Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Daily Backspin, RG 5: Stump the Softball Lacrosse Bee, and the plot against the Navratilovas

Thanks in large part to another truncated schedule brought on by the rain, no women's seeds fell on Day 5. (Not that there was a great chance that Backspin would have been able to see them lose, thanks to... altogether now... ESPN -- but more on that in a moment.)

After another day like this, I now realize where the pigeons have gone.


They're flying amongst the clouds, seeding them so that this opening week of play at Roland Garros will continue to be a stop-and-start affair.

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They must have something against the Navratilovas, too, as tomorrow the double-Navratilova Doubles match will have another go at striking at least one ball in anger... for the third consecutive day.

It's an avian power play of epic proportions, I tell ya.

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Speaking of Martina (and, by extention, Chris Evert), I've finally started to read Johnette Howard's The Rivals, a dual biography on the lives and careers of the two players invovled in the longest and greatest rivalry in tennis history (Federer-Nadal will be a supreme success if it's only a quarter as exciting and important as "Chrissie vs. Martina").

Just a few remarkable stats from the early portions of the book:

From 1982-86, Navratilova put together overall season records 90-3, 86-1, 78-2, 84-5 and 89-3... Martina won 74 consecutive matches in singles, and had a 109-match doubles streak with partner Pam Shriver... Evert won 125 straight matches on clay (hear that, Rafa?), and was 103-7 in 1973, still a record for single-season victories... and Chris advanced to at least the semis of 52 of the 56 slams she played in her career... together, they claimed 18 of the 20 slam singles titles from 1982-86.

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Rain or no rain, ESPN 2's coverage today was another mind-boggling experience.

I hate ripping on it too much, though, since the actual match coverage and such is fine. ESPN has few directorial or production options with the Australian Open, thanks to the vast time difference with Melbourne. And, last year, practice made nearly perfect as the network's Wimbledon coverage was great in comparison to its hit-and-miss two week "practice run" at Roland Garros. But today the "everything to everyone, but not really a promoter of tennis no matter how much it wants to act like it is" network managed to cut off coverage in mid-match during the afternoon because of "other commitments."

What replaced the remaining hours of coverage from Paris? Opening round action from the College Softball World Series.

Why not move the tennis coverage to one of the other seemingly million offshoots of ESPN, such as Classic, ESPNNEWS or ESPNU (I'll give a pass to the spelling bee coverage on regular ESPN, simply because there's something oddly compelling about that little army of kids straining to spell words that most of us have never even heard of)?

What was so important on the other ESPN networks? Try a show called "Stump the Schwab," the Pro Lacrosse Draft show and mid-day sports news.

Ah, there's nothing like "the grand slam network." I sure hope ESPN doesn't follow through on the threat to grab the U.S. Open coverage from USA Network, the one and only place for great tennis coverage in the U.S. in the post-HBO at Wimbleon era.

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After yesterday's talk about all the Frenchies in action, they went 4-6 today. The winners were Nathalie Dechy, Gael Monfils, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Julien Benneteau.

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Here's a great long article about what's happened to Mirjana Lucic.

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In some of the matches that were completed today: Justine Henin-Hardenne celebrated her 24th birthday with a far-from-a-work-of-art win over Anastasiya Yakimova... Ana Ivanovic mowed through another opponent, ripping Emilie Loit 6-1/6-1 (so far, she's 24-5 in games through two rounds)... Shenay Perry won the Nadia Bowl, bouncing Akiko Morigami 6-1/6-3 to move into the slot in the draw vacated by Petrova... and Dulko/Kirilenko defeated Harkleroad/Mattek (by the way, loved the way Chris Fowler scolded Brad Gilbert for paying more attention to this match rather than the men's match he was supposed to be calling live on TV).

No fist fights (or near ones) on the men's side, but Gael Monfils needed five sets to advance once again, edging him still closer to a possible meeting with Nadal in the QF... and, wow, (#14-seed?) Lleyton Hewitt is still alive in the draw, too.

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DAY 6: Friday, June 2

Assuming the weather (or, in other words, those damn pigeons) cooperate, there are quite a few matches to look forward to on Day 6.

Sharapova vs. Molik... Vaidisova vs. Rezai, with the winner likely facing Mauresmo... Martina Hingis and Mahesh Bhupathi start off on their attempt to win a second slam Mixed title this year vs. Sofia Arvidsson/Stephen Huss... Groenefeld and Jackson, a set apiece when the rains stopped play, can settle things in their post-Fed Cup meeting... Venus plays Sprem, with Williams hoping the umpire can actually count points correctly this time out (Wimbledon '04, remember?)... Kuznetsova vs. Li... Schnyder vs. Vakulenko, even if I'm just hoping for something good there... Blake/Almagro, and Schiavone/Pennetta.

But for "Match of the Day" I'll go with the resumption of the 2nd Round match between Elena Dementieva and Viktoriya Kutuzova:

...when things stopped today, the Ukrainian teenager was leading the 2004 RU 5-1 in the 1st set.

All for Day 5.


COMING SOON: Early Round Awards


Blogger Topaz said...

I'm very confused by the fact that so much has been made of Rafa's clay court record, when in fact he is roughly 70 matches away from Chrissie's. Is it just because she is a woman? Rafa's got a long way to go to get into her league.

I've got 'The Rivals' in my wishlist on Amazon, and I just finished an early Martina only went up to 85 I believe, but fascinating all the same.

Fri Jun 02, 08:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Nadal's accomplishments are certainly noteworthy, but it should also be noted that Vilas has another very long streak after his run of 53-consecutive was snapped in '77.

Well, whenever an athlete does something remarkable in this age of hyperbolic sports coverage there's a rush to call him "the all-time best," or a great game "the best ever." Case in point, Roger Federer. He might really BE the best ever when things are said and done, but it's a little early to start taking that title for granted at this stage in his career.

Some of it might be that Nadal's a MALE tennis player, but if someone on the WTA put together a near 60-match clay streak (and routinely beat the #1 player during the span) you'd like to think it'd get just as much attention. Remember when Serena Williams pulled off her "Serena Slam?" That was huge news at the time.

Also, a lot of people out there aren't really old enough to remember Evert. Not in her prime, at least, if at all. :)

About that 52-of-56 slams with at least a SF result, it should be noted that three of those "misses" came in the final three years of her career. From 1972 to mid '87, she pulled off the feat in 46 of her first 47 slam appearances.

I think I read that Navratilova bio quite a while ago, if it's the autobiography called simply "Martina." Red cover, I think.

Fri Jun 02, 08:27:00 PM EDT  

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