Aussie Open parting shots
From the Russian Revolution to Martina in the booth
I'm cleaning out the notebook after a terrific tournament -- "a real cracker," as the Aussies would put it. Here are 50 random asides, trying to incorporate as many of your questions as possible. Next we'll resume our usual format.
1. We began the tournament wondering if a male player could be the first man to win the Grand Slam since Rod Laver. After Marat Safin's poised run in Melbourne, maybe it's still a valid question.
2. Nice to see Serena Williams back, too. She, of course, won her seventh Slam by beating a defeated-looking Lindsay Davenport in the final. Serena beat the fourth, second and first seed to win. Time, once again, for the rest of the field to start quaking in their boots.
3. En route to both of her Australian Open titles, Serena had to stave off match points. This year, she was on her last legs against Maria Sharapova and simply came up with the proverbial goods. The haters will say she was a point from losing. The rest will admire her fight.
4. How about that Russian Revolution?
5. I get the feeling Lleyton Hewitt could chose any sport and, so long as he had that outsized heart, he would succeed. Would you like him guarding you on the perimeter? Breaking up your double play? Covering your receiving route?
6. Hard to know what to make of Davenport, who never found her groove in Australia. You'd think if winning Slams would stave off retirement, she wouldn't go so quietly into the night.
7. Can we just call the Safin-RogerFederer semifinal the best match of 2005 and get on with our lives?
8. Obviously, it was a disappointing result for Federer, but here's food for thought: He far from his best against the second-most talented player in tennis. And he came within a point -- literally within inches -- of winning. Also, here's some testament to Federer's elite status: He loses 9-7 in the fifth set to the mountainously talented Safin and the headlines tell us he is "stunned in a huge upset."
9. I had a fair number of you guys backing me on the plea to eliminate five-setters. Then Hewitt beat David Nalbandian, and Safin beat Federer 9-7 in the fifth set of perhaps the best match I've ever seen. By late last week, the vigorous defenses of best-of-five starting rolling in, and I have to admit, I stopped to reconsider my stance. Pam Cheney of Thompson, Conn., wrote: "Maybe a compromise can be reached. Save five sets for the second week of a slam." That works for me. You eliminate the first week tedium, the problematic scheduling and, most importantly, the needless wear-and-tear on the players. But you still keep alive the potential for late-round classics. You guys willing to meet halfway?
10. Kevin Ullyett and Wayne Black won the men's doubles, their first major, beating Bob and Mike Bryan in the final.
11. Believe the hype. At the tender age of 15, Donald Young won the boys title. It's silly to make long-range projections about a kid who still has so much physical growth ahead of him. But it's sure worth keeping an eye on his progress.
12. On the other hand, only three Americans were in the girls singles draw and none made it beyond the second round. If I work for the USTA, this troubles me. In the girls draw, Belarus' Victoria Azarenka beat Agnes Szavay of Hungary in the final.
13. We get the question all the time: "How can Andy Roddick be a top player when his game is so limited -- a monster serve and a monster forehand and not much else?" Our stock response: He is a lot stronger mentally than his Von Dutch personality would have you believe. That said, if he doesn't compete better than he did against Hewitt, it's hard to see him finishing at No. 2 again.
14. Hewitt was correct when he noted it is "not very good for the sport" when one opponent spits in the direction of another. We would submit, however, that unleashing a primal scream of "C'mawwwwn!" after your opponent double-faults would fall squarely under the same heading. Same for spitting loogies on the court, yelling at ballgirls, swearing audibly or calling the chair "an idiot" when he in fact made the correct call....
15. In sharp contrast to Hewitt, did any player reveal themselves to be more winsome than Alicia Molik? (And not just because she donated her 24th birthday cake to the gluttons in the media room.) Her game is highly entertaining -- a mix of power, athleticism and risk-taking. And she was a delight in the interview room. Here was her take on her 6-4, 4-6, 9-7 quarterfinal loss to Davenport, a match in which she got rooked on a crucial call: "One point doesn't cost you a match. Lindsay was the better player today."
16. Molik capped a tremendous two weeks winning the doubles alongside Svetlana Kuznetsova. It was their first tournament together, which certainly bodes well for the rest of the year.
17. Yet another reason we like Molik: When she came across tabloid "Drug Scandal" headlines about Kuznetsova, Molik purchased an entire stack of newspapers from the local convenience store and promptly threw them in the trash.
18. Though overshadowed by Hewitt-mania and the return of Serena, perhaps the best story of the tournament was Corina Morariu's run to the doubles final with Davenport. Less than four years ago, Morariu was diagnosed with advanced leukemia. Suffice it to say, reaching another Grand Slam final is an achievement. And you sure have to hand it Davenport for playing doubles alongside her friend, even though it may have cost her a Grand Slam singles title.
19. At the women's doubles trophy presentation, Davenport broke down in tears rehashing Morariu's saga. Hundreds of fans in Rod Laver Arena followed suit. Molik was next at the mic. "It would be great if Kleenex could jump on board as a sponsor. But thanks to Kia and the rest of the sponsors and volunteers and the ballboys." Nice touch.
20. Once again, a handful of matches were marred by botched calls and overrules, intensifying the clamor for replay technology. Expect to see it in place by the U.S. Open. Limited challenges? Unlimited challenges? Show courts or all courts? We say just do it and get to the details later. And in the meantime, what if the chair umpire stopped overruling the far sidelines? We saw easily a dozen such overruled calls and the chair batted about .300. Maria Alves, meanwhile, the chair umpire during the controversial U.S. Open match between Jennifer Capriati and Serena, quietly worked a few matches.
21. Scott Draper and Samantha Stosur won the mixed doubles over Ullyett and Liezel Huber. Sad but true: Interest in that event lasts as long as Martina Navratilova is in the draw. After that all bets are off. Nice tournament for Ullyett, who won about $250,000 without playing a set of singles.
22. Hewitt wasn't the only family member to battle injuries last week. His sister Jaslyn tripped in the shower, breaking a bone in her right hand.
23. James "C'mawwwwn!" Blake has joined the tsunami-relief efforts by donating one of his new Dunlop racquets, an autographed match-worn jersey from the Open and a personalized letter. Check it out at jamesblaketennis.com.
24. Australia's Chris Guccione may have gotten drilled in the first round, but he did hit the fastest serve of the tournament: 144 miles per hour.
25. Fiona McKenna of Melbourne was the first of many to inquire about the blue wristbands favored by Roddick and several other Americans. Turns out the bands are Roddick's answer to Lance Armstrong's "LiveStrong" bracelets. Embossed with the words, "No Compromise," they benefit children in need and are available at andyroddick.com. Price is $2 (minimum order of five) plus shipping and handling.
26. The Monica Seles update is ... no update. The Beloved One isn't ready to retire but isn't ready to resume playing. She made several guests appearance in Australia last week doing some promotional work for American Express.
27. Tickets for the 2005 United States Davis Cup first-round tie against Croatia, Mar. 4-6 at White Elephant -- er, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. -- have not exactly been brisk. (Who couldn't have seen this coming?) Tickets for the three-day series can be purchased by calling 888-484-8782 (USTA). Prices range from $90 to $375 for all three days of competition.
28. The minute Andre Agassi signs on to play, ticket sales won't be an issue.
29. Volkert of Utrecht, Netherlands, called this to our attention: Stephanie Foretz turned in the worst service performance since Anna Kournikova double-faulted 31 times in an early-round match six years ago. Against Michaella Krajicek, Foretz double-faulted 17 times on 22 second serves.
30. Does Agassi walk away from this event encouraged that he beat one of the hottest young players who served a record number of aces or that Federer is mortal after all? Or is he further discouraged that -- at his favorite Slam, under prime conditions -- he couldn't muster a set in his quarterfinal defeat?
31. If you're in the market for a tennis stock, we advise to make some margin calls on Joachim Johansson. Though he lost to Agassi in the fourth round, is there any doubt J-Jo is a threat to win Slams? Against Agassi, he set the Slam record for aces with 51 -- and that wasn't a five-setter!
32. Garth Simmons of Toledo, Ohio, did make this interesting point: "Of all the players to serve more than 40 aces in a match, only one (Mark Philippoussis, Wimbledon '03) actually won the match. Is this the result of players too injured/exhausted to do anything but rely on a single shot, or is it something else?" (Such as: The serve isn't the dominant shot in the men's game as its detractors would have you believe.) Discuss for next week's class.
33. Note to Brad Gilbert: If Federer is USC and Roddick is Oklahoma, as you uncharitably put it, doesn't that make you Bob Stoops?
