Wednesday June 17th, 2009

What do you think is a greater marker of consistency: Roger Federer's 20 straight Grand Slam semis or Pete Sampras' finishing as No. 1 six years in a row? -- Jimmy, Irvine, Calif.

• I'm going to say 20 straight semis is king, especially since it encompasses all the major playing surfaces. Just a ridiculous record.

As far as Federer versus Sampras, here's what I dislike about all this nonstop G.O.A.T. talk, inevitable as it may be: It necessarily diminishes the achievements of the best practitioners the sport has known. The amount of ink, pixels and airtime recently devoted to criticizing Sampras' legacy has been remarkable. Over and over we've heard about his failing on clay or his loss to George Bastl. Likewise, we keep hearing about Federer's poor record against his rival, his lack of a Davis Cup résumé and (circularly) the questionable collective quality of his competition. For a few weeks, anyway, why not say they were both great champions and leave it at that?

And as long as we're here -- and before Federer breaks any more records -- I figure this is as good a time as any to applaud Sampras' dignified response to Federer's record-tying victory at the French Open. If Sampras advocates for himself and defends his record, he comes across as an unseemly "glory hog" (what's up, 1972 Miami Dolphins?) who appears so self-impressed and ungracious. If he flat-out admits Federer is the best ever, he undercuts himself and betrays his own competitive instincts. Yet Sampras' mantra -- "If anyone is going to beat my record, I'm glad it's Roger; he's my kind of guy" -- is perfect. Congrats to him for handling this with dignity.

Two crystal ball questions: Who will be the first of this group to win a major: Gael Monfils, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Fernando Verdasco? Also: Who will retire with more majors, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray? -- Emilio, Jackson, Miss.

• My crystal ball needs a supplemental warranty. But I'll go with del Potro. One thing I like: All four guys you mention can play on both hard courts and clay courts (and have dicey results on grass.) Didn't used to be like that.

As for your other question, I'm starting to worry about Djokovic. With a few exceptions (like the 2008 Masters Cup), the guy has done very little to build on his 2008 Australian Open title, allegedly his "breakthrough." We've seen a lot of nagging injuries, a lot of claims of exhaustion, a lot of weird losses. And I keep hearing that his flagging popularity is affecting him more than he lets on. Careers, of course, don't go in perfectly straight lines. But it seems Djokovic is at a bit of a crossroads these days.

If you watch the video of the intruder incident at the French Open, no line umpires or ball boys moved to protect Federer. They are standing there. The chair umpire started moving toward Federer, but that was it. -- Senthilvel, Charlotte, N.C.

• Watch this on YouTube and, yes, you see Pascal Maria -- hardly built like a linebacker -- come bounding out of the umpire's chair immediately. Otherwise, there was a lot of inaction on the part of the officials. That said, I don't think you can blame them a bit. This was one of those unfortunate, freak occurrences that, I suspect, was not included in the job training manual. You don't know if this clown is armed or whether he's just nuts. If you want to blame someone, blame the lax security. And here -- thanks to John Sellers of Royal Oak, Michigan -- is still another piece of evidence that this guy is lucky to have escaped relatively unscathed.

Do you know the name of the reporter who wrote this a couple of weeks ago: "I don't think many predicted that Federer's decline would be this dramatic, that he would go seven months without a title of any size, that his groundies would desert him, that he would weep and smash rackets and generally bear only a faint resemblance to the tennis demigod of 2004-07"? If you see that writer around the Tennis Mailbag, remind him that Federer has won two of the last three Slams and should be considered the favorite to win Wimbledon. -- Gregg Deinhart, Reston, Va.

• Hmmm. Rings a faint bell. Think it was the same guy who, right around the same time, wrote this: "But, you know, the plots change quickly in tennis. Pete Sampras is mulling retirement and getting mocked by Boris Becker in the summer of 2002; two months later, he's winning the U.S. Open. Serena Williams is barely in the top 100; wait, she's winning majors again, playing as well as ever. A few breaks and few untimely injuries to the opposition and Federer could easily win another few majors. Obviously, Nadal, catalyzed by Wimbledon 2008, is the king right now. But who knows if that analysis will still hold a year from now."

No question, there was a contingent that was way too quick to bury Federer. But look at this from the other point of view. Six weeks ago, Federer had yet to win a title in 2009, and was struggling mightily against the other members of the top four. He had potential distractions -- marriage and pending fatherhood -- and the kid ranked No. 1 was going gangbusters. Imagine it's May 15 and you predict Fed to win Madrid, win the French and then take Wimbledon. They'd have chased you around with butterfly nets!

I, for one, find nothing "bittersweet" in Svetlana Kuznetsova's French Open victory. To me, it's all sweet. As someone who has been rooting for her to get a grip on her mental game for years, this tournament makes me believe she may finally be ready to win a few more. She's managed two recent wins over No. 1 Dinara Safina, finally managed to put her 5-3 second-set demons to rest (in two consecutive matches!) and wasn't the one who collapsed under the weight of the final. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, but me? I think Svetlana (who isn't yet 24!) will be in the mix for a good long while. -- Joshua, Portland, Ore.

• Well said. But I still maintain she's too good a player for six years to elapse between majors. Now that she's back in the winners' circle -- and has proved to herself that she is capable -- you really don't think a small part of her is kicking herself for some of those dismal performances?

