by Pete Bodo
I'll be doing a little data mining later for a statistics-based post for tomorrow, but we haven't taken a look at the news in some time, so let's review and comment on some of the headlines and stories that appeared in recent days. December tends to be a pretty good news month, with numerous announcements relative to the upcoming year (like scheduling decisions made by top ATP and WTA players). It's also the time for hiring and firing, changing partners (we're talking doubles here), and announcing that you'll be putting a roof over your stadium. . . that is, if you've decided to put a roof over your stadium. Ahem. On that note:
Two-Word Job Description. . .
Maybe the Argentina Tennis Federation just needs to take out a full-page ad in all the major international newspapers: Wanted: Captain to Beat Spain. Call 1-800-Stop-Rafa.
The federation has apparently deep-sixed Tito Vazquez, who coached Argentina's Davis Cup squad for just two years, starting in the spring of 2009. Granted, Vazquez wasn't exactly eye candy—has any tennis coach or captain ever more closely caught the vibe of New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belicheck?—But under Vazquez, Argentina was a respectable 6-3, a semifinalist in 2010 (l. at France) and a finalist last week (l. at Spain). Vazquez's predecessor, Alberto Mancini, served far longer but he too was fired after he failed to beat Spain in a final (the Rio Plata debacle of 2008). The newspaper Ole is reporting that Martin Jaite is next in line. As Spain and Argentina are seeded 1 and 2 respectively, Jaite can probably rest assured that he has a job. . . until next December.
For the record, I think Vazquez got a raw deal. Exactly who was going to beat Spain, led by Rafa, in Seville, on clay?
Aren't we all a bit bored with these wild rumors that have created the headline template "Martina Hingis' Camp Denies. . . "? Okay, Hingis never officially retired from tennis. But she hasn't played any ITF or WTA events in years and has done nothing to qualify as a potential competitor at the upcoming Olympic games.
Still, we're awash in rumors of comebacks in all manner of configurations. First it was an alleged return to the WTA tour. Then it was a return to the tour as just a doubles player. Then it was playing doubles with Roger Federer at the upcoming Olympic games. Now, it's that Hingis may play for the Swiss Fed Cup team. Enough already!
Hingis must be getting tired of being used for ulterior reasons, or that's what I infer that from this strong comment made by her representatives to our Matt Cronin: "They (the Swiss) have a big arena to fill and no active players to fill it. We want to avoid their creating hype, rumors, gimmicks to sell tickets."
The top Swiss players are No. 138 Stefanie Voegele and No. 243 Timea Bacsinszky.
Mission Impossible. . .
Andy Murray's tennis-coach mum Judy is the new Fed Cup captain for Great Britain, which sounds oddly parochial, or just plain lame—or is it desperate? But the reality is that Judy Murray was Scotland's national coach for nine years, she guided the careers of her two sons, Andy and Jamie, and also coached British WTA pro Elena Baltacha. She's got plenty of street cred. The real question here is why Judy or anyone else would want the job. Astonishingly, Britain is one of only four nations to have competed in every Fed Cup competition since its inception in 1963—without winning even once.
That's a remarkable record of futility, given that over that period the British have produced Grand Slam champs including Ann Haydon-Jones and Virginia Wade, and at least one solid Top 5-player in Sue Barker. Great Britain did reach the Fed Cup final four times, most recently in 1988, when Manon Bollegraf and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy won the competition on behalf of Netherlands at Flinder's Park in Australia.
Rumor has it that Judy was considered for the Davis Cup job as well, but British officials were concerned she would go ga-ga on the sidelines during the doubles, should the Brits have to play Spain and their outstanding team of Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.
Headlines We Love. . .
Hingis Contemplates Fed Cup Play for Great Britain. . . . Okay, I'm kidding with that one, but not the rest:
Toni Nadal: Rafa Better on Slower, Outdoor Courts. . .Can you believe Toni would say that, for publication, at a newspaper or website where Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Murray and all those other guys could read it??????? McIlroy: Wozniacki Helps My Mental Game. . . It's just too bad she can't do anything for me on the physical end of things. . . Serbia Foreign Minister Now Tennis Association Chief. . . .and Serbia President Boris Tadic has announced that he'll be ballboying at the Serbian Open this year.
Okay, everyone, your turn: Here's the headline (and link; the story is worth reading), you add the subhed down in the Comments section: Tarango Enjoying Playing USTA Nationals. . .
Dizzy Dame. . .
Anna Chakvetadze's bid to enter the Russian Duma (congress) as a member of the "Right Cause" party went nowhere (the party failed to get even one percent of the vote), but she did get something out of the deal—she was named "sexiest woman" in Russian politics (in an Internet poll). That ought to offer some consolation to the star-crossed former No. 5, whose career has fluctuated wildly since the gruesome home invasion she experienced in 2007 (during which her father, Djamal, was savagely beaten by thugs who, Chakvetadze claims, got off scot free because of "corruption" while scapegoats were framed and imprisoned). Chakvetadze's latest setback has been an inexplicable tendency to succumb to dizzy spells, which may nor may not be related to the lingering fears and memories left by that horrible incident. But she's vowed to make another comeback, and has entered the January Hobart WTA event.
U.S. Davis Cup captain and former world No. 1 Jim Courier hit the nail on the head when he recently said, of John Isner: He's probably the most disruptive force in the men's game. "His serve is just a monster. No one from the top down likes to deal with it. He's not the best player in the world by any means, but he's probably the player that's least enjoyable to play."
That's a good way to explain the threat Isner represents, and it goes a long way to justifying why Courier thinks Isner has a great shot at making the Top 10 by the mid-point of 2012. You can read Courier's thoughts on Isner and his fellow Americans here.
Courier's assessment of the second half of Isner's 2011 seems spot-on. After a puzzling, four-set loss to clay-court expert Nicolas Almagro at Wimbledon, Long John won Newport and made the final at Atlanta (l. to No. 9 Mardy Fish). He followed that up with a semifinal at Washington (l. in third-set tiebreaker to No. 7 Gael Monfils). Isner won just one match, though, at the two hard-court Masters event leading up to the U.S. Open, but he bounced back with a win at Winston-Salem, where he mastered Julien Benneteau in the final and had quality wins along the way over Andy Roddick and Marcos Baghdatis. Then he made the quarters at the U.S. Open (l. to No. 4 Murray). Isner finished strong, with a semi at the Paris Masters (l. to No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, afer a win over No. 5 David Ferrer).
Ranked No. 47 at the start of Wimbledon, Isner ended the year at No. 18. And with not much to defend in the early part of 2012 (Isner lost to Marin Cilic, 9-7 in the fifth, in the third round of the Australian Open last year), Courier's rosy prediction of a Top 10 ranking for Isner may well pan out.