Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Shelby Rogers, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, the Roland Garros wash-out and more in his Mailbag.
PARIS – Some questions during a dreary Monday, the first washout here in 16 years:
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Jon, I hate to say it, but it is the elephant in the room. If Djokovic wins, the sad truth is that the asterisk will always be there. No Nadal. Federer can claim that he beat the man (Soderling) who beat the man (Nadal).
Yes, this is sport. And yes, you can only beat who is across the net. And yes, Djoker has had the best of Rafa lately. But the asterisk will be there. And should Djoker win, every time it is mentioned, it will be followed by "but Rafa was not in the tournament." Do you agree?
—Harold, Edison, N.J.
• Nah. No asterisk. As the prophets—and, you too, Harold—rightfully say: you can only beat the competition you’re given. Only the hardest core tennis fan remembers that Federer’s title here in 2009 did not necessitate his having to face Nadal. And I’m not sure that diminishes much. In this case, there’s even less diminution since Djokovic A) beat Nadal here last year. B) hasn’t dropped a set to Nadal in two years. C) has won a dozen titles for his career on clay so it's not like he can't play with dirt underfoot.
As a rule I think we make too much about asterisks. When Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire win home run titles and we later learn about their pharmacological enhancement, it gets an asterisk. When there are simply unexpected events—injuries to competitors, controversial officiating, fluky plays—history has a short memory.
I'm really enjoying watching Shelby Rogers' run. She must have already earned more in Paris than in most of her career to date. Can I make one request: please don't let the media turn her into the next Melanie Oudin. Appreciate this run for what it could be—a once in a career lightning in a bottle moment.
—Neil Grammer, Toronto
• Shelby Rogers is the story of the tournament. For perspective, in the prior event she lost TWICE—once in the qualifying then again, as a lucky loser, in the main draw. She also lost early this spring not in WTA events but in ITF events in Indian Harbour Beach and Charlottesville. Then she comes to Paris and wins four matches—three against seeds—and will leave with, a minimum, a top 50 ranking and mid-six figures in prize money.
For a variety of reasons, I don’t worry about the Oudin Effect. For one, Rogers is 23, so we’re not talking about a young teenager who will be awed by attention and bright lights. It also helps that this breakthrough is happening not at her home Slam (a tunnel away from the GMA studio) but in France.
I have never been a big Nadal fan and I think his number of Slams is cheapened by all the French titles, but I can't think of a greater competitor in men's tennis during my lifetime. Maybe Johnnie Mac. I suppose the ultimate complement I could give him as a Superiority-of-North-American-Team-Sports snob is that I can't think of a tennis player in my lifetime that I would rather have on my football, basketball, baseball or hockey team. Maybe Johnnie Mac, for the shear amusement of it.
—Jim Yrkoski, Silver Creek, Neb.
• This is a favorite argument of the Nadal-ists. “If your life depended on the outcome of a match and you could pick the player on court, who would you chose?” As a whole, this is another why the Big Three is/are so remarkable. Injuries notwithstanding, they compete so damn well, all three of the them. Djokovic is a match from his 28th STRAIGHT Grand Slam quarterfinal. Think about that: over seven years, not once has he failed to reach the second week at any of the four most prominent events. And he still would be trailing Federer’s mark of 36.
I know you are getting bombarded about Nadal withdrawal posts, but Sloane Stephens losing 6-2, 6-1 to Pironkova, who always seemed like a grass court specialist, is really disappointing. I officially give up, and based on Sloane's talent, that is sad.
• Hard to make sense of that match. Stephens plays herself into the third round a major with a nice draw up ahead. Then, against a player not known for her clay skills and ranked outside the top 100, Stephens wins three games and, at one stretch loses 18 straight points? That, friends, is a head-scratcher.
Shelby Rogers beat Petra Kvitova by a score of 6-0, 6-7, 6-0. Despite winning a set, I wonder if we can technically say that Kvitova was double-bageled anyway?
—JP Hormillosa, New York City
• Another nah. Think of it as bowling a 300 game. You need all the frames. Take nothing away from Rogers, who is having the week of her life. The last player automatically into the main draw, she now has a real shot at the quarterfinals. But my lingering question: how does a player of Kvitova’s power and pedigree allow herself to get bageled TWICE in one match against any player, much less one ranked 100 spots lower?
I had heard that in his last match Raonic was getting treatments for the groin injury again. Any truth to this?
• Raonic asked for a trainer early in the match. But when asked about it, he gamely said injury played no roll. The heavy, wet conditions worked to his detriment. Still, that’s a match he needs to win. (Or at least claim a set.)
What reporter will stand up and say, Emperor-has-no-clothes style, “Why not move the dates to when it’s not cold and rainy?”
• How about simply: “Why not accelerate that roof construction?”
• Memorial Day read: Tennis’ connections with the Indy 500.
• Here’s a tribute to the Williams sisters.