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Mailbag: Injury makes Nadal's Aussie Open defeat more bitter

A quick vegemite sandwich while wondering if, this being the Asian/Pacific Slam, Nadal might want to try Eastern Medicine ...

I'll be blunt. I woke up this morning to see that Nadal had lost. Like most of his supporters, I am crushed. What should I take away from this?--Jessica G., New York

• Obviously there will be no "Nadal Slam," at least not this time. And to me this defeat is made all the more bitter by the injury. Get outplayed? That's one thing. Lose, at least in part, because you're not 100 percent physically and, in a perverse way, I think it stings more.

What did we learn? Not sure. Glorious a player as he is, Nadal's body can betray him; there is a physical price to pay for all that violent ballstirking and relentless defense. Well, we knew that already. David Ferrer is an indefatigable wonder, maybe the most fit player EVER. Knew that. Federer's consistent excellence -- and unmatched physical preparation -- is thrown into sharp relief. True, but the semifinal streak was already testament to that.

I think the real illumination came afterward in Nadal's press conference. Struggling, at times, to hold it together, he was not only adamant in his refusal to attribute the loss to injury; he made it clear that he hears that critique -- maybe he reads the comments section on blogs? -- that too often when he loses, the storyline is about injury. Read this transcript. It's fascinating.

Is there any silver lining? Well, better an upper leg muscle tear than a knee injury. And while, for the eighth straight major, we are deprived of a Nadal-Federer final, the rivalry lives, especially with Federer still in the draw as I write this, with a good shot of defending his title. Think of this as still another plot twist.

Watching the Fed-Wawrinka match on ESPN and find Chris Fowler mocking of Wawrinka's play is unprofessional and disrespectful. He actually called Wawrinka a "Tomato Can." It's not so easy to play Fed and sometimes you have a bad day. Fowler's job is to make the match more interesting. Shame on him.--Marty, Ossining, N.Y.

• Agree. This was completely excessive. A) The dude is losing to friggin' Federer. It's not like he is squandering a golden opportunity by playing subpar tennis again some qualifier. B) It's wasn't Wawrinka best day at the office, true, but it didn't look to me as though he were tanking C) For a "tomato can," beating Roddick and Monfils still makes for a solid tournament. D) The guy -- who doesn't exactly share Federer's presence and media savvy -- is going through an unpleasant divorce and custody battle which might been worth taking into consideration.

Not that I've seen more than a handful of AO matches, but I still vote Schiavone/Kuznetsova as the match of the tournament. Great baseline rallies, well-timed charges to the net, consistent great to just stay-alive vollies, points won on great play and great shots vs. metronomic baseline banging and a cavalcade of errors. I'd watch it again. More, more, more!--Martin Burkey, Huntsville, Ala.

• Who are you, Billy Idol? I agree with Martin. Great stuff. And while Kuznetsova was disconsolate afterwards, she ought to be optimistic about her season. She's fit. She appears healthy. Serena Williams is AWOL. Her career has tended to oscillate like a ceiling fan. My strong suspicion is that she's swaying back toward the top five.

After the Schiavone-Kuznetsova match, we now know for a fact what many of us have always suspected -- that women have the physical and mental fortitude to play long matches and that their long matches can be every bit as exciting as those of the men's. I'm surprised when I see dinosaurs like you insisting that women should not be allowed to play best of five. Your argument is very condescending and its completely wrong. As I see it, you stand corrected. Bring on women's best-of-five at the Slams!--Evelyn Kasowitz, New York, N.Y.

• Dinosaurs like me "insisting"? Look, if the WTA wanted the players to compete in the best-of-five format, I don't think it would be met with much resistance. "Hey, it's your tour; do what you want." But there hasn't been any movement in this direction. No one insisting on anything because no one is agitating in the alternative. Why? Because the tour and players realize, quite rightly, that a time when injuries are having really corrosive effect, players need to be spending LESS time on the court, not more. This isn't about gender differences or women lacking fortitude. It's just pragmatism.

What about amending my old compromise: everyone plays best-of-three for the first week; they everyone plays best-of-five for the last three rounds? It's better for the players' health and well-being, my main concern. It's better for TV. It's better for the scheduling. You'd miss a few titanic early round five-setters (Isner v. Mahut comes quickly to mind) but you'd still have the gravitas of the Slam in the latter rounds.

