Speed-rounding through some post-Roland Garros/pre-Wimbledon questions...
Regarding your assessment of the women's French Open final, did we watch the same match? I literally turned it off early in the third round and went back to my Saturday chores, because I found the quality of the tennis and the glacial pace of Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep so off-putting.
-- Dale Stafford, Washington, D.C.
• I suppose it speaks well of tennis that it lends itself to such a wide swath of opinion, but I was thoroughly entertained by that match. A former champion trying to defend her turf (clay?) and an ambitious first-time challenger, no nerves in sight, fighting deep into the third set. A contrast in styles. A contrast in physique. A contrast in tennis philosophy. Some controversy. I can block out grunting and coaching and enjoy the show.
Here, by the way, is a reader response from the same day from Patrick Kramer of Oslo: "This is questionably the best women's match I have seen since Justine Henin-Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals back in the day. Can you believe this is the same girl who always double-faulted when it counted, who looked up at her father for coaching between each point? You have to say that she has become the top professional women's top competitor (until Serena gets back to her winning ways..). Halep revealed her strengths, but also some weaknesses. Was left with a smile after this one."
Thanks for shamelessly hyping up Sharapova with propaganda about her mental strength (except against Serena Williams, of course.)
-- Gustav Ivanov, New York
• You're right. It's all hype. The shameless variety, as opposed to the dignified kind. Sharapova? Not a fighter at all. Not sure what the big deal is. Maybe when she wins a few three-setters or bags a Major or two, we'll talk about her mental strength. Until then, Gustav, you're on it.
As an avid tennis player and fan I must say that Sharapova's obnoxious and excessive grunting hinders the other play and counts as outright cheating! The WTA really needs to get a handle on this issue as it is VERY off-putting. I had to turn off the French Open women's final because I can't handle her grunting. The fans paid good money to be subjected to her screaming for hours. Players have so much to deal with during a match -- nerves, concentration, energy levels and the player on the other side of the net screaming at the top of her lungs! Maybe players should say something to the umpire when they play her because it's too much. I can safely say that the WTA is losing me as a fan because they aren't dealing with this issue effectively enough.
-- Cori, Bermuda
• We received so many of these complaints that I feel like I ought to publish one. The WTA sees unfit to address this in a meaningful way. So sadly, fans like Cori have a decision to make.
As long as we're bagging on spineless administrators -- and this goes for both tours -- if we're going to get serious about banning in-match coaching, why not do what all sports do and review bad behavior on video and apply fines/discipline retroactively? As it stands now, the chair umpires have the sole discretion to do anything. But if they're turned away and, say, Sara Errani's coach is yelling at her -- an image shown multiple times on TV throughout the tournament -- there's no justice. Why not have someone review the incontrovertible video afterwards?
GOAT data point: In Grand Slam matches, Rafael Nadal is a combined 25-7 versus Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Federer is 12-15 against other Big Four players, Djokovic is 12-17, Murray 5-15. Even if you factor out Roland Garros, Nadal is 12-7 versus the Big Four in Grand Slams by my count.
-- Scott Graham, Oakland, Calif.
• Federer IS still in the lead. Hard to contest otherwise. Nadal IS closing the gap. Hard to contest otherwise. In the end, this will come down to Grand Slams. Interesting stat but there are data points that cut in the opposite direction.
Here's a hypothetical for you. What would Nadal's legacy be if he only had the nine French Open titles to his credit, and hadn't won five other majors? Being the most dominant player ever on one surface, would he still be thought of similar one-surface major winners? Or, would nine majors still rank him as one of the best players ever?
-- Craig Brokaw, Charlotte, N.C.
• We gave UP hypotheticals for New Year's, but they're so darn fun as thought exercises. If Nadal hadn't won those five non-clay Grand Slams he would be revered as a peerless claycourter who would be disqualified from any GOAT conversation because of his lack of versatility.
Does any data exist on how often a finalist forced to play his or her quarterfinal and semifinal on consecutive days is defeated by the finalist who gets a day of rest between the quarters and semis? I'm curious how much of a disadvantage being on the wrong side of the schedule might be.
-- Kimberly G. Kansas City, Miss.
• A prize to anyone who wants to undertake this project. I've looked at small chunks -- mostly surrounding the second semifinal during Super Saturday at the U.S. Open -- and there wasn't much correlation.N
Jon, what do you think of NBC's choice to show -- in slow-motion -- Djokovic losing the contents of his stomach during the men's final? As if that weren't enough bad taste, John McEnroe sounded like a rube asking Nadal, "Did you know Novak threw up during the match?" I like McEnroe, but there were a million other things he could have asked Nadal in front of the U.S. television audience. Why did he go the gross-out route?
-- Jeff Davis, Louisville, Ky.
• Djokovic gave new meaning to the phrase boot-and-rally. The slow-mo -- VomitCam, sponsorships still available -- was a bit much. But it was relevant to the match, came at a critical juncture (early in the fourth set) and emphasized just HOW grueling the match was. I have no issue with McEnroe regurgitating this as a question.
If a draw holds up, an eventual Grand Slam champion potentially faces at least two or three top-10 opponents on the way to the trophy. Maria Sharapova reached the French Open final without having played a top-16 seed. I understand that in your world of cozy player-journalist relationships, a Slam win is a win, but in the real world, surely it's not the same. Maybe, that's among the reasons why tennis is not so popular. The quirks of the draw create unfairness, where one player could face a stronger opponent and a long match while another could breeze through a straight sets win over a weaker player.
-- Joanna Webb, Helena, Mont.
• I would argue the opposite point: the unpredictability of the draws is part of the appeal. Sometimes you have to play Djokovic and Nadal, like Wawrinka did in Australia and Gulbis did in Paris. Other times, the draw opens like a flower. That's the way it goes.
Also, players can only beat the opponents put before them. The notion that Federer's early majors are devalued because he had to face opponents like Philippoussis and Fernando Gonzalez? Nonsense.
You've said yourself that you bet against someone who's won a tournament eight times in a row at your peril. So do you feel pretty foolish now having placed your odds on Djokovic?
-- Jenny Jonak, Eugene, Ore.
Yes, more than foolish. Picking the No. 2 player to beat the No.1 guy -- a few weeks after the No. 2 guy beat the No. 1 guy on the same surface -- ...what was I thinking? If there are some typos in this response, it's because I am wearing a burlap bag today.
These predictions are maddening. They are like catnip: we all enjoy them. But they trigger some of the harshest responses and set up the "you are an idiot" responses when you whiff.
I think it's abundantly clear that Sharapova's recent improvement on clay has more to do with the weak state of WTA and less to do with her clay-court skills, which are marginally poor. Sharapova's robotic, power-based game is currently overwhelming most of the women's players. The women's game is crying out for a crafty clay-court player, and nobody seems to be answering the call. Perhaps it's a dying art in this era of brute force which started with the Williams sisters?
-- Heather Singer, Boston
• I would have given this more credence before Sharapova outlasted Halep.
• Andy Murray hires Amelie Mauresmo.
• Our 50 thoughts from the French Open.
• Rocky from Albany, NY, was among those passing on this FiveThirtyEight link. Enter at your peril, Nadal fans. (And, presumably, the match has changed since Sunday)
• The WTA announced that there will be a new grass court international event in Mallorca, Spain starting in 2016.
• At risk of relocation last fall, the New Haven Open has signed a deal for United Technologies to be its title sponsor through 2015.
• A few of you were asking about Sharapova's break before the start of the third set of the French Open final. It was legal.
The Grand Slam Tournament Regulations state, "A player is allowed to request permission to leave the court for a reasonable time for a toilet break/change of attire break (women's events)." The Regulations further provide that "Change of attire breaks (women's events) must be taken on a set break."
• Herschel Walker, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, will make an appearance and flip the coin on the College Night matches at the 2014 BB&T Atlanta Open on July 22.
• The Greenbrier Tennis Center will once again host the Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic on Sept. 20-21, featuring Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Tommy Haas and Andy Roddick.
• Congrats, Monica Seles.
• Eric Kauffman of Marietta, Ga.: Jon, I know you often post stories of encounters with players and how nice they can be. Last week at Roland Garros, I came across Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez practicing before their big win over the Bryan brothers. I asked them (in poor Spanish) if they would pose with "Flat Walt", the world-traveling mascot from my son's Robotics team. They were kind enough to pose for this picture as well as offer corrections to my grammar. Perhaps this gave them the mojo that took them all the way to the finals.
• Dan Martin has a quick reaction to Nadal's title.