Goodbye And Hello: Sadness Followed By Opportunity

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Theologically, as a Christian, I firmly believe we are all special.

As a tennis commentator, though, I assure you that I’m not very special at all. This is where today’s story begins. It is a story that contains several important personal and professional disclosures as I move into a new phase of my life and career.

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PART ONE: CHILDHOOD

I didn’t play tennis competitively. The closest I’ve ever come to understanding a sport at its most cellular level is basketball, because I was a cameraman and sometime-statistician for my high school basketball team. (I received a tuition reduction in exchange for performing those kinds of tasks.)

However, there’s one thing I’ve done a lot in my life, more than just about anything else: I’ve watched sports. I consciously remember falling in love with American football in November of 1981 (on my older brother’s First Communion day) at the age of 5, and in 1982, I drank up everything I could about sports on the television screen and from the daily papers in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was born.

Yogi Berra, one of the great unintentional humorists not just in the history of sports, but in the history of human beings, has given the world many memorable quotes. One such gem is, “You can observe a lot by watching.” That’s pretty much my life in and around sports.

I’ve watched athletic competitions with great interest for 32 and a half years. Editors and publishers have given me opportunities to write about American football and basketball, because those are the team sports played at the university level here in the United States. I can write about those sports because I’ve watched them closely enough to know what’s going on and then convey my impressions to a reading audience.

When I began to fall in love with sports in 1982, Wimbledon and the United States Open did not escape notice. My first tennis memory is of John McEnroe becoming agitated late in his five-set loss to Jimmy Connors in the 1982 Wimbledon final. I recall Connors relishing the glory of triumph in his blue athletic jacket. That Sunday began a long love affair not necessarily with tennis, but with Wimbledon.

On Labor Day weekends, I would go to my grandparents’ house, where my grandfather would always have sports on when we came for Sunday or holiday lunches and a swim in the backyard pool. Labor Day in the States means the U.S. Open on CBS (though ESPN will take over the tournament next year). I grew up listening to the beloved Pat Summerall (one of the greatest announcers America has ever produced) and former major champion Tony Trabert. Virginia Wade joined the CBS commentary booth in the early 1980s, but when the decade ended, a young woman named Mary Carillo had entered the CBS broadcast set. She’s still there today.

Evert-Navratilova with splashes of Mandlikova and then the emergence of a young Steffi Graf. The McEnroe-Connors-Lendl wars, followed by the Year Of Mats Wilander (1988). Yes, the 1980s jolted me with the electricity that major tennis tournaments can create. I’ve followed Wimbledon and the U.S. Open ever since, and Roland Garros to a lesser extent. The Australian Open didn’t really stand on the same plane as the other three majors until the late 1980s (it didn’t have a 128-player field until then). Its emergence as a tournament worthy of the “major” label is comparatively new.

Speaking of new things, many elements of tennis coverage in the United States have just begun to become a regular part of the broadcast landscape. The Tennis Channel is only seven years old. Accordingly, American tennis viewers are only beginning to be brought in touch with tennis on an every-week basis over the course of the full season. A good 20 years ago, such saturation coverage could not have been found.

In the U.S., tennis does not enjoy the widespread popularity it received in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but there is a market for tennis content, and my relationship to tennis is a part of that story – not a special one or a big one, but one story that’s probably representative of many Americans.

It’s not a complicated journey. I followed the majors and was “a sports fan who loved tennis,” as opposed to “a tennis fan who also loved other sports to a lesser degree.” Roger Federer, though – with help from Rafael Nadal – took tennis to a whole new level a decade ago. Tennis became so compelling to me that I began to follow the sport on a more consistent basis, far beyond the majors. The convergence of added television coverage and increased personal interest has exposed me to more of tennis and the workings of the sport, both as an on-court drama and an off-court business.

No, I don’t fancy myself as an expert – I’m not even close to one – but can I make sense of what’s going on? Yes. Moreover, is there enough of a marketplace that I can find a home within it?

One company thinks the answer is yes.

