Federer-Nadal has become as polarizing as American politics
The rift between fans of Federer and Nadal has become as polarizing as ever
Jelena Jankovic is fast rising on the leaderboard of all-time tennis head cases
The comparison of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Martina Hingis is surprisingly close
You say: "To his credit, [Roger] Federer has taken questions on this unpleasant episode. And absent more information, we ought to divorce him from [IMG's Teddy] Forstmann's colossally bad judgment [in betting on Federer's match against Rafael Nadal in the 2007 French Open final]." So, Jon, why don't you "divorce" him from this? You bring it up more than anyone. But you brush it off when Nadal admits his uncle coaches him?
--Anna Brit, Towson, Md.
It's such a shame that, at least in some quarters, Federer-Nadal has become as polarizing as American politics. Any reference to Federer suddenly becomes a referendum against all things Nadal. Any reference to Nadal -- hey, it would be nice if he declined mid-match coaching -- becomes a wedge for the Federer loyalists.
Whether you like it or not, Federer's name has surfaced in this unpleasant episode. (Don't take my word for it: Just fire up Google.) When the head of IMG is making $40,000 bets on one IMG player and against another*, it deserves to be "brought up." Sorry, Anna, them's the rules. At the same time, my intention was to reshape the discussion and douse sensationalism, criticizing Fortsmann for sensationally bad judgment while trying to make clear that Federer should not be blamed.
*Extended aside: Anyone else wonder how Nadal feels knowing that the head of his own management agency bet against him -- in the final of the French Open, no less? Again, even if there's nothing technically illegal here, the absence of judgment is astounding.
NBA players whine about flopping and David Stern threatens them with quicker technical fouls. NFL players spear each other like missiles and Roger Goodell levels $75,000 fines on illegal hits. This is called leadership. (OK, maybe with a dollop of demagoguery.) Here we have the head of the dominant management group gambling on two of his players and the response has been ... well, we're still waiting. A statement from the ATP? Nope. A release from the Integrity Unit? Still waiting.
Then again, maybe they are busy with other investigations. According to many of you, the gambling patterns from several results from both Moscow and St. Petersburg were, ahem, highly abnormal.
After Monday's piece ran, I received a call from a colleague of Forstmann's. She could not have been more reasonable and professional but she objected to the characterization of the Huggy Bear tournament. We should be clear: This event has raised more than $25 million for charities -- most of them child-related -- and does an awful lot of good.
Jon, I want this prediction out there, because I don't want anyone, including you, to be surprised when this happens in Australia next year. With Serena and Venus hurt, the Great Dane not able to beat anyone of significance in a Grand Slam, the Belgians probably off their game because of their lengthy offseasons, Sharapova constantly playing down to her competition and Vera being Vera, I would like to introduce to you the Australian Open champion for 2011: Ana Ivanovic. The comeback will be complete, and she may even add the French, if Henin cannot get back on track. Thoughts, or would you like to just agree?
--Shlomo, Passaic, N.J.
Are there other options? Look, it's no secret that the WTA field is riddled with holes or -- more optimistically framed -- possibilities. (When Billie Jean King says women's tennis "is not in a great place right now," you know it's bad.) Still, an awful lot has to go right for Ivanovic to win her second major. Yes, she seems, finally, to be coming out of her two-year slump. But you're talking about a player who lost her last match to Julia Goerges.
I think Gina from Italy is watching too much MTV Cribs and My Super Sweet 16 programming and naively thinking that celebrities and top 0.5 percent earners' self-indulgence represents average Americans. I agree with your consolation for those who lose jobs, and please remind your readers around the world that in the U.S. we don't have universal health care and strong retirement benefits programs. Remind Gina that there are more than 50 million Americans without health insurance, unlike in her country, and when those people lose their jobs, they may not be able to pay bills for quality health care for their children and loved ones. Perhaps she has a hierarchical table for what is considered a tragic death, but any death that is premature and due to a lack of resources is tragic.
--Jay, Wilmington, Del.
Some of you -- from around the globe, I hasten to add -- responded with passion to Gina's letter.
Chris Bennett of Springfield, Va., notes: "... and these folks with job-related issues: Greece rocked by riots as up to 60,000 people take to streets to protest against government."
