Serena's comments, Wimbledon seedings, more mailbag

Wednesday June 19th, 2013

Serena Williams' recent remarks in a 'Rolling Stone' article have, predictably, caused a stir.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Since it was published online, there have been many questions swirling about Serena Williams' recent remarks in Rolling Stone about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case. This, predictably, devolved quickly into a referendum on Williams -- the gotcha media, haters and character. She has already issued a statement backtracking from her comments.

There are a few points I would like to make in response to this. First, from a timing perspective, these comments were made months ago, so the notion that she "self-sabotaged" -- as one of you suggested -- after winning the French Open is wrong. Also, she knows the rules of the road when it comes to media. When a writer visits for a piece of journalism, one has to assume the on-the-record meter is running, unless otherwise indicated; I don't blame the writer. Finally, while Serena's remarks were, undeniably, ill-informed and offensive to many, I suspect her sentiments are hardly uncommon in these cases.

This was confirmed by the following email I got Wednesday morning. Maybe this is a teachable moment, as they say. Take it away, Luis Ramos of San Jose, Calif.:

"Serena appears to be stirring controversy again, but I believe that her views, though polarizing, are not that unusual. If anything, they illustrate that we still have a ways to go in educating the public about what it means to be a victim of sexual assault, and that individuals who commit such crimes should be held accountable for their actions.

"I've been a prosecutor in Northern California for 17 years, and for the last four, I prosecuted sexual assault cases, including child molestation and adult rape. I cannot tell you how many potential jurors espouse views similar to Serena's: The victim of rape is somehow responsible for the crime because she put herself in a situation that made it easier for young men to commit crimes against her, and that the young men are somehow less responsible for their actions because the girl was drunk.

"When I read Serena's views, it made me think she would make a terrible juror on a sexual assault case, and that she's the kind of person who could be educated to rethink her views. I have argued to juries many times over the last few years that we have evolved as a society. We used to believe that a woman who said she was raped could only be believed if there were other witnesses to the crime or other corroborating evidence. Now we know, and the law allows, that the testimony of a single witness, if believed by a jury, is sufficient to convict a defendant. We now understand and accept as a society that sexual assault usually occurs when no one else is looking and when the victim is most vulnerable.

"Certainly, the victim in the Steubenville rape case appears to have been incredibly vulnerable because she was completely drunk and unconscious. To blame her for being the victim of rape and to reduce the responsibility of the perpetrators, as Serena appears to do, shows that the old ways of thinking about rape are alive and well. While I would never choose Serena as juror, I certainly wouldn't mind talking to her about the subject matter in hopes of helping her understand that the young men in Steubenville bear the responsibility for sexually assaulting a young woman who was incapable of giving consent, and that they got what they deserved for committing a horrible crime.

"I know this column is about tennis, so let me add this: I'm a huge fan of Serena's tennis and I will continue to root for her. But this incident shows yet again a fundamental difference between her and Venus, an eloquent advocate for equal pay in her sport and a terrific ambassador for women's sports. I, for one, cannot imagine Venus making the remarks attributed to Serena on the subject of sexual assault."

Now, let's turn to Wimbledon. We'll have seed reports, a roundtable and video previews when the draw comes out on Friday, so here's the pre-Wimby mailbag. Note that the first question was submitted before Venus Williams withdrew, but I'm using it as a starting point to discuss the seedings that were released Wednesday.

Even after just winning the French Open, Rafael Nadal was seeded fifth for Wimbledon.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Do you think Wimbledon actually pulls the trigger on its discretionary seeding and seeds Venus on the basis of her extraordinary past results, or do you think it sticks to the status quo with women's seeds and lets her potentially face Serena in the first round?
-- Gregg, New York

• For both the men and women, the seedings will, inevitably, be much discussed these next few days. Rafael Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon champion, is fresh from winning the French Open and on a tear in 2013. Yet he's seeded fifth, one spot behind David Ferrer, who's never even been to the Wimbledon semifinal, and is coming off a first-round loss in this week's tune-up event in the Netherlands. On the women's side, the Venus question is moot now that she has pulled out. But if she were playing, what to do with the five-time champ who's ranked outside the top 30?

At some level, this is philosophical: Are seedings supposed to be predictive? Or are they earned by players for the rankings they have achieved? If you believe in the former, you bump players such as Nadal. If not, you follow the rankings. While Grand Slam tournaments do have discretion, let's emphasize this point about Wimbledon: Its seedings are not arbitrary. Rather, there's a formula. I'm not sure I'm supposed to share this, so keep this between us:

For the men, seeds are the top 32 players on the ATP Entry System Position (ESP), BUT then rearranged on a surface-based system. Since 2002 a seeding committee has not been required for the Gentlemen's Singles following an agreement made with the ATP. The seeding order is determined using an objective and transparent system to reflect more accurately an individual player's grass court achievements. The formula is:

• Take ESP points at 17 June 2013
• Add 100% points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months
• Add 75% points earned for the best grass court tournament in the 12 months before that.

For the women, the seeding order follows the WTA ranking list, except where in the opinion of the committee, a change is necessary to produce a balanced draw.

The reality: Nadal's seeded No. 5 because that's what the math says. Venus would have likely also been seeded at her ranking -- though the committee left itself an out.

A decade ago, when surface specialists roamed the earth, it was necessary for the committee to have the power to invoke common sense and rejigger the seedings. Today? It's less of an issue. The winners still need to win 21 sets over seven matches. If Nadal has to play, say, Novak Djokovic, a round earlier than anticipated, it's a pity, but the integrity of the tournament will hold up just fine.

Curious as to what would happen if the French Open followed this formula for clay? Scroll to the bottom.

Before Wimbledon last year, you said that Roger Federer was more likely to win one more Grand Slam title than to win none, but that winning no titles was more likely than winning two more. Now that he is the defending Wimbledon champ, what do you think is more likely? One more title? Or none?
-- Trevor, Toronto

• The prediction game continues to pull me back. If Federer is going to win another major, it would be Wimbledon -- and his track record speaks for itself. We can compare it to a video game:

Level One: While he seldom loses early at big events, he still needs to avoid the dangerous floaters and finish his matches in as little time as possible.
Level Two: He needs to survive the 16-32 guys -- players such as Phillip Kohlschreiber, John Isner and Mikhail Youzhny -- with minimum drama.
Level Three: He needs to gets past the hard, flat hitters, like Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Level Four: He needs to get past the other members of the Big Four, often in successive rounds.

It's not impossible, but it's a big ask.

I'm calling you out for taking the easy road and saying, "I think Federer still holds the slight edge" in the GOAT debate. Please define "the slight edge." How much more do you think Rafael Nadal has to do to close the gap? I know you're always getting ripped on for being too pro-Federer or anti-Federer, and for hating Serena and gushing about Serena all at the same time, but this is a fairly open-and-shut case -- Nadal has some work to do.
-- Simon, Edmonton, Alberta

• Again, why can't we just wait until careers are over before burning so much time, energy and certitude on this issue? However, several of you convinced me (in a slight kind of way) that it's OK to weigh in mid-race. So, here's my definition of "slight": Federer has the lead right now, but the notion of Nadal's overtaking him is hardly fanciful. If tennis ceased to exist tomorrow and both their careers ended, Federer would be ahead in my book. But if tennis continues and Nadal keeps winning -- especially if he wins some more majors off of the clay -- this will become an increasingly valid and vibrant discussion.

Forget which player -- I want to know which Grand Slam you think will have the next champion who is not a previous Slam winner. (Which player is just a bonus for this question.)
-- Robert, Toronto

• Here's where this discussion always falls apart. The Big Three/Four are still so good you say, "Can someone really get by Nadal, Federer and Djokovic on grass?" Boy, that's tough. As we saw in Paris, Nadal simply owns Roland Garros, and Djokovic is the only other player who could conceivably win. (If Ferrer is struggling to win GAMES off Nadal, what hope is there for the rest of humanity?) And one of the Big Four has won every major placed on cement -- save one -- over the last eight years. It's hard to see where there's an opening.

I found your comparison between James Patterson and Nadal fascinating, but you asked for it so here goes: if Alex Cross [James Patterson], Kay Scarpetta [Patricia Cornwell], an aged Jack Ryan [Tom Clancy], Lucas Davenport [John Sandford], Robert Langdon [Dan Brown] and any one of those stern southern judges from John Grisham sat down for coffee, what would they talk about? Cake-baking technologies? How overrated CSI is and its influence on modern day forensics? Better still, if any of these larger-than-life characters were tennis players, who would they be and why?
-- Kofi Ofori, Perth, Australia

• I'm a bit out of my depth here. But if anyone else wants to take on Kofi's thought exercise, I'm happy to reprint some responses.

I just finished reading your book Strokes of Genius, which was great, and I've also read James Blake's book, Andre Agassi's book, Pete Sampras' book and Rafael Nadal's book. What am I to read next?
-- Matt, Syracuse, N.Y.

• Thanks. And, yes, we haven't done a book question in a while. Here are four off the top of my head:

Short Circuit, by Mike Mewshaw
Courts of Babylon, by Pete Bodo
A Handful of Summers, by Gordon Forbes
Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, by Joel Drucker

Read those over the summer, then come back and we'll discuss some more.

Roger Federer was one of four players with one-handed backhands in the semifinals in Halle, Germany.
Thomas Starke/Getty Images

The Gerry Weber Open semifinals last week featured four players who use a one-handed backhand: Roger Federer, Tommy Haas, Richard Gasquet, and Mikhail Youhzny. This has to be a rare occurrence. Do you know when was the last time this happened?
-- Steven Healey, Omaha, Neb.

• From the ATP's Greg Sharko: "Actually, it was Halle last year -- Federer, Haas, Kohlschreiber and Youzhny (three of same four except Kohly this year)."

Does Mischa Zverev (who was double-bageled by Roger Federer at the Gerry Weber Open) have any relation to Natasha Zvereva? And is there any chance that "Zverev" is really Russian for "zero"?
-- Doyle, Eugene, Ore.

• Don't believe so. But there is a family connection: His younger brother, Alexander, was the boys' runner-up at the French Open.

Two points. 1) How about "bialy" for a set in which a player wins six straight games after losing at least one? Almost, but not a bagel. 2) The fact that Great Britain's Davis Cup team has its players play "unofficial" six-hour matches explains a lot about its recent lackluster results.
-- Nick Einhorn, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• 1) Spoken like a true Brooklynite.

2) The BBC has initiated a hashtag #troublewithtennis to address British tennis woes. Jason Gay, the excellent Wall Street Journal columnist (and a great Twitter follow), wonders when the U.S. version is coming.


• The other night, after an awkward social exchange, I posed the following on Twitter:

"Decorum question: When someone self identifies 'I'm a philanthropist, what is the proper follow-up?"

For some reason, this triggered a lot of responses, most of them either terrifically helpful or terrifically funny. Someone suggested I reprint some, so here goes:

• @tdberry: Isn't that illegal in Georgia?
• @naughtyt: I used to fool around a lot too... but now I have settled down
• @TheFawcette: I'm a worthy recipient.
• @ryancrinnigan: I just philanthroped in my mouth a little bit
• @themightyscribe: say...You must be rich--way to go with your fortune. And, thanks. Without people like you, we'd really be screwed.
• @melindawaldrop: I'm a genius, billionaire, playboy
• @bretbearup: "Ah....and how much would you say you "philanthrope" in a given year?
• @jamieniessen: interesting. how do you give? time, treasure or talent?"
• @tcote: Ah, what's your favourite stamp?" Then, step away.

Shots, Miscellany

• From the icky-self-promotion-but-being-a-good-soldier department: during Wimbledon, Mary Carillo, Jim Courier and I will be talking shop at 5 p.m. ET every evening on Tennis Channel. Set your clocks accordingly.

• Jim Courier has expanded his role at Tennis Channel.

• Thumbs up for the Wimbledon wild card distributors for:

a) Forgoing three slots and giving the places back to the most deserving players, per their earned ranking. A good day for meritocracy. Hopefully this will set a precedent.
b) Giving Nicolas Mahut a spot.
c) Giving Andrea Petkovic a spot.
d) Letting Mark Knowles into the doubles draw, pitted with fellow Bahamian (and former singles champ) Lleyton Hewitt.

• Thumbs down for denying cancer survivor Alisa Kleybanova a spot.

Enter a Wimbledon suicide pool here.

• There's lots of chatter about the USTA lawsuit against the Venus and Serena filmmakers. The following is a statement from filmmakers Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, who have been accused of copyright infringement for using video footage of the 2011 U.S. Open without permission:

"What is the USTA afraid of? We're shocked by this shameful effort to interfere with telling the story of the two most iconic female athletes in American history -- a film that they have supported and collaborated on for years. The USTA's bizarre efforts to erase history and also claim control of our own film footage as part of their censorship effort is particularly outrageous. In trying to censor this uplifting film about the Williams sisters' remarkable accomplishments the USTA is simply making up conversations that never took place."

The USTA responded:

"We find it ironic that members of an industry that spends millions of dollars to prevent the unlicensed pirating and bootlegging of movies or intellectual property would so cavalierly use unlicensed US Open footage in this documentary. Their claims of censorship are disingenuous at best. In fact, it is a sensationalistic charge used to drum up publicity for their commercial endeavor. In their attacks on the USTA, they concentrate on two minutes of footage. Conveniently, they ignore the other 18 minutes of unlicensed footage also contained in the film. We filed a lawsuit to protect our property rights, just as anyone in Hollywood would do."

• Alex Gorbounov of Cary, N.C.: "Take a look at what the ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad had to say about our eight-time Roland Garros winner (post 57). The rest of the interview is a ball, too, by the way."

• RIP Hall of Famer Gene Mako, who won four major doubles titles in the 1930s and was ranked in the top 10. Mako was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1973. Mako died on June 14 in Los Angeles. He was 97.

• The WTA has launched its 40 LOVE campaign in celebration of four decades of women's professional tennis.

In praise of Steffi Graf, who won the Grand Slam 25 years ago.

• Shawn Frost of New York has long-lost siblings: Svetlana Kuznetsova and actress Lucia Moniz from Love Actually.

• Pete G. of Newton-le-Willows, UK: "I thought you might appreciate the table below. It's a list of the French Open seedings if the formula Wimbledon uses was applied to clay-court tournaments in order to seed Roland Garros. The most glaringly obvious impact on this year's draw (everything else being equal) is that Nadal vs. Ferrer would have been a semi-final and Nadal Djokovic would have been in the final, although Nadal would have been seeded to play Tsonga in the quarters. (Note that I've done the adjusted ranking for 34 players because of Del Potro and Murray withdrawing)."

French Open RankPlayerCountryPoints
1Djokovic, NovakSRB15,640
4Nadal, RafaelESP12,985
3Federer, RogerSUI10,980
2Murray, AndyGBR9,930
5Ferrer, DavidESP9,760
6Berdych, TomasCZE6,260
7Del Potro, Juan MartinARG5,578
8Tsonga, Jo-WilfriedFRA4,673
13Almagro, NicolasESP4,460
10Tipsarevic, JankoSRB4,088
9Gasquet, RichardFRA3,960
11Wawrinka, StanislasSUI3,665
12Cilic, MarinCRO3,520
17Simon, GillesFRA3,350
19Monaco, JuanARG3,241
14Haas, TommyGER2,789
15Nishikori, KeiJPN2,698
16Raonic, MilosCAN2,628
18Kohlschreiber, PhilippGER2,465
22Seppi, AndreasITA2,329
24Dolgopolov, AlexandrUKR2,068
29Fognini, FabioITA2,026
21Isner, JohnUSA2,019
20Querrey, SamUSA1,976
23Janowicz, JerzyPOL1,938
27Chardy, JeremyFRA1,927
30Mayer, FlorianGER1,903
33Granollers, MarcelESP1,898
26Paire, BenoitFRA1,830
25Anderson, KevinRSA1,699
28Dimitrov, GrigorBUL1,670
31Youzhny, MikhailRUS1,635
34Robredo, TommyESP1,628
32Benneteau, JulienFRA1,414

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