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  • We all admire Roger and Rafa and Serena, sporting unicorns blessed with immense talent. But there is just as much to learn from someone like David Ferrer.
By Jon Wertheim
May 08, 2019

Hey everyone…


• Amid the tumult plaguing the ATP Tour, I summoned my colleague Michael McCann to approach the landscape with a fresh perspective and set up some guidelines for monitoring conflicts of interest. Behold! 

• Last week’s podcast: Rennae Stubbs swung by the studio to talk shop. 

• Next up: Sonya Kenin, the 20-year-old American, now up to No. 37 in the world.

• A vow: this will be the rare sports column that will be free of Game of Thrones references. 



Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at or tweet him @Jon_Wertheim.

I'm pretty sure everyone loves Ferrer…so why is Madrid going to be his last tournament? Why isn’t he going to get a send off at Roland Garros? I know his ranking has tanked, but it's probably close enough to get in to RG. And besides, if anyone deserves a wild card, it's him. I know he's from Spain, but I wish he was getting a bigger and better sendoff. After all, he got to the final there once, his best result in a major.

• True to form, Ferrer has been grinding out this retirement tour. Here’s a video tribute we did at Tennis Channel. 

While it’s two years old, I stick by the premise. For all the young players who seek to emulate Federer and Nadal and Serena, those three are extraordinary talents, sports’ equivalent of unicorns. Ferrer, by contrast, has been a player who simply wrung everything possible from his talent, his body and his game. Which is just as admirable as the numinous stars.

Why wouldn’t Ferrer get a send-off at Roland Garros—his best Slam, played on a surface that encapsulates his dirty work sensibilities?  I dunno. I rather like the idea of Ferrer retiring in Spain, his home, where he can be celebrated and not rushed off the court to keep the schedule moving, or lost amid a bigger news story that day.

Regardless, let us take a moment to toast an extraordinary career. Alas, we like things we can measure. And Ferrer won no Slams, playing as he did in Federer/Nadal/Djokovic era. But if “respect among peers” or “respect among the tennis public” could be quantified, we’d be clearing wall space in Newport for David.

Does Dominic Thiem's game remind you of younger Roger Federer? Can you put him on your list of potential Grand Slam —winners?
Rajesh S.

• In reverse order: 1. Totally. Before it’s all said and done, Thiem wins the French Open at least once. I still worry about the best-of-five versus best-of-three proposition when he plays the Big Three. But, long term, we have Thiem spirit. (Dad jokes!)

2. A bit. One-handed backhand. Smooth mover. Likable disposition. Hails from an Alpine country. But I think the Federer-Thiem comparisons only get us so far. Federer has more variety, better hands, better closing skills—and at Thiem’s current age of 25, he was already well on his way to Der GOAT pasture. 

Social media should take a bow, having played a key role in the court of public opinion and vetting of the Gimelstob case. Gimelstob got what he deserved and the public (via social media) deserves a lot of credit for the outcome.

• I would agree with that. Tennis Twitter was, collectively, vigilant and rightly outraged. If we are to going to venture down this road, though, the British media—starting with Simon Briggs of the Telegraph—must come in for credit. Again, I’m hopeful tennis can use this as an opportunity not just for some soul-searching and finger-pointing, but to make some material changes to its governance. This was—note the optimism-saturated past tense—an ugly chapter. It will be even uglier if no lessons are learned. Bottom line: conflicts-of-interest are the enemy of growth and health. They must be eradicated.

[Dimitrov] is out of the top 40?!
James, Portland

• Grigor Dimitrov is, indeed, now ranked No. 46 in the world. This is like a dialect of schadenfreude. When misfortune befalls a decent person, we are perhaps reluctant to pile on. So it is that the fall of Dimitrov, a lovely guy, has probably been overlooked. Here’s a player who is so extravagantly talented and just can’t quite put it all together. It starts with his ball toss, which often has a case of wanderlust. And—as is so often the case—the misfortune is accompanied by a personnel change. Dimitrov has announced that he is parting with Danny Valverdu, his coach of more than two years.

I bet Roger is rubbing his hands together and looking forward to the clay court season. With Novak/Rafa on the outs, it just might be his time to pile up some hardware. What are his chances in winning in Paris?
Patrick Kramer, nesøya Norge

• Can you give us a week? I think we need to see his level of play—at least a smidge—before making a judgment. But your larger point is well-taken. Djokovic has been a shell of himself since Australia. (While unquantifiable, the time and mental energy of his role in L’Affaire Gimelstob may well have exacted a price on his tennis.) Nadal, too, has looked depleted. If I’m laying French odds today, I go:

1.    Nadal

2.    Thiem

3.    Djokovic

4.    Federer

5.    Wawrinka

But unquestionably, Federer is deep in the conversation.

The the Sweet 16 teams below in the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Team Tennis Championships are all tennis powerhouse schools. Does the ITA have readily available data to identify what player percentage of these tennis power teams are non-US?  We know that, historically, across the nearly 90 NCAA sanctioned varsity sports, Division I Men’s and women’s tennis far and away have had the highest percentage of foreign players as compared to all other NCAA sport.
Bryan, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

• Great question. Though I would dive deeper into the data. What percentage of the scholarships are going to overseas players? If the ITA would kindly provide this data, it would be appreciated. If someone wants to take this on as an independent research project, we would be grateful as well.

To get us started, here’s Mississippi State—six internationals, two Americans. 

We’re all for globalization. Want to recruit a player or two from outside the U.S.? Great. Everyone benefits. But does anyone really think that fielding a team like this is consistent with college athletics? (A taxpayer-funded funded school?)

Following Justin Gimelstob's resignation from the ATP board of directors, I looked for statement from management of the Tennis Channel about his status as a commentator, and have found none—not in the general press, tennis press or TC's website.  Yes, I know that you work with TC, and do not mean to put you in an awkward position.  But I am curious.  TC's website has no "contact us" link, so I have not been able to put the question to management directly.
Margaret, New York City

• Hours after Justin’s resignination from the ATP board, Tennis Channel released this statement:

“Justin has informed us that the leave of absence he began in November is ending with his resignation from Tennis Channel. We wish him well in this challenging time.”

Do you think the Grand Slam finals lost could be used as an important stat in the GOAT race? Federer has lost more finals than Nadal and Djokovic and has lost finals in all four Slams, whereas Djokjovic and Nadal have only lost in three of the four.

Federer’s Slam final losses: one Australian Open, two French Open, three Wimbledon, two U.S Open. Total: 11.

Nadal: four Australian Open, three Wimbledon, one U.S. Open. Total: 8.

Djokovic: three French Open, one Wimbledon five U.S. Open. Total: 9
Igor Wright, Rio de Janeiro

• Nah. On the one hand, a player’s performances in finals says something about their ability to meet the moment. Look at Serena Williams. Even on her current two-finals losing streak, she is 23-8 when the trophy is on the line. That ain’t a coincidence. 

But according too much “negative” weight to a finals record overlooks the fact that the player won six matches to get there. Let’s pick on Djokovic, who lost in zero Grand Slam finals in 2017. Why? Because he went out early or didn’t play at all, falling deep outside the top 10. I suspect he would rather have gone 0-4 in major finals that season. 

As a nurse and woman I believe there is a double standard you’re unintentionally applying to the understandably difficult Justin Gimelstob situation.  If Justin had assaulted a woman in this situation, not just a male friend, would there even be any discussion on whether he should be asked to step down from his role on the ATP board or tennis channel? I believe when men are assaulted by other men we tend to devalue the seriousness of the attack when compared to men attacking women.  As an ER nurse I can’t tell you how many men I’ve treated for injuries as a result of assault, including some men left permanently disabled or even dead. Look no further than the Giants fan left disabled after being attacked by a Dodgers fan at a game eight years ago. 

• There’s probably a broader discussion here about sex and gender and social constructs. But for now, we’ll simply say: thanks for calling this to our attention.

I absolutely love the combo of Delpo and Nishikori at Madrid. I hereby declare that all doubles matches should involve the highest height disparity possible between partners. Delpo-Nishikori, Ivo-Dudi Sela, and Isner-Schwartzman. Opelka-anybody. Sabalenka-CSN on the women's side. Let's make this happen.
Paul R.

Amen. This also gives us a chance to issue a periodic repeat of one our favorite tennis stats: both Federer and Nadal are listed as the exact same height and weight, 6’1”, 187 lbs.


• Tennis Channel and the USTA, in conjunction with the NCAA, have entered a three-year partnership that makes the network the exclusive television home of the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s tennis national championships. The agreement begins with this year’s events, to be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., May 16-25.

• Last year’s Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalists Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro have added their names to the final entry list for the 2019 Fever-Tree Championships at The Queen’s Club, and Britain will have two direct entrants other than Andy Murray for the first time since 2006. 

British No.1 Kyle Edmund and No.2 Cameron Norrie have both made the cut. A wild card is being held in reserve for Murray, who will let Tournament Director Stephen Farrow know nearer the time of the event if he is fit enough to take it. The last time Britain had this many direct entrants was in 2006 when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski joined Murray in a 56-man draw (as opposed to the current 32).

•  Canada does Fed Cup

• Wilson and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) announced the 2019 Wilson/ITA National Promoter of the Year Award winners on Monday (May 6). Anastasia Rentouli of Mississippi State University and Connor Christian of Ohio Northern University will receive a paid summer internship in the Grassroots Marketing department at Wilson's global headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.

• Angelique Kerber has committed to play in the 2019 Hawaii Open Tennis Tournament, presented by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. She joins U.S. Open semifinalist and ATP World Tour No. 7 Kei Nishikori. The Hawaii Open will be held Dec. 27-29, 2019, in Honolulu.


Joseph Tedino, a PTR-Certified Tennis Coach, takes us out:

Junior Tennis Players Deserve Better Behavior from Spectators 

A girl preparing to serve in a high school tennis match in Charleston, S.C., disagreed with her opponent’s call of the previous point. Urged on by spectators, she called the point score in her favor.   

The other girl invited the server to the net, where a forceful discussion took place. 

On the sidelines, the server’s mother shook her head, calling the mid-court pow-wow “a terrible thing.”  

The other player stood firm—after all, it was her call—and she went on to win the match. 

Later, her coach got an earful, too. “I sure hope you’re not encouraging that kind of behavior,” the woman said.    

And at a scholastic tournament in Chicago last year, the father of a high school player disagreed so loudly and forcefully with line calls made by his son’s opponent that the players were forced to stop the match entirely and call for official intervention.   

As a high school coach, I see junior tennis players facing the kind of belligerent, game-changing taunting that has invaded youth football, soccer and other sports. Bad behavior from spectators has crept into a sport where courtesy and decorum have prevailed for more than 140 years. 

Junior tennis players deserve better.  

“The perfect sports parents would be ones you never hear from the sidelines,” says two-time Olympic medalist Hannah Kearney, a freestyle skier who played soccer as a kid. “They should be there after the game, to be supportive, when the heartbreaking things happen.”   

Parents of student-athletes are known to be a vocal and passionate group. But overzealous spectators sounding off on the sidelines can hurt the game and the athletes trying to do their best in a sport they train hard for and love.  

Tennis spectators would do well to consult resources like the USTA’s rulebook, which covers a range of behavioral issues.

For one thing, USTA states quite clearly that spectators “never make line calls.” 

Besides that, it notes that parents, grandparents, siblings and teammates are duty-bound “to encourage and maintain high standards of proper conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship.” 

Col. Nick Powell, the World War II officer who became chairman of the USTA’s rules committee in the 1970s, produced a list of behaviors that became known as “the code.”  

The first principle is that tennis requires cooperation and courtesy. 

Parents and fans of today’s junior game can apply the code as spectators by following a few simple steps: 

• Respect and acknowledge the integrity of the officials, which at many high school matches are the coaches.

• Keep comments respectful—vocal only between points—and allow those on the court to make the calls without interference, interjection or instigation. 

• Display positive behavior in person and on social media. 

State high school sports organizations offer guidelines, too. The Do What’s Right program in Illinois, for example, asks spectators to control their zeal and create “a positive game experience” for all. It recommends using “positive yells, chants, songs or gestures” and asks that people display modesty in victory and graciousness in defeat.

Yet despite these efforts, tennis is going the way of sports where parents and fans let their emotions show: verbally attacking officials, bad-mouthing coaches and disparaging the players.  

Exhibiting good behavior at junior events is not only good for the game, it also helps student-athletes have the right mental framework to do their best -- on and off the court.   

Play Like a Champion, the educational resource for schools, encourages parents to be “respectful guests” at athletic competitions. “The game belongs to the kids,” it says, “and the game can go on without the spectators.” 

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