- Breaking down why Maria Sharapova could sue the ITF, plus a breakdown of the missteps in the process and more Tennis Hall of Fame talk.
• The great Dick Enberg was the guest on the most recent SI Tennis Podcast and, oh my, was he good.
• Quick personal announcement: While it won't change my duties at Sports Illustrated or Tennis Channel, I am joining the 60 Minutes sports show as a full-time correspondent. If you guys have ideas or tips or issues you’d like covered (sports or non-sports), I’m happy to hear any and all suggestions. Feel free to contact me at the Mailbag address.
• A “Day of Atonement” Mailbag…..
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
You’re Sharapova, you just won an appeal and received a reasonable sentence. Why bother suing the ITF? You don’t need the money. Whatever harm they inflicted on your brand with a slightly harsher sentence pales in comparison to your own responsibility for it. Surely you have more fun things to do than talk to lawyers. What’s the angle here, reputation management? Is this mostly driven by her lawyers, for the billable hours?
• Lots of you asked this and, well, let’s play this one down the middle. You’re potentially suing the ITF because you are a fiercely competitive, offense-minded athlete in an individual sport. Because you feel slighted and genuinely wronged and unfairly targeted. Because you felt one of the worst things a human can feel—voiceless—for much of this process. (This is where I have the most empathy for Sharapova; the process demands that the accused remain silent while everything else offers opinion and statements of fact.) Anyway, you’re potentially suing because you’re really mad. And because you can. Your pockets were sufficiently deep to hire the expert counsel of Howard Jacobs—who got your ban reduced by nine months (and more significantly by four Slams)—and you can afford to be the plaintiff now.
More cynically, why are you suing? Because your image and integrity have taken a severe hit and—even swaddled with a “support team” and with various layers of insulation from reality—deep down, you recognize this and now you seek to reverse your losses, both to your finances and your credibility. Or, conversely, you are so sufficiently sequestered from reality that you genuinely feel like a victim here.
And now…for the broadening portion of today’s rant: Many of you, from fans to Hall of Famers (see below), have made mention of the missteps throughout this process. They are many, to be sure, I agree.
Imagine if Maria took time during interviews or quotes to explain why she loves the great sport of tennis & why kids everywhere should play!— Pam Shriver (@PHShriver) October 5, 2016
But let’s also be clear: they are not limited to Sharapova and her camp’s clumsiness.
The ITF clearly needs to review its procedures and make some changes. The mere fact that each of the last SIX tribunal bans have been shortened by CAS ought to send a signal. Specifics:
1. The “independence” of the panel is dubious, given that, according to the Sharapova camp, a chairman of the tribunal had been designated by the ITF before Sharapova had even been made aware of her violation.
2. Dr. Stuart Miller’s role in the selection of the tribunal, and his role as the lead “prosecutor” on anti-matters, triggers conflict-of-interest bells.
3. If you are armed with the knowledge that Player X is using a legal substance, when that substance moves to the banned list, is there no obligation to alert Player X of this change?
4. The ITF’s press release last week was unnecessary and, on its face, factually inaccurate. (It didn’t seek a four-year ban for Sharapova? That’s simply not credible, given the initial tribunal’s extended discussion over whether Sharapova’s use was intentional performance enhancement.)
More ick? Shame on Head rackets for the vile and cynical and wondrously tone-deaf offer of “congratulations” to an athlete banned for “only” 15 months for a doping violation.
Especially when other Head athletes (see: Murray, Andy for starters) have been so vocal about a clean sport, how on earth do you take this stance, gloatingly cavalier at best; morally bankrupt at worst?
And for Sharapova, oh, to posses the humility/grace to recognize the difference between a reduced sentenced and an exoneration. Victory laps are not in order. Neither is a pose of martyrdom. “I don’t want this to happen,” she says, “to anyone else.” Here’s the thing: the athletes who don’t consume banned substances—or, at a minimum, the athletes who read emails pertaining to the most serious topic in an athlete’s professional career—don't face this risk.
All of which to say: no one looks good here. Nobody has won, save the lawyers and their billable hours. Nobody should be gloating. Nobody comes in for “congratulations.” This is ought to be viewed as a regrettable chapter—with ample blame spread around like a garden hose on a clay court—consigned to the past. Not an active, roiling feud, kept alive by dueling press releases and veiled threats of litigation.
A nice contrast to the problems with enshrining Kafelnikov in the HOF: Has there ever been a more well regarded player off the court on the ballot than Kim Clijsters? When thinking about her legacy, you could point to her great hardcourt game and signature split or that she came back as a mother and won the U.S. Open in only her third tournament back. But personally, I'm thinking her genuine kindness trumps all. When you can't find a fellow player who has something bad to say about you, I think that speaks volumes above all else.
• True. (Though let’s be honest: with her credentials, she could have the collegiality and warmth of Cruella de Vil and still be enshrined.)
While reading your thoughts on Kafelnikov's absence from the Hall of Fame I was getting more and more thoughtful about Marcelo Rios. A little afraid to ask, actually. Only one of the 25 No. 1-ranked players ever (yes, only six weeks, but more than inductee Patrick Rafter)... 171 weeks as Top 10... Five Super 9 titles... jaw dropping talent... but I guess you have something to say about the "other" side of his biography and how could tarnish his chances.
P.S.: He would not give a damn if he's ever nominated or not.
—Regards from Chile, Daniel
• Now that’s an induction speech I would pay to hear. But, alas, boundless talent and a top ranking can’t overcome zero Slams. (Though one of the untold tennis stories: Rios lost the 1998 Aussie Open final to Petr Korda who got popped for PED’s not long thereafter.)
While Wawrinka should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer, the reader comparison to Murray is excessive—particularly the arguments that he is "3-0 [in] Slam Finals" and "his Slam resume is more diverse than Murray's." It is ludicrous to suggest that a player with far more major semis (19 to 7), Masters finals (19 to 3), and singles titles (39 to 15) is not much different than Stan, simply because of the number of majors won. This is like saying Michael Chang's career was not much better than Gaston Gaudio's. In the same way Federer's success on clay has hurt his "GOAT" case—due to the frequent finals appearances against Rafa—so now Murray is being penalized for getting to too many finals.
• Yes, that was precisely the same point I made. I’d rather be 3-100 in major finals than 3-0. In no way is this to denigrate Wawrinka, but Murray’s career is vastly superior. If—and only if—comparing contemporaries, prize money can be a helpful guide. (The free market libertarian in me works on the assumption that the most esteemed events pay accordingly and that the market reflects merit.) Murray is 29 and his earnings are currently $51 million. Wawrinka is 31 and he’s earned $26.5 million.
Do you think there will someday be a fifth slam added to the calendar after the U.S. Open? I feel we are heading that way. My logic is that the tours both put a lot of emphasis on the Asia markets, and tournaments are being added there accordingly. However, some big names are skipping them (see: Serena), and one can only conclude it's because the tournaments aren't building up to some bigger conclusion. Your thoughts?
—Jon B., Seattle, Wash.
• A few years ago, there was real pressure to either add a Slam in China or allow a Chinese Slam to colonize and relocate the Australian Open. Inasmuch as that was seen as a threat, it was thwarted. For a few reasons: 1) the Aussie Open elevated its game, upgrading its facilities and prize money 2) it cleverly branded itself as the Slam of Asia/Pacific, luring sponsors like Kia 3) the Chinese economy cooled off. I’m not sure “four” is a sacred number for majors. If Slams are the tentpoles and bring in the revenue and eyeballs, is there a way to expand this without diluting the existing properties? And, yes, China/Asia is the site. And, yes, the fall is the obvious time. As it stands now—and has for years—there’s really a sense of anticlimax after the U.S. Open.
