A 'Bag before the Big Show. Check back Thursday for the U.S. Open seed reports, and don't forget our guide to attending the tournament in New York:
I am BEGGING you to help me lead the charge against these American tennis "role models" headlining both tours. I watched Andy Roddick act like a buffoon yet again in front of my students in his loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Cincinnati. Less than 12 hours later, I had the "privilege" of sharing Serena Williams' half-speed performance against Tsvetana Pironkova with another group of my kids. (I also feel like I need to mention that Serena couldn't be bothered with hitting her own autographed balls into the stands after her win -- that was left up to the volunteers on Center Court. Serena CLEARLY doesn't want to be here.)-- Patrick Fete, Cincinnati
• I got a message from a well-placed source the weekend before last suggesting that after reaching the Toronto final, there was no way Serena would stick around for the Cincinnati event, especially with her being invited to Kim Kardashian's wedding last weekend. I thought this was a joke. Then on Monday, Patrick (and others) noted that Serena apparently claimed that she was too tired to hit balls into the Cincinnati stands after winning her first match. On Wednesday, after riding a roller coaster at the nearby amusement park, Serena abruptly pulled out of the tournament on account of a toe injury. Hmmm. Without turning this into the familiar and tired discussion ("Is she faking?" "Is she disrespecting the WTA?" "Is she playing us for fools?" "Hey, wait: Who are you to question an injury?" "Her abundance of caution is the reason she's still playing!"), can we at least agree that Serena makes life tough on the Republic of Tennis?
Personally, I'm at peace with Serena. It's impossible to ignore the reality that she competes like no other player and, when able and willing, she's simply the best. It's also impossible to ignore how shabbily she treats the tour, events and her own fans. Trust me: Victoria Azarenka had nothing on the groans emitted by administrators after the latest "Serena shenanigans," as they've been called by assorted suits (and pantsuits). But what's the WTA to do? Call out its most marketable star? Question her commitment when so many of her contemporaries have either retired from burnout or been chronically injured? What's the USTA to do, especially when it needs Serena well after her career is over? The Cincinnati tournament isn't going to call her out either, not when it might need her next year.
So I think we just resign ourselves to this: Serena is not Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. She's doesn't hold the sport's institution in high regard. She either doesn't have a knack for p.r., she's indifferent to perception or she gets some of the worst advice in the history of celebrity. There will seldom be an absence of drama, whether that's threatening linespeople, bailing out of a Fed Cup commitment citing "exhaustion" but then showing up in Europe that week to promote her book, or declining to hit balls into the stands. Yet -- and this what I can't overlook -- when she does compete, you get an honest effort, a relentless competitor, a peerless athlete. Especially when the rest of the field is more volatile than the S&P 500. I think you have to pick a side and live with the consequences. You either get a champion who may disappoint with her playing schedule and breaches of decorum, or you get a player you can dislike personally who is impossible not to admire when the ball is in play.
As for Roddick, we've often said that he was born in the wrong era. While this usually pertains to tennis and the unfortunate coexistence of Federer and Nadal and now Novak Djokovic, it also pertains to his conduct. At a time when the champions comport themselves like champions, Roddick's antics and implosions are thrown into sharp relief. Hitting a ball into the stands in frustration, as he did the other night in Cincinnati, is hardly a felony. But there's a larger of pattern of regrettable behavior, especially the protracted debates with the chair umpire and mistreatment of linespeople that reek of bullying and, maybe more important, rarely seem to help his tennis. Roddick's body and game have been betraying him, and that is surely a source of great frustration. But, judging from your mail, his good will is diminishing. That's more unfortunate than all the losses. You'd like to see him finish strong -- both on the court and in the court of public opinion.
Here's the good news for Patrick and the others: If it's role models you're after, there are plenty of other options, both male and female. Even if you insist on restricting yourself to Americans, you could do worse than the Bryan brothers, Mardy Fish, John Isner, James Blake (whose results have tailed off but his good-guyness has not) and Venus Williams.
I hope Novak Djokovic has something left in the tank for the U.S. Open. Tennis can be so cruel. ND probably has won too many matches for his own good. Is ND still the U.S. Open favorite? And what a great time for Andy Murray to peak. I believe in his chances in New York.-- Dave, Jersey City, N.J.
• At this writing, we're still at the "fingers crossed" stage with respect to Djokovic. Give him credit simply for playing Cincinnati, where he withdrew from the final against Murray with a shoulder injury. As we discussed last week, he had already won a hardcourt tune-up in Montreal. He was playing well. He had a mental edge. He's logged a lot of matches in 2011 (59, with 57 victories). Apart from complying with the ATP schedule, there wasn't a whole lot of upside from playing the second of a back-to-back Masters Series event. Sadly, risk trumped reward here. You hope he recovers over the next week and that health isn't the determining factor in whether he wins his third major of the year.
