Thursday September 1st, 2011

You know the old saying: 82 times bitten, twice shy. Or the other old saying: fool us once, shame on you; fool us 94 times, shame on us. Yes, we've been here before, haven't we? A young American does well in the first week of the U.S. Open and suddenly we've minted the Next Big Star. There are narratives that use words like "savior" and "oasis." Instantly, comparisons are drawn to decorated champions. ("Now that you mention it, Melanie Oudin DOES recall Justine Henin!") Coaches and administrators trip over themselves competing for credit and predicting boundless success.

Then the balloon bursts. Or at least it loses air steadily. And we promise that next time, we'll be more discerning, more stingy in the dispensing of hype.

And still, if you insist on following players based on country code, it's hard not to be at last guardedly optimistic by the unexpectedly strong showing of some American prospects this week. And more surprisingly, how many of those prospects are women. While Ryan Harrison was bounced from the draw by lunch time on the first Monday, a cluster of young American women have stamped up the women's draw.

Two weeks after beating top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati, Christina McHale, a 19-year-old from New Jersey, knocked off eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli today, 7-6, 6-2. This wasn't simply a straight set win over a fine player who'd beaten Serena Williams in the previous Major. McHale clearly came equipped with a gameplan and a veteran's sense of when to aggress and when to pull back.

As she left the court, Irina Falconi, a 21-year-old based in Atlanta, was moved to Arthur Ashe Stadium after the withdrawal of Venus Williams. Making the most of her time in the big house, Falconi staged a tremendous comeback and took out No. 14 seed Domika Cibulkova 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. (The match also featured a tremendous match-point winner which we'll tweet once it appears, inevitably, or catch on YouTube.) Meanwhile, Sloane Stephens, an 18-year-old from Florida, looked smashing in her first round win and has a real chance for a win tomorrow against Shahar Peer.

The most intriguing prospect didn't advance today. But Madison Keys may have left the biggest impression. Just 16, Keys came close to taking out Lucie Safarova. Minutes into the match, Keys raced to a 5-0 lead, lacing groundstokes with all sorts of pace, pounding serves that regularly exceeded 110 mph and controlling points with irreverence. While Safarova clawed back into the match, Keys continued trading tracer fire. While ultimately she lost, she didn't choke. As the man walking next to me put it, "She went down; but she went down fighting."

A few good days at the office -- individually or collectively -- doesn't make you the next Serena Williams or doesn't augur a Golden Era. Don't believe the hype. But when, at this writing, there are a half a dozen American women left, including the likely champion, U.S. tennis isn't quite the desert it's made out to be. Don't believe that hype either.

Jon, what should David Ferrer do to get on your list of dark horses? Naked cartwheels across your lawn? The guy is No. 5 in the world, almost single-handedly won the Davis Cup tie for Spain against the U.S. beating Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, can go almost entire sets without unforced errors, and if the top 4 fall by the wayside, you've got to assume he'll be right there making the championship run. Unless he has an injury, can you please bring him into the picture? -- Vijay Kalpathi, Houston

• You answered your own question. Dark horse? He's No. 5 in the world! Kevin Anderson? Dark horse. John Isner? Dark horse. A guy who's in the top five? Not so much.

I admire Ferrer as much as the next guy. At some point he said to himself: "If nothing else, no one is going to outwork me." A trainer told me that Ferrer's fitness is not only without peer right now, it is unprecedented in the sport's history. Still, especially in this "climate" you cannot grind your way to a Grand Slam title. You need weapons and, at 5-8 or 5-9, I fear that Ferrer's industriousness is admirable. But he has to work too hard to win.

Instead of talking so much about covering Ashe, why not just build a new court (with a roof), similar in size to the main show courts in other grand slam events? I struggle to think money is an issue here. Ashe design is old, the stadium is cavernous, cold, uncomfortable, way too big, and it's just an awful tennis viewing experience if you're not sitting courtside. -- Dave, Jersey City, N.J.

• This has been discussed. But there are problems. For one, Ashe is barely a teenager and it would be both an embarrassment and devastating to the balance sheets to build a new stadium. What's more, Ashe comes equipped with luxury suites and prime seating which are huge sources of revenues. How do you tell the firms that paid six figures for their suites that in the event of rain, play will move elsewhere? It's really conundrum and source of anxiety with the USTA. It's easy to blame the architects and planners in the mid-90s that built Ashe. But that does no good now.

You really are a (expletive) with the Novak article. Would you publish it and accuse someone of cheating if his name was Jim Smith from the U.S.A.? Just stopped reading CNN due to your bias remarks. Give him the respect he deserves... -- Rick, Munster, Indiana

• Reread (or read?) the column. There are no accusations. It's about the blurry line between using technology and gaining an unfair advantage. This is much less about Djokovic, than it's about an issue that echoes through all sports. Sorry you feel the way you do, but when an athlete uses a contraption that "boosts athletic performance by improving circulation, boosting oxygen-rich red-blood cells, removing lactic acid and possibly even stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis and stem-cell production, " it warrants a measured discussion.

Side note: I got dozens of emails and tweets on Monday complaining the media was ignoring this story. I got dozens Tuesday that resembled Rick's (most without the ad hominem insults.)

I was interested to read not about the egg, but that Djokovic stayed in New Jersey during the tournament. Is it common for players to stay so far away? -- John, Scarsdale, N.Y.

• Before she pulled out, I asked Kim Clijsters whether she stayed at her home in Jersey during the tournament. "No way!" she replied. She couldn't contend with the traffic and hassles, especially given the vagaries of the schedule. I'm surprised a player like Djokovic, who should play deep into the tournament, play at odd hours -- and be summoned to Manhattan for promotional appearances --would stay so far away from the site. But, hey, whatever works. Clearly for him, the peace and quiet is worth the drive.

Anyway, through the years a few players have stayed in private homes, including Pete Sampras. But most players stay in Midtown Manhattan, usually on the east side with easy access to the Midtown Tunnel.

• Kelly of Louisville, Ky: "Jon, it's official. I will no longer watch or attend women's tennis! I put up with the excess grunting (or should I say screeching) because I am/was a diehard fan. But now a lot of the women are pumping fists and yelling "c'mon" after every point and it's too much to take. In her first round U.S. Open match, Sharapova yelled "c'mon" after her opponent made a mistake!! I could understand if she had just hit a blazing winner but this is crazy. And when the players are asked about it they seem not to care that fans are put off by their actions. Do they not realize that if it wasn't for us they wouldn't be screeching or pumping fists at all? So, I'm done. I will only watch and attend men's events in the future."

• The Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy -- led by the former No.1 player in the world -- has named the highly-ranked Port Royal Racquet Club on Hilton Head Island, S.C. its official training facility.

• More Steffi Graf news regarding her foundation.

• Our letter of the week (so far) goes to Pau R. of Boston, MA: "So I read your latest mailbag. Apparently Djoker sleeps in a giant egg/pod thingy. Kind of like Mork from Mork & Mindy, I guess.

Two questions:

1) When did sports become dominated by robotic Star Trek weirdos?

2) When will Rod Laver punch all these weirdos in the face?

Just play tennis already. Technology dominates cycling and auto-racing, and not coincidentally it has drained all the drama from these sports. I fear it's going to happen to tennis too. Wacky strings making impossible shots, an imaginary cartoon replay challenge system, and now egg-pods? Wow. Scintillating."

• The Tennis Center at College Park (TCCP) announced that Ajay Pant has joined the TCCP team as the General Manager of the 30-court facility.

• The USTA today proudly announced the recipients of its 2011 ICON Awards, which not only honor individuals and organizations that have made a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in our sport and society, but also emphasize the association's commitment to fairness and equality. This year's recipients of the USTA 2011 ICON Awards are Phoenix Suns President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Welts and the Sportsmen's Tennis and Enrichment Center of Boston.

• We're taking this James Blake shot over any tweener.

Jim Courier to Ryan Harrison's rescue.

• Chris of Brooklyn has found long lost siblings: Somdev Devvarman, Taylor Lautner.

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