IW: Working Week Notebook

Monday, March 16, 2009 /by

Nadal_presser_2I'm always a little stunned by the day's events when I'm on the West Coast. By the time I turn on the TV in the morning, it's the second half of a college basketball game, Obama has made three speeches, and people are killing each other in Florida. Today I woke up to hear the president mentioning AIG by name. They were once a major advertiser in TENNIS Magazine, but something tells me they're not coming back to us any time soon—imagine the outrage? Though I've heard the Obama girls are taking tennis lessons, so maybe we'd be all right.

There wasn't a whole lot I needed to see this morning, so I took a spin through my notebook to see what I'd left out this morning. Just as I was getting started, the nice people at the Tennis Channel hornswaggled me into doing an interview for their upcoming French Open and Wimbledon previews. After half an hour of trying to think of someone who could beat Rafael Nadal at the French, a knock came on the door. It was Justin Gimelstob's turn. I got the boot. Not sure how to feel about that, but let's just say TV isn't my calling. I can't look into a camera for more than half a second without staring back down at my shoes.

Before the day gets away from me, here are a few bonus sights and sounds from the first three days at the BNP.

—There's an unknown reporter here, as there always is, who keeps walking to the front row and asking very loud and strangely enthusiastic questions. Here's how he opened yesterday's Rafael Nadal presser.

Q: You're in such a unique position to be the only player in history who is naturally a right-hander to switch to lefty. What kind of advantage do you think that gives you?

Halfway through this spiel, Rafa's eyes begin to narrow—who is this person and what is he saying? He started his answer by saying, "That's not exactly true." One thing about Rafa: He'll never let a reporter put words into his mouth.

Another thing about him is that he's funny:

Q (from the same guy): So many players, once they get to your level, move to Monte Carlo. Why did you decide to stay in your hometown?

Rafa: "Maybe they have to decide to come to Mallorca, because it’s really good place."

—Lindsay Davenport was in the WTA box yesterday for the Safina match

—Andy Murray and his mates finished their practice yesterday by playing a four-man game of keepy-uppy. Think of it as Hackysack with a tennis ball. They position themselves in the four service boxes, kick the ball up for a while, then head it over the net. There's no question this game, which the Americans would never play, helps the Euros with their footwork—you can see them, as Portuguese tennis writer Miguel Seabra says, "create" with their feet. Of course, to an American like me, they looked like four trained seals out there.

—Kamakshi Tandon is here and she has a theory. The men's game is better now overall, but the fact that the top players have pulled away from the rest of the field means that there are fewer interesting early round matches. It's a reverse depth problem. She says you used to have to know the sport better to find the good stuff.

I have to think about this, but I admit there might be some merit to it as I watch Murray dismantle Mathieu this morning.

—Something that always strikes me about the players is their recall. Even off the tops of their heads in their pressers, they remember every tiny match at every out of the way tournament. Ana Ivanovic was asked two days ago if she had ever lost a match and felt happy about it. Without missing a beat, she mentioned a quarterfinal defeat in Linz last year.

—One-man cheer heard at Caroline Wozniacki's match yesterday: "Let's go, Den-mark." It didn't catch on.

—Sam Querrey looks better. He beat Radek Stepanek last night and tracked down a lot of drop shots doing it. The match got a little chippy, what with Sam's schoolmates there (when's he going to stop hanging around with those guys?) and making a ruckus. Stepanek aimed a volley right at Querrey, and later the American actually stared him down after Stepanek questioned an ace that was clearly in—now Sam is a pro! After one excellent point near the end, the crowd stood to cheer Querrey's hustle. One of his buddies finished the applause with a loud cry: "You're amazing!"

Sam attributed his energy to a cup of coffee he had beforehand. He said he's never tried it before; not sure why he would try it for the first time now.

—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was practicing with his shirt on.

—Whatever happens to Victoria Azarenka in the near future, you can't say she isn't hungry. She's ultra-intense in practice, to the point where her trainer, Mark Wellington, who used to work with Maria Sharapova, has to get her to use less energy, both in practice and in matches. More on her later this week.

—A German player was hitting yesterday, but two fans couldn't decide which one it was.

"Is that…is that…is that…Kiefer? It is, it's Kiefer!"

"You know, Benjamin Becker looks a lot like Kiefer."

"Oh yeah, that's true."

"I think it's Becker. That's how he hits."

"No, it's Kiefer, that's how he walks."

"Yeah, it's Kiefer."

It was Kiefer.

—What would it be like to play tennis as a job? I always ask myself this when I watch the pros hit back and forth on the practice courts here. From my small experience playing seriously every day, I can say that sometimes the idea of getting up and moving your feet and swinging your arm and sending a ball down the middle of a tennis court over and over was the most oppressive thought imaginable.

The hardest part is that you can hit 50 straight perfect forehands in practice and still know deep down that it doesn't mean a thing, because you'll never hit them like that in a match. It's amazing to me that these guys all don't burn out after two years.

On that note, I'm heading back into the Garden. Gilles Simon is one guy on my radar. There is a men's tournament going on here, after all.

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