Category Archives: sports

Is The Indian Wells BNP Paribas tennis tourney just bigger or is it better too? 

The first time I headed to the desert to watch tennis in 2008, the somewhat smaller tournament held in Indian Wells California was known as the Pacific Life Open. Even back then the combined ATP and WTA event attracted the top players but it wasn’t a big hit with the fans. Wow have things changed in the desert.

With a change in the prime sponsor to BNPParibas, the tournament has become a fan favourite.

I remember that first visit, the main stadium which seats 16,100 was only about 1/3 to 1/2 full for most matches. Wandering around the grounds there was one other temporary show court that was packed and lots of matches were played on side courts with no viewing stands. On the grounds there were about five or six small flimsy retail tents and one large retail tent with tennis clothes and tournament souvenirs. I honestly cannot remember the food stands. One of the most endearing things about the tourney was that the majority of the staff, from concession stand workers to stadium ushers, were retired seniors living in the area.

I went back to Indian Wells in 2013 and by then big changes were already in progress. Besides an increase in fan attendance, including various celebrities, the tournament grounds now had a plaza area with a big screen broadcasting the match on stadium court. There were plans to build another stadium court as well as other upgrades to the grounds.

This year, 2015, my third visit to the tourney in the desert revealed a tournament that now sits among the best on both the ATP tour and the WTA tour.

The new stadium that was completed in time for last year’s edition of the tournament, seats 8,000 fans and includes Nobu Japanese restaurant which boasts a never ending line to get in. The grounds have undergone numerous fan friendly changes. There are 19,000 square feet of shaded plaza areas, live music entertains fans between matches, as do various other acts including drummers and “stilted tennis players” reaching nearly 8 feet in height. Numerous food outlets and retail outlets surround the plaza area.  The main retail clothing tent features all the top brands and features a huge Nike section. The lineup in this store can appear to go on forever, but the system at the cashes makes checkout super speedy. I can think of lots of other event venues that could learn from this event.

As always the staff of the event is primarily composed of local retirees from the surrounding area. Not only were they happy to be involved with the tournament they were always smiling no matter what job they were doing.

In contrast to many other tournaments, all match courts have hawk eye line calling technology. Practice court schedules are posted for the fans. Free wifi is available on the grounds and there is even live streaming of a few matches. The tournament app is one of the best providing live scores, match updates and tournament news.

This tournament definitely ranks up there in my favourites, it is not the US Open without thousands of people everywhere you turn and it is not Roland Garros with three huge stadiums. It is however a fan friendly tourney with great tennis. If you decide to head to the desert for next year’s event check out the following blog for lots of good advice.


Ball kid or towel dummy?

I cannot clearly remember when it started. You know the signal to the ball kid, usually a hand wiping the face and then the ball kid dutifully appearing with the towel and then waiting while the player towels down and then catching the now sweaty towel as the player tosses it away.
In my mind I imagine it was probably during a brutal five set match at the U.S. Open on a sweltering August day with the humidex reaching into the 40 centrigade degree range or the 110 Fahrenheit range. The kind of day that caused profuse sweating resulting in drops of sweat producing a burning sensation as they rolled into the players eyes.
I wonder which player it was that brought the towel from his chair and stashed it at the back of the court within easy reach for a quick wipe between points. I bet that player had no idea what he/she was starting.
Sometime between that day and today the towel wipe has become an integral part of each match and in some cases an integral part of each point.
It did not take long until players figured out a towel wipe was a great stall technique giving them a few added precious seconds between gruelling points. Pretty soon every player was storing a towel at the back of court and players were toweling off between every point even if that point consisted of a single stroke a cool day.
The ATP trying to speed up the game instituted the 25 second rule which requires the server to begin his service motion within 25 seconds of the end of the previous point. Instead of giving up on the towel wipe the players began to require that the towel be brought to them. And so the ball kids acquired a new job. Towel delivery.
After the towel wipe the player often just tosses the towel in the direction of the ball kid without even making eye contact. The ball kid is expected to dutifully pick up the towel and store it out of sight until the next point. I personally think it is disgusting and degrading that the ball kids have to handle the sweaty towels.
My solution. Have a stand placed at the back of the court for the towel. The stand could be sponsored by a prominent towel company or a store like Bed Bath and Beyond. The player can get the towel when he/she needs it and place it back on the stand when done. All on their own and within the 25 sec time limit.
I tried to think of any other sport that provides towel service and I cannot come up with one. It’s time to take the onus of towel service off the ball kids and put it back on the players.

Big serve equals big bore!

This past week has been filled with amazing matches, the WTA in Singapore and the ATP in Basel and Valencia. The match between Roger Federer and Ivo Karlovic was not one of them, in fact I found myself bored during this match. It wasn’t that the players were having bad days or it was a lopsided match. The problem was Karlovic was serving big. In fact too big for my liking.

There is a difference to me between big serving and good serving. The big servers blast high speed bombs one after the other and win numerous points without ever hitting a forehand or backhand. Think Karlovic, John Isner and Milos Raonic. These players have weak return games and do not do well in long rallies that require a variety of shots. Players like this just want to get the set to a tiebreak where they figure the odds are in their favour.

So why was I bored? In the three sets that Karlovic and Federer played Ivo hit 33 aces. The minimum number of points in a game is 4, this means that karlovic served 8 games worth of aces. He served 15 total games during the match. So basically he aced his way through half of his service games. Probably less than two seconds for each point. No return of serve, no ground strokes, no approach shots no volleys no overheads….nothing. I wanted to watch tennis. I wanted to watch Federer make a solid return and then watch the construction of the point. I wanted to see how Federer’s opponent would handle his lethal forehand or perhaps a slice backhand. I wanted to see Federer charge the net and end the point with a touch volley. But on those 33 points all I got to see was Federer turn away and walk over to prepare to try to return the next serve.
In contrast Federer is what I would call a good server. His serve may not break speed records but it’s placement in the service box is precise. It is also reliable, how many time have you seen him get out of trouble by a beautifully executed serve? And rarely does he double fault in those critical moments, something which cost Karlovic points at crucial times during the match.
So an accurate serve with good pace to set up the point in my view is more exciting and intriguing than a big serve which to me is just a big bore.

WTA Championships, will the top players play?

The WTA Championship event starts October 17, 2014 and is set to feature the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles teams on the women’s professional tennis tour. The tournament will be played in Singapore this year, with $6.5 millionUSD up for grabs. This tournament is situated at the end of a long year of events and at this point in the year there are a lot of injured players. So, will we really see the top players?

The singles players that have qualified are, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Eugenie Bouchard, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, and Caroline Wozniacki and two alternates, the first to be named is Angelique Kerber.

In the last month, four of these players have withdrawn from tournaments due to injury.

On October 3 2014, Serena Williams withdrew from the China Open due to an injury. Williams defeated Lucie Safarova on October 2 but was unable to play her quarterfinal match against Sam Stosur.  Williams stated she began feeling pain in her knee earlier in the week and the pain became more intense as she continued to play. Williams was heading to Europe for an MRI, but indicated she could miss the rest of the season and even the championships depending on the results of the scan.

Simona Halep also pulled out of the China Open after a tough three set match against Andrea Petkovic. Halep took a medical timeout during the match for a hip injury and was able to complete the victory,  but stated it would be too risky for her to continue in the tournament.

Ana Ivanovic also pulled out of her last tournament with a hip injury on Oct 8. After winning her first match at the Linz Open in Austria Ivanovic withdrew from the tournament indicating that she had been dealing with the hip injury all summer and was unable to continue playing.

Eugenie Bouchard joined in the withdrawal brigade a day after Invanovic, also ending her run at the Linz tournament. Bouchard played her first match with a taped up thigh and said that the morning after the match her injury felt much worse. She felt it in her best interests to pull out of the tournament in an attempt to be ready for the WTA Championships in Singapore, for which she had already qualified.

