Thursday January 20th, 2011

A quick baguette, while stretching my psoas ...

I'm wondering what you *honestly* think about how much of an impact the press can have on a player's results. Dinara Safina was hounded for being a Slamless No. 1 and has just been double-bagel-bounced in Round 1 of a Slam; a certain other former No. 1 on the men's side spoke recently about how the negativity in the press room can seep under a player's skin, especially when journos often only know half the story about what a player is going through. Do you ever get an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach asking players about when they should retire, or about how disappointed they are after a crushing five-set loss? (That's really not supposed to be a leading question, I'm honestly curious.) --Ellie, Oxford

• I think that's a fair question. Obviously the answer depends on the player. But I take issue with -- and Federer has used this word, too -- the notion that there is "negativity" in the press room. OK, there are a few grumps who might get a rise from other's misfortune. But I think most of us are simply fulfilling the job requirements. Sports are a zero-sum game. There is winning and, necessarily, there is losing. There are also events and results and trends that need to be addressed. When a player who was ranked No. 1 just 18 months can't win a game in a major, sorry, but that's noteworthy and ought to remarked upon.

It can't be pleasant losing as Safina did and then being asked to dissect her awfulness. (I give her immense credit for her honest responses; read this and then consult your doctor if you're not rooting for her.) Nor can it be fun to be ranked No. 1 and be asked week-in, week-out whether your status is inflated because you lack a Slam. But it's a necessary exercise. And, ideally, the real champions recognize as much and go about authoring a different narrative.

Seems like every time I've tuned into a Grand Slam in the last five years, I've seen Janko Tipsarevic playing some amazing tennis in the first week. I was going to ask what's kept Ol' Tipsy from the top 20 (his career-high ranking is 33), but I guess he answered it in the fifth set. Damn shame, I really like watching this guy! --Mike R., Missoula, Mont.

• Total headcase. But we've known that for years. Hell, he's known that. In the fall he lost a match and promptly tweeted: "Biggest choke EVER." Dick Enberg -- Dick Enberg! -- called out Tipsarervic his fifth-set tank job. I realize I'm in the minority, but it didn't bother me terribly. It's 5-0 in the fifth set. You're emotionally gutted, having blown match points. I don't think it's so crazy that stop hustling. Why is this so different from, say, basketball players in garbage time who routinely give a half-hearted effort when the outcome is, realistically, not in doubt. You don't want to condone tanking. But there comes a point when, sometimes, you've been drained of fight.

Bravo to Mr. House from Palm Springs on the removal of the crawl from ESPN2. Now if Tennis Channel would remove theirs, it would be nirvana. I contacted them to say this was the worst idea ever, but of course never heard back. What do you think about this? I venture to say overwhelming majority hate it as a distraction and completely unnecessary. --Linda Kahn, NYC

• Note: it's Linda Kahn, not Linda Cohn. I'll say it again: when I watch Modern Family or other forms of fiction, I want a clean screen. When I watch non-fiction (sports, news) I want a crawl.

I know others have brought this up before, but it's worth repeating: ESPN commentators need to knock off the nicknames. Here's what I've heard in the four days of watching the Australian Open so far: Cliffy, Killer, BG, PMac, Pammy and MJ (for Mary Jo, of course). Do you think Dick Enberg rolls his eyes everytime he hears "Thanks, Cliffy"? Cliff Drysdale is very good -- every bit as good as Enberg when it comes to tennis -- but when others call him Cliffy, it makes him seem like he's 12 years old. I think the real reason Mary Carillo is at home now is because she got word Brad Gilbert was going to call her M.C. --Joe Shults, Columbia, Mo.

• You know who I don't envy? Jamie Reynolds, the ESPN tennis producer. It's not just that opinions are all over the map. It's that the very same traits that some of you find endearing, others find odious. Reader A says Mary Joe Fernandez is bland and never says adds insight. Reader B loves Mary Joe Fernandez (or MJ, as I gather she's called) because she is restrained and modest. Reader A thinks Brad Gilbert is a boorish frat boy. Reader B likes his "sports dude" sensibilities. Reader A likes Pam Shriver whimsy. Reader B finds her annoying in the extreme. My guess is that ESPN received complaints about stodginess so the team was told to be a bit looser, especially at the most casual Slam. That clearly rankles some of you. Can't please 'em all.

Fernando Verdasco must have suddenly become tired of being called easy on the eyes because his ATP player photo is downright unsettling. American football players often stare stonily at the camera for team and player photos, and other countries with cultural machismo in place tend to avoid smiling excessively in official representation, but Verdasco? The effort is written all over his face. Literally. One can easily see the rage muscles activated around his brow, nose, and jaw. Either they took that photo right after an upsetting loss or Verdasco for once, just ONCE, wanted to look "MACHO" instead of simply "MASCULINE GENETIC JACKPOT." Methinks he overshot it a bit. --Samuel Moen, Cambridge, Mass.

Here's the photo, though I don't see "effort" literally written on his face. To me, he dropped down a peg in the looks department with the faux-hawk. When Nate Robinson is two years ahead of you, it ain't voguish.

Is Sam Querrey this generation's James Blake, overhyped and underachieving ... never reaching a semifinal of a Grand Slam ... but time and again, analysts and commentators tout as dangerous player? Maybe in 250s. --Allan Cruz, West Chester, Pa.

• I know he is the favorite whipping boy of many of you, but let's be clear bout James Blake. We're talking about a player who was once ranked in the top five, beat Federer at the Olympics, and has three wins over Nadal. Was he overhyped? Probably. Did he underachieve at Slams? Yes. Might he have added more variety over the course of his career? Sure. But we're talking about a solid top 10 player for multiple years.

In the case of Querrey, we're encroaching on put-up-or-shut-up time. Players make their reputation at Slams. At two of the last four majors, Querrey hasn't just lost early; he's lost without sowing much in the way of courage. On serve alone, you'd think he has a deep Slam run in him. But to say he's due would be to traffic in understatement.

Even more context here to support Clijsters's rationale for apologizing for double-bageling Safina: Kim herself was on the receiving end of a thrashing a year ago in Australia, at the hands of one Nadia Petrova. She won just one game. So she knows how it feels, and in Melbourne. Your Hingis quote was interesting, and reminded me of something I witnessed in Ashe Stadium at the 2010 U.S. Open. I stood by in a hallway as Maria Sharapova appeared at the media room after beating Beatrice Capra, 6-0, 6-0. Her escort said, "Couldn't you have given her a game?" to which Maria responded, "Nah, that's not how I roll." And she herself ate a double bagel served up by Lindsay Davenport a few years before that. What goes around truly comes around in tennis. --Jon Scott, Indianapolis

• There's also a cultural explanation. Says Pieter Jan Neveux of Dilbeek: "As a compatriot of Kim Clijsters, I guess her apologies are also the consequence of the nature of the Belgian people. There's a general trend among Belgians to be humble and modest even in the case of a major achievement. Of course, every sportsman should have a competitive drive but I guess this behaviour is typical to Belgians. I realize the significance of my mail is quite low, but I just wanted to point out this other possible factor of 'fair' behaviour."

• Re: Clijsters' apologizing for serving the dreaded double bagel, an anonymous reader sends this Steffi Graf clip.

• Tineke van Buul of Amstelveen, Netherlands: "A reaction to the ongoing debate on 'unfair' draws. I know you're familiar with pool, but maybe not with snooker. They have an interesting way to make up a draw. The top 16 players are automatically entered for a tournament. There opponents are derived from the following process: 17-32 play 33-48. The winners play the top 16. Or 33-48 play 49-64, the winners play 17-32 and the winners of that play the top 16. There can be as many as 7 of those pre-rounds, somtetimes played weeks before the actual tournament. If a player ranked within a certain section is unavailable, the numbering is moved up accordingly. Sports with cue and ball on a table are totally unrelated to tennis of course and have only a limited number of tournaments in a season. Just wanted to show all sorts of weird and wonderful approaches to setting up a draw are possible!"

• Brian notes: "I am sure you don't like to print responses to comments about answers to questions, but I'll give it a try anyway. I thought your response to the flood vs. earthquake charity question was spot on. I don't really see any underlying racial bias either. However, I found Mr. Shaw's comment in your recent mailbag rather curious. First let me say that I think the assigning of 'equivalent misfortunes' is unproductive and inherently subjective, as we should fell sympathy for all affected parties. What I found interesting was that 'relative affluence' is apparently a determinant of natural disaster misfortune coefficients, for lack of a better term. It seems as if Mr. Shaw is implying that we shouldn't discount the flood victims' misfortune due to race, but rather because they have higher incomes than people in third-world countries. To paraphrase: If the only difference the writer can see between these is the income level of those affected, there's really no basis for conversation. I think anytime one's surrounding world is rendered unrecognizable through natural disaster it qualifies as 'unimaginable horror,' regardless of one's level of income."

• Tennis fans (especially @amerdelic and @craigtiley): check out this.

• Robert B. of Melbourne, Fla.: "Long lost siblings nominees (in all fairness, an ESPN commentator pointed this out): Lukas Lacko andApolo Anton Ohno.

Enjoy Day 5 everyone!

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