Jeff Tarango is the Homer Simpson of tennis commentators. Duh.

September 8, 2014

Tennis commentator Jeff Tarango wears his heart on his sleeve. At the US Open he revealed remarkable similarities to Homer Simpson

Homer Simpson is the much-loved character in the peerless comedy series The Simpsons. He is portrayed as capturing popular stereotypes of the American culture, through his basic decency, his loyalty to his family and the American dream. He is also lovably dysfunctional socially, simplistic and unreflective in his beliefs and hapless in his unconscious mediocrity.

Jeff Tarango

Jeff Tarango has Homeric aspects to his personality. Perhaps the most famous is on U-tube showing how he defaulted himself from Wimbledon after a clash with an Umpire and a very Homer-like argument that he should be able to tell the crowd to shut up as they we telling him what to do. Then his wife, as loyal as Madge Simpson, manages to seek out the Umpire and give him a retaliatory slap.

Jeff never scaled the heights as a singles tennis player, although he crept into the top fifty with a career-best of 42. But like Homer Simpson , he had his triumphs over fate and adversity. He became a tennis pundit. Among his present employers is the BBC, as much part of the British establishment as The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club.

Tarango at the US Open

Even keen tennis fans in Europe probably missed the fantastic match at the US Open at which
Cilic beat Federer in the early hours of the morning, European time. I first learned of the result reading Tarango’s account of the match as it unfolded.

It is fair to say the Tarango is not your average neutral commentator. He wanted Federer to win. Big Time. His recorded view became more Homeric as his man struggled and headed out of the tournament.

Federer, he declared, would be back to win Wimbledon next July. In fact he would go on to win two or more Grand Slams. Most commentators were discussing whether the Fed would win another slam.


The world would be a duller place without Homer Simpson. Perhaps the same could be said about Jeff [Homer] Tarango

Tennis watch: Andy Murray development update

August 16, 2010
Andy Murray of Great Britain wins the Cincinna...

Image via Wikipedia

Andy Murray’s progress is followed in the build-up the US Open 2010. The notes have been prepared for students of leadership, coaching, and personal development.

Sunday August 21st

Murray v. upbeat about Cinci defeat. Thinks conditioning gained was pefect for Open. The Guardian was not as convinced

Friday August 19th

Murray’s run at Cincinnati ends in quarters. Loses tight game to Mardy Fish. Murray’s plea for a match outside the heat of the day is turned down. He is clearly worried by the heat. Hits physiological wall after winning tight first set tie break. My medical advisor says quitting court for cool comfort break may have made things worse as he needed medical attention soon afterwards for dizziness. Also reported assorted twinges. Possibly good break for a couple of weeks before Open. But will we need a Murray Knee Watch next?

Thursday August 18th

Murray sneaks past Gulbis in 3rd set tie break. Looked fatigued in heat (and slumped in chair afterwards). Win in doubt as Gulbis big-hits way to first set and then until final breaker. Next up in quarter finals Mardy Fish who beat Murray in last two match ups.

Wednesday August 18th

And so on to Cincinnati masters event.  Bye in first round. Second round M played a bit hot and a bit flat looking troubled for a while when Chardis attacked rather wildly.  Said he found surface difficult and needed practice later in the day before round three against tougher Gulbis.

Monday August 16th 2010

Andy Murray had defended his title at Toronto by beating Nadal in the semis and Federer in the final. At the start of the tournament his play and his longer-term plans seemed in disarray. He retains the tag as the strongest player around who hasn’t won an open championship. Admired aspects of his play include considerable natural talent, wide range of responses to opponents shots, and good fitness level (despite natural physical weakness of the knees, and earlier suspect fitness levels).

Earlier in the week I suggested that progress should be judged against longer-term patterns of on and off court behaviour. Murray’s play reveals high-level of performance competence repeatedly mixed with lapses of concentration. Losses to more aggressive powerful players have been too frequent. In play, a pattern of scrambling brilliance has sometimes failed to compensate for weaknesses in serve and a preference for counter-punching. Off-court he has had uneasy relationships with coaches. He recently parted company with his coach (but retained the other members of ‘Team Murray’. At 23, he has reduced displays of truculence on court.

My recent comments were that under stress, older patterns of action come to the surface. In tterms of a well-known personal development adage, “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Under stress Murray may revert to a rather timid style that will cost him important matches.

Clijsters the US Open and the Wimbledon Roof

September 14, 2009

KIm Clijsters

Kim Clijsters wins the US Open. The story is hailed as a remarkable example of happenchance. But was it?

A wonderful win for Kim Clijsters at the US Open [September 2009]. The match stood above a seemingly endless sequence of technically correct but stereotyped women’s contests of recent times. Her young opponent Caroline Wozniacki showed enough tennis to suggest she will win major tournaments in the future., and enough charisma to ensure a sparkling career.

Tennis remains a minority sport in most countries. Maybe recently it has grown in popularity through Justin Henin and ‘the other Belgian’ player, Kim Clijsters. Maybe in Switzerland through Roger Federer’s impact globally. Too often, the sport can be upstaged, even during Open Championships by some other sports story from football, golf, or athletics, perhaps accompanied by impact of non-sporting shock-horror chemicals abuse.

Even Kim’s tale this week was in danger of being upstaged by the bizarre end to her semi-final win over tournament favourite Serena Williams, who was reduced to a blind rage over line calls and defaulted at match-point. The media nearly forgot the other story.

Kim’s Tale

Here is Kim’s tale. Clijsters shows precocious talent as a junior, but another junior from her own country, Justin Henin was to overtake her and become world No 1 and a multi-slam winner.

Both retire young to seek more stable family lives. Klijsters has a baby, daughter Jada, and appears to be settling for comfortable domesticity away from the sporting headlines.

Then she took part in a match to commemorate (bizarrely) a new roof. OK, a new roof on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but the event still seems to capture something about the slight nuttiness of Tennis and its promotion. Kim plays a set with three iconic figures, partnering Tim Henman, England’s almost man of tennis, and the sport’s most glamorous couple, and suprstars, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff

The exhibition game demonstrates the special skills of its very top performers. It still leaves the impression that the enjoyment (as with most so-called senior events) has little to do with the chances of the players competing again at the highest level.

Immediately after the display, almost jokingly, Clijsters remarks that she might just give tournament tennis another go.

After a few warm-up tournaments, she gets a wild-card into the US Open. There is some press interest in her early rounds, to catch the dram of her inevitable demise. But there wasn’t an early-round demise. Her progress to the final included wins not just over Serena but over her formidable sister Venus.

Making sense of the story

The story as it is being told (you might say as it is being weaved or spun) is that ‘if Kim hadn’t played at Wimbledon in the roof-opening exhibition, she would never had an opportunity to rediscover her appetite for the game.’ It is a plausible idea, and I can nearly believe it.

It fits nicely into a widespread belief in fate or luck playing a part in our destinies. ‘If only I had done that …’ ‘If I hadn’t caught that particular train…’. ‘If Kim hadn’t accepted the invite to Wimbledon.’

Her’s another possibility. A year into being a mum with an much-loved daughter, Clijsters begins to miss something. She watches women players win events, and thinks maybe she could do better than that. She agrees to play in a event, and starts training hard because that’s what champions would do. She discovers, as with the Wimbledon experience, that she might still be able to get to the top again. Or she figures that a few million dollars might still make a worthwhile nest-egg. And where better than the US Open, scene of her only Open win, and arguably her best chance again? Puts togther a great back-up team.

Another variant: Kim, even while pregant. remained a celebrity. Jada has hardly been concealed from the media spotlight (her arrival on court after her mother’s US Open triumph was a media imperative).

There were quite a few forces which would have been active in urging Kim to come out of retirement.

My point is this. There may be many possible trigger points which produce what appears to be a tipping point change reaction. Such a trigger point is therefore special in one way, but not in another. There is a trajectory of events which is easier to anticipate, even if we can still marvel at the story which ‘all started at Wimbledon at the roof-ceremony’ .


Image showing the publicity machine in action from

Betting on Murray against Federer

September 8, 2008

When Andy Murray squared up to Roger Federer for the US Open title, the smart money was on the former champion. But there were crumbs of hope for the romantics betting on the underdog

What considerations might lead anyone to back a player playing in his first Grand Slam final against one of the greatest of Tennis champions of the modern era?

