Mailbag: The debate over Kafelnikov, ATP-Asian Games and Neil Harman
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
After seeing that Andre Agassi only played in nine Australian Opens despite a 20-year career, I wondered why. If everybody cares so much about the numbers of Slams won, why don't we see who has the highest wins-per-Slams-played percentage. (Note: This list is not comprehensive. I just picked some of the more famous names on the list of top slam winners.) Here are the results in order:
1. Borg 40.7% (11 of 27)
2. Nadal 35.9% (14 of 39)
3. Federer 27.4% (17 of 62)
4. Sampras 26.9% (14 of 52)
5. Emerson 20.3% (12 of 59)
6. Djokovic 17.5% (7 of 40)
7. McEnroe 15.5% (7 of 45)
8. Lendl 14.0% (8 of 57)
9. Connors 13.8% (8 of 58)
10. Agassi 13.1% (8 of 61)
-- Christian Jackson
• Thanks. Very interesting. But I could see fans taking issue with the premise. Federer, of course, has won only one major of the last four years, after all but rampaging from 2003-09. (And yes, we intentionally aspired to be the first to refer to a Swiss citizen as rampaging.) Should the last four years count against him? I would argue no. Though on the downslope, he has continued to compete nobly and those assorted deep runs -- three in the past year alone -- bolster his case.
It seems to me the Spanish Davis Cup team is in far more trouble than appointing a female captain. If Carlos Moya can't get the great Spanish players to commit, how is a seemingly unknown and unconnected captain (male or female) going to get the job done? Of course there are injuries in play, but their bench is the longest of any country. Davis Cup in Spain imploded and I’d be interested to understand the politics behind that and the thought process behind the appointment of Gala Leon Garcia -- there must be a bigger story here.
-- Marjorie, Virginia Beach
• Yes, this move smacks of internal politics. (Wait. Internal politics? At a tennis federation? Now you're talking crazy!) And as you note, the success of the captain is based largely on recruitment. If the top players commit, you're gold. If the top players don’t, your employment will become precarious. But those are the Davis Cup rules of the road. And -- regardless of motivation -- good for Spain for realizing there’s no reason a woman can’t do the job just as well.
Thoughts on the ATP-Asian Games standoff?
• The reader is referring to the current showdown between Yen-Hsun Lu and the ATP. As I understand it, it’s now a moot point, as a) Lu and the ATP came to an agreement and b) Lu lost in the Asian Games finals.
But I see this from both sides. Both the WTA and ATP have longstanding rules prohibiting players from competing in non-sanctioned events while tour events are being held nearby. On the other hand, you'd think players could carve out a special exception for events like the Asian Games. I remember once talking to Alan Ma, the Chinese coach, and he explained that in some countries, winning gold in the Asian Games is a bigger deal than winning Wimbledon.
What trips me up here is the length of suspension. In the case of Lu, he was being threatened with a three-year ban. (Given that Lu is already 31, this would effectively end his pro career.) One point to consider: this is three times the length of suspension handed to Wayne Odesnik -- who was caught with vials of human growth hormone -- and subsequently, his name appeared in the jottings of the Biogenesis facility. (For the NFL crowd: you might say Lu was Josh Gordon to Odesnik’s Ray Rice.)
Jon, I have tremendous respect for your thoughts about the game, but I am bewildered when you discuss a player like Yevgeny Kafelnikov and his HOF credentials and say, “But if we’re being honest here, he wasn't a good corporate citizen and left the sport on poor terms. He was not popular with his peers.” I want to scream, “Who cares!” Tennis is a competitive sport where it is (relatively) easy to evaluate merit based on numbers of majors, ranking, Davis Cup wins and other available stats. Do we really want to establish personality tests and start looking at nebulous criteria like how friendly a person was?
-- Tim Johnson, New York, NY
• Not unfairly, I took a fair amount of grief for this. But we’ve all been talking, for years, about the need for the Hall of Fame to break from precedent and become a true Hall of Fame and not a Hall of pretty-good-but-we-need-to-have-a-ceremony-each-summer. In Kafelnikov you have a two-time Slam winner, but also a guy who was notoriously indifferent to the state of the game itself; who left the sport under the murkiest of conditions; who once had prize money withheld by a promoter because he tanked so egregiously. I think that’s relevant criteria. Which is to say I reject the contention that factors like collegiality and sportsmanship -- subjective as they are -- should not matter.
How much of a barometer is it that the U.S. girls won the junior Fed Cup?
• From the press release: “Led by singles victories from CiCi Bellis, Tornado Alicia Black, Michael Mmoh and William Blumberg, the United States won both the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals on Sunday in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, sweeping the 16-and-under world team titles for the second time in the last seven years. The top-seeded Junior Fed Cup team of Bellis, Black and Sofia Kenin carried the U.S. to its third Junior Fed Cup title (2008, 2012) without losing a singles or doubles match this week. The No. 2-seeded Junior Davis Cup team of Mmoh, Blumberg and Gianni Ross also won all of their singles and doubles matches to bring the U.S. its third Junior Davis Cup title (1999, 2008). “
It’s not quite fool’s gold, but it's not exactly predictive, either. If you're rooting for U.S. tennis, you take whatever triumphs come along.
Long as we’re here, I feel like we need to distinguish among genders. The U.S. women are doing quite well -- it's the men who are problematic. Before the USTA does a victory lap, this distinction should be limned. For a variety of reasons -- some of them crassly economic -- getting women to play tennis is easier. No football to compete with. Lots of opportunity for college scholarships. Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Li Na will make multiples more than any female professional basketball player. Getting the 10-year-old boy to choose tennis over hoops or baseball or football or soccer is the much tougher proposition.
I can't see why you have not addressed the Neil Harman controversy. If it’s due to legal or respect of colleague, it would be understood, but it’s just unlike you to stay silent in any tennis-related issue.
• I’m not ducking the questions. I just don't have much to add. I know I speak for many when I say it’s been profoundly sad to watch this unfold. One takeaway for me: this has sharpened a distinction between abstract and concrete. Presented with this fact pattern in the abstract -- a colleague repeatedly plagiarizes work from others -- I think most of us would be inclined to reach a harsh conclusion. Yet when this happens to someone you’ve known quite well for many years -- a longtime colleague who owns his mistake with honor and humility -- you hope the decision-makers show some mercy.
Could you give us an update on Mardy Fish? I haven't heard much about his health or if he plans on playing tennis again.
-- Diane Wymer
• I reached out the Mardy to see if he wanted to comment. He did not respond. This goes to the issue we discussed last week. In a team sport, a franchise would, by virtue of league rules, publicize a player’s status. In tennis, the player can be much more discreet and secretive. We can debate what sort of obligation (if any) the athlete owes the public, but for now, I’ll simply link to this.
• Stephen Farrow has been appointed tournament director of the Aegon Championships, with Ross Hutchins joining the ATP as their vice president of player relations.
• Rich of NYC: There is an Argentine movie called “Two Shots Fired” premiering at the NY Film Festival that stars a young actor named Rafael Federman. Interesting name, don’t you think?
• Press releasing from the Red Rock Pro Open: “Breaking into the top 100 is the goal of any professional tennis player, and it’s a place Madison Brengle is likely headed to for the first time on Monday once the WTA ranking are released. Missing among all the great headlines at the Red Rock Pro Open in Las Vegas this week was how the 24-year-old worked her way through the draw without dropping a set, including a dominating performance on Sunday in a 6-1, 6-4 final win over rival Michelle Larcher De Brito of Portugal to capture the $7,600 winner singles check at the USTA Women’s $50,000 Pro Circuit event played at the Red Rock Country Club. But more importantly than the cash, the Dover, Del., native is also the welcome recipient of 80 valuable WTA points. The points will likely be enough to leap-frog the No. 4 seeded and currently No. 110 world-ranked Brengle into the top 100.”
• From The Wayback Machine: “Williams is lost cause: For all her talk, Serena Williams will never return to the top again”
• A subscription is required, but Dan Kaplan had an interesting Sports Business Journal piece on the WTA serving up in-venue data for fans.
• Props to the Shenzhen Open for hiring an outside writer --James Pham -- to liven the media coverage. What is Richard Gasquet’s Chinese nickname? What would Juan Monaco want for his last meal? Click here to find out.
• Here’s a sample of an exchange with Viktor Troicki from Shenzhen. Note that this is not exactly the palaver you expect from in-house PR organs:
Q: Are you disappointed that more players didn’t come out in support of you? It seemed like a pretty honest mistake.
VT: Ooh. Tough question. Tennis is an individual support so everyone looks out for himself and doesn’t really care what happens to the others. I have some friends and I know who they are and they’ve been really helpful and I will never forget them. Maybe you know who they are. They even had problems because they did that for me and it’s great to have such friends. I really admire that and I will cherish that for the rest of my life. As far as the rest, you know, whenever someone saw me, they felt sorry but to go out public, nobody really went, not many players went towards my side and as I said, it’s an individual sport; they don’t want to get involved and it’s not their matter so they feel like they shouldn’t talk about it.
• Li Na was named an official ambassador of the WTA Finals Singapore. “In her transition from being Asia’s highest-ranked player ever to WTA Legend, the two-time Grand Slam champion will serve as an Official Ambassador for the WTA Finals in 2014 and 2015. Li will be joined by an all-star line-up of WTA Legends at this year’s event, including Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Marion Bartoli, Iva Majoli and Mary Pierce.”
• Anne B. from South Carolina has LLC: Marin Cilic and Marco Polo.