Post-Wimbledon mailbag: Serena's illness, Kyrgios' pace of play, more
A post-Wimbledon mailbag, speed round…
I'm an avid reader of your tennis columns and mailbags, but I can't understand why you and other influential members of the tennis media won't push the Williams' camp to divulge more information about what happened to Serena during her doubles match with Venus at Wimbledon. This is arguably the greatest female player of all time at one of tennis' biggest tournaments behaving erratically and odd for no apparent reason… However, based on what occurred, it's not a stretch to say that Serena denigrated the entire sport (on the grandest stage) by allowing herself to go out on court. Again, I realize this can be a tricky subject for a journalist to navigate, but I really feel like this needs to be addressed.
-- Jon Reiss
• The opinions here run the entire spectrum. From “she owes no one an explanation” and “If I were in their shoes, I wouldn't tell the press a God-damned thing,” to (I paraphrase slightly) “you guys are spineless; if this were any other athlete, we would demand the truth.” It’s an interesting argument and, candidly, I am still trying to sort through where I stand. Tennis players are individual independent contractors. They are not members of a team or a league. There are few standards for how much (or little) they should reveal about personal conditions. On the other hand, they are public figures and are effectively paid by fans (and, by extension, networks). Where do we draw the line between the athletes right to privacy and the public’s collective right to information?
I think you're asking the wrong question here -- it's not whether the No. 32 seed (or, rather, seeds No. 17 to No. 32) should be protected from facing highly ranked players in the first two rounds. It's whether seeds No. 1 to No. 16 should be protected from players seeded No. 17 to No. 32 in the first two rounds and in my opinion, the answer's yes. The top players may be rusty or may need some time to acclimate and we need them around for the second week.
-- Richard G, Miami
• Point taken. The more macro defense of seeding 32 players: the advance-or-go-home nature of tennis means that tournaments are at the mercy of the stars winning. In golf a player can have a crappy day and still recover to make the cut. Not so much in tennis. This is a way to try and safeguard against upsets and to maximize exposure while minimizing exposure (i.e. risk) so to speak.
What are your thoughts on players like Milos Raonic, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Andy Roddick and others with bullet serves and not much else? From a spectator standpoint, it makes for extremely boring tennis. Sure, they can blow through 80 percent of the field and collect a nice paycheck by doing so, but watching a string of aces and service winners is not why any tennis fan became a tennis fan. Rallies, shot-making, crafting the point -- that's where the love of the game is.
-- Keegan Greenier, Macon, Ga.
• My philosophy is essentially “let the market decide.” What we like aesthetically isn’t necessarily what is effective. If market forces dictate that serve-and-volley tactics or the one-handed backhand isn’t optimal, they will go away. If someone can innovate and find a way to make it work, we will see an uptick. If a player can make it with a serve and a forehand (add Jack Sock to your list, by the way) they will thrive. If it’s not helping a player meet goals or have long-term success, they will either lose market share or reconfigure accordingly.
If we agree to table the GOAT discussion until the current crop of candidate retires, can we entertain the greatest era of all time, or GEOAT, discussion? Where does the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic/Andy Murray era rank versus others? I'd say this is arguably the best because it contains two GOAT candidates (Federer/Nadal) and another one of the game's all-time greatest (Djokovic), but perhaps I'm giving too much weight to the title dominance these four have enjoyed. The same could be said of Martina Navratilova/Chris Evert/Hana Mandlikova/Tracy Austin. Should other eras be given credit for having a higher number of players with, say, half a dozen Majors, for example, even if few or none of them is a GOAT candidate?
-- Shawn, New York City
• Case closed. How’s this -- throwing Murray under the double-decker bus here -- for a stat? Since the 2005 Australian Open, three players have won 34 of 38 majors. Put another way, over the past decade, three players have won EVERY Grand Slam, save four. Ree. Dic. U. Lous.
Federer at Wimbledon in 2014 was Navratilova at Wimbledon in '94, maybe toned down just two or three notches; the analogy isn't perfect, but there's too much overlap to miss. Prove me wrong.
-- Doyle Srader, Eugene, Or.
• Federer didn’t lose to no Conchita Martinez.
