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Marketing fixes for tennis, Nalbandian's comeback, more mail


I really feel that tennis, if this is possible, suffers a real visibility letdown between Wimbledon and the Open. Given the NFL, NBA and NHL are not in action, this should really be a time where tennis can fill a void in the sports calendar. We have a great tournament in Toronto (the Rogers Cup) and other than hardcore fans, it will have relatively low reach in the Toronto area. What are 3-4 marketing fixes tennis could make to raise it's profile during this part of the year? There's a partnership at McKinsey in it for you.--Neil Grammer, Toronto

• That reminds me of the old joke: What the worst part about being named a partner at your management consulting firm? It could imperil your second marriage. I agree that tennis seems to have an awfully low profile this summer. Media coverage has been shaky. When matches are shown on TV, there are a depressing number of empty seats. The U.S. Open Series is a fine idea, but it hasn't exactly revolutionized the sport. There are obviously all sorts of issues at play. The economy. The schedule: Among Nadal, Federer, Serena, Venus, Henin, and Djokovic, all went at least a month without playing after Wimbledon. The television situation.

But the balkanized, narrow interests have struck me lately. This is really more structural and organic than an indication of selfishness. Everyone acts rationally; but everyone looks out for themselves at the expense of the sport's greater good. The Slams want to maximize their revenues, but don't care a great deal for the run-of-the-mill events. To wit: the USTA is happy to sell TV rights to ESPN or sponsorships to a host of companies but isn't going to imperil the deal by overreaching. (e.g. "Hey, ESPN, we'll sell you the rights but only if you agree to televise Indian Wells and Key Biscayne as well." Or, "Thanks, Large Company, but instead of giving us $1 million, why don't you give us $500,000 and also become the new sponsor of the New Haven or Atlanta event?")

The events are concerned about surviving, turning a modest profit and satisfying their sponsors. If they exhaust players, or skew the economy by playing an exorbitant appearance fee, so be it. If they hold out for the best television package -- say, selling rights to a network that bumps coverage for bass fishing rather than giving it to Tennis Channel at a slightly discounted price -- so be it. They just need to make their number.

The equipment companies have financial pressures, too. So if their products sell, great. Even if the high-tech materials (and the injuries they may or may not be causing) may have a harmful effect on the sport overall.

The players, understandably, look out for No. 1 as well. Their window is limited and if they go overboard promoting the sport or serving on committees or adding extra events to their schedule, it could exact a price on their games and, thus, earning potential. What's more, as the Slams have become so lucrative, there's less incentive than ever to play the smaller tournaments.

Even the tours are narrow interests. The ATP has become borderline obsessed with promoting the year-end Barclays World Tour Finals event in London. Why? Because it's the tour's big money-maker, the one event it outright owns. This is fine, but it's one tournament and eight players. One imagines how these media buys and marketing dollars could be better spread for the good of the sport.

You have to start throwing McKinsey money at me before we go further. But I think the first step in boosting tennis' profile/relevance/microeconomy is to attack these structural issues and figure out a way to centralize interests. We joke about a "tennis commissioner" but maybe a real independent body tasked only with the greater good of the sport is a start. Of course after we solve tennis' problems we'll take on an easier assignment. Peace in the Middle East comes immediately to mind.

David Nalbandian is one of the best ball strikers on the tour. So clean and so much depth from all over the court. Clearly enough raw talent to compete with the best. I guess the questions are 1) Can he stay healthy, 2) Fitness, and 3) Mental toughness? My heart says I hope so but my brain says no. Your thoughts, Jon?--Scott Harding, Topeka, Kansas

• Nalbandian deserves all sorts of credit for making it back. His was a long litany of injuries. (And I imagine there was some psychic pain when countrymen Gaudio and Del Potro beat him to the proverbial punch and won majors.) I think you listed the Nalbandian concerns and I'd add that they're related. When your body has betrayed you, it's easy for that to affect mental toughness and fitness. When you're not fit, it's easy for that to affect your health and mental fitness. Realistically, Nalbandian's days of contending for Slams are probably past. Too much has to go right. And, impressive as he was in D.C., he didn't exactly have to go through Federer and Nadal in best-of-five conditions. But could he reach the second week? Absolutely.

Who are your favorite players in the Twittersphere (is it Twitterverse?). I'm going with Janko Tipsarevic, Amer Delic and Andy Roddick.--Zach Bishop, Denver

• I should be better at this than I am. But I read so many, "I had a good practice and now it's time for treatment" or "Light practice and now pasta dinner" or "Starbucks morning -- hold the foam!" that I only glance at most players I follow. Roddick is good, but erratic. Svetlana Kuznetsova is my choice among women. Of course, X Games enthusiast Serena Williams is, um, entertaining, as well.

