Hello everyone. As always, we’ll start with some procedural stuff.
• The most recent SI/Tennis Channel podcast features poet and new tennis author Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who was excellent:
• Next up: “Daily Show” correspondent and former University of Illinois tennis stalwart Mike Kosta
• Speaking of Illinois tennis…
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @Jon_Wertheim.
When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic? Despite the global outcry about how plastic is killing our oceans, tennis still continues to use plastic, single-use water bottles and plastic bags for racquets, among other things. I know change takes time, but are there any plans or initiatives in the works to make the tours and Slams more environmentally friendly?
• Great, question. And who better to answer than tennis’ green czar, world No. 5 Kevin Anderson…
That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously (and thank you, Jon, for allowing me the opportunity to contribute).
Reducing plastic pollution—and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans—is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.
There are so many big opportunities on the ATP Tour alone to reduce our use of single-use plastics, and I’m encouraged by the fact that organizations and tournaments are taking steps—some small, but hopefully building into bigger ones—to make a change. We do have a long way to go, though.
As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2. There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.
I’ve seen other tournaments starting to follow (for example, giving players boxed water rather than plastic bottles), and I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly - provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change.
I hope to be pleasantly surprised when I go to tournaments now by their initiatives, but I also hope eventually it won’t be a surprise and rather something we’re all used to. I do believe those in charge are starting to put into play better practices and I look forward to hearing about them and seeing them in the years to come.
Agree with you on Doug Adler. Just venting a bit... I don’t know him and don’t know much about him, so it’s possible I’m missing something. But the whole thing never made sense to me. To say that in a racist way—gorilla rather than guerilla—he’d not only have to be really, really racist, but willing to commit career suicide. I mean, not even real racists say stuff like that in public, let alone on air, because they know it would be career-ending. It makes no sense. So he just decided to end his career and say gorilla? Really? We don’t need to do an investigation as to whether guerrilla tennis is a thing. In the context it made some sense, and it wouldn’t be the first or last time an announcer tried to turn a phrase that maybe wasn’t perfect or well-known to the audience. And lastly, what’s the context for him making racist remarks? Had he made earlier racist remarks and this was the last straw? I was actually surprised more journalists didn’t offer some defense of him. Anyone who ever speaks publicly should be terrified by the thought that one awkward phrasing could end your career.
• I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. If we’re honest—and when are we not?—few of us distinguish ourselves for courage. As it became increasingly clear that this was nothing more than an unfortunate word choice, where were the voices of support and outrage? Why did no one stick a crowbar in the runaway train of social/cultural forces—“political correctness run amok,” many of you noted—that were threatening a man’s reputation and career?
I speak only for myself, but I don’t have a good answer here. My attitude was, “I don’t know the guy. I take him at this word. But this is a radioactive topic and the discomfort I have had with the small risk of being wrong here—If I’m going to declare someone “not-racist,” I’d like to know them and their history a little better—outweighs the reward of coming to the full-throated defense of a colleague in need.” Not, frankly, a proud moment.
While we all wish we were a fly on the wall for the breakup of Osaka and her coach, is it fair to assume that it all came down to money? They both had a lot of success over the last 12 months, and while it’s easy to give too much credit to the coach, on the surface it seemed like a good pairing.
• Osaka has been adamant that it’s not about the money. Here’s the excellent Reem Abulleil on the breakup.
I’ve been interested in the responses. Some of them have blamed Osaka. (Russ of L.A.: “She became No. 1 because Sascha Bajin pushed her to do the work. Let's hear what Tracey Austin or Lindsay Davenport have to say. I bet they are wondering how long would Osaka have lasted with Robert Lansdorp? Maybe a day or two.”) I’ve heard from multiple people close to Osaka that she bristled at how much credit Bajin was taking and was especially rankled when he accepted the WTA Coach of the Year Award and referred to Naomi as “a good student.”
Again, I’d encourage you to see this less as an occasion to assign blame, than an occasion to consider the contours of the relationship. Players don’t owe a debt to their coach; they owe it to their talent and feeling of comfort. If the coach isn’t acting in furtherance of that, the player is within her rights to cut bait.
You mentioned large bonuses (how large) in last week's mailbag. Can you give an idea of how a typical top 10 WTA coach is paid? How bonuses are distributed (e.g., for a GS win, for a higher ranking, etc.)? I've heard that they don't get as much as we might think. Is the coach/player relationship generally professional (contracts, etc.) or is it less formal? Why so much drama?
—Valerie Smith, San Jose, Calif.
• Great question, and my research—granted, all anecdoctal—strongly suggests that coaches wages are absolutely all over the supply/demand curve. This is the ultimate in free market “negotiate-what-you-can.” Circumstances vary. Expectations vary. Demands vary. Deal terms vary.
Some top players pay a base salary—$5,000 a week was one number I heard—with modest bonuses. Others pay more modestly, but offer hefty bonuses. (In some cases, it might be unclear the player pays anything at all, the coach deciding that the gains that come by virtue of the affiliation with the player, is worth the immediate financial sacrifice.) The going rate seems to be about $200,000 - $300,000 a year base, with potential for much more. I heard of one recent Grand Slam champion who paid her coach a bonus that amounted to ten percent of the payday, or $300,000. There are other stories of players winning a major and a coach getting a mere $7,500 in bonuses.
Travel and lodging is usually paid by the player. (In cases where the coach moonlights, say as a TV commentator, and the side gig picks up the travel, that can be a considerable savings to the player.) We are talking about stars, but most players these days hire some form of coach. I know of one arrangement that’s simply, “Pay me the same amount that that I would have made giving lessons at my club.” Further complicating matters: coaches are often paid—or partially subsidized—by the player’s national federation. That eases the financial burden on the player but can make it more difficult to sever ties.
Not sure I agree with your article “Tennis never had better personalities.” I would not judge players like Osaka and Stephens as having good personalities when they dump their coaches so soon after those coaches led them to great success. I value loyalty and remember and appreciate those who have helped me.
—Russ, Los Angeles
• The word “personality” is obviously subjective, as Martin Amis noted in this memorable New Yorker column.
Comparing generations is always fraught. Different era, different equipment, different cultural norms, difference expectations. My point was this: I can’t recall a time when, collectively, the players have been more pleasant, top to bottom. Stars, journeyfolk, men, women, veterans in their late 30s, strivers in their early 20s…it’s just a really nice collection of decent people. One example among many, but I refer you to the first question in this column. The No. 5 player in the world dashes off a six-paragraph email on climate change. Suffice to say that was not always the case.
And to repeat the theme of the week: I don’t see these coaching changes as disloyal. These relationships are not built to last. Comparing these to conventional coach/team or employee/employer relationships is a misguided exercise.
Thank you for answering my question regarding which of the reigning major singles champions is more likely to extend the streak at Roland Garros. To answer your trivia question about the last time when two consecutive major tournaments had the same men's and women's singles champions, is the answer Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1995? If that's right, I'm surprised that it hasn't happened in nearly a quarter-century, given the titles amassed by Serena, Roger, Rafa, and Novak in recent years.
—Jeff Greenwell, Riverside, Calif.
• You win.
I was just reading your excellent mailbag answers. I’m wondering if you have any updated information on what is happening with Justin Gimelstob's court hearing, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 31. I can’t find anything online.
• The next hearing is February 21 at 8:30 a.m. at the Los Angeles Airport Courthouse.
Long time mailbag reader, first time mailbag question-asker. Where do I submit it? I can't seem to find it! Feel free to tell me if I'm being flat.
• There's a link on the top of the page. But there’s also an email that was set up many moons ago email@example.com
• We’re delaying judgment until we learn more, but here’s Martina Navrtilova on trans athletes.
• RIP, Jon Epstein, president of FILA North America & global chief commercial officer, who passed away at the age of 63 on Friday, Feb. 15,
•The International Tennis Federation and Kosmos Tennis have announced the premium car brand Lexus as a sponsor and official car of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Finals.
From Sally Haldorson...
From John P. of San Francisco...
I was reading the mailbag today and this comment by a reader, along with your enthusiastic agreement with him, got my attention:
Q: Do you think it’s reasonable to suggest that the three best men’s players of all time are playing right now?
A: Appreciate the present, folks. Appreciate the present.
Look man, the Big 3 are great, alright? Historically great. No one is denying that, least of all me. But your constant glorification of them as the best ever is ludicrous. You never take current factors into account—specifically court conditions, technology, and opposition quality. How many Wimbledon titles would Ivan Lendl have won if he had a chance to play the event as it is now? Hmm, let's see: he never won it because he couldn't serve & volley right? When was the last time a non-baseliner won that tournament? The memory strains (Edberg 1990; 29 years ago!) Get it straight: Lendl would have crushed Wimbledon if he got to play it in today's baseline-centric, slower form, and he would not have cowered in fear at the very sight of Federer, Djokovic, or Nadal, as do most of their opponents. Do you think his power game wouldn't have matched up incredibly well against today's Big 3, who are all primarily baseliners? Particularly if he was able to use the same racquet technology? Do you really think he wouldn't have been their equal in fitness, strength, and competitiveness? Please—Lendl's biggest losses always came against the serve and volley, with the exception of the 89 French Open, which I believe was played in a large vat of quicksand…
Speaking of the French, do you really think Sampras would not have won it multiple times if he had a chance to play the clay as it is now? For a general idea of what would have occurred, just picture Wawrinka's win at Roland Garros in 2015, where he was crushing the ball and it was bouncing unreturnable off the terre battue like it was a superball on cement. That's exactly what would have happened; multiple times! Don't kid yourself. Oh yeah—toss in the scenario of Sampras serving with today's oversized, hyper-powered rackets. That would look a lot like it did when Kyrigos beat each of the Big 3, with the exception that Sampras would do it about seven or eight out of every 10 matches he played against them.
There's other legends that are also marginalized in this "these 3 guys are the best EVER" conversation, but Sampras and Lendl are the ones that really stick in my craw. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the current Big 3, Slam totals notwithstanding! It's the same reason that it will take any knowledgeable, self-respecting football fan exactly one second to bring Dan Marino and Dan Fouts into the greatest QB Ever conversation, even though neither of them ever won the Super Bowl. People that really know the game understand that they would exploit today's rules, and today’s general gutlessness of opponents (looking at Jared Goff here…) to their full advantage every bit as much as Brady does.