trophy watch: a proper send-off

French Open tourney organizers gave one of their own, Fabrice Santoro, a proper sendoff after his first-round loss in this year’s event to Christophe Rochus. Santoro, who was appearing in his record-tying 20th French Open, lost to the Belgian 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.

“Twenty years. That counts for something in a lifetime,” Santoro said after receiving this cross section of Roland Garros’ clay courts, presented after the Federer/Haas fourth-round match. “It has been a long road, a fantastic career. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.” Gustavo Kuerten received a similar trophy last year.

Fabrice, known for playing two-handed groundstrokes off both wings and his crazy slices (enough to garner some attention at the 2007 U.S. Open), is playing 10 more events before hanging up his racquet.

At his presser, he left us another nugget about what’ll be different in his life next May: “So when you’ve played this tournament 20 years in a row, in May you start wearing your clay shoes, you start preparing to be able to play for three, four, five hours, even 6 hours 33 minutes for my longest match, so you feel next year in May I will no longer be a tennis player.”

(image via Getty Images)

something’s fishy in delray beach

The inventive folks at Delray Beach ITC are back at it again with additions to the graffiti artwork on their tourney’s show court.

As you may remember, they made a splash at last year’s tournament by painting waves on the court’s back walls.

This time, they’ve brought back artist Doug Hoekzema to embellish the side walls with iconic Florida fish like wahoo and marlin, and extending the “rippling water” effect on the court surface to cover the entire perimeter.

Sugar daddy: It wasn’t too long ago that the fate of this second round of tagging was in question because of the financial crisis. Thankfully, artist William Debilzan swooped in to underwrite the project.

Along with funding the murals, Debilzan, who has galleries in Delray Beach, Laguna Beach, and Santa Fe, will also paint two pieces during the tournament; they’ll be presented to the City of Delray Beach during TV coverage of the semifinals.

Other goods: We’ve also been asked to look out for some new-and-improved Volley Girls (this time dressed in sportier attire, courtesy of the Porsche Design Group). Also, they have a new trophy that, hopefully, will be a fine addition to the TSF Trophy Watch.

Quite a catch: Perrenial “comeback king” Lleyton Hewitt accepted a wild card to the ITC, marking the first time he’s been back to Delray Beach since winning the tournament’s inaugural title in this city back in 1999.

“It’s good to go back to Delray Beach; it’s been a long time since I’ve played there,” said Hewitt, who turns 28 on Tuesday. “The surface has changed as well. I won there on green clay courts, and it’s going to be good to go back and play on hard court. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Australian is currently battling for the Regions Morgan Keegan title in Memphis. He upset third seed James Blake in the first round and compatriot Chris Guccione in the round after. He next faces Belgian Christophe Rochus for a spot in the quarterfinals. Their half of the draw also includes Sam Querrey and top seed (and wildcard) Andy Roddick.

More: See some pics of the artists in action after the cut…

fashion focus: rafa, after a hiccup, finally grows up

The hem of Rafa Nadal‘s sleeves have finally dropped — from his sinewy shoulders to somewhere midway down his sinewy biceps — and we’re liking what we’re seeing.

The calculated change planned by Nike and the Rafa camp was first scheduled to launch at 2008 U.S. Open (even hyped up with a presser that roped in Don King). With a new silhouette came a opportunity to reshape the 22-year-old’s image, moving away from the swashbuckling jock to that of a paragon: professional, classy, and with a place at the top of the sport. Gone were trendy prints (tribal tattoos, fireworks) and his bicep-baring top, making way for a modern take on the sport’s traditional uniform — the polo.

But in the end this New York makeover was quickly shelved, likely due to cold feet. Not that we’re complaining; that orange and blue clearly paled in comparison to what they had in store for 2009.

rafael-nadal-doha09

And in their second attempt they got everything right. For the pre-Aussie warmups (Doha, Abu Dhabi), Rafa’s outfit revolved around a Bold Stripe Polo in white/yellow/concord, topped off with a neon turquoise swoosh.

rafael-nadal-aussie09day

In Melbourne, the Spaniard’s kit includes the Spring Trend Crew in white/charcoal/turqouise — he wore a different colorway for practice — complemented by Volt (lime) headbands and wristbands, and similar colors in his shoes, the Air Max Breathe Cage II.

rafael-nadal-aussie09shoes

It’s worth noting on that Nike is hawking the similarly colored Courtballistec 1.3 Men’s Tennis Shoe as Rafa’s shoe of choice, even though that’s not what he’s wearing. The ‘ballistec shoe is made to have the same turquoise/volt/black colorway as his Cages.

So what’s Rafa’s take on this new image? He talked about it in his post-match presser: “I feel good. Well, in this moment we gonna play like this. You never know in the future. But right now I am fine like this.”

I hope you find success in this cleaner image. Wearing sleeves isn’t so bad, no?

Scoreline: In his quest for a maiden Australian Open title, Rafa beat Belgian munchkin Christophe Rochus 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.

Buy: Nike Courtballistec 1.3, $120, TW; Spring Trend Crew, $55, TW; Bold Stripe Polo, $60, nike.com.

davis cup: learn from the germans

Belgium and Germany went about their Davis Cup tie without much fashion oomph. The Rochus brothers, along with the rest of the Belgian team, chose to wear red (both on and off the court). The Germans chose a simple, utilitarian jacket, and Tommy Haas wore nothing special from his sponsor, Limited Sports.

rochus - davis cup tommy haas - davis cup germany - davis cup

But, alas, there’s a diamond in the rough. Look at this wristband worn by German Alexander Waske:

germany - belgium - davis cup 2007

While not visible to people watching on TV — but Davis Cup ties aren’t televised anyway, so who cares? — the wristbands can easily be seen in photos. They’re customizable to each country’s flag, low cost, and can be worn off the court. What a great investment for raising the Davis Cup’s profile. All countries should make this a standard issue by the next round.

waske’s wristband

Winner: Alas, a wristband cannot carry the weight of a country. The edge goes to the Belgians.

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>> davis cup: great britain vs. the netherlands
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