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.

 

PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER ENDORSES WILSON APPAREL AND FOOTWEAR

[CHICAGO] – Wilson Racquet Sports is proud to announce that Philipp Kohlschreiber, in addition to his long standing racket contract with the brand, will be a “head-to-toe” player and will debut their 2011 apparel & footwear line starting in January.

Since joining the tour in 2001, Philipp has been a consistent force on the ATP Tour, earning 8 singles and doubles titles as well as 4 Tour finals. He has also advanced to the fourth round in 3 Grand Slam Tournaments and is currently ranked #32 on the ATP Tour.

“Wilson is the brand I trust with my equipment and has helped me throughout my career. I’m excited about their renewed focus on apparel and footwear and that I am able to be a part of the new program,” Philipp said.

Philipp will be working closely with the Apparel and Footwear Team at Wilson, providing input into the creation and development of new products.  The Wilson apparel and soft goods line features premium technical fabrics and the latest technologies, which focus on fit and function.   Philipp will wear the newest collections throughout the season and will debut all of the latest footwear styles along with it.

“We are extremely excited to have Philipp as part of our team,” said Claire Ortiz, Global Business Director for Footwear & Apparel. “We are looking forward to working closely with him on our product initiatives as we work toward creating the highest level of core and elite performance footwear and apparel product.”

Visit www.wilsontennis.com to find a dealer near you!

Wilson Racquet Sports is a division of Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sports equipment and owned by Amer Sports. Wilson designs, manufactures and distributes sporting goods throughout the world and focuses on making technologically advanced products which help players of all levels perform better. Wilson’s core sport categories include: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Volleyball, Soccer, Youth Sports, Uniforms/Apparel, Golf, Footwear and Racquet Sports (Tennis, Racquetball, Squash, Badminton and Platform Tennis). For more information, visit www.wilson.com.

Billie Jean King is Newest Inductee Into Tennis Industry Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY (Sept. 10, 2010) — Few players, male or female, have had the large-scale impact on or off the tennis court as Billie Jean King—in fact, last year King was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her impact and influence on the sport and industry of tennis are so significant that she is the newest member inducted into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame, and to follow in the footsteps of Dennis Van der Meer, Howard Head and Alan Schwartz,” said King in a ceremony at the Tennis Industry Association’s Tennis Forum in New York City, during the 2010 US Open tennis tournament. Van der Meer and Head were inducted in 2008, the inaugural year for the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. Schwartz was inducted last year.

Jeff Williams, publisher of Tennis Magazine and chairman of the TIA’s Hall of Fame Committee, introduced King at the Tennis Forum. “We are honoring you because you were the spark,” Williams told the crowd, “the spark that caused a boom. A boom that gave rise to the tennis industry as we know it today. We are all part of an industry that is bigger, an industry that is better, and an industry that is stronger because of you.”

King started playing tennis only because a childhood friend in fifth grade asked her to play. “If she hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have started playing,” says King, who likens her experience in tennis to life itself. “Tennis teaches you to keep playing, keep going and maintain optimism in life.”

King began playing Grand Slam tournaments as a teenager in the 1960s. She won her first doubles title at Wimbledon at age 17, and went on to rack up 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed-doubles titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon (six singles, 14 doubles and mixed doubles).

It wasn’t enough just to play the game, though; King made it better. She campaigned for equal prize money for men and women; her efforts helped make that goal a reality at the US Open in 1973, and eventually at all four major tournaments. She led efforts among players to support the first women’s professional tour.

A defining moment for King, for tennis, and for women in sports came in 1973, when she beat Bobby Riggs in the nationally televised Battle of the Sexes match. Her 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win was a pivotal point for tennis, and it cemented her status as an icon in both the sports world and in pop culture in general.

She founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Women’s Sports Magazine in 1974, and also in 1974, co-founded World TeamTennis, the groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league. She also founded the WTT Recreational League, one of the most popular recreational tennis formats in the U.S. Her involvement with the sport continues today; she is a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and remains involved with the U.S. Tennis Association.

King continues to push barriers, both inside and outside of tennis. In 2007, she co-founded GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry. She was named Global Mentor for Gender Equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2008. She continues to be a leader in the fight for equality and recognition in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

In 2009, at the White House, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, making her the first female athlete to be so honored. “We honor what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone—including my two daughters—a chance to compete both on the court and in life,” the President said in presenting the honor.

King’s significant contributions on the court, to the sport itself, and to society were noted when in 2006, the National Tennis Center was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The court on which generations of players will set their own milestones and break their own barriers now carries the name of one of the first players to do that.

About the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame
Created in 2008, the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals who have made a significant impact on tennis, from the 1960s to the present. Nominations can be made in four categories—inventors, founders, innovators and contributors. The first two inductees were Dennis Van der Meer and the late Howard Head. Last year, Alan Schwartz was the sole inductee. Plaques for all Tennis Industry Hall of Fame inductees are on permanent display at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. For more information, visit TennisIndustry.org/HOF.

Djokovic Wins The Battle of Belgrade

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY –  Searing sun has burned Novak Djokovic in the past. So when Djokovic found himself battling scalding temperatures that soared above 100 degrees on court against his childhood friend Viktor Troicki in the US Open first round, he welcomed the inviting cool shade as if it were a welcoming warm embrace of his girlfriend.

In a match of Serbian Davis Cup teammates, Djokovic did not exactly play with the conviction of a Grand Slam champion but showed some stubborn resilience to rally for a 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over the 47th-ranked Troicki.

Djokovic kept his competitive composure in the latter stages of the three hour, 40-minute win then broke up the crowd when he compared the feeling of the shelter of the shade to sharing a loving embrace with his girlfriend.

“The sun came down and I didn’t have any more heat, (I was asked) what kind of feeling was it,” Djokovic said. “It just came up to me.  It’s one of the best feelings, I guess, when you’re sleeping with your close one.  So I compare it to that.”

“It felt unbelievable. Let’s get back to tennis now,” Djokovic said with a sly smile in the post-match press conference.

Leave it to Djokovic to share the love after enduring an experience that has proved to be painful in the past. He has retired from matches in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments in the past due to heat or breathing issues and anytime the heat and humidity collide on court Djokovic can begin to wear that haunted look of a man who just completed a marathon only to be informed there’s another 10 miles to run.

Today, Djokovic had a measured response to the heat: he waited it out.

“Look, you know, it was very hot.  It was just very hot,” Djokovic said. “It’s same for everybody. That’s all basically I can say. You know, heat issue is something that, you know, it’s just there.  You cannot affect it.  The weather is weather.  You just have to try to be patient and wait for the shadows, like I did.”

Contesting his 24th consecutive Grand slam event Djokovic stared down a familiar face in Troicki. This was their sixth professional meeting — Djokovic holds a 5-1 edge — but their first meeting came when Djokovic was 9-years-old and Troicki was 10 in Djokovic’s first tournament.

Needless to say, things did not go Djokovic’s way that day.

“My first tournament in my life that I’ve played, first match officially, it was under 10,” Djokovic said. “I won my first round and then I played him second round. He destroyed me. We keep on talking about that. But we are very good friends for a long time already.”

Since that match, the pair have joined forces on Serbian Davis Cup squad and have a shot to lead the nation to its first Davis Cup final when Serbia hosts the Czech Republic in the September 17-19th Davis Cup semifinals in Belgrade.

“We won many things together with Davis Cup, a lot of matches. We won European team championship under 18 together,” Djokovic said. “So we share a lot of nice moments.  It’s never easy to play a good friend on the court.  Just bad luck for him today because he’s been playing really well, you know, lately.  Today he was the better player on the court for a while.  Just too bad.”

Djokovic survived today, but the reality is, like compatriot and fellow former US Open finalist Jelena Jankovic, who also escaped with an opening-round match that went the distance, he must pick up his play if he is to go deep into the second week. Like Jankovic, Djokovic is an exceptional athlete who covers the court comprehensively, moves quickly and returns well, but is prone to periods of retrieving tennis.

The 2007 US Open runner-up is in the same quarter as Americans Andy Roddick, who beat Djokovic in Cincinnati, and Mardy Fish, the Cincinnati runner-up to Federer.

Djokovic didn’t need to watch replays of Roger Federer’s between-the-legs highlight reel winner that electrified the fans on Monday night — he experienced a similar shot in real life in the 2009 semifinals.

“No.  I’ve seen it live last year passing next to me,” Djokovic said with a smile. “That’s enough traumatic experiences for me. Today when Viktor tried to do the same thing, I said, No, no, please.  He was running for the ball between the legs.  Please miss it.  Please don’t embarrass me again.”

The master mimic who entertained the crowd with his impressions of Nadal, Roddick and Maria Sharapova during his run to the ’07 final was asked if he would consider trying to emulate Federer’s tweener himself.

“No, definitely not.  I am not as good as he is in that.  I’d like to be very careful with my racquet,” Djokovic said glancing down below his waist. “You know what I mean.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.