Final thoughts to put 2012 French Open to bed, plus mail
? Bless this era of men's tennis. No what matter happens, it's relevant, it's meaningful, it fits into the broader Big Three narrative. All credit to Rafael Nadal for winning the French Open. Who among us can even imagine a scenario in which he doesn't go down as the best clay-court player ever? That third set of the final was proof that Novak Djokovic gets to him in a way no other player does. But Nadal showed his mental strength, too, returning Monday to close the deal. Not easy given the bad vibes when he left Sunday. The question now: can he build on this momentum on grass? Stay tuned.
? As I wrote Monday, I think Djokovic has to leave Paris somewhat content. He reached his first final in Paris. He staved off match points against Tsonga. He handled Roger Federer. When he wasn't lumberjacking that courtside bench with his racket, he was sporting and honorable, even conceding a point in the final. If he wasn't going to win the event -- and thus the Nole Slam -- this was the next-best scenario. And, as a few of you wrote, this felt like Nadal at Wimbledon circa 2007. He's getting closer.
? Maria Sharapova boosted her stock not simply with the title but with the overall narrative. Particularly given the state of affairs, it's nice to see someone so unashamedly ambitious. "I love competing," she told a small group of us on Saturday. "There's nothing in the world that gives me that adrenaline feel. Just being in the moment of a match, nothing else I've done in my life has given me that. It's pressure and excitement and nerve, but that feeling and getting through that and winning, and beating an opponent? It's a different feeling [than you get] in other careers."
? Sharapova's Career Slam is exceptional and it elevates her significantly. But this achievement does not,
? In other pro sports, teams need years to rebuild, franchises get relegated. In tennis? Seven matches and you're back on top. From Pete Sampras in 2002 to Goran Ivanisevic in 2001 to Serena (any of a number of times) we've seen players catch fire and win a major. Thus it is nuts to retire players prematurely. Federer and Serena, in particular, took a step back on clay. This hardly dooms them for next month. As our intrepid unofficial Swiss correspondent, Sally, notes, "Green is the color of hope" is the catchphrase in Switzerland these days.
? Lots of fans in the U.S. were unhappy about the weekend television coverage. Yes, just because it is not a new issue doesn't make it less frustrating. All I say: ESPN and Tennis Channel will be on the scene at Wimbledon and I can say safely that there won't be issues viewing late round matches live.
? A few of you took issue with that line. At some level we're talking semantics, but I stand by the sentiment. This is not to discredit Sharapova. If anything, it's a compliment. That she is able to overcome modest innate athleticism and become a Hall of Fame player is a testament to her work ethic, her discipline, her competitive instincts. But she isn't naturally fast or quick or graceful or strong and I strongly suspect she would admit that. (We're talking about the self-described "cow on ice.")
? I feel like I was damned either way on this. Here's what I envisioned: Federer or Nadal or Djokovic or another top star join Esther Vergeer to play an exhibition. It raises money and awareness for wheelchair tennis. It raises money and awareness for a charity. Obviously the top player lacks a facility to maneuver in a wheelchair. Obviously, we don't expect Vergeer to beat Maria Sharapova in a conventional match. The exhibition highlights the skill and courage and dedication of the wheelchair players.
? These events are as competitive as the players want them to be. When the McEnroe brothers played Wilander and Michael Pernfors, it was entertainingly intense. When Henri Leconte and Mansour Bahrami play, it's the Harlem Globetrotters come to tennis.
The players are usually paid an appearance fee, not conventional prize money. If we're being honest, part of the function of the "legends" matches is to pad the schedule the second week of an event. But so what? It's often quite entertaining -- definitely would encourage fans on site to go. What's more, these guys are still unbelievable players and strategists. You can learn a lot watching them play.
? Oh, the inter-generational question that you guys love, but I do not love. Whose equipment are we using? Whose training techniques? Whose strings? I usually lean heavily toward the contemporary. For all of ASV's cagey defense and clay court know-how, I see Sharapova simply hitting through her, starting with the serve. I remember ASV sometimes sending second serves over the net that traveled slower than freeway traffic. We're talking low 60s here. Can you imagine what Sharapova would do with those?
Other examples can be found here and here and here.
