Posted: Wednesday June 15, 2011 2:42PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 15, 2011 2:42PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Why Serena will win Wimbledon, further G.O.A.T. debate, more mail

Story Highlights

Serena has made a whole career of dramatic disappearances and reappearances

Nikolay Davydenko has a winning record vs. Nadal, but he's not the better player

Federer-Nadal is the most-played matchup in the history of Grand Slam finals

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Serena Williams is back in action after nearly a year away from competitive tennis -- and you pick against her at your own risk.
Serena Williams is back in action after nearly a year away from competitive tennis -- and you pick against her at your own risk.
AP

We'll be back Friday with our seed report ...

So now that Serena is back, will she win Wimbledon? And if she does what does that say about the quality of women's tennis right now?
--Carl M., London

• We're going to beat the holiday rush and address in this advance of Wimbledon. Serena Williams' return will trigger the inevitable hand-wringing about the current state of the WTA. How much of this is Serena's extraordinary talents? How much of this the shaky state of today's WTA?

For me, it's a lot of the former and a little of the latter. This is Serena Williams we're talking about. Apart from being one of tennis' most decorated champions, she has made a career out of dramatically disappearing and dramatically reappearing. Done it for years. You love it. You hate it. Doesn't matter. Those are her rhythms. She's more or less rust-proof. She doesn't need a lot of match play. Especially on grass -- where her power and athleticism are most accentuated -- she adjusts quickly. To her, winning majors is like riding a bike to the rest of us. There is an advantage in her not having logged any real mileage this year. There is a psychological advantage that comes from the mystique of living Serena loca. I write this prior to having seen her play. Sure, there's a chance she could injure herself with a level of exertion she hasn't experienced for a year. Sure, she hit the wall Wednesday in a three-set loss to Vera Zvonareva. But if I had pick a Wimbledon winner tomorrow -- wait, it turns out I do -- it's Serena.

As for the rest of the field, it's no secret this is not a golden age for the women. And it's silly to argue otherwise. But I urge you to watch the actual tennis. If the top players are hitting balls into the bottom of the net or gagging 5-0 leads, it's one thing. If they're playing capably and Serena Williams is simply pasting the ball and competing better, give her the bulk of the credit.

Regarding the G.O.A.T. debate, I don't hear anyone elevating Nikolay Davydenko into the pantheon of the sport by virtue of his superior head-to-head record versus Rafa (6-4, including the last four times they've met). Individual matchups are just one part of the equation. By the way, Roger is 15-2 vs. Davydenko.
--Curtis Sayers, Newton, Mass.

• Now that you mention it. Why not split the difference and give it to Davydenko so we can get on with our lives?

To David Arnold's point [about Federer perhaps being the second best clay-court player in history], Federer is 40-1 at Roland Garros since 2005 against players not named Rafael Nadal. If not for the greatest clay-court player in history, it is not inconceivable that Federer would have won four or five French Open titles. In my opinion, it's not at all a stretch to say he is the third best clay courter in history (behind Borg and Nadal).
--Ramkumar Subbaraman, Cupertino, Calif.

• Fun as it is to speculate, I think these counterfactuals are dangerous. If Obama didn't exist, Hillary Clinton might be the president. But for 2008, my retirement portfolio would look decidedly stronger. Gotta play the hand you were dealt.

Federer and Nadal played for a Grand Slam title for the eighth time. Is that a record? If not, which rivalry holds that distinction?
--Tim Hotchkin, St. Paul, Minn.

• Indeed. Thanks to Sharko for this:

Grand Slam Final match-ups (all-time)
Rivalry No. Tournaments
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal 8 Roland Garros 2006-08 and 2011, Wimbledon 2006-08, Australian Open 2009
Bill Tilden v William Johnston 6 US Champs 1919-20, 1922-25
Jean Borotra v Rene Lacoste 5 Wimbledon 1924-25, Roland Garros 1925, 1929, US Champs 1926
Rod Laver v Roy Emerson 5 Australian Champs 1961-62, Roland Garros 1962, US Champs 1961-62
Roy Emerson v Fred Stolle 5 Australian Champs 1964-65, Wimbledon 1964-65, US Champs 1964
Ivan Lendl v Mats Wilander 5 Australian Open 1983, Roland Garros 1985, 1987, US Open 1987-88
Andre Agassi v Pete Sampras 5 Australian Open 1995, Wimbledon 1999, US Open 1990, 1995, 2002

Why is Maria Sharapova still listed at 130 pounds? The woman is 6-2 and very athletically built; she would be a stick figure at 130 pounds. Is the WTA trying to encourage eating disorders in young women who play and/or follow tennis?
--Leon Bynoe, Parkland, Fla.

• A few of you mentioned this recently. I see a danger either way. Some of these listed weights are highly dubious and, you could argue promote the wrong message about body image. But I can understand why a player might be uneasy about having her "actual" weight memorialized. A double standard? True. But I think we defer to the players here. Perhaps encourage honesty and explain the perils of underreporting. If a 6-2 power hitter wants to submit that she weighs 130 lbs., what's the alternative? Force her back on the scale? It's not boxing. It's not a team sport. I'd be more concerned about WTA players lying about their ages than their weights.

I am not sure how you go about selecting questions for your mailbag but it seems as if you constantly answer the same questions. Who is greater, Rafa or Federer? Or Is a particular player deserving of the No. 1 ranking since they haven't won a Grand Slam? Same tired and boring stuff. Please diversify the questions. Geez ...
--Richard Brown, Manchester, Jamaica

• We have a very elaborate process for selecting questions. There's a steering committee that follows parliamentary procedure and then oversight committee that has to ratify. A vice-provost then makes the final determination. We jest. I try to make this a mix of topical and quirky. At some level, I feel like the questions should reflect the chatter out there in Tennis Land. If I get a hundred passionate emails about the GOAT discussion -- thanks, Mary Carillo! I praise you 24/7 and this is how you do me? -- I think it does a disservice to ignore the topic, however "tired and boring" others may find it. Same for grunting. And the Hall of Fame. Doesn't mean everything needs to be crowd-sourced. But -- without getting too sappy -- this is your column as well as mine.

