Mailbag: Funding players, exhibitions, Nadal's French Open seed
Nothing worse than a World Tennis Day hangover ...
Last week I came across sellaband.com, where you can basically help to fund your favorite musician, which then gets you a stake in a part of their future revenues, free CDs, signed T-shirts and so on. It occurred to me how easily this model could be adapted to tennis. Plenty of juniors and Nos. 100-500 players are struggling to find the necessary funding. Who wouldn't want to have bought a stake in Roger Federer's or Maria Sharapova's career when they were coming on tour? Not just for the revenue part, but perhaps also to be on their list of contacts. Even hedge funds might start to invest in players, as last I heard they don't know how to beat the benchmark index anymore.
-- Don, London
• Love it. Love it. Love it. Now more than ever, players are desperate for financial backing. Now more than ever, it's easy to match talent and capital. And, Lord knows, the Republic of Hedge Fund loves tennis. Someone make this happen.
To be clear: There is precedent here. Ana Ivanovic, for instance, was discovered as a junior and then subsidized by a Swiss businessman who basically had an equity stake in her career. One assumes that Dan Holzmann made a tidy profit.
But as Don notes, this relationship would seldom be solely about venture capital or the return on investment. A backer could help nurture a career and potentially forge a relationship with a professional athlete. Not unlike owning Green Bay Packers stock, it would be simply be cool to have a small sports ownership stake.
Last week, I did a podcast with a journeywoman doubles player, Megan Moulton-Levy. The thesis: We know plenty about tennis' featured soloists. We know less about the other orchestra members. What's your life like? Megan is averaging about $25,000 in gross prize money since turning pro five years ago. She, and hundreds of others like her, could use the financial backing. Without even watching her hit a ball, I have to believe there are "angels" who would like to help.
An entrepreneur needs to create a site and make this happen.
I had a great time at the exhibition at Madison Square Garden on Monday, but I was a little turned off when Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka played left-handed. (Don't get me started on Redfoo coming on the court.) I know exhibitions aren't real matches, but this seemed to rub it in our faces.
-- C.N., Austin, Texas
• Exhibitions are just that: exhibitions. The level of intensity varies by player and situation, but it's never as high as a sanctioned match. If you're hoping to witness peak performance and peak emotional investment, you'll be disappointed. Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal tweeted, "Exhibition tennis is the microwave tennis of pizza. You'll take it, but...."
I don't disagree with your assessment of Azarenka and Williams. These are the top two players, winners of the last two majors, the most likely rivalry in the sport. You don't have to dive for balls. But humor us by playing a competitive match. Overall, though, it was a thoroughly fun evening. I can't imagine too many fans left the building disappointed. If this marks the only tennis we get in New York this season, I'll gladly take it.
A commentator at Delray Beach asked Ernests Gulbis his thoughts about possibly playing John Isner in the final -- before Isner lost to Edouard Roger-Vasselin in their semi. Gulbis' response was this. Is his reputation on tour as bad as I'm guessing?
-- Robert, New York
• I think there's a sense of amusement more than anything else. All know about Gulbis' wealthy pedigree, and he provides an interesting case study about hunger and motivation. Players stand in awe of both his talent and his profligacy with it. Above all, especially in an individual sport -- where there are no chemistry issues -- it's fun to have colorful characters in the mix. Take it away, Courtney Nguyen.
Juan Martin del Potro really got a raw deal in his Dubai semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic. On break point, he was called for a time violation. It wasn't as if he was still toweling off; he was bouncing the ball before his motion, and he generally bounces the ball five times at a maximum. By my stopwatch, he took only 19 seconds to get to that point from the time the score was called (the rule is 25 seconds). Then he argued with the umpire. How does this speed up the game?
-- Carolyn Brown, Conway, Ark.
• As these violations are called with increasing frequency -- and we're glad they are -- the need for a shot clock is becoming increasingly apparent.
As to the media treatment of Serena Williams versus Petra Kvitova, it is a matter of parading one's unresolved somewhat unsavory character issues on one hand, and fighting one's competitive issues honestly on the other. It's attitude versus grace. Not that anybody cares about grace these days. If you like a nasty world, then you've got it.
Dean Daggett, Torrance, Calif.
• I was thoroughly confused by this note. (Who wants a nasty world?) But then we got this note from Jim Lumpkin of Denver, which, I suspect, summarized the position of Petra-philes: "Kvitova was seriously ill five times last year, twice with dysentery, three with flu viruses. Add to that her chronic asthma, which makes breathing a big issue. At least Kvitova tried, unlike Serena and Azarenka, who bail at the slightest pretext. I still say that Kvitova deserves more slack. She has not defaulted as long as I've watched her. Not a quitter at all."
Roger Federer's five-set record doesn't get an asterisk just because it means he's playing below par to even end up in a fifth set. The same is true of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It's strange to me how invested his fans are in trying to mitigate this statistic. He's still a legend. It just means that he doesn't have the greatest record among the best players when he does end up in a fifth set. It's not blasphemy to examine that.
-- Adam, Wisconsin
• No, it's not blasphemy. But I still say that the "fifth-set record" stat is misleading. It's like presenting a boxer's record in fights that went to the judges' scorecards, without first telling us how many fights the guy won by knockout. There's a lot of noise there, as the stats types say. If Federer had tanked a few sets and allowed some of his 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 demolition jobs to linger into a fifth set, his record would be better.
