Arthur Ashe

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Holding Out for a Hero

AP 2013 ESPY AWARDS SHOW A ENT S USA CA

The word hero, in all of its various forms, is thrown around quite often in sports. Professional athletes are placed on a pedestal, expected to walk the straight and narrow and act as role models for the youth of the world. In tennis, the word hero is often associated with the word gladiator. Matches are played out one-on-one in an enclosed arena. When players come through long and arduous matches, they are hailed as warriors and fighters. The WTA’s previous global ad campaign, entitled “Looking for a Hero?”, was one of its most successful.

http://youtu.be/cH7s5CI8GKM

An athlete isn’t a hero because he uses physical strength and endurance to win. That’s his job. An athlete isn’t a hero because she goes out and wins multiple championships. That’s her goal. Heroism isn’t playing through an injury and coming out with a victory, and heroism isn’t rolling through the field to win a grand slam.

Despite all that, the word hero has not lost its luster in sports.

The ESPYs, ESPN’s annual fan-driven award show to celebrate athletic achievement in the past calendar year, takes itself far more seriously than it should. Ironically, it is the only awards show in the history of awards shows that doesn’t actually signify achievement in anything. Actors and directors measure their careers based on Oscars and Golden Globes, while musicians covet Grammys. But athletes? Each individual sport has its championships and each individual organization has its awards, medals and accolades. From the outside, the ESPYs seem like a colossal waste of time; in fact, they might even represent everything that’s wrong with professional sports today: over-the-top pomp and circumstance, glossy hero-worship, excessive media hype and dollar signs.

However, for approximately 20 minutes each year, the ESPYs do give us one thing: the chance to be inspired by a true hero. The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage is one of the only awards of the night that is not decided by fan voting; it is completely independent of the popularity contest and media circus. The award is presented to someone who “reflects the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” While a sports-themed award, the recipient does not have to be an athlete or even a sports figure; nonetheless, its honorees have given us some of the most memorable moments in sports history. In the first year of the ESPYs, Jimmy V told us, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Last year, we backed Pat and she told us to “keep on keeping on.”

Last night, Robin Roberts received the 20th Arthur Ashe Award for Courage in the history of the ESPYs. Roberts, who has ties to the tennis family, is currently an anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America. A star athlete in her youth and record-holding basketball player at Southeastern Louisiana, she joined ESPN in 1990 and served with them for 15 years. Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she returned back to the airwaves. Last year, however, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease that developed as a side effect from her treatment. Roberts needed, and received, a bone marrow transplant that saved her life.

Roberts, who was a friend of Ashe and was presented the award by LeBron James, received a standing ovation from those present in the arena. “It’s not so much what we’ve accomplished that we remember,” Roberts said in her acceptance speech, “it’s what we overcome.”

Despite all of its flaws, the ESPYs, and by extension sport as a whole, provides viewers with a stage to have these stories told. Athletes and sports figures can be heroes, but not solely for athletic achievement; Jimmy V, Pat, Robin and others are figures that transcend sports. They’ve taken up a platform and embraced that stage for the greater good. That is the thing, and not the number of championships, golds medals, or slam trophies present in their cabinets, that is the most inspiring.

Top tennis reasons to watch the US Open

The US Open is the final Slam of the year and one that many look forward to.

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

The US Open is the final Slam of the year and it is rapidly approaching! The atmosphere at Flushing Meadows is unique, fun and home to some of the most interesting, intriguing counters likely to be seen and draws in an audience from all over the world. There are many reasons to love this Slam whether you are there to enjoy it in person or in the comfort of your own home and here are a few top examples as to why the US Open is one of the best tournaments of the year.

The outfits

New York is the home of fashion and where else would you see tennis players showcasing some of their most daring or eye-catching outfits but at the US Open? Over the years many of the players have been discussed as much for their fashion and apparel as they have for their tennis. Many have opted for traditional, summery styles for the final Slam of the year, whilst others have dared to bare their extraordinary and unique outfits and made an unforgettable fashion statement. Who can forget some of the styles of Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Andre Agassi over the years? Serena has a strong body, strong mind and is not afraid to make a strong fashion statement as she stepped out onto the tennis court at the US Open in 2002 wearing a snug and tightly fitted black cat suit which was arguably more daring than any other WTA player had worn before at Flushing Meadows.

Arthur Ashe Kids Day

Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is an annual tennis/children’s event that takes place in the end of August at the United States Tennis Association at Arthur Ashe Stadium. (USTA) Center in Flushing Meadows. This event also begins the U.S. Open, which officially starts one day later. This event is also televised on the following day for many to enjoy who are not there to experience it firsthand. It is a celebration of the memory of Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS in 1993, and of his efforts to help young people through tennis. Tennis greats that have appeared annually at Arthur Ashe Kids Day include Venus and Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Anna Kournikova, who play to entertain the children and families and to raise money for charity.

