Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2011 7:57PM ; Updated: Friday September 9, 2011 1:27PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Rain sparks outrage, predicting next men's No. 1, more Mailbag

Story Highlights

For more than just working conditions, players are fair to organize a union

Predicting the top men's prospects to take No. 1 in the post-Big Three era

Addressing the issue of low pay for umpires at Grand Slam tournaments

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For the second consecutive day, rain has disrupted play at the U.S. Open.
For the second consecutive day, rain has disrupted play at the U.S. Open.
Mehdi Taamallah/Landov
2011 U.S. Open
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I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the talking heads of ESPN in the first hour of coverage today. They didn't shy away from any topic. The non-profit/for profit Mac brother debate was enlightening. Everybody rips ESPN and has their analyst(s) they find annoying, but I think props have to be given to ESPN today. The coverage has been top notch and covered a lot of frustrations/questions fans are bound to have. And how about Pam Shiver and the cameras catching all the big names giving Brian Earley an earful. UNION! Oh wait...
-- Stephen Thomas, Greensboro, N.C.

• I happened to catch that as well and agree with Stephen. Led by John McEnroe, the talking didn't back down, even Patrick McEnroe who was in an exceedingly awkward position, given that he is colleagues with most of the USTA personnel that came in for a grilling. We expect J-Mac to pop off, but when Darren Cahill, no one's loose cannon, starts firing salvos, we're really on to something. Said Cahill: "There's no strong or visible leadership from the ATP."

I caught Andy Roddick in the hallway and he, too, didn't shy from discussing issues of leadership and unions when asked. He pointed out the difficulty -- impossibility? -- of an organization representing both players and events, labor and management. He also noted that organizing players isn't easy. There are different languages, different agendas, different cultures with different views about organized labor. What's more, Lakers guard Derek Fisher can afford to devote most of his waking hours to improving wages and working conditions. What top player -- trying to make his nut and faced with a finite career shelf life -- can sit in front of oak-paneled conference rooms all day?

Here's what I don't get: What triggered this outrage? Working conditions. The players felt that the conditions were not sufficiently safe for play, that the courts were still slippery. Before Rafael Nadal took the court, he complained about the ATP not keeping him abreast of his start time. After he left the court this afternoon, he is said to have muttered to the USTA, "All you think about is money."

Yet where's the outrage and the chatter and the organized demonstrations over ... the prize money? The U.S. Open will make well in excess of $200 million in gross revenue. Prize money is barely ten percent of that. (Take that, Billy Hunter!) Seems to me that the players are well in their rights to think seriously about a union. But given how poorly they're paid relative to athletes in other sports, you wouldn't think that slippery courts would be triggering the call to bargain collectively!

Hi Jon. Who do you pick as the next men's No. 1, post-Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal?
-- Andrew C., Sydney, Australia

• Excellent question. Not to rain on anyone's parade -- rain being a dominant theme today -- but I could see the ATP in 2016 or so resembling the women's game. Here are the leading candidates: Bernard Tomic (quarterfinalist at Wimbledon; ousted here with such a lackluster effort that Pat Rafter was cursing under breath in the tunnels after). Grigor Dimitrov (talent is obvious; consistency has been elusive). Milos Raonic (lots of game and poise but you already worry about injuries). Ryan Harrison (jury's still out).

Due to rain, there is a backlog of matches today and Andy Murray-Donald Young, Andy Roddick-David Ferrer and Gilles Muller-Nadal are being played at the same time. As a fan, which match would you have picked to watch?
-- Bob Diepold, Charlotte N.C.

• All depends what you want. If you're new to tennis or don't get to many events and just want to see the best player, you park yourself at Nadal's match. If you want the most competitive match, you might gamble with Roddick-Ferrer, a top five player and a former champ here. If you're me, you're at the Grandstand watching Murray-Young.

Absolutely shocked to learn how little career umpires make at Grand Slams. I love watching tennis, but watching the lines for hours a day is a tough job. Factor in the constant travel, living in hotels, and the unsettled life (and what are the post-umpire career prospects?), and it's a wonder we have any career umpires. They must truly be dedicated individuals.
-- Mike Roetzel, Little Rock, Ark.

