Monday, February 03, 2014

Wicked Witch Wozniacki or bad Rory Round: you decide

Caroline Wozniacki is apparently one very powerful woman, judging from this blog article in .

The title of the site, Golfmagic gives a hint as to what this is all about.


Charlie Lemay thinks Witch Wozniacki has the amazing magical ability of being able to spell her fiancée Rory McIlroy into a leading position over three days of golf, and then, for some nefarious reason of her own, to cast him into abject failure on the fourth. 

So, what happened to suddenly turn Good Witch Caroline into Wicked Witch Wozniacki?  

"McIlroy was simply being taken out of his zone," writes Charlie Lemay. "On a number of occasions the TV cameras showed the pair having a chinwag."

Funny how Lemay didn’t notice that this happened in every single round – even the good ones.  

So, we are supposed to believe that Caroline kept Rory in his zone for three rounds, then decided enough was enough, and took him out of it.  Presumably just because she could, as Lemay never gives us any credible reason for Wozniacki’s strange behaviour.

He goes on: "Wozniacki was standing by Rory's side on the tee box, as the Northern Irishman munched away on an energy bar. Okay maybe that gave him a confidence booster to know he had his supporter and wife-to-be there alongside him, maybe giving him the gee-up for a big finish, but this is a former World No.1 we're talking about.
You could kind of see in Rory's eye that he'd rather she was standing behind the ropes some 330 yards away."

Rory was desperately trying to break the spell. Lemay can see it because he's writing for Golfmagic, and he knows magic when he sees it. 

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," Sherlock Holmes said.
 Lemay apparently thinks it highly improbable that Rory McIlroy had a bad round of golf after one excellent one and two good ones.
 But Sherlock is right once again. The improbable is the truth. 
And the author of the piece is indulging in the time-dishonoured misogynistic practice of attributingsupernatural abilities to strong, independent women.
Strangely enough, I have never once read of Rory McIlroy being accused of taking Caroline Wozniacki "out of her zone" when she was eliminated in an early round of a Slam while he sat in her box. Not once.
But then Rory’s not a woman, and so he doesn't have mysterious and potentially evil supernatural abilities - just first-class golfing skills that occasionally fail.
It would be nice if Caroline’s first-class tennis abilities were given the same respect.
With thanks to Jewell for her invaluable comments and suggestions.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Janko Tipsarević and his search for The Truth

From Anders Haahr Rasmussen Èn Bold ad Gangen, Wozniacki, US Open 2009 - Danish 2010. Any errors are mine.

(pages 156-157)

I recently spoke to a tennis player who reads books rather intensively. His name is Janko Tipsarević, a 25-year old Serb ... Tipsarević use to read many books by the great philosophers like Nietzsche,  Kant and Schopenhauer, and if he didn't understand them, he re-read them again and again. He was pre-occupied with, as he put it, "searching for the truth." Not to find it, that would be impossible, but because the quest is a goal in itself. Immersion in them was hard work, he said.

"It was a real challenge for me to understand these guys. As a tennis player you have a lot of free time, but it wasn't relaxing for me to read those books. Many of them are really pessimistic, and there was always this struggle between religion and philosophy, and this whole search for the truth was very depressing," related Tipsarević, world number 64, and the only player with a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" tattooed on the underside of his forearm. "Beauty will save the world," it says.

The existential anguish made Tipsarević lose motivation. Not that Tipsarević lost the desire to play tennis; he loved playing the game. But it was difficult mustering that last burning, intense desire to win matches. Questions of wins and losses paled when matched against the great questions life posed.

"I didn't care if I won, and I didn't enjoy it very much when I did. Everything sort of got flat in a way."

(pages 158-159)

Janko Tipsarević asks fewer questions now. At the moment. he's reading a book about Sigmund Freud's anthropological perspectives. It's not easy reading, but reading difficult books is easier for him now.

"I'm taking it easy. Before, when I started a book, I wanted to finish it in a week. Now I read more slowly, and now I also read ... I wouldn't call them dumb, but more relaxing books, detective novels, Agatha Christie, The Da Vinci Code, whatever."

"This career we have doesn't allow you to look at things from more than one perspective. It makes life more complicated," he says, and points to the water bottle he has in his hand.

"There's nothing more to this water bottle than the enjoyment of drinking it. There are no other angles, nothing deep. I don't ask those stupid "why" questions any more like I used to. And it's really made my life easier, I enjoy it more, and you can see the effect on my tennis career. Because no matter how complicated this sport is, it's also very easy. There are rules you have to stick to, and completely without God or Truth, you know if you've done a good piece of work." 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Wozniacki's Mother: Difficult and Confusing for Caroline

Translation of this article Feb.5, 2013

Changing coaches a couple of times didn't help Caroline Wozniacki last year. On the contrary, it confused her more than it helped.

That's the opinion of Anna Wozniacki, Caroline Wozniacki's mother, who has followed her daughter's career from the sidelines for many years, and noticed the difference last year.

