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Posts Tagged ‘tennis’

Answers needed after tennis expose

In tennis on March 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm

By ASHLEY BROWNE

24 hours later, it is still hard to work out what to take from the Four Corners expose into the politics of Australian tennis, or more to the point, of Tennis Australia.

On the one hand, there wasn’t a whole lot of news. Paul McNamee is the figurehead for a number of prominent Australian tennis identities who yearn for change in the game. Tennis Australia believes the game is headed in the right direction and that years of neglect when it comes to junior development have been righted. All we need is just a bit more patience.

But here is what we would like answered in the wake of last night’s show, and what we have observed, admittedly from a great distance.

  1. Why is McNamee so on the outer? His track record in running the Australian Open and the Hopman Cup is pretty good. Under his watch, the Open emerged from its status as the ‘fourth Grand Slam’ to the equal of the other Slams. The players love it and it it brings Melbourne to a screeching halt for pretty much the entire fortnight. Craig Tiley and co have consolidated his work and the tournament continues to grow, but under McNamee it made its quantum leap. So why the turf war?
  2. Does Harold Mitchell hold a conflict of interest? The powerful TA board member now runs the new Melbourne Rebels rugby team. And he is one of the most powerful ad men in Australia. Where does he tell prospective sports sponsors to plough their dough?
  3. Managing player development for TA is a huge job. So is running the Australian Open. Tiley might be a talented person, but can he, or anyone for that matter, possibly juggle both these jobs? We don’t think so.
  4. What caused Michelle Michie to sell Australian Tennis magazine to TA? We know the confidentiality agreement exists so we’ll never know the answer, but an independent tennis journal would be nice. Perhaps an online entrepreneur is ready and waiting to fill this void in the market.
  5. Where was Todd Woodbridge’s head at? If you’re the head of men’s tennis for TA, you should be able to reel off the names of the top juniors in the country in an instant and without thinking.
  6. The claim by one critic that TA has moved from a service provider to become an aspiring Fortune 500 company was strong. TA probably does need to move with the times, but it neglects the grassroots at its peril. Other sports, particularly the football codes, are working at the development level with particular zeal.

Tiley went on SEN on Tuesday saying the entire show was little more than an endorsement for McNamee as he again prepares to challenge Geoff Pollard for the TA presidency, and granted, the views of the pro-McNamee camp were given a very solid airing.

But the tennis establishment in this country still wields great power and holds all the aces. And if the Hopman Cup moves from its traditional TV home on the ABC next summer, that power will have been exercised once again.

NEXT WEEK: BackPageLead

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Weekend warriors: TDD Power rankings

In Weekend Warriors on October 26, 2009 at 12:22 pm

By ASHLEY BROWNE

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It’s all about the turf at the moment and Bart Cummings is slaying them. The Caulfield Cup and Cox Plates are his, as is last year’s Melbourne Cup. So tell us again why he should retire?

1. Bart Cummings

Will any other trainer win a big race this spring? As he wound up his broadcast from Moonee Valley on Saturday, the ABC’s Gerard Whateley pondered out loud whether Cummings was a worthy challenger to Don Bradman as our greatest ever sportsman. It’s an interesting discussion.

2. Casey Stoner

Two wins in the space of a week – Phillip Island followed by Malaysia – sets up a big 2010 for Australia’s leading MotoGP type. Valentino Rossi clinched the world title on Sunday, but will already be bracing himself to go head to head with Stoner next year.

3. NSW Blues

The players earned themselves about $100,000 each and Cricket NSW a lazy $1 million or so after defeating Trinidad & Tobago in the 2020 Champions League final on Friday night. The Blues have already won the biggest prize on offer this summer and it’s still October.

4. Scott McDonald

Scored again in Celtic’s 2-1 away win at Hamilton Academicals. That’s seven for the season so far for the Melbourne boy, although as we also note, that’s seven more than he has ever scored for Australia. Nevertherless, he’s going well.

5. Mark Winterbottom

Won the V8 honours on the Gold Coast, with cabin temperatures approaching 50 degrees while battling glandular fever. Gritty.

