AP Blog: Etiquette Built in to Tennis

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Thursday, September 7, 2006; 11:52 PM

-- AP sports writers at the U.S. Open will be filing periodic dispatches from one tennis' greatest spectacles:

THURSDAY, Sept. 7:

Watching James Blake and Roger Federer warm up for their match tonight, it's all so civil.

Blake moves to the net, and Federer hits easy balls right to him. They take turns setting up the other guy in practice, no tricks or gamesmanship at all. That's how it is in tennis _ the etiquette and sportsmanship is built in.

Hard to imagine that in other sports. Fights break out before college football games, basketball teams woof during layup lines. Swimmers spit in opponent's lanes while getting loose, Olympic ice skaters cut off rivals in warmups.

Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb could hardly stand to be on the same field together, same for Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

But in tennis, they place nice, even when they play each other.

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wherever Maria Sharapova goes, a crowd follows.

Today she practiced on the fenced-in court that's farthest from where fans can stand, and still more than 100 people stood there about 100 yards away to watch her. A couple of junior players _ boys, of course _ also stopped by.

They all stayed there, too, to see her work on serves and returns, even though the afternoon's big event, the men's quarterfinal between Nikolay Davydenko and Tommy Haas, was about to start next door at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

When Sharapova was done, she signed about a dozen autographs for fans clustered behind a barrier. Never said a word, never looked up. She was in a hurry, and at least she did it.

Russian players certainly don't get a break when it comes to signing their names _ Sharapova, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Likhovtseva, Chakvetadze.

Sharapova's signature looks like a pointy "M" followed by a squiggly line. Amelie Mauresmo's is creative, resembling a big "O" with a thumb through it. Haas should have it easy, with so few letters. Instead, the whole thing reads like "Jeff."

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 6:

NEW YORK (AP) _ After a day of postponements, the sun came out and most everyone is in action. Everyone except for the folks who keep the courts dry, of course.

They've been busy all week because of the rain, and it's fun to watch how precisely they do their jobs. At Arthur Ashe Stadium, it's a well-choreographed drill _ 12 people with oversized squeegees line up, walk in a pattern and mop every inch. They also can turn up the heat with portable blowers, if need be.

And when the water really starts soaking the court, they can bring out the big gun: the Slamboni. Hockey has its Zamboni, tennis has the Slamboni. It's like a riding lawn mower that vacuums the surface. Not built for speed, though.

Am guessing the Zamboni would win a 50-yard race pretty easily. But the Slamboni might handle better in the turns.

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

TUESDAY, Sept. 5:

NEW YORK (AP) _ Appropriately enough, Eric Clapton's "After Midnight" blares on the loudspeakers, and the 3,000 or so ticket-buying souls hardy enough to last past that hour in Arthur Ashe Stadium are dancin' in the aisles during a changeover between games of Lleyton Hewitt's fourth-round match against Richard Gasquet. Next comes Queen's "We Will Rock You."

Ah, Grand Slam tennis, New York-style. You don't hear rock music _ or, any music at all _ when there are breaks in the action at Wimbledon or the French Open.

And you don't hear this, either: Made boorish by beer, perhaps, or the hour, some spectators have taken to whistling or catcalling whenever a certain member of the ball kid brigade runs to collect a ball. She happens to be the only female ball kid, and she smiles as she hears the noise directed her way. Later, when she's replaced by a male ball kid, he hears some boos. And then some similar whistling and catcalls.

Hewitt, who winds up winning at 12:53 a.m. in five sets as Gasquet can barely walk because of cramps, notices all the hubbub.

"I didn't know what was going on the first couple times it happened," he says. "Then they started booing the other bloke. He was pretty shattered."

_AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ It's drizzling, and most of the daytime matches have been called off. With a shaky forecast tonight, bad weather again is the big winner at the Open.

So what do tennis players do during a rain delay? They play _ pingpong or pinball, baseball or basketball.

The players' lounge at the Open is big and airy, about the size of large movie theater at a mall. It's on the second floor; head down a flight, walk straight for 30 yards, go through the door and you're on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

At the lounge's "Cybercourt," there are rows of computers to check e-mail and surf the Net. There are PlayStations (baseball seemed to be the favorite today), a golf game with real clubs, an Austin Powers pinball machine and a pop-a-shot hoops setup.

