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The pendulum swings (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 10:51AM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 11:19AM
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Currently ranked No. 6, Serena Williams has a better chance of qualifying for the WTA Championships than her eighth-ranked sister.
Currently ranked No. 6, Serena Williams has a better chance of qualifying for the WTA Championships than her eighth-ranked sister.

As the women of professional tennis hobble and limp into the WTA Championships, can one justify an elite-eight tournament based on rankings so late in the year? Either you invite the top 16 (as they used to), where maybe eight will be in form, or face the consequences of bad tennis and countless half-finished matches.
-- Natalie Thompson, Kingston, Jamaica

I think that's a good point. Expanding the field also increases the odds of an appearance by the Williams sisters, who, because of their historically light schedules (and history of injuries), can win Slams and still struggle to finish in the top eight. Maybe this is a discussion for another time, but I think this is a symptom of a bigger problem.

Women's tennis is in such a funny position right now. You have to credit Larry Scott for the CPR job he's done, revitalizing an organization that was in critical condition. From what I gather, it's hard to exaggerate how dismal the WTA's financial picture looked a few years ago when he came aboard. Yet, while the Tour is in vastly improved financial health -- thanks, Sony Ericsson! thanks, Dubai lucre! -- the product is currently hurting.

The players are getting injured at a staggering rate and no one seems particularly concerned. Withdrawals and retirements have become as much a part of the culture as rackets and balls. Players retire in their mid-20s, unable to handle the physical demands. The stars appear to have little sense of ownership in their tour.

The WTA sought some independence from the title sponsor -- understandable -- but achieved this by selling its championships to the highest bidder, regardless of location (and sticky politics.) Seems to me the WTA has unprecedented reserves of capital; and an unprecedented poverty of soul.

Having played against both Pete Sampras and Federer in their primes, has Andre Agassi ever said who he thinks is the better player?
-- Josh, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Just check it out on YouTube. Here's the link ... Oh, no wait ...

I think Agassi has been pretty clear on this. I'm going to paraphrase here, but with his customary tact, Agassi gives Sampras his due but concedes that, finally, he's never seen a better player than Federer.

I don't understand why it is "OK" to make the mandatory schedule so long that a player like Federer would have to pay a fine and skip an event. Is it reasonable to make him play that one extra event considering how deep he goes in the draw? Is it reasonable to make him pay for not playing it? Shouldn't the pro tennis calendar reflect "reasonable" expectations?
-- Natasha, Toronto

I think most of us, myself included, tend to sympathize with players here, siding with labor over management, as it were. But we would all probably do well to at least consider the position of promoters. They've paid a sanctioning fee to the ATP or WTA and are providing playing opportunities and income to the players in addition to boosting the overall value of the tours (theoretically). In exchange for this, it is fair to expect the tours to implement a mechanism that promises -- if not outright guarantees -- that some stars will be appearing in the draw.

I do think Natasha raises a good point that I've brought up before in my defense of the Williams sisters: "Matches played" should be a relevant metric here. If Player A goes deep in the draw with reliable consistency, should they be held to the same best-of-14 (or best-of-16) standard as their erratic colleagues who play more events but fewer overall matches?

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