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Some quick questions aboard the Marrakesh Express….
Do we (and by "we" I mean me) just want Grigor Dimitrov to be better than he actually is?
• I realize I’m in a diminishing group here, but I’m hanging onto my shares. I’m telling you, Dimitrov IS good. Which is part of the problem. He’s almost too good. This was the old Federer stumbling block: he’s blessed with so many options, he sometimes becomes paralyzed. You go to a restaurant with so many options on the menu and you need a few minutes to order, then you second-guess your choice. Go to Rubio’s Fish Tacos, for instance, and the choice is easier.
And as long as we’re here: quick word about “distraction.” Off-court issues are, by definition, personal. But that also means that athletes handle them differently. Boyfriends and girlfriends and break-ups and romances and family drama and coaching changes? To some athletes, these can be deeply disconcerting. To others they may have no demonstrative impact. Andy Murray’s Wild Australian Open—pregnant wife at home; ailing father-in-law; brother winning the doubles—is but a recent example. The notion that Dimitrov has a new love interest, ergo his tennis is going to hell—a popular meme/theme this season—is too simplistic.
Juan Martin del Potro is not the only Grand Slam champion younger than Djokovic. Marin Cilic is also the 2014 U.S. Open champion, and everyone seems to have forgotten about him, while the opponent he beat, Kei Nishikori, gets far more press attention.
• Yeah, I’m not sure if I screwed up at some point, or if there was a misunderstanding. But a few of you have noted this over Twitter and email. There is—amazingly—no player younger than Djokovic to have won a Masters 1000 event. But both Cilic and del Potro (who, of course, have won majors) are younger.
I was wondering what ever happened to Jamie Hampton.
• Well, after the tennis fates take care of Brian Baker and Tommy Haas, they can head to Alabama. They owe Hampton, big-time. A rock-solid, workaday pro, she was on the verge of the top 20. And she hasn't played since. Here's a well-done piece from last summer and, disappointingly, I’m not sure much has changed. As you await her comeback, follow her on Twitter. And long as we’re here, some trivia: what do Hampton and John McEnroe have in common?
Laver vs. Rosewall?
—Mark Flannery, Fullerton, Ca.
• As a dinner guest? Supreme Court nominee? Wingman on a cross-country trip? Tennis player? Assuming, the last one, I’d go with Laver.
After beating Philip Kohlschreiber today, Gael Monfils now leads their head-to-head 12-2. But it's crazy that Kohlschreiber has six career titles and Monfils has five. I know Monfils has left a lot of career accomplishments on the table in pursuit of entertainment, but only five career titles is ridiculous. On the other hand, six career titles for Kohlschreiber is squeezing every ounce of accomplishment out of his talent. And the big world sports story of the day: Nicolas Almagro finally gets David Ferrer after 15 straight defeats!
• Let’s pause and acknowledge Almagro, not simply for finally breaking through against Ferrer, but for working his way back. He nearly won that title (losing to Dominic Thiem in the final) but he’s up to No. 53 —with very little to defend. Here’s a guy who failed to qualify for the U.S. Open six years ago. Good for him for working his way back, at age 30.
As for Monfils, where to begin? I’d like to take this outside the underachiever/overachiever framework and simply say this: he’s a peerless athlete who has never—and will never—play to his full potential. But he’s made a fine living, performed with joie de vivre and delighted countless fans. At best, he’s an entertainer; at worst, he’s innocuous. If sports were not, foremost, about competition, we would be lauding him. He’s the lovable guitarist, who never aspired to Eric Clapton levels, but still put on a show. He’s the comedian who preferred crowd-pleasing roles to earnest Academy Award roles. He’s Jeff Koons. Given a) his disposition and b) his full-fledged commitment to entertaining, I have a hard time working up much outrage here. Any outrage in fact.
O.K. Jon, no sitting in the fence and no "Hold." Rafael Nadal: Buy or Sell?
• Hold and hope. This is not how anyone envisioned the story going.
What's with Isner and Sock going all the way to Rio to play on clay this week at the start of the UT hard court season instead of Delray Beach? Now they have both lost early, which really seems a loss of useful match play (not to say potential points given the field in Delray).
• Justin Gimelstob, Isner’s coach, is scheduled to be on the Beyond the Baseline Podcast so we’ll make a mental note to ask. Though the court surface is hard, the Olympics, of course, will be in Rio. So you could justify the trip on those grounds. American players are eternally getting slammed for failing to venture off clay. So you could justify the trip on expand-your-comfort-zone grounds. And, yes, there might well be a financial reason too (which often explains players’ decisions in sub-1000 level events.)
Hi Jon, I have long thought that Martina Navratilova would be a great coach for Petra Kvitova. Besides the lefty/Czech thing I think that Martina's more aggressive playing style and toughness could do wonders for Petra. What are your thoughts?
—Shalini, New York
• Makes sense to me. I would add that—apart from the whole Czech lefty thing—Martina knows something about maximizing talent. You hate to be harsh about Kvitova. She could quit (kvit?) tomorrow and have a Hall of Fame career. But there’s a nagging sense that she could—and should—be so much better than she is.
• The most recent SI Tennis Beyond the Baseline Podcast guest: Lyndrea Price, talking about her life apart from her sisters, Venus and Serena.
• Jason Sudeikis stopped by and had some interesting thoughts on the Brain on Sports Podcast.
• I forget who but one of you rightly noted that Gilles Simon is 1-2 after taking Novak Djokovic to five sets in Melbourne.
• The WTA and its grunting problem.
• A tennis fan from Texas wrote this open letter to Rafael Nadal: Rafa, I write this letter to offer you hope and encouragement, to help you galvanize yourself to regain complete faith and confidence in your game. I am old and a lifetime hack, a snickered at 3.5 at best. I suffered through the braying jackass and crotch grabbing days of McEnroe and Connors and was rewarded by your arrival on the scene. You have been the perfect foil to the majesty of Federer. You both have written chapters for generations to read. Out of nowhere came this kid who dressed like a pirate and had the deportment of a choirboy who just rolled on and on and before you knew it was on par with Roger the great. There was never any shirt tearing, racket thrashing or trash talking, just you taking care of business in a way business had never been conducted before. Everyone has been right to marvel over your unique game, athleticism and never seen before abilities-the king of clay, indeed; but I am prone to admire your sportsmanship, humility and competitive spirit. Rafa, your final chapter has not yet been written. You have so many people behind you. Like Peter Pan says, “You gotta believe.” Be fearless, go for broke, keel haul your opponents, have faith and make it 10 at Roland Garros. Lastly, no matter what the future may hold, thank you for the style and substance that you have brought to the game.
• James Busby has this week’s LLS: Benicio del Toro and Taylor Fritz