Monday January 26th, 2015

Christopher Reeve once was said this of the character for which he’s best known: “What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.”

He could just as easily have been talking about tennis.

We can clock power and speed, even the spin imparted on the ball. But wisdom and maturity are harder to gauge, their arrival less certain. It’s been a particular theme at this event. Is Bernard Tomic finally of coming age, transitioning from boyhood to adulthood? Will Nick Kyrgios continue to marry his showstopper impulses with poise? Is Madison Keys, the 19-year-old from Illinois—who cruised into the quarterfinals on Monday— planted firmly at the grown-ups table?

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Sometimes youth is wasted on the young—how many players have had all the shots, but still come up empty at the big moments. Grigor Dimitrov and Garbine Muguruza were both primed to beat Andy Murray and Serena Williams; neither could pull it off, suggesting that a missing ingredient still remains from the seasoning. Sometimes players go Peter Pan on us and simply refuse to grow up. (see: Monfils, Gael.)

Rafael Nadal is the rare player who arrived ripe and ready. For most, it is a process. Success is something to grow into. Novak Djokovic won his first Slam in 2008; he won his next in 2011. Remember, for the first three years of his career, Roger Federer was known as a hotheaded underachiever.

As we wait to see how Kyrgios and Keys progress, consider this: these Major events, they span only two weeks. But for some players, that’s enough time to grow up a bit.

Mailbag

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

Nick Kyrgios's 12 wins at majors is indeed impressive; even more so, and maybe also equally baffling, when one considers he has won one ATP Tour main draw match. Seems almost an impossible combination.
-- Mark, Menlo Park, Calif.

• Stat of the tournament. Everyone has run with this—the first person to have dredged this up deserves an Aussie Open towel.

This record is obviously going to change but, yes, of today, Kyrgios has won one match on the ATP Tour. And a dozen at the majors. Part of this is his schedule, taking off the entirety of the fall. Part of this is his ranking. But much of this is his aptitude for seizing the big moment.

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Please keep us updated on Jack's brother. Thanks.
-- Sue Patteron

• I would simply encourage you to follow Jack Sock’s twitter feed. Spare a thought for the family and let’s leave it to them to share any related news when they are ready.

Looking at the post-doping ban results of players like Marin Cilic, Viktor Troicki, and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, I have to wonder: is a long-term, non-injury induced break just the kind of thing an established player needs to truly rest, improve their game and rededicate themselves to their career? With such a short off-season and players clearly willing to sacrifice even more of it for cash-heavy exhibitions, having a much longer break might give players a chance to add new dimensions or weapons to their game. We've heard from these players how much it pains them to have to miss chunks of the season, and it seems like this motivation has been pushing all of them to new heights in terms of career achievements. While the stigma and bad PR of a doping ban are still certainly problematic, it seems like there's certainly the potential for some big upside, too.
-- Willie T., Brooklyn, New York

• That’s awfully cynical. But Willie T.’s point is a gone one: damage to reputation notwithstanding, the three aforementioned players sanctioned for doping—the three most high-profile cases in recent years—sure haven't paid much of a price in the rankings.

I just want an honest (non-PC) quick answer as Mixed doubles takes the stage. Do you observe that the strategy leans towards hitting to the woman? (Not every shot obviously, but just generally in terms of strategy.) I’m just curious, since it is not on television often enough to judge for myself.
-- Robert, Toronto, Canada

• A male veteran of mixed doubles who does not wish to be named tells us that the unwritten rule is that the men “don't go at” the women. At least not until the match tightens. “Then everything is pretty much fair game.” In particular, he said that body serves increase as a match progresses. I’m just playing middleman here.

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You commented on it awhile back and you've proven to be correct: Genie's Army is disgusting.
-- James B.

• I contend that I never used the word “disgusting.” I believe it was “vaguely creepy.”  They have a corporate sponsor this year, though, so the army is unlikely to disband anytime soon.

Just watched Murray choke while serving for a two set lead against Dimitrov, but this brought up a thought I've had about Murray since he came back from back surgery: he seems to not have that fight that he had before he won Wimbledon. He had more pressure on him than I've ever seen on ANY tennis player (or sportsman, for that matter) and his three career highlights came within span of a year, and it looks like the wind went out of his sails.

How does someone who has basically achieved his life goals keep that 100% focus that is needed to win Grand Slams? After all, he was playing in an era with 3 ATGs ahead of him (and all of them with favorable numbers against him in Slams) -- he would justifiably have been thinking "maybe I'll never win one.” Finally he wins those 3 big tournaments, and he's achieved his life ambitions. It reminds me of what I have read about Mats Wilander's career: once he reached No. 1 and achieved his goals, the motivation left him.

Murray has a long way to go in his career (maybe he'll even win this Australian Open now that Federer is out), but he seems to have lost that absolute killer focus he needs. Who do you think has a better chance of winning another slam, Murray or Federer?
-- Harvey

• First, Murray obviously went on to win the match against Dimitrov. Second, I think Murray follows a fairly linear path. His entire tennis career is predicated on his winning a Major. (He is too self-aware to deny it.) He achieves this and then it becomes a question of winning Wimbledon. After going to great lengths—and enduring great disappointment in the process— he achieves that. This is the very definition of a quest. After all that there is an inevitable letdown, compounded by injury. Now, 18 months later, he is on a new quest. With renewed motivation and with a new team, he is determined to see if he can replicate his earlier success. End of story.

Jon, why pick on the women's seeds, pointing out that 14 didn't make it out of the 2R, when 16 ATP seeds didn't?
-- @breakpointsaved

• Fair point. Candidly, I noted that earlier when the women were dropping like flies. As of Monday, the draws are comparable in terms of seeds remaining.

Was looking at ESPN (rightfully) gawk over the amount of minutes Kobe Bryant's played in his career (55,000+) as he nears retirement, and it made me wonder: how many minutes of tennis has Serena played? 
-- Aaron R., Kansas City, Mo. 

• Thanks, Aaron. This is the (yet another) perfect example of a tennis data shortcoming. This should be easily scrape-able and obtainable. Which players have spent how many minutes on court? Who has won the most games per minute? This might even explain why so many players are still going strong in their mid 30s.

And yet, if this is gettable, well, it's beyond my ken. Anyone want a data project?

Shots, Miscellany 

Lilas asks: So, I'm wondering if we can institute a new rule: the two opponents on opposite sides of the net can't wear the exact same outfit or the same colors. I was watching the Bouchard-Garcia match (in the last round) on a 55" HDTV and I literally couldn't tell the two players apart. Both had the same color shoes, dress, and hat; along with the same braided pony tail. The Peng-Sharapova match was almost as bad, but at least in that one there was one blond head and one brunette.  This tournament has been especially bad -- I really don't remember so many players (more so amongst the women than the men) wearing the exact same outfits and/or colors. Surely, the companies that supply the kits could supply two complimentary colors -- sort of like home and away uniforms? It would surely make watching the match much easier on the viewers.  

• Helen from Philly has Long Lost Siblings: The marriage equality symbol and Maria Sharapova's dress.

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