- Coco Gauff's success has brought the WTA's age eligibility restrictions to the attention of the tennis salon. Here's why the rules—designed to protect a teenager from crashing at the intersection of fame and youth—are not such a bad idea.
As always, some custodial stuff first.
• Robbie Koenig is our most recent podcast guest. LINK
• Next up: Patrick McEnroe.
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What are your thoughts on Coco Gauff and the WTA’s Age Eligibility Rule? I know you talked about how you thought it might not hold up legally. But where do you stand on it as policy?
—Peter T., New York
• A few of you asked about this and, on balance, I’m in favor of the rule. I get the affront to the free market. I am uncomfortable that, as in the absence of collective bargaining, the players didn’t necessarily negotiate this bit of anti-trust. I have sympathy for the argument that says: when you restrict how often a kid can play, it means that when those scarce opportunities do come, they are freighted with extra pressure.
But we’ve simply seen too many instances of teenagers crashing at the intersection of youth and fame to not erect a stoplight. We’re not placing an outright ban on young talent. We are setting up a sensible system that lets players ease into a career and lifestyle that can be less convulsive and stressful.
There’s something counterintuitive perhaps, but I feel better about the rules, given the length of careers. If you have 20 years to make a living at the sport, why not make the first few go a smoothly as possible?
I am a lifelong avid tennis fan and town-court player, but I just learned recently that when the speed of a tennis serve is reported, it is "as the tennis ball comes off the serving racket". I had always thought that the speed was being reported by a fixed speedgun as the ball crosses the net (a fixed point). Can you tell me, for example, how fast a "120mph serve" is moving when it crosses the net? And supposing it bounces on the service line down the T, how fast there? 140mph?
—Bob Schell, New Jersey
• Sam McLean at Hawk-Eye—who is a terrific, creative young analyst talent—was generous enough to help here:
I have attached 2 graphics, one of a 120 mph trajectory and one of a 140 mph trajectory. Both examples are from Alexander Zverev's serving vs Cilic at the ATP finals (I remembered watching him hit a lot of 140 mph + serves that day).
We don't measure the speed at the exact point it crosses the net but the closest we have to that is the speed pre-bounce. We also know the speed post-bounce and speed at returner.
Here at the numbers for two Zverev serves down the T.
120 MPH serve: 120 at hit, 83 pre-bounce, 60 post-bounce, 50 at returner
140 MPH serve: 140 at hit, 100 pre-bounce, 76 post-bounce, 62 at returner.
As ever, a great list of 50 Parting Thoughts. I was just wondering what your take was on the press conference between a British tabloid reporter and Jo Konta after she crashed out in the QFs to the unfancied Barbora Strycova. While his points were valid, his questioning was abrupt, and led to her calling him "disrespectful" and "patronizing.” Do you think he was in the wrong? Do you think this shows her strength in the way she answered? Or a shortcoming in what she needs to do to win a slam? On a slightly different note, is sports stars’ questioning a reporter's observations because they haven't played the game to a high level something you have come across often, and how much does it bother you?
• Let’s begin by noting the origin of the word “patronizing.” Actually, it’s a French word. But the Latin root “part,” for father, looms large here. I have some immediate sympathy for Jo Konta, a woman in her 20s, losing a match and then staring at a group interlocutors who, suffice to say, are not often women in their 20s. There’s a gender dynamic and power dynamic that bears keeping in mind.
That acknowledged…it’s funny, I left Wimbledon before that particular press conference and was at dinner when my social media started blowing up. I immediately read the interview transcript and couldn’t quite figure out what had caused the fuss. Then I fired up the YouTube, prepared to be outraged, either by a boorish journalist or a thin-skinned athlete. Again, I couldn’t get especially worked up about either party. The question wasn’t delicately phrased, but fell within the bounds. And so, for that matter, did Konta’s response.
Konta lost to a player she perhaps should have beaten. She played a strange match strategically. She made a lot of errors. The journalist was on solid ground asking about this strategy that, judging from the score, was suboptimal; and the error count that, judging from the score sheet, was considerable. Konta, on the other hand, had just lost a disappointing match at her “home” Grand Slam. If she didn’t much feel like anatomizing her lousy day at the office, who can blame her? As I see it, neither owes the other party an apology.
I like the second part of your question. I get that tennis players get annoyed when shlubs who have never played at a high level and look like they couldn’t run from the baseline to the service line without losing their breath are suddenly vivisecting a performance. (This is not unique to sports, much less tennis. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” and all.)
But ultimately, this is really flawed logic. You can have expertise and perspective in a field without having practical experience. Emily Nussbaum may not be an actress, but she can sure as hell write about television. You and I might not be chefs; but we don’t forfeit our right to hold opinions about cuisine and restaurants. Amazon reviews are not open only to published authors. If expertise becomes a pre-req for holding opinions, we’re all in trouble.
