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A guide to attending the Australian Open, Serena Williams's title defense in Melbourne, a word on Davis Cup and more in this week's Mailbag. 

By Jon Wertheim
December 13, 2017

Happy holidays everyone….

Some questions while mourning the World Cup on Tennis….


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

Hey Jon. Got the bucket list trip to the Aussie Open coming up. I Googled for your annual tips for it, but the most recent one I could find was from 2012. Can you post a few pointers? Thanks & maybe see you there!

• I’m not sure we’ve ever done tips for the Australian Open. Here’s a site map to get started. Ten off the top of my head:

1) As with most Slams, go early in the tournament and wander the grounds. Rod Laver Arena is fine, but hardly oozing with flavor and charm. The outer courts are where the action is.

2) There’s no Grandstand or Bullring money court. But Margaret Court Arena probably comes closest.

3) Plenty of people never even get to the courts, simply hanging out in the beer garden, the tennis equivalent of tailgating. Don’t be one of them. But do take a break in the area between Laver and Hisense. You can even nap on a beanbag.

4) All acknowledge the mighty Sol. The heat is no joke, neither is the sun’s intensity. Max sunblock. Water. Caps.

5) Note the spritz fans all around court 2.

6) The stars practice indoors (which I believe is closed to the public) but note practice courts 17 and 18.

7) Keep an eye out for American stars. Phil Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald and John Mayer are among those who have wandered the grounds unchecked.

8) No cars. Walk or take the take tram from downtown. If you’re staying on the Yarra (at the casino) take the water taxi.

9) Melbourne is world-class city. We’re talking Vancouver-level. Walk around the downtown. Take the tram to the beach. If nothing else, detour your walk to the courts through Fitzroy Gardens.

10) With eucalyptus doing the lifting, the Australian Open is by far the best smelling event. Breathe the air.

2017 saw big records extended at three of the four Slams. In Australia, Serena edged past Steffi to claim her 23rd Open Era major title. At Roland Garros, Rafa took home his 10th title at a single Slam. And at Wimbledon, Roger extended his lead in major titles to 19. Granted, any of these three greats could extend those records further in 2018. But if those records were etched in stone right now, which do you reckon would stand the longest before being equaled or surpassed by different player?

(I’d put my money on la decima, but I have to admit, it’s hard to see any current or emerging player catching up to Serena either.)
Teddy C in NYC

• Three points:

a) Start with Serena. It looks as though, barely four months after childbirth, she’ll be back to competition, defending her Australian Open title. This is madness. So is betting against her. By now, she gets all benefits of all doubts. (Aside: yes, Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open as her first Slam after maternity leave. But Clijsters’ daughter was 18 months old. Serena’s is still being charted in weeks!)

b) The beauty of the Big Four: no matter how the plot breaks, it’s relevant and potentially record setting. If Federer defends, he hits XX and wins at age 36. If Nadal wins, he’ll close the majors gap and the GOAT race will intensify. Djokovic? He’ll be back in business (last year was his first Slam-less season since 2010) and back in the conversation.

c) Fair warning: I will be repeating this early and often. We, as a community, have not done enough to acknowledge the historical importance of the fifth set of last year’s men’s final. Those 20 minutes or so after Nadal goes up 3-1 will echo throughout tennis history.

ATP, WTA Year-End Awards: 2017's Top Players, Coaches, Comebacks and More

As a fan, I say it would be amazing. But do you think Serena can win the 2018 Australian Open?
Charlie, Cambridge

• Do Germans like compound words? Did Brueghel like peasants? Is Lady Bird the movie of the year? Sure, Serena can win. The WTA field is still largely unsettled. (Quick: who’s your favorite otherwise?) But, beyond that, she has spent an entire career challenging conventional thinking. It’s not simply the cliché sport syntax of “proving the doubters wrong.” Especially at this stage, Serena derives more motivation and competition from chasing history and expanding limits than she does from the players on the opposite side of the net. This challenge will fire her up in a way that beating [insert name] will not.

Add this, too: pretty perfect conditions for making a return. Low-key environment. An ocean removed from home (and TMZ). With a time change. During the NFL Playoffs. At an event you’ve won seven times before. Hot conditions, but a court under a retractable roof.

Hey Jon: What would you prefer, to beat Federer and Nadal in the same tournament, but lose the final or win the tournament without beating either of those? This question came to mind when thinking who took away more from the year-end championships, Dimitrov or Goffin. 
Ben, Queens, NY

• Interesting. For the present—that is, the ranking point and prize money—I'll take the win. For the future—that is, telling stories to my grandkids and the other oldtimers at the bar—I’ll take beating Federer and Nadal in one week.

If a Davis Cup falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
Mike Oelrich, Dunn Loring, Va.

• We try to balance optimism with pragmatism here. And—not unlike Nadal’s triumph at the U.S. Open—it seems uncharitable, if not manifestly unfair, to diminish a tennis achievement by knocking the quality of competition. So let’s take a moment to praise France, a considerable tennis power, who has not produced a bona fide star, but does produce to steady flow of choice players.

Partners In Prime: Simultaneous Comebacks of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer Were a 2017 Highlight

Here’s an amazing statistic that, I believe, I first saw from Chris Clarey: France won the Davis Cup without recording a singles win over a top 40 singles player. That pretty much encapsulates the state of the event.

Don't mess with markets. You don’t innovate and either someone else disrupts your business (Laver Cup is Uber to Davis Cup’s taxi medallion) or the customers leave.

Loved Annacone's podcast but was surprised at his reference to a modest middle class up-bringing for both Federer and Nadal. Wouldn't you call their up bringing more privileged than middle class?
Venky, Ann Arbor, Mich.

• I am the accountant for neither family, so I can’t really speak to wealth. I think “middle class” is fair. But I also think this is an interesting dimension to the Federer/Nadal. So often we hear athletes’ origins stories and they involve despair and dire poverty. Sports become salvation and motivation, a way of deliverance from a childhood pocked by deprivation. Yet sometimes, we have the opposite: athletes who thrive in part because they are free of the pressures and burden of playing for family survival. Federer was never the family ATM. Nadal could have quit tennis at 16 and his family still lives comfortably. One imagines this can be liberating. Sometimes pressure makes diamonds. Sometimes natural fertilizer—“do what you enjoy organically; don't worry about the money”—yields the best harvest.         

I saw the news that Feliciano Lopez will serve as Madrid's tournament director by 2019. He's currently ranked well into the top 50 and has always been one of the fittest players so it seems there's a chance he might still be playing by the time he takes on acting director duties. 

How exactly would this work? Are there conflicts of interest here? The only precedent I see of an active player serving as a tournament director was Tommy Haas who did not compete in the event when he became director. This might be as good a time as any to discuss the role of a tournament director and what types of decisions they make in the short and long term? Even as a pretty ardent tennis fan, I know little about the role. I'd love more information on this.

On another note, you've always promoted the positive globalization of tennis and would probably agree that this piece by Steve Tignor is excellent. 
Rohit Sudarshan, Apia, Samoa

• First, we’ll always happily link a Steve Tignor piece. I was surprised by how many of you picked up on the Feliciano Lopez announcement. Clearly a new position has emerged in tennis, the celebrity “tournament director,” the former pro who becomes the front-facing talent for the event. In a lot of ways this makes sense. Why not have a “name” schmooze with sponsors and attend the hospitality tent? Why not have a former player run the draw ceremony or give the media a grounds tour? Why not have a former player with some currency try and wrangle players? (Who’s going to have more luck getting a star to a sponsor suite, Tommy Haas or some suit?)

 “Tournament director” is a fungible term. In most cases it means “sponsor seeking and relationship upkeeper.” In other cases it means “player recruiter/appearance fee negotiator.” Sometimes it chiefly entails keeping up a relationship with public officials. Depends on the circumstances of the tournament, the ownership and the status of the event.

One point: at all events, the tours have representatives on site. So if there are disputes or conflicts or questions about scheduling procedures (to wit: Dudi Sela requesting that he not play on Yom Kippur) the tournament director can defer. Are there conflicts of interest having an active player serve as tournament director? Sure. (This, after all, is tennis.) But it’s not as though Lopez is giving Nadal his court assignments.                                                                                                                              

Hi Jon. Thought these topics might get covered in last week's Mailbag but keen to get your thoughts on them. 

1. How worried do you think fans of Any Murray should be, regarding his split with Lendl? Do you think he needs a new supercoach?

2. Surely this was Nadal's best chance to win the ATP Finals? How much do you think will it bother him if he never wins it?

Big fan of the Mailbag.
Alex, London

Thanks, Alex.

1) Lendl deserves mounds (Murray Mounds) of credit here. But I would contend that Lendl also deserves some blame for Murray’s dismal 2017. After playing like mad at the end of 2016 to seize the No. 1 ranking, Murray may well have over-trained last December. The coach bears some responsibility there. I’m not sure Murray needs a supercoach, especially at this stage in his career.

2) The truth is the Great Ones play for the Slams, especially at this stage in their career. Nadal would rather win than lose. And, yes, it was a pity that he couldn’t consolidate his No. 1 ranking by wining the last event of the year. But overall Nadal is—rightly—thrilled with his 2017. Two majors, multiple TMS titles, the top ranking. If he didn't craft the perfect ending when he failed to post for an indoor event (his worst surface) in November, after he had already sewn up the No. 1 ranking, so be it.

As if there was not enough reason to like David Goffin, he goes and parties with the French Davis Cup team after his country’s loss in the final. And he and his girlfriend are going on vacation with Lucas Pouille from the winning French team and his girlfriend. This guy deserves many accolades, not least of which a BIG honorable mention in the tallying for the tennis sportsmanship award.
Tim Johnson, New York, N.Y.

• Agree. We spend too much time trying to find comparisons for David Goffin and not acknowledging him independently. Unfussy, professional, getting max value out of his game. As far as professional reputations go, you could do a lot worse.

Shots Miscellany

• Savannah Guthrie Admits Her Obsession with Roger Federer

• Fifteen-year old American Whitney Osuigwe capped a prolific junior tennis season by winning the Orange Bowl Girls' 18s title on Sunday, defeating Ukraine's Margaryta Bilokin, 6-1, 6-2, at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Fla. Osuigwe, a Bradenton, Fla., native whose father, Desmond, coaches her out of the IMG Academy, finished the year as the No. 1-ranked junior in the world and the ITF World Junior Champion -- the third American girl and fourth American overall to hold those distinctions in the last six years (Taylor Fritz, 2015; CiCi Bellis, 2014; Taylor Townsend, 2012). In junior play, Osuigwe went 57-8 in singles and 34-9 in doubles in 2017, won the French Open girls' singles title and helped lead the U.S. to its fourth 16-and-under Junior Fed Cup title in the last 10 years.

• The ATP World Tour’s No. 1 Under-21 player and South Korea’s greatest tennis export, Hyeon Chung, has committed to play the inaugural New York Open tournament at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, which takes place Feb. 11-18. Chung will play his first match on Tuesday, February 13 during the evening session.

• The ITF announced today that it has renewed its sponsorship agreement with NEC Corporation as title sponsor of the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters, the ITF’s year-end wheelchair singles championship, for an additional three-year period from 2018 through 2020. NEC will celebrate 25 years as title sponsor in 2018.

• For the fourth consecutive year, the BNP Paribas Open—held annually at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden—has been voted the WTA Premier Mandatory Tournament of the Year, as determined by player vote.

• Canadian tennis fans will be delighted to learn that nine of the best WTA players have chosen to play the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in 2018. The tournament will be held from August 3-12, 2018 at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal.

• From Deepak (Seattle): Your readers would appreciate this:

Pulled the proverbial chord on cable and went completely online through Youtube.TV. The Tennis Channel is included in the base package for $35, and it works like a charm. Since it’s all clouded up, you can store much more than traditional cable allows you to as well. Granted, this is Google's experiment and its really in "beta" but its one of the perks of living in a tech-hub. You shouldn't be surprised—if your more tech-savvy audience go this route soon, they'll be happy to know Google took care of us tennis fans well...                          

• Sixteen-year old Long Island natives Cannon Kingsley, of Northport, and Michelle Sorokko, of Little Neck, won the USTA Boys’ and Girls’ 18s National Indoor Championships singles titles this past weekend, highlighting the return of the USTA Boys’ and Girls’ National Indoor Championships, which were last played in 1999.

Kingsley, who is coached by Alex Pop-Moldovan, defeated 18-year old Indiana recruit Carson Haskins (Coaches: Mike Miller, Nick Tanurchis), of Ballwin, Mo., 6-3, 6-0, to win the Boys’ 18s title at the Overland Park Racquet Club in Overland Park, Kan. Sorokko, who is coached by her sister, Kathrin, beat 16-year old New Yorker Sonia Tartakovsky, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, to win the Girls’ 18s singles title at the Weymouth Club in Weymouth, Mass.

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