Posted: Wed August 22, 2012 4:40PM; Updated: Wed August 22, 2012 4:40PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Nadal's impact on U.S. Open, Murray's HoF credentials, more

Story Highlights

Big 3 have won 29 of last 30 majors, but Rafael Nadal's withdrawal opens up USO

Andy Murray's probably a Hall of Famer, but the criteria should be reviewed

Comparing top five men's players of all time and more U.S. Open related mail

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Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal withdrew from the U.S. Open due to lingering knee issues, which opens up the men's field.
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A quick Mailbag before the Big Show. Check back tomorrow for seed reports and other potential goodies..

Psychologically, who do you think has more gain from Nadal's absence at the US Open: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray? Or is it the second ring of players like Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tomas Berdych?
-- Leena, Marietta

• It's been a while since one of the Big Four has been absent from a major. I'll do a seed report when the draws comes out, but here are five thoughts on Nadal's withdrawal:

1) Nadal is 13-1 at the U.S. Open over the last two years, so this could have a big impact.

2) His withdrawal left no doubt that Federer and Djokovic would be opposite sides of the draw, an occurrence usually about as rare as a rabbi at a lobster boil.

3) Given Federer's record against Nadal, especially at majors, this absence benefits Roger psychologically. Djokovic not only beat Nadal in the 2011 U.S. Open final, but beat him in Australia—a hard court Major final—barely half a year ago.

4) The entire field benefits, inasmuch as an A-list contender is out. But the fourth seed, David Ferrer, is particularly lucky, as he will now lead a quadrant.

5) The most ridiculous stat in sports today, far as I'm concerned: since February of 2005, one of the Big Three has won 29 or 30 Majors. (Del Potro, at the U.S. Open in 2009 is the only infiltrator, but he hasn't even made a semi since.) I get the optimism for Andy Murray. Del Potro looked terrific at the Olympics. Tsonga is always dangerous. But I think you have to tip Federer and Djokovic, fatigued as he is, before you start to look at the rest of the field.

Has Murray done enough already to be in the Tennis Hall of Fame?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.

• I laughed when I got Joe's question. First, at the thought that Murray -- excellent player as he is -- could even be considered for a Hall of Fame. No Slams. No top ranking. No doubles excellence. No Davis Cup.

Then I laughed a second time when I considered the precedent and realized that, yes, he probably IS worthy. An Olympic singles gold? Four runs to three different major finals? All-surface excellence, big-time wins and Masters Series titles? In the era of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic? Again, given the standards, I think you could make a credible case. (At least say this: If/when he DOES win a Major, he's in, no further discussion needed.)

The Hall of Fame has backed itself into a corner with its admission criteria and standards. You let in so many one-Slam winners (and in some cases NO-Slam winners), and you risk diluting the brand, so to speak. I think there has to be a creative solution here. Subdivide the Hall into two wings. The accomplished, the doubles specialists, the worthy; and the truly elite.

I love that, say, Jana Novotna and Gigi Fernandez and Michael Chang have some measure of immortality and are recognized for their contributions. But should they really be occupying wall space alongside Federer, Evert, Navratilova, et al? I think there's a way to enshrine worthy players (like Murray, if he quit today) and still make clear that there are great and there are the GREATS.

"The contrasting opinion is the status quo, but I'm happy to engage in a debate." No Jon, the contrasting opinion is that best-of-five matches are epically awesome. Please don't think that "meh we don't care" or "meh we should not change" is the contrasting opinion to "matches should be best of three". Some of us feel very strongly that they should remain best of five. I miss best-of-five matches in the Masters! I wish we could go back to that format. Now what I could see being a lot shorter is the hard court season. Thanks for taking the time to read a contrasting opinion.
-- Natasha, Toronto

• Time taken. And point taken. We'll give this topic a rest for a few weeks, but during the U.S. Open, I encourage you to ponder what exactly tennis gains from having these best-of-five matches. And whether if we had them only for the last three rounds, the gravitas of the event would be compromised.

If your prediction holds true and Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, and Juan Carlos Ferrero retire, there will be only four active Grand Slam champions. Has there ever been a time in tennis history with so few Grand Slam title-holders? If not, what period had the closest number?
-- Victor, Las Vegas

• I've been told that Roddick is definitely playing in 2013. The only thing I'm predicting: retirement talk will figure prominently and that any number of once-prominent players are pondering their futures. But, yes, at the rate we're going it's possible that soon there will only be four active major winners. (This. Of course, also assumes no new winners in the immediate future.)

