TO EACH HIS OWN: San Diego sports sage Jerry McGhee quipped, “Tennis is nothing but boxing with a ball. But boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb thought otherwise, noting, “If you screw up in tennis, it’s 15-Love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your ass, darling.”
A ‘DISGRACEFUL’ ORWELLIAN POINT ABOUT AGASSI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: George Orwell claimed that, to be successful, an autobiography has to reveal something disgraceful.
CENSUS WONKS GONE WILD: Wiseguys in the pressroom stated that 10,943 Chinese were born in the 2:43 it took Jie Zheng to subdue Maria Sharapova at I-Wells (and 97 percent of them were strict baseliners.)
GO FIGURE: At the BNP Paribas Open, Roger Federer had three match points against Marcos Baghdatis, but couldn’t close the deal…Pete Sampras plays Texas Hold ‘Em for pots of $30,000 and up…When she first won the Aussie Open back in the amateur days, Margaret Court won an umbrella. The next year she won a makeup case…For security reasons, when Shahar Peer played Dubai, she was placed on an entire floor of a hotel by herself.
PAINFUL PERSPECTIVE: Pam Shriver said that when we look back 50 years from now, the most surprising player to have reached No. 1 will be the overachieving Jelena Jankovic.
SAY IT ISN’T SO: Andy Roddick noted that he skipped the Indianapolis tournament two years in a row and then it went belly up…Media wonks are already debating whether Melanie Oudin, just 18, will ever reach another Grand Slam quarterfinal like she did at the ’09 USO…Before going out to play the Hit for Haiti exo, Steffi Graf asked Lindsay Davenport, 33, whether she was still in her 30s and planning to have a third child…When Graf and Andre Agassi had kids, everyone said “Wow, what athletic genes!” But, according to Steffi, their children associate tennis with “Daddy being away.”
DON’T BLAME THE BALL: After losing her opening match at I-Wells, No. 1 seed Svetlana Kuznetesova said, “I’m frustrated…[that] the ball doesn’t go where I want it to go. It goes a different way. I’m, like, ‘Okay, I played tennis for 17 years, and I still cannot put this little ball in this huge court.’ I’m not the worst player in the world, so definitely I have expectations to put a little bit more [balls] inside of the court. No, it’s not the fault of the ball. The ball is perfect. It’s the right size. It’s not broken. It’s bounces, it’s green, has white lines, it’s written Penn. But I’m not perfect. I have to work on it.”
SOME CURRY WITH FURRY: Mike Bryan was sidelined from Davis Cup play by a bad plate of chicken curry.
FED AND THE MOVIES: Federer told Scoop Malinowski that his favorite movies were Good Will Hunting, Entrapment and Enemy of the State. BTW: This is our favorite Hollywood-tennis comparison this month: Fed has reached the Final Four (i.e. the semis) of 25 Grand Slams and has prevailed 16 times. Meryl Streep has earned a record 16 Academy Award nominations (where there are five finalists), but has won just twice.
FED FUN FACT OF THE CENTURY: Of his 16 Slam titles, Federer has won eight of them while wearing white. He’s collected five while wearing blue, two in red and one (the ’07 U.S. Open) in black. Our opinion: he looks best in black.
COURT CRUELTY: Tennis can be downright unforgiving. Less than a day after Baghdatis bagged the biggest win of his career, his three-set triumph over Fed in Indian Wells, he went down to Tommy Robredo. Tennis’ cruelest creed: “What have you done for me lately?”
NO STATS FOR BLOCKED SHOTS, SHUTOUTS, SAVES OR SACKS?: Dick Enberg noted that, unlike other sports, “It’s hard to find numbers that appreciate defense in tennis.”
WHAT WILL HAPPEN FIRST?: A) Let-cords will be played on serves. B) The Davis Cup will implement major and sensible changes. C) No ad scoring will become commonplace. D) You’ll lose a serve if you catch an errant ball toss. E) The 35-second rule to get the ball in play will be strictly enforced.
NOT ONLY A RUNNER UP AT WIMBLEDON: In two of the last four years, Roddick came in second in the ATP’s annual basketball bracketology contest to predict who’ll win the NCAA Championships.
SERVING NOTICE: After noting that two Moscow tennis centers both dismissed Elena Dementieva, saying she had no future, Pam Shriver said, “For two clubs to have taken a pass on Dementieva, they must have only looked at her serve.”
COMPARATIVE COMEBACKS 101: Belgians Kim Clisters and Justine Henin almost immediately posted huge results upon their return. Yes, Sharapova won Memphis in February, but her overall results after coming back from shoulder surgery have been indifferent. She’s trying hard, but one senses she’s a bit adrift. Now she’s pulled out of Key Biscayne with an injury. Well, at least she recently signed a $70 million Nike contract.
JUST WONDERING: Who in men’s tennis has better hair: Fed, Rafael Nadal or Roddick’s coach, Larry Stefanki?
