Noelle dahling I just HAD to quote you in my blog.
So Steve Tignor chimed in with his Wimbledon thoughts. More Roddick-thrashing. Yawn.
But at least even he sees that ESPN's tennis coverage isn't nearly as bad as the GM 'tards are always whining about.
Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Jacket (as well as that watch Federer put on for the awards ceremony; don’t think I missed that!), for those of you can stand it.
After a couple weeks of debate about serve-and-volley tennis, where did we end up? As I watched David Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt slog through a four-setter, I began to think that Wimbledon was in danger of becoming too similar to the French Open. Other people have said this over the last few years, but I’d never lamented the decline of serve and volley. On the whole, I like baseline rallies more than the serving contests—or glorified rock fights, as our friend Pete Bodo calls them—I remember from the 80s and early 90s. But this year I finally began to miss the net-rushers. I knew something was going on when I found myself enjoying Max Mirnyi’s game, specifically against James Blake. The mental pressure that his serve-and-volley style put on Blake was an intense thing to watch, and the few moments of breakthrough for the American were exhilarating. The stakes rarely seem that high when you watch a baseline match—there it’s about the creativity of the points themselves. So, OK, I’ll say it, it’s time to bring back serve and volley tennis. There’s more to the sport than well-struck forehands and backhands.
With the rise of Hewitt, Nadal, Monfils, Sharapova, and various other youngsters, fist-pumping and exhibiting your intensity hasbeen turned into a mental tactic. (I saw a photo recently of Anna-Lena Groenefeld where she was holding up a note on court that read, “Pump fist.”) It’s not done specifically to enrage the opponent, though that is a common byproduct, but to make your desire a tangible part of a match. It’s smart—Nadal is not really much more talented than, say, Xavier Malisse, and he may not even be that much more competitive on the inside. He just forces himself to face, and use, that competitiveness. And, Malisse, uh, doesn’t.
Ditto for Maria Sharapova. But I thought the tactic finally backfired on her in her semifinal with Mauresmo. She showed too much and used up a lot of energy expressing herself in some form, whether it was a scream or a slap of her thigh or just a sarcastic look, after every point. In the end, it kept her from concentrating as well as Mauresmo. It’s a lesson for anyone who wants to mimic the emotional outbursts of the young guns: Choose your spots, the sport is still an inner-directed one.
Incidentally, Sharapova did have a nice comic moment earlier in the tournament. After she won a three-setter on a hot day, she came out to do her kisses/bows to the four bleachers. When she got to the last one, she half-heartedly threw her hands up and smiled wearily, faking that she might collapse. I’ve heard she has a sense of humor; maybe it’s true.
All anyone at my club wanted to know last week was: What’s wrong with American tennis? I could only reply that it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better—there really aren’t any sure shots among the juniors right now (though you never know with these things: Roddick was a fairly late-bloomer). My friend Jon Levey pointed out that it’s true in others sports now as well. Major league baseball players are Latin, the NBA is going European; only the NFL remains solidly American. It seems we can train athletes from around the world, we just can’t raise our own to compete at the highest levels anymore. In the case of tennis, many U.S. parents now want their kids to try a lot of sports without having to specialize. Tennis requires mind-bending specialization.
As far the U.S. goes right now, this was an ugly event for Andy Roddick. I think many fans have the words “Jim Courier” on their minds—a lunchbucket player who overachieved and briefly reached No. 1, then came down to earth. The only problem for Roddick is that he didn’t get four Slam titles in, like Courier did, when he was on top. Andy looked severely limited, skill and variety wise, against the other Andy, but that was just one match, and Murray seems to love Roddick’s game—he’s won five straight sets against him. While I think the Courier comparison may be accurate in the long run, and that it’s unlikely Roddick will get back to No. 1 in this lifetime, he does have his favorite part of the season coming up.
What should he try to change? It’s the eternal question of U.S. tennis. The one thing I took away from the Murray match was that Roddick’s shot selection could be better. When Murray pushed him around in a rally, Roddick, particularly on his forehand, tried to drill the ball back or hit a penetrating, long-range crosscourt ball rather than throw in something defensive.
ESPN is learning, you have to give them that. I wasn’t even as weary of the Agassi tributes as I thought I would be. Dick Enberg is loosening up in his old age and Tim Ryan made me laugh when he called Henin-Hardenne a “drama queen." I started to warm up to Brad Gilbert doing color—who else on earth would have known so much about Irakli Labadze?—and his enthusiasm for the game is contagious. He still says things like “his serve is kicking up unbelievable,” but you have to chalk that up to Brad being Brad at this point. As Mary Carillo said in her best line, Brad is about as “un-British” as anyone could be who is considering working for the LTA. One complaint about Mary: Can she just give up and join the rest of us trolls and refer to the rotation of a tennis ball “spin,” rather than “work”? Also funny: Hearing Fowler gradually begin to try to take on PMac and BG as a tennis analyst, and hearing them try to dismiss him nicely.
Well, it’s true, you couldn’t have gotten any smoother and more casually friendly people as champions. As with Mirnyi, I enjoyed seeing Mauresmo use the whole court, come forward fearlessly, and employ smart, well-placed serves to thwart a baseline basher. It’s a rare trick these days, and perhaps it will inspire someone watching that it still pays to have all the elements of the game in your arsenal. Plus, she was very patient with our Bud Collins after the match, even when he suggested her Australian win had not quite made her a legit Grand Slam champion.
I was happy to see Fed win. It keeps the idea of a rivalry alive, and watching him interviewed the night before, I was struck by how innocent and transparent he still seemed, which was nice to see. He even said something along the lines of, “If I lose this match, everything is going down the drain.” The phrase sounded funny coming out of his mouth, and he was almost giggling when he said it. He may be trying, with help from Nike and IMG, to polish his image, but he remains an unassuming kid. And like Mauresmo, it was great to see someone accomplished in all parts of the court win. That was a big difference in this match, as Fed is much more comfortable than Nadal with the little angled finishing shots that grass requires. One difference I noticed from their previous matches was that Federer looked more purposeful, less unsure and hesitant, between points and more committed to his shots during points. I guess it was the grass under his feet.
As for the “in case you didn’t know, my jacket will tell you I’ve won Wimbledon” situation, I don’t care if Federer goes metrosexual—I live in New York, after all. What I didn’t like was how, at the beginning of Wimbledon, he acted like he wouldn’t accept a trophy for a winning streak the way Nadal had at the French. At the same time he accepts a piece of clothing with a racquet for each year of his Wimbledon reign—a personal "award"—and wears it all the time. Federer believes, rightly, that he’s the best tennis player in the world. If he didn't like Nadal's clay trophy, what would he say if Nadal sported something similar to his jacket during next year’s French final? Would he accept it without a word that Rafa was the "king of clay" or whatever?
Incidentally, I have met both Fed and Nadal, and the thing they have in common is that innocence I mentioned—they’re nice guys, big kids.
OK, enough. I’ll be away for a week or so. See you during the summer circuit.