Mailbag: As Federer and Azarenka struggle, Djokovic shines in 2011
The dominant theme you guys address this week: "What's up with Federer?" Before we discuss that, let's pause and acknowledge Novak Djokovic, who's been living the dream these past few months. He's beaten Federer multiple times, led his country to Davis Cup glory, won a major (after a three-year drought) and looks like the next Great One. Bravo.
I was thinking a lot about Federer watching Pete Sampras trounce Andre Agassi at Madison Square Garden the other night. On some points, Sampras looked indistinguishable from 1996 incarnation, as he clipped lines with his second serve, zinged forehands and made the most difficult volleys look effortless. I thought to myself: "One set on a hardcourt, and I'd still pick this guy to beat all but five people in the entire world." Then the next point, Sampras would drive a routine backhand into the courtside signage or get totally wrong-footed and I winced watching a player once so graceful look like the middle-aged father he is.
I think this is Federer writ small. It's both a source of hope and cruelty that the light doesn't extinguish suddenly; rather it flickers. Some days Federer will look like the Federer we've come to know and love. Other times he will look like a man deep into back nine, who is older and less hungry than he once was. That's just reality. I suspect that, frustrated as he must be with some of his recent results, he's also charged up by this latest challenge: trying to access the magic that's no longer automatic but hasn't entirely vanished either.
• The Tennis Integrity Unit, formed two years ago in the wake of Davydenko-gate, is on the case. But so far -- despite some pretty damning empirical/forensic evidence -- they have not landed a big fish so to speak. They've chased off some "courtsiders": the dirtbags who sit in the stands with a laptop, gamble point-by-point and attempt to profit off a slight time delay. They've interviewed plenty of players about suspicious results. They've warned coaches and agents and the odd LBO billionaire about gambling. But no takedowns.
Someone asked me if this is a problem in the women's game, too. On it's face, there's little reason to think that taint of fixing would affect one tour and not the other. So they long as there's online gambling on WTA matches, why not? And, ironically, the one player suspended for breaching a "duty to report" is a woman.
But, for whatever reasons, I have heard few allegations vis-a-vis WTA players and seen no examples of irregular gambling patterns vis-a-vis WTA players.
A bigger issue is on the women's side: I predict one day a player will get caught for fudging her age, pretending to be younger than she is. This is common practice -- remind me to tell you a hilarious story about a top player that's been an open secret for years. In order to lure sponsors and maximize their "window," players routinely shave a few years off their age. (How is this done? A coach at a prominent academy tells me that in certain countries, proffering a small simple bribe is enough to get a birth certificate changed.) We talk about how, since, the advent of the "Capriati Rules," the average age of the WTA has increased dramatically. Imagine how high this number would be if all players were truthful!
As long as we're on dark topic: Also, a recently retired player was telling me that she's observed a rash of eating disorders among her colleagues. "If I see a player's results suddenly fall, the first thing I assume is that she either has an eating disorder or a complicated relationship with her coach." She says that if it weren't for eating disorders, the top 20 would look very different.
• That's such a tacky and distasteful question, I couldn't possibly ... oh, who are we fooling? This is guilty fun. I would definitely
(Tennis trivia: Which player has a middle name of "Kirk" in homage to Mr. Kerkorian?)
Amanda Coetzer married Arnon Milchan. I'm blanking on the identity, but wasn't there an American from the late '70s or early '80s who's now a managing director at Goldman? I'm guessing she doesn't need to redeems Groupons to afford her spinning classes. My guess: Serena Williams' wealth plus capable financial advisors equals nine-figure net worth.
• Thanks, TJH. I love these stories. And I applaud your decision-king. Sampras is a celebrity. Here's there alone. He's not with his kids, he's not eating, he's not on the phone, I think you're within your rights to humbly and gracefully request a few seconds of his time. He has a right to decline. But under the circumstances, you have a right to ask. I applaud your restraint, though. You cross the line when you play the name game and reminisce. It's the asymmetry of celebrity but I'm struck by how a few seconds of an athlete time yield these powerful and lasting and dense moments for fans. I'm also struck both by how intrusive some fans can be and by the volume of requests some athlete must negotiate. If Federer or Nadal or even Andy Roddick accommodated everyone, they'd never make it to the court!
• We gave her a bit of a pass after her head injury at the U.S. Open. But, yeah, her results of late have been pretty dismal. (And we hope she is treating ballkids with more respect.) The other 2011 WTHIGOW candidate, is, of course, Sam Querrey. But now we know: he's suffering from a shoulder injury and is about to go on the DL.
