Sportsbeat – 9/3/12

No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s side, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he would be calling it a career at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.

Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt that he had the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now use the time to concentrate running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Texas where he now makes his home.

When asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he has never been fond of the fourth estate. More often than not, he has acted peevish when asked legitimate questions that he would have preferred not been raised.

I remember asking him after he won his first round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about taking part in American Express’s bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?”ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and my opinion hasn’t changed now.

It was hard not feel a bit sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who got bounced after losing his second round match despite being seeded fifth on the men’s side. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) and himself. “I would have to be say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then gave a variation on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he works on the court, “he never gets rewarded” at the Grand Slam tournaments.

I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at this year’s Open before being eliminated, if it was good for his sport that one per cent of the male tennis players win 99% of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is. When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense. “Novak, Roger, and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone,” he said.

Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.

Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally, wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead a short and hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an L.A.-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.

Roger Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seat belt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all,  suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)

Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by  the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.

I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.

The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of an extra-costing sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, they neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public, nor did they have a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.

The Golf Channel, which has obviously a similar niche appeal as the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth, Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why they should promote themselves where they can such as at American tennis’s marquee event.

The United States Tennis Association held a kick-off event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)

It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them. OK, call me Rip Van Winkle.

After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaning September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.

 

A New Look for Rafa’s Weapon

Boulder, Colorado – January 19, 2010 – Babolat, leading manufacturer of tennis racquets, announces the launch of the new generation of Aero racquets enhanced with Graphite Tungsten (GT) technology. The graphite and tungsten combination improves the racquet’s construction without altering the Aero’s key benefits—spin, power and speed—and reduces torque to give the Aero range maximum stability during ball impact.

Originally designed for champion Rafael Nadal’s (#2 ATP) game, the Babolat Aeropro Drive has quickly become one of the hottest selling racquets in the U.S. and one of Babolat’s best sellers worldwide. The racquet generates a faster swing, more topspin and a great balance of power and control, well suited for Nadal’s game. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (#10 ATP) has recently been won over by the Aeropro Drive model: he will have his first Grand Slam rallies as a part of Team Babolat at the Australian Open (January 18-24), new Aeropro Drive in hand!

RACQUETS DESIGNED “WITH AND FOR CHAMPIONS”
At Babolat, competition remains the best laboratory for testing the products of tomorrow. Over the years, numerous racquets have become weapons for an entire generation of champions. The Aero line is the result of Babolat’s desire to be an “engine” of the game.

The Aeropro Drive is the weapon of choice for Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki (#4 WTA), while the Aero Storm is Dinara Safina’s (#2 WTA). Each model in the Aero line is born from the performances of competition players and evolves from their influence, from their advice and from their demands of the game. In order to respond to the expectations of these target players with wide-ranging games, the Aero line offers several racquet models: for each player, his/her own “weapon” (Aeropro Team, Aeropro Lite, etc.)!

A CONCENTRATION OF POWER AND DESIGN
The Aero range integrates not one, but several technologies. GT technology, a hybrid material combining braided carbon and tungsten filaments, reduces torque at impact: hits are therefore more powerful, but also more precise. Next, the Cortex System technology, situated between the handle and the string bed, filters vibrations that interfere with ball feel. The unique Aero frame simulates the aerodynamics of an airplane wing to minimize drag through the air for a faster swing and increased hitting power.

The Aero range design will not disappoint Babolat fans. Surprising, innovative, polished and asymmetrical, the design of the new Aero racquets fully reflects the technology of the products and the spirit of the Babolat brand. The 2010 Aero line also has an all-new look, still keeping the emblematic black and yellow colors.

ABOUT GT TECHNOLOGY: PERFORMANCE BOOSTER
A customized performance booster, GT technology combines braided carbon fibers and tungsten filaments which are integrated throughout the entire racquet. This improves the racquet’s overall construction and strengthens the frame to reduce torque for more precision. Adding tungsten also provides 10% additional energy recovery for even more power. This is all done without altering the racquet’s feel. GT technology can be found in all new Aero models.

The 2010 Aero racquet range –
Available in tennis pro and specialty stores February 16th 2010

Aeropro Drive and Aeropro Drive
For the baseline heavy hitter looking for power and spin
Racquet of choice for Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfreid Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki
String pattern: 16 x 19
Head size: 100 sq. in.
Weight: 10.6 oz. (unstrung)
Balance point: 7 pts. HL
Stiffness: 72 ra
Length: 27 in.
Suggested retail price (unstrung): $189.00

Aeropro Team
For baseline players with heavy lift game looking for more maneuverability with power and spin
String pattern: 16 x 19
Head size: 100 sq. in.
Weight: 9.9 oz. (unstrung)
Balance point: 4 pts. HL
Stiffness: 72 ra
Length: 27 in.
Suggested retail price (unstrung): $185.00

Aeropro Lite
For ladies and high-level juniors looking for an extremely lightweight racquet with spin
String pattern: 16 x 19
Head size: 100 sq. in.
Weight: 9.2 oz. (unstrung)
Balance point: 1 pt. HL
Stiffness: 73 ra
Length: 27 in.
Suggested retail price (unstrung): $179.00

Aero Storm
For well-rounded players with a full swing looking for control
Racquet of choice for Dinara Safina
String pattern: 16 x 20
Head size: 98 sq. in.
Weight: 10.6 oz. (unstrung)
Balance point: 7 pts. HL
Stiffness: 72 ra
Length: 27 in.
Suggested retail price (unstrung): $185.00

Aero Storm Tour
For well-rounded players with a full swing looking for extra control
String pattern: 16 x 20Head size: 98 sq. in.
Weight: 11.3 oz. (unstrung)
Balance point: 10 pts. HL
Stiffness: 72 ra
Length: 27 in.
Suggested retail price (unstrung): $185.00

Aeropro Drive Junior

For junior competitors ages 9-12
Head size: 100 sq. in.
Weight: 8.6 oz.
Stiffness: 67 ra
Length: 26 in.
Suggested retail price (strung): $104.00

Nadal Junior
For children ages 4-13
Suggested retail price (strung) starting at: $24.95
5 models for 5 child sizes/heights: 19, 21, 23, 25, and 26 in.

ABOUT BABOLAT
Founded in Lyon, France, in 1875, Babolat is the first company to have specialized in racquet sports and the world leader in the production of natural gut strings. Easily recognized by its trademark “double-line” (two stripes on the racquet frame and black on the stringing bed), Babolat is still family-owned. Today, with U.S. operations in Boulder, Colorado, the company also manufactures synthetic strings, shoes, accessories and a best-selling line of racquets. Babolat equips 20% of the top 100 players in the ATP and WTA including Rafael Nadal (SPAIN, #2 ATP), Andy Roddick (USA, #7 ATP) and Dinara Safina (RUSSIA, #2 WTA). To find out where Babolat products are sold, log on to www.babolat.com or call  (877) 316-9435.
– 30 –
Amélie Company Contacts: Annie Coghill or Robin Ashmore, (303) 832-2700

Del Potro Beats Up A Beaten Up Nadal

There will be no Federer-Nadal final. Thanks to a virtuoso performance by Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, that will have to wait at least another year at the U.S. Open.

“I’m sorry,” del Potro told a chuckling crowd which he earlier thanked for their support at his favorite event while speaking with ESPN’s Darren Cahill. “But tomorrow, I’ll fight until the final point for you, for everyone, to show good tennis.”

“It’s part of my dream, you know. I’m very close to do it, but this moment is so nice, and I always dreamed of this moment.

I’m very happy to beat Rafa in straight sets, play unbelievable match. Of course it’s great for me and for my future being in finals.”

The 20 year-old Del Potro had other ideas playing remarkable tennis to dominate one of the game’s best, crushing Rafael Nadal in the first men’s semifinal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 before a stunned Ashe Stadium in Flushing this afternoon.

