- In his latest Mailbag, Jon Wertheim checks in from Paris to give his thoughts on Federer-Nadal pt. 39 (and a prediction), Amanda Anisimova and more.
PARIS — It’s pouring here...and Wednesday is Mailbag Day, so….
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at email@example.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
You guys keep talking about Federer-Nadal XXXIX. Make a pick already, would ya!
—Martin, Washington, D.C.
• A word about picks later on. But, sure, I’ll pick here: Nadal in four. But let’s take inventory first. Federer announced in March that he would, after a three-year hiatus, play the French Open. Already this choice has been validated. He played a dazzling first week, showing that the operating system still works fine at 37. He got in some matches before Wimbledon. He tested his body in best-of-five. He then played a transcendent match against Wawrinka, outlasting his longtime friend/de facto kid brother. And now he gets a rematch against Nadal.
Meanwhile, Nadal played exquisite tennis to reach the Australian Open final. It capped six months of just lights-on tennis. He got scorched in the final. He played sparingly in the spring and, as ever, dealt with injuries. He then won Rome—beating Novak in the final—to plump his confidence. Back in the comfortable confines of Roland Garros, he’s looked like his clayGOAT self. He’s lost just one set here and yesterday beat Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, reducing a top-10 player to a bystander.
Between the clay, the big court, and Nadal’s easier quarterfinal, I give him the edge. It will mark the first time, though, that Federer will unleash this nouveau backhand and his small racket against Nadal on the dirt. I say Nadal 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. But who knows? I would have predicted James Holzhauer to win last night…
It's tedious and trite to talk about tennis "privileging the privileged" by putting them on the major courts. Don't top players have a ton more demands on their schedules? “Sight lines”? It's a tennis court, right?
• Not really. The distance behind the baseline and on the sidelines is considerably bigger. Shadows whip across the court. Patrons stand and sit. A spider-cam hovers above the court. Players say this all the time: when they play on a big court for the first time, there are lots of adjustments.
But your larger point is a good one: to what extent should we strive for all-out parity? To what extent should the stars get star treatment? (This was at the heart of the Thiem-Serena situation as well.) Novak Djokovic should not play on court 14. Serena should play night sessions at the U.S. Open. Tennis is competition but it is also entertainment that, rightly, seeks to accommodate as many fans (and television gods) as possible. At what point is a star-driven sport wisely maximizing its stars and their appeal? And at what point does it cross a line and undermine fair competition?
Surely Nicolas Mahut deserved a mention in your last mailbag? It was heart-warming on two fronts: a 37-year old wildcard who reached the third round of his home Slam AND did so with a cute son who ran on court to hug him after each match! Please give some love to Mahut!
—Nancy Ng, Montreal, Canada
• We’ll save Nicolas Mahut for the 50 Parting Thoughts wrap column. But, yes, he merits mention. This is a warm story in this event—the 37-year-old (and 12-time wildcard recipient) reaching week two. But it’s also a nice story in the macro sense. There was a fear he would be best known as “the guy who lost the crazy-long match.” Tennis benefitted immensely from that story; Mahut, on the other hand, got first-round prize money and a bunch of blisters. Here we are, nearly a decade later, and he has won major doubles titles, put together a fine singles career, and is known for so much more than one quirky match.
What is this “ba ba ba” song the Euros chant during play?
• Ironically, it’s the Spanish bullfighting song.
I'm not sure what the French did, or maybe it's a TV trick, but the sound of the racquet hitting the ball in Court Simonne Mathieu is amazeballs. Delpo's forehand there sounded like the 1812 Overture, but it always does. More impressive: Even Nishioka's shots sounded like an AC/DC riff on that court. Does it sound that amazing in person?
• Funny, I’ve been too hung up on the visuals to notice the acoustics. But it’s a tremendous that’s had the added effect of dousing our nostalgia for the Bullring. Here, by the way, is a piece worth reading by Bonnie Ford:
When you interviewed Amanda Anisimova after her fourth round win, were you disappointed in how she answered your questions? What I mean by that, is her generic, “say the right thing” answers. “I’m so happy to be playing in front of a French crowd…I knew she was going to be super tough...” They are the old Bull Durham explanations that Kevin Costner taught Tim Robbins to say to not stir up anything with the press, teammates and/or opponents. Do you feel modern athletes fear creating such tension that they will just go to such lengths (same PC answers over and over) to avoid tension entering their lives? I think I just crave seeing their real personalities and worthwhile interviews/pressers.
• Nah. She’s a teenager. She’s shy. She’s still getting used to having people pepper her with questions. It’s not the most normal interaction if you’re unaccustomed to it. She’s just walking off the court after perhaps the biggest win of her young career. Yes, she offered a cliché salad. But some blame probably rests with the interviewer, too.
I will say this: in most sports, athletes are getting more bland. Or at least less inclined to speak with candor and color. In tennis—whether it’s Stefanos Tsitsipas or Petra Martic or Naomi Osaka or Andrea Petkovic—there is a nice cohort of “good interviews.”
You (and every other major tennis commentator) continue a disservice to Federer when people mention his deficit in Masters 1000 wins to Djokovic and Nadal and fail to note that no Masters 1000 event is played on grass, his best surface. Why not mention this?
• Facts are facts.
You guys are so desperate to have [Serena] break Margaret Court’s record.
• I’ll bite here. I’m less interested in Serena breaking this record than I am in reassessing this record, such as it is. Margaret Court won the Australian Open 11 times…back when the draw size was 32 and the field was made up mostly of local players, two emus and 11 waltzing Matildas. In no way is it comparable to what Serena does.
I think I made this comparison a few months back, but it’s like comparing a Wyoming senator to a California senator. Same titles but the size, scale and scope are completely different. What about the fact that Margaret Court is a virulent and unapologetic homophobe? Yeah, I suppose that probably impacts how I feel about her “record” as well.
This caught my eye in your 5/29/19 French Open Mailbag:
“Herbert is listed at 6-3 and 165 lbs. Not a lot of body fat there.”
I dare you to say that about a female player in an upcoming Mailbag. Much like Darren Cahill frequently referring to David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis as ‘The Teletubbies’ during ESPN broadcasts in the mid-2000s, it seems like commentators have not made much progress on this sort of double-standard, no matter how ‘progressive’ or ‘egalitarian’ they try to present themselves as.
• I’ll bite here, too. The line about Herbert is simply factual. Here’s your handy BMI chart.
As to your larger point, I plead guilty. I have never been entirely comfortable talking about the physiques of female players.
• Read this thread from Andrea Petkovic, if you haven’t already.
L. Lopez comes through with an awesome LLS this week: Aliona Bolsova and Jenette Goldstein as "Vazquez" in Aliens 2