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Mailbag: Tactics for Sharapova against Serena and more mail

MELBOURNE -- Some thoughts from Friday as we eagerly await the result of Djokovic-Wawrinka, the third in the Australian Open trilogy.

• The grounds were still crackling Friday with residue from Andy Murray’s testosteroneous four-set win over Tomas Berdych and the feminist address that followed. (See below). Lost in the drama—and it was great drama—is this: after a generally forgettable year, Murray is playing some sensational tennis and is now in the final for a fourth time. Especially with an extra day of rest, he has a real shot at his third major.

• Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova took the women’s doubles title, beating Yung jan Chan and Zie Zheng in the finals.

Mailbag: Keys' potential, thoughts on towel rituals and more

• Want to see something scary? Take a look at Novak Djokovic’s serving stats this event. We talk about him as the best returner in tennis. True as that might be, his serving has been even better this event.

• Doing some prep work for the women’s final. Here’s a stat the Craig O’Shaughnessy unearthed: Serena Williams has faced 31 break points this event. She has made 23 first serves on those points and served eight aces. We speak in sports about “rising to the occasion.” Serena is the cliché, embodied.

• Martina Hingis and Leander Paes both inched closer to another major title. They reached the final on Friday, where they will meet Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic in the final. Here it is January, and everyone else is playing for second place in the shot-of-the-year contest


It is obvious that Serena is "in" Sharapova's head after a decade of losses.If you were on team Sharapova, what would you be telling her before the final?
-- Bob, North Carolina

This is obviously hugely mental. Lose to someone 15 times over more than a decade and they haven’t gotten into your head -- they’ve taken up full residence there. They get their mail sent there.

No. 1 Serena, No. 2 Sharapova set to clash, revive rivalry in AusOpen final

But if I were to coach Sharapova, I would start with tactics. Notice how often Sharapova goes down-the-line when she plays Serena. This has the effect of opening up the court. For others, this might work. For Sharapova, it exposes her footwork and footspeed, neither of which are her core strengths. Sharapova should consider the Davenport/Capriati/Henin approach:  hit hard and deep to middle of the court, taking away angles, taking away time and hoping to induce errors. But trying to win a side-to-side race against Serena is not the answer.

I’m certainly no expert, but as I watched Madison Keys in the semifinal, I found myself wondering if she’d benefit from the same tweak Carlos Rodriguez suggested to Li Na, i.e., using more topspin from the baseline to give a margin of error and saving the flat strokes for when she has more advantageous court position.  The main issue I saw with Keys was an inconsistent ability to control her own power. If she ever gets that in check, look out. (Side note: At the risk of overhyping her burgeoning career, can we get Keys on TV more often please?  She has an extremely fan-friendly style of play.  Made instant fans out of me and my wife.)
-- John Dugan, Memphis, Tenn.

• Madison Keys may have lost in the semifinals here, but she was a huge winner in Melbourne. Likable, self-possessed (she is, after all, a Midwesterner), ferocious ball-striking….there’s lot to like here and I have faith that Coach Lindsay—as level-headed an athlete as you will encounter, even at the peak of her career—will continue to be an asset. As for more topspin, I don't disagree. We’ve all kicked around this stat: at the French Open, she clocked the fastest average groundstroke speed at 80 miles an hours. The second fastest? Djokovic at 77 mph. To me that said as much as about her deficit of spin as it did her surfeit of power.

Murray reaches fourth AusOpen final, Serena and Sharapova to play for title

Dear Mr. W: Probably other readers have mentioned this too -- when I first started reading all the reactions and reports on the Murray-Berdych match at AO, I was amused. Then, I thought the press and bloggers were being rather childish in their delightful tweets and so on about some pretty childish behavior. Is that what social media-ing has done to us?
-- M Ng, Vancouver

No question that social media was a big part of last night’s match. For reasons obvious to anyone watching, “Kim Sears” was trending last night. Me? I rather enjoyed the tension and friction and palpable chill. Sure, it went overboard. And, sure, it's unfortunate that someone muttering in the heat of the moment becomes global news. No one wants to see tennis devolve into cage-fighting. But I think we also saw that tennis can be much more compelling when there is some personal animus.

It may be a question of perception, but I believe Agassi was the first tennis player to towel off after every point, starting with the first point of the match. I was an Agassi fan, but it was like pulling teeth to watch him play sometimes. And since I am writing in, maybe a comment about Sharapova? I finally broke down and watched a screecher match after about three or four years now.  I just can't believe to this day that her opponents allow her to dictate the pace of play like that -- even when the opponent is serving. Tennis is, what, 90% mental? And it seems that Sharapova has a huge mental advantage over terrestrial players. 
-- Jim Yrkoski, Silver Creek, Neb.

• Yesterday we had North Dakota, today we have Nebraska.

Do you think Anna Kournikova will be inducted to the Tennis Hall of Fame? This may seem like a joke, but when you start to think about her impact on the game and doubles success, couldn't a case be made for her inclusion? 
-- Mitch, Los Angeles, Calif.

The five major moments in the history of the Serena-Sharapova rivalry

• We’re talking about someone who never won a singles title, much less a Slam. As shaky as the credentials currently are for the Hall of Fame, this would set a ridiculous precedent. I do think that Mitch raises a good point, though. Don’t underestimate Kournikova’s impact on tennis. Her doubles success offsets her shortcomings in singles. More important, she really did blaze a trail, popularizing tennis (and laying bare just how financially lucrative the sport could be.) A story for another time, but I visited with Kournikova a few years ago and she was not only delightful, but terrifically thoughtful on this very point—the good and bad of her legacy.

Watching a highly entertaining mixed doubles semi-final (the one with Hingis), I started thinking -- why not replace the irrelevant Davis and Fed Cups with a single coed event? Each tie would consist of seven rubbers: two men's singles, two women's singles, men's doubles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles. Tell me you wouldn't tune it to watch Isner and Serena take on Djokovic and Ivanovic, for love of country, in the Coed Cup.
-- Boston, MMS

• That’s logical and sensible for tennis. And is thus unlikely to happen.