TV Report: Comeback Monday

Monday, March 25, 2013 /by

Can you follow two tennis matches on two different screens at once? No problem, right? You’ve been working and Tweeting and streaming and IM-ing and talking on your cell phone at the same time since you were in ninth grade, right?

Next question: Can you listen to two sets of commentators at once? This may constitute the true test of the tennis fan in 2013, as well as the next level in multi-tasking. 

If so, it’s a test I failed on Monday afternoon. After trying to hear Mark Knowles of the Tennis Channel on my television, and Sam Smith of Eurosport on my computer, call simultaneous matches from Miami, I had to admit that my ears haven’t learned to flick from one conversation to another the way my eyes can flick from match to match. All I got was an incomprehensible tangle of verbiage.

That I would even attempt such a thing can be seen as a sign of what the tennis fan’s life has come to during weeks like these. When a big dual-gender event like the Sony Open is on, you can find yourself, depending on how many video-streaming devices you own, trying to look in three directions at once. 

Here’s a rundown of what I saw from Key Biscayne, on laptop, television, and Twitter, on Monday. It was an immersive day of tennis, and we were rewarded with our share of major comebacks and violent mood swings.

*****

And Still...It’s Not Enough

We see so much tennis these days, in fact, that the idea of not being able to watch a match has become unthinkable, maybe even...criminal. For a long time, I resisted this point of view, preferring to look on the bright side and remember the days when there was exactly one match broadcast from each Wimbledon, the men’s final, on tape delay, with parts cut out because of time constraints. I also tried to remember that no outlet broadcasts a match just to make tennis fans happy; there has to be some kind of ad support for it.

But I’ve grown spoiled like everyone else, and last week I did find it mildly outrageous that I couldn’t see Venus Williams play Kimiko Date-Krumm from Miami. Their Wimbledon match from 2011 had been a unique classic, and this one was close as well. I know that Key Biscayne is a little strange, coverage-wise, because it doesn’t start on a Monday (it doesn’t seem to officially start at all). But it’s a big enough event in the sport, and in the U.S., that there should be a way by now to show all of it. That would seem to be what the Tennis Channel was born to do.

*****

Lady of the Armada?

Spain has been a dominant force on the men’s side over the last 15 years, but the same can hardly be said for the country’s women players. The highest-ranked at the moment is Carla Suarez-Navarro at No. 21, and the country's No. 2 is 56th-ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

But that may change soon, as 19-year-old Garbine Muguruza of Barcelona showed in Miami. The heavy-hitting 6-footer straight-setted Caroline Wozniacki this weekend, and today took fifth seed Li Na to a first-set tiebreaker. 

There are things to like about Muguruza, who is already an IMG client. First of all, there’s her name: Garbine isn't common, at least in tennis, and Muguruza is fun to say. In English, you barely have to move your lips to get the four syllables out.

Second, there’s her game. She’s big, she doesn’t back off the baseline, and she hits hit with depth and weight. Muguruza also misses, as 19-year-olds will. I wonder: Is she fast enough, and can this tall girl get more out of her serve than she did today? Against Li, she won a higher percentage of points with her second one than her first. Muguruza has the right idols, anyway, if she's going to make her serve better: Her two favorite players growing up were Serena Williams and Pete Sampras.

*****

No Joke

Or maybe I should say: Yes, joke; please, joke. As in, that’s how Novak Djokovic pronounces his last name.

The Tennis Channel has filmed a new set of promos for the site, the ones where the stars inform us, “Hi, I’m so and so, and you’re watching Tennis Channel, where champions live." I would advise anyone, and in particular any tennis commentator, to pay attention when Djokovic’s spot is on. There he is, in the flesh, not pronouncing his last name Jock-o-vich.

*****

Reeshard Starts the Lawnmower?

Yes, you heard that right: Richard Gasquet, after hitting a passing shot winner late in his win over Mikhail Youzhny today, celebrated with his best berserk, Lleyton Hewitt-punching-the-court imitation. That’s not to say it was a good imitation, by any means. The diffident Frenchman hesitated and double-clutched midway through his punch, as if he wasn't sure exactly where it was supposed to end. But it worked anyway. Gasquet broke and held for a solid win that sends him to the round of 16, where he’ll face Nicolas Almagro.

This was not the type of match that Gasquet has always won. He was the better player for all of it, yes, but he has always struggled to close. Gasquet did the spectacular well, but when it came to doing the dull but necessary work of coming up with a service winner at break point late in a set, that’s not where he excelled. But he has, slowly, become a better competitor, and he’s in the Top 10 now because of it. Gasquet might be, in a quiet way, the ATP’s biggest surprise of the last two years.

And speaking of those Tennis Channel, “Hi, I’m so and so...” spots, Gasquet has even earned one of his own. First the Top 10, now this. What could be next for Reeshard? A win at something other than a 250-level event?

*****

With Friends Like These...

You may think there should be a ban on coaching on the women’s side. I’m starting to think there should be a ban on calling out your coach after you’ve just won a set. Based on evidence gathered while watching Sloane Stephens today, the extra words can make you start thinking, rather than just doing. Tennis is a delicate balance of knowing what to do, and then letting that come naturally. Stephens had the balance right at the end of the first set today, which she won 6-4 over defending champ Aga Radwanska. Then she called out her coach, David Nainkin. He told her to “keep doing what you’re doing,” but he also gave her some specific advice about when to hit certain shots, where to go with her backhand, and when to pull the trigger down the line. Sloane, who started to miss her backhand, lost the next three games, and 12 of the next 14.

*****

Getting (A Little) Better All the Time

As with 20-year-old Sloane, the tennis life seems to be one long learning experience for 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov these days. Last week, the Man Who Plays Like Roger Federer and Dates Maria Sharapova (I guess we really shouldn’t cry for him too much), brought his exciting brand of play to Indian Wells and used it go up early on Novak Djokovic. Then Dimitrov served for the first set, double faulted four times, and was never in the match again.

Today Dimitrov brought that same all-court game to Miami and used it to go up early on Andy Murray. Then he served for the first set, double-faulted three times, and lost in straights.

Four double faults one week, three the next: I guess, if we really want to look on the bright side, we can call that progress.

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