Wednesday March 3rd, 2010

Mentally tough? Try Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting from the cricket world. Or try, still active, track legend Haile Gebreselassie (more than 25 world records in middle- and long-distance races and current men's marathon world-record holder). It sure takes mental toughness to beat out your tough rivals while dominating middle- and long-distance running over the span of a decade. -- Jim Bates, Cairns, Australia

• Lots of you chiming in here and mentioning Tendulkar. I cop to being a cricket philistine, but will take your word. I was thinking that maybe we need to add Sidney Crosby's name to the list now, no? What about Roger Federer, many of you wondered. Fair point. He's shown a lot lately -- most obviously his first, fifth and seventh matches in Australia -- and you don't win 16 majors relying exclusively on physical talent. Still, I don't think of him as an "assassin" or "killer" on the court. Maybe it's the curse of having it come relatively easy, but I still don't put him in Rafael Nadal's league in terms of pure mental impenetrability.

Echoing the sentiments of many, Timothy Wall of London wrote: "You should take a gander at the cricket stuff. I'd say that of the current players, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar are about as mentally tough as pro athletes come. Serena's a long way off from the bar that these two have set. Of course, Federer, [Kobe] Bryant and [Michael] Phelps are up there too. But not Tiger Woods. How can you put Woods in that category when the whole world knows that his head is not on straight at all? Mental toughness is also about having the mental strength to keep it all together when you finish your day's work. And Woods comes across as a wimp on that count."

At some level we're talking semantics here, but I think we can confine mental toughness to moments of performance, to the "day's work." Woods may have some "issues," to use the trendy euphemized term. He may have shown sensationally bad judgment and shaky morals. But that doesn't change the fact that, if the scores were tied going to the 18th hole, we know that the vast majority of the time, he will win. (Recently read that he's lost only one major when he's led after 54 holes. Wow.) For freak's sake, the guy recently won the U.S. Open on a shredded knee. As far as any ability to compartmentalize and summon his best performance when he needs to, he's in pretty select company. Whether this ultimately serves him well, or whether this track record led to recklessness in his personal life, or whether he'll pull out a miracle putt to save his image ... that's another question altogether.

I can't believe you wrote, "Hey, I've already won, here. How can I get worked up over my results in Cincinnati and my declining scoring average?" First, Patrick McEnroe disses us during the Australian Open and now you! Why is our beloved Cincinnati tournament always the whipping boy when you guys are trying to make a point about tournaments that don't matter to the players? You don't even come to our tournament and you're bashing us. Stop it! -- FLF, Cincinnati

• We love the Queen City. Really. And we try to get there every year. Great event and it will be even better once it becomes a unisex tournament. We'll even forgive you for inexplicably failing to elect David Pepper over a mayor who throws like this. But let's be honest: The Masters events wind their way through Miami, Palm Springs, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Rome, Montreal/Toronto, Paris, Shanghai, London and ... Cincinnati. Well, not really Cincinnati, but Mason, which is halfway to Dayton. Doesn't mean it's a lesser tournament. It's not by any stretch. But when people are looking to make a facile comparison, it's easy to pick on.

Quick point about McEnroe. A number of you wrote in complaining about his on-air "diss" of Cincinnati during the Melbourne final, particularly given his position with the USTA. I didn't hear the remark, but I move to cut him some slack. Unlike writers, who have the luxury of hitting the delete key or even altering something once it's been posted online, once the folks in TV say something, it's out there in the ether. Spend countless hours in the commentary booth and -- especially by night 14 -- you're bound to have said something regrettable. I'm sure if he had the chance to do it again, P-Mac would have picked on another event.

It's still months away, but who do you predict will win the French Open, the next major? -- Tom, Philadelphia

• It's hard to say, given that we have so little sense of who's playing well on clay. The men's event has essentially been a "menage a deux" since 2004. A plausibly healthy Nadal is the favorite; Federer, the defending champ, is your next candidate. (Aside: The previous three champions were Gaston Gaudio, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Al Costa. Wow.) Sure, a Novak Djokovic or a Juan Martin del Potro or even a Nikolay Davydenko could challenge. But, ultimately, Nadal's knee holds the key. As for the femmes, you have to go with Justine Henin. Before her retirement, her run of success at Roland Garros rivaled Nadal's.

In your interview with the U.S. Open line judge involved in the Serena Williams incident, you asked, "Do you think you made the right call? If you had to do it again would you make the same call?" Do you really think she would admit to having made a mistake at this point? -- Fred, NYC

• No, but a dirty secret of journalism is that sometimes we -- not unlike trial attorneys -- plant questions to which we know the answer, hoping the subject can make the assertion in their own words.

Given disgruntled, soon-to-be-ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter's temperament, how do you think a one-on-one closed-door meeting with minority owner Serena Williams would have gone? Hard to see which one would back down. -- Thomas Alonzo, Columbia, S.C.

• There's a great comedy sketch to be done vis-a-vis the Williams sisters' "ownership" of the Dolphins. Love to see Serena at the combine in Indianapolis assessing talent. "I like Suh, too, but his time in the 40 didn't impress me." Apropos of nothing, Porter is a regular at the Key Biscayne Sony Ericsson event. Wonder if we'll see him in 2010.

