Thursday October 1st, 2009

Many sports media members are still discussing Michael Jordan's vindictive speech at his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Am I off to say Jordan's rancor is akin to that of Jimmy Connors? Connors did not attend the opening of Arthur Ashe Stadium in 1997. He initially balked at being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998, contending that he had never retired. What do you suppose makes Jimbo and Air Jordan tick? Is it a personality type that does not age well? -- Dan Martin, Dayton, Ohio

• You know the first person I thought of when I heard about Jordan's monologue? Roger Federer. In a million years, could you ever imagine such a tone-deaf, ungracious, self-absorbed speech at his Hall of Fame induction? Could you even begin to conceive of his calling out former junior rivals, recalling decades-old feuds, trashing Rafael Nadal, making only awkward passing reference to his own kids and threatening a comeback at 50? The Jordan apologists have cited this as an example of his "pride," a vivid illustration of his "fierce competitiveness," his "killer instinct." Whatever.

Episodes such as this ought to heighten our respect and admiration for Federer, who's managed to achieve all he's achieved without such an aggressive streak, without the me-against-the-world self-delusion. The knock on Federer is that he's not a killer, that doesn't have that "assassin mentality." To me, it's just made his accomplishments all the more impressive. He became tennis' analogue to Jordan based on his physical ability, superior fitness and accomplishments on the big stage, but without that "killer instinct" and the attendant nastiness.

Wow, Kimiko Date's win offers further proof (to me, anyway) that the women's field is really open for anyone to just step up and take the prize. How do you think a Kimiko Date from 1996 would fare in today's field? I could easily see her winning a Grand Slam or two. -- Andy L., New York

• Date's winning an event at age 38.996, beating some decent players in the process, is a terrific achievement. But let's try to enjoy it without indicting all of women's tennis. (The ogre will note that she didn't have to play anyone in the top 10. Plus, it's the fall, when bodies are in the breakdown lane.) Even with the uncertainty and shaky play at the top -- you likely saw that Dinara Safina fell in her first match in Tokyo -- the women's game evolved immeasurably since Date's heyday in the mid-1990s. I'm telling you, spark up YouTube and compare a player from then (Steffi Graf and Monica Seles notwithstanding) with a comparably ranked player from today and you'll see what I mean. Bottom line: No one is claiming that this is the high-water mark for women's tennis. But let's not get carried away.

Inconsistent? Why were you all over Jelena Jankovic last year for playing 84 matches, but you (or anyone else) have not commented on Caroline Wozniacki's 80 matches this year? Besides, Caroline enters doubles about half the time. -- Jerry White Mineral, Va.

• Another double-standard badge! Hey, if Wozniacki's body can stand it, power to her. The problem with Jankovic was that she would play relentlessly and then complain that her (insert body part here) was hurting.

Let's say the WTA realizes the good moment and turns the end-of-the-year tournament into a 12-player field with four wild cards -- Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova and Melanie Oudin -- as well as Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka and let's say Flavia Pennetta. Fans, media? Could it get any better? -- Antonio Rabello, Brisbane, Australia

• The wild card to Oudin would rankle (at least the other three were former Grand Slams and No.1s). But if the WTA can finagle the rules to get Clijsters, Henin and Sharapova to show up, it would increase the star wattage by a power of 10. Perhaps you saw the splashy announcement that Serena and Venus qualified for the doubles.

Please excuse my ignorance, but why is one of the courts at the U.S. Open named after jazz great Louis Armstrong? No one I asked knew. -- Karen Renfrew, Scotland

• Armstrong was from nearby Queens, simple as that. Sadly, The New York Times sports columnist George Vescey's suggestion to nickname the stadium "The Satch" never got traction.

I'm wondering if you are going to address the crisis affecting the ATP and WTA Tours: a seeming inability to dance! Martina Hingis was the first one out of Britain's Dancing With the Stars, after Monica Seles was the first one out of the U.S. version. The ATP and WTA apparently need to hit the ballroom as well as the gym! Anyone got game on the dance floor? -- David, Wisconsin

• Tennis needs to serve up Gael Monfils for the next show. That will solve the problem.

Having just seen Marat Safin obscurely situated in the Bangkok draw, I couldn't help but wonder: Has he UNRETIRED already? (These "retirements" are getting shorter and shorter ...) -- Jerry Woodbury, Minn.

• You'll note that one of his agents runs the event. What got me: This depleted soul who claims to be so burnt out and so ready to jump off the tennis ride is playing singles and doubles this week? The U.S. Open was Safin's final major, not his final match per se, so I don't think this counts as an unretirement. (Fabrice Santoro was also in the draw, though he too will play no more majors.)

