Making the case for Grand Slams vs. back-to-back Masters 1000 titles as the more difficult feat in tennis, plus a word about U.S. Open wildcards and more.

By Jon Wertheim
August 15, 2018

Quick housekeeping:

• Our most recent podcast was with tennis impressionist Josh Berry who was a) terrific b) really thoughtful about the role of satire. It’s a good listen.

• We’ll do our annual “U.S. Open tips” next week. If you have suggestions to add, fire away.

• A public service reminder: the U.S. Open qualifying—which starts next week—is free.

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

Hi Jon,

I was wondering whether you think it's more challenging to win two Masters titles back-to-back (i.e., consecutive weeks; take your pick—Indian Wells/Miami, Madrid/Rome, Toronto-Montreal/Cincinnati) or one Grand Slam? Both are worth 2,000 ranking points. I think back-to-back Masters would be more challenging—minimum 10 matches (for those with 1R bye), a chance of facing the same rival(s) twice over a fortnight. The Grand Slam best-of-five format, while potentially grueling, actually favors the top players, who can force their opponents to go the distance.

P.S. I think the players who have achieved this are: Agassi (2001), Chang (1992), Courier (1991), Djokovic (2011—twice!, 2014, 2015, 2016), Federer (2005, 2006, 2017), Nadal (2013—twice!), Rafter (1998), Rios (1998), Roddick (2003), and Sampras (1994). The most frequent double is Indian Wells/Miami; amazingly, Nadal has never achieved this despite being the all-time Masters titles leader.
Henry Su, Bethesda, Md. (formerly of Mountain View, Calif.) 

• Great question. In bullet points:

a) We need a name for the Canada/Cincy swing. The Humidity double? The Sweat-bucket double? The sadism double? The poutine/Skyline stretch?

b) Keep in mind the caliber of opponent. In a Slam, with a draw of 128, you might get a few cakewalks. Less so at Indian Wells and Miami, with 96 draws. At the summer hardcourts, you’re virtually guaranteed a top 60 opponent each round.

c) Consider the lack of days off at the summer events. The Slams, of course, offer days off after each round. The “Sunshine Double” events offer some days but also nearly a week between the two events. As the Toronto final was playing out, Cincy was already underway.

d) As far as playing conditions/extreme heat, the two events held in August are the most brutal.

e) Points in the Slams’ favor? Seven rounds. Best-of-five. The pressure of playing for the biggest prizes.

f) We can argue about whether Slams are tougher tests, just by virtue of being Slams. But, unquestionably, the Canada/Cincy double trumps the Indian Wells/ Miami double in terms of degree of difficulty.

Banned Peng denies attempt to 'coerce' doubles partner out of Wimbledon. What?
Raymond

 • We got a few questions.

Even by tennis’ Stanford-admissions-office standards, this is a wacky story. Peng Shuai signs up to play doubles with Alison Van Uytvanck. Suddenly Sania Mirza, Grand Slam doubles winner, becomes available. Peng then goes to extreme measures—per the Tennis Integrity Unit—to convince Van Uytvanck to beg off the prom so she can get a new partner. 

Unseemly? Yes. Creepy. Anytime there’s an allegation of “stalking” you have likely the social compact. 

But my question: how does this compromise integrity? Both in tennis and life we do this all the time. A better option comes along and we scramble—and resort to economics—to try and get our preferred outcomes. That home you love is for sale, but it’s already in contract. What prevents you from approaching the buyer and offering to pay them a fee if they drop their bid? Your favorite wedding band is booked so you take your second choice. Then your favorite band is available after all. You offer to make your second choice whole if they let you out of the contract. I was on a flight recently that was overbooked. A late arrival was offering $1,000 to booked passengers if they cancelled and gave him their seat. 

Again, feel free to take issue with Peng’s decorum and her ambition. And encouraging a player to feign injury is dubious. But should this warrant lengthy suspension and hefty fine for a breach of integrity? I’m calling overreach here.

I know you complain about how wildcards are given at Grand Slam tournaments. What I would like to see is the two players with the best hard court records during the ITF hard court season (minimum four tournaments) get wild cards into the U.S. Open regardless of what country the players come from. This will allow players to earn a spot in the main draw and just be given to them because they are from the United States.
David Kenson, Manchester, N.H.

• I’m buying that. Also, we need golf-like rules about former major champs. That Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka get wild cards over prospects from the USTA warren is such an obvious decision it scarcely merits discussion.

These wildcards are a necessary evil. Washington D.C. needs a way to get Andy Murray in the draw. We need a mechanism for entering Serena Williams when her ranking is triple-figures and Simona Halep’s last minute decision to enter New Haven? Fine. 

But the abuse at three of the four Slams—single Wimbledon out for having some ethics here—is abhorrent. It’s anti-meritocratic. And it’s terribly unfair to the vast majority of players who don’t have the good fortune of hailing from a country that hosts a major.

That Harmony Tan—which sounds where Indiana goes in the winter for that bronze look—gets a wild card (and the $54k) and doesn't have a WTA profile photo is just wrong.

1. I noticed that both in D.C. and Canada, Zverev encouraged himself in English?

2. Huge Rafa fan and one of the reasons is that he enjoys winning so very much—and lets you know it. I contrast that with when Basilashvili won the German Open. He never cracked a smile. I was rooting for him and frankly, for me as a viewer, it removed some of the joy. I don't have a problem with his reaction exactly, but being allowed to share in the victory a bit is a large part of the fun.
Lucy

• First, I want to compliment Lucy on her email signature: “I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it. — Abraham Lincoln”

As for the question: Zverev’s English is quite good. But it’s always amusing how many players from overseas speak to themselves in tongues other than their native one. Spend time in Florida and you start talking like a Floridian.

I give players wide berth for their emoting. But a lot of it has to do with the tenor of the match. In Sunday’s Toronto final, Nadal served for the match at 4-5, played an atrocious game, was down set point in the tiebreak, and eventually came good 6-2, 7-6 over an ascendant, fearless opponent. Easy to see why he celebrated with as much brio as he has shown when he’s won Slams. On the other hand, you’re cruising 6-2, 6-2, you’ve already mentally accounted for the win. You look like a tool if you drop to your knees after match point.

I turned on your favorite channel, The Tennis Channel, and who do I see in the USTA 18 and under championship semis but Kayla Day. So was Thomas Wolfe wrong when he said, "You can't go home again"? Day has been playing pro events for the last year and I assumed she turned pro. Can you play in the 18s after turning pro? None of her contemporaries, such as Liu, Anisimova and Kenin, are doing this.
Russ, Los Angeles

• First, can we discuss that “Kayla Day” is the name of the lead character in the excellent film Eighth Grade. Strange coincidence.

As for the tennis Kayla Day, she is entitled to play the juniors, despite having turned pro. Eighteen months ago she had beaten Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (fresh off an Australian Open semi) and taken a set from Garbine Muguruza. It’s been tough sledding since then. She’s changed coaches. She’s had some injuries. She’s at No. 293. Still another benefit of the aging field: there’s no longer this window. If Day (or the injured CiCi Bellis) needs a few years to find traction, no worries.

When was the last time Djoker won nine points through nine service games? [Sent during Djokovic-Tsitsipas]
James

The answer, far as our moles could tell, was never.

A) A gratuitous opportunity to point out the depth of tennis’ lacking data.

B) How good is Tsitsipas? I would argue that his serve isn’t even the strength of his game And yet—on hard courts, no less—he can flummox an A-list returner like Djokovic.

I want Camila Giorgi to win the U.S. Open.
Bill, San Antonio

• I saw…. what you did at the reception….. 

Shots, Miscellany

 • Who wants to play “Catch a Rising Star?” Martin Damm Jr. is 14. He is also 6’7” and a lefty. And has signed with IMG. “Inconsistent now, but big, big game.

•  Openly gay former touring tennis pro and world No. 64 Brian Vahaly will headline 'Open Playbook: Being Out in Pro Tennis' on Thursday, Aug. 23rd at 7 p.m., at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe at 126 Crosby St. in SoHo, part of the Housing Works AIDS non-profit in New York.

This first-of-its-kind event seeks to advance the discussion of openly gay athletes in pro tennis and beyond. Tennis journalist Nick McCarvel will host the evening, which will feature an in-depth discussion with Vahaly, a spring 2017 guest on the Sports Illustrated/Tennis Channel podcast, Beyond the Baseline, with Jon Wertheim. Tickets are on sale now at housingworks.org/events for $10 each and two for $15.

• Russ writes: Latisha Chan is in Montreal with her seventh doubles partner of the season. That has to be a record or close to it for a top player (of course, lower ranked players often have to find new partners often at tournaments). Replacing a partner like the retired Hingis is not easy.

But talk about easy. In San Jose, Chan (and her partner there, Peschke) didn't have to play a single point to make the semifinals. Never heard of this before. They got a bye in the opening round, the only team to get a bye then which is also strange that a bye was given and only to one team. Then, they got a walkover in the quarters. So I went up to San Jose from Los Angeles during the week and never got to see the top seeds in doubles except to see Chan practicing against two high school players who she played by herself and won most of the points.

• Simona Halep has qualified for the WTA Championships in Singapore.

• Speaking of year-end…the ATP has opened the bidding.

• The USTA today announced that two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and rising American teenagers Amanda Anisimova and Claire Liu will receive main draw wild card entries into the U.S. Open, joining USTA Girls’ 18s National Champion Whitney Osuigwe and U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge winner Asia Muhammad as main draw wild card recipients. France’s Harmony Tan and one Australian woman to be announced at a later date will also receive U.S. Open main draw wild cards, by virtue of the wild card exchange agreements between the USTA and those two Grand Slam nations.

• The U.S. Open, which runs from August 27 to Sept 9, marks the 50th Anniversary of Arthur Ashe’s historic 1968 win at the tournament, when he became the first African American man to win a major tennis title. The first comprehensive biography of Ashe, titled ARTHUR ASHE: A Life, by acclaimed civil rights historian Raymond Arsenault will go on sale August 21.

• Steadfast reader Neil Grammer of Toronto with a riff:

If you look up the word “frustration” in the dictionary, you might find it’s definition: watching Genie Bouchard playing a match. I was watching her play in the Rogers Cup this week and it’s so perplexing watching her wail away on every single shot regardless of circumstance. No nuance, no defense, no point construction. I know we live in a world of instant gratification but her unwillingness to actually play out a rally makes me question either her coaching or her attitude. In all likelihood she played the exact same style in 2014 but, somehow, everything went her way and she developed a false sense of how to play high-level professional tennis. She should work with Aranxta Sanchez Vicario to learn the art of patience in a point. She may never get back to top 10 but she could definitely be top 30.

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