THE QUESTION NOBODY WANTS TO ASK: Hey Roger, when are you and Mirka gonna get married?
THE EIGHT WORDS ANY TENNIS FANATIC DREADS HEARING FROM HIS SEATMATE AS HIS PLANE DESCENDS INTO GOLF-CRAZED PALM SPRINGS: “Look, Daddy, I finally saw some tennis courts.”
BACK WHEN THE DEAD SEA WASN’T EVEN SICK: After being recognized for his 45 years of service, USTA volunteer Stan Maless claimed that when he started volunteering in tennis “the pyramids hadn’t even been built and the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick yet.”
THE FINE MEMBRANE BETWEEN ANTICIPATION AND FULFILLMENT: The opening paragraph of Marshall Jon Fisher’s A Terrible Splendor — a new narrative centering on the fabled Don Budge vs. Baron Gottfried von Cramm Davis Cup match at Wimbledon in ‘37 — has to be one of the better intros to any tennis book in literary history. Fisher writes, “July the twentieth, 1937, and Baron Gottfried von Cramm tosses a new white Slazenger tennis ball three feet above his head. It seems to hang there suspended for the slightest of moments, a distant and frozen moon, before his wooden racket plucks it out of the electrified air of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, rocketing a service winner past J. Donald Budge. The deciding match of the Davis Cup competition between the United States and Germany has begun, a contest that will long be called “the greatest tennis match ever.” Fourteen thousand onlookers — aristocrats out to be seen, sportswriters, any tennis fans who could take off work on a Tuesday; Queen Mary, her entourage, several members of Parliament, and foreign diplomats in the Royal Box — shift in their seats as von Cramm’s serve finally splits the fine membrane between anticipation and fulfillment. The thud of tight “catgut” strings against ball marks the moment: it is 4:57 p.m.”
‘VOWEL-HALLA’: The top eight seeds at Indian Wells included four Russians, a Belarusian, two Serbians and a Pole (Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka), which prompted Bill Dwyre, bless him, to note that the grouping featured 67 vowels.
POLI SCI 101: Davis Cup fans finally came up with a catchy new (if derivative) chant to go along with the usual, clunky “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” mantra. It was simply, “YES, WE CAN!”…The New Yorker suggested that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was “a political John McEnroe, known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance…And, like McEnroe, Emanuel seems to employ his volcanic moments for effect, intimidating opponents and referees alike but never quite losing himself in the midst of battle.”…What exactly were Billie Jean King’s thoughts aboutschmoozing with Bill Clinton? We know she’s a Hillary fan, but Bill’s behavior while in office wasn’t exactly a feminist’s dream come true…Charles Rivkin, one of Obama’s top finance people, noted that the Tennis Channel’s Ken Solomon was a super political fundraiser and that for him “California became a giant ATM machine”…At the Madison Square Garden exhibition that featured the Williams sisters, as well as Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, no one seemed to think that having Bill Clinton there with two Serbian girls was a bit of an odd choice.
EVEN WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT: Shahar Peer’s visa denial wasn’t the only cautionary episode in the recent annals of tennis in Dubai. While playing an ITF event there in December, former NCAA champ Audra Cohen claimed she was offered sponsorship money in exchange for agreeing to an intimate relationship with a wealthy businessman.
A SAD COMMENTARY ON (ETHICAL) CLIMATE CHANGE: Gwen Knapp contended, “Skipping the tournament [in Dubai in support of Shahar Peer] probably should have been an automatic choice for more players rather than a bold, singular act, worthy of high praise. But given the ethical climate we inhabit these days, Roddick’s choice stands out.”
WHAT’S AN INDOOR SKI RESORT IN A SWELTERING DESERT GOT TO DO WITH IT?: A leading tennis exec noted that the people in Dubai are “capable of building an indoor ski resort in 120-degree temperature…[so] we kind of thought they could protect a 21-year-old girl playing tennis.” Yet, truth be told, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the skill sets Dubai brings to the table are more about capital and enterprise than judgment, ethics and an understanding of the role of sport in society, other than self-promotion.
