exploring the world of tennis . . .     
Talking Points 2008
Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so our children can fly!
Barack Obama's presidency will have to be judged by the extent to which he converts rhetoric into policies that materially benefit the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of America (and the world beyond its borders). And, if he succeeds in expressing his visions of change as sound government policies, he will have to be judged by the extent to which his administration delivers them. But, no matter how it all pans out, the fourth of November 2008 will always be remembered as a day of great symbolic significance - a day when fairness and equality finally triumphed in America. Whatever we think of President-elect Obama, the US electorate has made him a living symbol of unity and an icon of hope. The underprivileged of all creeds and races can now see that ambitions are achievable through hard work. Their children can see that it's cool to be educated, intellectual and articulate. Whatever we make of it, the land of opportunity is now demonstrably living up to its billing.

Dave Winship (5 November 2008)

Back to the topics
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental!
Rafa: Hola, Roger. Have you seen paper? It say Japanese scientists make mouse clones from dead mice. Iss unbelievable, no?

Roger: Well, it opens up all kinds of possibilities, I suppose.

Rafa: Si. Like bringing back extinct animals frozen in ice!

Roger: Worrying really. Imagine finding a woolly mammoth trampling through Wimbledon. Mind you, I fancy keeping a sabre-toothed tiger as a pet. It might keep the paparazzi away.

Rafa: I think Roger make fun off revolutionary scientific achievement. Iss important, no? Think how research make unbelievable medicine and all people haff longer life.

Roger: I think we have to make a clear distinction between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. After all, most of us are happy to donate blood or even a kidney to save the life of someone who might otherwise die. So I guess I'm okay with stem cell research. But surely even you Rafa - even you wouldn't seriously advocate cloning human beings?

Rafa: Que? I not know. I not know.

Roger: What? You're kidding! Human reproductive cloning is illegal in my country. It's unethical. I think it violates something sacred in nature. You don't understand how wrong it is to play God like this.

Rafa: What I no understand? God? He no mind. Iss normal. Clone iss like identical twin. Si. Identical twin iss natural clone,no? God make clone! Tu comprendes?

Roger: No, no, no. No. Anyway, we can't allow reproductive cloning as well as natural reproduction. The world is overcrowded already.

Rafa: Hokay. I think now is different if science man clone honly great people, like Isaac Newton or Einstein or Confucius.

Roger: Jesus Christ!

Rafa: Bueno, bueno. Eventually, si. Even Jesus Christ!

Roger: What a comeback that would be. But, Rafa, what if some maverick scientist cloned Hitler or Stalin or Castro. Oops, sorry. I didn't mean to ...

Rafa: Si, iss hokay. Gracias. I think clone great athlete? Like us! You and me!

Roger: No offence, but I really don't want another you. And I don't think you'd really want another one of me either. Would these clones really be us, anyway?

Rafa: Maybe more better if science man cross clone off me with clone off you. Greatest tennis player off all time, no?

Roger: But what if they created many, many clones of us? They'd do away with whatever it is that makes us special. Hey, what if two of these clones played each other in the final of a Grand Slam! They'd cancel each other out for hour after hour. It'd go on for ever. It'd be the end of tennis as a sport.

Rafa: I think now you right. Is better if science man cross healthiest people in world? For hexample, Spanish people leef longer and haff fewer heart attacks than British or Americans.

Roger: That's true. You guys are healthier than the Brits and the Americans even though you smoke too much. It's strange really. The French live longer and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Brits and the Americans despite having a high fat diet. In Switzerland, we are more likely to make it to 100 than Brits and Americans. And we eat all that chocolate and cheese! The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and they're healthier than the Brits and the Americans. But the Japanese drink hardly any red wine and they also have fewer heart attacks than the Brits and the Americans.

Rafa: Si, si. It make sense. Speaking ingles is what kill you, no? He he.

Dave Winship (4 November 2008)

Back to the topics
No guarantees!
Nikolay Davydenko
So the ATP, having behaved for an entire year like a mean and tenacious dog with a bone over the Sopot betting affair, has finally opened its jaws and relinquished its grip on the reputation of the hapless Nikolay Davydenko.

Declaring "no evidence" of wrongdoing by Davydenko, his opponent Martin Vassallo Arguello or anyone else associated with the match in Sopot last August, the ATP statement sounded a little sheepish, especially given its CEO's much-vaunted commitment to rooting out corruption in the game. But it needn't have looked foolish. After all, Kris Dent, the ATP's director of corporate communications, is right when he says the absolute bottom line is that integrity "is the most important aspect of our game, and that tennis has to be viewed as clean and without any hint of corruption." The problem for the ATP was simply this - they went after the wrong guy. And they went after him with a vengeance (see my previous talking point on this issue).

The ATP has been very diligent in its pursuit of errant players. Several have been punished for betting violations this year. Last month, Frenchman Mathieu Montcourt was banned from the tour for two months and fined $12,000 after being found guilty of betting on matches. No less than five Italian players, along with doubles specialists Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak, have been given bans. Mark Davies, managing director of Betfair, the online bookmaker that voided all bets on the Sopot match has said: "Everyone wants confidence that the sports are producing the right results. We want to be clean and seen as clean. Wherever there is money to be made, there will be those people who will try to make it corruptly. We don't want to be the weakest link. We want to make sure we are winning the arms race against those people. That means tracking everything and being transparent." Well, fair enough. But the popularity of online betting on tennis matches is not a freakish anomaly. The conditions are ripe for tennis to become a target for attacks on its integrity. So the transparency Davies talks about must be extended to cover the entire infrastructure of the sport.

Because players are allowed to accept undisclosed guarantees from tournament organisers and because the ranking system allows certain results to be discounted, the competitive structure of the professional game has been undermined. It has become open to abuse by unscrupulous elements. Tennis's newly formed Integrity Unit would do well to address the issue of appearance money as urgently as possible.

Dave Winship (17 September 2008)

Back to the topics
The WTA hot potato
It's probably reasonable to assume that tennis players hate losing. It's strange, then, that the WTA Tour is now on the cusp of a phenomenon whereby all the contenders for the recently vacated number one spot seem scared of winning that accolade owing to all the hullabaloo that goes with it.

If Justine Henin had not asked to be removed from the rankings when she announced her retirement in May, she would still be the number one - a fact that seems to resonate with the heiresses-apparent, who are falling over themselves to avoid assuming the Belgian's throne. Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic held - and promptly dropped - the hot potato. "Boo-hoo," was Sharapova's sarcastic response to losing top spot. "Believe me, when I first got off the court, it wasn't the first thing that was on my mind." The Russian misses out on the Olympics and the US Open while she recovers from a shoulder injury. Ivanovic's wobbly tenure ends next week when Jelena Jankovic will replace her.

And is Jankovic desperate to reach the pinnacle of her sport and resist those who would shake her off? Hardly. "Doesn't matter, the first ranking," she said at a press conference. "I want to be healthy. I want to improve. I want to play tennis. I mean, I don't really think about No. 1 or whatever happens. If it's going to happen, it will happen. But at the moment, I don't deserve that spot. I am not in the best shape. I am not, you know, at my highest level." She will be the first No.1 not to have even reached a Grand Slam final.

Obviously, being number one cranks up the pressure and expectation. Elena Dementieva was aware of the problem during Wimbledon. "You can sense the tension, especially at Wimbledon," she said. "All the girls who could become No. 1 were out during the first week of the tournament. This is amazing." Her compatriot, Dinara Safina believes that age is a factor. "I think if you look at the top 10, okay, we have the Williams sisters," she said. "They're older than all of us, but mostly all of us are young. You would say Ana, Jelena, Sveta, Chakvetadze, Radwanska, we're all less than 25 years old. So for us, maybe it's still like some new experience. Justine, she was more mature. That's why for us it's something of a new experience. So maybe we're still a little bit young to deal with this or maybe just changing the whole top 10, a new generation."

Venus and Serena Williams would both be credible frontrunners, if only one or the other could manage to play often enough. Let's hope they grace as many tournaments as possible in the next few months, if only to save the obvious embarrassment of their younger rivals.

Dave Winship (8 August 2008)

Back to the topics
Can Wimbledon keep a lid on night sessions?
The All England Club has always jealously guarded its traditions, but, like other global sporting events, the Wimbledon Championships must eventually succumb to the commercial pressures of the 21st century. The decision to erect a roof over the Centre Court in time for the 2009 Championships was a bold one and a costly one, but ultimately it was a decision borne of commercial exigency.

WTA chief executive Larry Scott summed it up after a particularly soggy day in London SW19 a few years ago. "Modern day sport, it's a business," he declared. "The show must go on. There's too much riding on it, with TV and the spectators." Wimbledon may have been slow to jump on the bandwagon after the Australian Open unveiled a retractable roof to universal acclaim in 1988, but eventually they had to do something about the loud collective grumbling emanating from the media centre as viewers were plied with endless replays during rain-spattered prime time. Television networks fork out millions for broadcasting rights.

So it's a bit disingenuous for Ian Ritchie, the chief executive, to assert that the new roof will "guarantee play, rather than extend it", implying that night sessions are not on the agenda.

The organisers of the Australian Open came in for some stick when a match featuring Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis finished at 4.35am during this year's tournament, but the paying punters were happy enough. Nearly 10,000 of them stayed in the arena right up to the end and millions more stayed glued to their television sets.

Sporting insomniacs should not despair when they hear Ritchie dismiss the notion of separately ticketed night matches. As sure as grass is green, they will come. And the All England Club will not lose any sleep over it.

Dave Winship (2 May 2008)

Back to the topics
Can the symbolism of the Olympic torch resonate beyond the Chinese walls?
The current waves of protest against Chinese rule in Tibet may be represented by sympathetic foreign journalists as the spontaneous uprising of an oppressed and tyrannised people supported by angry, frustrated exiles, but events have clearly been orchestrated by media-savvy activists, well aware of their timing as the international spotlight turns to Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics.