From a field of eight, clearly half are suffering with some sort of injury putting their complete participation in jeopardy.
The format of the tournament has the players divided into two groups for round robin play.  The top two players in each group play in the semi-finals and ultimately in the finals. That is a lot of matches to play for an injured body.
If all of the players mentioned are dealing with substantial injuries then the championships could also suffer from the withdrawal syndrome, hence the reason for two alternate players.
If on the other hand all the withdrawals were the result of players saving their bodies for the championships the issue becomes a bit different. Are the smaller tournaments leading into the WTA finals being damaged by players choosing to preserve their bodies for a bigger event.
I am looking forward to great matches between the best players at the championships but not completely convinced that is what I am going to get to see.

What’s next for Serena?

Serena Williams capped off the 2014 Grand Slam season by winning the US Open for her 18th major title. To quote Serena after the match “It means a lot to me, who could ever imagine I’d be mentioned with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. I was just a kid from Compton with a dream and a racket.” And yet there she was on the court receiving an 18 carat gold bracelet in honour of her achievement from Chris and Martina.

So now what? Well already Serena has begun talking about Grand Slam Title #19, but knowing the competitor that she is, i believe she is taking aim at Steffi Graff’s record of 22 titles and planning her path to #23. If this is this case, i think there are a few things that should be considered.

2014 was hardly a banner year by Serena standards, especially since she usually judges her year by her results at Grand Slam tournaments.  At the Australian Open Serena lost in the fourth round to Ana Ivanovic, although she did confess she was dealing with a back injury. In Paris, at Roland Garros, Serena was stunned in the second round by the up and coming Garbine Muguruza of Spain, and that was quickly followed by  a third round loss to Alize Cornet of France on the grass courts of Wimbledon. I am not even going to delve into the doubles fiasco that was the Williams Sisters exit from Wimbledon.

In contrast, Serena’s results at the less significant tournaments were much more impressive. Serena won the title in Brisbane, prior to the Australian Open, defeating Victoria Azarenka and followed that with a win in Miami at the Sony Open with a victory over Li Na. Prior to Roland Garros Serena won the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

On the hard courts of the US Open Series Tournaments, Serena won the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati putting her out in front in the race to the US Open.

But, to pass Steffi Graff and win 23 Grand Slam titles, Serena will have to win 5 more Grand Slam tournaments.  Each tournament requires 7 consecutive victories to claim the title which means Serena will have to win 35 more matches at the biggest tournaments.  This means Serena will have to be focussed from the very start of the tournament even in those early round matches where she often has trouble staying in the moment.

Reports in the last week, have indicated that Serena has parted ways with her coach and sometime boyfriend, Patrick Mouratoglou. In my opinion if Serena is to take a run at the all time Grand Slam Title record, now is the time to put a champion in her camp. Serena does not need a coach to help her with her groundstrokes or her volleys and certainly her serve is the best in the women’s game, Serena needs a coach in her box who has the winning mentality. And there were two of the best standing with her at the US Open trophy presentation, Martina and Chris. What a perfect opportunity to glean a winning mentality from either of those two champions while at the same time promoting the ability of women to coach at the highest level of the game.

Although the record is within her reach, the draw of so many outside activities could be an issue. Her show at New York’s Fashion week made headlines, as did her absence at various media events following the championship win. If Serena is not enjoying the work required to win those championships the results will not be there. In fact one of the things that Marin Cilic the US Open Men’s champion said was that his new coach Goran Invanisevic put the fun back in the game. As i watched Serena warm up for her match in Stanford (see photos) i couldn’t help but notice how miserable she seemed. While other players tossed frisbees to warm up and appeared loose and relaxed, Serena appeared disinterested and bored.

My prediction: I expect Serena to keep competing and going after the record as long as injuries do not become an issue and she can keep her eye on the prize.

IMG_3045 IMG_3046 IMG_3047 IMG_3048 IMG_3049 IMG_3050 IMG_3051 IMG_3052