Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dollar a Day Part 2 - This Trip I'm Taking!


My last post described how Dollar Rent-A-Car has these great one-way specials for $1 a day plus tax. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from taking the trip I detailed there. Fortunately though, Dollar has another one-way deal. This time, you can pick up the car in New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Philadelphia and return it pretty much anywhere in Florida. The deal runs from now until November 17th and then from November 29th until December 15th. So I had a quick look at the schedule and found out that the Maple Leafs are in Pittsburgh on December 8th! I had already planned to be in Madison, Wisconsin on that day, but the Leafs in a new road arena trumps any other sporting event, especially college basketball. I quickly eliminated my Wisconsin basketball excursion and started to plan around that Leafs-Pens game. Here's what I came up with:
Dec  6   Dallas Stars at Columbus Blue Jackets 7:00
Dec 7 Robert Morris Colonials at West Virginia Mountaineers 7:00 (NCAA Basketball)
Dec 8 Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins 7:00
Dec 9 Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals 7:00
Dec 10 Hershey Bears at Charlotte Checkers 7:00 (AHL)
Dec 11 Boston Celtics at Charlotte Bobcats 7:00
Dec 12 Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars 1:00 (ugh)
Dec 13 New Orleans Hornets at Miami Heat 7:30
I'm still going to Minneapolis for the 3-game weekend from Dec 3-5 (Flames at Wild, Cavs at T-Wolves, Bills at Vikings). But the rest of that trip is being discarded for this special. I'll forgive you for thinking I'm a shill for Dollar - I'm not. But these specials are simply perfect for sports road trips; I just hope that other road trippers can take advantage.

In other news, I'm going to modify my January trip too. I still plan to see the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh as well as the World Juniors in Buffalo, but I'm going to skip the AHL games I had planned after that as the trip above will take care of most of the allocated budget. I'm still not sure how it will all work out, but I'll post a final schedule here once everything is booked.

Best,

Sean

Update: Dollar and Thrifty are run by the same company and both have these one-way specials on site with slight differences. Now Thrifty has a special from Seattle/Portland/Boise to California or Las Vegas, again finishing November 17th. The reason for all these one-way specials is to get cars to holiday destinations in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Guessing there will be reverse deals in early 2011, so keep your eyes open.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dollar a Day Rental Car - Road Trip Plan


Dollar Rent A Car has a great special once in a while. You can rent a car for $1/day if you are driving it just one way. Pick up and drop off locations are limited and differ for each special, but are usually far enough apart that you can plan a nice little sports road trip. From now until November 17th, this special is available with pick up locations in New York City and Pittsburgh and drop offs in Houston, Dallas and some other Texas cities as well as Tulsa, Oklahoma. The biggest restriction is that the rental period is limited to 7 days so you can't just take your time, pretty much every day you want to be moving closer to your destination.

I've been looking at the schedules and found dozens of potential trips between these spots. I'd love to go, but my temp job and the Nabisco Cup Final keep me in Japan until November 3rd. I also need to be here on November 21st in order to fly to Okinawa for a few days. Even with those constraints, I found the following trip quite intriguing.
Nov 10   Bruins at Penguins 7:00
Nov 11 Reading at Wheeling 7:05 (ECHL)
Nov 12 Avalanche at Blue Jackets 7:00
Nov 13 Gwinnett at Cincinnati 7:30 (ECHL)
Nov 14 Bengals at Colts 1:00
Nov 15 Miami at Memphis 11:00 (NCAA Basketball, Midnight Madness)
Nov 16 Trailblazers at Grizzlies 7:00
Nov 17 Mavericks at Thunder 7:00
Nov 18 Sharks at Stars 7:30
The seven-day restriction is met by renting the car on November 11th, using public transit the day before to get from the airport to downtown Pittsburgh. The same would be done in Dallas: returning the car in the afternoon and taking the train from the airport to the arena. One note - the taxes and surcharges in Pittsburgh add $38 to the dollar-a-day price.

Am I going to take this trip? Sadly, it's quite unlikely, given my trip in December among other things. But it sure is tempting.

Meanwhile, for those of you who have some time off and want a cheap way to travel, check out the special at Dollar and see if you can put together your own sports road trip.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday Sees Champions Suffer


Saturday was a good day in baseball if you are like me and hate seeing the same teams buying their way to the top year after year. In Japan's Saturday morning (Friday evening in Arlington), the defending champion New York Yankees were eliminated by the Texas Rangers, who advanced to their first World Series. Seeing A-Rod watch the final pitch of his team's season was sweet.

Then Saturday evening in Japan, the defending champion Yomiuri Giants were sent packing by the Chunichi Dragons in the second stage of the Central League Climax Series. The Giants are the big spenders of the NPB and seeing them and the Yankees lose on the same day was gratifying. The Dragons will face the Lotte Marines who finished 3rd in the Pacific League but managed to win both stages of the Climax Series. However, the Nippon Series doesn't start until next Saturday as the NPB continues its policy of prolonging the season for no apparent reason.

Finally, Saturday evening in Philadelphia, the 2-time defending NL champion Phillies were dispatched by the San Francisco Giants in a tense affair. The Phillies are no longer a laughingstock with the 4th highest payroll in the majors, so it's nice to see that their acquisition of the two Roy's (Halladay and Oswalt) wasn't enough to send them to a 3rd consecutive Fall Classic.

The Giants will now try for their first championship since moving to California. Whatever the case, one of two long-suffering fan bases will finally enjoy a championship. I always like to see different teams win so I'll enjoy this series regardless of who wins. Here's hoping for 7 games!

Best,

Sean

Friday, October 22, 2010

Season Stats Comparison between MLB and NPB


I've always been interested in the differences between baseball here in Japan and that played overseas. Of course, there are the obvious things like the longer games that occur regularly here, or the overuse of the sacrifice bunt that , but the smaller things that aren't immediately noticeable. With both regular seasons over, I decided to perform a quick analysis of the differences between the two leagues.

I looked at all the offensive stats plus errors to see if there were any large discrepancies on a per game basis. I used mlb.com for their stats and npb.or.jp for the Japanese equivalent. I simply summed the stats for each team to get the total number over the entire season and divided by the total number of games played.

In Japan, there were 864 games (144 games for 12 teams) while in MLB there were 2,430 (162 for 30) . There are a couple of surprising results: one is how many of the stats are close to one another and the other is how the general perception of the two games isn't necessarily accurate.

Let's start with runs. The average MLB game had 8.77 runs compared to 8.78 for NPB. Pretty much the same. But there was a difference between how runners got on base - there were 18.22 hits per game in Japan but only 17.51 in MLB while the major league pitchers averaged 6.49 walks per game compared to only 5.91 in Japan. This really surprised me, I always thought that pitchers nibbled here more and batters were more patient, thereby drawing more walks and making the games longer. Nope, I was wrong on that one. Interesting that hit batsmen happen more in Japan though at a rate of 0.84/game compared to 0.64 in MLB.

The majors did lead in terms of power, hitting 3.49 doubles per game compared to 3.22 here, 0.36 triples to 0.29 and 1.90 homers to 1.86. What is interesting here is that the home run differential is the least significant of the three; the general belief is that the game here is faster while the majors hit for much more power. Not necessarily true, and stolen bases somewhat back this up with MLB averaging 1.22/game compared to 1.19. By itself, not a statistically significant result but still a bit surprising.

The largest difference is obviously sacrifice bunts, where Japan averages 2.72 times as many (1.73/game compared to 0.64), but intentional walks are also significantly different, being used twice as often in the majors (0.5/game compared to 0.24).

This was a good season to compare the two leagues because MLB finally got tough on steroid users. The fairly severe penalties given to first-time offenders is likely one reason behind the reduced offense in MLB and makes comparisons more meaningful.

Finally, on the other side of the ball, the Japanese do play better defense, at least by the simplest of measurements: errors. There was about 1.13 errors per game in the NPB, 9% less than the 1.25 flubs that the major leaguers made. However, I'm not sure if passed balls are included in either of these calculations.

What's all this mean? I think the general perception is that the NPB relies more on small ball and less on power, but plays a better fundamental game. That's true to a point with sacrifices the most obvious example, but the difference is not as significant as I would have expected.

Below is the complete table of stats. The third column is the percentage difference, simply the NPB total divided by the MLB total less 1, expressed as a percentage.

MLB NPB Diff
TPA 76.36 76.81 0.60%
AB 68.05 67.84 -0.31%
R 8.77 8.78 0.08%
H 17.51 18.22 4.07%
2B 3.49 3.22 -7.90%
3B 0.36 0.29 -17.51%
HR 1.90 1.86 -2.14%
TB 27.41 27.60 0.69%
RBI 8.35 8.40 0.60%
BB 6.49 5.91 -8.95%
K 14.12 13.78 -2.41%
SB 1.22 1.19 -2.57%
CS 0.46 0.47 0.98%
Sac 0.64 1.73 172.32%
SF 0.54 0.48 -9.42%
HBP 0.64 0.84 32.36%
IBB 0.50 0.24 -51.66%
GDP 1.53 1.46 -4.71%
Err 1.25 1.13 -9.03%
Game Times

I've also done a bit of poking around with game times and pitch totals, but I haven't been able to easily find the total number of pitches in Japan. MLB.com has that data (there were 710,066 pitches thrown in 2010 if you care) but I'd like similar data for here. Even better would be ball/strike breakdowns. Also I haven't calculated the average game time in MLB. The NPB actually posts that on their home page (3:13 for 9 inning games and 3:18 overall, 5 minutes longer than last season) in their increasingly futile attempt to speed up the game.

A few months ago I posted a preliminary look at why Japanese baseball games take longer and promised to look into it more. I did end up gathering data for 102 games from each league but have decided to ignore those results (which showed MLB about 8.8% faster using the Pitches Per Minute metric) as the sample size turned out to be too small. Once I get the full season's data from Japan, I'll have one final post on this topic, so check back for that in a couple of weeks.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Horse Racing in Tokyo - October 20, 2010




A friend of mine invited me to the Oi Racetrack where Tokyo City Keiba (TCK) is run on a regular basis. Keiba is the Japanese word for horse racing, and the TCK runs races from the afternoon into the evening on some weekdays. The races held under the lights are known as Twinkle Races and attract a large number of casual fans, including plenty of couples enjoying a date.

I had only been here once before, way back in 1997, which is hard to believe as it is a good place to spend for a few hours (and a few yen if you aren't careful). The track is located about 5 minutes from Oi Keibajo-mae station on the Tokyo Monorail, which has direct connections to Haneda Airport. It costs just 100 yen to get in as they expect you to lose much more than that while betting.

My friend was new to racing and we arrived around 7, with only 4 races left on the card. Although the place is huge, I didn't explore much, concentrating on the upcoming races and trying to decipher the racing form. The hardest part is figuring out the names of the horses; they are written in the katakana alphabet which is used for foreign words but since horse names are often not typical words it can be fun trying to determine exactly what the owner was trying to achieve. For example, one horse was named Asusheka in Japanese which could translate to Earthshaker (likely) or Ass Shaker.


One interesting thing is that you can venture into the infield and watch the races from there. As it is without seats, few people do that but in the picture above you can see a couple of fans watching the horses race past.

There are dozens of betting options which are illustrated in English on the home page linked above, but we kept it simple, just betting on a couple of races. I even got one right (the number 1 horse below) but I bet so little that my winnings were not even enough for a beer. Regardless it was a fun couple of hours, and I will revisit on an upcoming weekend to fully enjoy the experience and write a more detailed post.

Best,

Sean


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nabisco Cup Final Set


Just a quick post, about a week late, to note that the Nabisco Cup final will pit Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Jublio Iwata. I saw Hiroshima's first game in the competition back on September 1st when they lost 1-0 to Gamba Osaka. But they rebounded to win the second leg and then beat Shimizu S Pulse in the semi-finals. Meanwhile in the other semi, Iwata knocked off the team I semi-support, Kawasaki Frontale to advance. Iwata has a much more storied history with several league championships and an Emperor's Cup to their name, mostly from the late 90s, while Hiroshima has very little to brag about, winning only the 2008 Super Cup.

The game is on November 3rd at 14:00 and I was smart this year and got tickets in advance. Both teams are in the middle of the table in J League, so it should be an interesting match. I'll be cheering for Hiroshima though so if you are a gambler, taking Iwata is the wise choice as teams I root for have a bad habit of losing regularly.

Best,

Sean

Monday, October 18, 2010

F League Doubleheader - October 17, 2010


I'm always on the lookout for something new to see in the Tokyo sports world. So I was intrigued when a friend mentioned the F League, a futsal league that is in its 4th season. There are two teams in the Tokyo area but both are located in the western suburbs more than an hour away, so I hadn't made the effort to visit either of them yet. Fortunately, the league had a special weekend with 5 games held at Yoyogi's National Gymnasium, located in central Tokyo. So I headed over on Sunday afternoon to catch a couple of matches and add another sport to my resume.

