HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE. Here's an oxymoronically modest cornucopia of questions:
Jon, I have a bone to pick with all tennis journalists and you are included. There are tennis players on the tour other than the "Big Four" and Serena Williams, and some of us would like to learn more about them -- both from a tennis and pop culture standpoint. I realize that journalists have a responsibility to write about the most popular players to satisfy their audiences, but for instance, players like Tomas Berdych are interesting from a professional standpoint (why can't he seem to fulfill his potential) and from a pop culture standpoint (he is quite the Twitter follow). How about giving some love to other players on the tour. And let's see if you disprove my point by putting this gripe in your next mailbag.
-- Martin, New York
• This being the eve of a feast, I'll bite on the picked bone, at least to some degree. Maybe like a "mea minima culpa."
As a rule, yes, we could all do a better job of expanding the cast and lavishing attention, pixels, air time, ink, Facebook likes and other forms of approbation on players like Berdych and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Now, more than ever, there is such a dense concentration of focus on the stars. We talk about David Ferrer and Agnieszka Radwanska as dark horses. The wattage around the players ranked No. 11-20 has never been lower. There are a handful of reliably quirky types -- Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Michael Llodra -- but it's a finite number. Same for the potential villains that enrich a cast. (We're counting on you, Bernard Tomic!) From familiarizing ourselves with Simona Halep's backstory to knowing Vasek Pospisil's favorite 80s cover band, it has never hurts to have more familiarity with more players.
The problem is that the gap between the contenders and the pretenders is a yawning chasm. Four men have won every Grand Slam, save one, over the last NINE years. In the women's game, SERENA WILLIAMS has won nearly half the majors over the last half decade. The Wimbledon champ is retired. The cast of alleged up-and-comers, especially on the men's side, are often neither up nor coming. Put it all together and it's not surprising that so much attention is concentrated at the top.
You would have to be a die-hard American tennis fan to be able to name in order the top five American players in the ATP at the end of 2013. I wonder how many people could even name, off the top of their head, the top three, knowing that Isner and Querrey are the top two?
-- John, Greenville, S.C.
• Um... We propose this trade: Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and future rights in perpetuity to all Rob Ford .gifs, in exchange for Jon Bon Jovi teaming with Tim Leiweke to bring an NFL team to Toronto? Deal?
Otherwise, the picture is bleak to an unprecedented degree -- not sure how ones spins that otherwise (outside of diverting attention to the women). It's funny -- actually, it's not funny at all -- but it's amusing that during the Great Generation of Sampras-Agassi-Courier-Chang, the "others" were often overlooked. Todd Martin? Mal Washington? David Wheaton? Top ten players who would occasionally make a deep run at Grand Slam. The U.S. would kill for players of that caliber right now.
Two things: If a player skips a drug test and claims to be too sick to bleed a few ounces, let's please assume that he/she's been caught at a wrong time in his/her doping cycle. And if players travel to South America to play exhibition matches in December, they lose the right to complain about the long season.
-- Marko Vanderbeek, New York City
• We've hit upon the first point already. I make no assumptions about players skipping tests. But under no credible drug testing program is this a valid alibi. I'm with you on the second point, though. Players don't forfeit the right to complain about the work conditions. But, yes, your case is undercut when you celebrate the end of the tennis season and the grueling travel, by ... traveling to play more tennis.
I understand how one feels that Sloane Stephens should have won Most Improved Player and how Simona Halep did not deserve it is ridiculous! Just want to hear your thoughts.
-- Malasia, Orlando
• For reasons unclear, this one got a bit ugly. There are credible cases to be made for both players who, ironically are ranked No. 11 and No. 12 respectively. Both had strong years. In Halep's case, she won six titles and more than $2 million. The knock is that there weren't a lot of signature wins (Wozniacki? A struggling Sam Stosur?) and her play at the majors was minor. In Stephens' case it was the reverse. Uneven play and zero titles, but solid runs at each of the four Grand Slams. So at some level, this is philosophical. How much do we value consistency? How much do we value big occasion surges?
Me? I vote for Stephens. She is American and Halep is not. We jest. I'm inclined to go with Stephens because of her play at the majors and her ability to assert herself on the big stage. (For what it's worth, she played Halep twice and didn't lose a set.) Bottom line: congrats to both. Let's see if they can sustain it in 2014.
• In case you missed it -- ICYM as the kids say -- here's guest contributor Franklyn Ajaye on Roger Federer.
• Sending good vibes to Karen Pestaina of Tennis Panorama.
• Tennis mailbag contributor of the Year, Helen of Philadelphia: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, and Scotland decides to vote for independence?
• USTA 40 Hard Court Championships, highlighted by two-time defending men's singles champion Oren Motevassel and women's defending singles champion Dina McBride, set for Dec. 2-8, at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
• From our friends in India: WTA is 40 and getting stronger.
• Andrew Fenty downs Keenan Mayo 6-4, 6-1 to wrap up a three-day playoff for two spots the USTA boys 14s team traveling to Bolton and Tarbes in January. Both Fenty and Mayo reserved a place on the team
• Trivia: The aforementioned Andrew Fenty is the son of.....
• The Tennis Channel Year in Review show premieres Dec. 16.
• To welcome the holidays, the Tennis Channel will rebroadcast the 2013 French Open, set to begin at 12 p.m. ET Sunday, Dec. 1. A complete schedule can be found online at www.tennischannel.com/schedule.