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST: All those falls in Olympic skiing and skating brought to mind that in auto racing some come just to see the crashes; in hockey many are there in hopes of seeing some fights; and many would go to John McEnroe‘s matches hoping for a first-rate implosion (or at least a garden variety snit fit).
MAKE UP YOUR MIND: In recent days, Fernando Verdasco has played with Technifibre, Yonex and Dunlop rackets.
ASIDE FROM THAT HE’S A LOUSE: If you’ve read Agassi’s tell-all bio Open, you know that Gil Reyes was more than just a weight-room presence for the Las Vegan. He was a father figure. Verdasco, who has been working with Reyes, says “He’s one of the most special people I’ve met. He treats me like his son. He’s giving me all his experience, all the advice he can give me to make me the best… He takes care more about trying to make me a good person than trying to make me a good player…He’s just unbelievable, so special.”
LITTLE GIRL, BIG SCREECH: Jie Zheng.
MOTIVATIONAL SPEECH OF THE MONTH: Zheng’s husband and coach, Chang Yu, first said if she beat Sharapova she could go to the outlet stores an hour away from Indian Wells and shop at will. Then TV cameras showed Yu coaching his wife during her match against Caroline Wozniacki. Tracy Austin suggested he was telling his mate and student, “If you win you can buy the whole store.”
SHINO KNOWS BEST?: Shino Tsurubuchi — the now reluctantly famous lineswoman who caught an earful (and then some) from Serena Williams at the U.S. Open — told Sports Illustrated that she made the right call and has no regrets. “As umpires, if it’s a foot fault, we should call a foot fault,” said Tsurubuchi. “But usually I am at the baseline and I wish — I pray — for players, ‘Please don’t touch that line!’ I don’t like to make that call because players are not happy. But if players touch the line, we have to make the call.”
SERENA AND VENUS AT INDIAN WELLS!: The Williams sisters appeared at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden Stadium. Too bad it was just up on the jumbo screen in a Sony Ericsson ad.
A DAMAGED BRAND?: Butch Buchholz said, “The way things are at the moment, the Davis Cup will soon resemble junior Davis Cup, and that’s not good for tennis. I’ve been stirring the pot for a while, but I don’t want to lose the Davis Cup. It’s a brand that is so recognizable. But what can do to make it better?”
MALE ORIENTED SKILL ESTABLISHES SPORTS REWARDS?: The London Times’ Simon Barnes contended, “Women are not athletically inferior to men. In most sports, women operate to…different standards…of performance. But it is a physiological fact that in many ways women are physically superior to men. When it comes to extreme endurance, tolerance of pain, coping with extremes of temperature and sense of balance, women beat men every time. But most sporting events – being invented by men — are not tough enough to reach the point at which female superiority kicks in.”
A MURRAY MOMENT: Andy Murray was in hot water after committing the cardinal sin of letting folks know what he was doing. The Scot admitted to using an early round match in Dubai (which he lost to Janko Tipsarevic) as an experimental warm-up session for the bigger Masters and Slam events. “I would have liked to have won, but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “If it was a Slam or something, my tactics…would have been a bit different.”
‘HAAS’ HE PLAYED HIS LAST MATCH?: Tommy Haas reportedly will be sidelined for up to six months after undergoing hip surgery in Vail, Colo. But one has to wonder if we’ve seen the last of the 31-year-old altogether. After all, hip ailments have been known to curtail the careers of elite players in the past (see Guga Kuerten).
SERENA’S BRIGHT IDEA: Serena will take 240 hours of classes at the Palm Beach Nail School en route to becoming a certified nail technician. Serena contended, “No one likes getting their nails done more than I do. As a matter of fact, I go every four days to get a manicure and every seven days for a pedicure. So, I had a brilliant idea to get certified to be a nail tech.”
GOLF AND TENNIS: Insiders report that Nadal has a fabulous golf game. He held his own against pro Fred Couples on an exclusive course near Indian Wells. And James Blake, who recently golfed in L.A. with Sampras and Mardy Fish, said that Pete’s sublime athleticism “translates on his drive. He can bomb that thing. He’s got the loose upper body and flexibility. And he’s pretty talented with his hands around the green. He’s definitely got a lot of talent.” In contrast, Roddick wasn’t very upbeat about his golf, saying it’s better for him to play his tennis when he’s not upset, so he had better limit his golf to pitch and put.
18: Consecutive free throws made by Ernests Gulbis in the players lounge in Delray Beach.
3: Months shaved off Damir Dokic‘s prison sentence for threatening the Australian ambassador to Serbia.
58: Doubles titles won by the Bryan Bros., who won Delray and now trail only The Woodies (61) on the all-time list.
11,702: Fans in attendance for the Billie Jean King Cup at Madison Square Garden, where Venus Williams topped Clijsters 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
THREE STRIKES AND YOUR OUT: Blake doesn’t like what he calls the “tinny” feel of modern rackets. He prefers his old Dunlops. But the company doesn’t make them any more, so James is down to just three frames. Of course, he treats each of them like a Stradivarius, so you won’t see him flinging them around, even if he gets mad. But time isn’t on Blake’s side. Rackets do age.
GEE, WE THOUGHT SHE WAS THE MOST POWERFUL: Serena is widely accepted to be the most powerful player in women’s tennis. Sharapova also said she was the most consistent.
IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE ON THIS EARTH: It’s a tad embarrassing when a linesperson is overruled by Hawk-Eye on consecutive points.
OH, HOW THE MIGHTY FELL (OR DIDN’T SHOW UP): By the second round of the BNP, six of the most glamorous stars and/or biggest names in women’s tennis were out of the picture. Venus, Serena and Dinara Safina, of course, didn’t show up, and Sharapova, Henin, Clijsters and Ivanovic were all ousted, as was No. 1 seed Kuznetsova.
NEW MONEY: Larry Ellison bought the BNP Paribas Open and then his Oracle Corp. donated $1 million to Haitian relief.
GOT NEXT?: By reaching a career-high No. 280, 17-year-old American Ryan Harrison became the youngest player in the top 300.
DOES JOY MATTER?: Agassi said he hated tennis, but still had a remarkable 14-year career. For several seasons, Nicole Vaidisova played without joy. But now, after just five years of the grind, the glamorous Czech is checking out. She’s just 20. Maybe it was the hype. The six-foot blonde who inked hefty endorsement contracts was said to certainly be the next Sharapova. Maybe it was the on-court expectations. She reached the ’06 Roland Garros semis at just 17, and also advanced to the Aussie semis in ’07. She won six titles and was ranked No. 7. Or maybe it was her hassles with her stepdad/ coach Alex Kodat. Regardless, she’s retiring and is planning to marry her fellow Czech Radek Stepanek. Moral of the story — joy matters.
THE ART OF THE SCAM: A New York art dealer pleaded guilty to engineering a nearly $100 million art investment scam that duped, among others, John McEnroe. Lawrence Salander, 60, faces six to 18 years in prison and must pay $120 million in restitution to victims. McEnroe lost $2 million after investing in a share of two paintings, Arshile Gorky‘s Pirate I and II.
SCHOOL DAYS: After opening another school near Nairobi, Serena said, “It is amazing. It was a pleasure to open a school in Africa, but two schools is, like, Wow!”
MOST POIGNANT MOMENT: Tony Bennett sang the classic “Smile” (though your heart is breaking), which was co-written by Charlie Chaplin, as a crowd of 12,000 stood in stunned silence as poignant pictures from Haiti (i.e. hapless mothers with babes in arm and overwhelmed children amidst the rubble) flashed on the stadium’s jumbo screen.
IMAGINE LOMBARDI, HALAS, WOODEN OR ROCKNE NOT GETTING INTO THE HALL: What do Agassi, Seles, Courier, Becker, Sharapova, Serena, Venus, Haas, Rios and Jankovic have in common? All were coached (okay, in varying degrees) by Nick Bollettieri. Sure, the back-slapping guy with the unwavering tan could sell hockey pucks in the Congo. He tended to be a tad over-the-top and he’s had as many marriages as Liz Taylor (eight). Sure, critics howl, “He doesn’t know his X’s and O’s, he’s just a go-for-it motivation man who only focuses on baseline strokes, and look at all those pupils who’ve walked away mad.” But guess what? He’s done what no other soul, no other federation (even with their deep pockets) has been able achieve. He’s created a Mecca, an academy that has attracted skinny girls from Ukrainian basements, wide-eyed South Americans and burly Minnesotans all hoping to grab the Holy Grail. Dismiss it as a factory. But here you could practice against the hungriest young talent in the world. Now any tennis teacher who wants to give his or her program some gravitas calls it an academy. So, who the heck cares if he sounds like a bring-your-pink-slip-and-checkbook kind of dude. Well, voters who’re the gatekeepers for the International Hall of Fame cared. Popularity matters. Self-promoters need not apply. And Bollettieri (who’s arguably, with Harry Hopman and the long-ignored Dick Gould, the greatest mentor in tennis history) is kind of brash, loud and in-your-face. Still let’s hope that next year the Hall’s voters face the facts and correct this year’s outrageous snub of the passionate innovator who, despite his gruff tone and entrepreneurial bent — has crafted scores of careers and whose fingerprints are all over the modern game.
“It’s just the mystery of the unknown.” — Maria Sharapova on her somewhat murky future
“I tip very well. [Tipping $1], that’s not the norm.” — Pete Sampras
“He was as keen as mustard when we rang him.” — Captain Todd Woodbridge on Bernard Tomic, the newest and youngest-ever member of the Aussie Davis Cup team.
“Russia is now going crazy.” — Svetlana Kuznetseva on the mass firing of Russia’s Olympic coaches after the nation’s disappointing showing in Vancouver
“They were amazing in so many ways and we not only looked up to them, but we learned from them and hope to be there in Newport to see them go in the Hall of Fame.” — Bob Bryan on Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde
“I never lie.” — Roger Federer