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Mailbag: Sloane Stephens' candor

Sloane Stephens is featured in the August issue of Elle magazine. Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Sloane Stephens is featured in the August issue of Elle magazine.

Interested to hear your perspective on Sloane Stephens. You have given her a lot of rope in the past.
-- @atp22

• Lots of chatter about this Elle magazine piece on Stephens. My first reaction: There’s sure a lot of tennis in this article about gynecology.

Like many of you -- my strong suspicion is that Stephens’ agents and boyfriend Jack Sock’s mom are included here -- I cringed at certain parts of this article. But this underscores the great hypocrisies we have with celebrity. We hate prepackaged, media-trained sound bites and clichés. We crave authenticity. And yet when subjects are candid and depart from script, they get hammered.

If I were in Stephens' camp, would I have wished she had been a bit more reserved? Perhaps. But in a weird way, I applaud her for letting down her guard so, um, dramatically.

Also, before condemning Stephens, consider this email I received Tuesday from Mary Carillo, who is quoted in the story:

"The writer got a lot wrong on my end. I wasn't in Australia in 2013, as she claimed I was, I never said what she claims I said, I've never called Jimmy Connors "Jim"  (don't think anyone ever has) and I would never have compared Sloane's on-court attitude to that of Jim Courier, whom I respect and admire greatly. Courier is a player who, like Andre Agassi, started with one big shot -- a forehand -- and developed a game, shot tolerance, fitness level and mental toughness that I only hope Sloane will one day own as well. That was the comparison. Just hoping the author's sloppiness didn't extend to all she claims Sloane said. Please feel free to post this."

May I please suggest a new rule for tennis coverage? The words "mentally strong" should only be used to describe Rafael Nadal, who has beaten every rival of his generation on multiple surfaces. That label is not to be used for a player who is routed routinely by the top women's player.
-- Nandu Suryabhavan, Short Hills, N.J.

• I've said this before: Maria Sharapova has tremendous mental strength -- imagine a blond Uri Geller -- except when Serena Williams is on the other side of the net. Which leads us to a larger point: As the great Sam Sommers would say, Situations matter.

Mental strength is a catchall term and, hard as it is to define, it is also heavily dependent on context. Like Nandu, most of us would agree that Nadal has extraordinary mental strength. But what do you make of his last three Wimbledons, when he failed to get out of the fourth round? Novak Djokovic has great competitive resolve. But he was close to losing six of his last seven Grand Slam finals before holding off Roger Federer at Wimbledon. Federer has will and grace, so to speak. But check out his record in five-setters or, of course, his head-to-head mark against Nadal. Williams is a fearsome fighter ... except lately, when she’s fallen to (much) lesser lights in majors.

Takeaway point: Mental strength, unlike physical strength, is situational. Some players compete better than others. But no one has it all the time.

Maria Sharapova's saying she didn't know Sachin Tendulkar who was would have been forgiven if not for the fact that just a few weeks earlier she had committed an even more egregious sin of saying she had never heard of Judy Murray, Andy's mom and Great Britain's Fed Cup captain. There is living in a bubble and then there is clueless. For someone who runs such a tight ship professionally, her lack of knowledge of people and events around here is surprising.
-- Karen Williams

• In keeping with the theme: Context is key, situations matter. If you recall, Murray had likened Sharapova to a teabag. It was meant as a compliment but came across as both pejorative and vaguely sexual. Sharapova’s response was to sniff, “Who is that? Sorry, I don’t know who Judy Murray is.” Translation: It is beneath me to dignify that remark.

The notion that Sharapova does not know Judy Murray is absurd. Even the most solipsistic and tunneled player can’t not know Judy Murray -- a prominent and lively presence on both the tennis caravan and social media. This, though, was Sharapova’s way of getting in a dig without being drawn into a controversy. For that, we say: Well played.

Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras are tied with 14 Grand Slam titles and 64 titles overall. If Rafa retires today, who should be considered the best between them? Let's check the numbers:

-- Australian Open titles: 2-1 in favor of Sampras
-- French Open: 9-0 Nadal
-- Wimbledon: 7-2 Sampras
-- U.S. Open: 5-2 Sampras
-- World Tour Finals: 5-0 Sampras
-- Masters 1000s: 27-11 Nadal
-- Olympic gold: 1-0 Nadal
-- Davis Cup: 4-2 Nadal
-- Year-end No. 1 ranking: 6-3 Sampras
-- Grand Slam finals: 20-18 Nadal
-- Nadal's main rivals: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray
-- Sampras' main rivals: Andre Agassi, Boris Becker ... Michael Chang? Richard Krajicek? Thomas Muster?

-- Rocko Balboa

• I wouldn’t say this is exhaustive, but, yes, you make a convincing empirical case for Nadal. We can always play the “what if” game, but does anyone else feel like Nadal was a few points and a back injury from winning three Australian Opens?

Poor Sampras, a terrific player and unimpeachable guy. He retired surely thinking that he had set the standard for excellence. He’s barely been retired for a decade and not one but two guys eclipse him.

I know you have been a serial sympathizer of Ryan Harrison's terrible luck of the draw at major tournaments. Harrison tends to draw highly ranked players in the first round, a fact when viewed in isolation reveals a lack of good fortune. But if you put this in context: At No. 145 this week, and no higher than No. 112 since March, Ryan deserves nothing more than a highly ranked opponent every time he plays/qualifies for a Slam. Let's accept the reality that Harrison's ceiling will always put him outside the top 32 and often see him struggle to get out of the first round.
-- Anand Mamidipudi, Pittsburgh

• A serial sympathizer? Ouch. Can I plead that down at all? A periodic sympathizer? A serial empathizer? A Korg synthesizer? I answer this question on a day when Harrison lost to No. 112 Tim Smyczek in Atlanta -- a defeat that suggests there are problems here that go well beyond unfortunate draws at majors.

Tennis is a brutal sport but a meritocratic one. We can debate whether X basketball player is in the right system. Or whether a soccer coach is using player Y correctly. Or whether Cam Newton quarterback Z is being held back by a lacking receiving corps. But in tennis you either win, or you don’t. Your ranking goes up or goes down. You’re exposed and there are few leaves to spare you embarrassment.

Shots, miscellany

• Several of you have asked about RSS feeds for the redesigned SI.com. They can be found here.

• Elsie Misbourne of Washington, D.C., with good fact-finding: "Because there were two Australian Opens in 1977, it turns out there were 10 different women's Grand Slam finalists that year: Kerry Reid, Dianne Fromholtz, Mima Jausovec, Florenta Mihai, Virginia Wade, Betty Stove, Chris Evert, Wendy Turnbull, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley and Helen Gourlay. The 1978 season began with an 11th different finalist, Virginia Ruzici, in the French Open. As luck would have it, the current streak stands at 10: Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, Dominika Cibulkova, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Eugenie Bouchard. History may be made at the U.S. Open."

• Who remembers Marissa Irvin, a former WTA and Stanford player? Here’s her new book.

• Never really thought of this before but, yes, reader Edward Mallot is correct that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looks strikingly like Kei Nishikori. Almost indistinguishably so.

• Milos Raonic tossed an unusual first pitch at the Blue Jays-Red Sox game on Tuesday.

• Former No. 12 Viktor Troicki is looking to revive his career after serving a 12-month doping suspension. Now ranked No. 847, the 28-year-old Serb accepted a wild card into this week's Swiss Open and beat No. 47 Dominic Thiem in the first round.

Fun moment last week in Colombia between Dudi Sela and Ivo Karlovic.

• More from Karlovic: A fantastic match point in his semifinal win over Radek Stepanek.

• I don’t believe I’ve ever met Dejan Kovacevic, but I’m rooting like hell for him.

• G. Perkins of Philadelphia has long-lost siblings: Amelie Mauresmo and The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels.

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