Wednesday February 10th, 2010

Jon, I don't mean to pick on you because many writers made the same mistake, but I seem to remember you writing just before the 2008 U.S. Open that Fed might struggle to ever pass Sampras's mark and that his time at the top was over. Any regrets about that now? --Paul Collins, Halifax, Nova Scotia

• This came up in a few different contexts recently. Sure, I have regrets inasmuch I was wrong. But let's go back to the summer of 2008. Federer lost in Australia to Djokovic. He simply failed to show up for the French Open final. After a five-year reign at Wimbledon he lost an epic final to Nadal and was simply gutted afterward. He went the Olympics and lost to James Blake. He had fallen to No. 2 in the rankings and Nadal, the younger player, was riding a wave of confidence while other challengers -- Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga -- were hitting their stride. Or so it seemed. Against that backdrop, imagine if someone had written: "Don't worry Federer fans! This is just a blip. He'll win four of the next six majors and be on top within a year!" They would have reserved you a room at the sanitarium.

For more thoughts on 2008, a pivotal year in the Federer legacy, let's ask the man himself (see audio box).

Considering the shift in the rankings after the Australian Open and Nadal's necessary time off, could we possibly see a Federer/Nadal semifinal (or maybe quarters) in a Grand Slam event this year? --Mike, Fresno, Calif.

• The ultimate irony: What if Federer's semifinal streak were broken because he had to face Nadal (ranked outside the top four, on account of injury) in the quarters of the French?

Your great article on trash talking reminded me of how much I miss tennis' legendary trash talker Martina Hingis. Did you read her latest cryptic comments after her exhibition with Lindsay Davenport? She sounds far less definitive about not returning to tennis than when you spoke to her last. Will Chucky kill again? --Matthew Smith, San Francisco

• Less definitive about not returning? At the risk of sounding like Ralph Wiggum: "That makes my head hurt." Will Chucky play again? Possible. Will she kill again? Not likely. I've made no secret about my fondness for Hingis' game and court savvy, but let's be honest: she had a hard time answering power in her first comeback -- four years ago already -- and the players haven't gotten smaller since. I think she would fare much better as a doubles specialist, but, as a former No. 1 singles player, can her ego handle that? Part of me roots for her return because it will provide her a platform whereby she can explain the specious nature of her doping suspension. But from a tennis perspective, I cringe thinking about her trying to compete against players 10 years younger, six inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than she.

In your last mailbag, a reader commented that it is harder to come to net today than 10-20 years ago, and you agreed. This begs the question: Is it time to lengthen the court by, say, two feet (each side of the net one foot longer)? This would give the player at net a fraction of a second longer to react and make the angle for passing slightly more difficult. Ultimately, this would allow for more variety in the style of play which I think would be good for the game. Your thoughts? --Paul Hartmann, Seoul, South Korea

• It would also mean retrofitting every single tennis court on the world. I like your idea on theory but, practically speaking, it's virtually impossible.

I am in Belgium for the semester would like to see some tennis before I head back to the States. What tournaments would you recommend besides the French and Wimbledon? --George, Auburn, N.Y.

• Depends what your tastes are. You can't really go wrong choosing among Rome, Barcelona and Monte Carlo -- all students should have such dilemmas. But, personally, I might be inclined to choose the Madrid Masters Series event. An all-time great city. Good food. Three world-class museums. Very compact. And, while I've never been, there are lots of raves about the venue. Just be prepared: an early-bird special means dinner served in the p.m. and not after midnight.

Roger is Kobe and Rafa is LeBron? Good comparison or no? --K.B., Columbus, Ohio

• It would have been better a few years ago. The major flaw is that Nadal has won a half-dozen majors while LeBron, for all his excellence, owns no more championships than you do. Plus, Federer is a smidge warmer than Kobe is.

Root cause of Federer's resurgence? You have 100 points to allocate to the following options. A) Nadal declined, while Murray and Dokovic have not (yet) reached full potential, B) Federer found his old form (read: his serve and forehand), C) Fatherhood gave him new "perspective", D) Other. --Kathy, Reston, Va.

• Very good. I'd say, 30/40/30. But I would add these two. 1) By virtue of both hard work and lucky genetics, Federer endures bodily wear and tear better than anyone else in tennis. Even after seven matches in Melbourne, Federer happily admitted to feeling fresh enough to go skiing the next day. Not too many others can make such a claim after playing 23 sets in 12 days. 2) Federer won the French Open and eclipsed the all-time mark for Slams last year. Mortals in that position might have a hard time finding motivation. To Federer's thinking, it simply means that he is shorn of pressure.

This is pure speculation; I have no medical credentials whatsoever. Is it possible that Nadal's chronic injuries stem from the fact that he's a converted righty? His style of play is physically demanding to begin with. Now add the fact that he hits all his shots from the "wrong" side (vs. how his body would be naturally inclined to play) and maybe that's a recipe for injury. --Rich, New York City

• I'm intrigued by this. But, like Rich, I have no medical credentials whatsoever. Anyone qualified to speak on this care to weigh in? Even if it's a total crackpot theory, I'd be interested in hearing why.

How can you call the Australian Open a "convenient" big time sports event? When did going to Australia become "convenient" for Americans or Europeans? The U.S. Open is convenient, but Australia? --Mike G., Raleigh, N.C.

• Several of you called me on that. I should have been more clear. Getting to Australia is a pain in the posterior for most of us. But once you're in Melbourne, everything's a breeze. Whereas it can take upwards of an hour to get to the U.S. Open from Manhattan or to Roland Garros from the left bank, or to Wimbledon from London, the Melbourne Park facility is an easy walk -- or free tram ride -- from downtown Melbourne. That's what I meant by convenient.

