Friday 21 December 2012

Israel Fed Cup Drama

This post was written in collaboration with Israel Tennis Results.

Note: The story we’re about to tell is not a new one, but as far as we know, it’s the first time that it was referenced in English-speaking media, and drew a wider audience than the tennis community in Israel. We’re writing this to give a more complete picture than the bits that were published in HaAretz and Jerusalem Post in the last days, which mainly speak about things that occurred this week.

Israel’s Fed Cup team has long been a team of two players – Anna Smashnova and Tzipi Obziler, Obziler and Shahar Peer, and in the last few years – Peer and Julia Glushko. Since Israel currently belongs to Zone Group I, it has one Fed Cup tie every year, just after the Australian Open, when 15-16 teams play in four groups, with the winners of the groups contesting for two spots in the playoff for World Group II. Conveniently for the Israeli team, since 2011 the tie takes place in Eilat, the most southern point of Israel. Most unusually for zonal Fed Cup ties, 2013 will mark the third straight year in which Eilat would be hosting the competition, this time – with a 75K ITF event that preludes it and gives the players a chance to practice on the same surface beforehand.

The Israeli team in the 2012 tie included Peer (37 at the time), Glushko (211), Keren Shlomo (419) and Deniz Khazaniuk (460). Originally, Valeria Patiuk (646) was also supposed to be on the team, but she got injured a short while before the tie. Israel was drawn in a difficult group, along with Great Britain (the favourite to clinch the first place), Portugal and Netherlands. With Peer in bad shape, which continued throughout the year, the Israelis (effectively Peer and Glushko) managed to beat the Dutch team, but lost to the other two countries and finished in ninth place out of 15. 

Just two days after the tie finished, the Israeli newspaper “Maariv” published an extensive interview with Khazaniuk, who was invited to be a part of the team for the first time. The interview was filled with criticism - Khazaniuk complained about the ways in which the team conducted itself, their work ethics, the lack of organization by the captain, Lior Mor, the humiliating treatment she got from the other players and their general childish behavior. 

Some excerpts from the interview:

“If the captain Mor sees this disgrace for years, and chooses not to do anything, he should be ashamed and embarrassed. He has no schedule or an ordered work plan. He does everything in the spur of the moment, in the evening I’d ask him elementary questions about the schedule of the next day, when we eat and when we practice, and he’d say he doesn’t know and decide everything at the last moment during the day’s summary meeting.”
“Mor and Tomer Dank (the coach) treated me in a condescending and disgusting way, they kicked out my personal coach Yigal Kushmar from practices, and didn’t let me go to the bathroom by myself – only with the rest of team. We’d get up at 9:30 and practice at 11:00, when other teams were already on court at 8:00. In the evenings, instead of going to sleep in a normal hour, they’d just look for restaurants to go hang out in”. [Note: Israel played in the afternoon session, which started at 16:00, while half of the teams played in the morning session, which started at 10:00 – Anna.]
How did the other tennis players welcome you?
Very badly. Instead of making me feel good as a newcomer, they just picked on me and came down  on me all the time, they humiliated me. I’d go to sleep with a rotten feeling of helplessness. They treated me like their maid, and already in the beginning Shahar, Julia and Keren had a talk with me and said that because I was new, I’d have to work for them, bring them towels and fulfill their every request.”
Were there things that bothered you about how Shahar and Julia handled themselves professionally?
“A lot. There was a custom in the team – at the end of each day, the captain would decide which of the four was the best, and according to that gave out gummy candies – the one who excelled got the most. Shahar and Julia could kill for those candies.
Shahar is actually considered the ultimate pro in Israel.
“I thought so too, before I knew her. Now I understand that she’s one big bluff. I respected her for not giving many interviews, but it turned out that she preferred not to get exposed too much, so that they won’t understand the magnitude of the bluff.”

The interview made a lot of noise in the Israeli tennis world, with Khazaniuk being widely criticized for talking to the media about the story, instead of addressing the heads of the Israeli Tennis Association (ITA). Shlomo Tzoref, who was the head of ITA’s professional committee at the time, said two days after the interview that all the complaints Khazaniuk voiced will be checked, but also that she was wrong in the way she handled it. The ITA announced that they will also check Khazaniuk’s behavior, which broke the ethical code and was not accepted for a team player.
A week after the incident, Peer and Mor threatened to sue Khazaniuk and the newspaper for libel, and demanded an apology. The issue never made it to court. 

The next developments in the saga came in October. First, the ITA announced the appointment of Amos Mansdorf as Fed Cup captain instead of Lior Mor. The official reason was the desire to have someone who would be dedicated to tennis, instead of only being available for two weeks (Mor had a different job for the other 50 weeks of the year). Tzipi Obziler, who might’ve been considered a more natural fit for the job, said that she was a candidate, but it didn’t go through because of one of the players on the team. There was further confirmation that the players (Peer, and perhaps Glushko) had a say in the choice of the new captain.

At the time of Mansdorf’s nomination, the ITA’s position was that he would be the one to name the team for 2013, and that Khazaniuk would not participate, according to a recommendation of the ITA’s professional committee. In the middle of October, however, the special committee that was nominated to investigate the whole affair concluded that there’s no reason to suspend Khazaniuk, and all she got was a minor reprimand. This was a result of an apology letter which she sent to the committee and to Peer, where she stated that her words were misinterpreted and that she acted out of emotional turmoil. She added that she didn’t mean to hurt Peer and that she was wrong to talk to the press instead of solving the matter internally with the ITA. Credible sources, however, said that the committee (which investigated both sides of the subject) decided not to hand in an official report with their findings – neither external nor internal.

