Do you expect Black Heart to break through this year and make the finals of a Grand Slam tournament?
-- Liam Stuart, Oakland, Calif.
• By "Black Heart," I am inferring this to mean Grigor Dimitrov. A Slam final in 2014 is a big ask. Here's a guy who, a month ago, hadn't even made the fourth round of a major in 13 attempts. (He reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, where he pushed Rafael Nadal in a four-set loss.) There's a lot to like about his game and his demeanor. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
I can't help but find Alize Cornet endearing. She seems to get pushed around by a lot of players, but she is just brimming with fight. Watching her recent match against Sara Errani in Paris, she did seem, at times, to be re-enacting particularly dramatic episodes of Dynasty. I wonder if all of that drama hurts her. Do you have any thoughts on her potential, and whether she has the ability to break through at a major or otherwise?
-- Charlie G., Washington, D.C.
• There's a larger discussion here about the role of "distraction" in sports. To broaden your question: I keep hearing that openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam might not get drafted because of the potential for "distraction." And I'm thinking: Wait, the New England Patriots had a prominent player get charged with MURDER before the season, and yet they nearly made the Super Bowl. Imagine how much better the Seattle Seahawks' season would have turned out had cornerback Richard Sherman not caused so much commotion. The Chicago Bulls with Dennis Rodman? ...
What is "distraction" to some is a galvanic, inspirational force to others. And the same holds for the individual sports. A player like Roger Federer is fairly meticulous and likes everything -- the conditions, the equipment, the rhythms -- to be perfect. In a different way, Nadal also likes things to be "just so." The tics and water bottles are the obvious metaphor, but also consider how rattled he was during the time of his parents' marital strife.
But for all the players who dislike dissonance, I would contend that a large cohort is fueled by it. Lleyton Hewitt would pick a fight with the sun, moon, earth and other eight planets and use it as fuel. At a minimum, Victoria Azarenka does not suffer for controversy. Some players summon their best tennis at a time of personal crisis. Notice how many players scream at the support group, manufacturing conflict.
In the case of Cornet, she has long been regarded a drama queen, a player incapable of finishing a match without some theatricality. While I doubt she would cop to it, I suspect this is not unintentional. For whatever reason, this is part of her performance, part of her M.O. when she takes the court. I would suggest that she is better off with her episodes. Plus, it makes her matches that more fun for the rest of us.
Regarding your comment addressing the potential for a U.S. man to break into the top 10: "When tournament after tournament heads overseas, it really inhibits the ability of American players to sustain a top ranking." You do realize, of course, that all of these U.S. tournaments are "overseas" to non-American players who are also trying to make it into the top 10. There is no real reason why one country should have a large number of tournaments in this global game!
-- Gina, Snellville, Ga.
• I'm not sure I agree with that. Without trying to sound like an ugly American, at some point we need to acknowledge that not all markets are created equally. There's one Chinese player at the game's highest echelon and yet China is the obvious growth sector. It's great that the Davis Cup plays to standing-room-only crowds in Belgrade or Bratislava, but when it's an irrelevant piece of stemware in the U.S. and Western Europe, that's a problem. Sorry. As for tournament relocation, at some level, this is the invisible hand. Markets forces (and government spending in some locations) will determine where the events end up.
My point: As these events migrate out of the U.S., it's a double whammy for American tennis. It's less exposure for fans in this country, fewer chances to watch pros in person and less tennis on the local radar. It also hurts American pros in the rankings, players who were accustomed to gobbling up points in places like San Jose, Scottsdale and Los Angeles. If I'm the USTA, this is of great, great concern to me.
Another week, another embarrassment for U.S. tennis. The Fed Cup performance in Cleveland was awful, and please do not tell me about Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens not being there. I did not see Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci there either. Italy's B-team destroyed our B-team.
-- Ally, Austin, Texas
• You're right that neither the Davis Cup nor Fed Cup outings are making the "Greatest Moments in American Tennis" box set. That said, the probative value, as the econ professors say, is pretty minimal. If Williams, Stephens and Jamie Hampton don't play, should we really be wringing our hands about the result? I did not expect to see Camila Giorgi beat Madison Keys. But I'm not convinced this qualifies as an "embarrassment."
By the way, spare a thought for Hampton. She's reportedly had two hip surgeries since withdrawing from the Australian Open.
