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Posted: Wednesday September 17, 2008 2:03PM; Updated: Friday September 19, 2008 11:50AM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Tribute to Wallace, U.S. Open coverage and Serena's Slam run

Story Highlights
  • Bad weather hurt the final weekend of the U.S. Open
  • Serena's slams already span nine years
  • The WTA's idea of allowing coaching is a bad one
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The late author David Foster Wallace detailed the grace with which Roger Federer plays.
The late author David Foster Wallace detailed the grace with which Roger Federer plays.
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Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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Jon, can you please do a piece on D.F. Wallace and his impact as a tennis journalist? His essays on Joyce, Austin, et al, are indelible in tennis writing.
-- Paul Settles, Claremont, CA

David Foster Wallace did not hang out in the press room or cover the sport on a remotely regular basis or, I suspect, give two whits about Gael Monfils' coaching change or whether the Hamburg Masters Series event was downgraded. Yet cultists like me will make the case that he was the most influential contemporary tennis journalist.

He brought the sport to life, describing it with singular brilliance and mastering that balance of writing about Roger Federer or Tracy Austin in a way that was fascinating and entertaining, both to hard-core fans and the casual reader. The guy had obscene amounts of writing talent -- the word play and the wonderful descriptions and the footnotes, which seemed gimmicky until you realized how vital they were. But I was also always struck by his reporting. Read that essay on Michael Joyce and note his absurdly smart eye for detail.

I suppose the ultimate tribute would be reread some of his stuff. Here's the amazon link.

Just a quick rant. In this obviously tennis crazy area, why would our local CBS affiliate (WFMY) choose to show reruns of the Andy Griffith Show rather than coverage of the men's final?
-- Bryan A. Kin, Winston-Salem, NC

OK, but was it the one when Aunt Bee put aside the batch of pickles for canning and Barney ate them all?

You really think a roof would have been an option? I mean, for normal rain, sure, but not in a tropical storm.
-- Mac, Tuscaloosa AL

Presumably the roof wouldn't be made of canvas! Either build a roof or get rid of the Super Saturday format. Otherwise you're asking for trouble. There was a wire story claiming the men's final ratings were down 49 percent from 2007. Gee, that's shocking. Sunday afternoon versus Monday afternoon, when affiliates are showing Andy Griffith reruns.

Being a HUGE fan of Martina Nav, I wonder why you did not mention her win at the Open -- after all she is 50+ and still looking good.
-- Charles Howard, Kansas City

Didn't realize she had won anything. But as long as you brought her up, she does look great. And as long as you brought her up, I was just having this discussion with someone else: regardless of what you might think of her politics, how do you not respect an athlete unafraid to have intelligent conversation about issues beyond sports.

Federer's win streak is now 34 at the U.S. Open but he has won five in a row. Was there a forfeit/walkover in there that doesn't count as a win?
-- Anthony, La Jolla, CA

There was a walkover over Andrei Pavel a few years back. Likewise, had he won Wimbledon, his streak would "only" have been 41 since he won by walkover when Tommy Haas pulled out in 2007.

Is it just me or are all the three top Serbian players who are brunette (Ana, Jelena, Novak) have blonde moms! Coincidence?
-- Anna Altea, Davao City, Philippines

Only their hairdressers know!

While Serena's nine majors are impressive, her feat is probably underreported because of how random half of those majors are. She hasn't won consecutive majors since 2002. What exactly should be reported?
-- Jason Englisbe, Mauldin, SC

The more charitable spin: She's only 26 and her run of Slams already span nine years! Maybe this longevity is just as impressive as winning a mess of Slams in a concentrated period of time!

Let's get a little end-of-the-year love for Virginia Ruano Pascual and Ai Sugiyama. This might be their last seasons on tour, and they've both been absolute stalwarts since the mid 90's. Sugiyama hasn't missed a slam since the '94 French, and VRP since the '95 Aussie. This marked Sugiyama's 14th slam semifinal and VRP's 21st. Let's hear it for two quiet veterans, who have lasted this long in singles and doubles and remained wonderful people throughout it all.
-- Marta, Tacoma, WA

Amen to that. And wait, more props ...

