Head-to-head shouldn't be primary criterion in Federer-Nadal debate
The Federer-Nadal debate can't be settled by the head-to-head series record alone
The No. 1 seed may wind up being a distraction for Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki
Some players (like Hewitt and Fed) are significantly better at dealing with the heat
Hey everyone, here's a pre-Open bag. We'll post men's and women's seed reports shortly after the draws are released Thursday afternoon. Also, during the tournament, we'll be blogging, tweeting, and doing some video, so feel free to bookmark the SI.com tennis page.
Congrats to Roger for winning Cincinnati and also to Mardy Fish for having a remarkable summer so far. I hope they shine in U.S. Open too. But my email is more about the Roger vs. Rafa issue that plagues tennis fans so much and addressed towards the GOAT debate -- and the Rafa fans and Roger haters who don't want to give Federer the GOAT because of his losing record with Rafa. I am not a big fan of the GOAT discussion, but to me you can't use the Roger vs. Rafa head-to-head as the primary criterion. Consider this Cincinnati championship. Rafa was scheduled to play Roger in the semifinals if he won but he did not. How is that Roger's fault that he could not beat Rafa in the semis in a head-to-head where he is stronger. Roger has kept his side of the deal on Rafa's favorite surface (clay) and many times has lost to him there. But if Rafa were not beaten by someone else before he could play Roger on these hard courts many times, then the record will be way more closer and most likely would be in Roger's favor. So then Roger would be having the highest number of Grand Slams and a winning record against Rafa too.
--Subhadeep, Greenville, S.C.
Right on. We discussed this via Twitter over the weekend, but, yes, last week provided a strong example of how the Nadal-Federer head-to-head record can be misleading. Federer reaches the semis and is poised to play his rival. Nadal, however, failed to keep his end of the bargain, losing to Baghdatis. So Federer -- playing well on a choice surface -- isn't given the opportunity to improve the head-to-head ratio.
In keeping with one of our central, recurring themes, I still marvel at how quickly (all together now) plots change in this sport. A month ago, it was Rafa Time, Nadal completing the "summer double," his head wearing the crown and appearing to lie easy. Suddenly, he loses twice on hardcourts, lacking rhythm on the fast surface, as he looks vulnerable coming into New York. Federer, meanwhile, so thoroughly mortal from February through July, makes a personnel move, appears to be finding his form, wins Cincinnati in Open-like conditions and is now the odds-on favorite to win. Hold the obits, please, as well as the Tiger Woods comparisons some were (rather absurdly) making.
I know from your mail that many of you blame fickle fans, a fickle media and fickle culture. But, really, I think it's the nature of the game. (What were fans and the media supposed to say after Wimbledon, the tournament that saw Nadal triumph and Federer nearly upset in round one and then bounced in the quarters? "Federer's really cooking now! Nadal looks like he's about the struggle!") Truth is, it's very easy to lose your grip. It's very easy to play yourself back into the form. A few shaky losses and you lose some aura. A good week or two and you're back in business. This must be heartening for the players. And it's fun -- if dizzying -- for the rest of us.
So Serena Williams has withdrawn from the U.S. Open, which makes Caroline Wozniacki the top seed. Do you think this makes the criticism of Dinara Safina seem hollow now? At least Safina has won bigger titles during her career, not just achieving her ranking from playing smaller events week in week out.
I think Wozniacki's exalted ranking/seeding highlights a combination of issues: a) a ranking system that can reward quantity over quality b) the rash injuries that distort the season and rewards players who simply stay off the injured list and c) the inability of players to fill the vacuum and take charge. No disrespect to Wozniacki, but I think, objectively, there are between five and ten players better than she is. Some of the problem is that whereas Svetlana Kuznetsova, for instance, comes and goes like the Karma Chameleon, Wozniacki keeps grinding away, entering a lot of events, racking up wins and seldom losing early.
Check out her results here and see for yourself.
Ironically, Wozniacki would likely be fine seeded lower. She's playing well, grooving the ball, winning matches on her preferred surface. She's not a bad candidate to win. But it's easy to her top seeding -- especially under such unusual circumstances -- becoming a distraction.
I have worked out enough in brutal heat (half-marathons, etc.) and I appreciate what the tennis players have to deal with. However, somebody needs to tell Murray to stop whining about factors out of his control and to keep playing or to quit if the heat gets to him. On a related note, what's up with some of the players (e.g. Sharapova, Djokovic, Murray) regularly failing to cope with the heat while others like Hewitt, Roddick, Fed never complain about it?
--Tina Convent, New York
Fitness is obviously a big part of it. If you're confident in your conditioning, you're less likely to project frustration and fear. But constitution plays a role, too. In Murray's case he's "naturally" crabby on the court. And there may even be a psychological gambit to appearing annoyed by the conditions. A player's (in)ability to cope with the kiln-like conditions give a real window into their make-up. Consider it all part of tennis' appeal.
Please tell me the USTA has no plans to slow down its courts to ensure that Nadal can get his career Grand Slam. Like a pitcher "grooving" a pitch to a record-seeking slugger to get his name in the history books, what Wimbledon has done is shameful enough.
--Sean White, Lakeside, Calif.
Nope. Short of resurface the entire complex, there's not much that be done to change the "pin placement" on a hard court. They may cherry pick surface for Davis Cup ties, but no one's getting special treatment in New York, at least not with respect to what's underfoot.
So, depending on how the draw shakes out, I'm leaning towards picking Federer and Sharapova to win the U.S. Open. Which of those two picks do you like better?
--Chad Silvey, Akron, Ohio
Federer. But I'll have my picks on Thursday when the draw comes out.
Can you PLEASE tell your colleagues that comments like, "Cincinnati must be full of vegetarians because they like Fish!" don't actually make sense? Also, please mention the use of puns likening Fish to an aquatic vertebrate has indeed become tiresome. Much thanks.
--Ken Schneck, Brattleboro, Vt.
Tiresome? I thought fish don't really sleep. Here are two certainties for the 2010 U.S. Open: 1) We will be set adrift in a sea of bad fish puns, headlines and references, and 2) the story of Fish's weight loss will be told and retold until it's the 2010 version of "Ana Ivanovic practiced in a drained swimming pool during the NATO bombings" or "Rafael Nadal might have been a soccer player had his uncle not steered him to tennis."
During the first set of this weekend's Djokovic-Federer match, Brad Gilbert kept saying that this was why we should have on-court coaching, so that someone could advise Djokovic and get his head in the game. But that match was a great example of exactly why we DON'T need on-court coaching. It was amazing to see Djokovic dig deep, get it together and turn the match around in the second set. Sure, he ultimately lost the match, but his mental turnaround was truly impressive in a way that wouldn't have been as meaningful if he'd had a coach advising him.
--Valarie, Portland, Ore.
Agree. Much as we love Brad Gilbert, he isn't exactly a neutral party here. Naturally most coaches and former coaches don't mind this "innovation*," as the WTA calls it, the same way most aspiring pop stars don't mind American Idol. They have nothing to lose and a new outlet/market for their talents. It's only the rest of us.
*A few weeks ago we discussed overuse of the word "hero." But anyone else notice the recent distortion of the word "innovation"? This is the adjective of choice for every shaving system and beer brewing process, rarely followed by an explanation that sheds any real light on the "remarkable breakthrough." Every time I get a press release or gushing email using this word, I become reflexively distrustful.
Jon, I wonder if I'm the only one that sees something wrong with the ball kids having sweat drenched towels thrown at them during a tennis match. I know I wouldn't want to handle my friend's towel during a match or working out.
Wait a second. You mean there might be something unhygienic about handling the towel into which someone else had sweat, bled and wiped snot? Getting the feeling that, like leather helmets in football and smoking sections on airplanes (as if the clouds of soot know at which aisle to stop wafting), we'll be laughing at the "towel boy" concept one day?
I don't know if anyone else noticed but the Wimbledon women's final was umpired by Mariana Alves, who is personally responsible for the challenge system. I kept waiting for the announcers to mention this but the never did.
--William E. Jones, Union, N.J.
We mentioned that, as did others. Apart from one really bad night of the office, she's a well-regarded official. Good for her for sticking with it. Good for tennis for sticking with her.
Jon, You've written several times now about the question Nadal was asked about his belief in God. I think you said the reporter who asked the question was Italian? Just so you know, Federer was also asked a similar question by an Italian reporter in this 2009 interview. He doesn't seem offended (or very religious).
--JK, Voorhees, N.J.
Ashvin of Washington, D.C., goes one step further and notes: "On the 'Ask Roger' section of Federer's website, a fan asks Roger if he's religious. (His response, for the record: 'I do believe in God.') I know that's not exactly the same as a reporter asking, but it just shows that it's not a crazy question, and there's nothing wrong with asking it to Federer, Nadal, etc."
Hi Jon, I'm going to NYC for U.S. Open this year again. Whenever I go, I try to get some food outside before I get to the Open so that I don't have to be forced to eat the $15 hamburger. Do you have any recommendation as to what/where to get for my lunch/dinner to eat while watching the game. Any good bagel/sandwich place, say near Grand Central, I can go before hopping on the 7 train?
--Aki, Seattle, Wash.
I'm as guilty as anyone here, but I feel like the digs at the U.S. Open food have become a bit, well, stale. The prices haven't gone up in a while and are comparable to the fare at other sporting and entertainment venues. Also, if you choose right -- the Indian joint is a always a favorite of mine and I've had good luck with the (Mardy) fish tacos -- the quality can range from good to exceptional.
What is your take on Nadal's sidecourt coaching during his Cincinnati quarterfinal match?
--Fred Esteves, Sacramento, Calif.
Nadal? Coaching? Now you're talking crazy.
