What did you make of the matches on HBO? And how much should we read into the results? One never knows how hard the players are playing, does one?-- Barry, Arizona
• Barry is, of course, referring to "Tennis Night in America," the four-woman exhibition held at Madison Square Garden and televised live on HBO on Monday.
He's right that it's tough to assign much value to exhibitions. If you're lucky, you forget these aren't sanctioned matches; other times they resemble glorified practice sessions. While I didn't think any player went at 100 percent speed Monday night, the psychological stakes were enough to make each player care about the outcome. The Williams sisters have won the last three Majors and are again the dominant forces in the women's game, rankings be damned. JelenaJankovic and Ana Ivanovic are, obviously, top shelf players but have seemed to backslide a bit in recent months. In the end, the Williams sisters showed their superiority.
The night wasn't perfect. A snow storm addled schedules. The play was often patchy. There were shaky line calls and a malfunctioning scoreboard. But overall it reinforced the benefit of exhibitions. The tour might be ambivalent about them; but they serve an overall good for the sport.
Here it is, early March, traditionally, a time in the sports calendar when tennis is off the radar. And -- as was the case last year when Federer played Sampras -- tennis not only gets some buzz, but also 12,000 or so fans on the East Coast (and a few hundred thousand with HBO) can watch the sport live. The players get some extra cash, as well as a chance to penetrate the New York market, not insignificant if you're trying to build Ivanovic as a global star. The USTA wisely used the occasion to market the sport nationwide. BNP Paribas gets some value for their tennis investment. Everyone comes away happy. Here's hoping this is an annual event. Maybe next year you combine genders?
Any idea how much of an appearance fee Venus Williams was paid to play at a random clay court tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, after winning at Dubai and before playing in Key Biscayne? Or did she just happen to ask for a wildcard since she was just there on vacation? Scheduling like this makes the average fan wonder why some of the top athletes complain about there being too many tournaments scheduled.-- Pedro, Miami, Fla.
• Agreed. Venus, known for playing a sparse schedule, finds time to enter a Tier III event in Acapulco, the week after playing in Dubai and the week before an exhibition in Madison Square Garden. I don't know about her appearance fee, but suffice to say it rivaled, if not eclipsed, the total tournament purse of $220,000. Plus she earned $300,000 in New York Monday night. Now that's a recession-era playing schedule!
I don't want to pick on Venus here. (You could as easily cite, say, Rafael Nadal in Rotterdam or Novak Djokovic playing in Umag.) And I don't begrudge the players the right to grab as much cash as they can, while they can. But, yes, this does undercut the common player gripe that the schedule is too demanding. And particularly if you're Larry Scott, trying to create a system whereby the top players compete in the top events, it doesn't look good when the top stars skip some of the biggies, but play -- let's be honest here -- fairly meaningless tournaments.
This is a fundamental issue that never goes away. Tell the players when and where to play and they resist. Allow anarchy to reign -- "hey players, go wherever you please." -- and you strip the circuit of credibility. (And sponsors.) It's an age-old tennis riddle and no one has solved it yet.
Kudos to Andy Roddick for taking a stand on the Dubai visa controversy regarding Shahar Peer. However, don't you wonder if he really had any intention of going to Dubai anyway. He is playing Davis Cup the following week and it would be tough to travel to Dubai and then back to the U.S. to be ready for Davis Cup so quickly?-- Patrick Holness, New Rochelle , N.Y.
• A lot of you raised the same issue. Just for the sake of argument, let's say you're right and Andy Roddick never had any intention of going to Dubai. He very easily could have withdrawn by citing a vague injury (or, for that matter, citing the logistics) and that would have been that. Instead he chose to make a statement of disapproval. I give him credit for that.
In the past two matches the Williams sisters have played against each other they have not continued their tradition of hugging at the net; they have barely managed to even look at the other. Am I the only one who finds this lack of embrace a little disheartening. I love that they can play more competitive matches against each other, but it seems like something is being sacrificed. What are your thoughts?-- John, Denton, Texas
• I don't think it's a ritual or a tradition. They were simply moved to hug at the net on occasion A and not moved on occasion B. Again, I have complete sympathy for V and S here. If they're too affectionate, it undercuts the competitiveness of the match. And if they don't embrace -- or Serena blames the loss on her poor play, as was the case in the Wimbledon final -- it can come across as unpleasant as well. It's an awkward, uncomfortable situation all around.
