I've written in the past about tennis' Grand Slam problem (link here).  Now I am going to attack another major issue that I have with the professional game: its ridiculously complicated, confusing, and unnecessary ranking system.

At first glance, the way that professional tennis players are ranked may not seem very complicated or confusing.  Novak Djokovic has been the #1 ranked player on the men's tour for a good portion of the last three years, and anyone who has followed the game in that time frame can attest to him being the best player in the world.  Andy Murray is currently ranked second, and is widely regarded as the biggest threat to Djokovic's reign at the top of the rankings due to his recent Grand Slam wins at Wimbledon and last year's US Open.

To find the real issue with the current ranking system, go back to this time last year.  In 2012, Serena Williams was without a doubt the best player in women's tennis, finishing the year by winning the last two majors (Wimbledon and the US Open), both in very convincing fashion.  So where was Serena ranked at the end of the year?  Yep you guessed it, third.  Third???  It took her until after the Australian Open in 2013 to regain the top spot in the rankings.  And where did she finish at the first major of the season?  She must have won it to jump over two players to get to the top right?  Wrong.  She lost in the quarterfinals.  And the #1 ranked player, Victoria Azarenka, won the tournament, yet less than a month later she lost her top ranking to Serena.  Makes perfect sense right?

If you try to figure out how the tennis ranking system works, get ready to have a headache afterwards.  A college degree in math is required to figure this system out.  I'll try my best to summarize it for you. 

I focused on the men's ATP Tour's ranking system, which is a bit different from the women's WTA Tour's system.  The main differences are the amount of points given out for each tournament and which tournaments are mandatory for players to compete at.  On the men's side, each player is required to play 18 tournaments throughout the season, which include the four Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open), along with eight Masters Series events which are basically a step down from a Grand Slam.  There is a ninth Masters Series event which is optional to participate at.  The top 30 players are required to also play in at least four "500-level" tournaments (500 refers to the amount of points the winner receives - a Grand Slam win garners 2,000 points while a Masters Series win garners 1,000).  Those not in the top 30 have no requirements regarding the rest of their schedule, yet they will only be able to count points from four of the "500-level" tournaments.  I'll give you a minute to digest that and take a couple of Excedrin.

So to simplify that a bit, the top men's players must play the four majors and the eight Masters events, with all the points from those events counting towards their ranking.  They can then play as many other tournaments as they want (if in the top 30 they must play four "500-level" events); with only the best six results counting towards their ranking.  So a player could enter another 15 events, lose in the first round in nine of them, and have all nine of those losses mean nothing to their ranking.  Seems like an odd way to get the top players to show up at the lesser-known events (there's other ways to get them to show up that involve their wallets but we'll just skip over that for now).

So obviously there's a problem with only counting certain results and not others, but the main issue I have with this ranking system is the fact that it lasts for 52 weeks, which is different than lasting for an entire year.  Let me explain that sentence.  When you look at the current rankings (link here), that is the current 52 week ranking for every player.  It is not the 2013 rankings for every player.  All the tournaments from last August until now are included in the current rankings.  If a player had a great last couple of months of 2012, their ranking is inflated and not accurate. 

Counting an entire year's worth of tournaments requires players to "defend" points from the previous year.  A player who does well at a specific tournament last year must do just as well this year or else they actually lose points in their ranking.  For example, Rafael Nadal beat David Ferrer in the finals of the French Open this year, and Ferrer actually went ahead of Nadal in the rankings.  Since Nadal had won the event the year before, he was defending his entire 2,000 points and did not gain anything from winning a Grand Slam event.  Ferrer improved from making the semifinals in 2012 to making the finals in 2013, gaining 480 points even though he still lost.  Those 480 points put him ahead of the player that he lost to.  Makes sense right?

In my opinion, the rankings should reward players who are performing at a high level this season, not in the past year.  Playing well on hard courts in 2012 should have no effect on your ranking at Wimbledon in 2013.  How you are playing in 2013 should ultimately affect your current ranking.  If that was the case, Novak Djokovic would not be the top-ranked player on the men's side; Rafael Nadal would be.

Player

ATP Pts

ATP Rank

YTD Pts

YTD Rank

Novak Djokovic

12310

1

6230

2

Andy Murray

9360

2

4910

3

David Ferrer

7120

3

4490

4

Rafael Nadal

6860

4

7010

1

Roger Federer

5875

5

2710

6

Tomas Berdych

4865

6

2960

5

Juan Martin Del Potro

4500

7

2440

8

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

3480

8

2455

7

Richard Gasquet

3045

9

1605

13

Stanislas Wawrinka

2915

10

2150

9

Kei Nishikori

2495

11

1365

15

Tommy Haas

2395

12

1950

10

Milos Raonic

2225

13

1205

18

Nicolas Almagro

2135

14

1925

11

Marin Cilic

2075

15

1165

19

Gilles Simon

2055

16

1430

14

Jerzy Janowicz

2029

17

1280

17

Janko Tipsarevic

2025

18

535

63

Fabio Fognini

1970

19

1700

12

Sam Querrey

1730

20

845

34

Guys outside the Top 20

ATP Pts

ATP Rank

YTD Pts

YTD Rank

Kevin Anderson

1635

21

1335

16

Benoit Paire

1405

27

1165

19

There doesn't seem to be much difference between the top 20 players' rankings using their 2013 results until you get to #18 Janko Tipsarevic.  He had a great August through December of 2012, which adds over 1,500 points to his current ranking.  Unless he gets hot on the hard courts, his ranking at the end of this year is going to plummet due to him not being able to defend all of his points from last year.  However he shouldn't be rewarded with a top 20 seed at the last major of the season just because he played well last year.  That's like giving the Miami Heat 10 wins to start next season because they won the NBA Finals.  Once the calendar year starts your ranking should start too.

I tried to find an explanation as to why the rankings are like this, and was unsuccessful.  I understand why they are used at the beginning of the season, as there needs to be a way to seed the top players at the Australian Open.  You wouldn't be able to use the year-to-date rankings at the first major, since it is held so early in the season and there isn't a mandatory event prior to the first Slam.  I have no problem with using last year's rankings for the first couple of months of the year, up until the early Masters Series tournaments.  But there is no reason to be using last year's results to determine this year's seeds at the last major of the year.  When you look at baseball's standings, you're not looking at the win-loss records for the last 162 games (thank God since the Red Sox would be way out of first place if we were).  So why does tennis need to show us who the best player in the last year is?  

Monday Night Raw Review - 7.22.13

Segment 1 - Contract signing for SummerSlam between John Cena and Daniel Bryan

I hate contract signing segments.  They are so unnecessary.  So basically I'm supposed to believe that even though Brad Maddox gave John Cena the option of picking his opponent at SummerSlam that the match wasn't official until they signed their names on a piece of paper?  Where's the doubt behind either person signing the contract?  Cena will sign it because he picked his opponent (more on that to come), and Bryan will sign it because he wouldn't get this opportunity unless he was chosen by Cena.  Plus he basically celebrated for the last five minutes of last week's show.  They could have run this entire promo without having the contract signing angle involved.  The only redeeming part of any contract signing segment is if one of the two combatants ends up through the table, which can't happen in this storyline since they are both faces.

I also hate how Cena has to remind the crowd why he's a face and beg for them to cheer for him.  It's been blatantly obvious for a long period of time that a majority of the crowd - especially the adult crowd - do not like Cena or his character.  Yet it seems in every one of his promos he has to try to remind people why he is the good guy and pander for some cheap cheers.  Last week it was having the audience choose his opponent for him because they are who he performs for (not the money he's making).  This week it was reminding everyone that Bryan deserved this shot and that size doesn't matter, with a few name drops to stop the crowd from booing him.  It's really getting old how they do not let him embrace the fact that half the crowd hates his guts.  It's obvious that they are petrified of turning him heel or even letting him straddle the fence between heel and face like others have (Orton, HHH, and Austin immediately come to mind).  We don't need to be reminded that we should cheer for him; that only makes it easier and easier to boo him.

Last small point: Brad Maddox has gotten much better on the mic.  Choosing him as the general manager is intriguing, and there is something about him that is very charismatic and interesting.  Those pants he had on however were a nightmare.

Segment 2 - Alberto Del Rio vs. Sheamus

Didn't watch it.  Didn't want to.  Not interested.  They have killed both of these characters, made them boring and stale, and seemingly have no idea what to do with either of them.  They were both great heels who got ruined by an ill-timed face turn that was not planned out well.  They wanted a face Mexican wrestler that they could push to replace Rey Mysterio (and make us forget how terrible Sin Cara is) so badly that they turned one of their best heels in Del Rio.  While it's easy to pull for Ricardo Rodriguez, it's hard to pull for Del Rio as a face.  It's especially hard when his face promos were half English and half Spanish.  While they worked when the shows were in Texas or California, they didn't work well in other places.  It really didn't help that his first face feud was against Dolph Ziggler, who the crowd was begging them to turn face.  The turn back to heel hasn't worked out well either, though not having Ricardo as a mouthpiece is definitely hurting Del Rio.

Sheamus is just boring.  This is coming from someone who has red hair, who was a big fan of his, and was him for Halloween last year (thankfully there are no pictures of this floating around).  I'm not sure what it is.  He puts on solid matches (the street fight vs. Sandow a few weeks back on Smackdown was one of the best I've seen in recent memory), he's over with the crowd, and he's good on the mic.  Yet it's obvious that they don't really have a plan for him.  The 1800-FELLA skits are pretty lame, and they make him look more like a joke and less like the beast that he used to be.  It seems like he has feuded with everyone so maybe a little time off would be smart.  They could continue working the leg injury angle since he clearly got a bit hurt at the Money In The Bank match.

Segment 3 - Christian vs. Titus O'Neil

So we haven't seen the Prime Time Players in months, and now all of a sudden they get matches on Raw, and we are supposed to believe for a second that one of them is going to win?  The only reason to watch this is to hear Titus bark, which is better than his promos.

Segment 4 - Ryback's backstage interview

Yet another guy that they turned for no reason.  How do you go from over with the crowd to dead with the crowd in a month?  See Ryback.  Then they booked him like a whiny, complaining quitter.  And now he shows how tough he is by intimidating a backstage interviewer.  Oh boy I'm scared.  Great job with him.

Segment 5 - Mark Henry, the Shield, and the Usos

Like we couldn't see this coming.  I like the match, I like the pairing of Henry and the Usos, and I love Henry turning face.  It's just that this was so predictable that anyone could see this coming.  One guy calls out three, three guys beat up one guy, two guys come out for the save, three on three match for next event.  What's creative about that?  A five-year old could figure out these storylines.  It would be nice if we got a reason why the Usos want to save Mark Henry.  The Shield beat up Christian a couple weeks ago and no one rescued him.  Why all of a sudden would someone come and help out The World's Strongest Man? 

Segment 6 - Cena and Bryan in the locker room

Dumb.  Bryan telling Cena to stay away from the ring during his matches tonight gives away the ending of the show.  Bryan will get either beat up or attacked by someone, Cena will make the save, Bryan will be pissed off and think Cena doesn't respect him because he's small and he's the weakest link.  Didn't they just do this with Bryan, Kane, and Orton?  This build is going to be awful.

Segment 7 - Dolph Ziggler vs. Darren Young

See the first sentence of Christian vs. Titus O'Neil.  At least O'Neil got some offense in and the announcers tried to make it sound like he has a lot of potential.  Young is just awful.  I'm convinced the only thing that keeps him in the WWE is that he looks just like John Cena.  There has to be a storyline for that.

The stuff after the match with Big E Langston and AJ was great.  I am a big fan of Langston and AJ.  I think they work well together and I want to hear more from Langston.  He has a unique personality and seems very sarcastic and condescending, plus I love the accents and the humor.  AJ's character is probably the best Diva character since Mickie James being obsessed with Trish Stratus.  She plays the role of crazy, psychotic, love struck, obsessive nutcase so well.  Her facial expressions and mannerisms are spot on.  I am very intrigued to see where this goes and am looking forward to seeing an entire lengthy match from Langston.

Segment 8 - Total Divas on MizTV

Horrendous.  That was supposed to get me to watch a show about the Divas?  How about actually having them wrestle or developing their characters?  The only Divas that I care about are AJ and Kaitlyn and they aren't on the show.  I mean the Bellas are hot and the new girl who slapped the King is pretty attractive, but if I want to see them I can just search their photos online.  Just like everyone did when they found out that Brie had a "wardrobe malfunction" during this train wreck of a segment.

You can add The Miz to the list of characters that were ruined by a face turn.  He went from headlining Wrestlemania to barely getting on Raw in no time.  He hasn't gotten worse in the ring, his mic skills have always been good, yet the face turn killed any momentum he had.  And he needs to stop doing the Figure Four since apparently Ric Flair never taught him how to work the leg over before you put the move on.  Nor did he teach him how to properly put the move on.

Segment 9 - Brad Maddox with HHH and Stephanie

Another waste of time.  Do we really need HHH to tell Brad Maddox that Daniel Bryan deserves a title shot?  Why does it matter?  Didn't he see the contract signing?  It doesn't matter if he deserves it or not now that it's "official".  This whole power struggle with the McMahons is awful and pointless.  Last I checked Vince runs the company so where is the struggle?  I can't wait for this to end... too bad I'll have to wait until NEXT APRIL.  Awful.

Segment 10 - Cody Rhodes vs. Fandango

This is what is really wrong with this company right now.  You have a guy in Fandango who could have been booked to the moon, especially after the 24 hours he had between beating Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania to the ovation he received at the next night's Raw (and throw in the Internet sensation his theme music and dance became overnight).  Instead he's jobbing to Cody Rhodes in a match that was shorter than his entrance to the ring.  Which I might add happened just a week after he had a solid match with Randy Orton in the opening segment of last week's show.  We kept hearing how much Vince McMahon loved Fandango and how much time he spent working on the character.  Maybe he should spend more time working with some of his characters and less time in a terrible storyline with his daughter and son-in-law. 

Cody Rhodes should be a top guy in this company, yet I have zero confidence that they will be able to capitalize on his performance at Money In The Bank.  Rhodes has been a personal favorite of mine for a while.  I think he has spent way too long being in the midcard (or lower), and has the talent and the mic skills to be a top tier guy.  When he was in The Legacy with Orton and DiBiase, no one thought that he would be the one breaking out of that storyline.  Rhodes has proven through hard work and improvement that he deserves this push. 

The problem I have is with the booking of the push and face turn.  Rhodes and Sandow were a solid tag team with a great name that worked very well together.  Yet they were never pushed to the tag titles nor were they in many high-profile matches.  They both got in to the Money In The Bank match, with Sandow stealing the match from Rhodes, hence ending their partnership.  Rhodes stole the show in that match, and was cheered throughout, which gave the impressions that the crowd would be receptive to a face turn for Rhodes.  The obvious first feud for Rhodes would be with his former partner Sandow, who should be getting a push due to winning the MITB contract.  So how does the WWE book Sandow?  Like they have done with other midcard MITB winners.  His first match after winning the contract was a loss to Christian (who was in the MITB match also).  That basically killed the credibility and momentum Sandow had, and is definitely affecting Rhodes' face turn.  Then they put Rhodes in a boring, short match with Fandango, who has no crowd reaction once his entrance music ends.  I'm afraid what's going to happen is that they will have a lackluster match at SummerSlam, and since the crowd won't be in to it due to the terrible booking of the feud, they won't follow through with any plans or pushes for both Rhodes and Sandow, putting them back in midcard hell.

This is what is infuriating about being a wrestling fan.  We are tired of seeing the same ten guys get pushed, and when someone comes in who deserves to get a push they are booked so badly that it is hard to care about them for an extended period of time.  Just look at Daniel Bryan.  He's been in the company for almost 5 years (counting his release after the Nexus incident).  There's no question how talented he was at the start of his WWE tenure.  Anyone who watched him in Ring Of Honor knew that he should be a top performer.  Yet it took the company this long to really showcase his talents.  And due to the inconsistent booking of Bryan, it's taken just as long for the fans to truly embrace what a tremendous wrestler he is.  Hopefully he will be able to have a long run at the top of the card (and not lose a title in 18 seconds).

Segment 11 - CM Punk promo with Paul Heyman

Terrific.  CM Punk is the best in the world on the mic right now, with Heyman a close second.  The personal vibe of this build has been tremendous.  Punk genuinely looks like he wants to ruin Heyman both personally and professionally.  I can't wait to see where this goes.  I hope the match lives up to the hype and the build.  I just hope they don't get Curtis Axel involved; he's not close to being ready to get in this feud.

Segment 12 - RVD vs. Wade Barrett

You can add Wade Barrett to the list of characters that should have been pushed but horrific booking has ruined them for good.  Remember when Barrett was the leader of the Nexus and Daniel Bryan was second in line?  Now Bryan is a star and Barrett barely makes shows (and when he does it's jobbing out in a couple minutes).  What a waste of talent.

Segment 13 - The Daniel Bryan Gauntlet matches

The match with Swagger was a joke.  My thoughts on Swagger?  See Barrett, Wade.  Thanks WWE. 

The match with Ryback wasn't bad it was just predictable.  Every gauntlet ends with the biggest guy coming out last.  It always goes worst guy first, followed by long lengthy match, then beast last.  I thought it would be the Big Show since they advertised that he was returning and never used him.  Ryback was fine, the match was pretty solid, and the table spot was excellent.  The save from Cena and the match next week with Ryback?  Been there done that.  Not excited.

The middle match with Cesaro was tremendous.  I am a huge fan of Cesaro (who is yet another guy who's talents are underutilized and vastly underappreciated) so I loved seeing him in a lengthy match with Bryan.  While we all knew who was going to win it was still exciting to see Cesaro push Bryan for the entire match.  The crowd was definitely into it, as they are with every Bryan match right now.  The smart thing for WWE to do is to capitalize on this great match by giving Cesaro the push that he deserves.  So get ready next week you'll see Cesaro job to R-Truth or the Real Americans lose to Kofi Kingston and Little Jimmy.  Or they just won't put Cesaro on TV, kind of like they did with the Wyatt Family this week.  Way to continue that storyline.  I guess three hours isn't long enough to squeeze in a little bit of the Wyatts.  Maybe if they didn't have that abomination of a segment regarding a show on another channel they would have some time for the Wyatt Family.

Fixing the MLB All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star Game used to be the premier summertime sports event.  Now it's become an event that no one besides die hard baseball fans cares about.  It's more exciting to see who got voted in than to see them actually play in the game.  The All-Star Game used to be the only opportunity Red Sox fans had to see National League players, especially those on the subpar teams. Now interleague play and networks like ESPN and the MLB Network that play numerous games every week have made it extremely easy to see out-of-town teams and players. 

Even with the league making the game "count" by using it to determine home-field advantage for the World Series, there is little to no interest from the general public surrounding this game.  Unlike the NFL, who are clearly aware that their Pro Bowl is ignored by most fans, the MLB has made no mention of the decline of its All-Star Game nor publicly kicked around any suggestions for changes and/or improvements.  There are easy ways to make the game interesting again and get casual fans to watch it instead of America's Got Talent and Extreme Weight Loss.

The biggest change would be to change the format of the game.  American League versus National League is boring.  Interleague play killed the AL vs. NL game.  Before interleague, the only time you'd see Red Sox players face Cardinals players would be in the oft chance they both made it to the World Series.  Now you have to wait two or three seasons to see your team play every other team in the opposing league.  There's a couple ways they could change the format and generate more buzz and interest.

· United States vs. the World.  Which would basically be the Dominican, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.  This would be the only time the best international and home-grown players would play together on the same team, since the only event that's more irrelevant than the All-Star Game is the World Baseball Classic.  As much as I love Shane Victorino there's no way he'd be starting for the United States team in any real national competition. 

· Have a "fantasy" draft for team rosters.  The NHL started doing this for their All-Star Game and it's worked pretty well.  The MLB started naming team captains a couple years ago, allowing them to draft their rosters for the Home Run Derby.  I think it would be pretty cool to see the captains select their entire roster.  It would give new combinations to the teams and there would be a lot of strategy involved in selecting your team.  They could run the draft the night before the game right after the Home Run Derby.  How much fun would it be to see David Wright pick Miguel Cabrera or Chris Davis with the first pick, leaving Robinson Cano to take Matt Harvey for his team?  Or when Harvey beans Wright for snubbing him?  That would get people talking.

· MLB vs. the Futures.  This is my personal favorite.  You take the 30 best MLB players and have them play the 30 best prospects and I'm there.  This would grow a ton of interest in the younger players, who are the future of the game.  Unless you're in a ridiculously hard fantasy baseball league or you're a baseball fanatic you have no idea how nasty Noah Syndergaard is or how fast Billy Hamilton is.  Showcasing them in the All-Star Game would show them off to the general public and build the game for the future.  

While we're changing the game we might as well change some other things too.

· Change the voting process.  Everyone complains about the fans letting players in the game that don't deserve to be there.  Derek Jeter was in the top 5 for shortstops in fan voting and he has yet to play a game this season.  So to eliminate that from happening I would change the whole process.  The league should wait until a week before the game and then allow the fans to vote.  The players that they could vote for would be a small list of players from each position who are having the best season so far.  So for American League third basemen the list could be Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, Evan Longoria, and Josh Donaldson.  Poor Josh he's having such a good season but he's not winning that vote.  Making the list so late in the "first half" would give everyone a chance to get in.  If you get called up after the ballots have gone out or were unknown and had a great season you can't get in the game.  This new way would allow the fans to vote in Daniel Nava or Yasiel Puig.

· Figure out a way to limit fan votes so there isn't any collusion like this year's Final Vote debacle.  You shouldn't have to recruit or bribe fans of other teams to vote for someone.  I voted for Freddie Freeman (only because I didn't want Puig in the game) and I got a coupon for a discounted ticket to a Braves game, which would have been great except for the fact that I live in Massachusetts.  The only reason Steve Delabar got into the game was because all the Braves fans were told to vote for the Blue Jays player.  The worst part is that the MLB didn't seem to care that the final player on each team got on the roster because everyone cheated.  Plus they have to stop people from voting over and over again for a certain player.  If there's a way to make a robot that can vote a million times in a day then there has to be a way to limit one vote per person. 

· Eliminate the home-field advantage rule.  The league made this rule to try to get people to watch the game, but it hasn't worked.  It really doesn't make any sense having a game that means nothing determine home-field advantage.  It lowers the significance of the regular season, especially the last few games.  The league needs to go back to rewarding the team with the best record in the regular season with home field instead of the winner of the All-Star Game.

· Eliminate the rule which has every team bring a player to the All-Star Game.  This rule never made sense either.  It would be one thing if the league had 10 teams, but with 30 teams it's ridiculous and unnecessary.  All-Stars are supposed to be the best players in the league, yet every year there are a few players who get to the game because of a technicality.  The teams that are awful, like the Astros and the Marlins, don't deserve to have an All-Star.  If they had quality players on their teams then they wouldn't be so terrible.  Trust me I had Jason Castro on my fantasy team.  He shouldn't be on a fantasy roster, never mind an All-Star roster. 

· Stop coddling the players.  It's annoying that because someone pitched on Sunday they can't be on the All-Star roster.  Wouldn't they be throwing a bullpen session in between starts?  So instead of seeing Justin Verlander or Adam Wainwright we get to see Brett Cecil and Mark Melancon.  Pitchers who lead the league in holds should not be in All-Star Games.  Especially those who got traded to the Red Sox for a shortstop who should be in the game (Jed Lowrie) and had an ERA over 6.00.  Yeah thanks Mark we appreciated that.

· Cut back on the roster.  I never realized this but there's 80 All-Stars this year.  So every team has a 25 man roster for a season that lasts 162 games, but the All-Star Game (which doesn't count) has 40 men on each roster.  That makes no sense at all.  Thirty players on each squad would be plenty.  That would get every hitter a few innings to play and get just about every pitcher a chance to pitch for an inning.  And by eliminating the "every team has a player" rule you'd be eliminating at least 5 players on each team. 

The MLB needs to implement some changes like these in order to drum up interest in the All-Star Game again.  Or they could just have a Mets pitcher hit a Yankees player in the first inning, causing the Yankees player to leave the game.  That should get people talking.

The Current State of American Tennis

John Feinstein of CBS Sports spoke today on his CBS Sports Minute about the depressing state of men's tennis in the United States.  For the first time in 101 years, no American player made the third round of the men's draw at Wimbledon.  The last time that happened was in 1912, when no American players entered the tournament.  He focused his minute-long rant on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has failed to develop a successor to the last great male tennis player from this country, Andy Roddick.  While there are a couple of players who are ranked in major tournaments (John Isner and Sam Querrey), they are not serious contenders and have lots of question marks surrounding their games. 

Feinstein is correct about the current state of American men's tennis.  But what he fails to mention is the solid state of the game on the women's side.  Serena and Venus Williams have dominated women's tennis in the United States for almost 15 years, and for a long time there was no clear heiress to the throne.  Now there is an American not named Williams in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, and another couple of players who made some noise at the tournament.  So shouldn't we be focusing on that instead of the lack of American male players?

Tennis in the United States is very cyclical, as there has not been many years in recent history that have seen both the men's and women's rankings full of American players.  In the 90's we had the likes of Sampras, Agassi, Courier, and Chang winning major tournaments for our country, yet the women's side was dominated by Seles, Graf, and Hingis.  Yes Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati won majors, but they were never consistently winning multiple titles in the decade as their male counterparts were.  The Williams sisters, especially Serena, have been a constant force in women's tennis in the 21st century, with Roddick the only male to reach the #1 ranking on the men's side.  Now the "Big 4" of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray dominate the men's side, and while Serena is still at the top of the women's rankings, there are a couple of American female players who deserve to be talked about.

Sloane Stephens is ranked in the top 20 and has reached the fourth round in all three majors this year.  She lost in the semifinals to third-seeded Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open; her best ever finish at a Grand Slam.  She lost in the fourth-round to second-seeded Maria Sharapova at the French Open, and she is the last American standing at Wimbledon.  Thanks to the large amount of seeded players losing early at Wimbledon, Stephens has a realistic shot at making a final and possibly winning a major tournament.  She is the forgotten American in London; everyone had focused on the certainty that Serena would win another major and once she lost no one is talking about Sloane's chances. 

Madison Keys is 18 years old and made the third round at Wimbledon, losing to fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in three close sets.  Keys has one of the biggest serves in the game, cracking 118 mph serves in the third set of her match versus the talented Polish star.  Keys hasn't played many tournaments due to age restrictions in women's tennis, but her ranking is already near the top 50 in the world.  Her play on the grass courts at Wimbledon shows that she has the potential to be a star in the near future.  It should be interesting to see if she can follow up her strong showing at Flushing Meadows at the U.S. Open in August.

Taylor Townsend is seeded fifth in the Girls' Juniors tournament at Wimbledon.  She was the first American to be ranked #1 in the world in juniors in 30 years.  She won the singles and doubles juniors' events at the Australian Open last year, and has five junior Grand Slam titles.  She should be at the U.S. Open in August too, unless Patrick McEnroe and the USTA think that she's too heavy to play again this year.  I'm not making that up that actually happened last year.

Stephens, Keys, and Townsend are the future of American tennis.  If there isn't any male counterparts right now, who cares?  Just because the American players aren't going well doesn't mean the quality of the sport is lacking.  There are plenty of people who watch soccer in the United States, and our team has never been very good.  Yet you don't hear people blasting the lack of great American soccer players every time there's a tournament or when the team loses to a superior opponent.  The reality is that tennis, like soccer, is not a high priority stateside.  In many countries, soccer and tennis are the national sports, with the majority of youth participating in them starting at a very young age.  It is going to be a lot harder here to find and cultivate the next Pete Sampras or Serena Williams because there are so many other options for kids to play and other athletes to look up to.  Instead of criticizing the lack of American tennis stars, we need to embrace the top players regardless of what country they are from.  The reason we have an influx of young American female tennis prospects is because they undoubtedly looked up and admired the Williams sisters.  Hopefully the next batch of female tennis players will have Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and Taylor Townsend as positive role models.  Just because there isn't another Andy Roddick playing for the men right now doesn't mean there isn't anyone for young kids to look up to.  Players like Djokovic, Radwanska, and Li Na did not have players from their countries to look up to growing up, yet they still became great tennis players themselves.  If the media focuses on the greatness of the game and the skill its top players have, it won't matter that there isn't the next great American star on the men's side.  Developing Stephens, Keys, and Townsend will motivate the next generation of women's and men's stars in the United States.

Some quick hits on "The Worst Week in Boston Sports":

· The Boston Bruins losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals: As depressing as those last 90 seconds of Game 6 were, you have to appreciate what the Bruins did this season.  What they did in the last ten minutes of Game 7 vs. Toronto will never be forgotten, especially by those who either left the arena or changed the channel (like I did).  I could listen to Dave Goucher, the Bruins radio play-by-play man, yell out "Bergeron!  Bergeron!  Bergeron!" forever.  The run that they got on after beating Toronto was unbelievable, taking four out of five from the Rangers (and getting their coach fired in the process), then sweeping the Penguins - who were without a doubt the favorites to reach the Stanley Cup from the Eastern Conference.  Tuukka Rask proved during the playoffs that he is the goaltender of the present and future and made us all forget about that Obama hater who was between the pipes during the last Stanley Cup run.  The series with Chicago was tremendous.  As much as Bruins fans want to hate the Hawks for beating us, what do we really have to hate?  It was a battle of two very evenly matched teams, with Game 1's triple overtime classic and Game 4's offensive outburst ranking up there with the best hockey games in recent history.  It's a shame that we couldn't see a Game 7, because I truly believe that would have been one special game to watch.  What the Bruins did for the city of Boston after the Boston Marathon tragedy was simply amazing, and the team has nothing to be ashamed or disappointed about. 

· Doc Rivers' departure and the Pierce-Garnett blockbuster: The Pierce and Garnett to New Jersey Brooklyn for five players and three picks trade doesn't bother me one bit.  For those of you who think we got shafted in the deal I give you this explanation.  The Cleveland Cavaliers offered two second-round picks for Pierce.  The Los Angeles Clippers offered a 7-footer who can't shoot (want proof?  Miss 1 or miss 2) for Garnett.  Instead the Celtics received three first-round picks including one in next year's loaded draft, along with five players who vary in desirability.  Personally I'd take MarShon Brooks over the other four players, since he is a local kid (played at Providence) and can definitely score.  So what if he doesn't play a lick of defense.  That hasn't stopped Jordan Crawford from making a paycheck.  I might be in the minority but I actually like Kris Humphries.  He was a beast a couple years ago and I think he still has lots of talent.  Big men who can rebound and play defense are hard to find so I think the Celtics should hold on to Humphries.  Keith Bogans might make the team as a backup point and a veteran voice for Rajon Rondo to listen to... oh that's right Rondo doesn't listen to anyone that's why no one likes him.  Gerald Wallace... yeah he can go away.  Maybe they can trade him somewhere.  Or they could just give him #30 like the last scrub named Wallace that the Celtics had on their roster.  While the trade doesn't bother me at all, Doc Rivers bolting does.  I really liked Doc and thought he was the best coach the city of Boston had in a long time (remember I'm not a Pats fan so I don't drink the "Belichick is God" flavored Kool-Aid).  I've lost a lot of respect for Doc regarding how he left the team.  As much as he doesn't want to admit it, he quit on the Celtics, the players, and the fans.  He's the one that signed that five-year deal two years ago, and he knew that at some point the team would have to rebuild.  You can only rely on a 37-year-old and a 35-year-old for so long.  I can't believe that he just woke up one morning and realized that he didn't want to coach a bad team.  We bash college head coaches for jumping ship as soon as greener pastures call, with no regard for the players they recruited.  Isn't that basically what Doc Rivers just did?  If Doc really loved the city of Boston then he would have treated its fans and its team a little better in his departure.  The Clippers with Doc, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin may be supplanting the Lakers as Los Angeles' team, and they are definitely going to be the team I dislike the most (other than Miami - there's no one I dislike more than the Heat).  Unfortunately Celtics fans won't have the nerve to boo Doc when he comes back as the Clippers head coach.  To me he should get the same reaction Ray Allen this season - a chorus of boos for stabbing the Celtics in the back.

· The Aaron Hernandez murder case:  Crazy.  You would have thought that Hernandez was ruler of the world by how much it was covered in the local and national media.  There were helicopters following him around days before any charges were announced.  He couldn't even pump gas without a swarm of media surrounding him.  It goes to show you how popular the Patriots are locally and how popular the NFL is nationally.  Both ESPN and the NFL Network spent their entire day covering the Hernandez case, with ESPN going as far as accusing Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers of committing a crime as well (get ready Aaron Brooks and Aaron Harang you might be next!).  I found it appalling that people were cheering him on and chanting his name both in North Attleboro and in Fall River after his court appearances.  He's no different than any other murder suspect, except for the fact that he's famous and he played for the local football team.  Patriots' fans heckled and harassed Ray Lewis every single time the Ravens played the Patriots, calling him a murderer.  Yet people are cheering Hernandez.  It just doesn't make any sense to me at all.  People need to separate fame from facts and common sense.  How do you think Odin Lloyd's family felt when they heard the cheers and the chants of "Innocent!"? 

· Ray Allen winning a title with the Miami Heat: It's much easier to win titles when you have three extra people on your team.  Miami should change their jerseys to black and white stripes to match their extra teammates.  They should get a ring and David Stern should get one too.  They deserved them much more than half the Heat roster.  The fact that Rashard Lewis has a ring is sickening.  I contributed just as much to the Heat as Lewis did.  Hopefully Adam Silver, who will be taking over for Stern as commissioner, will do something about the officiating in the league.  Right now the NBA is unbearable to watch.  The officiating in Game 6 was so appalling that I didn't even watch Game 7.  It's clear that there are different rules for LeBron and D-Wade than there are for any other team.  The two controversial plays in the overtime of Game 6 would have been called fouls if Miami was on offense, yet they were no calls for the Spurs.  Until the league addresses this the NBA will continue to get harder and harder to watch.

· The Red Sox are still in first place: Is there anyone else that feels bad for the Red Sox?  Does anyone actually know that they are in first place?  You would have thought once the Bruins ended their season that everyone would be paying attention to the baseball team.  Then all this Hernandez and Celtics stuff took place.  Why couldn't this have taken place last year when the team was awful?  There are great stories on this team and no one has noticed because they are preoccupied with focusing on "the worst week in Boston sports".  I'm pretty sure that there are plenty of cities that would love to have a first-place baseball team and a hockey team that just made the Stanley Cup Finals.  The recent success of all of our teams has spoiled the fans of Boston teams.  Instead of focusing on the negatives (Celtics trade, Doc Rivers, Hernandez) we should be talking about the positives (Bruins great run, Sox winning, and no Bobby Valentine).  Daniel Nava, Jose Iglesias, and Koji Uehara deserve more attention than a coach who didn't want to be here and a former football player who is in jail.

Tennis' Grand Problem

June 26th.  The day the sports world was fixated on former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez getting arrested and charged with the murder of a semi-pro football player.  The story was broadcast on every sports channel, along with all the local news stations.  Yet there was another interesting sports story that occurred today that got overshadowed. 

It happened on the grass courts at Wimbledon, and no one is talking about it.  Yes I get it; a tennis story is not as newsworthy or important as an NFL player being charged with murder.  But when you have a storied major tournament like Wimbledon, and a majority of the top players of the world are either losing, withdrawing, or stopping their matches due to injury, it is a big deal.  What happened on June 26th points to a major problem in the sport, one that has always been ignored or brushed aside as insignificant or imaginary.

On one day, eight players got injured either before or during their matches, and all had to withdraw from the tournament.  Among the eight players were the #2 and #9 seeds in the women's draw (Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki - both past #1 players), and the #6, #10, and #18 seeds on the men's side (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic, and John Isner - who is the top American player). 

As if the withdrawals and injuries weren't bad enough for the tournament, two of the most recognizable and successful players in the world were upset on June 26th.  Maria Sharapova was beaten by a player more known for her loud grunts and screeches than her ability on a tennis court.  Roger Federer was beaten by a player that had never defeated a player ranked in the top 20.  Federer hadn't lost before the second week of a major tournament since 2004, and has won Wimbledon eight times in his career.

Is it just a coincidence that all these top players were ousted on June 26th, or is there a reason and/or excuse for all the carnage?  The media and some of the players seem to be focused on the weather and the court conditions.  Many players have injured themselves from slipping and falling on the grass courts this year.  While the courts are always pretty slick early in the tournament and firmer when they get worn down, this year the grass seems really treacherous.  According to the media, there could be various reasons for the slick conditions, ranging from the wet and humid spring to having less time to prepare the courts due to the Olympics last year to the players using insufficient footwear on the courts.  There is another obvious answer that has nothing to do with the courts and everything to do with what is wrong with the sport.

Tennis' schedule is the main reason more and more athletes have to withdraw before matches or retire during matches.  The way the schedule for both the men and the women is currently set up; there are no off weeks during the season and only a few weeks between the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  Between playing every week and traveling all over the world, it's no wonder that more and more top players are succumbing to injuries and illnesses during the season.

The season starts at the beginning of January in Australia and New Zealand, with players getting only two or three weeks to get prepared for the first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open.  Within a week of that tournament ending, the top players are asked to play for their country in round one of the Davis Cup.  Afterwards, players normally come to the United States to prepare for the two big tournaments in March, both of which are mandatory events and are played back-to-back.  The mandatory events are called Masters Series events, and are exclusive to the top 64 players in the world.  Masters Series events are basically smaller versions of Grand Slams, and winning these events have become very prestigious as they are used to tune up for the majors.  April has players traveling to Europe and switching to the clay courts, with the men playing in another Masters Series event just two weeks after the last one.  May has the women playing in two Masters events back-to-back, with the second being held for both men and women.  By the end of the month the second Grand Slam takes place at the French Open.  Two weeks after the French Open ends Wimbledon begins.  Once Wimbledon ends the players can either stay in Europe for a few clay court events or travel back to the United States to get ready for the last Grand Slam tournament.  By August everyone is in the U.S., as there are Masters Series events leading up to the U.S. Open.  By the end of September the players are in Asia playing in tournaments in China, Japan, and Thailand.  October brings another mandatory event in China, with the men having an additional one at the end of October in France while the women have their year-end championships.  The men end their season in November with the top eight players qualifying for the season-ending round-robin tournament.

With all the wear and tear on a player's body participating in all these tournaments, nevermind the extensive preparation needed to play at the highest level for 10 months out of the year, injuries are bound to occur.  Requiring the top draws to play in all these mandatory Masters Series tournaments throughout the year, and setting up the schedule so that there is no off time between mandatory events, are the two main causes for the current rash of injuries.

Having two weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon is a travesty, and is unfair to both the players and the fans of the sport.  Playing on clay is totally different from playing on grass.  The ball bounces in the opposite manner, requiring players to change their tactics and strategy.  Stopping on a clay court requires a player to slide, which takes lots of practice to perfect.  Asking someone to play on clay for a couple of months perfecting how to move on a slick surface, then requiring them to play on a surface that is totally opposite without having any time to practice or prepare is asinine.  There's a reason that four players withdrew from Wimbledon on June 26th with knee issues.  It's not a coincidence, it's what happens when you play this much tennis on various surfaces with no rest or off weeks.  Fans who bought tickets to the second week of a Grand Slam expected to see Azarenka, Tsonga, Wozniacki, and Nadal (who didn't withdraw from the event but just came back from a knee injury this year and was clearly hampered by some injury or ailment during his first round loss).  Hopefully seeing a Grand Slam tournament with no-names in the second week will bring about some change in a hurry.  Otherwise the ridiculous schedule in tennis is going to run the top draws into the ground - whether it is hard, clay, or grass.

When I was younger (I'm not going to say how young since I don't want to show my age), MTV played music videos basically 24/7.  The only times you didn't see music videos were either commercials, hosts on the network talking about videos, occasionally interviews with musicians, or the MTV News pieces with Kurt Loder.  I still remember when Loder broke the news that Kurt Cobain was found dead.  After the channel got established, they started producing their own shows, like Yo! MTV Raps and 120 Minutes, which were still based on music and would show different videos.  When those shows did well, MTV started making more shows, with some having little to no reference to music.  They had the first true reality show on TV when The Real World started in the early 1990's.  Gradually, MTV added more shows and less videos, and once reality shows became popular they strayed away from showing any music videos.  If not for YouTube, there really would be no reason for most pop and rock artists to even make videos since they are never aired on the channel (unless you are up at around 4AM... which was about the time Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals ended).  The only times the station will show music videos or talk about musicians are either when someone extremely famous passes away or during the one time every year when they hold the MTV Video Music Awards.  How a channel that doesn't play music or videos can still have an awards show is beyond me.

When I was younger, ESPN played sporting events all day long.  The only times that there wasn't a sporting event on was around 11PM when SportsCenter was on.  There were all kinds of crazy sports on the channel, like indoor soccer, Australian Rules football, Arena football, beach soccer, lumberjack events, and indoor lacrosse.  Every night during the primetime hours there were baseball or hockey games shown live on ESPN.  When the station created the X Games (which was first held in Providence/Newport, R.I.... I remember seeing people live in Newport climbing up a big wall and thinking "what the hell is this?") they showed every event live, even the absolutely insane ones like street luge.  They made the Great Outdoor Games which had all kinds of cool events like log rolling, throwing knives on bulls-eyes, and chomping wood.  I'm serious chopping wood looked cool.  As the network established itself, it began acquiring the rights to broadcast more major sporting events like games and playoffs for the NFL, NBA, and college football and basketball.  They focused their time surrounding those major events, and got rid of most of the coverage of the other minor events.  In recent years, they have created sports-talk shows like Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn, and SportsNation, which talk about a mix of sports and pop culture events.  SportsCenter now airs in a constant loop from 11PM to 3PM, and the only live sports events are shown starting around 7PM.  There are some nights where the channel shows no live sports events, choosing to air documentaries or specials counting down the best NFL coaches of all-time.  That special aired in June.  NFL games start in September.  The network has chosen to focus on only the sports that they air on their channels, spending more time promoting an NFL free agent signing in June than a triple overtime classic NHL Finals game.

When people want to listen to music, watch a video, or learn about a new musician, they don't go to MTV.  Yet when people want to watch sports, get highlights, or find out what the hot sports news is, they still go to ESPN.  I hate the channel, yet I find myself watching SportsCenter all the time.  The first page that pops up on my laptop is ESPN.com.  Other sports channels, like NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports, have copied ESPN's template instead of doing something different.  They only focus on the sports that they cover (or in CBS' case since they have no sporting events on a sports channel they just show the same couple of sports-talk shows over and over again... like Lead Off with Allie LaForce... not that I'm obsessed with her at all...). 

Hopefully FOX Sports 1 will finally be an alternative (and an upgrade) to ESPN.  The network launches in August and has already acquired the rights to broadcast NFL, NASCAR, UFC, MLB, college football, and soccer games.  There will be a SportsCenter-type highlight show with two established hosts from Canada's TSN network, along with Charissa Thompson, former host of ESPN's SportsNation show.  They will have a show based on the popular West Coast Customs shop, who renovates vehicles for many famous athletes, musicians, and actors. 

The only way to get ESPN to change is to stop watching the channels and stop visiting their website.  Without an proper competition, sports junkies who are starved for information and highlights have no choice but to watch the channel or visit the site regardless of whether or not they want to hear about LeBron James or Tim Tebow 24/7.  ESPN knows that people will watch anyway so they can focus on the few sports that they air and make money off of and not mention the sports that do nothing for them or their pockets.  If FOX can shift viewership to their new channel permanently (because initially everyone is going to check out the new channel when it launches the key is if they will stay there in the long run), then maybe we won't have to hear about how tough it is to be the best player on the planet or how someone who played 10 years ago feels about a third-string quarterback.

Public relations, or lack thereof, are demonstrated every day in our social media driven world.  By talking to the media or just tweeting to fans, athletes are relating to the public on a consistent basis.  One poorly thought out tweet or comment can influence the public's opinion of an athlete, which may ruin many aspects of their career and their life.  With one off-color comment, Sergio Garcia is proving just how important public relations can be.

"Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find it out anyway.  And if the public doesn't like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what the people want."

That quote is from Ivy Lee, who is considered the father of modern public relations.  While that quote was spoken almost 100 years ago, it still represents the correct way to deal with the public.  Tell them the truth, because they'll find out anyway.  If the public doesn't like what they are hearing, change what you are saying or doing.

"We will have him 'round every night.  We will serve fried chicken."

That was Garcia's response to a question posed to him regarding whether he would invite Tiger Woods to dinner.  Garcia (whose nickname is El Nino) was playing at a major tournament for golf's European Tour, which had a players' dinner prior to its start.  Garcia and Woods had a public spat two weeks earlier, when the two of them were playing together during the third round of the Players Championship.  Garcia was upset that Woods had caused a distraction during one of Sergio's shots, and called out Woods after their round was over.  Both players admitted that they did not like each other and were adamant that neither of them were at fault.

The situation had seemingly blown over until Garcia's fateful remark.  He claimed that he was caught off guard by the question, and meant to make a funny, joking response.  Making a racial slur towards an African-American competitor is not a funny or joking matter, and Garcia is paying for it in the court of public opinion.

Garcia is one of the most recognizable players in golf.  He has many sponsors, including a full apparel, footwear, and equipment deal with Adidas and Taylor Made.  Garcia has an abrasive personality at times, and although many golf fans do not support him, he still has many fans rooting for him at every event.

Those fans will be few and far between after this public relations nightmare.  It is very difficult to change the public's opinion of one's self, and changing it twice is almost impossible.  Garcia has issued two statements apologizing for his comment, and held a press conference the day after to address the media and the public.  While he did apologize to Woods during the press conference, it was not very convincing.  He seemed more concerned with telling the public how terrible he felt than how sorry he was.  By not showing much remorse, he is making it harder and harder for his remaining fans to defend or support him. 

Athletes should know better than to open their mouth and blurt out insensitive comments, yet they do it all the time.  Mike Wallace, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, was reprimanded by his team for an off-color tweet he posted just hours after Jason Collins became the first active athlete in a major sport to announce that he was gay.  Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots compared homophobia to being afraid of spiders last season and was the center of lots of public scrutiny last season.  Those athletes will certainly regain their fame and not lose anything substantial, unlike golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, who made a similar "fried chicken" comment during the early part of Tiger Woods' career and never recovered.  You would think Sergio Garcia and others in the golfing community would know better and actually think before they speak.

"Most of Sergio Garcia's friends are colored athletes in the United States."

During a press conference in which he tried to support Sergio Garcia's apology, George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, made that comment.  Although he almost immediately issued an apology, the damage from yet another public relations gaffe had been done.  While he may not lose sponsors or fans, he may lose the respect of the players he governs over and may eventually lose his job over a comment like that one. 

O'Grady can claim that he was trying to follow the advice of Ivy Lee.  He was trying to tell the truth about Sergio Garcia, trying to defend one of his players, and trying to help clear Garcia's name in the eyes of the public.  Instead he made a bigger mess for himself.  When will athletes and public figures start deciding that common sense and honesty are the best ways to endear themselves in the court of public, instead of trying to be witty which often digs them into a bunker that they will never be able to get out of?