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Federer's rivalries with Djokovic, Rafa take different tone; more mail

A few mailbags ago you speculated that Roger Federer dislikes losing to Novak Djokovic much more than he dislikes losing to Rafael Nadal. That surprised me a bit, because Nadal has reduced Federer to tears on at least a couple of occasions. Can you expand on what you wrote and explain why you feel that way? Thanks.-- Srikanth, Washington, D.C.

• I want to make clear that I reached this opinion by inferring and talking with others. Federer has never explicitly said this. But, yes, my sense is that he respects Nadal and his game and his disposition far more than he does Djokovic. Some of this is a function of his textured relationship with Nadal and their mutually beneficial rivalry. Some of this is the deference Nadal gives Federer. Some of this is style.

If you're Federer, I'd think it's much easier to swallow a loss to a sidewinding, sui generis, supernaturally intense lefty than it is a player who's more conventional. I point you to his remarks following his defeat to Djokovic at the U.S. Open. Never in a million years does Federer say this about Nadal:

Q: When a guy hits a shot like that forehand on match point, is that a function of luck, of risk, or is it a function of confidence that someone would make kind of...

ROGER FEDERER: "Confidence? Are you kidding me? I mean, please. Look, some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches. Just being down 5-2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. It all goes in for some reason, because that's the kind of way they grew up playing when they were down. I never played that way. I believe in hard work's gonna pay off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn't always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he's been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You've got to ask him."

Do you know what the WTF [World Tour Finals] feels like to me? The Pro Bowl. Tennis already has four Super Bowls. The WTF is a reward for and showcase of the best talent and I think it carries an appropriately corresponding (correspondingly appropriate?) weight.-- Brian Highland, Anoka, Minn. (go Gophers!)

• Go Gophers? I think you started a new trend, adding a note of support to your tag. The Pro Bowl is an irrelevance, a football game masquerading as a free trip to Hawaii. (Football is particularly ill-suited to showcase individual talent. And, coming as it does, after the season, players are in no mood to give more than a halfhearted effort.)

The year-end WTF is not only authentic competition, but there's something real at stake. I think the reason it gets shortchanged is not because of its positioning in the season, but because of the format. Because of the eight-man draw and the round-robin tournament, it may not feel like a credible event to some. I'd encourage you to think otherwise.

Beating the best of the best -- no easy matches, no wild cards, no favoritism in the scheduling -- and showing you still had something in the reserve tank so late in the season, is a real achievement.

Regarding the long, grueling season (to the extent that 11 months can be considered a "season"): The WTA finished a couple weeks ago but the ATP Tour drags on until the end of November (for the London field) and even longer for Davis Cup. What do the women know that the men don't? Is this a patronizing decision? The girls aren't as strong as boys and need a longer break?-- Paul Treacy, Washington, D.C.

• Again, the calendar is the great Sphinxian riddle of tennis. We've been trying to solve this for years. (What walks on three legs in the evening? Answer: A tennis player, because he is so damn tired.) It's not a question of patronizing. It's a question of the WTA's realizing that, as the modern game is now played, a season spanning longer than 10 months is simply unrealistic.

When (if?) ATP chief Adam Helfant's replacement is named, one of the mandates will be to address this. Good luck, pal.

At 31, Michael Llodra is the youngest player in the doubles top 10. Comment.-- Mikhail Tamm, Moscow, Russia

• Good stat. At some level this stands to reason, yes? The older you get, the less ground you cover. So why not gravitate to doubles where your responsibilities are confined to half the court? Also, the real money is in singles. So, inasmuch as an athletic career is house money, the younger players will try their hand at the $100 poker table before moving to a lower table.

Thoughts on Bob Hewitt in light of the Jerry Sandusky allegations?-- Larry Herbert, Charlottesville, VA

• I'm not sure we need to talk about the Hewitt allegations "in light" of anything. The allegations are serious and appalling. We hear that HBO is preparing a Real Sports segment on Hewitt. We look forward to seeing it.

Why does everyone gloss over the sexual abuse of young women on the tennis tour? I have been watching tennis since I went to the Nationals in the 1950s. I find the coach/player arrangement rife with abuse because they have a certain measure of control over the young women to begin with and parents cannot police the situation because of travel the player is left to cope alone. The WTA tried to address this once with a buddy program but I do not know if it was successful.-- Peggye, New York

• It's an open secret that many coaches and WTA players have had romantic entanglements in addition to a coaching relationship. And, yes, I agree that there is a power dynamic that often makes this problematic. But I'm not comfortable making the leap to "abuse" unless the player is underage or, obviously, there is an absence of consent. Again, I think these relationships are inherently inadvisable. But if the player is acting on her own volition, what's the WTA to do?

