Saturday, August 11, 2012
I was watching—leisurely, mind you, so I don't have the stats memorized—the Raonic-Isner match and the Djokovic-Haas match late last night from Toronto, so I figured I'd ramble a bit about each.
So, anyway, what is the deal with Raonic and Isner hitting moonballs at each other last night during the tiebreaker? Did anybody else see that? Was it as glaringly obvious to you that both Isner and Raonic need to play riskier tennis (particularly in their return games) as it was to me?
I know: conservative, defensive, scared drivel is not exactly the recipe for potential maximization for a 6'5" to 6'9" player, but for some reason it's what both Isner and Raonic seem to prefer. It's a silly way for gargantuan tennis players to attempt to defeat one another—oxymoronic, don't you think?—but I digress.
I'm not myopic to the point where I can't see that it's admirable of both Isner and Raonic (I'm talking about all 13' 6" of them) to try to become better baseliners, so please don't accuse me of hating. Isner and Raonic should, by all means, aim for consistency and make a legitimate attempt to master the nuances of the game. But when it's crunch time, for god sakes, Isner and Raonic, step on the gas and hit for the hills!
I think that Raonic is far more guilty than Isner of being gun-shy, but they both suffer the consequences of possessing the passive gene.
So many times last night Isner and Raonic stayed in nuetral: reluctant to take on any risk, waiting for the other's mistakes. It's a winning formula more often than not for each, but at its core it fails to dream. When you are one of the top five servers in the game (both Raonic and Isner are) you need to use that serve as a get-out-of-jail free card and TAKE SOME RISKS!
Let's face it, neither of these guys is going to get to No. 1 anytime soon, so each's best bet to make a TRUE SPLASH on the tennis court is to win a Slam. Isner and Raonic should be fine-tuning their high-octane games with the goal of getting hot and staying hot for seven consecutive matches in mind, not trying to keep their heads above water by playing it safe.
Neither should be playing scared like both were last night. Isner won the match, and rightfully so—he is clearly the better big-match player—but he was just as guilty of Raonic of being passive and not embracing the gunslinger mentality.
All I am saying is this: Raonic spent half the match behind the "Toronto" sign which was probably six feet behind the baseline (see above video to locate "Toronto" sign). Djokovic, in his three-set victory over Tommy Haas probably ended up that deep in the court three times during the whole match.
Simply put, Raonic and Isner need to attack and intimidate. If they don't they'll still be fine. They'll earn a good living, but they will never win Slams that way.
As far as Djokovic goes...
He can do whatever he wants. The guy may be more human than super-human in 2012, but he is still elite in every sense of the word when he takes the court. Rumors of personal turbulence may be true, but don't think for a second that Djokovic isn't still ready, willing and able to add to his legend.
Anybody who saw him let out a guttural scream after defeating Tommy Haas in a tense nailbiter has been served the memo. Djokovic is already thinking about winning in New York. The rest of the big four are licking their wounds on different, but real, levels.
With that said, I like Djokovic's chances in New York.
But let's see what he can do tomorrow against Tipsarevic first...
Monday, July 23, 2012
The Championships at Wimbledon from The Seventh Movement on Vimeo.
=== I came across this mind-blowingly fantastic montage of time-lapse video from Wimbledon today on Twitter (thanks to @nickmccarvel), and I've been raving about it ever since. Since I spent about 80 hours a day watching Wimbledon during the fortnight (the other 44 hours per day were spent writing), I was familiar of the work of the San Francisco-based crew of cinematographers known as "The Seventh Movement," even though my knowledge of them wasn't of the conscious variety.
They were hired by ESPN to provide time-lapse footage of Wimbledon--not just tennis, but cool-ass footage of people opening and closing umbrellas, the storied Wimbledon grass whisperers pushing mowers, the threatening and ever-changing skies overhead, and countless other nuances that are unique to The Championships--and they performed their job admirably.
And, as it turns out, the crew at The Seventh Movement, who has filmed at LeMans, the X-Games, and Mavericks among other places with grand sporting traditions, really fell in love with the tennis at Wimbledon.
How could they not, right?
"When your first tennis experience is an all-access pass to the most prestigious tournament in the world, who can blame us for ordering rackets to the house at the airport as we were leaving London?" writes the group on it's Vimeo page. "The moment you walk through those gates, its like entering a place that time hasn't touched. To be honest, it was the best way to get someone hooked on a sport."
Most of us are already hooked, but it's nice to know that The Seventh Movement is right there with us now.
Amen to that. And amen to this classic footage, some of the coolest tennis material that I've ever seen. You can almost smell the grass and feel the summer showers while watching it.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Roger Federer has always played tennis like a race car. He's built for hugging the road around hairpin turns and accelerating from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. He's got that elegant, aerodynamic design, exotic features, and a powerful engine that purrs. But unlike those finicky race cars that often end up spending more time up on the lift at repair shops, Federer's always been "Ram Tough" when it comes to tennis.
At Wimbledon this week, just as it did in 2009, that "Ram-Toughness" is paying major dividends.
And when I say major I mean Grand Slam major.
That's what impressed me most about Federer's upset of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic today in the Wimbledon semifinals. His toughness; his durability; his sticktuitiveness. We've come to associate Federer with only regal trappings—Rolex watches, cardigan sweaters, Credit Suisse, private jets—but as it turns out the real essence of Federer might be a little more blue-collar than we initially suspected.
For one, Federer is the king of longevity. His current streak of 33 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances surpasses tennis's blue collar king, Jimmy Connors, by 6, and Federer's still going strong.
That's remarkable on so many levels. Reaching the quarterfinals of a single Grand Slam is certainly not a big deal for a player like Federer, who has spent a combined 285 weeks at No. 1 in the world, but when you take into account the fact that he has been able to stay healthy enough to not miss a single Grand Slam in over eight years of life on the tour it is pretty mind-blowing. (Tennis years are like dog years: one year in a normal person's life equals about seven years for a tennis player when you take into account the toll the sport exacts on a player's body. Don't believe me? Just ask Rafael Nadal).
Even more mind-blowing is the artful, low-impact style of game that Federer has fashioned. In an age of extremely physical, almost sadistic tennis, Federer has somehow managed to cultivate an exquisitely amped-up power game without suffering all the injuries—think blown-out knees, overwrought wrists and shoulders, shredded elbows—that wreak havoc on other players.
How has he done it? Well, if anybody knew, they'd all be doing it, right? But if there was ever a tennis player who could step right off the court and into a leading role in a world-class ballet, Federer's your guy.
It's remarkable when you think about it, that Federer is still here, and on the cusp of leapfrogging both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the No.l ranking at the age of 30.
It's almost as if his whole career was built with this kind of Wimbledon in mind. That a young Federer would train with a crystal-clear vision of what the future might be like in mind. That he'd adjust and modify his techniques in those formative years so that he could be a player that would someday hang around, stay healthy, stay positive, keep embracing the game and his place in it whether he was ranked No. 1 or No. 3—and if he did that, if he stayed true to his vision, he'd have his chances for more big titles.
We all wondered who was going to be the biggest beneficiary of Rafael Nadal's early Wimbledon exit last week. Initially, Andy Murray was the name on the tip of everybody's tongue. But just like in 2009, when a thought-to-be-past-his-prime Federer swept in to win the French Open-Wimbledon double with Rafa on the sidelines, Federer's the player who is ready to pounce on the opportunity.
As mythical as his regal game has always been, Federer's passion for the sport, and his willingness to honor that passion with hard work, is equally mythical.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
In this year's Wimbledon men's singles semifinals, there are the haves and the have nots.
And even as the idea that pressure is a privilege—that it is something to be embraced, and perhaps as nutritious as a protein shake or a couple of bananas before hitting the court—has been circulating ever since six-times Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King penned the phrase, there is also the notion that pressure is a piano on the back of a once quick-footed, agile, and confident player.
At the Wimbledon semifinals, the nobody is exempt from the pressure, but certainly there are members of the fab four who will suffer under the weight of their pianos more than the others.
With a group of talented players such as this, which of them deals with the pressure in the most positive way, or which is unaware of the pressure (or can deflect it), might be the player that holds the trophy on Sunday.
The mind games are already starting, and as poker-faced as the players are trying to be in the pressrooms and on the court, even their stoned-faced comments give us insight into their delicate mindsets at the moment.
Reporter to Andy Murray: "How would you describe the attention on you, the weight on your shoulders as you go for something that the country has waited so many years for?"
