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Tennis Blog by T.A. Niles 9/1/08

September 15, 2008 08:30 AM

Old School Rant: Crude Ain’t Cool


I hadn’t had a chance to watch much of the US Open because of my fortunate run at the USTA National Men's 45, 50 Grass Court Championships in Philadelphia, so it was with great anticipation that I approached the couch, beverage in hand. Andy Roddick, playing as well as I have seen in some time, was playing Andreas Seppi. I was quite content until….

Forgive me for being old school and/or entirely uncool, but it jangled my last nerve to see CBS repeatedly replaying Andy Roddick’s childish and absolutely unsportsmanlike act of smashing multiple racquets on the court surface. Not surprisingly, John McEnroe and crew glorified the behavior as though it were something to be proud of.

Watching that behavior struck a sharp note of contrast in me, as I recalled walking the grounds of the three historical venues in our sport that we were privileged to play last week during the Grass Court Championships. The Germantown, Philadelphia, and Merion Cricket Clubs were all conceived in the 1800s, and all retain much of the genteel legacy of that era.

In particular, the pristine, manicured lawns and well-maintained grounds of the Merion Cricket Club conveyed an aura of tranquility, and reminded me of the civilized competition that once characterized our game. Yes there are still players who demonstrate sportsmanship, who embody a spirit of playing for the love of the game and pushing oneself to the limit. As each generation passes, such players appear to be on the verge of extinction.

There seem to be more and more players, like McEnroe and Roddick, who seem to find it acceptable to engage in violent eruptions on court, who have no qualms about abusing linespersons and umpires. Increasingly, I observe players to whom winning is everything, and integrity is an outdated concept. Those are the players who wait until you are serving at 4-5 in the second set to call a serve that kicked chalk up into the air, “Out.”

Fortunately I play in an age group where the majority of players are still stellar sportsmen. Most of the men’s 45 players playing the USTA Florida circuit are sportsmen who will scrap with you to the bitter end, but will not use underhanded means to win a match.

In the six matches that I played last week in the USPTA and USTA National Grass Court Championships, all but one of my opponents were consummate sportsmen. However, others were far less fortunate. Although I wish they were not necessary, the red, blue and khaki uniforms of the USTA officials that roamed the premises were very welcome sites throughout the week.

As I ponder the direction our game is taking, I find it sad that our technological advances are being countered by cultural declines. What are junior players to think when John McEnroe, one of the worst sportsmen our sport has ever seen is utilized as the face of our sport?

I suspect that I am in the minority, but I would like to see those with influence in the game (such as TV commentators) emphasize that throwing and breaking racquets, cursing at opponents or court officials, and stealing points that one didn’t earn, are all unacceptable practices, rather than offering commentary that insinuates that such behavior is, not only acceptable, but hip.

Game, set, match….
T.A. Niles



How the Floridians Fared in Philly
at the USTA National Men's 45, 50 Grass Court Championships

It was a terrific run making it to the quarterfinal of a USTA national event, especially playing on the surface for the first time. Of course I would like to have won the event, but realistically speaking, a good draw allowed me to finish 4-1 in matches played, two against seeded players, at one of the biggest events of the year for the Men’s 45 Division. Not at all bad.

The 17 Florida players who played the USTA National Men’s 45, 50 Grass Court Championships went a combined 36-37 in total matches played, despite getting off to a good start. That less than stellar record is not surprising given that clay is the surface of choice for most senior players in Florida.

Despite the relative mediocrity of our combined record, Gary Clermont of Ft. Lauderdale emerged as the clear MVP of the Floridians in Philly. He reached the quarters of the Men’s 45 singles main draw, and won the doubles consolation with Michael Curry of Jamaica, NY.

Clermont lost to No.1 seed and eventual winner, Val Wilder, 6-3, 6-3 in singles, playing much better than the score indicates. He, and doubles partner Michael Curry of Jamaica, NY won their first match, then lost to No.1 seeds, Val Wilder and Mike Fedderly, 6-3, 6-2. I think Gary has seen enough of Val for a while. Overall, Clermont finished 9-3 in singles (3-2) and doubles (6-1) combined.

Other Men’s 45s

Selim Benbadis of Tampa went 1-2 winning his first main draw match and losing his second main draw and first consolation match. David Blackstone of North Miami Beach (2-2) lost his first main draw match, but won two in the back draw before bowing out to the 15th seed and eventual back draw finalist, Kenneth Dill of Wilmington, Delaware.

William Donadio of Winter Park lost the one match he played in singles and the one match he played in doubles for a 0-2 record. Michael Erbe (2-3) of Seminole won two matches, one in the singles main draw and one in the doubles consolation with Mark Woldmoe of Fishers, Indiana. Dean Ziff (0-2) lost both of his matches in the singles main and consolation draws

In total, Florida’s Men’s 45 representatives finished 18-15 for a winning record against stiff competition. Florida’s contingent in the Men’s 50s didn’t fare quite as well.

Men’s 50s

Jeffrey Winkler of St. Petersburg (4-1), Dave Vaughan of Fort Myers (4-2) and Kerry Clapper of Clermont (4-3) carried the banner for this division. Winkler won his first match before going out 7-6 in the third in the second round. He then went on to win three matches in the consolation draw, before withdrawing in the fourth round. Vaughan won one main draw and three consolation singles matches, while Clapper won two main draw matches before losing to the No.11 seed. Clapper also won one of the two matches he played in the singles consolation draw, got one doubles main draw victory.

Other Men’s 50s

Kevin Manning (1-1) of Clearwater was seeded 5th but lost his second match in a three-set thriller to Phillip Dubsky, who made it to the quarters before losing in another three-set war to Paul Moss, the 12th seed and eventual semifinalist. Joe Bouquin (4-4) of Delray Beach contributed significantly to both the win and loss columns. He posted a 3-2 singles record, winning one match in the main draw and two in the consolations. He also went 1-2 in doubles, winning one main draw match.

Other members of the 50s contingent struggled a bit on the unfamiliar grass. Gary Downing of Tampa (0-3) failed to gain a win in the three matches that he played, losing in singles main and consolation draws, and his lone doubles match. Michael Echevarria (1-3) of Tampa won his first round match before losing in the singles main and consolation draws. He also lost his lone doubles match.

The other seeded player from Florida, Van Gladfelter (0-2) of Tampa, was seeded 10th and put up a good fight in his first round match. But Gladfelter fell in three sets to Chris Blair of Richmond, Virginia. Blair went on to make the round of 16 and provided eventual winner Peter Markes of Austin, Texas a stiff test.

Weller Evans of Ponte Vedra (1-2) won his first round match, but lost his next two in the main and consolation draws. David Van Dyke (0-2) of Maitland also fell victim to Chris Blair and lost his consolation match as well.

All in all, it was great performing well at some of the historic venues of our sport and sharing the camaraderie with the other members of the Florida contingent.

Game, set, match…
T.A. Niles

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Tim, Bradenton
100% Agreed.  I will take Roger's and Rafa's class over Roddick being a punk and McEnroe.


T.A. Niles, Ft. Myers
Interesting point from Coach J. Webb Horton of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers about the prestigious cricket clubs in Philly excluding people of African descent like Althea Gibson. However, I think I would have to make note of such exclusions if I talked about almost any establishment or institution in this country prior to the 1950s and, of course, some after that. In fact, I bet we could find some right now if we looked hard enough. I’m not interested in that search though. I’m more about talking about and enjoying what people of all creeds and hues can share today, and tennis is one of those. We certainly owe gratitude to those of all skin colors, religions, nationalities, etc. who pioneered and persevered despite restrictions, and I don’t forget that. Glad you don’t either Coach.

Rich DeSousa of Estero wondered if starting a men’s match at 11:30 p.m. was a good way to expose and promote the game. If it was the only match scheduled for the evening, and scheduled at that time, I would say “No” emphatically. However, since it was a match following other matches, and a match that needed to be played to keep the tournament on schedule, then I don’t think it hurts the game’s exposure and/or promotion. I’d rather have it on at 11:30 p.m. than not on at all!


J. Webb, Ft. Myers
Good stuff! Do not forget that those clubs in Philadelphia excluded Blacks for years. They would not let Althea Gibson play in the tournaments leading up to Forest Hills.

Mark, Ft. Myers
T.A.'s new blog looks great. The pic at the grass courts made me want to have been there. It does look like Roddick needs a little PR help after this Open.

Rich, Estero
Thanks for the updates.  I agree with your comments regarding appropriate or lack of conduct. What are your thoughts about starting a men’s match at 11:30 p.m.?  To me, it doesn't seem like a good way to promote and expose the game to a wider audience.  How about from a pro’s perspective?


T.A. Niles, Ft. Myers
There were some great responses to the rant about sportsmanship. Steve (that was you wasn’t it?), I’ll bet those racquets would auction just fine if they weren’t smashed. Sorry, no excuse for that behavior, period. I really like Keith’s take. Too bad it was too long for the entire thing to be posted. The serious fine that would make transgressions something that the millionaire brats would have to think about is a good idea, but not likely to happen. I think the behavior fits right in with today’s culture, and I suspect more people would rather see it than not.

Gary, thanks for the kind words, but as Jeff Davis pointed out, my reporting on our guys at the tournament wasn’t very good since I missed the fact that Jeff Winkler won the silver ball in the Men’s 50s. Jeff actually finished with an 8-2 record, and was the only one of us to finish with some main draw hardware. Way to go Jeff (both of you). Jeff’s wins in the doubles draw means that the Florida contingent actually finished with a winning record at the USTA National Men’s 45, 50 Grass Court Championships after all: 40-38. Not bad for some clay courters.

Best to get your boo boos out of the way early, isn’t it? I’m shooting for better journalism next time. Please don’t hesitate to call me on the carpet when I fail to bring the “A” game.


Selim, Tampa
To add to T.A.'s points about sportsmanship, here are the best 5 seconds to judge character: the post-match handshake. It is impressive how Ferrer, Almagro (at this US Open), and Federer, Nadal, and many others, after a grueling battle and losing a match they perhaps should have won (Almagro had match points) ... find the elegance, be it for 5 seconds, to look the opponent in the eyes and genuinely congratulate him... even though they are very annoyed at the time. In the past Becker and even Johnny Mac (yes, T.A ;-) showed that elegance. THAT (in tough defeats) is when you judge character. Then, by contrast, you have the girly (or junior) looking-away 1/2 a second pseudo-handshake...

Cliff, Coppell TX
T.A., well done! Hope to see you at the indoors.

Keith, Boca Raton (comment edited)
Why not fine the players a considerable amount of money not the usual wrist slap of $5,000 but something that would hurt their wallet and give the money to Junior Tennis or to the Futures tour whose total purse is as little as $10,000. Donald Young threw his racket out of the Stadium at an ATP event in Delray Beach and luckily did not hit anyone with it and was was given a warning and fined $5,000 by the ATP. Imagine if he had hit a little kid with his racket, wouldn't that be great for the game?  If a child is caught cheating or being abusive they need to be immediately defaulted and if it happens again throw them out for a month and keep doing it till they get the hint that the behavior will NOT be tolerated.

Gary, Ft. Lauderdale
Thanks to Val Wilder whom after winning both the singles and doubles at the 45s volunteered his time and energy to come to the Berkshires to play an exhibition to benefit two tennis foundations, the Jenna Marcovicci, Dance of Tennis Inner City Foundation, and the Heart Like A Wheel Foundation. Val's heart is in a great place.

Steve, Boca Raton & Poughkeepsie, NY
Nice article. Thanks to the USTA for bringing T.A. aboard! He will be a great asset to the site. Also, nice picture of my buddy Selim in a photo with a wrap on his knee. Hope he is OK! One more point, I know it's childish for Andy to smash racquets, but they do go to auction for charity.

Hummy, Scottsdale
Love it TA! Always enjoyed Suite 101! Looking forward to MORE!

Milan, Ft. Myers
Great Job with article and results in Philly!

Chris, Daytona Beach
"Rage Roiddick".  That is funny.

Gary, Ft. Lauderdale
Congratulations to T.A. for another quality piece of journalism. I agree that Roddick's boorish behavior is inexcusable and would personally take him to the woodshed to settle the tantrums. This "American" skipped the Olympics to pick up padding points and still got smoked by younger talent.  He deserves the "french moniker on his hat”...as for McEnroe, his talent so far exceeded "Rage Roiddick’s" that we excused his behavior as the rant of genius. Thanks T.A. nice to have you on board as a voice to tell it like it is and how it should be.

Steve, Bradenton
T.A., well done in the National Grass and with your blog. Keep it up. I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

Rob, Ft. Myers
I agree. I wish there were more sportsman in this game we love.

Amy, Ft. Myers
Thank you for you thoughts on sportsmanship. I was appalled at both Roddicks behavior and the commenters response. This is a terrible roll model for the up and coming players.

Jeff, Treasure Island
It should be noted that Jeff Winkler earned a silver ball in Men's 50 doubles by reaching the finals with partner Kenny House.

Gustavo, Mexico
Hi, let me tell you that it is amazing to know people that after many years in tennis, still think on how to give more. You are a great example!







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