- Analyzing CAS's decision to lessen Maria Sharapova's two-year ban to 15 months, plus reactions to reader questions about the International Tennis Hall of Fame and more.
1) In advance of his first week of work at the USTA, Eric Butorac was our esteemed podcast guest last week. The great Dick Enberg is up next.
2) Lots of questions about Maria Sharapova and her reduced suspension. I tried to address some of them in podcast form here.
Some additional thoughts:
a) While the reasoning was tortured—essentially: Sharapova was culpable but she is not to be blamed—the 15-month ban sounds about right to me. Assuming a pro tennis career is 12.5 years, we’re talking about a ban spanning 10% of that duration; for a first-time offense. This is harsh relative to other sports (where there are unions) but reasonable. Two years verges on draconian.
b) I think it’s significant the drug/substance in question is meldonium. This was placed on the banned list not because of performance-enhancing qualities but because the of the high incidence in which it appeared in athletes—many from Russian and former Eastern Bloc countries. There was, I believe, an inference that this disproportionately high incidence among otherwise healthy athletes, suggested that it was being misused. True as that may be, that’s something different from a drug with known and scientifically proven performance-enhancing qualities.
c) While the Sharapova camp’s choice phrase of “stunning repudiation” is a bit excessive and self-aggrandizing, there’s no question that CAS thought very little of the initial decision and reasoning, picking apart both specific findings and procedure. The notion that Sharapova was “the sole author of her own misfortune” was a nifty bit of literary flair, but CAS clearly disagreed with that critical assertion.
d) Sharapova is rightly pleased and is, indisputably, in a better spot than she was a week ago. That said, there are still uncomfortable, unanswered questions here (Why did she fail to list meldonium on her forms? Why did she take it in conjunction with matches if the intended use was to address diabetes and a magnesium deficiency?) It would have been a pity if this had ended her career. That said, a 15-month ban is still a stain, if perhaps not an ineradicable one.
e) One of many ironies: tennis’ anti-doping protocol and infrastructure often comes under criticism for being too lenient, too poorly funded and too fraught with loopholes. Still, it bears mention that the ITF tribunal was the one dispensing the two-year ban, while the independent non-sports-specific CAS was the body knocking it down by almost half.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Both Roddick and Clijsters deserve to be in the HOF. You should vote yes on both.
—Doyle Srader, Eugene, Ore.
• Let the record reflect: this was the most common sentiment. And I voted accordingly. I don’t disagree with many of you that at some point we might need a market correction. That is, we might need to reassess/toughen criteria, even if it comes at “unfairness” when measured against precedent. But this year’s candidates both get past the velvet rope.
I know people are probably getting sick of the Hall of Fame questions, but I've never understood why Mary Pierce hasn't been elected in. She's won four Grand Slam titles: two in singles, one in doubles and one in mixed doubles, she's a four-time Grand Slam singles runner-up and has two Fed Cup titles. It seems like she's in the same boat as Kafelnikov, but she was never a bad ambassador for the sport, which appears to be the main reason why Kafelnikov has been denied. I know Pierce also overcame injuries and personal adversities with her father. Her resume might not be spectacular, but compared with some of the players that have been let in, I'd say she deserves a spot.
• Observation: I wish there were as much interest in the physical Tennis Hall of Fame as there is in the discussion of who should/shouldn’t make it. There would be lines backed up to Providence. So you have it, here’s visitor information.
Where were we? Oh, right. Pierce. Yes, I agree. She would have my vote. Two Slams. More than 500 wins. 18 titles. And, as Michael notes, her surmounting personal adversities—how’s that for a euphemism?—ought to count for something as well. That she is still active in tennis (she’s a current ITF board member) should count for something as well. In, I say.
One observation: I’ve noticed that a player’s failure to reach the No. 1 ranking is a real black mark in the eyes of some voters. Roddick, Safin, Mauresmo—all won one or two Slams but got to No. 1. Pierce’s career high ranking? No. 3.
Maybe Ryan Harrison has turned the corner? He has plenty of time left, although he turned pro nine years ago he's younger than Mike Trout.
• You’re right that 24 isn’t even mid-career these days. And Ryan Harrison is a pro’s pro, an analytic, all-business guy who takes his career with utmost seriousness and puts himself in the best position possible for success. Problem is, that success remains largely elusive. Even after his successful U.S. Open—qualifying and then upsetting Milos Raonic—he is still outside the top 100.
Jon, loved the reader who provided the tennis scoreline for the first Hillary/Trump debate. (4-6, 6-1, 6-0 I believe it was in favor of Hillary) The Hillary/Trump contest has a Djokovic/Stan like feel don't you think? The mighty top seed vs. the outsider who swings for winners no matter what, and has an increasing rabid fan following with each contest where he takes his swings—never mind that a lot of times the swings are ill-advised, but when he connects, something seems to click out there. Meanwhile the fans of the top seed are wondering "why isn't this outsider getting pasted 6-1, 6-1, 6-0?"
Unfortunately, there are no genuine hugs or belly pats at the end of the match between these political players, and no after-game compromise and beers by fans of both...that's why Tennis Trumps Politics. Sorry for the pun.
• Stan Wawrinka as Donald Trump? It recalls this scene from When Harry Met Sally:
(“Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?”)
That’s the kind of stretch that even Gael Monfils can’t pull off. I do like the idea of scoring these debates in tennis terms, though.'
Jon, regarding your discussion around Yevgeny Kafelnikov and the Hall of Fame: While I can see the point of view, it's important to remember it's meant to be a global hall of fame, not a U.S. centric institution. So, I would be very hesitant to judge players on whether they talk to sponsors, go to hospitals where there are cameras waiting, etc., as dictated by a very western PR, with a cosmetically oriented point of view. Kafelnikov is Russian and he grew up in the Soviet Union, not sunny California (or Nebraska). Surely, that affects his approach to life. Without knowing, I’m guessing he was poor growing up. I find it a complete travesty that he’s not in the ITHOF given he was an amazing tennis player. Maybe then we could extend the argument that McEnroe should not be in the ITHOF given that he has zero excuse for being hot tempered and bad mannered during his playing days. The ITHOF has zero business passing character judgments on tennis players who grew up in very different circumstances and should focus on achievements and tennis ability, which are a lot more objective.
• I don’t know. First, if anything, the ITHOF should come in for credit for the increasingly global membership rolls, a real service to the “I” in its name. From Justine Henin to Gustavo Kuerten to Marat Safin, there’s no question the enshrinees are mirroring the global trends in tennis more generally. Long may this continue.
As for Kafelnikov, I do think some cultural sensitivity is in order in general. Not all athletes come from a culture of 24/7 sports media or an expectation of having a public persona or philanthropic undertaking. Still, he adjusted just fine to the fruits of capitalism: the private jets and appearance fees and high-stakes poker. I’m not sure a childhood of deprivation or a particular approach to life was preventing him from being a decent guy when he played.
But, again, it’s the highly troublesome conclusion to his career that really gives me pause. Your name surfaces in a fixing scandal. You offer a denial but then—for all intents—never play another ATP match? And when you resurface it’s as a professional poker player? At a bare minimum, that’s not a set of optics worthy of a Hall of Famer. Again, I’m just one vote.
Jon, your criticism of Yevgeny Kafelnikov is much too harsh and unbalanced. That's not like you—makes me wonder if you had a personal experience with him that's influencing your judgment. Do tell.
One important factor in the plus column beyond his multiple singles and doubles Slam trophies is the enormous impact that Kafelnikov had on the rise and proliferation of Russian tennis on both the men's and women's side. It all traces back directly to him. His play and his achievements inspired a nation.
If you are still not convinced can we compromise and at least induct his down the line two-handed backhand into the HOF? That's an egregious omission!
—Ari O., Annandale, Va.
• I’ll give you the backhand. But I stay firm on the nyet vote. (No personal animus and just a lot of unpleasantness, garnished by a highly troubling end to his career.) I like the idea about inducting single strokes. We’ll take nominations….
Meanwhile, I came upon this profile of Kafelnikov. It captures some of my uneasiness.
I will never understand why the tennis world (particularly fans) ALWAYS refer to Serena's demise when she stumbles. She has been in seven of the last nine Grand Slam finals and won five of them (reaching the other two semis). She is still No. 2 in the world. The last talk of her demise was when she won only one Grand Slam title in 2014. Yet she won four straight between 2014-15. No other player is held to such a high standard. And to top it off, she is 35 years old. We don’t even speak of the great Roger Federer’s demise—we still count him in the Big Four, as we should—and he has not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon 2012. Cut the lady some slack. She’s not going to win every tournament, especially in the downside of her career. But to call it a “demise” is simply ridiculous.
• To some extent, Serena is a victim of her own standards. You win three majors and come within a few sets of winning THE Grand Slam in year X; in year X+1, you win one “only” major. Inevitably that’s going to be seen as a disappointment. And when it comes in the same year you turn 35, it's not unreasonable that fans wonder if you have moved past the prime of your meridian.
Your larger point is well taken. Serena’s 2016 major results: F/F/W/SF, a match record of 24-3. If that’s a demise, where does the rest of tennis sign up?
How about a big "jia you" ("let's go" in Chinese) to veteran Peng Shuai? After literally melting down in the semis of the 2014 U.S. Open, then missing 10 months between the 2015 French Open and March 2016 Indian Wells (back surgery), she's back in action this year and just took out a resurgent Venus Williams at the China Open. Great to see her two-handed strokes whipping back and forth again (albeit with the help of quite a few wild cards, especially in the Asian tournaments—not sure she's even had to play a qualifier despite being ranked in the 220s). Which brings me to my question: I'm wondering how the Chinese tennis federation, and the WTA, are feeling about the "China product" these days. There's a cluster of young players in the low 100's, but apart from Zhang Shuai's surprise late-career run at the Australian Open this year, there doesn't seem to be anyone with break-out tennis potential, much less a Li Na-like combo of tennis chops and personality. Thoughts?
—Sharon Ruwart, New York City
• “Jia You” sounds perfect.
Keep the great podcasts coming. Loved listening to Dirk.
About No-Ad scoring, has anyone thought of a compromise? No-Ad scoring should be in effect for all games other than those that decide a set. So at 2-2 No-Ad scoring is in effect at 5-4 it isn't. It will speed up the game but will still impose a difference of two points rule at the end of each set.
• Interesting. I worry it might be a smidge confusing. So you would have it at 1-5 but not 4-4? Still, I like your thinking. I feel like we’re nearing the proverbial tipping point whereby length of matches has to be addressed.
• The next SI Tennis podcast will feature the great Dick Enberg. Oh, my.
• If you missed it, Outside the Lines takes issue with tennis’ anti-doping protocol.
• Thank reader Nanni for this.
• Tuesday was the release date for Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price. You want to read this book.
• In a special on court ceremony today at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) honored Mr. Masaaki Morita by presentation of the 2017 Golden Achievement Award. The award is a salute to his dedicated service to tennis and in particular, for his work to grow the sport in Japan.
• Blake Redabaugh is on the case: I know Sharko is already on it but thought I'd provide info on the most common combo of players to reach the semifinals in Grand Slam history (Open Era) for both men and women.
Four times: Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer
Three times: Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Gerulaitis
Three times: Lendl, Connors, McEnroe, Wilander
Three times: Sanchez-Vicario, Sabatini, Seles, Graf
There are four combos on the men's side and 11 combos on the women's side that have happened twice.
Looking only at ATP Master's level tournament the Big Four combo has actually only happened twice. Here's the full list that's happened more than once...
Three times: Lendl, Connors, McEnroe, Wilander
Two times: Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer
Two times: Ferrer, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer
Two times: Ferrer, Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka
Two times: Del Potro, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer
Two times: Fish, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer