Accidental Tennis

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 /by

RNRemember the days when we wished there was more tennis on TV? I think, on summer weekends at least, that our wish has officially come true. And then some. Even on vacation, even shuttling between various locations on the East Coast, even when I was expressly trying not to see any little yellow balls flying back and forth, I couldn’t quite wipe the sport out of the corner of my eye. 

I caught glimpses of cold fans in Hamburg and wet fans in Gstaad. Bumpy grass in Newport and sizzling hard courts in Atlanta. John Isner winning a tournament and Thomaz Bellucci another. Gilles Muller reaching a final and Grigor Dimitrov a semi. Andy Roddick chucking his racquet halfway across the court, in the direction of a line judge. Rafa looking bummed. Serena beating people. And best of all, in their San Diego  final, Dominika Cibulkova and Marion Bartoli offering us every possible variety of shriek and fist-pump known to woman. Love it or hate it, you had to appreciate their creativity in the heat of battle.

As we make our transition to the Olympics, here’s a look back at a few of the other things I learned, about tennis, on my summer vacation.

*****

Rafa’s Listening to His Knee
“I will compete when my knee says I am ready to compete,” Nadal said while announcing his withdrawal from the Olympics. I’ll take a second to note that this conjures a funny image for me: Rafa’s knee as Adrian in Rocky II, finally giving him permission to “Win!” (See the scene in multiple languages here.)

But Nadal’s pullout is a drag for many reasons. The first is that it lets a considerable amount of air out of the Olympic tennis balloon—the Beijing gold medalist, Spain’s original flag-bearer, and one of the biggest stars of the Games in any sport will be missing. The second is that Nadal may finally have to begin looking for ways to cut his schedule significantly. Now that his idea for a two-year ranking system, which would have taken some pressure off of him to defend points, is kaput, there doesn’t seem to be any other option than resting whenever possible. 

Nadal's current rest period looks like it will last at least until Cincinnati. He’s never been enthusiastic about the fall season, and he doesn't have a lot of points to defend there. In the long run, if he wants to be healthy for the majors, it could be time to cut it out entirely. 

Wimbledon...Can Move Its Dates Back After All
This was impossible, right? Wasn’t the Big W’s schedule set in stone, dictated to the tournament for decades by its overlords at the BBC? Apparently not. Wimbledon will start one week later in 2015, giving everyone a precious and hopefully useful extra seven days of practice on grass. I know the Newport tournament director, whose event currently comes immediately after Wimbledon, has been dreading this possibility. But I wonder if that tournament could be moved ahead of Wimbledon, into the extra week. There are always plenty of American players looking to get on the grass as soon as possible after Roland Garros. 

John Isner May Be Even Harder to Predict Than Petra Kvitova
My line with Kvitova is that whatever you think she’s about to do—from shot to shot, point to point, match to match—she’s probably about to do the opposite. The same, it seems, can be said for Isner. Big John was a giant-killer in the spring, mentally checked out during the European summer swing, and then bounced back to win in Newport and make the semis in Atlanta. Even there, though, he was tough to figure. Against Roddick in the semis, Isner would lose 20 m.p.h.s on his serve for the first three points of a game, then suddenly gun one at 135 when he was down break point. 

So how does Isner look for the Olympics? He just won a grass-court tournament, but he’s heading back to his hated Europe. In other words, it’s the usual with him: Who knows.  

Andy Roddick is...Back? Andy Roddick is...Around
Roddick, slumping for much of 2012, beat Isner and Muller for the title in Atlanta. He also, as I said, threw his racquet in the direction of a line judge. Like Tiger Woods, Roddick has gotten testier with age, but it usually serves him well against opponents he believes he should beat. He wins as much with attitude as he does shot-making. His recent results make Roddick a hip dark horse pick for an Olympics that will be two-of-three sets on grass. But he rarely brings that same, usefully bullying style to matches against players ranked ahead of him. 

There’s a Lot of Betting at Home Being Done in Tennis These Days
We’ve had our Mercedes Opens and our Mercedes Cups. We have multiple events with the name BNP Paribas in it. A luxury mobile and a bank, OK, we can live with that. Now, though in successive weeks, in Hamburg and Kitzbuhel, we have the Bet at Home Open and the Bet at Home Cup. Am I wrong (or just American) in thinking that this is an unfortunate development in a sport that has had match-fixing issues?

ASIt Wouldn’t be Olympic Season Without...
...a steroid story floating around. This month the US Anti-Doping Agency banned Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, along with another doctor and trainer associated with Lance Armstrong’s Postal Service cycling team, for life. The three of them accepted their bans, rather than, as USADA chief Travis Tygart put it, “waste resources by moving forward with the arbitration process, which would only reveal what they already know to be the truth of their doping activity.”

As we found out before Wimbledon, del Moral has been associated with a tennis academy in Valencia, Spain, where various pros have trained. Will he be allowed to work with them? The ITF hasn’t said.  

***** 

I thought there were a few other stories or matches of note over the last two weeks, and there probably were. But like so many of them in tennis, they fade as quickly as they appear. We’re caught in the Olympic undertow now, and there’s no getting out from under it. I'll finish today by mentioning another sporting event, golf's British Open, which ended Sunday. Like everyone else, I feared a collapse from leader Adam Scott in the final round, and I cringed when it finally came. I had rarely seen Scott play, but I was caught up in his terrible saga as if I were a friend of his. I had to chance the channel when the highlights of his meltdown were replayed later. That's fandom for you: It makes you, irrationally, care. Get ready for two weeks of that irrational caring from London.

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