A look at five up-and-coming players who have had breakthrough moments at Indian Wells, plus Rafael Nadal in doubles, Vasek Pospisil and more.

By Jon Wertheim
March 15, 2017

INDIAN WELLS – ­A quick Mailbag from Indian Wells but first some programming notes:

1) The lovely, the talented Andrea Petkovic has kindly agreed to fill in as guest host next week. If you have a question for one of the most nimble and curious minds in tennis, we’ll make sure she gets it.

2) The most recent SI/Tennis Channel podcast features guest Sloane Stephens. She was great:


Jon, I’m enjoying the Tennis Channel coverage, but liked it better when your studio was outdoors and I could see your guests! I was very impressed watching Vasek Pospisil beat Andy Murray. Give me your five breakthroughs at this great event!
Charles, Los Angeles

• Full disclosure: This question came before Pospisil lost to Dusan Lajovic in his next match, squandering a match point. But, yes, good for Pospy. Five others off the top of my head:

a) As I write this, Lauren Davis has won 16 WTA matches in 2017. Not a physically imposing player but an awful lot of fight.

b) Donald Young could have been a tennis tragedy. Here he is, still only 27, and playing top 40 level tennis.

c) Kayla Day won five sets here. She turns 18 during the U.S. Open.

d) Yoshi Nishioka will get the inevitable Nishikori comps, but he’s a different, fun-to-watch player.

e) Doubles involving the top singles players is a great product. How do we replicate this elsewhere? Speaking of….

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Is Rafael Nadal the best doubles player in tennis?
Paul, Rancho Mirage

• We discussed this on Twitter. Nadal—the reigning gold medalist alongside Marc Lopez—is a tremendous doubles player. It’s a real credit to his uncle that he is so polished at the net and possesses such underrated hands. (We note that he made a couple of unforced errors with Bernie Tomic, in their defeat against Raj Ram and Raven Klassen.)

 I fell out of my comfortable chair when I saw Nadal and Tomic paired in the star-studded doubles draw at Indian Wells. I know Tennis Australia is involved with Nadal's academy; but I can't possibly imagine Nadal stomaching any of Tomic's typical behavior. Is this the power of marketing and a sign that Tomic has draw in his homeland

• Straight from the horse’s mouth , here’s Nadal:

Long story short: this was a make good from Brisbane. For the record, Nadal and Tomic—though wonderfully entertaining to watch—fell to Raven Klassen and Indiana’s Rajeev Ram in round two.

The dreaded hypothetical question: As a proud Canadian (now more than ever, I may add...), I was thrilled to see Vasek's recent win over Murray at Indian Wells. It made me wonder... Let's say both of these Canadians' careers end tomorrow, who gets into the HOF? And if neither, who would deserve it more? Vasek or Milos? Only one of them holds a Grand Slam title.
L.T., Toronto

• Whoa. Bless both of those guys, and all credit to Pospisil. But he is close to the Hall of Fame, the way Vancouver is close to Halifax. He’s never been in the top 20! Raonic is closer. But for as often as we disagree about criteria, can come to some accord that players must win at least one major before consideration?

I don't know if you ever heard from a probability expert re: the Rotterdam qualifying win reversal, but here it goes again!

IW Qualifying: Elias Ymer defeats (3) Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-1

IW 1st Round: (LL) Yoshihito Nishioka defeats (Q) Elias Ymer 64 61
Cheers, Chris

• Well played, sir. And, as I write this, Nishioka made the most of this, beating Tomas Berdych to reach the round of 16.

Nick Kyrgios hot-shots his way to a fourth-round Indian Wells match with Novak Djokovic

A quick check on TennisAbstract.com reveals that Roger Federer has a losing 1-2 career record against players ranked No. 116 in the world. His two losses are, of course, well documented, coming against Sergiy Stakhovsky (Wimbledon 2013) and Evgeny Donskoy (Dubai 2017), and his lone victory was in the second round of Doha in 2012, where he defeated Grega Zemlja 6-2, 6-3 (whom I observe is on the entry list for Miami qualifying). Federer can at least take comfort knowing the current world No 116, Stefan Kozlov, is in the adjacent quarter of the Indian Wells draw and thus does not pose an immediate threat. Here is the link for the filtered data on TennisAbstract.
Alexander F., Vancouver, BC, Canada

• Well played, sir.           

Hi Jon, you asked, in your latest Mailbag, about which players had the least variance from one wing to another. I would say, of top 50 players, it's Wawrinka (I know his backhand is prettier, but the forehand is SO underrated), Nishikori, Goffin, Berdych, Dimitrov, Pouille, Simon, Bautista-Agut, Alex Zverev, Kohlschreiber, Ferrer, Sousa, Evans, Fognini, Schwartzmann. 

My list brings me to an interesting conclusion. Most of the players with the least variance actually seem to be in the bottom half of the top 50. I think this shows the huge value in having a big weapon in reaching the top of the game, a prize that might be even more valued than having a complete game. For this reason, players like Sock, Raonic, and Tsonga are in the top 20 (their big serve, big forehand tactic can hide their weaker backhands). 

This logic, however, doesn't hold for the Big Four who have weapons as well as a complete game. The only reason Roger, Rafa, Novak, and Andy aren't in the list of least variance is because each possesses one groundstroke that is legendary. Roger and Rafa have two of the best forehands of all time and the same should be said for the Djokovic and Murray backhands. Any thoughts?
Rohit Sudarshan, Washington, D.C.

• That’s a fair point. So many top players have a kill shot. Del Potro’s forehand is markedly better than his backhand….not because his backhand is weak, but because his forehand is weapons grade. It’s interesting that both Federer and Nadal have superior forehands—if for very different reasons—while Murray and Djokovic have pick-your-poison.

Serena Williams withdraws from Indian Wells and Miami Open citing knee injury

Is Pospisil the first Canadian to beat a World No. 1 since Daniel Nestor (No. 238) d. Stefan Edberg in 1992 first round Davis Cup tie?
Thierry C.

• Yes.

Re: Sharapova getting or not getting a wild card: I say neither. Let her enter the qualifications of French Open and earn her right into main draw.
Subhadeep from Cincinnati, Ohio

• You’re singing my song here. By entering the qualifying draw, she comes out looking virtuous, which is half the battle right now. Here’s what I’m seeing: some of you are convinced this was a witch-hunt and Sharapova is a victim. Some of you think she is an irredeemable cheater who should be banned for life. Most of you fall in the middle—uneasy about her severity of the punishment; uneasy about the dubious science on meldonium; but also uneasy about the slate of wild cards that awaits.

For a reader riff on Sharapova, see below.

Beyond the Baseline Podcast: Sloane Stephens

Shots, Miscellany

• Some potential good news: I’m hearing that a south Florida-based sports mogul has been talking to IMG about joining forces and keeping the Miami Open local, be it at the embattled current venue or an alternative site. (IMG declined comment.)

Tennis Channel added 7.8 million homes in its most recent Nielsen universe estimate, making it the fastest growing network in all of television from the February-to-March universe calculations. The additional subscribers in the new March universe estimate bring the channel's overall distribution reach to just above 52 million homes around the United States, as Tennis Channel is covering two of the sport's most prestigious events: the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Miami Open in South Florida.

• Michael Joyce—Maria Sharapova’s former aide-de-camp—is now working with Victoria Azarenka.

Mailbag: Should Maria Sharapova be given a French Open wildcard?

• Sascha Baijin—formerly of the S. Williams and V. Azarenka camp—is now working with Carolina Wozniacki on a trial basis through Charleston.

• David Taylor—formerly of S. Stosur camp—is working with Naomi Osaka.

• Mylan World TeamTennis (WTT) announced that the league’s co-founder and sports icon Billie Jean King sold her majority ownership of the world-renowned sports organization to Mark Ein, founder and owner of the Washington Kastles, and Fred Luddy, owner of the San Diego Aviators. King will retain a minority stake in WTT and continue as the majority owner of the Philadelphia Freedoms franchise. Mark Ein will become Chairman of WTT and Ilana Kloss will remain in her position as CEO and Commissioner through 2017.

• Ken Soh has this week’s LLS: Every five minutes during the Australian Open TV coverage, Expedia ran an ad for Visiting Britain. The Scot from “the Highlands” is a dead ringer for Andy Murray. In fact I thought it might have been a cameo like the Visit California ads. 

• Steven G. has this week’s reader riff:

I think when Andy Murray, a well known feminist (I despise such terms as a slap to the face of humanity that such a word must still exist) and Caroline Wozniacki come out against you, that should give you pause. But you're right...sponsor commits and all must be taken into consideration. But I am sure Porsche asked Sharapova if she was up to playing and would have acquiesced if she said no. And I disagree with the time served-punishment fulfilled argument. If someone robs a 7Eleven and goes to prison for a couple of years that doesn't affect the international image of the United States. Cheating in a sport is completely different because a crime within directly affects the sports image, which can affect its bottom line. The sport, unlike the nation, can be devastated by an athlete’s crime against it. An athlete (and I almost want to put that word in quotations) like Sharapova would never consider sitting out beyond her mandated punishment by the sport because she now considers herself bigger then the sport. She has no defense for what she did or for accepting free wild card handouts. Caroline is right—Sharapova should work her way up. If she is really good then she'll be back in no time and just maybe people will say she never needed to cheat and maybe wasn't cheating with that medication.  

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