Posted: Wed February 22, 2012 1:30PM; Updated: Tue March 13, 2012 3:51PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Federer's sportsmanship, Fed Cup unable to move needle, more mail

Story Highlights

Roger Federer's overall sportsmanship outweighs isolated incidents of arrogance

It's tough to pull off team-based competitions such as the Davis and Fed Cup

Alex Bogomolov deserves the right to pursue opportunities to play Davis Cup

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Roger Federer
After losing to Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semis, Roger Federer was critical and frustrated in his post-match interview.
SI

While wondering if anything ever comes WITH further ado....

Why did Roger Federer win the sportsmanship award in 2011? We all know about his curt remarks about Novak Djokovic after the U.S. Open semifinals. His sportsmanship for the 2012 season has already been blemished. I ask you again, why did Federer win the sportsmanship award? Is there no male tennis professional who has pristine conduct? I sometimes wonder if there are any male equivalents of Kim Clijsters.
-- Sabrina Justine, Miami, Fla.

• This is voted on by the ATP player membership, not just the top guys. Clearly they feel that, judged in totality, Federer's sportsmanship is superior, that his overall comportment outweighs any "blemishes," real or imagined.

I get your mail and I know that many of you take issue with his "arrogance," many of you think the hoodwinked saps in the media are turning a blind eye. But I would humbly submit if the people who interact with Federer year-round are giving him sportsmanship awards, maybe his behavior isn't quite as disgraceful as some of you would like to believe.

NOW can we at least pick out a casket for Federer's chances on A) reclaiming the No. 1 ranking and B) winning another Grand Slam event? Also, even though tennis is an individual sport, I argue that Federer's Davis Cup woes preclude him from "Greatest Ever" status.
-- Omar, El Paso, Texas

• You guys never seem to tire of this. And we aim to please here. So I would say: A) he never reclaims No.1. The other two guys play too much and too well. Sampras gets to keep this record. B) Again, as for whether Federer wins another, I'll take "one" before I take "zero"; but I'll take "zero" before I take "two". I think he has one more in him. (And tennis has a way of furnishing these sentimental stories.) C) Lack of Davis Cup success hurts him a bit. But, like the dismal head-to-head record against Nadal, it doesn't take him out of consideration. Compare the "pro" and "con" ledger and the former dwarfs the latter. Federer is my GOAT. Maybe not forever. But for now.

Hey Jon, I don't know if you commented on this already, but what's your take on the Wayne Bryan-USTA letter writing contest? I'm of a mixed-mind: It seems like the U.S. should be more adept at producing top players, but that's much easier said than done. Once upon a time Australia was a dominant tennis power. Their men are undergoing a (barely) longer Slam hiatus than the U.S. (By the way, this was a pretty clever interpretation of McEnroe's rebuttal.)
-- Richard, Chatham, N.J.

• You know, I think I'm going to throw a change-up this week. Here's some optional homework: read Wayne Bryan's remarks. Read Pat McEnroe's rebuttal. Read this satirical take. And then let's discuss.

I went to the Fed Cup for USA vs. Belarus. I was so excited to get last minute tickets to see Victoria Azarenka and both Williams sisters. Azarenka bailed last minute, both days. And the stands were only half full. But the Williams are marquee players. Why didn't they promote the event? Give tickets away to nonprofit groups? What is going on with Fed Cup?
-- Anonymous, Boston

• The empress is wearing no clothes. What do you do here? The Fed Cup is a lemon. It's of little relevance to the fans and media. It's a money loser to the federations. (A back of the envelope calculation tells you the USTA had to have taken a beating in Worcester.) It's of little importance to most players, most of whom wouldn't play if the ITF didn't make participation mandatory as a condition of Olympic eligibility.

The question: can tennis organizations hold a nation-versus-nation men's event and not offer a comparable women's event? Maybe the solution is this: when the wise and open-minded and admirably flexible ITF executives reassess Davis Cup and come up with a new format that restores relevance and address some reasonable player concerns, they will also fold in a women's event.

What is the over/under for how many Grand Slam titles for Ryan Harrison? I say over 10. What say you?
-- Tim, Denver

• At least 10. Maybe 20. You're talking about these Grand Slams, right? Again: a lot to like about Harrison. But let's wait until he's top 10 before we even dangle Slam potential.

Hey Jon! I was checking Kimiko Date's activity by year at the WTA's site and she didn't play that much during her career. I think that's the reason she can still play. She did not burn out.
-- Joel Castro, San Juan, P.R.

• There's physical burnout and then there's emotional burnout. But I say "yes and no" to your assertion. True, Date did not play a tremendous amount of matches during "Career 1.0" which probably helped on the backside. But this is a remarkable story. This isn't someone who retired, took a year or two off to recharge the batteries, played some exos or TeamTennis, and then re-entered the fray. We're talking about a player who did not have a ranking for more than a decade, gave it another shot in her late 30s and made it back into the top 50. You hear about a women's tennis "retirement" and you take the phrase lightly. From Hingis to Henin to Clijsters to Davenport these retirements have played out like sabbaticals.

I'm hard-pressed to name an athlete who spent more time away from the sport before returning. George Foreman is the only name I can come up with. (The Grill King fought in 1977 and not again until 1987.)

Here's the latest "unretirement" to watch: Paolo Suarez, age 35, who's been out for nearly five years.

Considering that Venus has health problems and Serena has mental problems, is it the end of the Williams' era? And will you miss having to make excuses for Serena?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.

• Yes, of course. We always need to run cover for a 13-time Grand Slam champion.

Do you really think the WTA is better off now with Victoria Azarenka No. 1 instead of Caroline Wozniacki? I think this angle was always nonsense.
-- @notsleeping , via Twitter

• I have nothing against Wozniacki whatsoever. And if you missed her remarks fighting back against the Martinas, here they are.

("You want counterpunching? Here's some counterpunching!") But if your question is whether I think the WTA is better off when the No.1 player has a major title in her satchel, my answer is "yes."

Vika the SHRIEKER. Max level 111 db, according to reporters. That's like a jet airplane going overhead. I didn't watch the Aussie finals just to protect my ears. All fans can do is TURN OFF the TV. Shriekers are ruining women's tennis, and they should be disqualified from tournament play.
--Morris C., San Diego

• I just want to give you guys fair warning on my slowly shifting feelings here. Though I'm not quite as passionate about the issue as most of you, I don't particularly like grunting and I think the WTA (badly) misplayed its hand here. But if Azarenka can continue to play at this level, I'm willing to take a little bit of auditory unpleasantness.

Every Monday you do a recap of who won what tournaments last weekend. However, you never make it a point to mention who won the doubles titles (some weeks you did, some you didn't). Can you please put your money where your mouth is and support the doubles? Please be consistent and mention the teams on your Monday recaps so that we know doubles are still something that the ATP supports?
-- Shaun Chooi, Dallas

• Fair point.

In San Jose: [4] Mark Knowles/Xavier Malisse def. Kevin Anderson/Frank Moser 6-4, 1-6, 10-5

In Sao Paulo: [1] Eric Butorac/Bruno Soares def. [4] Michal Mertinak/Andre Sa 3-6, 6-4, 10-8

In Rotterdam: [2] Michael Llodra/Nenad Zimonjic def. [3] Robert Lindstedt/Horia Tecau 4-6, 7-5, 16-14 -- Saved 5 M.P.

In Bogota: (1) Eva Birnerova/Alexandra Panova def. Mandy Minella/Stefanie Voegele 6-2, 6-2

In Doha: (1) Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond def. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears 6-3, 6-1

Regarding Federer, please note that other journalists, for example, Rene Stauffer & Svenja Mastroberardino, backed up the mistranslation story, as do the quotes in French, which I've read. Although Roger's comments even without "pas mal" being heard as "pas tant", or the "pas" not being heard, or whatever it was, struck me as a bit tactless, something he clearly realized and tried to put right.
-- Nikki Jewell

• Federer said that he was misquoted and it seems as though the evidence supports that.

