Wednesday May 5th, 2010

Lleyton Hewitt ended the Australian Open with surgery and was on crutches afterward, but he is back in action this week at Houston. Serena Williams won the Australian Open, but hasn't played a match since then, claiming she is injured. Maybe it is just me, but something does not seem right about this. --Aaron, Illinois

• Two rules I try to live by: Go easy assessing athletes' injuries and go easy assessing their decisions to retire or keep playing. It's a personal decision and we can't possibly know what they're feeling, physically and emotionally. In this case, I agree that the contrast looks curious on the surface. But instead of questioning the mettle of Serena -- who advanced into the quarters today, incidentally -- take the opportunity to praise Hewitt who might not win awards for warmth, but whose dedication and toughness are pretty much unimpeachable.

Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer are both looking solid this clay court season. They've both enjoyed some nice wins already in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome. Meanwhile, Murray and Djokovic are really struggling. The French Open looks like a place where some surprises could join Fed and Nadal in the semis. Which of these Spaniards do you think is more likely to make a big run in Paris? --Chad Silvey, Akron, Ohio

• Verdasco -- like the Sam Stosur of the men's tour -- has looked an awful lot like a top-five player of late. Unfortunately, he has been terminally unsuccessful against Nadal, winless in their 10 head-to-head meetings. Which is not uncommon for Spaniards. Ferrer has only beaten Nadal thrice in their 14 meetings -- and never on clay. Nadal is 6-0 against Tommy Robredo, 5-0 against Nicolas Almagro, and 7-2 against Juan Carlos Ferrero.

I didn't follow your logic last week. How can the players getting more money from the four Grand Slams be bad for the ATP? Isn't the ATP the players' union? --John, Chicago

• Yes and no. The ATP is kind of, sort of, not really a players' association. A full-fledged players' association, free and clear of conflict, agitates for better wages and more jobs and improved working conditions. The ATP, however, is equally comprised of tournament directors. And it is the organizing body of a circuit of events. So, whereas the union component likes heightened wages at the Slams, the other components should be concerned. The more the Slams enrich the players, the less essential it makes the Monte Carlos and Bangkoks and Atlantas. At some point it becomes the equivalent of selling your car to pay for gas money.

Would you say this is plausible, remotely plausible or entirely implausible: Lindsay Davenport comes out of retirement to team up with Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber in the Fed Cup finals. --Scott Graham, Oakland

• "Pretty much impossible," according to an impeccably placed source. Davenport is, however, playing World TeamTennis and plans to attend the Fed Cup final as a supporter.

Whatever happened to those two wise-cracking goofballs, Vince Spadea and Dimitry Tursunov? Both had pretty good games and were in the Top 100. Did Spadea officially retire? Or did he leave the Tour to cut a rap record? Tursunov was a real personality on and off the court and I loved his ATP blog a few years ago. He could have been a force in his heyday if he didn't give it away mentally so often. Inquiring minds want to know! --Tara, Columbia, Md.

• I agree, the ATP could use an injection of some personality/controversy, a Rodman to Federer's Jordan, a Shannon Sharpe to Nadal's Elway. (Note to ATP: Can we revive those great player blogs? Make the video from the Monte Carlo players' revue public? Something?) Squarely in his mid-30s, Vince Spadea is, for all intents, retired. With the help of the Mighty Sharko, we learn that Tursunov has been sidelined all year with an ankle injury. He underwent surgery last September and then another operation in February. He's hoping to return in the next few weeks and he's on the list for Roland Garros. He's also planning to play on grass in England in June.

Do you know what happened to Dmitry Tursunov? The men's game could use a little extra humor right now. --Marissa, Los Angeles

• Wow. Multiple calls in one week. Discuss: Given the heightened mental demands, the increased competition, and the growth of "media training," it's become increasingly difficult to find "characters" in sports, figures whose colorful personality afford them popularity in excess of what their achievements would otherwise dictate.

Let's stop kidding ourselves. We already went down the Hawk-Eye path. So why don't we just implement a service shot clock to warn players for time violations (at least on show courts) and, while we're at it, why don't we implement a challenge clock too? (I find that glances at a coach, or staring at the line for a couple of seconds followed by long conversations with the chair umpire on top of some soul-searching are a *lot* more aggravating and distracting than 20 bounces before a toss). This would stop a lot of players from just disrupting a reasonable pace for the match. I'm also in favor of timeouts if a player needs to think about something a little longer. Your thoughts? --Chris, Manchester, Conn.

• Absolutely agree. In the course of a sporting event, there are countless judgment calls, chances for officials to make error or express bias that can affect outcomes. Here, we have flagrant violations -- as anyone with a second hand in their wristwatch can confirm -- and we have the technology to get it right. Why aren't we putting those wires together? Shot clock would a) ensure that rules were being followed which is most important b) speed up play and spare us the catheter-inducing delays, which counts for something in this day and age (baseball fans, see: West, Joe) and c) make for a fan-friendly touch.

On a related note, I'm starting to come around to Mary Carillo's point of view with respect to Hawkeye. That is, so long as the technology exists to get it right, why are only using the technology when the players issue a challenge it? And this applies to other sports, too. So long as PitchFX enables to tell with certitude whether pitchers are balls or strikes, why are we letting umpires continue to make mistakes?

You've mentioned tennis analytics and sabermetrics a couple of times in the last few weeks. Do you know of any data repositories in the tennis world that are accessible? If the raw data have been recorded, the task of manipulating, analyzing, and reporting those data in the form of improved metrics is potentially challenging but doable. If the issue is one of data collection in the first place, that's another story altogether. --Vicken Hillis, Davis, Calif.

• I think this is part of the problem. It seems as though the tours have some data sets but not others, the folks at IBM have some but not others. Often the chair umpire's data, recorded in that handheld device, can be stored, but that covers only a narrow range of categories. Granted tennis has bigger issues right now. Television and sponsorship would rank slightly higher than data-gathering on any executive's priority list. Still, it would be great if the various organizations could come together, commit some funds and vow to improve (and standardize) in this area. On the other hand....

OK, I'm sorry. But WHAT IS UP with these idiotic records? Nadal: the new Mr. April? The 55th consecutive match won in the MONTH OF APRIL? No disrespect to Rafa, but this is ridiculous. The media needs to get over these statistics! Can we get a petition going? --Ivan H., New York

• Congrats! You're the first person from the Eastern Time Zone whose initials form consecutive letters to make that point!

If we're talking about tennis books fan should know about, you may as well go ahead and put your book on Federer and Nadal, Strokes Of Genius on the list! --Beth, Covina, Calif.

• Hey thanks, Mom. We kid. Seriously, thanks. Other recommendations that came in last week: Acing Depression by Cliff Richey and Winning Ugly. And one of you suggested we include Amazon links, which I've done above. And speaking of books, look for Hardcourt Confidential, the Pat McEnroe/Pete Bodo collaboration to come out soon.

I lost the website address of that wonderful tennis site you shared with us a few years ago that lists all the daily articles on tennis. Something like congro? ... conegro? ... It's long and hard to remember. Could you share that one more time? --David Gladfelter, Waterford, Mich.

• I must be brain cramping here. If any of you know what David is referring to, pass it on.

I have no problem with the Williamses' unwillingness to play Fed Cup because it is not alluring enough and doesn't pay the big bucks. That said, they should not play in the finals simply because they will then qualify for the Olympics. I say either you play all rounds (barring serious injury as assessed by someone truly qualified to confirm the injury other than the Williamses' team doctor) or you do NOT as you said parachute into the finals. Plain and simple. They choose to play when they want which is their prerogative but Fernandez shouldn't play the fool whenever they decide Fed Cup works in their favor and show up for the glory. They aren't team players and they should be left off the team's final match against Italy. Even if the U.S. loses, it shows respect for those players who made the sacrifice and were there for the first three rounds. --Paul Smith, Edgewood, Ky.

• That seems to be the consensus among you guys. Fair enough. Were I advising the sisters, I'd simply tell them to follow the Roddick blueprint and be up front about their intentions. Why not simply say: "Fed Cup is not a priority this year. We would, however, like do enough to remain eligible for the Olympics." The broken promises -- that, you're right, put the captain in an awkward position -- seems to be the source of the displeasure.

A statistic from this year's Monte Carlo Masters that could have been easily overlooked. Novak Djokovic was seeded number one in the field, marking the first time since Rome in 2005 that the No. 1 seed at a Masters event was not held by either Federer or Nadal. Just another example of how dominant these two have been. To be fair, neither played at Hamburg in 2006, but because of their late withdrawals, there was no number 1 (or 2) seed at that event. --Alex Ketaineck, Madison, N.J.

• Nice.

Why do so few tennis players ever wear sunglasses? So often players lose games because they are serving into the sun. Is it just not cool to wear them? I'm sure there are endorsements waiting in the wings! --Brian Thomas, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

• Sam Stosur's agent should be reading this.

• The good folks at Sports Illustrated have created a new Facebook page for me where I will post links, columns and other goodies. Feel free to join here.

Go to the 7:30 mark. Trust me.

Randy Walker writes: "To add to the 'pre-qualifying' or 'wild card' debate: I played in the pre-qualifying/wild card tournament for the ATP event in Rye Brook, N.Y., in the summer of 1988. I may be mistaken, but I believe that GENE SCOTT was the tournament director of that event, so perhaps some props to him."

M Ng of Vancouver says: "Another indication that 'Roger Federer' has entered the lexicon of pop cultural reference. Mention is midway down the article on cooking."

Krishan of Houston, Texas: "I noticed a comment about Federer and Graf milestones, so here's something else to give a little perspective on records. She's the only person (as far as I know) to have won all 4 Grand Slams at least FOUR times each. That's 16 right there! To Federer's credit, I think he's the only man to have won 3 of the Slams at least four times each, and is also the only man to have reached the finals of all 4 Slams at least four times. 3 more French Opens, and he's up there with Steffi!"

• Letterman commenting about Steffi's physique to Andre.

• An anonymous reader noted the we might mocked Nadal's shorts, but check out the duds on this guy ... and this one.

• Federation Cup is no more. Officially changed its name to Fed Cup in 1995 when it went to the home-away format and best-of-five matches.

Ranjit Gupte of New York notes: "Wayne Odesnik's recent ethical and legal issues [ed. alleged] make me wonder whether the prior newsworthy incident in his career was as innocent as it was concluded to be at the time."

• Here's a nice Agassi read.

• Calling all David Foster Wallace fans. (Thanks to Jason Mauss of Surprise, Ariz.)

• And Lendl, McEnroe and Wilander all fired their agents the next day?

• Helen of Philadelphia makes a long lost siblings repeat: Thomaz Bellucci and Mario Ancic. And via the transitive property, does Bellucci equal Danny LaRussa?

HAVE A GREAT WEEK, EVERYONE!

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