Open House, Day 5: The Players We Like, and Hawk-Eye v. Foot Faults

Updated: 03 September 2010 14:48 IST

Michael Kimmelman, the Times's chief art critic, and Gerry Marzorati, editor of the Sunday Magazine, are covering the Open from uncommon perspectives. Each morn

New York :

Michael Kimmelman, the Times's chief art critic, and Gerry Marzorati, editor of the Sunday Magazine, are covering the Open from uncommon perspectives. Each morning, they discuss what's happening. Join the conversation -- or ask a fan-oriented question -- by sending in a comment.

Gerry Marzorati: Morning, Michael. Reading your blog post last night after dinner, I sense a certain affection there for Taylor Dent -- one I have to say I don't quite share. He strikes me as some stray Belushi brother who got his hands on a Wilson T2000 back then and never gave up. But I am intrigued by the notion of which players we find likable, and which we don't.

Now, I am not a tennis writer and have never before been among tennis writers, but I sense from conversations and overheard conversations in the Open media center that no one is exactly losing sleep over the absence of Serena. On the other hand, Kim Clijsters is someone reporters long to hug. And the fans seem to have favorites, too -- such as Sharapova, who might not immediately spring to mind.

Like everyone else, I too have my favorites: Gilles Simon (whom I got to watch rout Donald Young on Wednesday), because he is wiry and wily and thus who I would like to be were I not a 3.5 club player; and Francesca Schiavone, for much the same reasons; and Fed, for not at all the same reason, but because he is the Platonic ideal of tennis, embodied (and also a gentleman).

Why do we like the players we like? And why are their players we don't like, irrationally don't like, or stylistically don't like -- like, for me, though I am not going to name names ... well, the Djokster?

Michael Kimmelman: Actually I felt no particular connection with Dent, only with his helpless situation. But you're right about how fans and tennis insiders relate to players for sometimes irrational or highly personal reasons.

It was striking at Wimbledon this year to talk passingly with a few of the players and coaches and writers about Andre Agassi's book, for example. Like many outsiders, I loved it as a literary memoir. Many insiders I spoke with reacted totally differently. Disappointed, they said, "Andre is his father's son." Meaning, he's an angry man.

For me, it was a perfect example of the disconnect between public and private. Agassi and his ghostwriter presented a personality to match his public image as someone clever, reflective, who has matured and developed a humane and charitable view toward the world, who has achieved happiness in marriage and through family, albeit I sensed there was perhaps another Agassi too, who revealed himself in some of the meaner comments in the book. But insiders just saw the angry, petty parts, which confirmed feelings they had formed about him over decades.

This is not to suggest that they know the "truth." Who's to say, about him or anyone, unless you know the man yourself? I'm just talking about the disconnect -- how players, like any celebrities, develop public identities that may or may not reflect behind-the-scenes behavior.

In fact, Agassi himself writes with frustration and bewilderment about public affection for Jimmy Connors, whom he describes as widely loathed among the players. On the other hand, I have been struck by how both Federer and Nadal are respected and admired by nearly everyone inside the game, how their public and private images correlate.

All this would of course be meaningless, just gossip, except that tennis, like the movies or the automotive industry, is big business. Agents, sponsors, tour officials, like movie producers or car salesmen, try to brand their products, to carve out niches for them in the marketplace, to win our loyalty in ways that we may not consciously recognize.

Real fans would probably say the only thing that matters is the tennis, the style of play, what happens on court, not all this other nonsense. But I have to admit that having spoken with Clijsters, who is genuinely lovely, it's hard not to feel greater affection now for her game.

And I suspect that we also assign players personalities based on their behavior on court, which may or may not be fair. A bunch of our readers have lambasted Roddick for his behavior toward the line judge in the match he lost, which confirmed for them that he's a classic American boor. Tennis writers say that's not true, that he's amusing and wry -- which, again, isn't to trump the outsider view, or to excuse how he belittled the judge. It's merely to point out that we make unconscious associations that we think are purely tennis ones. I've seen Federer berate umpires, curse and mope, and after losing at Wimbledon he gave a notably sour and petulant post-match news conference. But no one accuses him of being a Swiss boor, because he has an image as a gentleman.

Anyway, I agree with you that we ultimately root for players with whom we can, however dimly and distantly, identify, or whom we dream of being like. Like you and a lot of other fans, I just can't relate to Djokovic either. But man, I would love to own his ground strokes and ability to scoot around the court.

G.M.: There was still a lot of talk in the blogosphere and twittersphere yesterday about Roddick -- who is a genuinely nice guy but may be a favorite of fewer fans after his over-the-top reaction to his being called for a foot fault the other night. (Of course, what he should have been called for is his persistent inability to develop points.) It doesn't take much to imagine what reporters would have been asking Serena yesterday had she been playing the Open. Or, as had been remarked upon: Can we imagine Andy carrying on like that with a line ump who wasn't a woman?

So now, as Chris Clarey writes about this morning, there is talk of introducing Hawk-Eye for foot faults. But WHY? The Roddick call, like the Serena call, was perfectly correct. (Andy freaked over the poor ump's inability to correctly note which foot crossed the line -- or, as a shrink, might have noted, was really freaked about...oh, never mind.) This is not the case, as it was in that crucial, awful game in the Serena-Capriati Open match in 2006, when the line umps made the wrong calls on THREE points -- ALL against Serena (who did not blow up, it is worth recalling). That game is what ultimately brought Hawk-Eye to tennis: The umpires (their preferred name) just can't see correctly every 120-m.p.h. ball hit on or near a line. They can see foot faults.

The question with foot faults is whether we care. Some umps clearly don't -- anyone who has sat courtside and watched closely knows that -- and some do ... sometimes, as our colleague Geoff McDonald noted last year. So the real question is: Do we want umps calling foot faults tightly or not -- especially at crucial points in big matches? And I am here to say, No.

M.K.: You raise a couple of questions here: should Hawk-Eye be used for foot faults? and should foot faults be called "tightly"?

You answer them the same way: No. I think in both cases you've stepped over the line.

About the first question, Chris raises the right point. It's about consistency and peace for the players. He quotes the French veteran Florent Serra saying, "It can play on your mind," and "if they have the technology, why not use it?"

Right. Of course, use it. So what it costs money? This is a multi-billion-dollar business. And who cares if it's only used once in a blue moon. Really, the question might be, do we yet have the technology -- meaning the speed and immediacy in reaction time -- to eliminate line judges altogether and have matches called entirely by Hawk-Eye? Why continue to suffer human error?

Which leads to your second question. "Tightly." That's a weaselly wor

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