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Posted: Monday January 26, 2009 4:53PM; Updated: Tuesday January 27, 2009 8:40AM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Verdasco halts Murray title talk

Story Highlights

Fernando Verdasco may follow Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's route to the finals

I am prepared to call the Williams sisters the best doubles team ever

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Fernando Verdasco put a stop to any title talk by Andy Murray with an upset victory.
AP
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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The past three years, we have had surprise men's finalists. My vote this year goes to Fernando Verdasco. I think he might surprise us all and make it to the finals.
-- Michael White, Fort Worth, Texas

• There's still a lot of tennis left to be played in Australia. But to Michael's point, yes, it sure feels like Verdasco is this year's Tsonga/Gonzalez/Baghdatis/Clement/Schuettler etc., the player who gets hot and wins six matches before coming to his senses and falling short in the final. Is there a player this side of Rafael Nadal who hits a bigger forehand? As disappointed as Andy Murray surely was to have lost -- thereby making fools of the bandwagoners who picked him to win -- I think he was right to note that this was one off those occasions when you simply tip your cap and say, "Too good."

Now that Murray has lost, isn't credit due to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for saying that winning a Grand Slam is a different ball game? They were spot on in their assessment, don't you think?
-- Rahul, New York

• Absolutely. While I admit it's been fun to watch the passive-aggressive responses -- soiled napkin talk, if not outright trash talk -- I do feel for Federer, Nadal and, to a lesser extent, Djokovic. Imagine if you've been killing at your job for years, closing the biggest accounts and then leading the sales force. Some hotshot comes along and, while you don't want to disparage him, you would like a little credit for your accrued achievements....Speaking of props:

For all the knocks we have given Serena over the years for being less than gracious in her post-match interviews, how refreshing, and how wonderful, when asked about her next match against Kuznetsova and her next doubles match, she talked through them both quickly, then added that what she was most concerned with right now was going back to the locker room to check on Viktoria [Azarenka] to make sure she is ok, and that she is a good girl.
-- John Tozzi, Seattle, Wash.

• Amen. All the more props given that this was a postmatch interview conducted just seconds after Serena walked off the court. It wasn't as though a WTA minder provided her talking points as she entered the press conference, which has been known to happen.

You failed to answer Barry's interesting question of where do the Williams sisters stand all-time as doubles players. Their record in the majors is outstanding -- seven titles, 62-6 (91 percent) -- as they've withdrawn rather than lost four times. Serena has the best all-time winning percentage and Venus would move up to second with another AO title. But they've won comparatively few titles and haven't shown much ability to win with other partners. Venus is 1-4 with other partners, although Serena is 5-1 (albeit losing with Martina Navratilova).
-- Glenn Stein, Nashville, Tenn.

• Venus and Serena Williams are so dominant together that even if they play sparingly, withdraw frequently and falter with other partners, I am prepared to call them the best doubles team ever. Again I repeat this anecdote: A few years ago they entered a draw and Virginia Ruano Pascal and Paola Suarez, then the No.1 team, looked at each other and said, "We're playing for second place." That tells me about all I need to know. Leaving the numbers aside, if Venus and Serena are on one side of the net, even if the opponent is a top team -- Navratilova/Shriver? Black/Huber? Raymond/Stosur? -- would you bet against the sisters?

True or False:

1) Ivanovic is the most overrated/underachieving player to reach No. 1.

2) Mardy Fish has reached his potential. This is what he is, nothing more.

3) We all hope Dokic continues to make magic out there for a long time to come!

-- Mark, Toronto

1) Incomplete. Her results have, to put it mildly, been disappointing over the past eight months. But she's still young. She's been injured. She needs a real coach. Let's reserve judgment a bit longer before consigning her to the "overrated" bin.

2) Somewhat true, but I don't think anyone really pegged him as a world-beater. Fish is a solid 25-50 player who will reel in some good wins from time to time and lose some matches he ought to have won. Nice guy, nice career. Not bound for the Hall of Fame, but he has nothing to be ashamed of.

3) True. We're supposed to be objective but how can you not be pulling for her? (And resent her father all the more?)

Why are there few to no women coaches for the WTA professional players? Doesn't make sense to me.
-- Tony, Reston, Va.

• Part of coaching is tactics and support. But part of coaching is serving as a hitting partner. If you're, say, Dinara Safina, there are few women on the planet capable of giving you a competitive hit.

With those groundies and that height, there's no good reason for Berdych to be outside the top 10. What gives? (Pre-emptive measure: perennial response of "injuries" will not be accepted in this case -- he played a full season in '08.)
-- Dustin Chad Alligood, Perry, Ga.

• A player from the former Czech Republic once described Berdych to me as, "Marat Safin without the level head." That's held up pretty well. The Kid -- is he still a kid? -- is long on game and short on mental strength. It will be interesting to see how he handles that near-upset against Federer. Does it inflate him with some self-belief? Or is it another indication that his ball-striking is offset by what's between his ears?

Your midterm grades -- talk about grading on a curve. Would someone have to kill a spectator with an errant shot to get a D?
-- Carl, New York

• You know, a few years back I did those grades without the Dartmouth-style grade inflation. Someone wrote in and made the valid point that no athlete who goes out there and puts it on the line -- even in the case of the most disastrous loss -- deserves less than a C. So I blindly stopped giving D's and F's. But I think Carl has a point. When we're talking about the chair-throwing, riot-inciting fans, a failing grade is probably in order.

Why don't you gloat more when you predict things right?
-- Paula, Vancouver, Canada

• Because fairness would dictate that I subject myself to ritual humiliation when I predict things wrong. Murray falling to Verdasco being the latest example.

Amer Delic should be titled as the 'former Wolfson High grad of Jacksonville'.
-- Phil Nichols, Jacksonville, Fla.

• Go Wolfson.

Are you taking any bets on these mysterious post-retirement plans that Marat Safin keeps bringing up in interviews? Please God, don't let it be a reality TV show.
-- Mike, Champaign, Ill.

• Now THERE'S a contest. Someone remind here and we'll run this in a few weeks. For those of you who might be confused, Marat Safin cryptically and slightly mischievously indicated that he had his second act planned but was unwilling to share it right now. My guess? Children's birthday party performer.

 
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