Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Now, a Little Something about Tennis

by The Last Hollywood Star

Because I like Zach Duke and am sure he’d be a 15 game winner on most teams, I’m going to leave the lowly Pirates alone for the next two days to focus on the U.S. Open and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Thursday, I’ll be going to my first Steeler game since the team played in Pitt Stadium in the early 1960s and Bobby Layne was the quarterback. (Note to readers: I left Pittsburgh after graduating from Pitt in 1965 and returned last year after an absence of some 45 years.)

As the U.S. Open goes into its final week end, it pains me to say that I find the whole event a crashing bore.

The last American male got knocked out on Monday. The Williams sisters, the greatest sibling athletes in sports’ history and Georgia teenager Melanie Oudin are terrific stories but not compelling enough to carry a two week event.

I’ve rooted for Serena and Venus since they first came onto the tennis scene. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I find their on-court grunting and fist pumping as well as their off-court alter egos as designers and actors tedious.

As for Oudin, I’d like her more if I heard less about her.

Tennis and I go back a long way. I grew up in Los Angeles playing on the Beverly Hills High School cement courts. When my family moved to Puerto Rico, I took my first professional lesson from Welby Van Horn who once lost in the U.S. Open finals but also at one point in his career beat one of the best tennis players who ever lived Bill Tilden, 6-0, 6-2, 6-1.

During my Pitt undergraduate years, I played varsity tennis on one of the weakest teams in organized college athletics.

I’ve watched in person great U.S. Open matches dating from the 1970s when the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills hosted a draw of thirty-two players and the matches were on grass.

I’m not pleased that the tournament is so tedious. I’m retired, have a flat screen television and plenty of time on my hands to watch the nonstop coverage on the Tennis Channel and ESPN.

Why has it all gone so wrong?

First, the color commentary is overbearing and rarely, except for John McEnroe, provides any insight into tennis strategy. As a lifelong player whose skills peaked years ago, I wouldn’t mind picking up a few tips about proper execution.

On the women’s side, the trio of Mary Carillo, Mary Jo Fernandez and Pam Shriver emphasize to excess players’ injury history and how it limits their mobility, even though the player in question is darting around the court like a rabbit.

As old axiom in sports goes, if you’re playing, you’re not injured. Alternatively, if you’re injured, don’t play.

Second, I don’t understand why no one comes into the net. What’s the point of having a 140 MPH serve like Andy Roddick if you don’t come in behind it occasionally? If nothing else, a net rush would break up the tedium of watching the competitors slug it out endlessly from the base line. As legend Pancho Gonzales might have observed, mixing up the style of play is an important strategic element.

Second, I can’t relate to the players. I’m sure this is linked to my vigorous resistance to globalism. But seriously, as gifted as they all are, I can readily identify only the handful of consistent winners like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

I’m comforted to know that Serena has the same problem. Recently, commenting on all the Russian women on the tour, Williams wrote on her Twitter page that she doesn’t “really recognize anyone,” and is so swamped by Eastern bloc-sounding names that she has started considering herself Russian.

Williams said: “Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. I feel like, you know, OK, all these new-ovas. I don’t know anyone. I don’t really recognize anyone. You know, that’s just how it is. I think my name must be Williamsova.”

Third, I miss the charisma of the players from earlier generations. Nadal, Federer and the Williams sisters may be better than McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Evonne Goolagong but they’re not as colorful.

To the extent possible, I avoid writing about how much better things were decades ago since it gives the impression that I am irretrievably locked in a time warp. That indeed may be the case since plenty of evidence exists to that effect.

Yet here I am throwing out obscure names like Van Horn from seventy-five years ago to make my point.

I’ll tune in to the Sunday final match but by using my NBA approach (last two minutes only) and limit my viewing to the last couple of games. I can’t justify spending nearly four hours including commercial interruptions to watch the players slug it out from the baseline.

After all, I have paint I can watch dry.

1 comment:

Buck said...

Funny. Me and another old fat guy were lamenting the lack of the serve and volley game on the US Open's hard courts. There was a Russian gal the other night, Kuznetsova, who lost while trying it, though she seemed to win every point when she did take the net. She lost the game purely on unforced errors from the baseline. Good game to watch, though, practically Navratilova-like.