OUCH!: Asked how his knees were doing, James Blake responded, “Like they’ve been on the tour for 10 years.”
WISHFUL THINKING: Right after the issuance of tsunami warnings after the tragic Japanese earthquake, we overheard a young Indian Wells fan from Arizona on his cell with his mother, asking if the warnings meant that school (in Phoenix) would be cancelled the next day.
JAPAN AND THE SPECTRE OF NUCLEAR DISASTER: The timing of the heartbreaking Japanese earthquake didn’t allow pros at Indian Wells to stage a fundraiser, as was done last year for Haiti. Still, all were stunned. Caroline Wozniacki had her manager drive two hours to get a Japanese flag, which she unfurled and signed prior to her match with Victoria Azarenka. Maria Sharapova expressed the shock of the disaster hitting the tennis-friendly island nation. “It opens your eyes,” she said. “Obviously, it puts a lot of perspective in your life. It’s a country where I have very great memories. I started playing there when I was very young, and I always loved my experiences. To see it going on there to its culture and the people is devastating… Seeing the paper, I’m just afraid to look at what’s written under the photos. It’s horrifying…it’s incredible that something like that can even happen.” Twenty-five years ago Sharapova’s Russian family fled from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and she has long been doing charitable work for its victims. She noted that, “in the beginning my job was raising awareness to the world and getting the message across that even though something like that happened such a long time ago, it still causes many people [harm] on a daily basis, especially…[for] kids that were born and now are having kids. You also find that they have something in their body from the [radiation] pollution that’s not allowing them to live a normal life. This big huge area is completely deserted. Everyone…fled. They took their passports and that’s all. That was their only belonging that they really wanted. It really is incredible.”
FANTASIES OF OUR WILDEST IMAGINATION: After a routine win, Andy Roddick was asked on-court how he was feeling. Out of nowhere he said he “would have liked to see that guy on the kiss-cam (where you are supposed to kiss the person next to you, no matter what) be a little more assertive. The BNP Paribas Open emcee then said when his parents, who have been married for 50 years, were put on kiss-cam they immediately started French-kissing. Roddick then quipped, “that only leads us to imagine what they might be doing when they are not on kiss-cam.”
THE KING AT WIMBLEDON: In 1926, the Prince of Wales (who went on to become King George VI of King’s Speech fame) played Wimbledon. According to Bud Collins, they somehow rigged the draw so the Prince won a couple of rounds. Still, his wife, who went on to become the Queen Mum, was furious.
RODDICK ISSUES WARNING: When asked why he issued a warning to ump Fergus Murphy for “freaking ineptituede,” Roddick explained, “Because he gave me a warning. I feel like with the mistakes he made, it’s only fair that I would give him a warning, as well. I only made one mistake. I only broke one racket. He missed a couple of calls, so I feel like it was a little presumptuous of him to give me a warning off one broken racket.”
NEWSFLASH! — EVEN FEDERER HAS FEAR: Roger Federer compared himself to his younger self, saying “I am a better player now, but then I was young and there was no fear in me and you had nothing to lose…Sometimes it’s easier to play that way as well. It is hard to dominate because I have been doing it for so long, but I feel I still have it in me.”
A HAPPY NOTION: Indian Wells PA announcer Andrew Krusny said Kim Clijsters is “probably the happiest face this tour has ever seen.”
SAFIN SOUND?: After rising to No. 1 in April ’09, Dinara Safina dropped outside the top 100. But the Slam-less Russian (who says she pondered quitting) at least briefly rediscovered her form in Indian Wells, where she stunned Daniela Hantuchova and Sam Stosur en route to the fourth round. She said, “It’s a nice feeling…It’s been a while…I was losing to everybody like 6-Love, 6-Love, 6-Love, 6-1. I [said I] better do something else.”
CAPT. COURIER’S VICTORIOUS DEBUT: There was a hiccup along the way, but Jim Courier’s debut as Davis Cup captain was ultimately a successful one as the U.S. survived its away-on-clay tie against Chile to advance to the quarters. John Isner coughed up a two-sets-to-none lead against Paul Capdeville on Day 1. But Roddick won a pair of rubbers, including the clincher against Capdeville on Sunday (the Texan remains a perfect 12-0 in tie-deciding Davis Cup clashes), and the Bryan Bros. improved to 17-2 as a tandem in topping Nicolas Massu/Jorge Aguilar as the U.S prevailed 4-1. “It’s always sweet, and every time you clinch one you think it’s the sweetest,” said Roddick. “It’s also pretty satisfactory when everything is stacked against you – you got the court, the crowd. It’s a mental grind and you have to try and ignore everything.” Courier & Co. will next face Spain (on home turf), 4-1 winners over Belgium.
WHY WE LOVE KIM: So many players say their great goal is to become No. 1. Clijsters says her goal in life is to adopt a child.
FRENCH FEUD: Giles Simon criticized his Davis Cup captain Guy Forget for playing Michael Llodra in a deciding Davis Cup tie against Serbia. Simon said Forget played Llodra because the two have similar styles — lefties who like to come to net.
COULD BE THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING SPECIAL: Could the Indian Wells match between Ryan Harrison, 18, and Canadian Milos Raonic mark the beginning of a great North American rivalry?
HOW DO PRONOUNCE THAT MILOS RAONIC DUDE’S NAME ANYWAY?: MEE-LOASH ROW-NITCH.
OF STEAKS AND STAKES: Joel Drucker explained that the rising Milos Raonic (who had played just four tournaments before the year began and has jumped from No. 156 to No. 35 in just three months) likes steak and that now that he’s made more money, “the steaks have gotten better and the stakes have also gotten higher.”
NOVAK IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS: Look for Novak Djokovic – the greatest ham in the game — to play tennis on the wings of an antique plane, thus replicating one of the great images in tennis photography.
PETE’S TRASH TALK: Prior to his upset of Andy Murray in Indian Wells, Donald Young practiced with Sampras in L.A. “He was talking a lot of trash,” laughed Young. “He calls me ‘princess’ and talks a lot of stuff. He says it’s all in jest…First of all, I didn’t know whether to take it serious or not. I was kind of psyched out.”
WASHED UP BEFORE HE BEGAN: Donald Young scored the biggest win of his career when he beat No. 5 Andy Murray to score his first top-10 win. The often-criticized Young admitted he “was considered a bust at 17.”
BILLIE JEAN ON SERENA: Billie Jean King told IT that Serena will return to play World TeamTennis this summer. “She’s planning to play, that’s for sure. I love the fact she still wants to play. Maybe she misses it more. Sometimes things like this [Serena’s embolism, which led to her hospitalization] can be a plus.” Billie Jean also offered her thoughts on the controversial incident with Serena in Indian Wells in ’01, saying, “The crowd blew it. They should have been a little bit more, ‘I’m not sure what’s going on.'”
THE SHOT OF HIS CAREER: Roddick finished off Raonic in Memphis by hitting the shot of his career on match point — a leaping, tumbling, hat-flying miracle forehand. The win means the Texan has won a tournament in each of his 11 years, an active player record he shares with Federer. One record he no longer claims is for the fastest serve ever — 155 mph. While playing Davis Cup for Croatia against Germany, Ivo Karlovic blasted a 156 mph serve.
SEXIST OR NOT?: Janko Tipsarivic said, “Umpires are like emotional girlfiriends, once they make up their minds, there’s no point in arguing”…Neil Harman tweeted, “There’s women’s doubles on Centre Court at the BNP Paribas Masters at the moment. Tennis shooting itself in the foot again.”
GOOD NEWS: Nine of the top 10 male players played doubles in Indian Wells. Only Roddick deferred. But when Daniel Nestor/Max Mirnyi (who have a hefty total of 110 titles between them) faced the Swiss duo of Roger Federer/Stan Wawrinka, they dismissed them in 49 minutes. Sadly, the Bryan Bros. again faltered in the desert losing in the second round.
DESERT DROUGHT: In 13 attempts over three decades (well, since ’99), the otherwise imposing Bryan Bros. have never won the dubs title at Indian Wells.
FAREWELL, SUPER MARIO: The retirement of Mario Ancic brings to mind his relationship with his mentor Goran Ivanisevic. The highly superstitious Croat always used the same urinal at Wimbledon. Never mind if it’s the only one being used — he’d just wait behind some bemused guy. Plus, each day at Wimbledon Goran would park in the same spot under the same tree. On the day of the Wimbledon final, when he drove into the lot, it was completely empty except for one car, which, naturally was parked in Goran’s spot. So, he and the young Mario lifted the car and put it in a different spot.
GO FIQURE: Venus Williams hasn’t played a regular circuit event in l0 months…Austria hosted it’s Davis Cup tie on a makeshift court created in Hangar 3 at the Vienna airport. So Craig Gabriel quipped that when John Isner dropped a key game against Chile, “he lost it bad like a meal in economy.”
MICHELLE OBAMA — THE MOST HIGH PROFILE BALLPERSON IN HISTORY?: There have been plenty of ups and downs for tennis at the White House. Bud Collins reminds us that President Teddy Roosevelt put the first tennis court in at the White House. As for first ladies, Jackie Kennedy was far more into horse jumping than tennis. But Jimmy Carter said his wife, Rosalynn, was the best tennis player in their family and Barbara Bush has attended many a tennis event. Now tennis has gotten a boost from an ad featuring Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Michelle Obama as attentive ball persons who are promoting the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” fitness campaign.
