In this month's Inside Tennis there is a fantastic round table discussion with Brad Gilbert and Mary Carillo on various topics generally related to the US Open. Topics include the state and future of American tennis, the popularity of tennis in America, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Maria, Venus, Serena, GOATs, rivalries, and the importance to Americans to have a top American player competing for titles.
Now, I'm a big fan of straight shooters. I don't agree with them a lot of the time, but I respect their candor. Like them or hate them, BG and MC are straight shooters. I agree with MC way more often than I agree with BG, but I really loved this round table discussion and I encourage everyone to read it. Lots of food for thought.
Some of my favorite exchanges:
IT: This year, watching Andy lose to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Australia and to Janko Tipsarevic at Wimbledon, he was busting his ass, fighting like hell, trying to add variety, but he may not have the skill set to consistently play with the top-three guys.
MC: He knows that. His candor when he loses — he knows he’s not getting it done. He’s worked very hard, but does he work on the right things? I honestly thought that when Connors was working with him he would develop a much different way to handle the court. Court management was a hallmark of Jimmy’s game, how to keep your court small and the other guy’s big. It’s got to be rough for Andy because it’s not like he’s not working.
It's pretty obvious why I like this exchange: I agree.
MC: Who do you say are greats? Are Venus and Serena all-time greats?
IT: Obviously, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court and Chris Evert are in the top five, and if you go top 10, you can throw in Billie Jean King, Evonne Goolagong...
BG: Maria is only 21 and has five to six good years left.
MC: Venus and Serena are two of the best of their generation, but they aren’t in double figures yet [Serena has eight Slam titles; Venus seven]. I honestly thought they would take over and we would have twin tigers.
BG: They can get to 20 combined, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment.
MC: A great accomplishment, but Steffi had 22 by herself, so that “all-time great” conversation is different.
BG: Because we’ve had periods where one or possibly two women dominated. It’s so much better when we have up to eight players who can win a tournament. It’s much more interesting.
IT: Maybe back in ‘02, ‘03, when Serena was winning everything and Venus was reaching all those Slam finals, too much was expected of them — that they could win 15 or 20 Slams each. You look at Venus and some days she’s world-beater and other days she’s technically breaking down. It’s not like she has the cleanest game in the world.
MC: Not at all, but what are you saying: that we should expect Pete and Roger to do that and not Venus and Serena? Why aren’t women expected to do that?
IT: Some are. I’m talking about where the bar should have been set for Venus and Serena specifically. Maybe it was set too high. Plus, the contention that they should be winning everything they enter downgrades the games of some of their elite competitors. Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic are very good.
MC: I thought they were going to have ownership of the tour.
BG: Venus and Serena are doing a great job. They’re complete and happy people, and that’s more important. If they had total obsession they might have burned out and might not be happy people. They’re active in other things and are still good at what they love.
MC: Aren’t you happy that Roger, Nadal and Tiger dedicate themselves that much?
BG: Not everyone can be that way.
MC: I’m glad they want it that much.
BG: I haven’t second-guessed them for one second. Everyone’s different.
MC: Are you glad that Steffi was Steffi?
BG: Yes, but not everyone can be Steffi.
MC: I’m not questioning their lives. All I’m saying is what I thought was going to happen.
I found this exchange interesting for a few different reasons. First, I found it surprising that Brad Gilbert, a guy who is known as a great motivator who can push people to be better, who is so unforgiving when good players lose, actually has a fatalistic view of success and greatness. I physically blanched at his "Not everyone can be that way" comment on dedication. I completely disagree. I think everyone has the capacity to dedicate themselves fully and commit to greatness. Whether or not you achieve it is a completely different issue, but you can pour everything into it. If you can't that's your fault.
Second, I'm 100% with Mary on her "disappointment" with Venus and Serena. I don't mean disappointment in a "you have failed" sort of way. Clearly they are great champions who have achieved so much. But when they came up, I really did think they were going to dominate tennis and change the way it was played. And it would have been so great for American tennis if they did. They haven't failed, but I guess I expected more from them and hoped more for them.
Last, I like that Mary called Brad out on the different level of expectations placed on the men as opposed to the women. Why is that Roger loses a few matches and everyone is up in arms because he is not living up to expectation, but when Venus and Serena lose people tend to give them a mulligan and just pat them on the head and let them live their lives. Why can't we call them out on it?
IT: So how do you explain Serbia? There’s no real explanation other than the standard “They’re more hungry” thing. You have three elite players, all of whom came from middle-class backgrounds.
MC: And the poor Russian women are so tired of it. They really want to kill them.
BG: That’s a little misleading. Jankovic went to Bollettieri’s; Djokovic went to Nicki Pilic in Germany; and Ivanovic went to Switzerland. Had they stayed in Serbia would they be this good?
IT: No, they would be like Tipsarevic, who stayed in Serbia and is ranked No. 45.
I just liked that they called Tipsy out.