Wednesday January 13th, 2010

Is Nikolay Davydenko the new "Greatest to have not yet won a Slam?" Beating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal two tournaments in a row surely elevates him on that list? Maybe he's not such a dark horse for the 2010 Australian Open! -- Andrew Roth, Sacramento

For a guy who takes pains to be anonymous -- that's the ATP marketing team cringing in the corner -- Davydenko is sure boosting his profile with his play. In his last two events, he is 4-0 against Federer and Nadal, with wins against Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro thrown in for good measure. Pull off a feat like that you're not a dark horse; you're a contender.

It will be interesting to see how Davydenko performs in Melbourne. He should be riding a swell of confidence; but by now we know he's not wired like most players. And while he's looked like a world-beater these last two tournaments, there is, of course, a difference between a tour event -- even the Masters Cup -- and a best-of-five Slam.

I'm still not quite a believer that Davydenko can win the whole Vegemite sandwich in Melbourne. He lacks the big serve, he lacks finals experience and his steady, opportunistic, efficient tennis is particularly effective against tired and unhealthy opponents, which is rarely the case so early in the season. Also, as well as Davydenko has been playing, he's still only ranked No. 6, which means his draw in Melbourne will be rough. Still, I give the guy a heaping amount of credit, both for his recent achievements and for overcoming an unpleasant bit of history.

As for Andrew's question, a few months ago Andy Murray held that dubious distinction all to himself. Now? You could make a case for Davydenko. Unlike Andy Murray (or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), Davydenko has never even made a major final. But he's been to the semis multiple times, been ranked as high as No. 3 and beaten the best.

Look for Australian Open seed reports when the draw comes out later this week. ....

Do you ever look at your archive mailbag on a slow day and think, "What was I thinking," because I'm sure that's what Mickey Washington from Memphis must be thinking when he ridiculed your predictions on Federer's fate back in 2003: "Why do you keep comparing Roger Federer to Pete Sampras? Federer will never be the champion Sampras was. Federer is a one-hit wonder, while Sampras is the greatest champ of all time. I'll bet Federer won't even be around in five years." -- Ellie Johnson, London

Presumably, Mickey Washington of Memphis also thought Google was a fly-by-night start-up artificially propped up by the Internet bubble; reality television was a fad; and JaMarcus Russell was the second coming of Peyton Manning. Seriously, though, this just reinforces my feeling about predictions. They're fun (or ought to be fun) to read and hear. But, ultimately, the prognosticator is much more likely to look foolish than look prescient. And, by the way, we'll be doing Aussie Open seed reports in a few days!

Your thoughts on Rusty being chosen as the third-best ATP player of the decade? Do you really think he is the third best? Andy Roddick and Marat Safin might have something to say about that. -- Deepak, Melbourne, Australia

"Rusty," for the uninitiated, is Lleyton Hewitt. The award is a bit like the "third-most important political party in the United States." After Federer and Nadal, the drop is precipitous. My vote would go to Roddick, though, who won fewer Slams in the decade than did Hewitt and Safin (and Gustavo Kuerten, Andre Agassi and Sampras for that matter), but spent the majority of the time firmly embedded in the top five. He reached No. 1, helped his country win a Davis Cup and generally treated his career like a vocation, not an avocation. (For bonus points: His tennis analysis is akin to Barry White music for for koalas -- see below.)

I think Hewitt is a valid choice. And, as he aged and mellowed and soldiered on despite a beat-up body, he has become a lot easier to like and respect. But if we're being honest here, he really wasn't much of a force for the entire second half of the decade.

If you're Eduard Davydenko, are you cringing when you hear Nikolay tell reporters, "I don't know for how much longer I can hold this level of tennis," regarding his energy level at the end of his winning match over Federer? Honesty and humility are great, but this just didn't seem like the smartest thing to put out there ... where others can hear you. -- Name withheld

Given the state of Davydenko's career (and reputation) not all that long ago, if I'm Eduard, nothing makes me cringe these days. Life is good. Plus, I suspect my wacky brother is simply playing rope-a-dope.

Not sure if anyone else has sent this in, but is Federer the only man to have all four major singles winner's and runners-up trophies? -- Kathye Tanner, Viera, Fla.

Very good. Assuming you're limiting to men, the best I can do is Agassi, who has four majors and three runner-up trophies.

I know that most tennis players have their buddies on tour that they like to practice and hit with, but would you ever find "rivals" arranging a hit with each other during a tournament? Have you ever seen Roger and Rafa practicing with each other? Djokovic and Roddick? -- Brian, Canada

I think most fans would be surprised by the pairings on the practice court. Can't say I've ever seen Federer and Nadal practice together but it wouldn't surprise me. The men aren't particularly picky. "Just because I might not personally like the guy, doesn't mean I can't bat around balls with him for 90 minutes," seems to be the prevailing sentiment. The women are a bit pickier but, then again, many simply opt to hit with their coaches. We'll say it again: The practice courts are the great unkept secret in tennis.

Are Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs back together? -- Ted Samuel, Barnesville, Ohio

They're playing doubles together again, yes.

Everyone talks about Federer's semifinal streak -- no love for Chris Evert? -- Gordy, Tallahassee, Fla.

Leaving aside the obvious irony, "No love for Evert," sounds like the name of a band. But, yes, this has to be one of the most underrated streaks in sports: Evert reached (at least) the semifinals of every Grand Slam she played from 1971 to 1983. That, friends, is a joke. The ogres will point out that the fields were weaker; the depth was lacking; Evert didn't play in every major during the streak. Whatever. Evert gets love here. That was an insane streak.

There were many wonderful things about watching the Kim Clijsters-Justine Henin Brisbane final. But I was most struck by one unexpected treat: One could actually hear the balls coming off of their rackets! If both players climb back to the top of the heap (as I suspect they will), do you think this will inspire upcoming junior girls to abandon their squeals? Please? -- Joseph B., New York City

Several of you raised the same point. Let's hope this will usher in a new era and wasn't simply turn-back-the-clock night.

Is a "retired" tennis player subject to any drug testing during their retirement? In other words, could a player retire, indulge in HGH or other performance-enhancing drugs and then, after a period of time, unretire and come back stronger than ever? -- PJ, Tokyo

Retired players are not subject to anti-doping protocol. I know of at least one player who was unsure about the status of her career but filed the retirement paperwork in part because she didn't want the WADA gendarmes knocking on her door at 6 a.m. while she was away from the sport. Before we draw too many untoward inferences here, I don't think players, male or female, are retiring so that they juice up without fear of detection.

If you're a "retired" player on the comeback trail, bet you want to play Nadia Petrova, huh? -- Scott, Jacksonville, Fla.

Remember, too, that Petrova lost to Melanie Oudin at the U.S. Open. I like Petrova a lot, personally. But she's one of those players who, mentally, can't seem to get out of her own way. The NFL scouts line: Mercedes skills; Hyundai head.

I thought I was having a flashback, watching the Hopman Cup in Perth. They used "Hawkeye" but had a net judge? Haven't seen a net judge in years! -- Barbara Beck, Rochester, Minn.

What is this term, "net judge"?

• Time for another suicide pool. I can donate a prize to the winner.

• From time to time, some of you have suggested we hold some sort of Mailbag benefit or fundraiser. I'm all for it, but the logistics have been tricky. Not everyone does PayPal, there are tax consequences, etc. If anyone has thoughts on how to set this up in an administratively efficient way, let me know.

• Aside to Simon from Dublin: If you still need my assistance, call me directly.

• In case you missed it: Usually it's Roddick who delivers the laughs.

• A laurel and hearty welcome to Kate Gordon, the ATP's new VP of corporate communications.

Pierce O'Neill, a force behind the growth of the U.S. Open, is leaving the USTA after 15 years.

• The USTA named Harlan Stone its chief business and marketing officer, a new position created by the USTA in the wake of an internal reorganization. Under this new structure, all sponsorship, marketing and communications for professional and community tennis will report into Stone. Stone will continue to report to USTA executive director and COO Gordon Smith.

• Philadelphia readers, our favorite mid-Atlantic artist, Alyce Grunt, has more shows on tap.

• From SI.com's Ian Thomsen: Clippers assistant John Lucas on his friendly rivalry with head coach Mike Dunleavy. In 1987-88, Lucas was approaching the end of his career with Milwaukee, where Dunleavy was beginning his coaching career as an assistant for the Bucks. Every game day, they would have a shooting contest.

"He beat me every time," Lucas said. "Can you imagine getting beat 82 nights in a row? We would shoot from spots, 10 shots from each spot. I would hit nine shots, he'd hit 10. I'd be right there to win, and then at the end I would just choke. Eighty-two times."

At the end of the season, they agreed to play a tennis match. Lucas was a former All-America in tennis at Maryland, and he would play World TeamTennis professionally.

"I treated that match as if it was the U.S. Open," Lucas said. "Mike will tell you, 'I played the best tennis I've played in my life.' And he didn't come close to winning a game. I was treating it as if I was playing Jimmy Connors." Were you talking to Dunleavy?

"The whole time," Lucas said. "With my serve, I could make it go here, I could make it go there, and so I had him doing the Michael Jackson -- moon-walking. I got 82 games of frustration out in one day."

Andy Wye of Toronto: I have a look-alike for you. Robin Söderling and Houston Rockets player David Andersen.

Have a great week, everyone!

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.