Can you please put in a plug for people to donate their Davis Cup tickets to USTA Alabama if they can't sell them and no longer plan on going to Federer-less first round tie. Not surprisingly, these "hot tickets" went cold when he pulled out. There are tons of ads on e-bay and Craig's list for people selling tickets. Rather than having them just go to waste, how about donating to Alabama Tennis Association. They are able to pass the tickets along to inner city children and/or other locals who would still enjoy some good tennis, albeit without Federer. Seems like this would help the sport. Here is where to send:
Alabama Tennis Association3300 Highland Avenue SouthBirmingham, AL 35205
• Great idea, Josh Benjamin of Los Alamos, N.M.
What would it take to set up an Agassi-Sampras exhibition match?-- Jimmy Irvine, Calif.
• More money than most promoters can throw around in this economy.
Since you were discussing the "Roger Meltdown" and canned speeches, maybe you can ask your friends in the media to stop asking " How do You Feel?" after every match. Is there a bylaw between interviewer and athlete that demands this to be the first question presented after every match, win or lose? I can't take it anymore...Help!!
-- Jeff Nielsen, Denver
• No really, Jeff, tell us how you feel. (Ba-dum-bum.) OK, that's a fair request. But I have to pin that one squarely on television. Print/digital media members would ask something far more probing. Like, "How would you grade today's performance?"
I've got a question for someone with more expertise: When talking about a player's career, do we count ITF events (and I don't mean Grand Slams). I ask because the WTA has them listed with some players, but no one ever says Justine Henin won 48 titles. Is there a place to link to for an easy reference?-- Alonso Queens, N.Y.C.
• Far as I can tell, it looks like the WTA includes these results and the ATP doesn't.
Who is the player on the ATP World Tour logo? It looks like Pete Sampras, but I'm not sure. Do you know? Thanks.-- Josh Richmond, Va.
• I'm pretty sure the logo predates Sampras. But anyone else know? A prize is in the offing.
I'm just thinking: would Israel give a visa to, say Aisam-Ul-Hag Quereshi, for fictitious Tel-Aviv tournament (if he wants to take part, of course)? And if not, would the sport show "a real collective conscience and will" backing Pakistani player?
2) You wrote about Serena Williams: "while she still needs to beat Venus at Wimbledon, those matches are seldom about the tennis". Are you trying to wake old demons? Is it controversial statement or is it me misinterpreting something?-- Grzegorz, Torun, Poland
• If this fictitious Israeli event promised the ATP that no player would be excluded and then, on the eve of the tournament, denied a player a visa, I would expect/hope there would be similar outrage. Again, the issue is reversing promises to the WTA and excluding players for reasons having nothing to do with merit; not whether you agree or disagree with Israeli policy.
Nothing controversial here with respect to the Williams sisters. It is emotionally awkward to compete wholeheartedly against a sibling. Who can summon those competitive juices, usually such a vital part of the Williams arsenal, against your own blood. (And it extends to fans: who among us really roots forcefully for one sibling to beat another?) Much as they try -- admirably -- to outwit themselves into "playing the ball" or "treating my sister like any other opponent," how could it feel natural? I cannot be any more clear on this: I do not believe their matches are in any way rigged or fixed or tainted. But it's clear there's a huge and unique emotional component here. That's all.
Can you tell me the correct pronunciation of "Verdasco" - "wo-da-sko" or "be-da-sko" approximately? I couldn't find the answer from ATP official site. -- Karol, China
• VER-das-co. Make like the second half of "Wizard of Oz," and leave "b and w" out of it.
• New York readers -- and African American readers in particular -- please consider this.
• A leftover from last week. What are the odds that two pairs of sisters in the Dubai draw, the Williamses and the Radwanksas (Radwanksis?) played each other.
• Tom Ka of Dublin forwarded this link to an interesting interview with Jens Wehrmeister a collector of Tennis 80s and 70s stuff -- rackets and apparel and so at " Avec Double Cordage".
• Nicole of Torrington, Conn. with our real estate update on Ivan Lendl:
Pretty decent place.
• Alex Ketaineck of Madison, N.J.: I didn't know Mardy Fish was a father. Oh wait, that's Mark Knowles of Bahrain...errr The Bahamas. Yahoo! Sports just doesn't seem to like him very much.
• Helen of Seattle notes: Viva la one-handed backhand! Three of the four semifinalists in Acapulco had a one-handed backhand. I think Nicolas Almagro's is my new favorite.
• Michelle M. of New Fairfield, Conn. has our Long, Lost siblings. And given how many of you have likened Safin to McHunky or whatever his name is (not a Grey's fan, even if it didn't conflict with 30 Rock) all we need is a Davydenko lookalike and the cast is the Russian Davis Cup team.
Kevin McKidd from Grey's Anatomy and Dmitry Tursunov.
Have a good week everyone!