Posted: Wednesday March 22, 2006 11:58AM; Updated: Wednesday March 22, 2006 4:56PM
An observation and a question. 1) I think credit should be given to Martina Hingis for being the first person to declare her "comeback" over and not hanging onto it as a potentially convenient excuse for losing matches. You talked about some players mellowing out this year -- I think Hingis has toned down her demeanor quite a bit, too, which is a welcome change from the past. 2) If you were Roddick's coach, would you suggest taking an extended break to focus on fitness and mechanics and to tune out all the noise around him right now? In any case, I feel that Roddick's style of play is not conducive to a long career anyway, and this would be a good chance to figure out a long-term strategy to stay competitive. What do you think? -- Eric, San Jose, Calif.
I wholeheartedly agree on your first point. Hingis has conducted herself like such a pro since her return. She could very easily say, "Dude, I was riding my horse a few months back; how bummed can I really be about losing to Davenport?" Instead, she has been businesslike in victory and analytical in defeat, making it clear that this return is no novelty act. She's back in the mix and is courageous enough to accept it, declining the cowardly "everything I do out here is gravy" option. With the Williams sisters getting more run on E! than on ESPN, with Justine Henin-Hardenne quitting a Grand Slam final and with injury-o-rama in full swing, Hingis has really been a boon to the WTA -- d'oh, the Sony Ericsson WTA -- in 2006.
As for your other point, Roddick likely will take an extended break after Miami. It's called clay-court season.
I'm just wondering: You get warned for swearing. But do you receive a warning if you swear in another language? I mean, an American umpire might not recognize a German or Thai profanity. (Not that Roger Federer or Paradorn Srichaphan curse on court -- or do they? Kidding.) -- Peter Vincent Quetulio, Quezon City, Philippines
Thai profanity? You mean like "Phuket"? Good question. The umpires are supposed to be polyglots when it comes to cursing. But I imagine a player like Paradorn -- incidentally, perhaps the least likely player to curse -- is at a decided advantage here.
As much as I love to watch Federer play, I actually am getting a little tired of seeing him win. I know it's great to have this master on the court, but geez, can't anyone else win in a final? I almost hope he has some sort of physical breakdown, because mentally there is none. Will the other players ever figure him out? -- Kris Adams, Minnesota
My view on this: Federer's palette of skills, his comportment and compendium of highlight-reel shots more than compensates for his annoying habit of draining the drama from a tournament. I think I've written this before, but I liken it to watching Michael Jordan play in his prime. You knew the Bulls were going to beat the Jazz or the Suns or the Sonics or the Blazers and win the title. But Jordan was so engrossing, you watched -- rapt -- anyway.
I thought the Federer-Blake final at Indian Wells, for instance, was thoroughly entertaining, even though by 5-5 in the first set you knew the outcome wasn't in doubt. If Federer were a hard-serving, Philippoussisian robot, it might be one thing. But his vocabulary of shots is so expansive, his command of tempo so natural, his manner so eloquent -- it's just a joy to behold. I say, just sit back and enjoy.
As for whether other players will "figure him out," we should point that one -- Rafael Nadal, obviously -- has made significant inroads. Other are picking up little tricks: hit high bouncers to the backhand, take chances on short balls, try to frustrate the Fed with defense, anticipate crosscourt passes. The problem is that even when Federer is playing merely decent tennis, he is superior to just about everyone. Apart from a game plan, you really need to catch him on an off-day. Speaking of Federer ...
John Niedfeldt-Thomas from the Twin Cities came across this quote from golfer Davis Love III discussing "the long ball." Spoketh Love: "It's a lot like the way tennis players today really need to burn that serve. Sure, Federer has all the shots. But if he didn't have a big serve, he wouldn't be winning. In our game now, it's try to get it down there as far as you can, and if you have a good driving week, you should make a bunch of birdies."
Dan Berland Columbia, Md., writes: "In case anybody was unclear on what kind of a person Rafael Nadal is, they ought to take a look at this. I can think of several ATP and WTA stars for whom this ought to be required reading."
Is it true that Evgeny Korolev (No. 180 or something) is Anna Kournikova's cousin? -- Margethe, Manila, Philippines
It's true. Korolev (a quarterfinalist in Marseille and a loser in qualifying in Miami) confirms to the Mailbag that his mother is Alla Kournikova's sister. He has been visiting with Anna, his first cousin, while in South Florida. Regardless of bloodline, Korolev is a player to watch. He just turned 18 and is already closing in on the top 150.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.