2011: My, How Provocative You Are (by Matt)
The other part of a men’s U.S. Open wrap-up is to put the year in majors into perspective while also looking at 2012. All I can say about 2011 is that you were so very spicy and intriguing. You have me all worked up about 2012, which I can’t wait for.
Rather than write an essay, I’ll allow a tidal wave of facts to put the year’s four major tournaments in context:
It’s funny how life goes. One night, you can slay so many demons as Fed did against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The very next match, a supreme stomach punch comes along. Frank Sinatra knew what he was talking about: “That’s life! That’s what all the people saaaaaay! You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May. But I know I’m gonna play that tune, when I’m back on top, back on top in Juuuuune!”
Federer carried himself nobly at the slams this year. The revenge match against Tsonga was Tsweet. Being the only guy to take down the Djoker in Paris is a keeper, one of those rich memories the Fence will always cherish. It’s worth noting, just to put a finer point on things, that Djokovic was serving for the fourth set at 5-4 and, moreover, a suspended match that would have played the fifth set on Saturday at Roland Garros. Djokovic would have been the overwhelming favorite in that would-be fifth set, but Federer broke Djokovic in much the same way that Djokovic broke Fed at 5-3 this past weekend in New York. These guys both ripped each other’s hearts out. That’s life…
“That’s life! I can’t deny it! Many times I thought of cuttin’ out, but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it. But if there’s nothin’ shakin’ come this here Julyyyyyyyyyyyy…
I’m gonna roll myself up….. IIIIIIIIIIIN a big ballllllll…. aaaaaaaannnnnnnd diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie.
Thanks, Chairman of the Board.
Here’s this piece of comfort, fellow Fed fans: We know Wogie wuvs Wimbledon more than any other tournament in the world, but frankly, if I had to have picked one major where Fed made a splash, it would have been Paris. Fed’s best major came on what is his worst surface… his worst surface only because he is the shiznit of shiznits on grass and hardcourts.
The 2011 season didn’t bring number 17, what we all want, but it did bring Federer’s fifth French Open final, making him the first man to reach FIVE finals at ALL FOUR MAJORS. Nadal made his second U.S. Open final this year and owns just one Aussie final. Djokovic hasn’t made one French final yet and has just one Wimby final to his credit.
Another pair of reminders about McFeduruh: Next year, six match wins at majors will make Fed the winningest major-tournament player in history (234 match wins; he has only 34 losses). Two semifinals will tie Fed with Jimmy Connors for the most semis ever (31), and three – which Fed gained in 2011 – will make Roger number one in semis… along with titles (16) and finals (23).
So… at the age of 30…
“WHO HAS THE BEST PROFILE AT THE MAJORS? WOGIE! WOGIE!”
“WHO HAS A RECORD THAT CAN SNIFF ROD LAVER’S? WOGIE! WOGIE!”
“RAH, RAH, SISS-BOOM-BAH. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, WOGIE!”
“STAND. TALL. GET THAT BALL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, WOGIE!”
(Okay, that last line was a college football cheer line… I’m mixing up my American football and my international tennis… but you all needed the laugh, and you all needed some good old-fashioned cheerleading amidst the parade of facts and cerebral Moonpie analysis… DIDINCHA?)
Andy Murray became the seventh man to reach all four major semifinals in the same calendar year. Why, then, does his body of work seem so unsatisfying, beyond the fact that he didn’t win his first major title? Simple: Murray has not beaten one of the Big Three – Nadal, Fed or Djokovic – in a semifinal or final of a major since he beat Rafa in the 2008 U.S. Open semis. Murray’s record against the Big Three in semis or finals of major tournaments? It’s 1-6. This year, Murray went 0-4 against the Big Three in the semis (0-3 against Rafa) or finals (0-1 against the Djoker in Melbourne) at majors, once he reached the semis. Murray, if you look at his drawsheets, gained primrose paths to the semis. Next year, if he gets tougher draws, he might not even reach the semifinals. 2012 will be very much a put-up-or-go-home season at the majors for the Scotsman.
David Ferrer has still not made one French Open semifinal. Hard to believe, but true.
Novak Djokovic’s 2011 is one of the greatest years in tennis history, as you know. The stat that really drives the point home: A 10-1 record against Nadal and Federer, capped by this U.S. Open 1-2 punch. Djokovic’s last two U.S. Open matches, two grueling, physical epics, rival Nadal’s Verdasco-Federer back-to-back at the end of the 2009 Australian Open as a legendary 54-hour period of tennis willpower.
What was said about Wogie when he lost those finals to Nadal on clay can be said about Rafa in the wake of 2011: He might be losing finals to Djokovic on a consistent basis, but at least he’s reaching those finals. It hurts Rafa that he’s meeting and losing to the player perfectly constructed to beat him, but his ability to continue to reach finals – and thereby, reach another battle with Djokovic – is a credit to his legacy, not a blot on it. Federer’s five French Open finals – again, on what is his “worst” surface (emphasize the quote marks there) – underscore the completeness of Fed’s legacy as a tennis player. Six of Nadal’s 10 majors are on clay (that’s 60 percent, Fencers), but Federer has six Wimbledons, 5 U.S. Opens, and 4 Aussies. Roger has just the one French title, but the five finals serve as a powerful reminder that Fed’s done well at that tournament. The same can be said for Rafa’s 2011 season at the majors.
Robin Soderling disappeared this year at the majors. Delpo didn’t reappear… yet. Berdych couldn’t back up his big 2010 with anything of consequence. Jurgen Melzer – hey, how’s that shoulder which you busted celebrating against Fed in Monte Carlo, anyway? – dropped off the face of the earth at the majors. Mardy Fish still couldn’t make a major semifinal after lighting up July and August in North America. Tsonga Tsang on lawns but then cracked under the night-match glare of New York pressure against Wogie. Tso Tsad.
Let’s put it simply: It’s hard at the top. It’s that much harder to get to the top and stay there. This makes me appreciate what Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have done in this golden age of men’s tennis.
Finally, a word about Djokovic’s 2011. Where does it stand in the pantheon of tennis years?
Jimmy Connors went 99-4 and won 15 titles, including three majors, in 1974. Federer went 92-5 and won 12 titles, including three majors, in 2006. Djokovic’s year, even if it sags over the next few months, is more than worthy of that company. Yes, Federer produced his 2006 when Masters Series were six rounds for top-seeded players and required best-of-five-set finals. Yes, Federer’s 92 match wins meant that he carried an insane workload. Djokovic won’t play 97 matches in 2011. We’ll see what happens at the year-end championships, but after Laver’s 1969, it’s pretty clear in my mind that Connors’s ’74, Fed’s ’06, and the Djoker’s wild ’11 will form the Mount Rushmore of tennis years.
Let’s have Nadal and Djokovic in the French final if Wogie can’t spoil the party again. (I want Wogie to spoil the party, but hey, that would be quite the spectacle, right?)
Let’s have Fed get the Djoker at Wimbledon (before Fed gets too old).
Let’s have Fedal at the U.S. Open, dammit.
Let’s have Fed sit in Nadal’s half of the draw at the hardcourt majors for a change.
Let’s have del Potro sit in Nadal’s or Djokovic’s quarter at the majors. (And let’s have Delpo gain full health and strength for the long haul. Tennis needs him badly.)
Let’s have Andy Murray take a stand in semifinals (when he can only play Rafa or Nole, not Wogie) or, if he can’t make a stand, give way to Delpo.
Let’s have no Jo-Willy Tsonga “swoop in and briefly get hot” moments. Jo, if you’re gonna play your big and beautiful game – it truly is breathtaking when you’re on Tsong and in top form – stay with it. Don’t fall off the map. Stand in the ring. Make semifinals as a matter of course. Be a stud and deliver.
Let’s have a big, bold 2012. It is going to be something.
Comment away, Fencers!
P.S. : New post on AUS-SUI Davis Cup Day 1 Wrap above this post by LJ.