Celebrating the Bryan brothers, sizing up Blake vs. Fish, more mail

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While wondering if the U.S. Open men's final is pushed to Monday for the fourth straight year, will USTA execs lament, "Hasa Diga Eebowai"?

I'm excited to be going to the Cincinnati tournament next month to watch the men and women. Can you give me some tips. What should I be looking for?-- Jim S., Chicago

• The U.S. Open Series is upon us and the next eight weeks or so are good times for North American tennis fans. Cincinnati is a high point and the good folks in the Midwest get a mixed event. As for themes, there are the obvious ones: What's the latest installment in the Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal three-way rivalry? What's the state of Serena Williams' game? (We'll get an early indication at this week's Bank of the West Classic, where she didn't drop a game in her opening victory against Anastasia Rodionova on Tuesday.) Can Petra Kvitova build on -- or, to use the voguish phrase, consolidate -- her Wimbledon success? Where is Kim Clijsters, the defending U.S. Open champ? Where, for that matter, is Andy Roddick, who has, troublingly, lost his last six sets on hard courts? Can Juan Martin del Potro continue his ascent? Can Caroline Wozniacki build some momentum? Lots going on here ...

I'm going to take this opportunity, though, to plug the Bryan brothers, who are, at once, overexposed and the most underrated story in sports. Here is the most successful doubles team in history, fresh from winning Wimbledon, still going strong in their mid-30s. It's almost mesmerizing to watch them play. (If you lament the shortage of net play, you get your fill watching them.) And even at this stage in their careers, they are still prone to sibling fights.

Disclaimer: I got this story from a member of the inner circle and did not see it first hand. But during their semifinal match at the French Open, I gather Mike said something uncharitable to Bob. As they walked to the chair for a changeover, Bob blindsided Mike, punching him in the back of the head and nearly flooring him. They spent the better part of the changeover cursing each other and went on to lose the match. Afterward, they cleared out the locker room and engaged in a full-on battle royal. Then, once they'd "cleared the air," they went out to dinner together.

There's so much going here. The twin dynamic. The ritual excellence. The weird world of doubles. A pair of genuinely good guys who, truly, have not changed with success. The effect of marriage on their relationship.

Someone is missing out on a huge reality show opportunity. Tennis Nation, though, shouldn't miss out on watching these guys while you still can.

Simple question, Jon: Fish or Blake?-- Sam, San Francisco

• Funny, usually the choice is "Fish or chicken?" (Again, there is a Congressional mandate that at least one piscatorial pun must accompany any mention of Mardy Fish.) Assuming I'm reading this right, Sam's succinct question asks for a comparison between the careers of Fish and James Blake. There are obviously a lot of similarities here -- two Americans, largely cast as wingmen to Andy Roddick, whose careers have had decided highs and lows. That they are close friends only makes the compare-and-contrast game more interesting.

I'll just lay out the stats and let you judge for yourself.

I think Ana Ivanovic has fallen into the Anna Kournikova life pattern of being told she needs to focus on her beauty more than her tennis.-- Allan Watkins, Atlanta

• In Kournikova's case, I think there came a point when she let the "extracurriculars" overwhelm the tennis. In Ivanovic's case, part of what makes her struggles so poignant is her defiant commitment to tennis. It would be one thing if she spent half her time pitching reality shows and dating celebrities and living the TMZ life in Miami Beach or Malibu or Monte Carlo. But that's not what's going on here. She's still out there grinding, experimenting with coaches, entering lots of events. She just loses her way once she gets in a match.

This reads like an awful "Damn Yankees" plot. "Hey, Ana. It's me, Mr. Mephistopheles. You know, the Prince of Darkness? The Beast? Here's the deal. You win a major, become No. 1 and appear for all the world like the future queen of the sport. Companies and men will both prostrate themselves before you. Then, wham! I take your soul, and your game, and your ranking begins to fall at a rate that mocks the force of gravity. Deal Adje!"

Just a comment on the reason why Roger Federer doesn't watch the finals. If I'm a surgeon and do heart transplants all the time, do I go running to the operating room every time a heart transplant is done by another surgeon?-- Asif Khan MD, Canfield, Ohio

• Yeah, a lot of you commented on this. Again, I think it's reasonable. Leaving aside logistics, travel plans and family time, it's still understandable that a top player would lose interest in a tournament once he was eliminated.

Jon, let me see if I've got this straight: The claycourt season goes from April until early June, ending with the French Open. Grasscourt season starts the next day, and ends four weeks later at Wimbledon. Fine, I guess. Davis Cup action happens again the next week, on the surface of choice for the hosting country. Again, fine, I guess. But then the following week there's an ATP event in Sweden on ... clay??? What?? So David Ferrer goes from playing on clay, grass, hardcourt indoor and back to clay in the span of six weeks??!! Whoa, I'm thinking the dude is probably ready for some R&R.-- John, San Francisco

• You didn't mention that Ferrer then comes back to the U.S. for six weeks of hardcourt play. Ferrer is known as an indefatigable player. But this usually pertains to his grinding style. Add in his travel schedule and he really is the hardest working man in show business. (Small consolation, but with his schedule, you have to believe he's getting the automatic upgrades.)

I truly believe that Lori McNeil is the best player never to have won a Grand Slam singles title. Am I nuts?-- Joe Johnson, Allentown, Pa.

• I wouldn't say "nuts," but I think you can do better. Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez both seem to come up a lot. I'd add Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Helena Sukova. I'm sure there are others who elude me. But, honestly, there's no time like the present! Caroline Wozniacki has spent dozens of weeks ranked No. 1. By comparison, McNeil's career-high ranking was No. 9.

I was watching Marc Gicquel play in a Challenger event in Sopot, Poland, a few days ago and, as an ardent Federer fan, I immediately noticed he was wearing a white and yellow Roger Federer T-shirt from this year's Australian Open! Am I the only one who thinks it's bizarre to see a guy other than Roger compete on tour with an RF logo emblazoned on his chest?-- Marcin Zielkiewicz, Warsaw, Poland

• If it were Rafael Nadal, it would be one thing. But if a journeyman player happens to wear an RF T-shirt, to me that's like a college basketball player (circa 1998) wearing Air Jordans.

I'm not sure if you heard about this on Howard Stern, but he made a great point: How long before the WTA has someone grunting corporate sponsor names? Maria Sharapova could do "Nikeeeeeeeeeeee," Victoria Azarenka might be able to get away with "Sergio Tacchiniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii."-- Jim M, Pittsford, N.Y.

• Shame on all you agents! You're supposed to look for revenue streams and income opportunities. Hey, as long as the WTA is willing to sit silently, why not take advantage? And why limit to one sponsor? You could fill entire categories. Forehands could be "EEEEEEEEE-surance!!!!" Backhands could be "Emirrrrrrrrates Aiiiiiiir!" Serves could be "betttt-at-home-dottttt.com!"

Do you know who came up with the line, "Federer plays the game we wish we could play; Rafa plays the game we should try to play"?-- Mark S., Los Angeles

• I don't know. But I like it.

I'm a little confused. Why do the players in doubles seem to hide their talks when they speak to each other after points? I see that maybe covering the mouths of the coaches in football, but doubles tennis? -- Ray Danganan, Frederick, Md.

• You never know when the thousands fans in the stands are stealing signs and conveying them to the opposition, a la Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca. You're right that it's silly. Actually, these extended summits between points are silly regardless of whether players cover their mouths. You're either going to serve wide, into the body or up the T. The netman is either going to poach or not. Wouldn't simple hand signals suffice?

Can Novak Djokovic be the next Federer? In terms of everything: domination, brand ambassador, front face for the sport ...-- Suresh, Mumbai

• Easy there, Suresh. No disrespect to Djokovic, but he has a long way to go before the Federer comparisons, both in terms of on-court achievements and diplomatic carriage.

I attended the WTT match that featured Serena Williams of the Washington Kastles vs. the New York Sportimes. Serena played three matches and hardly uttered a grunt. What gives?-- Eric Bukzin, Manorville, N.Y.

• I think part of what enrages so many of you, including Martina Navratilova, is that the grunting appears to be situational. Some of the most vocal players are silent during practice. Players who split eardrums at 4-4 are much quieter in the first game of the set.

I'm planning to donate $1 to charity for every match Nikolay Davydenko wins this year. I have five singles in my wallet. Will I have to visit the ATM before this year is up?-- Brett Davis, Los Angeles

• You're already up to $14. You might need a cash advance. Nagging injuries play into this dismal record.

But at age 30, and with a correspondingly banged-up body, it's hard to imagine Davydenko's returning to the top 10. Hard to believe that in 2010 he beat both Federer and Nadal. But if you really want to see a losing streak, check this out ...

Has anyone noticed that Andrey Golubev in the midst of an epic losing streak? He has lost 17 consecutive matches since March. He is only four loses away from tying Vince Spadea's 21-match losing streak. To add insult to injury, his ranking just plummeted from 57 to 103 after being unable to defend in Hamburg. You have to feel sorry for the guy!-- Eric, Philadelphia

• Thanks, Eric. It's unclear that a round robin World Team Championships event should count. But that's great sleuthing. Check out this slide.