The home of thrilling matches:

The Arthur Ashe stadium is known for hosting some of the most exciting, nail biting matches out of all of the Grand Slams and over the years, through history, there have been many which have taken centre stage and thrilled audiences around the world. Here are two examples of the most recent, well-documented matches that have are truly memorable and have been enjoyed by many:

The Williams sister final in 2001: The Williams sisters have both experienced plenty of success in the world of tennis and even today they have continued to push their boundaries – particularly with their health – to achieve the dizzy heights of success in tennis. In the 2001 final the two popular sisters were in an all-American battle against each other and the match was all about Venus. Serena could not trouble her older sister, who cruised to win in straight sets.
Novak Djokovic fights back from the brink of defeat in 2011: In the semi finals last year, Novak Djokovic was dangerously close to elimination in the last four against Roger Federer. The Serb survived a pair of match points en route to his nail biting defeat over Federer, before continuing with his onslaught of the Tour when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the final to be crowned champion.

The possibility of an upset:

This year has been the Olympic year and now more than ever, many of the tennis players have admitted that they are feeling fatigued both mentally and physically and there has been a sea of withdrawals at the Masters 1000 Series tournaments in Toronto/Montreal and Cincinnati this year where many have fallen at the first hurdle, much earlier than planned and those who have remained have confessed that they are feeling the pinch from a jam-packed 2012 calendar with back-to-back tournaments. Coming into the US Open, it may come as no surprise to witness some upsets on the ATP and WTA Tours as some top players have had very limited match practice coming into the Slam and others are fighting off injury. Who knows what surprises we may see in some of the early stages of the tournament?

Celebrity spotting:

The US Open over the years has attracted many of the top celebrities to its courts to soak up the sunshine, enjoy the buzz and watch the fantastic tennis action taking place. Many have relished the opportunity to watch live matches from singers, to actors, to reality TV stars and models. In recent years Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Kim Kardashian and Bradley Cooper are a few examples of many A-list celebrities who have attended the tournament.

It’s New York!

The US Open is held in one of the most fashionable, fun and vibrant cities in the world, where many flock to especially to watch the tennis. It is a mecca for those who enjoy shopping, city life and a spot of some fantastic tennis to boost. Who could not enjoy being in New York during the tennis fortnight? The late night matches that commence on the Arthur Ashe Stadium create an atmosphere like no other – the crowd are into the matches, they are very vocal and being situated close to the bar certainly helps the crowd to cheer on their favourites and create that infamous party atmosphere that lights up the stadium!

From Grassroots to Boardrooms: Ray Benton is a Statesman for the Game

TCCP/JTCC Chief Ray Benton ©Steve Fogleman


by Steve Fogleman, Special for Tennis Grandstand

When I arrived at the Tennis Center at College Park to speak with its CEO, Ray Benton, he was finishing up a lesson with former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman. He’d agreed to speak with me after the practice and he was still stretching when our conversation began. I admit that at first I was bemused by the notion of a crossroads of politics and tennis. You don’t see that every day. But for tennis statesman Ray Benton, it was business as usual. He’s as comfortable on court with children as he is in the halls of power in Washington. Legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to repeatedly insist that all “politics is local”. Witnessing the VIP lessons he’s giving and the expansive, state-of-the-art tennis training facility he’s managing (largely funded by the former Chairman of the US Export-Import Bank), you realize that Benton is the embodiment of O’Neill’s mantra. Benton’s career arc has taken him from local to national to international and now, to some degree, back to local tennis. With that breadth of experience, he brings with him the uncanny ability to cultivate a major-league presence even in the deepest of grassroots tennis.

His office substantially resembles the International Tennis Hall of Fame in miniature. The walls of his paper-piled workspace are adorned with posters and photos from tennis events from the last forty years. With all of his energy, it is difficult to believe he is 71. He still competes in senior tournaments “when my body’s working”, he said.

Benton is an Iowa native who moved to Washington in 1971. He started playing the game at 15 and “really took to it right away”. Later, he spent two years with the Iowa Hawkeye team in Big Ten play. While attending college, law school and a year of business school, he worked in the summer as the tennis pro at Dubuque Country Club in Dubuque, Iowa. He was brought in to start a tennis program at a “golf wacko club where tennis was a nuisance”. It had “two broken-down courts and 35 tennis playing club members”. He was up for the challenge, and within a few years, Benton had installed six lighted courts, attracted 500 players and even trained 20 state-ranked juniors there. “That’s when I figured out maybe I should be in the business”.

Even after he was drafted and sent to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama in 1966, he managed to stay active in the game, serving as head pro at the Gadsden and Anniston Country Clubs and varsity coach for Jacksonville State University in Alabama. He then spent a couple of years in Colorado running that state’s Youth Tennis Foundation and putting on professional events before Washington called. Then, Benton’s call to DC came to Denver. Through Dubuque.

“As I was finishing business school, a guy I knew from Dubuque had hit it big, Bob Lange. He invented the plastic ski boot. I went into business with him to develop the first plastic tennis racquet. We had a prototype and I suggested that we have a tournament in Denver. And in order to get any American players there, I had to talk to the Davis Cup captain named Donald Dell. We worked together and a year later, I moved here.”

Dell was looking for partners in a law firm that would eventually morph into sports management company ProServ years later. During his early days in Washington, he also served as the first National Executive Director of the National Junior Tennis League.

From DC, the firm represented big names in tennis like Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Tracy Austin. They also managed top athletes throughout the world of sport, including Michael Jordan, Boomer Esiason, Dave Winfield and Payne Stewart. Yet the firm’s focus stuck with tennis for an important reason.

Mark McCormick started IMG and based it around golf and Donald started ProServ around tennis. After all, he was the Davis Cup captain and Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe were on his team.

As a law firm, we couldn’t solicit clients. We could write a letter to a company saying ‘I’m writing on behalf of Arthur Ashe to see if you might have interest’. We couldn’t put out a promotional brochure for Arthur, so we started the company Proserv. It was an affiliated marketing company to the law firm. When our firm split in ’83, Donald and I kept the name ProServ and made it the major identity.

During the nineties, Benton founded the Worldwide Senior Tennis Circuit. He secured more than $35 million in corporate sponsorships at a time when interest in tennis had started to wane. He also saw the events as more than a tournament, but an “entertainment event” with theme nights, contests and celebrity matches.

After spending most of the last decade doing marketing consulting for clients like the ATP, the PGA, the Vic Braden Tennis Academy and national mentoring advocacy group MENTOR, he was hired as the CEO of the Tennis Center at College Park. Once again, politics and tennis intersected, as banker and Clinton Administration appointee Kenneth Brody needed someone to market the tennis facility he had built in College Park. And he went straight to Benton to market it.

So, now that this writer knows he’s talking to the right person for the question, is DC a tennis town?

It is, but it needs to regain the stature it once had, and not only Washington, but many other area of the country. Tennis is totally a bottom-up sport. The great majority of energy comes from the grassroots. And that’s what advances tournament play, pro play, collegiate play. Frankly, I think we got lazy in this sport. We had so much momentum, so much success and great stars and I think the leaders of tennis, everyone became deluded that tennis was driven by Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. And the fact of the matter is in the days of Connors, Borg and McEnroe, participation in tennis in the United States decreased. We didn’t develop the next generation of Nick Bollettieris, of Vic Bradens or Dennis Van Der Meer or Peter Burwash. Who are the biggest names of teaching pros these days? Still those guys. If I asked you that same question 35 years ago, you’d have the same answer.

Benton’s approach to bringing the game back is simple. “A kid should be introduced to tennis the same way they should be introduced to basketball, which is they should have fun, be on a team, and compete the first day. And then they get hooked on the fun. And when they improve, then you offer them instruction. How many kids would play basketball if they were required to take three weeks of dribbling lessons and two weeks of shooting lessons before they were allowed to play the game? You’d have a lot fewer basketball players, wouldn’t you?”

He’s already building JTCC for the future. “You need leadership from the bottom. We’re going into schools now. We have a program called “Game On”. We’re trying to spread this game as far and wide as we can. We’re working with Prince George’s County Parks. We’ll have five sites in the summer. I see a lot more highly-ranked kids. I see a lot more inner city stuff. Five years from now, I see a much larger percentage of our kids coming from the inner city. I see considerable expansion here. We can expand. We’ve got room.”

As far as accolades the Tennis Center and the Junior Tennis Champions Center have received recently, he’s not wasting any time basking in the glory. “Attention is fine, but substance is what counts. We were very under marketed when I got here. There’s no question about that. One of the main reasons to get your name out is to attract the best athletes and do fundraising, because we’re a non-profit. We depend on it.”

