A grab-bag mailbag this week while marveling over Alycia Parks…
Hello, Mr. Wertheim,
With the increasing use of electronic line calling, do you think chair umpires still need to be sat upon a laddered perch? I understand they need a heightened vantage point to oversee all lines and corners of the court, but when courts are linespeople-free and calls are automated, is there still a reason the ump needs to climb to her seat? Also, umps literally have to “talk down” to the players from their perch, which may subconsciously agitate some players during disagreements. If the chair ump were court level, do you think Pliskova or Zverev, to name a pair of recent violators, would’ve smashed their racquets at the ump’s feet? If eye-to-eye with the grounded ump, do you reckon pugnacious players, like Shapovalov or Kyrgios, would be more or less inclined to berate, curse, belittle, etc.?
Thanks for your consideration!
Interesting question, especially about the spatial relations. An industrial psychologist would ask what kind of message we send when we place one person above—literally, above—another. I do think we need an umpire (chair or otherwise) to be present, and not in some back room, available on demand, like a tournament supervisor. Some of this is to retain order (see the recent near-fight between Moutet and Andreev) and some of this is simply to send a message that this event is being officiated and a neutral party is there to impose order.
Why do you think the Greek goddess Maria Sakkari only has won one WTA title? She just lost another final in Italy. When you think of the high-level tennis she has delivered in her career: what is stopping her from winning tournaments? When she played Raducanu in the US Open semifinals in 2021, that was her best chance to win a major. I think she knows that too.
Darren Walker, London, England
When you call a player “Greek goddess” it’s sort of leading the witness. So, this is one of those unpleasant exercises that demands objectivity trump subjectivity. If there is anyone in tennis that doesn’t like Sakkari, I haven’t met them. Fans, other players, WTA staffers—she is beloved among all cohorts. My (limited) interactions have been exceedingly pleasant. She puts in her time on the practice court. She doesn’t cycle through coaches. She speaks openly about her challenges. “Well-liked professional” isn’t the worst characterization.
But Sakkari’s likability outstrips her results. She’s been to No. 3 in the world, but has a grand total of one career title. And that was a mall event three years ago. She has played deep in majors…only to lose matches to lower-ranked opponents. She has reached finals. The common theme is a failure to close. Close out points; close out matches, close out events. Inasmuch as she has underachieved, it seems much more to be about mental hurdles than physical ones.
When players struggle to close, it doesn’t just impact them. It impacts the opposition, who know about the vulnerabilities, who are well aware which players can struggle at 4-4 in the third set.
The flip side? This is not irreversible. Confidence begets confidence. There are plenty of examples of players who are known to retreat…until they’re not. Caroline Garcia. Frances Tiafoe. For Sakkari, the raw materials are there. Statistically, her top ten ranking is validated. She is only 27: not young, not ancient. It’s very easy to envision a breakthrough.
How sad that you had to write a column like this week’s. I am an ardent Rafa fan and not a particularly big fan of Djokovic (in fact, I’ll admit, I root against him in most contests) … BUT … I recognize and appreciate Djokovic’s talent and what he brings to the game. To do anything else just seems misplaced.
I feel the same way about other sports. I am an ardent Steeler fan (originally from Pittsburgh) and therefore never a fan of Tom Brady when he was with the Patriots, but boy it is hard to deny his talent even when he is beating my team.
Just saying …
Lilas Pratt, Marietta, GA
You are entirely too rational. Again, I realize the fool’s errand pleading for civility on social media. (Next week: “Can you sailors stop your darn cursing?”) The game is rigged against decency. I’m just struck by the incongruity of it all. If the principals are cool with each other; why do cohorts of superfans insist on putting toxins in the tennis bloodstream?
Once again I ask that you nominate Roger and Rafa as the Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year.
Mark Flannery, Fullerton CA
Duly noted. Now that the stature of limitations has tolled….I had all the power of Andy Murray’s second serve, but the failure of SI to give Federer the award in 2005 or 2006 was maddening at the time and a whiff in retrospect. In 2022, it would take some creativity to confer the award on both. I’m all for some “Lifetime Achievement” or “Dignity in Sports” Award. But picking either player over Aaron Judge or Steph Curry or England’s women’s World Cup team or, for that matter, Iga Swiatek? That would be tough.
It’s been great to see the tours return to Korea and Japan this time of year, which of course begs the question of what exactly is going to happen next year with the tours’s (especially the WTA’s) return to China? It seems like contract and financial realities might bring the WTA Finals back to Shenzhen, but what else? Do Beijing and Shanghai stay at 1000 level? And should we expect all the 250s to pop back up too? If it’s easier to avoid holding events in Russia/Belarus than in China, where and how are the lines drawn? Unclear if anyone will know the full 2023 schedule before the start of 2023.
Willie T., East Lansing, MI
My twist on that: between/among Peng Shuai (yet to post on social media since Nov. 2, 2021 by the way), Brittney Griner, the disgusting ways of Putin, what athlete will want to compete in Russia and/or China next fall?* The Tours can return. In particular, the WTA —which demanded a full and fair and transparent investigation; didn’t get that; and are now returning—can try to spin this. They can try to reconcile having Ari Fleischer serve as a WTA advisor while he’s saying things like this. Companies go to great lengths to rationalize business decisions—especially companies operating at a loss.
But are top athletes—especially in an individual sport; especially when their branding often centers on social justice— really going to avail themselves? I guess we’ll see.
*I feel like we may have addressed this a few weeks ago, but remember the cause celebre in the fall of 2020 when Sam Querrey spirited his family out of Russia on a private jet? For all the times an athlete commits a wrongdoing and we say, “How did that go unremarked upon at the time?” the is the opposite…. a much-condemned action at the time that has aged awfully well in retrospect.
Great respect for all tennis players but one has to admit that the hero worship emanating from Maestro Federer’s retirement at the Laver Cup is way over the top. Yes, Maestro was a never seen before tennis talent. A transformational athlete. A fierce competitor who ushered in progressive fan and press access along with approachability, goodwill and fellowship. No doubt, The Maestro elevated tennis to a new plateau for all. However, do we even know the names of the scientists who created the Covid vaccine or the brave soldiers who received the Medal of Honor? Maestro and Rafael Nadal both do a wonderful job of putting their tennis careers in the proper perspective as compared to matters of higher importance. Everyone else should too.
It stands to reason that public occupations tend to yield more public retirement ceremonies than those in conventional job sectors. (What did we expect? “Hey Roger, come to the conference room. Stefanos baked a sheet cake, Holger wrote a song he’s going to perform, and we know how much you like Mexican so we chipped in to get you a taco kit. Don’t be a stranger!”) But your point is well taken.
Pertaining to last week’s bag about HoF inductions, I agree Kvitova and Azarenka are no brainers and Ostapenko is a pending “no.” But why do you think Ana Ivanovic wasn’t inducted? I know Ana may get another vote, but her stats are HoF worthy: World #1, Roland Garros champion, a second RG final and a SF, AO final, Wimby SF, US QF, WTA Finals SF, first singles player representing Serbia to be #1—yes, before Novak—and a holder of that ranking for longer than Venus (!!), Pliskova, Muguruza and Goolagong. Ana defeated other Major champs Serena, Venus, Sharapova, Halep, Barty, Vika, Kvitova, Hingis, Mauresmo, Kerber, Kuznetsova, Sloane, Bartoli, Pennetta, Schiavone, Stosur and Wozniacki, and other #1s Safina and Jankovic. Plus, Ana won 15 titles, including three Tier 1s, on indoor, clay, grass and hard, and finished in the year-end top five three times. Plus, a tennis mensch and reader of books. What do you think?
“Reader of books” is an incalculable bonus in my, well, book. Candidly, I can’t recall if I voted for Ivanovic but I suspect so. (Aside: the New York Times doesn’t allow writers to vote for halls of fame, presumably on the grounds that it presents a potential conflict of interest. My take: it’s reasonable for media members to vote; but they ought to be accountable to the public and not vote anonymously.)
