Thursday September 10th, 2009

What is your take on Yanina Wickmayer? Even though she is in the semifinals, it seems like we haven't heard much about her. -- C.T., London

• As one of you wrote: "We all suspected an unseeded Belgian might reach the semis. And come on down, Yanina Wickmayer!" Though Wickmayer's run has been obscured by the Oudin-o-rama and Clijsters-fest, it's provided one of the real feel-good stories. Here's a player who was in qualifying draws this summer and, thanks to both fine play and fine luck, is suddenly in the final four. As her backstory has been revealed, it's hard not to find yourself rooting for her. Is she going to win the tournament? Probably not. But I see little reason why she can't be a top 20 player. You also have to be happy for Wickmayer financially. Two weeks ago, she didn't want to buy a T-shirt because it was too expensive. Now, worst-case scenario, she leaves here $350,000 to the good.

Jon, I read and very much enjoy your columns on tennis, but have to say that I was really disappointed to see your name attached to the article about Melanie Oudin's parents' divorce. That is a scum article not a tennis article. That has no place on a sports page....Does reporting on such a story really further the discourse about Oudin or the sport in general? I think your journalistic integrity took a breather here. -- Ted, Chicago

• As Oudin's run picked up momentum during this tournament, I heard from several sources that there was some tension behind the scenes and it wasn't quite the tidy all-American story that it was being made out to be. Lots of rumor but nothing concrete. I decided to see if, in fact, the parents were divorcing, as I had been told. To confirm that did not require an investigative dragnet; all the information that we reported was a matter of public record.

Had the Oudins split for financial reasons or irreconcilable differences or any of a hundred other reasons, I agree that this may well have been a non-story. But that wasn't the case at all. John Oudin's allegations -- and as we made clear, they're only allegations -- made reference to Melanie and to her tennis career, to tournament travel and to her coach, whom she had recently described as being "like another father to me." Unpleasant and salacious as all this was, we considered it relevant to Oudin's story -- which obviously went well beyond forehands and backhands during this tournament. We kept witnessing her laser-like focus, but it took on a new dimension given her family situation. We kept hearing about the support from her box, but that too took on a new dimension. Melanie's coach received attention and credit during the tournament -- as well he should have -- but, for instance, his remarks about the Oudin family took on a new context given that he was cited by the father in his divorce legal papers for the breakup of his marriage.

One of you asked if I felt "uncomfortable" writing the story. The answer, frankly, is yes. There was no pleasure or sense of fun here. I would much rather review match stats than divorce filings. But I would have felt more uncomfortable suppressing the story, simply because it didn't conform neatly to the feel-good vibe of Oudin's tournament run.

After watching the hotly contested Rafael Nadal/Gael Monfils match, I couldn't help but think how much energy Monfils wasted by pounding his chest, yelling and generally trying to rile himself and the crowd up. Isn't it in his best interest (and his coach's strategy) to make sure that his energy is well-calculated, knowing he will have to go the distance to beat the high-octane Nadal? -- A.J., New York, N.Y.

• It's a gamble. Dance around the court and pump your fist and gesticulate wildly and it can energize you as well as the crowd. It can also have the effect of sapping your reserves. I love watching Monfils and find his antics genuine and endearing. But like you, I wonder if he'd wouldn't be better off conserving some of those resources.

Twice now you've pointed out that Andy Murray's defeat at the hands of Fernando Verdasco in Australia looks worse in retrospect. Hard to see how given that the Verdasco-Nadal semifinal match in Melbourne still ranks among this year's best. -- Yves, Montreal

• This will sound harsh but I feel as though Verdasco is still weighing how good he wants to be and whether it's worth the effort. Do I cruise along at No. 8-12, make my millions, reach some Slam quarters and live a good life? Or do I really push myself to become No. 1, forsaking some real pleasures in the process?

And another early exit for Murray. Can we agree that until this kid reaches the final of another Slam we stop hyping him so much? -- Mike, Boston

• Agree. I'll call myself out on this one. Big whiff. I'm converting to Mats Wilander's theory: "You can't be favored to win a Slam until you've won a Slam." My logic, such that it was, in picking him: Murray had seemed to figure out the Roger Federer riddle, especially on hard courts; a defending U.S. Open finalist, Murray had also won three hard-court Masters Series events over the past year; he was free of the pressure that accompanies him in England; and it's no fun to pick Federer every time, except at the French when you pick Nadal. Had he lost Federer again, it would have come as no surprise. But a flat-as-Kansas straight-set loss to Marin Cilic? That one will sting for the next few months.

OK, if Nadal is injured, I'm Bugs Bunny. Can the Nadal health hysteria be toned down a notch, please? -- Mitch Rustad, New York, N.Y.

• Injuries are a great way to manage expectations. "Hey, I'm just lucky to get to the second round!" Happens in all sports.

If Nadal wins the U.S. Open, do you think Federer should present him the trophy for winning the career Grand Slam (just like the way Agassi presented Federer's French Open trophy)? -- Roger Dulay, Manila, Philippines

• A little weird to have an active player make the presentation. Especially if it's the losing finalist!

Hey, Jon, do I get a prize for coming up with "Oudini"? -- J. Butt, St. John's, NL, Canada

• I'm setting soft in my old age. Send me your address.


Comparing the treatment of Venus and Serena to that of Oudin -- which we touched on here and here -- drew dozens of responses. It's no great new flash that different people have different perspectives and difference feelings, all valid. It's also no news flash that race is a polarizing subject. A smattering of the comments:

Jason Koonce of Cleveland: "I am black and was 11 when Michael Chang began his run, and that's when my interest in tennis really took hold. Michael Chang is obviously not white either. That said, I do remember the media not being as 'excited' about Venus as they are today about Oudin. Of course, that may have something to do with the media being remade in the last decade or so."

Mark of Santa Barbara, Calif.: "This 'woe is me' tune constantly being sung by fans of the Williams sisters has become tiresome. I remember when they both came on the scene, to immense attention and publicity. Not everyone embraced them, but people also forget that neither sister did much to endear themselves to their fellow players or tennis fans, making proclamations such as for them tennis was a hobby and that they never practice. And, of course, there were the suspect withdrawals from tournaments. Oh, and for what it's worth, I find Oudin's screaming 'Come on!' at opponents' errors to be extremely obnoxious and makes me want to root against her."

Kiran, Louisville, Ky.: "Hey, Jon, I am neither black nor white. I am brown. So I am kind of neutral in the Serena-Oudin comparisons. I like your stance on this matter. But I am surprised you missed one important point. It's the fact that unlike the Williams sisters, Oudin's rise is totally unexpected. It came out of nowhere. No one had heard of her, at least not until Wimbledon. ... When good things happen to you unexpectedly, you would be more excited than if you were to expect it. In the case of the Williams sisters, everyone expected them to be champions in the future. It wasn't so sudden. That's a big difference there. I feel sorry for the people accusing racism here. I think they are the kind who have an inferiority complex and go looking for ways to feel low and then accuse others of wrong things."

Larry Shipp, Westcliff-on-Sea, England: "Venus was portrayed as [a player] who charmed everyone when she hit the scene at 14. Serena was viewed as the fun-loving little sister who wanted to challenge her big sister for some of that tennis glory Venus was undoubtedly going to get. ... When they started winning and moving up, THEY changed with success, getting and showing some of that dreaded arrogance and diva attitude that some successful people begin to feel is their birthright when they reach the top. ... I think the racial stuff has been there, but it isn't the reason people root against them. Chris Evert would tell you that if she rooted against them, it was in the context that if the Williams sisters kept this up, women's tennis would not be the spectacle that it is, and inevitably suffer in all areas. She was rooting for someone to challenge them, like people root for other golfers to step up and beat Tiger Woods (thank you, Y.E. Yang!). Winning constantly becomes boring because it becomes routine, and that is why the Williams sisters were denigrated, not because of their race. That and their lack of humility at times."

Carlos of Pennsylvania: "It's funny how people who pigeonhole themselves start hearing what they want to prove their case, not just to others but to themselves, no matter how wrong they are. The letter from Chrichelle (the black tennis player) from Cupertion, Calif., is a perfect example: John McEnroe said Oudin was the only American on that side of the draw. Dick Enberg thought he said the entire tournament and reminded him of Serena, and McEnroe repeated what he said: 'The only American on this side of the draw.' Additionally, maybe McEnroe was fixated on the Williams' physicality, but who wasn't? They are incredible physical specimens, but even more so for the time they first came out. Who can forget how ripped Serena was and how tall and athletic Venus is? They brought a new dimension to the game with their physicality/athleticism that everyone now is attempting to emulate. When McEnroe compared them to men, he meant this as a positive thing, as there were no women at the time who were as athletic and powerful as them. If you believe that you are isolated, you will hear isolation, you will be isolated. Self-fulfilling prophecy ..."

James of Corpus Christi, Texas: "As a white guy who plays tennis in Texas, I'll agree that many people do admire Serena and Venus, just as I do. But they were generally not well received in the beginning of their careers and continue to be treated poorly by many in the tennis community, those in the media and club players/owners. I live in tennis-happy Texas and I can guarantee that the only reason people cheer for Serena, particularly, is because she is American. I can't tell you how many racist comments I continue to hear about her, and all the ugly comments about her body. Chrichelle is right to comment as a black woman watching another black woman. As a white man, I am often astounded at the level of insults thrown at the Williams sisters, and it flat-out makes me uncomfortable and disappointed."

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