Keeping Tabs: August 8
After all of the decades of frustration, all of the tears and the despair and the self-laceration, how do the British papers celebrate one of their own finally winning big in tennis? They note it, and then move along to a more interesting story. Here’s Monday's headline from the Independent:
GOLD MEDAL WINNER ANDY MURRAY HINTS AT MARRIAGE PROPOSAL TO LONG-TERM GIRLFRIEND KIM SEARS
Really, I hadn’t heard about that, what did he say, exactly?
“I have no plans to get married just now,” Murray told reporters. “I am still fairly young...but we’ll see.”
“We’ll see.” The words every woman longs to hear.
Here’s what else is in the tennis news.
Walking the Walk
I admit that when I saw Serena Williams do her now famous dance after her gold-medal match on Centre Court, I thought it was just an improvised move done to make her sister laugh. I think I had seen the gang-related Crip Walk, or C-Walk, before, but I didn’t recognize Serena’s version.
When she was asked to describe it later, Serena said, “Actually, there is a name, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate. It’s just a dance we do in California.”
Unfortunately, her moves became a bigger story than her win. Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock wrote that Serena deserved to be criticized for doing the gang's signature dance, and that she might have planned it as a way to get back at the All England Club for exiling her to Court 2 for all of these years. As Whitlock put it, “I’ll bet in a private moment Friday night or Saturday morning, Serena told her sister Venus, “I’m going to Crip Walk all over this crusty-a** place.”
The L.A. Times Bill Plashke tweeted, “Serena C-walking at Wimbledon only shows how long she’s been away from home, separated from the violence and death associated with that dance."
Clinton Yates of the Washington Post defended Serena by pointing out that she's unlikely to have forgotten about that violence, considering that her sister Yetunde Price was killed in a Crip-related shooting in 2003. Also, the C-Walk has been widely popular for years, so popular that some schools have banned it.
Serena’s dance seemed designed, as I originally thought, to get her sister to laugh, and to send a little message to her about where they were from, and where they were now.
Maybe, as the Huffington Post jokingly suggested, something positive can come from this. Maybe we can now change the name of the Crip Walk to “Serena Williams’ Olympic Victory Dance.”
Less Is More?
Here’s Jon Wertheim reiterating his call to do away with best-of-five-set matches at the majors. He thinks the Olympics proved his point:
"Enough with best-of-five sets at the Slams, at least until the final. It's both impractical and tone deaf to the times. The sport has never been more grueling, more likely to cause injury (see: Nadal, Rafael). It's never been more important to accommodate television. (Snicker if you like, but it's naive to assert otherwise.) Why are we doing this to already-tired players? Why are we acting so inhospitable to television? These best-of-three matches were fantastic. Perfect amount of time. They captured fans, but still provided spellbinding drama. Even after the long matches, players could return the following day. Not once did I encounter a fan or player who said, "That was a great match but I feel shortchanged. I wish they had played an additional 90 minutes."
I’ve always believed that best-of-five should stay, but I admit that the Olympics didn’t come up short in the quality or drama departments because the matches were shorter. And I agree that it's hard to ask a spectator to sit down in one place for an entire best-of-five-set match. With best-of-three, the end is more clearly in sight, which makes each game feel more important from the beginning. So I can see Jon’s point. But I stand by best-of-five at the majors and Davis Cup—the extra sets aren’t needed anywhere else, in my opinion, except the final of the year-end championships—because of the special gravitas it lends to those events. There can be nothing flukey about beating someone over five sets. To change the format now would make those tournaments feel like Slam-lites, served up especially for TV advertisers.
What’s eating Novak Djokovic? That’s the question on the mind of his most famous former coach, Jelena Gencic. In an interview with Blic yesterday, she claims she wasn’t surprised that Novak didn’t win a medal at the Olympics.
“Although no one wanted to go public with it,” Gencic says, “there were reasons why his barren run could have been predicted...He definitely has problems, with both body and mind, but he managed to overcome similar problems before when it was hardest for him. Novak is short of his best self, and it is up to his team to pinpoint the reasons and sort it out. He is burdened with personal problems and now his tennis is suffering.”
Gencic says she doesn’t want to get into specifics, which makes this story a mystery. In the past, it has been said, Djokovic has been distracted by the needs of his support team and those surrounding him.
“I would be worried,” Gencic concludes, “because he keeps saying he is tired. They need to locate the reasons why this is happening—if it is down to his physicality or something away from tennis which is tiring his mind.”
The Olympics have been emotional and moving, and it would be nice if that’s all they were. But there are always sobering undertones that come along with the Games, and the New York Times highlights the main one this week, in Williams Rhoden's “Savoring Olympic Games, Despite Their Long History of Doping.”
Rhoden talks to Charles Yesalis, an “expert on performance-enhancing drugs” at Penn State (it would be nice to have a few more credentials than that, but that's all Rhoden gives us). Yesalis admits that he enjoys watching the Olympics, but takes them with “several blocks of salt.” He thinks drug testing should be eliminated.
“It serves to make people think they’re watching cleaner sports,” Yesalis says of anti-doping programs, “but they’re really not. We’ve had testing since the 1960s; I’m sorry, I don’t think anything’s gotten better.”
That’s probably true, though there have been reports that progress has been made in cycling in recent years, and while there are still PEDs in baseball, no one is hitting 73 home runs in a season anymore.
Yesalis, who was obviously in an uplifting mood when this interview took place, maintains that it all makes sense, because while sports shows us human courage and resilience, they also show us something else that humans tend to do: cheat.
“I’ve concluded that it’s the nature of man," he says, "because we see it in business, we see it in politics. For years, people have said sports is a microcosm of our society, and I agree.”
What would happen if drugs were legalized? Fans seem to care about PEDs on a sport by sport basis. There’s suspicion, and at least temporary outrage, about it in baseball, but the subject is rarely if ever mentioned by NFL or NBA fans. Would we collectively stop watching if we knew that every athlete was legally taking performance-enhancing drugs? Would sponsors stay away? Or would the stigma slowly fade? There's also the health of the athletes to consider, though it will be a long time before we stop watching American football, despite what we know about its effects on the players.
The most vexing question of all: What would we do instead?
In related news, the ITF announced yesterday that it would honor the lifetime ban imposed by the USADA on Lance Armstrong’s doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral of Valencia, Spain. Moral has worked with, as the ITF puts it, “various tennis players.”
Words to Live By
OK, we can’t go out on that note. So I call your attention to the Tennis Space’s list of best Olympic quotes. Here’s an inspirational one for your bulletin board at work:
“I still can’t express enough how proud I am to see Andy Murray as the Olympic champion. He never gave up. Don’t you either. I won’t ever.”—David Hasselhof