"Ummmmmmmm...I don't really know. There's obviously pressure there. If you think too much about it and you read the newspapers and you watch the stuff on TV that's said about you, I think it would become far too much, but if you kind of shield yourself from all and just get into your own little bubble and listen only to the people that are around you, then it's something that you can deal with."
It's nasty, basically asking someone to tell you how they feel about something whose existence they are trying to deny, but Murray handled the mild interrogation well. Still, his detailed response shows just how strange it must be to have to spend your days in a bubble in order to avoid the rambling rivers of public opinion that ceaselessly flow in your direction.
Like it or not, there's a piano in Murray's dressing room, and his challenge is to leave it there when he takes the court on Friday with a shot to reach the Wimbledon final.
But Murray's not the only one with pressure. As strange as it may seem, Roger Federer's got some too. Yes, he's got 16 Grand Slams to his name—he could have stopped in 2009 and he'd be considered one of the best if not the best of all time. But something keeps driving Federer to achieve, and his relentless pursuit of Grand Slam glory has led him here, to the place it all began for him, about to play a semifinal with a rival on his favorite surface in a draw that Rafael Nadal was bounced from a long time ago.
As time slowly but surely starts to catch up with Federer, you better believe he's aware of the fact that this might be his best chance to snag that seventh Wimbledon and seventeeth Grand Slam title he's had on his Xmas list since 2010. If he gets it, he'll join Pete Sampras in Wimbledon infamy, and he'd likely have cemented his legacy as the greatest tennis player who ever lived.
Federer, as is typical, shrugged off any concerns about having lost six of his last seven matches to Djokovic when chatting with the press. In fact, he went one step further to point out he's happy just to have reached the Wimbledon semis for the first time in three years.
"I haven't put too much thought into it yet," Federer said of playing Djokovic on grass for the first time. "I'm just happy, myself again, I'm a round further than I've been in the last couple of years, so it's been a good tournament so far for me."
Federer is playing it cool as a cucumber. He's happy to have done so well; He's happy to be healthy; The rest is gravy. It's not true of course, but if it relaxes him and helps him play as if he's got nothing to lose then his piano, a slightly smaller model than Murray's, might stay in the locker room as well.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on the other hand, is a man without a piano. Say what you will about Tsonga's airheadedness at times, but the coachless, light-hearted Frenchman really doesn't concern himself too much with pressure. That will make him a very dangerous player for Murray to cope with on Friday, especially if his piano makes it out to Centre Court with him.
"I feel good," said Tsonga. "For me it's a chance to be here. I will go on court and I will try to take my chance and that' s it."
When asked what it would mean for France if he were to make the final of Wimbledon, Tsonga took a long pause, sighed, and laughed. "I really don't know," he said.
Translation: "I'm a kid in a playground. If I win, I win."
It's difficult to say, which player's method of deflecting the growing pressure of playing these high-stakes matches is best. The earnest, introspective Murray seems to have it licked, but when he steps on court he looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. The casual, almost dismissive Federer seems to know a thing or two about pressure, but his record in big-pressure situations is far from perfect these days. Tsonga's obliviousness is nice, too, but he plays oblivious tennis to match sometimes, and that can sabotage his best intentions.
As far as Djokovic goes, he's probably got the best aura of all four semifinalists right now. He's the defending champ, he's the world No. 1, and he's still running uphill in comparison to Nadal and Federer in terms of legacy.
There is something to be said for a man who is on a quest. Djokovic may not be the juggernaut he was at this time last year, but I think he's eager to prove that he is. He's so switched-on in terms of tennis, that his brain seems impervious to externalities such as other people's expectations for him. Federer was this way for many years, and Nadal too.
When you're hungry—as Djokovic clearly is—and you focus on chasing history, playing flawlessly, and proving to the world that you do belong in their class, the pressure does start to look like a privilege.
And the piano doesn't even make it to your locker room.
It stays in the press room, where it belongs.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Rafael Nadal's best match of 2012 might have been the one he didn't play. So, in that sense, it wasn't a match at all—it was more of an executive decision. Whatever it was, it was huge.
