Best of Three: Time for fans to appreciate Roddick for what he is
Andy Roddick, who won at Key Biscayne on Sunday, deserves more appreciation
Many said men's tour was top-heavy, women's had parity; so far it's the opposite
The television situation for Key Biscayne remains inexcusable in this day and age
1. Overachieving Andy: We've heard for years about what Andy Roddick isn't. He isn't Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. He isn't a stylist. He isn't a multiple Grand Slam winner. He isn't a clay court specialist. Maybe it's time we recast the discussion and talk about what Roddick is. He is someone who has spent almost an entire decade residing in the top 10. He is a limited player who has done everything in his power to improve. He is a fighter. He is a professional who takes his career seriously and ambitiously. He is a mensch -- the most recent evidence being his participation in the Champions for Chile fundraiser on the eve of the Key Biscayne final. He is also a 27-year-old playing perhaps the best ball of his career. After reaching the Indian Wells final, he went one better in Key Biscayne, taking the title and beating both Nadal and the surging Tomas Berdych along the way. Roddick may or may not ever win that elusive second Major. But it's worth remembering that players with a lot more native talent have achieved a lot less.
2. Getting it twisted: Remember way back when -- i.e. January -- we talked about the "gang of four" in the men's game and the parity in the women's game? Let's take inventory: Andy Murray's game (and head) is suddenly in a state of disrepair. Ditto for Novak Djokovic. Roger Federer is clearly a different player in majors than other events (see below). And while Nadal looks to be healthy -- and surely welcomes clay-court season -- he's still not quite where he once was. (As a friend of mine put it, "He looks like maybe 87 percent Nadal.") The upshot: The men's field suddenly looks to be opening a bit. Meanwhile, the women's tour seems to be settling, winnowing pretenders (Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva) from contenders (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin). At the Sony Ericsson, Clijsters beat Henin in a tight semifinal and then beat Venus in a blowout of a final to take the title, cementing her comeback and putting her back in the top 10.
3. Disconnection notice: The Sony Ericsson event is one of the crown jewels of tennis. The setting is delightful. The crowds are great -- a record this year of more than 300,000. The weather can be divine, as was the case last week. Celebrities show up in droves, including Kim Kardashian, Dwyane Wade and Elin Nordegren sans wedding ring this year. (We'll take Whoopi Goldberg for the block.) The tennis tends to be first-rate.
Against this backdrop, the completely abysmal television situation is all the more pronounced. Yes, this is a tired point. But dozens of you continued to write in to complain and your concerns are justified. An event of this stature simply can't continue this stopgap coverage, relying on a network few receive, that bails on marquee matches and pulls out at midnight. I gather, for instance, that the Clijsters-Henin semi -- arguably the most anticipated women's match of the year so far -- did not air in the New York area. Sorry, that's just not acceptable. (If a Belgian falls in the forest...) Give the match to Tennis Channel for free if you have to!
There are three networks on site. There are digital platforms. There are rights swaps. (And the broadcast team of Ted Robinson, Justin Gimelstob and Lindsay Davenport did exceptionally well when they got to work.) There has to be a creative solution here. To shrug and say, in so many words, "We're a slave to rights contracts," does a huge disservice both to tennis and the event itself. Rant over.
Federer has won seven of the past 13 majors. And four of the past 30 Masters Series events.
A nice event for Tomas Berdych. We've been burned in the past, but might he finally be taking advantage of his prodigious gifts?
Serena Williams hasn't played since the Australian Open. Might she go all the way to Roland Garros without a match?
Another nice event in an under-the-radar kind of way for Marion Bartoli.
Who else was surprised to see Wayne Odesnik entered in the draw of the Houston event, which begins today?
The French newspaper L'Equipe reported last week that the men's and women's final of the French would be held not at Roland Garros but at a nearby soccer stadium. It was an April Fools' Day joke but here's the really funny part: It's not a half-bad idea.