Friday, May 16, 2008

Cutie Little Doggies

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Henin To Call it Quits

By Tennis Week

Justine Henin is ready to walk away from professional tennis. The World No. 1 will make an announcement about her future at a press conference in Belgium today.

The Belgian media reports Henin will either announce her retirement or reveal plans to take an extended break from tennis.

The seven-time Grand slam champion withdrew from this week's Rome tournament citing fatigue, incurring a $20,000 fine. Henin has posted a 22-4 record on the season. She won two of the first three tournaments she entered — beating Svetlana Kuznetsova, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to win the Sydney title in her first tournament of the season and crushing Karin Knapp, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Antwerp title in her native Belgium — but since that strong start her tradedmark tenacity and competitive spirit has been lacking. A weary Henin has gone 5-3 in her last eight matches and looked lethargic in a 6-2, 6-0, quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams at the Sony Ericsson Open as well as a 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, setback to Dinara Safina in the third round of last week's German Open in Berlin.

Henin is only 25 years old, but the accelerated pace of the pro circuit prompted her to consider life after tennis. Henin hinted at her desire to retire in a press conference with the media in Berlin last week.

"I'm young in life, but starting to get old on the tour," Henin said. "I'm growing up and I need different things. Even physically I don't recover as well as I did when I was 20. That's normal. Now I've been playing tennis for 20 years and it's been my whole life but as a woman, as you get older, you need to think about the future. I'd love to go back to study. It would be a good challenge and I've been thinking about it a lot recently."


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ferrero Snaps Nadal's Streak

By Richard Evans
Rafael Nadal did not want to repeat himself after he had lost the Italian title he had held for three successive years. He did not want to appear a sore loser but, in reality, there was no chance of that.

Nadal, who lost here today to compatriot Juan Carlo Ferrero 7-5, 6-1, has been saying it loud and clear ever since the Miami, before the compressed and impossibly tough European clay court season ever started. He has been saying that the calendar during this part of the year is ridiculous for any top clay court player trying to grab all the ranking points he can on his favored surface. He told us after winning Monte Carlo two weeks ago; he told us again after winning Barcelona on Sunday.

And when he woke up after that last victory and was unable to put his blistered feet on the carpeted floor of his hotel room, he knew he had been right. But, of course, he was asked his opinion on the matter anyway and, in answer to whether he would try once more to talk to ATP boss Etienne de Villiers, he said, "I have nothing more to say to this man. We spoke to him last year, trying to understand why he is doing these things but it is impossible; it is a waste of time. But when I lose I do not want to talk about these things. I want to congratulate Juan Carlos. He is a fine player and a nice person and this was an important win for him."

Nadal, whether winning or losing, is a credit to this sport and it was sad to see him so obviously hobbled by his condition against Ferrero. He had the trainer on at the end of the first set to tear great strips of taping off his feet and apply more antisceptic cream but it was no good.

"I could only put my foot down like this, at an angle, because of the pain, no?" he explained after his 17-match Rome winning streak came to an end. "I try to try my best but it was impossible."

In the end, Ferrero just had to put the ball out of Nadal’s reach and the man who has covered acres of court these past few weeks, reaching balls that no one else would even contemplate chasing, could only stand and stare balefully at the ball as it sped away from him.

This unexpected defeat has ruined the chance of another Nadal final against Roger Federer which is sad for the tournament; sad for tennis and very bad for the image of the ATP. To be fair to those who try to make sense of the highly complicated calendar, finding a solution to the problem that Nadal and other clay courters feel so strongly about is far from easy, especially when Miami is played a week later. Next year, of course, the situation will be exacerbated by Madrid moving into May from October with a ten day men’s and women’s event to take the place of Hamburg which is being pushed into a slot after Wimbledon. However, even that is dependent on the ATP successfully defending the lawsuit, slated for Delaware in July, against the German Federation who are furious at the treatment they have received from the men’s governing body.

But, in the meantime, Nadal is heading home to Mallorca for a well earned rest. "I will try to go with best feelings to Hamburg," said Nadal. Our best feelings are with him.

Ferrero will now play Stanislas Wawrinka who defeated Britain’s Andy Murray 6-2, 7-6 under the lights on Court One.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Erik Spoelstra (Phil-Am) -- New Miami Heat Head Coach

On April 28, Pat Riley announced that he decided to step down as Head Coach of the Miami HEAT but will continue to serve as team President, ending a Hall of Fame coaching career. On Monday, Managing General Partner Micky Arison and Riley jointly announced that Assistant Coach/Director of Scouting Erik Spoelstra has been elevated to Head Coach. Spoelstra becomes the sixth Head Coach in franchise history. Following his introductory press conference, HEAT Insider got a chance to catch up with the HEAT’s new Head Coach:

HEAT Insider: Your father, Jon Spoelstra, is a long-time NBA executive, who spent time as General Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers. How much influence did he have on inspiring you to become a Head Coach?

Erik Spoelstra: “He’s been involved in the NBA since I was four or five years old. He didn’t necessarily introduce me to coaching directly, but indirectly he did because I was always around the game, particularly the NBA game. When he worked for the Portland Trail Blazers, I remember going to 41 home games every year. I think I was the only kid that went to every single home game. I went to all the practices. When it was convenient with my schedule, I went to all the summer practices. He kind of opened the door and stoked the fire.”

HI: Your father was an innovator in finding certain numbers and statistics in analyzing the game. Are you the same way?

ES: “To be frank, I’m many different things with this organization, but I’m a computer geek, stats and information collector. That’s my comfort level. I really find comfort in watching film and obtaining knowledge and I use statistics and computer generated stuff to help me get those stats. That was probably a result of my father’s influence on me at a young age. We’re always trying to evolve and find more efficient ways, more fluent ways to evaluate our players, evaluate our opponent and evaluate our prospects.”

HI: How did your family react when you broke the news of becoming the new HEAT Head Coach?

ES: “My parents were thrilled. My mom was beside herself – she could barely speak. My pops was very happy for me, very proud. Then he ended the conversation the way he normally does: He said, ‘Time to get to work.’”

HI: Do you have any good stories growing up in the Portland Trail Blazers organization?

ES: “Steve Colter was almost a cult figure in Portland when he played for the Trail Blazers. One time, he came over, I must have been in the 7th grade, and we played one-on-one (at my parent’s home in Portland, OR). He actually dunked on me and broke our hoop. Until this day, we still haven’t fixed the hoop. We bent it upward. It’s still there, and it’s a constant reminder of that one-on-one experience.”

HI: You and Stan Van Gundy are still good friends. Are you going to be asking him for advice because he is a guy who knows what it’s like to replace Pat Riley?

ES: “Absolutely. He’s been a huge influence on me and my career. More importantly, he’s been a great friend. I will pick his brain as much as he’ll allow me to until it gets to training camp, where I’m sure he’ll pull the plug on that. He’s been a great resource. Even now, we still talk on the phone and I’ll ask him his opinion on a lot of stuff.”

HI: How much of your personality do you have to change now that you’re Head Coach?

ES: “My voice will change a little bit, but I have to be me. I believe strongly in the culture and the way we’ve done things, particularly the kind of person we bring into the family and into the organization. I’ve done that as an assistant coach. I know the dynamic will change a little bit when I’m sitting in the head seat, but I’m going to still try to do the things that I’ve done while assisting the head coach.”

HI: How would you describe your coaching personality?

ES: “That will work itself out. I have to be true to myself, and that’s what I know for sure. I can’t try to be anybody else. That’s what I’ve done as an assistant coach. I’ve been put into a lot of positions where I had to coach. When you work for Pat Riley, you’re not just putting your hands on the basket and hanging out during practice. He puts you in positions where you have to coach. You have to be enthusiastic and fierce with your preparation and work ethic. As we move forward, I think that will all work itself out.”

HI: Will you keep the current coaching staff?

ES: “Continuity is very important to me. I have an incredible trust level with those guys; we’ve worked together for so long. It’s unique. We’ve experienced a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, a lot of wins, a lot of losses and adversity. You really get to know someone when you win, but it goes to a whole other level when you’re losing. We have a very strong bond and I know I’m going to have to lean on them quite a bit.”

HI: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

ES: “My expectations are to get to work immediately. We’re going to try to get a core group of guys who believe in our culture and are ready to work next year at training camp. Certainly, this time next year our plan is to be playing (in the playoffs) instead of watching.”

HI: Is it easier to take over a younger team than a veteran team?

ES: “I don’t know if it’s easier; you never know when your opportunity will come to be a Head Coach, if it comes at all. Last year when Pat would make comments like, ‘Be ready,’ you kind of go down that road and put yourself in that chair. Even last summer there were times where I had to get my train of thought right. I feel like I would have been ready to take on (a veteran team) just as I’m ready to take on this team right here. I feel comfortable with the core guys coming back. They know me and I know them. There’s a trust level there already. From that standpoint, there’s a little bit of a comfort level.”

HI: You have no NBA playing experience. Do you think not having NBA playing experience will affect your relationship with the players now that you’re Head Coach?

ES: “I think the connection, the trust level and experience and my 13 years working with players matter most to them. They all want the same thing; they all want someone who can help them be successful. They’re drawn to people who want to be successful and they’re drawn to people they feel have a certain level of competence, integrity and work ethic. I feel with the core people we have and the people who know me trust my work ethic and know that I’ll be fierce with my preparation and the time and thought that I put into my job.”

HI: In an era where many coaches get fired after one year, how much pressure do you feel in your first head coaching job?

ES: “I’m just focused on the opportunity. We have a huge summer ahead of us. We have a lot of work to do. It’s a big challenge. It starts first with the draft and then free agency and then evaluating our players and so forth. I’ve seen it, but if you talk to a coach 20 years ago, they’d say it was a volatile time then. I’m not sure if there’s ever a perfect time, there’s just the time, the time when you do get the opportunity.”

HI: Will you have a voice in free agency and the draft?

ES: “I think we’re going to work together. I’m not confused by my position. I’m hired as the head coach, to coach the team. Players who are there, I’ll coach them. I will have a voice on that. Pat is still my boss. He is the leader of this franchise. He will be hand picking the guys, but we’ve had several conversations, even when I was an assistant coach, about players we want to bring in. I think I’ll have enough of a voice.”