SO JUST HOW OPERATIC IS THIS THING GOING TO GET?: The inexorable demise and fall from grace of the recently married father-to-be Roger Federer.
BUT THEN AGAIN…: Watch The Mighty Fed fulfill the fantasy of his most ardent fans by taking down Clay King Nadal at Roland Garros, beating Sampras’ record of 14 Slams at Wimbledon and, like Sampras, retiring from the game with his infant on his shoulder after he wins yet another U.S. Open.
NO LONGER THE WORST TENNIS NATION ON EARTH: There’s a whacky Monty Python sketch about a tennis-playing dessert that comes close to winning Wimbledon by ensuring his opponents are from Scotland, “Well known as the worst tennis nation on Earth.”
GEE THAT’S WARM: Mary Carillo said she despises the coaching rule in women’s tennis “with the hatred of 1,000 white-hot suns.”
• “Venus, Serena Then What?”
• “Motherhood and Tennis? No Sweat for Clijsters”
• “Is Tennis Hip Again?”
• “10,000 Appeals Later: Replay, Challenges Routine in Tennis”
• “The WTA Should Stand for Williams Tennis Association”
• “Tennis Go-Slow is Tantamount to Cheating”
• “No Slowdown at Sharapova Inc.”
• “Raged and Confused: Angry Federer Folds”
• “OMG! Safina Becomes No. 1”
WOW, THANKS FOR LETTING US KNOW, WE HAD NO IDEA!: The telecom ad that played incessantly during the Sony Ericsson Open informed us that “around the world, an extraordinary phenomenon is unfolding. Exceptional women are reaching new super human levels of precision, potential, performance and style. And it’s all thanks to their Sony Ericsson mobile phones.”
THE SKY IS FALLING I: Alix Ramsey noted, “The vultures have been circling for more than a year now, waiting to pick over the remains of the once great Federer. Only one Grand Slam title in the past five major championships? The lad has gone at every level.”
THE SKY IS FALLING II: A middle-eastern country denies an Israeli woman a visa; America’s two most charismatic players again ‘girlcott’ a great tournament; Serena is hobbled in the Miami final and the match is a dud. The game’s glam queen (a girl called Maria — remember her?) has been sidelined by a bum shoulder; the women’s game’s moneymaking boss/deal master suddenly quits; Charleston suffers from many a pullout and many of the game’s emerging stars (think Ivanovic, Jankovic and Safina) are slumping like an AIG stockholder.
TENNIS IS JUST A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: Linda Robertson noted, “Men’s tennis has its most compelling cast of characters since Sampras in ‘02…The players are as irresistibly delicious as a box of chocolates. Unwrap one and you get Federer, still sublime at No. 2, and a much more fascinating psychological study since his meltdown at the Australian…Unwrap another and you get Nadal, the relentless Dwayne Wade of tennis, who will be one of the greats if his body doesn’t wear out. It’s fun to watch him evolve, from clay-court genius to Wimbledon king — to future U.S. Open champion? Then there’s Andy Murray, a fiery young Scot who has everyone back in the homeland of tennis in a tizzy of anticipation. Can he become the first British player to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry? At No. 3 is Novak Djokovic, a Serb who has shelved his spot-on impersonations…but ought to bring back his act. And now, announcing his arrival, is del Potro.”
PREDICTION OF DOOM: After it was suggested that chat-meisters Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob should host a sports radio talk show, Andy referenced Justin’s past radio indiscretions and said, “Only a year and a half in and you’d say something inappropriate and we’d be off the air.” Ted Robinson then jumped in, contending, “I’m taking the under on that one.”
• “What does it feel like to suddenly be $700,000 richer?” — To BNP Paribas Open champ Vera Zvonareva
• “Who can I find to practice with who is the opposite of Gael Monfils’ athleticism.” — The self-deprecating Justin Gimelstob on Roddick’s thought process on choosing him as a practice partner
• “The red dust is back,” noted Simon Barnes. “The clay court tennis season starts properly this weekend in Monte Carlo, and feet will start sliding, shoes will be walloped with rackets, umpires will leap from chairs to examine marks, brushers will brush, rallies will last for an eternity and Rafa will be king once more. Or will he?”
