Mail: Next breakthrough man, Hall of Fame talk, Becker comments
Tomas Berdych is the player best poised to break up the men's Big Four in 2013
Serena Williams and Roger Federer could be eligible for the HOF the same year
Sports leagues should embrace social media with a "don't be stupid" type policy
I noticed that the last nine men's Grand Slam finals (since U.S. Open 2010) and the 2012 Olympic final have been contested between members of the top four. Surely that has to be some kind of record. It's certainly a further testament to the fact that the top four are currently a few notches above the rest of the field.
-- Giri Rao, Allen, Texas
• Over the last eight -- eight -- years, only five men have won majors. This is the very definition of "top heavy." This scenario is the collective equivalent of the "he had no rivals" charge. The less charitable critics note that the rest of the field -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berydch, Andy Roddick -- were not up to snuff. The more charitable will say that when the aforementioned were rendered virtual journeymen by Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic/Andy Murray, it is testament to just how big the Big Four truly were.
What do you think winning the Davis Cup could do to Berdych's career? He is right up there but can't close the deal in Grand Slams. Will winning the Davis Cup give him that extra belief and make him the next major winner?
-- Subhadeep, Cincinnati
• Yes, I positioned these questions tactically. It's not on par with "How's the knee, Rafa?" or "What does Roger have left?" but the state of Berdych's game is definitely a storyline worth following in 2013. When you look at the field after the Big Four, it's scarce. Juan Martin del Potro has won a major, so we don't count him. David Ferrer is worthy of our admiration, but given his age, physique and game, he's not winning majors. Tsonga is great fun to watch, but he reached a Grand Slam final in 2008 and hasn't been back since. Nicolas Almagro is a fine player, but is a Washington General when pitted against the top guns. Janko Tipsarevic, not unlike Ferrer, has found the limits of his talent. Milos Raonic still needs to make a deep Slam run.
It seems to me that Berdych is the player best poised for a breakthrough. He has the big game. He has the serve. He has beaten Federer twice at majors in the past 30 months. Will winning the Davis Cup catalyze him, the way it did Djokovic? That might be a stretch. But Berdych's achievement two weeks ago certainly ought to give him some measure of confidence in big-time matches. Berdych is (gulp) 27 now. We've gushed about his potential for upwards of a decade. Let's see whether he can put it all together in 2013.
In 1995, Chris Evert was the fourth player to be unanimously elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame following a worldwide ballot of 185 sports journalists. Also, she was inducted solely that year, a kind of tribute that I have not seen since. Do you see Serena Williams getting the same kind of treatment when she is deservedly inducted?
-- Joe Johnson, Easton, Pa.
• Yes and no. Much as we try to respect differences of opinion, anyone who fails to vote for Serena's Hall of Fame candidacy ought to be put under 24-hour surveillance, forced to surrender their boarding pass and then denied the right to vote for anything north of a Pepsi taste test ever again.
Will she be the sole inductee that year? It all depends of which other players are eligible. Here's some snack food for thought. Serena was born Sept. 26, 1981. A fellow from Switzerland was born Aug. 8 that year. Eligibility is based, of course, on year of retirement and not chronological age. But it's far from impossible that both Serena and Federer could be on the same ballot.
What do we make of Boris Becker's comments on Federer and the rest of today's top players? As someone who has been watching tennis on TV and live since the days of Bjorn Borg, I can't help but think he is being a bit of sourpuss. In his day, we did have Ivan Lendl, who won eight Slams, not to mention multiple end-of-year Masters championships, and other big ones and a lengthy stay at No. 1; Mats Wilander who did not come to net, either, and won multiple Slams; not to mention Borg himself. So, suddenly Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and others are floor wipes next to those guys from the 1980s and 1990s? It is sad that Becker has descended to this "my era is better" chest thumping. He was not the best of his era (Pete Sampras, Lendl would get that honor), and he is not the best analyst today.
-- Vasu K., Princeton, N.J.
• I started pondering a long response about the fog of history, the futility of comparing eras and the undefeated opponent that is time. But I kept returning to this, one of my favorite quotes: "The older I get, the faster I was."
What do you think leagues should do in terms of social media policies?
-- Daniel Weiner, Atlanta
• Embrace them. How heavily should leagues monitor and legislate tweets and Facebook posts? Not. Rigid policy is so fraught and filled with loopholes and exceptions, I think you go broad. "Don't be stupid" would be my policy. We're not going to ban social media or tell you what you can and can't say. But there will be consequences for stupidity on a case-by-case basis. Tennis players, we should point out, are independent contractors, not salaried employees. So I'm not even sure any sort of ATP or WTA blanket policy would survive a legal challenge.
• Lanka of Toronto: "Some variables I thought of include age, time on court in previous match, time on court in tournament, weather (temperature), home-court advantage, rest and recovery time (amount of time between matches)."
• Alex Gorbounov of Cary, N.C.: "Number of games played per won match, with the idea that a better player would play fewer, is a no-brainer. I am sure if you look at Federer's lifetime stats it's proportional to his earnings and overall wins. Djokovic is on a similar curve of late. Also, time spent on court or number of games in the last set (or last two) of a won match, especially in Slams, would be a good one. The better player tends to figure out the opponent and make quick work of him in the end. Federer, again, is a fine example."
• Brandon of Chicago: "Out-there variables: What was he or she doing the week before the current tournament? If you are at home comfortable, eating well and practicing, it's a lot different from travel and competition."
• Dale Stafford of Washington, D.C.: "1) Returns in play. Is this data routinely captured today? I think of Federer, Murray and most of all Djokovic on this one). 2) Average second serve speed. 3) I'd love to see analysis on 'average' court positioning, in relation to the baseline, but imagine this data is not captured. 4) How might we measure level of aggression on break points? What would that metric be?"
• Woody of Calgary, Alberta: "For the stats major, I've been researching this very topic myself, and I've come up with a few startling correlations. Factors known to predict tennis success -- on clay: Consistent placement of water bottles, keeping underwear free and loose. For top-10 longevity: Keep shirt fabric loose on shoulders, adjust hat frequently, vigorous ball bouncing pre-serve, sweat profusely. For GOAT-level career: Bounce ball between legs pre-serve, tuck wavy locks into headband frequently. And for success on the WTA, the only factor known to predict success is to avoid stepping on lines at all costs. Either that, or be named Serena."
So, are you saying you don't live in the land of objectivity and reason?
-- Rob, Sydney
• Generally. But I travel abroad now and then ...
• A few of you suggested that I link this non-tennis story, so here goes.
• Peyton Manning is the most-searched athlete on Bing in 2012; last year's winner, Maria Sharapova, comes in as No. 4, via bingtrends.com.
• Speaking of Sharapova, here's a great anecdote courtesy of John Koblin and Deadspin.
• Here's a great radio piece on the L.A. event heading to Bogota, Colombia.
• Gerry Gollin of Redlands, Calif: "It is sad to see the demise of the ATP event in L.A. I remember going to the Pacific Southwest Tournament in 1970 with my parents when I was 8. It was the second-biggest event in the U.S. at the time and only a notch below the majors. The L.A. Tennis Club was incredibly tiny and intimate by modern tournament standards but had the same lineup of players as the U.S. Open. Fans would literally bump into players in the tight corridors outside the center court. There were no entourages and even guys like Rod Laver would walk next to you carrying a pile of racquets. They were all willing to talk -- at least with a child.
"I vividly recall walking into the cafe/bar at the club and seeing Ilie Nastase in a corner booth with several women. I walked right up to him and got an autograph with no resistance. My parents would point out all of the movie stars, who were impeccably dressed -- even in hot weather. I couldn't have imagined that Wimbledon was any more regal."
• Was sad to get this email:
Dear Loyal Farmers Classic Friend,
Back in 1927, who could have imagined a simple tennis tournament played on the intimate grounds of the Los Angeles Tennis Club would grow into the fantastic ATP professional men's event held at UCLA. Over the years, we have been blessed to have the greatest names in tennis play on our Straus Stadium court: Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Edberg, Krajicek, Becker, Stich, Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Courier, Ivanisevic, Rafter, Kuerten, Hewitt, Safin, Roddick, Bryans, del Potro, Haas, Blake, Querrey, and Murray, just to name a few.
For the past 3-4 years, the Southern California Tennis Association and UCLA have been fighting to keep this historic ATP 250 event alive. The extended US economic slump, combined with the lack of available marquee players, and a scarcity of American tennis stars has now overcome our ability to continue covering the losses generated by the Tournament. The conditions outlined above were also significant factors in the non-renewal of our two principal sponsors, Farmers Insurance and Mercedes-Benz.
We have worked closely with the University, the local tennis community, the tennis industry, the ATP, the USTA, and others to find an acceptable solution. However, we have been unable to produce an acceptable resolution for saving the Tournament. Our search for a suitable investor or strategic partner, which would allow us to keep our event in Los Angeles and on the UCLA campus, has included more than a year of exploration and serious meetings, but has not yielded the results we had hoped for and needed. Regrettably, the only viable option is to discontinue holding the Tournament and sell our sanction to an interested party.
Therefore, and in consultation with UCLA, the SCTA Board of Directors recently voted to approve the sale of our ATP sanction to tennis interests in Bogota, Colombia. If approved by the ATP Board, the pending sale would take effect in 2013. In the meantime, the SCTA will continue to focus on its core mission of promoting and developing the growth of tennis, and will remain headquartered at UCLA for the foreseeable future.
• On a happier note:
The ATP and WTA tournaments in Memphis, formerly known as the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and Memphis International, respectively, have been rebranded and will now be known as the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships. The tournaments will be played Feb. 16-24 at The Racquet Club of Memphis. Players already scheduled to play in 2013 include John Isner, Raonic, Fernando Verdasco, Lleyton Hewitt and Bob and Mike Bryan.
• Venus Williams has entered the Family Circle Cup in Daniel Island, S.C., from March 30 to April 7. Williams joins Samantha Stosur.