As for Murray, we invoke the Wilander Rule: You can't be picked to win a Slam until you've won a Slam. But, yes, he is peaking at the right time. His title was overshadowed by Djokovic's injury, but it shouldn't go unremarked upon: Murray looked awfully strong.
When asked about Roger Federer's chances to win a major, we've said, "Sure, but a lot has to break right. The Fates have to help." Well, with Nadal looking un-Nadal-like (thanks in part to teppanyaki, of all things) and Djokovic's status suddenly in doubt, it's starting to feel a lot like 2002. Murray is in this camp, too. Without picking him to win, there's an opportunity here.
Last week, Tim from New York asked, "Why are the two summer Masters Series events (Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open) played back-to-back?" While these are in the summer lead-up to the U.S. Open, the bigger question is why the two biggest non-Slam events (Indian Wells and Miami) are hosted back-to-back. These are the only two-week Masters events, they are both joint ATP/WTA events and they have 96-player draws instead of 64-player draws. And yet, Miami starts the day after Indian Wells ends. Davis Cup is played the week before Indian Wells. If you moved Davis Cup to the week between, you'd at least give SOME players a break between the two.-- Ted Ying, Laurel, Md.
• Keep in mind that the majority of the players are from Europe. Spacing out Canada and Cincinnati means they tack on an additional week to what is already a long stretch in the United States. That's a lot of Marriott nights and Chelsea Handler and Olive Garden. As for Indian Wells and Miami, they're back-to-back on the schedule, but Indian Wells finalists typically get a few days off before starting in Miami. And there is sometimes an extra day between matches at both events. That makes a lot of difference.
I've been thinking about on-court coaching and the Cincinnati final between Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic exemplified the biggest reason I dislike it. It takes away a factor that sets tennis apart from other sports, which is that the players have to find their way out of trouble on their own. Without it, it's a routine win for Sharapova, who is much stronger mentally. Bring in coaching and JJ gets the opportunities to get out of her own way after someone else presents her with tactical advice and some good pep talks. It makes for better TV and probably higher-quality matches, but it doesn't feel right. What are your thoughts on this?-- Dave, Jersey City, N.J.
• On-court coaching is wrong on so many levels. It's a corruption of the rules. It sends an anti-feminist message. It's of no value to the fans. Eventually the WTA will cut bait.
Just curious if you are getting any mail about the Bryan brothers' "700" jackets commemorating their number of victories as a team? Lord knows there was enough flak when Federer put on the "15" at Wimbledon; I didn't have a problem with it then, and I don't now. I still don't know how it's different from the winning Super Bowl team immediately putting on the champions hat and T-shirt, but ...-- Lori, Kitty Hawk, N.C.
• Rule of thumb: The money you would spend on congratulatory apparel, either on yourself or someone else? Instead, invest it in a nice dinner or surround sound equipment or an iPad. Maybe even a charitable contribution.
• Maybe a year ago, a friend told me that he'd had a tennis lesson with a former ATP pro. "Who's that?" I asked.
"Alex Bogo -- something."
"Yeah, that's it."
In a downright Fishian "mid-carrer turnaround," Bogomolov has beaten both Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this year. At age 28, he is ranked a career-high 45th and, after the U.S. Open, will have won more than $300,000 this year.
• Michael Rauch of San Angelo, Texas, has this week's anti-grunting email:
"Perhaps all of the concern, annoyance and vitriol is being directed in the wrong direction. Since the WTA does not appear to view this as a consequential issue, instead of voicing one's displeasure with the shrieking to the WTA, one may consider petitioning the networks. Anytime one discontinues viewing of a particular match specifically in response to the shrieking, one should contact the broadcasting network to say as much. If enough people do this, then advertising dollars would decrease. That would cause broadcasting rights to decrease, hitting the WTA where it hurts. Then it may possibly become an area of interest for them. Just a thought."
• Here's sign-up information for a U.S. Open suicide pool.
• Joe Johnson of Allentown, Pa.: "Jon, based on the following video, can you honestly say that women's tennis has more depth than it did a decade ago?"
• Bryan Park of Philadelphia: "As someone who doesn't have a cable subscription (or even a TV!), I feel that I am in something of a golden era of tennis watching -- thanks to my laptop, DSL and ESPN3.com. With ESPN3 I've been able to watch the majors and a whole host of other tournaments that I never previously had access to -- Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, Family Circle Cup, Legg Mason, Rogers Cup, Western and Southern last week and New Haven and Winston-Salem this week."
• Thanks to reader Willie W. of Riverdale, N.Y., for this bit on a local player.
• Helen of Philadelphia has long-lost siblings: Miles Maclagan and Daniel Vallverdu. Looks like Andy Murray traded Miles Maclagan for ... a younger Miles Maclagan.
• We neglected long-lost siblings last week so here's a second one, from reader Carol: Djokovic and Portuguese soccer player Nelson Oliveira.