A quick Mailbag before the Big Show. Check back later this week for a new Beyond the Baseline podcast, seed reports and more.
Roger, Roger, Roger! I doff my hat to “Sir Awesome.” What magnificent tennis at Cincinnati! I think he has a great chance to win the U.S. Open. Your thoughts?
—Dayo H., Cordova, Tenn.
• We could play extinguisher to the fire, noise police to the party, O’Hare to the smooth travel plans, sobriety checkpoint to St. Patrick’s Day. Which is to say, we point out that a best-of-five match is different from a best-of-three match. The day off between matches players are conferred at Slams makes a huge difference. The pressure of playing for a major—your first in three plus years—is different from playing for another title in southwest Ohio. Djokovic is the top seed for a reason—and going for his third major of 2015, fresh from a Wimbledon title beating…..Federer.
But save that for another time. Federer looked John Oliver-sharp in Cincy. At the wizened age of 34, he is still capable of greatness. He has tapered his schedule to peak at the right times and, having played only one event since Wimbledon, he ought to be fresh in New York. Djokovic looked decidedly flat in the North American hardcourt events. (Andy Murray, meanwhile, has lost five straight matches to Federer and hasn’t notched a win over him in almost three years.) Does Federer have “a great chance to win”? That might be pushing it. But a legitimate chance. Absolutely.
First, over the past several years, the talk of Roger Federer winning another major has centered around Wimbledon. But, looking at how he played in Cincinnati this past week, I think Roger Federer might just be the one to beat going into the U.S. Open. However, I wanted to get your opinion on Federer's new tactical move of rushing toward the net on his opponent's second serve. It seems, to me anyway, that this is a distraction for the server and goes against sportsmanship. He is moving (not just a slow move, mind you) and, if I was serving, I would find that distracting. I wonder what he would say if the tables were turned and his opponent pulled that move. Thoughts?
—Tim, Atlanta, Ga.
• The conventional thinking that if Federer were to win another major it would come at Wimbledon? I think that was much about conditions as the surface. Federer’s success on grass speaks for itself. But we’re also talking about an event where the temperatures are usually mild (unlike Melbourne and New York), wind is seldom a factor (unlike new York), the distractions are minimal and there is a roof to prevent scheduling screw-ups. But, yes, based on form, Federer looks to have put himself in position to win the U.S. Open.
As for this new tactic, it’s fun to watch, it’s encouraging—even symbolic—that Federer is still innovating and trying to devise new ways to win. But let’s keep this in perspective. He hasn’t added an octave to his range. This isn't the jump shot to go with his lost post game. It’s a fun tactic—just north of a gimmick—that could win him a few points. Period.
The sportsmanship angle didn't bother me. And, given ample opportunity to complain, it didn’t bother the opposition either.
Full disclosure: this came up a lot among you guys. Bob Kim of N.Y. wrote: “I heart the Fed like no other. But it is not irrelevant that Roger himself said he employed the new tactic as a joke during practice, where he discovered that lo and behold, he's good at it! Bottom line: is it right to treat an opponent's serve like you're in a 12-and-under tournament, even if you CAN because, well, you're Roger Federer?” Here’s Fernando: “Wow, so much hype surrounding Federer's running up to return serves. Yes, Federer's new found service return aggression is newsworthy, but the run up to the service line appears to Fernando as a disrespectful exhibition stunt which has no impact on any match. Let's keep it real, Jon.”
We always try to keep it real.
So, it looks like Roger Federer finally broke that promise to Roy Emerson. I can't recall him EVER going to his box after a win before—but that was a really sweet scene of him with his girls. Maybe Roy would make a special exception for a seventh title.
—Helen of Philadelphia
• Right on. I suspect the other exception is having young daughters in the stands.
I've always appreciated your willingness to acknowledge how professional tennis is rife with conflicts of interests, particularly among the commentators covering the sport. I was struck by an exchange between Cliff Drysdale and Mary Joe Fernandez during ESPN's coverage of the Western and Southern Open final. Fernandez noted that Serena had already lost nine sets in Grand Slam play this year while Graf only lost two during her 1988 Grand Slam year. Drysdale asked, "Doesn't this reflect how much stronger the women's game is today?" Silence. Drysdale then rephrased the question as, "Does it mean that women's fields are deeper today since I realize I'm asking about your generation?" Fernandez bluntly said, "No. There's no difference. I remember hitting with Steffi Graf before matches and being tired just from the warm up." I have never been so struck by a commentator's choice to defend her own era at the expense of credibility, and I have never been so embarrassed for a former professional athlete to acknowledge how poorly prepared she was to compete at the highest level of the game. So I would ask you, Jon, does Serena Williams face a significantly deeper field in her pursuit of the Grand Slam in 2015 than Graf did in 1988?
• I will always maintain that these conflicts really stunt tennis’s growth, deprive the fans of honest/objective coverage and make the sport look small and incestuous. But I don't see a conflict here. Cliff Drysdale asked a reasonable question, the kind we would expect one analyst to ask of a former player. Mary Joe Fernandez gave what I assume was an honest answer. I don’t think it’s her “defending her era” so much as her giving a candid assessment. There is a sense among many—fans, media, Justine Henin—that, without diminishing Serena, she is not exactly competing against a murderer’s row. If anything, good for MJF for taking the question seriously and resisting the easy answer.
You've mentioned a few times Andy Roddick's successful stint as a live commentator. I'd like to give a shout-out to Marion Bartoli as well, whom I heard call some matches toward the end of last year, during the WTA finals if I'm not mistaken. She was so thoughtful and specific, deconstructing points tactically, analyzing players' technique and providing great insights into the mental aspect of the game. Should we expect to hear more of Marion's match commentary at some point?
