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.
1. 2nd major tournament of 2010, second early exit by Maria Sharapova. This follows her round 2 loss at Wimbledon and round 3 at the US Open. At least she sounded a lot optimistic than I do right now.
“It’s just the mystery of the unknown.We can only do so much and work as much as we can. It’s a combination of both physically and mentally just getting stronger and little steps.
I think I’m doing a lot better than other people that have had shoulder surgery in their careers. Some people have never come back. What, I’m 13 in the world or something? That’s a lot better than some of the girls I’ve lost to in the last year.”
It’s a long long road back from injury and it’s a rocky one. Not of the confectionary kind.
The common feature in her losses to Zheng Jie, Oudin and Kiriklenko over the past 6 month has been that she’s hit more winners, unforced errors and double faults than her opponents. It’s not that these victors were counterpunching pushers waiting for her to ‘give away the match’. It’s about her game having too much black-and-white, hits-and-misses and not enough grey.
Yes, grey is neither her style nor her personality. But it wouldn’t hurt to see some minor tweaks in her game. Especially with a whole new generation of Baby Sharapovas coming up with more consistency albeit less mental fortitude than Sharapova.
Still. Hard to be mad at Zheng Jie when she’s such a cute little rubber duck.
2. Non-upsets of the day: Gisela Dulko tells the story of a typical journeywoman – beating Justine Henin one day, winning a grand total of one game against Aga the next.
Comebacks are all the rage on the WTA tour – Alicia Molik crushes Lena Balt 60 62 to advance to the third round of Indian Wells.
Greul grilled Monfils 16 62 63, Blake blitzed Ferrer 61 64. Melzer melted Nalbandian by the inverse scoreline of 64 61.
No Fedbandian quarterfinal then? Le sad.
3. Of course, we were almost denied of a Federer quarterfinal of any kind altogether as Victor Hanescu took a set in his 36 76 16 loss to a chili-red Roger.
The first set was over a flash as Roger got up an early break and lost only one point on serve. You can be forgiven for expecting the second set to be just as straight forward. After his hawk-eye successes at the Australian Open, the Fed reverted back to his love/hate relationship with our favourite birdy.
Hey genius, two things you can’t argue against in tennis – hawkeye for a bad call, and a wall for outhitting you.
But it seems that taking a set off Hot Papa was all that Hanescu could manage before a third set burn-out. Roger upped his service percentage and closed out the deal with a breadstick, and took a few more vases home for Mirka.
Baghdatis next. Fear for your knickers.
4. Ana Ivanovic fell to Sevastova in her first match at Indian Wells. With this loss, she’s set to tumble out of the top 50 for the first time since 2004. It’s depressing. It’s humiliating. It’s well-publicised … or perhaps more appropriately – badly-publicised.
It’s just a awful story.
So I’m going to stop talking about it.
5. Wisdom from Bodo.
Sure, players have bad days, and women players often have bad days for biologically-related reasons that are never discussed (it goes against the grain of both good manners and our general social philosophy) but loom at the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room.
6. I’m a little late on this thanks to the internet fiasco at home, but Hit for Haiti 2 turned out to be the unfortunate clash of personalities it promised to be.
Rafa looked overawed at times and wasn’t nearly as relaxed and quippy as he was in Australia with Nole. Fed was goofy and McDreamy, and really tried to make things about as pleasant as he could.
Andre and Pete? Fire and ice.
From the outset, it felt like Andre was trying to overcompensate the humor of the night. Depending on your view of AA, either he got too relaxed and loose-lipped, or he set out to bait Pete in the first place. It didn’t help that Pete not only took the bait but took it badly. It was shocking, inappropriate, embarrassing. It was the walking-in-on-nasty-Christmas-fights kind of awkward. It made me want to rewind back to the part of the night that was still cheery and playful.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Andre Agassi. The little kinks in his personality are what makes him one of the most intriguing characters in tennis. But this was no brainer – he said the wrong thing at the wrong time. He embarrassed Pete, who he knew wasn’t quick or sharp enough to tease back with the same sort of dark, edgy humor.
Not to mention: he did so at a charity match in front of 16,000 people. It killed the atmosphere and shifted the focus of the night from altruism to scandal.
When asked about the incident, Rafa said he didn’t understand it. Whether he was being genuine or just refusing to get involved we’ll never know.
Fed also downplayed the incident with a line I wish he used on the night to break the ice: “Now being a father I thought we had to give both guys a time out.”
Cracking dad jokes already are we?
7. To end on a positive note: bullying Roger? Bad idea.
Oh fine! We were all cute and impromptu, before you came along with your big targets and big names …
News out that there’ll be a second “Hit For Haiti” in Indian Wells next month, attended by Roger/Sampras and Rafa/Agassi.
The BNP Paribas Open, the most attended tennis tournament in the world outside of the four major events, to be held March 8-21, 2010, will hold a “Hit For Haiti” exhibition on the evening of Friday, March 12, that will feature former BNP Paribas Open champions with a combined total of 44 Grand Slam singles titles, and is expected to raise a minimum of $1 Million for Haiti relief efforts, it was announced today by Steve Simon, tournament director.
Larry Ellison, who recently purchased the tournament, decided to coordinate a second Hit for Haiti exhibition after seeing the success it had at the Australian Open, where hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for Haiti relief efforts. The event will feature 44 Grand Slam titles on the same court with Roger Federer and Pete Sampras playing Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi. The event will be broadcast live on the Tennis Channel beginning at 7:30 PM PST.
The net proceeds from ticket sales to this session will be donated to the American Red Cross for their relief efforts in Haiti. Fans will also be able to donate to the relief effort through text messages and on-site contributions throughout the evening and event. In addition to these fund-raising efforts, Ellison will make a personal donation to this very special cause.
“When I saw the first Hit for Haiti event in Australia, I was very moved by the players coming together, on the eve of an important tournament, for such a worthy cause,” said Ellison. “I wanted to bring together an exceptional group of players, with an unprecedented amount of Grand Slam titles, at the BNP Paribas Open. Our goal is to leave a memorable impression on fans, while raising a substantial amount of money that will directly impact the needs of people in Haiti.”
In addition to the exhibition, the evening will begin at 7:00 p.m. with the annual Salute to Heroes ceremony, where the tournament will recognize veterans, military personnel, police, firemen and women, and Red Cross volunteers on Stadium Court for their efforts in the community and around the world. The ceremony and tennis exhibition will be followed by one main draw match.
Source: tournament website
While I applaud the thought, I must say – this one sounds like less fun: bigger targets, bigger names and … not a single WTA player or champion invited to attend. Still, if it gets people to keep on donating, I can’t complain.
Make it good boys/old farts.
1. John McEnroe claims that Roger Federer is GOAT and just about every sports news outlet made it into a story.
Must be another slow news week.
“Roger is just the greatest player of all time. He is the most beautiful player I’ve ever seen and I don’t ever get tired of watching him. Rod Laver is my idol, Pete Sampras is the greatest grass court player ever, but Roger is just the greatest player of all. I think we can all appreciate how incredible he is even more lately, because he’s shown a bit more emotion on court and he’s become a father so he seems a bit more human, more relatable. That makes what he’s doing seem even more amazing.”
On Federer’s records and streaks:
“It’s difficult to pick out one of his achievements as the best because they’re all so incredible,” said McEnroe. “But I would probably say the 23 semis or better in a row is the best record of them all. There’s probably not another player in the top 20 who’s even played 23 straight majors (Grand Slam tournaments) in a row. Then throw in the fact that he got to 18 out of 19 finals and that he’s averaging two Grand Slam titles a year, it’s just phenomenally consistent. It’s amazing.”
Put it this way: no other player has made the last two grand slam semifinals, let alone the last 23.
“It’s unfortunate that Rafa is struggling with injury because his rivalry with Roger has become an incredible one, and rivalries are great for the sport,” said McEnroe. “I think at the moment Nadal’s injury is working to Roger’s benefit because he was able to take advantage of it at the French Open and dig deep to win that one. But at the same time I think it would be nice to think that Nadal could stick around for a couple of years and push Roger a bit because competition like that can push you that bit harder.”
“When you’ve won as much as he has you have to wonder how he will react when he starts losing regularly at major events – not reaching finals or semis. That’s not going to be easy for him. But, he seems to take great care of his body, the way he moves doesn’t put a lot of strain on the body so you would think he would be able to play at this top level a few more years. I hope so, because we are lucky to have him.”
Let’s review McEnroe’s little shpill: 1) Roger is GOAT. 2) 23 semifinals in a row is just retarded. 3) Pity about Rafa. Get well soon. 4) The Mighty Fed has more top-level tennis left in him because his movement is so easy.
JMac, please don’t feel like you need to state the obvious or anything.
2. BREAKING NEWS: Bobby Sod won his first tour match of 2010.
And he did it the hard way: taking 3 sets to overcome Flo Serra after dropping the first set 64. Le Sod conceded after the match that he’s found himself in difficult form lately:
“The first match of the week is always the most difficult for me. My game got better and better. I know I can play a lot better. I’m satisfied with the win but not really with my form.”
No shit. The Australian Open was one of Sod’s few windows of opportunity to gain points this year and the guy managed to implode spectacularly after being up 2 sets to love. Elbow injury or not, I’m banning the use of the nickname “Dimples” until further notice.
3. MORE BREAKING NEWS: Melanie Oudin actually won a match, beating Sorana Cirstea 63 60 to progress into the second round in Paris.
With her first main-draw victory since the US Open and her Fed Cup performance, Oudin is on a – collective gasp – 3 match winning streak. Her longest since Flushing Meadows.
Oudin next plays Nutty Patty, who also stopped the bleed after a recent show of poor form. She beat 7th-seeded Virginie Razzano 6-3, 7-6(3).
As for Sori, I’ve tried to warm to her. The girl’s got spunk, but she’s also got a slappy forehand, too much eye makeup and the tendency to look extremely average on an off-day. And right now, she has more off-days than on.
4. Serena Williams is out of Dubai. I don’t know why and I don’t care why.
Dinara Safina is also out of Dubai. I know why but I just don’t care.
5. Fernando Verdasco beats retiree in an exho.
Oh by the way, that retiree’s name is Pete Sampras. You might’ve heard of him.
After the straight-sets loss, Sampras took some questions from the media and the conversation inevitably turned to Agassi’s comments regarding Pete in his biography “Open”. After voicing his displeasure a few weeks ago, Pete’s downplayed his comments.
“It was fine, no ill feelings. I know Andre likes to push the envelope, with everything he does, but with me, I thought we were above all that. He chose to be open and honest about everything, and I was a little surprised he went down that road.”
“I think it freaked out Andre that I did my thing. To me, that extreme focus was no big deal. That’s how Borg, Federer, some other guys did it. That was normal to me. But Andre was amazed by it.”
On the contrast between Sampras’ autobiography and Agassi’s.
“I didn’t want to offend anyone in my book. It wasn’t about that for me. I wanted it to be something I could be proud of, something my kids could read, all about how I became a champion. It wasn’t about money, or about shocking people.”
In other words, you were interested in retelling your life, but only the proud bits. Oh how courageous you are, Pete.
Slow news is better than no news.
So … I hate the GOAT debate. Can I say that? I hate it.
I don’t believe it exists. I think it’s a stupid title, and a terrible acronym. I hate the fact that we’re putting it on a player who’s career is not over. Can any player really be the greatest of all time?
But let’s humour all the GOAT debaters for a while …
It’s interesting to see the latest comment by Sampras on the matter, which primarily focused on Federer’s record against Nadal.
While Sampras himself has bestowed the GOAT on Federer, he suggested today Federer must find a way to beat Nadal consistently in order to truly be called the GOAT.
“Tough question to answer. I do understand the argument as being the best ever you have to be the best of your generation and he has come up short against Nadal,” Sampras said. “I can see the point and it’s hard to answer it. It’s not done yet. Roger’s careeer isn’t done yet and he has to beat (Nadal) and he’s got to beat him in the final of majors. In my book he is (the greatest of all time), but he has to figure this kid out. He has to beat him. You’ve gotta be the man of your generation. Roger certainly is the man of his generation, but he’s got to figure out how to beat Nadal.”
