Saturday, August 16, 2008

John's Olympic Experience (first week)

With the first week almost over, I thought I'd offer my personal perspective so far.

Television coverage has been inexplicably bad, as noted by The Chronicle.

Now, I happen to like beach volleyball. It's a sport I'm pretty good at, from experience with tennis and regular volleyball. I have this fantasy of wangling my way onto the Latvian team by way of my paternal grandmother. So I don't mind that coverage. But I do agree that other sports like table tennis, and non-US athletes, have gotten the least coverage ever.

The announcing I also don't mind so much. The schmaltz factor seems to be toned down since Athens. If you like to quantify such things, here's Slate magazine's "Sap-O-Meter":

But I can't let the piss-poor tennis coverage pass. We scanned the TV listings and Tivo'ed sometimes 8-12 hours per day, any block on any channel that mentioned "tennis" in its program summary. We didn't get any tennis the first 3 days, and after that only a few points here and there, no charts showing the draws or results, hardly even any match highlights. It was over a day between the time we heard that James Blake lost in the semifinals, to the point we heard who he had lost to, i.e. the other player besides Nadal who would be in the gold-medal match. Couldn't find the men's semifinals anywhere.

On other occasions when big tennis events are covered on more than one channel simultaneously, we've always been able to pick up the pattern after the first day. One channel has highlights, another jumps around while matches are on live, a certain time slot has the best match of the day, any remaining American will get a night match, and so on. This time, not a glimmer of any pattern. And online updates are a Catch-22. Because we're a day or so behind with the watching, it's no good reading the tennis news or going to the Olympic site for the draw, that would just give away matches that we forlornly imagine might be in some block we haven't seen yet.

The most interesting tennis story for me from the Olympics is Roger Federer. I'm concerned by his lack of confidence lately, and I didn't think he played very well in the Wimbledon final, despite all the "best match of all time" blather. His loss to Blake demonstrated that he didn't read my blog post about things to learn from Nadal. He didn't change up the speed when the rallies got hard and flat as Blake prefers. When he ran around his backhand, his forehands were either predictable inside-out ones, or he missed the occasional down-the-line attempt or didn't put anything on it.

Winning the doubles gold may help Federer get back on track. In doubles, you have to keep things positive with your partner all the time. Instead of hanging your head after you (or your partner) make a bad shot, you have to cultivate short-term memory loss. If the opponents win a point with a good play, you can still give your partner a fist bump or low five to acknowledge that you're following the right strategy. Serving in doubles involves changing positions, going for extra angle, and getting a high percentage of first serves -- all things that have gone wrong for a game or two during each of Federer's recent losses. The net play forces you to hit volleys in crunch situations, unlike the Wimbledon final where Roger had too many desperation volleys in the fifth set, and even ceded the net to Rafa over the last couple of games. And doing it for Queen and Country, and mentoring a less-experienced player through a bunch of tough matches, may help Roger in singles when he needs to visualize the positives of getting through a close match, not just the negatives like "shouldn't lose to this guy", "there goes the #1 ranking", "Rafa made a comeback, maybe this guy will too", and so on.

No comments: