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Mailbag: Tennis' off-season, my choice for 2010 WTA MVP, more


So they are expanding the off season to seven weeks? It is not as though the top players actually need a long break such as this one. After all, they find time to play lucrative exhibitions in December and come back stronger than ever in January. Am I nuts? --JJ Johnson, Allentown, Pa.

• There were several questions this week about tennis' off-season, such as it is, an oxymoron akin to "team of mavericks" and "guest host." The ATP's decision to reduce the season by two weeks -- one of which was a "dead" week anyway -- is what it is: a compromise that won't make a lot of difference but will enable both the tournaments and the players to retreat to their constituents claiming victory. Good for Adam Helfant for doing something. But it's hard to see this making much a difference. The calendar in tennis is a decades-old Sphyxian riddle. The tournaments have an interest totally at odds with that of the players -- at least the top players.

Quick points to consider:

1.) When the ATP stripped the feeble Hamburg event of its Masters Series status, it triggered a dispute-still ongoing-that cost the ATP more than $20 million in fees. Suggestions that the ATP simply lop a dozen events off the calendar are neither feasible nor realistic.

2.) While Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick might, rightfully, want a longer of-season, there are a lot of lesser players who would welcome an additional opportunity to earn money. Until tennis offers players guaranteed contracts, a big chunk of the labor force isn't going to be keen about reducing work opportunities.

3.) My pet theory: a lot of the wear and tear isn't from playing, per se, but from the rigors of travels. Players a generation ago could go through 80 matches in part because they were going from Miami to Tampa, not from New York to Asia to Europe. Maybe the ATP needs to fight space, not time.

4.) The great unspoken: there are four weeks of Davis Cup that clutter the schedule. If I'm the ATP major domo, I'm triangulating my members and going after the ITF.

5.) One of the tournaments to "suffer" from rescheduling is the Bucharest event, owned by Ion Tiriac. This is the same Ion Tiriac who was all but gifted the Madrid tournament. Coincidence?

5.) By any measure, it was a rough year for Stacy Allaster at the WTA. But big credit to her for pushing through legislation and getting the WTA season to end before Halloween. The ATP's "big" announcement-really not so big -- puts the WTA in a flattering light.

Who is your 2010 WTA MVP? Caroline Wozniacki won the most and is No. 1, but she also played the most and was the least successful on the big stages. Williams won 2 slams (normally that would be enough) but she barely played, and when it wasn't a Slam she wasn't impressive. Clijsters finished strong, won another slam, and played well against the top players, but she didn't play that much more than Serena. Schiavone won a slam and the Fed Cup, if Clijsters is in the running why not her? It's a dilemma. Maybe they should make like Reggie Bush's Heisman and just not award it this year. Hopefully next year the discussion will be about who deserves it, not about who doesn't deserve it the least. -- Scott Olson, Salt Lake City.

• Reggie Bush's Heisman was awarded. It was just pried from his arms, linebacker-style, when the slimy details oozed forth. I agree that the WTA would be better off if there were a clear-cut winner. But there's no sense withholding honors. So who wins? Good for Wozniacki for getting to No. 1. No way around it: she won a lot of tennis matches. But you cannot coronate a player an MVP when she fails to win a Major. As for Serena, she played three events this year outside the Slams. Impressive as she was in Australia and at Wimbledon, it's hard to anoint a player who averages one tournament every two months. Which leaves me voting for Clijsters. She won a Slam; she won the year-end shindig; she won in Cincy; she's good people. Not the perfect candidate, but she gets my vote.

Jon, so which tournaments are you referring to when you say "Especially with so many American tournaments moving off-shore ..."? The tense of "moving" implies current or future activity. Even if you had said "having moved" I can't think of how you can say "so many". Please explain. Thanks. -- Robert Smith, Hong Kong

• Ah, semantics. I know of no tournaments currently moving off-shore. (Oh wait, zoom in. I think I see the Advanta Championships to the left of Tahiti, making its way to Macau.) But think past tense here. Over the past decade or so, events in Scottsdale/Las Vegas, San Diego, and Philadelphia have gone elsewhere. In the early aughts (aside: can we come up with a better nickname for the first two decades of a century?) the tours' year-end championships were held in Los Angeles (WTA) and Houston (ATP). Now they're in Doha/Istanbul and London. Indian Wells very nearly left for sandier pastures before Larry Ellison swooped in.

