By Bill Simons
GIORGI GIRL WINS ON COURT, REFUSES TO ANSWER QUESTIONS OFF THE COURT: Camila Giorgi scored a stunning win over Maria Sharapova. Her 6-3, 4-6. 7-5 victory was marked by powerful hitting and flashes of inspired tennis. Less inspiring is her and her father Sergio’s supposed treatment of a string of backers and investors who over the past few years bought her tickets to Wimbledon and the French Open, funded or even gave her coaching, and invested significant sums into her career without being paid back the money they were promised. An in-depth article by Sports Illustrated’s much-celebrated Jon Wertheim detailed an extended string of problematic dealings, broken promises, and encounters likely headed for the courthouse.
The WTA did not want The Tennis Channel to mention all of this in their post-match interview. But Mary Carillo spoke of the disconcerting situation anyway. Inside Tennis wanted to see if Giorgi would discuss her situation, so we tried to ask the 22-year-old Italian about it. She clearly did not want to talk about the murky matters. Our dialogue went like this:
INSIDE TENNIS: This is probably the best win of your career, along with the [US Open] one over Wozniacki. I’d like to ask you an honest question. One of our best journalists, Jon Wertheim, wrote a long piece about all the different investors that you owe: Mendy Wiggins, Eran Gadot, Alex Ramirez, Dominic Owen, Todd Andrews. You’ll win at least $52,000 here [in Indian Wells]. Do you think it would be appropriate to pay some of these people back?
CAMILA GIORGI: Actually, I don’t want to talk about that. For me, just I’m playing a tournament, so I don’t think about that.
IT: But you’re a grown-up. You’re a 22 year old woman. Many people know about this [situation]. Don’t you think it would be appropriate to take accountability and deal with this?
CG: I deal with this. I don’t have problems. But I’m saying to you that I just want to talk about tennis, not this stuff.
IT: That’s part of the game.
CG: Is not part of the game, because this is a history that … it’s, I cannot say. I don’t know how to say in English, but how you say in English?
MODERATOR: Just stick to tennis and—
IT: Wait a second. Let her put it in her own words. You don’t have to coach her. She’s 22.
CG: Yeah, but you don’t need to be aggressive. I’m just answer[ing] your question. If you want, I answer what you want. It’s different. But I answer what I think is the best.
Q: If you want to answer in Spanish or something…
CG: No, it’s okay.
NO DEFENSE: Both defending champions at Indian Wells lost today—Sharapova to Camila Giorgi, and Rafael Nadal to the unorthodox, flairful Ukrainian player Alexandr Dolgopolov.
SOME GOOD NEWS FOR THE UKRAINE: After Alexandr Dolgopolov‘s topsy-turvy 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win over Rafael Nadal, Inside Tennis asked the 25-year-old—who recently enlisted Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray to make statements in a video he made calling for peace in his embattled home country of Ukraine—about the timing of his win:
INSIDE TENNIS: I know from after we spoke the other day [that] you’re sick and tired of [discussing] the political, but you just beat the defending champion, No. 1 in the world, and one of the most beloved sportsmen that we have. Do you think in some way that might be a feel‑good moment, might help people back in your country now?
ALEXANDR DOLGOPOLOV: Well, for sure. I mean, it’s a moment for the people to be proud a little bit for someone from their country, I guess.
That’s good. As I said a lot of times, it’s good to make some results, and make the people forget a little bit and have some happy moments in the news, [amid] the politics and all the bad stuff happening.
OF BOBBY, BOB, AND ROBERT: Many a guy named Bob starts his life being called Bobby, and then becomes Bob, and maybe eventually Robert. This little linguistic progression was mirrored when Georgia’s Bobby Reynolds faced Stephane Robert in the first round.
MOST INVENTIVE HAIR HAPPENING SINCE MARTINA HINGIS’ MOTHER MELANIE: Camila Giorgi’s father, Sergio, has a wild gray ‘do.
PIZZA, THE POPE, THE MONA LISA, AND NOW THIS: Italian tennis is happening. The country’s first top 10 women’s player, Flavia Pennetta, reached her debut Slam semi at the age of 31 during last year’s USO. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were top 10 players in 2013, and are still a top 10 doubles team. On the men’s side, Italy is represented by the charismatic Fabio Fognini, who reached the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open today. A player with a track record of volatile and dramatic matches whose on-court demeanor ranges from dogged to devil-may-care, Fognini is counterbalanced by the ever-steady Andreas Seppi, one of the cleanest-hitting and most calm players in the ATP.
It’s been an up-and-down, characteristically tempestuous year for Italian women’s tennis, with top 10 players and doubles partners Errani and Vinci both struggling—world No. 14 Vinci burst into tears after finally scoring her first singles win of the season here in Indian Wells. But the country is a fierce Fed Cup force because it boosts a strong Top 100 contingent: along with No. 10 Errani, Vinci, No. 21 (and 2013 US Open semifinalist) Flavia Pennetta, No. 43 (and 2009 French Open champ) Francesca Schiavone, and No. 49 Karin Knapp, Italy is also home to No. 79-and-rising Camila Giorgi, who first made waves last fall by using strong serves and flat groundstrokes to hit Caroline Wozniacki off the court in the third round of the US Open. Giorgi and Pennetta will face off in the fourth round at Indian Wells.
ITALIAN JOBS: While Maria Sharapova collected her last Slam title against Italy’s Sara Errani in 2012 at Roland Garros, it’s safe to say that Italian opponents have been a total nightmare for the tall Russian so far in 2014. She escaped with a three-set marathon win over Karin Knapp in boiler-room conditions in Melbourne, but today, against Camila Giorgi in the desert sunset, she wasn’t so lucky. Sharapova could scarcely win service points, let alone hold, in the match’s final games, and she even lost her trademark cool—a rare event—in a dispute with oft-criticized umpire Mariana Alves after losing serve late in the deciding set..
AND NOW FOR OUR CHOICE FOR THE MOST INTERESTING RECEDING HAIR LINE OF THE SEASON: Michael Chang.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If she played the way she did today for a long time, I don’t think she would be a qualifier.”—Maria Sharapova, on Camila Giorgi.
ISNER—”I’M JUST WORRIED ABOUT MYSELF”: Only one US man, John Isner, reached an ATP final last year. In January, the American men failed to get beyond the third round at the Aussie Open. In February, our Davis Cup team stubbed its toe in the clay in San Diego, losing to a not-exactly-powerhouse British squad. And now, here in Indian Wells, Isner is the only one of the 14 Americans in the draw to reach the third round. When Inside Tennis asked him whether American tennis was in crisis, he said, “It’s certainly been better, that’s for sure, but … it’s none of my concern. I mean, I’m proud of what I’ve done in my career. And, you know, I’m just worried about myself.
The other guys … are going to start to pick it up. They are too talented not to … I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can, and do everything I can to get myself better, and cheer for those other guys, but not put too much stock into it, either.”
DEPORTATION PENDING: Insiders wondered whether the usually benign Desert Sun tennis writer Leighton Ginn will be deported by Friday for suggesting the USTA scrap its extensive Player Development program and use those ample funds to bring more tournaments to the US.
ROSETTA STONED: The Tennis Channel showed a lively montage of Alize Cornet mercilessly berating herself in French and then switched to a commercial announcement: “This portion of our show is brought to you by Rosetta Stone.” Commentator Brett Haber noted the obvious, saying “I don’t think you need [Rosetta Stone] to understand what Cornet was saying.”
