Tim Clayton - Corbis/Getty Images

Quickly

  • In his latest Mailbag, Jon Wertheim explains why it's absolutely time to introduce Hawkeye technology to clay court events.
By Jon Wertheim
May 15, 2019

Hey everyone…

HOUSEKEEPING

• Last week’s podcast guest: Sonya Kenin, a delightful young American, now inside the top 40. 

• Coming up next, a combo featuring Tommy Paul—your 2019 French Open USTA wild card winner—and Tim Mayotte.

• Buy this book, which estimable tennis writer Louisa Thomas co-authored with partner John Urschel.

While toasting Kiki Bertens…

MAILBAG

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Hey Jon, let’s get serious and use Hawkeye on clay or not use it at all, ever. When I see the umpire gingerly make his way down from the chair, take his eye of the ball and lose the mark, it makes me cringe.

Furthermore, you can’t judge it properly when it skids off the line, trajectories make different types of marks. If the technology is accurate, let’s just use it. If it’s not, take it out entirely.

As for the back courts at other hard court events, It would be interesting to see how often a journeyman ranked above 120 gets to have it when he plays. 

This is bush league stuff. Don't the players ever complain about this?
Christian, Montreal

• The players do indeed complain. Denis Shapovalov, to name one, was very outspoken last week.

(And h/t Tennys Sandgren who followed: “Nah I like being told a mark with space is in cuz it skipped off the line first.”)

If one technology company can’t provide replay for clay within the accuracy threshold, open the bidding. If tournaments wince at the cost of this technology, too bad. Quite apart from the (forgive the pun) optics of an official descending from the lifeguard’s chair to look studiously at a mark that might even represent the right shot, there’s simply too much at stake to rely on subjective judgment.

I go pretty absolutist on technology. If it exists, use it. The fans watching at home shouldn’t have better information than those most directly affected. If we know a ball is out—or a pitch was a strike, or a player’s foot was on the line—why are the officials and the athletes left to guess about it? (We can argue later about show courts versus back courts, and whether consulting with your coach before challenging is legal.)

Here’s an interesting question as Zverev has taken eight straight games from Ferrer. Will Zverev finish ahead of Ferrer in career titles? He has 10 now at age 22, but 18 more is harder than it sounds.
Name misplaced

• I would think so, just because a) the rate you cite. b) Zverev has to work so much less hard to win points. c) At some point the Federer/Nadal/Djokoivc tide will go out.

I’ve noticed this both here and on social media: a lot of you are down on Zverev. I get it. It’s been a disappointing year. He doesn’t always help his cause with his disposition. His composite profile doesn’t evince sympathy. (He’s tall. He’s from tennis stock. Unlike Tstisipas, he’s from an “overdog” country with tennis resources.)

But I’m thinking now is an especially good time to buy stock and go long here. Even after this 2019 dip—and the Rome points falling off his ranking like barbecue coming off the bone—he’s still squarely an upper echelon player. And he doesn’t turn 23 for 11 months. This at a time when careers often last until players are closer to 40 than to 30. Hang in there, folks.

Due to yet another shoulder injury, Maria Sharapova has pulled out of another tournament and will probably miss the French Open, which she has won twice. Do you think she will retire at the end of 2019? When she retires, how much impact will the doping issue play in her legacy? Will she still make tennis Hall Of Fame?
Bob Diepold, Charlotte, N.C.

• I have an idealistic answer and a realistic answer, neither specific to Sharapova. The first: athletes—extraordinarily driven to begin with— possess one-in-a-billion abilities. The minute they retire, they will never again do something as well as they played their sport. It’s easy to see how that’s hard to give up. And it’s also easy to see why, so long as there’s even the vanishingly small chance of future success, they would be inclined to continuing trying. We should take pains not to second-guess these decisions, much less encourage people to stop.

More crassly, for stars the likes of Sharapova, there are financial considerations. They can (and do) make eight-figures simply by being themselves, win or lose. Who among us would be in a rush to give that up?

As for Sharapova, specifically, I say “yes” and “yes.” She gets my vote for the Hall of Fame, and, I would guess, has no trouble getting in. But the doping issue is part of her legacy. You’re in a competitive industry; and you undermined competition. How can that NOT inflict some reputational damage?

Candidly, I wrestle with Sharapova. You get the sense that—like an individual sport athlete controls everything in their environment—she felt she could manage and orchestrate this situation. And was then shocked that few people were buying her public relations and legal strategy. At the same time, I don’t think she is a cheater per se. She’s someone that acted carelessly and negligently; but not with evil intent.

