Parting Shots................................by Wertheim
Jon Wertheim, SI.com
Cleaning out the notebook from a U.S. Open short on continuity and long on exceptional tennis....
• King Roger Federer has won a Career Slam of sorts: The Australian Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and now the Andre Open. Seriously, his clinical, generally drama-free threepeat in New York is still another step on the road to Laverville and Samprasburg. By the way, honk if you've seen the Federer-Nadal rivalry. Since Wimbledon, that story line has sure shriveled up, hasn't it?
• Maria Sharapova was the best player coming into the tournament and the best one going out. The heavy hitting and the iron will have always been there, but when did she pick up all those extra bells and whistles? If she can sustain this level of play, outside of clay, the rest of the field is in trouble.
• The smashing results of the Jimmy Connors-Andy Roddick partnership was unquestionably one of the bigger story lines. Watching Roddick play closer to the baseline, smack his backhand, attack the net and, frankly, show off some unbecoming rough edges, the influence of Jimbo is undeniable. Still, I feel like John Roddick -- the guy who, technically, remains Andy's coach -- got a little shortchanged here. Had Andy continued his decline, John would have taken the heat. Only fair that the big brother gets some credit right now.
• Given how well Sharapova plays and how fiercely she competes, it makes her blatant cheating all the more disappointing. Someone in her camp of enablers ought to impress upon her that she is discrediting herself and discrediting the sport. And just because the toothless administrators turn a blind eye doesn't make it right. Sure, it might just be a silly banana and some gesticulating fingers. But "you don't play fair" is one of the most serious charges you can levy against an athlete.
• Leander Paes and Martin Damm won the men's doubles, beating Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi in the final.
• Big surprise in the women's doubles as unseeded Nathalie Dechy and Vera Zvonareva slalomed through an upset-addled field to win the women's title.
• All credit to Justine Henin-Hardenne for reaching the finals of all four majors this year. But, as she gamely admits, a 1-3 record is below her standards. Anyone else get the feeling she has handed the mantle of "Most mentally tough player" over to Sharapova?
• The tournament started by honoring Billie Jean King, spent a week paying homage, and, fittingly, concluded by toasting Martina Navratilova. "The Lege" added to her legacy by teaming with Bob Bryan to win the mixed doubles on Saturday night. "I just wanted to keep inspiring people ... and show people that you can do great things regardless of your age if you just believe and, you know, go for it," said Navratilova. Unlike many of you, my resentment toward CBS is minimal: I would love to have seen the match, but can we really have reasonable expectations that a major network would scrap scheduled programming for the sake of mixed doubles?
• Dusan Lojda of the Czech Republic won the boys' event and top-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia (remember the name) won the girls' event.
• Can we all make a pact and agree to cheer like hell for Marcos Baghdatis when he returns to New York next year?
• Another fine U.S. Open for James Blake, especially after such a dismal August. He tunes four opponents and wins a set off Federer, which is practically akin to pulling the upset.
• Marlon of Cape Town, South Africa wrote: "Donald Bradman, commonly considered the greatest cricket batsman of all time, needed 4 runs in his last innings (at bat) to make him the only person to ever average 100 runs an innings (perspective, next closest is around the 66 mark). He was bowled out for zero, thus ending with a career batting average of 99.6 runs per innings. Maybe we needed a no-name to knock Andre Agassi out. Maybe, just like Bradman, his last match was there merely for us and not for him, and in losing to an ironically surnamed no-name, Agassi has ensured that we focused our attentions on his career and not some overhyped 'giant killer' story, which no one in the game would have been worthy of. Maybe Benjamin Becker was exactly the way it was meant to end."
• Raise your hand if you thought before the tournament that there would be three Russian semifinalists and two of them would be men. Too bad we couldn't have played this U.S.-Russia Davis Cup tie at the BJK National Tennis Center and have three straight weeks of high-profile tennis.
• Another reason to love replay technology: fascinating what the "challenge" stats reveal about players. The eagle-eyed Agassi? He was two for eight. That disagreeable Lleyton Hewitt? Only questioned two calls. Roddick was one for seven. (Somewhere Jorge Dias is laughing.) Also, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Australian Open will take replay technology. Question: What will they do about allotting challenges in the fifth set when it won't end in a tiebreaker?
• Let's hope the winsome Jelena Jankovic recalls this event for her winning five straight matches, not for losing 10 straight games in the semifinals. (This reminds me of Nicole Vaidisova's performance at the French Open. Probably an unwritten rite of passage that you have to get tight in a Grand Slam semi and experience disappointment before taking the next step.)
• With Becker serving at 6-5 in the fourth set against Agassi, Rafael Nadal comes bounding out of the locker room where he was eagerly awaiting his third-round court call. He runs down the tunnel and sprints onto the edge of the court to watch the final game of Agassi's career. That tells you something about the reverence Agassi inspires. But it also tells you an awful lot about Nadal. The more you see of this guy, the more you like.
• Scott Brooks of N.Y. noted this irony: Federer defeated a Connors protégé to surpass Jimbo's eight Grand Slam titles.
• I feel like an ogre even mentioning this, but let the record reflect that Roddick still has not beaten a top 10 player in 2006.
• Don Hann of Rochester, Minn., asks an excellent question for which we do not have an answer: "How is it that Roddick can hit 130-140 mph serves and Federer can destroy all he surveys, both with nary a grunt, and yet we fans and opponents have to put up with the phony shrieking and grunting from the likes of Sharapova, Venus and Nadal, among others?"
• Thanks largely to wild cards, 18 of the 64 players in the boys' draw were American. By the end of the second round, only one -- Donald Young -- remained. Young, incidentally, lasted until the semis.
• If I'm Serena Williams, I leave New York with ambivalent feelings. It's painfully clear that I'm still not in shape to win seven matches. But I beat the winner of the last big hard-court tournament (Ana Ivanovic) and took a set (a bagel, at that) from the world No. 1. Tells me that if I work a little harder, I'm right back in the mix.
• Anyone know how to say "too much information" in Romanian? Here's Andrei Pavel describing his digestive issues during his first-round match against Agassi: "I had the feeling I was going to explode in my pants, so it was not very nice."
• If my math is right, had Lindsay Davenport beaten Justine Henin-Hardenne to reach the semifinals, she would have eclipsed Steffi Graf as the all-time WTA prize-money winner.
• Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, the second seed in the girls' draw, was leading her opponent when she received a questionable call. According to the ITF, she "verbally abused" the linesman, who reported the comments to the supervisor and Wozniacki was defaulted. In a truly postmodern moment, she used her blog to give her side of the story.
• It's half an hour after Agassi's last match. He's emotional, his mind is racing, he's talking to the media about the arc of his career. Suddenly he's asked an out-of-left-field question about winning a title 19 years ago in Brazil. Huh? Agassi smiles and responds, "That paid a lot of bills [smiling] ... $90,000 prize check." If you look it up, you find that, sure enough, the prize money was $90,000. Says something about Agassi's power of recall.
• For the dignity of the sport, could someone give Nikolay Davydenko a clothing deal?
• Nice tournament for college tennis. Apart from Becker, the 2004 singles champ, other former NCAA'ers reaching the middle weekend included Blake (Harvard), Wes Moodie (Boise State), Paul Goldstein (Stanford) and Ryan Sweeting (Florida).
• Speaking of Sweeting, the 2005 junior champ goes to the University of Florida, runs into some disciplinary/legal issues (to borrow from David Foster Wallace: you can Google it yourself) and leaves campus. He goes to summer school in hopes of restoring his eligibility and enters the U.S. Open as an amateur. Then he wins a round and goes five sets with Oli Rochus, entitling him to $26,500 --not a penny of which he was allowed to keep.
• This is a verbatim cut-and-paste from last year, but the sentiment is unchanged: "In the interest of full disclosure: I did some work for USA network during the Open. (Thanks to the many of you who wrote in critiquing my wardrobe, my posture, the altitude of my zipper, etc.) But in all objectivity, you wish all the Slams were covered as thoroughly and honestly and as enthusiastically as the U.S. Open."
• More full disclosure: Sports Illustrated partnered with American Express in some of the U.S. Open tie-ins. That said, does any company do cooler sports promotion than Amex? Love Pong. Still love the Venus-playing-Whack-a-Mole commercial. And the "public U.S. Open viewing spaces" in Madison Square Park and Rockefeller Center were fantastic, the next best thing if you were unable to score actual tickets to a match.
• It will be interesting to see what The Tennis Channel does with those French Open rights. You sort of get the feeling it's put-up-or-shut-up time for the network. This move, fortunately, would lead us to believe they're doing the former.
• Let the record reflect that Mike Youzhny was the only competitor we saw in the players' lounge reading a book. By the way, is it me or is "The Yooz" a dead ringer for Justin Timberlake?
• Remember Peter Polansky, the Canadian player who sleep-walked through a window in a Mexico City hotel this April and needed 400-plus stitches? He upset the top seed, Martin Klizan, in the redundantly named "junior boys" draw en route to reaching the final. Polansky now sleeps with a roommate and stays on the ground floor. This has to be one of the nicer stories of the tournament.
• Marat Safin and Dinara Safina lost within an hour or so of each other on Wednesday. Still, when was the last time a brother-sister pair went this deep in a Slam?
• Speaking of siblings, with Venus out of the tournament, Olivier and Christophe Rochus were the only siblings in the same singles draw. They were also the two smallest male players in the field. The younger brother, Pierre, is nearly 6-0 and an aspiring ... pianist.
• This is admittedly crass, but it had me laughing out loud: reader Carlos Cruz of Greenwich, Conn., invented a drinking game. He and his fiancée had a sip of beer each time Nadal -- "the knicker picker," as the Brits call him -- adjusted his undergarments. "And let me tell you," writes Carlos, "talk about alcohol poisoning." (On the other hand, you'd think that with all the time Nadal had between points, they'd be able to sober up.)
• Busy first week for Vania King. She beats Alicia Molik, a top 10 player, 18 months ago. She loses to Henin-Hardenne on the first Thursday. Then she sticks around to sing the national anthem to open the Agassi-Baghdatis night session.
• Taking Federer out of the equation, is there a more talented, fun-to-watch male than Richard Gasquet?
• Midtown Saks Fifth Avenue was selling a 180-carat diamond-encrusted tennis racket retailing for a mere $1 million. Far be it from us to tell people how to spend their money, but if you're considering dropping that kind of coin on a racket, consult a list of charities ASAP.
• How about some props to Amy Frazier, who played in her 22nd U.S. Open, one more than a certain laurelled Las Vegan?
• Keep an eye on the players competing under the SCG country code. Serbia and Montenegro are making like a Hollywood couple and splitting up at the end of the year. Players -- Jankovic, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, each a likely top 10er -- will have to choose a country, and the stakes are high.
• Guillermo Canas' suspension officially ends today. Be interesting to see how he's received in the locker room, assuming he gets back to playing tour events.
• Poor Molik. A top 10 player only 18 months ago, she is still trying to find her game. She was a first-round loser to King; meanwhile, her former coach, David Taylor, is now working with Ivanovic.
• Poor Willie Coria's forgettable year continues. Already embroiled in an unpleasant personal situation, a bum shoulder wreaks havoc on his game. His shoulder is finally better and he's so committed to rectifying his serve that he practices in a driving rain. He goes out against Sweeting, slips on the court, hurts his groin and retires after five games.
• Maria Alves, the Portuguese chair umpire working the chair during the infamous Capriati-Serena match -- and thus a driving force behind replay technology -- was invited to work the 2006 U.S. Open but declined to attend.
• As much as players complain about the commitment demands, what do we make of Davydenko, who played his 26th event of the year, not including Davis Cup?
• Biggest upset of the tournament? How about the Bryans losing in doubles to Youzhny and Leos Friedl?
• While anticipating the mixed doubles team of Pavlyuchenkova and Lofo Jean Ramiaramanana, we share with you our new favorite tennis name.
• So go to any West Side Story Web site and here are the lyrics from "I Feel Pretty." I feel pretty/Oh so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and gay.
Yet in the Sharapova commercial the cast sings: "I feel pretty/Oh so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and ... bright." Hmmm.
• As a final note, you heard it here first. Yuri Sharapov. Chiquita endorsement.
Live Life to the Fullest , Be Happy , Find Peace within Yourself ..................