Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Monica Seles and more in his weekly Mailbag ahead of the Indian Wells tournament.
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A quick pre-Indian Wells Mailbag. Scheduling note: I’ll be in the desert for most of the next week so check back—and watch Tennis Channel, as you were surely going to do, anyway—for periodic updates.
Oh, Jon—how I've missed you! Did you miss me too? I've been following you since I was 19 years old (my first year in university) and you've answered my questions before. It gives me utter joy when you do! My last answered question was in 2006! I'm praying to all the gods that you answer this one: Compare Serena Williams and Roger Federer. Based on all their accomplishments in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, rankings and career prize money, if both stopped playing (regardless of their gender) who would be the GOAT in your mind? My money is on Serena.
• First, I’ve missed you terribly. And though you have officially made me feel old, I always hate it when prayers go unanswered. Your question is a reasonable one that I’m sure other fans have pondered. But I have no answer here. Different fields, different set of demands, different external pressures, different dimensions to rivalries with opponents.
Let’s pivot and go here: you would be hard-pressed to find two people—much less, two tennis players—with more stark surface differences. Everything from upbringing to disposition to their approach to celebrity. And yet there are some real similarities and symmetries between Federer and Serena. Two players, born within a few weeks of each other, struggle early to fulfill potential before settling in. Their distributions of majors is quite similar. Now, in their mid-30s and constantly measured against their pasts, they continue on. Enjoy them both. Consider them the male and female GOATS, a billy and nanny, so to speak.
I am a huge fan of Monica Seles. I noticed she will be playing Gabriela Sabatini in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden (prior to the exhibition between Federer and Dimitrov). Anyways, I remember after the stabbing, Seles refused to play in Germany. I don't think she ever returned there. Knowing that Serena Williams has grown as a person and has decided to return to Indian Wells this year, would the sparkle in Seles' career be brighter had she decided to play in Germany and rekindled with the fans there? Lastly, if player A decides to skip mandatory events for whatever reason, is there enough support for them to do it without penalty (money and/or ranking points) the way Seles and Serena have done? I wonder how the ATP and WTA tours reconcile this. Any thoughts?
• Seles never did play in Germany, at least not a sanctioned match, and I remember that she was (not unreasonably) irate when the WTA moved its year-end championships to Germany. Given the extenuating circumstances, in both her case and w/r/t the Williams sisters and Indian Wells, the WTA was admirably accommodating. It might have been a p.r. calculation. It might have sympathy or empathy. But, the WTA came up with solomonic solutions. In the case of the Williams sisters, they were not fined for missing Indian Wells and were permitted to make an appearance in southern California as a make-good. Though I can't find a write-up, Venus once told me she intended to lead a clinic for disadvantaged kids in L.A. that would fulfill her Indian Wells obligations. The tours owe it to the tournaments—which pay sanctioning fees and make a huge investment in the product—to deliver the top players. But playing hardball was going to backfire in the aforementioned cases.
I am puzzled about why Peter Fleming is not in the Hall of Fame. He has 17 major titles overall, and even though it’s obviously not confined to the majors per se, 17 is still 17. Why are players with 1/17 his accomplishments in the Hall before him? He should have been elected the same year as McEnroe or right afterwards. Pat Cash said he was the better doubles player of the two! That may not be accurate but it's impressive. The Hall seems to be randomly electing people at times with no consistent standards, as we all know. I'm starting a campaign for Fleming. And I did see him play (on TV), so I know he was great!
• We say it again: A doubles wing in the Hall of Fame solves a lot of problems.
My first group question for a millennium: How important are these hitting partners for the players? Are they well paid? As most coaches can't keep up with their charges, I would guess they are pretty important. Some more than others—especially for the women because they probably can whoop them! But at the end of the day, it is the player who is the blacksmith of his or her success.
• We're talking about a small subset—i.e. those who can afford it—of female players. Sure it helps. In some cases, the hitting partner doubles as a coach or confidante. But let’s be clear: it’s a luxury. No one is winning or losing Slams on account of their hitting partners.
Never mind the question: is Andy Roddick capable of coming out of retirement and making the top 10? A better question is: Can Andy Roddick come out of retirement and beat Jimmy Ward in a best of five Davis Cup match?
• A former top pro (non-American) asserts that Andy Roddick is still the best American player in the world. “Pete [Sampras] is out of shape, but if we got back in peak condition, he might be second. If Andre’s back were better, he might be third.”
We all are tired of the trope about the sad state of American tennis (men’s variety.) The discussion lacks nuance and a consideration of all the variables. It’s unfair to John Isner and Sam Querrey and other players who bear the brunt of history and take the business end of these unflattering comparisons. But, the truth is—especially among the casual sports fan and media outlet—this has become a central narrative. And it shows no sign of reversing.
• Another piece to read: Like Father, Like Son for USC Coach and Freshman, written by Joshua Rey.
• Another read: We’ve noted in past weeks that the Malek Jaziri situation is a complex situation that goes beyond tennis. Lindsay Gibbs outlines it nicely here for VICE.
• Brad Gilbert likes him some Madison Keys today. Here’s a podcast.
• Mylan World TeamTennis announced a newly formed ownership group is moving the Texas Wild franchise from Irving to the Sacramento area beginning with the '15 season.
• Prior to Indian Wells, many players into Las Vegas for a training session. Angelique Kerber got a special session:
• Press releasing: Five doubles teams made history by winning titles at the inaugural same-gender couples’ doubles tournament at the Plaza Racquet Club in Palm Springs, California.
• Spanish readers: Sadly, Juan Jose Mateo won’t be covering tennis for El País from now on. He’s been transferred to our Politics desk, where he started working last Monday.
• The Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced the 2015 inductees for the ITA Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame: coaches Fred Kniffen (University of Texas at Tyler & Tyler Junior College) and Jim Schwitters (University of Hawaii); players Jay Berger (Clemson University), Mark Merklein (University of Florida) and Jeff Morrison (University of Florida); and contributor Tim Russell (Northwestern University).
• Author Ara Grigorian counts himself among the millions of tennis fans and his first novel, Game of Love, is set in the high-stakes world of professional tennis.
• The title sponsor of the Western & Southern Open, the Western & Southern Financial Group, has donated $1 million to establish the Paul & Carolyn Flory Fund at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute.
• Ken Wells, now in Penola, South Australia, has Tennis LLS, Academy Award Nominee edition: Ernest Gulbis and Benedict Cumberbatch