Mailbag: All-time great head-to-head rivalries
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A quick Mailbag…..
I just thought that you might want to know the career record (in terms of win/loss percentages) of the Big Three:
For the first time, Novak is ahead of the game. Comments?
—Joe J., Easton, Pa.
• Not unlike the head-to-head data, this is a little dirty, as the kids say. As Federer plays on beyond his prime—and continues admirably, despite winning only one major in the last six years—you’d expect his winning percentage to drop. You can hear the Federer fans yodeling from here: When Djokovic is 34, let’s revisit.
In discussing head-to-heads, you started with Williams–Henin (8–6) and then marveled at Djokovic–Federer (45 times; 23–22) and Djokovic–Nadal (47 times; 24–23). Just a reminder that those are only a little over half of what Navratilova and Evert did (80 times; 43–37)!
—Keegan Greenier, Macon, Ga.
• That’s the gold standard, both in terms of the raw number and the closeness of the rivalry. Hell, you could flip a coin 80 times and have a bigger gap than 43-37. Again, a little dirty on the data, no? Smaller draws at tournaments, a more shallow pool, fewer optional events, 16 years encompassed—it all militates in favor of many meeting early and often. But, yes, Chris and Martina comprise the tennis rivalry against which all others are measured.
Just read your Aussie Open Mailbag. Regarding Steffi's decision to essentially leave the game behind when she retired, she presented the winner's trophy at the French Open several years ago and of course helped christen the new roof at Wimbledon's Centre Court. However, she was conspicuously absent from that WTA No. 1s event in London a few years back and of course was not in Australia to present Serena with the trophy had she tied her at Slam 22. My question: I wonder if Graf has avoided events that highlight her personal records because there is a part of her that feels guilt/shame that she achieved those in the absence of Monica Seles. I'm a huge Graf fan, but I can't help but wonder.
—Chris, Austin, Tx.
• That would be a great question to ask her. While Steffi Graf predated me, I had always been told that she was terribly uncomfortable as a public figure. She was a fearsome tennis player who had no use for the attendant obligations/opportunities that come with being a star. The sponsor appearances, the photo shoots, the WTA publicity requests, the media game. There was no guile and no prima donna aspect to it. She was an introvert to start with. She was pushed further inward by her father’s scandals, the Seles affair, other privacy invasions.
When she stopped playing she vowed that she was done being a celebrity. And—testament either to her conviction or her stubbornness—she’s stuck to it. Again, I have a measure of sympathy, even admiration, here. Yes, it’s a pity she doesn’t feel more comfortable as a public figure. Yes, tennis is worse for her absence; the same way it’s better for the continued presence of, say, Chris and Martina. But at least you know where she stands.
Speaking of Del Potro (as you were), what’s his story? Will he be competing in majors this year? Sad to see that Soderling had to retire, you know, there is so little competition at the top you hate to see guys (and gals) who have a shot at a title leave the game.
• Funny you should mention Delpo. From the ATP: “Juan Martin del Potro is on the comeback trail. The former World No. 4, who played just two tournaments last year (Sydney and Miami) before undergoing left wrist surgery on June 18, will return to action at the Delray Beach Open on 15 February.”
Sadly, he knows the Comeback Trail the way Cheryl Strayed knows the Pacific Crest Trail. Let’s hope he treads elsewhere. When we talk about lost generations and the absence of younger players challenging Djokovic, this guy looms large. It’s no fault of his own, of course. But here's a guy who had yet to turn 20 when he won his first major. In the seven years since, he’s spent most of it on the IR.
I first watched Milos Raonic a few years ago, and was stunned to find that he was my facial doppelgänger. My wife fully agreed. As a young not super-mobile hopeful, but not very successful young tennis player, I consistently favored power over moderation, so on any given day I could beat a vastly superior player or lose to a wildly inferior player. Thus, it is more than my face I see when I watch Raonic play. His love affair with his spectacular power on his serve and forehand, and his height-limited mobility limit his ceiling and render him no threat to Novak Djokovic. Do you think that Carlos Moya can convince Raonic to put a regulator on his power, and to improve his mobility, agility and fitness?
—Arnold Benson, Keller, Tx.
• Here’s my truth serum on Raonic: I don’t find his game particularly stylish or easy on the eyes. But I’ve really come to admire him. He’s not a particularly gifted athlete nor a graceful mover, but he takes his career seriously and has made real improvements. To me, his tennis is not about over-hitting but taking calculated risks. Anyone blessed with his power and, um, not blessed with what you call “height-limited mobility” would be prone to taking big cuts, too.
Dear Mr. Wertheim,
Congrats on the recent book release. If the Beyond the Baseline Podcast could have guests for African American History month, you might consider Jim Brown, Jeanne Ashe, Oracene Price, Leslie Allen, Rodney Harmon, Mal Washington, Chanda Rubin, Zina Garrison, Howard Bryan, or Earl Butch Graves Jr. Assumption has that tennis enthusiast Dr. Wm Cosby has very limited media availability.
—Regards, Wil Blake
• Thanks. Speaking of the loathsome Bill Cosby, ever see this classic? Thanks for the suggestions. Your question underscores a pet peeve: as often as tennis is described as this clubby, traditional redoubt, I’d contend that this sport skews progressive. Martina Navratilova “pulled a Jason Collins” in the early 80s. Renee Richards “pulled a Caitlyn Jenner” in the 70s. As I write this, a top male player has a female for a coach (and she’s a—gasp—lesbian mother, no less!); and no one thinks twice about it. I don’t want to minimize hardships. And tennis shouldn’t go overboard patting itself in the back. (Spoiler alert: we talk about Indian Wells on this week’s podcast with Venus and Serena’s sister, Lyndrea Price.) But per Wil’s question, I’d submit that that the sheer volume of influential African-American figures in the sport speaks well of its capacity to be inclusive.
• This week’s SI Tennis Beyond the Baseline Podcast is with Lyndrea Price who talks about her life apart from Venus and Serena, her separate identity and her job promoting fashion. Look out for it on Thursday.
• From time-to-time, some of you asked about Nadia Petrova. Terrifically athletic player. Unfailingly lively and candid interview. A few months back, we wrote that she was neither retired nor active. Seems that hasn't changed.
• The Indian Wells mega-event ends in March but there will be more tennis played in California in April. On the Fox Searchlight lot, that is. That’s where the Battle of the Sexes movie starts filming. Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King and Steve Carrell plays Bobby Riggs. We’re told the movie will be directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team behind Little Miss Sunshine. The release is likely to come in 2017.
• The Jesse Owens biopic starring Jason Sudeikis is out this month. Note the credits when they roll. One of the associate producers is Morgan Menahem, a longtime insider who has represented players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and was recently the CEO of the IPTL.
• More movie talk: For the past year, fans may have noticed a camera crew trailing Serena Williams. She’s the subject of a documentary being produced under the auspices of Peter Berg, the director/producer whose credits include Friday Night Lights and Battleship. Expect for the documentary to be released on a cable network this summer. The premiere, we’re told, is likely to occur in June, shortly before Serena leaves to defend her Wimbledon title.
• The latest salvo in the match-fixing scandal.
• Wes Beaullieu has been appointed as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's new Championships Coordinator. Beaullieu, who attended Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, began his duties with the ITA on Feb. 3.
• NetJets Inc., announced it has signed on as the official private aviation partner of the 2016 PowerShares Series, the circuit for champion tennis players over the age of 30. NetJets will receive advertising spots, branded in-broadcast features, signage and hospitality while providing flights for PowerShares Series players to select events.
• This week’s Long Lost Siblings: Agnieszka Radwanska’s coach Tomasz Wiktorowski and actor Liev Schreiber: