Mailbag: Djokovic's spiritual coach and why Murray deserves to be No. 1

Why Djokovic's decision to add a spiritual coach to his team shows he still cares, plus an argument for why Murray is deserving of the No. 1 ranking.
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After nearly 30 years in public service, we have a new winner, an unabashed feminist, an outsider candidate and an agent of change….Andy Murray.


Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Since Jan 2014, Murray's record against Federer is 0-5, his record against Djokovic is 2-13 and his record against Nadal is 2-4. It's no surprise that with those three missing in action, he has feasted on the rest. Does he deserve his No. 1 ranking?
Thanks, Rajiv

• The dispensers of cold water have been summoned. Several of you noted that during Murray’s assault on Mt. Tennis, he has not beaten any of the Big Three. The other douser we got multiple times: Federer/Nadal/Djokovic average more than 14 among them. Murray has three. Easy on the plaudits.

Murray grouped with Wawrinka, Nishikori, Cilic at ATP Finals

I think your point has some validity. If we control for the quality of opposition, sure we could undercut Murray’s achievements a bit. I still give him a lot of credit a) for opportunism. Good for him for taking advantage of the favorable circumstances. B) for durability. Since July, he’s won big in England, China, Rio and Paris. Ironically in New York—site of his initial 2012 breakthrough—he was upset by a gong and a moth. c) for reminding us you can only beat the players put before you.

Let’s see if Murray can solidify—consolidate, in tennis-speak—his lead with a successful run in London at the regrettably shorthanded ATP WTF. Regardless, good for him. For breaking the decade-long pole position stranglehold of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic.


Hi Jon, should we be really worried about this "guru" Djokovic hired? Is this a Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys type situation? It all seems highly suspect and worrisome to me.
Best, Evan

• Nah. Some new energy, as the kids say. If anything Djokovic’s willingness to tinker and experiment and make a (harmless, low-risk) personnel move suggests that he still cares.

The winds of change of are blowing in men’s tennis. How do you see things playing out in 2017?
Charles, London

The world is closing in. Did you ever think that we could be so close, like brothers? The future's in the air. I can feel it everywhere. Blowing with the wind of change. And something about “Down in Gorky Park.” (Yes, it's those heavily German accented stalwarts of the power rock ballad, the Scorpions.)

Now No. 1, Murray goes to London vying for Djokovic's title

What was your question? Oh, right 2017. Despite a theme of falling empires this week, I still think the Big Four/Five will win the majors. Federer and Nadal will be back. It would not surprise me if either/both picked off another major. More likely, Murray and Djokovic will stake more ground and Wawrinka has proven that he’s a money player when he gets to a final.

The comers—Thiem, Kyrgios, Zverev, Sock, Pouille—will continue coming. But winning seven matches? I don’t see it. And I’ve written this before but I think all the accumulated defeats suffered by the others—Berdych, Tsonga, Nishikori, to a lesser extent Dimitrov and Raonic—has hardened into soft expectation. We all talk about “winds of change” and, no doubt, the consolidated power of the Big Four is cracking a bit. But I wouldn’t sweep any of the four off-stage any time soon.

Jon, this Elite Tournament is ridiculous! You get more points than a Premier Mandatory for winning a tournament where you're guaranteed to NOT meet a top-eight player? Even more ridiculous, a No. 8 player can lose to Nos. 1, 3, 5 in the world and lose a spot to someone who was No. 9 and who didn't meet anyone ranked ahead of her. 
Ro'ee, Israel

It's funny, that occurred to a few of us when this event was announced. Hey, great that you’re adding an Asian event. And great that you’re showcasing 9-16 talent. But how are you awarding so many point to an event that—by definition—lacks the top players?

For the record Petra Kvitova beat Elina Svitolina to the title (and closed out a terrific fall.) In fact let’s pause and give Kvitova some credit. We often chide her for passive play (and results) that is not in keeping with her ferocious talent. But her strong play late in the season in Asia—with a small detour to make the final in Luxembourg—speak well of her professionalism, her durability, and her prospects for 2017.

Anyway where were we? Oh, right. The points breakdown from that Elite event still mystify.

Is Pete Sampras the biggest Andy Murray fan these days? Over the past few years, Pete has seen many of his achievements tied or surpassed by Roger Federer and others. Still, he holds the record for the most year-end No. 1 finishes (six) and most consecutive years finishing at No. 1 (also six.) While the consecutive streak is not in jeopardy at this time, a good performance in London could give Novak Djokovic the No. 1 ranking for a fifth time overall. If the Djoker pulls it off, will the quest for six be one of the major stories of 2017? 
Daniel Rabbitt, Morrisville, N.C. 

• Good point. Hadn’t thought of that. I do feel like we need to perform a periodic public service and point how just how stellar a player Pete Sampras was. And when you think about what it entails—and what it avoids: burnout, injuries, spiritual lapses—six straight year-end No.1 rankings is an incredible achievement.

Mailbag: Kerber's successful year leaves 2017 WTA season up for grabs

It’s one of the central truths of the sports canon: records were made to be broken. But it would have been nice if Sampras had a bit more time to bask. Think about the decades afforded and accorded Hank Aaron and Roger Maris and Michael Jordan and the 1972 Dolphins or the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers (who endure as the last teams to go undefeated in their sports.)

Pete Sampras sets the record for majors in 2000. In 2002, he wins the U.S. Open for his 14th major and doesn’t play another sanctioned match. In 2003, Roger Federer is beginning his run of excellence. By 2009 he has overtaken Sampras. Sampras is now, of course, tied with Nadal. Djokovic is coming on strong. Imagine telling Sampras in 2002 that within 15 years not only would his record be broken but THREE players would either tie or surpass him.

Hi Jon, I have two requests, if you don't mind:

1. Please consider getting Lindsay Davenport on the podcast again! I loved her insight! I also just listened to your Riske podcast and thought it was great too. 

2. Question for Mailbag: What value do you think Pepe Imaz has/will bring to the Djokovic camp? For Djokovic, do you think the most important thing is his metal state at this stage of his career, considering he is more or less head and shoulders above the rest of the field tennis-wise?

1) We’re currently in negotiations with Lindsay’s agent so we’ll let you know how that goes.

Djokovic says Imaz not a 'guru' just part of coaching team

2) I love the move by Djokovic to bring in a figure shrouded in mystery and can’t figure out why he has bristled at the word “guru.” Players talk all the time—and rightly so—about the mental and emotional rigors of the sport. It stands to reason that a life coach or someone providing spiritual guidance would be a benefit.

Long as we’re here: has anyone done a long-form piece on Marko Djokovic? Imagine if Federer or Nadal had a brother who played at a high level, but whose high ranking was No. 581. What’s he up to now? How has he reconciled his career with his brother’s towering success? Is he happy? How invested does he feel in his siblings success? Has he found fulfillment outside of tennis? I’m reading that for sure.

Why hasn't Rafa ever replicated the serve that won him the 2010 U.S. Open? 
J from Queens 

• I don’t have a good answer but it’s a fair question. The serve, of course, is the only stroke in tennis that you—and only you—control.

Regarding the unusualness of the Zverev brothers relationship with the older brother a journeyman and the younger brother a star, it reminds me a little of the Rochus brothers although they were only three years apart (as opposed to 10 for the Zverevs).  Big brother Cristophe made it to a career high No. 62 before little brother (pun intended) Olivier made it all the way to No. 24. Cristophe earned a career total of $2.3 million in earnings with 109 match wins in zero singles titles and one doubles title, while Olivier earned $4.8 million in career earnings with 237 match wins in two singles titles and two doubles titles. Cristophe was very supportive of Olivier's career and they played doubles a few times together.
Ted Ying, Laurel, Md.

• Thanks, Ted. I’ll jump on your second question. Since you brought them up, the Rochus brothers were the last sibling pair to be ranked in the ATP’s top 100 simultaneously. But I’m not sure they approach the Zverev/Zverev dynamic. The age, for one thing: 10 years is a huge gap. How many 29-year-olds hang out with teenagers? Also the notion that one brother is scratching out a living while the other has been pegged as a future champion. Consider: 19-year-old Sascha is approaching $2 million in prize money. Mischa, who turned pro more than a decade ago is at $2.6 million.

Nadal to return next month in Abu Dhabi exhibition

Just to be clear: I think this is really cool. Clearly there’s a real kinship and warmth that passes between them. I just can’t think of a comparable set of circumstances, at least not in sports.

Shots, Miscellany

• Our most recent podcast: Ali Riske (who was excellent).

• Quick tip of the cap to John Isner. His run the Paris final means that he finishes yet another year as the American No. 1.

• John McEnroe has some interesting thoughts about Nike and its marketing budget.

• Andy Murray’s new ranking means new money.

• This week’s unsolicited book recommendation: Los Angeles in the 1970s. It includes a tennis essay by Joel Drucker.

Andy Murray beats John Isner to win Paris Masters title

• Press releasing: The WTA has established a WTA Coach Program, launching in January 2017 as the new season begins. WTA coaches will be recognized as a WTA Registered Coach under a formalized WTA Coach Program. The WTA Coach Program is designed to professionalize, standardize, and recognize the important role of coaching on the WTA, signifying that coaches are a key element of the WTA business.

This newly formed program will allow world class coaches, whether working with top players or emerging talent, access to benefits at WTA tournaments, professional development programs, and will provide more opportunities to broaden the product and the WTA audience, becoming a marketable asset for women’s professional tennis. It will also allow fans the ability to get closer to the game and the on court action through coaches. 

• Ted has our reader riff: Steve in Dallas’ question about how tennis tournaments stay in the black with dropping in-person attendance is actually a measure of tennis’ international appeal. Many of the bigger tennis tournaments get as much, if not more, revenue from sponsorship and media rights than they do in person ticket sales. The issue is that tennis is an international sport. When 98% of your audience lives outside of easy travel distance to your event, you are going to get more mileage from Internet viewing and sports network viewing. Hence ESPN, Tennis Channel and other network rights to events are more critical. These networks get their money back by selling advertising and commercial sales. So, an event that can get a big network or internet site to carry their event and pay for the rights will do a lot more to carry the tournament than in person sales. It's the way of the future. There's a reason that WTA Networks just launched and is trying to get into the market. They're hoping that by offering some additional content that other networks won't get, including off-court personal interest stories and smaller tournaments that may not be worth networks’ interest to cover, they can get a corner of the market and make money off this developing market.

• Karen Pestaina has long lost siblings Novak Djokovic and (the comparably struggling) Aaron Rodgers: