Firing up the Mailbag for 2011
Kim Clijsters has an excellent chance of winning a major other than the U.S. Open
Elena Dementieva had a laudable career, but it's dangerous to call her HOF-worthy
Wayne Odesnik probably won't be popular in the locker room after taking a plea
Will Kim Clijsters win a Slam other than the U.S. Open in 2011? Will Henin win a Slam other than the French?
Whoa, Chris, take a second and relax. You want to know about the 2011 season? We just finished 2010, like, last week, and haven't finished digesting the ... oh, what's that? They've started playing already? It feels as though Isner-Mahut lasted longer than tennis' entire off-season, such as it is. Nevertheless, welcome back everyone. It's like we never left.
Some of my colleagues and I have offered 2011 predictions here and here. As for your specific question, sure, Clijsters can win majors other than the U.S. Open. That she's never won in Australia -- and laid on ostrich-sized egg there in 2010 -- is surprising. The surface ought to suit her game; her fitness is never an issue and she is beloved by the locals. Remember, too, that she came within a few points of winning the French Open way back when (in 2001). Wimbledon is more of a challenge. But, heck, it's the WTA. If Serena Williams isn't in the draw, any top player has a chance.
Will Henin win a Slam other than the French? I think that's a bigger ask. True, unlike Clijsters, she's actually won other majors. But apart from her advancing age and declining body, I fear that it's too easy for bigger opponents to hit through her on fast courts. Can she beat any player on any day? Yes. Can she win seven straight matches at this stage in her career against bigger opponents? I don't know ...
Why did Mary Carillo leave ESPN? Was it her decision to do so? In my humble opinion, there is no one like her, with her style and knowledge of tennis. I can't imagine watching any tennis matches without her commentary. I really enjoy her and she will be sorely missed.
--Junior, Victorville, Calif.
I was surprised how much mail -- overall, firmly pro Carillo -- this generated. Honestly, I was under the impression that this was somewhat old news. (If you DVR'd the U.S. Open Monday men's final, you'll note that once the broadcast switched from CBS to ESPN Carillo had mysteriously vanished.) There was a philosophical difference and Carillo very much left on her own. She'll be missed on ESPN, but she'll still be working for other outlets. Let's just hope someone can pick up the slack and provide unvarnished, objective views/criticism without worrying about insulting a constituent, jeopardizing a paycheck or being branded a "hater." As for replacing Carillo's wit and wordplay, well, that's a taller order.
Will Pistol Pete continue to dump his most precious possessions at a public storage facility or will he finally spend some money and make room at home?! I read somewhere that he had hoped that one day he'd take his kids to public storage to view his trophies.
--Natalie Jarkowitz, New York, N.Y.
For whatever reason, there was a lot of nastiness and a schadenfreude with (dis)respect to the news that some of Pete Sampras' trophies were stolen from a public storage facility. I don't get that. Feel free to root against athletes or even dislike them on a personal level. But to be so gleeful about theft? That transgresses the baseline into anti-social.
Elena Dementieva by all standards had a classy, honorable, and stellar career, with 16 tour titles, a Fed Cup and an Olympic singles gold medal. Yet without a Grand Slam major title, she'll probably be denied entrance into the Hall of Fame. Do you think the very high quality of her career merits entry, and if she doesn't get in, will she'll go from being considered the best player never to win a Slam, to the best player not to be given entrance to the tennis Hall of Fame? It seems unfair for someone with such a genuinely great career like hers for so many years to be excluded.
--Franklyn Ajaye, Melbourne, Australia
I'll play the role of villain here and say that, as much as we all admire Dementieva and consider her a force of good, you simply cannot allow a player without a Slam into the Hall of Fame. We're not talking slippery slope here. We're talking slope coated in astro-gel and banana peels. Relatively flimsy as the admission standards are, there are Wimbledon champs (see: Cash, Pat) who have never have been allowed past the velvet rope. One solution: come up with a "dem's good people" wing whereby Dementieva, Yannick Noah, Mary Joe Fernandez, Todd Martin, et al., would get their due. But allowing Dementieva entry is all heart, no head.
So Odesnik got his ban cut in half because he's just a mule? And a cooperating one at that. "No, I never used I only smuggled. Here's my client list. May I go play tennis now?" Incredible!
--Dean Martelli, Austin
A lot of Wayne Odesnik email after the announcement of his reduced penalty. As we tweeted last week, all tennis players who get their sentences commuted owe a debt of thanks to Martina Hingis. She's the Miranda for the anti-doping crowd.
As for Odesnik, I do think there's something distasteful about allowing athletes to "take a plea," as it were, effectively getting their time slashed in exchange for turning state's evidence. Yet if the overarching goal is to stamp out doping, and he has information that can help the prosecution, I suppose it makes sense to offer him a deal. Can't imagine this will make him popular figure in the players lounge -- much less a candidate to unseat Nadal as the Edberg Sportsmanship winner -- but so be it.
During several of those low-angle camera POV shots on Tennis Channel's World Tour Finals coverage, it appeared that the net was made out of ... what? I couldn't tell, but it wasn't the nylon netting that we have at our local park's tennis courts. It looked like plastic -- and it looked really thick. What is this material, do other tournaments/venues use it and does the thickness obscure the players vision any?
--Shayne Hull, Louisville
Before the break, Shayne asked this thoroughly legitimate question and we responded with a shabby, patently unfunny response. For the record (thanks to the ATP) a more fitting response goes thusly: "It's a very strong rubber, it may be worth noting that the new nets are even stronger than the traditional ones. The nets are custom made for the ATP World Tour. This was the second year the nets have been used on the tour and there are no issues with player vision. Significant testing was done prior to the 2009 season to insure there would not be any negative effect on our athletes."
Maybe it is just me, I am not a geography expert or anything, but Mason, Ohio, [home of the newly branded Western & Southern Open, a.k.a. the Cincinnati Masters] seems neither South nor West?
--Mike Blenkarn, Vancouver, Canada
It's all about the sponsor, not the tournament location. Qatar oil interests sponsored the Hamburg event. Atlantic and Pacific Grocery once sponsored an event in ... Oklahoma City. Remember, too, this is a sport forever warding off insidious gambling that still lets betting websites sponsor events!
I enjoyed reading your 2010 Baggie Awards ... some made me laugh -- hard. In 2011, with the way Federer played on his last matches with Rafa, do you think, he'll regain the No. 1 post again?
--Raul Imperial, Manila, Philippines
1) Really, at the end of the day, we're all in it for LOL's.
2) Realistically, I don't think Federer regains the top ranking. It's less a function of decline than of scheduling and priorities.
3) The great wild card is always health.
The length of a match doesn't reflect quality? I am truly amazed that you're a sports journalist, and yet you do not know the difference between the fitness levels, hard work and endurance it takes to last five sets versus best of three. That level of fitness in itself reflects high quality. Sounds like you don't appreciate it.
--Ryan Maher, San Francisco
Two words. Isner-Mahut. I must have gotten 50 emails on this point, not unlike Ryan's. I'm not sure what I'm missing here. There are short stories we love and 1,000-page epics that thrill us less. There are classic nine-inning baseball games; and 18-inning yawners. Torrid May-September affairs and decades-long loveless marriages. Thrilling sprints and boring marathons. Point: quantity seldom equates with quality. Is the physical stamina necessary for a five-setter something to be admired? Sure. Do the truly classic matches tend to span five sets? Yes. Does drama tend to run higher the longer payers are on the court? Usually. But "fitness in itself reflects high quality?" I can't buy that.
I have a comment regarding the video about the commentator [Baggie Award] "for journalistic excellence." I agree that the commentator is very ebullient about Roger, but the translation is definitely not accurate on the comments about Andy. It is almost certainly a prank. Arabic is my birth language. Thank you.
--Alfred Chahine, Washington, D.C.
I thought no one in D.C. spoke Arabic. Seriously, Alfred, thanks. A few other readers noted that -- funny as the clip was?it was not an accurate translation.
Regarding Helen, who has commented on the abundance of old school music -- if I had a nickle for every time I've heard "We Are the Champions" ... well, you know. Some of us are pretty outdated ourselves, and don't mind venues playing that music. It's what's being played on the court that matters.
--Sue, Rhode Island
True. With a few exceptions. Music that attempts to make tennis puns (such as Pat Benetar's fantastically awful "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") is never acceptable.
In regards to the query from Rich of New York about Esther Vergeers' longevity from a physical standpoint regarding the streak: I know from my own personal experience playing wheelchair tennis professionally for 15 years that by the time I reached my mid-30's, my body was pretty much shot. Shoulders, lower back, neck, obviously no issues from the waist down besides the obvious. I was spending more time with my doctors and physios than my family. Taking that into consideration, Esther's current age and the fact that the players who are younger below her in the rankings haven't consistently pushed her in the past I'd say this amazing streak could last for many years yet. Stay tuned.
--David Hall, Sydney
Thanks, David. Stay tuned indeed.
A tip of the chapeau to Philippe Bouin, generally considered the best tennis writer alive today.
Glenn Appell of New York: "You asked about agencies doing packages to the championships ... we traveled with Championship Tennis Tours. They got us amazing tickets for both the U.S. Open and also the French Open and were literally thousands of dollars cheaper than [the competition]. Worth the mention to your readers."
When John McEnroe threw his first tantrum, one doubts he suspected it would come to this (at the 0:44 mark).
An upside-down exclamation point, gracias to various "Rafaholics" for forwarding this interview with Nadal's mother (translation available on request).
Kourtin' Karen and her pals have moved to Tennis Panorama News.
Man, does that Federer guy choke under pressure.
Thanks to the Bryan brothers p.r. machine for this link.
Ran into this delightful Australian couple last week. Take a peek at this.
Romana C. of Washington, D.C.: "I've got your celebrity look-a-like for the week, it's the Bryan Brothers and Karl Urban. "Who's Karl Urban?" you ask. He was the Russian assassin in The Bourne Supremacy and more recently he starred in Red with Bruce Willis. Too bad there's only one copy of Urban."
Have a great week, everyone!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is co-author of the forthcoming book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won now available for pre-order.