Wednesday April 29th, 2009

I'm wondering how you thought the current economy would affect the 2009 U.S. Open. I keep hearing about empty seats at Yankee Stadium. Will Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play in front of a packed house? -- Jen Thomas, New York

• What do you want first, the good news or the bad news? The bad: Not only are we in the throes of an ugly recession but also the financial services industry is particularly hard hit. These are the folks who grease the skids at the Open, buying the luxury suites, ordering the pricey catering and renting out tents for client "hospitality." In 2009 A.D., budgets are being cut and scrutinized. Excess is out. Faced with the decision of saving jobs or renewing your suite, the choice is really no choice at all. Even if you're among the lucky few who can still afford to drink top-shelf scotch and eat canapés in a suite, doing so does not exactly represent the height of good taste these days. (It's sort of like riding in a limo. Come to think of it: Do they even make limos anymore?) This is the Yankees' problem. Even if you could afford to spend $2,500 to watch a nine-inning game, you wouldn't look good doing it. Hence this tableau.

A lot of this, mind you, is appearances, "optics" as a friend of mine at the USTA puts it. Sports sponsorship isn't philanthropy; it's done because it's an effective way to build business. (The numbers vary, but I've seen banks report that for every dollar they invest in sports, they get back $3 in earnings.) But when your stock is in the commode, you've slashed jobs and you've been bailed out by taxpayers, it looks bad to associate yourself with clubby diversion and entertainment. (Ask the LPGA about this. Or, better yet, the AIG retreat planners.)

The good news? The USTA had the good sense to sign most partners to long-term deals, so the television contracts and most of the sponsorships are locked and loaded, as they say. It's also kept most ticket prices stable. And the event, not unlike the Super Bowl, has moved into "can't miss" territory that transcends the usual sporting event. Budget-conscious fans may not buy the $115 sweatshirt, but they won't miss it altogether. Basically, I'm expecting the equivalent of Federer's 2008. It might be an "off year" -- but even the off year is still pretty darn good.

Australia "forfeits" Davis Cup. Absolutely no comment by you? What's up with that? -- Brian Brown, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• For those who missed it: Australia forfeited/boycotted its Davis Cup tie against India after determining that security was insufficient. As a result, India will move on and Australia will face a one-year suspension.

Obviously, this deserves to be remarked upon. The temptation is to take a side and defend with passionate argument. (Sparing you the tired "the terrorists win" line, my knee-jerk tendency would be to scold the Aussies, much as we scolded the Swedes, for essentially giving into fear.) Yet the problem is, I am armed with only a fraction of the facts. I didn't tour the facility in Chennai. I don't know the tenor of the discussions between the two federations. I don't know if something specific triggered Australia's security fears. Reader Stephen Males of Bermuda also pointed out this curious statement from India federal sports minister M.S. Gill: "I regret that Australia is not willing to come to Chennai to play us. We're fully conscious of security concerns and there is no justification for Australia not to play in Chennai. There is no law-and-order problem in Chennai. India does not have a slightest of problems regarding security in sports."

Um ... so let me get this straight: There's not "a slightest problem regarding security," yet you're "fully conscious" of the security concerns?

Unfortunately, this makes two consecutive rounds that the threat of terrorism has affected Davis Cup. Is there any reason to think this won't continue to be an issue? The ITF is really in an unenviable position. It looks petty for penalizing countries putting the safety of the competitors at the top of the agenda. Yet, what message is being sent when competition is consistently undermined by terrorist threats?

Not to disrespect the Grand Slams, but how about some props for the Masters Series events? It's like jumping right into the second week of a Slam -- with players in action almost every day. The current depth of the men's field makes winning these trophies true accomplishments. -- Tony Hooper, New York

• Amen to that one. I would argue that -- without the off-day to regroup and recoup -- winning a Masters Series event is as momentous (if not prestigious) a feat as winning a Major.

I'm not sure you spared a thought for Venus and Serena Williams when you asserted that Kuzmo (Svetlana Kuznetsova-Amelie Mauresmo) could "easily be the best doubles team going." I think they'd be bludgeoned to death by the sisters if the two teams met. Well, in any Grand Slam event. -- Derek Bradley Jersey City, N.J.

• "Bludgeoned to death" may be overstating the case. But I suspect you're right: Williams-Williams beats SvetaMomo or whatever Brangelina melding we decide on. Problem is, Williams-Williams only plays a few times a year. I think the question a few weeks back was asked with the assumption that Kuznetsova-Mauresmo was a week-in, week-out team on the order of Cara Black-Liezel Huber.

Just a quick note on Kuznetsova-Mauresmo: They have played Wimbledon in the past, and got to the final in 2005. For all their attacking play, they had no answer to the unmovable wall of Black-Huber that day, but things could be different now. -- Mark Seager, London, UK

• Good point, thanks. (And now I will ponder the concept of a wall that does move.)

Any updates on the bizarre production known as The White Mile? I'm referring, of course, to the Patty Schnyder-Rainer Hofmann collaboration. I was always fascinated by her dynamic game and her ethereal looks; but are all her marbles in place? Will her book be a good read? Will it ever come to fruition (not on yet)? -- Brad Uy, Honolulu

• No update. But if you're in a happy mood and want it to end, here's the trailer.

