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Federer's new coach, how Fish shed excess baggage, more mail

Hi, everyone. Two housekeeping notes:

1) I'll be on the road next week, so we have an oxymoronic "guest host" filling in. Venus Williams will take a break from practicing and promoting her bestselling book Come to Win and has kindly agreed to answer some queries. I'm going to vet the questions so let's stay classy, but fire away.

2) Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's economic reform. But there was a lot of anger in your mail this week. It's like the Tom Lehrer song. The Graf fans are bashing Seles. The Seles fans are bashing Graf. The Serena-philes are defending her injury. The Serena-phobes are rolling their eyes skeptically. And everyone hates (perceived) double standards. Before this space turns into the digital version of talk radio, how about we take a deep breath and celebrate the virtues of tennis (on-court coaching notwithstanding). Herewith an all-positive mailbag this week. Onward...

What's your take on Roger Federer's announcement that he will work with Paul Annacone?--Matt P., New York

• I think Federer fans ought to be really encouraged by this. For one, it suggests that he's not content with the state of his game and is willing/able to try and improve the situation. (So much for all the theories about being delusional and intractable.) He's frustrated and is motivated to do something about it.

I also think this is an uncommonly good fit for a number of reasons. While Annacone was never a top player -- a critique Federer once leveled at his early coach Peter Lundgren -- he was Sampras' aide-de-camp during many of the glory years. So Annacone has the experience with a similarly situated player, as well as the credible track record. Temperamentally, Annacone is a good match. Like Federer, he cuts a measured, dignified figure. He has a sizable temperate zone, prone neither to get too hot nor too cold, too high nor too low. Annacone knows the ATP, but isn't going to (over)load Federer with reams of empirical data or armchair psychoanalysis. Maybe most important, Annacone isn't Federer's peer. One suspects that, though he'll be respectful, he's not going to mince words or sugar-coat criticism because of a personal relationship. He's not going to tread lightly because he's looking to parlay this into another coaching job down the road.

He's also not doing this because he's desperate for a payday. Deciphering the announcement on Federer's website, they're going to work on an experimental basis, see if it's a match and take it from there. Which, again, makes sense. Worst case scenario: They wish each other well, and go their separate ways -- not unlike Match.com. Best case scenario: This galvanizes Federer.

Kudos to Fish for getting in shape. Are you able to find out and disclose what he did differently to shed the pounds -- More running? Biking? Hills? It's hard not to root for a dude who's clearly worked hard at his fitness and now reaps the benefits. If only other members of the donut-beer club would follow his lead!--Sheryl Hawkins, Oakland, Calif.

• I agree with most of your premise. At the doddering age of 28, Fish got serious about his fitness and physique and the results speak for themselves. But here's the interesting part: It was really much less about conditioning than about diet. I saw Fish in Delray earlier this year and was struck by the weight: We're talking probably 20 pounds. Like you, I was expecting tales of running hills on Christmas Day. Instead Fish offered a disquisition worthy of the Food Network. Calories and vitamins and portions and glucose. Fish basically eliminated most carbs and stopped eating after sundown and cut the pizza and added -- wait for it -- fish ... and presto. If I'm a colleague (cough, cough, Baghdatis, cough, cough), I'm paying close attention here.

I'd love to see players show more gratitude to the ball boys and ball girls. I always try to remind my 3rd-grade students to say thank you any time someone hands them something -- no matter how big or small. I don't expect a player to break his/her concentration to fawn all over the 13-year-old handing him/her a towel, but a show of thanks here or there would really be nice to see. Are there any players who are particularly good to ball boys and ball girls?--Jon Peterson, Westfield, N.J.

• Totally agree. These kids -- and adults, in some cases -- are working hard, often in oppressive heat. And overall, they do a terrific job. What do they get in return? They often get treated like the worst kind of hired help. ("Towel!") They handle all manner of bloodily fluid. They scramble after errant balls. If they do their job perfectly, they don't get noticed. Tough gig. And as you suggest, some players are nicer than others. James Blake often thanks the kids, even during the guts of a match. Federer, you'll recall, bought pizza for the kids. Other players will load up the kids with gear. But I agree with your thesis: While players can't break their concentration, it would be nice to see a bit more gratitude.

I would absolutely love to see the top players play a meaningful tournament with wood rackets. Jon, would you please use your soap box to drum up some grassroots support for a wood racket-only tournament?--Jon Peterson, Westfield, N.J.

• I would love to see a wooden racket tournament as well. And while there are a million hurdles that would have to be cleared before you could an all-wood tour event, I suspect an enterprising promoter might be interested in your idea. If an exo mandated that players competed with wood, I suspect it would draw huge publicity, much like the half-grass, half-clay exhibition between Federer and Nadal.

I do think the results of this mythical event would disappoint. A few players undoubtedly benefit from technology. But as I think I've written before, I strongly believe the Top 10 would look an awful lot like it does now.

You are so right about World TeamTennis. What a blast (even in 100-degree heat). We went to three Washington Kastles matches this year, each better than the last. Our son ballboyed for some of the matches and had a great tennis experience. So much fun to see someone like Leander Peas -- a fabulous player to watch, and a seemingly very nice guy who even stayed out in the rain to sign autographs.--Kirk Nahra, Washington

• For those who missed it, here's the cut-and-paste from Monday's column:

The season is short, the scoring is obscure, the business model boggles the mind. Yet World TeamTennis is one of the real gems of the sport. I took the kids to the New York Sportimes a few nights ago and came away wondering why more of an effort isn't made to accommodate the WTT: tennis meets the state fair. There are men and women; veterans and young players; stars and no-namers. There's music between points, goofy mascots, a quasi-halftime and -- of course -- the team format. Some of it works; some of it feels gimmicky and scattered. And who cares? In the end, it's a fun and affordable night out, a nice expression of tennis and an antidote to some of the cynicism in sports. American readers, bookmark this for next summer.

My 3-year-old boy can't get enough of playing tennis, but insists on hitting both his forehand and [what little] backhand [he has] double-fisted. How do I break him of this curse? P.S. When I play him, he thinks I'm Federer.--Ambi on Ambien, Los Angeles, Calif.

• Great handle. Your 3-year-old hits a double-fisted forehand and you call it a curse? No, a curse is when he quits tennis and demands to listen to Raffi or enjoys the taste of Silly Bandz. Either he grows, his hands get bigger and he hits one-handed. Or you start showing him clips of Monica Seles.

How much stock do you put into the fact that in the last two Grand Slams, Nadal took out the two guys who took out Federer? Is that as good as two wins over Federer in a Grand Slam?--Alix, Seoul

• Nah. There's no substitute for the real thing. Look at it this way: Donald Young beat Dudi Sela last week in Atlanta. Sela beat Andy Roddick earlier this summer. Did Young feel as though he beat Roddick? Probably not.

Aren't the poem submissions more senryu than haiku?--Jeff Gundrum, Cleveland

• After looking up "senryu" it seems you are correct. But I ask you this: How lame would it be to disqualify entrants on this technicality?

WTHIGOW Tatiana Golovin?--Ken Schneck, Brattleboro, Vt.

• We talk about injury-mania besetting the top players, but here's a reminder that it goes deeper. Golovin was one of those players whose value to the WTA and to fans exceeded her ranking. If she wasn't a threat to win majors, she was the proverbial dangerous floater, armed with a flashy game and capable of beating top players. On top of that, she was a fun, quirky, tri-lingual player, unafraid of publicity, who dated soccer players, spoke her mind and generally made the tour richer.

Alas, she has a rare form of arthritis and is, for all intents, retired. One suspects/hopes she'll make a comeback eventually. But what a shame.

I noticed that a Sergei Bubka is playing. Any relation to the great pole vaulter?--Tony Hooper, New York

• You bet. It's his son. He may not always win his matches but he sure can vault the net.

Time Magazine was asked to name the best television comedy of the '70s. They said that they could go by the heart and say The Mary Tyler Moore Show or go by the brain and choose All In The Family but they chose to use the gut and picked M*A*S*H. Well, they were wrong anyway because the answer is Rhoda, but I digress. If I were to use my heart to pick the GOAT, I would pick Evert or Seles, if I used my brain I would pick Navratilova or Graf, but I too use my gut and pick Serena. In any event, you are doing a good job.--JJ Johnson, Allentown, Pa.

• Hey thanks, JJ. But Rhoda? Really?

I am not sure why the media and tennis community were so quick in judging Open. Just finished reading it for the second time and I am glad I read it in spite of the negative media reports. If at all, Open did a lot to the tennis community by bringing back people like me to tennis again. Being a lifelong Sampras fan, I have new found respect for Andre Agassi even though I might not like everything he says. To have flaws is human, to recognize that you have flaws is great, but to tell the world that your are flawed and bear your soul to every person in the world is beyond superhuman. (I don't know of the right word to describe). I always wondered how Steffi liked this bald, divorced guy, especially when the news about the meth and wig came out. Then, I recently saw a famous Bollywood movie where a normal, average guy is madly in love with a beautiful girl and tries to woo her by being a strong, macho, powerful, perfect man but the girl does not like him. Being confused with her reaction, he asks her what does a girl look for in a man and somehow the answer stuck with me since then. The girl says: "A girl just wants to be loved in a way that makes her feel that there is nothing more important in the guy's life except her and make her believe that he is going to do anything for her." And after reading the book, I can completely understand why she fell for this not-so-perfect, bald, confused guy when she could have easily got a more PERFECT, NOMRAL guy if she wanted to.--Soumya, Michigan

• Let's set the record straight regarding Open. We're talking about a sensationally successful book -- both creatively and commercially -- that, as far as I'm concerned, sets a new standard for the celebrity memoir. Typical Agassi, he "did it right": hiring a first rate writer, taking his time and cutting no corners. The next time [insert athlete here] writes a bland, cliché-laden, easy money book the first critique will be: "It's a far cry from Andre Agassi's Open." Inasmuch as there was critique, it was over stories revealed. Weaseling out of a positive drug test. Accusing Pete Sampras of being miserly. Perhaps one too many digs at the ex-wife. But those aren't critiques of the book per se. I suspect that in the end, this book adds to -- not erodes -- Agassi's legacy and image.

I'm betting my copy of Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great that the reporter who asked Rafa if he believed in God was an American, and that it was meant as a purely rhetorical question. Kudos to Rafa for having the [guts] to answer honestly.--Glen Janney, Miami Beach

• The reporter was Italian. And it wasn't rhetorical at all. Donate the book to your local library instead. And, come to think of it, keep Hitchens in your thoughts.

With regard to the ROI for the Wimbledon roof, at least from my perspective sitting on Centre Court the first day this year, it has been well worth it. The Djokovic-Rochus match was going to be stopped after the third set because of darkness but instead, the AELTC officials closed the roof and thousands of loyal and committed fans like me got to see the "night match" completed in person (it ended at about 11 p.m.).--Tim Johnson, New York, N.Y.

• A few hundred million bucks for an extra set or two of Rochus-Djokovic? If that's ROI, I urge you to apply as auditor of my expense reports.

• Let's offer another tip of the (sweat-soaked) cap for Blake Strode, winner of the U.S. Open national playoff. Strode, who postponed Harvard Law to try his hand at pro tennis will now appear in the U.S. Open qualifying event.

• The Kansas City Explorers are your WTT champs.

Robert B. of Melbourne, Fla.: "One of my recommended pages on Facebook is Rafael Nadal. The tag underneath states: 'Many who like Roger Federer like this.' Though the statement has no purposeful relation to the tennis world since it's just a product of a Facebook formula calculating a few numbers, I thought it was very telling indeed."

Bjorn Fratangelo of Pittsburgh, and Caroline Price of Duluth, Ga., captured the USTA Boys' and Girls' 18s National Clay Court Championships singles titles Sunday at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Delray Beach, Fla., and the Racquet Club of Memphis (Tenn.), respectively. The nation's top junior tennis players competed in eight USTA National Championships across the country last week. The winners of the USTA Boys' and Girls' 18s events will each be invited back to the sites of their tournaments for pro events next year. Fratangelo will receive a wild card entry into the qualifying draw of the 2011 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, and Price will be given a wild card into the qualifying draw at the 2011 Cellular South Cup.

• The USTA announced that longtime partner American Express will present the inaugural "Fresh Courts" program, a philanthropic effort to invest in developing communities through the renovation of existing, disrepaired tennis facilities in various markets across the U.S. The 2010 program targets 17 tennis courts in three cities including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York, during Olympus U.S. Open Series events and the U.S. Open.

• From CNN: "Tennis legend. Cancer patient. It has been almost six months since Martina Navratilova was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a lumpectomy in March, she underwent more than two dozen radiation treatments during a six-week period, which ended days before she captured yet another title at Wimbledon. In Martina: My Toughest Opponent, CNN chronicles Martina's journey of balancing treatments, tennis, working and spending time with her supportive circle of friends. Narrated by CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, this half-hour special gives viewers an intimate look at Martina's fight against the toughest opponent she has ever faced." (Premieres on CNN International on Aug. 7 at 12:30 p.m. ET and replays Aug. 8 at 7 a.m./2:30 p.m./10 p.m. ET and Aug. 10 at 8:30 a.m./12:30 p.m. ET.)

• New Chapter Press announced the release of Tennis Made Easy, a tennis instructional book written by noted instructor Kelly Gunterman.

• Props to Maria Sharapova, who donated $250,000 to Chernobyl.

• Kuala Lumpur will once again showcase ATP World Tour stars in 2010 with three top-10, six top-20 plus three crowd favorites confirmed to headline the second edition of the ATP 250 tournament, which takes place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3, at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil. Robin Soderling, Nikolay Davydenko, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Mikhail Youzhny, Nicolas Almagro, the charismatic Marcos Baghdatis, former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt and Asia's top ranked player Yen-Hsun Lu will headline the USD 947,750 prize money tournament.

• Helen, Philadelphia has separated at birth (and across the generations): Philipp Petzschner, Tim Henman and Maximilian Schell.

Have a great week everyone!

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