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Mailbag: Fans wish tennis was mainstream, but must it be?

It seems like there's been a lot 'Bag space devoted to the question of how we can get tennis to be more mainstream and popular. My response is, what exactly do I have to gain by the attainment of this goal? I no longer feel alone as a tennis obsessive, thanks to the blogosphere, and that tends to leave me a little, shall we say, confused about my fellow fans. I kind of like thinking that tennis is beloved by a narrow set of particularly thoughtful, quirky, creative types -- the kind of people who like to travel and read David Foster Wallace and L. Jon Wertheim. (Note that being an ethnic mongrel, I don't love the idea that tennis is an elitist, blueblood sort of thing.) I guess if tennis were more popular, there would be more televised matches. That would be nice, but it seems like the growth of Internet video is rapidly taking care of that problem. In the meantime, I'm content to inhabit the margins of the sports world, suspecting that the middle is not all it's cracked up to be.--Lee, Burlington, Vt.

• Thanks, Lee. That's a really insightful point/question. And at some level I agree. There's a band I like. I can listen to their music whenever I want. Thanks to technology and their MySpace page, I can stay abreast of relevant news. I suppose, it would be nice if they were a bit bigger and toured my town. And sure, I wished more people were aware of their magic, more radio stations gave them play. But what's the big deal. The modest popularity doesn't inhibit my access, not in the digital age. And I might even go so far as to say I LIKE the "niche" status. It creates a real community, almost a sense of subversive pleasure. I don't need my band to play the big arenas or have their own laser light show.

You see where I'm going here. For as much as we bemoan tennis' modest (if not outright diminished) place in the contemporary sportscape, what, really, is the big deal? It's not as though they stopped playing Wimbledon. It's not as though I can't buy a racket. It's not as though I can't find results online. OK, so tennis isn't soccer, Davis Cup isn't World Cup, Roger Federer isn't LeBron James and events may attract fewer crowds than Obama in Cleveland. But so what?

It's a reasonable point. My counterargument would go something like this: as a rule we like to be part of thriving enterprises, of what Hedge Fund Nation calls "growth opportunities." We like relevance. We'd rather work for Google than for Sears. This is admittedly Americanized, but if you recall tennis' place in the sports culture conversation not that long ago, it stings a bit to see the sport consigned to the margins.

Some of this is practical. It's tough to see good tournaments run by good people struggle or go out of business. It's no fun to suffer abuse at the hands of networks, who treat tennis so shabbily but then demand to see higher ratings before, say, broadcast the U.S. Open final on one channel. It stinks to see friends lose jobs or entrepreneurs fail to make a living or, in my case, the media room consistently downsized. Small is OK, but here's a worst case scenario: tennis becomes so niche that the economic incentives disappear and tennis can no longer lure the top athletes. Then we've really got problems. (See: boxing.)

Some of this is personal, but I also have a hard time simply being secure in the knowledge I've stumbled upon something great. If I read a good book or eat at a terrific restaurant (see below) I want to share it. In the case of tennis, I want more people to realize what a special sport it is, how it's not a "boring serve-a-thon," how Federer and Nadal and the Williams sisters and Clijsters et al., are worthy of attention and admiration. I want better television coverage and a Monday Night showcase and Rafael Nadal get more of the credit he deserves. Basically I'm greedy and I'm not alone here. Tennis might do fine as a Brooklyn bar band. But I want it to be the Stones, dammit.

Regarding your Dementieva question from Monday's Best of Three ("What would you rather have, a Grand Slam title? Or this level of respect and adulation from the folks in the workplace?"): For me (who, incidentally, has never played in a Slam final) that's an easy one. Can't hug a trophy. Well ... I guess you can, but it won't hug you back. I heard an old Buddhist say: "In the end, what matters? One thing: How well you loved."--Steve Perry, Santa Rosa, Calif.

• This is in response to Monday's "Existentialism For Dummies" question. This video tells you a lot.

There are frequent stories of injuries -- sometimes death -- to fans at sporting events (hockey, baseball, auto racing). Recently a young man filming football died when his support blew over in gusty weather, and concussions in football are much more common (or are they finally being discussed). Has there ever been a death or serious injury associated with a tennis match? Dying of curiosity!--Marina, Dallas

• The only one I know is Dick Wertheim (no relation), an official at the U.S. Open. In a junior match, he was hit by an errant Stefan Edberg serve in the head on the court. From the Sept. 17, 1983 issue of the Washington Post:

Linesman Richard Wertheim has died of injuries he suffered when he was hit by a ball and fell backward onto his head during the U.S. Open, Flushing (N.Y.) Hospital said today.

Don Rodda, hospital spokesman, said Wertheim, 60, of Lexington, Mass., died Thursday....Wertheim was the center service linesman in a junior boys match Saturday when he was hit in the groin by a ball off the racket of Stefan Edberg. Wertheim fell backward and hit his head on the court.

Not necessarily a mailbag question but I thought I'd seek out some advice from someone who probably has been there. This spring my wife and I are traveling to our first pro tennis tournament. We have great seats, center court tickets (fourth row) for the entire week of the Monte Carlo Open (men's). Just wondering if there are any tips to be shared to ensure a top notch experience. Thanks.--Steve O'Hara, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

• Again you have to love any sport in which a fan from the Northwest Territories plans a trip to watch action Monte Carlo. Does Google Maps even have the capacity to come up with an itinerary? (Aside to the Monte Carlo promoter: buy this couple a Bellini, a prize for what surely takes the "longest distance traveled" crown. Send me the bill.)

If you have fourth-row seats in Monte Carlo, you don't need my help. Any of you who have been to Monte Carlo more recently and can help Steve, pass your suggestions on.

Keeping stats on even one side of the tour (men or women) seems like a huge job. Even if you just had someone watching matches via video, it would require many, many hours. Sounds like a good idea, but until someone ponies up major cash, I don't see how it can be done.--Brandon, Chicago

• I guess I have a few responses. 1) The chair umpire's "tablet" contains plenty of data. It's not appropriate to ask the chair to determine winners versus errors, but simply marshalling the chair's data would be a start; 2) Tournaments often have a bevy of volunteers doing everything from driving players to laminating credentials. Surely they could recruit some folks to gather and code data; 3) If tournaments can find the revenues for video replays, surely they -- and/or the tours -- can underwrite basic information (When facing break point how many times did Tomas Berdych go down the middle?); 4) Think of this as an investment. Football and baseball have both benefitted immensely from fantasy leagues. Folks love analytics. (We have the data to back that up!) It's about time tennis got up to speed. If the sport hired a Bill James -- and I've corresponded with several of you who'd do it for free -- who could devise better metrics than the simple (and often misleading) winners/errors, it would add a whole new dimension to the fan experience.

For 2011, do you think that the active Grand Slam Champions (Serena, Henin, Venus, Sharapova, Clijsters, Kuznetsova, Ivanovic and Schiavone) will end the year as top-10 players? I really think that such an occurrence would just be amazing. And do you think Caroline Wozniacki has it in her to win a Grand Slam in 2011?--Jeric, Manila, Philippines

• Remember what Mats Wilander said about Andy Murray? "You have to win a Slam before you can be a favorite to win a Slam." Same for Wozniacki. Does she have it in her? Sure. But it's "on her" right now. As for the others: Serena is always a threat. Let's see Henin's physical state when she returns. Venus is running out of "draws" (no pun intended) but, as I see it, she came within a few loose games of winning the U.S. Open. Clijsters? Absolutely. Kuznetsova? I would be concerned by her slide -- she's currently outside the top 25 -- but she's made a career of wavering results and commitment levels. When she's committed, she's a threat. I'd be cautious with Ivanovic, but the vectors, finally, are pointing in the right direction. Schiavone? It was a one-time thrill, albeit a fun one. Sharapova/Vujacic is the big mystery. I still haven't given up on her. But it's been a long, long time since she's look like a viable Slam winner.

What is your take on the split of doubles team Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic? I'm starting to think you do have to be a family member to not be replaced for a few unsuccessful seasons.--Loretta, Minneapolis

• You say that jokingly. I think a huge component in the success of the Bryan Brothers is precisely that. They can berate each other, at times, assault each other, and they do so secure in the knowledge their partnership will survive. In so many other cases tension mounts, resentment grows, annoyances fester -- and eventually you have the "I-think-it's-better-if-we-go-our-separate-ways" talk.

Regarding the idea of changing tactics near the end of a match when you have match point(s); be it serve and volley and guess a side or choosing to hit "first serves" on both first and second serve. If you played a certain way the entire match and those tactics brought you to match point, you must be doing something right. I don't see why you would change. You would essentially be telling your opponent that you were lucky to be in that position and were looking for a flukey way to get the final point. Any coach would tell you to keep the pedal down and focus on executing your game plan.--Pat Keffler, Huntingtown, Md.

• I think I phrased that poorly last time. Let's do it this way: I'm winning 85 percent of my first serve points and 40 percent of my second serve points. (Not terribly extreme numbers, especially for a small sample size of games.) Under those circumstances, am I not better off hitting a "first" serve on EVERY ball? My guess is that the math supports hitting out every time.

Fans of Federer might want to visit The Bird restaurant in Berlin, Germany. It is a very nice American style steak/burger place. And they have a burger named "The Flaming Roger" with Swiss cheese. Delicious!--Elina, Berlin, Germany

• Thanks. I was just in Berlin a few months ago. Loved -- loved -- it. After you've had the Roger burger, go here for your next meal.

I'm trying to imagine how Andy Murray could've injured his wrist/hand while playing video games ... and i can't, i just can't. Enlighten us please.--Janka, Manila

• He's a Wii lad, that Scot.

