Wednesday October 6th, 2010

You often mention the Ryder Cup as a model for international team play that the Davis Cup should adopt. Problem there is, the Ryder Cup is the U.S. vs Europe. Given the state of U.S. tennis these days, this would be a competition the U.S. could NEVER win. Worse, if you are Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, K. J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas or Vijay Singh, well, tough luck for you! The beauty of the Davis Cup is that every country on the planet can field a team. That said, I would suggest a biennial competition for the World Group, at least -- on non-Summer Olympic and non-World Cup years. This would also put it in non-Ryder Cup years. --Helen, Philadelphia

• Funny, I had the opposite reaction. After getting (reluctantly) caught up in the Ryder Cup coverage last weekend -- and watching the match play in real time -- I lamented the state of Davis Cup even more than usual. Why can't tennis get its act together, come up with a sensible format, and generate a global competition of this magnitude? As Tiger Woods lobbies to be included on the team despite his annus horribilis, Roger Federer et al., turn their back on the Davis Cup. As even casual fans know that Europe has been owning the U.S. of late, most hardcore tennis fans, under penalty of death, can't name the past, say, five Cup winners.

A colleague and friend of mine at the ITF has had a respectful disagreement with me about the merits of the Cup in its current incarnation. (She notes, for instance, that the 2010 event will have an economic impact of more than $200 million.) But I maintain that the Davis Cup could be so much more than it currently is.

The McEnroe brothers have their suggestions for improvement. The players have another. Charlie Pasarell has still another idea. But I think that, inadvertently, Helen may have the best idea yet. While the U.S. versus Europe would not only be a route but would exclude too many players and countries, what about: Europe versus the world? Federer versus Del Potro (2009 edition), Roddick versus Nadal. The Bryans versus whomever. And why not open it up to women (as perhaps you've noticed -- or maybe not -- Fed Cup fever isn't exactly a global pandemic.) Serena versus Clijsters. Stosur versus Wozniacki. Hold it every other year to generate anticipation. Bingo.

I think you're an idiot. --Jerry, Odessa, Texas

• Hey, at least provide a reason.

As I was saying, the reason I think that you're an idiot is because of the things that you say. Now you are saying that Nadal (I'm a Nadal fan) isn't cheating by soliciting coaching from his uncle. You claim that cheating is taking performance enhancing drugs and such, but getting coached is not. Well, cheating is defined as breaking the rules. Regardless of what the violation is, it is still cheating. There [sic] ATP rules stipulating that coaching is illegal. So if Nadal was [sic] getting coached, then he was cheating. Please, watch what you say. Your worth as a reporter really stinks now. And it's getting worse ... I would've fired you by now. --Jerry, Odessa, Texas

I was surprised how strongly many of you feel about Nadal's "cheating" when he solicits and/or accepts coaching from his uncle/coach. I just want to clarify: I don't think we should condone this behavior. I think it's beneath Nadal. I think other players are in their rights to complain. I think it violates the rules both in spirit and letter. I just don't think it's a felony. I was reacting to the notion that Nadal's U.S. Open title was dirty or tainted or somehow ill-gotten. (For a harsher stance, we call in the lovely, the talented Greg Couch.)

A few of you accused me of a double standard, coming down more harshly on Justine Henin when we've discussed her coaching in the past. In the face of irrefutable evidence I'll plead guilty here. Sort of. We judge people by the totality of their actions. In Henin's case there plenty other examples of shaky sportsmanship, from the famed Serena incident to her retiring in a Grand Slam final, thus depriving her opponent (Amelie Mauresmo) the chance to win outright. Her flouting the "no coaching" rule was just another breach of decorum. In Nadal's case, I suspect one reason I'm having trouble locating outrage is because he's otherwise a hell of a good sport.

In any case, I recognize that many of you -- even Nadal fans like our friend Jerry -- are deeply upset by this. I also recognize that if Nadal is openly admitting to cheating and not getting called for it, the door's now open to every other player. Conclusion: especially with technology available, it's time for tennis authorities to crack down.

One digression here: Is it me, or at a time when national unemployment has eclipsed 10 percent, is it not distasteful to call for anyone's firing? In the recent months, who among us hasn't seen -- directly or indirectly -- the devastating effects of losing a job? The blow to the identity and sense of self. The effect on family dynamics. The financial havoc. I may think that Mets manager Jerry Manuel or LeBron James image consultants could have done a better job. But actively calling for someone else to join the legions of the unemployed? Not cool.

About Rafa and coaching. There's a big difference between a coach yelling 'focus' and a player ASKING his player box (serving for the match in a GS final, and not your first GS final, either) where to serve and getting a reply. I don't think the rule book meant 'focus' or 'vamos' when they forbade communication between player and coach. They were thinking about 'serve to the body' You think it doesn't take away from Rafa's title, and I agree. However, I'd feel different if this was a fifth-set tiebreaker. Moreover, If anyone ever looked for a reason as to why Rafa, a humble, down-to-earth guy who is polite to players, to ball kids, etc., does not win any sportsmanship awards, look no further. --Or, Israel

• Your last point is a good one. Here's a guy who clearly cares about fair play and sportsmanship. You wonder why he allows this behavior -- which is a bare minimum is controversial -- to persist. And anyone who can improve his serve and volleying so dramatically can't fall back on the "creature of habit" defense.

Another aspect to this: Dennis Miller has the great line about the pilot's reaction to the guy on the tarmac guiding the plane to the gate. "I've flown this jumbo jet in from Kuala Lampur. I think I handle these last fifty feet, thanks." I feel similarly about Nadal. "I've won two straight majors, six matches at the U.S. Open and am up two sets and break on the guy who beat Federer. Thanks, Toni, but I think I can handle these last few points on my own."

I'm a U.S. diplomat posted to Mumbai and flew to Bangkok for the last four days of the tournament. Fantastic. What impressed me most was Nadal after his loss -- he stayed on court for several minutes to sign autographs for dozens of excited fans. What a class act! What other No. 1 player would have done that after a loss? His humility and respect for the fans was truly exemplary. --David Tyler, Mumbai, India

• Again, all the more disappointing that he undercuts this with illegal coaching.

Gee, if only Rafa had not sought coaching, we'd be toasting Novak! Baloney! Rafa was, and is, the dominant player in men's tennis today. And, it's not even close; Novak admitted it after their final. As for the Chris and Martina special ... how could one not sit back and enjoy their sportsmanship and friendly repartee? Some of these "tennis purists" have to take a chill pill. --Bruce, Lahaina, Hawaii

• Chill pills were actually put on the banned substance list. But your point is well-taken.

I always used to look at my co-workers with disdain when they used the word, "incentivize." I always thought they should use "incent" instead. But now that you've used it, I have to re-think everything! --Chris Horton, Chicago

• I think Jim Courier and I had a public disagreement about this very issue last year. "Incent" sounds like corporate-speak ("We incent investors in an impactful way.") But I think it's slithered into acceptable use.

I enjoy your columns a lot, but I have to let you know you've been misusing the phrase "command performance" (most recently in your remarks about Nadal from Sept. 13). A command performance is, well, a performance commanded (or these days usually requested) by someone else, like a president or a queen. I think you mean a "commanding performance" here. And Nadal's U.S. Open run surely was that. --Ed, Nashville

• Thanks. Never knew that. I will obey your command and cease using the term incorrectly.

This weeks column mentioned the WTA rankings shortchanging "the Madrids, the Toykos, the Charlestons, etc". Just curious, when are the second events played there each year? I (and the WTA website) are only aware of one event there each year. Don't fall into the cliche announcer category. --Jim McEntee, Pittsford, N.Y.

• I have to draw the line -- or lines -- here. The plural isn't a cliché. It's simply a device to stress interchangeability/random exampledom.

Recently, I started playing in the local USTA doubles league, mixed and doubles, and so far I've been hit so hard with balls while occupying a standard position at the net that once I was bruised for a week and the other time I wondered if my nose broke. Just out of curiosity, is it such a contact sport on the pro-level? And, call me genteel, but shouldn't there be a rule against this type of contact? As in you are not allowed to try to bodily injure an opponent, so if you hit them with a ball, you automatically lose the point. --Monika, Greenwood, S.C.

• What you're describing sounds suspiciously like cage fighting. You sure you're in the right place? I've been trying to play a fair bit here in Princeton and the most serious injury I've seen someone suffer is a sprained bladder.

