Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 1: Dubious Drop Shot Drops Russians Into 2-0 Hole

The day in the Portland Memorial Coliseum started with a warm-up performer banging on plastic buckets--fresh from the Tyra Banks Show, a breathless announcer proclaimed--moved on to Andy Roddick banging aces (25 in 14 service games), and essentially ended with Mikail Youzhny's deleterious decision to hit a drop shot that ended up in the bottom of the net in the fourth-set tiebreaker that he was losing 4-3.

All of Russia must have winced when Youhzny went for a drop shot from his backhand side. Youzhny had hit numerous stunning one-handed backhand winners in the hard-fought match, but very few dropshots, so his decision to do so at a critical point in the tiebreaker was ill-advised. Even if the spinning softy had cleared the net, fleet-footed James Blake would have run it down. Blake played two strong points after that and closed out the match, putting the U.S. up by two points in a three point contest. I guess James figured it was someone else's time to choke.

The rest of the eight-hour day is recounted in an obscenely long paragraph: American fans politely applaud alleged matchfixer Nikolai Davydenko in introductions (we tennis fans are so nice!)..."Rowdy" Davis Cup crowds blow whistles and bang together plastic inflatable tubes, but mostly fall quiet when the ball goes into play...A hearty Russian contingent behind their team bench cheers in their mother tongue (they could be saying terrible things, we'd never know) and blow a deep-throated air horn that is hysterically comical, like a lonesome cow in the Siberian plain...mostly gray-haired fans in the front row of the VIP seats on each end ducking for their lives while Roddick and Youzhny hit warmup serves that hop into the seats like missiles...baseline judges using the most-neglected call in all of the tennis, the foot fault, on Roddick early in the match (although they quit calling it later in the match--I thought he got away with a foot on the line on an ace at deuce at 5-4 in the second set). Youzhny also committed a few foot faults. Think of what the line judges would do to serial foot-faulter Leyton Hewitt...The Portland Memorial Coliseum is an old, second-rate arena that must have been nice in the early seventies. (If any arena is still called simply "Memorial" that means the marketing department has been unable to sell the naming rights). The Rose Coliseum next door is the big hall, and I'm sure it has better concessions than the two choices of hot dogs, one pizza vendor and a Subway franchise with the longest lines in the history of that ubiquitous, below-average-generic deli. Davis Cup gets the old dingy hall; tomorrow night, eighties has-beens Van Halen play the Rose Coliseum for the baby boomers who haven't bought a new CD since Reagan was president (I thought the Northwest was supposed to be cool)...I hate to say this, but inept ball children do not get the balls to the players in time, prompting the players and umpires to direct them with waves and scowls. One boy stumbled and fell into the singles sticks while retrieving an errant serrve, knocking the stick loose and requiring the umpire to come down and fix the net. Because of the delay, Youzhny was granted another first serve and hit an ace. He then went up and high-fived the young ballboy...Portland's best singers apparently are nine-year-olds, handling the National Anthem and God Bless America with all the skill of eighth-graders (that's a compliment, nine-year-olds are fourth grade or so.)...Can anyone explain to me why Blake challenged a Youzhny serve that was called out? Even though he hit a would-be winner on the serve that was out, the linesman had made a call and Youzhny stopped, so the best he could win was a second serve anyway. However, the ball was deemed out, as called, and Youzhny was rewarded a first serve for a shot he had hit out already. Confused? I am. Blake, like the gentlemen named Davis who founded this event in 1900, went to Harvard; I only went to more affordable state schools. Did he think his return winner would count if the ball was in?...And speaking of challenges, tennis balls have a very faint skin of yellow felt, almost like little hairs. The rule is that if any part of the ball touches the line, and I assume this means the fuzz, the ball is good. So how do we track these tiny threads? It's too bad my USTA league doesn't have these shot spot machines. When I was a kid playing junior tennis in the seventies and eighties, there were a few players against whom you had to hit the ball inside the line to get the call. Anything that touched a line would be called out. Michael Gilbert, you know who you are...Point of the day was at deuce at 2-2 in the third set, won by Youzhny, a long rally with several major retrievals and an incredible lob by the Russian...Blake and Youzhny show how truly good they are, smacking manly one-handed backhands crosscourt, powerful shots hit where they were because that was the opponent's weak side...Andy Roddick on camera chomping on his nails during Blake's match. Get the boy a manicure...

And that gets me to Youzhny's drop shot attempt, after which point we all waited in a long line of traffic to escape the concrete parking deck. Check out the Davis Cup slide show on Yahoo if you need images to go with these words.