PARIS — As it says, Wednesday is mailbag day. If you haven’t caught it, here are some thoughts on Tuesday’s last Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic clash.
And now, forward…
What’s next for Djokovic?
It’s been a year now since Djokovic hasn’t won a major. He changed coaches. He has all the mess of COVID, which has clearly affected him. His confidence does not seem to have fully returned. What’s next for him?
There was a moment in Tuesday’s quarter-final game that crystallized Djokovic for me. Nadal brushed past Djokovic in the third set to come back 2 sets to 1. The crowd was furious with Djokovic. He probably should have lost the only set he prevailed in. In the best-case scenario, Djokovic was going to have to go five sets, a place he hadn’t been in 2022. And that’s against Nadal, without a foot injury. On clay. At Roland Garros. And yet, there was a palpable feeling that Djokovic could easily win the match. Respect.
What’s next for Djokovic? Short answer: Wimbledon, the event he won in 2021 that I would still make him the favorite for even if he failed to defend in Paris. In time, when we tell the story of Djokovic, it will be a remarkable 12-month interregnum. When he left Wimbledon in 21 in a three-way tie with Nadal and Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles, he was the youngest of the Big Three. By any investment standard – momentum, number of “draws” remaining, head-to-head records – he was where the smart money resides. Then he lost in the US Open final and missed the Grand Slam schedule. He missed this year’s Australian Open for avoidable reasons, an event won by Nadal. After an initially turbulent return to the workforce, he fell in Paris against Nadal.
These tennis courts…
Still, right now, I would buy Djokovic on the downside. Like, charge Djokovic. After dusting off the rust – or the equivalent of clay-court tennis – he was suddenly back to playing celestial tennis. He won Rome and his first four games here without dropping a set. Losing to 13-time French Open winner Nadal on clay – winning a set he should have lost and losing a set he should have won – is no shame. His timing is back. His conditioning seems to be back. He has “only” just turned 35. Look at Wimbledon draws over the past decade and you won’t find a more successful player. Then come the hard courts. Keep in mind that the man who beat Djokovic in 2021, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, will have been banned from Wimbledon and will face his own ‘work reintegration’ issues.
Djokovic will be fine.
When will we see Serena, Federer return?
Remember the man who bet that Roger Federer would win 20 Grand Slams by 2020? As we all know, he was right. Do you know a similar bet regarding Nadal? Surely someone believed in 22 Grand Slams in 2022. It looks like Rafa can match or even surpass Serena. Unbelievable.
Right on. If you exist, reveal yourself. When I look, this bet doesn’t look bad.
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Will Serena and Fed announce they are retiring? Or will they just pretend they’re still active players? It’s been at least a year. They don’t come back.
I would caution against bracketing the two 40-year-olds. Federer says he will return. He posts videos of his workouts. We know he’s in rehab. It is still unclear whether he will return in 2022, but he is committed to making sure he hasn’t played his last game.
Serena is more of a mystery. She is a few weeks younger than Federer. By playing best of three, she has fewer conditioning and durability issues. But by all accounts, she hasn’t played much in the past 11 months.
My take: why should or why would they retire? What do they have to gain by closing the window? Leaving aside financial interests – which are not insignificant, as many transactions depend on players playing or being active – what is the incentive to announce that they are finished? Even if they feel like they can’t play right now but are open to the possibility of coming back, why not stay active?
Signs, signs, signs everywhere
Please shed some light on the slogan that Roland Garros is promoting this year. Have they figured out how to go from a tennis court to a pickleball court and vice versa? Is there a new, more elegant way to modify the rules of a game? I know this must be wrong, but I can’t figure out what the tagline means: “Move the lines in style”. I know a few billion things are more important, but still, it’s a mystery.
John Campbell, Portland, Oregon
So there are two slogans. The one you’re referring to, and another that’s sported on the main stadium deck – something along the lines of victory belonging to the persistent. It’s all rather derived from Wimbledon quoting Kipling’s poem, Whether. No matter. Beat signaling.
Pickleball has yet to bless Europe. The parent is Padel. I heard that Djokovic’s father was among the converts.
Does the sentence correspond to the crime?
Why were neither Rublev nor Begu found to be in default? They made accidental mistakes like Novak but not as bad. Novak hitting the linesman in the throat was a mistake at the US Open. The linesman was injured. I understand that actions have consequences. If Rublev’s ball had hit the Roland-Garros staff member instead of hitting his hat, would he have been kicked out of the tournament? Begu’s racket hit a child who started crying. Nowadays, when players hit balls or throw rackets out of anger, which hurt fans, they give rackets to fans or take pictures with them to try to save face. Are the ATP and WTA reviewing players’ actions after the fact to determine whether to suspend them for future tournaments and what fines players should pay?
The short answer: it sounds like an old line of criminal law that differentiates between an attempted act and its execution. If either player’s wrongdoing had resulted in physical contact, both players would have been sent off. The corollary: If Djokovic hadn’t hit the linesman in the neck and missed her by inches, he might have had 21 major titles.
It’s easy to see how this could be considered unfair and arbitrary, but I’m struggling to find a better differentiator, other than the automatic default for this kind of recklessness. Djokovic fans were everywhere, citing – as fans do – hypocrisy and double standards. I can’t say I blame them.
Coaches, on demand or not?
To date, people have pointed out that Tsonga actually won the 1st set in a tie-break. And he was only injured in the last match before the final tie-break! Sad. I had to search for “verkakte” – it’s a keeper!
New definition of verkakte: the uncle – and long-time mentor – of a star who now coaches a young up and coming player. This player and the aforementioned star meet in the fourth round of a major tournament. The uncle is naturally conflicted. He announces that he is unlikely to attend the game unless he produces a conventional ticket. Then he shows up, sitting in the best seat in the house behind the baseline. This is verkakte.
I was surprised by Patrick Mouratoglou’s comment after the defeat of Simona Halep. In your opinion, how important is a tennis coach? And what about players who don’t have coaches?
(Let’s save Patrick and Simona for another time, although this topic caused a lot of discussion and concern in the tennis version of the school cafeteria.)
How important are coaches? Important enough for players to need it, but ultimately it’s gear. They don’t coach during the game – they’re not supposed to, anyway. And while their motivation and preparation techniques are important, the players ultimately hit the fucking ball and handle the pressure. “Two percent,” said a Hall of Fame player just now.
As for players without coaches, Emma Raducanu may top the list, but a number of players are looking to solidify their coaching deals. Denis Shapovalov is one of them. (He and Jamie Delgado quietly parted ways before Rome.) Some players need coaches more than others. We wish there was a way to quantify – a coach is good for +/- extra wins per season – but, like most businesses, it’s hard to see the benefits when constantly meeting the needs in staff at the expense of time spent on the main product. Speaking of Raducanu, his hometown reception at Wimbledon will be something to watch.
Fans in the stands
WTF? So yesterday NBC has the exclusive rights to the tennis (so obviously TTC can’t show anything live) and they’re showing a delayed repeat of the Swiatek match which was already shown live on TTC. Then they showed part of the Nadal-Aliassime match from the day before rather than the Medvedev-Cilic match which was currently being played LIVE!!! WTF???? If they expect fans to be duped by this extortion into buying Peacock streaming, they are sadly mistaken. Is there any other sport that treats its fans this way??? Thank goodness my favorite tennis player barely plays these days. I would have been livid if this had happened during Federer’s prime.
How come no one is watching Fernandez’s game? Women’s tennis at a new low.
Here is the problem. I was on the field for this game. The upper deck was crowded. The seats for the big cats were vacant, and that’s unfortunately what you see on TV. It looks like a ghost town for a women’s quarter-final, when in fact there are 10,000 fans in the house.
More of your mail
Could you please ask whoever anchors the TC office in Paris to say “Whoop, that’s it” when broadcasting the show to people in the Whoop broadcast booth? Thanks.
Trust me. It happened on day 1.
If a player makes a lot of mistakes while playing Jabeur, is it considered a forced mistake by Ons?
“Come back on Tuesday. We have a niche. Give me a tight 10 minutes.
Is there a time of day when a tennis agent doesn’t dress like a tennis agent? It’s always crazy to me when they cut into a player box and there’s a jerk in hipster tones, a button down and a blue blazer.
Sometimes you are allowed to accessorize with a leather satchel.
Enjoy the last weekend, everyone!
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