I was happy to see that Magnus Norman was finally part of a title win in Paris, albeit as Robin Soderling's coach. Between them, they have now lost three Roland Garros finals. Soderling has now equaled Norman's biggest tournament win, the Masters event in Rome in 2000, and has managed to stay healthy and in the top 10 longer than his coach did. Question is, will Soderling ever win a Slam? -- Aaron Gerritz, Arlington, Va.

• Good question. I still say Andy Murray is the best player never to have cashed in a big prize. But Soderling is a close second. Big, heavy, flat strokes. Lots of juice on the serve. A decent athlete. Not a lot of holes. He's not as complete a player as Murray and lacks Murray's "tennis cerebrum" but he hits a bigger ball. As long as Federer and Nadal are in the game, everyone else is outside candidate. But can Soderling string together seven straight wins under right circumstances? Sure.

Jon, McEnroe just claimed that Borg and Nadal are the greatest "athletes" ever to play tennis. I think Sampras is the greatest athlete ever to play with Rafter and Noah right behind him. What are your thoughts? -- Dax Pataki, Alpharetta, Ga.

• This is a fun discussion but let's define "athlete" first. Speed and strength? Hand-eye coordination? Flexibility? What about poise? Donald Young might be beat the field in a footrace. Juan Monaco could bench press a courtesy car. Yet you won't see either of them in the London field. As much as we admire Nadal, I think there's a case to be made the Federer is just as much an elite-if in an entirely different way. His flexibility his unparalleled, he's deceptively fast, and anyone who's managed to stay so free of injury has to have a cooperative body.

You know how unfair we think it is that Federer has never been chosen athlete of the year considering his past dominance of the sport? Well, look up the stats on Kelly Slater and think of how much worst he has gotten the shaft based on his accomplishments. Most dominant person in their sport?-- Carlos, Easton, Conn.

• These are fun belly-up-to-the-bar conversations. But, the same way it's hard to compare the achievements of a tennis player to the achievements of a golfer, how do we "look up stats" and determine that Kelly Slater has gotten a raw deal? Surfing isn't particularly popular from a participation standpoint, so the competition is relatively shallow (no pun intended) at least compared to, say, soccer or basketball or even tennis. This is not to diminish what he's done. But surfing titles versus Super Bowls or NBA scoring titles? There's just no way to lay out an empirical comparison. It's not comparing apples and oranges. That comparing, like, apples and ball bearings.

On the subject of getting more statistical information about tennis, while I would love to have more of the information you've written about, the very idea of "volunteer statistician" is hilarious. Even if you're not having them run cross-tabs (trust me on this), just having them try to make judgment calls (was that error forced, or not? Etc.) would be impossible--there would be very little uniformity, and that would make the whole endeavor useless, or nearly so. -- Nick S., Boston.

• We're not talking about Randy the tech guy busting out of work early to determine whether Federer's shot are errors or winners. We're talking about tennis fans taking available data and coding it, organizing it, and making it accessible. What percent of Serena's aces come serving up the middle? What percent of Nadal's passing shot winners are hit crosscourt? Does Federer play better worse facing break point? Over the course of a season, what percentage of players choosing to return first, end up winning the match? These are fairly basic questions-and I suspect there's some real empirical gold in there-yet there, currently, there's no way to get answers.