Is it just me, or is the players' on-court behavior getting progressively worse? While watching the qualifying in New Haven, I saw Katie O'Brien smash her racquet to the court numerous times, scream and yell throughout the match, and smash a ball against the fence after she lost a key point. Rennae Stubbs and Lisa Raymond were sitting near me watching the match, and even they were incredulous that O'Brien never even received a warning. On the same day, I saw Lepchenko smash her racquet to the ground. When it bounced up, it nearly hit a 3-foot-tall ballboy who was scurrying to pick up a ball. She never even apologized for the near-miss. During the first round of the tournament, Starace not only bounced his racquet to the court, but then kicked it. Dustin Brown also threw some big-league tantrums during his qualifying match. Yet the only warning I've seen issued all week came to a player who intentionally hit a ball over the fence and out of the court completely. Otherwise, it looks like anything goes. I coach high school tennis and try to teach my players the importance of good sportsmanship. It's hard for me to watch these players behaving so poorly with no consequences.
--David, Southbury, Conn.
This is the third letter of this nature I've gotten in the past few weeks. It's funny because I think the conventional wisdom is that -- starting with Federer and Nadal -- sportsmanship is at a high-water mark and we're years removed from the Connors-McEnroe-Nastase days. Maybe two years ago, I was talking to an official about the seemingly arbitrary invoking of code violations. He made a good point that, much as we want to impose uniformity, it's impractical. Sometime you have to show a feel for the match and let violations slip. Recalling discussions about victimless crimes, he also drew a distinction between self-flagellation and outwardly aggressively behavior. If a player swears at a himself or breaks a racket in frustration, it's different from swearing at the opponent or cracking his racket against the umpire's chair. I suspect that might why you saw such little discipline in New Haven.
Incidentally, if you want to rubberneck at a tennis match, check the U.S. Open draw sheet and find out when Daniel Koellerer is playing.
Why is it news when Nadal locks down the top seed at the U.S. Open? Everyone knew this was going to happen. He's the top player in the world by a large margin. Wake me up when the draw is released.
--Josh, Richmond, Va.
Right. Just for the sake of clarification, the U.S. Open seedings follow the rankings. No surprises.
If Mardy Fish does write a diet book, would he title it Fish Food Diet.
Nice. I might be inclined to leave the fish pun out and go with something on the order of Addition by Subtraction. But I'm telling you, if I'm his agent, I'm talking up publishers in new York.
U.S. Open suicide pool: Everyone in here.
Philip of Montreal: "Speaking of showcasing a stylish player vs. the cookie-cutter baseliners, who usually happen to be very pretty, I was surprised to see French Open champion Francesca Schiavone relegated to a smaller court for her second-round match at the Canadian Open. I saw her practice and not only did she have a large crowd fixated on her stylish strokes, volleys and impeccable movement, she injected a lot of humor in her facial expressions and self-deprecating comments. For some reason it didn't matter that her jibes were in Italian, because she would smile a lot afterwards and have us smiling with her. She also puts a lot of effort and imagination into every shot. Sure, she isn't tall, blond and leggy like a lot of her contemporaries, but the scheduling committee isn't doing the sport any favors by favoring beauty and baseline bashing over style."
Andy Murray does Vogue.
Josh of Richmond, Va.: "You didn't mention Grigor Dimitrov's three Futures tournament wins this summer. Kid is slowly moving up the rankings. Could become a fan favorite with his all court style -- similar to a young Federer."
Mauricio Betti of Sao Paulo, Brazil sends this great Fed/Nadal video.
Here's a fine interview with Mary Carillo.
Ian Iqbal Rashid of London writes: "In response to the question about tennis reads, while not a biography, i'd love to plug Grace Lichtenstein's A Long Way, Baby. Written in the early days of the women's pro tour (and at the height of feminist politics), it's a lively, funny, frank and intelligent portrait of a year on the women's fledgling circuit culminating with BJK's victory over Riggs. It's also a brilliant snapshot of a particularly relevant moment in social history."
Jay Gosselin of South Bend, Ind.: "As a former collegiate player and coach, I realized that it became tougher for me to see the ball while returning serve as I approached my late twenties. I've noticed that Federer has had trouble returning serve since last year's U.S. Open and his results reflect it. Have any of his handlers suggested (God forbid) that he have his eyes checked? I would imagine that at age 29, his eyesight isn't as exceptional as it used to be. He might be surprised by the results and greatly benefit from a correction. I'm a Federer fan and I would like to see him reach his goal of 20 Slams before he retires."
Your chance to hit balls with a former U.S. Open semifinalist.
Ashley of Pittsburgh: "Hi, Jon! I just attended the Western & Southern Financial Tournament in Cincinnati (or really, Mason, Ohio) and had the chance to do the coin toss for the Murray/Gulbis match! VERY exciting! In person, I really think Ernests (love the additional "S" at the end) looks like Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay! Google it!"
Aspiring screenwriters: Check out this cool tennis-themed contest. It's $40 to enter but note that all proceeds go toward funding the winning project.
Great Nadal piece in the New York Observer.
Have a great week, everyone!