Wednesday October 28th, 2009

Be sure to check out Andre Agassi's revealing autobiography excerpt in this week's Sports Illustrated. I'll be taking all questions on the must-read next week.

Love your column so hate to point out a typo, but in your last mailbag you said, "Serena would have a chance against a male outside, say, the top 200." I'm assuming you meant 2,000. Against players such as Raemon Sluiter (No. 215), Nicolas Mahut (226) and Amer Delic (232), points would be very tough to come by for Serena. Not at all a knock on the great champion that Serena is, but let's stay real about this. -- Steve, Chicago

• Lots of you roasted me for this. I try to stay away from this question because too often it's used to denigrate women's tennis. We all know that the gulf between the top men and the top women is a vast one. Chris Evert has said when she and John Lloyd played practice sets, she was lucky to get a game. She was No. 1 in the world; he was barely top 100. Nadia Petrova used to practice with the Yale men's team and allegedly had a hard time keeping pace. Of course, Karsten Braasch, the chain-smoking German, beat the Williams sisters a decade or so ago.

Last week's question was specifically about Serena and I think her game (and her disposition) is singularly well-suited to take on a man. Does she have top 200 talent? No way. Would she beat a decent male college player? I might be inclined to take that bet.

But let's just stress this again: The St. Louis Rams would destroy the Florida Gators. Yet the Gators draw more fans, attract bigger television audiences, generate more passion among fans, etc. There's a reason for that. Don't use the qualitative differences between men and women as justification for "hating on the WTA," as Venus Williams might put it.

Nikolay Davydenko: 2010 Grand Slam champion, or solid and steady semifinalist? -- Andrew Miller, Cambridge, Mass.

• Honestly, "steady semifinalist" is an overreach. If Roger Federer is 30 Rock, Rafael Nadal is The Wire, Andy Murray is The Office and Novak Djokovic is Mad Men, then Davydenko is, like, maybe, How I Met Your Mother. Admirably steady, nice staying power, but not terribly compelling. Hey, this is fun. Let's take this a step further. Andy Roddick is Curb Your Enthusiasm -- not the most versatile, but reliably strong. Juan Martin del Potro is Glee, a strong newcomer ...

Anyway, give Davydenko his props. He's not the flashiest player or, for that matter, the flashiest guy. He tends to earn his rankings points opportunistically, winning, say, the indoor Masters Series event in Shanghai when the top players are hurt and/or mentally checked out. He's obviously best known for his alleged role in a betting scandal. Yet here he is. This question by Gwen Barde of Haastrecht, Netherlands, encapsulates it nicely: "When the top eight ATP players go to London for the year-end championship, won't Davydenko feel out of place or intimidated by the fact that the other seven (Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, del Potro, Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) have become superstars and have fan bases? Or should we just call it the sublime character of his career -- low-key but hanging on there?

For the players who always seem to linger in the top 10-30, what is their primary motivation that keeps them going? (Three examples from both sexes I can think of: Nadia Petrova, Daniela Hantuchova and Amelie Mauresmo; Tommy Robredo, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer.) Is it the money? Love of sport? Or hope that they'll have a surge "this year" and break into the top five again (or for the first time)? -- Vincent, New York

• Motivation? See, the Phoenecians invented this thing called money that can be accumulated and then used to purchase goods and services. Less cynically, most of us will never be the absolute best in our career. But there is virtue in clocking in, trying our best, drawing satisfaction from small triumphs and motivations from shortcomings.

With regard to the exhibition vs. tour schedule debate, Cyndi Lauper said it best: "Money changes everything." -- Ted, New York

• True. Though let's be clear: This will mark the first and last time Cyndi Lauper will be quoted in this space.

Ivan Lendl is surely the forgotten star of the 1980s. Who else have we forgotten? My nominees: Lew Hoad, Roy Emerson, Vitas Gerulaitis and Mats Wilander. -- Prakash Panangaden, Montreal

• Definitely Wilander. Don't look now, but he won as many majors as John McEnroe. I think you're right about Gerulaitis. Too many people think of him as Turtle to McEnroe's Vin Chase, a fun-loving running buddy. We're talking about a Grand Slam champion who reached the semis at all four majors. What about Sergi Bruguera? OK, he's not in the "Best Ever" category, but he did win multiple majors.

Another one for your list of sport vs. game qualifiers: Anything you can yawn doing is not a sport. On another subject: When was the last time tennis was a subject of Dave Letterman's Top 10 list? With all the storylines, there can't be a more deserving item. And few things bring a topic to the spotlight as Dave's appearance. -- Alex Gorbounov, Cary, N.C.

• Funny story: A few years ago, Roger Federer was asked to read the Top 10 list on Letterman's show. Mirka took one look at the content, declared it too sarcastic and they walked out of the studio.

You should come to Manila if you wish to improve on your pool skills. -- Elad Lim, Manila, Philippines

• In the U.S., pool makes tennis look like the NFL. But supposedly when you fly to the Philippines, one of the choices for in-flight entertainment is a highlight reel of the recent pool events.

