Rafanatics, feeling a little blue? Avoiding tennis websites like a plague? Living in a see-saw state of angst and zen? Feeling unwarranted hate for non-Big 4 players like Davydenko and Soderling?
You have slumpitivis!
Trust me, I’ve been there. 7 months ago, Roger was struggling through matches, posting a succession of losses against the top 4 and crying his friggin nose off.
It was depressing. It was shithouse. I stopped listening to commentary during matches. I stopped visiting tennis websites, reading the media obituaries. In fact, I didn’t even want to watch tennis anymore. Except I did. But I didn’t. Only I did anyway.
Yup. It’s a sadistic condition.
The bad news is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The good news? It is going to get better. You bet your ass.
Watching Nadal v Davydenko today, I was struck by a feeling of empathy as the commentators speculated over Rafa’s demise as a player. For sure, he was only a shadow of the player that he was at the start of the year, but are things really that bad or are we jumping to conclusions?
More strikingly, wasn’t I there with Federer just a few months ago?
Tennis is all about the player: their talent, physical assets, their mentality, work ethics, and most importantly their inherent feel and intuition on a court. All these things decide the course of a player’s career.
Tennis reportage however, is all about the form: hot streaks, recent wins, player of the week, players of the month. In that coverage, what is often neglected is the caliber of the player, the context and the power dynamics in which they exist.
Just two weeks ago, Robin Soderling had failed to make any sort of impact during the indoor season, having narrowly missed out on qualifying for the WTF. This week, he is a force to be reckoned with. Suddenly, people are talking about whether he has the goods to win a slam.
Two weeks ago, Novak Djokovic was the player du jour, even though he had posted poorer slam results without an injury compared to Rafa with.
Just last week, we were wondering if Nadal was going to suddenly find a streak of good form and take the No 1 spot from Federer. This week, murmurs of “will Nadal ever win another slam” are surfacing in tennis world.
But that’s mass social media for ya: it’s all about the “right now”, the “shock jock” statements, the impact of an unsubstantiated prediction. So without making any grand assertions, let’s remind ourselves of the facts:
# Rafa is still the No 2 player in the world and 23 years old.
# He won a slam, and 3 ATP 1000 tournaments within the space of 5 months this year.
# Up until his mid-year breakdown, he was “the” player to beat on all surfaces.
# Since his return, he has made semifinals in Cincy, the US Open (with a 15 mm tear on his abdomen), Beijing, Bercy, final in Shanghai.
Nothing you didn’t know already of course. So here are a few more things to remind yourselves of during your bout of slumpivitis:
- Rafa is a guy who has too much game to go anywhere. Mentality, intuition, natural physical talents, good work ethics – all the elements that make up a great player, Rafa still has it, even if he’s far from being player du jour at the moment.
- At the start of February, I got home after a vacation during the Australian Open. I turned on my computer and logged on to Google Reader. The first article I saw was titled “Was the Australian Open Federer’s last stand?” Well you tell me, was it? I’m glad I closed my browser and opted for sleep back then.
- Federer’s slump came at the start of the year, with 3 slams still left to go and shiploads of points to defend. By contrast, Rafa’s year-end slump is more “garden variety”. Dude’s never done well during this part of the year. The last time he won a title post-US Open was back in 2005. His results during this part of the year have never been indicative of his future career.
- Look at it this way: at least your guy didn’t smash a racquet in frustration, or lose to someone whose name rhymes with “Farty Dish”.
I guess the point in writing all this is simply a little empathy. A statement that “yes, I’ve been there. And yes, it comes and goes”. Tennis doesn’t have to be all about the battle of vultures between Fed-loving Nadal-haters and Nadal-loving Fed-haters.
At the end of the day, we are all a bunch of freaks who invest too much of our time, money and emotions into a sport where people hit a yellow fuzzy ball across the net at each other in the hope that the other person stops hitting it back.
Sometimes we don’t like each other, sometimes we have cyberspace wars, because we’re friggin morons. But mostly, we’re much the same people.
And knowing how dark it can be sometimes for us idiots? We could all use a little empathy and some perspective before we start frazzling or sniggering over so-and-so’s demise.
Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US. To those in less thankful countries, happy Friday, we’re almost there!