Wednesday September 16th, 2009

I feel as though tennis has never been so popular. Lead segments on the news, hot topics in the blogosphere, hundreds of questions rolling in here. Were it not for Kanye West, we might have even had the president weighing in on Serena-gate. We may as well ride the wave with a quick post-U.S. Open mailbag.

• To consolidate about 500 questions, here's my updated take on Serena Williams: Enough already. She got a very shaky call, but that hardly justified her reaction. She messed up. She apologized, albeit belatedly. She got fined. She took some of her aggression out on Liezel Huber and Cara Black in the doubles final. Not a proud moment for her or for tennis, but let's move on. If the ITF suspends her or fines her further, it will be a miscarriage of justice. There have been a lot of sloppy analogies flying around -- to wit: John McEnroe was suspended, fined and heavily condemned for his outbursts; no double standard here -- but if further penalized, Serena would be very much within her rights to highlight selective enforcement. Enough. Something can be indefensible without being unforgivable. Can't it?

• To consolidate about 100 more questions, here's my suggestion for a new rule: After solving the roof problem, the USTA next must address the unfailingly awkward trophy presentation ceremony. We know there are TV pressures, sponsor pressures and time pressures. But this cringe-fest must be reviewed. The treatment of Juan Martin del Potro (and, to a lesser extent Caroline Wozniacki) was inexcusable and only reinforces anti-American stereotypes. The unavoidable takeaways from Monday night: The corporate lackeys matter more than the players; and if you're going to speak, it better be in English.

Also, does this not undermine the whole purpose of sponsorship (i.e. positive association)? When a winning player is muzzled so some executive VP of something or other can plug his product -- or mention the ridiculous U.S. Open Series bonus money that no one cares about -- doesn't it make the consumer less inclined to purchase said product?

Incidentally, what would del Potro have said if given the proper chance? Thank my esteemed colleague Helin Jung for finding out.

• In response to another dozen questions: I have no inside info regarding Justine Henin's alleged comeback. But her return should surprise us about as much as the sun rising in the east tomorrow. Here's hoping the rumors are true. And if Kim Clijsters can resume her winning ways, I see no reasons Henin can't do likewise.

Onward ...

Please do some soul-searching about your racist convictions. It is sad and disheartening that overt racism still exists, especially in sports, a supposedly color-blind area of our collective existence. To say that Serena's actions trump those of such violent, disrespectful players as McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Marat Safin is astonishing until you realize that white men always get a pass. -- Karen, New York, N.Y.

You can take the girl out of the hood but not the hood out of the girl. Serena has been indulged, protected and unrestrained in doing what she pleases. The classlessness of her behavior was made even more reprehensible by the respect and humility displayed by Wozniacki and Clijsters after the final. But Serena is good for tennis in the way that Darth Vader is good for Star Wars. -- Doug, Tucson, Ariz.

• I received these e-mails within one minute of each other. They're both disturbing for different reasons. As much as I hate to give either any credence, I want to print them because they provide a segue into this appeal: It's pretty clear that opinions on Serena-gate -- and Serena in general -- are all over the map. And it's pretty clear that in some cases, this can become a pretext for race. I've noticed a lot of concern regarding the application of equal justice: "How come we turned a blind eye to McEnroe and Connors, but are so outraged now?" "If this were Andy Roddick and there wasn't a fear of politically correct backlash and protest, he would have been suspended immediately!" If this turns into what the president calls "a conversation on race," so be it.

What I would urge is for us to take a stand against the extremists on both sides and not let the discussion get hijacked by the fringe. To repeat: You should be allowed to have an unfavorable opinion about Serena's conduct without automatically standing accused of racism. Conversely, the writers who use words like "ghetto" and "gangster" are equally out of line. Both are so ugly. Both are so destructive for the majority of fans prepared to have a reasonable conversation here. OK, sermon over. Bottom line: I'd just as soon move on and hold off on this until the ITF announces that it has the good sense to forego further punishment. But I'll take my cue from you guys.

You gave props to the ESPN coverage in your U.S. Open wrap-up, and rightly so. But no mention of Mike Tirico? I've enjoyed his golf coverage in the past and thought it was great to have him at a tennis tournament. At one point between matches at the sports desk, he and Darren Cahill carried on what was probably the most intelligent and engaging discussion of tennis that I've ever seen on TV. -- Mike, Missoula, Mont.

• I missed that discussion -- and, frankly, much of the TV coverage while being on the grounds -- but I'm a big fan of Tirico's work and I take you at your word. Quick story: In 1994, when I was in my early 20s and had a few months to kill after college, I worked as a production assistant at a fledgling cable network named ESPN. I was the gruntest of the grunts and some on-air "talent" chose to treat me as such. (Aside: Where is Craig Kilborn these days anyway?) On the other hand, when friends asked about the nice guys, the first names that always came to mind were ... Tirico and Chris Fowler. Tennis is lucky to have both.

I'm disappointed that you had no props for Brad Gilbert in your ESPN observations. I love his contributions. He's a little nuts, and everyone kind of picks on him (all in good fun and he seems to take it that way), but I think his observations and insights are excellent and he is great fun to listen to. -- Lilas Pratt, Marietta, Ga.

• Agree. Excellent insights. I would add this about Gilbert: He injects some much-needed fun into the broadcast. Just let the man dress the part! A suit (and the silk pocket square, which gets me every time) on Gilbert is like truffles on a ballpark hot dog. The Facebook group would be called: "Let BG be BG!"

After the victories by Clijsters and del Potro, tennis just seems a heck of a lot more exciting, especially looking ahead to 2010. So much to look forward to, with so many possibilities for our next Slam winners. Your thoughts? -- Lani, San Francisco

• This was a weird year in a good way, one that ended in a very different place from where it began. There are lots of compelling storylines heading into the fall and then Australia. We just all need a breather after the Open!

• On a reread, this Stephanie Myles piece was upgraded from "great column" to "must read."

Brad Biggerstaff of Fort Collins, Colo.: "Seems the amazing tweener shot hit by Federer against Novak Djokovic might, given that it was a winner and also to celebrate Fed's recent dual fatherdom, be called The Twinner."

Roshan Revankar of Los Angeles submitted this quip by del Potro in his postmatch interview:

Question: You earned a lot of money today. How are you gonna use this? Are you gonna buy something to treat yourself? Del Potro: No, maybe cheesecake for my birthday.

• Life being heavy into irony and all ... the title of Serena's new book is On the Line.

Stewart Glickman of South Orange, N.J., wins the line of the week award: "Wait a sec, the winner of the U.S. Open men's title wins a retractable hardtop, but Arthur Ashe Stadium isn't entitled to the same?"

• From the shameless self-promotion department, I will be speaking at 6 p.m. Thursday at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.

Have a good week, everyone!

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