Skip to main content

Serena's linesmen, Nadal's appendix, Kafelnikov and more mail

Five quick thoughts to start:

1) R.I.P., Vic Braden. The tennis coach/commentator/innovator/bon vivant passed away Monday in Orange County, California. One of the true characters in the sport, Braden always had a perspective that wasn’t merely unique; it was thought-provoking, occasionally radical and -- perhaps above all -- often validated as time went by. His family must be truly heartened by the fond remembrances. Here’s Bill Simons' tribute to Braden. We’re also told that another colleague will have a definitive piece next week. We’ll be sure to tweet and link when it’s available.

2) He came up short against Sam (Why am I not in Asia?) Querrey in Sacramento, but what a week for Stefan Kozlov. The American teenager beat a slew of creditable opponents to reach the final. With a hat tip to reader Clint Swett, take it away Paul Bauman: Querry wins titles but predicts top 10 for Kozlov.

3) One of the cardinal rules of sports media: don’t question an athlete’s injury. A lot of you inquired about Rafael Nadal’s decision to play in Asia despite being diagnosed with appendicitis. I will grant you that this decision is confounding, with the (understandable) caution he usually exhibits and his decision NOT to play July through September, as well as his decision to pull out of the IPTL (see below). But I think you have to chalk it up to the individual decisions individual athletes can make in individual sports.

4) We noted the other day that Todd Martin will be running against IMG’s Gavin Forbes for an ATP board seat. How management agencies can represent players and then have a board member that seeks to restrict prize money (i.e. income for the players they represent) is baffling at best, unethical at worst. In no way is this a personal condemnation; it’s a structural condemnation. To parrot an ongoing theme here: conflicts and cronyism and nepotism threaten to choke the life from this sport. This item triggered a fair amount of consternation and chatter, perhaps presaging the hotly contested election to come.

5) As long as we're talking tennis politics: I keep hearing James Blake’s name bandied about -- or placed in an extended rally -- as a candidate to play a big role in USTA Player Development. In a word: good. This would be an inspired choice, a well-liked and well-regarded pro, not far removed from a top five ATP ranking. He’s his own man, but he’s also a consensus builder. He understands the role of the USTA but also understands the often indispensable role of a local coach.


Do players, such as Serena Williams, have a stipulation in their contract or agreement with a tournament that there must be at least two black linesmen on his or her matches? Do other black players do this as well? I certainly recognize that there are many fine umpires who happen to be African-American, but I get the impression that Serena in particular is afraid that she will get bad calls from non-black lines people. I was a certified official for about 15 years and did mostly college men's and women's matches and a few pro tournaments.
-- Ben Dunn, Gainesville, FL

The short answer is “no.” There is a stipulation that when two players from different countries meet, the chair umpire cannot be from the country of one of the players. (That is, when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play, the chair cannot be from Spain or Switzerland.) But I know of no stipulations on race. That would be an awfully slippery slope.

Mailbag: The debate over Kafelnikov, ATP-Asian Games and Neil Harman

​I feel like this point doesn't get made often enough: tennis has done a fine job with diversity -- race, gender, nationality -- with respect to officials. (Here’s a piece from Greg Bishop about an Iranian referee.)

The NBA puts a female ref on the floor and it’s a landmark occasion. Tennis puts women in the chair for men’s matches (and vice versa) and has the good form not to boast. Yay, tennis.

If Pat Rafter and Yannick Noah are in the Hall of Fame, then Yevgeny Kafelnikov definitely deserves to be in there -- regardless of his personality flaws.  It's about accomplishments in the game of tennis not likeability. Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl weren’t always nice people, and John McEnroe and Illie Nastase didn't always represent the game with honor. All are in the HOF. Kafelnikov was an indisputably great player.
-- Franklyn

From the full disclosure files: more than a few of you oppose my thoughts on this subject and essentially echo Franklyn’s sentiments. I still say that sportsmanship and that ineffable, unquantifiable and admittedly subjective character matters. We all agree that the standards have become too flimsy and a new precedent needs to be set. Well, here’s a chance.

Wait, this just in: Neil Grammer writes, “Being Canadian, I'm sometimes aghast at the slim criteria the Hockey Hall of Fame has in determining its inductees. Tennis' Hall of Fame makes it look like the admissions requirements for a grad degree at MIT. On a top-of-mind survey of potential HOF'ers, I doubt Yevgeny Kafelnikov would be on even the most ardent fan's list. The choices for inductees are so dubious sometimes, it completely diminishes the merits of the institution.  I'd love to see the Hall of Fame go to the old LPGA model of having some stringent requirements because I envision the next few inductees being Tomas Muster, Sergi Bruguera and Andres Gomez.”

