INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—This weekend was bristling with matches. For the sanity of a tennis fan or writer, it might not be such a great idea to make doubles an intergral part of the sport again. It makes keeping up with everything even more hair-raising. But now that half of the draws, and some of the overflow weekend audience, have gone poof, Monday morning feels a little more restful. Other than a few stray matches this afternoon, the outer courts here have already gone quiet again for another year. Time to take a quick look back, through the glare of the media spotlight, at what’s happened in Indian Wells so far. Aside from everyone coming down with a stomach virus, that is. I’m not going to talk about that, so I don’t jinx myself. Or is that a jinx?
How Young and Innocent He Was Then . . .
What a difference a day makes in the sports world. Currently on the tennis home page of the Daily Mail, you can read a story with this tragic headline from late last week:
"I’M GROWING INTO THE JOB! MATURE MURRAY TARGETS TOP THREE
A little over a week after beating Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray believes he has matured as a player, grown up as a person, and is poised for big things this year"
Next to these doomed words is a rare photo of a beaming Murray.
Scroll up a few inches and you’ll find out how this hopeful coming-of-age tale turned out:
MURRAY LEFT CONFUSED BY SHOCK LOSS TO GARCIA-LOPEZ SO SOON AFTER DJOKOVIC GAINS
So goes the sports narrative. Like any soap opera, we build hope only to crush it, then build it again to keep everyone tuned in. The truth, more often, is that there is no narrative, that every match and tournament is separate, and that every time a tennis players walks on court, past and future, hope and momentum, disappear. But that doesn’t make for very hopeful, or sufficiently crushing, headlines.
The Downside of Player-Fan Interaction
Walking around the press room, you may begin to wonder if journalists now fly to events just to look at their Twitter feeds (I’m as annoyingly addicted as the next person). Sometimes it comes in handy, though. For instance, when you’re sitting in the front row and a player calls a fan of his opponent a “f*cking Chinese.”
That’s what happened to the man to my right in the media room, Tom Tebbutt, a few days ago on an outer court, where he was watching Michael Llodra beat Ernests Gulbis. Tebbutt heard the offending words from Llodra, tweeted about them, and a day or so later Llodra was fined $2,500 by the ATP for verbal abuse. Llodra, for his part, didn’t deny the charge, but did say that it had been “exaggerated.”
Was the fine too small? I’d say so. It does seem essential to the health of the sport that its fans can buy a ticket and feel like they won’t be insulted by the players.
Other news, such as it is in tennis, where story-recycling is a necessary evil:
—USA Today debates the shot clock. The ATP, it seems, doesn’t see a problem with slow play at the moment.
—My colleague Peter Bodo defends Caroline Wozniacki, who technically isn’t allowed to play a tournament she wants to play, in Charleston. While spreading the wealth among events and keeping the women from overplaying are rightful priorities, it's overkill to force marquee names off the marquees when they want to be there.
—Bill Dwyre of the L.A. Times writes a column on Novak Djokovic, and how he is ... the No. 1 player in the world. It may seem unnecessary at this late date to need to explain this fact to the sports fans of Southern California, but it’s also a mark of how dominant Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had been. People still seem to be rubbing their eyes and looking for them to magically take their places at the top of the rankings again.
I'm heading out on a sunny and so far cool day to see some of John Isner and Juan Monaco, and hopefully, depending on seating, Rafa/Lopez vs. Dolgo/Malisse on Stadium 2. Tonight Ryan Harrison takes a step up on the star ladder by headlining the night session, and pushing both Djokovic and Andy Roddick back down into the day time.