By Jane Voigt
The Australian Open draws marched on toward the fourth round today, as temperatures soared and players quibbled about court assignments.
This gripe was most notable when Tennis Channel’s Jim Courier sideswiped Roger Federer in an on-court interview, following the last match of the day. Courier wanted to know if Roger had asked to play at night because temperatures – a dramatic 9-degrees Celsius lower than daytime high of a reported 40-degrees Celsius – were preferable. (40-degrees Celsius is approximately 105-degrees Farenheit.)
Federer is a ninja, where the press is concerned. Rarely, if ever, does he get hooked by leading questions, such as the one Courier threw his way on Rod Laver Arena, immediately following the number-two seed’s win over German Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(4).
“There’s maybe 60 guys asking for stuff, so I’m one of those guys,” a smiling Federer told Courier.
Courier wasn’t done. Do you have extra leverage with court assignments because you are Roger Federer, Jim continued? “Maybe,” Federer said. “But it’s not my call. There’s other guys out there like Novak. Other guys they’ll listen to like the Aussies. There’s tv stuff, as well. I don’t know what you guys ask for at night.”
And, really, he doesn’t. Make no mistake, coaches and players’ management teams lobby tournament directors for their tutee’s sake on a regular basis. Federer, therefore, was being up-front with Courier.
Federer continued to shape the conversation, adding he was “happy I didn’t have to go from night to day,” reported metro.co.uk. Courier remained respectfully quiet, as Federer mentioned – and that’s an important word – he “wouldn’t mind playing in the day.” Why? Because it shows championship character, “if you want to get to the top you have to play in all conditions’ and “it’s helpful to play now rather than in those conditions.”
The interview continued and ended on a conciliatory note, at least one not plump with dissonance. Courier wanted to know Federer’s recollection of his miraculous run and title win (his 18th) last year, after a six-month injury time out. “I enjoyed that I could speak differently to you guys, to the press,” Federer began. “in the press room I was able to tell the truth.”
Was Federer sending a message to fans and the media? Sure was. It was his way to say that maneuvering on court was not the only maneuvering he had to handle during his career.
Darren Cahill, coach of Simona Halep (No. 1) and ESPN tennis analyst, complimented Courier’s questions on Twitter. “No one better than Jim Courier at interviewing players after a match. Relaxed and always gets the balance of serious/fun questions right.”
Cahill’s view of Courier was shared by other media tennis types, as well. They saw Courier take the opportunity to straight-up ask Federer – arguably the greatest man to have ever played the game – if he’d asked for a night match. And they applauded his angle and demeanor. Yet Courier’s willingness to take that risk, in other words his audacity, says something else, too.
He wasn’t “balanced” in his interest or intent. Rather, he wanted to catch Federer off guard on a trending, red-hot tournament topic, which really isn’t this tournament’s red-hot topic because it comes up regularly when sun and heat and humidity challenge players at any and all locales. Plus Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Gaels Monfils all said in press that the conditions were “brutal,” and on the cusp of intolerable. They played mid-afternoon and Djokovic is a six-time Australian Open champion. Federer is a five-time champion and 7-time semifinalist.
Sticking a microphone in players’ faces right before they go on court is an interruption in concentration for them, although they have agreed to the intrusion in contract negotiations. On-court interviews after matches land in the same category: intrusive and uncomfortable to watch, although most are mundane. (Unless, of course, comedian Will Ferrell takes over, which he did two nights ago after Federer’s second-round win.)
Federer is a big boy with 20 years experience with the press. There’s no need to feel sorry for him or worry that he’ll face a ‘gotcha’ question. However, Courier and every other commentator, for he is not a journalist, should take a look at their motives when asking leading questions immediately before or after a match.
In this case Courier erred in judgment, especially in timing. Federer reversed momentum after the last ball and gathered himself in seconds to thoughtfully answer whatever came his way in a totally new sphere. A little less desire for sound bites from Courier and a little more courtesy would be tantamount to respect in these occasions.