For those unfamiliar with this segment, no one ever sent me questions for a mailbag, so I stole Wertheim’s and answered them for him. I don’t read his answers until I’ve answered them myself. He always gives great answers, and you can read his thoughts here. Cheers.
Just when I was ready to write off Maria Sharapova, she wins two titles on European clay. Can you give me one reason she cannot win the French Open?
— Cyrus, London
I could give you a few, sure. It’s been a bit of a strange year for Sharapova, making five finals, yet only winning the ones on clay. I think it is safe to say that Maria is finding her old, pre-shoulder injury form. Those strange, insanely error filled days seem to be disappearing and she is consistently beating up on the players she should be beating up on.
She’s also lucked out in that Kvitova is dealing with some health problems and doesn’t look like a major threat for the title. As always, Serena poses a serious problem for her and the draw will be big in outcoming this tournament for the ladies. Serena is a serious match up problem for Maria, even on clay where I might be tempted to give Maria the slight edge. Other than that, if you are a Maria fan, you have to like her chances, and I personally would say that she has to be the favourite going in.
Jon Brodie, the rumours of tennis’ death have been greatly exaggerated! I have channeled my inner Greg Sharko and come up with this: No fewer than five tennis players have been included in the Forbes Celebrity 100 List. Roger Federer comes in first (of tennis players) with a ranking of 37 and earnings of $52 million. He is fourth on the list of athletes, behind Tiger, LeBron and Kobe. Second is Rafa at No. 47 and earnings of $33M. As expected, the first female tennis player and third total is Sharapova at No. 71 and $26M. I’m sure she’s not happy, but Serena comes in after Sharapova as the fourth tennis player, ranked No. 77 and half of Sharapova’s earnings at $13M. Finally and maybe most surprisingly is Li Na (Na Li) coming in fifth at No. 87 and $18M. Even more surprising though, is Djokovic’s absence from the top 100 (although he is one of Times Magazine 100 most influential people for 2012). The Celebrity 100 is based on entertainment-related earnings plus media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online). Can we deduce from the list that the top four (let’s exclude Li Na) are the real anchor (attractions) of tennis?
— Max of Johannesburg, South Africa
Hi Max, thanks for the question. Some fascinating figures here. Tennis has always been a sport of superstars, and this is not likely to change any time soon (read: ever). There are no teams, so people tend to grasp on to favourite players and watch specifically for them. It is human nature, really.
The key to this, however, has been marketing. Yes, top players who win grand slams make an absurd amount of money (that they rarely have time to spend until retirement, hi Marat). However, players like Federer, Nadal, and particularly Maria Sharapova have turned themselves into their own brand. This opens up other advertising avenues. This is hardly new. I still remember seeing a Rolex Pete Sampras ad at the beginning of EVERY changeover during the 2000 US Open, and how increasingly ironic it became as it was clear he was out of his depth against Marat Safin.
The main concern of tennis’ “demise”, though largely untrue, is the wage inequality, if you will. Many of the players hanging around the 80-150 rank have an incredible amount of expenses (flights, hotels, coaches, gear… families) that really don’t see them make much of an incredible living considering what they have to go through. If you need further evidence, look up the story of Frank Dancevic, who was planning on taking a summer off from tennis. He ended up getting a wildcard to Indianapolis (not exactly a short skip away from Canada) and drove down himself. Luckily the trip was worth it, and he made the finals.
In other words, there are few, if any other sports where we can say the top 100 players are not entirely taken care of. I really do think we as a sport need to take better care of our lower ranked players, particularly in grand slams where the winners cheque seems to be growing at a rate much faster than those knocked out in the first couple of rounds. This would also make the jump from amateur to pro much easier as well.
I was just watching the Rome Men’s final and heard the commentator say something I’ve heard about 6,129 times, “Rafa’s really right-handed, but Uncle Toni thought he would be better off playing as a lefty.” Now that quite a few of the tried and true “beat a dead horse” comments have finally been retired by the tennis commentators (see: Serbians, tennis, empty swimming pool), what are your predictions for the next round of comments sure to be heard thousands of times at Roland Garros?
— Andy, Vail, Colo.
Seriously. I really think commentating is at a sub-par level compared to many other sports, though it depends on your preference. We also have a tough task of trying to appeal to diehards and new comers alike.
