Wednesday January 19th, 2011

While looking at terms "Nalbandian" and "Wozniacki" trending high on Twitter and wondering why tennis can't do a better job selling itself ...

Kim Clijsters apologizing for the double bagel is like a football coach apologizing after his team scores a 10th touchdown in a 70-0 victory. I don't mind what Clijsters did but apologizing for a winning mentality (in competition) is just silly. I'd much prefer if she didn't try so hard to win popularity contests out there. I know that you're a well-known Clijsters cheerleader but even you must call her out for the apology. Really lame. --Jan Walcott, Franklin Lakes, N.J.

• Hey, that's a fellow Garden Stater you're criticizing. For the love of Route 1, show some loyalty! I don't think your analogy holds. First, a humiliating loss in a team sport -- where the blame can be spread around -- is different from a humiliating loss in an individual sport. Second, there's a question of context. You don't feel guilty about serving up a double bagel against some snot-nosed wild card. When it's a former No. 1 who's notoriously frail mentally, lost her last her match 6-0, 6-1 and is a longtime colleague, the emotions are different. Plus, we DO see coaches in other sports express regret for having run up the score and kept the starters in too long.

But Jan does raise an interesting point. I remember watching Martina Hingis once trounce a clearly-injured Monica Seles, 6-0, 6-0. Again given the context, I thought Hingis could have gifted her one game. When I asked Hingis about it, she looked at me as though I had three eyes. I paraphrase: "You can't do that. It's sports. You give away one game and it could turn the match!" She had a good point. What's more, I doubt many self-respecting opponents would want a charity game they didn't earn.

I know we were supposed to be impressed with Donald Young's run through the qualies at the Australian Open, but in watching his first round loss against Cilic, I saw a player who was dispirited, bored and out of his depth. Is it time to pull the plug on this once-promising career, and if so, what lesson can be taken away from it? --Phil O'Donoghue, Florence, Mass.

• OK, a few of gave me grief for touting the Young-Cilic match. Young came in having blazed through the qualies. Cilic's game has been in the commode for months. Thought this one could be interesting. Cilic won in about as long as it takes you to read this sentence.

If Young is no longer young -- pun unintended -- it's still too early to write him off altogether. He doesn't turn 22 until July. Nevertheless, this has been a sad story far. Some of the disappointment stems from irrational exuberance, no question. Yet we're talking about a junior Wimbledon champ here; it's not as though the hype came out of whole cloth. But some of the disappointment comes from the results. There were expectations that as he matured in age, he'd mature in disposition, working harder and more consistently, hiring an experienced coach and gently explaining to his attentive parents that he needed them to reduce their presence. Sadly, that hasn't much happened.

Pat McEnroe who -- perhaps you have inferred -- isn't Young's biggest champion, spoke candidly the other night. He was dead-on when he said, it's way too early to dismiss Young. But he's wasted a lot of valuable time.

More than the Nadal always drawing Murray in his half, I am wondering how it's decided which side of the draw opens play. It seems like Federer always gets the opening start, and Nadal is a day behind. Nadal has been seeded No. 1 at the last two majors, so seeding has little to do with it. I know Wimbledon has the men's defending champion open play. Do all majors do this? --Jess Hahn, Columbia, S.C.

• At Wimbledon, the defending champ christens Centre Court. Otherwise, as a rule of thumb, TV calls the shots.

I'm sure you've gotten a copy of this article a million times by now ... --Rafael, McLean, Va.

• I have. But thanks, it's still worth a read.

What is Carlos Costa doing sitting with the Nalbandian camp? --H., Philadelphia

• Costa also represents Nalbandian.

So Grigor Dimitrov has won his first Grand Slam match. Can we go ahead and retire the "baby Federer" label now before the virus spreads? The epithet is not only clunky, it's already been used, recently, for another player, and it is more than a bit insulting to Dimitrov, who is his own player and certainly not a baby. The nickname is also rather unlikely to do him any favors. The weight of over-hype and over-expectation at too early age can be a great way to ruin talent before it ever has time of mature. And the overhype machine has already rocked his young career enough. --Michael Roetzel, Little Rock, Ark.