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PART TWO: TENNIS TWITTER AND A WORLD OF GRATITUDE

From 2006 through 2009 (maybe a little bit into 2010 – I’m frankly not sure), I was a regular commenter at Peter Bodo’s Tennis World blog, hosted by Tennis Magazine (now Tennis.com). It was at Tennis World that I learned about the vastness of the global tennis community. From my interactions, I learned how to not only talk about the sport, but listen to others’ views of it. My knowledge of what was happening on the court was supplemented by a growing awareness of how fans – of certain players and styles, and from certain nations – processed the sport.

When I joined Twitter in the spring of 2009, I didn’t know what the future would bring. I was beginning to tire of the incendiary nature of many commenters’ entries at Tennis World, but it was still my go-to place to talk tennis. I compiled a list of tennis tweeps to follow, but I had not yet experienced a major tournament with Twitter as the main web-based conversation place.

The 2009 Wimbledon tournament was my introduction to Tennis Twitter during a major, and I instantly found a lot of Tennis World friends in the realm of social media. Many of us had managed to carry our conversations from Tennis.com to Twitter, and we realized that while Twitter wars were not always unavoidable, we could still choose almost all of the people and conversations that appeared on our timelines. I was hooked, and many Tennis.com refugees felt the same way.

Moreover, Pete Bodo and his colleague, Steve Tignor, joined Twitter as well. Furthermore, other tennis writers were accessible on Twitter, so we – the fans of #TennisTwitter – realized that we could go to a single web source for “one-stop shopping” in terms of content and analysis.

Ten years ago, I might have gotten up in the middle of the night to watch an Australian Open match on ESPN, but that would have been the limit of my interaction with the match. Today, Tennis Twitter brings me to the web when I watch tennis matches at any time of day or year. In late January, I was watching a men’s semifinal (I forget which one; I know a Swiss guy was playing in it ;-), when this gentleman asked me if I had ever written about tennis before (for pay).

I said no… but that I’d love to be given the chance.

That chance was indeed granted.

Let’s absorb what happened: A CEO of a blog-based publishing company offered me the chance to cover tennis because I was a constant presence on Tennis Twitter. I know I’m speaking to the Picket Fence community here, but I’m even more broadly speaking to Tennis Twitter as a whole. YOU, Tennis Twitter, have helped me find a voice. YOU, Tennis Twitter, are responsible for what I’m about to announce:

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PART THREE: CROSSING THE LINE AND A FAREWELL TO THE FENCE

I am not yet a full-service tennis blogger/commentator, but for 2014, I will be paid to cover Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open at Bloguin. I will therefore cross the line separating the avid tennis fan from the paid worker. I’ll have to stand on the other side of this divide. This doesn’t mean I will be personally separated from Tennis Twitter, but it does mean that I now have a professional and ethical obligation to be accurate and fair in handling facts and information. (There’s always a personal obligation to be thus, but now that obligation is more binding and pervasive.)

The tenor or content of my tweets and writings won’t change dramatically, but they will change slightly at certain times. I won’t be writing for Federer fans or other specific segments of the tennis community. I’ll be writing for a general audience. That’s a responsibility which can’t be taken lightly.

I’m really excited about this opportunity, but these moves carry a price, and the cost of this transition is that I can’t write for the Picket Fence anymore.

The Fence has been a wonderful home for me. Julie Zhou – the hostess with the mostest – has been extraordinarily generous in offering me this space during the major tournaments and whenever a moment of inspiration emerged at other points during the tennis season. Doots, P.J., and L.J. have given a lot to me, all while they’ve entertained and delighted the larger community of Fed fans with their work over an extended period of time. I can’t thank these three Hall of Fame Federtweeps enough for giving me an added/fourth seat on The Fence.

This blog has enabled me to put tennis thoughts on paper, and I don’t think I’d feel as ready for this adventure at Bloguin if I hadn’t been able to provide Federer fan therapy after one of Roger’s semifinal or quarterfinal losses at a major (especially to Rafa).

It’s up to Doots to decide what to do with Le Fence in the future. She’s been busy becoming a kick-ass lawyer who will bring about substantial social change in the world. That’s kind of important, oui?

What my departure means is unclear, but I would venture to say only this: Perhaps there’s a Federtweep out there who would be interested in pitching in at the Fence (and submitting him/herself to a vetting process). If conversations develop about the Fence’s future, that alone would be a good thing, no matter what the ultimate decision or course might be. At any rate, though, this is something for others to decide, not yours truly.

