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Posted: Wednesday October 29, 2008 2:10PM; Updated: Wednesday October 29, 2008 2:10PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

The Chinese market, year-end picks and Federer's true earnings

Story Highlights

Sacrificing tradition to tap into the Chinese market is not a good idea for the sport

Roger Federer, as usual, should finish the year strong

Federer makes roughly five times off the court what he makes on it

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The Australian Open, where Novak Djokovic won last year, positions itself as a 'Pan Asian' event.
The Australian Open, where Novak Djokovic won last year, positions itself as a 'Pan Asian' event.
Kristian Dowling/Getty Images
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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How long until we see a major championship in Asia? Asia (China specifically) is such a large market for tennis to expand into that it seems like a wasted opportunity to not have a major there every year.
--
Jeremy, Marietta, Ga

• This is a good case study for the tension between tradition and commerce. Tennis, I think, would diminish itself if it suddenly added a fifth Major (or relocated one of the existing four; i.e. Australia), simply because the Asian economy is booming -- it is still booming, right? -- and the growth potential is immense. You don't spit on tradition and history simply because there's a buck to be made. At the same time, it's obviously foolish to ignore demographic and economic trends and to not try to penetrate such a large and potentially lucrative market. The Australian Open has cleverly tried to brand itself as a sort of "Pan Asian" Slam, but that's a band-aid solution. I visited China for a basketball story a few years ago. I remember fans telling me, "The NBA can play an exhibition game this year and everyone is satisfied; but pretty soon, we're going to want our own franchise!" Same for tennis.

It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum, but I think an X factor -- apart from the core economics -- is whether China can develop more top pros. The representation is there, sporadically anyway, on the women's side. But there are currently no Chinese men in the top 500. That, to me, is a bit problematic. It's not fatal to the discussion, but it certainly doesn't help your bid to host a Slam when no homegrown player would even make it into the qualifying draw on his own merit. (The obvious counter-argument: "Bestow us a meaningful, profitable tournament, and we'll starting minting top players!")

My suggestion was to hold a combined men's and women's year-end championship/All-Star week (with sprints and bench press contests!) in Shanghai or Beijing. Tennis gets its beach-head in Asia; Asia gets a glamorous, mixed-gendered, high-profile event. Alas, that's not going to happen. The WTA went for the easy petro-cash in the Middle East, and the men, piggybacking largely on Andy Murray's popularity, have relocated the Masters Cup to London starting next year.

This issue of "How deeply do we commit resources to China/Asia?" is obviously not unique to tennis. And it's a plotline to follow as we move forward. But undoing history and awarding Asia a fifth Major Championships seems to me an overreaction. At least right now.

How do you think the end of year championships will shake out?
--
Greg Beyer, Naugatuck, CT

• Still another earmark of his professionalism, Roger Federer always seems to have a bit more left in the proverbial tank when the Masters Cup rolls around. Maybe it's all that Net-jetting. As was the case at Wimbledon, I think you have to call him the favorite until someone else proves otherwise. As for the women, you're better off picking the stock market. At this point in the year, with a banged up and mentally exhausted field playing on an indoor court in a far-flung locale, no result would surprise me.

Not a question but an observation. It was at the Stuttgart tournament when Jankovic's coach was timing Venus' serve. It strikes me as being quite funny since it appears Jankovic looks over at her coach/box before challenging a call, which I thought was not suppose to be the case.
-- Susan, Boston

• A few of you have mentioned that. It strikes me as more than a little bush league. And of all players, Venus Williams is probably the single most sporting out there. She doesn't even like to challenge line calls; you really think she's milking the clock on purpose? Insofar as this was an attempt to "get inside the head" of Venus, I suspect it had the opposite effect. When a coach does something like this, is he not in effect saying, "I'm not sure you can beat her outright; so I'm resorting to the dark arts?"

Is anyone keeping stats on Hawkeye? What players have the highest (or lowest) percentage of successful challenges? What players challenge most (or least) often, per set?
-- Dennis Moran, Santa Barbara, CA

• I think the stats on Hawkeye are very sketchy and of dubious value. Time and time again we see players (Federer) challenge a call, not because he thinks he got rooked, but because he is simply transferring his frustration to the machine and/or needs the 20-second delay to collect himself. We also see those what-the-hell? challenges, issued deep in the set when the player has nothing to lose. My best guess: when players challenge legitimately, they are right about 40 percent of the time. But the real stats are skewed by how the players apply their challenges.

Speaking of which, Jackie Wong of Brooklyn, N.Y. sends this timely link.

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