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Projecting Isner's future; Henin's promising present


Three quick thoughts from the first sane day of Wimbledon 2010:

• John Isner, take a bow. On second thought, conserve energy and just tip your cap. Less than 24 hours after winning a surreal match, 70-68 in the fifth set, Isner was back on the court for his second-round match. But not really. Thoroughly drained of energy, nursing a "you don't want to know how nasty" blister on his left foot and suffering from a neck injury (which, ironically, may have been a fluke, having nothing to do with his 183-game marathon), Isner fell meekly to young, talented Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands. What an odd tournament for Isner. He made a name for himself, appeared on Good Morning America (only 90 minutes before taking the court), and won countless fans; and yet in the end, he lost in Round 2.

Still, this could be the proverbial game-changer for Isner. Already he is on the cusp of the top 20, a player on the ascent whose age (25) is mitigated in tennis years by the fact that he played college tennis and only turned pro three years ago. In a sport that requires such mental fitness, how does he not draw confidence in the future, in the knowledge that he prevailed 70-68? (Once you've been to 68-68 and pulled, how bad is a third-set tiebreaker?) I suspect many players would gladly swap a few rounds of wins for a self-esteem boost like that. Isner will take some time off to heal both his body and spirit. But when he returns to the hard courts this summer, he may well do so as a different player.

• Any other year, Justine Henin's return to Wimbledon -- the lone Major she's never won -- would be big news. But during this crazy Week One, her presence has scarcely been noticed. The Queen came to the grounds; both Federer and Nadal flirted with danger; two players spent 11-plus hours battling. Not much room on stage for diminutive Belgians. Still, after a dismal French Open, Henin has looked terrific on grass. Today she beat Nadia Petrova in straight sets. Monday she plays countrywoman Kim Clijsters, a Grand Slam finalists under different circumstances. If Henin wins that match, look out....

• Before the Federer-Nadal juggernaut, the last player to win Wimbledon was... Lleyton Hewitt. That was in 2002 and Hewitt was the world's best player. Now 29, Hewitt is at it again. Having beaten Federer in a tune-up, he cruised into the fourth round today, comprehensively beating Gael Monfils in straight sets. While Hewitt won't win any serving contests, he remains among the quickest players on tour as well as one the best returners and fiercest fighters. So long as that's the case, he's certainly in the mix for the second week.

A few questions:

Since Nicholas Mahut is currently ranked #148, and he won't pick up that many rankings points for a first round loss, can the lobbying please start for the USTA to grant him a wild card for the U.S. Open? -- David,Wisconsin

• Amen. For the USTA, this is an easy way to generate a lot of good will and do right at the same time. We spoke yesterday of the unfairness, Mahut generating so much interest and good will for tennis and then leaving the court with nothing but a first-round loser's check (and a souvenir bowl.) But look at it this way: because of that match, he'll get wild cards at the French Open, a likely wild card at Wimbledon and, if David's wise recommendation is followed, another at the U.S. Open.

Will you tell the Wimbledon committee about this: They schedule the defending champion to play not in front of the Queen, but rather sent her to the cold chamber in Court 2. This champion they sent is the best female player now and for the past couple of years, and has won more Grand Slams titles than any female players in the Open era. Racism? or just plain stupidity?-- Marcus Lee, Springfield, MA

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• Those are my only choices? Can I downgrade "stupidity" to "insensitivity"? The club really tries to see to it that all potential finalists have at least one "tune up" on Centre Court. So that adds a wrinkle to the scheduling. Also, I liked Serena's populist response. Without letting the schedulers off the hook, she noted that playing on a small court gave a different set of fans the chance to see her play.

Jon, I'm sorry, but I find it terribly cruel of the Wimbledon officials to make Mahut play doubles on Court 18 that night - and then he has to finish the match the next day on the same court!-- Kathye Tanner, Viera, FL

• I'm told that Mahut didn't mind and was, in fact, eager to leave court 18 a winner.

Instead of giving Isner and Mahut those commemorative bowls, shouldn't Wimbledon simply rechristen Court 18 as Isner-Mahut Court?-- Claire, Albuquerque, NM

• Several of you suggested that. I'm not sure I'd advocate renaming courts, but I like the idea of reserving him a wild card for next year.

On the Wimbledon website, the player statistic page shows Nadia Petrova with a 142 mph serve. Is that accurate? If so, that's a huge jump over the previous serve speed record for a woman.-- Phil Shalver, Oklahoma City

• Someone else asked this, too. I'm showing Venus Williams has the highest serve at 125 mph. Suffice to say that if Petrova hit 144 mph, we'd need some serious video confirmation.

Pam Shriver's just tiresome and petty. Her knock on Blake was shameful. Blake was well within his rights to request that she be escorted out for unruly conduct. -- Shireen Patel, Los Angeles

• Tons of you disagreeing with me and taking Blake's side in this one. I'd say it's running 9-1 anti-Shriver. Should Shriver have spoken in a quieter voice? Yes. Was her response unnecessary? Yes (though she was on live television). But Blake needs to let that go. It was an affront to tennis etiquette, some of you wrote. Fine, but so is the J-Block. My tennis colleague Greg Couch is with you guys, though. Man does he crush Shriver.

I noticed you used the words "heroic" and "perspective" in consecutive sentences about the Isner-Mahut match. If they had you scribbling "heroic" multiple times, what word would you scribble about the work of firefighters, police officers and soldiers who risk their lives in the service of others? I saw tremendous fitness, focus and stamina in the Isner-Mahut match but not a lick of heroism, and I would expect someone who was part of SI's first issue after 9/11 to keep sports in proper perspective.-- John Hillburg, Mount Prospect, IL

• Can't they both be heroic in their way? No one's comparing a 70-68 tennis match to valor in the face of a terrorist attack; no one is equating serving aces to saving lives. But I'd contend that playing a match like that, and winning and losing with such grace, qualifies as "heroic," if on a totally different scale from firefighters and others risking lives.