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Nadal's U.S. Open absence, the best-of-five debate and more

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Rafael Nadal's ailing knees kept him out of the Olympics and now the U.S. Open.

Before we get into the mailbag, a few words about Rafael Nadal, who withdrew from the U.S. Open on Wednesday because of knee tendinits.

It's tough to see Nadal pull out of the last Grand Slam tournament of the year because you know he's in pain and discomfort. But on the other hand, we've seen this pattern before; if you chart his career on a graph every year, he tends to fall off a cliff in the summer. This isn't the first time that, come August, his knees have given him trouble -- his body isn't constructed to last a full season under his rough style of play. He doesn't tend to play much in the fall anyway, and he's never won the year-end tournament before. We can expect for Nadal to rethink his playing schedule after this; he's been complaining about the schedule for a while now, anyway.

Realistically, we probably won't see Nadal again until the Australian Open in 2013. Obviously, he'd rather not fall in the rankings, and there's money to be made and points to be earned, but there's not much for him to play for before then. Sure, he'd probably like to eventually win the year-end tournament, but if he's missing the U.S. Open then he's probably finished for the year.

Nadal, 26, is a middle-aged player and he's won 11 Slam titles, so if he quit tomorrow, he would still be one of the top five best players ever. The worst part about this, however, is that he's in sniffing distance of the greatest-of-all-time territory, but he's going to need to be healthier to clip Roger Federer in that category.

Losing Nadal is obviously a blow to the U.S. Open. He has won the tournament only once, in 2010, but he was a finalist last year and a semifinalist in 2008 and 2009. He will be missed.

Now, a mailbag: jet lag recovery edition. Stay tuned next week for U.S. Open preview material, sans Nadal.

Come on, Jon, can we at least have a contrasting opinion from your obsession with wanting to shorten men's singles Grand Slam matches? Early-round best-of-three matches would have meant no career Grand Slam for Federer, no Wimbledon final in 2006 for Nadal (possibly leading to his game never developing on grass and 2008's final never happening). Wimbledon 2010 would have lost Federer, Nadal and Djokovic by the third round. In contrast, Isner-Mahut type matches aren't really that prevalent -- so far, around 13 this year out of 381 Grand Slam matches went far enough to warrant a tiebreak (i.e. made it to 6-6 in the 5th). When Wimbledon can manage to avoid having matches on the middle Sunday and still finish on time, the issue is managing the weather, not the matches. Leave the scoring alone and let the unseeded guys earn their wins!!-- Pete Glews, Newton-le-Willows, England

? OK, here's a line from Monday's Guardian: "There was talk among the tennis hacks about the merits of three-set matches up to the final -- not a bad idea so it's doubtful to be taken up."

The contrasting opinion is the status quo, but I'm happy to engage in a debate. For starters, I'm not sure I agree with the premise. I don't think you can say, "If the match were best-of-three, Federer would have lost to Alejandro Falla or whomever." Maybe he would have played with more urgency. Maybe he would have switched tactics sooner. Who knows?

Best-of-five is too long for everyone -- the fans, the broadcast partners and, above all, the players. The sport has become brutally physical. Just look at the injured list from this week alone: Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Victoira Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Robin Soderling. In any other industry, if the workers were burning out or injuring themselves on the job at unprecedented levels, the union or the management would look into reducing the shifts and improving conditions. Why should tennis be different?

You don't like best-of-five matches in men's Grand Slams. You don't even like the no tiebreak for deciding sets in three-set matches at the Olympics. BUT I just saw a survey on Tennis.com asking if an audience would like to see best-of-three based on Olympics or not, and 72 percent said NO to best-of-three.-- Subhadeep, Cincinnati

? But seven out of 10 people don't take surveys seriously.

Curious to know what did you think being a New Yorker in London? Did you get to see the city outside of Olympic Park? Having lived in both cities, I'm curious to hear your thoughts.-- Bryce, London

? A New Yorker in London? Why, you could almost write a song about that. "I don't drink tea, I take coffee my dear/ I like my toast done on both sides/ You can hear it my accent when I say / I'm a New Yorker in the U.K."