I think the draws of tournaments should be conducted scientifically so that all the opponents are equally rotated against each other rather than randomly. This would not only create more interesting matches but would be more fair to all players, especially considering that ranking points are based on wins against your opponents. And then no one could lament cupcake draws. This would make sense to Fernando.
-- Fernando, Valencia

We say it once; we say it again: we are suckers for the third person. The original thinking that if draws were “scientific” -- that is, 1 played 32, 2 played 31, 3 played 30, etc. -- it would give rise to the precise problem Fernando is describing. The same players would continue meeting. (This is the rationale for why seeds 5-8 are scattered randomly among four quadrants of a draw.)

Personally, I don't mind the random. Yes, it defies logic (and fairness?) that two qualifiers -- both ranked outside the top 100 -- could meet in the first round of a major while the 33rd guy could meet a seed. But I think it’s overcome by the variety and crapshoot appeal.

This is obscure, but any idea why Andrey Kuznetsov didn't play in Mons, Belgium? I'm fairly new to tennis and haven't really found a tennis news site and Google let me down.
-- Toni

• When you say “obscure” you're not fooling. I have no idea. But I do like that a Spanish reader is curious about Russian player at a Belgian event. Ah, tennis.

Shots, Miscellany:

• From the icky, soul-shredding self-promotion department: I have a kids’ book out this week. Want to teach financial literary to your child, here you go: The Rookie Bookie.

• A few of you asked about the Philippines basketball piece. Here’s the link: Hoop Dream: Finding Hope

Asia Tennis Travels Roundtable: What's the state of tennis in China?

• If you are not reading Courtney's Asia Tennis Travelogue, you should be.

• Press releasing:

The USTA announced the 48 coed intramural and club tennis teams, which will represent colleges and universities throughout the country and compete at the fifth annual USTA Tennis On Campus (TOC) Fall Invitational.

Erin Mazurek was named tournament director of the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships, to be played February 9-15 in Memphis, Tenn.

• The BNP Paribas Open is donating $1 from every ticket sold in the month of October to a local non-profit cancer organization.

• Trust me on this: Aaron Gross Tells Roman Borvanov's Story.

• From Alfie Reyes, in Manila, Phillipines: I have been a big fan of your tennis columns and your writing for many years now as I have always found your writing to be insightful and fair. This is the first time that I am writing to you. My wife Vivien is the biggest Rafa Nadal fan on earth and she has been bitterly disappointed that he is no longer coming to Manila for the inaugural IPTL matches. I am writing you because she has written a very heartfelt letter to Rafa but she has no way of sending it. We hope you can help her in getting the letter to him.

• I’m of two minds here: I recall Andy Roddick once telling me that one of the lessons he had to learn early was the you can’t please everyone. You can sign 100 autographs and the 101st fan will walk away disgusted, griping on a message board about being treated shabbily. Having seen this in action, one sympathizes. On the other hand, athletes sometimes need to be reminded that they have immense power over people and their decisions can have outsized impacts. So here’s a part of Vivien’s letter:

Dear Rafa,

I have been one of your biggest fans ever since you won your first French Open title at Roland Garros as a teenager. It has always been my dream to watch you play in person but it has always been too expensive for me (like most of my countrymen) to travel overseas to watch you play in a tournament. Imagine my excitement when I first heard back in May that you were participating in the inaugural International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) and that one of the legs would be in Manila this November!

When the ticket prices were finally announced, I was shocked at how expensive it was. At a little over $1,000 for a 3-day courtside ticket (there was no option to purchase just a one-day ticket) -- this was the equivalent of two months of my salary! But I took the plunge. 

When I heard recently on the news that you were no longer participating because of your injury, I was absolutely devastated. I felt even worse when I read in the news that you are playing again now in the China Open in Beijing. I do not understand why you pulled out of the IPTL if you are healthy and playing again. The organizers have made a lot of money here by selling tickets using your name as the main attraction.

You may not have been to Manila but we Filipinos share a very strong kinship with Spain (we were a colony of Spain for 400 years!) and you have many, many fans and admirers here who are now bitterly disappointed that you are not coming. I hope and pray that you and your team may reconsider your decision to play in Manila. Whatever your decision, I will always be your biggest fan and admirer.

Thank you,
Vivien Reyes, Manila, Philippines

• Helen of Philadelphia has your LLS, a young Teddy Roosevelt and Lleyton Hewitt:

lls mailbag.jpg