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Sharapova's resurgence, Olympics jam up calendar, more mail

While trying to figure out who's Irina Spirlea and who's Venus Williams...

I'm not necessarily a Maria Sharapova fan (at least I hadn't been). However, after her Stuttgart victory I was most impressed with the delight and joy I saw in her face after winning (her tennis was OK too). In an era of contrived celebrations (see NFL, NBA), the genuineness of her simple celebration was meaningful to me. Shame on me for not acknowledging her grit and fight to come back to the top of the game earlier. Yeah, she had lost several finals, but at least she reached the finals. I applaud her many efforts over the years, but I got the feeling that this one meant a little more than just another win. And I read that Ms. Sharapova even noted that her opponent wasn't 100 percent due to a wrist injury, but was still very pleased with the win. Impressive to have the presence of mind to note that after what I believe was an important emotional win for her. Grace from a champion is nice. -- Bret, Orem, Utah

? Tennis fans are a fickle subphylum. A mere week ago, most observers were questioning Sharapova's future, questioning her fight (given her results in recent finals), questioning her prospects heading into the clay season. Suddenly Sharapova is back, heading the French Open favorites list. We need to sign a liability waiver for inducing whiplash.

Overall, I'm with Bret. In so many words, Bret highlights The Great Sharapova Irony. We all know the ways in which she is presented and marketed. Yet as an athlete, she is all grit and inelegance. Her game isn't easy on the eyes. As she admits, grace is not a core strength. A fluid mover, she is not. We all know about the unfortunate soundtrack that accompanies her ball striking. Instead, she wins by grinding and battling and committing herself to hard work. And she should be praised for this.

As for the sudden spasm of (exuberant) optimism, let's not coronate anyone as a Grand Slam champ based on one good week, a full month before the actual event. But no question, Sharapova did herself proud, particularly on clay, beating the last three Grand Slam champs in succession. I'll repeat what I wrote other day: between Serena's play in Charleston and Sharapova's run in Stuttgart, the women's side of the French just got a lot more interesting.

How will the summer Olympics affect who plays the Western and Southern Open this year? -- Gerry R. Elkhart, Ind.

? Anyone from the hometown of Shawn Kemp gets special consideration here. As for the field of the Western and Southern event, my moles say you should be OK. The tennis competition will occur during the first week of the Olympics, so the (fortunate) last of the players get their hardware and leave London by Aug 5. Cincy starts Aug. 12. The folks in Canada are likely a bit more nervous. The Rogers Cup starts August 6. (Remember, too, that the Canadian WTA final will be held on a Monday this year.)

It's great that the USTA found a new sponsor -- Emirates Airlines -- for the U.S. Open Series. And it makes sense to package all the events leading to the year's final major. But once every four years, the Olympics sure throw the proverbial wrench into the scheduling. On the other hand, who can argue that including tennis as an Olympic event -- attracting and exciting all the best players not named Mardy Fish -- isn't a net positive for the sport?

My quartet submission is from Anchorman. Some of these are a stretch, but they made me chuckle

1. Ron Burgurndy = Rafa, he's always selling two tickets to the Gun Show.2. Bryan Fontana = Tsonga, "60 percent of the time his on court strategy works every time".3. Champ Kind = Azarenka, her on court shrieks are as a signature catchphrase as loud and unnecessary as Champ's "Whammmmy!" call.4. Brick Tamland = any WTA fan who quotes Brick's immortal "Loud Noises!!!!" in their head during a normal shriekfest.Given the almost nonexistent overseas gross of Anchorman, I doubt these will resonate with all of your readers. -- Anonymous

? Well played. And you didn't mention the best news of all: Sequel!

Jon, I was wondering if you might talk a bit on how a tournament officially becomes a "Grand Slam". Who designates them as such? What is the criteria? Do tournaments ever "apply" to be considered the fifth Slam? Do you think there will ever be a fifth Slam and if so, what effects will that have on the world of tennis? -- Shayne, Louisville, KY

? The Slams are governed by the International Tennis Federation. The Big Four received their vaunted status generations ago, of course. Now, it is very much a closed shop. Even if a promoter or federation were willing to pay the purse and even if a suitable venue existed, there's roughly a 0.00 percent chance there would be a fifth major. For all sorts of reasons -- the break from the tradition, the diluting of the existing products, the havoc it would unleash on the schedule -- it never would be formally recognized as a fifth Slam.

Informally, events have used the "fifth Slam" designation, mostly as a marketing tool. "Hey, we may not be an official major, but we're the closest thing. Men and women. All the top stars in attendance. Seven rounds. Two weeks (almost) of play." The Sony Open (aka the Sony Ericsson Open) in Miami and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells are most aggressive in claiming this distinction.

For as often as tennis administrators wring their hands over the schedule, I think four Slams is the perfect number. You have your tent poles -- erratically spaced, as they are -- and the rest of the events fill the gaps. The majors are special and there are enough distinguishing features (the purses, the best-of-five format for the men, the mixed doubles, the improved television platform) to make clear they are special. Five majors and you're diluting the product too much. Three majors and you're shortchanging the fans and the players.

Currently watching Jamie Moyer carve up Major League hitters at the age of 49. Wondering if you could think of any tennis comps for The Ageless One -- late, sustained success (we'll say after 30), crafty style (left handedness preferred but not required), etc. The best I could come up with was Fabrice Santoro. -- Scott, Pittsburgh

? I always likened Santoro to a knuckleballer, a guy who succeeded with a skill set -- guile, touch, feel, angles, mystery -- that was entirely different from that of the opponent, totally at odds with the prevailing power ethos. The Magician worked his tricks into his 30s, but I don't think of him as a tennis Methuselah.

As for players failing to act their age, I give you four suggestions: 1) Go back to the pre-Open Era where players could succeed well into their 40s (see: Gonzalez, Pancho). 2) Look at the doubles phylum and note how many of the top players are north of 35. 3) Consider Roger Federer who is "only" 30, but remains in the conversation whenever talk turns to potential Slam winners. 4) Fix your gaze on Kimiko Date-Krumm, still going strong at age 41 -- this, after a decade-long layoff.

Where could I go to read or even see players' post-match interviews? -- Taylor H., Batesville, Ark .

? Start with Asap Sports, the excellent transcription service that many events -- including the Slams -- utilize. Play around on the website but be mindful of the time or you'll be there for hours reading the quotes from, say, Richard Williams at the 1999 Lipton event. (Trust me on this one.) In keeping with tennis' problematic absence of standardization, some events use other local services. Some post transcripts on the tournament's official site, but fail to give them to ASAP. Others simply cut corners and forgo transcription.

Jon, you wrote: "Aga is less a nickname than a convenient truncating of a name that, while popular and perhaps mellifluous in Poland, confounds ugly Americans, particularly the tastemakers and the branding types. Same for Rafa, Vika, Masha, Caro et al." Indeed, Aga is a truncation of Agnieszka Radwanska's name, but her nickname in Poland is Isia (eeshya), too difficult to pronounce for non-Poles. But don't take my word for it, just check Polish press. -- Les Banas, Portland, Ore. (soon to be Denver, Colo.)

? Thanks. Good luck on the move, Les. Congrats on the easy nickname.

Seems like a really long time since we had a nice dust-up on the ranking system, so here goes: Mona Barthel just lost her second straight deep, long, close, three-setter to Vika, and she won exactly the same number of points for this match as Wozniacki won for her 6-1, 6-2 knockout by Kerber.

1. Why don't we award points at a finer granularity than matches? How about points for sets? Maybe even about points for, er, points?

2. Why don't rankings reflect the quality of opponents? -- Badri, Mountain View, Calif.

? Totally disagree on your first point. Tennis -- perhaps to a cruel degree -- is a winner-take-all endeavor. One player wins the last point of the match and advances; the other player loses it and heads home. Winning is everything. We start mucking with this core principle -- to say nothing of encouraging corrupt practices -- when we start awarding points for sets, games, and close calls. Granularity is overrated, sometimes.

As for somehow awarding points based on the quality of the defeated opponent, I think that's a more reasonable discussion. If Ivan Dodig beats Rafael Nadal or Milos Raonic upsets Andy Murray should that win come freighted with a few extra "quality points"? Sure.

Long as you brought up Barthel, reserve her now as a French Open dark horse?

