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Tennis Mailbag: MUNY's dwindling fields, future of Roger Federer, Serena Williams

Here are some questions that I have recently been asked about tennis and my answers:

Question: In 1974, more than 132 players entered in the men’s open singles division in the MUNY Tennis Tournament. This was only part of the overall number that included more than 200 players across several divisions. This year’s MUNY open singles division had about eight players and a total of approximately only 75 more players in other divisions. What has been the reason for the steady decline of player entrees?

Answer: In today’s game, many play with the same groups of players three times in a week, take lessons two or three times a week with the same players and compete on USTA teams that involve many of the same players. They don't need a tournament setting such as the MUNY to again play with the same players because individual clubs also run their own tournaments with prize money and have the ability to play indoors.

The other detriment to MUNY tennis is there are classifications such as 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 along with the open division. Players in the level-based classifications can be anywhere from 20-70 years old. The older players have virtually no chance of competing against the younger players and won’t enter. Older players could play in the senior divisions, but those divisions tend to be for better players who were top-tier players when they were younger.

Another challenge is tournament circuits are in place for juniors and college players so they don't need to play in the MUNY.

Question: Do you have any suggestions to improving some of these detriments to local tournaments?

Answer: My advice for 3.0 tournaments and up is to have age-group categories such as 30-35, 35-39, 40-44 for singles and and doubles play. The better likelihood of success should increase the number of players participating.

Question: When players have a lefty-righty combination in doubles, how should they line up on the court? Should the right-hander play the ad court while the left-hander plays the deuce court?

Answer: I was fortunate to have played doubles with one of the greatest tennis players in Western New York history: Rev. Bob Hetherington. We won two National MUNY Open Tennis Doubles Championships and many local doubles titles and were ranked as high as fifth in the East in doubles. Why? Our volleys were our strongest points and we play with the right-hander on the ad court and the left-hander on the deuce court. Other good teams played the opposite way. Talk with your partner before the match and use the arrangement you feel the most comfortable with. If for some reason the formation doesn’t work, you can change sides after the first set.

Question: We play in a group of tennis players at one of the local tennis clubs that uses five or six courts at a time for doubles. The players show great camaraderie and sportsmanship except for one player. He is always complaining, questioning line calls and never compliments a player when he makes a good shot. Off the court, he is one of the most well-liked players in our large group. How do we tell him how much he is aggravating the players he plays with?

Answer: I would ask one of the players in your group who is good friends with this player to speak to him. The player should be told that he is causing a great amount of acrimony with his court behavior and negative comments. Urge him to compliment his opponents when they make a good shot and don’t question them when they make a close shot. Hopefully, he will get the message and change his behavior.

Question: In a recent column, you wrote that Roger Federer would never win another Grand Slam singles tournament. Since then, he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, in the ATP Finals, making only five errors. Do you still feel the same way after Federer’s monster win against Djokovic?

Answer: Yes!  After that win, he played Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals and lost, 6-4, 6-3, while making more than 20 unforced errors. On a given day, Federer can still defeat anyone. However, at 38, he will have a difficult time putting together the run of high-level play required to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Question: Do you think Serena Williams should retire from playing tennis?

Answer: Yes, I do. To me, it is evident from her recent Grand Slam finals that she is suffering from nervous tension (otherwise know as the yips). It is interesting to note that in her last Grand Slam final she was losing 6-3, 5-1 to Bianca Andreescu at the U.S. Open, making many unforced errors. She looked nervous and disoriented at times.

However, trailing 5-1, she won the next four games playing like the Serena of old. She was serving aces and winners as she quickly tied the second set up at 5-5. Then, unbelievably, she played like she had in the earlier games; showing nervousness and numerous errors during crunch time. That allowed Andreescu to break Williams' serve for the sixth time in the match and close out the second set, 7-5.

Overall, Williams made 33 unforced errors and double-faulted on three break points. Williams is 0-4 in her last four Grand Slam finals.

At 37 and with a history of injuries, it is time for her to retire even if it means she will finish one short of Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles titles.

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