What We Missed: March 12
INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—It’s Tuesday, which we might call the midpoint in the action here. I can’t decide whether it feels like the tournament is flying by, or whether it’s been going on forever. Remember when Larry Ellison had the stars in construction hats, hitting balls at photographers? That was Friday, but it might as well have been last season in my mind. So much has been packed into the three days since then, including an earthquake that shook my room at the Holiday Inn for a second or two. (I thought at first it might be something going on in the room above me.)
I was in Southern California when the 1989 earthquake hit San Francisco, and the tremors felt similar—walking down a street in Claremont, Calif., I grabbed onto a light pole for dear life in ’89. So yesterday, my first reaction once the shaking was over was, “Does the Bay Area still exist?” It does, and in the end, yesterday’s quake just provided fodder for a few decent tennis-player stories. As you may have guessed, Rafael Nadal, who was lying on a training table when it happened, said he was “very scared.” He even demonstrated for reporters how his legs—and maybe even his knees—were quivering.
There have been more than a few shakes and quakes on court here in recent days, too many for us to cover fully at TENNIS.com. So I’ll take a minute to go back and review five of the developments that we missed.
A Talking Rocket
Yesterday afternoon, as Roger Federer was being announced in Stadium 1, his fellow tennis GOAT and longtime Southern Cal resident, Rod Laver, was in the stands clapping for...Jerzy Janowicz in Stadium 3? Yes, the Rocket was one seat in front of me out there, highly inconspicuous under a Panama hat. I don’t know why the gentleman Aussie was rooting for the Impolitic Pole; perhaps there was a connection with Laver’s sponsor, Adidas (Jerz was in Adidas shoes and shorts yesterday).
In the second set, Janowicz had a break point in each of Gasquet’s first two service games. When he got the second one, Laver said, to himself, “You really need to take one of these.” By that he meant, I think, that having break points in consecutive games meant that his opponent was vulnerable at that moment. At the same time, if you didn't cash in when you had a chance, he wouldn't be vulnerable for long.
Lo and behold, Janowicz lost the break point, Gasquet held, and then broke him in the game after that. The Rocket had been, of course, exactly right.
Sloane Stephens used that phrase four times in the first three minutes of her press conference after her opening-round loss to Urzsula Radwanska (pictured above). You could understand. Earlier that morning, Stephens had been the toast of the grounds during her practice session. People stood three deep to get a glimpse of the Melbourne sensation and Future of American Tennis. The little girls in the crowd agreed that they had to have her Under Armour outfit.
By the end of the day, Stephens was losing to the lesser Radwanska in a silent and nearly empty Stadium 1. She was passive and playing a waiting game that looked a lot like her opponent’s, only with less consistency. In the interview room, bubbly Sloane had gone glum, as she sat with her chin in her hands and talked about how “overwhelming” her sudden fame had been. She’s lost three straight matches, all upsets, since Australia.
Does this mean we overrated her after Melbourne? No—just as her semifinal run there didn’t mean that she was a shoo-in to win Grand Slams someday. All we know now is that, at 20, Sloane Stephens is good, and she has the tools to get much better.
I know what you're thinking: Why can’t more tennis players be like Marion Bartoli? There really is never a dull moment with the mad, manic Frenchwoman. In typical fist-in-the-air fashion, she came back from an 0-4 first-set deficit to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in straights on Sunday night. From her googly-eyed stares to her door-opener serve to her pre-point trampoline leaps, Bartoli is the woman of a thousand moves. But she may have to cut one of them out of her repertoire after Sunday night. Really, who else but Bartoli could pound her chest after a winning point and cut her finger on her necklace badly enough that she had to stop play and get it bandaged?
From One Giant to the Next
Six-foot, nine-inch John Isner, who will drop out of the Top 20 after his loss to Lleyton Hewitt this weekend, is crumbling as we speak. But lovers of Very, Very Tall Man Tennis—they exist, right?—shouldn’t fear. Isner’s fellow skyscraper, the 6'8" Kevin Anderson, is quietly rising to potentially take his place. The 26-year-old South African, who had elbow surgery in January, upset David Ferrer in the second round and followed that up by dropping just four games to Jarkko Nieminen. Suddenly quiet Kev is looking like a threat to make a Masters semifinal. His baseline and return games are also superior to Isner’s, which could mean he’ll be a longer-term resident of the Top 20, if he gets there—Anderson is currently ranked No. 37.
How is he doing it? Kev says he likes the way the ball is bouncing up high this week at Indian Wells. But his other explanation seems, um, a little...basic?
“I think I’m moving,” Anderson says.
What’s the next step down from a Maestro? An Apprentice? A plain old everyday Conductor? Whatever it is, Stan Wawrinka has spent his career filling that role for Swiss tennis. Is this his week to step over the country’s Maestro, when he faces countryman Roger Federer tomorrow for the 16th time? Wawrinka played flawless power-baseline last night against Lleyton Hewitt, but we’ve seen him do that many times before and still fall apart against Federer—Stan is 1-14 against Rog for his career. But with Federer’s back in a state of imperfection, and his own backhand clicking, Wawa has a chance. Again.