Everyone agrees that there should be grass Masters 1000 tournaments. It’s a fact.
HUH? WE NEVER SAID THAT, some of you might be thinking.
Narrowly and technically, sure. Some of you never DID think that, and you don’t think there should be a grass Masters 1000 (or, for the women, Premier Mandatories or Premier 5s).
Yet, while it’s not a fact in the same way that 2 plus 2 equals 4, it is a fact in the realms of either emotions or words, if not both. It is a fact in the same way that a person admits guilt not by confessing to an act, but by telling a co-conspirator in the room (or on the phone on a traced call) to shut up and not give the game away to the police or other interested bystanders or listeners.
I think you all know where I’m going with this, but obviously, if I started down this road, I need to reach the final destination. I promise you the drive will be a short one, not a long one.
Death. Taxes. People citing how few top-10 players Roger Federer has beaten in Halle over the years. This is June.
It is a ritual of early summer and the grass season itself. The facts are accurate. Nobody is WRONG to cite them. They exist. They can’t — and shouldn’t — be denied. They speak for themselves.
The nuance: What do they say?
Yes, one entirely valid interpretation is to say that Federer has played weaksauce opponents on grass en route to his 10 Halle titles. Judged purely by rankings, that’s objectively true. I’m not here to argue with that claim. It stands on its own terms and shouldn’t be denied or wished away.
Yet, there is another valid line of interpretation: There aren’t many really good grass players, including those in the top 10.
Dominic Thiem on grass.
Alexander Zverev on grass.
Kei Nishikori — who has often played Halle in the past — on grass.
Fabio Fognini and Karen Khachanov on grass.
(Stefanos Tsitsipas is poised to have a great career on grass, but right now, he hasn’t yet done anything.)
Would it be so much better or more impressive if Federer had beaten those players on grass?
If Federer beat Djokovic or Nadal on grass, okay, THAT would show something, but with these other top-10 players? Meh. Would beating them prove so much more than other opponents?
Let’s put it this way: If Thiem can make Halle semifinals and Wimbledon quarterfinals on a regular basis, and if these other players can deliver more consistent results on grass, Federer’s inability to play (and beat) them would show up more. As it stands, very few players in the top 20 of the ATP Tour have a grass reputation which is better than their reputation on non-grass surfaces.
Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic are the two obvious examples of the above. So is Kevin Anderson, who has been injured for most of 2019, has under 3,700 ATP points… and yet is the No. 4 seed for Wimbledon ahead of Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas. That shows how barren the grass trophy case has been for other top-10 players. Their utter lack of grass points is what enabled Anderson — in spite of his inactivity this season — to nab a top-4 seed.
The obvious implied statement behind the “Federer hasn’t beaten anyone in the top 10” assertion of fact cannot be stated any more plainly: “It would be great to see Federer actually get challenged by the best.”
When people bring up the Federer top-10-in-Halle stat, do they INTEND to say that they want grass Masters 1000s? I would imagine that many of them don’t…
but they need to realize that is essentially what they are wishing for.
In that contextual sense, it is a fact that everyone wants a grass Masters 1000… if not three.
This court is adjourned. *pounds gavel*