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A quick redeye-addled Mailbag, grab-bag style.
Both tours need to fine players heavily for refusing to shake an opponent's hand. I say this not necessarily because it is poor sportsmanship, but because it is just stupid and makes tennis and everyone involved in tennis look bad. How juvenile is Eugnenie Bouchard for refusing to shake someone's hand? How idiotic is Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to brush off an initial handshake, then have second thoughts and reach out, only to be refused? Ridiculous. Bouchard and Garcia Lopez should be fined insane amounts for forcing me (and all of us) to watch the ridiculous coverage of them refusing to shake hands. If we are forced to watch or read about their ignorance, they should be fined. Grow up!
—Charlie, Washington D.C.
• I go totally libertarian here. Do what you want, so long as no one is getting hurt and nothing is being corrupted. Bouchard, in particular, has taken a brutal hit in the court of the public opinion (it’s an international court) for declining to shake hands. If she can withstand that—if she wants to withstand that—fine. If it’s a sufficient deterrent, she won't do it again. Why bring in governing bodies? Selfishly, I would also add that the sport sometimes lacks for news items. No one wants players getting arrested or filing for bankruptcy. But if we get some dramatic tension and a few innocuous stories that go beyond match results, where's the harm?
The talk about the GOAT is probably tiring by now, but what do you think is the standout point for the men? Is it Slams won, weeks at No. 1, head to head against rivals or Masters 1000 tournaments won? I know it's a combination of them all, but if you were to rate them, what would be first (and last)? Do you think Davis Cup plays any real part? I think that the World Finals results are very important myself!
Also, if Gael Monfils were to stop playing tomorrow, do you think he would be the biggest under achiever ever in the game? All that talent and only one Grand Slam semifinal. Or what about Marat Safin? Marcelo Rios? David Nalbandian?
—Len, Fort William, Scotland
• 1) I think part of the fun and frustration of the GOAT discussion is the absence of standards and weights and measures; the lack of a “standout point” as you put it nicely. We seem to agree that it encompasses more than simply majors won. But then how much importance to we accord surface, style, longevity, head-to-head records, doubles, non-majors, Davis Cup, etc.?
2) To me, the great underachievers are those players who were blessed with talent and never get on the map. The flameouts from the juniors. This is always my point re: Donald Young. Has he fulfilled the Grand Slam projections? No. But he’s made millions of dollars playing tour-level tennis, sometimes at a top-40 level. There were comparably ranked juniors who haven’t had a fraction of his pro career. Aren’t they the real underachievers?
3) A quick word about Monfils. The Republic of Tennis is both heartened and frustrated by him. He is likely the best athlete ever to have played tennis. He wins plenty, often against the top stars. Yet he has never so much as made a major final. To me, this is perfect and speaks eloquently of tennis. Native talent and speed and the springy legs are wonderful assets. Yet, alone, they are not enough.
What are the chances that either Nadal or Djokovic surpasses Federer’s Grand Slam count?
• Funny, a year ago, we would have rated the chances as “good” for Nadal and—to borrow from my son's texting locution— “Bahahahaha” for Djokovic. Nadal would only need to win a few more French Opens—something he has done reliably over the last decade—pick off another few majors and…presto. Djokovic has less than half the total of Federer. Now? Nadal, of course, is struggling. And Djokovic looks unbeatable.
For now, let’s relax. Djokovic has won precisely ONE consecutive major title. And Nadal has lost at Roland Garros once in the last decade. He is the champ until proven otherwise. Let’s revisit in mid-June. Or better yet, mid-July.
Cheating a little, though, and projecting forward, I think one big factor is the Next Generation. Djokovic is obviously younger than Nadal and Federer. Chronically, yes, but also in a miles-left-on-the-odometer kind of way. If he continues to own Murray and if no younger challenge emerges, this could get very interesting over the next few years….
I was in my car on the way home for work when I thought about all the recent calls for Nadal to give Toni Nadal the boot. Then it hit me—Who would be the best person to take Rafa and make him new again? The answer is: Andre Agassi, of course. Both are honest, class acts and have similar "never give up or back down" styles! What do you think? Spread the news please. We can't give up on the poor guy while he is down.
—Patrick Kramer, Oslo
• Interesting thought. But Agassi has given no indication that he wants to coach. And Nadal has given no indication that there is a vacancy.
