Mailbag: Wozniacki's Final Event and More to Watch in 2020

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• The most recent podcast: Jamie and I hand out awards for the 2019 season.

• Humbly, more than 100 of you took up my offer about receiving the Mailbag link via email, newsletter style, given changes to the SI.com tennis site. Offer still holds.

Onward….

Mailbag

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

Jon, what are your thoughts on Caroline Wozniacki. And, of course, is she a Hall of Famer?
Benzo, London

• For those who missed it, Caroline Wozniacki announced that the 2020 Australian Open will be her final event. Here’s a piece we did over at Tennis Channel. On tennis’ answer to the Richter scale of “convulsive announcements,” this did not rate high. Here was a player married and pushing 30—who won a major, been No. 1 in the world and has been dealing with illness and injuries for more than a year. She won the 2018 Australian Open; she is unlikely to be seeded at the 2020 event.

There was plenty to like about Woznaicki’s game. She won with athleticism and consistency and defense. Still another example of “you-can’t-predict-these-things,” she became very wealthy but never lost her taste for the battle. She had a lot of friends among other players—Serena, most notably but hardly exclusively—and was uncommonly accommodating. A good corporate citizen, you might say. (I don’t just say that because she is a neighbor in New York.)

Is she Hall of Fame material? It’s all about the standards and precedents. A major, two major finals, a stint at No. 1, the better part of a decade inside the top 10 and 30 titles? In.

Hello Jon, If any of the Big Three win a major next year, they will become the first man in the open era to win a major in three different decades. But how’s this? If Serena wins a major (perhaps a big IF), she’ll be the first person to win a major in FOUR different decades (her first being the 1999 U.S. open). I can’t think of many athletes to be at the top of their respective sports for 20+ years.
Anthony

• Good one. Two more for you.

1) Serena has won titles during six presidential terms. (Clinton, Bush 1, Bush 2, Obama 1, Obama 2 and Trump.)

2) Nadal entered the top ten in 2005 as a teenager. He has yet to be expelled. That, friends, is just silly.

3) Okay one more….Djokovic has many Australian Open titles as John McEnroe has majors. His encompass 11 years. McEnroe’s encompasses five years.

How could tennis build upon one of it coolest virtues—that many fans also play and compete a lot? Same strokes, equipment, court size, similar highs & lows (writ much smaller by stakes). I think ITF & college in particular could use this to attract fans.
Megan Fernandez

• Good point. It’s not just the fan/player overlap. Same sport, played on a court of the same dimensions, with the same set of challenges. (Sidebar: just came across a great quote from Toni Nadal about how tennis players have two opponents: the one across the net, and the one in their head. They play both at the same time. …And this goes for the 3.5 player at the club, just as it does Nadal and Federer.)

The racket of say, Djokovic, isn’t the same racket the fan/player buys from Amazon or Alibaba. (Note: I almost wrote “local sporting goods store.”) But it at least looks the same. It’s not an America’s Cup yacht versus your weekend sailboat.

No question tennis can do a better job capitalizing on this. Three quick ideas. 1) More pro-ams. Golf is great at this. Players hit balls alongside the fans/sponsors, which hardens bonds—and greases the wheels for sponsorships and speaking gigs. NFL fans aren’t going to tackle Lamar Jackson. But most fans can at least bat the ball around with tennis stars. 2) Lean into doubles. This remains a great under-utilized under-capitalized tennis asset. We know that doubles is wildly popular among recreational players; that should be at least somewhat reflected in coverage and promotion. 3) The overlap Megan cites is just a good rule of thumb, in general. Broadcasters should bear it in mind and perhaps cite more “teachable moments” in match coverage. Players should remember that most fans have first-hand experience with choking and trying to close matches and zoning and also wondering why their forehand has deserted them.

Jon, I know the season hasn’t even started yet, but give us some players to watch in 2020! Can’t wait for Australia to start! Everyone complains that the tennis offseason is too short. But for me, I am in withdrawal!
Taffy T.

• I have two tiers of answers here. Obviously watch the Big Three. Federer has 20 majors; Nadal has 19. The last time they were this close, it was 1-0. Oh, and that Djokovic guy has 16 and usually wields more power in Australia than Gina Rinehart. There is a two-major swing in the balance anytime those guys play. And then there is Serena Williams and her quest for 24 majors.