MEA KULPA MERRY GO ROUND: It’s been a good season for mea culpas. Agassi took responsibility for his poor taste when he teased Sampras last year for supposedly being cheap and Justine Henin expressed regret for her infamous controversial win over Serena in the ’03 French semis, when at 4-2 on Williams’ serve in the third set, Henin raised her hand indicating she wasn’t ready to receive and Williams then netted her serve. Serena thought she should have another first serve, but the ump didn’t see Henin raise her hand and the Belgian didn’t say anything. Williams lost the next four points and the match. Later, in tears, Serena accused her of “lying and fabricating.” Recently, Henin was a bit apologetic. “I think she saw it and she was disturbed by that. There is a lot of tension, actions are a bit by instinct…Maybe it was a way to give me respect, because you know that Williams have an attitude, sometimes difficult. They play with a lot of intimidation.” Serena then tweeted, “Question – I keep hearing about an admittance to someone cheating me & lying about it after at the French open? Did she confess finally?”
ROLE REVERSAL: We all have been astounded by Federer’s wonder shots. But while playing doubles against Roger, Mark Knowles hit a twirling behind-the-back half-volley half-volley that stunned Fed.
BNP CHAMPIONS: Djokovic said, “I am playing with a lot of confidence. I’m feeling the ball well on the court. I’m very dedicated. I have a big will to win each match…So it will not stop here, definitely. I want to keep on going”…Wozniacki said, “I know that if a player is to beat me, either she has to overpower me or she needs to stand there for hours and hours.”
SERENA — ‘I WAS DEPRESSED’: Recovering from a blood clot that traveled from her leg to her lungs, Serena Williams spoke with USA Today’s Doug Robson about her hospitalization and how this latest setback has affected her outlook. “I’ve definitely had my share of hard times,” said Williams. “What’s going to make me happy is going on the court and holding up trophies.” But she admitted the most recent of the “unfortunate events” is almost too much to bear. “I definitely have not been happy,” she said. “Especially when I had that second surgery [on my foot], I was definitely depressed. I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.” She is tentatively targeting a return to the tour by summer, but that might be a bit ambitious. Williams said that doctors told her a part of her lung had died from the pulmonary embolism. While resting up, her visitors have included Caroline Wozniacki and Mardy Fish (who reportedly sang karaoke with Williams). “I never thought that I had so many people that appreciated me as a player, as an athlete, as a human being,” Williams said. She added, “At this point I would play Indian Wells — anything to get back!”
WHEN YOU ‘SWOOSH’ UPON A STAR: Only Nike could do it. Only Nike could draw together the most charismatic figures in our game, who, by the way, have collectively accounted for 30 Slams. Federer, Nadal, Sharapova, McEnroe and (since Serena had to cancel) Azarenka all descended upon a more than remote college town — Eugene, Oregon — not exactly a major hub on the pro circuit. But there were the glitterati of our game in the Matthew Knight Arena on March 8 being introduced as rock stars. Darkened arena, bright spotlights, blaring music, hype-heavy announcer — you know the drill. The shrieking crowd — thrilled that they could see the icons of game — packed the sizzling new sports palace. All were on hand to dedicate the University of Oregon’s new state-of-the-art arena in honor of the late son of the iconic Nike founder, Phil Knight, who, legend tells us, first began making shoes using a waffle iron. While McEnroe was up in the ump’s chair — telling Sharapova how to play the game and insisting Federer hit a between-the-legs “tweener” – fans displayed oversized paintings of Federer and obligatory signs expressing their every fantasy: “MARIA – WANNA HANG OUT IN MY DORM LATER? ” or “SASHA VUJACIC’S A BENCHWARMER. MARRY ME INSTEAD.” Sharapova loved it all. It was “so energetic and alive. It started from the introductions…We were introduced walking downstairs. And with the whole inside being dark and only you are walking alone down the stairs during the introduction, you feel like a rock star. I felt like the opening act to U2 a bit playing before Roger and Rafa. I was like the Blackeyed Peas. It was really fun…I have been a part of the [Nike] family from being a young girl when they didn’t make clothes in my size and they never had a junior line and I always felt like I had to wear things that were twice as big and rolling up my skirts.” As for Phil Knight, Maria said, “He’s really laid back…This guy started from something so small and has developed something so incredible…I don’t think he knows what a genius he is.”
•To Maria Sharapova: “How do you balance the demands of your career with the giddiness of a girl being happy and in love?”
•To 18-year-old Ryan Harrison: “So someday years from now, when you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table with your kids, what will you say when you talk about the night you first met Roger Federer?”
•To Andy Roddick: “What’s your biggest contribution to American pop culture: hosting Saturday Night Live, being a contestant on The Weakest Link or guest-starring on Sabrina the Teenage Witch?”
•To Rafael Nadal: “You play doubles so well. Why bother playing singles? And “Why do you think that you have won this tournament in doubles and the Bryans haven’t?”
•After Jelena Jankovic (who’s building a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe) beat Coco Vandeweghe, who lives there now, the Serb was asked, “How does it feel to be the champion of Rancho Santa Fe?
•Just after she was injured and had to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open, Kim Clijsters was asked, “Is this one of those welcome back to pro tennis moments?”