Friday July 4th, 2008

For Wertheim's audio roundup of today's matches, click here or scroll down below.

Jon, do you think the Federer-Nadal final could be the most anticipated tennis match ever (even more than Sampras-Agassi at the '02 US Open)? If there ever was a clash of the titans, this is it! Can't wait! -- James Money, Glasgow, Scotland

I would tend to agree with that. We've seen two great rivals reach the final of tournaments. We've seen repeats of finals match-ups. We've seen No. 1 versus No. 2. But I can't recall such a rich context to a match. Given all that's happened this year -- Federer appearing mortal; Nadal scorching him in Paris; both playing so well here; Nadal's possible ascent to No. 1; Sampras' record for Slams looming -- this is an incredibly significant and telling match, no matter what happens. Can't wait.

Hi Jon, do you know the real story behind ESPN2's (or NBC's) decision to not show the men's first semifinal between Federer and Marat Safin? It's just ridiculous! Networks complain about tennis ratings but they keep screwing us over and over again! -- Guil M., San Juan

I've been overwhelmed this morning with mail on this topic. Here's how I understand it: As part of the broadcast arrangement, NBC has first dibs on the matches. The problem is that the Today Show is sacrosanct. The network can't justify bumping those ratings for live tennis. So NBC chooses Federer-Safin, but airs it on tape-delay after Matt Lauer, et al. sign off. ESPN is left with the Williams-Williams doubles match (which, ironically, probably did well in the ratings). I realize this is small consolation for hard-core tennis fans watching Wimbledon semis on tape delay, but at least two networks are interested in the sport.

How can you say that Rafael Nadal will be "crushed" if he loses this Wimbledon tournament? The guys is steadily improving on grass, has closed the gap on Federer considerably, and generally tends to "wear his opponents down" due to his excellent conditioning. The kid is all of what, 21? I'm sure he will be crushed, particularly since he's going to have another 10 years to pursue a Wimbledon title or three, ya think? Crushed is an overstatement of epic proportions. -- Eric Williams, Philadelphia

Nadal has been playing the best tennis of his life lately. He's openly admitted this is the title he most covets. He smoked his rival the last time they played. He won a tune-up on grass. A year ago, he came within a service break of winning and expelled tears when he fell short. You think he'll be okay losing in the final?

Another loss that seems a lot better, Ana Ivanovic's loss to Zheng Jie. It makes me feel a lot better that she made the semis, to tell you the truth. -- Aly, Orange County, Calif.

Right on. And let me note, that Janko Tipsarevic won a round after Andy Roddick before losing.

Is there ever discussion about narrowing the service box size? A sport like baseball has infield dimensions that players have never outgrown (measured by power and speed). But in tennis, service power and player height has diminished some competition simply because the service box often presents one spot from which the receiver of serve has no chance. -- CK, Saint Paul, Minn.

I once asked David Stern about the suggestion that they raise the height of the goal in basketball. His response was that the idea was ridiculous because it would mean retro-fitting every 10-foot goal in the world. Likewise, imagine how many tennis courts would need to be reconfigured and repainted in the dimensions of the service box were to change.

Dear Jon, What the French toast? What do you make of Elena Dementieva's comments re: match fixing -- "It's a family decision." Is this sour grapes or what? -- Ariana Zuri, Atlanta

I think this is much ado about nothing. I say give Dementieva a pass -- she released a statement explaining herself -- and move on. For the record (and with hopes this won't come up again), in no way do I believe the Williams-Williams matches are pre-arranged.

Be it far from me to rain on the Sisters Williams parade in an "All-American Final," but the future of USA women's tennis looks pretty doggone bleak once the Williams sisters call it a career. What do you think? -- Steve Adams, New Hope, Minn.

