A few years ago, while having dinner with a group of Federer fans, we came to the topic (as we do always) of Nadal.
“I still think Federer has a best-of-5 set win over Nadal in him,” I declared to the table, and was promptly mocked back to Basel.
“Nadal’s too in his head!” everyone said.
“It’s a bad match up for Roger!”
“Nah, it’s over.”
But somehow, I believed. Partly because I’m naturally inclined to optimistic delusions, and partly because – Federer being the kitschy fairytale that he is – this was precisely the kind of plot line that Federer’s career needed. The ageing veteran conquering his achilles heel. Beating the one rival who always eluded him. Redemption in the most emphatic of ways.
As his compatriot would quote:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
This time, he failed better.
And make no mistake, he failed plenty in the final – going down a double break in the second set after playing first strike tennis most of the first set, losing momentum in the fourth after breadsticking Rafa just the previous set, taking a medical time out only to come out cold in the fifth and going down an early break.
But I kept thinking back to one of his more insightful moments in the semifinal post-match interview, when Federer acknowledged that his early losses against Rafa on clay affected the way he played him on other surfaces.
This level of insight was something that – just a few years back – he would get defensive about. Confronting and admitting the mental aspect of his struggles against Nadal appears to have been liberating, and this time, despite failing throughout the match to maintain momentum, Federer kept on asking the question, and found the answer to #18.
What else is left to say? 6 months off. Ranked #17. Coming into the tournament as the underdog no one talked about. Beats 4 top 10 players en route to the title. Defeats his greatest rival in 5 sets after being down a break in the fifth. And with this win, he has gone semifinals or better in his last FIVE grand slams. We could not have scripted this any better.
Happy 18th Roger. You just came of a whole new age.
(You didn’t think I wouldn’t resurface for THIS did ya?)
Okay, okay, I know. It’s been a while. If this was in real life, my picket fenced patch would be overgrown from neglect and infested with deadly Australian snakes. But it’s no coincidence that this blog went into its dormancy at the same time as the start of my career. A great time in the life of Doots, but some silent years for my little patch of cyberspace.
I was going to leave it like this, unloved and haunted by words from the past until “that post” when Federer retires. But strangely enough I was somewhat inspired today. Inspired in a way that I hadn’t been for a long time, and by a Federer loss no less.
It’s a strange phenomenon when you’re a Maestro fan who hopped on the Mothership during his years of triumph: learning to deal with mortality becomes the greatest lesson he’ll ever teach you.
So here goes five thoughts that couldn’t be contained by the 140 character limit on Twitter:
- The scoreline wasn’t close. And the first two sets certainly weren’t close. Federer is not the only player capable of “God-mode”. For two sets, Djokovic was in free swinging full flight – his groundstrokes met the lines from whatever position he was in, his passes always seemed to land in, even his defensive lobs seemed to come back in awkward positions for Federer. For a second, I (and many others) felt like this was going to be a repeat of the 2007 Australian Open semifinal, except this time, Federer was the one getting Roddicked. The commentators cried “poor poor Roger”, as if a losing fight against age and mortality, and attempting to beat a younger opponent at the pinnacle of his career was somehow making Roger less dignified. I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe in pitying anyone, least of all Roger Federer, who’s losing a fair fight on court.
- But it felt close in the end, didn’t it? Unlike Nadal at the French Open final in 2008, Djokovic snapped out of “God-mode” in the third set, and returend to being a mere mortal – albeit a formidable one still. But you could feel the tide turn when the crowd inside Rod Laver Arena chanted “Roger! Roger! Roger!” You could hear the deafening sound of hope when they cheered a Djokovic double fault in the third set just before Federer broke, only to shush themselves in embarrassment. And when Federer held off a tight service game to take the third set, it felt exhilarating. It felt – as tennis should – like anything could happen if you just keep at it. And suddenly, all of your reasons for sticking with “the Old Man” seemed to justify themselves in the roar of that crowd.
- Sport can be so cruel, and nets can be Serbian. It felt so wrong after Federer played the point of the tournament that the let cord should conspire against him. But credit to the player who had put himself in a 2 sets to 1 position in the first place.
- Was the third set fight back futile? Was it a mere salvaging of dignity when the end result was certain? Roger Federer could have walked off court today in a 3 set defeat, with the dominant narrative would have been that he has a new rival in his head; that he was past his prime and getting beaten by the young’uns. Instead, he walked away still defeated, but knowing that he was in it til the very end, that anything could’ve happened, and Djokovic didn’t get to Roddick him a la Australian Open 2007. It might matter very little in the ultimate result, but it could matter a great deal in a future match ups to know that he took God-mode Novak to 4 sets.
- Bring on that H2H. Federer will end his career with a losing record against many of his younger “rivals”, and that’s fine. Because he was truly peerless in his own generation.
There’ll be no return to “normal programming”, but I hope to pop up now and then when the occasion inspires.
Ride or die bitchessss.
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…
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?
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…
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.
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.
1. Some things are worth waiting 77 years for. In case you’ve been living in a ditch free from the British press, Andy Murray finally ended his slow, teasing torture of the entire nation of Great Britain, beating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to clinch the Wimbledon trophy.
In 2012, when Murray won the gold medal at the Olympics, I mused whether this would in fact provide the mental breakthrough he needed to win a grand slam, any grand slam. The Olympics had the unique status of being a major title but not a major. The winner is both the centre of attention and yet one of many to share that lime light. And in truth, it seemed to take a huge load off Murray’s shoulders.
Within a year, Murray has won the US Open (with a major wobble in the final) and Wimbledon (with a minor wobble in the final game), and as much as I’ve disliked him as a player, it has been somewhat gratifying to watch him take advantage of the fate and opportunity provided by the Olympics and use it to strengthen a once fragile psyche.
2. All hail Marion, who – in two weeks – had morphed from the Maid to the Matron of the French tennistical hierarchy. Those reading this blog from way back may remember that I have never been a fan of Bart. Her game is at best quirky, at worst weirdly ungraceful and blunt. Her personality carries the same bluntness as her game. Marion loves and hates with so much transparency, at times making no attempt at being diplomatic in press conferences when her opinion is asked.
In short, on a tour dominated by Big Babe tennis, Bartoli is the oddball.
But in the same way that Schiavone’s win at Roland Garros a few years ago re-energised my love for women’s tennis, Bartoli’s victory at Wimbledon was a victory for variety on the WTA tour. Look past the Serenas and Marias on tour and you’ll find an underbelly of interesting players with quirky personalities who do not get enough (or any) attention.
Perhaps the biggest take-away from this Wimbledon is the mere fact that for a week at least, the spotlight was on them for a change: Bartoli, Lisicki, Flipkens .. even the doubles champs Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai. When was the last time we saw both singles and doubles winners with double handed forehands at a grand slam?
Seems to me that the level of variety on the WTA tour could in fact be something to be celebrated, rather than bemoaned after all. Read More…
Nothing constructive to say at this point. Except that TENNIS HAS BEEN VIOLATED, THE COLOUR ORANGE HAS BEEN VIOLATED, and by some mercy from the tennistical overlords above, I wasn’t there to witness it.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the sensation of solid earth falling away from your feet.
Let us mourn, bitches.
Happy Wimbledon, my lovelies!
This is Doots checking in my epic adventures post-Roland Garros. And time sure does fly when you’re having fun: it’s our favourite time of the year again. Although this year, Wimbledon comes with a sense of foreboding doom, as Federer drew Nadal in his quarter and Murray in his half, while Djokovic prepares to inhale his way to the final through a plate of gluten free cupcakes.
Diabolical draw aside, Wimbledon is still a good place to be Roger Federer.
There is nothing quite like the first day of Wimbledon. The grass is greener, the whites are crisp, and the world is a pristine bubble full of those sweep pops of tennis balls on tightly strung strings. There’s not much to say about Federer’s first round match against Victor Hanescu. The Romanian never looked like he possessed any weapons to threaten Federer. Even the typically big serve was castrated against Federer’s excellent returning.
The stats do tell a story: Federer faced no breakpoints and converted 6 of 8 on Hanescu’s serve. He won 90% of points on his first serve, and hit 32 winners to only 6 unforced errors (14 to 13 for Hanescu).
But of course, there is more to tennis than statistics. There was that reflex volley in the first set, when Federer almost casually stuck his racquet out in front of the ball, as if to say “keep calm and carry on. I do this in my sleep.” There’s Federer chasing a drop shot, skipping past the winner like a school girl in a field of tulips. And then there’s that backhand lob in the third set followed by a cheeky grin. The satisfaction of soaring higher than a giant.
Given the draw, I may not feel great about Federer’s chances at Wimbledon this year (it’s not a lack of faith, folks. Beating 2 of the Big Four is doable. Taking out three of three is a near impossibility), but I do feel a lot better about his form coming into the tournament than I did back at Roland Garros after the match.
Elsewhere, things were less poetic as Victoria Azarenka found herself sobbing uncontrollably in pain after landing awkwardly on her knees while serving.
Warning: this may be hard to watch for some.
Fortunately, Azarenka was able to play on, defeating Koehler 61 62 despite appearing to be quite shaken for the rest of the match. Koehler paid the price for not taking advantage of her opponent’s condition and making her run. Opportunities don’t come knocking too often for the lower ranked players on tour, and it’s a shame that when it does, so few players take their chances against the top dogs.