Does anyone realize that Jack Sock has been living and training in the Kansas City area for years? He's definitely a Cornhusker fan but I am just confused as to why the media acts as if he still resides and trains in Nebraska. Just curious. --Jennifer, Kansas City

• I'm trying to make a joke about a Sock that was lost in the dryer and it's not quite coming to me. Any help would be appreciated. Yes, while Mardy Fish might be on the back nine of his career, pun lovers take heart: Sock is coming down the tube.

While Roddick has a lot of trouble with Nadal on the court, Roddick's bowl cut thrashes Nadal's! --Chris, Roanoke, Va.

• No doubt. But good to know the bowl cut had universal appeal at one point.

Regarding bridesmaids who were never brides. Mary Joe Fernandez lost all three Slam finals she played. Tennis magazine did an article about this years ago. They listed Helena Sukova, Todd Martin and several others in their best to never have won a major category. --Brian, Columbia, Md.

• I'd put Mecir in the mix too then. And while Marcelo Rios only made it to one major final, we ought to mention him, as well.

Nikki Jewell of Guildford, U.K. clarifies: "Actually I think people started discussing the issue when Miguel Seabra drew attention to Mateo's post-match Q&A interview with Rafa in El Pais just after the USO victory with this: 'Interviewed by El Pais, Nadal admits not knowing where to serve while serving for the US Open title & that he was told what to do. Coaching!" tweet. That's when discussion started on Tennis World, anyway, just after Seabra tweeted about the interview. Several people in mainland Europe had already read the story in El Pais that morning, too, without being pointed at it, and apparently some other papers picked it up in the following couple of days.

Did you ever send the rings for the winners of the haiku contest? I posted under the name catrice and sent in my information, but did not get a reply. Maybe I was under honorable mention and misread? In any event, I am moving soon and want to make sure it does not go to strangers in case you do send it out. --Felicia Stephens, Dallas, Texas

• Consider this an APB for the folks from the Serena Williams ring line! Where did you guys go? Please contact me so we can equip the winner accordingly!

• Andrew of Jersey City: "Absolutely superb article about the psychology of choking in sports at Wired.com. Definitely worth a look as I'm sure your readers who have dabbled in tennis all have personal experience with it."

Mike T. of Alameda, Calif., notes: "Delpo can hit the tweener too."

Pete Bodo reported that Ryan Harrison's new coach is ... Martin Damm.

Joe of Madison, Wisc., notes: "As much as I would like to defend the Williams sisters (it can't just be that they're winning too much, because the U.S. Open crowds were cheering Federer like heck throughout every single one of his matches), I thought I'd share this story. I was at the 2006 Las Vegas tournament. Jill Craybas was playing some girl from Bulgaria. Now, granted, this girl was going to UNLV at the time. But in the entire packed stands, not a single person was cheering for Jill (who, let the record show, is a white AMERICAN), but everyone was whooping and hollering for Elena Gantcheva. This is not hyperbole; not a single American in the crowd was cheering for the American. I remember thinking it was very surreal, and frankly a sad moment for Jill. I felt so bad for her that, even though I wasn't a big fan of hers or anything, I started cheering for her. (She lost, which obviously made the entire American crowd happy.)"

Nitin of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was the first to note: this LiveScience.com article: Unnh! Grunting Gives Tennis Players an Edge.

Esther Vergeer is becoming a media sensation:

JK notes: "In last week's mailbag you discussed the fall of Kim Clijsters from No. 3 to No. 5 in the WTA rankings after her U.S. Open win, and speculated on whether there was a viable alternative ranking system that would have prevented that result. Actually there is: in this article, the author calculates that had the women used the same ranking system as the men's ATP system, Clijsters would have kept her No. 3 ranking."

Matt of Toronto: "A year ago when Kimiko Date Krumm won in Korea, you reacted when I made the statement of the Maleeva sisters returning ... Well, voila! Maggie is back!"

Me and my psychic friends network have come to collect for the prediction!!

Haresh Ramchandani of Mumbai: "I visited a Grand Slam for the first time at the U.S. Open this year. I have created a web album of my experience which i would like to share with your readers."

• Look what Venus Williams is up to.

Shenay Perry is retiring on account of persistent knee problems.

Carlos of Easton, Conn., has long lost siblings: Andre Agassi andGeorge Foreman.

Have a good week, everyone!

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