A lot of interesting stories continue to develop in Tennis Land, so I thought I’d put them all down in one place:
Let’s start with some fun stuff. Reporter Matt Cronin via Twitter: “Sharapova recently began dating the Lakers’ Sasha Vujacic. Now if she can only help “The Machine” get his deadly jump shot back.”
Vujacic is 25 years old, Slovenian and 6’7″ tall (so about Sharapova’s stiletto-height.) Last year, he signed a three-year, 15 million dollar deal with the LA Lakers. Have fun, kids!
Here’s Sasha working the red carpet, Sharapova style:
Speaking of the young and super-rich – after collecting her $1.5 million dollar check in Doha this weekend, Serena Williams set the single-season record for prize money earned on the WTA tour: $6,545,586. Earlier this year, Serena surpassed Lindsey Davenport to become the first woman to earn more than $23 million in career prize money in any single sports league. (via Reuters) Serena may only have won three titles this year, but she knows how to pick ’em. But Serena is not picking Fed Cup this weekend, abruptly withdrawing her participation last week just days after volunteering it. Here’s the reaction of team Captain, Mary Joe Fernandez via ESPN:
Fernandez, the ESPN analyst who was once a Fed Cup stalwart herself, sounded as if she had a little emotional whiplash Saturday after getting the news. “[Williams] e-mailed me,” Fernandez said. “She said she feels terrible and wishes she could be there, but she feels like she’d be a burden. I’m watching her play (in Doha) now.” “We were so excited that she was going to go, but what can you say? It’s the end of the year and everybody’s hurt. Billie Jean King always told me that you have to take the people who can go and who want to be there.”
Perhaps Serena’s exhausted by the Battle of the Books, as the hype surrounding Andre Agassi’s autobiography “Open,” continues to dominate the headlines. Shortly after winning in Doha she flew to London to promote her own book “My Life: Queen of the Court” at a book signing at Harrods. Agassi will be appearing on “60 Minutes” this Sunday, the evening before his book hits the shelves.
Andy Murray is the latest tennis star to offer his opinion on Agassi’s crystal-meth use and drug test cover-up, offering this supportive take (via the Guardian):
I don’t think any of the players expected it, but you’ve just got to move on,” he said in Valencia, where he is due to return to the ATP Tour tomorrow after six weeks off with a left-wrist problem.
“I loved Andre, met him numerous times. He was unbelievably nice to me. I practised with him quite a lot. I guess it’s something he has to deal with himself. He’s entitled to say whatever he wants and I wish him the best.”
“I judge him as a tennis player, he was great, a great player, one of the best of all time. From the experiences I have had with him, he’s been nice to me. No one wants drugs in sport but everyone makes mistakes.”
“I didn’t play in those times [when Agassi failed a test] so I don’t know what it was like. There are even cases now where guys get off, with failed tests and contaminations, mistakes, like with the [Richard] Gasquet case. Sometimes things like that happen. People get away with it sometimes but I just don’t think drugs in tennis is a big problem like it is in other sports.”
Fernando Verdasco, who has recently spent some quality time in Las Vegas with Agassi and Adidas trainer Gil Reyes, agrees with Murray:
“He was my idol, all my life when I was a kid, and he will still be my idol,” the Spaniard said. “Everyone can make mistakes. My thoughts about Andre will not change because of this. He is a great person, he is always trying to help me and that for me is more important.”
Tennis writer Peter Bodo thinks more players should be voicing their support of Agassi, and condemns cynics who think Agassi’s confession is a ploy to sell more books: “Condemn Agassi all you want, but he respected you enough to tell the truth about himself and his time in the game.”
But if you still want to condemn the ATP for the cover-up, click here to read a former ATP-exec’s inside story.
Super-coach Brad Gilbert, who worked with Agassi from 1994 – 2002, told the The New York Times he had no idea about Agassi’s drug problems or the failed 1997 test:
“Maybe it was me being naïve, but I had no clue,” Gilbert said in a telephone interview Friday from his home in San Rafael, Calif.
“I did a really good job of sticking to the tennis court,” Gilbert said. “If Andre asked for something outside it, I would give it. I just wouldn’t ask him about it or volunteer something I wouldn’t have knowledge about. Because we hung out a ton, but that doesn’t mean you ask things that are personal.”
“I probably would have been up a creek if I would have known,”
Someone who always seems to be up the injury creek is Tommy Haas, who has withdrawn from this week’s Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament due to Swine Flu. He came down with the flu before withdrawing from the Stockholm tournament a couple weeks ago and is unlikely to participate in the Paris Masters (via the Telegraph):
“I did a test because I suspected I had the swine flu and the test was positive,” he said. “It was obviously a shock for me.”
“I am quite relaxed because I know that swine flu is a particularly strong form of flu, but when you are in a good physical condition like I am, then you can quickly beat it off,” he added.
“It was really bad for three days and I couldn’t leave my hotel room,” he revealed. “I felt really bad.”
This will be Haas’s third straight withdrawal/retirement, having started the streak at October’s Shanghai Masters, where he retired from his second round match due to a shoulder injury.
Haas may be out of contention for the World Tour Finals in London, but plenty of other guys are still fighting for the last two spots. Click here for the ATP’s “on the bubble” break-down. (Hang tough, Stepanek fans!)
Rafael Nadal, who is taking a break from tennis this week, will appear in an in-depth interview on CNN’s Talk Asia. Here’s some of what he has to say:
On how Roger Federer has inspired him:
“What makes me a better player isn’t seeing Roger being a perfect player. What makes me a better player is to watch Roger always improve because when he was number one in 2004…I saw him and he was an unbelievable player, but after a few times, he was better and he was improving during all his career. And that says to me is you must improve all the time.”
On his career’s longevity:
“A lot of people finish their career at 29 years old and he started at 20 or 21. But I started at 16 and already I have seven years in total. I am not finished. I expect to be here and hope to be here for a long time. That’s what I can say. . .I think if I am not having chances to win important tournaments, I’m gonna go. That’s my feeling. I have already seven years like this and I hope be here as long as I can, but having 14 or 16 career years seems a lot.”
Click here for more from Rafa.
French chicken – and I’m not talking coq au vin. The French Tennis Federation is threatening to pull the French Open out of its current location if the Paris city council continues to stall the tournament’s expansion plans (via ESPN):
“It seems that the mayor’s entourage has become more hostile to our project — which was not the case when we launched it,” (FFT director general Gilbert) Ysern said. “Add to that the residents’ opposition and we are now forced to look for other options, including that of leaving the premises.”
A site near Disneyland Paris is a rumored alternative. I say it’s a stupid idea – roof or no roof, the French Open belongs at Roland Garros!