Monday April 26th, 2010

1. Cup chatter: The Fed Cup is not just what Roger wears when he plays hockey. It suffers the same scheduling issues as its brother, the Davis Cup, yet lacks the history and sponsorship. It's had a hard time attracting the top players and squeezing itself into a crowded calendar. But like a dogged counterpuncher, the Fed Cup keeps fighting. And it's done well for itself recently. The events last weekend -- occurring during a dead spot on the WTA schedule -- drew familiar names and generated some compelling matches. Despite the sudden absence of Justine Henin on account of a broken finger, the Belgium-Estonia throwdown (note the pains we go to, avoiding use the confusing phrase "tie") drew a capacity crowd in Hasselt. Thanks to the heroics of Daniela Hantuchova, the Slovak Republic upset Jelena Jankovic and Serbia. Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber joined forces to stage a gripping comeback/upset of a Russian side led by Elena Dementieva. Tracy Austin was in my living room. Overall, an encouraging weekend for the competition.

2. Can you hear the drums, Fernando?: We discussed this a bit last week, but we can now anoint Fernando Verdasco as an official flavor of the month? The Spaniard acquitted himself well in the American hard court events: He reached the final of Monte Carlo last week and, on Sunday, as a last-minute wild card entry, rolled to the title in Barcelona, beating Robin Soderling in a three-set final. Verdasco's talent level is beyound dispute. But like other athletes who are easy on the eyes, he's struggled to find balance between capitalizing on his looks and charisma -- and allowing it to exact a price on his career. Now, it's nice to see him playing some of the best tennis of his career. Especially with clay season upon us, you could certainly make the case that after Nadal and Federer, he's the next best shot to win Roland Garros.

3. Money for nothing: Wimbledon announced that it would increase prize money for the 2010 Championships in part to offset the declining value of the pound. Winners will receive £1 million (roughly $1.55 million) and the total prize money for the event will be £13.725 million, an increase of £1.175 million from 2009. Far as we're concerned, any time tennis players get more of the pie, it'sa good thing. But two notes of caution here: Compared to other sporting properties, the athletes still get a paltry percent of the business; judging by the proceeds returned to the LTA, Wimbledon likely posts gross revenues in the neighborhood of £100 million. (Consider the NFL owners and players are fighting over whether 60 percent of revenues in salaries is a fair ratio.) In other words, the tennis players are still getting a raw deal at the majors. (Union, anyone?) Also, as the Slams fatten the purses, you could argue that it has the effect of undermining the strength and gravitas of the tours. If winners make more than $1.5 million and first-round losers can make $20,000 at the majors, does it reduce the rest of the events on the calendar to mere sandwich filling?

Random note: Was looking at the website for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, formerly known as the Italian Open. This struck me: The men's prize money is listed in Euros (€500,000) and the women's is listed in dollars ($350,000). Very sneaky, sis. Converted to dollars, the men's haul is roughly $675,000, nearly twice the women's amount. So much for equal prize money.

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