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PART FOUR: A COMMERCIAL AND AN INVITATION

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am not a special tennis commentator. I’m not more knowledgeable than most. I’m not a former player, anyone who can offer a unique level of insight into tennis.

What is unique about me? Not myself as a person, that’s for sure. My story, though, is an uncommon one. How the heck did I get here?

I got here because I tweeted a ton about tennis. I imagine a few other human beings have been offered writing opportunities due to their tweets, but this is not an everyday occurrence within (paid) sportswriting. What emerges is that after five years of tweeting about tennis, I now get to sustain my interactions with Tennis Twitter, but in a different capacity.

Here’s what this means: Having shared so many lamentations and complaints with many of you about the way in which tennis is covered, I now get to be a part of “the media.” Sure, I’m at a lower end of the food chain, and I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged journalist. (“Commentator” is the better word. I’m not doing reporting here.) However, I’m definitely in the arena.

I now get to attempt to represent you, Tennis Twitter and Picket Fence readers. I get to represent your views. I get to practice the art of media commentary as one who must be accountable to a larger audience. In short, I get to practice what I – and YOU – have been preaching. I think that’s pretty neat.

If you’re reading this, you have very likely joined me for at least some part of the past five years. You probably know what I think, but you’ve mostly gained that insight through tweets. Now, I get to unpack a lot of my thoughts in columns and expanded pieces. You might disagree with some of the larger conclusions I arrive at, but there’s nothing wrong with a disagreement.

My tennis writing position enables me to field questions, comments and criticisms from you, and to produce a work product that you will like. If you are frustrated with the way the media covers tennis, guess what? I might now be able to do something about it! Therefore, let me close with a short commercial about Bloguin, followed by an invitation to all of you:

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Bloguin (it’s pronounced “BLOG-YOU-IN”) covers several American professional sports, plus college sports. Non-American tweeps probably won’t find most of those sports very interesting, but if you do, give Bloguin a look. What should definitely be worth your time at Bloguin in addition to my coverage of the remaining majors this year – this is true whether you care for American team sports or not – is partner site Awful Announcing, which looks at media issues and the ways in which sports are covered in the United States.

Want to understand the relationships that link money, production decisions, and event packaging? Awful Announcing will be your place to learn. Moreover, I’m definitely going to use my position as a tennis writer to address some tennis media issues at Awful Announcing.

When you visit Bloguin, you don’t have to click on ads. You just need to visit and share my articles. You don’t need to thank the people who hired me by sending them a note. You can thank them by visiting Bloguin and clicking my pieces. That’s how this enterprise works.

If this tennis experiment for the three remaining majors works out in 2014, Bloguin might enable me to cover more of the tennis season in 2015 and beyond. Facebook likes and Twitter shares will all go a long way toward ensuring that my tennis blogging career extends beyond 2014, so that I can continue to cover the sport – hopefully for a long time and for a partial living.

That’s the commercial. Here’s my invitation to all of you:

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Contact me. Hold me accountable. If you like what I do at Roland Garros and appreciate my contributions to Awful Announcing on tennis media coverage, feel free to let these guys know. If you don’t like what I do, let me give you my e-mail address: mzemek@hotmail.com.

Stuff my inbox – I’m serious, please do when an article misses the mark or fails to meet your standards. Tell me what I’m doing poorly. Offer suggestions.

I’ll be open to what you have to say, and if I get a high volume of responses saying that the format of “Story X” doesn’t work as well as the format used in “Story Y,” I’ll be sure to use the format in “Story Y” as I move forward.
I’m saying goodbye to the Picket Fence, but I’m not saying goodbye to Tennis Twitter. Hopefully, as I say hello to the world of tennis media, your loyalty as readers and your continuous combination of advice and criticism will enable me to give you the tennis coverage you want… and richly deserve.

Thanks to all of you! I will see you at Awful Announcing and Bloguin, offering some tennis media pieces and tournament previews for Roland Garros.

This conversational relationship isn’t ending. It’s merely moving to places and forums on the other side of…

The Picket Fence.

He Stan(d)s Here As His Own Man

Davis Cup - Australia v Switzerland: Day 4

You should never have to feel pressured to tell somebody else that you are your own person.

