Mailbag: Serena's recovery, that Nadal guy, media ethics and more
I was planning on writing a long piece this week about Serena, definitely the hot topic last week in Mailbagistan. About how it's hard to conceive an athlete who could be more polarizing if she tried. About how in so many ways she epitomizes the athlete ideal. About how she blends physical and mental strength. About how she has a real taste for battle, something so many of her peers lack. About how she is incredibly complex and contradictory. About how she owes no one transparency or even sincerity. About how that makes it hard for many to know her. About how she is not only entitled to do things "her way"; but how "her way" has been validated by the fact that, a dozen years after her first Major title, she is still very much in the conversation. About how being a public figure doesn't mean you can't have a private life. About how, on the other hand, her public relations team is either sensationally inept or sensationally indifferent to perception. About how the WTA still hasn't quite figured out how to handle her. About how
But this all seems so distasteful. She had a pulmonary embolism and a hematoma last month. For now anyway, does it really matter if it were tied to her foot injury, if it's strange that no doctor treating her has commented, if she was appearing at a corporate function in Vegas when the news broke? We all can dissect the facts later if we're so inclined. We can speculate, consider flowery career retrospectives and hypotheticals (where does she rank if she never plays again?), and resuming stake out territory on both sides of the dividing line. For now, though, let's simply wish her a speedy return, not necessarily to tennis, but to full health.
• Hmmm. The name rings a faint bell. Pirate pants and muscle shirts and a mystical uncle? Wait: you mean
A few years ago
I know a lot of you resent this explanation but just as "the flickering light" is the new reality for Federer, I think we need to accept that Nadal's body will prevent him from being relevant 12 months a year, regardless or his ranking or recent track record. He's won three of the last four Majors. He's also been decidedly less than 100 percent over the past several months. I don't disagree that, rested and healthy, he may well be the favorite at Indian Wells. But it's easy to see why he hasn't been "top of mind" (to use a voguish phrase that I am coming to despise) lately.
• During that match a friend -- and tennis hater � texted me: "Amazing match. Can't wait to see Reggie Jackson try to hit Steve Carlton ... shouldn't you guys be promoting the CURRENT players no one knows?" I don't totally disagree. One of tennis' blessings is also one of its curses. We are not much interested in seeing Scottie Pippen play basketball or Bobby Orr play hockey these days. There is a new generation. With tennis, we have a harder time making the transition, especially when the current players aren't American. McEnroe, in particular, is still very much a big name in tennis. Ask yourself: if there's an exhibition in your town, which sells more seats: McEnroe and, say, Todd Martin? Or, say, Djokovic--Sodelring, two current top five players?
The flip side is that yesterday's NBA stars or batting champs see a quick deterioration of their skills. (Who saw Mitch Richmond during All-Star Weekend?) In tennis -- sport of a lifetime and all -- you can still play at a reasonably high level decades after your prime. Before McEnroe's ankle injury was unbearable, he was thoroughly entertaining. Yes it would be nice if more attention were paid to the current stars. And, yes, it was unfortunate that McEnroe was injured and Agassi is clearly still hampered by back trouble. But my bottom line: tennis drew a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden in late February. How can this be a bad thing?
• Former ATP pro and ESPN commentator Darren Cahill says: most times the first player will walk to the side where they have eye contact with their camp, so it works out for both. Cahill added that at the Australian Open and US Open, the player boxes are set up on opposite sides of the court and the lower-ranked player will sit right of the chair since their box is located on that side and the seeded or higher ranked player will get the left side. At Roland Garros and Wimbledon, it's different and both camps are located in the same area just a row or two apart. In other tournaments, most of the time players know where their camps are seated and that will help them determine their bench on court. (Thanks to Darren via Sharko.)
• What you're saying is that he's evolved. This is what we love about sports generically and tennis specifically, right? Kim Clijsters is a choker -- then she becomes a steely competitrix. Andre Agassi is a self-absorbed jerk, profligate with his talents -- then he becomes the epitome of a professional. Jennifer Capriati is a Tennis Burnout Patient Zero -- then she wins three Majors. Characters aren't scripted. Rather they, and their games, evolve. I think you're probably giving too much import to one unfortunate incident. But overall I agree with your thesis. Djokovic is now more secure with who he is and how he is perceived and this has benefitted his tennis. Again, I think Nadal is always the favorite in Paris. And "Federal" is the favorite in Paris, having won every title since 2002. But can Djokovic sneak in a win in Paris or take the trophy in New York? Absolutely.
Two quick points about "writhing on the ground" after a title, a point that gets brought up fairly frequently by you guys. One, I think the players are in a no-win situation. Either they emote and are called hams by the critics. Or they react modestly and are said to lack charisma, which is, of course, a damning insult, in the sports lexicon. Two, I think the rhythm of the final has a lot to do with the reaction. You're winning 6-3, 6-3, 5-3 and you're probably unlikely to drop to your knees on match point. Mentally -- and chemically -- you're at a very different place than when you win deep in the fifth set.