• I agree with Michael. You're only setting the kid up for disappointment when you tag him "Baby Fed." (A shout out to "Baby Jordan" Harold Miner.) But it's also insulting to Federer. OK, the kid has talent. But he's a future 16-time Grand Slam champ? Really? Besides, he's already proven himself to be something other than Federerian in the comportment department. This story got surprisingly little attention.

Much like Jon Fischer's annoyance with Chris McKendry's questions to Roger Federer, I found the interview Chris Fowler, normally a great broadcaster, had with Nadal after his first-round match as similarly cringe-inducing. A question about whether he really flies economy class as a sign that he's just like the rest of us? Please. Can we put a moratorium on this line of questioning? We all get that Nadal is a wonderfully humble dude and we'd be so lucky to have our daughter meet and marry such a fine, upstanding man. But he's also one of the most incredible tennis players that's ever walked the planet, and that's what I want to hear him talk about. Rant over. --John Shoesmith, Toronto

• So if I'm reading you right, it would be an inopportune time to link this photo?

Can you contact all the tennis commentators and call for a moratorium on the "two tired prizefighters exchanging blows" metaphor every time a match goes deep in the fifth set? The metaphor is more tired than the prizefighters at this point. Every time Brad Gilbert goes to another trite, lame analogy, I cry for the days of Bud Collins. I hardly ever knew what was going to come out of his mouth and it always conjured some bizarre image I could never have come up with on my own. --P., San Diego

• How about a moratorium on the word moratorium? Long as we're here, anyone else starting to think that boxing exists solely as metaphor? I bet 99 percent of the population -- at least in the U.S. -- can't name the reigning heavyweight champ. Yet we love references to "answering the bell," "getting off the canvas," "retreating to a neutral corner" and putting someone "on the ropes."

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame to announce a Class of 2011 inductee live at Agassi Preparatory Academy. We'll give you three guesses as to the identity.

• Chris of St. John's, NL: "Well after you published my trivia question, I thought I should dig a little harder. My mistake. Turns out the last time Nadal and Murray were not in the same half in a Grand Slam (other than the French) was at the 2007 U.S. Open (Murray was ranked 17). Of course, Rafa pulled out of '09 Wimbledon AFTER the draw was made (again, he drew Murray). So the streak is only 10 having a probability of 1 in 1024 or less than 0.1% chance of "random" occurrence. (Aside: look for Rafa to draw Djokovic at the 2011 French!)."

• Jason Shaw of Seattle, Wash.: "While your response to the obnoxious 'reverse racial bias' suggestion was sufficient to discard the writer's theory, I wish you'd have taken his underlying premise head-on: that the Victorian floods and Haiti earthquake are somehow equivalent misfortunes. I am aware that Australia, a relatively affluent nation, is experiencing severe flooding that is causing thousands of families to lose homes and sentimental possessions. In Haiti, there was unimaginable horror: more than 300,000 people were killed, and in one of the poorest countries in the world, over 1,000,000 are homeless with nowhere to turn for help. If the only difference the writer can see between these is the skin color of those affected, there's really no basis for conversation."

• Terry House of Palm Springs, Calif.: "Okay, so coal in ESPN's stockings for driving Mary Carillo away. I would boycott them if I could, though I know it was her choice ultimately. I hope to see more of her on CBS, NBC and when will Tennis Channel step up? But ... I have to thank ESPN2 for ditching the bottom-screen crawl for large segments of match coverage. I know this means nothing to you (I read your fiction vs non-fiction rationale), but there are millions like me who love the clean screen. Keep it up ESPN!"

• Anonymous writes: "Journalists should concentrate more on these types of events as well as coaches are as important as the players. Nice write up for some one who attended a coaching conference at the AO."

• David Williams of Dunbar, W.Va.: "Every time I see Michael Russell play, I think I am seeing Michael Rooker, the actor from Eight Men Out and Cliffhanger, and a lot of other stuff I haven't seen."

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