Wednesday March 17th, 2010

Hit for Haiti commenced at 3:30 a.m. in the UK, so I decided not to stay up so I'd be able to fast-forward through any Agassi-Sampras awkwardness in the wake of the comments made by Agassi in Open -- not that I was expecting any to be honest, but even so. Turns out that was the right decision. The whole thing just made me appreciate Roger and Rafa so much more. They're already two of the classiest champions ever, and are leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in sports in terms of maintaining a positive, friendly, "rivalry." I can't imagine them ever playing in an exo in the future and having Rafa serve at Fed's head, or Fed imitate Rafa's picking. It's why I'm a fan of them both. -- Emma, Oxford

• If the Hit for Haiti debacle isn't a dead horse, it's on a respirator. But given how much mail we received on this, let's go in for a final flogging. First, to Emma's point: It's inconceivable that Federer and Nadal would take swipes at each other today -- much less in the future when they're retired and have kids. It's not simply that there's too much mutual respect, or that they are too "classy." They're just not wired to think that way. I'm envisioning someone asking Nadal about Federer's tipping habits. He'd flash an incredulous smile, look at his translator to make sure he heard the question right, snort and then say something to the effect of: "I'm sure Roger is very generous, no? But why would I give a #@&!? He's won 16 Majors. That's more important than how much money he gives or doesn't give to the guy who parks his car, no?"

I was intrigued by this line from Pete Bodo: "Andre has taken personal shots at Pete, and others going way back. It's the way he is. He must hate to hear this, but he has more of his father, Mike Agassi, in him than he likes to acknowledge." I also can't help but notice how closely your feelings for Sampras and Agassi mirror the tennis they played. Sampras is steady and stays in character -- and, as such, views toward him don't change and aren't particularly complex. With Agassi, he's all over the place. "How can the same guy who selflessly starts a network of schools also behave like such an insecure bully?" This has a very similar echo to: "How can a Grand Slam champion allow his ranking to slip to No. 141 and play local Challenger events?" It's a wild ride with that Agassi cat. Part of the appeal, I guess.

Much as we've enjoyed a few days of parsing words, interpreting body language and playing amateur psychoanalysts, my favorite summary may have come from reader Carlos of Torreon, Mexico. He wrote: "I watched it once, not knowing what was going to happen ... and I don't want to see it again, ever. Why? Because in my book, both are excused. They are human and contributed plenty of good, including the Haiti relief fund. When you give, someone receives, and immediately makes his or her life better. Do people in devastated Haiti care about a misunderstanding between two tennis legends, in an exhibition match? No, because they are trying to survive day to day. Andre and Pete are not perfect but they were generous and that's all that matters."

On that note, as we go deep in the Indian Wells draw, let's get back to tennis...

Can you and your colleagues get together and declare a moratorium on using the word "fairytale" when describing Justine's and Kim's return to tennis? (And notice I use the word return -- not comeback.) While I appreciate their playing styles and what they bring to the game, let's not confuse "going off for a rest" with a "fairytale comeback." It's not as if they were turned into trolls or were cursed with eternal slumber. Stressed out by the physical and mental toils of the modern game, they went off for a rest and came back energized and refreshed -- which is fine. But let's not pretend that they did anything superhuman. Moreover, I would posit that had Serena or Venus done the same thing they would have been criticized for not caring about the game. Although we can acknowledge that different standards exist for different players and different circumstances, let's at least be open about our biases and call things the way they are. -- Melissa Pierson, Eugene, Ore.

• I feel like Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles when Taggart suggests, 'Lets head them off at the pass.' "I hate that cliché!" "Fairytale" should be used to describe a narrative or saga featuring folkloric characters. It should not be used in conjunction with the Belgian comebacks. As we've said before, you hear the phrase "comeback" and it conjures images of two old-timers getting off their mobility scooters and (cue music) returning to their fields of play. In the cases of Henin and Clijsters we're talking about two elite athletes in their 20s, who took some time off and then resumed their careers. Nice story, yes. "Fairytale," no.

Along with most other WTA stars, Henin and Clijsters are no longer on the draw in Indian Wells. Henin was cast aside by Gisela Dulko who, as the Brits say, "is either Arctic or Saharan." She beats Henin and is nearly double-bageled by Aggie Radwanska the next day. In Clijsters' case, she fell to Alisa Kleybanova, a fine player but one she should be beating 7-6 in a third-set breaker. Two disappointing results, especially at an event where the women's draw is depleted to begin with. I still think the Belgians are both among the top five players in the women's draw. But it's still more proof that there's a difference between making a splash at a Major and sustaining week-to-week excellence.

