Tennis star Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal pulled out of the London Olympics on Thursday due to injury.

Ex-France minister has to pay damages to Nadal

Rafael Nadal of Spain waves to supporters after losing his singles tennis match against David Goffin of Belgium at the ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Ex-France minister has to pay damages to Nadal

Rafael Nadal of Spain shouts during his singles tennis match against David Goffin of Belgium at the ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Ex-France minister has to pay damages to Nadal

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball to David Goffin of Belgium during their singles tennis match at the ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Nadal awarded damages over doping claim

Rafael Nadal has been paid €12,000 in damages after suing a French politician who suggested that he had doped in his career.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017. Spain's Rafael Nadal during a press conference after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin. Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017. Spain's Rafael Nadal during a press conference after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin. Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Roger Federer relaxes before raising game to beat Marin Cilic at ATP Finals

Roger Federer is in such a rich vein of form that he is even winning matches he could afford to lose. Thursday’s meeting with Marin Cilic in the Nitto ATP Tour Finals at the O2 Arena was a dead rubber, so when Cilic took the first set, Federer would have had every reason to drop his intensity. Instead, he raised it. By coming back to claim a 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory, Federer maintained his impressive record of only having lost four times all season. He also stayed on track for the potential maximum payout of 1,500 rankings points if he wins all five matches at this tournament. Which would send him into 2018 right on Rafael Nadal’s tail, only 140 points behind. “I told myself to try to relax a little bit,” Federer told Annabel Croft in his on-court interview. “We have a lot of pressure on us throughout the season, so it was nice to have less pressure and remind myself I am through regardless. Still, I wanted to keep the momentum going. “Knowing you have qualified on Tuesday evening is kind of weird,” said Federer, who knew he would finish at the top of the Boris Becker Group whatever happened on Thursday, and would avoid the other group winner, Grigor Dimitrov, in the semi-finals. “Try to relax now and one more push at the weekend, to finish off a great season.” Meanwhile, Nadal may have been forced out of this tournament by knee trouble, but he scored a victory on Thursday as well, though his came in a French legal court.  This was the outcome of a defamation case that he had brought against Roselyne Bachelot, the former French health and safety minister, who had claimed last year that Nadal was serving a silent doping ban when he sat out the second half of the 2012 season. Rafael Nadal was forced to abandon the ATP Finals earlier this week through injury Credit:  Getty Images   Neither party appeared in person at the trial, but Nadal’s lawyer brought medical evidence that Nadal was unable to play during that period because of his knees, while Bachelot could not support her claim with proof. As a result, she was fined £454 and told to pay £10,700 in legal fees. Her liability could have been higher, but the judge said there were no grounds to believe that her comments – which had been broadcast by the D8 channel in March 2016 – had damaged Nadal’s relationships with sponsors. Nadal responded to the verdict in a statement. “When I filed the lawsuit against Mrs Bachelot,” he said, “I intended not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete, but also the values I have defended all my career. I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation and to go unpunished. “The motivation as I have always remarked was not economical. The compensation will be paid back in full to an NGO or [charitable] foundation in France.” Finally, Czech police announced that they had abandoned efforts to track down the burglar who slashed the former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova with a knife last year.  “Despite extensive investigation, we have not managed to identify the attacker to date,” detective Jan Lisicky told reporters.

Roger Federer relaxes before raising game to beat Marin Cilic at ATP Finals

Roger Federer is in such a rich vein of form that he is even winning matches he could afford to lose. Thursday’s meeting with Marin Cilic in the Nitto ATP Tour Finals at the O2 Arena was a dead rubber, so when Cilic took the first set, Federer would have had every reason to drop his intensity. Instead, he raised it. By coming back to claim a 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory, Federer maintained his impressive record of only having lost four times all season. He also stayed on track for the potential maximum payout of 1,500 rankings points if he wins all five matches at this tournament. Which would send him into 2018 right on Rafael Nadal’s tail, only 140 points behind. “I told myself to try to relax a little bit,” Federer told Annabel Croft in his on-court interview. “We have a lot of pressure on us throughout the season, so it was nice to have less pressure and remind myself I am through regardless. Still, I wanted to keep the momentum going. “Knowing you have qualified on Tuesday evening is kind of weird,” said Federer, who knew he would finish at the top of the Boris Becker Group whatever happened on Thursday, and would avoid the other group winner, Grigor Dimitrov, in the semi-finals. “Try to relax now and one more push at the weekend, to finish off a great season.” Meanwhile, Nadal may have been forced out of this tournament by knee trouble, but he scored a victory on Thursday as well, though his came in a French legal court.  This was the outcome of a defamation case that he had brought against Roselyne Bachelot, the former French health and safety minister, who had claimed last year that Nadal was serving a silent doping ban when he sat out the second half of the 2012 season. Rafael Nadal was forced to abandon the ATP Finals earlier this week through injury Credit:  Getty Images   Neither party appeared in person at the trial, but Nadal’s lawyer brought medical evidence that Nadal was unable to play during that period because of his knees, while Bachelot could not support her claim with proof. As a result, she was fined £454 and told to pay £10,700 in legal fees. Her liability could have been higher, but the judge said there were no grounds to believe that her comments – which had been broadcast by the D8 channel in March 2016 – had damaged Nadal’s relationships with sponsors. Nadal responded to the verdict in a statement. “When I filed the lawsuit against Mrs Bachelot,” he said, “I intended not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete, but also the values I have defended all my career. I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation and to go unpunished. “The motivation as I have always remarked was not economical. The compensation will be paid back in full to an NGO or [charitable] foundation in France.” Finally, Czech police announced that they had abandoned efforts to track down the burglar who slashed the former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova with a knife last year.  “Despite extensive investigation, we have not managed to identify the attacker to date,” detective Jan Lisicky told reporters.

Rafael Nadal wins 12,000 euros in damages and legal fees from Roselyne Bachelot after she alleged he faked an injury in 2012

Rafael Nadal wins 12,000 euros in damages and legal fees from Roselyne Bachelot after she alleged he faked an injury in 2012 (AFP Photo/)

Thiem praises Nadal replacement Carreno Busta

Pablo Carreno Busta did well as Rafael Nadal's ATP Finals replacement, Dominic Thiem said.

Thiem digs deep to down Nadal replacement Carreno Busta

Deputising for injured compatriot Rafael Nadal, Pablo Carreno Busta made life tough for Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals.

Mailbag: Grading the Next-Gen ATP Finals Innovations and Rule Changes

Housekeeping...

• What Roger Federer and tennis can teach the world about globalization.

• Last week’s podcast guest was Andre Agassi.

• Next up, recapping the year with Paul Annacone.

• Congrats to the U.S. Fed Cup team.

Mailbag

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

I've been watching [the Next-Gen ATP Finals] and enjoying this although I'm somewhat worried that Jeff Bezos wants to take over the sport world as well as everything else. I've not been the target demographic for years now and I know that no one cares about my opinion anymore, but I still persist in my delusion that everyone is entitled to it.

I know they are using this event as a kind of Change Lab, so I'm here to weigh in on the changes. I expected to hate them all (a la Tevye Tradition!), but I surprised myself. I kind of like the court, although I would think this would have limited application since I think most tournaments include doubles. I like no ad scoring. And I think I like live Hawk-Eye, although the court looks a bit empty.

Definitely do not like sets being best of four. Don't see the point and it penalizes players who don't get off to a fast start. I realize that having five sets somewhat mitigates this problem, this seems more like a stunt rather than something that make watching tennis more enjoyable. Dislike no let serves, double HATE on-court coaching, which seems like a gimmick. Ugly, ugly optics for a sport where you are supposed to be able to think and problem-solve for yourself. I particularly disliked this iteration since apparently, players and coaches were told to talk to each other in English—yuck!

As always, “thanks” for listening and I look forward to your thoughts.
Patrick

• Last week we talked about the unfortunate draw ceremony in Milan. One of the real pities was that this misstep clouded what was otherwise a laudable effort. In the course of one event, the ATP tried a number of “innovations”++ some more successful than others, but all them of conveying the notion—admirably, I would suggest—that change is being considered and few components are sacred.

