Tommy Haas beats Roger Federer and wins a tournament. Mere months after losing in the first round of a $50K challenger, Melanie Oudin wins her first WTA event. The USTA announces a nine-figure capital improvement plan to the National Tennis Center that does not, shockingly, involve plans for a roof, covered court or even a canvas tarp. Oh, and we're barely a week removed from one major and a week removed from another. Yet most of the chatter this week surrounded David Nalbandian, who gave new zest to the phrase "foot fault." We aim to please, though, so we'll start here...
Jon, I get that what David Nalbandian did was bad. He kicked the wooden barrier, which injured a linesperson. He lost the match, and the associated points and prize money. He was hit with a $12K fine. Apparently, these are the rules. So please help me understand how this is so different from what Djokovic did in the French Open final to his Perrier bench? It splintered into a hundred pieces, had to be carted off and replaced with a new one, while a staffer picked up the shards from the court. Yes, Nalbandian unintentionally hurt someone, but while the base action was virtually the same, the punishments are wildly different. Did Djokovic even get a fine? What gives?
-- Kristine, Grand Rapids, Mich.
? This question encapsulated a lot of the issues, but we could have picked from any of a hundred. So first, Djokovic was fined $2,000 for his Paul Bunyan job on the bench at Roland Garros. (Here it is for those who missed it.)
Nothing to condone but it's not exactly the same as kicking the barrier inches from where another man sits. Also, similar actions, different results, different penalties? We do this all the time. The guy who gets a DUI gets off easier than the guy whose drunk driving resulted in a fatality. Try raising this defense: "But we both drove drunk. The base action was the same. I just happened to kill someone. Why should our punishments be different?" Good luck with that one.
Especially at a time of year when tennis should be top-of-mind (note: voguish corporate speak) it's a pity that the sport has been hijacked by Nalbandian's grand act of jackassdom. Even Pardon the Interruption -- which usually abides by a fatwa not to mention tennis, even the day after Major championships -- ran video of this episode.
So many parties looked bad here. Nalbandian disgraced himself and then, to borrow from Churchill, after hitting rock bottom, he began to dig. New rule: when your pathetic tantrum resulted in another human getting transported to a hospital, maybe it's not the best time to launch into your tired Grandpa Simpson rant about the ATP's regulations and "pressures" from scheduling demands.
The crowd, weirdly, booed, chanted and yelled "play on," as if is this were some obscure technicality Nalbandian had breached. The tournament then appeared to pass the buck. "To have the match ending this way is extremely disappointing but there isn't much we can do about it," said the director. "Rules are rules. We are under the governance of ATP rules." Implication: were it not for that autocratic ATP, we'd be OK with the match continuing.
The ATP -- the quasi union that either represents Nalbandian or lays down the law or pressures him into potential criminal acts with its taxing demands or something like that -- hasn't exactly been providing clear and concise information/condemnation either. Prudence is often advisable, but there's a video that anyone can access with a few keystrokes. What are you guys waiting for? Fingerprints? Ballistics reports?
There are many issues in tennis inspiring healthy, impassioned debate. This is not one of them. You injure an official, you shouldn't merely be defaulted. You should be suspended and fined. Period. In no credible league does an athlete injuring someone as a result of his fit of pique and then go about his business as though nothing happened. (Then again, in no respectable league does an athlete make racist remarks to fans and not get suspended as well.)
Finally, I feel like there's been a lot of dancing -- tango, no doubt -- around this, but let's just say it: In criminal cases, the prior record, past acts and overall character of a bad actor can be relevant. Here, too. Nalbandian is not exactly known for his pleasant disposition and amiable personality. He's had beefs with assorted players, including his own Davis Cup teammates. He's not exactly a media darling. Especially for a guy who's earned in excess of $10 million in prize money, he has a monstrous persecution complex and is quick to complain about every conceivable inconvenience. As recently as January, he was fined for allegedly dousing an Australian Open official with water.
It's interesting to note the players' response. Not much support from the rest of the association. Had this been, say, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Andy Murray or John Isner -- actually, why name names? any of a hundred other players -- there would be a much greater effort to spin this as a regrettable and uncharacteristic lapse that occurred -- all together, everyone -- in "the heat of battle." * Tim Henman whacks a ballgirl at Wimbledon, gets disqualified and rarely gets grief for it. Why? Because on balance, he's a good guy. In this case, it's a sour guy who got what he deserved. Here's hoping the ATP steps up and issues a ban.