Instead of being negative Nancy, I’ll give some props to the always fantastic Robbie Koenig and Jason Goddall. I know some people find some of their catch phrases annoying, but these guys know what they’re talking about. Furthermore, they’re not afraid to do something almost no tennis commentator is willing to do: shut up. I mean that in the best possible way. Nearly every commentator seems to think they need to fill the gaps between points when really there is next to nothing going on, and little rhythm to the match. Relax. That calm feeling between points is as real as the incredible tension when watching tennis live.
Oh, and did you hear that Mardy Fish lost weight?
Now that it’s French Open time, there’s one question that I’ve never had an answer to so I turn my lonely eyes to you. Why do the French dislike Nadal? He reveres their tournament, he gives 100% every time he’s out there, and he’s an honorable champion. Is it because they favor style over substance, or they don’t like the Spanish, or what? It’s not exactly like he’s kept a group of French superstars from hoisting the trophy, so what gives?
— Craig Berry, Park Forest, Ill.
Heh. I was actually thinking about this today. Tough call. A large part of me mainly thinks that the French just prefer Federer because he speaks French, and they’re a little tired of Nadal winning the title every. Damn. Year. (Except one). Also… they’re French? I’m not being racist, they just love drama and would probably rather get behind the underdog, which I totally get. Regardless, Rafa dunn care.
After the very questionable withdrawal of No. 1 Azarenka, the Italian Open women’s field was weakened. Then following a simple 4-0 win of Serena Williams over local favorite Flavia Panetta (retired with wrist problem), Serena withdraws from a semifinal due to a lower back problem. As a customer who paid to see quality tennis, I certainly feel cheated. Why support the WTA and equal pay when the players convey so little respect for fans? Otherwise, had a great time in Rome seeing all the top men actually playing.
— Ken, Austin, Ohio (yes, there is another Austin in the US, not just Texas).
Shut up. The real problem here is the ATP and WTA, in my opinion. Outside of possibly the top 4 men (who typically get a Wednesday night start if they win the week before) it is nearly impossible for regular players to have amazing back to back weeks. Even if they don’t withdraw or retire, they tend to play rather poorly. This is a pretty unavoidable fact if the schedule stays the way it is. Toronto and Montreal are likely to get decimated by the Olympics this year. Try me.
What the heck is going on with Jelena Jankovic?
— Charlie G, Washington, D.C.
For a short time, Jankovic was on top of the world and number 1 in the world. Hey, so was Ivanovic. (Tennis is a crazy sport, no?) I do remember the big uproar of her trying to put on extra muscle and subsequently damaging her game. I think she really pushed to take things to the next level, which was the wrong move. She’s not the same type of player as Hingis, but she really should have took a similar route. She will never be as big and powerful as Serena, Maria, Victoria or even Petra. It’s just a fact of life. What was once a confident, impressive counterpunching style is now a confused, dramatic overly defensive and error filled glitter bomb. Does that answer your question?
Talk about bellyaching!!!!! Who are you! No one seems to back a girl or guy who speaks the truth and stands up. We have enough sheep! Start calling them out! I applaud Nadal for taking risks both in his game and in politics! Baaaa Baaaa to you!
— Sally, Los Angeles
Uh, so do I. Good on Nadal for calling out Madrid if the clay really was that bad. I already talked about why I’m not a fan.
Jon Brodie, Can you stop writing about Rafa forever please? You ginormous Fedtard.
— Badri, Vancouver
You must have me confused with someone else. Vamos, etc. etc.
Jon Brodie, discerning Canadians want to know: Can Milos Raonic do well at Wimbledon? Sure, he’s got possibly the best serve in tennis which should bode well for grass, but he’s also a big guy with awkward movement. He may not be able to get down low enough to those skimming ground strokes. Your thoughts?
— Michael, Halifax
Yum. Educated Canadian tennis fans! Agreed.
Milos can definitely do well at Wimbledon. Well meaning probably fourth round or quarterfinals (draw and ranking depending). I really think this post-Roland Garros period will be one of the biggest times of Milos’ early career. If you remember last year, Raonic went down early in Wimbledon and subsequently missed the entire hard court season including the US Open; an incredible amount of missed points. Already ranked 22nd, the Canuck has a legitimate shot at trying to crack the top 10.
As for the logistics of grass, we have seen some big men find real success on grass (such as Ivo Karlovic, Tomas Berdych) and others completely flop (hi, Delpo). Raonic’s serve will be a sight to see at this year’s Wimbledon. His movement and physical training with Galo Blanco in Barcelona is beginning to really pay off as Raonic crafts himself into a well rounded tennis player. Personally, I think Raonic has spent so much time practicing the first shot after the serve, including digging them out of tricky spots, that he should be able to find a lot of success on grass.