Sunday September 4th, 2011

As a tennis fan I cannot hide my enthusiasm about the 2011 season so far. My compatriot [Novak Djokovic] is No.1 and the level of play of others that other players (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray, Mardy Fish ) has been exceptional. Do you share my opinion that this year is one of the best tennis seasons ever? -- Zeljko Kuzmanovic, Novi Sad

Thanks for this note. It's easy for cynicism to become infectious. Too many players injured. Cable distributors are mistreating the Tennis Channel. The women's game is in disarray. The ATP CEO search is a mess. Take a step back -- especially on a day like this when 60,000 or so fans will converge to watch tennis, and there's plenty to celebrate.

The sport has never been played at a higher level. Serena Williams is back and as comprehensively dominating as ever. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are both still winning. As Zeljko notes, we are witnessing perhaps the greatest season in the history of the men's game. And if you're still not sure what to think of Novak Djokovic as a person, here's a guide.

Yesterday I saw Donald Young pass by Ivo Karlovic in the tunnels. Name me another sport, I thought to myself, that can accommodate, a 5-foot-9 African-American barely of drinking age and a 6-10 thirty-something Croatian. Just a snapshot. But still another reminder that this sport is onto something.

Not a question, just a thank you for your column on the dangers of tennis nostalgia. Even beyond the athletes, it extends to playing style, where serve-and-volley is apparently some sort of panacea, even though today's rackets, strings and courts make dipping, curving passing shots easier than ever, and serve-and-volley a boom-or-bust strategy at best. -- Ben T., Chicago

These laments about serve-and-volleying have become comical. Serving-and-volleying on every point has fallen out of favor not because it's a lost art, or players have become lazy or they're tactically inept. It's become obsolete because it's ineffective. It's tennis' answer to the picket fence. For a variety of reasons -- the strings, the rackets, the faster serves that give deliverer that much time to get netward -- it's simply not a tactic conducive to winning. (Except in doubles where you're only covering half the court.) Listening to some commentators you'd think that there's an easy way to win matches that's going untried because these children today would rather play on their iPads and eat their chalupas than learn how to volley.

What do Caroline Wozniacki, Pam Shriver, and Mary Joe Fernandez have in common? NONE have won a GRAND SLAM! The way that those two commentators speak, makes one think they are jealous because Caroline made it to No. 1 in the world without winning a Slam and they never did either one. I think your readers need reminding of that fact. -- John B., Vermilion, Ohio

I vowed to put this topic on hold but it keeps resurfacing in all sorts of contexts. I don't think you're precluded from having an opinion because you've never won a Slam. And from what little I've heard, Chris Evert, who's won boatloads of Slams. has been vocal about Wozniacki.

As long as we're here, a lot of you asked about Mary Carillo's digs at Justin Gimelstob last week while conferring on Ryan Harrison the nickname "Mr. Crankypants." I like both Mary and Justin and this made for good viewing, though I can understand Justin not appreciating being put under pressure like that. I wish he would have stood his ground, though. His response that he'd didn't want to comment because he "wasn't being paid to be the chair umpire," confused me.

The very nature of a commentator is to give opinions. If we withheld judgment only for those jobs that paid us, only appointed judges would render opinions on guilt or innocence, only paid critics would offer assessments of movies, only meteorologists would speak about the weather. Assuming you feel that way. why not just say: "No, Mary. I don't think there should be punishment for self-flagellation, a victimless crime."

What happened to the Bryan brothers, out in the first round? Regardless of what happens from here, in any division, that has to be the biggest upset of the tournament. -- Jon Thibedeau, Madison, Wisc.

You know how there are codes for various medical maladies when you file paperwork with your insurer? In tennis there should be shorthand (IKS, perhaps) when you flame out of a tournament simply on account of encountering Ivo Karlovic's serve. Bryan Brothers? IKS. Richard Gasquet? IKS.

Why wouldn't Venus just focus on playing doubles with her sister going forward ... enjoying the limelight of the big events without the stress of playing singles. -- John Connor, Buffalo

I can't think of a single Grand Slam champ in the modern era -- much less one as decorated as Venus -- who has forsaken singles to be a doubles specialist.

Tip for whomever gets the opportunity: watch Carla Suarez Navarro. She's tiny, Spanish, just turned 23, and is a match away from her third Slam quarterfinal. Not likely to ever win a major, but she's a funky player in the Francesca Schiavone-school of tennis, and her one-handed backhand is a delight to witness. -- Standish, Lowell, Mass.

Agree. Thanks for that. And glad you brought up. She's been put to pasture as far as court assignments, but from an artistic standpoint you won't do much better here.

In order to get a roof over Arthur Ashe, couldn't the top rows be shaved off? Those seats are the very definition of superfluous, as has been well-documented, regardless of the view they offer of the Manhattan skyline, which of course is a completely misguided defense. The fact that Ashe can hold a bigger crowd than anyone else is hardly a selling point anymore, since the desire for superior scale ultimately transformed it into a venue that is behind the times and spinning its wheels with each passing year. Sure, the cost would be significant -- especially considering the stadium's relative youth -- but obviously SOMETHING has to be done eventually. What's the alternative? -- Marco, Lafayette, La.

I'm way out of my depth here. If you could "shave off" the top section of Ashe as if it were stubble, I'd be all for it. But I have no idea if that's structurally feasible. If anyone with expertise wants to weigh in, we'd be much obliged.

The Boston Globe takes a stand on this tennis scandal.

The fiercest battle of the U.S. Open pits Tennis Channel against Cablevision and Fios.

• Reigning Barclays ATP World Tour Finals champion Federer is the fourth player to qualify for the season finale, to be held November 20-27 at The O2 in London, featuring the world's top eight players. After advancing to the fourth round at the US Open on Saturday, Federer joins Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray as the other qualifiers.

• Note to several of you commenting on Shriver's treatment of Sloane Stevens during the Shahar Peer match: I didn't see it, so I really can't comment. If someone get me a link we'll go from there.

• Danielle Johnson of Charleston, S.C. has look-alike: Victoria Azarenka and Heather Morris of Glee fame.

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