• Well done Taylor Dent, one of the good guys, who retired Monday. It's up to Michael Llodra -- and a few others -- to keep serve-and-volley tennis alive.

• Jan Willem from the Netherlands writes: "In case your Mailbag readers want to see the serve and volleying Taylor Dent one more time: I just uploaded this video as a modest tribute ... Sadly, I feel this fossilizing before my eyes. It's like a wacky dance step that's long gone out of style."

• Reader Stewbop is reporting that Ana Ivanovic has fired Wade Phillips as her coach.

• Well done, Martin Damm, a longtime doubles player who will retire to coach Ryan Harrison. Good career, I say.

• The indomitable Colette Lewis notes: "American players won all six of the collegiate major single championships (NCAAs, All-Americans, just completed Intercollegiate Indoors) this calendar year. Even more impressive is the fact that it was six different players from the U.S." Take that, Baylor!

• Dean of Austin: "One additional comment on hitting a ball right at the opponent. (I'm a 4.0-4.5 player, love to get to net.) I have found that an approach shot hit at the opponent is very effective. Not on the edges where even at my level I get ridiculous shots back if the opponent gets a good swing on the ball -- racket/string technology. That doesn't seem to be the case on approach shots directed to the body. When a player is coming in it is usually from a commanding position on the court and you naturally/instinctively approach to the open court. Problem is, there is no such thing any more. For the past few years we marvel at the absolute bombs that are hit from crazy spots on the court. They are pretty much routine/normal shots now only because of the advancement in technology. The same approach shot from the same vantage point dn the court driven into the body of the opponent eliminates that extension, wrist snap, arm whip, body momentum (all the elements of those 'ridiculous' shots). You end up with a very good ball back to put away. Many time hit off their back foot, back pedaling a bit. I believe this would translate well to the upper levels of the game. I'm curious what feedback you would get from pros/coaches on this. When attacking -- in particular going to net -- attack the opponent and not the open court. Then volley to the open court."

• Jim Barber of Atlanta: "Not sure if you've mentioned it before, but I just had a chance to read Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion's Toughest Match by former U.S. No. 1 Cliff Richey. It was so mesmerizing that I couldn't put it down. It provides a wonderful glimpse into the game's transition from the shamateur days to the Open era. It offers a raw look at the not-always-glamorous side of the big-time game, especially the pressures of being a pro. Second, it gives you insight on the life of a celebrity -- from finances to worries.. Finally, the book delves into depression. In one way, it's distressing to think how long it took Cliff to get diagnosed and treated and all the damage done during that time. I plan to give the book to several friends during this holiday season, because it really can make a difference in someone's life."

• AddA Terrible Splendor to your holiday gift list.

• And reassure me you've already ordered Pete Bodo's new book. If you like his tennis writing, you'll enjoy this every bit as much.

• Chris Evert's 21st annual Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic raised more than $700,000 to benefit neglected and abused children in South Florida during two days of tennis at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.

• Helen of Philadelphia: "I was moved by the letter from Prexus Empacis about Dementieva's retirement. I too cried as I watched, and wondered why it moved me so much. I thought it might be because it made me miss my Mom, but maybe there's more to it than that. Elena represented all the things that are right about tennis, and I will miss watching her play. At any rate, I'm glad to know someone else out there (on the other side of the world!) cried too."

• Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett will join Andy Roddick at the 5th Annual Andy Roddick Foundation Charity Gala, Dec. 4 at the Austin Hilton. To date the foundation has raised over $10 million for various children's organizations including KIPP: Austin Public Schools, The Settlement Home for Children, Austin Partners in Education and A Glimmer of Hope. For concert tickets and more information call 561-620-9449, email Foundation@andyroddick.com or visit www.andyroddick.com.

• Clint Swett of Sacramento: "Just to note that the Williams sisters (along with David Beckham) get a mention from singer Rufus Wainwright during an NPR tribute to Placido Domingo. (How's that for convoluted?) Who knew Venus and Serena bridged the worlds of tennis and opera?"

• Austin Krajicek, a senior at Texas A&M University, and Alexa Guarachi, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, were presented with the 2010 USTA/ITA Sportsmanship Awards on Saturday at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

Another tweener (and bonus points for the Michael Joyce footage).

• Epic Sports International, Inc., a global sports brand management firm today announced the official renaming of Klip America, Inc., the worldwide licensee for Völkl Tennis and Boris Becker Tennis.

• Congrats to the Bryan brothers, who won the Basel title and wrapped on the year ranked No. 1 in men's doubles.

• Jorge of Hong Kong: "Martina and Arantxa had similar records? Maybe on majors but Martina was No. 1 for over 200 weeks vs. 12 for ASV ..."

• This week's LLS goes to Scott Hartman: Andy Roddick and Daniel Tosh.

Have a great week everyone!

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