One player who did take her chances was Monica Puig, who claimed the first “upset” of the tournament by taking out the fifth seed Sara Errani 63 62. Not that Errani is a titan on grass, if you recall her being on the losing end of a golden set to Shvedova last year. But en route to victory, Puig hit 38 winners with her brand of feisty, aggressive, flat hitting tennis that Errani had no answer to on this surface.
Not bad for a 19 year old playing her first grass tournament as a pro.
Puig has been overtly confident about her talent in the media recently, but given my predisposition to her game, I’m inclined to feel that overt confidence is not so awful a trait in a teenage professional athlete.
Play continues for Day 1, but it’s a wrap from Down Under. Work does have this annoying habit of getting in the way of tennis. Good night and morning, wherever you are.
Guess what, bitches?
I MADE IT – all four grand slams, from Wimbledon 2010 to Roland Garros 2013.
Even though I never set out to specifically go to all of them, chance, obsession and a certain attitude of carpe diem has taken me from Melbourne to London, New York and now Paris, and I have tennis to thank for giving me an excuse to visit and revisit some of the most marvellous cities in the world.
And it has been marvellous. For some reason, Roland Garros has always had a bad rap as a tournament. Players complain about the facilities, the shocking lack of lighting once it starts to get dark past 9PM. Die-hard tennis fans tell you about how crowded the outer courts are, and how ridiculous that most Philippe Chartrier ticket holders do not turn up to watch the first two matches on centre court until around 2PM. God forbid anything should stand between a Frenchman and his lunch. The press describes the boorish crowd, the dirty, gritty and dusty style of play on this surface, the long endless days and non-existent night sessions.
But what they don’t tell you, as a first time visitor, is the sheer visual beauty of it. You first see it as you walk into Philippe Chartrier – the burnt caramel-coloured court – like a sandpit in a Colosseum, surrounded by the green seats and light grey advertising boards that envelop the court. High up on the Borotra wing of the stadium, you see the Eiffel Tower peeping over the top, an ever-present reminder of where and just how lucky you are. Pigeons soar through the air, looking for a safe place to land and a quick peck from someone’s lunch. On the outside courts, you hear things you never notice on TV – the soft brush of a player’s feet against “beaten earth”, like an artist drawing a charcoal sketch. The crowd groans, gasps and cheers, making French noises at the players with a level of expressiveness frowned upon at the tennis in other parts of the world.
They’re possessive about players in this part of the world. Get the crowd on your side, and they’ll root for you with like an adopted son. Turn them against you, and you may suddenly find yourself playing against the world, veins popping, eyes bulging, screams of “ALLEZ UP YOUR FUCKING ASS” drowned in a sea of boos and wolf whistles. Gael Monfils roused his home crowd with a dramatic five-set upset over Tomas Berdych; Serena Williams prepped them for her seemingly inevitable crowning as the Queen of Paris by conducting her post-match interview in French.
Roger Federer, for whatever reason, became the adopted son who could do no wrong. And attending one of his matches at Roland Garros was like sitting in a stadium full of various versions of yourself – swooning, cheering and grinning at the man like a bunch zealous cougars.
This was in contrast to Nadal’s match, as Daniel Brands garnered most of the support from the French. This is not to say that the French disrespect Rafa – there was no lack of applause and standing ovation for the man who has dominated at Roland Garros in a way that no other man has. But it felt like there was an unbridgeable gap between Nadal and the French crowd, a gap filled by Federer, Djokovic and the dreams of other men whose chances at Roland Garros have been thwarted by Nadal’s sheer brilliance on this surface.
Yesterday on Chatrier however, we were faced with a slim possibility that someone out there, someone low ranked, hard hitting, and brave or kamikaze, might be able to thwart Nadal’s dreams for a change. For the majority of the first two sets, Brands played tennis like he had no regrets – crushing his forehand and aiming for the lines whenever he got the chance. He led 3-0 in the second set tiebreak as the crowd moved to the edge of their seats, knees shaking at the possibility of an upset.
But there comes a moment when a lower-ranked player has a top seed at their mercy, and fails to deliver the final blow. Brand went on to lose the tiebreak. The match flipped, and Nadal got consolidated a stranglehold on the match so fast it was almost as if all of Brands’ previous good form was but an illusion, a glimpse into an alternative universe where life could have been extraordinary.
For me at least, life continues to be extraordinary.
After a few days at the tournament, I will be travelling on for three weeks, towards the edge of Europe where I will board that interminable flight back to Australia. So I’m afraid this is it from me for now. Enjoy Roland Garros, and as much as I would like to say “may the best man win”, we all know that for the French Open, or for any grand slam, my truest wish is for the Swiss man to win.