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Mailbag: Should there be more friction among players? Federer weighs in

Mailbag: Should there be more friction among players? Federer weighs in Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

When you answered that Marcelo Rios was the "nicest player you've ever covered" in your last mailbag, I literally thought it was a joke, since he was not beloved when he was a touring professional.  And I remember that his less-than-beloved status was not just because he achieved the number one ranking without winning a Grand Slam. So I kept reading for your "real answer." (I was guessing Kim Clijsters.) So, how is there such a disconnect between how nice he is/was, and how beloved he was not on tour?
-- 
Jerry Williams, Woodbury, Minn.

• For the record, that was a joke. Rios was a sublimely talented player but I'll put it this way: If this were Divergent, Rios would not be considered for “Amity” faction.

Overall, the players today verge on delightfulYou wouldn’t want to start the “Who’s the nicest?” discussion because, inevitably, you’d leave someone out. The question: Is this at all to the sport’s detriment? Without turning into pro wrestling, is there some benefit to feuds and personal animus and guys like Rios who cut a jerky figure and don’t apologize for it?

For the #humblebrag, #namedropping portion of the mailbag, I recently posed this question to Roger Federer, who, might contend, established this current Culture of Nice in tennis. Even he is a bit conflicted here:

Q: Do you wish there was more friction?

Federer: I do, more aggressive characters. That's why I like the guys who are actually a bit cocky or confident. I like that. I think it's important to be, as well. Not silly, but still really believing, you know. 

I was like that when I was younger. But for me, my hero was Edberg  He was very humble. Even [Michael] Jordan -- I only know the surface of Jordan -- but to me he always seemed like he was style, classy. I don't know if he was not like that here in the States. I don't know what his perception was. But that's how I always saw him, this elegant guy in winning and defeat. I wanted to be like that eventually. … But trends have gone the other way. When you do win, everybody lies on the floor now, runs into the crowd. Sometimes I wish everybody wouldn't go crazy. Back in the day it was a handshake and a jump over the net. I understand how it used to be. … But, I mean, I just want the game to be represented the right way. I think tennis is a very classy sport. I think it is important at the end of the day to stay humble because nobody is bigger than the game. The game will always be bigger than anybody. Players come and go. If you know that, that's fine, you know.

Hi Jon. When one (inevitably) compares players, especially of different eras, how should one factor in Grand Slam final losses? All things equal, would you advocate for a player who was, hypothetically, 8-2 in major finals (he or she is a big match player) or a player who was 8-10 (he or she could be counted on to always go deep)? Thanks!
-- Paul Treacy, Chapel Hill, N.C.

• That’s a great question. Heading into the seventh round of Wimbledon 2014, we kept hearing that Novak Djokovic had lost in four of his last major finals, including three straight in the last calendar year. That’s obviously a lousy conversion rate. The flip side: reaching the finals of four majors in 52 weeks is pretty darn good.

As with most stats, major finals should entail (cliché alert) a deeper dive if it’s to be more meaningful. What was the average ranking of the opponent in the final? What was the match like? Was injury a factor. When, say, Rafael Nadal loses in the Australian Open final to Stan Wawrinka, that’s a much different loss than his losing in the 2006 Wimbledon to Roger Federer.

I realize it’s early but who do you think that Jim Courier will select for the second singles spot on the U.S. team for the upcoming tie against Slovakia? I assume John Isner will be selected barring injury and Bob and Mike Bryan will play doubles. Do you think he will opt for Sam Querrey, since he has experience, or possibly go with Jack Sock, Donald Young or Steve Johnson, since Querrey has a rather poor record in Davis Cup? The second singles player could play a big part in this tie since Martin Klizan is capable of winning both singles matches and the Bryans are no longer a lock to win. Interestingly, all four of the Bryans’ Davis Cup losses are in home matches. I hope not, but I think there is a real chance that the USA does not beat Slovakia? Your thoughts?
-- Andrew, Hummelstown, Penn.