"It was a difficult year, because even though Caroline trained and practiced really well, she didn't have the calm she needed. So she got confused a few times on the court. It was a waste of time, and a tennis career is too short for that kind of thing,"says Anna Wozniacki to Ekstra Bladet.

"Caroline is better technically than she was last year. We know what type of player Caroline is and what she has to improve, and we're working on it all the time. We did last year too. but it may take a while before she becomes a better player," is how Anna Wozniacki evaluates her daughter.

In 2012 both the Spaniard Ricardo Sanchez and the Swede Thojmas Johansson were let go as coaches for Wozniacki because the collaboration wasn't optimal.

"It was a learning experience for us.We got something out of it. We know now where we have to go and how to get there from now on," explains Anna Wozniacki.

The father Piotr Wozniacki is back as coach for his daughter, and that's the best solution, even if it has lead to some tough criticism, says the mother of the tennis family with the Polish roots.

"It wasn't fun for anyone in the family. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The tough criticism especially affected Piotr. He took it very personally.

"He began to doubt his own values and beliefs: When everyone says I should step down, maybe it's right. But now we know they're the right fit.

"After all, they've been through so much together. They've grown up together, and, in a way, they've grown together.

"With the temperament Caroline has, it isn't easy for others. I mean, she has to listen, and a mutual respect is necessary in any collaboration," explains Anna Wozniacki.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Piotr Wozniacki/Victor Krason

This is a translation of this web article as it appeared in the print edition

"I took the name to honour my grand-parents," says Caroline Wozniacki's father, as he lifts the curtain on a traumatic childhood and a strange name change.

For several years, Piotr has refused to explain why, since 2003, his name has been Victor Krason on all official documents. He's refused partly because he felt it was his own private matter, and he wasn't going to let himself be dictated to by people who - he felt - wished him no good.

It's led to myths making him almost a Mafia-like figure, so now he's decided to relate the personally sensitive story for the sake of his family.

It was his father's wish

For him, the most important thing in life is family, and it's for his family that he has the same name as his maternal grandfather.

"My father asked me to change my name when he was very sick and lay on his deathbed," he says, as his thoughts wander back 50 years, to when his biological parents, Tadeusz and Bozena Wozniacki, from Przemkow in Poland, delivered the baby Piotr to Bozena's parents, Victor and Zofia Krason who lived in Sulejon, 500 km away.

"My parents had it bad economically and they were very young. My mother was a teacher and my father a factory worker. The lived in one room. My grandparents were better off and wanted to help, so I grew up with them and called them mum and dad, because that's who I thought they were.

"It was a big shock when I found out differently at eight years old. One day there were suddenly two people at the doorstep who said they were my parents and now were taking me home."

"I made a mistake"

At the same time Piotr med his two year younger sister Teresa, and his life changed radically.

"I was still emotionally very attached to my grandparents, and I was with them as often as I could during the holidays. They'd been responsible for a large part of my upbringing and had given me many important values. The first time I really looked at my biological parents as my real parents was when I was an adult and had children.

"It was a bit taboo in my new home to talk about what happened. It was first many years later that they realised they'd made a mistake in letting me live with my grandparents for so long."

Tadeusz Wozniacki's last wish then, was that he should honour his maternal grandparents by taking his maternal grandfather's name.

"I'd mentioned the possibility of changing my name when I was 15 and had moved from home to a sports college. Later I did it, but probably made a mistake in not keeping Wozniacki as part of the name for the sake of the family. Then I'd have had both names and would have spared my family from all the wild speculations. I realised that later. But my children and my wife know the story and accepted the decision."

Family is the most important thing

His own traumatic childhood has led him to dedicate himself so extensively to his family, to his role as father and to keeping the family together.

"Anna and I came alone to Denmark, had an adult life and a family. We've used all our energy to help our children. Today I have a beautiful family with two happy children who are doing what they want to do.

"I think Patrik and Caroline matured early because we spent so much time with them and talked with them about everything.

"They've had close contact with their grandparents. Family is the most important thing in the world, much more important than money and status," says Piotr Wozniacki, who lost his mother during Wimbledon 2009
and last year (2010) had to leave Roland Garros to say goodbye to his sister, who was ill with cancer.

"When you changed your name, you were still a businessman who did business in Poland and Russia. Didn't you realise that rumours would start when you suddenly changed your name and didn't want to explain why?"

"But that kind of thing happens according to very ordinary procedures. Denmark has very clear rules about things like that. Everything's official. You can't even have double Danish-Polish citizenship. Why would people speculate about it? Everything's on paper if they're so interested," he says, and shakes his head.

"But you must have wondered why those rumours started?"

"I know that envy is a part of the life we lead. And no, I don't think that's especially Danish. Those kinds of people are everywhere, and you can't dictate what people think of you. Everyone calls me Piotr Wozniacki, but all who know me know my name is Victor Krason. There's no problem. But maybe I'll add the Wozniacki name for the sake of my family"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Press vs. The Players: Shadow Boxing - Part 2

My translations of parts of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's terrific book "Én bold ad gangen: Wozniacki, US Open 2009" page 140 ff.

(She answers in that way) partly to protect herself, because it would be utterly exhausting if she actually had to think about each and every question, consult her thoughts and feelings, and answer in a way that truly reflected how she thought. Who is capable of investing so much of themselves time after time, day after day, in conversations with people whose only interest in you is professional?

But Caroline Wozniacki is contractually obligated to show up and and deliver useful quotes. And she does it not without self-interest. The sympathy of the print media and widespread exposure in the electronic media make her attractive for the sponsors who have the really big money.

So she stands there, time after time, and does her best to deliver the product the media want. When she's asked a question by a Swedish journalist, she adjusts her Danish by speaking more slowly and substituting Swedish words when she knows them.

When she's interviewed for radio, she makes sure as much as possible to repeat key words from the reporter's question and answer in complete sentences, so the question "What is it that makes the US Open different from the other big tournaments?" isn't answered by saying, "The atmosphere. There's more happening, people yell and scream", but by saying, "The atmosphere is a bit different at the US Open. There's more happening, people yell and scream", so that the statement can be used as an independent sound bite during the sports news.

For TV, Caroline Wozniacki doesn't only make sure she smiles, she also makes sure she has a Sony Ericsson mobile phone hanging around her neck. And if the interview is after a practice session where she's been playing in sponsor free clothes, she asks for a little break and reaches into the little bag where she has her sponsor stickers, and puts them on her clothes, so that Nordea, eBoks and European Travel Insurance can be seen on screen.

It's a widespread thought among journalists that their articles and opinion pieces are very different from the advertisements that help pay their wages. Advertising on TV is clearly separated from news broadcasts they bracket, and if a newspaper advertisement too closely resembles the news articles around it, a header is added saying "advertisement", so no one can be in doubt. The wall between journalism and advertising must be airtight, they say, because while journalists strive for an objective and balanced view of the world they write about from newsworthy criteria like importance and timeliness, advertisers are only interested in making as much money as possible by presenting their product as advantageously as possible.

(Footnote: This idea of a journalistic value free view of the world reaches the height of hypocrisy with tennis journalists in the press box, where they're subject to (and subject other journalists to with damning looks and explicit comments) a severe code about not clapping or otherwise expressing excitement about the play on court. During the first week of the tournament (US Open)  I dared to jump up with my arms in the air and cheer after a fantastic rally between Ernests Gulbis and Andy Murray ended with an unbelievable winner from Gulbis. An American colleague turned towards me . "No cheering in the in the press box, please," she said.

I'm well aware of the journalistic ideals behind the telling off, but I still don't understand why they're maintained by a press corps that 1) mainly cover players from their own country and 2) write, as they're expected to, nationalistically, being excited when their players win and disappointed when they lose . It's very obvious from the coverage that Swedish journalists support the Swedish players, and Danish journalist Danish players. "Go Denmark" etc.

For the large number of freelancers like me, there's the fact that the Danish media is only interested stories about Danish players, and that I'm without an income as soon as Caro loses. So you sit there - under conditions that encourage a totally partisan attitude to matches - and pretend to be a watchdog of objectivity, and scold those who don't maintain the illusion.

For example the Chinese journalists, who a have a very different, relaxed attitude towards the "no cheering" business. I've seen them on several occasions clap rhythmically and chant "Let's go!" and "Zheng Zhie!". Those were "the Emperor has no clothes" moments and were very liberating.)

Page 155 ff
I've interviewed Caroline Wozniacki many many times. The content of the answers would always be the same, whether at a press conference or during a one-on-one. Because the situation remains the same for her. It's artificial and demanding, consisting of strangers whose interests she has to cater to. American Express is interested in people using their credit cards, Adidas wants to sell clothes, and I'm interested in getting an article I can use that helps sell newspapers, so my boss will be happy and send me off to another tournament.

We all need Caroline Wozniacki's help, her words, her face. The only difference between us journalists and the others vying for her is that we don't pay money for her product. (Footnote: What's telling for Wozniacki's relationship with the media is that this a truth with some modification, as it doesn't apply to all journalists. If a lifestyle magazine, like Eurowoman or Bazar wants to interview her, it costs 25,000 kroner via her management company, Nordic Sports Management, which demands an extra 25,000 kroner if her picture is on the cover. NSG also reserves the right, through agreements with Wozniacki and her sponsors, to participate in the selection of the photographs accompanying the article, so the photographs where the names of her sponsors can best be seen are chosen. "Caroline has to prioritise the sparse free time she has, and coordinating the availability of her time cost money," is NSGs explanation. Instead of admitting the commercialisation of media relations this is an expression of, they try to make us believe that a sports star, who in 2009 alone has earned over 15 million kroner in prize money and almost as much in sponsor earnings, will let 25,000 kroner decide if she's wants to travel to Denmark to be interviewed and photographed.)

The Press vs. The Players: Shadow Boxing - Part 1

My translations of parts of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's terrific book "Én bold ad gangen: Wozniacki, US Open 2009" The press conference referred to below occurred after Caroline beat Melanie Oudin.

"Questions please," says the moderator.

10 minutes of questions follow in English, then 5 minutes in Danish, then a couple of brief remarks in Polish. Caroline Wozniacki answers the questions willingly. She also answers most of them meaninglessly.

About her match with Melanie Oudin:

"I mean Melanie she beat some great players, no doubt about it. I knew it was going to be tough, I knew that she was going to fight to the last point. So I just ... yeah, I just thought about one point at a time and one ball at a time, triying not to think too much about the score even though it's difficult and ... uhhhh ... I'm a fighter so I don't give up so I fought to the last point."

About playing on Centre Court:

"It's an amazing feeling, especially when you play at night. Playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium with 23,000 people looking at you when you go on the court, I mean it's --you can't really describe the feeling. It's just -- magical. It's amazing."


One needn't have heard many interviews with professional athletes to recognise the style and to know that it hasn't been invented by, or exclusively used by, Caroline Wozniacki. At the most, she's an illustrative example of that special kind of obligingness that characterises the behaviour of most sports stars in the media. A behaviour that one can criticise for being impersonal and filled with clichés, but is very understandable when one witnesses the conditions under which it happens.

It's only been an hour since Caroline Wozniacki was in the middle of a backhand rally that secured her the victory over Melanie Oudin. She has neither had the chance to eat or see her family. But she has to field more than 50 questions from 20 different people in three languages, and it's not over yet.

After the press conference -- which is a free fire zone of questions ranging from what her tactical plan was, to a question about how many boy friends she has, to what it's like to play on Centre Court --it's time to give one-on-one interviews to the media who have booked them in advance, which typically is Denmarks Radio, Danish TV2, Eurosport, the Tennis Channel and in some cases Swedish and Norwegian TV, and the local TV stations in the country of her next opponent. 

(Footnote: Here are the questions Roger Federer had to answer after his win over Philipp Kohlschrieber in the third round of Wimbledon earlier in the year, in almost the exact order in which they came. "How do you see today's match?" - "Where where you when Michael Jackson died?" - "What parts of his performances did you like best?" - "Nelson Mandela will be honoured here in a few weeks, what do you think of him?" - "What do you think of his legacy?" - "How do you feel about meeting [Robin] Söderling again? Is he more dangerous on grass than on clay?" - "As we know, your wife is pregnant. Would you be happy if she gave birth in England?" - "Fabrice Santore has played his last match here. Are there some shots he has in his arsenal you'd like? What's it like playing against him?")

As usual, they ask her the same questions she's already answered, but formulated slightly differently by their own reporters and recorded with their own cameras and their own microphones, so their listeners and viewers get an "exclusive" interview with the popular tennis star, who knows the routine and turns the record player on and plays the oldies but goodies about fighting to the end and taking it one ball at a time.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Caroline Wozniacki's Futureless road to the top

My translations of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's "Én bold ad gangen" continue with his description of Caro's climb through the rankings. Page 35 ff.

Caroline Wozniacki has never had to worry about reserving airline tickets or practise courts. Her father, Piotr Wozniacki, has always taken care of the practical matters. Neither has Wozniacki ever played a Futures tournament. She's one of the very few players to basically jump over that part of a tennis career. One could say that she started her run at an early age and jumped directly into the big tournaments.

It happened more or less like this:

Back in 1996 Anna and Piotr Wozniacki took their daughter, aged six, to the Køge Tennis Club, where she was allowed to hit against the practice wall while her parents played against each other. She liked that, little Caroline Wozniacki, and she started to practise with the other tots.

When she was seven, Piotr Wozniacki hired a professional private coach for her for the first time. They practised two hours twice a week, apart from club practice. This developed slowly into the routine Caroline Wozniacki had at age 11, where she had a tennis free day on Tuesday, but otherwise played every day, often several times a day, with interval and quickness training on the side. All in all, she trained at least 20 hours a week.

And the results were not long in coming. By the age of 10, Wozniacki was three-time Danish champion for girls under 12. Before long, it wasn't a question of her being the best in her age group. Wozniacki was way too good for that. It was a question of being the best period.

When she was in grade 5, she was the best tennis player in Køge, and a year later the 12 year-old Wozniacki was among the eight best in Denmark when she reached the quarter finals at the Danish senior championships. The family moved to Farum to be closer to the Elite Centre, where Wozniacki now spent 30 hours a week.She began playing international junior tournaments against Europe's best under 18's. She beat them and, at 14 -- the same year she became the youngest Danish champion ever --she travelled to Japan and won one of the world's biggest tournaments, the World Super Junior Tennis Championships i Osaka.

