Is 17-year-old Victoria Duval overhyped? More U.S. Open mail
Getting down to business and diving right into the Mailbag today:
Do you not think there's a difference in hyping a player in a team sport as opposed to one who plays tennis, perhaps the most lonely of all professional sports? Yes, plenty of football quarterbacks and basketball forwards are hyped, but they play on a team sport with lots of coaches and plenty of PR help if they are at a major university or even a sophisticated high school. The difference with Victoria Duval is that she's a kid in a very unforgiving environment, one where she can't hide on the bench, behind the front line, or alongside a coach. She's out there playing in front of thousands of fans and a TV audience of millions. I can't image the pressure. She played the match of her life -- her own assessment -- against Stosur, who was off her game and obviously tight. The ESPN crew should have said as much. Instead, they went on and on about her back story, her childlike answers, and her game, which has holes big enough for Daniela Hantuchova to kick soccer balls through let alone forehands. Would ESPN have made as big a deal if she had been from Spain, or are we so ashamed at the state of American professional tennis that we are prepared to place all of our hopes on a 17-year-old girl who plays one great match? I for one could do nothing but cringe and turn down the sound listening to the likes of Chris Evert -- who should know better -- gush about this girl. Get a grip, please!
-- Mark Dalessandro, Tucson, AZ
• Fair point. Two responses to throw at you:
1.) We've pretty much thrown in the towel on the redundant "tennis conflict of interest." It's icky. It makes the sport look bush league. Worse, it restricts growth. Still, consider this scenario: The USTA is getting beaten up pretty good for the dearth of American players and the gripes about the development program, "America's sputtering tennis factory" that Tom Perrotta deftly exposed here.
Hypothetically: My colleague on the television set also draws a sizable check from the USTA and is being called into question for his leadership of the embattled development program. Might I be inclined to (over)hype an American player which, by turn, makes said colleague look good and serves as a vote of confidence for the job he's doing?
2.) In a team sport, contracts are guaranteed. In an individual sport, they are earned by both results and by endorsements. In addition to winning matches, endorsements are bestowed on personable and visible players. It wasn't as though Victoria Duval (or Melanie Oudin in 2009) was running for cover from the pursuing hordes, like a shamed defendant running out of the courtroom. They went on the morning shows voluntarily. Their agents requested the coverage and the big court assignments. Again, everyone's interests and economic incentives militate against a measured approach. It's unfortunate. But it's not solely the media ogres.
No disrespect to Donald Young but it's clear that his opponent [Martin Klizan] was barely trying in their match the other day. I know you mentioned this before, but isn't there something the tournaments can do to punish players who obviously aren't 100 percent?
-- Tom, New York.
• Again, I admit to being squarely in the players' camp here. Take everything you can get, while you can get it. But let me throw this out there: What if tournaments gave eligible players this option: if you want to withdraw, we'll still pay you first round loser money. Only those who give themselves zero chance of advancing would accept the offer. The payout would be minimal for the tournament in the grand scheme of things. And — most importantly — it would give healthy players the chance to compete and prevent some of the clearly compromised performances.
Did I just read you say: "there is not a 55 year old man who can beat Serena Williams?" Please? What were you thinking? Any great 55 year old would be able to exploit Williams' weaknesses and put her off her game.
-- Patrick Kramer, Oslo
• No way. I could see it going the other way. Just yesterday, Tomas Berdych told me (humblebrag!) that when he was 13 or so, he would practice with Martina Hingis — then the reigning No.1 — in the Czech Republic and take sets off her. But I don't think that, say, Ilie Nastase would beat Serena Williams. (Note: Even McEnroe isn't yet 55.)
Would it be fair to say that these are the moments Rusty (Lleyton Hewitt) plays for these days, more than rankings and prize money? "Turn Back the Clock Alert': Haas, Youzhny, and Rusty all won. What is this, 2003 again?
-- Deepak, Beverly Hills, California
• Absolutely. Here's a guy who simply relishes the battles like few other athletes. Realistically, is he winning more Slams or challenging for No.1 again? No. But matches like last night's validate his decision to continue competing.
In answer to my question about the men's first round you said: "To borrow from Sarah Vaughan, whatever TV wants, TV gets." You probably won't want to devote more space online to this, but if you wouldn't mind privately -- why does TV want this? I really don't know why.
-- Gavin Spencer, NYC
• It's nothing sinister. Television wants the best matches and so long as television is footing bills, it has a seat at the table. CBS, for instance, all but handpicks the matches it wants to show during the weekend. Meanwhile, European partners would prefer that Federer and Nadal didn't play at 2:00 a.m. local. ESPN would rather have Serena and Federer in prime time. Everyone acts rationally, but everyone's interests aren't always aligned.
Watching the U.S. Open every year, I am always amazed by how many officials are present for each game. For a singles match, with 2 athletes and about 2100 sq. feet of playing area, there is one chair umpire, up to 10 line umpires, and 6 ball boys and girls! Is there any other sport that has such a high ratio of on-field officials to athletes or playing area ?
-- Richard Saldanha, Mumbai, India
• Agree. You see officials clustered together in a waiting area or a hotel lobby — all wearing the same uniform — and you realize that it's a small army. And, yes, I can't think of another sport that requires as much human capital. Walk around an event and note how many people are wearing badges or credentials. Frank Deford often brings up this point: Why are these people volunteering? You wouldn't volunteer to work at Goldman Sachs or the Post Office or the local hardware store. Why is a sporting event any different?
I'm usually one to take your predictions in the spirit intended, but this time I feel compelled to write -- you seriously see Ferrer coming out of his quarter?? I foresee a Raonic-Janowicz quarterfinal there. The Draw Gods really blessed everyone in that quarter, but those two in particular.
-- H, Philadelphia
• Before the tournament, Ferrer said that his injured right ankle was feeling better. Yes, Ferrer has struggled a bit after the French Open. On the other hand, his track record in New York is strong and who else would one pick in his quadrant? Gasquet is the next highest seed. Janowicz was clearly not 100 percent. Raonic? Maybe. Bigger issue as always: these predictions have a lousy risk/reward ratio. People seem to enjoy reading them, but between us, I could live without them. The math suggests you're wrong more often than you're right.
• Willie T. of Mt Vernon, NY: "As an American fan in Louis Armstrong stadium during the last set and a half of Monfils-Isner Thursday night, I have to admit I was just as confused as Isner was about the crowd. With the exception of one woman directly behind me cheering very loudly for Isner, almost everyone around me was cheering for Monfils, chanting his name, and applauding his winners (although, to be fair, also Isner's winners - just to a lesser extent). Most of these people were typical American fans, and for this reason I really think it's impossible to overstate the effect Monfils can have on a match. Most of the fans drifted over to Armstrong after seeing two painfully one-sided matches in Ashe (Wozniacki and Nadal) or having been slightly disappointed by Vicky Duval's loss on Court 17. As the clock crept closer to midnight, I think the crowd just genuinely wanted to see an epic, U.S.-Open-night-match-I-was-there-for-an-epic kind of match; which, in the fourth set, called for a rise from Monfils. I highly doubt that the atmosphere would have remained the same if Monfils had been able to force a fifth. No crowd loves its epic late-night matches as much as a New York crowd, and with all the hype surrounding Isner's success this summer (and his penchant for draining first-week five-setters in slams), I think most people at that moment would have rather seen an epic than what turned into an entertaining, but not record-breaking win for Isner. I'm sure he will be very well supported when he goes out against Kohlschreiber next - especially with the revenge narrative piled on top of everything."