Jon Wertheim answers questions about Serena Williams and Marion Bartoli, WTA rankings, Leander Paes and Martina Hingis 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.
As we transition from clay to grass (and await word of Maria Sharapova’s fate), some post-Roland Garros/pre-Wimbledon Q/A:
What is your stance on Bartoli reporting Serena's injury because she had access to players' locker room? Carillo didn't like it.
• You know who else didn’t like it? Serena. Asked about Bartoli’s report of the adductor injury, Serena responded frostily: “Yeah, I heard she said that. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her.” We had some back and forth on Twitter about this. Much as we advocate for access, athletes are entitled to—need, even—a safe space where they can proceed with an expectation of privacy. If Bartoli found out this relevant information in her capacity as a journalist, good for her; that’s good reporting. If she found it out observing Serena in the locker room—where she was allowed entry not as a media member but by virtue of her credential as a legends player—that’s not cool, a code violation as it were.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had about athletes and access and media ethics. And tennis is particularly fraught/interesting, given that subjects are scattered so broadly. A coach and player fight on a practice court. Fair to report? (I would say yes.) A player and coach fight in a courtesy car you happen to be sharing with them. Fair to report? (Trickier.) But I don’t think you can enter a locker room under one pretense and then use the information you learn in the capacity of a journalist. That’s not fair to the players.
Jon, what are two steps you'd take to reduce injuries? No. 5 set matches? More forgiving surfaces? Anything else?
• I remember talking to Andre Agassi in the early 2000s after he had used polyester strings (I believe after Rome) for one of the first times and him marveling, “It’s like legal cheating!” Maybe these strings that encourage overhitting are contributing to injuries? Maybe it’s the non-standard balls? Maybe it’s the weight of the balls relative to the weight of the racket and force of the swing? Maybe the fast transitions from one court surface to another? Too many hardcourt events? Overtraining? Insufficient recovery time between matches? The scant off-season?
I don’t know. But that’s the point. There seems to be little research or even fundamental curiosity. There’s no real union to say, “Wait a second. We have a problem here. Maybe we should devote real and time and resources into investigating why half our stars are unable to go about their job without getting hurt.” The tournaments don’t have the motivation to do this either. Management groups will move on to the next star. Federations will move on to the next prospect. So the kingdom squabbles about whether there should be points for Olympic tennis or whether a new event should take Louisville’s place on the calendar while careers—from Nadal’s to del Potro’s to Laura Robson’s—hang in the balance.
Quirky thing in the WTA rankings this week: Venus Williams took over Timea Bacsinszky’s No. 9 position, and Bacsinszky moved down to 10. Yet it was Bacsinszky who beat Williams at Roland Garros. Thanks, as always, for your column.
—Jerry, Woodbury, Minn.
• Good catch. The difference of course: Venus lost in the first round of the French Open in 2015, while Bacsinszky was defending semifinal points.
Since you are too immersed to admittedly have an objective view, please send a big "thank you" to the NBC booth on the final game of the Djokovic-Murray match. I am not sure they said a word the entire game—they definitely did not on the match points. The silence and tension from 15,000 fans allows me to understand the gravity of the situation. Nothing else needed. Nothing else given. Nothing else wanted.
• Duly noted. Thank you conveyed. This dovetails nicely with our podcast chatter this week with guest Ted Robinson, as fine as a play-by-play man as you will find in sports.
In your 50 Parting Shots from the French Open, you commented on the "unacceptable" number of injuries in the sport at the moment, citing Federer, Nadal and Tsonga amongst the injured. Later on, you marveled at the fact that "for the foreseeable future, each major will set a new record for the oldest field," as careers are now of "unprecedented length." These two things feel strangely incongruous yet potentially related. Has any research been done regarding whether or not there is a correlation between older fields and a higher number of injuries? And if older players are more prone to injury, might the tours need to find ways to allow veterans to play a more Popovichian schedule, allowing them to avoid punishment in the rankings for some smaller events to ensure they're ready—and still seeded highly—for the tournaments that really matter?
