Wednesday February 4th, 2015

NEW YORK -- Let’s put a bow (and curtsy) on the 2015 Australian Open with a quick Mailbag. But before we get going:

a) Thanks to everyone who emailed, tweeted, interacted during the event. Sorry I couldn't always get to all of your questions, but you guys make the majors even better. We’ll do it again in Paris (if not before).

b) I pledge to do this more often: Cleaning out the notebook, I want to share with you some tennis chatter from last weekend. Here’s Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, moments after his protégé’s 19th major title:

Q: Do you ever expect [Serena] to lose to Maria?

Patrick Mouratoglou: Never. Why? If someone beats someone 15 or 16 times [in a row], you have to admit they are a better player. She’s just a better player. I mean, Maria is an incredible player, Maria is also improving, always trying to come to the court with new things. Tonight she played a very high level. But still, Serena wins in two sets. Did you ever see Maria play better than tonight? And, still, she loses in two sets. When I say a better player, [Serena] has bigger weapons and mentally maybe she is a bit better. And it makes a difference. Maria is an incredible player. But when you beat someone so many times in a row, then something…

Q: What do you make of Serena mentally? Match point she hits a let. Then hits the exact same serve to the exact same place.

Mouratoglou: Not exactly, a bit higher…

Tennis
Serena Williams announces return to Indian Wells, ends 14-year boycott

Q: What’s your explanation, beyond the clichés about “rising to the challenge”…

Mouratoglou: I knew she would do it. I knew she would hit the same serve and I knew she would hit an ace. When I look at her I know what is going to happen. In the second set, she was down 0-30 on every game, but if I looked at her, I knew she was going to come to 30-30.

Q: Why?

Mouratoglou: Because I know there are things that come to her mind, And when they do come to her mind, they make her incredible.

Q: Do you discuss this? The mental strength, what do you attribute this to?

Mouratoglou: There are things you can and can't explain. I think first of all, she has a certain education from her family that makes her a really tough person, tough in competition, an unbelievable competitor. She was raised with nothing, she comes from nowhere and she became maybe the biggest player of all-time because of her mentality. Plus, I think, the father did it with both sisters, so it has to do with the education a lot. When education meets a personality like Serena, it creates, maybe the biggest champion of all-time. She has something she was born with and it’s her character. She refuses to lose. And when she refuses to lose, she finds solutions that are incredible.

Mailbag

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

Novak Djokovic is 5-6 all-time at the Aussie Open. Rafa Nadal is 9-1 at the French Open. It’s not even close...
-- @TorontoTom

Tennis
Djokovic defeats Murray to win his fifth Australian Open title

This pertains to my suggestion (phrased as a question) that Melbourne is feeling like Djokovic’s domain the way Paris feels like Nadal’s. Obviously the numbers suggest that we’re not there yet. Nadal has, as @TorontoTom notes, won in Paris nine out of ten times. Consider this another way: he has won the French Open more times than any player in history has won any other Slam.

Still, there has become a sense that the Djokovic is starting to own Melbourne in a similar way. The surface plays perfectly to Djokovic’s game; his past success inflates his present confidence; when the tournament starts you take him against the field; winning a set against him is considered an achievement. It takes a Herculean effort or set of circumstances for someone else to win the trophy, something only one player has done in the last half-decade.

 On Twitter you asked the question: “What is more likely, Nadal catching Federer or Djokovic catching Nadal?” But you never answered it yourself. What do you say?
-- Bryan H., Brooklyn, N.Y.

As a matter of math, you have to say Nadal. He’s within three titles of tying Federer. You figure that, even at compromised health, he might well be able to win the French Open three more times, no? (Then the debate starts: Nadal leads the head-to-head. But Federer’s Slam titles are more evenly distributed. And we’re off…)

One does sense, though, that Djokovic is coming hard. While he’s only a year younger than Nadal chronologically, he has lot less physical wear and tear. The big variable here is Nadal’s health.

Tennis
Fifty parting thoughts from the Australian Open

I love the "50 Parting Thoughts" franchise.  There's one thing I partially disagree with that you mentioned (in a nutshell): "The weather was delightful for players and fans." While it was nice not to have faint-inducing heat —like last year, or that Hingis vs. Capriati final in 2002, when they had to take them to the locker rooms and cover them with ice for 10 minutes— it was disappointing that this year it rained during both finals. 

My point being: The Serena vs. Sharapova final was almost an indoors match. Out Serena's six title matches in Melbourne, four have been played with the roof closed (2003 vs. Venus, 2007 vs. Sharapova, 2010 vs. Henin and 2015 vs. Sharapova). Djokovic vs. Murray also played with the roof closed.

I hate thinking of the Australian Open as an "indoor" sort-of Slam, at least during the finals. Should the A.O. move the final matches to the day, instead of the night, or try to avoid somehow for this to keep happening? What are your thoughts of a Slam with so many finals played "indoors"?
-- Cristina Kalb, N.Y.

Tennis
Daily Data Viz: New player-coach partnerships for 2015

​​That’s a really good point. I meant the weather wasn’t a factor in terms of Snoopy hallucinations and ice vests and threats of heat stroke. But, Cristina’s point is well taken. When rain (or mere threat of rain) causes the roof to close, and the event moves from al fresco to indoors, it can have a significant impact. The change in conditions—the lower bounce, the humidity, the faster court—are real. Like most sporting events, the Australian Open is beholden to television and so long as the rights-holder likes the prime time finals, not much will change.

When Murray chose former champion Lendl and won Wimbledon, it started a fad.  Because of his run in Australian, do you expect more followers in his latest innovative coaching decision?
-- Barbara Katzenberg

I do. But I also think economics play a role. Apart from sexism, the case against hiring a female coach used to go like this: she could not give you a competitive hit. This is also why female coaches have been dwindling in the women’s game. Now, though, players can afford to have a coach and a hitting partner. Martina Navratilova, for instance, was on Aga Radwanska’s side of the court while Radwanska practiced with mostly male partners.

Murray is uncommonly progressive here, not least because his own mother is a capable coach. I wouldn’t expect wholesale change. But I do think more players, male and female, will entertain more options and more candidates when making these personnel decisions.

​​In Melbourne, Murray complained to the umpire about something Berdych said on the changeover and then complained that he lost concentration in the final because Djokovic allegedly played possum. Shouldn't someone at Murray's level -- the pinnacle of professional tennis -- handle both of these alleged transgressions by his opponent a bit more in stride?
-- Dan, New York, N.Y.

I’m not sure I agree with your premise. Berdych muttered something on a changeover after tense set—for the record: he asserts it was a self-motivated “Good job, Tomas”—which is neither incendiary nor uncommon. Murray objected. Then he won 12 of the next 14 games. He turned this into a bit of mental warfare; and then won said war.

In golf there seems to be a pecking order in the majors, where the PGA Championship is for some reason the least significant major. Do you think there is a pecking order in the tennis Slams?
-- Eric Bukzin, Manorville, N.Y.

• The Australian used to be fourth, the Ringo of the Slams. It has since elevated its status. Aided by the fact they are played on different surfaces and in different countries, I think we’re nearing parity among the majors. (I’ve noticed that when you ask players about Slam, it’s more about aesthetics and personal preference—“I love Paris in the spring”—than real status in tennis terms.) The real pecking order now is among the Masters 1000s.

Tennis
Serena Williams wins Australian Open, 19th major title in champion form

18 aces by a woman in a Grand Slam final, and 13 in the final set? Both have got to be records. No doubt the indoor conditions helped. When Sharapova saw that roof closing, it must have seemed not unlike the lid of her own coffin, sealing her fate.
-- Bob Kim, Gaithersburg, M.D.

• That this stat isn’t easily obtainable is really an indictment. You have a sense tennis administrators still don't understand the appetite—and value—for easily accessed stats. My research tells me this is a record among women.

Question:  Is there any doubt now that Serena is the greatest hard court player of all time? Loving your column.
-- Joe Johnson, Wilson Boro, PA

Thanks. There’s an extraneous phrase “hard court” in your question.

Tennis
Mailbag: Wawrinka's one-hand backhand, Nick Saviano, more mail

I think you made a mistake by forgetting to give a shout out to Stan Wawrinka in your “50 Parting Thoughts” from the Australian Open. I don’t think it was intentional. Please give him his due in the next Mailbag as he was defending champion and took Djokovic to five sets to almost get to the final. Granted his ranking will drop to nine, but his backhand was outstanding until the fifth set. Then he started guiding it.
-- Sincerely, Sunil

Good point. Wawrinka did himself proud defending his honor, if not his title and points haul. With bonus for the backhand, he was terrific for five rounds, including a statement win over Kei Nishikori. And he played Djokovic tougher than anyone else.

Though he obviously has a Slam, I’m starting to think of Wawrinka and Berdych as kindred spirits. Terrific players who had the misfortune of coinciding with the Big Four and are too old to be part of the ATP’s push of Nishikori/Dimitrov/Raonic. Throw in Tsonga and maybe even Robin Soderling and Wawrinka/Berdych form a Lost Generation of sorts.

Shots, miscellany

 • Here's a must read: How to fix a tennis match

 • From the South Africa bureau: the trial of bob Hewitt starts next Monday.

• Press releasing: Masimo, Lavazza and Barracuda Networks have signed sponsorship agreements with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

 • Helen from Philadelphia: My favorite "strong woman" moment -- watching Patrick Mouratoglou walk behind Serena, carrying her bags, before the women's final. You rock, GF.

• This week’s unsolicited book recommendation: The Opposite of Spoiled by the great Ron Lieber.

• Our LLS stalwart Ivan H. of Brooklyn, N.Y., offers: Actor Andrew Garfield and Andy Murray:

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.