Keeping Tabs: 8/4

Thursday, August 04, 2011 /by

Rh A lot has happened to the British press since I left Wimbledon, and left my daily Keeping Tabs column behind there. It was during the tournament that the verdict was handed down in the Milly Dowler murder case; I remember it as a reverberating blast from the past in London, on a subject of which I knew nothing. But the real earthquake came the day after the tournament ended, when the story broke that the News of the World had hacked into her cellphone. We’ll see if any more aftershocks are felt in that story, or if they make it to this side of the Atlantic. I get the feeling that the whole thing could be a distant memory by the end of the year, if not sooner. There’s a saying among politicians that, “nobody remembers anything after 30 days,” and there does seem to be some truth to it. I had trouble keeping the plot of Friday Night Lights straight from one week to the next.

Anyway, I enjoyed rolling around in the Murdochian muck for two weeks in London, but I can’t say I’ve missed the tabs. They’re fun, but something about putting so much effort into so much fake, pointless outrage is depressing after a while. What I did like were the moments, here and there, when I learned something about the sport that I didn’t know. So, in that spirit, I’m going to revive Keeping Tabs on a bi-weekly basis, most likely without much input from the tabs themselves, which generally shut down their tennis coverage for the 50 weeks between Wimbledons. Instead, we’ll cover the Internet waterfront, or as much of it as can be covered in 1200 words or so, and see what we can learn, from journalists, bloggers, and whomever else is talking tennis.

*****

Due to cutbacks at his paper, Bruce Jenkins of Sports Illustrated and the San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t get a chance to get to many tennis tournaments these days; he covered Wimbledon this summer for the first time in three years. But he did make it to his backyard WTA event last week in Stanford, and his resulting SI column shows us some of the analytical and reportorial nuggets we're missing from him elsewhere.

I hadn’t realized that the relationship between Agnieszka Radwanska and her father/coach, Robert, had gotten so rocky. Jenkins tells us that “for months now, she’s been hearing from people suggesting she cut her professional ties” with him. “After Radwanska lost to Maria Sharapova at the French Open,” Jenkins writes, “Robert blasted his daughter for ‘showing so little resistance mentally,’ adding that “she will never win anything big if she plays like that,’ and that she needs a psychiatrist.”

Robert wasn’t in Stanford and may not be traveling with her in the future. Radwanska says that, “sometimes it’s good to have a break.”

As for Ana Ivanovic, Jenkins observes that, “it’s always about changes for [her]; new this, new that” and wonders why she would hire Nigel Sears as her coach. “Why would anyone hire a coach whose previous job was coaching the top women in England. Or anyone in England?”

In Sears's defense, it should be noted that he worked with Daniela Hantuchova for a long time . . . wait, should that be used in his defense?

Jenkins also wishes for a Serena-Clijsters U.S. Open showdown. Personally, I want to see Serena take on the new kid on the Grand Slam block, Petra Kvitova. Which reminds me of another reason to welcome Serena back: She’s never too cool to embrace the battle. There’s a great new player on the horizon? You know she’s going to come at her guns blazing, and if she loses, she’s not going to shrug and say, “you win some, you lose some.”

Finally, Jenkins saves his best line for Maria Sharapova: “Let’s just drop the ‘mentally tough’ bit right now. She’ll always have that quality, but it's going to be irrelevant if she can’t resolve her serving crisis.”

As they used to say in the Budweiser commercials: True.

*****

Over at the Tennis Channel’s website, Ernests’ (slight) return is happily welcomed. Steve Flink provides a thorough overview of his game. Three years ago, Flink says, he believed that Gulbis “had it all” and would quickly “reach the upper echelons of the sport.” At first, when I read that, I thought, “I'm glad I never believed that.” But, when I think back to Gulbis’s run at the French Open that year, I have to admit that I also assumed he was going to be the next Top Tenner. Proof once again of that oft-underappreciated fact: Only 10 people can be in the Top 10.

While Steve takes care of Ernie’s on-court return, James La Rosa hangs out with him off-court. Gulbis says he hasn’t been interviewed by anyone in half a year, which might mean that I was one of the last people to do it, in Toronto last summer. That day Gulbis went into a rant against America, and its “thousands of rules,” especially the “stupid” people who want to ban smoking, something that humans have been doing for “hundreds of years all over the world.”

Twelve months later, Gulbis is apparently still in an anti-American mood. Asked what his favorite drink is, he tells La Rosa, “I like pure vodka. Shots . . . [but] Vodka is dangerous. You need to control yourself not to get a black out. If you want to go easy, beer. I enjoy beer, but not this piss kind of beer you have in America.”

He’s funny, and not stupid, but I wonder: If Gulbis were indeed in the Top 10 and was interviewed every week, would his caustic, dark humor get old? Would it begin to seem, like Marat Safin’s act began to seem to me after a few years, more grim than hilarious? Chalk it up as an upside to Gulbis’s inconsistency: We’ll probably only have to take him in small doses.

*****

Back at Sports Illustrated, Jon Wertheim, in his defense of the recently suspended Robert Kendrick, writes, “This anti-doping is a tricky business. A policy filled with loopholes and exceptions (and therapeutic use exemptions, which have become farcical by the way) lacks credibility.” I’d like to see Jon expand on the therapeutic use exemptions aspect. I know there are plenty of them on tour, for medicines and inhalers and perhaps procedures, but what’s he referring to, exactly, and what's gotten farcical in his opinion? I may have to send my own question to the 'Bag. Or has he answered it before, and I didn't see it?

*****

Tennis Served Fresh provides a “trophy watch,” which is always an entertaining, and often a head-scratching, activity in tennis. Check out Marcel Grannollers receiving his own personal mountain in Gstaad on Sunday; I guess it beats a cow. It reminds me of one of the better tennis lines from my new Brooklyn neighbor, Martin Amis. The Brit writer once described the sport's fall indoor tournaments as, “greed fests where the first prize is something like a gold helicopter.”

*****

Diane Pucin of the L.A. Times reports on Ryan Harrison’s now somewhat infamous words of wisdom for his elder, Roger Federer: “Harrison was unapologetic afterward about his equipment abuse,” Pucin writes of the hotheaded American's press conference after his semifinal loss, “and suggested that Federer—who many years before, had a reputation in junior tennis for having too much of a temper—might try to relocate that emotion."

“To be honest with you,” Harrison said, “Federer, personally, if he had a little more fire, it would help him get back to the top.”

Spoken like a true tennis writer, and Federer fan.

*****

Finally, just to prove that I do read things that have nothing to do with racquets and nets now and then, here's the most interesting article I've read about the politics of the U.S. debt-ceiling standoff and why the Democrats can't catch a break with the American public these days. Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg believes that people here now hate the idea of governement reflexively, and that the Democrats still stand for government and still believe it can be useful. That's not a great position for a party to be in.

*****

On that latest sign of the apocalypse, I leave you until tomorrow. Until then, try not to look at the stock markets.

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