Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who knew Federer was a whore?


‘Mano vs. Mono’ quipped a newspaper headline, a wry reference to Federer’s revelation that his recent losses have been the result of an attack of mononucleosis. I prefer Dull vs. the Dullard. No amount of music, manipulation, celebrity interviews, or fireworks can ever duplicate the intensity of a real match.

But who knew that Federer was capable of selling his soul to bring to tennis all of the baseness of a championship wrestling match? The only thing missing was fake blood.

My favorite moment was watching the expression on Tiger Woods’ face as he applauded the end of the match. Tiger looked as if he was thinking, “For this I missed being at home with my sweet baby? Steups.”

That over 19,000 fans bought overpriced tickets to watch this non-match tells me that New Yorkers are so hungry for tennis that they will even settle for a faux-spectacle. That’s all well and good. And if Federer was already over 35 and on the decline, I would have been more sympathetic. But Federer has a lot of tennis years left in him. And he has Sampras’ record to erase. Which he can. Which he is within striking distance of doing. Sampras won 14 Slams and 64 career titles. Federer has 12 Slams and has won 53 career titles.

In an earlier interview, Sampras declared that he did not think that Federer, at 26, would have any problems winning 15 Slams. But faced with the prospect of his legacy being erased, what does the same Sampras do? He dusts off his shoes, lubes up the creaky old joints, lumbers out of retirement, and challenges Federer not to a series of real matches but to a string of fake-assed exhibitions.

The way I see it, if you’re going to come out of retirement, then have the cojones to face real players in real matches. Like Billie Jean King did back in 1982 when she came out of retirement, got her 38-year-old butt in shape, re-entered the tour, and made it all the way to the Wimbledon semi-finals. Or like Martina Navratilova did in 2003 when, at age 46, she came out of retirement and won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles championships. Now that’s what I call having balls.

But not Sampras. He settles for staged exhibitions with all of the genuineness of a scripted soap opera. Is it that he lacks the courage? Is his ego too fragile to face a real challenge?

And could the corporate sponsorship be any more barf-inducing? Thanks Rolex. I’m truly appreciative that you sponsor tennis. But did you really have to require them to wear your damn product while playing? Who the heck plays tennis with a watch on his wrist?

During the match, Federer was so boring I wanted to slap him. He rolled in his first serves, gave Sampras easy volleys, and blatantly avoided putting away short balls. There were moments when he just stroked the ball back to keep the rally going. I kept wondering if he was auditioning for the role of tennis whore in a Hollywood movie.

And when Sampras announced afterwards that he had never lost a match at night in New York before, my blood almost boiled. I kept waiting for him to interject a hint of humor, a touch of irony to that grotesque statement. But neither was forthcoming. He was dead earnest. Can narcissism cause such deeply disordered thinking that he actually forgot that this was an exhibition match? Now that’s really sad.

When Sampras finally won the third of their exhibition matches, I understood the deal. There was no way Federer could win all of the events leading up to a match-up at Madison Square Garden. A 0-3 score for Sampras would not sell tickets.

But even then I kept wondering, why is Federer doing this? I understand that there is a market for this crap, but Federer doesn’t exactly need the money; he’s won over 39 million dollars in prize money alone.

I decided that it must be that he is craving American acceptance. For the Number 1 tennis player in the world, Federer has remained a relative unknown. He doesn’t appear regularly on Letterman. I’ve never seen him on ‘The View’. He hasn't dated Paris Hilton.

I suppose that this is a deal from which both players benefit. Sampras gets to remind people that he was once great, and to pretend that at his advanced age, he can still take on the best. And his wife, Bridgitte, the D-listed actress, even gets some free camera attention.

Federer gets to be the next Holly Olly, whoring himself out for American acceptance and popularity. I hope he finds that it has been worth it.

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