Saturday, May 20, 2006

How I Got Hooked on Fantasy Tennis and What Happened Then

What It's All About

I love tennis—men’s tennis anyway—and it is hard for me to believe that I could be more enthusiastic about the sport than I already was, but then I got hooked on fantasy tennis. The ATP has done a couple of smart things this year. The first is that nearly every tournament features a player blog (these can be accessed on the ATP website, so that we armchair warriors can get a little insight into how the athletes prepare for their matches and what they do during their “off” time during a tournament. The second is that they have made fantasy tennis free this year. Considering that thousands of people are taking part, the interest in men’s professional tennis must have increased.

I know that lots of people play fantasy baseball and other sports. For example. my cousin Patrick routinely wipes the floor with a bunch of local fantasy “managers” in Oswego, NY. The fantasy managers pore over the copious statistics available and choose their players, with due deference to the salary cap and whatever other considerations are relevant. And of course, every possible kind of statistic is kept in baseball. In addition to such mundane things as e.r.a. and r.b.i., there are on-base percentages, slugging percentages, how pitchers do in day games versus night games, etc., etc., ad nauseum. If you like numbers, fantasy baseball must be heaven, and I do hope it's more interesting than the actual games, which are bo-ring, in my humble opinion.

Not being particularly interested in statistics (or baseball, for that matter, although I think Derek Jeter is adorable), no one would ever find me playing fantasy baseball, but the ATP Fantasy Tennis is easy to play and not particularly statistics-driven. Every week, you get to pick 8 singles players and 1 doubles team for the tournament(s) being played. If your players do well and win money, you do well. Each team (mine is called the Gremlins, don't ask me why) is ranked based on the amount of prize money its players win for the week. There are over 11,000 teams, and mine is ranked 513 at the moment, which is pretty good for an amateur, if I do say so myself.

The great thing about fantasy tennis is that you have to pay attention to players you might not normally root for and tournaments that might not be among your favorites. I like grass court tennis (shortest season of all, worse luck) and indoor tennis best, although I am beginning to find a place in my heart for the summer hardcourt season, but clay? Other than Roland Garros, I never used to pay it much heed. But this year I have been poring over the results at smaller tournaments in Valencia, Barcelona, Casablanca, and Munich, as well as the big tournaments in Monte Carlo, Rome, and Hamburg. Next week I have a tournament in Poertschach, Austria, of all places! (Not much money there, but there are big bucks on the line at the ARAG World Team Cup in Duesseldorf) By the time Roland Garros rolls around, I will have so much clay on my socks they'll never get clean.

The catch in fantasy tennis is that you can only use each player or doubles team 5 times. With an 11-month tennis season, you can't use up the big guns early and expect to have much success. True, I have been prodigal with Rafael Nadal during the claycourt season, but I have not even used Roger Federer yet, and I am saving Andy Roddick for grass and the summer hardcourt season. Federer has played well on clay this year, and I am going to use him for Roland Garros, just in case the Roger-Slam becomes a reality, but otherwise it would be a waste to use him now. In fact, I haven't used any American players yet for obvious reasons.

Learning to Love Spanish Players

Strange as it may seem to some, there are Spanish players other than Nadal. During the clay court season I have used a number of Spanish and South American players with varying results, not to mention the odd Eastern European or two. When it comes to winning on the clay, you can get to love guys like David Nalbandian and Tommy Robredo. But in addition to those players, whose names were relatively familar to me before I started playing fantasy tennis, I have used David Ferrer, Fernando Gonzalez and Nicholas Massu to good effect. I haven't had much luck with Gaston Gaudio, and I have given up entirely on Guillermo Coria, but what's a game without some ups and downs? Soon we will be on the grass, and the Spaniards will disappear from my team to be replaced with Federer, Roddick, Hewitt, Henman and Rusedski (maybe), and a new discovery for me, Mario Ancic. So I'm being prodigal with the Spaniards while the claycourt season lasts.

Probably my biggest frustration so far has been having to root for Rafael Nadal when my heart is with Roger Federer, as was the case in Monte Carlo and Rome. But soon it will be Roger's turn, and Rafa has come through for me, although I wish I had used him in Barcelona. One nasty little catch about ATP Fantasy Tennis is that if you use a player and he withdraws because of an injury, you can't replace him and you have lost one of your 5 opportunities to use him during the season. That happened to me with Rafa this week in Hamburg, but considering that I have ended up with two players in the finals (Robredo and Stepanek), I can't complain too much.

If it sounds like I am having fun, you're right, I am. However, I have already learned that betting on sports would not be a good career for me. I have backed too many losers to be optimistic about my chances. But that's all part of the fun of it, isn't it?

"Players, time!"


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