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Rafael Nadal Inching Toward Record Slam at Australian Open, But a New Rival Looms

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We’re nearing the boys’s and ladies’s semifinals at the 2022 Australian Open, however Wednesday is Mailbag Day. Earlier than I dive in, a few programming notes:

• The tv proposition was problematic (see extra beneath), however from right here on out, ESPN ought to have the matches as earlier than.

• Tennis Channel’s pregame present with Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport, Steve Weissman and a hack author begins at 5 p.m. ET.

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It is Nadal’s Aussie Open to lose, Jon. Have you ever seen his draw? [Alexander] Zverev shedding made it a cakewalk draw to the ultimate! Amazed he wasn’t all people’s favourite the way in which he is taking part in now. 4-time shedding finalist along with his sole 2009 title however taking part in one of the best of anyone left within the draw. And with all due respect to [Daniil] Medvedev, in a one-off ultimate, I fancy Nadal over him day-after-day of the week, on any floor. Ideas?
-James W.

• I wouldn’t say it’s Rafael Nadal’s to lose. Medvedev—a finalist in 2021 and winner of the earlier Main—is the favourite as I write this. But Nadal is now six units from the title and, with it, a file. [Heading into the Australian Open, Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were tied with 20 Grand Slam titles apiece.] What a story. His draw has not been particularly tough. But whose has been? He has benefitted from his selection of scheduling—requesting to play within the day when the ball is popping off the court docket. But these are the perks conferred on a 20-time Main champ. Loads of tennis left.

Jon, I watched Nadal play and have been blown away by his degree, particularly at 35. How can it’s that he has received the Australian solely as soon as?
-Carlito

• He has received solely as soon as (2009), however he’s had loads of success. And realistically he may have three or 4 titles. His physique gave out in opposition to Stan Wawrinka. He misplaced that absurd ultimate to Novak Djokovic in ’12. He had Federer up a break within the fifth set in ’17. I bear in mind Jim Courier speculating a few years in the past that Nadal wanted a while to work his means into a season and for all of the gamers who may begin the yr sizzling (see: Agassi), Nadal wasn’t essentially one in every of them.

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Whats up, Jon, I hope you’re properly. Honest warning: wacky conspiracy principle forward. Truth: There was not one second of ESPN TV protection on Peng Shuai or a complete girls’s sport leaving China. Attainable clarification? Risk from China to ESPN’s mum or dad firm as has been seen with motion pictures from that mum or dad firm? Fairly skinny proof for the idea, however any ideas?
Respectfully,
-Anthony, Brookline, Mass.

• I can’t communicate for ESPN. I might assume a extra apparent clarification could be: When you have got a “partnership” with an occasion or league, it doesn’t behoove you to take vital or controversial stances. I say this with a lot of pleasure about our manufacturing assembly at Tennis Channel. Martina had robust ideas on the subject and requested that Peng Shuai be addressed. The response was successfully, “Go for it.” Right here’s the work product:

From [Tennis Australia CEO] Craig Tiley’s bungling of your complete Djokovic mess to the match’s choice to pressure followers to take away their “The place is Peng Shuai?” clothes, I can’t recall a main match committing so many unforced errors. Are you able to? All of us love the Aussie Open, however the management has embarrassed itself right here.

-Andy, New York Metropolis

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• Sure, to their credit score, the occasion—and it appears ridiculous as I write this sentence—reversed its ban on the #WhereIsPengShuai apparel. (Deeming a query over a participant’s well being and security “political speech” backs you into a hell of a nook.) Craig Tiley has achieved a rare job working this occasion and elevating it over the previous decade-plus. But this yr has, objectively, been a step again, stuffed with unforced errors, hole statements and reputational harm.

One overarching criticism: These selections present such a insecurity within the product. All the Djokovic saga had an underlying message of, “We’re in serious trouble if we don’t get the celebrities right here. Roger and Serena Williams are out. Nadal is a query mark. We’d like Novak and can go to excessive lengths to get him right here.” It ought to have been, “We’ve constructed a rare occasion that has extraordinary followers and whereas we, like all tournaments, need the deepest subject potential, we’re assured that may prevail regardless of who comes.”

Likewise, the Peng Shuai self-goal smacks of, “We don’t need to anger the Chinese language sponsors.” How about: “If the WTA can take away ten friggin’ occasions from China within the identify of doing the fitting factor, we are able to threat an indignant name—and even misplaced income— from a beverage producer.”

Hello, Jon, I simply wished to take a second to understand the concept of Zverev because the AO favorite. When was the final time a non-major winner was talked of as a real favorite? When was the final time the GOATs didn’t get rid of that risk?
-Beate, England

• Good level. Full disclosure: I picked Zverev. I used to be not rewarded for that present of confidence. Ought to have caught with Wilander Rule: You’ll be able to’t be a favourite to win a Main till you’ve received a Main. (Nadal at the 2005 French is the exception.)

When Zverev misplaced in straight units to Denis Shapovalov, one response I had: all reward for the Huge Three (and add Murray right here as properly.) Their relentless excellence, taking part in deep into Majors, is laid naked by outcomes like this. Dominic Thiem wins the U.S. Open and falters at the subsequent Main. Zverev wins the ATP Finals and may’t get past the center weekend of the subsequent Main. Statistically, that is regular. Some days you simply don’t have it. But word how seldom Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer had these tough days.

Is there a explicit motive you uncared for to present a grade to Felix [Auger-Aliassime]?

-David H.

• Too many gamers to hit them. But, additionally, a bizarre first week for Felix, no? Struggled and sprayed balls for the primary two rounds. Then completely chopped up Dan Evans, who had overwhelmed him in Melbourne final yr. And, subsequent to that, Marin Cilic—in opposition to whom he was 0–3.

I’m typing this prematurely of the semis. But what an auspicious begin to the yr for Felix. He’s nonetheless inclined to some tough error-strewn patches. (Be aware a 0–6 set in opposition to Medvedev earlier this month.) But he’s additionally proven actual poise taking part in himself out of those lapses. He misplaced the primary set in opposition to Cilic—in opposition to whom he was 0–3—after which cruised. He’s the underdog in opposition to Medvedev. It’s unlikely his first title will come at a Main. But he’s proven his prime ten bona fides in 2022.

Sam Stosur as a Corridor of Famer? Actually, Jon?
-Andy W.

• Actually. At her behest, Sam Stosur’s retirement was underplayed. She declined to play on a present court docket and, I’m instructed, requested repeatedly that any celebration be small. With out undermining her needs, the Republic of Tennis must acknowledge a really stand-out profession. A Barbora Krejcíková-vibes mid-career improve from doubles participant to singles stalwart. A French Open ultimate. A U.S. Open title beating an in-prime Serena within the finals. Main doubles titles deep into her 30s. (She remains to be taking part in doubles, by the way in which.) A kind of gamers about whom you by no means heard something however admiration and affection from her friends. One particular person, one vote, however she’s a Corridor of Famer on my poll.

Hello, Jon, simply questioning if you happen to may clarify the puzzling Australian Open protection practices of ESPN and Tennis Channel this yr. With so many engaging matches obtainable in the course of the early rounds, this fan finds it maddening that whereas many are uncovered, others are proven reside on ESPN, then on tape on the Tennis Channel and nonetheless in a while tape on ESPN. (As I write this I’m watching Collins/Mertens and Halep/Cornet for the third time and questioning why we noticed not a minute of Osaka/Anisimova reside or on tape final week regardless that it was of adequate curiosity to be talked about on the CBS Morning information. My guess is it has one thing to do with greed and ESPN +.

-John Rossitter, Middletown, Conn.

• This must be addressed going ahead. Listed here are the incentives: Tennis Australia—particularly after two years of decreased attendance—must restore stability sheets and money the most important media rights checks potential. ESPN must restore stability sheets as subscriptions fall. This implies pushing content material to paid streaming platforms (particularly throughout soccer season; particularly throughout infomercial hours.) Nobody is appearing egregiously. The issue: it’s to the whole detriment of the fan and, by extension, sport. As each different leisure choice will get simpler and simpler to seek out, tennis will get more and more tough.

I do know the memo is “bash Novak” and that’s your playbook as that performs to the mobs that kind the vast majority of your readership. But if the media had any integrity, why are they not asking why the Aussie authorities kicked out a wholesome Novak (on the pretext that he would possibly catch COVID and go it to an Aussie) whereas they quietly let in an contaminated [Andrey] Rublev into the nation? I’m sorry, that is an inconvenient query, so please be happy to skip it and pander to your base.
-Kasi

• There’s no memo. There’s no bashing. There’s no playbook. There’s no mob. There may be a contingent of individuals—a overwhelming majority by each indication—who thought a stubbornly unvaccinated participant, making use of after the deadline, who was not totally truthful on his types, was not on agency grounds making an attempt to enter Australia. Within the case of Rublev, a) he was vaccinated and b) regardless of his constructive check from December, he fell inside an exemption—constructive and “persistent shedding” however recovered. Some light reading for you.

A C for Djokovic is far too beneficiant. He undoubtedly deserves an F as does Tiley.
[email protected]

• The gentleman’s C, we name it …

ENJOY THE FINAL WEEKEND, EVERYONE!

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