Mailbag: Federer as the U.S. Open favorite, wrist injuries and TV talk
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A quick mailbag before the Big Show starts. Be sure to also check out the rest of our lineup for this week:
You said in Rafael Nadal’s ABSENCE, Roger Federer is the U.S. Open favorite. Really? This is simply so unfair. I’m shocked, especially coming from you. I’m a big fan of your writing -- allow me to remain one!
• Let’s come out and say something few of us probably envisioned six, nine, 12 months ago: Roger Federer might well be the 2014 U.S. Open favorite. No one has played better over the last 60 days or so, punctuated by his title in Cincinnati last weekend. Whatever plagued him in 2013 -- part physical, part emotional, hardly independent -- appears to have passed. With Novak Djokovic looking very un-Djokovician in Toronto and Cincinnati; with Andy Murray still struggling to find his form; with Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov still not quite ripe; with mass fan support; with a day off between matches; with lots of play at night; with a family in tow… Let’s just say everything is starting line up nicely.
Then Monday, the Fed-pectation went to another level with the announcement Rafael Nadal was withdrawing on account of his wrist injury. This was a double bonus. First, it meant that the defending U.S. Open champion and Federer’s nemesis was no longer in the draw. Second, it meant that Federer moved up to the No. 2 seed, guaranteeing that he'd be on the opposite side of the draw from Djokovic.
The loss of Nadal is deeply unfortunate and should trouble the authorities. But the prospect of a Federer-Djokovic final should sustain the event just fine.
With three of the top 10 ATP players (Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic and now Nadal) having missed small, medium and large chunks of this season with wrist injuries, is it time for some of these heavy hitters to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of polyester strings? And then possibly reverting to less stiff frames?
-- Andy, Vail, Colo.
• Since tennis’ leadership, such as it is, hasn’t seemed particularly inclined to address the rash of injuries -- this despite both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggesting there is a real problem -- the market will have to take care of itself. Some combination of polyester strings, overtraining and an overly taxing schedule have led to unprecedented levels of injuries and withdrawals.
In the absence of legislation, eventually the market will deal with this. Athletes will gravitate to sports that exact less of a price on the body. Tournaments will suffer because sponsors, networks and fans know that stars (i.e., Nadal and Li Na) may well be absent from events. Eventually products that go unchecked -- polyester strings -- will be challenged, the same way more perceptive (courageous?) sports take stands on products like oversized putters and aluminum bats.
How did Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki become good friends? You hear about top players insulating themselves from their competition, but these two seem to have a genuine relationship. It’s nice to see in the dog-eat-dog world of professional tennis.
-- Mark, Ashland, Ohio
• From the Wozniacki camp: “They really started becoming close when they spent three or four days together at an event in Barbados back in 2011. This was an exhibition event/vacation, and the two spent a lot of time away from the tennis court. The relationship has grown over the years and while they both have the utmost respect for each other as great tennis players, they also care about each other away from the court as good friends.”
I recall Maria Sharapova getting a lot of grief after her French Open victory because she did not have to overcome Serena, Li or Agnieszka Radwanska on her path to the title. Do her hard-fought wins over Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep look better in retrospect, given the stellar seasons both have put together since then? She may not have beaten the WTA's old guard, but it seems like her win in Paris is even more impressive given that it becomes clearer every day that Halep and Bouchard are the real deal.
-- Brennan Mange, Holland, Mich.
• I was recently writing something about Andy Roddick. When he lost to a young, lesser-ranked opponent in the third round of Wimbledon in 2006, it was declared that Roddick had hit a career nadir. (You’ll recall that Roddick hired Jimmy Connors shortly thereafter.) Who was this marginal opponent? Andy Murray. Obviously, that's a loss that doesn't look quite so bad in the rearview mirror.
The flip side: When, say, Federer loses to Juan Martin del Potro in the U.S. Open final -- and Delpo has reached only one Grand Slam semifinal in the five years since -- that looks more and more like one that got away. Point: Sometimes it takes some detachment to put results in perspective. And as Brennan perceptively notes, Sharapova’s “soft” French Open is steadily congealing, as it were.
I know I'm probably not the first to say this, but perhaps someone could bring attention to the television networks (both Tennis Channel and ESPN) that while little league baseball might be entertaining to some, it certainly cannot be placed on par with a Federer-Gael Monfils third set. There was absolutely no way to watch that match live! (Streaming ESPN3, ESPN2, Tennis Channel … nothing worked!) I don't have the power to facilitate change but maybe you do?