CHEWING ON BAGELS: After noting that Carla Suarez Navarro double-bageled Lauren Davis at last year’s US Open only to be double-barreled by Serena Williams, Brent Haber claimed it proved “there is nothing better than New York bagels.”
WHAT SAMPRAS, FEDERER, AND SLOANE STEPHENS HAVE IN COMMON: All three have been coached by Paul Annacone.
FIERY APOLOGY: While commentating on Alejandro Falla (pronounced Fi-yah), who was playing out of his head, Brett Haber couldn’t resist saying that the Colombian was “on fire.” The broadcaster then apologized to the American people for his obvious wordplay.
PLEDGING SLOANE: When Sloane Stephens—who defeated Ana Ivanovic to reach the fourth round—was asked if life on the tour instead of in college has her feeling like a “sorority of one,” she agreed, quipping, “I am a sorority of one—Sloane Phi Sigma or whatever.” She went on to add, “Girls are full of drama. To be in a sorority would be overwhelming. [On the tour] we’re playing for money in a real job. It’s a bit different from arguing over boys and stuff.”
After his workmanlike 6-2. 6-3 victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, Roger Federer reflected on his wife, his tennis, and his life:
Question: You may not want to answer this.
Roger Federer: Okay (laughter).
Q: The the other day Pete [Sampras] was talking about the role his wife Bridgette [Wilson-Sampras] played. He spoke very beautifully about how important it was having her in his camp, saying that it doesn’t matter what others thought, she was always there for him. Could you talk about the role Mirka has played in your life?
RF: I think every wife is important. Mine is no different. She’s [always] been involved to some degree, but [she was more] involved, midway through our relationship … She came to every practice, every match, spent breakfast, lunch, and dinner together for years. It’s still very intense today, but we have kids and she’s seen 900 matches, I guess. She’s okay missing one once in a while and not coming to practices anymore. But she’s been very important in my life, not just as a tennis player, but overall. I’m happy that she always thought in my best interest for me and my career and never pulled me away [from tennis]. It would have been easy for her to say, “Look, can we not change it up or do it different?” I hear stories. Some guys don’t get allowed to travel maybe three, four weeks in a row somewhere.The only request she had is that we spend as much as time as possible together, which is what I wanted anyway.
She’s been amazing. But at the same time, I also have to be able to make decisions all by myself and do what’s best for me as a tennis player. Of course, in the back of my mind I always have family, friends, and everything … [and] you can’t always run everything by Mirka … I take decisions in the team, but as a leader, I also have to make decisions myself.
Q: Did it help that Mirka was on the tour herself?
RF: I guess so. But at the same time, I guess it must also be nice to have a girlfriend or wife who has nothing to do with tennis …[who] doesn’t know everybody. Depends how you see it. I thought it was a positive for me, because when she started traveling with me, she injured her heel and couldn’t walk … She was on crutches. Then she decided to come on tour with me, and I guess it extended her career a little bit. That’s why she was so excited and motivated to be back on the tour, with me in the supporting team more than as a player. Which was nice for her, I think.
Q: Have you ever had a time where people rooted against you?
RF: Yes. Many times (smiling).
Q: You look around, there are 18-year-olds playing you. Does your body not feel the way it did five years ago?
RF: You always have some niggling injuries or pain.
That goes with being a player. It’s not like I played pain-free up until last year. So that’s an illusion, too. I feel there are many guys … my age still playing, and there’s not that many 18-year-olds … who I’m playing against. The youngest guys are usually 21, 22 years old. So, no, I don’t feel like we’re being pushed out … We are going out on our own terms, which is nice.
Q: When you knocked off Sampras at Wimbledon in the match which sort of pushed you forward, did you look around you and say, “Look at all these old guys, [like] Sampras,” or did you just play the game and not think about the age?
RF: No, you think of the legends and great champions. It was an amazing time back then, because those were the guys I knew from TV … Guys I maybe wanted to play against one day, but it’s such a faraway dream you don’t think it’s ever going to happen. [But the] next thing you know you’re right in the mix. I must say it’s very, very special, and I will always look back at [then] as some of the best of my playing days.
Q: Roger, a couple years ago it was rare to see players over 30, and especially playing at a high level. Now men and women, are playing very well after 30.
RF: It’s got something to do with [the fact] that life on tour is actually nice. Stefan [Edberg] told me he could have played easily for another five years, but he chose not to … Today, players must be telling themselves it’s actually really enjoyable on tour, and the last years of my playing may be [for] one year or six years, I don’t know, but I want to take it a bit easier, or just enjoy it a bit more. [Maybe players are realizing] that with a more relaxed mindset, they can be equally successful… It’s very interesting to see older players not being pushed out … I don’t know how many players are on the women’s tour that are over 30, but on the men’s tour we have a ton. It’s great, because I know many of them from a long time ago.
Q: You just used the word “special” when you reflected back on the early days. Do you miss those days?
RF: Yeah, I do.
Q: Would you like those days still to be here now, or is it still as special now?
RF: It’s totally different today. I enjoy the game totally in a different way. Back in the day, I did have a lot of pressure, so I felt I was being forced to play well. I was expected to. I don’t feel that way today.
But the special part before was just seeing the guys from TV live in front of me, being able to practice with them and being able to play against them. That was such a cool experience for me as a player and person that I will never forget that.
Today, it’s different, because I still play the same generation players.There is the next generation which clearly [we]eventually have to embrace … as well the rivalries we have had with all the players we know,and then now you play guys who know you from TV, basically. So that’s a bit weird … but you kind of get used to it.It’s not like everybody comes up to you and says, I know you from TV, but it’s nice to hear stories from time to time.
Q: You’ve been on Twitter for about a year. You have gotten very good at selfies.
RF: Yeah, okay.
Q: If you could take a selfie with anybody, who would it be?
RF: Nobody. I mean,this is totally for my supporters, whoever follows me … on Twitter or Facebook. I’m just trying to make it fun and different. It took me a long time to warm up to social media, because I just didn’t know how it’s supposed to be used, even though there is no rule to it. But I find some people use it in a very funny way and some in a very strange way.
First, I had to find out what was going to be my direction. I saw it more as giving sort of … hints, sort of my angle, an extra angle to our life on tour. So it’s actually become quite enjoyable. The last thing I want to feel is pressure that I have to take pictures, or have to do something. If I don’t want to post anything for weeks, I have the right to do that. That needs to be the case.
But I must say it’s pretty funny, and it doesn’t stress me out. You just can’t be sucked into it too crazy, otherwise all you start doing is spending time on the phone, and that’s not what I want.
Q: You are playing doubles here with Stan Wawrinka, and spending a lot more time together than normal. Has he been coming to you, asking about how to manage expectations?
RF: Not so much. The good thing for me is that he’s not 18. He’s been on tour for a while and knows that success is just an extra mega bonus for him. Now it’s going back to the practice courts. Enjoying the limelight, but managing that so it doesn’t drain him. Maybe [he] can do things that he couldn’t do before, meet people, go to events, who knows? He always thought that may be cool. Then he’s done three and he’s like, that’s enough now.
