• One of the cardinal rules of journalism: don’t be the story. I violated that principle last week. Long story short: I was led to believe I was communicating over DM with a player. In fact, it was not the player. There was no ill intent. I felt duped. But I should have been more vigilant confirming the authenticity and the player’s identity. My unforced error. And one for which I am truly sorry.
• In honor of Billie Jean King, here’s a video treat I dug up.
• A note that Burrata in Philadelphia is not only among the best restaurants in town, but is a tennis-friendly venue…
Editor’s note: Some questions have been lightly edited for clarity.
Jon, what is your take on the Laver Cup? Yes, it promotes tennis but it does seem a bit contrived especially now that the novelty of seeing the "Big Three" (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) play together has faded. And the recent confusion expressed by [Gaël] Monfils during play as to whether the competition is serious or a glorified exhibition only serves to raise more questions regarding its purpose. Who sponsors the Laver Cup and does the sponsor seek to make a profit? Is the Laver Cup a good idea given that the tennis calendar is long and grueling with the incidence of injuries and fatigue seemingly on the rise?
Got a bunch of questions here. I think we proceed on the assumption that the Laver Cup, as a celebration of tennis, is a force of good … that the winners at the event outpace the unforced errors by a significant margin. That we ought to be making space on the calendar for this event in some form. And then go from there.
As for the existential question is it an exo?, this was thrown into dramatic relief when Gaël Monfils was chided by Felix Auger-Aliassime clowning around. This has been brewing for years. From the jump, the organizers went to strenuous measures to stress the honest competition. The obvious response: as long as the player list is subjective and there is a departure from the rankings, it’s going to be tough to sell this as 100 percent legit competition.
My response? Sort of. But not really. The Davis Cup has been doing this—making subjective roster decisions—for more than a century. Do some players take it more seriously than others? Sure. But isn’t this always the case for all events? Far be it from us to quote tennis philosopher King Nick Kyrgios, but last weekend he wrote:
“And this is the beauty of it!!! You see the contrast in players, personality and game styles….. I’ve been around FAA he is one of the most professional players ever, I remember him taking notes on the sideline one year, then you have La monf….. entertainer… epic. LETS GO!!!!!”
That’s pretty much where I stand. If this event celebrates tennis—and it does—we can accommodate different attitudes. (Sidebar 1: anyone else note the irony that the 23-year-old was telling the 37-year-old to stop kidding around? ... Sidebar 2: anyone else note the irony that the courtside mics and cameras—winning Laver Cup touches—were how the Auger Aliassime-Monfils dispute went public in the first place?)
To me, there are other more pressing issues. This isn’t dissimilar to what we’ve written in the past but here goes:
a) At this time in tennis culture (and culture, culture) should we not include women? Not as philanthropy or some duty; but in service of the event. Wouldn’t Coco Gauff (represented by Team8 no less) add to the vibe and the appeal? Wouldn’t the generous amount of social media and behind-the-curtains video benefit from both genders? Wouldn’t the rosters be more interesting and evenly balanced? Wouldn’t organizers want all hands on deck if we are at the phase where none of the Big Three (nor Alcaraz) participate?
b) One reason the Ryder Cup works: there is a real, secular divide between the U.S. and Europe. There are two tours. And the Europeans who play on the PGA are, effectively, exiles. They often require visas; they play among three time zones; they bond over outsider status, over being an ocean from home, over the exoticism of NASCAR and stuffed meat-lovers pizza and Crocs.
In tennis you just don’t have that division. It’s a global tour. The talent pool is much more diffuse. Regionalism matters little. No one considers, say, Andrey Rublev “European” or, say, Francisco Cerundolo “World.” I’m not sure I have a better option—maybe just a draft a la the NBA All-Star game?—but the lines of team demarcation seem awfully flimsy and artificial.
c) Tennis needs team competitions. It does not need three or four … all within 100 days of each other. The Davis Cup was neglected for years and is now a shell of its old self. The Billie Jean King Cup struggles for relevance. It is an open secret that, popular as the United Cup is with players (who make bank that week), it is commensurately unpopular with Tennis Australia, where it is perceived as a drag on its balance sheets. Fueled by the reality/conflict that Tennis Australia is heavily invested in Laver Cup as well, can’t these three get in a room and emerge with a win-win-win? Maybe?
Back to the optimism … I saw all sorts of ideas for improvement. Replace McEnroe and Borg with Roddick and Federer. Let Federer come back next year for mixed doubles. Reinforce the importance of players on the bench looking engaged. No one said, “Kill the event.” It’s a win, in itself, that fans have moved to the let’s-improve-the-product and, impliedly, believe this belongs in the sport.
Speaking of discussions we’ve had before … the International Tennis Hall of Fame released its 2024 nominees. In alphabetic order the former players are: Cara Black, Ana Ivanovic, Carlos Moya, Daniel Nestor, Leander Paes and Flavia Pennetta. All the usual questions apply: how much does precedent matter? (That is, if we have established that one singles major is grounds for admission, i.e. Michaels Chang and Stich, are we now bound by that?) How much do we value doubles excellence vis-à-vis singles excellence? More existentially: is the Hall meant to celebrate the sport (and make sure there is a ceremony each year)? Or is this truly a sacred space for the mega-accomplished?
One clarification: The players category is based on playing results only. So for example, Moya’s success as the coach of Rafael Nadal shouldn’t technically be considered. (A few months back someone asked a similar question about Juan Carlos Ferrero who, of course, won a major as a player but now has two—and counting—as a coach.)
I think voters—at least media voters— should be transparent and disclose their picks. So I will do that eventually.
Jon, I just noticed Max Cressey is ranked outside the top 100. Say it ain’t so. Is serve-and-volley tennis officially dead?
Bob W., New York
Yes and no. It is very hard to be fully committed to serve-and-volley tennis. (And let’s pause here and acknowledge the Max Cresseys and Taylor Dents who have/had the guts to try.) We talk a lot about the physical demands of charging netward after every serve. What about the emotional strains of watching passing shots go whizzing by? Or making sure your serving is pinpoint because it is not simply a point starter, but a necessity for setting up your next shot … that you will be taking out of the air. Every piece of behavioral psychology militates in favor of reducing risk and hanging back.
I do think serve-and-volley as a periodic tactic is very much alive and well. During the Laver Cup I was watching Francisco Cerundolo (!) follow his serve to the net with some regularity. Not every point. But often enough. It’s like saying “is slicing dead?” There are few (no?) top players who slice their backhand on every point. But there are also few who don’t deploy a slice at least occasionally.
Jon, you wrote “We can all point to athletes who have had decisions reduced or vacated on appeal, or who have successfully pointed to procedural errors.” Can we? Is it that many? Do we have a number to look at? Do you think the list of exonerated athletes is anywhere near as long as the guilty? I remember [Richard] Gasquet successfully explaining the cocaine in his system as the result of making out with some hottie at da club, maybe one or two others, but are there really that many who have been wrongfully accused?
Especially if you expand beyond tennis and look at cycling and baseball, every cheater claims they’re the victim, and yet I can’t think of anyone in those sports who was wrongfully accused. Why in tennis would we think it’s any different? Guilty people lie.
I don’t have hard data—and don’t know if it exists—but there’s no doubt the false positives outnumber the athletes who have made fierce denials only to be discovered as liars as well as cheaters. (See: Armstrong, Lance…who went into full psychopathy when he began suing people he knew were being truthful.) My point: there have been notable cases of mistakes. I am thinking pf Peter Bol. But even within tennis, I can think of examples. Robert Farrah, for instance, was cleared when it was revealed that tainted meat could have triggered his positive result.
Your larger point is a good one. Athletes never (seldom anyway) say: “Damn. Got me. I did the crime, now I need to do the time.” Instead we can have tainted supplements and pasta defenses and conjoined twins and clear-versus-cream and denials that are recanted in the face of evidence or stiff legal penalties. And the next time an athlete professes innocence, the public is that much less believing.
I thoroughly enjoyed your recent piece “50 Parting Thoughts From the 2023 U.S. Open.” It made me wish, however, that I had written to you before publication to suggest including mention of the doubles team [Nathaniel] Lammons and [Jackson] Withrow, who have had such a great run this year. I first happened upon them at one of their matches at the Miami Open this year. Sat next to some friends of theirs and, if I remember correctly, heard that they had been thinking of leaving the tour but were giving it one more go. I was thrilled to watch them do so well there. It was then great to watch them go so far on the grass courts and at Wimbledon. Then at the U.S. Open, they came in seeded 15th, defeated the No. 1 seeded team and made it to the quarterfinals! They are now ranked 10th in the live rankings and have a shot at making it to the finals in Turin. Hoping you find some way to write about these two players who are having a great run!
Thank you for your always interesting writing about tennis,
Thanks much. Again: every match tells a story!
HAVE A GOOD WEEK, EVERYONE!