Wednesday July 13th, 2011

What in the world was Caroline Wozniacki doing playing a tournament the week after Wimbledon? Is this not the time when she should be working on her game and doing some contemplating about how to become a Grand Slam champion? -- Dan Lydford, Lanark, Ontario

• You know, you try to defend Wozniacki. She plays a lot. She wins a lot more than she loses. She didn't create the ranking system. At a time when so many top players perhaps tilt the life-work balance a little too far in one direction, it's refreshing to see such a committed No. 1 who actually likes to go to work. She has a sunny disposition. (Plus, she just bought an apartment in my neighborhood so you have to worry about running into her at the Union Square market or Dogmatic or on line at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.)

But then she plays in these small and irrelevant events the weeks before and after Wimbledon -- a Wimbledon in which she underachieves, losing mid-event; this on the heels of underachieving at the French Open -- and, at a minimum, you understand why so many fans see her as No. 1*. It's not just that she's never won a major. Or hasn't even made a Grand Slam final in two years. It's that you wonder if her schedule doesn't suggest quantity over quality.

Why is she playing small Scandinavian events the weeks before and after a Slam? There are not significant points or purses. It is safe to assume, however, she was given a six-figure appearance fee attending. That's fine. Career windows are short and all top players occasionally make a cash grab at a non-mandatory event. Hey, get it while you can. The problem is one of perception and timing. Last week Wozniacki did herself no favors in the image department. And her scheduling only puts more pressure on her the next time she enters a major.

In his win over Andy Murray at Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal had only seven unforced errors, and analysts used that stat to underscore how well Nadal played. In his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer had only 11 unforced errors, and analysts concluded Federer didn't play with enough risk to press Tsonga. Recognizing this is a tiny sample size, the fact that both these conclusions are true suggests that the "unforced errors" statistic is pretty much useless. Do you know of anyone providing useful tennis data? -- Ben, Chicago

• This was one of those "I'll believe it when I see it" stats. Watching the last three sets of Federer-Tsonga, you could see Federer playing passively and unthreateningly. Indeed, this was born out in the data. Watching the last three sets of Nadal-Murray, you could see that Nadal was playing at an astronomically high level. And presto, the data supported this.

I've just started reading your book Strokes of Genius (yeah, it took a while for me to get to -- really enjoying it so far) and had a random thought. How many times did you watch that match while writing the book???!!! -- S An, Sydney, Australia

• Hey, thanks. I saw four different versions (in addition to seeing it live) and let the record reflect, I thought NBC coverage was superior. Because of the timing, the network never got the Wimbledon send-off it deserved. Thanks for four decades' worth of coverage. From "Breakfast at Wimbledon" -- an engine powering the tennis boom -- to Federer-Nadal, that was a hell of a run.

And pre-empting (pardon the pun) the "good riddance" emails, there's no debate that the frustrating tape delay was shabby. It deprived millions of viewers of coverage. It diminished the event. It was laughably outdated. But your venom there should be directed at the network executives, not the NBC crew at Wimbledon.

I enjoyed a great day of Davis Cup tennis, watching a riveting match between Mardy Fish and David Ferrer. However, this action doesn't get a sniff of coverage on SportsCenter or CNN for that matter. Can you comment? I don't want to sound like a sexist, but Women's World Cup soccer gets 10 times the coverage of men's Davis Cup. This is not good for the future of the game. -- Dan, Fayetteville, Ark.

• Maybe if ESPN had committed, like, half a billion dollars to the sport earlier in the week, tennis would have gotten more love on SportsCenter and other platforms. (That was a joke.) A few things are going on here:

1) The Davis Cup, like some cruel filtration system, loses a few drips of prestige every year. The ITF can fiddle and tell us it's all the rage in Fredonia and parts of Mauritius, but in major markets it's losing relevance, especially as the schedule and format are hopelessly confounding. (How often did a version of this surface: "Wait, it's Davis Cup week? Wimbledon just ended last week. Nadal's not coming? Then what's the use?")

2) ESPN has, in my view, backslid in integrating tennis news into other platforms. Once the Williams sister are done, the odds of getting the sport into the conversation go way down.

3) At least in the U.S., tennis has a real problem on its hands, caught as it is in the vicious cycle. Ratings and television remains the lifeblood for sports. The networks say, "How can we devote prime coverage when we don't see prime ratings?" People like me say, "How can the audience grow when there's so little exposure?" With ESPN taking over the coverage of Wimbledon, will that affect coverage for the Tennis Channel? They won't put early rounds on the Ocho, right? -- Jason, Huntington Beach, Calif.