Peer herself hasn’t talked publicly about the matter. Glushko (whom Khazaniuk criticized harshly, as well) was asked about it in an interview with Israel Tennis Results and claimed that none of what Khazaniuk said was true and that she didn’t have anything else to say to her. At any rate, a well-informed source said that there isn’t a chance of Khazaniuk playing for the team as long as Peer and Glushko are there. 

This week, Khazaniuk and Peer were slated to meet in the semifinals of the Israeli Championships, a tournament which Peer won seven times before. Peer won emphatically 6-0 6-1, and followed the win by making a ‘silence’ gesture towards her opponent, refusing to shake her hand and shouting that she’s a “disgrace to the State of Israel”.

Peer after the match. Photo: Oren Aharoni, Ynet Sport

In a further interview to Ynet, Peer said “I told her what I think about her. If she wants to tell you about it, she can, from my point of view I said what I had to, I talk on the court and not in the press. It’s her words, and it’s what she chose to say, I really wasn’t offended and you could see it on the court. […] There’s no bad blood, I didn’t have anything against this girl, I helped her during Fed Cup, she decided to go against the team, the tennis association and me especially, so like I said – I’m talking on the court, I did what I had to, and she can enjoy whatever she wanted to achieve for herself”. After winning the title for the eighth time, Peer said that she haven’t read what the media wrote about the incident, and that she has “no regrets. I did what I felt. Deniz told lies and I've kept quiet for a year.”

Khazaniuk responded after the match, saying, “I understand that she’s angry. I saw it coming and I’m not upset. She told me in the end that I’m a disgrace for the country, I didn’t reply and it probably stemmed from anger, I’m not judging her”.

Deniz Khazaniuk. Photo: Oren Aharoni, Ynet Sport

Wednesday 12 December 2012

The 2013 Tennis Calendar

Have you ever felt the need to integrate the tennis calendar with your own? Well, now you can! The calendar you see below has all the ATP and WTA tournaments for 2013, including information about tournament category (250/500/M1000/GS for the men, International/Premier/P5/PM/GS for the women), surface, and exact dates (including Sunday starts or Saturday finals).

If you're using Google Calendar, you can add these calendars (ATP and WTA separately, for those who only want one of them) to your schedule with a couple of clicks; if you're using a different calendar, you can import it in XML or iCal format. Or, you can just use the calendar in this post, if you wish!

Enjoy, and let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see here.

Thursday 8 November 2012

World Tour Finals - Group B qualification scenarios

Following the success of the scenarios table for Group A qualifications to the World Tour Finals semifinals, here are the scenarios for Group B. Roger Federer already qualified, but he can still finish second in this group under certain circumstances. Janko Tipsarevic is out of the running and cannot qualify, no matter what.

Federer in 2 Federer in 3 Del Potro in 2 Del Potro in 3
Ferrer in 2 1. Federer
2. Ferrer
1. Federer
2. Ferrer
1. Del Potro
2. Federer
1. Federer
2. Del Potro
Ferrer in 3 1. Federer
2. Ferrer
1. Federer
2. Ferrer
1. Del Potro
2. Federer
1. Federer
2. Del Potro
Tipsarevic in 2 1. Federer
2. Del Potro
1. Federer
2. Del Potro
1. Del Potro
2. Federer
1. Del Potro
2. Federer
Tipsarevic in 3 1. Federer
2. Del Potro
1. Federer
2. Del Potro
1. Del Potro
2. Federer
1. Del Potro
2. Federer

This group has much simpler scenarios than the other group:
  • If Federer and Ferrer win, they both qualify (Federer 1st, Ferrer 2nd)
  • If Federer and Tipsarevic win, Federer is 1st and Del Potro is 2nd.
  • If Del Potro wins, he qualifies together with Federer. Del Potro will qualify 1st if he wins in 2, or if he wins in 3 and Tipsarevic wins. Federer will qualify 1st if Del Potro wins in 3 and Ferrer wins.
Note: If a player retires, his opponent is considered as having won 2-0.

    World Tour Finals - Group A qualification scenarios

    The results of the first two days of play in Group A of the ATP World Tour Finals promise us one thing - nothing is certain. Any of the players can qualify for the semifinals, any of the players can be left out. If the calculations are giving you a headache (they most likely are), here are a couple of ways to look at them. Luckily for us, it won't come to counting games, only sets.

    Djokovic in 2 Djokovic in 3 Berdych in 2 Berdych in 3
    Murray in 2 1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Murray
    2. Berdych
    1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    Murray in 3 1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Berdych
    2. Djokovic
    1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    Tsonga in 2 1. Djokovic
    2. Tsonga
    1. Djokovic
    2. Berdych
    1. Berdych
    2. Djokovic
    1. Berdych
    2. Djokovic
    Tsonga in 3 1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Djokovic
    2. Murray
    1. Berdych
    2. Djokovic
    1. Berdych
    2. Djokovic

    • Djokovic needs to win one set. If he loses in two, he needs Tsonga to take a set.
    • Murray needs to win in 2 if Berdych wins in 2, or to win in any way if Berdych wins in 3, or just needs one set if Djokovic wins.
    • Berdych needs to win in 2, or win in 3 and for Tsonga to win, or to win one set and for Tsonga to win in 2.
    • Tsonga needs to win in 2 and for Djokovic to win in 2.
    See also the possible Group B scenarios.

