In tennis pressers, anything goes
PARIS -- In most sports, postgame news conferences are infamous for bland, clichéd answers to equally bland, repetitive questions. The postmatch news conferences at Grand Slam events can be different.
Sure, tennis players can deliver tired clichés as if personally instructed by Crash Davis as well, but unlike in baseball, football, basketball or most team sports, the questions and answers in a tennis news conference aren't as limited to the competition that just transpired.
For instance, after Novak Djokovic's victories this week at the French Open, the questions and answers included such topics as the floods in the Balkans, the upcoming World Cup, where he does his laundry and even his thoughts on a gluten-free diet.
Referencing Djokovic's book, "Serve to Win," an Italian reporter asked, "I read that you became the best of yourself, what you are now, when you stopped eating the gluten. So I wanted to ask, if I stop with the gluten, will I become a better writer?"
Djokovic buried his head in his arms in laughter. "Oh, god. Thank you for your question," he said. "What was the question again? If you don't eat gluten, would you be a better writer? ... I'm sure that gluten is a great obstacle for your writing. You should change your diet, definitely. Pizza with no gluten, it's good, also."
Diet was a topic with Maria Sharapova as well. Well, sort of. A reporter asked the lean athlete whether she eats more of her favorite dessert -- macaroons -- after wins or after losses. Sharapova said it depends on how fresh the macaroons are.
After a big game, baseball writers usually don't ask the winning pitcher about, say, his stirrup socks. This being Paris, though, fashion can be a postmatch subject, as when Jelena Jankovic was asked to comment on the striped dress she wore in the second round.
"It's very classy," she said. "I think it's very French. You know, I love it. I have the red shoes that give a little nice contrast to it. It's a little bit different to what I used to wear, and I think it's nice to show it off here at the French Open where, you know, fashion is quite a big thing."
It can be important off the court, too, as Canadian Eugenie Bouchard said. "At home I get recognized a lot more now, so I have to be careful with what I wear. When I walk out of the house, I try to not look too slouchy in my sweatpants."
Now, not everything players say is fit for publication. A reporter asked Andy Murray whether he thought it would be a good idea to mike players on the court the way NHL players sometimes are for their HBO show. The issue, Murray said, would be the occasionally salty language.
"Some of the stuff that guys say in other languages is a lot worse than the couple of words that I tend to use on the court," Murray said. "There are a few phrases that some of the guys use, and they're not pretty.
"Some of the ones in Spanish aren't great.
"Some of the Italian phrases, as well, are not so good.
"Some of the Serbian phrases also aren't great, either."
One of the great things about these news conferences is that so many of the players are able to speak multiple languages, and not just the four-letter words. Roger Federer speaks English, French and German. Djokovic speaks English, Serbian, German, French and Italian. Or somewhat more languages than most Americans speak? "I'm not going to comment there," Djokovic said.
"I like languages," he said. "I think it's always nice, as a foreigner, coming into a country, some other country that you're not coming from and learning at least the basics from their languages, is a nice gesture, in a way. It's a respect to that culture."
On the other hand, Djokovic said, he does not speak all of the 20 or so languages that his book is translated into, so he has some work to do if he needs to give a reading about his gluten-free diet in Tokyo, Beijing or Reykjavik.
This line of non-event questioning can sometimes lead a player into murky territory, such as Friday when Latvia's Ernests Gulbis said he hopes his two sisters don't go into tennis because the pro tour is a rough life for women. "A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more," he said. "Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you're playing professional tennis, you know."
To which Sharapova responded: "I don't think we can take everything serious when he speaks. I mean, let's be honest with that. ... I think he was joking, but he's playing the sport, so how bad can it be? If he felt so bad about it, and even if he's a male, I don't think he'd be playing it."
Of course, the quality of the answers hinges a great deal on the quality of the questions, which aren't always the sort that would impress Christiane Amanpour, let alone a sports talk radio host. After all, it can be a little awkward to phrase an initial question after a loss, which was the case when a reporter asked Flavia Pennetta after a second-round defeat, "Are you disappointed to lose so early in the tournament?"
"No, I'm very happy," Pennetta snapped back. "What do you think?"
Still, that was better than this line of questioning Monday during Nicholas Mahut's postmatch news conference after a first-round loss. Here is the exchange:
MODERATOR: Questions in English, please.
MAHUT: Congratulations? I lost.
REPORTER: You lost? OK. So what happened out there?
MAHUT: Are you serious? Did you watch the match?
REPORTER: No, I didn't. I was told that you won. I'm sorry.
MAHUT: Questions in French, please.
Hmmm. Perhaps the reporter simply had too much gluten that day.