So, okay, there is cynical political opportunism in evidence here. But does that diminish the legitimacy of Tibetan claims of cultural genocide? Not necessarily. Nor, despite the accusations flying from the office of the Chinese Premier, does it necessarily infer that the Dalai Lama is personally responsible for provoking the violence. What it does mean, though, is that we should all be as circumspect as possible as events unfold over the next few months. How is everyone suddenly an expert on the issue of Tibet? Hysteria is rising and it will be difficult for people to keep their heads amid all the talk of clampdowns and boycotts.

God knows objectivity is already a significant challenge. How much of the information filtering through to us is 'made in China'? Who knows how many bodies lying in the streets of Lhasa are those of Tibetan protestors and how many are those of ethnic Han Chinese butchered by Tibetan mobs? Who is actually corroborating the accounts in our news bulletins? Chinese censorship, Western vested interests and media bias all threaten to add smokescreen to smog in Beijing this summer.

At the Olympic torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia earlier this week, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said: "I express here the hope that the symbol of the torch will be recognised by everybody and that the right circumstances can be created, wherever the torch travels, for it to resonate." Tibetan activists and the Chinese government are equally aware that the eyes of the world are upon them and neither can afford to pass up the political opportunity presented to them by the Games. When things get under way in August, it's going to be up to athletes and sports fans around the world to ensure that the symbolism of the Olympic torch does at least some resonating beyond the Chinese walls currently under construction.

Dave Winship (28 March 2008)

Back to the topics
Mirza falls foul of the "tall poppy" syndrome
Sania Mirza
What we're witnessing in respect of Sania Mirza may well be a manifestation of the "tall poppy" syndrome, whereby a Muslim woman with the temerity to rise above her station and become not only a highly successful international athlete but also a highly popular youth icon is summarily chopped down.

I've never been slow to express my support for the development of tennis in Asia. Recent events suggest, however, that the Indian subcontinent may not yet be ready for the challenge of fully embracing global sport.

On advice from her manager, India's Sania Mirza has decided against competing at events in her native country. "Every time I have played in India there has been some kind of problem," said the 21-year-old, who will miss this month's Bangalore Open. "It is not easy to be dealing with stuff like that. I felt great lows in the last few weeks." Her career has been dogged by controversy. Hardline Muslims have frequently expressed outrage at her "indecent" on-court attire and Hyderabad police have accused her of trespass for filming an advertisement in a mosque. Several more of her fellow-countrymen have recently cranked up the hostility by criticising her for being pictured sitting with her feet resting on a table next to an Indian flag during the Hopman Cup in Australia.

Actually, Mirza is phenomenally popular with most sections of the Indian population. The fatwas issued by some clerics against her a couple of years ago were widely criticised. But they were issued. And, unfortunately, they contributed to the perception of a society struggling to achieve its full maturity.

When all sections of Indian society are ready to celebrate the achievements of a successful Muslim female, then the subcontinent may be considered fit and ready to host the most prestigious international sporting events. But not until then.

Dave Winship (7 February 2008)

Back to the topics
Timeout error!
In the final round of qualifying for this year's Australian Open, Britain's Jamie Baker had the misfortune to come up against Daniel Kollerer, whose boorish behaviour has blighted many a sporting encounter on the Challenger circuit. At 4-4 in the second set, the 25-year-old Austrian served a double fault. With Baker pumped up and focused on the crucial break point which would leave him, should he manage to convert it, serving for a coveted place in the main draw, Kollerer marched to his chair demanding to see the trainer. Baker was then left cooling his ardour during an eight minute injury timeout. To be continued!...

Most people agree there has to be some provision for injury treatment in the course of a match. In the first round of the 1995 US Open, Japan's Shuzo Matsuoka suffered leg cramps and was left writhing on the court in pain as the rules at that time precluded treatment for what was regarded as loss of condition. No one wants to see a player suffer pain or risk further injury because treatment is withheld, but Kollerer's flagrant abuse of the rules suggests a review is urgently required. Tennis has had enough bad press in the last few months without this.

Although medical timeouts are meant to be limited to three minutes, they follow an unlimited period of time allowed for evaluation and diagnosis. So when a player asks for a trainer, the unafflicted opponent does not even know how long the interruption will be. How can it be fair that an unfit (or unsporting) player may gain advantage over a fitter adversary by disrupting momentum in this way? Psychological momentum is a crucial factor in the outcome of tennis matches. The Continuous Play rule exists in recognition of this. Surely a player who is responsible for an interruption to play should be penalised for doing so? As things stand at present, the reverse is true.

I believe it would be fair to change the rules so that players forfeit a point (or a game?) when their injury causes an interruption to continuous play. If it seems inappropriate to dock a player points after he or she has taken a fall or collided with something, the rules could differentiate between injuries caused by accidents and injuries induced by inadequate conditioning.

And now let's return to Kollerer and Baker. Much to the amusement of the spectators, the Austrian finally deigned to play the break point and ... served another double fault! Justice was done as Baker went on to serve out for a place in the main draw.

Dave Winship (16 January 2008)

Back to the topics

© 2008 Dave Winship