I feel like we need to start with Alexander Zverev, as most of this week’s questions—and chatter—pertained to him. ICYMI, here’s Ben Rothenberg’s Racquet Magazine interview with Olya Sharypova who amplifies her allegations, adds a strenuous amount of detail and alleges abuse at multiple tournaments. It’s a tough read. But it’s worth your time. As this story continued to ripple, Zverev played stellar tennis, beating Rafa Nadal in Paris en route to reaching the final. As, of course is his right, he declined to address substantive questions about the allegations.
Ben invited me on his podcast and we spoke about how this is—ringingly and glaringly—at odds with how other sports would handle the same fact pattern. In the absence of a clear policy—which is problematic—this is an especially delicate and uncomfortable situation. There are no criminal charges. Allegations are not facts. We Americans should also be mindful that this is an international tour and our standards—judicial, procedural, cultural—aren’t the world’s standards. Still, silence in the face of these allegations—serious, specific, repeated, made with a name attached—is really appalling and carry a stench of complicity. If the ATP isn’t going to make a statement, we’ll make one they are free to crib:
“The ATP condemns domestic violence and intimate partner violence in the strongest terms possible. It is anathema to everything we stand for. We were deeply distressed to read the allegations of domestic violence against one of our players and take these allegations seriously. As a result, we have retained the services of an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the alleged incidents. We also, however, respect due process and the rights of the accused to rebut allegations and criminal charges. As a result, while the investigation is underway, the player will be entitled to continue competing. We will also be working with our players to craft a domestic violence policy, as so many other sports leagues and workplaces have successfully done in recent years.”
• Our most recent podcast guest, Craig O’Shannessy, talks tennis probability and why players are wrong to resist serving-and-volleying.
• Next up, Ken Solomon, Tennis Channel CEO on the network’s new ATP deal and overall ascent.
• This is the friend of a friend….First five people to contribute here, I will send you a Wimbledon program from the 2008 final.
Jon, how come you—and others—are not talking about Andrey Rublev as your Player of the Year. He’s had an insane year and has won the most tournaments. Isn’t that what it’s all about?!?!? Especially if he wins the ATP Final, you have to consider him.
• Rublev has been a—the?—great revelation of 2020. He’s turned in an All-Star season, for sure. Five titles and only 12 events. But as long as none of the titles were majors, he cannot be the MVP. He just can’t. As it is written—or not—you have to win a major to be considered for Player of the Year .
Two good rules of thumb v/v Player of the Year. 1) Ask the player this question: If you could swap your season for someone else’s, would you do it? If the answer is “yes,” you’re suggesting you are not the MVP. In the case of Rublev, I strongly suspect that if you said, “You can keep your five titles; or you can swap them for Djokovic and Thiem winning one major and getting to the final of another,” he would agree to the swap.
2) It’s not perfect—especially not in this verkakte year—but prize money tends to be a helpful guide. Working on the assumption that prize money correlates with prestige/gravitas, it is a strong barometer. Note that as I write this, Rublev has won $1.8 million this year; Djokovic is at $6 million; Thiem is $5.2 million.
I don’t want to denigrate Rublev, who, as TimRob writes, has been stellar this year. I could even argue that—coupled with Thiem’s breakthrough—Rublev might have vaulted to the top of the BPNHWAS list. But in this case, he didn’t even make a major semifinal.
Don't see much love your way on the hero of the corona revival Andrey Rublev. He has been just shredding the competition. Unlike many of the new guys, this one has a sense of urgency and purpose. He seems in the words of the immortal Lowell George, "Willin." Do you think he will be the one? Must be between him, Thiem, Zverev.
Cheers from balmy Drammen Norway,
• I like Rublev a lot for a lot of reasons. There’s no obvious weakness in his game. He can play on any surface. He’s had quite an operatic career for a guy who doesn’t turn 24 until next October; but it’s mostly on account of injuries. He is represented by a veteran; he is coached by a veteran; he has handled his business like a professional, more invested in improving than living the life of a young celebrity. My only reservation: let’s replicate the success at a major. But there’s time. Big buy rating here.
Three Rublevian asides:
1) He has a way to go algorithmically. I put his name into the Google Machine and—even with the different spelling—this is the first link disgorged.
2) He’s 6’2”, 165 lbs.? Really? For perspective, Federer—not exactly the body of the BBQ/Beer/Freedom guy—is listed at 6’1”, 187 lbs.
3) Want to laugh? Read the last line of this story on Rublev from 2013.
Who knew that all Zverev needed to get his act together was to be accused of serious abuse? Maybe suddenly he doesn’t want to leave the court. Seles once said the court was her only sanctuary, perhaps it’s the same?
—Jon B., Seattle, Wa.
• Maybe. But note there is very little correlation between tragedy/trauma/stress and athletic performance. One of Brett Favre’s best games came the same week his father died in a car crash. Kobe Bryant’s performance did not suffer as he was being deposed for a sex crime. While it makes for an easy sports trope—“he has these abilities to compartmentalize”—it is not limited to athletes. Human beings are more resilient than we think. I wrote about it a bit here in the context of grief. But I think it also might help explain how Zverev is playing so well amid the stench of this scandal.
Re: the lack of an out male player: What role does the truly global nature of tennis play compared to other sports? For example, in requiring players to play in countries that still criminalize male same-sex relations, and risks to financial endorsements?
• Interesting. I don’t dismiss this. But with one notable exception I can think of, the tour doesn’t wend through countries that have the policies you reference. And that wouldn’t explain why there are, comparatively anyway, a good many out-and-proud players on the WTA Tour, which makes most of the same tour stops.
Good morning Jon! A quick question. Or more accurate—a quick question with a couple of parts. Where is Sam Querrey and what is his ATP fate? There has been absolutely no word on this saga for three weeks. Presumably he’s out of quarantine and left whatever country in which he took temporary asylum.
—Rod, Toronto, Canada
• I’m told Querrey is back home in L.A. and doing fine. He and his family self-isolated after leaving Russia for a couple of weeks before flying home. “Everyone is healthy and doing fine now.” The ATP investigation, such as it is, remains ongoing.
Jon, what was the classic confrontation scene involving Vilas? Could you lead me to something on it?
• No, sorry if this was unclear. Vis-a-vis the Vilas Netflix documentary‚ which I encourage you all to watch—I just meant, generically, the classic showdown scene, that is the dramatic staple of so many films and books. This is the moment power is challenged in person. Michael Moore confronting Roger Smith at General Motors. Sheelah Kolhatkar meeting face-to-face with Stephen A. Cohen. “You can’t handle the truth!”
You wanted the filmmaker to go to Ponte Vedra, enter the ATP HQ and make an executive answer them face-to-face. You wanted the filmmaker—who we got to know and admire and like—to get an audience and ask the pointed questions in person. Cinematically, it was a bit anti-climactic when the back-and-forth came over email.
Anyway, as it stands, v/v Vilas and his quest to be acknowledged as the No. 1, I got this email the other day. I can’t quite discern if I am permitted to use the author’s name, so I’ll err on the side of caution. But here’s the perspective from a longtime ATP executive:
“Several years ago, the ATP shared with me some of Eduardo Puppo's presentation asserting that Vilas should have been Number 1 in 1975. At the time (and even now with the release of the NetFlix feature), I do not think the issue was ever that the ATP was missing or had incorrect results in this case. Instead as I recall, their assertion was that IF the ATP Rankings had been released consistently on a weekly basis (as is done presently), Vilas would have been Number 1 in two of those weeks. However, back in those days, the rankings were issued sporadically, so sometimes weeks would go by before a whole group of tournaments would be added or dropped. Going back and redoing the rankings as if they were issued EVERY WEEK back then would be as unthinkable as taking all of the results from the old "average system" days (1973-1989) and recalculating the rankings under the Best 14 system. A more timely analogy might be to suggest redoing the previous US Presidential elections based on the popular vote instead of the Electoral College, thereby making Hillary Clinton the 45th president of the United States instead of Donald Trump.
As for 1977, when he won 16 ATP titles and 2 Slams with 130 singles wins, Vilas was generally considered the Player of the Year in 1977 but still did not reach Number 1 in the ATP Rankings. Clearly the ATP "average system" in place at the time did not reward playing a lot (and probably disincentivized it) while also not placing enough emphasis on winning a Slam.”
What are your thoughts regarding Djokovic’s abysmal performance in the quarters of Vienna? Not to take away from Lorenzo Sonego, who had a great win, but Djokovic’s comments after the match basically said he only needed to make that round to retain his year-end number one ranking, effectively throwing the match. I think he should be fined! Thanks, and I always enjoy reading your Mailbag roundup.
—Nicole Levine, Granville, Ohio
• Yeah, I would put this in the misdemeanor file (especially given the climate of this week). Every fall—but this fall in particular—we ought to give players wide berth for substandard performances. It’s a long and draining season, which almost begs for aberrant results. That said, another unforced error for Djokovic compounded by a dog of a match with a veiled admission that he did not put forth a wholehearted effort. Same song, different verse with Djokovic. He is a brilliant—and lately peerless—player. He does so much, so well. But, man, you wish that the precision and balance he betrays when he hits the ball carried over to more aspects of his career.
This is in response to Ian's question and your response in your Mailbag here, i.e. about the analogy between tennis scoring and the electoral college.
I'm a writer in Bombay, India, and among other things I write a weekly mathematics column, trying to show that math can be challenging and still interesting and fun. Some years ago I wrote about exactly this phenomenon in tennis—it's an example of "Simpson's Paradox.” Of course you read about it in the Ryan Rodenberg article you link to, but I thought perhaps you'd like to read my column: That last point
—Cheers, Dilip D'Souza
• Thanks, this is great. Larger point: I feel as though pieces like this really add to our appreciation and enjoyment of sports. More often than we think, what we see on fields and courts has real world applications and real-world analogs.
HAVE A GOOD WEEK EVERYONE