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Posted: Wednesday November 25, 2009 10:24PM; Updated: Thursday November 26, 2009 1:59AM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Despite decline, don't be quick to totally give up on Nadal; more mail

Story Highlights

Rafael Nadal's decline may top a long list of highlights this year

Stars have political and economic capital to affect meaningful change

Andre Agassi's crystal meth admission seals Martina Hingis' HOF enshrinement

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rafael-nadal.jpg
Here's saying Rafael Nadal still has plenty of top-tier tennis left in him.
Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

A quick bag before Thanksgiving ...

Rafael Nadal: buy, sell, or hold?
-- Sam T., of Wilton, Conn.

• For all the strange occurrences in 2009, the return of the Belgians, the revival of Federer, Serena Williams winning titles but losing her mind, the decline of Rafa may top the list. We know by now (and surely we after reading "Open") that careers are linear. There are nodes and crests and sometimes the streaks are inexplicable. But after Nadal more or less dominated tennis for the better part of a year-winning Slams on three surfaces, ascending to No. 1, reducing his rival to tears-it's shocking to see him in his current form. Falling twice to Robin Soderling? Failing to muster a set against JM del Potro?

Clearly the injuries to his knees have figured prominently in this slide. So has the breakup of his parents' marriage. But it's downright jarring to see him making unforced errors and coming up emptier than the Patriots on fourth down when the stakes are highest. Here's a player whose won countless matches on mental strength alone openly admitting, "In the important moments, I didn't have the necessary calm, so I had a few mistakes."

Going into London, Nadal had a chance to finish the year at No. 1. But really, his results since May, might not even be worthy of the top five.

So am I buying, selling or holding? We all like buying on the dip, but it's hard to load up given the recent slide and lingering concerns about physical durability. It would be foolhardy to sell, given what we know about the athletes and the rapidly-changing tennis storylines. Put me down for a hold, albeit a nervous one. I think Nadal still has plenty of top-tier tennis left. But no question, after five years of an upward trajectory, his career has hit some turbulence and the fasten seatbelt signs are illuminated.

Nice public announcement at the O2 Arena here in London on Sunday night: 'Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be signing autographs by the practice court in 5 minutes'... Good to know that the $70,000 paycheck isn't just for sitting in a hotel room. But does this make it the most expensive personal appearance of 2009? But seriously, an attendance of 17,000 watching Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles against Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak should cheer all doubles lovers, and having myself attended an ill-fated London indoor tournament almost exactly 9 years ago (I thought it was longer until I checked), it's simply great that decent tennis in the UK is no longer confined to grass in June and July. (You'll have noticed that I don't include the travails of troubled 'Team GB' in Davis Cup!
-- Eoghan, London

• Remember last year when the ATP had to summon Radek Stepanek from his vacation to fill the alternate slot? Having Jo-Willy sign autographs is a vast improvement. And, yes, the crowds have looked great. I think it was Neil Harman who said that all of these doubles players playing in front of Springsteen crowds must feel like they died and went to heaven!

Have the players ever talked about hiring a professional union rep to solidify the union? It never made sense to me that top players should be leading the union by default. Just because they are good on the court doesn't mean that they are good at labor negotiations. If the players want change, they should get someone in there who specializes in making these things happen.
-- Brandon, Chicago

• There's a great game theory/prisoner's dilemma exercise here. The top players have the political and economic capital to affect meaningful change. But it's not in their professional best interest to spend their limited free time engaging labor issues. (And imagine the free rider issue: "While you guys are in a conference room debating prize money, I'll be on the practice courts working on my game!") The players with the time to fight management and agitate for better working conditions, don't have the juice. I wrote and half jokingly that Donald Fehr has free time on his hands now and could help tennis players. (Too late now, apparently, as the NHLPA snapped him up.) But, to your question, it would be immensely helpful if the players could subcontract some Eugene V. Debs figure (An Indiana native, I'll have you know.)

While I am no expert on financial markets, how does tweeting encourage "insider information" in regards to gambling. If anything, it would reveal more information, making insider trading more difficult. Unless of course, the cheating player thought we would think that, in which case he would say he was injured when he wasn't. But they also might realize we would suspect them of doing so, so then he would clearly tell the truth. This feels like a scene from either "The Princess Bride" or "Pirates of the Caribbean". In any case, do any of think relevant information that might be used to encourage or discourage gambling is actually revealed in tweets? Even if tweets revealed insider information, with enough insider trading it would driving the people taking the bets out of business hence no more gambling. I also maintain that if people were really honest in their tweets, they would type "I am write this while sitting bored on the john."
-- Benjamin Hansen, Ph.D., of Columbia, Md.

• Inconceivable! Indirectly, you are restating one of my points about gambling: you are a fool to bet on tennis, not because there's match fixing, but because there's so much asymmetrical information. If you happen to be at a tournament, you're armed with superior information to the guy home on his laptop. If you happen to have "behind-the-scenes access," you have still better information. If you happen to subscribe to player X's Twitter feed, you might be privy to additional information. ("At Delta counter making reservation because no way I win tomorrow." "I am about to pop this Lidocaine tablet.")

Hey, 15th times a charm getting into the mailbag! Last week I asked about Agassi's HOF entry after his crystal meth admission. While I agree with you that he's still getting in, the devil's advocate in me questions, why this is different than Martina Hingis? From what I hear from various sources, her chances are way down now. They both tested positive. Even worse, he admits it. Does it really hurt her, and if so, what's the difference?
-- Lindsay W., Dallas

• As I see it, Agassi seals Hingis' enshrinements. Leaving aside historical contradictions -- just run a Wikipedia search and not how many current enshrinees have admitted to illicit drug use -- how do you possibly exclude Hingis now? Agassi not only admits drug use, but admits fabricating an alibi to avoid punishment. Hingis vigorously denies use. Agassi escaped punishment. Hingis did not.

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