By Jon Wertheim
April 13, 2011

Jon, strictly speaking of tennis accomplishments, would you rather have had the career of Martina Hingis or the future career of Caroline Wozniacki?-- Peter Galante, Oakland, Calif.

The short answer: not even close. Wozniacki might well win a Slam one day. I'd put the odds at, say, 70-30. But I can't imagine she'll win five and come within a match of winning THE Grand Slam. What's more, Hingis was an exceptional doubles player, winning each of the majors at least once. I don't disagree with the contention that she caught a "soft spot" in the WTA lineage, coming on the scene when Graf and Seles were fading and the Williams sisters had yet to establish full dominance. Still, her record is a formidable one. No knock on Wozniacki, but she's made one Slam final. Hingis lost in the final of every Slam!

Here's where it gets interesting: The same way I think Serena Williams in her prime absolutely demolishes, say, Margaret Court -- even controlling for equipment, training, etc. -- from a qualitative standpoint, I would think that Wozniacki vs. Hingis at their respective peaks is an awfully close match. Hingis 1997 can do more with the ball and is a better thinker. But Wozniacki can match her in consistency, moves comparably and hits harder. That still doesn't mean Wozniacki will match Hingis' achievements. But I think the fact that from a sheer quality standpoint they're close ought to count for something!

I was wondering if you can provide insight on player logistics. Do the top players pay for their hotels? Are there differences by ranking/tournament etc.? Do they generally leave the tournament location after a loss? -- Dawn Lloyd, Barrington, Ill.

All bets are off when players get appearance fees and the event is not mandatory. Suffice to say that when Venus is playing, say, Stockholm, she's not using her own SAS points to get the upgrade. For most events and most players, though, they're responsible for their own airfare. Hotels are generally covered by tournaments for as long as the players remain in the draw (singles or doubles) plus an additional night. I believe the rules tend to differ a bit, based on the grade of the event. All tour-level tournaments have free transportation, airport pickups, etc. At many events, the seeds are given free use of cars for the week.

The take-away: While professional tennis players don't rate too high on the sympathy pyramid, a little back-of-the-cocktail-napkin math suggests that it's a slog for a lot of players. Lose early at a smaller event and you might get $2,500 or so. Figure in the expenses of (refundable) airfare and perhaps a coach and your personal P/L statement isn't exactly singing. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena, Sharapova, etc., will retire with generational wealth. But the drop-off is steep.

An interesting/depressing note. Despite the fact that there are currently seven American men in the top 100 and four in the top 30, there are no Americans playing singles in the Monte Carlo Masters this week -- none in the main draw, and none in the qualifying draw. I get that Monte Carlo isn't a mandatory event and that clay is traditionally where Americans are weakest (I don't think any American man has played in the second week at Roland Garros since Agassi), but not having a single player in the first clay-court Masters event of the year seems ridiculous. -- Matt Scherer, Wilmington, Del.

Bearing the previous answer in mind, that's a long (and expensive) trip to make for the possibility of losing in Round 1. If Monte Carlo -- stunning a setting though it might be -- is no longer mandatory and if clay-court points are available at a domestic rate (Houston) I'm not sure I'm making that trip either.

I had a heart attack a few weeks ago and have just watched too much tennis while trying to feel better (I was supposed to be at Indian Wells on the second Monday/Tuesday). When the player signs the camera at the end of the match the signature is backward for the viewer. Could they not just hit a switch in the control room to mirror the signature so the public could understand what the player wrote? I am really bored. However, it would be much more relevant than a backward scribble. -- Chaz, Aledo

Most relevant: feel better. Hope you're on the courts -- or at least in the stands -- soon. I'll be even more cynical. There's a fine line between "tradition" and "trite." I'm thinking if I never saw another player sign the cameras lens, backward or forward, I'd survive. I'm looking for another tradition. What if each victorious player signed a small swatch of tape on the net?