SIDEKICKS RE-VISTED: Conan O’Brien announced that he would be bringing back his old sidekick Andy Richter to be by his side (well, that’s what sidekicks do) as he takes over the traditional Jay Leno/Johnny Carson time slot. Which brings to mind the great sidekicks in tennis lore, including Billie Jean King’s pal ‘n advocate Rosie Casals, Jimmy Connors’ great buddy Lorne Kuhle and Andre Agassi’s advisor/confidante/ trainer Gil Reyes.
THE GREATEST DAVIS CUP TIE NOBODY SAW: Due to security concerns, the turnstiles were closed for the Sweden vs. Israel Davis Cup tie, yet, somehow, the accredited guests of the Swedish and Israeli federations managed to generate more noise than many a sleepy tour event. The tie, won by Israel, was one of the most exciting in memory.
• “You have seven or eight sponsors right now. Do you think that’s enough?” — To Rafael Nadal
• When you go through a press conference like this and your brother Marat is not even mentioned, do you go back to the locker room and celebrate? — To Dinara Safina
• [Roger] your record in tiebreakers is phenomenal. Do you think in a tiebreaker you get stronger psychologically or your opponent gets weaker, or both?”
• Jack Kramer, the great player, said if you’re playing someone who’s injured or is really a good friend, beat them as badly as you can, and then take them to lunch. Do you agree? — To Caroline Wozniacki
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE: So just what was the difference for the Swiss Davis Cup team when Roger Federer pulled out with a bad back and they had to go with sub Marco Chiudinelli? How ‘bout these stats: No 2 vs. No. 342; 13 Slams vs. no Slams; $45,318,757 in prize money vs. $498,792.
IT’S ALL IN THE ACCESSORIES: Do the Swiss fans (who are zealous partisans without being obnoxious) have the best fan accessory in the world or what — cowbells?
FUNKY FINANCIAL FIGURES (SERENA DEPT.): You think the figures on financial reports are grim. How about the financial impact of Serena Williams not playing Indian Wells? According to the L.A. Times’ Bill Dwyre, her losses look like this: loss in bonus pool – $400,000; if she decides to not do a make-up PR appearance — $75,000; possible loss of first place prize money — $700,000; possible loss of her share of doubles first prize — $118,500; possible loss of Nike payment because she is not No. 1 — $2 million. Bottom line potential loss — $3 million or 13 percent of her career earnings of $23 million.
THE ONE AND ONLY AMERICAN CHOLESTERAL BOMB FACTORY: After Roddick revealed that the Davis Cup team often frequented a Birmingham waffle restaurant that has been described as “the one and only American cholesterol bomb factory,” one food critic within the press corps asked, “What on the waffle house menu is suitable for a professional athlete?” (Editor’s Note: How ‘bout their Grilled Bacon Texas Cheese Steak Melt Plate? Then again, maybe not.)
GO FIGURE: Dinara Safina and Marat Safin are the most honest, forthright, funny, interesting and occasionally dour sibling pair in tennis history…”Our Kimmy” (that would be Kim Clijsters) will return this summer to play an exhibition at Wimbledon and two World TeamTennis matches. The move triggered speculation that the new mom, 25, might return to the tour and her former coach, Carl Maes, thinks she will…Serb Janko Tipsarevic described the soft clay court the Spaniards played Davis Cup on as “a beach”…The BNP Paribas Open paid the WTA’s women $4.32 million more than the men…Pat McEnroe has the longest run as Davis Cup captain at eight years, but his brother, John, only lasted three ties, the shortest stint for a U.S. captain since ‘64, when Vic Seixas stepped in for one tie…Mario Ancic, a recent grad of the University of Split, will address the Harvard Law School…Some call Fernando Verdasco “Hot Sauce.”
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL: You can make a compelling case that Andy Roddick is the best Davis Cup player of our era (31-11 overall, 11-0 with a chance to clinch, one team title), but Rafa Nadal already has a hefty Davis Cup resume (14-5 overall, two team titles).
NO BIG DEAL: Roddick recounted how he heard about Mike Bryan’s on-air guarantee that Andy would win his final day match against the Swiss and secure a U.S. win. “I was putting on my shoes,” Andy recalled. “He said, ‘He’s our closer.’ So I said, ‘Goddammit, Mike.’ He goes, ‘I guarantee victory.’ I progressively just got tighter and tighter as he was talking. But I guess it would have been easy to blame him if I would have lost.”
TRULY A MAN OF COURAGE: Roddick explained that he grew up in South Florida, so he doesn’t “mind the hot, muggy, uber sweaty conditions” of the Key Biscayne tournament.
THE FOUR-S RANCH: The top four ATP players are from countries beginning with “S.” Nadal’s Spanish, Federer is Swiss, Djokovic is Serbian and Murray’s a Scot. BTW: The two most charismatic WTA players — Serena and Sharapova — and the fastest rising woman — Safina — all have that “S” thing going.
IT’S RAFA TIME: Looking ahead, Ted Robinson noted that the tennis world was about to move onto the clay for April and May, “or, as we like to call it, Rafa Time,” but Justin Gimelstob insisted, “It’s all Rafa time now. He’s holding a Grand Slam on three different surfaces — hard, grass and clay.”
STATS: Andy Roddick has played 23 of the last 24 Davis Cup ties…Bob and Mike Bryan’s win in Birmingham, which upped their career mark to 15-2, makes them the winningest tandem in Davis Cup history…Roddick now ranks second behind John McEnroe for most U.S. Davis Cup wins…Birmingham had the largest attendance in U.S. history for a first-round Davis Cup match with some 46,000 fans…Roddick, who’s now 25-4, when the U.S. is tied or has a lead in Davis Cup, is called the Mariano Rivera of Davis Cup play.
RODNEY DANGERFIELD IS ALIVE AND WELL: Justin Gimelstob is the Rodney Dangerfield of tennis, at least in the mind of Andy Roddick, who continually disses his pal. A recent example was when Gimelstob asked him how this compared to the team that won the ‘07 title…Andy responded, “We didn’t have guys like Gimelstob weighing us down.”
‘ROGER’S PREGNANT!’: Calling it “a dream come true,” Roger Federer announced that his longtime girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, is expecting their first child this summer. The good news brings to mind many a question, including the effect of the pregnancy on his play at this summer’s Slams. Stat alert: in the Open era, only Newcombe, Connors and Agassi won Slams after their wives gave birth.
TENNIS’ LONGEST JOURNEY TO NOWHERE: When James Ward and Chris Eaton faced off in a playoff for a spot on Britain’s Davis Cup team, little did the unheralded duo know that they would be embarking on what is now considered to be the longest match in history — a six-hour, 40-minute affair that saw Eaton win 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 2-6, 21-19. The match was seven minutes longer than the previous record — Fabrice Santoro’s defeat of Arnaud Clement at Roland Garros five years ago. “It was surreal,” said Eaton. Neither prize money nor ranking points were at stake, and the unofficial match won’t go into the record books. Ironically, the match proved totally to be meaningless.
UNREAL ESTATE: Spare millions burning a hole in your pocket? Well, you can forget Ivan Lendl’s 43,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom Goshen, Connecticut home, which recently sold for $25 million. But you’ve still got a shot at Mats Wilander’s 81-acre, 10,532-square-foot Sun Valley, Idaho estate (think exercise room, soundproofed music room, guesthouse, lap pool, etc.). On the market for five years, it was just marked down to $7.9 million. Plus, Lindsay Davenport and her investment banker husband Jon Leach have listed their ocean front (think 60 feet of beach line) hideaway in Ventura, Calif., for $5.5 million, as well as their 5,000-square-foot/five-bedroom/5.5-bath Laguna Beach home for $6.4 million.
• DUBAI VS. TENNIS — One Set All
• DUBAI LUCKY TO STAY ON THE TENNIS MAP
• ALL WELLS AND GOOD FOR MURRAY AS HE PLOTS HIS BIG RETURN
• Pavlyuchenkova May be the Next Great One
• Not Forever Young: Donald’s Losses Aging Him
• ARE SLED DOGS THE PLANET’S BEST ATHLETES?
ONE DUDE WHO IS, SHALL WE SAY, HOPING TO (POLE) VAULT IN THE RANKINGS: Sergei Bubka played Davis Cup for the Ukraine against England. But, no, it wasn’t the Olympic pole-vaulting legend who still holds key world records and was repeatedly voted the world’s best athlete, but rather his 22-year-old son, who’s now ranked No. 269.
BEST NEW NAME IN TENNIS: The Russian-Greek-American Vlademyros Mavropoulos-Stoliarenko, who is now ranked No. 1039.
CORNIEST KOURNIKOVA WORDPLAY OF THE MONTH: You’d think any wordplay relating to a Mardy Fish match would relate to the guy with the fishy name. Wrong. After Mardy won his first title of the year, Jon Wertheim explained that he won by beating Kourni-cousin, Evgeny Korolev.
THE SERIOUS SIDE OF SHOPPING FOR CONDOMS WITH KOURNIKOVA: Anna Kournikova recently returned from a trip to Haiti, where she witnessed firsthand the effects of years of poverty in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Anna spoke with a girl who had been sold into domestic servitude by her parents when she was eight. Said Kournikova, “She’s not allowed to attend school, have any kind of life of her own and she’s being abused sexually and physically.” Among Kournikova’s duties was to promote the use of malaria nets, water purification systems and, yes, condoms. Journalist Kevin Doyle, who accompanied Kournikova, quipped, “Last week, I found myself condom shopping with Anna Kournikova. But that’s where the fantasy ends.”
SAY IT ISN’T SO: Tennis Week, the often thoughtful and provocative mag founded by the late Gene Scott and recently published by IMG, has suspended publication…Tournament officials in Memphis mistakenly presented runner-up Radek Stepanek with the winner’s trophy instead of Roddick…Swedish police mobilized about 1,000 cops for their Davis Cup match against Israel… MSNBC noted that Vanna White, Mickey Rourke, Bjorn Borg and Osama Bin Laden are all 52 years old…After seven months off due to a shoulder injury, Maria Sharapova came back in doubles at Indian Wells, but she and Elena Vesnina lost in the first round. Sharapova joked about her lack of doubles knowledge, but it’s no joke that the ranking of the former No. 1 is plummeting in the rankings and she is not planning to come back until Rome in May. In the meantime, she is working on a series for MTV based on a traveling pro…A hippo named Farasi beat out Roger Federer as the Swiss of the Year…Peter Bodo cautioned, “Billie Jean [King] really needs to be careful about ‘the brand’; she’s untouchable now, but nobody remains that way forever. Eventually, she may be coming up against the same problem as [Bill] Clinton — the perception (in Clinton’s case, it’s already got traction with many people) that she/he is an icon for sale, happy to go to the highest bidder.”…Mashona Washington was arrested during the the BNP Paribas Open at the Hyatt for the charge of felony vandalism and was released after posting bail. She is scheduled to appear in court in May.
THE TRACKS OF FEDERER’S POIGNANT TEARS: Folks are still talking about Roger Federer’s touching and teary catharsis after the Aussie Open. To some, it was simple: alpha males don’t cry. Roger should have controlled himself and Mats Wilander suggested that his emotion took away from Rafa’s triumph. Then, Mats Wilander rather harshly suggested that Roger’s emotional outpouring meant he “didn’t leave everything out on the court…[He] basically gave up mentally.” He was “surprised and disappointed” in himself and really did not seek out all his options on court.
Croat Ivan Ljubicic said it wasn’t easy watching his good friend, but he “understood completely how he felt. He cries even when he wins. [So], if you cry both ways, it’s kind of okay. When you cry when you lose and you’re okay when you win, it’s [not okay]. But it was difficult…He had that match on his racket and it slipped away. He found out that his girlfriend was expecting…He’s looking for that record of Sampras. All those things come together. Sometimes when you lose a match you can go back to the locker room and you’re okay. But he had to be out there.”
IT put it this way to Roger: “Many felt your emotions were really poignant. They revealed your human side, they touched a lot of people. But you told Swiss TV that it was embarrassing.” Roger replied, “It’s not just right out embarrassing, because I don’t mind it happening. I just…don’t like that people think they know why it happened. It’s very simple: You go out five hours and try everything you can and you spend three weeks in one city. You love tennis, and you get emotional because the fans are into it and you feel like you’re so close, and all of a sudden you realize yet you’re so far again. So this is what brought out the tears …Then seeing again the old scenario of Rod Laver there, just Australian fans are so respectful and knowledgeable of the game, that kind of created that kind of emotion. It had nothing to do with, ‘Oh, my god, I’m never going to win this tournament again. Oh, God I’m so disappointed. I can’t believe it.’ It was just something I couldn’t control. So it was nice to get it out. Instead of getting it out maybe in the locker room, it happened in the center court…That’s the tough part for me to handle. But I could handle it, and I still believe it shows that there is a human side too…because we care about this game and try hard.
When it doesn’t happen, we’re not not happy, we’re sad. That’s what happened at the end. Everything sort of kind of breaks out. It was interesting to go through it. It was not the first time I cried.”
JUST WONDERING: Was February the most bizarre month in recent tennis memory, with the Dubai controversy, the locking out of fans at Malmo, stands collapsing in Spain and the Ward vs. Eaton British Davis Cup team playoff marathon?…Is the flag waving, post-match victory lap that our Davis Cup often does, the sweetest, feel-good moment in American tennis?…At crunch time in a big Davis Cup doubles match, who would you rather have in your lineup: the Bryan Bros., John McEnroe and Peter Fleming or Federer and Stan Warinka? …With James Blake slumping, how much are Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey in contention for the second slot on the U.S. Davis Cup team that will play in Croatia just after Wimby?…Without a stadium of rabid fans, Sweden fell short against Israel, winning just two of their five five-set matches. Which begs the question, would a real home-court advantage have altered the result…How far will former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic fall?…Is Poland (the Radwanska sisters and migrant daughters Wozniacki and Wozniak) the new Russia?…When it comes to serving, what is more important, speed, location or variety?… Has any player never to crack the top three ever gotten as much ink as Andy Murray?…Is Justin Gimelstob, who is the Tennis Channel’s go-to commentator, the new Cliff Drysdale?…When it comes to super tennis sponsors, is BNP Paribas, which backs tennis from Paris and New York, to Indian Wells and Palo Alto, the new Virginia Slims?…Now that Pacific Life no longer sponsors the Indian Wells tournament, will those curious whale trophies they gave away to the winners become a collectors item?
• “Just like that, the glitter and promise of Dubai as an emerging international sports center evaporated into the cool desert night.” — Harvey Araton
• “Hey, that oughta fool ‘em!” — Bonnie Ford’s conclusion on the decision of Davis Cup authorities to not announce what countries the players in the Sweden vs. Israel Davis Cup tie were from.
•“He’s kind of like a Gumby mover. “ — Andy Roddick on 6-foot-6 Croat Marin Cilic
• “Just think of the number of Grand Slam titles Roger would have gotten if Rafa had played soccer like his other uncle.” — Phillipe Bouin
• “I decided if I’m not even sure I want to win the Davis Cup yet, why put myself in the position and why not take a rest?” — Roger Federer as to why he skipped the Davis Cup tie vs. the U.S.
• “I’m a great decision maker.” — Federer
• “I don’t have any technical flaws.” — Federer
• “It’s like a frat party without the drinking.” — Mike Bryan (a former Sigma Alpha Epsilon member at Stanford) on the U.S. Davis Cup team
• “The shoulder left by God.” — Justin Gimelstob on Andy Roddick
• “Maybe I’m like a wine — getting older, getting better.’’ — Radek Stepanek
• “Maybe that’s why her balance is so off.” — Mary Joe Fernandez after Serena lost one of her huge ear rings during a match
• “It’s fun also to get freezed a little bit.” — Ana Ivanovic on the snowstorm that descended upon New York just in time for the exo matches at MSG
• “We’re not rabbits. We’re not machines. We’re human.” — Amelie Mauresmo on occasionally losing a little passion