What Wimbledon’s tradition-breaking announcement means, plus thoughts on future Hall of Fame inductions in the Big Three era and more.
On the most recent tennis podcast, Jamie and I talk shop.
Next up: American Jenson Brooksby, who’s been tearing it up on the Challenger Circuit.
• As the humble-boasters say on social media: “some personal news.”
• Re last week’s question about the Monte Carlo winner going to win the French Open, here’s Sharko:
Hello there and since 2000, Nadal and Tsitsipas are the only players since 2000 to win Monte-Carlo without dropping a set. Nadal went on to win Roland Garros each of the previous five times he didn’t drop a set in Monte-Carlo:
Year-Player Sets Lost
2007 – Nadal 0
2008 – Nadal 0
2010 – Nadal 0
2012 – Nadal 0
2018 – Nadal 0
2021 – Tsitsipas 0
• Stay to the end for a great stats-based reader rant from Ahmik Paul (the precocious Jannik Sinner of tennis stats).
I need to be at Wimbledon this summer for the last Manic Monday ever!
• Sure, let’s start here. I was surprised how much chatter this announcement generated. And I approach this with the debacle of the Super League in my head. The moral: inconvenience/ignore sports fans at your peril.
For context, Wimbledon’s longstanding tradition of no Sunday play was always one of those charming anachronisms that made little sense. Financially, it was nuts. Other sporting events—including the French Open—strained to wrap themselves around as many weekends as possible. Here Wimbledon “self-goaled” middle Sunday and sacrificed this prime day. (The rationale offered: we want to respect the neighbors and their day of worship, was endearing but it, too, fell apart when you realized that the following Sunday marked the men’s final. Where was the respect for the neighbors then?)
You know who loved middle Sunday? The coaches. The employees. The media. You got a day off to play in London or go to the countryside or simply sleep. You know who didn’t benefit? The fans. If you are trying to build audience and service your supporters, in what crazy world would you forsake a Sunday. Doing so had a whiff of elitism. Hard-core fans love Manic Monday—the consequence of a vacant Sunday, all 32 remaining singles playing during the same session. But for more of the world, Monday is a workday.
So, all in, I’m not sure this is a tragedy. Wimbledon will play straight without a break, joining…every other sporting event, from the three majors to the Olympics. Wimbledon’s nod to tradition over commerce is—present tense; not was—what makes Wimbledon so special. (Think of all the revenue missed by declining to sell naming rights to Centre Court. Or plaster logos on the grounds. You don’t think BA or Barclays or RBS or Range Rover would pay millions for signage behind the baseline?) But if playing Sunday means more money for the players, more audience for television and, above all, more tennis for fans, so be it.
Would you ever do a follow-up to Venus Envy?
• The real question: would the market support it? At the time of Venus Envy, more than 20 (gulp) years ago, you had the Williams sisters ascending, Kournikova, Capriati, Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce, Lindsay (voice of reason) Davenport. Steffi Graf was tiptoeing off the stage. Monica Seles was the tragic figure trying to stage a comeback. Martina Navratilova was pondering a comeback as well. The women’s sports wave was cresting. It was the dawn of the Internet. As a writer—and hopefully readers—you had this embarrassment of riches. If you were fashioning a proposal today, I suspect you would stress the new cast, the new context and new set of issues—globalization, social media, the transition from a Williams-centric product. You’d toast the Williams sisters, hail Osaka and the new guard. Happily, there would be less about overbearing parents—and lecherous coaches—and more about the perils of social media and mental health. I’d be curious to know how the market would respond.
Say this: I would happily read this book. Someone might want to pressure Courtney Nguyen to transpose her excellent coverage into book form.
And one of the great humiliations of writing is self-promotion. But, for the record, I have this book (plenty of tennis) coming out in a few weeks.
A reader recently commented on pickleball: The perfect sport for the Summer of 2021.
A counterpoint: No. Pickleball is ruining municipal tennis courts. Since players typically stand in a fixed position and don’t move often (likely a bonus for older players the sport attracts), there are numerous ‘dead zones’ on the court where a tennis ball will land and bounce unpredictably.
Pickleballers have also resorted to (in my town) permanently marking tennis courts with their own multi-colored lines. Playing tennis around these lines is bewildering. In the middle of a point, I’m unsure of whether I’m on the baseline or the service line. The doubles alleys look like an Excel spreadsheet. Then there’s the noise of the ball hitting the pickleball “racquet’…
I’m venturing into “man yells at cloud” territory here, but pickleballers should finance their own courts. Considering the average age and infinite amount of leisure time the average pickleballer I come across seems to possess, this shouldn’t be difficult.
—Steve, Napa, Calif.
• All valid concerns, though I would think some compromise and policies would resolve this. I still say tennis is Amazon and pickleball is Whole Foods. Tennis ought to view it as an acquisition and bring it under the tent; not regard it as a rival that must be snuffed out.
I enjoyed your podcast interview with ATP chairman Andre Gaudenzi. However, I was wondering why you didn’t ask about the PTPA or his meeting with Pospisil in Miami that garnered much media attention. Did the ATP place restrictions on the interview?
—Terry from Long Island
• No, not at all. I specifically asked Gaudenzi, “When you were a player, would you have joined the PTPA?” His answer is here. More generally, I don’t think I would have done this interview if there were restrictions placed on it. But there were none.
Someone else asked why Pospisil didn’t come up. The truth serum answer: it made for a viral moment, but it’s a bit of a red herring in the bigger picture. Gaudenzi had some choice words for Pospisil in a players’ meeting. Pospisil felt humiliated—which, Amanda Ripley tells us, in a new favorite book—is the great accelerant for conflict. And a discussion about labor and splitting a revenue pie turned into social media catnip, a player losing his mind and yelling about his boss.
There’s been a fair amount of response and fallout to the piece I wrote a few weeks ago. I learned that Jeffrey Kessler, the peerless labor-side sports lawyer, was retained by the tournaments for a bit of work, thus creating a conflict whereby he might not be able to work with players now. There is some concern about a board member who works for a management company and has, reliably, voted to suppress prize money and tournament financial documents (reducing the income of players the same management company represents).
And, more than ever, I stand by my assertion that the players need a real leader. Djokovic has been admirable in his commitment but is trying to win majors. Lesser-ranked players lack the political force. Reputationally-damaged former players are not the answer either. The PTPA—or better still, a reconsidered association of WTA and ATP players—need a Marvin Miller or Michele Roberts, a charismatic, front-facing, aggressive leader.
What do you think the future HOF inductions look like in about 10 years? I ask because three men have managed to capture 84% of all majors since 2004. That leaves not a lot of future inductees for a while. Will they lean on inducting players from yesteryear who may have been passed up?
—Jon B., Seattle, WA
• My version of the same issue: what will the inductions look like when you have these towering champs—Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Serena—and then they are paired with decidedly less accomplished colleagues. Awkward weekend all around. Is, say, Svetlana Kuznetsova, a Hall of Famer? Probably, at least given the current criteria. Can you imagine honoring her the same weekend as you induct Federer or Serena? “Two actresses are getting Hollywood stars this year: Give it up for Meryl Streep…and Linda Cardallini!”
This is all the more reason, I believe, that the HoF whiffed in scaling back the “Contributors” category. As I see it, you need more of the Bud Collins, Paul Annacone, Oracene Williams, Gladys Heldman types. Not fewer.
• Here’s a great piece by Tumaini Carayol on the tyranny of wild cards.
• Remember Brittany Collens who was on the podcast to talk about the NCAA? Here’s a column she wrote.
• The University of Alabama captured its fifth straight title, and sixth overall, at last week’s USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Championships at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. Led by coaches Evan Enquist and Shelby Baron, herself a Rio Paralympian who helped Alabama win four of its all-time titles, the quartet of Jeremy Boyd, Avery Downing, Lauren Haneke-Hopps and Thomas Venos defeated tournament debutants Michigan in the team final, 3-0. The event celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with the largest field in tournament history featuring 27 athletes representing nine different schools.
• Ahmik Paul, Take us out…..
I am writing to you because I wrote a paper on serving strategy in professional men’s tennis which might interest you; I created a probability model to determine the effectiveness of different serving strategies for a particular player using their serving statistics.
I found that for most top players, the effectiveness of the conventional hard-serve/soft-serve strategy is very similar to that of the strategy of hitting two hard serves (two first-serve style serves) however the conventional strategy wins out almost every time, by a very small margin.
However, interestingly, in the case of Gael Monfils, it would actually be statistically advantageous for him to utilize an unconventional serving strategy, where he hits two hard first-serve style serves instead of the conventional strategy.
Additionally, the surprise factor of using this unconventional strategy is not mathematically factored into my calculations. The surprise of using this would make it even more effective. I believe that the two first-serve strategy may be a viable and advantageous alternative for some players.