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Comparing the Slams, attendance woes in Shanghai, plus more mail

Jon, help! My husband is a crazy tennis nut and has a big birthday coming up next year. I want to surprise him with a trip to a Grand Slam. He's never been to any of them! This is obviously a biggie in every sense. Which one do you recommend?-- M.P., Calif.

• I'm wary of giving these answers because A) there's some serious pressure and B) if I answer truthfully, it will sound like pablum straight from the PR department. But lean in and I'll tell you the dirty truth: It's hard to go wrong attending a Grand Slam.

Each is different -- character, a history, a rhythm of its own. Each is in a different top-flight city and -- rain and Australian heat waves notwithstanding -- the weather is usually quite nice. Each has its own idiosyncrasies. Yet I can't recall ever talking to someone who said, "You know, we went to the U.S. Open and it was blech." Or, "You know, Wimbledon failed to meet my expectation." Or, "That French Open? Overrated."

At a minimum, the majors live up to the hype. More often than not, they exceed it. Plus -- and this goes for all tennis events -- a midweek ticket to a tennis tournament comprises one of the great values in sports. You get eight or so hours and dozens of matches, both genders, some doubles. The ability to talk around and flit in and out of courts is underrated as well.

Where should you take your husband? Depends what you like. If you're desperate to combine with a city experience, you might think about Wimbledon. But especially with traffic, getting into London can be tough. Australia is great when you get there but there's no sugarcoating the flight from the U.S. or Europe. The U.S. Open is busier than the others, which exhilarates some and exhausts/intimidates others. But overall, you'll have a great time. And your husband will be thrilled.

Why doesn't the U.S. Open entertain the idea of rotating cities for the U.S. Open like the golf tournament with the same name? It would make the USTA a lot of money and boost tourism to destinations and cities that could use the collateral revenue brought about by a sudden rush of tourists. It would also expose kids to the game whp would never have seen or felt the "spirit of a major." Who knows, the next great American player might be some kid who never knew tennis was so cool. Your thoughts?-- Oscar Espinosa, Katy, Texas

• I like the idea in theory. (The same way I like the idea of two pro sports teams splitting time between two cities, i.e. the Indiana/Louisville Pacers.) Realistically, you need a permanent site with suites, broadcast facilities, catering, etc. In singles alone, there are 254 matches being played over two weeks. How many other facilities can accommodate that? I do, though, like the idea of a rotating Masters Series event or (biannual) Davis Cup knock-off.

Why is there nobody watching the Shanghai Masters event? When I have watched, it looks like there is about 25 fans in a massive stadium. Are they not into tennis in Shanghai?-- Jeff, Lacey, Wash.

• We discussed this a bit both in the Monday column and on Twitter (oxymoron?) and many of you provided some insight. The site, dazzling as it may be, is an hour from downtown Shanghai. (@exposbabe: An hour out of the city by pubic transportation. You'd have to REALLY love tennis and that demographic isn't there.)

The tennis conflicted with both the calendar and the national ethic. (@NeilHarmanTimes: Chinese holidays ended Sunday. These people work, work, work. No free time.)

The event was hurt by the absence of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. (@AmberRajen: obviously Chinese tennis fans don't want to spend their money on Nadal & Murray.)

Whatever, this looked terrible on television. You could literally count the fans -- on two hands; with fingers left over -- for some matches. And those who were there sure didn't seem to cheer much. Why the organizers didn't paper the town is a mystery. A few hundred schoolkids would have at least improved the atmosphere.

Like most sports, tennis doesn't necessarily need sold-out crowds to succeed. If the sponsors and the television partners are happy, that counts for a lot. Still, I think the folks in Australia -- concerned that Shanghai is angling to supplant the A.O. as the fourth Slam -- can rest easy.

Just a small correction to your response to Kevin Lynch. Federer actually did beat an opponent in less than 60 minutes in a Grand Slam Match. At Wimbledon 2004, he beat Alejandro Falla 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 in 54 minutes. Pretty impressive! By the way, is this the same Kevin Lynch who was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball and led the Gophers to the Elite Eight in Clem Haskins' pre-scandal glory days?-- Andy Bach, Minneapolis

• Good call. And I hadn't even thought of that regarding Kevin Lynch and the Gophers. I used to love that guy. He gave hope to those of us who could scrap a little and knock down an open shot now and then. He even played a little in the NBA.

Another factoid that is relevant to the Roger vs. Rafa GOAT debate -- Rafa is yet to defend a Slam other than the French.-- Ramkumar Subbaraman, Cupertino, Calif.

• Duly noted. But "other than the French" is a pretty big conditional. Nadal has defended that one in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.

If you're trying to show off your '80s bona fides and refer to "katchagoogoo" rather than Kajagoogoo, well, one of your submarines is clearly missing.-- Neil, Toronto

• Touché. (Or too shy?)

I have written this before but wonder why, except for a few women bloggers, there is never any discussion of sexism instead of racism in regard to Serena Williams' actions. Comparisons are always made to white males. MALES. She isn't compared to white FEMALES so that spells sexism to me.-- Sun, Corvallis, Ore.

• I think there's some merit here. How accustomed are we to seeing women in a confrontational context? Reader Michele of New York put it like this: "It's 2011 and we as a society are still not comfortable seeing women get angry anywhere, let alone on a big stage in front of a big audience. Being ladylike is of utmost importance. Heck, isn't it a little nuts that women are wearing dresses and skirts and wearing jewelry and have their nails done while performing such demanding physical tasks? OK, I digress, but still think there's something to be said for the gender bias. Add race into the mix, and you can see why this is endlessly controversial and endlessly fascinating."

I do think it's important to make this point: Were we really comfortable with John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase? Most people found their outbursts and tirades and profanity to be loathsome. The notion that they got a pass is revisionist history. McEnroe, especially. For all those who now like his candor, there are still many who cannot forgive him for his behavior in the early '80s. Again, I think Sun raises an important point. But there were many letters asking, Why was tennis so approving of the bad boys? That simply wasn't the case.

Am I the only one to hear racial overtones in Serena calling the U.S. Open umpire a "hater"? It's a peculiar usage and one that I'm guessing she may have been taught when young as a way to identify and contend with discrimination in an admittedly racist society. It seems to me to have morphed into a rather ugly catch-all for someone who reveals herself by using it to be both narcissistic and paranoid.-- Roger Jones, Waterbury Center, Vt.

• I've shelved the Serena emails for the last few weeks but they keep coming, we'll do a couple this week.

Before it slips my mind, did anyone point out the supreme irony of her telling the umpire, "I hate you" in one breath, and then accusing the umpire of being "a hater" in the next? Anyway, I don't think "hater" necessarily carries racial implications. And we have Mario Lopez to thank for this. (In the end, it always comes back to Saved by the Bell.)

Note that Snookie has #H8ers. So does Kim Kardashian. (My friend Peter King recently wrote that he has haters but prefers to think of them as "disagreers.") I think it's become more of an omnibus term to describe people who begrudge celebrities, their money and fame.

In reading the Steffi Graf piece, what a shame it was that she never did get around to giving back to tennis and the WTA Tour. She was, by and large, an absentee No. 1 player. And while she is respected for her many titles, she is not remembered for her contribution to the sport. Of course, it's nice that she is giving back to her adopted community in conjunction with her husband.-- Patrick Preston, Chicago

• I think you pretty well answered your own question. In retrospect, it's a shame Graf was such a cipher during her heyday. We could debate whether an "absentee" player who merely won relentlessly is really such a crime, but yes, if she'd had a bit more of, say, Andrea Petkovic's extroverted personality and PR instincts, it would have benefited the sport.

But -- largely in conjunction with her husband -- she has certainly compensated in her 30s and 40s. (See an item on Graf below.) Better late than never. She's playing in Halle next year, by the way.

I am mystified by your response to my comment about exhibitions. It is not about "denigrating" them. I frankly do not care about them. All I was saying is that travel time to South America (for instance) is exactly the same, whether you are going there to play five tough tournament matches or just one easy exhibition match. So it is very, very hard for me to take players seriously when they complain about the season being too long, when they choose to play multiple exhibitions in far-flung locales. (I am thinking of the Nadal-Djokovic match in Colombia, in between Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, as a particularly good example).-- Gilbert Benoit , Ottawa, Ontario

• OK, I think that's a fair point. Those are extreme examples, though. A lot of the exhibitions don't require nearly as much travel. Think about the home-and-home swap between Nadal and Federer. Andy Roddick playing in Omaha, Neb., or the Bahamas. Overall, I think this is like comparing a business trip to a vacation.

