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Yelling at the TV: Outstanding Aussie Open (for vampires)

For the vampire sports fan, there was some outstanding stuff on ESPN2 around 4 a.m.

It was the live coverage of the women's final of the Australian Open, won by Serena Williams in just fantastic, dominating fashion over Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3, in a television-friendly 59 minutes.

On par with the brilliant performance was the commentating, particularly by Mary Carillo, one of the best color commentators in the business. Chris Fowler was a terrific foil as well.

Start with Carillo's vocabulary: Williams was "luminous," Safina had an "under-nourished performance," and she called Fowler a "cock-eyed optimist" when he offered that perhaps Safina had some hope at 0-6, 2-5.

As Williams put together one of her finest efforts to win her 10th grand slam, Carillo spoke during the match about how she wished she saw this kind of focus, preparation and performance all the time from Williams -- who has dabbled in acting and the fashion world -- and the top women's players, especially compared to some grand men's matches the tournament has seen.

It was a natural, perfect question to ask, and it wasn't done in an attempt to keep viewers watching (like forced opining you'll hear at the end of dragging baseball games). Fowler superbly volleyed some points back, saying that perhaps that training all the time isn't just Williams' style.

As the match closed, the pair revisited the conversation, with Carillo yearning: "I can't have this all the time?"

"She's doing it her way," Fowler offered.

"I love this," Carillo beamed. "I love that she's here."

"I'm sure her opponents feel the same way," joked Fowler, before going to commercial with a mini-soliloquy that made this sportswriter jealous.

"They'd like her to go away and act, or write, or do anything but hit tennis balls like this. Because when she does, no one can stay on a hardcourt with Serena Williams.

"A devastating, 6-0, 6-3 doubles and singles champion of the Australian Open in 2009 and double figures in majors."

Now that is the way to finish off a broadcast, not like those most-often hackneyed, how-long-has-he-been-working-on-them Jim Nantz one-liners at the end of the NCAA championship game. Or the Masters. Or AFC championships.

* * *


After a commercial, some more poetry, this time from Carillo as she returned to the point about the focus of Williams and other top female players.

"I love my sport with clear eyes, which is the way you're supposed to love anything, or anyone.
... I would love to see the women really just absolutely commit themselves the way the guys do. Look at the tennis we've seen from the men, round for round. They're all fit, they're all focused, they all want it so badly." 

Again, Carillo was softly challenged by Fowler, saying that a match like this "this is what I want" and later stressed that she is a huge fan of Williams' "intellectual curiosity."

Superb stuff.

* * *


Next up were Dick Enberg and Bud Collins doing a take on the final, and just when you think that they're just trotting both out as some sort of senior announcing tour, Enberg offered up serviceable sentences while Collins showed that he has plenty of zip on his strokes.

Collins went from explaining the who and why behind the names which the Aussie Open trophies are named for (the women win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup; the men the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup), even acting out the way Brookes -- who won the tournament in 1911 -- would always hit the ball with the same side of the racquet, to proclaiming that Williams would win 5-6 more major titles, to circling back to the topic at hand by saying he was "torn" over whether she should be a full-time all-out pro, noting, and lauding, the well-rounded Williams for her efforts to build a school in Kenya.

Later, Collins had more. He sharply dressed down Safina's toss on her serve, which had plagued her during the match: "That service toss, you think she's going to kill one of the seagulls that fly around here. A terrible toss." Then promptly lauding the 22-year-old Russian and dignified post-match speech: "A terrific kid. For a loser's speech, she really was a star." 

* * *


Speaking of speeches, you have to love the way tennis does its postmatch ceremonies in the grand slams. Trophies are awarded, then the runner-up addresses the crowd, followed by the winner.

No microphones in anyone's faces, no big-voiced melodramatic questions from an interviewer who is compelled to try and have their question live up to their big postgame moment, no throngs of photographers and cameramen rushing on to the court (like in a certain football game Sunday).

It's a one-on-one between the player and the crowd, and you really get a glimpse at the athlete's personality.

Safina, just moments after she had tears in her eyes sitting in the loneliest of chairs after the match ended, was charming despite some semi-halted English:

"Not much to say, I didn't even spend one hour on the court today. ... I was just a ball boy today," she said with a self-deprecating smile and laugh.

Then she thanked the fans: "Sorry today I made you little disappointed, but I hope that next year I will come and do better. Thank you for coming and supporting me."

A huge-smiling Williams was giddy and spoke without pretentiousness, thanking a few sponsors by name "and everything else you see written out here [on signage by the court]." She did more than offer a thank-you to a beauty company, getting lots of laughs with her "Garnier, I love the sugar scrubs, my skin is like a baby."

"I think the music is going to start playing now, so I think I should close it ... but I don't feel that, I fell like I want to talk forever," she said with a big, content smile. Then she realized she almost forgot to thank the fans, and did so very graciously, adding, "I knew there was a reason I was still talking."

* * *


While I'm up, an outstanding line from Stan Verrett on Sportscenter if you are a fan of HBO's amazing series "The Wire."

"Ray Lewis leaving the Ravens? That'd be the biggest story in Baltimore since Avon Barksdale went to jail."

If you've never seen The Wire, get your Netflix on and check it out. You'll not only get the joke, you'll get an education in politics and crime in American cities, all woven together in a terrific drama with characters you'll love. Like Barksdale.

---Keith McShea

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Television | Tennis
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