Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tennis Dopes

It's hard to believe that I am scooping amateur on doping news. But here it is: in the past two days, two separate stories have appeared about doping offenses in professional tennis.
The one that seems more credible--or rather with the least amount of unknowns--is the case against Mariano Puerta, 2005's French Open finalist. This is his second offense and has warranted an 8-year ban by the ITF--a light sentence given that it could have been a lifetime ban. Either option ends his career however as he is 27 and the only 35-year old playing today is Agassi and Puerta is no Agassi.
According to reports, Puerta ended up with the banned substance, etilfrine, in his system because it was in his wife's medication for hypertension. But it was such a trace amount that it could not have enhanced his performance--and he did lose to Nadal after all. So many questions still though. Why is Puerta's wife on hypertension medication anyway? Is there something about being married to Puerta that causes high blood pressure? These are the questions that come to my mind immediately whereas others are probably more interested in the sentence, the substance, and Puerta's doping history. Frankly, not as interesting to me, especially given that Puerta is a clay-court specialist who is not a big name on the tour. But I think it's interesting that it seems to be these lesser known specialist types who are getting caught versus bigger names.
This leads me to case number 2, which was actually reported first. Sesil Karatantcheva, another teen (almost) phenom also tested postive for a banned susbtance (nandrolone) at this year's French Open where she lost in the quarters. This story seems to have mutiple sides and many confusions. It isn't clear whether Karatantcheva has appeared before any governing organization to answer to the charges. So clarifications should definitely be forthcoming. Most interesting to me, who predicted a skeleton would come out of the closet this year (of course it was Henin's not Sesil's), was that the excuse offered was that Sesil was pregnant during the French Open but later miscarried. Allegedly a pregnancy test on her urine sample was negative however.
The whole situation is weird. What will be seen as the worse offense: doping or a 15-year old pregnant professional tennis player? Craziness.
I wonder though if this marks a watershed moment in doping on the tennis tour. Rumors have abounded for years and I personally was a little suspicious of Jennifer Capriati's much improved physique during her big comeback year. But apparently I was the only one thinking that. Doping though won't become big news in the tennis world until a major player tests positive. We'll see what 2006 brings!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

*Big Sigh*

Doing some holiday shopping this afternoon, I stopped into Barnes and Noble to take a look around (and to use the bathroom which is nicer than the mall's facilities--a potentially interesting observation to explore further for those who do bathroom studies). Because I was just casually browsing I was sucked in rather easily, as they knew I would be, by the display table simply with the sign SPORTS on it. What did I see? Lance Armstrong, Toger Woods, boxing, golf, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, football, football, football, baseball, baseball, and misc. No women anywhere. I have read all the studies about lack of media coverage and the general disinterest in women's sport. But I was still surprised nary a woman graced the table. Perhaps because I have been immersed in writing on women's sport--some of which warned me in some way that that table in B&N would not represent women--I have been living in a false reality, also known as academe. In a (near) Olympic year one would think the selection would be slightly more representaive of the actual population of athletes.

More Rene the Weenie News

I was giddy with schadenfraude this past weekend when I flipped on ESPN and saw a special piece on the new accusations against Rene Portland, head coach of the PSU women's basketball team. They interviewed fairly extensively (enough to draw out some tears) a former player who was forced off the team in the early 80s because Portland threatened to reveal her homosexuality.
Another player--not gay, but sister is--from the 90s has also come forward to dicusss the homophobic comments and atmosphere Portland made.
PSU students are starting to protest. [Alas PSU is not playing at my Big Ten university this season so we cannot stage a protest here.]
Jen Harris's lawsuit has finally set off all the furor over Portland's overtly discriminatory ways that should have been dealt with years ago. I am buoyed by this activism yet also cautious as I think about all the coaches who are not as obvious as Portland and harm just as many people who, because of the often covert homophobia in athletics, will go virtually unnoticed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Women's Tennis Preview

I am just too tired to review last year. We all know what happened. So here are my thoughts on 2006.
The Comeback Kids?
Martina Hingis is staging her comeback this year. It’s in the back of Kournikova’s mind. And Monica Seles is thinking about it as she trains 5 days a week at her Florida home. As much as I would like to see Seles return to the game, I think she should cut her losses now. I wish she could have gone out on her own terms but I don’t think it is meant to be. If she does come back my prediction is she will play one grand slam, lose before the quarters and call it quits.
As for Hingis—well this should be interesting. Just because she beat Martina N. (her namesake—I wonder which Martina cringes more at that) handily this summer in World Team Tennis does not mean she is ready to play with the big girls again. My prediction—third round loss at the Australian. And if she sticks it out, 4th round at French—after all clay is the equalizer, though it is also the one Grand Slam she continually has meltdowns at. The irony would be sweet if she had great comeback success there. But I still think it’s unlikely to happen.
As for Kournikova—I think she’s having too much fun being a draw at exhibition matches and living the life of a Latin popstar’s wife to engage in a legitimate comeback attempt.

The Others
Williams sisters:
[on the court] Two slams between this year, like last. Hard to say which ones who will succeed where—not the French Open I would guess--, but I still think they are constant, if not consistent (shades of difference) contenders.
[off the court] Rumors will abound about a boyfriend for Venus. Serena will NOT be nominated for an Emmy for her supporting role on ER. (With any luck she will give up acting, not because she needs to spend more time on her tennis game, but just because she’s a bad actor.]
Kim Clijsters:
[on the court] It’s all about the momentum, baby. I think Kim is NOT going to be a one-slam wonder (shame on all the commentators/critics who have already proclaimed otherwise) and she will prove that this year—at the Australian.
[off the court] She’ll get engaged to this American basketball player guy and buy a house in FL like the majority of tour players.
Justine Henin-Hardenne:
[on the court] Truly, I just don’t care. The woman is less charismatic than Pete Sampras. Sure, we shouldn’t judge based on personality, but let’s face it, unless she has some skeletons in the closet her actual performance is of little matter.
[off the court] A skeleton emerges. And it has something to do with her extended absence last year. There has got to be more to this unnamed fatigue virus story.
[on court] She’ll win a major again. If Kim falters at the Australian, Maria will be there with her Canon sureshot digital camera taking a picture (‘cause it’ll last longer) of her opponents’ stunned faces.
[off court] She and Roddick hook up, then break up. No relationship with that amount of diva-dom can last very long.
Amelie Mauresmo
[on court] I smell a major for Amelie. Now that Kim has one, Mauresmo takes over as “the best player to have never won a major” and it is not exactly the title she is looking for. It won’t be the French of course (is anyone in position to win the French??), but maybe the US Open or Wimbledon but it’s a longshot if either or both of the Williams sisters are there.
[off court] She’ll break up with whatever girlfriend she currently has and somehow find me (I’m working out the details), a witty, intelligent redhead with calves of steel who speaks just enough French to be cute and charming thus breaking the stereotype about obnoxious Americans and their freedom fries.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Men's Tennis Re/Preview

It wasn't an exceptionally interesting year on or off the court in men's tennis. Roger Federer dominated--again. I predict similar things from him next year--maybe a few more of the top ten men will have flashes of brilliance, like Safin at the 2005 Australian or Nalbandian at the year-end Master's, and knock out a win or two. But no one will beat Federer's record which is a product of his superhuman consistency. This prediction could all fall apart however if Federer actually gets a full-time coach. Off the court, well no one really cares about Federer's off the court life. But just in case there are some passionate Federer fans out there...I think something will happen on the long-time girlfriend front; perhaps a pregnancy or a proposal.
Probably the most interesting thing that will happen this year is Andre Agassi's retirement. And if it doesn't actually happen his deteriorating performances (not that there's anything wrong with that) will certainly be the story of the year. Come on, Andre. The sooner you retire, the sooner you will be eligible for the Hall of Fame where it will be Steffi's turn to give a super shmaltzy speech about her undying love and devotion. The Newport organizers start salivating at the thought of jacking up ticket prices for the event.
As for Slam performances, Federer will win two out of the four. I am not going out on a limb here to say that a clay-court specialist will win the French. I think it wil be an Argentinian--but not Nalbandian who I think will take the US Open. Roddick will once again this year be Federer's bridesmaid and people will start to utter the term "one-slam wonder" after having thought it last year. [That wasn't just me, right?]
Once again the US Davis Cup team will disappoint anyone who actually still cares about Davis Cup.
And finally, the big Wimbledon betting pool this year will not lay odds on who will win but rather how many times per match Lleyton Hewitt will say "COME ON!!" and the likelihood that Marat Safin will moon the royal box.