I've complained for years about how some tournaments schedule matches for week-long events. I understand having a night session ($$), but unfortunately, players that end up playing the second night match are doomed to night matches all week. I get it, because you can't have someone play at 9 p.m. then play at noon the next day. Still, there was no reason in Madrid why the second men's SF was so late Saturday night. Why not have the second men's SF the first night match and the women's final be the second night match? Or just have all the matches start earlier? It was Saturday after all. The schedule gave the winner of the first SF (Djokovic in this case) a big advantage in the final. We see this kind of scheduling often and we've seen where that schedule had an effect on the outcome of a final.
Michelle

• This fits neatly…well, not neatly because tennis is seldom tidy…but this fits into a broader discussion. Something has to give here. No night session means less revenue for the tournament, which means less prize money for the players. If you want to expand an event like this beyond a week—not a bad idea, given the quality of field, quality of venue, the two genders etc.—you are going to run into problems. Starting earlier is going to alienate TV partners. But it does underscore why Masters 1000s (and the horribly named “premiere mandatories”) are so hard to win.

I've loved watching David Ferrer play over the years. Sad that he is retiring but also happy for him. He had a great fighting spirit and it was a thrill to see him take on the big guys (in stature and ranking) without blinking. Where do you think he ranks on the list of best players, not currently playing, never to win a major? 
Taylor Witkin, Medford, Mass.

• It’s a distinction that is both dubious and complimentary. In the case of Ferrer, it’s the latter. “Here’s a guy who implanted himself in the top five, who competed honorably, who reached a major final….and had the misfortune of doing so during the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic era.” That’s a lot different from, “Here’s someone—Marcelo Rios is a name that springs to mind—who had the talent but never put it together and left the sport unfulfilled.” Ferrer is definitely up there. But anyone who gets to No. 1 has to rank highest on the BPNTHWAS board.

One of you asked this a few weeks ago. It’s as good a time as any for a BPNTHWAS update. On the men’s side, my meter says…Dominic Thiem. Alexander Zverev is still too young, despite a high ranking and little Slam plunder to show for it. Nishikori/Roanic fall closer to Ferrer than to Rios. 

For the women, I guess I would go with Karolina Pliskova. But Madison Keys is up there.

 “All I know about Weller Evans is the video taken of him at Justin Gimelstob's wedding… In it he refers to Justin, in part, as “the conscience of the sport”. Looks to me the ATP Players Council is digging in.”
@mcrearypierce

• I feel duty-bound to answer since so many of you asked about it, both via email and DM, including a Hall of Famer. Background: Weller Evans, a longtime ATP employee, ran for the ATP Board position vacated by Justin Gimelstob. He and Nicolas Lapentti were the top two vote-getters on Tuesday, and there will be a re-vote at Wimbledon. There was concern on social media that Evans is Gimelstob’s hand-picked candidate and that Gimelstob will be running the players side of the board from afar, Suge Knight–style. This concern seems to stem mostly from a wedding video someone posted online, in which Evans refers to Gimelstob as “the conscience of the sport.”

I don’t have much to add, but I’ll say this: I know Weller Evans a bit and have found him to be thoroughly decent, and a real advocate for the players. (Typing his name on my office desktop links to this SI piece from 1989.) He played at Princeton, so his bona fides are beyond reproach. He has been in tennis for decades. He knows a lot, has seen a lot, has a lot of relationships and a considerable reputation. I can’t imagine he would ever put that at risk by being anyone’s puppet. 

Most important, I submit we refrain from making sweeping conclusions based on remarks—however regrettable they may later prove to be—issued on wedding videos. Those things are like hostage videos, only with less comfortable attire and less sincerity. The real moral here: when you see the videographer approach, flashing a goofy smile, beseeching you to “share some thoughts or memories about Trudy and Kevin,” grab your gin-and-tonic with one hand, your sesame-crusted ahi tuna with the other, and head for the egress.

At no. 2, Nadal is about 2,000 points ahead of Federer, ranked no. 3. But he is also defending 3,000 points between Rome and Paris—Federer, none. What are the chances Federer will enter the grass court season as world no. 2, and how might this impact his chances at Wimbledon.
Saif, Washington, D.C.

• I was just talking about that with one of the tennis geeks —a term of endearment—in the office. Zverev is dropping like the Dow during an ill-conceived trade war. Nadal has had a rough spring and will end at a net loss even if he wins in Paris. Never mind Wimbledon; does Federer not hang at No. 2 for the foreseeable future?

What is going on with Jack Sock?

I haven’t read or heard his name mentioned on air in months.

No mention of a guy who was once the top U.S. player and won major doubles events. Is he going to return? retiring?
Rick Devereux

• He is entered in this week’s Little Rock event.

Do you have any insight into the Madrid trophy? I think I can see a tennis ball on top...but the rest of it looks like MC Escher designed an electric toothbrush. Can you tell what it’s supposed to be?
Paul R.

It was actually a prop from the Game of Thrones pilot. (And here I was, trying to become the one sportswriter in America to go through this spring without a single gratuitous GoT reference.)

Here’s a serious explanation.

You read right. Absent irony, it’s co-designed by the man “who invented the ‘world's most complex’ mechanical belt buckle.” 

I’ve posted this before—it’s from 2014—but voila.

This Zverev losing streak can only mean there is a Lendl watch, to see if they part ways.  
Shlomo Kreitman

• Joel Embiid has requested he be given more time.

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

• A takedown of David Foster Wallace’s “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” Not Roger Federer. But the piece itself:

• One of the best-kept secrets in pro tennis is out, the Aix-en-Provence Challenger

• I hope I’m not violating the rules, but here’s a question from my trivia league today: “Only two tennis players have won the "Career Boxed Set" (winning the Grand Slam in Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles). One is a lesbian icon who bravely came out long before it was fashionable to; one is a noted homophobe. Name BOTH.”

• Here’s former WTA executive Sophie Goldschmidt, now CEO of World Surf League.

•Tennis Channel has appointed Timothy Athans to director, strategic partnerships, effective immediately. Athans will be based in the network's New York office and report to Irv Schulman, senior vice president, national sales manager.

• Chris Evert does more for this sport than most people perhaps realize…

Chris Evert, 18-time Grand Slam Women’s Singles Champion and Chair of the USTA Foundation Board of Directors, will be visiting approximately 30+ kids from six local National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapters in the Philadelphia area and nearby communities – Legacy Youth Tennis and Education, Down The Line and Beyond, Tennis Central (Lancaster), Advantage Lancaster, Rodney Street Tennis & Tutoring (Wilmington, Del.) and Reading Recreation Commission COR Tennis (Reading).

• Longtime tennis writer, Michael Mewshaw, has a new book: The Lost Prince. A Search for Pat Conroy.

• Apart from being a great kid… “The post-season awards continue to roll in for USC junior Brandon Holt, as the Rolling Hills Estates resident has been named the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Currently the No. 6 nationally ranked singles player in the nation, Holt led USC to its fourth Pac-12 Tournament title and the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

• The USTA announced that six top junior girls qualified for the 2019 Team USA National Junior Team, a training program designed to give a collection of America’s best young players, born in either 2003 or 2004, opportunities to train together during the summer and travel to play against top junior competition from around the world. The boys’ team was selected in March.   

Five players earned selection onto the team based on automatic qualification, meanwhile Ellie Coleman qualified for the team through a playoff, held April 30–May 3 at the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla. Players were invited for the playoff based on ITF World Tennis Tour Junior or USTA national ranking.

2019 Team USA National Junior Team – Girls

Gabriella Price (15, Nyack, N.Y.; Coaches: Jason Zafiros)

Ashlyn Krueger (15, Flower Mound, Texas; Coach: Dave Anderson)

Katrina Scott (14, Woodland Hills, Calif.; Coach: Zibu Ncube)

Robin Montgomery (14, Washington D.C.; Coach: Ali Agnamba)

Connie Ma (15, Dublin, Calif.; Coach: Max Taylor)

Ellie Coleman (16, Midland, Mich.; Coach: Mike Flowers)

READER RIFF

Eric of Jackson Heights, N.Y. takes us home…

Dear Jon,

Although you are not old enough to have watched Ken Rosewall play tennis I would love for you to spend a little time writing about him and his career. 

Rosewall, had he not spent over 12 years as a professional during the height of his prime, his name would unquestionably be included in any discussion of Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time. He routinely gave Rod Laver more trouble than any other player. He had a backhand that seemed like it would die when it hit the court. He turned pro at a time when world tennis was strictly an "amateur" game. He did this literally to feed his family, at a time when for an athlete to say this it had actual meaning in the real world. In spite of his long absence, he still won eight Grand Slam events, the last three of which he won at the ages of 36, 37 and 38. He also made the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open at the age of 40. This too is never brought up when people talk about tennis players who still excel in their "old age".

While I do not like to conjecture, knowing the dangers of speculation, it is not a stretch to imagine he may have had 20-25 Grand Slam wins were he available to play during these 12years. He was excellent on all surfaces, and was acknowledged as the greatest clay court player of his generation, and might easily have won as many championships at Roland Garros as Rafa now has. 

While still honored in his native Australia, people in general are not aware of how great a tennis player Ken Rosewall was. I can say, from experience, that watching him play was like watching a magician on the court. 

I realize that this is a bit off the beaten track, with all that is so wonderful in today's game, but I think it would be great if Ken Rosewall's name and his game were better remembered and honored when people talk about tennis and the true greats of the game. He is still alive. Maybe you could write a book about him!

You May Like