Well, David beat David more easily than I expected today. JMDP beat Jo. (Now is he baaaack?) Del Potro was also "on fire inside his body." Aga backed up her comments about Vika's theatrics (aka, dramaz) with a title in Dubai. (I know, I know, post hoc ergo propter hoc. The one thing had nothing to do with the other,but let's pretend! It just feels so gosh-darned Karmic.) Jurgen Melzer booked himself in an ATP 500-level Final. (Now is he back?) Milos said he prefers to hit opponents rather than small children with his 140 mph serve. And the A/V equipment at my place of work did not explode today! (One of the projectors did decide it needed a little sleepy-rest-time in the middle of a power point presentation on Australian aboriginal drawings, but we survived. Somehow. Also, in non-technological, non-tennis news, someone gifted me half a 20 inches-long papaya and a sprig of rosemary (in bloom), which was interesting, and not something that happens to me every day at work—even on Saturdays.
Generally speaking, I'm quite fond of people (as entities in the universe), but interacting with large groups of them for hours on end tends to leave me drained. *Introvert alert.* So when I got home from work today I was too tired to even care about tennis. (!) I needed a mindless RomCom and I needed one fast. I turned to Netflix "Insta-Queue" to come up big for me... instead it came up with Fever Pitch. Fever "Pitch" stars the 1997 version of Colin Firth and it's about a man who's torn between his football and his girl. Tagline: "Life gets complicated when you love one woman and worship 11 men."
Truth be told, I only made it through the first half-hour of the movie. It's not bad, but despite the presence of a fluffy-haired Firth, it's not great either. I'll probably finish watching it, but probably not tonight. There is one line that I wanted to share with you all though—because I've been feeling a bit sentimental about the tennis blogging life of late. So, if you'd be so kind as to replace "football" with "tennis," and imagine a Colin Firth voice-over—replete with layers of deep and deeply inhibited emotion...
"It’s not easy to become a football fan, it takes years. But
if you put in the hours, you’re welcome without question into a new family—except
in this family, you care about the same people and hope for the same things.
What’s childish about that?"
Hits in a sentimental place, doesn't it? Which reminds me... I just now recalled that the Oscars are tomorrow! Does anyone watch? I've probably suffered/winced/watery-smiled through it more years than not. (For the record, I miss Billy Crystal. And Garry Shandling.) Last year all the women seemed to be wearing big emeralds, or was that 2010? It's hard to keep track of these important facts. One thing I do know is thatI'm irritated that they now nominate every movie made in the history of time for best picture. Someone should submit a YouTube montage of Rafa. I can't think why he hasn't won one yet.
So, let the Academy take note, here's my Rafa Oscar Nomination. It's a French film. (Perhaps also a nod to Midnight in Paris?) The French mightn't know how to fully appreciate Rafa, but they sure know how to chose a good score:
We all know I’m a fan of Rafael Nadal, but what you might not know is that I’ve recently become
something of a Ryan Harrison fanas well. It’s not at all clear whether Ryan
Harrison’s tennis will ever scale the heights of the ATP rankings. It took him
three sets to beat Jack Sock in his first round match in Memphis this week, and
he’s by no means guaranteed to make it through Olivier Rochus in the next round
(he came from 1-3 down in the third to beat Ollie at the SAP). I’m primed to be
interested in Harrison’s tennis because he’s an American “youngster,” and I do
like his variety, his movement and his (much-discussed-by-PMac) second serve.
But there’s also something more. Ever since I saw him at Indian Wells last
year, I’ve been drawn to something ineffable about Ryan. Call it courage, or
chutzpah, or unsubtle fire. There’s something Channing-Tatum-esque in his
physicality as well as something decidedly Manning-Bros in his single-minded
dedication to sport. (I like his run-on-paragraphs of technical tennis talk.)
I’m not sure whether this is a permanent affliction, if it
will soon pass, or even precisely how it started, but I think I can date the awareness of my preference to Indian Wells in 2011. I watched Harrison defeat Raonic on television before I drove downstate and was impressed in person. (More with the game than the seething temper, but we Americans are used to it.) After his win over Milos, Harrison
took the court against Roger Federer, and he was scared stiff. Not only does live
tennis make it easier to read spins, strokes and movement, it’s also much easier to
feel emotion as it radiates from the players. What you lack in HD you gain in physical proximity to human experience.
Ryan’s side of the court
practically vibrated with anxiety, but I’ve never forgotten the way he stood
his ground under the pressing weight of his very public fear. In the first few games, Harrison was so weak in the knees that he could barely serve a
tennis ball over the net. I could relate to his fear, and I admired his sheer
determination not to let it flood mind and body. Federer won the first set
easily, but Ryan forced a breaker in the second. There was never a doubt that
Roger would win the match, but I found myself moved by Ryan nonetheless. I do believe I cheered. (Isn’t it interesting how often tennis players
gain their most devoted fans by losing
But regardless of its roots, my eager support of Ryan “Atwood-Chino-RyRy”
Harrison was made awkwardly apparent to me during an exchange with a fellow
tennis fan—a man perhaps ten or fifteen years my senior. Remember I mentioned that I knew a guy who knew a guy with some SAP semifinal tickets?
