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News and notes from the U.S. Open

Archive for September, 2006

Image is Everything


Maria Sharapova bopped into the press room last night with a scripted enthusiasm, sighed and said, “Let’s make this a positive session tonight, please, por favor.”

Alas, journalists are not therapists and they are not the marketers who look at Sharapova with dollar signs in their eyes. It’s easy to get the sense that she has spent so long in the pro tennis bubble that she has forgotten what it is like to interact with people who aren’t stroking her sizable 19-year-old ego.

So one writer asked about the four fingers her hitting partner Michael Joyce, one of the four men taking up the 15 seats in her player box, held up during the match like a third base coach with three on and two outs.

“I thought this was supposed to be a positive interview,” she said.

Since Sharapova seems to be hearkening back to the days of the big musical with her Nike ad, “I Feel Pretty,” she must have run across “Happy Talk” from “South Pacific.” Only the reporters weren’t willing to sing along.

“The last thing I’m gonna talk about is some fingers or a banana, all right?” she said. “I hope you got that one, thanks.”

*Here is the thing about Sharapova;* she is smart, she has a cast-iron work ethic, she is young and she is pretty. I like to think that she is like the pre-transformation Andre Agassi, all that potential waiting to boil over in areas other than her tennis.

She gave $58,000 to the victims of the Beslan school massacre and she has just started the Maria Sharapova Foundation to help at-risk kids fulfill their dreams. She said she isn’t sure exactly how that will manifest, but it’s a start.

Perhaps when she proves to herself that she can apply her determination to other areas while winning majors, we will see Sharapova blossom.

She is a work in progress. With a sense of entitlement and an unparalleled drive. When she is not on the defensive, as she was after her championship, she can be engaging and fun.

Perhaps “I Feel Pretty” is her “Image is Everything,” and there is more to come.

Posted by Jane McManus on Sunday, September 10th, 2006 at 2:38 pm |
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Federer in three… and props to Powell


Roger Federer may not always win in three, but it sure seems like it sometimes. He is arguably the best player in the history of the game, but such mastery is, well, kinda boring when you’re watching a match like the 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko.

Federer needs a foil. Only then does his precision and tactical mind fully impress. That’s why Nadal’s early exit was so disappointing. Nadal may not be the player Federer is, but the matchup is exciting. They are opposites in style and temperament.

It would be easy to dislike him if he didn’t handle himself with such dignity and respect for everyone around him. I mean, how can you hate the guy who sits behind a teddy bear after the U.S. Open semifinal, saying all the proceeds go to “UNICEF.”:http://www.unicef.org/ *I mean, really.* The only thing to improve on that would have been physically seeing the halo over his head.

He has won three straight Wimbledon titles, and if he can win the final here that will make it three straight U.S. Opens.

“You just hope to win this U.S. Open,” Federer said. “After that it kind of sinks in when you lift the trophy, like, I know, I’ve been in this situation before, it’s great that I have the opportunity to lift it up again.”

This might seem a bit egotistical if it weren’t so true, and if he weren’t so darn nice.

On an unrelated note, the USTA gets credit for renaming the grounds the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but the man who first floated the notion in print should get a brief mention sometime during the fortnight.

*Shaun Powell* of Newsday wrote a column on the subject at the start of the Open last year. Usually writers are not quick to credit someone else for a good idea they didn’t have, but I’m going to make an exception.

For his foresight and good sense, thanks Shaun.

Posted by Jane McManus on Saturday, September 9th, 2006 at 3:56 pm |
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Blake and the draw


Last night in the third set tiebreak, I was reminded of James Blake’s first big U.S. Open match. It was 2001 and he was playing eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt, but the Louis Armstrong Stadium was his house.

As Blake surged — he won the first and fourth of that five-setter — people packed into chairs and sat in the aisles. Some even found their way onto a balcony overlooking the court and stood, cheering wildly before Blake puked into a bucket and lost the fifth at love.

The second round seemed too early that year, just like a quarterfinal did last night.

The U.S. Open fans have been great to Blake, but not so much the draw. In 2002 he won his first ATP tournament during the summer in Washington and seemed poised to break through, but there again was Hewitt — top seed this time — in the third round. Blake won three games in the fifth set, but still couldn’t muster the upset.

Federer was waiting in the third round in 2003, after Blake found out his father had a deadly form of cancer. He mustered a second-set tiebreak but his heart wasn’t in tennis. In 2004 he mourned his father and battled a virus, missing the tournament.

He was ascendant in 2005. His game was tight and he could play with joy. He even seemed to have packed away some of the frustration that could top his energies in a tough match. But there was no escaping the draw. He lost to Andre Agassi in a fifth-set tiebreak in a breathtaking night match on Ashe.

The Yonkers native has played the kinds of matches that make people want to cheer wildly for him, but he has always come up against the kind of opponent it would take his best game and a stroke of luck to beat.

Where is his Nikolay Davydenko? His Mikhail Youzhny? Opponents he could beat if he could overcome the pressure of trying to reach a semifinal at the U.S. Open. Instead, he gets the high-profile match against the top seed, the legend, the best player the game has ever seen.

You could say he needs to beat these men in order to earn a spot in the last two rounds, and that is true. But he has never caught slack from the fates which conjure the draw here in Queens, where such a feat would be truly appreciated.

Posted by Jane McManus on Friday, September 8th, 2006 at 11:45 am |
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Don’t hate the playa


Last night in a press conference after beating Tatiana Golovin, Maria Sharapova volleyed questions sharply. As for the “I Feel Pretty” campaign, where she keeps her game face while passing people who just aren’t as, well, pretty, Sharapova explained how it related to her life.

“There’s definitlely jealousy in our world, in our society today,” Sharapova said.

In other words, don’t be a playa hater.

Her will to win is really inspiring. The way she pulled out those tiebreaks yesterday was nothing short of terrific and proves once again that talent can take you only so far.

But her attitude is so condescending.

One other thing. If Yuri Sharapov is able to hold up a banana and implore his daughter to eat, if he can pantomine water or taking a “vitamin supplement” or whatever — from the stands, during the match, with the cameras rolling — then what exactly is the rule barring coaching during a match there for?

In other news, check out “Kathleen McElroy’s terrific post”:http://usopen.blogs.nytimes.com/?p=116 on the New York Times Open blog about the difference in the amount of fabric used for the ballboy and ballgirls’ outfits. She makes the point that they are too sexy if they are drawing catcalls from the crowd.

Posted by Jane McManus on Thursday, September 7th, 2006 at 4:59 pm |

Ponies run free, or for $69.99


The longest line in the pressroom was easily caused by the announcement of the media gift, the freebie that major tournaments and leagues give to the friendly people who cover this 14-day exhaust-a-thon. This year the gift is a white polo Polo, with one of those ubiquitous ponies on the upper right side (as you look at it.)

Problem is, after days of seeing big ponies, little ponies, white, navy and pink ponies, ponies on ball kids and ponies on tennis balls, I might have an allergic reaction if I tried to wear one.

I usually dive into the crowds a couple of times a year here to find a local person to comment on some tennis issue, and this year was no exception. I scouted the outer courts last Thursday and tried to find some telltale emblem to show the place a person comes from — a North Rockland lacrosse T-Shirt, a Scarsdale tennis bag.

All I saw were ponies.

It was slightly depressing that we have become a culture of brands to the extent that our own individuality is limited to a Swoosh or red star. And that’s my complaint with the J-Block — the suite is paid for by Nike and the hats are provided by Heineken. Such a corporate backer for a group of friends from the affluent community of Fairfield, Conn. Let Nike pay for a suite for a group of kids from the Harlem tennis program that sparked Blake’s interest in the first place.

Maybe they could even use some free shirts.

Posted by Jane McManus on Thursday, September 7th, 2006 at 12:29 pm |
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Odds, and history, are against the Americans today


Combined, there are three American men and women remaining in the singles draws at the U.S. Open: Andy Roddick and James Blake for the men and Lindsay Davenport for the women. But all could be gone soon.

When you analyze the head-to-head matchups for each American and his or her opponent today, the opponent has the edge in two cases.

Davenport is 5-6 all-time vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne, but Henin-Hardenne has won their last six meetings. Davenport last beat the little Belgian in 2002, a lifetime ago in tennis.

Likewise, Roddick is 2-6 all-time vs. Lleyton Hewitt, although they’ve yet to meet in 2006. Of course, Roddick will have 23,000 strong behind him tonight sharing their utter disdain for Hewitt, the “Billy Zabka”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Zabka of men’s tennis.

The only American with decent odds is Blake, who beat Tomas Berdych in their only previous meeting. However, even if he wins, Blake will likely meet world No. 1 Roger Federer, who has won all four of their previous meetings.

So it doesn’t look good. Sorry I had to be the bearer of bad news.