I was wondering if someone could point me to (or recommend) any travel packages or agencies that would set up trips to "watch a Grand Slam event" (say, in Melbourne) combined with other activities in Australia. That's my 2011 goal. --Dave, Jersey City, N.J.

• Some of you have spoken highly of Furgal's tennis tours in the past. If anyone else has recommendations, let me know.

Two things: 1) Where in the world is Nicole Vaidisova? 2) What's with all the Margaret Court worship? Am I the only one who remembers the incredibly ignorant things she said about lesbian players a decade ago? Even Martina seems to treat her with deference. What am I missing here? Tennis is a progressive sport peopled with largely intelligent folks. Twenty-four Grand Slams aside -- don't get me started on all those Australian (non-)Opens -- doesn't her polemic have any ripple effect? --Ken Kundis, Jersey City, N.J.

• Vaidisova is in Midland, Michigan, this week. I feel like Vaidisova is a creepy, unpleasant story that has gone largely unremarked upon. Here is a young player -- who was being aggressively marketed with the Sharapova blueprint -- who came within a point of reaching the French Open final a few years ago. Today, at the wizened age of 20, she is struggling to win matches at the challenger level. She might or might not be engaged to an ATP player. She might or might not still be coached by her stepdad. Whatever, it's not a pleasant narrative right now.

As for Margaret Court, if tennis is really such a "progressive sport" it ought to be able to accommodate different points of view. She's a former tennis champion, not a political candidate. You and I might disagree with her opinions about homosexuality. But should that disqualify her from presenting trophies or being feted as a champion?

Do you think race plays a role when fans root against Serena Williams? It was interesting to see how much the crowd rooted for Justine at the AO finals. --George, NYC

• Here's the Williams cut and paste: It would naïve to think that race doesn't play some role -- even subconsciously -- in some people's antipathy toward them. On the other hand, you should be allowed to root for the other player without standing accused of racism. Specific to the Australian Open final, imagine this colorblind. Player A is the defending champion and No. 1 seed. In her previous major, she was fined $92,000 after threatening to asphyxiate an official with a tennis ball. Player B is competing in her first major after returning from an 18-month exile. Once known for her mirthless intensity, she is smiling and outgoing. Though physically unimposing, she's thrives with a versatile and aesthetically pleasing game. Knowing what we know about sports fans, whom would we expect the crowd to support?

Where can I buy tickets to the Atlantic City Caesars exhibition? --Asel, New York

StarGamesInc.com or CaesarsTennisClassic.com.

What did Leconte say about the Bryan brothers? I keep hearing this referenced, but with no details! Inquiring minds want to know (please)! --Patrick Preston, Lexington, Ky.

• Leconte was providing "color" commentary for the Bryans' match against Eric Butorac and Indiana's own Rajeev Ram and pretended to fall asleep and snore. The Bryans were rightfully upset. There were four guys, thrilled be on television, competing their guts out, and it was insulting to be mocked by a long-retired player.

Not sure if I should be embarrassed to suggest this phrase or not, but is "the New Adventures of Old Justine" a no-brainer for Henin's un-retirement? I brought you Clickfest at Wimbledon so perhaps this nets that out? --Name lost, Santa Monica, CA

• With all her talk about "breathing new air," and "rediscovering myself," I'm going with Justine Zen-in.

Great tournament. Too bad we didn't get that all-Chinese final. A couple of silly things. Our feed here from Australian TV had a couple of interesting scoreboard abbreviations: Rafael Nadal vs. Lukas Lacko was Nada/Lack; the doubles team of Marius Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski vs. Eric Butorac and Rajeev Ram was Fyr-Mat/But-Ram --Muhammad Cohen, Hong Kong

• Can we all take a second to marvel at the name Muhammad Cohen?

• Between Andy Roddick's wife gracing the cover and the Ana Ivanovic pictorial, tennis got plenty of attention in this year's Swimsuit Issue.

• For the sake of convenience (and trying to keep my inbox cleaner) feel free to your direct questions via Twitter if you like.

Art Wong of Torrance, Calif., notes: Just one American woman (Oudin) in the Indian Wells draw this year?! Crazy.

D.E. of Baltimore: Nobody has won a GS since 2004 Wimbledon without defeating Federer.

• This week's unsolicited book recommendation San Sheridan's A Fighter's Mind.

Robert from Washington, DC: Henin and Clijsters have got to be first consecutive unranked Grand Slam finalists in the history of the Open Era. They are an inspiration to all of us tennis players that also do not a professional ranking!

• Here he is again: Since the 2003 Australian Open seven years ago, where she made the finals, Venus Williams has only gotten past the quarterfinals of a non-Wimbledon Grand Slam once (the 2007 U.S. Open where she lost to Henin in the semis).

Brian Chor from Hong Kong: Another interesting stat about Serena following her Australian win: One-third of her 36 titles were Grand Slams! Fair to say Hingis and Davenport would trade their 50-plus titles and weeks at No. 1 for Serena's resume?

Ana Ivanovic is having trouble winning matches. But she did just sign a lifetime deal with Adidas.

Megan Fernandez: Pity the scorekeepers in the Wozniaki/Sally Peers and Wozniak/Shahar Peer match at the Aussie! My less-than-artful story from the scorekeepers' booth at Cincinnati.

Nancy of Chicago: Good to know that tennis has the top role models (male/female).

• Happy birthday to Rich Gruenberger.

LT of Toronto has long lost siblings (if this hasn't been suggested already): Federer and Paul Schneider (of Parks and Recreation on NBC).

Have a great week, everyone!

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