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Indian Wells Mailbag: Dimitrov's red face, Serena's return and more

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Lots of questions this week. After Tuesday night’s matches at Indian Wells, we’ll take as many as time permits…..

First, let me be clear: I do not in the least blame the Williams sisters for staying away from Indian Wells since 2001. Quite possibly, I would have done the same. Having said that, I am very puzzled by all the discussion about forgiveness. Exactly who is Serena supposed to forgive? The boorish people who were in the stands in 2001? The tournament organizers? Certainly not the people who are attending the tournament now: what have they ever done to her?!

—Gilbert Benoît, Ottawa, Ontario

Serena Williams tops Sloane Stephens to reach Indian Wells quarterfinals

• Unless she has surveillance video, she doesn't know the specific identity of every fan that booed her—in a sustained manner; even when she hit winners—that day when she was (and, to me, this is relevant) a teenager. At some level, yes, she is forgiving the tournament, which didn’t exactly douse controversy at the time. The figurehead of the event publically said that he had wished Venus had at least tried to play. I think it’s more a general forgiveness of a breakdown in civility.

A few of you hit on a theme of “It’s unfair to paint an entire tournament with a broad brush.” I get that. But short of individually assessing every fan, when you're treated with hostility by a crowd, it takes on a mass identity.

I had a wonderful week at Indian Wells. Even though I hate to bring it up, I feel the need to mention the grunting thing. I was watching a first round match between Elena Vesnina and Kateryna Kozlova and Vesnina had a very pronounce, two syllable "ah-YA" grunt—and oddly—it always came a moment after the ball was hit, not during. Many times, the final "YA" came very close to the time her opponent was returning the ball. Once, Vesnina hit the ball out, and her final "YA" overlapped with the linesperson's "out" call! Isn't this crossing a line here? Not only is a grunt of that loudness distracting, but it's now two syllables and not even connected to the preparation nor exertion of hitting the ball. At what point is too much too much? I can't imagine playing against a player like this.
Paul F.

Maria Sharapova upset by emotional Flavia Pennetta at Indian Wells

• We’ve been here before but here is a refresher.
a) We should distinguish between grunting and shrieking. When a player runs to a corner and slugs away, it warrants noise. When a player loops in a neutral mid-rally ball, noise is absurd.
b) We should be wary of gender. It’s not just the women. (That said, it’s most of the top women and few of the top men.)
c) Full disclosure: this isn’t hugely offensive to me. But it's deeply offensive to many fans (I have hundreds of emails to prove it) and former players. (Anyone catch Mary Carillo talking about this the other night?)
d) This issue is not getting better. And the WTA’s ignoring the clientele and paying only the mildest of lip service to the issue is equally puzzling and self-defeating.

Can you explain what's going on with Marcelo Rios and the Australian Open? I'm confused.
Jonathan Carroll, Boston

Mailbag: Who is the GOAT, Roger Federer or Serena Williams?

Here’s the story on Rios, who reportedly wants Petr Korda checked for doping in the 1998 Australian Open final.

The timing here is a bit odd given that any statute of limitations has long since lapsed. Basically, Rios lost the 1998 final to Korda who later tested positive for banned substances. Now—almost two decades later—Rios wants justice. While this is hardly the ideal test case, it does give rise to an interesting legal challenge. When I lose a title—and with it, all sorts of potential income—because my opponent cheated, do I have an actionable fraud claim?

Your recent reader question about whether Serena or Federer is the GOAT reminded me of something I've always wondered about. To what extent should doubles matter in the GOAT calculus? For example, I've always considered Martina Navratilova to be the female GOAT based on both her incredible singles performance, her longevity, the time period when she played and, yes, her doubles record.  But is that something that most people would even consider or am I a total outlier in giving "bonus" points to those players with, for example, multiple doubles Slams under their belts?
Lacy Lee

Short answer: some, not a lot. And to some extent it depends on the era. For players like McEnroe and Navratilova, unquestionably, it should be a plus. In today’s era—when the physical and time demands make it unreasonable to expect singles stars to moonlight with a partner—it’s strictly extra credit.

