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Beyond the Baseline

The Toss: Tennis players as fictional TV characters

Mindy Kaling Which tennis player best personifies Mindy Kaling's character in The Mindy Project? (Getty Images)

With the holidays upon us, we take a break from reviewing 2012/previewing 2013 for a more offbeat topic. Lindsay Gibbs, co-founder of The Changeover and author of Titanic: The Tennis Story, joins The Toss to talk about one of the reasons for family gathering this time of year -- TV.

[Man behind The Office plans tennis comedy]

Today's Toss: Which fictional TV characters remind you of tennis players?

Courtney Nguyen: Lindsay, I hope the spirit of the season is alive and well wherever you are. I don't know what's been keeping you busy during this blink-and-you'll-miss-it tennis offseason, but I've been working tirelessly to catch up on all the TV that I've missed during 10 months of traveling. I wish I could say I had more interesting ways to spend this offseason, but hey, I'm secure enough in myself to admit that I really do just love a good TV show. Girls? Check. Homeland? Check. Two and a Half Men? I'll bite my tongue because I don't want to be rude.

Somewhere along my extended Hulu marathon I began to wonder (and I'm sorry if this already sounds like a incomprehensibly horrible Sex and the City voiceover): Are there any fictional TV characters that remind you of tennis players? I know you're as much of a pop-culture fiend as I am, Lindsay, so I'm sure you must have some thoughts. We both love tennis as much for the vibrant and sometimes kooky personalities as groundstrokes and technique, so let's have at it. Is there a Saul Berenson of the ATP Tour? How about a Barney Stinson? There has to be a Liz Lemon somewhere in the WTA ranks.

Lindsay Gibbs: Thanks so much for having me back, Courtney, to discuss my two all-time favorite topics, tennis and TV. The twists and turns of the tennis season always remind me of a brilliantly scripted dramedy, and the tennis stars play their roles so well -- intentionally or otherwise. I particularly like to think of the tennis players as their sitcom counterparts, since something about the ruthlessly competitive and yet endlessly cyclical nature of this sport seems to bring out the funny. (Also, I feel like this is a good time to shamefully confess that I haven't seen Homeland yet.)

But to get us started, I think it's safe to say that if tennis had a Barney Stinson, it would definitely be Marat Safin. l just can't think of a current player who has that kind of swagger, sleaziness and loveability. I was close to going with Novak Djokovic, but I already have him pegged as a Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. I mean, Djokovic would just make a fabulous real-estate agent and father of three. And let's be clear about one thing up front: Marion Bartoli is our Liz Lemon.

Nguyen: Sorry it took me so long to respond, Lindsay. The thought of Maid Marion as Liz Lemon resulted in coffee all over my keyboard. I'm going to have to send you the bill.

I actually had Bartoli pegged more as a Hannah Horvath from Girls. Her decision-making, both on and off court, can leave you scratching your head, she seems to fully embrace her quirkiness, she's smart (175 IQ!) and -- much like Hannah tries to get her parents to fund her unemployed quest for writing glory -- Bartoli still receives the emotional (and coaching) support from her father, Walter. Bartoli could very well be the player of her generation. Or at least *a* player ... in *a* generation. But let's take a look at the ATP's cast of characters.

I'm cracking up at your choice of Djokovic as the unintentionally hilarious Phil Dunphy. He's definitely got that goofy humor down. As for me, I know the show is off the air now, but I've always seen a little bit of Rafael Nadal in 24's Jack Bauer. It's that desperate relentlessness and 110 percent commitment in pursuit of a goal that binds them together -- counterterrorism, tennis; tomato, to-mah-toe. In the same way that I would want Bauer on the case in the event I was trapped in an undisclosed bunker with crucial intel somewhere in Los Angeles, Nadal would be my choice if I had to pick a tennis player to play for my life. I'm pretty sure he would try pretty hard to get the job done.

As for Andy Murray, the first name that jumps out to me is Nick Miller from New Girl. That's right, the law school dropout turned misanthropic bartender, Miller's permanent turtle face is no different from the scowl that everyone seems to think Murray was born with. But deep down, Miller is a softie -- let's face it, Mt. Rushmore would be a softie if it were Zooey Deschanel's roommate -- and more sensitive than his unshaven demeanor suggests. The same could be said for Murray.

Gibbs: I love all of those suggestions, Courtney. Especially Murray as Miller. I had pegged Murray as a bit of a Ben Wyatt, though. Perhaps it's the deadpan delivery and the fact that everyone thinks he's so boring. And can't you picture Murray's having a meltdown like Wyatt did during the "Media Blitz" episode of Parks and Recreation when he was going around promoting the Harvest Festival?

To keep the Parks and Recreation theme going, isn't Caroline Wozniacki the closest thing we have to a Leslie Knope? Perky, overeager and as motivated as they come. Also, she's terrible with pranks. In fact, in that video Maria Sharapova has a bit of the too-cool-to-care-about-anything April Ludgate in her. It must be the killer eye roll. (I'd nominate Angelique Kerber as the runner-up Ludgate. She'd make a terrible assistant. Ron Swanson would love her.) This would leave Agnieszka Radwanska as Ann Perkins, which I feel works in more ways than one. She's feisty, loyal and yet still under the radar.

I'm struggling to figure out where Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams fit into all of this. Perhaps back over in New Girl as Jess and Cece? What do you think, Courtney?

Nguyen: Serena and Azarenka are tough. I'm not sure the twee and precious world of New Girl would suit either of them. These are two strong personalities who are unapologetic about pursuing what they want in life. To wit, Azarenka ends her tweets with an "#unapologetic" hashtag all the time. So, for Azarenka, I'm going with Kate Austen from the now defunct but legendary Lost. I like the comparison because they were both strong women, physically and emotionally, who don't back down, but they're also more sensitive than they let on.

As for Serena, how about Dr. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project? Mindy Kaling's character is a total girly-girl who is obsessed with fashion and the pursuit of love. She's flawed in many ways, but the one thing that's clear on the show is that she's very good at her job, better than any of the other doctors in the office. See the parallels?

Any others come to mind for you, Lindsay? Have we really not touched on Roger Federer? And are there more possibilities for Sharapova?

Gibbs: Both of those are great suggestions. Serena as Mindy is perfect. A quick perusal of her Twitter profile shows just how boy-crazy -- and confused -- she is.

My Sharapova nod still goes to April Ludgate. Though Cece from New Girl might have enough edge to capture the Sharapova death stare too.

As for Federer, he's a tricky one. I definitely think there's a bit of Chris Traeger in him -- he is just literally so perfect that it's nauseating, and he so rarely loses his cool. But I can also see a hint of Schmidt from New Girl in him, too. He's often on another plane with his fashion sense, and he probably has a book full of suits to pick out his best look. Also, he really should put a dollar in a jar every time he says something PseudoFed-like.

To round things off, isn't Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the perfect Andy Dwyer? I mean, Parks and Recretation's Dwyer would absolutely run into a fire hydrant and bust his knee open. In fact, that was probably a plot line. Juan Martin del Potro, of course, would be Jim from The Office, because he has perfected the look-at-the-camera-and-shrug maneuver. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out who would be Pam. And after making some detours to Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic, I think I've finally landed on Lucie Safarova as the adorable receptionist Erin. Does that make Tomas Berdych Roy?

Nguyen: Sharapova as Cece is absolutely perfect, and I'm kicking myself for not seeing that before -- the tough-as-nails model, loyal friend who falls for Schmidt and his dorky charms. I'm sure there's a "Cece's Candies" storyline down the road. Surely. And I'll co-sign Federer as Rob Lowe's Chris Traeger. He is the perfect human being. Or at least he tries to be. Or maybe one of the guys in Suits? I've never seen Suits. But Federer should probably be in a show where there are a lot of suits.

Well, this was really fun, Lindsay, but I have to run. I've got front-row tickets to tonight's Mouserat show at The Fillmore. Don't be jealous.

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