By Jon Wertheim
December 07, 2011

I am a huge American tennis fan. Alex Bogomolov is up to No. 34 in the world, but according to the ATP website, he is now Russian. What country is he playing for, and do I root for him?-- Matt, Syracuse, N.Y.

• First, let's credit Bogomolov for his comeback. Two years ago, he was living with his girlfriends' parents in New Jersey, taking a two-hour train ride to "work" and giving private tennis lessons to make a few bucks. He decides to give his pro career one last shot, bankrolls his training and travel on a credit card, recovers from a wrist injury and is now in the top 40, having banked in excess of $500,000 in 2011. Great story.

Then, the narrative takes an interesting turn. For years, Bogomolov was considered American. He accepted USTA coaching and training and money and wild cards. Last month, however, on the heels of his career-high ranking, he decamped to Russia. I know this did not go over well with the USTA. Jim Courier mentioned last week the idea that the services Bogomolov received from the USTA "probably should be rectified prior to him playing for another nation."

Justin Gimelstob recently congratulated Bogomolov on his breakthrough 2011 but questioned the loyalty of his decision to repatriate. (Bogomolov apparently expressed appreciation that Gimelstob had the guts and decency to confront him face-to-face.) I see where the USTA is chapped. But I have a hard time condemning Bogomolov.

This is a brutal, individual sport. The players are independent operators. There are no guaranteed contracts. One wrist injury and you're in debt to your credit card. How do you begrudge Bogomolov -- especially at this point in his career -- from following the money, playing for the country with the best chance of putting him on a Davis Cup team and an Olympic delegation? Would it be nice if he had shown a bit more loyalty? Sure. But why? He has no chance of representing the U.S. in international competition and the USTA probably has limited upside for a 29-year-old grinder, however endearing his backstory. Put crassly: Both parties would seem to be of limited use to each other right now.

If anything, his change of heart emphasizes and further underscores just how silly nationalities can be in tennis. We can look at the rankings and lament, "There are only X Americans in the top 100." But when Maria Sharapova can spend three-fourths of her life here -- including her formative years -- and Alex Bogomolov can renounce his U.S. country code at the drop of a (fur) hat, it shows how flimsy the whole concept of tennis citizenship can be.

We talk about these lean years for American tennis. But note how many players come here to train (Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic, Sabine Lisicki) or could just as easily make a claim to be American (Kim Clijsters, Sharapova), and suddenly it doesn't look quite as grim.

Hi Jon! Just finished reading your mailbag and wanted to comment on your line about the irony of Milos Raonic's Newcomer of the Year award being sponsored by an alcoholic beverage. I'd like to point out that up here in Canada the drinking age is mostly 19, with a couple of provinces even at 18. So at 20 he is of legal drinking age and therefore there is no irony at all!-- Aly, Toronto

• Bottoms up, Milos. Several of you -- and by "several" I mean half the population of Ontario -- noted this. One of you suggested I listen to the music of another Canadian, Alanis Morissette, and re-evaluate my definition of the word irony. You know what I always thought was ironic about the song "Ironic?" The predicaments described aren't particularly ironic. They're just bummers.

Rain on your wedding day? Unfortunate? Yes. Ironic? Not really. Good advice that you just didn't take? Regrettable? Sure. But where's the irony? Let's move on ...

I was so happy for Donald Young's progress in 2011. Now I just saw on Tennis Channel that he is still being coached by his mom. What's the deal here?-- Charles, Maryland

• Young's emergence and maturation was one of my favorite stories of 2011. But clearly there's still some tension with his filial loyalties and his loyalties to the USTA (such as they exist). I think it's hard for us tell players who they can and can't hire for coaches.

As we've discussed before, Young is a particularly delicate case. But the USTA is -- almost like a venture capitalist -- understandably wary of cutting checks without getting some equity and some control in exchange. It's easy for us to question the wisdom of hiring a family member as a coach. But among the Williams sisters, Uncle Toni, Pops Wozniacki et al., in recent years, the family members have done just as well as the "conventional" coaches.

Two random asides:

A) You know what would be fun? A rule mandating that family members are eligible to coach players, but they must be distributed randomly among the eligible pool. Ilona Young would spend a match guiding Caroline Wozniacki; Oracene Price would take a nap, while sitting next to Maymo the Trainer and Benito and the Nike guy with the cool glasses in Rafael Nadal's box; Uncle Toni would work with Agnieszka Radwanska, forcing her to tie her own shoes the "proper way" and fetch her own water.

B) This is a true quirk of tennis. Name me another industry in which a handsome 21-year-old male not only doesn't mind being seen in public with his parents, but also insists that his mommy come to work with him every day and accompany him on his (potentially, um, convivial) international business trips. I'm in the middle of watching the Cameron Crowe Pearl Jam documentary (highly recommend) and laughing thinking about Eddie Vedder, in his early 20s, telling the bandmates that his mom will be joining them on tour and running the sound check. Yet Donald Young is basically choosing his folks over Jose Higueras and the boys. Is that Ironic? Don't ya think?

