Publish date:

Nadal's pricy watch, Serena's seven-year Henin itch, more mail

• Old joke: "What time is it when your protégé wears a half-million dollar watch? Time to explain that his plain-folks sensibilities was a great part of his appeal."

Remember that brutally unkind GQ article on Nadal a few years back? It made the case that Nadal is a dumb and inelegant jock, Cro-Magnon brute to Roger Federer's Renaissance man. While that characterization was too facile and harsh, Nadal is what he is. An unpretentious meat-and-potatoes guy, they'd call him in the Midwest. He plays a lot of video games. He likes sports. He likes to fish. He likes to sleep and eat. And, oh yeah, he's a magnificent tennis player.

One gets the feeling that some "brand manager" or "image consultant" has determined this persona isn't good enough, that there are more commercially appealing images. "The old Rafa was for kids; we need the adult Rafa," a member of his team once told me. As a result, the tastemakers are attempting the "class him up," attiring him in clothes that would get him mocked for dweebishenss at the Greenwich Country Club; allowing him to wear -- and then, inexplicably, publicizing -- a watch that costs more than 10 times what the average Mallorcan worker will earn in a year. Athletes are, of course, allowed to take whatever endorsements come their way. They are also permitted to change and evolve. (How many of us wear the same outfit or hold the same political views we did five years go?) But try too hard and you come off looking like the woodwind orchestra that puts on a backwards baseball cap and tries to pass itself off as hip-hop.

You express surprise, or even shock, at the fact that Serena still carries a grudge over her 2003 French Open semifinal loss to Henin when Henin clearly cheated. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps honesty/not cheating means a lot to Serena and that is why it bothers her? Did it ever occur to you that Henin has never "come clean" about the incident and the media has essentially given her a free pass and perhaps that makes it worse? Or perhaps Serena is still so upset because she was going for her fifth consecutive GS victory (and considering that she won the U.S. Open, it could have been 7 in a row)? For me, I would never forget if someone so blatantly cheated me in any situation because I care about honesty. There is no expiration date on that.--Eugene, San Francisco, Calif.

• I'm not so surprised -- certainly not shocked -- that Serena is still, understandably, sore about this: that Henin's "lying and fabricating," as Serena called it at the time, is still lodged in her memory. (I'm not sure she "carries a grudge," as that implies a level of vindictiveness.) And again, it wasn't meant to condone or condemn. I just thought it was an interesting and genuine revelation from someone who can be hard to read at times.

I do get tripped up on this: When Serena went nuclear at the U.S. Open last year, one of her camp's explanations was that in the heat of battle, athletes can make some regrettable choices. Couldn't the same apply to Henin? Shouldered with pressure that most of us will never know, she made a split second choice she wishes she could take back. (See: Paul Daley, for the UFC fans in the audience.) And look, we all care about honesty. But in some situations, I'd contend that there is an expiration date. We look at the totality of circumstances, the passage of time, the ultimate effect of the dishonesty. Sometimes we move on. Sometimes we don't.

Eugene does make a good point though: Had some semblance of an apology been forthcoming, I suspect that would have gone a long way toward forgiving and forgetting. Unfortunately, no admission of guilt was forthcoming. And Henin continues to flout the rules with mid-match coaching. Which is too bad.

Sartorial choices aside, I do love Rafael Nadal. However, is it really necessary to roll around in the dirt following a semifinal win at a Masters Series tournament, especially since he's currently tied with Agassi as the top Masters Series winner of all time?--Christina Davis, Boston, Mass.

• And think of what those granules of clay could do to a $500,000 watch.

Here is the great tennis site your reader asked about.--Deb, Belmont, Mass.

• Right. Thanks to the many of you who noted such. Sadly Kamakshi Tandon, the administratrix, had made a vocational unforced error and is now in law school.

Kudos to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez for her victory in the Italian Open. She's got such a fun game to watch: great deception, great variety, best drop shots I've ever seen, and the barely-familiar-in-this-day-and-age serve-and-volley game. Knocking off Jankovic, a two-time champion who had just beaten both Williams sisters to get to the final, and winning such a prestigious tournament has to be a career highlight for her. Any chance she can make a run at the French Open?--Joel Langellier, St. Charles, Ill.

• As I wrote a few days ago, this struck me as one of the more heartwarming stories of 2010. Here's a journeywoman who was playing the tournament of her life. And her game, as Joel notes, is a fun mix of deception, drop shots, spins and angles. As always, we should acknowledge the difference between enjoying a hot week of tennis and making a run at a major. Still, apply a highlighter to her name when the Roland Garros draw comes out.

