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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

Pam Shriver: Williams gets no love at French Open

The ESPN tennis commentator says there is a lack of support for Serena Williams at the tournament, which drags the tennis star down.

May 29, 2009|DIANE PUCIN | ON SPORTS MEDIA

Good sports television brings an event to life. Good sports commentators bring context.

That's what ESPN's tennis crew does on a regular basis and no better than this week when former top-10 singles and doubles player Pam Shriver pointed out the lack of fan support Serena Williams receives at the French Open.

Shriver noted that during Williams' first-round escape from Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic, the crowd was clearly in Zakopalova's corner and that it wasn't the first time. "Serena doesn't get much support here," Shriver said. "I think it drags her down."

It was just a couple of sentences, but Shriver's notation of the atmosphere was appropriate because it validated what seemed obvious yet unreasonable.

"I hear that lack of support here more than any other place," Shriver said from Paris. "And I don't have a good reason that explains it."

She said the easy conclusion might be racism but noted that French fans have embraced French players of African ancestry such as Yannick Noah, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsongas. And it's hard to argue anti-Americanism when the French fans embrace Andy Roddick in the same way they seem to love Jerry Lewis -- for no logical reason.

"There's an undertone of a lot of things," Shriver said. "Maybe it's a combination of gender; maybe they've observed something about her fighting spirit that doesn't suit their eye, but it's very clear to me that the fan reaction here drags her down."

In a video of her post-match news conference, Williams was asked, "What do you think of the atmosphere? She was the underdog, and they seemed to be for her. It was a heightened atmosphere. Was it enjoyable despite the fact that most of the people were pulling for her?"

Williams was seen pausing for a moment before answering in a monotone. "It was what it was," she replied. "They don't really pull for me a lot here. That's fine."

The Giro d'Italia, from Los Angeles

Two days before the Giro d'Italia cycling race began, Universal Sports announcers Todd Gogulski and Steve Schlanger found out they would be calling the race from a studio here in L.A. off a video feed from Italy. And even worse, they weren't Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, the familiar and popular voices thanks to their coverage of the Tour de France over the years and more recently the Tour of California.

But Gogulski -- a former cyclist who during his career rode with both Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong -- and Schlanger make it seem as if they are at the race. Gogulski is on the phone immediately after every stage calling team directors and riders. He spoke to Italian star Ivan Basso after Thursday's stage. But there is one interview Gogulski hasn't been able to score.

"I've been trying to get Lance Armstrong," Gogulski said. "I'm on the phone every day to the team people. I'm telling them this is the only television in the United States but no luck."

Armstrong has chosen to communicate only through Twitter and Facebook during the race, which will include a dramatic climb up Mt. Vesuvius today and a circuit finish Sunday in Rome.

Stroke won't slow Corso

According to a statement released by ESPN, popular college announcer Lee Corso, 73, is recovering from a "minor stroke." In the statement Corso called the stroke a "bump in the road," and said he hopes to be on the "GameDay" set when the college season begins.

Good on Friday

Dodgers at the Cubs, 11:15 a.m. on Fox Prime, a day game at Wrigley, good reason to play hooky and pretend you're in the bleachers. And UC Irvine plays host to defending national champion Fresno State on ESPNU at 8 p.m. in the NCAA baseball tournament. Ping. But most of you, Anteaters fans or not, will probably be watching the Lakers-Nuggets Game 6 on ESPN at 6.

Good on Saturday

Start of the Stanley Cup finals at 5 p.m. on Channel 4, Pittsburgh at Detroit. And possibly the last appearance by the TNT crew as Cleveland plays at Orlando at 5:30. It's not an Olympic year, but Channel 4 is showing the Reebok Grand Prix track meet at 1:30 from Randall's Island in New York and, barring late withdrawals, 100-meter world champion Tyson Gay will race against former world record holder Asafa Powell.

Good on Sunday

Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals is on Channel 4 at 5 p.m., but one suspects not many SoCal televisions will be on Channel 4 if the Lakers are playing the Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at 5:30 p.m. on Channel 7.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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