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Post-U.S. Open thoughts on scheduling, TV coverage; more mail

Can you and SI hold a design competition for a less expensive but workable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium? I flat out do NOT believe a new roof cannot be added for less than $250 million. I believe old-fashioned ideas done the most expensive way would cost $250 million, but I believe hungry young architects trying to make a name for themselves could contribute many ideas of how to cover the stadium for well under $250 million. I remember years ago the Detroit Lions were worried about cost overruns for the Pontiac Silverdome and came up with a much less expensive air-supported roof that was radical at the time but let the stadium come in on time and under budget. If it can be done there, why not at Ashe Stadium? There must be ways to do it. Would you be willing to ask your bosses at SI if you can sponsor a non-committal design competition for an affordable roof? It would be great publicity for SI and just may get the U.S. Open a roof. -- Randy Lee Mayes, Bradford, PA.

• Sure. If some Howard Roark out there wants to come up with an architectural design that will save the U.S. Open from itself (and Mother Nature), we'll happily hand over a new Dunlop racket. And, what the heck, a signed copy of my next book, too!

In all seriousness, I'm out of my depth here, but I tend to agree with Randy Lee. Surely there is a creative solution here. And just because the current brain trust -- i.e. the folks who signed off on this monstrous wind tunnel -- says it can't be done, it doesn't mean we should give up. A preliminary thought: Since we're only talking one day a year when we need a cover, why go with a cheap material? Like canvas. All architects and engineers, have at it.

The USTA might, ultimately, be correct in their claims that the stadium is too big and that a roof would be prohibitively expensive. But, don't insult us with the assertion that building a roof would divert funds from our grassroots programs. That's a false dichotomy. Kim Clijsters just got a $500,000 bonus for the farcical U.S. Open Series. She achieved this by playing two mandatory events and winning one. That half a million buys a lot of rackets, too. More to the point, when you're a nonprofit and you pay these kinds of salaries you forfeit your right to play the "think-of-the-children" card.

We assume the USTA created the primetime women's final for the Williams sisters. With the prospect of another all-Williams final fading further into the distance, is it time for the USTA to rethink the move and re-instate Super Saturday? Who wants to pay a LOT of money for a 59-minute romp? -- Joseph B., New York

• This session was created almost -- gulp -- a decade ago, to take advantage of the Williams-Williams juggernaut. Suffice to say, neither the USTA nor CBS was envisioning snoozers (among non-Williams players) the likes of which we saw the other night.

Why in the WORLD at the end of every tennis match, do TV producers instantly cut away from the players' handshake to show a shot of the winning player's box -- or worse, a shot of random fans cheering? CBS does it, ESPN does it, NBC does it. All the interesting stuff is going on on the court, when they players talk at the net. Why this reflexive cutaway shot? It's bizarre. -- Daniel Koontz, Morristown, N.J.

• To use Pat McEnroe's favorite expression: "I couldn't agree more." It's such a clichéd shot. Let me guess: the winner's box looks exuberant, hugging and pumping fists as they try to make eye contact with the victor. The loser's coterie shake their heads conveying a message of "Nice try." Meanwhile, the viewer is deprived of a shot of the players walking to net and shaking hands, which is often terrifically revealing. After the Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer match, Federer packed up his bag, declining to wait at the net as Djokovic celebrated. But we didn't see that; we saw pops Djokovic looking predictably pumped. My suggestion: What if we ran a split screen or a box within a box?

Don't you find it a little odd that everyone is talking about Venus Williams as if she's some nearly extinct dinosaur on the court? Her last three U.S. Opens she's gone to the semis or quarterfinals, yet everyone talks about her as if she keeps getting bounced in the first or second rounds. Her other Grand Slams weren't bad, either, and she made it back to being a consistent top-five player. She played exactly up to her seeding in New York (unlike, say, Caroline Wozniacki or Jelena Jankovic), and was agonizingly close to taking out Kim Clijsters. So, why does everyone act and talk about her as if she should be booking a spot in the retirement home? She's shown she has just as legitimate a shot at any Grand Slam as any of the others on the tour.-- Chris, La Verne, Calif.

