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ATP bungles punishment for Llodra's racial remarks, more mail

Regarding Michael Llodra's racial taunting incident at Indian wells, don't you think the ATP or the tournament should do more than just fine him $2,500. This is ugly at many levels considering tennis is a truly international sport with players from so many different countries and ethnicity. ATP will send a powerful message if they suspend him from the tournament. --Bhavana, Fremont, Calif.

? I have to admit that when Tennis Channel runs a line on the crawl noting that Llodra was fined $2,500 for a verbal abuse, it appears to be a misprint. Verbal abuse is calling the chair umpire incompetent; this is something entirely worse. And, um isn't there a zero missing in the fine? And an additional line about a suspension, a penalty or at least a pending hearing? Twenty-five hundred bucks? For a vile, racist rant? Against a fan, (i.e. the consumer)?

If you missed it, Llodra got nasty with a fan during his match against Ernests Gulbis.

We had hoped that something had gotten lost in translation and it was all a misunderstanding. But, no, Llodra reportedly admitted making the remark, but took issue with the "excessive" fine. It also appears that he has yet to genuinely apologize, aside from this extremely bizarre response, which hardly qualifies. Say this: Llodra is lucky he doesn't play for Liverpool.

I was told that tennis authorities have to abide by the code and fine Llodra the standard amount for an audible obscenity. But another source thinks the ATP has the discretion to do more. This is so beyond the pale -- and so specifically offensive -- that the Tour needs to make a forceful statement here. Instead it has made a statement of another kind.

Speaking of Tennis Channel, I feel like I need to hit the full disclosure button and state clearly that I work for the network on occasion. So feel free to weight my remarks accordingly. But A) the Indian Wells coverage has been outstanding. B) Name me a more natural TV presence than Lindsay Davenport. She is candid without being catty. Observant without being a know-it-all. And, unlike so other former players in her role, she steers clear of both cliché and the obvious ("He lost the first set 6-0 and will need to raise his game if he wants to get back in the match.") C) Nice touch adding some data to the crawl.

Hi Jon. I was SO looking forward to see what you would write about the victory by Hsieh Su-Wei in Kuala Lumpur. It's not often that Asian players win singles titles on the Tour. It was so disappointing to see you instead write about the fallout from an exhibition with the top-ranked players. Where's the shoutout for the tennis-equivalent of Linsanity? -- Ludwig Lin, San Francisco, Calif.

? Are you kidding? We're Meglo-wei-niacs! We're in a state of Hsieh-lirium! It's sheer Su-nacy! ... Sorry. Don't know what got into me. Your point is well-taken. Jeremy Lin is not the only surging athlete of Taiwanese heritage. See for yourself.

It looks like John Isner, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish all have a shot at finishing the year as the No. 1 American male. Who is going to take the prize and why? -- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.

? Isner. He's playing reasonably well. His games translates to all surfaces. He is armed with a monstrous serve. He has learned how to compete. Maybe above all, his "points defense" is modest. (He won just one match in Indian Wells last year, two matches in Miami, one in Madrid and none in Rome. He took two sets off Nadal, but lost in the first round of Roland Garros last year. He won one round at Wimbledon.) As I write this, Isner has quietly maneuvered to the cusp on the top 10. Even a marginally successful spring and he could easily be a top eight seed by Wimbledon.

After a breakout 2011, Mardy Fish is suddenly in an unpleasant place -- a "bad mental space" as they say -- and hasn't won back-to-back matches all year. Roddick's body is betraying him. Ryan Harrison inspires optimism, but simply has to do too much winning to finish in the top ten.

According to the WTA website, the last time Melanie Oudin won a match was last September in Albuquerque against a player ranked No. 180 (in 3 sets, no less). Even after her run at the 2009 U.S. Open, I (and many others) didn't think she would see the second week of a major many more times, but for her to have fallen off this much is surprising (and sad). My question is, basically, what happened? Was her magical run really more of a curse than a blessing? -- Ben Shapiro, Scarsdale, N.Y.

? You know who I always think about when you ask about Melanie Oudin? Her twin sister, Katherine. Total speculation here: but I suspect that when Melanie had her success at the 2009 U.S. Open her sister may have said to herself, "Wait a second. We have the same nature and the same nurture. Why am I not the toast of the tennis world, beating Sharapova and others, hitting the morning shows and making quick cash on the exhibition circuit?" Thirty months later, here's Katherine.

She's playing college tennis. A pre-med student, she made her conference academic honor roll. By all outward appearances, it sounds like a blissful existence for a 20-year-old. Her sister, meanwhile, is struggling mightily. Her ranking -- now outside the top 200, so low that she'll have a hard time making many qualifying draw cutoffs -- has gone down the mineshaft and her confidence has followed. Last month she lost in the first round of a USTA Challenger event in Arizona and walked away with $294 in prize money.