Maybe the wear and tear finally caught up to the six-time grand slam winner who was playing a day after dismantling Fernando Gonzalez with a heavily wrapped stomach due to an abdominal strain he’d nursed throughout the final slam of the season. Even if the gutsy 23 year-old Spaniard wasn’t at his peak, a lot of that had to do with his opponent who played a perfect match to make his first ever slam final where he’ll await the winner between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic taking place later.

“I think this is the best moment of my life,” the excited del Potro said after becoming the first Argentine to reach the men’s final since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 to a nice reception.

“Just have to congratulate him,” said Nadal who had nothing to be ashamed of.

In his first Open semi, a locked in Del Potro just had too much in his arsenal turning the match into a rout. The six games he permitted was the worst beating Nadal had ever taken in a slam match with only Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faring worse when he dropped seven games in a 2008 Australian Open semifinal.

Unlike his come from behind four set quarter win over Marin Cilic, Del Potro came out sharp firing on all cylinders. Early on, both players had some scintillating rallies making the first few games very long. That included a fun point that had Nadal scrambling even pulling a crowd pleasing tweener which Del Potro volleyed back that a stumbling Rafa couldn’t finish off.

Nadal had his chances including an early opportunity to break but with his bread and butter forehand setup, he missed just wide blowing it which allowed Del Potro to crawl out of the third game. That would be a common theme with the younger Argentinian serving out of trouble by fighting off all five break chances while he remained aggressive, converting six of 16 on Nadal’s serve.

The first break came in the next game. After Nadal couldn’t put it away, a hustling Del Potro forced a backhand volley long that gave him an early 3-1 lead. A frustrated Rafa tapped his leg perhaps realizing how crucial that moment was.

Nadal tried to come back but Del Potro served well all day with the sun peering out following the dreary weather that caused so many scheduling gliches. When he needed a big serve, the lanky 6-6 fifth year pro took advantage of his big frame to find the angles forcing errant replies. He only had six aces but it felt like more due to the velocity and placement which gave Nadal trouble. For the match, Del Potro won 79 percent on his first serve (44 of 56) compared to 57 percent (40 of 70) for his more accomplished foe.

“I played a great match. I was so focused with my serve, with every breakpoints, playing serve, you know, trying to put the ball into the court and trying to be aggressive,” explained del Potro of why it went so well.

Still down a break at 2-5, Nadal tried to hold serve and stay in the set but ultimately, he was outhit by Del Potro who mixed in a lethal backhand which drew miscues off the normally solid Rafa forehand. The firepower he came with was too much closing the set with a forehand winner.

Undeterred, Nadal continued to throw everything at Del Potro and had a slight opening in the first game of the second set. But once again, the sixth seed used his serve to get out of trouble with a couple of service winners flustering Nadal. The combination of his bigger serve along with penetrating groundstrokes gave him a decided edge finishing with 14 more winners (33-19).

If not for Rafa’s speed and competitiveness, it could’ve been a lot more. Instead, Del Potro who stepped inside the baseline to control rallies earned more unforced errors off Nadal’s racket. A rarity. He committed 27 to Del Potro’s 28. Not bad but given how big the player who beat him in Montreal last month was hitting, it was easy to see why the French Open semifinalist had entered winning 16 of his last 17 since Wimbledon.

It didn’t take long for Del Potro to break earning another on a double fault for a 3-1 lead. With the crowd trying to rally the struggling Nadal, Rafa continued to put in a maximum effort running down every ball. However, Del Potro just wouldn’t miss.

Even when there was a slight opening, it was closed quickly. Up 5-2, Del Potro didn’t slow down breaking Nadal a fourth time to go up two sets. Despite only dropping four games at that point, he still needed an average of 50.5 minutes to win the sets giving an indication of how hard Rafa tried even when it wasn’t his day.

“The first two sets was 6 2, but I have a lot of chances, I think. A lot of chance to keep the score more tight. If it’s like this, you never know what happened. But nothing to do today,” Nadal pointed out.