Tennis stat I'd like to know: How many matches has Federer lost after holding match point? And how does this compare to a) his contemporaries and b) other players historically?
I am writing a research paper on tennis and how it has changed over time (rackets, balls, physicality, courts, etc). The game has not changed too dramatically since I became a fan (I go back to the early Andy Roddick years). Do you have any ideas of what would be good sources of information or where to find information that would be useful in exploring this topic? I would very much appreciate your response.
-- Matt Rogers, East Syracuse, N.Y.
• No, I did not select this note to induce depression as we ponder college kids referencing "early Roddick years." (Big music fan here. My taste ranges from the present to the mid Black-Eyed Peas years.") I would send Matt to Newport, R.I., for a day of research. But, short of that, if any tennis historians have a willingness to talk about racket technology and the like, I'm happy to connect.
The PGA Tour held its match-play event recently. Unlike tennis tournaments (outside of the Olympics), the event holds a third-place match between the two semifinal losers. Any chance this could ever be something that tennis does? It would give an additional match for the fans who may end up seeing a blowout final. Plus, more ranking points and prize money could be awarded to the third-place player. Or would the players never go for it?
-- Blake Redabaugh, Denver
• Interesting. Considering the talk among the sport's officials of eliminating the bronze-medal match in Olympic tennis, the trends are going in the wrong direction. Outside of the Olympics -- where bronze has real meaning -- there's something odd about having two losers face off. You're there to win the event. Once that possibility has been snuffed out, how much motivation is there to go back out there and play? On the other hand, money talks. The promoters would be selling an extra session, presumably one stocked with two excellent players. If some of that extra revenue trickles down to the two participants, there's probably a conversation to be had.
Do you think Roland Garros could make an exception and change the seedings this year? Maybe move Rafael Nadal one spot and make him No. 4 (assuming he's still ranked fifth in May)?
-- Pascal, Montreal
• The issue is rules and precedent. But, yes, if Nadal is not a top-four seed, it will be, well, jarring. We're talking about a guy who is 52-1 at the French Open. I suspect David Ferrer wouldn't mind the switch one bit.
Your comment on David Ferrer that "no Slams doesn't get you much" is strange, to say the least. Fifteen million in earnings since 2006 sounds like "much" to me.
-- Charles, Cleveland
• Or mucho. I was thinking "much" in terms of prestige, especially when it's accompanied by only one Masters Series title. But, yes, you can never win a major and still have your nest egg look like an ostrich egg.
I have to say I really admire you, man. You either have the world's thickest skin or some state-of-the-art body armor to deflect all the literary darts hurled your way. And I might add that you deflect them not with venom but with the calm, measured response of the consummate professional that you are. Not everyone agrees with you (e.g., how dare you call Serena the GOAT; or you were too "soft" on Azarenka for her behavior at the Aussie Open), so you must be doing something right. Continue to deflect those darts ever so deftly, my friend.
-- Thomas, Charlotte
• Actually, it is state-of-the-art body armor. Seriously -- and this is why I reprinted Thomas' kind note -- there are few species more lame than the thin-skinned media member. You make assessments and pronouncements and render opinions and, even if there's no offense intended (not always but often), there is offense taken. Fairness dictates you ought to be able to absorb blows yourself.
Where did we come up with the word "grunt" to describe what some female tennis players do? Doesn't the word "shriek" describe it much more accurately? Webster defines "grunting" as the "making of a deep short sound characteristic of a hog." It defines a shriek as "to cry out in a high-pitched sound." To call what certain (mostly female) tennis players utter a grunt is way too kind. Shriek is much more accurate.
-- George Galt, Desert Springs, Calif.
• OK, my swag accumulation is growing. Contest: Come up with the best audio imagery for grunting ("a pig passing a kidney stone") and a prize is yours.
• Congrats to everyone involved in World Tennis Day festivities. Great idea and look for an event in Europe in 2014. If only they could incorporate Jenna in the promotion.
• David Hall of Sydney, Australia: "G'day Jon, if you could, please spread the word about a free-of-charge wheelchair tennis video tutorial that my long-term coach, Rich Berman, and I have developed for players and coaches.
• The grunting assault continues. (One of you suggested that we stopped with the weekly grunt reports because there were none. We stopped simply because they were getting repetitive.)
Lance Boardman of Mount Vernon, Ohio: "Cannot watch women's tennis anymore, especially any matches involving Maria Sharapova and/or Victoria Azarenka. And I have been a longtime fan (since the late '70s) of women's tennis (all tennis, actually). And now some of the men are doing it -- the long grunt or groan, or whatever you want to call it, that lasts until the opponent strikes the ball. I guess I'll just have to watch highlight reels on YouTube (with the sound off) from now on.
• Amy of Houston: "For readers who enjoy stats, I thought this take on the Dubai final was quite interesting."
• Again, your Hall of Fame inductees:
Martina Hingis, a former No. 1 and winner of 15 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell and Ion Tiriac. It was previously announced that Australian tennis legend Thelma Coyne Long, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles between the 1930s and 1950s, had been elected in the Master Player Category.