The Drama Dream Team

By Jane Voigt

Ever think that a tennis court was a stage, like for actors. 

This week on tour players have taken to the stages at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which is a mere two-hour road trip from Hollywood. Less than stellar performances have exited left and right, as the draws narrow. The ones that remain vie for the Oscars of tennis: tour titles. 

Most players have a sane attitude during matches, no matter the stop. It’s consistent and portrays relative calm. Then there are those that dramatize their situations. They make faces, look to their player boxes with hands on hips, scream at them, periodically smash their racquet, and argue with chair umpires — a move rarely rewarded. 

So who on tour belongs on The Drama Dream Team?

Down The Tee has gathered its A-list and presents them to you: Fabio Fognini, Alize Cornet, Jelena Jankovic, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic. 

Tennis Channel commentator Mark Knowles characterized today’s match between Fognini (No. 13) and Alexandr Dolgopolov (No. 28) as high “entertainment value.” Two young stud players who have wiggled their way around the rankings due to spikes of hubris, poor motivation, and downright obstinate attitudes. I will not … harrumph

Both are serious contenders for the top 10, make no mistake. However, their career paths could be written as 3-act plays. Act I for the Ukranian Dolgopolov came early, when he was 3. His father Olexandr coached pros and little Alexandr traveled with him. His father taught his son how to play and coached him up until five years ago, when Alexandr hired Jack Reeder. However, Alex is back with his father who is with him at Indian Wells. 

Dolgopolov’s serve is snap quick. You have to study his groundstrokes, or else ease back in your seat and end up miffed by their execution. He jumps all over the place. Slides on hard courts. Runs like the wind. And can drop a drop shot with hands as soft as a baby’s. 

This afternoon, he broke one racquet and talked to himself many times. But he did defeat his opponent 62 64. 

Minutes before ‘the Dog’ closed out the match and advanced to his first quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open, Fognini demonstrated why he belonged on the Drama Dream Team. 

Dolgopolov had his first match point on Fognini’s serve. A deep-court rally ensued. Fognini got a short ball, ran in, drew his Babolat racquet back looking as if he’d hit a drive. But and aha … the Italian trickster hit a drop shot. It was worthy of a standing ovation, but his wry smile that he flashed up to his box on his way back to the baseline was the jackpot entertainment value. Bravo Mr. Fognini.  

During the match, Fabio rolled his shirt up about chest high, too, in a statement of frustration; and, he hit a front-side tweener just to hit it. Ah the theatrics.

In his match yesterday against Gael Monfils, Fognini held a deep conversation with himself, we have to imagine, at a changeover. He articulated with his hands between sips of water, raised and lowered his shoulders and eyebrows, and seemed to conclude he would continue the match. For that 90 seconds he should get an Oscar, no doubt. 

Alize Cornet, another fine member of the Team, has earned her way with brave bouts of screaming in French at her entourage, crying on changeovers and at the baseline, and vexing gestures towards opponents and umpires that are quite indecipherable yet highly engaging. Cornet (No. 22) lost yesterday to the No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 75 63. However, the Frenchwoman will not lose her spot on the Team. 

Jelena Jankovic (No. 7) is a long-time member of our thespian group. Early in her career she delighted fans with her antics. She talked with her mother, who was always on hand. She exchanged snippets with fans that sat court-side. The conversations could continue throughout a match. Tamed by years of awkward coaching situations and fitness regimes that didn’t fit her style, Jankovic has steadied herself and her ranking. Her recent record shows it. She has played her way to the quarterfinals at Indian Wells and will face Radwanska for the honor of moving forward to the semifinals. 

Andy Murray (No. 5) and Novak Djokovic (No. 2) honor us with their knack to distract. 

Although Murray had surgery last fall to correct back problems, he still grabs at it and winces especially if the score favors his opponent. Although mostly cured of this absolutely lame demonstration of extreme immaturity, Murray can become boisterous with his box mates. At least he doesn’t cry and whimper. A few years back at this event, he strolled toward his support group and yelled, “You don’t love me anymore.” For that, he is a permanent A-list member.

Novak Djokovic has cleaned up his act. No more withdrawals for sore throats, which was a benchmark act in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals against Roger Federer in 2008. Djokovic, though, still makes our hearts beat quickly when he rips off shirts and yells to the rafters, lays on his back and pumps his fists directly into a camera, and claps for a brilliant play by an opponent. This is Nole at his finest. 

One note of interest … Andy Murray held on to his emotions this afternoon as Milos Raonic (No. 10) sent the Wimbledon champion stage left, after losing 46 75 63. Never to do well in Indian Wells, Murray will probably high-tail it home to Miami, clean up his act, and get in the right frame of mind to defend his title at the Sony Open next week. 




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