Well, the American hard court spring has officially come to an end. And what do we have to show for it? Some shiny trophies for Murray and Serena this weekend in Miami, some photo ops and a laundry list of injuries on both the men’s and women’s sides. When you think about it, this is an odd interlude in the calendar. No wonder Indian Wells and Miami are always jockeying for the designation “Fifth Major” – otherwise, how do you justify dragging a bunch of Europeans over to the States for a month to torture them on concrete before the red clay swing begins? I guess the million dollar payouts and piles of rankings points do wonders to soothe those aching joints.
Once I stopped missing Roger and Rafa, not to mention gimpy Azarenka and early round loser Del Potro, the Sony Open started making sense. I like my tournaments to tell a story, and this one became the story of the “alternate tennis universe,” a place where tennis’s lesser stars could shine like a disco ball in a South Beach night club . Turns out Agnieszka Radwanska and Kirsten Flipkens are mighty entertaining and ol’ reliable, David Ferrer, is capable of staging his own epic tragedy. As for Tommy Haas, well, that’s a whole other level of Shakespearean drama – part romance, part tragedy, and if you are a bit twisted, maybe comedy as well. I just really enjoyed watching him hit that one handed backhand like we were back in the 1990s. (I couldn’t help but remember a quip from a long ago press conference, when Tommy told reporters that he played tennis the way it was meant to be played. That’s right, Tommy!)
So before we move on to the red clay, here are a few other tidbits that came up during Miami that I’m thinking about now:
1. Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams. It seems that Serena’s still pissed about losing Wimbledon to the teenaged Masha and has basically refused to give her “rival” an inch. Maria’s now on her eleventh straight loss to Serena, but I thought that this weekend’s final gave the Russian and her fans a real glimmer of hope for the future. Serve and hit to Serena’s body. It’s a simple game plan, but those are the kind that work best for Maria. Also of note, Maria’s 25, Serena’s 31, yet we don’t really talk about that as we do with say, Roger vs. the other Big Four guys. Why?
2. The commentators mentioned that Maria was practicing with her coach’s old charge, Tommy Haas, and that this had helped prepare her for Serena’s power. Given how well Tommy did in Miami, I wonder who benefited more from the practice sessions?
3. Both the men’s and women’s finals were long, exciting and a bit painful to watch. The men’s contest was especially punishing, with all those breaks of serve, mental hiccups and David’s major (brain) cramping at match point and beyond. Speaking of painful to watch, CBS Sports decided to end coverage right before the tie break. What an embarrassment – it would only have been an extra ten minutes or so. That’s the beauty of a third set tiebreak. I really think broadcasting tennis on network television is important, not only for the people who don’t have cable (yes, they exist) but also to keep the sport somewhat in the mainstream. But when a network disrespects the game this way it’s a lose-lose-lose all around. Would they have done this to Rafa vs. Roger, I wonder? Geeze, I hope not.
4. The old folks are taking over! I thought this was pretty interesting (per Yahoo!): “The Sony Open had 22 30-something men in the draw (this year), compared with 12 a decade ago. Twenty years ago, there were only four men 30 or older.”
5. You’ve probably all heard the chatter about changing Miami from a hard court event to green clay. Kind of brilliant, in my opinion – but I think it probably makes too much sense for it ever to happen. What say you?
6. In other court surface news, with the extra week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon starting in 2015, the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart has been approved to change to a grass court tournament held the week after RG. Hurray for more grass! A look at the comments section on the ATP website shows plenty of fan support for a grass Masters. Yessss! Can we make this happen?
7. Miami’s results caused a slight shift in the rankings, with Murray bumping up to No. 2 and Ferrer entering the top 4. As GTT reader Lorrie pointed out, we’re looking at the likely possibility that three of the “Big 4″ will end up on the same side of the bracket in Paris unless RG goes rogue and decides to up Nadal’s seeding. Or maybe the tourny could give the old guy a break and put him over with Ferrer? And how about Berdych goes with the other three, as well?
8. A quick preview of the Davis Cup quarterfinals, which start April 5: Canada vs. Italy, USA vs. Serbia (in Boise), Argentina vs. France and Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic. How strange not to see Spain in the mix. Could this be Team U.S.A.’s big chance?
I admit, I’m missing being able to turn on the T.V. at any hour of the day to watch some tennis. Is anyone going to tune into DC this weekend?