I loved London. Even accounting for the fact that the city was all dolled up -- and even the weather behaved itself -- what a fantastic city. When you cover Wimbledon, you usually stay in the village, and for all your elaborate intentions, you're lucky to get into Central London once. This time, I really got to explore the city. Great public transportation, great abundance of Indian food, great (and free) museums -- my hotel for the second week abutted the British Museum. I cringe when people say "the people are great!" -- as if a) the people are mean elsewhere and b) your can summarize a culture based on such a small sample size. But the people are great. One of my real pleasures was getting up early and going through the local newspapers. My London hangout buddy last week, the redoubtable Alex Wolff of Sports Illustrated, turned me on to the stylings of Marina Hyde. But I was also heartened to see that Simon Barnes continues to play a different game from anyone else and that A.A. Gill is as hilariously biting as ever.

Still some things I don't get, starting with Mr. Bean. The whole VAT rebate thing. (Stood in line for half an hour at the airport only to be told that the refund only applies to goods not services. And besides, I had no freehold form. Or something like that. Whatever. If my unclaimed pounds pay for the British Museum, they can keep it.) Oh, and the appeal of English Breakfast. "Hey it's 7 a.m., rise and shine. You know what sounds really lovely right now? Congealing blood sausage, baked beans, tom-AH-toes, mushrooms with some kind of weird knock-off A-1 sauce. Oh, and some bacon that's so fatty that the gristle cackles when you eat it. You can do all that? Lovely."

Serious note: I was really struck by the fabulously expensive housing prices in London. Manhattan has nothing on London. How does anyone not working in financial services afford to buy property? And I don't mean in their late 20s. I mean, ever.

Always interesting reading, and at Olympics, viewing too. However, as a fan, I cannot agree with changing Slam events to best-of-three. Best-of-five is what makes a Slam; otherwise it is an artificial, glorified Masters event, and I believe the Masters lost some luster when the finals changed to best-of-three there. Tennis can accept television as the governing body of its sport, effectively eliminate Slams entirely, or -- finally -- deal with the schedule.-- NP Fisher, Aiken, S.C.

? The solution: Play the final few rounds as best-of-five to maintain the heft and gravitas, but especially in the first week, go best-of-three. The schedule moves along, as though it's been swigging prune juice. The players stay fresh and healthy. We propitiate the TV beast, er, "broadcast partner."

I certainly hope the interest in the Rogers Cup doesn't take a huge hit this week. For both fans and players alike, this has been a frustrating week. After facing a depleted field due to the Olympics, Toronto has endured some terrible weather that could possibly threaten the scheduling of Cincinnati. I'm wondering what must be going through the heads of players entered in both Toronto and Cincinnati. If you advance far in Canada, you really will be facing an especially quick turnaround in Cincy.-- Rohit Sudarshan, Columbus, Ohio

? Yeah, Canada made like a brawling hockey player and took it on the chin this year. Between the extra week spacing out the French Open and Wimbledon, and the quadrennial Olympics, the summer hard-court events are getting squeezed a bit. (One solution: The U.S. Open moves back a week, though it could jeopardize the Labor Day middle weekend bonanza.) Ah, the calendar, the Sphynxian riddle of tennis. Where were we? Oh, right, Canada. For a variety of reasons, I think it will be OK. There are a number of young and promising players, starting with Milos Raonic. It's a top-tier event for both men and women, so players will commit. (If this weren't a Masters Series tournament, think Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic would have kept their commitments, having played for Olympic medals the weekend before?**) I'd be more concerned about the U.S. summer events.

**I don't want to, you know, blame Canada. But this was a classic case of tennis' fiefdoms stifling the "good of the game." Canada made a huge financial commitment. Federer and Nadal had already pulled out. This is an annual event that needs to be financially viable. There are TV partners and sponsors to appease. There are commitment rules for the top players. I get all that. And again, I don't blame organizers, but in an alternate universe, wouldn't it have been nice if someone had said, "You know what, Andy Murray? Skip Canada this year. You just beat Federer to win a gold medal at the London Olympics. You'll be one of the great stars and media darlings of these games. Stay home and instead, go on the BBC, go on NBC. Pose with Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah and the rest of Team GB. In the long run, the sport of tennis is better served by your staying in London and taking a well-deserved weeklong victory lap than by your flying over an ocean so you can play Flavio Cippola in Ontario less than 48 hours after your gold medal." And while we're here in this fantasy land, we'll figure out what to do about Iran and North Korea and radishes.

Jon, are you aware of your apparent obsession with Serena Williams? Mailbag after mailbag, including the most recent Olympic wrap-up, has a disproportionally high discussion of Serena on and off the court. What she is wearing, how she dances, the intonation of her grunts, comments at her pressers, etc. Reader Fernando wrote to you about this before and you published Fernando's comment and sort of promised to stop. You haven't! She is clearly one of the greatest players of all time, but aren't their other interesting women on the WTA worthy of copy? All the best, Fernando-- Fernando, Valencia

? Love the use of third person, Fernando. It's not an exact science, but I try to make sure the mailbag reflects your questions. Trust me, it's not "disproportionally high." For better or worse, Serena generates more mail than the other nine players in the top 10 combined. When we get flooded with questions and comments about Petra Kvitova, Aga Radwanska (you should see her Crip Walk!) and even top-ranked Victoria Azarenka, we'll respond in kind.

"Parting Shot #51 from the Olympics" -- Lisa Raymond...-- Brian, West Hartford, Conn.

? Right on. Everyone loves Raymond. Given her Olympic history, her quiet contributions to the sport, her longevity and her overall good people-ness, there would have been something profoundly wrong had Raymond not won an Olympic medal at some point in her career.

At this point, the Williams/Sharapova "rivalry" is probably the most one-sided matchup involving two athletes at the top of their profession since George Foreman and Joe Frazier. By the way, did NBC miss an opportunity to play a promo with Sharapova and the Beatles Back in the U.S.S.R. playing in the background? (Hey, they could have had Paul singing live in John's place).-- Thomas Alonzo , Columbia, S.C.

? Yes, Sharapova-Serena has given rise to the oxymoronic "lopsided rivalry." (Isn't a prerequisite for a rivalry a certain amount of oscillation in the results? If Michigan ALWAYS beat Ohio State or Barcelona ALWAYS beat Real Madrid, it wouldn't be any fun.

Give us your top five players to retire this year.-- Charles, Boston

? Kim Clijsters ... wait, that's cheating. We can speculate about the others. The three active Slam winners not in the top 10: Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Here's how old Hewitt is: Both Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras won majors more recently than he did. If David Nalbandian called it a career, I wouldn't be surprised. Same for Francesca Schiavone.

Shots, miscellany

? I start with a random question for you guys. Due to circumstances not worth mentioning, I am in possession of some of the balls that were used during the Murray-Federer Olympic gold-medal match. If you have a tennis-themed non-profit and think you can use them to raise funds (maybe in a silent auction?), get in touch with me and they're all yours. I don't really "do" memorabilia so I have no sense of value, but if anyone has thoughts, fire away.

? Petra Kvitova beat Li Na to win the rain-delayed Rogers Cup. Good for her. But how could this have been Kvitova's first title of 2012? She has so much talent , but where are the results? (Read Marion Bartoli's quotes after losing to Kvitova 6-1, 6-1 in the third round. Upshot: I've played Serena and this Kvitova woman is just as good.)

? "Strippers don't do it for me. I like a strong, salt-of-the-earth woman at the top of her game. Your Steffi Grafs." -- Ron Swanson, from Parks and Recreation.

? Justin of Chester Springs, Pa.: "Had the Bryans lost in the men's doubles final of the Olympics, they would have completed a career Silver Slam because they've also been runner-up at every major."

