Wednesday February 25th, 2015

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Lot of you commented on your fondness for the grab-bag approach. So let’s do that again….

I watched Kim Clijsters play Andrea Petkovic in the exhibition at Antwerp and marvelled at Clijsters' ball striking. I was mildly shocked that she is only 31-years-old and it did not take much imagination to see that she would be quite competitive if she were to come out of retirement. What other "retired" players would be quite competitive should they return? Justine Henin? Dinara Safina? I can't think of any recently retired men as readily. Could Andy Roddick make the Top 10 post retirement ?
—Kenneth Soh

Tennis
Kim Clijsters returns to beat Antwerp champ Petkovic in surprise exhibition

I think the big distinction is not whether they can be competitive for one match, but, rather: can they be competitive, day-in, day-out? You mentioned Roddick, for instance. In a winner-take-all match—especially on a fast surface—I like him against, say, 65% of the current top 100. What I like less: his odds of playing multiple weeks in a row without injury or fatigue.

This always bites retired athletes in the butt. I was at a dinner with a former top ten pro last week (a humblebrag; R.I.P. Harris Wittels) who still has the itch to play. This is based on his still being able to serve in the 120s and some encouraging hitting sessions. The player has the good sense to know that it’s a long way from that to competing on the grind of the tour. He knows that if he stages a comeback, he'll need months to get in playing shape.

Sorry Jon, but sympathy for Malek Jaziri should only be debated after consequences have been meted out for racism and anti-Semitism. It is shameful on the ATP that he has not been sanctioned. Their silence is tantamount to admission of no wrongdoing.  Not playing a fellow pro because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation or skin color is wholly unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Who cares if he is a nice guy? The action has to be condemned.   
—Ben, Queens, N.Y.

Tennis
Mailbag: ATP's failure to take a real stand on Jaziri; Serena in Indian Wells

• I agree. I think we need to reserve some judgment on Jaziri, given the dynamics here. One of you wrote: “Today I was listening to the No Challenges Remaining podcast and Ben Rothenberg's interview with tennis writer Reem Abulleil (Episode 99) where she answers a question about Jaziri (around 42:30). From what Reem is saying, Jaziri's decision to not play an Israeli might have to do more with personal safety and the safety of his family than it has to do with nationalism or being bullied by his federation to withdraw….Maybe Jaziri didn't want to make this part public, but perhaps he declined to play Dudi Sela in response to what he perceived as very real threats against himself or his loved ones.”

What is less cloudy: the ATP’s lack of condemnation is both galling and a dangerous precedent setter. If Player A can decline to compete against Player B for any reason—and it goes unremarked upon, much less unpunished—you have just departed down the slipperiest of slopes. 

I was looking at the rosters for Alcorn State’s tennis teams. Not a single American nor black on either the men’s or women’s team at this historically black public university. Shameful. 
—Blake Davis

• This pertains to our discussion last week about the those dubious opportunistic college tennis coaches who stock their rosters with foreign ringers a move that might be permissible but is at odds with the sprit of college sports.

Quick story: as a cub reporter for Sports Illustrated, I was assigned to cover the 1998 National Minority College Golf Championships. I arrived at the course in Florida and, as I pulled up, I feared I went to the wrong location. There were team buses from historically black college colleges. But few African-American kids on the putting greens.

It soon became clear that these programs have departed from the missions of the school and simply recruited the best golfers. There was a lot of double-talk and rationalizing. Eddie Payton (Walter’s brother) was the coach of the Jackson State team and he was unapologetic. He just wanted to field the best team—and if his roster bore little resemblance to the student body, so be it. Here was his quote to me: “This championship is for schools whose student body has been predominantly minority. That doesn't mean the golf teams have to be.”

Tennis
Mailbag: Lleyton Hewitt's Hall of Fame candidacy; Federer or Nadal?

(I see Payton is still the coach. Here’s the current roster.)