By the third set, the outcome looked certain. Nadal continued to compete but a streaking Del Potro didn’t take his foot off the gas pedal accelerating with more tremendous hitting that featured some wicked winners including an inside out forehand and a backhand cross that was Agassi-like.

So dominant was he from the ground that he pinned Nadal behind the baseline even finishing off points at the net where he did well converting 71 percent (17 of 24).

“I saw Rafa in the baseline, but too far away on the baseline. That’s important for me to come to the net and to do a short point.”

Del Potro also punished Rafa’s second serve taking 14 of 20 points. While he struggled himself in that department dropping 17 of 29, they weren’t frequent enough and never came at critical moments.

Already leading by a break 5-2, he went for the kill easily breaking Nadal a sixth time when the 2009 Australian Open champion sent a forehand way long for the biggest win of his career.

An overjoyed Del Potro pumped his fists in almost disbelief before receiving congrats from a wounded Nadal, who made no excuses in a brief postmatch interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver.

“Here, it was disappointing, I had a little bit of a (bad) break,” Nadal said while giving Del Potro his due. “The right abdominal. To compete with these players was difficult.”

“I did a good result, very positive result for me after coming back. Semifinals. Today he played better than me. He beat me, and right now I just try to recover. Is not very important injury, so that’s really important for me, too.”

Most players after such a defeat would’ve dodged the questions and walked off the court. But not Nadal who even was nice enough to sign autographs for fans winning even more.

A night before, we saw the worst in a player who lost her mind handling a tough situation very poorly typifying what’s wrong with today’s athletes. Today, even in defeat, we saw what’s very right and why Rafa Nadal is so easy to respect and root for.

It just wasn’t his day. Today was about a rising star who should move up to No.5 in the world no matter what happens in tomorrow’s Monday final to be seen on CBS at 1 PM.

“I think so,” del Potro assessed on if it was his best win. “It was so focused every moment because Rafa’s a great player. He can run for 5, 6 hours. I’m not very strong but I do my best, and I’m in the final.”

“I don’t remember, but I think was I saw the stadium too big, and I say, This will be my favorite tournament.”

Now he’s one match away from winning it.

“I hope to be quiet for tomorrow to enjoy the moment, but could be difficult for me, because I never play a Grand Slam final.

“But I have the game to win tomorrow. I just want to be focused with my tennis and try to beat Roger or Novak.”

Rafa Bulls Past Monfils

Rafael Nadal is from Spain. So, he knows a thing or two about bulls. That was evident in the No.3 seed’s come from behind four set win over frenetic Frenchman Gael Monfils, advancing to a U.S. Open quarterfinal against No.11 Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, who earlier on Day Nine ousted No.7 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

The 13th seed certainly put on a great show using his athleticism to stay in long rallies entertaining a packed Ashe Stadium but ultimately it was Nadal’s bulllike mentality that allowed him to come away with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win in what was a fun match that lasted two hours and  45 minutes.

Early on, Monfils proved why he was so dangerous breaking Nadal early to jump out to a 5-2 lead. However, that didn’t discourage the six-time grand slam winner who after holding broke back and then held suddenly squaring the first set at five all. Fittingly, an ultracompetitive set that saw plenty of action packed rallies with each player pushing the other all over the court needed a tiebreaker.

In it, it was the flying Frenchman who made all the right shots plays pulling out the breaker when he forced an errant Nadal shot, letting out an emphatic scream while pointing to his heart after taking it.

“No, no, I think I came back well in the 5 4 playing very good game to break back. And in the tiebreak he didn’t had any mistake with his serve. He play all first serves, so he beat me the first set, was tough,” Nadal said.

“But I still there, and physically it was tough for both. But I think for him a little bit more.”

Up a set, before Monfils could blink, a determined Nadal broke early in the second set and seemed on his way to leveling things. But just when it looked that way, here came Monfils right back with a magnificent game to break back for 3-4. So pumped was he after winning some wild exchanges with one going 31 strokes, it looked like he had a shot at an upset and his first Open quarterfinal.

