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Will Roger Federer Have the Points to Play Wimbledon in 2023?

In Jon Wertheim’s latest mailbag, he explores a grab-bag of topics, including the career of Lleyton Hewitt, the star power of Ons Jabeur and the effectiveness of fifth-set tiebreaks.

On the road this week. A scattered Mailbag. But first, every tennis fan should read this. (Or this SI feature from May that covered a lot of the same ground.)



A few words from you on Rusty would be befitting this week. Obviously his tenure at the top was very short lived, but his impact on the game in terms of—feisty counter-punching—is still significant. Would love to read your thoughts on his impact on the game and his love for competition and Davis Cup.

Deepak, New York

For those who missed it, Lleyton Hewitt was inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend in Newport. Hewitt won two Majors, reached No.1, turned in repeated Davis Cup heroics and generally compiled the sort of credentials that made his induction a no-brainer.

Beyond the Wikipedia-style recap, Hewitt wins point for the way he approached his career. He compensated for a modest physique—one that made him fight for every point—with outsized heart. He was one of those players who wrung everything from his game, both in the micro and macro. He was a ferocious competitor point by point; he went about his entire career with a fixed determination not to shortchange himself. Less endearingly, he was one of those fueled-by-conflict athletes (See: Connors, Jimmy, among others) who would pick a fight with a netpost—to say nothing of peers, officials, the ATP, agents, the media, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, earth, assorted other planets—if he thought it would provide him an edge.

The popular retelling is that Hewitt was fortunate enough to emerge as Sampras and Agassi were fading. (Two days before 9/11, he beat 30-year-old Sampras—badly—to win the U.S. Open.) And once Federer and Nadal arrived, Hewitt was dethroned, if not defanged. (Federer beat Hewitt to win his first U.S. Open.) That isn’t quite right in terms of sequence and it sells the story short.

Hewitt broke through in the 90s as feisty teenager. He never grew complacent, his fire never needed kindling, he never stopped trying to optimizing his chances of success. He would take 30 titles, more than 600 match wins. He would leave nothing out there. That’s a hell of a legacy.

Hey Jon,

Is Ons Jabeur about to fill the void left by Barty's retirement? Good all-court skills, huge variety, and likeable to the point that if someone doesn't like her then you have to wonder, "what's their problem?"

Duane Wright 

Someone once said about Pat Rafter, “If you and Pat Rafter don’t get along, odds are good, you’re the problem.” Yes, if someone doesn’t like Ons Jabuer you wonder about their value system.

I like your comparison to Barty in terms of the all-court game. Jabeur is not the athlete Barty is. She also is quirkier—more drop shots, awesome/silly decision-making. a higher risk threshold. One differentiator: Barty was (is?) fiercely private. Not pathologically. Not inappropriately. Not rudely. But she never gave up that much. Jabeur, by comparison, is a real extrovert. And you get a sense she feels that being a public figure is in service of —not at odds with—her playing top-tier tennis. Peers embrace her (which always counts for a lot in my book). Fans embrace her. The media embraces her. And she hugs back.

Hi Jon,

I hate to pour water all over the Ons Jabeur lovefest—I wish I could like her after all she’s accomplished but I can’t get out of my mind the way she (and her countryman, Malik Jaziri) constantly defaulted when she played an Israeli player named Shahar Peer. I know it’s a long time ago, but did she ever apologize for that behavior?

Anonymous, Long Island, NY

Fair point. This was almost a decade ago, but here’s a potential mar on an otherwise undented escutcheon.

Not unlike giving Russian players wide berth for failing to condemn Putin, I think we need to tread carefully here. Around the time of this 2012 Olympics, an ATP staff member encouraged me to go easy on Jaziri on this issue, because there might have been grave consequences for him and his family had he disobeyed instructions from the Tunisian Federation. 


I feel like once Isner retires, we’ll all soon forget why the majors added 5th set tiebreaks. Aside from his Wimbledon matches against Mahut and Anderson, I honestly can’t remember any other matches that were “too long.” Maybe it was Isner and not the format all along?


Isner wasn’t helping. In fact, he was the worst culprit. But it wasn’t just him. I believe that the first-to-ten, win-by-two shoot-out at 6-6 in the decisive set is a winning formula.

Dear Jon,

We agree Stan Wawrinka is a surefire Hall of Famer. The other day I was browsing David Ferrer's statistics page to see if he, too, is worthy of induction, and came away very impressed. Not only do I think he deserves serious consideration, but I left wondering who had the better career, Stan or David. I suspect 100% of aspiring pros would prefer Stan's career because of the three majors, but I think they are very close. Ferrer has almost 200 more victories (734-536) and 11 more titles (27-16). Their H2H is equal at 7-7, and they had almost identically hideous records against the Big 3 (Ferrer: 11-59; Wawrinka: 12-62). Ferrer had seven year-end Top 10 finishes compared to five for the Swiss (each peaking at No. 3 in the rankings). As one who admires consistency, I find Ferrer's stretch of 11 straight major QFs worthy of praise. Stan's best such streak is six. They each won one Masters title, but Ferrer made 45(!) Masters QFs to Wawrinka's 24.