Here's my solution for Great Britain's Davis Cup team: Hire Judy Murray as coach. I'm sure Andy would have a hard time turning his Mum down. Also, bring Tim Henman back to play dubs with Andy. Surely, Tim can cover half a court better than Ward or Evans. Hell, just let Tim play singles as well. -- Rich, White Plains

• So there's been ample hand-wringing over the state of American tennis -- and the results from Indian Wells don't inspire great hope projecting forward. The state of affairs in the UK is similarly grim, as the endless drumbeat of Davis Cup drama attests. Last month we linked a piece about the in-fighting and dire circumstances facing Tennis Australia. The situation in France is better, but, for all creditable players, it's not as though they're bringing home Grand Slam trophies. Anyone else see a pattern, here? Maybe the millions in development booty a country receives in exchange for hosting a Major is a disguised blessing? Discuss...

What is your opinion on Juan Carlos Ferrero's eligibility for Hall of Fame qualification? Here is my take: a French Open, Davis Cup and former No. 1 should be sufficient. What are your and your readers' views? -- Peter Zla, Melbourne

• I think we need to start (re)drawing a line here. No disrespect to JCF, a fine player, a Grand Slam Champ, and by all accounts (including mine), a good guy. But we're talking about the HALL OF FAME here, i.e. the institution that, in other sports, has barred the door to players on the order of Ken Stabler and Dwight Gooden and, of course, Pete Rose. Given precedent, JCF has a chance -- though the curmudgeon in me would point out that his lone Major came during a soft spot in the men's game (post-Sampras/Agassi and, on clay, Guga, and pre Federer/Nadal). But, again, unless we want the physical building to become the size of a convention hall, perhaps we need to be a little more discerning.

Given Juan Carlos Ferrero's rise back into the top 16 and his recent run at the South American clay courts events, what do you think his chances are of finally winning a second Roland Garros this year? Nadal's health is iffy, Federer does not have to chase the "one slam" he hadn't won this year and the majority of the clay courters were playing the South American events. On a lighter note, with all the women's comebacks, what are the chances Conchita Martinez will announce a comeback to try to win Paris? (Clay always seems to favor the veteran.) -- Bob Richter, Green Bay

• I'm not sure Conchita Martinez returning is much more fanciful than the prospect of JCF winning another title -- seven years after his first. It's nice to see him return and win some matches. But there's a world of difference between a second-tier clay court event and the French Open. Consider that in Ferrero's last best-of-five match, he lost to the formidable Ivan Dodig. I don't disagree that the French is ripe for a "non-Federer-Nadal" winner. But I'd start with Djokovic and work down from there. (Alas, Davydenko, a real threat, will likely miss the event on account of his broken wrist.) Thus concludes "Pick on Ferrero Week."

In reading about how many top players (Federer) are chastised for not playing Davis Cup, my thought was "why should they?" Until Davis Cup has a proper structure that allows for fans to actually follow it in a meaningful way, it really won't get traction in a crowded world of sport. Why does it have to be an annual event that seemingly has no clear starting point or finish? Why can't it be played every two years and position itself like a Ryder Cup or even the NCAA's? Until it becomes a more meaningful "national" title, why should top players risk injury and potentially reduce the chance to win a grand slam? Thoughts? -- Neil Grammer, Toronto

• Are you kidding? The Davis Cup is the Super Bowl, Burning Man and South-by-Southwest rolled into one. It's the coolest, hippest, fan-friendliest event on the calendar. If it were any more relevant, it would be the World Cup. I have reams of survey data I can show. And look at all these snazzy sponsors lined up! If Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick all beg off, well, tough for them. Any alternative idea is inherently stupid and flawed. Just greedy promoters getting into the ears of docile players. Any suggestions for tinkering with the existing format comes from know-nothing pundits. If you can't follow the format you must be a dumb, ugly American. Oh wait, you're form Toronto? Well, close enough.

One can question Nalbandian's commitment to the game and to training, but what one cannot question is his predisposition and commitment to his country. Last week he came out of injury and took a flight to Sweden to help his country pull an upset in the Davis Cup. This says that the Davis Cup does attract players. So one could wonder ... is it maybe that Federer is less of a team player? (To put it diplomatically.) -- William, Santa Fe

• I'd agree that Nalbandian's commitment to Davis Cup is exemplary. It's the rest of the time when he sometimes struggles.

Another thing that seems completely apparent -- nearly every one of the top players seems to look to his box for confirmation and support after having won an important point, including Djkovic, Nadal and Murray ... Federer never seems to look at anybody through the match. What does this tell you? -- Raghu Vasudev, Bangalore, India

• He knows that Mirka is too busy texting and that no one is going to meet his glance?

Regarding more records for Federer to break, every time he wins a major, he breaks his own record. -- Bob Smith, Philly

• I contend that, especially when the records are contiguous, you're not really "breaking" your own records, so much as you're "extending" your records.

My personal assistant (Slim) scored me front row seats for the ATP World Tour, Masters 1000, BNP Paribas Masters tournament. But I just arrived to the stadium and the place is empty. I think I might have spotted the Williams sisters, but otherwise nada, zip, zilch. Not even Vilas. Paris is a ghost town. What gives? -- Andrew, New York City

• We'll say it again: Any correspondence triggering laughter out loud gets reprinted. I assume this is a reference to BNP Paribas sponsoring an event outside Paris. Doesn't bother me. They're looking to expand the brand. Tennis is pleased for their support. And I think they've done a good job "activating," as they say. Certainly better than Pacific Life ever did.

Is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones a tennis fan (even a remote one)? I want to shout out to him to bring the year-end Tennis Masters Cup to the Cowboy Stadium ... football, NBA, boxing have all been there and its about time tennis fans got theirs. There cannot be a greater venue in terms of fan enjoyment for the year-end event AND there are very few events that can make more money for Jerry. Its a win-win! -- Vijay Kalpathi, Houston, Texas

• The WTF Masters Cup ... can we stop a second? What genius in the branding department didn't Google that abbreviation first, just to make sure, you know, it didn't stand for something else? Presumably, the LMFAO Championship was already taken. Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh right. The WTF Masters Cup will be held in London for a good many years. But I agree that [Naming Rights Still Available] Cowboys Stadium would be a great venue for some sort of tennis-palooza.

In Venus' blog during the Mexican Open, she said she had never experienced the kind of support she received during her quarterfinal match being down 1-5. I believe she said she had never received this kind of support EVER in her career. While I find this amazing in terms of tennis' international fan base (Go Mexi-fans!), I'm a little sad as an American tennis follower that one of our best players doesn't get this kind of appreciation at home. Your thoughts? -- Sjohnna, Cincinnati

• Honestly, I wouldn't read much into it. It's like the band proclaiming, "Everyone knows that the best rock-and-roll fans are right here in Toledo." The next night, the mythical honor goes to the fans in Akron. I would also add, cynically, that when you're being paid a six-figure appearance fee, you're especially prone to say nice things. (And when you're a seven-time Grand Slam champ at a low tier event in an underserved market, the audience will be squarely in your corner.)

In reference to your response to the question about Serena Williams forgetting how many Grand Slams she's won, you said: "@merylstreep: "How many Oscars have I won?? Can't even keep track!" I just wanted to make clear that she's actually only WON 2!!! (I know, crazy!) She's been nominated 16 times but only WON TWICE! Sorry I know this is not tennis related but I had to get this off my chest since I'm still stinging from her loss at the Oscars this weekend to Sandra Bullock! -- Rohan Raphael Seth, Nottingham

• Okay, bad example. I should have chosen, like, Martin Scorsese. Surely a great director like that has won dozens.

Twitter.com//LleytonHewitt: how many blokes am I currently suing?

Matt Cronin, who does a great job at tennisreporters.net, is reporting that Nicole Vaidisova has "retired." If so, A) expect a comeback. B) until then, consider this one of the great cautionary tales in recent memory. Note to all aspiring agents: Be careful slavishly following the Sharapova marketing blueprint. Especially if your client doesn't project joy in what she's doing.

• New York readers: Consider this another plug for Sam Eaton andThe Quantum Eye.

• On Sunday at the Belleair Country Club in Florida, Jim Courtier and Anna Kournikova will play in the Mason One & Done Celebrity Tennis ProAM to benefit Morton Plant Hospital's Doyle Women's & Children's Health Initiative. More info here.

• Andrew, New York City was kind enough to send this injury update.

• I love this Federer story. As one of you wrote to me via twitter: "Tennis, gambling and philanthropy: what's not to like?"

Skip, Philly writes: More tennis parents and their kids: Julius and Julie Heldman, Gloria and Jimmy Connors (Did someone mention them? She was a v. good amateur, maybe state champ.), wasn't Herb Fitzgibbon's dad top ranked nationally? And Vera Sukova and her son, Cyril.

RIP Georgina Clark.

Ronnie of Manila, Philippines: Look-alike for this week?

Vika Azarenka and Brit Awards winner Ellie Goulding.

Have a good week, everyone!

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