Well, here's a tough one for you. Which of these is most likely to happen: Venus enters women's doubles at the U.S. Open with another player than her sister; Rossana de los Rios stays on tour until she's 40 years old (she's 35 now and still active); The WTA cuts the schedule by a month, ending the season early October; Serena wins in 2010 (or 2011) more regular tour events than Grand Slams.--Olivier, Montreal

• Very good. The odds of Venus entering doubles with someone other than Serena are slimmer than Mardy Fish. (Side discussion: For fun, how would Venus and Serena fare in the mixed competition?) The WTA had already cut the schedule so that the season ends around Halloween. Think we're pretty close to the bone on that topic. Rosanna de los Rios at 40? Sure, why not? She's in shape, she has a good spirit, and remember, she missed many years while having a baby so maybe she gets them on the back end. (Trivia: Her husband once played soccer for legendary Argentine club Boca Juniors.) As for Serena, you'd like to think that she could replicate her success at the majors in other events. But especially as she gets older, her focus is lasering on the bigger prizes. Time and again, she shows that doesn't care about the whistle stops and she doesn't care about the WTA regulations and she doesn't care about the rankings ramifications.

With Juan Carlos Ferrero claiming the title in Umag, it got me wondering, who would you say had a better career? JCF or his fellow countrymen Carlos Moya? Also, do you believe they are Hall of Fame bound? --Dustin, Florida

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• We could have a pretty good debate here. They've each won a Slam in Paris, been No. 1 (albeit briefly in both cases) and enjoyed Davis Cup success. They've each reached a hardcourt Slam final and eclipsed $10 million in earnings. (Moya has won $13,382,822, JCF has won roughly $12.7 million.) Moya's won 20 titles. Ferrero has won 15. Both are gentlemen who comported themselves honorably. Very comparable careers. Are they Hall of Fame worthy? This goes back to the old debate. I was recently in Cooperstown, N.Y., working on a magazine story and was struck by how many good players are not enshrined. It only accommodates the elite of the elite. Tennis is much more lenient. Are Moya and Ferrero towering figures? Probably not. But, again, given the precedent, they might well get the nod.

So what, exactly, is misleading about Federer's career losing record against Nadal? Please don't pull out the trite, "but most of those matches have been on clay" B.S. either. I can't wait to hear this baloney.--Kyle Fields, Jacksonville, Fla.

• I'm still baffled by why this is such a point of contention. Nadal has a winning record -- a decisively winning record -- against Federer. Yet the majority of those matches have been played on Nadal's choice surface and Federer's least favorite surface. Consider: They've never played at the U.S. Open, since Nadal has never made the final. This doesn't mean Nadal's record is invalid. It's just a point to consider when assessing the data.

After his loss in Washington last week, Tomas Berdych was complaining about scheduling of his match with Malisse, which was played just about 10 hours after getting to sleep because of a rain-delayed previous match. What is your take on this issue? Should he get used to this as top-seeded player or do you think he is right?--Jan Modrak, Prague, Czech Republic

• I see this from both sides. The player feels shortchanged and treated like chattel. The tournament is sympathetic but has a business to run and commitments to honor. Assuming this is just an unfortunate situation and not skullduggery, I have limited sympathy for the player. It's an occupational hazard. Sometimes the schedule is your friend; sometimes it bites you. Anyone who's ever played a junior tournament -- especially one beset by rain -- knows this. Deal with it. When Berdych, who doesn't exactly have Justin Bieber drawing power, threatens never to return to D.C. again, it just makes him look petty. Here's one reader take. G.S. of California: "Does one Wimbledon final appearance entitle you to whining? Berdych lost his match because of a noon start, a mere 13 hours after he played his last one, and won't come back next year to the tournament, he says. Excellent. Stay away. Someone please educate these entitled young people about the real world. Most of us have worked until 11 p.m. several times in our careers, gone back to work at 8, and didn't get paid millions to do it either. Federer, Nadal, we appreciate your spirit and work ethic more than ever!"

At the Legg Mason, who wore their chignon better: Malisse or Baghdatis?--Connie M., Palm Springs, Calif.

• Giving new zest to the phrase: "Nice buns."

Regarding Novak Djokovic's health, I couldn't agree with you more. Hope his camp is making sure the right doctors are checking his breathing problems. Does Djokovic have asthma or some form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? All this huffing and puffing is holding him back. It is serious. He has the chops, but fitness is an issue. How many times has Djokovic had medical timeouts and even withdrawn from major matches? I'd hate to see him collapse in the middle of the court. I'm opening the floor to doctors who play tennis -- and read your column.--Carol Kelly, Brooklyn

• Is there a doctor in the house? Even if you haven't examined Djokovic personally -- and I suspect you haven't -- anyone have insights/ruminations on his apparent condition?

