Originally we were going to light up The Tennis Channel for it’s diminished coverage of our beloved Hopman Cup, which is a celebration of tennis, a multi-national competition sometimes decided by our dearly beloved mixed doubles–how novel–and the greatest of New Year’s pick me ups. It is true that TTC only televised three sessions of the Hopman Cup, but in it’s quest to cover American tennis primarily, and with the blah team of Mardy Fish and Bethanie Mattek-Sands representing America, could we really blame them? In this day and age, if you can’t find just about any tennis online live, you have no business criticizing the The Tennis Channel anyway. But criticizing Fish and Sands? That’s a cottage industry.
Well, if you hearken back to last year when John Isner–a winner–and Sands partnered up to win Hopman Cup XXIII, you couldn’t have been too displeased with Sands, who perhaps had no business tussling with Justine Henin, but who did pull her weight admirably in perhaps sharing with Isner in her greatest tennis glory. And was it not a sight to see Justine Henin returning serve to John Isner? Let’s face it, Sands is a middling player at best, a blight on our Fed Cup team, a high socked, neon dyed chubby little picture of bad fashion with the girliest popgun forehand in the women’s top 55, but she is not a disgrace to American tennis. The girl gets doubles, understands well her limitations, and therefore uses the net, approaches as much as possible with nice touch at net, and again, she came through as much as one could expect her to last year to get USA her sixth Hopman Cup.
It’s not her fault that her meager game gets trotted out so regularly to horrible results by Mary Joe Fernandez. That would be the USTA’s fault. So when the Czech sounded the American death knell the other morning, and Sands got obliterated by Kvitova, as she should, and when Fish got abused by Berdych, as expected, we put no blame on Ms. Sands. After all, the Americans were up a break in the second set of the mixed, and it was no fault of Sands that Mardy Fish blew about ten volleys in 4 games and netted four crosses in the exact same damned spot in the net. As our mate Fred Stolle aptly pointed out, if Fish were tired from being beaten so badly by Tomas Berdych, that was not an excuse for dead legged tennis in the mixed, crossing like a kamikaze to blow volleys that the 12 year olds over at the NYJTL make regularly in the school yard. Fred Stolle, who we only get down under and occasionally during mixed package major season, the first seven days of the majors, when we are very lucky. Fred, why couldn’t you have stayed with ESPN back in the day and that hack Cliff Drysdale have gone?
Fish Fish Fish. The worst thing anyone could possibly do is to put their faith in Mardy Fish in the big spot. Now you might say, well, didn’t Fish win the bespeckled tennis ball with a driven Serena a scant few years back? Yes. But Serena is so great that she can make Mardy Fish a winner for a week, something we’ve yet to see anyone else do. She carried Fish, she banged unreturnable serves to the men and women, and her presence on just about any doubles team has generally always produced medals and champion trophies. It was lucky for Mardy that Serena likes bling so much, was healthy, and so motivated to get another blinged out tennis ball from old Lucy H. For when Fish had the opportunity to take home the gold, he lost in five sets to…Nicolas Massu. And he’ll never live that down.
And the excuses abound. And that’s just tiresome. Like hearing about Mardy Fish’s ankle all summer. Let’s face it. Nadal is more heavily taped up on a day to day basis by a lot, and he only wins majors. While Fish is rationalizing to the cameras on Hopman Cup that at least Bethanie got in some matches. Again, Sands is not the dominant player here. When she won, it was Isner, and when Fish won, it was all Serena. But can’t Fish state a grand intention for once, even if it’s only at Hopman Cup, where he is a past champion paired with the defending champion? Instead it’s always like, ‘well maybe I can make the quarters.’
So we aren’t upset that America lost, considering the roster, and that so many other rosters were much much stronger. Had a special eye on Bulgaria with our lad Grigor Dimitrov, the best up and coming one hander in the game, and Tsvetana Pironkova, Wimbledon’s mistress–quite a team. BTW, Dimitrov did not look like a prodigy but rather, a prodigy realized, when he spanked Mardy Fish 6-2, 6-1. Loved France with super talented one hander Richard Gasquet and two-hander Marion Bartoli, an utter hack but taken with Gasquet, a very diverse tandem. And the Czech obviously were going to be heavy favorites because they were loaded, with Kvitova a given to win and Berdych sitting very pretty. If the Americans could have actually stretched it out TTC would have shown us more tennis, but they still had the good grace to televise the final which we happened to catch last night at 4 AM, and despite the lack of drama due to the sweep and the no mixed match which would’ve been a hot contest, we got to see the dominant left hand of Kvitova, the dominant serve of Berdych, and the flair of Gasquet, one the game’s best shot makers. Gasquet took the backhand early and made many beautiful backhands up the line, made incredible forehand return winners, making for a very interesting match which Berdych took 7-6 (7-0), 6-4. Berdych is in fine form. His return game was clicking, popping several huge forehands for winners in his own right, and even on the tacky blue plexicushion, we felt the indoor conditions made the court play extremely fast. It was bang bang tennis, and both guys should get credit for going for shots, coming forward, and pursuing the attack.
A nice bit of warm spirit after the contest was when Bartoli came down to console Gasquet after the match, and when Kvitova came to congratulate and celebrate with Berdych. This is a great competition and always has been, in the name of the great Harry Hopman who coached from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Gerulaitis, and who stressed the serve, the overhead, and getting to net and sticking your racquet out. Unfortunately from a sentimental aspect, the event has had its last run at Burswood, but is sounds like the Hopman Cup is moving to an even better venue in Perth’s new arena.
It’s no real comfort to America, but Fish goes home with Stacey Gardner, so obviously these losses aren’t sweated too heavily. And Berdych to Ester Satorova. Damn. We should’ve had a battle of the tennis babes featuring those two. But there’s still time.