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Odesnik outrage, Roddick clay-court prognosis, more mail

Jon, I have to wonder why Wayne Odesnik is playing in the Houston event. As you noted last week, he pleaded guilty [to importing HGH] and there is no doubt of his guilt. I wish the guy hadn't done it, but he did and should not be allowed to play, effective immediately. What's broken down here? Can't the ATP suspend the guy until a formal review takes place? What about the tournament director? Shouldn't he have the ability to deny access to any player he wants? Odesnik beat his first-round opponent (who wasn't happy about having to play him). We want to be a clean sport and yet there is no process in place to prevent him from playing. What gives???-- Tim, New York

Dozens of you, surprised by seeing Odesnik's name in the scores barely a week after news of his guilty plea, asked the same question. Here's Barbara Travers, at the ITF:

"Wayne Odesnik is entitled to due process under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, just as you and I are entitled to this protection under our legal systems. He has not as yet been found guilty of a doping offense under the rules of the TADP and therefore is allowed to play. In order not to prejudice the player's ability to defend himself in his criminal case, the TADP decided to await the outcome of those proceedings rather than run concurrently, but began the process immediately once the decision of the Australian Court was taken. The player is entitled to put forward a defense and this can take some time and he has elected not to take a provisional suspension. Whether or not we feel this is good for the image of tennis, he has that right and the ITF and ATP have an obligation to honor it. Again the TADP affords every player the right of due process. We believe that this is in the long-term best interests of everyone concerned."

I'm not quite sure I get this. It seems to me that if he's already pled guilty to what amounts to an anti-doping violation, due process has been granted. And especially given that the burden of proof is surely higher in a criminal court than in any TADP proceeding, I can't imagine what defense could be put forth to avoid a suspension. This is a damned-either-way situation, but there's just something fundamentally wrong about letting Odesnik continue to compete, given the circumstances.

To your points, you can't blame the Houston tournament. Events can't make these determinations independently (see: Shahar Peer in Dubai), and if they tried to ban eligible players, they might even risk facing a fine/sanction from the tour. However, I do agree with you that the ATP could have (and should have) stepped in here. Although the ATP has turned over its anti-doping program to the ITF -- we can discuss the wisdom of this at another time -- surely a guilty plea in a criminal matter enables the ATP to invoke a "Conduct Contrary to the Integrity of the Game" clause, and suspend the player ASAP, even as the anti-doping proceeding plays out.

But I think most of the blame falls on Odesnik. Simply put, in the face of some pretty damning circumstances -- again, we're talking about a guilty plea here -- he should have had the good graces to lay low for a few weeks. In the event, however unlikely, that there are mitigating or exculpating circumstances, he'll get back to work soon enough. In the event that the ITF imposes a suspension (as expected), he's likely going to have to forfeit his rankings and prize money this week anyway. By playing this week, he is making a bad situation worse and putting an awful lot of parties in an awkward position.

Jon, I hope you can shed some light on my question, as it has driven me crazy for years! In the latest ATP rankings, I noticed there were a few "ties." For example, both Stanislas Wawrinka and Juan Monaco have accumulated 1,630 points, yet Stanislas is ranked ahead of Juan (23 vs. 24). In total, there are eight pairs of players tied in total ranking points. Yet in not one case are they ever tied in their ranking position. Why is this? Why aren't Wawrinka and Monaco both tied in the rankings at No. 23? To take it a step further, if sometime in the future the oddest of oddities happens and both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are atop the rankings, both having accumulated 10,500 points, what then? Will the ATP show them as tied at No. 1? This doesn't look like the case, according to the pattern as noted in the latest rankings. There must be something else that is being taken into consideration. If so, what? If two players have accumulated the same ranking points, why would one be ranked higher than the other?-- Junior Martinez, Victorville, Calif.

Never fear. The mighty Greg Sharko is here:

The ties are broken by the player with the most mandatory tournament points, meaning Grand Slam and ATP World Tour Masters 1000.

Is it me, or do commentators classify the wisdom of attempting a drop shot as either "nervous" or "brilliant" based purely on said attempt's success or failure? Is that fair?--Sandra J., San Diego

I don't think that's necessarily the case. There are definitely "bail out" drop shots that express a lack of confidence and "tactical" drop shots that are used strategically. To me, the fine-line classification is between "aggressive" and "foolish." If you pull off that screaming forehand up the line, you're bold and gutsy. Miss it by a few inches and you're impatient.

Hard to make predictions, I know, but everyone must be wondering how Andy Roddick's win in Miami will carry over to the clay-court season. He played some crazy defense against Nadal, and if he uses that with a consistent power game, I could see him making an interesting splash in the next few months -- er, interesting enough to not lose much momentum heading into Wimbledon.--Greg Tunning, Atlanta, Ga.

That's pretty optimistic. Clay is just a different beast. If Roddick gets to the second week in Paris, it will be an achievement.

Sponsorship is always great, but Lumber Liquidator behind the server?--Joel, New York

As a wise man said, "Sponsorship is always great."

Anyone who saw Donald Young play Nikolay Davydenko back in 2007 in New Haven (a night match Young had a legit chance to win against a top player in the world), saw Young's potential as a top 10 player. Is it just me, or would Young have his best shot at improving dramatically if he hires coach Brad Gilbert, given B.G.'s ability to bring out the unfulfilled potential of Andre Agassi, Roddick (in terms of Slams won) and a teenaged Andy Murray? Young, currently ranked 141st, turns 21 in July. Yes, he's still young, but 21 is just a year away from his tennis prime (according to Gilbert, who views it as ages 22-26).-- DB, New York, N.Y.

Ironically, I'm told that Gilbert worked briefly with Young on an informal basis last summer. For whatever reason, the relationship didn't develop into anything formal. I agree with you that Gilbert's track record speaks for itself. On the other hand, Agassi, Roddick and Murray are elite, elite players. Young has -- and I hope that's the right tense -- a lot of potential. But we're talking about a kid with limited weapons, questionable work habits and not a great strength or fitness foundation, who's won only a handful of tour-level matches. There's also the "parental propinquity" issue. Most coaches aren't going to react well to having a helicopter parent. But I suspect that for a coach of Gilbert's prestige, the thought of "co-coaching" -- much less being undermined -- is a deal breaker.

Your answer to the question about why Roger Federer never looks to the box was interesting but not particularly insightful. Don't you think it is the same reason he really doesn't have a coach, and doesn't like the challenge rule? That it is because Roger believes tennis is a mano-a-mano contest (for lack of a gender neutral term) and that getting other people involved is cheating? He wants to see if your best can beat his best, and that includes the mental aspects of the game. He doesn't want his best vs. your best plus the input of coaches, gurus and family members -- that is not a true test. I bet Roger would rather just do away with line judges and umpires and just have each player call his own lines like two guys at the club. To Roger, it is just two guys trying to beat each other at tennis whether there is no one watching or whether there are thousands watching. Rarely with him does anything else get in the way of his tennis.-- Adam Dubler, Elora, Ontario

Good answer, good answer, as they say on Family Feud. I do think that Federer takes great pleasure in the mano-a-mano fight, in self-sufficiency, in making adjustments and solving the riddle of matches for himself. (You'll remember, of course, the day he "outcoached" the estimable Gilbert in the 2004 Wimbledon final.) I think this traces back to Federer's upbringing. Often when he would play his junior matches, his parents wouldn't even watch. His dad, in particular, was the diametric opposite of a tennis parent. Roger was playing for himself, not to please a parent in the stands, so the notion of looking up for support/encouragement/reinforcement/illegal coaching never came to seem natural.

On the other hand ...

Why doesn't Justine Henin just have her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, stand with her on the court? She spends more time glancing up at him during her matches than she spends looking at the court.-- Kris, Norwalk, Conn.

One of you joked that Kim Clijsters should have been credited last week with a semifinal win over Henin-Rodriguez, so flagrant was the mid-match coaching. Here's what cracks me up: Thanks to the farce that is the WTA's on-court coaching, Henin has the opportunity to bring Rodriguez onto the court with her. Yet she declines. Hey, why make the guy come on the court and demean himself wearing a microphone when I can just look to the players' box and get the same benefit? There's a lot to like and admire about Henin, but her reliance on illicit on-coach coaching is beneath her.

What is more likely to happen this year: Andy Murray winning his first major or Novak Djokovic winning his second?--Helena, Vancouver, Canada

Is there a third option?

Kim Clijsters-Justine Henin semifinal: Some are calling it painful, others a great match. What do you think?--Philip Villaseran, Las Pinas, Philippines

I'm just happy you heard about it. In parts of the U.S., it was just a rumor. Again, we're flogging a dead horse, but don't you forfeit the right to call yourself the fifth major when some of your most anticipated matches are not televised?