So much of the written and theatrical arts — television, plays, movies, books — have always dealt with the notion of the double life, the tension between the outward identity and the true inner self. One of Doots’s and my favorite shows, Mad Men, is the foremost contemporary example of a television program which explores this concept. Don Draper might not succeed in being his best and truest self, the one which is comfortable enough to strip away the Madison Avenue monster who has to exhibit power, control, and virile swagger. Don knows that he should be a more grounded person, the one which, in the powerful season six finale, took Sally and Bobby to the whorehouse where he grew up. However, he doesn’t yet know how to become that person. He doesn’t know how to get where he needs to go.

If Don Draper was to tell Megan or Betty in tonight’s episode, “I am now the person I know I need to become,” neither his wife nor his ex-wife would take him seriously. The same would be the case for any viewer. Don can’t tell others he’s changed. He needs to show he’s changed, and that will be the big drama of Mad Men’s final season.

In real life — not a fictional television program — human beings can’t testify to their most meaningful transformations in mere words. Al Gore used his nomination speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles to tell the American electorate, “I stand here tonight as my own man.” The American public, despite a period of relative economic prosperity after Bill Clinton’s two terms, thought so little of Gore’s authenticity that it voted George W. Bush as president. You don’t tell others you’ve changed. You prove it with your actions.

This is why sports are so great, oui?

Oui.

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It's a point worth noting (and a rich sidebar to the main story authored on Sunday in Monte Carlo): Had Roger Federer not saved Switzerland in the Davis Cup quarterfinals, Stanislas Wawrinka might not have felt happy enough or liberated enough to play his very best tennis this past week, en route to his first Masters 1000 championship. Federer did indeed wind up helping Wawrinka... but his buddy still had to toe that line and deliver the goods when it mattered. Stan genuinely attained a new measure of hard-earned tennis independence in this seaside showdown.

It’s a point worth noting (and a rich sidebar to the main story authored on Sunday in Monte Carlo): Had Roger Federer not saved Switzerland in the Davis Cup quarterfinals, Stanislas Wawrinka might not have felt happy enough or liberated enough to play his very best tennis this past week, en route to his first Masters 1000 championship. Federer did indeed wind up helping Wawrinka… but his buddy still had to toe that line and deliver the goods when it mattered. Stan genuinely attained a new measure of hard-earned tennis independence in this seaside showdown.

Stanislas Wawrinka has spent so much of his career in the shadows of Roger Federer. If you’re reading this piece, this is a point which needs absolutely no elaboration whatsoever… so I won’t bore you with any kind of recap.

Let’s deal with the very recent past: Wawrinka did win his first major championship earlier this year in Melbourne, Australia, but he then wobbled in both Indian Wells and Miami, feeling the pressure of having to justify his meteoric rise in the rankings and the larger tennis community. He struggled with the transition that is so difficult for just about any tennis player who ascends to the top tier of the sport. Everyone tries to gun you down. Media scrutiny intensifies. You become the focus of the action in the arena, not the sideshow or the cute, cuddly underdog. This is not something one can automatically respond to with perfect emotional equilibrium.

Wawrinka’s stumbles in the United States in March became something much worse in early April. The reigning Australian Open champion played poorly enough to be a first-round loser at a major tournament — yes, he was that bad if not worse — in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. Wawrinka, playing for Switzerland against Kazakhstan, managed to collect himself long enough to battle through a win against Mikhail Kukushkin that kept the Swiss alive in the best-of-five tie. However, if this Federer guy hadn’t exhibited complete command in his two singles matches, Switzerland would not have advanced to the Davis Cup semifinals.

It’s worth hanging onto that Davis Cup experience for just a moment, because it represented one more instance in which Federer overshadowed Wawrinka. It was only one weekend, true enough, but as the Monte Carlo Masters arrived on the calendar, it had become reasonable — through the prism of recent evidence — to claim that Federer had once again surpassed Wawrinka as Switzerland’s number one tennis player. Even though Wawrinka flourished in the process of reaching Sunday’s Monte Carlo final, his countryman — the one with 17 major titles and 50 Masters semifinal appearances, among other distinctions — had just defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Novak Djokovic on consecutive days. An informal survey of tennis pundits and commentators before Sunday’s match would have established Federer as the favorite.

