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Quality vs. quantity: Serena the WTA Player of Year, more mail

Do you believe Serena Williams deserves WTA Player of the Year→ I do not and it is because I believe both Vika Azarenka and Maria Sharapova were more important for the WTA and women's tennis then Serena. Just using the Slams and the four mandatory tournaments, Serena was on the court in fewer matches and won fewer ranking points then either Azarenka or Sharapova. Check out the matches/points for each at the Slams: Vika 24/4580, Maria 24/4580, Serena 19/4285. And at the four mandatory tournaments: Vika 22/2950, Maria 22/2350, Serena 10/1250. It's a travesty to call four tournaments mandatory and not penalize Serena for missing two of them. In summary, Vika and Maria each played 46 matches in the top eight tournaments, Serena 29. BTW, I used to be a Serena fan. -- Jerry White, The Villages, Fla.

? As with so many of our discussions, the absence of real definitions is a source of both frustration and fun. If Player of the Year is about titles and matches and consistency, then the rankings pretty much speak for themselves. Azarenka wins. Congratulations. Please spare yourself embarrassment and craft an acceptance speech in advance.

If you define Player of the Year in less quantitative and more qualitative terms (as I do), well, then it's Serena. Win two Slams and Olympic gold -- beating and sometimes mauling the top players in most matches that matter -- you get my vote. Damn the torpedoes and damn the rankings. (I don't disagree that there's something farcical about calling events mandatory and then not punishing players for their dubious absences. But that's not the issue here.)

Let's keep this going over to the men's side. I'm reserving judgment until after the WTF event in London but, as I've written before, Andy Murray gets my vote. My colleagues had a good debate about ATP PoY a few weeks back, and the poll results put you guys firmly in the Roger Federer camp.

We also had a good discussion on Twitter about the ATP Comeback Player of the Year award. Tommy Haas or Brian Baker→ At age 34, Haas is back in the top 20. Check out this slope. On the other hand, Baker is pushing the top 50. And, a year ago, today you'd be hard-pressed to claim that he was even a professional player!

Pros outweigh cons for post-U.S. Open swing. I understand why the players enter these tournaments after the U.S. Open. But while watching the televised matches I kept wondering why the stadiums have been half empty. Is it because of the price of admission→ If this continues, how long do you think these tournaments will stay on the schedule→ Which of these tournaments in Asia do you think will survive→ Is there a downside to tennis by allowing the expansion of some many tournaments→ It seems like the tennis calendar will never end. -- Demetri, Chicago

? Quick points. A) The dirty secret of tennis -- and, I would contend, most sports -- is that ticketing matters less and less. Line up the sponsors and line up the TV and the folks in stands are not particularly important with regards to the overall business model.

B) The optics stink. If the stands are vacant and people can't be bothered to show up in person, why should I -- the fan at home -- bother watching?

C) Still can't figure out why a city with 14 million citizens can't round up a few thousand fans to watch Roger Federer play a few sets of tennis. Dear promoter: Paper the town with tickets if you have to! Anything to avoid the desolate deserts (redundant?) of empty seats.

E) The folks in Australia? I'm thinking they're not exactly quaking over speculation that there will be a hostile takeover of their major and the Australian Open will be the Asian Open (a fear an official in Melbourne expressed to me several years ago).

F) For more on this, check out a Mailbag that addressed this last year.

The USADA's Lance Armstrong report mentions that hypoxic chambers like Djokovic's CVAC pod can be used to fool EPO tests. -- Amy, Columbus, Ohio

? Gave this one some thought and here's where I end up. It's irresponsible, of course to draw any adverse inferences here. But it's also irresponsible to neglect mentioning that, yes, the scathing USADA Lance Armstrong released last week made reference to hypoxic chambers.

Haas is on track to finish the year in the top 20, at age 34. I'd be very impressed with that in any case, and even more so given his injuries -- a good half-dozen surgeries, I think. Anyway, I'm wondering if The Shark knows the last time somebody as old finished in the top 20→ Thanks. -- David Arnold, Amherst, Mass.