Experimenting without data or some empirical basis? That’s straight out of Hawkins Lab. But if you can marry proposed changes to some measure of appeal and efficacy, then we’re on to something. I give you one data point, and one data point only. But here’s where I stand on the tweaks we saw in Milan:

– Shot clock: Yes. Why not? True, it’s subjective when the chair starts the clock, but so what?

– Automatic line calls: Yes. You have the technology Why not use it? Rely on automation and not the reflexes of humans in an ever-evolving sport.

– Mid-match coaching. No. And note that the event’s winner, Hyeon Chung, didn't speak to his coach once during matches. Enough said.

– Four game sets. Meh. There were more “leverage points” but this could be achieved in a conventional six game set without ad scoring.

– No ad. Surprisingly, maybe. Didn't bother me at all.

– No lets on serve. Sure. And it was unclear whom it benefitted. Big servers had an advantage when serves ticked the net and dinked over. Returners had an advantage when ball ticked the net and became middle-of-the-box sitters.

++ Can we please cease conflating the self-serving “innovation” with “experiment”? If a new drug or a piece of code or self-driving car doesn’t work or doesn’t find favor in the market it is not innovative.

Overall, the ATP is to be commended. They approached this with an open-mind and a sense, rightly, that some of these ideas will work and others will be rejected. There was also a sense that fans’ reaction mattered. Now, next year, just the pick players’ groups out of a damn hat.

Hi Jon, two questions:

1.) The Masters 1000s are all done and dusted for 2017. This year saw seven new players contest their first ever Masters 1000 final. This is the highest number since 2001. Is this number more to do with the absence of Djokovic and Murray and the irregular Masters 1000 appearances of Federer (he played less than half of them this year) or a sign that the rest of the tour might be stepping up?

2.) Regarding Federer's more irregular appearances in Masters 1000 events this year, I think we can all agree that his careful managed schedule was a big plus for the tour. It protected his health and let him peak for the biggest events. I'm a huge fan of him for his game as well as his integrity.

However, his withdrawal from Paris hasn't been sitting well with me. It's understandable that he'd want a rest after Basel to recuperate for the World Tour Finals. However, he's now playing in an exhibition with Andy Murray this week. I realize that he made this commitment a while ago and that the exhibition is for a great charitable cause, but I don't like the optics of this. With the No. 1 ranking on the line, Roger withdrew from an elite level tournament that promises the participation of the top players and, a week later, played an exhibition. The fact that Nadal withdrew from Paris just two days after clinching the No. 1 ranking doesn't help me avoid the feeling that the public was shortchanged here.
Rohit Sudarshan, Apia, Samoa

• 1) I think your questions are very much connected. In the absence of a tennis infrastructure—you know, like a union; kids, ask your parents about unions—that protects players and meaningfully addresses their concerns about the schedule, the players have taken on the job themselves.

This is the economist’s classic labor/leisure trade-off.

Why don’t we all have second jobs? Because at some point we make a determination that the extra income is not worth the diminished units of free time. Same for star tennis players. Despite penalties and the missed ranking points and the opportunity cost of withdrawing from an event, they reach a point on the indifference curve, where the leisure units are more valuable than the income units at even the biggest events.

Roger Federer—rational, pragmatist that he is—has decided that beyond a certain point, it does him no good to play certain events. Some of this is driven by physical preservation. But he’s made the decision that the ATP won’t make for him.

First, good for him. This is why he’s still playing at age 36. Give me Federer playing a dozen events for 20 years over Federer playing 20 events for a dozen years. But, to your point, yes this has opened up the field. Combined with the absences of Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka, it stands to reason that more players and different players now have opportunity to go deeper in Masters Series events.

As for Federer missing Paris….give him a pass. He wins Basel, which I suspects he considers preparation enough for the ATP WTF event—also an indoor event—held a few weeks hence. He can’t reach the No. 1 ranking so that incentive is gone. And playing a charity event ought to be a point in his asset column, not his liability column.

How many more years does Venus Williams keep playing? What do you think, Jon?
Steve N., Miami, Fla.

• The boilerplate answer. “As long as she wants.” “As long as she think she can still be competitive.” “As long as she still finds her job fulfilling.”

I preface this by saying—as with Federer—this is completely to Venus’ credit. But I do think we need to consider her “wear and tear” years rather her chronological years. Earlier in her career—I can't stress this enough—she played fewer events than many other players, and certainly fewer than the WTA had hoped. She missed significant chunks of seasons with injuries. She also missed chunks on account of her autoimmune issues. She is the vintage sports car with a modest odometer.

Venus deserves all sorts of credit for her sustained professionalism and commitment. But she’s now gotten some time back in her late 30s. So while it's jarring to see a 37-year-old with a ranking of No. 5, I would submit she ain’t 37 in tennis years.

So glad to see Goffin playing so well now. What's his ceiling look like? Ferrer's career? Stan's? Murray's?
Cainim T.

• The knee-jerk comparison is to Ferrer and while it’s a little crass, I can’t think of a better one. (Miloslav Mecir maybe?) Goffin is a bit like Ferrer with a software update. He can do more off the ground and has a bit more versatility and speed. But same organizing principles. A guy who’s not going to win many matches with more power. But he will win a lot of matches with measured tennis, consistency and professionalism. A player to admire. A player who might worm his way into the top five and stay there. A player who will wring every last bit from his talent and his body. Not, perhaps, a player likely to win majors.

Long as we’re here, one of the underrated stories of 2017: Goffin is playing well at the French Open—the major he’s most likely to win. Midway through a match he stumbles on tarp. A tarp that is a) dangerously close to the back of the court and b) inexplicably camouflaged with the court surface. He stumbles, wrenches his ankle, is forced to retire and miss a chunk of the summer, including Wimbledon. Tort lawyers begin panting everywhere. (Think about Genie Bouchard for a moment.)

Goffin seems to shrug this off and when he returns in July he begins to play some of the best tennis of his career. Even with his injury, he wins more than 50 matches and makes the London field. If Goffin had the career of Murray or Wawrinka it would shock me. It’s hard—at 150 lbs.—lacking in weaponry, to be successful. (Murray—hardly an NFL linebacker—has 35 lbs. on Goffin.)

Still, tip the chapeau. Imagine if every athlete had this level of professionalism and efficiency.

I'm a few weeks late, but I wanted to address the question raised by another reader about whether servers win points more often than receivers even once the point has reached "neutrality.” There was a study a few years ago that suggested that pro golfers miss birdie putts more often than par putts, perhaps because they have a sense that they don't "need" to make them, whereas they're always disappointed to miss a par putt. It strikes me that the same may be true in tennis—the server feels like they need to win the point, whereas the receiver is maybe not putting in the same effort or is playing the point too conservatively.
Nick E.

• This is classic loss aversion. That is, we are motivated by the prospect of loss more than we are motivated by the prospect of gain. (The pain of losing $1 outweighs the joy of winning $1.) Golfers have two exact putts. Same distance. Same slope. Same break. The difference: one is for par; the other is for birdie. Turns out the golfers are significantly more accurate—and more aggressive—when it's the par putt. Why? Because if they miss the birdie putt, it stinks, but it felt like a bonus. If they miss the par putt, their score reveals a +1 and they feel the deeper sting of loss.

I love Kyle’s instincts, applying this to tennis. a) Would loss aversion explain why servers do well even when points have reached “neutrality.” b) I’ve wondered whether loss aversion explains why big servers dink in their second serves when, statistically, they would be better off bringing the heat. The prospect of loss (double faulting) outweighs the prospect of gain (winning the point off the serve.)

With October 12th having passed and still no news how likely is it that Azarenka will still be sitting out at the start of the 2018 season?
Oliver

• Full candor: I am conflicted as to how to proceed here. You have a two-time Grand Slam champion whose status is uncertain. Heading into the Slam at which she’s had the most success. At a time when the field is wide open and, at full strength, she would be a contender. That is a relevant sports story that falls squarely in the “fair game for coverage” division. On the other hand, you have an intensely personal situation that involves custody issues and the welfare of a young child who, obviously, has no agency here.

