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  • Will Federer try for the French Open title this season? Plus some International Tennis Hall of Fame discussion, some final thoughts from the 2018 Australian Open and more.
By Jon Wertheim
January 31, 2018

Wrapping up the 2018 Australian Open, jet lag edition.

1) Here’s a wrap-up podcast for your listening pleasure.

2) Next podcast guest: 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Michael Stich.

3) Here’s the 50 Thoughts column for those who missed it.

4) Good soldiering: For the top news, expert debate, and match analysis, check out the new Tennis Channel app. Download it now.           

5) New York readers: Hyeon Chung is coming to these parts.

6) Lots of questions and still more comments about Tennys Sandgren. Lashing and backlashing, as it were. I propose we take a break here. Sandgren has made apologies, he’s specifically renounced the alt-right, he’s clarified some positions. Does this absolve him from sentiments that remain deeply offensive to many? No. But if he has a capacity to shift his views, perhaps we should at least remain open to the possibility of shifting our views about him.

Slate’s Josh Levin and ESPN’s Howard Bryant, as is their wont, had a smart take as well as some choice words about ESPN’s treatment of Sandgren. Hit the 32:00 minute mark or so. 

Mailbag

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

Some rapid fire Q/A… 

If you were a betting man, does Federer take one more shot at the French Open to get two of everything?
@pmalan1979

• Great question. I am not a betting man. Otherwise I couldn't cover tennis. Which is weird when betting sites can sponsor events and members of players’ entourages can get paid for wearing shirts advertising betting sites. But let’s save that for another time.

My guess: Federer sticks to his plan and again skips clay. The surface asks so much of him physically. And his decision was validated in 2017. If I’m him, I’m paying close attention to Nadal. If Nadal is healthy and blazing his usual trail through the dirt, I make like Billy Crystal and Forget Paris. If Nadal is vulnerable, I think seriously about playing Paris. Other than Nadal, who is well positioned to beat Federer in a best-of-five clay match these days? 

A couple of years ago when asked how many more majors Federer would win, you said that if you had to pick between 0 and 1 you’d pick 1 but if forced to pick between 0 and 2 you’d pick 0. So, how many more majors does Federer win?
David B., London

• If I may approach the bench, when I made that prediction Federer had gone four years without a major. (Let’s pause for a moment and note that he wandered the Slam desert from Wimbledon 2012 until Australia 2017. Those 20 majors are all the more impressive given a nearly five-year dry spell.) I’m out of the prognostication game now but all bets—there we are, betting again—are off. Federer is playing as well as ever, strumming that backhand and playing through rough patches in a best-of-five format. And the rest of the field is either injured or immature. Provided full health, could Federer win two more majors this year alone? Why the hell not. He’s dropped one match COMBINED at the last four Slams he’s entered.

When you reference Hall of Fame credentials this has to be taken into account: one Slam from a player like Marin Cilic in this era is a greater accomplishment than during a period when the winner’s circle is constantly changing...
@stephenbirman

• Fair enough. We say this all the time, but over the past 13 years, only seven different men have won majors. This will have some interesting ramifications for the Hall of Fame.

Speaking of which…lots of questions and comments about last week’s induction announcement of Michael Stich and Helena Sukova. I admit to some confusion. Last year the Hall announced some changes in the voting process as well as a move, it seemed, toward more rigorous criteria.           

That players would be guaranteed automatic qualification if they won FIVE majors or three majors and 13 weeks at No. 1 implied a certain threshold. Yet in 2018 we have two inductees—Helena Sukova and Michael Stich—who come nowhere near that mark. Sukova was terrific in doubles, but never won a singles major. Stich won Wimbledon in 1991 but was never ranked No. 1.  Both players max out the “credit to the sport” qualities. Stich won Olympic gold. Sukova was a doubles star who got to No. 4 in singles. But the larger point: a precedent has been set. And based on this, many players—Marin Cilic and Caroline Wozniacki come immediately to mind—appear to have just punched their ticket.

What's the current thinking on extended final sets by the folks who run the majors? Did the recent women's final change any minds? It was painful to watch Halep struggle, she had played measurably more than Wozniacki including a 15-13 and a 9-7 in the semis. I was almost hoping for an extended set and for one of them to be unable to finish so that the officials might be forced to address the issue. As it is there are pics all over the press of Halep on an IV in hospital after the match? It's just not fair to the winners of these marathons, what will it take?
Name misplaced, Washington, D.C.

