Mcshow Response to Drucker, Wertheim, and Other Change Agents

Welcome to Mcshow Blog. If you’ve never been here before, this is how we do this. I have original takes on the sport (e.g. HRFRT, Djokollapse, etc.) and like to occasionally enter into certain conversations that need a dose or two of lucidity and/or levity; my crap-detector picks-up the smelly trace, we trap the perpetrator, submit the particular deviant to a “fair” trial, and then air the judgement for all to read and enjoy.

Today’s study concerns the TSQ‘s response to all of these injuries, which, admittedly, are not good for the sport and do indeed diminish a draw’s depth and significance.

I want to go right to Joel Drucker’s recent article where he chimed-in on the changes that he sees fit to deal with the injuries, the immense physicality of the sport. He is among a throng of change agents that, on top of it all, have been advocating for a move to some semblance of Bo3 in major tournaments. But let’s break this down for clarification.

First of all, the title of Drucker’s article does pin-point his particular suggestion: change to Bo3 in the first few rounds of the U.S. Open.

What’s interesting up-front is his suggestion is just for the U.S. Open. Because this is the final major of the year where guys are at the ends of their tennis legs? Because of the nature of N.A. hard court tennis, especially the U.S. Open Series including Canada, Cincinnati and NYC?

Drucker mentions that the Open has been the place for this kind of innovation, where the TB and Hawk-Eye were first used, for instance. He then points-out that the U.S. Open used to actually have Bo3 in the first few rounds. You can see here for yourself: the 1977 Open used Bo3 for the first FOUR rounds, moving to Bo5 for the QF, SF and F.

1977open_ss-slide-VJIW-jumbo

You can scroll through some of those draws around that time (1970s) and see how the tournament played with variations of this more sympathetic approach, for the sake of the players’ health we suspect. Looks like there was Bo3 in the first three rounds in 1975, but prior to this the Bo5 existed for all rounds. So, in the mid 70s they experimented with Bo3 for a few early rounds. 1979 appears to be the year they switched back to Bo5 throughout the tournament.

This means, of course, that this idea is not totally new. The U.S. Open has implemented this kind of match variation before. Drucker is a seasoned tennis writer, enthusiast and historian. This suggestion to move to a Bo3 in the first 2-4 rounds isn’t completely lunatic. 🙂

A few other points from this article that I appreciate:

2. He points-out the hierarchy of the majors. “The Australian Open was by far the least significant Slam for decades. And while Roland Garros has always been extremely demanding physically, such top players as Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors likely devoted less mental energy towards it than they did for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. To be clear: That doesn’t mean these guys didn’t compete hard on the dirt. It just means that they likely pointed themselves even more towards generating big-time results in London and New York.”

This reflects my and most learned professional tennis enthusiast points-of-view; in fact, as Drucker mentions, this is how the professionals (in the past) viewed the four majors. Wimbledon and NYC are the most important majors. That’s just the way it is. Nice to see Drucker clarify something I have been championing, which is men’s tennis 101.

He goes on to point-out that now players are focused on all four majors, so this competitive intensity has to have some kind of effect on the players more recently (injury) and he brings-up the point about the speed of the court and the innovation of the equipment as playing important roles here. No doubt, I and hopefully many others see not an ideal situation here with the homogenization of surface (slowing grass and HC) and the string and racket innovation that enables players to hit and spin harder.

This is poor sport management. Why make it easier to play for more players and slow-down the surfaces that benefit (along with the equipment) only certain players playing a certain style?

Either way you look at it, this is what you have: the rise of the two-handed back-hand and slower surface that advocates for a specific, easier to play style that renders pretty mediocre tennis, to be honest.

I was watching some U.S. Open replays recently on the Tennis Channel. Go look at the 2012 final (Djokovic v Murray) and the 2013 (Djokovic v Nadal) final as perhaps peaks of this certain style.

The tennis, for the most part, is garbage. There are some nice rallies and huge momentum shifts, especially in the 2013 final, but overall, it’s just a couple of guys hitting and spinning (Nadal) the ball as hard as they can.

