As it is written… Wednesday is mailbag day…
Some thoughts on Serena Williams and her contributions to tennis/sports/culture.
That’s a completely impressionistic answer, but as someone now of a certain age, I don’t recall such little media coverage of men’s Wimbledon perhaps since 1973 and the ATP player boycott ( when Kodes finally beat Metreveli, who was originally from the USSR but possibly Georgian, if I recall), and then like now the focus was mostly on who wasn’t there.
I’m not sure, as PT Barnum was, that bad publicity is better than none, and so I wouldn’t necessarily trade with golf coverage this week, but honestly, interest has to be considered media coverage for tennis – at least in the US – has dropped, despite improved attendance during and after Covid-19.
All the best, and good luck with the cover!
—Leif Wellington Haase
• Good traction on Metrevelli. And good observation. You can add data to your impressionist response. Thanks to the Tennis Podcast, I know Monday’s attendance at Wimbledon was the smallest opening crowd in 15 years. Networks that typically send out gushing press releases about television ratings have gone silent. Personally, I can tell you that in 20 years I have never had fewer requests for pre-tournament interviews or, for that matter, Wimbledon Mailbag questions.
The reasons? Who knows. Covid torpor. A railway strike that has made it difficult to get here? A global recession. The absence of Roger Federer, who even at 40 remains a ratings driver and is not in the draw for the first time this century.
I also wonder if this doesn’t reflect sport and culture in 2022. Everything has become a niche. There’s a core of die-hard fans who can talk about Alejandro Davidovich’s ill-conceived tween. But there are fewer casual fans. (It’s no different for bands, movies, TV shows, etc.)
For better or for worse, it has diminished… what? Buzz? Media coverage? The meaning of breakthrough relevance? …has little apparent impact on finances. Attendance might be down and my mom might ask “Will I know any of the players this year?” but step on the pitch and it’s all about expansion and ‘upgrades’ and ‘global sponsor suites’. Strange times in sports. And the media. And humanity. But between TV rights, new market investments (see golf), sports gaming revenue, and social media and engaged niche fans, sports properties can still thrive without boffo ratings and boffo attendance and boffo column inches .
Casper Ruud is seeded under Matteo Berrettini. How does this make sense please?
—Jason G. Brooklyn
• Short answer: top seeds simply follow the rankings. Longer answer: tennis is in the throes of a pitched battle between the Grand Slams and the Tours. But they have to coexist and it’s Wimbledon that pays off. By tracking ranking – and deviating from common sense in some cases – Wimbledon is effectively saying, “We put loyalty and legitimacy into your ranking system and therefore into your product.”
After seeing what happened with Dominic Thiem, I thought of another great injury-ridden player: Hyeon Chung. Have you heard of a potential comeback? Seeing his ranking hover around 500 is just absurd considering how he took the tennis world by storm in 2018.
• Chung is a true tennis tragedy. Since beating Djokovic and reaching the semi-finals in Australia in 2018, he’s struggled to win games, mainly because he wasn’t able to shake off the injury bug. He took a leave. He tried to play through the pain and maintain his ranking. Neither helped. He’s now No. 510, earned less than $25,000 in 2022.
Did they just put Isner there on short 18 by default?
• Instead. It’s kind of the perfect place. He’s not a big enough star to feature on Center Court or Court 1. He’s a schedule constipator, whose matches often last long (including Mondays.) And, of course, there’s the 70-68 story, and his name on the pitch; and was last seen losing in French Open qualifying.
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Jon, I missed it. What happened to Beatriz Haddad Maia? She lost in the first round?
• She did indeed. To Kaja Juvan, who is not to be outdone. What a strange month for Maia. She crushed Great Britain, winning Nottingham and Birmingham and reaching the Eastbourne semi-finals before losing to Kvitova, which is more than respectable. Then, arrived like the 23rd seed and a pickaxe, it crashed on the first day. While we’re here….a quick word on Haddad Maia. Here are the documents from his 2020 doping violation.
I remember our discussion about Zverev and his allegations of domestic violations… but when do we mention his doping ban? Once per set? Once per game? Never? His recent run deserves high praise. But she was also tried for deceiving her colleagues. This highlights our complicated relationship with doping. Fans and players disdain cheating and the idea of someone taking one onto the field. Then, when a player tests positive, there is often sympathy for the extenuating circumstances and disregard for the protocols.
I don’t understand. [Djokovic] was allowed to play US Open last year but not this year??? No sense.
• You know what doesn’t make sense? Stand out – badly for your reputation – by refusing a vaccine that billions of people around the world have taken. Are there any inconsistencies and double standards that scratch your head? Absolutely,. But it is true for most protocols. I don’t want to turn this into a vaccination/anti-vaxx/vax-skepticism debate. (That’s annoying. No one on either side is convinced by the other. We moved on to other unsolvable polarizing issues. “Djokovic is an anti-science narcissist.” is a hero who stands up for what he believes in. ”)
But I can’t stress the tennis angle enough: for over a decade, we’ve had that GOAT debate, that gripping derby for history. Who would have guessed that it could depend on a player’s voluntary decision to withdraw from the events?
• Shonn Moore writes:
Hello, Mr. Wertheim! I don’t know if you have already mentioned the film “Les Français” in one of your articles, but if so, I missed it. Anyway, I saw him last night in Baltimore. The synopsis of the trailer describes it best: “William Klein was the first person to be granted full and exclusive access to the tournament in its 90-year history, and by using this door in the locker room, television studios and players’ dressing rooms, he shot the ultimate behind-the-scenes glimpse of the 1981 French Open – a crucial moment in a pivotal year in the history of a game, and of its iconic players Björn Borg , John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Yannick Noah and Ivan Lendl. With Klein’s usual eagle eye and swirling energy, The French captures the rowdy rowdiness that accompanies any major sporting event, while revealing a level of candor of its subjects impossible to imagine in the secretive world formed by today’s media.
Much less meaningful post-game handshakes
Virginia Ruzici and Chris Evert (-Lloyd at the time) sharing a magazine and laughing, then playing a game
The size disparity of male and female trophies (is it always like that?)
As much as I appreciate John McEnroe now, ugh he was a hangman back then
· Bjorn was king! The fear he inspired in other players, his fitness and speed, the adulation of fans, etc.
I believe it has a limited release. The teaser:
Congratulations, Vijay Armitraj:
• The International Tennis Hall of Fame has unveiled four new exhibits, just in time for Newport’s summer season. Featuring carefully curated selections of exhibited artifacts and a new interactive experience, the collections feature items from Hall of Famers’ personal collections, one-of-a-kind pieces of tennis-themed artwork, and global contributions to the sport.
Hanlon, get us out:
I wanted to submit a mailbag question below for consideration…
We need to celebrate Serena’s accomplishments more in doubles
After seeing the excitement around Serena’s spectacular first-round doubles win with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, why aren’t we talking about Serena’s doubles success more often? And what kind of impact should doubles have in GOAT conversations?
A look at Serena’s doubles career below…
– 14-0 in major finals and 23-2 in career finals
– More than 15 victories against former world No. 1 in doubles
– 3 Olympic gold medals in doubles
– Career doubles record of 190-34
– Doubles record of 72-7 at its peak between 2008 and 2012 when Venus and Serena both became No. 1 in doubles in 2010
– The most accomplished doubles team of this century (by far)
I recently did a deep dive into Serena’s doubles in my latest track for The Tennis Tribe in case you’re interested in including it.
More tennis coverage: