‘I AM TENNIS:’ Despite overwhelming odds, local hero Will Ferrell slayed Swede Mats Wilander in the epic K-Swiss Global Tennis Showdown. “This one’s for the USA,” Ferrell gushed after he served up a screaming sub-50-mph heater at a benefit for the Swedish School of L.A. at UCLA.
Wilander, a former No. 1, maintained calm throughout, but the former champ was clearly rattled. He often chased down shots that were clearly long or wide, as if purposely propping up his opponent. Before the match, Wilander admitted that Ferrell posed a challenge: “[To win] I will have to try to not look at him, because then I’ll laugh.”
Wilander, however, could hardly ignore the weapons in Ferrell’s arsenal. “This I call the Demon,” Ferrell said as he tossed what would have been an ace (had it not gone into the net).
The brutal confrontation came down to the final point, when tied 14-14, Ferrell unveiled an oversized racket to which Wilander proved powerless. With the absurdly large frame in hand, Ferrell blasted a winner for a 15-14 victory, at which point the actor offered an immortal claim: “I am tennis!”
Unfortunately, upon his victory Ferrell also said Wilander was “so much slower in real life. He was like a snail” and added that the match was “the most realistic video game I’ve ever played.”
The fundraiser also included comic Andy Richter as the ref, Justin Gimelstob and The Office’s Riann Wilson.
JUST WONDERING: As SI asked, how can Federer be deemed the best ever when he might not be the best of his own era?…Can Monica Seles’ assailant Gunter Parche sleep at night?…Are the rumors true that Nadal will wear pink at the French Open?…With major points to defend, is Federer in danger of dropping to No. 3 by mid-summer?… Will any American man last in the French Open beyond the first Thursday?…Who has better odds: Nadal vs. the field at the French Open or Tiger vs. the field at the U.S. Open at Bethpage?… Just how much is tennis missing that long-injured, long-legged woman named Maria Sharapova?
POP QUIZ: Put the following in the order of their likelihood:
1. Nadal will win tennis’ Grand Slam.
2. Angel Cabrera will win golf’s Grand Slam.
3. Mine That Bird will win horse racing’s Triple Crown.
4. St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols will win the Triple Crown.
5. An American will win Wimbledon, golf’s British Open and the Tour de France.
6. None of the above.
AN OMINOUS SIGN: Reflecting on his many years in journalism, veteran L.A. Times tennis writer Chuck Culpepper confided that he realized he had been in sports writing too long when he was walking in London and passed a statue of Queen Victoria and thought, “Wow! She really was the Joe Paterno of monarchs.”
INTRO TO FEDERER-OLOGY 101: Jon Wertheim offered up this provocative Fed analysis: “Many…have suggested that Federer has deluded himself into thinking he is still the best and he can still win on talent alone. Hence, the unwillingness to hire a coach or to take a few months off to retool, much as Tiger Woods once did. But I wonder if the opposite isn’t true: Nothing if not a realist, Federer is intensely aware of the shifting powers; his confidence is fractured, he’s second-guessing himself and he’s still at a loss regarding how to react.”
INTERMEDIATE FEDER-OLOGY: Newsweek’s Joseph Epstein suggested, “Perfection in sports, or any other realm, for that matter, has been given to few, and even then it is never an outright gift but more on the order of a temporary loan. Athletes may hold it on the briefest terms of all. Although I hope that I am completely wrong…my ineluctable sense is that, for this great athlete whose skill has given me so much pleasure, the loan is due and payback time, sadly, is at hand.”
FEDERER-OLOGY IN THE AGE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK GODS: Epstein also put the Federer-Nadal rivalry into a mythological context: “Apollonian is the way I think of these artist-athletes. In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysius are the sons of Zeus, with Apollo the god of the sun, lightness, music, poetry. Apollo typically represents wholeness and civilization, as opposed to Dionysius, who represents individualism and primal nature. In style and manner, Federer is the pure type of the Apollonian, while…Nadal, is Dionysian. Or, if one prefers to come down from Olympus, Federer is Athens, Nadal is Sparta. And, of late, Sparta has been beating the hell out of Athens.”
GO FIGURE: Roger Federer said, “I’m a great decision maker.”… Murphy Jensen dubbed Caroline Wozniacki “a little Danish pastry.”
THE ROCKIES MAY TUMBLE, GIBRALTAR MAY CRUMBLE: Steve Bierley claimed that there “is a greater possibility of the Rockies tumbling or the Rock of Gibraltar breaking into tiny pieces than Nadal losing a match at either the Monte Carlo Country Club or Roland Garros.”
THE BLAKE EXCEPTION: It wasn’t nearly the stunning (end the drought) triumph that Michael Chang scored when he won the French in ‘89 to become the first American guy to win the French Open in 40 years. But, in an era of perennial American frustration on clay, James Blake’s power-ball run to the Estoril final in Portugal (which included a win over Nikolay Davydenko) was cause for considerable red, white and blue celebration. Too bad, in the final against Albert Montanes, he again failed to convert on two critical match points just like he did nine months earlier in the medal round at the Beijing Olympics against Fernando Gonzalez. Still, a run to a red-clay final ain’t nothing to scoff at.
DON’T SCOFF — IN THIS ERA OF UNEMPLOYMENT, ANY JOB HAS ITS WORTH: When asked who will “push the button to start the closing process” with the new roof, Wimbledon boss Tim Phillips deadpanned, “The button pusher.”
PLANET EARTH TO JELENA — CAUTION, GLOATING OVER MATERIAL EXCESS IN AN ERA OF PAINFUL ECONOMIC LOSS CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR PR HEALTH: Reflecting on the possibility of winning yet another Porsche, Jelena Jankovic said, “It would be hard to squeeze the car in my garage as there’s the red Porsche I won last year, plus blue and black ones. On the other hand, winning the white one wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’d have a different color car for every day of the week.”
MORE CAR TALK: In his breakout year as a pro in ‘05, Nadal won a $50,000 Mercedes SLK 200 Kompressor. But his uncle/coach Toni made him garage the car in favor of a more humble $20,000 Kia Sorento. But don’t feel too bad for Rafa; last year, he traded his Kia in for the same car driven by James Bond in Quantum of Solace — a $270,000 Aston Martin DBS.
SPEAKING OF RAFA’S UNCLES: Philippe Bouin asked, “Just think of the number of Grand Slam titles Roger would have gotten if Rafa had played soccer like his other uncle.”
‘SOFT SELL’: Tom Cannon, a British sports finance expert, called Nadal a “safe rebel,” who could soon out-earn the endorsement machine that is Roger Federer.
WHIZ KID: We thought it was cool when Mario Ancic went from courts to torts to earn a Croatian law degree and then spoke at the Harvard Law School. But what about Marion Bartoli, who boasted of her academic skills, saying, “I was really good at everything…You should see my marks…Everything was so easy. I would read a page and know it by heart. It’s like a gift…Everyone was telling me it was better if I came back to school…and not [do] sports…[But] I said, ‘Okay, everything at school is coming…too easy. I like to go for more challenging stuff.’”
• Roger Wed-erer’s Decline
• Federer’s Decline Toughest of All Time
• No More Soaked Strawberries — Centre Court Gets a Roof
• My Eating Binge Hell, By Tennis Ace Seles
• Courier All a Twitter
• Spain at Last Brings World to Its Clay
• Survey: French Excel at Eating, Sleeping
THE GREAT NAZI TENNIS DEBATE: The new book A Terrible Splendor, which focuses on the life of the personable gay German tennis star Gottfried von Cramm, notes that Nazis were conflicted between the value of using their appealing tennis star as a propaganda tool for Aryan supremacy versus their perceived liability of his homosexuality.
SAY IT ISN’T SO: Richard Gasquet tested positive for cocaine at March’s Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. The Frenchman, who could face a ban of up to two years, said, “I want to prove my innocence and will explain myself at an appropriate time.”…The greatest women’s doubles team ever, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver have both endured wretched battles with their former partners…Shaquille O’Neal is suing his agent, Perry Rogers, Agassi’s former best friend and agent.
THE MOST COMPELLING CELEV COUPLE SINCE JOHN AND YOKO?: In John Garrity’s inspired Sports Illustrated profile of icon Chris Evert and her hubby, golfer Greg Norman, we’re told that “as the world teeters at the edge of another Great Depression, Norman and Evert…are the sports equivalent of Fred and Ginger, dancing cheek to cheek across a mirrored floor. ‘They’re goofy in love,’ says Evert’s younger brother, John…’They hold hands and kiss in public, and you don’t want to be around them in a private setting. I’m, like, ‘Guys, could you take it somewhere else?’” The piece gives us a bevy of tidbits (Norman reportedly sold his 228-foot luxury yacht for $77 million. Evert still has a body “borrowed from a Disney princess” and, in the ‘70s, she dated many an eligible bachelor, including Jimmy Connors, British pop star Adam Faith, presidential scion Jack Ford, Vitas Gerulaitis and Burt Reynolds). Garrity notes that it’s easy to imagine Evert and Norman working out together in “tandem — treadmilling in a blissful state of glycogen depravation. “Sports Illustrated then went sociological, asking, whether the incredible duo has the right to be happy? When banks are failing? When workers are losing their jobs? When hospitality tents are doling out Doritos and soft drinks instead of lobster and Chardonnay? Should fifty-something lovers be allowed to glow?” Plus, there is a dark side to this (“Eat your heart out, John and Yoko”) love-in, which entails pricey divorces, which cost Norman $103 million and Evert $7 million. “Strict moralists,” writes Garrity, “will look at the circumstances of their initial attraction — the messy entanglement of a wealthy sportsman with the wife of a good friend, Andy Mill; the Madison County-style longings of a hausfrau with three school-age children-and deliver a swift verdict of no. To bolster their case, the scolds need only point to the post-separation remarks of [Norman’s first wife] Laura Andrassy, who…[said] that Evert had been “aggressive” in pursuit of her husband of 25 years (“In front of me, like I didn’t exist”). Still, Norman exudes that Chris “makes me feel alive again” and referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation that, “the only true gift is a portion of your self.” As for Chris, she noted, “You can’t control full-blown falling in love. You can’t control it” and that she and Norman were now “better people together.”
SPRINGTIME FOR SERENA AND VENUS
• Barry Flatman noted, “At times Venus and Serena confound, on some regrettable occasions they frankly annoy, and with great regularity they frustrate. But where oh where would women’s tennis be without the Williams sisters?”
• Never mind that the computer places Dinara Safina atop the rankings, still Serena said, “We all know who the real No. 1 is. Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.” (The next day in Rome, the No. 2-ranked Serena fell to Patty Schnyder 6-1 in the third.)
• Will Venus and Serena play the Fed Cup final for Mary Joe Fernandez in Italy in November?
• Alex Williams called Serena the “Cher of tennis, serving aces in pink hot pants, punky denim, even a studded leather jacket that looked more appropriate for a Judas Priest concert.”
• Venus ($22,662,113 in career prize money) nearly bought her dream flat in Rome before balking at the exchange rate. Williams admitted that she “should have bought it when it was a lira.”
• Paul Sunderland asked, “Why, after all these years, hasn’t Venus been able to figure out her forehand?”
• Serena, who is poised to launch her own line of jewelry and handbags (all under $100), reportedly owns more than 300 pairs of shoes.
A GROUP OF GROOMS: Like Federer, Roddick and Mardy Fish before him, Boris Becker is about to tie the knot (for the second time): this time with Sharlely Kerssenberg on June 12 in Germany.