Agassi's next forty years? I noticed this amazingly ambitious (completely non-sports-related) agenda for the next decade announced on a (not-at-all-sports related) panel at the major power players of all stripes Milken Global Conference in L.A. this morning. The beginning of the next phase?--Julie, Hampton

• Yeah, this is precisely why many of us -- self included -- have a hard time mustering much outrage over the crystal meth, the ungracious remarks toward Pete Sampras, the occasional breaches of decorum. On balance, he's doing pretty well, I'd say.

Hi, Jon. I'm going to Roland Garros in a couple of weeks. What do you suggest I see/do? Thanks!--Walter, Brighton, Mass.

• You can't go wrong. Take the Metro and walk from the Porte d'Auteuil stop. Don't bother with cabs, much less attempt to drive. Be sure to check out "The Bullring," one of the great courts in tennis. Don't neglect the practice courts behind Lenglen Stadium. The food is surprisingly blah, so you might want to bring something from the outside. Bring sunblock but also an umbrella. Keep an eye out for that Carla Bruni. (And if time permits, see the town. Allegedly Paris has a few cool museums, churches and stuff.)

Jankovic's wins over both Williams sisters put her in a rare category of players who have beaten both Serena and Venus in the same tournament. The even rarer achievement though has been to beat both Williams sisters and still have enough in the tank to win the entire event. Clijsters did it in New York last summer. Who else has done this and in which tournaments?--Rod Lowe, Toronto

• Martina Hingis pulled it off at the 2001 Australian Open ... and, wait, this just in from the wire services: "[Jankovic] is the seventh player to beat the sisters in the same tournament, joining Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Steffi Graf, Hingis, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport and Henin. Clijsters has done it twice."

You neglected to mention Eric Butorac among those Americans playing well on clay as he advanced to the men's doubles final of the BMW Open, losing 16-14 in a tiebreak. Just a thought.--Don Hann, Rochester, Minn.

• Far be in from us to give short shrift to a Minnesotan.

Why is it that no matter what Serena's results are in non-majors, it does nothing to diminish my feeling that she will win the next major she enters. However, when Federer doesn't fare so well in warm-up tournaments (even despite his success in the last four majors), I still have an uneasy feeling about how he will do in his next major?--Chris Horton, Chicago

• Fair enough. I suspect it's because Serena's pattern hasn't changed over the course of her entire career. A full third of her 36 titles -- a strikingly small haul for a player of her caliber -- have been majors. (Consider: Lindsay Davenport won 52 titles in addition to her three Slams.) Again, Serena is simply a different player at a Slam than she is in Rome, Stanford or Toronto. The critic will complain about her lack of consistency, a willingness to treat non-majors as preseason games. The supporter will marvel at her ability to elevate her game when the most meaningful prizes are on the line. In Federer's case, this is a relatively new development. It was routine for him to win upwards of a dozen events each year. Yes, he's the Slams leader: but he's won twice as many non-slams as Serena has. So seeing him falter in Miami or Rome or Estoril is still jarring. My guess: neither Federer nor Serena win in Paris; both repeat at Wimbedon.

Regarding the whole discussion about the Williamses and not playing Fed Cup. Are we gonna call Roger Federer out as well for not playing Davis Cup? All this hating on the sisters is really just ridiculous.--Bandabou, Netherlands

SI Recommends

• In a word: YES! Federer does get called out for taking pass on Davis Cup. It's regularly cited as a knock against him. He is asked to defend this decision year-round. Behind the scenes, it's met with disappointment. We all like hypocrisy and double standards, but let's be sure it really holds. Again, I think the Williams sisters are within their rights to beg off of Fed Cup. I think the problem is in the damage control. If you don't want to play, just say so. That goes down much easier than volunteering for duty and then withdrawing at the last minute, as has happened on three different occasions within the past year.

Steffi Graf continues to be No. 1 even in her family life, voted "Mother of the Nation" in Germany. Funny how the media changes their tune. Boris Becker was the darling of German media, as he knew how to play to them, and Steffi was always portrayed negatively as she was the opposite. During the tax scandal, even the German government (mostly responsible for the tax debacle) completely abandoned her and her father. She is so popular in Germany now that many believe that she can even give the German Chancellor a tough fight. I don't think that there is any difference between Steffi Graf from then to now, but just the people's perception of her changed since no one imagined that she could lead a normal, happy life (solely based on the image created by the media).--Anonymous

• Thanks, I guess it goes to prove: Neither subjects nor the media is/are stagnant .

