Wednesday August 26th, 2009

A 'bag before the big dance (and we don't mean this).

Re: the best-of-three recap: no love for Elena Dementieva, again? -- BB, Columbus, Ohio

Maybe we should go best-of-five? Then we would have lavished praise on Dementieva. No question she deserves heaps of credit for her play last week in Toronto. And, more generally, she is on the short list of contenders to win the U.S. Open, playing some of the best ball of her career. I would add that for all the drama and melodrama on the WTA Tour, Dementieva has pretty much gone about her business, stuck to herself, declined the "sex sells" sensibilities, and almost a full decade after reaching her first Open semifinal is still in the hunt.

The inevitable "yes, but," is that she remains Slam-less, one of those players who can be dynamite in Tokyo or Rome or Toronto but has yet to string together seven wins at a major, the real tennis benchmark. With Serena Williams' generally shabby play this summer, the WTA hierarchy is as shaky as ever. And the questions/critiques keep coming. But I'm sticking to my story: In a perfect world, the top players compete consistently and don't allow their level of passion/play to drop depending on the event. It would be great if Dinara Safina or Dementieva or Jelena Jankovic could crush it at a major. It would be great if the Serena of Wimbledon could surface in Cincinnati or Los Angeles. I still, however, would rather shine at the Slams and bomb out in Madrid than vice versa.

I agree completely with you that the interpretation of postmatch comments has become a "gotcha" game for both professional commentators and bloggers. Don't you think the biggest problem is that the answers are quoted without context of the questions? A player's statement could just be agreeing with the question or replying to something specific that a player would never have brought up. I have started reading the full transcripts and you get a completely different view. I think many of the questions do not seek info or feelings from the player, and are just designed to elicit the quote of local interest or to create controversy. It's getting as bad as politics! -- Ilene Staff, Hartford, Conn.

I wouldn't go that far. Joke: How do you know when a man is lying? When he appears on C-SPAN. But Ilene makes a good point about context. Andy Roddick will be asked whether he prefers facing Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. He'll answer the question and someone, seeing only the snippet, will complain, "How come he didn't even mention Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic?"

Shame on you for the sexist comments that many women "would drop like flies if forced to play best-of-five" and "it is an acknowledgement that their bodies are different." Women are great marathoners. Many women tennis players have practices more grueling than best-of-five. They could adapt to best-of-five. You sound like things I have read from the '50s where "experts" said women can't serve well because their shoulders are different; women shouldn't lift weights because they will look like men; women shouldn't play physical sports because they might get hurt; women shouldn't engage in strenuous activities because they will have trouble having kids, etc. Women's and most men's tournaments should not be best-of-five because of time problems for television, spectators, tournament directors and an extra burden on a long season --not because they can't play it. -- Jay, Little Rock, Ark.

Jay, I'm playing the "you mischaracterized my position" card. Here's what I wrote: "This is not an indictment of their fitness so much as it is an acknowledgement that their bodies are different and they often hit many more balls per rally." If women had the bodies to hit dozens of aces per match and keep points short, they could play best-of-five. (Exhibit A: the 77 aces in the Wimbledon men's final.) Since they don't win as many "cheap points" and hit more shots per rally -- not a criticism -- best-of-five would be difficult.

How can you pick Murray as the U.S. Open winner? Granted, he is a remarkable retriever/counterpuncher but does not finish points well enough and his second serve is questionable. Further, his body may not hold up with all that pounding he is taking. -- Dean Pendergrass, Dana Point, Calif.

I picked him weeks ago and feel like it would be dishonorable to desert him now. After last week in Cincy, obviously Federer is the favorite. (Oh, yeah, that five-year winning streak bodes pretty well too.) But I do like Murray. His body will be fine -- his fitness level has gone from liability to asset in a short time. He's already won multiple Masters titles on hard courts this year. Like Daniel LaRusso before the California karate tournament, Murray is just ready to take that next step.

I hate to do this (well, not really), but a couple of mailbags ago you attributed Kim Clijsters' success to "a tired [Marion] Bartoli" in response to a sad-state-of-the-WTA argument. Now that she's added victories against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka (No. 6 and No. 8 in the world, respectively) to her unretired résumé, is this just Kimmy being that good or do you feel the need to revisit your stance on the WTA? And before you answer that, ask yourself when you last saw as many double faults in a men's semifinal match as you did in the Dementieva/Jelena Jankovic match in Cincinnati. -- Jon F., San Diego

Are you down on women's tennis? Because I don't do down. Last question first: The stats from Dementieva/Jankovic match were outrageous. Apart from the double faults I believe there were nine consecutive breaks of serve to end the match. Still, can't that be entertaining in its own way?

As for Clijsters, I'm sticking with the half-full explanation. If she were winning matches and playing like Gail Stanwyck in Fletch, it would be one thing. But from what I've seen, she looks pretty much indistinguishable from the Clijsters of old. Also, one of you was savvy enough to note that she missed the 2006 U.S. Open so she's actually riding a seven match USO winning streak into town!