Recalling his rivalry with Agassi, Sampras said if Agassi had led their head-to-head series, it would have caused the 14-time Grand Slam champion to question his own status as his generation’s top player.
“It would bother me if I had a losing record against Andre in majors,” Sampras said. “Does it mean I was the greatest or not the greatest? The greatest of all time is (a label) we want to pin it on someone. With the numbers you have to give it to Roger; with (Federer’s) record against Nadal you might not give it to him. If I was 7-13 against Andre it would be hard to say I was the best of my generation. It’s hard to give a definitive answer when he’s not done yet. Roger knows he has to figure out this kid, but it’s a tough match up. Nadal is one of the few guys who believes he is better than him.”
Unfortunately, my gut tells me that Sampras was a bit set up here. The interviewer sounded like he was already looking for a particular answer before the question was asked.
Who cares? If the GOAT debate could be settled, then what would be the fun in it?
I’m quite prepared to accept the idea that to lay a strong claim to being GOAT, Federer needs to work more on that H2H with Nadal. 7-13 is abysmal, considering Sampras was 20-14 against Agassi.
Actually, I like that fact that Federer still has some unresolved H2H issues in tennis. With No 15 and the coupe des mousquetaires in the bag, what’s to stop him from just riding off into the sunset with Mirkabear and Babybear?
While I’m not naive enough to believe that Federer will turn that H2H his way, it does need some work. More specifically we need a few more wins.
On the other hand, I don’t believe the H2H issue is as big as it’s been made out to be. For the sake of fun, let’s delve into Sampras’s comments and toss out a few hypotheticals here:
Hypothetical 1: Imagine an alternative tennis universe where Federer wasn’t even the second best clay courter.
Imagine if Roger Federer had never made a clay court final between 2004-2008. What would’ve been his H2H against Rafa?
If we just took off all the clay court encounters from the current stats, it’s 5-4 Federer. Consider also the possibility that Nadal might not haven’t been in Federer’s head as much if Roger hadn’t lost to him consecutively on clay, it could’ve gone Federer’s way more.
And there lies the irony of the situation: if Federer had been anything short of the second most consistent player on clay, he might’ve avoided this H2H issue altogether. But would he have had a stronger claim to GOAT?
Hypothetical 2: if we were to draw analogies between the Federer/Nadal rivalry and the Sampras/Agassi rivalry, then we must be prepared to consider what Sampras and Agassi’s H2H would’ve been if more than half their matches were played on clay.
I’m biased, since Agassi had endeared me more. But I need no bias to predict this one: Agassi would’ve owned his clay court H2H against Sampras.
Hypothetical 3: following on from #2, consider also what Sampras or Agassi’s H2H would’ve been had Agassi been 5 years younger than Sampras.
Hypothetical 4: Back to Federer and Nadal – what would Fed and Nadal’s H2H be if they had been the same age? While Nadal’s 5 years younger than Federer, I think the “primes” of their careers were about 18-24 months apart. Of course, that’s not taking into account that Nadal is still well in his prime and could go on to have more fabulous years. Federer too could create a second spring for himself, not that 2008 was that much of a ‘winter’. This case is by no means closed.
Hypothetical 5: what would Federer and Nadal’s H2H be if they played equal number of matches on all surfaces?
Hypothetical 6: if we were to argue that Roger Federer cannot be the greatest of all time if he wasn’t the greatest of his time, then who is the greatest of his time?
Nadal? As good as Nadal’s H2H against Federer is, he hasn’t dominated the rest of the field as much as Fed has. Even with Federer supposedly in decline, it’s statistically easier to upset Nadal at a slam than it is to upset Federer.
My point being that Nadal’s H2H against Federer in itself isn’t enough to give him a better claim to being the greatest player of this particular time in tennis over Federer. Whether by statistics or a process of elimination, Federer remains the greatest of his time despite his record against Nadal.
More important than the GOAT debate:
who has the greatest ass of all time?
Consider lastly Federer’s unique situation here:
He was essentially in GOAT territory once he passed 10 slams. First we said he’s got to collect the French Open. As he amassed more slams, we decided he had to equal Sampras’ 14 slams to be considered. This year the guy did both in one go.
Then we decided he had to break it, get to No 15, which he promptly did less than a month later. Now we say he must fix his H2H with Nadal. Should he manage to do that (which I doubt)? We’d probably say “hey, but you’ve never won the Grand Slam like Laver.”
The more successful Federer turns out to be, the more specific the GOAT criteria becomes. Why? Because unlike other debates, the GOAT debate is one we inherently don’t want to settle.
For my money – I hate the concept of GOAT, but Roger Federer is the greatest player I’ve seen. That’s as far as I’m prepared to say at this point.
Should he finish his career with 17 slams or more, I am also quite prepared to toss my “there is no GOAT” defense out the window and make him tennis cattle, assuming Nadal doesn’t overtake Fed in the number of slams. Numbers, though not determinative, are pretty damn irrefutable. 17 is 6 more than Laver and 3 with a French Open more than Sampras, which weakens any remaining arguments against Fed’s GOAT candidacy.
All this verbal diarrhea is just an excuse for me to repost the Madrid pictures again. As compelling as the Federer/Nadal rivalry is, it’s also a ridiculously good looking one. Here’s one last eye candy, my personal fave:
BSing is my forte,
I don’t write about myself much, maybe because writing about yourself is actually a lot harder than writing about the larger-than-life players of Tennis Nation. But with the offseason well and truly underway, and most inhabitants of Tennis Nation in hibernation, I’m left with way too much time to wonder how the hell I got to become a tennis blogger/youtuber/highlights maker, and those players who drew me into this strange and wondrous world of yellow fuzzy balls. So here is my story, fangirl styled…
As a child of the late 80s, one of my biggest tennis regrets was missing out on most of the golden Sampras years. When Sampras was owning the sacred lawns of Wimbledon like it’s no one’s business, Dootsie was still busy eating candybars, learning her ABCs, and dreaming about a future as a great female astronaut.
So it’s hard, really, to pinpoint my first tennis love. I’ve asked a lot friends of my generation who their first tennis love was, and generally, I get one of 3 people – Sampras, Agassi or Martina Hingis. But truth be told, I was never truly a fan of any of these three at the time. By the time I started following tennis as a cocky, know-all fourth-grader, Tennis Nation was approaching the tail end of Sampras’ career. Perhaps it was because of my inherent underdog-complex, or the aloofness of Pete Sampras as a person, or maybe the fact that up until recent years, as a Melbournian, the only slam I ever followed was the Australian where Agassi was a more familiar figure, Pete Sampras never quite grew on me. But I’m reading “A Champion’s Mind” right now, so who knows? A biography might be just what I need to find the Sampras-love within.
Agassi on the other hand began to endear me immensely towards the end of the 90s, and especially as we entered the early noughties. There was so much to be admired about Andre Agassi, his aggressive baseline game, his half-volleys, the way his groundstrokes came with extra venom… Moreover, he seemed to be one of those rare people who defied the natural bell-curve of an athlete’s career. Personality-wise, Agassi had both the class and sportsmanship of an elderly statesman worthy of every respect, and a history of rebel attitude that drew the fascination of a teenage girl.
Another person from the same era who I actually learned to appreciate much more in hindsight was the great Steffi Graf. I mentioned that one of my greatest regrets when it comes to tennis was missing out on most of the Sampras years, well – perhaps the greatest regret of all was missing out on the good stuff from Graf, for Steffi has almost become my WTA-Federer in hindsight. But at the time, I only ever remembered Graf as a sentimental former champion, plagued by injuries, overtaken by Hingis & Co, her possible retirement always seemingly on the agenda, though nevertheless unimaginable. But perhaps it was precisely because I’ve always remembered Graf with a feeling of nostalgia but without any clear recollections of her significant triumphs, that I’m always on the hunt for vintage Graf matches, and when I do find them, I’m always impressed.
