LONDON,  ENGLAND - JULY 04: Serena Williams of USA and Rafael Nadal of Spain with their winners trophies at the Wimbledon Championships 2010 Winners Ball at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel on July 4,  2010 in London,  England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

I’ve been looking at the subject of trending topics and journalism lately. The conversation goes like this: Traditional media outlets such as newspapers and magazines are drowning in the world of the online mediasphere. Blogs and websites dedicated to such subjects as sports and celebrities with little or no subscription costs short of a video ad or text ads running down the side of the page are taking over the news world.

In order to catch up and make a profit instead of continuing to lose money, media outlets are replacing editors with search engines. Instead of a group of gray suited editors meeting in the newsroom each morning and handing out writing assignments – and essentially dictating the subject of discussion for its readers which used to be much of the population – new media sites are looking at hot search topics on Twitter, Google, and Yahoo and assigning articles based on those results.

No matter what you might think of this turn of events, and I certainly find it distressing that TMZ.com was valued at $100 millions dollars earlier this year while the LA Times is slowly fading away, let’s see what this might look like in the world of tennis media.

I went to monitter.com and entered the search term “tennis” and found the following trending topics on twitter: Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and the ATP grass court event in Newport. Serena is trending because she’s on the front of Sports Illustrated this week, Rafa because he’s taking over Roger Federer’s place as the best player in the game, and Newport because Nicolas Mahut is playing and that, my friends, comes from the biggest tennis topic of the year so far – as decided by google’s trend tracker – that never ending match between Mahut and John Isner in the first round of Wimbledon.

Next I went over to Google’s Hot Searches and looked at their list of most searched items. As you could probably guess, no tennis item was high on the list. So I decided to pair one of the trending tennis topics with one of Google’s Hot Searches to push my blog post closer to the top of Google’s search page – that’s the goal right?

I started with Hot Search topic Caster Semenya. After winning the African Junior Championships in both the 800 meter and 1500 meter races last year, Semenya was barred from competing while her gender was verified. Competitors claimed that she is built like a man and so competing against her is unfair. She’s a trending topic today because the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced that Semenya has been cleared to return to competition as a woman.

Which brings me back to Serena. Did anyone ever complain that it’s unfair to compete against Serena because she’s just too strong? She definitely got a bosom and a big butt, but if her game was jello wrestling rather than tennis – which requires at least a bit of finesse, would she be facing a gender test before being allowed to compete in the next event? Or, as @dollfacebarbie put it, “Why do Serena Williams look so Hard?”

And then there’s LeBron James and his pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. These athletes are the most valuable free agents in the NBA this summer and they are dictating the lives of many other NBA players at the moment. Salivating teams are dumping and trading players left and right to free up enough money to sign one, two, or maybe all three of these bigtime free agents.

What’s interesting about this process is the circus surrounding it. Particularly the cameras following Wade and Bosh who are being filmed as part of a documentary. Teams ask the players to turn the cameras off during their sales pitches to Wade and Bosh but you have to think that some of them feel more like fodder for a new Borat movie than a serious contender for either player’s services.

Which leads me to wonder, what about tennis documentaries or reality shows? We had a Serena and Venus reality show and that was nice, but what about a reality show that follows a player on tour, or a reality show that works the coaching merry go-round on the ATP and WTA tour by choosing a player’s next coach?

Marcos Baghdatis fired both his coach and his trainer this past week. Baggy’s a great subject for a reality show because he’s good looking and he’s an emotional and charismatic player. He also has a history of playing well on big stages and the American audience knows him from a captivating five set thriller with Andre Agassi during Agassi’s last U.S. Open.

John McEnroe could be Donald Trump and fire prospective coaches until there’s only one left. Tennis magazines could follow the burgeoning relationship between Baggy and his newly chosen coach. For sure the topic should trend high when they break up – honest, the top two stories on Yahoo today involve the breakup of Jake and Vienna, the resulting couple of ABC’s reality show The Bachelor.

Look, reality shows make their own news. That’s the point. The point is to generate a looping news cycle by creating a product that involves the audience and thus creates a trending topic. Media sites then assign stories on the trending topic and celebrity magazines join in and you’re golden.

Whaddya think? Short of bringing back Anna Kournikova, how can we make tennis trend?

