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Federer still floundering, Wimbledon travel tips, more mail


Just a housekeeping note: We'll post Wimbledon seed reports shortly after the draw comes out on later this week.

As a longtime Federer fan, I can't help writing to say how disgusted I am. And you can't write your usual "the guy's set the standard so high..." schlock. Here's a guy who's won 16 Grand Slam titles, yet has lost every close match he's played this year to guys all outside the top 10. Gulbis: 7-5 final set; Baghdatis: lost after being match point up; Berdych: lost after being match point up; and, now, Hewitt at Halle ON GRASS? And that, after being in a tiebreak that could have decided the match. Where is the killer instinct, the champion's heart, that special je ne sais quoi that champions have to turn it on and turn it up when things get tight? What's up Jon? Is the Fed burnt out? Is he tired? Is he nonchalant because he's now a dad? Does he need a good coach? Help us Fed fans here, Jon, because the Fed train is quickly running off track, and at this point, we wouldn't even be surprised by an early-round exit at Wimby!--Harold Bloom, Houston

• Let's look at this rationally. Federer's record post-Australia is pedestrian and there's no sense arguing otherwise. Likewise, his record in non-Slams over the past few years is underwhelming as well. Overlooking his cheap shot, Harold's rejection of the "the guy's set the standard so high..." defense is valid. These are not losses to Nadal in the finals of clay-court events we're talking; they're defeats at the hands of inferior players on fast courts in matches he was in a position to win. Compounding matters, Federer is consistently among the oldest players in the draws he enters. He's a married father twice over. (Married once; two kids.) He's won everything in sight so forgive the guy if his hunger isn't exactly at Donner Party levels.

So, as I see it, here's where we are: Federer's career is, undeniably, winding down. That doesn't mean he's retiring soon, but we're closer to the end than the beginning. ATP events have become like preseason games to him; he'd rather win than lose but he's not overly concerned. The days of him winning three majors a year are gone. Same for lapping the field in ranking points and going months and months without defeat. On the other side of the net: He's still Federer, a player not just of unrivalled skill, but one who's won four of the past seven majors. A player of his talent will be a threat to win every Slam he enters until he's ... what? 33 or so? And just because he might have entered a new stage doesn't mean he's through winning. Who out there really thinks he's won his last Slam? Tennis players are not publically traded companies. If they hit their peak and then decline, we don't bail let alone be "disgusted." We can revisit this in three weeks, but sit tight for now.

Just want to put in an early request that you provide some insights on visiting Wimbledon. I'm taking my mother (she received a lesson from Fred Perry when she was 15 living in Northern Ireland) over for Centre Court on June 22 and have found your site tips on visiting the U.S. Open were invaluable.--John Quail, Toronto

• Thanks. Though minimizing expectation is usually a sound strategy -- especially when it comes to parenting -- it's hard to be nonchalant about Wimbledon. All the clichés about it being "a slice of heaven," an Elysian Field, etc., tend to ring true. This isn't Graceland or Stonehenge or some other well-marketed "shrine" that has the capacity to leave you disappointed. Which is to say you'll have a great time, with or without tips. Here are some scattered thoughts:

~ Walk around. Half the fun is exploring the complex, and discovering the touches as you go. The porched court, the Aorangi terrace, the Crows Nest.

~ Take public transportation from London. It's a healthy -- though pleasant -- walk from the various Underground stops, but it sure beats driving.

~ Tune into Radio Wimbledon on your smartphone.

~ Be careful with the secondary ticket market. Quick cautionary tale: A friend of mine tried to impress a new girlfriend and paid in excess of $1,000 for two tickets to the 2007 men's final. Unfortunately, he made the purchase over eBay. While the tickets weren't outright fraudulent, the seller somehow lacked the right to resell them. The bar code on the ticket confirmed this. My friend was questioned at the gate and kindly asked to leave, no refund forthcoming. He's a banker so your sympathy should be limited, but be careful about scalpers.

~ On the other hand, check out the "used tickets" markets, not only a nice populist touch but -- take note USTA and French Federation -- a way to avoid the seas of empty seats, which look awful on television and convey a terrible (and inaccurate) message about the state of the sport/event.

~ Get the damn strawberries and cream. It's a gimmick. It's overpriced. The strawberries tend to be the size of marbles. Still. Do it, pose for the photo. Then cross it off your bucket list and don't do it twice.

~ Otherwise, try and smuggle your own food. Some of the concessions are almost comical in their awfulness. The meat pies filled with beef and gelatin, come immediately to mind. They go great with Robinson's barley water.

~ Don't forget your vuvuzela! Just kidding.

~ Don't forget your sunblock. Not kidding. For all the jokes about the rain, it's also possible you'll go on a blazing hot day.

~ Arrive early. Once the gates open there's this Foghat-concert-circa-1977 festival seating stampede -- very much at odds with the overall quaintness of the place. The early bird gets the prime seats.

I'm sure we'll have some more thoughts in the coming days.

I saw your rule that anyone from the Northwest Territories gets their question answered, and I'm holding you to it. I live in Nova Scotia now, but I used to teach tennis clinics in the Northwest Territories. Close enough? What do you think are the chances that Roger Federer reclaims the No. 1 ranking long enough to break Pete Sampras's record of 286 weeks? He was tantalizingly close before his early (by his standards) exit from the French Open.--Dave Wright, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia

• Close enough. A lot of you have made your position clear: Nadal is driving the bus now and he's not giving up the steering so quickly. Given the way the tennis narrative has played out over the past two years, I'm not sure how anyone can dismiss another lead change. This "race" has been like Cannonball Run. Nadal's pounding Federer. No wait, he's injured and goes more than a year without winning a major. Federer is back on top. Whoops, he's losing to players outside the Top 10. One tweaky injury or one more Federer hot streak and he's back in the lead, eclipsing Sampras.

In terms of his contribution to how tennis is played, will Rafael Nadal be an evolutionary dead end, a la John McEnroe, or do you think his style of play will be emulated in whole or in part by future generations of players?--L. Rodriguez, Pacific Palisades, Calif.

• Yes and no. Stylistically, Nadal, like most of the great ones, has that sui generis thing going on. I can't imagine there are many junior coaches teaching kids the mechanics of that whipping lefty forehand. On the other hand, I think Nadal is being imitated and emulated in a countless other ways, from his "defense to offense" transitioning, to his physique, to his competitive spirit.

For the record, Stefan Edberg used to wear a watch (I think it was an Ebel) on court, and I always thought it was bad-ass.--Sean White, Lakeside, Calif.

• Stefan Edberg was a lot of things. I'm not sure "bad-ass" ever was one of them. (Aside: Is it me, or has "bad -ass" made a nice mid-career transition from a mild profanity to socially acceptable term? Sort of like the Sam Stosur of epithets.)

Now that Wimbledon has hired an official poet for The Championships, shouldn't the French Open have an official existentialist? Instead of writing about whether or not the ball is in, he/she can ponder whether or not the ball is.--Earl Strickler, Houston

• Nice. Once the tournament begins, I think we might need to commence a contest to see if we can outdo the official poet.

What does the "L" in your name stand for?--Jim Yrkoski, Warsaw, Poland

• Luxilon.

Dudi Sela just beat Roddick at Queens in straight sets and it was fantastic grass court play from Sela and not bad play from Roddick that won the match. Really great service returning and shot construction. Who knew?--Marty, N.Y.

• And here you thought Dudi Sela was another name for a fertilizer salesman! The best-of-five format is a bit of a mitigating factor, but last week's results (Federer, Nadal, Murray, Roddick and Djokovic all lose) are reminders yes, of the depth of the men's field, but also of the uniqueness of grass. Thanks to Federer and Nadal, it's been easy to forget this over the past six or so years.

Will Sharapova ever return to her pre-injury form?--Khairi Akbar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

• One certainly hopes so. And not just for crass commercial reasons. But when you consider the motion on her serve and her forehand and combine it with a shoulder injury, you cringe.

• Wimbledon suicide pool, enter here.

• We're still marveling at the post-tennis maneuverings of Larry Scott. Here's a guy -- and let's stress: this is a reflection of tennis' entrenched screwed-upness, not Scott's competence -- who couldn't move the date of the Indianapolis event without triggering a bitter legal dispute. Yet a few months into the job as Pac-10 commissioner, he's playing a starring role in the outright overhaul of American college sports.

• Tennis on Broadway: T. Schreiber Studio (Terry Schreiber, Artistic Director), recipient of five New York Innovative Theatre Awards, presents JOKING APART, Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 play, directed by Peter Jensen, at the Gloria Maddox Theatre at T. Schreiber Studio at 151 West 26th St. Click here for more info.

• I believe this was pre-Paris, but thanks to Don of London for this compare/contrast: "Based on all their main tour matches since 2003, here is a Federer-Nadal comparison: Matches won: Federer 87.3%, Nadal 81.7%; Sets won: Federer 80.7 %, Nadal 76.3%; Games won: Federer 59.8%, Nadal 59.0%; Tiebreaks won: Federer 69.3%, Nadal 59.5%."

• Okay, maybe Robin Soderling's on-court behavior hasn't been perfect. (Thanks to reader, BZH, France.) Check out this hilarious clip:

• Stunning stat of the week award goes to Josh of lovely Portland who notes: "Safina spent 26 weeks at world number 1, which is more than twice as long as Venus Williams, who has managed only 11 weeks."

• Virginie Razzano is suing the WTA, and Carl Basten of Indianapolis is among the many readers who kindly helped with translation: "She considers that her foot injury has been caused by the incompetency of a WTA physio who massaged her feet so hard that Virginie could not even run after it. She had an edema to her left foot due to this horrendous massage and then while trying to train again in May she tore a muscle to her right hip because of the first injury. She plans not coming back before August." (Again, all of this is just alleged.)

• From Jane Peng, Hong Kong: "Allow me to nudge you gently in the direction of this excellent article on Nadal's psyche."

• The Trinity men's and Vanderbilt women's tennis teams have been honored as May's recipients of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Team Sportsmanship Award

• J. Diersing of San Diego, CA : Not a question, just a "please let it happen" thought ... 2011 Hopman Cup Japanese Team: Kamiko Date Krumm and Kei Nishikori. They could (depending on their health) win the thing, too.

• Romana of D.C. was among those correctly answering the French Open trivia. On the day of the Detroit Tigers' "one-hitter," Mariana Alves was in the chair for the Serena-Stosur match.

• Cedric Van Dorpe of Brussels, Belgium: "I'm not sure if you know about this, but Clijsters and Henin are playing a 'Best of Belgium' (apparently Wickmayer has no say in this?) exhibition match in an athletics stadium in Brussels in July for an expected crowd of 40,000 people. They claim it will be the 'biggest' (highest number of live spectators) tennis match ever. Is this actually true, or is this just marketing talk and have there been larger events in tennis history?"

[Ed: Battle of the Sexes, the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match. But this might be second.]

• This week's unsolicited book recommendation: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz.

• Helen of Philadelphia: "Nicolas Almagro reminds me of a very young George C. Scott (who might also have been fun to have drinks with). Can't really say they're long-lost siblings; maybe more like separated at birth ... several generations apart."

Have a great week everyone!