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Despite decline, don't be quick to totally give up on Nadal; more mail

A quick bag before Thanksgiving ...

Rafael Nadal: buy, sell, or hold?-- Sam T., of Wilton, Conn.

• For all the strange occurrences in 2009, the return of the Belgians, the revival of Federer, Serena Williams winning titles but losing her mind, the decline of Rafa may top the list. We know by now (and surely we after reading "Open") that careers are linear. There are nodes and crests and sometimes the streaks are inexplicable. But after Nadal more or less dominated tennis for the better part of a year-winning Slams on three surfaces, ascending to No. 1, reducing his rival to tears-it's shocking to see him in his current form. Falling twice to Robin Soderling? Failing to muster a set against JM del Potro?

Clearly the injuries to his knees have figured prominently in this slide. So has the breakup of his parents' marriage. But it's downright jarring to see him making unforced errors and coming up emptier than the Patriots on fourth down when the stakes are highest. Here's a player whose won countless matches on mental strength alone openly admitting, "In the important moments, I didn't have the necessary calm, so I had a few mistakes."

Going into London, Nadal had a chance to finish the year at No. 1. But really, his results since May, might not even be worthy of the top five.

So am I buying, selling or holding? We all like buying on the dip, but it's hard to load up given the recent slide and lingering concerns about physical durability. It would be foolhardy to sell, given what we know about the athletes and the rapidly-changing tennis storylines. Put me down for a hold, albeit a nervous one. I think Nadal still has plenty of top-tier tennis left. But no question, after five years of an upward trajectory, his career has hit some turbulence and the fasten seatbelt signs are illuminated.

Nice public announcement at the O2 Arena here in London on Sunday night: 'Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be signing autographs by the practice court in 5 minutes'... Good to know that the $70,000 paycheck isn't just for sitting in a hotel room. But does this make it the most expensive personal appearance of 2009? But seriously, an attendance of 17,000 watching Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles against Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak should cheer all doubles lovers, and having myself attended an ill-fated London indoor tournament almost exactly 9 years ago (I thought it was longer until I checked), it's simply great that decent tennis in the UK is no longer confined to grass in June and July. (You'll have noticed that I don't include the travails of troubled 'Team GB' in Davis Cup!-- Eoghan, London

• Remember last year when the ATP had to summon Radek Stepanek from his vacation to fill the alternate slot? Having Jo-Willy sign autographs is a vast improvement. And, yes, the crowds have looked great. I think it was Neil Harman who said that all of these doubles players playing in front of Springsteen crowds must feel like they died and went to heaven!

Have the players ever talked about hiring a professional union rep to solidify the union? It never made sense to me that top players should be leading the union by default. Just because they are good on the court doesn't mean that they are good at labor negotiations. If the players want change, they should get someone in there who specializes in making these things happen.-- Brandon, Chicago

• There's a great game theory/prisoner's dilemma exercise here. The top players have the political and economic capital to affect meaningful change. But it's not in their professional best interest to spend their limited free time engaging labor issues. (And imagine the free rider issue: "While you guys are in a conference room debating prize money, I'll be on the practice courts working on my game!") The players with the time to fight management and agitate for better working conditions, don't have the juice. I wrote and half jokingly that Donald Fehr has free time on his hands now and could help tennis players. (Too late now, apparently, as the NHLPA snapped him up.) But, to your question, it would be immensely helpful if the players could subcontract some Eugene V. Debs figure (An Indiana native, I'll have you know.)

While I am no expert on financial markets, how does tweeting encourage "insider information" in regards to gambling. If anything, it would reveal more information, making insider trading more difficult. Unless of course, the cheating player thought we would think that, in which case he would say he was injured when he wasn't. But they also might realize we would suspect them of doing so, so then he would clearly tell the truth. This feels like a scene from either "The Princess Bride" or "Pirates of the Caribbean". In any case, do any of think relevant information that might be used to encourage or discourage gambling is actually revealed in tweets? Even if tweets revealed insider information, with enough insider trading it would driving the people taking the bets out of business hence no more gambling. I also maintain that if people were really honest in their tweets, they would type "I am write this while sitting bored on the john." -- Benjamin Hansen, Ph.D., of Columbia, Md.

• Inconceivable! Indirectly, you are restating one of my points about gambling: you are a fool to bet on tennis, not because there's match fixing, but because there's so much asymmetrical information. If you happen to be at a tournament, you're armed with superior information to the guy home on his laptop. If you happen to have "behind-the-scenes access," you have still better information. If you happen to subscribe to player X's Twitter feed, you might be privy to additional information. ("At Delta counter making reservation because no way I win tomorrow." "I am about to pop this Lidocaine tablet.")

Hey, 15th times a charm getting into the mailbag! Last week I asked about Agassi's HOF entry after his crystal meth admission. While I agree with you that he's still getting in, the devil's advocate in me questions, why this is different than Martina Hingis? From what I hear from various sources, her chances are way down now. They both tested positive. Even worse, he admits it. Does it really hurt her, and if so, what's the difference?-- Lindsay W., Dallas

• As I see it, Agassi seals Hingis' enshrinements. Leaving aside historical contradictions -- just run a Wikipedia search and not how many current enshrinees have admitted to illicit drug use -- how do you possibly exclude Hingis now? Agassi not only admits drug use, but admits fabricating an alibi to avoid punishment. Hingis vigorously denies use. Agassi escaped punishment. Hingis did not.

Not so much a question but a comment - how could anyone think that there is a specific event that triggered David Foster Wallace's suicide? If nothing else, that question vis a vis Federer's loss proves how far mental health advocates have to go before folks understand how profound mental illness can be, that it is simply a response to a temporary problem.-- Adrienne Martini, Oneonta, N.Y.

• Agree wholeheartedly. And it's especially bad in the sports world. I cringe when I think of the former Mets pitcher who clearly suffered depression, yet his condition was spun as "withdrawal symptoms after he gave up chewing tobacco." One of the most poignant quotes I've ever gotten: Ricky Williams, the NFL running back (and a huge tennis fan) once told me that when he injured his toe, the medical attention was immediate and non-stop. When he complained of a "hurt soul," he was told to strap on his helmet and stop being a p----. If seen on an MRI, it's real; if not, you're a head case.

Discuss: Apart from genetics, some of the great risk factors for mental illness are stress and social instability (and head injuries!). I would contend that tennis players -- no guaranteed salaries, financial stress, individual sport, immense travel, lack of a sense of place -- would be prime candidates.

Are there any top players that spoke out in support of Agassi after the drug-related revelations? Irresponsible comments from top players are getting old. I need someone new to root for.-- Sean, Tallahassee, Fla.

Andy Roddick was quick out of the gate supporting Agassi. Agassi mentioned that Courier and Justin Gimelstob supported him as well. (I'm told some players had been tipped off for weeks about the book's contents; others were totally blind-sided.) Here's another link to John Newcombe, who, I thought was particularly eloquent in defending Agassi.

I'm getting tired of answering my friends' questions about Andre Agassi, so I'm sure you must be truly sick of the topic. That said, there's one angle to this story that I've wondered about. During his final year on the tour, Agassi was treated as a great hero, beloved by fans and players alike. Was the reaction to his book really a response to just his drug revelation or is there really less love for him among his peers and among current players than one might have been led to believe?-- Coenraad Groenewald, Hoofddorp, Netherlands

• I agree that the goodwill Agassi engendered during his farewell tour has evaporated fast. When he walked into locker room after his final match at the U.S. match, he got a standing O from his contemporaries. Now, they're out for blood. Talking with players and coaches, I'm hearing three basic lines of complaint. The quotes are mine:

1) "This WADA drug policy is a huge pain ... We're tested all the time, often intrusively, and we there's a paperwork error we can Wickmayered. It's bad enough as it is. When you come out of the woodwork and it only makes things more onerous for us." (See: Nadal, et al.)

2) "Dude, you took food off my table. You should have been suspended-you admit as much. And when you, instead, played and enjoyed an unsullied reputation, you robbed others of prize money, points, appearance fees, endorsement lucre."

3) "If I catch my daughter kissing her boyfriend, I'm not mad about the kissing. I'm mad because I wonder what else was going on. Now that Agassi has aired this bit of dirty laundry, I wonder what other misdeeds were swept under the rug."

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

• " I am. Without reservation. " I can only assume that you are talking about the US version and not the UK version :-)

• You know, I think I would still put "30 Rock" above the British office.

• Nice "get" by Dan Kaplan of Sports Business Journal re: USTA salaries. A lot of you are writing in expressing outrage and we can discuss next week. I'm told Arlen Kantarian's $9 million haul in 2008 is a bit misleading, as it included a balloon payment when he was effectively terminated. Still, clearly, it's a staggering salary, especially for a non-profit.

Dustin Chad Alligood of Perry, Ga., notes: After his loss to Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco's 2009 record against the top 10 stands at 2-13. Against everyone else, he's 51-11.

• The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) announced that U.S. Air Force Academy head women's tennis coach Kim Gidley has been named the national winner of the USTA/ITA Community Outreach Award and Christine Davis, the women's head tennis coach at Smith College is the national winner of the USTA/ITA Campus Recreation Award. Both coaches will be honored by the ITA and the USTA on Saturday, Dec. 19 at the ITA Coaches Convention being held at the Naples Grande Resort and Spa in Naples, Fla., during the ITA Welcoming and Awards banquet.

• Admit it, you miss this music:

• Tennis books make a great Christmas gift. Check out what Alan Chalmers is offering.

• Been asked to spread the word, so ....New York readers, here are the details of the sports writing panel this coming Monday:

Calla W of Durham, N.C.: Look-a-like of the day/week/whatever - Rafa & the guy in that annoying Mickey D's commercial?

• This is fantastic Federer video: Seriously, how endearingly HUMAN is he?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

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