It appears to me that Rafa Nadal is moving a drop slower than he did a couple of years ago. It reminds me of Boris Becker. He was more nimble, and frankly better, at 17-21 years old than after that. The maturation and muscle buildup seems to have slowed his movement a little. Same with Nadal, though they are obviously very different players in all respects. Any thoughts?-- Ben, Queens, N.Y.

• First, I agree with your premise. When players whose games are predicated on movement and speed -- Michael Chang, Lleyton Hewitt* and Juan Carlos Ferrero are three names that come quickly to mind -- lose a step of quickness, the next chapter ain't pretty.

We've all known for years that Nadal's playing style and his sensibilities don't lend themselves to a long career. But have we already reached the point of decline? The skeptics will say that Nadal hasn't won a hardcourt title in more than a year. (They will also note that, while not indicative of a loss of speed, his serve has lost about 20 percent of its punch since the 2010 U.S. Open.)

On the other hand, it is in keeping with the patterns of his career that he struggles and comes back strong. We also forget that he remains the king of clay. If he has, say, three more seasons like last year where he wins the French and gobbles enough points on the dirt to sustain his ranking for the rest of the year, he still ends up with a top-five-of-the-Open-Era career.

* Australian Open wild card, Lleyton Hewitt.

Jon, two points for you: 1) To everyone in the "best player never to make No. 1" discussion. I suggest you go to Wikipedia and search for "Mandlikova, Hana." After reading the bio you surely will find your dispute settled. 2) Three or four months ago you argued in a mailbag that it is actually Juan Martin del Potro, not Andy Murray, who's the real world No. 4. Though I found your arguments kind of weak at that time, it still startles me that this time around JMDP didn't even get a passing mention in your "who can break into the top 4" answer.-- Mikhail Tamm, Moscow, Russia

• I will help this quest and present you with the link.

And I think Mikhail is absolutely right. We have a winner, such as it is. Mandlikova won four Grand Slams, and topped out at No. 3. That's amazing. (What's more, Wozniacki -- she of the dazzling impersonations but zero majors -- nearly made as much coin in 2011 as Mandlikova made for her entire career.)

As for point two, part of what makes tennis so enthralling is the pace at which -- all together now -- the plots change. Had you suggested six weeks ago that Roger Federer could be considered a leading contender in Australia, you would have been ignored or ridiculed. Suddenly, he's riding a 17-match win streak into 2012. In the spring, Murray had lost four straight matches, including back-to-back defeats in Masters events to Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov (Indian Wells and Miami, respectively). By Roland Garros, he'd found his game again.

To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of Del Potro. He played dazzling tennis in the first half the year and, had he not been hamstrung by his modest rankings, his draws would have been better. (To wit: His third-round encounter with Novak Djokovic in Paris could have been a semifinal under different circumstances.)

By the hardcourt season, JMDP was sucking wind and, after bowing out of the U.S. Open, he lost to James Blake in Stockholm and missed the Masters events. He acquitted himself well, though, in the Davis Cup final and, despite losing both matches, looked like a potential top five player again. My jury of one is still out. The game is obviously there, especially that elephant gun masquerading as a forehand. Mentally, I think there are still issues in need of resolution.

I know you write for a U.S. magazine, but to be more consistent with all the talk about globalization in tennis, you should consider referring to months instead of seasons (e.g. fall, spring), especially when players themselves play in both hemispheres. It's a bit difficult for me to read "Come early fall, Nadal is a shard of the player he was during the first half of the year" when, from this latitude, "early fall" is still the first half of the year and is usually the best time for Nadal (clay season). Obviously, this might be just a purist's rant, but I thought you should notice.--Janoma, Santiago, Chile

• Thanks. I've tried to be conscious about "pounds" versus "kilograms" and toning down the Gilbertian references to American sports. But, honestly, before your note, I had never considered that "my" summer might not be "your" summer. Fair point. Duly noted. This is always a balance, of course. Far as I can tell, the audience seems to be about 40 percent American, 60 international, but I'd love more precise data.

I love checking the player rankings. Today I see that Nole has an otherworldly 13675 points to defend going into 2012. As a diehard Fed fan, I have to know: What is FedEx's highest ever point total, Rafa's, the best all time, and maybe for comparison a spread of the all-time greats?-- Dwayne B., San Juan, Trinidad

Sayeth Sharko the Great:

"It was a lesser point scale before 2008 and the other high totals are: Nadal (12,450) in 2010 and Federer (10,550) in 2009. Hope this helps." As long we're here, I hope the ATP players realize how much Sharko does to help their cause. He clearly has a cult following among you in fanland; I just hope the ATP royalty knows how valuable he is to their Tour.

Federer's fitness and ability to stay injury-free throughout his career is becoming truly legendary, yet we seem to know so little about his training regimen. Does anybody know what kind of training he does or is this some sort of guarded secret?-- Sigmund, St. Paul, Minn.

• That's a good point. We know that Federer puts an emphasis on year-round fitness, but we know relatively little about the actual routine. He periodically goes to Dubai for these "mini training camps" in the heat. His trainer, Pierre Paganini, stresses flexibility. Federer was blessed by genetics and clearly has a great deal of natural agility to match his natural ability. But otherwise, we don't know much. About the closest we get are these vanilla interviews with Paganini like this and this.

If I were an athlete -- especially in an individual sport -- I would consider this proprietary information. Why would Federer, whose routine clearly works, want to share his training secrets with the world? Hopefully when he writes his post-career book, he gives us more detail here. Meanwhile, who can blame him for guarding this secret, as Sigmund puts it?

Why did tournaments stop posting transcripts of the postmatch interviews? I always enjoyed them; they added a little more texture to the drama of a tournament.--John, Philadelphia

• This has become a Roe v. Wade debate in the press room. Do you post transcripts online immediately, pleasing fans -- as well as the journalists not on site? Or do you embargo the transcripts for a day, a nod to the journalists on-site (i.e. the ones asking the questions)?

I see this both ways. If the matches are available to watch on TV and online and the postmatch interviews are immediately available to all, it disincentives media outlets from covering events and further imperils journalists. On the other hand, is the audience not ill-served when available information is being suppressed or embargoed? Personally, I'd prefer to see the transcripts released immediately.

Is Federer's father, Robert, THE nicest guy around the ATP Tour? Anyone who mans up enough to congratulate players who have just broken the heart of his own son (Rafa at 2008, Wimbledon; Novak at 2011, U.S. Open, among others), yet always remains the son's biggest fan, rates very highly in my book.--SPress, Vermontlandia

• No doubt. Robert Federer looks a lot like my late father, so I was always predisposed to liking the guy. But you're absolutely right to rate him highly. One of the more poignant tennis moments: After Nadal beats Federer in that episodic 2008 Wimbledon, Nadal scales the wall to meet his group. Who's there clapping as lustily as anyone and, at one point, helping Nadal maneuver?

Also, before Federer plays night matches at the U.S. Open, you can bet on Robert sitting in the beer garden, often alone, having a cold one. He goes unrecognized -- which says something. Then when he sits in the stands, he often wears one of the AMEX ear-pieces, Steve Bartman style, a wonderful bit of unpretentiousness. He's sitting a few feet from the court, near Anna Wintour and Gavin Rossdale, and he's choosing to listen to Robby Koenig's commentary.

• "Tennis player encounters" might be our most popular segment yet. We've easily eclipsed 100. We're getting great entries so feel free to keep sending. Let's just limit to, say 300 words. This week's picks, both inspiring and uninspiring:

Peter of Boston: "My encounter occurred several years ago when I met Billie Jean King. She was visiting Boston University to receive an honorary degree. I was assigned to host another honorary degree recipient, a CEO of an iconic fashion retailer whose late arrival thwarted my well-orchestrated plan to meet an icon and to thank her personally for opening so many doors for my young daughters. Guarding a concealed, tired copy of Play Better Tennis with Billie Jean King, a gag gift my sister picked up at a yard sale for me years before, I watched for every opportunity to meet BJK, but the frenzy of the day conspired against me. I chatted up Ilona Kloss, who couldn't have been more friendly, during the commencement ceremony, but that didn't get me closer to the legend.

"With opportunities dwindling, aforementioned CEO decided to make a quick escape from the post-ceremony luncheon before I'd even spotted BJK. As we approached the exit, Mr. CEO decided to backtrack to chat with another VIP. My chance presented itself when in that instant I saw Ilona and Billie Jean in the food line. With the alacrity of a circa 1970 BJK net approach, I closed in. I'm sure she was bemused (and annoyed) by a stranger bearing a book she probably hadn't seen in 30 years, but she graciously smiled, put down her plate and asked my daughters' names. Often I've taken that book off the shelf when a setback in school or on the court, ice or field has brought discouragement and tears and we've talk about the inspiring figure whose simple script reads: 'To Annika and Elena, Dream big and go for it! Billie Jean King.' "

Dino Balzano of Los Angeles, Calif.: "This past August I flew up to San Francisco for the WTA Stanford event, as my good friend had excellent seats for the final, and I am a huge Marion Bartoli fan. She was playing Serena that day -- it was their first meeting after Bartoli beat her at Wimbledon. As you know, Serena won in straight sets.

"I was scheduled to fly home to L.A. late that Sunday afternoon. I had a 6 p.m. flight and was dropped off at the airport very early, so I had a lot of time to kill. Standing in line for a cup of coffee, I knew I recognized the person standing in front of me, but couldn't place him. Finally, it dawned on me, it was Serena's hitting partner, Sasha. I knew instantly that if he were there, Serena must be in the terminal as well, so I watched to see where he went, and, sure enough, there was Serena in a seat near the gate to the same flight I was to fly on.

"You have to understand that the terminal was practically empty. Hardly anyone was around. Serena was looking at emails on her phone, Sasha just sat in silence, and Richard Williams and his girlfriend were sitting a little further down the row of seats -- they were all silent. I usually hate bothering people for autographs, but Serena is a legend, she was not on the phone or talking to anyone or eating anything, and it just seemed like a completely acceptable time to ask her to sign something. I nervously went up to her, and I congratulated her on that day's win, told her I was there to see her win, and asked her if she wouldn't mind signing the tournament program I had in my hand. I was a polite as I could possibly be.

"I cannot begin to describe you the look that Serena then gave me. First, she appeared genuinely surprised that someone would approach her. Then, the look of utter agitation came over her face. It was obvious that she was not pleased, to say the least. She begrudgingly took my pen and signed her name, nothing else. She signed very slowly, and it was an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable time. When she finished, I didn't know what else to say or do, so I uttered, 'Good luck with the rest of the summer and I look forward to watching you at the Open.' She uttered a very cold and insincere 'Thank you,' and turned back to her emails.

"I can't begin to describe how awful the interaction was. She was not doing anything but sitting and waiting for a flight, I was polite and respectful to her, but she responded to me in a completely condescending manner -- one that made me feel just completely embarrassed and extremely uncomfortable. She is a legendary tennis player, and I would imagine she would have similar encounters with fans each and every day. I can only hope that this is not an example of how she responds to them every time."

Sam, Miami: "I work and live in downtown Miami, and during late March of this year, I was walking home and stopped by my local Publix supermarket to pick up a few things. As I am waiting in line to pay, I notice this tall, Nordic-looking guy bagging his own groceries, which mostly consisted of bottles of Perrier water. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was Robin Soderling, so I ditched the line and walked up to him as he was paying to say hello.

"Luckily, he had an issue with his foreign credit card, so as we waited for the manager, I got to chat him up. As you might imagine, Robin is not very chatty, but I wished him well in the Sony Ericsson and told him I was a big fan. After looking mostly annoyed with me, we shook hands and he walked off toward his hotel. Funny thing was that absolutely nobody else had any idea who he was or why I was so excited to talk to this tall, grumpy fellow."

Mike, Miami: "In the early-to-mid-1990s, I was a ballboy at what was then the Lipton on Key Biscayne. I have a number of stories about many pros, but there are two that always stick out for me. The first one was when I was working the grandstand for a Mal Washington match. Mal's matches were always great to work because he is such a nice guy, but after he won his match, he was hanging around the court talking with us and he tried to use his charm to set me up on a date with one of the ballgirls. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but it was good for a laugh.

"The second was an on-court exchange I overheard from the Jensen brothers. They had just finished a point and before they went to serve, the conversation went something like this (expletives omitted):

'What are you doing back here?'

'I don't know, I'm just trying to make it look like we know what we are doing here. Aren't we supposed to talk strategy or something?'

'Do you want to get a pizza after the match?'

'Sounds good!'

Followed by energetically running to their court positions to serve the next point."

• Here's a link to another.

• Your Sun Bowl Parade Grand Marshall, Bill Macatee.

• Steve B. of Whittier, Calif.: "Nothing offensive about the Stockholm commercial? Nadal was right-handed. This is clearly a bias against left-handed people."

You go, Wozniacki.

You stay, Wozniacki.

• Kayezad E. Adajania of Mumbai, India, reviews the Nadal book.

• Trivia: Which NFL owner financed a college tennis complex?

• Danielle Johnson of Charleston, S.C.: "When Kevin Ware mentioned awful trophies in last week's mailbag, I immediately thought of the Swedish Open prize, which looks something like a legless deer hoisting a glass bowl."

• The villainous Andre Agassi.

Trivia answer.

• Speaking of Khans ... Asif Khan of Canfield, Ohio: "Not so much a pro-tennis player encounter, but at the 1995 Wimbledon championship with Steffi Graf winning, I walked up to Robin Roberts, ESPN anchor I think at the time, and said, 'Hi, Robin Givens, right? I love you on ESPN.' She looked at me and politely said, 'Uh, Hell, no.' What was I to expect when she gets mistaken for Mike Tyson's ex! I was laughing the rest of the day, and feeling a bit stupid as well. Still gives me a chuckle to this day."

• John of Royal Oak, Mich., asks: "Could it be that Charlie McDermott was really born in Majorca?"

Have a great week, everyone!

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