last call for USA



If only we could get CBS to step aside…

As great a tournament the Open has been this year, when considering the event in its entirety, you’ve got to start with the coverage (the face of the event, after all). I don’t know if it’s because of the conventions, but I’ve been more conscious of how the tournament has been delivered to me this year than ever before.

In case you haven’t heard, this is USA Network’s last year covering the Open. With its bevy of weaknesses aside — I’ll get to a few in a sec — can we just say thank god for USA’s day and weeknight coverage? CBS’ work might not be different from years past, but the grating horn section of their intro and outro, the overexposed light, Mary Joe’s pre- and post-match interviews, Dick Enberg — how much of it can one take?

Thanks for the relief, USA, but here are a few things your replacement can improve upon:

– When Mueller and Davydenko were 9-10 in the fourth set tiebreak, the producer switched over to the start of the Andreev/Federer first set tiebreak, despite McEnroe’s request to stay put. (They did show the end of the tiebreak on tape, but the piss had been taken.)

– The night-match guests invited to join Ted Robinson and John in the booth really tested our patience and sanity: the Ryder Cup captain left me yawning and Boris Becker’s visit felt bloated.

– McEnroe and Jim Courier both have good and bad: Mac offers great insight and passion until he eventually devolves into his usual self-aggrandizement, occasionally revisiting earlier top form. Courier gets major points for his latest insights, my favorite being pointing out that guys ranked in the 80s in the world could be starters on an NBA team (a sentiment I’ve been aware of for a while). On the other hand, he’s still Mr. Smug.

By the way, I’m really intrigued by all the personal bits that Courier alludes to in his commentary, so I’m asking my readers for the latest info on this man: is his Manhattan apartment a duplex? penthouse? both? What kind of art does he collect? What Rosetta Stone tape is he currently working on?

Hope you enjoyed USA’s last night of coverage, and that CBS doesn’t give you too much of a hangover.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here.

On lucky net cords, and more than you ever wanted to know about [Derrick] Rostagno



Before being summarily dismissed by China’s Jie Zheng in the 3rd round of this year’s Wimbledon, soon-to-be-former-but-still-current No. 1 Ana Ivanovic’s claim to fame was the miraculous netcord that saved her while match point down against Natalie Dechy in the prior round.

Several ESPN pundits were all over the potentially perfect reference: the 2nd round of the 1989 US Open, when Boris Becker was down match point to Hollywood’s own Derrick Rostagno.

Up a match point in the fourth-set tiebreaker (the first of two match points), Rostagno served and volleyed; Becker’s passing shot — which Rostagno was well in place to knock off — hit the net cord and took a severely angled bounce well over Rostagno’s head. Becker went on to win the tiebreak, the match, and marched all the way to the championship over Lendl. Becker was 21 at the time, so we could give Ivanovic, at just 20, a bit longer to come into her own.

And what about Mr. Rostagno? He rode his VW bus around to tournaments in the West (an RV in the East), and wore puka-shell necklaces. Often referred to as a “free spirit,” he was perhaps lucky in that there wasn’t anywhere near as much dug up on players as there is today. But there is some additional lore with Rostagno that has lingered: in 1986, he was in Mexico City on a flight layover before returning back to the States. At the last minute, he decided to stay in Mexico and play in a satellite tournament there. The MEX to LAX leg of the flight crashed in Cerritos, Calif., killing everyone on board and then some.

Another recollection features Michael Joyce — now famed as Maria Sharapova’s coach — back when he was struggling to move up through the challenger circuit. Joyce had just taken the players’ bus to the event where he was entered, when who should pull up than none other than Mr. Rostagno, driving a Porsche no less; here’s a fellow American who’s made it, drawing Joyce’s admiration and envy.

Rostagno has since gone on to get an MBA, work in leveraged buyouts, gone to law school, and passed the California bar. The latest report mentions him following his father into litigation. No one said life after tennis is pretty.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here.

who wears the cranky pants in the atp family?



(Editor: Michael wrote this before unseeded Gael Monfils defeated fifth seed David Ferrer in the quarters.)

Nole, in adidas, defeats Latvian Ernest Gulbis in the French Open quarterfinals 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-5.

We’re halfway through the quarters and, alas, there are no major surprise survivors left. So that tends to leave us to focus on the known quantities and how they’re shaking down, or out, or something along those lines.

Novak Djokovic (that’s JOCK-ovich, thankyouverymuch), along with showing off his solid and semi-dominant play, has also been demonstrating a fair portion of on-court arrogance: you’ve got the looks of frustration, of disbelief, and of downright annoyance that the lesser opponent across the net has actually won the point, one that was so rightfully his. You may have noticed that Tennis Channel has introduced a new feature in their coverage this year: the slow-motion reaction shot. I don’t believe ESPN2’s got it. We get to see any emotional/competitive bent that’s emanating from a given player after they’ve just won or (mostly) lost a point — every smirk, every scowl, every eye roll. And Djokovic seems to have the full arsenal, as wide a variety as his game itself.

Look, I too fell in love with the Jocker (the nickname still works!), both through his personality and his brilliant imitations; loved those verite shots of him hamming it up for a player in the locker room at the U.S. Open. But his on-court persona has gotten a long, long way from the off-the-court guy. (That said, if you happened to catch Bill Macatee’s interview with him, you might have seen a bit more cockiness than you would have liked.) Maybe with his rapid ascension, it’s just a matter of the maturity catching up. In any case, you may be able to guess who I’ll be rooting for come semifinal #1.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here.

Roland Garros: enjoy the ride



Having skipped coverage of the clay court season leading up to the French, I’ve come to the table with an empty stomach. As some of you may recall from last summer’s U.S. Open, it is possible to overdose on watching tennis.

And now, with the recent news and results of the circuit having faded from our consciousness and as RG gets under way, a parade of unheralded players burst out of the woodwork and onto the stage: Eysseric of France, who just turned 18; Eduardo Schwank of Argentina, taking down Moya; the welcome-but-sadly-brief return of Guillermo Coria; and many more names that have never passed our ears. You have to get up pretty early in the morning, troll a number of obscure tennis resources, and generally do a lot of homework to keep up with everyone. (The commentators certainly don’t do it, so I don’t feel too bad not having done it myself.)

I smell some late-round surprise survivors for this year, a la Filip Dewulf (’97 semifinalist) or Martin Verkerk (finalist ’03). And along with that some big-time upsets. But watching the first round matches play out with a sense of inevitability, a few early exits excepted, we’d be deluding ourselves to think that anyone but Rafael Nadal will be biting the Coupe des Mousquetaires on June 8th. So it’s all about enjoying the ride.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times, and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here.

What happened to the "us" in USA?



Does anyone else feel shut out of tennis’ most nationalistic event?

I’m no expert on Portland, but I’ve read, and heard, that it’s a great place to live: beautiful surroundings; un-congested and easily commutable; and a down-to-earth and eco-conscious vibe. But it doesn’t come cheap. And the job market is apparently quite small and cramped.

If you were to read economist-cum-socialist Michael D. Yates‘ account of Portland in his recent travel memoir, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate, you would likely be discouraged from moving to Portland without a good job in hand. Particularly challenging, says Yates, is the world of high-end restaurant work, in which talented workers were making $7 an hour in ’04, and where it “wasn’t uncommon for restaurants to replace sous chefs when their pay got into the upper $20,000s.” (Read more on a Portland from an excerpt on Yates’ blog).

It’s not surprising, nor inappropriate, in this light, that the U.S. is hosting this weekend’s Davis Cup tie final in Portland. Three-day passes ranged from $90-$600 in price, so the event will be filled with wealthy locals, even wealthier out-of-towners jetting in on “tennis tours,” plus a couple dozen nouveau riche Russians who are even wealthier still.

Isn’t it at least somewhat ironic, in a country where tennis has gradually, in fits and starts, become less of an elitist sport, that when it comes to its nationalist forum — the Davis Cup — its spectators will be made up mostly of retired and semi-retired WASPs (Patrick McEnroe, who’s Irish Catholic, excepted)?

When it comes to media coverage, meanwhile, tennis is clearly on the downswing: Not only is ESPN — in the past a standby for U.S. Davis Cup action — out of the picture, even Tennis Channel has been relegated to carrying the Tie only in its delayed form. To watch it live, you’ll have to have a thick cable/dish package that contains the scrappy little sports channel known as VERSUS, which would require an additional order to my current dish package.

I guess this fine little bottleneck for us devoted fans is due to the “waning interest in tennis for many Americans” that NPR’s Tom Goldman cites on today’s Morning Edition. Okay, American media conglomerate, I’ll take your hint. I’ve had my fill for now, and I’m fine with resting up for a good six weeks until the Aussie Open gets going, anyway.

As far as the Tie itself, thanks to the doubles lineup, you have to give the Americans the edge. As much as I respect Blake and would feel bad if he takes another tough Tie loss, Youzhny is my favorite player, and has a lot of Cup confidence, so sorry James, but you’re going down.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times, and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here. And TSF’s Davis Cup coverage is here.