Outlook on Federer remains same following Tsonga upset; more mail
• Let's start today by dispensing plaudits or, as the kids call them, props. To Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for winning four-set quarterfinals on a day when neither had their best stuff. To Bernie Tomic for staring down the moment -- a good sign for the future -- and outplaying Djokovic for large chunks of time. To Andy Murray for taking care of business. Mostly to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for playing a dazzling three sets of tennis and coming back to defeat Federer.
No sooner had they shaken hands at the net, the mail and tweets came from the "career undertakers" prepared to squirt embalming fluid on Federer. Yet, here's what's funny about today's match: it doesn't really change the picture at all. Federer is not the player he once was. It's delusional to argue otherwise. He doesn't win as much. He's now lost at Wimbledon three of the last four years. He doesn't compete as consistently. He's more susceptible to big ball strikers. Take Nadal out of the equation and notice his opponents in this run of Slam losses: Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, Djokovic and Tsonga (and Juan Martin del Potro before that), all of them big, flat hitters who more or less overpowered him.
Here's the bright side: He's still a reliable second-week player. Even in these last 18 months, he's gone QF/QF/SF/SF/F/QF at the majors. Some days he can deliver the goods, as he did last month against Djokovic. Some days he can't, such as he couldn't Wednesday when Tsonga was simply better in the end -- and gave Federer no sniffs on the serve. If he's losing in week one and being upset by the likes of George Bastl, the picture changes. If he's back to winning Slams, the picture changes. But right now Federer is what he is: a contender at every Slam, a favorite at none.
• The question now: can he extend his stay? Those last three sets were sensational. Serving. Shotmaking. Net play. Today's match recalled Tsonga's obliteration of Nadal in Melbourne in 2008. This was one of those Wii Tennis matches. Then he came back down to earth. It's probably worth noting, though, that in Tsonga's news conference he was astonishingly calm. Low-humming answer. Nothing sinister but few smiles. Hardly in disbelief. And, without being arrogant, there were a few sound bites that suggested he knew he had this in him. "I think I'm the kind of player who likes these big moments."
• Since when do nicknames require consent? I know a lot are offended by Gilbert, his nicknames, and whip out the "Ugly American" charge. But it comes from the right place. It's chummy, not derisive.
• They are indeed reprimanded. Sometimes harshly. Just not publicly. Which is as it should be. When athletes get a whiff that a sports official is on shaky ground with their superiors, said official is cooked. Here's a mailbag mandate. Or at least a request. Can we be critical -- which is fine when warranted -- without calling for heads? Unemployment is brutal stuff. Too often we're very cavalier about demanding someone be fired. The official yesterday surely had a rough time out there. But we suggesting she lose her job over one bad day at the office?
• Agree. The top four players have each been for two or three Grand Slams this year. How can that be a bad thing, especially when you can see the alternative, occurring, as it is, simultaneously on the women's side?
• Two theories, apart from gamesmanship, that have been floating around. 1) Nadal worries about his durability more than he worries about opponents. The former is, in his mind, much more a threat to his success. So he is panicked by aches and pains and tweaks in a way he isn't panicked by 4-4 in the fifth set. 2) When players pull out of events, they require an excuse that goes beyond fatigue. (See: the fallout from Federer when he bailed on Halle.) By referencing injury and frequently calling the trainer, Nadal can cite the injury when he pulls out of Davis Cup and decides, hypothetically, that he doesn't want to play both Cincinnati and Canada. Just some food for thought.
• For the record, the Klitschko brothers are just comically awful trash talkers. (Any time your opponent describes you in the most vile terms and, in response, you reference your advanced degree, it's time for new material.) Anyway, yes, you're right. If the worse thing we can say about the top tennis players is that a) they're arrogant and b) they call the trainer too often, we're doing pretty well.
• Luke of Adelaide: Alicia Molik made an interesting point while commentating a match for Fox Sports in Australia. She said she felt that a contributing reason for the prevalence of parent/coaches on the WTA is because it can be more cost effective for the player. While Grand Slams provide equal prize money, all the other tour events do not. She also claimed 60 percent of a female tennis player's earnings can come from Grand Slam events, and if a player isn't able to take deep cuts into Grand Slam draws consistently, then hiring a high-quality professional coach and breaking even at the end of the year becomes a huge problem. Interesting food for thought when equal prize money is brought up as a negative.
• John Isner will be headed to Newport, R.I., for Fourth of July week to compete in the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, hosted at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 4-10.
• The United States Tennis Association announced the nine national finalists for the 2011 USTA Starfish Award. The award honors exceptional high school coaches who have a profound impact on young people's lives through a "No-Cut" policy for their high school tennis teams: Terri Cunningham of Winter Park (Fla.) High School; Kenneth Griffith of Indian Head (Md.) Henry E. Lackey High School; Jim Neal of Niskayuna (N.Y.) High School; Jim Solomon of West Hartford (Conn.) Hall High School; Donna Stauffer of Wildwood (Mo.) Lafayette High School; Roger Sunderman of Hastings (Neb.) High School; Don Tellefsen of Oak Creek (Wis.) High School; Marceil Whitney of Redmond (Was.) High School and Matt Wiemers of McCook (Neb.) High School.
• Don of London: Interesting video about how different the balls are.
• Jen of Seattle: Did you see the
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