Just as we expect parents in the working world to return to work with full status, tennis players should also be extended that decency.

By Jon Wertheim
May 23, 2018

Housekeeping

• A reminder that the French Open will be broadcast on Tennis Channel, where champions respire, inspire and perspire (and I report).

• Check back here after the draw for the your 2018 French Open seeds reports.

• Here’s the most recent podcast with Glenn Greenwald, who speaks on teaming with Reese Witherspoon to produce a documentary extolling Martina Navratilova.

• Next up on said podcast: Orange County chanteuse Lindsay Davenport previews the French Open

• If you take the U.S. President at his word, the Mueller Investigation has cost $20 million. The Tennis Integrity Unit’s investigation into corruption in tennis—conclusion: it happens in low-level events, usually involving players with rankings in the four figures—cost $27 million. Consider that for a moment.

Onward….

Mailbag

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

Lots of chatter about Serena and the French Open’s decision not to seed her….in short strokes:

1.  Seed her. 

2.  Maternity is different from injury. (And, it barely needs mentioning, worlds away from return off the doping list.) Just as we expect parents in the working world to return to work with full status, tennis players should also be extended that decency.

3.  It’s heartening how many players are speaking out here, both for Serena and for the principle.

4.  If they had chosen to seed her, only one player really loses out—the one player who would otherwise be seeded. The seeds win big time, as they don't risk having to face a 23-time major winner in the early rounds. The other players in the draw are essentially unaffected.

5.  The optics of the WTA offering a less-than-generous maternity leave are problematic.

6. I don’t want to pick on the women, because the men also fall prey to this, too. But the prevailing notion that “they”—the tour, the tournament, anyone but the players—have established this unfortunate rule needs to be challenged. Players, it is YOUR tour, at least partially. You have ownership. You have agency.  You have political capital. You have purchase and purchasing power, as it were. Agitate to change the policy if you don't like it.

Jon,

Midway through the second set of his loss to Rafael Nadal in Rome, Novak Djokovic didn't just look beat, he looked tired. Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova beat Jelena Ostapenko in a match that went more than three hours. To me, it’s not even close.
Bruce, Boston

• This came from a Twitter discussion we had last weekend re: who had the more encouraging Italian Open, Maria Sharapova or Novak Djokovic. In the days prior to the French Open—a major each, of course, has won in recent years (Djokovic in 2016, Sharapova in 2014)—they both turned in their most encouraging results in a long time. Sharapova’s run to the semis included a signature grind-it-out win over Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 (6), 6-4, 7-5. Djokovic, too, reached the semis before falling to Nadal 7-6, 6-3, hardly an embarrassing score line when facing the master on his surface. 

I don’t disagree with Bruce that durability and fitness ought to be considered. And I would add that it’s an offshoot of a slump we don’t often consider. When you’re consistently losing early, you are missing out on match play, which can impact fitness. You can practice as long as you want. But you are not replicating the stops and starts and neurochemistry and dynamics of real competition. 

I would add that Djokovic goes into the French knowing there’s one guy who—almost to a comical extent—is the favorite. He could transmute himself into Djokovic circa 2015 and still only be 30/70 or so to win. In the case of Sharapova, shaky as she has been since her return, she can surely convince herself that no player is better positioned to win. 

Every one is parroting "dominance" when the elephant in the room is a lack of competition. I don't care how good a player is, a 30+ player shouldn't be winning five tournaments in a row (by Roland Garros) without losing a set. And not even one tiebreak! Something is very wrong.
@tennisrambling1

• Meh. First, Nadal did lose one match this spring (to Dominic Thiem) and dropped a few sets along the way. His age (almost 32) is less of an issue given the elastic careers these days. And we summon the eye test: Nadal is so ridiculously good on clay—marrying offense and defense; bringing his lefty funk to bear; durable as they come; emboldened on big points—that it’s hard to imagine any player from any era doing much damage against him on the dirt. In other words, it’s not like he’s playing B+ tennis and winning. This is a champion who’s turned clay court tennis into his own sport.

We talked, half-jokingly, about how Nadal and Roger Federer are awesome. And when Serena wins with comparable ease, well, women’s tennis sucks and she has no competition. That’s of course an oversimplification. And I would submit that the inconsistency of other players (from the current women to the Dimitrov/Kyrgios/Raonic/Nishikori crowd) underscores, not undercuts, the excellence of the ritual winners. 

What is up with women's tennis? Why can't we catch them on TV? I am a fan of both the WTA and ATP but can hardly find the WTA on TV. Case in point—this past week, both men and women were in action in Madrid. While the women's final was being played on Saturday, Tennis Channel was showing re-runs of the men's matches. I read that WTA games were on the beIN network but they were showing football matches.  What's up? I am sure this lack of exposure is impacting the earning power of the WTA stars.

Victor A., Cranbury, N.J.

• I am reluctant to address this week-in, week-out because 1. alea iacta est, as they might have once said in Northern Italy, “the die has been cast” 2. As someone who draws a check from Tennis Channel, I am conflicted and should perhaps recuse myself entirely. 

I am reluctant NOT to address this week-in, week-out because you guys, rightly, complain about this frequently. And it’s a huge issue. This flubbed media strategy, this failure to broadcast your product to the American market is death/suicide.

I sympathize with any sports league that wants to at least consider controlling its own content. I sympathize with any executive attempting to navigate the frontier of today’s media landscape. But this decision by the WTA has been an abject failure, the boardroom embodiment of an unforced error. Last week’s match between Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova—probably one of the, what, five most anticipated matches this year—was not shown on American television. Period. Full stop. If I am a fan, if I’m a player, if I’m an agent tasked with marketing and building value for my client, if I’m a WTA board member with a fiduciary duty, this is deeply problematic. 

Hey Jon,

Just a little rant before I take the boat out on the fjord!

1: Towel rack—please. It is ridiculous to watch this unsanitary, subservient garbage year in and year out. 

2: Hawkeye for the clay too please. Now that the chair umpires don't get out of the chairs very often, they are surely calling some doozies on the clay. Live with Hawkeye.

Finally, I’m really looking forward to the shift over to this next generation of tennis stars. Lots of great and diverse talent—a Canadian surf dude, LeBron with racket, Murray's replacement, German by IVAN). Just give me one more Federer day in the sun!

PS. Did you see that WTAtennis.com made no mention of Pliskova's meltdown?! I saw Jonny Mac's in Stockholm a century ago and it was awesome. Nice racket work. Bits and pieces of plastic tearing off with sparks of light. Can't make this stuff up!
Patrick Kramer, Oslo

• 1. You're in luck. In a nod to public health, the ATP announced the other day that it will experiment with a towel rack at the 2018 Next Gen event.

2. Yes, yes, yes to Hawkeye on clay. Which dovetails with….

3. You’ve all likely seen the Pliskova tantrum but if not, here’s her imitation of Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. We'll take the cheap traffic, thanks: 

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlZqbG0Zzdw]

4. She was handed “a four-figure” fine

At the risk of getting political, I wonder if I'm the only one who gets a little annoyed when I see a European player's residence listed as Monaco, or a Canadian's as The Bahamas, when the intent is clearly to escape paying taxes. Does this go over well with fans in the true home countries, who don't have the luxury of a tax shelter, or is the desire to see a compatriot champion enough for forgiveness? 

Jason Rainey, Austin

• Fair question. We always joke that if Monaco ever wanted to field a team of residents, it would win Davis Cup. There is, of course, a rich history of wealthy figures finding sanctuary outside their country of citizenship in order to avoid paying the full boat in taxes. 

Hi Jon,

It’s really hard to follow tennis logic (ha!) these days.  People are so thrilled to see Federer get back to No. 1 earlier this year.  Then he loses and subsequently regains it this week and every story I see is some variant of “even though he hasn’t played since late March”.  I guess we should be grateful that it isn’t followed with the familiar “even though he hasn’t won a Slam”.  Numbers don’t lie, what can you do?
Jon B., Seattle,

• Tennis logic, is of course, an oxymoron on the order of “guest host,” “clearly confused,” “old news” and “Cedric the Entertainer.” But your point is well-taken. Seems to me you’d rather see Federer play than backdoor his way to the No. 1 ranking. 

The last time that two Masters 1000 titles were held by Americans was in 2004 (Roddick-Miami, Agassi-Cincinnati).  
Victor, Las Vegas

• This was in reference to the fact that Zverev held three of the nine Masters 1000 titles last week. Wow. (Editor’s note: Jack Sock is the reigning champion of the Paris Masters, while John Isner won the Miami Masters in March. It was both players’ first Masters 1000 title.)

Please explain to me why Dominic Thiem, who has to be a top five favorite to win the French if Rafa gets knocked out, would ever tire himself out to play a 250-level tournament in Lyon the week before a major.  He had a good enough clay court prep getting to the Madrid final (beating Rafa on the way).  I get that he lost to Fognini in his first match in Rome (Fognini played pretty well last week, even taking off a set against Rafa), so that was not such an awful loss that he needs to risk an injury to play this week.  Who is advising Thiem?
Shlomo Kreitman

• Agree. Just hope that “250-level” pertains to his appearance fee. In thousands.

Hi Jon,

If I could show you an easy, proven and guaranteed way to make money working part-time from the comfort of your home...Would you be interested?
Kathleen

• Only if it involves giving knee-jerk answers to tennis questions.

Shots, Miscellany

• Three-time champion Petra Kvitova will return to the Connecticut Open this summer as she looks to build on an incredible year of success that has included four titles and a WTA-leading 30 match wins.

• The ITF today announced that Evonne Goolagong Cawley will receive the ITF’s highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award, for her contributions to tennis in both her outstanding on-court career and dedicated public service after it. The Australian will be presented with the award at the 2018 ITF World Champions Dinner on Tuesday 5 June in Paris at the Pavillon Cambon Capucines.

• The U.S. Open construction project proceeds apace:

• Vivek Tangudu has our LLS of the week: Swedish former player/current coach Thomas Hogstedt and Semi-Pro basketball player Will Ferrell.

Reader Riff

Rohit Sudarshan of Apia, Samoa has this week’s Reader Riff. Which, you will note, was submitted before Rome:

Zverev's latest triumph in Madrid was stellar. Even in high-altitude Madrid, winning 10 straight sets without dropping serve (and only facing 1 break point all week) is quite the effort. It also reminds me of how far he's come since his maiden Masters 1000 title a year ago. When he beat Novak in Rome last year, it was the first time a player born in the 90s had won a Masters 1000 event. Although it was a watershed moment in many ways, many overreacted to the triumph and immediately felt he was a contender for the French Open. When he crashed out in the opening round, it was seen as a missed opportunity to make a big run. A few months later, his second-round loss at the US Open felt equally deflating. He'd won another Masters 1000 event in Toronto over the summer and, with Murray and Djokovic out of the draw, he did seem like a contender for the title. 

In the past year, he's made incredible strides. He started 2017 outside the top 20 and is now No. 2 in the ATP race to London. A big week in Rome could even move him above Federer in the world rankings. However, many still bring up his shortcomings in majors. He hasn't yet been past the Round of 16 in any of them. His fitness level has not yet been good enough. However, I urge everyone to take the long view on this kid and look at the upside. He's just turned 21 in April and his eight career titles already include three Masters 1000 crowns. That's as many as Djokovic had when he turned 21 and Murray, at the same age, had just five titles, none of which were at the Masters 1000 level. Murray, at Zverev's age, had also never been past the round of 16 at a slam. 

All of this is to say that if Zverev fails to make a big run in Paris this year, it should be seen as consistent with the trajectory of many great players that find consistent success at smaller events before they make a big push at a major. Zverev is not behind the curve at all, and his time in a grand slam will come. By being the very best of the #NextGen stars, he deserves some faith, and his improved play at the majors should be seen as a "when" not

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