Tuesday/ ‘two masks are the new masks’

Well, I played tennis last night with my mask on, as mandated by the Amy Yee Tennis Center. My mask had three layers of cotton fabric. It got a little ugly at times.

As you huff & puff after a long rally — through the mask —your panicked brain roars ‘MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! .. and it makes you want to yank the suffocating $@#! mask right off your face.

So! I’m definitely going to have to try a few more different masks.

From the New York Times. I suppose this works if you are a body at rest (as they say in Physics), silently observing what’s going on. (One could just stay home, of course, and not attend these public events). Pete Buttigieg is President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation nominee, and did very well at his Jan. 21 nomination hearing. The vote for his confirmation is still pending.

Friday night news dump

  • The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) grants emergency use authorization for the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
  • The pandemic is far from over (more than 3,000 deaths just on Thursday).
  • Texas attorney general’s ‘lawsuit’ (stunt), to try to overturn the certified election results (certifying Trump is a LOSER) in four battleground states, is smacked down 9-0 by the US Supreme Court. The AGs of seventeen red states, and 2/3 of House Republicans had joined the lawsuit. (Hey Republicans, newsflash for you: the United States is still a democracy. Your attempt at a coup is now dead.)
  • The Space Needle is lit up in green, in support of the Seattle Sounders, that will take on Columbus Crew in the 2020 Major League Soccer Cup Final on Saturday.
  • Update Sat 12/13: Sounders lost 0-3 to Columbus. Congrats to Columbus.
The Space Needle, bathed in green, and looking even more alien than usual. The reflection is on the nearby Museum of Pop Culture.

Sunday/ it all worked out, in the end

Here’s how my Sunday afternoon went.
1.30 pm Are you free for tennis? texted Harris. Yes, sure, I said. It was a sunny day (but not warm! 49 °F /9.5 °C), and now we had three; still needed a fourth.
Ardee was at Costco. Jesse was a no, as was Chuck. Jackson might be available .. checking. No, his girlfriend says no, he texted. What?! How dare she? was our reaction :-).
2.00 pm Still no luck finding someone. Alright. Let me go and scout out the courts, I offered. We were not even sure if the courts were, in fact, dry.
2.15 pm I arrive at Amy Yee Tennis Center. (Inside is closed, of course). The six outside courts are dry, kind of (big damp spots) – but already filled with players. We had no reservation. The courts can be reserved the day before with non-refundable deposits, but nobody really does that this time of year. The weather is too unpredictable.
2.30 pm Just come on out to the courts, I texted Harris & Cam: Worst case, the three of us can hit a few balls on a semi-dry court.
3.00 pm I’m still camping out by Court 5 & 6, waiting for one to open up. Alan from my social tennis club happens to play on 5. Maybe he will stay on and play with us, I thought.
3.05 pm Harris & Cam arrives.
3.10 pm Court 5 opens up. Yay! We can go on, and Alan agrees to be our fourth.
3.40 pm The thin sunlight disappears for good, behind swirling low-land fog that’s rolling in. We keep on playing.
4.20 pm Yikes. It’s becoming difficult to see the ball in the twilight and fog! Almost done, though. It’s 6-6 in the second set and we’re into a 7-point tiebreaker. Alan and I lose it 5-7.
No matter, it was just great to be able to play!

Getting into my car to leave the courts at Amy Yee Tennis Center. This is 4.40 pm, with the sun long gone behind the fog, and now below the horizon as well.

Saturday/ ready for the ATP Finals

I lost what little tennis the ESPN channel offered on TV when I cancelled my cable TV subscription. So with the year-end Nitto ATP* Finals looming (it starts in London on Sunday), I had to make a plan.

I subscribed to ATP Tennis TV – very reasonable at $8 a month for streaming of year-round tournaments with no commercials. Looks like it excludes coverage of the four Grand Slam tournaments, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

*Association of Tennis Professionals. (Nitto is the main sponsor, manufacturer of high-quality car & truck tires).

The Nitto ATP Finals is invitation only, for the top 8 singles players, and top 8 doubles teams. The event is again in the O2 Arena in London. There will be no crowds; the players and their teams will live in a closed hotel & tennis court ‘bubble’.
From left to right: Diego Schwartzman (28 yrs old, from Argentina), Andrey Rublev (23, Russia), Rafael “Rafa” Nadal (34, Spain), Alexander “Sascha” Zverev (23, Germany), Stefanos Tsitsipas (22, Greece), Novak Djokovic (33, Serbia), Dominic Thiem (27, Austria), Daniil Medvedev (24, Russia). Sadly, no Roger Federer and no Americans made it to the Finals this year.

Sunday/ Rafa makes it 20

There was French Open tennis very early this morning on TV: the final between Rafael Nadal (Spain, 34) and Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 33).

Nadal played like the champ that he is, against a Djokovic that could not find his footing, and won in straight sets, 6-0 ( a rare bagel for Djokovic), 6-2, 7-5.

Nadal and Roger Federer each holds 20 Gram Slam tennis titles now, the largest number amassed by any player in the history of the game.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his second round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta in the recent Italian Open at Foro Italico, Rome, Italy, Sept. 16, 2020 [Photo by REUTERS/Clive Brunskill]
Nadal serving against Djokovic in the final today. The sparse, socially-distanced crowd got their tickets by lottery. It did make a difference to have onlookers in the stands, cheering the players on. This French Open final was the first to be played under a roof with lights. [Picture Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images]

Here’s a look at the new retractable roof over Philippe Chatrier stadium.
Earlier this week, the officials let a little too much rain come down before they closed the roof. So in came a few wheelbarrows of clay (wheelbarrow in the distance), that they swept onto the court to clear up muddied patches. Yes, that’s Djokovic himself in the red shorts, pitching in and clearing some clay dust from the baseline!
The top layer of clay is very thin, followed by crushed limestone, clinker, and crushed gravel. That red clay dust gets into EVERYTHING: the tennis balls, the racquet strings, the players’ shoes and socks, and even their clothes (when you fall down because you did not slide properly into a deadly drop shot or wide shot!).

Wednesday/ my TV is now smart

My Samsung TV was 10 years old, and at long last it was time to upgrade to a smart 4K* TV.  I picked a Samsung again, and was planning to replace my 55″ screen with a similar size .. and then at the last minute in the store, opted for one with a 65″ screen.

I paid  $1,899 in 2010 dollars for the old TV (that’s $2,264 in 2020 dollars). The new one was all of $529, practically given away for free. (Alright, so not completely free).

*Smart= the TV can connect to the internet and offer all kinds of online content from providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others.
4K= the screen resolution is 3840 x 2160; a fourfold increase over Full HD (1920×1080 pixels).

The 2020 French Open is underway in Paris. The silly American networks are VERY STINGY with their coverage. I should sign up for Tennis Channel’s content (it’s $100 per year).
YouTube posts highlights of the matches every day. My wifi signal is poor in the corner of my living room where the TV is, so what I did here is connect my laptop computer to the TV with an HDMI cable to get the tennis on the big screen. I’m still trying to find out why the laptop can pick up the wifi signal OK but the TV cannot! Anyway, here is the King of Clay (Spaniard Rafael Nadal, 34 yrs, nearside in the turquoise and pink!) in the second round against American Mackenzie McDonald, 25). Nadal won easily, but it was a triumph for McDonald just to be able to play. He tore his hamstring tendon last year in May and could not walk for two months after the operation to mend it.

Sunday/ team Thiem has it

There were lots of sports on TV today, but I stuck it out for the 4 hours of the 2020 US Open Men’s Final.
Dominic Thiem (27, Austria) prevailed over Alexander Zverev (23, Germany) in a thrilling match: 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).
It was Thiem’s first win in a Grand Slam tournament final.

Look at the score: tie-breaker in the 5th set! Thiem is about to hit a backhand on his 3rd match point (which is also championship point). The next shot from Zverev would sail over the sideline on the left, giving Thiem the 5th set tie-breaker at 8-6, and the match, and the 2020 US Open championship. [Video still from usopen.org].
This is a heartfelt Instagram post from Zverev’s older brother Mischa (on the right) after the match.  (Alexander’s nickname is Sacha). Their parents emigrated from Russia to Germany to give their kids a better shot at becoming professional tennis players. Sacha was born in Germany.
Sacha was very emotional at the trophy ceremony, thanking his team, and his family. I think he dearly wanted his family to attend in person, but for this tournament-in-a-bubble each player was only allowed a limited number of people in their entourage.

Monday/ the US men are all out

Frances Tiafoe (22, coached by South African-born Wayne Ferreira) was last man standing of the American men, in the 2020 US Open tennis tournament. He lost against Russian Daniil Medvedev in straight sets today.

Tiafoe won the prestigious 2013 Orange Bowl at 15 years old, making him the youngest boys’ singles champion in the history of the tournament.

Serena Williams won in three sets over Maria Sakkari though, who had just beaten her two weeks ago in an earlier tournament.

Frances Tiafoe in action against Daniil Medvedev during today’s 4th round men’s singles match at the 2020 US Open. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)
Frances Tiafoe in action against Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev, No 5 in the world, was too consistent and too sharp for Tiafoe to be a threat to him. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)
Tiafoe had a Black Lives Matter sweater & mask on, as he came onto the court, and made sure that down to his shoes he makes makes a statement as well. There is none of the controversy around tennis players taking a stand about BLM, as there still seems to be to some extent in the National Football League, for example. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)

Sunday/ shocker: Djokovic disqualified

From the US Open website:
In tennis, there are two ways to be defaulted from a match: through an accumulation of code violations or by a singularly egregious act.
In Novak Djokovic’s case from the US Open on Sunday, the incident was firmly the latter. After losing his service game to trail 6-5 in the opening set of his Round 4 match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic struck a line umpire with a ball hit in anger, and was ultimately defaulted from the tournament by US Open Referee Soeren Friemel.

Not only is the overwhelming favorite to have won, out of the tournament— he also forfeited his 2020 US Open prize money for reaching the 4th round (a whopping $250,000) and the ATP ranking points he would have gotten.

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, checks on the lineswoman after accidentally hitting her on the throat with a ball, in reaction to losing a point to Pablo Carreno Busta, of Spain. A replay of the incident shows he just swatted the ball to the back fence, not hard, but carelessly, without looking where it might go.  A similar incident at Wimbledon in 1995, saw former British No 1 Tim Henman disqualified from Wimbledon, after hitting a ball girl. [Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP]

Monday/ 50 yrs ago: no visa for Arthur Ashe

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
– Arthur Ashe, American tennis player (b. 1943- d. 1993)

The US Open tennis tournament starts in Queens, New York City today.
There will be no crowds at the courts, nor in Arthur Ashe stadium —the largest tennis stadium in the world (capacity 23,771).

It was 50 years ago, in Jan. 1970, when the South African apartheid government took an outrageous stand: it refused Ashe a visa to play in the South African Open tennis tournament. The fallout and damage to South African sport were extensive. It solidified South Africa’s pariah status in the sports world. The country had already been banned from the Olympics in 1964 & 1968. It would be until 1992 before South African athletes could again compete in the Games.

Reporting from the New York Times in Jan. 1970. It was in 1968 that Ashe had won the US Open, at the time of this controversy he had just won the Australian Open in 1970. In perhaps his most celebrated win, he won Wimbledon in 1975.

Thursday/ put your game face on

Our social tennis club’s management splurged on expensive tennis balls for us for tonight. The can features Roger Federer’s ‘game face’ and signature, and there is a note inside that says he worked with Wilson to design a premium tennis ball. (For a premium price, of course: a good 20% more for a case of these).

Put your game face on! Veteran champion and one of the best protagonists of the game—ever— Roger Federer, turned 39 on Aug. 8. He is still recovering from a second arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and is out for the rest of the year. So we will not see him in the US Open that will start on Aug. 31st in Queens, New York City, but without crowds! Oh no! and boo! to the pandemic.

Thursday/ it’s the Seattle Kraken

It’s offical: the name for Seattle’s National Hockey League team is The Kraken (rumors had been swirling for months). The kraken is a legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of gigantic proportions in Scandinavian folklore (per Wikipedia).

The official Seattle Kraken sweater looks great (it’s not for sale just yet). The website says there is deep sea blue, boundless blue, shadow blue and ice blue in it, with ‘red alert’ for the accent lines and angry Kraken eye.

Fans will have to wait until next year’s NHL season to cheer for the team in the remade Key Arena, which will be called the Climate Pledge Arena (the world’s first certified net-zero carbon arena).

An artist’s rendering of the completed new Climate Pledge Arena (Amazon secured the naming rights to the stadium). The roof structure and supporting pillars from the old Key Arena will be kept intact.

Monday/ three is just right

‘Een in die was, een aan die bas, en een in die kas!’
– Afrikaans for ‘One to wash, one to wear, and one to spare!’

I picked up my new tennis racquet from the tennis shop today. My social club has started playing super-safe and social-distanced tennis*, and I needed one more, as a spare.

*We play on outside courts only. Each player has his/ her own set of numbered tennis balls (to handle, and to serve with). Other players pick up & pass the server’s balls to him/ her with the racquet only, so without touching them.

My weapons of mass destruction: the Wilson Clash 98. I’m still experimenting with different strings. The top racquet has a Wilson Durability string that is thicker and supposed to last longer than the black string in the racquet below it. I’ve settled on a string tension of 54 lbs for now.
Higher string tension gives more control (for volleys at the net, say), but less power.
Lower string tension gives more power, but less control.

Tuesday/ that tennis party in Zadar: so, so over

Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.
– Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios on Twitter, commenting on footage of Djokovic and others partying shirtless, maskless and distance-less in a nightclub in Belgrade

The Adria Tour debacle is an exhibition tennis tournament series that kicked off in Zadar, a city on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Only: they did everything wrong, and the whole tour has now been canceled.

From the New York Times: Social distancing was not enforced in the stands during the series, and face masks were a rare sight. Players mingled freely, exchanging hugs and handshakes, playing pickup soccer and basketball, and even dancing the limbo one night in Belgrade, Serbia. At the tournament, players posed for photographs with workers, tournament officials and spectators. No systematic coronavirus testing was required of the participants before the event began, according to the organizers. Some Croatian tennis officials are calling for the resignation of Nikolina Babic, president of the Croatian Tennis Federation.

The result: Novak Djokovic (world’s No 1 player), his wife, two coaches and at least three prominent players tested positive for the virus: Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki, a Serb whose wife, Aleksandra, also tested positive.  Officials in Zadar were left to scramble to try to trace and test people that had contact with those that had tested positive. There had been no confirmed infections in Zadar before the tennis.

Novak Djokovic during a match against Nino Serdarusic in Zadar, Croatia, on Sunday. Djokovic & the tournament officials displayed complete disregard for the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. Djokovic is president of the ATP Player Council and recruited the players. In April he expressed doubts that he would be vaccinated, even if a vaccine were to become available. [Photo Credit: Antonio Bronic/Reuters]

Thursday/ the ‘end of the world’?

From the German translation of ‘The Shooting Star (French: L’Étoile mystérieuse)’ by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, 1942.
A giant meteoroid was projected to hit Earth at 20:12:30 pm. A very anxious Tintin dials for a countdown to the exact time of doom. NOW .. ! he thinks, and then There! It is the End Of The World! dropping the phone and covering his ears. 
Tintin and Snowy survived, and ran out into the street, celebrating.
P.S. Even in this internet & smartphone age, the US Naval Observatory still offers a dial-in number to get the exact time. Dial 202-762-1401.

More cancellations today: the entire NBA season cancelled — and the NCAA’s March Madness games, as well (Madness? No, necessary).

Trump’s muddled speech about banning travel from Europe to ‘stop the spread of the coronavirus’ landed with a thud in the financial markets, as did the Federal Reserve’s announcement today, that they will intervene in the markets and pump in more than $1.5 trillion (yes, trillion with a T).

The United States is having a crisis of confidence in the President, and the White House, during this nationwide public health emergency.

Saturday/ fun and games in Cape Town, for charity

It was all fun and games in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night, where the charity tennis match (‘Match for Africa’) between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took place.

Comedian Trevor Noah and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates joined them on the court, to start the proceedings with a set of doubles.

Cape Town Stadium, made into a tennis arena. The stadium was filled with some 55,000 spectators. The US$3.5 million raised for education and sport for kids in Africa, far exceeded expectations. This is a curtain-raiser doubles match, between Nadal & South African-born comedian Trevor Noah on the left, and Federer & Bill Gates on the right. [Picture by Mark Sampson @MarkSampsonCT on Twitter]. 
A scene from a long rally in the Nadal-Noah vs. Federer-Gates match. Federer was running back, chasing down a lob, and is doing the very difficult between-the-legs ‘tweener’ shot that is always a crowd pleaser. The players were all fitted with microphones, so that the crowd could hear their banter as they played. It absolutely does not matter, but Federer & Gates won the one-set match by 6 to 3.  (Gates is a little bit better at tennis than Trevor Noah, and for their part, Federer and Nadal just kept the ball in play, until one of the other two made a mistake).

Sunday/ Kansas City: not in Kansas

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers by 31-20 today, to win Super Bowl No 54.
Trump promptly tweeted out congratulations to ‘the Great State of Kansas’.
Some 11 mins later, he deleted the tweet and sent out a corrected one that congratulated the state of Missouri.

Here’s former US Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, calling out Trump’s mistake. I have actually done the 4 hr drive from St Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO. Kansas City sits on Missouri’s western edge, straddling the border with Kansas, but it is considered to be in Missouri, and not in Kansas.  I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make (to think it is in Kansas), but it is still a sore point with the people of Missouri.

Friday/ it’s not over — until it is over

Wow, just wow. What an ending that was — to the third-round match in the Australian Open, with Roger Federer (38) playing Australian John Millman (30).
They had played ferociously for 4 hours, and the match was now in its death throes: the fifth and final set’s super tiebreaker. (First to 10, lead by two).

Soon Federer found himself down 4-8, two points away from defeat. Right then, he must have thought ‘Never say die’. He shut out Millman from winning even one, of one-two-three-four-five-SIX points in a row, going to 10-8 for the win.

Final score: Federer beat Millman 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 [10-8]. Go Federer!

Here is match point. In this video still it looks as if Millman (far side) is about to win the point, smacking it down the line from the other side, but no. Federer got to it and hit a cross-court winner to clinch the match. P.S. Commentator Brad Gilbert called out unsportsmanlike conduct from Millman afterwards: when he was serving, Millman turned his back on the umpire and rolled/ rubbed the ball as long as he could, on his soaked shirt. What does that do? It makes the ball heavier and unbalanced, so that it bounces a little less true on the other side, making it a little harder to return. [Video still from Federer-Millman match highlights at ausopen.com]

Tuesday morning/ ATP Cup tennis

The 2020 ATP Cup is a new annual 24-country tennis team competition, hosted by Tennis Australia in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. So we jumped at it when we got complimentary tickets to watch some of the action here in Perth.

The sparse crowd inside of Perth’s RAC Arena (constructed in 2012). We watched the two singles matches (there is also one doubles match) in the Russia vs. Norway match-up in Group D. This is the little opening ceremony with Norway’s flag on the left and Russia’s on the right. We all stood while they played the national anthems. Let me just note:  Russia has one of the world’s great national anthems (composer Alexander Alexandrov; Stalin commissioned him and lyrist Sergey Mikhalkovto create a national anthem and it was adopted in 1944).
This is the Russia team’s No 2 player, 23-year old Karen Khachanov, 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in) tall. He was born in Moscow, and is of Armenian descent.
Here is Viktor Durasovic, Norway’s No 2, serving against Khachanov as his team mates and captain look on. In team tennis, the team mates and coaches can offer advice and support from the court side .. which is not allowed on the ATP professional tennis circuit tournaments.
The Durasovic double-handed backhand. Good form, meeting the ball down low and in front, but not good enough for a win against Khachanov. He lost 1-6, 2-6.
The next singles match between the No 1’s on the teams, had Russia’s Daniil Medvedev take on Norway’s Casper Ruud. Here he is hitting a powerful forehand on a short ball. Medvedev had compiled a very good  record in 2019, pushing him up all the way to No 5 in the ATP world rankings.
And here is Norway’s Casper Ruud, playing against Medvedev.  The match was fairly close: Ruud losing 3-6, 6-7 (6-8), in the end. By then Norway was down 0-2 matches, and Russia had effectively won the tie.

Friday/ for my stamp collection

I stopped at an ‘Australia Post’ post office today.
I had the poor clerk behind the counter flip through the big album, full of sheets of stamps, so that I could pick out colorful and interesting stamps to buy. She was very patient with me!

Top to bottom & left to right: Set of freshwater crayfish stamps by naturalist and zoologist Roger Swainston | ANZAC Day 2019 (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) mini-sheet | Celebrating marriage equality (the law was passed two years ago, Dec. 2017) | Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand | 50th anniversary of the moon landing | Snorkeling, windsurfing, kite surfing and just old-fashioned board surfing, at Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a remote territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.