Jon Wertheim Mailbag: Final French Open thoughts on Stan Wawrinka and the Hall of Fame, Serena's health, American juniors and more.
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Putting a bow on the 2015 French Open and looking forward to the third leg of Tennis’ Quadruple Crown. Cincinnati edition….
In 1988, while Steffi Graf won all four Slams, often forgotten fact is Mats Wilander won three of the four Slams. I hope 2015 replicates that year or even better, for both tours. How amazing would it be for Serena to reach Steffi's record of 22 Slams by winning all four in a year? Serena knows this and there is no one stopping her, not even a bad case of flu. I am a huge fan of Steffi but ready for Serena to rewrite history.
• Winning the Grand Slam is, in a word, preposterous, a terminally underrated feat. There’s a reason why it’s been more than a decade—almost a quarter century for the men—since a player even got halfway there. We’re talking about winning on four surfaces on three continents over the course of nine months. One off-day? One encounter with a zoning opponent? (Clad, perhaps, in distractingly plaid shorts.) One encounter with an ill-timed pathogen or an order of bad sushi? Kablooey. Novak Djokovic simply dominated the first five months of the season. He beat Nadal in Paris, the Ultimate Tennis Takedown. He ran into a hot opponent. And—pow!—his Grand Slam campaign was thwarted after one leg.
I agree with you that Serena is well-poised. But the suggesting that no one is stopping her or that “it’s hers to lose” is way too casual.
Does Wawrinka's second major somewhat dismantle the idea of the Big Four and reinforce the idea that it really was a Big Three all along, with Murray being the buffer between them and the rest of the field?
—Kimberly, Kansas City
• It’s like Saturday Night Live. Don Pardo take it away: “Live from New York (and Melbourne, Paris and outer London)! It’s men’s tennis! Starring: Roger Federer…Rafael Nadal…and Novak Djokovic. With featured players: Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.”
Wawrinka and Newport—two words I didn't think I would hear together. Two Slams in this era probably punches the golden ticket.
• Lots of you asked about this. We say it all the time: precedent has been set and, unless the Hall of Fame is willing to cut bait and completely ignore the past when considering criteria, Wawrinka is a likely inductee. Here’s the math: two Slams in a ruthless era (beating Nadal and Djokovic in your two finals) + Olympic gold in doubles + Davis Cup success = enshrinement.
Big claps for Bethanie Mattek-Sands: hip surgery in 2014, owner of three Slam titles already in 2015. Is it time to give up the singles career, a la Sania Mirza, and focus on her exceptional doubles play? Or does she try to keep playing smaller events, possibly missing a shot at No. 1 in the world in doubles?
—Karl Miller, Phoenixville, P.A.
• Time to give up singles. No shame in that. By the way, if you predicted Bethanie Mattek-Sands would have three major titles in 2015 heading into Wimbledon, you win.
It's great to finally see some competitive American juniors. For the Roland Garros standouts, did they come from within the USTA player development system or are they all outsiders? If the former, it seems we should give Patrick McEnroe some retrospective credit. He started that job seven years ago, which would be formative years for the current crop of juniors.
—Barbara Katzenberg, Lexington, Mass.
• For better or worse, this job redounds to numbers. You can work 80-hour weeks and do everything right. But if the players don't cooperate and the headline remains “No Americans in the Top 10,” it’s on you. Conversely, when the players start coming through the pipeline—as seems to be the case, at least after Paris—you come in for credit. So, yes, these players are on Patrick McEnroe’s watch, so to speak, and that should be recognized.
We talked about this other day: there are players who clean up in juniors and can't make the transition. There are players were unremarkable in juniors (Milos Raonic is an example that springs to mind) but then blossom as pros. For a system to succeed, volume is critical. In this respect, the USTA should come in for praise. Six of the sixteen juniors quarterfinalists (boys and girls) in Paris were American. If only half of them make it, that’s still three Americans pros.
You seem to agree that Jana Novotna reporting on Serena’s health during the French Open was in poor form. However just a few days before you applauded McEnroe for reporting on Federer/Wawrinka “dust-up in the locker room.” So which is it: Locker rooms off limits or fair game? I like the axiom, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.”
• A few you called me out on that. First, let me be clear: this was called to my attention by players, current and former. But that said, I think they’re completely different scenarios. Players have an expectation of privacy and sanctity in the locker room. From teammates to towels boys, there is a code, the proverbial cone of silence. As you say: “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.”
This is suspended, though, when media is present. John McEnroe was in London last year in the capacity of media, broadcasting matches for ESPN. (Despite his habit of referring disdainfully to “the media,” he IS the media now. Insert Groucho Marx club line here.) Jana Novotna wasn’t “reporting.” She was on-site simply as a player in the Legends event who shared on her locker room observations. That’s different.
Tennis is especially fraught here, especially since people wear so many different hats and the boundaries between public/private are sometimes quite fuzzy. If a player says or does something on a practice court, is it public? (I would argue yes.) What about in the players’ lounge? I think there’s an unspoken agreement about what’s fair game and what’s not, what’s on-the-record and what’s off. But there are case-by-case situations, too.
How would you rank Stanimal's win? Greatest finals upset in over 10 years? 20? Looking forward to the big W.
• I don't think so. A former Grand Slam champ? Seeded in the top 8? With a big game and clay skills? Beating a player who had never won before in Paris? Don't misunderstand: that was a tremendous effort by Wawrinka, the very essence of meeting the moment. An unexpected result, to be sure. But I don’t see it as a seismic upset. As long we’re here, a) it’s telling that Djokovic wins the first set of the one final he has yet to win. He then loses the match. And NO ONE suggests he fell retreated, much less uses the dreaded word “choke.” There was an instant—and totally correct—recognition by observers that this was all about Wawrinka playing lights out. B) Here’s an upset that gets bigger with time: Sam Stosur d. Serena in the 2011 U.S. Open final.
Do you think there will be rules about wearing a smart watch during play? I can see coaches texting their players with advice during a changeover and possibly between points.
• Good point. Meanwhile, at some tournaments, the scoreboard offers match stats during changeovers. If I’m a coach I’m strongly encouraging my player to stare at the board during breaks in the action. If I see, for instance, that there’s data suggesting my opponent is making much more errors on the backhand side, or he has yet to venture to net, that might have some value.
In your 50 Parting Thoughts for the French Open, you are dead wrong making an excuse for Venus Williams' deliberate failure to attend a post match press conference. The sole reason professional tennis players are lucky enough to make a living playing a sport is because of the revenue generated by fans who watch. She therefore has an unrequited obligation to attend post match press conferences and answer questions, win or lose. Her absence from the press conference bespeaks a disregard for the fans and is unprofessional. Surprised that a journalist, who also makes his living because of fans, would be an apologist for her. Perhaps you want to reconsider?
• I’m not making an excuse for Venus. Trust me, as a media member I have a vested interest in players being accountable both in victory and defeat. My point: viewed strictly in economic terms, her decision is hardly irrational. I was talking to a friend who expressed surprise that this “interview bail out” doesn't happen more often. The solution: raise the fine. As it stands now—although it’s unprofessional and a breach of obligation—it’s easy to see a star player undertake a cost/benefit analysis and conclude that the $3,000 fine is worth eating.
Do you find it interesting that so much attention is given to the way Serena comports herself on court when she is I'll, as opposed to other players. Serena is an individual and viruses affect everyone differently. Still, others accused her of acting and gamesmanship to gain advantage. Nonsense! Serena is known as a great fighter and has come back in matches many, many times from bigger deficits. Why would, presumably, the “G.O.A.T.” engage in histrionics and feign a coughing fit against a less talented opponent? Moreover, it was evident in her eyes and her voice, not to mention her demeanor, that she was indeed ill. The focus should be on her dogged determination and the way in which she persevered and pushed herself to give her all. She was fighting for history, and she should be commended for the effort she gave and not criticized. Kamakshi Tandon said it best: “Where would we be if we had to be as accomplished as a player before we could criticize them.”
Happy to be living in the era of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Serena!
• I can’t find the correspondent’s name, but he/she is correct. You question the legitimacy of an athlete’s injury or illness at your peril. As you say, we all react differently and are affected differently. Who are we to assess or speculate on pain and discomfort?
The criticism of Serena came off as petty, mean-spirited or worse. A few commentators noted that some players go to great measures to conceal illness (i.e. Sharapova) while Serena made no secret of hers. I think that’s a fair observation. In my Sports Illustrated story in this week’s issue, I noted that Serena seldom has a hard time accessing emotions of any kind. But the suggestion of fakery doesn’t dignify response.
She didn't mention the sponsor though. Weren't they booing because the translator mistranslated? That's how I read it.
• You're right. I missed that. In past years, players have thanked the sponsor and gotten an earful, the crowd resentful that corporate influences have somehow polluted sports. (This is, at once, endearing and naïve: without BNP Paribas and the rest of the corporate backing, the event is much different in scope and scale.) But this year, apparently the translator took the liberty of inserting the name of the sponsor, which Safarova did not utter. That’s weak Béarnaise. Boo, indeed.
Apologies if you've addressed this before, but curious about your thoughts on lack of Hawk-Eye at this Slam. Seems odd that the cameras are there, but only for broadcasters. Just got back to U.S. after a couple of fabulous days at Chatrier!
• With the aforementioned corporate backing, the FFT needs to install Hawk-Eye. Too often, the mark in the clay did not comport with the Hawk-Eye spot. One irony/twist of clay court tennis: despite the rejection of technology, the players essentially have unlimited challenges. If the situation warrants it, they can request the umpire descend the lifeguard’s chair innumerable times in a match to check the mark.
Another good but ultimately futile effort by Murray and another absent decisive set. What gives? With the interruption, it's obviously not physical. Is it more a case of Murray mentally fading or Djokovic stepping up his game? If you're Mauresmo/Bjorkman, what do you tell your man to do in the final set against Djokovic?
—James Pham, Garland, TX
• Check out the final sets of Murray’s losses against Djokovic and, yes, it seems as though he fades. But my sense is that Murray is getting closer. Murray himself has said that there is not much more he can be doing physically. He is at essentially optimal condition.
Unlike the many people who deride Wawa's shorts, Mr. Wertheim, I suggest that they mark him as different (in a good way), from the many clones playing tennis (supply your favorite nonentity names). Friends of mine, not being tennis fans, notice Wawrinka, just as they notice Raonic's retro hair and sleeve, and even point out how some players in the NBA also wear a sleeve. And while I apologize for bringing class-consciousness into the discussion, those funny shorts actually debunk (a bit) the snooty middle-class-ness of tennis as sport.
—M Ng, Vancouver, Canada
• We always welcome dissenting opinion.
So, the semifinal ended up being more of a "de facto final" than the quarterfinal turned out to be. However, one suspects that the actual final will be fully worthy of the name. Maybe in the future, we could lose all the premature "de facto" pronouncements?
—Helen of Philadelphia
• So, Djokovic beating Nadal was the de jure final?
• Dale Stafford writes: I wanted to give a shout out to Alexa Glatch. I first saw her in the girls final of the U.S. Open (juniors) event in 2005. The match was most salient because it was my first introduction to Victoria Azarenka. I distinctly remember having absolute certainty after watching for 10 minutes that Azarenka was a future champion. But the other thing I noted was her tall, lanky opponent (Glatch), California-cool, hitting silky smooth slice backhands. I thought, “What 15-year-old girl hits THAT shot anymore?” Anyway, Glatch lost in the first round. But she made her way through qualifying, taking out what, for a qualifying event, is a murderer’s row in wily veterans: Govortsova, Bondarenko and Bychkova. Just wanted her to know that she has a fan base out her in Tennistan who are paying attention.
• At the French Open, tennis isn’t always the main course as lunchtime matches play before half-empty stadiums.
• Jimmy Fallon and the French Open: Roland Garros' grunts set to music
• This week’s LLS: French Open champion Stan Wawrinka and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova