With Jim Courier's resignation, who are the best candidates to be the next U.S. Davis Cup team captain?

By Jon Wertheim
October 03, 2018

Hey, everyone. Some housekeeping:

• Start with the big tennis media news: Tennis Channel and WTA have reached a five-year agreement that will make the network the U.S. television and digital media home of the WTA, beginning in January 2019. Running from the first week of January through late October's annual tour championships, the partnership includes Premier and International tournaments as well as the WTA Finals, representing more than 2,000 matches each season.

• If bias were career momentum, I’d be Naomi Osaka here. But I do think this is a win all around. Good for the WTA. Good for the network. Good for the players. Most of all, good for the American tennis fans.

• Last week’s podcast, Paul Annacone discusses the success of the Laver Cup.

• Good soldiering: Note that 60 Minutes begins its 51st season. 

You know the drill…Sunday on CBS, after the NFL except on the West Coast where it airs at its regularly scheduled time. No promises, but we’ll push for some tennis….

Ants marching….

Mailbag

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

Jon, with Jim Courier’s resignation, can you handicap the next U.S. Davis Cup captain for us?
Peter, Austin, Texas

• Since you’re in Austin—and, coincidentally, I am as well today—let’s start locally. Andy Roddick is an obvious pick and I suspect it’s his job to accept/decline. Not unlike the ATP rankings a decade ago, we can go down the list. James Blake and Mardy Fish would be more than capable. Robby Ginepri, Dean Goldfine and Jan-Michael Gambill are all doing nice job coaching ascending American players as well. A few other points:

15-0: Remember that starting next year, the event is a one-week shindig. So it’s not a huge commitment. Time-conscious new parents (Roddick) won’t have to worry about schlepping across oceans four times throughout the year.

30-0: Especially given the format, maybe it’s time for an outside-the-box pick. John Isner as player-coach? A woman such as Martina Navratilova? Maybe add to Kathy Rinaldi’s job responsibilities? What about someone like Brian Billick, the former NFL coach, who knows tennis and would bring a totally different perspective and skill set?

40-0: Commend Jim Courier, who has the rare ability to thread the needle between approachable and authoritative; between speaking his mind and remaining respectful of institution; speaking wisely but also listening. Those U.S. players were lucky to have him. And better still, they realized it.

Jon, I agree with a lot of your points about Laver Cup. It was fun to watch [on Tennis Channel] and I will definitely look into attending when it’s back in the United States. But does this make you more or less optimistic about the new Davis Cup?
Carlos, New York

• Yeah, there are two ways to look at this sudden glut of tennis team events. What a fustercluck and what dysfunction, all these fiefdoms working at cross-purposes, presenting THREE different global team competitions within a 120-day window. (“Insane!” —C. Kermode.) The flip side: how great that tennis has found a new product line, as it were, that takes advantages of global appeal and brings in this kind of capital investment.

Me? I like the Davis Cup format in theory. It was time for a change, one that reflects changes in both technology and the increased demands of the modern game. But I worry about the finances. The more I ask around, the less convinced this $3 billion investment is a legit number. Doesn’t mean it can't happen. But the actual funding to date is a small percent of that figure. If the money is there, great. If not—if this is ISL 2.0 as the doomsayers predict—Davis Cup is in trouble and the old model will not be “resurrect-able.”

Looking to 2019: Which of the one time Grand Slam winners will pick up her second: Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens or Jelena Ostapenko? Which player will break the Big Four stranglehold and pick up his first Alam: Sascha Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin or Kei Nishikori? And of the two options: A second-time WTA Slam winner or a first-time ATP Slam winner is more likely?

P.S. Can you give Bethanie Mattek-Sands some extra attention after her successful comeback and mixed doubles win at the U.S. Open?  
Ken Wells, Gardiner, Maine

• In reverse order: 

d) Sure, a name check to Bethanie Mattek-Sands. 

c) Great question. As I read your question, it’s who’s more likely to win a major: Halep/Stephens/Wozniacki/Osaka/Ostapenko…or Sascha Zverev/Dominic Theim. I’ll take the women, a second-time WTA Slam winner.

b) No outsider will win a major in 2019. Impatient as we all might be for a regime change, the Big Four (plus Stanislas) are too good to pick against them. And the other candidates haven’t shown enough, be it the young guys (Zverev) or the veterans (Nishikori). Djokovic will be the favorite in Australia. Nadal will be the favorite in Paris. Let’s revisit after that. 

a) Just one? Like so many, I am bullish on Osaka and I think her continued strong play this fall speaks so well of her focus and professionalism. I think Halep is good for another major in 2019. And perhaps Sloane as well. Provided she and Pavlyuchenkova don’t run off and join the UFC. 

Laver Cup seems like it has a future. Has there been any discussion or even the possibility of adding women to the Laver Cup? Or if not adding them to the Laver Cup, having an equivalent event?
Henry

• I was speaking with a friend about this. I’m all for making these team events co-ed. Or having a women-only analogue. I think the dynamic would be different. For a variety of reasons—and here comes the gender studies seminar—the social dynamic among the WTA players is different than it is among the ATP players. But so what? This would only add to the appeal and curiosity. If Serena Williams converts a break point for the World Team, prompting Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe to breakdance on the couch—in the manner of Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock—so much the better….

Your thoughts on Lahyani being suspended for two tournaments? I completely agree: after all the peace, love and kumbaya, it is still a competitive endeavor and Lahyani (much as his heart was in the right place) did a complete disservice to Kyrgios’ opponent. Need to set a precedent—we can’t have refs baby sitting supposedly “professional” athletes. 
Deepak, Seattle

• Boy, that seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? It’s not even the freshest umpire controversy… Like you, I’m okay with the punishment. It’s hard to come down too hard on the guy; empathy is seldom the wrong choice. But it was inappropriate here. Right spirit, wrong gesture. A fairly light penalty—after a session through the Internet spanking machine—and let the guy get back to his life and livelihood. Gavel. Next case.

As that country song goes (like ALL of them......) "How can I miss you if you won't leave?" How about if tennis just shuts down after the U.S. Open, and we'll see you at the year-end Masters and then in Australia, mate! Davis Cup this week? Laver Cup? I mean, come on. Every other sport has the good sense to go away for a while, so we can look forward to it starting up again. Your thoughts?
Dominic Ciafardini. New York

• I wish I liked country music as much as I like country music lyrics. Fair point on this, scarcity of product and all.

As far as I know nobody has written about the fact that Carlos Ramos was not present at the trophy ceremony. Normally umpires get a medal. I guess the optics of Arthur Ashe booing in unison on prime time would have damaged the brand too much. Keep up the great work.
Marko V

• You are correct. He was spirited away like Steve Bartman leaving Wrigley Field.

Hi Jon: Not a question, just an observation. 

We all talk about the domination of the Big Three (sometimes Four) in men’s tennis, and there can be no better illustration than this: I like to look at the rankings once in a while, see who’s moving up or down, and this week Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are ranked, respectively, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Something made me take a look at the ranking from the same week 10 years ago and guess what? (You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?) Yup. Nadal, Federer and Djokovic were ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 that week as well. No other player was ranked in the top ten then and now, just those three, occupying the exact same positions. Obviously there have been some ups and downs in-between, but my goodness! Are these guys good, or what?
Gavin Spencer, NYC

They are good. 

Imagine that it’s 2008 and you say: “Djokovic, Federer and Nadal will divvy up the three Majors.” Homo Technicus—the sport a body—pumps its fist and says, “Yes!” Sustained, bankable champions. Empire building. Good guys, all. A strong statement that the players’ life span is growing, adding incentive for kids to devote themselves to the sport. 

Imagine the rest of field, though. It’s like getting stuck in the security line behind the guy with rolls of coins in his cargo shorts. “Doesn't this line ever move so I can have my turn?”

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

Congrats to our old pal, Martina Hingis, who not only turned 38 but is also expecting her first child.

• Michael Mmoh is the newest American in the Top 100 at No. 96 after he won his second straight Challenger title. There are now 12 Americans in the Top 100, which is the most of any country.

• The tennis courts at City of Houston’s Sunnyside Park have been resurfaced, thanks in part to contributions made by ATP World Tour stars who participated in April’s Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. The two courts at the park were flooded in 2017 due to Hurricane Harvey. The facility is one of 44 locally where the Houston Tennis Association (HTA) holds National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) programs for 6,000 kids annually.

• My kids, who are infinitely more hip than I am—low bar—tell me Lil Wayne has a new album out. So this gives us an excuse to link one of my all-time favorite pieces of Sports Illustrated tennis content.

• Congrats to reader Todd Rubinstein, honored, as he was, as the 2018 USPTA National High School Tennis Coach of the Year during the U.S. Open last month at the Grand Hyatt in NYC.

• Mat Cloer, a former college All-American and assistant coach who helped guide Mackenzie McDonald to a career-high No. 77 world-ranking this summer, has been hired as USTA Player Development’s new Collegiate National Coach.

• Ben Navarro didn't get the Carolina Panthers. But he did get a WTA event. The CEO of Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group and the founder of education non-profit Meeting Street Schools, has acquired the sanction of the WTA Volvo Car Open along with the operations of the Family Circle Tennis Center and Volvo Car Stadium. With this change, Charleston Tennis LLC will now become a locally-owned and operated organization.

• Reader riff comes from our friends at the USTA: October is Down Syndrome Awareness month and Beth Gibson is the perfect person who is helping those across the country with Down Syndrome put a racket in their hand and become active. They have programs in over 20 markets across the country so know it will really hit a lot of your readers.

Buddy Up Tennis began in the summer of 2008. Beth Gibson, Founder & President of Buddy Up Tennis, has a son named Will who has Down syndrome. When Will was only 3 years old, Beth would take him to a Tennis & Fitness Club with her and her older son, while they played tennis. Will was always fascinated with tennis. Staff members soon volunteered to teach tennis to Will, and researched techniques for teaching children with Down syndrome in order to do so. As a result of this research, the need was identified for an organized tennis and fitness program for individuals with Down syndrome.

The rest is history! The first Buddy Up Tennis clinic was held in December 2008. And it has been growing rapidly ever since. Buddies (volunteers) are partnered with Athletes, to provide one-on-one attention and grow meaningful connections and relationships. The program is now up and running in close to 20 markets.

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