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Mailbag: Prize-money increases as news, Donald Young fallout, more

Why do Wimbledon and the other slams keep making announcements every year that they raised the prize money, isn't that a given at this point? And do we really care to know how many millions it's going to be? This must be the only sport where they announce prize money as some sort of PR move.--Patrick, New York

• You could disagree and say that in most sports, teams do disclose their payroll, especially when it's advantageous. But leaving that aside, why do the majors do it? Yes, because it's good publicity, an easy press release months in advance of the event. But also because they're worried players will start to look at the prize money not in absolute terms, but as a function of gross revenue. So when tournaments issue a self-congratulatory announcement, "Prize money is up six percent!" it distracts players from saying, "Yeah, but it's still a pittance of the overall cash you bring in."

Otherwise, the players might recognize the inequity (and iniquity) of the arrangement as well as the ineffectiveness of the Tour board structure. They might then show uncommon solidarity, unionize, demanding a bigger slice of pie and expressing concern that they are bankrolling a property in which they have no vested interest. The players might threaten to strike. Or they might seek relief on anti-trust grounds, venue shopping for a pro-labor judge, receiving contradictory judicial directives, and finally reaching an agreement shortly before games are cancelled and the golden (bronze?) goose is officially cooked.

And apart from being gauche and disingenuous, aren't prize money "increase" announcements generally rendered irrelevant by fluctuations in the currency markets, anyway? If the dollar is at .8 against the Euro one year, and it's .67 against the Euro the next year, doesn't that mean much more to most players than a nominal increase in the purse?

Your comment on Donald Young's race amounts to a statement that you would treat a white person less favourably in the same circumstances. That makes you racist. I suggest you think things through and rediscover what fairness means, stripped of PC dogma.--Philip Cronin, Bedford, England

• I was surprised how many of you took issue with that and leveled the political-correctness charge. My instincts say to leave this alone, but in the spirit of having open dialogue about race, as a certain Hawaiian-American puts it, here goes. Prelude: I certainly don't want to imply that there is/was anything sinister going on or that anyone other than Young -- who's since apologized -- behaved objectively. Is race the engine driving this narrative? No. Is the "race card" being played? No. But is race part of this story? No question.

First, let's consider the larger context. For years, tennis has openly -- and admirably -- talked about expanding the demographic, attracting athletic kids who are more likely to gravitate to other sports. True, the two dominant forces on the women's side are African-American, but they haven't exactly been cheerleaders for the U.S. tennis establishment and they even boycott one of the three biggest American tournaments after an alleged racial incident. Meanwhile the previous Fed Cup coach, an African-American, was relieved of her duties and filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the USTA. An employee claims he was passed over for a promotion as Director of Tennis at the National Tennis Center because of bias. Two umpires filed similar suits. For more than a decade, William Washington, father of Mal and Mashona, has been sending around vitriolic emails, claiming that "exclusionary bias" has killed off black tennis. Some of these allegations are baseless and don't deserve the dignity of a response; some of them have a bit more merit. But they're out there, they come up in conversation and, in some corners, they color perception.

Along comes an African-American kid from Chicago with lightning speed, great hands, plus he's a lefty. The kid has barely hit puberty and IMG jumps into the fray. Nike opens its vault. The USTA pledges its support. The ATP wild cards come fast and furious. Ask yourself: if Young is posting similar results but is a suburban white kid from say, Omaha, is he being greeted with this kind of enthusiasm? When he then fails to live up to his hype/potential, does he keep getting so many additional chances? When he fails to accept the suggestion that he upgrade his coaching situation, does the USTA continue, if grudgingly, to give support? When he vents his frustration in a profane, hot-headed tweet, does the USTA organize an impromptu press conference to rebut the charges, the clear subtext being: we need to cut off any potential messiness and stress that, far from being "screwed," this kid was given MORE opportunity than similarly situated players?

For years. the USTA has openly pushed for Young, and at best, the motives are pure. At worst, the motives come from a place of marketing and commerce. But so what? Doesn't this happens all the time? Kei Nishikori just got a wild card into the Barcelona event. Is this solely because he was the most deserving player on merit, the best clay-courter who didn't get into the main draw? Or did his Japanese provenance -- and the fact that his success could open up a whole market and demographic -- factor into the equation, too? (To Phil's question, do players of one heritage receive treatment less favorable than players of another heritage? Yes! Happens all the time!)

