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Posted: Wednesday March 4, 2009 1:29PM; Updated: Wednesday March 4, 2009 1:29PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

The value of exhibition play, how big is the Venus purse and a logo

Story Highlights

The Williams sisters have won the last three Majors and are dominant forces again

I don't begrudge the players the right to grab as much cash as they can

Three of the four semifinalists in Acapulco had a one-handed backhand

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Venus Williams and sister Serena are once again the dominant forces among women.
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What did you make of the matches on HBO? And how much should we read into the results? One never knows how hard the players are playing, does one?
-- Barry, Arizona

• Barry is, of course, referring to "Tennis Night in America," the four-woman exhibition held at Madison Square Garden and televised live on HBO on Monday.

He's right that it's tough to assign much value to exhibitions. If you're lucky, you forget these aren't sanctioned matches; other times they resemble glorified practice sessions. While I didn't think any player went at 100 percent speed Monday night, the psychological stakes were enough to make each player care about the outcome. The Williams sisters have won the last three Majors and are again the dominant forces in the women's game, rankings be damned. Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are, obviously, top shelf players but have seemed to backslide a bit in recent months. In the end, the Williams sisters showed their superiority.

The night wasn't perfect. A snow storm addled schedules. The play was often patchy. There were shaky line calls and a malfunctioning scoreboard. But overall it reinforced the benefit of exhibitions. The tour might be ambivalent about them; but they serve an overall good for the sport.

Here it is, early March, traditionally, a time in the sports calendar when tennis is off the radar. And -- as was the case last year when Federer played Sampras -- tennis not only gets some buzz, but also 12,000 or so fans on the East Coast (and a few hundred thousand with HBO) can watch the sport live. The players get some extra cash, as well as a chance to penetrate the New York market, not insignificant if you're trying to build Ivanovic as a global star. The USTA wisely used the occasion to market the sport nationwide. BNP Paribas gets some value for their tennis investment. Everyone comes away happy. Here's hoping this is an annual event. Maybe next year you combine genders?

Any idea how much of an appearance fee Venus Williams was paid to play at a random clay court tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, after winning at Dubai and before playing in Key Biscayne? Or did she just happen to ask for a wildcard since she was just there on vacation? Scheduling like this makes the average fan wonder why some of the top athletes complain about there being too many tournaments scheduled.
-- Pedro, Miami, Fla.

• Agreed. Venus, known for playing a sparse schedule, finds time to enter a Tier III event in Acapulco, the week after playing in Dubai and the week before an exhibition in Madison Square Garden. I don't know about her appearance fee, but suffice to say it rivaled, if not eclipsed, the total tournament purse of $220,000. Plus she earned $300,000 in New York Monday night. Now that's a recession-era playing schedule!

I don't want to pick on Venus here. (You could as easily cite, say, Rafael Nadal in Rotterdam or Novak Djokovic playing in Umag.) And I don't begrudge the players the right to grab as much cash as they can, while they can. But, yes, this does undercut the common player gripe that the schedule is too demanding. And particularly if you're Larry Scott, trying to create a system whereby the top players compete in the top events, it doesn't look good when the top stars skip some of the biggies, but play -- let's be honest here -- fairly meaningless tournaments.

This is a fundamental issue that never goes away. Tell the players when and where to play and they resist. Allow anarchy to reign -- "hey players, go wherever you please." -- and you strip the circuit of credibility. (And sponsors.) It's an age-old tennis riddle and no one has solved it yet.

Kudos to Andy Roddick for taking a stand on the Dubai visa controversy regarding Shahar Peer. However, don't you wonder if he really had any intention of going to Dubai anyway. He is playing Davis Cup the following week and it would be tough to travel to Dubai and then back to the U.S. to be ready for Davis Cup so quickly?
-- Patrick Holness, New Rochelle , N.Y.

• A lot of you raised the same issue. Just for the sake of argument, let's say you're right and Andy Roddick never had any intention of going to Dubai. He very easily could have withdrawn by citing a vague injury (or, for that matter, citing the logistics) and that would have been that. Instead he chose to make a statement of disapproval. I give him credit for that.

In the past two matches the Williams sisters have played against each other they have not continued their tradition of hugging at the net; they have barely managed to even look at the other. Am I the only one who finds this lack of embrace a little disheartening. I love that they can play more competitive matches against each other, but it seems like something is being sacrificed. What are your thoughts?
-- John, Denton, Texas

• I don't think it's a ritual or a tradition. They were simply moved to hug at the net on occasion A and not moved on occasion B. Again, I have complete sympathy for V and S here. If they're too affectionate, it undercuts the competitiveness of the match. And if they don't embrace -- or Serena blames the loss on her poor play, as was the case in the Wimbledon final -- it can come across as unpleasant as well. It's an awkward, uncomfortable situation all around.

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