By Art Spander
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — So Jack Sock, who was discussing dinner with Bill Gates and, oh yes, Roger Federer — those tennis people live life — was asked when an American player, such as Sock, actually might win a Grand Slam tournament, the way Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi used to do.
“So you want to talk tennis now?” Sock said rhetorically — and somewhat disappointedly. He was having such a grand time discussing forecasts of the future provided by Gates, the Microsoft guy, and teasing when someone asked about the forecasts: “I can’t give that away.”
The real issue at the moment — now and forever — is the future of men’s tennis in America. The U.S. ladies, certainly, are in fine shape, literally as well as metaphorically.
Sloane Stephens won the 2017 U.S. Open, and if an American can win only one of the four majors, that’s the one. Thursday night, Serena Williams, who’s won them all, again and again, returns to WTA competition here at the BNP Paribas tournament at Indian Wells Tennis Garden
But no American male has won a Slam tournament since 2003, 15 years if you’re counting. That was Andy Roddick, who is from Nebraska. As is Sock. You never suspected the heart of U.S. men’s tennis was in the heartland of America, did you? Cornfields and forehands.
Down here, it’s cactus and streets named for celebrities, starting with Bob Hope Drive and Frank Sinatra Drive. Gerald Ford has his roadway. Tennis? Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who’s won the French Open and Wimbledon, walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards earlier this month 130 miles up the road in Hollywood. According to one story she “turned heads in a black asymmetrical gown and had many asking, ‘Who is Garbiñe Muguruza?’”
Until the end of last year, the question from the casual sports fan might have been: who is Jack Sock? Then he won three titles, qualified for the ATP Championships (for which he was unprepared) and coming in at No. 9 was the first U.S. man to end the year in the top ten since Roddick in 2010, seven years earlier, a lifetime in tennis.
You would think Sock would be excited. He was, with an asterisk. He had his late summer and fall all organized, and then, wham, he had fly to London to be one of the eight singles contestants in the Nitto ATP Finals, which is sort of like the sport’s March Madness in November.
The next thing he knew, he was in the Australian Open this January. If not for long, losing in the first round. Around the world, and plop.
“That day I flew home from Melbourne,” said Sock, who lives in Kansas City, “and I was in the gym. For four weeks, I was trying to get my mind straight again.”
Success, or the result of success, had socked the 25-year-old Sock.
“I had no expectation of being in London,” he said. “I had to redo my schedule. I had no idea of what was going on. I had some commitments, traveling a lot in the off-season, things that in hindsight I wouldn’t have scheduled. But you live and learn.
“I took time off after Australia. Home in my own bed for more than two days. I feel a lot more confident now.”
To be invited to take part in the Federer-Gates exhibition and dinner, the money from the sellout crowd at SAP Arena in San Jose, $2.5 million, going to Federer’s African educational fund, verifies Sock’s new status.
He’s the so-called heir apparent in U.S. tennis, a designation he accepts with a cringe.
“It’s enjoyable when you don’t talk about it,” he said. “I understand every time you talk about this. There’s such a rich history of American tennis, the fans here are used to somebody winning a Slam or at least competing for a Slam. Obviously there hasn’t been anyone at that level quite yet
“We’re doing our best. But there are a couple of guys, one named Federer, another named (Rafael) Nadal and another named (Novak) Djokovic. So it’s not the easiest thing to weasel your way in there in and win.”
Which is why a Grand Slam means so much.
Mr. Djokovic Isn’t Ready To Turn Over The Slams To Youth
Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier journalist James Beck reflects of the latest achievement of the world No.1.
The amazing Mr. Djokovic isn’t ready to turn over the Grand Slams to youth just yet. Not at just 32 years old.
Look at Roger Federer. He’s six years older and still capable of beating anyone on any surface on any given day.
And Rafa Nadal certainly isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Not at 33 years old, and just a tiebreaker or two from maybe replacing Dominic Thiem in Sunday night’s Australian Open men’s singles final.
There you have it, the Three Legends — Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. It’s highly unlikely they’re finished for the year at the Grand Slam level.
