Friday June 26th, 2009

While raising an eyebrow at Novak Djokovic's play today...

Though officially without a coach, Roger Federer seems to have relied on his wife, Mirka, a great deal through the years as both hitting partner and counselor. Is she underestimated as a positive influence on his game and, in addition to his own prodigious talent, is she actually a significant reason he has rarely felt the need to seek coaching? -- Robert Webb, Dalton, Ga.

• First, Mirka single-handedly wrecks our "marriage theory" from a few years back. Federer finally ties the knot and, bang, wins the one Slam that has always eluded him. Robert raises a good point, though. Too often tennis wives and girlfriends are dismissed as so much arm candy. In the case of Mirka (note to self: check if she has changed her name), it's clear she's a vital member of Team Federer. Yes, when she fills in as a practice partner, it makes for a good photo-op. But her influence goes much deeper. Last year, a fan in Monte Carlo wore a shirt reading: "Mirka is the boss." Far as I can recall, no one objected to the sentiment.

Why do the women play the best of three sets format at majors whilst the men play the best of five? -- MMC, Brisbane Australia

• With the grunting discussion having, ahem, quieted, talk must necessarily turn to another manufactured controversy. The view here: at a time when players are breaking down in record number, no one should be playing best-of-five, at least for the first few rounds. Apart from destroying the women's bodies (which, maybe you've heard, are different structurally from men's), best-of-five would constipate schedules, frustrate television execs/schedulers and, in some cases, induce comas.

But what about the "equal pay for equal work" angle? As we've said many times, "sets" is just one way to measure work. What about balls hit per rally? Or time of match? And since when does time equal money in sports, anyway? If it did, those five-day test cricketers would be living la vida Buffet. And boxers like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Floyd Mayweather would be bankrupt!

Can you please explain why the All England Club could justify boosting Martin Safin and Maria Sharapova significantly, but yet dismiss Lleyton Hewitt? Ironically, he made it past the second round, unlike Safin (first ) and Sharapova (second). Was that an arbitrary decision, considering his exceptional results on grass? And this is coming from a non-Hewitt fan. I just admire his tenacity, which unfortunately Safin tends to lack these days. Was Hewitt slighted or what? -- Laurence Christian, Santa Barbara, Calif.

• Just to be totally clear, while Wimbledon departs from the rankings, there is a formula to determine seeding. So it's really not subjective or arbitrary. Keep in mind, too, that Hewitt is not even ranked in the top 50. Even if he benefits from the formula, it was unlikely to get him into the top 32.

Not so much a question as a statement. For all the squawking we hear about American women being Williams-deep and then nonexistent, Melanie Oudin wins three matches in qualies and two in the main draw, and doesn't even merit mention in the score updates. You'd think a talented teen prospect would do a bit better in the notoriety department. -- Ryan Burke, Rochester, N.Y.

• Good point. Oudin upset Sybille Bammer and then backed it up with another win. Oudin's not going to win any slugfests, but she is a solid player who does everything capably and competes honestly. I give her a real chance against Jelena Jankovic too. If only she had the body of Nicole Vaidisova.

How do Grand Slams determine the order of play on any given day? Is it random (as with the creation of the draws) or is the tournament able to exercise some discretion? I ask as it seems strange for Wimbledon to have Britain's home favorite (Andy Murray) waiting all day to play his first-round match, whereupon light and other factors may increasingly influence the outcome. -- Stephen Males, Devonshire, Bermuda

• It's a combination of factors, including player preference. But don't underestimate the power of television. Putting Murray on later in the days surely translates to better ratings than if he started at noon. Likewise: at the U.S. Open a lot of you complain about the American players routinely playing the night sessions while the Europeans get the day sessions. But imagine being Eurosport, forking over good money for rights and then getting a Federer night match to air at the local time of 3 a.m.

What is your batting average predicting Grand Slam winners and runner-ups? -- Lawrence, Calgary

• Um....Are you familiar with the baseball player David Ortiz?

• A dissenting point of view from Bobby of Md.: I wanted to send in a message of approval. Not only do I agree with you that grunting is far from the most pressing matter in tennis, but I would go so far as to say it doesn't bother me at all. Not to say that I've decided it's a non-issue. It could definitely still affect the players. But I actually like hearing it in matches. It lends intensity. Tennis is the most important professional sport for women in the world, and the image of Maria Sharapova and Michelle Larcher de Brito battling for every point tooth, nail and police siren does a lot more to show that to casual fans on TV than what we've been getting since Justine Henin left -- nervous headcases playing tentatively waiting to see who will melt down on court first and hand the match away.

• And this one from Frank Deford of member station WSHU.

• NeuLion and Tennis Channel today formally announced the launch of a new online video portal at Tennis-Channel.tv. The portal will give fans access to live matches, on-demand programs and other multimedia content. The first iteration of the new online Tennis Channel TV was made available during the French Open (NeuLion).

• The ATP World Tour's fall Asian swing will begin in South-East Asia after the governing body of men's professional tennis today confirmed that Kuala Lumpur will host an ATP World Tour-level tournament. The tournament was officially launched by Prime Minister of Malaysia Yang Amat Berhormat Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak and will be known as the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur.

Scott Graham of Oakland, Calif.: Regarding James Blake's "sucking up" to the media: I was sitting next to some ball kids at a tournament last year and I asked one who his favorite player was. Without hesitating he said Blake. So I guess he "sucks up" to the ball kids, too. P.S. I owe you an apology for going off on you a couple of weeks ago about suggesting Rafael Nadal might be taking a mental break. Now I see what you might have been hinting at but couldn't say. I'm sorry about that.

Aldo of New York, N.Y. has long-lost sibling pair: Nikolay Davydenko and Anton Yelchin of Star Trek/Terminator 4.

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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