Wednesday January 23rd, 2008

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Yesterday you were asked whether Jelena Jankovic was underrated or overrated. Today I want to ask you about the other Serb, Ana Ivanovic. Your thoughts? -- Clark, Stockholm, Sweden

Ask, your timing is exquisite. How could we possibly call Ivanovic overrated on the day she wins a tough match against Venus Williams?

Like Jankovic on Tuesday, A.I. played perhaps the match of her life Wednesday. She's been talking about her improved fitness since she arrived here and it was really apparent against Venus. She scrambled to a lot of balls, moved gracefully and put Venus on the defensive plenty of times.

Like Jankovic on Tuesday -- warning: These two are destined to be bracketed together as often as the Williams sisters -- Ivanovic played a few tight points deep in the second set, but got it together and won perhaps the biggest match of her career. You really have to like her chances of getting to another final.

The season is long and you hate to proclaim a "trend" in a sport with such a precarious balance of powers. But the two Serbs and Maria Sharapova ushering out the Williams sisters and Justine Henin in the span of 24 hours sure has the whiff of a "changing of the guard."

Some Australian Open thoughts: 1) If the seeding system is set up differently so that theoretically there would be different matchups, then how would you explain Serena having to play Henin in the quarters of every darn Slam last year? (A few years ago, Serena kept playing Jennifer Capriati every time in the quarters.) 2) Roger Federer has never made it a secret what he thinks of the challenge system, but has he ever complained about it as much as he has the last few matches? You can't give him the benefit of the doubt this time, Jon -- his opponents frequently challenged correctly, while his own challenge history is very poor. Perhaps a weakness of the Fed: calling lines? 3) So maybe after seeing Henin's drubbing, Lindsay Davenport doesn't feel so bad about coming back? -- Joe, Madison, Wisc.

1) Agreed. To me, the current system is also unfavorable to the top seeds. Federer and Henin have earned their top spots and part of the spoils ought to include playing the No. 8 seed in the quarters and the No. 4 in the semis. When Henin has to play, say, Sharapova in the quarters, it's unfortunate for her.

2) I've seen so many challenges issued late in the set when the player has nothing to lose, I think it skews the stats. Still, you're right to note that Federer's eyesight has failed him this event.

3) Lot of people shared that sentiment about Davenport. How many games did she win against Sharapova? Four. How many did Henin, the player on the 28-match win streak win? Four.

How did the Williams sisters get into the main draw of the women's dubs? They are currently unranked, weren't given a wild card and did not play in qualifying. Not to imply that there isn't a compelling reason to have them in the draw, but what rule was used to grant the Sisters Sledgehammer direct entry? -- Chris W., Pacifica, Calif.

They used their singles rankings. That explains why they got in so easily but were not seeded.

WTHIGOW the heat rule? -- Megan,Indianapolis

There have been plenty of annoyances at this tournament -- overzealous pepper-sprayers, matches ending at dawn, Yuri Sharapov's gallingly classless throat-slitting gesture. You know, the customary stuff. But at least it hasn't been too hot.

Have you ever noticed that Evonne Goolagong is an anagram for "Google non-vegan?" -- Jeff P., Charlotte, N.C.

I had not. But thanks. My favorite player anagram was always Martina Hingis as "I am tarnishing." I smell a future contest.

I thought the Andy Roddick/Philipp Kohlschreiber match was one of the finest tennis matches I've ever seen. The differentials of both players were incredible. Do you agree that it was exemplary tennis? -- Joyce Macnamara, Westmount, Quebec

Oh, absolutely. I mean, Kohlschreiber hit more than 100 winners! Not to belabor the point, but part of what made Roddick's churlishness particularly regrettable was it tarnished an otherwise classic match.

After reading Serena's interview transcript after her loss to Jankovic, I was so pleased that either 1) she got a firm talking to after her interviews last year or, 2) she realized that she needs to be kinder to her opponents -- and was gracious and complimentary to her opponent despite the fact that she played a poor match. -- Anand Ramaswamy, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Agreed. Serena took a (justified) beating when she lost to Henin at the U.S. Open and attributed it to her opponent's luck. Fairness demands that we point out that, after losing Tuesday, she gave a perfectly reasonable assessment: "I wasn't moving the way I wanted to and the way I was in the previous rounds and I wasn't able to serve the way I wanted to, so I think maybe that could have affected my serve, at least. But I think Jelena played some good tennis and she hung in there."

I was sorry to see that Daniela Hantuchova dropped out of doubles with Davenport -- although many people made much ado about Lindsay's "short" comeback in a Slam, there was nary a peep about her success in doubles. Personally, I thought she'd have an excellent run on the doubles side. So, if Lindsay concentrates on doubles now, extending her career for another few years, hopefully people will consider that a successful comeback. Thoughts? -- Wendy Sue, Woodbridge, N.J.

First, there seemed to be some confusion out there in Tennis World, but it was Hantuchova, not Davenport, who pulled out. Quite logically, once Hantuchova reached the second week in singles, she wanted to spend as little superfluous time as possible on the court. My strong suspicion is that Davenport isn't about to return (and schlep that kid around the world) to be a doubles specialist.

What's your take on the state of line-calling and officiating at the Australian Open? The Federer-Tipsarevic match had over 10 successful challenges -- meaning the line judges were wrong 10-plus times, which seems like a lot of bad calls. Now that the replay system is in place, head umpires don't overrule calls -- placing the burden on players to "call their own lines," as Federer has said. If head umpires don't enforce the 30-second rule between or overrule bad calls, they seem like a waste of space. -- Steve Yi, Redmond, Wash.

With the usual caveat -- it's a thankless job and these professionals are trying their best -- it hasn't been a banner tournament for officiating. I've seen some questionable overrules (Serena got a bad overrule Tuesday, challenged, and was proved right.) I've seen some unnecessary warnings and scolding. (Mardy Fish's raw deal during his fourth-rounder springs immediately to mind.)

I've seen star treatment whereby Player X gets fined for unsportsmanlike conduct but Rafael Nadal can take more than 45 seconds between points and have it go un-remarked upon. There really needs to be more consistency.

The line-calling is another matter. I think if the challenge system has shown anything it's that the judges' eyes are, imperfect, but pretty darn good. Even if we factor in the "what-do-I-have-to-lose-challenges," the stats are pretty unfavorable to the players.

• Daniel Rabbitt of Apex, N.C., is today's contest winner. His nicknames include: David "Reckless" Nalbandian, "Baked" Potito Starace, Nicolás "Deep Tissue" Massú and Edouard Roger-Vasselin "Intensive Care."

• And a bit late, but Blake Redabaugh of Denver notes: "Long lost siblings: Zach Braff and Kohlschreiber."

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