Wednesday September 14th, 2011

The first post-U.S. Open mailbag was dominated by questions along these lines:

Is Serena Williams ever going to apologize? Why does she always get off so easy?

Serena was fined just $2,000 for her code-of-conduct violation in the U.S. Open final. But what's the WTA to do going forward? Here's a farcical look inside the WTA board room during a "Messaging for Success" meeting:

*****

"Since leaving the White House, Ari Fleischer has worked with some of the most established people and organizations in sports. Clients include Major League Baseball, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ..." --Blurb from website for Ari Fleischer Sports Communications

[The scene: Large circular conference table at WTA headquarters in Florida. Air conditioner blasting. Bottled water on the table. Various WTA branding posters displayed prominently on walls. A screen projects the first slide of a PowerPoint presentation: "Messaging for Success." Athletic-looking women seated around a table. Fleischer, dressed in a golf shirt and khakis, stands, staring at a clipboard, face etched in confusion.]

Ari Fleischer: [Looks at watch and looks up, head swiveling around table] Good morning, everyone! Let's see. Maria's here. Caroline. Sam. Na Li/Li Na. During the break remind me to tell you a great story about Hu Jintao. Great guy. Venus. Vera. Ana. Jelena. Victoria -- they call you, Vika, right? I like that. Good branding. Sam. I see they call you "Guns" for a reason. Hey, great win in New York. But I don't see Serena.

WTA handler: Um, her agent texted. She won't be able to make it this afternoon. There was this ...

Ari: [Surprised by this unanticipated no-show] But I thought this event was mandatory for the top players?

WTA handler: [Shrugs] Not sure. We never really get the full story. But we can use our "withdrawal template" and put out a release. The one that's vague but insists that she's looking forward to attending next year.

Ari: That's disappointing. I thought ...

WTA handler: Wait, I got another text. Serena will be here, after all. Just running late.

Serena: [Phone to ear] Gotta run. They're making me do some training or other. Love you, too!

Ari: Now that we're all here, let's get going. I'm Ari, and some of you might recognize me. I was once the White House press secretary, explaining wars, tussling with that batty Helen Thomas, that kind of thing. But today? We're going to talk about how we represent ourselves to the public. And you know what? You women have it easy. In politics, no matter what you do, half the public is going to complain. In sports, the public loves a winner. They want to be associated with a winner. They want to back a winner. You guys are here because you're the winners, the most successful players on the WTA caravan. You're in a position of strength. Any questions, so far? Do I see a hand? Caroline?

Caroline: Rory said you worked with Tiger Woods.

Ari: Um, I did. But let's keep going ... So where were we? Again, you're lucky. People WANT to like you. Don't give them a reason not to. Now I'm going to pick on you, Serena.

Serena: [Sheepishly] Go ahead.

Ari: [Animated] Let's do some case studies! You've won your first match in Cincinnati and clinched the U.S. Open Series! You're interviewed courtside by the Tennis Channel! What do you say about this achievement?

Serena: I dunno. I hate those interviews.

Ari: [Nodding] OK, but those are the rules of engagement. If I recall correctly you said, "Good because I could use the cash."

Serena: Well, I could. You know how much the dress cost I wore to Kim and what-his-face's wedding?

Ari: Right. But when you've won $35 million or so in career prize money and doubled or tripled that in off-court income, and the average American household makes about $50,000 and the unemployment rate is at nearly 10 percent ... well, maybe we could work on that answer.

Serena: Whatever.

Ari: I'll stick with you, Serena, since we're doing so well. Here's another: You're playing at the U.S. Open and it's the first match at the tournament after -- and I think you'll agree here -- a real low moment in your career. You threatened to kill that poor lineswoman and were defaulted. You're asked: "What do you remember most from the way your last U.S. Open ended?" Do you remember how you responded?

Serena: No.

Ari: Well, I'll forward about a quarter of the way through this press conference. Did you hear that? You said: "I just remember I lost, and that was that. I got really popular. A lot of people were telling me they thought I was super cool, that they'd never saw me so intense. So, yeah, it was awesome." I'm curious what went through your mind?

Serena: Well. I gotta be me.

Ari: One more. It's the 2011 final. You're already on double-secret probation after the 2009 kerfuffle. You're unhappy with a "hindrance call." Never mind that the call was right. You told an official, "I hate you ... I despise ... You're ugly on the inside ... If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way." I know the tennis establishment pussyfoots around you. I know your entourage either gives you comically bad advice, or you just ignore them completely. '

[Ari starting to turn red] But with all due respect, it's 9/11. It's your home Slam. You're almost 30 years old. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!? ARE YOU REALLY THAT DETACHED FROM REALITY?

Serena: It's intense out there. You wouldn't understand.

Ari: I wouldn't? You ever stood before the Washington press corps? And then had to answer to Cheney? Of course it's intense. But that rings hollow. When you play tennis, you are the epitome of a champion. You hit the hell out of the ball. You win relentlessly. You compete like no other player. People want to like you. You don't have to work to win them over. Then you behave this way, in a way no one can possibly defend. Why would you fritter away so much good will, so unnecessarily? Why would you choose to represent yourself like this? You're alienating fans. You're embarrassing your Tour. Crass as it sounds, you're costing yourself millions Why would you self-sabotage --- I saw a hand up? Was that ... Yes, Victoria?

Victoria: AAAYYYYY-EEEEEE-Ahhhhhhhhh.

Ari: [Recoiling] Glad you brought that up. But we're out of time. We'll start with that next session.

*****

Let's take a break from Q&A for a week for some, you know, poetry. Here are the results from the limerick contest. We had more than 100 entries in the 24-hour window. Thanks to all who participated.

Honorable Mentions:

Elsie Misbourne, Washington, D.C. Ivanovic, Jankovic, Djokovic Non-Serbs may perhaps forget which is which First the girls had their fling and the last is the king But a game has made all of them very rich

Ashwin, Seattle The referee repeatedly called "Time" But the players didn't care a dime Despite much ado Was nothing we could do Except complain in the mailbag to Wertheim

• Laine Torgrud, Winnipeg, Canada Our Rog is a thing of perfection Of power and clever direction But his technical skill Will succumb to the will Of the man who adjusts his hind section

• MJ, Massachusetts There once was a boy from Nebraska Whose arm was like a bullet blaster. He could play with the best And rant with the worst. I hope he won't be remembered for the latter.

• Dave Anderson, Honolulu Onto the New York courts fell the rain Causing players and officials much pain The conditions were ripe For everyone's gripe Until matches finally started again

• Stewart Glickman, South Orange, N.J. On Court 17, in good weather The new kid won a four-setter He lost in the 2nd to Andy (Who's the hubby of swimsuit eye candy) But Jack Sock will get better and better

• Noah Baerman, Middletown, Conn. With respect to Rostagno and Glickstein, The Saint of Near-Misses was Krickstein But for old Jimbo's nerve, Aaron could have held serve Thus advancing past the Round of Sixteen

and...

As you criticize Wozniacki For her choice not to take a big whack, she Hits deep and with spin, It's usually in, So why don't you cut her some slack-y?

Pat Finley, La Verne, Calif. Steffi and Chris and Martina Were greats in the tennis arena. But with all of their verve Could they return serve Against sweet little sister Serena?

• Andrew, New York Not a limerick, rather a meditation captured within that other well-worn tradition: ruining a classic rock song. Queue White Rabbit please.

One player screams early And one player damns commentators all And the one who's leg opponents point to Doesn't own up at all Go ask Earley For a ruling on protocol And if you go chasing dropshots And you know you're going to fall Tell 'em a starving bronze-star-chair-umpire To the trainer has made the call Call Earley Or storm his office, one and all. When those in attendance Gesture upward And wonder what direction the clouds will go And the mist is forcing players to take it slow Go ask Earley His meteorologist will know When logic and proportion Have fallen sloppy dead And the Chase Review is playing backwards And the tournament referee's "Suspended play, we go" Remember what the USTA said; "The foodcourt is still open! Feed your head"

And the winner of the Dunlop Biomimetic Racket is ...

Kurt Van Hook, Hinesburg, Vt.: There once was a deluge at Ashe's That turned overhead smashes to splashes Shakespeare we re-word, (from Richard the Third) "My kingdom for a roof," you dumb-asses

• Serena's repugnant behavior? The double standard of invoking the hindrance rule for "Come on" but not for "UUGHHHEEEEE-aaaa"? The rise of King Novak? Where do Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer go from here? We're back next week at our regularly scheduled time, place and format.

• I recently learned of a Swiss couple who, in lieu of gifts, asked wedding guests to make a contribution to the Roger Federer Foundation.

• Speaking of Federer, check out this New Yorker cartoon.

• Here are the interview transcripts (and video) for Federer and Nadal following their respective defeats to Djokovic. Again, this isn't about right or wrong. And, yes, there's a difference between losing a five-setter after squandering match points and losing a 6-1 fourth set. But I think the vastly divergent responses -- in the face defeat -- offer real insight.

• The lunatic fringe of both the Federer-ites and Nadal-philes turn nasty in a hurry, and from time to time, I get caught in the crossfire. (Last week, for the first time, I had to block a particularly discourteous Twitter follower, after which I was apparently told to "watch my back.") At some level, sports are all about irrational passion. But the hostility and creepy aggression seems particularly out of place here. Both Federer and Nadal spend so much time traversing the high road, they should qualify for reward points. Neither traffics in hate or bile or victimhood. When some of their supporters become so antisocial, it's strikingly at odds with both players. It's like gun-toting Gandhi fans.

• Let the record reflect that Caroline Wozniacki apologized for the imitation -- not malicious, but not cool -- of Rafael Nadal's cramping. Who knew that was even an option?

• What's that? Accountability? Contrition? Taking ownership of a mistake? An indication that maybe she's not the victim, but simply made a regrettable choice -- something we all do from time to time?

• A reader thought that when the Williams sisters played in the 2008 Wimbledon final, Serena conceded a point to Venus after she yelled out midpoint, an admission that she had violated, yes, the hindrance rule. I couldn't find this in my notes but if anyone can confirm (or better yet, spark up some video) it would be appreciated.

• Alex Bousamra of Little Rock, Ark.: "Just an observation: All four women's Grand Slam winners this year are NON-grunters (Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur). Non-grunters vs. Grunters: 4-0. The latter should take notice and decrease the decibels."

• Milos Raonic will take on Pete Sampras on Nov. 17, 2011, in the first tennis event held at Air Canada Centre.

• It's the Legends Ball.

• Helen of Philadelphia: Long lost triplets (think about it...) -- Mariana Alves, Louise Engzell and Eva Asderaki.

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