How do you reconcile Roger Federer's brilliant strategic mind with his decision to -- yet again -- return from a brief tennis hiatus without a coach? Here's a future Hall-of-Famer, oozing with guts, game, and determination (the Aussie Open was no straight sets cruise by Rafa), and yet he foregoes a calming voice to settle any niggling nerves? I confess I'm having troubling distinguishing stubbornness from stupidity...-- Michael Selby, West Chester, Pa.
• I think you answer your own question when you suggest "stubbornness." Like most of the great ones, Federer believes in his own singularity. The same certitude that serves him so well on the court, can work to his detriment in other contexts.
I remember an interview with Pete Rose in which he said he was convinced he was the best hitter in baseball, so he had a hard time taking instruction. I keep thinking of that when I consider Federer's reluctance to hire an aide-de-camp. Objectively, it's such an obvious personnel move; but when you have supreme confidence, it can be hard to defer to someone else. I think it shows that even a guy who, by all outward appearances, is "normal" and down-to-earth, still is wired a little differently from the rest of us.
I thought there was also something a little "off" about last week's explanation. Darren Cahill flies to Dubai, works with Federer and yet no agreement is reached because of the....travel demands? Isn't that like interviewing for a job in a coal mine, then saying, "Wait a second; you mean I might get dirty?"
With the full-time coach situation on hold, I think Federer would do well to hire a sports psychologist or, if that term still carries too much stigma, a "performance coach." Again, it's pretty obvious that w/r/t Nadal, Federer still has some mental issues to work through. I think even Federer would agree that these matches are only partially about tennis. A Jim Loehr type could help solve a lot of problems.
"Yes, Federer is Federer. But given recent history, the wildly partisan crowd, Roddick's ritually strong play in Davis Cup, I think you can make a strong case either way." Are you crazy? Recent history? Did you see their match in the Australian Open?-- Ashwin, Philadelphia, Pa.
• Recent history: Federer and Roddick have split their last two hard court matches. Federer hadn't played since Australia, while Roddick looked sharp at two indoor events. Federer has a dodgy back. I didn't pick Roddick to win. (Federer -- who leads the head to heads, 16-2! -- would be the favorite.) Just saying it would have been interesting and a hell of an atmosphere for a potentially decisive match.
"Have to believe the Bryans win the doubles." The Bryan brothers must be the nicest guys in the world to you tennis reporters because you guys talk about them like they have won 26 slams, not six. Remember the 2008 Olympics when a Federer/Wawrinka team beat the Bryans? And that was a Federer who was coming off a demoralizing defeat just a few hours earlier.-- Janet, Canada
• Fair enough. But remember: A) the court surface is all but customized for the Americans. B) We're talking hugely partisan fans. C) Both Federer -- he of the achy back -- and Wawrinka not only played best-of-five singles the previous day, but also need to ration energy to play best-of-five singles the following day.
Incidentally, note to the ATP: anything we could do to update the player photos on the website? I clicked here to check on the Roddick-Federer head-to-heads and thought, judging by the photos, I had inadvertently gone to a junior site.
Just wondering if history was made at the Australian Open when two sets of siblings won the doubles title? Please advise.-- M. Wilson, Bronx, N.Y.
• We're told this was a first -- the Bryans winning the men's and the Williams sisters winning the women's.
Is it a given that the Croatians chose to play the Americans on clay in the next round of Davis Cup?-- Art, Miami
• I don't think so at all. An unwritten rule of Davis Cup surface selection is this: you go with your strength and not the other team's weakness. While the Americans have their troubles on clay -- it may as well be granular kryptonite -- I'm not sure the Croats are much better. I would expect a fast hard court that would play well to Karlovic, Cilic, Ancic (Ic, Ic, Baby) et al.
The Djokovic clan and some private investors recently bought the Amersfoort tourney and are transforming it into the newly-named Serbia Open, which debuts as an ATP 250 event this May. It's mentioned on his website he will be taking part in the tourney. A few readers (and me) were wondering if there's any precedent for this situation, e.g. an active baller buys into a tourney and then enters the draw? And wouldn't this setup be a conflict of interest for the tourney officials?-- Rich, Brooklyn, N.Y.
• It's a huge conflict of interest, of course. (How would you like to be working as a line judge when Djokovic plays!) While I can't recall anything quite as flagrant as an active player's family owning a sanctioned tournament, conflict of interest is the coin of the realm in tennis. How different is this from a management group owning a tournament and also having players in the field under contact? (Gee, think IMG clients might get preferable treatment and first dibs at wild cards at IMG-owned events?) How different is this from broadcasters commentating on matches on which they have a financial stake in the outcome? How different is this from handing out appearance fees -- an inherent acknowledgment that some players are worth more to the tournament than others?
Taking a more charitable view here: tennis is obviously hot in Serbia right now and it only makes sense to penetrate that market. In addition to seizing the initiative and ponying up the cash, the Djokovic family can deliver the top draw but put him through his promotional paces. ("But I already went to a sponsor party yesterday!" "Shut up and press the flesh, son.") It's not an ideal situation, but you could argue the greater good is being served here.