? The Shark reminds us that in 2005, a guy named Andre Agassi finished No. 7. Pretty impressive for a 35-year-old.

What gives with attendance in Shanghai→ What a beautiful stadium to be so fractionally filled! If Asia is the next emerging tennis market you think they would be handing out free tickets as a loss-leader to gin up interest. What a shame. -- Lance Merklein, Charlotte, N.C.

? I'm thinking that for Halloween, the fans dressed up as empty seats.

Hi Jon. So I'm watching the matches in Shanghai and I notice the Mercedes behind the court, assuming once again that the champion, in addition to a paycheck, gets a nice, new, much-needed vehicle for their trouble. How do they get it home→ Local voucher→ Cash equivalent→ Overnight shipping from Shanghai→ -- Frank, Galisteo, N.M.

? If they're anything like the woman on my flight to Minneapolis the other day, they not only try to bring the car home with them on the flight; they try to cram into the overhead bin.

"Ma'am, that refrigerator is not going to fit. You're going to have to check that."

"I've gotten it in before!"

"Ma'am, we're trying to depart on-time and you're holding up the boarding process. We'll have to gate-check that sousaphone."

"Why'd they let me take it through security if it wasn't going to fit?"

"I don't know, Ma'am. But let me take that blast furnace, we'll stow it and it will be waiting for you when we land."

"When did you make these bins so small?

Where were we→ Oh, right. Those cars. Yeah, I was told that it's usually a voucher that a player can redeem at a dealership. In other cases, they'll do good deeds such as this.

Hey Jon, I know you love stats. I would love to dig deeper on this kind of stuff, but my day job and three young kids are keeping my pretty busy for now. After seeing that Djoker saved MP's against Murray in Shanghai, I did some math on four matches I could think of where Djoker saved MP's (2010 and 2011 US Open semis v. Federer; 2012 French quarters v. Tsonga; 2012 Shanghai final v. Murray), and discovered (with some margin for error tied to exchange rates) that Djokovic went on to earn an additional 3,000 ranking points and $2.865 million in prize money over and above what he would have earned had he lost the matches where he was down match points. When the kids get old enough, I'll offer them extra pocket money to research these kinds of stats for me, but for now, I think you need to hire a college intern. -- Rob Dixon, Toronto

? I do indeed. Any data-rific college kids, feel free to contact me about informal internship opportunities. You know where to find me.

"Here's an exercise: Have a sports-themed conversation with a friend. Pretend it's live, so you get only one shot. Record the exchange. Then transcribe the dialogue verbatim. My guess is you will walk away with a heightened respect for the TV types." Jon, I like what you said about the commentators. Most of us are too quick to snark about TV commentators. We don't consider nearly enough that, unlike writers, they don't usually get to work on a second or third (or fourth or fifth) draft. (Not that writing isn't hard!) -- Bobby Chintapalli, Chicago

? Several notes came in about this. Two more points. Having done some "court-side reporting," I can tell you we ought to give these journalists a particularly wide berth. The risk-reward ratio is way out of whack. You are asking questions to athletes before, during or after a competition and you have no idea how they'll respond. If all goes perfectly, it's a quick exchange -- usually unmemorable -- and life goes on. No one is winning any prizes for journalistic excellence or storytelling here. On the other hand, the potential for YouTube immortality is high.

Second, same sentiment applies here for post-match interviews. It's easy to read a transcript and cringe at the player's lack of syntax or the collection of "ums" and "ya knows" and "likes." Trust me, few of us are as articulate as we'd like to think we are. Again, here's an example.

Re: Worst songs ever... Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams, if only for the lyric "Me and some guys from school/ Had a band and we tried real hard." -- Corrie, Perrysburg, Ohio

? Though in fairness: Who knows what would have happened had Jimmy not quit and Jody not gotten married? (Yes, that song is some serious ear poison.)

Jon, I've told you once and I'll tell you again: Girl I'm Gonna Miss You by Milli Vanilli puts We Built This City to shame in the crappiest-single-ever stakes. -- Cam Bennett, Geelong, Australia

→ Listen to this podcast and you'll have a new respect for Milli Vanilli. Seriously, this is great stuff.