As we launch full scale into the noughties, another player who came close to being a “tennis love” should be noted, and that is good ol’ Pat Rafter. Sure enough, I’ve always rooted for the Aussies – Rafter, Hewitt, Philippoussis, hell we’ve adopted Dokic too (though she always seemed to be in two minds about which country she wanted to play for). But my admiration for Pat Rafter went beyond mere nationality. As a player, Rafter was delightful to watch, inspiring many “ooh-ahh” moments as he lunged for impossible volleys, speared the ball in unexpected directions and attacked the net ruthlessly. There was something of a daredevil in the way Rafter played the game. As a person, Pat Rafter symbolised what we used to admire about Australian sportsmen – he was a fair competitor, he was charitable (donating half of the prize money from his 1997 and 1998 US Open titles to the Starlight Children’s Foundation), he was a diligent person who took a while to work his way up to the top echelon of the sport, but did manage to accomplish the impossible through good work ethics. For a while, my greatest wish was for him to win Wimbledon, and God knows he came painfully close, perhaps too painfully, seeing that he retired in 2002. For me it was sadly ironic to see such a fine serve-volleyer walk away from the game without a Wimbledon title.
So the early noughties, the good old days when Britney Spears still beared semblances of sanity…
One of the reasons why I say that I feel as if I’ve missed out on most of the Sampras years is probably because back then the ATP was somewhat of an afterthought for me. The WTA was my real love (quite surprising seeing that my favourite pastime these days seems to be ranting about the mundane quality of women’s tennis). But the period between 2000-2003 was an exciting time for the WTA, never was women’s tennis more attractive with Hingis and Kournikova as its poster-girls (or “Spice Girls of tennis” as they self-dubbed). But more importantly, never was the tennis more enjoyable. For early noughties marked the rise of the power generation with the likes of Lindsay Davenport and – the two players who really drew me to tennis – the Williams sisters. And the Williamses were much more than powerful ball-bashers. As tennis players they were creative, gusty and sensational. Because of them, for once, tennis could be seen as something more than an elitist, snobby sport. The Sisters were and still remain the populist face of tennis. I should also mention that the same period saw the early signs of two future contenders from Belgium – Henin and Clijsters. When people say that men’s tennis is about to enter into a “Golden Age”, in my eyes the only “Golden Age” I lived through and remember was the age of the WTA Power-Gen and the coming of the Sisters.
After 2003, strangely enough, I lost interest in tennis. Maybe I got sick of watching Serena beat Venus all the time, maybe I just needed to bond with the other passions of my life, develop my interests in music, art, literature and … boybands (!? Oh-the-shame!). Or maybe I was just a teenage dirtbag disinterested in all things in life. Yes, I’m regret to say, I suddenly stopped following tennis after 2003.
And if you’ve been reading my blog, you’re probably predicting the next turn of events – Roger Federer became the Saviour who rekindled my interest in this sport, who brought me back to Tennis Nation and turned me into the tennis fantard that I always was. If that’s what you were thinking, then you thought wrong.
Yes, a particular player did bring me back to this sport, but his name wasn’t Roger Federer, his name was … well … Rafael Nadal.
A friend of mine couldn’t believe it when she found out that I used to be a Rafa fan. Even more bizarrely, I used to be a Federer-hating Rafa fan. I did mention that I have an inherent underdog complex, didn’t I? Well, back in 2004, when Federer was winning everything under the sun, and humiliating Rusty, my fellow Aussie, with double bagels at the US Open, it was kinda hard to like the bastard.
And Nadal – Nadal was like a fashion statement, and I’m talking about so much more than the sleeveless tops and the pirate shorts. Nadal’s fashion statement was his attitude – the firey antics on court (okay, and the butt picking too), his incredible mental fortitude and steadfast work ethics, not to mention the way he took baseline tennis to the extreme. There was much to be admired about such an exciting young talent. Nadal was the challenger, and Federer the establishment.
And about Federer – in the early days of his career, much of my dislike for him stemmed from the fact that he appeared to be devoid of both mercy and emotions, sporting an unsightly ponytail and five o’clock shadow, wearing a series of badly fitted sacs, and inspiring a ridiculous amount of praise from commentators. As for the tennis, sure it was as impressive and elegant back then as it remains today, but when I heard that he had come to the Australian Open in 2005 having won Doha without losing serve, I couldn’t help but think to myself – “someone stop this bastard on his rampage!” And happy hippo did, by the name of Marat Safin, who I forgot to mention, was an on-and-off love of mine (but who didn’t have a soft spot for Safin?).
You know that moment in Pride and Prejudice, when a series of events forces Elizabeth to recognise that she had been blinded by her prejudice, and that underneath his pride, Mr. Darcy was really a generous and kind person? Well the same thing could be said of my opinions of Federer. No one was as shocked as I when I watched him get up to make his acceptance speech at the Australian Open in 2006 and suddenly turn into a pile of blubbering, sobbing putty. Mind you, I was rooting, as always, for the underdog Baghdatis. But something about Federer that day – the fact that a 7 time grand slam champion could still be genuinely overwhelmed by the occasion – made me see him in a new light. Perhaps Roger Federer wasn’t as indifferent, unfeeling, and devoid of attitude as I thought he was. And viewed in that new light, I became more and more partial towards Federer. How could you not be after a year like 2006? I remember during the 2006 Masters Cup final, after Federer hit his zillionth backhand winner, Barry Cowan muttered softly to himself “yes, you are that perfect, without a doubt.” In 2006, instead of being annoyed at the amount of adulation Federer was getting from commentators, I was beginning to understand why. But still, the thought of committing “treason” against Nadal never occurred to me.
The real moment that nailed me to the Federer bandwagon came, again, at the Australian Open in 2007. I remember there was a lot of talk coming into the Australian Open, that Andy Roddick was finally “closing the gap”, after having defeated Federer at Kooyong. I for one had found Roddick to be too overrated, though I have developed a lot of respect for the guy, so I didn’t entirely buy the “gap-is-closing” hype the media was building up. But even so, that semifinal match …. how do you describe a performance like that? How do you do it justice?
…At some point, I think I might’ve been on my knees, rocking forwards and backwards in worshipping motion. Sure Roddick didn’t play a good match, but even so, sort of high percentage shots Federer was pulling off with utter nonchalance was just astounding. In the fourth game of the second set, when Roddick, seemingly in control of the point, unleashed one of his forehands that landed almost right on the baseline. And Federer, on the full run, simply leaned to his left and neutralised Roddick’s monster forehand with a casual cross-court backhand half-volley. He then stopped cooly to brush back his curls, fiddle with his strings, and raise his hand half in apology to Roddick, half as an acknowledgement to the crowd, who was by then howling with laughter at the slo-mo replays. Utter ridiculousness. If you haven’t seen the point, you shouldn’t even be on this blog.
And just like that, the 2007 Australian Open semifinal marked the beginning of the end of my tennis story – I was converted, I was convinced, I saw the light. I understood what David F. Wallace was talking about when he wrote that famous essay on “Roger Federer as religious experience“:
“It was like something out of “The Matrix.” I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.”
We’ve all had those moments.
And despite my “treason”, I still remain very partial to Nadal. How could you not? Even after he traumatised me by committing regicide at Wimbledon this year, Nadal remained the same player who first endeared me and brought me back to the sport of tennis. I still smile every time I watch him line up his water bottles. His butt picking is still cheap amusement should the match even take a turn for the mundane. And the way his eyes dart from side to side suspiciously as he walks along the baseline always reminds me of a little schoolboy waiting to be scolded or shanked for doing something naughty.
And where to now? I feel myself drawn to the young guys – Gulbis, Nishikori, Cilic. But not to the same extent as Federer. It could take a long time for someone to wow me like that again. Andy Murray – thumbs up for his improvements this year, but there’s just no need to write an autobiography at his age. Tsonga came close to giving me another “wow” moment at the Australian Open this year, and he continued to impress after he returned to the tour from his injury. WTA-wise, Venus and Serena are still hanging around, but unfortunately, I don’t see enough talent among the Russians and Serbians dominating the game today to get me excited. Vaidisova looked like she could be the next big thing for a while, but what happened to her? Stepanek? I like JJ, but she’s yet to prove herself on the big stage. Who knows, I could have another Pride-and-Prejudice moment with Ivanovic, but so far, I see her as a good player, but way too overrated.
So this ‘Golden Age’ of the ATP better keep me sufficiently amused, or I might let my partiality for cheesy boybands take over again.