• Go ahead and nag. A few of you called me out for this, including Matthew George of San Francisco who remarked: "I'm not trying to question your cred, I'm just trying to understand what your code of ethics for these matters is so we, as your readers, know where your interests lie, and why you insist on teasing us with half-facts of seemingly newsworthy information." I think there's an interesting discussion here, both narrow and broad, about media ethics. Why I don't lay out the facts, tell you my thinking, and I'm genuinely curious if you agree or disagree.
A few months ago, I had lunch with a former WTA player. It was social. Nothing on the record or anything like that. She told me that eating disorders are quite common on the WTA Tour and often are the reason why some players -- seemingly inexplicably -- drop in the rankings. She had firsthand knowledge and cited examples. Some are eating too much; most are eating too little. Her claim was that, were it not for eating disorders, the personnel of the top 20 would be markedly different. She wasn't, understandably, willing to be quoted or lend her name. I didn't contact the players she named nor, frankly, would I, given the personal nature of this and the fact that their identity isn't really relevant to the broader point.
We talk about "media ethics," but there are really very few hard, fast rules outside "be right" and "be fair". Mostly there are judgment calls. So here's what I'm looking at: I have one source. But she doesn't want her name used. Not ideal sourcing by any stretch. On the other hand, I deem her to be credible, she has firsthand knowledge, there's "nutritional value" (forgive the pun) to bringing up this issue that is seldom discussed. And, in my judgment, "naming names" isn't essential. On balance, I think value of the information outweighs the regrettable "blind item" tone.
• Yes, players are compensated. As, I think, they should be. It's easy to say, "You should do this for your country." But as long as there's revenue being generated, it flies in the face of fundamental fairness to deprive the athletes of their share. (Unless of course you could argue that it would sully your "student-athlete" ideal and that four years of tuition, room and board is a fair trade-off for millions in revenue. But now we're getting sidetracked.)
As for your second question, you have -- perhaps unwittingly -- illustrated the inherent and deep flaw of Davis Cup. Here we have a tennis fan, sufficiently interested that he's writing to me about player compensation. Yet he is unclear about the next round. ("I love these NFL playoffs! Say, when and where is the Super Bowl, anyway?") If Eric is (quite understandably) confused, what hope is there for Joe Sports Fan? As it turns out, the next rounds can't be determined in advance because a) it's not clear which country will win and thus will or won't host and b) it's hard to book a venue on a conditional basis. ("Hey, Providence, we might need your Civic Center for a week. But if Nicolas Massu and the gang can spring the upset, and Chile beats the U.S., well, forget it.")
• Love a/k/a AKA.
• Agree. If we can condition ourselves to call a grown man named "Chad" by the new handle "Ocho Cinco," well, we should be able to handle Steffi to Stefanie.
• Beats me. Though the WTA brain trust will tell you that on-court coaching is the most captivating television this side of Charlie Sheen. If you get Tennis Magazine, read Mary Carrilo's blistering critique of this "innovation."
• Very good. And Venus Williams (2000 Wimbledon and U.S. Open) before that.
• Appreciate the correspondence. If I had the good fortune of living in Santa Fe, I wouldn't be wasting time writing to sports writers either. I didn't realize what a hot topic this was. I'm not sure I agree with David, though. Nadal fights like heck on a tennis court. In all other contexts he despises confrontation.
• I'll stick with Robert Kendrick.
• In a rematch from last year's ITA National Division III Women's Team Indoor Championship, the 2011 title would ultimately be decided by a showdown at No. 6 singles. Behind the racket of Emory's Laura Cavalla, who had not previously taken court until the two teams were knotted up 4-4 on the final day, with everything on the line and everyone watching intently, top-seeded Emory prevailed, capturing their second straight title, once again knocking off conference rivals, University of Chicago.
Tweet By Petkorazzi: Had the honor to practise with my countrywoman Steffi Graf yesterday ... what a woman and idol for everybody! #starstruck
• Speaking of the Dallas Challenger, Dirk Nowitzki -- a terrific tennis player in his own right -- stopped by to watch the semis. Marc Stein told us, so we know it's true.
• And we thought these guys were clinging to tradition ...the Wimbledon semis and finals will be shown, live, in 3-D theaters around the world.
• Age 40 and
• Can't afford a trip to Vegas: just
• Kenneth Quek of Kuala Lumpur: Hi Jon, Found a candid and insightful interview with Sven Groeneveld in three parts.
• This week's unsolicited book recommendation:
• Dot Shields of Marshfield, WI has LLOS: Watching Paul Capdeville best John Isner, I had a long opportunity to decide who (else) PC reminds me of ... Ray Romano (aka, Ray Barrone, star of Everybody Loves Raymond). I offer you these two images for comparison:
Have a great week everyone!