The best action was in the middle of the room. Six people crowded around a foosball table, all twirling handles. Nearby, a young man hit wicked forehands on the pingpong table with his right hand _ while holding a cell phone to his ear with his left.

Some players stretched out on couches, others sat on the floor and gabbed in several languages. Former champion Ivan Lendl stopped by to see some familiar faces.

Everyone, all so friendly. Tomorrow, they'll try to pound each other.

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ A few steps away from the players' locker rooms in Arthur Ashe Stadium sits Room 1181, with the label "Anti-Doping." It's also got a red octagonal "STOP" sign on the door _ exactly like the traffic sign _ above the all-capital-letters warning: "Please knock and wait for a response before entering! Thank you in advance for your cooperation."

With that in mind, I found this scene amusing:

Her news conference finished after a three-set loss to Amelie Mauresmo, Serena Williams stopped to autograph a kid's giant tennis ball, then resumed her slow walk down the hall toward the locker room (with that aforementioned door nearby).

As Williams moved in that direction, surrounded by an entourage that included a sister (not Venus) and an agent, a man approached the group from behind. He was carrying a cup.

Williams' agent sensed his presence and turned.

"Doping?" the agent asked.

"Uh, nope," came his reply. "Just carrying a cup of hot coffee. I promise I won't spill on any of you."

_AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich.

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ Apparently Andy Roddick isn't on board with the commercialization of sports.

While waiting to take questions at a news conference following his 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Bejamin Becker on Monday, Roddick's gaze fell upon a conspicuously placed bottle of Evian water in front of him.

"I don't know about you guys, do you think this is product placement?" he asked with a smile.

Then he took off his hat and draped it over the top of the bottle, obscuring the bottle's label with the "L" for Lacoste on his cap.

A reporter noted that Roddick himself was engaging in product placement of a sort, to which he replied: "I could just be calling myself a loser, too."

Roddick is no dummy, though. By the time the news conference started in earnest, cameras sending the scene across the world, the hat with the sponsor's logo was perched on his head and the water bottle's label was back in full view.

_AP Sports Writer Connor Ennis

___

Sunday, Sept. 3:

NEW YORK (AP) _ Not sure the last time I witnessed such an all-around outpouring of goodwill toward one person.

Everyone on-site and watching on TV saw the lengthy, loud standing ovation he received from the fans in the stands Sunday.

But then there was the ovation from his peers and opponents in the locker room.

And the pats on the back, applause and well-wishing that Agassi heard as he took his pigeon-toed steps through the hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium on the way to his ride at the end of the day. Ushers, security guards, people working at the scheduling desk _ everyone wanted to connect with Agassi.

They all wanted to be sure to deliver a personal "goodbye" on the final day of his 21-year playing career.

Even Jon Lovitz managed to make contact in the hallway. Yeah, that's the ticket.

_AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ The line started forming right after Andre Agassi lost. Little girls in their pink tennis dresses, grandparents with their sun visors, most everybody. They all wanted a picture with him.

Not the real Andre, mind you. But right past the main entrance to the Open, there's a wall of photos featuring life-sized action shots of champions. They're all there _ the Williams sisters, Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Billie Jean King.

On this day, there might as well have been only one (OK, there was a couple speaking German that wanted to stand on either side of the Martina Hingis picture, but they later went to Agassi, too).

Fans from all over took turns handing their cameras to each other, posing with Agassi and swapping their favorite Andre stories.

A guy in his 40s with a balding head said he'd been mistaken for Agassi. The guy actually told people they wouldn't believe how many times he'd been asked for his autograph by mixed-up fans.

Hey, pal: Yeah, I'd believe it.

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ There's a cute tradition here at the U.S. Open: Winners at Arthur Ashe Stadium autograph three balls after the match, then hit them into the seats.

Maria Sharapova has the system down perfectly. What a surprise, right? She walks onto the court, swivels around and tilts her ear, egging on fans to get louder.

James Blake takes care of his crowd _ he softly taps a ball into his rooting section, sitting in a corner box.

Andy Roddick, meanwhile, swings for the fences. He tries to crush the ball, seeing if he can completely knock it out of the park. No one has ever done it at Ashe _ Roddick gives it a good ride, about halfway up the upper deck.

Just wondering: What would happen tomorrow night if Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado came over from Shea Stadium for a few whacks? With an aluminum bat, could those Mets sluggers clear the top row with a tennis ball? Probably need a physics professor for that one.

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

Saturday, Sept. 2:

NEW YORK (AP) _ The rain's getting heavier and heavier out here. Can't imagine they'll play a point today. No indoor courts for competition _ or practice. There used to be a covered place with practice courts, but that's been torn down; the new area is expected to be ready for the 2008 U.S. Open.

So Andre Agassi went out to a club in New Rochelle, N.Y., about 15 miles away, to get some indoor work in.

Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova braved the rain here, taking to the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium for a brief side-by-side practice session. They've been the subject of gossip about whether they're an item: Sharapova says she won't discuss her private life; Roddick said this week they're not dating.

Roddick and Sharapova shared the court Saturday, but they didn't appear to share so much as a glance in the other's direction. First, they were at opposite baselines, hitting diagonally cross-court to their respective hitting partners. Then they stood at the same end of the court, swatting balls over the net, but not interacting.

Maybe that's because Sharapova's dad, Yuri, was nearby, keeping close watch.

_AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ It's raining a little bit and very windy out here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which means no tennis is being played.

Some players who are scheduled for late matches probably are waiting things out at their hotel _ no sign of Andre Agassi or his entourage yet _ but anyone slated to be on court early has to be out here, just in case the weather clears and play begins. Takes too long to get from Manhattan to Queens.

So the players' lounges _ one on the ground floor, one upstairs _ in Arthur Ashe Stadium are teeming with people. Players, of course, but also agents and parents and hangers-on.

Maria Sharapova was walking through the downstairs lounge, music earbuds in place, cap pulled down low over her eyes. She was supposed to be on court against Elena Likhovtseva at 11 a.m. Jelena Jankovic _ she upset Venus Williams at Wimbledon, and reached the fourth round here by winning Friday _ was killing time until her doubles match by shooting hoops on a mini-basketball game in the upstairs lounge.

Ah, yes, basketball: a sport the pros play indoors.

_AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich

___

Friday, Sept. 1:

NEW YORK (AP) _ Suddenly, everybody at Arthur Ashe Stadium is a referee. A ball hits the line, a few fans hoot; a ball looks a bit wide, all 23,000 people holler.

Thanks, instant replay.

Fact is, this challenge system makes for good theater. Andre Agassi seems to enjoy it _ egged on by the shouting crowd, he slowly pointed his racket at the giant videoboard Thursday night, and the screen showed he was right.

Point, Agassi.

A lot of players seemed reluctant to do it early in the tournament. Now, they're catching on. They get to contest two calls per set _ might as well use 'em.

And, it's worth the effort. So far, 20 of 67 challenged calls have been overturned. Agassi has tried the most often, going 2-for-6.

This might be the best part: Rather than post the result right away, tennis officials asked the tech folks to slow down and show it several seconds later. More time for the drama to build, more fun for the fans.

Tennis is a sport with great sounds _ the pop of balls being hit, the squeak of sneakers. And now, there's a new one _ thousands of people shouting "Challenge!"

_AP Sports Writer Ben Walker

___

NEW YORK (AP) _ Some players are fun to watch at the U.S. Open because of what they can do with the racket. Roger Federer hitting a shot behind-his-back and between-his-legs, that kind of thing.

And others, you go to see because, well, they might flip out. Marat Safin comes to mind. One writer always makes certain to track his matches, knowing bizarre behavior is a possibility.

So when Vera Zvonareva fell behind today against Elena Dementieva, it was time to walk over to the Grandstand court.

A couple of years ago at the Open, Zvonareva broke down in tears and sobbed during a match against Dementieva. For no apparent reason, either.

Got there to see only two games today, but that was enough time for Zvonareva to break a racket, throw away her visor, stare at the chair umpire, reach over the net to point at where a shot landed and zing an extra ball after losing a point.

I later asked Dementieva how she kept her cool in the face of such a display.

"You know what kind of match it's going to be when you play her," she said. "She is, how would you say, very emotional."

By Zvonareva's standards, today's show was rather tame. But worth it.

© 2006 The Associated Press