Mailbag: Appreciation for Non-Federer Big Four Rivalries and Memorable Matches

Showing some love for the rivalries between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, plus Laver Cup vs. Davis Cup and more.
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Hey everyone. Quick housekeeping:

1) Happy holidays to your and yours. A quick 'bag today and then we’ll be back in 2018.

2) If you missed it, here are our 2017 Baggie Awards winners.

3) Paul Annacone was our most recent podcast guest.

4) From the shameless self-promotion/good soldiering department, check out 60 Minutes this Sunday.

5) Someone must have given me an advanced copy because the book has an April release date, but Julian Barnes’ new book, The Only Story, contains passages of absolutely exquisite tennis writing.


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

Bottom line, Jon, what do you think of Laver Cup versus Davis? Is Laver Cup here to stay? Is it a cool event that disappears once Federer retires?
Michael N., Brooklyn

• It’s a good question that’s come up often, both here and in the community at large. For all the talk of the Federer-Nadal resurgence and Serena’s pregnancy and the ascent of Sascha Zverev, this was a real top-line story of 2017.

Laver Cup—admirably, I would add—has taken pains to distance itself from this discussion and reject the idea that Davis Cup is a rival. But it’s hard (impossible?) to detach the two and not see Laver Cup through the prism of Davis Cup’s sadly declining relevance.

I think Laver Cup has a real chance. The power of Federer is enormous—and I suspect will be, even in retirement. National tennis federations have hedged their bets and provided financial support. (The cynic might ask how the USTA “investing” $6 million in a private event fosters the organizational mission of promoting and developing the growth of tennis in the U.S.; but that’s a discussion for another time.) With the World Cup of Tennis now, I’m told, dead on arrival, there’s not much competition.

But beyond all that, Laver Cup is really a good, smart concept. It takes advantage of star power and tennis’ global reach without the scheduling snarl. The format is easy for fans to follow. The less-is-more approach provides time for marketing. Where will the second round of Davis Cup be held? Hell if we know; it depends on who wins and which arena or venue can be found. Laver Cup 2018, NINE months from now? Here ya go.

With Delpo coming back into form, Zverev coming of age along with Dimitrov & Theim, forget about 2022, let’s talk about 2018 first. Oh, one more thing, Nick Kyrgios putting his mind together is enough to take care of everyone else, leave alone Novak.

• I am torn here. We all like shiny, new toys. (Holiday imagery!) But we fall into this trap every year. Before considering prospects, let’s recognize a) that the Big Four/Five are really, really friggin’ good b) there are only five players who can actually reside in the top five.

Health, of course, is the variable. But if Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka are at anything close to full health, there’s very little room for an interloper. Zverev? Sure. If he can enter the top five without playing deep into a Slam, imagine the damage he can do when he improves in best-of-five matches. Dimitrov? Lovely guy, but we’ve been burned before. Thiem? Maybe, though pacing remains an issue. Delpo? We still worry about durability. Kyrgios? Your guess is as good as anyone’s, his included.

None of this is intended as disrespect. Think of it, rather, as a show of reverence for the incumbents. We like prospects. The ATP likes new, young players to promote. Sexy as IPOs can be, it's the reliable and steady blue chips that often bring more value.

Any murmurings about changing the name of Margaret Court Arena? That was a fire topic for about a week this year and then disappeared.

• Glass half empty explanation: in these days of diminishing attentions spans, we’ve forgotten about this. Mr. Brightside: Australia recently passed (overwhelmingly) the equivalent of marriage equality laws. While her bigotry is abhorrent, maybe Margaret Court is more “irrelevant coot” than “threat who needs to be confronted.

Thanks a bunch for the suggestions in the Mailbag. Much appreciated!

• A few others came in, though I will happily open this up to the group. If any of you have additional tips, fire away.

1) Wednesday nights at Queen Victoria Market.

2) The Royal Botanic Gardens are adjacent to the tennis venue on the other side of the Yarra.

3) I suspect it stems from the surprisingly weak currency (one Australian dollar is barely 75 cents U.S.) but one of you noted that the AO has the cheapest concessions of the four majors.

4) There are shaded overhangs on Court 12 and 13, I’m told. (I can’t tell from the site map and it doesn’t ring familiar so take that for what it’s worth.)

5) I’m serious about the sunblock.

In the ‘bag, you asked why we aren’t talking more about the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry. It’s a good question. How many of their matches have been memorable? That six-hour Australian Open final wasn’t exactly fun to watch. The best part was when both guys were visibly suffering—stretching, groaning, leaning on the net—during the trophy presentation behind the talking head who was oblivious to what was going on behind him. That was funny. There’s something stultifying about the non-Fed matchups in the Big Four. Maybe there’s not enough contrast in style. Maybe it’s too much war-of-attrition. Maybe they suffer in comparison to the dramatic Roger-Rafa clashes, which are more like events than matches. Maybe it seems little is on the line when the other three are chasing Fed’s records and reputation. My question: Are there any Nadal-Djokovic (or for that matter, Nadal-Murray or Djokovic-Murray) matches that actually stick in your memory?
Megan, Indy

• Interesting. I can think of a few memorable matches. Nadal’s various takedowns of Djokovic at the French Open. Djokovic’s straight-set Is-this-the-end-for-Rafa? quarterfinal takedown of Nadal in 2015. Djokovic frustrating Nadal in 2011. Nadal winning a spellbinding match in Canada in 2013; or beating Djokovic breezily in Madrid in 2017. This rivalry has featured a lot of streaks—even now, Djokovic has won 11 of the last 13—so many it’s suffered from the lack of swaying results. I can think of a few Murray/Djokovic classics, not least a historic Wimbledon final, and the two benefit from being so close in age. I really have to strain to think of Nadal/Murray matches (2008 U.S. Open? Nadal having his way with Murray at Wimbledon?).

I wonder if much of this is stylistic. Murray-Djokovic is just not a particularly compelling clash of styles. I wonder how much of this is personal/cultural. The players are cordial, if not friendly, so perhaps it’s harder for fans to get invested, given the lack of animus. But beyond that, it’s simply not Federer-Nadal, the rivalry against which all others are measured.

Wondering about your thoughts on the following….Given Federer’s popularity and fact he’ll eventually retire, it would make a lot of fans happy (thinking himself too) if he follows Martina Hingis career path—start playing doubles full time after he’s done playing singles full time. Here are my thoughts on how and why this could be so good (in no order):

1) He loves tennis—why not extend your career this way, keep competing, traveling, winning, etc.

2) He would make fans happy (they get to keep seeing him) and make promoters happy (he’s a huge draw)

3) If he teamed up with right partner(s) he could likely win more major trophies (and ATP 1000,s) and extend his legacy/further cement his legendary status 

4) If he teamed up with other big stars, it would make it even better. Stan would be good choice—already friends, same country, already won Olympic Gold, etc. But if he teamed up with Nadal, it could knock it out of the park—was very cool to see them team up at Laver Cup

5) He could say he’s (they’re) donating all winnings to local charities (homeless shelters, food pantries, etc.) It would be another way to give back to all the communities he’s visited over the years—thinking people would love this gesture of kindness—he probably doesn’t need the money (ha). Venues could add to the charitable idea: give 10%, half, all, etc. profits for that session to charity….. If you like these ideas, please mention to him during next chance you have to interview him. Your thoughts?
Brad Levine, Cincinnati, Ohio

• The sentimentalist in me likes your thinking. Who among us wouldn’t want to see Federer—for that matter, any star—compete into the years in which they gum their food and drink (prune juice on changeovers?)? And I don't disagree that Federer could be a top doubles player tomorrow if he so chose.

But, it’s hard to see many top singles players “pulling a Hingis” and downshifting into doubles specialists. Federer, especially so. We can come up with 100 reasons. He’s a husband and father of four. (“Honey, I’m running out to win another Wimbledon,” gets you a domestic hall pass. “Honey, I need my sleep before we face Tecau/Rojer” is a tougher sell.) He has other interests. The finances are unlikely to make sense. The “fluid” scheduling of doubles becomes problematic. (Aside: we underrate how much the stars benefit from “fixed” start times. Knowing you’re playing the night session makes for completely different rhythms from “fourth on.”)

Enjoy Federer while you can. Root for him to remain invested—a stakeholder, as we say in corporate-ese—in the sport. But lets permit him to enjoy life off the circuit.

Shots, Miscellany

• You can't modify the word “unique.” But the word doesn't quite do Marion Bartoli justice. Welcome back to her.

Speaking of Miami.

Rafa Nadal comes to Broadway. Sort of.

• Congrats, Anna Kournikova, mother of twins.

• The tournament least in need of an upgrade… gets an upgrade. Indian Wells, 2018.

• 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.

• Aljaz Bedene is no longer a top 50 British player. He is a top 50 Slovenian player.

• Donna Vekic is now working with Torben Beltz.

• Whitney Osuigwe of Bradenton and Axel Geller of Argentina were named World Champions by the International Tennis Federation.

• “Swiss chocolate maker Lindt & Sprungli today announced an 'extension of its partnership' with Roger Federer that began in 2009. The multiyear extension is 'expected to net Federer' more than $20M as a brand ambassador. The chocolatier will be the 'latest Federer sponsor to extend its relationship with the tennis great beyond 10 years together.'" 

• Congratulations to John Isner on his recent marriage.

Justin Gimelstob’s Charity Event brings in Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe, the Bryans and money for a good cause.

• Nice to se Caroline Garcia and Jo Konta both heading the Charleston.

• Congrats, Andrew Moss!