Mailbag: Can Petra Kvitova be more than a grass-court great, win Slams?

In this week's Mailbag from Jon Wertheim, readers talk about Taylor Townsend, Petra Kvitova's chances off of the grass courts, the youngest players in the ATP's top 500, Andy Murray's first clay court title and more. Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
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Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Another grab-bag Mailbag….

Taylor Townsend, who routinely earns wild cards, often loses in the opening rounds of tournaments. Isn't the USTA doing her a disservice by not having her play qualifying rounds? Sachia Vickery, in contrast, has benefited from more play under match conditions and her ranking and game improved as a result. Wouldn't Taylor be better off with tough love by playing the qualies?
Kimberly, a long-time reader of at least 16 years, Boston 

You had me until that “16 years” crack. Yikes. Feel like yesterday when we were getting blown off by Marcelo Rios. Where were we? Oh, right. Wild cards. First, I don't think of Taylor Townsend as a grievous offender. Sometimes she makes the most of an opportunity; sometimes she doesn't. But she is precisely the type of player they are intended to benefit.

Mailbag: Non-handshake fines; Rafael and Toni Nadal's relationship

What is the beef between Guillermo Garcia Lopez and Lukas Rosol? I did not watch the match this week. They only played one other time, also in Bucharest.
Shlomo Kreitman

• Shlomo answered his own question before we could, sending in this about Garcia Lopez’s snub after his match against Rosol in Bucharest.

You know, I used to like when he was “Pretty Boy” Lukas. But then he went with that “Money” motif, trying to become the bad boy of tennis. He might be undefeated but he’s really lost in the court of public opinion.

I am a fan of Petra Kvitova, however also confused as to her play since the last Wimbledon. At first it seemed like the second time around would be different in handling the second Wimbledon title; however, other than some runs at the end and beginning of the Asian/Pacific tour it has been pretty disappointing. She exited in the first week of both the U.S. and Australian Open, lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in the Middle East, skipped the Indian Wells/Miami swing due to exhaustion then lost her first match on clay. Should we just expect a great grass court run every few years and possibly four Wimbledon titles by the end of her career, or is there still hope for championships at the other Slams and the possibility of reaching No. 1?
Bob Richter

Madrid Open women's preview, storylines: Serena gets tough draw

• Petra, from the Czech word for “maddeningly” and Kvitova, the Czech word for “erratic.” Seriously. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Kvitova won Wimbledon in 2011 and slipped. Okay, fine. It’s a lot of new pressure. Kvitova is universally well-liked—“sweet girl” is in heavy rotation—and, by her own admission, not wired for celebrity. Eventually she adjusted and got back to winning.

Yet when she blazed to the Wimbledon title in 2014, she was 24. She had the rhythms of the tour down, as well as the thermodynamics of celebrity. She had an aura and the respect of the rest of the tour. Meanwhile, her big lefty strokes required ballistic report. Her fitness was at a high level. The allergies that had caused her issues seemed under control. (Her agent and the CMO of Allegra ought to speak.) With Serena Williams deep into her 30s, Kvitova was poised to make a serious power grab.

She responded by….meh, not doing much. She’s ranked No. 4.  She’s not embarrassing herself. But she’s missed event with injuries. And when she has played, she loses way more than she ought to. (Mostly recently she fell last week to Madison Brengle.) She’s not quite at the Svetlana Kuznetsova level, but she has become a player as capable of winning a tournament as she is of losing inexplicably in the early rounds.

Kvitova is lovely so there is a tinge of guilt speaking about her harshly. But let’s put it this way: if you were to match her game with the self-belief and unblinking intensity of, say, Victoria Azarenka, you'd really have a world beater.

