Sunday, February 01, 2009

FEDERER HASN'T DONE IT. Nor did Sampras. McEnroe, Borg, Lendl, Becker and Edberg also never did. Laver and his predecessors didn't have the chance to do it. Rafael Nadal joins Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Andre Agassi as the only male players to have completed the Surface Slam, winning major titles on grass, clay and hard courts.

(Apologies to my pal Mats -- I forgot about his his grass-court Australian Open titles for a minute there.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

CHICKENSHIT. I didn't catch the press conference, but I'm sure Djokovic was dominating as he was losing and quitting.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

ROGER PULLED IT OUT for a fifth straight Wimbledon title, despite all the yelling and cursing directed at him from our living room. Fandom tends to be depicted in happy and sunny terms, when really to be a fan is to be the harshest critic imaginable, and the most pessimistic observer. "AGAIN with the shanked backhand" is the current refrain from this Federer fan who was once an Agassi fan of the "AGAIN with the stupid drop shot" variety.

Many years before that, at the start of my tennis-watching career, I was a suffering Borg fan, and the Federer-Nadal match brought back memories of all those narrow escapes, sometimes against unlikely would-be conquerors -- Mark Edmondson in the 1977 second round (3-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1), Victor Amaya in the 1978 first round (8-9, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3) and Vijay Amritraj in the 1979 second round (2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2). Add the less-unlikely five-setters against Gerulaitis, Connors, Tanner and McEnroe and you have seven five-setters in Borg's five consecutive championship runs, compared with just now this one to cap Federer's.

It wasn't long ago that we were wondering whether Rafael Nadal could win matches on grass, let alone Grand Slam titles, but now he's been the runner-up two years running, taking a set a year ago and two sets this year from the man we've been calling the best grass-courter of all time. Borg comes to mind again as I look at Nadal's relative prowess on the surfaces, and the two have pretty much the same profile: nearly unbeatable on clay, very good on slow hard courts and grass, and good but very much human on faster hard courts and indoor surfaces.

The NBC commentators were likening Nadal and Borg in terms of resolve and athleticism, which is true to a point, but really Borg was athletically more like Federer -- lithe and quick, and strong in a wiry way, not strong-like-bull. Vilas and Muster are the predecessors when it comes to Nadal's brand of strength. Temperamentally, too, Borg is more like Federer -- an artist who could be prone to sulking when things weren't going well. Nadal (sorry, Andy) is like Connors with his dog-with-a-bone pursuit of victory.

I'll put Nadal in the Borg camp when it comes to tactical flexibility. The grass (and I think the Wimbledon people stumbled upon some nearly ideal playing conditions for the spectators with whatever they did in terms of landscaping and balls, combined with weather, this year) emboldens Rafa, making him serve harder and come forward more and run around the forehand less and built on his creativity with the slice off both sides. Federer is one creative shotmaker, but as I saw him stubbornly try to drive backhand after backhand, both at Wimbledon and at Roland Garros, I thought of Jimmy Connors and his Achilles heel on the forehand side. With all the easier-said-than-done caveats, I have to think using the slice as his primary tool off the backhand side would have made life easier for Federer on multiple fronts: it's harder for Nadal to handle, especially on grass; it's less likely Federer will miss it; it gives the topspin drive an element of surprise; and it provides disguise to open doors for the drop shot. I've heard it said that Fed disdains the dropper, but it's hard to see why. Until a year or two ago he was effectively using a version I've never seen another player pull off: the power drop shot, executed not so much with touch as with an aggressive dose of underspin.

Federer came pretty close to giving away his streak in a fit of pique. I'll give him credit for being consistent -- he stated his objections to electronic challenges early on -- but I think about HawkEye what I think about any sort of electronic line calling: It's more accurate than humans will ever be, and once it's in place you just have to accept that what it is is what it is. Until a player can prove that he or she can judge where his or her shots will land within 3 millimeters, he or she should just shut up and accept the final decision. My bigger problem with HawkEye is its ascendancy to equal billing with the goddamn players. This is about fairness; it's not about manufacturing an audience-participation stunt to resuscitate a moribund sport. I'm with Mary Carillo: Why wouldn't we want all the calls to be right? Especially when clay-court events are still allowing unlimited 45-second umpire-gets-out-of-chair checks of marks (which are imprecise anyway, once a ball has skidded off a line), what's the problem with unlimited 0.5-second video reviews? (Keep in mind that the 15-second version you're now seeing are elongated for the aforementioned audience-participation angle.) And I've already stated my aesthetic objection to those screens taking over the pristine landscape of the Wimbledon show courts.

Nadal came pretty close to making the case for Federer no longer being No. 1, especially given that Roger has U.S. Open and Masters Cup points to defend. It will be interesting to see whether Rafa can finally turn in an impressive performance at Flushing Meadows (see above about fast hard courts). This performance cements the fact that Nadal is very, very unfortunate to have come along during Federer's time. Look at lull-in-the-game placeholder number ones such as Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Carlos Moya, Marcelo Rios and Thomas Muster, and you're looking at guys with nowhere near Nadal's court cred. Having said all that, I have to say: I don't like Rafael Nadal. I've written about my problem with his diva complex, and the skill of his distant-second-language attempts to explain all that away have just made me more angry. For a guy who doesn't speak English, he is one slick little shit. "Oh, I don't know about the speed of which the speed I play is problem of it is. If someone just say something I get faster, yes? I can has cheeseburger?" I think Nadal is a phenomenal and even revolutionary tennis player, but I also think he's a ass.

For a butt-crack-picking testosterone machine like Nadal, he's also rather dainty about the idea of Robin Soderling or Tomas Berdych daring to look at him during a match. His on-court persona (contrast this to the great Federer's or the great Borg's or even, to some degree, the petulant McEnroe's) is very in-your-face, very uberjock. It's like Andy Roddick's, and Roddick's "I'll tell Jo-Winifred Tsonga to go fuck himself if I want to, thank you very much" presence is a large part of the reason I'll never root for Andy Roddick, along with his Becker-esque artless-brute game. On the other hand, I fall in love with Roddick when I listen to his interviews or press conferences. The guy is just plain honest and articulate and even humble. I wont root for him, but I wouldn't mind having a beer with him.

I have to wonder, though: Is Andy Roddick such a good loser because he is, ultimately, a loser? So much has been expected of him, and he did get to No. 1, but I have to think he was No. 1 because there was an opening at the time, not because he's a guy who otherwise was destined to be No. 1. (See above on placeholder champions.) It's not quite as bad as the "When will [Tim Mayotte/Pam Shriver] ever step up to the top?" crap I had to deal with in the '80s, but it's along the same lines.

I have more Wimbledon-related and tangential thoughts, but enough for now.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, we have a special announcement before today's semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Mr. Djokovic, you have surpassed your limit when it comes to ball-bouncing. In fact, you surpassed that limit midway through the first set of your first-round match, but our tally has lagged. And so, for today's match, you will be allowed no pre-service bounces. Not 17 instead of 18, or 12 instead of 13, but none. Do it once and you're disqualified.

Mr. Nadal, you have surpassed your time-between-points limit. And so today you are not allowed a single second between points. The second a point is decided on your serve, you must sprint to the baseline and serve again. And don't even think of bouncing the ball first (see above).
A guy can dream, can't he?

Friday, July 06, 2007

I DON'T WANT to carry this comparison too far, but you know how your dog or cat is too stupid to realize it's on a loose rug or slippery tile, and every attempt to start running begins with that cartoon-character slipping-in-place bit?

Well, watch Novak Djokovic try to change directions on grass. I'm just sayin' -- I'm no professional athlete, but I know about that little push-down-and-then-off move you have to use on a slippery surface.

I also know that sometimes the ball doesn't bounce precisely where you expect it to. I'm talking to you, Tomas Berdych.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


"I say, jolly old chap, is it not better to respect tradition and skip play on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and start play on the other days at 3 p.m., concluding it no later than 4 p.m., than to actually complete the motherfucking tournament?"

-- the Wimbledon committee

"Yo no soy player who is able to play if I do not take cuatro, cinco minutos before the point bouncing the ball and tending to the crack of my ass."

-- Rafael Nadal

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