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Tennis

Roddick's Olympic hopes, Federer's tennis fandom, more Mailbag

While wondering what the Tennis Integrity Unit thinks of the ATP's bet-a-home Open held in Germany this week ...

What's your opinion of Andy Roddick these days? If his results keep going the way they have been lately, does he make it to the London Olympics?-- Jeff, New York

• There has been a lot of concern about Roddick lately, both among you guys, the USTA suits and the American tennis establishment more generally. After a solid decade in the top 10, Roddick isn't the player he once was. His body is betraying him. His confidence level isn't where it needs to be. His shots don't penetrate the court the way they once did. Losing to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is one thing; failing to win sets on fast surfaces is something else. I have no doubt that Roddick, almost 29, is asking himself a lot of the same difficult questions as everyone else.

Deciding when to retire is obviously a deeply personal decision. I've heard it likened to knowing when to sell a stock -- do you have another run-up in you or is this thing going to continue trending downward? But it goes so much deeper than that. Some players can adjust their goals accordingly and find motivation in smaller victories. (See: Juan Carlos Ferrero, age 31, who won a title last week.) Some simply relish the competition and, even with wife and kids and no real chance of winning a major, still have the taste for battle. (See: Lleyton Hewitt, who's playing the Atlanta event this week.) Some hate to pass up the money and the lifestyle. A player can still make many millions simply wearing Lacoste clothes, holding a Babolat racket. That can be a consideration, too.

In a team sport, Roddick comes off the bench for the contender, hits a few jumpers and infuses the locker room with his veteran presence. He becomes a designated hitter. It doesn't work that way in tennis. You eat what you kill.

What do you make of the fact that Federer always says he doesn't watch the finals if he's not in it? That just seems poor form, and he never gets called on it. Even if he really doesn't watch, wouldn't it be better for tennis if one of the all-time greats says he'll be watching as a fan just like everyone else?-- Dominic Ciafardini, Hong Kong

• A few of you asked about that. I think that it's a slippery slope when we're asking players to be less than truthful. If Federer doesn't intend to watch, why would we he say otherwise? I suppose there's some arrogance to it, but so what? He's not a fan; he's the third leg of the Nadal-Djokovic three-way rivalry and it must sting like hell that he's not at the party.

I don't expect this to get printed but want to chime in on Chris Evert's talent at ESPN. I thoroughly enjoyed her insight. She may have lacked some of the professionalism and wit of seasoned veteran Mary Carillo, but I believe she more than made up for that with her considerable charm, unique insight into the game and the fact that despite being a legend, she still seemed able to speak to the casual player. She did not come across as pompous as some former players turned analysts do. Rather, she was kind of like a more accomplished Mary Joe Fernandez.-- Keith Mainhart, Amityville, N.Y.

• Thanks, Keith. I've heard opinions on both sides of the ... huh? ... what's that? No, wait. Here comes, "Ranjit Gupte, of New York: "I was a bit surprised by your positive comments on Chris Evert's performance as an announcer at Wimbledon. She started so many sentences with 'In my day ...' that I found myself distracted from the action and just counting the number of times she steered any commentary to herself."

Again, there's a scoreboard that tells us, unequivocally, that Djokovic beat Nadal, that Petra Kvitova beat Maria Sharapova. There is no scoreboard in the broadcast booth. Some of you love Brad Gilbert's Joe Sports Fan sensibilities; some of you want him to spend a mandatory year abroad. Some of you resent Fernandez's blandness; others admire a commentator who doesn't make herself the focus of attention. Unless commentators are factually inaccurate or eating soup with their hands while announcing, the judgments are subjective.

Hi Jon, I love your column and look forward to it every week. But, I need to ask: What percentage of your mailbox is complaints? Grunting, ranking vs. major wins, "timely" timeouts and every other thing I can't remember that seems to drive tennis "fans" insane. I just don't get how these people can claim to enjoy the sport and then turn around and bad-mouth every other thing that takes place in it. Just enjoy the tennis and quit bitching! You'll live much happier lives! (And, yeah, I know that I'm complaining about complaining.)-- Dusty, Kansas City, Mo.

• I come in for some blame here, as I pick the questions. We could fill the space with love letters to the sport and upbeat discussion about the virtues of tennis, Justine Henin's backhand, Justin Gimelstob's taste in clothes, Pat Rafter's looks and personality, Wimbledon's charm and other unobjectionable topics. It's often more fun -- and, frankly, productive -- to talk about the controversial topics and issues that threaten or polarize. How's the saying go? No one wants to read about the planes that land safely.

What is sometimes dispiriting: the level of bile. You may prefer Nadal to Federer or vice versa, but their rivalry does not reduce to good versus evil. You may take issue with Serena Williams' level of professionalism, but she should not be banned. You may dislike Victoria Azarenka's sounds effects, but do you really want to see her shred her knee and never play again? What a nice place the interweb would be if some people would dial down the intensity level. Or if there were accountability.

Can you tell me what I need to know about the Tennis Channel-Comcast dispute? I saw that you wrote that Tennis Channel scored a "win" but what does that mean?-- Peter, New York

• It's probably better if I yield the floor to Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, or the lawyers at Covington and Burling. But here's my greatly dummied-down version. This bore a lot of similarity to the Comcast dispute with the NFL Network (since settled) several years ago. Comcast ghettoized Tennis Channel to the boonies of the sports tier. Tennis Channel resented this placement. Comcast said, "Hey, it's our prerogative to put networks where we see fit and you don't have the numbers to justify better placement." Tennis Channel, understandably, contested this: "This is anti-competitive. If you didn't relegate us to cable Siberia, we'd have the numbers."

It seems to me that a critical element in this dispute was the highly comparable (and Comcast-owned) Golf Channel, also a network devoted to an individual sport. As any Comcast subscriber knows, Golf Channel is treated much better. The ALJ weighed in here.

The question is: Now what? What will be the remedy? Simply a fine and a strongly worded decision? Will Tennis Channel now move up the "cable org chart," leading to better distribution and more revenue? Might Comcast simply buy Tennis Channel outright? Stay tuned.

Seeing Novak break the stranglehold that Nadal and Federer have had on the No. 1 ranking is certainly impressive, but I'm also impressed and quite nostalgic to see apparel maker Sergo Tacchini return to glory and crack Nike's hegemony when sponsoring the top-ranked men's player (no disrespect to Martina Hingis, who wore the label in the late '90s as the top women's player.) Makes me think back to a simpler time when McEnroe and Sampras wore the brand before they became part of the Nike machine. Given that Novak has already been part of the adidas stable, do you think Phil Knight is putting together a monster package as we speak to lure Novak away? Will we soon see a Jim Gray interview from the Belgrade outpost of the Boys & Girls Club of Serbia where Nole announces that he's "taking his talents to Beaverton"?-- Brian U., New York

• I suspect Sergio Tacchini would just as soon avoid the Hingis reference. It ended up in a lawsuit.

But your point is interesting. A few years ago, adidas had a "Lady or the Tiger" choice: Andy Murray or Djokovic. Suffice it to say, in hindsight, it'd probably play that hand differently. It will be interesting to see whether Nike will back up the Money Truck -- particularly with Federer getting on in years and Serena so unreliable -- and try to lure in Djokovic. On the plus side, Djokovic is a charismatic, good-looking guy who figures to do a lot more winning. On the other side of the ledger, Nike is already locked in with Nadal and -- especially given the modest size and purchasing power of the Serbian market -- is there really a need for another multimillion-dollar endorser?

Meanwhile, for as big a debacle as LeBron James' Decision was, can we agree that the "taking my talents to" line still has some shelf life?

I recall watching either the 1994 or 1995 Pete Sampras-Jim Courier match at the Australian Open and the commentators mentioned the Courier camp trying to get detailed breakdowns on Pete's serving placements. Could you ask Courier about this and get his thoughts on what data would be helpful for players to have? It seems like he was a pioneer in seeking this data so his perspective could be valuable.-- Dan Martin, Burlington, Ky.

• Here's the Davis Cup captain:

"Data I am interested in: first- and second-serve location on pressure points (30-all and above). Return-of-serve targeting on pressure points (where the receiver hits returns, and second-serve info is more useful as a player has a choice vs. first-serve info when a player reacts and is typically forced into a response). Passing shot locations. Volley locations. Rally combinations and patterns (how someone tries to maneuver into an advantageous position). Aggression response locations (where Rafa hits his backhand if you go big inside-in, as an example). There's plenty to see here in this area if you have access to the info. Tennis Australia has been doing good work on this front and the USTA is hard-charging with it as well."

Dude!!! Who said anything about playing Philly BETWEEN Roland Garros and Wimbledon??!!? They just played grass-court tennis in Newport. Why not shuttle down to Philly after that? Why not extend the grass-court season AFTER Wimbledon?-- Helen, Philadelphia

• Dudette!!!! The main reason to extend the grass-court season is to space out the Roland Garros-Wimbledon stretch and give players more than two weeks to get acclimated to those green blades underfoot. Otherwise, we're just adding events to an already-overcrowded schedule. (Helen suggested that two Philadelphia-area clubs would be able to accommodate a grass-court tournament.)