Benton is audibly proud of the hundreds of kids who have been a part of the program. When he talks about the JTCC talent, it’s as if he is the proud grandfather of all of them. You almost expect him to have a photograph of every one of them in his wallet. “Denis Kudla is #184 in the world right now. There are only one or two players younger than him who are ranked higher. Mitchell Frank is excelling at Virginia. Trice (Capra) is at Duke. Skylar Morton graduated from here in three years and is playing very well, #3 or 4 at UCLA. She should be a senior in high school.”

Then there’s the next class of Junior Champions. After we spoke about Riverdale’s FrancisTiafoe and Reisterstown’s Yancy Dennis, he was more than ready to talk up the local girls climbing the ladder. ”We have a girl named Elizabeth Scotty, who’s 10 and 16th in the country in under 12s. We are really strong in the 14 girls, including three girls from Baltimore, NadiaGizdova (Columbia, MD), Raveena Kingsley (Parkton, MD) and Jada Robinson (Reisterstown, MD). And next week, we’ll have a girl that is as good as any of them. Usue Arcornada. She’s coming with (longtime JTCC Coach) Frank Salazar. She’s originally from Argentina, but grew up in Puerto Rico. And she is a tiger.”

 

Steve Fogleman is a Baltimore, MD-based attorney when not covering tennis. He manages the website Tennis Maryland and can be followed on twitter @TennisMaryland for further updates.

Voice of a U.S. Open tennis fan

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

by Romana Cvitkovic

Being a tennis fan can be both exhilarating and cruel. Just ask anyone sitting in the upper deck of the world’s largest tennis venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, at this year’s U.S. Open. From that high up, the players look more like specks playing ping pong than tennis, but the atmosphere of the crowd is electrifying as cheers for both players echo off the grandiose stadium.

As a devout tennis fan, we are addicted to the euphoria, the stress, and the drama of the sport. Sure, we go for the entertainment value and the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. But what makes tennis unique is that it is an individual sport. Instead of cheering for a basketball or football team passed down through generations, we gravitate towards individual players who reflect parts of our own personality, such as the fierceness of Serena Williams or the humor-driven game of Novak Djokovic. With no teammates and coaches to look to, each player is out on court alone, putting their hard training and mental strength to the ultimate test. And that’s where fans come in, making up the difference.

With essentially no off-season and no hometown advantage for any one player due to constant travelling, tennis is a year-round battleground. Players enter tournaments on a weekly basis, travelling from continent to continent, in search for glory. A player may play six or more matches in any given week, possibly win the tournament if they are lucky, catch a red-eye flight to the next city, and start fresh without a day off. As fans, our schedules reflect their grueling weekly battles, and we progress with them through their journey of elated wins and deflated losses, week after week. Loyalty and patience are as much of a factor in a fan’s life as euphoria and stress, and the players are dependent on the crowd’s energy as they travel the globe.

After her epic win over Maria Kirilenko earlier this week, 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur recalled the intensity of the history-setting second set tiebreak (which ended 17-15 in Kirilenko’s favor), and the crowd’s influence on her psyche.

“I lost track of the score. Didn’t know at one point if I was serving or receiving or when we should be changing ends, what was going on … it was super-exciting. The crowd was really into it. Couldn’t really hear myself think at times because it was so loud out there.”

2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro echoed Stosur’s thoughts on fan contribution. “I really enjoy the crowd, the fans are crazy, and they are very excited … the crowds are full every match. For me, that helps me to fight.” In reference to playing on the intimate Grandstand stadium, the third largest at the site, he added that “we are pretty close to the fans and we can hear every word.” Del Potro goes on to reminisce about his win in the final two years ago stating that “I was two sets to one down and [the fans] help me, started cheering more for me than Roger [Federer], and that help me a lot to win the final.”

Prior to his title in Flushing Meadows that year, Del Potro was a relative unknown in the United States. But loyal fans who had watched him mature from the junior circuit to the men’s tour caught glimpses of his brilliance early on in his career. Although celebrity players such as the Williams’ sisters and Federer generate high television ratings, the back courts of tennis are where stars are created. This is the place where casual spectators turn into lifelong supporters of players, following their careers unwaveringly through all the ups and downs.

And no two other players have more ups and downs than France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Although utilizing vastly different playing styles, they are self-proclaimed entertainers, winning and losing in equally spectacular fashion. As a fan, it’s both maddening and gratifying as you can never anticipate which version of the player will strike: the controlled genius or the self-imploding fatalist. But we continue to support them. Why? Because although their potential exceeds their current form, it may one day translate into a history-making run or title at a Grand Slam, as it has with Tsonga during the U.S. Open.