Yes, Wawrinka had won a major title.

Yes, he had risen to No. 1 in Switzerland and No. 3 in the world.

Yes, he had beaten Djokovic in a five-set match at a major, and he made his first major semifinal at the U.S. Open last September.

Yet, there was something Wawrinka had not done since his tennis resurrection began: He had not yet beaten Federer head-to-head over the past 16 months. On Easter Sunday — a day made for resurrections — Wawrinka had a chance to put a number of old, persistent narratives in the tomb while walking into the new life of a career that could stand completely on its own, free forever from Federer’s shadow.

Wawrinka didn’t have to tell Federer or the world that he was his own man. The beauty of sports — especially the mano-a-mano theater of singles tennis — lies in the reality that competitors get to prove themselves on the merits. Wawrinka had a chance to show that he was his own man in tennis terms. Federer’s quest for an elusive Monte Carlo title was the most tangible achievement on the line in this match, but the more powerful and intriguing human story of the Monte Carlo final was Wawrinka’s quest for permanent, unquestioned independence as a tennis star — within and beyond Switzerland.

What we saw in one of tennis’s most spectacular settings proved to be a perfect example-cum-announcement of the extent to which Wawrinka has grown as a competitor.

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Wawrinka felt the weight of the occasion — and his opponent across the net — in an error-strewn first set. Coach Magnus Norman’s charge pulled the trigger much too quickly on his forehand, spraying the ball in hard-hitting rallies that were entertaining and disappointing at the same time. When Wawrinka took a 2-0 lead in the second set but immediately got broken back at love, it was not only reasonable, but logical, to think that in a movie seen many times before, Stan would not stick to the plan. The Australian Open champion appeared ready to lose the second set, 7-5 or in a tiebreaker, mirroring past sets that slipped away against not only Federer, but also the likes of Nadal and Djokovic. When the second set did work its way to a tiebreaker, the smart money suggested that Federer would win.

Stanislas Wawrinka arrived at that most perilous intersection between opportunity and paralysis. He had a chance to show that he was his own man… or to show that Federer’s mere presence on the other side of the court still overwhelmed him in a situation of consequence.

In prior years, Wawrinka had lost to Federer at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros. He would lose a set he could have won, and afterward, he’d disintegrate into a player who didn’t bother hiding how mentally beaten he actually was. Federer would console him at net when the match ended, but the psychological damage took root and lingered more than it needed to. Athletes have to forget their failures very quickly, and this was one of the foremost things Wawrinka had not learned to do until Magnus Norman came along.

When the second-set tiebreaker arrived, Wawrinka came face to face with the kind of moment that had destroyed him in the past… and the kind of moment Federer has used to forge some of his greatest triumphs. The tiebreaker is where Federer won the 2007 and 2009 Wimbledon finals. This part of tennis is a crapshoot, but it’s where the great players usually affirm their prowess in “big-point” situations, and few have ever been better-er than Federer. The enormity of the challenge Wawrinka had to meet cannot be overstated.

It’s true that Federer was quite nervous at the start of that second-set breaker, wanting so badly (too badly, in retrospect) to bag that first Monte Carlo title. However, Wawrinka had to be solid precisely when Federer gave him leverage — past Fedrinka matches, after all, often saw Federer give his friend Stanley an opening… only for Wawrinka to refuse to take it. The Swiss No. 1’s evolution as an elite player, which needed to manifest itself against Federer (and Federer’s aura on court), had to include one element in particular: the ability to capitalize on spotty play from the 17-time major champion.

Stan did just that in the process of taking a 4-1 lead.

Federer was not through in challenging his pal, though. The Swiss No. 2 then stabilized, playing four excellent service points to push the tiebreaker to 6-5. Wawrinka had done a lot of good work in that tiebreaker, but if he lost that one 6-5 point with a mini-break lead, he would have stood two points from defeat, and that’s when a lot of old demons could have rushed back to the forefront of his consciousness.

