Wednesday February 15th, 2012

Don't they have editors over there at Sports Illustrated? You guys wrote the U.S. swept Switzerland in Davis Cup last week. Right. Switzerland, with Roger Federerer. At home and playing on clay, getting swept by the U.S.? Obviously you meant to say, "Switzerland swept U.S." That's what happened, right?... OK, I'm joking. But for those of us who missed it, what the heck DID happen over there?

-- Brett S., Miami

? Yes, while the United States was Lin-fatuated by the Lin-credible Lin-roics of Jeremy Lin -- wish list: May the next unlikely tennis sensation have a pun-able surname -- tennis, too, furnished an unlikely feel-good story. The U.S. Davis Cup team ventured to Switzerland to take on Roger and The Feder-aires (i.e. the Swiss delegation) and pulled a monstrous upset, winning 5-0. On clay, no less. For all the unflattering reports about the health of U.S. tennis (some justified, some not), this is, unmistakably, a surge of good news.

What happened? Well, for one, too many members of the chattering class -- I'll be the first to raise my hand -- were dismissive of the Yanks' chances. Federer was the best player in the field, but he was not exactly girded for battle and admitted as much in the days prior. Otherwise, the U.S. matched up fairly well. And while the change has been slow in coming (pun intended), clay is no longer the American bugbear it once was.

In the first match, Mardy Fish outlasted Stan Wawrinka. Given that Fish can play on clay, had a 2-0 record against Wawrinka and is the higher-ranked player, he probably should have been favored. When he won, it enabled John Isner to play a riskier style, shooting for lines against Federer and serving uninhibitedly -- which he did. Bear in mind, too, that clay suits Isner fairly well. Not exactly the most mobile player, the slow bounces give him extra time to locomote. Nevertheless, Isner's four-set defeat of Federer was titanic -- clearly the biggest victory of his career -- and marked one of the great tennis upsets in recent memory.

As for the final point, the U.S. had Mike Bryan, as fine a doubles player as there's ever been. While he wasn't with his usual partner -- his twin, Bob, a new father, was home learning Ferber techniques -- Fish filled in ably and the two picked on Wawrinka. Ballgame. Lots of credit to dispense. Jim Courier distinguished himself as captain and not simply because of his attire, Canali supplanting sweats. Isner took down Federer. And for all his shortcoming in majors, Fish had the signature weekend of his career.

From the every-silver-lining-has-a-cloud bureau: The draw gets no easier for the Americans. The U.S. next faces France, in France. (We're hearing clay in Nice; others have heard clay in the town of Pau.) Survive that and, potentially, Spain lurks. For now, though, consider this a rare moment to celebrate American tennis. And Jeremy Lin.

Fernando Gonzalez is going to retire. Here is his reason why: "I realized that I didn't have the energy that I needed, nor am I prepared to do all I need to in order to be where I want to be," Gonzalez said. "Given the respect tennis deserves, I have decided to step aside. Tennis has given me some incredible experiences, and I've met many admirable, wonderful people." He is a classy guy, don't you think?

-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.

? Glad you brought that up. Gonzo's retirement didn't receive nearly the attention it warranted. Tennis just got a lot less macho. Here's what I sent a few days ago to a Chilean journalist asking for comment:

"There is a rule in American media 'no cheering in the press box,' designed to maintain objectivity and neutrality. But it took effort to watch Fernando Gonzalez and refrain from rooting. His aggressive style and his weapons-grade forehand were at odds with his quietly dignified personality. Together, they made for a player who was impossible not to like. As with many of his contemporaries, he had the misfortune of timing his career to that of Federer and [Rafael] Nadal. In another era, I have no doubt he wins majors and is a No. 1-ranked player. Even so, he had a stellar career both in terms of tangible achievements (Olympics, Aussie Open final) and reputation. The game is worse off in his absence."

Wife of a sportsman blurts out a defense of her husband after being heckled by fans and every single media person jumps on her and calls her classless and advises her to just shut her mouth (Gisele, of course). A sportsman widely being celebrated as the best that ever played his sport plainly singles out his doubles partner sitting next to him after a tough loss for both of them as the reason they lost and all I see is one tiny article tucked away somewhere in cyber-wasteland saying the Fed showed a lack of class. Enough, guys! Call a spade a spade and call out Federer for the most basic demonstration of being a sore loser ... yet again!