With full acknowledgment that those most impacted by this are the principals, this situation also strikes me as an interesting “media ethics fact pattern.” I’m inclined to err on the side of discretion and wait for Azarenka to inform the public as she sees fit and when she sees fit. Here’s her most recent statement.

Helen of Philly asked a question for last week's Mailbag about why they gave a wildcard to an Italian who won a tournament to go to Next-Gen in Milan rather than just giving the eighth slot to the next eligible player (Tiafoe). In China, at the Elite Trophy, they gave a wild card to the highest ranked Chinese woman player. Why did they do a tourney in Italy for the eighth spot? (BTW it was almost impossible to find any scores from that tourney). You responded by talking about the sexist controversy. Did the ATP decide that or was it the Italian Tennis Federation to gin up interest in Milan for the tournament? Or why did you duck the question?

Warren, Montreal

• A few of you noted that, while ranting about the regrettable draw ceremony, we neglected to answer the question. Answer: “The Italian wild card for the Next Gen ATP Finals was determined by the Italian Tennis Federation through a playoff tournament last weekend featuring the top 21-under players in the country. Quinzi won the tournament to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals.”

Hey Jon, is it just me or has the level of the ATP been extremely poor this year relative to recent years? Djokovic barely played all year and is still 10th in the race. Tsonga played at a pretty low level through the first half of the year and has still managed to win a career-high four titles in a year.
—Vivek, Houston

• This has been a strange year. The two top dogs to start the year (Djokovic and Murray) are beset by injuries and spiritual fatigue, we’ll call it, and pull up in the breakdown lane missing half the season and finishing outside the top ten. Same for the guy (Wawrinka) who won the last Slam of 2016. And the two new top dogs—really the two old top dogs—Federer and Nadal not only win, but win everything in sight practically. Four majors. More than half the TMS shields. That doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of the field.

No slight to Sascha Zverev, a future star and champion. But not once did he reach the second week of a major. And he is No. 3 in the world right now.

As for the tennis quality itself, this is always subject to debate. Are there more home runs because hitters are great? Or pitchers stink? Are they scoring more points because offenses are—to use a cloying, voguish word—dynamic? Or because defenses are porous? I’ve generally enjoyed the tennis year, both men’s and women’s, neither less than nor more than previous years.

But... "feel" is a verb that explains a state of mind or condition of body -- and it takes an adjective after it (eg. "I feel happy." "Jon feels cold.") Well, in this context, is an adjective (which means "of good health"), which makes the sentence "I don't feel well." perfectly correct.
SusieQ

• Not sure what to make of it, but grammar was a hot topic this week. Here’s Skip: As long as Sung was allowed to lodge a linguistic complaint, I’d like to award my own tennis Golden Raspberry:

Can we please dispense with the phrase, “take time away,” as in “he took time away from his opponent with that shot”? You can’t take something away from someone if they don’t have it to begin with, and the only time your opponent has is what you give them. There’s nothing wrong or misleading about the older expression of the same idea—“he rushed the other guy”—and it illustrates what happened in a much more accurate way. Rant over.

And here comes Ivan H of Barcelona: Howdy Jon, I have a bone to pick with the bone that Sung from Washington, N.J. wants to pick.....He/she complains about the degradation of adverbs in English, but overlooks the fact that we use MANY adverbs without the "ly" at the end. Some examples: "Get home safe." "I was driving fast." "This pizza is real good." "You work too hard." (This last example is extra interesting because "hardly" has a totally different meaning.) Merriam Webster even has a little video on this topic. Changes like this are not deterioration of a language, merely evolution.

Shots, Miscellany

• Defending singles champion Steve Johnson and six time doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan will return to River Oaks Country Club for the 2018 Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship which will take place April 7-15.

• Who’s in the market for a new tennis book?

• The USTA today announced that the U.S. Cellular Arena in Asheville, N.C., has been selected as the site for the 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round between the United States and the Netherlands, Feb. 10-11. Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with approximately 100 nations taking part each year.

• Argentine duo Gabriela Sabatini and David Nalbandian will represent tennis as Athlete Role Models at the third Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to be held in Buenos Aires on Oct. 6-18, 2018.

• In recognition of their lengthy and steadfast support of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Hope (Happy) van Beuren and Christopher Clouser have been appointed Life Trustees of the organization.

• For the fourth consecutive year, the BNP Paribas Open—held annually at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden—has been voted the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year, as determined by player vote.

• The Club at Ibis is pleased to announce that Jay Berger—who coached the U.S. Olympic and Davis Cup teams and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world—has been named to the newly-created job as Director of Tennis Instruction. Berger’s hiring gives The Club at Ibis the distinction of being the only major country club in the U.S. to have a director of golf instruction and a director of tennis instruction.

• Jason of Calgary has this week’s reader rant: Hi Jon, I’ve really been struggling with how I feel about the Next Gen Finals and the “innovations” that it’s espousing as not only cutting edge, but a harbinger of what is to come for tennis. On one hand, innovation is essential. I can’t imagine tennis surviving without James Van Allen and his tiebreak. Further, there appear to be several facets of tennis that if not in dire need of change, most certainly merit reconsideration in the spirit of fairness and to ensure longevity of players (e.g., the schedule, five-set tennis, fifth set no tiebreak, electronic line calling for all courts and all points, a serve clock, etc.). However, what is being done in Milan represents a fundamental reconsideration of what tennis is. Coaching, no-ad scoring, games capped at 5, etc. change what tennis is: a sport requiring speed and endurance, a strong game plan and the ability to abandon that plan for a next-best-thing when it isn't working, the ability to recognize this on your own, and the ability to not get down when you get down a break at 3 all.

The idea that having "more big points" makes for more exciting tennis seems like an idea conjured up in a boardroom. The reason that movies aren't "all action" is because the emotion evoked during the action sequences is greater due to the inclusion of other "plot points." Being broken at 1-2 is now basically the end of the set. It prevents the excitement of a comeback from 1-4, and although I don't have stats in front of me, I can't imagine that this is an uncommon occurrence unless you're playing John Isner.

The notion that tennis is in need of all of these innovations also seems like it was dreamed up in a boardroom by a marketing division composed of people who believe they have a finger on the pulse of Millennials (don't even get me started on the geniuses who "innovated" the draw ceremony). By shortening the games, sets, and matches, it is assumed that people who have their attention easily drawn to other things will "stay tuned" throughout the match. I don't think people watch tennis—at least I know I don't watch tennis—because the match will be over soon. I watch it because, for whatever reason, I develop a connection to a player (or a dislike for one). This emotional connection, along with a love for a game I wish I played better, is the reason I watch. And unless it's 70-68 in the fifth, I don't care how long it lasts. In fact, one could argue that because the game is shortened, there are actually fewer truly "big" moments. Someone would have to prove to me that less tennis equals more viewers. This seems difficult when attendance records continue to be broken at many tournaments.

I guess I'm not so much unsure about how I feel about this tournament as I am hopeful that leveler heads will prevail: some of the rule changes and innovations should be considered, but the game should be preserved. If the CEO of Coca-Cola in the mid-80's is still alive, I'm sure he/she would be happy to consult on the virtues of not tinkering with something that does not need tinkering with.

Mailbag: Grading the Next-Gen ATP Finals Innovations and Rule Changes

Housekeeping...

• What Roger Federer and tennis can teach the world about globalization.

• Last week’s podcast guest was Andre Agassi.

• Next up, recapping the year with Paul Annacone.

• Congrats to the U.S. Fed Cup team.

Mailbag

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

I've been watching [the Next-Gen ATP Finals] and enjoying this although I'm somewhat worried that Jeff Bezos wants to take over the sport world as well as everything else. I've not been the target demographic for years now and I know that no one cares about my opinion anymore, but I still persist in my delusion that everyone is entitled to it.

