11 first-quarter thoughts, Djokovic's chances at a Grand Slam, more mail
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Already sick of the pre Masters hype but it made me "pine" (sorry) for the next major in tennis. Since we have a relative lull in the schedule we can conjecture. What are your thoughts of Novak Djokovic realistically winning a true Grand Slam? A lot of things have to go right but don't you feel with a sub-prime Rafael Nadal, his chances of winning the French are optimal. Plus he's already proven himself at the other majors. "He's already in the GOAT discussion but a feat like this vaults him to the top," says a completely non-credentialed individual.
• It's funny, when I first started covering tennis, inevitably, a player would win Australia and, reflexively, the discussion would turn to handicapping the odds of a Grand Slam. Thomas Johansson? You never know! Andre Agassi? Well, he HAS won each of the majors already. Maria Sharapova? Well, too bad she can’t do better on clay. (This was 2008).
Anyway, this year Djokovic and Serena won in Australia. Two No. 1 players. Both capable of winning on any surface. And there’s been scant talk. In the case of Djokovic, I kind of get it. Nadal, of course, stands sentry in Paris. And it’s been more than 20 years since a male player so much as won the first two legs. Still, Djokovic has as good a chance as anyone, especially—as Neil notes—with a subprime Nadal. Give him 50/50 chance of winning a major and there’s a 1-in-8 chance he wins. That’s a conversation worth having.
In the case of Serena, I guess you point to her recent shortcoming in Paris as well as her failure to win more than two Slams in a year since 2012. But as a former French Open winner, an unrivaled competitor and player who only gets better as a tournament progresses, her winning three more majors is well within in the realm of possibility.
Usually we’re distrustful of longshot feats. But this year, we have a real shot at a Grand Slam winner both “his” and “hers.” If either (or both) possibilities are still in play after Paris, we will personally operate the hand-crank on the hype machine.
Interesting that Jack Sock says clay is his favorite surface. I wonder how many top 10 players the past 10 years have grown up as clay as his/her primary surface? Makes you wonder why we are having this drought in American tennis. Seems that this serve-and-miss stuff that we see all day long on the hard courts in North America is not getting—at least the men—anywhere. Maybe it is time to place the best talents in America on the orange stuff early to hone their skills! Really looking forward to seeing the Monte Carlo tournament.
• I sometimes feel like these players are like rock stars on tour. “We’ve always said no one knows how to rock like Denver!” The next night: “We’ve always said that our best fans are in Kansas City!” Win a tournament a Surface X and you tell the crowd it’s your preferred surface. (Jack Sock, from the guts of the Greats Plains, says that HE prefers clay? That’s almost un-American.)
Eugenie Bouchard’s record against the current top 10 is so poor: she’s 5–16 (0–2 vs. Serena, 0–4 vs. Sharapova, 1–2 vs. Halep, 0–3 vs. Kvitova, 1–0 vs. Wozniacki, 2–1 vs. Ivanovic, 0–2 vs. Makarova, 0–1 vs. Radwanska and 1–1 vs. Suarez Navarro) that I'm starting to think really serious that this girl it's a fluke who had a lot of luck from her draws to reach the top five last year. She is a big candidate to be the next Daniela Hantuchova or Anna Chakvetadze. Your thoughts? Numbers don't lie.
—Igor Wright, Brasília (Brazil)
• Before we get started, says here Anna Chakvetadze is one of the great un(der)told tennis stories. This has documentary written all over it. I’m still holding firm on Bouchard. She just turned 21 a few weeks ago. Yes, she could use an upgrade in results (and health). Yes, there’s probably some halo effect going on here. But it’s way too early to be doubtful. Here’s a player who was in the juniors a few years go and is now—even after a dismal stretch— in the top eight? That’s no fluke.
The Viktor Troicki and Marin Cilic cases were not remotely similar to the cases of Wayne Odesnik, Peter Korda and other lesser players who were actively cheating and got caught. Troicki has never failed a drug test and if it had been made clear that he would've been penalized for not taking the blood test that day despite his feeling sick and hatred of needles, he would've taken it. He passed the very next day. That seemed to be a case of misunderstanding which cost him a year. Cilic too had been spotless until taking an over the counter substance bought by his mom during a tournament found to be illegal. No one trying to cheat would've knowingly taken a banned substance knowing he'd be tested that very same day after his match. As Andy Murray said, it was stupid but nothing more. No woman player that I know of has been found guilty of using banned substances. All in all tennis is a very clean sport compared to baseball, football and cycling which have all had numerous superstars caught cheating, and in view of their mitigating circumstances, neither Troicki or Cilic deserved to be ostracized by fellow players or disgraced as you suggest.
