On the road this week. A scattered Mailbag. But first, every tennis fan should read this. (Where IF May feature that covered much of the same ground.)
A few words from you on Rusty would be in order this week. Obviously, his tenure at the top was very short-lived, but his impact on the game in terms of fiery counter-punching is still significant. I would love to read your thoughts on his impact on the game and his love for competition and the 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, returned repeated Davis Cup feats and generally compiled the kind of credentials that made his induction a no-brainer.
Beyond the Wikipedia-style recap, Hewitt earns points for how he’s approached his career. He made up for a modest physique – one that made him fight for every point – with a huge heart. He was one of those players who ripped everything out of his game, both micro and macro. It was a fierce competitor point by point; he has led his entire career with the firm determination not to make mistakes. Less endearing, he was one of those conflict-fueled athletes (see: Connors, Jimmy, among others) who fought with a netpost – not to mention peers, officials, ATP, agents, media , carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, earth, an assortment of other planets – if he thought that would give him an advantage.
The popular narrative is that Hewitt was lucky to emerge as Sampras and Agassi disappeared. (Two days before 9/11, he beat 30-year-old Sampras hard to win the US Open.) And once Federer and Nadal arrived, Hewitt was dethroned, if not clinched. (Federer beat Hewitt to win his first US Open.) That’s not quite correct in terms of streak and that sums up the story.
Hewitt broke through in the 90s as a fiery teenager. He was never complacent, his fire never needed rekindling, he never stopped trying to maximize his chances of success. He would win 30 titles, over 600 match wins. He wouldn’t leave anything there. It’s a hell of a legacy.
Are Ons Jabeur about to fill the void left by Barty’s retirement? Good skills in all terrains, great variety and friendly to the point that if someone doesn’t like it you have to wonder “what’s their problem?”
Someone once said of Pat Rafter, “If you and Pat Rafter don’t get along, chances are good, you’re the problem.” Yes, if someone does not like Ons Jabuer, you wonder about his value system.
I like your comparison to Barty in terms of playing on all courts. Jabeur is not the athlete Barty is. She’s also more eccentric – more cushioning, awesome/dumb decision making. a higher risk threshold. A differentiator: Barty was (is?) fiercely private. Not pathologically. Not inappropriately. Not rudely. But she never gave up so much. Jabeur, by comparison, is a real extrovert. And you get the sense that she feels being a public figure serves — not contradicts — her practice of high-level tennis. The peers embrace it (which still matters a lot in my book). Fans embrace it. The media embrace it. And she kisses back.
I hate to pour water on the whole Ons Jabeur love party – I wish I could love her after all she’s done, but I can’t get my mind off the way she ( and her compatriot, Malik Jaziri) constantly failed when she played an Israeli player named Shahar Peer. I know it was a long time ago, but did she ever apologize for this behavior?
Anonymous, Long Island, NY
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Fair point. That was almost ten years ago, but here is a potential mar on an otherwise uncut crest.
Much like giving Russian players a big shot for not condemning Putin, I think we have to be careful here. At the time of those 2012 Olympics, an ATP staff member encouraged me to be lenient with Jaziri on this matter, as there could have been serious consequences for him and his family if he had disobeyed the instructions of the Tunisian Federation.
I feel like once Isner retires, we’ll all soon forget why the Majors added tiebreakers in the 5th set. Aside from his Wimbledon matches against Mahut and Anderson, I honestly can’t remember any other “too long” matches. Maybe it was Isner and not the format from the start?
Isner was not helping. In fact, he was the worst culprit. But it wasn’t just him. I believe that the first to ten, victory by two shots on goal at 6-6 in the deciding set is a winning formula.
We agree that Stan Wawrinka is an infallible Hall of Famer. I was browsing David Ferrer’s stats page the other day to see if he too deserved to be inducted, and I came away very impressed. Not only do I think he deserves serious consideration, but I came away 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’re very close. Ferrer has almost 200 more wins (734-536) and 11 more titles (27-16). Their H2H is tied at 7-7, and they’ve had nearly identical records against the Big 3 (Ferrer: 11-59; Wawrinka: 12-62). Ferrer finished in the Top 10 seven times at the end of the year compared to five for the Swiss (each peaking at No. 3 in the rankings). As an admirer of consistency, I find Ferrer’s streak of 11 consecutive major QFs worthy of praise. Stan’s best such streak is six. They each won a Masters title, but Ferrer achieved 45 (!) Masters QF compared to Wawrinka’s 24.
These are certainly handpicked stats – wins, titles, best Slam QF and Masters QF streak – but note how Ferrer (734-27-11-45) compares to other contemporary big winners:
Andy Roddick 612-32-3-35
Juan Martin del Potro 439-22-3-22
Sailor 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 Albert Costa and Thomas Johansson.
Another stat I like: Ferrer was 28-28 against non-Big 3 players who at one point were ranked No. 1 (Ferrero, Roddick, Murray, Hewitt, Moya, Agassi, Kuerten and Safin).
I commend you for your advocacy and your ability to make the case for something not obvious, even counter-intuitive. It’s the mark of a strong advocate. But… for better or for worse, the College of Tennis Cardinals – to mix legal metaphors – decided that the Grand Slams have the big money. As such, you cannot admit someone who has earned zero. And can’t rule out someone who has won three.
I noticed during Wimbledon that there were many line calls that were incorrect as shown by Hawkeye (is the replay system still called Hawkeye?). A few of the calls were over huge points that would have changed the complexity of the game. I don’t think the responsibility to watch the lines should fall on the players when there is a simple solution. Why wouldn’t Wimbledon, or any larger tournament for that matter, use electronic phone calls? (Secondary question…what’s the argument for not having unlimited challenges?)
Thank you, Kelly G., Louisville, Kentucky
What about this: why wouldn’t tennis relieve players and simply aspire to 100% accuracy? The technology is there. Unlike other sports, replaying does not disrupt the flow of the game. If anything, technology without challenges could reduce the role of technology because we would remove challenges I know I’m wrong but I’m pissed stemming more from a reflexive frustration than a sincere belief that a mistake has been committed.
Doesn’t everyone who complains about an underarm serve realize that it was once the norm of the game? Tim Henman used to say that he had two parents, one who was the last to serve underhand and the other the first to serve overhead. Whether this is true or not, what is true is that there is no accepted form for all stroke production (see: forehand, Graf; backhand, Borg) and that is the beauty of game. As long as the server stands behind the service line, they can choose how to serve.
Name misplaced by careless administrator
Again, the armpit is different from a cushioning. As long as you can score a point by bouncing the ball 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 until today, 18 slams have been played. In four of these slams, a semi-final match ended prematurely (in the case of Rafa-Kyrgios, we never even started).
Below are the detailed incidents:
Chung-Australian Open 2018
Rafa-US Open 2018
Zverev-French Open 2022
From 1993 to 2018, 104 slams have been played with only 2 SF slams ending in abandonment or default:
Nalbandian-French Open 2006
It seems clear that the level of tennis has become so physical that changes to the tour may be required. Is there any question within the ATP of shortening the calendar?
Rohit Sudarshan, washington d.c.
Preach! Note that the longer thousands event will impact the schedule. And note that Wimbledon 2023 starts on July 3.
I feel like we need to talk about David Goffin.
Do you then? Yeah, I’m happy to go. For a number of reasons, his career was in real trouble a year ago. Now he’s back. Maybe not winning Majors, but playing in the middle of Majors week, doing what he’s always done – moving skillfully, putting his shots to good use, competing bravely and generally making life miserable for players. ranked below it (and rarely above it).
I hope I’m not mistaken, but I believe it was Catherine Whitaker who made the point that just as we all marvel at pocket-sized Diego Schwartzman, but it’s Goffin, thin as an antenna of car, which weighs 154 pounds. the greatest physical anomaly.
As an unrated player, will Federer need to earn enough points next year to play at Wimbledon?
We’re guessing he can pull (polyester) strings and get a joker if need be…
Have a good week!
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