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  • Will Roger Federer skip the French Open? What does the Hall of Fame consider barometers of success? Should we know more about Novak Djokovic's injury? That and more in this week's Mailbag.
By Jon Wertheim
February 07, 2018

Flotsam and jetsam.

1. Michael Stich, recently voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, is the next guest on the SI/Tennis Channel tennis podcast.

2. Awkwardly, we have had some recent inquiries about sponsoring the podcast. I—intentionally—stay out of the commerce side, but feel free to contact me and I’ll forward inquiries to the sales staff accordingly.

3. New York readers: a) The New York Open starts next week. B) Balls, an off Broadway show based on Billie Jean King, runs through Feb. 25. Tickets here. c) “The USTA announced that the 2018 US Open will introduce a new daily match schedule for the tournament, made possible by the completion of the strategic transformation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and the opening of the new 14,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium. In 2018, both Arthur Ashe Stadium and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium will hold dedicated day and night sessions.”

Upward and Onward….

Mailbag

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

To your question about whether Roger Federer will play or skip the French Open: I think he will skip it but I think he should have a go at it. In 2017 RF finally got really comfortable with the bigger racket, meaning his more aggressive style of play and his execution are in sync. He can take the French Open even if Nadal plays—36 is not old for everyone, it is just a number. Some are old at 21. I know: two hips replaced, prostate gone and I still ski and play basketball.

• Never mind RF. Go, you! To hell with your missing hips and prostate. I tend to agree with you. Federer is understandably wary of clay and understandably rational. You come on a cold day and tweak your back—at the major you’re least likely to win—and there goes your entire summer.

But, again, especially given all the other cars in the shop, Federer is close to pole position right now. If the French Open started tomorrow and Nadal was not 100%, who else beats him? In best-of-five? With raucous crowd support? And, yes, with influence on the schedulers?

I totally disagree with you regarding Helena Sukova, whom I feel you unintentionally belittled calling her a "doubles star.” If doubles count for nothing, stop playing them, but I'm sure you believe that players like the Bryan brothers, the Woodies or Daniel Nestor are Hall of Famers, though their singles careers are far less impressive than Sukova. She is a nine-time doubles Grand Slam champion and a five-time mixed doubles champ. She was No. 1 in the world and won two Olympic silver medals. As a singles player she reached four Grand Slam finals and was ranked no. 4. She was also very involved in tennis in the Czech Republic after she hung up her racket. In my opinion she's as deserving, if not more so, than the (deserving in their on rights) likes of Gigi Fernández, Rosie Casals or Frew McMillan. Stich is a "stichier" matter, and definitely opens the door for the likes of Cilic and Delpo.
Gilad from Israel

• I’m open to either possibility, but either you misinterpreted, or I wrote that poorly. In the case of Sukova I think we have the Hall of Fame version of the Simpson’s Paradox.

She doesn’t get in on the basis of her singles. She may or may not get in on the basis of her doubles. But add them together and she gets the call. Full disclosure: I did not vote for Sukova. But I respect those who did.

There’s a question bubbling just beneath the surface that’s disingenuous not to pose. The Hall of Fame ceremony is a source of revenue and publicity that coincides with the final weekend of the ATP event. Is the Hall of Fame prepared to skip a ceremony altogether one year? “This year we induct no one.” If there’s not a willingness to confront this possibility—and that may be a completely legitimate response—we should condition ourselves to admitting one-time Slam champions.

A lot of you have written in, asking about the relatively modest C.V.’s of both inductees. I get that. But spun more favorably, maybe the message is that “Slams won” isn't the only barometer of success.

Does it make sense that Serena Williams (or Azarenka or Clijsters) loses her ranking while off the tour due to pregnancy and childbirth? This isn't an overuse injury or a doping ban. A No. 1 player leaves the tour to carry and give birth to a child then has to deal with the monumental changes to her body to be able to compete again. All that necessarily takes more than a year. Surely she shouldn't be punished for it! Do you know if the WTA is considering rule changes?
Claire, Ottawa

• I could go either way. Not the most generous parental leave program. But you’re in a competitive industry. Your status necessarily impacts someone else’s.

What do you think about Djokovic's surgery or whatever it was? Do you think journalists should try to clarify exactly what procedure he had?
Jay, Brooklyn 

• In theory I agree with you. Most sports have standards for keeping fans—that is, customers—abreast of injuries. In a sport, though, where there are no teams and no league but the competitors are individual contractors, this kind of transparency (or translucency in the case of the Patriots) is hard to legislate.

Inquiries here are totally fair game. “Novak, please clarify why it is your hand is bandaged.” But, candidly, I think athlete discretion/privacy is fair, too. “Listen, guys. It’s my body and my injury and I would prefer not to discuss it.”

Do you remember this article from five years ago? Haha! "With great power comes great responsibility.”

• Here’s what needs retiring: the phrase “damaging/tarnishing one’s legacy.” In fairness to the writer, you could make the case that one of the media’s jobs is to anticipate and, yes, prognosticate. We have business projections and weather forecasts and “ones to watch.” Sometimes predictions pan out; sometimes you are the guy predicting the tulip boom of 17th-century Holland or the impossibility of the self-driving car.