Hi, Jon. I know you have given props to Vergeer before, but I still think she deserves a mention in your ad-in, ad-out for the week for this achievement. Speaking of which, I think someone should talk to the organizers of the Arthur Ashe Kids Day and give these amazing athletes a high-profile forum to showcase their skills too. It will be a great lesson to kids on overcoming adversity and pursuing your passion.
-- Eric, Menlo Park, CA

Thanks. And great idea on Kid's Day. Someone forward this to Arlen Kantarian. I love Quddus, you love Quddus. But he's no Esther Vergeer.

I know you've commented on the WTA's bad decision to allow coaching during matches. But I've watched tennis since the days of Chris Evert and I think it's one of the worst decisions the sport has made. It reinforces the stereotype that women can't think for themselves, especially when you couple it with the notion that there are so few female coaches on the women's tour. Someone needs to help the WTA power's understand that.
-- Jim Barber, Atlanta

You know, in all my railing against this cheap and terminally cheesy gimmick, I never thought of this in terms of gender. But I think you're on to something, Jim. These damsels in distress are so insufficiently independent that they need to summon help -- which, more often than not, is an older male. Great message, that sends.

Again, the WTA's current leadership has done so much good for the women's game and the sport in general. But this on-court coaching is a complete whiff. Let's review: There's no entertainment value whatsoever. (Vera Zvonareva's coach is encouraging her to "keep fighting" and "go for her shots" ... no way!) Many coaches complain about being wired. I find the WTA's position that "many players want it" to be utterly not credible. On-court coaching undercuts a core virtue of tennis -- i.e. the ability to fashion your changes in strategy. And, as Jim notes, there are anti-feminist underpinnings as well.

Let's be honest: This is nothing more than a) a cowardly way to avoid confronting the coaches of a few select stars who illegally yell and gesticulate during matches and b) a way to appease outgoing sponsor Sony Ericsson, which, rest assured, will be providing the technology. Mark my words: this is the WTA's answer to the ATP's round robin experiment.

Re: the graying of the ball kids. I, too, am deeply disturbed by this phenomenon, and can only think of one possible explanation. Perhaps ballboy is a tenured position, and the same people have been ballboying year after year since the beginning of the open era.
-- Ranjit Gupte, New York

I'm not sure this is cause to be "deeply disturbed," but I think it's a shame nonetheless. I'm sure it's fun for the adults, but being a ballboy seems to me such an effective way to draw kids to the sport. They get to see top-shelf tennis up close and personal. They interact a bit with players. They see just how much talent (and mental strength) is required to be a pro. They get free gear. I think it's no coincidence that so many pros -- including Federer -- were once ballkids.

Jon, please educate me! How is it possible for Coco Vandeweghe to play against Jelena Jankovic in the main draw (and actually took a few games off her), THEN be able to play in the U.S. Open Juniors - where, consequently, she won?
-- Mack, Rocky Mount, VA

Players are permitted to enter both draws.

Jon, does Mary Carillo make any sense when she complains about the Challenge system? I have no idea what her logic is and it seemed that John McEnroe and Dick Enberg were baffled as well. It also seemed liked she was upset about it and maybe spoke one sentence in the final set of the Finals.
-- Sunil Reddy, Chicago, IL

I'm putting words in her mouth, but Mary's point -- and I think it's legit, if a bit impractical -- is this: if the technology exists to determine accuracy, why have this "game show component" where it's incumbent on the player to challenge? If a ball's out; it's out. Why should Player A wrongfully win the point just because Player B didn't decide to play his challenge cards right? In other words, if you have the ability to be 100 percent accurate, it's illogical (immoral?) to let errors go uncorrected. Her larger point: if the players had more brains/better representation, they would never put up with the current system that limits challenges.

I'm wondering when the last time was that the finalists from the previous slam for both men and women both came back to win the following slam? In this case, Federer and Serena were both runner-ups at Wimbledon and came back to take the U.S. Open.
-- Darwin Poblete, Brooklyn

Here to the rescue comes Matthew Vitale of New York, N.Y. "Just a neat little factoid that surfaces with the wins by Fed and Serena: it's the first time since 1980 that both losing Wimbledon finalists went on to win the Open (Chris Evert and John McEnroe)."

