Posted: Wednesday October 19, 2011 1:40PM ; Updated: Wednesday October 19, 2011 4:47PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Comparing the Slams, attendance woes in Shanghai, plus more mail

Story Highlights

Each Grand Slam venue offers a unique experience for visiting fans

Lack of attendance in Shanghai hinders China's hopes to host a Slam

Maria Kirilenko has benefitted from altering her game to attack the net

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Wimbledon
Wimbledon boasts history and tradition, and in 2010, Queen Elizabeth II visited Wimbledon for the first time in 33 years.
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Jon, help! My husband is a crazy tennis nut and has a big birthday coming up next year. I want to surprise him with a trip to a Grand Slam. He's never been to any of them! This is obviously a biggie in every sense. Which one do you recommend?
-- M.P., Calif.

• I'm wary of giving these answers because A) there's some serious pressure and B) if I answer truthfully, it will sound like pablum straight from the PR department. But lean in and I'll tell you the dirty truth: It's hard to go wrong attending a Grand Slam.

Each is different -- character, a history, a rhythm of its own. Each is in a different top-flight city and -- rain and Australian heat waves notwithstanding -- the weather is usually quite nice. Each has its own idiosyncrasies. Yet I can't recall ever talking to someone who said, "You know, we went to the U.S. Open and it was blech." Or, "You know, Wimbledon failed to meet my expectation." Or, "That French Open? Overrated."

At a minimum, the majors live up to the hype. More often than not, they exceed it. Plus -- and this goes for all tennis events -- a midweek ticket to a tennis tournament comprises one of the great values in sports. You get eight or so hours and dozens of matches, both genders, some doubles. The ability to talk around and flit in and out of courts is underrated as well.

Where should you take your husband? Depends what you like. If you're desperate to combine with a city experience, you might think about Wimbledon. But especially with traffic, getting into London can be tough. Australia is great when you get there but there's no sugarcoating the flight from the U.S. or Europe. The U.S. Open is busier than the others, which exhilarates some and exhausts/intimidates others. But overall, you'll have a great time. And your husband will be thrilled.

Why doesn't the U.S. Open entertain the idea of rotating cities for the U.S. Open like the golf tournament with the same name? It would make the USTA a lot of money and boost tourism to destinations and cities that could use the collateral revenue brought about by a sudden rush of tourists. It would also expose kids to the game whp would never have seen or felt the "spirit of a major." Who knows, the next great American player might be some kid who never knew tennis was so cool. Your thoughts?
-- Oscar Espinosa, Katy, Texas

• I like the idea in theory. (The same way I like the idea of two pro sports teams splitting time between two cities, i.e. the Indiana/Louisville Pacers.) Realistically, you need a permanent site with suites, broadcast facilities, catering, etc. In singles alone, there are 254 matches being played over two weeks. How many other facilities can accommodate that? I do, though, like the idea of a rotating Masters Series event or (biannual) Davis Cup knock-off.

Why is there nobody watching the Shanghai Masters event? When I have watched, it looks like there is about 25 fans in a massive stadium. Are they not into tennis in Shanghai?
--
Jeff, Lacey, Wash.

• We discussed this a bit both in the Monday column and on Twitter (oxymoron?) and many of you provided some insight. The site, dazzling as it may be, is an hour from downtown Shanghai. (@exposbabe: An hour out of the city by pubic transportation. You'd have to REALLY love tennis and that demographic isn't there.)

The tennis conflicted with both the calendar and the national ethic. (@NeilHarmanTimes: Chinese holidays ended Sunday. These people work, work, work. No free time.)

The event was hurt by the absence of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. (@AmberRajen: obviously Chinese tennis fans don't want to spend their money on Nadal & Murray.)

Whatever, this looked terrible on television. You could literally count the fans -- on two hands; with fingers left over -- for some matches. And those who were there sure didn't seem to cheer much. Why the organizers didn't paper the town is a mystery. A few hundred schoolkids would have at least improved the atmosphere.

Like most sports, tennis doesn't necessarily need sold-out crowds to succeed. If the sponsors and the television partners are happy, that counts for a lot. Still, I think the folks in Australia -- concerned that Shanghai is angling to supplant the A.O. as the fourth Slam -- can rest easy.

Just a small correction to your response to Kevin Lynch. Federer actually did beat an opponent in less than 60 minutes in a Grand Slam Match. At Wimbledon 2004, he beat Alejandro Falla 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 in 54 minutes. Pretty impressive! By the way, is this the same Kevin Lynch who was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball and led the Gophers to the Elite Eight in Clem Haskins' pre-scandal glory days?
-- Andy Bach, Minneapolis

• Good call. And I hadn't even thought of that regarding Kevin Lynch and the Gophers. I used to love that guy. He gave hope to those of us who could scrap a little and knock down an open shot now and then. He even played a little in the NBA.

Another factoid that is relevant to the Roger vs. Rafa GOAT debate -- Rafa is yet to defend a Slam other than the French.
-- Ramkumar Subbaraman, Cupertino, Calif.

• Duly noted. But "other than the French" is a pretty big conditional. Nadal has defended that one in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.

If you're trying to show off your '80s bona fides and refer to "katchagoogoo" rather than Kajagoogoo, well, one of your submarines is clearly missing.
--
Neil, Toronto

• Touché. (Or too shy?)

I have written this before but wonder why, except for a few women bloggers, there is never any discussion of sexism instead of racism in regard to Serena Williams' actions. Comparisons are always made to white males. MALES. She isn't compared to white FEMALES so that spells sexism to me.
-- Sun, Corvallis, Ore.

• I think there's some merit here. How accustomed are we to seeing women in a confrontational context? Reader Michele of New York put it like this: "It's 2011 and we as a society are still not comfortable seeing women get angry anywhere, let alone on a big stage in front of a big audience. Being ladylike is of utmost importance. Heck, isn't it a little nuts that women are wearing dresses and skirts and wearing jewelry and have their nails done while performing such demanding physical tasks? OK, I digress, but still think there's something to be said for the gender bias. Add race into the mix, and you can see why this is endlessly controversial and endlessly fascinating."

I do think it's important to make this point: Were we really comfortable with John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase? Most people found their outbursts and tirades and profanity to be loathsome. The notion that they got a pass is revisionist history. McEnroe, especially. For all those who now like his candor, there are still many who cannot forgive him for his behavior in the early '80s. Again, I think Sun raises an important point. But there were many letters asking, Why was tennis so approving of the bad boys? That simply wasn't the case.

Am I the only one to hear racial overtones in Serena calling the U.S. Open umpire a "hater"? It's a peculiar usage and one that I'm guessing she may have been taught when young as a way to identify and contend with discrimination in an admittedly racist society. It seems to me to have morphed into a rather ugly catch-all for someone who reveals herself by using it to be both narcissistic and paranoid.
--
Roger Jones, Waterbury Center, Vt.

• I've shelved the Serena emails for the last few weeks but they keep coming, we'll do a couple this week.

Before it slips my mind, did anyone point out the supreme irony of her telling the umpire, "I hate you" in one breath, and then accusing the umpire of being "a hater" in the next? Anyway, I don't think "hater" necessarily carries racial implications. And we have Mario Lopez to thank for this. (In the end, it always comes back to Saved by the Bell.)

Note that Snookie has #H8ers. So does Kim Kardashian. (My friend Peter King recently wrote that he has haters but prefers to think of them as "disagreers.") I think it's become more of an omnibus term to describe people who begrudge celebrities, their money and fame.

 
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