There’s Always A Price
None of us here at the Picket Fence – not Doots, not PJ, not LJ, and not yours truly – felt that Rafael Nadal was going to lose on day one of Wimbledon. PJ and I didn’t even feel that Rafa would fall when Steve Darcis took a two-set lead. We have naturally grown accustomed to seeing all the elites in men’s tennis escape big deficits in the first weeks or midpoints of majors, any time before the quarterfinals.
Djokovic beats the likes of Seppi and Wawrinka at the majors. Robin Haase will eventually submit to the likes of Murray and Nadal – this is the law of tennis physics. The likes of Benneteau and Simon fight well and hard, but they lose to Federer in the end. Of course Rafa was going to climb all the way back and defeat Darcis on Monday at the All-England Club.
Except he didn’t.
None of us here at the Picket Fence expected to write about Nadal’s ouster. To be perfectly candid, I’ll go one step further: I didn’t think I’d write about Nadal’s ouster on Wednesday, July 3, the date of his (once-thought-to-be-) likely quarterfinal encounter with this blog’s raison d’etre, Wogie/Pants/Granny Smith/Gramps/Tommy-Haas’s-Halle-Picture-And-Doubles-Buddy.
This Nadal guy, after all, had made five Wimbledon finals. Many of his fans – for whom this essay is intended just as much as it’s intended for Federer fans – have pointed out over time that grass has often been the surface on which Rafa has displayed conspicuous shotmaking creativity and resourcefulness. If you had asked a Nadal fan in early July of 2011 about the Mallorcan’s grass-court prowess, you would have received glowing reviews. This is a highly accomplished grass master… not as great as Sampras or Federer or Borg, but really damn good on his own merits and in his own right. As awesome as his clay-court prowess has become, Nadal’s ability to win the so-called “Channel Slam” twice while reaching five Wimbledon finals makes him far more than a footnote in Wimbledon’s decorated history. Nadal is much more a central figure in the story of The Championships than a peripheral one.
Surely, last year’s second-round loss to an out-of-his-mind Lukas Rosol was going to become an aberration, a one-off instance, an isolated accident not to be repeated during the final prime years of the Spaniard’s remarkable career.
Well, what do we say now?
Again, none of us here at Le Fence expected Nadal to lose on day one, but since it’s happened, an attempt must be made to grapple with this event and how it might ripple through the pages of time.
Please note the word “might,” which is different from the word “will” or something equally absolute or definitive. In the following paragraphs, please take care – whether you’re a Nadal fan or a Federer fan – to absorb one simple but very important point: This is not a final pronouncement, a set-in-stone verdict on the legacies of these two players, Nadal in particular. This is merely an attempt to take a seismic event and use it to ask pertinent questions about the future, shaping the parameters of the debate that will enfold Roger and Rafa when their careers ultimately end.
Nadal, Federer, and LeBron: Separating the Solo-Athlete Sports From Team Sports
Last week, American sports fans and journalists were enveloped in a persistent discussion-cum-frenzy about the legacy of LeBron James, depending on whether or not his Miami Heat would be able to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. When Miami – on the verge of elimination – trailed San Antonio by five points with just under 30 seconds left in Game 6 of the series, LeBron’s legacy was, in the eyes of the pundits, about to take a massive hit. Then, however, San Antonio missed two free throws and failed to get defensive rebounds on two missed shots by Miami. The Heat hit two three-point shots in the final 21 seconds of regulation, sent Game 6 into overtime, and won in the extra period. After then winning in Game 7 two days later, the Heat claimed the NBA championship. LeBron’s legacy is now viewed as transcendent and on its way to supreme greatness.
Here’s the funny (read: strange and laughably inadequate) dimension of all this “legacy” talk surrounding LeBron James: He did not get either one of the two offensive rebounds that saved Miami’s hide late in Game 6. He had no role in the final Miami possession of regulation time, the one which enabled the Heat to tie the game and ultimately escape with an improbable victory. Simply put, LeBron needed the help of teammates to win. Had he lost, he wouldn’t have been the player most responsible for his team’s failure; Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, not to mention other role players, would have been on the hook.
You can see the obvious point here: Basketball players and other team-sport athletes can’t win entirely on their own. They need help from teammates to succeed. If you thought that discussions of tennis legacies were (and are) excessive and premature, the discussions of LeBron’s legacy and any other team-sport athlete’s legacy were (and are) even more absurd.
Many tennis fans – quite understandably – think that ANY discussion of a player’s legacy is, at this point, premature. I get that inclination. I respect it.
I also think that it’s actually possible to conduct a discussion of a player’s legacy before his (her) retirement. The key is to conduct said discussion in a respectful way.
I got into a heated discussion with some (thoughtful) tennis tweeps during the Australian Open. These tweeps were upset that I made a comparison between Lukas Rosol and Stan Wawrinka. Those tweeps thought it was unacceptable to make ANY comparison between Rosol and Wawrinka. My response was simply this: I was intending to link the two men in one specific respect, one element in which they actually did share a similarity. If two players are dissimilar in 937 ways but are linked in a 938th way, there should be nothing wrong with saying that Player X and Player Y share commonality No. 938.
It’s much the same with legacy talk about not-yet-retired tennis players. There’s reason to explore this topic precisely because the constraints and outside variables of team sports do not enter the picture with solo-sport athletes. Why should any person feel that s/he can’t ever discuss Nadal’s or Federer’s place in the sport? When history – be it glorious (Rafa’s eighth Roland Garros title) or humbling (Monday’s loss to Steve Darcis) – unfolds in real time, part of the fun and challenge of sports chronicling is to make sense of the moment.
Mind you, this attempt to make sense of a moment does not mean that the initial verdict, rendered right after match point, is or should be seen as a permanent assessment of the player involved. It is a first draft of analysis. There’s nothing wrong with the attempt to grapple with the legacy of an unfinished career… not in and of itself.
The only sin as far as I see it is to permanently and irrevocably paint a player’s career into a narrow space or a confined set of terms. Discussing a legacy isn’t a shameful act; insisting on knowing the full and defined extent of a legacy before a career has run its course is what’s ultimately inappropriate.
Can Federer and Nadal fans see this? I hope so. Let’s now spend a little time wrestling with what this Nadal loss MIGHT mean… not what it WILL mean, but what it MIGHT mean.
The Meeting Point Between Two Champions
The chilling, uncomfortable thought that emerges from “Darcis d. Nadal” is that in a very real way, tennis fans – no matter their allegiance – have begun to get a glimpse of an ATP Tour in which Nadal and Federer are no longer factors.
No, this is not an attempt to claim that Nadal is “done” or now finds himself on an irrevocable downswing, never to return to a prior level of greatness. Federer fans know this drill all too well. No, the above statement is meant to convey the sense that this upset loss shows what life could be like in a few years for the two players who have done more than any others to transform men’s tennis.
I personally expect Roger Federer to produce a few more stirring achievements before he ultimately hangs up his racquet as an ATP Tour professional. Yet, we all know that Fed is in the autumn of his career, not the bright and shining springtime of his 2006 reign. To merely evoke the thought of an ATP Tour without Federer as a prime contender at major tournaments is – however depressing – an encounter with a reality that is approaching. It might be approaching slowly, but it’s not that far in the distance anymore, and it won’t recede.
Let’s transfer the current dynamic surrounding Federer to Nadal. Perhaps it’s true for Rafa’s fans that the seven-month break from tennis competition represented the first true look at the abyss, of life without Rafa on tour – that’s a fair-enough assertion. However, after a genuinely dominant return to the sport over the past four months, it seemed that Nadal had re-established himself to the point that a deep Wimbledon run was more likely than not. Nadal, Federer and Djokovic just don’t lose in week one at majors. Surely, what happened in 2012 at Wimbledon was not going to repeat itself.
Now that it has happened, though, the mind must confront the new terrain and the possibilities it offers. (Note the word “possibilities” and not an absolutist word such as “certainties” or “ironclad truths,” etc.)
No, Rafael Nadal is not “done” on grass because he lost one match on a day when his knees did not respond well to the unique challenge of bending to retrieve low slices on a fresh and slippery lawn. Nadal could very well bounce back and thrive at Wimbledon, especially in 2015, when the three-week gap between Roland Garros and the Big W might give his body more time to recover.
What this loss to Darcis does, though, is that it makes the 2012 loss to Rosol less of an aberration. Accordingly, it does raise the question – not the final answer, but certainly the question – of whether or not Rafa can regain the form that made him so accomplished on grass from 2006 through 2011. Would I be surprised to see Rafa, champion that he is, find answers to his problems and make adjustments to his changed situation? Not at all. However, it could be that Nadal’s ability (more precisely, the ability of his knees) to hold up from a physical standpoint on grass and cement in best-of-five-set matches has been severely hampered. The upcoming U.S. and Australian Opens, combined with Wimbledon 2014, will provide more insights, but for now, the unsettling shockwave caused by “Darcis d. Nadal” is that it’s no longer foolish or unfair to think that Rafa won’t regain major-tournament dominance on non-clay surfaces. Such a thought might not be accurate as a point of analysis, but it is now reasonable and within the parameters of legitimate discussion. Such was not the case 13 months ago.
Federer and Nadal fans know what this means for the legacies of their respective favorites. If Nadal loses a measure of his staying power on grass and concrete surfaces, any remaining major-tournament encounter between the two men will be seen in an adjusted light. Federer might find openings in future major tournaments that – before this Nadal loss – seemed improbable. Conversely, Nadal – if physically diminished – could beat Federer under circumstances that would make the current head-to-head record even more impressive than it already is.
It’s fascinating to contemplate, isn’t it? Federer’s tame loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Roland Garros reminded Federer fans that the clock is ticking on Roger’s body and his career. How unexpected it is, then, that just 20 days after Roger’s exit from Paris, Nadal should run up against an unwelcome revelation of how soon he could potentially face a career-limiting reality of his own.
