No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s sides, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he’s calling it a career, made at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.
Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now concentrate on running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Tex., where he now makes his home.
Asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he’s never been fond of the Fourth Estate. More often than not, he’s acted peevish when asked legitimate questions he would have preferred to avoid.
I remember asking him after he won his first-round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about American Express’ bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?” ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets, creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and still do now.
It’s hard not feel sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who got bounced after losing his second-round match despite being seeded fifth. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) and himself. “I would have to say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then played on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he plays, he “never get[s] rewarded” at Grand Slam tournaments.
I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at the Open, if it’s good for tennis that 1 percent of the male players win 99 percent of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is,” he said. “When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense [but] Novak, Roger and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone.”
Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the US Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.
Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead shorts and a hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an LA-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.
Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seatbelt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all, suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)
Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri, who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.
I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.
The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of a higher-priced sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, Tennis Channel marketers neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public nor had a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters, such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.
The Golf Channel, which obviously has a niche appeal similar to that of the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why its people should promote themselves where they can, such as at American tennis’ marquee event.
The United States Tennis Association held a kickoff event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)
It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them.
After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaningful September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.