Monday June 1st, 2009

Think Roger Federer was feeling a little pressure Monday morning? -- James Fitzgerald, Dublin, Ohio

How could he not feel the pressure? He knows the history better than anyone and is aware of what's at stake. If, for some reason, he can't win three more rounds, this will forever be framed as the "title that got away."

He figured out the equation against Tommy Haas in five sets, but he's not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. Two weeks ago, he hadn't won a single tournament in 2009 and was being toe-tagged by so many. Suddenly the French Open is "his tournament to lose," we're being told. Fickle beasts, these sports fans. (And writers, and commentators, and former players.) On the one hand, the first week couldn't have worked out better for him. He's the highest seed remaining, Novak Djokovic is out and someone else slayed the Nadal Gorgon. On the other hand, man, is he under pressure.

Everyone thought the men's draw would be The Nadal Show, but now it is as open as the women's side. Sure, Andy Murray-Federer is the potential final you place a bet on having, but Juan Martin del Potro is playing well and even Robin Soderling could make an appearance if he plays at Sunday's level. Things are no longer predictable in Paris.

Raise your hand if you said Andy Roddick would last longer at the French Open than Rafael Nadal. -- Michael Lewis, Ormond Beach, Fla.

• Unbelievable. But repeating our mantra of the past few weeks: Don't all these counterintuitive twists make it all so fun? I'm still a bit shell-shocked over the Nadal result. But could he have been any more dignified in defeat? Here's a money quote: "So when one player [plays] bad, he must lose. That's what happened today. I have to accept with the same calm when I win than when I lose. After four years I lose here, and the season continue. When you lose, always everybody starts to analyze if I play too much. If I'm tired. The true, I won four years in a row playing the same. That's the true. This year I play the same and I lost. What happen? I lost. That's it."

An unfair comparison perhaps, but did anyone catch LeBron James' remarks after he endured a bitter defeat in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals? No, you did not, because he skipped out on his press conference.

You predicted a Nadal-Djokovic final. What were you thinking? Seriously though, who do you have pegged to play in the final now? Dare we say Andy Murray-Federer? -- Mike Pocrnic, Mississauga, Ontario

• You write that jokingly. But I bet a half-dozen people wrote me saying, "Your picks are clueless. Nadal and Djokovic are both out!" (Naturally, we should have foreseen Soderling a mile away -- never mind that he lost to Nadal 6-0, 6-1 just last month.) Logically, yes, Federer and Murray are the likely finalists. But where does logic get us? We're taking a break from picks for the rest of the tournament.

As a big tennis fan watching this year's French Open on TV, I'm fighting falling asleep. Televised tennis is a broken product. Here are 10 ways the Slams could build interest, up the tempo and engage me as a fan:

1. Allow fans to cheer all the time. Basketball players pull of amazing three-pointers amid cheers, and I believe tennis players can adjust, too. 2. Add tastefully delivered shot-by-shot commentary to engage casual fans, which would also be a boon for sight-impaired fans. I recently caught some table tennis on TV that did this pretty well. Let's break the silence. 3. Borrowing from boxing, add introductions to players at the beginning of the match just before the coin toss to build excitement, and seat players directly across from each other. 4. Go ahead and allow on-court coaching. It adds another dynamic to TV tennis. 5. Better stats. Add "break games converted," as suggested by a reader in a previous mailbag. Add "average strokes per point" so we can evaluate how a match was played and compare matchups. Remove the fuzzy stat "unforced errors" and just show errors; it's clearer that way. 6. Take from the NFL and add innovative camera angles that capture how big the players' shots are. 7. Limit first-week matches to best-of-three, and maintain best-of-five for the second week. 8. Put player names on the backs of shirts. It's great for casual fans and opens up a new way for apparel sponsors to increase sales. 9. Networks, the ATP, WTA and ITF should get together and design a universal scoring graphic for TV that includes more information with a cleaner presentation. I'm tired of looking at a new scoring presentation on every channel, every year. I wouldn't mind knowing winner and error counts all the time. 10. Add a server shot clock and adjust the time allotted to something that works when it's enforced. -- Sean Coleman, Tallahassee, Fla.

• Let's take these in order:

1) Agree. If you can hit a 95 mph fastball with fans cheering, a mascot distracting you and Lady Gaga on the P.A. system, you can return Virginia Razzano's serve with similar din.