I'd be curious to know how much you think Kyrgios' pace of play may have contributed to his victory over Nadal at Wimbledon by forcing Nadal out of his comfort zone. I'm all for both enforcing the rule that players to play to the pace of the server and imposing a time clock on slow servers. Within the 25 second allowance, I think there's ample time for players who wish to vary the pace of the game for personal and/or strategic reasons, yet still keep things moving at a watchable pace. I definitely think Kyrgios' eagerness to tee it up had Nadal rattled.
-- Roger Jones
• I think it was the pace of Kyrgios’ serves, not the pace of his play, that led to Nadal’s demise. I will say this: next time a player runs afoul of the 25 seconds, I’d like to see Kader Nouni or Pascal Maria or James Keothvong bust out the Orange Is The New Black theme song.
I need to preface this by saying I think Roger Federer is the greatest male tennis player of all time, but I knew he was going to lose serve at 4-5 down in the final set against Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. For all of his greatness and strengths, mental toughness isn't one of them. It seems like he always loses these close final sets -- all those close U.S. Open matches he lost in five, those two epic Wimbledon finals, that Australian Open final against Nadal. Even in the past 12 months in best-of-three matches, he's lost close third sets to Nadal and Djokovic. Am I alone in thinking he is the weakest champion mentally in the history of this sport? Again, I think he's brilliant, but I'm so frustrated by all of these close matches he ALWAYS seems to lose in the final set.
-- Jeremy Redding, Harrisburg, Penn.
• I think you could easily point to his comeback in the fourth set and use this as a signifier of mental toughness. But -- at the risk of infuriating Federer fans -- his record in five-setters is now 22-19. Sampras? 33-15. Nadal? 16-5. Djokovic? 22-8. Not the cleanest data. And there are explanations. (Federer seldom had five-setters against lesser lights in early rounds.) But still… I would never call Federer mentally weak. You don’t win 17 majors by snapping your fingers. But again -- and I say in the most complimentary way -- I maintain that he does not have the typical competitive wiring of other athletes (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams) in his exalted class.
Any comment on Eugenie Bouchard’s brilliant performance before the press following her disappointing loss to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final? It was the total and absolute antithesis (I love that word) of any Serena press performance in her career. Kudos to Bouchard for showing maturity beyond her years.
-- Wes Paulson
• Who among us, doesn’t love antithesis? Bouchard was composed after losing the final. But I don’t get too worked about Serena in defeat. Different athletes react differently. If everyone read from the same script, we’d be bored.
This could be a silly question, but with their careers closer to the end than to the beginning, do you think that we might see Federer and Nadal play doubles together?
-- Tom, Brooklyn
• Nadal and Federer have played against each other several times, but never together. As ever, they’re more concerned about singles and conserving energy than doubles. But, I agree, it would be tremendous to see them join forces; like tennis’ version of Temple of the Dog. (Pre-empting the question: on hair alone, Nadal is Chris Cornell to Federer’s Eddie Vedder.)
I enjoyed your 50 parting thoughts from Wimbledon. One thought was about net points won and how this doesn’t mean anything. I have another for you: unforced errors. It does mean something, but the problem is the length of rallies. You could have a 30-shot rally against Nadal and dump the last one into the net. It’s tough to call that an unforced error I suggest a new statistic: unforced error percentage -- the ratio of unforced errors to total shots made. The unforced error percentage for my example would be 1/15, 6.67 percent Play 10 of these points against Nadal and your percentage would be 10/150, still 6.67 percent. This statistic is affected by the number of great gets a player has, which extend rallies and decrease the percentage. On the other hand a player who can’t get into rallies has a higher percentage. Players who end rallies quickly with winners and aces would tend to have higher percentages. Like many statistics, unforced error percentage means more than the title suggests. Maybe “determination quotient” would be a good name. I’m guessing that Nadal, Djokovic and Bouchard would be among the leaders in this statistic. Milos Raonic would have a high percentage. A conversation about him might go something like this: “For a guy with such a great serve, Raonic has a pretty good unforced error percentage.”
-- Philip Beaulieu
• Love it.
I believe it was Rod Stewart (not Meatloaf) who sang "Every Picture Tells a Story."
-- Bob Kerler, Garden City, N.Y.
• My unforced error. Long as we’re here, is it me or is there a huge gap between the quality of Rod Stewart’s voice and the quality of his music. Always felt that I might actually like him if his actual song weren’t irremediably awful.
• This sentiment has come up in various forms but here’s Ricky W. of Brooklyn: "Since I can remember I have been partial to players like Pete Sampras, Tommy Haas and Roger Federer. I think you can see the trend here. Not to retire Federer too early, but I was afraid that soon I would find myself with no one to root for. Thanks to Grigor Dimitrov, I am confident that void will be filled. After his performance at this championships, I am certain he is here to stay."
• Reader Meg of Philly rightly notes that with the planning necessitated by four kids, Federer "must be a student of generals like Bonaparte and Hadrian."
• The ATP announced on Tuesday that Istanbul will host an ATP World Tour 250 tournament beginning next year. The first ever ATP World Tour event in Turkey will be played on clay April 27 - May 3.
• Billie Jean King has been named as an Official Ambassador of the WTA Finals in Singapore.
• Dan of Ottawa writes: "On the topic of the Wimbledon prize money, I'm of the belief that any increase is not enough no matter how out of whack it is to the rest of the tour season. Frank Dancevic plays a challenger the week before qualifying, wins eight matches in seven days to win the tournament and receives $6,800. This a player that travels around the world playing challengers, and that could be his best result of the season. Peter Polansky follows Wimbledon qualifying by playing a challenger in Ecuador and reaches the singles quarterfinals and wins the doubles event. He earned a combined $2,000. These are two of the top 140 players. So I have a big smile on my face when I see Dancevic making the second round at Wimbledon and netting $73,000, or Polansky showing up, winning one qualifying match and getting $11,561, or about $11,000 more than he'd make after winning one qualifying match at a ATP250 event. My biggest smile was saved for 26-year-old Tim Puetz. Before earning $73,000 at Wimbledon, he had made $81,000 total in his four-year professional career. So Puetz grinded it out, making less than any minimum wage job would pay to finally be able to play in the Grand Slam qualifying. He took advantage in a big way, and that's a beautiful thing. As for an example of a top player, take Milos Raonic. Last year he won two titles and made the finals of an ATP1000 and ATP500 tournament. He accumulated the 11th-most points and finished the year No. 11 in the rankings. His total earnings? Just under $1.7 million. That's with multiple coaches, a physio and a trainer following him around. What do you think Milos netted at the end of a great season? Absolute peanuts compared to what he deserves. Take the $750,000 Milos and don't let anyone tell you its too much. You too Frank, Pete and Tim. The tour underpays everyone from the challenger level to the best of the best. Yes, it is odd when Simon Boleli gets a bigger check for making the third round of Wimbledon than Milos Raonic does for winning an ATP250 tournament. Let's just appreciate when these guys can be spoiled. It only happens at the majors."
• The USTA today announced that the total purse for the 2014 U.S. Open will increase by $4 million, bringing the total purse for the tournament to a record $38.3 million -- an 11.7 percent increase over the 2013 U.S. Open. Both the men’s and women’s singles champions will earn $3 million, the largest payout in U.S. Open history. Each round of the singles competition will see double digit percentage increases over last year’s record payouts. Total main draw prize money, which includes both the singles, doubles and mixed doubles competitions, has increased by 12.5 percent over last year. Both the men’s and women’s doubles champions will earn $520,000, the highest in U.S. Open history. The U.S. Open qualifying tournament will now offer more than $1.5 million in prize money ($1,572,000) for the first time, and this represents an 11 percent increase over 2013. In the last three years, U.S. Open main draw prize money has increased by 64.6 percent.
• Well-played by James of Portland who notes: "Clay Thompson only won three games vs. Steve Johnson in Newport. The trade rumors must really be bothering him."
• Kvitova, Bouchard and Simona Halep headline the field for the 2014 Connecticut Open.
• Jess Bolkin has LLS: Eugenie Bouchard; Stephanie March, the actress who plays the prosecutor on Law & Order: SVU; and Maggie Grace, the actress who plays the kidnapped daughter in Taken and was in the TV series Lost.