We're at a bit of a lull in the tennis season, with many of the players enjoying a vacation after a tough European and grass-court tournament swing. But as always, we'll answer a few mailbag questions.
What is your favorite Roger Federer moment?
-- Michael L., Brooklyn
• Michael L. is surely referring to this bit of required tennis reading, David Foster Wallace’s brilliantly transcendent (and transcendently brilliant) piece on Roger Federer.
“Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.”
As for my answer, it’s not about shotmaking or that backhand overhead in Monte Carlo in 2007. No, it was when a tennis administrator pulled me aside and said, “Watch this.”
She had an orientation DVD that was presented to junior players transitioning to the pros. Context: At the time Federer was the best player in the world by a healthy margin. This video had nothing to do with commercial tie-ins or repaying a favor or even his own charitable foundation. No one was supposed to see this, apart from a few hundred juniors. This was utter philanthropy. On the video, Federer speaks about everything from travel to media obligations. Then -- and this was all unscripted -- he stares at the camera and says, “I wish you good luck. I’ll see you on tour. And you know what? When you come on tour, if you see us, don’t hesitate to ask us questions. Me, I’m always happy to talk to you to you guys and help you... anything you want to ask me, don’t hesitate, don’t be shy. See you around and all the best.”
This is the most fiercely individual sport. These kids are coming to take food off of his table (see: Dimitrov, Grigor). At the time he recorded this video, Federer was in the meaty years, winning three of four majors. And he was actively encouraging kids with rankings as low as zip codes to approach him so he can help with their adjustment? This isn’t just laughably uncommon. It’s not just incredibly gracious. It’s not one of those small acts the public never sees. It establishes a culture of collegiality and a benchmark for professionalism that will be as much a part of his legacy as Major titles and matches won.
Why shouldn't the Wimbledon organizers be called out on their treatment of semifinalist Simona Halep?
-- Aaditya Singhai
• As a rule, I don’t get too worked up about scheduling decisions. There are a lot of players and a finite number of courts. There are competing pressures: television requests, tour requests, fundamental fairness. There are a lot of “damned either way” scenarios. I can’t generate much outrage here.
But I agree with Aaditya that Haelp was not treated so hospitably. The highest remaining women’s seed for the second half of the event -- fresh off reaching the final at the French Open -- was exiled to the less glamorous courts. (To her credit, she took care of business in the shadows, winning the first ten sets she played.) Provided she continues her trajectory, you would hope she gets better placement next year and -- more immediately -- at the U.S. Open.
One word about scheduling, though: I always recall this 2011 Harvey Araton column and feel like the USTA inadvertently revealed an unfortunate secret. Note the line: “He cited Mardy Fish, the men’s eighth seed, as an example of the latter. Fish would seem to have earned more attention than Roddick, whom he has replaced as the highest-ranked American. But Curley said Fish actually prefers to play during the day.”
I remember reading this and thinking, “Wait a second, the scheduling preferences of the eighth seeds are relevant?” Much as I hate this phrase, it seems to me that once your start acknowledging player preferences, you set off on the slipperiest of slopes.
In your 50 parting thoughts from Wimbledon, I think you forgot one -- American Victoria Duval being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma during the Wimbledon qualifying and continuing to play and WIN through the second round of the main draw. Now that’s fortitude, courage and strength. I wish her well and a speedy recovery.
• A few of you mentioned that. Full candor: I’d heard about this through the grapevine and then through a press release. Since Duval herself hasn't commented yet, I was wary of writing much here. But her people have since given the go-ahead so, yes, here’s an additional item for Duval. Most important, everyone wishes her well.
But as Troy notes: she received her unfortunate diagnosis before Wimbledon and yet she still managed to qualify and win a main draw match. When she makes a full recovery and rejoins the WTA Tour, that augurs well for her mental strength.
With six different singles winners at the first three Grand Slams, I'm wondering when, if ever, there has been eight different individuals who've hoisted major trophies in a single year. And if so, who and when?
-- Phil Li, Brooklyn
• Phil Li, Fanatic, if I may. Good question. With the help of Greg Sharko:
Last time there were eight different Grand Slam singles winners in a single year was 1998:
Australian Open: Petr Korda, Martina Hingis
French Open: Carlos Moya, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
Wimbledon: Pete Sampras, Jana Novotna
U.S. Open: Pat Rafter, Lindsay Davenport
Hope you're doing very well. Kind of curious on your thoughts on fans from India unfairly spamming Maria Sharapova’s facebook page because she didn't know who cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is. Surprised you did not comment on the same. It was a huge trend on tweet-verse for a long time. I am sure lots of people from India will not know names of NFL players or from the Russian soccer team simply because they don’t follow it. I thought Maria handled it like a pro by not reacting to the spamming. Thoughts?
• First, “Maria handled it like a pro” is redundant. You may like her; you may dislike her. But her professionalism is not up for debate -- that is one buttoned-up operation. Yes, it’s surprising that Sharapova had never heard of Tendulkar, but we all have our gaps in cultural literacy. When the Tendulkar's significant other gets of wind of this, Sharapova will really be clowned on social media, like in this situation.
A reader wrote into your last mailbag alleging that Nick Kyrgios is a big serve (a la John Isner) and nothing more. Considering the man he beat at Wimbledon, wouldn't a better comparison be to Robin Soderling? I'm thinking in particular of the sweet two-handed backhand, which, after the serve, was the weapon Kyrgios used to beat Rafael Nadal.
-- Randy Burgess
• Meh, Kyrgios plays differently. He attacks more readily, and his backhand isn’t at Soderling’s level yet. Plus, the kid has a sunnier disposition. Someone in the commentary booth suggested a teenage Boris Becker, but I’m not sure I see that either. I agree with you that it’s not fair to put him in the serve-and-a-forehand box. (We already have a Jack Sock in the box.) But I’m happy to let Kyrgios forge his own identity.
Hi Jon, I was listening to the History of Rome podcast, and the host was discussing his favorite emperors. He mentioned there should be a distinction between peak performance (doing amazing things for a short period of time) and career performance (sustained excellence over a long period of time) and I thought, 'Eureka! This is how we settle the GOAT debate!' The peak performance GOAT is Nadal -- when he is at his best, he's unbeatable on any surface but he was consistently at his best for a limited time. The career performance GOAT is Roger Federer -- sustained excellence on all surfaces for a long period of time. There, case closed. Everyone's happy. What's that you say? What about Djokovic in 2011? Sigh...
-- Cainim, Seattle
• I applaud your thinking. I would say that when the Emperors are not just contemporaries but aim to conquer the same subjects (and compete head-to-head three dozen times), parsing the distinction is not going to mollify the masses. The people want an unambiguous champion declared.
I’m surprised you didn’t say anything about Djokovic’s disgusting habit of eating the grass on Centre Court after winning Wimbledon.
-- Carl, Monroe
• Didn’t bother me at all. Maybe we should think of it as an extension of the farm-to-table movement
• Gerry Gollin of Redlands, Calif. deserves credit for being the first person to identify this excellent piece of tennis writing.
• Victoria Azarenka and Bob Bryan will play Mike Bryan and top junior Kimberly Yee at the V-Grid Tennis Fest, held at the Spanish Hills Country Club in Southern California.