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.

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He’s Coming, And He Won’t Stop

Think about this question:

What would you do if you’re a guest writer at a blog devoted to chronicling tennis and the adventures of Roger Federer in particular, and you watch Rafael Nadal own the rest of the ATP Tour on hardcourts, thereby mounting a full frontal assault on Federer’s 17 major titles and his place in history?

Yeah, not an easy question to answer, is it? Viewpoint, mindset, orientation, stylistic preferences, perceived slights (or lack thereof) in the media — those and other things would shape your answer.

There is always a certain political quality to commentary on any subject when it’s intended for a wider audience. The decision to be particularly diplomatic and, on the other side of the spectrum, the decision to not give a flying fire truck about what anyone else thinks are both political responses. Does one audience deserve a soothing, consensus-laden middle ground, or does it deserve the vinegar of hard truth served forcefully?

If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know that I prefer the route of consensus and unification, because — as expressed in “A Place At The Tennis Table” last week — the world can always use more healing and inclusion. There’s never enough of that in anything human beings talk about or pursue. Some fans might need vinegar today or tomorrow, but in the aftermath of a major tournament — especially the last one of the calendar year — the focus should be on celebrating the achievement of the winner and putting it above every other discussion point that can be contested or explored.

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