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Posted: Wednesday October 1, 2008 12:24PM; Updated: Wednesday October 1, 2008 12:24PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Sharapova's hits, Ana's troubles and the Greatest Generation

Story Highlights
  • I suspect that tennis players rank among the most well-rounded athletes
  • A.I. was the spring's darling and now some are likening her to David Duval
  • Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova are the top two women's players
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Don't let her gentle features fool you, Maria Sharapova is strong enough to outhit you.
Don't let her gentle features fool you, Maria Sharapova is strong enough to outhit you.
AP
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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As someone who covers a variety of other sports, how do think tennis players stack up as far as athletes?
-- John, Hong Kong

• Interesting, if unanswerable. Part of the problem -- or, I'd argue, beauty -- is that different tennis players have different athletic skills. Some have blinding speed. Some are uncommonly strong. Others are exceptionally agile. Still others have one-in-a-billion hand-eye coordination.

I suspect most of you readers could bench press more weight than Maria Sharapova, but she could still outhit you. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer might be the identical dimensions (6-1, 85 kg.) but they obviously have vastly different physiques and "jock skills sets."

My sense is that, overall, tennis players would a) fare quite high and b) show immense improvement over the years. Tennis players might not be the single strongest, fastest, best-conditioned species, but I suspect they're among the most well-rounded athletes. Pick a player, any player, consider what he or she does on the court. I'm hard-pressed to name a sport with a caliber of athlete that has come further in a shorter amount of time. The former 90-pound waifs in the women's game. The former pot-bellied beer drinkers on the men's tour? They'd be as jarringly obsolete these days as wooden rackets and orange tennis balls.

I think it's official time for an in depth look at WTHIGOW Ana Ivanovic.
-- Aisha Cherrington, Miami

• Oh, what a fickle beast fandom is. A.I. was the spring's darling and now some of you are likening her to tennis' David Duval. Yes, her results have been terribly disappointing since she became No. 1. But let's allow her to heal that thumb injury before we commence a WTHIGOW autopsy.

If the U.S. doesn't want to take part in Davis Cup, why does it? Why don't they stay out and let the rest of the world enjoy?
-- Katri, Helsinki

• It's not a question of wanting or not wanting to participate. If anything, the U.S. team has some of the most loyal and consistent participation going. It's a question of maximizing an asset that -- at least from this admittedly American perspective -- seems to be diminishing with each passing year. Again, I recognize that Davis Cup enjoys greater popularity in other outposts, but I still think it could benefit from an overhaul. If the ITF isn't willing to take this suggestion seriously, at least make a few logical fixes -- i.e. giving the winning team a first-round bye the following year.

A lot you of wrote in condemning my view -- which is fair -- but let me add two points. 1) This isn't solely a U.S. problem. The Brits, for instance, played last weekend -- at Wimbledon, with Andy Murray -- and the LTA apparently had to cover empty seats with the Union Flag. This is problematic. Also, for better or worse, all markets aren't created equal. I would contend that if you're trying to promote and grow an international sporting event, you ought to at least consider how it will fare in the U.S.

Which U.S. Open victory do you think was the more important for Federer from a mental standpoint -- the semifinal win over Djokovic or the Championship victory against Murray?
-- Stephen Males, Devonshire, Bermuda

• I'd definitely say the win over Djokovic. The Federer haters were quick to point out that he had virtually no "good wins" in months and didn't beat a top 20 foe at either Wimbledon or the French Open. But for him to come out and beat Djokovic -- on hard courts, in difficult conditions -- was big-time. He did what needed to be done against a tired Murray in the final. But, really, it was that semifinal that sticks out. Something else to consider: when Federer mentioned the value of Olympic gold in doubles, it sounded a bit like a rationalization for his disappointment in singles. But he's been a different player since that achievement.

Two things: How does this year's U.S. Open Men's (Monday) Final being streamed by CBS on the Internet (WITH commercials) make it "free" as compared to the CBS TV broadcast -- which presumably aired with the same commercials? My second question is: The players get bathroom breaks during matches. The lines people and ball "kids" rotate in and out. What about the chair umpires? Do THEY get bathroom breaks?
-- Jennifer Boller, Los Angeles

• Your first question is excellent and we will investigate. I'm curious whether networks draw a distinction between traditional "TV" viewers and those watching online with commercials. Personally: whereas I reflexively change the channel during commercials, I'm probably more inclined to watch commercials on a webcast (or at least leave the window open).

As for your second question, it's actually an issue. I recently spoke with one chair umpire who drinks no coffee and limits his fluid intake before his matches. In the alternative, there's always this.

I have come up with what I consider to be the top 10 female players of all time:

1. Serena Williams, 2. Justine Henin, 3. Martina Navratilova, 4. Steffi Graf, 5. Venus Williams, 6. Chris Evert, 7. Margaret Smith Court, 8. Monica Seles, 9. Billie Jean King, 10. Martina Hingis

Do you agree?
-- J.J. Johnson, Allentown, Pa.

• I feel as though these questions a) make you a lot of enemies and b) require some preliminary definitions. (Is it "top" in terms of head-to-heads? Or career achievements?) But they're fun and spark some robust barroom debate, so let's indulge. Scanning your list it seems like you have the right 10, but in absurd order. How in the world can Henin be ahead of GRAF and Navratilova? My list would look like this:

1. Graf, 2. Navratilova, 3. Evert, 4. Court, 5. Serena, 6. Venus, 7. Seles, 8. Henin, 9. King and 10. Hingis.

Factors include titles, qualitative "tennis is a vacuum," longevity, doubles, quality of the field.

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