Wednesday February 17th, 2010

On vacation this week so a quick 'Bag...

Could you please revisit why the players haven't formed a union? The issues with scheduling and injuries won't change until this happens. Why have previous attempts failed and what do they need to do to create a strong body to represent their needs? It's funny but you think the players would have all the power to control the sport. Clearly they don't. --Laura, Arnold, Md.

• So a few years ago I was speaking with Lindsay Davenport about the WTA Tour. I asked her what she perceived as the biggest issue and she talked about the long season, the abundance of tournaments, and the onerous commitments placed on the top stars. Maybe half an hour later I asked Nicole Pratt, a journeywoman player, the same question. Her response? "There aren't enough playing opportunities."

That pretty much distilled to its essence the reason there isn't an effective union. The players interests don't just wary wildly; they are often are at odds. Player X wants more events; Player Y wants fewer. The South Americans want more clay tournaments; the Americans want more hard court tournaments. The European players went ballistic a few years ago when there were discussions about downgrading Monte Carlo. You could give Andy Roddick 500 issues and I guarantee you the status of Monte Carlo would not make the list. Doubles players want larger draws and more prize money. Singles players wonder why doubles players compete in front of empty seats and still make six-figure incomes. Add in the fact that the players are, essentially, independent contractors, they range in age, there are cultural issues, language issues and logistical issues and ... well, the common analogy to "herding cats" doesn't go far enough.

I'm 72 years old and I come from a time where I saw gay people treated very badly. I've seen enough to know that Margaret Court is a bigot. If I never have to see her again, I'd be happy. --Joan McKim, Palm Bay, Fla.

• More than 50 of you wrote in with similar sentiment. Paul of Brooklyn writes: "It's not okay that she says these things." Others of you shared personal stories of homophobia, abuse and persecution. Melody Tolley of Chicago, asks: "What if someone said that the Chinese women getting to the semis of the Aussie Open was bad for tennis because they're Asian?" Jennifer Marcus of Dallas wonders: "Would be it acceptable for a former champion to say that Serbian players are bad for tennis, and still be allowed to hand Novak a trophy?" Raul DelRio of New Orleans, La., wonders: "If a former champion had said that blacks don't belong in tennis, would he enjoy the same reverence he currently does?" Josh of New York writes: "It's important to ask ourselves if its important to take a stand when is easy and right (racism) or just right (anti-gay bigotry)? My husband and I, and our 7-month-old son certainly confronted with this question on a regular basis."

At some level, this has echoes of broader discussions of the first amendment and free speech, and I tend to skew absolutist. I might find Margaret Court's statements repugnant, hateful and ignorant. You might find them repugnant, hateful and ignorant. But I think it's a slippery slope when we start banishing people from the kingdom -- or "removing her name from the record books" as one of you went so far to suggest -- because they say things we might find offensive. I once had a professor ask in Zen riddle form: "If you are truly tolerant, do we tolerate intolerance?"

But I reread this more closely as well as some of the past articles on Margaret Court. And I'm prepared to call an unforced error on myself. "And I'll say this, if I had a child playing tennis today I wouldn't let that child go on her own on the circuit because I think there is a wrong spirit [on the women's tour] ... People go into homosexuality thinking they're like that and they're actually not. I'd want to keep them on the straight and narrow." I would agree that veers into hate speech, which may (or may not) be protected by a Constitution, but doesn't have to be accommodated in the Republic of Tennis. If I had to answer that question again, I would reverse myself. Tennis doesn't need to welcome someone whose views have the effect of hurting and offending so many.

Two ancillary questions that came up repeatedly. 1) "How could Billie Jean King stand by idly?" Can't answer that. That's personal and it's a question for BJK. 2) "How gay is the women's tour?" Who knows? They don't reveal this information in the media guide. And speculation gets you nowhere. There are gay players, administrators and linespeople. There are straight players, administrators and linespeople. In other words, it's a workforce.

It might make for boring journalism, but is there any reason to NOT pick Federer at every Slam at this point? --Krista, Lexington, Ky.

• Let's just be clear: "picking" and journalism are two very different things.

Ric Flair used to say, "To be the Man, you've gotta beat the Man." Clearly, Roger Federer is the Man. Is it that, come Grand Slam time, he is so much better mentally, or that others (except Nadal) are so much more fragile? It seems it's almost a chicken-or-the-egg thing: you can't beat Federer in a Grand Slam tournament unless you have the experience of having already done so, and you can't get that experience until you actually do it. One other thing: it's pretty clear to me that, if not for mono, Djokovic would have no Grand Slam under his belt. --Aaron White, San Marcos, Calif.

• New rule: Anyone referencing Ric Flair improves their odds of getting their questions answered. Aaron raises two points that bear restating. 1) Beating Federer at a tour stop is a lot different from beating him in a best-of-five Grand Slam match. 2) Given his play last month, many of us sure are reconsidering the assessment of his "mono-ah-mono" year of 2008.

It is a shame that supporting events like the Fed Cup receive such little respect. I also wonder why you also show so little respect to the Fed Cup. Contrary to your statement that the "Williams sisters didn't play and can't really be blamed; the competition isn't exactly a top priority, even within the sport," Many of us fans feel differently. We wonder why they (and other players) do not wish to support their country and why patriotism is so lacking these days. Is it because there is not enough money to be made? Is it because they do not feel the need to give back to tennis? Whatever, it is poor decision as the game has given them so much. In the years before Open tennis, it was an honor to represent your country to play on the Davis Cup and the Wightman Cup teams. The Bryan brothers, Andy Roddick, James Blake, John McEnroe, Peter Fleming, and many others are respected and revered for their constant support of the Davis Cup. --Sandra Driscoll, Clyde Hill, Wash.

• It's a bit of a "corkscrew," as the Aussies would say. Fed Cup doesn't lure the top players because it lacks sufficient prestige. It lacks sufficient prestige because the top players don't commit. Apart from the usual logistical issues -- a week after a Grand Slam you're going to have a hard time recruiting top player to do much of anything -- I feel as though "patriotism" is a passé concept in tennis. I always go back to the example of Maria Sharapova pulling out of Fed Cup for Russia a few years back and gloating, "Nothing would (have) made me happier than beating the Americans on American soil." Um, sorry, you mean the soil you've been living on since age 7?

Hey Jon, glad you mentioned Justine Henin being overly aggressive. Considering the coaching going on from Rodriguez, one wonders why he doesn't have a sign for "don't commit 100% on EVERY Serena second serve". If not for all those errors, she would have broken Serena in pretty much all her service games in the first set. --Glen Mikkelsen, Shanghai, China

• For all the times players (and fighters) in panic abandon their gameplans and revert to bad habits, Henin was the opposite, stubbornly sticking with her strategy -- be aggressive! -- even when it was unwise. She clearly decided that she was going to dictate and play offense tennis, even when she would have been well-served to make Serena run around and hit balls. Look, I still think Serena wins that match. Even Rodriguez -- one of the real straight shooters in tennis -- questioned whether Henin was "ready" to win a Grand Slam final. But no question, Henin did herself no favors by whaling on nearly every ball.

Why don't tournaments put towels on towel racks, or at least chairs? The towels are going back and forth from the floor to the players' faces. Not a nice way to treat their stars, yet they don't seem to mind. --Mike T., Alameda, Calif.

• I'm less concerned about the stars than a about the ballkids who have to handle these sweaty, snotty rags. Good thing germs can't be transferred that way. I like the idea of a courtside towel racks. Prime sponsorship real estate too.

Having witnessed just another master class from Roger Federer I'd love to know what you think the most underrated aspect of his game is. --Ingo, London

• Continuing a theme from last week, I would contend that it's his conditioning/durability. With distressingly little attention from the game's administrators, tennis' equivalent to the IR has grown tremendously in recent years. Even at the Australian Open -- the first major of the year -- the dominant theme was health. Djokovic, Roddick, Nadal, del Potro, all had issues. Murray and Tsonga have pulled out of events since. One of you calculated that, between the ATP and WTA, there have already been more than 40 retirements in 2010.

Federer? After winning in Melbourne he looked like he'd had a vacation in St. Moritz. But for a bout with mono, which doesn't really count, his body has held up remarkably well through the years. You could have all the talent in the world and if the body isn't willing, you're not going to win much.

While you are undoubtedly correct in your answer to George of NYC this week that it would be naive to think that none of the Williams sisters' detractors are motivated by race, you also should have noted that undoubtedly some of the Williams sisters' supporters are motivated by race. --Chris Bennett, Springfield, Va.

• I'm sure you're right. So what?

Can you explain why Del Potro is weak on grass but strong on clay? It seems his size and strengths (forehand, serve) would fare better on grass in the same way they do on the hard courts? --Damon T., Raleigh

• I think some of it is simply comfort and familiarity. Like most players, JMDP did not grow up on grass; last year he didn't play a Wimbledon tuneup. The grass would help his heavy strokes but he doesn't move particularly well, a prereq for success on grass. Plus, the low bounces could cause him trouble. But what ever happened to the surface specialists? Who ever thought we'd be questioning why an Argentine would be weak on grass but strong on clay?

Hit for Haiti. I realize this was a fun exhibition but I think you can still appreciate the absurd touch/feel/athleticism on display here.

• Cole Haan unveils its latest ad campaign for Spring 2010 featuring Maria Sharapova.

• USTA Southern announced the Atlanta Athletic Club will be the site of the 2010 Atlanta Tennis Championships from July 19-25. The Atlanta event will serve as the kick-off to the 2010 Olympus U.S. Open Series.

• On tennis trips, Tom Sawatzki of Walla Walla: My son and I went four years ago through Grand Slam Tennis Tours at and really enjoyed it. The seats were great, the hosts were fun and we got to play tennis on the grass one morning at the old site of the Open.

• You thought you liked Roger Federer?

• This week's unsolicited book recommendation, Mark Bechtel's He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back.

Gordy of Tallahassee: Long lost twins, Andy Murray and Bat Boy.

Dai Tran of Fairfax, Va.: Long lost siblings: Ana Ivanovic and Erin Cummings (of Spartacus: Blood and Sand on Starz)

Have a good week everyone!

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