Surely that's a record. I thought perhaps during the heyday of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles there might be a similarly small number, but alas that wasn't the case. There were enough Sanchez Vicarios and Sabatinii and Hingises and Conchita Martinezezezezezez sneaking in.

Jon, regarding Serena generating more mail than all other top players combined: This reminded me of Russian tennis forums and columns. Regardless of what's being discussed, the threads almost always inevitably turn to Sharapova. It can get pretty absurd. Like someone would say "Hooray, Murray won an Olympic gold in England", and someone would chip in with "True patriot, unlike Sharapova". Or: "Here's a commercial of Federer and a chocolate factory." ... "Cheater. Try making your own candy, Roger". You get the idea. So it doesn't surprise me that an American tennis column would be "disproportionately" devoted to Serena Williams, who, like Sharapova in Russia, is the biggest tennis player at the moment in the U.S.
-- Russianista, Bloomington, Ind.

• Who are we to argue with anyone from Bloomington, Indiana, unlikely tennis hotbed? (That's my hometown.) I always say this about message boards: You can watch the devolution of humanity in real time. A post that reads, "I find Mother Theresa an admirable figure," invariably becomes, "Everyone knows it: that fraudulent floozy is on steroids but the vermin in the media cover it up."

I would guess that a full half of my mail these days comes "internationally" so I wouldn't say the attention given to Serena is the work of American partisans. I just think Serena Williams is wildly compelling to many. Leaving aside themes of race/class, here's a 14-time Grand Slam singles champion -- titles won over a span of 13 years! -- with a colorful personality, a penchant for polarizing behavior, a compelling sister, injuries, ailments, romantic entanglements, setbacks, comebacks... you get the point. Something would be wildly wrong if she DIDN'T generate more questions and curiosity and opinions than Petra Kvitova and the like.

Aggie's Crip Walk? Hi.la.ri.ous. To add another Serena observation to the obscene mountain you get weekly: What was with her glaring at Maria after almost EVERY point in the Olympic finals? What did Misha do to her? I can see it if Serena's mounting a one-set-down comeback or even if Sharapova was being competitive, but really? It was a whitewash. The staredowns (on top of the ruthless winners) just made me feel more sorry for poor Misha.
-- James, Saigon, Vietnam

• Have to say, I didn't really notice the staredown. I noticed Sharapova turning her back to the opponent, as if to say, "You are not worthy of my attention." I think both are fair game. Nothing wrong with sending messages over to the other side of the net.

Broader point: In talking shop, I'm often unsure what is "on the record" and what is kosher to be discussed, so I'll do this as a blind item. But a former decorated champion was telling me recently that one of the many assets of both Federer and Nadal is that, "They give you nothing."

"What do you mean?"

"They wear masks. Watch them and you can't tell from their faces or body language whether they're winning or losing, whether they're feeling the ball, or feeling like crap. You're also looking for a sign from the opponents. These guys give nothing up."

Compare this to players who emote, who pump their fist in the direction of their supporters, who call for on-court coaching.

"Nadal, 26, is a middle-aged player and he's won 11 Slam titles, so if he quit tomorrow, he would still be one of the top five best players ever." ROTFL! So who are your top five men's tennis players of all time?
-- Liz, New York

• Popular as they are. I hate these inter-era comparisons. Bill Tilden and Roger Federer play different sports. Comparing Gussie Moran to Serena Williams is a fool's errand. It's not apples and oranges. It's apples and staplers. Just totally irrelevant. If we restrict this to the Open Era, I might go:

1) Federer

2) Sampras/Laver

3) Connors

4) Nadal

Jon, Jon, Jon ... Where on earth were you staying that they gave you fatty bacon? I lived in the UK for a year and in my experience the bacon was the best on earth. In fact, Brits call American bacon "streaky bacon" because of all the fat. I'm sorry, but next time you go to the UK, you have to ask a local where to find a good bacon butty (sandwich) so you can taste REAL meaty, British bacon.
-- Jen K, Seattle

• I don't want to impugn the fine hostelry. Thanks for your kind offer. I'm thinking that the new national dish of Great Britain, chicken tikka masala, is more up my gustatory alley.

Shots, miscellany:

• U.S. Open suicide pool ... dive in here.

• Venus Williams, John McEnroe, Lindsay Davenport and Kevin Anderson will lead the lineup of top tennis players battling for the World TeamTennis Championship at the WTT Finals Weekend, Sept. 14-16, at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, S.C.

• Jack of London: "I live in the UK but have always read SI since living in the US for a year as a 14 year old. It is better (by a long way!) than any sports magazine we have over here! Always find your column an interesting read, and I enjoy getting an American's perspective on UK sporting events, without the bias/hysteria/self-congratulation that is so prevalent in much of our press. Just wanted to answer a question you posed in the latest Mailbag. You said.... "Serious note: I was really struck by the fabulously expensive housing prices in London. Manhattan has nothing on London. How does anyone not working in financial services afford to buy property? And I don't mean in their late 20s. I mean, ever." The answer is, they don't! I work in a decently paid job in the UK civil service and at my current salary will never be able to afford (even with a bit of help from my parents for a deposit) to buy more than a 1 bed flat in a bad part of town at least an hour from the city center where I work. Central London is for the rich, and only the rich. Maybe I'll move to New York, at least then I'll be able to get SI delivered to my door every week!"

• Press releasing: "Together they formed one of the most prolific doubles teams in tennis history. Now, longtime friends and tennis partners John McEnroe and Peter Fleming are again teaming up -- this time in an effort to boost the sport they love, as Fleming was today named an Associate Academy Director at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. McEnroe and Fleming will officially kick off this re-constituting of their partnership with a kids clinic at the new Sportime Lake Isle in Eastchester, New York on Sunday August 26th at noon. Lake Isle will be one of two new annexes for the JMTA, with the other being in Bethpage, New York."

• And another: Fresh off their Gold Medal doubles winning performance at the 2012 London Olympic Games and their all-time record 80th career ATP doubles victory, Camarillo's Mike and Bob Bryan have announced they will host the Cool Planet Tennis Fest benefitting their own Bryan Bros. Foundation on Friday, Sept. 28, beginning at 4 p.m. at the beautiful Spanish Hills Country Club in their hometown of Camarillo.

• SJ Wind of White Plains, N.Y.: "Thanks to Steven Perry and Skip Schwarzman for reviving the Random Encounters thread. I have one I've been holding onto that still makes me smile. This seems like an appropriate time to share it, as it occurred during the run-up to the US Open - in 1978. That year there was a pre-US Open exhibition tournament in Somers, N.Y., featuring Guillermo Vilas, Ilie Nastase, Vijay Amritraj, Peter Fleming and Ion Tiriac, among others. A day or two before the tournament began, I went to buy tickets, accompanied by my little brother, who was 11 at the time. The tournament itself was a makeshift affair, with temporary stands built on the Heritage Hills housing development tennis courts. When we got there, there were a couple of players on the court practicing -- Tiriac and another, less distinctively recognizable player (Cliff Richey?). We walked around the court and found the tournament "office," which was a nondescript trailer. Inside was a woman working at a desk surrounded by cardboard boxes stacked halfway up to the ceiling, leaving very little room to move in that cramped space. As I was paying for my tickets, a sweaty, shirtless Tiriac walked in. He seemed to be heading to a desk at the other end of the trailer, but my brother was in his way. Without saying a word and without breaking stride, he grabbed my brother by the waist, lifted him straight up, swung him around and gently placed him back down (my brother didn't seem to mind). He then continued on to the other desk. He didn't look up. He just picked up the phone and started dialing. He looked as if he didn't want to be disturbed, so we just left without saying anything to him. I wasn't sure what to say in any case, but the brutally aggressive/sweetly gentle way in which he "handled" my brother makes me smile to this day."

• MSN of England: "1. English breakfasts. 'Tis true that the version of an English breakfast you describe is hardly a prospect to cheer the morning. But imagine being in a farmhouse on the downs, where home-cured bacon and homemade sausages, some freshly laid eggs and maybe some tomatoes and mushrooms are sizzling on the cooker; freshly baked bread and homemade preserves are already on the table; and there's a little porridge at the ready if you'd like it. That's the Platonic ideal of the "Full English," and it is a lovesome thing. You can still get it, if you stay at a good farmhouse B and B.

2. Good to see Dominic Inglot's comeback justly celebrated! It has indeed been remarkable ... from 546 to 53 in seven months. I'm curious, though. I thought that Marray was supposed to play Wimbledon with Adil Shamasdin on rankings, and that the whole WC thing happened after the two of them just missed the cutoff. But perhaps the plan to pair with Shamasdin was itself a "Plan B" after Inglot/Huey were confirmed as direct entrants?"

• J. of Portland: Jon, surely many people have written in that Kevin Anderson looks like Willem Dafoe, yes?

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