Wozniacki's crowded schedule, Davis Cup thoughts, more mail
Caroline Wozniacki's approach of event quantity over quality hurts her perception
Davis Cup format and lack of TV coverage impede growth of the tennis audience
Andy Roddick's deficient backhand remains the biggest shortcoming of his game
What in the world was Caroline Wozniacki doing playing a tournament the week after Wimbledon? Is this not the time when she should be working on her game and doing some contemplating about how to become a Grand Slam champion?
-- Dan Lydford, Lanark, Ontario
You know, you try to defend Wozniacki. She plays a lot. She wins a lot more than she loses. She didn't create the ranking system. At a time when so many top players perhaps tilt the life-work balance a little too far in one direction, it's refreshing to see such a committed No. 1 who actually likes to go to work. She has a sunny disposition. (Plus, she just bought an apartment in my neighborhood so you have to worry about running into her at the Union Square market or Dogmatic or on line at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.)
But then she plays in these small and irrelevant events the weeks before and after Wimbledon -- a Wimbledon in which she underachieves, losing mid-event; this on the heels of underachieving at the French Open -- and, at a minimum, you understand why so many fans see her as No. 1*. It's not just that she's never won a major. Or hasn't even made a Grand Slam final in two years. It's that you wonder if her schedule doesn't suggest quantity over quality.
Why is she playing small Scandinavian events the weeks before and after a Slam? There are not significant points or purses. It is safe to assume, however, she was given a six-figure appearance fee attending. That's fine. Career windows are short and all top players occasionally make a cash grab at a non-mandatory event. Hey, get it while you can. The problem is one of perception and timing. Last week Wozniacki did herself no favors in the image department. And her scheduling only puts more pressure on her the next time she enters a major.
In his win over Andy Murray at Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal had only seven unforced errors, and analysts used that stat to underscore how well Nadal played. In his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer had only 11 unforced errors, and analysts concluded Federer didn't play with enough risk to press Tsonga. Recognizing this is a tiny sample size, the fact that both these conclusions are true suggests that the "unforced errors" statistic is pretty much useless. Do you know of anyone providing useful tennis data?
-- Ben, Chicago
This was one of those "I'll believe it when I see it" stats. Watching the last three sets of Federer-Tsonga, you could see Federer playing passively and unthreateningly. Indeed, this was born out in the data. Watching the last three sets of Nadal-Murray, you could see that Nadal was playing at an astronomically high level. And presto, the data supported this.
I've just started reading your book Strokes of Genius (yeah, it took a while for me to get to -- really enjoying it so far) and had a random thought. How many times did you watch that match while writing the book???!!!
-- S An, Sydney, Australia
Hey, thanks. I saw four different versions (in addition to seeing it live) and let the record reflect, I thought NBC coverage was superior. Because of the timing, the network never got the Wimbledon send-off it deserved. Thanks for four decades' worth of coverage. From "Breakfast at Wimbledon" -- an engine powering the tennis boom -- to Federer-Nadal, that was a hell of a run.
And pre-empting (pardon the pun) the "good riddance" emails, there's no debate that the frustrating tape delay was shabby. It deprived millions of viewers of coverage. It diminished the event. It was laughably outdated. But your venom there should be directed at the network executives, not the NBC crew at Wimbledon.
I enjoyed a great day of Davis Cup tennis, watching a riveting match between Mardy Fish and David Ferrer. However, this action doesn't get a sniff of coverage on SportsCenter or CNN for that matter. Can you comment? I don't want to sound like a sexist, but Women's World Cup soccer gets 10 times the coverage of men's Davis Cup. This is not good for the future of the game.
-- Dan, Fayetteville, Ark.
Maybe if ESPN had committed, like, half a billion dollars to the sport earlier in the week, tennis would have gotten more love on SportsCenter and other platforms. (That was a joke.) A few things are going on here:
1) The Davis Cup, like some cruel filtration system, loses a few drips of prestige every year. The ITF can fiddle and tell us it's all the rage in Fredonia and parts of Mauritius, but in major markets it's losing relevance, especially as the schedule and format are hopelessly confounding. (How often did a version of this surface: "Wait, it's Davis Cup week? Wimbledon just ended last week. Nadal's not coming? Then what's the use?")
2) ESPN has, in my view, backslid in integrating tennis news into other platforms. Once the Williams sister are done, the odds of getting the sport into the conversation go way down.
3) At least in the U.S., tennis has a real problem on its hands, caught as it is in the vicious cycle. Ratings and television remains the lifeblood for sports. The networks say, "How can we devote prime coverage when we don't see prime ratings?" People like me say, "How can the audience grow when there's so little exposure?"
With ESPN taking over the coverage of Wimbledon, will that affect coverage for the Tennis Channel? They won't put early rounds on the Ocho, right?
-- Jason, Huntington Beach, Calif.
From the great Eric Abner at the TC:
"You can tell your readers that TC has a great relationship with ESPN and the All England Club, and that we're still in discussions with the tournament to continue Wimbledon Primetime. This past week's ESPN announcement doesn't affect that."
I'm dying for Andy Roddick to develop an effective down-the-line backhand!
-- Charlie G, Washington, D.C.
I didn't see the Davis Cup matches. But I've noticed that, to compensate for the deficient backhand, Roddick cheats so much now that he's getting beaten up the line. Watch the Feliciano Lopez match at Wimbledon, for instance, and note how many winners came because Roddick gave up so much of his forehand side.
Here's what I don't get about Roddick. He's clearly a more complete and tactical player than he was as a 21-year-old when, by his own admission, he served bombs, smoked forehands and ate Cheetos between matches. He's more fit. He's more professional (not that that had ever been a problem). He's kicked that awful habit of standing so deep in the court that he needs a Sherpa to guide him to the baseline. OK, the field improved, especially with the ascent of the Big Three. OK, he may have lost five percent of wattage in power. OK, parts of his game are the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. But why is he losing so many matches he simply wouldn't allow himself to lose in, say, 2003 or 2004?
WTHIGOW Dinara Safina? Is she injured? Did she retire? I realized this morning that I haven't heard her name or seen her in a draw in ... I don't know. Six months? A year? What happened to her?
-- Judy Adams, Los Angeles
The official word is that there's a back problem. The unofficial word is that it's compounded by a head problem. Let me first say that -- invoking yet more anatomy here -- anyone with a heart must unabashedly root for Safina to return. That said, I'm no chiropractor but I'm not sure this is helping the old lumbar region.
The "Big Three" -- Novak Djokovic, Nadal & Federer -- I get it. The "Big Four" -- which includes Andy Murray -- is absurd, until he wins a Slam. If he is to be part of that elite group, then it needs to become the "Big Five." Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 U.S. Open by hitting Federer off the court in the final ...
-- Todd Purvis, Thomasburg, Ontario
Again, one of the great sources of fun that comes from this column: I feel like it's a strong "international focus group" for Tennis Nation. Your collective rap on Murray is, unmistakably, that it's "put up or shut up time." Enough of this "Andy will win a Slam one day" business. It's been half a decade now -- and three fruitless trips to major finals -- and we need to scale expectation downward. Fair enough. A corollary: Damn what the rankings might say, the fourth-best player in the world is a shy and lanky kid from Argentina who's finally getting his game back.
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