• Agree and disagree. It's easy to say that in hindsight. But Venus fizzled at Wimbledon. She played zero events on hardcourts coming in. And she hadn't won a U.S. Open since 2001. I don't think you blame people for suspecting that Clijsters or Wozniacki would post a superior result. I'm really puzzled by Venus. She's 30, but she's a young 30 -- the legacy of playing a sensible schedule all those years. Yet, a few points from reaching the final (and a booking against Vera Zvonerava, a highly beatable opponent), she blinked. Go back and watch that tiebreaker against Clijsters, and I defy you tell me another time Venus played so absently under pressure.

I enjoyed your U.S. Open wrap as always. But how could you not have mentioned the fight between fans in the stands during the Djokovic match? -- Brad, New York

• I tried to suppress that memory. A friend of mine raised a good point: The Internet lets us see the degeneration of American culture in real time. In the comments section after the fight video, people were actually supporting Joseph Pedeville, the apparent instigator, on grounds that he had money on the match!

Why not just bypass the pre-match interviews? By this time, these players are warmed up and focused on the match at hand. I understand the networks hope that they may gain some insight or snippet of information into the players' strategies, but these players -- I would imagine for the most part -- have been advised by people within their inner circle of the "safe responses," saying something without really saying anything. How many variations of "I'm just going to go out and play my game," "I'm expecting a tough match," "I know (insert name here) is a tough opponent" and "I need to play aggressive" do we need to hear? I will say I enjoyed the pre-match with Kim Clijsters earlier in the week. She strung together several sentences, was engaging and still did not give away game strategies.-- Mack, Rocky Mount, Va.

• It's true, these sessions are seldom the source of much insight. (It would be nice if the questions were a bit more probing. "You must be excited for this opportunity?" does not lend itself to a killer answer.*) I can only think of one instance off-hand that provided much in the way of entertainment. Minutes before taking the court, Stefan Koubek offered a filibuster. (Actually Djokovic was pretty chatty before the final, too.)

Overall, though, I don't mind these segments. You get to see the players up close. ("Did you know how pretty her eyes are?" my daughter asked me after seeing Zvonareva.) You get to hear their voice. You get to see what they're carrying. There's some value there even if there's no nutritional value to the Q & A.

* A quick point: It's understood that after having battled their innards out for several hours, players are not ready for the full-on Charlie Rose treatment. But when courtside reporters asked painfully leading questions, it kills the dialogue. "How excited are you?" inevitably leads to, "Oh yes, very excited. It feels amazing." Or, "How deep to you have to dig to pull that out?" begs for, "Very deep. I keep fighting until the last point. I never give up." Sometimes the simplest questions -- "What was the difference?" -- yield the best answers.

Each time Kim Clijsters has won the U.S. Open, she has had a tight win over Venus Williams on the way through. Do you think it's these wins that have given her the belief that the title is hers after she beats Venus?-- Craig, Adelaide

Sure. I suspect that's coincidence as much as anything, but, yes, once you're secure in the knowledge you can stare down Venus Williams, you're likely not so cowed by whomever comes next.

Lindsay Davenport > Clijsters > Maria Sharapova > Jennifer Capriati. Agree?-- Philip Villaseran, Manila, Philippines

• These questions only make you enemies. This is a pretty good belly-up-to-the-bar discussion. Among the following three-Slam winners, whom to do you like best? I could see Clijsters getting knocked for only having won one of the majors three times. But I think Philip's equation stands up pretty well.