Jon, I e-mailed the WTA over spotty coverage and this was the response: "Please go back to the feedback page and choose Audio/Video issues from the pulldown, as you have contacted the WTA, and we have nothing to do with which matches tennistv.com shows."-- Steve Swendler, Lakewood, Co.

This is Exhibit 4,320 in tennis' congenital screwed-up-ness. Name me another sport in which the governing bodies have no say vis-a-vis the television coverage.

Which is harder, finding Osama bin Laden or finding the Key Biscayne tournament on TV? At various and random times it was on at least three different networks (MSG, Tennis Channel, CBS), but mostly I couldn't find the night sessions at all.-- Rich, New York City

Last question on television coverage for a while. But I hope the gatekeepers read remarks like this and realize just how dire this situation has gotten.

In your latest love letter to the Williamses, you characterized them as not "worry[ing] about rankings and points." You mean the way Serena wasn't worried about her ranking when she questioned Dinara Safina's ranking during every interview she did last year?-- Shaun, Boston

I think Serena's remarks, snide as they were, support the view that she sniffs at the concept of the rankings. Her point was essentially: "I'm not going to jump through hoops and travel to Katmandu to appease the computer. I don't care what the numbers say: I know who's the real No. 1."

• Thanks to the many of you who wrote in volunteering to help with our "tennis analytics" project. Who knew there were so many mathematically inclined tennis fans? I'm happy to look at any metrics you come up with. But I think the real issue is one of data accumulation. That is, if the numbers don't exist, how do you build the model?

• After popping into Miami, I'm more convinced than ever that a player armed with real data could have a HUGE advantage over the competition. For instance, think about Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' owner. He knows which lineups perform in various permutations. He knows players' shooting percentages from every spot on the floor. He knows who shoots better and worse when the shot clock is dwindling. If you're Roddick, for instance, and you knew that, say, when Tomas Berdych faced break point in the ad court, he served wide 80 percent of the time -- I'm making that up, but it's precisely the kind of data you could get -- it would be quite helpful, no?

• This week's unsolicited book recommendation: Street Shadows by Jerald Walker.

Sandra R. of Plantation, Fla., notes: "Re: Rafa Nadal: English is actually his fourth language, after Catalan, Majorcan and Spanish."

• Who speaks German? I've never heard "Las Vegas" sound so eloquent.

John of Greenville, S.C.: "You probably haven't noticed, but check out the weather forecast for the Monte Carlo tournament next week. Through Thursday of next week, the high temperature is not supposed to get out of the 50s."

Natasha of Toronto: "I thought the doubles players' high fives were to reinforce the 'win or lose, we're in this together' mentality, so nobody feels their partner is mad at them if they lost a point. I think it's fairly effective, and it does not annoy me. I like longer matches rather than shorter, though."

• New Chapter Press announced the official release of the newly updated memoir of Rod Laver, The Education of a Tennis Player.

• From anonymous: "A 16-year-old junior USTA competitor, Catherine Chen from Southern California, created a comic series and the proceeds will benefit the Andre Agassi Foundation."

• New York readers considering supporting Luke's Rock N' Roll Stroll II, go here.

Kobi S. of Sacramento: "Hey, Jon, I wanted to put in a plug for attending events like the Sony Ericsson Open and the BNP Paribas Open. One of the advantages of tennis not being a 'mainstream' sport is that there is more intimacy for the fans at some of these larger events. I went to the BNP Open in March, which was a fantastic experience. It was relatively cheap for a one-day package, and we were able to see about seven or eight [matches] that day.

"On top of that, we watched Federer take one of the practice courts with Ivan Ljubicic and Marin Cilic practice serves with Robin Soderling. On these practice courts, you're only about 10 feet away from the players, if that, and watching these players practice together is like watching a mini quarter or semifinal match. I had no idea that the top players would actually practice together, but it makes sense. Anyway, it's quite a treat for any major tennis fan to be so close to the players without having to pay a fortune to see them. You certainly wouldn't be able to go watch Kobe Bryant in a shootaround at the Lakers' practice facility without knowing someone in the organization. I think it's truly one of the major gems of being a tennis fan."

Ivan Lendl, Roddick, Venus Williams and Marat Safin are all in Atlantic City this Saturday.

Graham of Montreal: "Here is a must-read article about Vicki Duval, an American junior born in Haiti whose dad was seriously injured in the earthquake. She was given a wild card into Memphis qualifying."

Helen of Philadelphia has Long Lost Siblings: Mikhail Youzhny and Sam Worthington.

Have a great week, everyone!

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