Wednesday June 10th, 2009

As much as we all want to forget about the unfortunate intruder incident in the French Open final in order to deprive said intruder of the satisfaction of accomplishing his goal of getting attention, I feel it is worth noting how this showed us more deeply the side of Roger Federer off the tennis court. When they showed the replay from a different angle, Federer saw the guy and visibly jumped backward in fear. I have never seen Federer as scared as he was or out of sorts like that. It just goes to show that off the court he is a harmless, non-violent guy (I would've smashed the idiot with my racket). The fact that he shook it off after a couple of games is another testament to his extreme mental focus. After the Monica Seles incident, he had a valid right to fear for his life for a moment there. -- Robert B., Melbourne, Fla.

• Couldn't agree more. This was such a scary, bizarre, unpleasant -- and not even remotely amusing -- moment. But, yes, an unintended consequence was that it enabled us to get a glimpse of Federer's internal wiring. We talk about "fight or flight," but his reaction was really neither. It was abject fear followed by something approaching sympathy. Total non-confrontation. He later put it thusly: "It seemed like he wanted to give me something. So I was actually OK, because I saw he wasn't pulling for anything stupid. It definitely felt uncomfortable once he came close to me. ... Normally, they always kind of look at me and go, 'I'm so sorry I have to do this,' because they have some sort of a reason for it, you know. I remember the English guy [at Wimbledon in 2006] was actually quite funny. He looked at me and goes, 'I'm so sorry I have to do this.' I was like, OK, just don't touch me, you know."

Consider this: How many of us would have reacted with such restraint? How many other athletes -- macho, locked in combat -- would have reacted so demurely? How many other athletes, armed with a racket, would have resisted using it? Guy is lucky he picked on Federer. Otherwise, I suspect he'd meet the same fate as this clown.

What specific steps need to be taken to prevent maniacs from running onto the court? -- Wendy, Portland, Ore.

• Obviously, there needs to be improved security. But what about the "punishment" phase? After the guards did their Detroit Lions imitation and missed a series of tackles, they finally got the guy and ... then what? No one is advocating anything too cruel or unusual here, but the best deterrent is to stiffen the penalties.

Several of you also noted that the reason the clowns charge the court is for attention and we're playing into their hands by holding extended discussions and, of course, replaying the video clips. Fair point. But I think it's naive to ignore this trend in hopes it will go away. Sadly, this has become as much a part of Grand Slam tradition as awkward awards ceremony. And the tournaments need to address it before it gets further out of hand, or worse.

Concerning comparable upsets of the Rafael Nadal-Robin Soderling magnitude, I didn't find anyone who mentioned this (fairly recent) one: Wimbledon 2007 semifinal, Marion Bartoli def. Justin Henin 1-6, 7-5, 6-1. Blew me away, anyway. -- Shawn, Long Beach, Calif.

• That was a biggie. But Henin hadn't won Wimbledon once, much less four years in a row! Many of you also referenced Lori McNeil's first-round defeat of Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1994. Still, I vote Soderling. As one of you put it to me, Nadal losing on clay is like Michael Phelps losing in water.

About your "ocean of empty seats in Paris" story: Years ago I lived in Paris for a while. I tried and tried to get tickets to Roland Garros. It seemed to me like the whole system was corrupt. You couldn't just go somewhere and buy tickets. The alternatives were to be a member of an exclusive tennis club, know somebody who worked for the "Administration" or pay a scalper. Eventually, I paid a scalper and loved attending the tournament. -- Mitch Gart, Bedford, Mass.

• Interesting. Here's an anonymous e-mail I got on the same topic:

"You've touched on the empty seats at the majors before, but I have to agree that it's particularly glaring at Roland Garros this year. I am employed by [a main sponsor] and work closely with one of the people who organizes the institutional client seminars that are often planned around the fortnight (as an excuse for our big foreign institutions to send a few people to see a little world-class tennis). Due to the crisis, however, attendance at these seminars is WAY down this year -- probably because these pension funds (rightfully) have tightened the reins a bit on discretionary spending and are requiring that any travel demands get pre-approval as being both compliant and necessary (go figure). So a lot more of those prime seats have gone unused this year than normal. Not a good excuse, I know, but it probably has something to do with it."

I have three quick things. First, Tommy Haas is good-looking and injured a lot, but at least he did not star in The Age of Love Part 2. Second, my father and I took some empty box seats at Cincinnati in 2006. We picked a blacktopping company because we figured our attire would be least questioned. People might be able to creatively fill empty seats. Finally, my daughter is seven months old and 97th percentile in height. If the U.S. needs a crazy tennis parent, I can start replacing her mobile animals with tennis balls. Just say the word. -- Dan Martin, Dayton, Ohio

1) Spare a thought for Mark Philippoussis.

2) Only in Cincy do blacktopping companies have boxes. (Love that event.)

3) When IMG asks, do I give it your e-mail?

All we ever hear about the Williams sisters is how they grew up in the poorest part of Los Angeles (Compton) and that their dad taught them everything they know about tennis. If that is the case, how can you explain this recent French Open quote from Serena: "I grew up on the clay a lot. I'm totally fine on the clay. My results haven't been where I wanted them to be, but from, like, 9 to 14, I played nothing but clay-court tennis. I actually love it, and it's really one of my favorite surfaces because I love to slide." -- JJ, Rockford, Ill.

• The clay court -- I suspect it was Har-Tru -- was at the "compound" in Florida. Chalk this up to another of Richard Williams' strokes of inspiration. He knew his daughters would need to master clay.

Forty-four paragraphs on the French Open and not one word about Sorana Cirstea? She defeated three seeds, (two in the top 10), fighting off Jelena Jankovic just when you'd think the Grand Slam pressure would hit a 19-year-old. -- Roger Timpson, Baltimore

• Fair point.

Will you EVER consider my long lost twins that I have submitted 3 times: Justine Henin and Greta Van Susteren? Or are you afraid of taking on Fox News? -- Alice Eaton, Easthampton, Mass.

• It's a good look-alike, but we've done this before. Nevertheless, we stop at nothing to show we're not afraid of Fox News. Since you brought up Henin, I thought there was something off-putting about her remarks at the French Open. She shows up mid-tournament (great), dispels comeback speculation (whatever makes you happy), discusses her charitable work as well as a music show she'll be hosting (OK, that's fair) ... and then proceeds to lament the absence of a reliable winner. ("I think the tour needs someone, a leader," Henin said.) Our next guest: Former Lehman Brothers chairman Dick Fuld will join us to decry the state of the global economy.

• Federer gets his Sports Illustrated cover! And here's a typically excellent write-up from my colleague Scott Price.

• Thanks to Mark Flannery of Fullerton, Calif., for this: Kurt Streeter just flattened me (and others) with this piece.

• Favor: Can we please stop the nonsense about Federer's French Open title being cheapened because he didn't have to face Nadal? It wasn't like Nadal wasn't in the draw, a la Tiger Woods missing a major because he was rehabbing from knee surgery. Sometimes you win directly; sometimes you win indirectly.

• Here are Martina Navratilova's top 10 changes for tennis:

1. No lets on serves 2. No more than five bounces of the ball before a serve 3. No more false tosses 4. Stop the grunting 5. Faster courts 6. Small rackets 7. A time clock rule 8. Standarized tennis balls 9. Standarized hard-court surfaces 10. Why impose rules on the size of logos and patches?

• The streak of top men's seeds failing to win in Paris continues.

• Would one of you familiar with the world of Federer message boards (is there a vamosbrigade equivalent?) kindly contact me?

Patrick Preston of Lexington, Ky.: "I personally take credit for getting the Tennis Channel here in Lexington. My tennis friends in Louisville had it and they have the same cable company as I do, so I started hanging up signs and getting EVERYONE I know to call the local cable company and request it. It just didn't make sense -- or seem fair -- that LOU should have it and not LEX, when we're 60 minutes away. By the end of the summer, we had Tennis Channel. I guess there's no way to "prove" it, but it's going down on my "internal" résumé!"

• Big props to Ryler DeHeart, who won the Yuba (Calif.) challenger last week.

• If I'm the agent for Taylor Dent and my client -- last of the serve-and-volleyers, once a top 25 player, recent fourth-rounder at the Key Biscayne Masters Series event -- didn't get a main draw wild card, I ain't happy.

• From Slate's Dear Prudence column on June 8:

Nose tw, Ind.: Hi Prudy, I know this is a bit out of left field, but I don't know who else to ask. Is there a term for when somebody has the exact same nose as you do?

If you have the same parents, you're siblings. And if you have the same job, you're coworkers. If you play basketball together: you're teammates. Same nationality: compatriots. Same house: roommates. But what's the term when you have the same nose? I ask because I have the exact same nose as Roger Federer.

Emily Yoffe: If you had the same swing as Roger Federer, then the resemblance might be worth talking about. I think this is one of those things that's best being your little secret.

• To my friends in the pool hustling world: Check out Jay Helfert's Pool Wars.

Catwalk C. of Taipei, Taiwan, submits this week's long-lost siblings: Dinara Safina and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

Have a great week, everyone!

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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