• As a wise man once said, "You gotta love this sport, to love this sport." They are truly dedicated individuals. In absolute wages, they would not appear to be paid exorbitantly. It's probably worth pointing out that their lodging is covered, as is their air, ground transport and meals. Only half the most highly accredited umpires are here, many of them protesting the rate of pay. A USTA spokesman told me yesterday that the organization is comfortable with the level of pay. This is a more complex issue than it might seem. There are ATP officials, ITF officials and WTA officials. There is favoritism. There is some in-fighting. We'll follow this in the coming months.

If there is no roof, could they change the schedule so that the second half of the men's draw does not face the threat of having to play four best of five set matches in five days like is the case this year? Weather is playing a huge factor in this tourney. None of the other slams have this issue. They all play more rounds/matches during the first week and fewer during the second.
-- Ben, Washington, D.C.

• Agree. Until the roof is built, it's time to stop the three-day first round.

Kuznetsova is the Baghdatis equivalent of the WTA (with two slams). Lots of talent, huge fighting spirit and poor fitness. They're both high performers early in a match but gradually fade away as they tire against quality opposition.
-- Tim Cowan, Los Angeles

• Yes and no. Both are likable, genial personalities endowed with great talent. And both need to ramp up their physical fitness. And both tend to be the tennis Washington Generals, often coming out on the short end of classic matches. But give Kuznetsova more credit here. She's a two-time Grand Slam champion. Baghdatis has been to one major final -- and that was more than five years ago.

Last weekend was my first time attending the Open, and I was expecting (based on criticisms in your column) to be disappointed by the experience of sitting in the upper reaches of Ashe stadium (three rows from the top). My experience was much better than I anticipated. I was able to see the court clearly and had no trouble engaging with the match. The fact that the stadium is large is a blessing because it provides an affordable opportunity for people to see the best players in the game (I saw Djokovic play Davydenko among other matches) which would not be possible in a smaller venue. On another note, thank you for the link to the N.Y. water taxi service for the U.S. Open. This proved to be a cost effective and delightful experience which I never would have discovered without your help.
-- Anonymous

• The USTA and Ashe have come in for such a beating today I'm glad we could balance things a bit.

How is it possible for the USTA to claim nothing has been done to slow down the surface at the USO, and yet the number of points ending in winners in round 1 has dropped from 27% in 2010 to 17% in 2011?
--
Emma, London

• Wow, what a great statistic! The USTA didn't deny that the courts were slower. The USTA denied -- and I believe this -- that it was intentional. The courts were laid in mid-summer. Because of the rain, there wasn't much play on the courts, which speeds them up. Also the rain prevented some of the heavy duty washing that rinses away the grit and sand. Predictably, as the courts have seen play and the courts have been washed at night, they've sped up.

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

• Our limerick contest is off to a good start. A Dunlop Biomimetic racket is up for grabs. The leader in the clubhouse, Marjorie Kane of Virginia Beach:

"As his lip curls up in a superior sneer,
His biceps and Vamos! send the faint into chasms of fear;
The water bottles he always arranges just so,
The questions he answers them all with a No?
All this while His Armani's tend to ride up in his rear."

• Chris Evert will be hosting the re-launch celebration of Ellesse on Friday, September 9th from 5:00 -- 7:30 pm at Town Tennis Club in NYC.

• Dave Seminara claims Roger rises to the occasion.

• On the day Jimmy Connors beat Aaron Krickstein, Steffi Graf was set to play the next match. Twice she was asked if she wanted to move her match to the Grandstand so she wouldn't have to wait. Both times she declined, saying she wanted to see Connors play.

• It seems like a year ago already, doesn't it? But here's a fine take on the CVAC egg.

• John of Greenville: Yesterday you stated, "Between John Isner, Irina Falconi, James Blake and Steve Johnson, it's been a nice event for college tennis."

Don't forget Treat Huey, a Northern Virginia kid, who played for UVa. Treat reached the round of 16 in doubles with his former college doubles partner, Somdev Devvarman. Treat only became listed as PHI after college because it allows him to play Davis Cup. His mom is from the Philippines.

• Chad of Orlando: Michael Russell and actor Michael Rooker (with hair circa Days of Thunder).

 
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