She was already a credible player before her "magical run" and had beaten Jelena Jankovic, then a top six player, at Wimbledon 2009. So it's not quite as though she went Jeremy Lin on us. But it must be immensely difficult for someone so young to experience success and some of the attendant trappings -- and then go months with winning a match. It's probably premature to talk in terms of cautionary tales and disguised curses. And only the coldest of souls doesn't root for Melanie Oudin to turn it around. But might she prefer to be living the charmed life of a college sophomore today?

Maybe this is my inner Scandinavian social democrat talking, but how much money do the top guys really need? There is a lot of talk about appearance money luring players to tournaments, like when Federer chose to play Rotterdam, or Stockholm a few years back. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have made more money from tennis than they can ever spend. So why does appearance money matter to them? -- Aasmund Aadnoy, Stavanger, Norway

? Oh, you Scandinavian social democrats. Like those Ikea self-assembly manuals, it's never as simple as it looks. I go total capitalist here on two fronts. 1) Tennis players have a short career span. Get what you can, while you can. A few of the top players will walk away with generational wealth. The rest have to amortize their winnings over the next half century. 2) If you are bringing value to an event, don't you deserve the benefits? If Federer plays Stockholm it's a totally different business than if he doesn't. Why cut him out?

Jon, another quality win for Christine McHale this week. Given McHale's strong movement, counterpunching abilities and big forehand, what's the difference between McHale and Wozniacki? Given the similar games, why has Woz had so much more success? -- Josh, Clinton, N.Y.

? Wozniacki is almost two full years older than McHale, nearly a generation in tennis terms. Also, McHale is on the verge of the top 30, so it's not as though she's a disappointment. Slowly, I'm becoming a McHale believer. If you play counterpunch tennis, you'd better know how to win. And McHale seems to have the drill down pretty well.

Jon, per the discussion recently on players who smoke. It is tough to take any of them to task considering the number of years the WTA allowed Virginia Slims to be their main sponsor. -- JT, Seattle, Wash.

? Worse, there's this.

There are innumerable reasons why we should admire Billie Jean King. Those of us with daughters who play sports feel a particular affinity. But I always found this profoundly disappointing.

How many times did that Courier guy from New York have to send in questions before *he* finally got one published? -- Dan Berland, Columbia, Md.

? Years. He should have said that he was from Indiana, Portland or New Haven and he would have jumped the line.

What does it say about American tennis when the No. 1 ranked American (No. 8-ranked Mardy Fish) is relegated to a side court and No. 30 (Roddick) gets the show court? -- Jeffery Nielsen, Surprise, Ariz.

? It says that Roddick -- a top ten player since 2002 and the top American for most an entire decade --is still a superior attraction.

Jon, how long before your guy Greg Sharko starts keeping stats on Andy Murray's record when his mom is there for him to gripe to when things go wrong and his record when Ivan Lendl is there to stare him down when he's feeling sorry for himself? -- Craig Berry, Park Forest, Il

? Sharko thanks you for his afternoon project.

Hi Jon! I always enjoy your mailbag. I was wondering how many "Raonic isn't American!" comments you'd get from people who didn't read down the page to see your joke. Here's my question:

Why are you against doubles players being in the same Hall of Fame class as singles players? They play at the top level of their sport against the best who are willing to compete against them. Sure, the best singles players no longer play doubles, but why hold that against the doubles players - that's like saying "Federer's good, but we'll never know if he could have beaten LeBron James or Michael Phelps if they had played tennis." Or saying "Steffi Graf is not HOF-worthy, because she could never have beaten the male players of her time." Is it because doubles is not as popular as singles? Or is doubles an entirely different sport to you, so it should just have its own Hall of Fame (and then how do you deal with players like the Williams sisters who sometimes play both)? To me, both singles and doubles are tennis, and great players in their field deserve to be recognized. And add wheelchair tennis to that - sometimes the purpose of the Hall of Fame is to inform and educate about the best in all types of tennis, not just the most well-publicized brand. -- Michael Grezsina, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

? I want to be careful how I answer this, because I don't want to impugn doubles. It remains the great undervalued asset in tennis. It's wonderfully entertaining, the province of all those skills the Chicken Littles say have vanished. The cast of characters tend -- perhaps out of necessity -- to be some of the most charitable and accessible figures in the sports. The best players belong in the Hall of Fame.

Having said that: how you can possibly compare the achievements of singles players with doubles players? For one, many doubles players began as singles players and -- for whatever reason -- gravitated to this sub-specialty, where weaknesses can be obscured and a partner is there to help. Doubles players cover half the court. Their matches are shorter. Often, they play fewer rounds. Tennis is a brutal mental sport, combatant exposed and left to fend for themselves. That dynamic changes when there's another person on your side of the net. Both are terrific in their own right. But I just don't see how you equate what an accomplished doubles player has done to what, say, Federer or Nadal have done.

Last week I used Michael Chang. This week I'll pick on (and, really, praise) Daniel Nestor. I want to see him in the Hall of Fame, acknowledged as one of the great practitioners of his craft. But do I want to see him sharing wall space with Andre Agassi or Ivan Lendl? Not really. It's an easy fix. Set up a doubles wing that represents the finest players but acknowledges that perhaps we don't lump Natasha Zvereva with Steffi Graf.

