Wednesday February 2nd, 2011

Yes or no: Is Novak Djokovic the New King of tennis? --Carlos, London

• Deep breath, everyone. So I spent the day before Thanksgiving with Nadal in London, preparing a story on the guy who might win four straight majors and challenge Federer as the best ever. Then, whoops, Federer beats Nadal in London and wins the first event of 2011. Many -- myself included -- hastily anointed Federer as the Aussie Open favorite. Many -- myself not included -- hastily cast doubt on Nadal, noting that, while he was winning the last three majors of 2010, he never had to go through Federer.

Then we get to Australia and Nadal pulls up lame. He's through! To borrow a phrase from Andre Agassi: He's writing checks his body can't cash! It's Federer's tournament to lose! Except Federer does lose. Decisively to Djokovic. Which, inevitably, means that Federer is done, the era is over, the king is dead.

The landscape shifts quickly, but this is fine. Play well for seven matches and you're a Grand Slam champ. Play poorly -- or pull a muscle -- and you suddenly join 127 other guys on a Grand Slam losing streak. As I see it, Nadal is still the man to beat. If we were picking French Open faves today, he'd be the guy. Federer hasn't reached a Grand Slam final in more than a year, but he's still Federer. Djokovic is back in the conversation and is to be commended for peerless play Down Under. But we're talking about a guy who's never even reached the final at the French Open or Wimbledon -- so anointing him the New King seems rash. Andy Murray is a question mark. He's back to looking like the fourth side of the quadrilateral. But you're in your rights to wonder if he's too passive or defensive to win a major. It all makes for great theater. Gripping reality programming. Why not leave it at that?

So the Djokovic box includes Ana Ivanovic and Nenad Zimonjic ... but no Mom, Dad or little brothers. What up? --Helen, Philadelphia

• No Djokovic family? Must be laundry day. On the other hand, @ElusiveEmily ought to be selling these.

Brad Gilbert knows so much about other sports. Any chance ESPN will ever let him broadcast something other than tennis? --Bob, Monee, Illinois

• Only if -- in a bit of justice -- Gilbert restricts himself to tennis phrases. "Ronaldo scores with a move that's sweeter than a Stan Wawrinka backhand!" "A dejected Jay Cutler doing a little Vera Zvonareva action over there on the Bears sidelines." "Let's see if the Spurs can consolidate this break." "Game, set, match. San Francisco Giants!" Plus, he has to subject his audience to those dumb nicknames. Calling a guy named James "Jimmer," for instance. Oh wait. Someone did that already?

I wonder if American Eric Butorac has ever met the more famous players on the circuit like Federer and Nadal? --David C. Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.

• Responds Eric Butorac, one of the sport's good guys (and lamentably few Midwetserners): "Hahaha ... that is a good one! Actually, it's not the first time I've been asked that. I actually have a win over Nadal ('07 Indian Wells) and, [having warmed up] Federer for his U.S. Open quarterfinal, [those] are two of my career highlights. I've met them many times, as I am a member of the ATP player council, which they are both on. But remember so clearly in 2008 walking into the U.S. Open locker room and Fed shouting 'Booty!' (my nickname). I walked back to my locker where my coach was sitting and he goes, 'I can't believe he knows your name!'"

Dude, you need to get away from the Kool-Aid. If you're ready to devote some of your time toward critical examination, here are some of the obvious problems with women's tennis: a) An overweight lady is power-hitting her way to tennis' coveted trophies and the field is too weak to overcome her; b) The top-ranked women's player is a pusher who cannot go on the offensive against top players and has failed to win any Slams; c) At least two former top-ranked women's players are head cases who're routinely getting thrashed and struggling to win a tournament even though they're still young. Yet, for some reason, you're spinning canards about women's tennis being in great health. --Kara Molvic, New York City

• You're right. Now I've detoxed and come to my senses. A) Kim Clijsters is overweight -- pregnant perhaps -- which is why she wilted in the third set of the final and is so often plagued by movement issues. Just like Serena Williams. Two bad those two can't get the famine look or else they might actually win some matches. B) Caroline Wozniacki has failed to win any Slams. So we ... what? Strip her of the top ranking? We've said over and over that until she wins a Slam, her ranking lacks heft. But she didn't win it in a lotto. She earned it winning lots of matches. What's she supposed to? Voluntary abdicate? C) Several former No. 1s are indeed getting thrashed and struggling to win. So what? That's sports. I don't think the WTA is in "great health." I do think it may have turned a corner in Australia.

Also, I don't think enough was made of this point but I saw plenty of variety in Australia. Say what you will about Wozniacki, she's no Vaidisovian baseline basher. Li Na has an all-court game. Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur, Andrea Petkovic -- lots of variety there. Maybe tennis is like most other markets: There are inefficiencies and eventually those inefficiencies are corrected.

If Francesca Schiavone were to retire today, does she go into the Hall of Fame because of her French Open title? --Bill, Los Angeles

• OK, I'm going to play the villain here. I love Francessca Schiavone. You love Francessca Schiavone. We all drip amore for Francessca Schiavone. But this is the HALL OF FREAKIN' FAME. She's won one Slam. She's been in no other finals. She's spent the vast majority of her career outside the top 10. Again, this is not to diminish her or her late-career surge. But Hall of Fame?

What do you think of an HBO 24/7 series on tennis? Maybe a player like Michael Russell or Taylor Dent, someone who isn't guaranteed entry into big tournaments. I'd suggest a player ranked around 50 but after John Isner at 20 it goes to 100! --Chris, Melbourne, Australia

• Love it. And who says it has to be an American? Take, say, Alexandr Dolgopolov and follow him. Someone put this idea in front of HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. And give a producer credit to Chris of Melbourne.

Hi Jon, how come the WTA has NOT yet removed the name of Elena Dementieva in the rankings? She retired last November. They should also remove the name of Justine Henin now that she has re-retired! It somehow ruins the legacy of the player. --Mervin B. Manucom, Bulacan, Philippines

• It's basically up the player. Some opt to "delist" from the stock exchange immediately. Others may, for whatever reason, simply allow their ranking to diminish. In some cases, there are endorsement contracts tied to rankings and so if you can make an extra shekel or two or so by hanging in the top 20, why not do it?

How refreshing to see a man win a major and not awkwardly fall to the ground as if shot! --Jesse, Madison, Wis.

• Players are damned either way. Either they're melodramatic or not sufficiently emotional/emotive. I think a lot of this has to do with the tenor of the match itself. When Nadal beats Federer deep in the fifth set of a Wimbledon final, he collapses on the court. When you're up 2-0 sets and close out the third in fairly routine fashion, it's less emotional. Context and all.

One (ex-)couple springs to mind when talking about two players in a relationship playing mixed doubles. Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt reached the 2000 Wimbledon final in the mixed, losing to Kimberly Po and Donald Johnson. --Ive Beeckmans, Antwerp, Belgium

• Wait, I thought Donald Johnson's partner was Rico Tubbs? (How many times do you suspect Johnson heard that over the years?) Yes, Clijsters and Hewitt played doubles in 2000. We still say "Federer-Mirka in 2012" would be awesome.

Speaking of Federer-Mirka, Emma of Cincy sent this link: "You may have seen it before, and I think it was only for the Hopman Cup, but never mind! The interview from 6:56 is cute."

And speaking of Johnson -- the tennis player -- if you're looking to contribute to a worthy cause, play around on Facebook and check out his involvement with juvenile diabetes.

The other reason why tennis players should never apologize for double bagels or any other sort of beatdown is that there is no clock to run out. You have to win every game and if you give a few points away you give the other person hope and the chance to come back. There is no comparison to any other team sport where you have a clock and can hold on to the ball until time runs out. -- Adithya Rao, Atlanta

• Agree. Which makes my team sport analogies somewhat flawed. I think we're in general agreement here: It's not only inadvisable to "donate" a game; there's a sense that it further demeans the opponent. And for all our talk about double bagels, recalls this fine Dave Seminara piece from The New York Times.

