Monday August 24th, 2009

Instead of the Ad-In, Ad-Out format, we're going to try something new on Monday, a "best-of-three" recap of the week plus other random thoughts:

1. Was it really about three months ago that the Fed Express appeared to be sputtering, as the eponym was lacking a single title in 2009, losing to lesser lights and resisting calls to hire a coach, change rackets, consult a psychic and go macrobiotic? (And, oh yeah, he and his wife were expecting parents. With, we now know, twins.) Since mid-May, Roger Federer has been as dominant as ever, wining four of the five tournaments he entered, perhaps none more impressive than his run last week in Cincinnati. Often in oppressive heat, Federer won five matches in five days to take his first hard-court title of the year. And he put the titanium to both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic -- two of the young guns, the critics brayed, Federer had the good fortune of missing at the French Open and Wimbledon. Now, he's poised to win the U.S. Open for the sixth (!) straight time, which, you could argue, might cement his best year yet.

2. Kim Clijsters is for real. You always had a sense that this would be a successful comeback. Not only was Clijsters returning at the relatively young age of 26, but she's always been a clean ball-striker, a skill that doesn't vanish after two years away. Still, who predicted this? After just two tournaments, Clijsters has made an immediate impact and, ranking be damned (under WTA rules, a player must compete in three events to get ranked), is a good bet to play into the second week of the U.S. Open. She's already beaten a murderers' row -- OK, at least a felons' row -- of opponents with names like Marion Bartoli, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka. Her losses to Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic were hard fought. Plus, the balance of powers is as tenuous as ever, as the Williams sisters have looked decidedly average on the American hard courts.

Some will cite Clijsters' success as an indictment of the women's game: How can a player who took two years off and birthed a child return so forcefully? We prefer a more charitable interpretation: The 2005 U.S. Open champion stayed in shape, hits a solid ball and is a welcome addition to the cast.

3. All things considered, ESPN has done right by tennis recently. And we're eager to see how the network discharges its duties in its first year covering the U.S. Open. The talent is generally quite good. With his broader sport sensibilities, Chris Fowler is a plus. Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill ought to have their own reality show. While we'd rather see tennis coverage take precedence over the Little League World Series, we (reluctantly) acknowledge the numbers game.

One quibble: Can we stop this practice of zooming in on the poor line judges after their call was proved incorrect by replay? For one, these folks are often volunteers, doing their best, standing out there in the stinking hot. Cut them slack. Second, they are correct on the vast majority of calls and get no recognition. (In Indianapolis, players were incorrect on more than 20 consecutive line call challenges!) If you're not going to cite them when they get it right, it seems both cruel and unfair to let the cameras linger on them on the rare occasions they screw up.

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