Well, I was maybe exaggerating the number of “guys” for the sake of some
wordplay, but I did buy my semifinal tickets from a man who was selling his
extras on Craigslist. Once I found out that I wouldn’t get to see Ryan play on
Friday night (darn Gael and his spaghetti legs!), I decided I’d go back on Saturday to see his semifinal against
Milos “Rao Rao” Raonic—a matchup that promised to be better than Ryan’s victory
over Dimitar “the skipping Scimitar”, anyway.
From a blogging perspective, going to watch live tennis really puts one behind the eight-ball. There are so many tennisy things I’ve been missing on account of watching whole entire tennis matches. People have been winning and losing in all manner of places that aren’t San Jose, California. Also, many articles about the winning and losing have been written. Very, very important things have happened! For example, Rog is wearing black and red—a lethal sartorial combination that Fed somehow manages to pull-off even better than Novak. The Twitter feed continues to masticate and spit out valuable tidbits. For example, Twitta tells us that Serena Williams does not like farts or tacos made of worms. Also she gets accused of stealing bobby pins and faking injuries. (And if this is what I’ve read, I can only imagine all that I’ve missed!)
Case-in-point: While I was busy with my SAP-prep (one needs to properly prepare for live tennis-viewing: vocal-warm-ups, calisthenics, camera-practice & such) I received an email that contained some kind words about my recent post on the nature of fandom. My gracious correspondent suggested that the post served as a nice counterpoint to Pete Bodo’s “Vamos” post. Not having read Bodo’s piece, I didn't know precisely what I'd counterbalanced—but I could hazard a guess—and I groaned inwardly. Somehow, Pete Bodo and I are rarely on the same cyber-page. But curiosity killed the cat (or at least got her dander up) and I’ve just now read all about the Vamos Syndrome. Funny, I don’t remember seeing the “VS” in the Diagnositic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, Volume IV, Text Revision (DSM IV TR). Does it have an ICD-10 code?
I realize the piece was meant to be humorous, and in some ways it was. But it didn’t feel like good-natured ribbing to me. Perhaps the venomous under/overtone was fueled by Bodo’s frustration with the poor quality of Sports Illustrated's Rafa/Bar photos, but somehow I doubt it. Sigh. Hrmph. Alas and alack. The Vamos Syndrome post espouses exactly the kind disparaging, shaming attitude that I’ve been soapboxing against for months. (Please forgive the verberization, but I needed a little something extra.) Why is gushing over a stat sheet so much more virtuous than adoring a smile, or admiring the depth of expression in a fine pair of eyes, or the strength of a body? Regardless of how the attraction manifests, it’s basically comes down to finding aspects of oneself in the prowess of an Other. Far more important than what we’re drawn to is how the attraction is held in mind (and heart).
Not only did reading the VS post make me steamed, it completely distracted me from the recap of the Milos/Ryan semifinal that I’d been intending to write this morning.
Thusly and therefore, I’m changing tack. I'll post a quick recap of the match now, but I feel compelled to give more writing time to thoughts & feelings inspired by my bad case of VS. You all know what happened at the SAP anyway, right? Milos played better than Ryan and won: game, set, match, tournament, Raonic.
Here’s the match recap in three (relatively) flourish-free paragraphs:
Both men served very well, but Milos served extremely very well. Both men hit fantastic forehands, but Milos’s serve put pressure on every single one of Ryan’s shots. Harrison has the ability to get fancy with the forehand (good placement, good spin & power, high margins) but it seemed like he was rushing things a tad when he had the opportunity to close out points. Milos did not rush. The backhand and the return-of-serve are relative weaknesses for both. Ryan can also struggle with shot-selection, but there wasn’t much evidence of that in this match—probably because most of the rallies were over before point-construction became much of a factor. Moreover, on the fast indoor surface at the SAP Open, Ryan’s superior foot speed and net skills didn’t garner him any advantage over the 6’5” Raonic.
This match had few twists and turns, it was easy to discern the moment when Ryan’s spirit suffered the killing-blow. Milos played an excellent first-set breaker and came out confident and relaxed in the second set, but despite losing the first set, Ryan was still ready to fight. Harrison earned a break point on Raonic’s serve, but Milos hit 1,430 mph serve (or was it 1,490 mph?) to save break point and then closed out the game with more unreturnables & untouchables. Milos swung ever more freely as the match progressed, while Ryan’s game became a touch more error-prone as he got more frustrated— but still, he didn’t crack. Harrison didn’t externalize control on blame it all on Milos’s “non-tennis” like Fernando Verdasco did in the 2011 final. No racquets were thrown or broken, and so far as I can tell, he was polite to the ball kids. Harrison kept his head, even if he couldn’t quite keep his faith.
