I’ll turn over the main section of the Backboard to a few tweets that were just too great to pass up. Let’s begin!
This Week’s Edition of “Get Off My Lawn”
As I wrote last week, Tumaini Carayol was covering the Madrid Masters for Tennis Panorama News. He did a great job, and both his Twitter feed and Tennis Panorama’s were full of insights from the happenings at the hideous #CajaTrágica (more on this hashtag later). One of the things Tumaini had been doing was tweeting out the interesting bits from press conferences, something that has become commonplace not only in tennis, but in other sports as well. Heck, I even did it in during my first experience covering an event (the Houston ATP 250).
In the middle of the week, Roger Federer lost to Kei Nishikori. It was a huge upset, given that Federer was the defending champion at the event. Nishikori had never beaten the 17-time Slam winner before, and Japan’s No. 1 is among the most intriguing young players out there.
Tumaini proceeded to tweet a harmless Federer quote from the subsequent press conference. You can see it below, along with Neil Harman’s bizarre reply:
I also loved the four responses Neil got to his strange tweet, which were more than appropriate.
I have a few questions about this exchange:
– Under what authority is Neil Harman operating here? He works for the Times of London. This event takes place in Madrid. Last I heard, he wasn’t hired to be the Media Director for the Madrid Masters.
– Since Neil Harman isn’t operating in any official capacity here, can we infer that he’s simply trying to bully a fellow media member from a smaller online publication? That would be quite unbecoming of the 2005 recipient of the ATP Ron Bookman Media Excellence award.
– Why is Neil putting this grievance on Twitter? Tumaini was in Madrid, sitting in the same press room as he was. Why not have a word with Tumaini in private, if this is such a big deal? Is the Madrid press room that big?
– Does Neil not understand how online publications (such as this one) work? We have no deadlines. We’re deeply linked with social media: our Twitter followers are our constituency. We owe it to them to put this kind of information out there. That might seem like an unfair advantage against Neil’s harsh deadlines and other assorted demands of print media. But it’s Neil who is rewarded with a nice paycheck and travel money for covering our sport, so I’m not sure he’s at a disadvantage here.
Still, Neil didn’t stop there:
– Neil is responding to a tweet that doesn’t include his handle. Was he doing a Twitter search for “Neil?” (He wasn’t – Neil follows Win or Lose, I WIN, who kindly pointed that out to me)
– Harman’s reasoning seems to be that you only get to divulge presser information if you’re in the presser asking the questions. Let’s now remember that Tumaini Carayol was an accredited media member during the Madrid tournament, and he was probably sitting within a few feet of Neil Harman during Roger Federer’s press conference.
To me, we’re too deep into this decade to be having this type of arguments anymore. Oh wait, I now remember that the French Open embargoes all press conference transcripts. Nevermind.
This is yet another sad episode of how the tennis establishment lags behind what other sports do. As some of you might know, I’m a big NBA fan. For the playoffs, the league makes all the official press conferences available online. Not in print, though: they do a video stream of the whole thing online. LIVE.
Fans everywhere log in to listen to what coaches and players have to say after every game. It’s a wonderful service, and it even helps print/online media outlets that don’t have the funds to attend a playoff game in a city far away.
How far away is tennis from something like that? Light years, probably.
Of course, everything I wrote above does not preclude me from understanding the place where Neil is coming from: his access (which is not limited to press conferences, unlike what is available for online media like The Changeover. This is no small detail, believe me) is what justifies his travel to cover events in person. Print media love quotes, which seem to be the main commodity of their trade. So the Times might ask itself what the point is of sending Neil to Madrid if he doesn’t have exclusive access to said quotes.
The Times might also ask itself the following question: what is Neil Harman’s role in the world we currently live in?
The answer is simple, and Neil hinted at it himself: someone of his stature and his experience should be the one asking the best questions during press conferences. He’s paid to follow professional tennis closely, so you’d think he’d have the most insightful questions, which in turn could lead to great quotes. That’s what makes Neil Harman valuable to the Times and to tennis media in general.
But outbursts like the one above surely don’t.