• From the great Eric Abner at the TC:

"You can tell your readers that TC has a great relationship with ESPN and the All England Club, and that we're still in discussions with the tournament to continue Wimbledon Primetime. This past week's ESPN announcement doesn't affect that."

I'm dying for Andy Roddick to develop an effective down-the-line backhand! -- Charlie G, Washington, D.C.

• I didn't see the Davis Cup matches. But I've noticed that, to compensate for the deficient backhand, Roddick cheats so much now that he's getting beaten up the line. Watch the Feliciano Lopez match at Wimbledon, for instance, and note how many winners came because Roddick gave up so much of his forehand side.

Here's what I don't get about Roddick. He's clearly a more complete and tactical player than he was as a 21-year-old when, by his own admission, he served bombs, smoked forehands and ate Cheetos between matches. He's more fit. He's more professional (not that that had ever been a problem). He's kicked that awful habit of standing so deep in the court that he needs a Sherpa to guide him to the baseline. OK, the field improved, especially with the ascent of the Big Three. OK, he may have lost five percent of wattage in power. OK, parts of his game are the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. But why is he losing so many matches he simply wouldn't allow himself to lose in, say, 2003 or 2004?

WTHIGOW Dinara Safina? Is she injured? Did she retire? I realized this morning that I haven't heard her name or seen her in a draw in ... I don't know. Six months? A year? What happened to her? -- Judy Adams, Los Angeles

• The official word is that there's a back problem. The unofficial word is that it's compounded by a head problem. Let me first say that -- invoking yet more anatomy here -- anyone with a heart must unabashedly root for Safina to return. That said, I'm no chiropractor but I'm not sure this is helping the old lumbar region.

The "Big Three" -- Novak Djokovic, Nadal & Federer -- I get it. The "Big Four" -- which includes Andy Murray -- is absurd, until he wins a Slam. If he is to be part of that elite group, then it needs to become the "Big Five." Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 U.S. Open by hitting Federer off the court in the final ... -- Todd Purvis, Thomasburg, Ontario

• Again, one of the great sources of fun that comes from this column: I feel like it's a strong "international focus group" for Tennis Nation. Your collective rap on Murray is, unmistakably, that it's "put up or shut up time." Enough of this "Andy will win a Slam one day" business. It's been half a decade now -- and three fruitless trips to major finals -- and we need to scale expectation downward. Fair enough. A corollary: Damn what the rankings might say, the fourth-best player in the world is a shy and lanky kid from Argentina who's finally getting his game back.

I have never seen anything cooler than what Djokovic did at the close of his victory at Wimbledon, eat a piece of grass & throw all his rackets to the fans in the stands. What a character this guy is! -- Eric Bukzin, Manorville, N.Y.

• Right on. So genuine and spontaneous and I love his explanation, essentially that he was so overcome with joy that it was if his animal instincts took over. (Of course, having written that, you can guess that documents will be leaked suggesting that CAA gave test audiences various choices for "postmatch celebration" and grass eating tested highest.)

I found your NYMag link on Nadal's so-called sportsmanship to be very biased, shallow, bigoted, mean-spirited and most importantly, nonfactual. Judging by the comments listed beneath the blog, I'm not the only person to be disturbed by this rogue blogger. Thanks for adding the "fair & balanced" link to your bag. -- David, Houston

• I agree that the writer's flubbing of the basic facts undercut his credibility. But my libertarian instincts prevail here. If New York magazine's website gives prominent placement to a Nadal-themed column -- hardly rogue blogging -- chances are good that I'm going to pass on the link. You guys can make your own judgments and pick it apart (or praise it) as you see fit. This, on the other hand ... (assist to Bob of Hoboken, N.J.)

Federer has never won Davis Cup. He didn't win Olympic gold in the singles competition. Nadal, on the other hand, won gold in Beijing and also won Davis Cup more than once. Could that be a decisive factor in determining the identity of the GOAT five years from now (given that Federer doesn't win either of these competitions over the next five years)? -- Ahmed Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt

• Again, this is what's both great and exasperating about the GOAT discussion. There are no set criteria, no standardized weights and measures. Sure, Nadal gets extra points for Davis Cup success. (And while we're here: How much weight to the fact that his Olympic gold was in singles, not doubles?) On the flip side, how much weight to give the ATP WTF -- the year-end soiree among the top eight players -- that Nadal has never won and Federer has taken five times?

• A hearty tesekkür ederim (handy mnemonic: "tea, sugar and a dream") to the many of you who passed along suggestions for Turkey. Tremendous country. Go there.

• The volume of anti-grunting emails -- as many as two dozen in one day -- is so intense that we're just going to pick a screed of the week. Clearly this issue has pierced your collective eardrum. Maybe if you guys continue to sound off and make enough noise, the WTA will listen.

Anyway, this week's winner (such as it is) is Dave of Jersey City, N.J: "No grunting? Really? Wait a minute. Some men grunt. And it's OK. So what is it we fans DON'T want? What we don't want is squealing, or screaming, or screeching, or ululating, or wailing, or embarrassing performances. Let's call it like it is and maybe that will get someone's attention on any governing body. I'm the biggest tennis fan. I'm proud to say I've completed my own Grand Slam of attending all four majors, and I love the sport, but it's really a shame to be forced to listen to that. To put it bluntly, the quality of play is not worth the pain most of the time. The WTA is losing a fan here, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone."

• Our loyal and fearless local informant Sally Duncan sends this dispatch from Switzerland's Davis Cup campaign: "As I caught the train to Bern to watch our boys play in the Davis Cup against Portugal, I mused about the team comprising the German-speaking Federer and the French-speaking [Stan] Wawrinka, and the melting of the 'Roesti Graben,' that almost mystical border, in geographic, political, cultural and culinary terms, which separates the Swiss French speakers from the Swiss German ones. The opening ceremony was held in both languages, as well as, with a small nod to the team from Portugal, a few sentences in English. The Arena was a sea of red. Although both teams had practically identical kits, I suspect that the Swiss fans outnumbered their opponents by 99 to 1. Wawrinka's win was celebrated, but when Federer appeared for his match, the applause was frenetic and didn't abate with the loss of the first set. Once his backhand set up winner after winner and the beer started flowing, there was no stopping the crowd. Move over, William Tell."

• Wait, another dispatch, this one from the wild-'n-wacky World TeamTennis from Ivo Stoyanov of Sofia, Bulgaria/Jersey City, N.J.: "WTT has started, and I made my first visit ever, watching the game between N.Y. Sportimes and Boston Lobsters (they can work on team nicknames, mind you). Martina Hingis was racious and exciting (and still looks and plays as an active top pro player), and everyone at the courts had fun. Everyone signed my oversized tennis ball and I even got pictures with both Martina and Coco Vandeweghe courtside. I'll be going back again soon. Can't wait to see McEnroe play as well!"

• Evan of New York: Needed to call out one thing in your Mailbag regarding Lindsay/Martina as a rockin' doubles team. They actually also won the French Open Legends title, so that makes back-to-back Slam wins, in a matter of speaking. Check it!

• Props to Subhadeep of Greenville, S.C.: "Trivia answer: Diego Riviera painted Helen Wills Moody and I just was in London's Tate Modern and saw the painting in person. On the same note, what a great museum Tate Modern is. Great collection and also free!"

• Steve Suagee of Port Angeles, Wash.: Just a note about previous sports nicknames -- boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini flourished in the [late '70s and early '80s], well before Boris Becker. He was a champion in his weight division. Tragically one of his opponents succumbed to a brain injury.

• Chris Evert has teamed up with charitybuzz to offer one lucky bidder the chance of a lifetime: a 1-hour private tennis lesson and lunch. The proceeds of this auction benefit Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic. Beginning in 1989, this event is and has been dedicated to raising money to fund programs that ensure a bright future for at-risk children and their families. The auction is live now through July 19, 2011 on charitybuzz. Fans can bid here.

• It's the Steffi Graf rock song!

• From the ATP: This year's 12 recipients of the ATP ACES For Charity grant program include The Rafa Nadal Foundation, the Bryan Brothers Foundation, the Japan Tennis Association's earthquake relief fund, and organizations supporting a range of causes, including health care for children in Memphis and Bucharest, relief for victims of natural disasters in Pakistan and Japan, sports and education programs for disadvantaged youth in Washington DC and the Congo, and social services for the disabled in Argentina and China.

• Jack Deschauer from the Washington Kastles writes: "I wanted to point out that First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia attended the World TeamTennis match between the Kastles and the Boston Lobsters in D.C. at Kastles Stadium at the Wharf. It was a sellout crowd of 2,600 at the brand new waterfront facility, and the Kastles "boiled" (can't resist) the Lobsters 25-10, with Serena closing out the match with a 5-4 women's singles win over Coco Vandeweghe.

Aussie tennis lives!

• Bob and Mike Bryan took part in a clinic for members of five local USTA National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapters, in conjunction with an appearance in Austin, Texas, by the USTA's SmashZone Mobile Tour and their partnership announcement with one of SmashZone Mobile's sponsors, Esurance.

• Ben of Hong Kong: Re: JMDP and Monkey King lookalike. The Monkey King link failed. Here is a new one.

Have a good week, everyone!

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