Is Coco Gauff being overhyped by the media? What is Reilly Opelka's ceiling? Can Maria Sharapova return to form?

By Jon Wertheim
August 29, 2019

Wednesday is Mailbag Day…but, as the U.S. Open showed us, sometimes things that are supposed to happen on Wednesday have to wait until Thursday…

Without a further ado, though…

MAILBAG

How impressed should I be with Coco Gauff and how much is this another case of the media hyping a young athlete? I honesty can’t tell.
Judy, New York

• Impressed. But we are all trying to calibrate and balance. I speak only for myself, but I have some discomfort talking too breathlessly about the prospects of a 15-year-old. She should be a high school sophomore right now, with worries that don’t go beyond getting the right geometry teacher and the release date of season four of Stranger Things. Instead, she is winning match after match on the pro tour. How do you ignore that?

The USTA, too, is clearly ambivalent. You have an ascending, popular homegrown player. How do you hide her on Court 48? Yet you don’t want to exploit and contribute to the pressure. So you, conspicuously, leave her out of the tournament promotion. And you put her third on Louis Armstrong, on a show court but not the show court, at a time that was flexible.

There is much to like about Gauff. Technically she is sound. She plays a nice game of doubles. There is power and speed and size. Her shot production is quite something. 

But what really impresses is the poise. Gauff resets after bad points, games and sets. She plays off the crowd. She seems confident without too-cool-for-school affectations. Give her space. Give her time. But she’s making it hard to be blasé. (And check back after her likely third rounder against Naomi Osaka, when much will be revealed.)

I am not really sure how much more of this kind of punishment Maria Sharapova can take—besides the physical aspect of the game, is this worth it? A double breadstick (1 and 1) on Arthur Ashe is not something a competitor like Maria would look kindly upon. How close are we to the end of the proverbial tunnel, with regards to Maria?
Deepak, New York

• Does her competitive resolve mean that she cannot abide by being ranked outside the top 100 and moving/playing/competing as a shard of her former self? Or does her competitive resolve mean that she will launch a comeback and not retire until she’s pried from the court? 

We’ll get plenty of Sharapova this fall, But the state of her tennis remains to be seen.

Yes or NO: Did Alexis Ohanian troll Sharapova with D.A.R.E. shirt? Be honest!
—Carlito, Missou

• For those who missed it, here's what Carlito is referring to. 

I don’t want to draw any inferences, adverse or otherwise—Alexis can answer if asked. 

But I will say this…We see this in other sports as well: when an athlete returns from a doping suspension there are parallel pressures. One is simply to get back in business and restart the career, making up for lost time. (In this sense, it’s like an injury comeback) But these athletes are also playing to justify their past, to demonstrate that their achievements were legitimate. This is a big burden. And it only grows when the post-suspension results do not comport with the pre-suspension results.

Dominic Thiem. Buy, sell, hold?
—Mark, Burlingame, Calif.

• I’m of two minds here. Thiem came in as the fourth seed and lost in the first round for the second straight major. But there’s a bit of an asterisk—he got sick in Austria (allegedly he caught it from his brother) earlier this summer and hasn’t quite kicked  it. He conceded that he simply had no energy as his first match against Thomas Fabianno dragged on. 

Lots of angles here….among them: A) his girlfriend, Kristina Mladenovic, outlasted him in the draw. B) he lost a heartbreaker to Delpo here in 2017, a heartbreaker to Nadal in 2018 and took a first round defeat in 2019. New York has not been a benign tournament for Thiem. C) He’s had a worse Slam season in 2019 than 2018.

Back to your question: I guess you hold here, if only because he’s still relatively young (25) and the Big Three is relatively old. But after a signature win against Djokovic in the French semis, Thiem has had no uptick. Quite the contrary, in fact.

What do you think is the ceiling is for seven-foot American Reily Opelka? Will he just be a taller John Isner or do you think he could win a major in his career?
Bob Diepold

• Ceiling. Opelka. Insert joke here. Seriously, quite high. People inevitably make the Isner comparison, but that only goes so far. There are a lot of dimensions to Opelka’s game beyond height and a serve. He moves better than he has any right to. And his backhand verges on beautiful. Two concerns: simply by dint of having such a big body, he is injury prone, and he did not look 100% toward the end of his second-round loss to Dominik Koepfer. (He travels with vet Gary Kitchell to keep him limber and healthy.) He also can be very negative and self-effacing when matches aren’t going his way. 

But there’s so much to like here. He’s already No. 42 and—having had mono a year ago—is basically defending nothing for the rest of the season. Look for him to get seeded in Australia. Whether he can win majors is another question. But definitely a stock for the portfolio.

I am assuming that there is a Nike representative at the U.S. Open. For the life of me I cannot understand why these companies see that they have two of their players going up against each other and allow them to wear the exact same outfit. It’s ridiculous
@luv2bowl99

• The rationale, I suppose, is that the brands are pushing a single line of clothing and need uniformity, no pun intended. But, yes, there’s something counterintuitive about outfitting players in the same attire. Athletes, as a rule, want to differentiate themselves. (See: tattoos). I can’t imagine too many players are thrilled when most fans can’t distinguish them from the player across the net.

Because the chair umpire needs to watch the serve, he/she needs to shut the serve clock off as the player tosses the ball. However, if the player does not hit the ball and re-tosses, the clock is now off. So, in essence, they can avoid a violation by just tossing it to shut the clock off. In my opinion, they either need to give the chair umpire a bigger button (not on the touch screen) so they can press it without looking down and depress it upon contact while still keeping there eyes on the ball, or they need a second person controlling the clock.  

You’ve been served!
—Michael

• Well played

This has been a joke between film studies nerds and tennis fans, Mr. W!: Andrei Rublev (1966) - IMDb
—Ng, Vancouver

• Here is the other Andrey Rublev bit going around:

 “Rolex running “perpetual excellence” ads featuring Stefanos Tsitsipas and Thiem feels reminiscent of those AmEx ads with Andy Roddick’s “mojo”
Helen

• Here’s @bukusarkar: Speaking of AmEx ads—the greatest has got to be the one from the '80s: A picture of Lendl, Pat Cash and Johnny Mac. The caption read: Czech, Cash or American Express.

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