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About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Great Republican Tax Increase of 2011

Fact: George W. Bush signed and enthusiastically supported a bill to raise all of our taxes in 2011. Living people, dead people, working people, unemployed people, rich people, poor people. And this bill was supported by, like, every Republican in the US Congress at the time.

So why can't the Democrats just start talking about how "my opponent voted for/supported/supports the Republican Tax Increase of 2011. I voted against/was opposed to the Republican Tax Increase of 2011. And in fact, I support the legislation President Obama has introduced to stop the Republican Tax Increase of 2011 and to give every American a tax cut. My opponent doesn't support this bill, he's trying to stop it."

If a Democrat is asked about the "Bush tax cuts," why can't he respond "yes, you're asking about the Republican Tax Increase of 2011. My opponent voted for/supported..."

Everything I've stated here is true. Even the richest people in the world benefit when the taxes on the first $x of their income are reduced. Obviously, it's not the whole entire truth because the Republican Tax Increase of 2011 did contain some tax reductions, which were in effect for several years before 2011. Some people who are opposed to Obama's legislation to stop the Republican Tax Increase of 2011 support alternate legislation. But it's true. This is the kind of rhetorical device that's used in politics all the time, and far less truthfully true assertions are put forth in the political arena all the time. Sometimes, even, outright lies. It's true, and it forces the Republican candidates to make the long-winded explanations and arguments in rebuttal.

But it seems to be the Democratic way to aways want to bring knives -- no, not knives, sporks -- to gun battles. The fact that they haven't been out there framing the debate in this way for the past six weeks or six months is kind of sad, kind of pathetic, and you kind of deserve to lose when you're so incompetent and inept at the basic tasks of your job.

Feel free to share this post with anyone in any position to persuade the democrats to start a serious framing exercise. For once. I will be proud and honored when John Boehner has to point to my blog to justify his support of the Republican Tax Increase of 2011.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Game 8 of the World Series

So a few weeks ago I posted an ode to Australian Rules Football, which you can enjoy here.

I've now been introduced to one of the, um, odder customs in the sport.

I happened on, rather by accident, the wonderful news that ESPN Classic was doing live coverage of this year's Grand Final. Among the participants, the St. Kilda Saints, whom I'd seen in person win a controversial upset victory during the first round of the playoff series three weeks ago. Well, great game. The Saints fell behind pretty badly in the second quarter, but slowly and steadily made their way back in the second half, and then they go ahead by a goal late in the 4th quarter, fall behind by one point, get that one point back, and we end regulation time dead even at 68-68.

Well, imagine if it's game 7 of the World Series, the game is tied 4-4 at the end of 9 innings, and Bud Selig comes on the field to say it's such a great game that we're going to come back tomorrow and play another one.

You don't have to imagine it, because that's the current rule in the AFL. Finish the grand final tied, and everyone gets to come back next week to do the whole thing over again. I don't quite know whether to laugh or cry, stay up past 3AM for the grand finale of the Grand Final, and I get to do it all over again in a week.

The good news is that all of you now reading this blog post have several days to find out which part of the ESPN empire will broadcast the do-over, and you can all experience the joys of watching AFL.

But really, this is kind of way way weird.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Unbearable Darkness of E-Books

So once upon a time, and not that long ago really, I could look at my Nielsen Bookscan numbers and know that I was really and truly getting my weekly report card. Now, it's hard to be sure if I'm even getting an incomplete.

And it's all because of those darned e-books.

With Tanya Huff's permission, let us look at her excellent series of "Valor" military sf novels.

Two years ago when Valor's Trial came out in hardcover, I could very easily look at those numbers and look at the numbers for the hardcover of The Heart of Valor from the year before, and I could see that it was good. Over the first few weeks, hardcover sales of the 2008 release were up something like 40% from the year-before book. And now I'm looking at the release of The Truth of Valor, and that's up by 25% from what The Heart of Valor did in 2007, but it's down 15% from what Valor's Trial did in its first few weeks in 2008. Down 15%!!