2) Disagree. If anything, I'd like less analysis and play-by-play. There's one ESPN commentator who is particularly adept at stating the obvious. "Crosscourt forehand winner." Yup. It's not radio. I'm watching the same action you are.

If it's 2 p.m. and you're watching tennis (often on tape delay), odds are good that you don't need someone to explain that an ace is unreturnable.

3) Not sure the setting works, but I like anything that stresses the mano-a-mano. I also like the idea of "ring entrance" music. Let the players walk out to Smashing Pumpkins' Zero or the opening riff from Thunderstruck or whatever. Builds suspense.

4) Hate on-court coaching. There's no value added and it was a cheesy corruption of the sport's spirit.

5) Agree. Sports fans have an insatiable appetite for stats and tennis under-serves them. The various alphabet soups should hire Greg Sharko to create more useful stats. Another pet peeve: no context. Telling me Serena Williams has X unforced errors is, in itself, useless. How about how many unforced per points played?

6) Sure. Though extra cameras don't come cheap.

7) You're preaching to the choir on this one. But best-of-five has its advocates, and they betray a vocal passion to rival PETA.

8) A no-brainer. But this has been on the table for decades and here we are, unable to tell Govortsova from Kleybanova without the benefit of a program.

9) You lost me at "get together."

10) Totally agree. Not only would a "shot clock" be entertaining for fans, but also it would end subjectivity about whether Djokovic took six hours or just 5:58 between serves.

I've been reading (repeatedly) about how Nadal has never lost a match at Roland Garros. Was just wondering what he was doing the year before he won his first match there. Was he playing juniors? Had he turned pro yet? -- Tyler West, San Jose, Calif.

• The stat is a teensy bit misleading. His "rookie" year, he missed Roland Garros with an injury. The first year played as a pro, 2005, he ran the table. Proverbially speaking.

Suppose Serena Williams wins the French. What does it say about the rest of the WTA Tour when a woman can come in on a four-match losing streak (including 0-3 on clay, which is clearly not her best surface), hobbling on a sore knee and STILL win the biggest title on clay? It makes the rest of the tour look sad. -- Brad, Vancouver, B.C.

• Or, more charitably, what does it say about Serena Williams?

• Give it up for Elena Dementieva. (And for Shannon of Kansas City, Mo., for calling this exchange with the media to our attention.)

Reporter: Let me make you a little question about men's draw. Do you think that anybody could win or beat Nadal here? And in this case, who?

Dementieva: Well, it looks like he's tired; I mean, he actually looks a little bit tired to me. Even he's winning pretty easily his first two rounds, it doesn't look like he's fresh enough. Maybe he was playing too much.

• Just to repeat, Nadal d. Soderling 6-0, 6-1 in Rome.

• Anyone else guessing the pink shirt may be retired?

• From Shery of Austin/Hong Kong: Just came across this Michael Chang feature (on the 1989 French Open).

Robert B. of Melbourne, Fla.: Of men who have played in at least two French Open finals, only two players have 0-x records. One, of course, is Federer. The other? Alex Corretja.

Brian of Vancouver, B.C.: Excepting Murray, Federer is 69-5 against all of the remaining players in the men's draw.

• This might be my favorite e-mail of the week:

"John Korff, president, Korff Enterprises, a sports marketing firm that also handles the Nautica New York City Triathlon, is available to discuss Venus Williams, the brand, in light of her poor showing today. He says: 'Venus's loss in the French will have no impact on her branding or endorsements outside of France. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are brand makers for Americans; the French only gets your clothing dirty. Losing early negatively impacts her bonus with sponsors. However, her clothing line is so obscure that winning or losing will have little impact.'"

• Three times Valerie Tetreault has contested a USTA Pro Circuit final and each time she's been on the losing side. That all changed Sunday at the Home Depot Center Women's USTA $50,000 event as the 21-year-old overcame early match nerves to beat No. 8 seed Alexandra Stevenson 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In the L.A. Tennis Open Men's USTA $50,000 final, 31-year-old Michael Russell of Houston jumped out early against Michael Yani and rolled to a 6-1, 6-1 win for his record 20th USTA Pro Circuit title. Russell takes home $7,200 for the win while Yani earns $4,240.

Chris McGee of Brooklyn, N.Y., has this long-lost siblings submission:

Blue-footed booby and Novak Djokovic.

To order a copy of Jon Wertheim's' new book, Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, click here.

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