Latest tournament shakeup a showcase of tennis' global reach
Three U.S. events added or extended sponsors; two more will relocate elsewhere
Basing an argument against equal pay on sets played is the wrong path to take
Pat Summitt once coached college tennis and shares a birthday with Steffi Graf
It seemed like you had a lot of tweets about American tennis tournaments this week. Moving and changing and getting sponsors. In a paragraph, what does it all mean big picture?
-- David M., South Africa
• Just a paragraph? It was a busy, mixed week for tennis in America. The good news: Taylor Townsend, a 16-year-old from Stockbridge, Ga., who trains full-time at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., became the top-ranked junior and the first American girl to earn the No. 1 ranking since the ITF combined singles and doubles rankings in 2004. The Atlanta event got a title sponsor -- pretty much a pre-req for sustained existence, in BB&T. The Washington, D.C., event has a new sponsor in Citi and will be a mixed-gender event. The Cincinnati event announced that Western and Southern has extended its sponsorship. All good. On the other side of the ledger, the Memphis event will be moved to Brazil after next year. And San Jose will shut its doors after 2013 and move to Memphis.
Big picture -- sorry, had to go to a second paragraph -- as if more indication was needed, this is just additional evidence that tennis is truly global. Spending time lamenting how many events have moved off U.S. shores is like pining for the days when everyone went to the bookstore and the record store and worked in the manufacturing sector. At some level you have to accept change and the new reality it renders. In tennis, the world isn't merely flat; it's been pounded with a rolling pin. The players come from everywhere; fans come from everywhere; the barriers to enter are minimal; sponsor capital is spread all over the place. As such, it makes little sense for one country to host such a disproportionate number of tournaments. Is it too bad that still more American events are headed offshore? Yes. If you're American. If you're Brazilian, you're thrilled. But it's not the ineptitude of the ATP or the USTA or the local promoter so much as its global capitalism bringing its A-game.
I keep thinking I'll just let this go once and for all, but then you include another letter and respond to the question of equal prize money and I get all riled up again. You always put value, time and entertainment at the crux of your defense, but you never ever talk about the fact that it's just unfair, plain and simple, UNFAIR, to the men. Can you defend your opinion on this basis and explain to me how it's fair that the men have to play more points, more games and more sets to take home the same amount in their paychecks? It may take one golfer longer to play the course, but they all play 18 holes. Equal pay for equal work was a long, hard-fought battle. The way the WTA has interpreted this does such a grave disservice to its original intent. I would seriously like to know your answer.
-- Michele, New York
• My instincts mirror yours. Enough already. But we get a ton of mail on this, so we'll hit it once more before tabling for at least a few weeks (months?). Two preliminary points: A) If this doesn't interest you, jump ahead. We have plenty more questions further down on the page. No offense taken. B) Says here NO ONE should be playing best-of-five. Attention spans are diminishing. Broadcasters seek time certainty. Every other sports property -- from cricket to golf -- is being sped up. Players face injury at an unprecedented level. Why are we still asking athletes to compete in marathon matches?
Anyway: I have very mixed feelings about equal prize money. We all like the concept of equality. It makes tennis look progressive -- a characterization seldom used in the sport. On a crassly practical level, the bad publicity and protesting resulting from unequal purses probably outstrips any gains.
I get hung up on the fact that the WTA either can't or won't demonstrate equal value. Here comes my scrooge-like Male Chauvinistic Pig thought exercise, sure to invite rage, starting with my lovely wife: what would the WTA pioneers say today if the women could prove that by every conceivable metric the WTA product was worth more than the ATP in the marketplace, yet the men demanded an equal stake of the prize money?
But as for the sets played, I just think it is the wrong path to take. For one, it's not as though anyone is demanding a best-of-five women's match and the WTA is refusing. (If anything, the men should come down to best-of-three). You talk about "equal work," but you're defining the terms. Maybe for Agnieszka Radwanska -- who's 5-foot-6, 123 pounds and often hitting dozens of balls per rally -- her three sets are comparable work to Ivo Karlovic's five sets. She could very easily be hitting more balls and moving a greater distance per match.
