Posted: Tuesday September 14, 2010 8:36PM ; Updated: Tuesday September 14, 2010 8:36PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Post-U.S. Open thoughts on scheduling, TV coverage; more mail

Story Highlights

The prime-time women's final was made for the Williamses but produced snoozers

Pre-match interviews and post-match box shots don't make enlightening TV

Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open and dropped two spots in the WTA rankings

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U.S. Open
The last three U.S. Open men's finals have been delayed by weather to Monday.
AP

Can you and SI hold a design competition for a less expensive but workable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium? I flat out do NOT believe a new roof cannot be added for less than $250 million. I believe old-fashioned ideas done the most expensive way would cost $250 million, but I believe hungry young architects trying to make a name for themselves could contribute many ideas of how to cover the stadium for well under $250 million. I remember years ago the Detroit Lions were worried about cost overruns for the Pontiac Silverdome and came up with a much less expensive air-supported roof that was radical at the time but let the stadium come in on time and under budget. If it can be done there, why not at Ashe Stadium? There must be ways to do it. Would you be willing to ask your bosses at SI if you can sponsor a non-committal design competition for an affordable roof? It would be great publicity for SI and just may get the U.S. Open a roof.
-- Randy Lee Mayes, Bradford, PA.

• Sure. If some Howard Roark out there wants to come up with an architectural design that will save the U.S. Open from itself (and Mother Nature), we'll happily hand over a new Dunlop racket. And, what the heck, a signed copy of my next book, too!

In all seriousness, I'm out of my depth here, but I tend to agree with Randy Lee. Surely there is a creative solution here. And just because the current brain trust -- i.e. the folks who signed off on this monstrous wind tunnel -- says it can't be done, it doesn't mean we should give up. A preliminary thought: Since we're only talking one day a year when we need a cover, why go with a cheap material? Like canvas. All architects and engineers, have at it.

The USTA might, ultimately, be correct in their claims that the stadium is too big and that a roof would be prohibitively expensive. But, don't insult us with the assertion that building a roof would divert funds from our grassroots programs. That's a false dichotomy. Kim Clijsters just got a $500,000 bonus for the farcical U.S. Open Series. She achieved this by playing two mandatory events and winning one. That half a million buys a lot of rackets, too. More to the point, when you're a nonprofit and you pay these kinds of salaries you forfeit your right to play the "think-of-the-children" card.

We assume the USTA created the primetime women's final for the Williams sisters. With the prospect of another all-Williams final fading further into the distance, is it time for the USTA to rethink the move and re-instate Super Saturday? Who wants to pay a LOT of money for a 59-minute romp?
-- Joseph B., New York

• This session was created almost -- gulp -- a decade ago, to take advantage of the Williams-Williams juggernaut. Suffice to say, neither the USTA nor CBS was envisioning snoozers (among non-Williams players) the likes of which we saw the other night.

Why in the WORLD at the end of every tennis match, do TV producers instantly cut away from the players' handshake to show a shot of the winning player's box -- or worse, a shot of random fans cheering? CBS does it, ESPN does it, NBC does it. All the interesting stuff is going on on the court, when they players talk at the net. Why this reflexive cutaway shot? It's bizarre.
-- Daniel Koontz, Morristown, N.J.

• To use Pat McEnroe's favorite expression: "I couldn't agree more." It's such a clichéd shot. Let me guess: the winner's box looks exuberant, hugging and pumping fists as they try to make eye contact with the victor. The loser's coterie shake their heads conveying a message of "Nice try." Meanwhile, the viewer is deprived of a shot of the players walking to net and shaking hands, which is often terrifically revealing. After the Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer match, Federer packed up his bag, declining to wait at the net as Djokovic celebrated. But we didn't see that; we saw pops Djokovic looking predictably pumped. My suggestion: What if we ran a split screen or a box within a box?

Don't you find it a little odd that everyone is talking about Venus Williams as if she's some nearly extinct dinosaur on the court? Her last three U.S. Opens she's gone to the semis or quarterfinals, yet everyone talks about her as if she keeps getting bounced in the first or second rounds. Her other Grand Slams weren't bad, either, and she made it back to being a consistent top-five player. She played exactly up to her seeding in New York (unlike, say, Caroline Wozniacki or Jelena Jankovic), and was agonizingly close to taking out Kim Clijsters. So, why does everyone act and talk about her as if she should be booking a spot in the retirement home? She's shown she has just as legitimate a shot at any Grand Slam as any of the others on the tour.
-- Chris, La Verne, Calif.

• Agree and disagree. It's easy to say that in hindsight. But Venus fizzled at Wimbledon. She played zero events on hardcourts coming in. And she hadn't won a U.S. Open since 2001. I don't think you blame people for suspecting that Clijsters or Wozniacki would post a superior result. I'm really puzzled by Venus. She's 30, but she's a young 30 -- the legacy of playing a sensible schedule all those years. Yet, a few points from reaching the final (and a booking against Vera Zvonerava, a highly beatable opponent), she blinked. Go back and watch that tiebreaker against Clijsters, and I defy you tell me another time Venus played so absently under pressure.

I enjoyed your U.S. Open wrap as always. But how could you not have mentioned the fight between fans in the stands during the Djokovic match?
-- Brad, New York

• I tried to suppress that memory. A friend of mine raised a good point: The Internet lets us see the degeneration of American culture in real time. In the comments section after the fight video, people were actually supporting Joseph Pedeville, the apparent instigator, on grounds that he had money on the match!

Why not just bypass the pre-match interviews? By this time, these players are warmed up and focused on the match at hand. I understand the networks hope that they may gain some insight or snippet of information into the players' strategies, but these players -- I would imagine for the most part -- have been advised by people within their inner circle of the "safe responses," saying something without really saying anything. How many variations of "I'm just going to go out and play my game," "I'm expecting a tough match," "I know (insert name here) is a tough opponent" and "I need to play aggressive" do we need to hear? I will say I enjoyed the pre-match with Kim Clijsters earlier in the week. She strung together several sentences, was engaging and still did not give away game strategies.
-- Mack, Rocky Mount, Va.

• It's true, these sessions are seldom the source of much insight. (It would be nice if the questions were a bit more probing. "You must be excited for this opportunity?" does not lend itself to a killer answer.*) I can only think of one instance off-hand that provided much in the way of entertainment. Minutes before taking the court, Stefan Koubek offered a filibuster. (Actually Djokovic was pretty chatty before the final, too.)

Overall, though, I don't mind these segments. You get to see the players up close. ("Did you know how pretty her eyes are?" my daughter asked me after seeing Zvonareva.) You get to hear their voice. You get to see what they're carrying. There's some value there even if there's no nutritional value to the Q & A.

* A quick point: It's understood that after having battled their innards out for several hours, players are not ready for the full-on Charlie Rose treatment. But when courtside reporters asked painfully leading questions, it kills the dialogue. "How excited are you?" inevitably leads to, "Oh yes, very excited. It feels amazing." Or, "How deep to you have to dig to pull that out?" begs for, "Very deep. I keep fighting until the last point. I never give up." Sometimes the simplest questions -- "What was the difference?" -- yield the best answers.

Each time Kim Clijsters has won the U.S. Open, she has had a tight win over Venus Williams on the way through. Do you think it's these wins that have given her the belief that the title is hers after she beats Venus?
--
Craig, Adelaide

Sure. I suspect that's coincidence as much as anything, but, yes, once you're secure in the knowledge you can stare down Venus Williams, you're likely not so cowed by whomever comes next.

 
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