? Ted Ying of Laurel, Md: "No, the true 'Silver Slam' goes to Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva, who lost the finals of all four 1998 women's doubles Slams. Who did they lose to? Martina Hingis (playing the Australian with Mirjana Lucic and the other three with Jana Novotna). Technically five in a row as they also lost to Hingis (this time with Anna Kournikova) in the 1999 Australian Open."

? Bob K. of Washington, D.C.: "African-American phenom in a white-dominated sport separates, albeit reluctantly, from protective parent and gets better coaching and a measure of independence, enabling meteoric rise to the top. No, this is not a pipe dream concocted by a Donald Young fan club. Donald, please read."

? Marlene Sherlock, Glen Allen, Va: "Know it's a little late to the party, but I'm just catching up on some of the last of the Olympics tennis coverage and it's struck me: If you want to win tennis gold in doubles,make sure your sibling has some serious GAME. All other (and otherwise standard) complaining aside, I truly enjoyed all the coverage -- live from Bravo and "on demand" on nbcolympics.com. Couldn't ask for anything more."

? RZ, Los Angeles: "Grunting has made the Washington Post Style Invitational's reader-submitted list of ways to tick people off (about halfway down the page)."

?Kevin A. of New York: "Time's ripe to stake claim to the RyansRacket fake Twitter account. Love the stories describing 'mangled' racket."

? John of Greenville, S.C.: "How about Treat Huey (paired with former UVA teammate Dom Inglot) earning his first ATP doubles win in his hometown event! Huey is now at career-high No. 36. Inglot may be the biggest mover in the doubles rankings this year. He started the year ranked in the 500s and playing Futures. In seven months, he has worked his way through the Challenger and ATP levels to reach No. 52. A Wimbledon backstory: Inglot, and fellow Brit Jonathan Marray, were scheduled to play Wimbledon together, and they were getting a main draw wild card because their rankings were too low. However, Inglot and his usual partner Huey played so well in the few weeks prior to the entry cutoff that they earned an automatic main -raw spot. As a result, Marray and his WC needed a new partner. That partner? Frederick Nielsen. And the rest, as they say, is history."

? Who wants to know Sam Stosur?

? Steven Perry of Santa Rosa, Calif.: "Every random player story you have ever printed has been great. I LOVE them. Thanks."

? In that case ... here's Skip Schwarzman, Philadelphia: "A number of years ago I took my wife, Lynn, and daughters Amelia and Hannah to see World Team Tennis here in Philadelphia. Lynn doesn't play, but the girls have over the years, and they've been good sports about attending matches with me, to the point of actually enjoying it, especially Amelia and Hannah.

"We were seated in the bleachers at one end of the court, up high, and I noticed Billie Jean King walking around back, approaching the stairway. She passed a little guy hitting against a wall and talked with him for a minute or two about his tennis. I told the girls to turn and see this. As she walked away from him, they began playing the national anthem. She stopped, put her hand on her heart and turned toward the flag at the other end of the makeshift stadium. There was no media present, virtually no one else, no one accompanying her. Then she came up into the stands.

"I grew up watching her; worked for her coach, Frank X. Brennan Sr.; made an easy $5 in college thanks to her betting on her against Bobby Riggs when some doofus thought she hadn't a chance and said so way too loudly; disagreed with her relationship with Philip Morris; and don't think World Team Tennis is the greatest thing for tennis since tacky overgrips were invented. But, man, do I love her for her unbridled enthusiasm and strength. Watching her with that boy and then saluting the flag, all by herself, said all of that and more.

"(I have to add that once, when watching her volley on the practice courts at the Open, I mentioned to a friend that it was probably she who taught God to volley. I love her for her volleys, too.)"

? Judy Murray (Andy's mom, or mum if you prefer) has a doozy long-lost sibling this week, likening Liam Gallagher (or was it Noel? And which if those Gallaghers smashed the watermelons?) to Pat Cash.

Have a great week, everyone!

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