Panic time? Well, no...

Let's look at just the Kindle. 2008 it's a novelty item not yet into its second generation just starting to get caught up on the orders from its first several months of existence. Now, though we don't know exactly the Wiki entry for the Kindle reports a number thru the end of 2009 between 1.5 million from outsiders and 3 million from informed insiders. Shall we all agree by now that sales are almost certainly over 2 million? Amazon in its fudgy statistic kind of way has told us it now sells more Kindle books than hardcover books, which isn't exactly the same as saying that Kindle sales outpace hardcover sales on any given book.

And that's just the Kindle. There are millions of iPads sold, and I can iBook Truth of Valor for $11.99 in seconds. And then we've got the Nook and the Kobo and all kinds of other gizmos and gadgets all with apps that allow me to read to my Android from my SmartPhone while sitting on my Desktop and balancing my Laptop with my other hand with all of these devices probably wirelessly syncing to one another.

And there is no Bookscan for e-books, at least not yet. The sales for e-books are totally opaque. Even more opaque than was once the case for print books, where I can visit stores and count copies on Friday vs. copies on Monday.

So what, really, does it mean that the hardcover edition of Truth of Valor is down 15% from the hardcover edition of Valor's Trial? It means nothing, nothing at all!

Did the e-book business also drop 15% like the hardcover did? Well, fat chance of that. I'm certain that more people have purchased e-books this year than two years ago. But by how much? If I think e-book sales have doubled, then a 15% drop is a smaller drop. If I think e-book sales quadrupled, which they may well have, then the 15% drop on Nielsen Bookscan for the hardcover becomes an increase in total sales inclusive of e-books. The 15% "decrease" could actually be a 15% increase, all dependent on those e-book sales increases.

Why can I even contemplate the thought that e-book sales might have quadrupled in two years? Well, for a new book like Tanya's the print sales are still the lion's share of copies sold, but every month more and more little tidbits like these... For Elizabeth Moon's Hugo-nominated Remnant Population, the e-book sold three times the number of copies as the trade paperback on her most recent royalty statement. For David Louis Edelman's Jump 225 Trilogy, which are wonderful very tech-oriented novels very well-suited to an e-book adapting audience (I think they're the first set of books to really take the conceptualization of William Gibson's Neuromancer and bring it along into today), I've seen numbers for Kindle sales that are about equal with the Bookscan scales, so total e-book sales could well exceed those of print.

Hence, when I'm looking at Tanya's statements, there's this big gaping hole of uncertainty where I know the e-book numbers are up but I've no way to fill in that blank right away. And it's hard to even say when I can. Depending on if an e-book vendor reports monthly or quarterly, or with a 15 day, 30 day or 45 day lag, the first royalty statement I get for this book could reflect e-book sales for one month to 30 September of for three months thru 30 November or anything in-between.

Suffice to say, I hate this. I like information, I feast on information, and here I don't know, instead I compare the Kindle store rank to the bookstore rank on Amazon, guess what it means, then read tea leaves. And there are more and more instances like with the new Tanya Huff book where I have to recognize the presence of "known unknowns." And while the example here has a two year gap between books in series, the growth in e-book sales is now so strong that I can't even trust 2010 over 2009 comparisons.

This I can trust: if I negotiate a deal tomorrow with a publisher, and I'm looking at a 5% or 25% drop in hardcover sales, the publisher will almost certainly try and tell me that the sales are down by 5% or 25%, and hope I'll ignore the fact that the e-book sales are up by 300% or 400% and the total sales actually increased by 10%.

Bottom line, more and more, day by day, the print side of things isn't the full story for the publishing business.

If you haven't yet tried Tanya's Valor books, the place to start would be with the DAW omnibus edition of A Confederation of Valor, which has the first two books for just $8.99. Tanya served in the Canadian Naval Reserve, so she knows her stuff. Book Loons says in reviewing The Truth of Valor, "Tanya Huff writes the best space opera around." Night Owl reviews says "the Torin Kerr books are my favorite novels in this genre." And Book Yurt thnks "Torin is definitely who we'd all like to have our back when the shit hits the fan."

And Sept 30, we get word of this rave review from "Huff has taken the genre light years beyond what anybody in the past could have imagined it being. This is not just a good book for its genre, it's a good book—period."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the anti-rant

I complain a lot about things I'm not happy about, so I'd like to take a quick moment to say some nice things about Skechers.

I had a problem with a pair of dress shoes I got from them. I noticed during BEA at the end of May that there was a flapping noise when I was walking, which I ignored for a few days and then kind of looked at the shoe and noticed that the leather by one of the buckle seams was coming apart near the seam and slowly spreading. Not happy-making, I'd just started wearing the shoes for my London Book Fair trip several weeks before, and maybe had worn the shoes for a total of ten, twelve, fifteen days when I needed dress shoes. Shoes shouldn't fall apart that quick, usually I wear the soles down from putting miles on a pair of shoes long before other parts of the shoe start to fall apart.

I eventually got around to taking a picture of the shoes, and I wrote a letter to the head of Skechers to say I was not happy. I couldn't just return them because I'd purchased them some months before, and I'd worn through pair #1 from that purchase before starting in on pair #2.

Well, a few days later a real human person called from Skechers to say that they were sorry to hear about my experience. They wanted to take a look at the shoes, and sent a call tag for Fed Ex to pick them up from me. And then after they looked at the shoes, they said they would happily send me a new pair. And then when I told them what style I wanted (that particular no longer in the warehouse) they did in fact quickly send me a new pair.

Am I happy the shoes fell apart, of course not. Though since I've mostly worn Skechers for several years now, I knew it wasn't something that happened all the time. And when I had an issue and pointed out a problem, their customer service was quick, polite, helpful, and got the job done. And which keeps the customer, and which gets them some thanks and gratitude from the crockety angry ranty side of my blog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

quick newsy notes

The Kindle will soon be available in Best Buy.

The Wall Street Journal is said to be starting up a book section for its Saturday weekend edition.

The NY Times had actual science fiction novel reviews in the paper a Friday back and may do this on a regular basis. The column is from actual sf writer Jeff VanderMeer, and this is the seriousestish coverage of the field from the Times in years.

The Kobo reader is rolling out a desktop computer app.

Not doing the usual linkage because I am still on the road and these filtered in from different places.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

news of the day

Borders announced it's earnings, or more exactly the size of its loss for the most recent quarter. Same store sales dropped 7%, not good, but not as steep as other recent reports, but would have been worse if not for an uptick in cafe sales.  Web site sales increased by big percentage but from small base.  They are closing a store in San Francisco near the Giants' ballpark, and are happy to have around a half dozen other leases for underperforming stores like this, DC store I blogged about a couple weeks ago etc. I haven't visited this SF store, may try on my layover heading back from WorldCon. And good or bad, Borders will open Build a Bear workshops in some of their stores. There is now also a two-tier Borders Rewards program, a paid program like the Barnes & Noble program which will offer more discounts, free shipping etc.  while also continuing the current free program.

In other store closing news, Barnes & Noble is closing its large flagship store opposite Lincoln Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side.  The store's original fifteen year lease is expiring, and rumors are the asking rent was at least doubling and maybe tripling. This is the 4th Manhattan BN to close in the face of larger rent in recent years.

On the eReader front, Samsung is introducing a reader into the UK market that will be sold via WH Smiths, which runs many travel stores that tend to be small and some much larger stores on malls and main streets, or "high street" in the local parlance.   Amazon is supposedly making an arrangement with Staples to start selling the Kindle.     

