Posts Tagged ‘Tennis’

Anna vs. Jana: Style vs. Substance

Monday, December 4th, 2017

by Gus Griffin






Jana Novotna (left) and Anna Kournikova (right)

Jana Novotna (left) and Anna Kournikova (right)

Recently, a friend and I got into a respectful debate over the accomplishments of former tennis player Anna Kournikova. My primary contention was and is that she largely had no individual tennis accomplishments, or certainly not enough to warrant her lucrative endorsements.

That cannot be said of Jana (pronounced Hana) Novotna, who died recently after a battle with cancer at the age of 49.

Novotna won 24 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments to include 1 major title.

Kournikova never won any WTA singles’ event.

Even with that, what Novotna is most remembered for is the 1993 Wimbledon finals when she had a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set over the great Steffi Graff, and had game point at 40-30 on her racquet. She would double fault, lose that game and eventually the match in one of the greatest collapses in tennis history.

I remember watching that match and how uncomfortable I felt for her. We all fail but few do so on a world stage as dramatically as she did that day. In sports, not being good enough is difficult but forgivable. The two things that are not forgivable are to quit or choke. Those two transgressions speak to the athlete’s character and mental toughness in the minds of fans and will not be tolerated.

That day, Jana Novotna choked.

She would get back to the Wimbledon final in 1997 only to lose a lead again, this time to Martina Hingis. Then, finally in 1998, she would reach the finals again of Wimbledon and after unspeakable disappointments over the years, would finally get over the hump and win the title.

For me, one of the most enjoyable things about sports is to observe that moment when the team or athlete better known for not being able to win the big one finally gets it done. Be it Ivan Lendl or Andy Murray finally breaking through to win major titles, or the 2016 Chicago Cubs, or Elway’s Denver Broncos. Unlike lottery winners or the rags to riches narratives we love to promote in America, that are often as much about luck than merit, winning in professional sports is never luck.  Also, unlike most of us who may routinely fail in our professions, athletes do so in the fishbowl that is professional sports.  Their every facial expression and inkling of body language is examined and psychoanalyzed by every Dr. Phil wannabe in the world.  In spite of this all, the professional athlete must continue to strive. So, while many will remember Novotna for her failure, she should be remembered for the fact that she got up off the mat and triumphed in the end.

As for Kournikova, I don’t fault her for exploiting her non-tennis marketability. I certainly hope that she lives longer than Novotna. The fact that she is better known than Novotna, in spite of dramatically less tennis accomplishments, says more about what we as a society value than it does either one of them.

So, thank you Jana Novotna for showing the sports world and beyond that one need not be forever defined by failure and how to come back and triumph.  Your public life showed a great deal more courage than any photo spread ever has.


Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Ode to Venus Williams

Friday, July 14th, 2017

by Gus Griffin







Venus Williams is the single most underappreciated athlete in the world over the past 20 years!

The primary reason for this is understandable: when your little sister is on the short-list of greatest athletes of the last century, your accomplishments just might get a bit overlooked.

Just to summarize, Venus has won 7 Grand Slam titles and 49 tournaments overall.  Her lifetime record against top 10 opponents is 321-159, which amounts to a winning percentage of 67%.  Her lifetime record against the world’s number 1 ranked player is 10-5.  Even on clay, her worst surface, she has a winning percentage of 63%.  In Grand Slam finals, she is sub .500 at 7-8.  Seven of those eight losses have come to her little sister.  Simply put, Venus Williams has only lost one Grand Slam final to anyone not named Serena.

It is often noted if it were not for Venus, Serena would have even more Grand Slam titles.  But the opposite is true as well.  Without Serena in the picture, Venus could very well have 14 major titles.  That would have her in the G.O.A.T. conversation.

Those numbers alone are enough of a resume, but there is more.

It was Venus who was the most vocal active player in the fight for equal pay at Wimbledon for the women’s champion compared to the men’s champion.

In 2011, she was diagnosed with a rare ailment called Sjogren’s Syndrome.   Two of its symptoms are pain in the joints and fatigue; no small factors for a professional tennis player.    Being north of 30 and having already been a seven-time Grand Slam winner, it would have been understandable if she called it a career.  She did not, and as a result she is entering her second Grand Slam final of the year Saturday morning at Wimbledon, after having dominated up and coming Brit Johanna Konta in Thursday’s semi-final.   She is now 21-7 this year and will re-enter the world’s top 10, all at the age of 37 years old.   If she wins it will be her 6th Wimbledon title and she will become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam event in tennis history!

Beating Garbine Muguruza for the Wimbledon title, a Grand Slam champion in her own right, will be a tall task.  I consider her to be the most likely to succeed Serena as the world’s undisputed best player.

But losing won’t take away from the fact that despite age, an ailment that would retire lesser competitors, some media that have been flaky at best to embrace one half of what is arguably the greatest story in the history of American sports, and the huge shadow of her little sister, VENUS IS RISING AGAIN.  We should not only notice, but we should show her the love and give her the standing ovation she so richly deserves.


Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Dominoes, Evolution, and why Djokovic is the best in the world

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

by Gus Griffin







Novak Djokovic is not a great server. He has at best an average volly and does not have a great deal of variety in his offensive game. So why does he now have 8 major titles in the prime of his career? Because he is arguably the greatest defensive player of all time.  How and why he became this is a vintage evolutionary sports tale that can be best understood through the game of dominoes.

The evolutionary aspect has to do with the conditions and environment present when Djokovic came on the scene in the shadow of whom I believe to be the greatest baseline offensive player in the history of the game in a man by the name of Roger Federer.  The only way to consistently compete with him was to develop an elite baseline defense.  So the shots that are winners against anyone else on the tour (with the exception of a healthy Nadal) become either unforced errors or merely extend a rally.  It is similar to how the Jordan era Bulls became the best and most mentally tough team in sports: conquering the Bad Boys Pistons required them to become this to be champions.  Another illustration was when Bill Parcells took over the Giants in the same division as the defending champion Redskins in 1983.  By the time he left NY, the Giants had beaten the Redskins in 6 straight non-strike games and won two Super Bowls.

Tactically, Djokovic is like the old school dominoes player at the party.  He never takes the easy 20 or 25 point score which leave the board open to the next player.  Instead he locks the board and gets his points from what the others are left with in their hands.

Trying to hit a winner past “The Joker” is like throwing in the direction of Deion Sanders in his prime: a pick six is more likely than a completion. Only in football, teams could choose to go in another direction. Tennis players have no such luxury and that is why he is the best in the world.


Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Serena Williams Goes Off On The Line Judge!!!!!

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011