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Tennis

Stephens provides great hope, but proceed with caution; more mail

PARIS -- The track record here isn't good. In our collective zeal to anoint The Next American, to locate the successor to Williams-Williams, to mint a new homegrown champion and pump some breath into the sport stateside, we have been perpetually disappointed. Hype precedes results that often never come. Saddled with a sudden, oversized heaping of pressure and expectation, the young player can't mature at a comfortable pace, can't grow into their games and acclimate without being remind that a nation's hopes rest on their lats. The tennis boneyard is littered with Can't Miss American prospects who missed. Often badly.

So let's try something new, shall we?

Sloane Stephens won her third-round match today, but it was all luck, no skill. She played with poise, beating a French player on Chatrier? Didn't see it. We're telling you, she is nothing special. She does not move well. No, not all. She does not take the ball early. She does not compete well. She definitely does not possess deceptive power. Nor does she project maturity that belies her age. Nope, no self-possession or optimism or energy either.

Off the court? She gives you nothing. Charm? Didn't see it. A winning personality, punctuated with a near-permanent smile? Didn't notice. When she takes a reporter's racially-tinged questions about the Williams sisters and responds thusly it must be luck, the equivalent of a mishit winner. "Race has nothing to do with it, but they inspire everyone to play tennis. They're two of the best tennis players to ever play the game. I think they're a really great inspiration to everyone."

What's that? You say she's really friggin good? You think she might have top ten talent? She's a marketer's dream? A dynamite quote in the press room? A world class tweeter? The kind of player whose backstory makes you root even harder for them?

Didn't notice. Nothing to see here. Please carry on.

Mail call

Jon, you said: "But I have a hard time recalling an upset of this magnitude." SODERLING def. NADAL???!!! -- Anonymous

? This question pertains to my contention the other day that Serena's loss was the biggest upset I could recall in recent years. Anonymous has not swayed me. We can debate the severity, but it was clear that Nadal was less than 100 percent physically when the two squared off at Roland Garros in 2009. More important, Soderling was a dangerous and formidable player, a seed who would finished the year in the top 10. Razzano is currently outside the top 100 and came in with three matches wins on the year.

Not a single match, but I think the biggest upset Grand Slam win was Gustavo Kuerten at the French in 1997. He was an absolute unknown, and defeated most of the previous champions on his way to the title. As a resident of Peru, I'm partial to Jaime Yzaga beating Pete Sampras at the 1994 US Open, but I know that's no Serena-Razzano. Chang over Lendl? Becker at Wimbledon 1985? -- Jim Bartle, Huaraz, Peru

? Sampras losing Yzaga is a good one. Still say Sampras losing to George Bastl was the closest I've seen to Serena-Razzano.

I think that there should be some kind of rule where a player who's injured but winning their match could retire on match point with the winner's purse and ranking benefits, but would allow the (presumed) loser to advance to the next round. I believe this would result in fewer walkovers. Has anything like this ever been discussed? -- Dan Hermelin, Santa Clarita, Calif.

? This happened a few times. Frank Dancevic and Feliciano Lopez both played for roughly the same amount of time it will take you to read this sentence. They then retired and left 100 percent to the good. I see your point. Wouldn't it be better if a healthier colleague actually played? But A) these guys are individual contractors and you make much of your nut at the Slams. B) As we saw yesterday with Andy Murray, bodies do funny things. One minute you're barely mobile, serving in the mid-80s. The next, you're fine.

The World Golf Rankings make Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki look like the Williams sisters. Current No. 1 Luke Donald has never won a major, nor has he finished second at one. He has only six top-ten major finishes in over a decade of play. He has missed the cut almost twice as many times (11)! -- Jesse, Arena, Wisc.

? Funny, I too thought derisively of golf today. I thought of John Isner and Paul-Henri Mathieu when I came across this item of Phil Mickelson's fatigue.

Jon, you said regarding Davis Cup: "you gotta dance with the ones that brung you" ... why? These are professionals that would understand building a team with the best chance to win the tie. This isn't high school tennis when you are trying to reward hard work and dedication to the team. If Brian Baker gives the team a better advantage than Ryan Harrison, who can't buy a win against major competition, and Mardy Fish (who I love) ... why not? -- Kelly McCracken, Tulsa, Okla.

? I still say that Davis Cup is a fairly big commitment -- in terms of scheduling, in terms of physical wear and tear, in terms of time. You have to show loyalty to the players especially when -- as is the case in the U.S. -- the teams have performed so well of late.

Speaking of Davis Cup, have we reflected sufficiently on this irony: the competition has been rendered even less relevant given the Olympics. Yet to play the Olympics you need to commit yourself to Davis Cup. To be on the internet, you must first subscribe to a newspaper!

Has there ever been a grand slam -- or any tournament, for that matter -- where both Williams sisters were out before either Radwanska sister? -- Scott Graham, Oakland, Calif.

? Nope. Adding to the symmetry A) Aga Radwanska beat Venus. And then Aga Radwanska got positively rolled on Friday by Svetlana Kuznetsova, the third seed mustering just three games in a third-round loss. Yet in part because of Serena's defeat -- and, yes, in part because Kuznetsova is a former champ here, a far better player than her ranking -- today's upset hardly caused a ripple.

So with Federer's latest grand slam match record, how many Grand Slam records does Federer now hold? I don't mean trivial baseball-esque records such as "Federer has the record for most matches won against South American leftys on Tuesdays," but actual records that folks care about? -- Edna Sneetzche, NYC

? This we know: Federer holds the record for most records held.

Shots, miscellany

? Quite a battle shaping up between Varvara Lepchenko and Vania King for the final U.S. women's Olympics sport. Lepchenko currently has 1029 point and King has 1147. Stay tuned!

? While we're here: Get to know Lepchenko, would ya?

? Andre Agassi and spouse coming to Paris.

? On the subject of older players, Marcel Janeck of Atlanta rightly notes that we forgot to add Daniel Nestor (39) and Max Miryni (34) to the list.

? Tunisia's Malek Jaziri nearly reached the third round before succumbing to Marcel Granollers. The good news: He won roughly $35,000 which is more than eight times the average annual household income in his country.

? Casey L., LeRoy, Minn.: "Just read your response to the question about how seeds are placed in a Grand Slam draw, and while you're right on the top eight, 9-16 and 17-32 are a little more complicated. Seeds 9-12 are drawn randomly against 5-8, and 13-16 are drawn against 1-4. Below that, 17-24 are randomly drawn against 9-16, while 25-32 go against 1-8. Hope this helps!"

? Vis-à-vis Venus Williams and her new vegan diet, thanks to Susan Atchley of Sterling, Illinois for this link.

? Helen of Philadelphia: "I've had a fond place in my heart for Paul-Henri Mathieu ever since the Davis Cup tie in Winston-Salem in 2008, where he was willing to step up and put it all on the line. (Unlike another French player who shall remain nameless... lookin' at you over there, Richard Gasquet!) If Isner had to play another marathon match in another Slam against another Frenchman, and lose this time -- well, I for one am happy that it was this particular Frenchman. Allez!!"

? Greg, Singapore: "Jon, as you brought up seedings and I know you're a bit of a stats man (Scorecasting), here's one for you. Djokovic and Federer have been drawn into the same half in 12 of the last 14 Slams. If which half seeds 3 and 4 go in the draw is truly a random event, what are the odds of this happening? I'm guessing it's close to zero."

? Kei Nishikori is among the many fine players who has entered Newport. For all the summer tournaments getting crushed by the Olympics, here's an event -- played on grass like Wimbledon and the Games -- that is benefitting from the quirky schedule.

? Chris S. of New York: I stumbled across long lost siblings: Paul Henri Mathieu and Banya from Seinfeld.

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