The weekly email newsletter covering essential insights & developments from the tennis world. Informative, engaging, and a way for you to keep up with the sport you love without being glued to a screen all day. Check out the latest issue below and don't forget to subscribe.

📩  To: Tennis inbox subscribers

A lack of consistency in the women’s game, learn from coaches from all over the world, and the GOAT debate gets more complicated—Ti #23
Promising juniors need to put away their iPhones. Iga Swiatek wants to change the lack of consistency at the top of the WTA. And remembering when we thought that tennis was done for in 2020.
15 Oct, 2020

Hello and welcome to the 23rd issue of Tennis inbox. This week we take a walk down memory lane, take a peak at the GOAT debate, and introduce a (hopefully) useful segment for Tennis inbox subscribers. And I go from “we” to “I.”

Ok, what now?

Take a walk down memory lane with me. Imagine it’s March of this year. Indian Wells has been canceled. The tours are grinding to a halt. Players and organizers are panicking. This new thing called the coronavirus is spreading throughout the world. Tournaments are canceling themselves left and right. We tennis fans are wondering what the hell is going to happen to the tennis calendar.

Now reflect on what we’ve just witnessed in the last couple of months: Cincinnati, the US Open, Rome, the French Open. And that’s not even mentioning the smaller tournaments which were scheduled alongside these tour staples. 

Watching Roland-Garros come to a successful—and safe—conclusion this past Sunday has left me feeling as if we’ve crossed some type of hump; as if some mad sprint to “restart” tennis has finally come to an end with one final effort in Paris. Have you felt the same?

But this is more of a marathon because tennis is still on. Though tournaments are still being canceled, the tours are quietly making their ways around the world. The men are competing this week in St. Petersburg (ATP 500), Cologne (ATP 250), and Sardinia (ATP 250). The end of the year is a little quieter for the women because their calendar is so heavily reliant on China and the Chinese government has strict restrictions on sporting events. But events will be taking place in the Czech Republic, Austria, and in South Korea.

From the start of the year when we thought that tennis was done for in 2020, it’s nice to think that there’s plenty of tennis left for us to enjoy.

Rafa: the GOAT?

One hundred/two. I’m sure you’ve heard that number a few times in the last week. That’s Rafael Nadal’s win/loss record at Roland-Garros. That number has been bandied about in the last few days but I think it’d help to really think about how amazing a feat that is. Most professional players—guys and girls whom we’d watch with awe if they were playing at our local courts and think “How do these players even lose games?”—don’t even have winning records at the highest levels of the tour. Yet we have someone who’s been so dominant on the clay that in 15 years of competing at one tournament, he’s only lost twice.

What. The. Heck. Imagine being a professional player and stepping onto court Phillipe-Chatrier against someone who has that record. What would you think? Are there any sporting achievements that come close to the magnitude of what Nadal’s been able to accomplish? Nothing comes close for me.

All of this leads us into the GOAT debate, which is an inevitable consequence of Nadal’s recent performance. One of my friends, a hardcore, die-hard Nadal fan said to me:

“Nadal is the GOAT. Everyone said he couldn’t do it. 13 French Opens. 100–2 record. He’s proven he can play on every surface: two Wimbledons, lost a million Aussie Open finals, won one, and has four US Opens. The fact of the matter is that none of the Big 3 have won two of every slam. Rafa has been the closest many times. Djokovic would have if he’d beaten Rafa this year. Federer was never getting two French Opens—he was lucky to get one.”

Nadal’s record at the French is impressive, and I agree with what Andy Murray has said: “I don’t think it’ll be repeated, I don’t think anyone will be close.” But I don’t think that necessarily makes him the GOAT. My friend is right that none of the Big 3 have won all the slams twice. Yet if Djokovic had won on Sunday, would that have separated him from the other two?

Also: while Nadal’s record is seriously absurd, the fact that he’s won 13 of his 20 on one surface will work against him when all the counting and measuring is finished in the years to come. My guess is that tennis pundits will hold it against him that he was so successful on one surface as opposed to it being a factor that works in his favor. Regardless, it was an amazing couple of weeks for Nadal (and his fans).

I also want to highlight what I mentioned a couple issues ago: that of the conditions favoring players who strike the ball a little flatter and that of Djokovic having a good chance of beating Nadal if they met in the finals. How wrong I was! So apparently was Goran Ivanisevic, who was even more stern in his predictions that Novak Djokovic would destroy Nadal.

Side-note: the music that plays at Roland-Garros after a player wins the title is pretty great. Just the right mixture of funky and epic.

Change of Ends with Dan Greenberg

Editor’s note: I’m excited to launch a new segment called Change of Ends. Every week, coaches from all over the world will share their expertise and knowledge with Tennis inbox subscribers by answering three questions from a predefined list. The segment should hopefully take around 90 seconds to consume. Have a question you’d like a coach to answer? Email hello@tennisinbox.com and I’ll consider adding it to our bank. We kick off Change of Ends with Dan Greenberg. He’s led a team to a national championship, so I’m sure tennis fans and aspiring collegiate players will find plenty to learn.

Dan Greenberg is the Head Men’s Tennis Coach at Williams College, the top-ranked liberal arts school in the United States and the 2013 NCAA DIII National Champion. He’s entering his twelfth year at Williams.

What part of their games do promising juniors most neglect to work on?

I think a lot of college coaches would say doubles and net play and transition games, and they’d be right, but I think more generally, juniors just don’t like working on what they’re not good at, so everyone has their own glaring weakness. Slow kids would rather rip forehands than run stairs; aggressive players have no idea how to hit an effective, topspin lob; pushers are scared to swing at the ball. These are all generalizations and random examples, but I think the best thing a junior can do is be honest with themselves about what they’re good and not good at and spend at least some time outside of their comfort zones; it’ll patch up their weaknesses and have the added bonus of making them mentally stronger.

What part of their games would you encourage promising juniors to spend less time working on?

Instagram and Snapchat. Honestly. If you go to a tournament or an academy, as soon as someone finishes his or her match or session, they go straight to their iPhones. And it’s not usually to take notes; it’s often to console themselves after a loss or post about a win to celebrate with more “likes.” College players and even pros (and coaches!) do this, too. But it’s most detrimental with juniors because they haven’t yet learned to navigate the ups and downs of the tennis journey, which, in my opinion, is the most valuable aspect of it all. How you’re left feeling after a match or practice is one of the most important motivators going forward, and that’s being drowned out by the instant gratification of social media. Sorry for sounding like a grandpa, but I know it’s true because I see it and can be as guilty of it as anyone.

Which professional player’s mindset do you admire and why? How do you try to teach this mindset to your students?

Like a lot of people, I’ve recently come to love Daniil Medvedev’s mindset, which always seems to be in survival mode: make one more shot, make it effective, by whatever means necessary. It’s not always pretty, but he embraces that fact and uses it to his advantage to stay alive and keep his opponent uncomfortable in every moment. I enjoy the style and variety of a lot of the French players, for example, but Medvedev’s variety never loses sight of his ultimate purpose of winning every point he can, especially the big ones. I often have my players watch him play, because you can really feel him digging deep for every shot, sometimes literally shoveling a backhand if that’s what it takes, which is a great example for anyone to see.

Swiatek is after consistency

Compared to men’s tennis, the women’s game has been bereft of consistent champions over the past decade or so. If we discount Serena Williams, there are no figures like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek is aware of this dynamic. As Matt Trollope writes on the Australian Open’s blog, “Given six of those previous eight first-time major winners have (so far) not since added to their Grand Slam trophy cabinets, [Iga Swiatek] recognizes the ingredient necessary to avoid a similar fate.”

On that necessary ingredient, Swiatek is quoted as saying:

“I think the biggest change for me is going to be to be consistent. I think this is what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because we are not, like, as consistent as Rafa, Roger, and Novak. That’s why my goal is going to be to be consistent. It’s going to be really hard to achieve that. I feel like I can do progress in, like, most of the things because I’m only 19. I know my game isn’t developed perfectly.”

How Swiatek will achieve that level of consistency will be interesting to observe—especially because her game seems to be built on dictating play. More consistent, solid players—take for example Caroline Wozniacki—have an easier chance of competing well every week compared to more aggressive players who often live and die by their own playing styles. Perhaps Swiatek can learn from former champions who tried to control play. We’ll have to wait and see.

From “We” to “I”

You might have noticed that this issue was written in the first person instead of the normal “we” that has normally been employed on Tennis inbox. You might be asking why (or even “who the heck is writing this?“). Here’s my thinking: I believe it’s easier for an audience to connect with a writer when that writer is a singular person as opposed to some amorphous entity that refers to itself as “we.”

I initially started writing as “we” because I was emulating the formats of other popular newsletters such as the Morning Brew and the Hustle. But I’ve realized that the more niche a newsletter is, the better it does with a distinctive, personal voice and a person who’s associated with it. That’s why I’ve decided to make the switch and just write each issue as myself. My aim with this transition is to try and connect better with you through each issue. Have thoughts on this? I’ll gladly hear them. Just reply to this email or leave a comment on the web version.

Image credit: Roland-Garros

Subscribe and join 900+ tennis lovers and people who work at these organizations:

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great tennis read. A few comments on the topics above. That quote from the Rafa fan is pretty weak. The fact he has to use dramatic “lost a million Aussie finals” when he lost in 4 finals, the same “million” amount that Roger and Novak lost in the French finals. While GS in the men’s is a greater factor than the women’s given it’s uniqueness to regular tournaments, what will hurt Rafa resume is his lack of year end championships and other big tournaments (ie. Miami, etc). And his number of weeks at number 1, dominate in any other era, trailed my a margin to the other two. And I’m saying all these as a huge Rafa fan.

    Regarding Iga consistency comment, I think she meant consistency in results, more than playing style. Think of all the aggressive dominant women players, from Serena and Henin to steffi, Monica, and Martina. I think most women players (and sport commentators) recognized this, and I bet a bit embarrassed to acknowledge, but kudos to Iga for publicly stating the truth. Patrick Mouratoglou recognized this a decade ago during the jankovic, safina, etc days, thus encouraging a then distracted Serena to focus on the GS records given the inconsistent landscape.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you for the compliment! Yes, agree. I’m a pretty big Rafa fan and admire how he plays. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure he’ll be there as the GOAT. The End of Year Championships and the time spent at #1 are pretty big factors IMO. I’ve forwarded your comments to my friends—we’ll see if he decides to respond!

      Regarding Swiatek: I get what you mean that she meant consistency in results, not playing style. I was just saying that in general, it’s a lot harder to produce consistent results when your game depends on controlling and dictating. That’s why I used the Wozniacki comparison. That Serena and Henin did it playing the way that they did/do, speaks even more about how good they were/are. Hope that makes sense!

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    The GOAT conversation has to come down to more than just the tournaments themselves. The surfaces are unbalanced in the tournament sequence – two dedicated hard court, one clay, one grass is why there is an imbalance in all the mens’ récords. Nadal is a clay expert, but Novak plays indisputably better on hard court. Remember when everyone questioned whether Roger would ever get the French? Each man has a preferred surface and I honestly think it’s pretty impressive that Nadal has managed as many wins on other surfaces, given his game style compared to the others. So many Europeans players who excel on clay have a difficult time transitioning their game to the other surfaces in a way that would let them even win tournaments, much less dominate.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Agree with all you’ve said. I just know that the GOAT debate is going to go on for a long, long time…. And, we have at least 2–4 years left before one of them retires!

      1
      1
      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Getting out of your comfort zone—Ti #38

Getting out of your comfort zone—Ti #38

“It seems you can’t go a day or two without some self-development guru or wanna be Simon Sinek telling you that ‘you have to get out of your comfort zone to improve!’ It’s a tried and tested truism in the space of self-improvement. But how does this idea work when it comes to playing tennis matches and competing?”

Is your mental game holding you back?—Ti #37

Is your mental game holding you back?—Ti #37

“Tennis Australia consequently announced that all matches scheduled on Thursday would be postponed a day to give casual contacts—which could be up to 600 people (players, coaches, support staff, etc.)—a chance to get tested. The postponement of play will also give Tennis Australia and the Victorian government a chance to get a handle on just how bad the situation is.”

Since you left a comment... I thought now would be a good time to ask you to subscribe.

Save time. Keep up with the most essential developments from the tennis world with one email a week. (Plus original articles and interviews sent once in a while.)

Please check your inbox for our introductory message. If you don't see it, check your Promotions or Spam folders.