Wednesday November 23rd, 2011

A quick bag before the break. Happy Thanksgiving everyone...

I never thought I would say this (at least not in 2011) especially because I am a huge Rafa fan. But if we're playing "buy, sell, hold" I have to think seriously about selling Rafael Nadal. Thoughts, Jon? -- Tom L., London

• I feel like I need to time-stamp this column. I'm writing this on Tuesday night. Nadal is a few hours removed from mustering three measly games against Roger Federer. This comes on the heels of some tired and uninspired tennis from Nadal, a year of futility against Novak Djokovic and the usual litany of injuries and ailments.

A year ago this week, I went to London to write an appreciation of Nadal, hailing a player who won three Grand Slams in 2010 and looked to challenge Federer's GOAT status. While his 2011 was hardly disastrous (how many players would sell their siblings into slavery to win a Slam and reach the final of two others?) there is an unmistakable sense of regression here.

But sell Nadal? No. As on Wall Street, it's too easy to get burned chasing returns in tennis, backing hot players and dumping cold ones. Nadal is the blue chip position; he will have a few rough quarters and may even lose market share. But he is a solid investment over the long haul. And if you look at his performance over the years, he ALWAYS drops off in the second half. (To wit: He has NEVER won the year-end championships.)

You're within your rights to express concern about his current yield. You're within your rights to worry about his infrastructure (i.e. his body; and yes, we're beating this investment analogy to an undignified death here.) But go long-term and don't dump your shares quite yet.

Maybe I've missed something along the way, but has Kim Clijsters quietly gone back into retirement? Last I heard she was injured, but that was a while ago. -- Vicki, Waretown, N.J.

• Quoting from from Clijsters' Website.

Hello all,

I am currently preparing for the Diamond Games (on December 8 at the Antwerp Sportpaleis) and the new season. And things go very well so far. We've added a lot of volume to my base training and worked on power, endurance and speed training. In the meantime I started playing tennis 3 to 4 times each week, with Carl (Maes) and my new sparring partner Stefan Wauters. We have worked hard, but with a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.

The recent injuries are doing fine too: both the right foot as the stomach muscles respond very well to the efforts. I maintain some of my recovery exercises, especially for the abdominal muscles. The next couple of weeks my training sessions will include ever more tennis hours. The way things progress now, I feel that I am will be ready by the time of the Diamond Games! "On 1 January 2012 my season will start at the Brisbane tournament."

In the last couple of weeks I have been home a lot. The school has started again for Jada. With of course the minor ailments and colds that come with it. Every weekend I follow Brian and the basketball team he coaches. We have seen a lot relatives and I have been trying new recipes in the kitchen. For the first time I worked closely with my dietitian aiming at optimizing my diet during the build up to training sessions: which substances and in which quantities for longer endurance training, which for shorter ones... and I feel the difference! I keep on learning all the time ;-)

See you soon,

Kim

I wish I could tell you that I witnessed Wilt the Stilt adding to his 20,000 victories somewhere behind the stringing shed outside of Louis Armstrong, but that's not the case. Here's the story:

I was in New York for the 1990 U.S. Open. My 3 brothers and I got tickets during the first week of action. One of the afternoons we were there, all four of us were standing outside of one of the back courts, close to the concessions area, and trying to decide which match we should watch next. One of my brothers says, 'Wow, look how tall that guy is.' About 100 feet away we see this huge guy striding along by himself. Another one of my brothers says 'Hey! That's Wilt Chamberlain!' So, two of us run over there to say hello. We respectfully approach him, stick out our hands to shake, and say, 'Hey Wilt, what's up? How you doing?' He doesn't say a word, doesn't extend his hand, doesn't even nod his head. In fact never breaks his stride. He just keeps walking. It's like we were never there. Completely ignored. We still laugh about that story today. We wear it as a badge of honor -- getting shunned by the Big Dipper at the U.S. Open. We don't blame him for not wanting to be bothered.

It's one of those small but great little stories to tell. BTW, when we got back to our other two brothers and told them the details of what happened - one of them said 'I know how you would have gotten a response from him... just say 'Hey Bill Russell' or 'What's up Kareem?' Thoughts on the story?? -- Kevin Lynch, Eden Prairie, Minn.

• Great story. (For the late arriving crowd, Kevin is a former NBA player but, unapologetically, prefers tennis to basketball.) This reminds me, I have some left-over swag from 2011 that I am duty-bound to disown. Contest time. Give me your best "Encounters with a pro tennis player" stories. Winners get a Dunlop bag, et al.

What's wrong with this picture??!? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is listed at 6-foot-2, as is Tony Parker. Federer is listed at 6-foot-1. Does Roger have lifts in his shoes or extra product in his hair? -- Helen, Philadelphia

• Readers of a certain age and sensibility will recall how the movie character Fletch was "6-5, but 6-9 with the afro." I suspect Federer gets a couple extra inches, thanks to the handiwork of Frederic Fekkai.

Hi Jon, sorry if I missed something, but has anyone noticed rise of Janko Tipsarevic in the Top 10? He had some photo finish of the season. -- Zeljko Kuzmanovic, Novi Sad, Serbia

• Right. He's like the Serbian Mardy Fish.

Who gets your vote for Most Talented Player Never to Become No. 1? My vote goes to the talented, athletic, powerful ... and ultimately frustrating Svetlana Kuznetsova. -- Jason, Leander, Texas

• I like that. For as often as we discuss the best player never to have won a major (hereinafter BPNTHWAM) what about the BPNTHTTR (best player never to hold the top ranking)? Kuznetsova, a multiple Slam winner, ranks high. How about Mary Pierce, who peaked at No. 3?

Jon, this is the second time I'm asking this. Please honor it before the ATP season closes. Please write about the wonderful ATP commentary team of Robbie Koenig, Doug Adler, Nick Wilkinson, Sam and others. I'm sure there are many (like me) who are awestruck by their brilliance and what a dream-job they hold, indeed! For me, their commentary epitomizes tennis at its Best. -- Sarathy, India

• Amen. Though check your "sent" folder, Sarathy. I cannot believe I received a previous email praising Robbie Koenig and I let it slip through the Mailbag filter.

We often hear commentators say that so and so has a live arm but never any explanation as to what exactly characterizes a ''live arm.'' I'd be curious to hear the opinion of a Tour player of what it is to have a ''live arm'' and who are the ones with exceptionally lively arms. Thanks -- Max, Montreal

• Think Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham. Or Aroldis Chapman. Or Andy Roddick circa 2002. My strong suspicion is that we can blame/credit Brad Gilbert for visiting this term on us. A "live arm" is basically a strong thrower or server who, unencumbered by age, can simply chuck lasers without thinking about stretching or warming up or thinking much about it.

Thoughts on Maryland dumping men's tennis? Heard it may be a done deal. -- Anthony, via Twitter

• You're the Maryland athletic director. You are facing a budget crisis (or a Title IX crisis), and may need to cut a program. Whereas other programs accommodate in-state students -- which is to say, the scion of taxpayers -- this is the make-up of the men's tennis roster.

Your decision just got a lot easier. I can't figure out why so many college coaches recruit heavily outside the U.S. Maryland, we hasten to add, isn't the only culprit here. We're all for internationalization and I realize there's pressure to win. But when seven of the ten players on the roster are from outside the United States, at a minimum, you are contravening the spirit of the law, if not the letter. You are imperiling the program. You are helping to imperil junior tennis. ("Hell, if my odds of a scholarship are almost nil because I'm competing for a spot against a 23-year-old Slovak who's already winning ATP points, I may as well try a different sport.")

I want to be clear: I'm not proposing a ban on colleges recruiting internationally. But just as European basketball teams limit the number of Americans on the roster -- which is why not every NBA player will be playing during the lockout -- college tennis leaders need to establish a policy here.

Andre Agassi is definitely not a racist, but that doesn't mean he always makes the right decisions. Black face is not appropriate in this day and age, even on Halloween. Unforced error. Most people would not even consider doing this for Halloween. Would you tape your eyes back and dress up like Yao Ming? Come on! -- Patrick Preston, Chicago, Ill.

• If there's one person who doesn't a need a defense versus charges of racism, it's probably Agassi. But here's my take: It was a regrettable costume, an unforced error as Patrick puts it. I'd submit, however, that there's a difference between dressing up in generic "black face," and dressing up as a specific character -- in this case, Mr. T. -- who happens to be African-American. Next year, maybe he simply stands at the door, holding a digital camera and passing out miniature Three Musketeers bars.

Seriously? It's not PC to show Arthur Ashe in an afro? Have you seen pictures of him hoisting the Wimbledon trophy? -- Barbara Beck, Rochester, Minn.

• As long as we're having frank conversations about race... Last week I wrote:

"While I'm not sure the Arthur Ashe afro or the Asian Michael Chang passes political correctness standards, damn, this is a great tennis commercial."

A few of you, like Barbara, wondered what was wrong with posing the kid in the Ashe afro wig, especially since that's how Ashe wore his hair at the time. My "un-P.C." radar beeped here. But now that I'm being called on it, I'm not altogether sure why. If anyone wants to convince me otherwise (or help me articulate my uneasiness), feel free.

I was relieved to see your attitude about young women in power relationships since your daughter will be starting soon at the university where I teach. Don't worry, I will give her plenty of extra help. I know this seems problematic but she is of age and what's a university to do? I was a little jealous of her tennis coach but when I heard she will be No. 1 it made it worth it. What? You say he and I will be fired because the university has rules against this? But what's the WTA to do? -- Charles, Princeton, N.J.