This year's Grand Slam season brought a reversal to the typical argument regarding the head-to-head record between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Rafa's winning record was typically attributed to the fact that they would always meet in the finals of tournaments on clay, his favored surface, but couldn't hold up his end of the deal on hard courts, losing in the semis or earlier. However, at the final three Slams of the year, it was Roger who faltered, leaving Rafa to face other foes instead. Your thoughts?-- Yosh, Chicago

• Let's table this. Whenever Nadal loses early (see: Cincinnati) the Federerphiles use it as evidence that the head-to-head record is misleading. When Federer loses before the appointed time (see: U.S. Open) the Rafael-ites fire back. Here's my take: Does the head-to-head ledger cut against Federer's primacy? Absolutely. Does it preclude our considering him the best ever? No. Is there value in considering how Nadal and Federer fare when they face off? Yes. Can this data be manipulated? Yes. Is it a way to assess their relative strengths? Yes. Is it dispositive? No.

Nice to see the low-profile folks like Dominika Cibulkova, Kaia Kanepi and Mikhail Youzhny make a solid run at the U.S. Open. I was amazed at how every commentator (in the U.S.) seemed to underrate Youzhny even as he kept blasting opponents off the court. He's probably got the best one-handed backhand in the men's game today, right? Jason Willey, San Francisco, Calif.

• In part because of the scheduling, in part because he lost the "other" semifinal, Youzhny didn't get enough credit this event. An awfully nice on his part. As for one-handed backhands, he's up there. I'd include Richard Gasquet (strictly on aesthetics), Stanislas Wawrinka and, of course, Federer as well.

I bought box-seat tickets at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the day sessions on Monday, Friday and Sunday of the first week and for Labor Day Monday. I saw 12 matches (eight women's singles and four men's singles), all of which were straight-set wins. Perhaps two of them were somewhat competitive. I understand that for the most part there is a need for the "big names" to play there. But would it be so bad to throw in a couple of exciting matchups as well?-- Guy Leeser, Irvington, N.Y.

• To borrow from Pat McEnroe, "I couldn't disagree more." I think your mistake was the box tickets. The beauty of the early rounds of a Slam: you get to watch the "big names" wax some qualifier. Not usually gripping drama, but you can cross it off your bucket list. Then you can mosey the grounds and find two lesser players locked in five sets. So long as TV is calling the shots, you're not going to see, say, Michael Llodra and Tommy Robredo on Ashe. My suggestion: Once you've seen Sharapova or whoever dominate a set, head to the grandstand or an outer court and find a more competitive match.

Re: your answer to Deb of Arlington Heights, Ill., on Sept. 8 about the history of naming a tennis stadium after Louis Armstrong, you forgot the explanation I sent in last year which you so kindly published in your column.-- Rebecca S., New York

• Sure, thanks again.

I found another double-standard Easter egg. Pam Shriver says to Rafael Nadal while he's changing his shirt after the match Tuesday night, "don't be in such a hurry to put on your sweatshirt!" It was funny, and I loved it. But would a male interviewer get away with a similar comment (not about putting on a shirt obviously) to an ogle-worthy female player? I think not!-- Dennis Moran, California

• I couldn't believe Pam said that. Then I found the video, and, sure enough you're right. But it came across as playful, not offensive. Context. I hear what you're saying about the double standard, but I don't think it's a symmetrical comparison. Different power dynamic and all.

What's with the rebranding of Brad Gilbert to "B.G.?" Every time they say it on ESPN, I feel like Barry Gibb is going to start singing "Staying Alive."-- Jackie, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• Let's cut to the chase here: Brad Gilbert is a bottomless source of comedy, some of intentional, some of it un-.

