Clearing out post-Aussie mail
? Win a six-hour Grand Slam final and you get some latitude. Do we want junior players emulating this? Probably not. But this was a pretty extraordinary circumstance.
? Erin, you want it all. But you can't have it. It's in your face. But you can't grab it.
As for "epics," I'll put Sunday's six-hour cagefight up there. The 2008 Wimbledon final between Nadal and Roger Federer. And I feel like we need to throw in a women's match. Maybe the Venus Williams-Lindsay Davenport 2005 Wimbledon final. Steve Flink, help!
You guys know
? Melbourne is just fantastic. Such a warm and hospitable place and it sure seems like you're managing your growth well. Again, I was astounded by the crowd for the tournament overall (nearly 700,000) and the men's final in particular. It was 1:30 a.m. on a Monday and there wasn't an empty seat in the house.
Hewitt really distinguished himself with his commentary. Keep in mind, he PLAYED in the tournament. It wasn't like he took weeks to study notes and prepare. Then he goes to the commentary booth and was perceptive, well-spoken and personable. Total candor: I thought there was something bittersweet about it all. Where was this guy when he was No.1 in the world? Why would someone with so much to say be so opaque -- and outright difficult sometimes? Like the saying goes, "They finally learn to say 'hello' once it's time to say 'goodbye.'"
? Funny, on Slate's Hang up and Listen podcast, the guys claimed P-Mac and Chris Fowler were "in the bag" for Nadal.
? My instinct is not to go near this with a 10-foot pole. Or even with a shorter Pole, like Aggie ("Isn't she back in Poland?") Radwanska. But I'm, you know, a warrior. So here's where I stand:
A) The best-of-five argument is a nonstarter. We don't measure value in sports and entertainment by duration. Total red herring. Equal pay for equal work? Not in sports. Hell, look at golf, where the one who works the least gets the most coin. We don't pay extra if a game goes to overtime. When cricket went to the abbreviated format (slowly, I'm learning), the salaries didn't get halved.
B) We also don't get very far on the quality argument. Would Nadal beat Sharapova? Yes. So what. Would the Jacksonville Jaguars beat Alabama in football? Yes. But who would you rather pay to watch?
C) It's unfair simply to focus on the latter rounds. What about the early rounds? Is Philipp Petzschner
D) Ten years ago, the Aussie Open winner was Thomas Johansson, followed by Al Costa at the French and Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Jennifer Capriati and the Williams sisters were running roughshod -- and delivering superior ratings. You could make the case that the equal pay is a hedge.
E) Here's where my libertarian instincts kick in and I start to retreat. The WTA's inability to show that its product has equal value in the marketplace is deeply troubling. If my shares are worth $20 and yours are worth $35 when we merge, I don't expect parity. If the men and the Slams had to do it over, they should have simply said, "One question: Can you demonstrate that your product has value? Do your tournaments pay comparable purses? Are your TV ratings comparable? Can you show commensurate sponsorship deals? If so, great, let's go 50-50. If not, we'll just prorate accordingly."
F) Right now, there is equality at the biggest events. Tennis appears to be a progressive sport. The men are probably leaving some money on the table, but the "optics" are good. If there were rollbacks of some sort, it would be terrible from a public relations standpoint. The WTA would trot out the usual cast of characters to rail against the sexism. It would create tension among the players. Fans might boycott or demonstrate. For what? A few million bucks per Slam, mostly going to players who are already preposterously wealthy? If I ran the ATP, I'd think of equal prize money as a "loss leader" and work on growing the pie rather than shake this hornets' nest over a few million bucks.
? Check out Murray's semifinal streak. He's four for a reason. Murray has beaten each of the three guys ahead of him. He came tantalizingly close to beating Djokovic in Australia. He's won Masters Series titles like no one's business. OK, his Slam ledger is blank. But I'm comfortable with making him the Ringo of the band.
? True that. CAREER SLAM in compensatory all caps. People forget, too, that this is a guy who once beat Pete Sampras in singles. And if you have time to kill, read his transcripts on the Australian Open website. If we're being honest, Paes is somewhat of a polarizing figure in tennis and the doubles sub-genre. Some love him (note Martina Navratilova was in his box for the final). Others find him somewhat Machiavellian. But his achievements and career longevity are Hall of Fame-worthy by my reckoning.
? True. Look for Uncle Mike Bryan to play doubles alongside Fish, given that his usual partner will be home with his newborn. If the U.S. wins this tie, it will be one of the great upsets in Davis Cup history.
? Was Schopenhauer an optimist?
? Touché. In the women's event, nice to see two former top five players -- Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva -- salvage their tournament after unfashionably early exits from the singles draw. (Kuznetsova joined us on the Podcast this week.) And Radek Stepanek and Paes, a shotgun pair, upset the Bryans. The fans (and local TV) in Australia are great about supporting all the matches. But doubles doesn't get its due -- and Steve implies I have blood on my hands here.
If, however, you ever think it's an afterthought for the participants themselves, watch their celebrations when they win.