Adds Jim of New York City: with regards to the discussion on improving tennis stats, how come there isn't a "free points" won on serve stat? "[first/second] serve percentage" and "percentage of points won [on first/second] serve" leaves a gaping hole in info. Nadal used to spin the ball in and grind his way to winning points. if both percentages were high it leaves out how hard he had to win points as opposed to say, Federer. What constitutes a "free point" on serve? an ace, service winner, three stroke rally (putaway winner by server, likely to a blocked "sitter" return), four stroke rally -- returner able to get a racket on server's supposed putaway but unable to get the ball back in play, plus scorer's discretion for any rally longer than four shots. These cheap/easy/free points do not get recorded by current match stats, something that would give a better idea on how well a player's serve is helping to win points. Also, a way to amend break points is to include in parentheses how many total different games the player had break point chances. so if a player is 3-for-12 (3), then that player broke every time there was a break opportunity, and the seemingly poor percentage stat is put into context.

Thank you Mr. W! I presume you are laughing at me. Still, your answer sent me looking up rankings below the top 30s for a change. And it's shocking how some promising or prominent names are in the 200s -- e.g. Acasuso 251? The entertaining Daniel Koellerer 256? A cruel sport. -- M. Ng, Vancouver, Canada.

• No one's laughing at anyone here. Just a cluster of international tennis fans having good, clean fun. (M. Ng asked the question last week about the future Wimbledon champ.) You're right, though, this is a cruel sport. Once you get out of the top 50 or so, it's amazing what a tenuous, economically-challenging job this can be. Imagine be the 250th best brain surgeon, or fund manager or math teacher and plumber or whatever..and struggling to make a living.

• A shout-out to transparency. Here are the ATP's 2009 990 forms:

• From our friends at the Hall of Fame: "As you may be aware, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum has been nominated in the very cool Hampton Hotels Save-A-Landmark program, a national community-outreach campaign dedicated to preserving fun and historic landmarks in all 50 states. If the Hall of Fame is selected as the winning landmark, Hampton Hotels will make a cash donation and provide a day of volunteer service to support restoration efforts at the Hall of Fame. In order to win, we must accumulate the most votes on, and so I am writing today to ask you to please take a moment to vote! The process is very quick and extremely easy - simply click the link below and click "Vote for this Landmark" beneath our photo. That's it! No registering, no entering your email address, no surveys - just one click and done! Your vote could be the one that helps us win! Please vote today!

• As top eight ATP players compete for 5 million euros, the plight of Mark Philippoussis is throw into sad relief.

• The BMW Group has agreed to a three-year partnership with the Sony Ericsson Open making them the tournament's official car sponsor through 2013.

• BBC Radio will be bringing ball-by-ball commentary of every singles match live, worldwide, uninterrupted, and free. Commentary from Jonathan Overend, David Law, Alistair Eykyn and Vassos Alexander with expert summarizing from David Felgate and Miles McLagan.

• Esther Vergeer won her 400th consecutive match last weekend. Again. Next time you hear an athlete referred to as "dominant" consider this feat.

• An anonymous reader sends us this piece on the Huggy Bear event:

• Non tennis: Who wants to help "A Way Home," an amazing sports documentary, get made?

• From the indispensable Greg Sharko: I saw that one of your readers was asking about Butorac winning titles with four different partners. He's actually won titles with five different partners in his career. He and Fish are the only active Americans to achieve that.

• Sanjeev of Fairmont, W.Va: Response to Dean of Austin's point of about approach shots: A problem with hitting it straight at the opponent is that there is less time to get into position to to hit the volley. Most players can shift their feet and hit what will be an easier passing shot as you get to the service line and before you can split-step.

• Rita writes: Funny tweet linking story on the politico Web site from Mike Debonis who covers local D.C. politics for the Post - I'm sorry to see Fenty go too ... Andre Agassi + two double cranberry vodkas:""If I lived in D.C., I'd move out, too!"

• Reader Anthony S. rightfully notes, no pressure of anything, kid:

• Next time you guys beat up Pam Shriver:

• Long, lost siblings goes to Scott McLeod of Waterloo, ON: While watching "Glengarry Glen Ross" I was struck by how much Jonathan Pryce resembles Darren Cahill. And so, herewith is a submission for long-lost siblings. The evidence: Cahill, more or less as he appears now:

And Pryce, as a young(er) man...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!