Djokovic's calendar Grand Slam chances; more mail
Is it too early to be talking about a calendar-year Grand Slam for Novak Djokovic?
-- Charith, Bangalore, India
• As predictable as time and tide, we spend the spring months pondering whether the Australian Open champion -- the only eligible candidate -- has a shot at winning the Grand Slam and taking the following three majors. Sometimes the discussion is fanciful; other times less so.
With Djokovic, we start with the caveats: He's never, of course, won the French Open. He's playing at a time of unprecedented concentration at the top. (Rafael Nadal has won every French Open, save one, since 2005. Roger Federer has won Wimbledon seven times.) He's playing at a time of unprecedented physical demands, when injuries have never been more commonplace. And we're talking about a herculean (t)ask: One bad day at the office, one bad tuna sandwich, one zoning Marin Cilic, and you're done.
That legal disclaimer out of the way ... it' very easy to speculate seriously about Djokovic's chances. We know what he can do on hard courts. He's won Wimbledon. And, after his takedown of Nadal on Sunday in Monte Carlo, it's certainly well within the realm of possibility that he could win in Paris.
Without reading too much into one match, it does seem as though Djokovic is becoming to Nadal what Nadal is to Federer. Objectively, he may not be the better player. But he matches up well, and with that comes a mental advantage. Watching the Monte Carlo final, it was clear that the same Nadal strokes and bounces that cause other players such grief don't bother Djokokvic in the least. Plus, when he positions himself on the baseline, he robs Nadal of much-needed time to unload.
Let's be clear: Winning the Grand Slam is almost comically difficult. For now, let's stop here. A career Slam for Djokovic is better than a 50/50 proposition. And if you were going to back one player in the foreseeable to win all four in a year, Djokovic would be your guy.
During Nadal's very impressive Monte Carlo eight-tournament winning streak, it's been said that he's lost only two sets over that time, to Djokovic and Andy Murray. I could have sworn he lost one set to Federer in the 2006 final, back when it was best-of-five. Are they only talking about best-of-three finals?
-- Krishan, Houston
• Right you are. His score that year against Federer: 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5). Other notes:
1) Before falling to Djokovic on Sunday, Nadal had also dropped a Monte Carlo set in 2013 to Grigor Dimitrov.
2) In that match, the two players actually won the same number of points.
3) It's remarkable to me how often that occurs.
4) Despite Nadal's loss, let's marvel at a player who has logged 50 matches at a tournament over the years and is 48-2.
5) Nadal has won roughly $4.5 million at Monte Carlo.
What do we make of Jack Sock at this point? Jim Courier says he has a top-five forehand right now, and he can register serious mph on his serve. Why is he struggling to win matches? He beats Milos Raonic and takes John Isner to three tight sets, yet can't get out of the first round of Challengers. I don't get it.
-- Stephen Thomas, Greensboro, N.C.
• Good question, fair question. Sock, 20, has a lot of game, and even those without a proverbial dog in the fight (non-USTA personnel whose jobs hinge on Sock's prospects) speak glowingly of his potential. His results, though, are all over the place. Close wins, losses in Challengers, retirements. Sock has already had some injury issues, which can impact his results -- as well as his willingness to go full throttle on days when he feels some discomfort.
Like many players, he may lack some inspiration when he plays the Challengers. Know the World War I expression "How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm, Now That They've Seen Paree?" Same holds in sports, tennis especially. You've played the U.S. Open. You've played main-draw ATP events. You have a fancy agent. You've been part of the Davis Cup team. It can then be hard to revert to Hampton Inns and rental-car counters and events where the prize money might not even hit four figures.
Also, I think sometimes we need to adjust our expectations. Whether it's Sloane Stephens or Dimitov or Bernard Tomic, what up-and-comer do you know of who posts consistent results? Some will make it. Others won't. None will move in a straight line.
I remember you once wrote that Justine Henin's backhand is so gorgeous that it could stop traffic. Whose backhand do you love to stare at now?
-- Pierre, Amsterdam
• We all have our fetishes and preferences. I still melt at the sight of the one-hander, its scarcity only adding to the allure. For me, the offerings of Carla Suarez Navarro bring the boys to the yard.
The thing with your argument that many players live in a country that is different from where they were born is that it is only true for most of the top players. To most of those who represent their country, especially those below the top 200, the Davis Cup is their only chance to bring honor to their country because their federation is supporting them there. They cannot regularly compete in international challenger tournaments due to lack of sponsor funding. That is why the Olympics and the Davis Cup are a big deal to poorer nations. May I please say "kumusta" to my best friends, Mark Rabe and Ryan David? Just thought it would make them smile to read their name on the mailbag.
-- Nestor L. Cotiyam, Quezon City, Philippines
• Kumasta, indeed, Mark Rabe and Ryan David. Nestor raises a good point: The Davis Cup isn't simply about the stars. It's rather like an iceberg. Below the surface, there is a huge mass. For players from many countries, yes, Davis Cup is a real highlight. (As well as a major source of funding for their federation.)
What is it about Andy Murray that gets the worst reactions in people? Yes, he didn't play his best tennis against Stan Wawrinka in Monte Carlo. But to be booed off the court by a supposedly up-market crowd at a revered venue is uncalled for. That's taking the generally accepted anti-Murray tennis syndrome to another level.
-- Shawn, Boston
• Perhaps the locals are still smarting from the old Sommerset Maugham line about Monte Carlo -- "A sunny place for shady people" -- and holding it against Murray? They're upset by Murray's winning record against Juan Monaco?
You got me here. Murray has a history of getting booed at the venerable club. Once it was during a desultory defeat to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Another time, it was for unfurling drop shots against a clearly hobbled Gilles Simon. But to your larger point: The guy is No. 2 (now No. 3) in the world. He's a Grand Slam champ and an Olympic gold-medal winner. For almost a decade now, he's revealed himself to be an honest competitor. Not quite sure why the patricians on the veranda would add insult to injury.
Regarding on-court coaching in the WTA: Sorry, Nanny Wertheim, you'll have to impose a lot of bans in society if you're bothered by the idea of men coming to the aid of women. Actually, why don't we start with your job? The idea of an articulate, intelligent male writer helping female readers think about the sport in a refreshing manner is just so ... sexist! I jest, but my point is that banning liberties is not the answer to solving society's problems. More freedom is more desirable.
-- Vasily Nicolini, San Francisco
• I'm not sure if this is a backhanded compliment or a backhanded insult. But I still say that on-court coaching is a blight on the sport. As for liberties, couldn't you just as easily make the case that tennis players have the ultimate autonomy? When they can avail themselves to a coach, they are surrendering their agency.
As a West Virginian, I have to admit, I never thought I'd read a something that had Nadal and Robert Byrd in the same paragraph. Vamos!
-- Joe Estanich, Bridgeport, W.V.
• I believe that "Vamos" is actually West Virginia's state motto. They're working on those upside-down exclamation points.
• Barry Z. of California -- presumably, not Barry Zito -- chides us for not holding a contest in a while. I was thinking about this for a Tennis Channel segment, and I'll open it to you guys: Tennis Sniglets. (To the uninitiated: A sniglet is a word that doesn't exist, but should. For example, "cinemuck" is the gunk on the floor of a movie theater.)
Squawkeye challenge (n): a replay request intended to blow off steam, not ensure accuracy. "After missing the forehand volley, Federer grimaced and issued a squawkeye."
• For those who missed it, Wimbledon has committed to building a retractable roof over Court 1.
For those scoring at home ... you know, never mind.
• Maria Sharapova became Porsche's first global "brand ambassador." (Is there a Porsche embassy in your town?)
• Defending champion Petra Kvitova and Marion Bartoli have committed to play the New Haven Open in August.
• Granted, it's the same source that reported 12 people had died at the Boston Marathon ... but here's a New York Post report on Tennis Channel.
• Juan Jose of Houston: "I thought your readers would be interested in this: I got a chance to ask Isner, Monaco, Nicolas Almagro and Rhyne Williams about their use of stats and video."
• Brian C. of Hong Kong: "Can you please post a note of appreciation and respect for tennis ump Lynn Welch, who retired three weeks ago? I just loved her calm and magnetic voice in the biggest tennis stages. Also, this just moves me even more (see after 1:00 mark)."
• The bad news: Communications officer Mitzi Ingram Evans is leaving the ITF. The good news: She remains in tennis as deputy championships manager at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (Wimbledon).
• The 20th anniversary edition of Brad Gilbert's Winning Ugly includes a chapter by Andre Agassi and a new introduction featuring tips to improve your game. The book will be available June 11.
• Speaking of books, Tim O'Shea of Boca Raton, Fla.: "I was browsing Amazon this afternoon and came across a tennis book that looks like it was just recently published. I can't say if it's any good or not, but the first couple of chapters have been fairly engaging."
• Check out this new online tennis magazine.