Wednesday January 18th, 2012

As a Caroline Wozniacki fan, I'm fed up with the constant disrespectful treatment she gets simply because she had the gall(!) to reach No. 1 before winning a major. Do you think she deserves to treated in such a manner? I don't. -- Keith Jacobson, Minneapolis, MN

• Yes and no.

It's a Grand Slam, which means it's open season on Wozniacki. One of you claimed she is "the Mitt Romney of the WTA." I took this to mean she is the leading candidate no one wants, a figure who has the top spot only because more qualified and popular candidates aren't committed to the race. I gather Pat McEnroe was latest to spray shrapnel. According to Bruce Jenkins, McEnroe said on air: "The fact that she's No. 1 is really just a joke. I'll bet she'll be much happier, more relieved, when she falls out of No. 1 and the pressure's off. Can someone just win this title and become No. 1? Please? I can't take it any more." Ouch.

I can't take this anymore. When do we acknowledge that Wozniacki did not get her exalted ranking because she won a lottery, because she has a Super PAC or because of nepotism? She achieved it with consistency and professionalism and by winning a lot of tennis matches -- 125 over the last two seasons (62 in 2012, 63 in '11 -- both WTA-leading figures).

We all know about her deficiencies. How are about a nod to her assets? On a day when Mardy Fish lost prematurely at still another Grand Slam -- an angry loss to journeyman Alejandro Falla, a match Fish simply has to win if he wants his ranking to have gravitas -- and a day after Sam Stosur went down in flames, Wozniacki grinded through Anna Tatishvili on Hisense. It was a display of neither grace nor power; but it was a battle, precisely the kind that other players don't win.

There is something undeniably uncomfortable about having the top-ranked player fail to do so much as reach a Grand Slam final during her reign at No. 1. No one disputes that. And giving Wozniacki a pass on this scrutiny because she is a "nice girl" is insulting. There are other observers -- self included -- who admire her movement and fight but are skeptical she has the weapons to win a Grand Slam title. So be it.

But as Keith notes, the anger and frustration is misplaced. Give Wozniacki her due for taking a solid but unremarkable game, adding fitness and fight, and alchemizing it all into a top ranking for more than a year now. If you must express anger and frustration, save it for the more talented players who have allowed this happen.

Since you reasonably endorsed the polite, understated protest of garnishing a rainbow flag at Margaret Court Arena, and you're so skillful at juggling multiple viewpoints, could you comment on how one might disagree with the societal merits of a gay or lesbian lifestyle without being hateful about it? Unfortunately, the publicity machine only gets cranked up when someone pulls a 'Margaret Court' and is rude, depending on your perspective. Is there room at the table for someone who thinks those lifestyles are 'just plain wrong,' but voices their opinion in an appropriate way and at appropriate times? Perhaps you can remember an instance when someone disagreed the right way? -- Phil Nichols, Jacksonville, Fla.

• Thanks, Phil. I've had some private exchanges with a number of you about this issue and I guess here's where I stand: there are some issues that invite debate and civil discourse. There are some views that fail to meet that standard and are, well, "just plain wrong" and should be treated as such. Giving rights to some and denying them to others based solely on their sexual orientation is not ripe for debate in my eyes. It's just prejudice -- deeply hurtful and offensive to so many within and out of tennis.

I do you think you raise an interesting point, both generically and specific to this issue: is there an appropriate way to disagree here? I struggle with that. We analogize at our peril here, but imagine if Margaret Court had said: "I love black people and pray for them. I just don't think they should have the same rights I do." Do we respect opinion and subjectivity? Or do we refute and attack? (While I respect the bible and religion, both, of course, are open to interpretation. The same value system that might condemn homosexuality also encourages tolerance and compassion and social justice.)

Inasmuch as there's any discussion to be had here, you could start by showing some empathy, acknowledging your view/policy is causing great pain -- and that this hurt is asymmetrical. When Margaret Court uses the word "abomination," she has surrendered her boarding pass.

You could also stick to the facts. When Margaret Court speaks of converting gay congregants -- "I help them to overcome. We have people who have been homosexual who are now married." -- measured discussion seems pointless.

I know some of you feel this issue hasn't gotten sufficient attention, while others feel it's gotten too much attention. Why don't we enjoy the tennis and, barring a new development, throw this on the back-burner for a while?

Wow, can your crack staff look up the last time the USA placed six men AND six women into the second-round of a major championship as they've done this year in Australia? -- Chris Hill, Greensboro, N.C.

• Um, the aforementioned crack staff tells me it happened... At the 2011 U.S. Open.

Since the length of the season debate is usually framed as "tournament directors vs. players," I was wondering how profitable mid-level tennis tournaments are. Maybe I'm entirely wrong, but factoring in tournament costs, prize money and appearance fees, and considering the limited number of people who can attend a small venue, it seems like running events outside the Slams/1000 caliber is more a labor of love than a sound financial investment. If that is the case, the players are playing a dangerous game by potentially alienating some of the people making the sport possible. -- Dan, Tel-Aviv

• The small tournaments will tell you that they're taking a beating. Compared to the Slams and the Masters Series events, not only do they devote more of their revenues to prize money, but they need to pay appearance fees to induce the top players. Unless you have a Sugar Daddy sponsor, you're right, it's usually not a sound investment. The problem: the tournaments need the top players more than the top players need the tournaments. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic? Those guys would do just fine only sticking to the biggest events.

Obviously there are complications. The Djokovic family owns a smaller event (only in tennis). The Big Three can pad their bank accounts playing in Doha and Rotterdam and Basel et al. Players feel loyalties to events that kickstarted their careers (Roddick in Delray and Memphis and San Jose.) But the fact remains: the small tournaments don't have much leverage these days.

I am surprised no one mentioned Novak Djokovic is going to be in the Expendables. Is tennis coming back to more mainstream media? -- Benjamin Hansen, Eugene

• Good call, though we did cover this over at the blog. When did tennis ever leave the mainstream?

Buddy Cianci-style handshake? Wow, you must get residuals for Google searches. Not sure that's going to help too many non-New Englanders, though, unless they read his biography. You're going to have some explaining to do. -- Dave Blahnik, Wayland, Mass.

• He was a famed cricketer.

In two first days of Australian Open, we had 26 bagels and 53 breadsticks. Add to this four retirements. Is the level of the Aussie Open going down? People should avoid going to the first two days of a Slam because of the bad quality of the tennis shown? Is there a way to prevent that spectators see so awful tennis? -- Demetrius Caesar, Montreal

• And Bernard Tomic, Donald Young and Grigor Dimitrov each won in five sets. Sam Stosur was sent packing by Sorana Cirstea. Ryan Harrison took a set off of Andy Murray. John Isner and David Nalbandian went 10-8 in the fifth. The Saints-Niners was the most gripping NFL game I've seen in years; the Broncos-Patriots 45-10 stinker was among the worst. Sports, they call it.

I do think you're right about this: with 32 seeds (and if you believe the conspiracy theorists, rigged draws in the early rounds, you're likely to see the top seeds roll. So what?

In your Tuesday Mailbag, while trying to defend American players from group lumping, you lumped Guillermo Coria as someone who used performance enhancing drugs. He was cleared of wrong-doing/intent and it was found in a suit that the manufacturer of the supplement that he used was at fault. He has had the cloud of "doper" unfairly around him for too long and I was disappointed to see you continue the trend. -- Carrie, Austin

• You're absolutely right. (And Coria has the settlement to prove it.) Thanks for pointing that out.

I'll ask again because it happened again and still doesn't make sense: First round, 2012 Aussie Open, fifth set, down break point, Fernando Verdasco's SECOND serve is called out. He challenges, and the call is overturned (replay shows serve was in). Verdasco now gets a FIRST serve. Why? The first serve wasn't challenged, and is ancient history! This makes no sense to me! -- Paul .R, Boston, Mass.

• Fair question. But the rules are the rules and this has always been the case, well before replay. If you miss your first serve and a ball from an adjacent court rolls across the court during the point, you "play two" and replay the point starting with a first serve.

One explanation: it's just the gentlemanly move, enabling the server to start from scratch and replay the point in its entirety. Another explanation: the server's rhythm has been upset by this interruption. It's unfair to ask him to redo the second serve when he's already done so successfully. Let the server "take it from the top."

• While Fish went down to Falla and Sam Querrey lost to Tomic, insufficient attention was cast on two other Americans. John Isner -- he of the new Lacoste deal -- added to his rep as the most underrated fighter in tennis, outlasting surly David Nalbandian, 10-8 in fifth. Another player imbued with fight, Christina McHale, beat Marina Erakovic to move into the third round.

• Tennis Channel and Fios have resolved their differences.

Now on to the next front, a trivia answer from yesterday's Bag...

• Glenn Stein of Nashville, Tenn.: "Seems like the Hong Kong tennis player is Paulette Moreno. I can't confirm her place of birth, but she did play mixed at Wimbledon with Woodbridge in 1987."

• Nathaniel Boni Aserios of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Philippines: "Hi! I believe Carlos Acosta was referring to Paulette Moreno. Here's a link that I've found.

• Look for Kay Clark's forthcoming tennis-themed book "The Edumacation of Jay Baker."

This makes my day. Congrats, @sandyrosenbush awesome AWSM pioneer choice. has a great piece on the criminally underrated Lisa Raymond.

• Brent Jackson of Atlanta, Ga.: "I appreciated your response to the anti-American tennis player sentiment expressed in yesterday's mailbag -- clearly, other countries have their issues with certain players as well. But how about a plug for all of the Americans who aren't "American Idiots?" John Isner and Sam Querrey seem to be two of the nicest guys on the ATP Tour. Venus Williams has always been a positive force on the women's side. We've got some young players starting to come into their own (as players and people) with Christina McHale, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young. And the Bryan Brothers and the Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond pairings could win any doubles title at any time. I'm a Milos Raonic fan as well, but maybe Jeffrey from Arizona will realize there's a lot to be proud of in American tennis."

• Apparently looking to expand their big and tall line, Lacoste hires John Isner as an endorsee.

• Good to hear Bud Collins is on the mend.

• Cam Bennett of Geelong, Australia: Not sure if you've already shared this one, but here's a great parody of women's tennis for you...

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