Futsal

Futsal is an indoor sport that resembles soccer mostly, but takes elements from other sports as well. The name comes from "futbol de salon" in Spanish which literally means hall football. Like soccer, only the feet or head are used to control and move the ball unless you are the keeper, who is allowed to handle the ball. The pitch is a hard floor that is about the size of a basketball court, with no boards or walls to keep the ball in play. Nets are set up at either end with a large crease area which limits where the keeper can hold the ball. There are four field players and one keeper on the pitch at any time, and substitutes are unlimited, even occurring during the run of play.

The ball is smaller than a typical soccer ball and is not nearly as bouncy. This leads to few headers and much more quick passing, which can be very exciting to watch. However, the lack of boards means the ball ends up out of play on a regular basis. There are no throw-ins though, the ball is placed on the ground and kicked back into play; it is also possible to kick directly at the net from a kick-in.

There are two 20-minute halves with stoppage time for goals and when the ball leaves the playing area. Like soccer, cautions are indicated by a yellow card, two of which leads to ejection. However, an ejected player is replaced after two minutes as a continuous 4-on-3 would be impossible to defend. Fouls are counted like basketball, once you have 5 fouls in a half you are in the penalty; a sixth foul leads to a penalty kick.

Those are the basics and with that knowledge you would be able to understand the game. The Wikipedia article linked above has more detail if you are interested.

Power play

One interesting rule that may only apply to the F League is known as the Power Play. When a team is trailing, they can pull their goalie, much like in ice hockey. But the substitute player must wear a different jersey in the same colour as the keeper's, and he can act as a keeper when the other team attacks. Below is Pescadola Machida player Reo Yokoe with a keeper's jersey.


F League

The F League began in 2007-08 and is now in its fourth season. There are ten teams, ranging from the northern island of Hokkaido down to Oita on the southern island of Kyushu. For me, it's great to find another league that I can add to potential road trips, although teams only play one game per week. The team from Nagoya has won all 3 championships so far and they look like they will add another one this season with a 9-1-0 (W-D-L) record.

The league gets some coverage and I saw highlights of these games last evening, but it is still a minor sport here, with about 2,500 fans showing up for the two games.

Game 1 -Shonan Bellmare 3 vs Deucao Kobe 3


Shonan Bellmare are based in Hiratsuka, which is about an hour minutes from Tokyo, so they had a small cheering section of about 30 fans along for the ride. The squad lies 9th in ten-team table with a 2-1-6 record. I should note that Shonan Bellmare is also the name of a J League club so I'm guessing they have some relatively wealthy pockets to support them. Bellmare's opponents were Deucao Kobe, who were 3rd at 5-1-3 but could only afford a couple of people to cheer for them.

The game got off to a quick start when Shonan's Motoki Tanaka sent a shot from a nearly impossible angle into the far top corner to give his team a 1-0 lead. It was a spectacular goal and a great way to get introduced to futsal for me. Kobe tied it up shortly thereafter when the Shonan defense fell apart, leaving Kohei Harada wide open to tuck one home. At this point, I thought futsal was an offensive game with lots of goals, but those two markers turned out to be all the scoring for the half. In fact, the majority of the game was marked by the failure to generate many real chances. The playing area is small and it's tough to kick a ball that size past defenders. Most attacking passes went out of bounds while most shots missed the net.


In the second half, Shonan's Bola, a Brazilian shown with the ball above, scored on a terrific free kick (below shows the ball in the net).


Thirty seconds later Masahiro Eto tucked home a perfect pass and it was 3-1 Shonan. But Kobe didn't give up, adding a second tally from Takuya Suzumura with 9 minutes to go, setting up an exciting finish.

This is where the power play came in. Kobe pulled their keeper with about 2 minutes left and went to attack with 5 field players. With just under a minute to go, Brazilian Chiago Okazaki blasted a shot that hit the back of a Shonan defender, caught the keeper going the wrong way, and ended up in the back of the net to tie the game at 3.

With only about 40 seconds left, Shonan tried the power play strategy, which I thought quite risky, but they couldn't convert and Kobe couldn't score on the empty net, so the match ended in a 3-3 draw.


Game 2 - Fuchu Athletic 4 vs Pescadola Machida 3

This game was billed as the Tokyo Derby as it pitted the two suburban Tokyo teams against each other. Fuchu Athletic is in their second campaign, and although they finished bottom of the table last year, they lie second this season. Machida, on the other hand, finished second last year but has dropped to 10th, with only 3 draws from their first nine matches. So essentially a match between a team on the way up and one on the way down.

This game started quickly as well, with Machida's Japinha, another Brazilian, driving home a rebound just 26 seconds in. But Fuchu tied it up when Machida left Goshi Koyama all alone in front of the net from where he slotted home easily. Then with 5 minutes to go in the first half, Thai national Lertchai Issarasuwipakorn (known as Rucchai here) finished off a perfect 3-way passing play to give Fuchu their first lead of the match.


In the second half, another Brazilian took center stage. Roberto Bourscheidt, known as Betinho and shown above, scored to make it 3-1 and when Fuchu added another to make it 4-1 with just over 10 minutes to go, it looked like the game was over.

But Machida went to the power play for those entire ten minutes and managed to score two goals in quick succession around the 15-minute mark: the first from Japinha on a free kick and then another about 20 seconds later from Shuji Kai, whose simple shot beat the screened goalie. Suddenly it was a close game again, and Machida continued with their power play strategy. Despite generating a lot of pressure, they couldn't muster the equalizer and fell 4-3 to cement their place at the bottom of the table.

How to block a shot?

Thoughts

The game can be fast, but the ball is out of play a lot. It comes back quickly enough though, so the 40 minutes of action is about 90 minutes of actual time including the 15-minute halftime. There were a couple of really nice goals off good passing plays, but for the most part the play is disjointed and rarely do you get 30 seconds of uninterrupted action.

There are few fouls in the game since there is so little space to actually run. For both games, there were just 24 fouls and most of these came late in the second game. The best thing is there was none of the rolling around in fake agony that ruins so many soccer games, players got up quickly unless they were really hurt.

The power play strategy was used quite effectively, resulting in 3 goals scored and none against. It definitely gives teams that are trailing a good option as it is quite tough to score on a long shot against the empty net and makes for exciting play as the substitute tries to run off the pitch to allow the keeper back on when the opposition takes possession.

One interesting bit of trivia is that the teams switched benches at halftime. This made changes on the fly a bit easier. Since benches are really just a bunch of plastic chairs, there wasn't any reason they couldn't do it, but it was something I had never seen before.

I'm a bit surprised they don't follow the bj League model and play two games on a weekend given the travel expense involved, but perhaps futsal is a bit more tiring.

Overall, I found these games mildly entertaining, but not so much so that I'll be making a trip to Machida or Fuchu just for one match. But if I see a potential road trip that involves futsal and another sport or two, I'll definitely consider it. But that's unlikely as I explain below.

Why Sports Road Trips are Tough in Japan

The main difference between the leagues here and in North America is that there are few weekday games here outside of baseball. So I have trouble finding a nice 4-games-in-4-days trip during the winter. There is a winter baseball league in Miyazaki right now, but little else around there. But the bj League usually has doubleheaders most weekends, while the J League only has occasional Wednesday night games. So it can be tough to find a multi-sport weekend with games every day that are reasonably close to one another. I'll keep looking though, because without roadtrips and sports, there's not much else to do.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Ties Suck In Baseball - 2010 Edition


Last year around this time, I posted a brief note on the minor league pennant race in Japan being decided with ties being ignored, which is stupid and unfair. This year, both NPB playoff races went to the wire, and again ties reared their ugly head.

Let's look at the Central League first. The Hanshin Tigers finished 2nd at 78-63-3, while the Yomiuri Giants were 79-64-1. If the simpletons who ran Japanese baseball were capable of understanding math, they would realize that these two records are identical in terms of percentage as ties should equal half a win. But they don't. Instead, ties are simply ignored. Yep, those games don't count in the standings. The stats do of course (although there is no winning or losing pitcher), but the game doesn't. The team's winning percentage is simply wins/(wins+losses).

So the benefit goes to the team that wins less games and ties more. This is because they are above .500, so going 0-0-2 (which doesn't affect the winning percentage) is better than going 1-1-0 (which reduces it slightly). Absurd. Wins are the object of the game and you should be rewarded for winning, not rewarded for avoiding a loss by grinding out a tie. (I should point out that if you are under .500, then the team that has more wins and fewer ties does get the better record).

It gets worse in the Pacific League. The Softbank Hawks and Seibu Lions played to a virtual tie for first. Softbank went 76-63-5, while Seibu won two more, lost two more, and tied four less for a 78-65-1 record. Of course, Softbank gets the title while Seibu was forced to enter the second stage of the Climax Series, which they promptly lost to Lotte in 2 quick games. So you have the team with the most wins in the league knocked out of the playoffs after just two losses. Stupid.

I know they'll never do away with ties here, but they need to incorporate them in the final standings. Stop rewarding failure!

Protracted Post-Season

While I'm ranting about the stupidity of the way the NPB runs itself, I'll make a brief note on the length of the post-season here. The PL finished their season on October 1st, but didn't play their first playoff game until the 9th. That was game 1 of the aforementioned Lions-Lotte series, which finished on October 10th. It's then 4 more days until the second stage of the Climax Series begins. That means two playoff games in two weeks! How thrilling.

Meanwhile, the CL finished their season on the 10th, but don't start their playoffs until the 16th. Fortunately, they are smart enough that the second stage begins on the 20th, so the first stage winner doesn't get time to reset their rotation.

In fact, that's what I find most annoying about these extended breaks before a playoff series. Baseball is a team game and the most important part of the team is the pitching rotation. If you have 8 days off before a series, you can set up your rotation anyway you want it. Teams like Lotte, who fought until the final day of the season to sneak into the playoffs, are not punished for their weakness. They had ample time to rest and prepare for Seibu, who they then defeated.

In the majors, there are 2 days off before the playoffs, and these are reserved for tiebreakers. Teams that fight to the finish can't afford to adjust their end-of-season rotation to rest their best starters for game 1, so they are at a disadvantage, which is fair.

Texas clinched early and was able to set Cliff Lee for game 1 and now game 5. But they couldn't polish off Tampa quickly, and so whoever wins that series will have a slight disadvantage going to the ALCS as the Yankees are now able to set their rotation the way they want it.

It just baffles me that the NPB devalues their regular season so much, first by creating the stupid playoff system, and then extending it for so long. I guess they don't have any real competition in the sports world here so they can afford to lollygag their way through October.

NHL GameCenter Live

Fortunately for me, the NHL season has started and I've subscribed to the GameCenter Live package again. It is definitely worth the $20 a month. The quality has improved with steams up to 3000 kbps available. All games are shown live and the majority are exciting and close. Nearly every game I've watched has been decided by one goal; one exception being Toronto's 5-1 drubbing of Ottawa which was an immensely enjoyable event for me. Generally though, the NHL is the most exciting league on the go right now. I am a big MLB fan, but it wasn't a particularly exciting season and the playoffs are again illustrating the difference between the haves and have nots. The NFL and NBA are threatened with work stoppages next year; in both cases the product on the field doesn't live up to the hype. Still, it's hype that sells in sports, so the NHL will continue to be a second-tier game.

Next Up

I've got a part-time temporary job doing research and translation for an upcoming sporting event. This keeps me at home during the day, so I won't be attending many games during October. Other than some futsal this weekend, it'll be quiet until November. But check back on occasion as I'm increasingly annoyed with the world of sports both here and there and will probably use this blog as an outlet.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

MLB Pennant Races - Final Results


During the baseball season, I posted the standings after each team had played 54 and 108 games. It was interesting to see how teams were quite consistent from one segment of the season to the next. Now that the season is over, I thought it would be worthwhile to see how teams performed down the stretch and compare those records to the other segments.

What I find interesting is that the playoff teams after 54 games were mostly unchanged. All four AL teams were in playoff position back in May, while the NL saw San Diego and Los Angeles drop out, replaced by San Francisco and Philadelphia. Keep that in mind when someone tells you those early-season games are not important.

Anyway, here are the final standings and the teams records for the final 54 games, as well as the differential between the previous 54-game segment.

54W 54L Win
AL East W L GB Diff
Tampa Bay 96 66 29 25 -2
New York 95 67 1 28 26 -5
Boston 89 73 7 28 26 -2
Toronto 85 77 11 29 25 4
Baltimore 66 96 32 30 23 11

54W 54L Win
AL Central W L GB Diff
Minnesota 94 68 34 20 5
Chicago 88 74 6 26 28 -13
Detroit 81 81 13 28 26 3
Cleveland 69 93 25 23 31 -2
Kansas City 67 95 27 21 33 -3

54W 54L Win
AL West W L GB Diff
Texas 90 72 27 27 -7
Oakland 81 81 9 27 27 1
Los Angeles 80 82 10 26 28 -2
Seattle 61 101 19 21 33 3

54W 54L Win
NL East W L GB Diff
Philadelphia 97 65 37 17 7
Atlanta 91 71 6 29 25 -1
Florida 80 82 17 27 27 1
New York 79 83 18 25 29 -2
Washington 69 93 28 21 33 -1

54W 54L Win
NL Central W L GB Diff
Cincinnati 91 71 31 23 2
St. Louis 86 76 5 26 28 -3
Milwaukee 77 85 14 27 27 -1
Houston 76 86 15 29 25 2
Chicago 75 87 16 28 26 5
Pittsburgh 57 105 34 19 35 3

54W 54L Win
NL West W L GB Diff
San Francisco 92 70 30 24 -3
San Diego 90 72 2 27 27 -4
Colorado 83 79 9 27 27 -1
Los Angeles 80 82 12 24 30 -1
Arizona 65 87 23 25 29 5

Comments:

Buck Showalter led the Orioles to the best record in the AL East over that stretch; they could be a surprise in 2011. New York stumbled to the finish line, let's see if that impacts them in the playoffs. They'll be taking on the Twins, who improved by 5 games over the stretch despite losing Justin Morneau.

The White Sox reverted to a .500 club, which was not surprising considering how they outperformed in the middle third of the season. The AL West was over months ago.

In the NL, Philadelphia had the best record as well as the best improvement and look to be the team to beat in the playoffs. Cincinnati used consistency to take the Central title, while San Francisco were fortunate that San Diego could do no better than .500 over the last 54 games. Interesting that the Cubs and Diamondbacks were most improved for that segment, both improving 5 games. Of course, both teams were absolute garbage in the middle of the season, so that is pretty much meaningless.

What's the point of these posts? I feel like the sports media doesn't take much time to go back and analyze trends. As an example, Texas did not finish strongly and this could hurt them against Tampa Bay. But I haven't seen any analysis of why they struggled. I think it is worth looking at how teams do over the last part of the season as that is likely a better indicator of how they will perform in the playoffs.

Based solely on using the records over the final 54 games, Philadelphia and Minnesota should face off in the World Series. Let's see if it actually happens.

Update: Well, Minnesota lost pretty quickly and Philly is in trouble right now. Obviously a record over 54 games isn't that meaningful when you run into a team that simply outmatches you. Look at Texas, who relaxed down the stretch and are now a game from their first World Series. So this theory, like most everything on this blog, is mostly crap. I'll try something different next year.

Best,

Sean


Monday, October 4, 2010

Chiyotaikai Retirement Ceremony - October 2, 2010


When I first moved to Japan in 1996, I immediately became hooked on sumo. I would go to every tournament in Tokyo and often travel to various out-of-town events as well. The stars of the sport were the two Japanese brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana, while Hawaiians Akebono and Musashimaru were also at the top of their game. Each tournament was exciting and usually went to the last day before a champion could be declared.

But by 2004, all of these great wrestlers had retired and there were no interesting personalities to replace them. I lost a lot of interest and as time passed, sumo was pushed to the periphery of my sports viewing world.

Explaining Sumo

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the sport is how simple the rules are but how complicated the underlying rituals can be. It is beyond the scope of this blog to go into detail on the various traditions but it is safe to say that the sumo world is essentially unchanged since it began over 250 years ago.

I'll try to keep it simple so the rest of the post makes some sense to the uninitiated. In sumo, there are several levels, much like baseball. New rikishi (the Japanese word for a sumo wrestler) begin at the lowest level and work their way up. There are 6 tournaments a year and you move up the ranking by winning a majority of your bouts. The top level is where fame and fortune can be found. It is known as Makunouchi and there are only 42 rikishi out of around 750 total who are good enough to make it here. As an interesting comparison, there are also about 750 MLB players and 68 make the all-star team.

Within the Makunouchi division, there are further ranks. The vast majority are known as Maegashira; these are just the rank and filers who move up or down a few spots for each tournament. Above them are the best of the best, known as Sanyaku, consisting of 4 ranks. The top two levels are Yokozuna (Grand Champion) and Ozeki. Once a rikishi is promoted to Yokozuna, he cannot be demoted; he must retire when his skills deteriorate. There have been 69 Yokozuna in the history of sumo; currently only Mongolian Hakuho represents this rank.

At the top level, there are 15 bouts in a tournament. A rikishi who wins 8 or more will move up while one who loses 8 or more will move down. The rules of each bout are quite simple. At the center of the dohyo (ring), the two rikishi, wearing only a mawashi (stiff belt used to get a grip by the opponent), face each other from a squatting position. They then jump at each other at the same time (tachiai) and begin grappling or pushing. The object is to push your opponent out of the ring or to force him to touch the ground with any part of his body except his foot. Once either happens, the bout is over; many bouts last less than 10 seconds as the advantage gained at the tachiai can quickly be exploited. There are 82 kimarite (winning techniques) that are recognized by the sumo association, however only a small portion are used regularly.

After each tournament, the rankings shift. A rikishi who goes 8-7 will move up 1 or 2 spots, while one who goes 12-3 will see a much larger jump. Getting promoted to Ozeki or Yokozuna requires a decision of a council of elders and is big news when it happens.

Each rikishi belongs to a heya (stable) which is run by a stablemaster, who is a now-retired sumo elder. These heya are located throughout Tokyo though most are near the Kokugikan (see below). It is not uncommon to see the rikishi in their yukata biking around the area. It should be noted that rikishi from the same heya do not fight each other in tournaments.

There's so much more that can be discussed but I'll leave it here for now. The Wikipedia article has a much more detailed explanation which I suggest reading if you are interested.

Kokugikan


All three sumo tournaments and most other sumo events in Tokyo take place at the Kokugikan next to Ryogoku station. As you walk from the station, you will notice the colourful banners that are on display at tournament time (above). The venue was opened in 1985 but it is the third sumo arena in Tokyo. There are two levels: the lower level has mat seating which are generally sold in groups of 4 and can be quite tight when you have four big people sitting there; the upper level is chair seating with 3 separate pricing options. Prices are different for each event but generally the mat seats are around ¥11,000 and the chair seats go from ¥2,000-7,000.

The Kokugikan is perfectly symmetrical, with 4 distinct sides: shomen (front), east, west, and mukae (back). It makes a difference where you sit as the shomen view offers the clearest sightlines as the rikishi face that way when entering the dohyo. However, once a bout begins, they move all around the ring so that you can get good pictures from any spot.


The Kokugikan holds 13,000 people and it can get crowded during tournament times. A typical tournament day begins at 9 am and goes to 6 pm but few fans are there from the beginning as it is the very young rikishi who are fighting from that time. That is therefore the best time to go for visitors, as you can sit as close as you want to really appreciate just how difficult the sport is.

Retirement


Naturally, rikishi get old and start to lose their skills. At some point they realize it's time to hang up the mawashii. Those who have been in the sumo world for a long time are then given a retirement ceremony, known as the danpatsu-shiki or hair-cutting ceremony. This is because rikishi wear their hair in a stylish top knot when fighting, which requires their hair to be extremely long. That's Chiyotaikai above signing autographs before the ceremony, you can see his topknot in the shape of a gingko leaf here. When they retire, they can return to a normal hair style, and it's only fitting that the final haircut is performed by the supporters, friends, and family of the retiring rikishi.

There is one other element of the retirement process which is the name change. Rikishi choose a shikona (ring name) that has special meaning to them or relates to their heya. For example, Chiyotaikai belongs to Kokonoe-beya, which is run by ex-Yokozuna Chiyonofuji, one of the greatest rikishi of all time. All rikishi in this heya select a shikona that begins with Chiyo in honour of their master, as did Chiyotaikai. The -taikai suffix translates as "big ocean" and I'm not sure why he chose that specifically. Whatever the case, when a rikishi retires, he will usually take another name that is reserved for a sumo elder. In Chiyotaikai's case he is now called Sanoyama-oyakata (coach) and will train rikishi at Kokonoe-beya.

Chiyotaikai

Before I mention him any further, I should offer a brief explanation of Chiyotaikai and why I cheered for him when I started following sumo.

When I moved here and started to go to the tournaments, I wanted to avoid being a front-runner and cheer for the top ranked rikishi. So I started looking at the lesser known guys and found this youngster named Chiyotaikai whose kesho-mawashi (decorative apron worn in ring-entering ceremonies) was a Canadian flag. I found a picture in the middle of this sumo explanation for kids. At the time he was sponsored by a Canadian and so I had no choice but to cheer for Chiyotaikai.

As he moved up the banzuke (ranking list) I followed him closely. He was very strong and rose quickly through the ranks, reaching the Sekiwake level (one below Ozeki) for the January 1999 tournament. I attended the last day of that tournament in Tokyo. Chiyotaikai had a 12-2 record, one win behind Yokozuna Wakanohana. They were scheduled to meet in the penultimate bout of the day. If Chiyotaikai won, they would hold a one-match playoff to decide the tournament title. Chiyotaikai upset Wakanohana in that bout so they met again to decide the championship. Wakanohana was initially awarded the win in that playoff, but the judges had a look at the replay and decided that it was too close to call, so a rematch was ordered. This was the first time in history that a championship playoff went to a rematch. The second time Chiyotaikai was able to push Wakanohana down to claim his first title and with it, Ozeki promotion for the next tournament. It was one of the highlights of my sports viewing life and certainly something I will never forget. It's rare for a team or athlete I support to actually succeed (40 years of Leaf fandom etc) so I was quite happy to see him take his first championship.

After that, Chiyotaikai enjoyed over 10 years at Ozeki including two more tournament championships, but injuries and a lack of technique made it impossible for him to achieve promotion to Yokozuna. Nonetheless, he holds the record for most tournaments spent at Ozeki with 65. He retired during the January, 2010 tournament after losing his first 4 matches as a newly-demoted Sekiwake. It was a great career and he was deserving of a great retirement ceremony.

The Ceremony

Unlike a normal tournament day, the retirement ceremony begins around 11 am and only lasts until 4:30 or so. Saturday's festivities began with a ceremonial song and then ten junior rikishi held a mini-tournament. This was followed by a shokkiri display, which is a comical skit performed by two rikishi to show what is not allowed in sumo (such as kicking, spitting, etc). It is quite funny and the crowd was entertained by the antics.

This is followed by a display of how to create the topknot. A tokoyama (sumo hairdresser) and a rikishi (Takamisakari below) spend a few minutes on the dohyo while the announcer explains the intricate details of how to properly set the topknot before each bout.


Next up was the entrance ceremony for the Juryo rikishi, who are one level below Makuuchi but still are considered to be high enough to enjoy the perks of seniority (meaning they are served by the junior rikishi of their heya). The entrance ceremony is known as the dohyo-iri and is only performed by Makuuchi and Juryo rikishi. First, the rikishi on the east side for that day come out. Led by a gyoji (referee) their names, birthplaces, and heya are announced as they mount the dohyo wearing their kesho-mawashii (below). When they finish, the west rikishi do the same thing. It's very symbolic as after the final rikishi is on the dohyo, they all turn into the ring to face each other, clap to summon the gods, raise their hands to show they have no weapons, and raise their kesho-mawashii to simulate stomping.


One this was completed, we were treated to a few minutes of sumo jinku, or traditional songs that are often about the life of a rikishi. Six junior rikishi shared the dohyo singing and making jokes. It is quite surreal to see these behemoths crooning with such unexpectedly good voices.

With the entertainment over, it was time for some actual sumo to take place. There were 12 Juryo bouts, but it was immediately clear that this was not to be taken seriously. Avoiding injury was the main object and there were few throws. Below is one-time Ozeki Miyabiyama (recently demoted to Juryo for his part in a gambling scandal) after he threw Toyonoshima but this was the exception for today.


All of this took about 90 minutes, and it was now time for the actual hair-cutting ceremony. The dohyo was covered with orange cloth and a single chair was set in the middle. Chiyotaikai was announced and strode to the center to loud applause. There was a brief speech by the president of Kokonoe-beya's koenkai (official fan club for want of a better term, but it's very serious and expensive to join) before the hair began to fall.

At this point, a gyoji with golden scissors mounted the dohyo and stood next to Chiyotaikai. For the next 90 minutes or so, his supporters and fan club members, some famous actors and athletes, and other rikishi were called up. Each took the scissors and snipped a tiny piece of Chiyotaikai's hair. There were 358 people who participated in the ceremony. Below is ex-Ozeki Konishiki, who holds the record for heaviest sumo dude ever at 287 kg (633lbs), although he has slimmed down after recent gastric bypass surgery.


The ceremony proceeded rather slowly, except when a celebrity was announced, when the crowd would ooh and ahh. Some famous names that I recognized were the WBA flyweight champion Daiki Kameda, his father Shiro, ex-Yomiuri Giant Daisuke Motoki, and Nippon Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nishida, whose team had been eliminated from the playoffs the day before.

After the laypeople had taken their turn, it was time for a couple of long-time foes to do the honour. Former Ozeki Tochiazuma was first - he and Chiyotaikai had a long rivalry that defined much of their respective careers. Active rikishi Kaio and Hakuho were also asked to take a snip.

When all that was done, Chiyotaikai's mother was introduced. However, women are not allowed on the dohyo as they are considered "impure" and will ruin the sanctity of the ring. Sumo has a lot of traditions based on the ancient Shinto religion and this is another one. Like all traditions, it's a bit silly when it doesn't change with the times, but for now, don't be standing on the dohyo if you are a woman.

Chiyotaikai's mother is obviously of that persuasion, so to allow her to cut his hair, they moved the chair off the dohyo where she could perform the ceremony without offending the gods of sumo (below).


Finally (and I mean finally - 90 minutes of watching people cut hair is not exciting!) it was Chiyonofuji's turn. The stable master is the last person to cut and so he removes the entire topknot to signify the end of the rikishi's fighting career (below).


Naturally Chiyotaikai shed a few tears during the last stages of the ceremony, but he recovered to give a quick speech thanking his fans for all their support over his 17-year career. Nobuteru Maeda, a famous singer, performed a corny ballad and then the announcer replayed, using his voice only, the 1999 championship that I mentioned earlier. It was extremely well done and most of the people around me were crying by the end of things. As Chiyotaikai left the Dohyo, fans screamed his name one final time; going forward it would be Sanoyama.

The day wasn't over yet (and neither is this post). There was a demonstration of the construction of the yokozuna's belt (tsuna) which is shown below.


After that the Makunouchi rikishi performed their dohyo-iri and then Hakuho did his special Yokozuna dohyo-iri, sporting the tsuna that had been put on him just a few minutes before.


After one final demonstration, this one of the special taiko drums that accompany each day of a tournament, it was time for the Makunouchi bouts. Again the wrestling was clearly of an exhibition variety, so much so that even Hakuho, in the midst of a 62-match win streak in tournament action, lost to fellow Mongolian Harumafuji (below).


And that was it. The fans quickly filed out, with the full day's action taking little more than 6 hours. For me, I chose this event as a symbolic end to my sumo-going days. The sumo organization is old and out-of-touch, and has been embroiled in scandal for the past several years. Worse, the sport is simply not that exciting anymore, so I've decided to stop going. I'll write a separate post on the current situation in sumo in a few days but this post has lasted far too long as it is.

For now, apologies for the long post filled with Japanese terms, but I hope you got some understanding of the intricacies of the world of sumo.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pan Pacific Open Semi-finals - October 1, 2010


After a couple of quiet weeks characterized by bad weather and a rather uninteresting sports calendar, October finally arrived and with it the Toray Pan Pacific Open. It was this week's stop on the WTA tour and it actually started back on September 25th, but I waited for the semi-finals which took place yesterday.

The Tournament

The Pan Pacific Open (PPO) has been around since 1984 but was originally played in January after the Australian Open. Tokyo also hosted the Japan Open Tennis Championships in September, which had both women's and men's competitions, so that the women's tour made two stops here. I suspect that was a bit much for all but the most ardent tennis lover as the PPO was moved to September in 2008 and then last year the Japan Open lost their women's competition. Now the last week of September sees the PPO while the Japan open takes the first week of October.

The PPO is considered a Premier 5 Event on the tour, making it one of the more lucrative competitions outside the four majors. It is not as high-profile as the Premier Mandatory tournaments, but it still attracts big-name players such as world #2 Caroline Wozniacki and one-time #1 Maria Sharapova, who has fallen to 15th at this time. Serena Williams was also scheduled to be here but she was forced to pull out as she is still recovering from foot surgery.

Ariake Coliseum

Located near Tokyo Big Sight, the Ariake Coliseum is a single-court stadium with a retractable roof. It is next to Ariake Tennis Forest Park which is where the other courts are located as a single court cannot handle all the matches for a tournament.


It has hosted the Japan Open since it opened in 1987 but the PPO only moved here in 2008. As you can see above, there are five seating levels, ranging from courtside (¥16,000 or nearly $200 - yikes!) to unreserved seating at the top for ¥4,000 (add ¥500 if you buy the tickets on match day). I was fortunate to find a lady who was desperate to sell an ¥8,000 ticket so I took one off her hands at a reasonable discount, but was disappointed with the location, which was at one end of court. However, only the courtside seats were protected by ushers, and with the stadium perhaps a quarter-full, it was not a problem to move to a better seat. Turns out this was a ¥12,000 location, which is just crazy by my book. The picture below shows the view from the end seat.



This was my first time inside the stadium and I liked the set-up. It was a beautiful day so the roof was open for the entire time, which made a huge difference. The concourses were wide and there were a number of food options scattered throughout. At the main entrance was a small souvenir booth and other information stands. There was a large board with the draw and results, which was useful as I hadn't been following the tournament closely.

As this is tennis, fan movement is limited. If you leave the seating area during play, you are not allowed to return to your seat until after the 3rd, 5th, 7th etc. game when the players take a break to switch ends. Most fans respected this rule although a few did get up during play for whatever reason.

There are two simple scoreboards with no video replay, although when challenges are made, they are shown here (see the next section).

Ariake is easily accessible from Kokusai Tenjijo station on the Rinkai Line as well as the Ariake Tenisunomori station on the Yurikamome monorail. If you like tennis, I would recommend a day here, but just buy the cheapest ticket and move around; it's a surprisingly open venue.

Challenges

I trust that everyone is familiar with tennis, so I won't explain the scoring or the rules here. I will quickly touch on challenges though. A relatively new addition to the game, each player has 3 challenges per set. When they disagree with a line call, they simply tell the chair umpire they are challenging the call. The Hawk-Eye system is in place and the results are shown on the scoreboard. The path of the ball is displayed and if any part of the ball touches the white of the line, it is in. If the call was correct, the player loses a challenge, but if the call was in error, it is reversed and the challenge remains. It's very interesting addition to the game and over the day, I'd say about 1/4 of challenges were reversed. This is not a slight on the line judges; it's simply impossible to accurately judge a ball traveling that fast on a consistent basis.

The Singles Matches

As it was the semi-finals, there were four matches on tap. The first two were singles, with doubles following.

Match 1 - Caroline Wozniacki (#1) vs Victoria Azarenka (#8)


The first match of the day started just after one with top-seed and world #2 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (above) taking on Belarus' Victoria Azarenka (below), ranked 11th and seeded 8th. It turned out to be a fascinating battle, not due to the great talent on display, but because both players were incapable of taking charge.


Tennis is a game in which your serve should control your destiny. If you lose a service game (known as being broken) you need to break back to stay in the set. Breaks shouldn't be that common, but in this match they were the rule.

Azarenka broke to open the match but immediately gave the game back with two double faults (she had 12 on the day). After Wozniacki held, Azarenka was broken again to go down 3-1. Three service holds made it 5-2 but Azarenka double faulted on set point to lose the first set 6-2. Most of these games went to deuce two or three times, so the set took 48 minutes.

Wozniacki served to start the second set and it went like this: break, break, break, break, hold, hold, hold, hold, break, break, break, break. Ugh. It was not pretty as neither player could take a 2-game lead. At 6-6m a tiebreaker was required, which Azarenka won 7-3 after challenging a call that had made it 4-4. The call was reversed and Azarenka went up 5-3, taking the next two points to even the match at a set apiece.


The third set was more of the same as Azarenka was broken on her first three service games to fall behind 5-0. But Wozniacki (serving above) couldn't close it out and let her opponent win 4 straight before finally making a great winner to take the match 6-2, 6-7 (3) 6-4. The match took 2:50:59 (yep the official clock has seconds!) and was rather tiring to watch.

Ultimately Azarenka was done in by too many unforced errors. Both players stayed on the baseline but Wozniacki's strategy was just to play calmly, keep Azarenka on the run, and make fewer errors. Azarenka was more powerful but often sent shots long or into the net, and Wozniacki capitalized to make it to the final. Those who watch the final will be glad that Azarenka is out; she had a very loud grunt on every shot and also pumped her fist whenever she won a point. Very annoying. She also threw her racket once and seemed close to meltdown at that point. Wozniacki was definitely the more mature of the two but even she chucked her racket after a bad shot, but it seemed rather forced.



Match 2 - Francesca Schiavone (#5) vs Elena Dementieva (#7)


The second match saw French Open champ and world #8 Francesca Schiavone of Italy (above) take on Russia's Elena Dementieva (below) who was just two spots below her in both seeding and world ranking. Both are heavy grunters so it was a noisy afternoon but this tilt was better as Schiavone attacked the net more often, forcing Dementieva to make passing shots, which she did on a regular basis.


After the first marathon, I didn't as pay much attention here so there's a lack of details on the recap. It was 4-4 in the first set (two breaks each) when Dementieva made a couple of great shots to break the Italian at love. Serving for the set, Dementieva then racked up 3 straight points before a Schiavone winner and a double fault left the Russian with just set point. But Schiavone couldn't complete the comeback, sending the ball into the net and giving Dementieva the first set.

The second set was similar. Trailing 3-5, Schiavone saved two match points to hold serve and then broke Dementieva in the 10th game to make it 5-5. But again she was unable to hold serve in the penultimate game, losing four game points, any of which would have given her the 6-5 lead. Dementieva didn't waste the opportunity, taking the final game despite a couple of double faults, the final point coming on a sharp forehand winner down the line.

The crowd enjoyed this match with both ladies playing power tennis with the occasional foray to the net. There were several great winners by both but Demetieva was the better player. I found a point-by-point summary and Dementieva took 78 out of 142 points (55%). The match took 1:51:32 so it was nearly dark by the time it ended.

The Doubles Matches


Match 3 - Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahalova-Strycova vs Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs

Doubles tennis is an entirely different game, and much faster paced. Whereas in the singles, a game took 5-6 minutes on average, these points were much quicker as rallies are difficult to sustain. Furthermore, if a game went to deuce, it was decided on the next point, so the typical game lasted just 3-4 minutes.

The first match saw two unseeded teams with Czech pairing of Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahalova-Strycova (serving above) facing veterans Lisa Raymond (USA) and Rennae Stubbs (Aus). I only watched the first few games of the first set before getting bored and venturing off to see Dementieva's autograph session (along with half the crowd it seemed). The Czechs won the first set in a tiebreak and when I returned, they already had a 3-0 lead in the second, which they easily won 6-2. The picture below is Stubbs getting hit in the head with a shot. Well, it looks like that but it's an illusion - her partner Raymond is preparing to return the ball as Stubbs looks back.


The match only took 1:14:52, but by then it was nearly 8 pm, so I skipped the final match of the day and headed home. It seems to have been a good decision as that one went to a third set. But in doubles here, the third set is a simple tiebreak to 10 points. Shahar Peer (ISR) and Shuai Peng (CHN) defeated Yung-Jan Chan(TPE) and Liezel Huber (USA) 10-5 in the tiebreaker to advance.

The Finals

Today saw the final matches. I didn't go as I was at Chiyotaikai's retirement ceremony (more on that tomorrow). However, that won't stop me from letting you know the results: Wozniacki won the women's title, coming back after losing the first set 6-1. With the win, Wozniacki moves closer to the world #1 ranking, which she will obtain if she makes it to the quarter-finals in Bejing next week.

Meanwhile Benesova and Zahlavova-Strycova took the doubles title, winning the final tiebreak 10-8 after splitting the first two sets.

Next Up

Tennis is not a sport I can watch every day. It was good to see the top players in the world but after a while, each point blends into the next. I much prefer team sports where so much more can happen. So even though the men's tour is in town next week, I'm not sure I'll go. I'll follow the draw and if Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick advance, I might head over for some quarter final action on Friday.

Otherwise, it will be a quiet October, with just some Top League Rugby and Futsal on the schedule. The bj League does get underway but as I've mentioned before, their marketing is sorely lacking. Japan Times writer Ed Odeven wrote a piece on this which lists 20 ways to improve the league, although most are from a reporter's point of view. One thing he forgot is that teams should have a relatively consistent home arena; the Tokyo Apache don't play in Tokyo until January!

Best,

Sean