LIKE LIGHTING UP A ‘CIG’ IN A HEALTH FOOD STORE: In yet another lyrical offering, Christopher Clarey wrote, “One of the best and cruelest aspects of tennis is that there is nowhere to hide. You might be an all-time great…and yet you are only as effective as the forehands, backhands and decisions you are making on any given day. Soccer and rugby stars…rely on teammates. Golfers, unless they are Tiger Woods, aren’t expected to win…every week. Stars in judged sports can lean on the judges’ memories…A tennis star like Federer stands exposed…as he continues to devolve from a ruthless closer with a killer forehand into an edgy mortal with performance anxiety…To see him resume breaking rackets now, after all these years of self-control, was like watching the owner of a health food store start fumbling through his desk drawer for a long-lost pack of cigarettes.”
THE TALENT GAP: You got some sense of the distance between the Williams sisters and the rest of America’s top women players when Alexa Glatch reported on the beginning of her brief Miami match with Serena. “The first point, she ripped a forehand past me on a second serve. Just nailed it,” the Californian confided. “I don’t think I even saw it. It was, like, ‘Okay, here we go.’
AND YOU THINK THAT (DUBAI-WISE) SHAHAR PEER HAD A ROUGH GO OF IT: In late March, an opponent of Chechnya’s Moscow-backed president, Sulim Yamadayev, was murdered in Dubai.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT, SAUDI ARABIA: It seems that every year rumors swirl that the ATP’s Master Series tournament in Indian Wells is going to be swooped up by some enterprising Saudi prince with a forehand and a fortune or an imposing Chinese conglomerate. But Ray Moore, who, with tournament director Charlie Pasarell, owns 44 percent of the BNP Paribas Open, told IT that if he has it his way, the 35-year-old event is here is stay. “Charlie and I, we don’t want to sell it under any circumstances,” said Moore. “We want to keep the event here for the next hundred years. It’s our legacy. We think it would be horrendous for American tennis to have this event move.” But Moore is also a realist. Fact is, the BNP Paribas Open has 32 shareholders and if an overwhelming offer came along, minority owners Moore and Pasarell could be overruled.
HE AIN’T MY LOVER HE’S MY BRO: The Aussie mag New Idea claimed that Lleyton Hewitt’s wife, Bec, had a “new man” in her life, a fitness trainer from Dallas. Too bad the pics in the mag of Bec’s hot new lover proved to be her brother. (Legal proceedings have begun.)
HEAD’S UP: The Murray vs. Djokovic final in Miami was the first notable all-Head racket final since Andre Agassi beat Goran Ivanisevic in Miami in ‘96.
ANDRE THE ADVOCATE: Agassi, God bless, is urging Nevada lawmakers to pump more money into a school system that ranks near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending and graduation rates. Testifying to the Nevada legislature, Andre said, “I personally know what it feels like to underachieve and come in last, because I slipped to an embarrassing low in my career. My ranking was the tennis equivalent of being the state that comes in 50th.” Agassi’s own college preparatory academy is set to graduate its first senior class in June.
• En route to the Miami final, Serena had to climb the Great Wall of China: three strong Chinese players — Na Li, Jie Zheng and Shuai Peng.
• Reflecting on Rafa, Roddick said, “From one side he was getting his hook forehand up on my backhand routinely. That’s like Chinese water torture. It’s going to affect you in a negative way. You may be able to fight it off for a stroke or two or three, but, eventually, that’s not going to be a good pattern for me.”
• With but four letters in all, China’s Li Na has the shortest name on the WTA Tour. Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova has the most letters with 24.