More a comment than a question: I enjoy tennis (about the only sport I like) because it is more melodrama than sport. It's rich people and the commentary strains for personal storylines and players' personal lives. The game is almost an afterthought. I've gone to the U.S. Open a few times, and most people don't even know anything about the game -- they are just dressed and know the names that are in the news. It's Dynasty more than sport to me. -- Tim D., New York

• Obviously, some fans have more interest than you do in the competition. But your point is well taken. The plotlines, fashion and (melo)drama are a significant component in the appeal. Other sports would kill to have fans so interested in the players as "figures" and "personalities" in addition to athletes. (What more does the average baseball fan know about Albert Pujols -- the best player in the game! -- that isn't contained on the back of his baseball card?) Tennis has a million marketing challenges, not least the itinerant nature and absence of a home team. But it also has some real built-in assets.

I read your book on pool hustling and couldn't stop laughing. But I have to ask: How good of a player are you? -- Rich McClintock, Chicago

• Dude, when I'm done playing pool, I don't count my money. I weigh it. Sorry, I always wanted to use that line. Actually, I stink. (And I'm not saying that to sandbag.) I'm a decent shotmaker but never figured out positioning, which, as any decent player knows, is the real trick to the sport.

All-Belgiun final at the Australian Open? -- Matt, Toronto

• Not if Serena isn't suspended. Funny that most questions about Henin have not asked, "Can she come back?" The tenor -- and we can obviously thank Clijsters for this -- is, "How long before she's back to winning majors?"

Everyone is being a bit harsh on the U.S. Open sponsors. Del Po won a Lexus! I mean, who else has a Lexus? -- John Sellers, Royal Oak, Mich.

• Before anyone answers that, we're running low on time, and the executive vice president of lapel-pin administration is here to ...

Did I read correctly that the men's year-end championship event is starting two weeks later than last year? That offseason keeps shrinking and shrinking. -- Christopher M. Jones, West Chester, Pa.

• This term you use, "offseason," could you be more specific?

Who retires with more Slams, Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters? -- Karl, Belgium

• This term you use, "retire," could you be more specific? Given that Henin has a 7-2 lead, my Euros are on her.

With Kimiko doing well, what's next? The Maleeva sisters return? -- Matt, Toronto

• I'm laying odds on Alice Marble. I heard she got one look at Safina's serve, felt like she was hitting the ball pretty well at the club, and the mind started racing.

Cedric Hobbs of San Bruno, Calif., notes that no woman or man successfully defended a Grand Slam title in 2009.

Lester Pearson of Heima, Ontario, notes that Tomas Berdych had some not-so-nice things to say about Nicole Vaidisova.

• In case you missed it, a great story on the longest point ever played.

• This week's unsolicited book recommendation. A Prentice Cup alum and stylish baseliner tackles the politics of European citizenship and other bodice-ripping topics in.

Ganeshkumar Ganapathy of Durham, N.C., notes: "As it turns out, there is a macrobiotic restaurant in Texas: Casa de Luz in Austin. The food is great!"

Jamie Prenkert of Bloomington, Ind.: "Alec Baldwin showing his tennis-fan bona fides after his Emmy win: 'People think you say this to be polite. You never ever dream you're going to win. Never, never, never. I came and was completely convinced that [Steve] Carell is someone who is a big, big part of a show with huge ratings, those guys work really hard. I say to myself: Carell is going to win. Then we said to ourselves that Jim Parsons is going to be the del Potro at the Open this year, he's going to come in and win the whole event. You never really know who's going to win. I literally am shocked that I won again.' "

Dexter Godbey, Constant Traveler: "I agree, let's move on from Serena-gate. However, here's a quick observations from Southern California. Playing at a club yesterday and a public park today, on every court I could hear -- from juniors, adults, seniors, men, women, black, white, brown and yellow -- at some point the Serena episode was discussed. Surprisingly (to me, at least), the opinions were all really, really negative regarding her behavior and her character. I heard no defenders or apologists."

• And in the interest of equal time, it's Denise of San Antonio: "I don't think that Serena has lost the battle of public opinion. Did you miss her guest spots on Good Morning America, Live With Regis and Kelly and CNN immediately after the Open? They were all sympathetic to her and made the point that everyone is human and makes mistakes, especially with so much at stake. Also, what world do you live in that you think she's lost fans? Sure, if they weren't her fans before, it would be easy to have an excuse, since she's the best tennis player in the world. If they were true fans of hers, no. If they are true fans of tennis, no. She has lost neither. She's exciting, colorful and did I mention she's the world's best female tennis player? She won't be losing any fans ... because of one incident blown out of proportion. People just chalk it up to a bad moment. I'm sure you can identify."

• Robert J. of Edison, N.J., submits look-alikes: Juan Martin del Potro and actor B.J. Novak. And Alex of Bellingham, Wash., believes del Potro looks a lot like Syler (played by Zachary Quinto) from Heroes.

Why is it that Zachary Quinto looks nothing like B.J. Novak?

Have a great week, everyone!

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