Thursday, August 30, 2001

I'M BACK. I make no guarantees, but shaming by a few readers and inspiration from James Lileks's excellent Bleat log have me writing again, and I hope to keep it up. The trick, I've learned from Lileks, is that you must write even if you have nothing all that important to say. (No offense, James.) I plan to eventually settle into the daily-diary format, but I have enough topics saved up that I should be able to keep it fairly interesting. There was that two-week trip to Europe, for example.

It's U.S. Open time, so I'm in tennis-watching mode. I go to work at 4 p.m., and so my U.S. Open schedule is to start watching the weekday USA Network coverage at 11 a.m. and then have Jacqueline tape anything that might be of interest in the night session. We use TiVo, so I can hit "pause" and get far enough behind as I make coffee and check e-mail that I can fast-forward over the commercials later on.

In the most interesting of the day matches, Patty Schnyder overcame a big first-set deficit to win that set and nearly upset Justine Henin. Schnyder, 22, of Switzerland, was in the top 10 a couple of years ago but fell out after falling under the spell of a trainer/boyfriend/guru whose philosophy's main tenet was that Schnyder must drink copious quantities of orange juice, because it's "virtually identical to mothers' milk." Of course.

Henin is the little 19-year-old Belgian who leapt into the top 10 this year by making the semifinals of the French Open and the final of Wimbledon. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated is doing a "Separated at Birth" (excuse me -- "Long Lost Siblings") feature as part of his weekly CNNSI.com gig, and one reader pointed out that Henin looks like boy actor Haley Joel Osment. Indeed she does, with her slit eyes and shy smile. My contribution on the Schnyder side is a little on the morbid side, but I think she looks very much like Rebecca Schaeffer, the young "My Sister Sam" co-star killed on her doorstep by a stalker. (Sorry, but I See Dead People.)

All watchers rhapsodize about the beauty of Henin's backhand, which unlike the backhands of most players in the women's draw is a classic one-hander. And the commentators labor to say her name the way the Belgians do. An authentic rendering would sound like a sample from your grandfather's cranky plea for another beer, or perhaps from a cat's hairball expulsion, but the Official American Announcer pronunciation is "Enna." No way in fuck is that the correct pronunciation, and indeed in a "Getting to Know You" interview on cable TV this year she introduced herself as Justine HENN-in. I smiled when that happened.

SCHNEE-der is nearly as talented as Enna, with her Marcelo Rios-esque lefty groundstrokes, and she almost outlasted Henin in what became a consistency contest between two shotmakers. Almost. Henin, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4.

I was at work when Monica Seles took the court for a night match, and my wife called to say, "Monica's opponent has NO backhand!" That usually means a very weak backhand, but that wouldn't have been such a revelation, and so I instantly knew what she meant. I'm a connoisseur of oddities in the ways tennis players choose to hit the ball. I've followed the two-hands-on-both-sides brigade from Frew McMillan to Gene Mayer, Hans Gildemeister, Molly Van Nostrand, Fabrice Santoro, Byron Black, Michael Tebbutt and, above all, MONICA SELES, but this was a biggie. I had heard, thanks to Bud Collins, of a player who switched hands with the racket to hit a forehand on both sides, but that was a long time ago, and in all my fertile imagination about variant playing styles I had pretty much ignored this obvious variation. The retired Japanese star Kimiko Date, a player I very much enjoyed watching, used to hit left-handed forehands instead of the expected right-handed backhands when she was pulled wide, and so does my brother Kenny. But a true no-backhand player? Yep, that's what Russia's Evgenia Koulikovskaya is. Eerily, she's also left-handed (like Monica). So she hits a normal forehand on her left side and a choked-up forehand (so as not to require too much repositioning of the hands) on the right side. In other words, she's a one-hand-on-both-sides Monica Seles.

It's perhaps needless to say that Monica prevailed rather easily, but this was quite an entertaining match despite the lack of drama. In tennis, sometimes it's all about mechanics. Moral: Remember this if you ever have a chance to see the exquisite Fabrice Santoro frustrate the hell out of some big-serving goon on the men's side.

Tangent (maybe this blog should be called "Tangents"): As it happens, I went to Nick Bollettieri's famed Bradenton, Fla., tennis academy when Seles and Jim Courier were training there and about to make it big. I was in the stupid little adult program, but Monica and Jim were right there eating with us in the cafeteria. I watched them both practice, and I knew both would be great. Especially Monica. As much as I admire Steffi Graf's accomplishments, I think they need to be viewed with a Big Monica Asterisk.

Another tangent: Monica's assailant was set free because he got what he wanted (Graf at No. 1) and thus would never commit such a crime again. Under Germany's alleged justice system, O.J. would have had nothing to worry about. Anybody who satisfied his desire to kill just one person (or, ahem, one person and an unlucky waiter) would be home free.

Yet another tangent: This is a little too on-topic for Off-Topic, but I have to say that I would vote for the grammatically shocking "Anybody who satisfied their desire ..." in the above sentence. The male pronoun is traditionally the default for both sexes, and people offended by that are showering us with this "him or her" and "his or hers" nonsense. In cases like (such as?) this, I wish we had a government sanctioning body for linguistic matters, the way France does.

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