THE GREATEST TWEETS IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME: Jim Courier shocked tennisdom when he read Armistead’s Maupin’s Maybe the Moon during a changeover in ‘93. The Hall of Famer recently took it a step further when he Twittered during an Outback Champions match against John McEnroe in New York. Said Courier, who topped Mac, “It forced me to evaluate what was happening in real time. It also made me realize my thumbs are slow.” All of which got us to thinking – what would the tweets have looked like had Mac had a Blackberry during his infamous five setter against Borg in ‘80? Or if PDAs had been around when von Cramm went down to Budge in ‘37?
• Mac (after closing out the fourth set tiebreak 18-16): “Hah! BB dumps FH drop into net. 🙂 Svd. 5 MPs in brker! Ice Man, my A—! LOL! Swede can’t stop me now!”
• Mac (after losing 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-8(16), 8-6): “BB just brk my sv for match. Ump calls BB’s CC backhand in. U can’t B serious! 🙁 @#&!%%!$$!@ EOM.”
• Von Cramm (minutes before the match): “Just got off phone w/The Fuhrer. Nice of him to call. (Tho whodda guessed he’d call collect?) Says I gotta win or…”
• Hingis (after taking the first set from Graf in the ‘99 French Open final where she would implode): “Told you Steffi was OTH [Over The Hill] and it was MTTS [My Time To Shine]!”
• Hingis (during second-set meltdown): “Lost 2-0 lead. Oops! Broke my racket. Sacre Bleu! Sacre Coeur, for that matter! Gotta refocus. Think I’ll sv underhanded.”
• Jana Novotna (during the third set of the ‘93 Wimbledon final): “Up on Steffi 6-7, 6-1, 4-1. Feelin good. Stay focused. This one’s in the bag!”
• Novotna (later in the third set of the ‘93 Wimbledon final): “OMG! Just hit the tarp with an OH smash! Steffi’s got MP. Where’s the Duchess when you need her???”
• Roddick (during his first-round matchup with Gilles Muller at the ‘05 U.S. Open): “Anyone seen my mojo?”
• Ivan Lendl (after the second set of his fourth-round match against Michael Chang at the ‘89 French Open): “Cruising. Up two sets against American no-name. Should be back at hotel for early p.m. dinner overlooking Seine.”
• Lendl (during fifth set of his fourth-round match against Michael Chang at the ‘89 French Open): “Down 4-3 in 5th. Who does this kid think he is? I’m No. 1. He’s a 17-year-old cramping punk. Did he really just serve underhanded?”
THE WEDDING PLAYER: On April 17, Roddick married Brooklyn Decker in his expansive lakeside home in Austin and held a reception in a nearby country club. As his wedding gift, Sir Elton John offered an eight-song set including his anthem Rocket Man, which John loves to play for the hard-serving Texan.
JOLLY VOLLEYS: Martina Navratilova recently said, “I still volley better than most of the players on the tour.” And one of Don Budge’s opponents claimed that the Oakland native’s groundies were so intense that, after trying to score winners off them, “you’d swear you were volleying a piano.”
EXCHANGE OF THE MONTH: (The follicly challenged) Murphy Jensen and reporter Grace Beahm:
JENSEN: “Women out here should shave their heads. It might help their tennis game.”
BEAHM: “I don’t know about that. Sharapova bald?”
JENSEN: “I take that back. It’d be terrible.”
THE WINDS OF FEAR: Facts and fears are impacting tennis and sports. Dubai banned Israeli Shahar Peer. The Israel/Sweden Davis Cup tie was played in an empty stadium in Sweden. In March, after gunmen in Pakistan ambushed a convoy carrying Sri Lanka’s national cricket team, wounding seven players and a coach and killing seven others, Pakistan’s Davis Cup tie with the Philippines was shifted from Lahore to Manila. Australia has pulled out of its Davis Cup tie against India, citing security risks surrounding the Indian elections. “It would be irresponsible of us to send our players into an area of such high risk,” said Tennis Australia President Geoff Pollard. “The reasons cited for pulling out of the tie reflect their ignorance,” countered Indian tennis chief Anil Khanna. “They are creating a situation solely out of their mind and not based on facts.” The Aussies now face an ITF fine of $100,000 and a one-year ban from Davis Cup competition.
HOW COOL IS THAT: Serbia’s Djokovic clan envisioned that their modest homeland might even have a bigger impact on tennis than it has already. So they organized an ATP tournament for Belgrade and, despite the opening day being rained out, the family’s No. 1 son (that would be Novak) did indeed win the inaugural tourney.
GENDER BENDER: Andrea Paredes, a 37-year-old financial consultant from Chile, recently became the first transsexual since Renee Richards to compete in a women’s pro match. Unfortunately, in Buenos Aires Paredes was double-bageled 6-0, 6-0 in 25 minutes by a Scottish qualifier…Sarah Gronert, 22, has been cleared to compete on the WTA Tour, making her the first known hermaphrodite to reach the sport’s highest level. The No. 555-ranked German was born with both male and female genitalia, but underwent surgery at age 19 and is legally a woman.
THE IMPACT OF HERITAGE?: Relatively speaking, who’s had more of an impact on their nation’s tennis: France’s players of African origin (Yannick Noah, Jo-Wilfired Tsonga and Gael Monfils) or America’s players of African origin (Ashe, Serena, Venus, Blake, Zina Garrison, Mal Washington, Lori McNeil et al).
BROTHER AND SISTER COMBOS: With Marat Safin and Dinara Safina having both ascended to No. 1, Chris Clarey dug deep (and we mean deep) into the record tomes to note, among others, a few other sporting brother-sister combos that excelled: Zimbabwe’s Byron and Cara Black were both ranked No. 1 in doubles (Cara also won the Wimbledon mixed with her other bro, Wayne); Arantxa and Emilio Sanchez Vicario; Nancy and Cliff Richey were both ranked No. 1 in the U.S.; Billie Jean King and her brother, Randy Moffitt, who pitched for the S.F. Giants; Reggie and Cheryl Miller (basketball); Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Al Joyner (track), and our favorites, archers William and Charlotte Dod, who were the first brother-sister duo to win Olympic medals. BTW, Charlotte eventually won Wimbledon five times.
TRUMP TRUMPED: For three decades, Donald Trump has leased a little-known tennis club above Grand Central Terminal at a discount, paying, according to sources, 1/25th of the going rate — without a single rent hike. But his landlord, Metro North, says enough is enough and Trump will be evicted on Memorial Day. “It’s very sad that it’s over. It’s a great place,” said Trump. The two-court facility will be torn down and replaced by a rest area for 1,100 conductors and train engineers.
ROOF, ROOF: Conventional wisdom had it that this year’s architectural wonder would be the incredible new roof at Wimbledon. But not so fast. Some have likened Madrid’s spanking new, three-court, 12,500-seat La Caja Mágica (which means “Magic Box”) arena to “a tennis Taj Mahal,” a “kinetic sculpture” and “a magic lantern.” However, others were less than pleased with the $254 million facility, which features translucent, retractable roofs and was built with an eye on attracting the 2016 Olympics. Rafael Nadal was among those who expressed concerns about prepping for Roland Garros in a high altitude locale and complained of bad bounces. But nothing irked Rafa more than La Caja Mágica’s blue clay practice court. “I’m totally against blue,” said the Spaniard. “The clay court is red and that’s the color. It’s not blue and I think that is show business.” And for Ion Tiriac’s assertion that the Madrid Masters being the fifth Slam? Nadal simply said, “There are four Grand Slams — not five.”
IN OR OUT OF TOUCH WITH TV REALITY?: What’s with tennis players and quiz shows and reality TV? John McEnroe hosted one of the dreariest shows in TV history, The Chair. Boris Becker and Andy Roddick were on the British version of Weakest Link. Mark Philippoussis sorted through cougars and kittens on The Age of Love. Then Martina Navratilova gave it her all on Australia’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. The Williams sisters did Venus & Serena: For Real. Greg Rusedski was on Dancing on Ice. Now Jennifer Capriati will appear on The Superstars, Martina Hingis is on Britain’s Beat the Star and Justine Henin is starring on Belgium’s The 12 Tasks of Justine Henin. BTW: Monica Seles, who was the first contestant booted off Dancing With the Stars, again faltered on air when she went 0-for-3 on a recent episode of NPR’s jolly Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.
CORIAN WAR ENDS (SO TO SPEAK): Guillermo Coria, who melted down against Gaston Gaudio in the ‘04 Roland Garros final, has quit. The vertically challenged Argentine (who once quipped, “I cannot change my physical attributes. I cannot stay home just because I’m small.”) was once No. 3 and the ATP’s best pound-for-pound grinder. But his career was clouded by a two-year drug suspension, plus there was Coria’s ‘05 Davis Cup clash with Lleyton Hewitt, when the two traded barbs. Said Coria, “You feel like killing Hewitt…He cannot behave the way he does, abusing the captain, abusing players…[He] cheers for other people’s mistakes…I would rather not win a single tournament in my life than be like him.”
DAMIR DOKIC AND POSSIBLY THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM IN THE HISTORY OF TENNIS: Many sensed that Jelena Dokic’s imposing dad Damir was an ill, erratic, violent man with a troubling history. He was arrested while lying down drunk on an English road, smashed a journalist’s cell phone at Wimbledon and was temporarily retained. He claimed Aussie Open officials rigged their draw against his daughter Jelena, supposedly assaulted a cameraman and threatened to kidnap his daughter when she fled the family violence. He was also tossed out of the U.S. Open after throwing a tantrum over the price of salmon. But that was nothing, compared to the outrageous claim that he abused Jelena for her own good. “If I was ever a little bit more aggressive towards Jelena, it was for her sake,” he said. Of course, Dokic is hardly the first player to deal with an abusive father. Mirjana Lucic, Mary Pierce and Evgenia Linetskaya come to mind. Still she insisted “I’ve been through a lot worse than anybody on the tour,” Dokic told Australia’s Sport & Style magazine. “I can say that with confidence… There was a period where there was nothing that could make me happy…I wanted somebody’s else’s life.” This January, a resurgent Jelena thrilled fans as she reached the Aussie Open quarters. But earlier in her career she would often show up with bruises, only to explain them away saying they came from falls or because her younger brother was practicing karate on her. But John Newcombe told the Brisbane Sunday Mail a different story; that “people who were in the next-door hotel room after she lost matches and he used to beat the s— out of her. When she was a junior, he was belting her in a car park down in Victoria and a court case came up about that. But she wouldn’t testify, so it was dropped. Why would you testify? You’ve got to go home and he’s going to belt you again.” But, Dokic defended his abuse, saying, “When I was young, I was beaten by my parents and I am now thankful to them for that, because that helped me to become the right person. Anyway, is there any parent who didn’t do that at least once or twice — of course, for the sake of their children?” Now a Brandy manufacturer, Damir was so upset at his daughter’s revelations that he told the Serbian paper, Blic, he would “fire a rocket” on the car of the Australian ambassador if she did not retract the comments, and claimed he would blow up the Australian embassy. “I have a full house of weapons and I have a license to have them,” he told Blic. “I don’t have rockets yet, but it is the smallest problem to find them. I am expecting that after this comment, Serbian police will…arrest me.” And they did. (And they found seven hunting rifles, a gun, 20 bullets and two bombs in Dokic’s house.) Yet, once in jail, Damir said ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting in jail. Untruths and sensationalism have destroyed my family and contributed to our living on different sides of the world. I expect that at least someone will have enough sense to end this agony.” His lawyer claimed, “This is only a case of the reaction of a father who loves his daughter.”