Mailbag: How Will the Tennis Hiatus Impact Careers and Ranking Points?

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Hope everyone is safe and hanging in.

Here are my thoughts on the Olympic postponement as it relates to tennis.

Last week’s pod, Vasek Pospisil, from the isolation of Vancouver….

• A good soldier reminder that Tennis Channel is coming live every day at noon ET for chatter.

• Match-fixing, the GOAT debate and life in the futures....as premise for a New Yorker fiction piece. These are strange times.

• This comes with the usual disclaimer: yes, there’s a certain absurdity to talking tennis while we in the midst of a global health crisis, when I’m typing to the soundtrack of sirens. There’s also a certain need for ritual and for the mundane. In hopes of breaking of the monotony monopoly, this boredom—this ennui Leconte, as it were—here’s some Q/A…

Mailbag

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

I loved your suggested tennis reads in last week’s Mailbag, and I’d like to add a book to the list: Rowan Ricardo Phillip’s The Circuit: a Tennis Odyssey, a fascinating look at the seminal 2017 tennis season. His account of the advent of clay court tennis alone is worth the price of admission. The paperback edition came out recently.
—Teddy C., NYC

• Happily. Here’s RRP on the podcast.

And more important, here’s where you can buy the book.

And let’s come up with more tennis writing. In addition to RRP, how about: Terrible Splendor by Marshall Jon Fisher; Late to the Ball by Gerald Marzorati; The Right Set, an anthology edited by Caryl Philips; and A Long Way Baby by Grace Lichtenstein. And by the way, here’s Baseline’s top five tennis movies.

Have you heard any discussion among the various tennis authorities about how to deal with ranking points given all the tournament cancellations and postponements? We know, for example, that the French Open has rescheduled to late September, but does that mean that Rafael Nadal loses 2,000 ranking points at the end of May, which would affect his seeding at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open? That hardly seems fair. On the other hand, one might have made the same argument about Bianca Andreescu losing 1,000 points from Indian Wells being cancelled, except that she had already announced that she wasn't going to play Indian Wells in 2020. It's hard to know what to do.
Rich, New York City

• Ranking points, like the rest of us—and like Ted Williams—are frozen until further notice. And Indian Wells is included.

If the rest of the calendar year is cancelled due to COVID-19 do you think this makes it more or less likely that Roger Federer returns in 2021? I know he’s made no retirement announcement but still. Obviously, he’ll be one year older but also one year rested.
@georgelovell3

• This is the big question. Not just for Federer but the House of Williams, an almost 34-year-old Nadal, del Potro, etc….Does this unscheduled and unwanted hiatus prolong careers? Or does it bring players still closer to the end-date, without the benefit of actual competition? If only because we are leaking bad news and grimness these days, I’m on Team Optimism here. Perhaps this is a disguised blessing. Players can repair and take the equivalent of a sabbatical and come back replenished.

Have been an avid reader of the Mailbag since the very early days—thank you. Now that you have truly progressed far beyond a mere writer-observer of tennis to becoming a heavyweight influencer across all media forms, have you reflected on how your approach has changed over the years and in what ways that you care to share with us? Eg, are you now more circumspect or measured in your comments to avoid causing unintended offense? In what ways or areas would you deploy your influence? Whether the “observer effect” operates in journalism as in physics can be a topic for another day!

P.S. Where can non-US readers view your Rafa interview on 60 minutes?
James, Melbourne, Australia

• I usually pass on the questions that entail this level of self-indulgence. But these are strange times. Here goes. A) You are very kind. Though if I am a heavyweight, Daniil Medvedev is a heavyweight. B) 60minutes.com has your back catalog c) I will cop to slouching into the veteran category. I am at the point where I have covered some athletes for their entire careers. Somewhere, in some deep recess, I have a voicemail from Max Eisenbud, encouraging me to consider writing about his new signee, Maria Sharapova. Almost two decades later, I am taking the measure of her entire career. Damn.

I’m not sure if I’ve changed fundamentally. You guys are probably a better judge of that. You try to listen more, cut people more slack, realize that Twitter trolls ought to be named and shamed periodically, but generally deserve more sympathy than outrage.

I have noticed this: so often in sports media (perhaps in media media?) you start wide-eyed and optimistic and then become jaded and cynical, resenting your subjects. You get older while the athletes stay the same age (see Matthew McConaughey); the wealth gap widens; you see behind the proverbial curtain and realize the heroes and heroines have flaws. The novelty wears off. In tennis, what started as a “tour” becomes a grinding circuit.

Yet I’ve had the opposite experience. My admiration and respect for the players has, if anything, gone up. They are out there alone and exposed. There are no guaranteed contracts. The same elements that make the sport so beautiful make it so brutal—the overlay of physical and mental; the internationalism; the “eat what you kill” nature. And yet the players are, overall, honorable, accountable and accessible. When Nick Kyrgios qualifies as a villain it says plenty about the cumulative character of the workforce. The athlete’s soul—the athlete’s heart, Mary Carillo calls it—is really quite something to behold.

If there’s cynicism, it’s not with the athletes, but the administrators. I guess you could argue the alchemy of beauty of dysfunction only adds to the richness. But to me, the players are, generally, awesome. It’s the administrators and the mutual destructive turf wars, the missed opportunities—unconverted break points, as it were—the screwed-up structure, the receding-tide-lowers-all-ships….that’s where the cynicism and outrage reside.

“Players from team 8 boycotting”???

Who? Fed who isn’t playing. Sock who is [out of shape]. Nick Kyrgios who loses first round? No serious player will boycott. And are we really seriously talking about the Laver Cup? Did the Laver Cup ask the tournaments it displaced?? The Fed PR machine never stops...even during a pandemic...
P.K., Brooklyn

• I include this mostly a representation that—at least among you guys—the scales are balanced here. The French Federation caught a lot of blacklash—or splashback as it’s vog­uishly called—for unilaterally changing the date of the 2020 French Open. In many quarters this was seen as self-serving (when has that stopped anyone in tennis) and violating a sort of social compact. The Laver Cup, scheduled concurrently, is severely impacted. The French Open essentially made a bet—not unreasonably—that for all the bruised feelings, no player was going to sit out a major—with all its prestige and exposure, to say nothing of $50 million in prize money—in order to play an event in China or an exhibition.

But many of you, both over email and Twitter have lashed back against the backlash. Essentially asking, “Who does the Laver Cup think it is? And why should this invite-only exhibition be considered when we are talking about a major, that is bringing prestige, history and payday to 256 players?”

I think we need to differentiate between outcome and process here. I would agree that the majors should take priority. And that in these times we need to triage and reconsider “peace time” norms. If staging the French Open in the fall is a way to salvage the 2020 edition, well, it beats the alternative. The issue is that the French Federation essentially said, “This is what we’re doing. And if you don’t like it, stay home.”

I remember (fondly) when Tennis Channel used to play classic matches of all stripes, and they were so great. I wonder if, in this time of isolation, you could request that they run a few of those in their rotation? Would make the days go by faster!
Jon B., Seattle, Wa.

• Duly noted. Someone asked me: if I could choose only one more match to watch what it would it be? Before I answered, they amended the question to say it could not be Federer/Nadal Wimbledon final 2008. For some reason the first match that came to mind was DelPo/Thiem from the 2017 U.S. Open. For women, maybe the 1999 Miami final pitting Venus versus Serena? The Venus/Davenport 2004 Wimbledon final?

But I’m open to suggestions from you guys.

Roger and Rafa XLI. Hope you are doing well. Since we don’t have live tennis for the foreseeable future, think you can convince Roger and Rafa to live stream an online video game match via Facebook or some other medium? Heck, charge people $5 to watch with proceeds going to charity. Just a stupid crazy thought.
Duane

• I’m in.

Shots, Miscellany

• An announcement that didn’t get much attention: the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will add a fresh upgrade ahead of the 2020 US Open.

• The Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program Annual Gala has been rescheduled for September 21, 2020 at Gotham Hall in New York City. Featuring luminaries from the world of tennis, celebrity tennis fans, philanthropists and supporters, the annual event will celebrate 48-years of helping and inspiring youngsters through tennis and education. Tickets for the gala are available at www.HJTEP.org or by calling 212-491-3738. If you are unable to attend the event, you can donate online.

• A note from the USTA: As all of us confront the many uncertainties caused by this rapidly-shifting environment, the entire tennis industry is coming together to provide guidance and support with the difficult decisions, decisions regarding ourselves, our families and our communities, we are all facing.

To that end, the USTA, USPTA, PTR, TIA, ITA, industry media partners, and other stakeholders, have formed an industry task force charged with creating an action plan and a centralized informational hub as our industry responds to the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 virus. Now, more than ever, it is important that our industry faces this challenge with a unified front.

The task force’s work is focusing on three main areas:

1. How to ensure the best health and safety standards at this time for facilities, pros and players

2. Helpful information for facilities and individuals to access potential financial support and other recommendations on finances and resources for the front line of tennis

3. How to use the near-term downtime to best prepare our sport/industry to come back strong.

First, the task force will circulate an industry survey so that we can assess the true state of where our sport is at this moment. Second, we are calling on providers, tennis facilities, manufacturers, subject matter experts and others in this industry to provide us with the most common and pressing concerns we are all facing in the near-term, and what are suggested actions and best practices we can take as we move forward from this immediate situation.

We ask that all individuals please submit this information to www.usta.com/industryunited by Thursday, March 26. This location within USTA.com will now serve as an accessible hub for this information and for your concerns.

We recognize the stress and uncertainty that all members of the tennis community are facing during this period as we all deal with the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 virus, and we are striving to serve tennis providers, partners and players in the most effective and efficient way possible.