Post-Wimbledon Mailbag: Wrapping up the grass Slam and looking ahead to the U.S. Open
Attacking a stuffed mailbox after a crackerjack Wimbledon…..
Quick business points:
1. Bethanie Mattek Sands—recovering and drinking tequila straight in Manhattan—is our next podcast guest. We’ll post Thursday.
2. Here’s Roger Federer after winning his title talking to the Tennis Channel.
3. A bunch of questions plus a Defense of Djokovic Reader Rant at the end….
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
With Federer and Nadal having won the three Grand Slams so far this year, do you think this is good or bad for the game? On the positive side, it is good because fans know these players and they may follow them. On the negative side, there is no young and exciting fresh face on the men's side and the dominance of the "Big Four" is maybe becoming boring.
—Bob Diepold, Charlotte, N.C.
• Good for the game. Check that: great for the game. We say we like parity and any-given-Sunday unpredictability. It’s a lie. We like dominant champions. That these two guys have such longevity also is an advertisement for tennis. (You can still play at an extraordinary level well into your 30s.)
Can we inaugurate a new term if Nadal wins the U.S. Open? The Fedal Slam: it happens when two players in their 30s who were dominant 10 years ago split all four Slams in a calendar year. Seriously, what are the odds it's one of the two of them who wins?
• Love it. The U.S. Open is the only major at which Federer and Nadal have never met. (They’ve met in multiple FINALS at each of the other three.) Seems only right that tennis karma throws New York a bone.
Lost respect for you. After all the great works you've done all these years, all of 'em go down the drain just because of your dumb tweets
• This is reference to a tweet I sent after the final:
Big loser this tournament: playing the clay season— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) July 16, 2017
For all the tennis tweeting I’ve done over the past (gulp) decade, this throwaway line generated more anger and hostility than anything else I’ve ever written.
A few points:
1. This was, admittedly, a sloppily-worded, hastily-issued tweet. The point was simply this: when Federer decided to skip the clay season there was much debate over the wisdom of this. Was it wise to rest up? Or would this ruin his form and upset his rhythm? Clearly, in retrospect, it was a prudent bit of scheduling. That’s all. The discussion really went sideways. It was never meant to denigrate Nadal—about whom our longstanding admiration and personal fondness has never wavered. It wasn’t meant to denigrate Bjorn Borg or Paris or clay itself. Imagine a kid studying for the SAT and, to his parent’s concern, forgoing test prep. He ends up acing the test. “The big loser today is Kaplan. I knew what was I doing after all.” Similarly: In 2017, Federer chose to de-emphasize clay and this was validated. That’s all.
2. I confess to being absolutely blown away by the level of vitriol. I’m not naïve to trolls and the dark undercarriage of social media. But you scroll through dozens and dozens of messages calling for your head and hoping you perform sex acts on yourself and it’s a jarring experience. I say this as a happily married, gainfully employed man in his mid-40s. I have a new appreciation for what Madison Keys and Nicole Gibbs and company often complain about. I can only imagine being in my early 20s, picking up my phone and going through message after message wishing me ill (and worse).
3. This seems as good a time as any to make our periodic plea: Pick your favorite Big Four player as you see fit. Join whichever tribe works for you. But, honestly, you cannot go wrong. They are all worthy of your support and admiration; not a jerk in the bunch. The four of them treat each other with an extraordinary level of civility. It’s incongruous when their fans are ready to take up arms, declaring war on the others.
4. Perhaps think of the Big Four, not as competitors, but as the Amish building a barn. They all chip in to make the community better for everyone. As a group they have won 45 of the last 50 majors. Can we all just get along? And ride horses and buggies?
Curious what your thoughts are on some of the complaints from WTA players about Centre Court scheduling for Wimbledon’s Manic Monday. On that day only one woman’s match was scheduled and it featured a “Williams” that has won Wimbledon five times. The other two matches featured homeboy Murray, who has won it twice (plus the Olympics) and Roger, who has won it seven times and been to 10 finals. Granted, the starting time is bizarrely late for a day with that many matches, but unless the start time changes to 11 (but that is sooooo U.S. Open and no way it would happen), who else should have been on Centre Court? Kerber? She seemed to complain the most about the scheduling but it’s hard to know if she has a loyal following given her seemingly icy personality that is as cold as her handshake at the net after losing a match. If Konta wasn’t going to get Centre Court billing, then why should any of the other ladies have been featured on the court?
• I pity the Wimbledon schedule makers. You’d like to appear progressive. You are sensitive to backlash. You want to be equitable and promote fairness. But you want to balance that with commercial interests and make decisions in the best interest of the fans. Consider: your main court can only accommodate three matches a day so you can't simply split two and two. (As the other Slams often do.) You have four all-timers in your men’s draw, the least accomplished of whom is the defending champ who also happens to be a knight. On the woman’s side—especially with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova absent—you have only Venus Williams as a bold-faced name with more than two majors. What to do? On the middle Saturday you had this odd Centre Court dance card:
- Radwanksa vs. Bacsinzsky
- Djokovic vs. Gulbis
- Federer vs. M. Zverev
There’s an easy, politically correct move here. But I think it shortchanges fans. If the gender roles were reversed—and in a few years perhaps they will be—we should have no objection to more women than men getting the top billing. But putting bona fide stars on secondary courts simply for the purpose of 50/50 gender balance? I think that’s a lot to ask, especially for an event trying to maximize, yes, profit, but also the fan experience.
Jon, how about some love for Tinman Tomas Berdych. Tired of pundits not giving him his due. He has the misfortune of playing in the same era of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray yet has consistently ranked in top 6. He’s always fit, plays with great heart and desire and tries to improve. He is doing everything to maximize his talent. Fernando says he has had a great career and is not getting the proper respect. The Big Four get all the love—how about a good word for some other pros like Tinman.
• Yes, Berdych love is in order. I think I wrote this the other day, but he is a victim of timing. An extraordinary player who is simply not quite at the level of the Big Four/Five.
Jon: Do you think that the Wimbledon seeding, where they moved Roger up to No. 3 from his ATP Rank at No. 5, and dropped Rafa from No. 2 to No. 4, had an impact on the tournament results? I think it did.
—Betsy Passuth, Fairfax, Va.
• Nah, again this isn't subjective. There’s a formula, one that rewards expert play on grass. (And punishes inexpert play on grass.) The big loser in the seeding was Stan Wawrinka….who went out in round one.
Why aren't the "surface seasons" evenly distributed; ie: four months hard, four months clay, four months grass?
Even if they were broken up into sub-divisions, and shortened to create an off-season; even if one surface was given slightly more time/events, it would seem more equal than it is now and therefore more fair as well as recognizing the history of the sport. The clay season is months long and has three Master's tournaments. Why not have one of the year's last Masters tournies in a sunny climate on grass? Why not organize the tour to make somewhat more equal time/equal rankings points for each surface? That would certainly encourage players to develop multi-surface playing styles.
—Chris, San Rafael, Calif.
• It's a balance between tennis, commercial interests and pragmatism. Two obvious problems with prolonging the grass season 1) seems unfair that you have a grass season when there are entire countries without a single grass court. 2) There are venue issues. For Masters tournaments, you need a certain number of courts, various television positions, an on-site workout facility etc. There just aren’t that many grass facilities.
Hi Jon, I've found the debate about Margaret Court and her views on LGBT interesting. While I support the campaign to change the name of Margaret Court Arena and think it is right other players have challenged her views, I find the hypocrisy a bit ridiculous. Marat Safin supported the LGBT propaganda bill in the Russian Duma in 2013, and that law has had a far greater impact on LGBT lives than anything that Margaret Court has said, yet he is revered in the tennis community and was welcomed in to the Hall of Fame last year. Why do you feel Court gets so much attention, but other homophobic actions by former tennis players pass by with little comment?
• Fair point. You might contend that there is a difference between Safin quietly voting for a bill versus Court, well, courting publicity and speaking openly and unprompted about her bigotry. That Court has her name on a venue at a Grand Slam event has also given this extra resonance perhaps. But, yes, your point is well taken.
Has Cilic really never retired from a match, as he indicated in his post match comments? Color me impressed!! And even if not—complete respect to him for hanging in there today and giving it his best. I'll admit he's a player I never really cared much for, but have had a major change of heart after today.
—Helen of Philly
• Agree. My sense—and he kinda sorta confirmed it—was that he was crying simply at the karmic injustice of it all. To paraphrase: “I work like crazy to get here. I exorcise the demons of 2016. I may never get this shot again. And I’m compromised—here on Centre Court, with Federer on one side of the net and the trophy in the corner—because of blisters? Arghh…”
Federer's "performance was the 'will and grace' brand extension." You've topped yourself on that one.
—Miles Benson, Hudson, Mass.
• Serious point (and one I tried to write about in SI this week)….are fans dazzled by Federer’s talent at the expense of being dazzled by his work ethic and grit? (I would make the same case about other champions, including Serena, as well.) It’s one thing to be talented. It’s another thing to have the passion and persistence to alchemize that talent and achieve.
Federer bit a little on this point after the final. “Yes, I was blessed with a lot of talent,” he says. “But I also had to work for it. Talent only gets you that far.”
Hi Jon, really interesting comments from Federer about the rankings system and how it penalizes the challenging players (He refers to no more bonus points in recent years, and Slam winning points weighted too heavily versus smaller events and earlier rounds in Slams here.) And there I was thinking maybe the Slam championship points should be boosted given what's happened this year. I think Roger's point is good, that it's impossible to challenge the top without taking down the whole castle, and perhaps harder than it used to be. I would like to see a points adjustment (not just the prize money issue) and try to make sense of the importance of these events and fighting for everything deep into a Slam.
• Interesting. And this really goes to just how invested Federer is in this sport. The notion that he knows the math off-hand and has this level of recall is really something. As I see it, there are three problems with bonus points:
a. How do you account for those points the next year? You may have won X extra points for beating a top player. But what happens the following year when those points come off your ranking?
b. Is this fair to the top players? It incentivizes journeymen to really want to beat the best. But is it fair to place this added incentive on big wins?
c. Are rankings too crass? Beating, say, Nadal at the French Open is a much different task than beating him at Wimbledon. (And the reverse to Federer.) Should more than mere ranking be taken into account?
For what it’s worth, the ATP looked at the math and the rankings were remarkably stable when comparing a system with bonus points to a system in the absence of points.
Does Roger Federer get into the Hall of Fame on the basis of his 2017 alone?
• Funny question. There is an unmistakable sense that the Hall of Fame standards have gotten tougher. If this means that some summers there’s no player inducted, so be it. Would Federer get in based entirely on 2017? Two Slams and two Masters titles is pretty darn good. But you can’t induct a player who’s only won four titles, right? Incidentally, this means Garbine Muguruza still has some work left. Though she has two majors, she has only won four titles total.
"...but I also give Tomic and Kyrgios full points for candor. They are many things, but they are not fraudulent. Both speak openly and honestly..." You cannot be serious!
In the past five or so years both have been dishonest, coy, and at times aggressive when confronted by media about tanking. You may have even been in the pressers for the Kyrgios/Gasquet Wimbledon tank, or the Tomic U.S. Open tank. Were they not "fraudlent" then?
Okay, so we don't have to fixate on their lack of sportsmanship. But please do not defend their dignity based a single blip of candor which is WAY outside the norm for both.
• We were talking about this in TV land. Assuming those guys were watching Federer win Wimbledon, were they thinking, “Man, I’m inspired to stop being so wasteful with my talent”? Or were they thinking, “You can still win in your mid-30s. No rush, I can have my fun now and I have plenty of time left”?
Hi Jon. Great Wimbledon fortnight coverage ! Just an observation—so the only person to take a set off Federer, and also beat Federer this entire grasscourt season, is someone who’s older—not younger—than the GOAT ?
• Two players who beat Federer in 2017….Tommy Haas, a tournament director pushing 40. And Evgeny Donskoy. And Federer held match points in both matches. As the kids say: go figure.
