Clearing out Olympic tennis mail

Publish date:

Lots of post Olympics chatter. Let's go speed round:

Serena Williams set a tennis record that has never happened before and will never happen again. Do you know what it was?-- Curtis Mann, Fairhope, Ala.

• Do tell. Surely one career Olympic loss (singles, 2008, vs. Elena Dementieva) against four medals has to be a record. And what about dropping only 17 games in six rounds? As one of you noted, Roger Federer dropped that many games in one set. And he won it!

Hope you enjoyed our home-soiled Olympics. I wonder: Do you think if Andy Murray and Roger Federer could have a Freaky Friday (Swappy Sunday?), they would both trade their recent respective tournament wins? I personally think they would. -- James Kane, Hamilton, Scotland (near Dunblane!)

• Love "Swappy Sunday." And that's an interesting question. Would Federer rather have won his first Olympic gold over a seventh Wimbledon? Probably. This was clearly a goal of his and he came up one match short. Would Murray rather have won Wimbledon? I would say yes, but only by the smallest margin. A Brit winning Wimbledon, ending the Fred Perry drought, overcoming the pressure? That's the ultimate. But there's always a "next year" to win Wimbledon. Taking gold at an Olympics held in London? That's a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Best of five, best of three. Jon, I guess a good compromise for Grand Slams would be best of five for the quarters and beyond (with a rest day in between) and three for the rest. That would make the schedule for the first week much easier without the need of much recovery for the players. And the best players could battle it out when it matters most. To whom can we suggest this?-- Victor, Rome

• The ITF, known for flexibility and innovation. I'm telling you, the Olympics were perfect. Best of three and then a best-of-five final. Not a single retirement. Sufficiently short matches that players could enter doubles and mixed doubles. Preferable for television. Not a single fan or player left those matches saying, "I feel shortchanged. I wish we they could've played two more hours."

And once again Novak Djokovic is a class act after another devastating loss. :) He's the most gracious loser in tennis -- which is not necessarily something you want to have the opportunity to prove so often! Where does he go from here?-- Patrick Preston, Chicago

• I get a sense that many of his fans are panicking. But look at this objectively: Has he replicated his historic 2011? Not even close. But he's still squarely in the conversation, playing until the business rounds of events. Clearly, he could use a break to recover physically and, more important, mentally. The past 18 months have been a whirlwind. But he'll be back.

As much as I like Murray (and hope winning gold propels him to a new level), can we hold off on appointing him as the new alpha male or force du jour until we see how this translates to Slams?-- Kelly, Louisville, Ky.

• I don't think anyone, anywhere has anointed Murray the new alpha male. Instead, I think we've seen him spend years in the top five, win Masters Series events by the handful and reach the finals in three of the four majors. Now we'll see if the Olympics was the catalyst -- think Ivan Lendl at the 1984 French Open -- that will "translate to Slams."

Seriously, what happened on Sunday?-- Mukesh Jain, Burlingame, Calif.

• It followed Saturday and preceded Monday. The tennis? First, let's give Murray his due. "Rising to the occasion" is a cringe-worthy cliché. But that's pretty much what Murray did. As for Federer, I recalled the 2008 French Open final. Go back 50 months: Federer reaches the last match in Paris. Winning would cement the career Slam. And enable him to make a statement against Rafael Nadal. And reclaim primacy in the sport (remember he had lost in Australia to Djokovic). It was the kind of occasion that some athletes love. "I'm going to play the match of my life and shock the world!" What did Federer do? He laid an egg, never getting into the match and losing to his rival Nadal 6-1, 6-3, 6-0.

Nobody could ever assert that Federer wasn't a great big-match player. He has a winning record in finals, and look at how he has played at Wimbledon. But there have been a few times when the occasion got the better of him. Sunday was one of them.

Can you explain to me how Donald Young still gets entries into tournaments?-- Aaron R, Bloomington, Ill.

• Sadly, a year after his breakthrough U.S. Open, Young is currently challenging the record for most consecutive losses. Once the points from last summer and fall come off his ranking -- that's what is enabling him to enter main draws -- he'll be relegated to qualies and smaller events again. Sad story. Say what you will about his parents, his chilly relationship with the USTA, his mental lapses on-court. How do you not root for him to win one match?

At the beginning of the season, some tennis journalists predicted that 2012 would see a different men's winner at each Slam (perhaps you were one of them?). So far, this has played out -- including at the Olympics. Do you have any early predictions for the U.S. Open?-- Sally, Minneapolis

• Murray is the hot pick. But keep an eye on Juan Martin del Potro. As for the women, it sure seems like that American veteran, Serena Williams, is in fine form.

