Hey folks. Just a programming note: I'll be at Wimbledon for the Olympic tennis and will write/tweet accordingly. For the U.S. audience, check out the Bravo Network, part of the NBC family, for some generous windows of tennis coverage. Here's a Mailbag before the Games begin...
Simple question, Jon. Does tennis belong in the Olympics.
-- Jeff, New York
Simple answer: absolutely. This is a vibrant, vital global sport, perfectly well-suited for showcasing in the Olympics. Though it has endured an 84-year absence, the return of mixed doubles is welcome, highlighting tennis' unique -- dare I say progressive -- dynamic with regard to gender in sports. The flip side is that the Olympics also benefit from tennis. Just look at how many athletes are trying for tickets to the tennis, how many tennis players will be carrying the flags from their countries, the reception the tennis players get when they tour the Olympic Village. (Very few, if any, are staying there, mostly a function of distance from the courts.)
We can continue pontificating but, really, I think the players are the best collective barometer. The entry list for the London Games, which begins Saturday at Wimbledon, rivals that of any tournament. Rafael Nadal pulls out and calls it "one of the saddest days of his career." Roger Federer is, by all accounts, giddy about this "once in a lifetime opportunity." Novak Djokovic? Check. Serena Williams? Check. Maria Sharapova? Check. Andy Roddick? Andy Murray? Victoria Azarenka... Check, check, check. You have players using the court system to try to make the team. You also have players like Paolo Suarez coming out of retirement for the chance to play. This is truly a unique opportunity. Many players will tell you the prospect of winning gold is as alluring as the prospect of winning a major. Jay Berger, the U.S. men's coach, spoke about this at some length on the latest SI Tennis Podcast.
If we're being honest, tennis is getting a boost this year from the historical venue. But truth is, they could hold the Olympics tennis event on a makeshift court in an East Anglia parking lot and it would be significant and relevant.
As I see it, there are two plausible objections (and you can read more about this debate here). First, the well-compensated stars and star athletes don't need to be siphoning attention and potential marketing opportunities from pure amateurs. I'm somewhat sympathetic to this, but pure amateurism disappeared long ago. Never mind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and selected football/soccer players. Even Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are millionaire athletes. Why should they compete and not Serena Williams or Roger Federer?
The other objection: Once every four years, the Olympics wreak havoc on the schedule, particularly the U.S. hardcourt circuit. (Now sponsored by Emirates Airlines.) This is true to a point. But I would submit the greater good of the sport is served when tennis is in the Olympics, even if it's at the expense of the Washington, D.C. player field or World TeamTennis.
I follow you on Twitter and am having a hard time figuring out what you have against the Bet-at-home Open. Clearly it bothers you. Please explain.
-- Frank, London
? As many of you know, I skew libertarian on most issues. But this gets me every time. Before majors, credentialed personnel (players, coaches, media, even drivers) often sign forms promising not to gamble. Among the harsh language and legalese, we acknowledge that if we are caught wagering, we will be escorted from the grounds, publicly shamed, subjected to stoning and so forth. Clearly, match manipulation -- made possible largely thanks to the ability to gamble online -- is an issue that tennis authorities deem a serious threat to the sport's integrity.
How, then, do you turn around and accept a sponsorship from "a leading European online gambling and sports betting company?" Go ahead and put a full, stocked bar at every concession, far as I'm concerned. But if you declare your event a "dry tournament" and make everyone take a sobriety pledge, how do you then accept a sponsorship from Budweiser or Seagrams?
A secondary issue: To what extent is the ATP circuit a single entity that can set guidelines and reject sponsors? And to what extent is it a collection of individual events which are independently owned and free to do business with whomever they want? (If you're interested -- or simply have trouble sleeping -- here's an article on the topic I recently co-wrote for a law journal.)
Still, if I were to use Bet-at-home.com to bet from my home on the Bet-at-Home Open, I would be told to stay home, banned from future events. Something's bass ackwards about that.
