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  • In his latest Mailbag, Jon Wertheim lays out reasons to be excited about men's tennis...even if some of the headlines recently have been less than flattering.
By Jon Wertheim
May 22, 2019

• Hey everyone, a quick Mailbag this week. We’ll be back later in the week with a 2019 French Open seed report and the SI preview roundtable.

First, as always, some procedural stuff.

HOUSEKEEPING

Most recent podcast: Tommy Paul, the U.S. wild card winner, and gentleman Tim Mayotte, who is hosting a WTA/ USTA $60,000 Thoreau Open at the Thoreau Club in Concord, Mass. from Aug. 12-17. 

• Next up on the audio front is a 2019 French Open preview podcast.

• From the good soldiering department: The French Open starts Sunday, and Tennis Channel has you covered.

Onward...

MAILBAG

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

Is it JUST me or has there been a bit of a cloud over men’s tennis the last couple of months?

Fognini won in Monte Carlo but people were cautious to give too much praise.

Nadal hasn't been playing all that well on clay compared with previous years, and he seems a little grumpy.

Djokovic keeps having a go at reporters.

Tsitsipas is criticized (fairly or unfairly) by Nadal in Madrid.

There are many complaints from all players in Rome.

Federer had to pull out of Rome.

Kyrgios has an epic meltdown.

... And all of a sudden we've forgotten about David Ferrer leaving, which is a sad event itself.

All in all, and save for the French Open, I'd say this was a clay court season to forget for the men.

Name withheld

• At least we have the stabilizing influence of ATP politics.

Seriously, though, I could just as easily spin this the other way…Some talking points for the boys in marketing:

—Nadal was not at his Nadal-liest, but he righted the proverbial ship, beat Djokovic and heads to Paris on a high trying to win his 12th French Open.

—Djokovic won another Masters 1000 event.

—Federer is playing on clay for the first time in four years.

—Tsitsipas has built on his Australian Open breakthrough and is now nearing the top five.

—Kyrgios gave us something to talk about and added some friction to a culture sometimes accused of being too cozy.

—Thanks to rain the previous day, Rome featured one of the all-time great days in tennis history.

—Fabio Fogini, deep into his 30s, achieved a career-high ranking.

—David Ferrer is sent off in style, toasted by his colleagues.

—As some kind-of suspected in Australia, Andy Murray isn’t ready to administer last rites to his career.

—The Gimelstob debacle—deeply unfortunate as it was—exposed rancid conflicts of interests and might lead to real governance and scrutiny and amended bylaws.

—Doubles is finding favor with top singles players.

 The ATP's official site had no mention—not a single word, as far as I could see—on Naughty Nick's default in Rome. This reduces them to the level of an official propaganda site at worst and a blindly optimistic PR site at best. I wonder what would happen if a player went on court high on drugs and started openly hallucinating and giving stream-of-consciousness speeches. Would the site skip that too, or write that Player A "showed his creative side"? I suppose they won't report his punishment either, since the incident never happened. 
Mark, Taipei

• I remember some years ago we had the same discussion when the WTA website had a long piece on Monica Seles that ignored the horrific stabbing. It’s a balance here. Yes, you lose credibility when you ignore such an obvious talking point. On the other hand, this is, almost by definition, a house PR. organ, not an objective journalistic outlet tasked with breaking news or reflecting unflattering news.

Curious, I just went on the Indiana Pacers website on this, the week their point guard, Tyreke Evans, was dismissed from the NBA for violating its drug program. The lead item? “Sabonis Named Finalist for the NBA Sixth Man Award.”

Uh oh, a reader sent in a question about the winners of the Career Box Set, and said the only winners were Navratilova and Court. Unless this is an Open Era-only question, he forgot about Doris Hart
Meredith

• Correct, you are! A few of you, including Tony Serba of 

Houston, noticed as well.

