Reading the Readers: Feb. 21

Thursday, February 21, 2013 /by

It has been a fairly slow week for tennis news, but there's always chatter enough for a mailbag. Send your questions and comments for this column to stignor@tennismagazine.com.

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Steve, what do you think of players being on Twitter? You might have read about Rebecca Marino being bullied by gamblers, and Laura Robson went off Twitter for a while—and she seemed to really like it. Is there something the WTA could do to help players with social media? They’re exposing themselves a lot.—Anuja

I’ve always wondered why an established star would join Twitter. Is the extra exposure worth the deluge of nasty and intrusive comments? I understood what Roger Federer meant when, after being asked if he would ever start an account, he said, essentially, “Why would I want to do that?” 

It’s worse for the players, like Marino and Robson and Sam Querrey—he was also driven off Twitter for a time—who may not have a PR person to handle their social media interactions and screen them from the ugliness. Some training and guidance would be helpful, if it’s not already happening. I think the ATP’s efforts over the years in making its players more media savvy has helped their image overall and contributed to our current era of good feelings. 

But Twitter is a learn-as-you-go world, with rules you may not understand until you break them. Even an intelligent and seemingly hardened veteran like Ivan Ljubicic hastily shut his account down last year after he made some remarks about American players not supporting European tournaments. Ljuby may have forgotten, as we can all forget when we’re tweeting, that his targets—in particular Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish—were reading what he wrote. Ljubicic is back now, and as far as I’ve seen he’s more circumspect with his opinions.

It should be remembered, though, that Marino didn’t “step away” from the game, as she put it, just because of social media comments. She says she has suffered from depression for six years. As stories go, that’s not as trendy as one about mean Twitter commenters, but it’s far more serious and, I’m guessing, more pervasive. I can imagine that the tennis tour, where players are alone with their defeats and where weaknesses can’t be admitted, would exacerbate any depressive tendencies a young person might have. The downward spiral that Marino experienced is what the tours should be helping their players to combat.

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Steve,

Did you see any of Jack Sock’s win over Milos Raonic last night? I missed it, but I’ve thought since last year that Sock was the best American prospect, better than Harrison. And what do you think the deal with Raonic is?—Donald Jett

The day after I write a post about watching live streams of tennis all day, I take a break to watch a Nature documentary on crows and look what happens—Sock goes out and upsets Raonic. (Still, the crow documentary is recommended; I had no idea they were such brainiacs.)

I made a point of watching Sock play last week in San Jose, for the reason you mention. At the U.S. Open last year, with his powerful serve and forehand, he did look like the U.S.’s best young male prospect, a more natural aggressor than Harrison. But in San Jose, I questioned that judgement as I watched Sock find a way to lose in straights to Marinko Matosevic. In the past, Sock had seemed a little like an American Bernard Tomic—performs well on the big national event stage, then fades into the background again. Now, with his win over Raonic, I obviously have to reassess again.

Put Sock’s recent results together with losses these past two weeks by Sloane Stephens, Laura Robson, and Ryan Harrison, and you can see that it’s a long and winding road to the top of pro tennis these days, and it’s hard to tell who is going to make it there from one week to the next. Remember that Harrison, whose results and ranking are sliding right now, recorded his own three-set win over Raonic in Indian Wells two years ago. The top men’s prospects these days, guys like Raonic and Dimitrov, have progressed slowly.

You can judge the speed of a forehand, but it takes time to know if a player “has it upstairs.” And even that judgment can be subject to change—for a time, it appeared that Federer didn’t have it in the mental department. Until he did. With Sock, you have to like the strength but you might wonder about the speed and flexibility, which have become paramount. As you can see from the photo above, he doesn’t have the classic lanky build of a tennis player. 

Young players always say that the biggest difference between the juniors and the pros is that the pros don’t take any games off—you can’t have mental lapses against them. As Federer and Tomas Berdych said about Tomic in Australia, what makes a Top 10 player these days is the ability to “bring it every day of the year.” Judging by that criteria, it seems like Raonic is still the most likely to succeed. Federer himself praised how Milos has handled his career thus far, getting the management side handled so he can concentrate on the tennis. Of course, Federer also said that at the same tournament, the Australian Open, where he thrashed Raonic in straight sets.

As for Sock, he brought it last night. Today is a new day, and there a lot of new days ahead.

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On your live streams post from this week: Sometimes they break up. I found this image [at right] interesting and snapped it with my cell phone.—David

Live-stream art: As a semi-regular visitor to museums and galleries in Manhattan, where digital art appears to be a trend, I think you could be on to something here. “Abstract Tennis” would make a nice one-man show.

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