Federer was down 6-3 in this tiebreaker. You might recall another tiebreaker in which Fed trailed, 6-3 — in 2009 at Wimbledon against Andy Roddick. (It was even 6-2, but this does not make the 6-3 claim any less factual.) Federer held his two service points at 3-6, forcing Roddick to win one point on serve at 6-5. When Roddick lost that point, Federer found the escape hatch and the bridge to the fifth set, when his legs outlasted Roddick’s and forged a piece of tennis history. Great players won’t always win an isolated 6-5 service point in a tiebreaker, but this was a time and a match when Wawrinka needed to win it… at least if he was going to show with his actions that he could stand as his own man.

Sure enough, Wawrinka found a strong flat serve to the wide corner of the service box from the ad court, and the second set was his. In a moment of truth, a player who had struggled to surmount the obstacle of his own mind — not to mention the intimidating presence of a tennis immortal who was his friend and countryman — put a large part of his past to rest.

In the third set, Wawrinka — who not only logged a lot less court time during the week in Monte Carlo, but also played multiple 1:40 p.m. (local time) matches while Federer was slotted into mid- or late-afternoon windows — had the much fresher legs to supplement his belief. Yes, Federer fell flat in the decider, but a man who is going to be 33 years old in August did not figure to be the more invigorated player in a third set… not after his protracted quarterfinal war with Tsonga and his mentally demanding semifinal against Djokovic. The second-set tiebreaker was Sunday’s defining sequence, and in that stretch of 12 points, Stanislas Wawrinka didn’t make a single meaningful misstep.

On Easter Sunday, a feast  rooted in the celebration of new life and the eternal possibility of human breakthroughs, Stanislas Wawrinka gave Switzerland a new -- and second --Masters 1000 champion.

On Easter Sunday, a feast rooted in the celebration of new life and the eternal possibility of human breakthroughs, Stanislas Wawrinka gave Switzerland a new — and second –Masters 1000 champion.

You could choose to talk about this match from Federer’s perspective. The father of two — who is about to welcome a third child into his and Mirka’s household — lost conviction and clarity on his groundstrokes. The match ceased to be on his racquet when Wawrinka’s weightier shots became more consistent and calibrated, unlike the first set. Yet, for all the things Federer failed to do, we come back to the original point of this piece (and Sunday’s match):

This was always going to be a measurement of Stanislas Wawrinka’s evolution more than anything else. Was Stan ready to become his own man, to show something that could not be conveyed in hollow words and had to be expressed in both his game and his mental toughness?

The powerful, authoritative nature of Wawrinka’s “YES!” is what the tennis community should take away from today. Neither Federer nor the match as a whole deserved to be seen as anything better than average, but amidst a lot of ho-hum tennis, Wawrinka was legitimately great in this encounter’s defining stages, the second-set breaker and the start of the third set.

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Federer certainly encouraged, comforted and challenged him over the years. Norman, as a coach, has certainly transformed the way Wawrinka thinks about and believes in his abilities as a competitor. Yet, when you walk on the court as a tennis player, you remain fundamentally alone. It’s part of the beauty, fragility and power of the sport that tests the human person’s mind-body dualism at a very high level.

Stanislas Wawrinka drew from other resources and perspectives as his career moved along. Yet, no one but Stan The Man could show — to himself, to Federer, to his nation, to his fellow pros, and to the world — that he had become a tennis man in full. Last year’s loss to Djokovic in the 12-10 five-setter marked a first step along the path to greatness. The U.S. Open semifinal represented the second huge step. The Australian Open championship was in many ways the affirming and supremely validating moment that had eluded him for so long.

On Sunday in Monte Carlo, though, Wawrinka needed to show that he would no longer crumble under the weight of facing his — and his country’s — revered tennis icon. No, losing to Federer would not have made any of Wawrinka’s prior achievements any less valuable or meaningful. However, a loss would have enabled the press to continue to ask all sorts of questions about the psychological effect Federer has on Stan’s tennis. If nothing else, Wawrinka needed to win this match for more than a Masters title and its accompanying rewards (a fatter paycheck, added race points, and 400 extra rankings points). Stan needed to win this for himself, for all the times when he’d win a tournament and would be asked about Federer this, Federer that, Federer here, and Federer over there.

It’s not as though the press was justified in asking Wawrinka all sorts of Federer questions, especially in moments that Stan The Man deserved to celebrate for his own sake and on his own terms. Those questions were not thoughtful then, and they’re not thoughtful today. Now that he’s beaten Federer in a championship match, though, it should be a lot easier for journalists to remove the Federer narrative from Stanislas Wawrinka’s career… at least when Davis Cup and the Olympics are not involved.

Why should Wawrinka no longer have to field an endless series of questions about a separate Swiss tennis player?

Because he showed in Monte Carlo that he can beat Roger Federer when it matters… and because he’s simply a better tennis player than the Fed at this stage in the two men’s careers.

Stan was The Man before he took the court in the Monte Carlo final, or at least, it was right and appropriate to believe as much.

What’s different now? We no longer need to believe, as though someone has to tell us through spoken words that things are different. No, we don’t need to be convinced by means of speeches or sermons.

We know. We know because we’ve seen cold, hard evidence on the tennis rectangle and a dusty sheet of red clay where a new Swiss Master reigns on his own.

Federporn Friday (By LJ) – Post AO2014 blues…

For a few years now I’ve yearned for that photographer media pass. The one that will get me me closer, allow me to bring into a venue; longer and better lenses, perhaps a monopod and other extras… But I realised, especially this year, that a press pass has its own restrictions. When you shoot for publication, there’s no meandering, no breathing room, no time to focus on just a singular player, a singular moment. And I’ve realised over the years that as long as this old bloke is playing, it’s going to be hard for me to focus on any other player. However with limited equipment and access comes a sense and the need to be better, to shoot better, to keep improving over the years and to be original in visual quality. The benefit of added post-processing time also means an opportunity to finesse, to refine and to make a shot memorable.

As I reflect on my photography at Brisbane International and the Australian Open this year, I didn’t yearn as much for media legitimacy as I did in previous years because I understood the limitations of what I thought I wanted and instead decided to EMBRACE the restrictions of what I had and try to create the best work out of what I had available. As from the previous Federporn posts, I hope that you guys can recognise my efforts to be different to your usual Reuters, Getty or AP sports coverage. And I hope my passion for the tennis of Roger Federer and also the man comes across. I don’t often like to self-congratulate but I think at least for some of the shots this year, I really think I did myself proud.

Anyway, enough chat, enjoy the photos and I hope to take more in the future…

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Australian Open 2014 Practice

Roger Federer Australian Open 2014 Practice

Roger Federer 2nd Round Match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 2nd Round Match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 2nd Round Match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 2nd Round Match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer 1st round match Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer with Stefan Edberg

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Day 3 Practice Session Australian Open 2014

Roger Federer Australian Open 2014 Practice

From me…Au Revoir Roger… until 2015.

You can see all my tennis images and more here.

Previous Federpornery here

Australian Open 2014: When Will The Hate End?

Disclosure/preamble No. 1: Doots will have an Australian Open wrap-up. She’ll be sure to celebrate Stanislas Wawrinka’s win, so I’ll let her focus on that piece. I have it in me to celebrate Stan’s win as well, but in much the same way that a newspaper would have two writers cover different angles of a story, I’ll deal with one story so Doots can have the other, more pleasant task.

Disclosure/preamble No. 2: You know me as a tennis fan who writes about the sport. I have not expected to cover the sport, but there might finally be a chance that I’ll do so as a stay-at-home blogger before too long. Therefore, it’s good for me if I write something that isn’t meant solely for an audience of Federer fans.

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On with the show…

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Here I was, prepared to offer a far-ranging wrap-up of the 2014 Australian Open and write something bundled in a tidy thematic pouch. I had all the major points of emphasis lined up. No matter who won Sunday’s men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka, the template was there. Keeping in mind that the greatest achievement of Nadal’s career (just one person’s opinion, of course) was forged in Melbourne in 2009, I was expecting another crowning moment to occur in this match. However, if Nadal lost to Wawrinka, I still could have produced an essay with all of my larger planned themes intact.

Then, however, an injury reared its ugly head… or lower back, as the case may be.

114b4dac-9331-439c-9b3d-53df348e037f_Sweaty Read More…

Federporn Friday (By LJ) – AO2014 Pre-Fedal Grit & Determination Edition

I know y’all are facing the Fedal jitters, the palm sweats, the neck hairs, the lingering unease in the pit of your stomach, the desperate need to attack the xanax, stillnox, valium, moscato or other drug/alcohol of your choice to cope with the stress that Fedal brings.

The thing is… I never used to stress this much about Fedal, but then Wimby2008, AO2009, FO2011,  AO2012 and the ENTIRETY of 2013 happened and now I want to vomit my guts out at every Fedal matchup.

But even though this inexplicable and unnecessary stress blankets everything, there is always a faint sliver of hope. And as we Fed fans struggle through it, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we somehow…somehow come out alive the otherside.

I braved the intense, insane Melbourne heat of Australina Open 2014, to bring you hopefully some of the best and most interesting Federer photos that you’ll see on this side of Getty Images. Waiting on court 17 in 43 degree heat for hours (thats like 109F to you imperial peeps) is something that I only do for one swiss potato nosed dude. Read More…

Aus Open 2014: Fail better.

It’s a somewhat awkwardly phrased, yet oddly poignant line from Irish poet Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

When I first saw the tattoo on the inside of the Stanimal’s forearm, I found it corny. Melanie-Oudin-BELIEVE levels of corny.

I don’t know … Real belief, true grit, these aren’t things you need to wear on your foot or etch into your flesh. You either have it or you don’t.

But as the week progressed and I gradually forgot about my cynicism, this line came back to me, again and again. It had me puzzled. It had me thinking:

Isn’t tennis all about winning? Certainly, there is nothing in this sport or in any other that regards failure as something to be repeated. How exactly does one “fail better”? And why is this a sentiment worthy of being articulated, appreciated and inscribed onto human flesh? Read More…

Aus Open 2014: Shine on.

Don’t you miss that feeling when Roger Federer comes out of the players’ tunnel and quickly shimmy-shimmies his way around court like he was made of SHINE?

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It’s been so long since Federer’s played a match this clean against a top quality opponent. So long since he’s made it to the quarterfinals (okay, two slams. But that’s so long for Mr Shiny). So long since we’ve heard the clichéd use of terms like “vintage Federer”, “full flight” and “majestic” by commentators lacking in vocabulary. Read More…

Australian Open 2014: Frazzle Post

I start with the men’s draw on the premise that we are headed for a Rafole final in Melbourne in two weeks unless someone stops them. But who might actually be capable of tripping the current Big Two?

Murray? Even the most die-hard fans of British tennis would have to concede that Toothface is nowhere near match-fit and ready to win the Aus Open.

Del Poopy? Surely, he is long overdue for a slam win over Rafa.

Wawrinka? There may be some level of cosmic balance overdue to My Friend Stanley after his five set loss to Djoko in Melbourne last year, but given Stanley’s draw, I doubt it.

Here’s a closer look at the men’s draw.

Read More…

Federporn Friday (By LJ) – It’s been too long…

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Wow, looking back it’s been almost a FULL YEAR since the last Federporn Friday post. I guess there wasn’t much to celebrate with FPF in 2013, but when I get to take pictures of Mr Adorkable in person, you betchya I’ll try and wrangle some FPF time from dootsiez.

This year dootsiez and I braved the humid Brisbane heat and saw Wogie, up close and personal (and by up close I mean 2nd row from court biatches) in Pat Rafter Arena. With my new camera and lens in tow, I braved the bicep killing weight of my kit (dootsiez can testify how heavy it is) and made sure I brought you some of my best work so far.

I guess think of this as a pre-Australian Open celebratory FPF… a chance to celebrate… Read More…

Tales from Brisbane

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Happy new year bitches. Long time no blog.

As some of you might be aware, I kicked off 2014 by heading to Brisbane to bask in the sweaty glow of Turderer, and the final loss aside, it was a glorious week. One that had me itching to log onto wordpress and start tapping away again. And ain’t that one of the most liberating feelings in the world.

1. Sensational sports headlines went up all over Australia today: Ashes Whitewash! Hewitt beats baffled Federer! Let’s party like it’s a new millenium!

Theoretically speaking, there is of course no shame in losing to Lleyton. Even as a tour veteran with a bionic foot, Hewitt remains a smart, strategic and persistent player, and more crucially yesterday – not one to falter on key points. In his three set victory over McFudd, Lleyton played some of the most inspired tennis we’ve seen from him in years, and his victory speech showed just how much a title in Australia meant to him at this stage in his career, a poignant moment for fans on both sides of the fence.

Read More…

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