We've got an action packed mailbag this week and Boyfriend says what we're all thinking:
Should we take a step back and consider that Rafael Nadal is very
unlikely to have the longevity that Roger Federer will likely have and
that Nadal may only have five years in him before the body officially
breaks down? Essentially what I'm saying is this: Enjoy Nadal's mastery
while you can.
-- Mark, Toronto
• Good point. And in addition to relishing Nadal while we've still got him, let's also acknowledge Federer's astonishing durability. His ability to stay healthy and generally injury-free at a time when tennis has never been more physically demanding is still another part of his legacy.
A few of you noted that while we complain about the length of the season and the toll it takes on players, Nadal is a bad case study since his bellicose, grinding style all but begs for injury. Point taken. But I still think this is THE lynchpin issue facing tennis right now. The season is unsustainably long and the demands made on players are simply not realistic.
A lot of you have been complaining about the television coverage in Dubai and China. But put yourself in the place of the networks. If you were considering broadcasting an event and knew there would be a good chance that the most marketable stars wouldn't play (Nadal? Serena Williams? Maria Sharapova? Ana Ivanovic?) would you be rushing to write a fat rights fee check? Seems to me, until the issue of player health is addressed in a meaningful way, the whole enterprise is stuck.
Confession: I somehow missed
the whole WTA Yearend Championship. Maybe I've been busy lately, but I
did keep up with the news from the ATP somehow. My question, has the
ladies game somehow become less relevant with the absence of a major
rival or dominant player? (Will Justine Henin come back and make it
interesting for one more year?)
-- Joseph Goins, Chicago
• It seems to me the WTA had a choice several years ago. They could either put the year-end championships in a major media market, invest in the marketing/promotion and use it as a platform for women's tennis and the top players. (New York was ideal. Madrid seemed to be working well.) Or the WTA could simply go to sell themselves out -- literally -- to the highest bidder.
Regrettably, the executives chose Door No. 2. The result? The tour is making many millions from the good folks in Dubai and Istanbul, no small consideration, particularly in these austere times. Yet the year-end event, which should be a real showcase event, exists in a virtual vacuum and a literal desert. Buzz and media coverage is non-existent here in the U.S. and, judging from a lot of you, in Europe and Asia as well. The ESPN coverage is long gone. From what I saw, the attendance was dreadful. Sharapova and Henin were MIA, and two other top stars, Serena Williams and Ivanovic, couldn't even get through their matches.
You may just be catching me at a particularly cynical moment, but I also thought there was something off-putting about flying in Billie Jean King to promote gender equity. Look, we're all for gender equity, but the WTA went to Doha because it coughed up the biggest check. That's fine. But let's call a cash grab a cash grab. Trying to spin this as missionary work -- "We've chosen your conservative sheikdom because we can come and enlighten!" -- strikes me as more than a little disingenuous.
How come Arlen Kantarian is given credit for "spectacular growth"
of revenues at the USO while revenue growth is barely mentioned in
evaluating Etienne de Villiers' performance. The RATE of growth under
de Villiers exceeds the "spectacular growth" under Kantarian.
-- Jerry White, Mineral, Va.
• There were a handful of questions about Kantarian's recent departure from the USTA. My fear is that this is awfully "inside tennis" and the majority of readers -- especially from outside the U.S. -- care little about the relentless internal politics of the USTA, etc. I do, however, think that this underscores a bigger issue for tennis. The "outsider-executives" with broader vision and experience often rankle the "insiders."
The desire for change is often seen as a lack of respect for tradition. The "insider-executives" are so caught up in the politics and so beholden that they lack broad vision. Along with a half dozen or so other candidates -- Paul McNamee, Brad Drewett, Patrice Clerc, Mark Young, Butch Bucholz, Boston Consulting Group's Brian Harris -- Kantarian is allegedly on the short list for ATP CEO job. So he may still be in tennis.
Jerry has been writing me weekly about de Villiers and I think his question is valid. The guy comes in with a mandate to shake things up. He does just that, all the while raising prize money by a healthy amount (especially in this climate), finding a site and sponsor for the new Masters Cup, and guiding the ship through choppy waters during which a serious legal challenge could have torpedoed the entire craft. (Thanks, Proskauer Rose!) And he was run out of town because of ... what? He dared to downgrade a claycourt event? He was at his imperious worst with the round-robin debacle (an unqualified disaster, but hardly a major issue)? He made too many Disney analogies? Honestly, it's still unclear what he did to get impeached -- other than rankle the top players.
So much WORD to his thoughts on Doha and BJK's involvement there. I didn't put a post up about her being there precisely because it seemed disingenuous and wrong. Memo to Larry Scott -- Please stop the spin machine. I'm getting dizzy and you're losing cred.