More conventionally, if you mean—cliché alert—under-the-radar types, here are four names: Jannik Sinner is killing it lately; and doesn’t turn 19 until the summer. And Felix Auger Aliassime has cracked the top 25; wait till he claims a signature win. As for the women, lots of choices. Let’s see what 2020 has for Bianca Andreescu who, most immediately, rides a 10-match win streak at majors. And while Coco Gauff is a special talent; consider a more seasoned American, Sonia Kenin, who could be a top ten player after Australia.

Beyond pushing @LaverCup off its spot in the calendar, who would own a combined ATP/Davis Cup? ITF or ATP? And what would it be called?
@wassilywabbit

• Superb question. “We have already determined what you are. Now we’re just negotiating.” Let’s first see how this ATP Cup pans out. I am skeptical but open-minded. Last month, we saw Davis Cup and the problems that arose when two neutral nations played. In Madrid, the U.S. played Canada—neighboring countries, two of the best young players in the sport, an underdog/overdog story, Trudeau disses Trump—and, you could find a bigger crowd at that house in Michigan where The Irishman shot Jimmy Hoffa.

When, say, Croatia plays Argentina in Perth—in a weird first-year team event; the same month we play a major—let’s just say we won’t need turnstiles to stem the flow of fans.

Hey, how about we make the ATP Cup a combined event, hold it in Australia early in the year, and name it after an Australian tennis legend? Maybe call it...the Hopman Cup??

In your rush to divvy up the calendar between Davis Cup, Laver Cup and ATP Cup, you seem to have forgotten the OLYMPICS. Where does that fit on the calendar? And as an ITF event, would players only have ONE chance every four years to qualify for the Olympics?

And then there's this: the ATP held a version of the ATP Cup, alternately called the Nations Cup/World Team Cup, for almost 30 YEARS, and some pretty high profile players competed, yet it never caught on. Hmmm.
Helen of DC

• Here comes Helen of DC, bringing her common sense again. Australia should have demanded that its team Cup be dual-gendered. That way it would have a feature to differentiate it from the Davis Cup. As it stands, this, I fear that ATP Cup is—forgive the pun—a watered-down chaser after Davis Cup. Same general idea. But there’s no history behind it. No obvious pent-up demand among fans. No bells and whistles. (Laver Cup at least had the good sense to throw down a black court and come up with that elastic scoring system.)

Wait a minute—Baghdatis retired? At the U.S. Open? I guess if he had changed his name to Gauff or Kyrgios ESPN might have cared.

Anyway, he’s another all-time fave. Maybe not as accomplished as Ferrer but every bit as tenacious. Plus his racquet-smashing at the Aussie Open (2012, I wanna say?) will never be surpassed.
P.R.

• One more time. With feeling!

Who shares my ambivalence here? Yes, it’s irresistible video. And yes, in the grand scheme of antisocial acts committed by athletes, it ranks pretty low. (A victimless crime, save some tubes of carbon and polyester strings.) But not a great look fort the sport when millionaire players destroy the same equipment that fans pay good money to purchase.

But let’s do send The Bagman off with a little credit to his tennis. Here was a guy that—not unlike Moya/Nadal—came from an island with little history in the sport and played on the biggest stages. He never quite replicated his run to the Melbourne final but for the next 15 years he was a pleasure to have around. Well-liked, well-regarded and will be missed.

This is about good guys in tennis. University High is in Irvine, California. It took me one minute to read.
Mark Flannery, Fullerton, Calif.

• Done.

Shots, Miscellany

• Feliciano Lopez—now coached by doubles partner Marc Lopez—is committed to playing the Houston event.

• Just in time for the holidays: The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis, written by Australian doctor, writer and peace activist Peter Underwood, and which chronicles and narrates one of the most misunderstood and little-known eras of world tennis, the Professional or Pro Era, is now available for sale around the world in English.

• There are a lot of great tennis podcasts out there. And not all have the good fortune of being backed by a media company. As such, consider contributing to my pal David Law over at the The Tennis Podcast, which is holding its annual kickstarter campaign:

Who remembers Francisco Clavet?