NOVAK SPECTACULAR DOWN THE STRETCH
For the last two sets of the Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic was just as spectacular as he was in 2008 when he won his first of eight Australian Open singles titles.
Djokovic brushed aside the talented Thiem when it appeared the new crop of stars was ready to take over from the Legends. That was the last two sets in a riveting 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Djokovic win over the 26-year-old Thiem.
Unless Nadal gets hot the way he did last year when he won a pair of Grand Slam titles to give the Spaniard five of what now is 13 consecutive Grand Slam titles by the Three Legends, Djokovic could make the all-time Grand Slam title race really tight by the time he returns to Melbourne in a year from now.
FEDERER AND NADAL OBVIOUSLY FELT PRESSURE
Federer obviously was feeling the pressure in a semifinal loss to Djokovic a few days ago, even though Nadal’s chase of Federer’s record total of 20 Grand Slam titles was put on hold until at least the French Open by a loss to Thiem in the quarterfinals. Nadal also didn’t seem to be his self in the long match against Thiem in which he lost three tiebreakers.
But now Djokovic is only two shy of Nadal’s total of 19 Grand Slams, and three less than Federer.
Of course, passing or matching another legend’s all-time mark isn’t easy. Just ask Serena Williams about her chase of Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam titles. Yes, Serena failed again at the Australian Open. We didn’t hear much from Serena after her third-round loss Down Under.
But Serena will keep trying, and maybe one of these remaining three opportunities of 2020 will be Serena’s day.
DJOKOVIC WASN’T HIMSELF IN THE MIDDLE SETS
Djokovic just wasn’t himself in the second and third sets, especially late in the second set when a double fault and two time violations, all in succession, took their toll on Novak and probably cost him the second set when he was serving at 4-4. Not only did he lose those three points and the game to fall behind 5-4, he lost seven straight points and six consecutive games.
That took care of the second set and most of the third set.
Suddenly, Novak was in a hole he had never before been in and survived at the Grand Slam final level. He was down two sets to one.
A LEGENDARY CAREER STILL GOING STRONG
Djokovic added a footnote to his still unfinished, but already legendary career by playing two of the greatest sets of his life to end Thiem’s immediate quest for a first Grand Slam title.
Thiem isn’t to be overlooked, however. He is amazingly talented. For awhile, Djokovic had no answer for Thiem’s powerful forehands and one-handed backhands, and super serve, not to mention his outstanding court coverage.
Outside of the Three Legends, Thiem appears to be in a class by himself. If he can last long enough, he almost certainly will become a legend himself one of these days.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at
Bigger Is Not Always Better When It Comes To The Davis Cup
The new Davis Cup format was unveiled at a week-long Madrid showcase. Read about how “first impressions are almost always the most lasting.”
Now that the “bigger must surely be better” version of the Davis Cup has concluded, it’s time to take a look at how the event itself has evolved over time. Initially, it was a clubby/chummy affair between the US and the British Isles, as Great Britain was known long before there was even a thought of Brexit. True, there had been international, country versus country tennis gatherings, such as England versus Ireland or England versus France, but that was in the 1890s. The “official” team competition wasn’t birthed until 1900 when the US and BI faced-off at Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Massachusetts.
The visitors, who were supposed to be the creme de la crème of tennis because they came from Great Britain, were throttled by their upstart hosts, 3-0. One of the competitors on the winning side was a Harvard student whose name was Dwight Davis. Five years after the launch, Australasia (with players from both Australia and New Zealand), Austria, Belgium and France took part in what was called the International Lawn Tennis Challenge. Perhaps to downplay the seeming pompousness of the title, the competition quickly became known as the Davis Cup, a salute to the perpetual trophy donor.
In the beginning, the event was played as a Challenge Cup. The set-up allowed the winner from the previous year to sit on the sideline while the other countries battled for a spot in the final. The “wait and watch” was great for the title holder but the format proved to be an ultra-marathon for all the other participants. In 1972 a change was finally made, and play became a somewhat more sensible win and advance tournament.
Since then, the international competition grew so large that it became unwieldy and modifications needed to be made. None of the alterations has even come close to matching the Madrid extravaganza that was created by Gerard Pique and his Kosmos team, supported by Hiroshi Mikitani’s Rakuten financing and sanctified by the International Tennis Federation.
Before going further, it must be stressed that the “old Davis Cup way” was no longer working. But, bulldozing history to put up a new event demands an overwhelming amount of thought and even more insight. Thus far, it appears that a “too much, too soon” approach has been built on a foundation that isn’t exactly sand, but something nearly as tenuous. The set-up has a number of fissures. It is as if, Pique and his collogues were trying to create a Tennis World Cup. Perhaps the group borrowed pages from the wandering methodology that has plagued the Fédération Internationale de Football Association Qatar World Cup preparation.
It must be mentioned that the novel undertaking was bold and there are hopes for it to get better. Still, with all the pre-tournament hype and sensational fanfare, there needs to be an assessment of what actually took place in Year One, in order for the event to improve. Particularly, in view of the fact that “first impressions are almost always the most lasting.”
A few of the issues that lead the “Could Have Done Better” list include:
- Match scheduling (the US versus Italy finished at 4:00 a.m., just in time for an early breakfast. (Nearly every match contested was almost nine hours in length.);
- Plodding ticket sales;
- Improvements in communication, so there is more clarity for the fans, players and media. Keeping the information flow accurate and continuous so that speculation doesn’t enter the tournament arena.
With the old Davis Cup there often were gripping, edge of your seat, emotional contests in the “five matches, five-set” play. Home and away ties truly added crowd fervor to a tasty recipe of competition.
It’s hardly surprising that whenever Spain played on the Manuel Santana Center Court, with a capacity of 12,422, the crowd was raucous. The Arantxa Sánchez Vicario No. 2 Court, with room for 2,923 spectators, rocked, but only on occasion. From time to time, Court No. 3 was loud too, but that was due more to having a mere 1,772 seats in an enclosed space than a collection of rabid fans.
Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt admitted that the atmosphere lacked feeling because of the neutral setting. French doubles standout Nicolas Mahut brought up how much his country’s fans ordinarily helped their team, but few were in attendance. Support groups of faithful French fans stayed away to show their unhappiness with the decision to scrap the old Davis Cup format.
In his New York Times, November 19th article, Christopher Clarey quoted Ion Tiriac. “The Brasov Bulldozer”, who owns the ATP Masters event held in Madrid, candidly said, “It is a joke and a disgrace. They have ruined the jewel of tennis.”
Reducing a tie to three matches (two singles and just one doubles) made the matches Tweet-like. Instead of slashing the number of characters that could be used, the new look limited the essence of the product being proffered – The players and their teams. The confusion became more profound on the rules front when it came to “play or don’t play” the doubles, the tie-break and translating the results system. It seemed only those with a mathematics degree could make sense of the situation. Additionally, with18 countries participating, many ended up feeling they were meandering members of a “lost tennis tribe”…or they came to the conclusion that they needed a serious calculation class.
Another issue, (and this may be the most bewildering particularly to journalists who have a stake in promoting the game worldwide), was the accrediting process. Anxious to have the tournament touted, the tennis media from here, there and everywhere was encouraged to apply for accreditation. Yet, a number of accomplished writers were denied credentials while, at least, two publications that no longer exist were granted event access.
A soccer pitch is sizeable (75 yards wide and 120 yards long but it can vary). In comparison, a tennis court is a tiny 26 yards long and 13 yards wide (including the doubles alleys). The point – There were many comments about the need for trekking skills to traverse the architecturally pleasing Caja Mágica three court complex. Perhaps hosting such a colossal spectacle at a new location, combined with “never been there or done that” brought about those first experience jitters.
Looking at the big picture, the most staggering aspect of the “new” Davis Cup was the 25-year agreement with $3 billion dollars at stake. How do tennis fans put these “Monopoly-money” like figurers into any meaningful perspective?
The quarter-century commitment and pledged funding are difficult to comprehend . The years and financial “unreal” combination brings to mind 1999, when the staggering ISL (International Sport and Leisure) Worldwide-ATP marketing, broadcasting and licensing agreement for “elite” tournaments was made. It was a ten-year arrangement for $1.2 billion. Unfortunately, ISL, which also had close ties with FIFA, collapsed in May 2001. Oops.
Canada’s performance was stellar in reaching the final against Spain. Because of the “magic” that had been part of its success, “The Great White North” was looking to join Australasia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden and US each of whom won the Davis Cup in its debut.
Having won the tie five times since 2000, the home country was a prohibitive favorite to earn number six. That Spain closed out the inaugural Pique/Kosmos/Rakuten/ITF Davis Cup, 2-0, wasn’t surprising. As a result, the Canadian first-timers joined Japan in 1921, Mexico in 1962, Chile in 1976, Slovakia in 2005 and Belgium in 2017 as debut finalists and history’s runners-up.
With 24 more years to go, the new Davis Cup has real potential. Still, the tennis world is trusting that the future offers more than a quote from Bob Dylan, the 2016 Literature Nobel Prize winner who many have regarded as the world’s poet laurate. In 1964, he said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
From afar, the 2019 Davis Cup appeared to be a week-long exhibition. Through no fault of its own, Spain benefitted, but was that fair to the others? It actually seems like something was lost in the transition translation.
A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology
I asked Nadal an innocent question about his wedding; he took it so badly that he eventually burst into an offensive: “That’s bullshit”
LONDON – I was really surprised by Rafael Nadal’s reaction to a question that was quite innocent and totally legitimate. A reaction I consider unbecoming of him, rude and silly. I sincerely hope he will extend his apology for this behaviour. Respect remains paramount, no matter if you are the greatest champion or the new kid on the block. In front of everybody, Rafa disrespected me.
I hadn’t seen him since the Laver Cup in Geneva. And in the meantime,… he had gotten married. I had no intention whatsoever to ask a particularly original question or, as I have seen written in some tweets, to “show off”. And I certainly didn’t want to provoke him. Maybe the question did not come out the way I wanted: we always need to be concise during press conferences, and you cannot explain all the details, but what I wanted to ask was simply for him to explain whether the days around his wedding day had been emotional, different from the normal routine made of trainings, forehands and backhands. That’s all, no malicious innuendos, no desire to be irritating or original. I was just curious about what I considered a special moment in his life. Getting married is usually not like taking a walk in the park, even when it is possible to rely on a full team taking care of the arrangements – I assume that was the case for him – and there aren’t many details you have to worry about.
I am sorry I am forced to report such an ill-advised behaviour by Rafa Nadal of all people. He is a champion and, before that, a young man I have always appreciated, with whom I have had a good relationship ever since I saw him play for the first time in Montecarlo. He was just 17 years old, and one night he finished his match against Albert Costa very late, playing under the floodlights, in front of a scattered crowd, when most reporters had already left the Country Club to attend the traditional soirèe the tournament organizes every year at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, next to the Jimmy’z.
This is the video footage of our exchange at the end of his English-language press conference, before the question time reserved for the Spanish press. Our dialogue starts at 10:50.
In essence, I asked Rafa if by any chance his wedding had been a disrupting element, albeit solemnly important, to his routine. This is the transcript of our interaction, with my notes in brackets.
Q. Tonight you were playing very short many times. I don’t know why, because you’re not used to that. I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing (in the life of a man and a woman, it was implied) before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. I’d like to know if somehow your concentration on tennis life has been a bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years (I was implying that it wasn’t love at first sight, I understand it didn’t turn his life upside down, but it still could have had some distracting effect, with the King of Spain being present and all… It wasn’t a small family wedding)
RAFAEL NADAL: Honestly, are you asking me this? Is a serious question or is a joke? Is it serious?
