Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Maria Sharapova's career, Dominic Thiem, Wimbledon 2016 and more in his weekly Mailbag.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
My take on Sharapova is she wants out. She's almost 30, probably wants to start a family, etc. She certainly didn't seem to fight this suspension tooth and nail. In fact, she was almost relieved to get out there first to discuss it and accept responsibility and her pending ban. She seems O.K. with her career ending and probably realized with her injuries and her age, her best days were behind her anyway.
• I disagree completely. Sharapova not only announced her appeal within minutes of the judgment, but don’t be surprised if there is further legal action. By all accounts she’s girding for battle like it’s deep in the third set. It’s hard to imagine any athletes retiring after a decision like this, conceding the point to speak. That just isn't how athletes are wired. All the more so Sharapova whose appetite for battle was—er, is—always one of her more admirable qualities.
As we discussed last week, I think Sharapova faces a challenging appeal. It’s easy to see her sentence being reduced. It’s hard to see it being overturned. That she would take a substance—we balk at calling it a drug but her choice word “supplement” seems too benign—before each singles match she played, but then failing to list it on her forms is going to be hard to surmount.
At the same time, on additional readings of the tribunal decisions, I think she has some grounds to explore. By its own admission, the tribunal said of her initial use of meldonium: “Ms Sharapova did not seek treatment from Dr. Skalny for the purpose of obtaining any performance enhancing substances, but for the treatment of her recurrent viral illnesses.” Why did her use of the same substance years later, per paragraph 63, “inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took Mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance”? What’s more, the remarks by WADA chief Craig Reedie this week were, at a minimum, ill-advised and suggest that Sharapova’s wealth and status were a considerations in her sentence.
In any case, we haven’t heard the last here. And we haven’t seen the last of Sharapova. That much we know.
Hey Jon, I caught the 2009 Wimbledon Final on TV last night between Roddick and Federer. What a great match that was! Even though I knew the outcome, it was still fun to watch. Although it was seven years ago and the outcome known, I realized I enjoyed watching that match more than any on today. Not because of talent, but because we haven't had a bold, American like Roddick, since Roddick. Is there any hope that we get an American we can rally behind again in the near future? Tennis enthusiasm in the U.S. seems to really be down the last several years.
—Tory Kaufmann, Quincy, Ill.
• Well the cavalry is allegedly coming, led by Taylor Fritz. But I would encourage you to ignore the country code. From the global village, in the age of communication* pick players you like, male and female, and follow them. Pay no heed to their country of origin. a) tennis is meant to be consumed globally b) odds are good said player no longer lives in said country anyway c) thanks to technology and social media you can follow these players 24/7. While there was once something exotic about aligning yourself with that teenage German prospect, now anyone with Wi-Fi can learn what Alexander Zverev or Timea Bacsinszky ate for their last meal.
*A prize to the first person to place that lyric.
Years ago, I read Robert Whiting's "You Gotta Have Wa," and I shuddered all the way through his descriptions of Japanese baseball players obsessively practicing until their bodies broke down, because they felt compelled to show off their work ethic. I wonder if anything like that is at work in Kei Nishikori's training regimen? He sure seems to get injured a lot.
—Doyle Srader, Eugene, Ore.
• I’m reluctant to go there. So often these culture-as-sports-destiny premises take us to regrettable locations. (The French players embrace artistry and aesthetics more than they embrace the battle.) I would also point out that it's been four years since he’s missed a major.
Interesting question, though. My first instinct is that in an individual sport—with no contracts and no owner to impress—there would be no reason to “show off” a work ethic. You would train intensely only for pragmatic reasons; i.e. it would maximize your chances at success. In the case of Nishikori, he’s not going to win with his power or ability to dictate play; so peerless consistency and first-rate fitness are essential. That’s achieved by innumerable hours spent training.
Question for the 'bag. LeBron James did something extraordinary—which is to make a promise and (50/50 chance here) and deliver an extremely hard to win championship. Rarely in tennis have we seen this. I think the closest I've seen is when Nadal hunted down the Wimbledon trophy in 2008 and when Roddick, saying he wanted another Slam, almost got it in 2009. Any thoughts as to why we don't see this in tennis (maybe players make these claims privately to coaches, etc.?) Too individual a sport? Would it help to see more of it? Thanks for considering.
—Andrew Miller, Silver Spring, Md.
• We reference the famous Casey Stengel line here: “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” I see your point: it would nice if tennis players were more open about their ambitions. But what's the use? You’re just goading the opposition and setting yourself up for ridicule. Why go public? I feel like the great Pete Bodo wrote about this several years ago. As I recall, Pete noted that Jimmy Connors was once so unabashed about his objectives that he declared: "I'll chase that son of a bitch Borg to the ends of the earth.” Compare that to the Big Four today who may grumble privately but go to great lengths to downplay the notion of rivalry.