I know they are using this event as a kind of Change Lab, so I'm here to weigh in on the changes. I expected to hate them all (a la Tevye Tradition!), but I surprised myself. I kind of like the court, although I would think this would have limited application since I think most tournaments include doubles. I like no ad scoring. And I think I like live Hawk-Eye, although the court looks a bit empty.

Definitely do not like sets being best of four. Don't see the point and it penalizes players who don't get off to a fast start. I realize that having five sets somewhat mitigates this problem, this seems more like a stunt rather than something that make watching tennis more enjoyable. Dislike no let serves, double HATE on-court coaching, which seems like a gimmick. Ugly, ugly optics for a sport where you are supposed to be able to think and problem-solve for yourself. I particularly disliked this iteration since apparently, players and coaches were told to talk to each other in English—yuck!

As always, “thanks” for listening and I look forward to your thoughts.
Patrick

• Last week we talked about the unfortunate draw ceremony in Milan. One of the real pities was that this misstep clouded what was otherwise a laudable effort. In the course of one event, the ATP tried a number of “innovations”++ some more successful than others, but all them of conveying the notion—admirably, I would suggest—that change is being considered and few components are sacred.

Experimenting without data or some empirical basis? That’s straight out of Hawkins Lab. But if you can marry proposed changes to some measure of appeal and efficacy, then we’re on to something. I give you one data point, and one data point only. But here’s where I stand on the tweaks we saw in Milan:

– Shot clock: Yes. Why not? True, it’s subjective when the chair starts the clock, but so what?

– Automatic line calls: Yes. You have the technology Why not use it? Rely on automation and not the reflexes of humans in an ever-evolving sport.

– Mid-match coaching. No. And note that the event’s winner, Hyeon Chung, didn't speak to his coach once during matches. Enough said.

– Four game sets. Meh. There were more “leverage points” but this could be achieved in a conventional six game set without ad scoring.

– No ad. Surprisingly, maybe. Didn't bother me at all.

– No lets on serve. Sure. And it was unclear whom it benefitted. Big servers had an advantage when serves ticked the net and dinked over. Returners had an advantage when ball ticked the net and became middle-of-the-box sitters.

++ Can we please cease conflating the self-serving “innovation” with “experiment”? If a new drug or a piece of code or self-driving car doesn’t work or doesn’t find favor in the market it is not innovative.

Overall, the ATP is to be commended. They approached this with an open-mind and a sense, rightly, that some of these ideas will work and others will be rejected. There was also a sense that fans’ reaction mattered. Now, next year, just the pick players’ groups out of a damn hat.

Hi Jon, two questions:

1.) The Masters 1000s are all done and dusted for 2017. This year saw seven new players contest their first ever Masters 1000 final. This is the highest number since 2001. Is this number more to do with the absence of Djokovic and Murray and the irregular Masters 1000 appearances of Federer (he played less than half of them this year) or a sign that the rest of the tour might be stepping up?

2.) Regarding Federer's more irregular appearances in Masters 1000 events this year, I think we can all agree that his careful managed schedule was a big plus for the tour. It protected his health and let him peak for the biggest events. I'm a huge fan of him for his game as well as his integrity.

However, his withdrawal from Paris hasn't been sitting well with me. It's understandable that he'd want a rest after Basel to recuperate for the World Tour Finals. However, he's now playing in an exhibition with Andy Murray this week. I realize that he made this commitment a while ago and that the exhibition is for a great charitable cause, but I don't like the optics of this. With the No. 1 ranking on the line, Roger withdrew from an elite level tournament that promises the participation of the top players and, a week later, played an exhibition. The fact that Nadal withdrew from Paris just two days after clinching the No. 1 ranking doesn't help me avoid the feeling that the public was shortchanged here.
Rohit Sudarshan, Apia, Samoa

• 1) I think your questions are very much connected. In the absence of a tennis infrastructure—you know, like a union; kids, ask your parents about unions—that protects players and meaningfully addresses their concerns about the schedule, the players have taken on the job themselves.

This is the economist’s classic labor/leisure trade-off.

Why don’t we all have second jobs? Because at some point we make a determination that the extra income is not worth the diminished units of free time. Same for star tennis players. Despite penalties and the missed ranking points and the opportunity cost of withdrawing from an event, they reach a point on the indifference curve, where the leisure units are more valuable than the income units at even the biggest events.

Roger Federer—rational, pragmatist that he is—has decided that beyond a certain point, it does him no good to play certain events. Some of this is driven by physical preservation. But he’s made the decision that the ATP won’t make for him.

First, good for him. This is why he’s still playing at age 36. Give me Federer playing a dozen events for 20 years over Federer playing 20 events for a dozen years. But, to your point, yes this has opened up the field. Combined with the absences of Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka, it stands to reason that more players and different players now have opportunity to go deeper in Masters Series events.

As for Federer missing Paris….give him a pass. He wins Basel, which I suspects he considers preparation enough for the ATP WTF event—also an indoor event—held a few weeks hence. He can’t reach the No. 1 ranking so that incentive is gone. And playing a charity event ought to be a point in his asset column, not his liability column.

How many more years does Venus Williams keep playing? What do you think, Jon?
Steve N., Miami, Fla.

• The boilerplate answer. “As long as she wants.” “As long as she think she can still be competitive.” “As long as she still finds her job fulfilling.”

I preface this by saying—as with Federer—this is completely to Venus’ credit. But I do think we need to consider her “wear and tear” years rather her chronological years. Earlier in her career—I can't stress this enough—she played fewer events than many other players, and certainly fewer than the WTA had hoped. She missed significant chunks of seasons with injuries. She also missed chunks on account of her autoimmune issues. She is the vintage sports car with a modest odometer.

Venus deserves all sorts of credit for her sustained professionalism and commitment. But she’s now gotten some time back in her late 30s. So while it's jarring to see a 37-year-old with a ranking of No. 5, I would submit she ain’t 37 in tennis years.

So glad to see Goffin playing so well now. What's his ceiling look like? Ferrer's career? Stan's? Murray's?
Cainim T.

• The knee-jerk comparison is to Ferrer and while it’s a little crass, I can’t think of a better one. (Miloslav Mecir maybe?) Goffin is a bit like Ferrer with a software update. He can do more off the ground and has a bit more versatility and speed. But same organizing principles. A guy who’s not going to win many matches with more power. But he will win a lot of matches with measured tennis, consistency and professionalism. A player to admire. A player who might worm his way into the top five and stay there. A player who will wring every last bit from his talent and his body. Not, perhaps, a player likely to win majors.

Long as we’re here, one of the underrated stories of 2017: Goffin is playing well at the French Open—the major he’s most likely to win. Midway through a match he stumbles on tarp. A tarp that is a) dangerously close to the back of the court and b) inexplicably camouflaged with the court surface. He stumbles, wrenches his ankle, is forced to retire and miss a chunk of the summer, including Wimbledon. Tort lawyers begin panting everywhere. (Think about Genie Bouchard for a moment.)

Goffin seems to shrug this off and when he returns in July he begins to play some of the best tennis of his career. Even with his injury, he wins more than 50 matches and makes the London field. If Goffin had the career of Murray or Wawrinka it would shock me. It’s hard—at 150 lbs.—lacking in weaponry, to be successful. (Murray—hardly an NFL linebacker—has 35 lbs. on Goffin.)

Still, tip the chapeau. Imagine if every athlete had this level of professionalism and efficiency.

I'm a few weeks late, but I wanted to address the question raised by another reader about whether servers win points more often than receivers even once the point has reached "neutrality.” There was a study a few years ago that suggested that pro golfers miss birdie putts more often than par putts, perhaps because they have a sense that they don't "need" to make them, whereas they're always disappointed to miss a par putt. It strikes me that the same may be true in tennis—the server feels like they need to win the point, whereas the receiver is maybe not putting in the same effort or is playing the point too conservatively.
Nick E.

