Category: "sports"

My favorite parts of the tournament were the moments of male compassion – del Potro consoling the sobbing, injured Almagro; Zeballos carrying into the locker room the gear of the likewise incapacitated Goffin – and the women’s semi-final matches as both tattooed ladies went down in defeat. Unfortunately, the victors in both those matches had chosen for the tournament the exact same outfit of white tennis dress with blue-and-green trim. This meant that the final would be played by look-a-likes, since athlete superstitiousness always supersedes fashion embarrassment.

That final was a little disappointing to me as I thought that, of the two, Ostapenko – who had just turned 20 – would have been less devastated by defeat. Halep had already lost one French Open final – to the now shunned Sharapova – and was, at 25, on the cusp of tennis middle age. And, in the hours after her victory, Ostapenko proved a little annoying by answering pretty much every question any interviewer asked her with: “Yes, I’m just so happy, I still can’t believe I won Roland Garros.” Perhaps she was so happy she no longer understood English. (Though, barely out of teenagerdom, she speaks it better than Nadal.) But this is what happens when twenty-year-olds win Grand Slams. 

I had mixed feelings about the men’s semi-finals. I was delighted to see Wawrinka take down the thick-legged, malcontent Murray, a man whose black shoes and ankle braces, combined with his cloddish gait between points, always make him look like he’s playing in construction boots. But I wanted Thiem to rise up, as he had in Rome, and conquer Nadal. Or at least win a set.

I barely watched the final. But I take my hat off to Nadal’s team, which seems to have had some success in getting him, from time to time, to pick at his pocket instead of his underpants.

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

The Marlins are not only losing games – usually after losing leads – they’re losing players to the DL in the process. To watch the Fish play lately is to experience manifold levels of loss.

But tuning in to the late innings of last night’s game, I saw a fan behind home plate holding a sign that put their sad situation in such fine perspective that I wondered if she had been placed there by Jeffrey Loria. It read: “SOS Venezuela.”

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

at love

03/27/17 10:46

One of the many things I love about Miami is that it’s the rare American city where I can actually feel tall. Though not when I go to the Miami Open. Entering Crandon Park on Friday morning I nearly ran into Martina Hingis coming from a practice session. My mind sailed back to 1997 when I had watched her on a practice court going through fitness drills with a smile on her face. She had not sprouted up in the ensuing two decades, but her 30-something hitting partner had.

Farther in, I passed a few other sweat-glistened players. Julia Goerges of Germany kindly stopped to have her picture taken with a fan, while her towering team waited off to the side. These tall, tanned, square-jawed entourages speed through the grounds and remind me of comedian Aparna Nancherla’s term for the models she sees on the streets of New York: self-esteem pickpockets.

The spectators themselves, if not always tall, were generally fit. You don’t find the overweight folks at a tennis match that you do at a baseball game, probably because a good number of them play the sport they have come to watch. While most baseball fans haven’t touched a bat in decades.

Rain started falling so I headed to the stadium and up to the media center, passing with reverence the first row of computers where Bud Collins used to sit with his wife Anita – the Royal Couple of the press room, both dearly missed after Bud’s passing last year.

After lunch – a delicious smoked salmon crepe out in the food court – I found Agnieszka Radwanska hitting with a young African-American I had never seen.

“She’s 13,” said her grandmother, sitting in the last row of the bleachers. Down on the court, the rallies turned into points, a good number of which the freshly-minted teenager won. And the Krakovian wasn’t going easy on her. I asked the grandmother – who told me the girl’s name was Coco Gauff (you heard it here first) – how she had arranged a practice with Radwanska.

“Her agent set it up,” the grandmother said. Of course – the 13-year-old’s agent.

Nearby, the once-wunderkind Hingis was signing autographs after her doubles match. “Linda,” the woman standing next to me whispered, gazing at Hingis’s now chiseled visage. I mused on the competitive spirit that can make a former #1 happy after an early round doubles victory in Miami.

“Do you know why she split with Mirza?” another woman asked me. I didn’t know, nor did I know what to make of the fact that I looked like someone who might.

Later, watching a women’s doubles match, a man from Wisconsin told me he had just played for the first time “Florida rules tennis.” In 28 years of playing tennis in Florida, I had never heard the term. “It’s when nobody serves into the sun,” he explained.

The sun was long gone when I found Goerges again, practicing on Court 9 under the lights. She is my favorite German player after Andrea Petkovic. (Petkovic cites Goethe and Wilde as her favorite writers.) Watching her Friday, my affection for her grew. Her coach – or at least the man watching her hit – was wearing glasses, I now noticed, and her hitting partner had a bald spot. It was nearing 9 o’clock; I had first spotted her well before noon. Still, she continued pounding balls, sometimes sharing a laugh with her team. When she finally finished, the coach picked up the balls and, noticing me standing alone in the stands, held one up to throw to me. I gave a why-not shrug and the ball came floating up to my outstretched hand. It was a Penn 1 with the words "miami open" printed in black on the other side. I put it in my bookbag and headed for the exit.

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

The Australian Open finals were held on the weekend before the Super Bowl, opening up the possibility that Sports Illustrated would come out with a cover that wasn’t about football. (Especially since their Super Bowl preview had appeared the week before.) The victors in Melbourne were two 35-year-olds, one – Serena Williams – who made history, and one – Roger Federer – who, in beating his arch rival Rafael Nadal, conclusively made his case for Greatest of All Time.

 I waited all week for my issue to arrive in the mail. And waited. I went to Bob’s News and found the Super Bowl preview issue still on the rack. “That’s the last one we received,” I was told. I went to the library and found the same issue. Finally, I called Sports Illustrated and learned that no issue had been published after the Super Bowl preview. The premier sports magazine in America decided to take a week off rather than put a tennis player on its cover.

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

winners & losers

01/30/17 09:20

Tennis is a cruel sport. Every tournament dozens of players show up and all but two - a man and a woman - go home losers. Then they all head off to the next tournament where - unless they're part of the elite (lately, Djokovic, Murray, S. Williams) - they become losers all over again. Even those who once upon a time were winners.

Roger Federer, the man with the most Grand Slam titles in history, has of late been in this group. Young fans who never saw him in his prime - 10, 12 years ago - have known him. fundamentally, as a loser, or - more charitably - an also-ran. He's usually been there toward the end, still in the mix, but he's had to settle for, at best, second place. Possibly the greatest player the game has ever known has, over the last few years, left most of the tournaments he's played in with his head down. The winningest player in the sport - because of his deep (and richly requited) love for the sport, and his seemingly outdated confidence in himself - became the guy who sooner or later loses.

So his victory at the Australian Open was more than just the addition of one more Grand Slam trophy to his collection; it was the transformation of a legendary athlete from loser to winner.  It was the stunning spectacle of a 35-year-old man regaining the greatness of his youth.  

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

Like most people, I sleep at night. This means that, as a tennis fan, I turn on the Australian Open as soon as it comes on at 7 in the evening and watch the early matches from Melbourne - first on the Tennis Channel, then on ESPN2 - until 11 or 12. While I dream, loads of afternoon and evening matches are played.

When I wake up in the morning, I turn on the Tennis Channel and find replays of the matches I watched the previous evening. This morning it was the unexciting Venus Williams victory. My beloved channel will eventually get to the matches I missed and, because I work at home, I will sometimes watch bits of them. I break for Federer. But what of the thousands of American tennis fans who have 9 to 5 jobs? They are stuck in a kind of Grand Slam Groundhog's Day, watching - or probably skipping - the matches they've already seen, and missing out on the matches that happened while they slept.  

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports