Indian Wells: Not a soup can.
The history of tennis is constantly evolving. Back in ‘medieval’ times, men like Willy Renshaw rocked up once a year to the sacred grounds of Wimbledon and defended their crown by merrily defeating their opponent, before heading home for a cigar and the latest developments of the East Indian Company.
Or so I’d like to imagine.
Willy Renshaw on the left, his twin brother Ernest on the right.
Fast forward 60 odd years, we arrive at the age of classics, filled with the romanticism of Laver, Rosewall and Emerson. To a Gen-Y like myself, the world lived in black and white back then, and tennis players always seemed to play with such ease and style that they could’ve walked straight off court and onto the set of Mad Men.
By the time our tennis history rolled around to late Sampragassi and the beginning of Fedal, modernity had dawned on tenniskind. We had epic rivalries, intense competition, clothing juggernauts generating such incredible wealth from the sport that they were turning it into a misery machine with a massive marketing campaign.
So what now? Are we entering tennis postmodernity?
The Sovereign (Roger? Serena?) is alive and well, but the sovereignty of our tennis realm is fragmenting. The overriding theme before the Australian Open – that the men’s field is wider than ever, that the women’s field has too many contenders – may have been suspended since Roger and Serena stormed Dootsie’s backyard, but the fragmentation of power continues. Contenders are emerging from outside the top 10 and converging towards the top 5.
For sure – sovereignty ain’t what it used to be in our tennis world.
But even so, no one saw this coming: Ivan Ljubicic, champion of Indian Wells 2010. My initial response was somewhat identical to my reaction to Andy Warhol.
“B-b-but, they’re soup cans!”
“…THEY’RE FUCKING SOUP CANS.”
Seeing Ivan Ljubicic holding the Indian Wells trophy reminded me of the Campbell’s soup cans.
Unlike Monet’s garden (Roger) or Van Gogh’s starry night (Rafa), Ivan Ljubicic presents a mundane kind of promotional material for the tournament. He’s no established contender, and certainly not an up-and-coming talent, having spent the tournament celebrating his use by date 31st birthday.
Surely, this is not the guy who would become the last man standing?
But let’s not underestimate the skill it takes to draw soup cans. It wasn’t as if the draw opened up for Ljubicic and he found himself in the final without having to play a top-30 player.
En route to the title, Ljubicic took out Djokovic, Nadal and Roddick, losing only one set to 3 top 10 players, at a time when most people have long forgotten his relevance.
Yes, he has a good serve, or more accurately a clutch serve (perhaps the best kind), but make no mistake, the guy’s no Ivanisevic or Roddick. His backhand is lethal at times, but it doesn’t exactly have the flair and fame of an ‘Henin’ or a ‘Reeshie’. His forehand is a meat-and-potatoes kinda shot, but it’s not definitive of his game, hardly a shot to end all shots.
And his movement? Let’s not go there.
Yet Ivan Ljubicic navigated himself through a tricky draw that not many top players, including the famous Fedal, could’ve won themselves.
He served big when he needed to. He battled nerves, higher ranked opponents and himself (51 unforced errors against Nadal anyone?). In the end, it took all his years of experience to be able to win against Djokovic, Nadal and Roddick back-to-back, without succumbing to a fear of success.
And when match point has been played and won, who’s to say that it wasn’t art?
At least, it’s not a fucking soup can.