MELBOURNE—There’s nothing like tennis history to give you an idea of how much the world has changed in the last 50, 60, 70 years. Sometimes the difference between then and now is hard to get your head around. For instance, consider the story of Gertrude “Gorgeous Gussy” Moran, who died yesterday at 89. Moran, a California native who played on the amateur circuit in the 1940s, is famous for having sported, as the AP put it this morning, “a daringly short dress and lace-trimmed panties” at Wimbledon in 1949. What’s amazing to think back on now is what happened to the designer of that dress and those panties, Ted Tinling. Upon seeing them, a Wimbledon official publicly bellowed at Tinling, “You have brought shame and sin to tennis!” Tinling, already a prominent figure in the game, was banned from the club and didn’t return for 20 years. Because of a dress design.
Now that I think about it, though, when it comes to tempests in a teapot, maybe tennis hasn’t changed all that much. The controversy of the nanosecond seems to be whether Maria Sharapova “celebrated too much” with her quintuple fist-pump and banshee shriek after her win over Venus Williams last night. I admit that, at the moment she did it, I thought it was a bit over the top. Or, more accurately, I was surprised by Maria’s ferocity, because the score hadn’t been close. The “hey, now” look on Venus’ face as she walked toward the net told you she was surprised, too.
But thinking about how the match ended, and how Venus hung on just long enough to make Maria nervous, I realized that a big part of Sharapova’s emotion at that moment was relief. She said as much later. She said she had let some chances to put away the second set slip by, and she “knew what [Venus] was capable of.” Plus, Sharapova had played so well in a match that she had been anticipating all week: “I was pumped, why shouldn’t I be?” While some thought Sharapova showed disrespect to an aging champion, Maria herself would tell you that her elation was really the opposite. She wouldn’t have felt or acted the same way against a lesser player.
So maybe tennis isn’t all that different than it was in 1949. Back then we worried about short dresses and lace trims, now we worry about how many fist-pumps is too many fist-pumps. If we were soccer fans, we’d probably debate whether a striker slid too far to celebrate scoring a goal.
Still, there may be one reason for Maria to regret the move: I’m guessing Serena saw those fist-pumps, too.
Lance, A Lot
Many computers in the press room were tuned to the Lance Armstrong confession yesterday, and many players were asked about it. Venus Williams said she didn’t want to talk about something she didn’t know about; Maria Sharapova said it was a sad day for sports.
More interesting were the opinions expressed by Serbian friends and teammates Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic. Each condemned Armstrong, of course, though with varying degrees of harshness: Djokovic said he deserved to “suffer”; Tipsarevic went with, “It’s not cool what he did.”
As for testing in tennis, Djokovic, good soldier and tennis ambassador, said he believed the game was clean, but more could be done. He even wondered why he hadn’t been given any blood tests in the last six or seven months (Djokovic stopped short of endorsing a cycling-style biological passport system).
The less-ambassadorial Tipsarevic began by telling us that if we wanted to hear that tennis needs more testing, we were "probably asking the wrong guy.” He went on to recount the story of how testers freaked him out this off-season by surprising him while he was training in Kenya.
“One morning a person was waking me up,” he said. “I was so shocked and afraid somebody was robbing us. I wasn’t sure.”
“If they want to increase it, why not?” Tipsy continued. “But we have a tough enough time with this WADA process of us telling them every single day of our life where we need to be. So I don’t really see how can it be more strict than that.”
So far in Australia, when it comes to doping and tennis, the Lance confession has been a positive. There are more questions being asked, and respected people in the game, such as Darren Cahill, have come out to say that the system is inadequate.
The next step is for the Grand Slams, the tours, and the ITF to use this moment of urgency to put more money into testing. The Slams currently offer well over $100 million in prize money collectively each year. Last season tennis’ anti-doping authorities received $1.6 million in funding, hardly enough to cover an international sport involving thousands of athletes. With the public wondering how may other sporting champions may be lying, now is the time to change that.
Bern on Notice
For the third straight year, the first Saturday night at the Aussie Open belongs to Bernard Tomic. This time, he hopes the evening ends with at least a slightly different result. Two years ago, Tomic lost to Rafael Nadal in straight sets. Last year it was Roger Federer who took him out in even more routine fashion.
What should Bernie do differently this time? Don’t read the papers, for one; the conflicting advice would only confuse him.
“Tomic is going to have to think his way through it,” Jim Courier tells the Herald Sun. “He hasn’t got the tools to overpower Federer.”
Over in The Australian, though, columnist Courtney Walsh counsels the opposite strategy:
BERNIE’S ONLY HOPE IS BLASTING THE MASTER
“No one handles finesse better than Federer,” Walsh writes. “It's the consistent blasters such as Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro that have most troubled him (Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray aside).”
One thing that most Aussies agree on is that Tomic has already lost the battle of the build-up.
In The Age, Linda Pearce writes, “Tomic...talked up his chances like Muhammad Ali before a title fight. So confident. Unstoppable, even. Perfect time to play the Mighty Fed."
"Impressed? Not everyone. ‘That’s how he goes about it,’ says John Newcombe, ‘I’m not sure that’s a really smart tactic, but if he chooses to go about it that way it’s fine...as long as you can back it up. If you don’t back it up, you look stupid.”
(In other Newk/Bernie news, the legend sides with Australian Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter in his feud with the young player. Newk believes that in running his DC team, Rafter should follow the famous policy of the Sydney Swans, an Aussie-rules football club: "No d----heads allowed." And he's not talking about fans of the Grateful Dead.)
Watching Tomic in his last press conference, as he talked up his chances against Federer, I hadn’t thought he was out of line—a few unfortunate word choices, yes, but what he’s supposed to say, “I’m not ready?”
But I also think columnist Patrick Smith of The Australian has a point when he writes, “There is a difference between being bold and being flippant. It might just be that Tomic can’t tell the difference.”
Smith points to what Tomic said before the tournament, when he heard that he might play Federer in the third round: “He has to get there as well. You don’t know what can happen. Tennis is a funny sport, so we’ll see.”
It’s true, Smith says, that anything can happen. But it’s also true that Federer hasn’t missed the third round of a Grand Slam in 10 years.
Having watched Bernie get the home folks’ hopes up, and then let them come crashing down, on this Saturday the last two years, I’m thinking Federer won’t miss the fourth round of this major, either.