Do you get the feeling that Ana Ivanovic actually wants to be on the court? Any sign that she is just going though the motions other than her results?-- Brandon, Chicago

• Absolutely. Which is part of what makes her decline so sad. It would be one thing if she pulled a Kournikova, traded on her looks, did the celebrity/reality TV/velvet rope thing, and lost interest in smacking around a fuzzy ball. As for Kournikova...

Stop the presses! Roger Federer won his hometown 500-level tournament AGAIN! Oh, yeah, he's back, baby!!! Oh, wait, he didn't face a top 10 opponent? UGH, never mind, let's wait and see what he does against the big dogs next week.-- Tara, Nashville, Tenn.

• Tara got snarky after Federer won Basel. He, of course, tamed a couple of top-10 players (Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) the following week in Paris. We may question the relevance of the fall events, which tend to have the feel of Kansas City Royals games in late summer (just playing out the string). But I think Federer has made a real statement these past few weeks. He manages his schedule, he manages his body and now, at age 30, he's hoarding points while others are falling off.

Is it just me, or is blue Federer's most successful color? Seriously. He won multiple Grand Slams in blue, including his last one, the 2010 Australian Open. Now his season's been revitalized ... wearing blue.-- Robert B., Melbourne, Fla.

• As long as the cream jacket stays in the wardrobe (or incinerator).

Just wanted to say that I knew when you made your predictions for the 2011 U.S. Open women's champion, you were going to jinx that person. This year your prediction was Serena Williams and what happened? Please don't predict the winner in any Slam again. Especially if your pick is any of my faves. Every time you do, they lose.-- Denise, San Antonio

• Oh, behold my powers Denise of San Antonio! And wait till I start making predictions about your governor!

Who's going to have the highest year-end ranking in 2014? Milos Raonic, Donald Young, Kei Nishikori, Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov or Ryan Harrison?-- Aki Shirahama, Seattle

• Good question. You've pretty much named the next generation. Each one has undeniable talent. Each one has undeniable weakness, be it backhand, stature, attitude, fortitude, movement, consistency and temper -- not, you know, in any particular order. Of the names you mention, I'm probably inclined to like Raonic the best now. He, along with Tomic, has the biggest serve. He's emotionally mature. He's already shown he can win big matches.

I know that you are a funny guy anyway in your writing, but your "Fuihnuhir3gbijp1mao" in last week's Mailbag had me ON THE FLOOR! As for awful trophies, I would definitely nominate the Pacific Life "whale" trophy, and that garish Barcelona trophy that could also sub as an old-fashioned churn ice-cream maker.-- Kevin Ware, San Francisco

• Hey, we aim to please. Any time we can put someone ON THE FLOOR, it's an achievement. That trophy looks like something you get for winning the ring toss at Sea World.


• All caps for CAPriati, eh? She, alas, does not respond to my emails seeking to speak and update her many fans. (Yes, this is a public shaming.) Capriati is -- gulp -- in her mid-30s right now and living in tennis' ancestral home of Florida. Obviously there have been a few bumps in the road, but if you wish her anything but the best, consult your cardiologist. She is on the Hall of Fame ballot and will be getting my vote for next year.

• While I'm not sure the Arthur Ashe afro or the Asian Michael Chang passes political correctness standards, damn, this is a great tennis commercial.

• Want to go to Wimbledon or the U.S. and French Opens? How about a hitting lesson with your favorite player? Chris Evert has your back. • Here's a nice Q&A with Monica Seles.

• Andre does Milwaukee.

• MasterCard has signed a three-year sponsorship agreement with the Sony Ericsson Open.

• We've had a few requests for my recent story on Wayman Tisdale. Should just pop up on the ol' Google, but here it is.

• Sophia of London: "An interesting bit of perspective on the big three (since they aren't the top three any more...) Djokovic without Nadal or Federer -- 12 Slams. Nadal without Djokovic or Federer -- 15 Slams. Federer without Nadal or Djokovic -- 27 Slams."

• This week's long-lost siblings from Jim Bartle of Huaraz, Peru: DeNiro as Djokovic? Not even close. Look at this poster with young John Turturro and tell me if he doesn't have the Djokovic look down perfectly.

• No, wait: Naoko of Tokyo with long-lost siblings: The Djokester and Christopher Meloni.

Have a great week, everyone!