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Defending Maria Sharapova

What do you think Maria Sharapova should do? Bring her father, Yuri, back to the box? This can't be about the serve only, Elena Dementieva has been in the top 10 without a proper serve for ages. Sharapova risks ending up in the Martina Hingis/Daniela Hantuchova category: at their best when they are "only 17" and unable to repeat their earlier results after age 20. By the way, if Sharapova's career history holds up then she should win the 2010 French Open.-- Don, Europe

• Man, lots of you guys are hammering Sharapova. First it was the dress; then it was the loss and then surly press conference afterwards. I see a player who still doesn't fully trust her body, whose shaky movement has been exposed, and whose confidence isn't what it once was. I also see a player who still can hit through most players when she's on, and has the capacity for supreme self-belief. I'm going glass-half-full here and predicting she works through her service problems, regains her mental game and wins another Major or two before she's done. The dress? That I cannot defend.

Could you explain the economics of endorsement deals to me? Maria Sharapova inks a new $70 million deal with Nike. Does Nike really think they'll recoup that with sales they wouldn't have gotten otherwise? Roger Federer hawks Rolex; does this induce anyone who wasn't going to buy a Rolex anyway to buy one? I could imagine that back in the clamdigger days, Rafa probably sold a LOT of gear for Nike. But, is anyone really ponying up for the plaid shorts and striped Ts?? Seriously. Do the tennis gear companies pay the players assuming they'll get a direct return on investment -- or just to keep them from being seen in someone else's garb?--Helen, Philadelphia

• I'm not sure where to begin here. For one, until you see the contract, be wary of these endorsement figures. Every side has an agenda here and there's a lot of incentive to inflate figures. I remember one player's announced seven-figure deal with Nike. Only problem: the seven figures included a bonus that kicked in if she won every Grand. (On a related note, my cousin's net worth is $160 million; but that's contingent on his winning the next Powerball jackpot.)

In some cases, companies expect athletes to move product. But relationship is also about association and exposure. Roger Federer's imprimatur has value that goes beyond units of watches or coffeemakers sold. And whenever Rafael Nadal plays he is, in essence, a walking billboard for Nike, a free multi-media commercial. I think your underlying question, though, is a good one: What is a fair price for an endorsement deal? How do companies measure the worth? How do athletes and agents know they're getting a fair price?

Hey Jon, I have a question that maybe you can get Sharko's help with. I noticed when I was writing a post for my blog that Venus Williams has lost in every round at the Australian Open during her career. I was thinking, that can't really happen that often can it? I mean someone good enough to lose in the semis and the finals wouldn't usually spend 4 years not even making the quarters. Any help?-- P Sqaured, Brooklyn

• I won't trouble Sharko, who's an ATP employee. But I will offer a prize to the first person to furnish a plausibly correct answer.

I am shocked that you would call Roger Federer a "GOAT."-- Roe, Pitman, N.J.

• Could be worse. At least I didn't call him a Tiger. Goat = Greatest of all Time.

Jon, I won't tag you with this (and in fact you accurately describe Fabrice Santoro's accomplishment), but isn't it just wrong to say, as some articles do, that Santoro is the first player to play grand slams in four different decades? Umm, does Martina Navratilova not count as a tennis player?-- Timothy Wei, Austin, Texas

• Technically, you're right. But I submit that gender is often implied. Roger Federer is the all-time Grand Slam winner; do we really need to qualify by expressly adding "male"?

Do the players like the Australian Open?-- Karl Mageee, Texas

• Did impressionists like absinthe? For most players, the great drawback of Australia is the flight. No sugar-coating that. But after that, what's not to like? The crowds are great. The city is great. Most of the players stay a few minutes from the facility. The tournament combines the prestige (and purse) of a Major, with the laid-back vibe, of, say, Key Biscayne. And though it's problematic to start the year with such a high-stakes event, it means that the players arrive in full health and optimistic spirits.

Jon, Since the ongoing Fed-Rafa combat has quieted, can we officially declare Radek Stepanek-Ivo Karlovic the hottest rivalry in men's tennis? It's got everything! A clash of styles: Dr. Ivo vs. The Worm, power vs. finesse, the stoic monster server vs. the garrulous crafty defender. Ivo celebrates wins with his bizarre "Air Spank" dance, Stepanek with his even-more-bizarre Worm Dance. I dare you not to choose a side! It seems pretty clear that, unlike Roger and Rafa, these two don't like each other. And plus they keep playing these brilliant five set matches. Me, I'll be watching again the next time they play...-- Ben, Los Angeles, Calif.

• You had me at Air Spank.

Inger of Hamar, Norway, was kind enough to send along this classic Oracene Williams interview. This should be mandatory viewing for all tennis parents. Check that. For all parents. You try your best to guide your kids; you let them develop their passions; you support them, yet get the hell out of the way; and then you try to spend all your money without leaving them a cent:

• Ive, Antwerp, Belguim: With regards to the no drug testing during retirements. Maybe it's good to note that players have to start undergoing drug testing six months before they are allowed to compete again.

• Klip America, the worldwide licensee for Völkl Tennis, announced the hiring of Edoardo Artaldi as Global Tour Manager for the Völkl brand. Citing the need to expand the visibility of the brand on the ATP and WTA tour, Klip America commits a significant amount of their marketing dollars to promote the brand.

• Talia Schank of New York, NY: While I'm not surprised that it's still getting so much attention, I do find it rather dismaying that Serena's outburst at the U.S. Open can be "revisited" on major media websites. Good grief. Along those lines, I think Serena pales in comparison to the "player" in this clip.

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum will host a dynamic and diverse schedule of events in the coming months, designed to offer entertainment and education for children to adults, tennis enthusiasts to historians, and casual sports fans to movie buffs. The schedule includes an appearance by Hall of Famer Donald Dell, several movie screenings, a book discussion and signing, a panel discussion about junior tennis development, and family activities including the always popular Newport Winter Festival and Hall of Fame Easter Egg Hunt. Additionally, a one-day symposium in early spring will focus on the building's historical and architectural significance. All programs will be held at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, located at 194 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, R.I.

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