Let's take this to an (il)logical extreme: if the women decided to play best-of-five tomorrow, suddenly the issue is resolved, we're all OK with equal prize money? Heck, why not volunteer to play best-of-seven and ask for more money than the men? Best of nine?
Here are two voices on opposite ends. Consider these and then let's move on:
Amelie, Amherst, Mass.: "Dude, I'm an unapologetic feminist, and the mantra is "equal pay for equal work" -- three sets do not equal five sets. If your starting point is that you're gonna play LESS than the other, then you've got a problem. Your comparisons are off -- e.g. in boxing you start off with a set number of rounds, it's not as if the rules state that these certain boxers are going to fight for seven rounds and those others will fight for nine rounds but we'll pay them the same. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging that men and women are indeed different, and the fair, logical, feminist thing to do is to accept that if you're going to play two fewer sets than men, then you should be paid less."
Joshua, Portland, Ore.: "So it appears there are actually still people deeply motivated by the grave injustice of equal prize money (sorry dudes, the battle's over, and you lost!), and your response to Mr. Singh was a very fine one. But I have to point out that he employs an extremely common and entirely ludicrous argument that we've been hearing for too many years to allow it to stand. Whenever people make an argument based on "men do more work," they like to compare an extremely long, exceptionally fine men's match to a brief and unexceptionable women's match. It's a way of cherry-picking the data to make the differences seem more extreme than they are. During Roger Federer's heyday, men's finals were routinely lackluster, while Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport fought tooth-and-lacquered-nail for victory -- in a match that lasted longer than Federer's! Likewise, does Novak Djokovic deserve more money for this year's Australian Open final victory than for last year's demolition of Andy Murray, which was only longer than a straight-set women's match because the rules mean it HAS to be?
Arguments for the superiority of men's tennis are always designed to compare the best of men's tennis to the worst (or at least not-at-all-best) of women's tennis. They're also extremely flexible: women's tennis is boring because there's never any drama, and the top players always make the semis! No, wait, what makes men's tennis awesome is that the top four players are so dominant and always make the semis, unlike those girls who keep losing to really good competition in early rounds!
There are reasonable arguments to be made for men making more money than women. The problem is, the people who dislike women earning equal prize money aren't interested in reasonableness or fairness. They just don't like women playing tennis. And as tennis is one of the only sports to have promoted female value and athletic ability from its earliest days, this makes me very sad."
Do you or Greg Sharko know if anyone has ever won any ATP tournament eight times in a row? Or even 8 times at all? Amazing.
• According to TMS (The Mighty Sharko), no ATP player in the Open Era has won an event eight times, much less eight consecutive times. Except for Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo.
Doesn't it seem wrong that Monte Carlo is still considered a Masters Series title, even though it is no longer mandatory?
-- Anonymous (i.e. your faithful administrator can't find name and hometown)
• One can only imagine how this conversation played out:
ATP: We're thinking of dropping you as a Masters Series event! The top players are indicating that they no longer wa—
Monte Carlo: Nonsense! What if we continue to pay the Masters Series purse, yet we won't insist that the top players show up?
ATP: So, um, you're saying, you'll pay the full fare but won't require full attendance?
Monte Carlo: That's precisely what we're saying!
ATP: And you get ... what .. precisely out of this arrangement?
Monte Carlo: We keep the prestigious Masters Series designation.
ATP: Um, OK.
I think I read that she taught tennis early in her career at UT, and she shares a birthday with Steffi Graf. I think that's a strong enough tennis connection to warrant a shout out to Pat Summitt for a brilliant coaching career that's elevated women's sports, yes?
-- Talia Schank, New York
• Very good. I never knew either fact. Steffi Graf was born June 14, 1969, and Summit was born the same day in 1952. And Summitt did indeed teach tennis at the college (A tennis-y volunteer, as it were) before becoming a full-time basketball coach. I wouldn't even qualify your statement with use of the word "women." Summitt elevated sports, period.
Now that Maria Sharapova is routinely walking into the finals of almost every big event, can we expect her to win a slam? Or is she mentally too fragile to win a slam? Did you notice that during the Miami final, she was outplayed by Radwanska and desperately sought on-court coaching and subjected us to hearing her coach tell her to "focus?"
-- Susan Rafaelle, San Francisco, Calif.
• Without dramatizing this too much and throwing out phrases on the order of "crossroads" and "critical juncture," these are interesting times for Sharapova. She's back in the top five and made a fine -- and, I would suggest, underappreciated -- return from her shoulder injury. She's putting herself in a position to win big trophies. And yet time and again, under different circumstances, she's failed to close the deal. I wouldn't describe her as "fragile." But her aura of "steely competitor" is diminishing.
Thanks for your response to the "haters" of the world. I am a huge Roger Federer fan. I've always been partial to the graceful ones. I adored Stefan Edberg. I continue to mourn what Mario Ancic might have been. As a proud Canadian, I've found other things to love about Milos Raonic (physical grace not being his strong suit). Rafael Nadal makes it look so hard I get exhausted watching him. All that said, I admire Nadal's tenacity, athleticism, comportment and all-around skills and achievements. What's to hate? So, who do you think are the most graceful players on tour these days?
-- Susannah, Edmonton, Canada
• I've made a mental note of this from time to time, and you've given me a reminder. Too often the term "graceful" is used only with respect to men. It's Federer and Edberg and the backhand of Richard Gasquet or the hook forehand of Pete Sampras. Take a peek at the other side of the draw. Steffi Graf had grace. Justine Henin had grace. Francesca Schiavone has it. Maria Kirilenko. Carla Suarez Navarro. We can debate the definition, but the discussion should probably be dual-gendered. That's all. Please carry on.
Grunting, commercial reviews, is Serena nice? Maestro Federer vs. humble bull Nadal, GOAT debates. ... Honestly, Jon, your Mailbag is beginning to degenerate. The Wertheim Mailbag is supposed to be an oasis in a desert of sophomoric message board posts. Please get back to tennis.
• I can't tell if that's a backhanded compliment (one-handed, please) or an insult or both. But suffice to say your message is received. Three Wozniackian counterpunches: 1) Ideally some of these "sophomoric" themes -- i.e. is Serena nice? -- can mutate into broader and more substantive issues. 2) Without being a slave to traffic, I like to discuss issues of interest to you. Personally, I'm fine going months without debating the Hall of Fame credentials or the unanswerable questions of whether Bjorn Borg with a migraine would beat Nadal with knee trouble. On clay. During the vernal equinox. Using spaghetti string rackets. But I realize I'm in the minority. 3) I would argue more than most sports, part of what gives tennis its appeal is the soap opera component. Fashion and tension and shifting loyalties and character arcs and the personae of the dramatis personae. If we restrict ourselves to forehands and backhands and hitting the lefty slice into the backhand, we will soon fall into a deep sleep, a deeeeep sleeeeep, a deeeeeeeeeeeeep sllllllleeeeeeeeeep ...
Here are the ranking points No. 2 Nadal and No. 3 Federer presently have: Rafael Nadal 9,715 and Roger Federer 8,880. Do you see Federer surpassing Nadal and ending up the No. 2 French Open seed?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.
• It's conceivable, but I don't envision it, if only because A) it's hard to see Nadal losing much on clay and B) if he's going to lose, it's likely going to be to Djokovic. And for Djokovic and Nadal to get to the finals, it will likely mean that one or the other has beaten Federer. But who knows? One tweak-y injury or one rough day at the office and Nadal could be seeded third in Paris.
Also Dani Najman, of New York wondered: "As the men began playing in Monte Carlo, Nadal has 9,215 points, and had 1000 to defend. If he won the event, which he did, how come his point total is now 9,715? Where are the extra 500 points coming from?"
