Well, we’re in the home stretch Down Under now, in a tournament that has proceeded in a fairly orderly, predictable way, with one great exception—the upset of Serena Williams yesterday by her 19-year old fellow American, Sloane Stephens. So let’s start our canvass of what players have been saying over the past few days right there.
IT IS WHAT IT IS, SQUARED . . .
As she’s matured and re-discovered her confidence and love for the game, Serena Williams has become a much better interview subject for reporters. Yesterday’s loss to Stephens, her top understudy, was a difficult blow to absorb, but she handled the post-match interview with class and an attitude that can only be called “philosophical”—insofar as “It is what it is” has become the go-to cliché to express resignation to reality, and fate. Serena used the expression, or the past tense version of it (“It was what it was.”) at least four times in her presser.
But there was one moment when her “Que sera, sera” (an old school version of “It is what it is”) attitude gave way to a spontaneous reaction of the kind you might expect if she’d touched a hot griddle with her index finger. Serena, who suffered a muscle spasm in her back during the second set, was asked if she contemplated “retiring” at any point.
Practically leaping from her chair, she shot back “Are you kidding me? I'm not retiring. . .” Then she caught herself amid gals of laughter and continued, “Oh, you mean retiring. . .in the match. . .I thought you meant my career. Like, you're crazy.”
It may be telling that Serena reacted so swiftly and dramatically. I’m not trying to imply anything other than that she’s at that stage in her career when she knows the clock is ticking and on certain days she can even hear it. And that may help explain why she seems more thoughtful, humble, and open. But who knows? It is what it is.
JO ON "HORMONES AND STUFF"
“You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I'm sure everybody will say it's true, even the girls?” There was laughter in the room, a good portion of it the nervous kind. Jo plowed on: “No? No, you don't think? But, I mean, it's just about hormones and all this stuff. We don't have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That's it.”
Oh, boy. I have a feeling the English speaking ladies are going to make Jo-Willy pay—and pay, and pay. And pay. But Jo is French, so ask him if he cares.
The other day, Andy Murray partisans, led by Ivan Lendl, allegedly complained to tournament director Craig Tiley about the scheduling—specifically, Roger Federer getting all the choice night-match assignments. It strains credulity, but Murray, who will meet Federer in the semifinals, distanced himself from his cohorts, and said he didn’t have a problem with the scheduling because it hasn’t been so hot during the day that playing at night is an advantage, or more favorable to one style than another.
The Mighty Fed isn’t as thrilled with the situation as one might think, either. This is a nice Swiss boy who presumably likes his yogurt, muesli, cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, and breakfast cold cuts, for he complained about the regimen he’s had to adopt:
“I've skipped breakfast for two weeks now. Seriously, that's what it's been. I've been going to bed at 3 a.m. every morning and wake up at noon. Is that a nice life? I don't know. I enjoy playing on Rod Laver Arena, but in some ways I'd rather have the day session because that creates a normal rhythm and a normal life. Going to bed at 3:00 in the morning and getting up at noon is not what you're supposed to be doing.”
And Lendl and company can relax now, they figured out a way to get on at night. Just make sure you’re playing Federer.
LET'S NOT EVEN GET INTO THE ROAMING CHARGES!
Like most young players, Sloane Stephens knows a lot about the rewards lavished on a tennis star. But now that she’s become one (thanks to her upset of Serena), she’s learning more about the perils, too. For example, after her win over Serena, Stephens’ phone was flooded with congratulatory text messages. When she revealed that, she was asked how she planned to respond to that legion of well-wishers. She said:
“Well, I'm still trying to figure that out because I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise. So I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do, because otherwise my phone bill is going to be crazy and my mom is going to be like, ‘Oh, my God, your phone bill. . .’ She's going to be like, ‘The money you were going to buy yourself something nice with—you're going to (use it) to pay your phone bill.”
I see a smartphone endorsement deal (with unlimited free texting) in this girl’s future.
"HORMONES AND STUFF," PART II
Murray also was asked why the WTA doesn’t produce the same four semifinalists as consistently as the ATP, shortly after he dismantled Jeremy Chardy in straight sets. His own take was less of a dissertation on human biology and hormonal science than on the formats in tennis.
“I think the five-set matches are probably a good reason for that. The longer the match goes on—you know, someone like a (David) Ferrer, for example, his game is so solid all the time—that to beat him over five sets (is tough). Yesterday was a perfect example of that. (Nicolas) Almagro probably should have won the match. For two, two and a half sets he was the better player, but you need to be the better player for three out of five. . . It often takes five hours sometimes to beat the top players in the world. It's not easy.”
GLUTTON FOR PUNISHMENT
Agnieszka Radwanska started 2013 with a 13-match winning streak, and with two tournament wins already under her belt, she’s been both the most successful and hardest working of WTA stars. But her winning streak was snapped the other day in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open by Li Na.
In her post-match presser, Radwanska was asked the question reporters go to when they can’t think of anything else to say: “What is your schedule from here on out? You take a little bit of time off and then regroup?”
The Polish Popgun replied, “No, I'm going to go now and practice, to the gym, running.”
“Today?” the astonished reporter interjected.
“No, I'm just kidding.” Radwanska laughed. “No, please. I'm going to have few days off, definitely.”
If you believe in the old Christian principle, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Novak Djokovic’s soul must be pure as the driven snow. For he issued the most resounding among a blizzard of resounding repudiations of doping cyclist Lance Armstrong a few days ago:
“It would be ridiculous for him (Armstrong) to decline and refuse all the charges because it (the doping) has been proven. They have like a thousand proofs that he’s positive. I think it’s a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this. He cheated the sport. He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story. I think they should take all his titles away because it’s not fair towards any sportsman, any athlete. It’s just not the way to be successful. So I think he should suffer for his lies all these years.”
Agreed. How about we make Lance watch best-of-five clay-court tennis matches between two Spanish players ranked outside the Top 100 for weeks on end, come spring?