Continuing last week's discussion, where do you stand on bloggers? Are you, too, in the "fans with typewriters" camp? - John P., New York

Since Key Biscayne, I've gotten bits and pieces about a "Twitter battle" and an "alias feud" and a lot of other weird allegations of subterfuge that I don't entirely understand. I'm not sure I ever got the blogger-journalist dichotomy. There are some bloggers who are knowledgeable and diligent and creative and belong in a press room. There are some bloggers who probably don't warrant credentials. As far as I'm concerned, bloggers are a welcome addition to the media caravan. As the mainstream media dwindles, as budgets are cut, as tennis loses currency in the U.S. and goes ever more global, bloggers serve an increasingly important role. If I'm following from afar, give me a passionate tennis lover who might write clunkily or express her fandom too blatantly over the hockey writer for the local newspaper who's covering the tennis against his will.

Again, though, if anyone wants to fill me in on this digital blood feud (aliases and trolling and phony IP addresses!) fire away...

I know you've said something along these lines before, but thank God tennis doesn't have the equivalent of Butler Cabin, the green jacket or Jim Nantz. What a cheesy way to end a great sporting event. For me the final pathetic footnote Sunday was seeing that the vaunted green jacket isn't even fully lined. How lame is that?-- Helen, Philadelphia

Here's last year's cut-and-paste:

Does tennis have anything quite as objectionable as Butler Cabin? (I really hope it doesn't.)-- Dan Martin, Dayton, Ohio

You mean "historic" Butler Cabin? (I would lend Jim Nantz my handkerchief, but alas it's filled with my Federer slobber.) Someone once described Butler Cabin as, "What would happen if David Lynch moved into your granny's house." Anyone else get the feeling the All England Club is Haight-Ashbury compared to the stuffiness of Augusta? Imagine explaining the entire tableau to some tribe that had never before seen golf. "Lumpen men descend on Georgia and spend four days taking out these metal rods and trying to knock a ball into a cup all afternoon! Whoever takes the fewest hits gets to go into this little Keebler elf house and then -- get this! -- come out wearing an ill-fitting green jacket! Creepy? Why, no, it's not weird or creepy. Not at all. Why would you ever suggest such a thing?"

Jon: Albeit late, I am now reading the works of David Foster Wallace and enjoying them immensely. As you know he was a pretty decent junior tennis player from Indiana, and I was wondering if you ever ran into him in tournaments. Did he come across as a brilliant thinker on the court like his writing style? -- John Duckworth, Decatur, Ga.

One of those I-states. He was from Bloomington, Ill. (I'm from Bloomington, Ind.) He predated me, but I would be curious to read some third-person accounts and recollections of his tennis career. Like John, I wonder if his creativity and indifference to convention expressed itself on the court. Calling all Salukis, Redbirds, Illini and other southern Illinois natives in their late 40s: Who remembers DFW as a junior player?

First Nadal and del Potro, and now Djokovic -- the verdict is in. Beating Fed at the majors requires high intensity labor that will result in injury. -- Harjit Grewal, San Francisco

Nice. A serious point: This is another reason why the "Federer Cassandras" are nuts. Whether it's luck or good genetics or superior preparation, he is remarkably healthy, like, multiple orders of magnitude less prone to injury than his peers. For this reason alone, it's nuts to state affirmatively that he'll never win again.

David Ferrer lobbed a ball at a bawling infant. Why do people bring infants to a tennis match? Is baby-sitting that expensive? -- Andrew Clark, Toronto

The operative word in Andrew's question is "lobbed." Ferrer did indeed loft a ball in the direction of a crying nino. In the retelling, however, he rifled it with the intent to do harm. In my experience, when you pick a fight with an infant, you're probably going to have a hard time winning in the court of public opinion. Especially when you're a handsome millionaire in your 20s, best to restrict your foes to those capable of eating solid food. Not the height of good judgment. But let the record reflect: Ferrer was not trying to divorce the little guy from his head.

And Andrew is right: Bringing an infant to a tennis match is akin to leaving your ringer on during a funeral. Not socially advisable. If you can afford tennis tickets, odds are good you can spring for a few hours of sitting as well as the extortionate pizza and iTunes movie download.

In regards to Chuck Keenum's letter about sexually laden music being played at changeovers at the Ericsson, a family-oriented event, you merely brushed off the subject as if it were unimportant. I agree with Chuck. You are in a position ... to possibly make a difference in a situation such as this, but instead what do you do? You downplay this parent's valid concern, and I am certain many other parents as well, and all but ignore the complaint, instead of agreeing that that sort of music is, indeed, inappropriate and should not be played at all when children are present. ... I am, and many others are tired of being ambushed by the media in such a manner. Having our children exposed to such trash without proper warning so that we can shield our children from being exposed to such harmful material is an assault on our rights.-- Jerry, Odessa

I agree with Chuck, too. Which is why I chose to include his question in last week's batch (and include my own example of a musical selection that was in highly questionable taste). What does this have to do with "the media?" Why wouldn't your outrage be directed at the tournaments that show such poor judgment?

Have you thought about doing the mailbag twice a week? I'm sure you get more than enough questions to answer, and sometimes it's hard to wait a whole week before the next one! -- Michele, New York

Thanks, but that's like an 18-game NFL season. Waive the salary cap and rejigger revenue sharing, and we'll talk!

Jon, do I need help? Radek Stepanek is becoming one of my favorite players. As a club player, I watch this guy and think, "Yeah, I could do that." He mixes it up, works hard on the court, gets under opponents' skin, throws the ball all over the court. Guys like Nadal, Fed, no way the average Joe can play like that... -- Jerrold, Milan

I'm a little far away from Milan, or I'd be there personally. But maybe Jerrold's friends -- if you're reading -- might want to consider an intervention. Seriously, I like your taste. But why is it an either/or. Root for the guys you will never replicate. And root for the guys who you could see yourself emulating.

Other rules: Root for anyone shorter than you, older than you -- Stepanek is 32 -- and with less hair. Damn, I miss having Agassi around.

• Texas native Nancy Richey and Australian tennis legends Roy Emerson and Owen Davidson have achieved success at the greatest levels of tennis. In recognition of their success, the three stars have already been honored with the highest honor in the sport: induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In a special ceremony at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston, they were presented with their official Hall of Fame rings.

• Nitin of Hyderabad, India: Interesting discussion on the bar fight theme. My alltime bar fight wingman would be Bobo Zivojinovic -- that was one scary dude, with arms like tree trunks! Close second would be Thomas Muster -- he'd claw, spit, scratch and bite! Current crop, John Isner. Size matters!

• Willie of Montreal: Regarding the shrieking at the Sony Ericsson women's final: I was playing a league match at my local tennis club a few weeks ago. Right on the next court a tennis pro was giving a lesson to a gentleman. This gentleman was grunting very loudly BEFORE (not after) he hit each ball. I asked him to curtail the grunting and he said that the women pros do it, so why couldn't he? The women pros who shriek should think carefully what kind of models they are for the sport. (I offer this also to indicate it is not just women who speak in decibels on the court.) I am going to also investigate whether my club has a rule against people grunting like this guy was and whether their pros who are giving the lesson can tell them to pipe down.

• Anonymous of New York: Jon, speaking of TV coverage, when my wife recently filed for divorce, one of the first things she did was cancel the Tennis Channel. That one really hurt. Divorce I can live with, but I can't go on without my 24/7 tennis drip...

• The battle continues between Florida and Stanford, who have jostled back and forth at the top of the women's Campbell/ITA Team Rankings nearly all spring. The latest episode appears in this week's rankings, where Florida has once again jumped Stanford, despite the fact that the Cardinal are the only remaining undefeated women's Division I team.

• The USTA announced its commitment to support "Joining Forces," an effort led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, to mobilize all sectors of society to give United States service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.

• Ivan H. of New York comes up with a doppel double: Liv Tyler and Andrea Petkovic AND Potito Starace and Adrien Brody.

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