Yesterday Grigor Dmitrov's face was all red under his eyes now Tomic has the same condition in this match. Could it be a cleaning agent on the towel?
—J., Portland

Serena shows resilience in virtuous return to Indian Wells after 14 years

• In TV land on Monday night, one of the guys on the set saw Azarenka and asked, “Does her face always get that red?” Someone needs to look into this.

Do the top pros receive tournament appearance fees these days? I wonder if the current Indian Wells tournament paid a handsome (and perhaps well deserved) appearance fee to Serena, or perhaps a substantial donation to her favorite charity or her charitable foundation.Would you comment on my wondering? Mahalo for your great work.
J Marrack, Honolulu

One of the perks of being a Masters Series event: it’s a mandatory tour stop so the events don’t pay guarantees. In fact, it would be against the rules and distorting to the entire business model. Much as Indian Wells might have liked to have paid Serena to show up—or, as the reader suggests—have contributed to her favorite charity, that couldn't have happened, absent bylaws being violated.

I understand that Kevin Anderson is close to receiving his U.S. citizenship.  Would he be eligible to play Davis Cup for the U.S. after that?  It would certainly give the U.S. another good singles option.
Mary Durkin, Ponte Vedra, FL

• He would not. He already played for South Africa. As I understand it, per some recent rule changes, that would make him ineligible.

You have often mentioned about the intensely international experience provided by tennis today, on both the men's and the women's side. Keeping this in mind, I find it petty that this decline of American men's tennis, for instance, is being blown out of proportion. Would I be right in saying that while the actual nationality of the players playing tennis has become international, the mindset of people itself has not? Here, we should be focusing and discussing about the quality of the next big guy's tennis, rather than on which nation he or she hails from! 

Daya, Göteborg, Sweden


Agree. And, as I write this, there are four Americans left in the draw. If your benchmark is America, relative to the rest of the world, you could argue the U.S. is holding its own. If the benchmark is the concentration of U.S. players 25, 50 or 100 years ago, this is a step decline. I think Daya makes a good point: it’s the present that matters. No country is going to dominate. No country is even going to be wildly disproportionately represented. Root for the players, not the country code. Or risk terminal disappointment.

Why do the women have eight wild cards in the Indian Wells draw and the men only have five? Did the tournament run out of American men to call?

Tennis. That is, two tours, two sets of rules. Depending on how you spin it, the ATP rules either gave the tournament less discretion, or mandated that more players got into the main draw on their own merit.

Yes, it was momentous that Serena decided to play again at Indian Wells. But really, after watching the match against Monica Niculescu, I was appalled at the histrionics after Serena missed a shot. You'd think she was defending a Wimbledon crown, rather than playing a first-round match against a 68th-ranked opponent. I get it—she's emotional at playing the tournament again. But the drama queen act is demeaning to her stature as the World No. 1 and to her opponent. And not one commentator calls her out on it, lest she appears to be questioning Serena's "virtuous" appearance at the tournament. (Yes, I'm calling out Mary Carrillo, Mary Joe Fernandez and Tracy Austin.) Serena had a chance to act like the champion she is. If only she took it.
JL, Newton, MA

Watch: Halep shows off incredible defense against Lepchenko

I include this with some trepidation. But I received more than a few of these and try to make the Mailbag representative of the tennis vox populi. Let the record reflect: Serena wasn’t uniformly embraced last week. I wrote a piece that used the word “virtuous.”

The comments section got ugly fast.

Serena probably had the best take on this Thursday when she said, “You're always going to have fans and always going to have people that well, for lack of a better word, aren't as big of a fan.” 

It was so great to see Gabriela Sabatini at the Garden. The love for her, as well as Monica, was amazing.  Is there an equivalent of her in the modern game?
Joe J., Easton, Pa.

I’m not entirely sure what this means. A player from Argentina capable of winning majors? No. A beautiful one-handed backhand at the game’s highest level? Sure, Carla Suarez Navarro. Maybe Ivanovic as a modern Sabatini?

Long Lost Siblings

This week's LLS is from Rey Chai of Issaquah, Wash.: Annie Lennox and Svetlana Kuznetsova​