Davis Cup, U.S. losing tennis events, more in holiday Mailbag
? Last week I took your votes for the 2013 Hall of Fame induction. In the spirit of transparency, the majority of you voted for Martina Hingis and did not vote for Michael Stich or Helena Sukova. I sent in my ballot accordingly.
? That wasn't a fast court, It was a hockey rink with a net in the middle.
Sparing the inevitable conversation about the Davis Cup's antediluvian flaws for another time, kudos to Stepanek and the Czech team, which is part of a bigger tennis narrative.
As for court speed, I have no problem with variety, nor with faster court speeds, especially if it encourages players to serve-and-volley, as Stepanek did to great effect last weekend.
? The two, of course, are inextricably tied. But I would submit -- admittedly this is an American perspective -- that the diminishing number of U.S. tournaments is more problematic than the diminishing number of American players. If you can't watch tennis at the highest level in person -- and struggle to watch in on TV thanks in part to time differences -- it's often too difficult to become a hard-core fan.
One often hears that American sports are parochial and lose interest when the top performers are "internationals." This is too simplistic. Look, for instance, at Bjorn Borg's popularity in the U.S. But consider how often he played here. In 1979, for example, he played in New York twice, Canada twice, Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, Rancho Mirage, Boca Raton and Richmond. Compare this to Federer or Nadal who made only four appearances in North America all year.
? Yes, Murray bears (or bore?) the pressure of a nation and its fickle fans. And it wasn't simply that their affection for him changed in lockstep with his results; their perception of his nationality -- is he British or Scottish? -- changed with his results. But, ultimately, he was/is an athlete, playing a sport well behind soccer/football in the public consciousness. The national reaction to his previous failures? It was hardly despondence. It was mild disappointment from a self-assured country that does self-effacement and irony quite well.
Djokovic's case is entirely different. We've discussed this in greater detail in a past mailbag, but in many ways he is the face of the "new" Serbia.
Not Serbian sports. Serbia. Political candidates seek his endorsement. The country's wealthiest financiers seek his friendship. So do overseas financiers interested developing that mall in Belgrade or making those bond offerings. His quotes, and even tweets, are parsed like sacred texts. I've written this before but something like one-in-six Serbian kids have Djokovic's face as their Facebook avatar.
? Point taken.
? You could just as easily note that Djokovic is uncommonly sporting in defeat. And in London, Djokovic made a point of acknowledging Lars Graff, the longtime chair umpire who was working his last match before retirement. I'd A) resist visiting the sins -- in this case over-exuberance -- of the camp and the son, and B) make a bit of space for cultural relativism.
? "Irrelevant" is a harsh word. But if we're being honest with ourselves, who but the most diehard fan cares about the events between the U.S. Open and the Year-end hootenanny? The top players tend to beg off or give something other than full efforts. The tournaments are played indoors -- a surface to which there is no corresponding major. Everyone is physically banged up and mentally taxed.
By this point, we've eaten the steak and we're just waiting for dessert. We've had our amorous encounter and we're just killing time before breakfast. The torah is back in the ark and we're just awaiting wine and challah.
There are promoters willing to promote. There are broadcasters willing to broadcast. There are players willing to play. There are (sometimes) crowds willing to crowd. But, really, it's a "big ask" to expect casual fans to pay attention after the last of the majors and before the year-end extravaganza.
(Of course if we're also being honest with ourselves, Djokovic is probably more deserving of POY honors, especially after his romp in London.)
? I fold.
? I wouldn't go crazy here. Chang won a Slam; Ferrer won his first Masters Series title only a month ago. Chang did most of his damage as a teenager; Ferrer has played his best ball in his late 20s and 30s. But, yes, if you're looking for undersized hustlers who try to offset a deficit of power with a surplus of speed, hustle and pluck, you could bracket these two together.
? I'm opening this up to the public before giving my own.
? In a word: ja
? The story I heard from a reliable source: he got locked in the bathroom of a friend's Paris apartment. He tried to climb out on a ledge to get into a window, slipped and fell 40 feet. He broke some bones and was in surgery for nine hours. He can't put weight on his legs for a few more months and is on crutches. But he suffered no head or spinal injuries and is eager to get back on the court.
? For those who missed 'em, here are SI.com's WTA and ATP year-end roundups.
? Trivia: Which ATP pro was practicing with the UCLA women's team last week?
? John of Greenville, SC: "In the 11/14 mailbag, you mentioned James Blake's efforts to raise money with Hurricane Sandy. The other big news for James was his wedding on 11/10 to Emily Snider. Congrats James!"
? New York folks (and Billie Jean King fans) ... note the Dec. 5 show "She is King" at Dixon Place.
? The Hall of Fame voted to indefinitely suspend Bob Hewitt. Take it away, Bruce Jenkins.
? Congrats to UVa senior Jarmere Jenkins and Univeristy of Florida senior Lauren Embree, who were selected to represent the U.S. in the seventh annual Master'U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate team competition held Dec. 5-9 at Aix-en-Provence, France. The team will be coached by Boise State's head men's tennis coach Greg Patton -- his fourth straight year coaching the Master'U team -- and Cal head women's tennis coach Amanda Augustus.
? Press releasing: "Over the weekend, the ITF and StarGames, Inc., announced that March 4, 2013 will be the first World Tennis Day. Eleven countries have already agreed to participate in the event designed to encourage greater tennis participation around the world. The program will globally do what the USTA has been doing with Tennis Night in America in recent years.
Tennis Night in America, and now World Tennis Day, on March 4 will once again be highlighted by the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden. The 2013 event features Serena Williams against Victoria Azarenka and Juan Martin del Potro against Rafael Nadal. It will be Nadal's first appearance back in the US following his injury.
A second BNP Paribas Showdown will feature Li Na playing Caroline Wozniacki and John McEnroe renewing his rivalry with Ivan Lendl. This World Tennis Day event will take place on March 4 at the AsiaWorld-Arena in Hong Kong."
? There's a new book of David Foster Wallace essays, titled "Both Flesh and Not." Here's DFW on Federer: "Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious and multiform."
? Speaking of books, one of my dearest friends has a new biography on Springsteen which defines "must-read."
? This week's long lost siblings comes via @romicvitkovic: Caroline Wozniacki's long lost twin on a wedding mag cover. #uncanny.