Again, none of this is known for either player, and none of what’s being said is being cast as a likelihood or certainty. The questions surrounding these two careers, though, are more relevant than ever before. The possibilities attached to these two careers – the directions they could take – are now more numerous and scattered than ever before. The intrigue enveloping Federer and Nadal as they both take steps into tennis twilight (albeit a twilight that could very well be delayed for a great many years…) is more real and genuine than ever before.
Final verdicts can, will, should, and must wait when Federer’s and Nadal’s careers are assessed in full. What’s scary for each fan base – Nadal’s in particular on this day of unexpected defeat – is that one can more easily imagine what a final verdict would ultimately look like. It is fun to contemplate how these two legendary champions will defy critics and hold the odds at arm’s length in the coming months and years, but that fun is tempered by the realization that these careers now seem tenuous at levels not previously felt.
The Fighter And The Opportunist
One day, I will sit in front of my computer and write a definitive appreciation of the career of Roger Federer. I will do the same for Rafael Nadal. On the day when each man announces his retirement – a day one hopes will be as distant as one can realistically imagine – I will pay tribute to two men who dramatically elevated my interest in and appreciation for everything that tennis is and can be. Praising Federer and Nadal in full is not something to be done now.
Offering you a sneak peek into my thought process? That’s something I can do in the present moment.
When I ultimately pay tribute to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – these two men and competitors whose careers are so deeply intertwined – I will write about Nadal’s ability to subdue Federer by fighting up to and beyond the normal limits of an elite professional athlete. I will write about Nadal’s ability to absorb and then thwart Federer’s best tennis with his inexhaustible defense, born of his uncommon resolve and competitive drive.
I will then say that whereas Nadal’s superabundant gifts emerged most centrally as a competitor, his effort did not occur in a vacuum, a context-free environment in which his body didn’t pay a price.
Sure, it is true that in isolation, Nadal – like Novak Djokovic – has at times displayed physical discomfort with a body part that, in the course of half an hour on court or perhaps the 48 hours until the next match, ceased to act up. This happens with players and their bodies. A moment of deep fear and uncertainty leads to a hesitant performance and negative body language, only for the mind to clear up minutes later as the mental adjustment is made and the mind-body dualism is regained. What seems like gamesmanship is really just insecurity felt by a flesh-and-blood being no different from you or me.
It is understandable that Nadal’s and Djokovic’s physical struggles are viewed with great suspicion by Federer fans. However, suspicion loses its legitimacy and reasonableness when confronted by the reality of Nadal’s extended absence from the tour in 2012 and at the 2013 Australian Open. There’s certainly no mirage or facade there.
The intertwined nature of the Nadal-Federer rivalry – and the legacies of the two players enmeshed in that rivalry – is built on and captured by this yin-yang tandem of realities: The extent to which Nadal has successfully fought and conquered Federer is accompanied by the price of those very same efforts. Phrased differently, the extent to which Nadal has served as the uncommonly resourceful foil for Federer is accompanied by the reality that whenever Rafa asked too much of his body, Federer was so consistently able to take advantage of Nadal’s absence. As a fighter (Rafa) and as an opportunist (Roger), these two men have grabbed such a disproportionately large share of the prizes tennis has had to offer over the past nine years, with Djokovic finally joining the party in 2011 and mounting a hefty (and still growing) legacy of his own.
Rafa’s uncommon greatness and his evident limitations are bound together in the following statement: No normal competitor plays 9 hours and 37 minutes of championship-stage hardcourt tennis – as Nadal did in Melbourne in the semifinals and finals of the 2009 Australian Open – without getting a stern message from his body at some point in the near future. What Nadal achieved in the first month of 2009 caught up with him in subsequent months. His efforts in Australia seemed superhuman, but Rafa’s body eventually did collect the payment it asked for in 2009.
Nadal made five straight major finals from Roland Garros 2011 through RG of 2012, pushing his body to ridiculous limits in grueling deathmatches against Djokovic on hardcourt surfaces in both Melbourne (2012 Australian) and New York (2011 U.S. Open). Come the summer of 2012 on the lawns of London, Nadal’s body once again demanded that its owner pay up, only this time with a much larger check: a check worth seven months’ rent. On one day here or one day there, Nadal’s knee issues didn’t really seem to be “issues” at all, but in the long run, the Mallorcan has certainly paid a high price for his physical and high-strain style of play.
It’s easy for a Federer fan to lament Roger’s head-to-head losses to Rafa, especially at the majors, and conclude that Fed lost primarily because of what he himself was unable to do. Yet, the very reality of Nadal’s present-day physical frailty makes his wins over Federer – in retrospect – look that much more impressive. Let’s be even more precise about the matter: Seeing Nadal so wholly vulnerable in the face of a low-ranked player in the first week of Wimbledon makes his wins over Federer that much easier to appreciate as the results of the Spaniard’s own competitive virtues and not his Swiss rival’s competitive failures. Head-to-head Nadal-Federer matchups should be seen as the results of the winner’s shining attributes, not the loser’s perceived inadequacies.
What’s the counterbalance to the highest level of praise for Nadal as the possessor of a superabundant competitive will? Federer’s superabundance – so different from that of his great rival – shone through (and still shines, in the present tense) as a performer, a man who didn’t just have a clutch shot for every occasion, but who possessed a level of variety and artistry that enabled him to function on every surface and handle every transitional period the sport’s calendar year had to offer. When the scene shifts from hardcourt to clay or clay to grass, Federer is (and has been) more ready to face whatever comes his way. It is this diversity and completeness which has enabled Federer to collect seven grass majors (at Wimbledon) and nine hardcourt majors, all while making five Roland Garros finals and at least five major finals at each of the four major tournaments (eight at Wimbledon, six at the U.S. Open, five apiece in Paris and Melbourne).
When one talks about legacies, there are – and will be – equally valid reasons to elevate one player over the other in this eternal Nadal-Federer comparison. I’m a fan of Federer, but I’m a deep admirer of Nadal, and so – in the spirit of mediating a predictable argument – I can sit here and tell you how said argument would unfold (because I’ve seen it so many times on Twitter and at Tennis.com).
Tell me if I miss anything here:
Nadal fans will tout the head-to-head. Federer fans will cite the bulk of clay-court meetings. Nadal fans will respond by noting Nadal’s hardcourt wins in the latter years of this matchup. Federer fans will counter with the indoor hardcourt record. Nadal fans will counter by saying that Nadal beat Federer plenty of times before entering his true prime in 2008. Federer fans will counter by saying that Nadal didn’t play Federer enough on hardcourts or grass in his pre-prime years because he was unable to make Australian or U.S. Open finals during that period of time.
Again, am I missing anything?
Back to the argument that I can replicate with ease: Nadal fans will note that Federer hasn’t beaten Rafa at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final. Federer fans will note that the grass and hardcourt head-to-heads at majors are both statistically close and small sample sizes at the same time. Nadal fans will say that Rafa beat Federer in his prime in the 2009 Australian Open final. Federer fans will say that Federer has accumulated losses to Rafa on non-clay surfaces in his post-prime years, especially the 2012 Australian Open semifinals. Nadal fans will say that Federer was still favored by most pundits to win that 2012 Aussie semifinal. Federer fans will say that Roger is doing things in his 30s that Nadal is unlikely to do. Nadal fans will say that no one has maximized his career by the age of 27 the way Rafa has, and that an eighth Roland Garros title marks an achievement that Federer has yet to achieve at Wimbledon. Federer fans will note that Roger’s quarterfinal and semifinal streaks at the majors put him far beyond Nadal’s reach in terms of legacy. Nadal fans will point out that Rafa has won at least one major in nine straight years, eclipsing Federer’s mark and showing that the Spaniard owns plenty of longevity-based records, thank you very much.
One could go on and on.
What becomes apparent in this exercise is that Federer and Nadal – while linked in their ability to forge fantastic feats and accumulate awesome accomplishments – have arrived at their achievements in such different ways. Nadal would relentlessly fight his way to victory but require time off from the tour every now and then in order for his body to fully recover. Federer – more of a precision artist than a heavyweight boxer – has lost most of his knock-down, drag-out fights against Nadal but has tailored both his game and career to pluck the fruits of extended longevity and health. Both players have secured so many riches in tennis. Both have, in their own ways, paid a considerable price to do so.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will continue to write their legacies, to shape them as living organisms until they finally decide they’ve had enough. These legacies must leave room for plot twists and happy surprises, because Roger and Rafa have spent their careers creating magic precisely when so many critics thought they had no more tricks up their sleeves.
Did Nadal’s loss to Steve Darcis create a moment of finality in this rivalry and, by extension, this dazzling and expansive chapter of the story of tennis? No, it did not. Finality is not and never has been the word that is appropriate for the dynamics this event has unleashed. This is a new chapter in the story of tennis and especially the story of Nadal, but it’s merely a gateway to the next few years and what they might offer.
However, Nadal’s first-round loss at Wimbledon should force tennis fans to realize that the horizons of these two careers – as separate and shared testaments to different forms of similarly towering greatness – might not stretch as far as first thought. At Roland Garros, Roger Federer ran into the reality of age. At Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal ran into the reality of his body and its inability to make the kind of adjustment that came so much more naturally at the All-England Club in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. This is not the end of the Golden Era of men’s tennis, but to paraphrase Sarah Palin, “I can see the 2016 ATP Tour from my house.”
The view isn’t pretty, and don’t think that Rafael Nadal’s knees are peripheral or irrelevant when you look at such a picture.
There’s always a price – for Federer, for Nadal, and for any athlete who enters the firing line of elite-level athletic competition. Legendary athletes make their craft look easy… but only because they put in the hard yards in the first place. Rafael Nadal’s lack of a deep fuel tank against Steve Darcis on day one of Wimbledon showed that there was – and is, and will be – a limit to what he can do. Paradoxically, Nadal’s limits remind us of the many times in which he has transcended them.
As Roger Federer knows, though, Rafa can’t transcend limits forever. That’s not how the human body was designed.