Add to that the general view that the 21 year old Murray is still developing his game at the highest level, while the 27 year old Federer is still close to his awesome peak. as he demonstrated in beating Novak Djokovic in the Semi-finals.

No contest. But the odds offered on matchday offered were around 2/1 on Federer.

The immediacy bias

On of the famous biases in human judgement is known as the immediacy effect. Most people put to much weight in their decisions on the most recent bits of information. Murray played out of his skin to defeat World No 1 Raphael Nadal twenty four hours earlier, in a match interrupted by rain and extended over two days.

Rafa had recently snatched the No 1 slot from Federer. A great win for Murray.

Sky Sports summarizer was one Greg Rudzeski, who had been the last Brit to make a singles final for some years. (OK, an ex-Canadian, then).
Greg had been backing Federer to win, throughout the tournament. But now that Murray had outed Nadal, Greg flipped over. “It’s his destiny” he insisted. “He’s going to beat Roger. I’m going to change my pick. He’s playing better than Federer.”

For me, there are too many variables to reach a fully-convincing conclusion: Murray had lost five out of five matches to Nadal, and won two out of three matches against Federer. Nadal had beaten Federer in the final at Wimbledon this summer. Murray was likely to be more fatigued after his later completion of the Nadal game.

I suspect the betting is also biased by the proportion of the British Gambling public that is rooting for Murray. That is to say almost all Scots, and a rather smaller proportion of the English who are nostalgic for the days of Gentleman Tim Henman.

Tim, like Greg, thinks Murray will edge out the Fed. John MacInroe, and Nadal go with the bookies’ favourite.

Wisdom of the crowd says Federer. Track Record says Federer. Experience says Federer. So how come so many fans can’t wait for what they believe will be a close match?

Davydenko dumps Murray just like Federer predicted

March 7, 2008

When Federer lost to Murray at Dubai this week he said Murray had not developed much in two years. When Murray then lost to Davydenko, Federer’s harsh judgement seemed quickly justified


The remarks made by Roger Federer about Andy Murray were repeated by the media as the two prepared to contest The US Open final six months later.

Original Post

Fededer’s post match comments on losing to Andy Murray at Dubai caused a bit of a stir. He made his views clear. Murray had not developed a great deal despite his climb up the rankings in the last two years. Was the great man in denial after a rare loss?

Since his win over Federer, Murray’s performances seem to back up the Fed’s remarks. In the second round there was a scratchy performance against Fernando Verdasco which he could easily have lost. In the third round there was another lack-lustre effort against Davydenko in which the young Scot was comprehensively bullied off the court.

In both these efforts the most obvious characteristic of Murray’s play was a style that in essentials has characterised his play since his days as a promising junior. The style has often been described as that of a counter-puncher. He has always been a counter-puncher. It has survived changes in coach. But even after a time with Brad Gilbert he has remained a counter-puncher, albeit a much improved one.

It’s largely a matter of comfort zone. Under stress we all retreat to the most habitual responses to the pressure of the situation. Champions lose less, which is what we mean when we talk of their mental toughness. But under pressure we all now pretty much how an Andy Roddick will fight his way out of trouble. It will be different to how an Andre Agassi used to do it, or a Johnnie Mac. Murray’s way has been to stick even further to defense, reducing advances to the net even further.

Grooving and flexibility

Every player knows the importance of being grooved. How getting feet and body lined up just right to deal with as many different shots as possible. But grooving can come at a cost to flexibility.

Murray is still in search of grooving his now formidable serve. He does not bottle it on critical points. But it still needs more grooving, more consistency. He is more than flexible enough at a tactical level. Maybe too willing to try the low probability option that has commentators gasping in admiration when it works, and frustration when it doesn’t.

So the master has got a point about the apprentice. In some very important ways Murray has a signature to his play. Too often still he does not find the flexibility to depart from his comfort zone. That is sometimes concealed by brilliant improvisation that goes with the basic style.

Federer also said that maybe Murray will surprise us all over the next ten years. Maybe by winning slams. Let’s hope so.