-- Arjun Raman
• I don’t blame ESPN so much as I blame the USTA. You make a TV deal with a partner for a significant chunk of change. This implies you have some leverage. Seems pretty reasonable to say, “This deal will include the last four days of the Cincinnati event, the most significant non-major held in the U.S. in the second half of the year. As a condition, however, you must air the actual matches -- on actual television, not a digital platform. When Roger Federer is playing a Thursday match, and you guys are airing a bunch of 12-year-olds playing baseball, we are failing in our oft-stated mission to grow and promote tennis.”
Two additional points:
- When they write the History of American Tennis in the early 21st century, the USTA will be skewered for how clumsy it’s been in handling the television coverage. I would submit that no sports fan is treated more shabbily than the American tennis fan. At a time when sports programming is the coin of the realm, rights fees escalate even when sports decline (see NASCAR) -- and the USTA has a board seat at a network devoted solely to tennis coverage -- the television situation is, at once, inexcusable and devastating. It alienates and confuses even hardcore fans. Worse, it creates this vicious cycle whereby tennis doesn’t generate ratings, so ESPN can feel validated putting the Little League World Series ahead of Roger Federer, 10 days before the U.S. Open, which depresses ratings. We have college athletic departments -- never mind conferences -- starting their own networks. It shouldn’t be this hard to offer consistent, easy-to-find programming -- on a real TV screen; not digital or mobile programming -- so that Roger Federer’s match in Cincinnati is aired live.
- If Mo’ne Davis is pitching, disregard everything I’ve written above. She is awesome.
Hiya, Jon. Who would you say has had the better career: Ana Ivanovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova?
• Hiya, Galileo. (Now there are two words I suspect I’ve never before typed in succession.) The quick and easy answer: Two Grand Slams beats one. (Kuznetsova wins.) Long answer: In a mild upset, I’m tempted to go with Ivanovic here. Though significantly younger, she has won the same number of titles, achieved the top spot (Koozie topped out at No. 2) and has played deeper at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Both players have been subject to swings, but Kuznetsova’s are more dramatic. Especially since the 26-year-old Ivanovic is two and a half years younger, my speculation is that she leaves with the more decorated career.
If No. 32 and No. 33 have the same ranking points, who decides who is seeded at a Grand Slam? The difference between playing No. 1 in Round 1 and Round 3 is huge.
• The ATP's Greg Sharko helped us here: If the points are tied, basically the player with more “mandatory tournament points” breaks the tie.
I loved Madison Keys’ recent comment on women's coaching. Has there been a formal or informal poll about what the women players truly think of on-court coaching? I've yet to hear any player say, "Oh, thank goodness my coach gets to come talk to me between sets. I just couldn't continue playing on my own." In fact, do you think they're a little embarrassed by it?
-- Shayne Hull, Louisville, Ky.
• We discussed this on Twitter the other day. The tennis community likes on-court coaching in the same way that Bill Ackman likes Herbalife. We all love the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here’s a dry challenge to the WTA: Furnish us with the data you often cite that indicates that the Kingdom of Tennis likes on-court coaching. Fans hate it, more than they hate grunting. Players openly speak out against it. Only with the unintentional humor does it add value to the broadcasts. Here’s how @rd_amezquita characterized it:
@jon_wertheim on-court coaching="I am not smart/mature/calm enough to figure this out on my own"— RaulDAmezquita (@rd_amezquita) August 18, 2014
Strong is indeed beautiful. Why neuter that strength by permitting the players to seek counsel of others -- invariably an older male -- during play?
I am a longtime reader and have always enjoyed your tennis columns immensely. That said, lately I've noticed a certain grammatical error that you seem to make quite often: "But we’ll try and do more." You mean that you'll "try to do more," meaning an attempt will be made to do more. "Try and do more" would mean that an attempt (at something) will be made and more (of something) will be done -- we'll try, and we'll do more. This seems to be a common mistake, and unfortunately it has become one of my pet peeves. I apologize if I appear to be a "grammar Nazi," because I'm really not.
-- Patrick Preston, Chicago
• Improving grammar? You’re right: We’ll try and do more. Your letter gives us an excuse to link this:
• U.S. Open pool. I'll provide prizes to the winners. Grab the guardrail and enter here.
• If you’re interested, reader Ana Mitric has written an exhaustive piece on Viktor Troicki’s anti-doping suspension and fear of needles
• The Tennis Media Company (owners and publishers of Tennis Magazine, Tennis.com and Tennis Tuesday) announced the appointment of a new managing partner, Jeff Williams, who will oversee all operations.
• Before we get to long-lost siblings, a quick school-marmish warning. Let’s try and (sorry) keep this clean and tasteful. Or at least know this: Submissions likening players to porn stars, capybaras and Simpson characters, while often amusing, are unlikely to make the cut.