‘Hand of God’ Touches Nadal as He Upsets Roddick

Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal

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As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

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SEVILLA, SPAIN – Andy Roddick has never fought harder in a Davis Cup match and has never experienced a team loss like he did in his 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (6) 6-2 defeat to Spanish 18-year-old Rafael Nadal on Friday in the US-Spain Davis Cup final. Roddick pushed, pulled, sweated and strained to dictate the action on the super slow clay in the three-hour, 38-minute contest, but the lightening quick lefty had too much from him from the backcourt. The extremely nationalistic and emotionally involved crowd of 27,200 cheered Roddick’s every fault. He was restrained for a man who usually makes his living debating the finer points of line-calling with chair umpires. He cut loose on the balls instead, but Nadal chopped him down nonetheless.

“Emotionally I’m pretty down,” Roddick said. ” I wanted to get one for the team. I leave everything out there, and I take a lot of pride in that. I just ran into a guy today that was too good. I couldn’t have tried any harder.  I gave it everything I had.  It just wasn’t enough on the day.”

As a result of Roddick’s dramatic loss and Fish’s routine 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Carlos Moya in the opening match, the US will go into Saturday’s doubles in a 0-2 hole. It’s a hole as deep as they’ve ever been in and one they are not likely to climb out of.

For most of the match against Nadal, Roddick went above and beyond his capabilities on the surface. He’s never hit that many half-volley winners in his life. But in the end, the US’ big gun had his power muted on the wet clay by an 18-year-old with a world of spunk and shotmaking abilities. 

Roddick and Nadal contested two of the most athletic and spectacular tiebreaker of the year. Both men dove, reflexed volleys and pulled off hooking passing shots that caressed the lines.  In the first set breaker, Roddick came back from 3-5 down when the youngster got nervous and committed a series of errors. At that moment, it seemed like the 2003 US Open champion might have a shot at winning the contest based on experience alone.

But as one Spanish journalist said as they walked off the court, the hand of god touched Nadal. Gone was his youthful erratic swings and mental letdowns. In the tradition of his uncle, Miguel, who was nicknamed “The Beast” when he raged for the Barcelona soccer team, the now muscular Rafael was a lion. He hammered and hooked his forehand every way possible, and powered his once weaker backhand deep and with authority. He displayed remarkable touch with his sleight of hand drop shot. Roddick kept charging and serving bullets, but Nadal sped around with hungry determination, consistently getting returns in play and waiting for a chance to dip balls at Roddick’s feet and then swipe a passes beyond the reach of taller and equally ferocious American.

“He played well.  It’s very impressive,” Roddick said.  “Every once in a while people come along and they’re big-match players.  He apparently looks like he’s a big-match player. He’s come through. This is the third time this year he’s stepped up in singles [in Davis Cup] and played well.  I think you either have it or you don’t, regardless of age.  Maybe it helps him in a way.”

With the fans sounding like a group of wasps on a mosquito hunt, the match turned in the third set. Nadal had eight chances to break Roddick, but the American team leader came up with tape-snapping serves and ambitious volley winners. Roddick fought off seven of the eight break points with winners, earning himself another nail biting tiebreaker. He was inches from winning the third set and had he done so, may have won the contest. Up 5-4 and with two serving points on his racket, Roddick doubled faulted to 5-5. He quickly responded by scooping up a low volley and forcing Nadal into a forehand error. On set point at 6-5, Nadal went to his drop shot, Roddick charged, and couldn’t lift a forehand passing shot over the net cords. The Spaniard then crushed a swing volley winner and a backhand crosscourt to win the set.

“Obviously that was going to swing the momentum either way – and fast,” Roddick said.  “You were playing those two points for the next two sets. They were pretty crucial.  I just missed that [set point], so that was big.”

The match essentially ended there as Roddick’s confidence level plunged and Nadal soared along with the crowd. Roddick slowed considerably and Nadal became the new darling of Spanish tennis, celebrating like he won the Grand Slam.

There is a glimmer of hope on Saturday, because Nadal might be tired when he and Tommy Robredo go up against the Bryan Brothers, former Roland Garros champions who might be able to pull out a win. But even if that occurs, Sunday looms. To think that the Bryans will emerge victorious and Roddick and Fish can both win their singles matches on Sunday is wishful thinking, but if you’re a US fan, there’s nothing left to ponder. In the 104 years of Davis Cup competition, an 0-2 comeback has happened only once in the World Group, in 1939, when Australia came back to shock the US.  It’s only happened eight times in the World Group period and here’s a shocking fact: the hard court bred boys of the US have never pulled it off on clay.  They did it once in an inter-zonal match in 1934 against Australia on grass. The US is 1-30 when they are 0-2 down. They are underdogs of the scraggly and wounded variety.

With the temperatures dropping into the mid 40s, US captain Patrick McEnroe nearly froze sitting five hours courtside. But he needs to gets his team fired up as quickly as possible because the last thing the US wanted coming here was to travel across the Atlantic, spend all week get used to sliding on dirt and have their buts kicked in a shutout.

“We know our backs are against the wall,” McEnroe said. “But we’re going to come out and we’re going to fight for every point. We’re going to come out and hopefully play a great doubles match.  And Sunday will be a new day. There’s no big mystery of what we need to do. We came here knowing the difficulty and knowing the challenge.  We’re still going to relish the opportunity.  We’ve still got an opportunity to make history.”

With a Little Help from My Friends


Roddick can still dig down and fight. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

There’s nothing that compares to the excitement and anticipation in tennis when it comes to the four majors, and there is nothing more at stake either. Then there are the exhibitions in the sport which, aside from Word Team Tennis, typically occur in the short off-season (December).

Even the most rabid tennis fan can’t be blamed for not caring about these exos as they are often scripted, and there is no reward for winning matches and/or competing at the highest level. The feeling here is that a tennis exhibition event has but one purpose: to entertain. “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” took place at the UCLA Tennis Center this past weekend and featured Sharapova, along with former world No. 1 Andy Roddick, world No.4 and 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, Mardy Fish American rising stars Madison Keys, Jack Sock, Sloane Stephens, and Shelby Rogers along with Britain’s Laura Robson.

I was intrigued. This was a legitimate card, and the event planners played an even stronger hand by recruiting Fish to replace Michael Chang in the opening singles match against Roddick. This match did not disappoint. While Roddick was rusty, his competitive spirit shone brightly. Fish was only of  removed from playing on the tour and looked as if he had never left the game.

This skirmish between old rivals did not disappoint. I would pay money to watch these former high school buddies play Scrabble.


Host Sharapova was a main draw. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

The match was settled in a deciding set, ten-point tiebreak, in which Fish had to save a match point before closing out the contest. It was tough act to follow, or so it seemed.

The host of the event was pitted against the promising AmericanMadison Keys. While their playing styles and physiques are similar, the comparisons end there. Even though the temperature was plummetingthe level of play did not. It was like deja vu; the match went the distance and Keys also held a match point, but she ultimately came up short and, like Roddick, lost the final set in a match tiebreak. The day concluded with a celebrity hit and giggle doubles match. The tennis was nothing to write about, but the entertainment value of the match was crowd pleasing.

While Sundays matches featuring Sock vs. Nishikori and Stephens vs. Rodgers did not have the same competitive spirit of day one, they more than made up for it with humor and flashy shot making.
The final match of the day was a mixed double match between Sharapova and Nishikori vs. Robson and Sock. Sock demonstrated why he is a Wimbledon double champion and was clearly the best double player on the court. The only double fault that plagued the exhibition was not having microphones on the players, particularly in all the double matches. The event could have served the fans and TV viewers better by simply miking the players. Unless one had a court side seat, most of the good-natured banter between the players was missed. The good news is that it’s an easy fix.

To her credit, Sharapova pulled off the weekend with a little help from her friends.

To catch re-airings of “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” go to www.tennischannel.com for times and dates.

Brad Falkner has worked in tennis media since 2002.

The 1,000 Club: Federer wins major mark, takes down Raonic


With his last Wimbledon crown more than two years ago, Roger continues to conquer.

Brisbane International – There was Roger Federer in another final, and he won again. This time it’s a huge win. He has won all sorts of incredible victories like, for example, grabbing a record 17 Grand Slams. You cannot touch that.

But on Sunday night in Brisbane, he walked on the court knowing that he had a great chance. Yes, he was favored to beat Milos Raonic in the final. The tennis world has been buzzing about his 999 wins and fans talking about his rich history. One more win and 1,000 victories.

The Swiss has scored wins against 12 No. 1 competitors: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Marcelo Rios, Carlos, Moya, Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That’s a heady accomplishment.

He showed up first in 2000 in Australia, when he was still a baby, only 18 years old. He had a very good time, but he wasn’t ready to take over yet. He ran around and he was smiling all over the place. He lost to Thomas Enqvist in Adelaide, to Ferrero in Auckland and to Arnaud Clement in the third round of the Australian Open. Eight months later, he was back down in Australia, when he played the Sydney Olympics, where he met his now wife, Mirka Vavrincova, when she was still playing on the tour. Quiet a night.

Mirka eventually retired. They now have four kids. But, Federer went on and on. He was not perfect, but he’s been excellent, capturing his first Slam in 2003 at Wimbledon. Then, he took off. He won majors at Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open all over place, and he even grabbed a Roland Garros once. Sure, Rafael Nadal has dominated in Paris (nine Slams at Roland Garros, thank you very much) but Federer did manage to grab one extremely important one on the dirt. He has won dozens of hard court trophies, and he understood exactly how to play on grass as well.

He has not won another Grand Slams since 2012, but he is right there with the other so-called Big 4 – Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. Even though the 33-year-old is older than they are and hanging No. 2, he still matters a great deal. Because he keeps trying.

Federer bested Raonic in a very close match 6‑4, 6‑7, 6‑4. The Canadian wanted it badly but Federer knew exactly how to step in.

“I think the way he’s come back and just all aspects that Roger does, from the sets of twins he has, everything he does is unbelievable,” Raonic said.

Federer says that he is not sure how long he will last. You would think that he will play this year, and certainly next year when the Olympics will arrive again. By that time, he could definitely pass Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Slams champ. Lendl retired with 1,071 career wins.

“You work hard and prepare hard to play consistently,” Lendl told the ATP. “I remember when I played over 100 matches per year in the 1980s and never thought about it. Obviously, getting to 1,000 wins is more difficult than it seems. It’s really rare. But I looked at it as a by-product of winning so many matches and being consistent for that long.”

Jimmy Connors played until he was 40. That was a very long time. He ended at 1,253 wins. Who know if Federer will be around for another five to seven years and keep swinging away as more and more young player arrive. Even if he doesn’t, he achieved another victory – just trying as hard as he could, year after year.

“Never even thought about it, because like I said it’s not been a goal of mine to reach any of those guys,” Federer said. “Next thing you know you’re in the top 3. I know how well they’ve played over the years, how much they’ve played, and how successful they’ve played.

“So it’s not a goal of mine in any way. Clearly at this point I doubt that it’s going to happen, but you never know. I have no idea, like I said, how long I’m going to keep on playing. The goal is to remain in the game as long as possible. For that I need to stay injury‑free. I need to be hungry, motivated, and all that. For the moment I am, so that’s more of a concern than reaching that number.”

TR Retro: Djokovic in 2008-2009: Novak reflects on Roddick controversy & career in transition


Djokovic was a bit more raw back at the 08 Open


Editor’s Note: In a recent discussion on his new Fox Sports Live show, former No. 1 Andy Roddick says that he and Novak Djokovic once got into a physical confrontation in the the US Open locker room, where Roddick pinned the Serbian against a locker.  At that time, Djokovic had developed a reputation for retiring too frequently, and the American wondered before his loss to Djokovic in the quarters in a joking manner if his foe might have  “a back and a hip? And a cramp, bird flu or SARS?” Here is the news story on the incident and what Roddick had to say on his Fox show about the incident.  The following article was written after a one on one interview with Djokovic in the spring of 2009.

Novak Djokovic is controversial, but he doesn’t want to be.

The world No. 3 has a strong desire to be his sport’s superior player, but he can’t yet stomach everything that comes with it — to be in the spotlight every waking moment, good and bad.

In public, the 21-year-old Serbian can’t be the funny guy anymore. There will be no more hilarious impressions of his friend Maria Sharapova’s serve, of his rival Andy Roddick’s twitches, of a frenitic Nadal tugging at his wedgies and especially of his locker room nemesis Roger Federer flicking his hair or clapping his racket in celebration.

“I’m in the transition,” Djokovic said. “It’s not easy because I’m very emotional. Some things really hurt me, and maybe I express myself a little bit too much — people didn’t get used to that. But at the end of the day, you sit and think to yourself, ‘I’ve reacted the way I felt that’s right.’ Maybe it’s wrong, but you learn from your mistakes. That’s why life is testing us all the time.”

Djokovic has gone from being the tour’s boy wonder after winning his first Grand Slam title at the ‘08 Australian Open to the most vulnerable member of the sport’s so-called Big 4, which also includes Rafael Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray.

Since winning his first major, Djokovic has been a trademark up-and-down player. After winning the ‘08 Indian Wells title, he could surely claim the unofficial moniker of best player of the first quarter of last season, and the relentless baseliner looked like he might be prepared to knock Federer and Nadal out of the two top spots.

But then he began to wear down, partly due to the tremendous pressure he put on himself to snag the No. 1 ranking. A title run at the Rome Masters Series was followed by a brutal loss to Nadal at Roland Garros, which was followed by an upset at the hands of Marat Safin at Wimbledon. Then Nadal stepped on him again in a terrific Olympic semi.

Nearly spent but still determined, the Serbian reached the U.S. Open semis, but after confronting a hostile (“Andy’s our man”) nighttime crowd after his quarterfinal victory over Roddick in the quarters, he didn’t have the will to defeat Federer again and was buried.

Before his match against Djokovic, Roddick had been asked about his foe’s latest injury. By that time, Djokovic had developed a reputation for retiring too frequently, and the American wondered in a joking manner if his foe might have the “bird flu or SARS.”

Roddick’s typically caustic comments were well publicized and cycled right back to Djokovic, who was enraged. After he won the quarterfinal, he went right at the crowd and well-lubricated boos reigned down from the rafters.

“Maybe the experience from the U.S. Open with Andy was something that I really didn’t wish for and really didn’t look for,” Djokovic said. “But it hurt me. His comments hurt me in that moment, and it was a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, there was a lot at stake; it was the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, lot of emotions, lot of frustrations going on. At the end of the day, maybe if you could turn back things, maybe you wouldn’t do something like that, but I just felt emotion in that moment.”

Even before he won his first major, he was criticized for bouncing the ball too much before serving and for saying that the then untouchable Federer was vulnerable. His parents, father Srdjan and mother Dijana, were said to be overly enthusiastic while watching their son courtside. Last year, an irritated Federer even hushed them (“Quiet!!!”) during a Monte Carlo match.

But the Djokovics are from a different part of the world, Serbia, where beating one’s chest while celebrating the righteousness of the homeland is part of every day life. There are outspoken Serbians like the Djokovics, who attend political  rallies  supporting their country’s controversial claim that Kosovo is part of its territory, and others, like Ana Ivanovic’s family,  which tend=== to speak more to peace than to confrontation.

But despite their personality differences, Ana and Novak remain close, having known each other since they were four, as Ivanovic’s father and Djokovic’s uncle went to school with each other.

One day at a 12-and-under tournament in Serbia, the two  went out to warm-up prior to one of Ivanovic’s matches.  “I had quite an easy opponent and I warmed up with Novak and I gave 100 percent and I couldn’t move in the match and I lost,” recalled Ivanovic with a laugh. “I wanted to beat him but he’s a boy and stronger and I was running crazy and it was unbelievable hit, but afterward I was gone.”

Djokovic clearly recalls the contest and the days  he spent laughing with his childhood friend, long before she won the French Open  and became No. 1.

“I remember her parents coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, what a serve you have.’ It’s fun because we have great friendship all our life. We’ve been through a lot===, a lot of junior events and it’s fantastic to see somebody that you’ve grown up with doing so well. We talk and remind ourselves of stories and situations we have before — matches, and practices, makes you laugh, makes you say — ‘wow, it was so long time ago.’”

Then, there was no discussion of Serbia climbing to the top of the tennis world. Novak and Ana  lived working to middle class existences and even their driven parents how no idea that they would excel, not when they were scratching out livings in war-torn cities and mountain areas. But the kids had an inkling of better days ahead.

“You could see that desire in her and myself, that there was this hunger for success, this hunger to succeed and that’s exactly what brought us here,” Djokovic said.  “We didn’t have good conditions at all to grow up, to practice. We got coaches, we were lucky to have some people that really were good for us at certain stages and taught us. But it’s more parents who really helped us out a lot. Her parents and mine are very strong personalities, very active, very helpful. They were never pushy — on my side, they never pushed me to play because nobody played tennis in my family. But they were just supporting the fact that I love playing so I’ve been grateful for that.”

Djokovic isn’t sure that after he retires, whether he’ll go into politics, but credit him for not putting his head in the sand like a lot of 21-year-olds do and joining the ATP Players Council, where he sits with his rivals Nadal and Federer. He’s also become an active businessman, as he and his family bought an ATP tournament and will run the first time event in Belgrade in May, an accomplishment he is most proud of.

He’s not saying yes to a post retirement career in the Serbian’s political hotbed, but he’s not saying never, either

“You don’t know where the holy path will take you,” he noted.  “But for now I love being in sport and love this surrounding. But on the other hand, traveling, meeting new people, you can learn so much from this sport, from this way of living.”

Djokovic learned a big lesson last year, when his  impersonations — those wildly entertaining, near perfect characterizations that had the crowds in stitches. But some top (slightly up tight) players weren’t exactly chuckling, especially Federer. And when Roger talks, people listen.

“It’s not just players,” Djokovic said. “It was a lot of speculation, and I just didn’t like the fact that people thought I’m doing that to make fun of somebody. … I don’t blame anybody, but it’s all in the circle of positive, and laughing and smiling and enjoying life.

“I don’t want to do it more because I don’t want to create unbalance and turn the people against me for no reason. I’m really in a good relationship with most of the players. I’m an honest guy, I open up and I say what I need to say. And this is the philosophy of my life — be what you are.”

Unfortunately, some other things were beyond his control. There was the conclusion of Djokovic’s extraordinary ’08 Aussie Open title run, which included a remarkable upset of Federer in the semis and beat down of big Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.

A couple of hours after that match, Dijana was approached by IT and, full of celebratory fervor, issued a line in reference to Federer that still haunts her son to this day: “The king is dead. Long live the new king.”

When reminded of the comment, Novak spoke of his mom’s honesty and openness. “I think you can see that in me as well. You can see the connection.”

But outright honesty and a win-at-all-costs attitude can be costly, which is why Djokovic is still trying to fashion a personality that will allow him to be liked on court and off.

After the U.S. Open fiasco, Djokovic scraped for much of the fall, but he finally picked himself off the canvas and won the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.

Then came his Aussie Open title defense and his body failed him miserably, as he retired in the quarters against Roddick due to heat exhaustion when many felt he should have played on. He won the Dubai title, but at Indian Wells, he fell to Roddick again, admitting he played miserably.

At this point, going up against America’s top player in the U.S. appears too much for him, not because Roddick has a larger skill set, but because Djokovic has essentially psyched himself out, thinking that crowd is out to get him.

Djokovic is certainly good enough to eventually grab the No. 1 ranking and win more Slams. He’s a tremendous defensive player who is capable of going on the offensive when his foes least expect it. When his head is in matches, he’s a master of point construction. He’s extremely fast and sturdy and has improved his first serve and volleys a great deal.

But the Serbian – who shares a PR manager with Nadal –  has slipped behind the Spaniard, owning a 4-11 record against him (all those wins coming on hardcourts). If he can’t start taking bites out of Rafa’ legs, there’s no way he’s going to reach No. 1.

“Rafa’s improved drastically on hardcourts and fast surfaces,’ Djokovic said.  “It’s amazing, his dedication. It’s fantastic the way he’s motivated, the way he behaves on the court, so focused, sportsmanship, and everything in general. No bad words for this guy. But look, we are rivals at the end of the day. I’ve beaten him a couple of times on [hard courts] which is encouraging. But even on clay I don’t think he’s unbeatable. No one is unbeatable. Physically, everybody is very fit, hard workers, focused. The difference is mental ability. The difference from the five to six guys on top and the rest, in these certain moments, you know how to play, how to behave, how to act on court. That’s the advantage.”

A pretty intelligent and privately thoughtful  guy, Djokovic knows how to win and has the tools to do so, but if he’s unable to successfully negotiate a personal transition that he’s comfortable with, he may never achieve his goals.

“Everybody is different,” he said. “It depends from which part of the world you are coming. I’ve been through some things that people never will, probably. I came from a country, which is going through a lot of tough times — wars. I’m going to say to myself, ‘Look, maybe these things were meant to be, and these things help me know to appreciate the life much more. I know that being positive and enjoying the life is something that everybody wishes for.”

The lost way in San Jose

SAP Open hallway

Agassi’s retirement left SJ without major calling card.


Tennis continues go ‘go global’ as it were, which means that there was enough interest in the ATP 500 sanction from Memphis to allow its owners to sell it to IMG and its partner and move it Rio, while at the same time deciding to kill a 124-year-old tournament in the San Francisco Bay Area, the SAP Open in San Jose.

Clearly, there is enough interest worldwide to be able to take what has a somewhat valuable sanction (meaning an ATP 500 where a decent amount of good players compete) and sell it off, which could be seen as a good thing for the sport.

But as it stands today, it is not because there is no hard evidence that Rio de Janiero, Brazil, will actually have enough willing fans to go out and pay a decent sum to see, say Thomaz Bellucci, a good but not great player who does not pack them in like Guga Kuerten did and probably never will.

No, the reason why IMG and its Brazilian partner EBX, will operate a combined ATP and WTA event in Rio beginning in 2014, is because they are hopeful with the upcoming buzz about the World Cup that sponsors will flock to sporting events like theirs. And maybe that is a good play for them, and maybe the tournament will survive for more than a 100 years, but given the historical up and down nature of the Brazilian economy (mostly down), I doubt it.

So after this week, on February 16, 2013, when San Jose shuts its doors, what it will mean is that the Silicon Valley, which is often called the engine of the US economy (and therefore the world), and the Bay Area, which has a thriving tennis scene, will no longer have a men’s event to call there own. And that is sad and ridiculous because the fact of the matter is that when good player fields were bought in, people attended the tournament, which is why it survived so long in various locals such as Monterey, San Rafael, Berkeley, Albany, San Francisco and then very appropriately named Shark Tank, whose hockey obsessed owners ended up opening their jaws and tearing it limb from limb without much a care for the effect on tennis.

I’ve covered the tournament for 21 years and while clearly I am somewhat biased toward Northern California (I have also lived in the Bay Area for a little more than 21 years), but I don’t think I pulled many punches when it came to covering the event, meaning that when it had excellent player fields like during Sampras-Agassi-Courier- Chang era, I said so, and when it was depending on players outside of the Big 4 and mostly out of the top 20 for the past five years, I felt it was flailing at windmills in regards to attendance.

Consider this: why would a hardcore tennis fan want to shell out say $150 (with parking and food) to see two players whom he knows have no chance to win a major face off, or why would a fly-by-night sports fan decide to do the same with two players he has never heard of? He would not.

So if San Jose Sports & Entertainment Enterprises are claiming economic reasons (they have yet to state declining attendance, but at best it’s been flat during the past five years) for the sale, then maybe they should blame themselves for not pursuing enough big names with appearance fees, or for spending too much on secondary players who might be talented but are not that well known.  Or maybe they should just come out and say they were tired of having to send their hockey team on a two week roadie, which people in the know realize is the truth. Here’s an example of that: in Bay Area sports lexicon, the Sharks leaving town for two weeks became known as the dreaded ‘tennis trip.’ Fans of the team, some players on the team, and some owners of the team annually complained about the Sharks coming back tired and at times with a losing record. What got lost in all of this so-called common wisdom was that the tennis tournament only ran for one week  and Disney on Ice annually ran during the other. The “Mickey Mouse” trip might have been more appropriate.

When the Sharks group bought the tournament from longtime promoter and former top-10 player Barry MacKay  in 1995, the Sampras-vs. Agassi rivalry was in full bloom and the event did pack ‘em in. MacKay could no longer manage the tournament’s finances himself, which is why he made the sale, not because he wanted out of the business. The Sharks group had deep pockets and were leasing and running an arena, while Mackay did not and was not.

So with Agassi and Sampras coming back year after year and a number of other Slam threats or Slam winners taking titles such as Mark Philippoussis, Greg Rusedski, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, the tournament manage to corral big sponsors and had good attendance.

But…then the wildly popular Agassi retired, Roddick began to be eclipsed by the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Murray became too pricey and no US male stepped in in huge way at a major, so tournament director Bill Rapp – a true tennis aficionado and former teaching pro who worked his butt off and was super creative–  had few places to turn.  If the Sharks were not going to give him a cool million to go and grab Federer, he had to settle for paying much smaller amounts to less well known Fernando Verdasco and Gael Monfils, among others.

Fortunately, young Canadian sensation Milos Raonic won the event the last two years so it did attract some media attention, but fans were not that familiar with him, so the weekdays were a struggle and walk up sales on weekends were minimal.

Here’s another major factor that has rarely been mentioned: Sharks CEO Greg Jamison, who actually liked tennis and helped bring the event to the city, left the organization in 2010 to pursue other interests. There were no more serious tennis fans left in the ownership group and the tournament was all but dead in the water. Then they let go of Rapp, who at a good understanding of the market and done as well as he could with so-so fields. This week, the new and very temporary tournament director had the audacity to tell the Bay Area News Group (the SJ Mercury News and other papers)  — which by the way outside of Darren Sabreda doesn’t have a single person on staff who has a clue about tennis — that this 2013 field is one of the best in years.  Given that there are no top 10 players in the field, that’s a stretch. The 2003 field is highlighted by Raonic, John Isner, Sam Querrey and Tommy Haas. No disrespect to any of those good players, but from a fan perspective I’d take 2007 with Roddick, Murray, Marat Safin and James Blake as having more marquee value.

Here is the worst thing about any tournament leaving any locale, whether its in San Jose or Marbella, which folded after last year: all those kids who might have come to the tournament and got a fresh look at how great the sport is and began lifelong fans will no longer have chance to do so. Yes, the excellent Bank of the West Classic, a WTA event remain at Stanford,  still exists, but  with the similar exit of the ATP stop in Los Angeles, the only men’s event in California, which is the cradle of elite player development, is Indian Wells, a fantastic tournament but one that is a nine-hour drive from the Bay Area.

Many fans around the globe do not have a tournament they can drive to and those who do are very lucky. I can’t tell you how many people have told me over the years at Stanford or San Jose how much they looked forward to the tournament and wished that they could go to a Grand Slam annually, but couldn’t afford it or make it happen. San Jose was their US Open.

But this should also be said: no group in the United States stepped up to try and buy San Jose and only one group expressed a bit of interest in LA, which is headed to Bogota.  ATP 250 level events are not as attractive stateside as they used to be.

San Jose was also a gathering place for almost everyone who mattered, or wanted to matter in Nor Cal tennis and I will certainly miss the camaraderie in the pressroom. I got a lot of good work done there and because smaller tournaments tend to allow for close access to the players, I met and established solid working relationships with a number of excellent players because I was one of the few so called tennis journalists around.

Two more things need to be said: at one level, the existence of the Big 4  is driving global interest in the sport to new heights, but at another, the dominance of the big tournaments is also hurting the smaller ones (ATP 250s) because most of those events cannot afford them, or Djokovic/Federer/Nadal/Murray simply have schedules that are too packed to play them. Private investors are also being driven out of the sport as there aren’t that many billionaires like Larry Ellison (who owns Indian Wells)  who want to back tournaments so  many events are now being scooped up by governments looking to boost their tourist business, or in the case of Rio to showcase their city before the Olympics. Just try and convince a city like San Jose to shell out $2 million or so for a tennis tournament when most Californians are against public financing of sporting events.

Because the Grand Slams have become so important, there is also a current of thought that they are the only tournaments that really matter. But that simply is not true. They may matter more, but each tournament has a history of its own, feeling of its own, memories of its own.

When John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors for the 1982 title at the Cow Palace, it meant a hell of a lot to him and I’m sure he recalls it.  When Ivan Lendl got over McEnroe the next year, you can bet it mattered. When Michael Chang won his first title there in ‘88, or Brad Gilbert won in front of his home fans in ‘89, those are the moments that stick with player. Any time that the “Fab 4” of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang played for blood in the Bay Area, those matches etched into wall space of their rivalries. In 2001, Greg Rusedski upset Sampras and Agassi back to back, perhaps his finest hour ever. The next year, Hewitt took out Agassi in a classic three-setter, just five months before he won his first Wimbledon title. In 2004, Roddick took down his old housemate Mardy Fish in match that had the intensity of one of their backyard pickup basketball games. Murray won his first career title there in 2006. Raonic his in 2010. Think they don’t remember those? You are kidding yourself.

How many fans that sat on the edge of their seats  can still remember the sound of the ball being struck, or a particular facial expression on a star player, or a rally for the ages?


Sometime around 6 PM on Sunday after the final, the clean up crew is going to come into the Shark Tank and start the tear-down. A tournament that began in 1889 in splendid Monterrey and was won by William Taylor will roll its nets up for good. The rows of  pictures of ex-champions that adorn the hallways will likely to be thrown into storage somewhere, maybe never to be seen again.

There will be no ongoing story thread then, just a short epilogue and then the close of the covers of the second longest tournament and tennis saga in US tennis history.

I’m sure as hell going to miss it, and I bet a lot of others will too.




Healthy Roddick could be US Open threat

Wimbledon Preview: 3 men and a bunch of maybes

Novak is the favorite, but after his RG loss to Nadal, not by much.

Wimbledon will begin on Monday and outside of the Big 3 it doesn’t seem like there are any other real title contenders. Here is a breakdown.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It cannot be said that the defending Wimbledon champion is back on “his familiar lawns” as it could be about Federer or a Pete Sampras. But what can be said is that he’s back on a faster surface than red clay and one that he does not have to slide into shots on. With his loss to Nadal in the Roland Garros final, he no longer looks impenetrable at the majors, but he played the Spaniard very tough, so until Nadal shows that he can beat him on faster surface again, the Serbian remains the favorite. He will attack more on grass and his bullet of a backhand is still more lethal than the rest of the field’s is. But he sure as heck better play better than he did against Seppi and Tsonga at RG or this time he might not escape a loss prior to the final weekend.

RAFAEL NADAL: As Nadal reminded us time and time again last year, no player can sustain near perfect play forever and that

Parents as Coaches: Mike Joyce Weighs in on Sharapova and Wozniacki

The Wrap, April 15: The King is Monaco


Monaco stopped Isner's streak.

Juan Monaco is certainly one of the most accomplished clay courters to touch down in Houston in the past two decades, so it was not surprising that he ended John Isner

What I Learned at the Sony Ericsson Open

Will Andy ever win a big title again?

By Dan Weil, Special to TennisReporters.net

It was an eventful 13 days in Key Biscayne. Here