Wednesday is Mailbag Day….

Until the week before Wimbledon, Angelique Kerber hadn't gotten past the third round of ANY tournament since last year's U.S. Open (when she lost in the quarters), and almost always lost in the first or second round. Now...she's into the semis at Wimbledon and lost just 14 games in her last six sets. Any thoughts on how this reversal happens ? And what's next? Gael Monfils into the semis at the U.S. Open?

• The beauty of tennis. It doesn’t take much to “catch a gear,” as we say in pool. Kerber is 9-10 on the year after her first-round loss in Paris, the third straight major at which she was expelled early. She is 33. She projects little joy on court. She goes to a grass event in home country of Germany and….cue music….is teleported to 2016. As I write this, she is riding a 10-match win streak, playing sublime lefty, uniquely superfantastiche tennis, and is four sets from winning a second Wimbledon.

It’s another beauty of tennis. There are no prolonged offseasons or “process” to be trusted. You simply win some matches, hoover up some confidence, playing with fear or negativity and….presto you go from a retirement prospect to a major contender. This ought to fire so many players (you are not wrong to mention Monfils) with inspiration.


Hello! A question for your weekly Mailbag… I like to think of myself as a competent tennis fan, able to explain the intricacies of the game to others and understand the commentary while watching. However, I cannot fathom how a player can have the fewest number of points yet still win the match. What am I missing? Thank you for your time and have a great second week at Wimbledon.

• Sure. It’s the Simpson’s Paradox applied to tennis. If you beat me 7-6, 0-6, 7-6, you have won the match but I have won more games, 18-14. Likewise, if you beat me 7-6, 7-6 but I hold at love, while you struggle to hold, I can win more points but lose the match. (If I win a set, all the more so.)

Another major, another loss for Andrey Rublev. What are we to make of him? Do you see him ever winning a major?

• We were just saying on Tennis Channel (plug, plug) that a player who wins week-in-week-out but flubs at the majors is akin to O’Doul’s. It may look like beer, taste like beer and even appear on menus. But not quite legit. Maybe that’s too harsh. But you get the drift. Players make their bones at the major. I like Rublev and his easy power. I like that he wins a lot of matches (best-of-three, to be sure….but wins matter). I like that he beat Nadal on clay. I like that he is still relatively young. But these major disappointments mount and you worry about the accumulation. (As a wise man said: internal wounds are the hardest to clot.)

Aside: who would have guessed that Karen Khachanov would be the last Russian standing?

Please tell me why a women’s match was last on Manic Monday. And why a men’s match started before the women’s on Tuesday?
Pauline, L.A.

• I got nothing for you on your first question. The decision to slate Raducanu and Tomljanovic last on Monday was an unforced error. Even with the backup plan of a roofed court—which was required—it was unfair to the players. Apart from the late finish on the one day women players go back-to-back, there was the accompanying stress.

As for the men’s match, it had to finish on Tuesday. And given the iffy forecast, organizers were right to schedule it a) indoors on a show court and b) first on. As it turned out, Hubert Hurkacz won eight of the 11 games to defeat Daniil Medvedev for the right to face Federer.

As a rule, we give schedulers a wide berth. There are all sorts of factors and constituencies. It’s easy to complain about television….but imagine, say, the Japanese networks paying for rights and not getting Osaka or Nishikori. It’s easy to complain about fans and popularity, but imagine paying for Centre Court tickets and NOT seeing Djokovic or Federer. There are often scheduling considerations for players remaining in the doubles draw. (You don’t want to inconvenience them, lest you give players still another disincentive to play doubles.) You have special circumstances like Nigel Sears allegedly asking the tournament NOT to schedule his 18-year-old player on Centre Court lest the pressure overwhelm.

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Bottom line: it’s an impossible job, rife with second-guessing. Cut these people considerable slack. And all that said, the Manic Monday schedule—putting women on last when they were playing the quarterfinals the following day—was an indefensible error.

Coco Gauff needs to play singles only for now.

• Totally disagree. The cut-and-paste line is that doubles helps singles and improves net skills and demands an intensity that practice does not. But in this case, I would add that it keeps Gauff fresh emotionally and socially. After a disappointing match singles loss (Kerber) she can still leave a tournament on a high. At an age when her friends are hanging out in groups, she, too, can be part of a team. (Her doubles partner is a peer and a pal; but note that both Denis Shapovalov and Alex Zverev had older doubles players—Marcelo Melo and Rohan Bopanna—who have turned into mentors.) I just look up to see team McCoco has lost to Vesnina and Kudermetova. Nevertheless, good on her for playing.

The next time you publish a "tips for attending a Slam" piece, I would recommend including "get thee to a Sara Sorribes Tormo match.” Win or lose, she never fails to provide an object lesson in the power of sheer determination. That match with Kerber yesterday was the best of the tournament so far.
Helen of DC

• A-frickin’-men. Her match against Kerber (6-4 in the third) ranks among the best of the tournament. A bit of a secret hiding in plain sight. She’s not young (24), she’s not a total unknown (current ranking 50 and rising) and she plays doubles. But, wow is SST good entertainment value.

I am a Federer fan, but also a realist. A couple years ago, I started saying Djoko would win closer to 30 slams than 20 (rounding up at 25). At the time, people said I was crazy, but with each passing slam it looks more possible. You care to chime in before this tournament ends?
N from California

• Let’s do pause to note how crazy this is. Andre Agassi and John McEnroe are Mt. Rushmore players. COMBINED, they have won 15 majors. We are talking about double that. As I write this, Djokovic hasn’t gotten to 20 majors. So 30 might be a tad premature. But for all sorts of reasons—his relative youth, his aptitude on all surfaces, the presence of best-of-five, the absence of obvious challengers—30 seems …well, what? Aggressively ambitious but not unattainable. That we are even entertaining this as a possibility speaks volumes.

Excellent, thoughtful and respectful story on our favorite tennis player. We admire those who choose to lead private lives, comfortable in their own skins, who don’t feel it necessary to prove something to strangers every day.
Wayne Stiles, Asheville, N.C.

• Hey thanks. Here’s the piece Wayne references.

I still can’t get over Sampras and his grace. Imagine retiring in 2003, having achieved your holy career grail of winning the most majors. Someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, buddy. Before you turn 50, you will be a distant fourth on the list.

You shrug and say, “All respect to the other guys.”

I was just wondering why the most accomplished tennis player in Wimbledon history, who suffered a crushing defeat after holding match points the last time he stepped foot at the All England Club...and has only played a handful of matches since wasn't worthy enough of receiving one of your midterm grades? Respect for Roger!
Mike from Dallas

• I was saving it for week two. Two points: 1) I have finite space here. Thirty-two players made Manic Monday. We could only mention a handful. 2) How would we grade Federer? He didn’t advance to Week Two, so much as he survived Week One. His tennis was a “B” and his survival was an “A.” At this point, he is on the pass/fail program. And, as I write this, he has passed.


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