Monday, April 24, 2006

The Emperor Has No Clothes

It's not often that I focus my blog on non-Roddick persons but seeing as how we're in the middle of a three week Andy-free stretch, I've decided to use this space to talk about other things going on in the tennis world and my thoughts on the Monte Carlo final this past Sunday.

First off: did anybody else notice that ALL of the Russians crashed out in the first round at Monte Carlo? Heh. Suddenly, the Americans' decision to stay home looked like the smart strategy.

Speaking of the Americans staying home, the tennis messageboard illuminati and some media drones kept whining about how this was the first time in years that the Monte Carlo draw had absolutely no Americans at all (not even in doubles) and that this reflects very badly on the Americans, it's completely embarassing, and all that jazz. Please. Since when did anybody care so much as to whether the Americans showed up to play on their least favorite/successful surface or not? Enough with the hysteria.

Props to Justin Gimelstob who says it so well in his blog entry "Americans are missing, and that's OK":
There are two things that prevent the top Americans from participating in this and many other important clay-court events preceding and following this week: the surface itself and the duration of the European stretch of tournaments, from clay season to Wimbledon, the end of grass-court season.

All of the top American players, such as Andy Roddick, James Blake, Andre Agassi and Robby Ginepri, are under no delusions -- they are at a tremendous disadvantage on clay, especially against the elite clay-court players who grew up on the surface and are as comfortable sliding around on it as they are walking or talking. When confronted with the challenge of making their schedules, most Americans would prefer to rest up and take off some of the weeks of the clay season to be fresher for the more advantageous, fast-playing grass surface that immediately follows the French Open.

Clay-court tennis has become an ugly topic over the past few years among American tennis players, fans and journalists. I do agree that we've underachieved and are capable of better results, but it's important to understand and accept that without more significant clay-court events in the U.S., American players will continue to develop their games for faster services.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this. It's important to develop all-around games, and we all could benefit from spending more time in Europe on clay, learning about the intricacies of sliding, court positioning and shot selection. However, with the ATP calendar as full as it is, and with the tennis season already 10 months long, it's important to find breaks in the schedule to rest as well.

Since the European clay season is the least successful for Americans, it's a logical time to take a brief respite. It's identical to some of the clay specialists taking their breaks during grass season and the beginning of the U.S. summer hard-court stretch. Tennis is too challenging, physically and mentally, to go the whole year without some calculated breaks.

Amen, Justin. I'll get my score-keeping ledger out to keep track of all those dirtballers who conveniently call in sick during the grass and hardcourt season.

So with their first-round crashouts perhaps the Russians should rethink their decision to hold the Davis Cup semifinal tie on clay. (here's a nice little factoid for them to chew on: Andy Roddick's only foreign clay court title came at St. Poelten in Austria, 2003. Guess who he beat in the final? Nikolay Davydenko).

Rankings Watch
Andy Roddick is now down to No. 5 in the ATP rankings. After the clay season ends, his rank could slide further down to 7th or 8th, presuming Nikolay Davydenko performs well on his favorite surface (he's right behind Roddick at No. 6). Andy did not defend his SAP Open or Houston titles and he's made only one semifinal appearance this year, all of which took a bite out of his numbers. Unless he gets past the third round at Roland Garros, he won't pick up any significant points. And if he does not defend his Queen's title, he may lose his protected No. 2 ranking on the grass at Wimbledon.

* * *
The Emperor Has No Clothes

We are living in the Age of Roger and Rafa, and Rafael Nadal has got Roger Federer's number good, beating him again in four sets in the Monte Carlo final 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5), successfully defending his title.

It is fitting that the 19-year-old Nadal would be the only one to expose Federer as the Emperor Wearing No Clothes. Oh sure, once in a while a Marat Safin or David Nalbandian might become inspired and beat Federer in five hard-fought sets, only to not be heard from again in several months. Once in a while a new kid on the block who hasn't learned the meaning of the word "fear" might sneak in a win against The Sublime One (See: Richard Gasquet). But nobody on tour has managed to consistently, fearlessly go toe-to-toe with and beat the most dominant player in recent history on every surface they meet on (that includes the inimitable Pete Sampras, who dominated the slams but not the masters series). Scarier still, Nadal is only nineteen and he just broke Thomas Muster's clay record of 42 straight clay wins.

Tell me: what were Federer, Ljubicic, Roddick, Moya, Haas, Safin, Henman, etc. all doing at the age of nineteen besides picking their noses? If Nadal is this dominant at the age of 19, God only knows what damage he'll be capable of doing once he hits his peak in the mid-20s (yes, you read right. Nadal still has not hit his peak, how scary is that?). The only top players to show anything for their teenage years are Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi. That reminds me, Nadal's 24 match winning streak is the longest streak of any teenager in the Open Era, topping Andre Agassi's run of 23 matches in 1988.

Nadal shows what has been there all along: that Federer is very beatable; that it's not impossible to get inside of his head; that you have a chance if you don't beat yourself before stepping on court. Perhaps even more encouraging to the rest of the field: he has shown that you don't need to play Federer's kind of game in order to beat him. Rafa's game may be ugly or even "one-dimensional" but it's good enough to beat the best player in the world. That, and a loopy lefty forehand might do the trick.

"More than anything, believe that you can win."

-- RAFAEL NADAL's advice to James Blake, upon facing Federer.

I've always likened Rafael Nadal as being the Gene Kelly to Roger Federer's Fred Astaire. Both hugely talented and brilliant in their own ways: One offers grace packaged in a mascularity bravado, the other offers grace packaged in effortless elegance. Their differences complementing the others' talent. Pick your poison.

* * *
A Chink in the Swiss Armor

"He's quite one-dimensional with his game. After Dubai, I thought I actually saw the way I should play against him."

-- ROGER FEDERER on Nadal.

It's not often that Federer betrays his nerves but this eyebrow-raising comment sure did. Rarely does Federer talk smack and it's apparent that Nadal has really got him rattled (read Matthew Cronin's interesting post-match commentary "Federer in Denial After Nadal Loss" where Roger makes some more curious comments.)

It is interesting to see how effectively Nadal brings Federer back down to earth. We hear so often, too often, about how classy Roger is, what a true gentleman he is, isn't he just breathtaking? Mary Carillo wants his baby, Andy Roddick wants his baby, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum. Such over-the-top accolades practically elevate him to demigod status. But you know, it's easy to be classy when you win all the time. How much effort does it take to laugh and talk up your opponent after you've just beaten him for a third straight time as you hold aloft your prized trophy? The true test of character, in my opinion, is how you carry yourself after suffering one heartbreaking loss after another; after having your dreams crushed in a final yet again; after losing sight of that treasured win by just two points. In this regard, I would say that Andy Roddick outclasses Federer. For Federer, suffering tough losses to the same player again and again is new territory for him and he is now experiencing just how demoralizing and utterly frustrating it can be.

"Sometimes you just have to sit back and say, 'too good'. Hope he gets bored or something."

-- ANDY RODDICK, on Federer.

People who dismiss Roger's "one-dimensional" comment merely as being "honest" are being disingenuous. I'm surprised that many of these Federer fans have not picked up on Roger's ability to be catty with his remarks, which he always says with a smile. (Remember his dig at Andy at the TMS Cincinnati final last year? "I enjoy playing Andy, and not just because I win!" ha! ha! ha! *back slap*). This is not a "something got lost in translation" thing, either. Calling Rafa one-dimensional may be true but it also conveys his distain for Rafa's game and he probably can't understand why someone as uncouth as Rafael can beat someone as sublime as himself so consistently.

In many ways, you can't blame him for trying to wink-nudge his contemporaries into doing better against him. Being on top of the world gets lonely and boring. He's already bored, I can see it in his face during early round matches, even in later matches he's practically yawning in his opponent's face. It's like placing an advanced AP student in the special education section of the classroom. If you had to deal with slow-witted retards all day long you'd get cranky and impatient, too.

UNDER HIS THUMB. "Hello Rogelio. I just beat you again, no?" telephone call from Rafa to Roger as imagined by Jace Corwin, Pet Detective.

* * *
The Elitists (a.k.a. Fedtards)

I spend way too much time surfing various tennis messageboards and blogs, and in my web travels I have noticed one breed of delusional Federer fan that has infested every damn one of them like a tapeworm: the Elitists (commonly known as "Fedtards").