Dominic Thiem plays a lot of tournaments. Is he in danger of overplaying?
• My sense—and this happens a lot—is that Thiem committed to these events thinking he might get in a match or two. Then, suddenly he is playing deep every week. The going is good and his ranking is in ascent, so you don’t want to throttle back. The good news: he’s currently to No. 8. (Which means that at Wimbledon, he won’t play a higher ranked opponent until the quarterfinals.) The less good news: he is 47-12 right now, meaning he has played almost 60 matches already this season. For perspective, Djokovic is 44-3. Murray is 33-6. Add in the Olympics, two remaining majors and four Masters events and it’s possible that Thiem will hit the triple-digit mark, his body willing. That’s a lot of tennis. Even for a 22-year-old with a live arm.
Always a big fan of your column on SI so after watching this:
I was wondering what you think about a match between Mansour and Fabrice. Which magician would win? Either way, it would be a great match to watch!
—Thomas LaMachia, New York City
• Some French promoter needs to make this happen. (Go to 11:20 in the YouTube clip above for one of the great match points you’ll ever see.) Sadly Bahrami and Santoro never played a head-to-head ATP match. Only in our heads….
Would love it if you get could del Potro on your podcast. Also, if del Potro ever decided to rebuild his team, I feel like Paul Annacone should coach him.
• Interesting podcast idea, thanks. As for the coaching situation, I’ll fuel this by adding that Roger Federer and del Potro share the same management agency. I’m in the tank for Paul. But realistically, I think Delpo needs a Spanish speaking coach.
Isner has to hold the record for most losses in matches in which he was not broken right?
• When Greg Sharko gets done unfastening his bow tie (he was an usher at Bud Collins’ memorial service) we’ll ask him to answer this.
I'm surprised people don't marvel more often at how the Big Three (Roger/Rafa/Djoker) have excelled on all surfaces in their careers, particularly clay. Do you credit anything specific about their styles that has allowed such incredible versatility? Until the last decade, the French Open sometimes felt like a "niche slam," where top players such as Pete Sampras could never gain much traction (pun intended) and the champions were rather anonymous guys like Gaston Gaudio and Albert Costa.
—Jesse Berkowitz, Fairfield, Iowa
• Thanks. We discussed this a bit last week. For all the talk of the surface homogeneity—about slower grass and faster clay—note the difference in match results since the surfaces have changed. One example among many: Sam Stosur, fresh off the French Open semis, lost to Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-1. The Big Four (and Serena) are so damn good, surface be damned, that I think we tend to assess incorrectly the differences that persist among the surfaces. When they retire it will be interesting to see whether we go back to an era of a “niche Slams.”
I hope this is taken in the spirit of fun and that I am not offending the reader when I say Jesse Berkowitz from Iowa recalls the old Steven Wright joke:
Speaking of comedians:
I know Agyeman Coujoe, and buy all of my gold from him at very good prices. He's also the best tennis player in Ghana with a wicked serve, and fancy footwork that keeps him one step ahead of the authorities. So take his email to you very seriously, or else you'll miss out on a good deal. He was very hurt by your reply in the mailbag calling saying you needed a spam filter.
• For those of you don’t know our man Franklyn—who wrote a lovely piece on Federer for SI.com—spent a few minutes going down the YouTube rabbit hole:
• This week’s podcast guest is Ryan White, producer/director of the Serena Williams documentary.
• Next podcast: We’ll break down the 2016 Wimbledon draw on Friday with a special guest.
• The Devil Wears Ellesse. Here’s a new tennis book from Lauren Weisberger.
• Here’s reader (and Indiana’s own) Jon Scott interlacing the Orlando tragedy with tennis.
• Thank loyal reader Ivan H. for this: I was digging through some old radio and found this gem on WNYC. Douglas Cooper was the host of a show at Iona College, and this is a compilation of his interviews with tennis greats. Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Bob Lutz, and John Newcombe....
The topics seem oddly contemporary, and not as ancient as the 60s sometimes seem. I love how this gives some perspective for current issues like scheduling/injuries, racquet technology, and 30-is-the-new-20. Scroll down for the player.
• Here's info on U.S. Open ballkid tryouts.
• Here’s a trailer for the Serena Williams doc which airs on Wednesday night on Epix.
• Sam from San Diego has LLS: Congratulations to Garbiñe Muguruza on her maiden Grand Slam crown. Justine Henin, who had also won the same championship a few times before, should be proud.