What was with the lack of event merchandise at last night's "Tennis Night in America?" I was there and had a wonderful time but the only commemorative items for sale were a cheap white T-shirt saying "Tennis Night In America" and a Program book. Where were the posters? The player T-shirts? As a fan with my own office at work, I would have loved a great poster to frame for my office. Hell, I wouldn't have minded yet another Roger T-shirt. Plus, I saw a whole bunch of young fans at the event. No posters for them to hang in their rooms? Here was a perfect opportunity to reach out to the fans and give us something to proudly display from the sport we love but yet again we were shortchanged. The only logical reason that I can come up with is that there were issues between the various apparel companies who didn't want to share the limelight with the other (Nike vs. Adidas for example). But still, what a wasted opportunity. Can you shed any light on this? -- Bridget Falk, Rockville Centre, N.Y.

? File this in the vast and overflowing "Where Tennis Missed the Boat" files. Because of the players' individual deals, it is often hard to take advantage of massive licensing and merchandising opportunities. And merchandising projections are going to be difficult for a one-night-only event.

But I think your overall point is a good one. In the days prior to the event, we kept hearing about how "Tennis Night in America" was about so much more than the Madison Square Garden Exhibition. Boatloads of tennis clubs nationwide were involved and holding viewing parties. Broadcasts were being shown around the world. Social media was a-Twitter. Why not take better advantage of the commercial opportunities? Again, I'm offering my idea to anyone out there with VC money.

A grunting conversation overheard at the U.S. Open....

How I long for the Hills of the Forest Without this la Guardian chorus Those confounded planes Are pounding my brains Like a twenty-five ton brontosaurus My friend, don't be so absurd 'Twas not the jet engines you heard That's just the backlash From those ladies on Ashe It's five-all, break point in the third!

-- Jesse, Arena, Wisc.

? Winner.

Shots, miscellany

? A tennis movie coming soon?

? Ray Krueger, now an editor at The New York Times, made his e-book debut with 45-Love: My Yearlong Quest to Fulfill a Lifelong Dream in the Sport of Tennis, which is now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

? Doyle Srader: Eugene, Ore.: "Re: Marko Djokovic's elegance -- obviously a Hello Dolly fan."

? Check out the Tennis Channel's 100 Greatest of all Time series that's set to begin Monday, March 19 at 7 p.m. ET. Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky, Lisa Leslie and Carl Lewis host the countdown.

? The Family Circle Cup is poised to welcome their 1,000,000 fan in Charleston, S.C. during its 2012 event, and the tournament has assembled an extensive list of prizes totaling over $5,000 in retail value for reward this lucky ticket patron. Marking the tournament's 40th year, the Family Circle Cup will be held March 31st to April 8th, 2012 at the Family Circle Tennis Center in the Best Tennis Town in America, Charleston, S.C.

? The Sarasota Open is excited to announce the confirmation of its first participant in the 2012 Ladies Invitational Tournament, Alexandra Stevenson.

? Mischa Zverev's younger brother Alezander 'Sascha' Zverev has been given a WC into qualifying for the Dallas challenger.

? Martin Ditz of Cologne kindly shares some remarkable stats from the ATP website, in context with the recent pace-of-play discussion:

Australian Open 2005; Federer vs. Safin

- Points played: 395 - Time elapsed: 268 min.

Australian Open 2012; Djokovic vs. Nadal

- Points played: 369 - Time elapsed: 353 min.

? This week's unsolicited book recommendation:Damn Yankees, edited by the great Rob Fleder.

? John of Bermuda: "Re: Doug of L.A. suggesting Marko Djokovic should have rejected the Dubai wild-card. As far as I know (having refereed ITF Junior tournaments) -- to be considered for a wild card you have to request it. Hence rejecting the offer, having applied, is highly unlikely."

? Press release: The USTA announced that 18 communities across the country will receive a $50,000 grant as part of its efforts to get more kids playing tennis. The contribution will be distributed over a three-year period to build new and adapt current tennis courts to accommodate 10 and Under Tennis, as well as support new programs. 10 and Under Tennis provides the opportunity to achieve immediate success by playing tennis on smaller courts, using smaller and lighter rackets and slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls. In total, the USTA will disperse $900,000 in grants to support its youth initiative and fund tennis programs.

? Press release: Identical twin sisters Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic topped the 2012 WTT Roster Player Draft when the 19-year-olds were selected with the top overall pick by the Philadelphia Freedoms. Players from 11 countries were chosen in Tuesday's Roster Draft as teams completed their lineups for the League's 37th season, which runs July 9-28.

In a special Roster Exempt Player Draft held before the start of the Roster Draft, the Sacramento Capitals picked up American Coco Vandeweghe who will play a limited season for the 6-time WTT Champions.

? Kevin Roe of Fort Wayne Ind., has long lost (tennis) twins: Mary Joe Fernandez and Julia Goerges, especially the hair/hairband!

Have a great week, everyone!