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post #1 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:05 AM Thread Starter
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Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Natural but Unjust Advantage

By Mike Steinberger
Financial Times, UK
Published: May 20 2005 19:34 | Last updated: May 20 2005 19:34

Another clay court season, another Latin phenomenon leaves the tennis world momentarily agog. Last year it was Argentina’s Guillermo Coria, who won the season-opening Monte Carlo tournament, was runner-up in Hamburg and held two championship points at the French Open before succumbing to his compatriot Gaston Gaudio in a bizarre five-set match.

This year’s wunderkind is the 18-year-old Spaniard Rafael Nadal (pictured), who captured both Monte Carlo and Rome and who is, by virtue of those victories, favoured to win the 2005 edition of the French, which begins on Monday.

But put aside for a moment thoughts of Paris and red clay. Can Nadal demonstrate the same aptitude on other surfaces? Will he be competitive on the grass at Wimbledon next month? How will he fare on the DecoTurf at the US Open in late August?

The reason for asking these questions is because there is something of a double standard in men’s tennis nowadays. Players more at home on faster surfaces are routinely chastised for their clay court ineptitude, yet clay court specialists are seldom ever criticised for their inability to compete on faster courts. Where is the justice in that?

It is particularly unfair because the serve-and-volley types generally do better on clay than the “dirt-ballers” do on slicker surfaces.

Stefan Edberg, who twice won Wimbledon and the US Open, was a finalist at the French in 1989. Andre Agassi, not a serve-and-volleyer but reared on hard courts, reached the title match at Roland Garros three times, winning it in 1999. Boris Becker was thrice a semi-finalist in Paris. Even Pete Sampras, for whom red clay truly was quicksand, managed a semi-final appearance. And, of course, British fans are still savouring Tim Henman’s improbable run to the semis last year.

By contrast, most clay courters are barely competitive on other surfaces. True, Juan Carlos Ferrero reached the US Open final two years ago, and Carlos Moya, Alex Corretja and Gustavo Kuerten have all experienced limited success on fast courts. Generally speaking, though, the clay specialists come bursting out of the woodwork in April, peak in May and June, and are seldom heard from for the rest of the year.

Nadal has shown some promise on hard courts – he came within two points of beating world number one Roger Federer at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami in March – but he is going to have to give his second serve a lot more bite and sharpen his volleying if he ever hopes to seriously contend for a major title other than the French.

The issue here is not just results; it is also attitude. Players such as Andy Roddick of the US and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, who misses Roland Garros this year because of a rib injury, seem to welcome the challenge posed by clay. It will always be an alien surface for them, but they are clearly eager to do the hard work necessary to become more comfortable on it.

To be sure, they have an incentive to want to improve on clay; apart from the fact that one of the four grand-slam tournaments happens to be played on the surface, the three main tune-ups for the French – Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg – are all Masters Series events and rich in ranking points. But for Roddick and Hewitt, it is more than just a question of points; the desire to become more competent on clay is also a matter of pride.

It is hard to think of any clay court specialists who have expressed a similar determination to improve on fast courts. As regards Wimbledon, the clay courters are downright contemptuous: they despise the grass and spend most of their time in London loudly and proudly proclaiming their hatred of the green stuff. If the US players spent their time at Roland Garros carping about the clay, they would rightly be condemned as spoilsports, but no such condemnation ever rains down on the dirt-ballers, and therein lies the double standard.

Among tennis folk, it is widely agreed that a player raised on clay courts should have an easier time getting the hang of fast courts than a player reared on fast courts will have mastering the intricacies of clay. Clay court tennis cultivates good footwork, varied shot selection and, of course, patience – qualities that can also pay handsome dividends on other surfaces.

But this natural advantage means little if the clay courters are not willing to make winning on other surfaces a higher priority. And until they do, the clay court season will continue to feel somehow distinct from the rest of the tennis year.

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post #2 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:17 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

What is this guy babbling about?

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post #3 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:18 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Boy- what a hateful and meanspirited article. It drips with contempt. Yes, it is true that clay courters don't do as well on other surfaces but there has been an increasing trend for a good number of "dirt ballers" to try to do better on hardcourts.

Quote:
It is hard to think of any clay court specialists who have expressed a similar determination to improve on fast courts. As regards Wimbledon, the clay courters are downright contemptuous: they despise the grass and spend most of their time in London loudly and proudly proclaiming their hatred of the green stuff.
Yeah- that's why Nadal has said that the tournament he wants to win most is Wimbledon. And if I recall correctly (I may be wrong) hasn't JCF said he really likes playing on hard courts- which is a faster surface? And the last player who I remember bemoaning grass was Safin- who has won two GS on a fast surface. Which clay courter in the past three years or so has "proudly proclaimed their hatred" of the green stuff?

Quote:
but no such condemnation ever rains down on the dirt-ballers
I would heartily disagree. I have seen plenty of condemnation (and sometimes it is quite meanspirited) towards clay court specialists.

And I know that this was discussed in another topic but might I say how much I hate the term "dirt baller". It just feels so ...I don't know, mean and dismissive. And since so many clay courters are from Latin America or Spain it also seems dismissive to me in another way. My family hates it as well. I dunno- my grandparents grew up in a time when they sometimes were called "Dirty Spics" etc. My abuelo has a lovely little story where some arsehole told him that apparantely his swim through the Rio Grande didn't wash the dirt off of him. A lot of times in the not so distant past (and maybe still in redneck circles today) "dirty" was used as a hateful way to describe someone who was Hispanic in certain parts of the US (i.e. Dirty Mexican, Dirty Puerto Rican, Dirty Spic, Dirty Wetback, etc.) The term dirt baller just has a little bit of nastiness to me (even though I'm sure most of the times it is not meant in a nasty way.) /steps off of soapbox

Last edited by Clara Bow; 05-21-2005 at 03:35 AM.
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post #4 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:22 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

bad bad bad. gaudio is one of the few good clay court specialist without great results on fast surfaces.

Kuerten:a master cup title, a master series title, several master series final.
Ferrero: an usopen final (hard), a madrid title (indoor hard), a master cup final
Moya: a cincinatti title,a master cup final, an australian open final.
Coria:a final on grass, a miami final,a basel title,an uso quarterfinal.
Canas: a master series title, other two hard titles.
Massu:a gold medal on hard,a master series final in madrid.
Gonzalez:a title on hard, an uso quartefinal.
Nadal: a miami final.
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post #5 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:23 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Quote:
Originally Posted by Clara Bow
Which clay courter in the past three years or so has "proudly proclaimed their hatred" of the green stuff.
As far as I remember, no one since Rios said grass is for cows.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Clara Bow
I would heartily disagree. I have seen plenty of condemnation (and sometimes it is quite meanspirited) on clay court specialists.
I TOTALLY agree with you.
This article is a joke.

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post #6 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:23 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Thanks for the interesting article.
Federer usually can play pretty well on all surfaces largely because he is able to think out each point.
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post #7 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:36 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Let's not count Nadal's Miami final as the strongest argument in this debate. That is a hardcourt, but it's a sloooooooooowww hardcourt.

edit: I was actually impressed with his USO results last year. I vaguely remember some people thought he would lose in the first round there.

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post #8 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:48 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Quote:
Let's not count Nadal's Miami final as the strongest argument in this debate. That is a hardcourt, but it's a sloooooooooowww hardcourt.
Discounting that- he still made a good show at this year's Aussie Open. The only time he played at Wimbledon when he was 17 he made it to the third round, the youngest to do so since Becker. Also - the only time he played Wimbledon as a junior he made it to the semis.

But even discounting Nadal- this idea that all clay courters only want to do well on clay courts and can't do anything on hard courts is still not accurate. DanEd's post illustrated that quite well. This article is so 2000 - it just doesn't really hold water for me nowadays. Yes- you may have your Coria who won't do well at Wimbledon but gosh darn if he did not seem to give it his all when he did play in 2004. On on the other side of the coin you have player like Pim Pim- who will do best on fast courts but I don't think that makes him a player to be dismissed.

Discounting even that- there still lies that fact that much of what this guys says is unture. He makes it sound like when Wimbledon arrives all Spanish speakers (with the exception of Nalbandian - although I bet this guy doesn't even know who David is) go around yelling about how much they hate grass. So wrong.

Boy- this article really irked me. I get tired of the dismissive attitude that there is sometimes towards clay courters ("they don't play real modern tennis, they just get the ball back, don't need real brains to do what they do," etc.) I need to pack for vacation but now I'm tempted to write an email to this fellow. He may be my most disliked sports writer since the incredibly mean spirted/tennis hating Sally Jenkins.

Last edited by Clara Bow; 05-21-2005 at 04:00 AM.
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post #9 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:52 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

let's shoot him
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post #10 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:52 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

A perfect example of somebody who just started following tennis yesterday. I don't suppose that this fellow is a poster here?

I guess this is why we see so many cover stories with "the next great fastballer" written beside Roddick's head.

Mike? My avatar would like a word with you.

I lack direction.

Chocking makes me sad.

Last edited by Chloe; 05-21-2005 at 03:57 AM.
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post #11 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 03:57 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Seriously, this article would have been a fantastic satire.

I lack direction.

Chocking makes me sad.
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post #12 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 04:01 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Quote:
Mike? My avatar would like a word with you.
__________________
And could your avatar tell Mike that my sentiments are the same?

Thank you Becca's avatar.
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post #13 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 04:04 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chloe
A perfect example of somebody who just started following tennis yesterday. I don't suppose that this fellow is a poster here?


Mike? My avatar would like a word with you.
LMAO.

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post #14 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 05:17 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

What is Nalby generally considered
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post #15 of 51 (permalink) Old 05-21-2005, 05:37 AM
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Re: Financial Times: Dirtballers are only real players from April to June

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tennis Fool
What is Nalby generally considered
By this bafoon? ARG.

I lack direction.

Chocking makes me sad.
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