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When are we going to admit men's tennis is in a slump and to be honest, one of its lowest quality in the last two decades? Men's tennis presently, as a lifelong tennis fan, is boring. Djokovic is not playing at his best but still ends up winning. Murray seems to be lacking motivation since his first child's birth. Nadal is giving it his all but quality is not there! Federer is brilliant in phases but no longer in form for Grand Slam best-of-five-set matches for seven matches. Next generation has fizzled.
Maybe it is time for the men to play with the women's balls and create a more variety and support more attacking players. Increase grass length in Wimbledon with less fuzz balls and let the game reward some power tennis attack games.
—Subhadeep from Cincinnati, Ohio
• I agree with many of your sub-points, but not your thesis. Yes, the next generation has fizzled. (Note: Kei Nishikori turns 27 this year.) Yes, the rest of the field hasn't exactly risen, collectively, to the challenge of mounting a fierce assault against Djokovic. Yes, Federer’s brilliance comes in spasms and not the prolonged fugues of a decade ago. Standardized tennis balls make so much sense even tennis’ leaders—so fiercely inclined to resisting logic—have to be considering this option.
Sure, it would be nice if the surfaces were more disparate. All that said, I’m not sure the sport itself is in a slump. The game is played at a dizzyingly high level. Careers span longer than ever, allowing time for fans to build real allegiances and rivalries to gestate. Players from all over the globe are present in the upper ranks. A new cadre of young players is coming. If this is a stock, I’m holding. (But considering a proxy fight on some of the management and procedural issues we discussed.)
You have consistently challenged that Roger Federer gets more fans than Djokovic so should earn more. I say: why not?!! If the market wants Federer because he entertains more, then he should earn accordingly.
This isn't just fanciful or unfair—the Premier League basically has a similar model. Some money for participation, some money for winning (merit) and some for the number of fans (entertainment). See this table on distribution. In fact, I can already think of some lesser players who would (fairly) benefit from this. Gael Monfils, Aga Radwanska, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet. Sometimes their athleticism, flair and unpredictability stunts their "effectiveness.” Monfils would find more fulfillment knowing fans like me value the eccentricity he brings to the sport and not just shiny trophies.
Great Mailbag. Read it religiously.
• Thanks. But my point about Federer is not whether he is more popular relative to Djokovic. My point is that when the topic of equal prize money is raised, one argument that cuts against the WTA is that, independently, their product is worth demonstrably less.
My response: if we’re paying players based simply on the value they generate, Federer is criminally underpaid. His going rate for an exhibition is $2 million a night. Other players can’t commend $2,000. So why is everyone playing for the same purse? Because it’s one product, because the whole is worth more than its parts, because there is an acknowledgement that a unified league is worth more than a collection of individual athletes.
A bit of an overreaction from the PC police, don't you think? Unless something else was said that we didn't hear, besides the "friends" comment: Racist rant gets tennis player disqualified mid-match
• I’m a little reluctant to go here, not because of the sensitive topic but because the evidence, such as it is, is inconclusive. I reached out to Donald Young to see if he wanted to weigh in or add context. He did not respond. “Was there something else said?” would have been my first question.
I tread cautiously here but I wonder if there isn’t a larger issue of cultural sensitivity to be discussed. Hate speech is vile. Racial epithets are bad and wrong and we can agree on that. But how much knowledge and sensitivity ought we to demand of others? Here’s a 20-year-old kid from Russia speaking in a foreign language. He makes this gaffe and is defaulted. I wonder: does he understand the distinction between race and nationality? Does he realize the offensiveness of inferring a conspiracy? The ugly stereotypes he was summoning? The legacy of slavery and subjugation that undergird the issue?
Here’s my point, which is more a question: there can be nuances to sensitivity. In the absence of blatant racism or bias, to what extent to do we expect non-American athletes to be familiar with these norms? What’s a reasonable expectation? Thoughts?…
Watching the clay-court matches this spring, I'm often amused by the disagreements between chair umpires and players over ball marks. Why not just use Hawk-Eye on clay?
—Jason Rainey, Austin, Texas
• Opinions vary on how well Hawk-Eye works on clay. But the chief answer is money. If events have a cost-free alternative to outfitting courts with Hawk-Eye—that is, summon the umpire from the lifeguard chair to eyeball a mark—that presents a more appealing option for the tournament.
Earlier this year, I saw Laura Siegemund upset Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open, and I was shocked to hear that she was a 28-year-old qualifier. Seigemund seems to have a very crafty game (a la Aga), but seems ready and able to some into the net, which is certainly refreshing. She gets additional points in my book for the slightly crazed look on-court as well.
I caught part of her match against Radwanska in Stuttgart, and saw part of the final against Kerber (who seems to be readjusting to Grand Slam status). What are your thoughts? Is this a veteran who has finally gotten all the pieces together at a later stage in her career (somewhat like Kerber?) or was this just a few good runs in a row?
Same question on the men's side about Damir Dzumhur. I realize he profited quite handily from Nadal's illness in Miami, but he seems to make the most of his abilities, given his stature. A store-brand version of Ferrer?
