Posted: Wednesday September 28, 2011 1:28PM ; Updated: Wednesday September 28, 2011 6:07PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Tennis mailbag (cont.)

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Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic was forced to retire from his Davis Cup match against Juan Martin del Potro with a lower back injury.
Landov

I can almost understand you giving Djokovic a pass on the Davis Cup loss to Juan Martin del Potro (almost), but no way does he deserve a pass on the Cincy final. He basically retired to give himself a rest before the U.S. Open. What? He couldn't finish the final three games and let Murray enjoy the win? Come on! As for whether this year is the greatest year, well, it is no doubt one of them, and surely one of the best starts to the year. But unless he wins the World Tour Finals in London, it won't be for me.
--
Colleen, Dallas

• I give Djokovic no passes. My point was simply that I sympathize a bit with his third loss, given the circumstances. (Cincinnati, you're right, is an outright loss, no sympathy.) Again, we still have some tennis left. But if Djokovic is playing for the "best year in the Open Era," well, what a storyline heading into the ATP WTF in London.

The problem with the idea of a shot clock in tennis is that nobody is very consistent. It's not just the players. The time is supposed to start when the umpire says the score. In Jelena Jankovic's match at the U.S. Open, she asked for a challenge but was told it was too late. The umpire had yet to say the score. In Rafa's match, CBS was starting the clock the moment the ball bounced out, not when the ump said the score. If the announcers could shut up for the entire 20 seconds, I'd be all for the shot clock. Until then, let's just remind the players that time is being kept.
--
Anne, Austin, Texas

• I disagree. Sure, there would be a judgment call as to when the count would start. But so what? That happens all the time in sports. The players would adjust accordingly. With a clock dwindling: A) Players would a have a clear guide to pace. B) Fans would have an additional "enhancement." C) We would have some clarity and consistency on the issue. D) Matches would speed up, towel breaks would be truncated, etc.

One of you wondered: What if a baby cries or there's a similar distraction as a player prepares to serve? Big deal. The chair would have discretion to free the time or even restart the clock. I can't really see much of an argument against this.

Here are some piscatorial puns on Mardy.

- What country should Mardy Fish represent? Finland.

- Why did Mardy Fish refuse to use the weighing scale in the gym? Because he has his own scales.

- Where does Mardy Fish keep his money? In the river bank.

-- Raj Sonak, of Sterling, Va.

• What was it Gloria Steinem said? "A woman needs a man like a Fish needs a French dictionary."

Has there ever been another time where none of the top-four women in the world is a defending Grand Slam champ?
-- Jeremy Redding, Camp Hill, Pa.

Kevin Fischer, we're counting on you to solve this.

Loved your subtle reference to The Shawshank Redemption library scene in last week's Mailbag! (Author of the Three Musketeers.)
-- Joe, Branford, Conn.

• Hey, thanks. Aspiring screenwriters, go here. Best movie script of all time?

More Serena chatter

We declared a moratorium on Serena Williams, but I think it's interesting to share the broad spectrum of responses and reactions. This is not to imply that anyone is wrong, or anyone's opinion lacks validity. But it always amazes me how far apart fans are on this, how one fan's example of "apologism" is another's example of "bias."

Jeremy S., Arlington, Va.: "Your apologism for tennis players knows no bounds. Will you ever have the courage to criticize Serena or hint that an overrated player (such as the current run of No. 1s on the women's Tour) doesn't deserve the accolades he or she receives from some quarters? I really wish Sports Illustrated would find a tennis voice that doesn't make ESPN look hypercritical."

Joe Johnson, Allentown, Pa.: "You say in your column, 'Would we feel this way if Serena were not African-American?' For me, somebody who has fought for civil rights his entire life, it would not make a difference. And I think that Andy Roddick is an even bigger jerk and spoiled brat. Lori McNeil or Zina Garrison, even if they had gotten to No. 1, never would have acted in the same manner. Serena has said that her only responsibility is to her dog. She was wrong. She is the best female tennis player of all time. We deserve better behavior."

Laura T., New York: "This is a pro-Serena mail so you probably won't print it, but I'm going to send it anyway. Your characterization of her behavior at this year's U.S. Open is beyond ridiculous. Do you really believe she disgraced herself? Really? I don't think so. Should she have handled the situation differently? Most certainly. She should have taken a page out of her sister's book and let it go. Unfortunately, she didn't. Now, this becomes the latest excuse the Serena haters have to criticize her.

"I also want to say that the amount of hypocrisy shown by the media is simply embarrassing. How many male white players have behaved in such a manner? I found a clip on YouTube where the great Roger Federer was giving it to the ump during a match. Heck, Roddick's behavior this year at a few tournaments has been lacking in class. Did you think he disgraced himself? Was his behavior referred to as thuggish or menacing? No. I wonder why. White people simply don't get it. When you characterize the behavior of blacks in such a way, it is pure racism."

Shots, miscellany

• New York readers, come to this event on Oct. 6 and we'll talk some tennis.

• We'll say it again: This is the most underrated story in tennis.

• In case you missed it, we're taking stock of Serena Williams at age 30.

• Matt of Boiling Springs, N.C.: "Great, even-handed take on Serena's outburst at the U.S. Open. One other point that hasn't come up enough: Marion Bartoli (not to be confused with Mario Batali!) was penalized for the exact same infraction in the second round, I believe. It's great to see the rules applied equally to everyone, no matter their status or the situation."

• This week's anti-grunting email is ... Wait, in the interest of fairness and balance, here's Jamayan Watkins of Charlotte, N.C.: "Come on, Jon! Do you not have any submissions for the mailbag in favor of grunting? I'm a grunter and damn proud of it. I will be happy to submit the 'pro-grunting' email every week!"

• Steffi-Stefanie Graf (even her website has it both ways) with a diplomatic take on the U.S. Open.

• Love this photo.

• Thanks to David Deshler, let's play "Who got duped"?

• Helen, of Philadelphia: "Letterman really IS clairvoyant! Made the GOAT call in 2005, at the 2:00 mark here."

• Glen Janney of Miami: "I saw Novak Djokovic outside the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne during the Sony tournament a few years ago, waiting for his ride to the stadium. He had already won the Australian for the first time but he had subsequently stalled somewhat, and he had even complained that he was playing during the wrong era (meaning the Federer-Nadal era, of course). I wanted to go up to him and tell him, 'You belong!' but he was giving polite responses to some fan who wouldn't leave him alone, and for all I knew the guy was telling him the exact same thing I wanted to tell him, and I didn't want to risk seeing Novak wince at hearing my encouragement too. If only I had had the nerve to butt in and say it. I could not imagine having played a crucial role in his rise to greatness. (Still Federer's biggest fan, though)."

• Jesse of Portland, Ore.: "A moment of pause for the blast-from-the-past in Quebec: Four junior standouts, all of whom made a splash at some point on the senior tour, make the semifinals in what must be called the Bell Challenge Comeback Open. Big praise especially for Marina Erakovic, who touched the top 50 for a week in '08 before tumbling into the 300s with a hip injury, and Michaella Krajicek, who touched the top 30 for a week in '08 before tumbling into the 300s with a losing streak. Glad to see some young women gritting through the nether regions of the Tour after (briefly) seeing the view from the top."

• ATP World Tour Finals getting wooed by Rio? Thanks to Carlos Coehlo for the tip. The ATP, however, sharply disputes this and says that last week's meeting had nothing to do with the Finals. Just playing middle man here.

• Regarding the discussions of unions in tennis -- Benjamin Hansen of Eugene, Ore., was kind enough to offer this primer:

"I have few things to say about unions, given that I'm a labor economist. My discussion will concern the basic economics of unionization, and will not treat other more complex political issues.

Pro-union arguments

1. In some labor markets, a single employer often arises. For instance, a coal mine in a small town. As everyone works at the coal mine, the coal mine can underpay and underinvest in safety, exploiting monopsony (a single purchaser of a good) power. If tournaments didn't coordinate, they might compete by offering better pay, better conditions, etc. To the degree tournaments in the ATP can coordinate (which we might also call collude), they can pay less, provide worse conditions, etc.

2. Thus, to balance the effects of monopsony power, a union can encourage bargaining, which may arrive at outcomes that would naturally result were it not for the market power of tournaments.

3. Tennis players face in game theory what is known as the prisoner's dilemma when it comes to how often they play. They might all prefer a scenario where everyone plays for two fewer months in a year. But each individual's private incentives are to deviate from that outcome to amass additional ranking points. Relatively, no one has a higher ranking because everyone plays more, and thus everyone is worse off (except for the low-ranking players who benefit from simply another pay day).

Arguments against a union

1. Unions make entry difficult. Many professions that have associations or unions require absurd qualification tests. For instance, to become a hair stylist, individuals must work for free essentially in order to be qualified to cut hair. Is this to protect the hair stylists of the world? Many other professions have gradually increased requirements to keep bad apples from competing, but in actuality, it increases their own wages. Only recently have lawyers had to complete formal law school or undergraduate degrees. Previously, it was fine to teach yourself and pass the bar. To some extent, rankings and seeds (up to 32 at Grand Slams) have made it more difficult to enter the top tiers of the sport and easier for established pros to keep their ranking. Would unionization make entry for the next generation more difficult? No turning pro until one is 18? Other rules to initiate new players would limit entry and competition.

2. Wage compression often results in unions. Likely low-ranked individuals would end up being paid more (as they would have voting power in the union), even though the top stars generate all of the negotiating power. Determining voting power in the union is a difficult issue, because the masses (those ranking 100 and below) have different incentives from the stars. Do the stars really want those ranked 100 and below determining the negotiations via voting? Or are votes weighted based on ranking? And if you do that, no individual ranked 100 or below has a strong incentive to join the union.

3. Lockouts. Actual strikes are, of course, extremely costly to everyone, because there are huge gains from trade in tennis. We get tennis, everyone gets money, everyone is certainly much better off than the alternative, with no tennis. However, if the threat of a strike isn't credible, it hurts bargaining power. Tennis pioneers in the pre-Open Era were willing to make sacrifices to go pro, but also came at huge gains. I doubt that a strike could happen at a Grand Slam, but I could see one for the year-end championships. It would be most successful because fewer players are involved. At some point, I am sure those ranked 10-30 would be tempted to step in, although it's not clear much revenue would come from a final matchup between players of that caliber."

• Sarav of College Station, Texas, has long-lost twins: Vera Zvonareva and actress Sarah Alexander.

Have a great week, everyone!

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