Wednesday August 19th, 2009

I am a Roger Federer fan, but it gets harder to support him after postmatch interviews where he bashes his opponents and fails to credit them with good play. Case in point: the interview after his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup. Federer choked, and Tsonga stepped it up. Enough said. At what point does greatness turn into arrogance? -- Jose, San Antonio

Broadening this beyond Federer, I'm starting to feel sorry for some of these players. With the way their words are dissected, they're often put in no-win positions. Win a match and say, "I played incredibly" -- often a truthful answer that echoes what others are saying -- and it has the ring of arrogance. Carry on about the depth of the field and the great competition and "feeling lucky to win," and it has the ring of false modesty. Lavish your opponent with praise in defeat, and it sounds phony. Chide yourself for choking, and it sounds ungracious.

Granted, there are remarks that are obviously tactless. Check out Sam Stosur's ripping Serena Williams to the Melbourne Age. Money quote: ''If you look at what Serena says after a lot of her matches, she probably doesn't, you know, give all the glory to her opponent, no matter what the situation is.''

But overall, I think players do well, given that no remark will please everyone.

Long as we're here, lots of you asked about Federer and his odd defeat -- days before Tiger Woods squandered a last-day lead at a major -- and his chances at the U.S. Open. Given what he's been through these past few months, I'm inclined to give him a pass for a mental lapse. No one is perfect. And while it's true that his hard-court play has been sketchy this year, how do you dismiss the chances of anyone gunning for his sixth straight title in New York?

I think having mid-match coaching is pointless and takes away from an integral part of the game. However, it might be an interesting idea to provide players a running view of the statistics of the match. Viewers get this info on TV -- where the opponent is mostly serving, first-serve percentage, return position, etc. This would allow players to make conscious changes in strategy while having time to think about it during changeovers. What say you? -- Ananth Raghavan, San Francisco

Interesting point. At most events, at least on big courts, that information is readily available. During changeovers, the scoreboards often feature detailed match stats. Funny, I can't recall ever seeing a player craning his/her neck and trying to obtain that information. I agree: You'd think it would be helpful to see that, hey, my opponent has three times as many forehand errors as backhand errors. That's precisely the kind of incremental advantage a savvy player would want to obtain.

I think you are way off in suggesting best-of-three sets for the men at the majors. The fact that, barring weather trouble, everyone gets a full day off between matches means that best-of-five is necessary to make the majors more of a challenge than other tournaments. The U.S. Open should be more grueling than, say, Cincinnati. In the same vein, the women playing best-of-three means that winning at Flushing Meadows is easier than the tune-ups. That just doesn't seem right. Maybe that's an explanation for Serena Williams' dismal performance away from the big tournaments? -- Andras, Montreal

For the record, I advocate best-of-three the first week, so players don't exhaust their bodies, matches don't extend beyond midnight and television has a bit more flexibility. Come with the best-of-five format in the second week to set up the classic latter-round matches and distinguish the majors from the other events. As for the women, let's be honest: Many would drop like flies if forced to play best-of-five. This is not an indictment of their fitness as much as it is an acknowledgement that their bodies are different and they often hit many more balls per rally. Also, I think the 128-player draw and the presence of all the top players sufficiently distinguishes Slams from your garden-variety tournaments.

I saw your article in Tennis about unused corporate seats. I think the reality is that the event organizers couldn't care less if the stadium was empty, provided that every seat was paid for. But what about those empty seats that weren't paid for, like at the ATP events in Indianapolis and Los Angeles in July, and the WTA tournament in Carson, Calif., this month? I play out of a club in SoCal and I was the only player out of more than 100 USTA members who went to the Carson event. Why aren't tournament organizers doing more to tap into the USTA membership? -- Confused USTA Member, Riverside, Calif.

Where to begin? At some level, you're right. This is not unique to tennis, but only a small fraction of the sport's revenue comes from the casual fan buying seats. The real tournament bucks come from business tickets, suites, sponsorships and, if you're lucky, television. Sure, you'd prefer that the stands be filled. But for, say, the organizers in Indianapolis, you're much more concerned about finding a title sponsor than about getting a few thousand USTA league players to come to the ticket window.

A few months ago, there was a lot of breezy talk suggesting that tennis is so diverse and global that it would be largely insulated from the recession. I've witnessed the opposite. Apart from the dwindling sponsors, attendance has been very spotty lately. Lots of empty suites too. You hope this is cyclical. Otherwise it's hard to see how events such as L.A. or Indy -- shaky fields, lacking a title sponsor and not exactly in need of turnstiles to stem the rush of fans -- can survive.

Todd Martin and Joker? Really? -- Pam, Amherst, N.Y.

No Djoke -- though Martin is not replacing Marian Vadja as Novak Djokovic's coach and is serving a role akin to Alex Corretja's work with Andy Murray, I'm told. On its face, it's a curious match. But who knows? Their games aren't altogether dissimilar. And maybe some of Martin's general good-guyness rubs off on a player who's had some image issues lately.

