Fernando Verdasco has started wearing Serena Williams’ headbands. As we all know, Verdasco pulled out of both the Rogers Cup and the Western & Southern Open with a wrist injury. Despite reaching 20,000 twitter followers on August 10, all of whom provided Fernando with the healing powers of twitter-affection, his wrist did not recover in time for him to play the Cincinnati Masters. We all hope Fernando will be back in September, wearing eminently discussable clothing, and maybe enjoying a Sugarpova or two on the change of ends, however —much to Fernado Verdasco’s chagrin— he is not, at the moment, the tennis world’s going concern.
Today all eyes were on Rafael Nadal, or rather, Rafael Nadal’s twitter account, which a little over twelve hours ago announced Rafa’s official withdrawal from the 2012 US Open. His official tweet (English language version) was retweeted 4,593 times, while the official Spanish version was retweeted 4,351 times. In other words, this news might have been mostly expected by many fans, but it is still news—and not the good kind. By comparison, Fernando Verdasco’s headbanded weightlifting tweet was retweeted 941 times, which, all things considered, is fairly respectable.
On the Tennis Channel set, after taking an hour out of his day to defeat a black-stockinged Alex Bogomolov 6-3, 6-2, Roger Federer was asked to tell us about his reaction to Rafa’s withdrawal. My guess is that before the Cincinnati week is out, Federer will have spent more time providing press-quote about Rafa’s absence than he will have spent winning his second round match. The same goes for Andy Murray, who made short work of a relatively in-form Sam Querry, needing only an hour and fifteen minutes to secure a 6-2, 6-4 win.
Novak Djokovic’s question & answer sessions will not quite equal his time on court, because he was required to play a tiebreak to take the first set from Seppi, therefore his match took fifteen minutes longer than the Scot's. Fortunately for Novak, he got back to basics after the tiebreak, which basically entails breaking his opponent's serve, and the second second set was much a much brisker 6-2 affair. Juan Martin del Potro and Sloane Stephens will not be required to answer any further Rafa-related questions, ever. Their answers were so good the first time around, it is clear they don’t need the practice.
But I digress. (Incidentally, digression is an official, bona-fide emotional-coping-mechanism, also known as being avoidant.) Where was I? Oh yes, a Roger Federer interview. (Discussing Roger Federer interviews is another official Nadal-withdrawal coping technique, known in professional circles as ‘Federating one’s feelings’ or ‘moving into the Swiss neutral zone.’ It can be very effective, but only if used judiciously. When misused, most often through overindulgence, it can lead to rampant hair-envy and pathos-infused references to roses that refuse to wilt.)
Anyway, Justin Gimelstob asked Roger Federer a few questions after his match, mostly the usual stuff, such as, ‘Why was it so easy to beat your opponent?’ ‘Tell us why you love Cinncinati,’ ‘Tell everyone on twitter why we’re friends.’ And, ‘Do you think Fernando Verdasco should be doing those tricep bench dips with that sore wrist?’ Etcetera. When Federer was asked to reflect on Rafa’s withdrawal from the Open, he gave basically the same answer that is quoted on Tennis.com, but listening to him speak, I imagined I could hear the question in his tone —why make it definite so soon? The Open is still two weeks away. What’s the whole story? What is the full extent of the injury?
Or maybe these are just my questions, and Roger has nothing to do with anything. Perhaps this post is nothing more than a digressive-avoidant Federated excursion. Roger is probably occupied with nothing more than wondering how often to pull out the dropshot when he beats Bernard Tomic tomorrow, or more probably, how much weight Fernando Verdasco can pull on the two-arm standing-row when he is really trying. But if I have lead you on a merry dance, it is only because I don’t feel very merry, and because although it’s now certain that Rafael Nadal will not be at the US Open, that is the only certain thing. Knees, tendons, and pain are all factors, but the what, why, and when are still mostly unknown—perhaps even to Nadal himself.
To continue with the theme of unknowing and uncertainty, I admit to not knowing exactly, or approximately, what to say about the news that received 9,124 retweets today. Since I cannot find le mot juste, the right words, I will round out this post with a passage from an author who often had entirely too many of them. Nineteenth-century literary realist, Henry James, is not a figure I associate with anything so physically vigorous as sports, and most certainly not with tennis played as Rafa does—turned all the way up— but in the passage below, from the short story The Middle Years, James captures something of what it means to tolerate the unknown in life:
“A second chance—that’s the delusion. There was never to be but one. We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
The rest of Rafa’s story is unknown, but I do hope he gets well soon. His passion is missed.