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Monday, February 22, 2010
Olympics aren't quite filling the tennis void

By Abigail Lorge,

February can feel like a long month for tennis fans, with a series of mid-major events filling out the calendar between the Australian Open and Indian Wells. But this year, those who don't have the attention span to get fully invested in, for example, the ATP's Open 13 in Marseille, France, are in luck: The quadrennial 17-day serial drama known as the Olympic Games are the ideal antidote to the winter doldrums.

Tennis is, of course, a Summer Olympic sport -- it was one of only nine sports contested at the inaugural modern Games in Athens in 1896. But sitting on my couch night after night, glued to the coverage from Vancouver, I've noticed several instances in which tennis and the Winter Olympics have converged, at least obliquely:

Carillo takes her shtick all over Canada

Former pro and noted tennis commentator Mary Carillo is bringing her characteristic humor, irreverence and game-for-anything attitude to NBC's Vancouver coverage. The host of the late-night studio show, Carillo also spent the year leading up to the Games filming a series of getting-to-know-Canada features covering topics ranging from polar bears in the Arctic to the tradition of stand-up comedy in Canada. "I really got to look around this country," she wrote in an e-mail.

It has been more than 30 years since Carillo won the French Open mixed doubles title with John McEnroe, but she needed to summon all her natural athleticism for a training stint with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The hilarious piece that resulted from her tour with the Mounties showed Carillo performing grueling physical drills, marching in formation, learning the art of handcuffing ("I hope you've learned your lesson," she faux-scolded one "criminal") and being dressed down by the commanding officer for her insouciance.

Miller takes his tennis pedigree to the slopes

By adding gold in Sunday's super-combined to the silver he won in the downhill and the bronze he won in the super-G, American Bode Miller tied the record for most medals won by a male alpine skier at a single Games (and he still has two events to go). But the five-time Olympic medalist is also an excellent tennis player and an instructor at the camp his parents, Jo and Woody, run in his native New Hampshire. This summer, Miller plans to play in the U.S. Open national playoffs, a 17-section qualifying tournament whose ultimate prize is a berth in the U.S. Open. Miller's immediate concern, however: the giant slalom competition, scheduled for Tuesday.

Navratilova: "I was so psyched Lindsey won."

Before Miller's winning effort in the super-combined, American Lindsey Vonn, the best women's alpine skier in the world and a self-professed Roger Federer-phile, won gold in the women's downhill, one of the glamour events of the Games. That victory excited, among others, the greatest women's tennis player of all time, Martina Navratilova, who was impressed by Vonn's aptitude for tennis when the two played last year at Wimbledon. (Vonn was at the All-England Club cheering on her friend Federer.)

"I told her a couple of things to do and she did them right away because she can control her body," Navratilova said last week, joking that Vonn now owes her a ski lesson. "It was a pleasure to teach her. I just sent an e-mail to Mary Carillo and said, Would you please tell Lindsey 'well done' because I really want her to know that it was awesome."

From inside edges to inside-out forehands

Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan had a disappointing Games; the 2009 World Championships silver medalist finished fifth overall. But a feature that aired prior to the men's short program showed him to be an adept all-around athlete, impressing in the gym during agility drills and then holding his own with Carillo on the tennis court. When the Ottawa-born 19-year-old smacked a forehand by her to win their mini-match, Carillo ran to the net to congratulate Chan, telling him he has serious game and that "tennis' loss is figure skating's gain." (Not exactly a sports cliche, that.)

Mixed doubles on ice

Even in mid-February, I have tennis on the brain: When watching the Scottish brother-and-sister ice dancing team of Sinead and John Kerr, I can't help but wonder what Andy Murray thinks of the spectacle that is ice dancing, and if he has ever met the Edinburgh-based Kerrs, the seven-time British champions who stand (and shimmy … and gyrate … and "emote") in eighth place overall heading into Monday night's free dance. Sinead and John are talented skaters and appealing performers, but I'll take an ornery Andy Murray over the overly made-up, sequined Scotsmen any day. Olympic fever runs high, but when I find myself watching ice dancing, I know that Indian Wells can't come soon enough.