A quick pre-French Open Mailbag. We'll do men's and women's seed reports when the draw comes out on Friday.
Why can't Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams play against each other? Both are so BORING! Clay season is "Rafatigue" and now "Serena-fatigue," too.-- SRao, India
? Congrats to whomever coined "Rafatigue." That's caught on. Me? Person X is clearly the best in the world in a particular milieu. How can watching that person go about his or her business be boring? If the suspense isn't in the scoreline, it is in the ways in which they'll express their genius.
Nadal is beating everyone in his path -- it's a dirt path -- for the ninth straight spring. How is this triggering fatigue? As for Serena, let's just say this: She is never boring. Never.
Ahhh, Jon, always the same. Roger and Serena. Serena and Roger. Roger Roger Roger Serena Serena Serena. Meanwhile, there's a certain Spanish player winning tournaments left and right and it doesn't even merit a mention in your column.-- Shelley, Seattle
? Marcel Granollers? Let's see what he does in Paris before we devote too much coverage. Seriously, especially on the eve of a major, can I lodge a small request: Can we please suspend the "It's so obvious you love/hate" Player X communiqués, which, for whatever reason, have reached epidemic proportions lately?
We don't play favorites. Second, the plots are fluid. Nadal misses seven months and it stands to reason we discuss his cloudy future. He goes gangbusters after turning and, it stands to reason, he comes in for heaps of praise. Bernard Tomic tanks matches and trashes Roger Federer and it's worthy of criticism. His odious father stands accused of punching him and he becomes much more sympathetic. I'd submit it's not inconsistency; it's addressing shifting contexts, one of the beauties of sports.
Great seats? Check. Speak French? Un peu. Insider knowledge of Roland Garros? None. Can you run a "Tips for visiting the French Open" in the 'bag this week?-- Chris, Brooklyn
? Here are 10 tips off the top of my head:
1. Take the Metro, walk or even rent a bike to get to the site. You do not want to be in a car or cab.
2. Walk around. It's not a big venue and there are all sorts of treasures. Orange trees. Newsstands. A small museum.
3. Pick your food carefully. The offerings run from the best stadium fare in the world to cold hot dogs with congealed cheese, unfit for a high school football concession stand.
4. Courts 2 and 3 are lovely. So, of course, is the Bullring. Here's a site map.
5. Suspend irony, suspend your cultural snobbery, pretend it's 1983 and do the darn Wave.
6. Watch a French player in action and observe the thin line between hero and goat.
7. You can pass on the Perrier caps they dispense. Sometimes they give stuff out for free for a reason.
8. The practice courts are behind Suzanne Lenglen, but check a schedule. It's a schlep from the locker room and Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and others often practice on Court 4.
9. After the matches, walk back to your accommodations. You're likely to beat the sunset and even if you get lost, you could do worse than pinballing through Parisian neighborhoods.
10. Feel free to duck out for 30 minutes and take a nap in one of the adjacent parks.
I know everyone is praising the new ESPN-U.S. Open deal, but I can't get on the bandwagon. I love ESPN and believe it has the sport's best interest at heart. But for the last couple of years, the U.S. Open has been the only opportunity to have Mary Carillo's exceptional commentating. Her insight, candor and quick wit make her work stand above the rest. Any information on if there is any chance ESPN and Carillo will mend their broken relationship? The fans and the sport would benefit.-- Jeffrey, Salt Lake City
? Jeffrey and other readers might not get Tennis Channel; Carillo is all over the network.
As for the ESPN/U.S. Open rights deal (which covers 11 years and is worth a reported $770 million), I can't see how this isn't a net positive for the sport. ESPN (over?)paid significantly for an event that was clearly perceived as a white elephant at CBS. The coverage hours are vast. The platforms are manifold. The broadcast team is generally excellent. The distinction between cable and broadcast is insignificant. The unexpectedly high rights fees mean that the USTA now has a means of paying the players more equitably without doing it at the expense of growing the sport.
Several of you wondered whether this was a case of ESPN's backing tennis with a commitment well into nine figures, or a case of ESPN's playing defense and snapping up a sports property to keep it away from potential competitors. It's a fair question, but in the end, it doesn't much matter. CBS wanted out -- the worst-kept secret in sports media -- and treated the event shabbily in recent years. If ESPN takes over, especially at an increased rate, it's better for all parties.
Now, about that roof ...
How soon will I be able to buy a subscription directly from ESPN and Tennis Channel??-- Helen, Philadelphia
? Ask John McCain, who, like many of us, has wearied of the cable buffet and wants to order a la carte.
