Mailbag: American Women, Sharapova, Nadal-Federer Dominate Conversation at US Open 2017
- The American women continue to dominate, Maria Sharapova remains a hot topic and more top stories as we head into the business end of the 2017 U.S. Open.
NEW YORK – Wednesday is Mailbag Day, so let’s make some inroads on an overflowing bag….
If all goes as planned—and really, what doesn't go as planned at a tennis tournament?—Paul Annacone and I will do a podcast tomorrow in advance of the women’s semis and possibly Roger/Rafa Bowl 38.
And we’re off…
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Not to jinx it, but has there ever been a semifinal round with all four players from the same country?
• Note E.A. sent this before Madison Keys takes the court against Kaia Kanepi (which, ironically is the probably the best quarteefinals matchup for the Americans.) Yes, this has happened before. But not in the last 30+ years. Four American women—Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Barbara Potter and Tracy Austin—all reached the final four at the U.S. Open in 1981.
I was surprised to see Maria Sharapova plugging her book this week. Shouldn’t she be back on the practice court, trying to build on her U.S. Open so she doesn’t need another wildcard and doesn’t have to risk facing a seeded player at her next major? Sheesh.
• Venus Williams is two matches away from another title. The Federer/Nadal semi is—at this writing—a possibility. Four American women are vying for the semifinals. Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova played a potential Match of the Year on Tuesday. Del Potro and Thiem played a potential match of the Year on Monday. And yet Sharapova —out of the tournament since Sunday—remains a hot topic.
Her play and her lighting-rod-dom (pro and con) validate her wildcard. And, after some matches in Asia this fall, her ranking ought to be sufficiently high so the Australian Open is spared this debate. (They can spend their damage control capital on Margaret Court instead.)
As for Maria’s commercial instincts and priorities…..here’s a Sharapova detail that has been lost in broader discussion, but I’ve always thought was telling. By her own assertion, Sharapova has (her words here) “a family history of a diabetes.” Yet she has lent her name to a candy line that even has “Sugar” in its name. Think about that for a moment.
This isn't really about issuing condemnation or a making value judgment and lodging a charge of hypocrisy. We all live by different moral codes. We all make different decisions about where commerce starts and principles fade. But to me, this decision says so much about Sharapova and how commercially driven she is. I have no doubt that she missed tennis terribly and is—rightly—thrilled to back playing at a high level, moving with newfound slickness, showing off her familiar powers of battle. But I also suspect that she is thrilled that, in New York, she began repairing a damaged brand.
And if getting out there and signing copies of her memoir helps, more power to her.
Just returned from an exciting Day 8 at the U.S. Open. One of the things I enjoy about tennis is its truly international flavor. I started off my day on the temporary "Baby Armstrong" watching the Israeli-Belgian pair, Dudi Sela and Steve Darcis, go down to the Dutchmen, Haase and Middlekoop. Ultimately, I made my way to the most excellent Grandstand; there I caught the Bryan Brothers (in perhaps one of their last U.S. Opens) in an exciting match against the Austrian-Croatian pair, Marach and Pavic. I stayed on Grandstand, and along with the crowd, was extremely fortunate to see del Potro comeback from two sets down to Thiem in an exciting and raucous match.
Throughout the various matches, the stands were peppered with fans of all ilk supporting their favorite doubles team or player. During the Bryan brothers' match, I noticed a trend involving players from the USA. Namely, rather than cheer for an individual player or team ("go Bryans"), some fans cheered, "USA, USA." While this seems totally reasonable during a Davis- or Fed Cup match, somehow, it seems odd (even inappropriate) during other tournaments. During the Bryan Brothers match, one particularly enthusiastic and boisterous fan repeatedly chanted pro-USA cheers. Ultimately, during a changeover. the chair umpire left her chair and approached the fan; I do not know what she said, but except for one small utterance, for the entirety of the match, the fan remained silent. This is not to say that the del Potro-Thiem match was without cheering. At times, the various songs and chants (especially by the many Argentinian blue and white adorned pro-Del Potro fans who surrounded me) seemed to be vying for center court status with the players. Yet, despite the audible partisanship for one player over another, the cheering was clearly for individual players, and not for a particular country.
Appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Is there any tennis etiquette in this regard?
—Yoram, Baltimore by way of Haifa
• Yeah, I don’t know….U-S-A, U-S-A always strikes me as a bit inhospitable—if not outright jingoistic—at the U.S Open. But when it’s more of an underdog situation—the Argies going nuts for delPo, the Romanians for Halep, the Israelis for Dudi Sela—it strikes me as something altogether different more socially acceptable.
With Andy Murray's extended break from tennis, it seems like the injury and scheduling problem (on the ATP at least) has reached critical mass. We've turned the question over a few times but do you have any sense if the higher-ups have seriously considered addressing this issue officially? Forget the causes of the niggling injuries—if the top players are going to be taking six-month breaks every two years, then it could shake up the nature of “dominance” and even the points system on the ATP rankings scale....
BUT, maybe this is just a natural side-effect of players playing top-level tennis into their 30s. Also a possibility. In which case we should be quiet and thankful.
—Ivan H., Barcelona
• Can I toot my own metaphorical horn?