Speaking of, last month I had the good fortune of hitting some balls at Queen's Club, the site of the Wimbledon tuneup AEGON event. I was really impressed with the place. It's quaint without being stuffy, dignified without being pretentious. But the notion that they hold a top-flight ATP event on the grounds is hard to conceive.

Since we're piling on about women's tennis, what are your thoughts about the constant fist-pumping toward the player's box, particularly after "big" points such as 15-15 in the second game of the match?-- Frank, Galisteo, N.M.

• I'm not sure we can divide that by gender. Plenty of men stare at their entourages as well. I hate the message that projects, though. If I'm playing an opponent who's constantly riveting her gaze at her "team," I'm thinking, Here's a player who's not so self-confident and can't think for herself. I'm thinking the same thing when I see them calling for the farce that is mid-match coaching.

Amelie Mauresmo is only 32. With her one-handed backhand, sweet personality and athletic gifts, wouldn't it be fantastic if she made a comeback?-- Joe Johnson, Allentown, Pa.

• Add this: Here's her 2010 New York marathon time. Think she's stayed in shape?

The problem is that tennis is as much a mental/emotional/neurological pursuit as it is a physical pursuit. Mauresmo was never a mental giant, even in her prime. She had trouble closing matches and was prone to burnout. Could she come back for an event? Yes. Could she do the job day-in, day-out, traveling the circuit, grinding out practices and sparring sessions? Less likely.

• This week's anti-grunting screed comes from Jeff, of Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

"In my younger days, when I was serious about physical fitness, I had a few sessions with a personal trainer. I suppose I was trying to impress him by emitting a King Kong roar on each rep. When I finished the set, he asked, 'What's with the noise?' He pointed out that grunting/shrieking requires physical energy. Rather than waste energy wailing like a banshee, I should be using that energy on the exercise itself. With that in mind, how much energy do the WTA shriekers waste in the course of a match on the pointless, ridiculous vocalizations? Has a shrieker ever won a major? (I think Maria Sharapova's caterwauling has gotten steadily worse over the years.) Not only is it horrendous to listen to and ruining the image of the sport, it's bad form from a purely physical standpoint. Someone needs to tell the shriekers that they need to concentrate more on tennis and less on assaulting the ears of the fans."

• Here comes Elena Dementieva on her wedding day.

• Buffalo Sabres fans might know him by another name, but here's Mr.Dementieva.

• Suresh of Someone Inadvertently Deleted Hometown: "For all those who think [Roger Federer] should retire. Here is a quick set of links to the best match of the year. See the shot making and I dare anybody should talk about retirement."

• Another rap song with a tennis player being mentioned in the lyrics. (Warning: explicit lyrics.)

• Tara B. of Bethesda, Md.: "Here's a short profile on the winner of Andy Roddick's Fourth of July hot dog eating contest -- Davis Cup practice partner and NCAA champ Steve Johnson!" • I wrote recently that Fabio Fognini wasn't in the Wimbledon draw. Here's Stephanie Myles of Montreal: "Hey, Jon, Fognini did indeed enter Wimbledon. He practiced at Aorangi on Sunday, looked to me to be in pretty good spirits. But about 45 minutes before he was to play Milos Raonic on Court 14 Monday, [Fognini withdrew and] there was a call out from the referee's office to lucky loser Marc Gicquel. Raonic had to make a quick adjustment to a totally different opponent."

• Anonymous of Richmond, Va.: "I guess it takes someone with a chronic disease to point out how insulting the coverage of Nadal's injury was. Commentators claimed it helped him remove the pressure of competing, that he was overly sensitive to pain, and that he used his injury to engage in gamesmanship. But Nadal's problems are not the sort of so-called niggling injuries that players carry around; rather, they are well-documented chronic conditions that could be a problem for him long after tennis. Many people with chronic diseases are accused (even by well-meaning people) of somehow using the disease as a crutch. But on the contrary, we have to work twice as hard as anyone else when we're healthy, because we never know when the hammer might fall. Nadal's sensitivity to pain is not something he needs to 'get over.' It's a well-honed survival mechanism that helps him be alert to when his condition is changing or worsening."

• Matt Scherer of Wilmington, Del.: "Don't know if this video has been linked here before, but maybe Alex Bogomolov wouldn't have had to give up a tenth of his winnings for this move at Wimbledon if he'd simply watched this video before his match."

• Mike Reed of New Kensington, Pa.: "Jon, it's nice to know that the Steelers' Brett Keisel has a compadre in George Bastl!"

• Brad Uy of Honolulu: "Has anyone seen X-Men: First Class and pointed out David Ferrer's long-lost twin? Here's Ferrer. And here's Alex Gonzalez, who plays Riptide."

Have a good week, everyone!

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