In this week's Mailbag, Jon Wertheim answers questions about Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; Cibulkova's comments on Sharapova, Wimbledon and more.
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Before we get started…I was at a dinner party the other night and met someone who is a hard-core tennis fan. He tells me about his drinking game. He and friends gather ‘round and tell outrageous tennis stories, some true, some fictitious.
• “Sabine Appelmans considered a career in cage-fighting after her retirement.”
• “Martina Hingis once threw crockery at Anna Kournikova, locked as they were in a fierce debate over which was tennis’ true queen.”
• “Richard Williams once vowed to buy Rockefeller Center from the Japanese.”
• Marcelo Rios has a sister who lives in a Mennonite community.”
If you guess “fiction” when it’s fact (or vice versa) you drink…Ah, tennis.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Djokovic has more than double the points that Murray has. Is it time to STOP talking about the Big Four and change to Peak Nole? Also is Nole’s 16,540 ATP points the highest ever?
• Right on. I feel like Djokovic had this internal conversation that went something like this: “While these clowns can debate Big Three versus Big Four versus Big Five, I’m going to make it a Big One.” Right now, it’s like UConn women’s hoops. Even on an off night, there’s no real danger of losing. Too many options. Too much self-belief. Lindsay Davenport and I were talking about this the other day on the podcast: If Djokovic “only” wins two Slams this year, it will be a disappointing campaign. Such is the level of his play right now.
Since 2009 (when point scale changed to current system) the most points earned for a No. 1 is 16,790 which were all by Djokovic on these rank dates: 1/11/2016, 1/18/2016, 2/1/2016, 2/8/2016, 2/15/2016, 2/22/2016
I saw the magic words "AELTC" appear in my inbox recently, informing me that I've been allotted tickets through the Wimbledon ballot. Attending Wimbledon is a dream and I'm thrilled. That said, my allotment is for Court No. 1 on the day of the women's semifinals, which are all played on Centre Court. Best I can tell, I'll be watching doubles. Is it still worth the time and expense to experience the hallowed Wimbledon grounds? Do you have suggestions for other ways to make the most of this one day there? I realize this may not be the ideal Mailbag question, but as a longtime reader and fan, I'd appreciate your advice.
• First, congrats. That’s a tough ticket. And, yes, while it’s understandable you'd prefer Centre Court, I say it’s worthwhile nonetheless. I am self-conscious about lapsing into tourist bureau flack speak, but Wimbledon is, in a word, exquisite. I have yet to encounter someone who said, “Yeah, I went there and it was meh. Didn’t live up to the hype.” Go. Walk the grounds. Have your strawberries and cream on the hill. Take in all the small and charming touches. Have dinner afterwards in the village. You’ll be glad you did.
Here comes the caveat: at some sporting events, you can finagle your way into better seats or sneak into the main arena or talk your way into the lounge area. (A friend of mine recently watched an NBA game in a luxury suite, simply because no one was guarding the door. Just walked in spent and the rest of the night drinking the beer and eating the mini lobster rolls and making small talk with other freeloaders.) This ain’t going to happen at Wimbledon. It’s the tightest of ships and the usher-to-patron ratio is roughly 1:1. (They’re strikingly nice ushers, well attired, too; but they’re everywhere and they’re, lamentably, incorruptible, unlike their Queens counterparts.) If your tickets aren’t for Centre Court, you ain’t getting in.
I assume you saw what Dominika Cibulkova had to say about Maria Sharapova. Thoughts?
—Ross, Oakland, Calif.
• For those who missed it, here’s Cibulkova: "I didn't make a statement, as I didn't want to be the only person to openly say what they think about this case. I will only say that I don't feel sorry at all for Sharapova and I don't miss her on the tour. She's a totally unlikeable person. Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won't even say hello.”
A few weeks ago, we posted the handy, stultifyingly bland Sharapova talking points that the WTA issued players, hoping they would be parroted and controversy doused. In the sense that Cibulkova—and before her, Kristina Mladenovic—have departed from the corporate script and spoken openly, I applaud them.
But I think these attacks on personality come across as irrelevant at best, petty at worst. It doesn’t matter if Sharapova or arrogant and conceited; or if she is warm and companionable. What matters is whether or not she cheated and corrupted competition and, in effect, stole from her colleagues. I get that Sharapova has been weakened, her public relations has failed her and now it’s open season. But the focus should be on her alleged doping (and her defense) and the implications in a competitive sport; not whether she is sufficiently chatty in the locker room.
GALLERY: BEST PHOTOS FROM MIAMI OPEN
Some surprising names in the Charleston qualies draw: Patty Schnyder, Laura Robson, Sesil Karatantcheva, Melanie Oudin.
—Helen of Philly
• Sadly none qualified. But, yes, some stories to be told there. The name that stuck out to me most was Schnyder. She’s 37 now. Wow. If you recall her game, she was like a female Rios, a lefty who wasn’t a big physical specimen but played a completely original game. Also, if you’ve been following her journey at all, you know that convention was never her thing.
Quick story: I wrote one of my first features for SI on Schnyder. I was giddy with anticipation. This was a big deal to me. She was then a teenager who had just beaten Steffi Graf at the U.S. Open and was “the other Swiss Miss” behind Hingis. We have a pleasant interview. Do a photo shoot. Story is ready to go. And then days before publication, the WTA Tour calls me.