If Murray doesn't win the U.S. Open and somehow manages to end the year as No. 1, do you think this will cause as much controversy as Dinara Safina's ranking? At least she has been to two Grand Slam finals and one semifinal. -- Omar Tovar, Bogota, Colombia

That's a big hypothetical. I'm sticking to my old prediction that Murray wins the U.S. Open.

But to indulge: Should he finish No. 1 without a Slam, I suspect the backlash will not be as strong as it was (is?) with Safina. Why? First, the British media and public will be so giddy, the positive news story will trump any deconstruction of the points system. Second, Murray is unlikely to "wilt like Blanche DuBois," as one of you accused Safina of doing. True, he lost in the Wimbledon semis. But he didn't lose 6-1, 6-0. Third, Murray has a winning record against Federer, which cuts in his favor. Fourth, there's probably a sexism component, both from fans and the media.

Who retires with more majors, Federer or Serena Williams? Does either catch Martina Navratilova/Chris Evert at 18? -- Chad Silvey, Akron, Ohio

Good question. Federer is obviously the safer bet, as he's in the lead, 15-11. Serena, though, has less competition -- and doesn't have two kids. (Interesting: Both have won three of the last four.) I have a hard time seeing either winning 18, but it's hardly out of the question.

Can we really take the ATP doubles game seriously when the world's No. 2 player (Rafael Nadal), coming off a long injury layoff, partners with a 41-year-old who has been retired for the better part of the decade (Francisco Roig), and nearly beats the eighth-ranked doubles team (Max Mirnyi-Andy Ram)? -- Kevin, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Fair question. But did this result really surprise many of you? As I see it, the top few teams could compete with anyone. The Bryans beat Federer/Nadal six or seven times out of 10. After that, I would expect a top singles players paired with just about anyone to challenge a pair of journeymen doubles players. Let's be honest: For many of those guys, there's a reason they never held a top-500 singles ranking. Doesn't mean they're not exceptionally good at their specialty. But we shouldn't be surprised when they lose to likes of Nadal.

I happened to see Philipp Petzschner in action at Legg Mason and boy, was I impressed! One of the most amazing forehands I have seen. I think if he stays healthy and plays like that, he should break the top 20 this year. Too bad my favorite tennis journalist hasn't mentioned the name ever in his weeklies. -- Rajesh Sonak, Sterling, Va.

You serious? Petzschner? The teacher's Petzsch? The Chia-petzsch? That combination of Rod Laver, Federer and Pete Sampras all rolled into one German body? Petzschner? The best German export since the Porsche 911? We write about Petzschner all the time. So often, I sometimes fear my bosses will change the name of this column into the Petzsch-bag. (Top 20 is a reasonable destination. Have a hard time seeing him beyond that.)

How about this for a solution to the distaste for on-court coaching: Disallow it, but allow signaling/coaching/whatever from the stands as long as it doesn't disrupt play. -- Jon Duoos, Minneapolis

You can't see me. But I'm surreptitiously signaling that I hate that idea. Again, self-sufficiency is one of the great virtues and unique features of tennis. You figure out your own problems. You rely on yourself to change strategy. Messing with this is like adding a clock to ballet.

• Mess with Tennis Channel at your own peril.

• Why wasn't Melanie Oudin gifted with more wild cards? Nicole of Torrington, Conn., notes: "Since Oudin is still under 18 years old, she can only play a certain number of tournaments in a calendar year. She also can only accept a certain number of wild cards in a year, and she had already reached that number."

Nick S. of Boston: "In last week's mailbag, someone mentioned that you share with John McEnroe the error of using the term 'tiebreaker.' I contend that it is everyone else making the error. In every other game/sport/situation, it is a 'tiebreaker' for the simple reason that that's how English works. A thing that is used to break something else is a 'breaker.' An icebreaker breaks ice, literally and figuratively; a jawbreaker is a candy which threatens to break your jaw; and a tiebreaker breaks ties. And, no, 'firebreak' does not apply because it is not a thing that breaks a fire; it is a path leveled in the way of a fire to put a break (gap) in the fire."

• Belated props to Marcos Baghdatis, who won the Vancouver Challenger two weeks ago. Alas, he lost in the Cincy qualies. As did Ernests Gulbis, who is slogging through the mother of all sophomore slumps.

Jake Toole, who played for Penn State, won more than $450,000 playing online poker last weekend.

Jason Penkim of Cincinnati: "I was mighty impressed by Zverev's and Henri-Mathieu's keen attention and concern for the ball boy who fainted on court (Gosh it was HOT). Props to them!"

Tara B. of Bethesda, Md., came across this while searching for tips regarding attending the U.S. Open.

• Congrats to Dave Shoemaker, promoted to WTA Tour president.

Justin DePietropaolo of Chester Springs, Pa., writes: "I know I sent this to you back in December and you posted it, but thought I'd throw it out again since it's that time of year again. The USTA really needs to get rid of the Bonus Challenge and here's the reason why."

Daniel of Toronto has this week's long-lost siblings: TV's Eric Balfour and Marat Safin.

Have a great week, everyone!

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.