50 Australian Open thoughts (cont.)
If Caroline Wozniacki didn't get her due while she was ranked No. 1, she won't get it now that she's been expelled. But 67 weeks is 67 weeks. We all know about the absence of a major, but she had to be doing SOMETHING right. I look forward to seeing how she handles this demotion. (Free advice: look at Murray for an example of how a natural counterpuncher can add some punch of his own.)
Speaking of Wozniacki ... Once upon a time, there was a man named Andre Agassi. For years and years, he wore Nike apparel. But one day, when Nike thought he was too old, they balked at his prices and declined to renew his contract. Agassi signed with Adidas instead, the brand with longtime fealty to his wife, Steffi. Agassi, being Agassi, he also saw to it that his Vegas-based trainer and coach were included in the deal. Agassi eventually retired, but Adidas retained its relationship with Team Agassi and his camp. Eventually a new generation of players -- with names like Murray, Verdasco, Wozniacki, Azarenka and Petkovic -- signed with Adidas and used the Adidas nerve center in Las Vegas. Now, Adidas is a major player in tennis, and Las Vegas is an unlikely epicenter. And it's mostly because Nike declined to re-sign Agassi years and years ago.
Gael Monfils warms your heart. Gael Monfils stops your heart. Gael Monfils breaks your heart.
Pity the poor teenage kid who eagerly approached the autograph booth expecting to find Ana Ivanovic only to be informed that the celebrity guest was ... Peter Luczak. "Sorry, mate. I think Ana was this time yesterday. Did they get it wrong on the schedule?" The kid skulked away, presumably a trail of cologne lingering behind him.
Learned something interesting: it's no secret that clothing manufacturers give significant bonuses to players for significant achievements. Nike, for instance, says, "Hey star player, we'll pay you a base of $X. But if you win two majors you'll get an additional $Y." The companies then go and insure these bonuses; so if a player has a killer year, they've managed the risk. What happens when an insurance company won't insure a certain player, like -- just hypothetically of course -- a guy who won three majors the previous year? It can really impact his ability to land a mega-endorsement deal.
Nice to see Tomas (The Odd Man Abstaining Shaking) Berdych sully and then clean his image, all in the span of two days. On Monday, he beat Nicolas Almagro, but earned the crowd's displeasure when he refused to shake his opponent's hand. On Wednesday, he played gallantly against Nadal in one of the better matches of the event. All seemed to be forgotten.
Here's a quibble with Berdych. He gets pelted with a ball and then fails to shake the other guy's hand. That's a pretty big and audacious statement, especially given the occasion. Then he declines to talk about it and gets upset when anyone has the temerity to press him. It's like wearing a tuxedo, a bolo tie and tap-dancing shoes onto the court and then saying, "No questions about my outfit; I only want to discuss the tennis." Dude, you made your statement. Now own it!
From the buy/sell/hold department, is it time to offload some of your Juan Martin del Potro (ticket symbol JMDP) shares? He's barely middle-aged in tennis years. He's back in the top 10. And his forehand is fit for a ballistics test. But I'm losing confidence in his ability to win another Slam. The movement gets exposed, the decision-making gets exposed (did he even try to change tactics against Federer?) and the willingness to fight gets exposed. Federer played brilliantly in that milestone quarterfinal. But Del Potro often seemed to be less a Federer opponent than a co-conspirator.
The clip of Marcos Baghdatis (right) doing the Pete Townshend job on his rackets has hit well over a million views (if you combine all options). I guess any publicity is good publicity. But if this is something other than a ringing (albeit unique) product endorsement. ... And speaking of erratically applied rules, Baghdatis broke four rackets and drew an $800 fine. Alla Kudryavtseva recently broke one and got dinged for $2,500.
The mixed doubles event began with great fanfare, all sorts of anticipation for an Olympics sneak preview, Serena and Roddick as the headliners. It ended quietly, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau beating Leander Paes and Elena Vesnina.
The qualifying draw featured not one but two former men's finalists, Arnaud Clement (2001) and Rainer Schuettler (2003), both of whom lost.
For all the silly trash talk -- Sharapova dismissing Radwanska, Berdych beefing with Almagro -- some of the more severe sparring came between Jim Courier and Ivan Lendl. Courier on Lendl: ''Every joke he makes is at someone else's expense, and I don't find that funny."
Getting this second hand, but I think Pam Shriver may have my favorite line of the tournament. After reading an X Games promo, she allegedly said, "You know, I'm happy I played a sport where you'd make a mistake and the worst thing that could have happened to you was Love-15." Here's a runner-up: Asked about the fall-out from her Jay-Z impression, Zheng Jie remarked: "After my video, every player watch me don't say 'hello;' they say 'Yo, yo.'" I also like Luke Saville's response to winning the boys' title after he was the losing finalist in 2011. "This feels a s#$%load better than last year."
You know what else was missing at the tournament -- and in all of tennis, for that matter? Precocity. In 1997, Martina Hingis won this event as a 16-year-old. By the time she was 18 she had won here thrice -- as well as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. This year there were no teenagers in the women's draw after the second round.
One teenager who did make considerable noise -- and not because of his grunting -- was Bernard (Lead Foot) Tomic. For those who assume he is another young, mindless serve-and-forehand basher, you're in for a pleasant surprise. A versatile and clever player with one of the better slices in the men's game. Tomic met the moment; he won five-setters; he won and lost with grace. And he doesn't want for confidence. After the pathological deference of other top players, there's something refreshing about a kid who has game and doesn't deny it. Get a load of these quotes. "I'm always going to get better and better -- that's a scary part for me." And: "I think the top four guys are at a different level. From five, six on, they're all beatable."
Over and over -- from a variety of people in a variety of roles -- I kept hearing the following about Tomic: his future and progress will be impacted less by work ethic and emotional growth and fitness, than by the potential distractions caused by his combustible father.
Speaking of Aussie phenoms, Todd Woodbridge's son, Beau, is apparently a prodigy. Not tennis, but musical theater. He'll be performing on the Broadway of Sydney in the upcoming production of Love Never Dies.
A lot of you have asked how it is that Kazakhstan has emerged with a player in tennis. We've answered in fits and starts, but we gladly hand the mic to Mikhail Kukushkin:
Q. When you decided to switch from representing Russia to Kazakhstan, can you explain what the situation was there? How did that come about?
MIKHAIL KUKUSHKIN: "It was more than three years ago. It's already four years I play for Kazakhstan. At that time I was around 150 in the world. I was struggling. I mean, I was not in good shape in that moment, but I knew that I could play better, much better and I can get in the other level.
But I didn't have any opportunity for that. Unfortunately in Russia nobody was interesting in me. Nobody support me. Kazakhstan, more than three years ago, they came to me and they just provide me everything, like practice conditions, coaches. I don't know, I have so much support behind my back.
For all players, especially for me, it means a lot when you have such a strong Federation behind you and you know any moment you can call them and ask for, I don't know, Next week I want to practice in Spain, whatever, and they will just find you a place, pay for everything. They just do everything for you.
Especially I can also play Davis Cup. Already played few good matches. It's further experience for me. It's good that it works out for me and for the country, so I like it. Last few years they built I don't know how many tennis centers in Kazakhstan. They do so many programs for the juniors. They invite so many coaches from Europe to come to Kazakhstan and teach young players. ... I think it's great they do so many things to improve tennis in Kazakhstan."
No else one seems particularly interested in this topic, but I still contend currency markets have an interesting impact on prize money -- especially as tennis gets increasingly global. When the Australian dollar improves 40 percent against the U.S. dollar in the course of a decade (just hypothetically, of course) that has all sorts of consequences.
There were 22 players fined by the ITF for various code of conduct violations. Twenty of them were men. Discuss.
I agree completely with Brian of Carlstadt, N.J., when he writes: "If I can be jingoistic for a moment...each year during the U.S. Open, the tennis world/Twitter is overrun by people complaining about different parts of the tournament, be it roofless Ashe, the Armstrong debacle, Super Saturday, etc. These are all legitimate criticisms. To my star spangled eyes, it seems like similar wrinkles go unnoticed during the other Slams. Imagine the reaction if the U.S. Open semifinals were paused for fireworks?"
You know who's a darn good tennis commentator? Lleyton Hewitt, who filled in for Channel 7 after he lost to Djokovic. Speaking of Hewitt, when his (not insignificantly sized) entourage takes their seats in his box they must sit in a certain configuration. And if they don't, he notices it and remarks upon it afterwards. Just one example of (how to put this?) an exacting personality. But I think, ultimately, history will recall him favorably, especially for his almost supernatural ability to fight and max out his powers. In sports, "He competed like hell, won big events and was admired if not loved," isn't the worst epitaph. And it beats the alternative.
Jim Courier, here working for Channel 7, has made an art of the on-court interview. Anyone who thinks sideline reporting is an inherently vapid exercise needs to watch Courier in action. But his substitutes were, well, poor substitutes. Australian television interviewed Andy Murray after his fourth-round defeat of Michael Llodra and the exchange went something like this.
Q: What happens tonight? Do you sleep or watch tennis?
Murray: I'm going to go out and get hammered.
In the press room, on the other hand, we get gems like this:
Q: Does your last name mean anything? Sounds a little bit like macaroni in Italian?
EKATERINA MAKAROVA: I know, but I don't like it. When sometimes you are playing, the crowd, they start, Macarena or Macaroni, I don't like it really, so...
Q. You don't like the macaroni?
MAKAROVA: No, the Italian food, I really like it (smiling).
You have to like Vania King, an unsung (pardon the pun) American who is almost always undersized but manages to win her share of matches. In Melbourne, she made it to round three before falling to Ivanovic. She claimed that had she won, she would have belt out, "We Are the Champions" on the court. Can we pair her with Andrea Petkovic in hopes of getting a post-match song-and-dance routine?
Add to Petkovic to the "Those-We-Missed" list. Other names: Venus Williams, Ted Robinson, Mary Carillo, Fernando Gonzalez, Bud Collins and the late Ken Meyerson.
Good luck this week, Joel Drucker...
HAVE A GOOD WEEK, EVERYONE!
Jon Wertheim is co-author of the New York Times best-seller, "Scorecasting: The Hidden Secrets Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won," out this month in paperback.