    Wednesday 31 October 2012

    Novak Djokovic Exhibitions Calendar

    The offseason is drawing upon us, and that means one thing - exhibitions time!
    The soon to be No.1 Novak Djokovic has quite a busy schedule in this longer off season. If you're having trouble to keep track, worry no more, since now you have an interactive calendar updated with all his events right here!

    Each event in the calendar contains a link to the official website of the tournament.

    Currently, you should see each event in the Central European timezone. If you're using Google Calendar, you can import this calendar and merge it with your own, and then you'll see each event in your own timezone, no need for time conversions! Alternatively, use this link, which should show you the calendar in your own timezone. You can also import the calendar in XML or iCAL formats.

    The first exhibition is on November 14, 2012.

    The current list of exhibitions is:
    • Tennis Classic, Slovakia, vs Martin Klizan
    • Djokovic in Rio, Brazil, vs Guga Kuerten
    • Necker Cup
    • Mubadala WTC, Abu Dhabi
    • Hopman Cup, Australia

    Monday 29 October 2012

    The real S̶l̶i̶m̶ ̶S̶h̶a̶d̶y̶ No. 1

    B. The South African Airways ATP Rankings (singles) and the ATP Doubles Rankings are the objective merit-based method used for determining qualification for entry and seeding in all tournaments for both singles and doubles, except as modified for the ATP World Tour Team Championship and Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (singles or doubles).
    E. The South African Airways ATP Rankings (singles) or ATP Doubles Rankings period is the immediate past 52 weeks, except for:
    * Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, singles and doubles, which is dropped on the Monday following the last ATP World Tour event of the following year.
    * Futures Series tournaments that are only entered into the system on the second Monday following the tournament’s week.
    Once entered, all tournaments, except for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, remain in the system for 52 consecutive weeks.
    - The 2012 ATP Official Rulebook

    XIV. A.
    1. The worldwide computer ranking for women’s Professional Tennis (“WTA Rankings”) reflect a player’s performance in tournament play and determine player acceptances and seeding for all Tournaments.
    4. a. The ranking system is a 52-week, cumulative system in which the number of Tournament results comprising a player’s WTA Ranking is capped at 16 Tournaments for singles and 11 Tournaments for doubles.
    The results used to determine a player’s WTA Ranking shall be those yielding the highest ranking points during a rolling, 52-week period, and must include a player’s ranking points from the Grand Slams, Premier Mandatory Tournaments and the Premier WTAChampionships plus the best two (2) Premier 5 Tournament results for Top 10 Players.
    - The 2012 WTA Official Rulebook

    Just so we're all clear on this.

    Tuesday 23 October 2012

    [Translated] Doctor Involved in the Armstrong Case Didn't Treat Safina

    Following the recent publications about Lance Armstrong's doping case and the possible involvement of one of his doctors, Luis García del Moral, with tennis, Sport-Express reporter Vladas Lasitskas talked to Dinara Safina to get her comments. What follows is a translation of his piece, published on

    - Anna.

    Doctor Involved in the Armstrong Case Didn't Treat Safina
    Former No.1 tennis player Dinara Safina, talking to Sport-Express' reporter, refuted the information about her involvement with Dr. Luis García del Moral, who's involved in the Armstrong case. According to the report published by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), del Moral was one of those responsible for the doping program of the American cyclist, who was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles on Monday. The report also indicated that del Moral cooperated with the tennis academy in Valencia, where Russian players Marat and Dinara Safina, Italian Sara Errani and Spaniard David Ferrer trained at various times. 

    - This doctor didn't have anything to do with the academy in Valencia, - said the 26 year old Safina. - How did our names get into the USADA report? Del Moral has, in fact, the only clinic in Valencia, where sportspeople can undergo tests before the start of the season and at its end. And we gave those tests in that clinic: ran on the treadmill, gave blood from our ear, and so on. This kind of information is extremely important for our personal physical trainers, so that they'd understand what load they should give to the sportsmen. So we were there for clinical examination, got our test results and that concluded our dealings. Del Moral didn't give us any advice and didn't manage our cases. 

    - What did you feel when it turned out that del Moral was involved in Armstrong's case?
    - Nothing. I have nothing to afraid of - I'm clean. I can answer only for myself, and everything else doesn't concern me.

    Tuesday 18 September 2012

    Interview with Julia Glushko

    The great guys over at Israel Tennis Results did an extensive interview with Israeli #2, Julia Glushko. Glushko had a stellar summer, reaching semifinals or better at 4 ITF tournaments in North America, and qualifying to the main draw of the US Open.

    In the interview, which I transcribed and translated to English, she talks about everything - results, financing, form, friends, the time she spent with Martina Hingis, superstitions, plans for the future and more. It gives some insight into the daily life of a tennis player, and reveals more about the hardships of the professional tour for those players who are out of the lime-lights.

    Watch the video (in Hebrew) and read the translated transcript (all possible mistakes are by yours truly) right here. Enjoy!

    Saturday 8 September 2012

    The Men's Semifinal Predictor Challenge - US Open 2012

    This is a fun game traditionally organized by Brodie at Mind The Racket (follow the link for an example). The rules are simple: predict the winner and the number of sets for both US Open semifinals which take place tomorrow. The matches, if for some reason you don't know them, are Djokovic - Ferrer and Murray - Berdych.

    You can leave your guess in the comments here (make sure to leave a nickname), tweet me @anna_tennisfan, or post the guess as a comment to my Facebook page update, whichever is the most convenient!