I think one the greatest (and most underrated) upsets in history (which coincidentally also took place at the French Open) was Kathy Horvath's 1983 defeat of Martina Navratilova in the fourth round. She was the only player to defeat Navratilova that year. She also broke Navratilova's 84-match win streak with the victory. This victory was also glaringly omitted from the Tennis Channel's telecast of top five upsets. -- David Nieves, New York City

• Absolutely.

Once Rafa lost at the French Open, I started tracking his ranking points versus Federer, curious about a possible change in the No. 1 ranking. In the latest rankings, Rogers seems to be missing 200 points. At the start of the French, he was at 10,470; he lost 1,200 and picked up 2,000, a gain of 800. His total should be 11,270, but is officially 11,070. Any idea what happened to those extra 200 points? Thanks. -- Tim, New York City

• Sharko to the rescue: "The point scale changed from last year to this year. Grand Slam points were 700 for runner-up and then doubled to 1,400 at the start of the new year. But then when the new points system was designed, the scale was 2,000 to the winner and then 1,200 to the runner-up."

• It's the Global Sports Forum, Wimbledon Edition.

• Not to make light of the situation, but I'm thinking this was a rough week for the guy all around.

• And you thought you were a Federer fan.

• Interesting point about grunting from reader Paul Meyer: "I have an issue with Jon Wertheim and Martina Navratilova saying that you cannot play tennis if you can't hear the sound of the ball hitting the racket and so on. I take offense at this comment because I am deaf. If this is true, then deaf people would be unable to play tennis because they cannot hear the ball hit the racket. There are a lot of really good tennis players who can't hear who can do fine without hearing sounds of the ball hitting the ground/racket."

Helen of Seattle notes: "If you had told me that Federer and Kuznetsova would win at Roland Garros, and that one of them would look like a supermodel and the other a bit schlumpy in their traditional Eiffel Tower pics, I would NEVER have predicted this or this.

• Sharko put together Federer Slam titles 1-14 by the numbers:

1 -- Roland Garros title (2009) and Nadal (only player he's lost to in a Grand Slam final). 2 -- Ranking at time of Roland Garros title (also '04 Australian Open). 3 -- Australian Open titles won (2004, '06-07). 4 -- Times reached final (minimum) in each of the Grand Slam tournaments. 5 -- Wimbledon (2003-2007) and U.S. Open (2004-2008) titles won and number of times he's lost to Nadal in Grand Slam finals. 6 -- Sets lost during his title run at Roland Garros, the most of his Grand Slam titles, and how many different players to complete a career Grand Slam. 7 -- Consecutive years of winning at least one Grand Slam title. 8 -- Hard-court titles between U.S. Open (5) and Australian Open (3); losses in his streak of 20 semifinals or better in Grand Slam appearances. 9 -- Countries of opponents he's beaten in Grand Slam finals (Australia, Chile, Cyprus, Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and United States). 10 -- Record consecutive Grand Slam finals reached from 2005 Wimbledon to 2007 U.S. Open. 11 -- Appearances at Roland Garros before winning first title (same as Andre Agassi) and number of different opponents he's beaten in Grand Slam finals 12 -- Titles won in his streak of 20 semifinals or better Grand Slam appearances. 13 -- Last year's U.S. Open where Federer won his previous Grand Slam title; 2000 Wimbledon where Sampras won his. 14 -- Ties Sampras for the most Grand Slam titles in men's tennis.


Rich of New York City, in response to an item from last week: "Two people who have the exact same nose are called probosciteers."

• One of you sent me this. A) I love the bun and b) I love the gushing reference to winning ... the Hopman Cup.

Lawrence Speer of Paris, on the ticket issue and empty seats at the French Open: "I've lived here since 1995, and I have been to Roland Garros every year since 1996, often as many as three or four times per year. I was never -- until this year -- a member of a tennis club. And I always got my tickets, no problem. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) used to sell tickets via the Minitel (the French call it "the predecessor to the Internet," and they're not half-wrong). You'd go "online," check out what days were available and request tickets with your credit-card info. There were also paper applications to be filed for technophobes. Since the Internet went fully mainstream, the application process has been online.

"There used to be one period for members of the FFT and anyone who was a member of a licensed French club. The idea there is that the FFT 'owns' Roland Garros, so it gives its members priority. And there's nothing elitist about the FFT. After FFT members were served, a second period was then reserved for the general public. That's where I always got my tickets before joining this club this year. In the last few years, the FFT has added a section (in English) for foreigners who want to come to see RG. The process is totally transparent. You log on, check which tickets are available, make your request and, at the end of each week, tickets are distributed. Compare that with Wimbledon, where even Lawn Tennis Association members need not bother applying for tickets; a friend in London has gotten tickets to visit SW19 twice in 12 years, and once was for boys and girls semifinals! The French system isn't perfect, but when compared to Wimbledon? No question. Also, the French tickets are really cheap. French-bashing is always in fashion, but this is too much."

• Sir Elton John and Billie Jean King are bringing their annual Advanta WTT Smash Hits charity night of tennis to Louisiana for the first time in the event's 17-year history. Andy Roddick and other top players will compete Dec. 8, 2009, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.

• The German Open has a new title sponsor: Good thing tennis hasn't had, you know, a recent Internet gambling scandal.

Val of Boston was among several of you wondering: "Is there a transcript of Federer's French Open speech? Saw the match, missed the comments. Thanks." If anyone has it, I'll put it on Jonstennistweet.

• Congrats to Gigi Fernandez, mother of twins!

Donald Clayton of Birmingham, Ala., gives us long-lost siblings:

Tommy Haas and Ewen McGregor.

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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