Anyway, some of this is about raw numbers. Does a one-time major champ deserve entrée? But some of this is about career rhythms and momentum as well. Caroline Wozniacki won one major. But it came later in her career, after she had already been No.1 (for months and months) and reached a major final. Ivanovic reached the finals of major within a year, and took the French in 2008. After that, she played 34 majors and got beyond the quarters just once. Apart from being a wacky stat, I wonder if that tail-off didn’t dissuade some voters.
I’ve never heard correct pronunciations of Chinese players by the western press/commentators. This is not a criticism, but merely to say that we should not expect non-native speakers to get it completely right, particularly when the Mandarin language is essentially atonal in nature. If we then say we ought to get western players’ names right, that is fair enough—but I would note sometimes an Anglicized pronunciation has been established and accepted and we don’t pronounce foreign names the same way as the locals despite their preference or protestation. Munich is Munich and not München!
James L, Melbourne, Australia.
Fair point. Quick story: I was in South Africa recently and met a lovely man who said his name in Xhosa. I repeated it back. He said, “You’re seventy percent there.” Physically, I could not get my mouth to do what was required to pick up the remaining 30 percent. As far as tennis, an honest effort is half of it. Just have the courtesy to care. If you’re a smidge off, fine. But when the player’s own pronunciation is on the ATP and WTA websites, blatant mispronunciations make for the broadcasting equivalent of unforced errors.
“This played out in real time at The O2.”
The O2? Capital T? “We saw a play last night at The Shubert Theater”? Yes? No?
Of course, I could be wrong, full of snark even, but at least I’m not posting this on Twitter.
Skip Schwarzman, Philly
Hmmm…Not the most objective source, but the arena itself bills itself as The O2. I defer to our copy desk, which is wrong far less often than I am.
• A new tennis instructional platform may revolutionize the way tennis players learn, and coaches serve athletes. Full Court Tennis, a collaborator of the WTA & ATP Coach Organizations, has launched its new training app, now available through the app store, to all coaches, athletes, and tennis players of all skill levels. The new app allows tennis players to instantly access the worlds’ best coaches for in-app virtual lessons. Developed by Australian Open Winner, Brian Teacher, with Advisory Board Members John McEnroe, Katrina Adams, and AI scientist Dr. David Fogle, the app provides numerous options for tennis training, including hiring a coach for stroke analysis and a live video consult lesson. Coaches can set their own rates and availability for in-app lessons. Players can also compare their strokes side-by-side to the pros through the app’s stroke library.
• The 12 nations competing in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals have announced their teams for the event, which takes place at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Great Britain on 8-13 November. Among the players who will represent their nations next month are Grand Slam champions Emma Raducanu (GBR), Barbora Krejcikova (CZE), Bianca Andreescu (CAN) and Elena Rybakina (KAZ). Other stars set to appear at the Finals include Paula Badosa (ESP), Olympic champion Belinda Bencic (SUI), Leylah Fernandez (CAN), Coco Gauff (USA), Jessica Pegula (USA), and Karolina Pliskova (CZE).
• Welcome to Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Together with our partners at Hologic, the WTA and WTA Charities will spend the month of October doing our part to raise awareness and funding towards the fight against women’s cancers.
Hologic is a global medical technology innovator focused primarily on women’s health, including groundbreaking leadership against breast and cervical cancers. Since signing on as the title sponsor of the Hologic WTA Tour, Hologic has been committed to the WTA’s mission to champion women’s health by leading the “WTA Charities ACEing Cancer by Hologic” campaign.
Hologic pledged at the beginning of the year to donate for every singles ace served at a WTA 1000 and 500 level tournaments. Year-to-date nearly $50,000 USD has been raised; Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina currently tops the leaderboard at 189 aces at WTA 1000 and 500 level events, with Karolina Pliskova at 168 aces.
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