Jon Wertheim answers questions about Andy Murray and Davis Cup, Rafael Nadal's career, Serena Williams and Roberta Vinci and more in his weekly Mailbag.
While thinking of Bud Collins, this week’s Mailbag….
Do you really think Serena losing was a bigger upset than Pete Sampras losing to 145th-ranked lucky loser George Bastl at Wimbledon? Bastl had played for years and continued playing and as far as I know never beat another named player or broke through the top 70.
• I would put Bastl d. Sampras +# way up there on the list of all-time tennis upsets. But remember, that was in the summer of 2002 when Sampras was amid a miserable year. He had won zero titles to that point. He had lost in the first round at the French Open. He had lost in the previous Wimbledon tune-up. He was north of age 30 and the buzzards were circling. (Remember, this match was held on Court Two. That’s how far Sampras had fallen.) Serena—far and away the World No. 1— was upset playing in the semis of the U.S. Open, not only 26/28 of the way to an historic Grand Slam but she hadn’t lost a U.S. Open in four years.
+ George Bastl continued playing until his 40s:
# I don't want to pick on Boris Becker but after this match he led the chorus that Sampras was toast. That Sampras was able to win a major just two months after this debacle says a great deal about his powers and resilience.
I found it surprising that in last week’s Mailbag you didn't comment on the Andy Murray-World Tour Finals-Davis Cup controversy. I think it penalizes Murray to have the Finals so close to the Davis Cup final. In fact, he is the only one penalized (unless his brother makes the World Tour Doubles finals, which makes GB penalized more than Belgium). Why is Davis Cup one week after the Finals? I seem to remember in the past the Davis Cup finals were the first weekend in December. Why can’t they be at the same time this year, too? (I see they are scheduled again next year for the same late weekend in November.)
• Ah, the tennis calendar strikes again. A few points:
1) The ITF has new president, Dave Haggerty, a familiar figure in the U.S. landscape. Among his selling point: Unlike his predecessors, he seems open to innovating and altering Davis Cup format.
2) The Murray situation is interesting. It’s in no small part because of Murray, that the ATP World Tour Finals are being held in London to begin with. His absence would obviously be a disappointment. On the other hand how do you condemn him—as a fan but especially as a fan of British tennis—for forsaking this event to focus on Davis Cup?
3) For all its flaws, there’s a perverse unintended consequence to Davis Cup: the top players are, understandably, unwilling to commit each year. Roger Federer flatly stated last week, “My idea was never to win it twice.” There’s almost an unspoken agreement among the top players: this will be your year. Funny that—largely because of who opts in and who opts out—Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have all been able to cross this off their list. And now Murray is one weekend from joining them.
During the U.S. Open Nadal cited his never having smashed a racket as demonstrative of his respect of the sport, thus helping to make him a fan favorite. Roberta Vinci commented on seeing Serena smash her racket after dropping the second set as motivating her. Fans cheered CoCo Vandeweghe's destruction of her racket in a loss to Mattek-Sands.
Racket smashing: Bad for the sport, playing to the privileged brat image by destructing expensive equipment? Or good for the sport, showing the intensity of the fight?
—Ken Wells, Naracoorte, South Australia
• I’ve always had conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, tennis can be intensely frustrating and I think we should distinguish between (bad) acts of self-flagellation and (bad) acts against others. Yelling, “I suck” is so different from yelling “you suck.” In the case of the rackets, it’s relatively victimless. It sometimes seems to have some salutary effect. (Truth serum: It can be fun to watch. I can’t visualize too many shots Vandeweghe hit at the U.S. Open but this Pete Townshend job remains fresh in my mind.)
On the other hand, I’m with you on the image problem. These well-paid athletes destroying a perfectly good piece of equipment makes for lousy optics. It doesn't exactly convey a message of populist appeal when players destroy a $300 racket (with customization and strings, it’s closer to $500?) the way you and I might snap a pair of used chopsticks.
I think this is your strongest argument; not analytics or even anecdotal evidence. For every Serena-Vinci I suspect there is an example of a player who smashes a racket, lets off steam, and then rallies to win. I know of one doubles star who was so troubled by her partner’s level of play that she broke her own racket in hopes of waking up her partner. It worked and they won the match. And I would never reveal that Martina Navratilova was the clever player in question.
You’re right to credit Nadal, but here’s another one. At an early age Uncle Toni told Nadal that shoes are expensive and it’s a show of disrespect to scrunch your foot into a shoe. You untie the shoes, ease your foot in and then retie the shoe. To this day—despite a Nike contract worth millions; despite the ability to request new free shoes every time a daily fantasy football ad aired on television—that’s how you’ll see Nadal treat his footwear.
Having read your recent Mailbags and now being confronted at every bus stop in the Netherlands by a BOLD Nadal promoting a new fragrance, I still have a question. Isn't there a little gender issue elephant in the room somewhere? Female athletes do risqué all the time—not tennis women in their bikinis on court, but still. (Remember Wozniacki’s underwear ad?) Never read any complaints about that.
Furthermore Nadal and his entourage, including Fernando, may project a certain image, humbleness, sensibilities, etc., there may be more that meets the eye—even your eye that has seen Nadal in the flesh at courts and press conferences around the world. Maybe he likes risqué more than we think, no? Remember his video with Shakira?
Best regards and always enjoy your Mailbags.
—Phil, Zeist, Netherlands
• I did not expect this to generate the reaction that did. I’ve heard from tons of you, from former players, from a Hall of Famer who claims she could relate to Nadal, as she looked differently on endorsements when her career drew to a close. Like Phil, more than a few of you mentioned Shakira and the Armani commercial and made the point that this isn't the first he’s leveraged his looks. All valid.
I want to emphasize this: the foundation of my point is a real respect for Nadal. This is not a gender issue. Nor is it a sexuality issue. Nor a Puritanism issue. Nor a haters-be-hating issue. This is a 14-time Grand Slam champion issue. This is one of the all-time greats, who’s always conducted himself with a certain dignity, shaking his proverbial (and, it turns out, literal) moneymaker before heading from the locker room to the showers. (Don’t take my word for it; “¡Caliente!” screams the London Daily Mail.) This would be like Peyton Manning endorsing pokerstars.net or George Clooney doing a spot for Quicken Loans. It’s a departure from both an authentic self and a career-long image. That it comes the same year Nadal struggles to stay in the top ten, seems inauspicious. Again, I would love to be wrong here.
Tommy Robredo beat Mikhail Youzhny in St. Petersburg last week for the first time since 2005. I wonder what the longest time between victories for one player over another is?
• Greg Sharko gets the hat tip: From our crack IT dept (Graham Edgar), here are the top five longest times between wins for Tour and GS in the past 20 years:
|MICHAEL RUSSEL||2001||ROLAND GARROS||1||NICOLAS MAHUT||6-2, 6-3, 6-2||5/28/2001|
|MICHAEL RUSSEL||2014||MASTERS 1000 CANADA||2||NICOLAS MAHUT||6-3, 6-3||8/4/2014||13 Years, 2 Months|
|FELICIANO LOPEZ||2003||AUSTRALIAN OPEN||2||ROBBY GINEPRI||6-2, 6-4, 6-2||1/13/2003|
|FELICIANO LOPEZ||2014||HOUSTON||3||ROBBY GINEPRI||7-5, 6-2||4/7/2014||11 Years, 2 Months|
|TOMMY HAAS||2002||AUSTRALIAN OPEN||4||ROGER FEDERER||7-6, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 8-6||1/14/2002|
|TOMMY HAAS||2012||HALLE||7||ROGER FEDERER||7-6, 6-4||6/11/2012||10 Years, 4 Months|
|VINCENT SPADEA||1996||ATLANTA||4||JONAS BJORKMAN||7-5, 2-6, 6-3||4/29/1996|
|VINCENT SPADEA||2006||U.S. OPEN||2||JONAS BJORKMAN||6-4, 7-6, 6-2||8/28/2006||10 Years, 3 Months|
|JUAN MONACO||2005||CASABLANCA||4||FLORIAN MAYER||7-6, 6-0||4/4/2005|
|JUAN MONACO||2015||WIMBLEDON||1||FLORIAN MAYER||6-1, 6-2, 6-4||6/29/2015||10 Years, 2 Months|
Is it really true that Lauren Davis and Han Xinyun played four hours and five minutes in Wuhan qualifying? It seems so unreal.
—Oliver Müller, Cologne, Germany
• To quote Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, “It’s true.” Davis won 5–7, 7–6(2), 7–5. I would caution that time of match can be a misleading stat. Bathroom breaks and disputes and injury time outs are included in time of the match.
Give Roberta Vinci the credit she deserves and stop talking about Serena Williams. Roberta is a class act and played an excellent game without the tantrums and unacceptable behavior that Serena displays. Why do you accept Serena's unacceptable and unprofessional behavior on the court and dismiss her poor behavior? She's a drama queen and when things are going her way, she acts all sweet and innocent, but watch out when it's not going her way. Her selfish behavior and personality come out. I do not respect people who are rude, mean spirited and selfish.
Serena has said in many interviews that she doesn't get nervous and she wasn't nervous in the U.S. Open semifinals. So why do you keep defending her and saying she buckled and that is why she lost. She lost because she was beaten by a better player and a player in control of the match.
• This is a balancing act we try and perform each week: having fun while trying to include questions that capture what the tennis vox populi is/are discussing. And, in the wake of Serena’s defeat, sentiment similar to Teo has been common. It doesn’t mean that we agree with it; but it’s out there and that, in itself, should probably be acknowledged.
Me? I disagree with the entire premise here. It should be possible to entertain these two opposing ideas simultaneously. Vinci deserves much credit for winning the match of her life and doing something that no other Grand Slam opponent had achieved in more than a year. An extended racket clap to her. That said, her job was made easier by Serena’s nerves, the impact of which was clear in everything from her heavy legs to her shaky serving to the overheads hit cautiously, with her entire body facing the net. It’s not either/or.
Also, I didn't find anything particularly objectionable about Serena in defeat. Who among us isn’t happier and more sociable in times of success than in times of failure? She just suffered a devastating and highly surprising loss, one that ended her run at history. She played far from her best tennis. She lost to a player ranked 40 spots lower. Whether she thought about it or not, the defeat probably cost her eight figures in lost bonuses and endorsements. Forgive her if she’s not turning cartwheels.
Look, she fulfilled her obligations, took a few questions (yes, sourly) and left the building. A day or later she was back to tweeting congratulations via twitter. Again, I would hardly call it “gracious in defeat.” But, so too, would I hardly call it “unacceptable” or “unprofessional.”
• Here’s this week’s SI tennis podcast. Owing to the guest—Eric Butorac—it’s a good listen.
• Christopher Clarey on your new ITF president Dave Haggerty.
• The ITF Super-Seniors World Individual Championships are taking place in Umag, Croatia, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4. Players aged from 35-and-over to 45-and-over compete in the Young Seniors Championships, from 50-and-over to 60-and-over in the Seniors Championships, and from 65-and-over to 85-and-over compete in the Super-Seniors Championships. Starting with one team trophy in 1958, and four individual events in 1981, the competitions have grown to offer a total of 72 World Championship titles each year to teams, and in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
• “Li Na turned tour guide in her hometown of Wuhan today when she brought Martina Hingis to the famous Yellow Crane Tower to show her the sights and sounds of the city. Joined by a throng of lively fans, the two friends took a trip to the top of the tower for a birds-eye view of the central Chinese city and then posed with the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open trophy before hitting a few balls on a specially created court set within the grounds of the famous landmark. Hingis felt very privileged to have been invited to get a personalized tour from Wuhan’s most famous daughter. ‘It’s pretty cool. She is the hometown hero,’ said Hingis, who is competing in Wuhan with doubles partner Sania Mirza. Together they are the No. 1 team in the world.
• The USTA has selected 48 coed intramural and club tennis teams to compete at the fifth annual USTA Tennis On Campus (TOC) Fall Invitational at Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center in Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Oct. 9-11.
• Matt Valdez has this week's Long Lost Siblings: Genie Bouchard and Lancel Lannister from Game of Thrones: