Posted: Wed October 10, 2012 2:38PM; Updated: Thu November 8, 2012 4:27PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Pros outweigh cons for post-U.S. Open swing, plus more mail

Story Highlights

Despite critiques of fall swing, many positives have already occurred this season

Nadia Petrova has the talent and athleticism, but hasn't had the results to match

Building stadiums, the worst songs ever created and more from this week's mail

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Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic won the China Open, and now the top six seeds have all reached the third round in Shanghai.
Feng Li/Getty Images

Seriously, Jon, why is the tennis season still going on? It's just hard to care when there is seemingly no end in sight. U.S. Open then Year End Championships. Simple as that. (Probably not that simple, huh?)
-- Ken Schneck, Brattleboro, Vt.

• This underscores a fundamental tension with tennis. To some, the fall schedule is superfluous. The tournaments are played mostly indoors, a surface on which there are no majors. Most of the top players are physically banged up and emotionally spent. Withdrawals are abundant. There's an unmistakable sense of anticlimax.

Yet ... you have promoters willing to stage events and pay appearance fees to the stars. You have sponsors willing to pay up. You have players happy for the purses and the playing opportunities.

And look at what has transpired since the U.S. Open. Novak Djokovic won another title, replete with a post-match Gangnam Style dance. Milos Raonic scored the biggest win of his career, rallying to beat Andy Murray in the Japan Open semifinals. Kei Nishikori enjoyed the biggest week of his career in Tokyo. Victoria Azarenka continued her mastery over Maria Sharapova. And let's not forget where most of these matches occurred: in Asia, the next growth sector for the sport.

What's more, we've had tennis politics see some progressive steps, with the Australian Open increasing its purse and the ATP players abandoning talk of a boycott (though some players say that was never an option). We've had typical tennis surreality: The official accused of murdering her husband allegedly passed a polygraph.

Yes, we've had some ugliness too, starting with this guy.

Tennis' prolonged season is like a bloated federal budget. We can all complain about the runaway size. But finding places to cut without offending constituents is a tough endeavor.

Did Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond split up? Raymond has now played Tokyo and Beijing without Huber and they were the defending champions and SF at these events.
-- Josh Briscoe, St. Catharines, Ontario

• Huber adopted a baby last month -- congrats to her on that! -- so the Raymond-Huber partnership was suspended this fall. They are still entered to play the WTA Championships in Istanbul. One wonders what happens to this partnership in 2013 given this "life change."

With respect to Nadia Petrova ... I've watched her as a constant fixture in majors over the years. You expect her to make it to at least the third round, maybe even semis, consistently. She never wins. But I saw her in [Tokyo] and she was tearing up the court against top players. She has power, she has variety and it is hard not to root for her because her game is exciting. I know she was No. 3 before, but what gives? Why hasn't she won/done more? With her type of game, when she plays right, she should be in the same conversation as Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Is Petrova having a second career rise or is she going to hover in the top 20 forever without creating dents at majors?
-- Ope, Milwaukee

• I'm totally with you. I would add that Petrova is a first-rate athlete and a skilled player at the net. And that No. 3 ranking? She achieved that in the spring of 2006. For each of the last 10 years, she's reached the fourth round of at least one major.

If we're going to be blunt, Petrova's nemesis has always been her mental game. Sometimes she's openly addressed this. Other times it's been obvious from her play. Go back and look at her results and you'll see a familiar pattern: She'll win a few rounds, face a higher seed, play well deep into the first set, lose a few points, and then fade.

Petrova is 30 now, but age doesn't mean what it once did. Can she draw on her recent success and confidence from Tokyo and make a few more runs at a major? Let's hope so. (And if nothing else, she's given us something to like about on-court coaching.)

Just wanted to weigh in on the Pam Shriver issue you addressed in last week's Bag. I think her statement about Italians eating pasta is tasteless. Sorry, I wasn't trying to be punny. I think it was a thoughtless statement and I don't think broadcasters are allowed thoughtless statement even if no harm was intended.
-- Laura R., Arnold, Md.

• Broadcasters aren't allowed thoughtless statements? When did that edict go into effect?

Two quick points. I am well aware of the dissenting opinions out there (one particularly passionate holder of aforementioned dissenting opinion emails me weekly and really must stop, please.) But I'm still squarely in the pro-Shriver camp. She's a straight shooter who offers unvarnished commentary, even if it means ruffling a few plumes every now and then. Complaints that she is "too negative" have come to mean that she (horrors) doesn't care for grunting and takes issue with dubious injury timeouts. And if her reporting forays can verge into the bizarre at times, at least she is willing to take a few chances and try to enliven the broadcast.

More generally: In my dabbling in TV, I've come to learn that all fans worth their Snuggies believe they are better equipped, more insightful and more articulate than the buffoons on the air. Here's an exercise: Have a sports-themed conversation with a friend. Pretend it's live, so you get only one shot. Record the exchange. Then transcribe the dialogue verbatim. My guess is you will walk away with a heightened respect for the TV types.

I can't play tennis anymore due to shoulder injury, but as a former serve-and-volleyer, I very much miss seeing that tactic employed. It's getting to the point where many of the doubles players on tour play one up and one back. One-up-and-one-back doubles is for club hackers in my view, not for pros. Your thoughts?
-- Andrew, Hummelstown, Pa.

• Agree. "One-up, one-back" recalls hackers at the club. You lob over Earl's head. He makes a half-hearted attempt to hit an overhead, but yells, "Switch!" While he shuffles to the other side of the net, his partner, Chester, chases the shot and hits a defensive lob. Yuck. That's even worse than two singles players pinned to the baseline.

There are 12 U.S. women in the top 100 prize winners. Russia is second with 10. Doubles is paying off for our women as six of the 12 have won over $200,000. Four of the 12 are doubles specialists.
-- Jerry White, Florida

• If I'm reading this right, the subtext of Jerry's communiqué correctly is this: For as much as we complain about the state of American tennis, it's actually not bad relative to the rest of the world. If the basis of your comparison is "tennis circa 1985," you're going to be disappointed by the relative paucity of Americans. If your basis of comparison is tennis in this global era, the picture is considerably rosier.

Here's what I'd like to see: One of our statistically inclined friends come up with a metric that takes into account population, per capita income, court access, tennis stature vis-à-vis other sports, etc., crunch the numbers and then tell us what kind of representation countries ought reasonably to expect.

Is it time to put out an APB on Sveta Kuznetsova? Is there another resurgence left in her?
-- Dale Stafford, Atlanta

• Truly a mystifying player. Your guess is as good as mine. And, worse still, as good as hers. In fairness, she has been injured for much of the year. But check out these results, not just the names but the set scores.

If these players call it quits today, who has the best résumé: Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova?
-- Khang, Fountain Valley, Calif.

• I'm a sucker for these hypotheticals. I think you have to go with Kuznetsova. Her career-high ranking is only No. 3, whereas both Wozniacki and Ivanovic reached the top spot. But she has won two majors, she's won more titles (as you would expect given her seniority) and she has two Grand Slam doubles titles as well.

Can you please tell me why we can't build something as interesting as this? USTA and Indian Wells will both be building new stadiums in the next couple of years. Any bets for beautiful? Or will we get ugly as always?
-- Rustam Tahir, Rochester, N.Y.

• You don't go broke aligning yourself with Larry Ellison. Over to you, Leighton Ginn.

Shots, miscellany

• Laura Robson is at it again.

• Miami Dade voters, the ball is in your court.

• For the analytics crowd, how the Big Four are accumulating their points.

• Non-tennis, but I've been challenged to another Worst Songs Ever duel. If anyone wants to contribute, feel free.

• Press releasing: "History was made today at the 2012 ITA Men's All-American Championships as Virginia's Alex Domijan became the first player in 11 years to win two All-American titles. Meanwhile, Auburn's doubles team of Dan Cochrane and Andreas Mies brought home Auburn's first ITA All-American championship in school history. "

• Thank you sir may I have another (press release): "The 2012 Riviera/ITA Women's All-American Championships, hosted by the Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., wrapped up on Sunday with a pair of tremendous finals. Florida senior Lauren Embree claimed the singles by taking down Cavalier freshman Julia Elbaba in a match that nearly lasted three hours, while top seeds Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of USC also needed three sets to emerge victorious over Duke's Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar in the doubles final."

• Fine, one more: "The WTA welcomed the announcement by the Bulgarian Tennis Federation (BTF) that Qatar Airways would be the title sponsor for the forthcoming Tournament of Champions, to be held at Arena Armeec in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia from October 30--November 4, 2012. Under the terms of the one-year deal, the event will officially be known as the Qatar Airways Tournament of Champions Sofia."

• Some good comments about our discussion last week about why some ethnic slurs are more acceptable than others.

Daniel M. of Kingston, Jamaica, wrote the following: "Aside from the unintentional condescension of the idea that one should be more sensitive about certain stereotypes because it wouldn't be picking on someone your own size ('Be nice to the poor little blacks and Asians!'), I think your analysis is mostly right. If stereotypes have been used in a hurtful way in the past, harmless uses in the present take on a different pallor. Of course, this also demonstrates that much so-called political correctness is insubstantial, at least with respect to the actual thing someone is doing right now. There's nothing patently more offensive about assuming an Asian person likes fortune cookies than there is about assuming a British person has bad teeth, but in a hazy historical/equitable context, it becomes that way.

"Of course, the ideal would seem to be that we'd eventually move so far past any recollection of racial prejudices hurtful to Asians or blacks (as we seem to have done with Italians and Irish) that everything will be fair game, but clearly that's a long way off. I can't help but wonder if it isn't regressive to quickly correct children who don't have any hostile racial prejudices for innocent jokes -- the corrections might teach them more about how they should look at certain racial groups than they'd otherwise learn -- but of course I can't imagine not doing the same thing myself."

• Congrats to David Haggerty, who was named chairman of the board and president of the USTA.

• Andre Agassi updates one and two.

• New York Rafa-lites and Serena-philes (and fans of del Potro and Azarenka), don't forget the Showdown.

• Ben S. of Rochester, N.Y. (at the moment) has this week's pro encounter story. "I was a high school senior interning at the USTA office in White Plains this spring, and one day there was a Pro-Am event at the USTABJKNTC that I was told to attend to help out wherever I was needed. It was awesome for me, a huge tennis fan, to be working around the grounds and going through all the hallways of Ashe that I never thought I would see in person. I got to see the locker rooms, TV broadcast booths, USTA suite and pretty much everything else.

"Anyway, after a few hours of setting things up and doing normal work for an intern, I was told to meet some of the guests and show them to the locker room. Of course, I did what I was told and met three people in the lobby by the player entrance to Ashe. I assumed the three were among the 'Ams' participating, so I happily led them down the hallways to the locker rooms like I actually knew the place well. When we got there, I told the guests something along the lines of 'Here is the men's locker room, sir, and, ladies, the women's room is the next door on your left,' assuming they, like most people, weren't terribly familiar with the insides of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"As soon as the three people head into the locker rooms, though, I realized those were not amateurs. That was MaliVai Washington, Chanda Rubin and Zina Garrison. I am still thankful none of them gave me a hard time about foolishly acting like I knew the place better than them!"

• Marilyn of Charlotte, N.C., has long-lost siblings: Zosia Mamet and Rafael Nadal.

Have a good week, everyone!

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