I want to start by saying that I received an overwhelming haul of mail from readers commenting on the athletes and depression column from last week. A lot of your stories were poignant and deeply personal and I wish I could reply personally to them all. I'm not sure what I can say that isn't trite or superficial, but know you're not alone. Also the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention can be accessed via its website, and if you or someone you know is in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK.
As for the less weighty topic of tennis:
Just wondering what your thoughts are on the following revelation. Of course Rafa receiving on-court coaching is old news. In fact, judging by his behavior in the last couple of games of that U.S. Open final, he was actually actively soliciting it. (Re-watch your tape, if you're interested at all.) Meanwhile, of course, there are those including McEnroe who would have us believe that he is already the G.O.A.T. What is it about tennis? Frankly, I can't think of any other sport that pays less attention to its own rules than tennis. Do correct me if I'm wrong.--Betty Sharp, Hong Kong
• Nadal's "admission" was a hot topic in Bagland this week, triggered mostly, I assume, by Ubaldo Scanagatta's blog post. Still, I feel as though I'm missing something here. As Betty suggests, this isn't a new development. As recently a Wimbledon, Nadal's camp was fined for coaching. ("Sometimes in the past, maybe Toni talks too much, but not this time, in my opinion," Nadal said in summary.) Roger Federer called out Uncle Toni for coaching a full five years ago. From Justine Henin to Maria Sharapova to Andy Murray, other players seek in-match counsel from their brain trusts. Is it something to be condemned? Yes. Is it something tennis' high priests should aggressively address and tackle? Definitely. Is it regrettable, especially for a player such as Nadal whose sportsmanship is otherwise impeccable? Sure.
But some of your responses were way out of proportion. Nadal's U.S. Open title is tainted because his uncle may or may not have encouraged him "keep fighting," "stay focused" or even "serve to the body"? Come on. Even calling it "cheating" is a bit harsh by my reckoning. Cheating is taking banned drugs that enhance performance. Cheating is a college team paying its athletes. Cheating is using banned equipment. What Nadal does is akin to a soccer player diving, an NBA player flopping or a baseball player celebrating a catch on a ball he knows he trapped. It's gamesmanship, morally shaky to be sure, but a misdemeanor rather than a felony. In a perfect world, Nadal doesn't look for coaching and his uncle doesn't provide it. But I'm hard-pressed to conjure much more outrage than that.
I have been following the recent controversy regarding female reporters in men's locker rooms and was wondering if male reporters are given the same access to female locker rooms.--Greg McCann, Cleveland
• I've never heard of an instance of male reporters having access to a women's locker room. Now that the stature of limitations has lapsed ... a few years ago a male reporter challenged this and attempted to enter the women's locker room at the U.S. Open, reckoning that if women were allowed in the men's chamber, fair was fair. As I understand it, this is one reason that all locker rooms are now closed to the media (to the detriment of the event, I would add.)
Before the double-standard police issues an APB, I would submit that -- not unlike Pam Shriver making a sexually tinged remark about Nadal -- there's a difference between a female reporter in a men's locker room and vice versa. Again, different power dynamic.
Who is, essentially, the archetypal "bridesmaid but never the bride" player of all-time (i.e. the male/female who has reached the most Grand Slam tournament singles finals but never won)? The worst record I can think of belongs to Helena Sukova, who made four finals (two U.S. and two Aussie) and lost all four.--Croydon F., Chicago, Ill.
• Good question. Ironically, Federer has lost in the finals of all four majors. Before her breakthrough, Clijsters had lost in the finals of three majors and semis of the fourth (Wimbledon). Venus Williams has not only lost in the finals of all four, but did so at the (manicured) hands of the same player -- her younger sister! But the aforementioned are hardly bridesmaids. If never winning a Slam is the prerequisite, Cedric Pioline and Mark Philippoussis would be my other two submissions off hand. Maybe Elena Dementieva on the women's side?
I attended the Open for the fourth year. I got to see the Fed tweener and the Istomin slide, both of which were great moments. I actually think that Ashe is a fun place to watch a match; you just don't want to be up too high. Could they eliminate some of the top section to accommodate a roof? It seems like it would be a good trade off. Interesting stat: Since Wimbledon '08 (Nadal's first non-French Slam), there have been nine majors. Nadal and Federer have each "hit for the cycle," and Del Potro got last year's USO. Nadal is picking up Slams at a great rate, but Fed's keeping pace. I don't think that this is a race we can call for several years.--Scott, Salt Lake City
• Despite the inducement, there were few submissions regarding a design to Arthur Ashe that could accommodate a roof. (Haikus, you guys can do. Plans to retrofit a massive sports complex, not so much.) The most common response was shearing the top deck in exchange for a roof. I'm not sure how practical that is. Again, since we're only talking about rain (and only talking about one weekend), I'm not sure why a cheap bubble-type surface is being overlooked. Someone call these guys, I say.
