Thursday January 22nd, 2015

“Happiness writes in white ink on white paper,” the saying goes. In other words, uplifting stories make for dull reading. Tennis knows this well. You want drama and tension? We got you covered. There are breakups and burnout and good kids gone bad and coaches on the hot seat.    

This week Marinko Matosevic—an Australian journeyman known for his on again, off again relationship with equilibrium—made news when he asserted that he would never be coached by a woman. (This assertion held the faulty premise that there exists a female would who would have an interest in the job.) There was no news value to this statement whatsoever. But it had the patina of controversy, so it managed to become a national news item.

Federer outlasts bee sting, Kyrgios upsets Karlovic; more Day 3 results

Some happier items and stories of bliss and uplift? They don't trigger that dopamine rush, nor do they trigger ratings—failure to do either being a capital offense. So it is, the story of Venus Williams hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

In broad strokes: Venus is an all-time great, one of the true titans of the sport. The last decade of her career, though, has paled in comparison to the first. Her last major title came seven years ago. Her last major outside of Wimbledon came prior to 9/11. Think about that for a second.

Other players came along, able to match her power. Her own sister deprived her of many more major titles. There were personal hardships, including the death of a sister. Mostly, though, Venus’ body betrayed her, an autoimmune disease robbing her of stamina, right around the time she turned 30 and needed it most. Her ranking got plump to the point she needed the indignity of wild cards just to make main draws.

With minimum pity and maximum dignity, she soldiered on. She was once a member of sports royalty, the highest paid female athlete in the year 2001. But it didn’t matter. She played low level events and traveled to outposts and played without complaints on backcourts as she tried boost her ranking. Defeat after defeat to lesser players—including a first round defenestration here in 2014—did little to shake her self-belief. “Just stay positive and keeping working hard” was her mantra. And while it sounded hollow and cursory for those of us hunting and gathering for quotes and insight, she did both.

Mailbag: Sharapova survives, nearly edges Russian qualifier to advance

Today, deep into her 30s, she is playing better than she has in years. Blistering the ball, covering the court with long strides and overcoming her fear of the net, she’s back to winning matches in bulk. Already this year she has won a title, beating Caroline Wozniacki in the Auckland final. She is ranked No. 18 and is aiming upward. Her Sjogrens Syndrome under control but it is still an impediment. “I just have to take care of business faster,” she says.

She was fast and businesslike on Thursday, beating Lauren Davis, an American born in 1993 -- the year before Venus made her pro debut. This was vintage Venus, operating at peak efficiency, bludgeoning the serve, dictating points, avoiding complications or drama. The score was 6-2, 6-3 but it doesn’t convey the comfort and ease. And she did this before an adoring crowd—another element of this happy story: the tennis crowds have warmed to Venus.

Maybe best of all: she had plenty of energy.

“Sometimes in life you have to learn to deal with the cards you've been dealt,” she says. “I’ve been trying to get used to my new life…the good part is I know how to play tennis and I have a lot of experience, so that helps me a lot on the court.

She’s never won an Australian Open title. And at age 34, she would need a lot to go right. She plays Camila Giorgi, a feisty Italian, in the next round. After that, she will be an underdog every time she plays.

But she is back in the conversation, back to playing like tennis royalty. That’s a happy story in itself.


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

(Fill in names of top 10 opponents) playing Rafael Nadal 6-5 in the fifth Set. A rude fan interrupts Nadal’s serve. Who gives a re-do? Discuss.

Totally agree. In keeping with today’s theme: as often as focus on lapses in sportsmanship, we should applaud and publicize uncommonly sporting instances like the one the reader cites. It wasn’t simply that Tim Smyczek— not, pointedly, the chair umpire— initiated this and offered Nadal a let. It was the context: deep in the fifth set of a Grand Slam match, the biggest match, in fact, that Smyczek had ever played. Midwesterners, I tell you.

Nadal shows veteran form in opening match in Melbourne

And it was also nice that this wasn’t lost on Nadal:

''What he did at the end of the fifth is just amazing,'' Nadal said. ''Very few players can do that after four hours something of a match, at 6-5, love-30. So I just will say thanks to him because he's a great example what he did today.''

Smyczek, for the record, was modest: ''I don't know if the guy didn't know (Nadal) was tossing the ball or not, but it clearly bothered him,'' he said, looking down and smiling sheepishly. ''You know, I thought it was the right thing to do.''

My opinion on Hewitt for the Hall of Fame has changed over the years and wondering if yours has too.  Two slams (meh), but his impact on the game with the Come On's and the fist pump, in which he pretty much alone commenced a new era in entertaining self-aggrandizement, is hard to ignore. Add in his longevity and motivation, formerly regarded as belligerence, and he seems almost iconic. I love to watch him play. Hard to forget that James Blake thing though…
-- G. Smiley, Johannesburg, South Africa

Former AusOpen finalist Hewitt gets win reminiscent of the 'good old days'

Here are some thoughts on Hewitt. He would get my Hall of Fame vote. For the Slams, the Davis Cup success, the top ranking and—perhaps most of all—for the unstinting effort and the optimization of talent that continues deep into his 30s. (The Come-On’s and fist-pumps don't boost his candidacy for me.)

As Smyczek valiantly lost against Nadal in the second round,  Aussie males (Bernard Tomic, Sam Groth and Nick Kyrgios) were picking up wins. Neither country has had a male win a Grand Slam single title recently. Do you think both countries end this decade Grand Slam titleless?
-- Ken Wells, Balaklava, South Australia  (at least for now)

• First and most important, Ken, what’s up with the “at least for now” ? I would be in no hurry to leave South Australia. Stay while. I can't imagine you’ll do much better elsewhere.

As for the prospects of an American winning a Slam, that’s an iffy proposition. John Isner is close to 30. Steve Johnson is a worthy No. 2 but not on the short list of Slam contenders. Valiant as Smyczek was, we’re talking about a 25-year-old currently ranked 112.

In the cases of three Aussies, we’re talking about a trio—the oldest of which is 22—with a much higher level of potential. Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Tomic are still a peg below the Nishikri-Raonic-Dimitrov young guns troika. But there’s a lot of upside there and a lot of reason for optimism.

Daily Data Viz: Surprise finalists and winners at the Australian Open

Del Potro getting a third wrist surgery with same doctor that did first two. With the doctor at 0-2, why go back with that record? #surgeryfail
-- @pokercomedy

• That's a question for del Potro. But what concerned me was the timing. He was on the grounds Sunday. By Wednesday morning, he is tweeting from the Mayo Clinic? That tells me this isn't a casual injury.

 “Pink…can represent a lack of will power…can indicate an overly emotional and overly cautious nature.”
-- @BoyfromBatangas

The reader refers to Nadal’s pink outfit and shaky play on Wednesday night. Coincidence? Several of us noted that Nadal’s one defeat at the French Open also came while wearing pink.

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

Five thoughts from today:

• Aga Radwanska is seeking her first major title but ask around the salon and she has been replaced by Simona Halep in the Best-Player-Not-To-Win-A-Slam talk. She sure looked good on Thursday, beating Sweden’s Johanna Larsson in 44 minutes, the shortest completed match so far.

• One of the stranger scorelines:  Garbine Muguruza beat Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 1-6, 6-0.

• With Larry Fitzgerald looking on, John Isner beat Andreas Haider-Maurer in four sets.

• Feliciano Lopez is into the third round, having saved match points in each of his first two matches. But spare a thought for Adrian Mannarino, who was a point from victory and ended up retiring today.

Here’s today’s Infographic of the Day, powered by IBM.

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