A short mailbag as the "offseason" rolls on ...
As a regular contributor to your mailbag, I thought I would offer my comment on the 2013 season. The 2013 season could best be summed up by the following portmanteau: "SERENADAL." The definition is tennis dominance attributed to talent, athleticism, mental toughness and tenacity.
-- D. Harris, Memphis
• Portmanteau is the love child of Natalie Portman and Julien Benneteau, is it not? I like Serenadal, though it sounds like a new product line from Pfizer. Williams is the WTA MVP the way 6 x 6 = 36. There's not even a valid alternative view. If I had to choose an ATP MVP, Nadal would get my vote after finishing 75-7 with 10 titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open, and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking. But Novak Djokovic's late charge -- he won his last 24 matches to close 74-9 with seven titles, including the Australian Open -- puts him in the conversation. Serenovak? I think that's an AstraZeneca product.
On a semi-related note, I was asked on Twitter about my tennis wishes for 2014. It's the easiest throwaway column you could write. But as we're all busy before the holiday, we happily take the bait and offer a few ...
-- For Roger Federer: A rebound. Even a little rebound. We all understand the aging process. No one's asking for the days of three majors in a year. But he deserves better than the diminishing, erratic results of 2013.
-- For Serena Williams: Continued excellence. As the kids say, "Keep doing your thing."
-- For Rafael Nadal: A year of uninterrupted health.
-- For Maria Sharapova: A strong bounce-back year.
-- For the ATP rank-and-file: A breakthrough performer. Beginning with the French Open nine years ago, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray have combined to win 34 of the last 35 Slams, including 32 for those first three. (Juan Martin del Potro is the only other player to win a major in that time, at the 2009 U.S. Open.) Time for someone to break the hegemony. (We're looking at you, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych.)
-- For American men's tennis: A modest uptick. This isn't just jingoism. The sport is better served when there's an American in the mix. Ask the folks who control the purse strings.
-- For Marion Bartoli: An unretirement.
-- For tennis administrators, plenipotentiaries and board members: An instinct to put the overall good of the sport over personal agendas.
-- For Andy Murray: The ability to withstand the pressure of trying to become the first British male since 2013 to win Wimbledon.
Easy question as we look to 2014: One male and one female player I should be watching for?
-- Jon P., Houston
• Let's say -- for very different reasons -- Simona Halep and Bernard Tomic. Halep is picking up titles as though volume shopping at Costco. The question, as we discussed recently, now becomes: Can she replicate these results at bigger events? In Tomic's case, there's a lot of drama here. Some of it unfortunate. Some of it his own doing. ('"Toolie' Tomic bemused by lap dance controversy" might be my favorite tennis headline of 2013.) The fact remains that he has a lot of game that will eventually make a jailbreak, so to speak.
As for potential breakouts from less established players, I'll take 18-year-old Madison Keys, who went 34-21, made the third round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and cracked the top 40 in her first full season on the WTA Tour; and 20-year-old Jiri Vesely, the Czech answer to Jerzy Janowicz and the youngest player in the ATP top 100, at No. 85, after beginning the year at No. 263.
In response to reader Martin's comment about how Tomas Berdych hasn't seemed to fulfill his potential: Just because a player isn't the best doesn't mean he's not fulfilling his potential. What exactly is his potential? He's won 430 matches and has eight titles. He's been ranked as high as No. 5, he's reached the quarterfinals or better at all four Grand Slam tournaments and he's won the Davis Cup twice. He seems to be fulfilling his potential when it's apparent he's never been the first-, second-, third- or fourth-best active player on tour. Think of it like this: George Harrison was the third-best songwriter in the Beatles. Was he unable to fulfill his potential or were the other two guys just better?
-- J., Portland
• Fair point. All depends on how we define and consider "potential." Yes, he was born in the wrong era, the same way Harrison joined the wrong band if his ambition was to be the best songwriter in his group. Nevertheless, you look at Berdych's talent, his physique, his sheer ball-striking ability and his various wins over the Big Four, and, well, you know where we're going here ...
I read an article recently that highlighted top athletes and how much sleep they get, with the focus on more sleep leading to better performance. I believe the premise, but the article said that Roger Federer gets 11-12 hours of sleep per night. This seems a bit extreme and highly unlikely with his twin toddlers! Have you ever heard this stat before? If it's true, we all have to give Mirka even more credit than she already has for supporting Roger!
-- Mike Wherley, Philadelphia
• It's not just tennis players. I'm always amazed by both how much and how little athletes sleep. You hear all the time about NFL charters taking players home after a Sunday game and landing at some unholy hour -- think of the Broncos leaving New England at 2 a.m. ET the other night -- only to have the coaches schedule a practice the next day. On the other hand, I've had athletes tell me they "need" 12 hours to feel fully fresh. That's half your life.
If a sleep expert wants to weigh in, that would be great. But, apart from the hours, I would think that the environmental factors -- noise, light, whether the alarm catches you in the right REM cycle -- are more important than raw hours. Anyone?
I find that some of the most entertaining tennis these days is being played in doubles. I wish journalists and networks would do more to cover these matches. Above all, I wish great players, and specifically Roger Federer, would end their careers by playing doubles. Think about the interest Federer could create! Could you and your colleagues do anything to encourage that?
-- Klaas, Copenhagen, Denmark
• I'm always happy to advocate for doubles, and I agree with the premise that the tennis can be wonderfully entertaining. It's also a purist's dream. You want serve-and-volleying? You got it. Want chipping-and-charging? Got it. Overheads? Check. No monotonous baseline rallies? Check? A quick, shotgun format? Check. While I don't see Federer turning into a doubles specialist, his skills would certainly translate. (More realistically, what about Venus Williams as a late-career doubles specialist?)
There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem with doubles. It's treated as an afterthought, so it has a hard time attracting the stars, so it's treated as an afterthought. Nevertheless, it's worth your support.
• Pete Sampras dishes on Federer the prankster.
• Tickets go on sale Friday for U.S.-hosted first-round matches at both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. The American men will meet Great Britain at Petco Park in San Diego from Jan. 31-Feb. 2, while the American women will face defending Fed Cup champion Italy in Cleveland from Feb. 8-9. Call 888-484-8782 for tickets to either event.
• Milos Raonic has been named Sportsnet's Canadian Athlete of the Year.
• Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone perform on Italy's version of Dancing With the Stars.