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE: Since he was a kid, James Blake’s had one coach, Brian Barker. In contrast, Andy Roddick has picked the brains of some of games best minds. Andy noted, “There’s been a couple of times in my career where it’s jump-started my playing just by having a fresh voice.” Blake said, “If Andy had the same coach the whole time he wouldn’t be as good as he is. If I had changed coaches, the way he has, I wouldn’t be as good.”
WHAT DO FEDERER, AGASSI, ASHE, MANDELA AND NOW JAMES BLAKE HAVE IN COMMON: All won the ATP’s Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award.
WHAT BRAD GILBERT, BOBBY FISCHER AND MILOSLAV MECIR HAVE IN COMMON: Ray Moore said Andy Murray was Miloslav Mecir with power. Justin Gimelstob said Andy was the Bobby Fischer of tennis and Mary Carillo said Murray was “this century’s Brad Gilbert: very smart, doesn’t overplay, [but has a] much bigger game.”
HAWK-EYE REPORT: Fans booed Hawk-Eye when it briefly went down in Miami…Novak Djokovic has the tour’s best Hawk-Eye record, 55 percent right. Andy Murray has the worst, 75 percent wrong.
HOCKEY HELPER: The daughter of Nikolai Khabibulin (the first Russian goalie to ever lead a team to the Stanley Cup) was formerly an aspiring junior and friend of Victoria Azarenka, who was in need of better training. So Khabibulin generously offered to bring Azarenka to his Scottsdale, Ariz. home and underwrite her coaching. As for being paid, Khabibulin told ESPN, “If you make it, just pay it back. If you don’t, well, we tried to help.” Azarenka, 19, recently won the Sony Ericsson Open and has risen to No. 8. By the way, other players have recently come to the American desert to upgrade their games. Think Fernando Verdasco and Caroline Wozniacki, who went to Vegas to work with trainer Gil Reyes.
PURPLE PROS: This season’s prettiest dresses have been purple.
‘CHI WHIZ’: Before his big shoot-out with Federer in Miami, Andy Roddick said, “I’d love to be able to sit here and center my chi and focus all those good vibes and do all that…[But] at the end of the day, it’s about executing. You know what’s done is done. If I can channel that one match [in which he beat Fed last year] then he’ll be able to channel 15 or 17…He’s got more channeling.”
EXECU DRAIN: Tennis has witnessed its greatest leadership implosion in memory, a kind of executive trifecta. First, amidst acrimony and power struggles, marketing boss Arlen Kantarian left the USTA. The ATP’s innovative chief Ettienne de Villiers began to flounder repeatedly and lost the confidence of Nadal, Federer et al and his contract wasn’t renewed. Surprisingly he was replaced by an American, former Nike exec Adam Helfant. Then Larry Scott failed to get the ATP and the WTA to combine to create a position as tennis commish to lead their two groups, so he stepped down to head the Pac-10.
REUNITED: At the Family Circle Cup in Charleston,, former NBA All Star Julius “Dr. J” Erving, watched his daughter, Alexandra Stevenson, at a tournament for the first time. but it was no help, as Akgul Amanmuradova beat her 6-2, 6-4. “He actually wanted to come to one of the Challengers, and I was like, I don’t think you should come there,” she said. “We play on like public parks, and some of them are a bit sketchy,” Stevenson just reconnected with her father after a lifetime of estrangement but said she’s not bitter. “It’s good now. Obviously it’s still odd, because you’re getting to know somebody, but it’s nice that I know him, and he is supporting me, coming to watch me play. And he can see how hard tennis is. It’s not like basketball where you have a whole team of support. So it’s nice that he came out here.”
KIMMY’S COMING: Kim Clijsters-Lynch, who, prior to deciding to end her retirement, had extensive e-mail exchanges with Lindsay Davenport about motherhood and her return to the WTA Tour, said, “It’s not automatic that I’m going to make the finals at all those tournaments. But if I lose three first rounds, I’m not going to say ‘I can’t do it’ and that’s it. It will take time and a lot of hard work again. But I’m looking forward…I’m really doing this for myself.”