Finally: A great Dickensonian name in one of the qualifying draws: Myrtille Georges.
• 1) Grouchy Troll McJaded III would say that it’s hard to get too excited about a 28-year-old. Siegemund has been around a while. (The $69K she won in Stuttgart accounts for more than 10% of her career prize money.) I would agree, she is a fun player to watch. And nice to see her do well. Want a German comer to watch? I like Anna-Lena Friedsam, 22, a nice athlete who—ironically—should have beaten Radwanska in Australia before she seized up with cramps.
2) Dzumhur is another admirable journeyman. He’s only 23, a pup by modern tennis standards. That said, at 5’9” he is going to be punching above his weight most days. Your alt-Ferrer description is a good one.
3) Myrtille Georges sounds like a Jazz Age name to me. Speaking of Myrtle—and the Jazz age—does anyone else think that Genie Bouchard should play the role of Jordan Baker in the next Great Gatsby remake?
Two points regarding your comment: "We’ll repeat our stance: When the men and women play together—for reasons both economic and pragmatic—you can’t have two wage scales."
1. At the majors, men play three out of five sets while women play two out of three sets. All else being equal, if Djokovic is playing 50% more tennis in a tournament than Serena, shouldn't he receive 50% more compensation?
2. Extend your argument more broadly to entertainment. By your logic, if Taylor Swift goes on a stadium tour with Vanilla Ice, he should get paid the same amount as her, regardless of who fans really value. That makes no more sense than George Clooney and I getting paid the same amount to appear in the same film.
—John Tarrytown, N.Y.
• 1. The duration “argument” is a non-starter. First, sets isn't the only metric. Why not look at balls struck or points played? And if it’s the basis for an argument, women must at least be presented with the opportunity to play best-of-five. (Dead horse flogging: we need to shorten matches, not lengthen them.) And since when, in art and entertainment, does duration equal value? My iTunes price point doesn’t change for the duration of a song. I pay the same for a movie regardless of running time.
2. This is a better argument. Different entertainers have different values. But your analogy doesn't hold up. We’re talking about a binary choice for a one-time concert or movie. We’re talking about a 14-day event with 256 performers. Sometimes it’s Taylor Swift and Vanilla Ice. Other times it’s Springsteen and Madonna.
• The most recent SI Tennis Beyond the Baseline Podcast was a delightful conversation with Judy Murray.
• R.IP. Prince. (I’m thinking it’s been awhile since “scepter” and “French Open” appeared—non-metaphorically—in the same Google image search.)
• Rafa Nadal bringing the hammer. Or at least the defamation suit.
• The WTA announced that the Taiwan Open will move to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, from 2017. The Taiwan Open will take place starting January 30, 2017 on hard court at the 10,000-seat indoor stadium, the Taipei Arena.
• The USTA announced that Jon Glover and Lori Riffice have joined USTA Player Development as National Coaches, Player ID and Development, to help identify and develop junior boys and girls, respectively. Both coaches will be based out of the USTA National Campus in Orlando and will report to Director of Player ID and Development Kent Kinnear.
• As it is written: Kent Kinnear hails from the great state of Indiana.
• Eric Butorac on why the French system trumps the American system.
• Sania Mirza has been named to the "Time 100," a list of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine. The WTA doubles No. 1 is recognized within the 'Icons' category and is the only tennis player to be included in the list. She joins other distinguished individuals including Pope Francis, Adele and Stephen Curry.
Mirza’s Time 100 tribute was written by Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest cricketers of all time: “The Mirzas probably knew what the future held for their daughter. Her name, Sania, means brilliant.”
• In what passes for big news in sports media circles, Mike Tirico is leaving ESPN for NBC. It will be interesting to see whether he will continue to spend a few weeks a year in tennis.
• Reader Matt Segel has a one-paragraph summation of a recent Grand Slam champ: I had a thought about Juan Martin Del Potro. It's my observation, (along with others, obviously) that a hallmark of great players have some common characteristics: they rise fast (usually they are the youngest in the top 100, top 50, top 20 etc...), they go on a run and people get really excited about their potential and they get to a Grand Slam final early in their career. What separates the all time greats from the greats (perennial top 10 players) is that they win the Grand Slam at a young age. DelPo was on track to be an all time great player. His injury, which happened in 2009-10 has benefited Novak tremendously. Novak would still be an all time great player, I am not in any way diminishing his accomplishments. I just think that DelPo would have been a real rival whose prime years would have mirrored Novaks. Additionally, his game is not a lesser version of Novak's (like Murray or Nishikori) and he wasn't one dimensional (Raonic) or flaky (Berdych, Tsonga). His game was revolutionary, like Novak's, and I think he would have taken some of the titles that Novak has accumulated over the past four years. I think the game has missed Del Potro.
• Mark Hodgkinson has a new biography of Federer.
• This week’s LLS is from Woody from Calgary, Alberta: Pro golfer John Senden and Tomas Berdych