Mailbag: Appreciation For Mirka Federer and Her Impact on Roger's Career
- Roger Federer's success owes to the support of his wife, Mirka, who has had a vital impact on his career. Plus reader questions on the Hall of Fame, equal prize money, injuries and more.
Some quick housekeeping:
• Here’s the Sports Illustrated piece on Federer’s Wimbledon title.
• Bethanie Mattek-Sands was our most recent podcast guest. We’ll have another guest this week.
• Tennis Channel is all over the Citi Open starting Monday.
• Scroll to the end for a really interesting Reader Riff on Hall of Fame eligibility.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
2003: Two fans finish their strawberries and cream as the last people filter out of the Wimbledon grounds.
"Hey, I've got a wager for you. In 2017, all of the following will be true:
Roger Federer and a guy from Spain named Rafael Nadal will still be battling for No. 1 in the rankings. Federer will have 19 Slam titles on his resume. Federer will have 8 Wimbledon titles. Nadal will have 15 slam titles on his resume. Nadal will have 10 French Open titles. A man will have recently won all four slam titles in a row, but it won't be either Federer or Nadal. The top 5 will all be over the age of 30. The top 5 will have 52 slam titles between them all."
"LOL, buddy. I will take that bet. It's unlikely ANY of those will be true."
"Oh, and I almost forgot—the Williams sisters will still be top players. Serena will have won the 2017 Australian over Venus, and Venus will have also reached the Wimbledon final."
"Seriously, are you high?"
• The submission came with the email heading: “Part of the fun of sports is that the stories are unpredictable. And, these are special times in tennis.” I think that pretty much nails it. You could add others to that 2003 conversation.
- Before he turned 50, Pete Sampras could see his Slam record broken by THREE different players…..
- A Brit would Wimbledon. Twice. And a gold medal on Centre Court.
- The U.S. would have no male win a major for more than a decade.
- This one isn’t as surprising but it doesn't get enough attention so we’ll add it: Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi would be the sports answer to Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, the exception to the rule that two celebrities can’t have a fulfilling and healthy marriage.
Anyway, it’s all part of the fun. And it ought to be a source of optimism for the dreaded day when the Big Four and the Williams sisters are no longer occupying center stage. They’ll be missed but the proverbial show will a) continue and b) yield unpredictable and unforeseeable excitement.
Given the backlash that Johnny Mac received for his Serena comments and the PC environment we now inhabit, where is the appreciation and recognition for the power and sway of Mirka Federer? Or is her story "ignored" because as a "stay at home (while traveling the world)" mother of four who cares for the family while her husband reaches historic heights not the narrative the PC and/or women's movement wants to promote?
I realize that is a sensitive question/topic which may invite vitriol but I think it is totally fair. Roger himself came out and said one of the main reasons he would consider retirement is if Mirka came to him and indicated she was tired of the traveling and life on the road. When I heard that it made me immediately realize that even though we focus on him and his great accomplishments, let's not forget that SHE makes much of this possible by being supportive, loving, caring, inspiring all while managing the household of six. To me, and yes, my wife stays at home to care for our four kids, that makes her just as powerful of a woman as any female CEO in the world.
—Matt Waters, Florida
• I don't think it’s particularly controversial nor do I think the story is ignored. No question that some of Federer’s success—as he is quick to admit—owes to the support and “buy-in” of his spouse.
Here’s what I wrote for SI in 2009 when Federer won Wimbledon: “She dislikes being photographed and has gone years without giving an interview, even to her hometown newspaper in Switzerland. Mirka Federer (née Vavrinec) is, however, a vital—the vital—figure behind the relentless success of her husband, Roger. The de facto chief of staff of Federer, LLC, she's rarely seen without her Blackberry in hand….. A former pro player who cracked the top 100 before her career was ruined by a chronic foot injury in 2002, she sometimes practices with Roger before his matches and is always able to talk shop. ‘I developed faster, grew faster with her,’ says Roger, who has been with Mirka since meeting her at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and married her in a small ceremony in his hometown, Basel, on April 11. "She has been with me day in and day out, throughout the world, and has helped me considerably as a person."
I often feel like this gets left out of the story: Mirka was a top 100 player who was getting into the main draws of Slams. Imagine how much she knows. The frustration of rain delays. The pain of double-faulting on break point. The uncoolness of an opponent’s dubious bathroom break. The transition from clay to grass. It must be immensely helpful to have a spouse so intimately familiar with your line of work.
While trying to find Mirka Federer’s career high ranking (76) I came across this bit of video gold. “Hewitt/Molik vs. Federer/Vavrinec.” The courtside interview is worth the price of admission:
Jon, if equal prize money makes so much sense, why is there such a disparity between the high end ticket prices on the U.S. Open's official Ticketmaster website for the women's semifinals on Thursday night as compared to the men's semis on Friday, and the women's final on Saturday versus the men's final on Sunday? Have a look.
—Michael in Newport Beach, Calif.
• You could just as easily cherry-pick examples that swing the other way. When Serena Williams was going for the Grand Slam in 2015, the women’s latter round tickets at the U.S. Open were priced higher than the men’s. At Wimbledon, women’s matches drew some of the highest ratings.
Here’s where I stand: You can convince me that, as a standalone product, men’s tennis has more value in the marketplace. You cannot convince me that, at joint events, either gender should be paid more. Sometimes you get a stinker of a women’s match and Federer saves the day. Sometimes you get back-to-back men’s players retiring on Centre Court and Jo Konta saves the day. Tennis should make a virtue of two genders competing simultaneously; not an issue of division. Grow the piece for all the players; stop fighting over a few shekels because the men might sell a few extra tickets.
At a bare minimum there’s the Churchill-on-democracy response. Equal prize money is the worst compensation model—except for all the others. You really want to have two genders playing at the same event, with t.v. coverage flicking back and forth, with a mixed doubles event…..and have two different wage scales? In 2006 Roger Federer won the men’s title at Wimbledon and earned $1,170,000. Amelie Maureso won the women’s title and—while this can't be verified on the WTA’s mess of a website—she earned $1,117,000, or only 95% as much as Federer. So for $63,000 in “savings”—seat cushion change in the overall economics—Wimbledon embittered half the competitors in the field, came across as something smaller than petty, and opened itself up to ridicule and charges of sexism. (“Who do you think you are, the BBC?”) Even if equity or morality weren’t factors, from a strictly pragmatic cost-benefit public relations analysis, you have to conclude that equal prize money is the way to go.
Hi Jon, I write to you a lot because I'm a nerd who loves tennis; I beg your indulgence. For a player who gets very little press, Ekaterina Makarova has really put together an impressive career. Yes, she was ranked in the top 10 in singles. But a shout out for her doubles career is really deserved. She's one Aussie Open away from the career super slam, and I think she and Vesnina are capable of it:
Fed Cup 2008, Olympic Gold 2016, Tour Champs 2016, French 2013
U.S. Open 2014, Wimbledon 2017.
Props to Ms. Makarova!
—Chris Brown, San Rafael
• Absolutely. In singles, Makarova has made the quarters or better at six Slams. Her doubles career is veering into Hall of Fame territory. Bonus points: Makarova is on the short list for “Nicest Player Out There” consideration. Props, indeed. In the interest of fairness and balance, here’s a less charitable take on her partner:
I have generally found the women's tennis grunting and screeching to be an annoyance, but the in the women's doubles final, Vesina took it to a new level. Her loud screaming HEY-YA AFTER every strike is just blatant cheating, and she should be penalized when it happens. If you watch the replay (something ESPN makes really easy), she does not yell during the ball-strike but clearly after she hits the ball on nearly every single point. What’s the difference from that and someone yelling at the top of his/her lungs HEY or YES or HIT-IT or anything after s/he strikes the ball? Wouldn't stand and neither should that.
—Brad, Seattle, Wa.
• They won 6-0, 6-0. On grunting, I draw a distinction between the sonic spillover from exertion and gamesmanship. In Vesnina’s case, we’re in the former. Let her live, we say.
I must say I was surprised and even a bit disappointed that you have not used this Wimbledon, which was perhaps the worst in terms of competitive play, to advocate for more of the sensible changes you and others have advocated. Other than Federer's win for his legion of sheep, this tournament was a competitive disaster, including (a) the No. 1 player effectively retiring in the QF (b) the best player of the last five years actually retiring in the QF against a guy he has beaten 25 out of 27 times; (c) the final being an effective walkover due to injury; and (d) the two farcical walkovers on Center Court on day two, robbing many of the fans in attendance of a once in a lifetime experience (notice that Dogopolov has magically recovered and made the finals in Bastad this past weekend?).
I used to be against most changes, particularly at the Slams, but you have sold me over the years. Everything—from no ad scoring to eliminating best of five for at least the first week, to quicker, more exciting formats at the smaller tour level events—should be on the table. The tours and the Slams simply aren't taking care of these guys, and if the media darling hadn't won the title, I think there would be more talk of the needed changes.
—Bob Dumbacher, Atlanta, Ga.
• Usually when I do the “50 Thoughts” wrap piece, I spend one item on injury-o-rama and the sad reality that so few players are healthy. This year it seemed redundant. Retirements (coupled with Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ gruesome injury) were the Week One story. As you note, we had match after match—including a three-time champion in the quarterfinals—determined by strains and sprains, not forehands and backhands. The men’s final was marred as well. A raft of alleged future stars—Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Nick Kyrgios—are hobbled, too.
Mostly I blame administrators for what is, at best, indifference to the crisis. But if players—we’re looking a you, Gilles Simon—were half as concerned with dangerous working conditions that robs them of months of income, as they were a few lost nickels that come with equal prize money, we’d be in a better place. Quick fixes:
- Best-of-three in week one, best-of-five in week two. We still get the gravitas of majors. We still get Nadal-Muller. (But less wear-and-tear in Week One. On bodies and also on the grass.)
- Institute the ATP’s plan whereby eligible players keep their first round prize money but cede their spot to a lucky loser. If nothing else, we wouldn’t have the optics of Dolgopolov and co. taking the court without expectation of playing more than a few games, much less winning.
- Standardize balls.
- An independent commission looks into string technology.
If the injury issues persist, we can start at least considering no-ad scoring and four-game sets. As much as we all like the aging field and the notion that players’ careers now extend into their mid-30s, this is undercut when you have to spend a few months each year on the injured reserve.
Based on the new qualification standards, would Andy Roddick have been inducted into the Hall of Fame? Also, not a question, but thanks for all your tennis coverage. Sorry you have to deal with some crazy over reactions to some of your comments as you discussed in last week's Mailbag.
• Thanks. A number of you wrote in about ignoring the trolls, which was kind of you. Such a bizarre phenomenon. I’m dating myself here, but when I was in school, everyone liked the show Friends. I never did. Fine. Different people have different tastes. Not once did it cross my mind to try and communicate my dislike to the actors or the creators. “Hey @DavidSchwimmer, you’re a talentless hack who doesn't deserve Rachel!!!”
Anyway, yes on Roddick. One major + No. 1 ranking + a half dozen major finals + Davis Cup success + a decade of top ten status (in the era of Federer/Nadal = IN.
Really that tweet got blowback? The big problem with twitter is that it doesn't convey tone. I feel that I know what you're about and what you stand for. But hey I'm happily married, (relatively) game fully employed and in my mid 40's so I guess it takes one to know one
• It reminds of this Key and Peele sketch:
• RIP Peter Doohan, 1961-2017.
• Improvements are coming to Cincy.
• Press releasing: Coming off a historic 8th Wimbledon title, Roger Federer is slated to participate in the 22nd Annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day Powered by Net Generation, the tennis and music event that kicks off the U.S. Open tournament in Queens, NY. Federer will be competing in the Emirates Airline Performance Challenge on behalf of the Roger Federer Foundation, which works to provide access for African children to high-quality early learning and education.
• In the latest partnership between the USTA and ESPN to showcase competitive tennis at multiple levels of the sport, the singles and doubles finals of the USTA Boys' 12s National Clay Court Championships will be delivered live on ESPN3 and streaming live on the ESPN app on Saturday, July 22, beginning with singles at 10 a.m., from the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.
