Indian Wells' significance, Robson's future and more
Some questions as we get into the later rounds of the BNP Paribas Open ...
Who has more on the line at Indian Wells: Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal?
-- Marina, Dallas
• Note that I'm writing this on Tuesday night, but I would have to say Federer. Nadal can say that he's still rusty, that this is his first hard-court event in nearly a year, that the pillows in Larry Ellison's guestroom are lumpy. For Federer, a loss would (likely) mark another disappointment in 2013. As the defending champion, he'd obviously lose points from 2012. And he'll arm the Chicken Littles.
Larger point: It's abundantly clear that, thanks largely to Ellison's munificence, Indian Wells has distinguished itself as an event and is, unmistakably, the fifth major. But I feel as though its heft gets a bit undercut by the calendar. There's another *big-time event (in Miami) the following week. So it's not as though the winners bask in glory, the losers enter the thrall of depression or there are many conclusions that linger. As long as Ellison is calling the shots, maybe he should lobby to have his event go second.
*A reader raised this excellent point. Can the WTA marketing minds kindly replace "mandatory" with a more upbeat phrase when characterizing its big-ticket events? When my kids eat dinner, vegetables are mandatory before dessert. It's mandatory to go through airport security screening, serve jail time after felony arrests and take organic chemistry before applying to med school. Competing in an event that confers a seven-figure payday on the winner? That's something more benevolent than mandatory.
A few weeks ago, someone wrote in about Roger Federer's poor record in the fifth set. Looking at this in further detail, I made some interesting discoveries:
Federer has played 353 best-of-five matches vs. 209 for Rafael Nadal and 194 for Novak Djokovic.
Nadal has gone five sets 9 percent of the time vs. 11 percent for Federer and 12 percent for Djokovic. Federer is 7-12 against players in the top 10 at the time of the match, but seven of his last eight losses are against the top four. This contributes to his 4-11 record in semifinals or finals (Nadal 6-4, Djokovic 4-1). However, while Nadal is 14-5 in the fifth set overall, he is only 3-4 against the top 10. Djokovic is 5-3.
Approximately 35 percent of the time that Djokovic or Nadal is taken to a fifth set, it's against a top 10 player; for Federer, it's 55 percent. So, like you asked, should Federer be penalized for pushing an in-form top player to a fifth set?
I also took a look at how often they won or lost in straight sets. Federer and Nadal have each won 61 percent in straight sets. Even though he has won 42 matches in straight sets since losing in straight sets, Djokovic has won just 48 percent of his best-of-five matches in straight sets. Federer has won his last 33 sets in the first round of majors.
-- Glenn Stein, Nashville, Tenn.
• First, thanks to Glenn. This is terrific. It's also still another indication that we are desperate for more advanced statistics in tennis. This is precisely why it is important take a deeper dive sometimes. Next week, we'll get resolution on that squandered match points statistic ...
Y'all didn't see Kvitova coming. Do you see Robson? The biggest clue is effortless power. Rare indeed.
-- Dean Daggett
• Doug Robson? Saw him a mile away. Laura Robson? I think it's safe to say that the tennis salon saw her in advance, too. (Incidentally: Robson defeated Petra Kvitova in the 2013 Australian Open.) Robson obviously has a lot to recommend: heavy lefty strokes; an advanced tennis cortex; a nice set of hands; and a fondness for competing and deceptive intensity, at odds with her genial off-court disposition.
But for the truth serum part of today's show: Robson makes it easy to get noticed. She has the marketing muscle of both the LTA and Octagon. She's had the British media telling her story since she was barely a teenager. She tweets. She makes amateur videos. She speaks English.
Too often we conflate talent with access. The players from, say, Eastern Europe -- with the hard-to-pronounce names, who speak in a foreign tongue and don't retweet Fatboy Slim -- tend to sneak up on us. What would we be saying about, say, Croatia's Donna Vekic (age 16, already in the top 100) if she were from Brighton or Berlin or Beaumont? Just something to consider.
A quick follow-up point on the "Serena vs. the NCAA men's field" question last week. It's been a widely circulated story that at the '98 Australian, Venus and Serena each played a set against a low-ranked, chain-smoking German, Karsten Braasch, losing 6-2 and 6-1, respectively. But I'm with you: Who cares? It certainly doesn't change my opinion of a historic career.
