BNP PARIBAS OPEN BUZZ: COMPARING THE GREAT GRETZKY AND THE GRACEFUL ROGER AND ALL THAT JAZZ

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Photo by Brent Bishop

CANDID CONFESSION: Prior to Federico Delbonis’ press conference, a thoughtful media handler warned writers they should keep it simple in the presser because the Argentine’s English is “not the best.” One of the better writers in the history of sports journalism then quipped, “Neither is mine.”

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT: John Isner is celebrated for his record 11:05 marathon match at Wimbledon in 2005. More recently in Davis Cup he set the record for the fastest serve hit on the tour level: 157 mph. What other athlete in sports is known for such long and short records?

JUST DO IT: Just after Maria Sharapova announced that she tested positive in a drug test, Nike suspended their endorsement of the Russian. But never mind, the Maria Sharapova Collection, complete with big signs, is still up at the prime shop at the BNP Paribas Open.

THE GREAT GRETZKY AND THE GRACEFUL ROGER: Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky has been watching his fellow Canadian Genie Bouchard in Indian Wells. The Great One’s presence prompted IT to ask, “As a Canadian and a tennis player, would you take the grace of Gretzky on ice or Roger on the tennis court?” Bouchard punted, saying that it was “an unanswerable question.” But she added that she could relate more to Federer on a court and noted, “The way he plays is so fluid and relaxed…[It’s] amazing to see. It’s also important in an injury sense, because, throughout his career, knock on wood, he’s barely been injured…It’s partly due to his playing style. He’s just so relaxed. I need to work on that.”

RAFA’S HAD IT AND HE’S NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE: For whatever reasons, Rafa has been a target for accusations of doping. That he was a Spaniard didn’t help. Plus, he’s long been the most muscular player on any pro court. Muscles invite accusations – just ask Ms. Martina Navratilova. But there hasn’t been any credible evidence of Nadalian wrongdoing. In contrast, many in the game feel Rafa is a high integrity gentleman champion who often gives back to the sport with his initiatives from Spain to India. And, oh yes, he’s collected 14 Slams, including nine in Paris. But that didn’t stop France’s former Ministry of Sport Roselyne Bachelot from saying that Rafa’s injury hiatus in 2012 was really a way to hide a drug suspension.

After his three-set win against Gilles Muller on Sunday, Rafa spoke bluntly about the accusations. “There [are] a couple of times I’ve heard comments like this, and…this is gonna be the last one, because I’m gonna sue her,” he said. “I let it go a few times in the past. No more. I know how tough I worked to be here. To listen, to hear those comments from a person that should be serious, [a] minister of a big, great country like France. I’m gonna sue her, and I [will] sue everyone who comment[s] something similar in the future, because I am tired of [it].”

Asked why he thinks he’s been the subject of doping speculation, Nadal responded, “I don’t care. I really don’t care because I know how I arrived to where I am. The people who know me know very well how I arrived where I am.”

NEWSFLASH – “DELBONIS COVERAGE” AT SIX: Yesterday, the truly elite players at the BNP Paribas Open all faced hefty scares. But Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams all sidestepped disaster and avoided early departures.

Not so Andy Murray. The world No. 2 – who early in his career won tourneys in Northern California – has never won in the desert. The Scot who’s prevailed at the US Open, the Olympics, Wimbledon and last year in the Davis Cup, has just once reached the final of the BNP Paribas Open. Call it coastal bias if you like, but truth be told, the lad is just partial to Miami where he has a home away from home and trains.

Today the Argentine lefty Federico Delbonis – who’s ranked No. 53 and has won just one title in his career – took advantage of questionable Murray serving, ill-advised drop shots and Andy’s twitchy discomfort to win 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. Murray had good leads in the final set and put himself in positions to prevail, but admitted that he’s struggled at Indian Wells and has never played his best here. “It’s a shame,” he confided and then explained to IT that in Indian Wells, “The ball flies through the air very quickly. The ball bounces extremely high. [Over the years] I have done many different things with my preparation. I changed the stringing of my racquets like four or five pounds tighter than I was at the Davis Cup, which is significant…[Yet] I still feel like I can’t really go for my shots. I feel when I do, I make mistakes long…and then also [I hit] a couple of balls in the bottom of the net…I have tried many different things…[but it] just never quite worked out for me here.”

Oh well, life isn’t that bad for the 28-year old. He gets to go back to his new wife Kim, his new daughter Sophia and that old favorite of his – Miami.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT – YOU ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR FIRST DATE: Once a California girl, always a California girl. That’s our Lindsay Davenport. The former world No. 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion won 55 career singles titles, and 11 came in the Golden State, including the 1997 and 2000 BNP Paribas Opens. So it was hardly surprising that Davenport chose Indian Wells as the setting to receive her ring marking her 2014 induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. BNP Paribas godfather Charlie Pasarell and Hall of Fame chief Todd Martin did the honors. A while back, Davenport spoke to BNPParibasOpen.com, saying, “I first turned pro here as an 16-year-old in 1993 and made it to the quarterfinals. It’s always been my favorite. I’ll never forget about the check for $7,500 I got that year and my sister told me to keep it and frame it. I just said, “Are you kidding?!” I was going shopping. I wish I would have kept it now…[But] the win in 2000 always sticks out the most. Martina (Hingis) and I were the No. 1 and 2 players…We had played in the Australian Open final…It was great. I went on the first date with my husband (Jon Leach) that night.”

SUPER SIDEKICKS – OF DR. WATSON, TONTO AND ROSIE: Diminutive Rosie Casals, who inch-for-inch may have been one of the better players in women’s tennis history, was awarded the Alan King Passion for Tennis Award by the BNP Paribas Open chief Raymond Moore. Known for her fiesty ‘tude and will, the 5’2″ “Rosebud” was a US Open finalist in 1971 and 1973. She was ranked as high as No. 3 and won nine majors in doubles with a lady named Billie Jean. If Dr. Watson was central to the success of Sherlock Holmes, if Tonto empowered the Lone Ranger, then certainly Casals played a critical role in tennis as Billie Jean King’s sidekick, muse and fellow warrior. She and King noted that men got at least 10 times more prize money than women and the two began the long road to create the WTA and eventually gain equal pay for women in tennis. Casals recalled that back then tennis “needed to be above board, transparent and clear.”

Casals first played tennis on San Francisco’s formidable Golden Gate Park courts, and long was a fixture at Mill Valley’s Harbor Point Club before moving to the desert. She and her sport have “come a long way, baby.”

THE FASTEST SERVE IN THE WEST – AND EAST: Big John Isner recently came up with the biggest – i.e., fastest – serve on the tour recently, a 157 mph bullet against Bernie Tomic in Davis Cup. He’s still on a roll at Indian Wells, serving 23 aces in two sets to defeat Andreas Seppi. After the match, IT asked him about his winning performance against Australia. “It just goes to show how much of a different animal Davis Cup is,” he said. “The wins feel amazing. When the team wins and you’re a large part of [it], it’s the greatest feeling in the world. When you’re a big part of the team losing it’s the worst. I flipped it completely from 2015…We’re in the quarterfinals. We have [the next tie, against Croatia] at home and we have a lot of options with our team, so it’s a good spot to be in.

“Once I got the first match under my belt…I became a lot more comfortable. I had a great rhythm out there…No double faults and almost 50 aces was pretty good on my part.”

Last year Isner suffered a painful defeat to Great Britain’s Jamie Ward in Davis Cup play. IT asked if the big win in Australia erased its bitter taste. “It does,” said Isner. “That Ward match – oh, man it took me a long time to get over that one. That was brutal.” As for that 157 mph serve, Isner will take it: “When people ask me what my biggest serve is, I’m going to say I’m the world record holder now. Feels good.”

OUT AND IN: Canadian Genie Bouchard is now out of the BNP Paribas Open, but her suit against the USTA (which was prompted by a late-night fall in a US Open training room). and their counter-suit against her, grind on.

GOOD DECISION GENIE: Bouchard had a wretched 2015 – think free-fall. But today she said, “I’m over analyzing all the horrible things of last year.”