    The deadline is at the start of the matches - 11am EST (that's 17pm CET, 18pm in Israel). I'll update the guesses periodically here.

    The winner will get a badge of honor, and will be immortalized in the pages of history :)

    Djokovic in 3, Murray in 3:
    Djokovic in 4, Murray in 3:
    Djokovic in 5, Murray in 3:

    Djokovic in 3, Murray in 4:
    @rosso_neri, @ImmaJonatic, @MichalGradziel, @elliejackson1, random cloud, @suboticjelena
    Djokovic in 4, Murray in 4: @JugamosTenis, @betol, @stephd89, @StephintheUS, @thaiguy84
    Djokovic in 5, Murray in 4:

    Djokovic in 3, Murray in 5:
    @ZezeAM, @anna_tennisfan,
    Djokovic in 4, Murray in 5: @ra_m_9, @BraveThinkSol
    Djokovic in 5, Murray in 5:

    Djokovic in 3, Berdych in 3:
    Djokovic in 4, Berdych in 3:
    Djokovic in 5, Berdych in 3:

    Djokovic in 3, Berdych in 4:
    @DSDispatch, @ChristinaNcl, @MindTheRacket, @catmaniego
    Djokovic in 4, Berdych in 4:
    Djokovic in 5, Berdych in 4:

    Djokovic in 3, Berdych in 5:
    Djokovic in 4, Berdych in 5:
    Djokovic in 5, Berdych in 5:

    Ferrer in 3, Murray in 3:
    Ferrer in 4, Murray in 3:
    Ferrer in 5, Murray in 3:

    Ferrer in 3, Murray in 4:
    Ferrer in 4, Murray in 4:
    Ferrer in 5, Murray in 4:

    Ferrer in 3, Murray in 5:
    Ferrer in 4, Murray in 5:
    Ferrer in 5, Murray in 5:

    Ferrer in 3, Berdych in 3:
    Ferrer in 4, Berdych in 3:
    Ferrer in 5, Berdych in 3:

    Ferrer in 3, Berdych in 4:
    Ferrer in 4, Berdych in 4:
    Ferrer in 5, Berdych in 4:

    Ferrer in 3, Berdych in 5:
    Ferrer in 4, Berdych in 5:
    Ferrer in 5, Berdych in 5:

    Tuesday 4 September 2012

    Equal Prize Money - Again?!

    2012 has been a strange year in tennis. It seems that, for once, most of the talk surrounding each Grand Slam tournaments turns from on-court intrigues to off-court debates, centered mainly around prize money for professional tennis players.

    It all started back at the 2011 US Open, when rain delays, bubbly courts and messed-up schedules led some of the top male players to suggest a strike could happen in the future, if some of the calendar issues in Men's tennis would not be resolved. The issue came up again, in a different form, during the Australian Open 2012 players' council, where the lower ranked players started complaining about the distribution of Grand Slam profits and their own prize money. Sergiy Stakhovsky and Alex Bogomolov Jr. were particularly vocal about the matter, suggesting that the players might arrange a boycott of the Slams if the prize money demands are not met.

    Up until that moment, the only problem seemed to be with the prize money for early round exits. The tennis world dived into the actual competition, and the next we heard about the matter was when the French Open announced a prize money increase for qualifiers and early round losers. Wimbledon quickly followed suit, announcing a similar increase of its own, supposedly after talks with the 'Big Four' of men's tennis. And all was well. Or was it?

    The increases made by the Slams were equal for both men and women, seeing as the original prize money was equal (and has been, for some time now). In hindsight, it seems as though this grated on the nerves of some of the male players, who weren't happy with one of two things: (1) Women receiving the same pay check at the end of the tournament (2) Women receiving a pay-rise, while the men did all the complaining and "dirty work". Either way, the first bomb was dropped by Gilles Simon, who stated in an interview with French journalists that he thinks wages shouldn't be equal, as men spend twice the time on court as women do.

    After losing his first round in three sets, Simon was asked to clarify his comments in a press conference. This time, his reasoning was completely different:
    I never thought it was a good idea for women to play five sets.  It was not my point of view.  My point of view was just about ‑ it’s a difficult topic ‑ but it was just about the entertainment.  If you just watch how it is working in every other, like, sport, but even for the singers, for everything, you’re just paid by the public directly.
    My point was that I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis.  As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that.  It’s not because we play five sets and they are playing three.
    Some of the top women were asked about those comments later on, dismissing them handily.

    But then, other players (See: Stakhovsky) started backing up Simon, and the issue keeps on resurfacing about every two weeks. It has most recently exploded today, as Janko Tipsarevic took to twitter after Serena Williams' 6-0 6-0 win over Andrea Hlavackova in the fourth round of the 2012 US Open. The USO, incidentally, joined in and raised the prize money just like the other Slams did.

    And here starts the problem - each player gives his own reasons for why men and women shouldn't be paid the same. We really shouldn't be having this discussion, but since it keeps on coming up, let's analyze the various claims the men seem to be making.

    • Men's tennis is more entertaining/interesting/competitive/better-selling than women's tennis.

      To start, this claim is subjective. Some tennis fans prefer men's tennis, some prefer the women's tour, some watch both. Even if today the ATP product is more known, what with the Federer-Nadal rivalry drawing attention for some years, this hasn't always been the case. The relative popularity of the tours changes with time. The separate tournaments get their own sponsors and different prize money, while the joint events are able to pay more because they're selling a joint product. The fact that more and more events become joint shows that this is the product that sells best.