In our increasingly transient and insular society, it’s welcoming to identify with a particular player. When we equate ourselves with someone who has made a breakthrough, we revel just as deeply in their joy as they do, and in some parallel universe believe we had something to do with their win. And that’s all fans require sometimes: belief in a player. It’s not always about cheering for the winner; they’ve learned to win whether they are in a stadium viewed by 5 or 50,000 people. Rather, we cheer for the underdog because that is when a fan’s voice makes a difference.

Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick in Tuesday action at the US Open

Rafael Nadal

Andy Murray vs. Donald Young

American Donald Young will attempt to keep his best-ever Grand Slam showing moving along as he faces fourth seeded Andy Murray in the opening match on Arthur Ashe stadium at 11am. It is hard to believe that Young is only 22 years old as it seems he has been struggling on the ATP World Tour for years already. Actually, he has been struggling on the Tour for years as he rushed into his professional career at the tender age of 15.

Young has slowly begun maturing and making some strides this year that have signalled he is ready to move towards the expectations the tennis world has held for him for so long. Earlier this year he defeated Murray on the hard courts of Indian Wells. More recently he made the semi-finals of a level-500 tournament in Washington, D.C. as well.

That meeting in March was the only career encounter between Young and Murray, but expect a much different result on Tuesday. Young has been riding an emotional roller-coaster in New York with big wins over Stan Wawrinka and Juan Ignacio Chela, but faces a player of an entirely different calibre in Murray.

The Scotsman has amped-up his game over the past month and is not playing at the same mediocre level he was at earlier in the season when they first met.

Young can take home a lot of confidence from New York but he won’t take another victory.

Prediction: Murray in three

Gilles Muller vs. Rafael Nadal

No-doubt recovered from his press-conference cramping incident from Sunday that was highly and uncomfortably covered by television cameras, Rafa Nadal will be feeling just fine as he faces severe under-dog Gilles Muller.

Nadal has yet to drop a set in the tournament and the defending champion rarely bows-out of a Grand Slam early. While I still have doubts about his ability to defend his title from a year ago, I can’t see him getting bounced by Muller.

The pair have a career head-to-head record of 2-1 in Nadal’s favor, but Muller’s win was back in 2005 when Nadal was still discovering his game on hard-courts. More recently, they met at Wimbledon this summer with Nadal prevailing 7-6, 7-6, 6-0.

Muller has performed well in New York before, making the quarter-finals in 2008. He may give Rafa a challenge for a set, but otherwise will have to come up with the best tennis of his career to cause an upset.

Prediction: Nadal in four

John Isner vs. Gilles Simon

In a match that will offer fans a real contrast in styles, bit serving American John Isner will take-on the hustling baseline game of Frenchman Gilles Simon. This will be the first meeting between the two and the result is really anyone’s guess.

Simon’s best Grand Slam result was the quarter-finals of the Aussie Open in 2009 while Isner has made the fourth round at three majors including this one.

Both players have solid winning records on the Tour this year while Isner came into the Open with a tournament win in Winston-Salem. Both have had to beat top-level players in their journey here so far, with Isner defeating Marcos Baghdatis in the fist round and Simon just coming off a victory against Juan Martin Del Potro.

I see this one going the distance with at least a couple of tie-breaks given Isner’s outstanding service game. Could go either way but I’ll take a leap and go with Isner thanks in-part to the crowd support he’ll receive.

Prediction: Isner in five.

 Andy Roddick vs. David Ferrer

In the opening match of the evening session, the third American man in action on Tuesday will be 2003 champion, Andy Roddick.

Roddick has finally found his game after struggling with injuries and consistency issues all summer long. He dispatched Julien Benneteau in routine fashion in the previous round and the Frenchman had been playing some great tennis coming in. Things are about to get a whole lot harder against Ferrer.

The Spaniard can hang on any surface and will never, ever, get tired. Ferrer holds a 5-3 advantage over Roddick in their prior matches and defeated him this year in Davis Cup play in straight sets on hard-courts. For those who don’t know Roddick well, he is a guy who lives for representing his nation. He gives 110% in Davis Cup matches, so you can imagine how well Ferrer must have been playing to attain the victory on that day.

While I feel that Andy may yet have a crack at going deep in another Grand Slam before the end of his career, I don’t see it happening here with Ferrer standing in his way.

Prediction: Ferrer in four.

Caroline Wozniacki Talks

After the exciting match between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova, which Caroline won in straight sets 6-2, 7-5,  Wozniacki sat down with  Next Contenders for an exclusive interview.