I saw on the ticker during the Atlanta tournament on the Tennis Channel that a WTA Tournament is coming to the Washington/Baltimore area in 2011. Can you provide some insight? What level will the tournament be?--Tony, Reston, Va.

• The invaluable Kevin Fischer at the WTA informs us that the tournament site will be in Elkridge, Md., the week of July 25 (opposite Stanford). Here is a link to the 2011 calendar.

Loved Venus Williams guest hosting while you were away! Why don't you have a guest host a least once a month? --Cornice Williams, California

• Two words: Wally Pipp. (Seriously, we'll try and have more guests. Roddick and I talked about it last year. I'll have to get back on the case after the U.S. Open.)

I just LOVED the Tom Lehrer reference from the song "National Brotherhood Week." I loved listening to his albums when I was a kid. A very good pianist and a wonderful satirist from an era when the news was actually following world events and not Lindsey Lohan/Kim Kardashian celebrity tripe. I hope some of your readers looked up some of his gems that are on YouTube. ("Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" is funny as hell.)--Steve Adams, New Hope, Minn.

• Can we just pause to note that "Tom Lehrer," "Kim Kardashian" and "YouTube" were used in the same thought?

I'm a bit disappointed that there's no ATP/WTA tournament here in Chicago. If I want to watch top quality tennis (ATP/WTA/WTT/exhibition), what would be my best bet?--Kurt Beckmann, Des Plaines, Ill.

• Crush it and you can get to Cincinnati in five hours.

What do you have against Raffi? That guy has been a positive influence on (not to mention an outspoken advocate for) millions of kids around the world. I guess when you spend your life writing articles about grown men playing games for a living, it's hard to keep a sound grip on reality.--Mike, Vancouver, B.C.

• Okay, here's an exercise: Sit in traffic in your car. Play this song. Then, under protest of colic, do it again 99 more times before you get home. Actually, your point is well-taken. We should spread as much good will as this guy. Just wish -- like so many other products -- his music came in kid-sized doses.

• Here's one dude who's definitely NOT getting a U.S. Open wild card.

• Andrea Jaeger, nun and saintess, is at it again.

• Mark Flannery of Fullerton, Calif.: "Here's a nice story about the Bryans' record-breaking victory in Los Angeles. See quote by Butorac: "'I want to congratulate Bob and Mike. From a player's perspective, these guys do so much for doubles,' Butorac said. 'Jules and I are aware the reason we have jobs is because of guys like this.'"

• Congrats to Keith Williams, for this true haiku that somehow escaped my attention the first time:

Lost singles, doubles Summer now unbearable V. Zvonareva

• Betty Blake, mother of James, is working on a book. Check it out.

• Calgary readers: Keep an eye on Graham Mothersill.

• The lovely, the talented: Aggie Radwanska.

• Nice to see Jennifer Capriatilooking healthy.

• Michelle of New York: "I was at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in D.C. this past weekend. A few things to share with everyone: 1) More people should come discover this great event. There's virtually no bad seat! I especially love the tournament's excellent choice to play the doubles semifinal and championship on the stadium court. Can we encourage more tournaments to do that for the fans? 2) It's great to see singles players play more doubles. The final was a great showcase of singles skills and doubles specialty. Congrats to Mardy and Mark for a splendid win! 3) Why don't we hear more about Bopanna and Qureshi? Their success in doubles is an inspiring examples of how sports can achieve partnership in uniting two quarreling countries: India and Pakistan. I wish we hear more stories like that!

• Adithya Rao of Atlanta: "I agree that it would be nice if more players were polite to the ballkids. I have seen/heard Roger and Leander Paes say thank you multiple times during matches to the kids. I think Rafa has said thanks to the kid who carries his bag at Wimbledon, but I'm not certain. He may have been challenging the kid to pry this racket out of his hands!"

• Graf and Lendl playing mixed doubles against McEnroe and Garrison in Germany.

• Dan Markowitz of White Plains, N.Y.: "Doubles does get short shift in discussions and viewing of tennis. I was compelled to write a story about a real doubles guy, Jordan Kerr of Australia, who's been playing doubles on tour since 1998 and is currently ranked No. 49 and struggling to stay in the Top 50, where Kerr states you need to be in to make a living as a doubles specialist. If you find it interesting, and would like to post it on your site, please feel free to. If you could reference the website, so much the better.

• Bob Wright of Durand, Mich.: "Always read your column and especially the lookalike section. As a Detroit Tiger fan, I get to see Max Scherzer (the pitcher) quite a bit and he always reminds me of a young Boris Becker. Especially his mannerisms! Take a look and tell me what you think?

• And Helen of Philly who's challenging Ivan H. of New York for lookalike honors, comes up with Murray and Gasquet.

Have a great week everyone!