It must be really enjoyable for him to be recognized more and not just as a journeyman who just happens to play very well, but actually maybe being a crowd-pleaser, an idol to some, a favorite player. [Maybe] people admire his backhand even more now, those kind of things. It must be cool for him. He stopped coming to me probably three, four years ago asking about everything, about managing his life, his forehand, his backhand, his break points, all that stuff. And I also let go, because he needed to grow up by himself and make sure he was the player he can be. Now I sometimes go to him and ask him for advice on certain players, and he still does the same sometimes. So it’s a good dynamic, and I’m happy that he is in a solid place now. I hope he can be very successful for the coming years.
By Bill Simons
IN PRAISE OF ETHIOPIAN BACKHANDS: Writer Bill Dwyre noted, “We get so much nationalism shoved down our throats by NBC during any Olympics that occasionally rooting for somebody from Ethiopia to hit a winning backhand feels kind of nice.”
SHE WAS THERE WHEN HISTORY WAS MADE: Maria Sharapova, fresh from her job as an Olympic correspondent for NBC, said with some pride that she was there when Bob Costas first came down with his now-famous case of pink eye.
“GEE, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT”: A reporter said to Agnieszka Radwanska, “It’s your birthday today, and you know, your age changes on your birthday. Are you feeling old?”
ADVANTAGE CHEESECAKE: Radwanska, who has an endorsement contract with The Cheesecake Factory, was asked which stroke in tennis is most helped by cheesecake. She said the drop shot.
YOU SAY RODDICK, I SAY RADEK: Just a couple of years ago, you would hear cries of “Come on, Roddick!” to encourage Texan Andy Roddick. But this year the crowd yelled “Come on Radek!” to encourage the crafty Radek Stepanek in his second-round match against beloved Indian Wells defending champion Rafa Nadal.
Stepanek is a wicked seasoned veteran who gives you no rhythm. Every point is different. You never want to face him, but especially in the early rounds. Sure, he may be more accomplished in doubles than in singles. (He’s now No. 4 in doubles and No. 50 in singles.) And, as good as Stepanek’s record is on the circuit (he was once ranked No. 8 and has won almost $10 million), he is even better in Davis Cup play—just ask a Serbian tennis fan on your block. Still, Stepanek is hardly cowed by the best. He and Leander Paes brought down the finest doubles team in history, the Bryan Brothers, en route to winning the US Open in September, and he was up a break in the third set against Federer in Dubai in February, before Roger restored sanity to the tennis universe.
In six meetings against Radek, Nadal had never lost. So there were no worries. Then again, Rafa did suffer a horrendous second-round loss to No. 135 Steve Darcis in the first round at Wimbledon last summer, and he recently dropped the Aussie Open final—where he was an overwhelming favorite—to Stan Wawrinka.
But while Nadal’s blisters had healed, his back wasn’t back to 100 percent. Rafa later conceded, “With my serve, I was doing nothing.”
Serving well, and quick to the net, Stepanek sprinted out to a 4-1 lead before closing out the first set 6-2. Then, after dropping the second set 6-4, the Czech had three break points, which, if he’d converted, would have given him a commanding 4-2 lead in the decider. But Nadal is arguably the best competitor in the men’s game, and thanks in part to a brilliant cross-court backhand winner in a marathon rally, he fought back from 0-40 and went on to break Stepanek at five-all. Nadal’s 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 win brought huge relief to his pal, tournament owner Larry Ellison, and 16,000 or so partisans at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, who adore the bronze Spaniard with the sweet smile, the nasty forehand, and the abundantly clear ability to win tennis matches.
STILL VERTICAL AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: Jimmy Connors confided, “I’ve had three hip replacements. But I’m still standing.”
WHO NEEDS EPICS? After Maria Sharapova concurred with Billie Jean King and said men’s matches at Slams should be the best of three sets, not five, British writer Barry Flatman tweeted, “Yes, very sensible, Maria. Who needs epics like Nadal-Fed at Wimb ’08? Or Wawrinka-Djoko in Australia this year. Keep best of 5.”
A LACK OF FIRE IN AMERICAN TENNIS: In a scathing critique of American tennis in the LA Times, American coach Jose Higueras told Bill Dwyre that our players are “lacking competitiveness … They’ve got good backhands and forehands and serves, but they lack an understanding of how the game needs to be played. We have good coaches, but the culture of our players needs to improve … I won’t use the excuse you hear all the time about all the good US athletes playing football or basketball. Sure, if we didn’t have football and basketball in this country, there would be more guys playing tennis. But it’s an easy crutch. If our players were European, things would be different. Being No. 80 in the world wouldn’t be enough then … When a high percentage of the coaches want it more than the players, we have a problem.”
DOES SAM STILL HAVE THE FIRE? Sam Querrey, who’s had a rough start this year, was asked about his desire and motivation after being out on the tour for many a year. The laid-back 6′ 6″ Californian said, “Yeah, it definitely gets a little … difficult. Sometimes tournaments aren’t as exciting because you have played them eight or nine times. For the most part, I still have the motivation. When you see some of these older guys like Tommy Haas and Federer and Ferrer, you know, doing well into their 30s, it gives me a lot of motivation that hopefully my best years are still ahead of me.”
NEVER AGAIN—MURRAY MUSINGS ON SCOTLAND, AMERICA, AND THE UKRAINE: When Inside Tennis asked Andy Murray about his statement in fellow pro Alexandr Dolgopolov‘s video calling for peace in the Ukraine, the Scot said, “As athletes and tennis players, we obviously travel around the whole world … There are probably players playing from 80, 90 countries here; it’s a truly global sport. Any time we can sort of help support one of the other players, or when it’s a situation like that, I think we do a pretty good job of it.”
We then asked Murray, who has a place in Miami and has done well in the US, what he thought of America. “I love the States,” said Andy. “I have loved it since the first time I came for the Orange Bowl when I was 11 years old. I just enjoy the positivity of the people here. You know, wake up at 6 in the morning and go to Starbucks and, you know, the person that’s serving you just genuinely seems happy to see you. They are awake and just very positive, have a positive outlook on life. It’s not the case everywhere. That’s why I always enjoy coming here, and why I spend my off-seasons training here and why I have made Miami my sort of second home, because people are very positive.”
Murray was also asked how he’s going to face the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. This is really a hot potato in the United Kingdom, where a popular joke among the English is that Murray is Scottish when he is losing and English when he is winning. Plus, Murray caused a furor when he joked before the 2006 Soccer World Cup that he was rooting for any team but Britain. Since then, Murray has been most cautious. In Indian Wells, the defending Wimbledon champion—who often draws Scottish national Sean Connery to his matches—confided that he would “take a position, but, you know … I can’t vote. I’m not allowed to vote, so my thoughts on it aren’t that relevant … And, yeah, I wouldn’t personally choose to make my feelings on something like that public, either, because not a whole lot of good comes from it. I don’t know a whole lot about politics, and I have made that mistake in the past, and it’s caused me a headache for like seven or eight years of my life, and a lot of abuse. So I wouldn’t consider getting involved in something like that ever again.”
NOT EXACTLY A FAN OF DOUBLES: Asked why she doesn’t play doubles, Li Na said, “I think doubles court for me too small … Maybe last time I play doubles was 2007. Or I play Olympics I think with a young girl. When I was stand[ing on the] court I didn’t know what I have to do. Even [when] I return, I was feeling the court so small. Everywhere is people. I cannot do it … You have to, how do you say, talk to your opponent all the time. Yeah.” When a reporter suggested it would help her serve and volley, Li pivoted and said, “That would be good idea. Maybe I will think about [it].”
BOOT CAMP: Victoria Azarenka has been in a boot for three weeks due to an ankle injury. She also had a fundraiser at the Malibu Racket Club with Serena Williams that raised over $1 million. But, despite being No. 4 in the world, she was crushed in her opening match by Cleveland’s little-known (and little in stature) Lauren Davis, 6-0, 7-6 (2). Davis is ranked No. 66, and there was much speculation about whether Azarenka should have finished the match, or even played in the tournament.
ANOTHER FEDERER MILESTONE: By winning in Dubai, Roger Federer moved ahead of John McEnroe on the all-time list of tournament winners, with a 78th singles title. Only Jimmy Connors with 109 titles and Ivan Lendl with 94 remain above the 32-year-old Swiss, who hadn’t won a tournament since Halle last June. Federer took Dubai by scoring come-from-behind wins over No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 6 Tomas Berdych, dropping the first set in both matches. It was also Roger’s first tournament win with his new, larger-head racket. “It was a switch I wanted to do for a long time, he said. “I tried a racket in Hamburg and Gstaad last year, and felt it was a good one, but wasn’t quite what I liked the most. It just felt totally different to what I was playing with before.” Roger added, “I have only just switched, and here I am, already got to the finals in Brisbane, semis at the Australian Open, won my Davis Cup match, and now here I am with a trophy. So now it’s not in the back of my mind anymore: ‘Is this racket good or not?’”
“Roger cares. He’s done everything and yet he plays like he’s done nothing.”—An Indian Wells fan in section 5, on Roger Federer
“It is absolutely amazing … now it is even more exciting to come back.”—Federer, on the new Stadium 2
“Yeah, at least I’m still in the tournament.”—Li Na, on her narrow first-round win.
By Bill Simons
It was the moment everyone had waited for. After a year of frenzied work and incredible investment, the shining jewel in the crown at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden was ready. The grounds of the Garden had been morphed into a kind of wonder: a desert oasis with a touch of Disneyland. Palm trees, all 417 of them, swayed in a kind breeze. Shaded areas abounded, and viewing stands at practice courts attracted throngs. Green sod defied gray sands.
But the blandly-named “Stadium Two” (which, according to some reports, cost $70 million) was at the heart of the expansion. And, at last, there was a marquee match scheduled on the 8,000 seat arena. Out on court, none other than Roger (“Greatest of All Time”) Federer and recent Aussie Open champ Stan Wawrinka were facing the beloved (in some places) duo of Alsam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna.
The stands were packed, the mood was buoyant.
A Salt Lake City fan in a gray “Live Lucky” cap went through many an organic orange slice before starting to chew on some Tootsie Rolls. The obligatory Swiss flags and Fed signs were in place. (Our faves were those old standbys, “Shhh! Quiet! Genius at work” and “Roger That.”)
The stadium is sunken. The shade soothes, while above the court there was a clean, clutter-free look. Take that, US Open—no signage.
Well, check that. There were two odd signs on each side of the arena. Each read “Concessions.” But wait, how wrong can that be!
This place seemed to have made no concessions. No expense, it seems, was spared.
And, up above, on the place’s western tier, there are restaurants where you could munch and view. Here, families fussed over menus at Nobu, or asked their waiter at the Chop House just what type of Pinot would go best with their filet mignon. (Medium rare, thank you very much.) Ah, the good life in paradise? Even Federer’s pregnant wife Mirka and her lively young twins were on hand.
Everything seems so fine, a sparkling new, intimate tennis vintage. Federer’s out there flashing his graceful power, such beauty. Wawrinka’s backhand amazes. Beyond this, the Diamond Vision screens sparkle bright, and the acoustics resonate perfectly. A fan twists open her Sprite and the swoosh resonates, a sweet sound-swirl.
“I love this place,” says one LA woman. “You’re so close, you really get a sense of their speed—so fast!”
“There are so many people here,” adds another observer. “They could have put this thing on Stadium One.”
“Yeah,” says another. “But I wouldn’t have watched. It’s better here.”
Sure, there are flaws that defy the script. Hidden broadcast rooms are still cluttered with wires and widgets. And Bopanna has the audacity to smash a winner off a fierce Federer serve. Then, when Mr. Perfect—that would be Roger—nets an overhead sitter, an unsympathetic fan crows, “Oh, I can do that.”
Ultimately, there is only one man we know who could have put together such a palatial tennis playground: the tennis-loving billionaire Larry Ellison. The Australian Open has to deal with the State of Victoria. Wimbledon is all about the stuffy but progressive All-England Club. The US Open has its ample committees. Miami has to deal with City Hall, and the French Open must navigate Parisian politics. (And you think Congress is a headache?)
Here, all the tournament folks have to do is ask their tennis-loving billionaire if they can go ahead. And there in the first row of his new palace is our hero of the day. The head of Oracle may not be an oracle himself, but he’s certainly “The Wizard of Wow.” His girlfriend and tournament CEO Ray Moore are by his side, and all the while Larry Ellison, watches attentively— flawless beard, red cheeks, black T-Shirt, —buff and alert.
I had tried before to interview the fifth-richest man in the world. His teaching pro and assorted handlers were not encouraging. And when I spotted him in Paris in June by the player lounge at the French Open, I asked him, in the spur of the moment, if we could talk. He offered a kindly “Maybe later.”
Well, now it was later. Never mind that two burly security lads (their earpieces in place) hovered nearby, I adeptly sidestepped them and approached the man himself and then dropped a few benign names and asked him if I could ask him a few questions. The moment was right and so began my chat with the gracious Wizard of Wow.
INSIDE TENNIS: Hey Larry, what’s more of an achievement, your boat Oracle in last year’s America’s Cup scoring one of the most rousing comebacks in sports history, or this incredible stadium where we are sitting being built in less than a year?
LARRY ELLISON: I’m very proud of both, they’re hard to compare. I’m proud of the sailing team coming back after being down 8-1 and for this stadium being built in ten months. They’re both exceptional achievements.
IT: You’re a kid from the Bronx, how does it feel to see this incredible facility?
LE: I am actually from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. l lived in even worse neighborhoods than the Bronx. It’s a long way to come in one lifetime, but it has been very, very exciting, I have met lots and lots of very interesting people. That makes life worth living.
IT: You have such a passion, a love of sports. Not every businessman—
LE: I like the clarity of sports. In so much of life there are so many shades of gray, and the clarity of sports [is that] you either win or lose. On any given day, one team wins and one loses. One woman wins, one loses. One man wins, one loses. So it is wonderful and brutal to have that clarity and finality.
IT: This facility is so intimate, so beautiful, and has that creative design with the restaurants built in. Did you have any input?
LE: Yes, we wanted to build a stadium where everyone would have a good view, so we thought this was the right size. We wanted everyone to have an intimate feel, to be closer to the players, and at the same time have lunch or dinner at Nobu and enjoy a California roll while watching the tiebreaker.
IT: You were at Roland Garros last year. Over there, when the French Open wants to make a significant change, they have to go to the French municipality, while here, when Ray Moore or Steve Simon wants to make a change, they just come to you. Talk about that ability, that freedom of just being able to make decisions and being able to go for it.
LE: Ray and Charlie built this tournament, and they always wanted to build a new Stadium 2, and it was time to do it. We did two things, we built the Stadium 2, and we brought in 417 palm trees so the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is truly a garden.
IT: You have a wonderful home in the hills here in the desert, and a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you own a fabulous club in Malibu. Talk a little about the beauty of California and how you embrace that.
LE: California is a very big state, so out here in the desert is very different than being on the beach in Malibu. And I also have a home up in Tahoe which is different than my home in San Francisco, which overlooks the Bay. California is a spectacularly beautiful state and it has such different weather south, east, or west. It’s just wonderful to live here and to be able to enjoy all parts of California with all its natural beauty .
IT: If the tennis gods said, ‘Okay, Larry, you can watch one player, who would it be? You have seen Mac, Roger, you are close to Rafa.
LE: That’s an impossible question. Roger is so elegant, Rafa sometimes looks like a leopard out there with a racquet in his hand. You see the wonderful athleticism of Nadal, the grace of Federer, and McEnroe has his feel and touch. They all have so much. It is important to appreciate what each one of them brings and how each of them made the sport great.
IT: You can argue that no other sportsman is more humble than Rafa. What’s special about that young man?
LE: He is special. He is always trying to get better at what he does. He takes nothing for granted. He goes out there and fights hard for every point and appreciates what he has been able to accomplish in his young life. He deals so well with his responsibilities to the game and to the fans, It gives him a humility that made him enormously popular.
IT: You have that wonderful tennis club in Malibu where you chose to do a fundraiser with VIka Azarenka and Serena Williams which raised a million dollars. How does that touch your heart?
LE: Here we were able to raise money for four different foundations when we opened Stadium 2 the other night, just before the tournament began. McEnroe and Jim Courier were wonderful to commit their time. We had a fundraiser at Nikita restaurant in Malibu, again where we each had a chance to give back. It is really the players that are spending their time and committing themselves to giving back to the community. So I am proud to help whenever I can.
IT: Serena is a great California champion. Would you like to see her come back and play here in Indian Wells?
LE: Of course, but I respect whatever decision she makes. Its important that each individual makes the decision that is right for them. So, I respect whatever she and Venus decide to do. They have my utmost respect. They’re both great champions. I wish them both well.
IT: So, Larry, give us a word or phrase that captures your feeling for your incredible investment here?
LE: I am just proud to help finish what Ray and Charlie [Pasarell] began.
IT: Talk about Larry Ellison’s tennis game. I know you work hard with your coach Sandy Mayer, but what are your strengths and weaknesses?
LE: I played for the first time under the lights and I realized that you have to wear a hat, because I didn’t see a darn thing when I played against McEnroe. I love playing tennis. I play almost every day. It’s great for fitness. It is like anything else, every day you feel you are getting a little bit better, and it is important to all of us who like to compete.
IT: Do you think that tennis somehow helps you in business? Does it help give you a mental edge or does it help you take your mind off things for a bit?
LE: I love competition. I love competing in business, and I love competing in sports. Whether it is in sales or in tennis, basketball or in sailing. I like to test my limits. And I can test my limits in tennis, like anything else.
SERGIY STAKHOVSKY OFFERS AN ELOQUENT PLEA FOR JUSTICE
By Bill Simons
Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Gael Monfils all issued brief statements on the violence in the Ukraine, in a video made by Ukrainian pro Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Nadal said, “I wish Ukraine peace.” Murray said, “Tennis is against violence, and we are for peace in Ukraine.” Monfils added, “The ATP Tour is against violence, and we wish all people of Ukraine peace.” And Djokoivic said, “I send all my love and support to the people of Ukraine. Stop the war, and bring peace.”
But it was Urkainian Sergiy Staykhovsky—perhaps best known for scoring a shock upset over Roger Federer at last year’s Wimbledon—who offered the most eloquent and reflective statement on the turmoil in his native country.
Simply put, it was one of the most passionate political commentaries ever offered by a sportsman. It started with a Shakespearean question.
“To be or not to be…” Stakhovsky began.
“That is the question I ask myself on a daily basis. As a professional tennis player, I must compete in different countries. Last week, it was Dubai. This week, it is … the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Do I try not to think about the crisis in my native Ukraine? Do I return to the country I represent and show my position regarding the revolution and Russia’s military action? Or do I compromise and keep playing—trying to concentrate on the job as best I can—while staying aware of what’s happening in my homeland?
I’ve chosen to compromise: My life consists of playing tennis and gathering information about the situation in Ukraine. I wish people would understand that my country stood up not because of a European Union agreement, but because we couldn’t take it anymore, especially the corruption in every level of government—judges, police, lawmakers. Consider this: The former chief of police is said to have issued plastic business cards with the flag of Ukraine on one side and his contact details on the other. He was selling these cards for $2,000 each and 1,000 were made. During a police stop, you would just show this card and they would let you go, no matter what rule you had violated.
Without a demonstration that we were tired of the corruption, nothing would change. This was a way of life. But then on Nov. 29, riot police were cleaning the Independence Square in Kiev with excessive force. Many students were beat up so badly that they were hospitalized. That started a path to the point of no return. The next day, thousands of people protested against violence and to show the government that they (we) are unhappy when they are treated like animals. Unfortunately, our government officials were out of touch with reality, out of touch with this world. With their lifestyle and money, it’s not that hard to see why.
In December, during my preseason training, I watched the Russian TV channels and saw how they described the events in Ukraine. I can put my hand on my heart and say that 80 percent of the information on Russian TV about Ukraine in these past three months has been a LIE. Many may not know that Ukraine is actually a poor country (same as Russia), with an average GDP per capita of about $6,400 in 2012, according to Businessweek.com. The majority of the population does not use the Internet. The only information they get is either from TV or newspapers. So their opinion on the situation is based on what they see on TV, and that picture is not reflective of reality.
In early February, I was in Ukraine as part of the Davis Cup team that played Romania in Dnepropetrovsk. My coach didn’t want to travel there. I had to assure him again and again that it was safe. Every day, we passed by a place with pro-government demonstrations—and it was almost empty, maybe 100 people at most. People were living their lives and not much had changed. After we finished playing, I returned to Kiev following the first clash of self-defense units and riot police. My brother and I went to the very heart of the Euromaidan—the civil demonstrations—and it was all peaceful and calm. People sang the national anthem at midnight each day.
But Feb. 20, the day the crisis escalated, changed the history of my country. The price of 70 dead is just too high. Nothing can cost more then human life. Not money. Not power. The price my countrymen have paid for this change is too high to go unnoticed. They were dying with the hope for a better future—a future where a president is responsible for his acts, his country, and his people. Where a president is not living the life of a billionaire out of people’s money. Where the law is above all. Where dignity and decency are valued. Where bribery is not business as usual.
In light of the Russians’ move on Crimea, the circumstances are just getting worse. When my country thought that it could breathe freely, we are now being held hostage by a country we trusted the most.
I don’t agree with all of the Euromaiden’s statements and movements. But I am sure that the revolution was the only way to change my country. Crimea is a part of Ukraine, and we are protected by Great Britain and the United States with a Budapest memorandum.
There will be people who will try to put Ukraine on the path of “nationalism.” But we are patriots and not “Nazis” or “terrorists,” as Russian media call us. Our parliament needs to stabilize the situation and leave—they’ve been around for too long, and it’s always the same story. The only political figure at this moment who is more or less clear is boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko. But it’s up to the people to determine who they want to trust with their lives.
The worst part is to watch it from a distance … Many friends all over the world have e-mailed to express concern … I replied that there is no danger at all—or there wasn’t until Russia invaded Crimea. It’s never a good feeling when your country is on every newscast and the front page of every newspaper daily. Then again, I am thankful to the international media (not Russian) for showing the real picture and real reasons for the Ukraine Revolution.
And I will play on.”
Stakhovsky told the media that this was the first time he had stepped over the line and talked about politics. He added that his greatest fear was “war with Russia,” and “All we want is world peace and time for all the countries to get over their divisions.” He noted that Ukraine has a constitution which is being violated. He said that he’s spoken with Russians, but was not really able to get through to them.
When Inside Tennis asked Stakhovsky if he’d talked with Russia’s most renowned sportsperson—Maria Sharavpova—he said no, explaining, “It is very simple, certain celebrities and tennis players have too many commitments with all their sponsors and with all the money they receive, and they cannot afford to speak out.” He then said Novak Djokovic is a different story.
When we asked Stakhovsky what was special about his country, he said, “We had thousands of people standing outside in minus-30-degrees cold for three months … and then they give their lives. It is kind of special … It was not easy. 70 people dead on the street. It was not easy.”
By Bill Simons
Everybody knows that—this side of Indian Wells—California tennis is hurting.
Among tennis zealots it’s best not mention San Jose’s SAP Open, L.A.’s Farmers Classic, San Diego’s WTA happening, the Sac Capitols, the Newport Beach Breakers, and the L.A Tennis Challenge. When it comes to such events, three letters come to mind: R.I.P.
So it was kind of a feel-good, every-cloud-actually-does-have-a-silver-lining event when Jim Courier’s barnstorming senior circuit, the PowerShares Series, moseyed into Sacramento’s (kind of sleepy) Sleep Train Arena for a one-night stand featuring boss Courier, with his inside-out forehand; Pete Sampras, with his beautiful serve and a not-so-beautiful bum shoulder; and James Blake, who still has his howitzer forehand and an ATP ranking.
But, truth be told, when John McEnore is on hand, he is the volatile straw that stirs the aging milkshake.
McEnroe’s game is odd, completely singular. Well, it’s McEnroe-esque—duh!
He doesn’t stroke forehands with a lovely country club arc. He kind of shoves them: lots of will, not too much Federerian grace. Still, fans love (or love to hate) sports’ quintessential artist. Never mind that this gray lion is older than grandpa (he’s 55). He flicks beautiful lobs, and knifes convincing volleys. His corkscrew serve still uncoils with power. Caution: even old codgers can bite. When it comes to touch, no one touches Mac. But—can we be candid here?—like NASCAR fans want to see crashes, or hockey fans crave fights, many a fan comes to senior tennis to revel in a McEnore meltdown. So, in Sacramento, we saw John “Still Wound Up After All These Years” McEnroe being John McEnroe. You know the gestalt: sky-is-falling complaints, woe-is-me protests, rackets flung and that menacing world-class sneer. Don’t ya love it?
McEnroe’s ferocity may not be white-hot like it once was, but it still burns. Goodness, the man was complaining before the first ball was struck. When he tells ticket holders to be quiet, they respond by calling out “Play tennis!” or they relish giving him a taste of his own sarcastic medicine: “You cannot be serious!” yelled more than one fan.
McEnroe is funny. When an annoying, drone-like buzz drifts down from the arena’s rafters, he mumbles, “Are they done with the carpet cleaning up there? I know this building is old, but please.” And Mac is good, very good. He’s the best senior player in history of the game—well, at least since Big Bill Tilden. And despite being 12 years older then Jim Courier, he dismissed the two-time Slam champion 6-3. But young James Blake is 33. He was born in ’79, the year when Mac first won a pro tournament. The former American No. 1 used his forehand and his athleticism to turn back a gritty Mac counter-attack, beating the New Yorker 6-3 in the one-set championship match, on a Sacramento night when thousands were grateful to see tennis in person, and a tennis person like no other: John McEnroe.
By Bill Simons
When asked about the Winter 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Martina Navratilova said, “The biggest issue for gay people is not what’s going to happen at the Olympics, it’s what happens before and after. Right now, it’s okay to physically bash human beings for who they are, and that’s certainly not acceptable. The police are letting people get beaten up. You wouldn’t even let a dog get beat up, and yet you let human beings get beat up simply for who they are. Those laws are going to get changed eventually, but right now it’s a very unfriendly climate.”
Earlier at the Australian Open, IT asked the American-based Russian star Maria Sharapova—an Olympic correspondent for NBC who lived in Sochi from age four to seven, and whose grandparents and relatives still live there—what her feelings were about Russia’s anti-gay laws, which ban “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” She said she’d already expressed her views in a recent New York Times interview.
The article, by Christopher Clarey, notes, “Sharapova said she had gay and lesbian friends and believed individuals should have the opportunity to share their lives with whom they see fit.”
Regarding Russia’s laws, Sharapova said, “What needs to be addressed will ultimately be addressed … Time will address this issue. It will. I’m proud of being Russian, because I believe in the true core of its history and the culture, and that’s where I grew up … But never have I said that every individual there is perfect, or every law is right.”
Before having to withdraw from leading America’s delegation to the Olympics due to her mother’s illness, Billie Jean King told Fox’s Andy Roddick, “We are who we are, we’re athletes, we’re people, we happen to be gay. But [our going to Russia] is really telling the world that we’re there to support the LGBT community in Russia. I hope that it will help them feel maybe not as alone, that we’re there for them … It’s tough though, when the legislation—the rules aren’t the same for everybody. It’s almost like hate mail, because you see pictures of gay people being shoved, getting spit at, and because of the laws, it’s okay. I think that is not okay. It’s like hate.”
As for attending the Olympics, BJK was at first cautious, but decided to go to Russia “because it was the right thing to do. You don’t do the popular thing, that’s not how you get change … you do the right thing. Your principles are really important, you’ve got to stand by them”
Billie Jean confided that a shiver went up her spine when she heard Vladimir Putin’s comment to gay visitors, “Feel calm, at ease, just leave our kids alone, please.” Her response: “What are you talking about? It’s so scary that people think because you’re gay, you’re a pedophile. That is just pathetic … I would ask Putin to change the law, number one, but I’d like to have a dialogue with him and ask him, ‘Do you think gay people are pedophiles?’”
As for athletes and the media affecting change, BJK said, “The media can really ask questions to get answers from the athletes, all of them. And the athletes, I hope, will have discussions among themselves, but also get out there and talk. Like [skater] Ashley Wagner and Bode Miller have already come out for the LGBT community.”
Because of Olympic restrictions, King wants the media to bring up the issue, “so then the athlete can answer without getting in trouble. The one thing that I would like is [to] never have the Olympics in a country where there’s this type of discrimination in the future … I just hope that we can get more dialogue, get people thinking and talking about it … I want us to move this needle forward when it comes to the LGBT community, and equality for everybody. And I want love to overcome hate. I’m very idealistic, what can I say?”
By Bill Simons
FIRST DRY THE DISHES, DEAR, AND THEN YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD: The passing of Billie Jean King’s mother, the 91-year old Betty Moffitt, brings to mind BJK’s comment to IT: “I was seven when I told my mother I was going to do something great with my life. She said, ‘Dry the dishes and let’s go—you’ve got homework to do.’”
BOO BIRDS: The Aussie Open crowd howled with derision when Genie Bouchard said Justin Bieber was the celebrity she most wanted to meet. They also booed the injured Rafa Nadal during the men’s final … When only one lackluster match was played on the final day of the Spain vs. Germany Davis Cup tie, 5,000 Germans offered loud Bronx cheers to their team.
• A writer asked Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, “Great Britain hasn’t beaten you on American soil in over 100 years, since 1903. How does it feel to be part of the team that fell short?”
• Dominika Cibulkova, 5’3″, was asked, “Can you now validate that good things come in small boxes?”
• Before the Fed Cup, captain Mary Joe Fernandez was asked, “The Australian Open was famously hot this year. On-court temperature was 115 sometimes … Here in Cleveland, it’s extremely cold. Unfortunately, you won’t be playing outside … Is there any chance that this outside weather affects your game at all? Is it a psychological thing coming from the hot to the cold?” Mary Joe replied, “If we were playing outside, there would be a bit of an adjustment.”
GRRRRR! The post-Roddick season of our discontent continues— America’s top men’s prospect, John Isner, pulled out of his first-round Australian Open match, and for the fifth Slam in a row, no American guy reached the fourth round. In the last seven Slams, seven different American men have been the last American standing. This time it was Donald Young. Then, to make matters worse, Young and his US Davis Cup teammates lost their first-round tie to Britain, plus our promising women’s corps only had a modest run in Melbourne and fell in the first round of the Fed Cup to Italy. For the first time ever, the US lost Davis and Fed Cups ties in back-to-back weekends. And they were first-round drubbings, no less.
AND NOW TO THE RESCUE: The diminutive US junior Stefan Kozlov, 15, reached the AO junior finals.
DON’T LET TENNIS’ ONGOING DEBATE GET YOUR GOAT: Who is the greatest player of all-time? Yes, Fed has 17 majors, was No. 1 for a record 302 weeks, reached 23 straight Slam semis and has the record for most Slam quarterfinals. But Nadal has 13 majors, a 23-10 overall record over Roger, including an astounding 9-2 margin in Slams (Roger hasn’t beaten Nadal in a major since ’07), and Rafa has five wins in a row. Plus, he has a glittering Davis Cup record and an Olympic singles Gold medal. Still, Roger was absolutely dominant for years, is beautiful and beloved, and it will take a lot to dislodge him from his most dazzling title: the Greatest of All-Time.
THREE THREES: One: Mirka and Roger Federer are expecting their third child late next summer. Two: Federer has three important new things going for him—his new coach, Stefan Edberg; his new larger racket; and his new, injury-free fitness level. Three: The three most important people in Andre Agassi’s life—his German wife, Stefanie Graf; his Iranian-born dad, Mike; and his Spanish speaking trainer and life-guide, Gil Reyes—all have English as a second language.
THE THREE PATRICKS: Patrick McEnroe, America’s former Davis Cup captain, is now the head of the USTA’s Player Development. Patrick Rafter is the Australian Davis Cup captain, and a key mentor Down Under. Serena’s coach and love interest, Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, was tennis’ most successful coach last year.
JAY’S HIGHS AND LOWS: Jay Leno leaving The Tonight Show brings to mind the time when Michelle Obama was on his show—she said the President beats her quite often in tennis, and “that gets to be pretty annoying.” Poor Jay also has had a low tennis moment: When David Letterman asked Pete Sampras what made him ill against Alex Corretja in their infamous quarterfinal at the ‘96 US Open, Pete claimed, “I watched Jay Leno the night before.”
HOW COULD THIS BE? Stan Wawrinka’s daughter, Alexia, doesn’t want her Dad to win. She’d rather have him lose so he can come home.
FOOTBALL AND FOREHANDS: During the Super Bowl, Serena Williams, a part owner of the Miami Dolphins, tweeted, “Just turned TV off … Good night. Good riddance … And goodbye Super Bowl until next year” … After Denver’s loss, Ben Rothenberg wondered, “What would it be like if Peyton [Manning] had to give a speech on the field right now? What tennis players [who lose in finals] do in lowest moments is unparalleled” … Both Colin Kaepernick and Nadal have problems getting the ball in play in time.
LUGE-ING OUR MINDS: Tennis tournaments often turn to “lucky losers” to fill gaps in their draws. If there were such a system for luge at the Olympics, we could call them “lucky loser lugers.”
THE DISTRACTIONS OF RAFA NADAL: Nadal, who loves soccer and fishing, is a great golfer and a champion poker player. In Melbourne, he was spotted playing blackjack at the Crown Casino. BTW: Years ago, when the Chilean Marcello Rios was on the tour, word was that he had to reach the Aussie Open final just to pay off his Crown Casino debt.
FREE FALLS: Six Davis Cup powers fell in the first round: the US, Spain, Serbia, Argentina, Australia, and Canada. The US will know in April who we play in the Davis Cup relegation match this September.
STORMY FED CUP WEATHER: “Good on ya,” Australia—one of your Fed Cup players is named Storm Sanders. Not to be outdone, America’s Tornado Alicia Black, 15, and Hurricane Tyra Black, 12, took part in the USTA’s Fed Cup Player Development camp in Cleveland in February.
RULE CHANGE? If you fail to hit a ball on your serve because your toss is errant, shouldn’t that be a fault? Worst offender: Patrick “Sorry, Mate” Rafter.
27-2: Nadal and Djokovic’s combined record against Stan Wawrinka, going into the Aussie Open.
By Bill Simons
LEARNING TO LOVE BIG GLIB JIM COURIER: Jim Courier is an iconic figure and—along with Sampras, Agassi and Chang—a forehand-flashing member of the Fab Four, who led our greatest tennis generation. The former Floridian is now very much a Greenwich Village New Yorker. Courier has long been adept at creating big moments. He wowed ‘em in Paris when he gave his victory speech in French after winning Roland Garros. Tres bien! And after claiming the Aussie Open, he jumped into Melbourne’s polluted Yarra River. Tres wild!
More recently, Courier has brought tennis joy to many by creating the PowerShares Senior Circuit, in which seniors barnstorm the land. In America and Australia, he’s a talented broadcaster.
All the while, glib Jim is one of the wittiest, abrupt, and sassiest figures in the game.
In the middle of an interview on Saturday, when a respected BBC broadcaster made an inquiry, Courier interjected, “Why don’t you ask me a good question?” Earlier, a another reporter sensibly asked what Courier would advise Donald Young if it came down to Young playing a decisive fifth rubber. Jim replied, “It’s a secret.”
And, of course, there was Courier’s inventive exchange with Inside Tennis. It started after the Bryan brothers‘ win on Saturday, when we asked him this big picture question: “Today was wonderful, a feel‑good day. Congratulations, guys. [But] let’s face it, there are some problems. John [Isner, ranked No. 13] is struggling early in the year; Sam [Querrey] is at No. 49; Donald [Young] is 79; Ryan [Harrison] and Jack [Sock] have yet to really kick in. What can we do to really get American tennis fired-up and happy?” America’s Davis Cup captain responded by saying, “More magazine [sales], more interest. Do your job, Bill.”
Of course, Jim’s response should hardly have been a shock. Few others in the game have offered more creative, provocative and blunt comments. Here’s but a sampling:
• When a reporter asked Courier what went on during his sessions with a sports psychologist, Jim responded, “I could tell you. But if I did, I would have to kill you.”
• Courier said he had “a big problem with women officials. I don’t think their reflexes are fast enough to catch men’s shots. In my experience of women on the line, they don’t get to them.”
• Once, when he was asked to explain a precipitous fall in the rankings, Courier confided, “I should have never stopped taking those drugs. Once the East German doctor left my team, I’ve never been quite the same.”
• After Courier lost a tough match, a writer claimed, “You used to win matches like that.” Courier responded, “And you used to ask good questions, too.”
• Courier, who once challenged a British journalist to step outside at Wimbledon, confided, “I have the capability to be a jerk if I am pushed to be one. There are circumstances where I have to be a jerk because people are jerks … Frankly, there’s a lot of assholes in the press who have huge egos that get off putting players down. I hate when people ask me caustic questions.”
• Courier likes to play his intellectual card. Asked to explain the outcome of one match, he quoted James Joyce: “Not in time, place, or circumstance, but in man lies success.”
• Speaking of his literary leanings, during changeovers in a loss at the ATP Championships, Courier famously read Armistead Maupin’s novel Maybe the Moon. Afterward, he said his “concentration had never been better … I just felt like doing it,”
• At the ’97 Australian Open, there was the following dialogue:
Q: Jim, do you have a ranking goal in mind for the year ahead?
A: No, not that I care to share with you.
Q: Perhaps if we were better friends?
A: I don’t think that’s going to happen.
• After Agassi claimed Courier didn’t have any natural ability, Courier said, “I’ve been reading about how I don’t have that much talent. There are many different talents besides hitting a tennis ball. Having guts on the court is a talent, having desire is a talent, having courage to go for a shot when you are love-40 is a talent.”
JUST WONDERING: Who was Brit Andy Murray’s coach—the Czech-American Ivan Lendl—rooting for? … What happened to Sam Querrey’s once loud and rowdy backers, the Samurai?
THE DEAD TENNIS PLAYERS CLUB LIVES ON? A reporter told Jim Courier, “Great Britain hasn’t beaten you on American soil in over 100 years, since 1903.” He then asked, “How does it feel to be part of the team that fell short?” Courier responded, ”It feels great to be alive in 2014 … We certainly don’t feel a lot of kinship to the last team that lost to the Brits on American soil, since they’ve been dead a long time … It has nothing to do with us. We come to play on our own terms.”
SEEDS TOPPLE: Six Davis Cup seeds fell over the weekend: the US, Spain, Serbia, Argentina, Australia, and Canada. The US will find out in April who we’ll play in the Davis Cup relegation match.
By Bill Simons
When you ask Sam Querrey about a favorite memory, he’ll tell you of a day when he was 17 and piled 15 best buddies into his beloved old blue VW van, driving them to a Thousand Oaks High School hoops game.
Nine years later, the USTA may have gone through hoops to construct their makeshift Davis Cup site—an astounding sports venue within a sports venue, Petco Park, which featured a velvety $750,000 clay court.
But Querrey—who has thrived in the Southwest, collecting all four of his tourney wins there—probably won’t have many cozy memories of his Davis Cup weekend in San Diego. He dropped a decisive match to No. 175-ranked James Ward on Friday, and could not score a redemptive win over Andy Murray on Sunday. Murray’s 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 6-1 6-3 vidtory over Querrey clinched the tie for Great Britain.
It was the first time in 77 years that the Brits beat the US in Davis Cup, and the first time they beat us on American soil since 1903. Britain will be in the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1984—three years before Andy Murray was born.
To his credit, Querrey came out today with conviction, even though he’d lost to Murray in five of their six matches, and hadn’t won a set in their last three encounters.
Querrey lost his serve twice in the first set, but he battled, breaking back just as often to force a critical tiebreak.
The lean 6’6” Californian is a minor wonder when blasting an ace or unleashing his power forehand. But at the net, Sam is not exactly the Man. Down set point, he made a hash of a delicate forehand volley. Opening set to Andy Murray.
Still, Querrey fired right back. Playing with aggression and goaded on by US captain Jim Courier to attack whenever possible, he served big, hitting a forehand to the open court to score a 7-3 win in the second-set tiebreak and even the match.
““Sticky wicket,” a guy called out to Murray.
“Right on Q,” yelled one fan. “Keep it up, Sam,” cried another.
But Sam couldn’t.
In contrast, Murray didn’t blink. It’s as if the pale Scot said, “Okay, good Yankee lad, you’ve had your moment in the Davis Cup sun. Now, let the defending Wimbledon champion and Olympic gold medalist show you how it’s done.”
Andy adjusted his tactics. He slowed his serve, getting more first serves in, hitting to Querrey’s body, and dominating with first-strike forehands. This was not victory by a thousand drop shots—it just seemed that way. Like Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, Murray is a defensive marvel. He opens the court with a geometric savvy that dazzles. If you think the Brit has a weakness, puh-leez send Mr. Sam Austin Querrey a letter. We’re sure he’d appreciate it.
Simply put, Murray imposes and punishes. His opponents are left running corner to corner, quite breathless.
Just as he did against James Ward on Friday, Querrey suffered a free fall. He lost the first four games of the third set, allowing Murray to blow the match open en route to a workmanlike four-set win in 2:54 that concluded with an impressive group celebratory dance with his close-knit British blokes. Murray has scored 18 consecutive Davis Cup match victories.
For his part, US captain Jim Courier spoke of Querrey’s fight, noting that he “laid it on the line.” “Quite frankly,” said Courier, “Sam was a different player than he was on Friday. He went for his shots. That’s the kind of belief he needs to play his very best.”
Yet the lack of a sense of devastation in the American camp was noteworthy, almost disconcerting. “This is pathetic,” complained an unsparing Newport Beach fan. “Where’s the urgency?”
Reflecting on the weekend, Querrey said, “I had some ups and downs, definitely. I’m bummed I lost the first one [against Ward] … I obviously wanted to help the team out. [But] I’m proud of myself for putting it behind me and coming out strong today. You know, we’ve got another Davis Cup later in the year, and we’ve got next year and the year after.”
Still, America’s loss begged many a question. Choosing to play on clay was thinking outside the hard court box, but when all was said and done, did we actually out-think ourselves? Would Querrey have lost his crucial opening match to James Ward if it had been on a hard court? How different a result would it have been if our No. 1 player, John Isner, hadn’t been injured? And what if we’d won the toss and Querrey came out fresh to play James Ward, pressure-free?
Most important, is this loss just a bump in the road for American men’s tennis, or is it a significant marker of how serious our problems have become? After all, our two top American men are only ranked No. 13 and No. 49, there are no real red-hot prospects in the wings, and our last win in a men’s Slam—Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open—seems like a distant memory.
Regardless, this Davis Cup weekend produced some memories, even if they aren’t as sweet or as tight as kid-Querrey packing 15 of his best pals into a vintage VW van. The arena at Petco Park was a bold, brave, and very successful experiment. Can AT&T Park, Yankee Stadium, or Fenway be next? Donald Young got his Davis Cup initiation. The Bryan Brothers got back into the winning column, and maybe, just maybe, we will learn a very hard lesson and stick to our boring old hard-earned strength: the hard courts.