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Will This Be Nick Kyrgios’s Year at Wimbledon?

In our latest mailbag, we look at the Wimbledon field and ask whether tennis is vulnerable to the type of takeover that the PGA Tour is currently fighting.

Hey everyone, here's a short Mailbag before Wimbledon 2022. We'll have seed reports later this week.

Also, your good soldiering reminder that Tennis Channel’s Wimbledon coverage starts June 27.

Mailbag

I agree with your assessment of Serena playing Wimbledon 2022. But I find it interesting that with respect to Roger Federer you said “[n]ew rule: win an event eight times, you automatically get mentioned as a contender.” Would not the same logic apply to Serena, notwithstanding that her total is seven, not eight. But you could argue that her 2012 Olympic title could easily equate to an eighth Wimbledon title.
—D. Harris, Tennessee

I like your second point. In 2012 was Serena not, in effect, a double Wimbledon winner? (For that matter, was Andy Murray’s gold the first of his four Majors?) It was, after all won, at the site of a Major, against a full boat field, amid pressure and high stakes tantamount to a Major?

The reader last week suggested that, even if healthy, Federer wouldn’t make the second round if played Wimbledon 2022. My point: he reached the second WEEK in 2021 on a badly compromised knee.

Again, do I think Federer or Serena wins another Major? No. But I don’t understand this weird gleefulness in some corners over Serena and Federer's declines. They have more than 40 Majors between them. Both—happily as far as I am concerned— insist on continuing to play. I understand the tribalism of sports. I understand a fan’s right to prefer the opponent. I get the desire for new blood. But this Nelson Muntzian (dated reference) ha-ha you’re old and not meeting the standard you once set is, well, weird to me.

You rarely seem to get it right with your picks at grand slams! Yet, you are so rational in your arguments. Am I missing something?
—Pierre Ross

Dude, before RG 2022, I had Swiatek beating Coco Gauff in the final! And I had Nadal beating Casper Rudd. Oh, wait check that. In the men’s I had Djokovic beating Tsitsipas. Oops.

I’m torn on picks and predictions and prognostication. Nothing arouses outrage and how-do-you-have-a-job carping like botched picks. I met some woman at the U.S. Open a few years ago who approached and said, “I lost all respect for you….” My heart plunged, thinking of some horrible ethical lapse I had inadvertently committed. Then she finished her sentence, “you actually thought Roger wouldn’t win Wimbledon?!?!” I got hammered last month for “not picking to Nadal to even reach the semis of Roland Garros.” Which sounds absurd. Until you considered that his quarterfinal opponent—who didn’t have a degenerative foot condition that forced him out of the previous event—was the defending champ.

And yet…much as I’d sometimes like to get out of the prediction game….it is so central to the experience of being a fan. What is a fantasy league but an opportunity to make informed guesses? What is a pregame game show but a chance to speculate? What are seeds but bits of forecasting? The great beauty of sports: it's their unscripted nature, the anything-can-happen possibility. (See Raducanu, above.) As such, it stands to reason that forecasting is a critical part of the experience. So we will continue on, botching picks rationally.

Not sure how closely you are following the chaos in the world of professional golf. Seems like tennis is potentially in a similar position—a season that is too long, world class players outside the top 50 with little financial security, etc.—and vulnerable to a deep pocketed regime trying to scoop away its best players for a rival league.

Do you think the ATP and WTA will see this as a kick in the pants to make some changes?
—Joel G

This could cut one of two ways. Either tennis comes together, sensing the destabilizing threat of a Saudi-style offer. Or tennis—never exactly a study in unity—becomes ever more vulnerable. Someone asked me whether tennis might fall prey to a similar rival tour, buying off the top athletes. I don’t think it’s necessarily likely. But is there something specifically distinct to tennis players that would prevent them from being seduced by a doubling of their income? No.

Jon, I can't wait for your "extremely accurate" predictions later this week on your Wimbledon seed report!! But you're lucky this time as far as the winners... I don't see any way the Joker or Swiatek loses! Both Prohibitive can't miss favorites!
—@adamginsberg9

See? These damn picks. I agree with Adam’s. But to keep matters interesting, maybe we go with Iga and lesser-contender-but-not-crazy men’s pick like Berrettini or Felix?

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Jon, how excited should we be about Nick Kyrgios and his chances at Wimbledon. Is this the year?
—Jackie W.

• I’ve strenuously avoided the Kyrgios question lately. Dude just takes up too much oxygen. And he’s like the Fredo of the ATP. He betrays (his talent) and breaks our collective heart. He was great in Halle (reaching the semis before falling 7-6 in the third to Hubie Hurkacz. He won three matches in Stuttgart. He has new management. He is excited. He's “box office,” to use a term that has curdled. But he disadvantages himself by failing to get seeded. And I don’t trust his body and mind to withstand the rigors of winning seven best-of-five matches.

On the topic of Wimbledon's ban of Russian and Belarusian players, a common refrain is that players compete not on behalf of their respective countries but as individuals. However, that stance strikes me as a bit disingenuous when, for example, the Spanish national anthem is played in honor of Nadal's victory, a la an Olympic medal ceremony. I remember when no such official national associations were made during Major tournaments, but now even the TV coverage (ESPN, in particular, comes to mind) often superimposes graphics of players' flags on their respective sides of the court before play begins. If the players really are just individuals, they really should be treated as such in every respect. Otherwise, one could easily understand the All England Club's rationale.
—Sean, San Diego

Yes, I think that’s a point worth discussing, It’s easy to say “nationality shouldn’t matter” and point out how fungible representation has become in tennis (the half-Haitian, half-Japanese player who resides in L.A. is one example among countless). But that’s an oversimplification. In some cases, nationality matters a great deal. The real inquiry: is this the best basis on which to ban player to try and make a political statement?

Who is the NBA GOAT? Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Steph Curry? Please give rational reasons for your answer. Also please list your all-time NBA starting five. You can put me on it if you want. 
—Dr. J.

Jordan. More rings. Best defender. Never lost in the Finals….Also—and this looms large in tennis—aren’t there bonus points for being first? You set the standard. The other guys know exactly what they have to do to eclipse it—and adjust accordingly. It’s like batting in the bottom of the ninth. I’m not saying Federer is the GOAT. I am saying that it’s worth considering that he set the standard and Nadal and Djokovic knew what was required to beat it. That has to count for something, no?

Has it ever been disclosed what has kept Serena out of tennis for the last year? I know she had a hamstring injury, but this is not usually the type of injury that lasts that long. Also, what has kept Venus out of tennis for even longer, but with no mention of its nature or of retirement?
—John R., Middletown, CT

As is her prerogative, Serena has been sparing in her revealing of details. This is not a criticism. And this is nothing new. In 2010 she won Wimbledon and then missed months after cutting her foot in a Munich restaurant. (You will find no reference to the name of the establishment where this injury occurred; the nature of the injury; the treatment; etc.) This is tennis. Tours don’t have the jurisdiction or authority to demand an injury reporter a la the NFL. Players are individual contractors. They control the flow of personal information. And Serena has long leaned into that.

As for her whereabouts in the last 12 months, Serena is 40. She is a mother. Even before Wimbledon 2021, she was playing a very curtailed schedule. For years, she has been playing—quite rightly and reasonably—for one reason, and that is to win Majors. If she is not 100 percent there is no reason to lace ‘em up. My strong sense is that this was less about repairing a hamstring than repairing motivation.

The DC correspondent in your last mailbag delves into comebacks from a two sets to one deficit at Wimbledon but I'm not sure there are any valuable conclusions to be drawn. Comebacks from a two sets to nothing deficit in a major final don't happen often either. In the almost 80 years (and over 300 finals) since the end of the Second World War they've only occurred 13 times. Three times each in Australia and New York, seven times in Paris and never at Wimbledon. In a surprising turn of events there has been an 0-2 comeback in each of the last three years and in three of the last seven finals, with Thiem, Djokovic and Nadal coming back from 0-2 down against Zverev, Tsitsipas and Medvedev. Make of it what you will.
—Elsie Misbourne, Washington DC

• Interesting, thanks. Humblebrag: a Nobel-prize winning economist reads this column and is convinced that there is behavioral economic gold in the best-of-three versus best-of-five results. If someone with advanced math skills wants to have at it, I welcome further analysis here.

Shots, Miscellany

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is embarking on the public phase of a $12 million capital campaign to enhance connection to the local and global communities served by the organization, and to support preservation of its historic property. The campaign, Tennis Forever, is a nod to the long-range and lasting impact that its initiatives will have on the non-profit organization and those it serves.

Leif Haase sends this and notes the Federer connection.

Henman Hill comes to New York.

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