What do you make of Rafael Nadal pulling out of the Olympics? Did you ever write about that? And wasn't he supposed to carry the flag for Spain.
-- Chris Montgomery, London
? I will concede that the timing was a bit strange. But even immediately after Wimbledon, Nadal canceled an exhibition on account of knee pain. I wonder if he isn't thinking to himself: While Federer and Djokovic are grinding it out at a high-stakes event, I can take a much-needed break. While they will likely be tired -- if they play at all -- I will be fresh for Canada and Cincinnati, picking up some points that will help my ranking. I will also be fresher for the U.S. Open, an event at which I am 13-1 over the last two years. It's a pity to miss the Olympics, especially since I was given the honor of carrying the Spanish flag. But I did win a gold medal in 2008, which is a bit of consolation.
Watching the Andy Roddick-Michael Russell match Friday on ESPN2, the announcers (Sam Gore, Jimmy Arias and Brad Gilbert) were going over Andy's career achievements and came to the conclusion he's actually underappreciated, then proclaimed, "he was a great player, just had the misfortune of coming along at the wrong time with Federer/Nadal". I hate when people do this, Jon, because it cheapens the achievements of those who do come along in a time of strong players and ascend to the top, even if it is for a short time (see Jim Courier from '91-93) or hang around longer (see Lindsey Davenport being year-end No. 1 four times: 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005). What are your thoughts on this?
-- Damon, Hilliard, Ohio
? We hear this all the time with Murray too. I never really thought about it that way. But I think it's undeniable: By accident of birth some players haven't achieved what they would have, had they been born a few years earlier or later. In 2002, for instance, the male Grand Slam winners were Thomas Johansson, Al Costa, Lleyton Hewitt and Pete Sampras. Had, say, Andy Murray been in his prime then, you'd like to think his chances of winning a major would be quite good.
My pet peeve is players who have failed to win big prizes, but claim "If you had told me at the start of my career, I would achieve this much, I would have signed up on the spot!" I think this is a bit of a cop out. If you had told me at age 10 that you would pay me $50 a week for a lifetime job throwing water balloons at passing cars, I would have signed up for it, too. At some point, you adjust your expectations and goals, updating them to conform with reality. The relevant inquiry: how have you dealt with your gifts. Not how do your achievements compare with your ambitions when you started out.
Checking out the women in the top 100 by Nationality. Russia has 11, the US and the Czech Republic are second with eight. How did the tiny Czechs become such a power? They have certainly been under the radar.
-- Jerry White, The Villages, Fla.
? Keep in mind this was written before Rosol def. Nadal. Take it away, Peter Foukal.
With the extra week between the French and Wimbledon, how many additional grass-court tournaments might we see? Have sites been clamoring to get on the schedule? I just wonder how many grass-court facilities have the capacity to host pro tournaments.
-- John Hillburg, Mount Prospect, Ill.
? For those who missed it, starting in 2015, Wimbledon will be pushed back a week, so we'll get a three-week interval between the second and the third major. This won't be met with universal approval but, on balance, it's a good thing. The players could use the additional week to adjust to grass. The added week will give some dinged up players extra recovery time. Players from regions than other than Europe (it's a dwindling breed) can take advantage of extra time to visit the Prado and Stonehenge and Croatia's underrated beaches.
While this will create more of a grass-court "season" in the schedule, John is right to note that there is a facility issue. In order to host a WTA or ATP event, a venue needs to meet certain criteria. X number of courts. An on-site fitness facility. Various positions for cameras. There are a finite number of venues that meet the requirements and surface their courts with grass. One source of optimism: with the Wimbledon groundskeepers leading the way, we are seeing some real advances in "tennis horticulture." Maybe there are clubs or events out there that will seize the opportunity. Gentlemen, sod your engines!
Yo, Seattle's question about who will have the first arena/court named after them is moot. Add another item to the list of Federer's accomplishments.
-- Eric Maitland, San Diego
? Yeah, as many of you noted, that was an unforced error. Rather like a mis-hit with a 90-inch frame. Federer, of course, already has the court in Basel.
Fed gets Court One at Wimbledon named after him? El Jon, you're looking for trouble! From the Borg breast-beaters to the Becker boosters to the Sampras salivators... they're all going to accuse you of, in sequence, being anti-Scandinavian, to anti-serve-and-volley and of course, reverse-racism!
-- Nitin, Hyderabad, India
? For the record, that was a joke. When Federer is, say, 50 we can revisit. For now, we're not advocating naming a show court at a major after an active player.
Can you settle a bet: are the Olympics best-of-three or best-of-five sets? Thanks.
-- Monty, New Jersey
? Not sure who wins. But the matches are best-of-three, except for the men's final which will be best-of-five.
Hey Jon: I was recently at a pro event and heard players openly cursing during the matches. Can you tell us whether this is a new trend? I don't remember this in the past.
-- Patricia, Calif.
? It seems today, that all you see, is violence and movies and sex on TV....
If tennis were better about providing data, we could actually come up with an empirical answer about penalties for audible obscenities. But back here in the real world, the best we can do is talk anecdotally. I can't say I've noticed an uptick in cursing. Sure, you watch some matches and -- as is the case at most sporting events -- you may hear a bit of profanity. But given the standard set by McEnroe and Connors, I think you'd be hard-pressed to make the case it's any worse now than it was in prior generations.
? I love this from @robkoenigtennis.
? Too soon? Michael White: Irving, Texas: "Is this the REAL reason Nadal is skipping the Olympics?"
? Brian Jensen of San Diego: "I read your mailbag every week, but never write. But now I'm writing with more of a short comment, rather than question. One of my favorite images from the Wimbledon women's final? The high-five between Williams and Radwanksa during the post-trophy presentation walkabout on Centre Court. I thought it classy, charming, and evidence that both players appreciated the effort of the other as well as mutual appreciation of the chance to participate the occasion; win or lose. It made me end my viewing of the women's final with a smile for both players, and the game."
? Sonal of Mumbai, India: "Amul Dairy of India does some fantastic ads/spoofs on the current events in India and around the world. Here's one of Roger Federer's latest win and also featuring Andy Murray. Pretty much sums up the match and how you would feel afterward."
? Marc Nichol of Youngstown, Ohio: "So Jon, you didn't like my questions,comments/rants this week?.... cry... maybe you'll like this better...
? Franchesca, Irvine, Calif.: "Um, Mardy Fish didn't just PLAY in the Olympics -- he won a silver medal!"
? Doyle W. Srader, Eugene, Ore. regarding pronunciation discussion: "Whoops! Italian Countess, not Russian. Here's the reference."
? Cam Bennett of Geelong, Australia: "A fan's reflection on a retiring favorite."
? The first men's wild cards for the 2012 Western & Southern Open have been awarded to Americans Brian Baker, Ryan Harrison and Sam Querrey.
? Olympic news: Alona Bondarenko (UKR) has withdrawn through injury, and is replaced by Heather Watson (GBR).
? Dozens of you helped with the Shvedova pronunciation.
First, we go to the source:
? Chris Horton, Chicago: "Hi Jon. Maybe a Slavic linguist will respond, but in reference to the question from the reader about names ending in OVA and how he thought the emphasis would be on the "O", I always thought that was an anglicized pronunciation. For example, I always thought the true Russian pronunciation of Sharapova places the emphasis on the second "a", but everyone, including Maria, has given in to pronouncing it (incorrectly) with the emphasis on the "o".
? Barbara Beck: Rochester, Minn.: "Answer about pronunciation of -OVA names. The emphasis should actually NEVER be on the O. SHVEDova is not an outlier - it's practically the first time one of these names is being pronounced correctly. Similarly, it should be shaRAPova, not sharaPOVa."
? Andy Wu, Minneapolis: Is it just me, or does Andrew Garfield of The Amazing Spider-Man bear a striking resemblance to an Andy Murray we know well? (Also, they're both Andys! Coincidence ...?)