ATP Title

Ask Bill – Bill Mountford

There was speculation that some unseeded entrants in last week’s ATP event in Dubai received appearance fees in excess of US $1 million. Considering that eight of the world’s top ten played the tournament, the total purse (combining appearance fees and prize money) was likely greater than any of the ATP Masters Series events.

The worst example of why things are out of whack between Dubai and the rest of the tour occurred two years ago. In Andre Agassi’s final season, while he was looking to minimize travel, he opted to fly half-way around the world to Dubai in lieu of playing the Tennis Channel Open in his hometown of Las Vegas. Of course he was offered an appearance fee that even he could not refuse. By the way, in 2007 Agassi purchased tickets to attend matches at the Darling Tennis Center. That act showed a lot about Agassi’s character, or it was his penance. Regardless, there are not too many people “in” tennis who opt to pay for tickets when all-access credentials are readily available.

Congratulations to Sam Querrey, who won his first ATP title in Las Vegas. Too young to legally enjoy a celebratory beer, Querrey looks like a sure-fire future Davis Cupper. Forecasting future champions is always risky business, and Sam Querrey is a prime example. The first international junior tournament that he played was at the 2004 US Open (where he extended that year’s champion, Andy Murray, to three sets in the quarterfinals). The Californian was only able to enter this event as a wildcard, based on his winning the Boys’ 16 and under Nationals in Kalamazoo, MI (as a third-year 16s, by the way). He was hardly on the experts’ radar screen at that time, but rather just another good American junior who appeared primed for college tennis.

In Andy Murray’s second round match in Dubai, he let fly several clearly audible obscenities. I have a soft spot for Andy, because he is my son’s favorite player and I love his competitive spirit. But it appears that the point penalty system, which was put in place a few decades ago to essentially reign in John McEnroe, has been relaxed considerably. If these same rules existed back in 1990, then Johnny Mac would have won his eighth major at that year’s Australian Open instead of being unceremoniously defaulted.

The week following Andy Roddick’s victory in San Jose, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated criticized the popular American for some unseemly, and certainly unsportsmanlike, behavior. There was a marked improvement in the way Roddick carried himself in Dubai. I suspect that a member of the Roddick team – and perhaps Andy himself – read this SI.com article. I feel Wertheim is comfortably growing into the position that the late, great Gene Scott once held: the conscience of tennis. There was nothing unfair about the opinions he shared. It was nice to see Andy enjoy his best victory in a few years, and behave honorably. In fact, commentator David Mercer referred to his semifinal win over Novak Djokovic to be “the highest quality in sport and sportsmanship.”

I watched 50,000 Balls, an interesting documentary about the lives of four top-ranking 12 and under American players from the summer of 2006. In Hoop Dreams fashion, it will be fascinating to see the sequel 500,000 Balls when these boys reach the 18s! Hopefully, a prominent Film Festival will show the project.

Serena Williams edged ahead of big sister Venus in their career head-to-head record (8-7) with a third set tiebreak win in the semifinals of Bangalore, India on her way to her 29th career title. This match could have been a preview of the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal match for women’s singles.

Congratulations to Wayne Bryan for being named the 2008 Professional Tennis Registry’s Professional of the Year. Wayne reminds me of the Grateful Dead. As was frequently said about this legendary band, Wayne is not only the best in the world at what he does, he is the only one in the world who does what he does. Every coach, and every parent for that matter, ought to have a copy of his book The Formula: Raising Your Child to be a Champion in Athletics, Arts, and Academics.

Joel Drucker wrote a nice piece on Wayne’s boys, Bob and Mike Bryan, who continue battling to make professional doubles relevant. The Brothers are relentlessly nice young men, and a credit to the tennis profession.

Monica Seles has announced her retirement, and she is a shoo-in for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A player must be inactive on the main tour for five years to be eligible for induction. Well, Seles’s last professional match was played in 2003 during Roland Garros. While the class of 2008 has already been announced, her retirement announcement gives our sport the opportunity to do right by one of the greatest champions of all-time by fast-tracking her induction.

The buzz that the Federer-Sampras exhibition created was wonderful for our sport. “Cheap” tickets were scalped for over $1,000. George Vecsey of the New York Times wrote a wistful article previewing this match and Harvey Araton, also from the NY Times, wrote an interesting post-match commentary. In previous eras, these cross-generational challenge matches were common. Bill Tilden played Ellsworth Vines, Vines played Don Budge, Budge played Bobby Riggs, Riggs played Jack Kramer, Kramer played Pancho Gonzalez, Gonzalez played Rod Laver, Laver played Jimmy Connors, etc. Before tennis went “open” in 1968, the only (and the best) way champions had to earn money was through playing in exhibitions against previous champions.

Getting psyched up to play against Roger Federer in a sold out Madison Square Garden is more manageable for the 36-year-old Sampras then the prospect of grinding out Tour matches (or even of having to win seven matches in 13 days at Wimbledon). It is times like this when I really miss the New York sports talk radio stations!

Roger Federer’s less than gracious post-match comments about Andy Murray were likely taken out of context, but his follow up comments that Murray is more talented than Novak Djokovic seemed really out of character. Rafael Nadal disturbs Federer, and John Yandell wrote fascinating articles about this topic on www.TennisPlayer.net, but Djokovic apparently really gets under Federer’s skin. Last week, the Serb opined that he expected Murray to win and that Federer is essentially losing his aura of invincibility. Hmmm…

The announcement that Roger Federer was sick with mononucleosis must have surprised Pete Sampras, who holds Federer in the highest regard. Pistol Pete won his seventh Wimbledon title on a broken foot and his fifth US Open title with stomach ulcers. Sampras has always talked about how he admires the way Federer carries himself, and these champions obviously share unique experiences. Here’s hoping that they grab a beer together and discuss the time-honored Aussie code that both men respect: If you’re fit, then you take the court; if you take the court, then it means you’re fit.

There was a great trivia question a few years ago: Who was the last man to win a tour-level event while using a wood racquet? Hint: he was the only player to beat Mats Wilander in a major back in 1988. Well, here is a modern era trivia question: Who was the last man to win a tour-level title WITHOUT using polyester strings? Polyester strings have had as great an impact on the way tennis is played professionally as larger head-size, graphite racquets had 25 years ago.

I am looking forward to watching the Indian Wells coverage on EuroSport next week. Please feel welcome to send questions, comments, criticisms, requests, and jokes each week.