Hi Jon, I am going to make it into this column if it kills me! So I would like to enter into the world of hypothetical conjecture. Let's assume Nadal and Federer are the joint top G.O.A.T.'s. Or better still they didn't exist. My question would be, how many Grand Slams would Murray and Djokovic have amassed? Or do you think that Murray and Djokovic would have fared better in the Sampras or Connors era?
--James Kane, Hamilton, Scotland

• We don't want any killing, so let's answer James' question. Again, hypotheticals aren't the best way to make the column. If Serena Williams became a roadie for Green Day and Kim Clijsters got lost in a New Jersey Ikea, would Justine Henin still be playing? Still, without Federer and Nadal, we obviously have a wider distribution of titles. I suspect Djokovic has won at least five. Murray has broken through. Roddick has won more than one. We probably have some surprise winners: if Al Costa, Tommy Johansson and Juan Carlos Ferrero win Slams, surely a Robin Soderling or Davydenko can get on the board, too. Again, though, if Mr. and Mrs. Jobs had never conceived little Stevie, I'd be writing this on a PC and listening to a Sony Discman and ignoring the incoming calls on my Treo.

Loved your book on Nadal and Federer. How about a book about a season on the tour like John Feinstein's golf books A Good Walk Spoiled and The Majors? I would love to read about an insider's perspective of the tour and the mini-biographies are always interesting.
--Mark Schroeder, Taylor, Texas

• Appreciate your kind words but I'll use this as an opportunity to expound on last week's point about the HBO documentary. One of tennis' undeniable virtues: it looks after its veterans. Former champs hardly fade away. They return as commentators, coaches, administrators, Davis Cup captains, "legends" players, and sometimes all of the above. That's great. But it comes at a price. There's too much attention on the past, too much "in my day" talk from the commentariat, that we lose sight of the current product.

Imagine if the NBA were stuck in the Magic-Bird era and folks on the street were only vaguely aware of LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. This season alone there was a documentary and TWO books (excellent though they all were) about the Borg-McEnroe rivalry. I think a writer would have a very hard time selling a Good Walk Spoiled book proposal about tennis circa 2011, the same way some of the most prominent players have had trouble selling autobiographies. If I'm Adam Helfant's successor, I'm looking long and hard about how to honor history while making sure the old generation doesn't suck all the oxygen from the new one.

OK, I don't have anything against Eleni Daniilidou, but can we acknowledge the fact that she has not won a match on grass since 2007, whereas Tanasugarn won a grass tournament in 2008 and then defended it in 2009. Does Daniilidou have, like, an uncle or something on the Wimbledon wild-card Committee?
--Steve, Kirksville, Mo.

• Sounds like another Greek bailout.

Shots, Miscellany

• We tend to bristle at self-promotion, but the powers that be have asked me to mention that Scorecasting would make a swell Father's Day gift.

• Todd Bird of Louisville, Ky., called this to our attention.

• New Yorkers, check out the HSBC at Rock Center during the first week of Wimbledon.

• Monika of Greenville, S.C.: "About the word hajde, it's actually Turkish for 'come' or 'come over' and therefore at times 'come on.' As such it highlights some of the common heritage of the Balkan countries which were all the occupied territories of the Ottoman Empire for about five centuries and still have preserved some Turkish linguistic remnants. Hajde is used not only in Serbia and Croatia but also in Albania. I don't know what the connotation is in Serbio-Croation, but in Albanian -- like all other Turkish equivalents of Albanian words -- it can be considered old-fashioned and backward but also homey and cozy."

• Art Wong of Torrance, Calif.: "I like how you link to local tennis events in your Wednesday columns. Here's an upcoming event that I'm really looking forward to -- the dedication of some new tennis courts at my alma mater, Los Angeles High School. I bet the courts haven't been re-surfaced in 50+ years. With luck, the new courts will lead to an urban tennis renaissance here in L.A. The courts at L.A. High were always horrible -- nice to see alums spearheading the renewal. For more info on the event, visit this link. One of the courts will be dedicated to Coach Hank Pollard, now 93 years old. He was the head tennis coach at L.A. High for over 30 years with 30+ consecutive playoff berths and several city championship teams."

• Clint Swett of Sacramento notes: "Miloslav Mecir, whom I presume is the son of the former Grand Slam finalist, appears to be moving up in the tennis world. He's seeded 8th in the qualies of a Netherlands ATP event this week."

• My new favorite player, Indy de Vroome got wildcarded into UNICEF Open.

• Andre Agassiwill play an exhibition match during the Newport festivities.

• Agassi at it again.

• The Mighty Helen of Philadelphia rightfully wonders: "What the heck was going on in Chicago in the mid '70s??"

• Joe Johnson of Allentown, Pa.: "I was just checking the rankings at the ATP website. Do you realize that Djokovic has played fewer tournaments in the past 52 weeks than all of the other top 80 players? May this tactic be one of the keys to his success?"

• Wimbledon suicide pool here. I will kick prizes to the winners.

• Debbie of Ottawa, Canada: "Long lost siblings: Phillip Kohlschreiber and Sergiy Stakhovsky. Do a head-to-head comparison on the ATP website. Amazing to see their pictures side by side."

 
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