—Cam Bennett, Canberra, Australia
• Research? Injuries? They’re part of sports. This ain’t a knitting circle. “We regret [insert players name] will miss [insert tournament] but we wish them a speedy recovery, a return to full health, and we look forward to welcoming them to the [insert corporate sponsor] Championships next year.”
Intuitively, I do think there’s something here. One upside to rehab: there’s not much wear-and-tear on the rest of the body. So players will miss time in the meaty phases of their career but then get some of the time on the back end. A player like Laura Robson, who’s played sparingly over the past few years, may get some time back in her 30s—that would be our karmic hope, anyway.
A few weeks shy of 43 years old, Leander Paes—teaming with Martina Hingis—wins the French Open mixed doubles and the is oldest man to win a Grand Slam title, breaking his own record. Does he get your vote in the Hall of Fame or support the need to build the doubles wing?
—Ken Wells, Port Augusta, Australia
• I think—and have no objection to—that doubles wing. And if we built it, Paes would be a first-ballot enshrinee. Absolutely no-brainer. But can we really make Leander Paes a Hall of Famer while excluding someone like, say David Ferrer or Sam Stosur or even a Tomas Berdych, who has beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic?
After the second set of the French Open men's final, I thought we would see an epic Andy Murray tantrum. The cracks were showing. He was obviously not happy with himself. But kudos to Andy for keeping it together for the most part in such a historic match.
Here comes the putter throw. Wait. He restrained himself. Maybe this is a new Happy Gilmore.
However, for future Andy Murray matches, I think it would be good for us fans if there was a little graphic on the side of the screen that measures Andy's inner turmoil. I propose the Grump-o-meter. The best technological advance in tennis since Hawk-Eye. Who can make this happen???
—Dan B from Baltimore
• Memo to the Hawk-Eye folks—who are great and do more to enhance the broadcasts than fans will ever know—get on that!
Less than two weeks ago, Stepanek was up 2-0 on the French Open runner-up; today he's the fourth seed in the Stuttgart qualifying draw.
—James B., Portland
• Cruel, cruel endeavor, this tennis.
An impressive Serena stat for you that I have not seen mentioned anywhere as yet: With her win in the SF over Bertens, Serena notched her 60th career win at Roland Garros, giving her 60 or more wins at EACH of the four Grand Slams.
No other woman has won even 50 at all four of the slams, although Graf and Navratilova, as you might expect, are closest. Graf scored 47 wins at the Australian Open in ten attempts, and Martina had only 46 wins in ten tries.
No current player seems very likely to get to the 4x50 mark, either, much less Serena's mind-boggling 4x60. Sharapova has only 32 wins at the U.S. Open in 10 tries, Azarenka has only 21 wins at Roland Garros and Venus has 45 at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, but the odds would seem to be against Vee being able to rack up five more wins at both events.
The way Muguruza played at Roland Garros, one would think that she might have a chance, but so far, surprisingly, she has only scored one win at the U.S. Open in three attempts.
• Good one, thanks. I should add: if any of you come across—or devise on your own—stats during event, you should always feel free to pass them on. Sometimes we can try and get them on the Tennis Channel air and/or on si.com. And we will, of course, lavish credit accordingly.
Slams won after turning 27: Rafa – 3; Roger – 5; Novak – 6; Serena – 12.
Slams won after turning 28: Rafa – 1 (five days after turning 28); Roger – 2; Novak – 4; Serena – 10.
Slams won after turning 29: Rafa – 0; Roger – 1; Novak – 1 (2 weeks after turning 29); Serena – 8.
Slams won after turning 30: Rafa – 0; Roger – 1 (11 months after turning 30); Novak – N/A; Serena – 8.
Just realized that Serena has won a post-30 career slam. Though not the first to do so, as Rod Laver turned 31 a month before he completed his second Grand Slam in 1969. And although she's seven weeks younger, Serena also completed her Serena Slam before Roger won his first.
