american fans

ATP Tidbits: Djokovic’s Humor, Ryan Harrison as Role Model, and the ‘Worst Job in Sports’

Since coverage of the US Open has been quite extensive this year, I’ll stick to the lighter side of tennis for this week and bring you the fun off-court moments. I’ll take a look at Novak Djokovic’s humorous ways, talk about the ‘worst job in sports,’ bring you tennis’ newest role model teenager Ryan Harrison, and talk about my thoughts on what may be going on with Andy Murray in his recent third round exit at the US Open — and it’s not his lack of mental strength or coach. I’m citing a different culprit altogether.

Djokovic, the comedian, gaining American fans quickly

In what was one of the most hotly contested first-round matches, Novak Djokovic squeezed out a win against compatriot and good friend Viktor Troicki in five sets, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. But the story wasn’t all in the tennis itself. As temperatures on-court soared to above 120-degrees and the humidity wreaked havoc, Djokovic’s respiratory problems were once again the center of attention. He could have lost in the fourth set, but as luck would have it, the shade came onto Arthur Ashe stadium and relieved Djokovic of some of his woes. He quickly took advantage of the slightly cooler temps and came out the winner.

Novak Djokovic. August 31, 2010

After the match, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert asked Djokovic on-court: “How nice was it out here to get a little bit of shade?” As Djokovic searched for words, the first analogy that came to mind was that “it was like a ‘sleeping with my girlfriend’ kind of feeling.” The crowd roared in laughter and Gilbert became noticeably embarrassed. But whatever, Djokovic was relieved that he pulled out the win.

His press conference following his win was one for the books. The Serbian “Djoker” seems to be building his American audience base and is getting more confident in his humor once again. It’s nice to see Djokovic back at his lighter, more confident ways – both on and off the court.

If you have a chance, see the live video of his presser as his facial expressions and comedy are ten times better than on paper, you won’t be sorry! Starts at the 5:31 mark.

What is the ‘Worst Job in Sports?’

Ever read the Wall Street Journal to get your tennis fix for the day? Honestly, neither have I. But Tom Perrotta of Tennis.com fame wrote an interesting article in the WSJ a couple of days ago concerning the ‘worst job in sports.’ And guess what it was. Being a tennis coach.

Brad Gilbert, former coach to Andy Murray and current ESPN Commentator.

For all the glitz and glamour we think coaches have in traveling with their athlete(s) and staying at plush hotels in destinations we can only dream of going to, there is a down-side of being a tennis coach. If you’re lucky enough to be a wanted elite coach, then you could probably live comfortably on the money you make as everything else is paid for by the player. But what if your player is not winning or progressing? You’re either ‘out’ or your pay doesn’t change much. Players seem to change coaches every few years anyway, looking for a new outlook or support system.

I can’t even eat leftovers for two days in a row, how can I expect players to stay with the same coach for more than two YEARS in a row? It’s an interesting concept that is often overlooked by the casual sports fan. In other sports, where managers and executives pick their coaches, tennis is unique in that the actual athlete picks the coach. For further reading on this, check out Perrotta’s article as he talks to greats such as Larry Stefanki, Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Mats Wilander, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Bob Brett: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703946504575469961990822120.html

Ryan Harrison. Title? Role model

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’re familiar with the newest talent that has developed right under our eyes, Ryan Harrison. After coming through qualifying and taking out veteran Ivan Ljubicic in the first round, 18-year-old Harrison took Sergiy Stakhovsky to five sets in a match that lasted over four hours. In fact, Harrison held three match points in the fifth set tiebreaker before double-faulting on his last opportunity and allowing Stakhovsky to serve for the win, which he did.

Although Harrison lost, it doesn’t make his run any less fruitful or devoid of fans. The grace and calm which he exhibited after his defeat speak volumes to his character, and those around him agree. “He has wide open ears, always willing to learn, wanting to grow and develop,” said Tracy Austin, a former World #1. “I love his attitude, and his work ethic as well.”

Ryan Harrison. September 3,2010.

In his press conference, Harrison was quick to say that he has a lot to work on before becoming a “full-time tour player.” I’m just going to keep my head down, and work as hard as I can and listen to the people I trust and develop my game. I’ve got a lot of work to do. From the time I get back home until my next tournaments, my goal is going to be improving my game until I can be a consistent contender, and the ranking and all that stuff will take care of itself.” Parents, if you have any youth looking for a young capable role model, Ryan Harrison is it.

Could Andy Murray’s problem be …. mono?

You’ve all probably heard about Andy Murray’s surprising third-round exit to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka by now. But I wonder if you’ve thought about precisely ‘Why?’ Forget about lack of desire, mental stability, or coach, Murray may have a different ailment altogether. During the match, he called the trainer twice, once for “tightness in my quad” and the second time because he felt “pins and needles around my right elbow.”

Andy Murray bent over two different times during his match against Stan Wawrinka. September 5, 2010.

At his press conference Murray stated plain and simple that “I lost to the better player, that’s all there is to say.” However, when questions were raised about his physical capabilities he couldn’t pinpoint the problem and this made me wonder. Murray is known for his physical strength and being able to outlast his opponents, so something has to be up.

Andy Muray: “I was disappointed that I was struggling physically. You know, I tried to find a way to come back. Didn’t quite do it. Yeah, I was disappointed that I’ve not been really in that position for a long time. I still feel like I’m super fit. I just didn’t feel great. You know, there was a lot of things that I was feeling on the court. But, yeah, I just haven’t felt that way for a few years now. So I’m going to have to go look at why that was the case and try and get better.”

Anyone know where I’m going with this? Well, if Andy Roddick’s recent tumble gives any hint, my speculation is that Murray may be suffering from a mild case of mononucleosis as well. I’m no doctor, but that fact that he can’t pinpoint his problem and was “struggling physically” remind me of Roddick’s statement earlier this year when he said he wasn’t feeling strong enough mentally or physically and couldn’t fathom why. These players are in constant contact and mono travels like the plague in locker rooms and lounges. To me, this would spells disaster on tour as we’ve already seen Roger Federer and John Isner openly talk about their stint with mono. Here’s to hoping the ‘popular trend’ ends, but it could only get worse before it gets better.

ATP BONUS:

I picked up on a strange statistic at this year’s US Open. Not only are all four remaining men in Rafael Nadal’s quarter Spaniards, but there are a total of six Spaniards in the fourth round — that’s almost 38%! Did the US Open’s blue courts somehow turn into clay this year?! For a country known for producing talented clay-specialists, Spain is quickly turning into a force on all surfaces.

American Hopes Higher Than Ever for the US Open

For the first time in a few years American fans must be feeling very confident about the men’s side of the draw at their home Slam beginning in New York on Monday.

While Serena’s absence means home hopes will be firmly lodged behind older sister Venus in the women’s game, for the first time in a few years American dreams will be spread amongst a small band of merry brothers hoping to hoist the red, white and blue flag high above Flushing Meadows come the conclusion of finals day.

Even the most pessimistic of American tennis fans would be hard pushed to disagree that there are five men capable of pushing deep in to the draw and giving the country something to shout about. It’s not certain of course, form and injury permitting, but it is possible.

At 27, Andy Roddick should be at the peak of his powers. The 2003 Champion is the only American to have lifted the US Open since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras used to fight tooth and nail over the hallowed trophy.

Last year he fought out on of the toughest Wimbledon finals in recent memory before finally succumbing to the powers of Roger Federer but this year his form has been somewhat erratic and following his Washington defeat to Gilles Simon he dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in 2006, meaning there was no American in the top 10 rankings for the first time since their inception.

His diagnosis with mononucleosis seemed like his end to 2010 was going to be hugely disappointing. But then A-Rod did what he does best and stopped the critics jabbering.

At Cincy last week he defeated plucky Swede Robin Soderling as well as world No. 3 Novak Djokovic. He was serving for the semifinal against Mardy Fish before having a trademark wobble and losing the tie 6-4, 6-7(3), 1-6.

But the earlier performances will buoy a man who is getting over an illness which causes lethargy and nausea. Only a cold-hearted hermit would fail to be warmed and rallied by the cheers of a home crowd and a country as proud of their own as the US of A will undoubtedly be throwing the weight of their voices behind a man they have been praying will repeat that 2003 triumph for the past 7 years.

However his draw isn’t the easiest. A second round against Janko Tipsarevic or Olivier Rochus won’t be easy and then he has the possibility of Gael Monfils or Igor Andreev to come.

And what of that Cincinnati semifinal victor Mardy Fish? Right now the man is the hottest property on the ATP Tour and the name on most people’s lips. He pushed Federer all the way in the Cincy final and only a year ago, maybe even six months ago, that would have been unthinkable.

His recent performances have seen a huge progression in his ATP ranking and he is the hottest man along with David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis entering Flushing Meadows.

Jan Hajek shouldn’t pose too many problems in round one for the number 19 seed and the opposition doesn’t look too tough from then on either. Fish and Roddick could even meet at the quarter finals stage if all goes well for both men.

Fish has only once reached that mark here in 2008 but on current form who would bet against him repeating that in 2010? He looks a very good outside bet for the betting man to possibly earn a semifinal berth.

Then of course there are the two young men who not so long ago were being touted as future stars of this sport.

In the summer of 2009 the future looked very rosy for Sam Querrey. He reached three ATP Tour finals in a row, losing to compatriot Rajeev Ram in Newport, another American Robby Ginepri at Indianapolis before breaking that streak by defeating the Aussie Carston Ball at the LA Open.

Despite a run-in with a glass table that nearly ended his career in the autumn Querrey finished the year at a career-high world No. 25 and was tipped to fly in to the top 20 during 2010.

A first-round Aussie Open defeat to Rainer Schuttler wasn’t exactly the best start to the year. A run of early defeats followed before he reached the final of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in April where he lost to Argentine clay specialist Juan Ignacio Chela.

After losing the first round in France to that man Ginepri again he began complaining of mental troubles and claimed that he had “fallen out of love” with tennis in an Andy Murray-style full on collywobbler. However, come Queens he’s turned it around again and after beating Fish in the final, his first title on grass and third in 2010, he became the only player this year to win titles on three surfaces.

He then defeated Murray in the final of the LA Open to hold on to his title and so things are looking slightly rosier again for the world No. 22 and the No. 20 seed next week.

Chela lurks in his quarter of the draw but other than him the names don’t look like they will pose too much of a threat before the later stages.

Finally we have the massive John Isner. The 6 ft. 9 North Carolinian is the current world No. 20 and has never progressed past the fourth round of a Slam reaching that mark here last year and back in the Australian Open in January.

He started the year brilliantly by winning his first tournament, the Heineken Open in Aukland, before that Aussie Open result. He fought valiantly during the USA’s 2-3 defeat to Serbia in the first round of Davis Cup World Group Stage play before a few disappointing showings.

At the Serbian Open he reached the final after wins over Josselin Ouanna, Richard Gasquet and Stanlislas Wawrinka but doubles partner and good friend Querrey pipped him to the title on this occasion.

He made history at Wimbledon of course with that mammoth matchup with Nicolas Mahut but we have heard very little from him since. Perhaps he is still recovering? Shoulder injuries have been troubling him and there are still a few doubts as to whether he will make next week, but he strenuously denies these.

Perhaps the least likely to progress deep in to the draw due to form and injury concerns. His first two rounds should be straightforward but then he may begin meeting the likes of Radek Stepanek, Julien Benneteau, Tommy Robredo, Victor Hanescu or the No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych and this is where, on current form, you would fancy him to fall.

There are, of course, a large spattering of Americans throughout the rest of the draw but the serious money will be on these five. However the home players do this is shaping up to be a great tournament once more full of enough thrills and spills to outlast any Hollywood Blockbuster.