Agreed. All the more reason to celebrate the sisters. The top-seeded girl, Melanie Oudin, is American but she lost her second-rounder to Britain's Laura Robson. This is a deeper discussion for another time, but consider the top echelon of tennis. You have the Serbs, who played in drained swimming pools; two African-American sisters, whose dad taught them to play on the public parks of Compton; a Spaniard whose uncle convinced him to hit a forehand with his left hand; a once-in-a-lifetime-talent Swiss player. Maybe all this talk of development programs and elite training and academies is wrong-headed.

Just to add ... why did no one question the MANY relationships of Martina Hingis? If you can make comments on Serena and Common, please be fair. -- Beatrice, Dallas

I probably got 10 emails on this point and I think something got lost in translation. I have no objection to players dating anyone, Common or uncommon, many or few, male or female. My point was simply this: when the Williams sisters slumped, their "outside interests" were sometimes cited as the cause. I think when Maria Sharapova falters, there's a different explanation because she leads a life more centered on tennis. Unlike the Williams sisters, she does not seem to have their diversity of interests and pursuits outside tennis. That's all.

This year's 75 percent non-Caucasian Wimbledon ladies semifinals has got to be a first, right? Does it say anything for a more diverse future for the WTA or is it just a fluke? -- Ariana, Atlanta

Unquestionably, the WTA is more diverse than ever. And here's something to consider: I'm told that more than 100 million Chinese watched the Serena-Jie match yesterday.

Given the bizarre and surreal nature of this year's women's Wimbledon championship, have you not solved my Zen riddle yet?!! Can you not see what is actually going on? -- John Baydon-Stroud, South of England

Do tell.

Full credit to him, and I'm sure the pay packet will be welcome at this point in his career, but Rainer Schuettler's run to the semis has hardly been a giant-killing one, apart from the James Blake match early on. But given that we've not seen any of his matches, how do you think he's played? Has he just got lucky? -- Mel, Sydney, Australia

He's been lucky in the sense that his draw opened up. But his play hasn't been lucky at all. He's pretty much ground out five wins with solid, unspectacular veteran play. For a little guy, he hits a deceptively big ball (and serve) and plays aggressively at the right spots. I'll be shocked if he beats Nadal today (they just walked on) but all credit to him for reaching a semi.

Hi Jon, I am pretty sure Ms. Jordan spells her first name with a K. Also, do you think the closeness of a Federer/Nadal final carries any weight with regard to the effect it has on the players, or is this really a winner-take-all proposition, as so many seem to believe? -- Mike Kiley-Zufelt, Collingswood, N.J.

Of course she does. My unforced error. Interesting question. As far as the finalists go, Federer and Nadal are sworn enemies compared to the Williams sisters! But I think you're right: I think they genuinely like each other.

The same way I would've liked to see Federer play Justine Henin on clay (the second best male against the best female), now I wonder how Nadal would fare against V. Williams (second best male grass courter vs. best female grass courter). How do you think it'd play out? FYI: Venus' first serve average speed is only 5km lower than Roger's. I think that Rafa would drive her crazy in 12 minutes with him chasing down all her shots. -- William, Rosario, Argentina

Let's admire Federer and let's admire Venus Williams. But I suggest doing so separately, not envisioning a head-to-head. I would also caution against reading too much into service speed. What makes the ball hard to return is often the "action" and not the velocity.

Here's my take on today's Men's Semifinals.

• Anthony of Arlington, Va.: Here's a video clip to finally end the debate surrounding the pronunciation of Zheng Jie. About 30 seconds into the clip, the news broadcasters cut to Zheng and she pronounces her name for the interviewer.

• Vera Zvonareva has joined the Bank of the West field.

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that 18-year-old Donald Young has been given the third and final wild card into the 2008 Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, scheduled for July 7-13. Wild cards have also been given to Prakash Amritraj of India, and 2002 Newport Champion, Taylor Dent.

• Bill of Tulsa: I hope these links work, because Aggie Radwanska and Drew Barrymore are perfect long-lost siblings.

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