If you look at these matches, and a few more of this period, you see the peak of this kind of tennis. The Australian Open 2012 final we have to include here. Brilliant competition (like parts of that 2013 final). Nadal and Djokovic going at it is both peak BL grind (a mediocre style too dependent upon physical strength, equipment innovation and surface manipulation) and brilliant at the same time because of their competitive spirit. No one can deny the drama of those matches.

This is what Drucker is referring to, whether he knows it or not.

This is what Jon Wertheim is referring to whether he knows it or not.

Just focusing on changing the U.S. Open and other majors to Bo3 is, by itself, a show of some kind of politics or ideology – meaning it stinks, and ignores way too much history and common sense (there are some like the guy Rothenberg for the NYT who is a big Bo3 advocate, using the length of matches as a deterrent to millennial viewership and wanting to put the men and women on a more even playing field, so to speak. Garbage).

Two reasons I am open to this kind of change for the first two rounds (beyond that is silly): 1. This experiment has been done before, so this is not actually new. The season is brutal (they should make changes there FIRST), so this can help. And 2. I actually think if forces guys to get that shit together early in a tournament. Brings upsets into play, which is a good competitive element, giving younger players a bit of opportunity, weakens the strangle-hold of a complacent hierarchy.

American baseball has this kind of structure in its playoff format, the first round is Bo5, the SF and F are Bo7.

The NBA used to do this Bo5 in the earlier rounds, but switched to Bo7 throughout in 2003.

But I’d think you would want to do this for all of the majors, no? More thought needs to go into this kind of change and “more thought” also refers to looking at other aspects of the sport.

Here’s where focusing only on this change is really challenged. There are other changes to the tournament schedule that can be made so we don’t have to alter the MOST IMPORTANT TOURNAMENTS OF THE YEAR.

The way this commentary sounds (from Drucker/Wertheim/Rothenberg/et al) reads like this: guys are getting injured so let’s make the majors less demanding. Ha ha ha. That’s as ridiculous, really, as it sounds.

Look elsewhere, gentlemen. Look at the 1000s. Evidence of the real issues of the sport are everywhere. The accumulation of Masters titles, now an apparent benchmark of tennis excellence, is problematic. And that’s new. That Murray is higher on that list than Sampras is hilarious (and problematic). Should players have to play in all of these Masters events? What about the length of the season, in general?

The majors are historical, the true benchmarks of tennis excellence. Change those only as a last resort (although I can see some benefit to perhaps first two rounds being Bo3 only to improve competition).

What about the speed of the court? The hysteria of the 2017 AO court is a great footnote here. Some Djokovic fans complained, saying their hero isn’t as good on faster courts. First of all, keep that to yourself, fangirl! You are undermining your hero.

That grass and the HC have generally slowed hurts certain styles of the game.

Variation of speed advocates variation of style. This invites more variety, like S & V. If you are not a S & V fan, go watch American football or roller-blading or MMA. Tennis has historically been a game of variety, skill and class and using the net for crying-out-loud.

Lastly, the equipment. No need to go into this too much here and now, but this is a problem. The rackets and strings are getting absurdly forgiving, with larger and larger sweet-spots, lighter, and more conducive to spin. At what point does the tour say certain innovation is illegal for tour events. Sure, weekend warrior Joe can have his fun with these freak-gimmicks called tennis rackets, but the pros shouldn’t need this kind of advantage. No, this is not the make-them-use-wooden-rackets argument, but the kind of equipment now available is hurting the sport. Period.

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Drucker brings-up the guys missing from this year’s U.S. Open, pointing-out their recent success at the year’s final major. The past two winners (Stan and Novak), and 2014 finalist (Kei) are missing. Of course the 2012 finalist is missing now, as well (Murray). He says the 2014 winner is struggling with injury (Cilic) as is the 2015 finalist (Federer).

I hope he is not trying to say their injuries now are connected to NYC. I’m sure he is merely pointing-out that these stars of recent NYC hot August nights are under the spell of an injury plague that is affecting the ATP.

