Sharapova's place among WTA elite; Stephens' growing pains
? Three for the price of one. Here goes:
1) Some of you have suggested that it's a personal blind spot, but, on balance, I'm an unapologetic McEnroe fan. There's an authenticity there. When he erupts during a match, it's no shtick. He's genuinely upset. It drives me crazy when former players are indifferent and say things like, "I don't even like the sport anymore. I'd rather play golf, to be honest." If McEnroe is still invested so deeply in the quality of his game and shortcomings trigger the familiar temper tantrums, unlike him, I can't get too worked up.
2) Yes, but if you were a top player, would you vote for a rankings system that maximized the incentives for the guy on the other side of the net? I'm with you though. When Tobias Kamke beats Del Potro, should he not get a little extra for the effort? I'd vote "yes."
3) Here's the Sharapova-Azarenka head-to-head. Judge for yourselves.
? I guess a career Slam doesn't mean what it used to. Win one Slam with an assist from the draw gods and we can talk. By the time you win four different Slams over the course of almost a decade and achieve No. 1, you've proved your bona fides.
? So here's the context. Stephens played Agnieszka Radwanska at the Sony Open on Monday. She won the first set by playing high-level tennis reminiscent of her performance in Australia. She then lost in three sets, running on nothing but fumes for the last several desultory games. Third-set score: 6-0.
This post-match exchange suggested that her attitude might be flagging:
Should you worry about Stephens? The short is answer is "no." She's still young. Give her space, Give her time.
The long answer? It's "no," as well. Her 2013 is typical, very much in keeping with the growth pattern of a young star. You have a breakout tournament and all is right with the world. Your world is redolent with the perfume of promise and hype. Then reality sets in. There are new financial pressures. (
We shouldn't term Stephens a disappointment. We shouldn't term her a future No. 1, either. Just give her some time to adjust to her new life, and eventually we'll have a better sense of her long-term future. In some cases (like with Melanie Oudin), the "breakthrough" star never again breaks through. In other cases (like with Venus Williams, a finalist at the 1997 U.S. Open who didn't reach another Slam final for nearly three years), the setbacks are temporary. Let's just be patient.
? The issue isn't whether $1 million is a lot of money in a vacuum. It's what the market dictates. In the case of Federer, he can command seven figures a night for an exhibition. At last year's U.S. Open, he played five times and made $237,500.
Simplified: For decades, the Slams got a deep discount on labor. They played the "absolute card" (should a first-round loser really earn more than $20,000? Should a winner make seven figures for seven matches?) and not the "relative card" (as a proportion of gross revenues, maybe the players DO deserve twice the wages). That blue-light special is now over.
? Good question. Frist. I'll reinforce your point: There is not an abundance of prospects out there. Raonic is probably the leader in the clubhouse. He turns 23 this year and has never been to a Grand Slam semi. Tomic is still a wild card -- an undeniable talent with undeniable emotional immaturity. (His match against Murray on Saturday in Miami was not exactly product placement for "maximum effort.") Ryan Harrison appears to be a work in regress. Kei Nishikori is what he is, an undersized counterpuncher. Jerzy Janowicz is a force, but he's still outside the top 25. Grigor Dimitrov has game but still needs to make a deep Slam run.
I'm running out of names here. Rick Berankis is still outside the 50 -- and is 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds. Soaking wet. So, yes. If we're playing the futures market, it's unclear where we ought to invest.
Now to undercut Mike's point:
a) It's tautological. If we work on the assumption that it's this golden era -- that four guys are hogging all the glory -- it stands to reason that we're not going to witness a lot of success from other players. You can't have it both ways.
b) Tennis is aging before our eyes. This is Dorian Gray, as sport. The days of teenage phenoms are no longer. A 22-year-old -- once a veteran -- is just getting started.
c) The good thing about tennis:
? Alicia, of course, is being sarcastic about the texts. Again, you can only beat the opponents before you. What's Sharapova supposed to do? Withdraw because the two players ahead of her were no longer in the field?
? This is the nature of life. If that pesky Mozart hadn't come along, we'd all have Salieri on our iPod playlists. If Michael Jordan had gone into a different field, Clyde Drexler could have been the iconic shooting guard of the 1980s and 1990s. No Federer or Nadal, and Roddick wins multiple Slams.
Anyway, head to head on hard courts, both in their primes, who wins between Ferrer and Hewitt? That's a trick question, right? It unanswerable because they'd still be out there competing.
? Last September, ranked No. 133, she had to qualify to get into the U.S. Open main draw. Since then, Flipkens won the Quebec City event (her first WTA title), reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, took a set off Azarenka in the third round of Indian Wells and lost a three-setter to Radwanska in the Miami quarterfinals. She'll be top 25 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
She's 27, and no one is predicting she'll win majors quite yet. But she has a fun, compact, flair-filled game. She's having a career year. (And she's a great Twitter follow.) A Belgian Petkovic, if you will. (And I hope you will.) Nice to have her in the cast.
? Yes, I do some work for Tennis Channel. With that disclosure out of the way, can we agree that it's been a godsend for the Indian Wells and Miami coverage, the antidote to all the tape delay and limited regional coverage we had to deal with in the past?
? We eagerly await:
b) the forthcoming BBC documentary on Andy Murray.
? Beach tennis will be featured in the 2015 Pan American Games. Big tournament April 19-21 in Fort Myers, Fla.
? Stanley of New York: "A Nobel laureate's take on Federer."
? Not to be outdone, Dave E. of Brooklyn, N.Y., notes: "Maybe the greatest Federer reference ever, 30 seconds in here."
? Thanks to many of you for the kind words on my story about former University of Houston basketball player Benny Anders in last week's
? Mike Romeling of East Nassau, N.Y.: "Good grief, if we must bring the of UFC into this, then I insist we also compare the stellar Canadian Jennifer Jones -- from curling -- to Maria Sharapova. Jones is also blond, very cute and has won several Slams."
? New Yorkers, note this gushing review for Melissa Errico (Ms. Patrick McEnroe).
? Finally, Glen of Miami takes us out with this separated at birth.
Have a good week, everyone. Especially you, Jamayan Watkins of Charlotte.