Hi Jon, hope you are well. With Federer putting even more distance between himself and Tiger Woods in major titles after the recently completed Australian Open, do you think Sports Illustrated will ever do an article/investigation on how they really missed the boat over the years in their relatively minimal coverage of Federer? (Is it two covers and zero Sportsperson of the Year awards? Dwyane Wade in 2006???) Is the overreaching reason for Federer's lack of coverage that tennis as a whole is not held in as high regard as golf? Of course Serena got her Sportsperson of the Year even though Novak was actually closer to the Grand Slam... Did Steffi get Sportsperson of the Year when she pulled off a Golden Slam in '88 (at the age of what 18/19?)?

Anyhow, I found it very interesting that on the same weekend of Federer winning his 20th Slam title, Woods received as much or more mainstream press for making a cut.
Dennis Szalkai, Vancouver, Canada

• Even by tennis’ standards, this could be a bridge too far in terms of conflicts of interest. I can't really talk objectively. Here’s what I will say:

a) Now that the 10-year statute of limitations has lapsed, we can concede that for 2006, Federer was the better choice.

b) Tennis is a bit handicapped by the sports schedule. The Australian Open comes the week before the Super Bowl. The French Open comes in the thick of the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup. Wimbledon is the dead of summer (coinciding with SI’s double issue “Where are They Now?”) and the U.S. Open final is usually played on Week One of the NFL season.

c) I am not *the* decision maker, but I am a decision maker. I lobby for tennis when appropriate (see: Serena Williams 2015) but sometimes need to suppress my fondness for the sport. The truth is tennis is still a niche sport and the fact is, “consumer interest/demand” impacts editorial decisions.

d) I reiterate my quote in the above story: “This has been a source of ribbing with Federer and his camp, but for Federer—being the mensch that he is—it’s never been the basis for declining an interview or anything like that. Also, I should point this out: Not once did he denigrate Dwyane Wade or question his bona fides.”

I'm sure most of your readers know the legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg passed away a few days before Christmas. I was wondering if you might suggest having him enshrined in the Tennis Hall of Fame as a contributor. He has already been inducted into the Baseball, Basketball, and Football Halls of Fame. I always greatly enjoyed hearing him commentate on tennis matches. He had a very gentlemanly and respectful demeanor that left viewers feeling calm and focused on sporting events. He will be missed by millions.
Raymond

• At some point, remind me to tell you a Dick Enberg story sometime.

I like your idea. The Hall of Fame encourages you send nominations to the website tennisfame.com

Strolling through a mall recently, I came upon a Godiva chocolate shop. Recalling a Federer commercial of several years ago for chocolates, but not the brand, I asked the two counter clerks, “Is this the chocolate Roger Federer endorses?” They looked at each other quizzically, then responded, “Who is Roger Federer?” Speechless, I quickly left, realizing that there are people on the planet who did not know this name. As a long-time fan, I should have known Federer endorses Lindt chocolates.
Mark, Fullerton, Calif.

• Keep this in mind, tennis fans, as Valentines Day approaches…

 Shots, Miscellany 

• From tennis player to Super Bowl winner sounds like a demotion to me. But (h/t Jonathan Jones) good for Jake Elliott.

 • RIP Diane Straus, champion of paddle tennis.

 • The Volvo Car Open has added another top WTA player to its 2018 field. World No. 10  Julia Goerges will play in the Charleston tournament this year. 

• On the heels of signing 2017 USAPA National Champion, Ty McGuffin, Selkirk Sport, a leading manufacturer of Pickleball paddles and accessories, today announced the signing of former Wimbledon Doubles Champion, JoAnne Russell, to its Team Selkirk Professional Pickleball Advisory Staff.

• IMG announced that the longest-running women’s professional tournament on the WTA tour has signed Mubadala Investment Company as its new title sponsor. IMG has also entered into a long-term agreement with San José State University to host the event beginning in 2018, reinforcing its commitment to keeping the WTA Premier event in California’s Bay Area.

• Tip of the tam o' shanter to Denise Tyler, doyenne of the Wimbledon pressroom. We wish her well.

The lovely, the talented, Gael Monfils. 

• This week’s LLS is from Sam from San Diego: Ivan Ljubicic, coach of Roger Federer, and Joe Biden, former vice president of the United States.

Getty Images/AP

• This week’s Reader Rant comes from Zaid Noorsumar: Hi Jon. I've been reading your SI column on and off for about a decade (it's #MeNotYou; my interest has dwindled at times), but writing to you for the first time.  I thought this was a good opportunity to highlight my Pakistani countrymen's 4-0 Davis Cup victory over a Chung-less Korea (and to indulge in some shameless self-promotion). 

The win was forged by Pakistan's aging stalwarts Aisam-ul-Haq and Aqeel Khan, both of whom are on the wrong side of 40. But here's the compelling part—this win came on home soil, where Pakistan's slick grass courts (think Wimbledon in the ‘80s) make our team virtually unbeatable as our unbeaten record since 1997 attests. 

Unfortunately, from the mid-2000s to 2017, Pakistan was unable to host ties (at the risk of attracting the ire of my compatriots, I will say for good reason). So every time Pakistan has come close to qualifying for the World Group, it has stumbled because of the lack of home advantage. But this time we can rely on the comfort of home as we once again are just two matches away from the elusive main draw. 

Considering the advanced ages of our best and most reliable players, it may be now or never for Pakistan. Some of your readers would be familiar with Aisam, but they could have been as easily have been acquainted with Aqeel, if not for his working class background, as chronicled in my long-form 2016 feature on him (in my defense, I am trying to break into journalism).

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