—Helen of Philadelphia
• That’s great. Thanks.
A couple of things: First, where can I find an actual list of code violations and the monetary fines associated with each? I think fans would love to see the breakdown after each tourney instead of just a few morsels of teasing information. For instance, I was shocked to learn that Carla Suarez Navarro was heavily fined in two of her matches for coaching. Details, please!
Secondly, you know how in some countries, speeding fines are based on the offender's income? Could we have something like that in tennis to make it more fair? Better still, could we assign actual rankings points to each offense? I mean, if tennis really wants to discourage certain behaviors, why not hit players where it really counts?
I would be a rock star in my own head if you use/answer my questions, so thank you in advance for my newly inflated ego!
—S, New York
• We cannot resist the chance to mint rock stars.
The fines list is an interesting bit of ephemera. The ITF has made it a public document but doesn’t promote it, per se. It’s available on request at events—as it should be—but I don’t believe it’s formally published. I will try and be better about conveying this information. Long as we’re here, I cannot recall an event at which men weren’t fined more heavily than women. Discuss.
Second: good point. It’s the most regressive of taxes. Should Djokovic—tennis’ new nine-figure man—be subject to the same fee structure as a journeyman stringing his own rackets? That said, docking ranking points for subjective judgments is a bad idea. That’s really messing with someone’s livelihood.
Patrick Mouratoglou says Serena can play for five more years. Well seeing as she has no kids to draw bathes for she should stay injury-free.
• Too soon?
I'm one of those rare agnostics in that I'm huge fan of all the Big Three. I am getting more and more enthralled with Djokovic. If Federer is Monet, I think of Djokovic as Manet—he never will have the same mass appeal but look at a few of his works and they are brilliant. Novak is as articulate (if not more so) as Federer, as mentally tough as Nadal and has crafted a unique style of play that I believe will result in him owning the record for Grand Slam wins. So people should stop dissing him just because he isn't Federer.
• I'll go a step further: fans are free—encouraged, even—to pick their favorites. But if you have a serious problem with any of the Big Three, it’s time to look inward.
You don't need an economics degree to know that Muguruza's stock is firmly in the buy category. That said, the women's side has produced a number of one-slammers in recent memory. And so, I go out on a teeny-tiny limb. With her easy power, mad defensive skills and mental fortitude, I declare that Muguruza will be winning a number of majors before she's done. Agree?
—Susannah, Edmonton, AB, Canada
• Agree. When Angie Kerber won the Australia Open, there was a sense of, “What a nice story, this workday player having a career moment.” In this case, it’s “the spigot has been tapped and now the Grand Slams will flow.” I’m not 100% there yet on “mental fortitude”—just 90 days ago, Mugu was telling her coach, mid-match, that she didn’t want to be there. But, yes, overall, buy, buy, buy. (As opposed to
• Again, the 50 Thoughts wrap from the 2016 French Open.
• This week’s SI Tennis Beyond the Baseline Podcast features NBA and Tennis Channel play-by-play impresario Ted Robinson.
• With Wimbledon approaching, WTA British No. 1 Johanna Konta is projected to be the first woman from her country to be seeded at The Championships in over 30 years. Konta broke into the WTA Top 20 for the first time this week.
• Tommy Haas has been named Tournament Director of the BNP Paribas Open, the largest WTA and ATP World Tour combined two-week event in the world.
• Noah Rubin signs with Lagardere.
• Caroline Wozniacki has committed to New Haven.
• The WTA’s Louisville event has been cancelled. Perhaps—once again—the good folks on the other side of the river can save the folks of Louisville.
• From Sports Business Journal: “The U.S. Open tennis tournament for the first time in three years is changing its marketing slogan, focusing on the significant on-site changes this year, including a roof over the main stadium. The campaign begins to break today. The old slogan "Nothing Beats Being Here" has now been retired for "INcredible" and "INtroducing our new roof."