Thursday September 2nd, 2010

How 'bout that Mirjana Lucic? Squeaks through the first round of qualifying, barely, winning the third-set tiebreak with no margin. Then wins Rounds 2 and 3 comfortably. And then she routines Alicia Molik. If you see her in a press conference, Jon, tell her she has supporters out there that are happy to see her in the mix again. --Dale Stafford, Atlanta

• So we haven't even gotten out of the first round, and the storylines are abundant. We have an American teenager, Ryan Harrison, knocking off a top-16 seed. We have poor Victoria Azarenka fainting on the court -- followed by cryptic statement that didn't reveal the real reason. We have kiln-like conditions. We have a through-the-legs shot, Nadal in black and a few minor upsets.

Lost in all this has been the heartening story of Lucic, 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist who made a brief detour to hell and now, in her late 20s, is making the slow climb back. Lucic's defeat of Molik (a heart-rending story for another time) marked her first Grand Slam win in more than eight years. "Every match I win now, it's like winning an entire tournament," she said yesterday.

Tennis can be like a swan. What you readily see is alluring: all those smiling millionaire winners with their entourages and their clothing lines. Underneath the surface it's less pretty. Here's a prime example. Lucic, you'll recall, had to flee with her mother and siblings to Croatia to escape her abusive father. Her game suffered, and she went broke. I asked her if she ever quit tennis, and she was adamant she hadn't. "It wasn't that I lost my love for tennis, it was family problems," she said. "It was all very unfortunate." She might still be a long way from where she once was as a long-haired teenager. But it's nice to get a happy twist for a chance.

Why does the U.S. Open stretch first-round play to Wednesday? It seems unfair for some men to be playing second-round matches the same day some are playing first-round matches when weather isn't the reason. --Jess Hahn, Columbia, S.C.

• This cuts both ways. Yes, the players with the early start (i.e. Roger Federer) are at an advantage, as they need only win seven matches in 14 days as opposed to seven matches in 12 days. (And that presupposes no rain.) On the other hand, the U.S. Open really thrives during the middle holiday weekend. Bloating the first round over three days ensures many good matches during the middle weekend.

"Why not have the women play best-of-five championship finals in the slams?" I think this person was suggesting best-of-five in the final match only. --Larry Larson, Alexandria, Va.

• OK, got it, but don't think that changes my answer. Who really is clamoring for best-of-five, even in a final? I feel like it's akin to playing 90-minute basketball games. More quantity, but no upgrade in quality.

I've had enough of this "women play longer points" argument you've tried to uphold. I've always disagreed with you on this, but I hadn't seen you offer a concrete example before today. Hence, you use the "John Isner-Nicolas Mahut" match as Exhibit A for why men play shorter points. Once I grant you that Isner and Mahut indeed rarely went beyond three-stroke rallies, I'll ask you two things. If, say, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic were playing at 50-all in the fifth set, do you still seriously believe they'd be playing longer points? ... Also, do you seriously believe that, on average, women play longer points than men? I've seen countless men's matches (involving, say, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray) where the rallies were extended far longer than if a top woman were involved. I didn't even think this was an arguable point, but yet you keep bringing this up. --Joe, Madison, Wis.

• In keeping with our theme for the day, bring on the data! Why argue with this when an empirical answer should be at our fingertips? For the record: I do seriously believe that women's points are longer on average. We can cherry pick examples of individual players; but judging from stats like aces, service winners and time of match, I think it's pretty clear, especially if we include doubles in the sample size. But again, shouldn't this information be easily obtained?

Count me as a Gabashphiliac! Last night's great match against Nadal has me wondering why Teymuraz Gabashvili isn't ranked higher and hasn't enjoyed much success on the ATP Tour in the past. Was last night's performance anomalous, or will we be seeing more of him in the future? --Ranjit Gupte, New York

• We reprint this, if only for the deft use of the word Gabashphiliac. And it lets me quote Mike of Vermont, who notes: If Gabashvili ever has an epic verbal outburst, I think it would be appropriate to take advantage of the fact that his name is an anagram of "Aim, bash it, vulgarize." Realistically, he is -- to invoke the most uncharitable phrase in sports -- a journeyman. Been around a while, picked up some good wins (see: thrashing of Andy Roddick at the 2010 French), but probably not a threat to win Majors.

Data? Tennis? How about the average number of points in a WTA match vs. average number in an ATP match supporting your thesis of women playing longer points, hence not needing five-set matches? --Anthony, Ridgefield

• Exactly. By the way, someone wondered whether it were true Pablo Cuevas played his first-round match without committing an unforced error, as the stats indicated. No, it just turned out that he was playing on Court 17, and there were chair umpire stats only, not detailed stats. Seriously. Anyone who plays fantasy football or goes to Baseball-Reference.com knows how absurdly detailed sports stats can be. At a Grand Slam tournament, we can't even get a winner and error count for a first-round match?!

This may be a dumb question, but I never see players take water bottles onto the court. They can take a towel and use it between points so I would think in brutally hot conditions with games/points that may run extra long, that it would be wise to have a water/beverage bottle out there and be able to hydrate whenever possible as opposed to just during changeovers. Is this just a matter of logistics (most time they wouldn't need it so why bother) or is taking a bottle out to their end of the court not allowed for whatever reason? --Gldartt, Truro, Nova Scotia

• There's water out there. I know at some tournaments there are official water sponsors, and there's a fear that a player will bring out a bottle of say, Evian, at a Perrier-sponsored event. But be assured, there's plenty of fluid on hand for the players.

Nice Nightline interview ... but why the heck can these [guys] not pronounce Nadal's name right, the way he does himself? It's not Nay-dal, it's Nah-dal. --Boingo, Bronx, N.Y.

• Nadal is hardly the only aggrieved player here. Brad Gilbert, look what you've wrought!

John of Greenville, S.C.: Re: John McEnroe's comments about women. Martina Navratilova made the same points on interviews recently (among them on CNBC Monday), and no one seemed to notice. She specifically said that the season was too long.

• Longtime friends Sir Elton John and Billie Jean King are bringing their annual WTT Smash Hits charity night of tennis to the nation's capital for the first time in the event's 18-year history. Tennis greats Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Anna Kournikova and James Blake will join other top players on Nov. 15 at Bender Arena on the campus of American University. Tickets for the one-night event go on sale on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

Miltos Evagelidis of Thessaloniki, Greece: Taking a cue both from a recent mailbag and from watching today's U.S. Open matches, I want to pay a small tribute to a player who still flies quite low on the tennis radar but who has during the last couple of years given me some very exciting moments when watching him play while often finding myself rooting for him to succeed whoever his opponent may be -- Michael Llodra. I know that his groundstrokes are mostly token by today's standards, his return game mediocre and his overall physical condition unlikely to give Nadal a pause for reflection, while his strategy of charging the net practically on the first serve, second serve and on most returns as well is not exactly the Hallmark of tennis universality. However, he is the last of that dying breed of pure serve and volley players, a creative and often exciting player who gives tennis fans something different to watch from what is fast becoming a more or less uniform approach to playing.

Bud Collins, the man who many call the walking encyclopedia of tennis, has released a second edition of his famous tennis encyclopedia and record book, "The Bud Collins History of Tennis." The 816-page second-edition volume -- the most authoritative compilation of records, biographies and information on the sport of tennis -- is dedicated to Isner, Mahut and chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, the three principles from the record-breaking longest match of all-time at 2010 Wimbledon, won by Isner 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 in 11 hours, 5 minutes, featuring a record 113 aces from Isner. "Has the Isner-Mahut match ended yet? You can find out in this book!" quipped Collins.

Sally Peers is the sixth daughter of a player who also played in the U.S. Open. The other combos: Yulia Berberyan and the Maleeva sisters (BUL) Junko and Naoko Sawamatsu (JPN) Vera and Helena Sukova (CZE) Shirley (Bloomer) and Kate Brasher (GBR) Val Ziegenfuss and Allison Bradshaw (USA) Katerina and Katerina Bohmova Jr. (CZE)

Helen of Philadelphia notes: Looks like the French Tennis Federation made a good choice with their wild card -- Guillaume Rufin won his first-round match. Next up: Paul-Henri Mathieu. Allez!

• Touche to Nick Einhorn, who writes: I'm sure Federer would not want to trade backhands with Nadal, since it would leave him unable to hit balls on the left side of his body!

• Octagon announced the signing of Christina McHale to a full representation agreement. Octagon Tennis Senior Director Kelly Wolf will lead McHale's representation team and will immediately begin pursuing racquet and apparel sponsorships for her. The 18-year-old native of Teaneck, N.J., is the youngest player in the WTA Top 125 (No. 113) and the eighth-highest ranked American.

John, Greenville, S.C.: If you're going to hype Grigor Dimitrov's three futures wins, how 'bout a mention for college tennis' Robert Farah, the NCAA Player of the Year and a member of Southern California's NCAA championship team. Farah's gone from no ranking to No. 216 in less than three months, winning two futures and one challenger.

• Tennis player turned comedian Steve Berke writes: Enclosed is a link to my first music video off my debut comedy album. The guitarist in the video is Sharapova's former coach, and the bassist is current touring pro Zack Fleishman (career-high rank of No. 127 and wins over Vince Spadea and Fernando Gonzalez).

• From our friends at the Hall of Fame: Andre Agassi, former world No. 1, eight-time Grand Slam champion, and one of the most remarkable athletes in history, has been nominated to receive the highest honor available in the sport of tennis, induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Agassi is the sole nominee in the Recent Player Category. Joining Agassi on the ballot in the Master Player Category are Thelma Coyne Long, who dominated Australian tennis in the 1930s-1950s, and Christine Truman Janes, a British star of the 1950s and 1960s. Nominated in the Contributor Category are influential tennis promoter and administrator Mike Davies and Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer, who has played a vital role in the growth of women's tennis.

• Chicago readers: Sept. 24 -- Music of The Beatles and George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) with special guests Victor Garcia (trumpet) and Scott Burns (tenor sax), 7:30 p.m. at Loyola University's Mundelein Auditorium. For more information, call (773) 508-3847 or check out www.anthonymolinaro.com.

Mike T. of Alameda, Calif., has lookalikes: This might sound ridiculous, but whenever I watch Lleyton Hewitt, I think SpongeBob SquarePants. I couldn't find any photo evidence to prove that I'm not crazy, but one of my tennis buddies agreed.

Enjoy Day 4 everyone!

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