US Open 2011 (by LJ): Day 3 Wrap – An Ode to Venus
You brought something very special to tennis, whether it was those early hair beads flung across the courts every swing, or your gangly but poised frame gliding across the Wimbledon grass there was tennis before the Williams sisters and tennis after the Williams sisters.
As the oldest Williams sister, you’ve endured so many generations of players but yet you still come back, time and time again, pulled back by your love of the game.
To have your career stopped, so cruelly by an illness which has no certain remission rate and no cure is just….UGH.
Get better soon Vee, you deserve to come back and receive a proper send off.
Venus Williams withdrew from the US Open 2011, citing Sjogren’s Syndrome and probably taking her out from tennis indefinitely. The diagonsis was long coming, Vee only having played 4 tournies this year has been looking out of sorts for a while. Sabine Lisicki goes through to the 3rd round.
A Slew of seeds fell by the wayside today including Cibulkova, Radwanska, Bartoli and Wickmayer. And it’s only the 2nd fucking round. I mean is the season just too long? Or is it the WTA points system? cause someone needs to sort this shit out.
Robson and Dulgheru underperformed compared to their first rounds earning themselves a boot from the tournament.
On the Men’s side, Soderling joined the list of US Open wounded, withdrawing just before his match with a virus, another statistic for the “Season is too bloody long argument”.
Roddick continues to struggle, needing 4 sets to get past Michael Russell, as Murray and Del Pony do it easy in 3.
Also doing it easy was Julien Benneteau taking out 10th seeded Almagro….Almagro was ranked 10????? WTfuckery?
3 matches went the distance including Gilles Simon who needed 5 to get past Brazilian Ricardo Mello, which shouldn’t bother him too much considering what he did at the Australian Open this year after winning Sydney , (almost burst an artery sitting through that match.)
And that’s it from me folks, the next few days will be brought to you by PJ but I may drop in sometime next week.
Monday Musings: Spring.
The most difficult thing about Monday posts is that you inevitably search for sense, for meaning, and coherency where there is none. Life doesn’t exactly fall neatly into themes, and tennis – if anything – is a microcosm of life. Some weeks produce a motley crew of winners and grinners, from veterans to youngsters, surprise finalists to players in good form.
But this week, bizarrely enough, belongs to the other end of the spectrum. It folds neatly into a single, consistent theme, running through the entire week, that is the theme of revival.
Much like the weather in Melbourne lately, both Sveta and Nalby have been through a rough winter, plagued by injuries, underperformance, questioned by the media and no doubt by themselves on a dark rainy day. For those two, the first signs of spring couldn’t have come at a better time. But as always with the first warm days of the year, you wonder if it was all an aberration. Will Mother Nature lapse back to her wintry ways? Or are we headed for gradual warmth from hereon? With Ferrer and Sharapova first up next week for our winners, the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
And what of Jelena Dokic, whose career is more bleak than a Siberian blizzard? She won her third challenger title in 3 weeks, currently on a 15 match winning streak after taking out Virginie Razzano in Vancouver 6-1, 6-4. Good call dumping the boyfriend/coach duo then.
Other familiar faces popping up again in this week of tennistic revivals – Gilles Simon, Marcos Baghdatis. It’s difficult to string wins together when your body is the biggest variable in your game. Great to see all of them back in action, it’s almost like a high school reunion. Without the awkward judgements.
More importantly, is the man in hot pink taking note? More than anything, last week’s tennis has filled me with hope, that if Nalbandian, ranked 117 just 24 hours ago, can come back from hip surgery with a gutful of motivation and unrest; if Sveta can put her insecurities and self-chastisement aside to tough out a match against an opponent who’s far more in touch with her sense and sensibility, then surely, there’ll be warm signs of spring for Roger and Randy and Gonzo and Lleyton … and all those other players going through their own personal winters. Surely.
The Frazzle Post: THE HONEYMOON IS OVER.
FINALS SUNDAY LINE-UP
Youzhny vs. Djokovic
The Headclobber is not the kind of player I’d expect to do well in a final. But then again, this is Dubai, a tournament he’s typically played well in.
His opponent is in a bit of unchartered waters himself, as Nole is oh-so-close to defending a title for the first time in his career. If his last 3 matches were anything to go by, he really, really, really wants to screw it up.
Ferrero vs. Ferrer
Wanting Ferrero to win. Picking Ferrer. Simply because logically, it just doesn’t make sense for JCF to be on such a Nadalesque run without losing a match.
Venus vs. Hercog
Err. Whut? Venus is on track to defend her second title in a row. This hasn’t been a bad start to her year by any stretch of the imagination.
Dementieva v Kleybanova
For every pound that Alisa Kleybanova loses, she takes one step closer to the top echelon of the game. I’m not having a go at her weight, I’m having a go at her physical conditioning. She’ll never be the fastest or the smoothest mover out there, but she can do something about the most exploitable weakness in her game.
That aside, I actually kinda love Kleybs. Her ball-bashing ways are strangely cathartic.
Meanwhile, Elena Dementieva has had 3 weeks off since Jan 1st. That’s taking into account that she crashed out of the Australian Open early.
Can someone knock some sense into that girl?
How can you be expected to “peak” at the slams when you play day in day out, often at the most mundane of tournaments. It’s no surprise she hasn’t managed to win a slam.
Shanghai: Last Men Standing.
You might’ve noticed a complete lack of Shanghai coverage this week: 1) the tennis has been mostly uninspiring given the number of retirements this week, 2) life away from tennis, it actually exists. And unfortunately for me, it exists solely to kick my ass.
But I did manage to catch a few matches this week, and a lot of this happened:
He was never known for his mental tenacity, but Nikolay Davydenko hung on like a leech despite losing the first set. In a classic third set, neither players wavered on breakpoints, bringing the match to a deciding tiebreak.
Sometimes you just have to say too good – Davo turned up the heat during the tiebreak with some of the best tennis I’ve seen from him since Miami 2008. Meanwhile Djokovic slipped into a full-blown comatose, winning only 1 point to concede the match 46 64 76(1).
Such a performance from the Russian probably deserves a picture. Or not. I’m just not that into the whole receding hair-line flaunt.
How about lovely Irina instead?
Come back soon Roger! Before I start cheating on Mirka with other WAGs.
Not much to say about second semifinal, except that Feli probably would’ve retired earlier than he did, had he not been playing his friend Rafa. It was such painful, abysmal tennis from Feli’s side of the net that you couldn’t really judge Rafa’s level. He did what he had to do.
The injury-ridden semifinal aside, Feli Lopez continues to show that he is capable of playing beautiful tennis for just one week per calendar year.
He used up that quota for 2009 against Soderling, a match that proved to the tennis masses that – yes, contrary to popular belief, Feli does have an organ of nervous tissues in between his ears, and yes – he does use it sometimes.
And whatever happens, Feli will always have the most beautiful eyes in tennis. Amen.
In matches earlier in the week: you know, just because it’s nearly the end of the season, doesn’t mean players can just STOP SHAVING and let themselves go.
How do you think my employers would feel if I just stopped plucking my eyebrows by October each year? Huh? HUH?!!
Yes, you Gilles. You too.
I forgive the pair of them after they both put up respectable performances against Nadal and Djokovic to somewhat redeem their year of disillusionment.
Or perhaps disillusionment runs deeper, deep into the third set in fact, where players like Nadal and Djokovic don’t blink,and others like Simon and Blake wonder, for just a split second, whether they have what it takes.
A split second later, they’re down a break and the match is over.
ATP Notes: Fast and Furious.
I’ve completely neglected ATP tennis this week. Me bad. But really, men’s tennis without Federer, Nadal or Djokovic is a grim wasteland on which only the occasional wild flower is worth the pause to appreciate.
Managed to catch two of Jo-Willy’s matches this week against Chiudinelli and Gulbis. And frankly, I got enough power tennis from those matches alone to last me the year…
… and enough charisma to keep me from resorting to the 2007 Australian Open semifinal for my tennis orgy.
Don’t know how I feel about Ernests Gulbis these days. Apart from thinking that he has a far larger fan base than he reasonably deserves.
But then again, so does Zac Efron.
It’s a too familiar story: Ernie served ace bombs, whacked the snot out of the balls, and mixed in some deft drop shots that seemed to have the gravity slurped out of them altogether. It was fast, furious and entertaining stuff. Not a single break of serve on either side over 3 sets, but the result was the same: coulda, shoulda, but Ernie lost anyway.
Gulbis is one month older than Cilic and del Poop. Of the latter two, one took out the No 2 seed at the US Open and the other made me swear non-stop at Roger Federer for a good 24 hours.
Ernie, by contrast, is struggling to string two wins together. While there’s no denying that he has talent, there’s also no denying that he’s turning out to be the biggest underachiever of his generation with a disproportional tween following. What’s lacking, apart from a higher level of athleticism, is strategy, shot selection, and sheer belief.
Someone get me a permanent marker and his shoes.
Another revelation this week is the Swiss who isn’t the one nor the other – Marco Chiudinelli. It turned out that this guy was no powderpuff after all. Unlike some of his more flashy compatriots, stylistically Marco’s a stoic sort of player, a big server with a bigger forehand, not to mention an eager volleyer.
Chiudinelli reached his highest ever ATP ranking this week at 116. With his qualification in Tokyo, he’ll be in the top 100 soon, and by the way he’s been playing since he made 3rd round at the US Open (his career best), the guy is certainly punching well above his height.
Perhaps the consecutive 3 setters wore him out, perhaps the season – the longest Jo-Willy has had in his career – is catching up on him and just about everyone else, Tsonga lost in 3 sets to Victor Troicki, who promptly went on to gift the final to Robert Pattinson’s mesmerizing eyes.
And slightly dorky smile.
Oh, and utterly routine tennis.
Over in KL, I only managed to catch the final, which was a slow but sure process of self-destruction by Fernando Verdasco. Execution fail.
Go get foot surgery Nando, and rest up for next year. Spain’s got pockets deep enough to win the Davis Cup without you.
And even after all these years, it confounds me how anyone with Davo’s talent can possess less charisma than a pencil sharpener. Maybe we folks in tennis just have a hair fetish.
Hair re-growth Davo, it worked wonders on my dad.
USO Day 7: Tears and Fears.
As bummed as I am about Venus getting booted out so early in the tournament, I must admit Kim got to me with her sincere reactions to the 6-0 0-6 6-4 victory.
How can you not want to reserve your seat on the Comeback Train after this?
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Tennis-wise, it wasn’t fantastic until the last set, but the match was just sheer drama.
Venus was about as mummified as her knee during the first set. Kim tensed up and braincramped through the second. And the third set just thrilled and delighted the energetic crowd.
Venus had a chance to save the match when Kim served for it at 5-4 and fell behind on serve. But unlike much of the Kimpossible’s early career, she didn’t succumb to nerves and soldiered on.
I didn’t need my morning coffee after those last four points of match, that’s for sure.
Welcome back to the Big League, Kim.
The problem with the women’s draw isn’t that there aren’t any exciting players left, it’s that they are all pitted against each other.
After the Kimpossible downed Venus, it was Flavulous’s turn to duel with Vera in the best match of the tournament so far on the women’s side of things.
It just had it all:
Fabulous tennis? They were swinging for the fences with properly constructed points.
Drama? How about a steady flow of profanities and tears in the third set?
Double faults? Unforced errors? Kept to a respectable minimum, thank you very much.
Killer smiles? YOU BET.
For the first two sets, Vera looked close to her Indian Wells best. Set two was a closer contest that reached its crescendo at 5-6, when Flavulous saved match points on serve with the gutsiest play imaginable.
I always knew she played intelligent and focused tennis, but who knew Pennetta had this much fire? She was fabulousness personified.
Ultimately, Vera payed the price for being too conservative on her match points, but even so, nothing called for the meltdown of biblical proportions that typified the third set.
Not only did she walk off to sob her heart out in the tunnel before the third set started, when Vera came back, she acted like a player who demanded too much of herself but fell short of her own lofty standards.
Within a few points, she started ripping tape off her knee and venting to Lynne Walsh for refusing to let her cut the tape before a changeover. She cracked her racquet on the net post, slapped her knees in frustration, heaved her shoulders through much of the third set, and drowned herself in expletives.
All this was then topped off with Vera leaving the court muttering to herself something that sounded suspiciously like “I hate this crowd/country/crap.”
Oh Vera! Even your brainfarts smell good.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
On the men’s side of things, Rafa had a straight sets victory over Almagro that was far from straightforward. If you tuned in during the match, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a WTA match – the pair traded 13 breaks of serve until Rafa finally won out – 7-5 6-4 6-4.
Rafa and Almagro were both hampered by injuries throughout the match. Tough for Rafa, but a blessing in disguise for the Rafa Porn Appreciation Society.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Rafa, if you ever need a tummy rub – ye know who to call…
Rafa will have to up his game next match against Gael Monfils, who was up 2 sets to love against Jose Acasuso before his opponent retired. Monfils posted clean stats during the match, with 27 winners, 9 unforced errors, 10 aces and saving the one breakpoint he faced.
Now I’m conflicted.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
The other retirement of the day came from Gilles Simon, who – like so many other players who may or may not be named Rafael – was hampered by tendenitis.
Simon retired after getting down two sets to one against a healthy and reenergized JCF.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your summer and your resurgence. You look like the player we saw the last few years.
JUAN CARLOS FERRERO: Uh huh.
Q. What’s different?
JUAN CARLOS FERRERO: I told you the other day, physically I’m completely different. I’m feeling great on the court, so I can play a lot of rallies as long as it is.
I recovered well after matches, so that’s the big difference in maybe couple of years.
Be it Hewitt, or Ferrero, and even Clijsters – isn’t it ironic that it was only after a lengthy absence that these players found their way into my heart?
Oh yeah. Jo-Willy won in straight sets. OH YEAH!
Time for a happy dance!
Practice makes perfect eye-candies.
Does the US Open really start next week? HELP! Can I have one more week of my frazzle-free world?
With the last slam of the season just around the corner, the top seeds all headed to New York to warm up for two weeks of mayhem. This means only one thing: EYE CANDIES for you all!
Caramel Jojo: may he never find his shirt.
According to a French source, Roger Federer and an unshaven Gilles Simon practiced for 2 hours on Arthur Ashe. Thierry Tulasne, Simon’s coach remarked afterwards that “he [Gilles] had a good laugh with Roger, it’s good for the morale”.
For any Simon fans out there, Tuslasne claims that Gillou’s knees are good to go for the US Open.
For any non-Simon fans, yes – he was having knee issues.
As always, the RF.com paparazzi got hold of pictures. The GOAT looked hot. And so did Roger!
Got a sweet tooth? How about a head full of chocolate swirls?
Enjoy the eye-sweets!
Cincy Day 5: Don’t worry Rogi! We’ll eat some garlic and breathe on him.
I’ve heard it works wonders against fanged creatures.