These are admittedly cherry-picked stats—wins, titles, best Slam QF streak, and Masters QFs—but note how Ferrer (734-27-11-45) stacks up against other contemporary major winners:

Andy Roddick 612-32-3-35

Juan Martin del Potro 439-22-3-22

Marin Cilic 570-20-2-20

Marat Safin 422-15-4-16

Lleyton Hewitt 616-30-4-23

Juan Carlos Ferrero 479-16-2-15

Gustavo Kuerten 358-20-3-20

I think Ferrer's career as a whole is better than five of those seven, and certainly better than the likes of Albert Costa and Thomas Johansson.

Another stat I like: Ferrer was 28-28 against non-Big 3 players who at some point were ranked No. 1 (Ferrero, Roddick, Murray, Hewitt, Moya, Agassi, Kuerten, and Safin).

Jesse, Wisconsin

I commend you on your advocacy and your ability to make a strong case for something non-obvious, even counterintuitive. This is the mark of a strong lawyer. But…for better or worse, the college of tennis cardinals—to mix judicial metaphors—has decided that Slams have the big currency. As such, you cannot admit someone who won zero. And cannot exclude someone who won three.

Hi Jon,

I noticed during Wimbledon that there were numerous line calls that were incorrect as shown by Hawkeye (is the replay system still called Hawkeye?). A few of the calls were on huge points that would have changed the complexity of the match. I don’t think the responsibility of watching the lines should fall on players when there is a simple solution. Why wouldn’t Wimbledon, or any larger tournament for that matter, use electronic line calling? (Side question…what’s the argument for not having unlimited challenges?)

Thanks, Kelly G., Louisville, KY

How about this: why wouldn’t tennis take the onus off the players and simply aspire to 100 percent accuracy? The technology is there. Unlike other sports, replay review doesn’t gum up the flow of the match. If anything, technology-without-challenges might reduce the role of technology because we’d do away with the I-know-I’m-wrong-but-I’m-pissed-off challenges, issued more out of reflexive frustration that a sincere belief an error was committed.

Hi Jon,

Do all of the folks who complain about an underarm serve not realize that it was once the standard of the game? Tim Henman used to state that he had two relatives, one who was the last to serve underhand, and the other the first to serve overhead. Whether that’s true or not, what is true is there is no accepted form for any stroke production (See: forehand, Graf; backhand, Borg) and that is the beauty of the game. As long as the server is standing behind the service line they get to choose how to serve. 

Name misplaced by careless administrator

Again, the underarm is different from a drop shot. As long as you can make a point by making the ball bounce twice—and as long as opponents’ positioning can be exploited—it’s glatt kosher.


I don't want to get rid of five-set matches. However, from 2018-present, 18 slams have been played. In four of those slams, a semi-final match has been prematurely ended (in the case of Rafa-Kyrgios, we never even got a start).

Below are the itemized incidents:

Chung-Australian Open 2018

Rafa-US Open 2018

Zverev-French Open 2022

Rafa-Wimbledon 2022

From 1993 to 2018, 104 slams were played with only 2 slam SFs ending in a retirement or default:

Nalbandian-French Open 2006

Djokovic-Wimbledon 2007

Seems clear that the level of tennis has gotten so physical that changes to the tour might be needed. Is there talk within the ATP about shortening the schedule?

Rohit Sudarshan, Washington, DC

Preach! Do note that the longer 1000s event will impact the calendar. And note that Wimbledon 2023 starts on July 3.


I feel like we need to talk about David Goffin.

James, Portland

Do you then? Yeah, I’m happy to go here. For a number of reasons, his career was really in dire straits a year ago. Now he’s back. Maybe not winning Majors, but playing into middle week of Majors, doing what he’s always done—moving slickly, bringing to bear his efficient strokes, competing gamely and generally making life miserable for players ranked beneath him (and seldom above him).

I hope I am not misappropriating but I believe it was Catherine Whitaker who made the point that, much as we all marvel over pocket-sized Diego Schwartzman, but it is car-antenna-thin Goffin—charitably listed at 154 lbs.—who is the bigger physical anomaly.


As an unranked player, will Federer have to earn enough points next year to play Wimbledon?


We’re guessing he’s can pull some (polyester) strings and get a wild card if need be…

Have a good week, everyone!

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