Tuesday, February 05, 2008

American Hero

(AP Photo)

I apologize for being a day late and a dollar short. But you can blame the rain in southern California for delaying the second day of Fed Cup action between USA and Germany until yesterday. By the time the matches ended, I had to be en route to Boston, where I now sit and throw together this scattered post.

Here's to Ashley Harkleroad, who came into her own once more and led the USA to a 4-1 victory in her Fed Cup debut. I said all I can say about her game and poise and composure in my last post, and it was nice to see her fight through her nerves and close out the tie on serve on her first attempt. Especially against the hot-ticket-of-the-moment in Sabine Lisicki.

For a woman so young, she is a tennis veteran of sorts. What with a marriage a divorce a broken engagement (I'm typing from memory here so if I'm wrong about these personal matters, someone correct me), a retirement from tennis because she couldn't handle the pressure of being America's Next Big Thing on women's side, and her comeback to the tour through challengers as the game seemed to have passed her by and we've got a gritty fighter who showed all that and more in for her team and her country.

Lindsay Davenport bounced back, as expected, and put a 46-minute beatdown on Julia Georges, a last minute substitution of Tatjana Malek who showed she could not handle the stress of Fed Cup. After the final singles rubber, Lindsay and veteran Lisa Raymond but on a brief doubles clinic against Anna-Lena Groenefeld (what the hell ever happened to her?) and Goerges, losing just two game.

(AFP/Getty Images)

Next up for the USA is a trip to Moscow to face Russia who overcame all of Israel in a 4-1 victory.

I watched the reverse singles of the Russia-Isreal tie and the Israeli crowd was back in full force trying to do whatever it could to get their players a victory. But Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze were having none of it.

For her part, AnnaC went practically bonkers out there. But that was her way of telling the crowd to go screw itself.

Vlad corrected my match facts. I hate when I get a fact from a match wrong, because there's really no excuse for that, but I stand by everything else I wrote. In particular, I've seen worse from crowds. That is my perception. I said I wouldn't go there, but I've changed my mind. Consider this a Tuesday Tirade if you must (you hear me, helen w?).

Agree or not, but I consider it worse when your home fans turn on you, boo you, and shout racist slurs at you in the finals of a Tier 1 event virtually in your own backyard as they did against Serena Williams at Indian Wells in 2001. I consider it worse when the French fans act like a lynch mob simply because you are trying to defend your title by beating a desperate and cheating woman in the 2003 Roland Garros semifinal. And lest you think I feel this way only because I'm a fan of Serena, I will point out that the Madrid fans were worse to Tomas Berdych, whom I no fan of, simply because he was beating homeboy Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Masters in 2006. Tomas had to serve through jeers and hit his groundstrokes through boos. And this was before his infamous finger shush to the crowd after the match, much like the one Sharapova gestured to the Israeli crowd after the first day of the tie in question. Tomas was chastised by fans; Maria, applauded. And who can forget the way the Flushing Meadows fans booed and hissed at a cramping Marcos Baghdatis in the the second round on the 2007 US Open simply because it was Andre Agassi's last Slam event? There's more, but I'll stop. You get my point.

None of the events above were venues where any such fan behavior was expected (well...) or ought to have been tolerated. Davis Cup and Fed Cup remain the only tennis competitions where such roudy and rude fan behavior is part of the attraction of the event. All players know what they're getting into. Know that they have to beat their opponents and the fans. No player expects to be coddled by the opposing team's fans because of what he or she might have gone through off the court during the off-season. This references a fan who suggested the crowd should be ashamed of itself if it knew that AnnaC's family home had been robbed at gunpoint in December. But AnnaC didn't back down from her attackers then. With her life on the line. That experience, which she emerged from physically unscathed, makes what she had to deal with on a tennis court a stroll in the park. Take a look:

Ultimately, how a visiting team deals with hostility can ultimately decide the outcome of a tie. Maria and AnnaC were defiant and antagonistic and it worked for them. Both admitted that the atmosphere motivated them even more to win their matches. Weaker-minded players may have cowered. But not these women. Oh, no. They held their ground, stood strong, and prevailed anyway.

So who, exactly, was harmed by the crowd's behavior?

And lest we also forget, the officials in Davis Cup and Fed Cup have the discretion to give the visiting team points or even games if the crowd's behavior crosses whatever line it needs to cross for the point and game penalties to be given. How often did they use that discretion during this tie?

Mob behavior is just that. If the tie officials don't do their jobs, well, then....


Helen W said...

Finally! A Tuesday Tirade. Order is restored in the univserse.

Happy New Year to you too Craig.

I did not see the matches in question but I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, and from what I could see (obviously a lot less than any of the matches) they seemed to be a typical DC/Fed Cup crowd. And it certainly looked to me like Anna C & Maria S both more than rose to the occasion, drawing strength from the crowd's animus.

I agree with you Craig, this was much different than what Serena endured at Indian Wells in 2001, which was simply appalling. And the NY crowd that booed Marcos Baghdatis hit a new low (for me) in a different way.

I'm not a great Sharapova fan, but I am glad to see her back in form.

Craig Hickman said...

I'm glad I could draw you back into the discussion, helen w.

It's nice to know that people look forward to my rants. LOL.

Happy New Year.