Mailbag: Blake's whereabouts, questions on randomness of draw

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A Day 1 vegemite sandwich. Here's some "second screen" diversion as you watch the Australian Open. We'll try and do this daily ...

Apologies if you've addressed this question before, but I'm confused and a bit upset about the way the draw was decided for the men's Aussie Open. I simply don't understand how, in the first round, we have Michael Russell playing Matthew Ebden. Nothing against either guy -- I love Russell's Tennis Express ad -- but Russell is ranked (according to the ATP website) at No. 100, while Ebden is way down the list at No. 185, meaning that someone ranked No. 100 or higher is going to make it to the second round. Meanwhile, either Nalbandian (No. 21) or Hewitt (No. 54) is going home after the first round. While I realize life isn't fair, tennis is supposed to be. Yet this seems patently unfair to me. I'm all for "intriguing" first-round matchups (as they say), but this just seems wacky. There are other examples of this. Can you explain? (Or, I'd admittedly prefer, can you get really angry like I am about it?) Thanks.--Paul R., Tampa, Fla.

• Paul asks an interesting question, one that comes up in a variety of contexts. The same way it strikes some fans as unfair when the first seed plays the fifth seed -- rather than eighth seed -- in the quarterfinals, the vagaries of tennis draws also made it possible for two sub-.500 players to meet in the first round. This, of course, is counter to most tournament draws, whereby seeds are scattered in order and in the first round the top-ranked player would face the lowest-ranked player.

I don't disagree with your point, but I can't summon your outrage. "Fair" could mean a straight meritocracy and orderly draw. But "fair" could also mean that there's a random chance that gives any two non-seeded players a chance to face each other. Beyond the semantics, I rather like the unpredictability and the "intriguing" matches. If Federer could play Nadal in the first round, it would be one thing. But since we're only talking about unseeded players, I like that the order is completely random. I admit, too, that I like that sometimes a struggling journeyman catches a break from the draw gods and gets to advance in a Slam and make a decent payday in the process.

I hope the new year is treating you well so far. I thought James Blake was going to give a go for one more year. No? Where is he in the Australian draw? Is he not playing because he couldn't get a wild card and didn't want to go through the qualies?--Michael, NYC

• Especially given the surface, you'd think Blake might roll the dice and try to accumulate points at a major. On the other hand, he would have had to qualify. That's a long trip to make without a guarantee of a main-draw slot. Blake will inaugurate his season in San Jose.

I'm all for the "total shocker" finalist, but...Victor Troicki??!!? Seriously? Just watched him almost pull a Serena on a line judge in Sydney. On the other hand, when he's on his game, Gilles Simon sure is a lot of fun to watch.--Helen, Philadelphia

• I like Simon, too. But check out his second-round opponent.

I realize he can be unpleasant, but you seem to have a passive-aggressive streak about you when it comes to Lleyton Hewitt. In your response to Neil Grammer, you lumped Hewitt with Johansson and Costa. I realize stats are stats, but you chose your stat. In fact, from 2001-03 (80 total weeks) Hewitt was a solid, fear-inducing world No. 1. His peak included great wins over Sampras, Agassi, Safin and Federer, among others. I feel no personal affinity for the guy either, but give his court performance its due.--Andrew, New York, N.Y.

• I confess that I sometimes catch myself letting personal feelings color my assessment of Hewitt. (I can't recall a player who made life tougher for more decent people; it's one thing to be fueled by conflict and manufacture it; it's another to treat people with nastiness and contempt.) And, yes, let the record reflect that Hewitt was a solid No. 1 and won two majors. At the same time, the question addressed "why we care" issues about the WTA and ATP, which, I think, implicates personality and star power as well as playing ability. Even at the height of his powers, I don't think too many fans thought of Hewitt as "must-see TV."

I don't know if you were aware, but the video you posted regarding the Federer-Murray match with the Arabic commentary is completely fake. The subtitles are put by that user and have nothing to do with what the commentator is actually is really saying.--Mostafa Dabbous, Los Angeles, Calif.

• Yeah, we mentioned this a few weeks back but it probably bears emphasis. Funny video. But it's bogus.

Are Bhupathi-Paes back together for the Aussie Open? I remember these guys were doing chest bumps way before the Bryans turned pro. Good to see them back!--Anita Gill, Boston, Mass.

• As Peaches and Herb sang: Reunited and it feels ... well, let's see if we can tolerate each other. This reminds me of The Police reunion tour. It's awkward and fraught with tension, but there's too much potential not to do it. Given how much money they left on the table by splitting up, one can imagine how much they disliked each other. A shame. As a friend told me recently: their break-up really stunted a tennis boom in India and made life harder for up and coming players.

If you're not too impressed with endurance (as a factor in tennis), perhaps covering tofu-making or pottery ought to be more suited to your judgment and aesthetic preferences.--Darren Arteta, Sacramento, Calif.

• I would love to cover tofu-making. Could the publicist from that circuit please contact me?

Did you get anywhere near the amount of emails in defense of marriage as you did regarding marathons?--Jared, Columbus, Ohio

• One is a grueling battle of attrition, an endurance-based exercise that demands immeasurable internal fortitude. And then there are marathons. Seriously, thanks to the many of you who chimed in on this. But let's move on.

• The ITF will donate a minimum of US$25,000 to assist in rebuilding tennis facilities damaged or destroyed due to the devastating floods.

• Here's a fun read from The Age.

• Chris, St. John's, NL: "Quick trivia question: When is the last time Murray was in the same half as Federer at a Grand Slam (other than the French) and what was his ranking at the time? How is it that at all but French Open, Nadal and Murray are ALWAYS in the same half of the draw for the last FOUR years (at least), probably five (I can't dig back that far). That's 12 consecutive! Odds of that "randomly" occuring? Wait for it, drum roll please ... 1 in 4096 or 0.02%. (Does this imply that there is a 99.8% that it is NOT random at all). Yes, yes, I am a biased Rafa fan and admitted conspirator, but still, as a math fan, this doesn't add up!"

• Mark Pratt of Sandy, Utah: "Just a comment about tennis tours and Wimbledon. Out of curiosity about this time last year, I looked into getting tickets to Wimbledon through a tour. It pretty much depressed me. Roll forward three months and BAM!, my daughter, a broadcast journalism major, is invited to be an Wimbledon intern by NBC. (NBC asked one of her connected professors to recommend someone.) So my wife and daughter spent two weeks at Wimbledon except for the middle Sunday. NBC arranged for a grounds pass for my wife the first week. I joined them for the second week. My wife and I entered the grounds via the queue each day and were able to view matches on the outer courts for the 20 pounds per person charge to enter. On the final Saturday an usher outside the gates told us tickets were available on Court 1. For an extra 10 pounds apiece my wife and I watched the mixed doubles semis and the women's doubles semis on the front row of Court 1, just left of the net. In a life of dreaming, that's one thing that never came to mind. My point is that tennis tour directors won't tell you how the rest of the world gets into the tournaments. And knowing how it works at Wimbledon, I doubt I'll ever try the tour route."

• Check out this new tennis photo book from Mike Powell.

• For the record Andre did NOT follow through .. .but this photo is priceless, no?

• Big props to Donald Young. Check out these scores from the qualifying draw.

• Ryan Harrison, welcome to the wacky world of exos ...

• Steve of Kalamazoo: "Lookalike candidates for your consideration are Food Network chef Anne Burrell and Chris Evert -- except for the grey hair."

Enjoy Day 2 everyone!