Bright lights. Big City. The tennis world has ramped up the hype machine as the final Slam of the year, the United States Open, is about to begin. Every tennis player who can walk and hold a racquet is in New York or playing their off Broadway tune up in New Haven. The banners are up on West 57th street. New York Magazine has printed it's guide to the US Open, the hottest ticket in town for the next two weeks and listed the hotels where many of the players will be staying. Venus, Serena, Roger, Rafa and Maria all look out from the sides of buses roaming up and down Fifth, Madison and Lenox Avenues. It's an exciting time to be a tennis fan in New York.
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But despite the glitz and excitement the usual doings of tennis continue. Some good. Some bad. And some bizarre.
Bitch Slap of the Week
Serena Williams on Mary Carillo's less-than-complimentary remark that the Williams sisters should have dominated women's tennis more than they have but have not lived up to their potential.
"I think I've had a little more effect on tennis history than she has," said Williams. "I'm pretty excited about that."
I've been watching tennis long enough to remember Pam Shriver when her claim to fame was as Martina Navratilova's doubles partner. When she started doing commentary I wondered what she'd ever done to qualify for that job. I've also teased her mercilessly over the last few years giving her the nick name Pammy-poo.
I've changed my mind. Pam has become Mistress of the Snark, the one person on ESPN who manages to get the news out to tennisheads who care to listen closely. Just last evening, before Mardy Fish and James Blake took the court for the Pilot Pen final which James won for the second time, Pam asked Mardy about a practice game they play called "Butt's Up" and asked if that was how the upcoming match would be played. Mardy mumbled something that ended up meaning "no" and life went on. She has also managed to comment unceasingly on the terribly lopsided Women's Draw at the US Open. Her comments would fly right by you if you're not really paying attention. My favorite exchange came between Pam and Mary Jo when they, as wives, were talking about Patty Schnyder's husband working with Sania Mirza who beat her. "Wouldn't happen in my house" Pammy said. Mary Jo jumped right in a agreed with Pam's comments.
I guess that's why they keep her out of the booth and away from the talent. I think maturity and motherhood have lowered her bullshit tolerance. At least there is someone on ESPN who can, and does, manage to ask the tough questions, goofy hats and all.
The Draw Thing
There is no other story right now. With the McElroy blog having pulled back the curtain Toto style on the great and wonderful Oz that is the draw process fans of tennis have to ask themselves some hard questions, none of which have nice answers.
What has been interesting is how fans of the players who received the largesse of the ITF have reacted.
I've always found Federer fans not of the KAD (Kool Aid Drinker) variety to be a thoughtful group. They know their favorite very well and if you ever have to read a live recap of one of his matches that is not aired in your area you will see they look for certain things from him and discuss them honestly. That type of Federer fan has generally taken the position that the draw is an insult to his greatness, that he doesn't need that kind of assist from the Grand Poobah's to secure his legacy as GOAT. That I can accept even in the face of the Wimbledon walkabout. Throw everyone at him this line of reasoning goes. He can beat them with one hand tied behind his back. Spoken like true fans of the man and of tennis.
The PovaNuts have taken a different tack. They are doing one of two things: ignoring the entire controversy or saying it's not her fault that the winners of the three previous Slams and everyone else who has beaten her this year is in the top half of the draw leaving her the infirm and the headcases. I haven't read anything by a Pova fan that said she doesn't need the assist she's being given. The quote below was posted on the ESPN board by a Maria fan:
When a Federer or Nadal, or a Sharapova is so much better than the rest, as they clearly are, you tend to look at the opponents down their side of the draw and think, "Wow, that's an easy match." This is what happens to these insane VeeReeKuzzyMoMoNutz. Their fave players are so much less than the three I mentioned, it's a natural reaction to say that the superior players got the cake draws.
I guess if the poster repeats often enough that Maria deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Roger Federer he/she will make it a reality.
I wonder what Justine Henin thinks about all of this. She is the one who has been thrown under a bus in this situation. Never been a fan of Justine's but I do respect her game and feel that right now she is ranked where she should be. How come the mens number one seed got a cakewalk from the people in the back room and she got Murderer's Row?
By the way McElroy does not indicate in her report the the draw done in the back room the night before was done by computer. Some fans have seemingly decided that it was, probably in a last gasp attempt at damage control. PMac and crew have often hinted at the "lobbying" that is done before the draw is set. I think that if the back room draw was computerized someone official would have stepped up and said something by now. They haven't. Until they do those who want to believe that some part of this was indeed above board have nothing to cling to but a wish and a prayer.
Enough of the doom and gloom. The US Open, flawed draws and all, starts tomorrow. It's a great day to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York. There are some great matches to be seen on the outer courts for the price of a grounds pass. If you can make it it will be worth your while.
To end the Heard Around-US Open series on a lighter note heres a look at Wimbledon, behind the scenes.