Well, they’ve reached the penultimate singles stage at the Grand Slam gala at Flushing Meadows. The women are up today, starting with the All-Russian semifinal between fourth seed and 2004 U.S Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and sixth-seed Anna Chakvetadze. Experience or the comely up and comer? Either way, CBS can’t be happy that the finalist from the bottom half of the draw isn’t named Maria Sharapova as the defending champion, fashion world and Madison Avenue icon flamed out in the third round. Instead, the second semifinal matching world’s No. 1 Justine Henin and the resurgent Venus Williams should be the final. That would have turned up the Nielsen heat on Saturday night.
On the men’s side, CBS will open on Saturday morning with No.3 Novak Djokovic, who possesses a strong all-around game and does spot-on player impressions (USA Network Michael Barkaan put him up to a pair of simulations after he took out Carlos Moya in the quarters Thursday night), against No. 15 David Ferrer A claycourt specialist with wheels, Ferrer’s grit, hustle and forehand and Rafael Nadal’s patellar tendonitis combined to remove the No. 2 seed.
CBS needs the affable Djokovic, a budding star with enough power and touch to have beaten Andy Roddick, Nadal and the almost immortal Roger Federer in Montreal last month, to square off against the world’s No. 1, who is pursuing a record fourth consecutive crown in the Open era, if it hopes to draw any attention and audience from pro football’s later afternoon widow on Sunday.
Agassi’s arrival. While there has been plenty of compelling matches throughout the fortnight –Tommy Haas over James Blake, in particular — one thing was missing from the Open until Wednesday night. That’s when Andre Agassi returned to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and joined Ted Robinson and John McEnroe in USA’s booth to assist on the call of Federer’s quarterfinal triumph over Roddick. Agassi was a natural complement to USA’s astute team, lending views about the combatants’ strategies, grips and techniques, observations formed by his recent encounters with them on the court. Like many others, Agassi, whose 20-year career pitted him against the likes of Mac, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier and his chief rival Pete Sampras, has called Federer the best he’s ever played against. Thursday night, he marveled at the arsenal of weapons “Fed” wields. Agassi was a natural in the booth. One can only hope that we’ll see more guest or even regular appearances in the future.
More Andre. But for those who can’t wait for those potentialities, there’s more Andre to come on Tennis Channel. The 24-hour racquet service, in which the icon was an early investor, will premiere a fine documentary about Agassi Saturday at 10 p.m., presumably after the women having taking care of final business in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Traversing his personal life and career from a kid to his “image is everything” mode and finally his mature emergence as one of the game’s all-time great competitors, Agassi: Between The Lines incorporates great footage with interview segments, filmed since his retirement after last year’s Open, with Courier, Sampras, McEnroe, trainer Gilbert Reyes, former coach Brad Gilbert, the doyen of tennis sportswriters and now Tennis Channel commentator Bud Collins and the man himself. The only big omission: any comments from his wife, “Stephanie” Graff. It would have been interesting to hear the perspective on Agassi’s self-admitted “borderline stalking” of her, not to mention who wins their backyard forehand battles.
Perhaps Courier put it best when he said that Agassi’s “longevity and wattage” made him “the poster boy for tennis worldwide over the past 20 years. No matter what the rankings said, Andre’s been tennis’s leading light.”
The pits of the world. It’s always sad when dusk engulfs the final Grand Slam of the tennis season. This year, there’s other reason to be sad—not. With the Open’s end, the sun figures to set on the heavy rotation of American Express’s commercial for its dispute resolution service. For those who haven’t seen it –and there can’t be many given that CBS’s Dick Enberg last Saturday, jokingly, we think, listed the “1,297” times the spot had run to that point as one of the tourney’s first week highlights — McEnroe plays off his combative on-court demeanor.
He engages in a phone conversation asking why he would buy tennis lessons. When the CSR tells him that American Express has taken care of the matter, he mutters incredulously, “Resolve disputes, interesting” as he looks at old photo of himself, wood racquet in hand.
The spot then fast forwards 11 hours when Mac emerges from a cab to confront, Klaus Ulmaut, a fictional umpire from the 1985 U.S. Open. The punch line involves Mac saying that “ball might have been in. You’re not evil” as he embraces the faux official.
While Amex is to be applauded for making a smarter play in terms of having an endorser it knew was going to be around for the full two weeks of the Open — remember when Roddick lost in the first round in 2005 and the company was stuck with two weeks worth of “Where’s Andy’s Mojo” spots — it could have paid to produce a couple of other versions playing off the creative theme.
After viewing the spot at least 1,297 times myself, my response harkens back to one of Johnny Mac’s most infamous vitriol: “You cannot be serious.”