If you can stand one more letter on the Tennis HOF, I have an (unsettling?) observation regarding candidates from the ATP. For the last 13 years, 43 of 52 Slams were won by three men (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic), none of whom seem to show any inclination to retire in the near future. The other nine slams have been won by five men: Murray (3), Wawrinka (3), Safin (1), Roddick (1), and Cilic (1). The only two of that group that have retired, are already enshrined (Safin) or are on this year's ballot (Roddick). Since you have to wait five years after retirement to get into the HOF, that leaves some slim pickings for the next five years or so. I assume Lleyton Hewitt gets in on his first try, but since he just retired, what do you do for the five years until he is eligible?
• Are you kidding? There can't be enough of Hall of Fame questions. I was thinking about this quirk and I landed here: I wonder if we’re not so interested in the Hall of Fame not simply because it validates (or repudiates) our fandom of Player X, but also because it becomes this referendum on a successful career. What matters? What doesn’t? What can and can’t be offset?
Anyway, you raise an excellent point. The concentrated winning of the Big Four/Five prevented other colleagues from amassing Hall of Fame credentials. There’s a deeper metaphor here, but the women can help with some of the load. (Li Na, start dress shopping.) Same for doubles players.
The deep, dark secret—one we feel comfortable revealing given the attention we confer on the ITHOF each week—is that the enshrinement weekend plays so small role in fundraising. Which is to say: be assured someone will be enshrined each July.
Let’s not degrade tennis by scoring this debate in tennis terms Jon. I would have never shielded my kids from watching a tennis match…My daughters asking me whether they can watch the debate today and I said no waayyyy….Sad state of affairs when you have to shield kids from watching a presidential debate.
• I got this before the debate and agree. Seemed a little tone-deaf to score this tennis-style.
• Unclear whether to be optimistic or pessimistic but this piece by Peter Bodo should be mandatory reading and, then, mandatory thinking.
• In the interest of fairness, if you haven’t read this, here’s the Sharapova rejoinder we had referenced last week.
• Reader James Pham will be a contributor at this week’s Shanghai Rolex Masters with player interviews and quirky around-the-grounds posts.
• Faithful reader Cliff Voth was kind enough to note: You mentioned in the Mailbag that there were six players who have pulled off the Williams-Williams feat. I believe you missed a couple: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Sydney 1998 and Jelena Jankovic, Rome 2010.
• Eighteen-year-old Frances Tiafoe achieved a career-high No. 100 ATP ranking and put himself in prime position to claim the "ATP Star of Tomorrow" award by winning his second ATP Tour Challenger title at the Stockton $100,000 Challenger in Stockton, Calif., on Sunday.
• This week’s reader riff—note how I have subtly changed this from the less benign “reader rant”—come from J. Diersing: A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to sit next to a woman on a Southwest flight from Portland to San Diego who turned out to be a very serious tennis fan. She emigrated from the Soviet Union back in the 1980s, and is now an American citizen. Her knowledge of the tennis world was amazing. She pointed out several players she thought might be able to really move up in the next couple of years. Zverev was at the top of her list, but I think that is a given. Ironically, her next future pick, Karen Khachanov, just won his first title. She was also very big on Daria Kasatkina. She also liked Dennis Novikov—American who played for UCLA—but felt he is too inconsistent. She felt Donskoy and Medvedev have potential, but are not physically imposing enough. From the little I have seen on Khachanov, he seems to move well for a big guy, and has a bit of a del Potro style. He also seems to be enjoying himself, and he comes across as a nice kid in his interviews. Kasatkina seems along the lines of a Kerber/Radwanska type player. Looking at the Challenger results, it seems like Novikov is having a rough spell, but he has had some good wins in the past.
One last name in the mix (non-Russian): Ernesto Escobedo. I saw his U.S. Open win, and he can really hit the ball. Given the lack of American players of Hispanic descent, it seems like he would be someone the media would pick up on. I did see a clip of him totally choking up after losing a Challenger final in North Carolina, and it was really hard to watch. (I felt bad for him, as opposed to thinking he was a jerk.)