While still recovering from the Djokovic-Nadal final, thought we'd do something different for this column. Hardly a day goes by that one of you doesn't write in about the Tennis Channel. (The usual disclosure: I've done work for TC in the past and root unabashedly for its success.) You love it. You want it. You hate that you don't get it. You wonder why they are broadcasting an old match while a live final is going on. Do they have rights? Do they not have rights? Who do you contact when your cable system doesn't carry it?
As we speak, Tennis Channel lawyers are haggling with Comcast trying, in short, to get the Golf Channel treatment. Availability in more homes, which means more revenue, which means more ability to buy rights and develop cooler programming. Meanwhile, like the ambitious, easy-to-root for start-up that it is, the Tennis Channel chugs along, doing what it can with the resources it has. The judge's decision vis-à-vis Comcast will go a long way toward determining the network's future. But until then, here is a bookmarkable FAQ guide courtesy of the TC's communications department:
• This, obviously, is a fakery. (The attached email address made me laugh but is unfit for publication.) Nevertheless it pretty much captures the Discussion of the Moment. Is Federer cooked? Is Djokovic the New King? It's amusing to me how parallel the discussions are:
1) How long do we hold on to our shares of Fed Inc. stock? Yes, it's performed brilliantly in previous fiscal years. Even with this recent dip it's still trading at a nice multiple. (Factoid: since last July, Federer's record against players other than Murray/Djokovic/Nadal, is 52-1.) It would stink to unload only to see a bounceback. The corporate structure is there, the market can turn soft and with a few adjustments -- the McKinsey consultants will come and advise shoring up the backhand wing and using a bigger stick -- it could return to prominence. On the other hand, we don't want to delude ourselves and the current trends are hard to overlook. At what point do I commit and divest? You don't want to get swept up in the hype but you don't want to be irrational.
2) How long do we resist buying shares of Djokovic Inc.? It's been going gangbusters recently and the future is bright. After a maturation process, some dips and some p.r. crises, it seems to have found its sweet spot. It's hard not to be optimistic about the growth prospects. On the other hand, any company can have a strong quarter. (In tennis terms: a lot of players have won one straight Slam.) You'd hate to clamber aboard the bandwagon prematurely, leverage yourself to the hilt only to have the shares tumble. At what point do I commit and invest? You don't want to get swept up in the hype but you don't want to be irrational.
My answer: Clay season will tell plenty. If Djokovic keeps this up on the clay, then we're having a totally different conversation than we're having now. If Federer continues to falter in big matches, we probably need to reassess. For now, I'm playing cautious investor on both counts.
• Hmm. Good question. Two mercurial careers -- two players, both from one country -- both filled with some real highs and some inexplicable lows. One player wins a major and achieves No. 1 but falls dramatically. The other player never wins a major but at least sticks around the top 10. I know a lot of you will take issue with this, but Slams are of such importance -- especially on the WTA -- I take a French Open title and then a fall down the mine shaft over no Slams and something (kinda/sorta/not really) resembling consistency.
• I'll say in advance that this is a totally thankless job in the best of times. When there's a rain delay and television "partners" whose needs and preferences need to be considered it's even trickier. But how do you put Clijsters and Ivanovic -- two of the three most marketable women you have -- on an outer court with no Hawk-Eye or television camera?
• Between this column and Twitter, I bet I fielded more than 100 complaints about the grunting. I've expressed my view that I'm not particularly disturbed but it's clear that I am in the minority. And this is not only bothering people but -- worse -- causing people to tune out. It's pretty simple, really. The WTA can deem this sufficiently serious enough to take a stand. Or the tour can do what it did with mid-match coaching and capitulate to the players. (The conspiracy theorist says that those in power don't mind the grunting at all. The WTA has always been erratic/inconsistent about selling sex. You and I might find it unseemly, but there are worse ways to get attention than letting two women in their early 20s make noises befitting the red-light district.)
