Introducing my brand new segment “Brodie Answers Wertheim’s Mailbag”! I really liked the idea of starting up my own mailbag and answering people’s questions, but realistically, the chance of me getting a lot of quality questions week in and week out is pretty low. So instead, I’ve decided to blatantly steal an idea from what is likely my favourite non-tennis blog, sports or not, Drunk Jays Fans. They regularly run a segment, Stoeten Answers Griffin’s Mailbag, answering questions from a prominent Blue Jays reporter. (If by some magical stroke of sadness you are a Jays fan and have yet to discover Drunk Jays Fans, head over there pronto.)
Much like the DJF posts, I’m not going to read Wertheim’s answers. I also mean absolutely no disrespect to Wertheim, who I consider to be one of the best in the biz, and is really just a fantastic reporter regardless of sport. You can find Wertheim’s mailbag from this week here and his ongoing work here, where you can also submit a question that he and eventually I may answer. Let’s get this going.
Assuming that Novak Djokovic is not doping, what else would explain his meteoric rise (yes, even from No. 3 to No. 2 is a huge bump up)?
— Seth Aaronson, New York
Thanks for the question Seth, but really, you put “assuming it’s not doping first”? Pfft.
I think there’s probably four things at play here, two being big, two being lesser. First off, as has been made note of, is Nole’s diet. I’m slightly biased, as a friend of mine has recently gone gluten free and it’s changed his life entirely. I doubt Nole’s body was getting hit as hard as my friend, but regardless, this would have been something keeping Novak back and would likely explain some of his health and endurance problems in the past. Big boost right there.
Secondly, Nole’s confidence is through the roof right now. For me, it all comes back to that semifinal win back in September. Nole had been Fed’s chew toy the year before, and Nole consistently got to the quarters or semis of slams but really was fodder for Fed, Rafa, or whoever else willing to step up to the challenge. That win over Fed was big time. And though he didn’t win the tournament, it was a serious turning point. I noted it earlier in my post about the Rafa/Nole match that Djoko was working the snarl, and instead of throwing his hands up or getting angry in stressful situations, he just bit his tongue, shook his head, and carried on. The dude really believes he can beat anyone right now.
In terms of mechanics, the confidence has translated, for me, in his dealings with short balls, or balls that he should be turning into offense. 99% of them, maybe even more, he’s hitting with power and placing them in ideal situations. I think we’ve all seen Nole miss balls he should be cranking or putting away in pressure situations, and that is entirely gone. In fact, in pressure situations, his game has risen to a new level.
Lastly, a tiny bit has to be said about the drop in play by Fed and Rafa, specifically Fed. I’m sure I’ll have more on this later, but Fed’s backhand is seriously beginning to break down, and his ability to create ridiculous angles is also diminishing. And I’m not just talking clay, more their semifinal in Australia. Fed has never been one to try and change his approach much in a match, and in that match Nole was on a different planet and Fed had no way of getting there. Whether or not a 100% in form Rafa would beat Nole on clay right now, I have no idea, and I don’t want to say for a second that Rafa’s drop in his game has allowed Nole to win, blah blah. Not for a second. But it does, at the least, have something to do with Nole being able to generally cruise and not have to endure insanely grueling matches, or even having to play them in the first place.
It’s a rare occurrence, but you wrote something that I strongly disagree with, and I think it’s worth presenting the other side. I don’t think players are upset about Wayne Odesnik giving up names, etc., to get his sentence reduced as you indicated when you said, “the players, not surprisingly, consider this a breach of loyalty.” The players have been lined up against the guy from the second news of his arrest broke last spring. To me it’s fascinating to see the relative blind eye of the other players to doping situations in football and baseball. In tennis, the dopers are treated almost as lepers. Guys are not bashful about it, either. Wayne’s a different guy and has never fit in among the American players, so I’m not sure the bile would be free flowing if this crime was committed by “one of the guys.”
But it’s been pretty much across the board anti-Wayne from the second this news broke. Same for other players over the years who were nailed for performance-enhancing doping issues (remember, Richard Gasquet wasn’t a performance-enhancing issue, but all Argentine players, on the other hand, went for a number of years with a shadow over them in the locker room due to the actions of a few of their countrymen). I don’t think players wanted Wayne to get off with a reduced sentence because they view his crime as very offensive to their group as a whole. To a certain extent, the strong anti-doping response from the rank and file in this instance is something that should give tennis fans cause to believe their sport is prideful of being clean. Excuse me while I step off my soap box …
Hey Anon. I think you’ve confused me with someone else, but perhaps you’re referring to the Wertheim article Best of Five.
