Gulbis' 'boring' jab at Big Four falls woefully short
PARIS -- Let today's discussion be a boring one. Or let it be about boredom, anyway.
When there's only a modest quotient of upsets in the first week -- as is the case at the 2013 French Open -- the tournament needs a bit of juice. Fortunately, this week, we have Ernests Gulbis to play the role of Minute Maid dispenser.
In a recent interview with L'Equipe, Gulbis reiterated a comment he made to SI.com two weeks ago: "Tennis today lacks characters. I respect Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic] and [Andy] Murray but all four are boring players. ... Their interviews are boring, they are rubbish. It's a joke. It is Federer who started this fashion. He has a superb image of the perfect Swiss gentleman. ... I respect him, but I don't like it when players try to imitate him. If I win, the guy on the other side of the net, I have sent him home. I don't want to hear an interview with a guy I will not name, but who I know full well thinks all his opponents are a--holes, putting on an act."
You might submit that there are players better positioned to take jabs at the Big Four than a serial underachiever who has more arrests for prostitution solicitation than deep runs at Grand Slam tournaments. But, hey, it's a free country. (Actually, it's more than a free country. It's "a downright socialist country," according to my Air France seatmate the other day. But that's a story for another time.)
Anyway, asked about this assertion, Djokovic offered a response that was remarkably, well, boring.
"I haven't heard about his comments, and I haven't talked with him about that, but everybody has their own opinion, so that's difficult to judge something or somebody," he said. "We have a certain rules and ways that our tennis is functioning in our sport, and that you have to respect. I try to look at it on a positive side. I think that especially the top players are very respectful toward the sport and toward, you know, people who are appreciating and following the sport, to the media, and also to each other. This is very important. Even though it's individual sport, we still have very respectful and healthy relationships.
"It sends a good message out there. In some moments in can be more entertaining, yes, it can. But, again, there are good things, a lot of good things. There is always something you can find and say, OK, that's something that should be different. But I agree with one small fact is that maybe we are lacking more enthusiasm and maybe more entertainment in the players, so more creativity in the players."
The problem is that, per Gulbis' definition, "boring" means consistent. A talented Latvian who looks like he has the tennis skills of Andre Agassi and the tennis skills of Andre 3000 -- often in the same match? Not boring. Ritual winning? Zzzzzz.
By Gulbis' definition, "boring" also means "bereft of controversy." And this is the real problem. When players express unvarnished sentiment or a candid opinion that has anything resembling an edge, there is backlash. Sloane Stephens thinks Serena Williams is a phony and tells a reporter? Look out. Nadal is resentful of having a match canceled? Check out the vitriol he got on social media this afternoon. When Ryan Harrison tweets "UPSET ALERT" before his match against 19th-seeded John Isner, he gets dinged for the perceived irreverence. If this is color, who wouldn't prefer bleach?
We all love candor and engagement. We all would we love it if players ingested truth serum and said what they thought.
Q: Roger, how do you respond to Gulbis' claim that you are boring?
A: I do not exist to amuse the pampered son of a Latvian billionaire. Can I say "douchebag" without getting fined?
Q: Sam Stosur, your opponent on Thursday, Kristina Mladenovic, likened you to a man. Your response?
A: I'm a woman. I would be happy to prove it to her in the Wimbledon locker room. Oh, right, we'll be in different changing rooms since I'll be seeded and she's still a nobody.
Q: Serena, how you do feel about getting called out by Sloane Stephens?
A: [Unfit for publication]
But what's the incentive? Being "unboring" exacts a price on your image, your time and, above all, your tennis. The Big Four have better things to do than pop off and then deal with damage control and apologies and walking back statements. Better things to do like, say, winning tennis matches.
And this is where Gulbis' logic is really flawed. The Big Four may be bland when making public statements, but their excellence is an absolute defense against boredom. Together they have won every Grand Slam singles title and Olympic gold medal, save one, since early 2005. They win on all surfaces, all over the world, under all conditions. They behave like adults, not an arrest, a bar fight, a paternity suit among them. Grass and clay are the only stains they bear.
If that's boring, you may as well transfer your allegiances to golf.
While Mr. Wong does not disagree with Dr. O'Shannessy's prescription to cure Ms. "Ex-cow" Maria Sharapova's tactical deficiency against Ms. "Let's Co-shake Umpire's Hand" Serena Williams, Mr. Wong has to dispute Dr. O'Shannessy's comment on coming to the net versus staying at the baseline. The better statistics of the former, Mr. Wong suspects, is highly attributable to the fact that players often only come to the net because of profit-taking on short balls.