• After Roger Federer’s historic run to his eighth Wimbledon title and 19th Grand Slam Championship, Wilson tennis presented Federer with an exclusive “Historic Limited Edition” Pro Staff RF97 Autograph racket. Only eight of these comparative rackets were created and all have been signed by Roger Federer. All of the rackets will be available on www.rogerfederer.com. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of the rackets will go to the Roger Federer Foundation.
• The USTA today announced that the prize money for the 2017 U.S. Open will increase by more than $4 million, bringing the total purse for the tournament to a record $50.4 million, a 9 percent increase over the 2016 U.S. Open prize money totals. With those increases, the U.S. Open becomes the first tennis tournament in history with total prize money compensation topping $50 million. Once again, the tournament will provide the richest purse in tennis history.
• Thanks, Sinclair Stewart, for making me aware of this fine Federer piece by Cathal.
• Rant of the Week goes to Chris Nolan. During the final weekend, I tweeted a link to this New York Times column on Djokovic by Brian Phillips, an absolute first-rate writer who knows his tennis. It wasn’t particularly charitable but it did address a number of the issues swirling around Djokovic and the strange thermodynamics of his slump. Merely tweeting a link—absent of comment; simply linking a New York Times column—triggered much angry response. So much so I invited readers to articulate precisely what they found so objectionable. Chris Nolan responds:
Let's start with: "so anxious, even desperate, to mean something,” "giddy clown,” "peevish also-ran, faking injury.” Then the AUDACITY of "he’ll loom larger over the final weekend at the All England Club than most players could manage with their presence," when all fans hear about through clay season and at Wimbledon is about Roger especially when he's not even playing.
Not to mention "a smirking patriarch. He’s been a loser. A genius. A fool." Maybe read the article again and put Djokovic's non-calendar Grand Slam aside—something that no player has ever done in the history of the game on three different surfaces.
Then there is the very subjective, unsubstantiated and biased "someone who wants less to be known than to be right. Hardly "fair.” Just kicking him when he's down. Nice.
Regarding his recent coaching split, he then writes they “part ways,” by “mutual agreement,” and “the employee releases a glowing statement.” How is this any different than 99% of player/coach splits? Including when Federer dropped Edberg: "After two very successful years, I would like to thank Stefan Edberg, my childhood idol, for agreeing to join my team," Federer said in Facebook post, followed by a glowing good-bye from Edberg.
Then he writes "his elbow issue for a year and a half. That might clarify things, if it were true." Not so subtly calling his honesty and integrity into question (when all players initially try to hide their injuries, until they become debilitating like Roger's back in 2013). Probably the most hypocritical was the quote "finding (sic) himself at the center of an amorphous scandal" as if it were fact while earlier calling it "innuendo" and none of his business.
And while I truly admire Djokovic, he's not my favorite player, but I can recognize him as one of the very best ever with a Grand Slam, four titles in a row, that no one likes to talk about.
Not sure what's worse: the voice given to the writer's blatant bias or the media's acceptance as being fair. Tennis' own version of fascism.
This article represents everything that is wrong with tennis fandom which has always been present in tennis internet forums but over the last few years more blatantly creeps into the professional sports media.
I think that any player wants/needs/deserve respect and appreciation, not just Nole. I think he's been able to channel the crowd disrespect (like Lendl did) which brought him to great heights, but over time, eating away at him, has been a significant factor in his downfall, as it would I believe any player—and it has done the game a big disservice as a result—lack of competition at this year's French Open and Wimbledon being obvious recent examples.
Those that can’t are victims of their own fandom that blind them from the beauty of the sport itself leading to these endless circular so-called “debates” pitting ever-hardening echo chambers against each other leading nowhere other than to preach to their own respective choirs in endless futility—extreme fan groups hating on each other, while the players themselves showing virtually zero animosity towards one another.
Anyone that can’t appreciate each of what Rafael Nadal accomplished with ten French titles, what Federer is doing at 35 years old and Novak's non-calendar Grand Slam (a true Grand Slam until it was more recently redefined in the rulebook), needs to have a long, hard look in the mirror.
As fans of the sport, not just one player, we should all be capable of appreciating the brilliance of the Big Four, as well as the rest of the tour. How's THAT for Rant of the Week?