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Happy 2015 everyone. May we all age as gracefully as pro tennis player. A quick swig of espresso and here’s a Mailbag before we gear up for Australian Open coverage…
Who are your top five men and women on Dec. 31, 2015?
-- Charles, London
• In tennis? Or overall? If the latter, Pope Francis is my top seed heading into the year. Steve Kerr might be second. Oh, and I like Jeffrey Tambor. If we’re talking tennis maybe:
1. Novak Djokovic
2. Roger Federer
3. Rafael Nadal
4. Andy Murray
5. Off the board, bandwagon-ing with Borna Coric
Overarching theme: I’m not ready to declare the end of the Big Four.
1. Serena Williams
2. Petra Kvitova
3. Maria Sharapova
4. Caroline Wozniacki
5. Simona Halep
Overarching theme: Not unlike the men, I’m still holding onto the blue chippers for another year.
While watching Halep vs. Sharapova on Steven Tignor’s countdown list, it occurred to me just how similar to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Halep is. Rock solid backhand, pretty good forehand, short stature, excellent mover. Probably good on any surface, but will also probably post her best numbers on clay. Is this a fair comparison, or is it a bad exercise to stack a current player against a former like that?
-- Jon Berg, Seattle, Wash.
• That’s pretty good. Halep plays less defensively and is more of a risk-taker with her shots. She also hits a bigger ball, though that’s likely a function of racket and string technology as much as anything.
Long as we’re here, name me a player over the last quarter century who’s gotten less due than ASV? History has dismissed her a bit as a counterpuncher and a backboard not quite good enough to become a foil to Steffi Graf. We still giggle at the sniglet “Arantxaphobic” (fear of hitting out) and, as recently as the U.S. Open, an ESPN commentator confused her with Conchita Martinez. Meanwhile, ASV won four Slams, reached the finals multiple times at the other two, took a pair of Olympic medals and 29 singles titles overall. Compare ASV to, say, Maria Sharapova or Kim Clijsters, and she more than holds her own. No disrespect to Halep but if she achieves half of what ASV did, it will be an achievement.
I’ve noticed that at more and more events (including the IPTL) players are coming on the court while music plays. The same way boxers do. What are some songs you would recommend for players?
-- Salil, India
• We did this a few years ago, as I recall, and had some fun responses. Maybe next time we match players with songs. (Insert “All About That Bass” joke here)
My top five in no order:
1) “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. Simply the best ring entrance anthem of all time. Why wouldn’t it work tennis?
2) “Intro” by The XX
3) “Right Here, Right Now” by Fatboy Slim
4) Go for something totally ironic. I once saw a UFC fighter walk out to “Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash and it had the desired effect of completely confusing the crowd.
5) “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Just kidding.
Amidst the dearth of on-court tennis action in the "post ATP/WTA finals" off-ish season, one piece of news stuck out for me: the Italian court case regarding Daniele Bracciale, Potito Starace and match-fixing. What's remarkable may be how "unremarkable" the match-fixing targets are. In light of another year forthcoming of rock-bottom low pay on the challenger circuit, is tennis considering more support for the "99%" or should we expect more (and potentially, more damaging) betting scandals?
-- Andrew Miller, Chevy Chase, Maryland
• As in life, incentives explain behavior. The prize money at the low-level events is strikingly small; the potential for ill-gotten gains is strikingly large. This is a larger discussion for another time, but I think there’s an interesting economic discussion we can have on this topic.
Reflexively, we all like to see strivers strive and see effort remunerated. There’s an element of tragedy that the top players make millions and colleagues one level (one shaky backhand) down, barely eke out a living. We say it all the time: if you’re the No. 500 banker or trader or orthopedist or trial attorney or glockenspiel player, life is good. If you're the No. 500 tennis player, you're living off credit card cash advances.
Then again, as one irremediable tennis administrator once put it to me: “Where does it say that the sport must support X number of players? The market is what it is.” I think this is somewhat flawed. Part of a sport’s gravitas comes from a full field and if the top players have to work under market value, so be it. If tennis were simply a handful stars playing seven-figure-a-night exhibitions, where is the relevance in that? But by the same token, maybe the expectation that 500 players can earn a good living needs to be recalibrated.
I hope you can help me. I am trying to get tickets to Wimbledon 2015 center court. At wimbledon.com I applied on their ballot like a do every year. No luck. Can you name a few reliable companies that sell Wimbledon center court tickets? In any case, I know it will be an expensive proposition. Thank you.
-- Marvin Nieman
• I try to stay out of the ticket game, but this question comes up periodically. Can anyone help Marvin with regards to Wimbledon? If you’ve had an experience with a ticket broker -- online or otherwise -- and can either recommend or warn us, we’d be much obliged.
• Discuss what’s more impressive: Federer winning 1,000 matches or Coach K. winning 1,000 basketball games?
• Speaking of milestones, Ivo Karlovic reached (and now passed, after Wednesday’s match in Doha) 9,000 aces for his career.
• If only there were a stat for “9,000 well-placed point-neutralizing service returns”.
• It’s the first week of 2015 and already the injuries are coming fast and furious. Among the wounded: Jack Sock, Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Nicolas Almagro is a doubt for the Australian Open. He hasn't played a sanctioned match, in fact, since the French Open.
• Note some of the changes to the ITF Anti-doping policy.
• The USTA Pro Circuit is set to launch its 35th season this week with clay events in Florida and hard court events in California..
• Press releasing: William Genesen and Kelly Chen won the USTA Winter National Championships and earned wild cards into future USTA Pro Circuit Events.
• David Nainkin has rejoined USTA Player Development full-time and Maureen Diaz has been hired as a full-time national coach based out of the USTA Training Center.
• Kate of Merlin, Ore,: Here's to Stanimal and his long lost sib, a young Desi Arnaz Jr.