      Moreover, once you start measuring by popularity, you might need to conclude that Serena Williams should be paid a lot more for her first round in the US Open than most of the men's matches happening on the same day. And then, where do you stop?
    • Men should be paid more, because they put in more effort/time/sets during the tournament.
      First of all, how do you measure effort? We've seen enough women's 3-setters (Kuznetsova-Schiavone in AO 2011, anyone?) that lasted much longer than men's 5-setters; one of the best matches of Wimbledon was the Paszek-Wozniacki match that lasted 3 long sets and was a lot more captivating(/entertaining/interesting/competitive) than the Federer-Fognini match that preceded it (and also lasted 3 sets).

      Tipsarevic's comments were sparked by Serena's 6-0 6-0 win, which apparently shouldn't get as much money as a parallel men's match. In the same way, we could say that Djokovic should be paid less for his 6-1 6-0 6-1 win over Lorenzi in the first round than Lepchenko's hard fought 6-3 3-6 7-5 win over Johansson, which lasted longer, had more games in it, and was far more competitive.

      This logic never ends. You can't quantify effort or time - if you do, the difference shouldn't be between men and women, but between a quick match and a longer one, and the players will be paid based on hours on court, or on games won and lost. Somehow, I don't think that's what the male players are going for.
    • Only the men are fighting for the raise, so only they should receive it.
      Stakhovsky in particular seemed to have a problem with the concept of women benefiting from the Slam pay-rises. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that while the ATP council was planning a boycott of the 2013 Australian Open once again (unless the AO dishes out more money, of course), they didn't even try approaching the WTA council to try and cooperate with them on the subject. Which leaves one wondering what exactly they expected to happen.
    Ultimately, the situation is simple. Yes, men's and women's tennis are different. The physique is different, which causes different styles of play, different match-ups, separate tours, and sometimes even different rules. But at the end of the day, all of the players play tennis. All of them get up in the morning, go to practice, hit a ball, then go on court and try to win - for however long it takes. All of them give their own 100%, all of them deserve to make a living, all of them should be able to pay their coaches, to buy flight tickets, to rent a hotel room. The original issue was the journeyman's struggle, which is exactly the same for men and women alike.

    The same players who complained about this struggle a year ago are seemingly forgetting it now, preferring to pick on the other tour instead of working together for a better solution for everyone.

    N.B. If you claim you want to talk, you can do better than call those who try to discuss the issue "idiots". I've always liked Mr. Tipsarevic's game tennis-wise, but I've now lost all respect for him as a supposedly intelligent person.

    Wednesday 29 August 2012

    The Day I Met Novak Djokovic

    Warning: This post will lack all objectivity whatsoever and might bore you if you're not a Novak fan. I am absolutely not sorry. 
    (Also, this post is better read outside your RSS reader, which might not display the tweets correctly)

    It all started with one tweet:

    I haven't seen this tweet, as I wasn't even following Uniqlo's twitter, but it was kindly brought to my attention by the wonderful Cat (aka @catlovestennis). I had 2 reactions to offer.

    And so, at 10am, August 22nd, I found myself standing in the long line around the Uniqlo store on 5th avenue. After my Sugarpova experience, I didn't want to come there too early, and my plan was to arrive there around 9:15-9:30. However, at 8:40 in the morning, I saw this:

    I panicked for about 5 seconds, and then my brother and I rushed out towards the subway station. What was usually a 15-minute walk was probably done in half of that time. When we got out, we practically ran towards the store. Luckily for us, the lovely Katrina (aka @returnwinner) got there much earlier than us and had a great spot in the queue. We joined her, and had a great time waiting for the opening together, while wondering how come the Rolex and Lindt (read: Federer's sponsors) stores were right across the street from us, Swiss flag included.

    While waiting, we had to sign forms with our consent to sell our soul to the devil let Uniqlo use all pictures and videos from the event as they wish. We also received lottery slips, with the chance to win tickets to see Novak in the US Open if we'd won.

    At about 10:02am (I was looking at my watch a lot. It has since stopped working), the doors of the Uniqlo store were opened, and the line started moving forward. At some point, mass excitement ensued outside, as Novak could be seen coming down the escalator inside the store. The impatience among those of us still outside was quickly rising.

    Ten minutes later or so, I was already by that escalator myself, receiving last instructions: no autographs, no cameras/phones of your own, as there's not enough time. Each fan gets a photo with Novak, taken by Uniqlo's photographer, with photos due to be published on their Facebook page later that day. In my hand, I was clutching a short letter I've wrote the night before, with various greetings and good luck wishes to Novak from me and his fans. And so, the following scene unfolded.

    Novak: Hello!
    Me: Can I give you this? *hands letter over* [Why didn't I say anything smarter?!]
    Novak: Yes, of course, thank you!
    <Novak half-hugs me, and I try not to faint as the photographer clicks away, standing way too close to our faces>
    Novak: I love your shirt!
    Me: ------------------------------- [I don't remember what I did. I'm not even sure if I've said thank you. Novak, if you ever read this: THANK YOU]

    The photographer wasn't too good. But Novak's holding my letter. I guess it really happened?
    It was all over in about 20 seconds. We were sent one floor upstairs, to take a look at Uniqlo's new collection for Novak, but we were more interested in watching him interact with the other fans and trying to get pictures. He was utterly adorable with the little kids, when a girl asked for a hug he obliged, and he said something to every single fan who took a photo with him (there were about 170 of those). Jelena Ristic, Novak's girlfriend, was there too. Check out my Facebook page for some photos of all that.