As a fervent supporter of the Williamses, I've followed the recent (ongoing and neverending!) debates over the sisters' paths, decisions, form, etc., with interest. I would like to point out that they are currently standing at Nos. 1 and 2 in the WTA race. Venus could also overtake Wozniacki (you know, the blonde chick who plays on crutches) in the rankings with a good showing at the French and Wimbledon. I am hoping for a competitive all-Williams final at the coming U.S. Open.--Michel, Beirut

• I suspect that there are more charitable ways to characterize Wozniacki. But, yes, let the record reflect that Serena and Venus -- more than a dozen years after they broke on the scene -- might well be 1-2 in the world soon.

"Why do so few tennis players ever wear sunglasses?" For the same reason so few ballplayers wear them while batting -- they change your depth perception and thus make striking the ball more difficult. Even prescription sunglasses do this.--Larry Larson, Alexandria, Va.

• Thanks, There's a Divine Brown joke in here somewhere, waiting to get out.

• Just a reminder that if you're not into Twitter, I'll post a lot of the same material on this Facebook page.

• B.B. Kingplaying the at Tennis Hall of Fame. (What does he think about Juan Carlos Ferrero's chance of enshrinement?)

• John McEnroe will take on Andy Roddick in a "battle of generations" as part of the N.Y. Sportimes World TeamTennis schedule on July 14 at Randall's Island Tennis Center. The match is part of the Sportimes' 2010 home season, which runs from July 5-19. McEnroe, the captain of the Sportimes, is competing in his 10th WTT season.

• FROM THE ATP: Noticed some fans asking about Tursunov and Spadea this week. Thought you might want to point them to the player video features produced each week for our TV show ATP World Tour Uncovered, which they can view for free on our website. It's a good way for fans to get to know more of our players. We did features on Tursunov and Spadea last year, which are archived here:

• Yanina Wickmayer had a small arthroscopic surgery today removing a small floating bone spur. The surgery, performed in Belgium, was successful and the recovery time is scheduled to be around 10 days. She will be able to participate at Roland Garros.

• Kei Nishikori won his first ATP Challenger since returning from his elbow surgery last year, beating Ryan Sweeting in the final of the Savannah Challenger. Next week Kei will play in the Sarasota Challenger near his home at the IMG/Bolletieri Tennis Academy.

• The Serena/JJ incident reminded one reader of this.

• Why is everyone knocking the plaid pants of Rafa/Roger? Maybe someone was ahead of their time.

• Very nice Rafa interview with English subtitles.

• Good to see Lleyton Hewitt is with us on the need for Davis Cup reform.

• What do you notice about Tommy Haas?

• Roger Federer, what a jerk.

• Ray Robinson of Columbia, Md., notes: "On the subject of tennis books, the local Borders had a re-issued copy of Rod Laver's Education of a Tennis Player available, so I promptly picked it up. And for anybody who thinks that the commercialization of the sport started in the 1970s, they should note that on the book's cover, the Rocket is wearing a British Petroleum sweater while hoisting the Wimbledon trophy (maybe he should have stuck with Fred Perry!). Some other book suggestions: Jon Henderson's bio of Fred Perry, The Last Champion, has gotten great reviews across the pond. Also, in the last dozen or so years there have been some excellent compilations of tennis writing, including Jay Jennings' Tennis and the Meaning of Life, Caryl Phillips' The Right Set and Adam Sexton's Tennis Shorts.

• Harshest press release of the week goes the folks at Tennis Canada after Al Wozniak lost to Elena Dementieva in Madrid. An email titled: "WOZNIAK NO MATCH FOR DEMENTIEVA IN MADRID" notes that "Top Canadian gets rocked by World No. 6 at Premier event." Rocked? Ouch. Okay, it was 6-0, 6-1. And in a perverse way, we appreciate the withering candor. But jeez, cut your own player some slack.

• Based in the U.S.? Fluent in both English and Italian? Possess a passion for tennis and writing/editing? Web savvy? If so, contact me and I may have a part-time employment opportunity.

• Karen of New York/New Jersey has this week's LLS: Ivan Ljubicic and the ATP World Tour logo.

Have a great week everyone!