Allow me to take you back two months in time, back when Rafael Nadal was spending most of his time in Novak Djokovic's back pocket. After seven straight losses to the Serb, including three in Grand Slam finals, it wasn't a stretch to assume that Nadal might be suffering permanent damage from all the thrashings he'd taken at the hands of Djokovic. We'd seen this before with Federer, and as great as Federer still is, there has always been the stigma that he's carried around with him since Rafa picked him up and put him in his pocket: in a big match with Nadal, Federer will lose.
It's different for Nadal and Djokovic, because they are the same age, but the scenarios were starting to look eerily similar. Djokovic had clearly taken up residence in Nadal's kitchen and he was eating all of Nadal's favorite home-cooked meals. Pasta y Gambas. Late-night sweets. Swigging from a milk container with the fridge door open and no shirt on...
But just when it looked like Djokovic was going to rain on Rafa's parade in perpetuity, Nadal and his camp pulled the ultimate switcheroo.
Faced with the prospect of playing Andy Murray in the grueling heat on a hard court in Miami just to have a chance to end his seven-match losing streak against Djokovic in the final, Nadal and his team weighed the consequences and elected to forgo what to them seemed like small potatoes.
Next thing you know, Nadal was apologizing to the fans and the event for not being able to make it. He gathered up what was left of his confidence and flew back to Majorca to get the stench of all that hard court tennis out of his clothes. He went to his kitchen to eat some Pasta y Gambas. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time. Novak won Miami and Nadal still hadn't beaten him, but something had changed.
Taking a cue from wise military strategists of yesteryear, Nadal and his Uncle Toni had decided that fighting an all-out war on two fronts was not the way to go. Maybe another time, when Nadal had greater confidence, when Nadal had greater fitness, or when Djokovic himself was not so cocksure. But not now. Clay was going to be the remedy, just as it had been in 2010, when Nadal snapped a long title drought and went on a title-gobbling tear that left him three matches from a Rafa Slam.
So, in the middle of spring, while his arch rival was gunning for the Miami title, Nadal was already thinking about the clay. He needed to fight this war on his terms.
To some, it reeked of cowardice. How could Nadal not want another shot at Djokovic? He was so close in Australia. Had he gone soft? Was his mind so bruised by his new status as Djokovic's whipping boy that he had lost his fight? Was this the beginning of the end for the mighty Majorcan?
No, no, no.
As it turns out, Nadal's health wasn't bad—at least not as bad as the media was speculating—he just wanted it to be perfect, so he could take Djokovic down on the clay.
In similar fashion to the methodical tactical approach that Nadal has always taken to his on-court battles, Nadal needed to match his strength with Djokovic's weakness off-court as well. Since Djokovic didn't have any weaknesses, Nadal needed more than ever to know his strength. Facing Djokovic in Miami on another hard court was not the way to go about things. Nadal and his team did the smart thing. They decided that the best way to end Djokovic's reign of terror was to bring the battle back to the clay.
Nadal, who had kicked and punched his way to near exhaustion against Djokovic in Australia, was so close to Djokovic at that point. Most players would have taken that shot in Miami, laid it all on the line in the sweltering heat, but not Nadal. It is this type of big-picture thinking that has allowed Nadal to construct his giant cache of Grand Slam trophies. In the past, he has spent a great deal of time and energy proving to the world that he was more than a clay-court player. Now, at 26, Nadal has recognized that there is value in proving to the world that he's a great clay-court player all over again.
Not only has it allowed him to win a few battles with Djokovic in the last month, it might allow him to win the war. More importantly, it's enabled Nadal to find and embrace that spiritual element that has always colored his game when he is at his best.
Clay is a homecoming for Nadal, and it always will be. As he moves into his late twenties over the next few years, expect this to be a recurring theme.
Nadal can win on any surface—he's proven that—but you get the feeling that for him there is nothing sweeter than winning on clay. Of course, losing would be that much harder to stomach, but now that Rafa is back on track, this year's French Open is a war that Nadal is very likely to win.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
It can seem like a broken record sometimes. That constant, unyielding, almost monotonous greatness that the "big three" possesses. Then again, when you get to thinking about it and put it all into proper historical perspective, it can blow your mind. It can leave you lying in the fetal position on your couch, scrolling back over a particular point over and over again on your DVR. It's true what they say: that we're lucky, that we may never, in our lifetime, witness a trio of players so sublime, all questing for glory at the same time.
Whether you love the regal elegance of Federer, the relentless physical cadence of Nadal or the bendable sorcery of Djokovic, you know what I'm talking about.
Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the tennis sweet spot, at the epicenter of a maelstrom of tennis goodness so divine.
Let the games begin!
It can't happen soon enough for me, and yet, I'd like to take a moment here to slow things down, to sit and reflect on the wonderful possibilities awaiting us in the next eight days.
They are epic, and yes, the occasion merits the usage of that oft-overused word.
Yes, yes, yes... this week will be EPIC!
We are at that place in the tennis cosmos where two rapidly approaching meteors are about to collide. Nadal and his quest for the ultimate clay-court honor, speeding through space alongside Djokovic and his righteous attempt to undermine the King of Clay with a milestone of his own.
Two colossal statements, ready to be made.
With each passing Grand Slam, the narrative seems to gain steam. Remember last year, when Djokovic rode in like the white knight of the yellow ball, on the cusp of the longest winning streak in Open Era history? That was good, but this year is sure to be better.
And I haven't even mentioned Federer. Amidst all this talk about Djokovic and Nadal each being on the edge of tennis immortality, Federer has claimed the all-time lead in Grand Slam wins from Jimmy Connors and become the only player in the history of the game to win fifty matches at each of the four Grand Slams.
Nadal and Djokovic might be questing for immortality, but Federer, he's been there and done that. That's what makes him so special. He could hang it up and let these young'uns battle it out, but he's too stubborn to do that. Plus, he's too good. He's got too much left to give and he knows it.
Speaking of having a lot to give, how about Nadal? Does the guy ever cease to amaze you with his humility? Has there ever been a player as devoted to honoring his god-given abilities by giving every ounce of energy to the competition? He's truly a remarkable man, and tennis is blessed to have him.
This week I've been watching him move on the clay, sensing the symbiosis there, how he moves back to get into a defensive posture, then sprints up a few steps when he's poised to attack. I've been watching him take off on a dead sprint to the net and slide into a backhand volley, leaving a trail of clay in his wake as he delicately dumps the ball just over the net for a casual winner.
There are those rare moments when you get to witness somebody who has truly mastered his craft and when it comes to Nadal on clay I think we have reached the apex. I'm not sure that tennis can ever, or will ever, be played as good again, from here to eternity.
And the fact that Djokovic, miraculously, has taken his game to a level where he's right there with him on the surface--well, that just says all you kneed to know about the Djoker. The Serb, more than Nadal or Federer, is still a novel in it's first draft. We don't know how the story will end, we're only at the middle. Sort of like we were with Nadal before he won his first Wimbledon, or Federer before he won his fourteenth Slam and started reeling off all these milestones at an age when most great tennis players have started their slow fade to oblivion.
We don't know where Djokovic's journey will end, just like we didn't know that Nadal would be here, on the precipice of his seventh French Open, when he lost to Soderling in 2009 and skipped Wimbledon a few weeks later. Just like we didn't know if Federer was finished in 2008 when Nadal stole his thunder in that magical five-setter at Wimbledon.
With each passing Grand Slam, I find myself thinking, "it can't get any better than this," and with each passing Slam, somehow it does.
This week it surely will again. Get your popcorn ready.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Let me just get to the point with this one: I think it's funny that the most annoying grunters on tour are not getting penalized while the innocent—namely Virginie Razzano—evidently are.
Okay, maybe funny is the wrong word, and maybe hindrance is the wrong word too. How about annoying? How about I can't hear myself think when your match is on the telly?
Can we just implement a new rule and stick it in the ITF/ WTA rulebook right along the hindrance rule that lends a little more clarity to the debate that never seems to die.
Wait...Is it even a debate? Is there anybody out there who thinks that Victoria Azarenka's (sorry for singling you out kid, but your name just seems to come to mind) tennis soundscape is even remotely okay? The fans hate it, the commentators hate it, her peers hate it—I mean what else do we need to know to realize that it's basically bad for the game and should be made to stop?
And yet, several years on—decades, really—the debate that shouldn't even be debated continues...
Well, because there is a lot of grey area in there. How do you penalize a player without a rule designed to penalize them? Can we just stop the match and have a vote? If you think Victoria Azarenka's yodeling is unsuitable for the modern game, vote to strip her of her ranking until she pipes down! And if she ever grunts again while knocking off a touch volley at net, she will be suspended for at least one year!
Ah, but it's not that simple, it really isn't. Truth is, as much as it is clearly in poor taste to grunt like many professional tennis players do, the inmates are clearly running the asylum here. You don't believe me? Look at the the WTA rankings. No. 1 and No. 2 could start a thrash-punk band with all the dissonant wailing they do while they play.
I could ramble on, but really what's the point? The wrong people are getting penalized for the wrong things, and the two most egregious grunters in the history of the world are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
The only thing I can think of is this:
Let's let the fans decide. Give each fan a handful of tennis balls prior to each match that they attend. Tell them that if they find any players vocal stylings to be a "hindrance" that they are then free to toss said tennis balls at said player. Consider it justice prevailing in an otherwise unjust world.
In closing, I'd like to point out that tennis is a sport where decorum has always been a major part of its tradition. It's a sport where people say sorry for getting a point from a lucky let cord; it's a sport where fans are forced to be quiet during points; it's the safe haven of the sporting world, where bookworms, geeks, and those who appreciate how much a little silence can say congregate.
No flash cameras here; wait in the aisles until the changeover, please; Shhhhhh!!!! Quiet Please!!!!
All that is well and good, but how good is it when the players on the court are screaming such bloody murder that the paying customers can't even hear the strings pop?
I'll answer that for you: NOT VERY GOOD!
And yet, the debate that shouldn't even be debated lingers on. This is one of those things, like death and taxes, that we'll be destined to complain about and never, ever solve.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Colossal day tomorrow with Nadal and Djokovic about to play their second clay-court final of the spring. Here's 5 quick and random thoughts about the upcoming clash:
1. Of all the surfaces that this match could be on, clay is probably the best.
Not that a Djokovic-Nadal match up wouldn't be must-see tennis on any surface, but clay works for me the best. Clay will limit aces and return winners, so each player will be forced to play tactically on the return, looking for a place to put the ball that will generate preferred patterns and keep the ball out of the wheelhouse of the other.
But the server will be looking to elicit a weak return, and of course, be hoping to make a lot of first serves. For Nadal, this should be no problem. The guy makes first serves almost as good as he pays his bills. For Djokovic it will be key: He'll need to make a fair amount of them.
So it will be a battle of who can get the most out their serve and return to gain the most advantages in the early phases of what are sure to be a lot of baseline rallies that exceed 8 strokes or so.
2. Expect Nole to be much better than he was in Monte-Carlo.
Judging from Djokovic's play yesterday in his semifinal against Roger Federer, he's playing with as much passion as he had in Australia. We have been building to the next month of the season since early February. Here we are now at the jumping off point.
3. How important is this match?
Look, this isn't Roland Garros. Let's get that straight right off the bat. That said, this might be the biggest possible non-Slam final that Djokovic and Nadal could play. Both clearly covet the Rome title. If you don't think so, check the facts. Either Nadal or Djokovic has won the last seven. Clearly each comes to play here.
Additionally, each has the next week off, so they'd like nothing more than to be pushed to the limits by the other in a three set battle for the upper hand. Barring injury, both are primed to go has hard as they possibly can for this title.
And when it comes to momentum, both know that a victory in Rome would be the ultimate impetus for a French Open push.
4. Who needs it more?
I think Djokovic needs it more in a way. I don't think a hard-fought loss would be catastrophic but a blowout might really put some doubt in the Serb's head. To have the streak end was inevitable, but if Nadal takes a second straight convincing decision over Djokovic, won't he start to wonder if he's run out of his luck and won't he start to suffer from the defeatist attitude that comes with it if he does?
I think Nadal can afford to lose, because Nadal proved enough to himself in Monte-Carlo to have a good feeling heading into his chase for the all-time French Open title lead. But, if he's beaten soundly in the same fashion that Djokovic beat him soundly in Rome last year, Nadal might start to think his Monte-Carlo win over Nole was a blip. There's danger in that, too.
5. Who will win?
I think Nadal in three. I said that only after I had decided that it would be Djokovic in three. It's really a tough call.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
"A new definition of suffering," was the way that ESPN's Chris Fowler summed up the 5-hour and fifty-three-minute 2012 Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that was part horror flick, part torture chamber, and part epic.
Some anointed the final as the "greatest ever" just minutes after Djokovic ripped his shirt off and flexed his sinewy muscles for all the world to see. Others, like me, demurred. Oh, yeah, the tennis was brilliant for spells, and the tension and drama was enough to make your skin crawl (we tennis fans love that, don't we?), but the match was also sloppy at times (according to stats 38% of points ended in unforced errors, compared to 24% and 21% in their previous two Grand Slam finals), and as much as the robotic level of fitness elevated the collective opinion of what had transpired between Djokovic and Nadal, the sheer physicality of their battle also functioned as an anchor, pulling the level of tennis down with each passing hour.
The question that kept popping into my head as I watched the fourth and fifth sets transpire was: do we really want tennis to be like this?
To elaborate: Do we really want six-hour finals? Do we really want fitness to be a larger and larger part of the eventual outcome of Grand Slam events? Are the longest matches really the best matches? Are slower surfaces, co-poly strings, heavier balls, and ridiculously fit athletes dumbing down the sport?
If I sound negative, I don't mean to. I'm as invested in the modern era of tennis as the next guy -- and I'm as impressed with the tennis that Djokovic and Nadal played in the Australian Open final as the next wide-eyed enthusiast. Was I blown away? Sure. Hell yeah. But I also found myself longing for more diversity, more improvisation, more brevity.
I'll admit: I'm old-school and I worry about things. I dread the disappearance of the one-handed backhand, but the way that the modern topspinners can expose such players, it seems like the shot will eventually be nothing but a memory. I also dread the thought of full tennis matches where neither player hits an approach shot and comes to the net to knock off a volley winner. Solid net play still happens today, but less than ever before. You can't blame the players. Guys are just too good at passing nowadays.
But I digress. I'll stick to the script here and tell you how I really feel: I don't want to see Grand Slam finals where the outcome is decided by which player can endure the most suffering and keep his game together just enough to get him through. I don't want to see tennis become more like a triathlon or a Tour de France, and less like the succinct, artistic endeavor that it is supposed to be.
When our greatest match is also the most torturous, there's something wrong in my opinion. When elegance and precision is replaced by brute force, repetition and 40-second rests between points, we are headed in the wrong direction.
I'll not deny that Djokovic and Nadal's work of stunning and brutal combustion in the 2012 Australian Open final was one of the most remarkable Grand Slam finals I've ever seen. And yes, it has to be placed up there among the best in history, based on its pugilistic element and the suspense.
But to call this battle of attrition the best Grand Slam final of all-time would be, in my humble opinion, myopic.
Longest, yes. But best? I'm not so sure.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
“I am always surprised to see professional players searching for former professional players in order to solve issues that are linked to coaching. When Lendl was facing up to his four failures in Grand Slam finals, he called Tony Roche and their collaboration changed his career. Therefore learning from the Lendl situation does not mean Murray should call Lendl - but rather someone like Roche himself. The man is the most successful coach in the world, with 14 Grand Slams achieved with three different players.” --
Patrick Moratoglou, in this Yahoo piece.
“For a few balls, for the higher balls, you can hit the ball, you know, with a little bit more flat because the racquet goes faster into the ball. The racquet goes quicker.” --
Rafael Nadal on his racquet, which is three grams heavier, with the weight added to the head.
“I give information for you to write newspapers. But at the end of the day I look like I am the one who always talk about things that must change, and I don’t win nothing on that. I just lose time, energy, and the people can think that he’s always the one who says the bad things, the negative things."
“I didn't say that I lost motivation to play tennis. I say that I played a few matches at the end of last year with less passion than usual - not saying that I am not any more motivated to play tennis.” -- on his perceived lack of passion for the game.
“I try not to bore people with silly things like match results. Because, really — who cares about them?”
-- Laura Robson, as quoted in a New York Times Straight Sets piece.
"Isn't that the Petko dance?" -- Corina Morariu, responding to close-up camera footage of a prehistoric-looking bug that was on the court in Sydney between points of the Na Li Victoria Azarenka final.
“I think Ivan can help him understand how important body language is. That’s one of the four reasons why Andy hasn’t won yet. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic being the other three.” -- Mats Wilander, in an email to New York Time’s correspondent Chris Clarey.