A few years ago when Azarenka won over Serena in the finals in Key Biscayne, this question was raised in your mailbag: "Victoria Azarenka: Maria Sharapova or Daniela Hantuchova?" You answered: "Isn't there a middle?" I wanna know if that is still your answer now.--Prexus Empacis, Cebu City, Philippines

• Fair question. No doubt the stock is down. But I'm not dumping my shares just quite yet.

About the Australian Open as the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific. That seems like that tag line is being pushed more lately. As a practical matter, what does that mean? Do China, Japan, Thailand and others get a certain number of wild cards, for example?--Greg Smiley, Washington, D.C.

• Not yet. Though if I'm the Chinese or Japanese Federation, I thank Greg Smiley of Washington D.C., for giving me a bargaining chip. What this "Asian/Pacific Slam" means is that a) we are happy to accept sponsorships from any Asian company b) we hope this is sufficiently inclusive so you will not think of mounting a movement to hold a Slam in Shanghai, c) Li Na will get to the semis every year. (Kidding on the last one.)

Apparently at [your schools] they don't give grades lower than a C. Did you know that at other universities there exist other grades, such as D and F? Giving a stalker a C is the worst example of grade inflation I've ever seen!--Kevin McElhaney, Sunnyvale, Calif.

• I do suppose the term "gentleman's C" doesn't apply in this case.

To quote you: "if dabbling in recreational drugs precluded enshrinement, the Hall of Fame would be the Room of Fame." Not to seem like a gossipmonger, but really? Who else is known for recreational drug use? (albeit I'm assuming never tested positive?)--Susan An, Sydney, Australia

• Fire up Google. Or better yet, buy an ex-player's memoir.

A few weeks ago you answered a question regarding the Hall-of-Fame worthiness of Elena Dementieva. I totally agreed with your response -- winning a Slam should be a prerequisite. I am shocked, though, that Jennifer Capriati has not been selected for admission yet. Three slams, an Olympic gold medal, a comeback that defied the odds and participation in several of the best women's matches in history (1991 U.S. Open semifinal vs. Seles, 2003 U.S. Open semifinal vs. Henin, 2002 Australian Open final vs. Hingis). Is there any chance that this resume won't be enough? Any idea what's taking the Hall so long to induct J-Cap?--Pete, Atlanta, Ga.

• Relax. Capriati, as I understand it, STILL hasn't officially retired. Thus there's no clock ticking on her eligibility. With three Slams to her name I can't imagine that she wouldn't be enshrined. Again, precedent. And I keep meaning to post this. Thanks for reminding me (inadvertently, Pete).

• Major props to IMG's Carlos Fleming for allegedly landing Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton as a client. Thankfully, all his years handling James Blake will prepare him well for difficult p.r. challenges. (That was a joke.) Carlos is one of the forces of good in this sport. Let's hope this doesn't take him away from tennis.

• USTA Serves, the National Charitable Foundation of the United States Tennis Association, announced today that it has awarded 33 year-end grants totaling $420,650. The number of program grants awarded in 2010 was 59, totaling $855,150. Combined with scholarship awards, USTA Serves distributed more than $1 million in 2010.

• Andrew, New York, N.Y.: "Schiavone ... from the Italian "Schia" meaning "friggin'" and "vone" meaning "exhausted."? I know you're joking but ... I recall an article years ago in which the writer (can't remember if it was you or Bodo or Tebbutt or who) described sitting in the press seats at a Slam with Gianni Clerici and/or Rino Tommasi, watching Schiavone play. In judgment of the futility of her burdens, the Italian commentator informed his English speaking colleague that Schiavone means "Little Slave." Apparently, that is literally true."

• In other words, no Venus. The USTA and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced today that her core group of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin and former world No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber will be joined by 2010 U.S. Open and Wimbledon doubles champion Vania King in representing the U.S. against Belgium in the 2011 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Quarterfinal in Antwerp, Belgium, February 5-6.

• In case you missed it, in another spasm of self-promotion, I encourage you to watch this.

• Patricia of Uruguay has long lost brothers ... Robin Haase and Steven Mangan (the guy from the new Matt LeBlanc show Episodes).

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