By Jon Wertheim
October 02, 2012

Here's this week's mailbag, Gangnam style...

You're always talking about how we should support doubles, so figured I would ask a question. Why do you think Bob and Mike Bryan have been so successful and how much of it is the "twin thing" they have in common→ -- Mark T., Portland, Ore.

→ For as often as talk about the "golden age" in the men's game and as often as we cringe thinking about the WTA when Serena Williams calls it a career, let us also pause to praise the Bryan brothers -- and to ponder he state of doubles if/when they ever decide to stop. We've often said: They are the two-man equivalent to Roger Federer, the holder of virtually every meaningful record. The source of their success→ I took a run at it here a few years back.

Two fine athletes. Big, tall guys. One lefty, one righty. Fine all-court skills. For the most part, they've overcome some mental hiccups that hampered their partnership early in the career.

But I think Mark nails it, maybe inadvertently, when he talks about their "twin thing." Some of it is the weird I-know-what-you're-thinking telepathic voodoo, on which doctoral dissertations are based. But, more prosaically, I think their day-to-day relationship is a huge advantage. Quick story: On my last book, I collaborated with one of my closest friends. We've known each other since the '80s. We know each other's temperaments and skill sets and work patterns. We could talk without inhibition and disagree without worrying about blowing up the partnership. Had either of us gone through this drill with a "shotgun partner" the dynamic would have been different and, I have to believe, the enterprise would have been less successful -- and certainly less fun.

Back to doubles: There are teams whose members don't speak to each other off the court. Starting with Mahesh Bhupathi/Leander Paes, we've witnessed successful teams torn asunder by a clash of personalities and high school-style feuds. There are break-ups and reunions and infidelity. There are "doubles sluts," notorious for hooking up with anyone available. There are the equivalent of trophy wives and starter wives and cougars on the prowl for fresh meat.

Consider the Bryans. They are above it all. The can and do, even in their mid-30s, have vicious fights and know that the partnership will remain intact. They don't have to worry that after a few bad losses or an injury, one of them will surreptitiously contact a prospective replacement. ("Dear Rajeev Ram: I just met you. This is crazy. But here's my number. Call me, maybe?") Don't discount this factor when taking measure of their success.

Ordinarily I'm not one to play the race card, but this crossed my mind during a U.S. Open broadcast ... While working the women's doubles final, Pam Shriver mentioned that the $420,000 purse would buy "an awful lot of pasta" for the Italian team, apparently inferring that all Italians eat pasta. I wonder what the response would have been if the Williams sisters were playing and someone mentioned that the prize money would buy (to use, let's face it, the most blatant African-American food stereotype of all) "an awful lot of chicken and watermelon." Double standard, or another case of much ado about nothing→ Your thoughts→ -- Shayne, Louisville, Ky.

? I'd start by encouraging us not to confuse race and ethnicity. Also, pasta does not have the same ugly historic and pejorative connotations as "chicken and watermelon."

But I've thought about this a lot lately vis-à-vis ethnicity and would love to open this to you guys. If my daughter speaks in a mock Italian accent ("What do you-a want-a on your-a pizza→"), we all laugh. If she did that in a mock Asian accent, she wouldn't get a syllable out before my wife and I would reach across the table, cover her mouth and explain how it was offensive. Before the London Olympics, innumerable columns cracked on bad British teeth, bad British cuisine, kilts without undergarments, silly rituals, etc. Hard to imagine these kinds of jokes flying when the Games were in Beijing. Joke about Germans' stereotype for humorlessness -- as Beck's beer does -- and it seems to be OK. A comparably unflattering stereotype aimed at another country could lead to a boycott.

Likewise, if we went to a basketball game and saw a placard depicting the French player Tony Parker wearing a beret and eating a croissant, perhaps no one would think twice. Yet when Jeremy Lin (Taiwanese-American basketball player) was rendered inside a fortune cookie, it triggered controversy.

The knee-jerk response: "Double standard! The political correctness police strike again!" This is just my theory: I think there's something more subtle and, in a way, humane going on here. History and power and context are relevant. When there is a history of military or financial or cultural success, we are more comfortable with mockery. When there is a history of oppression or subjugation or simply a lack of economic/military might, we are more sensitive. So on The Simpsons, the hard-drinking Scottish groundskeeper calls the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and few are offended. In fact, many laugh. (Some hack tennis writers might even link the video clip in their columns.) Never in a million years would there be a hard-drinking character of another ethnicity speak derisively about, say, Native Americans.

These are the rules of the playground: We pick on someone our own size, those equipped to take it. Be interested to hear your thoughts. Meanwhile, Pam Shriver is free to go.

What's up with the slow pace of play by many of the top players→ Used to be just Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but lately Maria Sharapova seems to be pausing after every point to meditate with her back to the tennis court! Am I missing something or isn't a receiver supposed to play at the server's pace→ So many times I've observed Sharapova keeping her opponent waiting (not to mention us fans). Can we please get a "shotclock"→→ -- Dustin Curley, Danville, Calif.

→ Bring on the shot clock. Good for the ATP for this. So why not post a clock that would A) enhance fan experience and B) mitigate arguments→

I read your Mailbag from this week and saw the question about Novak Djokovic being booed for an injury timeout. The context of when he took the timeout is important. Andy Murray was about to serve for the championship. He was pretty shaky in periods during the final, presumably from nerves/pressure of winning his first major. He was well aware that the odds of being successful after losing the first five consecutive Grand Slam finals is miniscule. Murray must have been feeling unlimited amounts of fear, pressures, stress at that point. The worst thing that could happen to him is to start thinking about it. He needed to just play without succumbing to the weight of the moment (as he has been accused of in past finals). The fact that Djokovic takes the timeout immediately before Murray serves it out is why he was booed. It assumes gamesmanship against a player who has had mental shortcomings at Grand Slam finals. Whether Djokovic intentionally took the extra time to make Murray think too much, get nervous and choke, or whether he legitimately needed assistance to continue, is a question for Nole. If Murray had lost that game and the match, Novak taking the extra time could be viewed as poor sportsmanship (gamesmanship) or pure psychological genius (tactical psychological warfare) depending on the point of view. -- Vivek, New York

→ I think you're right. But I do think that Djokovic's track record doesn't help matters. If you could get rewards points for injury timeouts, Djokovic would have upgrades for life. Note the date on this.

Thanks for posting the side-by-side video of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. I know it was to gently poke fun at Rafa's pace of play, but I watched it several times (as I'm sure many of Rafa's fans did) just to see him in action again. Boy, do we miss his passion on tour! I admire Roger and Andy Murray is becoming a favorite, but nobody can take Rafa's place. Get well soon, Rafa -- we miss you!! -- Carolyn Brown, Conway, Ark.

? Yes, who else misses this Nadal guy?

Are you excited that Juan Monaco won his first hard-court title in Kuala Lumpur→ -- Joe, Buenos Aires

? Am I excited? Am I excited? Why, if excitement were treason, I'd be Sergeant Brody! Seriously, props to Monaco. It was also his fourth title in 2012. Still another player having a career year in his late 20s.

Just curious to how much weight is given for consistency in the GOAT debate. We always talk about when such and such a player is at their best, they can beat anybody. But what about how consistent they are in bringing their best game day in and day out→ Just read this: Steffi Graf's lowest singles ranking from March 1987 to June 1997 was No. 2!!! -- Nancy, Chicago

? Oh, yeah? Serena Williams has spent the last decade ranked as high as No.1 and no lower than No. 175.

It seems to be there are two flaws with the GOAT debate. First, it has the effect of diminishing the career of tremendous players. Push for Federer over, say, Rod Laver and by the end of your disquisition, Rod Laver comes across as a club hack lucky to hit it over the net a few times. Second, the terms and criteria are (necessarily) vague. Graf goes a decade without falling out the top two -- TWO! -- and it means a great deal to those who value consistency. Others who place more weight on other factors -- quality of the field -- would note that 1987-97 was not exactly a murderesses row for the WTA, especially when Monica Seles' career was forestalled.

But to your original question, yes, Steffi's consistent and sustained excellence certainly strongly supports her GOAT candidacy. No argument there. (Oh, and Nancy just added this: "FYI, as a comparison, the lowest ranking for Martina Navratilova between 1977-90 was No. 3.")