• If nothing else, tennis is moving away from the “tweedy country club sport” reputation. Posting photos from the hospital after competition is straight out of MMA.           

But, to your point, this is not a good look. You wonder how much of this was specific to the final and how much was cumulative. But if players could repair to the hotel bar—and not the hospital or the MRI machine—that would be nice.

Apart from Federer, such a disappointing men's tournament. Four of the world's five best players (Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka) injured, absent or playing in thier first match in eight months. Also, Next-Gen and Next-Next Gen were disappointing yet again. Fed played one player in top 18, two in top 35.
Mademan1414

• These tournaments always take on their own shapes and characteristics. Much as we missed Serena, I loved this women’s event. In the end—for all the chaos—we had one versus two and a deserving champ. We also had some terrific matches.

Truth serum: Federer salvaged the men’s event. There were some nice storylines (see: Hyeon Chung) and some promising performances. But it’s dispiriting that the casualty list rivals a World War I battlefield. Four of the Big Five were compromised by injury. And to the reader’s point, Zverev continues to disappoint at majors. Kyrgios remains a work in progress. Dimitrov—winner of the previous big-ticket event, the WTF in London—remains a lovely guy, who’s lovely to watch…and, one fears, lacks the je ne sais quoi of a champion.

Re: Sharapova. This article would have been more astute if Wertheim commented on Maria's subpar performances since she stopped (probably) taking a PED.
@felipenopollous

• I tread cautiously here. In part because I disagree with the sentiment. Sharapova is in her 30s. Even in her prime she won….what? One of ten majors she entered? Correlation does not equal causation. The notion that she won five majors because of meldonium verges on the absurd.

But it’s also naïve not to address this angle. When a player is sent to the timeout corner for doping suspensions, they bear a burden of proof—at least in the eyes of some—to demonstrate that past success did not owe to banned substances. This is not unique to Sharapova. It’s not unique to tennis. You see this all the time in MMA, for example. Fighters returning from doping suspensions and speak openly about feeling an added of pressure to win and squelch skepticism. I imagine Sharapova feels something similar.

On a happier note, she need only look to the men’s final for inspiration. In 2013, Marin Cilic faced a doping suspension. He had an alibi—who doesn’t?—but was suspended for nine months, which was knocked down to four months on appeal. Since then, he’s won a lot of matches. He’s gone about his business with professionalism and an amiable spirit. There’s been no other whiff of scandal. And his past indiscretion is hardly mentioned.

Which is to say: he has met this burden of proof. And Sharapova can as well.

Jon, as you know, a player who wins Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back is referenced as having won the “Sunshine Double.” My question is, if a player who wins the New York Open and Delray back-to-back, how will we reference that accomplishment? A few options:

1. The Double Bagel
2. The Bagel Double 
3. I-95 Double
4. The Kibbutz Cup

We need to sort out a definitive one soon, so I can properly trademark it in time. Thoughts?
Michael

• Go home, everyone. You’re not doing better than “The Double Bagel.”

Kudos for noting that Roger Federer has now won 10% of all majors in the Open Era. With that said, shouldn't this serve as further validation that those players that have won "only" one Slam are deserving of Hall of Fame election? Considering so few men have been victorious at majors in comparison to the vastly larger number of those that have actually played on tour in the last 50 years, this HAS to put them in the top 1-5% of their profession. Call me crazy, but isn't this otherworldly stuff?
Jay Zavislak

• First of all, it’s otherworldly, but let’s do note that two players—Steffi Graf and Serena Williams—have an even higher percentage. And, yes, given that Federer (and Nadal and Djokovic after him) are such glory hogs (joking) it ought to force us to reassess the career of contemporaries who have won “only” one major. Flawed analogy: but if I am a British band who made a platinum album during the reign of the Beatles/Stones/Who/Zeppelin, I’m still doing well.

How on earth is it possible for Mladenovic to move up into the top 10? Has she won a match since the French Open? It just doesn’t make logical sense. 
Bob Romero, Monee, Ill.

• She has won a match since the French Open. But, yes, this has been a brutal stretch. And perhaps her doubles success in Melbourne will catalyze her singles. How is she ranked so highly? Because those are the quirks of a 52-week rolling system. This is the place to plug the UTR, the ranking system based on algorithm that includes momentum, games surrendered, quality of opponent—and is far more accurate and predictive. (Full disclosure: Tennis Channel has a formal relationship.) 

If Diego Schwartzman gets a mention, should also include Su-Wei Hsieh. Funky game took out a No. 3 seed, No. 26 seed and gave Kerber a run for her money. Amazed she's made $4.7 million in earnings. Good to see doubles players have a run in singles.
@renodrew

• Right, you are. And she/Hsieh merits mention regardless of Schwartzman.

Loved the 50 Parting Thoughts. I felt I had to chime in: I am afraid you are comparing essentially apples and oranges. NFL quarterbacks helping each other is quite different from tennis players helping each other. All other things being equal, it is much more plausible for a NFL QB to take another QB's position (simply because there are only 32 starters) when compared to Zverev and Federer. It is indeed harder for Zverev to replace Federer, than for RG3 to replace Brady.

So, its not quite the same. I felt like your audience would appreciate context, and how good Samaritan attitudes aren't always comparable, between both sports (Favre–Rodgers story provides another classic data point too). Let's not get too carried away with feel good stories here. 
Deepak (Seattle)

• I agree that it’s apples and oranges. But—even with the rules protecting quarterbacks—I would push back here. RGIII was barely hanging onto his NFL job at the time. Contrast this with Zverev who a) competes directly with Federer b) beat him the previous time they played c) joins him in the top five. Seems to me Federer is much more easily supplanted than Brady was.

"Earlier this week Michael Stich—winner of one major—was inducted into the Hall of Fame." Stich's election was announced last week, but he won't be inducted until July.
John H

Touche.

I go to each Grand Slam’s website each year during the tournament. The Australian Open site was always a first class delight until this year. It was inexplicably terrible this year and I quit going to it during the tournament. A mystery since that tournament always does everything so well.
Franklyn

• I’m telling you, this was the mystery of the tournament. Hate to dwell on it but so many of you (not wrongly) complained that I want to be sure your sentiment is reflected. (And if this helps shame Tennis Australia into rectifying the problem, we all win.)

Shots, Miscellany

• Here’s a trailer for the Carillo HBO Real Sports piece:

A Boris Becker update.

Look who’s coming to Margaret Court Arena.

• Your 2019 ATP calendar.

Robby Ginepri is the new coach for captain Jim Courier’s Davis Cup squad.

• Roger Federer will play his first-ever match in the Bay Area on Monday, March 5, at 7 p.m. Federer will take on American tennis star Jack Sock at the SAP Center in San Jose in an exhibition match to support children’s education in Africa. Celebrity guests Bill Gates and Savannah Guthrie will also take to the court in a celebrity-pro doubles match. Tickets for Match for Africa 5 – Silicon Valley are available Friday, January 26, at 9 a.m. PST with net proceeds benefiting the Roger Federer Charitable Fund/Roger Federer Foundation.

Kia Motors extended its partnership with the Australian Open for another five years, running to 2023. “It has been an incredible partnership for Kia Motors, fully aligned to the youthful spirit of our brand,” Byung Yun Park, Executive Vice President at Kia Motors Corporation, said. “We are excited to be part of the world’s most thrilling Grand Slam tennis tournament for another five years. I’d like to thank everyone at Tennis Australia and everyone involved in organizing this incredible event for their hard work in providing unforgettable experiences, every year.”

• Victor Lilov of Raleigh, N.C. made history on Sunday by winning the singles title at the prestigious Les Petits As 14-and-under junior tournament in Tarbes, France. He is the ninth player, male or female, to win both of those titles in the same year, and the fourth American, following CiCi Bellis (2013), Frances Tiafoe (2012) and Donald Young (2003), since the Teen Tennis event began in 1995.

• Tennis Canada and National Bank announced on Tuesday the launch of a new men’s professional tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour in Calgary. Sanctioned by the ATP, the tournament, which offers $75,000 U.S. in total prize money and hospitality to the players, will be held from October 13-21 at the OSTEN & VICTOR Alberta Tennis Centre.

The Bay Club Company today announced the third annual Kunal Patel SF (KPSF) Open, running Monday, February 5 through Sunday, February 11 at Bay Club SF Tennis. The memorial tournament, which joined the ATP Challenger Tour in 2017, will host an international pool of players inside the top 100 rankings, including promising young American talent Michael Mmoh, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Bay Area native Mackenzie McDonald, and will be the largest professional tournament currently hosted inside the city of San Francisco.

HAVE A GOOD WEEK, EVERYONE!

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