Mailbag: Is Alexandr Dolgopolov for real? Do players fib about age?
While waiting out another Key Biscayne rain delay ... build that roof!
• The majority of the questions this week seemed to be downers.
Thanks, Michael, for giving us a chance to go positive and discuss Alex Dolgopolov, who's playing at an absurdly high level these days. The story of the men's game so far in 2011 has been Novak Djokovic -- his winning streak, his likeability, his continued residence (rent-free!) in Federer's head. But one of the stronger secondary plots has been the emergence of Dolgopolov, who beat Tsonga on Monday and -- don't look now -- could be a top 10 player before long. He may lack an "E" but he plays exceptional "D," scrambling to balls and prolonging points with his quickness and anticipation. But for a guy whose physique remind me of Lleyton Hewitt (he's generously listed at 5-11, 157 pounds), he sure doesn't get overhit much. Apart from the results, it's nice to see a young player enjoying himself, clearly savoring his rise. The other day we discussed Andy Murray's putrid demeanor. Dolgopolov is the opposite. You see how passionate and genial he is and you have to believe that has a salutary effect when he plays.
• So as I mentioned a few weeks ago, there's an open secret in tennis: some players are older than their listed age. Why? Because sponsors are looking for the "next big thing" and, in the eyes of marketers, a 17-year-old prospect is more appealing than a 20-year-old prospect. It's tough for players from some countries, including the U.S., to fudge their age. It's easier for players from other countries. (What's more, in some countries, birth certificates are not part of the public record so it's hard to confirm.)
In any event, a former WTA Tour player told me this story (names are being protected):
"My friend was a strong junior player in the Northeast. One spring, she was visiting a prestigious Florida academy where a hotshot junior had arrived from overseas. 'I want you to play with Jane Doe,' the head of the academy announced. 'She's only 11.' My friend, then 13 or so, was surprised to see that the 11-year-old was a towering presence who blistered the ball. She pasted my friend.
"A year or so later, my friend had returned for a few weeks at the academy. One day, the instructor walked up to her court. 'I want you to play with this amazing girl I have here. Her name is Jane Doe. She's only 11.' Of course, it was the same player, now taller and a stronger player. Still 11. Again, she pasted my friend.
"The following year, my friend was at a different Florida academy. One day the owner of the academy comes to her court. 'This afternoon, a girl is stopping by. Going to be a star one day. Amazing player. Her name is Jane Doe.'
"'Let me guess,' my friend said. 'She's only 11.'
"'Maybe she just turned 11,' responded the academy head. 'But I think she's ten.'"
Jane Doe went on to have a successful WTA career.
Here's an irony: When the WTA established the Age Eligibility Rules, there might have been a temptation for an up-and-coming player to adjust her age upward in order to play. Who knew that some players would (allegedly) adjust their ages downward? If the top echelon -- devoid as it is of teenagers -- appears old now, imagine how old it would be if everyone gave their correct age. Bone density scans for everyone!
• Yeah, I'm not sure I got that either. Her sentiments were understandable, especially given how much travel she does
• Devil's advocacy (pro bono!): What does it say about the value of the stat when the player winning the set has such an abysmal ratio? Honestly, I see your point and don't disagree. You wish the top player in the world had more power. And her lack of weapons bit her again in Key Biscayne.
• This is from Sunday night:
• And you thought Flemish was Kim Clijsters' native tongue.
• I thought you were going to ask: What does it say for the doubles game when the singles guys decide to enter and beat up on the rank and file? Sure, doubles is something of a crapshoot -- all the more so given the "super tiebreak." Literally, one lapse and it's over. But I'm not sure this is a bad thing. The top players have an incentive to enter. The "fluke" factor is an inducement. There's some "time certainty" with the respect to the duration of matches. We all snickered when the ATP tried to masquerade cost-cutting measures as "doubles enhancement." But overall, maybe they weren't so bad.
• A few of you mentioned this. Again, I think we have to respect the sisters' decision and move on. Ain't happening. Next topic.
• Malisse's talent has never been in doubt. Neither has his shotmaking. For a good decade now -- remember he was a few games from reaching the 2002 Wimbledon final! -- he's been one of the more naturally gifted players in the sport. The questions have always been about his temperament and his mental ability.
