Serena vs. Maria, Federer's struggles and more
? At this point, their matches (of which Sharapova has dropped 12 in a row after losing the Madrid Open final last week) are so much more about self-belief (or lack thereof) than X's and O's. But, yes, especially on clay, the way to beat Serena is to grub up the match. Kick serves out wide. Lots of spin. Take your time. Rally-prolonging retrieving. That approach doesn't play to Sharapova's strengths, though she obviously has enjoyed a lot of success on clay over the last year against the rest of the field.
As long as we're here:
Bless Serena, but tennis etiquette mandates that the loser shakes the chair umpire's hand first. Serena doesn't abide by this, sometimes to comical effect (fast-forward to the 12-minute mark of this video from Williams' match against Sharapova at the Sony Open).
? Nothing is wrong with the WTA. There isn't much of a rivalry between Serena and Sharapova. SI.com's Bruce Jenkins lays it out very nicely here. But since when is the absence of parity between the top two players a referendum on an entire tour?
? Right, of course, because she is irrelevant right now. My mailbox is flooded -- clogged, really -- with questions and convictions and strong opinions about Gilles Simon and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But, "pathetic fan" that I am, I rifle through those in order to give Serena some undeserved exposure. Busted!
? A few questions about the
? Totally agree. I understand the pricing model and the reluctance to give away what you're asking others to pay for. But who wins when an event is played before vast oceans of empty seats? The atmosphere is lousy. So is the message you're communicating to the public. Also, if we're flipping channels and see an empty arena, do we think to ourselves: "Why would I want to watch on television -- or stream on my iPad -- what fans aren't willing to watch live?"
A dispiriting number of events (all over the world) are playing out in front of scant crowds. (Or, as the inimitable Bud Collins once put it, Fans dressed as empty seats.) If I'm the promoter, I paper the town with tickets. I make every afternoon "Kids Day." I put seats on Groupon. Anything to avoid the unfortunate sight of vacancies. Looks sadder than a beach town in the offseason.
? Lots of you asked about this. But Donald is the only person to refer to me as "mate," so he gets the Google hit. I confess, there's part of me that loves the creative gamesmanship and the blithe disregard for the camera that is inches away and clearly capturing this bit of chicanery. But you're right: It's pretty egregious. How the chair umpire -- or, subsequent to irrefutable video evidence, the WTA -- let her get away with it is pretty startling.
? A pitcher can rub a new baseball. He can't manipulate the shape and change the ball's physical dimensions so that it travels through the air differently. I've heard about the sweat trick. What Medina Garrigues (translation from the Catalan: Kenny Rogers) did clearly crossed the line. No Hawk-Eye challenge needed.
? Tennis is rough. You can hide an aging slugger by transitioning him to DH or letting him face only certain pitchers. You can take an aging NBA player and run plays and create matchups that mask his deficiencies. Just hypothetically, of course, you could take an undefeated 36-year-old boxer and let him fight against only nonthreatening opponents. In tennis, there's no hiding. Let's revisit after Wimbledon.
? Alves had a brutal night on a big stage at the U.S. Open nine years ago. I do not think that means she should be drummed out of the profession. In fact, let's take a moment to recognize that she has recovered and become a reliable chair umpire. (Let's also take a second moment to note that the Serena-Jennifer Capriati match in New York triggered replay technology, so it was a net positive for the sport.)
As for Azarenka, I'm also amazed by the "memory continuum." Some players remember everything. Federer and Martina Hingis spring to mind. (Maybe it's a Swiss thing.) "Oh, right, we played in Filderstadt in 2002, and I broke late in both sets, once on a backhand that clipped the tape." Other players are almost amnesic. Ask them about a match from March and they can't recall whom they beat.
? We'll do these for a Tennis Channel segment during the French Open. (I'm still happy to dispense prizes to the winners.) So far the best: Arantxaphobia: fear of prolonged clay-court rallies.
? Assuming we're limiting this to finals, I can't do much better. Maybe Jana Novotna against Steffi Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon final, which always had a Dewey-beats-Truman ring to it. Something about the French fans makes players crack ...
? Let's not go overboard. One of them has won 17 majors. The other is currently ranked a career-high No. 26 and is 66-64, including that victory against Novak Djokovic at last week's Madrid Open.
But, to Phil's point, there were a couple of Federer-Dimitrov GIFs going around last week that suggested a remarkable similarity in their backhands in particular. And it is interesting to note that Dimitrov is young enough to have patterned his entire game after Federer. That said, if he was already hitting a one-handed backhand (which he was), it's not unreasonable that he would have made some adjustments to resemble the No.1 player in the world. (Also, remember that both worked with Peter Lundgren.)
I think the question for Dimitrov is: Now what? He has resurrected a career that really seemed imperiled not long ago. (This was only 30 months ago.)
His talent his undeniable. He has proven that, on a given day, he can beat the best. Now what?
? Decorum prevents me from going too far here. Let's just say that this has "caption contest" written all over it.
? Here's our podcast with Jimmy Connors. On account of the guest, this is a good one.
? More podcast love. Here's Slate's Hang Up and Listen, which includes a discussion of the movie
? John R., Middletown Conn., chimes in on tennis-inspired songs: "No mention of
? Tennis Channel will air a special program to commemorate its 10-year anniversary.
? An anonymous reader rightfully wonders what Andre Agassi's return to Nike does for the Adidas training camp in Las Vegas.
? Bob and Mike Bryan will play the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., in July, an event owned and operated by their agent's parent company.
? Received a message from a colleague who will go nameless asserting that Serena Williams had signed a multiyear deal with NASCAR.
"No, wait. It was Sherwin-Williams."
? Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska have committed to the Southern California Open in July.