Mailbag: How Will Quick Transition After U.S. Open Impact Roland Garros?

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Hey, everyone….

• Our most recent podcast: Dominic Thiem on winning his maiden major and Dr. Sian Beilock on choking.

• Next up: Chanda Rubin will join to preview the 2020 French Open.

• This week’s unsolicited book recommendation: Jeff Pearlman’s Three Ring Circus.

• A reminder that you can buy the 2020 U.S. Open program here.

• Reader Matias from NYC has a new U.S. Open photo book, The Open. “While there is a low-resolution free preview of the whole book, all sales profits will be donated to The Partnership for the Homeless and to New York Cares. I hope you have time to take a peek and enjoy it!”

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced this year’s nominees on the ballot for the HOF class of 2021 ballot. This year’s nominees in the player category include: Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, United States’ Lisa Raymond, Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and Sergi Bruguera, and Sweden’s Jonas Björkman. In the contributor category the nominees include: The Original 9, including Billie Jean King and company who fought for gender equality in the sport in 1970, and Dennis Van der Meer, world renowned tennis coach.

Fans around the world can participate in the unique voting process having the opportunity to voice their opinions about who is deserving of HOF induction. Fan Voting presented by BNP Paribas will run Oct. 1-25 and fans can vote at vote.tennisfame.com.

• Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a French Open that should have happened in springtime will have an autumn feel instead. What has not changed is Tennis Channel's all-day, all-night, three-week commitment to Roland Garros, the most prestigious clay-court event in tennis, which usually arrives as the sport's second of four majors, but this year will be its third and final. Beginning Sunday, Sept. 27, at 5 a.m. ET, Tennis Channel's 14th year of coverage of the 15-day main draw gets underway with matches from the first ball of play. The network will have live competition, highlights, updates and analysis from the famed grounds of Roland Garros for the next 14 days, through the end of the event on Sunday, Oct. 11, as the best players in the world put on a show that is usually penciled in for May.

Onward…

Mailbag

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

Do you agree that Thiem emerges from his U.S. Open triumph in a much better position to challenge Nadal and the field at Roland Garros? I'm thinking if he loses that nail biter and heads to France 0-4 in major finals, he's going to start carrying the "best player never to have won a slam" albatross around his neck in a lot of people's minds, perhaps his own included. And that kind of psychological doubt can't be good.
Teddy C., NYC

• Sure. I’m not sure you win the U.S. Open—without taking down a Big Three member—and storm the Roland Garros locker room predicting to take down Nadal. But is Thiem much better positioned today, as a major winner—knowing he can win seven matches; knowing he can win when he’s not at his best; knowing he can play through nerves; knowing he will never again wear the BPNTHWAS jacket—than he was a month ago?….Absolutely.

I saw you said that you watched a lot of the ESPN coverage of the U.S. Open. So what do think of the commentary of Chris Evert? As you know she generates a lot of talk among tennis fans.
Jeff, Brooklyn

Here are a few things I’ll say about Chris Evert.

1) She has won 18 majors which—check notes—is more than all but a half-dozen people on the planet.

2) From check notes to Czech notes….Like Martina, Chris knows not only from winning, but from intense rivalry and the weight of expectation and intensity and everything that comes with being an absolute titan in your profession. She is able to impart this knowledge on a broadcast; and does so gracefully and without committing the former jock unforced error of starting every sentence with “I.”

3) If I were writing a think piece about Chris Evert, I’d be inclined to start here: when she played, she was known for poise and imperviousness. Ice Maiden, and all. Post-tennis, she is cool, but it’s the conventional definition. Not prickly or icy at all. She’s fun and funny and good company. I’ve experienced this first-hand. I’ve seen and heard this second-hand. I can’t think of another celebrity who, quietly, does more to make other people happy and make their lives easier.

4) ESPN is lucky to have her.

We hear football players and such talking about it taking a couple of weeks to get used to game speed. Is the same true for professional tennis? Some of the players haven’t played competitively in seven months. Are any of the top players concerned heading into the French?
Rusty, Cincinnati, Ohio

• Interesting question. How much of tennis is muscle memory and familiarity; a good player is a good player? And how much are tennis skills and “match toughness” susceptible to eroding from inactivity? It was perhaps hard to tell on television, but it seemed to me the level of play at the U.S. Open was not discernibly different from that of other years. The players held up physically. (Compare this to the NFL, where injuries were the storyline of Week Two.) Fewer matches ended in retirement than in recent years past. The conclusion in tennis terms: the lack of wear this year d. the lack of match play.

As for the French, bear in mind that most of the players at the top of the sport today are European. And most of them practice on clay. I suspect the big difference will not be the surface but the conditions. The hot clay of early June will be replaced by an autumnal version. Soggier, wetter and pumpkin-spiced. Also bear in mind the hours of daylight. There will be more night matches and matches played in dusk, as we are nearing the time Europe receives less than 12 hours of sunlight each day.

Here is a question/thought I had for the next Mailbag: If Nadal were to win Australia one more time, or Djokovic or Federer the French, how much do you think that would factor into the GOAT debate? I personally think that if one man achieves the double career grand slam feat, and the other two do not, that would really give them a big leg up on the other two when all is said and done. It seems especially for Nadal that winning the Australian once more would really propel him into a strong position to be the GOAT. Thoughts?
Lukas

• I’m with you. The DCS as we call it—actually no one calls it this; but let’s coin a shorthand, shall we?—is a real feat. Each major at least twice. We can have fun thinking of the near misses, too. Nadal throws out his back against Stanislas in the 2014 AO Final. He can’t hold a fifth-set break against Federer in the 2017 final. For Djokovic, he, too, can’t withstand Stan in the French final. And his overheads betray him against Nadal. For Federer, he would surely have won the French multiple times, but for Nadal. If we are going down this road, you know who really benefits? Women. Serena Williams has won each major at least three times. Steffi Graf won each major at least four (!) times.

Longtime reader and huge fan. Question for you: How did Azarenka begin working with Dorian Descloix? It's exciting when new coaching names come around and I'm curious about how some of these coaches get these gigs. Would it have anything to do with Azarenka's training at the Mouratoglou Academy in the 2019-20 offseason?
Damian, Melbourne, Victoria

• Thanks. And right you are. The good folks at the WTA point us to this:

“Dorian Descloix: from hitting partner to head coach: For the tennis side of things, Patrick Mouratoglou suggested to start by working with a hitting partner. He and Kerei Abakar reached out to French national player Dorian Descloix. Even though Descloix had never coached professionally before, he is a top-level hitter and Patrick felt like he would be a good fit for Azarenka. Descloix was ranked as high as world No. 666 and is still ranked in the top 100 in France. Their collaboration started in February 2020. The pair had a good connection from the start and worked well together. One thing led to another and Descloix now acts as Azarenka’s full-time coach.”

I agree and agree with your disagreement with the person who commented about too much Serena coverage. While I agree in that I wanted to read/learn more about some of the other players this year and less about Serena, I totally agree that the Williams sisters are also one of the great undertold stories in sports. There's one detail that you didn't mention that blows me away in their story: that they had to play each other to reach their goals. My question is: Is there any parallel that you can think of in any sport? There have certainly been siblings as opponents, or in the same sport at different weight levels, but in a one-on-one sport like tennis? At the highest level? I've wondered about this for years and have yet to come up with anything. (I have three sisters and I can't even fathom one of them on the other side of the net chasing the same goal I have.)
Jane B.

• Here’s one for you guys. A few years ago, I posed a similar question. Got some responses that didn’t quite cut it. (Yes, Steph Curry’s brother is also in the NBA; but he’s not the equivalent of a seven-time champ. Eli Manning and Peyton? Close but no Venus and Serena.) One of you informed me that I missed an obvious one: Champion log rollers keep competition in the family. I’m thinking: if you need to go log-rolling to find a comp, the Williams sisters are doing pretty well.

Thanks again Jon. You’ve cleverly addressed my question. My next BURNING issue: I envisage the GOAT debate re-surfacing in the coming days. Understandably so. However, in all honesty, again, isn’t it so very Premature? I’m requesting a MORATORIUM on this topic. Repeatedly addressing this topic even for fun-sake is silly and very boring. You might lose readership too, especially the knowledgeable tennis fans. Moreover, pick more relevant, intriguing topics like...athletes training part, highlight the amazing commentary duo, Robbie and Nick Lester (can they move back to World Feed, please?)

My point is: Surpassing Federer’s records is NOT guaranteed. Till it’s done. Who knows how the future plays out. Djokovic just got DQ. Who predicted THAT? I wonder what other hurdles are in store!! Just sayin...
Sahana

• We stop at nothing to praise Robbie and Nick.

As for your other point, I’m torn on the GOAT conversation. Yes, it’s tiresome. Yes, it’s divisive. Yes, it’s silly given that it’s fluid—why not wait until it’s over. But clearly, it’s of interest to many fans. And the process is as interesting as the outcome. In October of 1998, no baseball fan said, “Meh, let’s wait till October and discuss who hit more home runs, McGwire or Sosa.” Everyone was caught up in watching this derby in real time.

Osaka's withdrawal from Cincinnati was well intended but seems misguided. I'm an independent contractor. Say I complete 70% of a project and then tell my client that I'm withdrawing from the rest of the project "to raise awareness" of injustice. Am I a moral hero or am I reneging on a commitment? It's not a perfect analogy but I think there are better ways to raise awareness than to withdraw and let down the organizers and fans who had nothing to do with the injustice.
Kevin K.

• Imagine if there were a social issue that meant a great to you. You felt strongly about it—so much so that the moral obligation you felt outstripped the moral obligation you felt to go to your job. Not only that but you had a platform whereby millions of other people would be reflecting on this social issue on account of your work stoppage. And your leverage was such that: a) your employer needed you on the job site more than you needed to be there; b) your employer would tell all the contractors on your crew to join you in taking a day off, before finishing the job.

Good run from Casper Ruud in Rome. I'm pretty sure he's responsible for ensuring that, for the first time ever, the top ranked Nordic male is not from Sweden. Certainly, in the open era, I'm willing to bet this is unprecedented given that Sweden had Borg in the ’70s, Wilander in the ’80s, and Edberg in the ’90s. Even the comparatively lean period from the early 2000's to the 2010s still had Johannson, Bjorkman, and Soderling. In fact, Ruusuvuori from Finland is currently just outside the top 90 with Ymer from Sweden at No. 80 so, with some movement over the coming years, Sweden could be trailing both its neighbors!
Rohit, Washington D.C.

• Good observation. Before Ruud, has the top-ranked Scandinavian ever not been Swedish? We await Sharko’s response. Your other point is well-taken. Nice resurgence for Scandinavian tennis. And it’s interesting that the players have arrived here in many different ways.