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Investing in the future

Sony Ericsson pays big bucks to sponsor WTA Tour

Posted: Monday January 10, 2005 3:56PM; Updated: Saturday January 22, 2005 7:17PM
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Carlos Moya
Carlos Moya donated his $52,000 winner's check to tsunami disaster relief.
AP

Welcome back everyone ...

Let's start by giving the "Player of the Week" award to the good folks at Sony Ericsson who made a landmark investment in tennis last week. The company ponied up $88 million over six years -- real money, not marketing commitments, much less lucy.com stock options -- to be the new title sponsor of the WTA Tour. This was a huge coup for WTA CEO Larry Scott, a huge validation for tennis and a huge testament to the sport's global reach. ...

• A tip of the cap to the folks in Chennai, India, for putting on an event despite the tsunami that caused devastation a couple of miles from the tennis venue. In the final of the Chennai Open, Carlos Moya beat Paradorn Srichaphan in a third-set tiebreaker. Moya then donated his $52,000 winner's check to disaster relief, following in the footsteps of the pre-tournament pledge of Jonas Bjorkman and Mahesh Bhupathi to donate their winnings to the tsunami victims. (Remember that the next time some meathead sportscaster talks about selfish tennis players.) In the doubles final, Yen-Hsun Lu and Rainer Schuettler upset top seeds Bhupathi and Bjorkman.

• Speaking of tsunami relief, the ATP has partnered with the international children's aid agency UNICEF to rally the tennis community in an effort to raise funds for the victims of the tsunami disaster in Asia. Show your support for emergency relief by bidding on one of the racquets autographed by Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt that are auctioned here.

• The Next Generation event in Adelaide, Australia, lived up to its name as Joachim Johansson took out Taylor Dent in the final. Johansson will be a top-10 player by the end of the year, but it was also nice to see Dent turn in one of his better weeks in recent memory. In the doubles final, the team of Xavier Malisse and Oliver Rochus defeated Simon Aspelin and Todd Perry.

• In Doha, Qatar, Roger Federer won the Qatar ExxonMobil Open cruising past Ivan Ljubicic in the final. It was Federer's 23rd career ATP title, 31st final, and eighth title in his past 10 tournaments.

• Last week's events: At Uncle Tobys Hardcourts on the Australian Gold Coast Patty Schnyder beat Aussie Samantha Stosur 1-6, 6-3, 7-5. In the doubles, Elena Likhovtseva and Maggie Maleeva beat Maria Elena Camerin and Silvia Farina Elia 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.

• At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, Katarina Srebotnik beat Shinobu Asagoe 5-7, 7-5, 6-4. Srebotnik then teamed with Asagoe to win the doubles title, defeating Leanne Baker and Francesca Lubiani in the final.

• Federer has announced he'll be taking on Tony Roche as a (sometimes) coach this year. Azhar K. of Toronto, points out this hilarious quote from Federer: "It's good to know that there will be help there because I need someone to analyze and help improve my game." (Yeah, and maybe that math tutor will help Stephen Hawking improve his fractions.)

• Federer and Andy Roddick weren't the only players to change coaches this off-season. Mardy Fish will be working with a team that includes Todd Martin. Fish's former coach, Kelly Jones, has hooked up with the uber-talented head case Malisse. Also, Sebastien Grosjean has teamed up with Jim Courier's former coach Brad Stine. After a disappointing 2004, Srichaphan is now working with former ATP pro T.J. Middleton.

• Rodale press announced the acquisition of legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova's diet and fitness book, The Shape of your Life, scheduled for a winter '06 publication.

Franklin R. Johnson officially begins his two-year term as USTA Chairman of the Board and President this week. He will also serve on the USTA's 15-member Board through '06.

• This just in: Serena Williams will not appear in People magazine next week. We repeat: Serena Williams will not appear in the upcoming People magazine.

• Speaking of stunning events, a guy just walked into the coffee shop that doubles as Mailbag HG and -- get this -- he did not have an iPod. Amazing.

• Esteemed tennis writer Mike Mewshaw has released a new novel entitled, Island Tempest. Here's a link to the book.

• More books by long-time tennis writers: Doug Smith's biography of Arthur Ashe's mentor Robert Walter Johnson, Whirlwind: The Godfather of Black Tennis is available through Amazon.

• Another book plug: Check out Wayne Coffey's book on the '80 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, The Boys of Winter. It will at least engender a few warm feelings about hockey this winter.

Paul Gremillion of Columbia, S.C., sagely recommends we add Kaffir Boy to our list of recommended tennis books.

Sean of Tallahassee, Fla., calls our attention to a sport called Soft Tennis that started in Japan. Reminds us of pickleball.

• The lengthy story my esteemed colleague S.L. Price wrote on Federer in this week's Sports Illustrated is worth whatever it is we're charging for the magazine these days.

• Also, consult your local listings worldwide and check out the ATP documentary, Tennis Masters Cup Uncovered II: Facing Federer. A cross between a conventional documentary and an elimination-style reality show, it does a terrific job of humanizing the top players while showing how grueling tennis is.

• On a housekeeping note, next week we'll post our Australian Open seed report.

MAILBAG
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag each Monday.
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Now on to the 'Bag ...

Is it me, or is there something wrong with the following statement from the Gold Coast Web site? "With a main draw playing field of 32, boasting former champions such as Anna Kournikova, Venus Williams, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Martina Navratilova and the most recent winner, Ai Sugiyama from Japan, the Uncle Tobys Hardcourts is an established event on the professional tennis tour."  
  -- Steve K., St. Louis

Hmmmm. Sounds about right. Sugiyama did indeed win last year. ... No, seriously, that's funny. Uncle Toby might be losing it in his old age. One can only assume that one of the aforementioned names was a "former champion" in the doubles draw.

What would you say to Brad Gilbert coaching Roger Federer? I think their personalities would clash, and it wouldn't work (even though both are good at what they do).
  -- Tan Nguyen, Toronto

It's obviously a moot point now that Federer has enlisted Roche's help. But even so, we can't envision it.

B.G.: "Dude, that shot was sicker than the Immaculate Reception. You're more automatic than Mitch Richmond on the wing. Cooler than Montana in the pocket. More money than Rick Henderson with a big lead off first during the heyday of Billy Ball. Gutsier than Gavin Newsom marrying dudes down at city hall."

R.F.: "What the hell is this guy talking about?"

What are your top-five favorite tennis commercials? Here are my picks:
1) Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras play The Point.
2) Agassi and Steffi Graf's two-year-old battles Taylor Dent.
3) Vitas Gerulaitis and his father in the Peugeot car commercial: "But Vitas, when are you going to get a haircut?"
4) A young Jimmy Connors singing for Canada Dry ginger ale. ("It's not too sweet, I repeat it's not too sweet.")
5) Monica Seles grunts while shopping in a supermarket.

I have no recollection of No. 3 and 4. The Seles Amex spot is terrific, as is the one where Venus Williams plays whack-a-mole and Agassi uses the ball-hopper to pick up his kids' toys. Maybe, for irony's sake, we could also add Ivan Lendl intoning: "Veal Bit-tar Vit Ben Gay."

Is Nicolas Kiefer entered in this year's Australian Open? I can't wait to see him make a breakthrough in a major tournament.
  -- Thai Le, Huntington Beach, Calif. 92648

Thai, the zip code is a nice touch. Kiefer played Srichaphan in a Thai exhibition last month and then returned officially last week at Adelaide (where he lost to our man Oli "Pocket" Rochus). Kiefer ought to be good to go in Melbourne.

In the Dec. 6 Mailbag, the question of writing about tennis parents was brought up. Did anyone read Frank Deford's piece 30 years ago in Sports Illustrated about Jimmy Connor's mom and grandmother titled, "Raised by women to beat men"?
  -- Dr. Robert Gamble, Buffalo

This is one of the real seminal pieces of tennis writing. If anyone can find a link, please pass it on. If not, maybe we'll create one next week. Speaking of tennis writing ...

Many years ago, before I became crazy-go-nuts about tennis, I read an article about the tennis pro circuit that was published in Esquire. To this day, I remember it as the best sports article I have read but do not remember the author. By any chance, do you have access or a link to this masterpiece as I would love to read it again and see if it still resonates a decade later.
  -- Steve Reid, Brockton, Mass. 

The only piece I can think of that comes remotely close is David Foster Wallace's brilliant Esquire essay on journeyman Michael Joyce. I don't have a link, but it is included in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, which will one day take its place alongside the greatest works in the Western literary canon. That story, however, wasn't "many years ago" so maybe we're talking about two different pieces. If anyone can come up with another article, please pass it on. ...

Could you share your thoughts on Rafael Nadal's doubles prowess. He just picked up his third doubles title in two years. I think it's great that bigger names are participating in doubles, including Fish and James Blake. Do you think this trend will continue?
  -- Will E., San Diego

The ATP has done a lot to encourage singles guys to enter doubles draws. The fact is it doesn't make sense for the Federers, Lleyton Hewitts and Roddicks to spend that much time on the court (and on site), but it makes some sense for the next tier --  the Grosjeans and the Johanssons. Unfortunately, Nadal will soon be at a point where doubles will become a drag on his time ... and his body. When you're a top gun and a legit threat to win at every tournament, you cringe at the thought of playing a late and grueling three-set doubles match while your singles opponent is back at the hotel getting a rubdown. At the same time, Nadal's aptitude -- and I have to admit, I can't ever seeing him playing alongside a partner -- bodes well for continued success in singles.

If you want to add another Frenchman to the top-10 prospects, you can't overlook Richard Gasquet. Already a Grand Slam winner (Roland Garros mixed doubles this year), this kid really has a future. What do you think about him?
  --  Miriam Garcia, Rosario, Argentina

Yeah, we haven't written off Gasquet by any stretch. But it's nearing put-up-or-shut-up time. Not long ago, this guy was mentioned in the same breath as Nadal as a future champion. Today he is an enigma, a player of immense talent and some encouraging results; but also one who was disqualified from the qualifying of the U.S. Open for throwing his racket in a fit of pique and nearly decapitating a linesman. The French tennis journalists paint him as a painfully shy kid and think once his emotional maturity catches up to his game, he'll be OK. In a way, all the attention on junior players Gael Monfils (who received a main draw wild card in Melbourne) and Joey Tsonga will take some of the pressure off Gasquet.

Any predictions for the top-five male players at the end of the year? How about the top-five male doubles teams, as well?
  -- P. Wong, Toronto 

Any chance to plug doubles. OK, men's singles first:

1) Federer (whoa, how's that for going out on a limb?)
2) Hewitt
3) Roddick
4) David Nalbandian
5) Nadal

Alas, this is as much about staying healthy as anything else. We omit Guillermo Coria and Juan Carlos Ferrero, et al., because we worry about their health, not their innate ability.

Doubles:

1) Bob and Mike Bryan

2) Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor

3) Woodbridge and Bhupathi*

4) Max Mirnyi and Bjorkman

5) Malisse and Rochus

* So let's get this straight: Bjorkman dumps Woodbridge and runs off with Mirnyi, who had recently taken Bhupathi to splitsville. But then Bjorkman and Bhupathi played together last week? Pretty hopping swingers' scene, that men's doubles world.

After reading your coverage of the Davis Cup matches (especially the final), I want to know why the rest of the tournaments can't have similar atmospheres? Why can't the tennis establishment loosen up and let the fans at a pro tournament make it into a sporting/party/cultural event?
  -- Jeff Beacham, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 

At some level I wondered the same thing. The Spanish fans, I thought, were exemplary. Between points, they cheered like nuts, banged their drums, tooted their air horns and chanted their chants. But once the ball was in play they sat quietly. To the players who complain about shattered concentration and noise levels I say this: Would you rather play in front of 25,000 fans who might care too much? Or 2,000 who don't care enough?

Shawn Frost of Raleigh, N.C., submits this week's Long-Lost Siblings: Doesn't this picture of Roger Federer bear a striking resemblance to Lou Ferrigno of Incredible Hulk fame?

Can you please ask Britney Spears to have her current husband adopt her last name? I detest being victim to the headline attraction/word association of Federline. It's anticlimactic when it's not Federer.
  -- George P., Bangor Maine 

Point taken. But if we had that kind of power, we'd make the whole, inexplicable Britney Spears craze disappear entirely.

Will Oscar de la Hoya ever fight again?
 -- Samuel Castaneda, Corpus Christi

No idea how or why I got this question. We expected that Oscar would announce his retirement, do a little commentary, get the itch to return and test the waters by competing in a few exhibitions and then take on low-caliber opponents the first week of February in Pattaya. No wait, that's someone else. Boxers never want to leave the sport on a losing note. If ODLH is smart, he'll take on a past-his-prime Shane Mosely at the Staples Center. Alas, the more likely scenario is that he'll fight the winner of Felix Trinidad-Bernard Hopkins.

What is a blog, and why are writers called bloggers now? I'm 53 years old, and I don't recall seeing this term used like it's being used nowadays. 
  -- Bill, Whitestone, N.Y.

Bloggers are essentially writers who are able to do their job, unencumbered by editors or pants. Seriously, Jeffrey Rosen wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago that will clear up the confusion. (Registration required.)

Oh man, I saw you mention chorizo in a previous Mailbag. Never look up its nutritional information ... never give yourself a reason to stop eating it! Good stuff.
  -- David Tucker, Gainesville, Fla.

And the funny thing is, David is an ordained rabbi. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.

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