Let's get this out of the way. Day 1 and the following seeds are out: Aravane Rezai, Nicolas Davydenko, Daniela Hantuchova and Sam Querrey. A lot of hope rested on the shoulders of both Querrey and Ryan Harrison. Harrison, who was unseeded but had had a good run at the US Open crashed out early as well. I don't know if any of you watched ESPN2's coverage last night but there was something very curious about it.
While Gael Monfils was staging his comeback from two sets and 2-5 down and WTA #1 Caroline Wozniacki was playing her first match against the tricky Gisela Dulko the most important match for American viewers was the one between Sam Querrey and Lukas Kubot. I've criticized ESPN2's coverage here before but even I was surprised not only that the match was featured but at the level of what passed for commentary during it.
I understand that the American tennis establishment wants to profile it's players, the people they hope will bring the United States back to prominence in the tennis world but really? I mean really people? There was no commentary. It was a group of people sitting around trying to will Querrey over the finish line. They talked about what he should be doing, not what he was doing and why. The demeaned his opponent, someone they apparently thought had just dropped in from Mars (they treated Lukas Lacko so badly people Tweeted about it but that's another story), and in the end Querrey lost. Yes he took five sets and if his opponent had more experience on the main tour it may have lasted one less set, but the problem is to a casual viewer Querrey's loss would've seemed as if a top seed had fallen.
Which brings me to the case of the missing Mary Carillo. I have never been a big fan of Mary's. I have to state that up front because while some knew Carillo had left ESPN during last years US Open many didn't. Thanks to an article brought to my attention on Twitter by tennishead GVGirl more details are available about why she left and the noxious brew that is tennis coverage in the United States.
I have said it before and I'll keep saying it. Mary Jo Fernandez has no business interviewing Roger Federer. Her husband is his agent. She's been photographed standing with his family right after matches. She and Mirka shop together. In fact she has no business in the broadcast booth calling matches or doing interviews.
I say this every year but what I say doesn't matter. I'm not connected to any of the powers that be in tennis so I am free to say what I want.
The article by Richard Deitsch for Sports Illustrated goes right to the heart of what's wrong with tennis coverage in the U S of A.
It doesn't take a leap to surmise that the philosophical difference rested in Carillo believing the tone and tenor of ESPN's coverage was closer to cheerleading than reporting. Sources told SI.com that Carillo was distressed by a culture that frowned on critical analysis of the top players on tour, particularly American stars.
Deitsch also touches on the conflicts of interest in the broadcast booth naming names.
No sport does conflicts quite like tennis, dating to former agent Donald Dell, who provided commentary of matches involving players he represented and tournaments his firm owned and managed. That's morphed today into ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez interviewing a player (Roger Federer) represented by her IMG agent husband. The affable Fernandez also draws a salary from being Fed Cup captain, where the Williams sisters' commitment is often the key to winning or losing. Patrick McEnroe, who this column enjoys as a broadcaster, makes a six-figure salary from the USTA, which puts him in a tricky situation when questions come up yearly about the U.S. Open scheduling and the stadium's need for a roof.
This is why many tennis fans prefer the commentary of people like Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall who usually call Masters 1000 events for Tennis Channel over Patrick McEnroe and his merry band on ESPN2. Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport also break the mold, Davenport calling her matches fairly despite being American. She was never a fave of the establishment though and still tends to call 'em as she sees 'em. Sure Koenig and Goodall have their fanboy moments but in between them you get tennis ANALYSIS not cheerleading. It's painful to hear American commentators repeat the same talking points - Mardy Fish's weight loss, the divorce of Rafael Nadal's parents over and over again ad nauseam. And who can forget Serena Williams being in the booth during last years US Open during one of Rafael Nadal's matches. She would stop answering some inane question to actually talk about what was happening on the court as it related to the techniques of playing tennis. Best five minutes of US Open coverage last year.
Perhaps Mary's flame throwing stemmed from her frustration with what passes for tennis commentary here. As Deitsch points out in his article
The sport's television entities have long fostered a climate where players are subjected to questions about as soft as a Francesca Schiavone drop shot. It's hard to believe such flagrant conflicts would be permitted in other sports.
I wonder how tonight will go in terms of commentary and coverage? Will this article make a difference? Probably not. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Right now the United States tennis establishment is getting exactly what it pays for.