Q. It’s serious. (Off microphone.) Is not something that happens every day (at that point I had no microphone any longer so my retort was not captured by the official transcript), you can experience strong emotions, your parents, your wife, yourself…
RAFAEL NADAL: Okay. I surprise, is a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life.
Doesn’t matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy.
Maybe for you was (did he want to add ‘different’) — how many years you have been with your…
Q. Wife 30 years this year.
RAFAEL NADAL: And before?
Q. (off microphone) 5 years
RAFAEL NADAL: Ah, maybe before you were not sure. That’s why (he smiles to the rest of the press room and he adds). Okay. Okay. We move to Spanish, because that’s bullshit. Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, due to some background chatter in the interview room I didn’t hear the “bullshit” word, I just read it on the transcript after a few colleagues made me notice he disrespected me. In fact, as soon as I went back to the press room, all colleagues, French, Swiss, even Spanish expressed their support to me because my question was perfectly legitimate, it was not engaging, mean, embarrassing or indelicate. So much so that when Rafa asked me whether it was a joke or a serious question, I immediately replied “It’s serious”. I was surprised he even had to ask.
The fact that Rafa has been together with Cisca, Francisca, Maria Francisca or Mer for 15 years does not imply that the days around his wedding, with 300 guests, friends, the King of Spain Juan Carlos ans other sporting legends were just like a walk in the park. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether Rafa’s parents, or Meri’s parents or some of their close friends cried, were moved to tears, experienced all those emotions that are normally coupled with weddings.
If Rafa did not experience any emotions just because he has been with the same woman for 15 years, that’s his problem. As far as I am concerned, maybe I’m just more romantic, or softer, but I thought it would be normal to get emotional in tying the knot with the woman of your life in front of so many people; an important, unforgettable moment. People usually live that day as a very special day. Rafa does not hold back expressing his emotions when he wins an important point on court – over and above his “vamos”, his jumps and his fist pumps – if his wedding day was a routine experience for him, but just the formalization of his union by exchanging rings with his fiancée… well, I am sorry for him. I don’t know what Xisca thinks about it. Judging from Rafa’s response, there should be no enthusiasm or emotion capable to upset his routine, when getting married after having been with the same woman for 15 years. He was even surprised when someone, like myself, asked him about possible emotions on his wedding day. I am stunned. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I feel I should point this out because of the way he treated me.
To put it simply, I could not believe that even after dating the same woman for 15 years, the day before the wedding could be completely routine, without any emotional involvement. This is why I asked the question, without thinking it could be misinterpreted, or considered a joke, even less labeled as ‘bullshit’.
Perhaps Rafa was nervous because he had just lost a match (6-2, 6-4 without ever getting a break point) against an opponent he had always defeated before, Alexander Zverev. This could partially justify his behaviour, but he had not given any signs of nerves during the previous questions. I have always considered him an intelligent person. But sometimes even intelligent people make mistakes or say silly things. But they apologise afterwards. I hope Rafa is going to do it, sooner or later. If he won’t, never mind. But he will not make a very good impression to me or to all my colleagues, including the Spanish reporters from Puntodebreak and Eurosport who came to talk to me immediately after the incident.
I want to stress once again that my curiosity about how he may have reacted to an important moment in his life that I didn’t believe could be seen as a mere formality, was entirely innocent. He didn’t understand it, I hope someone will explain him, even if this for sure will not be an important moment in his life. Even if, in some way, we have been knowing and seeing each other for 15 years.
Article originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com
NOTE TO OUR READERS – In reference to the exchange occurred between myself and Rafael Nadal during the press conference following his first match, I have had a clarifying meeting after his win against Medvedev. We both have acknowledged the reasons that led to the misunderstanding and the subsequent exchange of unpleasant words, mainly due to our imperfect knowledge of the English language. This is it. We’ll turn the page, for everyone’s satisfaction, and Nadal and I maintain the mutual respect that has always been a cornerstone of our relationship. Our readers are naturally free to form their own opinion on this event, but at this stage any further comment would appear unnecessary. Thank you for your attention. (Ubaldo Scanagatta)
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