What in the world is going on with Maria Kirilenko? Did she recently go on a gluten-free diet or something?-- Janet, Rockford, Ill.

• Better. She learned to overcome fear and risk aversion and attack the net. There's a great story here, one worth following in 2012. Kirilenko clearly came to an irreducible conclusion. She could either be a second-tier player simply hanging from the baseline, or she could roll the proverbial dice and try -- and I know you'll pardon the pun -- a more aggressive approach.

I suffered a complete Achilles tendon tear playing tennis a few weeks ago. The recovery is surgery and six-to-nine months of rehab. Not fun when you're 56, but what choice to I have? I'm committed to playing again, whenever that will be. Was wondering: Has any pro tennis player ever suffered the same injury and rejoined the Tour? Can't think of any but NFL and pro soccer players do, one or two a year anyway. David Beckham is the most prominent player who comes to mind.-- John Nissim, Philadelphia

• Ouch. I know various players have had problems with their Achilles, including Pete Sampras. But a complete tear? That's a new one by me, at least vis-à-vis pro players. I did find this though.

Am I going crazy or have there been A LOT of 6-0 sets lately?-- Phillip, Wollongong, Australia

• My gut is that you're right. (Anne Kremer was served a double bagel the other day.) But here's the thing: We need not speculate. Thanks to the upgraded ATP and soon-to-be-upgraded WTA analytics, we'll be able to find out the empirical answer soon.

Nadal and Garcia-Lopez take the court in Shanghai to ... Panama by Van Halen.-- Helen, Philadelphia

• Close enough. They speak Spanish in Panama. Better that than Hot for (Brian) Teacher.

• Glen Janney of Miami: "[Tomas] Berdych's and [Marin] Cilic's results replicate sine curves? Decades after the fact, Mrs. Brink was correct: 9th-grade analytic geometry would come in handy one day. A more humbling collection of mathematical references is found in this old chestnut."

• Andy Fouche of San Jose, Calif: "I was in Las Vegas this past weekend at the Darling Tennis Center playing in a tournament when none other than Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf took center court and hit against an unknown (to me), albeit good player. Come to find out, the guy paid $20K to take a lesson from the two; the money went to Agassi's foundation. They couldn't have been more gracious, talking to fans, taking pictures, signing every last autograph. We were leaving the facility and saw two black Escalades pulling out (the tinted window, bulletproof, celebrity kind), thinking 'There they go, Andre and Steffi.' But no, the humble pair walked out together (alone) and into their normal car about five minutes later, without an entourage and back to their lives. The Escalades, we found out later, belonged to the guy who paid for the lesson. Ha!"

• Heather Crowe Connor writes via Twitter: "Hall of Fame launches review of Hewitt allegations http://bo.st/qf1KdW via @BostonDotCom I haven't been contacted yet. Wonder if I will?"

She also claims that HBO Real Sports is pursuing a piece on this issue.

• We mentioned this the other day but fast-forward to 12:30 and check out this Federer-Nadal conspiracy theory.

Press release: "Tennis Channel and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) have agreed to an extension [through 2023] of Wimbledon Primetime, the network's nightly program that brings its audience the day's best tennis, encore matches, original features and coverage from in and around Wimbledon Village."

• Speaking of Tennis Channel, a fond farewell to Larry Meyers, one of the good guys. He's taking his talents to a regional network in Los Angeles, centered on Lakers games. But he'll sure be missed in tennis.

• Even more Tennis Channel: Look for a "Tennisography" documentary on Esther Vergeer coming soon.

Petko is back. Not sure what we can add here.

• So Sampras and Agassi are officially friends?

Tweeted by Steve Nash: "Dude just asked if I knew Andre Agassi coz he'd like to play tennis w him. He pauses like can u give me his#. Yea right, I'll text it to u".

From the Intercollegiate Tennis Association: "As former ITA All-Americans John Isner and Irina Falconi enjoy breakthrough seasons as professionals, college tennis is gaining momentum as a pathway to the pro Tour. In an effort to further expose fans and future players to the collegiate game, the ITA and USTA launched the 'Adopt-a-Regional' program this fall."

• Cam Williams of Burlington, Vt., has long-lost siblings: Shanghai quarterfinalist Matthew Ebden and actor Tobey Maguire.

Have a great week, everyone!

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