It is with great sadness that I write this blog post, my last on tennistalk.com. Our employer, Unibet, has decided to discontinue this site the Monday following the Wimbledon men's final.
I had hoped to be able to report a different site at which you could continue to follow Ricky, Kelli and I and are musings on our favorite sport. Alas, I received final word just a few days ago that we will not be able to continue to use the name Tennistalk.com.
I wanted to say thank you to our loyal readers who have followed us over these 6 years of the second golden age of men's tennis. Thank you for sticking with us, thank you for the heated debates, the strong opinions. Thank you to the Rafans, FedFans, Muzza fans, Nole fans and everyone in between. It's been a great, great ride.
If I can somehow get a new website together before we go off-line on Monday, I will post it in my blog. Until then, farewell, friends.
Comment | 165 comments
I would like to introduce you to Novak Djokovic. And I don't just mean the guy who manages to beat Federer and Nadal on a fairly regular basis. Most of us know his tennis pedigree at this point. We know that history could be made on Sunday in the form of a THIRD contemporary of this generation to secure the Career Slam.
Think about that for a minute. It's a feat that has been accomplished by only a rare few players in the history of the modern era. If Djokovic wins on Sunday, it will (at least in my mind) cement this as the second Golden Age of tennis.
That, in and of itself, is extraordinary. Had Novak Djokovic grown up on a Mediterranean island or amongst the peaceful tranquility of Swiss mountains, it would still be an amazing accomplishment, simply because of the quality of his opponents. The fact that he grew up in the middle of the bloodiest and most savage European war since World War II makes his accomplishments nothing short of miraculous.
I am old enough to remember the Balkan Wars, which is to say that I heard the words "Kosovo" and "NATO bombings in Belgrade". I never fully grasped how literal the term "war-torn" was, however. The former Yugoslavia was quite literally ripped apart by bombs, by hatred, by genocide. And all of this happened when Novak Djokovic was learning to play tennis, a gift given to him by coach Jelena Gencic.
With her country falling apart around her, Gencic still trained tennis players, working at a club just outside Belgrade. She knew her stuff, did Ms. Gencic. She had, after all, trained Monica Seles and Goran Ivanisevic. And what she saw in young Nole was superstar potential, a future great champion.
She would listen to news on the radio of the bombings and report back to the Djokovic family about where it might be safe to play the next day. She discovered that if her part of the city was bombed one day, it would probably be safe to play there the next day, as the pattern was to take turns dropping bombs on different parts of town. The strategy worked and young hopeful Novak Djokovic stayed safe.
Checking bomb reports is certainly not in the job description of your run-of-the-mill tennis coach...then again Jelena Gencic wasn't just a coach. She was his protector, perhaps literally saving his life. He moved on to Germany to a different coach after it became obvious that his innate talent and abilities had outgrown the inadequate facilities in Belgrade. Nole never forgot his first coach though.
On June 1 Jelena Gencic died. Nole said she was like a second mother to him. Now, when we Americans call someone a second mother, we think of the lady who let you have ice cream for breakfast and cheered loudest at your high school graduation.
But for Novak, "second mother" isn't just a term. Jelena Gencic nurtured him, taught him discipline and protected him from harm. In other words, a true second mother. It's a sobering wake-up call for those of us who can only vaguely grasp that the suffering of war creates heroes every bit as much as it makes villains. My condolences to him on what must be terrible grief.
And so again, I introduce you to Novak Djokovic, a great champion, a quiet philanthropist, a hero to the Serbian people and a man for whom tennis and survival must be inexorably linked. You might not cheer for him...and with his habit of defeating the two most popular players in the sport, many of you probably don't. But you SHOULD respect and (dare I say it) admire him.
Comment | 124 comments
There is nothing quite so disappointing as unfulfilled expectation. Even if that expectation is unreasonable, even if there is only the very faintest glimmer of hope that whatever it was you wished would happen was actually going to.