You wrote, "We've said it before: There's something distasteful about putting athletes to pasture. Let them retire when they're ready. Yet at the same time, it's fair game to speculate how much longer they'll endure. When Andy Roddick loses a match on grass 6-2, 6-1 (as he did to Djokovic), you wonder what's going through his head." The first two sets of the final had identical score lines, and I don't think Federer is retiring four weeks after a Wimbledon title. I'm not a Roddick apologist but he did win two titles this summer and came in to the Olympics on a roll. I think he has a little left in the tank yet. Now Lleyton Hewitt ...-- Nick, Trenton, Ill.

• Hewitt beat Marin Cilic and took a set off of Djokovic! I think it's bad form to encourage athletes to retire or suggest they should cut bait. But wondering how much longer they'll choose to endure is another matter entirely. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers stopped by our NBC studio during Wimbledon. Naturally, the conversation veered toward how many more years Kevin Garnett will continue. (Incidentally, former New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada was at the tennis, too. Who else recalls the speculation about his retirement last year?) It's just the nature of sport. As a sports radio host, Roddick, I suspect, knows this as well as anyone does.

Five American tennis players combined for four medals in London. The youngest of the group? A 30-year-old Serena Williams. -- Richard, Baltimore

• Graying of the field. Fifteen years ago, Martina Hingis challenged for the Grand Slam at age 17 and won three of the four majors. Today, you won't find a teenager near the top of the game.

Which current player will end up with the most majors in singles? Federer? S. Williams? Nadal? Someone else? Age, longevity, opposing field and surface strengths will all be factors, among other things. Who's your pick?-- James Peterson, Milwaukee

• Great question. I could see any of those three. Even if Federer never won again, 17 is a big number. Serena is close behind with 14 and currently is obliterating everyone in the field. But she is almost 31 and history tells us she has a way of coming and going. Nadal is out with an injury now and has won only a single major over the past year. But sitting now with 11 total, let's say five more French Opens and one other random major and he's there. Fun to see how this plays out.

Why, why, why do journalists treat Venus and Serena as a single organism, or at least as a package deal? I think the most common phrases in tennis are "The Williams sisters" and "Venus and Serena." It's all the more bizarre given the very different trajectories their careers are on today. It seems very disrespectful to me, or at the very least lazy. Sure, they have a shared history and a shared home, but they have individual personalities, athletic gifts, careers. I suspect you've noticed this before. If you hadn't, you'll now wish you could get it out of your head. You will see it everywhere.-- Dale Stafford, Atlanta

• I totally disagree. Initially, yes. Absolutely. There were even icky phrases like "the two-headed monster." But one of the many pleasant components to this story is that as the sisters have matured, they are no longer conflated as a single entity. Even the most casual fans know them as two different people.

Also, note how often the Williams sisters combine themselves. I can't tell you how many times Venus is asked a question and her response starts with, "Well, Serena and I always do XYZ." And vice versa. Apart from playing doubles together, endorsing products together and generally existing as a united front, the sisters conflate themselves. Nothing wrong with that. But it seems like tacit approval to yoke them together when appropriate.

There was a time when the WTA had a group of super players competing, with Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles vying for tournaments. Serena walking into a tournament these days is little more than a turkey shoot. Not to take anything away from Serena, but there clearly isn't any competition of the caliber that Graf had to face, or that any of the top four in men's tennis have to play against. I'm not suggesting putting an asterisk next to Serena's wins, but watching her steamroll inconsistent players without a complete set of highest-quality skills is little short of boring.-- Stephen Childress, Boston

• To me, there's nothing boring about watching an athlete at the absolute peak of her powers. And, without turning this into another G.O.A.T. discussion, give me the top five today against the top five in 1991. Maria Sharapova against Sabatini? Victoria Azarenka against Conchita Martinez? Come on.

How much do you think Roger Federer subconsciously held himself back against Murray in the final? He had just delivered a devastating emotional blow to Murray a few weeks ago at Wimbledon, and Murray had been such a gracious loser. Anyone with any human empathy would find it hard to do that to the same person twice in a month. If they played this match 100 times, I don't think Federer plays his best in any of them. In this instance alone, I think Federer would have had a better chance, and probably would have preferred, to play Djokovic.-- Min Seok Choi, Seoul

• I don't disagree that Federer might well have preferred to play Djokovic. The fans would have supported him. He wouldn't have the attendant subplot of a Brit playing for gold. On grass, he matches up well against Djokovic. But did Federer hold back against Murray because of subconscious empathy? I would estimate the chances of that at about 0.00 percent.

I know they only sporadically play together but I'm still waiting for the day when a tournament wises up and makes the Williams sisters a No. 1 doubles seed.-- Dave E.. Louisville, Ky.