Sunday, September 5, 2010

when your doctor runs the Waystone Inn

You know from some of my other posts on these subjects that I have very passionate feelings about the direction our country is taking on matters of so-called security. These manifest themselves with particular, and sometimes and unfortunately ill-advised and untimely and misdirected passion, when a hotel in the US demands a photo ID at check-in.

We don't, or at least so I thought until I was reading the NY Times about the Lake Shore Limited, need papers to travel in the country.  If we need papers to check in at a hotel, then we need papers.

Beyond that...   the reasons a hotel will give for this are basically the same, that the person checking in with my credit card isn't actually me, so I am being protected by the hotel from credit card fraud and/or identity theft.

I would reasonably guess that fraud is most likely to occur for a spur of the moment booking.  But certainly in my circle, most -- not all but most -- people book well in advance  And the hotel knows things about you or your reservation. As an example, you are a member of the hotel's reward program and are paying with the card that was used to guarantee the reservation or a card that is in your profile with the hotel chain or staying at a hotel or a region where you often stay or staying in conjunction with a conference or other group event.

For almost all of my own bookings, the chances of either credit card or identity fraud would be along the lines of "I lose my bag at the airport, someone steals bag, notices a printout of my hotel reservation, decides it's a good rate, and would be nice to pretend to be me and stay at hotel under my name." The odds of this happening are not good. If it did happen, the odds that the credit card company would be informed of the theft, could notice at the card was authorized at the hotel after it was stolen, could inform the local police and arrest the miscreant while he is in "my" room at the hotel -- the odds the crime would result in somebody being arrested are better than the odds of the crime ever happening in the first place.

If anyone wants to provide me with the percentage of credit card fraud that takes place in hotels vs gas stations or retail or as fraudulent telecommunications charges or the like that shows my analysis to be wrong, please do let me know.  When someone did ring up charges on my card, it was at gas stations, Walmart, etc., not two nights at a hotel.  If someone has facts to show the percent of fraud on advance vs newish reservations, I'll happily correct.

More than one hotel tells me if a charge is contested they need to have checked photo ID to avoid having a chargeback, and I don't know if that can be confirmed.  In my experience the credit card industry wants to encourage you to use your card for more things in more places. It isn't so long ago I had to sign for small purchases under $25 at one merchant I frequent.  Not any more.  Not so long ago you couldn't use your credit card at McDonalds or the local movie theatre but the credit card companies worked with these places to get the cards working.  The card companies feel they have much better ways of detecting fraudulent use than some clerk at the Four Points by Sheraton in Times Square detecting a fake Idaho drivers license.

Oh -- if a hotel refuses to let you check in for a night without a photo ID, try and eat at that same hotel's fancy restaurant and pay with that exact same credit card on that exact same day and see if they'll ask for a photo ID at the end of your nice expensive dinner. This happened to me recently at a Manhattan hotel. I wasn't even staying there but wanted just to put the incidentals for a third party on my card.  The same meal I couldn't pay for one way, they were perfectly happy to have me pay for the other way. Could someone please give me the logic for that which wouldn't start to totally collapse in and twist on itself?

I was watching at a hotel recently while an entire water polo team was being checked in merrily giving their photo IDs. Did they have a ringer?  Someone snuck in to the team bus who wasn't on the team?  They were actually a ring of credit card thieves? This isn't airport security where for all my rants I don't go along with the argument that you never check grandma. Because then, yes, the bad guys will recruit grandma.  This is just stupid. This is stupid like proofing grandma and grampa before selling them beer at a ballpark. I hate being next to drunken louts at a ballpark, but that's stupid.  And having a water polo team all show photo IDs to get their keys is stupid. If one of them later contests the credit card charge, the manager at the hotel can call the coach and the school and have words with them. I strongly doubt that's a conversation he'll have to have.

And this stuff isn't without a cost. You don't pay all the costs of your driving because there's the gas fumes people breathe in or the hidden subsidies of the road system. Here, everyone spends more time checking in at the hotel. Maybe you don't notice that but think of every checkout line you are on and then think on that line if every single credit card purchase requires a photo ID.  It's not like two $89 nights at a hotel is more costly than a lot of trips we have to Target to do the back to school.

No, I'm sorry, but no hotel should require a photo ID as a condition of check-in. It's an insult to the guest, it makes visiting a hotel like visiting a doctor where first thing you must do is show your insurance. It protects against a not so existent threat. It's an infringement on our liberty. And if everyone started to complain about this instead of acting like it's perfectly reasonable maybe they would stop.

Plenty of hotels don't ask for ID and seem to survive. Those that do should clearly inform at the reservation process.  I will choose hotels that have honest guests, that don't require me to show my papers, instead of hotels that host criminals.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Footy is the nickname for Australian Rules Football. It's played on a very extremely large oval pitch, with goals at each end. The central goal is worth six points, and is surrounded by a subsidiary goal on each side which is worth one point. The ball is advanced with a combination of throwing, kicking and running. You kick the ball, the ball is caught cleanly, you establish a mark at the site of the catch and can have free kick from the spot of the mark. Throw and catch the ball you can keep moving the ball but without the benefit of the mark. You can also run up to seven generous steps with the ball in some of these cases, kind of like seven steps and then a few more so you don't have to stop too suddenly.  Lots of times the ball isn't caught cleanly or a couple people can go for it, and then you can get some nice violent competition for possession. 

I've now seen footy twice, first time during Aussiecon 3 in 1999, and with much eager anticipation this week during my Aussiecon 4. With two matches under my belt, starting to get more understanding of the game, and why I like watching it so much. 

First and foremost, I like it because I have to watch it. I watch lots of TV where the TV is background noise but for episodic TV want to watch only those shows that I have to actually watch because the quality of the writing and acting demands attention. 

Baseball has so much down time, if you rigorously keep score you can fill it with lots of housekeeping for the scorecard, but so much downtime. US football is way more downtime than game. Tennis changeovers and between points. The endless fouling at the end of a basketball half. US soccer aka football in much of world is non-stop action but with very little happening unless you're a true fan who will watch all those subtleties.

Footy has lots of free-flowing wide-ranging action with an actual scoring outcome. You don't need to be a soccer snoot to find a purpose to it, and while the clock is running there are things happening.  You get your money's worth watching what is on the field, you don't need cheerleaders and sausage contests and loud music. 

It's a violent sport, but it's not just about the violence. My first game 11 years ago had been a damp day, and the second half this year was damp. But the first half not. Which made it easier to hold on to the ball, which limited the opportunity for people to go fighting for the ball. With rain starting to fall in the second half, and a damp ball and damp grass, the game had an entirely different complexion.  You can't be great at footy without having skill both for the clean flowing game of the first half and the more scrummy conditions of the second. 

I also like the pageantry of the game. Some of it maybe because footy is exotic to me and the NFL not, so to an Australian the raised arms of a touchdown would be as much a touch of pageantry as the cocked arms and waved flags of a footy goal. But look at the way the footy refs carry the ball back out to midfield after a goal.  There's nothing like that in the NFL.

The field is large enough to become a three ring circus during halftime with various youth groups playing or scrimmaging on the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

For all its appeal to me, Australian Rules Football is regional even within Australia.  Most of the teams are based in Melbourne and surrounding.  I was watching the Geelong Cats, favored and from another coy near to Melbourne, against the St. Kilda Saints from an area in South Melbourne. The first quarter was fairly well contested, but the Saints totally dominated play in the 2nd and built a huge lead. In the second half, the Cats clawed their way back, and then seemed to go ahead with a minute left only to have disallowed for a push-in-back infraction allowing the Saints to run out the clock and hold on for an upset win.  The papers the next day said the infraction was doubtful but had little sympathy, pointing out that Geelong had kicked miserably in the homestretch gaining only one six-pointer out of eight attempts. 

And BTW, there were no bag checks and pat downs to enter the stadium. Beyond the entry gate there was one table and two bored-looking guys doing what seemed to be a voluntary bag check. In the US, we're all certain to die a gruesome and horrible death if people don't prove their cell phones are actually cell phones on the way into Yankee Stadium, or if we bring in empty plastic water bottles over emptiable ones.               

Thursday, September 2, 2010

lost liberty

The NY Times reports in an article by Nina Bernstein that the federal government is now asking people for their papers on the Lake Shore Limited, an Amtrak train that doesn't actually cross or really go particularly near the Canadian border. The questioning is strictly "voluntary" because the government doesn't actually have the right to ask an entire trainful of people for their papers. Though of course not many people are going to refuse to answer questions from an ICE/border patrol officer shining a flashlight in their face, and the officers don't tell you that you've no obligation to answer.  The officers doing this are assigned to a customs station originally set up to handle a ferry across Lake Ontario that hasn't run for some time, yet the station just kept growing and growing. Such authority to do this as can be mustered comes from rules that allow the US to enforce immigration rules within a "reasonable distance" of the border, which is set at 100 miles.

I started asking myself as I read along "now isn't the entire coastline of the US an international border?". And the article then gets around to this very point. The answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Under the authority the government is claiming here, the vast majority of people in the United States, anyone standing within 100 miles of the Atlantic or Pacific or Gulf coasts, in all of Florida or Alaska or Hawaii, could have a border patrol officer ask "voluntarily" about their citizenship.

And all you need to do is plant your feet within 100 miles of our borders. You think this doesn't effect you because you're from Kansas?  Guess again.  If you visit the Space Needle or the Liberty Bell, you too can be "voluntarily" questioned.

You go to Times Square on New Year's Eve, the NYPD carefully pens everyone in for crowd control, and then as you leave your pen at 12:15 AM, you are asked whether or not you happen to be an American citizen. Can you prove it?  Do you have your papers?  Do you want to leave the pen where the government is holding you?  Do you ever want to see your family or friends again?  How "voluntary" does that feel to you??

When I grew up we were fighting a war, a long cold war, against a tyrannical enemy. And one of the things that enemy did, the Reds, the Communists, that were the bane of our existence and our mortal enemy for 40 years, one of the things we were supposed to abhor, was it made people keep their papers with them at all times.  Not the USA. Not Americans.  We were free. We had the right to go and do as we pleased.

If we become more and more like the Soviet Union, surround ourselves with an Iron Curtain of fear, we have much bigger problems than Mexican illegals cleaning our hotel rooms or even -- or even -- a terrorist successfully bombing Times Square or the subway system.

When I left my apartment on September 12, 2001 to walk into a very empty and very shaken Manhattan with literally and sadly an odor of death wafting over, for a memorial service at my synagogue, I did so in part because I needed to go into Manhattan that evening, to show that I could and that we were going to outlast the enemies that had attacked the day before.

And now, in order to defeat our enemies we allow ourselves bit-by-bit and step-by-step to become what we once struggled to defeat.

I feel less secure reading an article like this one in the NY Times than I did journeying into Manhattan on 9/12.  

quick Ryan Harrison link

I don't think it was such a big upset, but now, can he make it to Nadal...

qualifying wrap

The main draw

To summarize the quallies a little...  the second day of quallies ended up being ended by rain just like the first, but more frustratingly. In this case skies were actually starting to clear, but just enough rain spat down that it would have been necessary to dry the courts ins read of just drying the lines for play to resume, and in the quallies you don't do that after dark like you might on a show court during the main draw with 20,000 tickets sold. I could see a star or two as I walked to the Lemon Ice King of Corona. While I got one full day of good weather on Thursday, Friday I got to the tourney two hours late missing a first match because I had to leave my desk clean of some things with a long trip starting the next morning.  Because of the rain, play extended into a fifth day, I could not do the same because of my trip, so I missed following some people into their third round matches.  Nor did I stay until the final point was played on Friday  

It was a good year for my viewing. Jerzy Janowicz, Bernard Tomic, Ricardas Berankis and Ryan Harrison are at least four players whom I am happy to say I saw in person. We will check back in a year or two on that.    

I am typing this on an airplane at 8am EDT on the second day of the US Open.  I could have checked the first day scores before getting on the plane but did not.  By the time I get caught up with the world after landing in Australia the second day of play will be complete. 

Luck has its place in this as in all things. The overall tournament draw is done during the qualifying, with 16 "q" balls. After the qualifying names are drawn to attach a qualifier to each Many years there will be at least one q-q first round match where two qualifiers play one another, guaranteeing at least one of them a second round berth. No such luck this hear, all 16 mens qualifiers could be gone after the first round. Adreas Haider-Maurer had the worst luck, drawing the #5 seed Robin Soderling and has essentially no chance of advancing. Ryan Harrison has go face the #15 seed Ivan Ljubicic and could put up a stiff fight.  If Harrison can make it past Ljubicic he could make it as far as Rafael Nadal in the round of sixteen based on his draw in the next rounds.  And if he can do that his ranking would rise so quickly...   The talented Lithuanian Berankis has the best draw, maybe, facing an American wild card entrant Ryan Sweeting. He can win that easy. The boring French player Marc Gicquel also has a decent first round match against Thiemo de Bakker. 

So we shall see...

(I am posting this a little later, and will update on how my above prognostications proved out...)

The Open continues to have a reasonable security policy as post 9-11 things go, which I can't say of a lot of other places. Which I appreciate. 

And I do love going. I hated to leave. WorldCon is in Reno next year, whatever the dates I won't go, so I can look forward to being back in a year for e entirety, based on my current known knowns.

And the Lemon Ice King of Corona really is good!!   

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

the Ryan Harrison story

On my first post about this year's Open qualifying, I had asked if Ryan Harrison could actually play, which is never always eager to determine in a first round match. I would have that question answered before the week was out, totally and for sure. 

Harrison's second round match was against Rui Machado, one of those perennial qualifiers, now mid 20s in age, playing some of the best tennis of his life with a ranking in the very low 100s. He's one good tournament, one run to the quarters or semis in a main tour tournament, away from at least being able to enter the main draw at the four majors, as Wimbledon and the US, French and Australian grand slam tournaments are known, without qualifying. And sometimes, if you can do that and get a lucky draw and have a good week, you can make it to the third or fourth round at one or two and be set for a whole year of main draw appearances. A great player, no. But no shoo-in for a Ryan Harison, who's 18 and 100 spots lower in the rankings and still not much tested at the pro level.  To put it another way, the ability to start to at least beat the Rui Machados of the world is one of those tests that a lot of next great hopes never end up passing.

What we learn in the first two sets today is that Harrison can at least play at this level, that he may be #200-something today but that there's nothing to keep him from being at least 150 spots higher. Lots of good tennis, the first two sets are split, these guys are evenly matched and fun to watch. Half or more of the people in the qualifying are not fun to watch on any level. 

But then we learn that Harrison is not ready to contend at this level. 

Even though it's a cool evening with little to tax a player as far as the conditions go, Harrison calls for the trainer a few games into the third set. We haven't noticed it, but he's starting to cramp, and cramp bad, and now we can't help but notice. He is grimacing in pain. He's doing that "hit bad leg with racket" thing that players do.  No way should this be happening tonight if a player is ready for prime time. 

But we now learn that Harrjson wants this win, wants it bad, wants it with every fiber of his being. 