If a top doubles player, say Daniel Nestor or Nenad Zimonjic or Mahesh Bhupathi or Lukas Dlouhy, convinced Roger Federer to play the Slams with them this year, how successful would this Fed/Teammate team be? Could Roger be winning doubles Slams if he wanted? -- Steve, St. Louis

• If Federer spent a week or two preparing for doubles, a shotgun marriage pairing him and another player would yield a top team. Would Federer-Nestor beat the Bryans? Hard to say. But count me among those who'd pay to watch.

During the Super Bowl my husband and I discussed the success of both Manning brothers and their father, Archie. Can you come up with any successful parent/child tennis players? We came up with Ivan Lendl and his mother and Fred and Sandon Stolle. -- Allison Roarty, New York

• It's funny, the offspring of tennis players often tend to have success in other pursuits: Joakim Noah comes quickly to mind, as do Lendl's golfing daughters, Petr Korda's daughter and Lars Ulrich's father. In tennis you have occasional two-generation families: Taylor Dent's dad was a journeyman pro; the Bryans' mother played the circuit; the Stolles. But I can't think of any blockbusters off hand.

May we acknowledge Rossana De Los Rios who, after years of perseverance and hard work, crossed the million-dollar mark in career earnings after winning her opening round in Colombia last week? Do you think she will remain on the tour long enough to play doubles at the professional level with her daughter? -- Scott Humphrey, Pflugerville, Texas

• We may. And good for her. But consider this: I first remember RDLR from the 2000 French Open, her big breakthrough, almost a decade ago. Take that million dollars, tax it out, deduct expenses and travel costs, factor in the purchases for her daughter (I still lose sleep thinking I once parted with $200 for Dora Live tickets), and ... well, she ain't exactly living large. Brutal sport, this tennis.

Jon, What do you think of Serena's mention of having a "G moment" in her Aussie acceptance speech? She mentioned it last year at Wimbledon, too. I think it's pretty lame. -- Chris, Austin, Texas

• I loved that she started with Jehovah and ended with Gatorade. Hey, at least she has her priorities right. Was it the height of good taste? No. But during the trophy presentation a few minutes later, the suits thanked all the sponsors. Is it not hypocritical to condemn the players for doing likewise?

On a related note, a lot of you wrote ripping Serena for her recent tweet:

Hey guys... Ok so this is a weird question- but how many grand slam singles titles do I have.. I can't remember.... Any one out there know??


Ok guys I'm so serious. I can't remember how many grand slams I have. I see that Tiger Woods has 14 and I've always wanted to catch him!!

While it's true that it's hard to imagine, say, Federer or even Venus a) losing count of the Slam tally and b) having the audacity to admit as much, I think this offered some real insight into Serena. She simply doesn't approach tennis the way other players do. Some of you love her for it. Some of you hate her for it.

Jon, I felt compelled to write in given that my wife is from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. It's a great place to spend a few weeks in January or February, with plenty of warm beaches, fantastic grilled meats and fine clay courts. And Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas is hovering around the top 50 on the ATP Tour. --Mark Georgette, Menlo Park, Calif.

• Thanks. And let the record reflect, it's Uruguayan, not Uraguayian.

Now that Tommy Haas is the No. 2 American player, will he be contributing to the Davis Cup effort? --Gerry Gollin, Redlands, Calif.

• Haas addressed this in Delray Beach, explaining that technically he could be eligible in September. While he left the door open, I wouldn't hold my breath. (The rare double cliché and mixed metaphor in a single sentence!) Even if Haas desires to play, given the way the vectors are going, I suspect both Sam Querrey and John Isner will pass him in the rankings pretty soon.

Serena hits more aces than Federer overall in the Aussie Open, and he plays 3 out of 5! How about that for greatness? --Micheal, New Haven

• Thanks. Good catch, but it highlights a flaw with cumulative stats. If Federer had been forced to play more sets, his ace tally would have been higher.

Jon, what are those little earpieces that many important figures wear in the crowd at matches, like Federer's father, for example? --Alex, Milwaukee

• Hold your awe. At the U.S. Open, American Express card holders are entitled to a small earpiece through which they hear the TV coverage as they watch the matches. (Great promotion.) Then again, given the recent credit card legislation, perhaps "important figures" is an appropriate characterization.

Just curious. A recent mailbag reader suggested that Federer's picture be used on your page, and you wrote back "duly noted." But the picture has not changed. It's still Nadal. Is there a tennis-related reason for that? What has he won in a while? --Monika, Greenwood, S.C.

Shakira's imprimatur?

J.P. Anderson of Chicago: "How 'bout that Stephane Robert, jumping into the top 75? Sixty? After toiling in the 200s-300s for the better part of a decade? Go Frenchy!"

• No. 12 Samantha Stosur and No. 14 Marion Bartoli have officially entered the Family Circle Cup, joining Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Vera Zvonareva and Melanie Oudin. The tournament is scheduled for April 10-18 in Charleston, S.C.

• Former winners Mardy Fish, Fernando Gonzalez, Tommy Haas and Ivo Karlovic will all be part of the 28-player field for the U.S. Clay Court Championship in Houston from April 5-11.

Crazy doings at Tennis Australia.

Mike of Missoula, Mont.: "If it's 'New Adventures of Old Justine,' is it too late for the 'Second Coming of Clijst'?"

Joshua Cipolla of New York: "Here is another record Federer can add to his résumé. He is now tied with Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg for most consecutive years winning a Slam with eight."

• Unsolicited book recommendation: Steve Rushin's The Pint Man.

• Unsolicited movie recommendation: The Art of the Steal.

Ivan H. of New York has long-lost siblings: Robin Soderling and Sam Rockwell.

Have a great week, everyone!

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