Thursday June 19th, 2014

A quick pre-Wimbledon mailbag...

First, we're starting to get questions and tweets about Wimbledon's seeding. We can debate whether tournaments should depart from rankings and take surface aptitude into account (I think it's fine), but let's be clear: this is NOT subjective. There are no conspiracies. It is a transparent formula. In fact, here it is:

Men -- The seeds are the top 32 players on the ATP Ranking list, BUT then rearranged on a surface-based system. Since 2002 a seeding committee has not been required for the Gentlemen's Singles following an agreement made with the ATP. The seeding order is determined using an objective and transparent system to reflect more accurately an individual player's grass court achievements: The formula is:

• Take the ATP Ranking points at June 16, 2014 
• Add 100 percent of the points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months 
• Add 75 percent of the points earned for the best grass court tournament in the 12 months before that.

Ladies -- The seeding order follows the WTA ranking list, except where in the opinion of the committee, a change is necessary to produce a balanced draw.

NGUYEN: Can Murray repeat? Will Nadal make it past round two? More Wimbledon burning questions

Since Marion Bartoli retired, who will open play on Centre Court the opening Tuesday? Serena, because she was the 2012 champion? 
-- @pacopowell

• To rephrase: The defending women's champ christens play on Centre Court on the first Tuesday of Wimbledon. However this year, the defending champ, Marion Bartoli, is retired, busy commentating, being her pleasant self, selling crafts on Etsy and generally living the good life. Who gets her slot? The good folks at the All England Club explained to us that they have a few choices: the slot can go to the champion two years ago, the current top seed or most recent finalist. Given that Serena Williams meets two of those three criteria, the guess is that she gets the call.

I was wondering if you had any insight as to why the Williams sisters have been so successful at Wimbledon when they (traditionally) do not play warm-up tournaments on grass. 
-- Fabian S., Munich

• A few points:

1. Big serve plus big athleticism equals strong Wimbledon results. 
2. The surfaces are becoming less dramatically different -- if not homogenized. The grass is slower. The clay is faster. But the Williams sisters made a smooth transition from clay to grass for their entire career. (See: 2002). 
3. I mean this in the best possible way, but man, Serena in particular leaves a lot of money on the table. As a five time Wimbledon champion, you'd think the tune-up grass-court events would cut some fat checks to have her in their draws.

Rafael Nadal's insistence on overloading his schedule during the clay court season used to seem just a little, well, greedy. Now it seems to indicate a complete lack of confidence playing on any other surface -- which seems odd for a guy with a career Grand Slam. Now that he's in his late 20s, is there any chance he would consider scaling back a bit in the spring to improve his chances elsewhere? Or has he just decided at this point in his career to focus on his strengths? 
-- Helen, Philadelphia

• I think that's a bit extreme. There are all sorts of reasons for Nadal to load up on the pre-French clay events. For one, players are (borderline) duty-bound to defend their titles -- hence why Nadal goes to Monte Carlo year after year. Both Rome and Madrid are Masters events, which more or less require the attendance of the top players. Even with blue clay underfoot, there's no way Nadal is missing the biggest event held in his native country (Madrid), nor is he missing Barcelona (especially when he was with IMG). Apart from being played on his surface of choice, the spring clay events are near home. No jetlag. No roaming charges. Friends and family can see him play.

If Nadal were truly greedy or truly insecure, he would play the summer clay events, such as Hamburg. He does not. (As for Rio, he gets a huge appearance fee and plays in an emerging market.) As he gets older, he will be able to opt out of a Masters Series event. And perhaps next spring he will rethink his schedule, especially since he is "only" the defending champ in Madrid. But overall, I think his schedule is reasonable.

With Nadal's ninth French title he now has won a Grand Slam in each of the last 10 years. Do you think he will beat Chris Evert's record of 13 consecutive years of winning at least one Slam? 
-- Rod, Toronto

• Good question. This streak has gone overlooked. And it also says that, for all of Nadal's ups and downs, there is a certain consistency after all. Nadal obviously has a long way to go to match Evert. But, really, what will it take for him to lose in Paris? He goes to Roland Garros this year with little momentum, a balky back, some tricky scheduling. And he loses two sets seven in matches, including a win over a rival who beat him in their previous match on clay.

All these complaints that Maria Sharapova did not play a high ranked player on her way to the title only need to remember Cedric Pioline. 
-- O. Garcia, Makati City, Philippines

• Once again: you can only beat the seven players put before you.

NGUYEN: Taking stock of the French Open's top players ahead of Wimbledon

Jon, can you help? I'm losing my faith in tennis, and here's why: I don't understand why the matches are divided into sets. Why don't (the women) play games, the first to 12 by two wins? That seems fair. Too often we've seen a player get pummeled in the first set and then squeak by in the second set. We're told that "the match is even," but the players haven't played evenly. The momentum feels really artificial. Other than volleyball, I can't think of another sport where your TOTAL number of games (points) isn't tallied. Yes, a football team might get shut out in the first half and then score a bunch of points in the third quarter, but that doesn't erase what the other team accomplished in the first two quarters? I'm starting to think the World Team Tennis idea of accumulating games is on the right track. Your thoughts? 
-- Stacy, Gambrills, Md.

• Ah, the Simpson's Paradox.

Hello Jon, this is my first question to you. Who among the men has the best base-level game? As in, which players, who even on a very bad day when their shots are not clicking, end-up winning their matches? What about the ladies? 
-- Sashankh, India

• Hey welcome, Sashankh. This is an interesting question. I remember a commentator -- I believe it was Mats Wilander -- saying that any player can be a worldbeater on a given day, where he's feeling great physically, when she is dialing in all her shots. The real champions are the players who find ways to win when they're not at their best. Djokovic has struck me as a player who has gotten very adept at winning even when the stat sheet suggests he is not at his best. While Serena has lost some shockers lately, she has also won innumerable matches by sheer dint of wanting it more and playing well when it matters. I wish there were a better way to quantify this.

You've used this before as a pretty compelling litmus test of a player's legacy: whether they're an overachiever or an underachiever. How about a lightning round of some of the following players from the past two decades? My criteria were that they had to have at least played in one Grand Slam final, and they couldn't have won more than two majors: Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Mary Pierce, Anastasia Myskina, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Lleyton Hewitt, Goran Ivanisevic, Cedric Pioline, Marat Safin, David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Robin Soderling. Feel free to say that the player did "just right" as well. 
-- Joe L. , Cambridge, Mass.

• Lightning round...

Safina -- Neutral. 
Kuznetsova -- Underachiever, which is ironic given that she won two majors. 
Dementieva -- Underachiever. 
Pierce -- Overachiever. A big ballstriker but given her back-story obstacles, her proneness to injury and her era, walking out with a pair of Slams is good work. 
Ferrer -- Overachiever. The ultimate overachiever, in fact. 
Ferrero -- Overachiever. Not a big guy and not a big game. He won a Major, should have won a second and played deep at all four Slams. 
Soderling -- Neutral. Big game, but tough for him to win a major in the age of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic. Plus he might not be done.

All these complaints that Maria Sharapova did not play a high ranked player on her way to the title only need to remember Cedric Pioline. 
-- O. Garcia, Makati City, Philippines

• Once again: you can only beat the seven players put before you.

I was struck by the tone of your Mailbag last week. So much sarcasm this time. Perhaps in response to surfeit of fiery tweets? 
-- @CJSTanner

• You know, a few of you wrote about that. Totally unintentional. Again, I try to make this reflective of the chatter in the Nation of Tennistan. (As opposed to the Nation of Tennistanislas.) If dozens of you write complaining about grunting or Player X's easy draw or on-court coaching, I try to include that. But, yes, last week's discussion skewed awfully negative.

NGUYEN: Ana Ivanovic wins her first-ever title on grass

Shots, miscellany

• Barrett Dastrup of Orem, Ut.: Came across a pretty cool infographic comparing the French Open with Wimbledon.

• Tennis Channel will dedicate close to 215 hours to Wimbledon during its seventh year of nightly Wimbledon Primetime coverage.

• Greatest tennis poster ever.

• Good catch of the Week goes to J. Diersing of San Diego, Calif.: Checking the scores today I caught what might be a first: A divorced couple both playing in the finals of the same event (albeit a Challenger). The men's final at Nottingham featured Sam Groth, who lost in two tie-breakers to his fellow Aussie, Nick Kyrgios. The women's final will feature his former spouse, Jarmila.

• The ITF today announced that the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals will move to the Magic Box arena in Madrid for three years from 2015-'17. The event will be staged on 16 clay courts, including two stadium outdoor show courts, and managed by Madrid Trophy Promotion, organizers of the Mutua Madrid Open.

• Ivan H., Brooklyn, N.Y. has a long-lost lookalike pairing: Florian Mayer and Ryan Stiles.

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