I must admit to you that I've followed your articles for a while and I see a bit of skepticism towards Djokovic's game. Second major in a row he is not your man to pick up the Grand Slam trophy. Although I am his compatriot I follow all the main players on Tour and it is undeniable that Nole is clear favorite for taking Roland Garros (and for most of former tennis stars). Why is so hard for tennis writers to accept the fact that he's beaten Roger Federer and Rafa for seven times in a row -- all in big tournaments? --Zeky, Belgrade, Serbia
The women's tour may be in a chaotic stage just now, with so many top players either injured or off-form, but the men's draw in this week's Madrid event has the look of a major. It's easy to project a Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic final, and that's definitely what everyone wants to see, but consider the other storylines:
PARIS -- The thing I love most about this city is its indifferent personality, particularly when it comes to hosting out-of-towners. Where other places bend over backwards to be at a visitor's beckon call, Paris hisses "get it yourself."
We had fog and Fognini. Cat fights and chat fights. Discussions about lace (Venus) and discussions about pace (Nadal). Oh, and they played some tennis, too. Through seven days at the French Open -- and Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin deadlocked at a set apiece -- we dispense midterm grades.
Since you wrote, "When Thomaz Bellucci wins the French Open, you heard it here first," there's been a lot of talk here in Brazil about Bellucci being a real contender for this year's RG. Even some Web sites are writing headlines like, "American tennis expert considers Bellucci a favourite to win Roland Garros." Can you tell us your honest opinion on Thomaz' future? --Celso, Curitiba, Brazil
I know how Roger Federer feels. For years, I could not beat Priest Holmes in chess. You might remember Holmes, the star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, the guy who led the NFL in rushing in 2001, the guy who seemed to score three or four touchdowns every week when you were playing against him in fantasy football. We had a weekly chess match for a while.
Let's start with the fallout from the men's final in Paris. There were a lot of questions about the Nadal-Federer match and its consequences. In the interest of economy, I'll condense to five thoughts.
PARIS -- Ana Ivanovic will be the new No. 1 player on the Sony Ericcson WTA Tour on Monday, and it'll only be a matter of time until she's a household name in the United States. Ivanovic has the rare combination of beauty and skill that translates on and off the court. She has the work ethic and credibility to ward off the inevitable comparisons that will be made with other over-marketed female stars and the legitimate appeal to attract everyone from fans to sponsors alike.
Like skid marks at a crash site, tracks in the clay told the story of the 2008 French Open. Want to know why Rafael Nadal won his fourth straight title, humiliating Roger Federer in the final? All you had to do was look at the court. It was streaked and slashed, indicating the lengths Nadal had raced to retrieve balls. Forward, back, at odd angles, into the courtside geranium boxes.
PARIS -- Occasionally I get to write a story on someone I not only respect, but also someone I consider a friend. This is one of those times. I have tremendous admiration for Wayne Odesnik, the 22-year-old native of South Florida, for his dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes to reach his potential.
Gustavo Kuerten, one of the great champions of the last decade and a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, played his last match Sunday, retiring following his first-round French Open loss to Paul-Henri Mathieu.
As I write this, I'm 40,000 miles above ground hitching a ride on a private plane with tennis legend Pete Sampras. We're headed to Boston, where he'll be competing in the Outback Champions Series, and I'll be covering the tournament for television.
Roger Federer moaned, and everyone knew: It would end soon. Grunting and screeching are tennis staples, of course, but not for Federer. Usually he embodies the quaint notion of striving quietly. But he had just made his final desperate run at Rafael Nadal and the 2007 French Open title, muffing the last of 16 break points he'd let slip this day. It was 5:50 p.m. on Sunday, in the second game of the fourth set, and after Federer rolled a backhand wide, his first groan echoed across the clay. On the next point Federer shanked another stray backhand and yelled in despair, and the 15,166 fans jammed into Court Philippe Chatrier knew it was done. Nadal had cracked him open for all to hear. Again.
This was last September, just after Justine Henin had enraged yet another opponent. She was sitting in the player's lounge at the 2006 U.S. Open, speaking of the time when she had a chance to meet her childhood idol, Steffi Graf. The two women had happened to be on the same flight to somewhere.
Since clay-court season is upon us, I was wondering who you think is the greatest dirt-baller to play the game. Bjorn Borg? Guillermo Vilas? And where would Rafael Nadal fall in that category? -- Andrea, Richmond, Texas
I suppose you are crowing now that Wimbledon has capitulated to the ridiculous claim by women tennis players for equal pay for less work? Where is the backbone of the men in the ATP who agree to play longer hours for the same pay? Where, pray tell, is the equality? Why not just have one championship open to all players regardless of gender? -- Al Ferg, Sherbrooke