Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: September 2004

British tennis

Well, Henman and Rusedski will languish for another year in the level below the world group of tennis. For all their talent, both in in singles and as a doubles team, they have never won a match in the top tier of the Davis Cup. Frankly, this is an anomaly. Teams with far less talent have got to the final and even won it.<br /><br />Why? There is the sporting fluke at work here. More of an anti-fluke, in effect. They have always come up against the schedule of 3 matches in 3, or an inspired performance, or a hostile crowd/surface. But there is also the nearly-men aspect. Both Greg and Tim are, without wanting to be cruel, occasionally chokers. I hate to say it. But look at the results, both in their careers and the Davis Cup. The recurrent theme is “close, but no cigar”. Don’t say the name Lapentti anywhere near Rusedski. Or Canas to Henman. <br /><br />The problem is, who else and when? Andrew Murray may have won the junior US Open, which bodes well, and talks with confidence about his future, which bodes even better, but he is a long way off the top 100. Alex Bogdanovic just looks lost. Arvind Parmar has had a couple of Davis Cup shockers and is not a man to bet the farm on. Tim and Greg are both in their 30s. Britain can expect to bounce around the Euro-Africa Zone for a few more years yet.

The Davis Cup

There is something wonderful about the format of the Davis Cup. It shares two qualities with the Ryder Cup that make both events stand out. There is the team element that is otherwise absent for a sport of individuals; and there is the likelihood that the crucial match may not fall to a big star, but a more lowly-ranked player who might otherwise not feature in a major event. 2002: for Paul McGinley, read Mikhail Youzhny.<br /><br />The other factor in the Davis Cup is that the doubles is crucial. Doubles will never have the same attention on the tour as singles, but it’s position as the third rubber makes it compelling viewing. <br /><br />This weekend is the Davis Cup semis, plus the relegation playoffs. It’s the biggest weekend for team tennis on the calendar. But this is the problem with the format. The Davis Cup is spread out over the year, and consequently fails to capture the public’s imagination like the Ryder Cup does.<br /><br />The format, however, does not lend itself to a single event at the end of the season. One player might have three five-setters in three days – a punishing schedule. Perhaps holding it every 2 years, and on sucessive weekends might improve things. But until tennis sorts out the bloated calendar of events, that will never happen.<br /><br />Lleyton Hewitt deserves a special mention here. At only 23, he has just broken the record for most Davis Cup wins for Australia. When you think of the history that the Aussies have in the cup, that is one big achievement.

Advertising

Increasingly, I just don’t get advertising. Not in a “I’m not cool enough” way. Some campaigns just leave me completely baffled. Examples:<br /><br />On the side of London buses are ads with phrases such as: “Wake up and smell the broccoli. Coffee – irreplaceable.” Ok, I like coffee. Who doesn’t? Not many people, if the number of Starbucks is any guide. But why advertise a substance? Who does this benefit? Can we expect more ads like “When you leave the house, wear shoes.”? At least advertise a sodding brand. <br /><br />Another ad (this time in the tube) which leaves me puzzled is a picture of a shark with the caption “Have you seen him? I’m hungry.” Who is “him”? Who is hungry? I have eaten shark. Sharks have eaten people. Who is eating who here? Can sharks talk? What the HELL is this an advert for? The shark looks half-dead anyway. If this is advertising the aquarium, it’s a very poor effort.<br /><br />And what is up with the rugby players promoting the Zurich Premiership? This features Will Greenwood stiching up Lawrence Dallaglio by making him back his car into a row of hell’s angels bikes, then ordering a pint. So far, so good. But at the end of the ad, outside the pub window, we see Dallaglio in some messiah-like weird pinch-hold with the bikers. Surely they would just have a fight. It looks so wrong, I have no idea where to begin. <br />

Fortune telling

Towards the end of his career, whenever Pete Sampras was beaten by some young buck he would declare them “the future of tennis”, thereby somehow legitimising his defeat. Or so the legend goes. In fact, Pete only said this about 4 players as far as I can recall. And who were they? Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and a certain Roger Federer.<br /><br />Look at the Grand Slam finalists this year, and its the four above plus Coria and Gaudio (well the French is always a bit random). It seems Pete was onto something. Aside from Safin, who has the talent but not the application, they will be carving up the big titles for years to come. <br /><br />Hewitt will certainly bounce back from the Federer drubbing. He, and many other players, will just have to get used to the fact that if Roger is on song, no-one on the circuit can stay with him. Perhaps no-one of all time, but we can only speculate.<br /><br />What is undoubted is that Roger has lifted the game to new heights. One player every so often sets a new standard, and it is for the others to catch up. Still, Sampras had 5 slams by Roger’s age. He has a way to go to break THE record of 14, but I wouldn’t bet against it. Pete might not have predicted that.

Richard Quest

If you have been as unlucky as I have to be stuck in a hotel with only CNN for company, you will probably know <a href=http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/quest.richard.html target=”_new”>Richard Quest</a>. He is the presenter with a voice that sounds like he is gargling vomit, and looks like a bullied child. <br /><br />Being hopelessly unsuited to broadcast journalism has not held Quest back, and he is now on some CNN election-special roadtrip around the US which has been dubbed “American Quest”. How fortunate that he has such a perfect name. I am reminded of the helicopter-bound weather reporter in the Simpsons, Arnie Pie with “Arnie in the Sky”. <br /><br />Anyway, back to Richard. Why am I having a go at him? Because, sad to report, his musings on the American political landscape have found their way into Metro, thereby ruining my tube journey for two reasons. One, he looks far too pleased with himself. Two, his reports are a joke. I thought that the full version on the <a href=http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/american.quest/index.html target=_new>CNN site</a> would have some more perceptive comments, but no. Here is an extract:<br /><br />”Asking most Americans what they want from a president pretty much elicits the same formula wherever you are: A strong economy. A strong homeland. And someone who is at the helm. Simple, really.” Yup, case closed. We can all go home now.<br /><br />Or this gem about voters: “those deeply committed to one side or the other are unlikely to suddenly change sides”. Such insight.<br /><br />Or perhaps this: “it is worth remembering what these politicians are fighting for. They are vying to be president of the United States, and thereby the leader of the free world.” Straight to the heart of the matter.<br /><br />Meanwhile, in his gentle way, Quest goes fishing, pops in on small towns and chats to “the people”. He even had time to file two (Two!) reports from Vegas, one all about his huge buffet meal and ensuing guilty conscience. And this week it’s the turn of his cameraman to add to the swill of pointlessness while Richard presumably takes a break from all the hard work.<br /><br />Roll on November.

the semi lineup (I was nearly there)

Federer-Henman, Hewitt…. Johansson? Not many saw that coming. Beating Andy Roddick in 5 in NY is not something many people are ever going to do. I still think Hewitt will go all the way, though. Especially if Henman takes out Federer. The <a href=http://www.atptennis.com/en/players/headtohead/head2head.asp?player1=Hewitt%2C+Lleyton&player2=henman>Henman Hewitt</a> head to head is not pretty reading. <br /><br />Fingers crossed for a Capriati – Davenport final. No offence to the Russians, Kuznetsova and Dementieva, but no-one wants to see them in the final. It’s possibly the last chance for US Open glory for both Americans, and with the match on 9/11 Flushing Meadow might be in for a very emotional night.

Business not quite as usual

Back to tennis. Well, at the US Open it’s the usual story – the male/female contrast is huge. Easy matches, lots of 6-0 sets in one draw, and a tough first week in the other event. Only this time, it’s the men with the stroll for the top seeds, and the women with all the last set showdowns.<br /><br />Why the turnaround? One reason is that, right now, Roddick, Federer, Hewitt and Agassi are all just streets ahead of the rest. The chasing pack are going down injured, tired and just plain out. I’ve said it before, but who needs the long-distance hop to Athens? Andre and Lleyton have benefitted from skipping the trip, and Rod / Fed are just too good to not hit top gear in the slams.<br /><br />But the women? It’s a shift in the game. Williams sisters have faded, the Justine H-H has had a mixed year, Capriati and Davenport are just staying in the mix, and the Russians are all over the place. It’s another wide-open event, and it SHOULD (God I hate saying this because I know I’ll jinx her) be Mauresmo’s to win. <br /><br />You can basically pencil in the men’s semis now. It will almost certainly be Federer-Henman, Roddick-Hewitt, the latter two being complete certs. Henman is the best left in his section, and Roger should be too good for Andre.<br /><br />On the Women’s side, Davenport-Venus should go Lindsay’s way, and if Capriati plays well we could have no Williams in the semis, which would be weird. So, I pick a France-US final, Davenport-Mauresmo. Possibly the nicest women on the tour, apparently.

people in the news

Google’s News site has a list of people in the news. Today it is: Kobe Bryant, Anwar Ibrahim, Clive Woodward, Slobodan Milosevic, Dick Cheney, Zell Miller, Kieren Fallon. What a fascinating dinner party guestlist.

No theme

Nick Bollettieri said some nice things about Tim Henman:<br /><a href=http://sport.independent.co.uk/tennis/story.jsp?story=557415 target=_new>http://sport.independent.co.uk/tennis/story.jsp?story=557415</a>. And he tipped “tiger” to get to the semis at Flushing, which given his draw is a no-brainer, but given his history is a long shot.<br /><br />If Clive Woodward ends up at Southampton FC, what the hell happens to the Lions tour? It doesn’t bode well. <br /><br />Recently I have been very irritated by food chains. Why do they have such terrible slogans? “Eat: the real food company”. As opposed to fake food, or fake company? “I’m lovin’ it”. Loving what? The extremely high calorific value of a pisspoor salad? And “Got the urge?” sounds like an invitation to go to the toilet. Benjys “less bread” is far too clever-clever. I know it’s a eupahmism for cheap, but first thing in the morning I just assume they have reduced the bread-content of their sandwiches, which is nothing to boast about.

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