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June 24,  2010 - 06083543 date 24 06 2010 Copyright imago GEPA Pictures Tennis ATP Wimbledon 2010 London England 24 Jun 10 Tennis ATP World Tour Wimbledon 2010 Grand Slam Picture shows Nicolas Mahut FRA and John Isner USA with the Referees and the Scoreboard PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxAUTxITA Tennis men All England Championships ATP Tour London Wimbledon Action shot Single Vdig xkg 2010 horizontal Highlight premiumd.

I dropped into my local Japanese restaurant for lunch today and ordered my favorite dish – a salmon salad. Just because I go to a Japanese restaurant doesn’t mean I eat Japanese food. Anyway, the woman who works lunch grew up on Long Island and used to go to the U.S. Open with her father. Even so, when I ran into the restaurant last Thursday and implored her to turn on the television so I could watch the mind boggling marathon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon, she didn’t believe me.

She could see my desperation to watch the match but the score hadn’t made any sense to her. I told her the score was 39-39 in the fifth set but it hadn’t registered. World Cup soccer had taken over the tennis broadcast so the score still wasn’t real to her and it didn’t sink in till she went home and saw the rest of the match.

Kind of. It was the never ending first round match that died at 59-59 in that evening’s darkness only to end with a 70-68 Isner victory the next day.

By the way, I know Isner and Mahut were eating something or other but don’t they have labor laws that cover lunch breaks and dinner breaks in that situation? And I can guarantee you, I’d have needed a Stadium Gal setup for bladder relief and a rubber donut after sitting for more than six hours if I’d been the chair umpire

It’s virtually impossible to overhype a 163 game match with 215 aces that went longer than 11 hours, but that didn’t stop a bit of overanalyzing in the aftermath. John F. Murray, sports psychologist and author of Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, was concerned about Mahut’s mental health after ending up with a loss after such a heroic effort:

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest this loss could manifest itself in him calling an end to his career.

I would say it’s an exaggeration. Mahut went through a cathartic crying jag at the end of the match then picked himself up and played his scheduled doubles match the same day. I’m much more worried about Andy Roddick’s Wimbledon hangover. After losing last year’s Wimbledon final to Roger Federer by the measly low score of 16-14 in the fifth set, Roddick went out to 82nd ranked Yen-Hsun Lu in the fourth round this year. And that’s really tough because Roddick won’t have that many more chances to fulfill his dream of a Wimbledon title.

And speaking of 82nd ranked players, Venus Williams lost to 82nd ranked Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarterfinals today by the eye popping score of 6-2, 6-3. Pironkova is making sure we don’t entirely forget the quirky game of Fabrice Santoro with that funky forehand slice of hers. She moved Venus around and changed speeds enough to put Venus off her game and that’s not a fluke, Pironkova also took Venus out in the first round at the 2006 Australian Open.

The person I’m most worried about at the moment is Jennifer Capriati. It’s not just the prescription drug overdose that landed her in the hospital on Monday morning but the friends she keeps. The media called it an “accidental” overdose in what is probably an attempt by her family to ease the perception of the situation, but Justin Gimelstob wasn’t going along with the spin.

Gimelstob went on The Early Show on CBS today and described Capriati as being in “in tremendous pain physically and mentally. She struggled with depression, and it’s a tough story.” Some of this is common knowledge but Gimelstob is a friend of Capriati’s while, at the same time, a member of the media, so how much should he be saying while Capriati is in the hospital?

Celebrity websites outhustle more traditional news organizations these days and the line between members of the media and their subjects has shrunk. People with video cameras line up outside clubs and restaurants and sell their footage of sports and entertainment figures to TMZ.com. But friends should clear personal comments with their subjects before going public.

There’s another friend too. A former boyfriend of Capriati’s has used her woes to advertise his own career. Dale DaBone – who must have been named by one of his employers – is a retired porn star who told TMZ that his decision to return to porn had left Capriati “hysterical.” Capriati’s story just gets sadder and sadder.

I often find pro tennis players conservative in their reluctance to talk about other players but in this case I appreciate it.

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French Open - Roland Garros 2008 Day Fourteen

The last time I went to a WTA event in San Diego was the last time a WTA event was held in San Diego – the fall of 2007. The tennis world’s relationship to gambling had just blown up after online betting site Betfair.com canceled all bets on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vasallo-Arguello because it had all the earmarks of a fixed match.

The ATP never managed to proved match fixing because they couldn’t connect either of the players to a gambler, and the event in San Diego was canceled partially because – as I remember it – the residents of the tony La Costa Resort and Spa didn’t appreciate the intrusion of all that traffic, they had enough already with the yearly PGA golf event.

Fast forward to 2010 and now it’s Los Angeles that will lose its WTA event at the Home Depot Center only to relocate to San Diego. The Home Depot Center was an awful place for a tennis tournament by the way, more cement that you could possibly imagine and just not very much atmosphere. The media hordes were relegated to a dark underground area that let out onto a dirt field that was all dug up and grooved for the X Games motocross competition. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Los Angeles was a Tier III event while San Diego used to be Tier I so the new event in San Diego will be smaller, though I must have been wrong about that traffic problem because once again it’s at the La Costa resort. Tier III and IV events are now referred to as International and even though it’s a lower level event, it’s still part of the U.S. Open Series that runs up to the U.S. Open and, so far, Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina, and Svetlana Kuznetsova have signed up.

We’ll see if they really turn up when July 31st rolls around but at least the event has a title sponsor and that’s a good thing. Mercury Insurance Group has signed up and the event will now be known as the Mercury Insurance Open. If you want to go and see a beautiful spot and see some pretty good tennis players, check out the tournament website. See you there.

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SERBIA-BELGRADE-TENNIS-SERBIA OPEN-FINAL

The overall feel I get from the world of tennis at the moment is upheaval or, to put it another way, changes we thought would come have arrived.

Federer has had an awful spring, Andy Murray even worse (not a change we expected but I’m getting there), Rafael Nadal is back to winning on clay only, Novak Djokovic is still getting sick, and Ernests Gulbis is finally moving up the ranks.

Gulbis could have gone either way. He could have ended up as a joke after being busted for soliciting a prostitute in Sweden late last year or he could have realized that he’d better change his ways instead of fooling around. And I don’t mean that as a sexual innuendo. Gulbis admits that he wasn’t a hard worker. Think about how much ego that takes. Here was a young player who thought he could stay on tour without working as hard as everyone else. Especially when you watch these interminable battles on clay. Granted it’s not the same as going down a mine and digging out the side of a mountain day after day but it does require supreme conditioning.

Gulbis started off by losing his first service game to Albert Montanes in Madrid today then won the first set 7-5 and finished Montanes off 6-1 in the second after Montanes hurt his groin. I love Montanes’ Roscoe Tanner serve by the way. I wish more players had the nerve to toss the ball short and smash it. Imagine if one of the brawnier players took up that serve – Marcos Baghdatis? He could kill with it. (For obvious reasons I should have said stocky in Baggy’s case instead of brawny.) Robin Soderling’s toss is so high I have a hard time not flipping channels during his service motion.

And then there’s Quisner – U.S. tennis’ two headed tallness of Sam Querrey and John Isner. Someone please tell me how this duo got to the final at last week’s event in Belgrade? That’s a change no one saw coming.

Belgrade was a small event but Querrey beat Igor Andreev, a fair clay player, and Isner beat both Richard Gasquet and Stanislas Wawrinka who are much more than fair on clay. Querrey won the title in Belgrade and both guys are into the second round in Madrid.

I would argue that the U.S. has produced tennis twins before. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were two sides of the same coin. While their styles were very different, both were incredibly ill mannered and notorious for using those ill manners in any way necessary to win a match. McEnroe may have acted out of a sense of privilege while Connors acted as if his opponent was stealing food off his plate, but this was as much a matter of parental training as it was childhood circumstances.

McEnroe and Connors were fraternal twins while Querrey and Isner are identical. Not only identical to each other but veritable clones of Andy Roddick. And that’s a bit disappointing. The rest of the world is turning out athletic all court players and the U.S. is still producing big servers. Unless some ground up cement was tossed in with the red clay at that event in Belgrade I protest too much, but I would have loved it if Donald Young had amounted to something with his touch and creativity and I’m still looking for a U.S. player like that today.

Back to one of those expected changes. Federer appears to be turning into late career Pete Sampras before our eyes. In the three seasons from 2000-2002, Sampras won three events: Miami, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That gave him 14 slams and that ain’t bad. If Federer won two more slams in the next three years he’d have 18 and that would be unbelievable.

I’m wondering what text message Pete and Rog might be sending back and forth as Sampras’ late career tutoring takes hold:

Dammit Pete, first I lose to Baghdatis for the first time ever and now I lose to Berdych who hasn’t beaten me since 2004. This is killing me!

Rog, Uh, hello? Isn’t the next slam on clay??? Who cares about Indian Wells and Miami. Just keep your muscles warmed up till the big stuff on clay happens ok? Besides, you don’t want to wear yourself out do you?

Hello yourself Pete, losing to Ernests Gulbis! Didn’t he start the year at like number 90?

Rog, Rog, it’s Rome. Clay warmup. Don’t worry buddy.

Pete, It’s tiny Estoril and Montanes is older that I am. This is embarrassing!

Rog, you got to the semis didn’t you? Everything’s right on schedule for Paris, defending champ.

Or something like that anyway. While I think Rog can wake up in time for Paris, Soderling is unlikely to take out Rafael Nadal this year so it probably won’t matter. As for the U.S. Open let’s check back in July.

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BNP Paribas Open

This edition of Indian Wells has been weird, just weird. When 96 players turn up in a draw, there are usually a number of gripping matches that come with them but it didn’t really happen. Take today. There were two three set matches in the men’s semifinals and neither one had me on the edge of my seat.

Rafael Nadal looked like his normal self when he broke 31-year-old Ivan Ljubicic in the first and last game of the opening set. Then, long about the end of the second set, Rafa didn’t look like himself.

Looby hit a deep shot that Rafa should have been able to handle but didn’t then Rafa hit a double fault and that was it. Looby evened the match. Rafa was still in a malaise at the beginning of the third set and lost his serve. Viral malaise I’d have to say.

The problem isn’t that Indian Wells, as one of the journalists described it today, is a “quiet and sleepy kind of place full of rather ancient people.” It’s always been a quiet and sleepy kind of place full of rather ancient people yet we’ve had strings of fantastic matches here before.

The players just didn’t seem to be up for it. Nicolas Almagro walked off against Andy Murray with an ankle injury that didn’t look all that bad, Novak Djokovic didn’t turn up in his match against Looby due to Davis Cup exhaustion, Murray started his match against Robin Soderling losing the first five games and didn’t really get going till the end of the second set when it was too late and lost in the tiebreaker anyway.

We sat there in the media center tapping our fingers waiting for Rafa to perk up and put Looby away and I, meanwhile, received the following text message: “WTF w/ Nadal?” That same person suggested I ask Rafa why he didn’t volley more considering that he’s in the men’s doubles final today and that was the problem. Rafa put off his media session till after his doubles match which was hours later. Unless something was wrong, he just didn’t seem to care enough.

And, as someone said to Looby after the match: “Did you think you’d ever see the day when Nadal would be out of the singles and in the doubles final?”

Rafa broke back right away in the third set then had a match point at 4-5 with Looby standing at the net – a perfect setup for a typical Rafa passing shot on a critical point. Instead, Rafa aimed right at Looby’s belly button and missed low into the net.

Rafa won exactly one point in the tiebreaker and I’m not the only one who was puzzled. Matt Cronin – who’s way better at this stuff than I am – wondered aloud on twitter why Rafa was so “tentative.”

All credit to Looby. I love the guy. Always have. He’s always been one of the more mature and insightful players on tour and he came up with 17 aces and a bunch of groundstroke winners against the toughest baseliner in the game. And when asked about Andy Roddick as his possible opponent in the final, he said that Andy is “pushing the ball back” then added, quickly, “but he’s doing it well.”

I guess Looby wanted to temper his assessment of Andy as a pusher – a defensive player who just gets the ball back over the net. After Andy’s semifinal match with Soderling I planned on trying to provoke him a bit by saying: “Ljubicic called you a pusher. What’re you gonna do about it?”

Before I could, though, someone put it in a more polite way and Andy responded with words that said he didn’t care but body language that showed some irritation. He should be a proud pusher because he outlasted a very hot Soderling by fending off numerous deep hard shots and, most of all, returning so well that it probably made the difference in the match.

Andy has never won this event and Looby has never won a Masters event. We will have one extremely happy tennis player at the end of the men’s final tomorrow. My attention will already be on its way to Miami to see if we can turn up the heat a little bit in every way possible.

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