What did you make of Maria Sharapova's comments after her withdrawal from the Italian Open quarterfinals with a viral illness? "I was already a bit off in Madrid but played through it, and it came back last night," Sharapova said. OK, she was outplayed in the Madrid final by Serena Williams, but she was actually more solid than Serena the rest of that week. Citing an illness now comes off as an attempt to gain a mental edge over Serena if possible. After that Madrid final, the camera was focused on Sharapova- --and she was actually on the verge of tears. It must have hurt. But these comments now make her sound like a sore loser. What viral illness? Oh, please.-- Ahmed Mahmoud, Cairo
? Without speculating specific to Sharapova, this is the curse of the Grand Slam tune-up. Some players will enter because they want the match play before the majors. Others will bail, fearful they will be fatigued or dinged up before the forthcoming Slam. This only figures to intensify as prize money for majors grows. As rational actors, tennis players aren't going to jeopardize lucrative paydays over less lucrative paydays.
Writer Peter Bodo says Rafael Nadal's simultaneous fist pump and leg kick remind him of a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. I was thinking it's more like an MMA fighter, but I defer to your opinion, given your knowledge of tennis and MMA (although not sure about dance). -- Tony Hooper, New York
? We could -- and will -- do an entire column one day on Rafael Nadal as MMA fighter. The disposition is right out of UFC central casting. modest, soft-spoken guy who transforms into beast when the Octagon door slams.
Alexandr Dolgopolov fan. Could you assess his game and provide some insight on his potential to crack the top 10? -- Erik, Baltimore
? Top 10? Reasonable. (The 24-year-old is ranked 24th after reaching a career high of No. 13 in January 2012.) His results are all over the place, but he's quick, he hits a clean ball and he returns well off both wings. Will he win majors? Unlikely. Not with that modest cache of weapons. But keep him in the portfolio. You'll buy at a respectable price and you'll consider it a growth stock with a low beta.
Just as you responded to a reader regarding the empty stands at recent tournaments, I happened to catch part of an early-round match in Rome (Juan Martin del Potro vs. Andrey Kuznetsov). The stands were packed and a high view of the sunken venue revealed people standing four or more deep around the perimeter. So... go figure.-- Dan Hermelin, Santa Clarita, Calif.
? Go figure, indeed.
Love your slight shot at the 36-year-old Floyd Mayweather in last week's Mailbag. Both of us have an interest in tennis and fighting (MMA, boxing). I have always wondered how many of your tennis readers pick up on these types of comments. Do they even know what you are talking about? I always assumed I was in the large minority of tennis fans who would understand these "jabs," especially since the guys I play with barely even know who Mayweather is.-- Paul, Los Angeles
? Keep it between us. I like to say I enjoy a brutal, physically draining, mentally taxing individual sport that is the closest thing we have to gladiators. I also like MMA.
? French Open pool, jump in here.
? Tennis Channel (to which I contribute) will have more than 200 hours of French Open coverage.
? Fairness and balance: ESPN is on the case at Roland Garros, too.
? In case you missed it, great impressions of the Big Four.
? Interesting Davis Cup dispatch from reader Sam:
"I went to four days of Fed Cup Euro/Africa Zone Group 3 competition in the capital city Chisinau of the Republic of Moldova from May 8-11. The tennis courts (outdoor clay) are situated in the middle of a cluster of Soviet-style nine-story apartment buildings. Children could literally watch the action from their swing sets. On the first day, Madagascar (more known as a cartoon movie about jungles) bravely battled with Liechtenstein (population 35,000, more known for its size, or the lack of), but lost.
"Namibia's Linique Theron has the distinction of regularly hitting one-handed forehand from both wings (using only left hand on the left wing and only right hand on the right wing) in practice. By talking with the Danish players, I gained some perspective on the state of tennis in Denmark. Most Danish Fed Cup players played the junior tour and then quit playing professional tennis because the government financially supports junior players, but not senior players. For the few who go on to play the senior tour after turning 18, they would see their friends making good money in some other professions, while they themselves drain their parents' savings because the prize money rarely covers travel expenses and they would quit soon. I asked why Caroline Wozniacki was an exception. They said her Polish parents are more driven to succeed.
"Thirteen nations were divided into four pools. The four pool winners played two playoffs. The winners of those two playoffs, Liechtenstein and Egypt, advanced to Group 2."
? Sloane Stephens has committed to play the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., in July.