Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

From The Vault: Jennifer Capriati

Jennifer Capriati. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about this woman? She stands as one of the greatest, most talented and divisive players in a generation bursting at the seams with greatness, talent and controversy. In her wildly scattered 14 years on tour, the American amassed a total of three Grand Slam titles, an Olympic Gold Singles medal, 17 weeks at number one and countless classic victories (and losses) against the greatest players over two separate generations.

It’s tough, however, to pinpoint her single her most memorable moment. Was it her supernova rise up the rankings while barely a teenager? She made her tour debut on the WTA tour in 1990 aged 13 and immediately stormed to the final of two of the first three events before reaching the semis of her first Grand Slam in Paris. A year later she broke into the top ten, and in the following year dispatched of Sanchez-Vicario and Graf - the top two players in the world - to take the Olympic Gold in Barcelona aged 16. Not too shabby.

Of course, there’s also that small issue of the “c” word. We’ve all heard about her famed comeback - the burnout, the shoplifting arrest, the marijuana possession, that mug shot, her resulting lengthy break and the desperate struggle (and initial failure) to regain anything resembling previous form, the reporters who smugly wrote her off. She could have easily allowed herself to swept away into the tsunami-sized wave of burnt out young prodigies. But she didn’t. She persevered, slowly building her way back to the top. After completely falling out of the rankings in 1994 and failing in her initial comeback a year later, she picked up her first Grand Slam win in 5 years at the 1998 Wimbledon. A lowly title and #23 finish followed a year later. A slam semifinal and top 15 finish in 2000. And finally, the fairy tale was completed in 2001 as she eased past second-ranked Davenport and top-ranked Hingis in succession to capture her first slam title in Australia. But you already new that all.

Two of Capriati’s single most memorable moments were her famed epic slam finals. The first at Roland Garros in 2001 when a young Aussie Kim burst into relevance by reaching her first slam final. Despite the young Belgian matching both Capriati’s supreme athleticism and power with ease, there was no panicking to be seen from the reigning Australian Open champion as she was swiftly delivered a shock first set breadstick. Instead, she embraced the challenge, putting her head down and finding her range to level up the match. By the third, both women were in full-slugfest mode with their lightning-fast movement, intricate footwork and spectacular shotmaking simultaneously cancelling each other out and enhancing the other. The third set wore on well into overtime, with Capriati twice serving for the title while a resilient Clijsters pegged the American back each time. But eventually the champion‘s extra grit and mental strength proved the difference between the two and she edged out the title..

Capriati’s third and final slam title would come in Australia the very next year in conditions so difficult that the heat practically radiated through the television set and left Capriati even pissier and more vexated than her, well, usual pissy and vexated self. Hingis raced up a set and break, looking ripe for her sixth slam title. In response, Capriati dug deeper than ever before, first hunting back the break before fighting off multiple match points. Her effort was painfully visible as she collapsed into the linesman chairs between most points, but she refused to succumb, saving yet another match point and spectacularly surviving the second set tiebreak. Before long, the script was flipped on its head as Hingis ditched her trademark overly self-confident and carefree demeanour and retreated back into the shade, panting, exhausted and defeated. The 2002 Australian Open may have proved to be Capriati’s last great victory, but she saved the best til last.

None of this answers the original question, however. Probably because she herself is far more interesting than the titles she collected. She’ll always be remembered as the complex figure she cut - the tennis player whose game was not defined simply by defence or offence, the person who paradoxically stood as the ultimate role model in the art of never giving up, yet was notorious for her vulgar attitude and behaviour. In other words, Jen-Cap will be remembered as Jen-Cap.

Hello. Oh. Grunting. Bye.

I wanted my comeback post to be about sunshine and butterflies, but instead - sigh - we’re back to that age-old grunting debate. I try to bite my tongue and stay away from the most ridiculous “issue” in tennis, but it just keeps on pullin’ me back in. Today the culprit is, amazingly, the WTA itself. After months and even years of (rightfully) placing fingers in ears and humming the grunting criticism away, the tour has finally caved in and is the advanced stages of bringing in new sanctions which will arm WTA umpires with an official ‘grunt-o-meter’ and the ability to sanction and penalize the noisiest players.

“It’s time for us to drive excessive grunting out of the game for future generations,” WTA chairman and chief executive Stacey Allaster said.

The umbrella scenario, unanimously green-lighted this month at Roland Garros in Paris by representatives of the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA players’ council, would include:

• The development of a handheld device — a kind of Hawk-Eye for noise — for umpires to objectively measure on-court grunting levels.

• A new rule setting acceptable and non-acceptable noise levels based on acoustical data gathering and analysis.

• Education at large tennis academies, national development programs and at all levels of junior and lower-tier professional events.

