In bad taste
Bad news for Andy Roddick if he has to resort to blatant intimidation to win a match over an 18-year-old newcomer. Admitting that you're purposely trying to use gamesmanship is completely bush league. I'd expect that from the USTA league players on the weekend, but not a top pro. -- Patrick Preston, Lexington, Ky.
I'll start by saying that more than a few of you were ripping James Blake last week for being too soft against Kei Nishikori and failing to flex his muscle against this teenage arriviste. When Roddick bullies the kid, he gets roasted for gamesmanship.
Also, I'm not sure this episode rises to the level of "felony trash talk." As I understood it, Roddick was telling Nishikori to be merciless, essentially saying, "If you're going to drive the lane, go for the dunk and not some cutesy finger roll." The message got lost in translation, but the intent didn't seem malicious.
Nevertheless, triggered by this latest episode, a lot of you wrote in criticizing Roddick's attitude of late. And I think that the larger point is a fair one. The dirty secret in men's tennis is that the guy has been fairly insufferable lately.
This isn't just from the grumps in the media. This has been noticed by everyone from ATP personnel to former Grand Slam champs to current players. And this diminishing reputation has nothing to do with match results or a stagnating game. It's all about disposition.
I haven't hidden my fondness for Roddick over the years. But it's probably about time he got called on his you-know-what. And heeding Roddick's advice to Nishikori, we're going to stick him with it: I cringed as Roddick dressed down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and winced as he sucked down champagne and blew off the Portland, Ore., kids seeking autographs at the Davis Cup, and bristled at this laughable, Connors-ian me-against-the-world routine.
But he completely lost me in Australia. Roddick's tirade against the umpire -- some poor guy with kids watching at home -- was not only low-rent, but also played to every Ugly American stereotype. Roddick played the role of posturing bully frat boy, even when he didn't have right on his side.
Part of what makes this all so disappointing is that Roddick is better than this. I wish I had transcripts of some of the interviews I had with Roddick when he was 20. He simply "got it." He understood the flaws and virtues of tennis. His sportsmanship was beyond reproach. I vividly recall his losing to Pete Sampras at the 2002 U.S. Open, commenting that injuries were not a factor and then, in the locker room, removing a shoe to reveal a foot that looked fit for amputation.
He was accessible and accommodating. He did little things like pronounce Guillermo Coria's first name correctly; he did big things like launch a legit foundation, not the pay-my-friends-to-show-up-and-donate-the-table-scraps sham that so many other athletes perpetrate.
It's discouraging that at 26, Roddick has regressed almost to the point of cliché: another boorish athlete who appears to have forgotten that he was once that kid with the Sharpie in his extended hand. How is it that Roddick -- that wide-eyed teenager with Nebraska Cornhuskers wallpaper and pragmatic Wisconsin parents -- is now all about NetJets, model-dating and high-stakes poker games?
If there's any consolation, Roddick is conforming to a typical Tennis Growth Cycle. You start out innocently, thrilled to be part of the show and happy to accommodate. Then you get jaded by your existence. You're sick of being asked to sign autographs and pose for a photo with the promoter's sponsor's cousin.
You hate the Tour. You're sick of the media and their inane questioning. (In Roddick's case, how many times has he been asked some variation of a) how come American tennis is on the decline and b) with Roger Federer up there, have you resigned yourself to being a one-Slam wonder?) You're the smartest guy in the room and everyone else is an idiot.
Eventually, you come to realize that maybe your life isn't so bad. Those kids you just blew off? They are the ones paying your salary. The media? They help spread the gospel. The promoters? They're just trying to run a business. The money you got for showing up in Indianapolis or Bangkok? It will come in handy when you're done playing. As one of my favorite ATP execs puts it, "Tennis players learn how to say hello as soon as it's time to say good-bye."
So give Roddick a few more years. (Or wait until he and Connors part company.) Says here, he'll be back with us before we know it.
Sampras beats Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-2 in an exhibition at the SAP Open; are these current pros (Haas and Federer) being easy on Pete or should we be giving him more credit on his greatness (or should we say GOAT)? -- Nick, Hamden, Conn.
Continuing the ogre portion of today's show, exhibitions do a lot of good. They bring tennis to under-served areas. They give fans a chance to see their favorite players. They boost tennis' appeal and exposure outside the "tour structure."
But they have little "probative value," as a criminal lawyer would put it. The results are no more predictive than Spring Training box scores. I think it's less a question of being "easy" on Sampras than simply playing in a this-doesn't-count-for-anything context. You can try and simulate match conditions, but until there are real consequences -- money, points, another looming opponent -- it's just not the same.
I've noticed that whenever new balls are introduced into a match, the server always holds the ball up for a second to show his/her opponent before beginning the service motion. Why is this done? Is there some kind of reason, or is it just an arcane tradition? -- Allison, Buffalo, N.Y.
I always thought was a silly ritual. Players get new balls and then caress them like melons at the market. They come from the same friggin' can. How different can they be? Yet, I've had players swear to me that some balls are crisper than others right out of the can. And certainly so after a few points. As the server, it behooves them to use the fuzziest balls.
Side note: I think I get it -- the more used the ball, the less pop; the less pop, the less benefit to the server. But wouldn't the fuzziest ball have more friction, thus slowing down the velocity? Professor Howard Brody, are you out there?
I noticed this press release on the WTA Web site regarding Monica Seles' retirement from professional tennis. Do you find it odd that they totally omitted the stabbing of her that happened on their dime? I'd be interested to get your take on it. The attack on Seles is one of the biggest and most tragic stories in tennis history and they glossed over it as if it never happened. -- Name withheld
Stabbing? What stabbing?
This goes way beyond the WTA, but don't organizations realize that they completely undercut their credibility when they pull stunts like this? Horrible and unfortunate as the episode may have been, it was a pivotal moment in Seles' career and in tennis history in general. It's like writing about Harry Truman and not alluding to the atomic bomb. Neglecting to mention it says to me, "I am a house p.r. organ and cannot be trusted with information in the future because it will be vetted for anything remotely unfavorable."
The rules for the Hall of Fame say that a player is eligible if he/she was "not a significant factor" on tour for five years prior to induction. By that criteria, Seles should be inducted into the HOF immediately, this year. And let's do it right: She should ride into Newport Casino on a golden chariot, serenaded by the Vienna Boys Choir. -- Rich, New York City
Just curious if you know what ever happened to tennis super fan Lou Noritz. It seems that he has vanished from the tour. Have you heard anything? -- Chris Hoffman, Montreal
Come to think of it, it has been a while since we've seen the good doctor. Anyone have an update? And if you don't know Noritz, here's a piece from a few years back.
• Robin von Olshausen of Bremen, Germany, noted that last week in Antwerp, Belgium, the anti-winner was second-seeded Anna Chakvetadze.
• Terry of Hoover, Ala., informs us that the code does not limit the number of bounces the server can take.
• Pam of Overland Park, Kan., writes: "In response to my question regarding setting home Davis Cup matches somewhere other than Winston-Salem, N.C., Kansas City does have the Kansas City Explorers, a WTT team, who have sold out every time Bob and Mike Bryan come here over the past three years, as well as appreciating the wonderful Corina Morariu. (Before that we had Anna Kournikova who, I'm sure, also sold out, but I suspect that had little to do with her tennis ability.)"
• The Tennis Channel will televise the upcoming exhibition match between Sampras and Federer on Monday, March 10, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
• In the interest of equal time, Elina of Turku, Finland, raises a good point about the current Davis Cup format: "There's at least one thing I like in the Davis Cup format now in use. That is the fact that every now and then some top player plays in Finland and I don't have to travel abroad every time I want to see top tennis. For example, right now I'm very much looking forward to the tie between Finland and South Africa played in April in Helsinki. The South Africans are bringing their top team, so I'm expecting a wonderful weekend."
• Reassure me you all have seen this cool Federer picture.
• Here's a piece by Dan Weil that hackers might enjoy. It ran on Tennis Week's site.
• Remember former WTA player Vanessa Webb? Here's a fine piece by the consistently excellent Tom Tebbutt.
• A Torben Ulrich update: His latest book, Stilhedens Cymbaler ("Cymbals of Silence") is available online at Elliott Bay Book Co. (Despite the Danish title, Torben's texts and the foreword are in English, as with Terninger, Tonefald.) Links to an excerpt (in Danish and English) from Lars Movin's foreword are also there.
Finally, Gustavus Adolphus won the D-III men's indoor title last weekend. Our Hyde Park correspondent, Steve Saltarelli, filed a dispatch.
Have a great week, everyone!