Is this discussion inherently sexist, as one of you wondered? I don't think so. If male players made such extreme, elongated sounds, they'd be called on it, too. Is it habit, rather than tactical? Perhaps. But so what? What's wrong with asking a player to break a habit? Does it affect the opponent? Originally I'd said "no." (When players can continue a rally with planes flying overhead, they can deal with some shrieking noises.) But during the final, Azarenka's grunts continued resounding when Sharapova was striking that next ball. That's a problem. If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see where this goes....
• And I thought it was bad when Amelie Mauresmo faced Venus Williams at the U.S. Open a few years back and they played Rage In The Machine's "Killing in the Name." (Sample lyrics: "Some of those that work forces / Are the same that burn crosses.") Then again, with all the grunting going on, maybe sex is in the air?
• I'm with Joshua. But here's a well-reasoned counterpoint courtesy of a Dallas reader: "I disagree with your assessment that the U.S.'s tennis troubles shouldn't impinge on your enjoyment of the sport overall. Maybe not on a personal level, but overall it does if you happen to live in America. Even if you are an American that doesn't like any of the American players like me. Less quality American players means less coverage for the sport in America. Remember when tennis use to get good coverage and decent television ratings here? Those days are long gone. Bruce Jenkins wrote the number of traveling U.S. tennis writers is at an all-time low. Less media coverage equals less of a chance to create new fans. Less fans equal less people who care about tennis. Keep adding that up and you have an obscure niche sport that is dying -- at least in this country. It's no fun watching a sport not many of your countrymen or media care about. You have written many times about the lack of interest in tennis these days on our shores and the problem it creates. And there is only one way to improve that. No, not some HBO special following around some little known Russian player. Better American players. It's the only way. Nationalism will always pay a huge part in tennis. Look at Serbia, China, Argentina, and the U.K. with Murray. On the other side look at Brazil after Guga stopped playing. Or us right now. So I think you are putting your head in the sand on this. Even
• You got it. (We'll go all caps to compensate for tardiness) Your Sony Ericsson Open ladies' doubles winners: AGGIE RADWANSKA and DANIELA HANTUCHOVA!!!
• Nothing notable? They're the kings of the Horizon League! Seriously, Butler is a top-30 or top-40 program. Fognini is way too obscure. I'm thinking it's Ernests Gulbis or Juan Monaco reaching back--to-back French Open finals. (Then, of course, Monaco double-faults three times per game in the final.)
• Again -- and I can't stress this enough -- we're talking about precedent. We laugh at the notion of Dustin Pedroia getting into Cooperstown. Why? Because he doesn't come to meeting the established benchmarks. Well, what are tennis' benchmarks? One Slam (check); a run at the top is helpful, but not necessary; a pleasant disposition (check). JMDP is a 22-year-old who's won a major, been ranked as high as No. 4, reached the semis of Paris and beaten both Federer and Nadal multiple times.
Here's a question: is the toothpaste out of the tube, the precedent irreversible? Or is there a way to grandfather in a few players and say, "Look, we're losing credibility here. We need to restore some dignity and up our standards to a minimum, of say, four Slams before you're on the ballot?" How would we feel if a few years went by without any inductions? And how would we feel when Roddick or Sharapova or Safin were excluded knowing that Michael Chang, Pam Shriver, Novotna, Sabatini, et al., were allowed inside the velvet ropes?
It seems that Sharapova's lack of mental toughness is evident in her recent losses -- the most recent beatdown now at the hands of Azarenka (and not as close as the 6-1, 6-4 scoreline suggests). Sharapova seems to be finished as a Grand Slam contender, but can we at least expect her to make second-week runs at the majors?
• Five points on Sharapova:
1) She probably has mid-eight figures banked. She's engaged. She has other interests. She has three Slams to her name already. I credit her with grinding it out, still possessing the motivation and will to climb back up the ladder.
2) She's in the top 10 and, if you check out the points, is a likely top five member by Wimbledon.
3) Until she repairs her serve, it's hard to see her winning seven straight matches. When the serve goes, so much else -- not least your confidence during points -- goes with it.
4) Canon may have whiffed with "Image is Everything." But Sharapova's catchphrase, "Make every shot a power shot," is, sadly, accurate. I can't recall a top player who plays with such little nuance.
5) A few of you have mentioned this but I can't find it anywhere. Apparently Bill Simmons has quite a funny riff about Sharapova's intended, Sasha Vujacic. Can someone fill us in? Sound promising.
• He underwent left knee surgery early March and has to follow some intensive rehab which he will do in the South of France (according to his Facebook). He will be out 3 to 6 months,
• I don't envy the credentialing gatekeepers on this issue. Tennis in particular -- as we'd expect from a scattered, global sport -- has a huge online presence and following. Excluding bloggers and even full-time tweeters would be a fool's errand. Yet if everyone with a blog were granted a credential, media rooms would need to be the size of the Palace of Versailles. A blanket policy won't work. You simply need to assess on a case-by-case basis. The saving grace: it's pretty easy to discern which bloggers are legit and have a critical mass of followers -- and which don't.
• Two American tennis legends will renew their long-time tennis rivalry this summer, when Hall of Famers John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors square off in a World TeamTennis match on July 14 at SPORTIME Randall's Island.
• Behind the scenes at a
• I'm thinking Liezel Huber
• A longtime reader writes:
• The ITF announced that it is increasing its live online coverage of ties in the 2011 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. The World Group II playoffs have been added to the list of ties that will feature on the official Fed Cup website, FedCup.com and FedCup.com/es on April 16-17.
• On Vitas in the Hall of Fame, Bret Corbridge of Orem, Utah, says: "YES! Not just for on-court tennis (which should arguably get him there anyway), but for his post-playing days of staying connected to the sport and giving back thru his charity and TV work. I believe that his persona (playing and analyzing) elevated tennis awareness. YES! OK, I know emotion is involved with my feelings, but I do believe he should be there. I did get to see the Tennis Channel special about him. I'm 50-plus and have been a tennis fan for 35 years. I remember Vitas. Tennis was obviously less televised, but if Vitas was on ... I was all over it. YES! That era kinda reminds me of a modern day "Rat Pack" of tennis ... Vitas, Jimmy, Bjorn, Mac, Mary (add in the Gretzky connection too) ... I'll let you decide who gets to be Sinatra, Martin, Davis ... YES! Vitas had a great line after finally beating Jimmy ... to adapt that line ... 'No one excludes Vitas from the HOF for 25 years!' Not sure what the real years is, I took a guess ... but, YES!"
• The USTA announced today that tickets for the 2011 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Quarterfinal between the United States and Spain to be played at the Frank Erwin Center on The University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, July 8-10, will go on sale to the general public on Friday, April 8, at 10 a.m. CDT. An exclusive pre-sale for USTA members begins on Tuesday, April 5, at 10 a.m. CDT and ends on Wednesday, April 6 (or while supplies last). Tickets are sold as a three-day series with prices ranging from $90 to $500. Tickets can be purchased by calling (888) 484-8782 (USTA) or online by visiting texasboxoffice.com.
• Emmy of New York, N.Y.: "I actually volunteer at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I also work at the U.S. Open and have been since 1979! I started at the HOF in 1995 -- a year after Vitas's untimely death. I too was shocked to learn that he has not been inducted into the HOF. I could not believe it. I attended his first tennis clinic in Central Park -- Borg was there. I think it was 1980. He was the first to comprehensively and selflessly give back. Not only does he have one Slam, but he was in the U.S. Open final against John in 1979 and had that epic match against Borg at the Big W in 1977. My sister was in the same group as Ruta at Port Washington and I would often sit with their dad at the garden during the Masters. He never sat in box seats. I loved his family. I was so sad when Vitas died. What a tragedy. He had a great career ahead of him as a commentator. I will most definitely fill out a nomination ballot for induction. Thank you very much."
• John Albin of New York: "Of course Vitas Gerulaitis should be in the Hall of Fame, but first he has to be rejected in 17 consecutive votes. Nobody rejects Vitas Gerulaitis from the Hall of Fame 18 times in a row!"
• Thanks to Allen Yap of Redondo Beach, Calif., who generated
• Via Twitter, @Gongee has long lost siblings:
Have a great week everyone!