- In his latest Mailbag, Jon Wertheim checks in from Paris to answer questions about the first week of Roland Garros 2019.
PARIS — Wednesday is Mailbag Day, and Mailbag Day waits for no one. So, here we go…
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Fed on Chatrier, Nadal on Lenglen...any chance Fed plays anywhere other than Chatrier this year?
—Helen, Washington, D.C.
• Yes, absolutely. The French, like Wimbledon, tries and put all the stars on the second court as least one time. Before this year, Federer’s last match at Roland Garros, in fact, was on Court Suzanne Lenglen, a defeat in 2015 to Stan Wawrinka.
But you raise a good point. It’s a considerable—and underrated—advantage conferred on the stars. They A. know in advance on which court they’ll be playing B. they know the court’s peculiarities. Sight lines. Space behind the baseline. Shadows. Nooks and crannies. It often takes a challenger a few games just to get comfortable with the surroundings. (There was one match this week delayed so that the player—I want to say Johanna Konta—could apprach the chair umpire and ask where her “team” was seated.
There’s really no alternative. You’re not going to put Federer on Court 14 and Serena on 13. But it’s another way the system further privileges those with privilege.
I enjoy your fielding of all the GOAT questions you receive and have the following French Open hypothetical question: How many non-French Open Slams was Federer’s 2009 French Open title worth? In other words, if Nadal’s and Djokovic’s results were unchanged but Soderling takes Federer’s French Open, how many more other non-Roland Garros majors would Fed have to acquire to maintain his standing in the GOAT calculation? Three more Wimbledons to match Rafa’s 11 French Opens?
Given his deficit to them in the Masters 1000s and the loss of a career slam, I really think 11 Wimbledons and a heavier overall lead in the Slam count would be needed to make the case.
Fun question but glad we don’t have to actually do the debate for real!
• Interesting. You lost me a little at the end, but your point is well-taken. Not all majors get equal weight. If Nadal and Djokovic has achieved career slams and Federer hadn’t, that would have been a serious mark against him. (Likewise, I would submit that Djokovic is better off with 15 majors and thecareer slam, rather than 16 or even 17 and no French. The same goes for Nadal; that 2009 Australian Open looms large.)
Here’s a corollary we were discussing on-air. Does Nadal’s absolutely dominance work for him or against him? Eleven of his 17 Slams have come in Paris. What’s preferable? Owning a Slam like that? Or more even distribution? Discuss….
SO many questions about the Nike attire this French Open. We lean on Kyle Edmund for the catch-all response:
Q. About your kit, do you like it?
KYLE EDMUND: It's not—it's okay. I mean, you get what you're given with Nike. So there's actually a story behind it rather than they just decide to come up with it. So there's a reason to do with the French Revolution, I was told.
Q. Do you have a right to veto? Do you have the right to say, listen, I'm not wearing that?
KYLE EDMUND: I'm sure if you said I would like to wear something else and I don't want to play in this, they would accommodate. But, you know, I've played in pink kits and bright yellow kits, so this one was not too bad. There's a white one as well with some pictures on it. That's more to do with the story behind it. So, yeah.
Haven’t seen you comment on this news. Any takes?
• For those not inclined to click the link…the ATP recently announced that it was offering its blessing and imprimatur to the Laver Cup. On its face, it’s not entirely clear what this means. No ranking points or ATP prize money will be awarded. “The agreement gives the event … access to ATP services, including marketing and social media, along with operational personnel such as officials and physios.”
Here’s what it really means: when the ITF comes a-plundering, trying to snatch the Laver Cup’s dates on the calendar and make it a Davis Cup date, the ATP will be there for protection. What does the ATP get out of this? It generates good will—and perhaps some political capital—with the most powerful figure in tennis.
Tennis fans will understand that previous paragraph. Alliances, allegiances, powerful players supporting political candidates—to the uninitiated, it must be akin to a grade schooler trying to figure out how World War I started.
Do you happen to have any insight into the tennis futures of Elina Vesnina or Ekaterina Makarova? What are the chances Vesnina will return after the kid is born? I love watching them both play singles, but I'd love even more to see them get back together for another go at doubles. Although I'd be happy if just one of them was planning to keep playing!
• My moles tell me that Makarova will be back from her injury, but Vesnina is a mystery. She is on maternity leave and has given the WTA no indication either way if she is coming back.
I can’t believe that Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert are not in the doubles draw. What happened?!? And has it ever happened before that a doubles team decided not to defend a Grand Slam title (when neither player retired)?
• This, somewhat ironically, has been one of the FFWS (Fun First Week Stories.) Mahut and Herbert have taken a break, despite their status as the defending champs at their home Slam. The proffered reason: Herbert, who’s nearly a decade younger, wanted to focus on singles. (Side note: Herbert is listed at 6-3 and 165 lbs. Not a lot of body fat there.)
Anyway, what happened? Mahut, at age 37, got a singles wild card and won his first match over Marco Cecchinato (a semifinalist last year) in five comeback sets. A gripping, spirited win. Then he followed it up with a straight-set win over Philipp Kohlschreiber. Not to be outdone, Herbert faced 12th-seeded Daniil Medvedev in round one and won his first match in comeback, five-setter fashion as well. Mahut also found a substitute (and older) partner in….Jurgen Melzer, the Austrian lefty.
As for precedent, sure, this has happened, especially in the fluid world of doubles, tennis’ answer to Tinder. Just last year, despite winning both Wimbledon and the U.S.Openin 2017, Mike Bryan and Jack Sock split up so Mike could resume playing with his brother, Bob. Speaking of….
What’s going on with Jack Sock?
• When we talk about the American men’s woes on clay this year, it’s worth pointing out that Sock—who can play on the dirt—wasn’t even in the draw. A top-10 player 18 months ago, he’s down to No. 165. Sock is entered in the Little Rock Challenger, and those type of tournaments are what it is going to take if he wants to rebuild his game. He may get some wild cards along the way, but he’ll need to win matches. Tennis is a beautiful meritocracy but a harsh one. What you did two years ago….how much money the USTA has invested in you….your invitation to Laver Cup….none of it matters if you don’t win.
Sock is a brilliant doubles player. He can display his soft hands and athleticism. He can camp out on the right half of the court and smack forehands. He can play with the reduced pressure that comes from having a partner. He has said publically that he would sooner quit than become a doubles specialist. But I’m not sure why he would eliminate this as an option. Simply knowing this is a possibility might be a way to reduce expectation and urgency.
As I always do, I recently enjoyed one of your columns. You stated that Niels Bohr is credited with saying how difficult predictions are, especially regarding the future and you're right—he really often is credited with this saying. The thing is, he didn't coin that phrase.
Llike Bohr, I'm a Dane and I have heard this saying many times, though usually credited to another Dane who is well known in Denmark, but not anywhere else, I guess. So, when I saw you crediting Bohr, I was just about to let you have a peace of my mind. "It's not Bohr", I intended to write smugly, "it was famed Dane Storm Petersen" and adding "you cretin,” though only in my mind. I would have been just as wrong as you, though, so luckily I didn't. Truth is, no one really knows who said it first. Bohr himself credited it to Storm Petersen, which makes sense, because Storm Petersen really did come up with a lot of clever sayings, but though he may have used the saying, he didn't come up with it. It's not even sure it was coined by a Dane. It does sound a lot better in Danish, though, so there's that.
Anyways—you're not wrong. It IS credited to Bohr. But that is wrong.
Thanks for your columns, I read them with much delight.
• Fair enough. I predict we’d like each other if we met in the future.
• James of Portland has our LLS this week, Nico Mahut and a young Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones drummer: