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?
In some ways, the words of Samuel Beckett is more relevant to Federer ahead of his match against Nadal than to My Friend Stanley.
In recent years, Fedal matches have elicited more groans than saliva within tennis fandom. Many of them disappoint: Federer and Nadal rarely hit peak or near-peak form at the same time. Even where their levels have been en par, the result has been sadly predictable: Nadal walks away with a win, and Federer with mental scar tissue and external slights at his legacy. It’s like watching a man bang his head against a wall time and time again, hoping for some evidence of impact.
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Sport may be all about winning, but in life, all of us, the Mighty Fed included, try and fail at the tasks before us. In asking us to get up off the ground and try again, Samuel Beckett makes no promise of victory or success. To fail better is his only enticement. And more so than Stan against Djoker, Federer has failed repeatedly – painfully, memorably and nobly at times – when it comes to Nadal.
Tomorrow, he’ll be getting up off the ground to try again. Before this tournament, I wrote that I’d take quarterfinals as a solid run and semifinals as a win as far as Federer’s concerned.
The scene in Melbourne has changed drastically since then. In some ways, Aus Open 2014 has a slightly Roland Garros 09 feel to it: winning streaks at a single slam snapped, Magnus Norman coaching his charge to a huge upset, Federer relishing the role of a dark horse for one of the few times in his career …
What remains unchanged is my expectations of Federer this tournament. He’s come through one of the toughest draws of any top player in the tournament. He has beaten Tsonga, one of the main “outsider contenders” and Murray – a Big Four – en route to the semis. He’s played aggressive and smart, percentage tennis most of the tournament. That has been exactly what I had hoped for. Anything from here on is gravy.
It goes without saying that I’d like to see Federer win against Nadal. I’d like to see him win the tournament if he possibly could.
But if he should fail, I’d like to see him fail better than he failed last time.
Why Federer may beat Nadal
- Match fitness, tougher tests coming into the semifinal.
- Topspin backhand: the common denominator in all of Federer’s wins over Nadal has been the reliability of the topspin backhand, which has been looking decent this tournament.
- More confidence coming into the net this tournament.
Giant holeokay blister on Nadal’s hand.
- Quarter pounder Fedbergers in his box.
- Mirka’s preggers, which – as history would indicate – sends Roger into age defying, turbo-TMF mode.
Why Rafa should beat Federer
- H2H. Dumbass.