THE WORST ITEM EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF TENNIS JOURNALISM: Here’s something to chew on – a tennis item that makes hay out of different breeds of cows. The Swiss Open twice gave Roger Federer Brown Swiss cows, largely because he did so well at Wimbledon. But the Swiss teen Belinda Benic told IT that if she won Wimbledon, she’d want chocolate, not a cow, thank you. Wimbledon star Heather Watson is known as Britain’s “Guernsey Girl,” while East Coast native Christina McHale is the “Jersey Girl” of American tennis. Today McHale won her second-round match over 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza. It was McHale’s first win over a top five player in four years. (And, dare we say, if she were a big drinker, she probably have downed a “whole-stein of beer.” Okay, enough of this. It’s time to moooove on from the worst item we’ve ever written.)
OUR DIALOG WITH THE REFLECTIVE SERENA: After her win Friday night, we asked Serena if Venus coming back to Indian Wells at last in some way closed a chapter on all that happened in 2001. She replied, “Definitely. It wasn’t about winning. When I come here, even to this day, it’s not about winning. It’s just about closing that chapter in my life and her life and our lives and trying to move on with our heads up.”
IT asked if she were satisfied with the way she and Venus had navigated their way through their 15-year saga and whether she thought she and Venus were an example for others. Serena replied, “Yeah, I hope so. We always try to be a positive role model and example to our colleagues and…everyone in all walks of life.”
OUR DIALOG WITH THE COURAGEOUS ANDY MURRAY: IT reminded Andy Murray that in Melbourne he’d spoken out on the gambling issue, and the other day he’d courageously spoken his mind about the Sharapova situation. We mentioned that his mom, too, is very outspoken, and that he’d spoken out on issues in Great Britain (he’d called for independence for Scotland).
Andy replied, “If there’s something I care about, then I spend a lot of time researching and reading about it and…[then I will] have strong opinions…I don’t know exactly why that is. What I’ve spoken about this year – they’re huge stories. It’s so important to keep the integrity of the sport. When there’s an issue, you have to address it immediately and you don’t just let it get worse over time until it becomes…a huge thing, and the whole sport is riddled with [it], whether it’s gambling or doping or whatever. You need to address it immediately. Unless people speak out…[That’s] what happens. I try to speak my mind on those things.”
We then asked Andy if he was pleased with the way his mom helped transform the sometimes stiff traditions of British tennis. Andy replied, “I do know she always worked incredibly hard in all the jobs she did. I could get up at any time of the night and she was on her e-mails and working at 3, 4 in the morning. She didn’t sleep much. She gets quite…stressed out in general…She does work extremely hard, and she really, really cares about British tennis.
“So when something is not being done properly, then she will speak out. She knows because she’s seen it all…the grassroots stuff and…the top of the game…She’s done a lot of good for British tennis.”
STAT OF THE MONTH: Maria Sharapova was 2-2 against Serena before she started using meldonium in 2006. Since then she is 0-17.
SHARAPOVA SPEAKS – AND STIRS THE SHAKE: In the wake of recent reports that she’d been notified five times about the illegality of mildronate (meldonium), Maria Sharapova took to Facebook with another post addressed to her fans. She called attention to the obscure way in which some of the notifications were delivered. “I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find.” She also stated that she hadn’t been taking the medication for ten years straight, as some reports have inferred: “I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it, and I took it in the low doses recommended.”
However, the most noteworthy aspect of Sharapova’s latest statement came near the end, when she asserted, “I’m proud of how I have played the game. I have been honest and upfront. I won’t pretend to be injured so I can hide the truth about my testing.” These words conjure the much-discussed notion that there are “silent bans” in tennis in which top-level players have accepted extended time away from the sport under the cover of injury rather than face a public drug-related penalty.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the number of athletes, many of whom are Russian, who have tested positive for meldonium since Jan. 1 is nearing triple figures.
REFLECTIONS ON MARIA’S FOCUS, INTENT AND HER TROUBLING SUGARPOVA INITIATIVE: There’s always been great purpose and intention in Maria Sharapova’s world. Britain’s Guardian columnist Richard Williams noted that when she won Wimbledon in 2004, “She said carefully [that] the thing she’d like most would be a Porsche Cayenne. She seemed to have given the matter some thought, even though she wasn’t yet old enough to drive unaccompanied on the roads around her Florida home.”
Then, noted Williams, “There was also the invention of Sugarpova. Surely it must say something about a woman clearly proud of her own carefully maintained body that she would exploit her fame to sell sweets to children in a world struggling to control obesity among a generation hooked on sugar.”
UNABASHED RAFA BASHING: Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams, but critics have slammed him far more than that. Tossing unfounded accusations at Rafa for drug use is a a bit of a pastime, especially by French sports figures. The latest example was by France’s oft-criticized former Minister of Health, Roselyne Bachelot, who claimed that Rafa’s seven-month injury hiatus in 2012 was “probably due to a positive doping test.” Rafa backers quickly countered that the charge was “unjustifiable and intolerable.”
TREND OF THE TOURNAMENT: The women’s seeds are vanishing fast.
MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: The Bryan brothers’ thrilling come-from-behind win over the formidable Spanish southpaw hunks Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco rocked Indian Wells’ fabulous Stadium 2. In the ten-point tiebreak the Bryans were up 8-2, but almost lost before they righted their ship. Bob Bryan said if they’d lost the match he would’ve “thrown his rackets in the trash.”
AUSSIE CIVIL WAR UPDATE: After Australian Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the Davis Cup tie against the US, all hell broke out. Kyrgios and Bernie Tomic exchanged heated barbs. Today, after his opening-round loss, Kyrgios said Tomic saw him when he “flew down to Melbourne and…his exact words [to me] were, ‘You know, you look like s—.’ I was disappointed to hear it from him, but, I’m not going to say anything about it. He’s a great player and a great guy.”
DELPO UPDATE: After being checked out of the tournament by the considerable Czech Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro said, “Of course I’m sad, but I’m in a good way to get better in the future. It’s not easy [to] play against Tomas, even if I’m 100%…The positive thing is, I’m in a good way to improve.”
As for his long-term plans, Delpo quipped, “I don’t know if I’m going to play a match tomorrow…I’m going day by day…I need to keep calm…[But] I’m still fighting with my wrist problems. I have to do many treatments every day…I’m very far away from my high level…I need stability in my wrist, more strength and flexibility…I’m trying to be smart…I already won four matches of the six [played this year].” Delpo continued by telling IT that the toughest part of being off the tour was facing the second of his three wrist surgeries. “I was close to quitting tennis…[but] now I’m here playing a great event in the stadium.” When he was asked about how he hits his backhand primarily as a slice, Delpo said that maybe he should call Steffi Graf so she could teach him how to hit a fabulous slice and volley. Then he conceded that it wouldn’t be possible to beat the top players by just playing slices.