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Monday, March 7, 2005

My Tennis Spiel

My Tennis Spiel
Observations from ITF Grade 2 Event
Bavarian International Junior Challenge
Nurnberg Germany

©Colette Lewis 2005

First, a salute to the winners. Seventh seed Ekaterina Makarova continued her climb in the ITF rankings by defeating top seed and fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina 6-2, 7-5. Makarova burst on the scene by making the 2004 Orange Bowl semifinals unseeded, beating the 2nd, 7th and 9th seeds in the process. Since then, the 16 year old from Moscow has raised her ranking almost 100 points, and is now at 47, with a bullet.
Makarova Although she is a statuesque 5’8”, her game is not classically “big babe”, what with her mediocre serve and not particularly punishing ground strokes. But she knows how to construct points, and as most left-handers before her, she has mastered the art of short angles. She is deceptively quick and can turn a sure winner into one of the best defensive lobs you’ve ever seen. But what really wowed me this weekend was her anticipation, a sixth sense that told her to cover the crosscourt, or to hit her shot where her opponent surely wasn’t. She didn’t lose a set in the tournament and though the field wasn’t particularly strong, she is undoubtedly gaining confidence with every win. She didn’t play the Australian Juniors, but I’m eager to see her in the next three Grand Slams.

Fifth seed Andrea Arnaboldi of Italy won the boys title – making it a sweep for lefthanders—besting Russian Alexander Krasnorutskiy 6-4, 6-2. Arnaboldi’s one-handed backhand is to-die-for, but his ability to change gears mid-match is what really impressed me. Arnaboldi Against 3rd seed Jochen Schottler in the semis, Arnaboldi was down a set and two breaks, but won the match with a strategy change. Up three love, Schottler began to dissolve in an unforced error concoction that Arnaboldi prepared for him. By denying the German the pace he craved, Arnaboldi deftly softballed and sliced his way to a three set victory. For a moment there, I flashed back to Brad Gilbert in his prime. That sort of win is not going to make agents drool or sponsors flock, but it shows imagination, maturity and a comprehension of the game that is rare anywhere, and rarer still in junior tennis.

Bavarian Challenge
Now for some general observations on attending my first junior tournament outside the United States:

• The “C’mon” epidemic that Lleyton Hewitt has engendered continues unabated. No matter that the only native English-speaking player in the tournament was one Irish boy, everyone, male and female, had to indulge themselves in this fist-pumping exhortation. Unfortunately, Hewitt’s most admirable trait, his never-say-die competitiveness, was much less in evidence.

• English is the world’s second language now, and you need only hear a Russian questioning his Dutch opponent’s line call or a German arrange to hit with a Belgian to see how pervasive it is in tennis. When matches finally were officiated (in the singles semifinals) scores were given in English and German and all (and there were plenty) arguments with the chair were also conducted in English.

• Speaking of language, I was appalled by the profanity used on a regular basis, with f bombs and who knows what in languages I don’t speak echoing throughout the Tennis Center Noris. And the racquet throwing approached Safinesque levels as well, though with the soft carpet, it certainly wasn’t as noticeable as it would have been on hard courts. But with no officials, even roving ones, around the first three days, it isn’t surprising that etiquette took a holiday. Maybe I’m just too accustomed to the conduct required in Kalamazoo, where any number of players would have received point and game penalties for lesser infractions than I witnessed regularly at this event.

• In general, the whole tournament seemed much less, well, strict, than what I’m accustomed to seeing in the United States. I will say unequivocally that USTA events are officiated and organized more effectively.

• Tennis is so low in the German sports hierarchy that it trails even handball. I don’t expect coverage of Grade 2 ITF junior events, but when the Germany-South Africa Davis Cup tie doesn’t even rate a paragraph in the sports section, there’s a serious problem. Every German I spoke to about tennis conceded that it vanished when Becker and Graf retired. But no one really seems to miss it, which is alarming. To squander the momentum those two great champions established must have taken more poor decisions and bad luck than I can comprehend. But tennis in Germany is not just dead and buried—it’s in an unmarked grave.