James of Media, Pa.: "The mean-spirited letter by Gina from Genoa, in which she takes a cheap dig at you and the entire United States, was disheartening, but it was also an attempt to use tragic situations without much historical context or connection to facts. I think is disrespectful to the situations she invokes. On the one hand, she holds up atrocities and specifically mentions Kosovo and then says we (the United States) are the most self-indulgent country on earth, but she fails to mention (or perhaps is uninformed) that a significant factor in halting the atrocities in Kosovo was the decision of this self-indulgent country to get involved in a fig and shed American blood (at least 20 U.S. soldiers lost their lives) solely to help another country in need, not for any material gain. She's trying to draw a contrast but fails, since her very example backfires. She acts as if she is doing so much by feeling sentiment for Kosovo, but if you ask them what matters, it is the real people who get results and did something for them, namely this self-indulgent country."
Jana of Atlanta: "I love all countries and would never make a sweeping claim that one country is self-indulgent. Just look at the facts, though. Italy leads the world with 42 paid vacation days. That is over one month of the year she can get paid to indulge herself. I don't think that's bad actually, but just look at the U.S. with an average of 13 days paid vacation. You can make many criticisms about us, some are true and some are not, but we are mostly out there working 50 weeks of the year to make ends meet and pay bills, not getting paid to lounge and indulge ourselves."
Why not include the name of the tournament Federer won in Stockholm?
--Chaplain Branamen, Tampa
The event is the "If Stockholm Open." Which always sounds like the start of a Scandinavian logic riddle. If Stockholm, then not Copenhagen!
After reading today's headline, I would like to propose introducing legislation to outlaw the use of "stunned" in the same sentence with "Jelena Jankovic." I think I've seen worse head cases, but she is pushing her way toward the top.
--Steven Perry, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Point taken. But I'll go one step further: I'm as guilty as anyone, but how about a fatwa forbidding the use of "stunned" period? I have a mental picture of a tennis player losing unexpectedly and then being subjected to an electric cattle prod or hooked up to electrodes. Some losses are more surprising than others. But shocking? Not really.
It seems an easy question on the face of it to answer, but can an argument be made that Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was the equal of Martina Hingis? ASV won four majors, three on one surface. Hingis won five, three on one surface. Both were accomplished doubles players. Can statistics provide an equalizer for what would otherwise be an aesthetic question?
--Jon B., Seattle
If anyone want to traffic in analytics, I'm be happy to run the results. My gut tells me that Hingis had the better career. Hingis was the superior doubles player, came within an ill-timed teenage tantrum of the career Slam and got the better of ASV when they were contemporaries. But a quick scan of their respective careers and I'm not so sure. Good question.
Adding on to your television coverage remarks, are you just as incensed as me at having a ticker (ESPN2, and now Tennis Channel) constantly moving with the same information at the bottom of the screen? I like to watch my tennis matches with a sense of wonder and a clean screen, as if there's nothing going on in the rest of the world.
When I watch Mad Men, I want a clean screen. When I watch "non-fiction" -- sports, business, news -- I love the crawl.
I was interested in your analysis on the decline in tennis TV viewership. I used to watch tennis at every opportunity but gradually watched less and less because I could not stand that the ATP, WTA and the USTA failed to stop the grunting epidemic. It has been shown that it provides the grunter an unfair advantage, but to a viewer it is almost as annoying as those infernal vuvuzelas used at the World Cup.
--Thom, San Diego
I've said it before: You guys form a terrifically diverse "tennis focus group." While the grunting doesn't bother me, I definitely hear about it from you guys. I bet I've gotten more than 100 e-mails this year complaining that the sound effects have made tennis unwatchable. If I'm running the WTA -- note: It's no longer the WTA Tour -- I'm thinking long and hard about this.
I believe the television coverage is actually the worst during American events. Just wanted to say that I get Tennis Channel and think it's great. Really enjoy its coverage, particularly when it's a big European/Asian event. Matches are on all day and then they get replayed at night. Ironically, the worst coverage of tennis occurs when events come to America and Tennis Channel doesn't have the rights. That's when we (tennis fans) are really scrambling to find good, live coverage.
--John, Greenville, S.C.
I think most of us agree that Tennis Channel is a force of good. (The usual disclaimer: On occasion I do some work for the network.) But the fact remains that too many fans still can't get the channel.
And one wishes there was more original and innovative programming -- which, yes, costs money, but will ultimately provide much more viewer satisfaction than reheats of the Doha semifinals, much less World TeamTennis matches from the '70s. With any luck, Tennis Channel picks up full rights to Indian Wells and Key Biscayne and then uses this as leverage in its Isner-Mahut marathon fight against Cablevision et al.
Eric Butorac (from Rochester, of course) has now won ATP doubles titles with four different partners. Has any other American matched that accomplishment?
--Don Hann, Rochester, Minn.
Yes, props to Eric Butorac, proud son of the Midwest, who won still another title last weekend. Sharko?
Remember Nicolas Kiefer? He just won a doubles title the other week ... at a Futures event in Isernhagen, Germany. What happened to him? And what is a former world No. 4 doing playing doubles in a futures event?
--Alex Ketaineck, Madison, N.J.
Remember a player named Daja Bedanova? Didn't think so. She was a Czech baseliner with a solid, smooth game. She turned pro in 2000 and was the WTA's Newcomer of the Year, following Kim Clijsters and preceding Daniela Hantuchova. She cracked the top 20 while still a teenager. Then she gets hurt. She burns through her protected ranking and then needs to grovel for wild cards. While she's a vaguely household name, she's no Serena Williams. She's not a drawing card outside of Ostrava. She doesn't have the big Nike deal. The Czech Federation doesn't have much pull. Suddenly she's consigned to grinding for points in lower level events. By 2005, she's retired.
In Kiefer's case, he is 33 and hasn't been in the mix for a while. He's ranked outside the top 500. He's played four matches in 2010. While he has some name recognition, I'm not sure fans are bull-rushing the turnstiles to see him play. Sadly, this is the fate for many players. If they want to revive their career, it's the Futures tour, making all local stops.
Pray tell, WTHIGOW Tomas Berdych?! Has he tasted a lil' success a la Ivanovic (despite not *winning* his lone major final) and it got to his head? Is there just that much parity in men's tennis? Or what?
--Jonathan Scott , Indianapolis
So much for the feel-good Wimbledon story about the erratic head case who's finally found consistency. As I write this, he has a losing record post-Wimbledon and only two of his eight losses have come to top 10 players.
I thought you may be interested in this link. I feel very honored to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame considering Australia's rich sporting history and the caliber of the other athletes inducted over the years, including Rod Laver, Greg Norman, Don Bradman, Mick Doohan and Roy Emerson. Cheers, mate.
--David Hall, Sydney, Australia
Good on ya, mate. And now for something completely different (though still Australian) ...
Wasn't Lleyton Hewitt known for his tennis playing once?
--Ben Osborne, Australia
Stay klassy! I think civilization may have hit a new low.
Jim Courier named U.S. Davis Cup captain. Solid choice by the USTA.
As you no doubt know, Justin Gimelstob is running the New York Marathon and is using the occasion to raise some funds for charity. Probably easiest to go to his Twitter or Facebook page if you're interested in contributing or learning more.
Thrifty of Adelaide, Australia, writes: "It doesn't quite settle your bet with Alistair regarding players using challenges to their own disadvantage, but at the Adelaide ATP event many years ago (no challenge system in operation) Pat Rafter was match point down. His opponent hit a ball that was called out. Pat saw the ball as good and conceded the match. You might have seen the same Pat Rafter was this week named as Australia's Davis Cup captain. Hopefully it marks the dawn of a new era for Australian men's tennis."
Raul Amezquita of Evanston, Ill., recalls: "From what I remember, Mats Wilander did just that as a young player at Roland Garros in 1982, which he won that year. The match was, if I remember well, the semifinal against Jose Luis Clerc, the overwhelming favorite. The play was none other than match point in favor of Wilander. Clerc's shot was called out on Wilander's baseline, which Mats rightfully corrected after the point has been awarded to him, giving him the match. The point was repeated at his request. He ended up winning the match and the tournament a couple days later."
Steve Ballamy regarding his struggles and Tennis Channel.
Andre Agassi philanthropy video.
Gabriel of Paris kindly sends this cool video.
Have a great week, everyone!