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Mailbag: Davis Cup drama; readers salute Bud Collins

Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Gael Monfils, Davis Cup scheduling and last weekend's ties and more, plus readers pay tribute to the late Bud Collins. 

We tried to take some questions on Sharapova yesterday. Here’s a drug-free edition of the Mailbag.

Programming notes:

1) We’ll be in Indian Wells and will try and file some dispatches from the desert. The obligatory “Tennis Channel has you covered; check your local listings.”

Sharapova's negligence, drug admission raises many questions

2) Congrats to Justine Henin and Marat Safin, both of whom were inducted into the Hall of Fame—an announcement completely overshadowed by the Sharapova news.

3) Note below some information about making a contribution in Bud Collins’ honor.

A few quickies…

Despite also being in the minority, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Gael Monfils. Sadly in this day of instant gratification and social media overreaction all we hear now is phrases like “It’s a results business,” “loss of revenue/prize money,” “oh no we’ve lost three games on the spin, sack the coach/manager, bench the QB” etc. and we lose sight of the fact that sport is, at it’s core, supposed to be an entertainment business. Yes, of course winning is better than losing, but as Xavi Hernandez (arguably the best soccer midfielder of the last 20 years) said, Barcelona would rather lose playing great football than win ugly. (Admittedly they lose about as often as Djokovic does.) Their whole philosophy was to entertain the crowd as best they could. I personally think this should be applauded. Yes, Monfils hasn’t maximized his talent in the way someone like David Ferrer has, but as you say he’s a thoroughly likeable and popular player and provides fantastic entertainment. He plays shots not even Federer in his prime could play. His career prize money is well into seven figures without including any endorsements and he gets to travel all over the world playing like he is genuinely enjoying himself on court. There’s no hint of the “win at all costs” about him, just a desire to entertain the crowd and provide a few Steph Curry/Aaron Rodgers moments where viewers just have to shake their heads in awe. Long may it continue.
Dave Boston, London

Reasonable people can disagree here. Here’s Larry of Paris:

Mailbag: Will there ever be another teenage Grand Slam champ?

“I just don't see things the way you do re: Monfils. I love watching Gael Monfils as much as the next guy. He's exciting, athletic, nutty, you never know what he's gonna do. Part of the cast of characters that keep us interested in tennis. Suffice to say when he's on he's really on. 

But he's also 5-18 in ATP finals. That's abysmal. Everything we read, hear and are told about the world of pro tennis is that these guys live and die to be the last man standing on Sunday afternoon. Winning trophies is what it's all about. For Monfils: not so much. Or is there a psychological issue that a good coach would have long ago had him working on (with a professional therapist)? I wonder does it hurt his bottom line? Would he have made more in sponsorship money by winning a few more titles? Apparently not a big deal, either. 

This goes to one of my bigger gripes about French tennis— the warm embrace of the French Tennis Federation has, for all practical purposes, sucked the drive to win out of these guys. Oh, sure, they have a number of guys in the Top 100, they win a lot of tournaments, year in and year out, they have guys who go deep into the second week of Slams...and yet Yannick Noah (the singer? as kids ask today) was the last men's Slam winner in...1983. Could it have anything to do with how (relatively speaking) "easy" it is for a player like a Monfils (or a Gasquet, or a Tsonga, see where I'm going) to transition from the all-expenses-paid life of a French junior to the world of top pros. No slogging it out on the Futures and Challengers tour, paying one's own way, for these guys. It's straight from top junior to tax haven domiciliation in Switzerland. Winning? Who needs to win? 

Henin, Safin elected to International Tennis Hall of Fame

The women, interestingly, often go there own way (to differing degrees Tauziat, Mauresmo and Bartoli all were overlooked by or walked away from the Federation) and what do you know: Slam finalists and winners! Food for thought.”

This week, much has been made of Lleyton Hewitt's return from a brief retirement to play a doubles rubber at home in Australia in a Davis Cup tie against the U.S. However, I do not think I have seen a single article mentioning Jarkko Nieminen's return from retirement to play for Finland against Zimbabwe. If I remember correctly, Jarkko's retirement in October was fairly publicized in the tennis media world. Not only did Jarkko win fist first match back, he did it in singles with a 6–0, 6–0, 6–0 scoreline. Why was there so little mention of his return?

• You know who loves the Maria Sharapova doping scandal? Tennis Australia. The Davis Cup debacle and the ankle biting between Bernie Tomic and Nick Kyrgios would have otherwise been news and controversy. But after an A-list star gets popped for PEDs, who can muster much outrage over a couple of chuckleheads, as Charles Barkley would call them, taking swipes at each other?

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Lleyton Hewitt had a, um, eventful debut as Davis Cup captain. That included calling his own number and “unretiring” to play doubles. And he wasn’t the only one. Jarkko Nieminen dusted off his racket and played for Finland, winning a triple bagel, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. (Pretty harsh, old man.) Why so little coverage? I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. Simply a lower division tie, against an overmatched opponent from Zimbabwe.