Posted by Josh Thomson on Wednesday, September 6th, 2006 at 1:05 pm |
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Not a morning-type of bloke


So you think a rain suspension can change a match? Ask Andy Murray. The 19-year-old Scotsman just came out for the fourth set of his match with Nikolay Davydenko — it had been suspended yesterday by rain — and was quietly sent back across the pond with his tail between his legs. Murray lost the fourth set 6-0 and was seen muttering to himself on several occasions.

At one point in the final game, Murray said something along the lines of “You know every shot he’s hitting around to your backhand.” Needless to say, he wasn’t quite ready to play this morning. At least not well.

Posted by Josh Thomson on Wednesday, September 6th, 2006 at 11:52 am |
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Women on the outside, again


You would think now that the tennis center has been renamed in honor of Billie Jean King, the USTA’s non-discrimination policy would be iron clad.

Instead, female reporters were kept out of the locker room as their male colleagues were allowed to pass in and watch as Andre Agassi got a standing ovation from the players after his final match. A day later, a male reporter was ridiculed for trying to track down a female player in the locker room.

There must be an even playing field — for the reporters as well. Male and female writers need to have access to the same rooms and information. Officially, writers of either gender have access to both locker rooms here, after a brief announcement asking players to cover up if an opposite sex writer is coming in.

But for years at the U.S. Open that has meant women are allowed in the women’s locker room and men in the men’s.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened here. I was denied access a few years ago, and after Pete Sampras won — another big moment — it happened again. And two days after the Agassi match, a female writer was denied access after Andy Roddick’s match.

An entitiy no less than the Supreme Court has mandated that female sports writers need to have equal access to men in order to do their jobs. The USTA was the first to offer equal prize money to men and women. Now it needs to enforce its policy of equal access for all — especially with Billie Jean’s name on the grounds.

Every other sport has found a way to deal with this. A few years ago I was denied access to a a PGA Tour locker room, and when my editors at The Journal News called the tour on my behalf, I was apologized to and it never happened again. The NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball all have working policies.

Those leagues ended the days when writers like Lesley Visser had to chase down football coaches like Terry Bradshaw in the parking lot after the “real” interviews were done. He tried to sign her notebook. Some women were told to ask around the press room if they wanted quotes. Sometimes they got gems like, “We had a good game.”

So the women stood outside as Agassi was applauded by his peers after the last match of his career. The more things change…

Posted by Jane McManus on Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 at 3:58 pm |

Rain. Again.


Yes, raindrops have again cleared the courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. This is the sixth session affected by rain. It’s good and bad. Bad because a lost day is tough on players and their preparation, but it’s good for fans who have tickets for sunny days.

The glut of matches that have to be rescheduled means you don’t need a ticket to Ashe to see a great match. The outer courts will have better players and power singles matches as the U.S. Open gets back on schedule, and usually that’s something you only see in the first week.

The day session is cancelled while the night session is still on — but the forecast isn’t promising. The USTA usually waits to make the call.

Posted by Jane McManus on Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 at 1:30 pm |
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The biggest mistake these players make


I just got back from the Serena Williams-Amelie Mauresmo match, and there’s something that I totally can’t understand: there was not one replay challenge.

So the linespeople were perfect? The players didn’t seem to think so. Plenty of times, Williams or Mauresmo would look at the umpire, look at their box, look at the mark on the court — anything but actually call for a replay.

You get two a set. Why not use them? What’s the harm? If Marat Safin is right — and he swears he is — the technology is sometimes wrong, which means you might even get lucky and have a call turn in your favor.

Deep into a set, especially in a tiebreaker, I would even go so far as to challenge any shot that’s remotely close. You’re going to lose your challenges anyway.

Maybe when the technology becomes more standard, players will be more comfortable using it. In the meantime, there’s no excuse for players looking around the court for confirmation on a close call. Just challenge it. That’s what the system is there for.

Posted by Harold Gutmann on Monday, September 4th, 2006 at 10:49 pm |
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About this blog
This is the time of year the tennis world descends upon New York. Jane McManus, Harold Gutmann and Josh Thomson will be sending dispatches from the courts and corridors of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Come back for advice on tickets, parking and whether to go for the hot dog or the lobster roll.
About the authors
Harold GutmannHarold Gutmann Harold Gutmann joined The Journal News in 2002 after graduating from Duke University. He currently focuses on high school sports — he has covered state championship games in 10 different sports. READ MORE
Jane McManusJane McManus Jane McManus has covered sports at The Journal News for eight years, writing about everything from the Final Four and the U.S. Open to rock climbing. READ MORE
Josh ThomsonJosh Thomson Josh, who is 26 and a native of Carmel, graduated from Boston University in 2002 and began working for The Journal News the following March. READ MORE
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