We start with a quick (sub-3:30) discussion of the story of the week in tennis. No, it wasn’t Novak Djokovic or the Bryans winning in Paris. It wasn’t Milos Raonic scoring perhaps the biggest win of his career as he beat Roger Federer. It wasn’t the sifting out of the field for the unfortunately-abbreviated World Tour Finals, nor was it Grigor Dimitrov’s decision to forgo playing the role of understudy.
No, we speak, of course, about Caroline Wozniacki’s smashing cameo as a long distance runner. Shortly after Wimbledon, she committed to running the New York City Marathon. Despite playing some of the best tennis of her career since then (and despite a paucity of training), she stuck to her word and was at the starting line Sunday morning.
This whole idea straddled the starting line between endearingly whimsical and heedless. On the one hand, here was an athlete in the prime of her career, who competes in a sport than demands optimal health. Why would she tax her body, risking both health and earning potential by running 26.2 miles?
On the other hand, how refreshing is it that an active athlete -- in the prime of her career -- would be sufficiently carefree (and sufficiently fit) that she would undertake this challenge, barely a week after her season ended?
Wozniacki, of course, ended up a big winner. She turned in a more-than-respectable time, enough to qualify her for the 2015 Boston Marathon. (No, she will not be on Boylston St. the third Monday in April.)
She struggled a bit afterward but she’ll be fine physically, we’re told.
But tennis really won, too. Uncommonly accessible as always, Wozniacki endeared herself to all and gave an awfully strong representation of the sport. (“Are all tennis players this nice?” a race official asked me.) That Serena Williams greeted Wozniacki at the finish line (the Danish line?) was a nice touch, one that spoke well of a sisterhood in the women’s game. Most important, what a strong validation for the WTA and women’s tennis overall. Here’s a top ten player in a fast twitch sport who -- again, a few days after the season -- runs her first marathon in 3:26? Think about that the next time the question of player fitness surfaces.
It seems that all the tennis news lately revolves around qualifying for the World Tour Finals. It makes me wonder just how important the Tour Finals are. In a way, it's like the Super Bowl, isn't it? You play all year for a chance to qualify and then win the Tour Finals. What do you think of classifying a major as one of the four slams plus the World Tour Finals? For example, Federer would have 23 titles, Nadal 14, Djokovic 10, etc.
-- Donald Marhefka, Chengdu, China
• Good question. First, both tours come in for praise here. Thanks to this race to see who would make the Finals fields, the fall was freighted with an extra bit of relevance. Tennis can be a tough sell after the U.S. Open when there are zero Slams left on the calendar and the players are often running on fumes. But this year, there was authentic drama and an authentic reason to care.
I agree that the Finals events should carry great weight. The field is -- by definition -- the best in the business. It comes at the end of the season so success is a testament of durability and stamina.
But for many reasons, I can’t see making it equivalent to a major. For one, the round robin format changes everything. At Slams, one lousy day at the office and you’re through. At these events, you can play a stinker of a match and still take the title. Seven matches and a 128-player draw is much different from an 8-player draw. (That’s not even a jury.) You lack the ancillary distractions -- weather, scheduling, off-court drama -- that make winning a Slam such an achievement. And, yes, the best-of-three format on the men’s side is another point of differentiation.
When we take the measure of Federer, his success at the World Tour Finals should factor heavily. But it’s an (over)reach to think of him as a 23-Slam winner.
"Governor of Nevada Andre Agassi" wouldn't be a shocking thing to see 15-20 years down the road, would it?
• Interesting. I would think he’s more likely to be a representative or senator than a state politician. But he certainly has the disposition and charm. And “Daddy Rocks” is a darn campaign slogan.
Is it just me, or has Serena seemed so much more "relatable" since she and Wozniacki began stepping out as BFF's?
• A few of you have written in expressing a similar sentiment. Full candor: I’m a little bit uneasy about this entire line of discussion. Serena has been just as warm and solicitous and openly affectionate with another competitor for her entire career: Venus Williams. Why wasn’t she “relatable” then?
But, yes, it’s nice to see Serena so clearly friendly with another player. This is at odds with the “us-against-the-world” mentality espoused by the paterfamilias for all those years. A thought exercise for laughs: Imagine approaching Serena a decade ago and saying, “See that Danish girl in the juniors draw? Yeah, her name’s Caroline and ten years from now, she will be a close friend. Don’t worry, you’ll still be No.1; but she’ll be a top ten player. In fact, in the previous major you had to beat her in the final. Anyway, she’s going to run a marathon in New York. You’ll go out with her the night before, sleep at her apartment and when she crosses the finish line, you’ll be the first person to congratulate her.”
I completely agree about Robredo’s gesture to Murray. I watched the entire match (fantastic, by the way). In context, it was funny, charming -- total sportsmanship. I’m amazed at how many people missed that sentiment. (They probably only looked at a photo still of the fingers mid-flip.) I however disagree with you about the Darian King incident. He most definitely should have lost a point, or something. But it was unintentional, equivalent to bashing a racquet on the ground. That lineswoman is made of straw. C’mon.
-- Shayne Hull, Louisville, Kentucky
• This, of course, is the problem with forming a judgment around an eight second GIF rather fuller context. Read the tag “Tennis flips off opponent at net” and you think it’s tennis’ answer to Jeff Gordon versus Brad Keselowski. Watch the video and see the facial expressions and you realize it was somewhere between innocuous and charming.
As for Darian King, I have two words: eggshell plaintiff. Actually I have more words: dude, we all get upset. But you have to keep it together in a tiebreaker. You’re a few cheap points from pulling out the set. You can’t lose your cool at such a critical juncture in a match! And here’s this poor woman volunteering, calling lines in a low level pro match. She deserves better than that.
Although much has been written to explain and understand Serena's success, one area remains largely unexplored: in every victory speech, Serena first thanks Jehovah, letting all know what a priority this is in her life. Instead, journalists, yourself included, never delve deeper into this aspect of her life. The articles are mostly about racism/sexism/family dynamic or even about her love life. Is this because of a variant of writer's block or fear of treading into this topic?
-- Kenneth Wells, Yuba City, Ariz.
• Interesting point. It’s often tricky to write about faith -- much less, the faith of others. It’s deeply personal, sometimes hard to articulate and -- in the case of sports -- it obviously cuts against the trend toward data and empirical support. But given how often Serena references her religious beliefs, perhaps we should ask her about it more often. If she wants to explain how it does or doesn’t impact her tennis success, great. If she doesn’t want to go there, that’s obviously her prerogative as well.
• This week’s unsolicited book recommendation: “Boxing in Philadelphia” by Gabe Oppenheim.
• Tennis Channel and ESPN have you covered for the ATP World Tour Finals.
• This week’s “Apropos of Nothing” stat: there are four Americans ranked No. 34-42. There are two ranked No. 50-100.
• Reigning NCAA champion Danielle Collins (University of Virginia), Jamie Loeb (University of North Carolina) and Julia Elbaba (University of Virginia) are among the top college players set to compete in the 2014 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in Flushing, N.Y.
• Teen sensation Borna Coric will be coached by Zeljko Krajan.
• Well played, James Busby, who notes: Kevin Love wearing 0 is redundant.
• Andre Agassi reveals the reason he wakes up everyday -- and it has nothing to do with tennis. Plus, he also shows off the one thing he hasn't taken off in nine years.
• Long Lost siblings comes to use from Art of San Francisco: Denis Istomin and Hunter Pence