Which scenario is more likely sometime over the next two years: A Sports Illustrated story on the comeback of Nicole Vaidisova, or a similar story on Simonya Popova?
-- Daniel R. Morrisville, N.C.
• I'm getting very mixed messages on Vaidisova, who hasn't played since 2010. The "comeback" tweet came from a fake Twitter account. But I have heard that there might be some truth to the substance of this rumor. A former player in Florida "knows" that Vaidisova is considering a return. Her agent claims that she wants to get her shoulder healthy first and that's the chief priority right now. Vaidisova told Matt Cronin that she doesn't even own a tennis racket. We're talking about a former top-10 player who is only 24, younger than median age of the WTA's current top 10. She would certainly seem to be a likely comeback candidate. Let's leave it at that for now.
I saw this theme a lot on the social networks and wanted you to chime in: Andre Agassi vs. Novak Djokovic, at the U.S. Open, both fully healthy. Who wins?
-- Chris Dion, Beijing
• Much as I try to avoid hypotheticals, this is a good one. I'm leaning toward Agassi here but could be swayed.
I'm not sure what duties a Davis Cup captain has, but is there any chance that Jim Courier's broadcasting work at the Australian Open might have distracted him from his job of getting the U.S. players ready for the tie against Great Britain in San Diego just five days after the finals in Melbourne?
-- Clint Swett, Sacramento, Calif.
• Not unless his broadcasting caused Mardy Fish's continued absence, John Isner's injury and Sam Querrey's suboptimal performance. If anything, I would think that Courier would want to be in Australia -- where he could confer with his players and scout other players -- before the event. He's not running an organization. He's simply in charge a leading a team of four players a few weeks a year.
You have done James Ward a massive disservice with your comments regarding his defeat of Sam Querrey in Davis Cup. Claiming that Querrey should beat Ward regardless of surface sounds like a case of sour grapes not even acknowledging Ward's performance on the day!! Querrey is now 0-2 against Ward and they have met on grass and clay. Granted, the sample size is small, but Querrey was facing someone he had not beaten and I can't help but think that played on his mind when he was up 4-2. No question that Querrey choked and he managed to play better against Andy Murray, but this is an example of what Davis Cup can do, even to experienced players. A prime example is Nicolas Almagro in the 2012 final, where he pushed Tomas Berdych to five sets, but completely choked against Radek Stepanek. Either way I think you may well owe James Ward an apology!!
-- Pete G. Newton-le-Willows, UK
• No disrespect to Ward. That was a terrific effort and, as you write, he was clearly catalyzed by the unique energy of Davis Cup. (Digression: As long as we're dispensing kudos to British tennis, let's acknowledge Dan Evans' run to the Zagreb Indoors semifinals last week.) But I stand behind what I wrote. Sam Querrey CANNOT lose that match. Sorry, he just can't.
We're talking about a veteran pro who's been in the top 20, played in the second week of majors, won seven titles and earned more than $5 million. Ward, almost exactly the same age, is simply a different caliber of player, a guy who's career-high ranking is 137, has won zero titles and made $500,000. What's more, this was a "home" match for Querrey on a surface his team selected.
Again, take nothing away from Ward. Great effort. Great backstory. (Bonus points: Great to see a tennis player who appreciates MMA.) But I think it's disingenuous not to hold Querrey accountable.
I hope you plan to say more about Louise Brough, a tennis great from the 1940s and '50s who died on Feb. 3. Not only was she a magnificent player, but she was also a wonderful person. I had tennis lessons with her when I lived in Los Angeles and still today I think of her as the best teacher -- of anything -- that I have ever had. She was quiet and unassuming so people did not talk about her much. However, her tennis record is to be envied.
-- M. Dayme
• Take, it away, Richard Goldstein. What a lovely obituary in The New York Times.
• Serena Williams has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open.
• Gael Monfils is now hitting winners left-handed.
• Deb of Belmont: "I think you will like this. It is about tennis, and it is also not about tennis because tennis is not only about tennis."
• Does Maria Sharapova have a future in broadcasting?
• Simon Chambers interviews the head of the ITF's anti-doping program.
• Long-lost siblings: Stanislas Wawrinka and cricketer Ian Bell of England. (And, as a bonus, what a fine piece of writing and analysis from Ed Smith.)