That sort of thing attracts attention. And not just from the tournament organisers of junior or Futures tournaments, but from the organiser of the big tournaments, the WTA tournaments, where the top ranked players play. Those tournaments liked to present child stars, tomorrow's champions, and give them a chance to prove themselves against the established adults, maybe even be the breakthrough tournament for them.

And that's how it happened that Caroline Wozniacki, just turned 15 and unranked, got wild cards to WTA tournaments, first in Cincinnati, then Stockholm and then Memphis. There were 20 times the money and 10 times as many ranking points to be won than in Västerås, Tampere or Miskolc.

Wozniacki didn't even have to win a match to get a ranking, but, of course, she did anyway. She won two in Memphis and got 30 points and took a giant step into the world rankings. Her senior career had begun. Before 2007 was over, she was number 237.

Hanne Skak Jensen and getting just one (1) ranking point

My translations of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's book "Én bold ad gangen - Wozniacki, US Open 2009" continue with a part of the book that deals with what it takes to even get one (1) ranking point in the WTA. Page 34 ff

...Hanne Skak Jensen is Danmark best female tennis player behind Caroline Wozniacki. (Note: Hanne shelved her racquet in 2010: Manixdk) In Wozniacki's absence, she's won the national championships in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 23 year-old from Skanderborg travels around the world playing international tournaments 20 weeks a year. When she's home, she plays club matches for Danish KB, or Swedish Helsingborg, or for a German club in Bremen or a French club in Evreux, 100 km from Paris. It depends.

She practices tennis from 9 to 11 and again from 14 to 16, followed by 1½ hours of either strength training or running. It's been that way since she was 16. Her biggest dream as a tennis player is to take part in a Grand Slam tournament.

In the official WTA rankings, where Caroline is number eight (2009), Hanne Skov Jensen is number 340. It's taken her almost five years as a senior to get that high. First she had to get a ranking. You do that by registering for the only tournaments the ITF offers unranked players: the Futures tournaments. There are about 250 of them every year around the world, from Columbia to China, though most of them are in Europe.

Most players start their careers here, but the fewest get any further.

In order to get into a Futures tournament, which has a total purse of $10,000,  you have to play a qualifying tournament, which can consist of up to 128 players. 128 of the best and most eager young tennis talents. You have to beat four of them in a row in order to "quali" for the main tournament. If you're successful, and you manage to win your first round match in the main tournament, you get one (1) ranking point. But you still don't have a ranking.

You only get a ranking when you've won points in three different tournaments. If, for example, you get seven points, that would give you a ranking of around 1,020. It took Hanne Skov Jensen a little more than six months to get a ranking. It took her three more years to get ranked among the world's 500 best players, where she got access to other than Futures tournaments.

By that time Hanne Skov Jensen had been through a separation process that started in her early teenage years, from the time at the age of 13 when she took the trip to Aarhus three times a week to practice with some of Jutland's most talented players.

She quickly became the best in her age group, and at the age of 17 she left home to attend Team Denmark's Elite Centre for Tennis in Farum, where she shared a town house with three other Juttish  talents her age. They were in 1G (1st year Gymnasium, which is something like Junior College), with 32 hours of classes, and 25 hours of practise a week. There were trips to tournaments 15 weeks a year in Västerås in Sweden or Tampere or Miskolc, an industrial town in the north-east of Hungary, where five girls shared a wooden bed in a tiny dormitory.

It was, in Hanne Skov Jensen's own words, "insanely hard, but I thought: I just must become as good a tennis player as possible." And she did. While others cracked, lost the desire, developed depressions, or fell prey to eating disorders and moved back to Jutland, Hanne Skov Jensen stuck it out. She became the best Dane in her age group, and turned pro at 18.

With help from KB, the Danish Tennis Association and her parents home in Skanderborg, she scraped together the 200,000 kroner it costs to travel for a year. When it went really well, she could win half of the money back.

She worked her way through countless Futures tournaments, learned how to find the cheapest air tickets to the most desolate places and developed sharp elbows when she fought 50 other girls to lay claim to just half a practise court for only a half hour.

... and then there's Anna Kournikova

I'm continuing my series of translations of parts of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's wonderful book Én Bold ad Gangen". This is page 79 ff.

One would think that happiness would be granted to those athletes with classical feminine curves and beauty. But it's not that simple. Anna Kournikova learned that the hard way.

The young Russian was world famous at the end of the 1990s not just for her tennis, but also for being unusually good looking. She was crowned the world's sexiest woman, sponsors stood in line with lucrative contracts, and young men, struck by "Annamania" flocked to tennis courts around the world for a glimpse of the young Russian.

The person in question didn't hold herself back either. Kournikova posed lightly clothed for men's magazines, advertised a sports bra with the slogan "only the ball should bounce", was in films and music videos, sunned herself in the attention and hauled in the money.

The grapes were sour. Colleagues, commentators and not a few tennis fans didn't care much for her. What was that all about? She really wasn't that good. People agreed, her ability on the tennis court didn't warrant all the attention. And they were right in a way: Kournikova got more attention than players who were higher up in the rankings and won more matches.