One of the more awkward intervals came during a dinner. Speakers, many of them successful African-American businessmen, took turns delivering these messages of perseverance and struggle. They spoke poignantly of overcoming prejudice and the weight of expectation and the obligation to give back to the community and importance of historically black schools.  Yet the audience was overwhelming white and overwhelming foreign. (More than half the top ten finishers were Caucasian). I still wonder what all the golfers from Wales and Germany and Australia were thinking when the speakers referenced civil rights and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Anyway, is it shameful, as Blake suggests? I would say yes. Others disagree. We had a lot of mail about last week’s topic. The ITA claims that it is hamstrung and any quota on overseas ringers would fail a legal challenge. Not so, say others. The NCAA is a member-run institution and, just as the NCAA has age limits of eligibility requirements and academic thresholds, it could pass policy here. Parents wrote to me complaining that college tennis programs are depriving American kids of opportunity. Others counterpointed that we live in a globalized world. One college coach refuses the “fools gold” of overseas recruitment. We can continue discussing….

Genie Bouchard was recently given a wildcard into Dubai before pulling out of the tournament the next day. It's rumored the decision had been made to give her the wildcard a while back. Given her ranking, why would she need a wildcard at all? Shouldn't she be granted direct entry? At what point must a top player decide to play a tournament in order to be entered into the tournament? It makes sense for Hewitt to have already gotten his Queens Club wildcard since I don't think we can expect his ranking to be high enough to get him in on its own.—Nicole Desplat

Tennis
Daily Bagel: Wozniacki says dating golfer McIlroy came in handy

In honor of the achievements of Desplats everywhere, Nicole gets her question answered. The lovely and talented WTA communications commandant, Kevin Fischer takes us out:

“The Top 10 players (based on year-end Top 10) submit their playing schedule before the start of the 2015 season. As Dubai was not a commitment tournament for Genie, she asked for a wildcard. As an aside, there are two Top 20 WCs held for events, allowing players not with direct entry a chance to enter.”

Last week when you linked to Cam Bennett's article on Nick Kyrgios and Birdman, I realized that you have linked to a number of his articles on tennis previously. Upon re-reading his brief archive, I came to realize that I've always liked his articles, as he always seems to present a perspective on some aspect of the sport that I haven't thought of before. Now that I understand that one of my favorite tennis writers is actually a random blogger from Australia, I was wondering if you know of any other bloggers who are as interesting to read, or have you already introduced me to the best of the bunch? Thanks for the great weekly Mailbag, it's a highlight of this tennis fan's week!
—Mark Woerle, Manchester

Thanks, Mark. I am in the bag for Courtney Nguyen. I’m reluctant to starting ticking off names because inevitably I’ll miss some. But—especially as mainstream media tennis coverage declines—the army of bloggers has really been a boon. There’s a lot of knowledge and passion and, in many cases, talent out there. Media is obviously in a state of flux and disruption. But as a consumer/fan, these are great times.

Tennis
Gustavo Kuerten on state of Brazilian tennis, impact of 2016 Rio Olympics

Both Bernard Tomic and Donald Young are gifted players who for various reasons have not lived up to their potential in the past. This year they are both very fit, focused and serious about their tennis, and have started 2015 playing very well. They are both still young with a lot of years ahead of them. Now that Young and Tomic are playing with renewed commitment and purpose, if they both stay healthy, which player do you think has the most upside to their tennis?
—Richard Kimble, jazz comedian

While trying to wrap my brain around the concept of a jazz comedian….Underachieving Bernard Tomic/Donald Young has become one of those cut-and-pastes like “quirky Wes Anderson” or “amicable breakup.” (Does anyone use the word amicable in any other context?) But the writer raises a god point: here are two players, still relatively young (N/P/I) who seem to have matured and are playing creditable Big Boy tennis.

