The CE 10: Mullet Edition

Tuesday, December 09, 2008 /by

We’ve wrapped up the Bjorn Borg saga and now it’s on to the 1980s, a decade that was incomparably horrid as it was happening but now seems to have been the genesis of all modern life, from the free market to the graphite racquet to the mullet. I’m taking a day off today before I get into my next You Tube subject(s)—think big-hitting Germans. But that doesn’t mean I’ve kicked the video habit.

1. There’s no particular reason to begin with the clip I've attached above. I’d looked for it unsuccessfully for a few days and was just happy to see this scene again after all these years. The hair, the checkerboard headband, the salt-of-the-earth entourage, the trendsetting victory run to the player’s box—Pat Cash had it all going that day at Wimbledon in 1987. So did John Barrett in the BBC booth: “And Pat . . . well I don’t know where he’s going…,” he says in polite astonishment as Cash heads off the court. (It was much easier for Nadal to get up to the box this year; has Wimbledon created a lane for the winning players since 1987?) When the camera comes back to the loser, alone on his chair, Barrett says forlornly, “And a lonely seat for Lendl.” Watching 21 years later, Cash's win and celebration seem like triumphs for informality and open emotion in the buttoned-up confines of Centre Court. Leave it to an Aussie to loosen the place up, for the better.

2. Understatement of the year: Andre Agassi on the lawsuit filed by his former agent Perry Rogers against his wife, Steffi Graf: “Several weeks ago, my agent, manager and lawyer, Perry Rogers, and I decided to sever our business relationship. At that time, I had every hope that we could do so amicably and in the interest of maintaining our long-term friendship. “As a result, I am both saddened and disappointed to learn that Perry has filed a lawsuit, and sadder still that he has sued my wife, Stefanie. I remain hopeful that we will be able to resolve our business issues with minimal damage to our families and mutual friends.” I hope this doesn’t get (even) uglier. The lawsuit is for $50,000. In other words, it’s for spite.

3. Have you ever played court tennis, or as it’s called elsewhere, real tennis, the progenitor of our sport? I did for the first time this weekend, at a club outside Washington, D.C. It may be ancient, but it's still very cool. The ball is heavy—they’re all handmade, with a solid core—and so are the racquets, which are all made by four guys in Cambridge, England. The strings are strung by hand—you have to pull them through the holes yourself—at about 100 pounds. I’d love to play it again; unfortunately there are just 10 working courts in the U.S., nine of which are at clubs that essentially can’t be joined. The 10th, in D.C., is open to the public. The rules are complicated, but devotees of the sport say they can’t go back to tennis (they call it “lawn tennis”) now because it’s too boring and straightforward. And after hitting for a little while, I can almost see why. There are many more types of shots available (there are 22 versions of the serve) to you. Where tennis rewards consistency and explosiveness, court tennis rewards creativity.

CtAs you might expect, the world of court tennis is insular, and the “tour” is not exactly lucrative—in fact, only one guy, the world champion, can make a living at it, mostly through exhibitions. The tournament I watched this weekend featured the No. 2 player in the world. He also happens to be the assistant teaching pro at the Boston Tennis and Racquet Club. Imagine Roger Federer, No. 2 in the world, holding down a day job as an assistant pro at a club in Basel. I’ll write more about the sport soon in an article in Tennis Magazine.

4. A couple months ago I mentioned that I had once tried to read The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov and couldn’t get into them. A few days later I noticed that I still had the book on one my shelves. Well, now I’m into it, in a big way. Here is Nabokov writing about tennis in one of his best stories, “La Veneziana”:

A person’s motions while playing, like his handwriting in quieter moments, tell a good deal about him. Judging by the Colonel’s blunt, stiff strokes, by the tense expression on his fleshy face that looked as if it had just spat out the massive gray mustache towering above his lip, by the fact that, in spite of the heat, he did not unbutton his shirt collar; and by the way he served, legs firmly planted apart like two white poles, one might conclude, firstly that he had never bee a good player, and, secondly, that he was a staid, old-fashioned, stubborn man, subject to occasional outbursts of seething anger.

One thing you can say: His tennis blog would have been long. It would have been good, too.

5. Roddick-Stefanki: I thought this might be the year when the bottom dropped out for Roddick. But Stefanki is the perfect choice to keep that from happening, at least for one season. Roddick always gets an immediate bump with a new coach, and Stefanki typically does the same for a player.

6. Movie recommendation: Frozen River. Not quite a thriller, not quite a social protest movie, not quite an indie, this 2008 Sundance fave is one of those rare stories that's both human and edge-of-your-seat gripping. (Sorry that sounds so blurb-like.)

7. Is Sam Querrey living the life already? From Tennis.com’s Backcourt page: “Querrey turned 21 on Oct. 7, but he didn’t get the chance to celebrate that milestone birthday with family and friends until recently. In late November, Querrey chartered a flight to Las Vegas, where he and his pals partied at the Pure nightclub in Caesar’s Palace before retiring to their 3,500 sq. ft. suite at the Wynn resort. For Christmas, Querrey has rented a 7,000 sq. ft. villa in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, where he plans to go fishing and zip lining.” Hey, he's No. 39 in the world now, gotta put up a front.

8. DVD recommendation: Boogie Man, a documentary on the life and career of George H. W. Bush's campaign manager, the late Lee Atwater. This southern phony and blues lover created the politics of personal destruction, but he was a fascinating and somehow sympathetic character nonetheless.

9. In my You Tube searches, I stumbled out of tennis and into this outstanding jazz clip from the early 1960s. Not sure who all the players are—Booker Ervin is the tenor; the drummer, Edgar Bateman, is, as they say, a monster—but even if you don’t love the genre, you can’t beat the classy intensity on display here.

10. A couple of commenters on the last post wanted me to cover John McEnroe next. I’m not going to do that, but I will note that the near-50-year-old Mac claims that he played his final senior match this past weekend in London. If so, he went out in typically adolescent fashion, getting inches away from a linesman’s face and calling him “a pathetic, ugly, fat loser.”

I’ve posted this clip of his best tantrums before, but it’s worth seeing again—I even like the cheesy soundtrack. Where McEnroe's rage was once charismatic and hilariously grouchy—even innocent in a prep-school kind of way—it's curdled into something entitled and mean over the years. If this is the last time we’ll see McEnroe's unique combination of fabulously tortured genius and celebrity arrogance on a court, let me say a proper farewell from all tennis fans:

Good riddance. We’ll miss you.

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