A look into Wayne Odesnik and tennis' doping problem, plus more mail
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A lot can be said about Serena winning her eighth Miami title. But in those eight years, she only played Indian Wells once (this year, and she withdrew in the semifinals). She was not as mentally or physically drained as her competitors after having to play the two tournaments back-to-back. Why is it so hard to win both tournaments? And how incredible is it that Novak Djokovic has now done it three times, and in back-to-back years?
• Fair point about Serena. It’s not simply the match play. Unless you have the good fortune of flying privately, Palm Springs to Miami is as onerous as traveling between continents. (Three time zones; likely a connection; likely a redeye.)
Funny, this is a real feat—winning two 96-draw events on hard courts in the span of barely three weeks—but it’s not rare. By my counts this “spring double” has been pulled off ten times by men in the past quarter century, three times by women. Almost by definition, if an occurrence is common, it’s not a feat. But I would submit that winning these events back-to-back is really a significant accomplishment. Even if it happens a lot.
It's been fun to watch Simona Halep's career trajectory. Ten years from now when she retires are we celebrating:
A. The best player to never win a major.
B. A one-time French Open champion
C. A multiple major winner
D. Who's that?
—Cainim, North Dakota
• The operative word from your question: 10. Halep doesn’t turn 24 until after the U.S. Open. (The day after, ironically, Serena Williams turns 34.) That’s an awful lot of upside and awful lot of time to achieve. We’re talking about someone who has already come within a few points of winning a major. She moves well (peerlessly well?), plays intelligently, competes fiercely (her 2015 Australian Open notwithstanding) and manages her career professionally. If anyone is proposing she wins one major, I’ll happily take the over. Thus my answer is “C.”
There seemed to be a lot of rancor directed towards Wayne Odesnik from the other players after his latest doping ban, which was in sharp contrast to how other players often rally to the defense of those who have been sanctioned. It made me wonder: Is there locker room chatter such that the players kind of have a feel for who is and isn't using PEDs?
• The doping issue is peculiar. You hear speculation—immeasurably more than was issued just a few years ago—and while it often comes from members of the camp rather than the locker room, you proceed on the assumption that the coach/agent/trainer/botanist of Player X wouldn’t be expressing these views if Player X weren’t similarly skeptical.
Yet when players are clipped for violations, their colleagues close ranks and decry the system, the onerous testing and the feckless administrators. I understand that there’s a code. And the sense of brotherhood (the majority are male) and collegiality is admirable. But it’s surprising to me how often the indicted player is not disgraced, but rather has the public backing of his colleagues.
Odesnik is an exception. But he is also an exceptional cheater. The timeline here is really boggling.
1) Odesnik is caught at an airport in possession of HgH.
2) In the worst of plea deals this side of Darren Sharper, Odesnik gets his sentence halved by providing “substantial assistance” to the Tennis Integrity Unit.
3) Despite expressly denying this, Odesnik’s “assistance” led to the banning of Daniel Koellerer for alleged match fixing.
4) Odesnik’s name appears in the logs of Biogenesis, the same Miami clinic that provided PEDs to Alex Rodriguez among others. Shockingly, neither the ITF nor TIA respond to requests for comment.
5) Odesnik tests positive for the anabolic steroid methenolone and androst and growth hormone in an out-of-competition testing in December 2014, triggering a 15-year ban.
6) Odesnik has the gall to announce his retirement, wishing his “now former colleagues” well. We never pass up a chance to plug Hang Up and Listen for a takedown of Odesnik. (Go the 59:00 mark.)
All of which is to say, Andy Murray had it right.
Just wanted to share a quick comment on how much Andy Murray has impressed me of late (and not just with the 500 career wins milestone). When he first came on tour I was baffled by his irascible on-court demeanor, but lately he's won me over with his generosity and integrity as a player and a person. Donating his prize money to cancer research, publicly calling out cheaters (see: Odesnik), making unorthodox—and effective—coaching hires, tweeting positive comments about other players like Townsend and Sharapova...I'm a convert and officially a huge Murray fan. Wishing him well both on and off the court.
—Emily, Red House, W.Va.
• Agree. Murray has long been mischaracterized by his monotonous speaking and the moping he sometimes projects on court. Fueled in part by social media, but also by deeds, he has revealed himself to be a thoughtful, engaging and progressive guy. In tennis circles this is old news. (Full disclosure: in my experience he takes a backseat to no one in terms of being an accommodating interview.) But it’s nice to see word getting out.
Hiring Amelie Mauresmo was an obvious manifestation. But from gushing about Taylor Townsend to rightfully denouncing Wayne Odesnik, he’s really seemed to have found his voice.
ESPN's top 20 athletes of the last 20 years has Federer fifth and Serena sixth. Surely both belong in the ranking. But is there an argument for it to be the other way around with Serena 5th and Federer 6th?
• It’s apples and oranges, of course—of bicycle chains and potting soil; you know, two objects that are REALLY different—but a fun debate. Who’s better, Federer among men or Serena among women. I suspect Federer would do the gentlemanly thing and let Serena precede him.
I wanted to chime in re: today's Mailbag letter on empty seats at tournaments and your response. From the fan's perspective (as someone who's been to the U.S. Open multiple times), maybe one reason why seats are empty in the lower bowls of Ashe and Armstrong is that fans are being priced out of them and/or they're taken as corporate/sponsor giveaways whose holders don't always bother to show up. Much better to buy the grounds pass on the middle weekend and walk around all the great tennis being played rather than blow a bunch of money on close seats in Ashe, even if you do get to sit 45-feet away from Rafa or whoever.
• To me, the great appeal of attending a tennis event is the ability to roam and watch so many matches. Male, female, singles, doubles, stars, journeyfolk. What value! It’s like a music festival with less body odor and more un-ironic facial hair. When there’s only once match going on, I’m better off watching on Tennis Channel or its off-brand equivalent.
And here comes Fiona Lamb of St. Catharines, Ontario, to make a similar point: I totally agree with you about attending a live tennis match. It costs me a small fortune to attend just one session of Rogers Cup in Toronto. One session is only half a day I might add. The ticket itself runs into the hundreds of dollars and then there's the parking, which is a mile away from the actual stadium. I got lost once going back to my car at 1 a.m. Then there's the gas and the highway toll fee, and not to mention the rip off food prices. So, yes, now I prefer just to watch from the comfort of my own home. Sad but true. I went to Wimbledon in 2009 for my 40th birthday and it cost me around $3,000 for two days, not including the airplane ticket from Toronto to Heathrow. Shocking how expensive tennis is.
While a crowd might not necessarily be rooting against him, Djokovic seems to struggle emotionally with a crowd that is actively rooting for his opponent. He really seems to need that adoration and support in a way that I don't really notice with the other top players...male or female. Thoughts?
• I’d never really thought of it that way. But I rather like that Djokovic has always been clear about how much he responds to (craves?) a supportive crowd.
Paging Sharko: Djokovic recorded his second bagel of the tournament against Alexandr Dolgopolov, this time in the third set. How many bagel sets is this for Djokovic in 2015 and what is the record for most bagels in a year?
• Sayeth the Great One: Djokovic has five bagel sets this year so far*, the Open Era record in a year is 26 in 1977 by Guillermo Vilas.
*Update: This stat does not include three bagel sets at the Australian Open.
I see Helen Mirren playing Helen of Phildelphia in "Mailbag" (The Jon Wertheim Story). What say you?
—Marc Nichol,Youngstown, Ohio
• I have no idea what Helen looks like. But, sure. We like that Helen Mirren.
Could you make a Rafa & Bobby Knight fishing trip happen?
• Is very angry this man, no?
• ICYMI: Martin Blackman has been named General Manager of USTA Player Development.
• This week’s unsolicited book recommendation: The Tapper Twins by Geoff Rodkey.
• Thanks, Eric Teperman of New York for this note re: Serena’s Australian Open match point:
What you described in baseball did happen of a sort. Allie Reynolds was throwing a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox in very late September of 1951. It was a very tight Pennant race that year. The last hitter was Ted Williams and with two strikes on him, Reynolds induced him to pop up in foul territory behind home plate. Yogi Berra, unusually sure-handed for a catcher, somehow lost it in a blink of sun and it popped out of his glove. Yogi walked the ball back to the mound, and Reynolds told him, "F--k it, we'll get him again!,” and threw the exact same pitch in the exact same place and Williams popped up to almost the exact same place in foul territory, but this time Yogi held onto the ball. Reynolds pitched the only pennant clinching no hitter in history, and one in which the pennant was not insured if they lost it, because of the Yankees' slim lead.
If I remember right, this is the same Novotna who started reading a newspaper at change over while playing against Steffi Graf, as the news seemed more interesting than the outcome of her match....
• Frances Tiafoe sings with Jay-Z. Here’s more on Francis Tiafoe. And here’s hoping this goes well.
• From the ASICS Easter Bowl junior tournament: The USTA presented awards to coaching legends Jimmy Evert (accepted by son Drew Evert), Dennis Van Der Meer (not in attendance) and John Wilkerson.
• Reposting this LLS from Ivan: I was watching Better Call Saul last night and I was very surprised to see that Simona Halep had made room in her schedule to co-star in the show! (It's actually Rhea Seehorn.)
• Finally, Anthony Gresko was kind enough to take a break from his graduate work at the University of Georgia in the department of Infectious Diseases and write:
The clay court season is approaching and with Nadal being my favorite, and I myself having time on my hands while running flow cytometry or Immunohistochemistry assays, I wanted to collect some data that I’ve never seen before, or at least present it in a manner I’ve never seen. I’m sure everyone has seen the statistic 66-1 at Roland Garros, but I like seeing what the data actually looks like in graphical form. Attached is a Powerpoint with some data in graphical form, such as “average games lost per round” or “average games lost to one-handed backhand vs. two-handed”, or “average games lost to opponents played more than once.” Most of the information is from Roland Garros data, but there is some from Monte Carlo and some from Rome. This year’s upcoming clay court season may skew many of the graphs, as Nadal is seemingly not returning to his confident best, but he could prove me wrong. I don’t know if you can infer anything from the data, I just thought it was interesting to look at.