-- Anand Natarajan, Dubai

? We got a lot of these last week. To get everyone up to speed, after losing in Davis Cup, Federer allegedly remarked in French: "I played well enough in doubles, but Stanislas not so much," adding that Wawrinka "didn't have his best match in singles." (Those marks on Wawrinka's back? They are from the Greyhound's undercarriage, having been hurled under the bus.) The following day in Rotterdam, Federer claimed he had been misquoted and had even called Wawrinka to make sure there were no hard feelings. Let's take him at his word.

Still, a trusted source who was -- how to put this? -- impeccably well-positioned to comment, was also surprised by Federer's comportment last weekend, before, during and after the Davis Cup event.

What can we say here? People are complex. People are Janus-headed. Who among us is entirely good or entirely evil? Federer has made innumerable "right moves" over the course of his career and is, on balance, clearly a force of good. Forests have been felled (and the digital equivalent ... megs consumed?) extolling his virtues. Rightly so, I will always contend.

He is remarkable. He is not, however, perfect. And, yes, as Anand and at least a dozen of others of you noted, he is not always the epitome of a graceful loser. When he fell to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon in 2010, he was so curt afterward that even members of Federer's camp quietly confided that they were surprised by his response. His remarks about Novak Djokovic's heedless play after last year's U.S. Open semifinal were curious at best. His assertion last month that Nadal "always plays a bit better against me than against other players" tripped up a number people, including several former top players.

Federer shouldn't get a pass here. And he hasn't. But I feel like this is like the behavioral equivalent of his dismal head-to-head record against Nadal. It's unfortunate. Even many of his fans wish it weren't so. But it's fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. It hardly offsets all the good.

When you write "objectively more skilled champion," with respect to Nadal and Federer, I think that you mean to say "subjectively," no? (It's a rhetorical question, by the way.)

-- Chris Nolan, St. John's, Newfoundland

? Even Nadal admits that, in a vacuum, Federer is the more skilled played. Of course they don't play tennis in a vacuum -- just as they don't play Davis Cup ties on paper, as Courier told us -- and thus Nadal can win the majority of his matches against Federer. But who is the more skilled champion, who has more gifts? It's Federer. And not even Nadal would contest that.

Big win for Ryan Harrison at Davis Cup. He is obviously a future world No. 1. What are the tennis insiders saying about Mr. Harrison's can't-miss prospects?

-- Sculley, Greenwich

? No pressure or anything, kid. First, I don't think there's such a thing an "obvious future No. 1." There are just so many variables -- not least the inconvenient fact that it takes just one superior player to block your ascent to the top.

But is Harrison, say, a future top-10 player? I'll bite and say "yes." There's a lot to like here and for me it's less about strokes and physique than about the way he carries himself. Unlike so many players, he's not here for a comely girlfriend, a fast car, a seven-figure income and a good time. He's here to win. This is such a lazy sports cliché, but I think it applies here: He seems to have that X-factor.

Have you noticed that Andy Murray's post-Australian Open funk has catapulted the careers of three Americans? Fish in Miami '10, Donald Young in Indian Wells '11, Alex Bogomolov in Miami '11.

-- Cam, Burlington, Vt.

? I know Andy Murray loves the United States. But this might be exceedingly gracious of him. That's an interesting observation but the cynic would say: 1) Fish was already a fine player. Did this really catapult him?; 2) Young backslid after that win, as his Twitter timeline would confirm; and 3) Bogomolov is no longer American.

I know you didn't write the piece but there is no way Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario made $60 million in her career. Her WTA earnings were $16.9 million. Endorsements? Not possible.

-- @TheMostRKM via twitter

? Funny, I had a similar thought. Sixty million seems awfully high. But then maybe not. Part from her prize money, AS-V had some endorsements -- Reebok comes immediately to mind -- and surely made decent scratch playing some exhibitions. She received WTA bonus money for playing a full "gold exempt" schedule (which, at the time, did not count toward prize money). And remember that most of her income was earned in the early 1990s. Check out the Dow Jones average on the day Bill Clinton took office and compare it to today's. It was something like 3,300 in January 1993; today it's nearly 13,000. Find a good hedge fund manager to invest that money 20 years ago, take advantage of tax loopholes and presto!

As for whether her parents really embezzled her money, I have no inside knowledge. I do, though, recall two anecdotes that may or may not be relevant. 1) When Sanchez-Vicario married in 2000, the lavishness of her wedding -- which ended in divorce shortly thereafter -- was the talk of the tennis caravan for many months. 2) I once arranged French Open tickets for a friend, a male heavily involved in the fashion industry. He later summed up the day thusly: "The men from Argentina were outrageously hot; too many women needed to work on their posture; and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario's mom had the most expensive handbag I had ever seen."

For the Spanish speakers, here's Sanchez-Vicario talking about her new book on Tuesday.

Most of the time, you have been very objective in your comments and analysis and that is a great quality you have. But, after watching the Sania Mirza/Liezel Huber replay, it is actually quite clear that the ball bounced twice, and if I were Huber, I would certainly know that. I am a 5.0 player and though I am not a professional, I play decent and I am quite knowledgeable about tennis (I am quite a crazy guy about the sport). So, your explanations seemed very evasive, blaming Mirza and Elena Vesnina for not giving the benefit of the doubt to Huber, and a very nebulous comment about lack of clarity. One thing I know is supposed to be at professional level here is umpiring, and that was not. Carlos Ramos had a good look at it and he should have been able to easily call it.

-- Raghu, San Jose, Calif.

? Let's be clear: I don't blame Vesnina and Mirza. Not at all. They saw a double-bounce, they protested and they were ultimately proved correct. I just have a bit of a hard time calling someone a "cheater" -- again, about the lowest characterization in the sports lexicon -- without certitude. How many of us have been wrong about line calls without being intentionally deceitful? How many of us have inadvertently gotten the score wrong (sorry, Willie Weinbaum) only to realize it later? I can envision a situation in which Huber genuinely believed she had made a clean play.

In full disclosure, I will say this: A number of you -- including a current player -- wrote in expressing sentiment similar to Raghu's. That is, Huber tried to pull a fast one and we shouldn't be giving her a pass. I guess we can all look at the footage and make our own decisions.

I don't want to lose sight -- no pun intended -- of my real point, though. Given that conclusive video existed, it was a shame that it was not made available to the four players and the official in the chair. A quick glance at the replay would have obviated this discussion and saved everyone from a lot of grief.

FWIW, I couldn't bring myself to watch the sure-to-be shriek-fest of the women's Aussie final between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, nor did my wife. We're two avid fans who watch tennis weekly and specifically chose not to watch because of the shrieking. I'm sure we were not alone.

-- Dave Kennedy, Atlanta

? Dear WTA, can you set up some kind of in-box so I can simply forward the dozens of these emails?

"Fermata"? In addition to being a fanatical tennis fan, I am a musician; however, I'm confused! More explanation, please???

-- @Ncmpletetr8nrek via Twitter

? Last week I tweeted: "To me, main failings re: Davis Cup: a) the erratic schedule and b) the absence of fermata. Not an easy fix but some change is needed."

Maybe I overplayed this one. I always thought a fermata indicated that a performer pause and hold a note for a good, long while -- usually at the end of a piece -- so the audience could savor the moment. What I meant is that the pacing of the Davis Cup is all wrong. There are no pauses, no moments for anticipation and appreciation. It's just a constant grind. Spain wins the 2011 Cup in December. Then, the second weekend in February -- barely two months later -- the "season" starts up again.

This is an issue tennis faces on a macro level as well. Part of the success of most sports stems from a defined season. Fans are thrilled when their sport is going on. When it's not, there's anticipation and rumor and fantasy league drafting and combines and "hot stove" chatter. Tennis is so seldom "off," fans have no time to miss it.

Last week's exchange with the Internet troll was hilarious. But now I'm curious. How much hate mail do you get?

-- Bill, Chicago

? I was blown away by how many of you were similarly amused and curious about my hate mail. I appreciate the kind words many of you took time to write, but, honestly, don't worry about me. Big boy, and all that. I would simply say: 1) It comes with the territory. 2) Overall, it's a negligible minority -- in three years, I think I have blocked a grand total of two repugnant Twitter trolls, one for racism and one for a creepily hostile level of pro-Federer fandom. 3) Hearing from a few unpleasant folks is a laughably small price to pay for how many interesting/cool/delightful people I've been able to connect with this through this quasi-column. ... Enough about me. Let's talk about tennis. Carry on.

Enjoyed (don't know if that's the right word) that clip on the hit Daniel Paille took. Wow -- and they all kept playing. Do you remember the time Tim Henman drilled Stefan Edberg in the head at the 1996 U.S. Open? Edberg fell and ended up lying flat on his back, more from shock, I think. Henman was very concerned, but Edberg sat up and raised his hand to say he was OK. Still, he had to sit there a few seconds. He of course still shook hands with Henman.

-- Susan H, Bartlesville, Okla.

? I feel like we're picking on Liezel Huber these days, but ever see this clip? To her credit, Huber not only shook Nadia Petrova's hand but also eventually ended up partnering with her!

Jon, so I guess Schopenhauer was an optimist. I really appreciate reading your columns on tennis and I have done so for years, so that's why as a Dutchman I feel like I must comment on something. Every year around this time, some belittling comment about the Rotterdam tournament appears in your column. If you look at the winner list, you'll notice that it has as many Grand Slam champions among them as I reckon any other non-major or Masters tournament. Also, for years it has been the most visited indoor tournament in the world (more visitors than Bercy, for instance). It belongs to the ATP 500 series. So, this tournament is only good for tennis. Don't be surprised to see Federer as this year's winner, if he continues his fine indoor form from the fall!

-- Thijs van der Vecht , Utrecht, Netherlands

? I had no idea what you were talking about. Then I did search on my desktop and, lo and behold, it seems I have made regrettably snide remarks about the Rotterdam event more than once. My apologies. As Thijs notes, it is a 500 event, but has attracted the best of the best through the years, including Federer in 2011. And although it's been hurt by some injuries and withdrawals in recent years, it's one of those whistle-stop events that make the ATP what it is. We owe you one, Rotterdam.

My friend and I are planning a trip to the 2013 Australian Open. Any advice on affordable hotels or packages that includes hotel and tennis tickets?

-- Arleen Norman, Toronto

? I know there are a number of tennis tours out there. If anyone wants to help Arleen, I'm happy to pass on info.

Shots, miscellany

? Clap of the racket to the well-regarded Jim Curley, USTA executive and longtime U.S. Open tournament director who announced his resignation last week. That's a real loss for U.S. tennis. And in response to several of you who asked, no, this move was not precipitated by the player unhappiness during the rains at last year's U.S. Open.

? Dave Seminara tracks down Roscoe Tanner.

? Kei Nishikori, now wearing a Tag Heuer watch, up to a career-high No.18.

? Here's Mint's story on Leander Paes.

? Senior and junior Martina, Monica Seles and Amelie Mauresmo at GDF SUez Open Exo (who knew that Mauresmo has a stake in the championship?).

? Rafael Nadal does the SI Swimsuit edition.

? Faizal Somji of Calgary, Alberta: "I was bored at work one day and I was perusing the website (which is an excellent waste of time, by the way) and I happened upon this article of ways to improve your mental abilities when playing different sports. Number one on the list was grunting. Here is the article."

? Press release: "In recognition of his immense contributions to growing the sport worldwide, Mike Davies, who currently serves as CEO of the New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara, has been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the Class of 2012. A quiet, but influential, behind-the-scenes executive in the tennis world, Davies has had a 40+ year career in tennis promotion and administration, with achievements ranging from forging the first, highly successful television/tennis contracts and negotiating major sponsorships to introducing the colored tennis ball to the game."

? Press release: "Electronic Arts Inc. announced that EA SPORTS? Grand Slam® Tennis 2 is available in retail stores worldwide. The EA SPORTS Grand Slam Tennis franchise will be coming to high definition for the first time and will be available on the Xbox 360® videogame and entertainment system and PlayStation®3, including support of the PlayStation® Move controller. EA SPORTS Grand Slam Tennis 2 features top past and present athletes including John McEnroe, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, and is the only place to play all four Grand Slam championships."

? Interesting comments by Monica Seles on grunting and her "advice" to Azarenka and Sharapova.

? Here's an interesting take on tennis and "stamina" from Stephanie Myles.

? This week's unsolicited book recommendation. Josh Dean -- best known in our circles as David Foster Wallace's editor on the Federer as Religious Experience piece -- has a new book: Show Dog.

? Squeezed in an Esther Vergeer appreciation at the end of the Slate podcast.

? Subhadeep of Greenville, S.C.: "Was watching The Family Stone over the weekend and found very uncanny similarity between Federer and Paul Schneider, who played Rachel McAdams' love interest in the movie. Definitely Roger and Paul are twins separated at birth!"

? Helen of Philadelphia has long-lost triplets (think about it ...) -- Mariana Alves, Louise Engzell and Eva Asderaki.


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