Happens to the best of us. Plus, the mighty Sharko notes: The last triple bagel was Sergi Bruguera's defeating Thierry Champion in the second round at the 1993 French Open.

With Federer's defeat, he is now Slam-less. When was the last time he was in such condition? --Will, California

• June 2003.

Everyone talks about how fit David Ferrer is. But does he still smoke? --Addie, Baltimore

• He still smokes. Smokes winners.

• Please vote via Twitter so you don't clog my in-box. But if, hypothetically, a WTA player were to oxymoronically "guest host" the Mailbag a few weeks from now, would you prefer a) Kim Clijsters, b) Caroline Wozniacki, c) Vera Zvonareva or d) other?

• Pete writes: You may have gotten this already, but in case not.

• Hey, Todd Woodbridge,* if having a large chest and being grumpy are earmarks of pregnancy, my seatmate on this flight is in his third trimester. *Todd Woodbridge got plenty of grief regarding the Clijsters interview, but let the record reflect that he is an exceedingly good guy.

• Chris Oddo of San Francisco: Dr. Allen Fox's new book, Tennis: Winning the Mental Game, is now available on his website. I recently did an interview with Dr. Fox that can be found here.

• Note to the Williams camp (and WTA): This is what happens when you're vague about injuries and lose control of the message. (Thanks, Grace of Georgetown)

• Note to Adidas man, Darren Cahill. You rip Nike at your own peril!

• Thomas Chen, Cambridge, Mass.: I ran across this article in The New York Times about classical music composers. The author was tasked at creating a "top 10 composers" list. It reminded me of the lively discussions about the GOAT in tennis. Not that many H2H's in music, though ... unless you count the playoff between Mozart and Clementi in front of the Emperor Joseph II.

• Patrick of Madrid notes that Ferrer had such little hope in his victory over Nadal that he had literally already confirmed his booking for his return flight. He's now only too glad to pay the canceling fees.

• Jim Swain: I had the good fortune of learning to play from Harry Hopman. Hopman once told me that the only reason a player lost a match was because his opponent played better than he did. Nadal's interview after his loss to Ferrer clearly shows what a GREAT athlete he is both in winning and defeat. Hats off to him for conducting himself with such class during his interview.

• Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer, who was the first employee and director of the WTA in 1973 and still serves the organization today, has been elected for induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

• Converse is introducing the first Jack Purcell on-court tennis shoe since the 1960s.

• The USTA announced that it is awarding $45,000 in USTA Grassroots Wheelchair Program Grants to 21 wheelchair tennis programs across the country for the third consecutive year. Grants were awarded to local organizations that promote and develop the growth of wheelchair tennis and use the sport to build stronger communities. Since the inaugural grants in 2008, the total pool of USTA wheelchair tennis grant money has increased each year.

(This is still another reason why it's so distasteful to pay a chief executive a scandalously bloated salary. Some 21 wheelchair tennis programs were awarded less in grant money than the previous CEO of this non-profit made in WEEKLY salary. Not cool.)

• Dunlop has a Facebook application that allows fans to design their own Biomimetic tennis racket. The winning designer will have his/her racket made. Click here for more information.

• Anonymous reader writes: How could [you] forget Li Na's on-court interview after her semifinal? When the announcer asked her what motivated her to fight in that third set, despite being tired, she replied, "Prize money."

Best. Answer. Ever.

• Henrik Wiersholm, a 13-year-old from Kirkland, Wash., won the boys' singles title at Les Petits As in Tarbes, France, on Sunday, defeating Bogdan Borza of Romania 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. He become the first American boy to win the prestigious 14-and-under title since Chase Buchanan in 2005.

• Noname, Los Angeles: Did you know that you can watch Patrick Rafter vs Andre Agassi, Wimbledon 2000 on Netflix?

• Long-lost siblings: Petra Kvitova and Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame). Only the face, though. There's about a 5-feet difference in height!

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