Fifty thoughts from the U.S. Open (cont.)
We're always eager to point fingers and assign blame, but I'm not sure anyoneis necessarily responsible for Victoria Azarenka's mishap. Players are independent contractors and neither the WTA nor USTA medical staff can be expected to made aware of every slip and fall. (plus, if players insist that they're fit to compete, do tournament medical staffers even have the authority to override?) The moral of the story is this: if you have a head injury, you withdraw immediately. Even if you think you're fine. Even in a Grand Slam. I recounted the situation to a physician friend and he was aghast. "She had a mild concussion and she wanted to [compete] anyway, in hundred degree heat? She's lucky she didn't die."
Andy Murray's loss brought a new wave gloom. (No one does pessimism quite like the Brits.) If I'm his new coach, my first order of business is body language. It's not just that he looks miserable on the court. It's that he projects the message: "I don't like being Andy Murray." Surely the opponent senses this and is fired with confidence.
As for the other Andy, L'Affaire Roddick has been sufficiently discussed here and elsewhere. (Some of you noted that Mary Carillo did what the boys in the booth did not and really laid into him.) But again, someone ought to explain to players just how terminally uncool it is to spar with the officials who are prohibited from talking back. It's like debating a mime. The epitome of bullying. I keep thinking of this woman. She's come to New York to work the Open. It's likely the highlight of her year. She gets assigned a night match on Ashe. She no doubt tells her friends and family to watch. Then -- after doing her job capably -- she gets abused and humiliated by a player because she fails his pop quiz. Suddenly, the night of her life is ruined. Her face appears on every network and she becomes the story, the bane of any sports official. (Here's hoping she takes a cue from Shino Tsurubuchi and doesn't lose her enthusiasm for the job.) As for Roddick, I'm truly mystified. He's as witty an athlete as I've ever dealt with. He -- not Venus Williams -- had the conscience to boycott Dubai in protest of their exclusionary practices. And then, he pulls a punk move like this? Repeatedly? For the life of me, I just don't get it.
Lots of comments about the television situation from you guys, but, as usual, the opinions are all over the map and often totally contradictory. Brad Gilbert is a hoot, No, wait. Brad Gilbert is a boor. Dick Enberg has lost his fastball. Dick Enberg makes the event legit. There's no scoreboard so no one is right or wrong. I'll throw these out there: Is it me, or did the Pat McEnroe-John McEnroe pairing improve dramatically from a year ago? Chris Fowler doesn't just lend gravitas to the event -- he really knows his tennis. For whatever other complaints you might have about CBS, lots of credit for broadcasting the historic men's doubles final. On the negative side, some of you hammered ESPN for not disclosing some broadcasters blatant conflicts of interest. (Mary Joe Fernandez is thoroughly professional. But given that her husband is Federer's agent, there was something not-quite-right about seeing her interview Djokovic immediately after that semifinal knock-down, drag-out.) But that's a topic for another day. For now I'm hung up on this: "You gotta get up!" is simply not an acceptable catchphrase.
The old cut-and-paste. Full disclosure: I did some work for Tennis Channel during the tournament. Those who get it, love it. Those who don't need to pressure their service provider. One suggestion: next year bring Kevin Frazier and Lindsay Davenport to New York!
From the "life is funny department" there were reports that Clijsters' daughter and Lleyton Hewitt's son were playing alongside each other at the on-site day care.
As USTA chieftain, Arlen Kantarian didn't so much burn bridges as he firebombed. His salary was scandalous, especially at a non-profit. But credit him with elevating the U.S. Open to the sport's Super Bowl, the kind of event that can withstand a recession, bad weather, the absence of top stars and still turn an obscene profit.
Given the delicate politics and the inevitable chapped feelings, if you're the USTA do you really let Pat McEnroe resign as Davis Cup captain without a replacement in the wings, or at least without a succession plan? If we're handicapping that race it's Jim Courier in the lead, followed by Todd Martin, Gilbert, an internal candidate (Jay Berger?) and a total shock choice (James Blake).
Note Zvonareva is the only Russian in the top ten. The junior rankings suggest this was a one-generation phenom.
Given how prominently he figured at Wimbledon, couldn't the schedule have been rejiggered to have given Mohamed Lahyani -- he of the superhuman bladder -- some run at the U.S. Open?
Color me officially worried about Maria Sharapova. A shoulder injury can be devastating, especially on the serve, but her whole game comes unraveled too easily. Since winning the 2008 Australian Open, she hasn't even been beyond the quarters of a Major.
A mystifying player: David Ferrer. He's easily the most fit player in tennis. (A fitness coach told me that he once saw Ferrer eat an entire meal while jogging -- it was part of his cool off after a long run at a faster pace.) In the fifth-set breaker against Verdasco, Ferrer hits an insane return -- one of the top five returns you'll ever see -- to go up 4-1 serving. Then he loses the next six points.
A few years ago at the Australian Open, some of us had a good laugh. The Djokovic clan -- Mom, Pa, and two brothers -- each wore shirt adorned with an "N," "O," "L," and "E," so when they stood together it read "NOLE," their son's nickname. However, when one son went to the restroom he returned to a different seat. Suddenly they spelled "L-E-O-N." That chuckle, though, was nothing compared to Mr. Djokovic's shirt, emblazoned, as it was, with his son's image. That is the ultimate representation of paternal pride.
The Edward R. Murrow award goes to the intrepid scribe who asked: "I'm wondering if through the years the amount of hair gel players are using has increased?" Weirder still, who was the object of his question? Ivan Ljubicic, who's as bald as Roger Sterling is gray.
Those tweeners were all well and good. But here's our vote for shot of the tournament.
Nice to see Djokovic back in the good graces of the New York crowd. He had perhaps the best lines of the tournament. Brad: "Do you have that tweener shot between your legs?" Djokovic's response: "I have something else between my legs."
Her game may be in the commode. And she may be ... er, here we try and find a benign phrase ... um, a few games short of a set. But it's hard not to like Jelena Jankovic. One of the better exchanges of the tournament.
Q: How much do you know about [Tipsarevic's] game?
JANKOVIC: Can I please talk about myself?
You write off athletes at your peril, especially in this sport. But let's hope that if Donald Young plays in the main draw next year, he gets in on own merits. He was barely competitive against Gilles Simon.
Here's an optional assignment for our friends ion the analytics community. I'd like to see some raw numbers on America's "tennis drought." Here's my guess: if we took national population, per capita income, climate, the popularity of tennis relative to other sports, and other factors (accredited coaches? number of courts?) and put it in the math blender, I suspect that, empirically, the four top-20 players the U.S. currently boasts is, in fact, pretty darn good.
Nice to see Andrea Petkovic announce herself. The WTA could use a dose of quirk and, well, it doesn't get much quirkier than this.
Count me among those who dismissed Francesca Schiavone. She was still floating after Roland Garros, 3-6 in her last nine matches. In one of the more entertaining matches, she hung with Venus in the quarters and gave a glimpse of how it is she's a Grand Slam champion.
Still trying to figure out Sam Stosur. She has so much game, but you never get the sense that she has supreme self-belief, the quality the ultimately distinguishes the champions from the others.
If you don't feel for Nicolas Mahut, check the condition of your soul. Chuck Klostermann once wrote an essay and noted that in 20 years, Flora from "Real World, Miami" will still be recognized at Burger King. "Hey, it's the girl who fell through the glass!" The good news is that her fame will persist. The bad news is that she'll be eating at Burger King. Same applies to Mahut. He'll go down in tennis annals for his courageous role in the "Longest Match." But what did he get out of it? He couldn't pluck a wild card from the Slam on the calendar. Still exhausted, he lost in the last round of qualifying and the first round of doubles. Total haul: $13,000.
The French Federation whiffed on failing to give their "reciprocity wild card" to Mahut. But they scored big on the women's choice, Virginie Razzano. A well-liked veteran, Razzano was on verge (virge?) of big things when she suffered a foot injury. Here's the rub: she claims the foot injury was caused by an overly aggressive massage at the hands of a WTA trainer. While she didn't really give a straight answer when I asked her about the status of a reported legal dispute, she's hoping there's a resolution whereby she has some variation of a protected ranking.
Nice to see Feliciano Lopez back in business. Earlier this year, a former girlfriend told the media she was carrying his baby. As Lopez prepared for fatherhood, the girlfriend miscarried the child. The sense of loss, he says, was compounded by the media attention and, he says, was responsible for his desultory play earlier this year. Another Spanish player, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez took a break from tennis, lost a child during pregnancy and fell into a funk before returning. Ana Ivanovic had a breakup that coincided with her slide. Venus Williams was engaged a few years ago; now she's not. The point is not to traffic in gossip. The point is this: players lose and we're quick to throw out terms like "head case" and "erratic" and "wavering commitment." Easy to forget that life happens to them as well.
We recently discussed the issue of ballkids handling towels into which players have expelled any manner of bodily fluid. ("Be a ballkid! It's hepatitis-arific?!") You'll be happy to know that in Federer's second round match he used a towel to dab blood from a cut on his leg. He was then instructed not to let anyone else touch the towel.
Reader Robert of New Orleans puts commentators everywhere on alert by noting prospect Zarah Razafimahatratra.
Paul of Tampa, FL: I feel like I'm the only one who saw it, but the highlight of the U.S. Open so far has to be Gael Monfils's racquet tirade in his match against Robert Kendrick. He was warned for smashing his racquet, but insisted to the umpire that he merely threw the racquet and didn't break it (and thus didn't merit a warning). During the changeover he demanded that the umpire show him where the racquet was broken. "Zees racquet ees perfectly fine. Zere ees nozing wrong with zees racquet. I cahn play weeth thees no problem. Show me where eet ees broken!"
So to show the ump how non-broken his racquet was, he took it with him to return serve. As the ball arrived, he swung as hard as he could, and when the racquet met the ball, the racquet crumpled like a wet noodle, the ball bouncing sadly and softly at his feet. The camera zoomed in and the racquet frame was clearly split clean in half, and Monfils calmly went to his chair and got another racquet.
One of my highlights (non Qureshi-Bopanna department): in a fun Friday night session, Nadal and Denis Istomin are deep in a second set tiebreaker. At 4-1 Istomin makes an insane get, leaving a skid mark on the court (that would remain for days) and poking a winner. Nadal, down 5-1, goes to serve but first, makes eye contact with his opponent and taps in racket in applause. No showmanship, no semaphore display. Just an acknowledgement for a job well done. Nadal then rolls off six straight points to take the set. That, friends, is a champion.
I have seen the most muscular player in tennis. And it's neither Serena Williams nor Nadal. Juan Monaco is a beast.
A not-exhaustive list of players who impressed: Alexandra Dulgheru, Kei Nishikori, Jack Sock, Dustin Brown, Dominika Cibulkova, Sam Stosur on non big points, Michael Llodra, Indiana's own Brook Austin.
We should have done more to promote this New York Times Magazine piece on how power has transformed women's tennis. Fine analysis, and fine writing coupled with a breathtaking slideshow and series of slow-motion videos of the women.
Trust me on this: buy the U.S. Open program if only for the back-page poems written by Mark Preston. Just brilliant. A sample:
I remember the year
I saw Nicholson here
Sporting Shades and Chin full of Scruff'
I recall as we passed
I said, "Nice disguise, Jack."
He said, "Obviously not good enough."
Steve Flink's beautifully written tribute to Joel Drucker and his late wife, Joan.