    We didn't win anything in the raffle, but by that point I didn't care about that too much. We said goodbye to Katrina (who's still in NYC, being the superfan that she is), and went on our way, enjoying our last day in New York.

    Sunday 26 August 2012

    US Open 2012 - Qualifying Day 1

    This year, I've only had one day to watch matches at the US Open, which was the first day of qualifying. Luckily for us (my brother and me), the schedule for that day was simply perfect for us, and we got to see both Israeli players - Amir Weintraub and Julia Glushko - win their first round match.

    The day started with watching practices - we caught both Amir and Julia at the end of their pre-match warm up, wished both of them good luck, and I took photos of my brother with both of them. At the official practice courts, we saw a bit of Serena Williams and a lot of Andy Murray, who we were waiting for to come out.

    Murray in practice
     The wait was long, since Andy wasn't rushing anywhere - the practice courts were half empty at that time. Serena refused to come to the mosh pit and interact with fans at the end of her practice, but Andy signed autographs for everyone who was there (not a lot of people compared to what usually happens during the tournament itself). Unfortunately, I didn't realize we could get on Louis Armstrong and Grandstand to watch the top players practicing, so I've no idea who we've missed there... in fact, I think I'd rather not know.

    Murray signing autographs
    Amir's match against Mathieu Rodrigues from France was first on court 14, and we came there just as he held for a 3-1* lead. He was visibly stronger than the French player, who had a very weak serve (especially his second one), and didn't attack much. What he did have was excellent dropshots and slices, and he fooled Amir quite a lot with those. As the first set progressed (Amir broke again, then got broken back), I felt like Rodrigues was deliberately stalling and taking his time. For instance, when he was down *3-5 0-30, he suddenly decided he needs to wear his hat. I'm pretty sure it didn't stay on for long... Amir got a break point, which got him 3 set points, but Rodrigues saved all of them, and then saved 3 more of those before Amir finally managed to convert his 7th set point for a 6-3 lead.

    Amir preparing to receive serve
    The second set went quicker, as Rodrigues grew visibly tired. Amir opened with a break for 2-0, but got broken back in the next game. He got to a 5-1 lead easily enough and was serving for the match, but Rodrigues chose that moment to raise the level, and broke as Weintraub played somewhat tentatively. However, Amir broke again in the next game, winning the match 6-3 6-2 on his 3rd match point. You can see the first match point, which was saved by a clean winner, in the following video.

    This was Amir's first ever win in the qualifying of any Grand Slam tournament.

    By the time we got to Julia's match, she was already leading 5-2 in the first set against Marta Domachowska from Poland. She played well to win the set 6-2, but got broken early in the second set, and her level dropped. The taping on her knee started to bother her, and when down 2-5 she received a medical timeout to have her knee re-taped.

    Julia Glushko
    We had to leave the court (read: we were hungry and went to buy food), and when we came back, it was the middle of the third set and Julia just broke back for 3-3. She won the next three games and the whole match, 6-2 2-6 6-3, while showing some great mental strength at tougher moments, such as facing break points. The next video shows her first and only match point:

    Julia later qualified to the main draw of the US Open, and will play her first ever main draw match at a tour-level event tomorrow against Yanina Wickmayer.

    We've seen bits and pieces of a few other qualifying matches, and were particularly impressed by Yuki Bhambri. The young Indian player has a good technique and seemed like a cool-headed guy from the few games that we saw.

    As always, you can find all our photos from that day on my Facebook page.

    Saturday 25 August 2012

    A Spoonful Of Sugarpova

    If you're planning to go to the US Open one day, my first advice to you is: make sure to arrive at New York at least a week before the tournaments starts. During that week, Manhattan fills up with promotion events for anything from food to clothes to sunglasses, as the various tennis players make appearance at their sponsors' various stores.

    This week, I've attended two such events, one of which was the launch of Maria Sharapova's new candy collection, fittingly called "Sugarpova". (The other was Novak Djokovic's event at the Uniqlo store).

    My younger brother and I arrived an hour early at the Henri Bendel store, where the event was scheduled. While waiting, we had the chance to take a look at the different tastes available for sale, including tennis-ball-like chewing gum.

    The whole collection is gluten-free, so the many players who are now following this diet can eat as much candy as they like ;)

    Upon arriving to the store, Masha gave interviews outside, while inside free candy was distributed among the waiting fans, along with Sugarpova stickers and fake tattoos in the shape of the Sugarpova lips logo. Shortly afterwards, she came inside for some more interviews with what felt like every member of the press who was there. We waited (somewhat) patiently until the interviews were over, hoping she'd go through the crowd for autographs and pictures. She did, but it was too crowded to get close enough to her, so instead we tried to sneak upstairs, where we knew she'd be giving another interview (this time to CNN).

    Unfortunately, that cunning plan failed, as her interview was in a closed off section of the store, and not where we were standing. The only thing left to do was to wait for her downstairs, hoping she'd oblige for some more fan interaction. And here, I've got another advice for you - if you're hoping to interact with players, bring a kid with you. Just as we slipped to the front of the group of fans still left in the store, the organizers decided to arrange a short autograph-only session, but only for the kids. My brother went first in line, and I followed him hesitantly, but the guard waved me through, and I certainly didn't object to being considered young enough ;)

    And so, we started waiting for the CNN interview to be over, while being repeatedly told that we can only get Maria's autograph, and nothing else. So, here's advice #3 - when you get such instructions, ignore them, especially if you're at the beginning of the line. As soon as Masha came to us, I asked her (in Russian) if we can have a photo, she agreed with a smile, and - voila, a pic with my brother and a pic with me. And so, we left the store happy and delighted.

