Reading the Readers: Oct. 11

Friday, October 11, 2013 /by
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AP Photo

It's never too late in the season to read the readers, and write back. If you have a question or comment for this column, email me at stignor@tennismagazine.com.

*****

Steve,

I saw an article in USA Today where Viktor Troicki’s coach was interviewed. The coach complained that Troicki was given bad information from the doctor and his sentence is too long, but it hardly seemed like he helped out much. The coach said he was laughing at Troicki when he had to take a blood test at the French Open. Shouldn’t he have just told him to man up and take the test? It’s a little late to complain now.—Rusty

The coach in question is Jack Reader, a former player from Australia who once worked with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Reader is a good guy, as well as a longhaired chain-smoker with the leathery, laid-back demeanor of a recovering Deadhead. When you try to imagine an authority figure or an instiller of discipline, his face isn’t the first that comes to mind. 

Which isn’t ideal in this situation, because, as was noted in the ITF’s tribunal summary of Troicki’s case, it’s the responsibility of every coach to make sure his or her player follows the tours’ doping guidelines. Reader was with Troicki in Monte Carlo, which means he shares some of the blame for what happened.

That said, I agree with Reader that Troicki’s 18-month sentence is too long. When it was handed down, I thought nine months was appropriate. The standard punishment for refusing to take a test is two years, and I don’t think there’s any question that Troicki should serve some time—players can’t be allowed to get out of being tested because they don’t feel well or have a phobia, which were the reasons he gave. Yet there were also enough mitigating circumstances to make a year and a half, in the prime of the guy’s career, feel like too heavy a punishment. (Troicki’s appeal of the ITF’s decision was heard this week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which says it should have a decision within a month.)

If nothing else, the case, and the sentence, will remind the pros of the consequences of not taking a test. Just as important, it will remind the coaches that they need to take these things as seriously as their players.

*****

What did you think of Roger Federer this week, on the court and on Twitter?—DaveC

His fan Q & A on Twitter was great, though at first I didn’t believe it was him. I had trouble getting my mind around the idea that he once watched the TV show “Heroes,” as he claimed. Or that he would use the word “selfie” and the hashtag #chillax. Or that he would ever type the words, “I don’t drink and tweet #responsibleRF. Or that he would know the phrase, made famous by Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ about practice.” But apparently that was the real RF. What isn’t surprising is that he has a sense of humor—he’s alway had that, as well as an easy laugh. It’s nice that a star of his magnitude would interact in such an easygoing way with his fans.

As for Federer off-line and on-court, that’s a slightly different story. It would be nice if not every one of his losses led immediately to speculation about his future, or lack thereof; but apparently that's how it’s going to be from now on. I read a few reviews of his performance in Shanghai that claimed it represented progress after his losses over the summer. I’m not sure that’s how Federer would feel about beating Andreas Seppi and taking one close set from Gael Monfils. I didn’t see all of the second match, but when I watched, Federer’s forehand looked forced rather than flowing. His ace count was also low, which could be a lingering effect of back trouble, or the quickness and range of his opponent, or a decrease in Federer's explosiveness in general. Either way, he hit just three aces to Monfils’ 15. And it wasn’t as if Federer rose up like the proverbial Lion in Winter to win that second set, the way he did when he rallied to win the fourth set over Andy Murray in their Australian Open semifinal this year. In Shanghai, Monfils lost the second because he suffered a semi-predictable brain cramp at the end of the tiebreaker, when he suddenly couldn’t find the broad side of a barn with the ball. 

Still, Federer is healthy enough to train, he’s taking a positive, “not too many points to defend” view of 2014, and he’s entering a traditionally productive part of the season for him. Two years ago, the great European indoors inspired Federer’s eventual rise back to No. 1. We’ll see where it leaves him this year. Hopefully it will at least get him to London.

*****

Steve, I saw that you were talking on Twitter today about “generations” of players. Do you really think Nadal and Federer are the same generation? They’re five years apart, which is half of a career in tennis.—Barry

This will depend on your definition of the word generation. Outside of tennis, it typically means 20 years; as you say, because players' lives are so short, we understand it to be a shorter span of time inside the game. No one today is going to claim that Jim Courier, No. 1 in the early '90s, is from the same generation as Rafael Nadal, No. 1 today. Though perhaps, 200 years from now, they'll seem closer in time and spirit than they do today.

It’s hard to group players by generation, because all of their ages are slightly different, and some will play longer than others. Were Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, born seven years apart, of the same generation? The older player, Connors, retired just one year before the younger. These days, on the men’s tour, the word seems to mean roughly five years—there are the 30-somethings, Federer-Hewitt-Haas-Youzhny-Benneteau (and Nalbandian-Blake-Roddick); then there are the guys about five years younger, Nadal-Djokovic-Murray-del Potro-Gasquet. But there are also a cluster of in-between players who are currently 28—Berdych, Wawrinka, Tsonga, Isner, Simon, Almagro. David Ferrer is even harder to fit into a group. At 31, he’s close to Federer’s age, yet his late-career rise makes him feel like a member of the Nadal crew.

Are Rafa, 27, and Roger, 32, of different generations? They definitely came up with separate peer groups, separate friends and rivals on tour—Federer is just a year younger than the long-retired Marat Safin. Yet the first time Federer and Nadal played each other, in March 2004, Federer was just 22 (Nadal was 17). Can you really say someone is of a different generation when you begin playing him at such a young age, and continue to play him—31 times and counting—through all of the best years of your career? I don’t think so. 

What we should do is scrap the word “generation” altogether. “Era” is the better word. It covers a longer period and allows us to groups players without worrying about their exact ages. Connors and McEnroe may or may not have been of the same generation, but two players who faced each other 34 times, as they did, can't come from different eras. I would imagine that, in 30, 50, 100 years, we’ll see Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, del Potro, Raonic, Hewitt, and even Safin as all having played their parts in a—very good—era in men’s tennis.

*****

Have a good weekend. I'll be here with Racquet Reactions of the semis and final in Shanghai.

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