Here's an example of what these crazies look and sound like. This is an actual post from an actual Fedtard (as I like call these lowest forms of fanatics). This is the kind of garbage the rest of us normal tennis fans have to wade through every day:
Really, didn't want it to come to this, but Nadal is a freak and no matter how many times he wins against Roger everyone knows the truth. It's a major matchup problem, more things are defective in Roger's brain and game than Nadal's attacking game.

How utterly disgusting, thought someone like Richard [Gasquet] would come along and challenge Roger. Instead we get this thing that loves to retrieve and turn tennis matches into playground games. What a mess this entire situation is.

Could have been Tomas [Berdych], Richard or even Marat. Things didn't quite end up that way. Tough pill to swallow when your favorite continues to lose to a player he's obviously superior to not only in tennis, but when it comes to being a person in general.

Roger contributes to charities, speaks mutiple languages, tries to do all that he can for tennis and here comes a ball boy on wheels armed with a tennis racquet causing a commotion, wins tournaments and needs a translator by his side for each one because he can't speak a word of the native tongue.

Absolute filth.

What an embarassment. This is equivalent to urinating on a Picasso painting, I mean, if you're going to ruin something of that magnitude atleast have the common decency to use something aside from a fluid that comes from one's body. Not agitated or frustrated, just getting down to what makes it so disgusting to see Roger lose to that thing.

Honestly, if Roger Federer himself saw such snooty garbage being written in his name, I think he would be embarassed to have such fans cheering in his corner. Although I do have to say that it's amusing to see how easily Nadal has managed to not only get under Federer's skin, but his crazy fans as well. For that I say, thank you Rafael Nadal. You are the only player capable of beating some sense and humiliation into the obnoxious Elitists who refuse to give the proper credit and respect to Federer's contemporaries simply because they don't speak six languages or wave a magic one-handed backhand wand. For that, these loonies get to eat Rafa's dust. Bon appetit.

LESS THAN ORDINARY. There's something about Nadal that reduces Federer to a trembling, ordinary tennis player. Can this be bottled and sold to other players?

Some of these fans seems to believe that by hooking their wagon up to a supreme artist then they by association become Rembrandt. I'm sorry but people who define themselves and and their success through sports figures are, in a word, pathetic. And there are far too many of them, it seems. I have news for them: being smug about your preferred status as No. 1 Roger Federer Fanatic does not make you more knowledgeable or appreciative of tennis. Don't look down your nose and sniff, "If you don't enjoy Roger Federer and/or his domination then you're not a REAL tennis fan." I will reply: if you're the type of person who enjoys watching Federer humiliate his opponents by double bageling them in slam finals, then you're not a real fan of tennis, either.

Fans can go on and on about Roger's amazing shotmaking abilities, his genius, his sublimeness, his variety--and they're not wrong to admire such skills and talent--but is it really necessary to knock other players down in order to lift Roger up? Why the dismissive condescension? Oh. You prefer ugly tennis over superior shotmaking? Look, I like variety, too. But my preferred brand of variety comes in the form of a variety of different players from different countries who play a variety of different games (power baseliners, serve-volleyers, retrievers, pushers, moon-ballers, etc.) Watching one player, no matter how great, isn't going to cut it for me. The way I understand it, it takes two to play the game of tennis.

Boy, after all this ranting, you'd think that I hated Roger Federer. It's not true. It's his haughty fans who ruin the Federer experience for the rest of us that I dislike so much.

* * *
How do you like your domination?

I've learned that I am not a fan of domination. I could not stand Pete Sampras's domination of men's tennis in the 90s (this might have something to do with the fact that he kept beating my favorite player Andre Agassi) and the Williams sisters domination effectively killed my interest in women's tennis until the Russians and Belgians showed up.

I had thought that maybe Federer's brand of domination might be more palatable to me. He was exactly the kind of the player I had always wished Pete Sampras was: somebody who had great shots but wasn't robotic about it; someone who was approachable but also mysterious. Charisma was never Sampras's strong suit but Federer's dark exotic looks and quiet intensity give him some intrigue. He may not be Mr. Personality but he is magnetic, commanding your attention without having to say a word.

But I'm still not a satisfied tennis fan. Someone might argue: "You wouldn't be saying this if Roddick were as dominant as Federer!" but I have already thought about that and the answer is no, you're wrong. I don't get any pleasure or satisfaction watching any player, not even my favorites, demolish a low-ranked opponent 6-1 6-2. The early rounds of slams are the bane of my tennis existence. Who can stand watching the top players destroy qualifiers and wild cards? How does anybody enjoy watching tennis that way? Half the time I don't even bother watching the early rounds although I do tape them in the offchance that someone might pull off an upset or there might be a memorable 35-stroke rally. Otherwise, *click, delete*.