Going to San Jose for second year in a row since there are no summer tournaments in Los Angeles anymore. I am disappointed again that some of the top WTA players will be in Washington and not San Jose, such as Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Sofia Kenin and Monica Puig. Why would players go to Washington, a $250,000 tournament, instead of San Jose, which has prize money of $876,000? Don't they know the way to San Jose?
I smell something rotten, like a conflict of interest, where an agency represents a tournament and players too.
—Russ, Los Angeles
• If anything, it’s the opposite. How do IMG players not play in the IMG-managed San Jose event? Appearance fees certainly lure players to enter events they might not otherwise enter. But that’s just the free market flexing its muscle. Also, logistics sometimes are relevant. Montreal/Toronto, site of next week’s action, are a lot closer to Washington D.C. than the West Coast.
For those legends who play in the senior invitation doubles, does Wimbledon foot the bill for them to travel to and stay in a hotel during the tournament? Is the airfare first class?
—Mark S., Encino, Calif.
• My moles tell me that for legends events in general, players can make in the neighborhood of $10,000. (At some events there’s graduated prize money; at others there is a flat fee.) Accommodations are usually offered. (The French offers a small flight stipend.) In many cases, the players are on-site anyway, whether they are coaching or broadcasting or acting as an administrator. (At Wimbledon, for instance, the women’s event featured broadcasters Tracy Austin, Mary Joe Fernandez, Kim Clijsters, Barbara Schett and Daniela Hantuchova, so travels and expenses were, presumably, covered.) The other great perk is the “competitor badge”—and with that, the “transport privileges,” the ability to be shuttled around by the tournament drivers.
Is there a reason why the networks don't officially list players' names (in the graphics, for example) that everyone calls them anyway? I'm thinking of Ash, Coco, Sascha, Stevie, Ali, Jo, Angie et al. No one ever called her "Cori Gauff" during Wimbledon, but that was the name on the scoreboard. The use of the more casual names always strikes me as reflective of the chumminess and blurred professional lines that already plague tennis broadcasters.
—Jason Rainey, Austin
• I see your point, but for all of tennis’s issues and intolerable coziness, I’m not sure this is the proverbial hill to die on. (Aside: when did this notion of dying on hills become so voguish?) We talk about K.D. and Steph and don’t think much of it.
Federer record at Wimbledon (with 13 semfinal appearances), in the semis & finals: 20-5.
It has taken Herculean efforts to keep him from being 24-1.
2008 final – Lost 9-7 in fifth (Nadal)
2014 final – Lost 6-4 in fifth (Djokovic)
2015 final – Lost in 4 sets (Djokovic)
2016 semifinal – Lost 6-3 in fifth (Raonic) *Federer sustained a significant knee injury *
2019 final – Lost 13-12 in fifth-set tiebreaker (Djokovic) – Worst loss ever, on a day he very conceivable could have won all five sets
—Bill, New Jersey
• We could do an entire mailbag on the “sliding doors” scenarios.
I keep seeing this "abrupt" comment made in reference to the fifth-set 12-12 breaker at Wimbledon. Yes, Federer had a few shanks and there it went. But that could happen at 12-13 with someone serving, too. How is a breaker to seven points more abrupt than a game where you conceivably only have to win four points? Was Federer breaking Roddick in 2009 after 29 consecutive holds in the set any less abrupt (Roddick had four shanks in that game, by the way, including one to lose it)?
• Fair point. To me, there was something convulsive about playing for five-plus and then deciding it all with a conventional first-to-seven, win-by-two tiebreak. Especially so given the outcome would represent a two-major swing in this GOAT derby. (It’s either 21-15 or 20-16.) But I respect your point: the margins are going to be small no mater what.
This is with respect to your answer in the recent mailbag about men and women competing simultaneously.
I know you are an American, but I hope you do realize that your mailbag is read worldwide. So it's really jarring when you always compare tennis to the NBA, NFL etc. In this instance, there are plenty of other individual sports that are extremely popular worldwide where men and women play simultaneously in all tournaments (badminton and table tennis come to mind). In fact, badminton is wayyy ahead of tennis here, and almost all of its team events, even those involving countries, are dual-sex. Tennis will only come up to par when things like the Davis Cup, Laver cup etc. involve both sexes.
• Both your points are appreciated. The question, though, seemed to be specific to World Cups and the NBA/WNBA.
Is there a name for a match, whether it be best-of-three or best-of-five, that goes the distances, and ends in all tie-breaks?
• Good one. I think we need that. (A Karlovic Special? An Isner deluxe?) Ideas welcome…Long as we’re here, what about a shorthand for the 7-6, 0-6. 7-6 scoreline? Perhaps a nod to Nick Kyrgios?
• The China Open announced the entry of three rising ATP Tour stars: world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No., 8 Karen Khachanov andthe only teenager ranked in the top 50, No. 22 Felix Auger-Aliassime.
• Farewell Dennis Van der Meer – 1933-2019.
• Incredible control here from Kei Nishikori:
• RIP Peter McNamara.