Roger looked sharper with a 6-3 6-4 over Lleyton Hewitt. Some of it was due to Hewitt’s limited mobility, and some of it was the return of Roger’s footwork. Clearly Mirka didn’t need another pair of legs around the house.
The first serve was MIA until the last few games of the match, not that it mattered, RFed didn’t face a single breakpoint all match and won 89% of points on first serve.
Roger and Lleyton first played against each other as 15 year old sons. More than a decade later, they’re still playing each other, but this time as a pair of papas.
Don’t even pretend that it doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart. If your heart had cockles that is.
Before we move on – the obligatory Puny Left Arm/Hair God Worship intermission (via Krist @ RF.com):
By contrast, much rustier from Andy Murray, who was at one point down a set and a break against Lucky Loser Julien Benneteau. But ever so fickle, Lady Luck changed her mind half way through the match and smiled on Toothface once more.
Julien faltered under the pressure of closing out the match, the 53-shot rally then drained the life essence out of him, and the Vampire got himself rolling. Final score? 4-6 6-3 6-1.
ANDY MURRAY: These are the matches that, you know, when you play badly and you don’t feel great and you’re not hitting the ball well, when you can come through matches like that’s it’s a lot better.
Everyone can win when you play really good tennis. It would have been easy to, you know, not given up, but to sort of mentally let him beat me. It’s good for the confidence. And I think the other players see that, you know, you’re fighting. You know, it was a big, big match.
Err, folks – is NOW a good time to fret?
The current Murderer H2H stands at 6-2. Given that Murray has been striking the ball much cleaner than Federer over the last two weeks (his last match notwithstanding) I’d pick Toothface for the win. But I have a feeling that both Fed and Toothface will want to preserve themselves ahead of the Open.
Regardless, expect it to be a good match – between the Establishment and the Challenger, the Hair God and the Toothface, the Real World No 1 and the “Reality-is-a-social-construct, didn’t-you-know?” World No 2…
In other matches, say 1-2-3-4!
All four of the top seeds in Cincinnati made it through to the semifinals, after the top 8 made the last 8 in Montreal just a week ago. A true testament to the consistency on the ATP World Tour these days.
Nadal, the Real World No 2, cruised past Berdych 6-4 7-5 with a second set that featured some of his best tennis since the clay season. Rafa’s major weapons – his movement, the forehand, and the slider serve out-wide – are certainly starting to click.
But dude, relax! It’s only Berdych, no?
Practicing his game face for the USO: via Daylife
With so much of the attention focused on Federer and Murray these days, should Rafa hoist the US Open trophy on Arthur Ashe in three weeks time, don’t say no one told ya he was comin’.
Oh yeah, Nole beat Simon 6-4 7-5. Umm … I got nothin’ on this one. Djokovic is making it rather easy for people to ignore him these days.
Watch your back folks, watch your back. You never know who’s going to creep up on you all of a sudden.
Cincy Day 4: Gone with the Wind
Boy, I’m so glad I didn’t watch the match between Ferrer and Federer live today. Just watching a recording of it made me want to stab myself in the eye with a pen.
MAJOR eye baggage:
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images
For someone who likes to play in the wind, Fed was having so much trouble adjusting to it. The forehand was gone with the wind, the backhand stayed home to look after Myla and Charlene. He clearly didn’t get much sleep last night, and decided to take a nap in the middle of the first set.
I think at the beginning maybe my footwork was just a touch off. After that I think got it together, you know, and started to play better and better. In the end when it goes your way, all of a sudden you can actually use the wind to your advantage in a big way. That’s what I actually hoped to do the whole match today, but it’s not so easy sometimes.
It’s all your fault Myla! Barf on him Charlene! Threaten him with another set of twins Mirka! Do it for the Federer fans who have lost nails, hair and developed stomach ulcers from watching this guy play.
And in case you were wondering why we’re still sadistic enough to watch Federer if we’re slowly developing bald patches because of him: I, for one, live my life from one Fedgasm to the next. And despite his sub-par performance, Roger did deliver some Fedgasms towards the end of the third set:
Roger is due to face Lleyton Hewitt next round, who took out Roddick conqueror Sam Querrey 6-1 2-6 6-3. Real trouper, Lleyton, but you’re a Kiwi to me, for at least the next 24 hours.
Ahndee Murray had a much easier time squishing the Worm 6-4 6-1. Didn’t watch it, but with Murray’s defense and control over the ball, I expect him to feed junk balls and passing shots back at Stepanek. No problems there with the wind.
Huh? AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
Rafa was down 0-3 briefly in the first set before rallying past Paul-Henri Mathieu 7-5 6-2. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Rafa play properly, but it was befuddling watching him slice. Has he always done that?
In other matches, Gilles Simon took out Davo 7-6(6) 6-4 6-4. Lucky Loser Julien Benneteau downed Garcia-Lopez in three sets to set up an unlucky meeting with Toothface. Djokovic took out Chardy in straight sets 7-5 6-3, and no one cares.
Lastly: someone requested the music to the Rolex Federer ads. This was sent to me anonymously a few weeks back, and the link expired, so I reupped it. Clickey.
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