The current Davis Cup is not yet finished, and some countries are already playing qualification for the next one. Am I missing something?--George, Prague
• No, you're not missing anything. The only ones missing something (namely: the boat) are the ITF high priests, who are either too blind or stubborn to admit that, mostly on account of the illogical schedule, their gem of event is slinking into irrelevance. ("But it's big in Bulgaria!") The players -- from Federer on down -- have essentially thrown up their hands. Suggestions for change are summarily dismissed. ("They love it in Belgrade!") The shame of it is that, at a time when the sport has never been global, a strong and sensible Davis Cup could be a huge boon to tennis.
In your wrap-up, you didn't mention how rude it was that for the second straight year, the winner's ceremony speech was rudely interrupted by the announcer so they could cut to baseball or football or whatever ... Can't they leave the tennis for just a few minutes more at that point?--Hickory, Nashville
• Let me first say that "Hickory" is a quintessential Nashville name. I love that. Yes, you're right. The whole trophy presentation ceremony, excruciating to begin with, is made all the more awkward when it's cut short for product plugs and TV agendas. You know how when Jon Stewart runs out of time, he continues the interview on comedycentral.com? Maybe the USTA should run a dignified trophy presentation on its excellent website without the interruptions and time constraints of TV.
I know that you know exactly why Clijsters dropped two spots in the rankings after winning the U.S. Open. So, why the cheap comments? Do you have a better idea for a ranking system? (Please, give it your best shot, I'm not being sarcastic here.) Should we count results over a longer period (two years)? Should there be some sort of a fading time factor so that recent results count more than results from nearly a year ago? A beat-higher-ranked-player bonus and a lose-to-lower-ranked-player penalty? Should an if-Slam-won condition be applied to results from the rest of the year? What's your suggestion?--Anna, Copenhagen
• We all know WHY Clijsters slid in the rankings after winning a major. But it doesn't make it less counterintuitive. What about a points bonus for a title defense?
Others of you suggest delegating even more weight to the Slams. This would reward the champions while making it more difficult for Caroline Wozniacki et al., to ascend to the top without breaking through on the biggest stages. The problem of course: it will take away incentive to enter the other events, the Tokyos and Charlestons and Madrids. Again: the rankings exist to reflect merit. But they also exist as a mechanism to get players to enter many events.
I am a longtime reader and fan of your tennis columns, but you have one habit that is incredibly annoying. You frequently allude to stories (as in today's 50 Parting Shots ... "remind me to tell you my Jack Sock story another time") without actually telling the story. You did this recently in reference to Andre Agassi as well. Either tell the story or don't bring it up. Just my two cents.--Patrick Hennessy, Houston
• Incredibly annoying? Ouch. I try to have that effect only on my kids. But glad you reminded me of the story. (But you'll see that this is so tangential it didn't really fit into a U.S. Open wrap piece.) Anyway a few months ago I was in Nebraska doing a football piece. I was speaking with an esteemed member of the athletic department (I probably shouldn't name him since we were just chatting casually). I mentioned that I sometimes covered tennis and he perked up.
"How good is that guy from Nebraska?"
I assumed he meant Roddick, as Nebraska is not exactly a tennis hotbed.
"Oh, he's good. He's not Federer but he's a top 10 player."
"Um, Yeah." I'm starting to get confused. Do I think he's top 10? Just check the rankings.
"Yeah. Sure," I said, not wanting belabor the point and explain that Roddick -- now married and closing in on 30 -- isn't really a kid.
"Good athlete, I hear."
"Yeah, definitely. Works at it too."
"Backhand's as good as his forehand."
Now I'm totally confused. "Andy?"
"Andy! Heck, not Andy! I know Andy! I mean Jack Sock!"
A) This was the Nebraska tennis answer to "Who's on first? B) I figured that if Jack Sock was already a known commodity among Huskers football personnel, he must be worth following more closely.
Chris & Martina = Thelma & Louise? I loved this documentary. I was gripped from beginning to end.--Ken, Singapore
• I've said before that you guys form a great global tennis focus group. I was struck by your vast range of opinions about the Chris and Martina documentary. Some of you panned it in the harshest terms possible. (A interesting criticism that came up multiple times: the "chick flick" -- your term, not mine -- aspect had the unintended effect of trivializing women sports and undercutting just how fierce this rivalry truly was.) Others, like Ken, enjoyed it immensely. Personally, I thought it was quite good, though Johnette Howard's excellent book on the topic (The Rivals) already tread over much of the material. And -- though no fault of the directors -- Evert's recent marital issues and Martina's health scare change the narrative a bit. On balance, though, I'd encourage you to see it.
While I'm as pro-Krumm as anyone and recognize her comeback for the tremendous athletic feat it is, there's no good way to spin her thrashing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this week in terms of the WTA's future, is there? Pavlyuchenkova is the best teenager on tour by some distance, though her game hasn't impressed me, and yet she can only win three games from a woman who turned 40 on Tuesday. This ties into a bigger issue: people say, rightly, that women's tennis is in the doldrums at the moment. But there's a distinct lack of up-and-coming juniors displaying either the breathtaking game or eye-opening results that our current champions did as teenagers. When the Belgians and Williamses eventually retire, who on earth will win Slams?--Alex Macpherson, London
• A) Don't shortchange Krumm. What a remarkable story. When a 40-year-old who's been away from tennis for 15 years announces a return, it's a cute item. When she wins a few matches, it's noteworthy. When she wins some matches cracks the Top 100, it's impressive. But when she plays an entire season and by September is still going strong, beating top teenagers and former No. 1s (Maria Sharapova), we really need to stand and applaud. I agree that Pavlyuchenkova shouldn't be losing to ANYONE by that score. But this is one of the beauties of sports: players evolve, players emerge, players fade, players disappear for 15 years and return to prominence. Justine Henin is known for choking. Until she's not and she wins everything in sight. Sam Querrey looks like he's a decent college player. Suddenly something clicks and he becomes a top 20 talent. As long as they still give out trophies after seven single-elimination rounds, there's hope for the WTA. In fact, you could make the case that the uncertainty makes the product all the more compelling.
Anybody know why the tennis event at Cowboys Stadium was canceled?--Pam Dick, Amherst, N.Y.
• Yeah, good question. There was a big, splashy (one might say, Texas-sized) announcement when this exhibition was first heralded. Then there was only a small, wimpy announcement (you know, like, Delaware) when it was cancelled. I suspect that ticket sales were something other than brisk. But if anyone has more details you know where to find me. (Dallas? Conspiracy theory? I know. Crazy.)
It was in The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac by blogger FreeDarko (page 99) that a correlation was drawn between Tracy McGrady's field goal percentage and the birth of his daughter -- after her birth in 2003, T-Mac's field goal percentage dropped in certain situations. Now I'm sure this is oversimplifying the issue, this is not an exact comparison to Federer, and correlation doesn't equal causation, but I wouldn't dismiss the baby influence so quickly!--Jeff, Washington, D.C.
• Is this causal? Or is this correlation? I think that's how the economist would put it. In other words, did the daughter (or daughters) cause the decline? Or is it simply: athletes tend to decline in their late 20s and that's the same age they happen to have kids?
• More from PETKORAZZI. seriously.
• Thanks to Margaret of Austin, Texas: "I smell an Oscar in someone's future."
• Roger Federer, you can die happy.
• Speaking of Roger: You've been outdone!
• Mike T. of Alameda, Calif., sends this video of pro tennis baby pictures. Who has the better bowl cut, Roddick or Nadal?
• Aris of Washington, D.C.: "I agree that one should be able to root for the Williams sisters without being unpatriotic or racist. But that is under the assumption that other AMERICANS are not being supported simply because they are American. That has certainly been the case for Oudin and others who have been given massive U.S. media attention after winning a couple of rounds at a Grand Slam. This is because they are AMERICAN. Being American in nearly every case gets you a tremendous level of support at the U.S. Open. That is, unless something else gets in the way. Now we can guess that it might be that the Williams sisters win too much or that they are too aloof, but we have to certainly agree that part of it is race."
• In the interest of equal time here's an anonymous writer comparing Kimiko Date to Serena Williams: "You have a just-turned 40-year-old who is fighting like hell on court and beating players many years younger than her knowing that it is a long road for her to win a WTA title, forget about the top tier events. And then you have a just-turned 29-year-old who has the skill and power and what not to win every event she chooses to play, but is running around attending fashion shows and showing off her 'nail' skills, and you wonder why a regular tennis fan has hard time rooting for the one of the greatest ever to play and think it might be due to race? I am a racist then, racist in supporting the hard-working and less talented player over the super-talented, hard-to-find-on-tennis-court player."
• This week's unsolicited book recommendation: David Sweet's biography of Lamar Hunt.
• Zohair Bhadelia of Karachi, Pakistan:
I'm surprised you haven't written about Aisam-ul-Haq's dream run to the finals of both the mixed doubles and the mens doubles.
There are a number of reasons why this is significant: a) He's the first person from his country to ever achieve this feat, b) Coming from a country that's always in the news for the wrong reasons, I think Aisam's achievment can highlight something positive about Pakistan, c) He is playing the men's doubles final with an Indian -- his message of peace should be storybook material for the media, d) His country is flooded right now with millions of people displaced. Imagine if a tennis player from Haiti had done what Aisam has done following the devastating earthquake there. Federer would have been back page news.
• Nice article about Gigi Fernandez's struggles to get pregnant and how professional atheletes have issues since they delay pregnancy plans.
• Rob of Miami Beach notes: "I happened to read the following just now on the WTA's website in an article on Tuesday's matches in Tashkent. Monica Niculescu comments on her first-round opponent, Kazakhstani Zarina Diyas, and says, "Zarina is young and is going to be a great player and I am sure she has the skills to be in the Top 100 if she is injury-free." How sad is it that players are assessing each other's potential based on their ability to avoid getting injured?"
• From Kayezad E. Adajania at Mint: tennis is growing in Asia.
• The America Society of Magazines nominated Sports Illustrated's "Year in Pictures" cover for Best Cover of the Year. The Best Covers of the Year Contest honors the most memorable, compelling and iconic covers of the last 12 months The public will decide the winner and can vote for their choice anytime before October 1, 2010. Vote here.
Have a good week everyone!