We hear his concern. The trend can be traced to some of the things he touches-on in that article and that I and others have put a bit more thought into.

But often, too, the injuries are individual and I think jumping to a big (short-sighted) conclusions can be pretty counter-productive.

Novak is a mess; his case is pretty singular and part of that is his recent big run of success. But the way he handled the injury, other elements of his life, that seems a bit more complicated – but again he was on a huge peak that simply wore him out.

Stan has a bad knee. Kei is always injured. Cilic has been playing well, but has come-up with some physical issues. Federer is 36 and has had a bad back.

In other words, let’s not go into some kind of panic. Guys get injured. Some of the things that people are talking about – changes that could be made – are both interesting and ridiculous. Guys also have very specific circumstances that have led to injury.

The fact that this coincides with a bit of a youth movement seems pretty logical, as well. Stan, Novak, Andy and Roger are over 30. Should we change majors to Bo3 because some 30+ players are hobbling? Exactly.

Part of this is the changing of the guard.

The Murray exit from the USO draw is a bummer, for sure. That bottom half of the draw is wild. Actually, the Murray W/D exposes the stupidity of the original draw. It’s almost a lack of class on the organizers’ part.

At first glance I can see that Querrey and Cilic have moved. Any other big moves? I see this lightens perhaps Kyrgios’ draw.

We probably have more injury affect to come, so let’s get this tournament underway and see where the pieces start to fall, literally.

Thoughts on any of this off-court intrigue?

PS
Just saw this comment on the injuries from Federer. Good points, Roger. 😉
Also, I left-out Milos from the injury list. Again, fairly common from this particular player.
Lastly, David Law is another monster change agent. Keep your eye on that spooner.

Cheers!

4 comments

  1. Joel Drucker’s principal argument for a Bo3 format in the first 3 rounds at the US Open is basically the players physical state (fatigue and injuries) in which they arrive (or not) at the US Open, resulting from a number of factors he mentions in his article.
    ‘There was a time when players came to the US Open less drained’, he writes.
    However Drucker doesn’t mention that, whilst the U.S. Open is pondering ways to keep its field as deep as possible, elsewhere a new tournament has/is being created to take place only two weeks after the US Open final, called ‘the Rod Laver Cup’, in which Europe’s best players are supposed to compete against the best of the rest of the world.
    So, if I’m not mistaken, those same players who apparently are too tired to play Bo5 against lesser opponents in the first three rounds of the US Open, are ready to compete in the Rod Laver Cup a fortnight later against the best of the field.
    Doesn’t seem very consistent to me.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Wilfried. I haven’t given much thought to the Laver Cup though I have seen it promoted quite a bit by Roger, et al.

      No thoughts on the other more insidious reasons why players are drained?

      Changing the format of early rounds of a major has been done at the USO and, like I said, not the craziest revision (I would say first two rounds). But what about the style promoted by surface and equipment manipulation/innovation?

      I stumbled upon here, in writing these two posts, my next big project, after HRFRT – and the two projects really relate, in fact might be one in the same:

      The game is suffering because of slower courts and bigger equipment. It’s a recipe for crappy tennis. No question about it.

      I intend to clarify this monstrous elephant in the room.

      1. Physical playing style, slower courts, bigger and more sophisticated equipment, lack of freedom in certain areas (mandatory tournaments …) and too much liberty in type of equipment they play with, all these points in your post I fully agree with, which was a very good post btw.
        I particularly liked your point about the mandatory masters. I think it is a very important one.
        That obligation is too stringent in my view.
        It forces top 30 players to participate in 8 Masters and minimum 4 ATP 500 events. Add the 4 slams to these, and you’ve got no less than 16 mandatory tournaments all spread over the globe in which they have an obligation to compete. Add to this the pressure from players’ sponsors / P.R. men to play in a place where they want the profile of their brand/player raised, and these players can’t have / find any proper gaps during the season anymore to rest their body (and mind).

What say you?