Despite the handful of locals in the second and third rounds of the Open, it’s no secret Australian tennis is in trouble. And I think I’ve found the problem: player websites.

This is a working hypothesis so bear with me, but it seems pretty clear that tennis brilliance is a direct consequence of credible online presence. Let’s start at the top.

Roger Federer’s site is, like the man himself, slick. It’s full of news, results, and the tantalising section “Ask Roger”. This is where we learn that the Swiss great has never taken ballet and dance classes, his room at home is white and grey (presumably the grey bit is Roger’s feature wall), and he carries for luck a “tweety dressed as a ladybird”. Ideas of what that might look like on the back of a postcard, please.

Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all have their own strong sites, Roddick’s particularly impressive with regular blog and video entries. Are you starting to get the picture, here? Great sites, great players.

Then there are the Australians. Google Lleyton Hewitt and you’ll end up at lleytonhewitt.biz, a fan-run blend of memorably awful poetry and media-sourced Lleyton ‘news’. Here’s an excerpt from 10 January:

Hewitt… dined on Monday night at the Fiesta Mexican restaurant… Lleyton had a Hewitt Burrito, which he created himself after getting to know the management over the years.

The Hewitt Burrito is, should you be wondering, a chicken-based meal.

For second-rungers Chris Guccione, Peter Luczak and (yes) Mark Philippoussis, there’s not a scud-shaped sausage online. And Wayne Arthurs’s retirement will register not a ripple in cyberspace, as the Wayne Arthurs website is all about a Canadian politician.

Compare that to maratsafin.com, where alongside a full biography, news and Marat’s tennis schedule, fans hear firsthand of Marat’s ups and downs on tour. I think we’re all richer for learning that, despite fathering a squillionaire, it’s Marat’s Dad who gets the first call when Marat has a broken toilet.

Scroll down under “news” to find the good stuff, on Marat’s occasional blog. The tale of Marat’s sleuthing when he meets a black-skinned fluent Russian speaker (Marat: “Maybe I was hallucinating”) is, I promise, worth a read.

You’ll agree the evidence is already pretty damning, but we’ll move on to the women.

Top-quality, fan-friendly websites have self-evidently translated into court success for Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, whose personal announcements are in charmingly broken English.

The Williams sisters’ sites, Serena and Venus, are predictably flashy, with Serena’s bio under the menu heading “411 on Serena”, but again the real gold is found with a Russian.

Maria Sharapova‘s lucky round one escape at Melbourne Park was surely indebted to her presence online. Nowhere else but her fancy, content-packed site can you learn that Siberia’s “Masha” hates spiders, liver meat and dentists, is good at spying, manipulating people and singing Cher hits, and thinks Australians are “super nice”, which… awww.

I warmly recommend “My Weekly Doodles” where, in October last year she wrote, “I’m kind of grumpy, exhausted, and look like a grey pigeon.” Think about that as you watch her run around in her lemon and black corset gear this week.

But where can we go for the 411 on Alicia Molik, Nicole Pratt and Sophie Ferguson? Nowhere online that has input from the players themselves. The only decent web presence of any Australian woman is that of Samantha Stosur, whose booming serve and career-high 27 ranking speak for themselves.

The message is almost too self-explanatory to be true. If Australian tennis is to improve, the players will have to lift their web game.

You heard it here first.

Peter Fray

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