Posted: Tuesday August 31, 2010 9:30PM ; Updated: Tuesday August 31, 2010 9:30PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Controversy abounds in women's game, starting with No. 1

Story Highlights

We'll find out in about 10 days if Wozniacki is justified as the No. 1 woman

John McEnroe's comments aren't ridiculous, but they apply to ATP, too

Grand slams should consider having men play best-of-three in the first week

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Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki may be No. 1, but she's never beaten an elite women's player.
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Once again, I have to object to the lack of respect accorded Caroline Wozniacki. First, dinging her for being No. 2 on the basis of a lot of play is not really backed up -- if you take out her worst half dozen tournaments it has little-to-no impact on the ranking. She has won two tournaments in a row coming into the U.S. Open, including a top-tier tournament. I agree with your assertion that other players haven't stepped up, but why then do you say you can think of a half dozen players that are better? Who are they, and what are their results to say they are better? It reminds me of every time someone says "no disrespect intended" followed by saying something respectful. Likewise, if the rankings are faulty, tell us your system that puts other players in "better" rankings and justify it. Otherwise, it's just so much smoke. It's odd to me that Wozniacki doesn't get more press and kudos. I suspect that it's a combination of a non-confrontational personality, lack of controversy and her game. Her game is not as hard-hitting as Maria Sharapova, as elegant as Justine Henin, and she gets accused of being a pusher. But why not admit that her grinding down opponents, changing pace and keeping the ball in play is an effective strategy for her and give her some props?
--Steen Pedersen, Houston

• With all due respect (that was a joke) you make a lot of good points. Wozniacki didn't get ranking in a lottery; she earned it by winning matches. She's won two straight events and more than 50 matches this year. Of course, here's another way of looking at it: she's never won a major and made a deep run only once. She's never beaten Kim Clijsters, Henin, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Sharapova, or either of the Williamses, nor (a reader notes) never beaten any active player who has ever held the No. 1 ranking. This being the case, it's not hard to see how her top seeding has come under such scrutiny.

Ultimately, it's silly to argue, because this will break one of two ways. She'll either beat Sharapova and play deep in the second week (maybe even dignify her seeding and win the title), and the doubters will be silenced. Or she'll fall before Labor Day, which -- as with Safina last year -- will suggest that her seeding didn't reflect merit. For all the hypothetical issues we discuss here (GOAT, the relative merits of Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal head-to-head, the advisability of playing best-of-five in oven-like conditions) here's an issue that will have some resolution soon.

I just re-read John McEnroe's (most recent) controversial comments. And while I consider myself a feminist, I'm actually not offended by them. I think the problem is that he failed to mention that the same holds true for men. Hasn't that been a consistent theme here in your mailbag, that both tours are too demanding and this has led to all the injuries and burnout?
--Lindsay B., San Diego

• I'm not sure McEnroe would be my choice megaphone here. (One of you asked whether his wife was going to bash him with the Gibson or the Stratocaster when he got home.) But is his sentiment really so ridiculous? Under the current rules of engagement, tennis is too physically demanding. Just look at the pile-up in the breakdown lane for proof. As you note: it applies for men and women. I suspect that because the "drawing cards" Federer and Nadal have been relatively healthy this year, it's not quite as glaring.

I'm heading to the U.S. Open out of Austin this week. With the likelihood high that Hurricane Earl will disrupt play Friday, would it be unprecedented for the USTA to act preemptively and move to get all of the first round matches in Monday and Tuesday instead of stretching them over 3 days?
--Dean, Austin

• I can't even pick a decent first-round upset, and you're asking me to prognosticate tropical storms? I strongly doubt anything will be done preemptively.

I'm interested in your answer to what I hope is a relatively simple question: From first to 128th, where would you rank Roger Federer's backhand among those of the players in the U.S. Open draw? (I realize it might be tough to differentiate between, say, No. 54 and No. 55, so I'll accept a range or approximation.)
--Victor, Chicago

• It sure would help if there were rigorous data to back up an assertion. Federer's backhand might not be his strength. But are there ... say ... 10 backhands you'd prefer to possess? Not me. Also, I wouldn't consider Federer's backhand in isolation. It meshes well with the rest of his game, the cross-court flick setting up the forehand, the one-hander complementing his court coverage. I'd be curious to his response if he were asked: "All things being equal, if it were possible, would you trade backhands with Nadal?"

Just a quick request -- how about retiring the phrase "palindromic one" in regard to Marin Cilic? It was good the first time, cute the second, just in case someone missed it, but you have now used it many times. Is there really nothing else you can say about this player?
--Cheri Lambert, Great Falls, Mont.

• Duty noted. He's tall, Croatian, solid from the backcourt, could use a nice result here.

While watching Anne Kremer heroically but unsuccessfully try to make her way through the qualies, a women's-tennis-hating fellow "fan" remarked with disgust, "The women never hold their serve." I got into an argument about semantics (never vs. usually vs. a majority of the time ... etc.) with him but yearned for actual data. I've calculated the "hold rate" for the first day's women's matches (63.3 percent). Do you know where I can find out what the hold rate is for the WTA overall? For the slams? For particular players? For the ATP? Any light you can shed will be most appreciated.
--R. Moorsmith, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• Data? Tennis? Welcome to my world. Kevin Fischer, who does a great job at the WTA and is one of the few folks in tennis to address the lack of analytics (because, you know, fans in other sports hardly care about statistics) generated the following for us:

**Of the current WTA Top 10, eight have service games won percentage of 70 or better.
**The only two below 70 percent are Jankovic (67) and Francesca Schiavone (68.9).
**Of the Top 100, their collective hold percentage is 66.2.
**Of the Top 50, their collected hold percentage is 68.3.
**Of the Top 10, their collected hold percentage is 73.1.
**Twenty-four players have a service games won percentage of 70 percent or better.
**Of those 24, seven players are 75 percent or better:
Serena Williams -- 81.4
Sam Stosur -- 77.9
Kim Clijsters -- 76.8
Karolina Sprem -- 75.9
Justine Henin -- 75.7
Venus Williams -- 75.3
Maria Sharapova -- 75.2

Why not have the women play best-of-five championship finals in the slams? I think that could definitely be doable, and the fans would love to see best of five.
--Janna, New York

• I don't think fans would like it. Especially when the players were either injured or so dog tired they were unable to compete at full strength for the next match. This is less about sexism -- or even physiology -- than the fact that women's points are appreciably longer. John Isner-Nicolas Mahut can play for 16 years (roughly) in part because the points were seldom longer than two shots. I'm watching Svetlana Kuznetsova-Kimiko Date Krumm as I write this and most points are a dozen shots.

I realize we're in agree-to-disagree territory here. But I still say we'd be best served if the men played best-of-three the first week of a slam and best-of-five the second.

Victoria Azarenka makes it hard to root for her. I was watching her match versus Monica Niculescu on the U.S. Open live web stream (amazing quality and coverage, by the way) and saw her scream at a ball kid. No context should be necessary for such bad behavior, but for the curious: Victoria was serving 4-all, second set, first point. Stressful moment, yes, but not life-changing. She missed the first serve, hit a let second serve. Went to get the third ball from the kid to her left, who was empty and pointed to the kid to her right. She saw but still kept pointing to the kid on her left and made the ump ask to move the balls over from her right to her left. Superstition? Couldn't be, because she took balls from that right side during that same game. After she (deservedly) served a double (the first of what would become three that game), she screamed at the ball kid who tried to give her the ball directly the first time, presumably because the delay "caused" her double. Impossible to root for that kind of petulance, and I hope you publish this so the ball kid knows he didn't deserve that.
--JT, West New York, N.J.

• I didn't witness this episode, but I'll cop to seeing other acts of shaky decorum that suggest Azarenka could use a few session on the Federer Swiss Finishing School. If anyone knows the ball kid in question, feel free to forward this. And, long as you brought it up, the web stream is indeed fantastic. That's the wizardry of Phil Green, as far as we're concerned.

Shots, Miscellany

• Thanks to the many of you who offered book titles. Profoundly appreciated. I'll keep you posted. And we have more Biomimetic rackets to give away (www.dunlopbuzz.com) so stay tuned for more contests.

• From our friends at the Hall of Fame: Mahut, who played in the longest match at tennis history, will present the International Tennis Hall of Fame with the racquet used in the "The Match." The racquet will be displayed at the Museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which chronicles the history of tennis from its 14th century origins through present-day notable moments. Mahut's apparel from the match is already on display at the Museum, which is located in Newport, R.I.

• Nice touch by the USTA, hiring Harry Cicma to be on-court emcee host for Arthur Ashe. Look for him on the promenade level.

• For the Rafael-ites: The interview is good but watch the video.

Erik Seifer of Norcross, Ga., notes: Isn't it time we correct a prominent ESPN announcer who we resist naming because we're only getting this hearsay et.al. when they repeat that Wozniacki was the first Danish player in a Grand Slam final? As much as we all can enjoy Caroline, mighty Kurt Nielsen preceded her by more than 50 years, reaching the men's singles final at Wimbledon in 1953 and 1955, as well as winning the 1957 U.S. Open mixed doubles with Althea Gibson. Gracious, friendly and knowledgeable as ever, Kurt still hovers over tennis, refereeing team matches and other events -- always a true and worthy ambassador of tennis.

Jim Bartle of Huaraz, Peru: Concerning placing seeds in the draw, Jimmy Arias once gave an example why the current system is better. He said one year he was ranked 16th most of the year, which meant (assuming he won) he would automatically meet No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the Master Series events. He said he had no chance against Lendl and thought about asking officials not to seed him, taking a chance of meeting a top seed early in order to avoid Lendl.

• Forgot this yesterday: Will of Somerville, Mass., for the separated-at-birth arena, consider Brad Gilbert and Tubes frontman Fee Waybill.

 
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