Wednesday November 11th, 2009

We'll start this week with two open calls. I received my ballot for the 2010 inductions to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Doubles is the theme this year and the nominees are Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva (as a team), Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge (as a team), and Anders Jarryd (individually).

With the blessings of the good folks at the ITHF, I'm handing over my ballot to you guys. Send me your selections (my e-mail and Twitter contacts are above) and I'll vote for players whom a majority of you select. If this gets too cumbersome, I may have to create a Facebook site or somesuch. But for now, fire away. (Vote one time only, please.)

• Speaking of audience participation: WTA CEO Stacey Allaster has kindly volunteered to take some reader questions -- presumably about her agenda and the state of the women's game, though, who knows, maybe she, too, has strong feeling about The Wire's superiority to The Sopranos. Send me your questions, I'll select a batch and pass them on.


You wrote: "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." Can you elaborate on this point? So far, his legacy doesn't seem to have taken a hit in the media, while his profile is back on top. I'm sympathetic, especially to Agassi's childhood experiences. But the confessions seem self-indulgent rather than reflective and brave. Also, I'm curious about whether you were surprised by the current players' criticism. If you wrote a tell-all about the corruption at SI after leaving, what would you expect from your former colleagues? -- Matt, Bloomington, Ind.

• As expected, there was a lot of Agassi fallout this week. If you're going to launch a book, nothing like controversy to get the Amazon ranking up. I'm supposed to speak with Andre on Wednesday, and I'm planning to have a Q&A for the site Thursday, so I'll go easy on the Agassi questions here.

I am, though, surprised at how many players -- Marat Safin, Rafael Nadal, Sergi Bruguera, Marcelo Rios -- are taking swipes. (When Safin is defending the ATP Tour, you know something's up.) To Matt's point, I do think Agassi is getting beaten up a bit. Here's a guy who, a week ago, had an unimpeachable image. Suddenly -- and by his own doing -- he's come in for some hard criticism. A lot of us seem to be in agreement and find it hard to condemn him for recreational drug use more than a decade ago, but find the lying and the cover-up distasteful.

But plenty of you wrote in with sentiment echoing that of Michael of Burbank, Calif.: "When I first heard that Agassi's book was coming out, it was on the top of my son's stocking-stuffer list. Now it's not. I do not want my 12-year-old to read how he took drugs and then came back to win Grand Slams. I don't care. He should have thought about that as a father and kept his mouth shut."

Did Martina Navratilova really compare Andre's use of crystal meth to Roger Clemens using steroids? I'm a huge Martina fan, but please tell me the quote attributed to her was a mistake. -- Rich, Westchester

• You mean Clemens' alleged steroid use. I like Martina personally and have great respect for the rare athlete willing to take political stands, to speak out, and to use her celebrity platform for purposes more noble than selling sneakers. The flip side is that sometimes Martina could probably use an internal editor before sounding off. Comparing Agassi with Clemens is a terribly flawed analogy for any of a dozen reasons. To her credit, she appears to have backed off that assessment, telling CBS' The Early Show that athletes shouldn't be tested for recreational drugs.

How does Agassi's meth confession affect his Hall of Fame entry? -- Lindsay W., Dallas

• Not at all. If illicit recreational drug use precluded induction, you could house the Hall of Fame in a double-wide trailer.

ITF chief Ricci Bitti suggested it would be counterproductive for the committee to ban the top-ranked player (Serena Williams) for the Australian Open. And so, if Yanina Wickmayer were ranked higher, she wouldn't have been banned for a year? I adore professional tennis, truly. But it just feels like a total mess right now. Are the other sports laughing at us? -- Ken Schneck, Brattleboro, Vt.

• Other sports have their issues, too. But between Agassi and the Wickmayer farce, it's been a rough stretch for tennis, at least off the court. I've said my piece about Wickmayer here.

The bottom line is this: Lacking as they are in a union, the players are getting hammered on this anti-doping issue. And Bitti's odd remarks, which many of you also cited, only highlight the flaws. So basically ranking determines culpability? If that's the case, maybe a 19-year-old, who started the year outside the top 50 -- and thus may have been understandably clueless about WADA protocol -- deserves a little compassion? Look, Wickmayer did not provide her whereabouts to authorities three times, which is problematic and warrants some discipline. But one year?! That's draconian.

Is it just me being overly cynical, or is one of the big losers from Agassi-gate one Richard Gasquet? Are fewer people likely to believe Gasquet's defense now that Agassi's story has come to light? -- Cam Bennett, Geelong, Australia

• I had the same thought. Then news broke about the Wickmayer ban.

Will Roger Federer be able to secure the No. 1 ranking in Paris? Haven't heard much about that at all. -- Tim, New York City

• An actual tennis question? What's that all about? Look at the rankings, and if my math is right, it's entirely possible that Rafael Nadal can finish the year at No. 1. The problem is, he's still looking little like the Nadal of old, the fearless player who trusts his body 100 percent. Plus, the remaining events are indoors, never his favorite precinct. I suspect Federer will end 2009 in the penthouse yet again.

You wrote that the last time Federer took a bad loss in a major was 2003. Um, do the words Nadal, French Open and 2008 mean anything to you? How about a bagel to go with that loss, Roger? -- Leon, New York, N.Y.

• You guys are rough. Lots of you made a similar observation. Federer simply failed to show up that day. But is losing to Nadal on clay ever a "bad loss"? Not so much, in my book.

It's been ages since I sent a question through to you. Hope you answer it this time. WTHIGOW Monica Seles? Is she going to coach the Fed Cup? I hope she comes back to tennis! -- Mr. Rivera, Sydney, Australia

• Welcome back. At last check, she was holding a youth sports symposium. Here's a Sports Illustrated piece on Seles from a few months back.

I know one of Serena's old hitting partners -- another native of Rochester, N.Y. He was a great player but I don't think he ever really had a professional ranking. He used to tool on Serena and Venus, let alone any of the players mentioned by the e-mailer Conrad last week (Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray and Pete Sampras). Just thought you might like to know. -- Eric, Rochester, N.Y.

• I wanted to let this go but I like this note from Steve Brawner of Bryant, Ark.: "I know you're ready to let this die, but regarding Serena Williams versus the men: I have no doubt that if she plays the No. 2,000-ranked man on a practice court, he defeats her easily. But put the two in the finals of a major, and we'll see why she's a champion and he's No. 2,000."

And here's Conrad, very gamely replying: "Rereading my question/statement, it did sound ridiculous. Just wanted to clear things up: Serena by no means can beat any of the men I mentioned. It's impossible to compare genders, but fair is fair: If you don't have 11 majors and counting, you can't be considered as good as Serena, irrespective of gender. My sincerest apologies for the confusion."

C'mon, give Modern Family some love. It is the funniest show I have seen in a loooooooooong time! -- Aaron White, San Marcos, Calif.

• Doesn't do it for me. But I know I'm in the minority here.

Sorry, but Little Lies is worth listening to simply for the Christine McVie/Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham vocal combination. Christine's songs have always been more about melody than lyrics anyway, though the lead lyric -- "If I could turn the page in time then I'd rearrange, just a day or two" -- is a solid lyric made great by phrasing. We are in agreement about on-court coaching, at least. And a tennis fan who has never heard of Mischa, Marcos and Francesca is like an NFL fan who can't name one lineman on their favorite team: a slacker. -- Jake Ryan, Ohio

• I'm shocked by how many of you rushed to the defense of Little Lies after my criticism. No accounting for taste. Nice line, though, about appreciating the vital "linemen" in tennis and not simply the star quarterbacks and receivers.

• The 20th annual Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic raised $700,000 from two days of tennis and the annual gala event held last weekend in Delray Beach and Boca Raton, Fla.

• Josh of Richmond, Va.: "Just saw Grigor Dimitrov (some say the next Federer) play in at the Charlottesville Challenger last night. He looked impressive during the first two sets. However, he was injured midway through the second set and ended up losing 6-2 in the third. My issue with him is that he seems to fall an awful lot (noticed this on some of his YouTube highlights as well). Either he's throwing himself after every shot, has bad footwork or his shoes aren't adequate (my dad's theory). Someone should tell his coach this, because this kid is going to hurt himself if he keeps this up. But I didn't feel comfortable walking up to Peter Lundgren and telling him that, since I'm just a fan. By the way, this was my first Challenger event and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully this tournament decides to stick around Charlottesville."

Skip of Philadelphia notes: "Trading Places segue: The indoor tennis scene, supposedly in some upper-crust Philadelphia club, was filmed at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn."

• If someone can help Carlos, I'll happily play middle man: "I played and enjoyed tennis through 16 years with the same tennis racket, a Donnay Pro similar to the one used by Agassi to win Wimbledon in 1992. Since the '90s, in the best interest of my game and due to the natural progress in racket technology, I tried to change my frame three times; incredibly, I never got the same feeling with any of the new rackets compared to my good-old Donnay marvel. I won many tournaments with it and competed at my best every time. Then, I suffered a very serious car accident last year and was near death. After a long, hard period of healing and recovery that is still happening, I am playing tennis again, although with some physical limitations. Something else happened in the accident: My Donnay was lost in it. I am still missing the touch and feel, like it was a natural extension of my arm and hand. Any suggestions for how can I find a replacement of such a wonderful racket?"

• The WTA Tour's Roger Gatchalian, one of the sport's good people, is moving on. What a loss for tennis. Wish him well.

• After you finish Agassi's book, pick up Chris Ballard's newest offering.

Joe of Bridgeport, W.Va.: "If the sport/game you are playing involves hitting a stationary ball 100 percent of the time, it is not a sport. And while we are at it, can someone please tell Tiger Woods to NOT use the phrase "I grinded it out"? No, Tiger, it wasn't a 'grind'. You hit a stationary ball, someone carries your equipment and you walk on the world's best manicured lawns -- sorry, that's not 'grinding'. Take a look at a Nadal-Federer 30-shot rally in 90-degree heat. Now, that's a grind."

Jason of Leander, Texas: "Not to add confusion to the whole sport vs. game discussion, but I thought you might find it interesting to know that the local sporting goods store now houses tennis gear on an aisle called Recreation."

• Indiana readers: I'll be speaking in Indianapolis on Thursday night (Nov. 12) at 7:30 at the Ann Katz Festival. Interested parties are welcome to attend. No purchase necessary. (Void where prohibited. And 60 Minutes will be showed immediately afterward, except on the West Coast when it will air at its regularly scheduled time.)

Hampton L. of Philadelphia has this week's long-lost siblings: Andy Roddick and Denver Broncos wunderkind coach Josh McDaniels, especially when both have hats on.

Not to be outdone, Ivan H. of New York: How does this measure up: Gael Monfils and Miles Davis?

Have a great week, everyone!

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