Sportsbeat – 9/3/12

No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s side, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he would be calling it a career at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.

Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt that he had the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now use the time to concentrate running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Texas where he now makes his home.

When asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he has never been fond of the fourth estate. More often than not, he has acted peevish when asked legitimate questions that he would have preferred not been raised.

I remember asking him after he won his first round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about taking part in American Express’s bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?”ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and my opinion hasn’t changed now.

It was hard not feel a bit sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who got bounced after losing his second round match despite being seeded fifth on the men’s side. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) and himself. “I would have to be say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then gave a variation on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he works on the court, “he never gets rewarded” at the Grand Slam tournaments.

I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at this year’s Open before being eliminated, if it was good for his sport that one per cent of the male tennis players win 99% of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is. When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense. “Novak, Roger, and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone,” he said.

Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.

Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally, wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead a short and hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an L.A.-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.

Roger Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seat belt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all,  suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)

Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by  the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.

I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.

The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of an extra-costing sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, they neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public, nor did they have a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.

The Golf Channel, which has obviously a similar niche appeal as the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth, Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why they should promote themselves where they can such as at American tennis’s marquee event.

The United States Tennis Association held a kick-off event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)

It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them. OK, call me Rip Van Winkle.

After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaning September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.

 

Carroll: Very little U.S. at U.S. Open

It has not been a secret that Americans have not been dominating the world of professional tennis since the days when Andre Agassi would routinely battle Pete Sampras in the finals of Grand Slam events.
American futility on the men’s side was clearly in evidence at the U.S. Open as the fading Andy Roddick and the perpetually mediocre Taylor Dent, Donald Young and Robby Ginepri were all eliminated before Labor Day weekend. James Blake managed to survive until Saturday when Novak Djokovic disposed of him with ease in straight sets.

Things were not brighter for the red, white and blue on the women’s side as Venus Williams was the only American left at the tournament’s halfway point, though it’s safe to say that her sister, Serena, would have been there as well had she not hurt her right foot and missed the tourney. Melanie Oudin, the teenager from Atlanta who went deep into the Open last year, was gone by the second round. This year’s Cinderella story, Maryland’s Beatrice Capra, was slaughtered 6-0, 6-0 by Maria Sharapova in a third round match.

A United States Tennis Association executive looked as if she was about to cry in the press room when 18-year-old Louisiana native Ryan Harrison lost a grueling five-set match that required a tiebreaker to Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine. Harrison blew three match point opportunities in the tiebreaker. If he were a more seasoned player, the media would have called it a “choke,” but since he is young, and was quite mature in his post-loss press conference, everyone was charitable.

James Blake is a huge Mets fan, and he frequently wears a Mets baseball cap into Interview Room 1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium. He became far more passionate about the Mets’ woes than about his tennis game when he was asked what the team needs to do next year. “I believe that they need to make changes at the top,” he said, referring to Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel.

Blake chatted with me briefly after the formal press conference. “They need to blow the whole team up and start over,” he added emphatically, meaning that he would not be averse to seeing such core players as Jose Reyes and David Wright traded. When I mentioned that it would highly unlikely Jeff Wilpon would leave anytime soon since he’s the son of team owner Fred Wilpon, Blake replied somewhat forlornly, “I know.”

Carroll: Open For Business

The US Open, which got underway Monday at Flushing Meadows Park, has become like the Super Bowl inasmuch as it has become a business event as much as an athletic one.

Last Wednesday, Nike took over Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side for an exhibition that the company labeled “Prime Time Knockout.” Nike called on nearly everyone of its highly-compensated tennis stars/endorsers including, Serena Williams (who were a boot on her injured right foot and will miss the Open this year), Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Douglaston’s own John McEnroe, to take part in some light-hearted doubles matches.

Nike officials announced that they were donating thousands of dollars’ worth of tennis equipment to a number of non-profit youth sports organization including the Woodside-based New York Junior Tennis League. While there was a philanthropic aspect to Primetime Knockout, Nike was sending a clear reminder of its dominance in tennis to such rivals as the upstart Under Armour, and the resurgent Reebok, which just opened a huge company store at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

On a smaller scale of brand promotion, Ralph Lauren Polo had Venus Williams conduct a clinic for kids on Randall’s Island last Thursday while the following day Lacoste dispatched Andy Roddick to the Macy’s at Queens Center for a meet-and-greet.

Speaking of Andy Roddick, he holds the distinction of being the last American to win the men’s championship but that was back in 2003. Two years later Roddick was the focus of American Express’s “Where’s Andy’s mojo?” campaign which embarrassed everyone involved when Roddick was upset by Luxemburg’s Gilles Muller in the first round of the 2005 US Open.

American Express has dropped Roddick this year from its signage along the LIRR-7 train Willets Point boardwalk in favor of hopefully rising American players at John Isner and Sam Querrey.

Panasonic believes that the US Open is perfect place to showcase its latest television technology as it has taken out a booth for spectators to watch matches in 3-D.

Mayor Bloomberg hosted a reception for the United States Tennis Association at Gracie Mansion last Thursday evening and among the attendees was Queens district attorney Richard Brown, former borough president Claire Shulman, former mayor and well-known tennis buff David Dinkins, as well as the 1968 US Open women’s champion, Virginia Wade.

I asked Wade, who was born in England but now lives on the Upper East Side, about the possibility of Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the site of the ‘68 Open, being torn down to make way for condominiums. “Of course I am saddened by it but the stadium has been in a state of disrepair for a long time so I do understand the thinking of the board of the West Side Tennis Club,” Wade told me.

Sportscaster extra ordinaire, and Forest Hills native, Ian Eagle will be kept busy in his home borough. He is slated to do nine days of studio hosting Open coverage for both the Tennis Channel and CBS.