Wednesday February 16th, 2011

I'm finishing up school and thinking about what I want to be when I grow up. I've always loved tennis, even though I was never that good as a player. I'm wondering how someone goes about becoming a tennis agent and whether you would recommend that as a possible career. --Todd S., Miami

• A variation of this question rolls in every month. This, of course, is a hanging curveball -- or an easy sitter in tennis terms. How do you become an agent? Sell your soul and use the proceeds to buy loafers, hair gel and that leather résumé case/binder that all the agents carry, making them look like college sophomores on their way to career services for that summer internship interview.

But we jest. On the whole, I think tennis agents are, collectively, a fine lot. They may not be forthright 100 percent of the time and they may occasionally have to cut corners. But they are downright saintly compared to their counterparts in other sports. As a bonus, tennis is one of the few sports in which female agents can thrive. Seriously, if my son or daughter were about to turn pro, there are very few tennis agents with whom I wouldn't be comfortable.

I'd love for an agent to pipe in here -- I'll promise anonymity -- but here are some scattered thoughts of mine.

• The stakes aren't as high as they are in other sports. No one in tennis is gunning for the $120 million contract. Which means that it's hard to get rich -- I think most people would be shocked to learn how modestly most agents are paid. It also means that "agent ethics" are not an oxymoron.

• Mastery of a second language -- Mandarin or Spanish, preferably -- is a huge asset, if not a prerequisite. The U.S. is still a critical market, but as tennis goes offshore, be prepared to bring a global perspective to bear.

• As far as entering the field, it helps if you can bring in a piece of business. If you can somehow secure the commitment of a top junior on your own, you're obviously a lot more attractive than the candidates submitting résumés.

• Be prepared for some humiliation. You'll get a badge that permits you backstage access at tournaments; you'll get to go to Wimbledon when your college chums are stuck behind cubicles; you might get to go to awards shows and inside the velvet ropes. But -- like most jobs -- it's not as glamorous as it might appear. When your meal ticket asks you to hold her purse, you hold her purse. (Trust me, this happens.) When your gravy train lights into you because he wanted a window seat, not an aisle, you nod solicitously and apologize. When your client asks why Player X has a clothing deal and she does not, you don't mention that they are ranked higher and more marketable. You pledge to change that.

• Tied to that, you can be the best agent in the world; but I think you're really tethered to the performance of your client. If he wins Wimbledon, you're riding high. If she's losing in the qualies, you're living that, too. If you're not comfortable having your career be so dependent on someone else's performance, you might want to look elsewhere.

Again, though, tennis agents are not Ari Golds, much less Tank Blanks. They play a vital role, especially these days. Just go in eyes wide open. And if a current agent wants to refute/support/amend anything above, I invite him or her to do so.

As a Canadian tennis fan, there's been relatively little to be excited about the past 10-15 years outside of Daniel Nestor. Being a bigger fan of singles, I'm pleasantly surprised about the rise of Milos Raonic. What's your take on his game and how high can he reach realistically? --Jason J, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

• Milos-mania was a hot topic this week. Six weeks ago, even some hardcore fans hadn't heard the guy's name; now -- after a second-week performance in Australia and a tournament win in San Jose -- Raonic is being hailed as the Canadian Sampras. Some of this is obviously exuberant optimism. But there is a lot to like here. Big first AND second serve. Decent movement. A nifty backhand. And you have to like his poise. One of you made a good point that he made a minor breakthrough in Canada last August, beating Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in doubles. Even though it's "only doubles," it says something that he didn't lose his nerve. Let's wait for a few more results before we declare him "the best Canadian ever," as one of you jumped the gun in doing. But definitely an exciting new player to watch.

And before the dead horse is completely flogged, the ATP marketing department needs to do something with this.

Do you run P.R. for the WTA or what? Please look at the points between Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki. They are sure to flip-flop the top ranking until May. The rankings make no sense as they are structured and clearly need to give more weight to 1) making a Grand Slam final and 2) winning a GS before they truly reflect the order of the game at any given moment. While we're at it ... you described Clijsters as having "one of the great comebacks in sports history"? Maybe in women's tennis, but not in sports history. More Werth-perbole for my file. --Thomas Doubt, Doubtland

• New rule: Criticism is always welcome. But have the courage to use your real name. For some reason, there's been a lot of Clijsters-hating this week. I don't get it.

Let's hit the points "Thomas" makes, though:

1) Don't begrudge Wozniacki her top ranking. She jumped through the necessary hoops. But the Slams are the real barometers and tent poles. Don't take my word for it: Just look at the WTA point allotment and prize money distribution. It is problematic when the top player hasn't won one of those. I don't know how you could argue otherwise. Imperfect analogy: becoming No. 1 without a Slam is like winning the electoral vote but losing the popular vote. Again, blame the system; don't blame Wozniacki.

2) Clijsters won the Aussie Open without beating a top five player? True, but whose fault is that? She beat the seven players put in front of her, the same way Roger Federer did in Paris in 2009 and Nadal did at Wimbledon in 2010. What more can you ask?

3) As for "one of the great spots comebacks" being hyperbolic ... well, you tell me. Clijsters plays a decade on tour, acquits herself well and wins a Slam, but is a four-time losing finalist and has a reputation -- backed by data -- of withering in the biggest matches. She retires, marries, becomes a mother and buries her father. She then returns, wins the first major she enters and picks off two of the next four, regaining the top ranking in the process. Better comebacks, at least in the modern era? Again: We're talking about a player whose post-comeback results absolutely dwarf her pre-comeback results. Off the top of my head, I'd list Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, maybe Josh Hamilton, Dara Torres perhaps? Then I struggle. If you have others, I'm happy to entertain.

Just curious ... why did Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have to enter the qualifying at Dubai when she is ranked in the top 15? Was she a late entry? --Richard Hanson, Charleston, W.Va.

• Kevin Fischer kindly informs us that A.P. (note, a lazy way to avoid spelling that triple Scrabble rack of a name) missed the main draw deadline (six weeks before the event) but made the qualifying deadline (three weeks before the event).

And speaking of Pavlyuchenkova (ahh, cut and paste command), she recently signed with IMG. Coincidence?

I was in a store tonight and overheard someone saying that the NHL has the shortest offseason of all known sports. So I guess the NHL's offseason is only half a day? --Nicole, DeSoto, Iowa

• Nice.

What is your take on the new Roland Garros? We now know that the tournament will stay in Paris, but what do you think of the project? I went once in Roland Garros and I really like the way they want to incorporate the new court in the greenhouses of Auteuil. By the way, this is a link to the video of the project. --Emmanuel, Pullman, Wash.

• Thanks, Emmanuel, for the video. Chris Clarey did his typically excellent work covering this. My sense is that we need to suspend judgment until we see the execution. Intuitively, it makes sense to keep the event in Paris. Putting in Versailles -- nice digs, and all -- is like putting the Masters in Macon. Just isn't right. The challenge now is for the architect and French Federation to deliver as promised.

Watching Petra Kvitova reminds me of a lefty Mary Pierce, crushing the ball from either wing when she sets up. Just like Mary, if she can improve her movement, she could bag a Slam or two. Do you agree? --Alex C., Atlanta, Ga.

• Very nice. I would add that there's even a physical resemblance. I'm partial to lefties but I'd like to see more variety out of Kvitova. Right now I'm inclined to put her in the "Big Babe Tennis" category. Big ball striking -- and that may be enough to win Slams -- but not the most nuanced game.

• The matchups are set for the 2011 Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Men's Team Indoor Championship.

• Daniela Hantuchova joins the player field for the Family Circle Cup.

• Note to our friends at the Memphis event: I'm getting static about the absence of live online viewing options. Just playing middleman.

• Greg Couch, you've created a monster.

• Trivia winner is Steve of Washington, D.C.: "Jim Courier (1992) won both the Australian/French -- and before him Mats Wilander (1988) -- which was also one of only two years in the Open Era where players from a single country took home all four Slams."

• A laurel and hearty tennis welcome to First Niagara, Presenting Sponsor for the New Haven Open at Yale. First Niagara's sponsorship activation will have a strong emphasis on supporting and developing community outreach tennis programs. Three examples are the First Niagara Family Classic, First Niagara Free Lesson and First Niagara Latino Day.

• Haiku contest winners (e-mail/Twitter me for prizes including Fetch apparel)

Stella McCartney skirt on Wozniacki Will this help win a major?

She wins her share of matches Leave the girl alone Or change the system, people. --Alice E. of Easthampton, Mass.

Sitting in class bored Dreaming of Roland Garros Let's go Djokovic --@harishsvemuri

Sun sets on legends Enjoy Rafa & Club Fed Wimby Olympics La Fin? --@normarcher

• Robbie from Louisville, Ky.: "I started subscribing to the Tennis Channel last fall, and it's great that a channel is exclusively devoted to the sport. However, I have noticed that when a men's match is scheduled it is simply labeled 'Tennis,' but when a women's match is scheduled it's labeled 'Women's Tennis.' If they're going to put this label on the women, it seems as if they are qualifying it so the viewer knows not to expect real tennis when they turn their television to the channel. Maybe this is just something that my cable provider does in its channel guide, but if not, can I possibly be the only one bothered by this?"

• News about New York's two World Team Tennis teams.

• Non-tennis. New York readers: please spend a second to check out this bone marrow drive.

• Note to Serena Williams' handlers: I never received the signature HSN earrings that were promised to prize winners last summer and have readers understandably upset with me. Can someone contact me?

• Aside, to reader Catrice: Send me your address and a Fetch tennis dress is yours.

• Niremetal of Wilmington, Del., has long lost brothers: Teymuraz Gabashvili and Nathan Fillion (ABC's Castle).

Have a great week, everyone!

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