• So quick story: I was putting together a
As for wingmen, yeah, Roddick is a good call. Live arm. Nasty streak when the adrenaline is pumping. He also has the benefit of having lived in Texas. David Ferrer might not be a tough guy, but the cardio is off the charts. Federer might go all Swiss and try to mediate and play the Swiss neutrality card; but if ever he got sufficiently mad, I wouldn't mind a back-up with his wingspan. If we can dip out of the top 20, you know who has reputation for being bad-ass? Robert Kendrick. Of course, the best wingman might be
Speaking of barfights ...
• Good one. I'm leaning toward Serena, as I usually tend to do. But I could be convinced otherwise.
• A few years ago I heard Billie Jean King lamenting the absence of sisterhood and solidarity on the WTA Tour. "In our day, we shared a ride on the way to the courts." I got her point, but I also wanted to scream: "You can't have it both ways!" This "coterie of handlers" -- problematic though it might be -- is a function of growth and progress. Precisely
While I agree that it's disgusting to see ballkids handle the sweaty snot-rags of players, again, less cynically is it not an earmark of the big time? The Little League team I coach has no bat boy. The Yankees do. At McDonald's, I bus my own tray. At a fancy restaurant, you leave your table to go to the restroom and when you return, someone has folded your napkin. The anchor at the local TV station does her own hair and make-up. Katie Couric does not.
Actually, as far as sports go, I would submit that tennis players are still relatively UN-pampered. They carry their own gear, regrip their rackets, usually receive no counsel during changeovers. After the top 20 or so, they're even making their own travel arrangements. (Compare this to the NBA, where some teams have an employee whose job it is to warm up the players car after the games, heaven forbid, they have to adjust the dashboard knobs themselves.)
• Good point. Dan's note, though, gives us an opportunity to acknowledge Ancic, who announced his retirement last week. He was one of the good guys, a thoughtful, reticent type who never quite lived up to his Baby Goran promise, but was a force of good and, more important, has a bright future post-tennis as an attorney.
• Says the Solon of Ponte Vedra: "Yes, that is correct, no one in the Open Era won first and second Grand Slam titles in back-to-back tournaments.
• Lot of fighting questions this week. Glad you said Bruce Buffer, not Michael. The guy at the WTF in London was ring-announcer-rific. Also why not go all out? Entrance music, laser lights, costumery, bro-hugs with the camp before taking the court, Uncle Toni applying Vaseline. It really ramps up the drama and sense of combat.
• Again, I've been asked to publicize this, so I shall: I'll be doing a Varsity Letters reading in Manhattan tomorrow (Thursday).
• More icky self-promotion: If anyone of you are headed to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics this weekend, on Friday
• Just got a DVD of the Vitas Gerulaitis documentary. Just fantastic. Could have been a "30 for 30." Tennis Channel needs to commission a dozen more of these. Lord knows, tennis can provide the characters!
• "Fiery" Fred Stolle, was presented a commemorative ring from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in a center court ceremony at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships on Friday.
• Helen of Philadelphia: "Re: Johnny Mac and his tantrums -- Did you not see that Q&A call-in during a rain delay at the U.S. Open some years back? Mats Wilander and Johnny Mac were both in the booth. A fan called in and asked John if he meant it every time he went ballistic during a match, or was he sometimes just putting on a show. Mats said, 'Oh, he meant it!' John's answer was (roughly paraphrased, going from memory here): 'Before I had kids, I meant it 100% of the time. After kids ... eh, maybe 75-80% of the time.'"
• Maria Sharapova's
• Michele Drohan of New York
• The All England Club, home of the Wimbledon Championships, today announced the appointment of Neil Stubley as its Head Groundsman Designate effective April 4. The position forms a key part of its long-term succession planning for both the Club and Wimbledon Championships and has arisen from the intended retirement of current Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward in 2012.
• The Sony Ericsson Open announced that ESPN2 will join Tennis Channel and CBS this year in broadcasting an event-record 77 hours of domestic coverage of the 2011 tournament. Broadcast coverage begins March 26 on Tennis Channel and moves over to ESPN2 beginning March 30; both the women's and men's final will broadcast live on CBS April 2 and April 3, respectively.
• Nick De Toustain of Montclair, N.J.: "Hi Jon, what do you think of these long lost siblings:
• And another pair from Tara of Columbia, Md.: "After watching the Delray Doubles tonight,
Have a great week everyone!