Cramping is usually felt worse on the serve. If you can start to run you can keep running, but you can't push off. So since Harrison absolutely cannot serve, be starts serving underhand like a Joshua Bilmes at summer camp.  He actually wins a game or two like this, there are even signs that he is starting to play through the cramps, which can sometimes happen in the same way that someone does win the lottery. But then he runs all out toward the net to get a ball back, a shot which nobody -- nobody -- in his condition would bother trying to make, and now he has to stop short because he'll run full speed into the fence. Not good.  Why no player in his condition would go for that ball, because now he's totally done for, hobbling back to get ready to receive the next point and getting a time violation warning in the process because he isn't ready to play. 

And somehow, he goes on. 

One rather surprising twist:  it's a perfect night to play tennis and now Machado is starting to cramp and calls for the trainer. Not as bad as Harrison, but Machado is now serving with his arms alone, no real push-off with his legs, so he can't fully capitalize on Harrison's injury. 

And here, we can see that Harrison has better, more powerful strokes than his opponent. Times like this, players try to shorten points by going for winners earlier in the point, as hard in the point as early in the point as you can find any kind of chance to do it. And Harrison can do this sooner and harder. He might be the more hobbled of the players, but he has more heart and more talent and manages to break serve and take the final set and move on to round 3.

This was, for me, like watching the famous Pete Sampras match where he won while throwing up between points. An incredible, dramatic evening.  

This was on the second day of play, when rain delayed the start of play for almost 6 hours. It is possible this put the preparation for both players out of whack, which led eventually to their cramping after two hours of fiercely contested play.

Day three, Harrison has to come back and play. He is none the worse for wear. We hear him saying something like "this is a great set I'm playing" toward the end of the first set. He is being sarcastic, as he is behind and losing a set we know and he knows he should win against a player he knows he should beat. Which he does, he plays a little crisper, and takes the next two sets fairly easily to advance to the main draw.          

keep on tennising

So getting back to tennis on the blog...

Instead of keeping day by day, I'll do posts for two players I watched on both the third and fourth days of qualifying. 

We left off in the middle of day 3, and I'm looking for my next match. I try one that just seems boring boring boring and go off looking if there's any alternative. I decide I'll check out a Polish player, Jerzy Janowicz. No idea who he is, but I walk over to the court and he looks like a really young player, like one I would enjoy watching. His opponent I seem to think is not so young.  I am right on both accounts, Jerzy is still a teenager, won't turn 20 for another couple of months. Frederik Nielsen is the typical journeyman, never above 200 in the rankings and heading from mid twenties to upper.   This ends up being one of those nice quallies moments.  It turns out the young guy can play, so he is fun to watch and I do feel I'm getting an early glimpse at something maybe good. And when he wins, there's just such a big smile on this young man's face.  And there are so many happy Polish people who have been watching and are joyfully wanting autographs and pictures. I have a hard time remembering any Polish player making an impact on the men's ATP tour, so if they are so happy in the moment, even if that moment is just the first of a necessary three matches just to get in to the main draw, you have to live in the joy of the moment. 

Alas, the fairy tale is short-lived.  The next day, Jerzy is playing the Hungarian, Andreas Haider-Maurer, whom I had watched earlier in the week. I am sitting behind and just to the right of Haider-Maurer's coach, and behind and just to the right of me there's a handful of Polish fans in Polish colors vocally rooting on their compatriot.  It is a good, fun match to watch, I am certainly routing for Jerzy because I think he's the player with more potential on the up side, but he's just not playing the big points as well, as the saying goes.  Jerzy isn't there at the end of each set.  I'm not sure the better player won today, but the better player today certainly did.

And no matter what, this year's a better one than two years ago. I have a new name to route for. Jerzy is young, with a booming serve and solid groundstrokes and someone I'd happily watch another year or two before determining he's one of those perpetual qualifiers I don't want to keep watching. And deep down, my suspicion is he's too good for me tom nave the chance to keep watching him in the qualifying.