Mailbag: Will Roger Federer's rest and rehab extend—or end—his career?
- A look at the possible scenarios if Federer's career is over, plus discussion on Jimmy Connors, Davis Cup and Gael Monfils.
Some notes to start:
• Here are some thoughts on yesterday’s Roger Federer announcement.
• The inimitable Coco Vandeweghe is the most recent guest on the SI Tennis Podcast. Next week’s guest: out and proud tennis fan Jason Collins.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Jon, I'm devastated. I'm distraught. I have been eating and breathing the magnificent tennis of Roger Federer during all these years and just found out that he won't be playing for the rest of 2016. I always knew the end was near, but this is happening too fast and I'm hyperventilating at the thought of possibly not seeing Roger again. Tell me, how does one move on from Roger and Rafa to everything else that tennis has to offer?
—Anand, Lowell, Mass.
• I’m happy to try and do some dimestore grief counseling here. Talking points:
a) Not so fast. Federer didn’t announce his retirement. He is shutting it down in 2016 for the express purpose of coming back in 2017, his 36th year. He’s reached the finals or semis of each of the last four majors he’s entered. So let’s hold off on retiring the guy. (Same for Nadal who, of course, is nearly half a decade younger.)
b) That we are having this discussion about a soon-to-be 35-year-old—the eligibility age, incidentally, for the senior circuit—is testament to our good fortune. Neither McEnroe nor Bog won a major after age 25. In the unlikely event Federer never plays another match, feel lucky you had the chance root for him into his 30s.
c) Time is undefeated. But you know who also has a pretty good record? Sports. What will happen to golf after Tiger Woods declines? A few sparse years, no doubt. Some declining ratings. Some Armageddon talk. Then a thickly-built kid from Ireland emerges. And this steely, pragmatic Texan. And an Aussie with a stranger-than-fiction backstory. What will become of the NBA after Michael Jordan? Some lean years. Until Kobe and LeBron and the Spurs dynasty emerge. They will hold tournaments; there will still be rankings; someone will win in Australia in late January and Paris in mid-June and Wimbledon in July and the U.S. Open in September. Long as that’s the case, there will be reason the follow the sport.
d) Worst case scenario: Nadal and Federer are in irreversible decline. I’d submit that Djokovic and Murray aren’t a bad 1-2. And we’re restricting this to men. One of the beauties of tennis is two-party system as it were. Maybe we pivot and pay more attention to Serena and the rest of the WTA for a few years.
e) Earlier this year, Alexander Zverev was a surefire top tenner; he’s now slumping. Denis Shapovalov, a Canadian teenager with a drop-dead gorgeous one handed backhand, just won the Wimbledon boys title and took out Nick Kyrgios in Toronto. Kyrgios can look staggeringly good and staggering bad—sometimes in the same
match set game point. Which is to say that, until there’s more stability, consider relishing the drama of the who-will-step-up? process.
f) But, damn, that knee….
My name is Henry. I'm a religious reader of your Mailbag and, obviously, a huge tennis fan! A few of my friends and I would like to catch the U.S. Open women's and/or men's final. This would be our first grand slam tournament and we are so excited. However, we were shocked to see that resale tickets for good seats were going for as high as $7,000. Do you know how we can get cheaper tickets? Do other seats become available in the future? If the tickets are that pricey, which sections of the stadium have good views, would you say? Our budget is ~$800. Thanks so much and I look forward to your response.
• I am soliciting a reader rant (see below) about the U.S. Open ticketing. Every year I receive complaints about “membership promotions” that are not promotions at all, and various inequities (and iniquities) about who is entitled to what tickets and when. Candidly, I’m out of my depth here.
Here is my standard take on ticketing in most sports: The online brokers have created a market—as is the case in so many sectors—and price, of course, moves with supply and demand. When Serena Williams is positioned to make history in the final, the price of a seat is X. When it’s Flavia Pennetta versus Roberta Vinci in the final, the price is Y. Based on your threshold for risk, you can buy now or later.
I would think that $800 is plenty. (For the record: $7,000 borders on vulgar.) You might not sit courtside but you’ll be in the building and you’ll be able to cross the U.S. Open off the proverbial bucket list. I would be inclined to wait. Between quirks in the draw (see women in 2015 or men in 2014) and quirks in the schedule, I would think you’ll find seats within your budget a few days before that match. Be advised, too: there’s now a functioning roof. So you don’t have to worry that a rain-delayed final will wreak havoc on your travel plans.
