Wednesday April 14th, 2010

Since you wrote, "When Thomaz Bellucci wins the French Open, you heard it here first," there's been a lot of talk here in Brazil about Bellucci being a real contender for this year's RG. Even some Web sites are writing headlines like, "American tennis expert considers Bellucci a favourite to win Roland Garros." Can you tell us your honest opinion on Thomaz' future? --Celso, Curitiba, Brazil

• Far be it from me to douse the passions of any nation, much less an emerging economic powerhouse. Realistically, Belluci, probably won't win Roland Garros. We're talking about a player who was ranked so modestly six months ago that he had to play the qualies at the U.S. Open. But since then? He's been terrific, moving to within smelling distance of the top 25, beating some fine players along the way. I caught one of his matches in Miami and came away impressed: big lefty strokes, fluid movement, does nothing spectacularly, but no glaring weakness. Just the type of game makes a player dangerous in Paris, an event a Brazilian has won three times since 1997. (Okay, it was the same Brazilian. But still.) Definitely put Bellucci in the dark horse/dangerous sleeper/dangerous horse/dark sleeper category.

Some of my optimism on Bellucci also to do with the current context of men's tennis. Federer is Federer, especially at majors. But after that? Nadal might return to greatness on clay, but as I write this, he's gone nearly a year without a title. Djokovic is too smart for Todd Martin, but his results suggest otherwise. Andy Murray has backslid since Australia. Juan Martin del Potro has barely played this year. You see where I'm going here. If there were a year for a surprise winner, this would be it.

Actually, Federer did not outcoach Gilbert as previously thought. He in fact received advice from his friend Reto Staubli during the rain delay after he lost the first set to Roddick. Staubli told Roger to start serving and volleying and he did just that. Federer won in four sets. I know it's irresistible for the Federer-slobbering media to think of Roger as some kind of demigod who can beat Chuck Norris in his sleep but he's not the one-man genius on the court that you think he is. He has a strong team behind him. Without them, he wouldn't be winning much. --Karen B. New York City

• I didn't know Chuck Norris was such a strong tennis player. Look, I don't think anyone -- including Federer -- denies the role (much less, the existence) of a strong team. But I still contend that he is remarkably independent and self-sufficient. If that's slobbering, may I borrow a handkerchief?

1. Does tennis have anything quite as objectionable as Butler Cabin? (I really hope it doesn't.) 2. Lack of technical expertise aside, how would Geno Auriemma do as a coach on the WTA? --Dan Martin, Dayton, Ohio

• You mean "historic" Butler Cabin? (I would lend Jim Nantz my handerkerchief, but alas it's filled with my Federer-slobber.) Someone once described Butler Cabin as, "What would happen if David Lynch moved into your granny's house." Anyone else get the feeling the All England Club is Haight-Ashbury compared to the stuffiness of Augusta? Imagine explaining the entire tableau to some tribe that had never before seen golf. "Lumpen men descend on Georgia and spend four days taking out these metal rods and trying to knock a ball into a cup all afternoon! Whoever takes the fewest hits, gets to go into this little Keebler elf house and then -- get this! -- come out wearing an ill-fitting green jacket! Why, no, it's not weird or creepy. Not at all. Why would you ever suggest such a thing?"

The Auriemma question is interesting. (For our uninitiated, he is the coach of the wildly successful University of Connecticut women's basketball program.) My sense is that he's an expert motivator who -- without getting too sexist -- is particularly adept at dealing with female athletes. On the other hand, I submit that the difference in mentality/psyche/hard-wiring between male and female athletes isn't nearly as drastic as the differences between team and individual sport athletes.

This intrigued me so much I asked my debonair colleague, Richard Deitsch, who knows his tennis but also knows women's hoops. His take: "One of the things every UConn player talks about, regardless of era, is how Geno Auriemma makes practice so hard that the games become a relief. He puts his players in impossible situations (i.e. seven male practice players playing full-court defense against a five-woman Husky group) so they understand and learn to cope with pressure. Auriemma would absolutely be successful as a tennis coach because he understands human psychology, demands excellence and has proven he can win with players of different ethnicities and from different eras. He would also never work with a player who didn't believe in his tenets, thus reducing his chances of coaching any divas or underachievers. Tell Novak Djokovic to call him immediately."

Your point about a player being armed with data regarding his/her opponent's tendencies (you used the example of Berdych serving wide on break points) is something I believe that was brought to the forefront during the Navratilova days of dominance in the early 80's. Wasn't there talk back then of making Martina the first "bionic" tennis player? And part of that was arming Martina with computerized data of Chris Evert's tendencies as to where she likes to hit, where she likes to pass, etc. --Rod Lowe, Toronto, Canada

• So where's the data? Those of you into sabermetrics know how deep the capabilities run. In baseball, you can have an entire set of statistics controlled for leverage, i.e. the pressure of the situation. In tennis, wouldn't it be cool to know players' winners-errors ratio from 4-4 until the end of a set? Wouldn't it be instructive to know which players have the highest winning percentages in games that go to deuce? Or which are most likely to lose the second set after winning the first?

One stat that would be hard to keep but I always follow when I watch a match: who wins the point at 30-30. The winner of that point wins the game over 90 percent of the time and is less likely to go to deuce than a player leading 40-15. And in virtually every match I've followed, the player with the better 30-30 record wins the match. --Martin, Tacoma, Wash.

• Agree. Would not it immensely add to the depth and quality of our fan experience if we had access to metrics such as this?

I have not noticed anyone commenting about Guillermo Canas and his past suspensions in any of the stories I have read about his "star" pupil, Wayne Odesnik. Perhaps Odesnik's recent adventures in importing and his coach's reputation and past history are just a coincidence. Should we just chalk it up to "birds of a feather"? --Bill E., Tampa, Fla.

• Yes, in one of those ironies tennis seems to have a singular knack for generating, Odesnik's listed coach was Guillermo Canas, who was previously sanctioned for a doping offense. And on the day Odesnik's guilty plea was made public, Canas had a press conference to announce his retirement from tennis. As you can imagine, the question veered into the unpleasant circumstances at hand. Read for yourself.

What is Nike thinking when it comes to dressing Nadal? His outfits look like they should be worn by the activities coordinator at "The Villages." Shakira obviously didn't see these getups before asking him to be in her steamy music videos. --Trish, Suwanee, Georgia

• Very nice. You don't think that the "parochial plaid" captures Nadal's essential being? For a few years now, Nadal's team has talked about "evolving the brand" and presenting their man as a modest adult. (To me, that's like presenting Lady GaGa as the embodiment of class.) In Nadal's case, this means sleeves and more subdued colors and the like. Most of you agree that the efforts have been clunky. He comes off looking like a teenager whose parents have forced him to go back to his room change into something more appropriate. And practice his piano and put away his skateboard while he's at it.

Since Houston has not made a profit since 2003 and Mattress Mack (Jim McIngvale) has decided not to renew the contract with the ATP, what city is the tournament headed to next? Hopefully it stays in the United States and continues to be on red clay. Maybe Seattle, Birmingham or Charlotte could be good locations. It has been a shame Roddick has decided to skip the tournament in his home state the last few years. --Sam, Philadelphia

• Let's put an end to the speculation now. Sources tell us the River Oaks Country Club has a four-year agreement to host the event on behalf of the USTA, who owns the sanction. Last week's event was the second of those four years.

The NBA has games on TNT, ESPN, ABC and local affiliates -- why is it a problem that tennis is on TV in multiple places? Almost every key match in Key Biscayne was available somewhere including paying for it on tennistv.com. Don't understand why you and your readers constantly complain about this. --Joe, Chicago

• When TNT or ESPN shows the equivalent of a conference final a) on tape delay b) at different times in different regions -- and not at all in other regions, c) in an abbreviated format because of "prior commitments" at the top of the hour, we'll talk. Just curious here: What exactly were FSN's "prior commitments" at midnight on a Wednesday? "Gee, the infomercial guy with his unique acai berry/hula hoop weight loss program is going to be steamed if we show Henin-Clijsters in its entirety!"

What on earth possesses a woman of Clijsters' physique to endorse an anatomically absurd Barbie doll with toothpick legs? --Audrey, Nova Scotia

• I usually tend to go libertarian on these things. She can do what she wants. But I'm with Audrey here. I'm not sure that's necessarily the product a female athlete (and mother of a young daughter?) wants to be endorsing. Even if Clijsters' had Barbie's physique -- proportionately, isn't the doll supposedly like 6-8, 98 lbs., with a 42-inch chest?

Jelena Dokic, buy, hold or sell? --Tim, Charlotte, N.C.

• How cheap can I acquire (or unload) shares? On ball-striking alone, she's probably worth having in the portfolio. But she hasn't built much at all on her success 15 months ago. And from the don't-look-now category, can you believe she turned 27 today! On a related note, Alexandra Stevenson tried to qualify in Charleston and was served the dreaded double bagel.

Just finished reading Agassi's book Open. Along with that book, the only other one on the subject that I found interesting to read was McEnroe's You Cannot Be Serious. Can you recommend any other one? Thanks. --Lenny Rodriguez, Houston

• We haven't done book club in a while. Off the top of my head, I'd run with John McPhee's Levels of the Game, Gordon Forbes' Handful of Summers and Pete Bodo's Courts of Babylon. (Alone, the chapter of Bjorn Borg's comeback is worth the price of admission.) Finish those and then come back for more...

You need to help solve a disagreement between my wife and me: Who has bigger arms as of late, Nadal or Samantha Stosur? I don't know if it was because of what they were wearing at Indian Wells or something do with the TV, but I have my money on Sam Guns. Since you have seen them both in person, thought you may have noticed. --Carlos, Easton, Conn.

• That's an arm wrestling battle I would pay to watch.

• Some good news on the media front: CNN International will be producing a weekly tennis show.

Sara writes: "Hi Jon, please tell your reader Adam that "mano-a-mano" means "hand-to-hand" which is a gender neutral term".

• Sources tell us that Wayne Odesnik will not be invited to participate in the "play-off" for the French Open wild card.

• Speaking of unpleasantness in Houston, we were told that a spectactor was evicted for suspected gambling. The word from the tournament: "A spectator was observed relaying match information via a mobile device. He was asked about these actions and asked to discontinue them."

• Novak Djokovic is no longer working with Todd Martin.

• From a reader: "Hi Jon, just read your mailbag. Steffi Graf's photoshoot is for promotion of her 'Mrs. Sporty' franchise which is based in Germany and spreading around Europe. It is a fitness club which concentrates on healthy eating as well and is only for women (owned by women as well). Anyone can open the franchise if they can invest 10,000 dollars (the official Mrs. Sporty website is in German language). The other lady in the photo shoot is one of the founding members along with Steffi Graf. Originally started in 2005, the franchises are spreading widely, considered one of the largest sports-club franchises and has been ranked as one of the top 10 franchises in Germany last year. ... Nothing new in the interview: Graf says that she and Agassi will be based in Las Vegas and have no plans on moving to Germany, how the kids like the new addition to the family, a dog which was a birthday present from Agassi, how the kids allow the dog to sleep on their bed, take it with them on their way to school in the car and want the dog to be part of any vacation or trips they plan in future."

Landon Wallace of Chapel Hill, N.C., adds: "To summarize Steffi Graf's interview in German: Her family is her focus now. She has little German traditions that she teaches to her children, she speaks a little German to them and they travel to Germany once a year. The kids waited a long time for a dog, and last year she and Andre finally got them one. It travels with them everywhere.

Chris C. of Austin, Texas: "You might be interested to know that the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus in Austin has acquired the papers of David Foster Wallace. They have an extraordinary collection. He's in good company there. I recall you've mentioned his writing about tennis a number of times. You can find information about the acquisition in the news section of the HRC site."

Kevin from Cambridge, Mass., was kind enough to link the Bryans segment on 60 Minutes in case you missed it.

Sania Mirza wedding pics.

• I feel like we've done this but Wes Protheroe of Marietta, Ga., has long lost siblings: Eric Dane and Marat Safin.

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