Change is strange, isn’t it? At least it is in tennis. You think it can’t happen, you think the players have no power, and then four of them go ahead and talk to the Grand Slams about spreading their prize-money wealth and what do the Grand Slams do? They spread some of the wealth. Wimbledon followed the French Open in doing so yesterday. The purse for 2012 will be up 10 percent overall, with the biggest increases going to early-round losers.
With that somewhat surprising story in mind, let’s see what else has been cropping up while we were watching the players slide over to Europe. It can’t all be good news, can it?
Welfare Players Make Better….?
Sticking with the prize money angle, my friend Pete Bodo recently expressed skepticism about Roland Garros’ move to up the pay of of players who exit in the first round. The extra cash that goes with losing, he believes, will serve as an incentive to, well, lose.
You can look it that way, and others have. Jack Kramer, Pete writes, didn’t think a player should get any money at all if he can't win a match. Or you could look at it from the opposite direction, that the money will be an incentive to make it into the tournament in the first place, either with a guaranteed ranking or by qualifying. More important, it will make the rank-and-file player's life a little less precarious, since first-round losers have nowhere to ply their trade—i.e., play—for the rest of that week, and maybe two weeks.
More Power to Them
According to Wimbledon’s new chairman, Philip Brook (pictured above), it was the Top 4 men who instigated the move by requesting a meeting at Indian Wells this year.
“In those Top 4 players,” Brook said, “we have people of quality and integrity who want to do the right thing for the sport. What we heard from them was not a request for more prize money for them, but they recognized this was an issue for the sport. They were there representing all the players on the tour. It’s clear more needs to be done for lower-end players for whom the rising costs of professional tennis have out-stripped prize money.”
If the ATP can’t do it, bring in the Big 4. Could this be a model for future negotiations about other issues? It’s a sign of the prestige that has accrued to the sport’s biggest names, and they used that prestige to help their fellow players. I should try to find something skeptical or snarky to say about this, but I’m at a loss at the moment. So I’ll let the Mail do it for me with their headline:
GOOD NEWS FOR BRITS! WIMBLEDON PRIZE MONEY BOOSTED FOR EARLY LOSERS AT SW19
Now for the Bad News...
Yesterday we learned that 2013 will see the swan song of the ATP event in San Jose. Under different names, and in different locations, the tournament has been held since 1889, making it the second-oldest in the States. Instead, the ATP and IMG will begin a 500-level event in Rio de Janeiro in 2014. Matt Cronin has a good summary of the developments on Tennis.com’s Ticker.
This points up a few things about the game today:
That it’s getting smaller in the U.S.—as Cronin writes, USTA officials are worried that without San Jose the entire American spring hard court swing will be weakened. From an historical perspective, the news is even bleaker. "In 1980," Cronin notes, "there were 20 ATP tournaments played in the United States between mid-January and early May, 12 of which were indoor. With San Jose’s exit, there will only be one indoor and five overall tournaments."
That, if you can’t be a Grand Slam, it’s good to be tied to one. At the same time that San Jose was announcing its shutdown, another smaller U.S. event, the Legg Mason in D.C., which is part of the U.S. Open Series, was announcing a new title sponsor, Citigroup. D.C.—which will be called the Citi Open—is now the only 500-level event in the U.S.
That, looking on the bright side, tennis as a global sport can move with the times. It’s tough to see the Bay Area—home to Helen Wills, Don Budge, and Brad Gilbert (a natural trio, wouldn’t you say?)—now have no professional tennis. But a 500-level event in booming Brazil backed by IMG, at the same time that the Olympics and World Cup are coming there, is a logical move. Sounds pretty cool, too.
Non-Oppposites Don't Attract
At the Oregonian’s website, Douglas Perry compares Rafole to Fedal—that is, the rivalries between Nadal and Federer and Nadal and Djokovic. He thinks that the similarity of the latter's styles is a negative; no one, Perry says, is talking about their Aussie Open final of 2012 the way we talked about the Wimbledon 2008 final between Roger and Rafa. On the positive end, he believes that the competitiveness of the rivalry, a competitiveness that should be renewed with Rafa’s win in Monte Carlo, will keep it compelling.
I agree that Nadal’s win will make things more interesting in general. But to me the best thing about Rafa and Nole is the quality of their rallies. I've never seen them as brutal or machine-like, the way Perry and others do, but as explosive and balletic at the same time. That’s what made Sunday’s installment a bummer; the rallies were missing.
Also on the subject of Sunday’s match, Ravi Ubha at ESPN.com has a good recap here. He notes that Rafa hit a backhand past Djokovic when both of them were at the baseline, which is a rarity. I remember the shot and remember being surprised by it. Nadal’s serving on Sunday has been much-praised, but his backhand also had more sting and depth. I got the feeling that he went after it more because, by this point, he had no choice against Nole.
Two weeks ago in his Mailbag, Jon Wertheim excoriated the makers of the Lindt chocolate commercial starring Roger Federer—you surely know the ad. Jon thinks that jokes involving reverse sexual harassment, airline security, and strip searches are in bad taste at the moment. The ad always seemed harmless to me; I even think Federer’s “Hel-low” is pretty natural for a non-actor. It beats having him dream about himself and his regal technique (is that Rolex?).
Of course, that doesn’t mean that now, after 777,000 viewings, I don’t lunge for the mute or fast-forward button when I hear that ding at the start of the ad. In one recent match, I found myself hoping it would end in two sets in large part so I wouldn’t be subjected to another’s set’s worth of chocolate balls.
The Tennis Space has an interview with Dr. Stuart Miller, who heads the ITF’s anti-doping program. It’s not easy to get much out of the ITF on the subject, and Miller sticks to tried and true answers here about how the organization does its work. At one point, though, he claims that all of the tests are unannounced, though most of them are done at tournaments after a player loses.
Next project for the Top 4: More money for tennis’s underfunded anti-doping program.
Buzz about the Buzz
The Tennis Space also has the lowdown on why Andy Murray went so close with his latest haircut. Apparently what one British newspaper described as a “rallying cry for the nation,” and a “sign that I’m no longer happy to be a fringe success,” was, according to Murray’s mum, an accident.
“Andy borrowed some clippers from Treacle [his fitness trainer Matt Little]," Judy Murray said, "and didn’t know that it would be so short. Once he had started shaving his head at grade one, there was no going back; he had to carry on as you couldn’t have the hair different lengths. So he hadn’t worked out the settings on the clippers before he used them. Doesn’t matter, though. I like the haircut.”
Getting the Blues
Finally, we're creeping closer to the debut of the much-discussed and widely dismissed blue clay of Madrid. Here’s a peak ahead, with the man who made us blue, Ion Tiriac. He says, not too surprisingly, Don’t worry, everything will be fine.
Something tells me we’ll be hearing more on this subject, and a few different opinions, in the weeks ahead.