By Jonathan Scott
Another brand of March Madness is upon us: With the unisex goodness that is the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells tournament, the 2011 pro tennis campaign kick-starts into high gear. This 1-2 punch of Cali and Miami makes for a full month of top-notch tennis. Indeed, spring’s done sprung.
Now a curious trend seeped into tennis again in 2010: jumpy observers of the sport seeking to retire players -– good, even great stars who reaped some solid results -– before they themselves are ready to hang up their racquets. The guilty parties: too many tennis writers and other observers and “personalities” involved to various degrees. Their victims? Among them, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, and even Roger Federer, proving that not a single star is exempt from these hasty calls to exit.
But Roddick won Memphis last month, dousing the ballyhooed, raging fire that is young Milos Raonic and coming up with possibly the best championship-point winner ever. He also ignited his fellow Americans’ effort on the Chilean clay in Davis Cup, punctuating his clinching win with a scissor kick (Video: here) that would make Sally O’Malley salivate. Too many quickly forgot that Venus seized some early 2010 titles and vaulted to no. 2 in the world before injuries in part derailed both her autumnal and 2011 Aussie exploits. (Oddly, she’s now singing 311 karaoke on a MIA-to-Turks cruiseship and showing off some fly dance moves for someone with chronic knee issues.). Fed himself ran the table at the London year-end championships in December, outdoing even Rafael Nadal in the final, and snagged an early 2011 title before a taking-all-comers Novak Djokovic rolled over him in Melbourne.
Still, retirement happens. It’s inevitable. Justine Henin’s departure has itself turned into a piece of music with multiple movements, the strings swelling and falling at different points. Henin has been like that lover who breaks it off and then loiters for attention: Mercy. And merci.
All of the brouhaha catalyzed a thought: Who or what in the sport truly needs to go?
Without further ado, a few items –- persons, peccadillos, and other pesky minutiae –- that best get gone. Now. Conversely, some other talents and trends are welcome to get comfy. So there it is: Stay, or Go.
GO: Foremost, let’s be done with the freak injuries. Some stars are making the maladies on TV hospital dramas seem realistic: Victoria Azarenka scarily passed out on court after bopping her head during a warm-up run, and then Anna Chakvetadze did her best Vika impression. Meanwhile Andy Murray strained his hand by playing video games excessively (okay, that one proved a fib). It seems a few players just need to be grounded.
Granted, Serena’s recent pulmonary embolism/hematoma scare is more than legit. Anyone who relishes compelling tennis, even if no fan of hers, whether onlooker or media, can only hope she makes it back into the mix again. Tennis needs her fight and her bite. Not every player needs to be Mama Kim Clijsters, portrait of civility.
Speaking of, GO: Can we just be done with all the talk about Clijsters’ motherhood? Cute turned to precious in a hurry there, and not in a good way.
GO: That hand-strain hoax aside, Murray might want to consider tempering his video gaming: Girlfriend Kim Sears reportedly already broke up with him once over the habit. Word to the wise, young gun: the lady has you on watch.
Judy Murray, we heart thee.
GO. STAY. Good dog: Not to pick on the Murray familia too much (see below), but what of these tweets from the family’s resident cur, this Maggie? So let it be written, so let it be done: No more Murray mutt tweets, at least not until Andy bags that virgin Major. It’s no less lame to put your pet on Twitter than it is to fashion a Facebook profile for it.
STAY: Judy Murray, British tennis coach and mom to Andy and Jamie. Yes, she advises her son. She also isn’t afraid to shoot a witty retort at a former player who yaps about her spawn’s chances at winning big with her on board.
GO: Boris Becker. Just let it be, Boorish. You were a fine player, a flame-maned, serve-and-volley stud on grass. Then you knocked Murray and his mum for his underperforming at Slams, chiding him for his closeness to Judy and (good grief!) for standing by his girl at age 23. So a former player cheats on his pregnant wife with a Russian model (in a closet), resulting in a lust child, and then doles out unsolicited relational advice? Laughable. Not content to merely stand by his statements from the fall, BB waxed on again after Murray’s mopey, one-sided loss to Nole in the Aussie final. Sigh. Everyone’s a Carillo. Click to read more, kids. You don’t want to miss these musings.
STAY: Andrea Petkovic’s “Petkorazzi” video clips. Got to love the WTA’s resident geek, loquacious and funny. The game needs one like this who’s not so self-serious or sexpotty all the time. Same for the ATP’s version, the adorably ridiculous Dmitry Tursunov, who never fails to playfully rag on himself … and other players.
STAY: Ivo Karlovic. The towering Croatian yuks it up on Twitter and brandishes a bad-ass serve that recently clocked in at a record 155 mph, topping Roddick’s own mark. It was anticlimactic at the time: The crowd didn’t seem to notice though it looked like the returner’s wrist nearly broke. But, hey, Dr. Ivo is a dapper chap and can order up a prescription for that too.
No, we’re not laughing with you, JJ. (Photo by Jelena Jankovic – pics via flickr.)
GO: Jelena Jankovic’s post-match excuses. From “woman problems” (’09 Wimbledon vs. Oudin) until now, the self-made Queen of TMI simply must siphon this out of her game(smanship). Don’t ask, don’t tell, JJ. That said, the must-have player fashion this winter was that eye patch. It’s no shock that she went under the knife for eye surgery –- just another item on her hypochondriac’s to-do list -– but indirectly her countryman Nole made an homage. Question: What’s up with the ocular health in Serbia? But at least JJ made the Monterrey final last week, even if she lost to defending champ Pavlyuchenkova. She has beaucoup points to defend at Indian Wells, being, you know, its reigning queen -– so look alive, matey.
STAY: More of the upstarts taking it to the top aces. That’s Tomas Berdych over Fed at Wimbledon, Jurgen Melzer foiling Rafa in Asia last fall, and Raonic taking it to Fernando Verdasco, well, anywhere on the planet this year. So bring it, Viktor Troicki. Come on and ride the train, Coco Vandeweghe, she who slayed Zvonareva before becoming Fed Cup’s latest debutante/scapegoat. And memo to Ryan Harrison: Join in. It’s okay, you’re without his genius baggage so far, but even Federer wastes match points in a big-time event. Sidebar: Notice how the American Jack Sock has performed about as well as Harrison over time but carries far less hype? Yea, keep tabs on that one.
GO: The wacky scheduling for Davis and Fed Cups both. Forget this scattershot calendar of “ties” throughout the year. Ties for the whole blasted thing should be held every 4 years a la the seasonal Olympics and soccer’s World Cup, or biannually at “worst.” As is, how can we miss it if it’s never really over? Oh, and stop calling them “ties!”
Davis Cup, our hearts feel the way this stadium looks: empty. (Photo by ACC Liverpool via flickr.)
STAY: Long live Kimiko Date Krumm, the Dara Torres of tennis who scalped Safina, Sharapova, and Stosur last season. (S-named foes beware!) It doesn’t indict the WTA -– to scribes who say otherwise, GO -– but rather shows what an astounding anomaly the 40-year-old KDK truly is. Day of reckoning: Kimiko could get Ana Ivanovic in round 2 at Indian Wells. Both AI and her adoring fans aren’t relishing that.
GO: Dear journalists, let’s issue a moratorium on calling it “revenge” when, say, Wozniacki tops Zvonareva at the Doha year-end championships or Federer bests Djokovic in Basel. Both would like to have those U.S. Open semi matches back, no? (Just a thought: Let’s maybe also issue a moratorium on the phrase “issue a moratorium.”)
While we’re at it, another note to journos -– GO: No more speaking of this little miss “Sunshine.” Caroline Wozniacki is 20, and the no. 1 WTA player at that. She’s silkily rebranded herself via Aussie Open pressers that showcased not her sunny side so much as her droll sense of comic timing. It’s true, reporters have been daft where she has turned deft. So let her game blossom, let her garner that coveted major victory (this year’s quite ripe, Caro) and truly grow roots at the top. She simply seeks validation, as every 20-year-old does.
STAY, though you really should GO: All the fashion hits and misses. And misters. (That’s you, Stepanek. Whew.) Whether it’s Nadia Petrova tasting the rainbow or wearing the ocean’s ripples or Serena working out in a get-up more scanty than her mini-catsuit from the Puma days, we’re always lapping it up like Murray mutts ourselves.
GO: On-court coaching. The WTA is above this. Part of the joy of tennis is watching a player problem-solve in a solitary, somewhat emotional state. Sport is, after all, but a metaphor for life. This “innovation” is touted as good for TV. Well, watching a coach/dad rant to this charge in Italian or Polish devoid of translation doesn’t do much for ratings. She holds the key. Let her pull the trigger.
And, surely, GO: Illicit coaching from the side of the court during play. Rafa and Toni Nadal are even guilty of this. Justine was possibly the utmost offender, and it’s the one part of her “game” we’re glad to usher out. We beseech the lot of them to just quit it, as it does to a degree tarnish their images.
(OVER)STAY: Please retire already, Dick Enberg. Even Dick Clark surrendered the New Year’s reins to Ryan Seacrest -– and you’ve got better prospects than that dandy chomping at the bit to take over. You’ve been a beacon of journalism, but your U.S. Open (over)statements, the Federer hyper-adulation, were sometimes ridiculous. “He’s a Greek god!” and “Djokovic gasping for air, Federer barely perspiring!” –- really? It was akin to watching Ahmad Rashad make out with (err, interview) Michael Jordan after the game in days gone by. Sorry, Dick, but, as has been proven, Fed is actually all too human.
We actually love you on the other side of the camera, Gael. (Photo by Matt Cohen photo / 1115 via flickr.)
STAY: Gael Monfils, the one endowed with all the gangly theatrics: the occasional atrocious court position, batshit-crazy shot selection, raw talent, and athleticism. He has the heaps of personality and rave-ready court attire that a fan could covet in a star athlete. Get it together, Gael Force. Stay unbridled -– but in a good way. Make 2011 your bitch. (All apologies to Maggie Murray there.)
A one-off here -– RETURN: Rafa and Fed collided just once in 2010, their fewest number of meetings since the first in ’04. (They peaked with six matches in ’06.) If this shall indeed go down as one of the greatest sporting rivalries ever (and verily it should), the people simply demand more from their titans.
STAY: Don’t stop with that GOAT talk. Or just that acronym itself. It’s super, and those storied debates are what a sport thrives on. Same for WTHIGOW, seemingly kick-started by Jon Wertheim: Abounding acronyms and abbreviations (and alliteration?) keep it real. …Wait, what’s that? Oh, okay -– one of those abbrevs can GO: It’s a Twitter-friendly shortening, but calling a commentator a “commie” is clunky. It’s awkward, and when an American is playing a Russian… “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this abbreve.”
STAY: Last, may the drama never cease. It’s much more than a shard of why we keep coming back for more, masochists that we are. Tennis is a not-so-subtle soap opera. So what if Vera’s eyes go chasing waterfalls after a single sorry point? She made it to two 2010 Major finals, notched a no. 2 ranking, and already picked off Wozniacki in a thrilling final in the Middle Eastern desert. She and a few others exhibited a new or recovered steeliness. That’s right, eggs of steel. Which are not to be confused with the newer WTA logo we’re still getting acquainted with. (Shout out to Forty Deuce for first noting that logo’s, err, fertility.)
And so to those grating bits on this list, Be gone! To the amusing and downright fantastic items here, don’t stop ‘til we get enough. Because we never will. And we’re doing it all again this year. Ready. Set. GO.
Jonathan Scott is a travel book editor by day and a freelance writer by night. He’s a freak for good music and tennis. Find him on Twitter: @jonscott9.