* Aside: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have been in more high-stakes battles than anyone, do nothing more objectionable than yell "shut up" and express mild frustration to a referee about wet conditions. If they can deal with the pressure, lesser lights look like even greater jackasses when they torment officials, dress down the chair umpire and generally behave like cosseted brats.
While we're here, a number of you, both on Twitter or email, cited the "double standard" with respect to Serena Williams' blow-up at the U.S. Open in 2009. First, we should acknowledge that the incidents were of a slightly different nature. Though Nalbandian injured the official, I don't think that was his intent. In Serena's case, the threat was, unambiguously, directed at the official. (Of course, you could just as easily say: Serena only threatened; Nalbandian actually caused an injury.) An outburst at a Grand Slam semifinal televised globally -- including prime time network TV in the United States -- is going to get more scrutiny than a match at a Wimbledon tuneup. And Serena Williams, global superstar, is also going to get more publicity than a zero-time Slam winner, currently ranked outside the top 35.
But beyond that, there IS comparable outrage -- as there should be. Go on twitter or read the posts and Nalbandian is getting hammered. (Like Serena, it's as much for the lack of contrition as the acts themselves. Serena describes her 2009 experience: "I got really popular. A lot of people were telling me they thought I was super cool, that they never saw me so intense. So, yeah, it was awesome." Nalbandian on Sunday: "Sometimes we feel the pressure from the ATP.") No one is turning a blind eye or rushing to minimize what he did. Again, short of banning him from the Olympics, which seems heartless, I would have no problem if the ATP gave him 90 days of unpaid leave.
On we go...
Has there ever been a time with more future Hall of Famers all playing at the same time? By my count there are nine, maybe 10!!! Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Roddick, Hewitt, Sharapova, V. Williams, S. Williams, Clijsters and possibly Kuznetsova. Golden age, indeed.
-- Kelly, Louisville, Kent.
? Your point is well-taken but you forget about the limbo bar for admission. Go back and look at a drawsheet from, say, Wimbledon in 2000. There were probably a dozen H-of-Fers in that women's event alone: Capriati, Venus, Serena, Lindsay Davenport, Seles, Mary Pierce, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis, Sanchez Vicario, Mauresmo, and Clijsters. Keep in mind, too, that Graf and Novotna played the previous year.
Another reason why tennis is better than golf was mentioned by Rafa at his pre-tournament presser in Halle. Paraphrasing, he said that in tennis everyone loses except the winner, in golf you come in 3rd, 5th etc. Does a third place finisher in golf consider himself a loser? Does a semifinalist at Roland Garros consider himself a 3rd or 4th place finisher?
-- Debra, Danvers, Mass.
? I don't know if I buy that. I think that, beyond the winners, a lot of players at majors go home happy. Sloane Stephens sure didn't get on that plane (in first class, no less) disappointed. Think Sara Errani was sad? Brian Baker? David Goffin? Varvara Lepchenko, who left $100,000 to the good and qualified (or ought to anyway) for the U.S. Olympic team? The difference, though -- and maybe Debra is getting at this point -- is that 127 players in a tennis draw actually lose. As in, they walk off the court with fewer sets than their opponent. In golf, there isn't the acute sense of defeat. If you finished 13th or whatever, you're still, literally, "in the money."
Daniel Nestor is the Bobby Orr of Tennis? Orr, probably the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of skates, (yes, better than Gretzky,) never celebrated scoring a goal. He would humbly skate back to his blue line and ready himself for the next faceoff. Did you see Nestor win the French Open doubles? After match point, he barely broke a smile; simply shook his partner's hand, the Bryan brothers' hands, and then left the court. No "in-your-face, Djokovic shirt-ripping" machismo. Would you say that Daniel is the ultimate tennis gentleman, or does he need to fire it up a bit and bring some life to under-subscribed doubles matches?
-- Michael, Halifax
? I like Daniel Nestor. And, yes, I applaud his demeanor. In fact, I will plug his wine right now.
But I don't buy the thesis. I think a lot of post-match histrionics have to do with the context of the occasion. You win a six-hour insta-classic against your rival, one of the great matches of all-time, and it's easy to see why you might feel like a self-congratulatory shirt-rip is in order. You win a match in straight sets, defending your title, and it would be weird to party like it's 1999.
As an aspiring journalist, I'm curious about your opinions of the media room. Are there rivalries, like there are in the locker room? What do you think of the state of tennis writing? Are the bloggers accepted by the old guard?
-- Nicki, Paris
? Is your real name Onika? (How many people have made that lame joke lately?) I usually pass on these questions, because I think fans care a lot less about the media than the media thinks they do. But here goes:
I've said many times in the past: for all of the sport's issues and challenges, finding capable television commentators is not one of them. Far as I'm concerned, the ESPN team, the Tennis Channel team and the McEnroe/Carillo/Ted Robinson troika on NBC serve the viewers quite well on the whole. I'll say the same thing for the pressroom. I don't want to name names, because invariably I'll leave someone out of a lengthy list. But there's a lot of talent and, overwhelmingly so, a lot of good people in the press room. Different writers have different strengths. Some are better at X's and O's and breaking down a match. Some have an encyclopedic knowledge of history. Some are stylists. Some specialize in a certain player or country. But overall -- thanks both to the web and the international nature of the sport -- I like that fans have a lot of excellent options.
As for the bloggers, far as I'm concerned, they are a welcome addition, especially as newspapers have cut back their coverage. At some level, it's a bit more of a pure meritocracy. Fans will find those with original voices, particularly sharp observations, or keen senses of humor or reporting chops. Especially given tennis' niche status and problematic treatment by television, I take a big tent, more-the-merrier approach to media. Unless you're abusing your privileges -- to wit: the clown who asked to take his picture with John McEnroe in the Paris press room -- I think the media room is, generally, a congenial place. Put another way, it's been a long time since this.
Jon, who do you think is more likely to win another Slam, Federer or Venus Williams?
-- Rod Villorante, San Francisco
? Good one. The knee-jerk response is Federer, who is ranked much higher and whose game (and, not unrelatedly, thirty-something body) is in a much better place. On the other hand, Federer needs to go through the two-headed monster, Djokodal, as well as Tsonga and Berdych (the previous two players to beat him at Wimbledon.) Venus plays on a far less top-heavy field, in which, who knows, she could meet a Sara Errani type player in the final. All of which is to say: my answer is Federer. But it's not as simple as it might seem on its face.
Hi Jon. Your Latin is usually quite good, especially considering your new world background. Here however I'm quite sure your linguistic skills failed you: "Sharapova's Career Slam is exceptional and it elevates her significantly. But this achievement does not, de facto, enable her to eclipse those did not win the Career Slam." You meant ipso facto.
-- Roger of Zurich, Switzerland
? Ex post facto: you're right, I'm wrong.
I am a big fan of your column and enjoy your tennis knowledge, unfailing good humor and fine turn of phrase. That's why I thought it is worth mentioning that Howitzers fire at a steep angle, so describing JMDP's shot as a "howitzer of a forehand" implies a "moon ball", probably not the image you wanted to invoke.
-- Peter Kirievsky, Sydney, Australia
? Ipso facto, I didn't know that. Thanks.
Hi Jon, loved your 50 thoughts on the French Open! Do you think there will be an asterisk attached to Maria Sharapova's win in Paris? I mean, apart from a struggling Kvitova at No. 4, Sharapova did not face a top 20 player en route to the title. Has there been an "easier" route to a major title ever since the inception of computer rankings?
-- Ahmed Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt
? I was surprised how many of you suggested that or a similar cheapening. Did she have the toughest draw? Not hardly. But she beat the seven players placed before her, which is all you can ask. Also, I think you need to look at her play qualitatively. Regardless of the opponent, it was easy to see that Sharapova was stroking the ball, taking advantage of opportunities, dialing in a serve that has betrayed her in the past, and generally comporting herself like a champion. No asterisk.
Could you pretty please explain the selection criteria for the U.S. Olympic team? Is it really possible that Donald Young could be chosen over Ryan Harrison. Please say it isn't so.
-- Jenny Christoffersen, Marietta, Ga.
? Just following the rankings. A few of you have wondered why certain slumping players -- or players who stink on grass -- don't do the "patriotic" thing and give up their spot for a countryman with a better chance of winning. I think that's an exceptionally big ask. If I'm Donald Young -- and sometimes, in my weird dreams, I am -- I'm going to the Olympics, even if my chances of winning are roughly the same as David Nalbandian getting a sportsmanship award.
She may not be naturally strong- I remember her saying she couldn't even lift two plates- but Sharapova hits HARD.
-- O Garcia, Manila, Philippines
? Right you are.
Jon - what's your over/under on Nadal equaling or surpassing Fed's 16 majors?
-- Sujata B.
? The X Factor here is obviously Nadal's body. Barring the unexpected, I don't know who touches him on clay for the foreseeable future. If we put, say, four French Opens in Nadal's ledger... you're asking whether he can pick up one more Slam off of clay in the next five years?
The counter: 1) Don't count Federer out yet. He may not be quite through. 2) Nadal beat Djokovic on clay, but still needs to prove he can handle the guy ahead of him on other surfaces. 3) Physical durability. Unlike so many hypotheticals -- would Sanchez Vicario beat Sharapova? -- we'll eventually get an answer here. I say we sit back and enjoy.
Could you convince an earplug company to do a promotion at a tennis event where they hand out ear plugs to fans outside the stadium? A cheeky little PR stunt. I'm assuming no tournament would allow earplugs to be handed out inside the stadium. Be kind of fun to see hundreds or thousands of fans with bright orange earplugs at a tennis match to protest the screeching.
-- Noah, Portland, Ore.
? I sense a sponsorship opportunity. (Though I can't imagine either tour would be happy with the event that went along with this.)
? If you missed it, here's the latest SI Tennis Podcast, this one with the world's top ranked junior Taylor Townsend.
? Want to join a Wimbledon suicide pool? Join here.
? I wish I had done this before Father's Day, but here are five unsolicited books from friends to order/preorder for the your summer reading list:
1) Ike's Bluff, by Evan Thomas, best known in the Republic of Tennis as Louisa Thomas' father.
2) Dream Team, by my co-conspirator Jack McCallum.
3) The Greatest Tennis Matches of All-Time, by peerless tennis historian Steve Flink.
4) Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey.
5) One Shot at Forever, by Chris Ballard.
? Rich of New York City: "In a men's doubles match with Rui Machado and Kevin Anderson vs. Juan Ignacio Chela and Zhang Ze, the abbreviated scoreboard would read MAC AND CHEZE. (Sorry... it's a slow day at the office.)"
? Mark Flannery of Fullerton, Calif.: "Here's another vote for Michael Chang' s 1989 French Open victory as the biggest upset of the Open era. In addition to beating Ivan Lendl in the fourth round, Chang defeated Pete Sampras in the second round and Stefan Edberg in the final."
? Press releasin': "The USTA and U.S. National Wheelchair Tennis Team Coach Dan James today announced the nine players who will represent the United States in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. The men's team will be led by Stephen Welch (Southlake, Texas), Jon Rydberg (Oakdale, Minn.), Steve Baldwin (San Diego, Calif.), and Noah Yablong (Tucson, Ariz.).
The women's team will feature Emmy Kaiser (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.), and Mackenzie Soldan (Louisville, Ky.).
The quad team, led by two-time doubles gold medalists David Wagner (San Diego, Calif.), and Nick Taylor (Wichita, Kan.), will also include first-time Paralympian Bryan Barten (Tucson, Ariz.). Wagner, who is currently world No.1 in both singles and doubles, will be competing for his first gold medal in men's quad singles at the Paralympics."
? An oldie but what a nice story on Gigi Fernandez.
? Help Total Tennis of Saugerties, NY win $250K grant from Chase. Go here and vote accordingly.
? Press releasin': "Stanford's Nicole Gibbs and USC's Steve Johnson have been named the 2012 Campbell/ITA National College Players of the Year, the ITA announced. Additionally, Gibbs and doubles partner Mallory Burdette were named the Campbell/ITA National Women's Doubles Team of the Year, while Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State were honored on the men's side."
? To clarify: According to the Olympic Tennis Event fact sheet - seven of the Wimbledon match courts will become practice courts during the Olympic Games with the other 12 being used for matches.
? Fellow David Foster Wallace philes: Dan Hermelin of Santa Clarita, Calif., caught this.
? Press releasin': "On the heels of his 7th French Open Championship title, 11th Grand Slam singles title and his 50th ATP World Tour-level singles championship, Rafael Nadal is hitting the auction block in the name of charity, along with 2012 French Open Champion Maria Sharapova. Nadal will give one lucky winner the tennis lesson of a lifetime, imparting a bit of the wisdom, tips and tricks that have catapulted him to the enviable position of being one of the only tennis players in history to reach the epic number seven milestone. Bid here."
? Props to Patrick Yue of Palo Alto, Calif., who won the French Open Suicide Pool and takes home Roland Garros swatch for his efforts.
? Kate of Merlin, Ore., has long lost siblings: "Dan Fogelberg (I love Dan Fogelberg!) and John Isner.
? Finally, reader Peter Foukal had written an interesting piece about the tennis powerhouse that is the Czech Republic.