• This is classic loss aversion. That is, we are motivated by the prospect of loss more than we are motivated by the prospect of gain. (The pain of losing $1 outweighs the joy of winning $1.) Golfers have two exact putts. Same distance. Same slope. Same break. The difference: one is for par; the other is for birdie. Turns out the golfers are significantly more accurate—and more aggressive—when it's the par putt. Why? Because if they miss the birdie putt, it stinks, but it felt like a bonus. If they miss the par putt, their score reveals a +1 and they feel the deeper sting of loss.

I love Kyle’s instincts, applying this to tennis. a) Would loss aversion explain why servers do well even when points have reached “neutrality.” b) I’ve wondered whether loss aversion explains why big servers dink in their second serves when, statistically, they would be better off bringing the heat. The prospect of loss (double faulting) outweighs the prospect of gain (winning the point off the serve.)

With October 12th having passed and still no news how likely is it that Azarenka will still be sitting out at the start of the 2018 season?
Oliver

• Full candor: I am conflicted as to how to proceed here. You have a two-time Grand Slam champion whose status is uncertain. Heading into the Slam at which she’s had the most success. At a time when the field is wide open and, at full strength, she would be a contender. That is a relevant sports story that falls squarely in the “fair game for coverage” division. On the other hand, you have an intensely personal situation that involves custody issues and the welfare of a young child who, obviously, has no agency here.

With full acknowledgment that those most impacted by this are the principals, this situation also strikes me as an interesting “media ethics fact pattern.” I’m inclined to err on the side of discretion and wait for Azarenka to inform the public as she sees fit and when she sees fit. Here’s her most recent statement.

Helen of Philly asked a question for last week's Mailbag about why they gave a wildcard to an Italian who won a tournament to go to Next-Gen in Milan rather than just giving the eighth slot to the next eligible player (Tiafoe). In China, at the Elite Trophy, they gave a wild card to the highest ranked Chinese woman player. Why did they do a tourney in Italy for the eighth spot? (BTW it was almost impossible to find any scores from that tourney). You responded by talking about the sexist controversy. Did the ATP decide that or was it the Italian Tennis Federation to gin up interest in Milan for the tournament? Or why did you duck the question?

Warren, Montreal

• A few of you noted that, while ranting about the regrettable draw ceremony, we neglected to answer the question. Answer: “The Italian wild card for the Next Gen ATP Finals was determined by the Italian Tennis Federation through a playoff tournament last weekend featuring the top 21-under players in the country. Quinzi won the tournament to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals.”

Hey Jon, is it just me or has the level of the ATP been extremely poor this year relative to recent years? Djokovic barely played all year and is still 10th in the race. Tsonga played at a pretty low level through the first half of the year and has still managed to win a career-high four titles in a year.
—Vivek, Houston

• This has been a strange year. The two top dogs to start the year (Djokovic and Murray) are beset by injuries and spiritual fatigue, we’ll call it, and pull up in the breakdown lane missing half the season and finishing outside the top ten. Same for the guy (Wawrinka) who won the last Slam of 2016. And the two new top dogs—really the two old top dogs—Federer and Nadal not only win, but win everything in sight practically. Four majors. More than half the TMS shields. That doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of the field.

No slight to Sascha Zverev, a future star and champion. But not once did he reach the second week of a major. And he is No. 3 in the world right now.

As for the tennis quality itself, this is always subject to debate. Are there more home runs because hitters are great? Or pitchers stink? Are they scoring more points because offenses are—to use a cloying, voguish word—dynamic? Or because defenses are porous? I’ve generally enjoyed the tennis year, both men’s and women’s, neither less than nor more than previous years.

But... "feel" is a verb that explains a state of mind or condition of body -- and it takes an adjective after it (eg. "I feel happy." "Jon feels cold.") Well, in this context, is an adjective (which means "of good health"), which makes the sentence "I don't feel well." perfectly correct.
SusieQ

• Not sure what to make of it, but grammar was a hot topic this week. Here’s Skip: As long as Sung was allowed to lodge a linguistic complaint, I’d like to award my own tennis Golden Raspberry:

Can we please dispense with the phrase, “take time away,” as in “he took time away from his opponent with that shot”? You can’t take something away from someone if they don’t have it to begin with, and the only time your opponent has is what you give them. There’s nothing wrong or misleading about the older expression of the same idea—“he rushed the other guy”—and it illustrates what happened in a much more accurate way. Rant over.

And here comes Ivan H of Barcelona: Howdy Jon, I have a bone to pick with the bone that Sung from Washington, N.J. wants to pick.....He/she complains about the degradation of adverbs in English, but overlooks the fact that we use MANY adverbs without the "ly" at the end. Some examples: "Get home safe." "I was driving fast." "This pizza is real good." "You work too hard." (This last example is extra interesting because "hardly" has a totally different meaning.) Merriam Webster even has a little video on this topic. Changes like this are not deterioration of a language, merely evolution.

Shots, Miscellany

• Defending singles champion Steve Johnson and six time doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan will return to River Oaks Country Club for the 2018 Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship which will take place April 7-15.

• Who’s in the market for a new tennis book?

• The USTA today announced that the U.S. Cellular Arena in Asheville, N.C., has been selected as the site for the 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round between the United States and the Netherlands, Feb. 10-11. Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with approximately 100 nations taking part each year.

• Argentine duo Gabriela Sabatini and David Nalbandian will represent tennis as Athlete Role Models at the third Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to be held in Buenos Aires on Oct. 6-18, 2018.

• In recognition of their lengthy and steadfast support of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Hope (Happy) van Beuren and Christopher Clouser have been appointed Life Trustees of the organization.

• For the fourth consecutive year, the BNP Paribas Open—held annually at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden—has been voted the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year, as determined by player vote.

• The Club at Ibis is pleased to announce that Jay Berger—who coached the U.S. Olympic and Davis Cup teams and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world—has been named to the newly-created job as Director of Tennis Instruction. Berger’s hiring gives The Club at Ibis the distinction of being the only major country club in the U.S. to have a director of golf instruction and a director of tennis instruction.

• Jason of Calgary has this week’s reader rant: Hi Jon, I’ve really been struggling with how I feel about the Next Gen Finals and the “innovations” that it’s espousing as not only cutting edge, but a harbinger of what is to come for tennis. On one hand, innovation is essential. I can’t imagine tennis surviving without James Van Allen and his tiebreak. Further, there appear to be several facets of tennis that if not in dire need of change, most certainly merit reconsideration in the spirit of fairness and to ensure longevity of players (e.g., the schedule, five-set tennis, fifth set no tiebreak, electronic line calling for all courts and all points, a serve clock, etc.). However, what is being done in Milan represents a fundamental reconsideration of what tennis is. Coaching, no-ad scoring, games capped at 5, etc. change what tennis is: a sport requiring speed and endurance, a strong game plan and the ability to abandon that plan for a next-best-thing when it isn't working, the ability to recognize this on your own, and the ability to not get down when you get down a break at 3 all.

The idea that having "more big points" makes for more exciting tennis seems like an idea conjured up in a boardroom. The reason that movies aren't "all action" is because the emotion evoked during the action sequences is greater due to the inclusion of other "plot points." Being broken at 1-2 is now basically the end of the set. It prevents the excitement of a comeback from 1-4, and although I don't have stats in front of me, I can't imagine that this is an uncommon occurrence unless you're playing John Isner.

The notion that tennis is in need of all of these innovations also seems like it was dreamed up in a boardroom by a marketing division composed of people who believe they have a finger on the pulse of Millennials (don't even get me started on the geniuses who "innovated" the draw ceremony). By shortening the games, sets, and matches, it is assumed that people who have their attention easily drawn to other things will "stay tuned" throughout the match. I don't think people watch tennis—at least I know I don't watch tennis—because the match will be over soon. I watch it because, for whatever reason, I develop a connection to a player (or a dislike for one). This emotional connection, along with a love for a game I wish I played better, is the reason I watch. And unless it's 70-68 in the fifth, I don't care how long it lasts. In fact, one could argue that because the game is shortened, there are actually fewer truly "big" moments. Someone would have to prove to me that less tennis equals more viewers. This seems difficult when attendance records continue to be broken at many tournaments.

I guess I'm not so much unsure about how I feel about this tournament as I am hopeful that leveler heads will prevail: some of the rule changes and innovations should be considered, but the game should be preserved. If the CEO of Coca-Cola in the mid-80's is still alive, I'm sure he/she would be happy to consult on the virtues of not tinkering with something that does not need tinkering with.

Roger Federer eases into ATP Finals last four with defeat of Alexander Zverev

In the absence of Rafael Nadal – who withdrew from the Nitto ATP Finals late on Monday night – it is hard to see who might stop Roger Federer from capping his glorious season with trophy No 8. Federer’s list of titles this year is already extraordinary – Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Halle, Wimbledon, Shanghai, Basel – and he is well placed to add another after his three-set victory over 20-year-old Alexander Zverev on Tuesday, which made him the first man into Saturday’s semi-finals. Understandably, the fans at the O2 Arena continue to treat him like a minor deity, for even at 36 years old he plays with more verve and insouciance than anyone else. Zverev was Federer’s highest-ranked rival in the Boris Becker Group, and also one of only four men to beat him all season. Yet that result – which dates back to the  final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal – should come with an asterisk  attached. Federer tweaked his back during the match and was badly enough affected to spend the next couple of weeks resting up, thus disrupting his preparation for the US Open. Tuesday’s odds were stacked differently, because Federer has an extraordinary record at the O2 Arena. He is appearing in this end-of-season event for the 15th time, and has only once failed to get out of the group stages. Plus, he loves playing under a roof, which favours his pure ball-striking talent. Against a powerful but slightly predictable rival like Zverev, he was able to mix up the rhythm of play by tossing in drop shots and rushing the net. In these pacy conditions, the Federer serve is ferociously difficult to handle, and he has dropped just a single service game in his two matches to date. That came last night, and ended up costing him the second set. But as the players entered the decider, it was the younger man who buckled. The Zverev forehand broke down badly, and Federer pounced to complete a 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 win. Federer's defeat of Alexander Zverev sent him through to the last four Credit: GETTY IMAGES “It was a tough battle,” said Federer afterwards. “I am relieved that in the last match I can play freely against [Marin] Cilic who I played in the Wimbledon final a few months back. “It has been a tough group so to get through in two matches is great and now I can maybe work on my game a little bit – but I am going to try and win of course. “I was trying to put a lot of balls into play so there was a lot of  defending going on tonight but it paid off so I am extremely happy. I am very excited for his future. He is a wonderful guy and a great, great player.”

Roger Federer eases into ATP Finals last four with defeat of Alexander Zverev

In the absence of Rafael Nadal – who withdrew from the Nitto ATP Finals late on Monday night – it is hard to see who might stop Roger Federer from capping his glorious season with trophy No 8. Federer’s list of titles this year is already extraordinary – Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Halle, Wimbledon, Shanghai, Basel – and he is well placed to add another after his three-set victory over 20-year-old Alexander Zverev on Tuesday, which made him the first man into Saturday’s semi-finals. Understandably, the fans at the O2 Arena continue to treat him like a minor deity, for even at 36 years old he plays with more verve and insouciance than anyone else. Zverev was Federer’s highest-ranked rival in the Boris Becker Group, and also one of only four men to beat him all season. Yet that result – which dates back to the  final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal – should come with an asterisk  attached. Federer tweaked his back during the match and was badly enough affected to spend the next couple of weeks resting up, thus disrupting his preparation for the US Open. Tuesday’s odds were stacked differently, because Federer has an extraordinary record at the O2 Arena. He is appearing in this end-of-season event for the 15th time, and has only once failed to get out of the group stages. Plus, he loves playing under a roof, which favours his pure ball-striking talent. Against a powerful but slightly predictable rival like Zverev, he was able to mix up the rhythm of play by tossing in drop shots and rushing the net. In these pacy conditions, the Federer serve is ferociously difficult to handle, and he has dropped just a single service game in his two matches to date. That came last night, and ended up costing him the second set. But as the players entered the decider, it was the younger man who buckled. The Zverev forehand broke down badly, and Federer pounced to complete a 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 win. Federer's defeat of Alexander Zverev sent him through to the last four Credit: GETTY IMAGES “It was a tough battle,” said Federer afterwards. “I am relieved that in the last match I can play freely against [Marin] Cilic who I played in the Wimbledon final a few months back. “It has been a tough group so to get through in two matches is great and now I can maybe work on my game a little bit – but I am going to try and win of course. “I was trying to put a lot of balls into play so there was a lot of  defending going on tonight but it paid off so I am extremely happy. I am very excited for his future. He is a wonderful guy and a great, great player.”

Jack Sock bounces back with defeat of Marin Cilic at ATP Finals

Jack Sock’s day began earlier than he had expected, and chillier too, after a fire alarm went off in the players’ hotel near Waterloo, London. “It was miserable,” Sock confessed, after huddling with other guests – including Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem – outside the building at 4am. “Some managed to put on more clothes than others,” he added. Yet the day would look up for Sock, who resembles his close friend Nick Kyrgios in the way he meets all life’s eventualities with a carefree shrug. By 4.30pm, he was £145,000 richer – a sum which would cover several thermal vests – after beating Marin Cilic in the ­afternoon session here. In all probability, Sock did not pack a big suitcase when he popped over to Europe just over a fortnight ago to play the Paris Masters. He already had his plans for this week mapped out, and they involved a golfing trip to the relatively balmy climes of Augusta with fellow American tennis star John Isner. But at a Parisian event that featured not one fully-fit member of the so-called “Big Five”, Sock nipped in to claim what was comfortably the biggest title of his life, and thus earn the eighth and final invite to the Nitto ATP Finals. He pipped Pablo Carreno Busta – who will still come into the tournament now Nadal has withdrawn with knee trouble – by a mere 150 ranking points. While it was a wrench to give up the Augusta trip, Sock will probably receive another invite (the woman Isner is about to marry – Madison McKinley – is the daughter of a club member). In the meantime, he has just ended a lengthy American drought at the Nitto ATP Finals. With his 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 comeback win over Cilic, he became the first player from his country to win a match at this tournament since his mentor Andy Roddick in 2007. Back then, it was called the Tennis Masters Cup and staged in Shanghai. Not that any of this information interested Sock one iota. “I really don’t care about that stuff,” he said. “The first American to do this since whenever. I like to go out, have fun, compete. The stats and all that are what they are.” Sock, 25, was behind for most of Tuesday’s match, losing the first set and then coming back from a break down in the decider. He gave up a 4-2 lead in the tie-break too, but turned the tables with an extraordinary retrieval shot after a Cilic backhand hit the net-cord and dropped gently over the other side. Sock’s big asset is the blunderbuss forehand that carries more topspin than any other groundstroke in the game. He is not renowned for supreme fitness nor lightning speed, yet he got his legs pumping and dug out that low ball so neatly that it dropped into the corner of the court, out of Cilic’s reach. It was an example of the unexpected touch he used to lift the Wimbledon men’s doubles title in 2014, alongside Canadian partner Vasek Pospisil. “That was a big shot to hit at that stage,” sighed Cilic, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, who will now need to beat Roger Federer ­on Thursday to give himself even an outside chance of reaching the semi-finals.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal during a press conference after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin. Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal during a press conference after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin. Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Nadal beats me for top Spanish sports star

Sergio Garcia says that tennis superstar Rafal Nadal 'definitely' beats him as Spain's top sports star, but hopes he is in the 'top 5'

Nadal beats me for top Spanish sports star

Sergio Garcia says that tennis superstar Rafal Nadal 'definitely' beats him as Spain's top sports star, but hopes he is in the 'top 5'

Nadal beats me for top Spanish sports star

Sergio Garcia says that tennis superstar Rafal Nadal 'definitely' beats him as Spain's top sports star, but hopes he is in the 'top 5'

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Belgium's David Goffin during their singles match on day two of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London on November 13, 2017

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Belgium's David Goffin during their singles match on day two of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London on November 13, 2017 (AFP Photo/Glyn KIRK )

Rafael Nadal deserves respect for turning up at O2, but at what cost to his health and would Roger Federer have done the same?

