REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — You wouldn’t think a tennis line judge would have a dangerous job. But two weeks after a player was defaulted for having a temper tantrum that injured a line judge, another line judge was hurt Monday.
This time, at Wimbledon. American Mardy Fish hit a 118-mph serve into the right eye of a female line judge.
Fish led Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-3 in the first set and crushed a serve up the middle, wide. The line judge yelled that the ball was out, and the next sound you heard was a thud off her face.
And, poof, just like that, American tennis is gone. No, not just from the Australian Open, where the last American man standing, John Isner, lost before the first weekend of the year’s first major. US tennis is gone from the world map, too.
The top players have faded, and the bottom ones aren’t good enough. This is the moment US tennis has been nervous about for years:
Not one American man is good enough even to contend for a major championship. Forget Wimbledon. Forget the US Open. And only one woman, Serena Williams, is good enough. She will hide the problems in women’s tennis in the United States for a little while longer.
But the men? They are a vacuum.
It has been coming for years. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors passed the baton to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who passed it to Andy Roddick, who managed to win just one major. But still, he was a top player. And now? Roddick has crossed the finish line and put the baton on the ground somewhere. No one will take it. You want it? It’s yours.
The feelgood story that is Mardy Fish just keeps feeling better and better. He is into the top 10 now, won in Atlanta, and is heading straight for the finals again this week in Los Angeles. The problem with Fish is this:
How much should we buy in? How far can he take this?
Up to now, his story is about his newfound maturity and commitment late in his career, his weight loss and commitment to fitness. It was a cute story when he passed Andy Roddick in the rankings this spring to become the top-ranked American. Roddick wrote him a note of congratulations and said he’s coming back to reclaim that ranking.
But the truth is, it wasn’t just a nice moment for Fish, and Roddick isn’t going to pass him back. Fish isn’t just the top-ranked American.
He is the best American.
For now, no other American man can win a major championship. Can Fish? The stars would have to align.
He is rolling through the first part of the U.S. hard court season, leading up to the U.S. Open. But Americans have been duped for years by believing in Roddick. And if they’re going to buy into Fish, it would be nice to know that he’s buying in, too. Continue reading
Three stone-cold truths about the U.S. loss to Spain in the Davis Cup quarterfinals this weekend:
1) Andy Roddick, and the U.S. team, should have insisted on playing that last match out of respect for the fans.
2) The Davis Cup is not nearly as big a deal as it could be.
3) U.S. tennis is even worse than I thought.
Let’s start at the top.
1) Roddick. The whole event was tailored for him, to thank him. It was sort of a tribute. The home country chooses the site. Roddick, who lives in Austin, Texas, asked for it to be in Austin. So it was put there.
“I appreciate the USTA for even considering Austin,’’ Roddick said after the U.S. had beaten Chile in the previous round. “I think it’s been no secret that I have wanted it for a long time. It would be a dream come true to play at home.’’
Then on Sunday, with the U.S. mathematically out, but with one match left to be played, Roddick apparently forgot his dream.
“I think Andy has a history of not liking to play those matches,’’ U.S. team captain Jim Courier said.
Well, maybe the fans, hometown fans who paid to see Roddick, would have liked to have seen him. Instead, after Spain clinched the win with David Ferrer’s victory over Mardy Fish, the last match never happened.
Boo. The crowd was justifiably upset. Roddick had played on Friday, but should have played Sunday, too. Under the rules, they don’t play a meaningless fifth match unless both coaches agree. Well, both coaches should have agreed, and Roddick should have insisted. Continue reading
It was match point against Maria Sharapova, and everyone knew what was going to happen. The service box is 21 feet deep, 13½ feet across, and there was no way she was going to get her serve over the net and into that big box. It must look like a postage stamp to her. After the first serve was out, Li Na could have walked off the court, shaken the chair umpire’s hand and sat down.
There was no way Sharapova would get that second serve in.
“She had a huge, big serve,’’ Li said. “So I was like, `Please double fault.’ ’’
It happened, of course. Sharapova tried to put a little spin on the serve to control the ball, but she can’t do that. Instead, her arm slowed. . .way. . .down. . .mid-swing, and the ball went into the net. Li won 6-4, 7-5 Thursday to become the first Chinese woman to reach the French Open final. She’ll play defending champ Francesca Schiavone Saturday.
Sharapova hasn’t reached the final in her past 11 majors, since winning the 2008 Australian Open. She beat Ana Ivanovic that day, and women’s tennis had to be in heaven with a future looking bright and highly marketable. Since then, Sharapova and Ivanovic have totaled zero major finals, but countless swimsuit fashion shoots.
REPORTING FROM HOUSTON — Andy Roddick wore the white jumpsuit, a No. 23 on this chest, green ballcap and sunglasses, and he lugged the golf bag as the caddy for Zach Johnson Wednesday in the Par 3 contest at Augusta National. It was the day before the Masters.
On the 9th hole, Johnson allowed Roddick to hit the tee shot.
“My hands are shaking,’’ Roddick said. “I can barely put the tee in the ground.’’
It became a buzz moment for tennis. Roddick has a way, just by being Roddick, of bringing attention to himself and to his game. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s married to Brooklyn Decker, Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model). And tennis can use the attention.
So in the best interest of tennis, I shouldn’t begrudge Roddick of another moment.
But I do.
Someone else should be having tennis’ moment. It’s tonight in Houston, the marquee match at the U.S. Clay Court Championship. Quietly, Mardy Fish will be having a personal moment, I guess, when he plays Albert Ramos of Spain.
It will be first time Fish plays as the top-ranked American.
“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t have a nice ring to it,’’ he said. “But it’s really tough to feel like I’m the No. 1 American, to be honest. You could put Andy’s career on top of mine probably 10 times.’’
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."