This was one of those casual hallway talks, so I will not name names. But I was speaking recently with a former champion who made an interesting observation about Toni. This former player is a fan of the Nadal camp and was not saying this critically. But, essentially, he noted that Toni is more of a diagnostician than a clinician. He is great at spotting the issues. He is less good at solving the issues. When Nadal figures out how to take Toni’s observations and use them to his advantage, all is good. When Nadal knows the problems but struggles to self-correct, life becomes more difficult.
I have a tennis anecdote I wanted to share with you. Last week, I went to a PowerShares Series event in Boston that featured John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, James Blake and Todd Martin. My friend and I (broke grad students) bought the cheapest tickets for $45; however, the event was about half full so we moved up several rows after it started. About halfway through the event, a security guard walked through the upper levels of the stadium and started pulling people to go sit in the closest seats, about 10 feet from the players! My friend and I were directed to two seats in the front row, where we happily watched Blake and McEnroe play a really competitive set. I couldn't help but think: if Powershares can develop a system for letting fans fill up the empty seats in the front, then why can't professional tennis tournaments? That was one of the coolest experiences of my life and I bet it looked better on television to have a front row full of interested, engaged fans.
• Someone needs to send this to tournaments, starting with the French Open. Obviously, when there are suites and boxes involved, it can be hard to give the unoccupied premium seating to the great unwashed. But there has to be a way to a) reward the real tennis fans and b) eliminate the eyesore of vast empty seats that plague so many tennis broadcasts.
I pick on the French Open because it’s a Grand Slam, but also because there is a certain irony. The Roland Garros grounds are absolutely packed, to an unpleasant degree. So much so that there are long lines for restrooms and persistent discussions about expansion. Watching from home you would never know this. You watch Court Central and it could be mistaken for the crowd at Wednesday’s Orioles game.
Is it time to start discussing potential "calendar year Masters Slam" in addition to "calendar year Grand Slam"?
—Helen of Philadelphia
• Very nice observation—though reports are still swirling that Djokovic will announce his withdrawal from Madrid. You could make the case that the Masters Grand Slam is MORE impressive than the conventional variety. More matches cumulatively. Better opposition, given the lower draw cut offs. Fewer days offs between matches. More surfaces, with indoor making the mix. More travel demands. You're obviously missing the best-of-five format—and the general heightened atmosphere of a major. But still a Masters Slam would be the meanest of feats.
Hey Jon, thanks for the Mailbag. It continues to entertain, inform, and (at completely the worst times) distract. So Jack Sock is ranked and ready for a seed in Paris. Since I saw him play Roddick four years ago at the U.S. Open, I've thought there's a big upside to Jack. If he maintains the rank and earns a French Open seed, will that be newsworthy? Significant? Or will I be the only one paying attention?
—Paul Treacy, Chapel Hill, N.C.
• I think it’s much more a question of what he does with the seed than whether he actually gets it. But, yes, it’s an achievement. All the more so given that Sock can play on clay and some of the reason for his ever-improving ranking owes to results on the dirt.
• RIP Stefano Capriati and condolences to the family.
• Nani writes of Angelique Kerber: Wondering how much of this had any role in recent performances by Kerber that came out of nowhere. Not a mere coincidence, is it? After all, she got to spend time with her role model on court.....
• The USTA has launched a nationwide online audition as part of its ninth annual U.S. Open casting call for a chance to perform “America the Beautiful” live in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2015 U.S. Open.
• From our friends at the Hall of Fame: On May 20 we’re re-opening our museum after a six-month, $3 million renovation. The new museum offers a completely new and exciting experience for visitors and tennis fans, including a hologram of a current tennis star, a broadcast booth simulation, new historical items, a global tennis feature and more.
• The Greenbrier Resort is announcing the grand ppening of a 2,500 seat tennis stadium, Center Court at Creekside on June 20th, featuring Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
• The USTA announced that the media work room at the National Tennis Center is being named in honor of Bud Collins.
• Re: the story of the two tennis Hall of Famers who were aboard the Titanic. If you’re interested in reading more, check out Starboard at Midnight by Helen Behr Sanford.
• Brigitte Nardella of Montreal has an all-Canadian edition of LLS for this week: Vasek Pospisil and soccer star Christine Sinclair