Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in 2016, Davis Cup, prize money and more in his weekly Mailbag.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
While remaining in awe of the quality of the IPTL rosters:
I have a simple question: How do you think Serena Williams will fare in 2016? She obviously had an amazing year, but how hard do you think she is taking the U.S. Open loss and how much do you think it will carry over to next year?
—Barbara, New York
• It was such a strange year for Serena. She was, again, this insuperable force. She won as many majors as she lost matches. She started the year at No. 1, finished at No. 1 and, in the interim, never came close to being toppled. By any definition it was a smashing season, a year to put in amber and preserve. Look strictly at the numbers and you would say, “How could there be any concerns about game? She’s coming off an all-time great campaign.”
And yet because of the unhappy ending and unsuccessful so-close-yet-so-far quest for the Grand Slam, questions swirl. Are there lingering effects from her loss in New York? She is deep into her 30s and is the year age starts to do its cruel tarantella? What’s her level of motivation?
On the plus side: she was wise in taking the fall to regroup and recoup. Of rested mind and body, she can begin 2016 with freshness. Like most great athletes, Serena always likes a mission; proving that her defeat was a blip and she’s not ready to give up her leading role, that age 34 is just a factor of 17….that all makes for purpose and motivation. Pragmatically, it’s not as though there’s an obvious candidate prepared to bump Serena either.
I don't think one match—however painful—has the capacity to fracture her confidence 120 days later. But less optimistically, she’s in her mid-30s. She’s played a lot of tennis and done a lot of traveling over the decade, the former exacting a physical price, the latter an emotional price. And there’s likely to be some regression to the mean. When have we seen a player win three majors and back it up with a comparable year?
How many majors will she win? Here’s my guess in descending order: 2, 3, 1, 4, 0. Strictly conjecture. In barely a month, the quest begins.
A lot has been said about Djokovic and Federer's total career prize money, and as you rightly pointed out, the massive increases in prize money over the last few years is the likely reason why Djokovic has made more than say Nadal, who has a handful of more majors to his name. That leads me to wonder, say we went back to the prize money that was on offer at the beginning of the Open Era, and calculated earnings based on the prize money offered at the time. Who then would be the highest prize earner of all time? My gut instinct says it would probably be Federer, but I think we'd all still be surprised by some of the names that make the top 20, right?
• I think that’s tough, given that some events have disappeared entirely, some have been added; some have been upgraded, others downgraded. Others like the Grand Slam Cup offered whopping payouts that would distort the math. My request: in addition to giving the players’ career prize money, the ATP and WTA should also give the prize in inflation-adjusted figures. We chuckle (cry?) that Bjorn Borg’s career prize was $3.6 million—less than what, say, Tomas Berydch made in 2015 alone. But that $3.6 million isn’t quite so grim if it’s put in a handy inflation calculator.
Hey Mr. Wertheim! The most over-hyped GOAT stat is H2H. If Nadal ends his career over Federer, Federer over Djokovic, and Djokovic over Nadal, where are we?
As anyone who plays or seriously watches knows, what is sublime about tennis-mastery is that you must compete against all types of opponents to win a tournament (especially the finals in London); surviving a wide range of styles and strengths almost feels like a new sport every time. Considering that, all three are extraordinary.
...Which is why the bi-monthly Jon-Wertheim-holistic-historical-perspective refrain (or the JWHHP, as it is commonly known in Calgary) is best.
• Hey thanks. You lost me at “Mister.” You won me back by conferring on me a Calgary-based acronym. I would add this: match-ups are critical. Every recreational player knows that some players’ styles are more favorable to your game than others, some opponents provide more comfort than others. In the case of Federer-Nadal, Nadal’s game is singularly ill-suited for Federer. The high-bouncing, spin-laden shots to the one-handed backhand. The lefty serve to the backhand. The preference for clay. A certain pack-a-lunch pugnacity than can be disconcerting. If you were building a player designed specifically to beat Federer, you could scarcely come up with a better model than Nadal.
Is it fair to disqualify a player from the GOAT consideration, simply because of one unfavorable match-up?
I was watching Timeline, the documentary of how Brett Favre went from playing in Lambeau for the Vikings (and beating the Packers nonetheless) to finally getting the Thanksgiving day closure of the Green Bay Packers retiring his No. 4 last week. Does tennis have a similar equivalent? Has anyone played for their country, and then by coincidence, against their country? Just curious if there is any other tangential equivalent from tennis history?
—Deepak, Seattle, Wa.
• Interesting. Nothing jumps to mind. You have situations like Maria Sharapova who came of age in the U.S., availed herself of its bounty and opportunity and still competes for Russia in Fed Cup and the Olympics—sometimes against the U.S. Late in his career, Alex Bogomolov Jr. played for the Russian Davis Cup team (though not for the U.S.) You have French players who were Swiss residents (for tax purposes) compete against Switzerland. But it’s not quite the same as Favre, who not only decamped to the rival nation/state but then returned and was warmly received.
I am currently watching the final round robin between Murray and Wawrinka and a strange question cropped up. If Murray wins the Davis cup for Britain next week and Wawrinka wins the Australian Open in 2016, and both of them retire after that, according to you who had a better career?Does Murray's more number of titles, more ATP Masters trophies, a considerable amount of time in the top 4, get negated by Stan's major trophy? Just how big is a major win?
• Strangely, I received this last week, after Murray’s Davis Cup heroics (and before Wawrinka’s 2016 Aussie Open title.) While both are Hall of Famers, Murray is far, far ahead of Wawrinka. Like not even in the same zip code. More than three times as many titles; more than twice as much in prize money; Wawrinka has made it to two Grand Slam finals (and to his credit has won both); Murray has been to eight (and nine additional semis).
In your most recent postal pouch you had Novak Djokovic outside the GOAT terrarium looking in. Seems fair, though personally I think he's in the foyer. In any case, I know how much you love hypotheticals, so ... Suppose next year Djokovic wins the Slam along with his usual number of other titles, then retires to join a monastery. GOAT or No-GOAT? But wait (as they say in the infomercials), there's more! Suppose also, in 2017, Federer grabs another Wimbledon and Nadal wins the Australian and one more French Open before retiring to design underwear for Tommy Hilfiger. Who then? Thanks for your thoughts, and the bread knife is yours to keep even if you return John Isner's serve.
—Richard Des Ruisseaux, Louisville, Ky.
• The infomercial leitmotif scores you points. If Djokovic were to win all four majors in 2016—fanciful but worthy of consideration given his 27–1 record in 2015—he makes a serious case for GOAT. If he quits to join a monastery, I want option rights on that movie. Instead of considering 2017 scenario—I can only look ahead for one year—I will instead remind you, gentle readers, of this: 2016 is an Olympic year. Let’s beat the August rush: how much weight ought we give to a gold medal?
It's the off-season (or is it?) I barely had time to miss tennis... Watching the IPTL and seeing Santoro beat Safin pretty handily. Ivanisevic can still hit some great serves and some scorching forehands compared to Moya's more defensive game at this stage. Out of the Top 10 players right now, whose game do you think will hold up the best 10–15 years from now? If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it'd be Federer as he doesn't rely on any one particular stroke which might fade with age.
—James Pham, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
• Yes, I suppose Federer is an obvious answer. John McEnroe provides a pretty strong illustration re: how well natural talent ages. But really isn’t this about which players continue to keep themselves in shape? One you hit middle age, an in-shape journeyman beats an out-of-shape Pete Sampras.
Why Yahoo still? I would like to know. From your tech-conscious admirer, Nikki Nazareno
• Always wanted one of those. (A tech-conscious admirer, not a Yahoo account.) I was in Quebec recently and saw a sign reading “You change your religion more easily than you change your café.” Same principle applies to a tertiary email account. This was set up in the Jerry Yang years; and became hardened. Sorry.
• This week’s podcast guest is Noah Rubin. We’ll post tomorrow.
• Leif Wellington Haase: The redoubtable Sacramento Bee reporter Paul Baumann pens an epic and thoughtful assessment of the "great eight" up-and-comers (I would add Mackie MacDonald for a "fine nine")
• Rajeev Ram, one of the tennis good guys, held his philanthropic event last week. I believe some auction items are still available for purchase.
• Jon Becker of Atlanta: Amazing Djokovic stat of the week: According to match-by-match results pages on TennisAbstract.com, since the beginning of 2011 Djokovic has lost only four matches to players who were ranked outside the top 20 at the time of the match and none to anyone higher than No. 28 (Dimitrov in 2013). For comparison, Federer lost 12 matches to players outside of the top 20, 11 of which to players ranked higher than 30, while lost Nadal 18 matches to players outside of the top 20 and 14 to players higher than 30.
• La Quinta Resort & Club and PGA WEST, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, announced the appointment of Lynne Rolley as director of tennis, effective Dec. 15, 2015.
• Well-played to James of Portland: “Adele selling 4M copies of her new album is equal to Novak Djokovic winning 11 titles. Not supposed to happen in 2015.”
• Congrats to Tatiana Golovin (part-time New York resident) who recently gave birth to a baby girl, Anastasia.
• Personal to the reader who left a message in my Sports Illustrated voicemail about heroin use in youth sports: You neglected to leave contact information. I am happy to try and help you, but please write to the aforementioned Yahoo account.
• One suspects that when Tim Smyczek conceded a point to Nadal he didn't think that it would get him here.
• Brent Davis writes: Just wanted to tell you that I enjoy Beyond The Baseline and also wanted to make a comment about the Mary Carillo episode. She mentioned that more than other sports, the people who watch tennis are also likely to play the sport. That's also true for another activity I like almost as much as playing tennis—playing bluegrass music. Many of the people listening to the music at a festival or concert will participate in a jam session after the show. And just as Mary said tennis is a niche activity within the larger world of sports, bluegrass is a niche activity within the larger world of music.
• Jack Sock, Hall of Famer.
• Press releasing:
1) Virginia senior Danielle Collins (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Stanford sophomore Tom Fawcett (Winnetka, Ill.) and UCLA junior Mackenzie McDonald (Piedmont, Calif.) each won singles matches, leading the United States to a 4–1 victory over host in the Master’U BNP Paribas Finals on Sunday in Rennes, France. Florida sophomore Brooke Austin (Indianapolis) and Cal junior Maegan Manasse (Redondo Beach, Calif.) won in women's doubles to clinch the United States' fifth straight title at the international collegiate team competition.
2) The ATP and ATP Media, the broadcast arm of the ATP World Tour, announced this week that live match production at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments will be significantly increased from 2016. More than 100 additional ATP singles matches will be produced, as well as increased coverage of doubles matches. In all, 24 additional courts will be produced across eight of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments starting in 2016. The increased production will start from the 2016 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March where a minimum of 96 live ATP matches across eight courts will be produced.
• Shop for a good cause this holiday season.
• Blake Redabaugh has been doing some terrific tennis infographics. Here he provides the highest average age of the WTA Top 10 here.
• Brandon Wilkins has LLS: Ana Ivanovic and actress Actress Sophie Winkleman.
• Final word goes to Bill Dwyre.