Anyway, again, I think the USTA has acted completely appropriately here. Young didn't get a raw deal. Anything but. There are countless players who would have killed for opportunities (and coaching and grants) Young has been given. The USTA is entitled to be upset and defensive when a player it has support generously -- necessarily at the exclusion of others -- insists of self-sabotaging. It is entitled to defend itself when he denigrates the organization. None of this means, though, that issues of race aren't embedded in this story.

Regarding analytics: If you're considering taking an extreme tactical position based on the limited data available in tennis, a player who holds serve a disproportionate amount of the time is better off being extreme while returning serve. Why not be hyper-aggressive when returning serve as opposed to risking throwing in three double faults in one game and handing a service break? Serving 34 aces and six double faults in a match looks great on paper but it's costly if you hit three doubles in a game twice in a match. On the other hand, free-wheeling it while returning works if you are able to string two or three shots together once a set. It worked pretty well for a guy in the '90s.--Pistol, Los Angeles

• Great point. Players always say things like, "I have to serve aggressively." But, really, don't they have to return more aggressively? Why not go for the lines on the games you're NOT statistically likely to win?

I'm recognizing that a lot of you share my fondness for analytics. If you have more tennis ideas, I'm always happy to entertain.

Tangential note: in the past few months I've gotten calls from students at two top business schools doing a case study on a favorite topic of ours: how do events ensure that ticket-paying customers actually show up, obviating the ugly oceans of unfilled courtside seats that pock too many events? The television partners hate it -- it makes the event look irrelevant -- and the tournaments essentially say, "The people have paid for their boxes. We have our revenue. We can't force them to sit in their seats."

Here's my suggestion. Tours and events are free to use this: set up a FourSquare type program that enables fans to "check in" mobile-style when they arrive at their seats. Fans who actually sit in the seats they paid for -- counterintuitive, I know -- accumulate points for prizes like player autographs, T-shirts and discounts on merchandise. The program is cheap and easy. The TV partners are happy. The fans are incentivized. The tournaments not only appease the TV partners but have another way to connect with their best fans. Bingo.

Does becoming a tennis television commentator require one to sign an affidavit denouncing proper grammar? I mean, I understand that to reach the top, you need to play really aggressive, but really ... ?? By the way, the players (many of whom have proven themselves intelligent in other measures) share the custom.--Katie Mosack, Milwaukee, Wisc.

• Asking television commentators for perfect grammar is like asking high school English teachers for perfect postmatch analysis. As long as we're ranting about rhetorical devices, here are two currents gripes of mine. One is the dictatorial "listen/look" and "OK?" As in: "Listen, the sun comes up in the east, OK?" I'm going to pick on Patrick McEnroe -- a great guy and, in other respects, a great communicator. I read his transcript of the Donald Young conference call and felt like I was being scolded.

Q: I would think it would be difficult to deal with your own coaches telling Donald what to do and having his parents tell him something different.

McEnroe: Look, as I said earlier, we run into that with individual coaches, OK?

Um, OK.

If you're in a verbal confrontation, you implore someone to "listen" and emphasize your point with "OK." If you're trying to sway public opinion, it sounds defensive and patronizing. The more delicate "right," emphasizing agreement, will do the trick. "The sun comes up in the east, right?"

I view the ridiculous grunting of the WTA players as nothing short of theft. Players are playing for money. Someone shrieking as a deliberate way to win is cheating. With money being the payoff for matches, players are winning matches they shouldn't and these undeserved wins results in giving money to players who wouldn't have otherwise won. That's theft. Let's call it what it is.--Eileen, Pittsburgh

• Again, in the past, I dismissed this as a non-issue. But both the volume and passion of your mail has convinced me that this is a serious problem for the WTA. It will be interesting to see how/if this is confronted.

Look, I don't envy the suits here, OK? Demanding silence from the players is unreasonable. We're going to turn this into a circus if we're using volume and decibels as the gauge. The double-standard police is already having a field day. ("How come you're picking on Player X and not mentioning Player Y?") I think the way to attack this is through "shriek duration." Grunt while you're hitting the ball and it's one thing; continue your warbling as your opponent is lining up her shot, and now you're really affecting play.

Another option, of course, is appealing to reason and sportsmanship. "Hey, guys. This is really creating an image issue. Before we take formal steps and deduct points, would you mind taking one for the team here, and dialing it down? That would help us all, right?"

Why didn't we see Julia Goerges before? She is 22 already. Finally somebody who has figured out how to play against Miss Moonball? Which brings me to my actual question: Are the ladies now putting in extra training how to counter moonballs, or (heaven forbid) use them more often themselves? If it works for Woz, then ...--Don, UK

• A shout out to Lisa Raymond, who called Goerges to my attention at least a year ago. ("This girl is good! She hits as hard as anyone!") If this isn't exactly the Steffi Graf-Boris Becker, suddenly we have a nice little boomlet for German tennis. Why didn't we see Goerges before? I suppose it's like Petkovic: some players are late bloomers, especially when they don't have a management agency or Grand Slam wild cards to serve as a catalyst. (Note: it's not spelled Georges or Gorgeous.)

I just read a question from a reader asking if Sharapova and Nadal are responsible for "come on." Really? I can very well remember Lleyton Hewitt yelling that in his Australian accent during his matches and I'm sure he wasn't the first. Why are people turning on Nadal?--Rose McLennan, Getzville, N.Y.

• Watch the Connors-Krickstein match -- wait, this is the 20th anniversary ... why, they might replay that match once or twice come U.S. Open time -- and we can even predate Lleyton Hewitt.

I've been blown away by the wind discussion. Mail continues to breeze in:

• Lacey of Greenville, S.C.: "About the wind question: I am surprised memories are so short in the tennis world! Granted, this example wasn't because it was too windy to play so much as because it was so windy that the stadium was flying apart, but I think it qualifies."

• Kevin of Los Angeles recalls this from 2002: "At Indian Wells: Desert winds stirred up sand and emotions yesterday but most of the top seeds weathered the storm to reach the third round of the ATP Tennis Masters Series event. 'It's way too much,' said seventh seed Marat Safin of Russia. 'I think they have to make a rule that when it's too much wind you cannot play.'"

• Thanks to Raul Amezquita of Evanston, Ill., this week's winner in the unofficial "Waxing Rhapsodic About Federer's 'Decline,' Such As It Is" contest: "What we tennis fans in general and Roger's fans in particular feel is a sense of profound loss after having been witnesses to the greatest and probably most spectacular player of all time. Roger would amaze us point after point, match after match. Agassi, Nadal, Blake, Davydenko, Djokovic, etc. All those players at some point during a match against Federer would look at him in awe, clapping in disbelief after an spectacular shot by Federer. Yes, there is LeBron and Rose after Michael Jordan ... and there is Nadal and Djokovic after Roger ... but the tennis world will be left with gigantic shoes to fill in terms of sports-as-entertainment (shot between the legs at U.S. Open semifinal), sportsmanship (remember when he visited Blake in an Italian hospital after he injured his neck?), grace (not getting into the Tiger Woods controversy at all), social responsibility (his foundation in South Africa and many charitable events). He is still around, probably for a few more years, but I already miss him."

• One of you saw A. Kuznetsov (RUS) on a score and wondered if it were Alex Kuznetsov, the one-time American prospect, and had he emigrated. No, it's Andrey Kuznetsov who is from Russia and a former junior Wimbledon champion. Sharko confirms so it must be thus.

• Continuing Twitter discussion: assuming Nadal makes a deep run at Wimbledon, what are the odds he plays Davis Cup in Austin the following week, risking injury, fatigue and the ghosts in the Driskill?

• Tennis fan and loyal reader Stelio Stavante: "I hope you can make it to New York this September for our performance. Look at the cast I'll be working with."

• Fritz Buehning has been named coach of the 2011 New York Sportimes.

• Phil of Washington, D.C. notes the similarity between Stan Wawrinka and the Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol.

• Loyal reader Helen of Philly notes: "Long-lost Mod Squad: Gael Monfils on the left,and Andy Murray circa Wimbledon 2011 on the right. Is that Klara Zakopalova between them, or perhaps a blonde Jelena Jankovic?"

Have a great week everyone!


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