"I made the commitment with the event, the city, with myself... I tried... I cannot keep going. It really doesn't make sense." Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals late on Monday evening wasn't a surprising outcome and he should be applauded for turning up at the season-ending event. With the world No 1 ranking in the bank and his financial future secure, a half-fit Nadal did not need to show up in London. His team had advised him to give it a miss, but then the 16-times grand slam champion has never given less than his whole body and soul. One main topic dominated the main build up the event. Would Nadal be fit enough to compete at the O2? Nadal pulled out the Paris Masters ahead of a quarter-final appearance due to a right knee injury and, in all honesty, would've been well within his rights calling time on his season there and then. Nadal instead felt a duty of care to fulfil a commitment to the organisers of the tour and his allegiance of fans to compete. Nadal saved four match points before losing to Goffin Credit: AFP The ATP in equal measure gave Nadal as much time to recover, scheduling his opening round-robin match against David Goffin on Monday evening. While his movement was stilted and he was clearly in physical pain, Nadal demonstrated all of his fighting qualities to save four match points and take the match into a deciding set. Nadal's grimacing became more intense as the third set wore on and after two hours and 37 minutes on court and a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 loss, the 31-year-old had already decided he would have to pull out. The Spaniard ended his press conference in his typically gentlemanly fashion with his sign off. "Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone". While fans who had bought tickets for Wednesday and Friday and the weekend in the hope of watching the 10-times French Open champion in action, will be disappointed, they will be able to look at the bigger picture. Nadal won the US Open and French Open majors this year Credit: Getty Images The sad issue is that it has become a familiar story in London. Nadal has qualified for the season-ending finals 13 years in a row, but last night's withdrawal became the sixth time he has either pulled out during the event, or failed to be fit enough to compete. His appearance in the capital this year, though, could yet jeopardise his chances of being fully recovered for the Australian Open in January and left pundits including Greg Rusedski to question whether he should have given the Finals a miss altogether. Rafael Nadal is a very unique mammal.— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) November 13, 2017 "He made a commitment to this event, he said 'I'm going to try and play one match'. I think before this match, had it not been the ATP Finals, I don't even think he would have played," Rusedski said. "So in Paris the injury was already pretty bad. Maybe he took some pain killers or got an injection and said 'I'm going to play one match and that's it'. In retrospect you wonder whether that was the right decision." Nadal's withdrawal widens the door for favourite Federer to win a seventh World Tour Finals title in his 15th appearance. Federer withdraw from the Paris Masters after winning in Basel, a decision that annoyed Guy Forget Credit: EPA Federer hasn't had a complete clean bill of health in the second half of the season but has been able to pick and choose his events by putting his own needs first. His late withdrawal ahead of the Paris Masters drew criticism from director Guy Forget who took a thinly veiled swipe at the legendary Swiss. Forget was disappointed that Federer had put a 500 event in Basel ahead of the 1000 points on offer in the French capital. "The tennis player, by definition, looks at his own interest, what interests him, what interests him less and has to make choices," he said. Equally, Federer gave the clay-court season a miss to focus his efforts on winning Wimbledon - a decision that was validated with his eighth gold cup in July. Nadal, however, has not yet felt the urge to cherry-pick his tournaments, and despite an injury-ravaged career, at five-years younger than Federer still feels he can cope with the rigours of the tour. This is not to question Federer's methods and decisions. At 36-years-old he has to be mindful of what's round the corner. Both Federer and Nadal have given so much to the sport and to fans around the world that they need not justify their actions. All that we hope is that Nadal has not caused himself further damage by pleasing fans and organisers in London that he can compete on a level-playing field with Federer again in 2018 - and at a time when Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are fighting fit again. What a season there could be in prospect.

Rafael Nadal deserves respect for turning up at O2, but at what cost to his health and would Roger Federer have done the same?

"I made the commitment with the event, the city, with myself... I tried... I cannot keep going. It really doesn't make sense." Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals late on Monday evening wasn't a surprising outcome and he should be applauded for turning up at the season-ending event. With the world No 1 ranking in the bank and his financial future secure, a half-fit Nadal did not need to show up in London. His team had advised him to give it a miss, but then the 16-times grand slam champion has never given less than his whole body and soul. One main topic dominated the main build up the event. Would Nadal be fit enough to compete at the O2? Nadal pulled out the Paris Masters ahead of a quarter-final appearance due to a right knee injury and, in all honesty, would've been well within his rights calling time on his season there and then. Nadal instead felt a duty of care to fulfil a commitment to the organisers of the tour and his allegiance of fans to compete. Nadal saved four match points before losing to Goffin Credit: AFP The ATP in equal measure gave Nadal as much time to recover, scheduling his opening round-robin match against David Goffin on Monday evening. While his movement was stilted and he was clearly in physical pain, Nadal demonstrated all of his fighting qualities to save four match points and take the match into a deciding set. Nadal's grimacing became more intense as the third set wore on and after two hours and 37 minutes on court and a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 loss, the 31-year-old had already decided he would have to pull out. The Spaniard ended his press conference in his typically gentlemanly fashion with his sign off. "Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone". While fans who had bought tickets for Wednesday and Friday and the weekend in the hope of watching the 10-times French Open champion in action, will be disappointed, they will be able to look at the bigger picture. Nadal won the US Open and French Open majors this year Credit: Getty Images The sad issue is that it has become a familiar story in London. Nadal has qualified for the season-ending finals 13 years in a row, but last night's withdrawal became the sixth time he has either pulled out during the event, or failed to be fit enough to compete. His appearance in the capital this year, though, could yet jeopardise his chances of being fully recovered for the Australian Open in January and left pundits including Greg Rusedski to question whether he should have given the Finals a miss altogether. Rafael Nadal is a very unique mammal.— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) November 13, 2017 "He made a commitment to this event, he said 'I'm going to try and play one match'. I think before this match, had it not been the ATP Finals, I don't even think he would have played," Rusedski said. "So in Paris the injury was already pretty bad. Maybe he took some pain killers or got an injection and said 'I'm going to play one match and that's it'. In retrospect you wonder whether that was the right decision." Nadal's withdrawal widens the door for favourite Federer to win a seventh World Tour Finals title in his 15th appearance. Federer withdraw from the Paris Masters after winning in Basel, a decision that annoyed Guy Forget Credit: EPA Federer hasn't had a complete clean bill of health in the second half of the season but has been able to pick and choose his events by putting his own needs first. His late withdrawal ahead of the Paris Masters drew criticism from director Guy Forget who took a thinly veiled swipe at the legendary Swiss. Forget was disappointed that Federer had put a 500 event in Basel ahead of the 1000 points on offer in the French capital. "The tennis player, by definition, looks at his own interest, what interests him, what interests him less and has to make choices," he said. Equally, Federer gave the clay-court season a miss to focus his efforts on winning Wimbledon - a decision that was validated with his eighth gold cup in July. Nadal, however, has not yet felt the urge to cherry-pick his tournaments, and despite an injury-ravaged career, at five-years younger than Federer still feels he can cope with the rigours of the tour. This is not to question Federer's methods and decisions. At 36-years-old he has to be mindful of what's round the corner. Both Federer and Nadal have given so much to the sport and to fans around the world that they need not justify their actions. All that we hope is that Nadal has not caused himself further damage by pleasing fans and organisers in London that he can compete on a level-playing field with Federer again in 2018 - and at a time when Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are fighting fit again. What a season there could be in prospect.

Rafael Nadal deserves respect for turning up at O2, but at what cost to his health and would Roger Federer have done the same?

"I made the commitment with the event, the city, with myself... I tried... I cannot keep going. It really doesn't make sense." Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals late on Monday evening wasn't a surprising outcome and he should be applauded for turning up at the season-ending event. With the world No 1 ranking in the bank and his financial future secure, a half-fit Nadal did not need to show up in London. His team had advised him to give it a miss, but then the 16-times grand slam champion has never given less than his whole body and soul. One main topic dominated the main build up the event. Would Nadal be fit enough to compete at the O2? Nadal pulled out the Paris Masters ahead of a quarter-final appearance due to a right knee injury and, in all honesty, would've been well within his rights calling time on his season there and then. Nadal instead felt a duty of care to fulfil a commitment to the organisers of the tour and his allegiance of fans to compete. Nadal saved four match points before losing to Goffin Credit: AFP The ATP in equal measure gave Nadal as much time to recover, scheduling his opening round-robin match against David Goffin on Monday evening. While his movement was stilted and he was clearly in physical pain, Nadal demonstrated all of his fighting qualities to save four match points and take the match into a deciding set. Nadal's grimacing became more intense as the third set wore on and after two hours and 37 minutes on court and a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 loss, the 31-year-old had already decided he would have to pull out. The Spaniard ended his press conference in his typically gentlemanly fashion with his sign off. "Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone". While fans who had bought tickets for Wednesday and Friday and the weekend in the hope of watching the 10-times French Open champion in action, will be disappointed, they will be able to look at the bigger picture. Nadal won the US Open and French Open majors this year Credit: Getty Images The sad issue is that it has become a familiar story in London. Nadal has qualified for the season-ending finals 13 years in a row, but last night's withdrawal became the sixth time he has either pulled out during the event, or failed to be fit enough to compete. His appearance in the capital this year, though, could yet jeopardise his chances of being fully recovered for the Australian Open in January and left pundits including Greg Rusedski to question whether he should have given the Finals a miss altogether. Rafael Nadal is a very unique mammal.— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) November 13, 2017 "He made a commitment to this event, he said 'I'm going to try and play one match'. I think before this match, had it not been the ATP Finals, I don't even think he would have played," Rusedski said. "So in Paris the injury was already pretty bad. Maybe he took some pain killers or got an injection and said 'I'm going to play one match and that's it'. In retrospect you wonder whether that was the right decision." Nadal's withdrawal widens the door for favourite Federer to win a seventh World Tour Finals title in his 15th appearance. Federer withdraw from the Paris Masters after winning in Basel, a decision that annoyed Guy Forget Credit: EPA Federer hasn't had a complete clean bill of health in the second half of the season but has been able to pick and choose his events by putting his own needs first. His late withdrawal ahead of the Paris Masters drew criticism from director Guy Forget who took a thinly veiled swipe at the legendary Swiss. Forget was disappointed that Federer had put a 500 event in Basel ahead of the 1000 points on offer in the French capital. "The tennis player, by definition, looks at his own interest, what interests him, what interests him less and has to make choices," he said. Equally, Federer gave the clay-court season a miss to focus his efforts on winning Wimbledon - a decision that was validated with his eighth gold cup in July. Nadal, however, has not yet felt the urge to cherry-pick his tournaments, and despite an injury-ravaged career, at five-years younger than Federer still feels he can cope with the rigours of the tour. This is not to question Federer's methods and decisions. At 36-years-old he has to be mindful of what's round the corner. Both Federer and Nadal have given so much to the sport and to fans around the world that they need not justify their actions. All that we hope is that Nadal has not caused himself further damage by pleasing fans and organisers in London that he can compete on a level-playing field with Federer again in 2018 - and at a time when Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are fighting fit again. What a season there could be in prospect.

Rafael Nadal deserves respect for turning up at O2, but at what cost to his health and would Roger Federer have done the same?

"I made the commitment with the event, the city, with myself... I tried... I cannot keep going. It really doesn't make sense." Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals late on Monday evening wasn't a surprising outcome and he should be applauded for turning up at the season-ending event. With the world No 1 ranking in the bank and his financial future secure, a half-fit Nadal did not need to show up in London. His team had advised him to give it a miss, but then the 16-times grand slam champion has never given less than his whole body and soul. One main topic dominated the main build up the event. Would Nadal be fit enough to compete at the O2? Nadal pulled out the Paris Masters ahead of a quarter-final appearance due to a right knee injury and, in all honesty, would've been well within his rights calling time on his season there and then. Nadal instead felt a duty of care to fulfil a commitment to the organisers of the tour and his allegiance of fans to compete. Nadal saved four match points before losing to Goffin Credit: AFP The ATP in equal measure gave Nadal as much time to recover, scheduling his opening round-robin match against David Goffin on Monday evening. While his movement was stilted and he was clearly in physical pain, Nadal demonstrated all of his fighting qualities to save four match points and take the match into a deciding set. Nadal's grimacing became more intense as the third set wore on and after two hours and 37 minutes on court and a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 loss, the 31-year-old had already decided he would have to pull out. The Spaniard ended his press conference in his typically gentlemanly fashion with his sign off. "Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone". While fans who had bought tickets for Wednesday and Friday and the weekend in the hope of watching the 10-times French Open champion in action, will be disappointed, they will be able to look at the bigger picture. Nadal won the US Open and French Open majors this year Credit: Getty Images The sad issue is that it has become a familiar story in London. Nadal has qualified for the season-ending finals 13 years in a row, but last night's withdrawal became the sixth time he has either pulled out during the event, or failed to be fit enough to compete. His appearance in the capital this year, though, could yet jeopardise his chances of being fully recovered for the Australian Open in January and left pundits including Greg Rusedski to question whether he should have given the Finals a miss altogether. Rafael Nadal is a very unique mammal.— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) November 13, 2017 "He made a commitment to this event, he said 'I'm going to try and play one match'. I think before this match, had it not been the ATP Finals, I don't even think he would have played," Rusedski said. "So in Paris the injury was already pretty bad. Maybe he took some pain killers or got an injection and said 'I'm going to play one match and that's it'. In retrospect you wonder whether that was the right decision." Nadal's withdrawal widens the door for favourite Federer to win a seventh World Tour Finals title in his 15th appearance. Federer withdraw from the Paris Masters after winning in Basel, a decision that annoyed Guy Forget Credit: EPA Federer hasn't had a complete clean bill of health in the second half of the season but has been able to pick and choose his events by putting his own needs first. His late withdrawal ahead of the Paris Masters drew criticism from director Guy Forget who took a thinly veiled swipe at the legendary Swiss. Forget was disappointed that Federer had put a 500 event in Basel ahead of the 1000 points on offer in the French capital. "The tennis player, by definition, looks at his own interest, what interests him, what interests him less and has to make choices," he said. Equally, Federer gave the clay-court season a miss to focus his efforts on winning Wimbledon - a decision that was validated with his eighth gold cup in July. Nadal, however, has not yet felt the urge to cherry-pick his tournaments, and despite an injury-ravaged career, at five-years younger than Federer still feels he can cope with the rigours of the tour. This is not to question Federer's methods and decisions. At 36-years-old he has to be mindful of what's round the corner. Both Federer and Nadal have given so much to the sport and to fans around the world that they need not justify their actions. All that we hope is that Nadal has not caused himself further damage by pleasing fans and organisers in London that he can compete on a level-playing field with Federer again in 2018 - and at a time when Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are fighting fit again. What a season there could be in prospect.

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Belgium's David Goffin celebrates winning his group stage match against Spain's Rafael Nadal Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Belgium's David Goffin in action during his group stage match against Spain's Rafael Nadal Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal shakes the hand of Belgium's David Goffin after their group stage match Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal shakes the hands of Belgium's David Goffin after their group stage match REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to fans after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to fans after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Belgium's David Goffin celebrates winning his group stage match against Spain's Rafael Nadal REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal looks dejected after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal during his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals

Tennis - ATP World Tour Finals - The O2 Arena, London, Britain - November 13, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to fans after losing his group stage match against Belgium's David Goffin Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Rafael Nadal withdraws from ATP Finals with injured knee

Hampered by a knee injury his shock three-set loss to David Goffin on Monday, Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the ATP Finals.

Nadal withdraws from ATP Finals after loss to Goffin

Rafael Nadal of Spain grimaces during his singles tennis match against David Goffin of Belgium at the ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Nadal withdraws from ATP Finals after loss to Goffin

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria returns the ball to Dominic Thiem of Austria during their singles tennis match at the ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)