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Posted: Wednesday October 14, 2009 3:13PM; Updated: Wednesday October 14, 2009 3:13PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

No place for Clijsters in year finale

Story Highlights

It wouldn't be fair to give Kim Clijsters a special exemption into the year-ender

All that stands in the way of Alisa Kleybanova's success is improved fitness

Some enterprising player should start a player's organization to effect change

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Kim Clijsters hasn't played a tournament since winning the U.S. Open last month.
AP
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
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Any chance that the WTA extends an invite to Mrs. Lynch for the Sony Ericsson Championships? The rules seem to allow for it, and with Fila signing on this week as the championships' official clothing sponsor, it seems everything could be falling in place for us to get one last look at Mrs. Lynch in the '09 season.
-- Karl Miller, Phoenixville, Pa.

• Karl refers, of course, to Kim Clijsters, she of the "superfluous j," as Stephen Colbert recently noted. (Colbert is one to talk, he being of the superfluous "t.") While Clijsters' presence would no doubt goose ratings and attendance and generate immeasurable buzz, she is unlikely to show up in Doha, Qatar, for the season-ending tournament. She won't get in based on her ranking (Clijsters is ranked 18th and the top eight players qualify) and she hasn't played since the U.S. Open. While I can't imagine many would object to a "special exemption" for the most recent Grand Slam champion, imagine being an otherwise deserving player who competed in 18 events, did all the sponsor schmooze-a-thons and qualified on paper ... only to have the WTA pull the Lucy and the football trick.

Long as we're in the neighborhood, it hasn't gotten the credit it deserves, but I love the WTA's idea of making the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions event a de facto year-end championship for the 11-25 level players. It gives the Yanina Wickmayer types a chance to earn to some well-deserved extra cash; it brings tennis to a new market; and it adds a sponsor.

To answer Tal's question from last week: Clijsters' hubby, Brian Lynch, was a good player, albeit not NBA material. Physically, he was not extremely gifted -- he wasn't the guy to dunk on someone or blow past his defender -- but he was very smart on the court. He played as a small forward mostly and was known for his court vision, good passes, smart drives, a solid jumper and leadership on and off the court. All in all, a pretty big loss for the Antwerp Giants, because especially during the playoffs he was playing at a very high level. One commentator said, "Kim will have to win a Grand Slam to vindicate Lynch's early retirement."
-- Ive, Antwerp, Belgium

• Thanks much. Here's some more insight. And is it me, or does he come across as likable on a level that might even be described as Clijsters-esque?

I have heard John McEnroe make that same statement ("They used to fine me when I did [erupt] and now they fine me if I don't") from the broadcast booth, and quite frankly, I have always assumed that it was made tongue-in-cheek and not really seriously (you can't be serious!). But I would love to know if it is true. I think you also have to temper that statement against something else that McEnroe has said from the booth, which is his feeling that if they had punished/fined him earlier and more often in his career, he would probably not have gotten so out of hand with his outbursts as his career progressed.
-- Lilas Pratt, Marietta, Ga.

• Does McEnroe really get fined if he doesn't throw a tantrum, as he's stated? Here's Jim Courier, chief of the Outback Champions Series: "As someone who reviews every one of John's contracts with the Outback Champions Series, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that there has never been a clause in any of his agreements with our tournaments that obligates him to behave in any specific manner on court. Any serious suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate by John or anyone else. Having said that, it is my strong belief that John continues to use this throwaway line with the media because it is a humorous response, which defuses a tricky question. We all know he can be very charming in his commentary duties but it's much more common for him to show the more intense side of his personality when he is competing on the court."

Harder to reform: the U.S. health-care system or the professional tennis tournament schedule?
-- Ashwin, Rochester, N.Y.

• Good question. On the one hand, you have this hopeless snarl of partisan politics, conflicts galore, entrenched special interests, a backward incentive structure and a culture that is almost pathologically resistant to change. But you know, this health-care system, it's pretty messy, too.

Sport or game -- this is a debate that rages on. I strongly feel that if you don't have to be athletic -- let's say you have to at least reach your target heart rate zone 50 percent of the time -- you are playing a game, not a sport. Tennis, basketball, soccer -- these are sports. But billiards, golf, etc. -- these are games. Baseball is borderline; you run the bases and chase after fly balls and grounders, but there are a lot of fat-butt pitchers I don't consider athletes because they don't ever expend enough energy. Can you set a standard here? I really think the key is athleticism. If you ain't sweatin', you're playing a game.
-- Jim Reilley, Sacramento, Calif.

• I like Andre Agassi's line about golf (which I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Anything you can do drunk is not a sport." A friend of mine suggested that anything you do wearing a belt (i.e. golf, bowling, pool) is not a sport. I would contend that this fails us when it comes to martial arts. And, besides, none of the pool players I know bother to wear belts.

I was really impressed with Alisa Kleybanova's aggressive performance in the U.S. Open doubles final versus Venus and Serena Williams, and wondered if you believe she has greater potential in the singles arena. Pam Shriver seemed to think if she worked on her fitness (i.e. lost weight ), she could be a real contender. Shriver compared her to a young Martina Navratilova in that respect. Thoughts?
-- Hope, New York

• Never mind doubles. Kleybanova is a formidable singles players who hovers between 20-30, hits a big ball and can hang with anyone from the baseline. She's beaten Jelena Jankovic, among others, this year, and took out Vera Zvonareva in Tokyo just last month. As you (and Shriver) suggest, her, ahem, fitness is preventing her from reaching the next plane.

Will the Hepner/Nelson records for longest point and longest match ever be broken?
-- Dave, River Forest, Ill.

• Dave refers to this piece. The notion of a 29-minute point is simply inconceivable today. Even if Novak Djokovic is serving.

Do you have any insight into the retire-vs.-hiatus debate from a business perspective? If a player says they want to take a "break" but not retire, do they still get fined for not appearing at the required tournaments? Do they get penalized by sponsors for not fulfilling obligations? Whereas if they "retire," all of those penalties go away. Just wondering if there is a financial motivation for a player to say they are retiring when they really just want to take a break.
-- Steve Boening, Dallas, Texas

• Great question. And your skepticism is well-placed. I know of at least two instances in which a player's endorsement deals would have lapsed had they retired; so they simply went "inactive," and continued getting some of the lucre. On the other hand, "inactive" players are still subject to tour rules, including the anti-doping testing. I know of another player who considered herself inactive but retired in part because she didn't want to have the WADA gendarmes knocking on her door at 6 a.m.

Please explain to me how Jelena Jankovic can withdraw, due to injury, in a final against Maria Sharapova on Oct. 3, and then play in the China Open on Oct. 6? Did the same shoulder AND wrist injuries that she had no time whatsoever to treat miraculously disappear and allow her to play and lose in three sets? Is that insane, dishonest sportsmanship, or simply a desperate attempt to make the Doha draw? I'm baffled.
-- William Christian, Lompoc, Calif.

• The miracles of acupuncture? The magic of acai berries? Prayer? You got me. The more charitable view, of course, is that Jankovic was in great pain and deserves our admiration for keeping her commitment to the subsequent event. Instead of blaming players, direct your outrage at a playing schedule that treats players like chattel. The word that keeps coming to me is: "unsustainable."

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