As often happens though with Nadal, you just can’t count him out. Fittingly with ESPN’s John McEnroe noting that the 23 year-old from Mallorca would ‘come even harder’, that’s exactly what happened making for one of the most memorable games of the tournament. With Monfils trying to draw even at four, the two played some unbelievable points that seemed to take forever mesmerizing the crowd.

Following two successful exchanges, a pumped up Monfils pointed to his chest. Two points from drawing even, the point of the match came with Monfils and Nadal going toe to toe. About half a dozen times, it looked like the Frenchman had the point won but a desperate Rafa randown a shot just stabbing back a slice backhand to stay in it. Eventually, he drew a miss to get to 30-All, then pumping his fists. Possibly tired, Monfils lost the next two points to drop serve falling behind 3-5.

“I think I get a little fatigue. Also, Rafa playing good. It’s credit to him. He played more deep, more, heavy, more flight on his shot,” Monfils admitted.

Serving to square it wasn’t easy for Nadal who got plenty of resistance from a focused Monfils, who fought off three set points with great backhand winners. Instead of falling apart, the 2009 Australian Open champ got even stingier winning a tough point setting up a fourth set point to which he gave a double pump. After finally closing it out, he pounded his chest as if to say, ‘Bring it on!’

“I think it was a bit tough to keep going like that, to take the ball. I think I stepped back a little bit and just give him I think more time and more time to set up,” assessed Monfils. “And also, I think today he played very good, very good. His defense was very, very strong today. So I mean, this where I think the change for me.”

“Yeah, first two sets was really tough, really hard physically and I think the tennis was very good level,” said Nadal in agreement.

Perhaps the quality of the play took something out of Monfils. Either that or the moment got to him because he put up token resistance in a 28-minute third set that saw Nadal stick to the strategy of working his opponent over to the point of exhaustion. After some rallies, he was bent over trying to catch his breath.

Nadal took full advantage breaking three times in the set with the second for 4-1 resulting in the trainer coming out to retape Monfils’ wrist. With little left in the tank, he lost the next two games firing a wild forehand way long to hand Nadal a two sets to one lead.

Was there anything left for a comeback which an enthusiastic Ashe wanted to see even chanting, “Mon—fils, Mon—fils, Mon—fils” after he dropped serve to fall down an early break.

At first, it worked as he bounced back breaking Nadal while frequently talking to himself as if to say, ‘You can do it.’

But following a feisty Nadal hold for 4-3, Monfils finally cracked getting broken at love donating the eighth game with four errors including a pair of doubles that gave him an eighth service break in 14 attempts. By comparison, his opponent also did good going three for six but was silenced when it really mattered.

“I mean, I had like a lot practice behind me, and just come out with few match and a little bit practice,” pointed out Monfils who missed Wimbledon with an injury and had played only three matches entering the Open.

“So didn’t have that confidence also to keep going, didn’t have the miles in my legs. If I played maybe six tournaments before the US Open even, I think it will be more than an hour, 30 minutes. It can be two hours and maybe push him when I’m back in second set at 4 3.”

A cool Nadal then served out the match drawing one last of Monfils’ 63 unforced errors, advancing to a third Open quarter. Last year, he improved by making the semis before departing at the hands of upset victim Andy Murray, who oddly enough he just passed again to regain the No.2 ranking.

Afterwards, a very pleased Nadal thanked the crowd for their support even getting some unexpected love from a fan who ran onto the court to take a pic before Open Security took the grinning stranger away.

“No, for me it wasn’t the problem. The guy was really nice,” Nadal chuckled, then adding:

Yes. He was a great fan. He said, I love you, and he kiss me.”

Even the unexpected doesn’t faze him. He’ll try to keep it going against Gonzalez, who figures to be a good challenge.

“Right now, the rest of the tournament I know gonna be very difficult. I have to enjoy it. I must enjoy that, and I must to play very aggressive and the best tactically if I gonna have chances to continuing win any match.”

Might another Rafa vs Roger grand slam final finally happen in the city that never sleeps?

It remained possible after tonight.