So what IS your position in the anti-Williams club? -- Anonymous

? I feel I need to wreck the timing of my joke with a disclaimer. This was a reference to last week's discussion of the readers' vastly different interpretations of content. For the record, I am not an officer in the anti-Williams club. I am not even IN the anti-Williams club. I am not even anti-Williams. As long as this stays between us, if were going to find athletes for my kids to emulate, both sisters would make the list. I would say something to the effect of, "Try to compete like Serena; and comport yourself like Venus."

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, the executive position. I always wanted to be a vice-admiral. Is that option still open? Otherwise maybe parliamentarian, if only for the opportunity to bang that gavel and say, "I hereby call this meeting to order."

I don't know if you don't want to bring attention to this or that it has been lost in all of the grunting debate hoopla, but Serena has quietly stopped grunting in most of her matches. It's been great hearing the crisp thumping sounds coming from her powerful shots. -- Luke Nguyen, New Orleans

? A Charleston reader who was at the Family Circle Cup matches noticed this as well. Something to look for these next few weeks. Speaking of Charleston readers, take it away, Aaron....

WTHIGOW the Barcelona Open trophy? Don't they know it makes Rafa (or anyone else who might win it one day) look like tennis's version of (Lily Tomlin's) Edith Ann? -- Aaron D. Charleston

? Here's the trophy. And the reference.

Actually, I don't sense that you are a Serena or a Nadal hater. What you ARE though is the biggest Monica Seles hater because you are clearly a Steffi Graf zealot. I sense that you blame the current grunters on the WTA tour on Seles and because you always offer the "but" when others speculate on how many Grand Slam events Graf would NOT have won had Seles not been stabbed. -- Omar, El Paso, Teas

? Read this and get back to me, Omar.

Shots, miscellany

? Here's our latest SI Tennis Podcast. Chris Evert sits in for a sessions and was, predictably, great. This is worth 40 minutes of your time. You can connect with Chrissie on Twitter and Facebook.

? Tip of the cap to Glen Michibata who resigns as Princeton's coach after 12 years.

? Sad story about Patty Schnyder.

? Jack Liebschutz, Polson, Mont.: "You mentioned family doubles in your column this week. My good friend, Jerry Morse-Karzen has won many, many golden tennis balls as a son and father; in both father and son and father and daughter. I doubt anyone has ever equaled his record."

? Nice lid, Graf.

? Jim F. of Los Altos Hills, Calif.: "Regarding the SAP San Jose cancellation, four things, 1) Andy Roddick and Sam Querry told me, during the players' reception at this year's SAP, that they enjoyed the SAP because it was one of the few fast-court tournaments left on the ATP Tour. Canceling the SAP continues the conversion of the entire ATP to yearlong clay-court grinder tennis. Since this is bad for American players, where is the USTA? 2) As a ticket-holder for decades, I'm on the SAP's e-mail list. They've sent me several e-mails since the sale -- none of them about tennis. Instead of information on the future of the event, I get boy-band concert ticket offers. This is consistent with the lack of marketing, and lack of investment in big name players since they bought the tournament from Barry MacKay. 3) I believe that Bruce Jenkins and Matt Cronin are correct: SAP got killed to help their hockey schedule. 4) In case you're interested, here are some photos I took at this year's event."

? Andy Murray on Jamie Murray.

? Press releasin': "Tennis Hall of Famers Andre Agassi and John McEnroe and all-time great Martina Hingis will compete as part of the World TeamTennis matchup between the New York Sportimes and Boston Lobsters, the team announced. In a special benefit night on July 19, proceeds will go toward the Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), to provide scholarships, coaching, transportation and other financial assistance to qualified young tennis players in the greater New York area. The evening begins at 7 p.m. at Sportime Stadium on Randall's Island.

? Tom of Boston, MA: "Random pro sighting. Two of my buddies and I were training at Hopman/Saddlebrook in the early 90s. While at lunch between sessions, I saw the No. 1 male player in the world, 10 feet away at a Coke machine. While slightly "star-struck" I called his name and wished him a good season. What I got back was a sneer and "hmphh". Thankfully it was my only experience meeting Marcelo Rios."

? Lavazza is the official coffee of Wimbledon. One wonders: what is the official tea?

Have a great week, everyone!

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