Here is an excerpt of the interview and you can find the article at American Express’ NextContenders.com

Sweet Caroline did it again on Wednesday night, knocking out her quarterfinals opponent, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, in just two sets 6 2, 7 5, and continuing her impressive run of not dropping a single set at the Open, despite the windy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I’m happy to be through definitely, it was a tough one,” Caroline told me when we caught up after the match. “The wind was not easy to cope with. It was just about getting it in. I wasn’t really thinking to place it anywhere special, I was just thinking about getting it in. But a win is a win and I’m happy to be through to the semifinals.”

Next up, Caroline faces seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who she beat in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month in straight sets, and who also made it to the finals of Wimbledon this year.

“She’s a tough player. She’s a good competitor,” Caroline said. “She takes the ball and really tries to be aggressive all the time. So it’s going to be a tough match.”

Of course, Caroline’s game has improved greatly since her last Open, which she’s not shy about admitting. “I definitely think I’m a better player now than I was before,” she said, to which I asked how exactly she upped her game.

“Well, the fitness definitely has been a big part of it— boxing, running, a lot of cardio. I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been, I think, and that’s helped me to get into the right positions for my shots and that’s a good feeling to know that you can just continue.”

And they also provided us with some great videos:

Caroline Wozniacki – Language lessons and loose lips

Caroline on being the face of Stella McCartney’s Adidas line

Caroline says hello to the city of New York

What to wear? The fashionable Caroline Wozniacki tells us what it takes to win it all

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.

Arthur Ashe: A Remembrance of Things Past

The largest tennis stadium in the world is named after him. The last major of the year is decided on his surface. Nothing could be more appropriate than to commend the efforts of a man, who not only changed the game, but changed the way we see things. One book does it better than the rest.

Mr. Ashe was low key, mild mannered, a shy man you could say, but his game and presence stood tall, brash, and personified individualism like none other. In Mike Towle’s book, I Remember Arthur Ashe: Memories of a True Tennis Pioneer and Champion of Social Causes by the People Who Knew Him by Cumberland House, we get a candid glance into the life of someone who hardly showed any emotions on the court, carried himself with the utmost class and dignity, and seemed impervious to the spotlight. Unlike most biographies, which typically consist of a laborious bulk of exposition and pastoral beginnings, Towle’s book is a narrative not of his own, but of the people that knew Arthur Ashe well, and some not so well, but relay an experience they had encountering the great tennis legend revealing a more human side of Ashe, one that has never been unveiled before.

The structure of the book is linear following Ashe’s career from its auspicious beginnings to the tragic end of losing a bout with AIDS, all told through personal friends and colleagues alike, and even at times the very subject himself. My favorite passage from the book, one that I think reveals his human side the most, is when Ashe recalls a match he had against tennis great John Newcombe in Sydney where he lost due to some good old fashioned day dreaming. ‘I remember I won the first set,’ Ashe recalls, ‘Then all of a sudden I started thinking about this stewardess, Bella, I had met. She was Miss Trinidad of 1962. I just kept seeing her – this gorgeous face, this beautiful creature – and the next thing I know the match is over and Newcombe won.’

This book is more than a book about a tennis player. It’s a book about being human, and few stories mirror Arthur Ashe’s journey. Here’s to you Arthur, and to you too Mr. Towle for a great idea.

ATP Tidbits – Nike, Adidas, Dunlop Player Parties, Players Complain of US Open Transportation, and Slow-mo Power-Hitting Beauties

Publicity was the name of the game this past week as players, sponsors and fans got ready for the official kick-off of the 2010 US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY. It began with another humorous ATP player joining the twitterverse while others complained of the US Open transportation. The week also featured three player/celebrity events and were held by Nike, Adidas and Dunlop. It was then concluded with Arthur Ashe Kids Day this past Saturday. During the madness, a slow-motion video made by the New York Times of current top WTA players was erected, displaying both the power and elegance in today’s game.

Dmitry Tursunov, hilarious twitter addict

The newest addition to twitter is none other than funnyman Dmitry Tursunov. Known for his tennis, killer physique and DJing skills, he now admits to quickly becoming a fan of twitter. He calls it “dedication” to his online “minions.” We call it an addiction, but same result.


When he was first learning to ‘retweet’ and ‘reply’ to people through twitter, Brad Gilbert was the first unsuccessful target. Gilbert said that “it’s all about the shoes” in an outfit, referring to Tursunov’s tweet jokingly stating that his own was a scandalous one at the US Open. Tursunov tried to respond to Gilbert by saying he’ll wear speedos and bow-ties, but it came out all wrong. I would try to describe what happened next, but Tursunov’s humor is A+. Take a look for yourself (start from the bottom of the picture and read up in chronological order). Try not to laugh at his humor and “genius”. I dare you!

Thank goodness for one of his “minions” giving him tips on how to retweet and reply to others. This will go down as a classic example of why player’s shouldn’t go ‘coachless.’ Catch Dmitry Tursunov at http://twitter.com/tursunovtales.

Players complain about US Open transportation via Twitter

The US Open is full of glitz and glam, so players should be able to get whatever their hearts desire, right? Wrong. Janko Tipsarevic opened up a Pandora’s box of sorts concerning US Open transportation services for players. Clearly frustrated and on a rain-filled day in New York, he tweeted that the “US Open is not givin car transportation to players if you are not on a list that they don’t know what depends on.” After a couple of exchanges with Feliciano Lopez, Lopez offers these words of wisdom: “try to get spanish passport so will be easier.” As awesome of any idea as that might be, it seems more likely that car transportation is dependent on a player being seeded at the tournament.

In fact, Tursunov himself tweeted about “climbing the fence to get to the cars” one evening after practice last week when he was initially denied, citing it was for USTA personnel and that players needed to take “shuttles.” He even offered Tipsarevic advice with his humor: “If u insist on getting a ride just accuse them of profiling Serbians.” Now, this was getting juicy. It was, of course, all in fun as these players chatted via Twitter, but it gave fans a look at how players chat amongst themselves in real life as well.

Vania King also put in her two cents about her hardships via twitter: “Already had a conflict with US Open transport and I’m not even there yet! US is the biggest yet least accommodating of all Grand Slams.” And that’s coming from a Grand Slam Doubles’ Champion. Ouch!

But be careful what you wish for though. Kim Clijsters set the story straight: “90 min from our hotel to the tennis! Traffic is such a waste of time.” Wiser words could not have been spoken by a true veteran. Whether you’re a player or fan, the subway and Long Island Railroad are by far the top choices for transport to the US Open.

Nike Pro/Am event featuring lots of giggles

This past Wednesday evening, Nike held its “Nike Primetime Knockout Tennis Event” at Pier 54 that included players Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, John McEnroe and MC Serena Williams (boot and all). The event not only revealed each player’s night match kit, but also took on a Pro/Am format that pitted Team Nadal (with super model Bar Refaeli) against Team Azarenka (with New York Giant Justin Tuck). And Team Sharapova (with actor Bradley Cooper) took on Team Federer (with New York Tennis League player Sami Ahmad).

There were plenty of fun light-hearted moments, including Williams distracting Federer by screaming while he served and also asking Rafa to reveal his abs. Sharapova even practiced her winning pose. Also check out Global Village Tennis News who attended and recorded a fun press conference the players did afterward:

http://blog.gvtnews.com/2010/08/25/nike-nyc-lights-on-lights-out–news-conference-with-nadal-federer-sharapova-and-azarenka.aspx

Adidas’ players and the giant shoe cake

On Friday evening, it was Adidas’ turn to celebrate in their Soho NY store with the 10th anniversary of their Barricade shoe. Although sidelined due to injury, Justine Henin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga attended the event, along with Andy Murray and Ana Ivanovic. The event seemed more casual than the Nike one — even down to the players uncoordinated clothes. But, the giant shoe cake makes up for it, don’t you think?

Dunlop players as bartenders, doesn’t get better than this!

On Saturday evening, Dunlop also held a party launching their new Biomemetic line of racquets, with their players posing as bartenders. While Dominika Cibulkova was the only WTAer present, there were plenty of ATP players pouring their drink of choice to fans and media at the Union Square Ballroom in New York City. The list included Nikolay Davydenko, Ross Hutchins, Jurgen Melzer, Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo. A moment of note occurred when John McEnroe introduced Fernando Verdasco and asked him what it would take to share some of his good looks. Verdasco handsomely replied, “Give me your volley.” Cue female admirers giggling like school girls.

Record-setting crowd at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day

Every year, Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is held on the Saturday just prior to the main draw start at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It consistently attracts thousands of fans, but this year’s attendance was a record 23,000! Fans got to enjoy tennis exhibitions by pros Kim Clijsters, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Melanie Oudin and the #1 wheelchair player in the world, Esther Vergeer. Celebrity guests also included Lindsey Vonn and singers Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers among others. The Bryan Brothers also took stage to perform two of their hit singles and even had help from newly-minted rap star, Djokovic, on their ‘Autograph’ song which he appeared in. All in all, a huge success and a great way to inspire young athletes to go for their goals.

