Latest tournament shakeup a showcase of tennis' global reach
? Just a paragraph? It was a busy, mixed week for tennis in America. The good news: Taylor Townsend, a 16-year-old from Stockbridge, Ga., who trains full-time at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., became the top-ranked junior and the first American girl to earn the No. 1 ranking since the ITF combined singles and doubles rankings in 2004. The Atlanta event got a title sponsor -- pretty much a pre-req for sustained existence -- in BBT and will now be known as the BBT Atlanta Open. The Washington, D.C., event has a new sponsor in Citi and will be a mixed-gender event. The Cincinnati event announced that Western and Southern has extended its sponsorship. All good. On the other side of the ledger, the Memphis event will be moved to Brazil after next year. And San Jose will shut its doors after 2013 and move to Memphis.
Big picture -- sorry, had to go to a second paragraph -- as if more indication was needed, this is just additional evidence that tennis is truly global. Spending time lamenting how many events have moved off U.S. shores is like pining for the days when everyone went to the bookstore and the record store and worked in the manufacturing sector. At some level you have to accept change and the new reality it renders. In tennis, the world isn't merely flat; it's been pounded with a rolling pin. The players come from everywhere; fans come from everywhere; the barriers to enter are minimal; sponsor capital is spread all over the place. As such, it makes little sense for one country to host such a disproportionate number of tournaments. Is it too bad that still more American events are headed offshore? Yes. If you're American. If you're Brazilian, you're thrilled. But it's not the ineptitude of the ATP or the USTA or the local promoter so much as its global capitalism bringing its A-game.
? My instincts mirror yours. Enough already. But we get a ton of mail on this, so we'll hit it once more before tabling for at least a few weeks (months?). Two preliminary points: A) If this doesn't interest you, jump ahead. We have plenty more questions further down on the page. No offense taken. B) Says here NO ONE should be playing best-of-five. Attention spans are diminishing. Broadcasters seek time certainty. Every other sports property -- from cricket to golf -- is being sped up. Players face injury at an unprecedented level. Why are we still asking athletes to compete in marathon matches?
Anyway: I have very mixed feelings about equal prize money. We all like the concept of equality. It makes tennis look progressive -- a characterization seldom used in the sport. On a crassly practical level, the bad publicity and protesting resulting from unequal purses probably outstrips any gains.
I get hung up on the fact that the WTA either can't or won't demonstrate equal value. Here comes my scrooge-like Male Chauvinistic Pig thought exercise, sure to invite rage, starting with my lovely wife: what would the WTA pioneers say today if the women could prove that by every conceivable metric the WTA product was worth
But as for the sets played, I just think it is the wrong path to take. For one, it's not as though anyone is demanding a best-of-five women's match and the WTA is refusing. (If anything, the men should come down to best-of-three). You talk about "equal work," but you're defining the terms. Maybe for Agnieszka Radwanska -- who's 5-foot-6, 123 pounds and often hitting dozens of balls per rally -- her three sets are comparable work to Ivo Karlovic's five sets. She could very easily be hitting more balls and moving a greater distance per match.
Let's take this to an (il)logical extreme: if the women decided to play best-of-five tomorrow, suddenly the issue is resolved, we're all OK with equal prize money? Heck, why not volunteer to play best-of-seven and ask for more money than the men? Best of nine?
Here are two voices on opposite ends. Consider these and then let's move on:
Arguments for the superiority of men's tennis are always designed to compare the best of men's tennis to the worst (or at least not-at-all-best) of women's tennis. They're also extremely flexible: women's tennis is boring because there's never any drama, and the top players always make the semis! No, wait, what makes men's tennis awesome is that the top four players are so dominant and always make the semis, unlike those girls who keep losing to really good competition in early rounds!
There are reasonable arguments to be made for men making more money than women. The problem is, the people who dislike women earning equal prize money aren't interested in reasonableness or fairness. They just don't like women playing tennis. And as tennis is one of the only sports to have promoted female value and athletic ability from its earliest days, this makes me very sad."
? According to TMS (The Mighty Sharko), no ATP player in the Open Era has won an event eight times, much less eight consecutive times. Except for Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo.
? One can only imagine how this conversation played out:
? Very good. I never knew either fact. Steffi Graf was born June 14, 1969, and Summit was born the same day in 1952. And Summitt did indeed teach tennis at the college (A tennis-y volunteer, as it were) before becoming a full-time basketball coach. I wouldn't even qualify your statement with use of the word "women." Summitt elevated sports, period.
? Without dramatizing this too much and throwing out phrases on the order of "crossroads" and "critical juncture," these are interesting times for Sharapova. She's back in the top five and made a fine -- and, I would suggest, underappreciated -- return from her shoulder injury. She's putting herself in a position to win big trophies. And yet time and again, under different circumstances, she's failed to close the deal. I wouldn't describe her as "fragile." But her aura of "steely competitor" is diminishing.
? I've made a mental note of this from time to time, and you've given me a reminder. Too often the term "graceful" is used only with respect to men. It's Federer and Edberg and the backhand of Richard Gasquet or the hook forehand of Pete Sampras. Take a peek at the other side of the draw. Steffi Graf had grace. Justine Henin had grace. Francesca Schiavone has it. Maria Kirilenko. Carla Suarez Navarro. We can debate the definition, but the discussion should probably be dual-gendered. That's all. Please carry on.
? I can't tell if that's a backhanded compliment (one-handed, please) or an insult or both. But suffice to say your message is received. Three Wozniackian counterpunches: 1) Ideally some of these "sophomoric" themes -- i.e. is Serena nice? -- can mutate into broader and more substantive issues. 2) Without being a slave to traffic, I like to discuss issues of interest to you. Personally, I'm fine going months without debating the Hall of Fame credentials or the unanswerable questions of whether Bjorn Borg with a migraine would beat Nadal with knee trouble. On clay. During the vernal equinox. Using spaghetti string rackets. But I realize I'm in the minority. 3) I would argue more than most sports, part of what gives tennis its appeal is the soap opera component. Fashion and tension and shifting loyalties and character arcs and the personae of the dramatis personae. If we restrict ourselves to forehands and backhands and hitting the lefty slice into the backhand, we will soon fall into a deep sleep, a deeeeep sleeeeep, a deeeeeeeeeeeeep sllllllleeeeeeeeeep ...
? It's conceivable, but I don't envision it, if only because A) it's hard to see Nadal losing much on clay and B) if he's going to lose, it's likely going to be to Djokovic. And for Djokovic and Nadal to get to the finals, it will likely mean that one or the other has beaten Federer. But who knows? One tweak-y injury or one rough day at the office and Nadal could be seeded third in Paris.
Also Dani Najman, of New York wondered:
Sharko to the rescue: "Last year's Barcelona points came off this week and Nadal had 500 from the title. So with MC title (1,000) he picked up a net of 500. Last year's MC pts. came off last week."
? That's interesting. And, of course, it's easy to see how an opponent's concentration could waver. It's not simply the extra time. It's the fact that those extra 10 or 15 seconds are different from conventional rhythms. You can liken this to all sorts of situations. If all of your essay tests in school are an hour, but one teacher gives a 75-minute test, you can see how this could throw off a student. If your match.com date pauses an extra few seconds before answering your questions ("How bad is your commute?" "Do you watch 'Mad Men?'" "How did people meet before the interweb?") your whole rap gets thrown off, I suspect.
Krishan of Houston also raised the point that whereas Federer is quick and decisive, Nadal uses this time to recuperate physically and also gather himself mentally for the next point: "If you take that away from him [i.e. "enforce the rules"] he loses a considerable part of his game," Krishan writes.
Again, a shot clock eliminates this complaint -- and a knock on the sport's top two players -- and I don't really see a downside. It's another fan-friendly innovation (inasmuch as a device used by other sports for the last half-century innovates.) It's not prohibitively expensive. And if there were inconsistencies with respect when the chair began the countdown, so what? The players would adjust accordingly.
? Aga is less a nickname than a convenient truncating of a name that, while popular and perhaps mellifluous in Poland, confounds ugly Americans, particularly the tastemakers and the branding types. Same for Rafa, Vika, Masha, Caro et al.
Which leads me to this: where have all the cool nicknames gone? (Hanging out with drop shots and volleys, gut strings and wooden rackets at any of a dozen shuddered American events perhaps?) What happened to the Rocket and Rabbits and Muscles and Pistols and Scuds and Killers?
Maybe there's a cultural essay to be written here: when athletes weren't ubiquitous, nicknames were helpful in branding athletes and giving them identity; now it's obviated by a decent website, YouTube channel and Twitter feed? Maybe we're too cynical and would smirk ironically at athletes conferring on themselves the nom de guerre of "Splendid Splinter" or "Iron Horse" or "Sweetness." Maybe all the good nicknames have been taken, rendering so many names derivative. Maybe -- as we wish him a return to full health -- we just miss Bud Collins.
? Sharko gets royalties this week. The one indispensable figure in all of tennis tells us, no, it's no typo. The final was abandoned that year due to rain.
? Three words, Blake: Clio short list.
Long as we're here, loyal reader Helen of Philadelphia turned us on (which is to say off) to this spot. She writes: "GIRLS, SET AND MATCH"... really?? The WTA's logo is on this site -- did they have any input into the tagline?? YIKES.
? What can I say here? I'm not loath to criticize Nadal; I'm loath to question the severity of any athlete's injury. Does Nadal have an unfortunate habit of complaining about his knee and then appearing unencumbered? No question. Is there some psychological dimension to this? Sure. My armchair psychiatrist tells me that it's less about psyching out the opponent than it is about manufacturing a nothing-to-lose mentality in his own head.
Positive spin job: At a minimum, Nadal's ongoing injury drama and melodrama suggests he's much more psychologically complex than many may have previously thought.
? The same day I got this love paean, Jean Durr of South Africa asked: "Why do you hate Federer and love Nadal?? It is patently obvious from your blogs. I doubt Federer gives a squat tho."
