Best of Three: Mardy Fish surges, eyes breakthrough run at U.S. Open
With a win in Atlanta, Mardy Fish continues an exciting run late in his career
Hamburg's bet-at-home Open undermines tennis' anti-gambling stance
After success in the '09 U.S. Open, Melanie Oudin's game has plummeted
1. Fish triumphs in Atlanta: The late-career surge of Mardy Fish continues. Considered something of an underachiever for most of his career, Fish has been swimming upstream of late. (You didn't know? There's a Congressional mandate that at least one piscatorial pun must accompany a mention of Fish.) Now 29 years old and ranked a career-high No. 9, Fish defended his title at the Atlanta Tennis Championships on Sunday. For the second straight year, he beat John Isner in the final, staving off match points this time.
At Wimbledon, Fish reached the quarterfinals, lost gamely to Rafael Nadal and then spoke candidly of his career. He asserted that, pleased as he is with his play of late, he'd like to back it up with a breakthrough run at a major. He'll get his chance in a few weeks, when he enters the U.S. Open as the highest-ranked American. Meanwhile, he ought to be pleased with another triumph.
2. Problematic sponsors: I spoke with a tennis executive a few years back about the sport's ills. He told me he believed performance-enhancing drugs existed but were not widespread. A more vexing problem? Gambling and the specter of match-fixing, especially at lower-level events. Sure enough, within a few months, the "Sopot scandal" surfaced and, in response, the sport created a Tennis Integrity Unit. Now, virtually everyone issued a credential for an event -- including media -- must sign a form agreeing not to place wagers. Players have been fined and suspended for betting as little as $5. Just last month, a player was banned for life for allegedly manipulating results.
With that as a context, many did a spit-take when they saw the sponsor of the Hamburg event: bet-at-home.com. We're not talking about a tasteful, passive sponsor either. Check out the logo on the Hawk-eye replay.
This, of course, gives rise to all sorts of problematic issues. How can the ATP keep a straight face about anti-gambling policies and then let an online betting house sponsor an event? Can the ATP veto the sponsors of sanctioned events that are independently owned and operated? How could the Hamburg promoters put the sport in such a compromised and compromising position? (The conspiracy theory: After the downgrade of the Hamburg event, the unsuccessful challenge and the eight-figure legal bill that followed, the promoters were out to embarrass the ATP.)
Lots of angles to this. Any law student looking for a sports-related law review topic, this is fertile ground. But, at a minimum, it sure makes the ATP look toothless.
3. Miracle Melanie's struggles continue: While they were playing in unreasonable heat in Atlanta, another Georgian was having a rough go of it a few states away. Melanie Oudin lost in the first round of a small event in Lexington, Ky. Her conqueror: 241-ranked Chanel Simmonds of South Africa.
This, sadly, has been in keeping with Oudin's results of late. After making deep runs in consecutive 2009 majors (fourth round at Wimbledon followed by quarterfinals at the U.S. Open) and peaking at No. 31 in April 2010, Oudin has fallen to 100th. OK, the flaws in Oudin's game -- starting with the absence of wattage on her serve -- were always apparent. OK, she received a disproportionate amount of publicity, hailed as she was as America's next darling. Still, who could have imagined her game flying off its axis like this? Athletic careers, of course, seldom move in straight lines. Sure would be nice if Oudin could experience a bit of an uptick pretty soon.