• We’ll obviously know more in the next few weeks. But if it’s my call, I go with Jack Sock. He is -- by orders of magnitude -- the best American under 25, the one guy who, right now, has the best chance of playing deep into a Major. What’s more, his recent success in doubles has some real value. You’re not going to mess with the Bryans. But in the off-chance one becomes injured, it’s good to have a top-flight doubles player in the bargaining unit.

When Maria Sharapova won the French Open to complete her career Grand Slam in 2012, you were quick to mention that it did not put Sharapova higher than Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport or Venus Williams in your books. Do you still stand by that statement following Sharapova's 2014 triumph in Paris? Venus and Henin, neither of whom won the career Grand Slam​, still have Maria beat in terms of total majors won; the same can't be said of Hingis and Davenport.  
-- Charith Nag

• Interesting. I still have Venus and Henin on a higher plane than Sharapova. I could go either way on Hingis, who came so close to winning THE Grand Slam, was a sensational doubles player and -- I am thoroughly biased here -- gets extra points because she won with something other than brute force. Davenport is a tough call, too. She won fewer majors than Sharapova, but did her damage in the guts of the perhaps the most talent-dense era in the women’s game. Say this about Sharapova: not only has she won the career Slam (and additional clay court major title), but she’s starting to get serious longevity points. She broke through at Wimbledon in 2004. Here she is a full decade later, still competing for the biggest prizes.

How is it that Taylor Townsend wasn't allowed a substitution in her doubles match against Washington, and so had to play 1-on-2? I know substitutions are allowed in World Team Tennis. Had they already made a substitution earlier in the match? I didn't get to see the match, unfortunately.
-- Miles Benson, Hudson, Mass.

• If it’s World Team Tennis, your guess is as good as ours. I'll say this: A) it was great publicity. This must have come across my twitter feed 20 times. B) How do you not root for World TeamTennis? It’s inclusive. It’s informal. It’s inimitable. It’s inexpensive. It tends to get lost in the folds of the calendar, and it gets bullied a bit by the alphabet soups. But surely there’s a place in the sport for a tennis organization that takes so many of the sport’s overlooked virtues -- mixed genders, doubles, shortened format -- and puts it on vivid display.

A tournament in Israel? What could possibly go wrong? #UkraineOpen2015
‪-- @Schuboxx

• The reader refers to the ATP event that was recently moved to Tel Aviv but cancelled this week, given the strife and security concerns in the region. Ironically, I was in Tel Aviv in April when the announcement was made, and it seemed eminently reasonable to place a tournament there. Tel Aviv felt like a cross between Barcelona and Miami -- open-air cafes filled with tech entrepreneurs and beautiful people at the beach. Obviously today it’s a much different scene and any carefree aura has evaporated. We see this from time to time in sports: when governing bodies seek to reach new markets and expand the footprint (we’re full of the horrible business school locution today), there are certain risks.

Listening back to some of your SI tennis podcasts. Really enjoyable, have you stopped doing them? Brian Baker was great!
-- @pjbrigdale

• Thanks. Sadly there are only so many hours in the day. But we’ll try and do more. Editor's note: Podcasts are a little different with the SI.com redesign, but like Jon said, we will try and do more.

Shots, miscellany

• If you're planning to attend the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, be sure to get your tickets soon. Two sessions -- the semifinal evening session on Aug. 16 and the finals on Aug. 17 -- have already sold out.

• Americans Lauren Davis and Christina McHale and Switzerland's Belinda Bencic have been awarded main draw wild cards for the Western & Southern Open. 

• Chris Evert and Tail Activewear have collaborated on a new line of women's tennis and active clothing.

• If you missed it, Caroline Wozniacki is running the New York City marathon. (Props to SI summer intern Rose Minutaglio for this fine write-up on exceptionally short notice)

USTA Foundation has received a $125,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation, and as part of the grant, the USTA Foundation will provide $10,000 to 10 National Junior Tennis and Learning programs nationwide.

• Reader Chris Chaffee: Here's an article about a day in the life of a tennis player trying to grow the sport in a New England community

• Daniel Geduldig of Harrisburg, Penn., has this week’s LLS: Milos Raonic and Babe Ruth.

• And a bonus LLS from Nick of Montclair, N.J.: Jack Sock and Tim Tebow.

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