“Who knows if this will last six months or six years, but I’m confident that at the end of this that Andy is going to come out a better player for the experience.” -- Darren Cahill, quoted in the same piece by Christopher Clarey.
"Yeah, I know I can beat anybody. I've beaten the best before." -- Aussie fan favorite Marcos Baghdatis, after defeating Juan Martin Del Potro in Sydney.
''I laugh a lot, so I think that has a lot to do with developing those muscles. I don't really do sit-ups too much.'' -- Serena Williams, on her oft-photographed six-pack.
''Margaret has said her feelings and it's public and it has leverage so I think this is the only way the people feel that they can be heard - through a sign of solidarity. As long as it is done tastefully, that's the most important thing for me.'' -- Rennae Stubbs, on the prospect of protestors turning out to rally against Margaret Court’s anti-gay marriage statements.
My Lebanese food from my grandma makes me feel good.'' -- Marcos Baghdatis, on why he feels Australia is so good to him.
“After that I went home, procrastinated on the packing for the earlier than expected trip to Melbourne, and got some rest. I awoke to all the media coverage of the loss and I can assure you it looked more dramatic than it was.”
-- Samantha Stosur, in her own words, as published in this piece.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Yesterday on The Deuce Court, we looked at some of the most mouth watering men's first round matchups. Today, we'll flip the dial and look at what's happening on the women's side in the first round.
Click here for the day 1 Australian Open Order of Play
1. Lucie Safarova vs. Christina McHale: American tennis fans might be surprised to know that the 19-year-old New Jersey-ite is ranked 2nd to only Serena Williams when it comes to American Women. McHale scored many convincing wins last year, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova among them) and while she may be 18 spots behind Safarova in the rankings, she is not a heavy underdog in this match by any means.
2. Victoria Azarenka vs. Heather Watson: Watson, one of two young Brits that experts are high on (Laura Robson being the other) faces a heavy challenge in Victoria Azarenka in the first round. Azarenka, seeded No. 3 and fresh of the Sydney title, is a clear contender for the title, and many feel that this could be the year she finally takes the final step in her maturation. Watson, meanwhile, proved that she enjoys the spotlight when she nearly upset Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open last year. She is now doubt relishing the opportunity to take a shot at another well-established player.
3. Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: This should be an interesting study in contrast, with the crafty, agile and wonderfully cerebral Radwanska pitted against the brash go-for-brokeness that is Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
4. Serena Williams vs. Tamira Paszek: They each reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year before falling out, but beyond that, the comparisons between the 13-time Grand Slam singles winner Williams and Paszek, who is currently ranked No. 45 in the world, end. Most will be watching this match to see how much Serena Williams is hindered or not hindered by her recently-injured ankle, and if it ends up being competitive, that will be gravy for the paying customers.
5. Madison Keys vs. Zheng Jie: A resurgent Jie, a year removed from wrist surgery, appears to have regained her singles mojo. The diminutive Chinese took her first title in five years in Brisbane, and she promises to be a big challenge in a small package for the very young, very raw, yet very promising 16-year-old American.
6. Samantha Stosur vs. Sorana Cirstea: Stosur has fallen into a bit of a post-glory slumber, winning only one of her first three matches of 2012. She will play her first Grand Slam tennis since defeating Serena Williams in last year's US Open final, and her opponent, long-noted for her promise, will no doubt feel inspired to keep Stosur on the snooze. Cirstea, a former French Open quarterfinalist and a former No. 23 in the world, comes to Melbourne in good form, having nearly made the semis in Hobart.
7. Maria Sharapova vs. Gisela Dulko: Maria has not been in action since she gruesomely sprained her ankle at the WTA Championships in Turkey. It was yet another injury-related setback for the valiant Russian, who has never lost her belief, or her incredible will to win, during her well-documented return to the top of the sport. But Dulko will present a daunting challenge for Sharapova, especially since Sharapova is likely to be shaking off rust in the early going, and may or not be experiencing some mobility issues.
8. Kimiko Date-Krumm vs. Eleni Daniilidou: Hey, anytime you get to watch a 41-year-old woman compete for the second round of a Grand Slam, that's must-see tennis. End of story.