6. Michael Sim

Finished third in the Nationwide Tour championship yesterday, but no.1 on the money list for the year, with $700,000 to his name. Appears to have done the hard yards ahead of his debut on the USPGA Tour next year.

7. Mark Webber

No race this weekend, but two wins and fourth place on the drivers standings makes for a great year. Webber talked the talk for a long time. Now he’s learned to walk.

8. The Kangaroos

20-20 draw with New Zealand to start the rugby league Four Nations championship. The Australians had to rally late just to secure the draw. They’re not always good things when they play these international matches after the NRL season finishes.

9. Geoff Pollard

Kept his job.

Are they still playing tennis?

In tennis on October 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm

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By ASHLEY BROWNE

So here we are entering the last week of October.

The US Open was finished six weeks ago, the season ending ATP Tour event is still a month away and the Davis Cup final takes place a fortnight later.

Welcome to tennis, the sport of which there is no off-season.

Unlike golf, which got its act together and mandated a schedule in which the meaningful tournaments take place over nine months, the tennis season drags on and on. The Davis Cup final finishes on 6 December, about four weeks before the Hopman Cup and the Brisbane International start the new season.

The problem for tennis is that the longstanding tournaments continue to be played, while new markets need to catered for. February, once a quiet month in the wake of the Australian Open, now has a vibrant South American swing and the growing number of Argentinian, Brazilian and Chilean players all want to take part.

Understandably wanting to cash in on China, tennis has now scheduled big tournaments towards the end of the year in both Beijing and Shanghai, but perhaps as a sign of the growing tennis fatigue, many players opted to miss the recent Shanghai event, even though it held Masters’ status. Little wonder that Nikolay Davydenko was the champion.

Decent off-seasons are important in any sport. It is not just the players who need the break, but the surrounding industry – coaches, trainers, umpires and support staff as well as fans – who also need significant down time.

But four weeks at the end of the year doesn’t cut it, because within a few days, the players need to start training again in preparation for the Australian summer – a gruelling campaign for those coming out of the European and North American winter.

If The Toy Department was running tennis, the sport would follow the lead of golf and finish all its significant events, including the ATP and WTA finals and the conclusions to the Davis and Fed cups by the end of October, leaving two clear months for the players to rest and recuperate. If, like the golfers, they want to continue lining their pockets for the rest of the year by playing exhibitions and non-sanctioned events, that’s fine with us.

But the results won’t count, so we won’t have to pretend it matters.

Title fight at Tennis Australia

In tennis on October 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

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By ASHLEY BROWNE

The politics of tennis make headlines about as often as, well, an Australian winning Wimbledon. But The Age has been running hard with the battle for the presidency of Tennis Australia between the incumbent, Geoff Pollard and challenger Paul McNamee.

The presidency of TA is actually a full-time position and from 1989 until 2005, Pollard was the all-powerful head of tennis in this country. But following a searching review of the sport, it was decided that TA needed a chief executive as well as a president and Steve Wood, a one-time promising Australian player with a strong background in IT, was headhunted back from the US to assume that position.

It was at about this time that McNamee’s reign as the general manager and tournament director of the Australian Open was coming to an end. In his time at the helm, McNamee repositioned the tournament as the “Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific” and lifted its status to become much more an equal partner with the other Grand Slam tournaments. Under his watch, Melbourne Park was redeveloped, night tennis boomed and tennis pretty much took over the nation for the last two weeks of January.

So successful has the Australian Open become that it largely underpins the finances of the sport in Australia. But those in the tennis industry – but not in the employ of TA – will tell you that while the Open has never been stronger, the Australian tennis itself is in a parlous state, with large question marks hovering over player development, participation and finances.

Australia has long been eliminated from the World Group of the Davis Cup and a look at the rankings, with just two Australian men (Lleyton Hewitt and Peter Luczak) and two Australian women (Samantha Stosur and Jelena Dokic) in the respective top 100s, those with concerns would appear to be correct.

McNamee shook the Australian Open to its foundations and it emerged bigger and better. He hasn’t outlined his vision for the sport in public just yet and probably doesn’t need to given that the presidency is not decided by popular vote but by state delegates behind closed doors.

But he has picked up an interesting and surprising supporter – Lleyton Hewitt – who has written an article on his official website advocating change and supporting McNamee.

The argument for change at the top of TA appear to be sound, although McNamee’s elevation to the presidency would likely lead to more sweeping changes within an organisation that has reportedly experienced a huge turnover of staff over the last two years.

Our prediction? Some sort of succession plan in which Pollard gets to leave on his own terms (such as presiding over one last Australian Open) with McNamee then taking over and moving swiftly in a bid to restore tennis to its once exalted place in the Australian sporting landscape.

Australian Open 2010: early openers

In tennis on September 15, 2009 at 11:55 am

By ASHLEY BROWNE

For all intents and purposes, the tennis season is over and the Australian Open is now on the clock as the next tennis tournament that counts. But in the words of former tournament spruiker Paul McNamee, it is never too early to look ahead to January at Melbourne Park.

This year’s US Open was as memorable as it was long and has thrown up several storylines that should help sell plenty of tickets when the tennis circus gets here next year.

Serena Williams: A fine of just $US11,000 for her outburst at a lineswoman is a disgrace. As was taking the best part of three days to finally appear contrite. Another zero should have been added to the fine and she should at least be sweating over whether she will be permitted to play in Melbourne.

But rest assured, she will be here and her spin doctors will be ensuring that it will be Sweet Serena who graces us with her presence. This will probably mean a trip to the Phillip Island penguins and perhaps to the sick kids at the Royal Childrens Hospital. But just wait till that first foot fault.

Roger Federer: Couldn’t quite get it done against Juan Martin del Potro in Monday’s final. But he has had a phenomenal year, perhaps his best ever, breaking his duck at Roland Garros and prevailing in the epic Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick. He’ll set himself for Melbourne, wanting to avenge the five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in this year’s final.

Rafael Nadal: Brilliant at his best, when his body lets him. Nadal has been ailing for much of the year and has now pulled out of Spain’s Davis Cup semi-final against Israel this weekend. What would be great is if he finished playing for the rest of the year and instead chose to build up his strength and fitness for Melbourne.

Kim Clijsters: The story of the US Open. The first mum to win a Grand Slam in 29 years. Will start the sentimental favourite in Melbourne, even if Sam Stosur or Jelena Dokic are at the other end of the court.

Juan Martin del Potro: Quarter-finalist here this year and now clearly has the game to go further.

Andy Roddick: Was supposed to have turned the corner with his mighty effort at Wimbledon. The photographers (and blokes sitting near the players box) will be hoping Mrs Roddick makes it to Melbourne.

Caroline Wozniacki: Apparently “Caroline Wozniacki Breasts” was the fourth most searched term on Google in the hours before her quarter-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova last Tuesday. Those who go to Melbourne Park in January might found out why the beaten US Open finalist is so popular.

Grunting OK, tweeting not. Welcome to Flushing Meadow

In NFL, tennis on September 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

By ASHLEY BROWNE

If you’re a player at the US Open, you can do many things.

You can grunt, groan, call for a challenge, take an injury time-out at the most suspicious of times, you can pout, moan and generally carry on as so many do in tennis, but you cannot tweet.

No sir, you most definitely cannot tweet.

Plastered all over the corridors of the National Tennis Centre in New York as the US Open got underway on Monday were signs from the Tennis Integrity Unit that players cannot post Twitter messages during the tournament because of fears they could violate anti-corruption laws.

Andy Roddick, one of the more prominent tennis tweeters has already called the rule “lame” and others will doubtless have their say as the tournament unfolds. Count Serena Williams as one most likely to have something to say.

It is a tough call for tennis administrators to make. On the one hand, the sport appears to have been increasingly targeted by big-time punters and there have been questions asked of a handful of results from matches in the last few years. A player tweeting about an injury or what they may have heard in the locker room could prove invaluable for hard-core punters.

But on the other, tennis is a sport in doldrums. It gets only a few weeks of the year in the headlines and the US Open is one of those times when the sport is supposed to cash in, particularly in the US, the media capital of the universe. Having the likes of Serena Williams and Roddick tweeting, if not at changes of end, but certainly between matches, will surely only help create interest in the sport.

Once the US Open is done and dusted, it is the Australian Open that is on the clock, at least as far as Grand Slam events are concerned and while we doubt Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard cares much for Twitter, we’re sure tournament director Craig Tiley will have clearer views on the matter and we expect to hear more about it when the tournament launch takes place, usually the week after the AFL Grand Final.

Meanwhile, the NFL has released its social media policy ahead of the start of its new season late next week.

NFL players may not post to Facebook and/or Twitter from 90 minutes before the start of a match until after post-match media commitments have been completed.

This smacks of too much commonsense to come from a sporting league. It allows the players to promote themselves without detracting from the event at hand – the matches – and also protects the rights of media organisations who cover the sport, some of whom pay more than a billion dollars for the privilege.

It is a reasonable outcome and one you would imagine the AFL and the players association might choose to follow next season as the social media phenomenon continues to grow.

Sam Stosur, Australian tennis’ unlikely saviour

In tennis on June 4, 2009 at 11:44 am

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By CHARLES HAPPELL

At last, some good news for Australian tennis. After a steady diet of misery for the past five or more years, Sam Stosur’s semi-final appearance in the French Open has given the sport, so sickly in this country it has been on life support, a timely boost.

With her barnstorming run into the last four at Roland Garros, Stosur’s ranking has risen from No.32 into the top 20, and that will go higher still if she can knock off seventh-seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova, on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court tonight. Kuznetsova this morning eliminated Serena Williams – winner of the last two majors in New York and Melbourne – 7-6 (7-3) 5-7 7-5.

But, here’s the thing: Stosur’s progress, for all its worthiness, only masks serious and deep-seated problems at Tennis Australia.

The days when tennis was synonymous with Australian sport are now so far in the distant past, you’d need to carbon-date Ken Rosewall’s wooden racquet to get an exact reading on the year. Those sepia-toned pictures of Lew Hoad and Rosewall prancing around on the grass of Kooyong and White City, resplendent in brilliant all-white uniforms and flashing Pepsodent smiles, are so far removed from the current reality that they may have been taken on another planet.

Just roll some of those names from that golden era around in your head: Laver, Hoad, Rosewall, Sedgman, Emerson, Newcombe, Roche. Now fast-forward to the ATP Tour, class of ’09, where after Lleyton Hewitt at No.48, and seemingly in terminal decline, we have no other male player ranked in the top 100. That’s how far we’ve fallen. On the women’s side, we have only Jelena Dokic, at No.80, keeping Stosur company in the top 100.

So, a sorry state of affairs indeed. Some would say borderline neglectful. In the past 30 years, the Swedes, Czechs, Germans and Russians – and, yes, Swiss – have begun playing the sport in droves. Their academies, overseen by no-nonsense coaches and over-ambitious parents, have produced a string of prodigies who, almost overnight, seem to vault into the top 10.

I mean, while I had my back turned,  Juan Martin del Potro has jumped to No.5 in the world and someone called Marin Cilic is No.13.  Hands up – apart from you tennis nerds – anyone who can give me a potted bio of those two.

Meanwhile poor old Australia stands still, basking in its reputation as a great tennis nation without actually having a mechanism in place for producing great tennis players.

Interestingly, the profile and popularity of the Australian Open has risen in recent years in almost inverse proportion to the quality of its home-grown players. Regularly rated the overseas players’ favourite Grand Slam tournament, the Open was last won by an Australian in 1976, when Mark ‘’Eddo’’ Edmondson, wearing a pair of Dunlop Volleys, took home the Norman Brookes Cup. Yet, because the tournament has been so well marketed and sold over the past 20 years, this lack of genuine local chances – Cash, Rafter, Philippoussis and Hewitt excepted – has proved no barrier to centre court sell-outs.

Let’s hope, in Sam Stosur, we have a local player who can restore some of the lustre to Australian tennis, and revive those glory days. Sadly, though, it looks like she’ll be fighting a lone battle.