It's not quite on the order of "jumbo shrimp" or "team of mavericks", but as oxymorons go, "tennis dynasty" is pretty darn good. As the sport has become a relentlessly global pursuit, the players come from everywhere. Oh sure, one country may have a disproportionate presence at the top of the game. But the notion of a single country dominating the upper ranks, as was the case a generation ago? It's as outmoded as wooden rackets and gut strings.
This point was reinforced on the first day of the U.S. Open, a tournament that features more players from Kazakhstan (five) than from the former tennis powerhouse of Sweden (two); as many Tunisians as South Africans. One country experiencing a tennis "boomlet" -- there are no long full-fledged booms -- is Germany. While none exactly recall Steffi Graf in her prime, four Germans have been lodged in the WTA's top 20 recently: Angelique Kerber, Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic.
The latter three were in action on Monday. Each lost in different fashion. Lisicki, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist, was upset by Sorana Cirstea of Romania, a solid player with top 10 capability. Goerges all but failed to show up against Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic. Still rusty after missing much of 2012 with injuries, Petkovic fell to Romina Oprandi of Switzerland in straight sets. For good measure, another German, 22nd-seeded Florian Mayer, had fallen to promising American Jack Sock. By the first afternoon, the German contingent had been decimated. Several beers -- or gin and Teutonics -- are in order tonight.
For all the complaints about the decline of American tennis, four seeded men claim the U.S. as a country of residence; so does the overwhelming favorite on the women's side, Serena Williams. This is, of course, marks a big drop-off from two decades ago, when a full half of the top ten had the (USA) country code alongside their names. But the past is irrelevant, We should be looking at the present. And given the current demographics of sports, the U.S. doing just fine. Just ask the Germans.
Maybe it's time for a new marketing slogan: "Tennis: The courts are flat; so is the world."
Did you ever think a player would come into the U.S. Open on a 21 match winning streak there (and yes, I am talking about Kim Clijsters), and yet nobody is talking about her winning the tournament?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.
? This has already become the fun (and misleading) stat of the 2012 U.S. Open. Scroll to the bottom and note that Clijsters has not lost a U.S. Open match since 2003 -- and that was a final. Yet it's not exactly as though she's won eight straight titles. Thanks to injury and retirement, she's "only" on a 21 match win streak.
Is she a contender here? Yes and no. Her record speaks for itself. In a vacuum, she is still a top, say, eight player on hard courts. But she comes to this, her final tournament, in less than full health. That she entered both doubles and mixed doubles suggests that she is here to soak up the atmosphere, savor the applause and all.
What do you of Sharapova and Sugarpova, her new candy brand?
-- Brian, New York
? We had a good discussion about this on Twitter (oxymoron?) and the consensus was that if Federer can endorse Lindt chocolates and Serena can endorse Oreo cookies, Sharapova is in the clear. Would some of us prefer it if she used her platform to talk about Pussy Riot and not about the virtues of gummy? Sure. But I think she gets a pass here.
My partner and I have a running discussion on the Hall of Fame worthiness of several players: Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. We generally subscribe to the belief that two Grand Slams gets you into the Hall of Fame, but one does not -- and yet Roddick has (arguably) had the best career of that triumvirate. By the way, by that criteria, there may be some really lean years forthcoming for male player inductions into the Hall of Fame at some point in the future given the dominance of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic from 2004-present.
-- Aongus Burke, Brooklyn, N.Y.
? What would a baguette be without a Hall of Fame question? Pam Shriver, Michael Chang, Jana Novotna et al ruin the "two Slam" assumption. As always, the precedent matters. How do you let in Chang and deny Roddick, whose career was superior by virtually any measure? And both Hewitt and Safin are multiple Slam winners.
Did Roddick have a better career than Safin or Hewitt? We could have a spirited debate here, but I tend to think you're right. Obviously he trails them in major singles titles. But in terms of longevity, years finishing in the top ten, major finals and overall consistency, he fares better. Also, he was really caught in the gears of "Feder-al" in a way the other two weren't.
It's a shame that Roddick let his combativeness get the better of him so many times. He could have made a stronger case for himself here, had his disposition been a bit more congenial. (Note: tap-dancing routine.)
Is it true that the ATP banned the Madrid blue clay after Djokovic and Nadal failed to adjust to the fast surface and threatened to boycott the tournament? Didn't hear anything from your columns -- are you too afraid to criticize the big name players for complaining about a surface that they cannot adjust to? Not to mention that the ATP folded like a cheap suit.
-- Tim Healey, Palo Alto, Calif.
? Maybe you missed this. As for the ATP's decision to scrap the blue clay, let's be clear on structure. This isn't akin to Kobe Bryant complaining about the height of the basketball hoop, so the NBA capitulating and lowering the rims to nine feet. The ATP represents both tournaments and players, so Nadal and his colleagues have a seat at the table here.
Tennis/tennis players had three mentions in an Olympics themed mailbag by Bill Simmons on Grantland. Are we making a comeback on the sports radar? By the way, so glad you are back. I missed your daily posts during Wimbledon.
-- Nicole Moss, Winston-Salem, NC
? Quick story: I played some pick-up basketball with Simmons in London. First thing he said to me when we saw each other: "Serena's the best ever, right?" I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for an Andrea Petkovic appearance on the BS Report, but, yes, we eagerly await more tennis coverage.
You wrote in your travel tips: "We'll get the self-promotion out early. The SI.com tennis page will feature the opuses (opii?) of S.L. Price, Courtney Nguyen, Richard Deitsch, Bruce Jenkins, yours truly and other luminaries." Jon, the plural of opus is opera. A literal translation of which could be "the works" although perhaps not exactly in the sense we mean when we order a burger with works. Or maybe that too.
-- Michelle Ippolito, Reno, Nev.
? Thanks. Honestly I didn't know that. In that case welcome to the opera.
? Could it really be 20 years ago that Seles won her last U.S. Open?
? Ananth Raghavan of San Francisco: "Here's an interesting article by Sam Groth. Tells you about the lot of players outside the top 100."
? Peter Lattman does tennis.
? Press releasin' with some interesting stuff from the ATP's formation of a new Competition Committee: "The ATP announced the inaugural members of its new Competition Committee, created to evaluate and recommend changes in the way the professional game is presented and played. The ATP Competition Committee will serve purely in an advisory capacity, with any recommended changes or innovations continuing to require approval by the ATP Board of Directors. The six-person committee consists of two representatives designated by the ATP Tournament Council, two representatives designated by the ATP Player Council, and one at-large member and a committee chairman, both selected by the ATP Executive Chairman & President.
"I have enormous respect for the history and tradition of our game," said ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett. "At the same time, it's important that we continue to explore new and creative ideas for enhancing the competition and presentation of the sport. We have a great group involved and I look forward to seeing what they come up with."
? Check out a new book out this month titled Photographing Tennis: A Guide for Photographers, Parents, Coaches& Fans. "It's a how-to on tennis photography. One of my reasons for writing it is to help the tennis fan who likes to bring a camera to the matches. Tennis is probably the most accessible sport for a fan to shoot -- ticket-holders, especially at the U.S. Open, can get as close to the action on many courts as a credentialed photographer can."
? Press releasin': "The USTA has announced the National Men's 55 Clay Court Championship will be held Oct. 6-12 at The Landings Club on Skidaway Island and will be free and open to the public. This tournament will feature nationally-ranked players over the age of 55 from around the country. Last year's champions were Dan Waldman (singles) and Larry Schnall and Tom Smith (doubles)."
? Press releasin': "On Thursday night, September 6, the US Open will feature an ultimate New York experience as five multi-talented New Yorkers participate in a special pro-celebrity charity doubles exhibition. Actor, comedian, writer, musician, producer and New York-native Adam Sandler will team up with four-time US Open Champion, former world No. 1, International Tennis Hall of Fame member, sports commentator, and musician, from Queens, NY, John McEnroe against actor, comedian, writer, and producer and Long Island-native Kevin James and his partner four-time Grand Slam Men's Singles Champion, former world No. 1, Tennis Hall of Famer, and sports commentator, who now calls NY home, Jim Courier. Brooklyn-native actor, comedian and writer Colin Quinn will serve as the chair umpire for what promises to be an entertaining exhibition."