Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: A Conversation with Savannah

Yesterday Savannah posted this provocative article by Tom Perrotta on her blog. She tried to post it here as well, as she does many of her other entries, but a technical glitch didn't allow it to happen.

Just as well. She alerted me to the article and the post and we began an email conversation that went a little something like this.

Craig: The most balanced argument I've read to date. And Serena is right, American tennis events are dwindling. So much for the notion that the USTA and Americans influence the tour. The ongoing ATP raucous is being revealed for the smoke and mirrors that it is. All the players on both sides of the ocean ought to be slapped for buying into the bullshit.

His points about where the players play is spot on. I've always defended the Americans not playing a full claycourt schedule in Europe because of the length of time away from home they'll spend overseas till the end of Wimbledon, which can't be done away with, unfortunately. But I've consistently defended the European top players for the same tendency to stay in Europe as long as possible after Wimbledon. An argument can be made for what this writer writes, however.

I like this notion of tournaments such as Houston, Umag, Stuttgart, et. al., being off limits to top players. Revolutionary idea, sure. But again, it makes sense.

Savannah: I just don't like the idea of officially making the tour two-tiered. Rafa didn't play well in Hamburg but did well in Stuttgart. Smaller markets get to see the likes of Rafa, Djokovic and the other ATP stars as well as possibly seeing a star in the making. [Steve] Darcis may never win another tournament but there will be people able to say they saw him blow away players many considered their betters.

The argument works both ways IMO. Our guys don't go in the spring and theirs don't come in the summer.

I do think that the USTA needs to bring a better product to the court instead of trying to force people to do something against their own best interests.

Most of Europeans and South Americans play a full claycourt season and then play the grass courts. Coming straight to the States they'd be worn out and not playing at their best. I should point out that would not be the case if the Americans went to Europe in the Spring.

Craig: I beg to differ. If Americans went to Europe for the full claycourt season and played through Wimbledon, how can they then be expected to be at their best when they return stateside for their home tournaments? What's good for the goose...

Still, we're focusing on only a part of Tom's article. The calendar is muffed up, no two ways about it. Your point about the Europeans and South Americans playing the clay and the grass and then coming to the States for a full hardcourt run would be too much is well-taken.

I'm of the opinion, though, that clay events after Roland Garros/Wimbledon are overkill. We all know I don't like clay, but these events seem anticlimactic. Much as the Newport grass event makes no sense after Wimbledon. No sense at all.

What to do, what to do?

Then you have a player such as Chris Guccione making me raise my eyebrows. WTF? He plays Wimby, comes to the US to play a hardcourt event, loses early, then trapes back to Europe to play a clay event, and also loses early. Now what? Will he return to the US for the remainder of the hardcourt season? This is a man from Australia, who must be used to behind far away from home for the entire year, save January. Notice how Lleyton Hewitt isn't making an appearance in North American till Canada?

The notion of too much choice is an interesting one.

I read your blog and I'm not sure I see your take on the where he's coming from. Your point about audiences seeing top players at smaller events is also a good one, though. But I'm not so sure there's an undercurrent of "You better play in the States or else!" in his article.

Savannah: If they go with special seeding based on how you do in the US Open series they're telling players you have to play or else.

I actually think he's laid out his the USTA's argument very well. I just don't agree with it.

Craig: Do you really think Perrotta is suggesting altered seedings for the US Open in this article?

Savannah: Last paragraph. Funny because they're having this discussion about forcing players to play in the WTA Stanford/Gastein thread [on Talk About Tennis]. I want to jump in but I'm holding back because of our conversation.

How can the USTA compete with that? In recent months, Kantarian has kicked around the idea of starting a U.S. Circuit — think professional golf — that would rival the current structure of the tour, though a USTA spokesman said any such move is a long way off and not part of the group's current strategy. There's some talk of seeding players at the U.S. Open according to their performance in the Series, too.

Craig: How could I have missed that? Not awake enough, I suppose. It was a long night.

Anyway, that puts an entirely different spin on things. Again, for the sake of consistency, I always thought Roland Garros would be well-served to seed based on claycourt performance as well. Roddick's perennial early dismissals in Paris mess up the draw. Sure, upsets can happen to any top player at any time, but when a top seed is practically guaranteeing that his quarter will open up, it seems unfair to a lower seed with more claycourt pedigree who might be in the same quarter as one of the other top seeds.

Savannah: I was okay with the article until I got to that. I was actually going to talk about how it was a reasoned look at the situation.

There's an entire thread on MTF about it.

Craig: Seems Andy Roddick has just chimed in on the topic.

"It's not surprising to see us (Americans) here and the Europeans on clay," Roddick said. "But it feels like we're at least building for something while they may be just trying to stack up (ranking) points."

Roddick last played one of the main French Open tune-ups, the Monte Carlo Masters, in 2003 when he lost in the first round.

"I can understand how they might like to stay at home for as long as they can," he said of his European rivals.
Yahoo! Eurosport

Okay, girl, fire away!

Continued in comments. Please join us.


Savannah said...

I'm surprised that it would be an American player, and Andy Roddick of all people who would throw fuel on this fire that's been simmering since the end of last year. As you know I've been writing a lot on this topic and as a clay court fan I was disturbed that the Unites States tennis authorities would, instead of trying to train and promote more well rounded players, players who feel they have a chance to win on all surfaces, would chose to resort to Tony Soprano tactics and stack the deck against clay court events and players. To go after Monte Carlo the way they did would be like the European's going after oh, Indian Wells or Miami. It forced Rafa to play one event he may have opted not to - Hamburg - since he and Roger led the charge of the European players against any of their events being downgraded.
Roddick's comments are doubly ironic since he signed the petition the Europeans and South Americans presented to the ATP.
Pressure maybe?

Craig Hickman said...

I think not. I think Roddick is simply telling the truth. We as fans can read more into players' statements at times than the players themselves.

Guillermo Coria stated very clearly that in 2003, he stayed in Europe after Wimbledon to play claycourt tennis in order to rack up ranking points. He won three titles in a row.

He lost early in both TMS events, but still made the quarterfinals of the US Open and lost to Agassi with a cut finger from an accident earlier that day.

Roddick says he understands why Europeans would want to stay in Europe as long as possible and that playing on clay isn't building upto anything, since there are no more big claycourt events left on the calendar.

I don't see the problem with what he said nor with what the European players are doing. I remain consistent.

I do remember, however, Roddick and Blake being called to task for disgracing the sport for not showing up at Monte Carlo. Well, those same voices need to say that the top Europeans who aren't resting but are playing in Europe on clay are also disgracing the sport for not playing the US Open Seriees, even though the biggest of the warmup events doesn't happen till Canada.

But to switch the focus away from Europe vs. US/clay vs. hard for a minute. (It gets boring, no?) Perrotta also spoke of the lack of rhyme or reason in the Fed Cup and Davis Cup scheduling. This isn't a topic addressed much.

Federer has stated that Davis Cup ties ought to happen after the Slams (Melbourne, Wimbledon, US Open) just as they do for Fed Cup.

As much as the top men are crucified for not representing their countries in Davis Cup, I think this subject warrants more conversation than it gets.

Savannah said...

Just so you know this argument is raging on two boards that I frequent right now.

As for Davis Cup I agree that Fed Cup scheduling is handled much better than Davis Cup scheduling. Should it become an every two year event? Should the ties be played right after the Slams and if so how would that induce the top players to play for their country? Federer plays when Switzerland is about to fall into a lower group. Rafa played himself into exhaustion a year or so ago trying to play DC and keep to a regular schedule. He traveled with the team this year but did not play.
On this side of the pond I think Andy Roddick is to be commended for always playing no matter what. Blake is willing to play but brings issues that could probably best be presented in a Psych majors masters thesis.

But back to the Main Tour and the lack of top players in the US Open Series.

Monte Carlo is a TMS event. No top American has shown up for it in quite some time. The events the Europeans are missing are not TMS events. They come here for those.

I think Andy and the Americans get criticized so harshly because of the perception that Americans look down on clay court play. People keep saying hardcourts are all over but in most of the world the surface of choice is clay. Calling those who play well on clay "dirtballers" or "clay court specialists" and implying that the men and women who play well in the dirt are some lesser species of tennis player does not sit well with them.

Someone mentioned having separate European Tours and American Tours like in golf with the two only meeting for Slams. This is what I said when I first read the proposals - that if the US tennis authorities had their way they would split the tour.
I, for one, hope this never comes to pass.

Savannah said...

And here is more fuel on the fire. Special posted this on TOB...

Charles Bricker can be reached at cbricker@sun-sentinel.com.

U.S. Open series can't guarantee marquee players for TV
July 22, 2007

"I haven't seen the TV ratings (ESPN2) for the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles this past week, but I can't imagine they're going to excite anyone.

Two weeks after Wimbledon, with most of the elite players on the men's and women's tours either recovering emotionally or physically from six months of tennis that have included three Grand Slams, the L.A. tournament was able to attract only one high profile player ? James Blake.

This does not get the six-week U.S. Open Series off to a great start, and despite the concept of having these tournaments coordinated as a road map to New York, it can't guarantee getting the players it needs to satisfy TV. That's the No. 1 weakness of the Series.

There is Blake and Andy Roddick, the two key U.S. TV drawing cards, who are playing their part.

Blake has signed for five of the six weeks, including L.A. and Indianapolis (July 23) before taking one week off (Washington). He'll then roll into two Masters Series events in a row and an appearance in his "hometown" tournament in New Haven, Conn., the week before the Open.

Roddick will play four of the six weeks, turning down L.A. and New Haven, so there's no complaint about those two not promoting the Series.

No. 1 Roger Federer won't be back on court until the Canadian Open (Aug. 6). He'll then play Cincinnati the next week and not again until New York (Aug. 27). Rafael Nadal played this past week on clay at Stuttgart, but he's not venturing too far from home until the Canadian Open. He'll play there and Cincinnati, then report to the Open. TV is going to have to maximize their access to these two players in these two tournaments because that's all they get until the Open.

On the women's side, where the three most important TV players are Maria Sharapova and Serena and Venus Williams, things are a lot less certain.

Serena's thumb injury, which made it impossible for her to come over her backhand at Wimbledon, lingers on, and she pulled out of Stanford (July 23), which leaves her? tentatively?with San Diego (July 30) and Los Angeles (Aug. 6). She's not going to play the $1.4 million Tier I Canadian Open in Toronto, even if she's fit.

Venus is playing only two of the Series events: San Diego and Toronto. Sharapova? Who knows? She's signed to play three (San Diego, L.A., Toronto), but everything depends on her shoulder injury. She's spending these off weeks trying to strengthen the injury with weight training.

Doctors told her that if she took eight weeks off, she could solve the problem. Dr. Bricker's medical advice: Don't serve a ball until a few days before the Pilot Pen in New Haven (Aug. 19). Then, take a wild card there and play the U.S. Open."

Craig Hickman said...

You mentioned not liking a two-tiered tour. Well, in essence, that's exactly what it is. We forgive people for missing "small events" but not TMS events just becuase of what? Where they are placed on the calendar.

Monte Carlo doesn't work for the top American men. It just doesn't. I'd venture a guess that if Los Angeles was a TMS event, Raja and Rafa wouldn't show up for it either and wait till Canada and Cincinnatti to play. Would they be roasted for it? Maybe. But not by me.

The very best claycourters have shown they can produce on other surfaces. If the Americans want to denounce them as dirtballers, that's their problem. But so long as their actions (Andy Roddick signing the petition to keep Monte Carlo as a TMS event) don't reflect their words (for whatever reason they utter their words) then I fail to see a problem.

Let the discussion rage. I simply find most of the participants hypocritical and I'm going to continue calling it just that.

Craig Hickman said...

The article you reference to me is more about the overall calendar than anything else.

The powers that be simply refuse to address the Roland Garros/Wimbledon "back-to-back" challenge. It's unhealthy. Anyway, the national tennis federations won't budge anyway. We're stuck with it forever, I'm afraid.

That is why I give all the players a pass about how they plan their pre-Roland Garros and post-Wimbledon schedules.

Screw TV, the tour, etc... You must take care of yourself. And I don't think any of these players is being self-obsessed to do so. '

I do not blame anyone for playing as little as possible in the heat and humidity of North America in the middle of the summer. It's also unhealthy. And if the focus is on the US Open, as it would be, there's no need to kill yourself before having to go and deal with alla that.

Back to one of your other points. If the USTA is going to seed based upon performance in the US Open series, then Roland Garros ought to seed based upon performances in the Road to Roland Garros (a new moniker, indeed, in the wake of TTC's Roland Garros broadcast. It seems it's all about TV afterall...)

Savannah said...

About the golf comparisons. Golf is the corporate game of choice almost world wide. The television ratings for golf are not that spectacular(unless Eldrick(sp) is playing) but every Saturday or Sunday in the summer there's golf on television. Tennis doesn't have that luxury - or so they say.

Some wits on mtf are saying the top five seeds at the US Open would look like this if the seeding is based on the US Open series:

3-WC D. Young

But seriously to have the best players knock themselves off in the early rounds just to assure an American is in the semi finals and final is not going to help things unless the player is surnamed Williams. JMHO.

Savannah said...

And why, pray tell, is the WTA left out of all these discussions?

Craig Hickman said...

Great question. Well, one of the articles referenced here talks about the WTA stars.

But I think the focus on the ATP goes to my earlier point of smoke and mirrors. The men are more outspoken on the matter, therefore more of their quotes get to be taken out of context and used to sell a point.

This brings attention to the men's tour, which, quiet as it's kept, needs it far more than the WTA, despite the fact that, in my observation, the men provie better overall quality in matches.

But tennis is still considered a sport of the stuck up. Pretty women attract more casual viewers than pretty men, precisely because most men, no matter their orientation, can't accept that they find other men pretty.

Even as Precious Raja is the world No. 1, replete with purse and drag (and make no mistake, that Wimbledon get up is flaout drag not worthy of a queen) and one of the top draws around the globe.

Go figure.

tangerine said...

Great discussion guys. Here's my rant:

I'm tired of people/fans/the media always complaining about how the Americans skip Monte Carlo every year but give the Europeans a free pass when they do the same thing to the summer hardcourt season. I can totally understand that it's a lot of traveling and players aren't ready to leave home to cross the pond for several weeks at a time. By why are the Americans always ripped for it and nobody else?

Don't they understand that Roddick/Blake also have an obligation to support the American tournaments? Tennis may be doing just fine in Europe but here in the states, it's a dying sport and Andy and James are doing their damndest trying to stop the bleeding. If they skipped Houston to play MC the media would rip them to shreds for that as well. No matter what they decide, it's a no-win situation for them.

Craig Hickman said...

Spot on, tangy. Spot on.

Houston has been called a glorified challenger event by one of our regulars. That's his prerogative. But look at the history of who has won the US Men's Claycourt Championships and that perspective comes across as pure folly to me.

PeytonAllen said...

I think its a matter of scheduling, travel, and pay check. After a busy clay court season, and quick turnaround to grass, to expect Nadal and Federer to be right back on the court for 6 weeks in the States is laughable. Unless...they knew there was a quick end after the Open. But their season goes to November. The season should end in late September with a solid three month layoff. They have to break now.

But also..scheduling. I remember Cahill at Wimbledon praising Roddick for not going home after the French. For staying in Europe to put in the "hard yards." If Andy played the clay schedule Nadal or even say...Gasquet does...he'd be Europe for close to 2 months.

If Nadal comes to Indy he won't be back in Europe until early September. How many guys are keen to do that?

Coria got ranking points and a bigger check that he would have at any hardcourt tournament. Also, he knows he's not winning the US Open just as the US guys have now checked out of the "I want to win the French one day" column. You feign the effort and yearn for grass.

I don't see why Rafa played on Clay. He got paid. Got into a groove, I understand, but shouldn't his thoughts turn to winning the Open? Maybe they are, maybe they will in Canada. What he and others are doing is akin to Andy playing on grass or hard in the midst of the run up to the French.

I don't like the idea of 'two' tours. But, essentially that's what you have now anyway. The USTA forcing players to play? Absurd.

Fed doesn't play 6 clay court tournaments. Nadal this year played a couple he didnt need to. The point is, a 6 tournament series in the summer is a bit much.

Easy solution.

Extend the US Open series to Miami and Indian Wells. Start it there. I mean, what are they doing in the spring anyway? Start it there so, then pick up. You two 4 TMS events that way. Also, maybe try and add one more TMS in the summer. Last week of July.

Blake/Roddick play 4/5 weeks in the summer because its home turf, bigger pay, and it builds to their super bowl. To expect everybody to go all out to help the USTA/American TV/tennis is unrealistic.

As long as there are strong American players, the series in its entirety should do well. You had Blake in the final last week. Sure, it's not Federer but he's a good name.

Too much fuss here where there's no easy solution, other than to include the spring hard TMS and add one more in the summer.

PeytonAllen said...

Seeding based on the US Open series is laughable.

Maybe based on the TMS hard court tournaments all year.

Also, on a side-note while he lost today, Donald Young won his (I think) first challenger this month. So, there's progress.

Savannah said...

Easy solution.

Extend the US Open series to Miami and Indian Wells. Start it there. I mean, what are they doing in the spring anyway? Start it there so, then pick up. You two 4 TMS events that way. Also, maybe try and add one more TMS in the summer. Last week of July.

Peyton I like this idea a lot. It doesn't wreak havoc with the schedule as it is, the Europeans are already here anyway, and while everyone bitches and moans about Cincy and Canada back to back it' s not unheard of at the pro level.
Of course since it makes sense the chances of it happening are slim and none.

About Donald: He won his first challenger and the Wimby Jr boys before that. Taking a WC into Indianapolis was maybe not such a great idea but it makes sense. That he drew Hyung-Taik Lee who has been playing very well of late just sucked. I hope he goes back to the Challengers and plays there awhile. It might be a good idea to skip the Open this year too.

Craig Hickman said...

Extend the US Open series to Miami and Indian Wells. Start it there. I mean, what are they doing in the spring anyway? Start it there so, then pick up. You two 4 TMS events that way. Also, maybe try and add one more TMS in the summer. Last week of July.


I don't know. Spring hardcourts is a bit early for the US Open series, but I see what you're going for.

Cincy ends a week before the US Open as it is. The only TMS event after that could be New Haven, which ends the Saturday befor the Open. That doesn't make any sense at all. I can't think of a Tier 1/TMS event that ends right on the heels of a Slam. No need to start now.

Not an easy solution at all.

Part of my problem with the discussion about all of this in all the places it is happening is that it continues to focus on the USA vs. Europe. It's not that simple. Europeans, Asians, and South Americans show up at American tournaments in the spring and the summer, so I frankly don't see what the big deal is. Not all South Americans go to Europe for a full claycourt season, since many of them play Houston, apparently for the same reasons Americans do: they don't want to be in Europe that long. The women play Amelia Island and Charleston after Miami before heading to Europe, but notice that on the women's calendar those are bigger events than Houston. Perhaps a bigger claycourt event in the States is needed before the European swing if you want American men to support the claycourt TMS events in full. Just a thought.

For the most part, I think players should be taken off the hotseat on these matters. They are the ones who have to navigate their schedules to fit the muffed up schedule of the tours and they all do the best they can. The season is too long. Players need to make their own calendars. If the powers that be want to force players into events, that's on them. Let the players revolt and stop playing altogether and see where the tours end up.

From where I sit, players have already made it two virtual two-tiered tours. I don't see a problem with that either. It's a tough ask to have players in a sport like tennis trapesing all over the globe for 11 months of the year to satisfy fans and moneywhores alike.

Craig Hickman said...

And I've yet to hear a South American player bitch about not having a single big event there.

What's up with that? Not that anyone would listen, what with all the witchhunting going on to try to keep the Argentine men off the tour altogether, but that's another story.

Maybe the North American hardcourt swing should be ended and replaced with a South American claycourt swing that requires all North Americans and Europeans to participate.

Then let's see who starts whining.

PeytonAllen said...

Savannah, yeah Lee has been playing well. I think he should take the WC into the Open. Why not? He's also entering the junior field.

I think you're right though. At this point, hit the CH'ers. By all accounts, physically and game wise he's still a year away.

PeytonAllen said...

I think you could also include San Jose and Vegas. Really count any hardcourt on American soil that's played before the Open. That way,
you're talking about it all year. In a sense you could build it as the Tour Championship.

Why do it? You'd be creating a buzz that the Open is the biggest slam, and guys are working all year to jockey for position.

Craig Hickman said...

Except that the US Open isn't the biggest Slam. I'm not sure that any are any bigger than any other. It certainly isn't the most important. Wimbledon is considered the Crown Jewel, but after this year.... well.

I think Slams should be able to seed however they want as has always been the case anyway. Just because all but Wimbledon have stuck to the entry rankings for botht the women and men for years now, they haven't always done so and everyone knows it. But I don't think the US Open will serve itself to base seedings upon points earned in the US Open series because that doesn't make sense. It would make more sense, if it wants to step out of the box, to give the top four seeds to the last four participants from last year. Hell, that might make sense in all the Slams.

But I digress.

In a lot of ways this is all mountains out of molehills anyway.

Unless or until the calendar is changed, which seems an impossibility, there will always be something for people (fans, players, pundits, etc...) to disagree about.

edma1022 said...

Nice article/discussion.

Just two comments:

1) from all the things spoken here, it seems that the sport is either awash with an abundant number of tournaments (of whatever surface), or in dire need of superstars to appear everywhere and will pull in the money. which one is it?

2) the focus is too much on the current crop of players. i'm too lazy to check but does this same problem present itself in the era of Sampras-Courier-Chang-Agassi? (Americans who have no problem winning on clay) or Lendl-Edberg-Safin? (Europeans who are hardcourt/USO winners)

Craig Hickman said...

Nice questions all around, ed. I think, if nothing else, your questions show how weak this era... okay. I won't go there.

Savannah said...

It seems this topic won't die a natural death.

It was announced late this afternoon US East Coast time that Monte Carlo is remaining a TMS event. There is some mumbo jumbo about special stuff for playing it but I'm sure no one will know for a little while what they're talking about.

With that announcement graffiti artists drew a memorial wall and candles and flowers were placed there mourning the death of Hamburg. A fan over on mtf "Eden" posted a German article that said there is talk of a clay court tour to be held in Europe after Wimbledon that would last until the first week of August. That seems to have sent the host of this board over the deep end. In a rambling post over on TAT he snarked about making Hamburg the Fifth Slam and playing it opposite the US Open.

Craig. Lilo's hook up is calling you. Says he's got what you need to chill...

Seriously though I said a long time ago that if the USTA/ATP keep playing games with the Europeans they were going to split the tour. Not just make it a two tiered main tour but two separate, PGA like tours that only meet four times a year. This would be a disaster because for the foreseeable future the stars will be coming out of Europe and South America.

Someone mentioned that the South American's are being very quiet in this debate, the implication being that they should want to play more in their hemisphere. Can anyone tell me when Roddick, Blake, and before them Sampras or any of them went to play in South America? Agassi, to his credit, played an exo in Chile recently against Marcelo Rios but that's been it. The ITF had a chance to show good faith and choose Monterey Mexico as a site for Fed Cup play but didn't.
I don't pretend to know what is going on in Fena, Nalby, or del Potro's heads but by their silence they're siding with the Europeans. JMHO.

Craig Hickman said...

Perhaps they are, Savannah, or perhaps they're just being cowards.

Or perhaps they're just yearning for the Old Country in a way those who have been colonized do from time to time, even when its against their best interests.

And I was also the one who mentioned their deafening silence.

I wrote a post sometime ago about how Roddick might consider playing a few claycourt events in the winter in South America and kiss his appearance fees at the SAP Open and Memphis good bye.

Ain't gonna happen.

I'm not so sure what you outline would be a disaster. I think it would represent an opportunity for those on this side of the ocean to get their acts together.

I guess I don't buy the USTA/ATP playing games with the Europeans, but what do I know.

Much of it seems a bit Eurocentric to me anyway, and I've never been much of a fan of all of that pomp and circumstance.

At the end of the day, however,it seems that everyone - players, tour executives, federation leaders, tournament directors, etc... - are only looking out for their best interests. The players care little about the tour, the tour cares little about the players (I'm reminded what the ATP did to the doubles players not too long ago. It's been resolved, but it was ugly. Sometimes it's gotta be like that, I suppose) and everybody is saying, "Look at me. How dare you screw me over like this!!!"

I'm all for a revolution.

The more things change....

Savannah said...

There was a discussion on TOB once about why American's don't go to South America. Your point about appearance fees is well taken.

Craig Hickman said...

Yahoo! Sports - Monte Carlo settles suit with ATP, agrees to forego player commitments

Craig Hickman said...

What tournament promoter in South America would dole out money to any of the top US players to play a claycourt event there? Name one and win a high-tech toaster oven. When was the last time Raja played an event in South America? Has he ever? I can't recall. Are people calling him out too?

I guess I get tired of folks picking on US players, or, more accurately, not applying the same criticisms to the European players they seem to have decided have it together better.

Double standards don't sit well with me.

The Bryans have won a doubles title or two in South America. Andre Agassi is one of the only players who has won a singles title on every continent on the planet, so he's been down under on this side of the world at least once for ATP play.

Savannah said...

Soooo - Monte Carlo is the tax home of most European players. Can you spell M-O-N-E-Y?

They'll play.

Craig Hickman said...

What did I just say?

tristann said...

I agree with you in part in that some of the criticism directed at Roddick and other American players was unfair. There are serious scheduling issues that have not been dealt with and players cannot be faulted for trying to work around it.

However, if I remember correctly, a good portion of the criticism came from this side of the Atlantic and concerned the real or perceived unwillingness of Roddick and some other American players to attempt to improve their clay court skills. This criticism was echoed on the other side of the pond, as a reaction to the ATP's decision to downgrade two clay-court events. Rightly or wrongly, this move was seen as an attempt to improve the lot of American players primarily, by reducing the number of ranking points one could earn by playing these events.

I also wish to comment on a third aspect of the criticism of the top Europeans for failing to play the smaller tournaments. It is a sad commentary on the current state of American tennis when a tournament can only attract one "star". Sadly, one criticism that was not heard this past spring was that tournaments were lacking star power due to the absence of americans.

Craig Hickman said...


Thanks for joining us. I don't agree with anything you've written. I do, however, beleive that there were a lot of misperceptions/assumptions that have led to the divisions we're discussing.

No two ways about it, American tennis appears to be in trouble. But crisis is opportunity.

I still think, though, that there's a sense on both sides of the pond that Americans relative failures on clay is a moral issue. It isn't. I enjoy it when South Americans ask, "What's all the fuss about? It's not as if we do well at the US Open and no one makes a big deal about that."

And while I'm making up the quote, I'm not making up the sentiment. I heard a South American player say as much during Roland Garros.

Mountains out of molehils.

Nomade said...

Great discussion!

Just two quick reactions:

1. Why does Nadal play on clay after the grass season and before the HC season?

Well, as far as I know...one of the reasons is that Nadal can't go a full month without match play like he did last year, but he's the sort of player who needs match rhythm. Due to his feet problems, hard courts are much tougher on his body so he prefers to play on clay to get that match rhythm.
So, it's not only a matter of wanting to stay closer to home (which is part of it obviously) but it's also a matter of getting match rhythm on a surface that's easier on the body.

2. About some people having a go at the Americans like Roddick for skipping Monte Carlo.

Well, with all due respect but you can't compare a tournament like Stuttgart with Monte Carlo IMHO.
Roddick tends to skip Monte Carlo. Federer, Nadal & co don't do most of the US Open tune-ups but they usually wait until the MS in Canada to come over. Right?
Well, Monte Carlo is a Masters Series event and up until now, obligatory. How does that compare to Stuttgart or Umag?
I wouldn't have anything against Roddick skipping Barcelona or Valencia every year for example but he misses a Masters Series event every single year and Monte Carlo is seen as the best preparation for Roland Garros.
If Federer or Nadal for example would skip the Rogers Masters Cup in Canada every single year just to do a local minor tournament, I would have just as many problems with their actions. Respect the Masters Series!

Nomade said...

I enjoy it when South Americans ask, "What's all the fuss about? It's not as if we do well at the US Open and no one makes a big deal about that."

But people do make a fuss about it when the so-called clay courters do not do well outside the clay court season.
How about the use of the term dirtballer. That's not exactly a compliment.
Nadal is the first in a long line of Roland Garros champions to take Wimbledon seriously but how many former RG champions and claycourters were not heavily criticized for not taking Wimbledon seriously enough?

Craig Hickman said...

Hi nomade, thanks for stopping by.

Actually, all top players can receive one exception to one of the obligatory TMS events. Roddick and Blake chose Monte Carlo.

I don't remember the last time Raja played Paris TMS but he gets no flack for that. It seems he exercises his exception for Paris.

So the criticism is still a double standard to me.

My take will always be that Americans can skip an event such as Monte Carlo, no matter its status as a TMS event, because it doesn't fit their calender. Roddick and Blake are not going to skip the US Claycourt Championships unless they're injured, no should they be expected to skip it just because Monte Carlo is the following week. And Roland Garros is the only Slam with 3 (not just two but 3) lead up TMS events. If Monte Carlo was where Hamburg is on the calendar, Roddick would play it. But it's not, so he doesn't.

The criticism is unfair.

Dirtballer as nomenclature has little to do with this, except in the vernacular of those who want to dismiss them.

Still, no one is talking about the South Americans in South America (or anywhere else) not performing well during the US summer, no one is saying they are disgrace to the sport because of it, no one is suggesting they are undermining American hardcourt tennis because of it.

sher said...

Wow, that's a lot of discussion.

Btw, I'm agreeing with Savannah on this topic in general.

Also, I wanted to add on the side, that I think the Americans would be looked at better if they actually got somewhere on clay instead of flying out. What does it matter if Nadal only gets to US for the US Open, as long as he places at least in QF. If all the European players flew out in the first rounds of all the american hard court tournaments then there'd be reasonable grounds to complain.

(Also, someone in the thread brought up Sampras as an American who could play on clay...well, he did win Rome once. But most of the time he was out in the 1R, so I don't think he's the example we want here.)

sher said...

Also, craig, nobody doubts that "Raja" can win Paris as easily as all the other hard court tournaments he's won. So it's not the same as, say, Blake not showing up for Monte Carlo on clay. It's a conscious choice of foregoing the trophy and prize money versus Blake just being unwilling to show up to work and get pounded into dirt.

Craig Hickman said...

"It's a conscious choice of foregoing the trophy and prize money versus Blake just being unwilling to show up to work and get pounded into dirt."

I disagree. But let's take this at face value for a minute. Why get on someone for not wanting to travel around the globe to lose in the first round of an event then travel back for a few weeks just to turn right back around and get pummelled into the dirt in the next big clay event a few weeks later?

Why is it that "reasonable grounds to complain" are only based upon results? Does Roddick's run to the Rome semifinals and quarterfinals count for nothing? His run to a title in St. Poelten? No credit given for trying, only criticism for not succeeding, whatever "succeeding on clay" as an American would mean?

Would Americans receive less or more criticism if they just skipped the claycourt season altogether?

At this point, I'm not sure there's a clear answer to any of it.

But what is certain is that the potshots come from home and abroad and they do nothing to help anybody's results.

It still think it's unfair criticism that reflects a double standard.

"Also, craig, nobody doubts that "Raja" can win Paris as easily as all the other hard court tournaments he's won."

Paris isn't a hardcourt tournament. It's carpet. Raja has won exactly one event on carpet in his entire career (Shanghai was changed to hard last year). So until he wins Paris easily, it's fair to say that there might be some doubters.

sher said...

Oops, I forgot it's carpet. So I guess since Federer only won the Masters Cup against some nobodies, he would have difficulty in Paris draw, usually one of the hardest hit by withdrawels of all master series, right? No, I don't think so.

Moving on...

To address the other point in your reply. First, of all Andy Roddick gets credit for sticking out on clay, I thought yourself or Savannah mentioned this somewhere along the discussion already. I concur. However, Andy Roddick is only a single American, and thus cannot be blamed for other people's continuous inability to adjust to the idea that sometimes you struggle in order to improve yourself.

That is why Blake should show up to his job. Because he has a slight hope of improving himself if he keeps trying.

I suppose it is left up to the tennis players. I don't blame people for withdrawing because after all, it's their lives and bodies and I fully expect them to put their personal interests first. But I do think less of a tennis player who fails to try. I do think less of a tennis player with a mindset of 'i have already lost'.

Craig Hickman said...

Sher, your sarcasm is really off-putting in these discussions. Surely, we can disagree without it.

As for Americans on clay in Europe:

Sam Querrey played about every claycourt event in Europe he could get direct entry in this past year. Didn't go far, but tried.

Spadea usually plays a full European claycourt schedule. Doesn't advance far in the draws, but he shows up. And tries.

Michael Russell showed up again as well this year. He's on the downside of his career, but who can forget that classic match he played against Guga some years ago? He tried.

Blake played Rome, Hamburg and that team event before Paris. Not sure that he didn't "try." He didn't play Monte-Carlo, but that doesn't mean he didn't show up for his job and that he didn't try.

Fish was injured.

Can't remember Delic's schedule and don't feel like looking it up, but he played at least two European clay events this season. He tried.

Ginepri showed up on European clay and didn't advance far. But he tried.

Playing one more event on clay in Europe isn't necessarily going to change American men's overall results.

(The American women didn't do all that well in Europe on clay this year either, but we hardly ever hear a peep about that.)

Criticize the Americans for not getting far in European claycourt draws. That's fair.

Criticize them for not trying on clay and/or bagging on the European claycourt season and it's not.

I'm moving on.

It's hardcourt season after all. At least it is in North America anyway.