Sharko to the rescue: "Last year's Barcelona points came off this week and Nadal had 500 from the title. So with MC title (1,000) he picked up a net of 500. Last year's MC pts. came off last week."
I think Nadal's slow play does benefit him in one key area. Nadal's ability to concentrate is a comparative advantage against anyone not named Deep Blue. By lengthening the match, I believe Nadal's mental focus stays close to 100 percent whereas his opponent can begin to lose some strategic and/or tactical clarity. As you pointed out regarding the Australian Open semifinal matches, a few points can make the difference. I would add that a few bad decisions by the opposition can lead to those very points going Rafa's way.
-- Dan Martin, Park Hills, Ky.
• That's interesting. And, of course, it's easy to see how an opponent's concentration could waver. It's not simply the extra time. It's the fact that those extra 10 or 15 seconds are different from conventional rhythms. You can liken this to all sorts of situations. If all of your essay tests in school are an hour, but one teacher gives a 75-minute test, you can see how this could throw off a student. If your match.com date pauses an extra few seconds before answering your questions ("How bad is your commute?" "Do you watch 'Mad Men?'" "How did people meet before the interweb?") your whole rap gets thrown off, I suspect.
Krishan of Houston also raised the point that whereas Federer is quick and decisive, Nadal uses this time to recuperate physically and also gather himself mentally for the next point: "If you take that away from him [i.e. "enforce the rules"] he loses a considerable part of his game," Krishan writes.
Again, a shot clock eliminates this complaint -- and a knock on the sport's top two players -- and I don't really see a downside. It's another fan-friendly innovation (inasmuch as a device used by other sports for the last half-century innovates.) It's not prohibitively expensive. And if there were inconsistencies with respect when the chair began the countdown, so what? The players would adjust accordingly.
For the record, Radwanska's nickname has ALWAYS been Aga. Apparently, this is news for the American tennis media, but her fans have known that her real nickname was Aga and not Aggie for a long time now. Just sayin'... I've read that this is a "new" nickname once too often. :)
-- Patrick Preston, Chicago
• Aga is less a nickname than a convenient truncating of a name that, while popular and perhaps mellifluous in Poland, confounds ugly Americans, particularly the tastemakers and the branding types. Same for Rafa, Vika, Masha, Caro et al.
Which leads me to this: where have all the cool nicknames gone? (Hanging out with drop shots and volleys, gut strings and wooden rackets at any of a dozen shuddered American events perhaps?) What happened to the Rocket and Rabbits and Muscles and Pistols and Scuds and Killers?
Maybe there's a cultural essay to be written here: when athletes weren't ubiquitous, nicknames were helpful in branding athletes and giving them identity; now it's obviated by a decent website, YouTube channel and Twitter feed? Maybe we're too cynical and would smirk ironically at athletes conferring on themselves the nom de guerre of "Splendid Splinter" or "Iron Horse" or "Sweetness." Maybe all the good nicknames have been taken, rendering so many names derivative. Maybe -- as we wish him a return to full health -- we just miss Bud Collins.
The hoopla over the possibility of an unprecedented eighth consecutive title for Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo inspired me to peruse the list of past champions. I was surprised to find a gap for 1981. The ATP website shows the finalists that year were Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas, but no champion was named. Is there an interesting story here or was it just a typo?
-- Randy Wilson, Hershey, Pa.
• Sharko gets royalties this week. The one indispensable figure in all of tennis tells us, no, it's no typo. The final was abandoned that year due to rain.
Enough about Federer's Lindt commercial. When are we going to get your thoughts on Michael Russell's epic Tennis Express beach commercial that Tennis Channel has on a continuous loop?
-- Blake, Bristol, Tenn.
• Three words, Blake: Clio short list.
Long as we're here, loyal reader Helen of Philadelphia turned us on (which is to say off) to this spot. She writes: "GIRLS, SET AND MATCH"... really?? The WTA's logo is on this site -- did they have any input into the tagline?? YIKES.
I know you are loath to criticize Nadal. But can you at least play armchair psychiatrist and offer reasons as to why he so often complains of knee pain only to run like a jackrabbit around the court the next day and demonstrate absolutely no evidence of said pain? Is he lowering his own expectations? Lowering ours? Playing possum for his opponents? Surely there are other players who experience similar levels of discomfort from whom we hear little or no complaints.
-- Danny Reichert, New York
• What can I say here? I'm not loath to criticize Nadal; I'm loath to question the severity of any athlete's injury. Does Nadal have an unfortunate habit of complaining about his knee and then appearing unencumbered? No question. Is there some psychological dimension to this? Sure. My armchair psychiatrist tells me that it's less about psyching out the opponent than it is about manufacturing a nothing-to-lose mentality in his own head.
Positive spin job: At a minimum, Nadal's ongoing injury drama and melodrama suggests he's much more psychologically complex than many may have previously thought.
You and the other Nadal haters keep talking about how disappointing he's been lately. Well, for 99.9 percent of the other players, his past year (winning the French Open and reaching the finals at Wimbledon, the U.S. and Australian Opens) would be a dream season. How about a little perspective?
-- Miguel, London
• The same day I got this love paean, Jean Durr of South Africa asked: "Why do you hate Federer and love Nadal?? It is patently obvious from your blogs. I doubt Federer gives a squat tho."
I was already confused as to whether I am "the No. 1 Serena apologist" and "radically politically correct" on All Matters Williams. Or if I am a hater and an executive officer (Mary Carillo is the president I was told) of the Anti-Williams Society.
As to Miguel's question, sure, 99.9 percent of other players would have killed for Nadal's year. But 99.9 percent of the players aren't Rafael Nadal. You win three majors in 2010, it's not surprising that when you win "only" one of the next five, there are murmurs. Them's the rules.
You started me up again by mentioning the women against the men (1,000th best and so forth). In your opinion, would 2000-2010 Serena beat Ken Rosewall 1965-75? (3 and 3 in the favor of the one with only one X chromosome ... is how I have it).
-- Patrick Kramer, Oslo, Norway
• If I remember correctly from high school biology, one X chromosome means the male. I've never been big on these inter-era comparisons. Much less inter-gender, inter-era. And it seems to me that we need to establish ground rules, surface and technology standards before we can even begin to contemplate. Rosewall was well before my time, so I spent a few minutes toying around YouTube.
I guess you can judge for yourself if you're so inclined.
In the spirit of the NHL Playoffs: Rafael Nadal has a lower-body injury. No story, no quotes.
-- J.B., Portland
• Surely you're not implying that the NHL is less than forthright about issuing injury updates.
I'm actually pretty surprised that there was much debate regarding Jennifer Capriati's inclusion into the Hall of Fame. I was in school at the University of Miami and passed by the hotel she had been arrested at all the time, but I think it speaks more to her character to have overcome these ADOLESCENT personal demons, especially after such a fall. I think it's a poor call to make judgments about her off-court antics when she was essentially still a child and focus more on her achievements as an adult. Are there other awards in which someone's teenage years come into play? Either way, congratulations to her...
-- Greg, Philadelphia
• Right on. If "regrettable teenage decisions" disqualified us from receiving awards and achievements as adults, most of us would be in big trouble.
Just to clear up any confusion: the Hall of Fame staggered their announcements to maximize the PR impact. That Capriati's announcement came late in the process doesn't mean that her admission was necessarily a close call.
I was wondering if you watched the videos of Lady Gaga that I attached to my email last week, and if so, has your view of her changed at all?
-- Evan, Albany, N.Y.
• Evan (validly) questioned our comparing Lady Gaga to Norah Jones, I think my view was changed.
Too late to change it to that wretched Ke$ha?
• UK followers: my publisher wants you to know that Running the Table is now at the UK Kindle Store.
• Larry Larson, Alexandria, Va.: "Hard to believe you don't find the Fed Lindt ad at least entertaining -- even my wife loves it. And thanks for recommending Vij's, in Vancouver -- it's one of the most creative Indian restaurants anywhere. BTW, if you enjoyed Vij's, you should try Rasika here in D.C. (if you haven't already)."
• If there's an Israeli sports journalistic in the audience, would you mind getting in touch with me? Thanks.
• On Monday, Lisa Raymond joined Liezel Huber atop the WTA Doubles Rankings as co-No. 1. Raymond took No. 1 for the fifth time in her career, dating to June 12, 2000, when she first ascended the WTA Doubles Rankings, and it's her first time atop the rankings since July 8, 2007. Raymond, 38, became the oldest player to hold the No. 1 ranking (singles or doubles), and Huber and Raymond became the eighth doubles team to share the No. 1.
• This week's unsolicited book recommendation: "Dream Team" by Jack McCallum.
• Press releasing: "European royals gathered with tennis legends to celebrate the sport and honor some of its most elite players at a Hall of Fame ring presentation hosted during La Grande Nuit du Tennis, the gala event of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, last weekend. Longtime tennis aficionado His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco presented Hall of Fame rings to former world No. 1 Ilie Nastase of Romania; France's beloved player Françoise "Frankie" Durr; the man heralded as the greatest Italian player of all time, Nicola Pietrangeli and Italian tennis journalist Gianni Clerici. All four tennis are International Tennis Hall of Famers."
• Press releasing: "There's a new tennis tournament that doubles as family time. The National Family Tennis Championships offers thousands of amateur players the opportunity to team up with their mother, father, sister, brother, husband or wife to earn the right to play for a national title. Qualifying teams will be treated to a complimentary three-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria Naples in Naples, Fla., from Sept. 6-9. Tennis facilities interested in participating in the inaugural year have until Monday to register as a local tournament host site."
• Press releasing: "College tennis powerhouses and intracity rivals USC and UCLA may meet for the third time this season as the first Pac-12 Men's Championships dual-match format event kicks off at the 112th annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament starting Wednesday. UCLA snapped reigning NCAA champion USC's 45-match winning streak on Friday in the Pac-12 regular-season finale with a 4-3 victory at USC's Marks Stadium. USC beat UCLA in Westwood on Feb. 29, 6-1. USC won the doubles point Friday and got wins in singles from No. 1 Steve Johnson and No. 3 Daniel Nguyen, both Southern California natives and USC's lone seniors who were playing in their final regular-season match at Marks Stadium."
• We haven't done "Random Tennis Player Encounters" in a while. I'm getting a backlog again, so will throw in a few periodically:
Martin of Santa Monica, Calif.: "My encounter with a 14 Grand Slam title winner: Pete Sampras was on the Third Street Promenade today. When he noticed that I recognized him, he was nice enough to turn to me and say 'Hi.' After telling him that I was lucky enough to see him play in person and what a treat that was, I mentioned that I wish Roger Federer had his serve. He smiled and very graciously replied 'He has other weapons.' Now I see why they are such good friends, they seem to be two extremely decent people."
• Raj of Bridgewater, N.J.: "Aaron White and Gaurav Kumar about teaching his daughter to ride a bike. Totally agree with Aaron! When I was kid in India, scooters came with only three wheels. However, I was able to find one that had two wheels. I learned to balance for a week and lo behold, I knew how to bike. Last year, I did the same for my 5-year-old son, and he can now ride a bike very well! Hey, nothing beats the backbreaking job of holding/chasing your kid and hoping they don't crash into a tree."
• Murphy and Luke Jensen are spearheading Sea Island's tennis program, with Murphy serving as tennis ambassador and Luke as a year-round touring pro.
• Michael Friend of Dunwoody, Ga.: "If Isner and Querrey are Quisner, are Blake and Querrey Quake?"
Have a good week everyone!