Andrew of New York: "Jon, 'Sure it might have been easier if one guy was from Wichita and the other from Charlotte.' Maybe it might be easier for people "IN" Wichita or Charlotte to relate to finalists from closer to home, but let me tell you about who actually attended this match. On the train out to the stadium, a group of stylish, but semi-rowdy, Spanish-speakers got on the train. I thought "I know who they're rooting for." Only half way through the ride did I notice that one of them was wearing a Federer jacket. Then, another mentioned he was glad rain had given Djokovic the extra day's rest. In the stadium, to my left were two guys that I'm going to guess were of Iranian heritage. They were rooting for Djokovic. After my wife left during the rain, her seat was taken by a woman of Indian heritage, also rooting for Djokovic. Behind me were two middle-aged, nondescript, "white guys," also rooting for Djokovic. And, there was a family of Nadal loyalists of South American (not Spanish) heritage. It was wonderful to hear them -- in between screams of encouragement to Rafa -- clap equally for both players. The point is two-fold: (1) The U.S. tennis marketing machine should embrace, not bemoan, both the stable of international star players, as well as a fan base that may be far more diverse than they realize. And (2) the enthusiasm for Djokovic in the stadium was deeper-rooted than you infer. It was clear to me that a huge number of fans (shockingly, maybe even a majority) brought that preference with them to the stadium. It was not simply an impromptu show of enthusiasm for an underdog.

• The ATP and FedEx have signed a three-year agreement that brings FedEx on board as a new global platinum sponsor and official carrier of the ATP World Tour. The sponsorship will launch at the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November and extend through 2013.

Martin Burkey of Huntsville, Ala.: Thanks for the link to the Carillo interview. She's not only the best announcer in tennis, she may be the best in televised sports. If you don't pay close attention to every word she says, you've inevitably missed something good. I name no names, but she's so good she's made a couple of the male tennis commentators more tolerable.

• As many of you note, surely this was the only time a player (Clijsters) won a major and DROPPED two slots in the rankings!

Nice interview with Marat Safin

Justin DePietropaolo of Chester Springs, Pa., with an unsolicited limerick:There once was a player named Murray, Who never seemed really to worry. For his final exam, He must win a slam. But in hell, it's more likely to flurry.

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum has announced the election of 11 new members to the Board of Directors. The new directors were all elected at the Hall of Fame's Annual Meeting in New York. The new directors are John P. Arnhold of New York; Mark D. Ein of Washington, D.C.; Renée A.R. Evangelista of Lincoln, R.I.; James (Jim) L. Farley of Cincinnati, Ohio; Philip H. Geier, Jr. of New York; Madam Sun Jinfang of China; Katherine Burton Jones of Newton, Mass.; Geoff Pollard AM of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Will Prest of Minneapolis; Michelle Sicard of New York; and Ken Solomon of New York. Additionally, George Gowen, who served as General Counsel for the Hall of Fame for the past 30 years, has been recognized as a Hall of Fame Life Trustee. Gowen is a partner at the firm of Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller in New York.

Rustam Tahir of Rochester, N.Y.: Perhaps you and your readers might be interested in a U.S. Open photo gallery.

• Wozniacki fans, check out the forthcoming book "Én bold ad gangen" by Anders Haahr Rasmussen. If we make enough noise, maybe it will get translated to English.

• ESPN, Inc. and Tennis Australia have reached a new 10-year extension through 2021 of ESPN's multimedia coverage of the Australian Open. Having televised the Australian Open -- including the women's and men's semifinals and finals exclusively -- since 1984, this is ESPN's longest uninterrupted professional sports programming relationship.

• Tennis Channel chronicles the renovation of Centennial Tennis Center in Nashville, Tenn., on its new program, Community Surface, which premiered Monday.

• Heartfelt thanks to everyone who assisted with the "title search" for the sports-freakonomics book. Alas, we had to reject "Johan Kriek-anomics" and went with "Scorecasting." You guys were were immensely helpful.

Someone buy this for Justin Gimelstob.

Jessica Luther of Austin, Texas: I have look-a-likes. John McEnroe and the lead singer of the band Lifehouse, Jason Wade. I'm not sure if these pics show it the best, but when I saw the latest Lifehouse video, the ONLY thing I could think was that Wade looked like McEnroe.

• Love to stay and chat more, but whoa, 10:15 football time! Have a good week, everyone!

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