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Some speed round Q/A post Rio:
I'm getting really tired of reading the "for all those who thought the players didn't care about the Olympics" mantra when watching or reading Olympic tennis coverage. Obviously the players competing at the Olympics care, or they wouldn't be there. I personally prefer to watch those sports where the Olympic medal is the end-all-and-be-all, but I still watched the tennis event because I like tennis.
The Puig story was great. The del Potro story was great. And I enjoyed the event as a whole (although whoever thinks incredibly slow hardcourts make for great tennis are idiots!). Still, from a purely tennis perspective, this event is nowhere near a major nor a year-end championship in importance. From a patriotic perspective, It's on par (or above) the nationalist aura of Davis Cup and Fed Cup. And certainly from an Olympic perspective, it's totally cool to be a part of such a multi-sport event, represent your country, and win a medal. I mean, how many events does one play where coming in second or third gets almost as much positive attention?So yes, we get the importance of the Olympics and what it means to athletes who are competing, including tennis players. But no one is confusing winning Rio to winning Wimbledon.
• I think tennis took a bit of a hit with all the withdrawals so some commentators (I plead guilty) felt the need to stress its relevance. And after a year that’s seen Sharapova take a doping ban, a match-fixing scandal (among lesser pro, though few made the distinction), Ray Moore’s regrettable remarks, injuries galore, this week was a tonic for the sport.
I agree that the Olympics are a (distant) fifth Slam. But I put the Games ahead of any non-Slam. There’s no real empirical proof but put it this way: you don’t see players win and lose semifinal matches in Rome or Singapore or the WTF and dissolve into tears. More anecdotal evidence: multiple players got an Olympic rings tattoo after playing in the Games. I have yet to see any Shanghai Rolex Masters or Western and Southern Life Open ink. At least not on any players.
Back to weapons: I feel that Stan Wawrinka's backhand is equal to Juan Martin del Potro's forehand. Both can hit their shot from anywhere in the court to anywhere on the court. The difference to me though is del Potro's forehead is impressive to watch where Stan's backhand is beautiful to watch.
• During the gold medal match, we had some back and forth about whether DelPo’s forehand was the most fearsome weapon in tennis. I had Serena’s serve, Djokovic’s return game, the serves of Ivo/Isner/Raonic on the list as well. Some of you had creative answers. Nadal’s persistence. (And Nadal’s forehand.) A certain female player’s larynx. Kerber’s angles. One of you, inevitably, noted that Federer’s absence is the weapon shared by the rest of the field. I made the point that Madison Keys’ forehand the women’s equivalent. Big picture: that we are even discussing this says plenty about far DelPo has come.
I think tennis is a wonderful part of the Olympics, but I think the schedule is legitimately overwhelming and I think there should be ranking points awarded. I think that every fourth year, one (or two) of the Grand Slams should take a year off from the schedule, as well as 1-2 of the other tournaments. The points for the Olympics should be even higher than for a Grand Slam.
If these changes were made, the Olympics could be more of a focus for the athletes and the public would see that Olympic tennis really does matter and is exciting. I even think that there could be eight rounds, not seven, to separate the importance of the tournament and to validate the extra ranking points. It could be called the Olympic Open or the Golden Open.
• You can’t take Slams off the table. To continue with the analogy, those are centerpieces. And I feel for the summer events that get eroded every four years. (Imagine the logistics in 2020, when players will be expected to go from Canada to Tokyo to Cincy!)
I do think that rankings points should be re-issued. I was telling a friend that Monica Puig is like the employee that leaves the office for a week, goes to a Ted Talk and crushes it. Her speech goes viral. Her company gets all sorts of good will and benefit and publicity out of it. She returns to the office and gets neither a raise nor a promotion. Tennis benefitted from her handiwork; she should as well.
Hi Jon, I thought your comments about Marc Lopez were unfair and condescending. You, of all people, should know better. Marc Lopez is the current French Open doubles champion (without Nadal) and won the ATP tour doubles a few years ago (without Nadal). With Nadal, I think they won Indian Wells (beating the Bryans and Federer/Wawrinka). I think he is as good a choice to partner Nadal as anyone else on the Spanish team. I think you owe the man an apology.
• I’m sorry, Marc Lopez. For context: on one of the telecasts, I characterized Marc Lopez as a “journeyman” and it triggered fierce objection. I think some of this is an issue of semantics. What’s a journeyman? I take it to mean a veteran who enriches the cast but is decidedly not a star. Lopez turned pro in 1999. He’s never been inside the top 100 in singles. Even as a doubles player, yes, he has won a major—the 2016 French Open alongside Feliciano (“No Relation”) Lopez—he has never been inside the top 15. His career earnings of $3.3M over 17 years suggest a struggle as well.
I meant nothing pejorative by it. (Full disclosure: many years ago, Lopez did me a HUGE solid and he is the last player I would want to impugn.) My point: there was something endearing about these two players with a friendship and kinship but two completely different careers, teaming for gold. Anyway, apologies to Marc Lopez and his surprisingly large and vocal legion of fans and defenders.
Long as we're here, I say this more as observation than complaint. But for all the commentary and opinion I was asked to provide—for all the “takes” I was oxymoronically asked to give—during the Olympics, you know what triggered the most vitriolic feedback? A suggestion that Czech medal chances before the tournament were stronger with Tomas Berdych than with Petra Kvitova, who waltzed off with bronze. There’s actually a decent debate to be had here. He is probably better on a slow hard court; she has won a pair of majors and he has not. He tends to fade in big events; she’s in the throes of a meh year. He’s higher ranked; she’s playing in a more open field. Whatever. Still, it’s funny what rankles and what doesn’t. (Same is true in writing by the way.) Sometimes what you think is controversial, doesn’t draw ire. And what you think of as innocuous sets people off.
So, I'm going to get my first of two questions out of the way. Is the mixed doubles event at the Olympics the only event where men and women compete together and the winning male and female receive medals? If so, second question, wouldn't that make tennis the most fair sports in regards to sexism? OK sorry, one more: Wouldn't this completely make the equal pay arguments moot? I watched the Mattek-Sands/Sock vs. Pereira/Mello last night and it was a thing of beauty. Played out like a chess match with athleticism, offense, defense and intelligence. Mixed doubles is sometimes thought of as a sideshow, but with four Americans going for the gold, this could be a game changer.
• Good question. Is mixed doubles the only Olympic event in which men and women compete together? Nah. Obviously pairs compete in figure skating. Equestrian. Doesn't badminton have a mixed draw? But your point is well taken. Tennis “dual-genderedness” is a virtue and it’s great that the Olympics throw it into vivid relief.
I’m not sure it renders equal prize money discussions moot. But seeing men and women compete together reinforces that tennis is better off—and we borrow a phrase here—uniting and not dividing.
I was surprised to see Venus's name pop up in the mix doubles competition. In the lead up to the games, I don't think I saw any mention of it. Was she entered prior to the games, or did she somehow get into the event last minute after her singles and doubles loss, and if so, how did that transpire?
—Kevin, Portland, Ore.
• The way it was explained to me: the U.S. left all available options open and on the table. When Venus Williams lost in singles and doubles, she availed herself for the mixed. Mary Joe Fernandez was happy to oblige. Venus and Rajeev Ram walked away with the silver.
Any news on Janko Tipsarevic? I know he played a few tournaments last year, but I haven't heard anything about him this year. Is he still on the tour? He was always so analytical and insightful in interviews. I thought he'd make a great coach when his playing days ended.
—Ranjit Gupte, New York, N.Y.
• From the ATP: “Janko came back in late April and has slowly been making his way back on the ATP Challenger Tour and a few ATP World Tour tournaments. He also played Davis Cup last month vs. Great Britain. I’ve attached his 2016 results. This week he qualified in a Challenger in China and won a first round match. He is on the U.S. Open entry list with a protected ranking of No. 39.”
I think you missed 10 inches in stating Reilly Opelka's height in your "Shots, Miscellany" section. (BTW...I was at the BB&T Open and thought the semifinals—No. 800-something Opelka vs. No. 1-seeded Isner and No. 100-something Nishioka vs. No. 2-seeded Kyrgios—were better than the finals. Both Opelka and Nishioka played great tennis and took Isner and Kyrgios to three sets.) But, sadly, ticket prices for this 250 event are way overpriced (which might be something among a lot of tennis tournaments), so totally see why there are so many empty seats in the stadiums.
—Tim in Atlanta
• What’s ten inches between friends? That was a typo: Opelka is 6’11”. At least he was last week. He might be 7’0” by the time you read this.
• This week’s podcast: Gigi Fernandez will be stopping by to talk Puerto Rico, Olympic tennis and Chelsea Piers.
• A lot of you wrote in about the Bravo Network Olympic coverage, good, bad and indifferent.
a) Please know that all mail is read and considered.
b) I toggle between not wanting to ignore your compliments, criticism and, more important, concerns (often legit) and wanting this space to be a about tennis and “inside baseball” on TV.
c) Much more so than writing, television is very much collaborative. There’s an entire team. A lot of you were giving me both credit and grief for decisions and work I had no control over.
• The Bryans Brothers have made a coaching change.
• We’re going to withhold names lest we embarrass anyone, but this week’s reader rant is a doozy: I must thank Jack Sock for letting me rub something in my ex-husband's face again. I'm from Overland Park, K.S. I have played next to Jack and his brother. One time, when still married, my then-hubby got aggravated that I was distracted watching the two hit. They were amazing. Months later, I heard Taylor Dent would be playing at my club. I wanted to go watch, but my still-not-ex insisted I had to stay home (even though I am the bigger tennis fan) and he went instead. He came back with a picture of himself with Taylor and said, "some other guy took our picture… the guy Taylor was hitting with. Some Sock guy…" I said, "Jack Sock? Should have had your picture taken with HIM. He's going to be somebody—undefeated in high school. That kid can HIT." A few months later, he won the U.S. Open Juniors and I rubbed it in that he didn't get his picture with Jack. Today, watching our son's soccer game, I had to lean over to the ex to say, "you know, Jack Sock won the bronze at the Olympics and is now guaranteed at least the silver, if not the gold in mixed. You really goofed up not having him IN the picture with you." The ex grumbled. I smiled contentedly knowing I'd be in my Kansas City Royals gear cheering Jack on at the U.S. Open in a few weeks.
• This week’s LLS: