Sharapova's resurgence, Olympics jam up calendar, more mail
While trying to figure out who's Irina Spirlea and who's Venus Williams...
? Tennis fans are a fickle subphylum. A mere week ago, most observers were questioning Sharapova's future, questioning her fight (given her results in recent finals), questioning her prospects heading into the clay season. Suddenly Sharapova is back, heading the French Open favorites list. We need to sign a liability waiver for inducing whiplash.
Overall, I'm with Bret. In so many words, Bret highlights The Great Sharapova Irony. We all know the ways in which she is presented and marketed. Yet as an athlete, she is all grit and inelegance. Her game isn't easy on the eyes. As she admits, grace is not a core strength. A fluid mover, she is not. We all know about the unfortunate soundtrack that accompanies her ball striking. Instead, she wins by grinding and battling and committing herself to hard work. And she should be praised for this.
As for the sudden spasm of (exuberant) optimism, let's not coronate anyone as a Grand Slam champ based on one good week, a full month before the actual event. But no question, Sharapova did herself proud, particularly on clay, beating the last three Grand Slam champs in succession. I'll repeat what I wrote other day: between Serena's play in Charleston and Sharapova's run in Stuttgart, the women's side of the French just got a lot more interesting.
? Anyone from the hometown of Shawn Kemp gets special consideration here. As for the field of the Western and Southern event, my moles say you should be OK. The tennis competition will occur during the first week of the Olympics, so the (fortunate) last of the players get their hardware and leave London by Aug 5. Cincy starts Aug. 12. The folks in Canada are likely a bit more nervous. The Rogers Cup starts August 6. (Remember, too, that the Canadian WTA final will be held on a Monday this year.)
It's great that the USTA found a new sponsor -- Emirates Airlines -- for the U.S. Open Series. And it makes sense to package all the events leading to the year's final major. But once every four years, the Olympics sure throw the proverbial wrench into the scheduling. On the other hand, who can argue that including tennis as an Olympic event -- attracting and exciting all the best players not named Mardy Fish -- isn't a net positive for the sport?
? Well played. And you didn't mention the best news of all: Sequel!
? The Slams are governed by the International Tennis Federation. The Big Four received their vaunted status generations ago, of course. Now, it is very much a closed shop. Even if a promoter or federation were willing to pay the purse and even if a suitable venue existed, there's roughly a 0.00 percent chance there would be a fifth major. For all sorts of reasons -- the break from the tradition, the diluting of the existing products, the havoc it would unleash on the schedule -- it never would be formally recognized as a fifth Slam.
Informally, events have used the "fifth Slam" designation, mostly as a marketing tool. "Hey, we may not be an official major, but we're the closest thing. Men and women. All the top stars in attendance. Seven rounds. Two weeks (almost) of play." The Sony Open (aka the Sony Ericsson Open) in Miami and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells are most aggressive in claiming this distinction.
For as often as tennis administrators wring their hands over the schedule, I think four Slams is the perfect number. You have your tent poles -- erratically spaced, as they are -- and the rest of the events fill the gaps. The majors are special and there are enough distinguishing features (the purses, the best-of-five format for the men, the mixed doubles, the improved television platform) to make clear they are special. Five majors and you're diluting the product too much. Three majors and you're shortchanging the fans and the players.
? I always likened Santoro to a knuckleballer, a guy who succeeded with a skill set -- guile, touch, feel, angles, mystery -- that was entirely different from that of the opponent, totally at odds with the prevailing power ethos. The Magician worked his tricks into his 30s, but I don't think of him as a tennis Methuselah.
As for players failing to act their age, I give you four suggestions: 1) Go back to the pre-Open Era where players could succeed well into their 40s (see: Gonzalez, Pancho). 2) Look at the doubles phylum and note how many of the top players are north of 35. 3) Consider Roger Federer who is "only" 30, but remains in the conversation whenever talk turns to potential Slam winners. 4) Fix your gaze on Kimiko Date-Krumm, still going strong at age 41 -- this, after a decade-long layoff.
? Start with Asap Sports, the excellent transcription service that many events -- including the Slams -- utilize. Play around on the website but be mindful of the time or you'll be there for hours reading the quotes from, say, Richard Williams at the 1999 Lipton event. (Trust me on this one.) In keeping with tennis' problematic absence of standardization, some events use other local services. Some post transcripts on the tournament's official site, but fail to give them to ASAP. Others simply cut corners and forgo transcription.
? Thanks. Good luck on the move, Les. Congrats on the easy nickname.
? Totally disagree on your first point. Tennis -- perhaps to a cruel degree -- is a winner-take-all endeavor. One player wins the last point of the match and advances; the other player loses it and heads home. Winning is everything. We start mucking with this core principle -- to say nothing of encouraging corrupt practices -- when we start awarding points for sets, games, and close calls. Granularity is overrated, sometimes.
As for somehow awarding points based on the quality of the defeated opponent, I think that's a more reasonable discussion. If Ivan Dodig beats Rafael Nadal or Milos Raonic upsets Andy Murray should that win come freighted with a few extra "quality points"? Sure.
Long as you brought up Barthel, reserve her now as a French Open dark horse?
? I feel I need to wreck the timing of my joke with a disclaimer. This was a reference to last week's discussion of the readers' vastly different interpretations of content. For the record, I am not an officer in the anti-Williams club. I am not even IN the anti-Williams club. I am not even anti-Williams. As long as this stays between us, if were going to find athletes for my kids to emulate, both sisters would make the list. I would say something to the effect of, "Try to compete like Serena; and comport yourself like Venus."
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, the executive position. I always wanted to be a vice-admiral. Is that option still open? Otherwise maybe parliamentarian, if only for the opportunity to bang that gavel and say, "I hereby call this meeting to order."
? A Charleston reader who was at the Family Circle Cup matches noticed this as well. Something to look for these next few weeks. Speaking of Charleston readers, take it away, Aaron....
? Here's the trophy. And the reference.
? Read this and get back to me, Omar.
? Here's our latest SI Tennis Podcast. Chris Evert sits in for a sessions and was, predictably, great. This is worth 40 minutes of your time. You can connect with Chrissie on Twitter and Facebook.
? Tip of the cap to Glen Michibata who resigns as Princeton's coach after 12 years.
? Sad story about Patty Schnyder.
? Jack Liebschutz, Polson, Mont.: "You mentioned family doubles in your column this week. My good friend, Jerry Morse-Karzen has won many, many golden tennis balls as a son and father; in both father and son and father and daughter. I doubt anyone has ever equaled his record."
? Nice lid, Graf.
? Jim F. of Los Altos Hills, Calif.: "Regarding the SAP San Jose cancellation, four things, 1) Andy Roddick and Sam Querry told me, during the players' reception at this year's SAP, that they enjoyed the SAP because it was one of the few fast-court tournaments left on the ATP Tour. Canceling the SAP continues the conversion of the entire ATP to yearlong clay-court grinder tennis. Since this is bad for American players, where is the USTA? 2) As a ticket-holder for decades, I'm on the SAP's e-mail list. They've sent me several e-mails since the sale -- none of them about tennis. Instead of information on the future of the event, I get boy-band concert ticket offers. This is consistent with the lack of marketing, and lack of investment in big name players since they bought the tournament from Barry MacKay. 3) I believe that Bruce Jenkins and Matt Cronin are correct: SAP got killed to help their hockey schedule. 4) In case you're interested, here are some photos I took at this year's event."
? Andy Murray on Jamie Murray.
? Press releasin': "Tennis Hall of Famers Andre Agassi and John McEnroe and all-time great Martina Hingis will compete as part of the World TeamTennis matchup between the New York Sportimes and Boston Lobsters, the team announced. In a special benefit night on July 19, proceeds will go toward the Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), to provide scholarships, coaching, transportation and other financial assistance to qualified young tennis players in the greater New York area. The evening begins at 7 p.m. at Sportime Stadium on Randall's Island.
? Tom of Boston, MA: "Random pro sighting. Two of my buddies and I were training at Hopman/Saddlebrook in the early 90s. While at lunch between sessions, I saw the No. 1 male player in the world, 10 feet away at a Coke machine. While slightly "star-struck" I called his name and wished him a good season. What I got back was a sneer and "hmphh". Thankfully it was my only experience meeting Marcelo Rios."
? Lavazza is the official coffee of Wimbledon. One wonders: what is the official tea?
Have a great week, everyone!