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Posted: Wednesday October 8, 2008 2:02PM; Updated: Wednesday October 8, 2008 2:02PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Should Roger Federer shut it down this year and focus on 2009?

Story Highlights
  • Roger Federer's withdrawal from Stockholm illustrates tennis' big dilemma
  • Yes, Jelena Jankovic is still the "Best Player Never to Have Won a Slam"
  • One fan's brush with tennis greatness -- in this case, Bjorn Borg
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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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What do you make of Roger Federer's withdrawal from Stockholm (citing fatigue) and, more importantly, his possible closing of the door on the remainder of his 2008 season (per his noncommital, vague press release)?

I say it may be just what he needs: take an extended break to REALLY come back strong at the Australian. Downside being that we might see him drop to -- gasp -- No. 3 in the world. Thoughts?
-- Aaron D., Charleston, S.C.

• Yes, the big news this week is that Federer is withdrawing from the non-mandatory event in Stockholm (stunning news, that) and may well shut it down for the rest of 2008. And here we have tennis' big dilemma distilled to its essence. Players are not machines; they require rest periods. Particularly toward the end of a grueling season. Particularly when the players' goals are significantly broader than winning a trophy in Stockholm. Federer wants to reclaim No.1, win the French Open and eclipse Pete Sampras' record of majors -- and no threats, fines and tsk-tsking are going to prevent him from pursuing that agenda.

The ATP, on the other hand, needs to guarantee player commitments if its going to retain credibility -- to say nothing of retaining sponsors. If you're the Paris tournament director and you're cutting seven figure checks, you can't be too pleased when the biggest draw in the sport decides to beg off your event. A business school class could spend a semester analyzing this conundrum. There's very little middle ground: a player either plays or he doesn't. And financial incentives and disincentives don't mean much either. No bonus or fine would be sufficiently sizable to get Federer to change his mind.

Anyway, I can't really blame Federer. He's been an outstanding "corporate citizen" for years and it's understandable that, at this point in his career, he prioritizes rest over fulfilling commitments. At the same time I empathize with the tournaments and fans who are being deprived. Someone ought to solve this riddle. And then they can clean Augean stables, slay the Hydra and come back with golden-antlered stag ...

When Jelena Jankovic wins the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and drives away in a new Porsche convertible, do you know if she really gets to keep the car? And is it in addition to the prize money or instead of the prize money? And where does a tennis star, who is always traveling, keep a garage full of new cars?
--
Robert Lang. Weston, Conn.

• Yep, the car is hers. And it's in addition to the prize money. Nice event. Good question about Jankovic. She plays so often it leaves her precious little time to drive. Then again, a car looks like a pretty good investment. Drive it around the block and its blue book value decreases by 40 percent? That still beats most mutual funds.

Hey, Jon, seeing as how you're a Fedtard, if you really think Roger's win over Novak Djokovic in the USO semis was so big then why didn't you consider the fact that Djokovic shot himself in the foot by attacking the N.Y. crowd, thereby stressing himself out in the semis? There's no doubt Novak came out flat-footed and uninspired during that match, he clearly was afraid of upsetting the crowd again. I'll bet you won't publish this comment, or even mention this fact in future mailbags. We all know how biased you are.
-- Anonymous

• You really have to respect the courage of someone who sends an anonymous letter to a Q/A column about tennis. Just so we're straight: I am a biased "Fedtard" because ... I asserted that Federer's win over Djokovic was meaningful. And then I neglected to mention the point -- totally irrelevant to the question -- that Djokovic had "shot himself in the foot by attacking the N.Y. crowd?" Where to begin? Start with this: I have too much respect for Djokovic to accuse him of playing "uninspired" tennis in a Grand Slam semifinal because he is afraid of upsetting the crowd.

You seem infatuated with Maria Sharapova. Would it be safe to say that if the Williams sisters looked like her, you would shower them with the same amount of attention and respect? Because I don't see anything particularly fascinating about her game.
-- Sharon Smith, Austin, Texas

• I print this only for benefit of the Sharapova fans who consistently give me grief for showing "blatant bias and favoritism" toward the Williams sisters.

Off topic, if I had a wish list for 2009 it would be this: a healthy WTA would spawn some real rivalries. Venus Williams hasn't played Sharapova since Wimbledon 2007 (and, amazingly, only four times before that.) Ivanovic and Serena have only played once. (Can this be right?) We'll say it again: had Larry Scott been around for the WTA glory years, women's tennis would be bigger than Facebook.

Having Serena that low on the list of all-time-greatest just makes you a hater.
-- Kenny, Vancouver, B.C.

• A Fedtard, a hater and a Sharapova-phile all in one week? I feel like I'm running for political office. Serious/curious question for the vox populi: does "hater" have racial connotations? I had always assumed it simply meant the generic "critic of the successful." But the term only seems to surface regarding the Williams sisters. (Still waiting to be called on my Davydenko-hating.) Can we get some clarification?

Don't you find it ironic that you say that the media hasn't reported much on the Davis Cup when YOU ARE the media?
-- Mike, Boston

• You're making me feel like the 90-year-old at the paternity test. "I wish I had that kind of power." (Just came across that line and wanted an excuse to use it.) I am but a cog in the big machine. I do what I can. But alas, I do not control the ESPN rights fee budget, the resource allocations at the New York Times, the coverage choice at Web sites. If my bosses at SI had shown any interest, I would happily have been on the first plane to Madrid.

Before I forget: remember our discussion about the U.S. Davis Cuppers texting and Blackberrying during the matches? A source close to the team raised an excellent point: if the event were televised, maybe the players wouldn't have to use their PDAs to keep friends and loved ones apprised of the score.

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