? Good question. The money goes to the ITF Grand Slam development fund and is used for its development initiatives. So when Marcos Baghdatis is smashing rackets or Donald Young is using profanities, they are really showing off their altruistic sides.
? Right. And from the unintentional consequences department: Does Nadal's current block against Djokovic reframe the Federer issue? I think it shows us that some matchups work for some players, others don't.
Add this from Krishan of Houston: "So Federer loses five matches in a row to Nadal and is considered mentally fragile and in need of a sports psychologist. Nadal loses seven (!!) in a row to Djokovic on every surface possible but it's OK because he's so mentally strong and will find a way because he's Rafa. Huh? Just goes to show you that mental strength in tennis is not based just on H2H."
? Love it.
? I think this is one record Federer has a hard time establishing.
? My point was only that when Nike divorced Agassi 10 or so years ago, it created a bit of a monster, at least within tennis.
? True. And is it time to rethink the playing surface? Competing for five or six hours in any sport is brutal. Doing so on concrete is borderline sadistic.
? Not that our YouTube connoisseurs have been able to find. Anyone? Here's a bit more from Simon Cambers.
? Lots of you asked this. I think (cue: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on pornography) there's a difference between a noise that's the auditory by-product of exertion, and a blaring siren on a mid-rally ball. One of you scolded me for writing "grunting," contending that grunting is OK but it's the shrieking that's offensive. But Trevor's letter underscores why it will be hard to legislate here.
? Here's the latest SI Tennis Podcast with the irrepressible Svetlana Kuznetsova.
? Connecticut readers, who wants to have dinner on Leap Year Night, and benefit a great organization in New Haven at the same time?
? As briefly mentioned above, a hearty congratulations to Bob and Michelle Bryan, who welcomed Micaela Bryan into the world Tuesday night.
? Lots of mail these past few weeks. While I can answer only a small fraction, please know all correspondences are carefully read and considered. But while we're here, let's go over some ground rules:
A) Let's keep it civil. I like tennis. You like tennis. We all like tennis. No reason to dirty your opinions with ad hominem attacks on anyone, someone's country, etc.
B) We try to discuss a wide range of topics, but here are a few to be avoided: baseless speculation about a player's doping; who's hot and who's not; whose spouses and significant others are hot; who is gay or straight; Ke$ha.
C) Leave the profanity out. It just makes my job tougher.
D) Criticism and disagreement are welcome -- and often helpful. But have the courtesy, conviction and courage to use your name.
? If you missed it, here's a must-watch from Jason Gay.
? The Bryan brothers will play the Newport event after Wimbledon and before the Olympics.
? Carl Bialik's take on the Dkjoker getting away.
? New York folks, mark March 5 in the calendar.
? Not sure I agree with the Nadal thesis, but you sure can't fault the writing.
? Something to look for at the next major: Since 2004, Lleyton Hewitt has now lost to the eventual champion 13 of 28 times in the Grand Slams he's played in.
? LGL of Rosario: "Here are my Urban Dictionary entries:
? Alex Rochester, N.Y.: "Jon, figured that everyone would appreciate this. Tennis players getting their due!"
? TJH, of Redondo Beach: "In light of the 'Almagro rightfully drilling Berdych' episode, I had to share a story that happened to me one week prior. So I'm playing a friendly doubles match (friendly but hyper-competitive) with my buddies (5.0 tennis) and during a point my partner and I are squaring off at the net against our opponents who are also at the net in the classic doubles 'confrontation'. My partner mis-hits a volley down the line that fools our opponents which forces one of them to awkwardly lunge to his right and make a FULL SWINGING FOREHAND VOLLEY that he luckily connects perfectly in the center of his racket and, you guessed it, launches it cross court right at my head! He hit this ball so hard that if I had been able to get out of the way, the ball would have hit the fence behind me on the rise. But instead the ball caught me squarely in the face. My first reaction was to double over, put my hands up to my face and feel which part of my face was missing.
"Amazingly, my hat was still on, and my prescription sunglasses were still firmly attached to my noggin. It turns out the ball caught me squarely on my cheek bone just below my right eye. Once the buzzing in my head subsided, we finished our match and yes, we did shake hands!! I have been playing tennis for over 35 years and I have never been hit so hard by a tennis ball. I'm shocked that Berdych reacted the way he did, especially when he only got tagged on the arm. Give me a break!"
? Charlie of Charlottesville, Va.: "Since reader Alex Walker brought up the movie
? Althea of Yonkers, N.Y.: "One question: Where is your empathy and intellectual honesty? Any consideration to Serena's possibly life-threatening illness a year and half ago? You and Pam Shriver find all possible positive reasons for all white players who play less than optimal -- ex. Federer, Sharapova's meltdown against the 2012 Australian Open champion -- but with Serana, benefit of the doubt is never or rarely given. Go listen to Shriver's coverage of Serena against Ekaterina Makarova and Sharapova against Azarenka. Maria' shoulder surgery four years ago was the excuse. Give Serena the benefit of the doubt and respect this African-American deserves. Put this comment in the mailbag. Jon, it will tell us about your intellectual honesty."
Have a great week, everyone!