Sharapova continuing upward trend; more French Open mail

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Jon, you have to agree that now it's Maria Sharapova's French Open to lose. There is no other remaining player in the women's draw with a clay court Masters Title this year. Will she rise to the challenge? -- Timothy Gibbon, Boston, Mass.

? You predict tennis results -- especially on the women's side -- at your peril. But, yes, ever since Serena Williams went out, Sharapova has been the favorite. A quarterfinal winner Wednesday over Kaia Kanepi, 6-2, 6-3, she is playing with a real purpose. Through five rounds, she has only been tested once, when the Czech Republic's Klara Zakoplaova stole a set from her in the fourth round. Before that match, she had lost just five total games.

Her movement has drastically improved from previous years (years in which she reached the semis), and her serve has yet to desert her. Of course the cynics will note that Wimbledon 2011 and Australia 2012 were hers to lose as well; and she did. But Sharapova is certainly in pole position right now.

Next up for Sharapova? Petra Kvitova. While they've only played five times, the two have developed a mini-rivalry. Each has beaten the other in Slams, and the lefty-righty dynamic makes for a natural contrast in styles. In terms of image and comportment, they could scarcely be more different as well, an introverted Czech who can still roam the grounds of an event largely unbothered, and the other a global icon. They played in Stuttgart last month and Sharapova won in straight sets. This was not only their most recent match, but the only one of their encounters contested on clay. That as a guide, we'll tip Sharapova to win in three hard-fought sets.

"She's an extremely tough opponent, someone that I have had good success in our last couple of previous meetings," Sharapova said. "But always tough matches. When she's confident, when she's hitting the ball she's quite dangerous. I hope that I can raise my level, as well, too."

And at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, let's beat the rush and proclaim this one of the more underrated comeback stories in sports. Why? Because A) it's been gradual, B) there have been setbacks and C) she was already quite wealthy and successful. Sharapova has never fully gotten her due for recovering from shoulder surgery and getting back to the top of the sport.

When you hand out your final French Open grades, don't forget to give an F to the genius who scheduled Federer-Del Potro and Djokovic-Tsonga to be played simultaneously. Tennis Channel and ESPN did the best they could, flipping back and forth at key moments, but what a terrible scheduling decision. -- Rich, New York City

? Agree. One of tennis' real problems is the uncertain time of matches. What do you tell networks? "If Nadal and Djokovic recover form their semifinal matches and battles, it could be a six-hour classic. Of course, it could also be a 90-minute demolition. Plan accordingly."

But yes, the least the organizers could do is hedge their bets and not schedule both of the day's marquee matches for the same slot. Federer told Tennis Channel that as he was playing the second-set tiebreaker against del Potro, the scoreboard operator was playing footage of the Tsonga match. He had to approach the chair and ask them not to air the other footage while he played.

Just can't stand you guys eulogizing Novak Djokovic. Let's not underestimate how lucky he has been. And for people like you who justify his success based on grit, determination, courage blah blah, here is Michael Lewis' article on luck. Djokovic has been plain lucky to have won those matches. -- Gannu, Mumbai

? You lost me at "lucky."

I'm enjoying my first trip to Roland Garros. The setting is delightful. Can you please enlighten us clueless Americans on the chants "... allez(?)" and audience-participation duties? We'd hate to disappoint.-- RG, Albuquerque

? Whistle at anything remotely controversial. If you hold a prime ticket, hang out in the sponsor tent eating fois gras. Cheer clever tactics. Rise for the wave. You ought to be fine. Just fake it 'till you make it.

Jon, I found your insight on top players being older interesting. Do you think the heightened sense of sportsmanship and comportment, especially amongst the top males, is due to the greater maturity and worldliness of an older player or are we just lucky that these top three happen to be mensches? -- Neil, Toronto

? Interesting question. And nice use of "mensch." My theory on the sportsmanship of the ATP is that it's top down. When the three guys at the top comport themselves with grace and honor, you really look like a jerk if you're lower down on the org chart and copping attitude. If Federer and Nadal and Djokovic threw tantrums and talked trash and got arrested for bar fights, I suspect that too would trickle down.

Hey Jon, I haven't heard a lot of people talk about this but as a tennis coach, I must say how disappointed I am by the French crowds. I've heard and read what good fans they are, how classy they are, etc. but I've seen so much rudeness, particularly toward opponents when they're cheering on French players. I recall in particular John Isner's match vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu where the crowd cheered madly at every error made by Isner. I get that they have the right to cheer wildly if they want to -- they've paid to enter after all -- but this isn't the Davis Cup and if any of my team players or our fans ever cheered on our opponents' errors, I'd come down on them hard. Pure tennis etiquette. I've been to the U.S. Open many times before and I've never seen it this bad. What's your take? Am I way off base? -- Guy Rabner, Montclair, N.J.

? Oh, I don't know. First, I think the French fans are passionate and knowledgeable but not necessarily classy. More than anything they like to be part of the show. They hoot and wolf-whistle and do the wave and do everything short of grabbing a racket to insert themselves into the show. When Tsonga played Djokovic on Tuesday there was no doubt which player the crowd was backing. But it hardly veered into hooliganism. The French fans are like the guy who gets drunk at the bar and says some untoward things. The next day, he is sheepish. "Sorry I got a little carried away. You know you're my boy, right?"

Where are the red geranium's? Only a Canadian tennis geek would notice, I think. -- Diana, Saskatoon

? Nicolas Almagro is simply happy they're not roses. You know, thorns and all...

Shots, miscellany

? Rosie of London: "Some further suggestions for your greatest upset round up. How about Lleyton Hewitt, the defending Wimbledon champion, losing in the first round to the then world No. 203 Ivo Karlovic in 2003? Or, not precisely a single win, but what about Goran Ivanesevic winning Wimbledon 2001, ranked a lowly No.125. Along the way he beat such luminaries as Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Pat Rafter. (To combine your ongoing debates - what were the odds of this happening?)"

? Nikhil of San Mateo, Calif.: "One more to your upsets thread. Wimbledon 1987, Round 2, Doohan def. Becker. No one knew who Peter Doohan was before the match. I am certain after that match the only people who even knew about Peter Doohan were the sports trivia crowd."

? Credit Skip Schwarzman of Philly for yesterday's nugget on Prince.

? Press releasing (with full disclosure, I am working for Tennis Channel this event): "In its sixth year of televising the most prestigious clay-court competition in the world, Tennis Channel has seen record ratings during its first week of French Open coverage. From the period of Sunday, May 27, through Saturday, June 2, the network's live match coverage averaged a 0.61 rating according to Nielsen Media Research, or 319,738 homes, up 17 percent from 2011's 0.52 average. The daily premiere of prime-time news, interview and analysis show French Open Tonight also established new highs, exceeding 2011's performance by 51 percent every day, and is averaging a 0.52 rating vs. last year's 0.35 for the first seven days, equal to 272,563 homes."

? Why don't more women coach WTA players?

? The annual Easter Bowl USTA Junior Spring Nationals one-hour documentary special will appear on Tennis Channel for the first time this year, tournament chairman Bryan Fineberg has announced.

The air dates are as follows:

? Monday, June 11, at 11 a.m. ET ? Saturday, June 16, 6 a.m. ET ? Tuesday, June 19, 12 a.m. midnight ET

Eric Bukzin of Manorville, NY: "Hi Jon; How about a little shout out to Noah Rubin a kid from the northeast playing in the French Open Juniors. Who said all the great players have to train in Florida?"

? Johnathan of Austin has Lookalikes: an annoyed Roger Federer and Stephen Mendillo from Slap Shot.