Posted: Wednesday November 3, 2010 9:54AM ; Updated: Wednesday November 3, 2010 2:27PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Dementieva shone in supporting role, Muster's comeback, more mail

Story Highlights

Elena Dementieva proves you don't need to win a major to make a major impact

Sign of a strange season: Kim Clijsters was the youngest women's Slam winner

Most criticisms of tennis commentators have a way of canceling each other out

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The show of support from Elena Dementieva's peers during her retirement last week in Doha only underscored her impact on tour.
AP

I don't expect this question to be published at all, for I know I am not alone moved by Elena Dementieva's retirement. It is just that the first venue I could think of for channeling my dejection is your mailbag, which I had followed for years more than following Dementieva's career. Much as I like her both as a player and as a person, I'm afraid to be her fan because I'm afraid of being frustrated. But with that retirement announced in Doha, I couldn't help crying and asking why. It is difficult to accept and, indeed, far more frustrating. Can you name another female tennis player who has not won a Grand Slam, and not as marketable as Kournikova and Sharapova, and still can be considered a grand player?
--Prexus Empacis, Cebu, Philippines

• First can I just say that THIS is what I love about tennis: a Filipino fan of Russian player who retires in Qatar writes to a journalist in central New Jersey to express despair.

So there were lots of letters about tennis' ills this week, the charges of Christophe Rochus and dubious results and "irregular betting patterns" at the recent ATP events. But let's hold off a week (see below) and linger a bit longer on Dementieva. I riffed a bit last week, but I wanted reprint one of my favorite letters, this paean from Maria Sanchez of San Juan, P.R., as it nails the question Prexus raises: "Fans and critics should start recognizing tennis' supporting actors and actresses. Elena Dementieva falls in that category. Sure, tennis glory is achieved by winning a Grand Slam title. But, sometimes we forget that in order to do so, every winner must get through seven rounds filled with journey(wo)men fighting to leave their mark. Maybe Elena Dementieva didn't become one of tennis' superstars, but you can surely count on the fact that some of the biggest players had to get through her in order to achiever their big moment. She provided good story lines to every tournament, she gave tennis some memorable matches, for better or worse. Her retirement astounded me, honestly more than the goodbyes of other tennis superstars because, like in great movies, the sidekick becomes as relevant as the hero."

I think you might be missing the point on these Fedal Wars, and it's not just you (b/t/w I find you the most objective and clear on the issue). When one journalist says Federer shouldn't complain about injuries, all his fanatics cry, "Nadal is injured every match and gets a free pass" or if Federer is considered a fan favorite and humanitarian, Nadal fanatics are quick to point out their man is even more of a class act than Federer. It all stems from fair treatment and double standards, especially the negative comments toward one. If that ceases, I think you'll find less hate between fans ... I think.
--Krishan, Houston

• It's like I always say to my kids: "Fair does not mean equal."

"That was such a sweet thing to say, Svetlana*"

"What about me? Don't I say sweet things, too? Remember that time ..."

"Yes, Yevgeny, you say sweet things too. But we're talking about your sister now."

*Note: names have been changed to throw off the scent.

The great irony to the increasingly loud Federer/Nadal extremists? Unlike American politics, in this case the principals don't even care to enter the fray. Nadal still tells anyone who listens that he's inferior to Federer. Federer is similarly accommodating noting that, as the rankings currently read, it's clear who's the current king.

A friend of mine raised this point to me and I'll throw it out there for you: If, say, New York fans hate Brett Favre, so be it. But when tennis fans hammer away at players or issues, it is to the sport's detriment. Go on a message board (or read my mail) and the frothing is relentless. Federer is arrogant! Nadal is a cheater! Everyone is on drugs! Wozniacki is an unworthy No.1! Serena Williams is a fraud! The season is too long! Asks my friend: "These are the tennis FANS, mind you! With fans like that, who needs enemies. This sport has a hard enough time getting mainstream respect. Why are so many fans intent on tearing it down?" I think it's a point worth considering. Tennis has its problems, no question, and we shouldn't be precluded from discussing them. But the level of outrage and vitriol can be excessive.

In recent years it has become common for tennis broadcasters -- John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, et al -- to refer to "our game.'' Not exactly objective journalism. A small thing, sure, but has it struck anyone else as kind of bush league?
--John Fleming, Clearwater, Fla.

• Interesting. I see your point. As supposedly neutral, objective media members maybe they shouldn't be so obvious in stating their affection. But I get where they're coming from. You spend your life in a sport, you see it beaten up/ignored by so many, you have such an intimate relationship with the entire culture ... you're entitled to make a claim of some ownership.

With the 2010 Slams complete and with the corresponding lull in tennis, I thought I'd throw out a strategy idea for your thoughts. I was thinking back to the two match points Federer had in the U.S. Open semis agains Djokovic. When a player has match points, especially consecutive match points, why not come to the net and simply guess forehand or backhand, and hopefully the law of averages will get you a chance for a winning volley? There's always a chance for a lob, of course; and even if you guess correctly, the passing shot may be such that a winning volley is not a certainty. But as good of a volleyer as Fed is, he could have came to the net, guessed, and perhaps made his way to the finals. Easy, huh?
--Joe, Bridgeport, W.Va.

• This is a little crass, but, again, if tennis had decent analytics, we'd be able to study the data (or at least lean on the quant jocks to study the data) and have a rational discussion. My variation on that question: let's assume that Player A is hitting his first serve at, say, 60 percent and hitting an ace or service winner on, say, 30 percent of those points, and losing half his second serve points. Faced with two match points, wouldn't it be a statistically sound strategy to hit "first" serves on his first and second attempts?

What do you think of Thomas Muster's comeback? Is there a chance he could work his way back into, let's say, the top 200?
--Jeff, Lacey, Wash.

• Hey, good for him. The men's game is so physical that, unlike Kimiko Date, Muster will not be able to contend for titles simply by keeping himself in shape, playing clever defensive tennis and using experience. But can he return to the top 200? Sure. On wild cards alone. Top 100? That will be tough. Top 50? That would shock -- even stun -- me.

1. Something is wrong with this sentence: "Wozniacki came out strong in the third set, forcing Clijsters to make four unforced errors in the first game." Or perhaps the writer just disagrees with the official counter of UEs?

2. This is a good a time as any that sometime about Wimbledon you hinted of a story you would relate someday, about Serena and her lack of fussiness about her racket/strings. Really interested to hear that tale.
--Michael Roetzel, Little Rock, Ark.

• Maybe this is a manifestation of that grunting study. The sounds were so distracting, they induced "unforced errors." (Your point is well taken.) As for your second point ...

So I've heard two variations of this story, and one of my sources is now getting gunshy. Bear in mind that a few details could be challenged, but it's a fun story that ultimately reflects well on Serena, so here goes: In 2007, Serena goes to Melbourne with her game in a state of disrepair. She's lost in tune-ups, she's out of shape and she's not happy with her equipment. She talks to a Wilson rep and absently picks up a racket. It turns out this is a prototype that had been created for Federer. Serena holds it in her hand and says, "I like this!" She takes the racket on the practice court and plays well. Not only is it the wrong grip, but it's been strung for Federer. It's also a prototype -- i.e. a racket still in development, not mass produced or available in stores. No matter. Serena asked for it to be restrung -- with natural gut; she's one of the few players who rolls old school and doesn't mess with the polyester stuff. She wins a match with this new racket. Then another and another and another. Again, she's using a quasi-racket that had never been tested and she had never used before the tournament. Had she cracked it during a match, she would have had to use different model. As it is, she goes on to win the tournament. Compare this to, say, Agassi, who was so sensitive to equipment that he would sometimes ask to have his sticks restrung during a match if a breeze picked up.

The haters will surely figure out a way to use this to impugn Serena. But I think it says an awful lot about her native ability -- and self-belief -- when she can pick-up a "beater" racket and go on to win a major.

Do you even consider that some of us tennis fans may not enjoy watching Serena? that we might prefer watching Clijsters or Wozinacki or Henin or any number of players who bring grace to their games?
--Sandra, Bellevue, Wash.

• You're entitled to like whomever you please. But I think we can all agree, the strength of a tournament is improved when a 13-time Grand Slam singles champion is in the draw.

Anyone else find it kinda funny that Kim Clijsters was the youngest Slam winner this year?
--Steve, Kirksville

• Nice. More stats: 1) despite winning a major AND the year-end championships, Clijsters still finished behind Zvonareva in the rankings; 2) Serena finished No. 4 despite playing zero matches since Wimbledon AND no matches in February, March or April; 3) If Dementieva chooses to be delisted, there will be only one Russian in the top 10; 4) the Doha field of eight featured just two Grand Slam winners.

I recently read an interview with Mary Carillo (I think you posted a link to it some time ago) in which she discussed how she was shut out of the broadcast booth for the Wimbledon men's final. On a related note, I haven't seen you give commentator grades in a long time ... I feel she is top of the heap along with Corina Morariu. What are your thoughts?
--Jon B., Seattle

• It's a bit awkward since not only are most of these people are friends, but also because I do some periodic TV work. I think tennis commentary suffers from conflicts of interest. (Is a commentator drawing a check from the USTA really going to give an unvarnished opinion of, say, the U.S. Open scheduling? Is a commentator on the payroll of shoe company's elite training program really going to delve into the shortcoming of a player on the same shoe company team?) But for all that ails tennis, bad announcing is not high on the list. I like Mary a great deal, in no small part because she doesn't mince words or worry about offending sacred cows (or mixing metaphors, as I just did). Ted Robinson is a pro's pro. Chris Fowler isn't just a rent-a-name who likes the free trip to Wimbledon; he really cares for -- and knows -- tennis. Justin Gimelstob, not unlike Alex Dolgopolov, gets better with each event. I like Corina and I also liked her predecessor Chanda Rubin. Honestly, before I leave someone out, I would say the vast majority of the talent is quite good. (Which only makes the absence of tennis on TV all the more lamentable.)

One more observation: a lot of your opinions tend to cancel each other out. Some of you despise John McEnroe; others would listen to him commentate regardless of who was playing. Some of you slam Mary Joe Fernandez for blandness; others of you admire her restraint and modesty. You hate Brad Gilbert's boorishness and abuse of the English language. No wait, he's your buddy at the bar, the sports fan tennis needs to do a better job of reaching. Again, the conflicts notwithstanding, tennis is doing pretty well in this department.

In response to lack of tennis on TV, I am fortunate enough that my TV service offers Tennis Channel. I watch all televised men's events and I must say they also have some of the best tennis analysts in all media.
--Tim, South Riding, Va.

• I'm not sure what happened, but you guys had a lot of outrage for the Tennis Channel vis--vis the failure to provide live coverage for the Doha final. (ESPN apparently had the rights?) But, I've said in the past, the two mantras for the Tennis Channel are "I don't get it and now I can never watch tennis outside the Slams" or "I get it and enjoy it immensely."

Do new logos "boost brands"? Or are brands best boosted by brevity (as in, a shortened season with less injured players)?
--Ken Schneck, Brattleboro, Vt.

• Yeah, I had a variation of the same thought. The WTA made a big deal about its new logo. Some of you like it, some of you don't like it. Whatever. It's art. Here's my issue: the same week the WTA unveils this new logo, the year-end championships -- once a marquee event -- hardly caused a blip. The media coverage was minimal. The stands were modestly peopled. And the finals weren't even broadcast live in the U.S. Seems to me that ought to be a far more pressing concern than "branding."

Back to the logo, at the risk of antagonizing the advertising community I've been in those meetings. Group A comes in, presents its work and says, "This logo really conveys power and durability and dynamism in a changing world!" Everyone nods. Group B comes in and says, "Our logo projects confidence and vision and nimble spirit!" Everyone nods. The decision-maker weighs in and makes the choice. The company spends liberally reprinting stationery, issuing new business cards, etc. A week later the decision-maker confides in the inner cirlce: "I should have seen more options."

Jon, do you have the text to Dementieva's speech after the 2004 U.S. Open?
--Jim Bartle, Huaraz, Peru

• Here's the trophy ceremony. The Dementieva portion begins around the 2:30 mark.

Shots, Miscellany

• Greg Sharko has the stat o' the week: Of the players in the ATP's top 30, 27 have won titles in 2010.

• Michael Chang has withdrawn from the 2010 The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships this week due to the pending birth of his first child.

• In an interview with the local Basel paper, Roger Federer asserted that he was happy to return home in part because he could visit with his sister and her twins. Man, what a gene pool.

• Angela Robertson, Toronto: "I came across something that should be of interest to your readers or anyone who feels strongly about the GOAT issue."

• Haresh Ramchandani of Mumbai, India shares his collection of tennis related articles and writings.

• Marcus of New York notes: "Tennis anyone? Anyone who wants to hear some New York tennis history and is able to call a 646 (New York City) number, try this one: 646-862-0997. After the automated voice picks up, press 37 then the pound key (#) any time. It's the Central Park Conservancy's audio tour of the park. Guess who describes the park's tennis courts?"

• Nice to see the Indian Wells BNP Paribas event using Hawk-Eye on all courts.

• Remember Steve Bellamy, who was succeeded by Ken Solomon as head of the Tennis Channel? He has directed a ski film that features a soundtrack made up almost entirely of tennis players: the Bryan brothers (four songs on the soundtrack), the Jensen brothers (one song), Seguso brothers (three songs, Robert and Carling Basset's kids who play for UCLA), Mark Witsken (one song, pro player and brother of Todd Witsken), David Baron (four songs, top junior player whose father owns the ATP's Delray Beach stop), John Ryan (one song) and Michael Johns (former American Idol contestant who first came to the U.S. on a tennis scholarship).

• Joe from Branford, Conn.: "One more comment on hitting a ball right at the prospective volleyer standing at the net. Similar to the theory that a serve into the body is hard to return; a return hit directly at the volleyer is also hard to return since it is harder to decide whether to go forehand or backhand in that short a time interval. Also if you blast it at them then you may get a weak popup coming back that you can then put away as a passing shot."

• Anna C., a colleague of Teddy Forstmann writes: "It saddened us to read your recent posting on Ted Forstmann's Huggy Bears Invitational Tennis tournament, which completely mischaracterized the spirit of this purely charitable annual event. Since 1985, Huggy Bears has raised approximately $25 million for over 35 children's charities to help needy children all over the world. To many of these children, Huggy Bears has meant everything from a quality education to relief from cancer to a hot meal and shelter -- it has literally saved many children's lives. The tournament was originally created as a backyard gathering of friends, family and local tennis professionals but it grew over the years into a world-class event with amateur and professional tennis players from all over the globe coming together to support its sole purpose -- helping children in need. And it's all because of Ted's unwavering efforts. Having worked with him for many years, we have observed him giving his time and donating several million dollars of his own money over the years to underwrite the event to ensure that it successfully raised money to help children in need. Ted's contributions covered various costs and expenses including organization, security, catering, parking and prize money. It is completely unfair to misconstrue the prize money that he personally donates into something other than a charitable incentive to the participating teams. Given the nature of any competition, players who are competing sometimes get nervous. I am sure that is a part of every sport where players compete for prize money. To depict the tournament as somehow improper because players might get nervous when competing for the donated prize money is unfair to Ted. Regarding your quote "heroic gambling": any minor wagering that could have happened during the tournament would have been peripheral to the Huggy Bears charity. A handful of attendees may have participated in friendly wagering on the teams. However, just like an office pool, it would have been completely independent of the Huggy Bears charity. The bottom line is that the main purpose of Huggy Bears was to raise millions of dollars to help tens of thousands of disadvantaged children for 25 consecutive years. I hope this enables your readers to appreciate the true spirit of the tournament and Ted Forstmann's exemplary and unsung work with children's causes. Thank you, Anna."

Tracy of Peoria, Ariz.:"Long lost siblings: Caroline Wozniacki and Bette Midler's understudy in Rochelle, Rochelle: The Musical (played by Adelaide Miller). Can't find a link but Seinfeld fans won't need one.

Have a good week, everyone!

 
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