It’s that time again, where I answer Wertheim’s mailbag without reading his answers! You can find the original here. As usual, this is nothing against Wertheim, and he always does excellent work. Cheers to @AndrewStoeten for the idea from his always excellent baseball Drunk Jays Fans blog. His beard is almost as legendary as his blog. Let’s do this.
It does not matter what surface the World Tour Finals is played on, what time of year, the significance of the tournament in the pecking order or the amount of American TV coverage. The fact that Maestro Federer has played a round robin against the seven other best players in the world and has been in the finals eight times and won the tournament six times is absolutely remarkable. He should be saluted and given much more credit for this achievement than is generally given.
— Fernando, Valencia
Oh, Fernando. I suppose you have a point. Yes, that is pretty damn impressive. I think there’s a couple of problems here, and we saw it again this year. Presumably this would be the fifth hardest tournament to win all year, after the slams. You need to play the other top guys, and there’s no way around it. However, the level of tennis this year was really subpar considering what you would get out of these guys playing late in slams or maybe even Masters. They’re tired, and they can only care so much. It’s hard to blame them.
Yes, Federer’s six titles at the tournament are pretty impressive, but there are so many other more impressive stats from the guy. Not to mention he was clearly the lesser player against Djokovic, who had another fantastic year and finished it off in style. Let’s focus on the guy who won it, not the guy who has won it a bunch of times before.
The scoring system for doubles at the ATP Finals has quickened the game considerably. First to four points to win a game and a tiebreaker after two sets had the commentators marveling that a match had gone beyond two hours. The doubles has been good to watch, and the format of a singles and doubles match in each session seems to work, but the matches are pretty quick. Is there any feeling that no third set AND no games longer than seven points might be a step too far?
— Elsie Misbourne, Washington, D.C.
This is a very good question. This goes two ways. On one hand, you’re shortening matches in order to make them more entertaining and accessible. On the other hand, you’re shortening them in the name of fitting in singles matches and diminishing it to a bit of a sideshow, clearly lesser to singles.
While I sympathize with doubles players who feel the latter, it’s hard not to think that this has been a good thing for doubles. I didn’t see any of the doubles this past week, but I heard that the matches were consistently entertaining and engaging. Doubles matches at tournaments are a ton of fun for fans and players. There’s just a different, more relaxing, more entertaining feel to it. At the same time, it never feels like an exhibition, or something that isn’t serious. It’s just different, and it’s intriguing to people.
Let’s be honest, doubles is never going to be close to where singles is, and anything that makes it more engaging without sacrificing its integrity, I’m all for it.
Do you think Serena Williams has any chance of being named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year?
— Pete, New Jersey
Hard to disagree. Her comeback story sure is inspiring and emotional, and a gold medal and back to back Wimbledon and US Open slams. Not to mention, she’s an American (this is SI we’re talking about) and Wimby and USO are the two slams Americans tune into the most. To boot, she’s never looked as ridiculously dominant or confident doing it. Get in there, Serena.
What do you think of the habit of focusing the camera on the linesman during a challenge or just after a controversial line call? I don’t like it. Unlike the chair, those calling the lines are not all professionals who signed up for that kind of public focus. They’re just doing a thankless job where mistakes should be expected. This past weekend, the cameras repeatedly focused on these people after close calls. It’s a “gotcha moment.” Any facial expression other than blank is often embarrassing to the linesman, especially if the chair overruled them. And any smile when they’re right makes them seem too invested in their calls, rather than maintaining the ideal neutrality. To their credit, the line judges usually maintain a blank expression. But I wonder whether visual focus on them increases the chances of some of the ugliness directed at them by players during the past few years. I doubt the cameras can be formally controlled, but maybe some moral suasion from you will have a groundswell effect if you and others feel similarly?
— Glenn, Arlington, Va.
Heh. Funny question. I have heard second hand accounts of many line judges who prefer not to look at the challenge on the screen, so if they’re wrong, they’re not sure by how much. Another practical reason may be that they simply don’t know they’re on camera, so there’s not much reason to be reacting in the first place. I do always enjoy those who do look, especially if they’re just right and have a bit of a “damn straight” look on their face.
That being said, I’m all for the cameras looking at them. Not too sure what else you would rather look at. And let’s be honest, they’re right more than the players on challenges, why not give them a bit of credit for it.
So what’s the deal with Word TeamTennis? I read again and again that participating in it essentially cost Jimmy Connors the Grand Slam in 1974. The Williams sisters, perpetual no-shows for regular tour events, are regular participants. Martina Hingis is the MVP. What’s the appeal? Is it all attributable to Billie Jean King? Are there appearance fees we don’t hear about?
— Dave S., Toronto
World Team Tennis sure is odd. I do know that it was started by BJK with a sort of “all family fun” idea in mind. That’s why the rules were different, the courts weird colours. It also attempts to play into the team fandom element tennis doesn’t have.
At the same time, it does consistently feel like one big goofy exhibition. Teams change every year and keeping up with it seems pointless. It has been a long running joke with several tennis people I know.
Personally, I think it’s a fun idea in need of some major tweaks. To start, having players stay on the same teams year to year would be a hell of a lot of fun. It would be able to give it some much needed seriousness. You would also need more matches and regularity to get it into people’s consciousness. Obviously this would have to exist outside of the top players, so you’re either looking at getting 1) retired players, 2) very low ranked players or 3) amateur, very young players.
Would four players per team in four to six American cities be that difficult to pull off? Hard to know. But how cool would it be, for example, a Sacramento Capitals fan knowing that Andre Agassi is on your team from year to year?
It’s hard to know if this could fly, but we need to keep in mind that tennis players careers are often done at 30, and having an alternative, legitimate league for players once they are finished may be enticing to players are who are non-big names. Suddenly, the team would carry a weight of it’s own. That’s your team and you want them to win, possibly a little bit more interesting than the seniors tour or an exhibition where you’re attempting to relive the glory days of your favourite player. Thoughts?
Yeah! Tammy vs. Kimiko! That’s my all-time favorite match! And it’s happening in Pune. Is that the oldest professional women’s match of all time?
— Oliver, Cologne, Germany
Isn’t the WTA season over?! Lord. But seriously, that probably is. Any athlete being relevant into their 40s is pretty incredible. In tennis, especially considering the changes the game has gone through? Astonishing. I don’t know about Tammy, but I do know first hand that Kimiko is incredibly kind and basically the awesomest, so that doesn’t hurt either.
If the lyrics of Abracadabra harken bad memories, I can imagine your reaction when you hear Take the Money and Run. You know that brilliant second verse that goes like this: “Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas. You know he knows just exactly what the facts is.” It doesn’t get more “Classic” than that.
— Thomas Alonzo, Columbia, S.C.
Don’t do drugs, kids.
You HAVE to stop the worst songs write-ups. My partner reads your column and has been singing We Built This City for two weeks around the house. You are ruining my life! Thanks!
— Charlie G, Washington, D.C.
FLASH… dun dun dun… AHH AHH! SAVIOUR OF THE UNIVERSE! Don’t encourage me. (I have no idea what this is all about.)
I’m looking for a documentary that was produced back in the ’90s about the Challenger Tour. I think it followed a few players around from tournament to tournament and gave a revealing look at the tough life (no sponsors, calling their own lines, etc). Do you recall such a documentary, and what the name of it might be?
— Ray, Torrance, Calif.
Jon, dude, really? You’re answering questions for people who do not know how to use Google? That would be “The Journeymen”.