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Posted: Wednesday August 13, 2008 11:29AM; Updated: Monday August 25, 2008 11:18AM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Olympic feedback, what's wrong with Federer and more mail

Story Highlights
  • The Olympics doesn't even rank among the top four tennis events
  • The thing that Roger Federer needs most right now is a few months off
  • My prediction for the U.S. Open: the least unhealthy player will win
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Roger Federer is competing in Beijing, but he's hardly your typical Olympic athlete.
Roger Federer is competing in Beijing, but he's hardly your typical Olympic athlete.
Bob Rosato/SI
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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Your latest mailbag really does scale unprecedented heights of xenophobia . Quite on top of your gloating about the downgrading of Hamburg (only the biggest tournament in a country that has given tennis Boris Becker and Steffi Graf) in favor of umpteen cookie-cutter events in the U.S., you then jump into the realms of total hysteria with your comments about the Olympics and the "U.S. Open Series." I am sure you are the only person on the planet who thinks the Olympic Games should defer to the Series, after all it really can't compare with the Series on prestige and longevity, can it?
-- John Thompson, United Kingdom

• Apart from roasting me, John's question gives us a chance to kill two birds with one pebble and address both the Hamburg lawsuit and the merit of tennis in the Olympics. As for Hamburg, that suit -- which the ATP won -- essentially is reduced to this: does the governing body have the right to upgrade and downgrade events and reconfigure its schedule?

Had the answer been "no" the entire house of cards would have collapsed. Analogy: the New York Yankees say, "Hey, we sell out every game. We're going to schedule 100 home games this season, not the 81 Major League Baseball wants to give us." The ATP needs to reserve the right to change its schedule to meet the demands of the players, a changing marketplace, etc. You mention Becker and Graf and this gets to the essence of the problem: The Becker/Graf era ended 10 years ago and the governing body needs the power to adjust accordingly.

As for the Olympics, I realize that a) the toothpaste is out of the tube and b) I'm in the minority here. But I still have a hard time with tennis' inclusion. This has little to do with Ugly Americanism or the integrity of the U.S. Open Series. For a sport to be in the Olympics, the gold medal should be the height of achievement, the pinnacle of performance. In the case of tennis, it's not even top four. Also, in my mind, the Olympics should be about "artisanal" athletes. It should be the platform for all those archers and divers who have been in training in anonymity for this competition for four years.

We all love Roger Federer, but he flies to Beijing in a private jet, stays at a swank hotel and goes to the athletes' village only to sign autographs and pose for photos. When the Games are over, he'll jet to New York for a chance to win a seven-figure payday at the U.S. Open. Without begrudging him a dime -- if anything, the U.S. Open purse is criminally low; and if the players had more leverage/voice they would contest this -- Federer just doesn't comport with my idea of an Olympic athlete.

What about basketball and all those NBA millionaires, you say? I'd be happy seeing a return to amateurs and college players. But even as it stands, at least there's a uniqueness to the competition. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd all wearing the same uniform, competing against the Chinese national team? That's something you don't see often. When tennis gives us a conventional tournament, it simply becomes the Beijing Open, with the top three finishers getting medals. Lleyton Hewitt versus Jonas Björkman? To me, that doesn't say, "Australia versus Sweden." That says, "Tuesday afternoon in session in San Jose."

Ryan of D.C. makes a good point that, on balance, the Olympics are a force of good and, in the case of tennis, spur investment in countries such as Russia, Croatia and China. If screwing up the U.S. summer hardcourt calendar was the net result, well, that's a small price to pay. Fair point. And apart from the sponsor/ratings component, the athletes understandably love being in the Olympics. (Just note how many players participated in the Opening Ceremonies and then withdrew afterwards.) So maybe the solution is simply making it a real team competition.

To that point, reader Randy Walker sends this link.

It's pretty obvious that Roger Federer needs a coach. Do you think there's any chance he could hook up with Brad Gilbert?
-- John T., Chicago

• I was discussing this with Pete Bodo's tribe last month. Federer and Gilbert are both remarkably good at their respective jobs. They are both consummate pros. They've both had considerable success in the past. Yet I can hardly imagine more disparate and clashing styles and personalities.

BG: "Yeah, Rog, listen: You gotta go Al Davis on him. Just win, Baby. I mean take him to woodshed, sharpen the knives, draw the revolver, get on your bike, lace up the track shoes, and throw the kitchen sink at 'em. It's do-or-die time, back's to the wall, there's no tomorrow, win or go home, fourth-and-long with no timeouts, bottom of the ninth on the 18th hole, you know? We're looking for the Kirk Gibson shot, Hill-to-Laettner, Montana-to-Clark, Miracle on Ice, Roger. You followin' me, bro?"

RF: "Um, Mirka. You still got ol' Rochey on speed dial?"

Federer needs a new coach. Federer needs to lose weight. Federer needs to ditch the 90-frame racket for a bigger head. Federer needs a sports psychologist. Without necessarily disagreeing with any of those, I think what Federer really needs is a break. He's playing on fumes right now and deserves a few months sabbatical. Cash in some chips, walk away from the table, grab a free drink, maybe catch Cirque du Soleil (you think Nadal's got biceps?), go have a nice meal at Nobu, and then get back in the action. Who among us hasn't been there?

Until further notice, please use the phrase "Holds the No. 1 ranking" in place of "No. 1 player in the world" when referring to any WTA player who is ranked No. 1.
-- Ted M., Baltimore

• Fair enough. Like all things cyclical, women's tennis will bounce back and order will be restored. But right now, the WTA is in utter chaos. My computer is trained to spot double negatives, but maybe I can sneak this sentence in. My prediction for the U.S. Open: the least unhealthy player will win.

I attended the U.S. Davis Cup matches last year in both Winston-Salem and Portland. I would really like to find/purchase a picture of our winning team, but can't seem to find one anywhere. Any suggestions?
-- Val Wolford, Cincinnati

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