• Seventeen-year old Axel Nefve, of Boca Raton, Fla., and 15-year old Katie Volynets, of Walnut Creek, Calif., each won singles titles at last week’s USTA Boys’ and Girls’ 18s National Clay Court Championships to earn wild card entries into the 2017 U.S. Open Junior Championships. Nefve, who until six years old lived in Paris, within walking distance of Roland Garros, defeated Ryan Goetz, of Greenlawn, N.Y., 6-2, 6-4, in the singles final at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Delray Beach, Fla. Nefve is coached by Jack Sharpe and Robbye Poole.
• The ATP and ATP Media, the broadcast arm of the ATP World Tour, today jointly announce the launch of their own digital radio channel, ATP Tennis Radio—a live, free-to-air audio platform for tennis fans to enjoy worldwide. The bespoke, 24/7 digital radio offering is hosted by Gigi Salmon, joined by a team of some of the most globally acclaimed tennis commentators and experts.
Having successfully soft-launched at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters earlier this year, ATP Tennis Radio will feature live coverage and bespoke radio commentary from the upcoming Coupe Rogers in Montreal. It will also broadcast all the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, the Next Gen ATP Finals and the Nitto ATP Finals, as well as the singles finals from the ATP World Tour 500 tournaments (including the upcoming German Tennis Championships and the Citi Open in Washington D.C.).
Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; ATP Tennis Radio is easily accessible through TuneIn Radio’s website, mobile and car apps, ATPWorldTour.com and individual tournament websites as well as 200 connected devices such as Sonos, Amazon Echo and Google Home. ATP Tennis Radio’s digital availability on an array of devices means it is available to listeners wherever they may be – on the move via a mobile phone, in the car or at home
• If you missed the ITF decision in the matter of Ilie Nastase, this is a doozy.
• Joel Drucker on Hall of Fame weekend.
• Sudhir from India has LLS: Roger Federer and Arbaaz Khan, a Bollywood actor.
• This week’s reader riff come from Edward of Dallas: The Tennis HOF announcement of adding an automatically qualifying standard is a nice effort to raise the standards, but the ship has already sailed. They have had to lower their standards because they have basically run out of people to induct:
- There have been 138 men and women, eligible for the HOF, who have won 2 or more Grand Slam single titles—132 of them are in the HOF or 96%.
- Of the 6 that aren't in, only 1 has 3 titles (Joan Hartigan, who won 3 Australian titles in the 50s) with the other five having 2 titles.
- Every eligible U.S. Open men's single winner since 1881 is in the HOF. All but four Wimbledon eligible men's singles winners since 1900 are in. All but four Wimbledon or U.S. Open women's singles winners since 1913 are in.
- 7 of the 25 eligible individuals who won only one major singles title in the Open era are in the HOF (Gimeno, Orantes, Noah, Chang, Roddick, Sabatini, Novotna).
- Even in doubles, all but one of the 31 eligible players with 10 or more major double titles are in (Virginia Pascual is only one not in). Move the total down to 8 doubles titles and you only get 5 more eligible players.
So if one was to set the standard for HOF at just two single Grand Slams or 8 doubles Grand Slams (ignoring mixed doubles), and considering the HOF will cut off eligibility for those retired more than 20 years after 2018, then over the next five years there would be only nine potential candidates for HOF—all pretty borderline: Mary Pierce (2 singles), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (2 singles, 4 doubles), Sergi Bruguera (2 singles), Pascual (10 doubles), Jonas Bjorkman (9 doubles), Helena Sukova (9 doubles), Paola Suarez (8 doubles) with Li Na (2 singles) and Lleyton Hewitt (2 singles, 1 doubles) becoming eligible. I either could see Pierce, Kafelnikov, Li Na, and Hewitt getting in and Bruguera and Sukova losing eligibility meaning there will be very few options after those five years other than one-Slam winners, until current players retire.
Of course at some point the Big 4+Wawrinka will retire as will the Williams Sisters, Bryan Brothers, and Maria Sharapova—first ballot hall of famers all of them (well Wawrinka is debatable). But the HOF is either going to have to continue to keep its standards low (and let in more one-Slam winners and doubles specialists) or have numerous years where they have no inductee, which might not be the worse idea.