- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

For additional proof that men's tennis has turned into a slightly sweatier version of professional golf sans the bad jokes and worse literature, of course look no farther than Andy Roddick.
Following his upset loss to the remarkably unremarkable Fernando Meligeni in the third round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Roddick had every right to be upset and every reason to, say, smash a racket or throttle a water cooler in disgust.
Instead, the defending tournament champ was calm and collected. In his post-match news conference, Roddick even noted that the inexplicable defeat would give him more time to prepare for the upcoming U.S. Open.
"Who knows, maybe that's a blessing," he said. "This is my fifth week in a row going, so maybe I was due for a bad match."
Losing a blessing? Maybe he was due?
While Roddick's remarks reflect a certain brand of professionalism the one practiced week after week by golfers not named Tiger they also speak to one of the main reasons men's tennis has become so, well, dull.
Simply put, the sport is no place for the well-adjusted.
Like boxing, tennis at its best is more than just sport. It's gripping, rollicking, don't-you-dare-look-away theater. And more often than not, the drama stems from maladjustment from a lack of perspective, from an obsession with winning, from an decidedly unhealthy desire to be the best.
Problem is, there's too little of that in today's game.
Instead, it often seems that tennis has been overrun by what is known in the golf world as "Paycheck Petes": players who are fine and dandy with losing so long as they can advance a few rounds, stay healthy, collect a decent amount of prize money and move on to the next week.
While this attitude is somewhat inevitable there are too many tournaments, after all, and only a few that really matter it doesn't make for compelling matches, let alone a compelling tour.
Take, for example, the Legg Mason semifinal between Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan and Chile's Marcelo Rios. Despite a famously surly disposition, Rios is one of the game's top shotmakers, a former world No.1 with natural talent to spare.
Against Srichaphan, however, Rios just couldn't be bothered. At least not after winning the first set. Upon yielding an early service break in the second, the Chilean seemed to give up, preferring to stand in the center of the baseline and take golf-like cuts at the ball.
The most galling moment? When Srichaphan fired a serve on triple match point, Rios walked almost halfway to the net congratulatory handshake at the ready before a linesman called the ball out.
For his effort, or lack thereof, Rios received $31,000, not too shabby for something less than a week's work.
"I played a long match yesterday, and it's pretty tough to recover in 24 hours," Rios explained lamely, failing to note that his opponent was competing under the exact same circumstances. "I'm pretty happy with what I did this week, to be playing in the semis."
Now consider Lleyton Hewitt. Despite his average power and undersized stature, the 21-year-old Aussie stands atop the sport (perhaps boosted by a phone book).
The reason? Unlike some of his contemporaries, Hewitt hates to lose, no matter the circumstance. He's pugnacious, fiery, fiercely competitive a bit of a fist-pumping jerk, to be honest and a huge fan of Australian Rules football.
He's also willing to pick a fight with anyone, including the ATP. After incurring a record $206,000 fine for refusing to do an interview with ESPN before a first-round match in Cincinnati two weeks ago, Hewitt responded in characteristic fashion, blasting the tour's powers-that-be.
"It's a great sport if the ATP would just get out of the way," he told an Australian newspaper. "I'll change my schedule next year if the ATP keep up with this garbage.
"You have to ask why men's tennis is struggling and you have to start by looking at the top. There are times you feel like [walking away] and pulling on the boots and playing footy [football]."
While Hewitt is probably wrong in this case tour officials insist that Hewitt blew off a required ESPN interview for more than two weeks, and evidence suggests they're telling the truth we nevertheless applaud his misplaced ire.
Fact is, men's tennis could use more of it.

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