To address the wording of your actual question, I’m not entirely sure if Wertheim is saying that other players are upset at Odesnik, or the ITF etc. for giving him a lesser sentence. In terms of the Argentines, I think the culture around doping has definitely changed, especially if you consider that Odesnik is an American and the troubles baseball has gone through to try and rid the sport of doping.
I think players and fans do take a certain pride of tennis being clean, for sure. Players are constantly bending to the rather absurd doping tests that force them to figure out where they are going to be months down the line. And to be perfectly honest, testing in tennis is really a lot easier. There’s no teams, there’s no clubhouses or stadiums to try to break down. The players are right there, it’s always the same group, and it’s really not too tough to get guys to go pee in a cup the day after Roland Garros has started.
In other words, wise observations.
The WTA must do something about the women’s grunting/screaming/screeching. As a person who wears hearing aids, I literally had to leave a Victoria Azarenka match at Key Biscayne—the volunteers tried to stop me at the gate, saying my leaving was disrupting the players. As I told them then, the disruption was all coming from a young woman who has crossed a line that Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova never did.
We are driving people away from tennis with this type of behavior. Whose job is it to stand up and say “enough?” I, an ardent fan, won’t even watch women’s matches. Can’t someone find a difference between Nole or Rafa or Serena expressing effort in the third set of a well-fought match and what’s happening with this young woman from Belarus?
— John Gilliam, Miami Beach, Fla.
First off, John, if you wear hearing aids, couldn’t you turn them off? It’s a small mercy many of us probably wish we had when watching Vika live.
Second off, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between Vika and Masha. If you’ve ever seen the two of them play each other, you’ve probably observed it sounds more like a Choo-Choo Train vs. Angry Cat.
Unfortunately, the WTA has gotten itself into a tricky spot with this issue. Masha has obviously been doing it for years, and you can’t tell a multi-slam winner to shut it suddenly. At the same time, other girls are going to point to her and go “she’s been doing it, she’s a champion, why can’t I?”
At the end of the day, I think this argument eventually falls on the side of the players. No one really seems to have a problem with grunting unless it reaches the epically hilarious proportion of Shreeky McBurrito, who was actually shreeking into the stroke of her opponent. Is it annoying? Sure. But to a certain extent, you don’t necessarily need to watch unless it’s a later round anyway.
This isn’t really a question but just a response to the grunting issue. I don’t think that grunting is unsportsmanlike rather that it is just annoying for fans to watch. I can’t stand watching grunting and as attractive a person as someone like Maria Sharapova is, I still change the channel because I can’t bear to watch. It’s not exclusive to the WTA either. Is there any chance that grunting could be banned from the sport? I mean, if the best player of all time (possibly) in Roger Federer doesn’t make a peep then how necessary is it?
— Chris, Vancouver
Good call, Chris. The only thing I have a problem with is your Fed comment. “Roger Federer wins 16 grand slams, so why can’t everyone do it?” See what I mean? I’d call on what John said above, that when players start doing it later in a match, it really makes sense and almost heightens the sense of drama. And no, we’re not banning it. If it seriously bugs you that much, find another sport.
My daughter plays a lot of junior tournaments, and now I’m starting to notice a new form of grunting on the boys and girls side. The player is making a sound that sounds like “oww” so now you are left to wonder whether the call is indeed “out” or just a grunt “oww.” I tell my daughter just keep playing the point until they confirm the “out” call.
— Manorville, N.Y.
Good for you, Manorville, if that is your real name. An “oww” grunt sounds like the most moronic thing ever, and more like a tactic to distract. I’m not good at tennis, and don’t pretend to be, but any time I’ve really gone for a shot and a bit of a grunt has come out, it’s never been an “oww” sound. And if you think about it, if you’re really going for a shot, your body is going to be tensing up, and the muscles of your throat area aren’t going to be opening up for an “oww’ sound, but instead result in, well, a grunt.
I’ve seen several people suggest that the some of the onus needs to be put on junior coaches and umpires to get unnecessary grunting out of kids at a younger age, and I’d totally agree there.