Wait, was that Paul Ryan or Novak Djokovic debating Joe Biden last week→ That was uncanny, even the mannerisms were similar. -- Anita, St. Louis

? You know how much grief I got on Twitter a few months back for making that same suggestion?

Shots, miscellany

→ Best tennis story you will read this week.

→ Interested in working in tennis→ The redoubtable Ubaldo Scanagatta has both volunteer and paid work (for those with experience) on Ubitennis.com. Send your CV and how many days you are available here.

? Who else is enjoying hearing Bill Macatee on Sundays calling NFL games?

? Here's the ATP Statement On Australian Open Prize Money Discussions:

Following meetings in Shanghai, ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett said:

"The ATP has had encouraging and positive discussions with Tennis Australia regarding the long term plans for player compensation at the Australian Open. Tennis Australia deserves credit for the way they have recognized the significant input the players have in the success of the tournament.

"I'm delighted the players have given their full support to the ATP leadership during this process with the Australian Open, as well as backing our decision to pursue this issue through constructive dialogue. I am confident that the ATP and our players will remain committed to the ongoing discussions with the other Grand Slam tournaments."

→ Amy writes: "Thanks for posting my pie charts. If you're interested, I posted the Big Four rankings breakdown according to the number of points they accumulated on each surface; hard, clay and grass."

→ The USTA and U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier announced that Jacksonville, Fla., has been selected as the site for the 2013 first-round match between the United States and Brazil from Feb. 1-3.

? Press releasin': "Novak Djokovic of Serbia has entered the 2012 Necker Cup, the world's most exclusive Pro-Am, to be held on Sir Richard Branson's private island Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands Dec. 9-13. Djokovic will be joined by the world's greatest doubles team the Bryan brothers and Mark Philippoussis, among others."

? One more: "The USTA announced that Terry Valdez from Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee, Wash., has been named the recipient of the 2012 USTA Starfish Award. The USTA Starfish Award recognizes exceptional high school coaches who implement a 'no-cut' policy, welcoming all interested students to be part of their school tennis teams. Valdez has been selected, out of 10 finalists, for his long-term commitment to this inclusive policy."

? Molly Kellie, Toronto: "Dear Jon, as I share your love of palindromes, I would like to add to your list one which I recently discovered, while solving a British crossword puzzle -- deified. This is definitely not one I had on my huge list. Perhaps you could use it when describing Federer?"

→ Another Agassi update. FYI, the Phoenix mayor tweeted stating that the common thing between him and Agassi is that both married waayyy up.

? Last Sunday, Nadal was interviewed on CNN en Español's Frente a Frente, hosted by journalist Ana Pastor. During the interview, he said he was unlikely to return from a knee injury in time for the Davis Cup final in November. "I would be thrilled to be in the Davis Cup final, but first I have to see if I am prepared for such an important event after not competing for so long," he said. "It would not be a good decision for me."

Nonetheless, he said that he expected to be ready for the Australian Open in January and in optimistic tone said, "I feel capacitated to return to where I was before this halt."

Nadal also affirmed that he did not think of retiring and that he would like to at least compete in the next Olympics, in Río de Janeiro. "Not having been able to be at the Olympics was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments that I've had in my career because I really wanted to compete in them and obviously, being the champion of Spain would have been something really special," Nadal said. "I hope it was not my last opportunity. I am going to work hard so that I can be ready to compete in Rio."

? Penny of Canberra, Australia: "The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently broadcast a two-part profile on Rod Laver. The profile includes interviews with the great man, his children, his Australian contemporaries (including Ken Roswell), and Roger Federer. You might be surprised by what Laver regards as his greatest achievement (in Part 2). The ABC iView link to Part 1 is below -- hopefully it is not geo-blocked. let me know if it is."

The video expires in about four weeks. Part 2 of the documentary aired in Australia already and should be added to iView soon.

→ Claudia, Denton, Texas, has today's long-lost siblings: "In honor of Juan Monaco cooking up a win in Malaysia, I thought it was only appropriate to point out that his long-lost sibling could be celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito."

Have a good week, everyone!

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