NEW RULE: The mid-match words of wisdom that Francesco Palpacelli provided his girlfriend and student Roberto Vinci sounded so rhythmic and lyrical that Ted Robinson said, “As far as I’m concerned, all o
n-court coaching should be in Italian.”
60 MINUTES WITH MIKE WALLACE: Trail-blazing Mike Wallace was courageous, confrontational, feisty, vain, brilliant and, like many other broadcasters (Charlie Rose, Andy Rooney, Sean Hannity, Katie Couric, Morley Safer), he loved tennis. And he liked this magazine and, at tournaments in California or New York, we would talk about our sport and our trade. He told us that the media “keeps us honest … In a free country there is nothing more important than a free press. It calls the big shots into account.” Wallace spoke of the art of the interview: “The key – prepare, then listen.’’ And he recalled, with a twinkle, how he once confronted the Ayatollah Khomeini, saying, “Anwar Sadat says you are a lunatic.”
Actually, Wallace himself was a bit fanatical about tennis. For 35 years he had a regular Saturday morning game in New York. He’d ump charity events and used the sport to combat his unkind depression. He’d play tennis with Walter Cronkite on Martha’s Vineyard or Johnny Carson in Malibu. He said of Carson’s tennis: “I served, he missed … His best attribute was his enthusiasm. Johnny was kind to everyone, but never on court. He didn’t know how to be good loser.”
Wallace joked that he was willing to play with the late broadcaster Harry Reasoner if he “felt like slumming it” and beamed when he recalled a passing shot that he whizzed past Monica Seles. He didn’t like 135 mph serves on the circuit and complained about Pete Sampras’ posture. And who was the one player Wallace would have liked to have interviewed? That would be the “glorious-looking” Bill Tilden. “There were so many rumors about him,” said Wallace. The 60 Minutes icon said he loved Martina Navratilova’s enthusiasm and her humor, but it was Steffi Graf – so mysterious and intriguing – who was the player he most would have liked to have had dinner with. As for Jimmy Connors, he was a joy to watch because he “followed his bliss.” No surprise there – after all, that’s just what a one-of-a-kind newsman – Myron Leon Wallace – did on court and off for most all of his life.
JUST WONDERING: Will the rumors come true that the U.S. Open will play its men’s final, maybe even this year, on Monday night? … Is John Isner the best big man (taller than 6-foot-6) in tennis history? … When it comes to recent results in American men’s tennis, what was a better feel-good win: Andy Roddick’s three-set, “I won’t be denied this time” win over Federer or one of Isner’s three marquee wins: over Federer in Switzerland; over Djokovic in Inidan Wells or over Tsonga in Monte Carlo?
A TALE OF TWO TENNIS TRADITIONS: Justin Gimelstob contended that “American players grow up learning how to finish points. European players grow up on clay courts learning how to construct points.”
A TALE OF TWO COMPARISONS: While competing on Dancing With the Stars, Martina Navratilova said, “When you miss a shot in tennis, you can make it up. You miss a step [here] and you can’t make it up.” Her observation brought to mind the slightly saucier comparison made by the immortal boxer Tex Cobb, “If you screw up in tennis, it’s 15-love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your ass, darling.”
CURIOUS QUIZNER CONUNDRUM: John Isner said that he and his doubles partner Sam Querrey, who lost in the finals at the BNP Paribas, “are quite goofy out there.” What’s also goofy is that the two are going in different directions. The fast-rising Isner has recently scored sizzling wins and is No. 10. Querrey has struggled with injuries and his form and is No. 103.
ISNER THE VERB: After Jo-Willie Tsonga blasted an ace past John Isner, Justin Gimelstob said Tsonga “is Isnering Isner.”
GO FIGURE: Indian Leander Paes won his 50th ATP doubles title when he and Radek Stepanek clinched the Miami Masters … The combined ages of Kimiko Date and Venus, who met in Miami, was 72 … Nadal and Djokovic want to break the record for most people attending a tennis match. They are hoping to draw 80,000 fans to a soccer stadium in Madrid in July … Serena and Kim Clijsters set the previous record of 35,000 in Belgium in 2010.
GONZO’S GONE: Chilean hero Fernando Gonzales has retired. The 31-year old had a monster forehand which prompted fans to ask, “How the heck does that guy get so much power off that wing?” Gonzo pocketed almost $9 million in his 13-year career, won four Olympic medals, including doubles gold in the 2004 Games in Athens, reached a career high ranking of No. 5, and after he reached the ’07 Aussie Open final, he became a member of an elite 11-man club headed by Andy Roddick – the “I lost to Fed in a Slam final” fraternity. Gonzo was also the center of an Olympic brouhaha when in the ’08 semis, according to James Blake, he didn’t admit that a ball grazed his racket. Blake said, “Playing in the Olympics, in what’s supposed to be considered a gentleman’s sport, that’s a time to call it on yourself. Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn’t call it.” Then there was his bizarre Paris protest. In the semis of the ’09 French Open, Gonzalez contemptuously wiped his derriere back and forth on the mark of a ball. Gonzalez said the linesman made him crazy. Truth be told, for years the Chilean unleashed one of the most explosive forehands ever to drive befuddled foes crazy.
DJOKOVIC – WAR HELPED ME BECOME A CHAMP: Novak Djokovic may be ranked No. 1, but he lags somewhat in the critical rankings of crossover popularity in American pop culture. So maybe that’s why the Serb went on “60 Minutes.” CBS’ segment included obligatory clips of his hilarious imitations. On a more serious note, there was talk of his beloved childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, who read him the Russian poetry of Pushkin, insisted he learn at least two languages and introduced him to the wonders of classical music, which he still loves. Then correspondent Bob Simon spoke of the devastating effect the war had on Novak’s childhood. Simon noted, “Yugoslavia split into separate countries. The world blamed Serbia for the bloodshed. The country’s leaders were accused of war crimes. In 1999, as the conflict spread to the province of Kosovo, the Americans and NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days and nights. The Djokovic family took shelter in Belgrade.” Novak conceded, “that was the period that nobody likes to remember. We were very scared. Everybody was very afraid because the whole city was under attack.” Novak, his grandfather, parents, two younger brothers, aunts and uncles sought refuge in Novak’s grandfather’s two-bedroom apartment during the blitz and took shelter in a basement where, according to Novak, “Everybody who could fit came … there was no real limitation.” Simon noted that, “The family spent every night in the basement for the first two weeks of the bombing.” Amazingly, Novak still played tennis, but he lost focus. “We woke up every single night … at 2:00, 3:00 a.m. for two and a half months,” he recalled. “[But] I always try to remember those days in a very bright way … We didn’t need to go to school, and we played more tennis.” Novak confided that the war helped him become a champion because it “made us tougher. It made us more more hungry for the success.”
- Last year at Wimbledon Marion Bartoli successfully banned her parents from the friends box.
- In Miami, young Aussie Bernie Tomic tried to get his dad kicked out of the stands and thanked the umpire when he issued a warning to his dad for coaching.
- Former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario said her parents took the profits of her career, taking all of the $60 million that she earned. But Vanity Fair Spain said she is worth $39.4 million, owns scores of buildings and parking lots, and has millions in banks in Switzerland and Andorra.
YOU SAY McENROE, I SAY “MAC AND WOZ”: Caroline Wozniacki lost her No. 1 ranking in January, after losing to Kim Clisters in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Less than two months later, her boyfriend, golfer Rory Mcllory, lost his #1 spot on March 18. Wozniacki recently showed off a diamond bracelet she collected from a bet with McIlroy, over who could go the longest without indulging in soda, alcohol, white bread, fried food or dessert. Wozniacki won and said her triumph “was too easy. He didn’t even last two weeks.” … After being drubbed by Ana Ivanovic, Wozniacki walked into the Indian Wells press room and was promptly asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” “No,” she replied, “Let me go.” … Speaking of Ivanovic, while Mcllroy finished tied for 40th at the Masters, Ana Ivanovic’s boyfriend, Adam Scott, shot a hole in one and finished tied for 8th. … Speaking of the Masters, the University of Georgia’s John Isner and Bubba Watson scored respective victories within 12 hours to win the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the U.S. and the Masters Championships. The feat had to be one of the greatest one-day accomplishments for one university in individual sports.
TOP-HEAVY DOMINATION: Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have won won 27 of the last 28 majors (with Juan Martin del Potro breaking the stranglehold with a 2009 win in the U.S. Open). The trio, together with Andy Murray, have collected 53 of 63 ATP Masters events since 2005.
EURO-WARS: Spain and France have long been tennis rivals, but now things are getting curious. First French hero Yannick Noah and then a French TV comedy show basically claimed that Rafa Nadal and Spanish athletes were drug cheats. The accusations drew Spanish rage and French apologies. Now, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has claimed an umpire in Miami was reluctant to overrule calls which would go against Nadal. Tsonga insisted an ump “would never say ‘out’ against Rafa. If Rafa doesn’t like him anymore, he would not be in the chair … in a final and semi.”
DANDY DIALOGUES AND MONOLOGS: After Justin Gimelstob asked, “When Isner is playing on all cylinders, where do you go?” Ted Robinson replied, “home.”
NO RESPECT: Time and again Mardy Fish – America’s top-ranked player who is No. 8 in the world – is relegated to play on an outer court.
WE THOUGHT HE NEVER WENT AWAY: After his big win over rival Rafa Nadal in the Indian Wells semis, a reporter asked Federer, “Does this mean you are back?”
CHALLENGED CHALLENGER: Broadcaster Ted Robinson noted that, “No one makes Hawkeye challenges with more disdain then Roger [Federer].”
NO KIDDING: After losing to Isner in Indian Wells, Nadal conceded that, “I won’t finish my career winning all the tournaments of the tour.”
HOUSE OF (BLAKE’S) BLUES: After losing in the first round in Houston, James Blake, formerly the world’s No. 4 player, told the Houston Chronicle, “I feel like I’m in a bit of a cycle that I need to break. I’m losing confidence too quickly and not holding on to momentum.”
SHE’S BACK: Serena twice beat her U.S. Open nemisis Sam Stosur and also won the Family Circle Cup in Charleston.