-- M.B., Columbus, Ohio
• It shouldn't change your opinion. But, yes, this was a great moment in tennis history. This would have been an event made for YouTube.
Interesting idea about buying a stake in our favorite players. I liked your analogy to the Green Bay Packers. I'm a stockholder and can offer some insight into what would happen if tennis adopted the same rules as the NFL. Owners are prohibited from publicly criticizing other owners, players, officiating crews and the NFL itself. Violators can lose their stock and are subject to a fine I've blocked from my memory out of fear. Can you imagine how civil your mailbag would become if we couldn't badmouth our favorite players' rivals, each other or you? How many of your readers can't help themselves and would end up bankrupt?
-- Adam, Wisconsin
• Who knew NFL ownership was this strict, no matter how minuscule the stake? Very interesting, thanks. It's a little different in this case. In theory, if you're the venture capitalist, you can set deal terms. I still think this has big potential. How many of us spot a talented player, believe his or her value will increase and would be willing to invest?
We know all about the great rivalries in tennis -- Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin vs. himself. But what are some of the most shocking non-rivalries? I'm always amazed during commentary when two players I know well have never faced each other in a professional singles match. Do you have any great examples of top players, playing in at least somewhat overlapping eras, who just never/rarely faced each other? I'm thinking maybe shorter careers, like Monica Seles or Bjorn Borg, may turn up some interesting results?
-- Robert, Toronto
• This has Greg Sharko written all over it. But, yes, one is often surprised by how few times two prominent players have met. Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have played only seven times over the course a decade, for instance. Though their primes didn't overlap, I was surprised to see that Gustavo Kurten and Nadal never played. Even John McEnroe and Borg played only 14 times. (That's far fewer times than, say, Davenport played Venus Williams, and much fewer than the 80 matches Evert and Navratilova played.)
Too bad the U.S. Open Series couldn't be sponsored by a U.S. company.
-- Diane, New York
• Or, conversely, a tip of the cap to the USTA for seeking sponsorship globally.
• From the great Miki Singh: My new 'Tennis Social 2' app for iPhone & iPad just went live yesterday in the iTunes store. The app blends both Twitter and Facebook timeline feeds of nearly all of the tennis players currently using social media. New players will be added automatically. You can also flip through their recent player Twitter pictures, check their real-time followers/likes totals, browse the latest tour news and more. Here is the iTunes link. For Android users, the earlier 2011 version is still available in the Play store. It's not as robust and clean, but it's workable (I hope to rewrite it before the French Open). Both apps are free of charge and ad-free!"
• Last week, I asked you to come up with your best audio imagery for grunting. John Lyden of San Diego offered this to describe the shrieking sound of some female players: "A dog with its leg caught in barbed wire."
Patrick Kramer of Oslo, Norway: "As a dermatologist, I am often forced to remove warts and moles from the foot sole. A typical Victoria Azarenka scream is just about the sound one of my patients makes when I inject Xylocaine in the skin on a toe. For anyone who has had the displeasure of experiencing this, the sound 'AAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUCCCCCHHHHH' comes to mind!"
Those were honorable (such as it is) mentions. The winner is Jay Clark of Columbus, Ohio: "An aspiring-thespian seagull giving it her orgasmic best all while trying out for the role of Sally in When Harry Met Sally. (Alas, the part goes to Meg Ryan.)"
• Mario Ancic warmed up Azarenka before her New York exhibition match against Serena. Then he went to class.
• A volunteer at that NYC exhibition who wishes to remain nameless writes: "First time working with Rafa -- has to be the nicest elite athlete in the world."
• John Dugan of Memphis, Tenn: "Like many of your readers, I watch a fair amount of tennis via online streaming, many of those matches off the show courts. You've mentioned this before, but it's striking how much less bothersome player vocalizations are from a basic courtside microphone versus what we hear through the television feed. Which makes me wonder: Have the networks ever considered (or tried) applying noise-cancellation techniques to the audio stream coming from the court? This seems like the most systematic, immediate and cost-effective way of mitigating the problem. (Full disclosure: I own a software company.)"
• Alisa Kleybanova was among the players drafted for World TeamTennis.