No U.S. Open wild card for Donald Young. Fair, foul or about damn time? -- Pam, Amherst, N.Y.

Based on results and momentum, it would have been hard to justify giving him a wild card. The good news is that Young's ranking will entitle him to a spot in the qualifying draw.

A reader wants something on Philipp Petzschner? Gladly. In Montreal, he was in my opinion the best player on the court in the Petzschner/Lukas Dlouhy win over Bruno Soares/Kevin Ullyett. In the next round, in a moment of exasperation after a point he whacked a ball sideways, hitting the coach of one his opponents. PP took more than a tad too long to apologize to him, then objected (but not loudly) to the umpire's giving him a code warning. After the match (he lost), he shook hands with the guy he'd hit and talked to the umpire to try to persuade him to "please do not report me." -- Allison, Wethersfield, Conn.

For the record, I was able to corroborate most of the above.

After watching many matches with on-court coaching available, I have three observations. 1) Many of the coaching sessions are conducted in languages like Polish, Russian, French, etc., which the majority of viewers don't speak. Seems rather pointless, n'est-ce pas? 2) The presence of on-court coaching is inherently misogynistic, as almost all of the coaches are male, and it sends the message that women players can't figure their way through matches without the help and guidance of men. 3) This is precisely why Serena and Venus are truly the two best players in the world -- they don't need coaching to get through a Grand Slam final. Case in point: Dinara Safina, who falters at this stage because she can't talk to her coach. S & V both have the heart (and mind) of a champion, and this is why they consistently win Grand Slam titles. -- Matt Lewis, New York

You, sir, are singing my song. On-Court coaching is the WTA's answer to round-robin formats. There's nothing wrong with innovating, especially in such a change-resistant sport. Look what the folks in Canada are planning to do with the men's and women's events! But you have to know when to cut bait, tap out, unload the Global Crossing stock ... pick your metaphor.

Regarding the Cincinnati Masters, why was the men's second semifinal match played so late at night? It seems like that gives a distinct disadvantage to the night-time winner. -- Kris, Norwalk, Conn.

Agree. And you could make the same point regarding the first "Super Saturday" being at a distinct advantage for the Sunday final at the Open. But TV calls the shots.

When is the last time a player ranked outside the top 10 won a Masters 1000 event? -- Robert, B., Melbourne, Fla.

From the mouth of the Shark: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was No. 14 last year when he won the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. The last player ranked outside the top 20 to win a Masters 1000 title was David Nalbandian, No. 21 at that same event in 2007.

Which of the following attitudes deserve respect? 1) I'm not 100 percent fit so I'll skip the tournament/give a walkover. 2) I'm not 100 percent fit but I'm playing and giving my best shot. -- Alvin, Singapore

One learns to tread lightly when it comes to questioning an athlete's physical condition. But this is a real dilemma that affects players week in and week out. Consider del Potro last week in Cincy. He comes to town understandably exhausted after winning the Washington, D.C., event and reaching the final in Montreal. He determines he is in no shape to play. He can go out there and slog through a set before quitting. He's "giving it a shot," but who benefits? Certainly not the lower-ranked players who are denied a spot in the draw. However, if del Potro doesn't even try -- the choice he ended up making -- he is subject to a fine. And, of course, questions about his heart.

I do, though, like this Aussie aphorism: "If you're fit, you play. If you play, you're fit." Translation: Get out there and try, if at all possible. If you lose, you don't blame it on injury.

Why are you bashing poor Sam Stosur? "Granted, there are remarks that are obviously tactless. Check out Sam Stosur's ripping Serena Williams to the Melbourne Age." She says the absolute truth about Serena. Serena has NEVER given credit to her opponents when she lost and Sam's jab is very fair and not at all catty. Hardly qualifies as a "ripping" and nothing "tactless" about it, except to one who's blindly pro-Serena. -- Justin Banks, New York

Sorry, I must have written that ambiguously because a few of you echoed that. My point was Serena's comments in defeat are tactless and -- about time! -- she was finally called on it by a colleague. I have no problem with Stosur's comment whatsoever. "Fair and not at all catty" is a good characterization.

A friend and I were wondering what exactly the player is looking for when he or she takes three or four balls from the ball kid, studies each one and then sends one or two of them back. -- Lisa Sandberg, Columbus, Ohio

Apart from searching for balls, I think this is primarily a mental exercise, meant to let a player regroup and focus a bit between points. Most players will tell you they are looking for the freshest balls so they can impart the most "pop" on their serves. I've had other players, though, say they look for the used balls because the baldies have less fuzz and therefore less air resistance to slow down the ball. Go figure. Do we have a physics expert in the community?

One last note, from Karl Miller of Phoenixville, Pa.: "Suicide Pool time. We'd like to extend an invitation to you and your readers to join us for Talk About Tennis' 5th annual U.S. Open Suicide Pool. Details available here."

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