Is Madrid Open's blue clay worth all this fuss? Plus more mail
Players should be used to different surfaces and need to judiciously pick battles
Complaints about Madrid's blue clay look poor juxtaposed to graver headlines
Amelie Mauresmo a worthy French Davis Cup captain; Christina McHale prognosis
Just read Novak Djokovic's comments on the blue clay, which are very consistent with Rafael Nadal's complaints. I took particular exception to Djokovic saying, "If you don't have, especially, top players testing the court and agreeing for this change, that should mean something." Why should it only be up to the top players? There are many players who will either participate directly in the tournament or who endeavor to qualify for the main draw. Are they less important than the No. 1, 2 or 10 players? I think Nadal, Andy Roddick and lately Djokovic are often guilty of trying to bully the top tennis officials when a decision is made that they don't agree with. Thoughts?
-- Jonathan, Chicago
• "We just saw it from a different point of view, Tangled up in Blue" ...
I admit to mixed feelings to this hulla-blue (sorry). My first reaction: Get it over, guys. I was looking at the sports ticker last week and there were blurbs about Junior Seau's suicide and NFL head trauma. The Miami Heat looking like a lock to win the NBA's Eastern Conference. The upcoming Floyd Mayweather fight. Some baseball. Under tennis: "Players see red over blue courts." Oy. Them's some bad optics, as they say. (Speaking of bad juxtapositions, if we really want to get carried away: At a time when Spain, the host country, has a record 24.4 percent unemployment rate, is it especially poor form for players to complain about their work conditions?)
While it's probably regrettable that the Madrid promoters chose a different type of clay than other events, including the forthcoming French Open, big deal. Courts always play a little differently from event to event. (You think the speed and bounce at Queen's Club is a perfect facsimile of the Wimbledon grass?) And while I respect players' willingness to use their acquired capital to voice their grievances, I sometimes wish they picked their battles more judiciously. You only get so many bullets. You really want to fire away here? As Blair of Atlanta so nicely put it: "I think [this whole situation] deserves a 'seriously'?"
Plus, this all bodes ill for the ongoing mandate to embrace change, a point that Tennis.com's Pete Bodo made as well. We talk about playing let serves and no-ad scoring and radically altering the calendar. When changing from red clay to blue clay practically incited a riot, how is the sport going to do anything meaningful?
Then, however, I heard the cavalcade of objections by the players, uniformly citing concern about injury issues. I also read the quotes in this article, one that Jonathan referenced above and more, and, when finally through laughing, sympathized a bit more with the athletes. Tournament chief Ion Tiriac and his lackeys know better than anyone that the players lack real power, the ATP is in a compromised position, and that he can spin a publicity stunt as "innovation." Let's reserve judgment until after the tournament. Let's make sure no one gets hurt. Let's see if the "improved visibility" lives up to its billing.
Meanwhile, inasmuch as Nadal and Djokovic feel a bit like pawns for an enterprising promoter, it's not hard to see why.
It seems to be escaping the notice of media on this side of the Atlantic, but there's some buzz in the French media about the possibility of Amelie Mauresmo's being named Davis Cup captain. What do you think of this? She seems to have the respect of the current players (and the adoration of a nation). She'd been a great champion and role model. Wouldn't this be another great barrier for her to break?
-- Joseph B., New York
• Sacre bleu! Mauresmo as Davis Cup captain? Wait, that's a joke, right? Ha! As if she would be equipped to select players, motivate them for competition, perhaps impart some mid-match wisdom. Does she know anything about tennis? Has she ever competed at a high level? Does she have a higher-than-average EQ? Leadership qualities? Does she command respect? Good one!
Wait, what's that? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes? (Or oui, oui, oui, oui and oui.) Then sure, why not? Not only is Mauresmo well qualified, a multiple-time Grand Slam champion virtually impossible not to respect, but she's also still involved in tennis. She even has experience coaching men, having worked with Michael Llodra recently. (Which, now that I mention it, may not be something you necessarily advertise before interviewing for a job pertaining to an international competition.)
I've always thought that tennis distinguished itself in its treatment of Mauresmo. After she came out publicly and unabashedly at the 1999 Australian Open -- we pause and note that she was only 19 at the time -- there were a few days of write-ups and ill-advised comments and low-boil controversy. After that, there was a collective shrug. Sponsors didn't drop her. Fans didn't desert her, much less heckle her. The media seldom brought up the topic of her sexuality. Other players didn't shun her. The WTA didn't hide her. She wasn't perceived as "the lesbian." She was simply a fine player and finer "tennis citizen." If you occasionally remembered she was gay, you did so in the same manner you remembered that Justine Henin was Belgian or Lindsay Davenport was married.
My suspicion: If Mauresmo were named Davis Cup captain -- and again, why shouldn't she be? -- there would be an initial firestorm. She'd field questions about "what locker room do you use?" The players would be asked about the dynamic. We'd get a torrent of images of Mauresmo flanked by the hommes. And, after a few days, no one would much care.
I was going to write to you about what a lost opportunity for Ryan Harrison in Belgrade -- weak draw, good chance to pump up that ranking, etc. Then I read this and am surprised the poor guy won six games. I think it isn't mentioned enough how exhausting travel and its many headaches are. Yet another reason to sing the praises of the professionals of the ATP and WTA.
-- Aaron D, Charleston
• Like a wise man (or was it Robin Leach?) once said: "It ain't all champagne wishes and caviar dreams." And if you have not read this interview with Sergiy Stakhovsky, do so immediately. It will dispel any notion that life is glamorous for the pro tennis rank-and-file.
This sounds tongue-in-cheek, but I have to say, I'm not sure of the answer to this question: Outside of matches in which he was injured or fatigued by tennis's taxing schedule, Rafa is undefeated in his career. If Rafa is at full strength, could anyone -- past or present (or even future) -- defeat him?
-- Ben, Chicago
• Nadal is an exceptional player. He could retire tomorrow and be regarded as one of the best players of all time. But come on, Ben. There have plenty of times Nadal was flat-out defeated, with no extenuating circumstances. (And not simply to players named Federer and Djokoivc.) To his credit, he would be the first to admit this.
I think that Ben, perhaps inadvertently, raises an interesting issue. At full strength? Unencumbered by injury? Free of fatigue? Sounds great. But it cuts both ways. Hell, free of injury and fatigue and dialing in serves, most players can succeed. One of the keys to being a successful player -- I would argue at any level -- is finding ways to win on those many days when you're less than 100 percent. Most players "zone" from time and time, entering that blissful state in which it feels like they're playing Wii Tennis. But it's their results the other 95 percent of the time that provide a true barometer.
Being Canadian, I'm somewhat biased when I say the Stanley Cup is, by far, the greatest trophy in sports. Tennis and golf seem to have some of the most egregious examples of gaudiness (see Barcelona) where trophies are concerned. What do you think is the coolest trophy in tennis? And is there any correlation between cool trophy and cool tournament/venue?
-- Neil Grammer, Toronto
• There is no correlation whatsoever. Unless it's an inverse relationship. Wimbledon could offer a soiled Q-tip as a trophy and players would line up. The Diamond Proximus Games, on the other hand, lured players with this.
Did you really just field that question about the Ageless One, and not mention Martina Navratilova?
-- Doyle Srader, Eugene, Ore.
• Oy, that's one for my unforced-error tally, no doubt. I must be getting old. Some interesting additions. Dick Norman, Mark Knowles, Lisa Raymond (who achieved the No.1 ranking last month in her late 30s).
JT of Seattle added: "For me, the first name to come to mind is Francesca Schiavone. She did her best work in her late 20s early 30s. At a time when most players are doing 'the retirement tour,' she is peaking." Schiavone, of course, has been toppling off that peak in 2012. But JT's point is well taken.
Simple question: What do you think of Christina McHale?
-- Bill T., Princeton, N.J.
• I don't have a simple answer. First, I think you need to stand back and give both McHale and the USTA credit. Here's a player without a particularly remarkable physique or game who has embedded herself in the top 40 and beaten a good many top players. That's the good news. The less good news is that, because of her game, McHale isn't going to blow out many of her opponents. She's going to win by grinding and counterpunching and picking her spots. She's going to be in a lot of close matches and when she puts herself in a place to win, she needs to be a closer. Take a look at these results. A few nice three-set wins; a lot of rough three-set losses. And Monday she fell in still another close match, this time to Sam Stosur in Madrid 2-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Tautology: Her career success will depend, in large part, on how well she learns how to win.
What do you think is the best pro tournament to attend in the U.S. not counting the U.S. Open, and what do you think the best pro tournament to attend outside the U.S. besides any of the other Grand Slams.
-- Jeff, Lacey, Wash.
• An American tournament? What's that?
Just kidding. (And I know, I know: Even as U.S. events migrate offshore faster than tech-support call centers and manufacturing jobs, there are still more events held here than in any other country.) All depends on taste, of course. Do you want to coordinate your visit with a vacation? If so, I'd take, say, Charleston, S.C. Do you want a resort setting? In that case, you can't go wrong with Indian Wells, Calif. Do you want night life? If that's the case, Miami and Los Angeles are probably preferable to Winston-Salem, N.C. Do you simply want to experience the best tennis? In that case, I would select a mixed event. I'm a great fan of Cincinnati (and New Haven), but a lot of that is tied to personal history and familiarity with the area. Overall, I would say you can't go wrong with any of them.
And, truthfully, I have not been to the majority of the non-majors outside the U.S. But I will say this: if there is a more majestic setting for a sporting event than the Monte Carlo Country Club, I haven't seen it.
We have heard over the years about the huge financial troubles of such stars as Bjorn Borg, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and now Patty Schnyder. Should the WTA and ATP set up a program to help these players manage their own money or might they lose focus if they have to think too much about other things?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.
• Yes and no. It behooves the ATP and WTA to try to teach players about personal finance and money management, not least because, as a quasi-union, it is the moral and responsible thing to do. (And I'm told that both tours do offer formal and informal training, including seminars on this and other lifestyle issues.) But, ultimately, the players are individual contractors, as well as adults with agency (and agents) free to make their own choices.
We should point that instances of athletes squandering their wealth is hardly unique to tennis.
Not really a question, just a word of encouragement. I've been following your mailbag for more than 11 years now, and I've always found your opinions fair-minded and your reasoning very sensible. The folks who call you a hater of person X or Y seem to be either super biased themselves or just plain dumb.
-- Rushin, San Francisco
• Hey, thanks. I appreciate that. There has been an onslaught of "I know you hate XX" mail and I'm baffled, especially since it's usually offset by another piece of mail accusing me of being biased in favor of that same player.
If you must know: I don't like egomaniacal administrators who put their contract demands and agenda before the good of the sport. I don't like it when networks give tennis a raw deal. I don't like rain delays. I don't like the absence of checks and balances on the sport's technology, nor do I like the paucity of attention paid to the alarming injury rate. I don't like it when agents are untruthful, when Coach and The Reaper on Sports Talk Radio accuses tennis of being "boring."
But when it comes to players, truly, I try to have no personal animus.
Coronate is not a word. To "crown" is what you're looking for. Cheers ... love reading the mailbag.
-- Jim Skipsey
Do you agree that professional broadcasters should continue to refer to the "majors" in tennis as "Grand Slams"? If you do, I think that you are equally an idiot. No one wins a Grand Slam without first winning ALL the majors in a given year.
-- Antonio T Pangelinan, Castro Valley, Calif.
• That's not much of a choice you've given me. Yes, technically the Grand Slam connotes winning four majors. But a Grand Slam has become interchangeable with "major" and this (mis)use has become so widespread and accepted it's probably time we conceded defeat. (Regardless, don't be aggravated.)
• Look who joined Twitter ...
• John Isner is the latest top player to join the all-star field for The Boodles 2012, held at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire, England, from June 19-23.
• Four-time champion Caroline Wozniacki and world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska have committed to play the 2012 New Haven Open at Yale.
• This week's unsolicited book recommendation: the incomparable Jack McCallum writing about the 1992 Dream Team.
• Attention class, we have a new substitute teacher today. Two, actually.
• Touche to Robert of Washington, D.C.: "For all the talk about seeing the ball clearly, it sure is interesting how difficult it is to read the logo for 'Mutua Madrilena' -- the title sponsor. Amazing how you don't have that problem with Tiriac Leasing."
• Here's a pick-me-up, a digital tiramisu, as it were. Read this. Racket clap to Briton Richardson.
• Nice to see David Ferrer landing a Maui Jim endorsement. Remember kids: Hard work does pay off.
• Nice catch-up with James Blake, on the verge of some (positive) life changes.
• And a nice piece on designer Venus Williams.
• Deborah of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: "As long as we're continuing with questions about the anti-Williams club and the continuing role of racism in tennis, I thought I would relate this story to give you a little hope for the world. My daughter's school does a 'sports hero day' every year where the kids dress up as their favorite sports hero. This year my 6year-old daughter chose to go as Serena Williams. I was wondering exactly how we were going to take a small strawberry blond child and convey 'Serena.' Turns out she had it all worked out -- she waltzed out this morning in a sparkly skirt and shirt with a tennis racket and ball in hand and said, 'I'm Serena!' and marched off to school. The notion that her skin and hair were a different color didn't even register in her 6-year-old brain. I can only hope that never changes."
• Press releasing: "The USTA announced that four members of the tennis community were honored with national awards as part of the USOC Coaching Recognition Program. USTA Lead National Coach Kathy Rinaldi was named the 2011 USOC National Coach of the Year for Tennis; Vesa Ponkka of Huntingtown, Md., who coaches at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, a USTA Certified Regional Training Center in College Park, Md., was named USOC Developmental Coach of the Year for Tennis; Craig Boynton of Tampa, Fla., was named USOC "Doc" Counsilman Coach of the Year for Tennis for his contributions to the sport in the areas of training and conditioning; and USTA National Manager for Wheelchair Tennis Dan James of Oakdale, Minn., was named USOC Paralympic Coach of the Year for Tennis."
• Press releasing Part Deux: "Tickets to the 2012 Winston-Salem Open at Wake Forest University go on sale to the public May 15."
• Cheer for longtime reader Monica, who just finished this sports documentary.
Have a great week, everyone!