Let's start with more reaction to the surprising results from the ATP Tour finals.
• An all-Davydenko Mailbag is pushing. But I agree wholeheartedly the guy is due for a round of applause. "Journalistic love," even. Andrew rightly notes that beating
I don't want to get too carried away declaring a new era of parity, but given Federer's (justifiably) blunted motivation and Nadal's troubles, the field is opening up a bit. No reason that Davydenko, even at 28, can't position himself as one of the men to challenge for a Slam.
• Lots of questions and rants about the USTA salaries that were publicized last week. This is a complex issue that goes beyond "Tennis is struggling to stay relevant, while the fat cats in White Plains are paying themselves millions." Still, it's a public relations challenge and it's clearly incensed a lot of you.
I think a lot of the problem stems from the way the USTA chooses to define and market itself. Most of the USTA's funds come from, of course, the U.S. Open, a wildly successful sporting event that generates hundreds of millions in revenue. USTA executives have been sensitive to questions about compensation. As they've seen it, they are negotiating television contracts and major sponsorships, overseeing an international brand.
Kantarian, for instance, transformed the Open into a wildly profitable brand -- a brand, as we saw this year, that is largely recession proof. USTA revenues have increased nearly $100 million, or 57 percent, from 2000. (Of course, if you and I had been given a new $300 million stadium, flush with suites and improved seating, we could probably boost revenues pretty significantly too.) Why shouldn't he be paid accordingly? No one, after all, complains about the millions
The problem is that, unlike other sports leagues, the USTA positions itself as a not-for-profit. We're constantly told that its mission is "to grow and promote tennis."
The NFL isn't tasked with developing junior football players; Major League Baseball doesn't run Little League or hire youth coaches. The USTA, however, is an all-encompassing organization for the sport. It seems to me you can't have it both ways. If you insist on paying private sector compensation, it's disingenuous to play up the "good of the game" function. If you're serious and sincere about being a not-for-profit, you can't, in good conscience, have this kind of payroll. (Play around on guidestar.com and check out the salaries at comparable 501(c) executives.)
Maybe the USTA could have avoided this unpleasantness by drawing sharper divisions between the business arm and the non-for-profit arm. For years, it tried to have it both ways. No more. It will be interesting to see what sort of fallout this creates. For one, the top players are constantly agitating for more prize money at the Grand Slams. If I'm Federer or
But, judging from your mail, the real soreness is coming from grassroots folks. A few months ago I spoke with some avid players in Knoxville, Tenn. The local courts at West Hills Tennis Center were filled with cracks and crevices. Players would retrieve a ball in the corner and risk impaling their arms on loose, rusty tongs of fencing. League play was cancelled on account of dangerous conditions.
Players formed a group, the "West Hills Tennis Center Rescue Project." One member owned a gravel company and offered to provide supplies below cost. A tennis-playing architect volunteered a rendering of the project. They held a benefit tournament and applied for grants with the state and eventually raised $400,000. "We're just regular folks who just wanted a nice place to play tennis," a member told me.
At last check, they were working to fund Phase II at the facility, constructing a clubhouse, a meeting room and four extra courts. It's a great story, a testament to the power of a passionate and organized group of ordinary citizens. Knoxville's mayor now tells other groups to study the West Hills Rescue Project as a model for forming a public-private partnership.
I couldn't help thinking of these guys last week. Wonder how they felt knowing the leader of the national organization "to grow and promote tennis" could have personally underwritten their entire campaign with a few weeks of his salary?
• I think the ITF did a masterful job handling a situation that had the potential for real ugliness. Much as we like our justice served swiftly, by letting nearly three months lapse between the incident and judgment, the ITF allowed hot emotion to cool.
The announcement did not, as feared, trump either tour's year-end championship event. The punishment rightly considered Serena's (generally sterling) history. The actual decision -- a fat fine of $82,500, probation, but no suspension -- strikes me as just and reasonable. We can quibble over whether this punishment was too harsh or too lenient, but I don't hear anyone outraged that this was a) a spineless whitewash or b) draconian. Overall,
• Great point. I think this is a hugely underrated component of the "fatigue discussion." The season is not just long; it's far and wide! I was looking at Nadal's itinerary the other day and thought, No wonder the guy is breaking down!
He returns to the tour in late summer and plays in Montreal, Cincinnati and New York. He does a stint in Beijing and Shanghai, then back to Paris and London. And now Davis Cup. Four weeks from now he leaves for the Middle East (yes, his questionable choice) and then Australia. And keep in mind, he's based on a small Mediterranean island, surely making connections whenever he flies commercially.
As anyone who flies for business knows, travel exacts a mean price on the body. Your diet changes, you fight jet lag, your rhythms are interrupted, your immune system breaks down. I suspect that if players entered the same number of events but weren't forced to span the globe to get there, we wouldn't have nearly as many injuries, withdrawals and complaints.
• Hate him if you must. But again, I think that if anything, his situation boosts Hingis' chances. On paper -- five Slams, the top ranking, doubles excellence, etc. --she's in. And as the number of inductees who readily admit to illicit drug use grows yet again, how do you keep Hingis out on the grounds that she once failed a test (a dubious one at that) for cocaine?
• Not that I can recall. Remember that a year ago, she was still firmly retired. With Clijsters and
• For some reason, that sounds vaguely louche. Here's a
• This is the last week to send me your votes for the Hall of Fame inductees for 2010. The candidates:
• Careful what you wish for. We keep hearing that ATP is trying to buy Indianapolis' sanction and simply shutter the event (rather than move it to Atlanta) in an effort to declog the calendar a bit. Stay tuned.
• Anyone curious how Thanksgiving played out at the Agassi household? "Pops, if I apologized for depicting you as the devil incarnate to an international audience, would you pass the yams?"
• Think you're having a busy month?
• To pre-empt the question: yes, I am prepared to go through the rest of my life knowing I will never write a more random item.
• This week's unsolicited book recommendation:
• Grace of Texas: Interview with Graf and Agassi in the new December
• With bonus points for the seasonal tie-in, Christian of Stockholm, Sweden has our lookalikes:
Have a great week, everyone!