Even if Roddick were to consistently beat top players in finals the way Federer does, I don't think I'd be sitting on the edge of seat biting my nails thinking, "Oh, I wonder how it's all going to end!" Federer has the uncanny ability to suck all the drama and excitement out of most matches. But that's not his fault; the other guys need to lift their game to compete with him and more importantly, they need to walk out on that court and act like they own it and that they *know* they can beat Federer, or at least give him a run for his money. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I would perfer to watch a match between two equally-abled players of which the match outcome is relatively unknown. I prefer competitiveness over domination. I want battles, not wars. Give me a good match, not a good beating.

"Since when has Roger Federer rolling through the men's draw been considered great entertainment?"

-- MARK KREIDLER, ESPN Sports Contributor and, I assume, not a real tennis fan.

* * *
Various Little Web Items That Don't Mean Anything But Are Nice To Read Anyway

I came across this funny blog entry through a link of a link that linked to me and back from another link. Clearly this guy has a love/hate relationship with Andy. Sounds familiar.

Some local tennis coaches from Arizona were awarded USTA honors recently, and were asked the question, "Which professional player do you suggest your [student] players emulate?" One of them, Judy Hoke, said Andy Roddick: "Andy Roddick is someone for them to look at. For the ladies, it's Lindsay Davenport. She's starting to make a comeback."

If I could find the original news source to back this up I would post it, but I do recall reading a while back that many tennis instructors were going crazy because too many youngsters were trying to copy Roddick's famous serve only to end up hurting themselves in the process. I think it's wonderful that Andy inspires so many young tennis players and fans but copying a player's unconventional service motion probably isn't a good idea.

Some news and more news about the Roddick brothers vs. the Bryan brothers at the Charleston All-American Shootout scheduled for May 3.

If you weren't aware of it yet, the April/May 2006 issue of City & Shore is now available and you can see a few photos and read part of Andy's interview here.

Here's an interesting link I stumbled across when I was looking for some artwork. These people designed a mural for Andy who "wanted something to inspire him when he worked out" at his home gym. Very cool. 


Anonymous said...

That is completely disgusting. It's just sad. YOU'RE absolute filth, whoever wrote seriously have issues.

Thanks for posting about this, this is really interesting. Reveals a lot, you know...let's hope Andy can get his confidence back and win some matches. And beat Federer. If not, give him a good fight - show Federer that he still has a reason to be scared.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a great post! Yeah, they should put Rogi and other dominating top seeds on the outside courts in the early rounds of Slams and give up the bigger venues with cameras for the classic 5-setters that the lesser ranked players play.

I agree, Rafa does a lot of good for the excitement of men's tennis.

Anonymous said...

Roger will beat Andy anytime.

Anonymous said...

Oh Lordy thank you for exposing a couple weaknesses in Federer. About time someone did. He is not perfection on the tennis court and I'm sick of the media slobbering accolades upon him again and again. Nadal was spectacular against Roger in Monte Carlo and yes, Federer has been catty and unashamedly arrogant for quite some time with comments after his wins. I've not heard or read one reporter picking up on this because they are too busy kissing his feet. Roger is indeed a great player but unless he plays Rafael all his matches are one giant bore. This lop-sided state isn't the way tennis or any sport sustains spectator enjoyment. Thank goodness for the other players whose rankings ascend and descend because it's much more enjoyable to root for a player when he is down only to watch him rise than it is to know he is going to win 99% of the time.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this blog....but andy still needs to improve his game

Nicky said...

I love your blog. I'm a huge Andy fan. Hopefully he can do well in Rome. Thank god he's back on Tv! I was having major withdrawals!

Anonymous said...

Rafael Nadal also known as King of Clay really outclassed such great player. Andre Agassi!

Anonymous said...

Well,Roger is and will always be the best player ever:)Nadal can do well but what Roger can do cannot be defined...he's simply THE BEST!!!Everybody loves Roger he's out of this world!!!i love Andy Roddick too and i think that Roger and Andy are the BEST:)

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