tampabay.com

Carillo always armed with an opinion on game

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published August 25, 2006


She has been scouring tennis Web sites for several hours each day, immersing herself in tennis magazines, talking to her colleagues in the media and scrutinizing tournaments on TV when she isn't calling the action in person.

"Yeah, I stay pretty busy," Mary Carillo says of her intensive preparation to call her 20th U.S. Open on CBS, starting next week.

She'll spend the weekend watching the final rounds of the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Conn. - the last event before the Open - and find time to appear Sunday morning at 10 on ESPN's The Sports Reporters.

Carillo has even made a lit-tle news before the first ball is whacked in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.: On Thursday, reigning two-time Open winner Roger Federer labeled "absurd" a remark Carillo made to reporters during a conference call that he wasn't trying to win an Open tuneup match last week at the Cincinnati Masters. "He went there because he had to, and he played as though he went there because he had to," she said of No. 1-ranked Federer's second-round loss to 19-year-old Andy Murray.

Of course, Carillo has never been shy about voicing her viewpoints as a commentator.

On the lack of a U.S. presence in pro tennis: "America isn't creating players the way the Slovaks, Russians and (other) Europeans are creating them. For them, it's a ticket out. Even though she never won a tournament, Anna Kournikova created a dream that so many women players have followed in that part of the world. She created an identity that women athletes could aspire to.

"In other parts of the world, tennis is booming - France, Argentina, Spain. Our boom from the '70s is long gone. And so we're not even attracting the best athletes because even women athletes can play basketball, volleyball and other sports. Back when I played, there was tennis and golf if you really felt like making a living. And also, our country is so big. If you're a junior player from Germany, you can drive to Italy and play a tournament. So there's also this international competition that happens.

"And education isn't paramount in a lot of European countries either, so if you're distinguishing yourself as an athlete at a young age, they put you into a pipeline. ... I know the USTA is trying to find good athletes. But I'm of a mind-set to throw a wider net. Make tennis more accessible. I wish it were played more in the schools and that kids actually got to play it as part of a curriculum. I wish it weren't so expensive. I wish people didn't think it was such a hard game. So there are so many factors going against it."

On what makes her angry about sports: "Sports are dirty now. It's very, very deadening to know they're not clean. ... The worst part for me is when people don't live up to themselves. It's like having this beautiful lake and polluting it, whether it's with drugs, steroids, guns or whatever."

On what in sports makes her excited: "I like excellence in all sports. My first ever Olympics (in 1992), I was covering skiing for CBS in Albertville and I was a course reporter. It was gorgeous. And I was saying to my producer that it's unbelievable to wake up in the morning and know that you're just surrounded by overachievers everywhere you look. I just loved that idea. Everyone there was just living their dreams and that to me is the best part of sports. Everyone there is at the height of their powers and passion. I'll watch anything if I know that's on the line."