Mailbag: Should you root for Novak Djokovic’s comeback story?
1) Come back tomorrow for a podcast with the lovely Kim Clijsters.
2) We'll have a Wimbledon roundtable and Wimbledon seed reports this week.
3) Playing publicist: Tennis Channel will offer 100 hours of first-run Wimbledon Primetime, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET on July 3.
4) James Blake, ladies and gentleman. This is what the GPS coordinates of the high road look like.
It seems John McEnroe stepped into it with his comments about Serena Williams. I'm sure he was making the point that men and women are inherently different, but comparing one of the greatest ever to step on the court to someone ranking 700 in the world certainly dismisses the tremendous skill and tenacity Serena brings to the game. Maybe we need something like the “pound for pound” debate they have in boxing. You can call Floyd Mayweather one of the greatest boxers ever without thinking he could beat Muhammad Ali.
—Paul Haskins, Wilmington, N.C.
• Sadly we got more questions about this topic than we did questions about actual pre-Wimbledon tennis. Grudgingly, we address it in this column, but before you read, first listen to The Interview that Launched a Thousand Hot Takes (at the 6:30 mark).
A wise man once said, “show me a tennis hero, I will write you a comeback story.” Maybe so. But what if the tennis hero is annoyingly coy, vague, or evasive about the reason for the drop in form? Do you still expect fans to root for a comeback story with no emotional skin in the game?
Roger, Serena, Rafa have all taken dives, yet all been very transparent regarding the physical and mental issues they were dealing with. Djokovic—not so much. What’s your take?
• There's really an interesting philosophical question here: to what extent are athletes entitled to their privacy, entitled to a right of vagueness. “Personal issues” are, by their very definition, personal. Djokovic has no obligation to be more specific or less evasive.
On the other hand, are consumers not entitled to more information? Journalistically, is there are a right—a duty, even—to investigate the reasons behind the precipitous drop? Not as gossip but as newsworthiness. If a physical injury were triggering the drop-off of a star athlete, we would rightly pillory the media for failing to reveal this or probe this. Should it be different for a personal issue?
Most of us have chosen the former. That is, Djokovic owes no duty to disclose. Give the man his space. Just because he is a global star doesn’t mean he's forfeited all rights to privacy. But if colleagues took an opposite tack—“the public has a right to know the reasons behind this newsworthy event”—they could defend themselves.
Who is going to be the No. 5 seed in the men’s draw according to the formula? Also, has there ever been a time where there were three clear arguments for the No. 1 seed? Nadal has by far the most ATP points halfway through the year. Federer only has one loss in 2017 and four titles. He’s been the best player at the biggest events not on clay, and he’s the best grass court player in history. Then, there is Murray, the defending champ and World No. 1.
• By my math Wawrinka still gets the fifth seed, despite his modest grasscourt record.
Just to be clear: we're only talking about the men—the women go straight rankings—and there is a formula here. Like, actual math. It used to be completely subjective—a bunch of Clives and Owens sitting around a mahogany table prognosticating—but it is now transparent. (And logical, I would add: the notion that Murray was the top seed in Paris while Nadal was No. 4 served the interests of precisely no one.) Here's Sharko on how it works:
The seeds are the top 32 players on the Emirates ATP Ranking list, BUT then rearranged on a surface-based system. Since 2002 a seeding committee has not been required for the Gentlemen's Singles following an agreement made with the ATP. The seeding order is determined using an objective and transparent system to reflect more accurately an individual player's grass court achievements: The formula is:
1. Take the Emirates ATP Ranking points at June 20, 2016
2. Add 100% of the points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months
3. Add 75% of the points earned for the best grass court tournament in the 12 months before that
I like your second question. And while he's not a candidate for the top seed—as the others are—don't sleep on Djokovic. His record at the All-England Club since 2011? 34-3 with three titles.
Watching Roger Federer and Feliciano Lopez hoist trophies this weekend made me wonder if a new normal is setting in. Do you predict any currently active players will win a tour match after age 40? A tournament? A Slam? Who?
• It’s certainly trending that way, isn't it? A Slam at 40 is pushing it. But could you envision Tommy Haas entering, say, a grass event or some Umag-level tournament next year and winning the trophy? Absolutely.
There are a lot of factors to this aging field, as we've discussed. But I feel like we should also consider: maybe chronological age isn't the best measure of an athlete's half-life.
When Halep lost to Ostapenko in the final of Roland Garros this year, some compared her game to Novak’s. Now Novak has won 12 slams with it; Halep hasn’t. The comparison was based on the fact that every once a while a hitter like Ostapenko or Wawrinka on their day will hit a defensive player off the court. Can defensive players become offensive players at later stages of their careers or is it something unlikely to change now? Does Novak risk becoming an easy target for big hitters in the future, especially now with a younger brood in the offing?
• I'm not sure I’d say easy target. Djokovic matches often come down to whether his defense can thwart his opponent's offense, but you don't win a dozen Slams without a full arsenal of weapons.
The Halep question interests me as well, though. Can she convince herself that the French Open final was a fluke. (And can we pause to say her candor in the wake of losing a golden opportunity to win her first major has really been admirable?) Or does a loss like that maim confidence so severely you wonder if your trophy hunting days are done and you're simply never destined to bag a 47-point buck?=
Esteemed Australian sports journalist Linda Pearce has written her last story for The Age newspaper. I will miss her tennis reports and interviews.
—James Lim, Melbourne
• Tip of the cap—the foreign legion kind—to Linda Pearce. The tennis pressroom suffered a loss. So, more importantly, did the tennis fan.
So, reading an article about Kristyna Pliskova (world No. 44) moving ahead of her twin Karolina Pliskova (world No. 3) in the aces category lead me to think that a really interesting Charity or Exhibition event would be to have the left-handed Kristyna Pliskova and Bob Bryan play mixed doubles against the right handed Karolina Pliskova and Mike Bryan. What do you think?
—Ted Ying, Laurel, Md.
• Sounds semi-sinister. (Dad joke)
Hi Jon: We all saw it coming, like a runaway ship heading for a dock. Nadal is certainly a force of nature. Good on him. May Roger be as dominant on the green stuff. Anyway. Of the top five players, which ones do you think you could find fighting it out in a rugby scrum? My guess, Stan and Rafa… There you have it. Being scrappy sure helps in sports!
—Cheers, Patrick Kramer
• Have to go with Wawrinka, no? That chest was made by a cooper.
This week’s ‘Prairie Home Companion’ was a replay of an episode from last October that included this faux teaser at the 15:15 mark: “Next up on our show, a conversation with the great Roger Federer on dominance…and hair care.”
For the record, this didn’t get much of a reaction from the audience. I could imagine the handful of tennis fans in the crowd thinking: “That might have been funny five or ten years ago,” and the rest thinking, “Who is Roger Federer?” Sure is perfect now though!!
—Helen of Philly
• I always laugh when people call themselves “humorists.” You always feel like saying, “Let us be the judge of that.” It's like calling yourself an expert. You may be an aspiring expert, but the determination isn't really yours to make. “Humorist Garrison Keillor” is, to my thinking, an oxymoron. “Prairie Home Companion” is aggressive in its not-funniness. I say this as a Midwesterner and Minnesota-phile who desperately wants to laugh at jokes about heartland stoicism, freshwater fishing, biscuit recipes and the like. “Roger Federer and hair care” is a perfect example. A lazy, dated throwaway line that people either won't get or will get and realize the lameness. Time to up your game, NPR. We need more Peter Sagal and less Garrison Keillor. Rant over.
Hi Jon, I have had the good fortune of following you—and your illustrious Bag— while living in The Bahamas and China. As I write this, Washington D.C. is my home now. Perhaps what I am about to say falls under the mundane…maybe even the pedantic. Or worse yet, the “who cares.” But here goes: As I anticipated your Mailbag while I lived away from home, I always felt comforted, when at the end of the Bag you signed off with “Have a great week everyone.” It seemed to bolster me to deal with the 98 degrees of bucolic Nassau or the -45 degrees of buzzing Beijing. In some small way it was a reminder that home really isn’t that far away and that I could make it thru another week. I have noticed that recently, you don’t use that wonderful signoff anymore. Could I implore you to give it a come back?
—Always a pleasure! CDA
• HAVE A GREAT WEEK, EVERYONE!
• The most recent SI/Tennis podcast guest: Brienne Minor, NCAA champ
• Next up: Kim Clijsters.
• Good soldiering: Tennis Channel will broadcast from the All England Lawn Tennis Club for its 10th year of Wimbledon Primetime beginning on the tournament’s first day, Monday, July 3. The network plans to dedicate more than 200 hours to Wimbledon coverage over the two-week event. Wimbledon Primetime will air each night of the competition followed by encore presentations that run throughout the late night. Tennis Channel will offer 100 hours of first-run Wimbledon Primetime, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET on July 3.
• Three of you asked about the Wrigley swim marathon piece. Here it is.
• Our old pal Buzz Bissinger has 5,000 words for Vanity Fair on Serena.
• New Chapter Press announced the release of the book Sport of a Lifetime: Enduring Personal Stories From Tennis written by long-time tennis enthusiast Judy Aydelott.
• Everyone in the Wimbledon suicide pool.
• Skip Schwarzman writes: Regarding the Bag discussion about Grand Slam nomenclature, for what it's worth there was a time (eons ago, simply eons) when they were referred to as the Big Four, or, as “one of the Big Four.”
• Mike Oelrich of Dunn Loring, Va: Wow, never thought that name would pop into my head again. Thanks John McEnroe . . .
• The USTA today announced that it has hired veteran NFL strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar to be its new Director of Performance, based at the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla. In this new position, Salazar will be responsible for the continued development and integration of Player Development's “Performance Team” model, to optimize the support that the USTA provides American players. Salazar will report to Paul Lubbers, Senior Director of Coaching Education & Performance, and will oversee Player Development's Strength and Conditioning team.
• This week's LLS come courtesy of Jack Yoos who has—stop me if you think that you've heard this one before—Federer and Morrissey: