Sunday July 4th, 2010

We were considering expanding our random ruminations to 68-70 items. But fatigue has set in, so herewith, 50 thoughts on a strange Wimbledon ...

Rafael Nadal, your men's champ, isn't far from posting grass results to match his clay results. Just a command performance for the world No.1. Remember when the "summer double" (winning and Paris and Wimbledon) was thought to be impossible. It's now been achieved three years running.

Serena wins her fourth Wimbledon, her 13th major overall, and takes another step closer to GOAT territory. If Serena can come close to replicating this serving at the U.S. Open, engrave the trophy now. The critics have already noted she wasn't required to play a top-10 opponent. Sorry, wouldn't have made a difference.

Tomas Berdych came up short in the men's final, despite catching Nadal on an off-day. But it's always heartening when a player matures and fulfills his talent. Take his results over the past four months or so and you're looking at a top-five player.

• A fine performance by Vera Zvonareva, who didn't bring much to the final but deserves credit for getting there. Nice, too, that now she's known her for something more than her crying jags.

Andy Murray relocated his missing game. But he was simply outclassed in the semis by Nadal. "Andy will win a Slam one day," is a popular mantra on tour. But the natives sure are getting restless.

• Props to young Petra Kvitova, yes, for reaching the semis, but also for making the most of her moment, staring down Serena on Centre Court and playing her tough in both sets. Same for Tsvetana Pironkova, one of the few players to have beaten Venus at two majors. (One of you wrote, though: "Ugly American is not cute. If someone took a drinking game and had to swig every time she was called "Svetlana," they'd be in a coma.")

Novak Djokovic faltered yet again in the semifinal round of a major. If I'm in his camp, I'm less concerned with the result than the huffing and puffing that occurred midway through the second set of a balmy day.

• In the wild and wooly men's doubles draw, Jurgen Melzer and Phil Petzschner made it out with the title.

• An American was half of the winning women's team. And it wasn't Venus, Serena, Lisa Raymond or Liezel Huber. No, Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova teamed to take the title.

• We can -- and perhaps will eventually -- devote an entire column to the State of Federer. But for now, let's corral the extremists. Is he toast? Hardly. Cynics were saying that two years ago and he promptly won four of the next six majors. Federer is a contender to win every Slam he enters until he retires. (I'm not even sure I agree with the ESPN team asserting he'll never again be No.1.) That said, has he slowed down? Unquestionably. His record since Australia, his play in majors, his losses to big hitters ... this isn't the guy who was winning three majors a year. Look at it this way: a baseball player hits 40 home runs a year for five years. Suddenly he hits 25. Does it mean he's a hack? No. But by the same token, it would be dishonest/delusional to overlook the appreciable drop in productivity.

• One could write a book about the 70-68 John Isner-Nicolas Mahut match (and probably do so in less time) but imagine this: before the tournament you go up to Isner and say: "I can tell the future. By the end of this event, your profile will be radically altered. You'll be doing the Top Ten list on Letterman and throwing out the first pitch at the Yankees' games and be a trending term. Yet you will lose in the second round." Imagine his response.

• Isner's friend, Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, was scheduled to accompany his pal to Wimbledon, as he did the Australian Open. But Smith broke his arm playing flag football.

• If there's any justice, for all he did for the sport, Mahut gets a wild card to the U.S. Open -- as he did to Newport this week.

• Let's intertwine "Mahut-Isner" as tennis fans no doubt will for generations. It's an anagram for .... Humans tire

• Against Mahut, Isner set the record for aces in a match with 112. In the next match against Thiemo De Bakker, he hit zero. And after the longest match of the tournament, he played the shortest completed match of the men's draw.

• Still another absurd stat: the error-to-winner ratio (usually 1:2 in the best of times) was more than 1:5. In 183 games there were 91 errors versus 490 winners.

• Though perhaps you didn't know it; there was an official tournament poet. He versed all fortnight, You might call him a court-write. But he never managed to fine a friggin' word to rhyme with Wimbledon! Simon Barnes of the Times of London made this interesting point: "A poet's métier is metaphor, and sport is already a metaphor; tennis, for example, is a metaphorical duel. So does sport really need poetry?"

Venus and Serena lost in doubles for the first time this year, falling to Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva

• Now that we've determined that Yen-Hsun Lu is from Taiwan and not "Chinese Taipei" here's another sports/politics overlap: the doubles success of India's Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Aisam Qureshi. "Stop war, start tennis," they call their campaign.

• Just as ESPN figured out a way to reduce the vuvuzela noise during World Cup telecasts, can we use the same technology to reduce the volume on grunting? Again, it doesn't bother me that much. But I appreciate how many of you are disgusted by it. As S. Eros of Bern, Switzerland, wrote in an e-mail: "I hate it when I am at a grunting concert and people start playing tennis."

• Not sure what else can -- or needs to be -- said about Jennifer Capriati's reported overdose. Though she hasn't formally retired and she didn't go out on her own terms; she's 34 now and understandably uncertain authoring the next chapter of her life; she's been struggling with depression issues for years; for all her toughness when playing, there was always a real off-court fragility to her. A common refrain here last week: "Sad, but who didn't see this coming?" What? To my mind, that only makes it worse, not better. Where are all the people and institutions whose pockets she lined, starting two decades ago?

Kaia Kanepi may have gagged a series of match points for a chance to advance to the semis. But credit her with qualifying in both singles and doubles and reaching the second week in both draws.

• Anyone else guessing that Justine Henin wouldn't have been so eager to return if she knew this was how it was going to go? After a disappointing French Open, Henin falls in the fourth round of Wimbledon, the only major to elude her -- that her conqueress was Kim Clijsters must make this all the more unpleasant -- and now she'll miss the U.S. Open with an elbow injury.

• The growth of Jarmila Groth continues. She reached the second week of the French and followed that up with a fourth round showing here.

• Predictably there were lots of gripes about the television coverage, especially the tape delay of the men's semis. Apart from the short-term annoyance, this is a really troubling vicious cycle, at least in the U.S. And one of the alphabet soup organizations -- we're looking at you, USTA -- needs to step up and address this in a meaningful way. Tennis gets treated shabbily because of low ratings. OK, we get that. But exactly how does a sport stand a chance of improving its ratings when it's been banished to obscurity, tossed over to other networks, aired on the anachronistic tape delay and made "un-DVR-able" ? It's like saying: "Until you show me you can lose weight, I'm only going to feed you cheeseburgers and fries."

• Again, let's not confuse the horrific scheduling with the quality of the coverage itself. NBC does a great job. ESPN, too, though the return of Chris Fowler is eagerly awaited. And, as always, those who get Tennis Channel love it. But when the men's semis of Wimbledon -- the conference finals, as it were -- aren't aired live, well, that's a problem.

• What was it, Dorothy Parker said? "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." I'm no horticulturalist, but can't something to be done so the baseline doesn't resemble a sandlot by the middle of the first week?

• Regarding Serena Williams' banishment to Court Two on the day Queen Elizabeth attended, I was surprised by how many of you referenced the 2009 U.S. Open. As Bob Fuller of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., put it: "The queen is a generally revered figurehead, visiting the grounds of a hallowed championship steeped in traditions of manners and good taste. I think Serena is simply paying more than the $82,500 monetary fine for her outburst at the U.S. Open. I'm fairly certain the schedulers at Wimbledon were careful to not even possibly expose the queen to Serena's potential display of 'passion.'" I hadn't considered that, but interesting point. The flip side: why is it both Williams sisters were relegated to Court Two this year while Federer hasn't been off the show courts since he won in 2003?

• Anyone else slightly creeped out by the "Mrs." Tag applied to married female players? Mrs. Li. Mrs. Clijsters. Mrs. Davenport. Weirdly, despite being married, Davenport was "Miss" in 2005.

• Many of you noting the irony that Roger Federer -- who is to Hawk-eye what Al Gore is to off-shore drilling -- advocates for instant replay in World Cup.

• Granted it's been a while. But according to the tournament website, mixed doubles competitor Lindsay Davenport had won no matches and $0.00 in prize money previously at Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova ought to leave Wimbledon with buoyant spirits. While she lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round, she played well and competed well. Once she cuts back the double faults, she's really in business. With so many players fading, injured, or mentally shaky, Lord, the WTA needs her healthy. Her shoulder is to the WTA what Nadal's knees are to the ATP.

• Especially on the heels of his French surrender, Sam Querrey did himself proud reaching the fourth round and hanging in there on Centre Court against Andy Murray. That said, it would be nice if Querrey could buttress his success at smaller events with a big-time showing at a major.

• So much for the suggestion that she take some time off to re-assess her crumbling game. Ana Ivanovic, a first round loser, has taken a wild card into the Stanford event.

• Trivia: We're told that only one ATP player attended the WTA pre-tournament party. Care to guess his identity?

• The person coordinating the release of the Williams sisters' books has a wicked sense of irony. The week she debuted, On the Line last fall, Serena lost her mind over (wait for it) a foot-fault call. The same day Venus' new book came out, she was blitzed by little-known Tsvetana Pironkova. Title of said book? Come to Win.

• Biggest upset of the tournament? OK, Federer lost, Venus got tuned, all the top seeds lost in doubles and it didn't rain once. But how about this: after speaking with the media for a good half hour after her first doubles match, Anna Kournikova remarked: "Really, that's it? Suddenly when I'm older, I'm enjoying the press conferences (laughter). I thought we were just getting started."

• If I'm Tennis Channel -- and I mean this in all seriousness -- I'm developing a reality show around Hingis and Kournikova. They have this "frenemy chemistry." Both are bright and outspoken but neither is the way you remember her as a teenage tennis star. They have name recognition and celebrity contacts. Ken Solomon, make this happen!

• Trivia answer: Fernando Verdasco

• Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras must have forgiven, if not forgotten that Hit for Haiti debacle. From the press release: "Two of the greatest rivalries in tennis will resume at Madison Square Garden when tennis legends Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl take to the Madison Square Garden tennis court in the 2011 BNP Paribas Showdown scheduled for Monday, February 28, 2011."

• Irony much? Marat Safin was on the grounds. Why? Because he's angling for a larger role in Russian tennis. As a friend of mine noted, "It's like the kid on the motorcycle deciding he wants to be the school principal."

• Still trying to figure out what to make of Andy Roddick's fourth-round to loss Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan. Roddick has reached the finals of Wimbledon three times; he has also lost here to Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet and now Lu. He's done plenty of winning in his career; he's also lost more heartbreaking matches -- take away clay, I believe he's lost five-setters at his last five majors -- than any player in recent memory. He's not a choker. He's not mentally fragile. For whatever reason, he hasn't closed the deal in a variety of settings. The Roddick burial is way premature. (Aside: why so many clearly get such pleasure from gleefully pronouncing another person's career over?) But last week's defeat is a stinger, no question about it.

• Roddick on meeting the queen. "She said she loved me in the American Pie movies," he tweeted. Roger Federer on meeting the queen: "She said I should hit more backhands down the line." They'll be here all fortnight and please remember that tips aren't included in the two-drink minimum.

• NFL player Bryant McKinnie was in the Williams box during the second week. Easily the nicest 368-pound man I've ever spoken to at a tennis tournament.

• It hardly went noticed, but the ATP prevailed in fending off an appeal from the Hamburg event. An adverse decision could really have changed the sport as we know it. You know what they say: Defense wins championships.

• The more details seeped out about Victor Hanescu, the less abominable his spit-and-quit routine during the third round. A fan called Hanescu a vile epithet -- "Almost as bad as your n-word," I was told -- and he reacted. No one is condoning spitting on fans, or even in the direction of fans. But there were clearly extraordinary (and extenuating) circumstances.

• Serena is headed from here to Belgium as a last-minute fill-in for Justine Henin in the "Battle for Belgium exhibition. Math quiz: A desperate promoter + crowd as large as 40,000 + tough negotiations = how big an appearance fee?

• Nice to see the WTA adding a summer tournament in Maryland starting in the summer of 2011. Looking forward to seeing Stringer Bell in the players' lounge.

• There's been a rumor floating around over the past two years. Seems that a roof exists that, potentially, could cover Centre Court in the event of rain. We'll be looking into this.

• Finally, the good folks at Serena Williams LLC have offered to provide signature SW rings to a few lucky Mailbag readers. So let's have a contest. In the spirit of the Wimbledon poet, come up with your best tennis haiku. And in the spirit of an unclogged inbox, please send entries to my Twitter account Best tennis haiku. Winners get Serena rings.

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