Having just attended the Davis Cup tie in Birmingham, I was left with one lingering question: where was the instant replay? While there is an impartial referee, the same cannot be said about the linespeople. Is it a matter or preparation or cost or that it would only be for World Group ties or what?-- Glenn Stein, Nashville
• Far as we know instant replay has only been used in Davis Cup finals. I think it's simply a matter of cost. I'm told it costs in excess of $10,000 just to install the video boards.
Was there not a time when appearance fees were not allowed in pro tennis? Specifically the women's game? For some reason I seem to remember this, but these days I see we are openly talking about players being compensated outside of their prize money. Did this policy change? And if so, when?-- Aisha Cherrington, Miami, Fla.
• Good question. I think that -- fueled perhaps by the Peter Graf tax dispute, which revealed that his daughter made millions on appearance fees -- we simply reached a point where this "secret" was so open, we demeaned ourselves when we pretended otherwise.
Are you going to kick Quinton Jackson's ass?-- Isaac Hall, Boise, Idaho
• Probably not. Why?
• Mike of Champaign, Ill.: Kei Nishikori + Florent Serra = Kei Serra (Serra)?
• Grant Cheng of Manila, Philippines: OK, I'm stretching... Billie Jean King marries Magdalena Maleeva. They get divorced, and now Billie Jean is not Maleeva. (Ed: Think Michael Jackson)
• Emily of Los Angeles, Calif.: Ivan Ljubicic marries Tommy Ho and Kim Clijsters marries Jane Chi.
• Steven Nevill of North Bay, Ontario: If Mardy Fish married Jeremy Chardy, Mardy could change his name to Mardy Chardy. However, if they broke up, and Mardy instead linked up with Go Soeda, Go could change his name to Go Fish.
• Paul Fein writes: Around 1980 Argentina's Ivanna Madruga was a top 30 player, and American Ray Disco was a fast-rising player who didn't, I do not think, quite made the world-class level. I hoped they would marry because, if they did, her name would be Ivanna Disco. Who didn't then?
• Michelle M. of New Fairfield, Conn.: Gilles Simon and Simone Bolelli: (Simone Simon) Ai Sugiyama and Dudi Sela: Ai Sela (Ay Sailor!)
• Jeff of Charlotte, N.C.: If Victor Troicki married Victoria Azarenka, he would be Victor Victoria. Wait...that doesn't work. Never mind. If Venus Williams married Marcelo Melo, she could be Venus de Melo.
• Doyle Srader of Eugene, Ore.: Vania King & Harold Solomon; TianTian Sun and Roscoe Tanner: (Sun-Tanner)
• Mike Pocrnic of Mississauga, Ontario: Lucie Safarova & Yen-Hsun Lu = Lucie Lu; Oscar Hernandez & Florian Mayer = Oscar Mayer
• Matt of Florida:If Ana Ivanovic married Australian player Bernard Tomic, she would be Ana Tomic.
[Ed: can we officially nickname Tomic's combustible dad, "Atomic" already?]
• On an experimental basis, anyway, we're trying a tennis-themed twitter feed. Candid feedback welcome. Still unclear to me whether this should be strictly tennis or other random observations as well. (For instance: ever notice the inverse relationship between a product's credibility and the way it bills itself as "scientifically proven." You'd think the marketers would catch onto that by now.)
• Note to the moralizers (I think we're at seven and counting) who have chided Federer for having a child out of wedlock: please stop. The guy's been in a committed relationship with the child's mom since the Sydney Olympics!
• Move over Dave Chappelle.
• The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour today wrapped production of the second stage print advertising for "Looking for a Hero?" Curious tagline, but I suppose it's better that than "Looking for heroine?"
• Matt Woods of Phoenix, AZ/Sydney, Australia: Re: ATP logo Let me put this to rest. It's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
• He knows about the taking clause AND he serves at 130 mph?
• Speaking of ASV, she allegedly gave birth to a child last week.
• Since so many of you asked, you'll be happy to know that Brad Gilbert and I are back on friendly terms.
• Speaking of Gilbert, here's Erin Lacher of Midland, Mich.: A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting with friends in the airport in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, waiting to board our flight home after a week's vacation (aside: I'd highly recommend Cabo to anyone). As we stood to walk over to our gate, my husband said to me, "Hey, do we know that guy in the black behind you?" Turns out he had been puzzled for several minutes on how he knew this guy. I turned around and immediately recognized the man as Brad Gilbert. Once I told my husband, he insisted we go over and say hello to Brad, even though I wanted to just let him enjoy what I assume to be his final moments of his vacation in peace with his family. My husband's will prevailed however, and we went over and had a brief chat with Brad. Of course, by "we" I mean my husband, as I could not think of anything intelligent to say despite being a tennis fan for 3/4's of my life! Brad was very polite and as we walked away he called out to us, "Enjoy your trip home!" Say what you will about his television commentary, but Brad seems to be very personable off-court and off-camera. I wish him well in his new guest coach role at Bollettieri's. Talk about a great opportunity for the "next generation", considering this guy's track record as a coach!
• Scott G. of Atascadero, Calif. sends us this gem.
• This week's long lost siblings:
Omess Guichard of London, Canada: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Canadian actor and singer-songwriter Luck Mervil.
Have a good week everyone and enjoy the finals of Indian Wells!