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Posted: Wednesday August 19, 2009 1:23PM; Updated: Wednesday August 19, 2009 4:35PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Federer proves no one is perfect; concern for struggling tournaments

Story Highlights

Players are often put in no-win situations during postmatch interviews

More debate on best-of-three vs. best-of-five for men in first week of majors

New No. 2 Andy Murray remains our pick to win the U.S. Open next month

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When Roger Federer serves a response in postmatch interviews, the world's No. 1, like others, is often in a no-win situation.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
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I am a Roger Federer fan, but it gets harder to support him after postmatch interviews where he bashes his opponents and fails to credit them with good play. Case in point: the interview after his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup. Federer choked, and Tsonga stepped it up. Enough said. At what point does greatness turn into arrogance?
-- Jose, San Antonio

Broadening this beyond Federer, I'm starting to feel sorry for some of these players. With the way their words are dissected, they're often put in no-win positions. Win a match and say, "I played incredibly" -- often a truthful answer that echoes what others are saying -- and it has the ring of arrogance. Carry on about the depth of the field and the great competition and "feeling lucky to win," and it has the ring of false modesty. Lavish your opponent with praise in defeat, and it sounds phony. Chide yourself for choking, and it sounds ungracious.

Granted, there are remarks that are obviously tactless. Check out Sam Stosur's ripping Serena Williams to the Melbourne Age. Money quote: ''If you look at what Serena says after a lot of her matches, she probably doesn't, you know, give all the glory to her opponent, no matter what the situation is.''

But overall, I think players do well, given that no remark will please everyone.

Long as we're here, lots of you asked about Federer and his odd defeat -- days before Tiger Woods squandered a last-day lead at a major -- and his chances at the U.S. Open. Given what he's been through these past few months, I'm inclined to give him a pass for a mental lapse. No one is perfect. And while it's true that his hard-court play has been sketchy this year, how do you dismiss the chances of anyone gunning for his sixth straight title in New York?

I think having mid-match coaching is pointless and takes away from an integral part of the game. However, it might be an interesting idea to provide players a running view of the statistics of the match. Viewers get this info on TV -- where the opponent is mostly serving, first-serve percentage, return position, etc. This would allow players to make conscious changes in strategy while having time to think about it during changeovers. What say you?
-- Ananth Raghavan, San Francisco

Interesting point. At most events, at least on big courts, that information is readily available. During changeovers, the scoreboards often feature detailed match stats. Funny, I can't recall ever seeing a player craning his/her neck and trying to obtain that information. I agree: You'd think it would be helpful to see that, hey, my opponent has three times as many forehand errors as backhand errors. That's precisely the kind of incremental advantage a savvy player would want to obtain.

I think you are way off in suggesting best-of-three sets for the men at the majors. The fact that, barring weather trouble, everyone gets a full day off between matches means that best-of-five is necessary to make the majors more of a challenge than other tournaments. The U.S. Open should be more grueling than, say, Cincinnati. In the same vein, the women playing best-of-three means that winning at Flushing Meadows is easier than the tune-ups. That just doesn't seem right. Maybe that's an explanation for Serena Williams' dismal performance away from the big tournaments?
-- Andras, Montreal

For the record, I advocate best-of-three the first week, so players don't exhaust their bodies, matches don't extend beyond midnight and television has a bit more flexibility. Come with the best-of-five format in the second week to set up the classic latter-round matches and distinguish the majors from the other events. As for the women, let's be honest: Many would drop like flies if forced to play best-of-five. This is not an indictment of their fitness as much as it is an acknowledgement that their bodies are different and they often hit many more balls per rally. Also, I think the 128-player draw and the presence of all the top players sufficiently distinguishes Slams from your garden-variety tournaments.

I saw your article in Tennis about unused corporate seats. I think the reality is that the event organizers couldn't care less if the stadium was empty, provided that every seat was paid for. But what about those empty seats that weren't paid for, like at the ATP events in Indianapolis and Los Angeles in July, and the WTA tournament in Carson, Calif., this month? I play out of a club in SoCal and I was the only player out of more than 100 USTA members who went to the Carson event. Why aren't tournament organizers doing more to tap into the USTA membership?
-- Confused USTA Member, Riverside, Calif.

Where to begin? At some level, you're right. This is not unique to tennis, but only a small fraction of the sport's revenue comes from the casual fan buying seats. The real tournament bucks come from business tickets, suites, sponsorships and, if you're lucky, television. Sure, you'd prefer that the stands be filled. But for, say, the organizers in Indianapolis, you're much more concerned about finding a title sponsor than about getting a few thousand USTA league players to come to the ticket window.

A few months ago, there was a lot of breezy talk suggesting that tennis is so diverse and global that it would be largely insulated from the recession. I've witnessed the opposite. Apart from the dwindling sponsors, attendance has been very spotty lately. Lots of empty suites too. You hope this is cyclical. Otherwise it's hard to see how events such as L.A. or Indy -- shaky fields, lacking a title sponsor and not exactly in need of turnstiles to stem the rush of fans -- can survive.

Todd Martin and Joker? Really?
-- Pam, Amherst, N.Y.

No Djoke -- though Martin is not replacing Marian Vadja as Novak Djokovic's coach and is serving a role akin to Alex Corretja's work with Andy Murray, I'm told. On its face, it's a curious match. But who knows? Their games aren't altogether dissimilar. And maybe some of Martin's general good-guyness rubs off on a player who's had some image issues lately.

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