Kudos to Federer, Murray, but don't forget about No. 1; more mail
Roger Federer's career accomplishments at ATP Finals are worthy of praise
Novak Djokovic's season has gone under the radar and shouldn't be overlooked
A suggestion for World TeamTennis, thoughts on doubles scoring, more mail
• Housekeeping: Again this year, I'll let you guys determine my Hall of Fame vote. The three candidates are Martina Hingis, Michael Stich and Helena Sukova. Vote for any, all or none. Just do it via twitter @jon_wertheim. Now on to this week's mail ...
It does not matter what surface the World Tour Finals is played on, what time of year, the significance of the tournament in the pecking order or the amount of American TV coverage. The fact that Maestro Federer has played a round robin against the seven other best players in the world and has been in the finals eight times and won the tournament six times is absolutely remarkable. He should be saluted and given much more credit for this achievement than is generally given.
-- Fernando, Valencia
• Had you followed the unfortunately abbreviated World Tour Finals via Twitter, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Federer had won, so gushing was the praise. You could also be forgiven for thinking that Rafael Nadal's absence had rendered this a secondary event. Or that Juan Martin del Potro had emerged as the new, dominant force. I have some blood on my hands too, so to speak, having written effusively about Andy Murray.
Let's pause for a second and give credit where it is due, which is squarely at the Uniqlos of Novak Djokovic. The No. 1-ranked player was up to the task last week, alternately dominating and grinding out a series of wins. His takedown of Roger Federer in the final was the Djoker at his best, transitioning from defense to offense, serving authoritatively and coming up with shots like this -- on match point, no less.
Let's dilate: Djokovic started the year at No. 1. He won, consecutively, two of the great matches of the year in Australia, his fourth major in 12 months. He didn't win another major and didn't replicate his 2011 -- which is a bit like saying JK Rowling wasn't able to replicate the success of the Harry Potter series. Djokovic, hardly disappeared, though. He won Masters Series events. He reached the French Open final. U.S. Open, too. He locked up the year-end No. 1 ranking. And then he beat the best during a terrific week of indoor tennis in London.
Federer has his vast and mobilized army of fans. So does Nadal. There are the sentimentalists who watched the Andy Murray narrative unspool, romanticized the dimensions of his breakthrough and are too stubborn to back off the assertion that he is ATP's Most Valuable Player for 2012. (What's that? Nothing to see here. Please disperse.)
In the Land of Objectivity and Reason, though, you have to hand it to Djokovic. He won early. He won often. He won late. He started No. 1 and finished No. 1. He fought through emotional exhaustion. He fought through a fraught family situation, never using it as an excuse. As we've said before, he plays with a national pressure that no other player -- not even Murray -- will ever know. Did he go 70-6? No. But, given the context, you could argue that what he did in 2012 was no less impressive.
The scoring system for doubles at the ATP Finals has quickened the game considerably. First to four points to win a game and a tiebreaker after two sets had the commentators marveling that a match had gone beyond two hours. The doubles has been good to watch, and the format of a singles and doubles match in each session seems to work, but the matches are pretty quick. Is there any feeling that no third set AND no games longer than seven points might be a step too far?
-- Elsie Misbourne, Washington, D.C.
• I'm mixed here. I do think at some point, you diminish the product. Abridge the format too much and you send the message: "This isn't worthy of the full Big Boy treatment." On the other hand, the quick matches mean that: A) the schedule moves along and B) we have predictability built in. One of the big gripes of TV types is that there's no predictability. A match could be an hour or four hours, so how do you plan coverage? With doubles, you can safely estimate. C) The top players might be more inclined to enter the draw. D) The careers of players -- i.e., Bob and Mike Bryan -- are prolonged because there's less wear and tear. Look at the men's doubles rankings and their ages rival a partners meeting at Cravath. There's no coincidence that the matches have been shorter than ever.
Do you think Serena Williams has any chance of being named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year?
-- Pete, New Jersey
• Good question. You could make a credible case. A stirring comeback, both macro (the embolism) and micro (two potentially crushing Slam losses, in Australia and Paris). There was Olympic success. There were more Slams for the trophy case. There was characteristic refusal to lose. Key stat: She finished 8-0 against the players ranked above her. She's certainly on the short list.
What do you think of the habit of focusing the camera on the linesman during a challenge or just after a controversial line call? I don't like it. Unlike the chair, those calling the lines are not all professionals who signed up for that kind of public focus. They're just doing a thankless job where mistakes should be expected. This past weekend, the cameras repeatedly focused on these people after close calls. It's a "gotcha moment." Any facial expression other than blank is often embarrassing to the linesman, especially if the chair overruled them. And any smile when they're right makes them seem too invested in their calls, rather than maintaining the ideal neutrality. To their credit, the line judges usually maintain a blank expression. But I wonder whether visual focus on them increases the chances of some of the ugliness directed at them by players during the past few years. I doubt the cameras can be formally controlled, but maybe some moral suasion from you will have a groundswell effect if you and others feel similarly?
-- Glenn, Arlington, Va.
• Calling all PhD candidates in behavioral psychology seeking a research idea. I think there are interesting experiments you could devise for line judges and chair umpires with respect to Hawk-Eye. Clearly, having decisive technology as a backup has affected how these folks do their job. When the players have the capacity (onus?) to appeal to technology, why would the human beings risk embarrassment, either by making an "out" call or by overruling?
I would think that, to Glenn's point, you could also make some interesting findings with respect to television cameras. If you knew you were or weren't going to be shown on TV after botching a call -- public shaming, as it were -- might that change how you called a match? I do agree with Glenn, though. The officials aren't in this to be famous. The perception of neutrality is key. In fact, there are strict rules against fraternizing with players and giving interviews. It therefore seems unfair to publicize these folks for their errors.
So what's the deal with Word TeamTennis? I read again and again that participating in it essentially cost Jimmy Connors the Grand Slam in 1974. The Williams sisters, perpetual no-shows for regular tour events, are regular participants. Martina Hingis is the MVP. What's the appeal? Is it all attributable to Billie Jean King? Are there appearance fees we don't hear about?
-- Dave S., Toronto
• Where to begin? World TeamTennis is a "mix maker," as they say, a fun and quirky diversion, very much created in the image of its inimitable founder, King. (Here's what I wrote on WTT in 2005.)
I think the keys for the WTT are A) finding real space on the calendar and B) deciding what it is. Is it a bona fide league (in which case there's little use in having a highly paid star play just one or two matches)? Or is it a series of exhibitions (in which case we shouldn't really care about records and titles)?
My (unsolicited) suggestion: Turn this into a real team competition involving dedicated players. It's great when Andy Roddick or Andre Agassi or whomever plays. But it doesn't feel like he's part of a team -- it's just a one-night exo wearing a uniform. If my local team had dedicated players, I would feel more connection as a fan.
Nevertheless, WTT is great fun. The players love it. The fans walk away satisfied. There are a number of innovations and fan-friendly twists that the tours would do well to emulate. Plus, there is the real potential to set up Europe and Australia (and China and India ...) equivalents.
Yeah! Tammy vs. Kimiko! That's my all-time favorite match! And it's happening in Pune. Is that the oldest professional women's match of all time?
-- Oliver, Cologne, Germany
• What kind of a name is Pune? Comanche Indian? (A prize to the first person to name the reference.) Anyway, give it up for the oldies. Kimiko Date-Krumm vs. Tamarine Tanasugarn. That's 42 versus 35. Long may they continue.
If the lyrics of Abracadabra harken bad memories, I can imagine your reaction when you hear Take the Money and Run. You know that brilliant second verse that goes like this: "Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas. You know he knows just exactly what the facts is." It doesn't get more "Classic" than that.
-- Thomas Alonzo, Columbia, S.C.
• I'm telling you, if I'm the judge, Steve Miller doesn't get out of the qualifying rounds of the Altoona Battle of the Bands tournament.
You HAVE to stop the worst songs write-ups. My partner reads your column and has been singing We Built This City for two weeks around the house. You are ruining my life! Thanks!
-- Charlie G, Washington, D.C.
• We'll say it once, we'll say it again: Marconi plays the Mamba, listen to the radio.
I'm looking for a documentary that was produced back in the '90s about the Challenger Tour. I think it followed a few players around from tournament to tournament and gave a revealing look at the tough life (no sponsors, calling their own lines, etc). Do you recall such a documentary, and what the name of it might be?
-- Ray, Torrance, Calif.
• This was a cult classic: The Journeymen by Geoff Grant and Mark Keil.
• James Blake, who currently resides (and grew up) in Connecticut, is helping raise money to benefit those affected by Hurricane Sandy. He's auctioning off three of his match jerseys featuring his autograph along with those of Roddick, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. All of the proceeds will go to the Red Cross.
"Seeing the devastation in areas I grew up around is difficult," Blake said. "The people of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are surely resilient, but there's still room for us all to help. I've selected the Red Cross because it does an amazing job on multiple levels; it provides everything from food and blankets to mental health support for those affected."
• Clark from Melbourne writes: "While I absolutely agree more should be done in terms of stats in tennis, please bear in mind both tours have U.S. offices in Florida where they still don't have any idea who actually has won the state's electoral college votes almost 20 hours after polls closed!"
• Ivan H. of New York: "To highlight the agreed-upon trend that even the most elite, competitive players are ridiculously good guys: After shaking hands with Federer following the World Tour Finals championship match, Djokovic stopped at [retiring umpire] Lars Graf's feet and gave him (what appeared to me to be) a thorough, personal, much-deserved congratulation. I've never seen that before! Well done, Nole. A big plus in my tally."
• The ATP has extended its partnership with HEAD for another five years. HEAD will continue to be the tour's official tennis ball through 2017.
• Helen of Philadelphia sends this photo of what appears to be a tennis '50s doo-wop group.
• Harley Brito Silva of Seattle: "Jon, check this out. Part is in Portuguese and part in English, with Federer being interviewed by the Brazilian fake news comic program CQC. Politically incorrect sometimes but still funny. Actually, I was also impressed with Federer's soccer knowledge." (Note: The Federer interview picks up around the 4:18 mark.)
• The lovely, the talented Paul Hawkins. He's sort of like the Nate Silver of artificial intelligence.
• Press releasing: "Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, Pakistan's greatest tennis champion and highly regarded world humanitarian, announced today that his book Stop War, Start Tennis: Lessons of Life and Understanding from a Pakistani Tennis Player is now available for sale as an e-book electronically on Kindle at Amazon.com."
• Memphis folks: Tickets to the 2013 Memphis Indoor are now on sale.
• More press releasin': "2011 ITA National Women's Co-Rookie of the Year Robin Anderson from UCLA and 2011 ITA National Men's Player to Watch Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine added to their college honors Saturday when they were named the 2012 USTA/ITA Sportsmanship Award winners following their respective semifinal matches at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships."
• Jacksonville folks: Tickets for the 2013 Davis Cup World Group between the U.S. and Brazil will go on sale to the general public on Friday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. ET. USTA members can get first dibs on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 10 a.m. ET. The series will be played at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Feb. 1-3.