Monday March 28th, 2011

1. Just for kicks. When Roger Federer and friends created the "Hit for Haiti" exhibition in Australia last year, it qualified as one of the cooler demonstrations in recent memory. With no goading and no meddling agents and no side deals, the best tennis players -- male and female -- joined forces to raise money for a beleaguered country on the other side of the globe. It was proof that players didn't live in bubbles. That they could think globally. That they realized the power of their platform and their good fortune. More gratifying, it inaugurated a tradition. Federer and Nadalheadlined a "Hit for Queensland flood relief" exhibition in January. Last week in Miami, players again joined forces, this time to benefit Japan's Disaster Relief. There was a soccer game. There was a dinner. Players went into the stands to solicit funds from fans. Male and female. Stars and journeyfolk. Rookies and veterans. For all the congenital screwiness of tennis, for all the marketing challenges, you see an exhibit like this and it's hard not to feel good about the sport. And if you're interested in contributing here's an option.

2. Not-so-lucky losers. Rough times for the Australian Open finalists. Li Na has done little since her run in Melbourne. In Miami, she went down in her first match to little-known Johanna Larsson. (And the 2010 finalist, Justine Henin, is out of the sport entirely.) More problematic is Andy Murray, a first-round loser to Alex Bogomolov, marking the second straight event in which he's lost to a player outside the top 100. (Which means Murray is now Scottish, not British.) There are, of course, abundant explanations for Murray's slump. He needs to solidify his coaching. He's banged up and overplaying to appease sponsors. His confidence is shot so he lacks the courage to attack. But what about his on-court disposition? Never has such a talented player projected such misery when he performs. This is supposed to be fun, dude. Instead of waiting of until you're winning to show a better attitude, maybe a better attitude would facilitate winning?

3. Woe is U.S. As a few of you have noted, with Andy Roddick's defeat and Venus Williams' absence, there are about to be no Americans -- male or female -- in either top 10. That's dismal. And will surely lead to a round of "What's Wrong with American Tennis" laments and attacks (not altogether unwarranted) on the USTA's player development, such as it is. But here's another spin: saying "there are no Americans in the top 10" is like saying "the AFC Central is really down." It's an artificial distinction that shouldn't really impinge on your enjoyment of the sport overall. At a time when the players come from everywhere, tournaments are held everywhere and Davis Cup is slinking into irrelevance, what purpose do country codes serve anyway? Just enjoy the players and enjoy the tennis. Otherwise -- unless you're Serbian or heavily partial to Spanish men -- you're destined to be disappointed.

Five random points:

• How do we get Gus Johnson to broadcast some tennis?

• Nice event for Kevin Anderson, former Illini star and the brightest South African prospect in a long while. But have you guys seen his backhand? Oy.

• Juan Martin del Potro is a top five player, rankings be damned.

• Nice to see James Blake score a fine win, taking out Tom Bellucci in three sets. Speaking of, Dinara Safina doesn't figure to be a No. 1 player again, but nice to see her back in the business of winning matches.

This piece about former WTA player Heather Conner (nee Crowe) has generated some attention. Sadly, this is hardly an insolated case.

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