I’ve said this before about Young, in particular. He’s currently a top 50 player. He has earned more than $2 million for his career. He is now a Davis Cup player. He is only 25-years-old. The worst thing you can say about him is that he...once sent an ill-considered tweet? Didn’t always work as hard as he should have? If that’s underachieving, where do I sign up?

One issue here is parental propinquity. You wish both Tomic and Young would divorce their parents from their tennis careers. If Young were to work with, say, Brad Gilbert—which nearly happened several years ago—you wonder how that would have panned out. If one of the Aussies could penetrate the Tomic camp and gently nudge Pops to the side, that would be interesting as well.

A few years ago Alexander Dolgopolov was getting some attention as an up-and-coming young gun. He seems to have stagnated a bit. Any insight as to the state of his game and/or coaching situation?
—David, Urbana, Ill.

He’s playing Acapulco this week, so we should be able to get a sense of “where his game is at,” as we say with grammatical carelessness. He turns 27 this year so—even in the 30-is-the-new-20 era—he has forfeited young guns status. There’s a lot to like here. Good mover, good athlete, clean strokes. While he is a little guy—if he is truly 5’11” as listed, my name is Nduka Odizor—he has that jackrabbit motion and hits a big serve. (He used it to beat Nadal at Indian Wells last year.) Two knocks against the guy: his focus tends to waver and he loses of lot of matches to lesser lights. He also has the misfortune of spending big chunks of time on tennis’ disabled list, injured with one malady or another.

Lot of tennis left to be played here. So let’s reserve judgment. He’s one of those players who ought to look at Kei Nishikori and say, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

Tennis
Aces and Faults: Over-30 ATP vets Simon, Ferrer and Karlovic win titles

With Tommy Robredo and Andres Seppi breaking long losing streaks to Roger Federer recently, it would be make sense that Mikhail Youzhny wins today.
—Anonymous

“Roger Federer opened his bid for an unprecedented seventh Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title on Monday with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Mikhail Youzhny in the first round. The Swiss improved to a 16-0 mark against Youzhny in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series as he won his first match back since suffering a surprise third-round exit against Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open last month.”

Given the post-AO lull, and the SNL 40 stuff going on, I was reminded of one of my more favorite skits—Coffee Talk with Linda Richman (Mike Meyers), with a tennis topic. We debate GOAT, and we have (on your Mailbag at some point of time if I recall correctly) debated “greatest to never win a Grand Slam” but how about “most talented to have ONLY won one Slam”? Maybe you could do a little prize thingy too! I'm all verklempt! Talk amongst yourselves....(Sorry, couldn't resist.)
—Anirban Mukherjee

The Grand Slam is neither Grand nor a Slam. Discuss! (For those who don’t know to what this pertains, read this.)

Did I miss the announcement of a winner for the Dunlop "Encounter with a Pro" contest? My story got mentioned here.
—James Pham, Garland, Texas

• Um….you won! Congrats! Send me your mailing address. (We’ll do another contest soon.)

Shots, Miscellany:

James of Portland writes: His name is Luca/He made the finals in São Paulo/He's ranked 149 in the world/No I don't think you've seen him before

• Can we discuss? Karolina Pliskova is ranked No. 13.

Tennis
Watch List: Djokovic, Federer return in Dubai while Sharapova plays Acapulco

Press releasing: Former world No. 1 and Wimbledon champion Stan Smith will be the featured honoree at the 115th edition of the Ojai tournament.

The Miami Open announced that World No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will be the featured evening match on Saturday, March 28 at 8 p.m.

Here’s the Bob Knight piece, for those asking.

• Two-time Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Ted Robinson, tennis coaching legend Nick Bollettieri and WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster will be among the keynote speakers at two important tennis industry conferences to be held in March in Indian Wells.

This week’s lookalikes comes from G. Perkins of Philly: Eugenie Bouchard and Rosamund Pike, 2015 Oscar nominee for best actress for the movie Gone Girl.

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