The future of American tennis threw his racquet into a tree at the French Open qualifying tournament this summer. He took a divot out of the grass court at Wimbledon qualifying. In Cincinnati, he angrily hit a ball over the stands, out of the stadium and into the food court.
“I mean, I wasn’t like out of control when I hit it,’’ he told me at the time. “I wasn’t in a frenzy.’’
No frenzy in Savannah, either, where he called his opponent, Wayne Odesnik, a weasel (truth is no defense)? Or in Winston-Salem, where he threw his racquet into a parking lot? Or on Monday, when he threw the racquet at least half a dozen times and kicked a ball into the stands while losing to 27th seed Marin Cilic in the first round of the U.S. Open? It was 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6). On Tennis Channel, Mary Carillo called Harrison Mr. Crankypants.
“I didn’t break any racquets,’’ he said. “I didn’t say swear words on court. I didn’t really go nuts.’’
Are we nuts to be counting on this guy as a great American hope? Continue reading
Sometimes, it’s just the moment. Or maybe it was just time for it to happen. There can be a point when it all just comes together, and who really knows why. Well, I think I know why it’s happening to Donald Young right now, and what set it off.
Tennis waited so long for Young that it finally gave up. Now, as a failed prodigy, he’s in his first tour-level semifinal, at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington. He beat No. 26 Marcos Baghdatis Friday and should beat Radek Stepanek today to reach the final.
“I feel everybody clicks at their own time,’’ Young said. “The light comes on in everybody’s due time.’’
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
Serena Williams couldn’t move to the ball. Venus Williams couldn’t hit it onto the court. This was the worst day ever at Wimbledon for the Williams sisters, and maybe their worst tennis day anywhere. For the first time, they both lost on the same day at the All England Club. Is it the end of their era, the end of their Great American tennis story?
Best bet: For Venus, it is. For Serena, it probably is not. But that’s going to be up to her. It won’t be so easy anymore, and will be about what’s inside. That’s not to question Serena’s fight, but instead her desire to commit to a game after worrying about her life. A few months ago, doctors discovered blood clots in her lungs.
“I can only get better,’’ Serena said. “That can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more.”
That sounds great, and she surely meant it. But the truth will come on the practice courts on hot days, and in the less-important tournaments. Those haven’t been her best places over the years. And now, she’s three months from turning 30.
In the end, maybe it was too much to ask either of them to win Wimbledon again this year.
What Andy Roddick doesn’t seem to get is that the little touches and things that he added to his game are supposed to be there just for variety, and maybe a Plan B. I mean, good for him that he learned how to hit a loopy, soft forehand, figured out how to keep his knuckleball backhand on the court a few shots in a row and developed a slice backhand.
But those things are just the extras, the add-ons. Instead, Roddick has now centered his game around them. He’s like a guy who just built a three-car garage onto his house and then decided to move into the third stall. He has abandoned the main part of his game, the part that made him successful.
In the end, he lost again Friday, in the third round at Wimbledon, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 to Feliciano Lopez, a talented career choker who had never beaten Roddick.
For Roddick now, every major championship is a disappointment waiting to happen. Two days ago, I wondered if maybe the window for winning a major might not be completely closed. Now, it’s closed and nailed shut with a concrete wall built over it. This was his chance (last chance?) at a miracle run to another major, playing well on his best surface with a draw through the middle rounds filled with flawed players.
But I guess the path to that run is just filled with too many self-imposed obstacles. Someone asked Roddick, now 28 with one major title, if a loss like this makes even him wonder if he’ll ever win another major. Continue reading
This is a trick and there’s no way I’m falling for it again. It’s so easy and comfortable with the acceptance that Andy Roddick is never going to win a second major. It stops the disappointment, the frustration, the annoyance of watching his infamous meltdowns.
The problem is this: Roddick is still ranked No. 10. And he’s poised for a deep run at Wimbledon.
This is the place where his game works best; he’s not hitting such pat-a-cake forehands; his serve looks like it used to; the draw sets up perfectly. He beat Victor Hanescu 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 Wednesday to advance to the third round.
Please, no. I’m not going to believe. Rafael Nadal is going to win this thing. If not him, then Novak Djokovic. Not him? Roger Federer. It’s just that Roddick seems to have actually made some adjustments and maybe found his, well, let’s just say that before this, he had castrated his own tennis game.
This is destined for disappointment. He always has some sort of mental breakdown. But just when you finally accept that he’s done, things line up like this and you wonder if he still has one last puncher’s chance at a major.
So many athletes have one last great run. Pete Sampras was finished, too, when he came back to win one last U.S. Open (beating Roddick along the way, of course). But Sampras’ greatness was unquestioned, and long-lasting. He had more to draw from.
If we’re getting to the end of the first round of a major, then it must be time to write the whatever-happened-to-Miracle-Melanie Oudin story. It’s now or never, because this is when she leaves. This time, she lost in the first round of the French Open Monday to defending champ Francesca Schiavone. It was 6-2, 6-0.
“Basically,’’ Oudin said, “I pretty much got a claycourt lesson.’’
Oudin, who’s 19, was Miracle Melanie for a week and a half at the 2009 U.S. Open, when she kept beating seeded Russian players and reached the quarterfinals. In some ways, that run might have messed her up, or maybe she just was playing way over her head.
Whatever the reason, here’s a little cold truth: Oudin is a one-hit wonder.
You can cheer for her, hope for her, wait for her. It’s not going to change anything. Oudin is not a top player. She’s a journeyman ranked No. 88 in the world. She has time to get better, but it’s hard to see her ever as a top 25 player.
Oudin never got a grip around her run through the Open. It’s funny because during that Open, she was playing so freely, smashing running forehands down the line. She looked like the real deal and was winning mostly on mental fortitude. Her opponents simply became too jittery under her relentlessness.
By the time she reached the quarterfinals, she was the It Girl of American tennis. John McEnroe was predicting that she would win. And then she nearly panicked under all the attention as she lost to Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 in the quarters.
And it wouldn’t have been fair to expect her to keep playing at that level, considering that she had never been there before. But I did expect the same relentlessness. Continue reading
“Good win today vs. Kendrick. Always tough playing a friend. Won’t have that problem tomorrow…’’
That’s what Amer Delic wrote on Twitter last week from the Savannah Challenger. His next opponent, the one he wouldn’t feel bad about beating? Wayne Odesnik.
Yes, the same Odesnik who lost to Sam Querrey last year, with Querrey saying later there was no way he was going to lose to “that guy.’’
And it’s the same Odesnik who beat Delic in Savannah, then played Ryan Harrison and got into an argument with him. “First of all, no one trusts you,’’ Harrison said during the match, according to the Savannah Morning-News. Sports Illustrated said people sitting near the court heard Harrison call Odesnik “a weasel’’ and “an embarrassment to American tennis.’’
Also, Odesnik won the tournament.
Look, Wayne Odesnik is a snitch. We already know that. He was busted for bringing HGH into Australia. Then, just under a year away from the tour, his suspension was suspended because he was being helpful in efforts to combat drugs in the sport.
Nobody likes a snitch, and it was clear from the start that he was never going to be popular, or trusted, in the locker room again. But here’s the thing: Odesnik is working his way back up the rankings. Soon enough, he’ll be back on the big tour.
And the players are going to have to deal with it.
“This is the first Challenger event I’ve won,’’ Odesnik told reporters after beating Young 6-4, 6-4. “It feels good to be playing at a high level again.’’
Odesnik climbed 127 spots in the rankings to No. 250.
So far, the other players are coming off like petty children. Of course, Odesnik is the tattletale. I don’t blame players for not liking him. Continue reading
Start with an image: Teenager Andrea Collarini, the Argentine-turned-American claycourt specialist, walks onto a clay court in the U.S. with his coach, Diego Moyano. The United States Tennis Association hired Moyano away from Argentina, too, to work with Collarini and teach Americans about clay court tennis.
So he and Collarini walk onto the court together for maybe the first time in the U.S., and their arms are out as if they are tightrope walkers. They are walking carefully, afraid they’ll fall.
OK? I’ll get back to that. Now this:
One thing is bugging me. And I think it’s another example of why the USTA isn’t having success developing top players. We’re in the red clay season on tour, which is the red-faced season for American tennis. We can’t play on the stuff, but it’s now generally accepted as the ideal learning ground.
Well, the news Monday was that for the first time in the 38 years since they’ve had computer rankings, no American player, man or woman, is in the top 10. It might be the first time ever, even before computers.
The USTA, led by player development chief Patrick McEnroe, is trying everything from putting all top juniors together at a central training facility to letting them stay near home in regional ones. Also, the USTA has put in clay courts, protected struggling low-level pro events that are on clay, and moved a top junior tourney to clay.
It is either a calculated, precise effort to develop American tennis, or they’re just throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick.
To me, the USTA effort is a mess. 1) It can’t even get along with the guy who was considered for years to be its top prodigy, Donald Young, who recently wrote on Twitter: “Fu—USTA!!’’ 2) It was so desperate that it bought another top prospect, Collarini, who was born in the U.S., but grew up in Argentina and learned all his tennis there. 3) The top of the game lacks Americans. 4) The up-and-comers are hitting a ceiling. 5) No one is about to emerge. 6) There is an incredible shortage of good coaches.
I keep telling myself that maybe that’s a little unfair. Maybe a governing body can’t build a champion. Maybe it will come together somehow, someway, some time.
Then we get to the efforts to get U.S. juniors learning on clay. Continue reading
Thirty-one years old, on sore and chronic bad knees, and out of the top 100, James Blake has turned up in tennis’ minor leagues. Tallahassee, Sarasota, and now Savannah. At some point, you have to know when to say when. At some point, it’s a little sad, and sickening, to see a former top athlete do something like this.
Not now, though.
It might turn out that Blake is done, but I don’t think so. I applaud him for what he’s doing. In fact, last year at the U.S. Open, I asked him if he would be willing to drop down to Challenger level events if needed, the way Andre Agassi did years ago to build things back up. He said he might.
Now, here he is, winning the tournament in Sarasota, Fla., Sunday, beating American Alex Bogomolov, Jr. 6-2, 6-2 in the final. In the semis, he beat No. 65 Ryan Sweeting in straight sets.
That does not sound exciting, I know. For so long, Blake was the No. 2 face of American tennis, behind Andy Roddick. Now, he’s not even on the tennis map anymore, really.
This takes guts. It’s not something you see a lot of the best tennis players doing. It was just Jan. 1, 2007 that the top of the rankings went like this: Federer, Nadal, Davydenko, Blake.
Last week, Blake climbed from No. 149 to 109.
So Blake is either 1) admirably willing to go back to the grind or 2) in denial. I’m going with No. 1.
The point is that he’s stringing together wins for the first time in a while, having won seven of eight matches in the past couple weeks, not counting a walkover. He is gaining momentum.
He told me the leading up to Sarasota, he had the best week of practice his knees allowed him to have in two years, and he “felt like I played better and better as the week was going on.’’ Continue reading
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."