Posted: Wed July 18, 2012 10:30AM; Updated: Wed July 18, 2012 1:33PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Final thoughts on Serena, revisiting GOAT debate, more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Serena Williams separates private and professional, causing a mixed perception

The men's GOAT discussion has a more obvious choice than the women's debate

Evaluating Venus Williams' achievements, a trade for Canadian tennis, more mail

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Serena Williams
Serena Williams won the Bank of the West Classic for her 43rd career WTA title.
Tony Medina/Icon SMI

Dear Jon. I am sick to death of talking about Serena. Not her accomplishments. But HER. Yes, she is one of the greatest players of all time. But I wish all the Zech's out there would ask themselves if they could imagine Chrissie, Martina or Steffi threatening to shove a bleeping ball down a linesperson's throat and they might have the answer as to why Serena is not beloved by all.
-- Mark, Dallas

• Not surprisingly, we had a ton of mail about Serena this week, passionately pro and passionately con. I don't disagree with Mark that this is getting tired. We'll take one more bite and then let's cryogenically freeze this topic. At least for a while.

Again, here's my overall take greatly (over)simplified: Incontestably a great player. A less great sportswoman. You are naive if you overlook or discount race in the discussion of her public perception. On the other hand, you should be able be to dislike her without being accused of racism. However, if you do have strong dislike for an athlete so preposterously accomplished and admirable as a competitor, you might want to examine why.

We'll balance last week's praise with some criticism. A lot of readers like Mark of Dallas cited Serena's behavior. "Vulgar," "ungracious," "boorish" were words in heavy rotation. I get that. But here's an alternative theory: What also makes her so polarizing is that she is well-known but unknowable. There are contradictions and inconsistencies and opacity.

One example among many: One of you recently asked for the name of the Munich establishment where Serena cut her foot in 2010. Easy, right? We know where, say, Plaxico Burress inadvertently shot himself in the leg (The Latin Quarter), where Mickey Mantle used to fight (the Copacabana), where Charles Barkley threw the man through the glass window (Phineas Phogg in Orlando). Here's a slideshow in fact.

Where did Serena injure herself, causing her to miss almost a year of tennis and costing her millions in lost wages, changing the landscape of women's tennis? It's a total mystery. No one, to my knowledge, has revealed it or been able to confirm it. When asked, her camp wouldn't provide it. Are we being played for fools? Was this spin? A cover?

The reflexive response, of course is that she is under no obligation to tell anyone anything. True enough. We should be okay with that. But if you're going to chose privacy/mystery over transparency and candor, you can't be surprised when some of the public doesn't necessarily warm to you.

Anyway, let's all agree on this: It's never boring with Serena around. For a variety of reasons, she'll sure be missed when she's no longer on the scene. Now, let's all give her a breather for a while.

JON WERTHEIM/WORTHLESS- YOU ARE A WORTHLESS PIECE OF JUNK!!!!! YOUR NAME IS JON WORTHEIM/WORTHLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU ARE A RACIST AND BIGOT!!!!!!!!! YOU ARE A TOTAL LOSER!
-- Jim, Minneapolis

• Thanks, Jim, for your valuable contribution to the discussion. There is obviously a lot to like about Milos Raonic's game, but grass really unmasks some of his shortcomings. In terms of movement, he will never be confused with Federer. He's a skilled volleyer; he's less skilled at getting to the net. Also, it's clear he needs to fortify other elements of his game so that when his serve isn't dialed in -- and it wasn't last week -- he has other weapons to deploy.

As with so many players (see: Wozniacki, Caroline) we ought to keep his age in mind. More generally, we need to recalibrate the life expectancy -- and thus the growth chart -- of tennis players. If teenagers are an endangered species and thirtysomethings are wining Wimbledon, a 21-year-old kid embedded in the top 25 is doing awfully well for himself.

Two questions, after watching their recent Wimbledon matches, why doesn't Andy Roddick get as many retirement questions as say Venus Williams? Also, why are U.S. commentators so quick to play up Melanie Oudin at each slam tournament? Clearly, her U.S. Open run was a fluke.
-- BET, Montgomery, Ala.

• Here's Andy Roddick's press conference after he lost at Wimbledon. Even as he tries mightily to stifle the discussion, it is almost exclusively devoted to his retirement prospects.

As for Oudin I don't know what you're talking about. Perhaps if the commentators and tastemakers also drew a check from, say, the USTA -- and thus had a vested interest in Oudin's success, eligible for praise and heightened job stability (and maybe even financial rewards) if she's perceived as a success; and eligible for serious criticism if she's perceived as a bad allocation of resources -- it would be one thing. But that's just, you know, a crazy hypothetical. I think everyone is just genuinely happy to see a nice kid doing well again.

Serena the Greatest of All Time? You are delusional. Except in the case of someone like Rod Laver, who was banned from playing majors during 5 years of his prime, the criterion for Greatest should be career slams. Serena (14) isn't even close to Margaret Court (24) or Steffi Graf (22). You are being fooled by trying to compare what you see in front of you (Serena) with your fading memory (Court, Graf). I'm surprised that you would fall into this trap. But you have.
-- Don Allen, Carlisle, Mass.

• I don't want to rehash the GOAT debate. But let me suggest this: If you pick Federer over Laver how do not favor Serena over Margaret Court, Chrissie/Martina and, yes, even Steffi? Part of what makes this maddening (and also fun) is that we never really define our terms. Serena obviously trails the aforementioned in majors won. Yet when you see Serena do things like serve 102 aces over the course of a Wimbledon -- more than any male and a feat no one female would come close to achieving -- doesn't that have to count for something?

Female GOAT: Steffi Graff, Male GOAT: Rod Laver (PERIOD).
-- Thomas, Tampa, Fla.

• Baaaa! Stop with the GOAT stuff. Go ahead and pick Graf. Or Martina or Chrissie. But, especially after last weekend, I don't see how you can't tip Federer for the men.

You know, I like you a lot and value your opinions, but did you just state in your mailbag that Agnieszka Radwanska is a better player than Sam Querrey? How is that so, if you say Querrey wouldn't drop a game against her in a match? I am not a big fan of Querrey's, but what does Radwanska do on the court, except maybe think and compete, better than Querrey? That's like Avery Johnson saying yesterday that Brook Lopez is one of the top 3-5 centers in the league. Guess he forgot, Howard, Bynum, Hibbert, Chandler, Marc Gasol and even Serge Ibaka.
-- Dan Markowitz, Mamaroneck, New York

• JDKFKfkEFhouprhfguehg. Sorry. That was my head hitting the keyboard as I pondered a universe in which Brook Lopez is a top five center. But I digress.

Like so much, the discussion turns on semantics. If "better" means "would win head-to-head" then, yes, Querrery is superior. If better means, "competes better" or "has a more complete set of tools" or "thinks better" or "uses more of the court" or "understands rhythm better"... well, you see where I'm going.

Again, crossing more sport lines but think about the difference in these two questions: A) Who wins: a Klitschko brother or Floyd Mayweather? B) Who's the better fighter? For that matter: the ponderous seven-foot Brook Lopez or the dynamic six-footer Diana Taurasi -- who's the better player? I know who I would say. (Hint: it's not the player who'd win their one-on-one game?)

Concerning all the women's players with a last name ending in "OVA", I thought the emphasis should go on the "O", so it would be shve-DO-va, not SHvED-ova. Likewise Kuznetsova would be kuz-net-SO-va, not kuz-NETS-ova.
-- Robert, Reston, Va.

• Never thought of that. Maybe it's a Kazakhstani thing for Shvedova? Anyone?

Canada sweeps the junior singles and wins girls doubles at Wimbledon!! Next we'll hear that Great Britain wins hockey gold in Sochi. Do your colleagues who prognosticate the potential of today's juniors feel like these two "kids" have the goods to be successful pros? Both are already 18. Canadian tennis: It's not ALL about Milos! Thoughts?
-- Neil Grammer, Toronto

• Shhhh. We're trying to get Brian Colangelo to trade us Canadian junior tennis and Tom Tebbutt for a Tennis Welcome Center, a Parks Program and a 10-and-under quick start set. We'll even throw in Landry Fields.

Prognosticating junior talent is always tough. Look at the winners of junior Slams and you'll find some strikingly familiar names and some strikingly unfamiliar names. In the tennis hotbed that is Canada, the junior players who generate the most optimism might be the Abanda sisters.

Between Federer, Nadal and Serena, who do you think will have a court or arena named after them first?
-- Yo, Seattle

• Yo, Seattle! It's interesting because usually the named courts are tied to nationality. Rod Laver in Australia, Arthur Ashe in New York, Susie Lenglen in Paris, etc. Federer is the kneejerk answer but where would it be? At the Basel Indoor event? It's awfully early to have this discussion. (Ask the folks at Penn State how dangerous it is to name structures after active figures.) But Court One at Wimbledon is due for a less prosaic name. Just sayin'.....

Venus Williams: Overachiever? Underachiever? Or just sororally unlucky?
-- Claudia, Denton, Texas

• Can we go to Hawkeye for a review of "Sororally"? I like it -- and the effort -- but my spellcheck tells me it's not a word.

While we wait: I'd say Venus is an achiever, neither over nor under. "Underachiever" is a junior champ who can't make the transition to the pros. At worst, it's a Marcelo Rios type who is prodigiously talented and never wins a major. No one with seven Slams underachieves. Overachiever? Yes, in the sense that Venus had to overcome childhood obstacles uncommon to most other players. No, in the sense that with her game and talent and early start, you could make the case she ought to have more majors, more titles, more weeks at No. 1. Or least have won the Aussie Open or French once. So let's play it down the middle.

Are you the one responsible for jinxing Fed's injury-free career?!!
-- Ryan Cassano, Berkeley, Calif.

• You'll be heartened to learn that Federer won Wimbledon. Look, if I had the power to "reverse jinx" with my lousy predictions, I'd be shorting the Euro, predicting rain during the U.S. Open, and speaking glowingly about cancer.

Just curious why the U.S. Open doesn't have the same playing format as Wimbledon does? The women's semis are Thursday and men's are Friday, then the women's finals are Saturday and mens finals Sunday. It gives the players a day off to rest whereas at the U.S. Open they play back to back days from semis to finals.
-- Dean, Cooperstown, N.Y.

• Well, see, at the U.S. Open there is a roof so if the schedule for the first round matches gets spread over three days, it's a problem playing catch-up because the covered court ensures that... wait... the producer is speaking in my ear. Sorry. We stand corrected. I apologize. Apparently there is no roof. In which case the explanation goes like this: spreading out the first round is done to appease the TV gods and fill as many night sessions as possible with "name" players. Again, apologies for any misinformation.

Shots, miscellany

• Federer fans and Nadal fans, can't we all just get along?

• The ATP on the U.S. Open prize money increase: "We are pleased that the discussions initiated by the ATP with each of the Grand Slams this year have resulted in certain prize money increases for players in 2012, and we remain focused on our active dialogue with these events about player compensation for 2013 and beyond."

• Charith, Bangalore, India: "Hey Jon, I do remember you taking a lot of heat back in 2010 when you declared Williams as the Greatest of all time. But here's an I-told-you-so moment for you to enjoy. John McEnroe on the BBC sport website: 'I've seen them all, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert was a machine....Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, but I believe we are watching the greatest female player that's ever played this game.'"

• Nice to see James Blake with a new sponsor.

• Can this be right? After losing in Atlanta, Donald Young's 2012 record is 2-17?

• I didn't see the match but multiple readers wrote in noting that Sorana Cirstea got thoroughly jobbed in her Stanford match against Dominika Cibulkova. At one point she was six-for-six on challenges. (That's a game and a half worth of overturned line calls.) Let's see if the tennis fates return the favor this summer.

• Daniel, Cleveland: "Hey Jon, I emailed you earlier about the use of the word "forced" in "forced to retire with an injury" and who "forces" someone to retire. I saw this article and thought it was funny because as you read down Petra Martic had an injury and she just CHOSE to withdraw but Stephanie Dubois didn't seem to have a choice; she was FORCED out with a foot injury!"

• Ben S of Scarsdale, NY: "I think it is worth noting what terrific events the ATP event and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony are. A trip up for the ceremony and semis/finals of the tournament is a must for big tennis fans in the Northeast. Newport is also a beautiful town, one that is big enough where there is plenty to do but also small enough where you are pretty likely to run into some players around town. In three days I saw basically every single player still in the draw at the hotel or on the street, and even was lucky enough to chat with Gustavo Kuerten (as nice a guy as everyone says) as we both waited for breakfast at the hotel. I can't recommend Newport enough for the tennis enthusiasts."

• For women's major finals, where has the third set gone? Nick McCarvel wants to know.

• Mitch of Denver rightfully notes: "Look how much different the U.S. Olympic tennis teams would be if they used this week's post Wimbledon rankings..."

Have a good week everyone!

• James Stuchell of Savannah, Ga.: "For long lost siblings, how about Pete Sampras and Raptors point guard Jose Calderon?"

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