Mailbag: Sharapova's return, Kvitova's ranking, match-fixing and more

Thoughts on Maria Sharapova's scheduled doping ban return in April in Stuttgart, plus details on how Petra Kvitova's absence will affect her ranking, match-fixing and more.
Publish date:

Hey, everyone. Some programming notes:

1. We have a new podcast episode with Martina Navratilova coming tomorrow.

2. We’ll have 2017 Australian Open seed reports over the weekend.

3. We’ll have an SI tennis roundtable coming later this week.

4. The corporate soldier in me notes that Tennis Channel's daily coverage of the Australian Open starts on Sunday in the US, 6 p.m. ET (10 a.m. local) with the pregame show and then matches. Same time throughout the tournament.

5. A quick Mailbag this week…..

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

What's a better bet for 2017? Nadal wins in Paris or Federer wins at Wimbledon?
Name misplaced

• Good topic. Can we revisit in two+ weeks?

Nick Kyrgios wears ‘F--- Donald Trump’ shirt after match

You probably have got tons of mail re: Sharapova’s return in Stuttgart. I see both sides of the argument: On one hand, everybody is playing within the rules and hence, should be fine. On the other hand, the tournament seeming to be bending backwards to letting their star player return the next day the ban ends makes for bad optics about the sport and the people running it. But to me what is more baffling is Sharapova’s PR team’s handling of this whole affair. Sure, she can play the very next day but how about letting this tournament slide. That way, you are not subjecting your client to deal with an unfavorable stance from many tennis fans and definitely at least some of the players. Why make it more difficult than need be? It feels like the second miss from her PR team. Would have thought they would especially be more careful after how they mishandled the meldonium fiasco. But what do I know!?! What do you say?
Jay Jayanna

• Well….it struck me that there is something very meta about it all. This whole unpleasant ordeal—as well the appeal—revolved around loopholes and dates and spirit-versus-letter distinctions. Then, for her first tournament back, Sharapova will be suspended when the event begins but eligible midweek for her first match? Sometimes tennis has a wicked sense of irony.

Awkward as it is to have a star attracted who won’t even be permitted on the grounds until the middle Wednesday, this doesn’t bother me. Technically, she won’t play until her ban lapses. Which is all that really matters.

The cynic notes that this Stuttgart tournament is the Porsche Grand Prix and Porsche, of course, is a chief Sharapova sponsor. The pragmatist notes that this event is a tune-up to the major she has the best shot at winning. In need of match play after 15 months of idleness, she is well advised to enter.

Beyond the Baseline Podcast: James Blake on Djokovic, Federer, Nadal in 2017

Hi Jon: It pains me that you haven't responded to any of my tweets/questions...That's how much I adore your work (your Mailbag for tennis)!!  Anyways, I have an interesting question to ask you: 23 years ago (in 1993), Monica Seles got stabbed during a tennis match. Fast forward to now, Petra Kvitova gets knifed whilst in her home. Both Grand Slam champions, both well respected athletes with plenty of fans. One gets hurt during her “job” whilst the other not. But both have injuries that have derailed/will derail their careers. I recall that many female players didn't want Monica to keep her No. 1 ranking when she got stabbed but she had a protected ranking anyway. What would happen with Kvitova then? Would she be able to keep her No. 11 ranking despite losing all those points (for not playing)? How would that work in the WTA rule book? Would Kerber, Serena, etc. get a say in such matters?

I hope Kvitova gets some leniency! Thanks for responding to this one...Please do.....
Miguel, Sydney, Australia  

• See that, guys? That’s how you flatter and get your question answered. (Joking.) Let’s take moment to reflect on Kvitova:

As for her ranking when she returns, here’s the WTA’s response:

As she will be out of competition for six months, Petra will be eligible to protect her current ranking of No. 11 under the WTA’s special rankings rules.

The WTA Special Ranking Rule allows players who are sidelined with the ability to return to competition to use their ranking at the time of the start of their absence. The WTA Special Ranking is outlined in the WTA Rulebook, in order to be eligible for a WTA Special Ranking in either singles or doubles:

• A player must have been out of competition a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years; and

• At the time she stopped playing, must have been ranked in the Top 300 in singles or Top 200 in doubles

A player can use their WTA Special Ranking to gain entry (not for seeding) into eight tournaments within one year of their return date. The Special Ranking can be used at a maximum of two Premier Mandatory Tournaments (Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Beijing) and two Grand Slams.

Additionally, WTA players are allowed three main draw wildcards with some exceptions outlined in the WTA rulebook. As a past Grand Slam champion and WTA Finals champion, Kvitova is eligible to receive unlimited wildcard nominations. In addition to her special ranking, this will allow for another way she can enter tournaments, regardless of her ranking.

Mailbag: Why the Australian Open is scheduled two weeks into the season

When a cancer is discovered, you want to treat it right away before it spreads. In the same vein, shouldn't the media, the tour and everybody actually be more vigilant in addressing and eliminating match-fixing before it spreads to bigger tournaments? Thanks.
Allan Cruz, Exton, Pa.

• You’ll recall that last year, the Australian Open—on Day One, no less—was disrupted by the report of rampant match-fixing in tennis. This year, organizers have announced steps to crack down on corrupt behavior. While it’s mostly symbolic, the decision to decline sponsorships from gambling houses (and banning their signage on courts) is commendable.

I have mixed feelings on your point. Yes it’s important to stamp out any culture of corruption and rid the sport of the ethically bankrupt. Excise the malignancy before it metastasizes. (This is like grunting on a more sinister level.) Zero tolerance must be the policy.

At the same time, I do think that market forces are going to be tough to overcome, creating (and perhaps solving) this unfortunate issue. By the time you are a Tour level player, the economics change and with it, the risk/reward analysis. On Monday, the Tennis Integrity Folks sent out another release about a bust.

“Brandon Walkin, 22, a singles player ranked 1,066, was given a six months suspension after being found guilty of a charge of contriving or attempting to contrive the outcome of an event, a violation of Section D.1.d. of the Program. …Isaac Frost, 28, ranked 1,515 in singles, was found to have failed to co-operate with the TIU by refusing a request to supply his cell phone for analysis during the investigation.”

Walkin’s career earnings: $5,722. In his most recent event, he took home $104. Frost, age 28, has made $31,652 since turning pro in 2007. No one has sympathy for cheaters. But you can see why a guy who makes $104 in prize money can be enticed to behave corruptly.

The bad news: so long as they can make multiples of their annual prize money—thus prolonging their careers—with one bad act, desperate players of this level are always going to be susceptible. The less bad news: at higher levels, with much more at stake and less day-to-day desperation, players are less likely to go to this dark side.

What's in store for 2017? Looking ahead to the upcoming tennis season

Jon, I for one, am extremely disappointed that the WTA has decided to launch their own live streaming of matches and it will cost me to subscribe—I will not do it. As much as I love watching tennis, I will not pay for a subscription to watch...I wonder how many others feel the way I do.
Helen, New York

• I am torn here between giving the WTA the benefit of the doubt and being true to the readership, which—overwhelmingly and vocally—has been complaining about this issue of late. I mentioned this to the WTA and was pointed to this statement. This is obviously a complex issue. But given the critical importance of live programming in sports, you have to think that the WTA recognizes this and has a strategy.

My tennis 2017 wish: no Djoker vs Berdych matches.
James, Portland

• Stressing that this is about two clashing styles—and not personal animus—we could do a thread on “matches we’d be fine never seeing again.” I’ll see your Djoker/Berdych and raise you a Cilic/Isner.

Hello, Jon! Happy New Year! In regards to athlete comparisons, I quote "...What about Djokovic: Ronaldo….Murray: Messi?"

I'd say, what about Djokovic: Lendl...Murray: Wilander, especially after Federer-Nadal was Borg-McEnroe in terms of anticipation and drama...good matches, but so far hardly classics in the sense of Wimbledon finals ‘80 and ‘08. Not sure if that will ever happen, considering their styles. Both Lendl and Wilander were multiple slam champions, but hardly any of their matches are remembered as classics...

Just a thought...Cheers!
Raul from Evanston

• Well played.

Shots, Miscellany

• On the most recent Sports Illustrated/Tennis Channel podcast, James Blake talks about Serena Williams, life on the Legends Tour and coaching.

• Next guest: Martina Navratilova joins me to discuss the Australian Open.

• As of Wednesday, here’s the 2017 Australian Open casualty list:


Sharapova – suspension
Azarenka – baby!
Kvitova – left hand
Keys – wrist
Friedsam – shoulder
Ivanovic – retired
Bellis – hamstring
Lisicki – shoulder
Stephens – foot


Del Potro – rest
Monaco – wrist
Robredo – foot
Berankis – hip
Anderson – hip
Millman – hip

• “For its 10th straight year of Australian Open coverage Tennis Channel is adding venerable sportscaster and journalist Mary Carillo to its on-air team. Carillo, who appears on Tennis Channel throughout the year and at each of the other three majors, will handle play-by-play duties as well as special features throughout the two-week event. Coverage begins on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. ET, and runs through Jan. 29. ‘I'm excited to join my Tennis Channel colleagues in Melbourne for the Australian Open,’ said Carillo. ‘The year's first major always comes with the unique energy and high expectations of a new tennis season.’"

• Your Australian Open suicide pool. We will ply the winners with a prize. Enter here

• Loved this piece by Kevin Armstrong (former tennis Mailbag producer!) on tennis fan Earl Monroe

• Nicole LaDuca has been appointed as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's new Communications Coordinator. A former East Carolina University women's tennis player, LaDuca will begin her duties with the ITA on January 11.

Graham Powell writes: Well not exactly, but I'll explain. I'm a big fan of British TV and I've recently started watching Miss Marple from the mid-2000s. In the episode "Towards Zero" one of the characters is a top tennis pro who (spoiler alert!) loses the Wimbledon final to his much younger rival “Merrill.” I always watch the credits to see if I recognize the names of any of the bit players, and Merrick was literally a player. So Rusedski got to win Wimbledon. Though the linesman missed a call on match point! Just a bit of trivia that I thought you might enjoy. 

• The USTA Foundation announced that it has been selected as the official charity of the 2017 BNP Paribas Showdown. This marks the fourth consecutive year the USTA Foundation will serve as the event’s official charity.

Hat tip to Lin Loring, the venerable Indiana coach who announced his retirement this week.

• The USTA today held the ceremonial “First Serve” at the USTA National Campus, the new “Home of American Tennis” located at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.  The model tennis facility, featuring 100 courts, will serve as the new “Home of American Tennis,” by combining all USTA participation programs and USTA Player Development in a central location for the first time. The groundbreaking, state-of-the art complex is designed to enhance the sport at every level and create an unparalleled playing, training, coaching and educational experience for recreational players, competitive players, coaches and spectators.

• TJ of Tysons Corner has a reader riff: Since you have made the comparison, as a dual-sport fan, I'll jump in with my thoughts and extend the analogy. In as much as T20 looks like 'cricket', it is a far cry from Test cricket (the original game played over a ridiculously long 5 days). Most players (the non-T20 mercenaries anyway) will admit to this chasm if caught in a non-diplomatic moment. The beauty, however, is that T20 and Test cricket (along with the intermediate duration One Day version) coexist as formats. T20 clearly brings in the crowds, several of them newbies to the game who sometimes get hooked and gravitate to the older, more traditional forms. Likewise, Fast4 and traditional tennis do not have to be a binary proposition. Just like cricket, Fast4 can be developed as a format to evolve into its own ecosystem of players, rules, audiences, and championships. In 2016, long form cricket had a banner year with several exciting matches (I know how unbelievable that sounds to a novice reader.) and the game, at least for the foreseeable future, is not under threat of being subsumed by the short-form versions—some format and timing changes notwithstanding. 

Anecdotally at least, I have observed hard-core tennis fans to be traditionalists and hence I am not too surprised at their resistance to radical changes. With the parallel development of Fast4, I am excited at the opportunity in front of us to expand the tennis viewer base, appease the TV scheduling gods with short matches which can never go to 70-68 extremes, and give marketers a modern product which they can leverage for improving the bottom-line.