Jeff Sackmann talks tennis and analytics with a rotating cast of experts and superfans.
Ep 116: Tennis 128 Wrap-Up
This year, I ranked the top 128 players of the last 100 years. I wrote long-form essays about each one, which I've published over the last eleven months. Carl Bialik joined me for a podcast episode to mark the end of the project. We solicited questions, and many of you came through--we ended up with a list of over 200 questions! Spoiler alert: Even after three hours, we didn't get through them all. I may write something in the next couple of weeks touching on some of the questions we didn't have time for. We talk about the algorithm, players with controversial rankings (or no rankings at all), reactions to the project, and much, much more.
Ep 115: Jeff McFarland on Jim Courier and GOAT Algorithms
Jeff McFarland is the proprietor of the analytics site HiddenGameOfTennis.com, and like me, he has tried his hand at various mathematical approaches to rank the best players of all time, in both tennis and baseball. We start this jumbo episode by talking about Jim Courier--#107 on my Tennis 128 list--a player with a reputation that outstrips his career record, though both are outstanding. Jeff weighs in on the Courier-Chang comparison, and we talk about how Jimbo's inside-out forehand changed the game. We consider whether the early 1990s were a deceptively weak era, how much weight the slams deserve, which current players are most like Courier, some possible limitations of Elo for GOAT rankings, and--in more than one and half hours of tennis talk--a whole lot more.
Ep 114: Ana Mitric on Goran Ivanisevic and Tennis in the Former Yugoslavia
Serbian-American writer Ana Mitric joins me to discuss the latest entry in my Tennis 128, Goran Ivanisevic. Ana was a Goran fan even before she took a broader interest in tennis, and she is particularly sensitive to how the breakup of the former Yugoslavia affected players on all sides of the conflict. We talk about the state of Yugoslav tennis before the wars, Goran's status in his native Croatia, and how his attitude to the conflict differed from older players. We also discuss how Ivanisevic attracted so many fans despite a one-dimensional game that was often boring in less-mercurial hands, why his outspokenness didn't seem to turn people off, and what he now brings to Team Djokovic.
Ep 113: Grace Lichtenstein on A Long Way, Baby and Women's Tennis in 1973
In 1973, New York Times reporter Grace Lichtenstein was approached to write a book about the fledgling women's professional tour. It turned out to be a pivotal season in the sport's history, and the book concludes with an in-person account of the famous Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The subtitle of the book is, "Behind the Scenes in Women's Pro Tennis," and Grace got to know the players--including Billie Jean--well enough to deliver exactly that. In our conversation, we talk about how the book came about, how it was received, and what press coverage was like for women's tennis in 1973. We also discuss how Billie Jean King has changed in the last half-century, the difficulty of covering tennis in such an intimate way today, and what it would take to write a behind-the-scenes look at a contemporary player such as Serena Williams.
Ep 112: Carl Bialik on Rosie Casals and A Long Way, Baby
We're up to #115 in The Tennis 128, my year-long countdown of the greatest players of the last century. Carl joins me to talk about #115 herself, Rosie Casals. We also do a book-club episode of sorts, discussing Grace Lichtenstein's 1974 book, A Long Way, Baby, which covered the 1973 WTA season, including plenty of great material on Casals. Carl and I talk about whether the 2020s game would allow for such an insider's account of a year on tour, why players seem less unique than Rosie and her peers did, and whether Casals's reputation does her justice. We consider whether today's game would be better off with top players who are more committed to competing week-in, week-out, whether 1970s-style barnstorming would open up new markets for tennis, and why Margaret Court got massacred on Mother's Day when Billie Jean straight-setted the same opponent a few months later. Also, Jeff answers a few questions about The Tennis 128 so far.
Ep 111: Tim Boeseler on Michael Stich and Serve-and-Volley Tennis
Tim Boeseler is a senior editor at Germany's Tennis Magazin, where he has been covering the sport for years. Tim joins me to talk about Michael Stich, the man ranked 123rd on my Tennis 128 list. We discuss the German tennis scene before Stich arrived, how Stich was more than just a serve-and-volleyer, and the nature of his relationship with Boris Becker--not a close one, but one that allowed them to team up to win a gold medal. We also get into the serve and volley and the strategy's best-known current exponent, Maxime Cressy. We talk s-and-v strategy, both for guys like Cressy and for other players who might benefit from mixing it up a little bit more. Finally, we dig into the nuts and bolts of how the German tennis federation works, and how it is changing.
Views on documentary
I enjoy your podcast and listening to your thoughtful views on tennis. I do however feel you missed the mark on your analysis of the Guillermo Vilas documentary. One, the film presents an depth perspective on one of the most interesting and important persons in tennis history that helps provide an understanding of the real person behind this ranking rather than a generic presentation of a former tennis player wanting to be recognized for the number one ranking. Two, many of the scenes are emotional and heartfelt such as Borg’s opinion that Vilas should have received the top ranking. Your negative opinion of the film totally failed to recognize these aspects of the documentary. Finally I thought you could have mentioned Rod Laver’s view that perhaps the ATP didn’t recognize Vilas as number one in the 1970s because he wasn’t American and didn’t represent the ATP in a way that reflected their marketing goals for the game. Perhaps you could address all of these points in a future podcast? Thanks for listening.
One of two tennis podcasts I regularly listen to
Love the content, but it would be great if the microphone setup and audio quality was improved!
Thank you for the perspective, insights, and reviews of what’s happening in tennis tournaments. Your podcast is both educational and a pleasure to listen to. Thanks again for all the good work you do.