• Sometimes in our quest to write a column that is both entertaining and unapologetically partial to tennis, we err on the side of casual. Last week's question-and-answer regarding Tennis Channel's dispute with Comcast could have (should have?) been more rigorous. First, just to clarify: It was the FCC Enforcement Bureau, not the ALJ, that weighed in. Also, in the interest of fairness and balance, here's a concise summation of Comcast's position, from a company statement last year:

"Our contract with Tennis Channel, which the network freely negotiated and signed in 2005, specifically permits us to carry Tennis Channel as part of our Sports Entertainment Package, where we -- like many other distributors -- currently offer it to our customers. Far from discriminating against Tennis Channel, we are fully honoring the terms of our agreement with Tennis Channel and plan to continue carrying the network for our customers and tennis fans."

• I gather that the SportsBusiness Journal's Dan Kaplan has reported this as well, but I keep hearing that the ATP is focusing on internal candidates to replace executive chairman Adam Helfant. The two names I've heard are Brad Drewett (CEO, ATP International Group) and Mark Young (CEO, Americas).

• From the USTA: Alexios Halebian of Glendale, Calif., and Luca Corinteli of Alexandria, Va., who live together at the USTA Training Center-Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., captured the boys' 18s and 16s singles titles, respectively, on Sunday at the 2011 USTA National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach, Fla. Gabrielle Andrews of Pomona, Calif., won the girls' 18s singles title Sunday in Memphis, Tenn.

• From the Tennis Hall of Fame: On Friday, Sept. 9, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum will gather hundreds of tennis enthusiasts and industry leaders at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City for The Legends Ball, an annual social event that celebrates tennis and honors some of the sport's greatest champions and contributors. In addition to paying tribute to the International Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2011 inductees -- Andre Agassi and Peachy Kellmeyer, who received the highest honor in the game on July 9 -- the event will salute two great contributors and longtime supporters of tennis, Dick Enberg and the Campbell Soup Company.

• This week's anti-grunting rant: John Manthei of Potomac, Md.: "Please add me to the long list of folks who passionately love and watch tennis but have now tuned out of the women's game because of the shrieking. I tried turning the sound off, but stopped enjoying it. I can't take it. I happened to see Sharapova and [Gisela] Dulko play in the Bahamas earlier this year in an exhibition match -- Sharapova never once grunted. The WTA has to stop this -- it's killing the game."

• Treece Goodwin of Takoma Park, Md. passes on this feel-good story.

• Andrew of New York: "Check out this image, currently featured on the Roland Garros homepage. I've not seen anything like this before. Brings to mind the Agassi/Baghdatis scene in the [U.S.] Open."

• From WTT: The Washington Kastles and St. Louis Aces swept the postseason honors for the 2011 World TeamTennis Pro League. The Kastles' Leander Paes and the Aces' Liezel Huber were the league MVPs. The Kastles' Arina Rodionova and the Aces' Jean-Julien Rojer were named top rookies, and Washington's Murphy Jensen was selected as top coach.

• Tennis enthusiast and loyal Mailbag reader Stelio Savante is producing the play 110 Stories in New York after having produced it and brought it out to Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse last year. The cast included Ed Asner, John Hawkes and Katharine McPhee. Tickets are going on sale this Monday. Go here and click on the tickets option.

• Ashish Malhotra of New York noticed: "By winning a challenger tournament in Sopot, Poland, last week, Eric Prodon of France just broke into the top 100 (as of July 18) for the first time at the age of 30, just slightly less than 13 years after he first appeared on the ATP computer. Does this make him the oldest person to enter the top 100 for the first time? Might he also hold the distinguished honor of spending the most weeks ranked on the ATP computer before cracking the top 100? A bit of research on the guy shows that he had a decent junior career in which he even once beat Federer. Obviously, the transition to the men's game wasn't as easy for him, but hats off to him for perseverance!"

• Congrats to the USTA for this investment in the future. (Great program. As someone with kids of appropriate age, I have some experience here. Those balls are magic.)

• Kevin Moss of Berkeley, Calif.: "As a quick follow-up to your Diego Rivera trivia question (that Helen Wills Moody served as his model): Readers don't have to travel across the pond to the Tate gallery to view his masterwork. Rivera created his first U.S. fresco on the wall of the grand stairwell of the former Pacific Stock Exchange Lunch Club building (now the City Club) in San Francisco. Wills Moody posed as Califia (the state's namesake) for this notable mural."

• From the Tennis Hall of Fame: The 2010 Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship Awards went to Ashok Narayana of Houston; Molly O'Koniewski of Hilton Head, S.C.; Jamie Pawid of Castro Valley, Calif.; and Samuel Shropshire of Philadelphia.

• Long Lost Siblings: Shlomo Kreitman of Passaic, N.J.: "I just saw the trailer for the new Spiderman movie, and I never knew Andy Murray had a brother by the name of Andrew Garfield."

Have a good week, everyone!