? I decided to go right to the source on this one since with full disclosure -- that is the theme here -- I am a friend and Tennis Channel colleague of Justin's. Here's Justin's reply: "Alex A. I appreciate the points you make but I see it from a different, albeit biased perspective. I certainly understand why conflict in tennis is such a polarizing topic. I also realize and feel fortunate that I am in the middle of numerous things in the sport I love and respect so deeply. The reality is and I have this conversation with Jon and others numerous times, is that if conflict is allowed in our sport and it is, the examples are literally endless, it is more an issue of disclosure and integrity in managing the numerous entities you are involved in and represent. I take great pride in my numerous roles, and feel like they are all handled with full disclosure, often times literally legally documented. I've always taken the most pride in my work ethic and in my attempt to build a second career after my playing days, I have used the synergies afforded me to learn the business of tennis, sports, and broadcasting the best I can. I would also make the point that I believe each one of my various roles helps with the other roles. Tennis is an incestuous, conflicted sport. If you are going to allow that, you can't blame someone for taking advantage of it the best he can. Thank you for your note, I hope you enjoyed the wedding footage. My main goal with the segment was to show an event that many people in the inner tennis family came together to celebrate something outside of the normal tennis arena. Sincerely, Justin Gimelstob"
? These two communiqués came to me the exact same minute. You know if only someone accused me of hating Nadal, I would be, like, a Triple Crown winner. I'll have another...
? Yes! Just a logistical note about the "50 observations" column: when the events end, I'm often writing a longer piece for Sports Illustrated. Thus the "Top 50" tend to go light on the winners' achievements. If you read my French Open story in Sports Illustrated magazine this week, I think the admiration for Nadal/Sharapova (and Djokovic as well) and what they achieved should be apparent.
? I like your idea a lot. Also, to the casual fan it makes instant sense.
? Thanks. For the
? Oh, yes, Ms. Wade? Virginia Wade? I have a Stacey Allaster on the line. Are you available?
? Kartik, Chennai: "While reading about Razzano defeating Serena and some of the greatest upsets ever, I suddenly remembered Mats Wilander losing to Ramesh Krishnan in straight sets in the second round of the Australian in 1989. Wilander came into 1989 as the world's top ranked player after having won the Australian, French and US Open in 1988. His career plummeted after that second round loss and didn't have any significant results. Equally shocking was the second round defeat of two time defending champion Boris Becker at Wimbledon 1987 to Peter Doohan."
? Mike Roetzel of Little Rock, AR: "I remember some time ago you were running a series of letters of fans recounting their interactions with tennis stars. This seems a good occasion to remember my one meeting with Sharapova. It was in Memphis a few years back, and after the day's matches, where Maria absolutely trounced the competition, 6-2, 6-1 (even that score actually doesn't reflect just how dominant she was that day), we went to our hotel to check in, and who should be checking herself in, right in front of us, in an otherwise almost empty lobby, but Ms. Sharapova? To say we were pleasantly surprised would be a colossal understatement. We could see that she was, if anything, taller than her listed 6'2", bone tired, and, of course, stunningly beautiful. We didn't want to be a bother to the already exhausted champion, or to embarrass ourselves by letting on just how much we were geeking out right then, so I thought hard for something appropriate to say and came up with "Congratulations on your tournament." (It was, at that time, a big win for her.) She took a second and looked at us -- not a big age gap, we were informally dressed, relaxed -- and came up with perfect response, a silently-mouthed "thank you" that was echoed in her eyes. It was not rote or contrived or automatic, all which one might expect after a long day of platitudes and expressions of gratitude to well-wishers, but a genuine response, an appreciation of being appreciated. Classy. Another group of fans had arrived behind us by then, and asked her to take pictures with them. To my surprise, she looked so tired, she accepted and posed with their group before finally heading off."
? The Davis Cup World Group semifinal between the U.S. and Spain will be held on an outdoor red clay court at the Parque Hermanos Castro in Gijon, Spain. The semifinal tie will be held September 14-16.
? Why tennis is better than golf.
? Sushku of Chennai: "Jon. You should paste these quotes from Sharapova - what a champion and what an attitude. Truly inspirational. In a WTA world full of head-cases, she stands out outright, and perhaps as an inspiration for all the young girls who want to do well in this sport or any other:"
"I proved that no matter how many punches I took in my career, I've always gotten back up," Sharapova said. "I never made excuses for me, not to myself, not to people. I have a tremendous amount of belief and pride in what I do. I love my work.
"I could have said, 'I don't need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams.' But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it's freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn't there from the outside world, and you seem so small.
"But you can achieve great things when you don't listen to all those things."
? Danny Duncan of Bangor, Maine: "As the summer passes, I think Federer is hoping to fulfill the lines of that Toby Keith song..."I ain't as good as I once was. But I'm as good once as I ever was..." Oh, and how about this for LLS: David Ferrer and MacGruber.
Have a good week everyone!