stay, don’t go

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.

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trophy watch: never been kissed

OK. Not never. But almost never. Jelena Dokic kissed a WTA trophy for the first time in nine years (Sarasota, 2002). Dokic shot up 30 spots from no. 91 in the world to no. 61. In Kuala Lumpur, she took out top seed Francesca Schiavone in the first round before rolling into the final. It was there that she beat B-Lister Lucie Safarova, 2-6, 7-6(9), 6-4, saving two championship points en route. Tough day for the Safarova-Berydch family.

Pablo Cuevas gets a little hoist from his teammates following his tie-clinching win in Montevideo. None of those gents on the sidelines seem to care much for the celebration. Uruguay beat Colombia 4-1 in a Group I Americas clash. Davis Cup: All results

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tsf podcast: roddick goes bald and courier a one-man davis cup team?

TSF Podcast Feb. 2011 | Nick McCarvel with David Thorpe | To download MP3 in iTunes, just click link

Our mid-winter musings: TSF Podcast Feb 2011

What fun doing a podcast with one David Thorpe is. You folks don’t want to miss this one: we talk player-name pronunciation (it’s Rah-OWE-nitch, BTW), South American cultural customs, high fashion and how Roger Federer‘s real estate savvy has helped him stay on the top of his game. Plus! Danielle Ribner of Loup joins the convo live from Delray Beach to tell us how dang hot it is down there (jealous D!) and how fricking cool her latest photo shoot was. Oh, and how could I forget? David and I talk up Jim Courier, and what an adventure he’ll have as a one-man Davis Cup team next week in Chile. Click above! | TSF Vault: Podcasts

(ap photo via forty deuce)

short balls: elena waves good-bye

Elena Dementieva is waving good-bye to the WTA Tour after a dozen years on the tour, which saw her greatest moment in 2008, at the Beijing Olympics. But while Dementieva might be most well-known to tennis enthusiasts as the greatest chica never to nab a Slam, you can bet she will be a missed force on the tour. No one else played with such maturity and poise, and even the shaky serve was made up for by that blazing forehand. Can you remember an Elena diva moment? Neither can I. I got the chance to watch Elena in person this summer – and if you never had the chance to watch this girl up close, I’ll give you one descriptive word: athlete - and she was a joy to watch. The tennis may have been flawed at times, but the heart was always there. Can’t wait to see what comes next for the Muscovite. Survey study: Of the 158 folks that responded to our Sunday Survey, 38% said they thought Elena would announce she’s pregnant come Thanksgiving. OK, riiight.

Courier calls: A variety of responses sprung up from the naming of Jim Courier as the new US Davis Cup coach last week. Greg Garber was questioning the call already over at ESPN.com, while L. Jon Wertheim was giving the nod to the Courier appointment in his Monday post this week. Our call? Well, we’re not so sure it matters who captains. Wertheim pointed out that four Americans sit inside the top 22 (Roddick, Isner, Fish and Querrey), and while the time may have passed for Roddick and his Davis Cup days, the Bryan Brothers look committed. The bigger question is: what will the Isner, Fish and Querrey era bring? Those are the boys that seem invested as Courier takes the reigns.

Retirement footnotes: While Elena’s announcement shocked a few and left others unsurprised, Serena Tweeted and blogged her well wishes to Dementieva, who had a 5-7 record against ReRe. Of course, retirement of one WTA veteran meant that the media was curious about her counterparts, namely Kim Clijsters. And here’s a curious fact for you: Lindsay Davenport, who shaved off Elena in her first big-bang match in the 2000 US Open semis still is not listed as retired on the WTA web site. Comeback likely? You never know with the mom next door.

Back on the winning (and publicity) track: Winning his first match in five tries, Fernando Verdasco found his winning form (most recently displayed in heroics at this year’s USO) in Valencia Monday. The Slice had some good shots of Fernando charming the masses at a Calvin Klein event last week in Madrid (with his pants on), before heading east to Valencia. He also appeared on the Spanish cooking show, El Hormiguero. Jealous of that cooking-show host? Yes, so are we.

Frame this: Ipek Senoglu is probably the most famous tennis player you (and I) have never heard of. Senoglu is Turkish and reached a career-high ranking of no. 293 back in 2004. While her career has mostly run its course, Senoglu has been instrumental in building tennis’s popularity in Turkey, which will host the WTA’s year-end event in both 2011 and 2012 in Istanbul. Oh, and she’s a looker, that Ipek, too. Above: Ipek in what we think is the Turkish/ Eastern European version of Bazaar. Can anyone help us out on translating?

After the cut: a barely-clad retired pro male struts his stuff in undies and injures a production assistant in the process? Plus, your weekly dose of short(er) balls. [Read more...]

quick draw: courier gets dc capt’n post

Not so slow: Doug Robson‘s piece on USAToday.com about Jim Courier being chosen for the Davis Cup captaincy. We’re excited for ya, Jimbo, but hoping you cut that mane a little before you take the bench! (screen grab via usa today)

Ladies’ choice: The American squad for the Fed Cup final has been named by captain Mary Joe Fernandez and include Bethanie Mattek Sands, Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber and Coco Vandeweghe. Fernandez is hoping that home-court advantage will help her ladies conquer the mighty Italians next week.

short balls: the pick comes wednesday

On Wednesday afternoon, the USTA will announce at a media luncheon who has been picked to replace Patrick McEnroe as the U.S. Davis Cup coach. McEnroe, who has coached the American squad since 2002, announced at the year’s US Open that he was stepping down from his position as head coach. Jim Courier and Todd Martin, both former players for the Davis Cup red, white and blue made it known almost immediately that they were interested in the spot. Jay Berger, whohas worked as a USTA coach as well as helping out with Davis Cup duties under McEnroe, is also rumored to be in the running.

Pay to know: The career of Lleyton Hewitt might be on the downward spiral, so he and wife Bec Cartwright are making sure to take full (monetary) advantage of the arrival of their third child, a girl. The Hewitts have joined forces with “Text A Star”, a service that allows fans to text a certain number for $2, and the curious fan will be texted back with the name of the little gal. D-Listed took issue with the Hewitts decision to share the information in such a way, crowning the couple their “Dumb Bitches of the Day“. Bundle of joy? Bundle of something…

No bundles of joy: For Ana Ivanovic and golfer Adam Scott, whose split was confirmed last week. Sounds as though the two severed romantic tie in the last few months, which may have helped Ana with her recent resurgence on the WTA Tour. Maybe Ana should monetize her new-found tennis wins with a $2 text service to find out what she ate before each match? Then we could finally get to the bottom of that bathroom problem…

Not enough Muster-d: Luck ran out for Austrian wild card (and former world no. 1) Thomas Muster in the opening round at Vienna today. He was taken down in two (hard-fought) sets against countryman and lucky loser Andreas Haider-Maurer. That didn’t stop Argentinean blog FueBuena to make sure that a Muster reel (from past and present) was up on the blog today, featuring a couple of ’90s gems against Sampras and two great points from his loss today. Keep trucking, Mr. 43!

short(er) balls: The Bryan Brothers put up this video yesterday from a commercial they were supposedly shooting with ESPN. The theme: a 1970s Doublemint gum spin off. Twins abound! | Some fans are really ticked off about the Tennis Channel ticker. Who knew?! Guess they just want their tennis, old-school. | This idea certainly isn’t ‘old school': the iBall. OnTheBaseline talks with two young minds that have an idea on how to change ball technology in the modern game. | This should be bright too: Maria Sharapova’s engagement ring. Sounds like Mr. Sharapova is well-trained when it comes to his lady’s taste for expensive ($250,000!) jewelry. | And really, we’d love to Andrea Petkovic become much more than Petkorazzi. Girl is upbeat and down to earth. Down with the JJ and up with the Petko. Guess we’ll see what happens, no?

(photo by bill kralovec via flickr)

davis cup: colombian color coordination

Babolat and Li Ning did a wonderful job bringing together the Colombian Davis Cup as they host the USA at the World Group Play-offs this weekend in Bogota. Santiago Giraldo defeated Sam Querrey 6-2, 6-4, 7-5, in the second rubber and is now serving at 6-5 in the fifth set against Mardy Fish. (The Americans are up 2-1, so Giraldo needs a win to give Colombia a chance to advance.)

More: All the tie info available here.

Yellow, red, and blue: See another shot of Santiago’s crew (Babolat) and doubles player Carlos Salamanca in Li Ning after the cut…

stepanek couldn’t step it up

Even with a tired Novak Djokovic anchoring the Serbs, Czech workhorse Radek Stepanek couldn’t continue his winning ways at the Belgrade Arena for this weekend’s Davis Cup semifinal tie, losing the fifth rubber against Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic 6-0, 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Serbia’s 3-2 victory will pit them against France in the finals this December (likely to be played on French soil).

More: See all the tie details here.

Radek’s rags: Meanwhile, check out Stepanek’s Alea kits — a polo with graphics (vintage Radek) for his singles rubbers and a more muted version for his doubles match with Tomas Berdych — all after the cut…