Few in the locker-room like being asked to end a popular champion’s career, to send another player – whether they be a high-octane star, or a low-maintenance ‘Mama’ – into the tennis after-life.
Take Andre Agassi’s last tournament, the 2006 US Open. First Andrei Pavel and then Marcos Baghdatis played as though they didn’t want to be the ones to stop the show, and Benjamin Becker kept on choking – figuratively, not literally – before beating the almost-immobile Las Vegan in the third round: that at did at least mean that Agassi had gone out to a B Becker. While there is not nearly the same amount of attention on Kim Clijsters, playing her last tournament at the US Open, as there was on Agassi, the circumstances of their second-round match will almost certainly have an effect on Laura Robson’s mindset. And maybe even a positive one. Yes, the British teenager had a great Olympics, winning a silver medal in the mixed doubles tournament, but this match gives her the opportunity to launch herself in America. As much as she can, Robson must play freely, and not think about possibly becoming the girl who ends Clijsters’ career. Leave the sentiment and the emotion to a post-match Clijsters.
To begin to understand Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, you must read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s superb cover story from the weekend’s New York Times magazine. Sullivan rightly calls Richard “an eternally elusive and evasive figure”, but the passage that follows captures him better than anything else I’ve seen on the man.
“I find him powerfully and movingly American somehow,” Sullivan wrote. “His whole personality seems to have evolved as a complex reaction-structure to an insecurity so profound that it must remain secret, especially from him. Throughout his daughters’ careers, he has gone about fanning a splendour of boxing-promoter language, of lies, half-truths, boasts, misstatements, non sequiturs, buffoonery, needless exaggerations, megalomania, paranoia – as well as here and there genuinely wise, amusing lines – all of which, you begin to feel, are designed (subconsciously, yes, but no less shrewdly) to deflect attention away from a still, small centre, the place where he dwells and operates. It’s there that he is who he is, whoever he is.”
And here’s something lighter. John Isner is “goofy” off the court, he tells American Vogue. “I’ve played some pretty cool pranks on people before. James Blake, who lives pretty much next door to me, knows how to get into my house when I’m gone, so he’ll go and fill up my DVR with Spanish shows. I get him back by letting the air out of the tyres of his golf cart so when he’s driving down to the course he only gets halfway there. Stuff like that. I can be immature. I think it’s healthy.”