Bud Collins's sportswriting was foundation of career, legacy

“But to me, the teenager Grand Slam champ has gone by way of the 6’6” NBA center.”

I’m confused. You give several reasons why there won’t be a teenage Grand Slam champ but then you throw this line in there. Are you saying that the teenager Grand Slam champ is about to make a comeback in a big way? Because the Warriors won the NBA title last year in large part because of their small ball line-up with 6’7” Draymond Green as their center. This year, that line-up has been the best in the NBA.
—Mike Auge, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

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• A touché foul, as it were. (But really, isn’t Andrew Bogut the real center? Funny about Green: he often guarded the two in college; he sometimes—I stress sometimes—guards the center position in the NBA. Not often have we seen that. In fact, the only other instance I can think of? Magic Johnson at Michigan State and then playing center in the 1980 NBA Finals. And where did Draymond Green go to college? Okay, back to tennis….)

Has any top player switched between using a one-handed and two-handed backhand? It seems like having both shots in your arsenal would be advantageous, but I can’t think of anyone who hits both.
Ranjit Gupte, Los Angeles

Sharapova's attorney John Haggerty details failed drug test

• In certain desperate situations, you see a two-hander take a hand off the racket. Ironically, Sharapova is a name that springs to mind. But I cannot think of a player, present or past, who can hit both proficiently in a match. Anyone care to chime in?

Davis Cup right before Indian Wells?? What's up with that?
Helen of Philadelphia

• This is precisely why Davis Cup is under attack. It’s madness. You play the Australian Open. Then you return to North (and South) America for some February tournaments. Indian Wells and Miami loom large in March, a pair of hardcourt events. And, oh right, in between, you’re expected to squeeze in a second trip to Australia? To play best-of-five format? On grass? No posh hotels (or industrial strength Ambien) is going to provide much balm there.

Shots, Miscellany

• Last week’s Beyond the Baseline SI Tennis podcast was with Taylor Fritz.

• This week’s guest is Brad Gilbert—who was, predictably, great fun. Check back on Thursday for the episode. 

• If you missed this Bud Collins essay by Scott Price, read it now.

• Contributions honoring Bud can be made to:

301 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

Bud Collins, veteran tennis journalist, dies at 86

194 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840

771 Commonwealth Avenue, 5th floor
Boston, MA 02215

950 Blue Hill Avenue
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

• American Sloane Stephens is set to play the Louisville International Open.

• Congrats to Rajeev Ram on his marriage last weekend.

• Congrats to Ryan Harrison on his engagement.

• Reader Jared Kolka writes: I'm sure plenty of people are writing to you about the passing of Bud Collins. This is not an attempt to appear in your next column but just a few lines to fondly remember perhaps my favorite tennis personality, a man so passionate for the sport it feels like he was a humanitarian.

All of the things I've been reading about him are in line with my own "I met Bud" tale. In 1997, I went to the RCA men's stop in Indianapolis since I grew up in not-so-far-Chicagoland and I had a back injury interrupt my own playing time, so my time spent following the pro tours was at an all-time high. Bud was signing copies of his latest encyclopedia, and I believe it was my father who urged me to ask Bud if he might help me with a gifted project I was going to work on about different careers related to tennis. Bud had already personalized a copy of the encyclopedia for me. He found a scrap of paper, wrote his home phone number on it, and must have made some remark about getting in touch if I thought he could help out. I was just a 15 year-old kid with braces and yet my favorite journalist (along with Mary Carillo) had just done such a favor without even knowing that my own knowledge of the sport was often (erroneously) compared to his! 

Serena Williams: Maria Sharapova showed courage in drug confession

I called Bud sometime that fall and spoke to him after first talking to Anita, and he informed me that he was not going to be anywhere near Chicago except for Midland, Mich., for a Challenger event. I was too reserved and unworldly in those days, so I didn't ask for just a phone interview or some correspondence via the USPS, but that scrap of paper is certainly somewhere in one of my many boxes of tennis memorabilia I will again access this summer when I fly to the U.S. Whatever your relationship to or thoughts about Bud, I'm sure you are feeling some effects from his passing, and I wish you and the whole tennis world (especially the journalists) all the best.

• We owe our gratitude (and a gift) to reader Alex Ross-Shaw for this: “Further to your constant (justified) complaints about the lack of data availability in tennis, I had always wondered about Andy Murray's run of Grand Slam finals, racking up nine but only ever playing two players, Federer and Djokovic, both of whom have been number one for much of that time. I decided to look at all the finals of every player in the Open Era to have played nine of more and see how the seedings of their opponents matched. You can check out the result on a nifty little spreadsheet I did here, I'll caveat it by saying the stats started to make my eyes go funny so any mistakes are mine and I apologize in advance.