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No place for Clijsters in year finale

Any chance that the WTA extends an invite to Mrs. Lynch for the Sony Ericsson Championships? The rules seem to allow for it, and with Fila signing on this week as the championships' official clothing sponsor, it seems everything could be falling in place for us to get one last look at Mrs. Lynch in the '09 season.-- Karl Miller, Phoenixville, Pa.

• Karl refers, of course, to Kim Clijsters, she of the "superfluous j," as Stephen Colbert recently noted. (Colbert is one to talk, he being of the superfluous "t.") While Clijsters' presence would no doubt goose ratings and attendance and generate immeasurable buzz, she is unlikely to show up in Doha, Qatar, for the season-ending tournament. She won't get in based on her ranking (Clijsters is ranked 18th and the top eight players qualify) and she hasn't played since the U.S. Open. While I can't imagine many would object to a "special exemption" for the most recent Grand Slam champion, imagine being an otherwise deserving player who competed in 18 events, did all the sponsor schmooze-a-thons and qualified on paper ... only to have the WTA pull the Lucy and the football trick.

Long as we're in the neighborhood, it hasn't gotten the credit it deserves, but I love the WTA's idea of making the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions event a de facto year-end championship for the 11-25 level players. It gives the Yanina Wickmayer types a chance to earn to some well-deserved extra cash; it brings tennis to a new market; and it adds a sponsor.

To answer Tal's question from last week: Clijsters' hubby, Brian Lynch, was a good player, albeit not NBA material. Physically, he was not extremely gifted -- he wasn't the guy to dunk on someone or blow past his defender -- but he was very smart on the court. He played as a small forward mostly and was known for his court vision, good passes, smart drives, a solid jumper and leadership on and off the court. All in all, a pretty big loss for the Antwerp Giants, because especially during the playoffs he was playing at a very high level. One commentator said, "Kim will have to win a Grand Slam to vindicate Lynch's early retirement."-- Ive, Antwerp, Belgium

• Thanks much. Here's some more insight. And is it me, or does he come across as likable on a level that might even be described as Clijsters-esque?

I have heard John McEnroe make that same statement ("They used to fine me when I did [erupt] and now they fine me if I don't") from the broadcast booth, and quite frankly, I have always assumed that it was made tongue-in-cheek and not really seriously (you can't be serious!). But I would love to know if it is true. I think you also have to temper that statement against something else that McEnroe has said from the booth, which is his feeling that if they had punished/fined him earlier and more often in his career, he would probably not have gotten so out of hand with his outbursts as his career progressed.-- Lilas Pratt, Marietta, Ga.

• Does McEnroe really get fined if he doesn't throw a tantrum, as he's stated? Here's Jim Courier, chief of the Outback Champions Series: "As someone who reviews every one of John's contracts with the Outback Champions Series, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that there has never been a clause in any of his agreements with our tournaments that obligates him to behave in any specific manner on court. Any serious suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate by John or anyone else. Having said that, it is my strong belief that John continues to use this throwaway line with the media because it is a humorous response, which defuses a tricky question. We all know he can be very charming in his commentary duties but it's much more common for him to show the more intense side of his personality when he is competing on the court."

Harder to reform: the U.S. health-care system or the professional tennis tournament schedule?-- Ashwin, Rochester, N.Y.

• Good question. On the one hand, you have this hopeless snarl of partisan politics, conflicts galore, entrenched special interests, a backward incentive structure and a culture that is almost pathologically resistant to change. But you know, this health-care system, it's pretty messy, too.

Sport or game -- this is a debate that rages on. I strongly feel that if you don't have to be athletic -- let's say you have to at least reach your target heart rate zone 50 percent of the time -- you are playing a game, not a sport. Tennis, basketball, soccer -- these are sports. But billiards, golf, etc. -- these are games. Baseball is borderline; you run the bases and chase after fly balls and grounders, but there are a lot of fat-butt pitchers I don't consider athletes because they don't ever expend enough energy. Can you set a standard here? I really think the key is athleticism. If you ain't sweatin', you're playing a game.-- Jim Reilley, Sacramento, Calif.

• I like Andre Agassi's line about golf (which I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Anything you can do drunk is not a sport." A friend of mine suggested that anything you do wearing a belt (i.e. golf, bowling, pool) is not a sport. I would contend that this fails us when it comes to martial arts. And, besides, none of the pool players I know bother to wear belts.

I was really impressed with Alisa Kleybanova's aggressive performance in the U.S. Open doubles final versus Venus and Serena Williams, and wondered if you believe she has greater potential in the singles arena. Pam Shriver seemed to think if she worked on her fitness (i.e. lost weight ), she could be a real contender. Shriver compared her to a young Martina Navratilova in that respect. Thoughts?-- Hope, New York

• Never mind doubles. Kleybanova is a formidable singles players who hovers between 20-30, hits a big ball and can hang with anyone from the baseline. She's beaten Jelena Jankovic, among others, this year, and took out Vera Zvonareva in Tokyo just last month. As you (and Shriver) suggest, her, ahem, fitness is preventing her from reaching the next plane.

Will the Hepner/Nelson records for longest point and longest match ever be broken?-- Dave, River Forest, Ill.

• Dave refers to this piece. The notion of a 29-minute point is simply inconceivable today. Even if Novak Djokovic is serving.

Do you have any insight into the retire-vs.-hiatus debate from a business perspective? If a player says they want to take a "break" but not retire, do they still get fined for not appearing at the required tournaments? Do they get penalized by sponsors for not fulfilling obligations? Whereas if they "retire," all of those penalties go away. Just wondering if there is a financial motivation for a player to say they are retiring when they really just want to take a break.-- Steve Boening, Dallas, Texas

• Great question. And your skepticism is well-placed. I know of at least two instances in which a player's endorsement deals would have lapsed had they retired; so they simply went "inactive," and continued getting some of the lucre. On the other hand, "inactive" players are still subject to tour rules, including the anti-doping testing. I know of another player who considered herself inactive but retired in part because she didn't want to have the WADA gendarmes knocking on her door at 6 a.m.

Please explain to me how Jelena Jankovic can withdraw, due to injury, in a final against Maria Sharapova on Oct. 3, and then play in the China Open on Oct. 6? Did the same shoulder AND wrist injuries that she had no time whatsoever to treat miraculously disappear and allow her to play and lose in three sets? Is that insane, dishonest sportsmanship, or simply a desperate attempt to make the Doha draw? I'm baffled.-- William Christian, Lompoc, Calif.

• The miracles of acupuncture? The magic of acai berries? Prayer? You got me. The more charitable view, of course, is that Jankovic was in great pain and deserves our admiration for keeping her commitment to the subsequent event. Instead of blaming players, direct your outrage at a playing schedule that treats players like chattel. The word that keeps coming to me is: "unsustainable."

All the retiring/unretiring in tennis may give more urgency to the need for an offseason. Don't you think that players burn out more quickly because the game is so much more physically and mentally grueling than it was years ago? It seems to me that many of the players just need a break.-- Wendy Tenzer-Daniels, Venice, Fla.

• This is the source of so many of tennis' ills: The tours aren't traditional players' associations. They are organizations seeking to represent the interests of both the players and the tournaments. Often, this is akin to representing the interests of bait manufacturers and the oral health of fish. Many of you have asked, "Why doesn't the ATP cut the schedule?" Remember, half the ATP's composition is made up of tournament directors who want to add events and commitments!

I said this only half-jokingly a few weeks ago: Don Fehr, longtime baseball union leader, recently stepped down and might be looking for a consulting project. Some enterprising player ought to take the guy to lunch! I'm happy to make the introductions.

• So, can tennis save the economy?

Andy S. ofWinston Salem, N.C. wonders: "Interesting to see on the WTA Web site last week the hype for Shahar Peer being primed to qualify for the [Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions]. Given that the tourney will take place in Bali, and given the fact that the Indonesians pulled out of a Fed Cup tie against Israel just three years ago in protest of Israel's Gaza offensive, should we be preparing for Shahar-gate II?"

• From the "can't please all the people all the time file," Patrick Preston of Lexington, Ky., writes: "One of the reasons why I -- and a lot of my friends -- don't really care for Ana Ivanovic is that she seems SO full of it. Which one of her injuries prevented her from making good service tosses all year? I understand that she's trying to 'spin' her bad year, but come on! She has 'not a single doubt' in her mind? Her play all year contradicts that statement. You can see the doubt through the TV!"

• Yet mere minutes later, we received this from (you're killing me with the pseudonyms) Old Guy Who Remembers Talk Of Rod Laver's "Recent" Retirement And Has Appreciated Tennis Pros Through The '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s of Jacksonville, Fla.: "Man, that Ana Ivanovic! She is on Federer's level in at least one way -- public statements/interviews. She is so open, honest and gracious. The excerpts in your column reveal an incredibly mature young woman -- remember, almost all of these people are very young adults -- who really impresses. I can't even imagine most of the other top women being as ... I'm not even sure what the word is ... gracious, mature, confident yet self-effacing and so open about what she's gone through. Oh, yeah, and she's a world-class looker."

Blake of Perth, Western Australia, notes: The trick shot that trumps Federer's and Mary Pierce's, perhaps?

• Congrats to Ken Rosewall.

Anand Pai of India: "One more interesting fact about Federer and Grand Slams: He has either won a Grand Slam or lost to the eventual champion since Wimbledon 2004."

• From the ITA: "In the 25th anniversary of the Riviera/ITA Women's All-American Championships, a player hailing from the Peach State was crowned singles champion for the first time since the inaugural year of the tournament. Sophomore Chelsey Gullickson was seeking to be the first Bulldog to capture the singles title since Lisa Spain won in 1983 but was overmatched by another sophomore in Georgia Tech's Irina Falconi, who teamed with senior Amanda McDowell to capture the 2008 ITA All-American doubles title. Falconi, seeded eighth in the tournament, cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over the second-ranked Gullickson to earn her first individual national title. After dropping the first game of the match, Falconi went on a run and never looked back."

Jonathan Kohn of Chicago: "In the spirit of promoting tennis charity/benefits, Todd Martin will be the celebrity guest for the Tennis Opportunity Program's Pro-Am fund-raiser in Chicago on Oct. 17. All proceeds provide economically disadvantaged children in Chicago the opportunity to achieve excellence."

Neil Grammer of Toronto responds to this (see "shots, miscellany" section): "Hey, Linda Zipp, may I spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness for my transgression (who knows, maybe that's what Serena will end up being punished with). As for Ms. Peer, I guess all I can say is, Shana Tova!"

John Yu of San Francisco submitslook-alikes: Marin Cilic and Lee Pace from Pushing Daisies.

Have a great week, everyone!

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