    Oh, and the candy? Delicious. We bought a bag of "Spooky Sour", which is a gummy candy in the shape of tasty (and mostly sweet) spiders. It was empty after about 24 hours, and I've only ate one candy of the lot...

    For a few more pictures (like my picture with Maria), visit my facebook page, where you can also find photos from the first day of qualifying and from Novak's Uniqlo event. Detailed posts about those will come later this week!

    Wednesday 8 August 2012

    Practice pictures from Montreal

    I've had the opportunity to visit the Coupe Rogers this week - the Montreal edition of the Canadian hard court tournaments, this year featuring the WTA. I was only there for a couple of hours, and since it was the day before the main draw matches started, I mainly spent them on the practice courts. All the pictures can be found on my Facebook page, and meanwhile here are a few samples:

    Ana Ivanovic practicing her serve
    Petra Kvitova hitting a backhand
    Marion Bartoli, practicing in a unique way
    The Bartoli practice, naturally, drew a large crowd. Her father and her measure the exact distances from the attachment point of the ropes to the baseline, and they film the practice, as she needs to return 2 baskets of tennis balls from the same point, while her legs and racquet are held by the rubber bands. After she finished the first basket, the crowd started applauding...

    Friday 27 July 2012

    Olympics or Slams - What's More Important For Tennis Players?

    The importance of Olympics, compared to the 4 Grand Slam tournaments, is a question that's been widely discussed among tennis fans and media. I say, let the players speak for themselves.

    "First off, the importance of tennis in the Olympic Games has grown drastically over the years now and I'm very happy it gets so much attention and all the players do actually show up and play because it is about the spirit and this is what we enjoy." - Roger Federer
    "Growing up as tennis players we always dreamed of winning Grand Slams and doing well at tournaments like Wimbledon, but to have an opportunity to win a gold medal and be mentioned among the great athletes, it’s an honour. Of all the tournaments I’ve won, I’ve probably enjoyed my gold medal the most." - Serena Williams
    ''You can't put into words what winning a gold medal would mean. For me winning a gold medal is bigger than winning a grand slam. I can only dream of it. [...] It (the Olympics) is like a fifth grand slam and something I always wanted to do better at than grand slams.'' - Bernard Tomic
    “I still believe that the grand slams are more important, because of all the history. The Olympics would probably be the fifth event. I think it depends where you come from. If you’re from somewhere like the US, China, Germany or France, you become a superhero. in Switerland, you’re a hero for a day and that’s it. You have a gold medal but it’s not like it has any consequences. Maybe I think differently because I’m from Switzerland.” - Martina Hingis
    "Once you hear it, I think it's pretty even" - Sam Stosur
    "The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of all sports, in my opinion." - Novak Djokovic
    "To me this was bigger than a grand slam, it was more special. Standing on the podium and listening to your national anthem and getting the medal around your neck, seeing the other athletes there that supported. It’s a different feeling, it’s very unique and definitely more special." - Steffi Graf
    “It is bigger than winning a Grand Slam because everybody knows what an Olympic gold is, whereas not everybody knows what a Grand Slam is." - Andy Murray
    “You can say you’re a tennis player and that will resonate with some people, or you can say you’re an Olympian and that will resonate with every person." - Andy Roddick
    You can find the draws for the Olympics on the official ITF website: Men, Women

    The American Dream - World Team Tennis through the eyes of Amir Weintraub

     Amir Weintraub, Israel's second best singles player, has been blogging about his life on tour for over a year now, for the Israeli magazine Globes. His previous blogs were translated by Or Levy for MTF and by Israel Tennis Results, and can all be found on his official website. Here I bring you my translation of his latest post (published on July 23, 2012), about his experiences on World Team Tennis. I highly recommend reading the previous installments!

    - Anna.


    The American Dream by Amir Weintraub

    In the USA tennis league, a room in Hilton, the keys to a Mercedes and a private plane waited for me

    Everything started a little less than a year ago. Somebody told me about a crazy tennis league in the USA that’s called World Team Tennis, or WTT for short. A league of eight teams coast-to-coast, with this season featuring legends like John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Martina Hingis, Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport, the brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, Sam Querrey, John Isner. Well, what does it have to do with me? Listen, they explained to me, try to sign up. There’s a draft that allows some players to enter the league, just like the NBA draft. Hundreds of players try their luck, maybe someone will take you by mistake.

    I sent out the forms and forgot about it.

    On March 13, while I’m in another hole in Asia, trying to fish for some dollars in a challenger, they tell me that the draft is being broadcasted live on US TV, coast to coast. The draft recruits in four rounds overall. At the beginning of the third round, they announce “The Springfield Lasers team, from Springfield, Missouri, picks… Amir Weintraub”. Barely 5 minutes pass, and I get a mail from the legendary Billie Jean King, one of the league’s founders: “Amir, I’m happy to announce to you that you’ve been chosen for the best league in the world. Your team will contact you today, be ready, it will be amazing.” Several hours later the mail from my team arrives, telling me to free my schedule of all the plans I had for the summer. The Pro tour is dead.

    Photo by @JohnLaffnie


    The American League is one of the biggest experiences for a tennis player (soon we’ll talk about the accompanying pleasure, and you’ll understand why). It takes place in a huge pressure tank, for three weeks between July 9 and July 28. This is also where the dilemma begins: the league coincides with tournaments on the Pro tour that I’ll be sorry to miss, especially now, when I have lots of points to defend. The meaning is that I’m going to fall down the rankings for this experience.