• Your analogy fails. (And not simply because my daughter is eight.) You are an employee of a university, which is free to craft rules against student-teacher relationships. In the case of a young tennis player, she is the employer and the coach is the employee. Players are individual contractors and the WTA is merely the circuit that cobbles together tournaments, sets the rankings, establishes rules for competition, establishes anti-doping protocol, etc. If there's any sexual activity with a minor or absent consent, it's one thing. If a player over 18 wants to have a consensual relationship with her coach -- however inadvisable that may be -- I'm not sure the WTA has any standing to stop it.

I think we're all in agreement that player-coach relationships are problematic. But conventional workplace policies and rules don't really apply to the model. The WTA has done a fine job educating players and even establishing a code of conduct for coaches. (I had breakfast with a veteran player this morning who tells me the situation is "not nearly as bad now as it was when I started on the Tour.") But I think that if the WTA were to announce a blanket policy banning these relationships -- apart from striking an anti-feminist chord -- it might not hold up in court.

Hey Jon, Both Kimiko Date-Krumm and Thomas Muster made recent returns to the sport after over a decade-long break. Why do you think Muster had so little success while Date-Krumm is playing as if she never left? Is the men's game that much more tough and physical? -- Ryan, Denver, Colo.

• Right. No question that men's game is much more physical than the women's, making a comeback at the age of 40-plus much more difficult. But let's give Date-Krumm her due here, rather than impugn women's tennis. It wasn't like she got up off her couch, swallowed her last bite of chalupa, and decided she could still be a pro player. She is insanely fit -- she ran the London Marathon in under 3:30 last year for heaven's sake! -- and her successful comeback is a tribute to her hard work.

What?! No comments about grunting? I was counting on you to keep the pressure on the WTA. They just don't get it. Please don't abandon the fight, Jon! -- Peter, Miami

• I feel like the guy at a churrascaria putting down the red doily-coaster thingy. I'm stuffed. Basta. Tapping out for a while here. We'll take up the fight in due time. But let's take a break from the carnage.

I'm a huge tennis fan, but enough whining from male tennis players about their schedule! Please! Get a job on an assembly line and have three weeks of holidays a year, and then go back to playing tennis with a little perspective. -- Carl Muller, Ancaster, Ontario

• I put this in the "just because I don't have cancer doesn't mean I can't complain about my migraine" category. The players aren't mining coal or working the blast furnace. That's true. That doesn't mean they forfeit the right to seek better working conditions.

• A former top-five ATP player who will go nameless writes: "Just reading your mailbag and came to calendar length question between ATP and WTA. You didn't want to mention that there are a shortage of tournaments in the WTA and therefore shortening the calendar is a necessity...not really a choice?"

• Stephanie of, Boise, ID: "It seems ironic to me that John Isner wasn't selected to be on the Davis Cup team in July yet beat both Lopez and Ferrer this week to reach his first Masters' quarter and semi-final. Yet, it was taking a wildcard into Newport and replacing Mardy Fish because Mardy was selected to play Davis Cup that turned John's season around."

• The USTA announced the city of Cayce, S.C., located in the metro area of Columbia, has been selected to host the 2012 and 2013 USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships.

• Congrats to Canada's Milos Raonic for winning ATP's Newcomer of the Year for 2011.

• People helping people. The WTA made a donation of $25,000 to USANA Health Sciences' "Ace Out Hunger" program, a charity that raises money for some of the world's neediest children.

• I feel like we answered this already but if not, Krzysztof of Suchy Las, Poland explains the mystery of Wozniacki's prize money: "It is just WTA year end bonus for top 10 players. Other players who started 2011 in top 10 also got extra money. The amount depends on the ranking position at the beginnig of 2011 and number of obligatory tournaments entered in current year. So what's the prize? ;) Cheers."

• More awards. Wozniacki has been named the winner of the Diamond ACES Award for the 2011 season, given to the player who consistently goes above and beyond in promoting the sport of women's tennis.

• Good luck to Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who will make his debut on the ATP Champions Tour at the AEGON Masters Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall next month.

• Want to support a good cause and get some cool gear from players? Bid in a "locker auction" (signed racquets, clothing and shoes, personal items such as signed autobiographies, calendars, photographs and more) during the course of the World Tour Finals in London.

• Grigor Dimitrov and Peter McNamara have decided in an amicable way to stop their coaching relationship.

• I guess some of the Chris Evert links may not have worked. Check out all the details on her charity, the auction, etc. here.

Good Q&A with Agassi here.

• Richard Lim of Winnipeg, Manitoba: "Jon, I hate to take you to task for a writing blunder..but I cannot abide this nonsensical phrase: "the proverbial proof is in the proverbial pudding." Please think of the children, and do your part to eradicate the incorrect quoting of the actual expression, "the proof of the pudding is in the taste." Society thanks you!"

• Jesse of Minneapolis: Want a better Novak Djokovic look-a-like? Actor Justin Bartha.

Have a good week, everyone! AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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