Jon Wertheim's Mailbag: Reader questions and commentary on longevity as a factor for determining top ATP players' legacies, the U.S. Davis Cup team, Serena's return to Indian Wells and more.
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More grab-bagging for this week's Mailbag:
Even though they both will deny it—how much influence did Serena's coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, have on her decision to return to Indian Wells? I read that he brought up the idea last year and I also read that the powers to be at Indian Wells approached him about it earlier this year. I hope Serena explained the history of racism in the U.S. to Mourtagolou and how what happened some 14 years ago affected her and her family. Also, what's your take on the real reason on why Venus isn't returning? Is it scheduling or is she still licking old wounds?
—M&M, Charleston, S.C.
• Be assured that next week Serena will be asked about her decision to return to Indian Wells and the factors that influenced this hairpin turn. While there’s been plenty of speculation already, this we know for sure: Serena is calling the shots here. Others in her camp (and outside of it) might have suggestions and feelings; but no one strong-arms her to do much of anything, much less to make a decision of this magnitude. I say we hear her out next week and then we can revisit. But I think she comes in for advance praise simply for having the capacity to reverse course and change her stance.
As for Venus, she has her reasons as well for not joining her sister. I won't speculate here, but I do like that this continues a trend of ending the “Williams sisters” conflation and framing them as two individuals.
On a related—if decidedly lighter—note, one of you tweeted me about this story I hadn't thought about in years. When they were coming up in the late 90s, Serena and Venus once walked past Pat Rafter at an event. Serena turned and yelled back, “Hey, Lover Boy!” Venus ran away giggling. That was almost two decades ago and it still pretty well sums up their constitutional differences.
Even as a Federer partisan, I'll admit there was a time a few years ago when I watched his matches against Djokovic with the bittersweet feeling that, though they were still competitive, there was no way Federer could hold out much longer against his younger rival. After all, he was more than 30-years-old! We all know what happens when a tennis player reaches 30—they slow down, they lose consistency, injuries rack up, rankings fall. And yet, here we are. Federer hands Djokovic a loss. Against all the odds, Federer is not just a threat lurking in the draw, he's a contender.
When it comes to defining his legacy, this longevity will have to factor in. Yes, he's won one Grand Slam in four years. But he's still the world No. 2 and for a year he has been less plagued by injury and inconsistency than two of his younger rivals.
• Yes, let’s pause and reflect on a story that didn’t get enough play: here we are in March of 2015 and both Rafael Nadal and Federer—combined age north of 60—are still winning tournaments on the same weekend. While it was nice to see Nadal get back in the winning business after nine months without a title, the big story was Federer beating Djokovic. This has all sorts of implications—not least Federer’s very real shot of reclaiming the top ranking. And Michael raises a good point. “Longevity” ought to be another factor in this equation, another ingredient in this GOAT stew. It’s far from the only factor; but is it relevant. Federer won his first major in 2003. Twelve years later, he’s still winning titles—and beating the No. 1 guy along the way. That ought to count for something.
Do you think Donald Young was chosen for Davis Cup because Sam Querrey’s back is not healed or because Young has been playing well lately? I think it could be a combination of the two. How easily do you think the Brits will win? I think they will win 3-1. I think Isner will win the first day and the U.S. will lose the other matches, including the doubles.
—Andrew Krouse, Hummelstown, Pa.
• It’s a question for Jim Courier, who made the decision. But it sure seems to make sense to pick the younger, healthier, more versatile, more “in form” player. Querrey and Young produce an interesting contrast in many ways—lots of surface differences; more similarities than one might think. I’m struck, though, by the difference in expectation: Querrey was a late bloomer (and later boomer) who rode his serve into the top 20 and won a handful of titles. While his passion for tennis did not always burn fiercely, it's been a fine career. Young, on the other hand, was hailed at the Next Big Thing starting in his mid-teens. Who can forget John McEnroe’s awed 2003 dispatches after his hitting session with this ungodly talented lefty from urban Chicago? Young’s career has resembled Lombard Street, but he has still won north of $2 million and is currently in the top 50. But largely because of the early hype, his career is framed differently from Querrey’s. We say it again (in part because we still get a lot of questions about Young): he is unlikely to win majors; but if this is what disappointment looks like, where do we sign up?
You talked me out of it last year. (Yay!) But is it the time to finally sell on David Ferrer? Can he really go any higher?
—Carlos C., Brooklyn, N.Y.
• We’re a tough bunch, aren't we? David Ferrer—age 32; but much older in tire tread years—is back in the top 10. He has won three titles this year and is 18-1 through two months of play. And, while tipping our collective sombrero to him, we also cast a skeptical eye and wonder, Can get any better?
In a world in which Mr. Carson can propose to Ms. Hughes, anything can happen. I’m trying to ease out of the prediction game. But it’s tough: the urge to foretell and predict is so central to the experience of being a fan/follower of a sport. I’m surprised by Ferrer, but probably shouldn't be. You have a consummate professional—back in strong health—at a time of the year when he’s still fresh and in an era when 32 is hardly ancient. Me? I’d hold my shares. I question the growth potential and I suspect his play will regress to the mean, especially at events with tougher draws. But why unload on such a historically strong pick who consistently outperforms both the market and the expectations placed on him?
You may have definitely addressed this occurrence, but while I was having breakfast (yes, breakfast at 2 p.m. EST) Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter's press conference popped in my head. I do suggest they planned to have their presser during the women's semifinal match, yet being who they are and how long they have been engaged to the upper-echelons of tennis exceptional-ism, how could their people not check with the Australian Open personnel to inquire if anything significant was taking place when they would want to do the press conference? I know Hewitt has not shown the WTA tour any love during his career, and I do not mean to insinuate that his and Rafter's action were to demean the import of the semifinal match, but you mean to tell me no one thought of checking the match schedule prior to their announcement?
—Thompson Laguerre, Margate, Fla.
• I wouldn’t (and don’t) blame Hewitt. And I don't think it was intended to upstage the women. But that was the effect. You simply cannot schedule a press conference of any type—much less a newsy one announcing that Pat Rafter is stepping down and fixing a retirement date on Lleyton Hewitt—while Serena Williams and Madison Keys are on court, playing for a spot in the final. Them’s some rotten optics. The Australian Open has a low unforced error count. But this was a stark one.
The one small problem with college tennis complaints is that there are not enough Americans who care about tennis to make it as issue. Europe has quotas regarding American basketball players. Canada has quotas for foreigners in the CFL. If they didn't, basketball and football outside of this country would be over run with Americans. Those are the sports we care about. If we ever start to care about tennis, the issue will fix itself.
• Right is right and wrong is wrong. Tennis’ status in the sports hierarchy shouldn’t matter here. I’m still interested in a lawyer out there weighing in on whether college tennis could enforce a quota.
Please spare us your faux outrage for the Alcorn State tennis team and your aforementioned Jackson State golf team. You write that these teams bear "little resemblance to the student body.” Have you looked at any of the top 20 NCAA Division I basketball teams lately? Also check out Georgetown, Syracuse, and now some Ivy League basketball teams (especially Harvard). Do you honestly think these teams resemble their respective student bodies?
• We’re talking about historically black colleges—“whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans”—fielding teams with non-minority athletes, many of them recruited from overseas. I'd argue that’s hardly comparable to, say, Syracuse’s basketball team that fails to mirror the racial breakdown of the student body.
• Up-and-coming golfer Daniel Berger, who nearly won the Honda Classic on Monday, is the son of former pro (and current Davis Cup coach) Jay Berger.
• The Indian Wells pre-qualifying event began on Monday. The top seed in the women’s draw was Melanie Oudin, who lost to Elvena Gevargiz in the second round.
• Press releasing: Two talented junior players Cori “Coco” Gauff and Gabriella Price play as part of the annual BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden.
• More press releasing: John McEnroe, James Blake, Andy Roddick and Jim Courier will compete in the Legends Event at the 2015 Connecticut Open.
• What does Brad Gilbert think of Madison Keys? David Law’s podcast has the answer.
• The USTA announced that it has renewed its agreement with IMG as the U.S. Open media consultant outside of the U.S., Canadian and Latin American territories until 2025. The extension begins in 2017.
• Congrats to Jeff Sackman for appearing at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week and talking tennis. But, overall, tennis was embarrassingly under-represented here. You have the commissioners of most major sports and a slew of former players and other luminaries discussing the intersection between sports and data. When tennis’ lone representative is an unaffiliated analyst, it sends a rotten message.
• The USTA will be hosting thousands of youth tennis events throughout the month of March as part of the celebration of World Tennis Day on March 10. A complete listing of events can be found on youthtennis.com.
• From Slate: Tennis has a match-fixing problem.
• More match fixing news here.
• And now the academics are getting it.
• In honor of Davis Cup, Peter O, Halifax, Nova Scotia has this LLS: Severin Luthi and Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel
• Take us out, Nick from Montclair, N.J.: For LLS, how about Tyler Hansbrough and Viktor Troicki?