I was already confused as to whether I am "the No. 1 Serena apologist" and "radically politically correct" on All Matters Williams. Or if I am a hater and an executive officer (Mary Carillo is the president I was told) of the Anti-Williams Society.
As to Miguel's question, sure, 99.9 percent of other players would have killed for Nadal's year. But 99.9 percent of the players aren't Rafael Nadal. You win three majors in 2010, it's not surprising that when you win "only" one of the next five, there are murmurs. Them's the rules.
? If I remember correctly from high school biology, one X chromosome means the male. I've never been big on these inter-era comparisons. Much less inter-gender, inter-era. And it seems to me that we need to establish ground rules, surface and technology standards before we can even begin to contemplate. Rosewall was well before my time, so I spent a few minutes toying around YouTube.
I guess you can judge for yourself if you're so inclined.
? Surely you're not implying that the NHL is less than forthright about issuing injury updates.
? Right on. If "regrettable teenage decisions" disqualified us from receiving awards and achievements as adults, most of us would be in big trouble.
Just to clear up any confusion: the Hall of Fame staggered their announcements to maximize the PR impact. That Capriati's announcement came late in the process doesn't mean that her admission was necessarily a close call.
? Evan (validly) questioned our comparing Lady Gaga to Norah Jones, I think my view was changed.
Too late to change it to that wretched Ke$ha?
? UK followers: my publisher wants you to know that
? If there's an Israeli sports journalistic in the audience, would you mind getting in touch with me? Thanks.
? On Monday, Lisa Raymond joined Liezel Huber atop the WTA Doubles Rankings as co-No. 1. Raymond took No. 1 for the fifth time in her career, dating to June 12, 2000, when she first ascended the WTA Doubles Rankings, and it's her first time atop the rankings since July 8, 2007. Raymond, 38, became the oldest player to hold the No. 1 ranking (singles or doubles), and Huber and Raymond became the eighth doubles team to share the No. 1.
? Steffi Graf likes Rafael Nadal.
? This week's unsolicited book recommendation: "Dream Team" by Jack McCallum.
? Press releasing: "European royals gathered with tennis legends to celebrate the sport and honor some of its most elite players at a Hall of Fame ring presentation hosted during La Grande Nuit du Tennis, the gala event of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, last weekend. Longtime tennis aficionado His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco presented Hall of Fame rings to former world No. 1 Ilie Nastase of Romania; France's beloved player Françoise "Frankie" Durr; the man heralded as the greatest Italian player of all time, Nicola Pietrangeli and Italian tennis journalist Gianni Clerici. All four tennis are International Tennis Hall of Famers."
? Press releasing: "There's a new tennis tournament that doubles as family time. The National Family Tennis Championships offers thousands of amateur players the opportunity to team up with their mother, father, sister, brother, husband or wife to earn the right to play for a national title. Qualifying teams will be treated to a complimentary three-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria Naples in Naples, Fla., from Sept. 6-9. Tennis facilities interested in participating in the inaugural year have until Monday to register as a local tournament host site."
? Press releasing: "College tennis powerhouses and intracity rivals USC and UCLA may meet for the third time this season as the first Pac-12 Men's Championships dual-match format event kicks off at the 112th annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament starting Wednesday. UCLA snapped reigning NCAA champion USC's 45-match winning streak on Friday in the Pac-12 regular-season finale with a 4-3 victory at USC's Marks Stadium. USC beat UCLA in Westwood on Feb. 29, 6-1. USC won the doubles point Friday and got wins in singles from No. 1 Steve Johnson and No. 3 Daniel Nguyen, both Southern California natives and USC's lone seniors who were playing in their final regular-season match at Marks Stadium."
? We haven't done "Random Tennis Player Encounters" in a while. I'm getting a backlog again, so will throw in a few periodically:
Martin of Santa Monica, Calif.: "My encounter with a 14 Grand Slam title winner: Pete Sampras was on the Third Street Promenade today. When he noticed that I recognized him, he was nice enough to turn to me and say 'Hi.' After telling him that I was lucky enough to see him play in person and what a treat that was, I mentioned that I wish Roger Federer had his serve. He smiled and very graciously replied 'He has other weapons.' Now I see why they are such good friends, they seem to be two extremely decent people."
? Raj of Bridgewater, N.J.: "Aaron White and Gaurav Kumar about teaching his daughter to ride a bike. Totally agree with Aaron! When I was kid in India, scooters came with only three wheels. However, I was able to find one that had two wheels. I learned to balance for a week and lo behold, I knew how to bike. Last year, I did the same for my 5-year-old son, and he can now ride a bike very well! Hey, nothing beats the backbreaking job of holding/chasing your kid and hoping they don't crash into a tree."
? Murphy and Luke Jensen are spearheading Sea Island's tennis program, with Murphy serving as tennis ambassador and Luke as a year-round touring pro.
? Michael Friend of Dunwoody, Ga.: "If Isner and Querrey are Quisner, are Blake and Querrey Quake?"
? Arti P. of New York asks: "Have they started scripting a movie on Boris Becker's life yet? They need to look no further than Daniel Craig to play him."
Have a good week everyone!