Take a blind date, for example. You try to prepare yourself for the fact that there is a very real possibility that the aged David Hasselhoff is going to show up at your door, talk about "Baywatch" all night, get really drunk and stick you with the bill at dinner.
But there is still the potential, a small infinitesimal .0001% chance that it will be Ryan Gosling instead...hence the proliferation of blind date Hasselhoff...er...horror stories.
And so it is with matches between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. We watch, not because we think it's actually going to be great, but because there is that razor-sharp sliver of hope that they might be able to recreate a distant cousin to the 2008 Wimbledon final...a Designer Imposter's Wimbers, if you will.
The Rome final over-shot "not great" and landed firmly in the "painful to the point of embarrassment" bullseye. To be fair, I suppose I should point out that Nadal was definitely NOT terrible on Sunday. In fact, I would not hesitate to call one of his best performances since he's returned to the tour, particularly in the first set, where the Spaniard gave us all a reminder of what Nadal on clay can look like.
But Nadal was only half of the story. Sometimes it is not that way. Sometimes a match won or lost is down to one player. Take, for example, Nadal's 2008 French Open final win. That singular match was the finest display of clay court prowess, perhaps in the history of the sport. It was the greatest clay courter of all time playing his greatest clay court match of all time. And there was nothing Federer could have done...nothing anyone could have done to stop Nadal on that day...because you simply cannot compete with perfection.
Nadal wasn't perfect in the Rome final. Oh, he was pretty good...even bordering on quite good. It's just that Federer was so very, very bad that in comparison Nadal looked like Superman.
The 6-1, 6-3 win doesn't even tell the whole story. The statistics say that Federer hit 15 winners and 32 unforced errors. Dismal to be sure. What they don't tell us is exactly how bad those unforced errors were. Maybe the ATP should introduce a new system of tallying them...you know. Like, anything more the 3 meters out counts as 2 errors. And a bricked volley into the BOTTOM of the net counts as 3 because...well...it makes viewers' eyes bleed and offends my own delicate sensibilities.
Based on my proposed system of keeping track, it would have been more like 15 winners and 93 unforced errors. Yeah, it was really that bad.
Now with all of that being said, Federer and Nadal fans alike would be wise not to read too much into this match. All hope is not lost for Federer. No, he hasn't been playing great tennis this clay season, but he has a long and storied history of fronting up when it really matters. And despite the fact that current crop of "youngsters" is finally showing some mettle, winning 7 best of 5 matches is a very different animal than causing a minor stir by pulling off the upset in the early rounds of a best of 3. One need only look to Grigor Dimitrov's cramping after two sets of play a couple of tournaments in a row.
And for Nadal fans...yes he's done an impressive amount of winning. And yes, he seems to be getting better by the tournament. But he still isn't at his best and the French Open title is not a foregone conclusion. I'd wager that Rafa would agree with me on that score.
Comment | 49 comments
Sat 06/07 06:31
Tennistalk says farewell
Thu 06/06 04:05
Novak Djokovic's unsung hero
Tue 21/05 15:52
Another Federer and Nadal match disappoints
Fri 17/05 18:03
Bill Tilden and the effects of moral bankruptcy on a legacy
Tue 19/03 21:01
Professor Federer teaches us a thing or two
Mon 18/03 15:43
Nadal makes the cleverest comeback in tennis history
Fri 01/02 22:00
Nadal's return at Vina del Mar
Thu 15/11 16:54
Federer and company make no room at the top for youth
Tue 11/09 20:24
Murray joins the ranks of Grand Slam elite
Fri 17/08 19:45
There is something about Roger Federer
Mon 13/08 23:05
Tennistalk is in Cincinnati again
Tue 12/06 16:21
The French Open, Nadal's personal playground
Wed 09/05 14:58
Novak Djokovic takes up skating at the Madrid ice rink
Thu 29/03 14:30
Nadal and Spain give French TV a punch in the mouth
|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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