ESPN hosted a spirited conference call today with tennis analysts and former pros, Mary Carillo and Patrick McEnroe, and we touched on many of the biggest controversies going into Wimbledon. Let’s spark up some debate, shall we?
1. Rafael Nadal’s Knees
Ripped. (Or Torn Up?) is the title of the lengthy profile on Rafael Nadal in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. Appropriate title, since the biggest story in tennis right now is the state of Rafa’s tendinitis-plagued knees. Everyone’s dying to know: Will he be able to defend his Wimbledon title?
Patrick McEnroe isn’t buying it:
“I’m a little dumbfounded by all the talk on how bad his knees are. I think he pulled from Queen’s (a Wimbledon warm-up tournament) because he’s mentally spent. Last year at the US Open everyone was talking about how tired he was and he lost in the semis. Five days later I saw him practicing in Madrid (in the Davis Cup semis vs. U.S.A.) for four or five hours a day. I’m not exaggerating. . .I have a hard time believing he’s really that hurt.”
“I think he’ll be fine (at Wimbledon). It’s more of a mental battle for him in losing the French.”
With news that Rafa’s playing an exhibition match against Lleyton Hewitt on Thursday (click here), it would be shocking if he wasn’t ready to go on Centre Court this Monday. But whether Nadal loses in the first round or takes another bite off the trophy, his famous knees will be the main talking point of the tournament.
2. The Seeds
Wimbledon singles seedings were announced today. Wimbledon stayed true to the the tours’ rankings for the most part, making just a few not-so-controversial changes based on past grass court performance. (Click here for a refresher course on Wimbledon’s seeding process.) World No. 8 Fernando Verdasco is seeded 7th ahead of Gilles Simon, ’08 semifinalist, Marat Safin, is seeded at 15 instead of 23, and Ivo Karlovic is seeded 23 though ranked 31. Maria Sharapova enjoyed the biggest bump on the WTA side, seeded 24 despite her ranking of 59. (via Express India)
The controversy comes, funnily enough, from Wimbledon’s decision not to fiddle at the top. World No. 1, Dinara Safina, is seeded No. 1, with Serena and Venus seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respective of their rankings. This seems fair enough, until you compare Venus’s Wimbledon record with Safina’s:
- Venus Williams: career Wimbledon record of 51 wins/8 losses, 5-time champion (and defending champ), 2-time finalist
- Dinara Safina: career Wimbledon record of 7 wins/6 losses, never been past the 3rd round (and never won a Major)
Mary Carillo says she’s surprised at the seeding committee’s decision: “I don’t think it’s right that Dinara Safina is the top seed at Wimbledon. Venus Williams has won it 5 times. The seeding committee can make tweaks and I think Venus should be seeded first.“
Depending on how Friday’s draw goes, the Williams sisters may meet in the semis, instead of the final. And don’t underestimate the power that the Williams sisters have in promoting the game – Mary Carillo admitted that deep into ESPN’s first week of French Open coverage, the highest television ratings came during an early round Williams sisters’ doubles match. Speaking of doubles, it will be interesting to see how the defending champs are seeded at Wimbledon.
3. Murray Mania.
This is not so much a controversy as a condition, and it will definitely be a hot topic at Wimbledon. Visit the tennis page at the London Times (click here) for a prime example of Murray Madness. If you knew nothing about tennis, you’d be forgiven for assuming that it’s Murray’s sport and we’re all just playing it.
A sampling of headlines cluttering the page: “(John) McEnroe bullish on Murray’s hopes,” “Murray bullish about Wimbledon prospects,” “Murray can win, says Borg,” “Henman: Murray my choice to win at SW19,” “Andy Murray evokes bygone era of style,” (referring to the hyped-up unveiling of his Fred Perry Wimbledon duds), “Murray hunts for success on hallowed turf,” “Andy Murray has grow up in public. Learn to love him” and, as a scolding to all the Murray-haters: “Best of Britain deserves United Kingdom.”
Oh and there’s this ad (via Off the Baseline):
So is the hype justified? Patrick McEnroe thinks not:
“I don’t think this is the time, no. He’s certainly getting closer. (Winning) Queen’s Club was a good result but let’s be honest: Nadal and Federer weren’t there. I still believe that Murray lacks a little bit of that aggressive physicality to win this tournament. The conditions have slowed a lot at Wimbledon but you have to be able to penetrate and put some juice on the ball. . .I don’t think he has enough of that to beat the top players when they’re playing well. And if he meets a Nadal or Federer at Wimbledon they’re going to be playing well. I’m not a true believer yet.“
Has he been talking to Roger (click here)?
Grunting has been a perennial topic at Wimbledon ever since Monica Seles grunted her way to the finals in 1992, facing so much ire that she lost to Steffi Graf while trying to muffle herself. With everyone and Martina Navratilova (click here) complaining about Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and the screeching phenom, Michelle Larcher de Brito – who was given a wild card into the tournament – the ITF is looking into ways to officially quiet things down. But is real change possible or will grunting and grouching continue to be a Wimbledon tradition?:
“I hate it. It’s noise pollution to me.” Mary Carillo says. “On a practical level, I agree that it should stop. But how exactly would it work?” She imagined a scenario where Maria Sharapova grunts her way through a 28 stroke rally and is given a point penalty after hitting the winning shot. She prescribed prevention as the best cure: “You have to stop the kids from doing it in the 10 and unders.”
Do you dare disagree with us tennis purists? Click here to read Jon Wertheim’s take.
5. Roger Federer, man or G.O.A.T?
Is Roger man, G.O.A.T., both or neither? Reuters picks up the debate in an article titled: “Federer aims to win back his crown by being more of a man.” Here’s what the Man-Goat told reporters in London:
“I feel like I’ve definitely become more a man now than in the last few years since I’m not scared of five setters anymore. I can handle the pressure. I had to show my fighting spirit more than ever and it’s nice to have had a chance to show those qualities because before everybody was just used to my dominance. It’s good to know for myself that I can also do it differently.”
But is Roger man-enough? A French journalist was quoted in the NYTimes piece on Rafa: “Every tennis lover would like, someday, to play like Federer. But every man wants to be Rafael Nadal. Which is different.”
Okay, so Roger may or may not be (The) Man, according to current thinking, but what about the G.O.A.T. thing? Well. . .
“Nadal is being underserved in the G.O.A.T. discussion.” says Mary Carillo, after admitting she’s not a big fan of the debate. “If Nadal wins the U.S. Open, he will have a career slam and he’s only 23.”
“In the tennis I’ve seen in in my lifetime Federer is the most complete player” says Patrick McEnroe. “Irrespective of the numbers and from a pure technical standpoint, Roger is the best tennis player I’ve ever seen.“
But what really matters is what Federer thinks, and he thinks he’s ready to win Wimbledon (via Reuters):
“I do think I’m the favorite actually, with the success I’ve had. . .With no disrespect to the other players. . .I feel like I’ve got the game, I’ve got the mental approach and I’ve got the experience to win at Wimbledon many more times.”
Now that’s something no one can disagree with (right?)