Aces and Faults: Pliskova wins Prague Open; Murray gets maiden clay title

While we bemoan the younger generation's apparent pitiful effort at Slams, I offer a proposition. Would you rather have a career (or be a fan of someone's career) that peaks early, amasses huge success at a young age and spends 2/3 of the years not living up to it, or one that gradually improves, with more consistent years at the top but without that signature win? I feel that players like Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Lleyton Hewitt might end up feeling more disappointed about their careers than a player like Berdych or Ferrer would feel if they retired tomorrow. While Roddick, Ferrero and Hewitt all won Slams, they spent the majority of their careers chasing all-time greats and failing to beat them almost every time. Berdych and Ferrer, meanwhile, have never tasted Slam glory (and many doubt they ever will) but they've both had several top ten years in a row and plenty of (admittedly way smaller) titles. Who's happier when they look back on their career? It's helpful to keep in mind as players like Nishikori, Dimitrov, and Raonic all keep getting better (slowly), but still feel as if they haven't peaked yet. Maybe they won't end up winning a Slam, as they've also lost a lot of chances to guys named Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. But maybe that's not the ultimate measure of success. A thought to ponder.
Willie T., Brooklyn

• You had me a for a while. No doubt there is a certain curse of winning early and then failing to replicate that for the next decade. (Or dozen-plus years in the case of Hewitt, who thrashes ever onward.) And, conversely, I like your point that, there’s something satisfying about players who rise steadily and, like Ferrer, come of age late in their career. Seems like their hard work has paid off, their accumulated wisdom pays dividends. And selfishly, as fans, it feels like our faith is rewarded. When a prospect hits early but then never return—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Aussie Open is an example that springs immediately to mind—there’s a nagging disappointment.

But I think we need to draw distinction between Slam winner and almost-Slam winners. Give me Roddick or Ferrero over Berdych and Ferrer. Sorry, them’s just the rules of the road.

7 questions with 17-year-old Roc Nation Sports pro Frances Tiafoe

The issue of ticket repurposing at sporting events seems like a perfect idea for a tech start-up. In fact, I can't believe someone isn't shopping this kind of software around already. The problem before was that it was hard to alert a tournament if you couldn't use the tickets at the last minute. But now, if there was a QR code on the ticket, you could scan it and automatically alert the box office that your seat will be available—even, perhaps, for certain sessions only. If there were a charity component—all resale proceeds go to charity—then that might encourage people to bother. I think a lot of people would get on board, especially if it became standard practice for big sporting events.
Megan Fernandez, Indianapolis

Megan Fernandez has just given an applied engineering class its summer assignment.

I was watching a first round match today from Madrid Masters. I was quite stunned that the ball girls (did not see any ball boys) were all dressed very "differently" compared to any other tournaments. They all looked more model-like and their clothes did not help that image. The men who were line judges were dressed normally like other tournaments. Have you or anybody else noticed this? To me, this reeks of sexism and the sad fact that the tournament has to use the ball girls' clothing to attract more folks to the stadium (not sure if it helps though).
Bhavana, Fremont, Calif.

Well, they do things a little differently over there in Madrid.

• Who are the youngest players in the ATP’s top 500? Greg Sharko answers:


Duckhee Lee, KOR


16 years, 11 months

Frances Tiafoe, USA


17 years, 3 months

Stefan Kozlov, USA


17 years, 3 months

Andrey Rublev, RUS


17 years, 6 months

Roman Safiullin, RUS


17 years, 8 months

Omar Jasika, AUS


17 years, 11 months

After all these years, Andy Murray just won his first tournament on clay and it is hard to figure out why it has taken so long. Murray spent his formative years in Spain, is a great defender, moves very well, is quite fit and has a very high tennis IQ, These are all attributes that should make him an elite clay court competitor. Any thoughts on why he has not had greater success on clay?
Fernando from Valencia

Murray-Roddick mix-up, Federer's title headline busy tennis weeekend

• Four words, not necessarily in the correct order: Novak, Nadal, Rafa, Djokovic. Murray entered only a handful of clay court events each season. And those events coincided with the scheduling of Nadal and Djokovic, two of the best clay-courters ever.​

I do agree with your broader point though. Murray ought to have a better clay court record than he does. Fernando nicely lays out the case of why the surface should accommodate Murray’s game. And not only did it take him a decade to win his first title on clay but, among Slams, he has his lowest winning percentage at the French Open. That said, he broke through in Munich, the culmination of a very busy week for Murray.

Clay season preview: 7 questions ahead of French Open, lead-up events

Clay court season is in full swing, and the ATP has tournaments this week in Istanbul, Munich and Estoril. Looking at the singles, qualifying singles and doubles draws, the only American men I find are Scott Lipsky and Nicholas Monroe in the Estoril doubles. As the lottery slogan says, "You can't win, if you don't play." Whither are the American men?
Ken, Streaky Bay, Australia

Ya gotta be in it to win it! In keeping with your lottery reference, though, why don’t most of us play? Because it's not a sound investment. Unless you are guaranteed an automatic spot in the draw, why cross an ocean and try to qualify when you can enter an event like Tallahassee, complete for a not-insignificant ration of points and conserve some money. Playing tennis—even at a dizzyingly high level—is expensive! If you’re John Isner, great, go play your Masters Series event and stay in Europe through the French Open. If you’re a few tiers down and grinding it out, your risk-reward calculus changes.

I noticed recently that there are two players in the ATP Top 100 right now with almost identical names, namely Joao Sousa from Portugal at No. 57 and Joao Souza from Brazil at No. 78. I’m sure I’ve been mixing up their results for years now! Has something like this ever happened before on the tour to your knowledge?
Yours truly, Fred

The ever-perspicacious Helen of Philly notes these two players have identical names, too. And here’s the head to head for Sousa-Souza. She has also directed us to what is possibly the best tennis name ever

I enjoy reading the Mailbag, especially from the Netherlands, where tennis doesn’t get much more play than in the U.S. I’m also enjoying TennisTV. I’m hoping you might know who the Czech (or “Yugoslavian") woman is who does much of the commentating on the WTA matches. Any leads?
Anne M. Martinez

Thanks, Anne. I am not sure of the answer to your question. But I am always happy to praise new voices. Anyone know the identity of this standout broadcast, this Davenport of the Balkans?

Shots, Miscellany:

• Frances Tiafoe—you’ll note the new spelling of the first name—dropped by for some Q/A.

• Congrats to Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker.

Daily Bagel: American men, Serena, Wozniacki cruise through in Madrid

• Who needs an Apple Watch when Andy Ram—Grand Slam champion doubles player, all around mensch—is developing this technology?

• Chris Evert is launching her own line of tennis and active wear, Chrissie by Tail.

• One of the stranger emails we got this week: “Concordia Hospital of Rome (Italy) is pleased to announce the 14th STMS WORLD CONGRESS OF TENNIS MEDICINE Rome, (ITALY) 8-9 May 2015, Auditorium del Seraphicum”

• Press releasing: The ATP has awarded a $15,000 grant to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Newport, R.I. to support their hunger relief programs.

Speaking of Newport, don't be surprised if the tournament opens a wild card to Jared Donaldson.

Hariharan Sriram writes: I saw Lacey's question on filling up empty seats at the front in professional tournaments. I am glad to confirm that the U.S. Open, at least, has such a system. Last year, I got an opportunity to watch a Grand Slam match live. It was Labor Day Monday. I am sure you have heard enough complaints about how rescheduling top stars over the Labor Day weekend to favor TV ratings is plain ridiculous. But that is not the point. 

That day's night session at Arthur Ashe began with an insta-classic between Azarenka and Krunic which took much longer than anticipated. The next match between Raonic and Nishikori would take even longer and tie the record for the latest finish at the U.S. Open. At around midnight, since a lot of people from the front rows had left, one of the staff members came over to the top tier (you heard it right, the cheapest ticket rows) and handed over passes to courtside seats. This meant that having paid for the cheapest tickets, I got to watch a top quality fourth round between two of the stars of the youngest generation sitting right behind the players' chairs. I will tip my hat to the USO authorities for being this spectator friendly!