A labor market is a market. And people will act rationally. In this case, the best players will take time off as they fit, no matter what the calendar suggests. If this has the effect of trivializing the season, so be it. If this has the effect of players competing into their 30s, it’s a good thing.
I just watched your homage to Uncle Toni on the Tennis Channel. Very good. However, I am surprised there was no mention that Toni does not accept a salary from Rafa. Toni has been vocal about this in the past and it’s been in the news. In the tennis world this is rare. Toni did not want to be Rafa's employee. It was important that they be on equal footing in their relationship. How great is this in a world where hardly anyone does anything if they are not paid for it?
• Right. As I understand it—at least this was the case—Toni’s was compensated through a share of the family business. But, yes he did not want to draw a check from his nephew, lest it taints the dynamic.
I liken this to the Bryan brothers. One reason they’re so successful: they can yell at each other (and even fight physically) knowing they will always be family, without fear that risk triggering a breakup. Uncle Toni can—and does to this day—speak to his nephew with the candor reserved for family members.
Jon, I haven't seen the video of Fognini's "rant" but from what I read I have to ask how was his behavior any different from Serena berating a lineswoman and threatening to shove a ball down her throat? Why wasn't Serena punished with more than just a fine? Is there favoritism shown to the top players or was Fognini's behavior that much more egregious?
—Kris, Norwalk, Conn.
• Fognini’s track record —compounded by the severity of the remarks—trigger the big penalty. The real question: why did it take four days to suspend him, during which time he won two doubles matches, eliminating four players from the competition?
Jon, This is a silly question, but here goes. I've been going to the U.S. Open for about 12 years now, and every year I've gone, I've noticed an odd tradition. Well, the tradition is not odd, the execution is. After a match on the bigger courts, the victor signs three balls and hits them into the crowd. Great tradition, but WHY ONLY THREE? It drives me nuts. There are four sides to a court. Why not four balls, one for each side of the court? Why make the player decide which three of the four sides gets an autographed ball? It makes no sense to me. If it's money, I'd be happy to purchase several cans of balls to subsidize the fourth autographed ball. By my estimate, considering all the matches on all the show courts (Ashe, Armstrong, Grandstand, Court 17), approximately 200 matches are played. A ball is about a buck. So 200 or so balls. That means the cost would approximate 13 Grey Goose Honey Deuces.
—Kent Jordan in Atlanta
• Hey, we all have our pet peeves. Your point is well taken. But isn’t “side” an arbitrary dimension. My guess a) there are three balls in a standard can. B) we need to keep the schedule moving. I would love to see ten balls or 100 balls hit into the crowd. (Hell, there are 20,000 fans.) But there’s often another match waiting to get on court.
I get the “primetime” thing at the U.S. Open, but do players ever complain about the late-night matches? It seems to me that nobody would really want to be playing (or watching) tennis at 2 a.m.!
—Jesse Berkowitz, Los Angeles
• Sure, the quirks of the schedule are a constant source of complaints among players, often not wrongly. I don't think I’m violating confidences when I say that Madison Keys was not thrilled to play well past midnight—which means falling asleep after 4:00 a.m.—on three occasions. But you need primetime sessions. You need to feed the insatiable “content” maw. And this is a risk you run in a sport that doesn’t utilize a clock.
I know you aren’t a fan of wildcards because of their unfair distribution amongst nations that host Grand Slams, but I think they really have a place in the game (Sharapova being a prime example why) if only there were some rules in place. What if the 12 wildcards were distributed like this: three to the host nation, three reciprocal ones for other host nations, three to competitors who don’t come from host nations but whose name/story/talent would enrich the tournament
Has there ever been any attempt before to limit the amount of wildcards the host nation can give to itself? They always seem so wasted on people who have zero chance of progressing through the tournament.
—Michelle Harten, Brisbane, Australia
• It’s not wildcards per se that I object to. I get that tournaments need to a way to move marketable (i.e. ticket selling and ratings generating) players into draws when their rankings are insufficient. Juan Martin del Potro needs a wild into the 2016 U.S. Open? Great. Honestly, I didn't have a problem with Maria Sharapova here. But giving a tranche of wildcards to the host country seems unfair. (Pity, say, Spain, which furnishes great players but—through accident of history—doesn’t a host a Grand Slam and therefore never get its player in if they don't qualify.) And what’s truly unseemly is the “reciprocal” trade. Check out Amandine Hesse, a French payer who swops up reciprocal wild cards, struggles to win games and leaves with $5,000.
I like your distribution. Try convincing the federations of the Grand Slam nations.
Could you imagine before the tournament that you could get $25 tickets for Wednesday's quarterfinal session for Pliskova and Nadal? The general admission tickets for Friday just to be on the grounds is $25. Quite a contrast between the ticket price whenever Federer is playing.
• The market is what the market is.
Without a doubt, Chase wins for best product placement in history. With their name right on the open Ashe roof, that whole venue looks exactly like their logo. I’ve always found it amusing how the commercials for financial services peak during the Grand Slam tournaments, but this is just ridiculous (in a good way).
—Sean White, San Diego, Calif.
• No doubt.