“Um, are you still doing that story on Patty?”
“Um, you may want to hold off.”
“Well, um, we’re concerned she may have joined a cult.”
“Um, let me check in with the office and call you back.”
Somewhere in the depths of my hard drive, there is a mediocre 2,000-word piece on young Patty Schnyder. Damn you, off-brand L. Ron Hubbard and your crates of orange juice.
I have been watching as Novak Djokovic has slowly but very certainly come to dominate the men’s game (no one has ever had twice the number of points as the No. 2 and No. 3 players combined; Novak has for months now). His dominance got me to thinking about the main knock against Federer as GOAT (heretofore known as the “weak era,” or if you played at the time, the “utterly insulting” theory). It is thought that Federer only dominated because there were no other “greats” at the time to challenge him and when Rafa and Novak came into their prime, Roger’s “averageness” appeared. Well, over the past several years, and likely for at least two more to come, Djokovic is dominating a field that contains at least two other GOAT candidates and is making them look like also-rans; they need him to play poorly, it is not enough that they play their best. Is it not possible that, like Novak now, Roger was simply that much better than the rest of the field for a few straight years?
—Jason Bauche, Calgary
• Not unlike Djokovic and Federer themselves, there is a certain plasticity to the GOAT debate. We can twist and bend and contort to strengthen our arguments and weaken those we find adverse. What you write makes much sense. The response, of course, is that—great as Federer and Nadal are—one is 34-years-old and the other is diminished from the player he once was. Is that different from Federer and Nadal beating Djokovic in 2003-07?
Me? I hate the “Player X had no rivals” trope for its circularity. If Djokovic had a true rival, if he and Murray were splitting their meetings in major finals, he wouldn’t be in the GOAT conversation. Hard to seek dominance in the player; and then, once achieved, lament that there was a deficit of competition.
Do you think it's telling about the ATP that despite his many problematic statements Sergiy Stakhovsky has said about women and the LGBTQ community that he has never been asked to step down from the ATP Players Council? I know that he doesn't wield the power that Raymond Moore does but as a player of the governance body of the ATP it does put him in a place of power that not only has a say in how the ATP is run but also tennis in general. Whether or not players agree with him or not, why would the ATP want to have someone like him and his opinions representing them?
—Beth, New York
• We can—and often do—disagree with Stakhovsky. But we embark on everyone’s favorite fun ride, the slippery slope, when we start asking for resignations because we disagree with sentiment expressed. Unlike Ray Moore, Stakhovsky was—at least quasi-democratically—elected to a position. Don’t like what he says? Don’t vote for him next time.
Long as we’re here…..I phrase this as a philosophical question and not as a statement, much less a plea. But is there something unsettling to anyone else about how Ray Moore has been exiled so comprehensively? What he said last month was beyond indefensible; and he was, rightfully, challenged and criticized roundly. I kept hearing, “There’s no way he can run the women’s event after that.” True. But more truth: there was no way he could run a men’s event either.
But here’s a 69-year-old man, a former professional athlete, father, businessman, an outspoken critic against Apartheid before it was fashionable….and, whoosh, it’s been completely subsumed by some stunningly ill-considered comments. Maybe it’s the rules of the road, especially in the era of social media. Maybe it’s a real-time example of Will Rogers’ shibboleth that you spend a lifetime building a reputation that can be lost in a minute. But I’m a little rattled by how thoroughly—and, it appears, ineradicably—this man’s entire story was re-authored.
Serena hit a roadblock trying to get to Slam No. 18 and it seemed like mainly a mental hurdle. Then she raced through No. 19-21. Is the same thing now happening as she goes for No. 22—despite all her comments that she's not thinking about it? If so when do you see No. 22 coming?
• Listen to Lindsay Davenport’s take below. You’d like to think that this is simply a minor setback and in a few weeks Serena will have a chance to win another major. But it does seem as though something left her when lost that U.S. Open match.
• Our most recent podcast guest was Lindsay Davenport. Consider this another glimpse of why she’s as well-regarded as she is well-liked:
• Trust me and read this piece on Angie Cunningham.
• I’ve been asked to publicize this, so I shall. I’ll be part of “In Your Face, New York,” on Thursday night at Symphony Space.
• Andrew Eichenholz writes about Djokovic.
• Paul Marin of Silver Spring, Md. writes: Would you please give Patty Schnyder 14 cents to round out her career prize money? And are there really professional tennis tournaments out there that are paying out to the penny?
• Mike Olerich: At least he didn't invite a ball boy to come fish it out (looking at you, Pete).
• Press releasing: Renowned tennis coaches Dick Gould, Tim Gullikson and Pancho Segura were honored as Team USA Coaching Legends at the third annual Team USA Coaching Awards reception.
• Blake Redabaugh of Denver with TWO LLS submissions:
David Goffin with actors DJ Qualls (Roadtrip) and Steve Zahn (Treme, Dallas Buyers Club)
And Jennifer Capriati and Abbi Jacobson (Broad City)
• Finally, Arnold Benson sends in what is believed to be the first reader-player LLS:
HAVE A GOOD WEEK, EVERYONE!