Hola Jon!! Greetings from Torreon, Mexico. My question needs of your Nostradamus sense: Will serve-and-volley ever be back in the near future→ I miss it so much. As I admire the tennis of today -- especially the Big 4 in men and Serena Williams on the women's side -- I certainly believe that net artistry (touch, quickness, all-or-nothing attitude at the net) is barely present, a la John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras. Of course, racket technology, slower balls... But what do you sincerely think→ Thanks! -- Carlos Acosta, Torreon, Mexico

? I think serve-and-volley tennis will go the way of the topspin lob. It won't disappear entirely and when executed well, it will remain a thing of beauty. But the notion of a player using it consistently as a tactic -- much less predicating an entire playing style on it -- ain't happening. I blame technology. The rackets are just too powerful, as are the strings. Hit a decent serve and you're barely at the service line before it comes whistling back.

The great exception to this is doubles. If you're like Carlos and lament the death of the s/v, as it's known in my notebook shorthand, you ought to check out that two-on-two action.

Philip Davydenko→ Any relation→ -- Helen, Philadelphia

? A nephew. "Uncle Nikolay" has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? (A ring to which there are no corresponding phone records. Ba-dum-bum.)

I love the Hall of Fame discussion, so much better than discussing actual tennis being played right now! Do you think Wayne Odesnik's PED history affects his chances of getting inducted→ -- J., Portland, Ore.

? Wait, there's tennis being played right now? I thought it was the autumn.

Shots, miscellany

→ Regarding veteran tennis writer Mike Mewshaw's open letter to Mardy Fish, an anonymous reader writes: "There are different types of 'palpitations.' What Menshaw has is not the same as Fish has (sure, I don't have access to his medical records, but what I gather from the press reports, he has, if any, some form of SVT (something to do with the connecting fibers between atria and ventricles), which is completely different from A.fib that Menshaw has (common form of arrthymia for a person in his 60s). Blood thinners are used for A.fib, as there is increased risk of stroke if a clot gets dislodged from the atrium, but not for SVT's or other types of arrthmias. Very unlikely for Fish to have A.Fib given his age. Also, SVTs are more amenable to ablation than A.fib. Not sure I would have written an 'open letter,' though, as most of it is just speculation and just discussing it in public will be more stress when someone is going through the process. Easy to talk about it after the fact."

? Occurred to me that we haven't done encounters with a pro in a while. Michele Drohan of New York writes:

"A few years ago, Lexus held an event at National Tennis Center for USTA members, where we would get instruction from a handful of different pros. The event was free and the list of pros was impressive: MaliVai Washington, Martina Navratilova, Pat Cash, Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King. Groups of us were assigned to courts, while the pros made the rounds and did drills with us. When Billie Jean came to our court, she was talking to us but I was clearly distracted by the players on the next court, prompting her to look directly at me and say sternly, 'Are you listening to me?' I was too flustered to respond but she continued: 'Stop paying attention to what's going on over there and start thinking about what you're going to do here.' Embarrassed as I was at the time to get scolded by this legend, I got a great anecdote that I've repeated often, as well as great advice that applies on -- and off -- the court. That is the brilliance of BJK."

→ The ATP's new sponsorship deal. Not exactly a game changer. But it beats a kick in the head.

? Dushyant of Sunnyvale, Calif., brings us his encounter with a pro: "Must have been 15 when I ran into Andre Agassi at the San Francisco airport. I was at the baggage claim area, waiting to pick someone up, when he walked up with flowing locks and accompanied by his brother. It still amazes me that no one but me recognized him, even though he was also carrying a huge tennis bag! I walked up to him and said, 'Are you who I think you are?' (Clearly a huge tennis fan like myself even wasn't 100 percent sure). He replied with a smile: 'Who do you think I am?' At which point I shook his hand and wished him good luck at the Open. Today, I'd probably be shot by his posse if I got within 20 feet of him."

→ An anonymous reader writes: "AA makes it to Forbes' 'Ones to Watch' list. Go Andre.... I would say even without education, there is hope (kidding, but true in his case)."

? Press releasin': "Martina Navratilova has been added to the Mylan WTT Smash Hits presented by GEICO, the annual charity event co-hosted by Sir Elton John and Billie Jean King. Former doubles world No. 1 Mark Knowles and WTT veteran Jan-Michael Gambill will also join Navratilova, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Stefanie Graf, Christina McHale, No. 1 ranked junior Taylor Townsend and 2012 U.S. Open junior girls singles champion Samantha Crawford in the event, set for Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh."

→ Mike T. of Alameda, Calif., has this week's long-lost siblings: "Caroline Wozniacki looks a bit like MMA's Ronda Rousey in some pictures."

Have a good week, everyone!

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