• Total candor: I have not really heard much of Bartoli, at least not in English. But it doesn’t surprise me at all. She’s smart and insightful and never played politics.
The ATP surpasses itself by inventing a new game: Tennis with NO BALLS!! Their decision is pathetic.
• This pertains to the ATP’s decision on Nick Kyrgios. While public opinion was all over the place, most of you seemed to think the punishment was too soft. There’s little disagreement that that some penalty was in order. But I don’t see how the penalty could have been much harsher. There was vulgarity but no profanity. There was no abuse or physical contact. That other players were implicated made the remarks all the more odious; but I’m not sure how that can factor into a punishment. A friend who is a sports lawyer sent me the relevant part of the code and concluded in advance that the ATP’s hands were tied here. We all knew what Krygios said was a serious line-cross. But it’s harder to articulate why.
I also feel like this is swirling around out there but no one had mentioned it specifically. Here goes: six years ago, a prominent player—who has since matured— had a meltdown on the court during a match. She not only used unprintable language but made a physical threat. And the object of her anger wasn’t a competitor but an official. She was fined but not suspended. Different tours, different times. But still, with this incident as a precedent, it was tough to see Kyrgios doing hard time in the tennis hoosegow.
Was wondering if you have any good Bud Collins stories to share. I was thinking how great it would be if he could see Serena achieve the true calendar year slam. I would like for him to be able to say that in his lifetime, every true grand slam has happened, including this one. I imagine he gave you some pointers as a new tennis beat reporter?
—Jon, Seattle, Wa.
• That’s a lovely thought. I always say that everyone in the U.S. press room—a room now named in Bud’s honor—should be tithing to Bud. Were it not for him, how many of us would even have jobs in tennis media?
Anyway, one of the very first tennis events I ever covered for Sports Illustrated: Manhattan Beach, 1998. Nervously, I walk into the press room—a tent, really—for about 30 seconds before Bud comes up introduces himself. I feel like the new kid at school who gets taken by the hand by the senior quarterback. Bud Collins is introducing himself to me? Anyway, when the night session starts, I go up to my seat in the media section, which is way the hell up a set of bleachers. I am sitting with the media folks but also all the other tournament staffers who are off duty. Guys to my left are maintenance workers and grounds crew types who are rowdy and happy to be at a sporting event but clearly novice fans. Lindsay Davenport wins the first night match. Before the next match, Bud is on the court either presenting or receiving some award. He walks out with his crazy pants. One maintenance guy pokes his friend and, in heavily accented English, says, “Look! There’s the guy from the other night who taught us how to keep score!”
I think one stat we need to include when discussing stats is how many times did Nadal or Federer lose before they were scheduled to meet in a tourney. Of the times that they did not meet, how many were losses from Nadal and how many were from Federer. I think when Nadal was at his peak Roger was almost always there but in the early days and now, Nadal loses more and doesn’t end up meeting Roger. So Roger's stats look worse in the head to head. I feel Roger would have beaten Nadal in Cincinnati but Nadal already lost and hence Roger cant get his head to head count better.
• Right. This a valid point. The head-to-head record may favor Nadal. But what about those instances of Nadal failing to get to the appointed round? (See: Cincinnati for a recent example.) All part of the stew.
Jon, while I enjoy your podcasts, the ones with Lindsay Davenport are particularly poignant. Could the powers that be please, please consider a weekly conversation with the two of you? I know the current format is like an "interview," but I bet many of your readers would love a weekly exchange between the two of you. Please consider this.
—Eddie Mallot, Phoenix
• We’ll alert the powers that be. And LD, consider yourself put on notice. Here’s the latest podcast, by the way.
Not defending the guy, but it seems a bit sexist in 2015 to suggest that a single young woman would be humiliated because we now know she has a sex life, especially when the same was not said of the young man. (Referring to your comment that the incident humiliated a woman.)
• Quite apart from the terminal un-coolness of discussing private matters so publically, Kyrgios did not say, “Hate to break it you mate, but your girlfriend—acting with full volition and agency—had a sexual relationship with another player.” He used the word “bang” which is de facto humiliation.
Reader Anna Mitric wrote at length about gender and casual sexism. Encourage you to read this.
What can you tell me about the Swiss guy who won Cincinnati this weekend? Great serve, plays aggressively from the baseline and on return. Seems like he has a bright future, this one.
—John Dugan, Memphis, Tenn.
• You can never tell with these kids. Lots of talent. If he can keep his head on straight, he has a real chance. Federer is the name.
• The cloying and immodest ICYMI….Here are 40 Tips for attending the U.S. Open.
• Come back later in the week for U.S. Open podcasts, seed reports, etc. You can find the U.S. Open preview roundtable here.
• Your U.S. Open suicide pool.
• Quick, call edit. The U.S. Open spot featuring Gwen Stefani Rossdale is suddenly dated.
• Katie Volynets won the USTA Girls’ 14s National Hardcourt Championships in Peachtree City, Ga., defeating Naomi Cheong, 6–3, 6–1.
• Reader notes: “Last week Gulbis had match points vs Djokovic. This week he lost in the first round of a Challenger event.”
• Here's Joel Druker on the 40th anniversary of Martina Navratilova defecting to the U.S.
• New tennis novel. Comes with highest recommendation: Red Dirt by Joe S. Starnes.
• Nani writes: Such a straightforward interview from Steffi about her tax scandal from back in the day. Wasn't afraid of answering the tough questions and took them head on with the interviewer. Not sure how the interviewer felt about it though.
FYI, people forget that the case was for tax returns in 1987-90 period when she was in her teens and making history with the Golden Slam and 13 straight Slam finals.
• Karen has Separated at birth: Belinda Bencic and presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.