Once easy to dislike, Hewitt inspired in near-upset of Soderling
One of the top touring bands of this summer is New Kids on the Block. How can this be? Because tastes and ascetics are fungible. The music you hated as teenager could, conceivably, become enjoyable later in life. Just as the movies you once enjoyed often failed the test of time. And books are often better or worse -- but seldom equal -- in re-reading.
The aesthetics of tennis players change as well. Some of us got a vivid demonstration of this today on Centre Court. When he was winning Grand Slams (gulp) a decade ago, Lleyton Hewitt was easy to dislike. His game was largely defensive, predicated on speed and consistency, with little in the way of flair and artistry. His bona fides as a competitor were unquestionable every winner punctuated with his signature yell,
But then was then. We've changed. He's changed. And here is Hewitt today: he's a 30-year-old father and husband who -- despite his Grand Slam pedigree -- is outside the top 100, wringing whatever he can from his career. He's consigned to outer courts but doesn't play the
Hewitt played Robin Soderling on Centre Court today. This was precisely the kind of player Hewitt beat in his prime, a bigger hitter but lesser competitor. With two members of the Aussie tennis monarchy -- Tony Roche and Pat Rafter -- looking on, Hewitt won the first two sets. Then some combination of age, his body, and the occasion caught up with him. And, of course, Soderling hits the hell of the ball. Hewitt lost sets three, four and five.
If there was something touching about 40-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm competing against time (and Venus Williams) yesterday, there was something comparably poignant about watching Hewitt today, the great battler of his day, lose his flame in the fifth set. For most players similarly situated, this is the kind of result that has you contemplating career 2.0. Hewitt? Not so much. ""As long as I'm prepared to do the hard work and go through all the pain and mentally up and down after surgeries and still get in the gym and do all the hard slog, then you know something's right," he said afterward. "You know, you're retired for a long time once you're retired." Root against this guy now? C'mawn.
• No, it's not just you. Hot topic. Victoria Azarenka, also known for her arias, was banished to a back court. The commentators speculated that it was because of the noise factor. Hmmm. Helen of Philly asked a good question: "Do you think the tournaments could use court assignments to discourage shrieking -- grunting doesn't really capture what we're talking about here -- and are court assignments enough of a status symbol that players might respond?"
• Agree. (As read Frank Carvaliho points out, KDK ran the London Marathon in a time of under 3:30.) I'd like to see the men play best-of-three the first week, but it's not for aesthetics. It's to spare injuries and withdrawal and unnecessary wear and tear on their bodies. (And it would appease the television gods.) I don't think anyone wants to see tennis reduced to speed chess. But at a time when the sport has never been more physically demanding -- name a player other than Federer who hasn't missed time for injury over the past 24 months -- why make them play best-of-five matches during the first week?
• Consider us tsked. I was at that Safin-Federer in Melbourne -- borderline classic -- and I remember match point. Federer slipped, Safin hit a forehand, and, with no play, Federer desperately threw his racket at the ball. There would be no Grand Slam.
• We noticed the same. Hey, Del Potro, pick on someone your own size! The first opponent, Flavio Cipolla, was generously listed at 5-8, Rochus at 5-6. Not surprisingly JMDP won both. Next, he faces Gilles Simon, average height.
• One-third body. One-third mind. One-third racket. A real carpenter never blames his tools. But if players were given truth serum -- impossible when there's an endorsement deal in the balance -- I'd love to know how many slumps are attributable to racket switches.
• It's simple. The umpire hits "play" are the appropriate juncture. The clock winds down. The fans and the players all know the deal. If, say, a fan yells out as the player tosses the ball, the umpire has discretion to stop the clock. Otherwise, the player hits a serve before the buzzer sounds. Or he doesn't and is penalized. (There's a great deal about Nadal that I think is worthy of our respect. But I'm tired of the diplomatic immunity that he gets on this issue.)
• Thanks, Paul. And, yes, we're holding off on the GOAT talk for a while.
• I have read it and I am plugging it. It's quite good, an interesting twist on the conventional celebrity autobiography. And plugging your own book is no fun -- far and away the worst part of the process -- so you try to help those doing the publicity grind.
• Serena Williams will play in World TeamTennis matches in Albany (July 19) and New York (July 20) as a member of the Washington Kastles, against the N.Y. Sportimes.
• Wendy Tenzer-Daniels of Venice, Fla.: "Best interview so far: Mohamed Lahyani, chair umpire for last year's epic Isner-Mahut match. He was fun, informative and charming. Get him into the broadcast booth!"
• Ken Kelly of Oviedo, Spain: "I've been using
• A few of you also noted: www.watchtennislive.org.
• Just a reminder everyone read
• Sam of San Diego: "About lucky netcords, you think 'if you declined to apologize for a lucky winner, you'd be forgiven.' Largely true, but with a notable exception. In his press conference after beating Soderling in five sets over 92 hours, Nadal hinted that Robin Soderling could go to hell after the end of his life. Remember that you also noted it in your May 2009 column? Among Soderling's offenses: He mimicked Nadal by pulling his own shorts; and, he didn't say sorry after hitting a lucky net-cord." Soderling's response? 'Why should I say I'm sorry when it's the happiest moment of my life?'"
• Andrew of New York, N.Y.: "
• Jan Kooijman of Rotterdam has