Photo credit to Michael Alan at http://www.michaelalanphotos.com/

“Women who hit hard”

The New York Times showcases the top ladies dressed up and playing tennis — in slow motion! It displays the delicate beauty as well as the fearsome power needed to rule the women’s game today. It includes Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur, Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/08/29/magazine/womens-tennis.html?ref=magazine

Top Tennis Commentators

Its that time again, when most of the known world sits behind the tube, on their favorite couch, sporting their favorite beverage, chip crumbs strewn across their lap, ready to watch their favorite players battle it out in the final slam of the year, yes, you guessed it, its US OPEN time!  New York, the Big Apple, bright lights, city streets, and electricity abuzz, there really is nothing like the final major of the year, hosting the biggest stadium in the world, named after possibly the sport’s greatest ambassador ever, Arthur Ashe.

In these decadent times of economic slumber, people still need their fix of quality tennis but live action viewing seems reserved for the few unscathed pocket books, while the many depend on that blue screen in the living room to emit their pleasures and quench their US Open thirst.

All the talk and buzz circling the favorites to make the finals and revel in tennis glory hound the media in all forms, and monopolize most of the conversations surrounding this year’s final slam, but does anybody talk about who is presenting this information? I would like to. Who do you think are the top broadcasters in the business?

Tennis fans are pretty savvy and range in the above average intelligentsia range, and perhaps can be a bit snooty by nature. My girlfriend flings that term at me often, and I can’t necessarily deny it too much. We are a pretty demanding bunch, and the hardcore are very astute to the game and conditions that constitute quality play and format. The middle men, and women, are the difference between a fine Cabernet and a flat diet soda to accompany the main dish. Whether it’s the ultra chatty John McEnroe who seems to me an elitist impresario rather than an objective commentator, or the South African Sultan of Snoot, Clifford Drysdale, who characterizes the term “comedy of errors,” I think it more than appropriate to list of the top contenders for best commentator.

First thing first, before we get going on the best of the best, I have to say that Chris Fowler should be tarred, feathered, and thrown in the Hudson immediately. I don’t know who thought this guy should be the anchor of tennis for ESPN but his termination is long overdue. The steely chinned, slickly dressed, creepy eyed Fowler, who has never played the game professionally and maybe even recreationally, teeters back and forth between irrelevant commentating on player acumen, to really bad bantering between himself and Brad Gilbert. He continually undermines and questions the real authorities of tennis and rarely has any substantial evidence to back his claims.

He is just plain FOUL, and needs to go. He’s the type of guy that would shake your hand with added pressure to compensate for a fragile ego and a lackluster libido. He probably skins kittens for pleasure, and cheats his mom in poker. Bye Bye Birdie, see ya Fowler!

What about Pam Shriver? Is there anybody else out there who sees this woman as a beady eyed executioner rather than a competent commentator? She conducts herself with zero composure and takes it as a sign of bravado and class to speak your mind, no matter how smelly the stuff coming out is. James Blake, who is known for his sportsmanship and mannerly demeanor, scoffed at Shriver, as was his right, at Wimbledon this year, when the snarling Shriver decided to have an outloud conversation with herself courtside distracting Blake in a big match, which he eventually lost, albeit not entirely Shriver’s fault, she certainly played an integral role.

I think Gilbert is funny, and usually knows what he’s talking about, although he can be overboard. He does add a much needed spunk to the booth. Cahill, the Australian Mummy, always looks confused and nervous, although he is very knowledgeable; he possesses this overwrought persona of a nerd with no personality. He looks like he needs sleep. Or perhaps a polo mallet to the head.

The only people in my mind who know what they’re doing, and supply an ample balance of silence and talking are the European commentators for Tennis Channel. Jason Goodall, Robbie Koenig, and Doug Addler, are the best of the best. They’re commentating is fresh, insightful, spot on, and more than often compliments the match severity perfectly with little side comments and just the right amount of humor and wit. They are my top three, with Addler taking the top spot.

Navratilova is great as well. She brings a candidness and professionalism to the booth that is sorely missing from other pros, McEnroe especially. Carillo needs to go home and decide what gender she is and call me in the morning.

What is absolutely needed in the booth for ESPN is Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. Agassi commentated just one time in the history of broadcasting and it was a US Open match between Federer and Roddick a few years back and he was a pied prophet of articulation and spoke with so much wisdom and honesty about the players and the game, especially Federer. It was amazing to listen to and enhanced the match that much. I personally feel he may be a better broadcaster than a player. Courier is extremely intelligent, a former world number one, and knows the players and the game inside out. He can tactically break down a match like no other and uses a very dynamic vernacular to communicate that.

How sweet would it be if Agassi and Federer became broadcast partners one day? Rafa and Fed? Give me your picks folks. And please, don’t say Dick Enberg.

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