• No one is making the case the circumstances of Troicki or Cilic were similar to Odesnik or Korda, where there was either a positive result for a performance-enhancer or strong circumstantial evidence of cheating. But my point is this: it’s hard to demand tougher rules and anti-doping protocol, only to side with the player and blame the system when your buddy gets ensnared. You want an anti-doping program with some teeth? You can’t cite extenuating circumstances every time a colleague gets clipped.
I remember reading last year you said you would do a 50 parting shots after Indian Wells/Miami. Is that still happening?
—Anonymous, Clifton, N.J.
• I got summoned for jury duty. Taking a peek at my notebook, here are a few items:
1) Who warmed up Novak Djokovic before his Indian Wells finals match against Roger Federer? Why, former top tenner Mario Ancic, who was taking a break from the third year at law school (redundant? 3L is one big Spring Break) and was in the desert. (Read more about Ancic at Columbia here.)
2) Everyone handled themselves considerably better this time around. But Serena Williams makes a triumphant return to Indian Wells….only to pull out of a much-anticipated match with an injury. File this under “Only in Tennis, Part 12,343.”
3) Madison Keys has all the tools and, solely on the basis of the power-athleticism combo, she can spend a decade in the top echelon. But she could use a dose of nasty. As David Letterman says, “Put the annoy in Illinois.”
4) Jack Sock has all the tools and, solely on the basis of the power-athleticism combo, he can spend a decade in the top echelon.
5) The tours should keep a stat for players struggling with racket switching. It happens all the time. It’s an open secret. It’s seldom discussed but has a big impact on results.
6) Ernests Gulbis is really struggling. It’s now old news but we had heard that Gulbis had parted ways with Gunther Bresnik and might be working with Thomas Enqvist.
7) That Wayne Odesnik would face a third doping-related incident and then announce his retirement gives new dimension to the word gall. (If “chutzpah” were a banned substance, he’d really be in trouble.)
8) In its ongoing attempt to distance itself from other events, Indian Wells is likely to build a third stadium court. This one will not feature NoBu, but will likely feature a tennis museum instead.
9) He didn't get the result he wanted but nice to see Mardy Fish back in action in Indian Wells. Let’s see where he goes from here.
10) Tennis is better with Juan Martin del Potro at full strength.
11) Bonus: John McEnroe shaved by the time he sat between Larry Ellison and Bill Gates. But let the record reflect this happened.
So what's your take on Aga Radwanska's struggles? Has everyone just figured out her game? Any injuries at play? She's always struggled against the top players but now she's losing to players she used to beat routinely. It's a shame. I love her game but at the rate things have been going I don't see her staying in the top 10, much less winning a Grand Slam. Has she maxed out or are there still things she can do to elevate her game?
• The Aga Radwankska-Martina Hingis comparisons have always been there, two undersized players who offset a deficit of power with an abundance of cleverness. But just as Hingis had no margin for error when opponents hit through her so easily, Radwanska really struggles when she is a little off. This could be an injury that makes her five percent less mobile. It could be dented confidence. It could be a tempestuous ball toss. Especially as she gets in on years—she’s 26 now; they grow up fast, these Radwanskii—it gets increasingly hard for her to win when she is playing less than optimal tennis.
What is the over under for Odesnik to make a comeback? I for one like his chances.
• Well, it’s a 15-year ban. You cut that in half by providing “significant assistance.” Boom—seven-and-a-half years and Odesnik is 36. The way the field is aging, that will barely be middle-aged.
History was made at the Miami Open when all of the No. 1 seeds and defending champions in men's singles & doubles and women's singles & doubles were victorious (with the exception of Mirza, since Hingis/Lisicki won in 2014). Has this ever happened before?
—Michael Noche, San Francisco
• Good catch. An unofficial historian who does not want to be mentioned by name claims this is a first.
So what happens if a ball kid says, “sorry, I can’t hold your towel, it’s dirty”? Can a player have the ball kid replaced? Can a player insist on that and would the request be honored by the umpire?
—Tim Johnson, New York
• I am reminded of this:
From Gayle Bradshaw, ATP Executive Vice President, Rules & Competition: If just sweat or a little red clay then I doubt it would ever be an issue. In the case where there are bodily fluids such as a player blowing his nose in the towel or anything involving blood, then the ball kid would not be expected to touch it and in fact, the chair umpire would notify the player he is not to give a soiled towel to the ball kid.
• A few of you asked for the Milton Bradley story. Feel like this needs some sort of advisory, but here goes. Probably the most wrenching story I’ve ever tried to put together.
• From the Being-a-Good-Corporate-Citizen department, feel free to vote for Sports Illustrated here.
• An oldie: What are the secrets to Nadal’s training?
• Jeff of New York notes: Just as Arantxa Sanchez, mid-career, became “Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario," it appears that Albert Ramos has become “Albert Ramos-Vinolas.”
• Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer is the winner of the 2015 Tennis Media Award.
• Gilles Simon on tennis finances.
• You want college tennis? The USTA is helping with platforms.
• Yesterday, Benjamin Balleret played Monte Carlo as a wild card. This has happened before.
• Bryan G. of New York notes: World Cup Golden Boot winner shows off his forehand:
Tarde de tennis! Great afternoon playing tennis! Posted by James Rodriguez Oficial on Friday, April 10, 2015
• Shalini Abey of New York has LLS:
Yanina Wickayer and Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring"
• Finally here’s an op-ed of sorts from Murray Robinson:
Who will pay for the next American Djokovic?
We in the U.S. are fixated with Champions. We are mesmerized by the Academy Awards as if only the winners are the only talented ones. Our small city corners post signs displaying football champions and basketball champions as if the rest of the kids aren’t worth it unless they all receive trophies. We tally up the Olympic medal count and get upset if we don’t “out-medal “this country or that country. And, yes, when it comes to tennis, we are all getting more depressed because we haven’t produced a men’s champion in the last 10 years and don’t have anyone currently ranked in the top 15. Oh my, can life as we know it continue to exist? Tennis is not above this culture and the USTA is willing to spend over 50 million dollars chasing this dream.
Should we be spending more money on a national tennis facility? Yes. Is $50 million a bit much for a palatial center only a few will ever see? Yes. Does tennis really want to contribute to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Do we want to become college football? I don’t think so. Should USTA tennis be spending most of that $50 million giving out some rackets and kids courts to regular kids around the country to turn them on to tennis? Yes. Yes. Yes. Like the Becks and Arthur Ashe did in Philadelphia, spread the joy of tennis to all of the neighborhoods and interest and achievement will follow. The U.K. is already dismantling their palatial national tennis center wishing they had built multiple small centers. We as a country are getting more urban and less “country club” and tennis has to change with the times.
With the Internet, the world is now truly global and, yes, remote countries are producing great tennis players. Why has the world has been producing men’s champions and the U.S. hasn’t? It is a complex question and I am afraid to say a palatial tennis center isn’t going to answer it. Other parts of the world are trying to be like the U.S. in showing their kids all types of sports and we at home should be proud of that. Is it so bad if tennis is truly global? I don’t think so. Will tennis disappear in the U.S. if we aren’t the greatest? No.
With all this being said, tennis isn’t exactly an easy sell to the kids, especially at the tournament level. If you have ever tried to win a tennis match against an opponent with the same skill set and level as you, it ain’t easy. If you ever had to get a second serve in (let alone in good position) on a breakpoint, it ain’t easy. But tennis is a mind/body experience, which is what everybody wants nowadays. In other words—you have to be fit, have strong legs and a brain that can guide you and allow you to use your attributes and keep you under control. That’s what life is about as well. And with tennis—with all respect to John Isner—you don’t need to be 6’6’’; you don’t have to use your head/brain/body as a battering ram nor your brain to head in goals.
Tennis has a minor league training system and its called college. And men’s tennis has a minor league tournament/ranking system with the Challengers and the Futures tours. The Challenger and Future tours need more of the spotlights, need more of the ATP wildcard spots and the has-beens need to look out and help the younger players like Ernests Gulbis did last year. The one thing we have in the U.S. that other countries don’t have is our colleges. College tennis is a way to play/train/compete in tennis while also having a plan “B” and “C”. And yes 99.9% need a plan “B” and “C”. Our tennis parents and coaches at the local and college level need to know how to win tennis matches and also how to mentor our tennis youth through their late teens and early twenties.
We have to respect the process and not be mesmerized only by the end result. The whole process has to produce educated, modern thinking winners in tennis, public service, medicine, teaching, law, finance and other entrepreneurial endeavors. We have a great game and have to be realistic in terms of what the process involves. Producing and helping to keep the minds and bodies of our tennis youth clear and strong is key and if all of us can do that, we will have our winner.
—Murray Robinson, M.D., Atlanta Neurosurgical Associates; UPenn, All Ivy League Tennis Team 1978-1981 and captain; 1976 USTA National 16 & under doubles champion