- From Melbourne, Jon Wertheim gives his early impressions from the first week of the Australian Open, where young Americans have impressed thus far.
MELBOURNE — Questions are piling up, so let’s do a Wednesday mailbag as we always do….from Day Three at the 2019 Aussie Open.
Did you notice how most of the top "This-Gen" American men have fallen (Isner, Querrey, Johnson, Sock) before many of the “Next-Gen” cohort (Tiafoe, Fritz, McDonald, Opelka) at the AO? Strangely, this makes me feel better, rather than worse, about the state of American men’s tennis. Also, the future of American women also looks brighter lately (see: Kenin, Anisimova, and Osuigwe).
• I’d caution against reading too much into one event. But, yes, the old guard disappointed, especially Jack Sock. Meanwhile, Frances Tiafoe beat Kevin Anderson, perhaps the tournament’s biggest upset so far, and Taylor Fritz scored a courageous win over Gael Monfils. And even in defeat (Mackenzie McDonald, Christopher Eubanks, Denis Kudla), the younger set acquitted themselves well.
You have to credit Simona Halep for getting over dips in her play relatively quickly throughout her career (in 2017, most notably, around Madrid/Paris.) But this is becoming a trend. Granted, perhaps she was injured and thus couldn’t train properly in the offseason—but I can envisage her losing early in Melbourne (she already lost to Barty in Sydney) and then trying to restart the fire on clay. How can she recapture the level from last year’s French Open if she hasn’t played at that level for about a year?
• Simona Halep arrived here without a coach, without much prep work and without much momentum. Last night, she lost the first set to Kaia Kanepi and was a few games from her second straight first-round defeat at a Slam…to the same player. And she was in danger of continuing her winless streak that dated to last summer. She steadied and closed out a win in three sets. And I would argue that 45-minute window might prove to be the turning point in her year, and possibly her career.
What do you think of the Australian Open’s switch to a final-set, 10-point tiebreak?
—Steve G., Atlanta
• A) I’m all for it. We’ve seen too many instances of “win by two” exhausting players and making for uncompetitive next rounds. A tiebreak at 6-6 in the decisive set is abrupt. But a first-to-ten tiebreaker makes sense.
B) I don’t mind that the four Slams currently all have their own distinct way of ending final sets. They have four different surfaces and are played in four different countries. We can handle the differentiation.
What will the ATP top five look like in five years?
•1. Djokovic 2. Nadal 3. Federer 4. Zverev 5. Khachanov.
Only half-kidding. I do, however, suspect Djokovic will still be playing. If Federer and Nadal are not playing, I’d say Tsitsipas and maybe Shapovalov.
Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios were all eliminated in the first round at Melbourne. Alexei Popyrin, Alex Bolt, and Jordan Thompson all made it through to the second. Hewitt smiling?
• Smiling? He’s fist-pumping and howling “C’mon!” Bernie Tomic is the loosest of canons and might have the least moral authority of anyone outside of the top 100. To ask him a provocative question after he loses at a Slam makes for just-add-water provocation. But here’s the thing: his points—about Hewitt’s conflict of interest; about Hewitt’s almost pathological aversion to walking away from competition; about Hewitt’s alienating players—have been raised by others. This is the opposite of “damning with faint praise.” It’s praising with faint damnation. If Bernard Tomic is the voice of dissent, maybe you’re not so bad after all. But here, Hewitt has some serious issues in laundering. Just because it was Tomic who raised them doesn’t negate the underlying points.
I saw you asked Martina Navratilova whether teenagers will ever win majors again. She said no and I agree. Where do you stand?
—Carl T., St. Petersburg, Fla.
• Here’s the clip:
And check back periodically as Martina and I do several of these a day.
Ironically, on the day we discussed this Amanda Anisimova, age 17, she crushed No. 24 seed Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-2.
For a variety of reasons, it’s going to be tough. Tennis has—all together now—gotten more physical. The age eligibility rules restrict opportunities for young players. Strictly as a probability exercise, there are so few kids, the odds go down. But note: Anisimova doesn’t turn 20 until the 2021 U.S. Open.
Now that Andy Murray is being forced to retire, not on his own terms, does this mean we can stop asking the Williams sisters, Fed, and others when they’ll retire? Which will hopefully be on their terms.
• Two cardinal rules of sports media (and fandom): 1. Don’t question an athlete’s injury. 2. Don’t question when or whether they ought to retire. Nevermind as fans—as human beings, we should hope everyone continues to do what they love for as long as they please. And, to Duane’s point, we should hope they make the decision and their profession doesn’t make it for them.
A couple questions: 1. Will they ever get rid of the let on serve? It seems to serve no purpose except to slow the game. 2. Who came up with that awful low-side net camera that gives little perspective? Ditch it! 3. Guess as to how far ball kids run per match? How about a “best of” for them?
• Re/lets: This is picking up momentum. We have “lets” during the point. Why not play them on serves? It works fine in college. It would speed up matches and add an element of unpredictability—sometimes the ball will trickle over for cheap aces; other times 130 mph bombs will tick the tape and sit up for easy returns.
Is there such a thing as first-week confidence? Keys has that, but she’s yet to sustain it during the all-important second weeks. I’m not sure she can.
• One of you wondered whether “we”—the U.S. media? Tennis Channel? The Guatemalan Contra rebels?— conflate personal fondness for Keys with fondness for her tennis. I would answer “no.” She’s thoroughly likable. But the optimism stems from just how big a ball she hits.
I still like Keys long-term. She hits too big a ball not to eventually win a major. I’m not sure it’s coming here, though. She played no tune-ups. She has a new coach. She’s still coming off a deflating fall. And, yes, there’s totally such a thing as first-week confidence. But Keys won 16 matches at majors last year and reached two semis. It’s not like she chokes at Slams. If anything, it’s her week-in, week-out consistency that needs improving.
Maybe there is a rough parallel between wealthy team owners in other sports and the owners of Slams and Masters/premier events. Given the most recent corruption scandal at tennis' lower levels, it seems like it is time for someone with clout (Players? WTA and ATP combined? Slams?) to set a bar for hosting a Grand Slam/WTA-/ATP-level event that requires contributing to a prize money pool for lower events, to support players at a tier or two down—sort of an international farm team approach.
—John Campbell, Portland, Ore.
• Or else it’s time for the ITF to be taken to task for their Sportradar deal. From the ITF report, the Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis:
17. In 2011, the TIU’s task was made more di cult by the ITF entering into a live scoring data sale agreement with Sportradar. A further agreement was entered into in 2015. Whilst these deals have generated considerable funds for the sport, they have also greatly expanded the available markets for betting on the Lowest Levels of professional tennis. The Panel considers that insu cient diligence was undertaken by the ITF fully to assess the potential rami cations of entering into these agreements, which increased by tens of thousands the matches that could be bet upon at the Lowest Level of the sport, before entering into them.
MORE NEXT WEEK!