Sorana Cirstea is Looking Out for the Future of Tennis
I’d love to know what prompted this tweet by Sorana. Particularly because in my mind, there are very few lefties out there at the moment who actually make being a lefty an advantage of any sort. This made me think about something that’s closely related to this whole issue: what shots does a lefty need to develop to fully take advantage of their leftyness?
In my mind, three:
1. The Cross-Court Forehand:
This is the key one, because it goes directly into right-handed opponent’s backhands. To be effective, a proper lefty forehand needs to be hit with pace and a nice angle consistently: the point is not only to make your opponent hit backhands, but make them hit backhands from uncomfortable positions on that Ad court. A lefty wants to yank their opponent as wide as possible on that side, which creates two advantages: 1) Their opponent’s backhand down the line is negated, since the angle disappears and 2) Acres of space open up on the Ad court for a safe lefty forehand down the line.
2. The Slider Out Wide Serve From the Ad Court
This is the serve that John McEnroe made famous. When hit properly, it’s a wicked serve hit with slice that, like the lefty cross-court forehand, drags the receiver out of the court, past the doubles alley. And since it’s going to a right hander’s backhand, the likelihood of an aggressive return drops dramatically. Plus, if a lefty uses this serve effectively, it will force the returner to try and pre-empt the serve by leaving some space open for a serve up the T. Rafael Nadal manages these two serves masterfully.
It’s also important to note that lefties get to use this very important serve on all break points except a 15-40 situation, as well as in all game points except the 40-15 point. That’s no small edge.
3. The Down-the-Line Forehand
This is the perfect companion to the two shots above. It takes advantage of the space created by either shot by firing the ball into a right-handed opponent’s forehand corner with more pace (and margin for error) than a right-hander’s backhand down the line would. It finishes the job started by the two shots above.
To me, a lefty with a great backhand and an iffy forehand is a wasted opportunity. An inconsequential lefty, if you wish. And both tours are littered with them: for every Rafael Nadal there are endless Verdascos, Kerbers, Nieminens and Melzers. So I wouldn’t worry too much, Sorana. Plus, the more lefties, the better!
Stan Wawrinka And His Lucky Charm
Steph Trudel (who also came up with one of the best hashtags of the year, the perfect #CajaTrágica) captured this funny moment during the Madrid semifinal. As a bit of context, Damien Dumusois had been the umpire of Stan’s previous match, a three set win over Grigor Dimitrov, during which both had a few heated arguments about … who knows what.
If I remember correctly, the exchange highlighted above came near the end of the semifinal, when Stan was feeling pretty good about himself. It was a funny, lighthearted moment that would’ve reached a wider audience had it been said in English. But that’s where Steph comes in.
I remember that either Nick Lester or Robby Koenig joked that Wawrinka would love it if Dumusois got to umpire the final. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and the nod went to Argentine Damián Steiner. In a match in which he was thoroughly outclassed, Wawrinka could have used having his lucky charm in the chair.
The Podmaster Speaks The Truth
This has to be one of the most insightful tweets I’ve ever read about what it takes to cover (or merely be a fan of) the sport of tennis. I’ve been thinking about this whole subject recently, and when I saw Brodie’s tweet, it all made sense.
As a bit of context, the Podmaster General’s inspiration came after a frenetic Friday that saw the brilliant minds in charge of the #CajaTrágica scheduling line up six quarterfinal matches on the Manolo Santana court. The players for the first match came out on court at 10:50 a.m., and the last players left well past midnight. It was a day that never ended. I’ll always remember that day as the time I missed the conclusion of a tennis match played in Europe because I had dinner plans in Houston, Texas. The whole situation made no sense.
Yet for a tennis fan, it was just business as usual.
Brodie’s excellent tweet is right on the money: something has to be tuned in a very, um, “unique” way in your brain if you’re drawn to a sport like tennis. It’s probably the worst sport to cover, if you want to have a normal life, too. The action never ends. Something is always happening somewhere in the world, and you feel compelled to at the very least open up a scoreboard to avoid being in the dark about the fact that some obscure player beat some other obscure player 6-3, 6-2. And if a big event is happening, you’ll surely have the TV on, Twitter available and maybe a secondary stream up on your laptop. Just like a junkie happily devouring copious amounts of his favorite drug for hours and hours on end.
Maybe there should be such a thing as tennis rehab.
Things I’ve Read Recently That Made Me Think
ESPN Close To A Deal With The USTA To Move The U.S. Open Exclusively To Cable – John Ourand (Sports Business Daily)
I’ve written before on this same space that I believe the US major networks (CBS and NBC) should stay as far away as possible from tennis, so you can imagine what I think about this piece.
If ESPN’s deal does end up being the winning bid, we can say goodbye to an unfortunate tradition of the men’s US Open final: the hurried trophy ceremony mandated by CBS’ frantic need to get “60 Minutes” on the air. But more than that, it would consolidate ESPN as the go-to place for tennis in the United States, which is quite useful in the era of the million TV channels.
The only problems I see are the same Ourand outlines: ESPN’s commitment both to college and pro football (both of which are far more lucrative and attractive to ESPN’s audience than tennis is) in the fall. But at least we know that ESPN does have a variety of networks that they’re not shy about using when it’s time to juggle multiple events, not to mention their fantastic online platform (which sadly is still unavailable to everyone in the country – a cable provider has to be a part of a separate agreement in order to offer it).
Hopefully the WWL finds a way to showcase the US Open in a way that grows interest of the sport here in the US, and ties in with the other events on the calendar that they already broadcast. Because we all know CBS was failing to fulfill the first – and most important – of those objectives.
Tweet That Got Favorited For Very Obvious Reasons
— Mr. Pigz (@MisterPigz) May 8, 2013
What Mr. Pigz is referring to is the bizarre fact that Svetlana Kuznetsova played tennis at Indian Wells wearing shoes endorsed by NBA star Chris Paul (you can see for yourself if you click on the links within his tweet).
Bear in mind that those would be shoes designed to play the game of basketball. Of course, since it’s Svetlana Kuznetsova we’re talking about, none of that information is all that surprising.
What is fascinating (and Mr. Pigz points it out during our conversation in that thread) is that Kuznetsova is sponsored by a Chinese brand that uses the silhouette of a man dunking a basketball as their logo. And that said Chinese brand is apparently being sued by the Jordan brand for copyright infringement. Jordan (a Nike company) makes the shoes Kuznetsova apparently used in Indian Wells.
It’s all too perfect, and all too Svetlana Kuznetsova, no?
This exchange came about because Kuznetsova showed up in Madrid wearing what has to be one of the funniest kits I’ve ever seen on a tennis court:
Yep, Svetlana Kuznetsova, two-time Slam Champion, was wearing … the sky. The kit is even more epic when you look at it from up close:
Never change, Svetlana. Looking forward to more kits that are just big printouts of nature landscapes.
Music Used to Write this Column
I’ve written about how much I love the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. And I’ve been reading for years and years that their previous album, Siamese Dream, was even better. Yet I ignored that last statement and somehow decided that Siamese Dream wasn’t worth checking out.
Yesterday I went through all of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness again, and remembered that I still hadn’t listened to anything in Siamese Dream, their previous offering. What if that album is as good as Mellon Collie? What if I’ve been missing out on this alleged masterpiece all these years through sheer stupidity and absentmindedness?
Determined to end the nonsense, I fired up Spotify, made a playlist, and saved it for today. I’m on my second listen at this precise moment, and I’m glad to report that I haven’t missed anything that’s even remotely close to earth-shattering.
Siamese Dream is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. But it lacks all the great things that made me fall in love with Mellon Collie: the fearlessness of jumping genres and moods like there was no tomorrow, the delicate, softer songs, among other things.
If anything, I enjoyed reading about the chaotic and conflictive recording sessions for the album more than I enjoyed the album itself. Billy Corgan was apparently OCDing at an alarming and tyrannical rate, and he allegedly recorded all the guitar and bass parts himself…even though his band does include an additional guitarist and a bass player. Ah, Billy.
Anyway, here’s the band performing my favorite track from the album (in a show that took place 20 years ago!), “Spaceboy,” which is a touching tribute to Corgan’s autistic brother: