Friday January 29th, 2010

Lots of questions so let's go lightning round again...

Bottom line: Does Federer beat Murray? --Art, Houston

• I saw Murray last night and said, "Man, Federer is going to have his work cut out for him." I'm watching Federer simply tune Tsonga and thinking, "Man, Murray is going to have his work cut out for him." Hard to pick a no-time Grand Slam champion over a 15-time Grand Slam champion. Here's what I like though: two guys playing well, on a democratic surface, early in the season, well-rested (on Murray's case on 72 hours rest!), in mild night-time conditions. Expect quality.

So, Henin is back. I saw Carlos and the hand signals ... has she's changed? At all? Somehow I can't see myself rooting for her until she owes up to "the hand." You? --Anna, Copenhagen

• I think that's extreme. But, yes, the coaching from the stands is back. Flagrantly. It's funny because a) she is so fiercely independent we're told and b) Carlos Rodriguez strikes me as an honorable guy. Can't figure out why they decide to flout the rules like this.

Nobody has won a GS since 2004 Wimbledon without defeating Federer. We are now in 2010 and based on that data, would you like to predict a winner for a Tsonga-Murray final? --D.E., Baltimore, Md.

• Hypothetically, Murray.

Another drubbing of a former No: 1: 2000 Ericsson Open, Martina Hingis defeated Monica Seles 6-0, 6-0. --Robert Briggs, New York

• I remember being at that match -- Seles was clearly hurt -- and wondering why Hingis didn't donate a game to spare a former champion the embarrassment. Then I realized that elite athletes just don't think this way.

I'm rather put off by Djokovic's bizarre withdrawal (although in his defense, the timing of his illness should make this LESS suspicious than his other incidents, since he had just won a set 6-1 and then had to leave the court to throw up and clearly still felt he could win the match because he did not retire from it!) but I don't think it's exactly fair to say that Federer never blames losses on mystery illnesses. At the very least Federer allowed people in his camp to spread the rumor of the Least Devastating Case of Mono In Human History following his loss to Djokovic in 2008, and the media reliably ran with it as a perfect explanation for his poor showing! --Joshua Gibson, Portland, Ore.

• Of course, I might say: Federer had friggin' mono and didn't complain; Djokovic blames a Grand Slam loss on a bellyache. I think we should tread carefully when assessing an athlete's injury or illness. We can only speculate about their level of pain. The problem with Djokovic is that there's a rich tapestry of injuries and ailments and withdrawals. Does anyone else remember Djokovic's match against Monfils at the U.S. Open years ago -- while still a teenager -- when he called a trainer simply because he was tired. It was blatant gamesmanship and though he won the match, it was dubious.

Anyone can lose a match to illness. But when it happens again and again (cue: Roddick's bird flu line) there exists a credibility gap.

Having watched an interview with Billie Jean King last week during the Australian Open during which she discussed the development of the professional tennis circuit and the time she spent with Rod Laver, et al., in efforts to ensure fair treatment for players, I was wondering if there have been any good books written about the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s when tennis was moving into the Open era? I can't believe that with a resource as rich as King that someone hasn't jumped on that topic. --Susannah Northart, Santa Ana, Calif.

• A good opportunity to recommend Grace Lichtenstein's A Long Way Baby.

What do you think about Bode Miller wanting to try out for the Open? Good for the sport? --Josh, Reston, Va.

• Funny, I got hung up on that, too.

Love the USTA's play-in idea. But Bode Miller? Not sure you need to peg your campaign to an athlete -- who doesn't exactly have the currency of LeBron James -- from another sport.

If I'm not mistaken, Mary Joe Fernandez (retired 2000) is the most recently active of the full-time U.S. commentators. Is it possible that approaching the net has gotten more difficult in the 10-20 years since these commentators played? Every match, every commentator says they'd like to see EVERYONE come forward. Just a guess, but with the changes in racquets and the way almost everyone is able to wallop the ball, it's almost impossible to move forward from anything BUT an offensive position, and if you're on the offense, why push it and risk the passing shot? --Jesse, Portland, Ore.

• I agree and, more relevant, so do a lot of players. I've heard this complaint many times: "Easy for the guy on TV to say, 'You need come in more.' He doesn't know how demoralizing it is when Rafa's passing shots whistle past." The related complaint is that top singles players need to play more doubles. Again, it harkens to another era.

• Win or lose in the women's final, Justine Henin will surpasses $20 million in career earnings.

• Thanks to Chris H. of New York for noting that a pub in Dunblane is where we should be watching the men's final:

Ken Kundis of Jersey City, N.J.: Arnold Altoveros of the Philippines asked about the worst drubbing a former number one (or current) number one player had received. Let's not forget Chris Evert's double bagel party (as Bud Collins called it at the time) over Martina Navratilova in the 1981 Amelia Island final.

Laura Robson in the girls' singles final.

Imran of West Lafayette, Ind.: Was going through one of the articles about who has beaten more champions to win a Grand Slam. My answer: Goran Ivanisevic. He beat: Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick (who was to win one in a couple of years), Marat Safin and Patrick Rafter in the final.

Jere Diersing of San Diego notes: Chantal Skamlova. Let's hope this young Czech player is not implicated in any match-fixing controversies ...

P.J. Huff writes: "Hey Jon, I didn't mention this b/c I thought everyone else would be all over it, but Capriati beat the three former Aussie champs in a row, Seles, Davenport and Hingis, in winning her first Aussie Open -- which was a first."

• Justin of Baltimore has LLS: Andy Murray at the Australian Open and Paul Bettany in the movie Legion.

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