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:
Q: I hear great things about the Tennis Channel. How come I still can't get it? How do I register a complaint with my cable company?
A: Tennis Channel is carried throughout the United States by most cable operators, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS TV. We're doing our best to make the network available to everyone who wants to watch it and are in constant communication with these providers. However, there are some local providers who still haven't made Tennis Channel available to their subscribers. If your local provider does not have Tennis Channel please tell them you want it, either through a phone call, e-mail or post on online message boards if they make them available. We appreciate the help of everyone out there who wants to watch this network and make tennis as widespread as other televised sports.
Q: There's a big match going on and TC has broadcast rights. How come sometimes it's on and other times there's a replay of some match from months ago. (i.e. it's the first round of Indian Wells and TC is airing the Memphis final.)
A: When this occurs it is usually the result of budget limitations on the part of either Tennis Channel or the tournaments in question. In some cases the network is simply unable to cover as much of a tournament as it would if it had unlimited resources, despite having the rights to the entire tournament. Other times, as was the case with Indian Wells, there is limited television infrastructure in place on the tournament grounds during the weekday run up to the weekend action. In these cases there is literally no cabling, cameras, control rooms, etc. for Tennis Channel (or other networks) to access, due to budget decisions on the part of the tournaments. Tennis Channel's first opportunity to cover the tournament subsequently comes during the weekend when the TV-courts tournament feed is in place.
Q: What's the best place to find your schedule?
A: We provide our television schedule to newspapers and tennis media around the country, in addition to the companies that manage the on-screen viewer programming guides. However, sometimes unforeseen scheduling changes do occur last minute, in too short of a timeframe for these outlets to update the latest information. Viewers can always visit Tennis Channel's home page, www.tennischannel.com, for the most recent on-air details. We also post schedule changes as quickly as possible on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/tennischannel) and Twitter feed (twitter.com/tennischannel).
Q: How come you don't do more documentaries and original programming?
A: We are very encouraged by the positive responses that Tennis Channel receives for our non-match programming. Like anything else, the number of series episodes, specials and documentaries that we produce each year is limited to resources and annual programming budget decisions. Additionally, the majority of the network's on-air schedule is devoted to match play because our primary service to viewers is to provide them with as much tennis as possible. That said, because this is a sport with a seemingly inexhaustible well of colorful characters, rich tradition and interesting storylines, there are plenty of other non-match programming ideas in the planning stages right now. We hope to develop more of these types of shows as the network continues to grow.
Q: Recently Brad Gilbert tweeted: "Big frustration, I feel it with you fans, TC stays on ONE court only, so many good matches happening simultaneously, and we only get 1 = ???" Is it true you only have rights to one court?
A: Within Tennis Channel's telecast windows we have the rights to all matches being produced on all TV courts. Sometimes our ability to jump from court-to-court at a tournament is limited due to a variety of reasons, among them our network resources or a tournament's on-site production capabilities. This ultimately prevents us from being as dynamic as we are at larger events like the Slams, and as we would love to be at every tournament we cover. We feel the fans' frustration too. Our core mission has always been to provide as much tennis as possible to everyone who wants to see it, and this will keep getting better as we grow. Looking ahead to 2012, we expect to offer more court coverage than we are able to this year.
Fedal is dead! Long live Rafole!--Dijana Djokovic, Serbia
• 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.
Ivanovic wins the French, hits No. 1, fizzles out slowly. Jankovic doesn't win a Slam, hits No. 1, but then stays in the top 10 consistently, winning a few more titles along the way. Practically speaking (prestige/bragging rights aside) who's had it better here? The money for Jankovic has to have outpaced her countrywoman's earnings by now.--Jon B., Seattle
• 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.
You mentioned in your latest column that there were some curious scheduling decisions made at the recent Sony Ericsson Open. Can you provide an example of what you would consider an odd scheduling choice? I am interested in how the tournament director goes about juggling all those egos/scheduling demands placed upon him/her and ends up deciding who plays when and where!--Jason Arroyo, Key Biscayne, Fla.
• 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?
I just got back from the Sony Ericsson Open after three straight days of awesome quarters and semis, but I couldn't have been happier to leave prior to the women's final. I can't imagine what it must have been like to listen to that shrieking for that long and in that heat. I watched Petkovic warm up and was surprised that she too has a whole vocal thing going on. Does anyone at the WTA care that the fans are really starting to take issue with this obviously inorganic and loud "grunting" going on?--Kevin Ware, San Francisco
• 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....
I watched almost ALL of the coverage on TV from Miami and 90 percent of the time they came back from a commercial break they were pumping, Rihanna's hit single "S&M" in the stadium during the changeovers. I mean, this song was played at least 100 times over the two-week tournament. This is supposed to be a family-friendly event, no? Sample lyric: "Sex in the air / I don't care / I like the smell of it / Whips and chains excite me." Why on earth would they keep playing this song? If I'm sitting there with my pre-teens I'm pretty [unhappy]. Classless Sony Ericsson Open -- and tacky.--Chuck Keenum, West Hollywood, Calif.
• 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 not sure how much lamentation is in order regarding American tennis. Yes, on the women's side in particular, we face that possibility of joining Australia and Great Britain as hosts of a major unable to advance anyone past the third round. But with the growing internationalism of the sport, it's hard to be too terribly depressed when there are three American men and two women in the top 20. Yes, four of these players are probably fast approaching retirement, but three of them have had splendid careers. If we're talking about "American tennis" as some kind of institution, it's worth saying that this situation has existed for a long while -- it's not "American tennis" that should get the credit for Roddick's underappreciated stint as a top 10 player, it's Andy Roddick. Same goes for the Williams sisters. American tennis, only slightly less than Australian tennis, flourished at a time of more limited international competition and has never had a thriving "system." But unlike those systems (in Russia, say) that crank out top 20 and top 10 players like coffee grinds, the United States does produce great individual athletes. I'm willing to patient and see what happens. And, in the meantime, I'll simply soak up the joys of Novak Djokovic, Li Na, Shahar Peer, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer and all the other wonderful players from nations without a great tennis tradition.--Joshua, Portland, Ore.
• 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 Sports Illustrated isn't giving tennis the coverage it used to. But if a few hotshot Americans became stars, you can bet there would be a lot more coverage."
How come Kevin Anderson gets mentioned for reaching the quarterfinals, but the winners of the women's doubles never make it in? A one-sentence mention would be nice.--Yvonne, New York
• You got it. (We'll go all caps to compensate for tardiness) Your Sony Ericsson Open ladies' doubles winners: AGGIE RADWANSKA and DANIELA HANTUCHOVA!!!
We need a hypothetical tennis equivalent of Butler reaching the NCAA finals two straight years. My son suggested Fabio Fognini making the French Open singles final two consecutive years while doing nothing particularly notable in between. Perhaps mailbag readers would like to join in. Cheers.--Ian Katz, Herndon, Va.
• 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.)
In response to a question about active players who are HOF-worthy, you wrote "JMDP isn't there yet, but is well on his way." Were you kidding? I really like Del Potro, but "well on his way"? He beat Federer in one U.S. Open, that frankly, Fed should have won had he not gotten overconfident and a bit nonchalant. Juan Martin has done nothing else that would get one thinking about an induction ceremony. Dustin Pedroia has done more in baseball, but ask a baseball expert if Pedey is "well on his way." Come on, Jon, induction has become pretty pedestrian as it is. Let's not make it a complete trifle.--Marty Friedgood, Atlanta
• 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?--Gaurang Abhiman, Chicago
• 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.
Could we get a report from Greg Sharko on what the injury situation is for Paul-Henri Mathieu as he's been AWOL for a while?--JT, New York City
• 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, L'Equipe said.
There has been much debate on Twitter among tennis journalists whether or not bloggers should be credentialed for tournaments. I use the term blogger generally because there are some tennis journalists who do write blogs. Also there are some journalists who use information from blogs to write their stories. Where do you stand on this issue? (I don't know whether you should use my real name or not as I might get stoned by both journalists and bloggers.)--Anonymous, New York/New Jersey
• 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 tennis photo shoot.
• I'm thinking Liezel Huber committed the crime. (Note the author name.)
• An update on Kei Nishikori's efforts to continue to raise money for the victims in Japan. There are now seven pages of products including items from Nadal, Federer, Serena, Sharapova, Zvonareva, McEnroe, Jankovic, Murray, Date, Del Potro, Wickmayer, etc. All the proceeds will go to the Red Cross.
• A longtime reader writes:
Better late than never, several comments on Indian Wells.
1) The first Wednesday of the tournament (opening day for women, last day of qualifiers for men) is INCREDIBLE. Very small, mellow crowd. Easy access to good seats with a loge-level ticket. No major lines for concessions.
2) The practice courts were just as good as the matches. The intensity of some of the practice matches was incredible. The proximity to the players was almost overwhelming.
3) Particularly fan-friendly players encountered: Svetana Pironkova (who went out of her way to track down a pen in order to sign an autograph for a younger fan), Bethanie Mattek, Mark Knowles, the Italian women's players in general.
4) Saw Victoria Azerenka verbally berate her male hitting partner ... guess it isn't just the ball kids who catch her wrath.
• 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 this Babelfish translation of the Patty Schnyder saga.
• Via Twitter, @Gongee has long lost siblings: Novak Djokovic and Perry Farrell.
Have a great week everyone!