Shots, Miscellany

• This week's "Random Encounter" winner is Jim of New Haven, Conn.: My coach had rewarded our hard work by promising us tickets via an old friend of his, who happened to be Todd Woodbridge's coach. We made our way to will call, only to find no tickets under our names. We then headed to the players' entrance for the player tickets, but again had no luck.

Our coach wasn't returning any calls, and we were about to turn around and go home. At this point, I was people watching as some players came past. I spotted a guy, carrying his own bags, standing quietly to the side near where the courtesy cars arrive. I had seen Todd Woodbridge once, and this guy was vaguely similar, so I approached him very hesitantly. I introduced myself, and explained the situation, and asked if his coach was around. To my surprise it was Mr. Woodbridge, and instead of blowing us off, he went straight inside and found his coach to relay our dilemma.

It turned out that our coach had never actually contacted them, and had only left a message at the hotel he thought they were using. Mr. Woodbridge, who was playing that day and still ranked in the top 5 in the world, incredibly went back into the locker room, found us two tickets, and came out apologizing that they weren't better. We couldn't believe it.

This guy was one of the greats in doubles at the time, and yet he took the time to make sure we got into the tournament. It was truly thrilling to meet such a wonderful person as Todd Woodbridge, and I will never forget his kindness that day.

• Without taking sides here, given what we think we know about Billie Jean King's politics and values, aren't some of these remarks a bit, um, surprising?

Josť Luis Clerc, one of Argentina's most recognized and revered professional tennis players, has signed on as a consultant and partner for the development and construction of Algodon Wine Estates' Tennis Center and Clerc Tennis Academy in San Rafael, Mendoza. Clerc will provide general management for the center and will play an instrumental role in shaping the Academy's goal to attract top world players and international tournaments. In addition to his partnership with Algodon on the Tennis Academy, Clerc will also act as brand ambassador, working to promote all Algodon properties, including the exclusive 10-suite Algodon Mansion expected to open early 2009 in Buenos Aires.

Serena Williams -- hailed in my press release as a "tennis and entertainment megastar" -- will play in the PNC Tennis Classic presented by The Baltimore Sun, it was announced by Tournament Chairman and Founder, Pam Shriver. Williams will headline the Tennis Classic Feature Match at the 1st Mariner Arena on Friday evening, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m.

• Anyone else wonder what Pam Shriver thinks of The Wire, i.e the greatest show in the history of television?

Jongseong Park, Seoul, Korea: Andy Murray went home to England? You should take a look at the BBC article about the whole England/Scotland/Great Britain/United Kingdom confusion, titled Andy Murray - England's Greatest Scotsman?. It's an entertaining read and a good primer to the convoluted topic of the status of the UK's 'home nations'. The article doesn't go too deeply into the intricacies (it would take a whole book to do so) but I think many Mailbag readers will find the article enlightening.

• Two unsolicited book recommendations: Check out Jeff Pearlman's "Boys Will Be Boys" and "Tales from the Dodgers Dugout" by Paul Gutierrez.

• On Sept. 27, Justine Henin and Carlos Rodriguez will officially celebrate the opening of the 6th Sense Tennis Academy at the Mission Inn Resort & Club. The 1,000-acre resort is located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, just 30 miles northwest of Orlando.

• This just in: alert reader Colin O'Brien notes: Billie Jean King quickly clarified her opinion on Governor Sarah Palin releasing this statement: "Last Friday, reporter from the New York Observer asked me what I thought about Sarah Palin. I told her I thought Sarah Palin was honest and real. I believe that. But, that in no way should be viewed as an endorsement of any kind. I oppose many of the positions of Sarah Palin, particularly those tied to the LGBT community. I am supporting Barack Obama and, in fact, I have lent my name to both Women for Obama and the Obama LGBT Steering and Policy Committee."

Maria Diegnan, U.S. Open ballperson, sends this correction and update: I am from NYC, retired and living in Florida, and have a vacation home in a very rural section of Tennessee. The 19-hour bus ride and age is correct. I had to try out two times to make the cut. I was the oldest female ball person this year and have been invited back for next year.

• In the market for a new player to support? May we recommend Lucas Arnold Ker.

• Venusfan of New York sends this Fashion Week link.

Anton of Santa Clara, CA sends this week's Long Lost Siblings:

JM Del Potro and Judd Nelson of "The Breakfast Club" fame.

Have a great week, everyone!

 
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