By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jul 01, 2008 at 5:17 AM

Tim Russert's death brought to my attention, once again, the skill he had that is such a rare commodity. It is a notion that escapes the grasp of most of your average sports fans:

Answering questions is easy compared with asking them.

Russert was a master at asking questions. He was prepared, generally courteous, determined to get an answer and comfortable in his role.

His skills certainly apply to the world of sports, where broadcasters and writers ask questions on behalf of fans.

Trust me on this. I have been on both sides of this particular coin and it's about 10 times easier answering questions than it is to ask them. Part of it is the nature of things. When you answer a question, you can say just about anything you want. When you ask a question, you've got to know what you are talking about and you've got to be willing to become a momentary center of attention, two difficult things to do.

I am strongly in favor of asking questions designed to get answers that go beyond the clichés of sports. Some would call them hard-edged questions. That doesn't mean hostile. But it does mean "I'm not taking your bull for an answer."

In this area, I've heard lots of questioning take place, and there are some good questioners and some bad questioners.

Much to my surprise, Cliff Saunders at WSSP (1250 AM) has developed into a good questioner. He's not afraid to ask a tough question and sometimes even follows up if his subject is dodging. When he and his partner Gary Ellerson get on the phone with someone, they can get some very interesting answers.

On 540 ESPN, the boys on the D-List are all seasoned pros who know how to ask, how to follow up and when to bail out of an interview. The most unexpected interviews on that station come from Steve "The Homer" True. He's got more humor than most and can take interviews into very unusual and mostly interesting areas.

The local TV people only have about 10 seconds to fill, so good questions and local TV should never be used in the same sentence, except for this once. The folks at Fox have lots of time, but they are obviously way too close to the team to have any objectivity. I'm not criticizing those relationships, but they are what they are.

And now, a word or two about tennis and Wimbledon...

This used to be one of the great fortnights in the world of sports. Think Evert and Navratilova, Graf and anyone, Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi. That was excitement.

This year, headed into the final week, these are the names of some of the stars still playing for the men's and women's titles: Federer, Hewitt, Verdasco, Ancic, Nadal, Stepaniek, Youzhny, Zheng, Szavay, Valdisova, Chakvetadze, Radwanski, Mattek, Williams, Azarenka, Petrova, Peng and Kudryavtseva.

And you wonder what's wrong with tennis. Nobody in the United States plays anymore. I don't want to be chauvinistic about it, but this country is the straw that stirs the drink in almost every sport. And when there are no Americans in the game, it doesn't have any cachet.

Tennis and golf are two very similar sports as far as developmental programs, television appeal, endorsement deals and individual performance. But one is hot and the other is not.

I really wonder why tennis isn't more popular in this country. You don't need as much space as a golf course. The money in the professional ranks is huge. The investment in equipment pales compared to golf. It's a lot better exercise. And it takes a lot less time.

Whatever it is, something has virtually destroyed tennis in this country. I, for one, miss it.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.