Federer keeps cruising, the looks debate rages on and more mail

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Now that Roger Federer has beaten Ivo Karlovic, the human ace machine, is anything stopping him from winning Wimbledon? I feel like the quarterfinal against Dr. Ivo would be his toughest match.-- Dave, New York

Well, there's a guy left named AndyMurray, who, after an unsightly first set, looked awfully sharp Wednesday. (Plus, he has a 6-2 record against Federer.) Roddick sure showed some character today. And Tommy Haas, a streaky player currently streaking, is no slouch, either. But I don't disagree with your premise. Karlovic is an immensely dangerous player and Federer brushed him away like lint on his lapel. It was a clinical, not especially pretty win against an awkward opponent; yet it spoke volumes. Federer's toolkit is so vast -- the return game was key against Karlovic -- it allows him to handle anything. Time to say it yet again: 21 straight Grand Slam finals is the most underrated streak in sports.

I know I'm channeling my inner Archie Bunker as I say this but the cold hard reality is that esthetics count in women's tennis (as long as it's accompanied by good skill). Advertisers whose primary target market is males 24-54 would rather a final between, say, Venus and Dementieva/Sharapova over Safina and Davenport. C'mon, Jon admit it, when you were watching Charlie's Angels, how many times were you pulling for a story line around Kate Jackson's character? It's not fair to the women who didn't win the DNA lottery, but 90 percent of us would be hypocrites if we said looks don't count.-- Neil Grammer, Toronto

Easy on Kate Jackson. Scarecrow and Ms. King was TV at its finest. OK, looks count; but boy is it a slippery slope when you admit as much in sports. You've sent a message that some players are more valuable than others based on factors other than merit. If their promotion is so favorable to fans, television and sponsors, why not start giving them favorable line calls, too? Part of the problem, too, is this only applies to women. Both genders compete simultaneously here, but Wimbledon would never say, "Male Player X is unshaven today and has an unsightly zit on his chin. Despite his ranking, we're moving him to court 18."

There has been a lot of second guessing of both the WTA rankings and Wimbledon seedings lately. I hope that the fact that the top four seeds made it to the women's semifinals will bring the noise level down ...-- Gilbert Benoit, Ottawa, Ontario

Agree, though it would be nice for credibility's sake if two of those top four could get around to winning Slams one day. As usual, we're getting a lot of mail complaining about the caliber of play in the women's game -- both the uninspired matches and the monotonous baseline banging. My take-away so far: We should be celebrating the Williams sisters, playing as well as ever after all these years, more than we should be denigrating the field.

In your last mailbag, a reader asked if Marat Safin is a Hall of Fame player. He is a two-time Grand Slam champion who made four Grand Slam finals. A former world No. 1, he made the semifinals of all four majors. Finished three years ranked in the top five. He's been great for Russia in the Davis Cup, winning a huge clutch match for the title in 2006. Interestingly enough, he also has a winning record in finals appearances for his career at 15-12. Really, how do you keep Safin out?-- Paul Higdon, Rockville, Md.

Tough call. This underscores the problem with flimsy standards. The Hall of Fame should really be the Mount Olympus of the sport. Enshrinement should be the equivalent of being knighted; not getting access to the VIP lounge at the Borgata. Bless Safin and his two Slams, his ample titles, his killer backhand, his Davis Cup success, his rugged good looks, his perpetual existential angst. But Hall of Fame? The institution that, in baseball, keeps out 300 game winners? Really? When you set the bar low, though, you can't suddenly elevate. The unofficial precedent is at least one major and some other supporting data. (See: Gaby Sabatini.) On paper/pixels, Safin is in.

Jon, first time, long time. In watching ESPN2's coverage of Wimbledon (which I think is quite good), I can't help but notice Chris Fowler's disdain and disregard for virtually all things Brad Gilbert. From countering/correcting almost everything Brad says to not very subtle digs at his wardrobe, Fowler makes it clear that there is no love lost, but to me it borders on unprofessional. While I understand that to a degree Brad plays the "heel," I also think he knows a great deal about the game and often provides excellent insight. Curious as to your insight/perspective on their relationship and whether or not you think it has any affect on the broadcast.-- Jim, New York City

Gilbert and Fowler are actually sharing the townhouse next door to me. I'm sure any on-air tension is just residual anger over who ate the last Pop Tart. In as much as they razz each other, it makes for good TV. What I don't get is Gilbert's dress code. The guy was made to wear black sports gear. It's too jarring to see him in a suit with a pocket square. Like putting whipped cream on a hot dog.

Isn't it about time you make a mention of Dick Norman (if only to give doubles some coverage)? Nice recent run for a 38-year-old. Anyone else who wonders what would happen if he ever teams up with Ivo Karlovic?-- Don, London

Absolutely. And we'll throw a bouquet to James Blake and Mardy Fish, who are still in doubles as well. Remember how Federer won the doubles in Beijing and it really galvanized him? Maybe this showing in doubles will enable Blake to leave here with some confidence and optimism.

Are the mixed-doubles purses for the first few rounds so un-enticing that several players decide it's not worth staying, leading to walkover?-- Kate, New York

In a word: yes. There's a place for mixed-doubles. It's fun. It fills sessions. It underscores the dual nature of tennis. It puts some extra coin in the pockets of some players. But if you're fatigued, or want to ration energy, or are fearful of exacerbating an injury, it's easy to pull the rip cord and bail.

• Novak Djokovic, who lost to Haas on Wednesday, has not made a semifinal in 2009.

• Reader Terry House is from West Hollywood/Palm Springs, not Hollywood.

• Jan Conlon of Santa Rosa, Calif., brings the long-lost siblings:

Andreas Seppi and Jeff Anderson (of Clerks fame).