Mailbag: Daniil Medvedev's Major Move to the No. 2 Ranking Spot

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Hey everyone.

• Last week’s podcast guest: Mike Dowse, CEO and executive director if the USTA.

• This week’s guest: Casper Ruud, schedule willing.

• Icky self-promotion: the cover to my next book, Glory Days: The Summer of 1984 and the 90 Days That Changed Sports and Culture Forever. Thoughts welcome. The book drops in June. More about this project in the months ahead. If you'd like to preorder a copy, click here.

• Conflict disclosed, a tip of the fedora to Tennis Channel. Last week the network covered five events from four continents, at one point delivering more than 72 straight hours of live coverage. No wonder it’s Brad Gilbert’s favorite network.

• We’re off next week, but back the first week of April. Enjoy the first week of Miami.

Onward….

Mailbag

Let's take a moment to celebrate Medvedev's No. 2 ranking. He becomes the first non-Big Three player to reach the No. 2 ranking since...2005. What a crazy statistic! But he is certainly worthy and deserving of the ranking. Not only is he a terrific and exciting player to watch, he's a great personality and can always be counted on for a good quote. Here's hoping he's next in line for a Grand Slam trophy.
Kobi

• Yes on all counts. Before getting to Medvedev, let’s acknowledge that it’s been almost 16 years—a bar mitzvah plus Olympia Ohanian; Coco Gauff was in diapers—since a player outside the Big Four reached No. 2. That is absurd. And, of course, testament to this gilded era.

If any one player were going to enter this gated community, why not Medvedev? He’s reached multiple major finals. He’s won the WTF. He wins boatloads of matches. He plays well on a variety of surfaces. After Wawrinka and Thiem, statistically, I would contend that he’s the next best player over the past decade. As you note, he’s also revealed himself to be a likable, collegial type, an internationalist who is a nice blend of confident and self-deprecating. His tweet last week mocking his unconventional technique was but one example.

After a cold start to 2020, he doesn’t have much to defend for a while. So even with this kooky ranking system—and perhaps because of it—he will likely be at No. 2 for many months. As Kobi notes, the next question: can he win a major? He’ll need to play as well as he did for the first six rounds in Australia. And then far better in the seventh.

As a 65-year-old tennis fan, I have been an ardent follower of the sport since the mid 1970s, and I read your column regularly. Prior to this week's coverage of the Doha Open, and Basilashvili’s victory, I had not seen him play much. Imagine my surprise when I googled the name, checked the news and saw the domestic abuse allegations filed in court in his native Georgia. Very timely. Any further comment on this? I don't remember seeing his name in relation to the ATP discussion surrounding the Zverev allegations.

P.S. One of my favorite tennis memories is watching Chris Evert partner Billie Jean King in the doubles event at the US Open in 1984!
Bruce McBride, Minneapolis, Minn.
First off, that’s awesome and I never realized that. At the 1984 U.S. Open—the event that brought us Super Saturday—Evert did indeed play doubles with Billie Jean King. They reached the quarters. BJK was forty. Chris went on to reach the singles final, losing to Martina.

Less happily…. yes, Basilashvili, winner of the Doha event last weekend, has been charged with assaulting his ex-wife. A charge is not a conviction. He is, of course, owed the usual presumptions. Yet, this is a serious matter—not least in the Republic of Georgia, where it is being watched closely, a potential watershed case—and ought not to be ignored or glossed over when we discuss his tennis.

One of you asked why, in situations like this, there isn’t a provisional suspension list, the way there would be if a player has tested positive for PEDs. There are a few answers here. One is that PEDs undercut fair competition and directly disadvantages colleagues’ opponents. Doping is different from an off-court incident, no matter how abhorrent. It’s also critical—especially in an individual sport, without guaranteed contracts—that suspensions are meted out cautiously, after decisions and not allegations. If a player is found not guilty and has surrendered months of income, is that not manifestly unfair? Thirdly, this kind of discipline (or not) ought to be collectively bargained. Last week, the NBA fined and suspended a player for making anti-Semitic remarks. This power came from the agreement reached between the players and the league. Which leads us to….

As we saw last fall with the allegations leveled against Zverev, the ATP suffers for not having a credible domestic violence policy. The tour, again, has been conspicuously quiet on Basilashvili. We, as the tennis public, are left with the—at best unseemly—situation whereby a player wins titles while awaiting a trial that could result in his imprisonment. To return to a theme that comes up too often: at some point tennis needs to decide: is it a JV sport that lets agencies run events, and grants wild cards to players coming off bans, and rots with conflicts? Or is it something more credible? A meaningful domestic violence policy would fall into the latter category.

Jon…what do you make of the seemingly meteoric rise (at least to me) of Russia’s Aslan Karatsev? Real contender, or just a few good months?
Kelly G., Louisville, Ky.

• “Contender” might be overly generous. But I would veer toward that end. He played lights out in Australia, clubbing the ball—in his upset of Diego Schwartzman, Karatsev made more winners by the count of 50-5. And then followed it up by taking a set off of Dominic Thiem and winning the doubles, with Rublev at the Qatar Open. Now firmly in the top 50, he will no longer need to qualify and can set his schedule, more or less secure in main draw slots. He will need to balance an urge to play—and make coin to compensate that decade of struggle—with the wisdom not to overplay. But this will be a window into the self-perpetuating nature of the breakthrough. In terms of confidence and logistics and financial ease, his life just got a lot easier.

Jon, when do the points from 2019 Indian Wells drop off? Any ideas? Is it next week?
—Thanks, Panos

• The 2019 Indian Wells points (50%) dropped off in Monday’s ranking.

Good afternoon Jon. Is there a website where the players that are expected to compete or try to qualify is published? Thanks in advance for your reply.
Mike G.

• Great idea for an enterprising type. Right now the top players often post their schedules on their site. Here’s Novak. Here’s Federer. Other times the event will post lists of commitments. But if someone wanted to consolidate all this—which honestly seems pretty basic—it would be doing a hell of a service.

First off Tennis Channel+ is a plus, can’t remember the last time I’ve watched so much tennis as I have in the past few months. Work out how they can play the later stages and I’ll feel like I won the lottery. Currently watching Alcaraz vs. Zverev and realize the biggest problem about the Next Gen breakthrough. All they concentrate on is the big three and forget about who is chasing them. Alcaraz is 17 and giving Zverev a hard time. So the question is, is part of the problem for the Next Gen to break through that they are spending energy in the wrong places? The big three clean up easily in the early rounds. Next Gen, not so much.
Anderson K.

• Man, are standards going to change. Dominic Thiem wins the 2020 U.S. Open. He has not won a title since. Zverev comes within a point of winning the U.S. Open; he is 5-4 on the year. The idea of any player under 30 winning double-digit majors is absurd. Then again, they’ll hold four of these events each year; and SOMEONE has to win them. Right?

Tough start to the year for Kerber and Pliskova. So, combining WTHIGOW and Buy/Hold/Sell for both.
Duane Wright, Washington D.C.

• Before the season, Kerber apparently thought long and hard about calling it a (Hall of Fame) career. She’s had some ups and downs before—odd years—but this year has been brutal. And you wonder if, at age 33, the will is there. Pliskova is more mystifying/disappointing. She is not just losing, but losing brutally—6-0, 6-2 last week to Jessie Pegula. No one with her serve should be getting broken six times and in seven service games. She’s still in her 20s, though. And while she’s unlikely to get back to No. 1, I’d hold that stock—maybe even buy some now on the dip—hoping that this is a particularly bad quarter.

Shots, Miscellany

A new tennis book, this one from the great Richard Evans.

Find video footage here of a record-setting 138th straight victory by Georgia Gwinnett College men's tennis.

• The Volvo Car Open, to be held without fans April 3 - 11 on Daniel Island in Charleston, SC, has announced its preliminary player field for the 2021 tournament. The field for the premier women’s-only professional tennis tournament in North America is led by World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and features some of the top players in the world. The Volvo Car Open’s 56-player draw is made up of 43 direct entries into the tournament, five wild cards and eight qualifiers. Kim Clijsters has already accepted a wild card for the event. Four additional players will join the main draw via wild card entry, to be announced at a later date.