Honestly, I don’t blame them. What has, on some level, always been a topic of interest and satire in the (mainly British) media, over the past few years has transformed into an unequivocal PR dis-ah-stuh. Seemingly every day a new article is erected, damning the prominent grunters to eternal hell. Meanwhile, comment sections are filled with truly heartwrenching stories by people “forced” to change the channel and/or put their televisions on mute (whatever happened to just turning the volume down a few bars, eh?) due to those evil, godforsaken grunters. So sad.

Even so, I am and continue to be amazed by this entire situation. Just a few weeks ago, we were watching the mens Roland Garros final as Nadal and Djokovic produced noises similar to that of a male getting continually smashed by a baseball bat, you know, down there… Did anyone speak out against them? Nuh-uh. Just a few days earlier, Andy Murray and David Ferrer were doing exactly the same. Did anyone complain there? Err, no. Thus, should this project go ahead, in a few years we will be watching as female players are restricted and penalized for the noise they make, while some of the most prominent male players continue to soar well over those restrictions without so much as a batted eyelid. To me, that is maybe just a little bit problematic. Just a tiny bit.

Of course, many identify pitch (you know, like, different genetics) as the distinction between male and female grunting. That’s fair enough from a subjective preference, but noise is noise and if Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are supposedly cheating as has been so vehemently accused, then in reality Rafael Nadal is a cheat, Novak Djokovic is a cheat, Andy Murray is a cheat, David Ferrer is a cheat and so are the hundreds of other ATP players (and, believe me, there are hundreds) who routinely shout their heads off when making contact with the ball. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of anything.

Quotable Quotes: Billie Jean Who?! Caroline fights for Tennis’ rights.

Despite losing in straight sets to Angelique Kerber the final of her own home tournament, Caroline Wozniacki still managed to leave the Kopenhagen Open with people talking about her as The Telegraph yesterday published an interesting interview on finance with the former world number one. One of her answers has caused quite the stir.

Ha ha, no. I think tennis players are actually underpaid, but I might be a little biased. I like to think we are rewarded for the hard work we put in.

From her point of view, I can actually see the logic in her answer. Certainly compared to other athletes, tennis players are certainly “underpaid”. I mean, after watching the Superbowl for the first time this year, I felt personally offended when I learnt just how much those “athletes” were paid considering how little they actually play, how aesthetically unpleasing the sport is and the fact that American “Football” is nothing but glorified throw and catch. And that’s not to mention her boyfriend being another overpaid athlete in that McIlroy dude. But still, having earnt $13m prize money and probably double that in endorsements, it’s quite a funny thing for the Pole Dane to say. So we’ll just laugh.

Karolina also took to twitter to hush the talk surrounding this quote, attempting to rubbish it with the good ol’ “I was mis-quoted” excuse. But, that only really works when the publication reporting it is an awful, trashy tabloid and not a fully transcribed interview with The Telegraph. Bless her. That said, the quote isn’t nearly as bad as many are making out.

From The Vault: Jennifer Capriati’s Greatest Triumph

Last week it was announced that Jennifer Capriati will be honoured at the Tennis Hall of Fame later this year. The reaction was unanimous satisfaction at the decision to honour the former world number one and three time Grand Slam champion. And rightly so. Even by the lofty standards of those who have achieved what she had achieved, it’s difficult to think of a player who has ridden the rollercoaster of professional tennis quite as thoroughly as the American.

In her career she has enjoyed the greatest of times - bursting onto the tour as a 13 year old girl/child/infant/toddler/baby/foetus, a year later she became the youngest player in the history of tennis to reach the top 10, she defeated Steffi Graf to win the Olympic Gold in Barcelona aged 16, she embarked on quite a legendary comeback which took her from rock bottom to the pinnacle of the tennis world and brought her those numerous Slams that she was destined to win, and so on, and on, and on…

But as we have come to learn in life, sports, and never moreso than in Jen-Cap’s capricious career, the line between triumph and disaster is perilously thin. Accompanying those career-defining moments were those catastrophic times - from her infamous burnout and breakdown which culminated in her career seemingly lying in tatters as she was arrested for shoplifting and possession of marijuana, to the on-court tantrums and drama, her numerous heartbreaking losses at the semifinal stage at her home slam, her embarrassing firing from the US Fed Cup team after breaking USTA rules, the injury that ultimately ended her career and her recent struggles with drugs which left her in hospital in 2010. To say that her career has been a mixed bag would be quite the understatement.

Of all of the memorable moments of her career, what stands out most is that final against Hingis at the Australian Open in 2002. For most of the match she was simply outplayed by a more successful and better opponent, but down 4-6 0-4 and then two match points in the energy-sucking Australian heat that forced both players to sit in the shade between points, the American she dug in deeper than she ever had before, thinking through the heat to wrestle the first away with a well-thought out point finished at the net. She eventually took the match to a third set on a tiebreak after saving the second with a soul-destroying rally, before steamrolling through the final set to lift up her third Grand Slam championship in two years. Though it turned out to be the final Slam victory of Capriati’s career, it was undoubtedly her greatest.

The Kurious Kase of Karolina’s Koaching Situation…

It’s tough to believe that it has already been a full six months since we all rolled our eyes in unison upon Caroline and Piotr Wozniacki announcement of Piotr’s resignation from his coaching post. The eyes were rolling almost immediately, and every deflected ‘mystery coach’ question from the then-#1 brought more and more skepticism and criticism. But just as we had all but ceased to care about the Wozniackis and their Kardashian-esque PR stunts, they stole back attention by announcing that none other than Mr Ricardo Sanchez, Jelena Jankovic’s long time on-and-off coach. It was all about to change, right?!?1

Well, no. Not really.

I’ve never been a particularly big fan of the popular idea that Wozniacki needs to transform into a sparkling brand new aggressive player. Sure, it would be in her best interests to add slightly more aggression to her game, but so many make it sound like such an easy adjustment that can I almost understand why Wozniacki and co. have felt so pressured into her numerous recent PR fails. Almost.

The reality is that Wozniacki’s game is inherently flawed against her being more successful as a more aggressive player because she is not even close to being as great a mover or athlete as the likes of Clijsters, Jankovic, and the Williamses. Her great defence is almost solely the product of her brilliant anticipation, and it’s those notorious moonballs and her generally slow-but-heavy shots that give her the time needed to make decisions and move to wherever she needs to be on the court. Thus, her being more aggressive automatically has a detrimental effect on her ability to chase those balls down. That coupled with the gaping technical and mental flaws that also stop her from attacking, and Copenhagen, we have a problem.

All that said, the idea of Ricardo Sanchez entering the fore and (almost literally) whipping the Dane into shape was an encouraging sign. Despite forming a polarizing figure on the WTA, the Spaniard has more than proven pedigree on the tour. But evidently, they didn’t even give him a chance. I think it was clear from Wozniacki’s very first match in 2012 where this was headed. While he would scribble at least 4-6 A4 pages of notes down while borderline obnoxiously shouting and cheering Jankovic after every point, with Wozniacki he simply sat far in the background in complete, utter, irrelevant silence. And now? He’s gone for good.

I would use the rest of this post to scold Wozniacki and her team for reverting back to old ways so quickly, but from where I’m standing absolutely nothing has changed in the six months since talk of Wozniacki’s new coach was first muttered. If anything, there is ironically more pressure on the Dane now that she has dropped off the top spot than ever before. If the situation after Kvitova leapfrogged her at Wimbledon was worrying, then the rise of Azarenka - a long-term occupier of Wozniacki’s shadow - to Australian Open Champion and #1 must have put even more doubts and negativity into her head. She has now dropped from #1-#4, certainly one of the biggest falls from the top spot on either tour, and between now and the French Open she has an incredible 4000 points to defend, which could see her drop than anyone on the entire tour.

Wozniacki’s biggest weapon over the last year and a half has been her confidence, and upcoming period will test that steely confidence in every possible way. We’ll soon see how she reacts.

Hot Shots: Venus Works Up A Sweat Ahead Of Comeback

Despite withdrawing from this year’s Australian Open, Venus Williams has kept to her word and has been practicing heavily ahead of her long-awaited return to tennis in next week’s Fed Cup tie against Belarus.

Her form upon her return is truly a mystery, with the few tiny glimpses we caught of her during the handful of off-season exhibitions she participated in not being particularly encouraging. However, the American has once again been training with Monacan player Benjamin Balleret, in addition to sporadic hits with French player Charles Edouard Maria and their coach Didier Lanne. Lanne’s comments and pictures from his personal blog continue to paint an encouraging picture as the legend attempts to fight her biggest opponent yet.

Another beautiful morning spent with “Coco” Edouard Maria! (Benjamin Balleret) has again been training with Venus Williams (who is preparing for her return in February helped by his father Richard and our very own Charly!) and this under the eye of Mr. Dexter Manley !

Lanne also made reference to the personal time he has spent with the Williams family, including having the privilege to listen to one of Richard Williams’ famous stories, in addition to his coaching recipe for success.

“1. The player’s confidence
2. The coach’s patience
3. Looking for the short ball and going for it.

More (important) than everything BUT believing in god! “

So there you go; now you all can go and make some legendary WTA tennis players of your own. Sounds easy enough.

Quotable Quotes: Martina Hingis Discusses WTA Depth

Though often a critic of many of the WTA players on tour, when asked about the supposed lack of depth on the WTA during yesterday’s press conference, Martina Hingis’ reaction to the suggestion that there is no depth on the WTA in 2012 was very telling.

Are you serious? Are you kidding? I mean, now with the great matches we see, Lisicki played already against Kuznetsova. That was a great match. Now she plays Sharapova and it was a great match. I don’t know.

First rounds, come on. How about Djokovic killing everyone in the first three rounds or Federer not losing a set, more than three games in a set.

I mean, it’s just sometimes that’s the way it is. If champions are champions, they’re well‑prepared and they’re going to play well from the beginning.

I hear no lies.

Sharapova was actually asked an identical question last week, and it is hilarious that for most of the last three years, the WTA has seen such a myriad of different players of different ages, gamestyles and nationalities breaking through into the later stages of Grand Slams. And yet the one rare time that the semifinal lineup is filled with only Grand Slam Champions and top 5 players, it automatically means that the sport has no depth.

Though they attend the events and act the part, it’s tough to believe that many of the people who ask such questions truly pay much attention the sport they are paid to write on.

Roger Federer and Rod Laver Share Their War Stories On ESPN

It is probably not often that Roger Federer gets starstruck and nervous from merely being in the presence of a person, but judging by the amount of nervous smiling on show from the GOAT, sitting down in the ESPN studio to chat with Rod Laver was one of those rare moments.

How To Fend Off Anti-Grunters - By Maria Sharapova

After her quarterfinal loss to Victoria Azarenka yesterday, Agnieszka Radwanska took aim at Maria Sharapova, calling her grunt “annoying” and “too loud” despite having no problems with her friend Azarenka’s grunt. Needless to say, the Russian didn’t take too kindly to her comments when informed of them a day later and bit back in true Sharapovian style.

Q. A lot of players this week have made comments talking about how they think the noise that you and Azarenka in particular make is excessive.

Q. Radwanska was one player that said she thinks the noise you and Azarenka make is excessive and she’d like to see the WTA change the rules to prohibit that.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Isn’t she back in Poland already?

Q. Yes.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: When did she get a chance to say that?

Q. After she lost her quarterfinal.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: She lost the match?

Q. Yes.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You’ve sure obviously asked me this question before. I’ve heard it a few times over my career. You’ve watched me grow up, you’ve watched me play tennis. I’ve been the same over the course of my career. No one important enough has told me to change or do something different.
I’ve answered it many times before. I’m sure I’ll answer it many more times ahead. I’m okay with that.

As always, brilliant stuff from Maria “More Effortless Shade Than A Willow Tree” Sharapova. It’s no secret that she and Radwanska aren’t particularly fond of each other, and that coupled with Radwanska’s comments a couple of days ago having more to do with her liking Azarenka and disliking Sharapova, make it even more comical. A figurative knockout uppercut from the 24 year old.

Speaking more generally, the recent obsession about grunting has been absolutely astounding to watch. Usually, the tabloids at Wimbledon are the ones who make a massive deal over the grunting for two weeks, and aside from that, nobody cares.

But this year, there are suddenly commentators openly broadcasting their disgust during matches, writers are dedicating an obscene amount of space to it, and press conferences are being bombarded and hijacked on that one subject. Meanwhile, Nadal is getting away with receiving some of the most blatant illegal coaching in the history of tennis (even Carlos Rodriguez and Justine Henin would never!), while Nadal and countless other men are bending the rules to the limit in the amount of time they spend between. Double standards and hypocrisy are fun!

Tomas Berdych Feels The Wrath Of A Drunk Australian Crowd

Late in their titanic four-set battle, Tomas Berdych and Nicolas Almagro found themselves in an entertaining exchange which finished with Almagro drilling a ball so hard at his opponent that the seventh-seed ended up in a heap on the ground. The incident was not quickly forgotten by Berdych, and after clinching the match he made his thoughts on Almagro’s body-blow clear by refusing to shake the Spaniard’s hand at the net.

To say the crowd didn’t take kindly to Berdych’s actions would be the understatement of the century.

This whole incident was the epitome of overreacting. Did Almagro need to smash the ball straight at Berdych? Probably not. Should Berdych have shaken Almagro’s hand? Of course. The biggest overreaction, however, came from the clearly intoxicated crowd who put Roland Garros to shame as they booed mercilessly during Berdych’s on-court interview. Even worse still, as he attempted to carry out his Eurosport interview, a man nearby interrupted the interview, repeatedly shouting at Berdych and calling him a “prick”. An appalling overreaction for what was still a relatively minor incident.


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