Wednesday, September 7, 2011

US Open trip, seeing Bud Collins and should-be commissioner Mary Carillo; Strasburg returns; Upcoming weekly football column

I know, it’s been a while. Things have been a little hectic plus, to be honest, there hasn’t been any one thing happening in sports the last 10 days or so that has made me want to jump to the keyboard and write.

The New York Times does a great job of covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament. There was a really good piece Tuesday morning written by Greg Bishop on exactly where American tennis is right now. Four American men reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2003—which is the last time an American man won a major title. (Andy Roddick).


And Serena Williams is almost certain to win the women’s title, an amazing comeback after being out for almost a year following her foot surgery and the serious scare she got last spring when she ended up in the hospital because of blood clots.

I wish I could get more excited.

I think Serena is an amazing player. God knows how many majors she might have won if she had decided to stay focused on tennis. I don’t fault her for not doing that—she’s got a zillion dollars, she can do whatever she wants—but I have always been bothered by the way she and her sister never give their opponents credit on the rare occasions when they lose a match. And the entire foot-fault incident two years ago was disgusting on every level from Serena’s non-apologies to half-apologies; to her agent literally putting a hand on a TV camera after the match; to the Grand Slam Committee letting her off the hook; to ESPN basically covering up for her at every turn since the incident.

So, if Serena goes on to win as I suspect she will, I will take note of her greatness. But I really won’t care.

Once upon a time I liked Roddick. I especially admired his grace in defeat after his epic loss to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009. Lately though, as his tennis has slipped, he’s become a pill. The way he behaved during HIS foot-fault incident last year wasn’t as bad as Serena’s but it wasn’t pretty. And he’s now taken to lecturing the media on what it should and should not think and say and write about the state of American tennis.

You want to shut the media up Andy? Win something.

I did make my annual trip to the Open last Wednesday. I got lucky—especially given the weather now—by being there on an absolutely perfect day. I wandered the backcourts for a while and only got into one brief tussle with security people. I was walking into what I thought was an entrance to the new court 17 to take a look at it when a guard—after I was several yards past him—said, ‘hey, this is an exit.’

I turned around and said, “there’s no ‘exit-only,’ sign.”

“Yeah well, I’m telling you it’s an exit.”

I walked out but couldn’t resist another comment. (Hey, it’s who I am). “Tell the USTA to spend 10 bucks on a sign. It will make everyone’s life a little easier.”

All of a sudden a guy in a jacket with a walkie-talkie came hustling over.

“Is there a problem sir?” he said.

“No problem,” I said. “You guys just need to spring for 10 bucks for an exit sign.”

“We don’t need one.”

“Apparently you do.”

I was tempted to stay and jaw with the guy for a while but decided it was too nice a day and I’d made my point. Sort of.

I made my way over to court seven and almost burst out laughing when I saw who was playing.

Ryan Sweeting.

For at least the last three years, maybe four, whenever I have been at the Open, regardless of the day, Ryan Sweeting has been playing on an outside court. I know his game almost as well as I once knew John McEnroe’s game although I’ve never seen him win a match. At least this year he got into the draw on his own and not through a wildcard.

Since it’s become a tradition I sat and watched Sweeting play for a while. He was playing someone named Daniel Istomin, who is from Uzbekistan and looked a lot like a young Miloslav Mecir—minus the beard and the almost mystical softball ground game that players found so baffling. Sweeting actually won the first set but then lost his serve at 4-all in the second and went down quickly after that. I look forward to seeing him again next year.

The highlight of the day—as always—was the chance to see my two favorite tennis people, Bud Collins and Mary Carillo. Bud is 82 now but the pants are loud as ever and he is still cranking out columns for The Boston Globe. He still gets fired up when he sees a young American player flash potential. His only concession to age is sitting in an aisle seat in the press room so he doesn’t have to climb over people getting to and from his seat.

Carillo is, well, Carillo. All kidding aside she should be the commissioner of tennis. She’s smarter than everyone running the game and cares about it more than any of them too. There was a story in The Times today about the fact that there are fewer top umpires at the U.S. Open than at any of the other majors because the USTA pay less than the other majors do.

The USTA’s response was to hide: The only person allowed to speak on the subject was the PR guy who basically said, “we’ve got enough good umpires here.”

Sure, because it’s okay to have second-rate umpires working the matches that aren’t at night or on TV right? It’s okay for Ryan Sweeting and Daniel Istomin to have second-rate umpires because they’re on court seven where I’m the only one guaranteed to show up and watch.

If Carillo had been in charge I promise you she would have answered the questions herself and probably would have said, “If that’s the case we need to fix it. We make millions on this tournament every year, we can re-invest a few extra bucks to make the umpiring as high class as possible for EVERY player—not just the glamour guys.

And I guarantee you she’d invest in an exit sign.

Oh, one more thing: For all the talk among the tennis apologists about how wonderful the game is, the only sessions of the Open that sold out were the weekends. The USTA was all but giving away tickets for the weekday and weeknight sessions. This is NOT The Legg Mason Classic, this is a MAJOR championship and they can’t sell it out most days. Not good.


Stephen Strasburg came back to pitch for The Washington Nationals on Tuesday a little more than a year after he had Tommy John surgery. Clearly, he hasn’t missed a beat. He was consistently throwing in the high 90s with control—40 strikes in 56 pitches. The kid is a freak. I just wish the Nats weren’t babying him so much on the mound (hell, they babied him last year and he got hurt anyway) and in the clubhouse where one pretty much needs a court order to say ‘hello,’ to Strasburg in anything but a formal press conference setting. He’s 23-years-old and he’s making millions of dollars. Time to start acting like an adult…

I’m going to be writing a weekly football column for The Washington Post this fall on Mondays. Looking forward to seeing all sorts of different games—NOT just the big name teams although I’ll obviously do some of that. This Saturday night I’m going to see Georgetown-Lafayette. (Hey, Patriot League stuff!). Georgetown’s an interesting story: It was forced to upgrade to Division 1-AA a few years back because you can’t have a D-1 basketball team and a D-3 football team. That’s made it tough. Two years ago the Hoyas were winless. Last year they were 4-7. I’m interested to see how much progress they’ve made since a year ago…

You may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve tried to resist the urge to take shots at ESPN lately, only because I think people roll their eyes when I do it all the time—not because they don’t deserve it. But I have to ask this question: If Sunday Night Baseball is, as ESPN claims, “baseball’s biggest stage,” just what exactly is The World Series?


JeffW said...

The US Open is this weekend?

Tim said...

I know I am a rare tennis fan, but thanks for the shout-out to the sport today. I mostly get and agree with everything you're saying, but I have one disagreement...I don't mind that Roddick gets prickly with the media (especially the ESPN crew). He has every right to question to competence of those that question his competence, in my opinion. I don't buy the theory that media/analysts have to be great at sport x to comment on sport x, but I like it when athletes dare to say an analysis is wrong, or one sided. It often is.

Michael said...

Why do matches at the U.S. Open start at such ridiculous times, such as Roger Federer starting a match at 11:50 p.m.? I know they want as many night matches as possible, but that is beyond silly.

Living in Bunkyland said...

Hey John,

Some reporter needs to look into the joke that is tennis. The women all look like the East German team, the men run like rabbits day after day and the testing is a joke. Like baseball in the 90s...

Freddie McCabe said...

Good stuff, Junior. Hit every note but The Sainted Earl. I mean that as a compliment.

PeteWill said...

It's interesting that you complement the NY Times for their coverage of the Open. My reaction is different. They cover tennis most weeks as a reflection of where tennis is as a sport in the minds of most Americans: way down the list in the "who really cares" segment. But during the Open they go wild and those of us that are much more interested in the Yanks, the Giants, The FedEx play-offs and college football have to accept wading through all the tennis garbage to get to what we want to see. Face it John, tennis is on a major downward trend and will only continue to sink.

Momus said...

The FedEx playoffs??? In the words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious!!

Anonymous said...

Georgetown became Division 1-AA in football in 1993. More than a "few years" ago? If Gtown treated any of its other sports as well as they do basketball, they migh actually be competitive.