Wednesday November 4th, 2009

I'm sure you're slammed with questions about Andre Agassi's admission of drug use and his lying to the ATP about the reasons for a positive test. Whether he should or shouldn't have written about this aside, what effect does this have on his legacy? This is, after all, a guy with a positive image who we now know probably should have been suspended. -- Nitin Arora, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

• It was all-Andre, all the time this week. Never mind that the WTA just held its year-end championships. Before we talk specific issues, I want to urge everyone to read this book (which will be released on Monday). It is can't-put-down good. I kept recalling David Foster Wallace's famous lament about Tracy Austin's unrevealing memoir and thinking, "He sure couldn't accuse Andre of that!" Agassi takes the reader to a 350-page therapy session. The writing here is exceptional -- pacing, word choice, narrative arc, recurring themes. The balance between tennis content and "story content" is well-struck. Hardcore fans will get their diet of Bernd Karbacher and polyester strings. But those knowing or caring little about tennis will simply enjoy the personal journey of a flawed but ultimately sympathetic figure. The crystal meth admission got the headlines, but I can name 10 more surprising/compelling anecdotes and figures.

What effect does the meth bombshell have on Agassi's legacy? I suspect the answer will be different in a month, when people have actually read the entire book, and not simply a blurb. Right now, Agassi is taking a hit -- fueled, surprisingly, by criticism from current players -- both for the drug use and the lies he conveyed to a gullible tribunal.

But because the drug use was not performance-enhancing and because it was undertaken in 1997 when Agassi was winning nothing, it's hard to make the case that it distorted his achievements or robbed the competition. Not that Agassi is too worried either way. As he takes pains to point out, he doesn't much care for tennis. Not as a sport. Not as a profession. Not as an institution. For someone so perceptive about the technical side of the sport and the "process" of hitting a ball, he ain't losing sleep about his perceived status in the Kingdom of Tennis.

I like Andre's revelation that he lost the 1990 French Open final because his wig was falling off. Because you see, that's what autobiographies are all about -- telling your side of the story that everyone's forgotten, and if it somehow tarnishes the achievements of Andres Gomez -- one of the nicest guys in tennis, the only Ecuadorean Grand Slam champion and one of the most in-form players of the clay-court circuit that year -- well, so be it! -- Kevin James, London

• I suppose that collateral damage is, necessarily, an unpleasant consequence of writing a brutally honest nonfiction book. Reputations take a hit, myths are exploded, achievements are recast in lesser light. Agassi seldom comes off as petty or a bitter guy simply settling old scores. He backs up most of his assertions. But from Andres Gomez to Boris Becker to Jeff Tarango to sportswriter Mike Lupica to the sensationally self-absorbed Brooke Shields, there's substantial roadkill here.

Now that I know the obstacles Agassi had to overcome to claim his fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Grand Slam titles, well, I think I admire him even more than before. -- Jay Lassiter, Cherry Hill, N.J.

• I presume Jay is talking about Agassi's kicking his crystal meth habit. Without giving away too much, here's what is frustrating: It's not entirely clear what effect this had on his career. Did the meth hamper his training or his tennis in the long term? Did Gil Reyes, the real hero of the book, ever know? What made him quit? Was it hard? Any temptation to backslide? For such an explosive revelation, you wish there had been more context and "follow-up care," as it were. But to Jay's point, leaving the drug use aside, it is hard to read this book and not admire Agassi even more than before. Beginning with his tyrannical father and ending with his tyrannical body, Agassi overcame plenty.

Keep the "haters" at bay. Serena Williams' best tennis is easily top-250 material on the men's side. And all men are just lucky she wasn't born male. Who is her equal? Roger Federer? Not physical enough. Rafael Nadal? Not dominant enough (yet). Andy Murray? Too much of a pusher (and too tactical). Pete Sampras? Didn't win on all surfaces. -- Conrad, McAllen, Texas

• As similar questions/assertions keep coming in, I feel like this topic exploded on us a bit. I tried make a half-facetious point that Serena's physique and temperament make the prospect of her playing a low-ranked male pro particularly intriguing. But just so we're clear: Serena would stand no chance of challenging, much less beating, any of the opponents Conrad names. Great, now let's avoid this topic for at least a few years!

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

• Just to refresh: This e-mail was published in last week's mailbag. And this arrived in response ...

Really? Someone from Berlin wants to get into a national history insult contest? -- Matt Woods, Sydney, Australia

• In your gesicht, Berlin. Global Smackdown 2010. It's on.

This is more an observation rather than a question. The ATP lacks anticipation. For instance, by the time the NFL get here, people are ready for it. In contrast, by the time the ATP winds up its season, casual fans are asking whether the season hadn't already wrapped up after the U.S. Open. Besides, players need time to recover from an endless season. -- Les Campbell, Orlando, Fla.

• A number of people -- including Andy Roddick -- have made this same point. Apart from enabling athletes to recover physically and emotionally from a draining season, one of the benefits of a real offseason is that it leaves people missing the sport and excited for Opening Day. You go through a little withdrawal. You read about your favorite player in repose (and hopefully not the police blotter), you hold your fantasy draft. Less is more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. All that. In tennis? Let's just say if baseball were tennis, pitchers and catchers would be reporting to Florida and Arizona on Monday!

What happened to the "further investigation" by the USTA regarding Serena's actions at the U.S. Open? -- Daniel Gonzalez, Milwaukee

• No kidding. I heard an announcement was coming the first week of October. Since then, radio silence. I don't envy the administrators on this one. No matter how this plays out, there will be a lot of anger and unhappy constituents.

It is comeback time for many former top players. Do you know if anybody could convince Jennifer Capriati of making a return in 2010? -- Marta Savila, Miami

• She needs no persuading. What she needs is a healthy shoulder.

Your point last week regarding athletes' uneven performances made me think of a match from 2006 where Roger Federer, at his absolute apex, nearly lost in Tokyo to Takao Suzuki, ranked No. 1,078 at the time. [Federer won 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3)]. That would have been a crazy upset. -- Josh, Richmond, Va.

• But it didn't happen. Just when you thought we had exhausted the "why Federer is great" file, here's another point: When was the last time he took a bad loss at a major? By my reckoning, it was the French in 2003 (a first-round loss to Luis Horna), before he had achieved much.

You cannot relate an anecdote in which Federer (or his representative) declares Letterman's top 10 too sarcastic and then suggest Quentin Tarantino portray him! -- Kristen, Raleigh, N.C.

• Touché.

Thank you for inducing the mental image I now have of Juan Martin del Potro awkwardly singing and dancing with the Gleeks. It makes me smile. -- Carol, Los Angeles

• Really, we pride ourselves on providing a full service mailbag here. Carol is referring to last week's mailbag in which I compared del Potro with another strong newcomer, Glee, after likening Roger Federer to 30 Rock and Rafael Nadal to The Wire. Which brings us to ...

Are you trying to say 30 Rock is better than The Office? -- Dan, Maryland

• I am. Without reservation.

How could you possibly include 30 Rock among those great shows? If Rafael Nadal is The Wire, Federer has to be The Sopranos. -- Steve, Denver, Colo.

• Absolutely. Remind me to tell you my Judah Friedlander story sometime. Can we all agree that this is a golden age for TV?

I drove all night to watch Serena in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. I was hoping to have a change of heart since time after time she has disappointed me. At the end of the match, she showed her true colors. Even in the postmatch interview, showing little recognition that she had done wrong, she seemed to say that girls just want to have fun. -- Chris Horton, Chicago

• For the vast army of Cyndi Lauper fans in the audience ...

I'm pretty sure pool gets more coverage than tennis. You can watch pool on one of the ESPN channels several times a week. You're usually only afforded that in tennis during Grand Slams and some other big tournaments. Pool, bowling, drag racing -- they all get more time than tennis on a weekly basis. -- Dan, Baltimore

• Notice, though, when the pool is televised. It's often on ESPN2 when there is a marquee event on ESPN or ABC, counterprogramming to make sure as small an audience as possible tunes in.

• Trick or treat. Federer is the new global ambassador for Lindt Chocolate.

• Speaking of Federer, he's committed to Estoril in 2010.

Lisa Sandberg of Columbus, Ohio, is the winner, chosen at random, for last week's trivia question: Vicki Nelson Dunbar, the winner of the longest point ever played, lost to the sister of Mal Washington in the next round.

Ben of Portland, Ore.: "Regarding the John Lucas basketball/tennis pedigree you mentioned: Jon Douglas was Stanford's first all-American tennis player, as well as quarterback on its 1957 football team with a 6-4 record. At Santa Monica (Calif.) High, he also played basketball. He was in the tennis top 10 from 1960-62."

• Was at a dinner in Detroit the other night and randomly ran into Aaron Krickstein. Man. We should all age so gracefully.

Ive of Antwerp, Belgium: "Y-Wick? Why not just call Yanina Wickmayer by her regular nickname, Wicky! Oh, and you've probably noticed, but with every ball Wickmayer hits, she yells, 'Woo-pie.' "

Scott Humphrey of Pflugerville, Texas: "May I respond to Vincent's question regarding motivation behind players like Nadia Petrova and David Ferrer who are very good but will never be the best? Even though Federer is my all-time favorite player, if I were a tennis player, I would rather have Ferrer's career. By way of analogy, I graduated from high school with Nancy Travis, an actress. She has been in many successful movies, TV series, commercials and made-for-TV movies (most recently Hallmark Channel's Safe Harbor). She has enjoyed a wonderful career and always seems to be working, yet to my knowledge, she is never chased by the paparazzi nor does her picture ever land on the scandal sheets, and she can probably go wherever she wants to without an entourage of bodyguards. If I were a celebrity, I would much have her career than that of Brad Pitt, Madonna or, heaven forbid, Michael Jackson. It takes a very special person to deal with the weight of expectations and fame the way Federer does, but when all is said and done, I would rather be in Ferrer's shoes."

Jack of Simsbury, Conn.: "Based on the fact that a player cannot enter both year-end WTA championships (Doha and Bali), top 10 players do not participate in Bali. The WTA awards 600 points to the Bali champion, but only 470 points to Premier event champions (events such as Paris, Eastbourne and New Haven that feature several top 10 players). So they're basically awarding more points for an event that, theoretically, should be easier to win. Just something to keep in mind next time you try to make sense of the WTA rankings."

• Remember our discussion about Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech? Sometimes athletes are at their most revealing when they're not trying to be. Check out these remarks via Serena Williams: "I don't even know what crystal meth is, so, you know, that's what my reaction to what it is. I haven't read anything about Agassi's book. All I know is that I have a book coming out." Let the parsing begin.

Ivan H. of New York with long-lost siblings: Ana Ivanovic and actress Franka Potente.

Have a great week, everyone!

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