Posted: Monday September 11, 2006 2:06PM; Updated: Monday September 11, 2006 3:48PM
The day I hit the U.S. Open, Nadal was the closest thing I saw to a magnetic player. He came out rocking his bold tank top and head scarf, his stringy hair stumbling down his back, his huge biceps bulging as if he'd just done 100 pushups in the locker room to insure that his arms were as engorged as possible. (If I had arms like Nadal, I'd never wear sleeves again for the rest of my life.) The whole combination made Nadal look either like a wacky tennis-themed pirate or, perhaps more accurately, exactly like WWE grappler Shawn Michaels.
I spent a long Labor Day weekend in Paris, where I passed several late nights recovering from jetlag by tuning into a channel called Eurosport, a German station that showed extensive live coverage of the Open (interspersed occasionally with a random electric-guitar power riff). I watched hours and hours of their coverage, never understanding a word (except "wunderbar!").
The more tennis I viewed, the more my lack of knowledge about the personalities involved was illiminated. And applying that Shawn Michaels/Nadal corollary, I assigned the personalities of late-'80s/early-'90s wrestlers to the tennis stars as a way to keep up, and I think I'm pretty much spot-on. Tennis has always seemed to be something of a sport for the effete, and if the tennis cognoscenti really want to push it into the mainstream, this is a simple and perfect way to market things....
Andre Agassi:Hulk Hogan -- Andre could barely move around the court at the Open, but he kept hanging in there. Agassi used to wear a scarf to cover his balding dome. Both names are alliterative. Not sure if they played I Am A Real American for Agassi or not.
Roger Federer: Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat -- Good-looking guy, incredibly technically sound. Lacks the charisma and charm to be a long-term people's champ.
Amelie Mauresmo: The Ultimate Warrior -- Unlike the Warrior, she hasn't legally changed her named to Mauresmo Mauresmo, but she does seem to be fierce. Her last set against Serena Williams was amazing, which leads to ...
Serena Williams: "Adorable" Adrian Adonis -- The latter Adonis was a fashion-forward tough guy who pranced around in dresses yet was always large and in charge.
Andy Roddick: Randy "Macho Man" Savage -- Oh yeah. Roddick seems to be fiery, with a love of the limelight. He also tends to be frequently seen with lovely ladies, like Macho Man was with Miss Elizabeth.
Jimmy Connors: Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart -- JC's managerial turn could mirror Hart's Hall of Fame career. Connors needs to trade his J.Crew look for garish jackets and start carrying a megaphone.
Maria Sharapova: "Ravishing" Rick Rude -- I thought Nikolai Volkov was too obvious. Rude won a few titles while marketing and capitalizing on his good looks, like Sharapova. I bet she's taller than him, though.
Justine Henin-Hardenne: Boris Zhukov -- This works only if Sharapova is presented as Volkov. Smaller, less magnetic, less identifiable than Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne may be more technically proficient, but the world is Maria's.
James Blake: "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan -- Blake seems to teeter on the edge of control and gets the fans worked into a frenzy. Blake would perhaps benefit by becoming a heel, giving himself more of a clear identity.