• In tennis, you pick your battles. By departing from the rankings when you do the seeding you A) undercut the WTA's ranking system and B) invariably upset players with your subjectivity. But, yes, it is absurd that the Williams-Williams duo -- clearly the best partnership going, as well as the defending Wimbledon champs -- wasn't seeded at all.

Seeing as Federer did not manage to win Olympic gold, should we call what he has won the Silver Slam instead? He would be the only owner of that along with Sharapova.-- Victor, London

• True, that. He has been the runner-up at each major and the Olympics.

Serena Williams' "crip walk" following her gold-medal win: classless, or just having fun?-- Krista, Lexington, Ky.

• I hate that this even an (non)issue. A) I firmly believe it was spontaneous show of joy. In no universe was this preconceived by Serena to show up the "crusty [profanity] at Wimbledon," as one columnist speculated. B) We see post-match dancing all the time. Andrea Petkovic does it and it's endearing. Somehow this is gangster? C) She just won the freaking gold medal for U.S. with the most dominating display of tennis in memory -- and this is what people are focusing on? D) The entire vibe of the tennis Games was light and entertainment-heavy. There was music and a cheesy emcee and kids throwing souvenir balls into the stands. The notion that Serena sullied something sacred is just inaccurate.

For the record, there was considerable outrage about some of the criticism she endured. One example among many, from Lilas Pratt of Marietta, Ga.: "Look, I'm not the biggest Serena Williams fan, but please explain to me why people are criticizing her gold-medal-victory dance? Really, regardless of where the moves originated from, if that is her spontaneous, joyous reaction to winning the gold (as it clearly and apparently was), how is this a bad thing?"

More generally, when it comes to anything mildly critical of Serena, I've seen firsthand how quickly the "race card" and "double standard card" are dealt. But this "controversy" isn't just wrong-headed and hypocritical; it verges on something more pernicious.

Can we all read this and then drop the ridiculous (and worse) notion of Serena glorfying gangsta?

Bigger surprise: Murray's thumping of Federer OR Djokovic losing to DelPo?-- Greg McMurry, Charleston, S.C.

• Have to go with Federer. Seeing him lose a high-stakes match on Centre Court? In straight sets? To a player he'd just defeated on the same court four weeks earlier? Beaten in virtually every dimension? Losing serve four straight times? So flat on such a big occasion? That's a surprise. DelPo unleashing those flat and heavy strokes to beat Djokovic on grass? Not as much. As an aside, seeing Del Potro's absolutely delirious joy after winning a bronze was one of the more awesome sights I witnessed during the Games.

Ryan Harrison realized his mistake, took his medicine and profusely apologized several times for his actions. There was no prodding by Justin Gimelstob. If anything, Justin was annoying and in the way. Your "prodding" description of the event suggests that Ryan had to be pushed into a mea culpa and is an inaccurate reportage.-- K.C Stephens, Shreveport, La.

• Fair point. "Prodding" suggests that Harrison needed to be pushed to apologize. Which was not the case. Watch the interview, though, and it's clear that Justin -- and this is not necessarily a criticism -- was less a journalist than an advocate/mentor for Harrison.

Random player story -- well, maybe not so random, but still worth sharing. I was working in the press office at the Fed Cup zonal tie in Eilat, Israel, in February 2011. On the very last day, on a back court with about 20 people watching, Elena Baltacha was playing an Austrian girl. By beating her, team GB would qualify to the WGII playoffs for the first time in forever. Laura Robson was sitting on the sidelines and cheering on her teammates. A young girl, maybe 12 years old, asked her whether after the match they could hit a few balls together. Laura smiled politely and replied: "Let's see after the match if I have time." I thought it was a nice way of saying thanks, but no thanks.

When Baltacha went on to win the match, the whole team, including team captain Judy Murray, leapt onto the court in jubilation. The same young girl went onto the court and asked Laura if they could hit a couple of balls. With no hesitation, when all her team was hugging, celebrating and talking to the press, Laura moved to the next court to play with this young girl. She then proceeded to round up all the other kids who wanted to play too, gave them all her own rackets and played with the kids for about 30 minutes, encouraging them and giving them tips.

Again, back court, huge win for GB, cold night in Eilat, no press watching her, no reason to care. I've been around all the Grand Slams, seen many players, but never someone so kind, gracious and generous as what I saw from Laura Robson. Class act! Consider me a fan.-- Sophie, Tel Aviv

• Love it. Judy Murray? LTA? WTA? Neil Harman? An agent? Somebody forward this to Laura Robson. Players ought to know that these random acts of decency don't go unappreciated by fans.