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Ask Tracy

Tracy, why did you want to be host of Tennis Channel Academy, and what do you think about the state of state of tennis instruction for young Americans today?
Linda Adams, Bloomington, IN

I am so proud to be part of Tennis Channel Academy - I think it's going to be a phenomenal series. I think for tennis players who love the game - as I'm sure most Tennis Channel viewers do - you get access inside the heads of some of the top pros in the world. I obviously know Robert Lansdorp and his teaching methods as he was my coach growing up, and viewers will be extremely fortunate to get these insightful lessons from him. I am also excited to learn from pros like Carlos Rodriguez about how he helped Justine Henin reach the top spot in the world and excel on clay like she did. One example of something I learned was Rodney Harmon teaching that spin move that James Blake does when he gets out of position - I had no idea that people actually taught that as a technique! There's just so much knowledge that these top pros bring to the show - no matter your skill level, you're sure to learn some aspect of the game that you can bring to the courts. I hope you enjoy it!

Tracy you were considered one of the fiercest competitors in your playing days. Of today's players who are the mentally toughest? Frank Tempkins, Batesville, IN

I think Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are the toughest. Venus is certainly a big match player as well. There's something to be said for players that can dig deep in the big moments and raise their game - and both Williams sisters have a knack for doing just that. As for Maria - she treats every single point in every match of every tournament as the most important - not unlike Rafael Nadal on the men's side.

Tracy how do you feel about Jankovic finishing the year with the number one ranking with out having won a major in 2008? Lisa Hicks, Madison, WI

The key is that everyone knows how the rankings work and the computer spits out the rankings based on results from the previous 52 weeks. When I was in Doha, I asked Venus how important it was for her to get the #1 ranking back and she told me that it would be hard for her because she just doesn't play enough tournaments. Jelena JankovicShe and her sister don't really have the desire to play more than 12-13 tournaments a year and they feel playing less tournaments - while hurting their chances to reach #1 - allows them to peak during the bigger tournaments. Jankovic plays more than 17 tournaments and that #1 ranking comes from playing often and showing consistent results. I think she started to show her best form towards the end of the year when she won three tournaments in a row and I feel a Grand Slam is certainly in her future. Her fitness trainer, Pat Etcheberry, has made significant improvements to her fitness and she's been the most consistent player over the last 52 weeks and merits the top spot.

Tracy how do you think pro tennis can become more fan friendly like NASCAR? Rodney Hammersmith, Alcoa, TN

I think NASCAR sets the gold standard in how a sport can interact with their fans. That sport realized early on how important its fans are and they make all their drivers so accessible. I think the players in tennis do a very good job, but could they do a better job? Yes, you always can, but it's a fine line. A player obviously needs to save their focus and energy for the court as opposed to meet and greets, but they have to realize that part of being a professional is the outside commitments to the fans. One idea is to have each player commit to a 30 minute autograph signing on site at each event they enter.

Tracy I know that your career was cut prematurely by injuries. It seems like today's top players are frequently hurt and have to miss events. What can the tour do to cut back on the amount injuries? Nancy Kemmer, Austin, TX

Well on the WTA Tour, they're shortening the season in '09 and they're making some mandatory events aimed at increasing participation from the top 10 players. I know they're inserting a mini-break after Wimbledon to allow players to recharge their batteries as well. The tour doesn't want players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin to be out of the game in their early to mid 20s, so they're trying to take measures to ensure longer careers. Venus and Serena, for example, have always played lighter schedules, have enjoyed outside interests, but they're both still going strong as they approach 30. It's really just a more physically demanding sport than it was 20 years ago. The equipment today - the racquets and the strings, and the sheer size of the players combine to make it far more demanding on your body.

Tracy who do you think is the greatest female tennis player of all time and why? Bill Haight, Little Rock, AR

That's a tough one. Martina and Steffi are obviously the two names that come up when discussing greatest of all time. Steffi has 22 Grand Slam titles which obviously is an impressive resume. Martina's reign at the top of the sport is unparalleled. Martina vs. SteffiBut others might argue that someone who had a short dominating run like Serena or Justine Henin are among the greatest of all time. I know that on the men's side, a player like Lew Hoad, whose career was cut short by injury, is considered in some circles to be the greatest player ever. It is really too hard to compare players from different eras as every generation gets better because of improved technology, training techniques, and equipment.