LONDON BECKONS: Should be quite a Wimby folks. Centre Court sporting a spiffy new roof as we wonder: can Nadal repeat or will Fed re-emerge or will Brit Murray at last score one for the home team after 73 years of male futility?
ASHE’S DREAM BECOMES A REALITY AFTER 25 YEARS: We’ve come a long way from the days when players boycotted playing in apartheid South Africa. A $100,000 Challenger event was recently played in the African township of Soweto. Under a headline that read “Ashe’s Dream Becomes a Reality After 25 Years,” a South African paper noted, “This might not be the awesome Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows where the United States Open is staged, but if such things are indeed possible, the late American tennis icon will indeed be smiling in his grave right now over the fruition of something he envisaged with a degree of deep passion when he first visited South Africa to participate in the South African Open.”
HILARY SHOUT-OUT: IT asked Vera Zvonereva, who’s interested in diplomacy, how the U.S. and Russia could come closer together. The Russian responded: “Well, Hillary [Clinton] is doing a pretty good job now…our countries are on the right track. We both have younger presidents, and they’re ready to talk. They’re looking forward; they’re more open-minded. So I’m sure the relationship between the two countries will get better.”
MORE THAN CRUEL COMMENTARY OF THE MONTH: ESPN.com wrote: “Producing wretched tennis, Federer uncharacteristically smashed his racket. That might have been the best swing he took all day.”
ETHICAL QUANDRY OF THE MONTH: It is soooo ethically unacceptable and downright unfair for tennis wonks to reference the now-retired Mark Philippoussis and use the adjective Philippoussian (as in “Don’t you think Taylor Dent is a bit Philippoussian?”) to describe bulky, big-hitting servers with Aussie links who have suffered injuries and, ultimately, are underachievers…BTW: Tough luck Taylor Dent (who is one of the nicest fellows you will find around a tennis court) who was once No. 21 in the world and whose once-promising career was hobbled by devastating injuries, got his USPTA certification last summer.
FATHERHOOD — THE BEST FEELING A MAN CAN HAVE?: The thoughtful Croat vet Ivan Ljubicic, who travels the circuit with his son, reflected on becoming a dad. “Your life changes completely. Priorities are different. You’re not the one in the family who’s the most important. You kind of lose your wife for a while. But it’s beautiful. It’s a fantastic experience. When you walk out on that court and you see him, no matter what you do, it’s a great day. It gives you that extra energy.”
HOW CUTE CAN YOU GET?: Lleyton Hewitt’s three-year-old daughter Mia sitting on her proud daddy’s lap after winning in Houston.
JUST WONDERING: Has any player (not named Kournikova or Riggs) who has never cracked the top three ever gotten as much ink as Andy Murray?…How did this year’s scintillating Masters golf compare to the three best matches in tennis history — the Nadal vs. Federer Wimbledon battle of last July, the ‘80 Mac vs. Borg Wimbledon classic, or the fabled Budge vs. von Cramm Davis Cup clash of ‘37?
WEDDING NEWS: Roger Federer didn’t mean to one up his rival Andy Roddick again, but he did, when in a very well kept secret, he married his girlfriend of nine years, Mirka Vavrinec in Basel on April 11. Roddick and his fiancée, Brooklyn Decker, were scheduled to be married the very next weekend, just outside of Austin in a ceremony that will be attended by a number of players, including Serena Williams and James Blake.
Federer is a pretty lucky guy, so fortunate that Mirka apparently didn’t request that they go on a honeymoon. Instead, he’s chose to play Monte Carlo just two days after the wedding. “I spoke to Mirka,” said the emotional Fed, who cried at the wedding. Fed “She was completely relaxed about whatever decision I took. I feel like I’ve been on a honeymoon for the last years, so I don’t need to go to a special place to celebrate with her. We’ve had a lot of nice moments over all those years.”
• When NBC’s courtside reporter Raj Mathai told Andy Roddick: “This is the best I’ve seen you play,” Andy quipped: “This is the best I’ve seen you commentate.”
• A reporter told Rafael Nadal, “You seem to play every point as if it were an adventure, like something new and fun,” to which the Rafa responded: “I don’t think so. No, no, no? I’m a serious player.”
• Justin Gimelstob to Roddick: “You seemed reticent to attack Monfils groundstrokes.” Roddick to Gimelstob: “You can’t spell reticent.”
• After it was noted that Victoria Aszarenka, 19, was ranked in the 500s in ‘04, Mary Carillo quipped: “Yeah, she was about four then.”
GO FIGURE: Croatia, despite having a cadre of big power players, has chosen to play their July Davis Cup match against the U.S. on clay…The Czechs will host the US Fed Cup team, sans the Williams sisters, on clay…Venus Williams has never finished the year at No. 1, and Serena’s only grabbed the year-end spot once…The reason the stadium at the BNP Paribas Open is not named after a great tennis contributor is that the (BNPPO) management wants to keep open the possibility of getting a corporate naming sponsor…The cost of putting a roof on top of the often-sweltering Indian Wells Tennis Garden is estimated to be $20 to $40 million…The IW tournament signed Pacific Life as a long-term sponsor right after 9/11. Then they got a 10-year sponsorship with BNP Paribas on September 15, ‘08, the day that Lehman Bros. went out of business, a date that’s said to be the worst day in banking history since ‘29…Only two of Rafael Nadal’s 33 career titles were won in the U.S. — both at Indian ells…The crowd in Miami jeered Roger Federer when he smashed his racket, but then robustly cheered him when he returned to court…Justin Gimelstob asserted that if the multi-talented Gael Monfils went on Dancing With the Stars, he would win — guaranteed… Serena defeated late-night host Jimmy Fallon in a televised game of beer pong… Just months after she was denied a visa by Dubai, Israel’s Shahar Peer will play in the Muslim region of Fez, Morocco….Martina Navratilova’s ex-partner, Toni Layton, wants compensation for the years of support she claims she gave her and is planning legal action.
ONE PERSON STIMULOUS PACKAGE: Victoria Azarenka said that, given her fondness for Mercedes and shopping, she could blow her $600,000 winner’s check in a day.
• “Just because I smashed the racket doesn’t mean I lost it. It’s just a natural thing I did.” — Roger Federer
• “Thank God the hard-court season is over.” — Roger Federer, who’s 38 titles on the surface include eight majors and ranks third best on the all-time list
• “Oh, well, he’ll always have Paris, four times over, and Wimbledon and the Australian Open, too.” — David George on Nadal’s loss in Miami
• “I always say there’s, like, 12 Russians in the top 10.” — Serena Williams
• “I have the world’s dullest speaking voice.” — Andy Murray
• “This teenager has improved so swiftly, it’s like watching time-lapse photography—except in real time.” — Greg Garber on Victoria Azarenka
• “That guy couldn’t see water from the ocean.” — Andy Roddick on a linesman in San Jose
• “Come on, Murray! Remember Churchill and Thatcher!” — An Indian Wells fan to Andy Murray
• “The Williams sisters’ continued boycott of Indian Wells has been a form of competitive napalming.” — Joel Drucker
• “Maybe I’m like a wine. Getting older, getting better.” — Radek Stepanek
• “She has this image of being a perfect Belgian neighborhood girl. We all hoped she’d come back.” — Former Belgian touring pro Filip Dewulf on Kim Clijsters’ return
• “One of my great skills is building a consensus, and if anyone’s had to herd cats around a common vision, it’s tennis.” — Outgoing WTA CEO Larry Scott
• “These days, Federer’s game looks ragged, drained of commitment. He seems torn between desiring change and resisting it, and succumbing to the seductive tune of denial.” — Peter Bodo