Regarding the story in last week's mailbag about the longest point ever played, any suggestions on where the clip might be found online? A YouTube search revealed nada. -- Ivor, Cork, Ireland

• If it's not on YouTube, did it really happen? This was a point during an otherwise forgettable match at a Richmond tournament in the 1970s. Not surprising that YouTube leaves us hanging. (Still, if anyone has footage, I'm happy to upload and/or link.) Trivia: The winner of the longest point, Vicki Nelson Dunbar, lost to the sister of which notable male pro in the subsequent match? Here's the link again, for those who missed it.

A while back you gave the nickname of Mak and Nak to the doubles team of Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak. How about Rac and Ram for the team of Eric Butorac and Rajeev Ram? -- Barbara Beck, Rochester, Minn.

• Rac and Ram sounds like the name of a pool hall. But sure, anything to boost the profile of two Midwest guys.

Re: your statement about Margaret Court. Fact is, she won like 11 Australian Opens when absolutely no other real players went to the penal colony of the South Pacific. -- Georg, Berlin, Germany

• That, too. Good point. You are no cockeyed optimist.

On the topic of pros in other sports who can play tennis ...

A few days after winning a PGA event in New York, Matt Kuchar was here in South Carolina visiting family and played in a local club's doubles event. A few years ago, he and a brother-in-law, a former D-I player, won a silver ball (USTA) in a grass-court doubles event, losing in the finals to current pro James Cerretani and his partner. Here's the link. -- John, South Carolina

• Good one. Thanks. When he wasn't impugning my character, Tom Tebbutt of Toronto's Globe and Mail took time to note that the Florida Panthers' Dominic Moore can apparently play a little. Also, I was talking to Pau Gasol once in 2003 or so when he was marooned in Memphis. He warned, "This kid Nadal will be unbelievable." He also claimed to be an avid player. The all-time champ, though, is John Lucas, former NBA player, former NBA coach, all-time great guy. In the 1970s, Lucas was an all-America in basketball and tennis at the University of Maryland. There's a pedigree you don't see every day.

True or false: Sergio Garcia would beat Rafael Nadal if Rafa played right-handed. At least Sergio thinks so. -- Oskar Ahlberg, Stockholm, Sviiidhen

• Not sure about Garcia. But I love the "Sviiidhen" spelling. Reminds me of Jamie Lee Curtis posing as the Scandinavian exchange student aboard Amtrak in Trading Places.

For the love of some of your less intellectual readers -- please explain what "Lucy and the football trick" means. (And stop using abstruse analogies, confuses moi.) -- Deepak, Melbourne, Australia

• New rule: No one who uses the word "abstruse" can complain about intellectual references. Especially when the intellectual reference can be explained in a single cartoon.

If they were to make a movie about Roger Federer, which actor would best fit the role? -- Sadeep Moorthi, Lynchburg, Va.

• Does Quentin Tarantino act? Or just direct?

Mark of Redondo Beach, Calif.: "Respectfully disagree with your comments on Rafa playing hurt. I was in Shanghai and watched him go through a grueling two-hour practice on the day before his tournament started. He was crushing the ball with no sign of pain. Rafa's problem is the surface and his own stubbornness -- big hitter can rob him of the time his long forehand needs -- and his serve still isn't strong enough to win him the easy points the top players need on faster surfaces. Look how he sets his feet -- it limits his shoulder turn. Davydenko [who beat Nadal in the final] isn't a huge hitter, but he took the ball early and controlled most of the rallies."

• For a guy who was a higher-ranked junior than del Potro and Marin Cilic, there's still a long way to go. But nice to see Donald Young take the Calabasas Challenger. With any luck, he can build on this.

Will Wilson of Edinburgh, Scotland: "Thought I'd share The Onion's Federer analysis with you, in case you'd missed it."

Melanie Oudin, John Isner and the Bryan brothers will headline an exhibition in Baltimore on Dec. 9. Tickets are on sale.

• From a regional USTA source: "Just read your mailbag and wanted to answer your question about the [lack of tournaments in the] Pacific Northwest. I have it from a good source that a veteran promoter of Challengers is looking at adding about eight more to the schedule with the USTA. Several of the cities I have heard would include Seattle and Portland. I have heard that several factions are possibly putting in bids to buy the Indy ATP 500 event, but we likely won't hear anything until early December on that. One supposedly has a title sponsor lined up that wants to move it to their hometown."

• Venus has a book titled Come to Win, due out in 2010.

• Speaking of books, The Racket, a tennis novel by Richard Kent, is now on sale.

• Speaking of books, for the NASCAR fan on your Christmas list, my Sports Illustrated colleague Mark Bechtel has written an insta-classic.

Sarah of Washington, D.C.: "Honestly, your look-alike picks are getting worse and worse. Carlos Ponce and Juan Martin del Potro? And my Toni Nadal-Jesse Witten pick didn't make the cut? They look exactly the same!

Have a great week, everyone!

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.