    The big money comes in the second year (in the first year you’re a rookie and barely make anything), unless we manage to end up among the top four teams that reach the semifinals, and then I’m assured of a $30,000 bonus. I sign a contract that obliges me to play all the matches, unless I’m injured. By any means, I can’t play on the Pro tour during that period. I break the contract? Boom. A fine of $20,000. There are eight teams in total, divided into two groups – four groups on the west coast (Sacramento, Orange County, Kansas City and Springfield) and four on the east (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington).  Each team plays against all the others, and in the end – the first two out of each group make it to the championships play-off in September. The rules are completely different from regular tennis: here, your personal result has no meaning, but rather the accumulated score that the team got in the whole tie. The scoring system is different, too: you count “normally” 1,2,3, and there’s no trace of the traditional 15, 30, 40. The matches themselves are very short, around 20 minutes each, and the captain on the court can replace you at any given moment if he thinks you’re not playing well.

    Photo by @JohnLaffnie

    The ‘good souls’ back home were of course quick to publish that “Weintraub won’t make it to Israel’s Davis Cup tie because he went to play in the US league”. Well, then. First of all, even if we make it to the semifinals, it really falls on the Davis Cup dates, which are September 13 –16, but the league allows you to break the contract in two cases, without being fined: One, if you play the Olympics (irrelevant for me); Two: if you play Davis Cup in September, you can join your national team, but you’ll have to waive the $30K bonus from your WTT team.

    I announced that I’ll come to the Davis Cup tie anyway. It’s not the money that draws me in, even though the country doesn’t really help, to put it lightly, and $30,000 can help me a lot with covering the big expenses. Besides, what is this onslaught? I’ll be 26 soon, and I want to feel like a tennis player. Is that too much to ask after 20 years of tennis? Let them back off a bit. I’m playing in Grand Slams, Davis Cup, challengers, playing and playing and playing, but the bottom line is money. There is no thank you or anything like it from the country, and there probably won’t be.


    As the hour draws nearer, I realize that the whole story is bigger than I’d thought. Everything works well in the highest levels. First, you need to send the league six shirts and six pairs of shorts from your sponsor, and then the flight tickets arrive. And then I’m already on a plane to Springfield, Missouri, landing in the middle of nowhere in the USA, not understanding where I am. I go to pick up my luggage, and unlike in other middles-of-nowhere that I usually reach on the professional tour, here someone in the team’s outfit waits for me, and takes me by car to my hotel. On the exit from the airport, I recognize the billboards and see… myself! Every 500 meters there’s a huge billboard with my picture (!) on it. I ask the team’s representative what’s going on here. “This? It’s nothing. Wait till we get to the hotel.”

    We arrive to Hilton. There, I’m told I have a room for 22 days. In the room, a “player’s set” is waiting for me – a team outfit, my posters, my pictures, tickets to the matches with my picture on them, tags for people, in case I want to give out some (but I have nobody to give them to). I open the envelope from the team manager, who updates me “Hi Amir, welcome. We meet for dinner today, and starting tomorrow we practice and begin to work.” I slip my hand in, and find a key with the note “Have fun :)” attached. A key to a new Mercedes s600. I almost fall on the floor.

    Where did all that good stuff come from? Well, the model of the league is very clear: there are many stars here, who attract many sponsors. These stars also bring money from broadcasting rights, and tickets are sold for fair amounts of money, too. One of the most fascinating ties of the league, the one in the east group between New York and Boston, took place on Thursday. New York nominated its two aces for this tie – Hingis and John McEnroe, Boston brought out Andre Agassi. Tickets for this tie sold for $250. Who wouldn’t want to watch it? For the Saturday tie between NYC and Washington, a match-up between Hingis (NYC) and Venus Williams (Washington) was chosen.


    And back to my little team: During dinner, we find out the killer schedule, one I have never experienced. 14 matches in 20 days are waiting for us. The amount of flights is crazy. The first tie is on Monday, on Tuesday morning we fly to New York, on Wednesday we fly to Kansas City, then to Philadelphia. On Sunday a home tie in Springfield, next after it a flight to Washington, on Monday to Newport, and it goes on and on and on. No day and no night. Where’s the pro tour and where’s this. I finish every day around 23:30, then there’s a treatment with the team’s physio, then a shower and a night meal. Around 3am I crawl into the bed. At 8 you need to be in the lobby, on the way to the plane.

    Photo by @

    Before our first away game, we find out that instead of Springfield’s usual airport, the team’s car takes us to a smaller airport. We all open our eyes widely when the car stops next to a private plane with 10 places. Say hello, that’s your plane for the next three weeks.

    Photo by @JohnLaffnie

    The tie against Kansas City takes place in a 2500-places full stadium. Only contrary to what we’re used to, the league here is a part of a larger happening and the stadium was built especially for the matches. It was built in the middle of a pedestrian mall, we’re playing right in the middle of down town, and everybody watches us from the buildings around. There’s always music between points, to pump up the crowd and us. The pressure is huge, the set is until a player wins five games, there’s no time for mistakes because there’s no time to fix them.

    I’m being treated here as a tennis player in every way. I’m losing three weeks of important tournaments; I’m going to go down in the rankings. Is it worth it? I haven’t finished yet, but I’m already waiting to be picked in next year’s draft.

    Photo by @JohnLaffnie