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Union talk, Isner's baby fat, dearth of five-set matches, more mail

Some second screen reading ...

I'm surprised that in your response defending the need for a players' union, you didn't mention what seems an obvious point: the players are not all millionaire athletes living the good life. They work hard in a job that leaves them prone to injury, at which point they may have unlimited "sick leave," but unless they have sponsors, it's unpaid. They don't have vacation in a tour with mandatory events or, if they are lower ranked, the need to play as much as possible to earn points and money. They spend their time traveling all around the world and living in hotels, and then, when most of us are just getting our teeth into our chosen field, they are suddenly too old to keep it up and retire, needing either to have enough money for the next 60 years or to find a new job. Presumably, most of them like what they do, but it's no fairy tale. Don't let corporate hatred of unions vilify athletes who should have a right to defend their own interests. Also, I am offended that you didn't pick me to win the men's title, for the gazillionth time in a row. You obviously have a bias against women, white people, Americans, and people with no actual talent or skills on court.--Nikki, St. Louis

• I'm happy to have a broader discussion about labor and labor law another time. (N.B.: Read Joel Klein's essay on the teachers union in the most recent Atlantic.) But even in a labor market that involves a unique skill -- and thus workers who can't be easily replaced -- I think the existence of a union serves BOTH employees and employers.

Just for fun, let's play this out. In the absence of representation, what would tennis look like? I suspect that draws would be slashed. So would work conditions. (You think the promoters would feed all the players, put them up at hotels, build on-site workout facilities, etc., if they didn't have to?) Sessions would be reduced. Doubles might cease to exist altogether. And the wages of most players would be shredded. Except for select few, who could command top dollar. Promoters would say: "Roger Federer sells tickets; Victor Hanescu does not. And Victor Hanescu has no real alternative market. I'm turning my tournament into a weekend exhibition. I still get the sponsors and television money. I'm paying Roger Federer a $3 million fee. I'm paying three other guys $10K apiece, take it or leave it."

When the players have representation, there are standard purses (wages) and draw sizes (job opportunities). Yes, the top players subsidize their colleagues -- making it ironic that Federer and Nadal, etc., serve on the player council when their interests hardly mirror those of a guy ranked No. 50. But you could argue that Federer is Federer because there's heft to being the best in a real circuit. What would his achievements mean, if he were simply the King of the Weekend Exhibitions? And you even argue that his endorsement incomes in part because his winning has substance.

As for the promoters, yes, they pay for a lot journeymen and women who offer no ROI. But the negotiated purses give them some cost certainty, guarantees them a certain field and is a buffer against the leverage (extortion?) of the top players. Tomorrow we can talk about the distortion of appearance fees ...

Could you please either tweet or include in your next baguette the link for transcripts for RG? I can only find the videos, which are just clips from the pressers. Thanks.--Annette, Oakland, Calif.

• A number of you mentioned this. I'm not sure why transcripts aren't posting, either on the French Open site or on www.asapsports.com. Somehow I'll be sure and get you the Virginia Razzano exchange which was almost unendurably touching.

Will my favorite individual athlete (Novak Djokovic) finish 2011 with more wins than my favorite team (Minnesota Twins)?--Joe, Eau Claire, Wisc.

• When is Joe Mauer returning?

I don't remember if it was you or another SI writer who wrote a few weeks back that the Russian women were no longer a force because for the first time in years there wasn't a single one of them rated in the top 10. I wrote back that this was just a temporary lapse that would soon be corrected. I just saw that Russian women are now safely ensconced at Nos. 3 and 7 and probably will continue to rise. Do you agree that Russian women's tennis is still a major force and the story about its demise was premature?--Randy Mayes, Bradford, Pa.

• I'm not entirely sure what you're referring to. Certainly there are still formidable Russians, including Zvonareva and (ahem) Sharapova. The "Russian Revolution" as the WTA billed it in 2001, may have been hyperbole. There was a wave of players. But combined, Dementieva, Myskina, Zvonareva, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Petrova, et al., won fewer Slams than a pair of Belgians. I think what I once wrote is that, scanning the current junior rankings, this heavy concentration of Russians in the top 10 appears to be a one-generation phenomenon.

Speaking of Russians, we would be remiss in failing to point out that Anna Kournikova, now 29, has joined The Biggest Loser.

Are there some sort of stats on the total number of five set matches in the first rounds of majors? By my count, out of 64 first-round matches on the men's side, only seven went the distance. And this is on clay! At the famed "get-ready-for-tough-long-grinding-matches" Grand Slam! That seems like some sort of record low to me. Perhaps even more interesting, three of these five-setters involved not journeymen roughing it out for a golden chance at the second round but top players (Nadal, Berdych and Almagro). Should we just blame it on the balls?--Robert B., Melbourne, Fla.

• We're blaming it all on the balls. The rain showers. The galling absence of fans for some matches. The inexplicable firing of Rich Cho. Icelandic volcanoes. Damn you, Babolat! As for the five-setters, I'd be interested in knowing, as a matter of random chance, what percent of best-of-five matches go the distances. Seven out of 64 seems awfully low. But let's see if that changes by tournament's end.

How about props to John Isner for losing his belly fat? He ought to do serious damage at Wimbledon this year, no?--Keith Haley, New York

• Provided he can play fewer than 183 games in his first match. But wait. We seem to have some disagreement about his physique.

How about pointing out the baby fat on John Isner? Or do you bash on non-Americans only?--Meghan Ahern, New York

Abs Isner?

• Dave of Cleveland: "Regarding the controversy over 'Adje' vs 'Ajde,' and feel free to check this with your Serb fans, a quick look at an online bilingual dictionary shows the Serb-Croat word is "Hajde!" It's pronounced HIGH-deh. Thanks."

• 2010 US Open National Playoffs men's champion Blake Strode moved one step closer to defending his title after winning the singles draw at USTA New England Sectional Qualifying Tournament at the Yale University Tennis Center in West Haven, Conn., this weekend. Strode also captured the mixed doubles title with fellow St. Louis native Whitney Jones. Strode, 23, won six singles matches in West Haven without dropping a set, defeating former Massachusetts Institute of Technology standout Evan Tindell, 6-1, 6-4, in the final. Last year, Strode won nine matches (five at the USTA Southwest sectional event and four in the US Open National Playoffs -- Men's Championships) to claim the U.S. Open National Playoffs title and earn a wild card into the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament, where he reached the second round. In 2009, Strode chose to defer Harvard Law School to pursue his dream of playing professional tennis and won the USTA Pro Circuit $10,000 Futures in Joplin, Mo., for his first pro title. Strode was a standout player for the University of Arkansas and was also named the national recipient of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship in 2009. He is a product of his local National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) program in Ferguson, Mo.

• A good read for the next changeover. Nice call, Jim Courier and Iron Mike Tollin.

• Two cancer survivors in the doubles draw worth supporting: Lucas Arnold Ker and Sandra Klemenschits.

• Sam Querrey commits to play the Campbell's Newport event. For additional information, visit http://www.tennisfame.com/.

• Here are some of my pre-tournament thoughts.

• Scott Humphrey of Pflugerville, Texas: "Not a question, just an observation. In the women's draw, three out of the top five seeds (Clijsters, Zvonareva and Schiavone) as well as two other women in the draw (Kuznetsova and Petrova) have reached the singles and doubles quarterfinals of every major event at least once. In the men's draw, not a single player has accomplished this feat."

• You guys are all over Nadal this week ... Sam of San Diego writes: "Rafa Nadal is rather unique looking. Not even his father, mother, or uncle Tony resembles him. But we have finally found Rafa Nadal's twin brother separated at birth, Ben F. of ABC's Bachelorette Season 7."

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