Monday, June 2, 2008

Hard To Keep My Eyes Open For The French Open

I have been working for the Tennis Channel on their coverage of the French Open, so I have seen a lot of tennis. During this time, I have not really been all that entertained...of course our live coverage starts at 2 a.m. because France is stupid and doesn't go by Pacific Standard Time, so that may be contributing to my sleepiness.

Maybe it is the same old generational bias thing (even though these players are my generation), but only one of the matches has been very interesting. Granted, we are not even to the quarterfinals yet, but there are no players who are really all that captivating. There is no must-see player. Roger Federer is great, but he is like a surgeon - it is a science out there and he just methodically puts his opponents to bed. Rafa Nadal is much more fiery, but I can't watch him and his clothes for two hours. He also plays at a slower pace than John Kruk working his way through a buffet line. Nikolay Davydenko is pretty fun to watch, and Novak Djokovic is very entertaining, but then there is no one else really.

The Americans are just depressing. Andy Roddick is unwatchable. James Blake, Robby Ginepri and Mardy Fish are just never going to get over the hump. Watching them play and thinking about how 10 years ago we had Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi makes it even sadder.

And the women are just as bad. This is supposedly a great time for women's tennis and while I could have watched Sunday's Ana Ivanovic-Petra Cetkovska match all day long, it isn't necessarily for the tennis. Justin Henin, one of the more graceful athletes and champions you will ever see retired at the ripe old age of 26 last month. Maria Sharapova is a fantastic player but listening to her is like hearing a puppy rolled down a hill in a bag. To say the least, I was not sad to see her lose today, and actually you can say the same of most players on tour (men and women). The Williams sisters are just as implosive as always, but they are not as good as they used to be. Venus is whithering away and will soon look more like Pluto (get it? Cuz Pluto is small?) and Serena looks like she is on the same diet as Andruw Jones. I cannot distinguish (or easily pronounce) all of the -Ovas and while there is some good talent spread around, the fact that the average fan can't remember who any of them are is telling. None of them is all that interesting (the exception being Ivanovic or course). After all, the biggest news in tennis this week was that American Ashley Harkleroad is posing for Playboy, not anything that happened on the clay.

That said, there is nothing better than the meltdowns that occur regularly on tennis courts. Tennis, like most sports, is very mental. But unlike many sports, the players are completely on their own and there is no helmet to hide behind. There is a lot of dead time and there are a lot of cameras. Dinara Safina almost went supernova this morning in her match against Sharapova when she lost four straight games after they returned to the court after an hour-and-a-half rain delay. Safina (famed for her emotions being very clear, to say the least) had already taken a warning for "racket abuse" because she had slammed her racket to ground, breaking it during the first set tie-breaker.

In a stunning turn of events, Safina composed herself, stormed back into the match, defended a match point in the second set to come back and win a tiebreaker, and then bull-rushed Sharapova in the third set to win 6-3. If Safina can keep from erupting and turn it all that emotion into whatever she turned it into today, she is a sure-fire Grand Slam champion.

All that said, tennis still makes for spectacular drama and wonderful television. It is easy to choose sides because you always wind up not liking one of the players even if you'd never heard of them before. For instance, the French men with their mediocre play but constant fist pumps make them eminently hate-able, to say nothing of their whining or frequent surrenders.

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