Call it unjust outrage or justified feminist criticism, the consequence was the same: the more popular she became off the court, the more seeds of doubt were sown about her tennis talent. Eventually, so many seeds were sown that they took root and grew to a narrative, which transformed into The Truth.

So when Kournikova is discussed today, it's as an example of how far you can get without any actual ability. Newspapers describe her as a player "with beauty but doubtful tennis ability". It became legitimate to say that "God gave her a natural talent -- and it's not her serve". Kournikova might not even deserve to be called an athlete compared to her fellow Russian Maria Sharapova, who, in contrast to Kournikova "has shown several times she actually is a tennis player".

But it's not really difficult to argue that Anna Kournikova was actually a tennis player. She was crowned world number one junior at the age of 14, and as a 15 year-old shocked most of the tennis world by beating several established stars en route to the semi finals at Wimbledon.

"She never won a tournament," is repeated by people who thus demonstrate their limited knowledge both of how ability in tennis is measured and Kournikova's doubles career, which snared her two Grand Slam titles and the official status as the world's number one doubles player.

As a 19 year-old she reached number eight in the world rankings, joining such luminaries as Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Steffi Graf. Kournikova played against them and beat them all, before returning foot and back injuries put a stop to her career.

The reduction of Kournikova's tennis career to a pin-up model's less than serious hobby is not only unfounded, it's also rather remarkable. It's a fact that "lovely", tall, thin people are usually considered to be more intelligent, competent and socially adept than not so lovely, short, stocky people.They earn more money and are held in higher regard by their colleagues.

Kournikova learned another truth: It's good to be attractive, as long as you're not too attractive. Use your attractiveness carefully and not too aggressively, not too willingly. Being very attractive can easily backfire. It's not a problem that Caroline Wozniacki is in the Scoop Models stable, and has modelled for Adidas, Elle and Vogue. Modelling work is fine, but in careful doses. Being a sex symbol and a career woman is a careful balancing act. The path is narrow, and must be trod carefully.

Navratilova, King, being feminine and "smelling a bit lesbo" - Part 2

This is part of my ongoing translation of parts of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's wonderful book "Én bold ad gangen." All errors are mine or the magical elves'. This is from page 78 ff. Part 1 is here

Of course, around 30 years have passed now, and you don't see worried mothers acting as "shower guards" any more. In many ways, a lot has happened since. In many ways, not so much.

At the 1999 Australian Open, a French teenager arrived with her partner, Sylvie Bourdon, into whose arms she jumped when she beat the world number one, Lindsay Davenport, in the semi final. It was a rare sight, to put it mildly, and it wasn't passed over in silence.

"She's with her women lover, " said her opponent in the final, Martina Hingis, who concluded, "She's half man."

A disappointed Davenport related how she thought she occasionally thought she "was playing against a guy" referring to her opponents hard ground strokes and "huge shoulders." (footnote: The comments seem especially odd given Lindsay Davenport's own build -- 189 cm. and 80 kg. -- and power game, which Mauresmo wasn't late in pointing out: "Lindsay hits the ball harder than I do; she's stronger than me, she's taller than me, so they really surprise me.")

Mauresmo quietly distance herself from the remarks about her, stood by her openness and added that there were many other players like her "who say nothing, who feel bad and are even unhappy".

A few years after, the award winning TV series The L Word triumphed around the world with it's portrayal of the lives of especially lesbian friends in West Hollywood. It was fiction closely tied to reality when the character of Dana Fairbanks, a professional tennis player, was invited to dinner with companion by a potential sponsor, and left her partner at home, and took her mixed doubles partner, Harrison, so she'd be more saleable.

This is a well know phenomenon in sports with big women and high market value. The actress and talk show host, Ellen Degeneres, probably pop culture's most well know lesbian, is a big fan of the WNBA, the women's professional basketball league. That's not without its problems. The TV producers, who fill the small pauses in the matches with crowd shots of celebrities in the crowd, have asked cameramen not to show Ellen.

But the WNBA every year has a course for new players, who are taught how to put on eye liner, eye shadow and mascara, how to powder their cheeks and the proper way to put on lipstick. "You are first and foremost women. Who just happen to play a sport," is what the WNBA tells the players. They say the players' "womanhood" must be emphasised to ensure the sport's popularity.

Or, to put it another way: "Don't worry folks, you can send your girls to basketball, they won't grow moustaches, the guys will still eye them, they'll still get married, it's a family friendly sport."

Tennis fathers, Piotr and Caroline Wozniacki - Part 2

This is from page 170 ff of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's 2010 book "Én bold ad gangen: Wozniacki, US Open 2009". This is my translation. Any errors are mine or the magic elves'.

It's impossible to know if a notebook will turn up some day with Piotr Wozniacki's megalomaniacal imaginings about his 10 year-old daughter's future. I doubt it. It is, on the other hand, well documented that a 10 year-old Caroline Wozniacki, in her first interview with newspapers and TV, made her ambitions known:  to become number one in the world and win all four of the Grand Slams.

It would be dangerous to idealise a child's internalised parental ambitions, but it's unclear at times who is pushing whom.

When Caroline Wozniacki won the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven the week before, I was in the near by beer tent after the trophy presentation and was chatting with her father. He was surrounded by Polish friends and family, the beer was cold and the mood excited, when Caroline showed up and told her father that the car was coming to pick them up shortly, and that she wanted to drive to New York immediately.

"When she was young, I thought, maybe she wants an ice cream or something when she said 'daddy daddy, get up, come and run,'" relates Piotr Wozniacki, " but now I see that it's really because she's more ambitious than I am. She's a different person than I am."

"It can cause problems understanding each other, because her ambitions are different from mine. I was never as ambitious as she is. My ambitions were never to make the national team and be amazing like Laudrup. He would understand, probably, but I was never at that level, so I don't understand these things. Even now my ambitions are different from hers, I'm here and she's there," he says, holding his right hand much higher up than his left.

"Sometimes I look in the mirror and think 'Hell, I need to be more active', I need to be more professional. It isn't enough if I tell her to hit a few backhands and hit a few forehands, because she'll just look up and say, 'what kind of crap is that, that's not good enough, either we work, or we don't.'"

I asked Piotr Wozniacki, who's never played tennis for more than the exercise, how he keeps up.

"I'll explain it very simply: you buy a ticket for the front row in the circus. You see an elephant doing things a normal elephant doesn't do. So you think 'damn, how many hours has it taken to get that elephant to be so good at those things?' We humans have the advantage that we're more intelligent than elephants. It's taken thousands of hours of practise for me to do the things I can do. It's the same when you go to primary school, then gymnasium (high school) then university. How many years has it taken? Quite a few.

"I've been on court from when Caroline was seven to today, and I hook her up constantly with different coaches and people, and I talk to them, and I get more and more knowledgeable and better as a tennis coach. I've used all my energy on that education, in that circus, so it's becoming easier for me to understand those things, and it's getting better for Caroline, because we can communicate about the same things.

"Getting back to the elephant, I'm the elephant, and the trainer was Caroline. She was on the court playing, so she knew and understood those things better, and by the communication we had every ten minutes, every day, every month, every year, that elephant started to figure those things out."

I still don't know who's which elephant, and I still don't understand what made him sacrifice all his time for his daughter's hobby, but it's made a world of difference for Caroline Wozniacki.

Tennis fathers, Piotr and Caroline Wozniacki - Part 1

This is from page 167 ff of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's 2010 book "Én bold ad gangen: Wozniacki, US Open 2009". This is my translation. Any errors are mine or the magic elves'.

Piotr Wozniacki has always been on the sideline when his doughter has played tennis.He can count three tournaments since 1997 where she's played without him.

There are many stories about him, like how, in the early years, he'd walk on court and interfere during her practices, so much so that her coaches would ask him to stand on the other side of the fence. Or how he still participates actively in the national team's strategy meetings (while she was still playing Fed Cup: Manixdk). Or how, if Caroline Wozniacki asks for pasta, for example, in a restaurant, he can cancel the order and insist she eat chicken instead.

There's a widespread scepticism about fathers in women's tennis, and not without some basis in fact. The first rumours about a dominating father stem from way back in 1910s and 1920s, when the very fashion conscious (and brandy drinking during matches) Suzanne Langlen, La Divine, won everything, (footnote: "won everything" means almost literally everything. Between 1919 to 1926 she lost only one match, and that was at the US championships when, coughing and crying, she had to pull out of her match against Molly Mallory because of illness) and drew hordes of photographers, and her father, where ever she went.

Charles Langlen, a failed competitive cyclist, was known to scold his daughter severely in public  if she didn't play her best, and not allow jam on her bread if she had a bad practise session. (footnote: food seems to be a theme in these father-daughter relationships. Yanina Wickmayer's father was heard to say in the players' restaurant: "See what those girls are eating! That's why they get so fat and never win anything.")

Jim Pierce, father and coach of one of the biggest teenage talents, Mary Pierce, took it one step further. When she was only 10 years old, he wrote in his notebook what her goal was: "She'll be number one. She will dominate." After years of hitting her after she lost -- he once threw a racquet bag at her while she was on her way from the court after a loss to an unseeded player at an Italian tournament before he slapped her in the parking lot -- and drawing attention to himself in the crowd with shouts like "Go on Mary, kill the bitch!",

Jim Pierce had a police restraining order slapped on him at his daughter's request. Mary had begun to travel incognito with body guards. He managed to attack several spectators before the WTA denied him access to her matches. (Footnote: The 1990s delivered enough raw drama for several Hollywood films. Like the case of Mirjana Lucic, the world's number one junior player and the youngest winner of a Grand Slam trophy when she won the Junior Australian Open doubles title at 15 in 1998, the same year she fled Croatia in the middle of the night with her mother and four siblings to get away from her father, who beat her regularly with his heavy Timberland boots. Lucic received political asylum in the US, and said later that she had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She said: "I never went to bed without saying a prayer, in my whole life, never. And I never got up in the morning without saying a prayer. And my prayer was always to get away from my father.")

There is absolutely no doubt that Piotr Wozniacki is unusually engaged in his daughter's tennis. He's spent thousands of hours with her on the court and spent hundreds of thousands of Danish kroner on travelling with her around the world. I have no idea why.

His story fits perfectly into the narrative of the father who fulfils his own frustrated career through his daughter.

A declining football/soccer career brought Piotr and his wife, Anna Wozniacki, to Odense, Denmark, to play for  B1909 in 1985. His career was never a great success, and knee problems stopped it at the end of the 80s.

Now he's involved in his daughter's career "110 per cent" as he puts it. He willingly admits that he pushes her, that he's never satisfied, and neither should she be, because even if things seem to be going well, they can always be better.

It likely sounds unhealthy, over ambitious and a recipe for a serious family tragedy. I would be reticent to recommend it as a way to raise a daughter or develop a talent, unless you're ready to mentally break nine out ten of your guinea pigs.

But, in the case of Caroline Wozniacki, it seems to work. And I'm not just thinking of her smiling nature and obvious joy in playing, which are hard to ignore in the "father pushes daughter" analysis.

No, it's the power relationship that muddies things a bit. I don't know how loud the shouting is in the dressing room or hotel room, but the only time I heard a raised voice was in this tournament's (US Open 2009: Manixdk) first week, when Caroline Wozniacki was standing chatting with a few journalists.

Her dad walked by in a good mood and fired off a cheeky comment, which, unfortunately, I didn't catch, but caused Caroline to tell him off immediately in Polish.

There are the stories of little Caroline, who keeps on hitting the ball into the hockey goals, and who comes into the bedroom on a Sunday morning and shakes her father awake, because they've agreed to go running, and who won't take no for an answer when he looks out the window at the pouring rain and suggests they sleep for another hour.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Navratilova, King, being feminine and "smelling a bit lesbo" - Part 1

From the book Én Bold Ad Gangen by Anders Haahr Rasmussen

Pages 76-78

Women's tennis has become a masculine sport. It wasn't always. At the end of the 1800s, when it was mostly played at tea parties held in the gardens of well-off Brits, tennis was one of the few sports a respectable lady could play without doing something as unladylike as perspiring, thus risking her eligibility on the marriage market.

For a long time, tennis offered women a chance to exercise their bodies in a way that, even at the elite level, didn't compromise society's ideals of feminine behaviour. One didn't become less of a woman by playing tennis.

It's different today. When you get closer to court level, it's obvious how unusually hard the players hit the ball, how powerful their movements are, how aggressively they express themselves, and how big and strong they have to be to compete at the highest level in such a demanding sport. The game can still be beautiful to watch, and fine motor skills, talent, precision, balance and coordination haven't become redundant, but it relies more on raw physical power and hard work than ever before.

If Martina Navratilova learned what the limits were for training and how strong she could become, and how hard you could hit before being referred to as "a wandering mixed doubles pair", her successors have too. When Gisela Dulko is happy about her status as a pin-up, and emphasises that she isn't just a tennis player, but also a woman, it's because she knows there's a built-in contradiction between being those two things. When Caroline Wozniacki puts on make-up, paints her finger nails, and puts on glittering jewellery and a frilly dress before she goes out on court, it's to assure the world: yes, she acts like a man, but she's a real woman.

It's not only a question of vanity; it's also a question of money. The problem with women who act like men is that they "smell a little lesbo". And the problem with lesbians is that they're bad business.

This was clear to Martina Navratilova in that summer of 1981 when she started working with Nancy Lieberman. Navratilova's colleague, the ageing tennis legend and six time Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King, had a short time before been hauled into court by a female ex-lover who wanted money out of their now dead affair. The media had jumped all over it. The tennis world was in shock.

The leadership of the WTA went directly to King, who had been one of its absolute top names for over 10 years, and told her that the women's professional tour would be destroyed if she came out.

Navratilova was worried. What would happen if it became known that Nancy Lieberman was more than just her trainer? Would the tour's economic backbone, the world-wide door-to-door beauty product company Avon, drop its sponsorship?

"I've heard," said Navratilova to a journalist, "that if I come out -- if another top player talks about this -- Avon will pull its sponsorship."

She was right. Avon was gone within a year. Billie Jean King lost over one and a half million dollars in sponsor earnings and was the only player left in the world who couldn't get a sponsor's logo on her playing clothes. Martina Navratilova, without a doubt the best tennis player ever, never got close to earning the sponsorship money she deserved. Instead, she was suspected of molesting the ball girls in the dressing room. (Footnote: One of the 80's most well know talk show hosts, Arsenio Hall, made one of the more innocent attacks when he asked the rhetorical question:"If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we get one on Martina Navratilova?")