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Posted: Wednesday March 25, 2009 1:34PM; Updated: Thursday March 26, 2009 6:00PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Scott leaves at critical juncture, Clijsters sets comeback and more

Story Highlights

By accident or design, WTA boss Larry Scott picked a critical time to leave

Indian Wells has television coverage unfit for a high school jiu-jitsu tournament

Rafael Nadal has distanced himself from his contemporaries in 2009

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clijsters.jpg
As WTA CEO Larry Scott departs, Kim Clijsters is plotting a comeback.
AP
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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Ooof. Larry Scott is leaving as the head of the WTA? This can't be good.
-- Greg Smiley, Washington, D.C.

• Um ... did we mention Kim Clijsters is coming back? No question that Scott's decision to leave the WTA to assume the commissionership of the Pac-10 Conference is a loss for tennis. When Scott took the top WTA job earlier this decade, the organization was in shambles, both financially and culturally. He did a masterful turnaround job, luring sponsors, instituting his road map and keeping all sides generally happy -- even when, qualitatively, the product dropped.

I spoke to Scott on Tuesday night and he asserts that this was a difficult and personal decision. Unlike other execs, he is a "tennis guy" who played in college and briefly on tour and has a passion for the sport. Yet, he spent nearly half his nights on the road last year -- often in a foreign country -- away from his wife and three kids. As he told the WTA players Wednesday in Miami when he broke the news, "I love you guys. But I love my family more."

By accident or design, he picked a critical time to leave. True, the WTA has come a long way in recent years. But this is a precarious period. The global economy is in the commode -- Scott himself recently speculated that revenues could be down 20 percent in 2009. It's no secret that the main sponsor, Sony Ericsson, is not the Sony Ericsson that hurled big bucks at women's tennis several years ago. The WTA's Shangri-la of Dubai is a changed place. The amazing Williams sisters aren't getting younger, Maria Sharapova's career appears to be in jeopardy and, as we saw in Indian Wells, there aren't many other players who capture the public imagination right now. You could argue Scott bought low and sold before the dip.

Already some of you have asked where the WTA goes from here. When it looked as though Scott would return to the ATP had he been offered the job last fall, the WTA board gave a vote of confidence to his No. 2, Stacey Allaster. The WTA's COO, Dave Shoemaker, is highly respected. Surely there are external candidates who would look favorably on the challenges as well. Scott is on the job for several more months so that should ease the transition. Yes, this was an unexpected plot twist in the reality show. But look at it this way: If it all went according to script, it wouldn't be tennis.

Once again, Fox Sports (Comcast Sports Network) in the SF Bay Area is pre-empting or abbreviating coverage of the IW Masters. No Nadal/Nalbandian on Wednesday night, nor Federer/Verdasco. The 2009 coverage [stinks] as bad as 2008. At least Tennis Channel wouldn't pre-empt coverage to air a 2008 rerun or a hockey game. Please let Charlie Pasarell know.
-- Annette, Oakland, Calif.

• Amen. In a word, this situation is unacceptable. Indian Wells is a world-class event with record attendance and a top-tier sponsor.....and television coverage unfit for a high school jiu-jitsu tournament. How do you call your tournament the "Fifth Slam" and have your coverage get pre-empted for fishing? This is like owning a sweet new Macbook and then having dial-up Internet access. You may as well cut bait entirely and stream matches online than alienate fans like this.

I see this from the tournament's perspective. ESPN was unwilling to give them enough hours of coverage. And much as we all love Tennis Channel, it's still --thanks, Dolans! -- unavailable in so many markets. It also bears mentioning that the international coverage draws high marks. If you want it straight from the directors' mouths, click here.

Still, the current situation is untenable and here's what I don't get: In recent years, the USTA was negotiating with ESPN for broadcast rights of the U.S. Open and, presumably, negotiating from a position of some strength. Why not say, "As part of the deal, you have to guarantee X hours of coverage of the Indian Wells and Key Biscayne events. Our organization, after all, is based on promoting and growing tennis in the U.S., and when the second- and third-biggest Americans event are, for all intents, not televised, it's a real problem. What's that? The ratings would rival those for bull riding and bass fishing? Fine, throw it on ESPN Classic or ESPNU or ESPN Reject Bin. Just somewhere so there's a distinct time and place and the viewers can watch without having to worry that the matches will be pre-empted for the saltwater taffy pull." Then the USTA could either turn around and charge a fee to IW and KB for using its leverage, or even get some sort of equity stake. Anything to avoid the current situation, which has the effect of chilling interest in the sport.

Just to be clear: This has nothing to do with the quality of the broadcasters --Lindsay Davenport, Justin Gimelstob, Ted Robinson -- or the productions. It's just a function of access.

Do you think the drug-testing policy has gone too far and a bit too intrusive considering players have to let officials know where they are every day? I think it is an invasion of privacy. What are your thoughts?
-- Sarah Markham, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

• The civil libertarian in me (whose profile diminishes as I get older) thinks the testing is unduly invasive. When players, such as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, complain about privacy issues, I think they have a valid point. Apart from the logistical difficulties -- what athlete in the transient sport of tennis knows where they'll be every minute of every day? -- there's something creepily Big Brotherish about this policy. Especially for a sport such as tennis, which, if not 100 percent clean, does not have a rampant doping problem, this all seems excessive.

The pragmatist in me, however, sees how other sports -- track, cycling, baseball -- have been damaged (irreparably?) by spotty testing and drug scandals. The inner pragmatist also recognizes that unannounced, out-of-competition testing is the best way to catch the cheaters. If this burdensome testing is the price for keeping tennis out of trouble and upholding the dignity of the competition, it's a small price to pay. I don't like standing in the security line or being unable to pack shampoo in my carry-on. But if that's the price to pay for not getting my plane blown up, so be it.

My real gripe is not with the testing procedure but what happens in the aftermath of a positive result. I wrote a column in the current Tennis Magazine about Martina Hingis, who, I contend, really got a raw deal. (For one: Hingis' sample showed only a trace amount of the metabolite, just 42 nanograms per milliliter; the threshold amount to fail a drug test in the U.S. military: 100 ng/ml). You think your rights gets trampled in the testing phase? Wait to see what happens once you trigger a positive result.

I believe many miss the point about Federer and Nadal. It's not that Roger "fears" or has mental issues against Nadal. To me, Nadal simply seems to be an enormous player who returns every single ball ... not to mention he hits that high, deep ball right into Roger's backhand, killing any power Roger would have left. And he does that over and over and over against everyone. So, it's more a skills and fitness issue here rather than a psychological one.
-- Carlos Toledo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

• Agree and disagree. Sure, Nadal presents some unique challenges to Federer: the lefty look, the high-bouncers to the one-handed backhand, the unextinguishable competitive flame. (The unforgettable fire? One of you even raised the valid question: Is Nadal the best pure competitor in the history of the sport?) But I do think there is a huge mental component here. Note how Federer's otherwise reliable forehand deserts him on big points. Note his uncharacteristic body language. Note his crying jag in Australia. Not to enrage my publisher by giving away too much of my forthcoming book, but even Federer's facial expressions are different against Nadal than they are when he plays everyone else. Surely there is more going on here than high-bouncing topspin.

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