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Mailbag: What's in an upset?


I see many articles calling Sam Stosur's victory over Justine Henin an upset. How is it an upset when a seventh seed defeats the 22nd seed?--Karl Sponberg, Bellingham, Wash.

• In this case, let's toss out the seedings/rankings. Henin is playing a Grand Slam tournament she has more or less owned since the early 2000s. She has won a haul of Slams. She has -- and maybe you've heard this? -- a particular attachment to Roland Garros.

Sam Stosur is a fine player, but apart from being no one's clay-court specialist, she's had a history of falling short in big matches. She has never been to a Grand Slam final in singles. No question this was an upset. Should we account for the fact that a) Henin is still a bit rusty after her 18-month hiatus and, b) Stosur has done a convincing impersonation of a top-five player over the past year and c) Stosur had the higher ranking? Absolutely. Still, we vote upset. In fact, probably the biggest of the tournament ... for about 24 hours anyway.

Karl does however make a good point. One can't simply look at the seedings to determine what is and isn't an upset. Surface, form, health, context all obviously factor in. Did NicolasAlmagro "upset" FernandoVerdasco? Not really. Did our new favorite player, Tommy Bellucci, upset Ivan Ljubicic? No. Even Andy Roddick losing on clay to a qualifier is a borderline call. Nadia Petrova over Venus Williams on clay? Minor upset.

Who would be your top picks for Wimbledon this year on the form at the French? I think Roddick looked OK considering the surface (when he found time to stop scratching [himself]; what's up with that?). Can Rafa do the double again?--John, Glasgow, U.K.

• I like John's question but I'd warn against getting too seduced. Time and again we see this: Player X -- Sam Stosur in 2009, comes immediately to mind -- kill it in Paris and suddenly becomes a hot stock. Then he or she fizzles, inexplicably, on the grass. Conversely, Player Y -- think Venus in 2007 -- falters miserably on the clay. Suddenly, she is a world-beater on grass. Again, if tennis were more up to speed vis-à-vis analytics, I suspect data would confirm there is surprisingly little correlation between results at the French and at Wimbledon. I look at an athletic, in-form player the likes of Shvedova or Stosur and might conclude that success on the grass awaits. But who knows?

As for Roddick, many of you have raised a similar point. Some athletes require attitude adjustments. Some athletes require other adjustments. And he's always going to be a threat at Wimbledon, no matter how he fared on clay.

If it was Desi Arnez asking, he would say "'Splaine, Lucie." Since it's me, I'll just ask WTHIGO with Lucie Safarova. Finals one week, first-round victim next. Beats Wozniacki, Radwanska, Pennetta and Dulgheru on clay coming in to Paris, then craps out dismally to Polona Hercog at the French. Is there any other player with such dizzying highs and dismal lows in the current dizzying high and dismally low WTA?--Karl Miller, Phoenixville, PA

• You spend time in a long-term relationship with Tomas Berdych and this is what you get?

Just a comment on "the greatest waste of talent ever." In the Top 5 of all-time must be Conchita Martinez. As Billie Jean King once said of her, "I don't know how she can live with herself". If she had had even 50 percent of Aranxta's fighting spirit to go along with her far more attractive, varied and technically superior game, she would have been an all-time great.--Glen Janney, Miami

• See, this is what I mean. Martinez won friggin' Wimbledon. We should all be so profligate with our talent. How much of an underachiever could she really be? Should she added a few majors along the way? Probably. But when we're fingering underachievers, what about all these junior champs who never cracked the Top 50 on the pro tours?

As some have been pointing out, head-to-head is deceiving. Had Federer been a worse clay player, he would not have reached the RG semis in 2005 nor the finals in '06, '07 and '08 when he lost to Nadal. His record against Nadal would be better had Federer been a worse player! Similarly, if Nadal had been a better grass and hard court player from '05-08 if he'd have reached more finals and likely been beaten by Fed.--Emilio Jackson, Mississippi

• Yeah. Let's table this discussion for a while. But Emilio is right: Had Federer lost earlier at clay events, it would have the perverse effect of improving his head-to-head record against Nadal. Just something worth thinking about...

You forgot something in your midterm grades. This year's Roland Garros poster deserves an F. Why is that guy rolling around in the corner? Creepy.--Anonymous, Tucson, Ariz.

• OK, but how many sporting events have their own annual poster? I love this touch. In the U.S., the boys in branding and marketing would kill the idea because the logo wasn't sufficiently consistent.

I want to make a correction to your grades column because when it was written, there was still another American male in the men's doubles: Travis Rettenmaier (not Rettenmayer as seen on the draw sheet). He just came off winning the Serbian Open with Santiago Gonzalez and was even scouted by Leander Paes during his first-round match.--Jason, Huntington Beach, Calif.

• Good catch. If we wanted to get really crazy/desperate we would point out that Eric Butorac, the pride of Minnesota tennis, remained in the mixed draw, after he and his partner beat the top seed.

• Where's Donald Young? Parse this statement from the USTA: During the entire month of May, the USTA has celebrated the Tennis Mom. So it seemed only fitting that Atlanta's Donald Young would win his fifth career USTA Pro Circuit event in front of his mother Illona, the first time she's traveled with him since last October.

"Yeah, it really helped me to have her here all week," said the 20-year-old Young, who beat No. 5 seeded Robert Kendrick in the final of the L.A. Men's Open $50,000 Challenger on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. "She hasn't been out here with me since October so it's especially sweet to win in front of her."

• Paul R. of Tampa: "Tracy Austin's Racquet Bracket and Brad Gilbert's Wrist Assist -- pretty much the same thing as far as I can tell."

• Casey L. of LeRoy, Minn., calls to our attention to this excellent Tom Tebbutt piece on Justine Henin to our attention. Note the bit about her brother.

• Jim Wilkins of San Diego: "Regarding your article about grades for various players and elements of the French Open, you mention the 'City of Lights,' It amazes me how many people get this wrong. It is the 'City of Light,' not the 'City of Lights.'"

• Steve of Kirksville rightly wonders: "Think commentators/umpires/trophy presenters secretly worry about this junior's career taking off?"

• From the college game: "Two American sophomores, Bradley Klahn (Stanford) and Chelsey Gullickson (Georgia), swept the NCAA Division I Men's and Women' singles titles Monday in Athens, Ga. This is the second consecutive year that Americans have swept the NCAA singles titles, as Devin Britton (Mississippi) and Mallory Cecil (Duke) won the events in 2009. Americans also swept the doubles titles, as Virginia's Drew Courtney (Clifton, Va.) and Michael Shabaz (Fairfax, Va.) won the men's title while Stanford's Hilary Barte (Chatsworth, Calif.) and Lindsay Burdette (Jackson, Ga.) won the women's title. Stanford also won the women's team title last week."

• The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour announced that Oriflame, one of Europe's fastest growing beauty brands, will become the Tour's official cosmetics partner beginning in 2011.

• Michelle of Boston has Long Lost Siblings: Francesca Schiavone and Steve Nash.

Enjoy Week Two, everyone!