King of all media
Retiring means a spot on Leno? Consider me finished
Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 10:45AM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 10:45AM
It's amazing. I'm two weeks removed from playing in my last ever U.S. Open and I've probably gotten more attention during that time than in the rest of my 12-year career combined.
It all started after my first-round loss to Andy Roddick. I've already written about how memorable our on-court interviews of each other were after that match. But that was only the beginning. Add to that successful runs in both doubles and mixed doubles in New York, as well as hosting the usopen.org nightly highlight show online and an outpouring of well-wishing from fans, fellow players, friends and family.
So many great things came out of my final U.S. Open experience, but far and away the most exciting was when I received a call from the producers of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno shortly after the Roddick match.
They had so thoroughly enjoyed the post-match festivities and the takeoff on "Jay Walking" that I did around the Open that they asked if I would be interested in doing some reporting around the grounds of the U.S. Open for their show. My answer, of course, was a resounding "Yes!"
They had a whole crew fly to New York immediately and we spent all day last Monday and Tuesday filming interviews and different sketches around the grounds at the National Tennis Center.
We filmed hilarious bits with most of the top players, all of whom were accommodating. That list included Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Tommy Haas, Jimmy Connors, Justine Henin, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic and many more. It gave the players a great opportunity to show their lighter sides, and they were all good sports. (Check it out here.)
Some of the highlights of the tapings were when Federer admitted the worst loss of his career was against me in the doubles final in Bangkok in 2004, and when Roddick yanked my pants down while I was interviewing Djokovic. It was all in good fun, and the editors did an incredible job piecing together all of the footage we accumulated and narrowing it down to a five-and-a-half minute segment that aired last Friday night.
The whole experience was surreal, from walking around with a Tonight Show microphone to getting picked up in a huge stretch limousine for the taping in the NBC studios in Burbank, Calif. When I got there, I was like a kid in a candy store. Dr. Phil and Chandra Wilson from Grey's Anatomy were the other guests -- they were so calm and collected while I was bouncing off the walls with excitement.
Dr. Phil is a huge tennis fan and lives near me in Los Angeles, so we made plans to hit balls in the near future. My cousin Rikki, who is a theater major at Michigan and a huge Grey's Anatomy fan, made me promise to get as much memorabilia as possible from Chandra, and she was very sweet and accommodating.
Leno was also very kind and gracious, and even humored me when I suggested a couple of jokes. We went through a rehearsal and before you know it I was out on stage with Jay in front of a live audience.
I had a nice personal moment right as Jay introduced me, just before I walked on stage. It occurred to me right then and there what an amazing experience this was. Tennis has given me so much, and now, at the end of my career, it has given me even more. Being on stage with Leno was amazing.
We bantered back and forth before and after my segment aired and we both watched as the audience laughed at all the right times. It was surreal. I had the best time, took tons of pictures, got autographs and even saved the "JUSTIN GIMELSTOB TONIGHT SHOW" placard from my dressing-room door.
The producers suggested to me that I might be able to be the tennis correspondent for the show in the future -- trust me, they won't have to ask twice.
Twelve-year ATP Tour veteran Justin Gimelstob writes for SI.com every other week.