Professional tennis' place in the quest for a better life; more mail
? That's really interesting. And we could keep coming up with more examples. In some sense, aren't Venus and Serena Williams -- whose father was raised in the Jim Crow South -- first-generation Americans too? The knee-jerk response is that this bodes ill for American tennis, at the least for finding the next star at the country club. The more considered response is: "Great. If I'm tasked with identifying talent, I have a bit of data here and I might now consider targeting -- or endowing -- first-generation kids. And at least taking this under consideration."
We could take this discussion in all sorts of directions but I was struck by how counterintuitive this seems. If I were a first-generation parent, I'd be inclined to push my kid into team sports for reasons of socialization and assimilation. Even if I were a rational actor and had a "desire for a better" life and motivations rooted in life-altering wealth, I would chose sports that A) offered the best odds of a scholarship and B) had guaranteed contracts for the pros, not tennis' eat-what-you-kill system. If you were already part of the establishment, isn't that when you would push (gently) your kid into a high-risk, high-reward individual sport?
Jim and I had a bit of back of forth here and I expressed one of my concerns with so many tennis discussions: the consistently small sample sizes. One player can radically change the reputation and perception of an entire country. One fluke injury can take down an entire country's junior philosophy. Two contemporary players from the same country happen to emerge and suddenly a boom is afoot. Also, my strong suspicion is that in most sports, the best players are the ones motivated by a desire to escape endemic poverty. (College basketball coaches joke that they don't recruit kids who come from three-car-garage homes.) But overall I think Jim makes a very convincing case here. Be interested to hear your thoughts ...
? Thanks, Matt. But I feel like that joke (such as it was) has played out. Let's be unequivocally (and redundantly) clear. Raonic is Canada's prize. Hands off its Milos. I did though, get a kick our of loyal reader Ole Harder, who identified himself as being from Toronto, America* and then, after his question, noted: "Technically speaking, Toronto is in North America (Canada, if you want to get specific). But given the dearth of truly great American cities these days, you have to take what you can get."
Well played, sir.
? Let me lighten a healthy debate by quoting the reader who asked whether the Hall of Fame "suffers from electile dysfunction."
OK, back to this matter at hand. First, I would say that it's hard, if not impossible, to compare sports here. We have a hard enough time equating pitchers and hitters (does 300 wins equal 500 home runs?). If we look at pure percentages, consider that even in the '70s, there were 26 major-league teams with 40-man rosters each season. So as a percent of the labor force, far fewer baseball players are enshrined and baseball is, in fact, much stricter.
Maybe we also need to ask: Why must all sports Hall of Fames have the same standards? If tennis is more inclusive, so what? Does it cheapen the achievements of the A-listers? Pete Sampras shouldn't have to share wall space with an accomplished doubles player or a one-Slam winner? Maybe. Again, this is an easy fix: You have A room and B room. I want Michael Chang acknowledged and honored. I just don't want his bust alongside Steffi Graf's and Roger Federer's. We should be able to accommodate that, no?
? I'm not sure I get the word "elegant" here. And I'm not sure I begrudge Djokovic the Younger the desire to play in the main draw, even if his ranking suggests that it's ill-deserved. But I do wonder what effect this will have on him. I know for a fact that some other players were displeased by the wild card. Marko Djokovic is already a marked man (no pun intended) because of his surname. Now all the more so because he's shown a willingness to trade on nepotism. Other players sure have a lot of motivation to beat him.
Lighter note: One of you asked whether Marko Djokovic learned to play tennis in a kiddie pool. Ba-da-bump.
? If you're a top player creating all sorts of value for a tournament -- well in excess of any prize you can win -- don't you deserve to be compensated? If you're a tournament that has paid a sanctioning fee and operating on thin margins, don't you A) deserve a means of shuffling high-value players into the draw even if their rankings don't merit automatic inclusion? (Again, I use the example of Venus Williams in Miami.) B) And don't you deserve to open your wallet to lure high-value players? (Federer in Rotterdam and Dubai.)
I suppose there are fairness concerns. If, say, Dubai has clearly indicated that Federer is a preferred player who provides value, might rules be bent to ensure that he remains in the draw? I don't know. He might get a preferential match time but it's not as though line calls are being manipulated in his favor. Overall, I think appearance fees work well, an efficient market that rewards value -- and forces buyers, in this case the events, to pay for it!
? Of course Andre Agassi could afford to miss the main-draw money, often a consideration for other players. But, yes, sometimes reconstructing your ranking away from the spotlight can be beneficial.
? Portland ties, even by proxy, get you special dispensation.
Tons of mail both maligning and defending Federer. Let's answer this and then put this to rest. I'm basically with David. A) Let's assume he meant that he didn't chose to
Takeaway: The statement is up for interpretation. You can be as charitable or exacting as you like. But let's move on. Deal?
Actually, check that: Let's linger for a beat. SI.com's Richard Deitsch and I were just marveling about this scene from Monday night's exhibition in New York. Federer loses to Andy Roddick and 15 or so minutes after the match, all players head to a press conference. Federer arrives first and sits down. He smiles, jokes with some familiar faces. A patch of time elapses -- maybe a few minutes -- and none of the other players arrived. There's no whiff of exasperation. No WTF look on his face.
Eventually, Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki walk in and the press conference begins. Small vignette. And, yes, "waiting patiently after a $1 million exhibition" doesn't qualify you for canonization. But it was telling. Imagine other similarly situated celebrities -- we begin with Tiger Woods -- being made to wait for a midnight press conference and passing the time pleasantly. Again, you witness countless little-but-telling moments like this and it makes it hard to summon much outrage when Federer makes a borderline arrogant comment.
? Story: The first time I went to the Cincinnati tournament, maybe 10 years ago, I pull into the hotel parking lot and stumble past a guy smoking. I assume it's Carl the Maintenance Guy on his break and I think to myself, How ironic: There's a tennis tournament going and this guy sucking down a Marlboro is a dead ringer for Sebastien Grosjean. No, wait. It IS Sebastien Grosjean. But, wait, he's smoking. Isn't that, like, a violation of the ATP's protocol? And through the years I've seen other players -- on both Tours; vast majority of them European or Russian -- breaking out the cancer sticks.
What can you say here? Is smoking conducive to being a top-flight athlete? No. But neither is Pringles, drinking beer, driving without a seat belt or 100 other inadvisable activities that players, exercising their prerogative, choose to undertake.
? I disagree with a lot of Patrick's sentiments. For starters, I don't mind the prevalence of head cases. It makes for great entertainment -- if, in a slightly guilty rubber-necky kind of way. And when players can surmount their nerves (see: Stosur, Sam), it adds a real layer of texture to the victory. And I think you could just as easily spin this as Girl Power feminist manifesto.
It's like an auditory tattoo. Victoria Azarenka and the gang are saying, "I defy your confessions, your politesse, your patriarchal rules, your inhibitions and your outdated opinions about what is socially acceptable. We're here. You hear? So deal with it."
? As for tournament tips, a friend of mine once told me that he brought a swimsuit and went to the beach to watch sunset between the afternoon and evening sessions. My best Miami dining tip is this -- and it comes with Cliff Drysdale's seal of approval as well.
? The readers take over. Marcus of Stockholm: "An interview with Soderling in a Swedish newspaper just revealed that he can "barely get off the couch" on some days and that although he does not want to consider the possibility of not recovering he realizes that "it could be three years until [he] is well, and by then it would be too late." A shame for us Swedes, since we don't have too many other players to be cheering about for the foreseeable future."
? Davis Cup success is obviously a missing element on the Federer résumé one that other players -- Nadal, Djokovic, even Sampras -- have, sometimes in abundance. Inasmuch as this could be offset with success in Olympics singles, that hasn't occurred. And while Switzerland is no tennis powerhouse, you could argue that Stan Wawrinka is a decent wingman. (Is he any worse than Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic?) So in that sense, it has SOME effect and bearing on Fed's status. Overall, though, I agree with you. Given that Federer does not anchor a strong team and given that he has succeeded where he has prioritized, I don't think middling Davis Cup results do all that much to undercut his G.O.A.T. status. Maybe we can revisit after the London Games.
? La Vec? Too French bistro-sounding?
? As a wise man once said: There's no money in poetry. And there's no poetry in money. But, sure, let's commence another limerick contest. I'm sure the good folks at one of the major racket manufacturers will be happy to kick in a prize.
? For those who missed it, here's our wrap from the BNP Paribas Showdown event at Madison Square Garden.
? A good piece on Rohan Bopanna.
? Want some cool Williams sisters swag?
? Nice piece on Larry Ellison and Indian Wells.
? Lisa Sandberg of Columbus, Ohio: "I know you've discussed the shrieking of Azarenka et al. to death, but I thought I would just add this. A couple of years ago I was down in Cincy at the Women's Open and Azarenka was playing on one of the side courts (Court 3). I couldn't take the noise after a while, so I headed over to the stadium court to watch the match there. For anyone who's been there, the stadium court is pretty big, and I was sitting along the side, up high, underneath the awning. I could still hear Azarenka shrieking all the way over on Court 3. 'Nuff said."
? A pair of unsolicited book recommendations by friends (since we haven't done this in a while): 1)
? Madison of New Jersey has long-lost twins: Mikhail Youzhny and Harry Potter.
Have a good week, everyone!