Is Sania Mirza a belly dancer? Can anyone win in Montreal? Who is the Lego man? And where did Bud Collins end up?

The big news here at the East West Bank Classic just south of Los Angeles is the flu. Jelena Jankovic just finished taking antibiotics last night but dispensed with Peng Shuai rather easily. Eleni Daniilidou has been sick for four days herself. She battled back from a break to get to a first set tiebreaker with Maria Sharapova then got up 3-0 in the tiebreaker before making a few errors and losing it 7-5. By the time she was down 1-3 in the second set, she was done, she couldn’t breathe any more.

Daniilidiou’s short media session was heartbreaking. She could barely answer the questions through her tears. She didn’t have to come to a media session; I think she just wanted us to know how badly she wanted to play Sharapova:

We are working for this kind of match, to play with top players and to play in such a good atmosphere. …I wanted to step on court and give my best.

I often complain about players reneging on commitments to tournaments at the last moment but this the other end of the spectrum. I have nothing but admiration for Daniilidou’s desire and her pride.

Sania the Belly Dancer

Yesterday was pretty exciting too. Maria Kirilenko beat number six seed Marion Bartoli and Sania Mirza beat number seven seed Martina Hingis.

I remember Hingis from her first swing around the tennis world when she won five slams before she took three years off to recover from foot problems. The early version of Martina was brash, brazen and, frankly, obnoxious. Her mouth was legendary.

After Amelie Mauresmo came out as a lesbian at the 1999 Australian Open, Hingis called her half a man. In 1998 she dissed Steffi Graf with the following: “She is old now. Her time has passed.” That was the year before Graf beat her in the final of the French Open.

Today, though, Hingis is one of the elders and she’s been absolutely delightful and engaging throughout this entire event. After Mirza beat her last night, Hingis walked up to the net and asked her how she hits such sharp angles with her strokes. In the media session afterwards, she jokingly theorized that Mirza must have studied belly dancing and developed those angles from the exotic wrist curls associated with the form.

Belly dancing has roots in India among other cultures and speaking of India, when I was at the ATP Los Angeles event, I interviewed Vijay Amitraj and asked him about the explosion of tennis in his home country. India now has two WTA and two ATP events and Bangalore recently bid on the WTA Championships.

Amritraj said the recent growth in the Indian economy was responsible for the tennis explosion. When I asked Mirza the same question, she had a slightly different answer.

I like to think I play a little part in that….I think if a girl from Hyderabad – where tennis is not the sport to be playing – comes up from there and is playing against the likes of Hingis and the Williamses and the Sharapovas, I think people start believing that they can do it as well.

Mr. Amritraj thinks it’s the economy and Sania thinks she plays a part in it. It’s the economy because big prize money is luring tournaments to Eastern Europe and Asia and now India. Countries around the world outsource call centers and software engineering to India and the country is developing a larger affluent class.

But Sania is part of it too. Last year when I visited the country for a few weeks, even the smallest villages had images of her in ads for the telephone company. And when more female tennis players from India come along, she can take more than a little part of the credit.

Those Montreal Picks

One word: atrocious. We all expected upsets at the ATP Masters Series event in Montreal because it’s the first hard court event after the clay court season for most European players and those players are dropping like flies. Gone already: Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Tommy Robredo and Jarkko Nieminen, Europeans every one. Fernando Gonzalez lost too and James Blake is out with an abdominal muscle strain.

The U.S. Open Series has become an opportunity for the lower ranked U.S. players to fatten up on hard court events then watch as the Europeans turn up and take over the Masters events and the U.S. Open.

Instead of two Masters events in a row – the Cincinnati Masters follows next week – isn’t it time to move one of those events a few weeks earlier and establish some significance to the U.S. Open Series? That way those early losers in Montreal will drop in at Washington or Indianapolis or Los Angeles and play a few rounds.

By the way, I’ll go full bore on Cincinnati next week once the WTA event in Los Angeles is finished.

The Search for Lego Man

Last week I stopped off at Legoland on the way home from the Acura Classic. I was the only single adult I could see and now I’m wondering when U.S. entertainment conglomerates will start building theme parks for the elderly. Aren’t we this country’s fastest growing population and don’t we deserve some fun too?

This morning I see that an eight foot high Lego man washed up onto the shore at Zandvoort in Holland. The big guy has that gas can head, those c-clamp hands and the words “NO REAL THAN YOU ARE” etched on his belly. Unless mutant fish species are spawning Lego characters in the bottom of the North Sea, I think this might be an artist’s installation and I translate those awkward words to mean that Lego man is no more real, nor less, than you and I.

Bud Collins and ESPN

Bud Collins was unceremoniously fired by NBC at the end of Wimbledon after 35 years of loyal service. ESPN has been nice enough to hire him and that’s a smart thing. A lot of younger viewers don’t like Collins’ shtick, it looks a bit too much like country club silliness with his funny pants and quirky bits, but Collins brings tennis history with him and sports fans love to argue about who’s the best player of all time and figure out who was the last player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year four times in a row.*

Collins will cover the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon for ESPN2 and report tennis for SportsCenter and ESPN radio. I was on’s daily live radio show talking about tennis gambling last week and the wonderful host, Brandon Rosage, said this in his introduction: “We’re going to talk – yes! – tennis and I’ll explain why, ” as if there needed to be an explanation. I, for one, will be happy to hear more tennis on radio. Welcome back Bud.

*The answer is no one. Roger Federer was the first to do it three times in a row.

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