What was the proudest moment of your career? Sarah Hofmann, Rochester, NY

I would say winning the US Open the second time. I was out for five months with a bad back in '81 and people were counting me out. Even the way I won against Martina - I lost the first set quickly and came back to win 7-6 in the third. Another moment was beating Evert three times in 11 days. We had very similar styles and to beat someone I admired like Chrissie was something I was very proud to accomplish.

Hey Tracy - first of all let me tell you that in my opinion you are the best women's tennis analyst working today. Hearing your commentary during the US Open is one of the highlights of the year. Now, for my question. Who do you think will establish themselves as the number one female tennis player for 2009? Booker McDowell, Boiling Springs, SC

Thanks for the kind words. We've had five number ones in '08 and I think we'll see more of the same in '09. I do not think we will see another player like Justine Henin dominate the rankings with that large a margin of points between #1 and #2. Sharapova inherited the top spot for a week or two when Henin retired and then Ana Ivanovic gained the top spot when she won the French Open, but she wasn't prepared to run with it so it became musical chairs in the top spot for the rest of the year. In 2009, I think Serena has a good shot at the top spot, as does her sister Venus. Jankovic also has a good shot at staying at the top because of her consistency. I like the fact that she loves to compete and seems unafraid about holding that top spot. Dinara Safina came on strong right before the French Open and she has a big opportunity to rise quickly early next year as she does not have many points to defend at the beginning of 2009. She has a great chance to make a move for the #1 ranking.

Do you think that older favorites such as Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce will return to competition? Demetrius Hicks, Montgomery, AL

I don't think Jennifer will - she's had two wrist surgeries and two shoulder surgeries and from what I hear it's still not right. I think her desire is still there and that's the hardest part for an athlete - which I'm sure is difficult for Jennifer. With Mary, she had that horrible knee injury, but she may be able to come back to competition. At what level will she be when she comes back is the question because she's approaching 34 years old. I wish her well - she's a great asset to tennis, she's a fan favorite, and she's fun to watch play.

Do you think Roger Federer is going to be able to bounce back to number one? Is Pete's record still within Roger's grasp, or is his period of domination slowly coming to a graceful end? Rebecca Walsh, Appleton, WI

Sure - he can bounce back and become #1 again, but right now he's closer to Novak Djokovic at #3 than he is to Rafael Nadal at the top. Rafa is injured and his physical style of play always takes a severe toll on his body. He had a career year in '08, but it remains to be seen how many years he can continue to put that wear and tear on his body. Federer was sailing for years, so maybe he'll get rejuvenated to catch Pete's record and make another push at the top spot. His confidence may have taken a bit of a hit last year, along with getting mono at the beginning of the year, and his period of domination may be over, but he's still a great champion and it would not surprise me to see him return to the top. I do think we will see him get back to #1 and overtake Pete's record of 14 Grand Slam titles.

Hi Tracy - I would like to know why they don't make the women's finals at the big 4 best of 5 sets. This would insure the match some longevity; since the women's finals are often so lopsided. You rarely see a lopsided match in a men's finals; I believe this needed change would help boost the women's ratings again. And finally; as expensive as some of the Grand Slam finals tickets are-I say give the fans their money's worth; on both sides. Thanks. Marc Sanchez, San Francisco, CA

They did try 5-set matches at the season ending championships for a few years at Madison Square Garden, but I personally believe in quality over quantity. If the best of 3-set matches are lopsided, a 5-set match will most likely be lopsided as well. The men's and women's game have both had their ups and downs in terms of great rivalries and classic matches, but I do not think it has anything to do with the number of sets played in a match - it basically boils down to the quality of the tennis - no matter how many sets.

Do you still play tennis in exhibition matches - I love to watch you play classic matches on TV when they show them! Neha Vora, Owensboro, KY

Tracy AustinI do play some exhibitions and I play tennis about two or three times a week. I played the seniors at Wimbledon for a couple of years - I won in 2005 and got to the finals in 2006. I stopped playing there because it's just too difficult to play and do the commentary for the BBC as well. Throughout the year I play about 10 different exhibitions a year - no singles, but I'll play mixed or women's doubles and I still enjoy it very much. I recently played with the Bryan Brothers and Anna Kournikova - that was a lot of fun.