I heard commentators at Indian Wells say Nadal was the greatest/toughest competitor tennis has ever known. Do you agree with that? Who is the toughest competitor ever on the women's side? Monica Seles? -- Terry Sebastian, Louisville, Ky.

• Anyone from Louisville capable of prying himself from the Rick Pitino extortion drama to submit a Mailbag question deserves the courtesy of a response. I've never seen a tennis player with Nadal's competitive instincts. What he possesses goes beyond self-confidence and almost bleeds into the realm of self-delusion. He's in that Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant/Tiger Woods/Joe Montana category. "Refuse to lose" is a horrible cliché, but it pretty much sums up his attitude. On the women's side, Seles springs to mind but so does Serena. She loses a first set and I don't think, "Here comes an upset." I think, "Guess she'll have to win in three." Venus scores high in this department. Steffi Graf, too, though Seles was mentally superior. And Justine Henin was also a terrific competitor, though, I think, her abrupt no mas retirement cuts against her legacy here. Who's missing?

Have I forgotten someone or is Caroline Wozniacki the greatest player in the history of Denmark? -- Matthew, Pretoria, South Africa

• Provided you haven't forgotten our man Torben Ulrich, I think you're within your rights to make the above statement. And can we make it official and nickname her "Little Match Girl" already, a nod, of course, to Hans Christian Andersen.

I missed the guest appearance by Monica Seles and would like to see to what your "True, that" response in the last Mailbag refers to. Can't find it anywhere on How about a "Link that"? -- Dan Ohlsen, Longmont, Colo.

Here ya go. Turnabout being fair play, we stop at nothing to plug Seles' book.

Bethanie Mattek has the big game, the talent, the style, the personality, the charisma. Give her a couple of years, and is it possible that she could become the darling of American tennis that Amy Frazier never could be? -- Caleb van Schmal, Florianopolis, Brazil

• Diminishing Frazier qualifies as fighting words in this precinct. One of the great overachievers (and genuinely nice people) in the sport's history. I like Mattek's game, too, and I have no problem with her sartorial stylings. (You have to applaud an athlete who doesn't take herself so seriously.) But let's not get carried away. Her career-high ranking is 37 and she's been beyond the second round of a Slam precisely once. As for giving her a few years. Mattek (now doing business as Mattek-Sands) is already 24, downright middle-aged in tennis years. Nice player, nice person to have around. But "darling of American tennis" is awfully ambitious. Especially with Alexa Glatch coming on strong.

Wichita! The Prague of the Prairie? How dare you? Average commute time (from anywhere): 17 minutes. Abundant, free tennis courts. Great place to raise a family. You're just jealous. -- Phil Ladwig, Wichita, Kan.

• We're going to keep doing this until we find a place with no civic defenders. Wichita, you're off the hook. Toledo, what you got?

So, I'm looking at this photo gallery listing the greatest streaks in sporting history and I find one glaring omission: Chris Evert. Her streak of 13 years winning at least one major title is amazing, and is rarely mentioned. Certainly you can agree that this achievement is highly underrated? -- Steve Peterson, Duncanville, Texas

• I'll stick with Evert and give you an even better one: If my math is right, for 11 (!) years, 1972-83, she reached at least the semifinal round of every Major she entered.

1) Who was the last top-ranked men's player to win the French Open? Correct answer: Gustavo Kuerten in 2001. The first three correct answerers will all win copies of the super-cool EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis game when it's available next month!

2) For the slightly more obscure question about whether a player ever competed in a final against an opponent with the first part of her name and then played in the subsequent final against a player with the last part her name -- a reference to Caroline Wozniacki's beating Alex Wozniak and Sabine Lisicki in succession -- several of you noted the obvious. As Q.D. of Oakland wrote: "Serena and Venus have both played many a final against someone whose last name also started with "Willi" and ended with "ams."

• A new golf book that references the offspring of Ivan Lendl and Petr Korda.

• A new ATP Champions Tour Web site.

• In the interest of equal time ... Helen of Seattle raises what, in retrospect, is a valid point: "For every guy yukking it up over the 'honeymoon' joke (about Mirka Vavrinec yawning during Federer's match in Monte Carlo), I'm sure there was at least one woman (like me) yelling at the TV, "She's pregnant, you moron!" In general, I really appreciate the Jason Goodall-Robbie Koenig-Doug Adler commentary (and especially appreciate that we don't ever have to look at them), but that was the dumbest line ever."

Aisha Cherrington of Miami raises an interesting point: "So ... what does Mary Joe Fernandez's getting the USA to the Fed Cup final do for Zina Garrison's lawsuit"?

• It's Venus' and Serena's latest mixed doubles match.

Per Henriks of Sweden points us to last week's challenger in Rome. Andreas Vinciguerra, once top 35 and hurt the last five years, won four matches.

• Did John McEnroe's post-match hug with Federer at Wimbledon have ulterior motives?

Alex Ketaineck of Madison, N.J. sends long-lost siblings: Juan Martin Del Potro and Richard Kiel, of James Bond fame.

Have a great week, everyone!

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