Hello and welcome to the 26th issue of Tennis inbox. With all eyes on the U.S. election, I was unsure whether to publish this week. But since I’ve sent out this newsletter for the past 25 Thursdays, I figured why stop now? Maybe you could use a break from election coverage as well. This week: Djokovic in another brouhaha, Nadal tops most consecutive weeks in the top 10, and a workhorse wins his first title on the ATP Tour. Read on to find out more.
Mountains out of molehills
Last week on Friday, after securing the year-end #1 ranking by competing in the Vienna Open, Novak Djokovic lost 6–2, 6–1 to lucky loser Lorenzo Sonego in the quarterfinals. The defeat was unexpected not only because of the score, but because of Djokovic’s comments after, which alluded to a lack of care for his loss. Djokovic said:
“I came here with the intention to try to earn more points and secure the [World] No. 1 at the end of the year. I’m happy, I’m pleased [that] I’m healthy and hopefully I can have a strong finish in London. I move on completely fine with today’s result and [I am] looking to the next chapter.”
There are two ways of looking at Djokovic’s words.
The first argument would say that Djokovic was being unacceptably candid in why he visited Vienna in the first place. Did his performance against Sonego have something to do with him knowing that he will finish the year as World #1 regardless of the result? If there had been more at stake, would we have seen a closer competition? Djokovic is the world’s best player, after all. It’s unbecoming of a sportsman to behave in such a way just because he achieved his year’s goal. What about all the people who came to watch him? What about everyone viewing on TV?
The second argument—more utilitarian in its approach—would ask: so what? Who cares if he was being honest? Djokovic has made it clear that his goals are now to surpass the records of his peers, and the year-end #1 spot is one of the most important, as it would tie him with Pete Sampras with six finishes at the top of the world. If his performance after achieving his goal was lackluster… it doesn’t really mean much.
Which is right?
I’m sympathetic to the “respect the sport and the fans” argument. How players behave has a real impact on how tennis is perceived to juniors and sports fans in general. Tennis has also seen its fair share of tankers.
But I’m pretty sure even the most ardent Djokovic haters wouldn’t place the Serbian into that category. Is he allowed, once in a while, to have a poor performance? A performance where he wasn’t his best? A performance where he loses to someone he shouldn’t lose to? A performance where he can’t, for once, summon his inner competitive beast?
One thing that gets lost in the tennis commentary world is that professional tennis players are human beings, too (amazingly gifted, talented human beings). They’re not automatons who can consistently provide performances based upon the flick of a switch in their minds. And tennis, too, isn’t that simple. Every person who has competed seriously knows that sometimes you’re going to lose to players that you don’t have any business losing to. This dynamic is also present on the ATP and WTA. Sure, there are things you can criticize Djokovic for—no doubt. But sometimes tennis writers, commentators, and fans love to make mountains out of molehills.
What do you think?
Rafa’s monumental effort
Much has been said of Rafael Nadal over his long and storied career. Now we can add another feather to his plume: most consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the ATP rankings. The record, which was previously held by Jimmy Connors, was surpassed by Nadal after he accumulated 789 weeks (and counting) in the top 10. It is a monumental effort, and a testament to his longevity and consistency. It’s also a rebuke to the commentators who, early in Nadal’s career, thought that the Spaniard wouldn’t be able to maintain his longevity on tour due to his overtly physical playing style.
The list which tallies the number of consecutive weeks a player has spent in the top 10 of the ATP—which Nadal now sits atop of—is as follows:
- Rafael Nadal: 789 weeks
- Jimmy Connors: 787 weeks
- Roger Federer: 734 weeks
- Ivan Lendl: 619 weeks
- Pete Sampras: 565 weeks
- Novak Djokovic: 555 weeks
- Stefan Edberg: 493 weeks
In the last few years, players on the WTA have not been as consistent in general but one outlier is #2 Simona Halep, who surpassed 334 weeks in a row in the top 10 (and counting). Twitter user Diego Barbiani compiled this handy little chart which shows us exactly at which positions Halep has spent her time.
From the data, we can tell that the Romanian has been a consistent feature at the top of the women’s game, holding the #2 slot for a total of 84 weeks.
Change of Ends with Derrick Taylor
What do club/recreational players spend too much time/mental effort worrying about when they play?
I try to encourage my players to really focus on the end goal when they are playing tournaments and matches. For the juniors I work with, this could be making sure they are keeping good technique and shot selection that will help as they progress through the age groups. And for the college athletes, it’s constantly looking at how they need to be playing in the later parts of the season to be successful in conference tournaments and nationals. In some cases for the athletes looking to go pro, I encourage them to make sure they are doing what they need to for that path as well.
What do you encourage your students to focus on when it comes to playing a match?
One thing I’ve seen is that a lot of kids win in juniors by basically staying on the baseline and grinding (putting a lot of balls in play). They don’t come to net or try to finish points with a weapon or a strength. This hinders a lot of juniors because they never develop their games fully. Worse, they develop a mentality that says “I hope they [their opponents] miss” as opposed to a mentality that says “I’m going to force my opponent to miss with my quality play.”
What book would you most recommend to tennis players? Why? What were your key takeaways from this book?
I’d recommend Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Inner Guide to Inner Excellence. It’s an easy read—plus it has a ton of great information in it. In my opinion, it helps athletes learn how to get themselves into the “zone” during competition and instructs them in how to play at their maximum potential.
Have a question you’d like a coach to answer? Are you a coach who’d like to contribute? Email email@example.com
John Millman wins in Kazakhstan
Australian John Millman won his first title on the ATP Tour at the Astana Open in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan by defeating Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. (I’ve placed the highlights of that match at the bottom of this story.) Millman said of his result:
“I am so relieved. I am happy. It has been third time lucky for me. That was my third final and I am just thrilled. There are a lot of people back home that have put in a lot of hard work and I am just glad that I can be the accumulation of that work.“
Millman is the fifth first-time winner on the ATP Tour this year, joining new faces Ugo Humbert, Casper Ruud, Thiago Seyboth Wild, and Miomir Kecmanovic who all won titles this year.
Long thought of as one of the fittest players on tour due to his high intensity and overall fitness, I can personally attest to his work ethic as well.
When I was a junior, I used to train at the same academy as Millman (in Brisbane, Australia). Though he was on the top court, and I a few courts away, our schedules were the same: two sessions; one early in the morning; and one at around noon. While other players rested and relaxed between sessions, Millman would take off on long runs. After the second practice? He’d often stay and hit baskets of serves while the rest of us stumbled away, delirious after two tough sessions.
Given all his injury troubles and the work that he’s put in, it’s nice to see someone who’s worked so hard in his career finally pick up a title on the ATP Tour.
Photo credit: KT