I'm reading 'This is Your Brain on Sports', and was struck by your description of Jimmy Connors as "a figure on tennis's Mt. Rushmore.” It surprised me that you were so confident in including Connors as one of the four greatest of all time, particularly considering how difficult it is to compare his records to those of players who came both before and after him. I'm intrigued: do you have three other figures in mind who make up the rest of tennis's Mount Rushmore, or are you just sure of Connors and one or two of the others?
—Cam Bennett, Canberra, Australia
• As long as it stays between us, that was sort of a throwaway line. I take “Mt. Rushmore” to mean a towering figure; not simply one of the four greats. I suppose if I had to pick four, I would limit this to the last 50 years and pick Federer, Sampras, Laver and Connors. (With the chiselers of the South Dakota chiselers union waiting to change Connors into Djokovic or Nadal.) Connors’ 109 titles, 1256 match wins, and five-plus years at No. 1 are formidable. Three more brain droppings:
a) Consider this fair warning: 2016 marks the 25-year anniversary of Connors’ magical, late-career run to the U.S. Open semifinals. No one likes anniversaries like the sports media. Pat McEnroe, Paul Haarhuis, Aaron Krickstein….get ready for the inevitable.
b) Connors may continue to cut a polarizing figure. No argument about that. But it bears noting that his son is an absolute prince of a guy. Inasmuch as you can tell a lot about a person by the kind of kids they raise, Connors wins big here.
c) Can we take a moment to discuss the absurdity of Mt. Rushmore for a moment? It’s the mid 1920s—think these pubic funds might have come in handy late in the decade?—and someone is approaching the government for funding.
“See, we’re going take this mountain in the middle of the country and—get this—carve presidents’ faces into the granite.”
“You’re going to carve mountains into a president’s face?”
“No, we’re going to carve presidents into a mountain face.”
“Okay. Where’s this mountain?”
“I dunno. North Dakota? South Dakota? Somewhere around there.”
“Um, which presidents?”
“Eh, we’ll figure that out later.”
“Love it! Green light!”
Vika announced she is pregnant, and she and her boyfriend are very excited. But she didn't name the boyfriend. Not looking for gossip, per se, but it was a big omission in her statement. Who is the boyfriend??
—Kristine, Grand Rapids, Mich.
• A few of you asked that. My rule of thumb: if this has any direct bearing on sports, it’s relevant and there’s a public right to know. If not, it falls into the gossip category and there ought to be some expectation of privacy. This is the latter. If/when Azarenka wants to reveal the identity of the father, she will do so. That she didn’t suggests she doesn’t want this known and we ought to respect that.
@jon_wertheim I couldn’t be prouder that three suspect [wild cards] won their matches today.
• Back up. Last week we discussed on Twitter whether the ATP should really allow its premiere events to dispense wild cards at the organizer’s behest. I envision a top rank-and-file player like Radek Stepanek saying, “Wait, I have to qualify for the main draw, while some teenager gets a free spot? Simply because, by accident of birth, he is local and I was born in a country that has no Masters 1000 event? What about the meritocracy that tennis is always touting? I get wild cards at garden-variety events. But isn’t the heft of Slams and Masters 1000s undercut when the tournament can depart from the empirical evidence?”
Jon, I’m a big fan. I want to tell you a story, and then get your reaction. Here I am, excited about the U.S. Davis Cup; especially after winning the first two matches. On Saturday, I try to find the scores of the doubles match. I do the same thing on Sunday when the match with Croatia goes down to the fifth rubber. I must have spent 10 minutes trying to Google these scores each day. It was honestly nowhere to be found. The Davis Cup is a complete mess; and it's terrible that me as a die-hard fan can't even find a simple score. It receives absolutely no coverage and needs to be totally revamped.
—Dan, Downingtown, Pa.
• I will quibble a bit and say that the Davis Cup website is quite strong and should be bookmarked by tennis fans. But your larger point stands. The ITF was the first governing body to say that the Russian players would be eligible for the Olympics. Perhaps this augurs a new era of proactive, fast-acting authority that will carry over. This, if course, is old news, a topic rendered stale by the ITF’s self-serving stubbornness. But the Davis Cup is in desperate need of a structural overhaul. And the absence of media coverage—which applies to SEO here—that Dan from Downingtown found so vexing is just another indication.
Hey Jon. I’m just getting back from the Citi Open and have to say that I was impressed with Gael Monfils. He wasn’t ALL business, but this was a far cry from the court jester we all love to watch. Is it possible he’s finally all grown up?!?!
—Charles, Bethesda, Md.
• Viva Le Monf! We tennis types are such hypocrites—and I count myself squarely among them. We bristle at Nick Kyrgios’s emphasis on entertainment and his seeming indifference toward maximizing his talent. Yet we hail Monfils as a showman, who enriches the cast. (Think of him as the Big Boo of Litchfield Prison. Not completely essentially to the central plots; but we smile every time she makes an appearance.) If he is wed to performance over victory, so be it.
Without reading too, too much into a week of tennis, I would agree that his Washington D.C. title is freighted with meaning and heavy suggestions that maturity has arrived. It was hot. The playing conditions were uncomfortable. It takes a certain amount of will power to persevere and win matches in 100+ degree conditions. What’s more, the event is run by Lagardere, his management agency. You can safely assume that he was paid a nice fee to show up. (Discussion for another time: what are we to make of management agencies paying appearing fees to players they represent? Talking about robbing Pierre to pay Gael.) He could easily have cashed the check (or happily accepted the fee reduction) and given something less than a full effort.
Anyway, overall, a good week for Monfils, yes. If he can combine this maturity and professionalism without compromise the show-stopping instincts, so much the better.
I feel like this question has been raised but who is oldest player to win first career title on ATP Tour?
• Funny you should ask. It was Estrella Burgos in 2015 Quito at age 34 years, six months. Last week, Paolo Lorenzi won his first title at age 34 years, seven months.
My name is Miss Amita Yilmaz, please i will like to have a private chat with you, i want you to contact me back is important.
• Only if this pertains to the late career surges of Paolo Lorenzi and Victor Estrella Burgos.
• John McEnroe’s Hamptons house is for sale.
• I suspect you knew this already, but Dan Waldman is a Toyota Team Player.
• Doyle Srader or Eugene, Oregon: In case anyone is curious.
• There’s a certain sad irony here but, for the record, Roger Federer has a new racket out:
• Thanks to the short and frequent flights between Washington DC and Toronto for this: After losing in the main draw of the Citi Open in our nation’s capital, a raft of players took the one hour flight to Canada to try and qualify for the Rogers Cup. Ryan Harrison and Jared Donaldson were among those who did so successfully, essentially playing two events in one week.
• Last weekend was a bittersweet one for Mardy Fish. For all the athletes who dream of becoming pro golfers after their retirement, Fish has a real chance to do so. He routinely shoots in the 60s and he put his chops on display at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Tahoe. Fish was leading heading into Sunday but missed a 12-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole, which allowed Mark Mulder, the former baseball pitcher, to sneak out the win and earn $125,000. For finishing second, Fish earned $60,000.
• It was a global story on Sunday when the International Olympic Committee declined to issue a sweeping ban of Russian athletes at the Rio Games, deciding instead to leave the decision to individual sports’ governing bodies. Tennis may have had the most forceful response. Within an hour of the announcement, the ITF claimed that the Russian delegation of tennis players—including two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova—were eligible for the Games.
The seven Russian tennis players who had been nominated to compete in Rio have been subject to a rigorous anti-doping testing program outside Russia, which included:
– A total of 205 samples collected since 2014, of which; 83 (40%) were collected In-Competition and 122 (60%) Out-of-Competition.
– 111 (54%) were urine samples and 94 (45%) were blood samples.
– There were no positives in that sample. As such, the ITF decided the seven Russians would be immediately eligible.
• Press releasing from the HoF: During the recent Rolex Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend, the International Tennis Hall of Fame finalized the work of the recent Match Point Capital Campaign by officially dedicating six new hard courts on the property. Through the support of generous donors, four of the courts were named in honor of Hall of Famers Billie Jean King, Tony Trabert, Jack Kramer, and Mark McCormack. The remaining two courts were named for tennis tours of today and yesterday—one was jointly named by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the ATP World Tour and one was named in honor of World Championship Tennis (WCT), the trailblazing men's pro tour of the 1970s that paved the way for today's global pro tours.
• Press releasing from the USTA: Sixteen-year olds Sebastian Korda (Bradenton, Fla.) and Ann Li (Devon, Pa.) each won singles titles at last week’s USTA Boys’ and Girls’ 18s National Clay Court Championships to earn wild card entries into the 2016 U.S. Open Junior Championships.
• This week’s LLS is from Ted Ying: Dustin Brown and actor Jason Momoa