Goofy question here but something I've always wondered: How does it work with the tournament sponsors and the ball kids and the officials—do they have to pay for their kits?  Do they have to give everything back after the tournament? And as far as the players go, do the sponsors tell them what kits to wear at what tournaments? Do the players have any say?
David Bloom, Upstate New York

• Hey thanks. This is a win-win. The apparel (and often shoe) company contracts with the tournament and provides free gear. Every time a ball  kid goes dashing across the court, it’s a free bit of product placement. The tournament is able to lure ball kids in part by offering swag. To paraphrase Wheel of Fortune—a hip reference for the kids out there—once you sweat in a shirt, it’s yours to keep. One former ATP employee was famous for holding periodic yard sales, offering dozens of pieces of tournament swag from events held all over the world.

And this reminds us: the U.S. Open ball kid tryout info is here.

Yes or No: Roger Federer retires after the 2020 Olympics?
James, Ottawa, Canada

• I invoke Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” The conventional wisdom is that a number of players have circled the 2020 Olympics in their calendar as their sell-by date. But who knows? And I believe those close to Federer when they tell me, “Honestly, he doesn’t know.” If you didn’t know his age, you’d look at his results in 2019 and say, “Retire? It’s not inconceivable he could finish at No. 1. Why the hell would he even think about stopping?” The flip side of course: he’ll be thirty-friggin’-eight in August and has four kids. 

We talked about this last week but—especially in an individual sport—this is just a brutal decision. It’s like timing a financial market; it’s almost impossible to get it right. Not only should we refrain from suggesting when athletes ought to quit. (The only thing we should retire: the phrase “tarnish a legacy.”) We should be really empathic. Most of us can ramp down in our careers. Most of us can re-enter the workforce if we regret quitting. Even team sport athletes can downshift into lesser roles and gracefully go out. Individual sport athletes really face a tough choice. And one that is often irreversible. 

What are your thoughts on Federer pulling out of Rome? As someone who had tickets to the Tsitsipas match, we were naturally very disappointed, and could see the fans’ point of view, especially for those who paid double to see him. 
Beate, London

• I chalk this up to an unfortunate but unavoidable situation, much like rainouts (in the era before the covered court). For players, including Federer, the obligation is to be at optimal health—not the bottom line of tournaments, the ratings of TV partners or the enjoyment of fans. I know that sounds callous, but if the alternative is to play in a compromised state or at a risk the serious further injury, it’s not a close call. 

Why was the second ranked men’s doubles team (the Bryans) seeded seventh in Rome?
Greg Hodges, Virginia

• From Tour HQ: “The Bryans are seeded lower than their year-to-date ATP Team Ranking because seeding is determined by the combined 52-week ATP Doubles Ranking. Mike was ranked No. 1 and Bob was No. 30 so they had a combined ranking of No. 31.”

How about a shout-out of amazement to Mike Bryan, who's about to have his 500th week at No. 1 in men's doubles?  500!  How is that mark even possible?  For a little context, that's more than McEnroe's and Woodbridge's weeks at No. 1 combined.  Yes, doubles is a different world now than in their times, but still—500 weeks at No. 1 is mind-boggling.
Chris

• We are shouting out.

You have stroke and you like tennis matters to be treated respectfully.  So can you get Google to fix this?  When I voice an inquiry about a tennis player or match, the Google voice comes back and announces the score, but she says “to”.  Like, if the score was 6-4, 6-1., she says “six to four and six to one.”  Can you make her stop that?
Thanks. Ann

• Sergey, you feel me?

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

 • Here’s the roster for the Finance Cup. My money is on Mario Ancic:

• Ken Wells of Gardiner, Maine invites us all to consider the color of a tennis ball

• Huan says: Have been a subscriber to the podcast for a while now and think it’s great. Regarding your convo with Jamie about other sports’ equivalents for the underhand serve, I think there are two perfect ones from baseball and soccer: the eephus pitch and the Panenka!

• New York City tennis enthusiasts have the opportunity of a lifetime to step on the court and learn from some of the world’s top professional players this summer. Prior to the New York Empire’s season-opening match on Sunday, July 14 at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning, Empire players including World No. 10 John Isner and head coach Luke Jensen will play with and against fans as part of the New York Empire Pro-Am benefiting New York Junior Tennis & Learning.

• World TeamTennis combines the bright lights of glitzy Las Vegas with its largest collection of star power ever for a 2019 early-season match-up between the Philadelphia Freedoms, featuring Franchise players Grigor Dimitrov and Danielle Collins, and the Vegas Rollers, bolstered by Bob and Mike Bryan, Sam Querrey and Monica Puig, broadcast live on CBS on July 21 from 4-6 p.m. ET/1-3 p.m. PT at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Additionally, CBS Sports Network will televise 15 matches live during the WTT season, July 14-Aug. 3.

• USTA Player Development today announced that it has hired Andy Gerst as a National Coach, Women’s Tennis. He’ll be based out of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., reporting to Head of Women’s Tennis Kathy Rinaldi.

• The 2019 ITA NCAA Division I men’s and women’s national award winners were announced Sunday afternoon in conjunction with the national championships that are underway at the USTA National Campus Collegiate Center in Orlando. 

• The ITA sponsors the following awards: Wilson/ITA Coach of the Year, ITA Assistant Coach of the Year, Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award, ITA Rookie of the Year, ITA Player to Watch, ITA Most Improved Senior, ITA Senior Player of the Year, ITA Community Service Award and Rafael Osuna and Cissie Leary Sportsmanship awards.

• 2019 ITA Award Winners

Wilson/ITA Coach of the Year

Men: Bid Goswami (Columbia University)

Women: Kevin Epley (University of South Carolina)

ITA Assistant Coach of the Year

Men: Devin Bowen (TCU)

Women: Cristina Sanchez-Quintar (University of Central Florida)

Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award

Men: Isaac Perez (US Air Force Academy)

Women: Sophie Whittle (Gonzaga University)

ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award

Men: Paul Jubb (University of South Carolina)

ITA Cissie Leary Sportsmanship Award

Women: Emma Davis (Wake Forest University)

ITA Rookie of the Year

Men: Andrew Fenty (University of Michigan)

Women: Maria Mateas (Duke University)

ITA Player to Watch

Men: Oliver Crawford (University of Florida)

Women: Alexa Graham (University of North Carolina)

ITA Most Improved Senior

Men: Jason Kros (Virginia Tech University)

Women: Sophie Whittle (Gonzaga University)

ITA Senior Player of the Year

Men: Nuno Borges (Mississippi State University)

Women: Ingrid Martins (South Carolina)

READER RIFF

Bob from Austarlia (and formerly Buffalo, N.Y.), takes us out…

Like Eric of Jackson Heights, N.Y., the letter writer concluding your last mailbag, I am also old enough to have had the pleasure to watch Ken Rosewell play—at the old White City grass courts in Sydney. Rosewell was a close rival of both his doubles partner Lew Hoad—against whom I saw him play on the then-small (in terms of number of players) professional tour—and, as mentioned, later Rod Laver. As Eric points out, he has received far less attention as one of the greats than the above two, as well as the greats of the modern tennis era. Rosewell lacked Hoad’s power and Hollywood looks/charisma and Laver’s leftyness and strong wrist angles and net skills, but he had great ground shots and probably would have done even better with today’s equipment and courts. Unfortunately, a final or only memory of him for many was being thrashed by a player almost half his age, Jimmy Connors, in the 1974 Wimbledon final—but he made the final at 39!

Of course, there was not nearly the depth in men’s tennis then as there is in recent times, so comparisons are tough to draw. However, these statements might sound familiar to those arguing for a current GOAT:

 “Rosewall remained a powerful force in tennis far longer than many stronger players and was never badly injured … winning Grand slam singles titles 19 years apart “(Encyclopedia Britannica)

“Watching him play was like watching a magician on the court.” (Eric, Jackson Heights, N.Y.)

 “He had a compact, classical style and moved effortlessly around the court.” (composite)

“What a glorious [one-handed] backhand.” (numerous spectators and commentators).

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