-- Steven Wong, Hong Kong
• A) Love the third person. B) You're right. At some level, baseline rallies versus net approaches isn't a fair comparison. You have to -- necessarily -- engage in baseline rallies. Net approaches are discretionary, and you're not going to head netward unless you're at a tactical advantage. If the sample sized increased, we'd expect the percent of successful net approaches to go down. Still, the numbers are quite staggering. Federer loses a match 6-1, 6-3 -- i.e., he loses 100 percent of the sets, 75 percent of the games and 62 percent of the points. But he wins two-thirds of the points when he approaches the net.
I feel like I've somehow missed something. What was this question in one of your recent stories in reference to: "Why have rankings if you are not going to use them and use them properly?"
-- Patrick Preston, Chicago
• I had assumed this was in reference to the Grand Slams' unconventional seeding. Again, in most tournament draws the seeds must have the same sum. (So it's 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3. vs. 14, etc. In the quarters, it's 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc.) Tennis does not do this. The rational goes something like this: The rankings are often fairly stagnant, so unless the seeds are sprinkled with some randomness, the No. 8 guy will face the No. 1 guy in every quarterfinal. And who wants that?
That's fine, but as the reader implies, it distorts the rankings. ("Hey, wait, I'm No. 5 in the rankings and seeded fifth. I shouldn't have to play Serena in the quarters. That should fall on the No. 8 seed!") It also renders the Slams' logic hollow when they decline to seed subjectively (i.e., Nadal here) and then attribute their decision to keeping the rankings sacred.
Is it just me, or are there a lot of players retiring in the French Open so far?
-- Andrew C., Sydney
• You could retire in the first set of the first round of all majors and make a six-figure income. If you're a journeyman (the new euphemism, by the way, is "week-one player") and you're physically compromised, it's understandable that you'd still want to go out and play a few games for the sake of a paycheck. It's unfortunate, but rational.
Who is Serena's coach?
-- Suzanne Forbes, Tucson, Ariz.
• On paper or in practice? The media guide will say Oracene and Richard Williams, her parents. She has a longtime hitting partner, Sascha Bajin. But her coach is really Patrick Mouratoglou. Don't believe me?
Not tennis related, but, since you mentioned former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, I just had to ask. Do you think we should send him a case of Merlot as a consolation prize? (Bazinga!)
-- John, Seattle
• A colleague of mine tweeted that someone should ask: "Coach, can you talk a little about your termination." What a piece of work Tortorella is. We need him in tennis.
If Maria Sharapova held an off-the-record press conference to discuss her grunting and to convince the media to shower her with more favorable coverage, would you attend?
-- Raul Fernandez, New York
• This, of course, plays on President Obama's off-the-record press briefing. I would be happy to attend, though your use of the word "convince" throws me. Am I agreeing to favorable coverage? Or is the player simply lobbying for it?
Could someone please explain to me why night matches are not played at the French Open? I know there are no lights, but why are there no lights? First-round matches played over four days seems ridiculous to me. Especially when you factor in delays due to weather.
-- Dedric Walker, Houston
• For what it's worth, I'm told there will be night sessions once the facility upgrades are completed. (Of course, by then, there may be a fifth major, on Jupiter.) There's something quaint about ending play when daylight diminishes. But, yes, on a day like Thursday when rain mucked up the schedule, lighted courts would have come in handy.
• A few of you wondered about Patrick McEnroe's absence in Paris. He's with his wife, who's undergoing a procedure. Best wishes to all.
• Bank of the West Classic tickets are on sale. Maria Sharapova, Sam Stosur and Marion Bartoli are in the field July 22-28 at Stanford. Call the box office at 866-982-8497 or go to the tournament website.
• James Blake committed to July's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I.
• Something to watch for. We know Serena vastly prefers serving wide to the deuce court on her first serve. Reader Doug Messenger notes: "When facing break points, serving in the ad court, Serena tends to go down the T with her serve most of the time. Puts it right in the corner and on the line often."
• Victor Enciso of London: "Was listening to an interview with Grigor Dimitrov, and it struck me he sounds a lot like Andrew Garfield of The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man fame. Am I crazy? If not, we can start an 'aural' long-lost siblings. They do look a tiny bit similar as well, now that I think about it."