The U.S. Davis Cup team's amazing win combined with Alex Bogomolov's losses are like getting turned down by that second-rate girl in your photography class to go to the prom, and subsequently going with and having a great time with the captain of the cheerleading squad while the photography girl ends up making a fool of herself by going with a buffoon. Agreed?
-- Justin, Chester Springs, PA

• Funny, watching Alex Bogomolov lose in Davis Cup, that was exactly the PRECISE analogy that sprung to my mind. Seriously, I say we let Bogomolov off the hook. He wasn't going to crack the U.S. lineup under any circumstances. And the USTA, like the federation of any country, must know that when a player's heritage is ambiguous, there is a chance he might defect.

Actual quote from ESPN's website "The Davis Cup is the premier team event in men's tennis." Technically accurate, I suppose. Also as informative as a restaurant being "the premier Ethiopian diner on Bimidji, Minnesota's north side."
-- Michael Turner, Sunnyvale, CA

• Funny, I prefer Blue Nile. Weird coincide: I was just in Philadelphia and saw the excellent alternative newspaper Philadelphia Weekly write up a band, Temple of Doomtree, with the headline: "Minnesota's most industrious hip-hop collective land their Magic School Bus in Philly this week." (Because, presumably, there are so many Minnesota-based hip-hop collectives that, you know, just don't work quite as hard as these guys.)

Does Maria Sharapova remind you of Alexis Carrington?
-- Peter C. London

• As a wise man once said: You don't have to watch Dynasty, to have an attitude.

SHOTS, MISCELLANY:

• Here's our latest SI Tennis Podcast, talking tennis with former NFL coach and current NFL commentator Brian Billick. Owing to the guest (him) and not the host (me), this is worth your time.

• Here's a good update on the Comcast v. Tennis Channel dispute.

• Thanks to the excellent writer (and occasional serve-and-volleyer) Eben Harrell here. Which tennis champion likes his Beethoven?

• Great Pete Bodo column on Vamos disease. Here come the Rafael-ites.

• Press releasing: "In partnership with the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Emirates Airline announced a global, integrated sponsorship of the U.S. Open and U.S. Open Series. As part of the agreement, Emirates becomes the "Official Airline of the U.S. Open" and the title sponsor of the "Emirates Airline US Open Series," whose 10 events combine to form the summer hardcourt professional tennis season and lead into the US Open. The seven-year partnership will enable the airline to strengthen its connection with U.S. consumers through a long-term investment in U.S. sport."

• Here's an oldie: Steffi Graf on Letterman.

• More Steffi, this one with Andre at Muhammad Ali's birthday.

• From the Intercollegiate Tennis Association: "The matchup may not have been as expected, but the quality of play was everything anticipated and more on Monday in the championship match of the 2012 ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship, hosted by the University of Virginia at the Boar's Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va. The top-seeded USC Trojans were able to overcome dropping the doubles point for the first time all season, rebounding to defeat the third-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in a 4-3 thriller."

From the USTA: "For the first time in television history, this spring Tennis Channel will rank the best 100 players ever to pick up a tennis racket. 100 Greatest of all Time Presented by Ally Bank, a five-night, weeklong special series, will cross generation and gender as it counts down the game's most elite on-court competitors. Airing in prime time at 7 p.m. ET each night, the first edition gets underway Monday, March 19, with the all-time No. 1, the greatest tennis player in history, unveiled at the conclusion of the final episode Friday, March 23."

• Two WTA Notes:

Doha: In the 10th staging of the event, 12 of 16 seeds lost before the third round at Doha, but four of the top five advanced to the semis; Azarenka defeated Stosur in the final 6-1,6-2 to win her third title of 2012, the first player to win her first three events since 2004 (Henin); Azarenka dropped only 18 games en route to the title.

Bogota: Spanish 19-year-old Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, playing in just her third WTA main draw defeated Panova in the final; Arruabarrena-Vecino became the youngest Spanish player to win a WTA title since 2001 Palermo (Medina Garrigues); at No.174, Arruabarrena-Vecino became the lowest ranked player to win a WTA title since 2009 Warsaw (Dulgheru) and 15th player in WTA history ranked outside the Top 170 to win a title.

• Ladies and Gentlemen... Beat Capra.

• Mailbag stalwart Helen of Philly: "What's wrong with this picture??!? -- Tsonga is listed at 6-2; Tony Parker is listed at 6-2; Federer is listed at 6-1. Does Roger have lifts in his shoes or extra product in his hair?"

HAVE A GREAT WEEK, EVERYONE!

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