Big three looking to restore the game's health

Updated: June 17, 2008

Four Points

Electoral politics
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, aka the big three, are all among a group of notables running for spots on the ATP Players Council. The vote takes place at Wimbledon within the week and comes on the heels of some openly expressed dissatisfaction with ATP executive chairman Etienne de Villiers. At stake, according to the players, is more input and control over their own schedule and better communication between them and their three (nonplayer) elected representatives to the ATP board of directors -- several members of which have been controversially ousted over the past few years. The authority of the circuit, which is jointly governed by players' representatives and tournament administrators in an arrangement practically unique in sports, could shift radically depending on the outcome of a lawsuit against the ATP filed by organizers of the Hamburg Masters Series event who want to preserve the tournament's time slot and prestige.

We turned to Todd Martin, who served as president of the Players Council for eight years, for a little perspective. The upheaval "speaks loudly to the desire the players have to have themselves heard, but it also might speak a little bit to the naivete of the players as to what their role is,'' Martin said. "There are a lot of stakeholders in the game that need to be considered when decisions are being made. When I was president of the council, I don't think I fully understood the volume of work and complexity of the work that the [ATP] board faced. Their task is to think about what the game is going to be like in 20 years, how we're going to make it better for kids who are 8 or 10 years old now. … The players' voice is going to be louder than anyone else's because of who they are, but they're still in an advisory role, and the last several years, we've run the risk of scaring viable board members away.''

Should fans care about all this inside ball? "I hope they continue to focus on the beauty of what happens between the lines, but this is a pretty critical time in tennis,'' Martin said.

Special request
Winsome French veteran Fabrice Santoro has used sleight of hand to entertain us and annoy, thwart and frustrate higher-ranked players for years, but when it came to one of his dearest wishes in the final season of an amazingly consistent 20-year career, he decided on a straightforward approach. The 35-year-old Santoro has asked Wimbledon officials to schedule him on hallowed Centre Court, where he has never played a singles match. He was disappointed after being shunted to an outer court in his last appearance at the Australian Open -- one of his favorite tournaments -- earlier this year. We can't always get what we want, but in this case, we hope The Magician gets booked on the big stage.

Mattek

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Bethanie Mattek has never been one to shy away from fashion. This includes donning tube socks during Wimbledon in 2006.

By design
Bethanie Mattek's past Wimbledon outfits include tube socks and blue knickers. This year, she's likely to be sporting another accessory: a game face. Mattek may revel in unconventional fashion, but she's always insisted she wants to be known for her tennis. After struggling early in the season, Mattek went back to the drawing board and did well in lower-level tournaments. She qualified into the French Open main draw, took a set off Maria Sharapova in the second round and reached the Birmingham semifinals last week with a 52-minute dismissal of third seed Nicole Vaidisova. Yes, beating Vaidisova isn't the biggest challenge on the circuit at the moment, but credit Mattek, a career-high No. 67 this week, with seizing the moment.

Grass spells relief
Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands, hampered by a wrist injury earlier this season, was winless in 10 matches in 2008 before she broke through in Birmingham last week. She won again Monday in 's-Hertogenbosch, and wrote in her WTA blog that she feels as if she's scrambled out of the confidence trough. "I'm very happy to be back on grass!'' she reported. "It suits my game. I like short points. I like going for it. Grass is perfect for that.'' She was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year and this is a perfect time for her to get well.

Your shot

Federer

We asked whether Roger Federer would win a major this year. Two responses:

Federer will be more vulnerable at Wimbledon '08 than in any other season. He goes in with less confidence due to the lackluster season and the crushing loss at Roland Garros. One could argue that there are four strong candidates to win Wimbledon: Roger, Rafa, Andy and Novak but I just cannot see the great Roger Federer going an entire year without a major. It would be like Kobe Bryant going scoreless in a game, it just defies the laws of the universe! -- Lanka, Toronto

He is the favorite to win Wimbledon but I think Nadal will beat him if he keeps up his level of play. 2006 final: Nadal lost in four sets with no real game plan. 2007 final: Nadal lost in five sets and was very close. You can see the trend. 2008 final: Nadal takes it in five sets. … Federer will win the 2008 Olympics. He will arrive to the U.S. Open without much motivation and I think Novak Djokovic will take his second Grand Slam. Last year's final was closer than the straight-sets victory indicates. No Grand Slams for Federer in 2008. -- Carlos, Madrid

Here are two different takes on Nadal's demolition of Federer in Paris:

There is nothing more ridiculous than watching commentators, analysts and writers on ESPN questioning whether Roger Federer is the greatest to ever play the game. The topic is absurd, if Roger isn't The Greatest -- then who is? Sampras? Please, he wouldn't even get past Monfils on this surface. Borg? Maybe he'd beat Nadal if you tied Nadal's legs together and created a rule to outlaw the use of topspin forehands. … Federer's body language was weak [in the final] because he realized he had to play flawlessly in order to beat Nadal. Common sense, logic -- look at the statistics. Federer is the world's top player on grass and hard courts, has been for the past four years and is the world's second-best clay-courter in an era full of super-athletic players that hit harder than ever before. He's the greatest, anyone who isn't stuck in some fantasy world can see this. -- Kenny, Vancouver, Canada

Federer has no prayer of beating Nadal at the French unless he changes his mental strategy. He needs to go out there prepared to hit 30 balls to win a point. He needs the warrior mentality that guys like Thomas Muster and Jim Courier had. He needs to hit big deep loopers like Nadal did and like Sergi Bruguera did.

Federer is as good as those multiple French Open champions were. He needs to play like a French Open champion. He has that game! He's been the second-best clay-courter for the past four years. Sampras and McEnroe couldn't say that. He needs to get his running shoes on, his fitness better than ever and prepare to battle for every single point and not try and rush the net like John McEnroe wants him to do. You can't beat Nadal by playing like it's on grass. -- Brian, Dallas

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.


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Lost and found

Goldstein

The upcoming Players Council election prompted us to catch up with one of its outgoing members, Paul Goldstein, the Stanford grad who retired last fall after a 10-year pro career. Goldstein lives in San Francisco, works in sales for a Silicon Valley-based clean energy company and recently celebrated his daughter Sadie's first birthday on Father's Day. Goldstein was elected to the Players Council in 2006 and has continued to serve since he stopped playing. He considers the interest and involvement of Federer, Nadal et al to be a positive sign for the sport: "The issues have become important enough for the best players in the world to sacrifice whatever it is that they do in their spare time, which is limited, and take an active role,'' Goldstein said.

Stat of the week

Nadal

36: Years gone by since a Spanish player had won a grass court championship. Rafael Nadal's title at Queens was the first since Andres Gimeno won at Eastbourne in 1972.

Quote of the week

Henman

"There are good ones who are working as hard as they can, but that's not across the board. It has been too common a theme in the British game that the kids aren't hungry enough. Why is that? No idea. I had unbelievable desire to make it happen. Too many of the kids I've practiced with and seen don't have that.'' -- Tim Henman, to the Times of London.

Question of the week

Sharapova

Which top-five ranked player will be the first to lose at Wimbledon?

Send your thoughts to Bonnie D. Ford.