34. Awful nice showing from Nathalie Dechy, reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at the advanced age of 25. But, boy, did she squander an opportunity against an injured and dispirited Davenport in the semis.
35. After falling to Dechy, Anastasia Myskina sourly remarked: "I can't really say that she won the match, but I can say that I lost it." Dechy's response: "I'm in the next round and she's not. I think I won the match." Nice to see someone finally call "bushwah," as they say, on an ungracious opponent.
36. Seeking to capitalize on the cadre of raucous Swedish fans who converged on Melbourne, a Stockholm newspaper sent its journalist 300 inflatable hands emblazoned with the Swedish flag on one side and paper's logo on the other. The goal was for the writer to distribute them to the fans who would then be televised. Problem was, by the time the package arrived, all the Swedish players had lost and the scribe was stuck with 300 novelty hands.
37. If you think Hewitt is fast on his feet, you missed Jim Courier doing courtside interviews after matches.
38. Here's a nominee for the weirdest visual: While Serena and Sharapova played their classic semifinal, the Bryan Brothers waxed Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi on a minor court. There may have been 30 fans scattered throughout the crowd. One of them was Phil Jackson.
39. Speaking of Jackson, he joined Roddick for dinner -- regaling him with Dennis Rodman stories -- and joined him at the blackjack table, where Roddick claims to have won more than $5,000.
40. Now for the gratuitous pot-stirring portion of today's program: If I'm on the ATP's executive search committee, I'm interviewing Paul McNamee as Mark Miles' replacement.
41. Is it us or did the opening-week "drug controversy" die down as quickly as it flared up? Pretty strong damage control over at the WTA.
42. Given our recent discussions, we thought you'd get a kick out this memo we received: "The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced an open call for nominations for the induction [of the] Class of 2006 ... Players are elected based on a distinguished record of competitive achievement at the highest international level, with consideration given to integrity, sportsmanship and character ... Printable nomination forms are available online at tennisfame.com. Nomination forms may also be obtained by contacting: Enshrinee Nominating Chairman, International Tennis Hall of Fame, 194 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I. 02840. Phone: 401-849-3990; fax: 401-849-8780; e-mail: email@example.com
43. Know how Joe Buck and his Fox colleagues are forced to debase themselves by doing various "tie-in" promotions for phones, beer and movies? The same blight has come to Australia. You haven't lived until you've heard Navratilova -- a commentator, and a darn good one, for Australia's Channel Seven -- trying to plug Desperate Housewives with a trace of enthusiasm.
44. Navratilova's take on Hewitt's antics: "It offends me. I mean you just don't do that. It's not sportsmanlike and it's not respectful to your opponent. I understand pumping yourself up but not to the detriment of your opponent ... but when James Blake gets offended you know something's up. [Juan Ignacio] Chela, same thing, he's really laid back. It's going to come to fisticuffs one day either on the court or in the locker room. There's a line you don't cross, and he's crossing it."
45. John McEnroe and Courier will join Roddick in an exhibition event at Houston's Toyota Center called "Serving for Tsunami Relief" on Monday. Joining the past and present ATP stars will be Chris Evert, Kournikova and TV talk-show host Dr. Phil. The event will raise money for the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Relief Fund, an effort by the two former presidents to fund relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation for the victims of the disaster in Southeast Asia. Courier's InsideOut Sports & Entertainment is producing the event along with Jim McIngvale, the Houston Chair of the Bush-Clinton Fund. Tickets to the event are available at toyotacentertix.com.
46. Aussie veteran Draper was supposed to play to in a professional golf tournament last week, but then he reached the mixed-doubles semifinal with Stosur. His solution: Get an early tee time and then head to Melbourne Park. He shot a 79 but won his match.
47. Assuming the stats were right, Andy Ram and Jon Erlich lost to the Bryan brothers, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 and did not commit a single unforced error in the match.
48. According to PublishersMarketplace.com, Roscoe Tanner and veteran writer Mike Yorkey have sold a book titled Double Fault to Triumph Books for publication next fall. It's described as "the story of the tennis star's incredible flameout, about how he deceived his family and friends and ended up broke and in jail."
49. You miss Ted Robison. You know you do.
50. I say this every year: If there is a more soulful, fan-friendly sporting event than the Australian Open, I haven't been to it.