Fifty things (cont'd)
Posted: Sunday September 9, 2007 10:28PM; Updated: Monday September 10, 2007 12:37AM
Andre Agassi didn't play a match this year, and he still managed a scene-stealing role. His commentary during the Federer-Roddick match was almost scarily perceptive. As Jon Rapkin of Wellington, Fla., rightly put it, Agassi's insight gave "both avid and casual fans a far greater appreciation for Federer and tennis itself."
Bethanie Mattek didn't merely win the prize for Best Outfit. The award has been retired in her honor. Let's leave it at this: the woman can accessorize. (And to think, it was Mattek's doubles partner, Sania Mirza, who drew the Islamic fatwah for indecent attire.)
You feel for Somdev Devvarman. The University of Virginia undergrad beat John Isner to win the NCAA title last May. Isner gets a wild card, takes a set off of Federer, wins $43,000 and ought to start getting into main draws. Devvarman doesn't even get a wild card into qualifying and he is back at UVA.
How do we count the ways we love Fabrice Santoro? Let's leave aside the unbelievable shotmaking and touch for now. You have to admire anyone who plays in a pastel Lacoste shirt with a patch for Budget Rental Car ironed onto the sleeve. Also James Blake tells him, "It's amazing what you're doing at your age." Santoro responds: "Thanks, my son." Fabulous Fabrice, by the way, tied Agassi's record by making his 61st Grand Slam appearance.
Think the women's draw was uneven? You should have seen the boys' draw. Hours after losing to Feliciano Lopez, Donald Young, seeded second, pulled out of the event, leaving only one of the top six seeds in the bottom half of the draw.
Nice tournament for Hawkeye, which has come to feel less like a gimmick than a regular part of the tennis packaging. The replay innovation will be coming soon to Redding club of the Premier League.
So, easily a dozen of you wrote to me (and, for that matter, to NBC's Web site) complaining about the J-Block. I had always assumed this was a harmless cheering section of Connecticut Brahmins, adding some energy to James Blake's matches. I checked out the "block" for myself and, at the risk of sounding like Claude Raines, I was shocked by what I saw and heard. "Cheers" included "lock-and-load on him, James." Fabrice Santoro was told that "France sucks." Santoro was also asked: "Where were you during the war?" Tommy Haas was treated to a quick countdown as he prepared to serve. A fan in a neighboring box accurately yelled, "You guys are acting like bullies."
Hey, we're all for more volume and enthusiastic cheering. We're all for "beering up" a gin-and-tonic crowd. But yelling "France sucks?" Yeesh. Especially given that decorum is Blake's stock-in-trade, it was surprising that his cheering section seems to have so little of it.
Roger Federer's Nike deal is expiring soon. Stay tuned for some drama on this one.
Who's more opportunistic -- and we mean this as a compliment -- than Nikki Pilic? First, he has an eye for talent, spotting both Djokovic and Ernests (singular) Gulbis, the young Latvian who broke out this tournament. But he is also the Bora Milutinovic of Davis Cup tennis. He was once Germany's captain. Two years ago he coached Croatia to the Cup. Now we're told that he's working in an advisory role with the Serbian team.
Fractious as the tennis world is, here's a point of uniform agreement: The ATP's human computer, Greg Sharko, is an invaluable resource. In both the press room and, I learned, the television compound, the guy is universally respected, admired, and, most important, relied upon. For all the empty suits worrying about sponsor plugs, logo designs and branding initiatives, here is an absolutely indispensable administrator. Why then was he not in New York? Whatever the reason, he was missed. And tennis was worse for it.
This is a virtual cut-and-paste from years past, but the sentiment is unchanged. In the interest of full disclosure: I did some work for USA Network during the Open. (Thanks to the many of you who wrote in critiquing my performances.) But in all objectivity, you wish all the Slams were covered this thoroughly and honestly. Next year, let's give Tracy Austin some more competitive women's matches.
Back to Venus, we love how she deals with adverse calls. More often than not, she looks at the chair and calmly asks. "Did you see it out?" When the chair nods, she forgoes a replay and resumes playing, as if to say I trust you. If you saw it out, that's enough for me.
Nike wins the "Most Risque Advertising" Award: An image of Serena Williams, clad in a shirt, adorns a building outside Penn Station. The caption: "Are you staring at my titles?"
This from my colleague Dick Friedman: One of the tropes I frequently have heard uttered in the first week of the tournament is some variation on this: "If he/she stays healthy, I could easily see him/her being a top-20 player." By my unofficial count, that means that within two years, the men's Top 20 will have 453 players and the women's will have 329."
Now that the summer is over, can we please reconsider the trappings of the U.S. Open Series? In typical USTA lily-gilding fashion, it's a fine idea that's been tarnished by ego and overkill. Want to create a cohesive summer TV package? Great. Want to build some continuity and buzz heading into the Open? Swell. Want to rope in more sponsors? Go nuts.
But the players privately snicker at the "Series" concept. No one is changing their schedule to accommodate these events. (If you thought the fields were bare this year, wait 'til 2008, when these events have to compete with the Beijing Olympics.) And the separate rankings and the laughable bonus pool is money wasted. Federer enters two mandatory ATP tournaments and wins the men's pot? Give us a break. And imagine how much good that $1 million would do if it were added instead to purses at challenger events.
If my math is right, the highest-ranked male to miss the event was Sweden's Robin Soderling, out with a wrist injury. Particularly if Soderling isn't playing, the U.S. has to be considered a heavy favorite to beat Sweden in Davis Cup play next week.
Dear Nasonex: I appreciate the need for a cute animal mascot to liven up your product. And while I don't get it, I can live with this choice of a talking bumblebee. But you lose me when you give the aforementioned bee an unintelligibly strong Spanish accent.
Does any company do cooler tennis promotions and commercials than American Express? No. (If you can't attend the U.S. Open, watching it at the "tennis theater" Amex sets up in my neighborhood in Madison Square Park is the next best thing.) But if I had a dollar for every time I saw McEnroe's "You're Not Evil" commercial, I wouldn't need a credit card. (And honk if you're like me and can't get that vaguely Bavarian jingle out of your head.)
Crazy summer for Frank Dancevic. He's home in Canada, first "out" of the Indianapolis main draw. A player gets hurt and Dancevic makes the show. He DRIVES from Niagara Falls to Indy, picking up his girlfriend in Detroit along the way. He reaches the final, beating Andy (Burrito Supreme) Roddick in the process. Dancevic then reaches the quarters of the Montreal event and suddenly he's a top-70 player. However, because the U.S. Open draw cut-off is in mid-July, Dancevic has to qualify, despite a ranking higher than 35 other players. He qualifies, draws Marat Safin in round one. Give that man a Molson.
She didn't get the fanfare of Justin Gimelstob (much less Tim Henman) but a tip of the cap to Corina Morariu, who retired quietly after her last match. One of those people who make the tennis firmament a more pleasant place. Same for Paola Suarez and Nicole Pratt, who also played their final Open.
Remember Gilles Muller, the buck-toothed kid from Luxembourg (Smiths reference) who stunned Roddick two years ago? The dude lost in the first round of qualifying.
As Federer was playing Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round, his interview with Charlie Rose was allegedly running on PBS. For those who missed it, I think you can download here: charlierose.com
How's the "feasibility study" on the roof over show courts going? Never mind rain, this was 14 days without a cloud.
Want to feel old? Iva Majoli was in the "Champions" draw. And props to Rob Dixon of Toronto for noting that Hana Mandlikova's nationality is now Australian.
From the "just-asking" department: Can Mary Joe Fernandez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga switch the spelling of their respective "Joes."
The responses, pro and con, kept coming re: my surprise that Federer didn't know who Althea Gibson was. Let's agree to disagree and end this one on a light note. Manuel Herrmann of Frauenfeld, Eastern Switzerland, wrote to me: "The Sonntagszeitung published a great little anecdote you may not have heard of: When Aretha Franklin was informed that Federer said that Althea Gibson was "before his time" she reportedly answered: "Who said that?"
On a final note of shameless promotion, I have a book coming out later this month on the wild world of pool hustling. If you're interested you can check it out here.
Have a good week everyone. And we'll be back with a regular mailbag a week from Wednesday.
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