• Says Sharko: 500 zero-pointers stay in the ranking for 12 months. As soon as one of those come off, Dubai will go in its place and 300 points will be added ... Top 30 commitment players are required to play four 500 events in a calendar year, of which one is to be played after the U.S. Open.
Roger Federer only played one 500 event last year and therefore received three "zero-pointers" (i.e. ranking penalties). These zero-pointers will stay on his ranking for 52 weeks. He therefore can only count one 500 event until these zero pointers start dropping. This is why Federer currently has three zeroes listed in his points breakdown and 2010 Basel (500 points) which is better than the 300 points he received from 2011 Dubai .
As soon as 2010 Hamburg drops, 2011 Dubai will take its place.
• Before we get to Dawn's question, spearheaded by the excellent Tennis Channel documentary, there's a movement afoot to get Vitas Gerulaitis inducted into the HOF. I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Given the precedent, I think Dawn's list is too short. If time stopped today who's in? Federer and Nadal are no brainers. Djokovic gets the nod by virtue of his two Slams, his various wins against "Federal," his Davis Cup heroics and camp's daring fashion statements. Roddick would get my vote. One Slam is shaky but it's offset by the lengthy top 10 tenancy, the Wimbledon success and the Davis Cup loyalty. Hewitt gets my (admittedly grudging) vote due to his on-court contributions. JMDP isn't there yet, but he's on his way. Others? The Bryans in the doubles wing. Maybe Nestor too. Maybe next week we'll do the women.
• I'm thinking maybe Bartoli's figures underwent some sort of Eurozone conversion rate. My favorite part was the set-up:
"I did a test when I was younger, but I'm not really someone that is really telling everyone, 'Oh, I'm so smart.' I'm kind of hiding it."
And she's still not as smart as
• Lauren of Chicago, Ill.: "In regard to the question a couple of weeks ago about top 10 players competing in Challenger events: Andy Roddick, then No. 3, played doubles with Ginepri at the 2007 Surbiton Challenger. I only remember because they lost in the first round and Roddick was fined for not for doing an interview. Are there any other more recent examples of top 10 players competing in challenger doubles draws?"
• Helen of Philadelphia: "Was I hallucinating, or was that really Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
• Shayne of Louisville: "Like Leonard from Burlington, I am also fascinated by the small details of tennis. To follow up on his letter about players shaking hands with the umpire, I always found it awkward when they lean so far forward from so high up. Honestly, it's got to be difficult to execute a firm handshake from that position anyway? I'm waiting for one of them to actually fall out on to the court (are there seat belts in those chairs?) My thought: the cordial thing to do would be for the umpire to step down from the perch right after match point, stand by the net, offer a handshake while looking eye to eye with the players."
• Wow.... RT @ivokarlovic: Omg. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife and hide yo husband RT @serenawilliams I'm hungry
• Continuing our stats discussion: Check out
• Non-Spanish or Serbian readers: You think YOUR country has tennis issues: Roger Draper must go!
• J. Charles of Pennsylvania kicking analytics: "I just had to run the numbers on this streak by Djokovic. We all know he is up to 20 matches in a row, but I needed to know just how hot he is right now. I just could not remember another player handing out this many bagels, and so I decided to put my actuarial expertise to work and crunch some numbers. I remember Federer was red-hot going into the year-end championships in 2005: 35-match win streak sandwiched between a loss in the French Open final to Nadal, and a loss in the year-end championships final to Nalbandian. So I decided this would be a good benchmark to use. I got all my information off the ATP website, and all I had to do was some simple addition and division. My initial instinct was confirmed: Novak has handed out seven bagels over the course of 20 matches, and in 2005 Roger had 3 in 35 matches. In 2005 Federer was giving up, on average, 4.3 games per set (that means many sets were 6-4 and 7-5) but was winning 88.2% of all set played. Novak is winning slightly fewer sets, at 87.2%, but is only dropping 2.9 games per set, about 2/3 Federer's number. This is a statistically significant difference, and means that Novak is breezing through the average match 6-3, 6-3. Don't know that I have the time or numbers to compare ND to some other streaks of earlier eras, but I am guessing it matches up pretty well."
• Ivan H. of New York has "a jolly and hairy long-lost pair of siblings" for us:
Have a great week everyone!