Obviously, I was rooting for Ryan, and as much as I would have liked to see him win, I wasn’t disappointed by his performance. Both men were serious, quiet and well-behaved on court. There was too much cobra-strike tennis (on both Milos’ and Ryan’s service games) for the crowd to get very involved. But while the atmosphere fell short of scintillating, the quality was there from both players.
All in all, it was a straightforward spectating experience: Lots to admire and little to gush over— unless you’ve got a serious need for serve speed. Milos came away with the win 7-6, 6-2.
Here’s another take on the match from Bruce Jenkins: His post also provides a nice, succinct accounting of the other members of Team USA who made an appearance at the SAP. (I promise that I read this post after writing my account of the match. It would seem that I agree with Mr. Jenkins more often than Mr. Bodo.)
So there, that’s the match. I'll be back soon with more vamosy stuff...
On Friday night I went down to San Jose for the SAP quarterfinals with a close
friend—also a therapist, let’s call her M—she and I used to play
Saturday doubles together before the pace of life accelerated beyond our
ability to schedule a meeting time when four entire people were free for two
entire hours. M is nearly six feet tall, has a perfect
complexion, a regal nose, and soulful eyes. Being a native of the southwestern part of the United States, she manages to convey multiple levels of meaning with the words “dude” and “man”—she also serves as hard as Rafa. But she
doesn’t watch much tennis on TV.
M occasionally tunes in for the slams, so
she's familiar with the leading cast of characters, isn't intimate with the supporting cast. She and I watch the Australian Open final
together in 2011 and I thought she was going to climb through the television
set to strangle Andy Murray. Even now, when I bring up men’s tennis she still tends to exclaim, “Andy Murray, dude. Man. What is up with him??”
It’s hard to convey how much oomph she packs into those
simple words. It’s all about tone with M, which maybe has something to do with being raised in a land of horse farms. Emotional experience is so physical in horsey cultures. Consider the text I received from
her during the 2009 Wimbledon final: “Are you watching this? Dude. I’m standing
on my couch.”
Dude, indeed. I knew exactly what she meant. Watching Andy and Roger go 14-16 in
the fifth required a little something extra. It required couch-standing.
Needless to say, she’s super-fun to bring to sporting
events. She cheers and woops. She eats garlic fries and goes airborne to show
her love of a good smash. In short, she becomes deeply involved with
the game at hand. On the way down to San Jose I filled her in on the players
we were about to see. Since I didn’t actually know too much about Steve Darcis (from Leige!) or Denis Istomin (coached by his mother!), I quickly segued to Rafa. Naturally. She described her experience of Rafa thusly:
“Rafa is just a force. He’s a force. He’s
to be reckoned with. Dude, he’s like my dissertation. You know what I mean?”
I did. I knew exactly what she meant.
While the SAP Open didn't offer much Rafa-esque passion, or a dissertating level of depth, it was great to watch live tennis with a kindred spirit.
Post Script: I know I promised Milos and Ryan next, and they're coming, really. But those of you who know me know... I do digress. Hopefully I'll get to writing about their match before they play each other again in Memphis, which by my calculations could be the middle of this week. Harrison has to make it through Sock and then either Alex Bogo or Ollie Rochus (again!). Raonic needs to get through Gulbis (hi, Ernie!) and then Stakhovsky or Kendrick. Unless Ernie promises to try his hardest the whole entire time he's in Memphis, I'll be rooting for a Milos/Ryan rematch.
Let’s face it: the Indoor Tennis Atmosphere can depress one’s mood. The artificial lighting
is drearily fluorescent and gives the players’ skin an unhealthy, sallow cast. The
fluorescents also have a way of illuminating the trash on
the ground equally as much the ball on the court. Empty seats look grungy and uninviting. It’s
almost always chilly, but the air isn’t fresh. And there’s something undeniably pitiful about
buckets of chrysanthemums that are tasked with being cheerily bright while
being deprived of all sources of natural light.
Welcome to the SAP Open. The arena air might have been “thin,”
as one commentator said, but it was also heavy. I played a few USTA indoor
events back in the day, so I know a tiny bit about what indoor competition
feels like (great for my pancake serve, terrible for my aesthetic sensibility!). While
at the SAP Open I found myself thinking that indoor Challenger and Futures
tournaments must sometimes feel thoroughly disheartening—so much bad lighting and
so much good sport gone unappreciated. Even at this ATP 250, after Roddick lost
to Istomin, the HP Pavilion— which wasn’t full to during Andy’s match—
virtually emptied itself of spectators. It got cold and shivery in the stands.
The harsh lighting was grim. Empty mini-vodka bottles were scattered underneath
the chairs in front of us. Where had the vodka-fueled spectators driven off
to? Perhaps they went to
drown their Andy-sorrows in Cosmos; or maybe they just went home to sleep off
As Julien Benneteau and Steve Darcis took the court, I found
myself unexpectedly thinking about the popularity of tennis as a bet-at-home
sport. Like horse-races and boxing matches, there were thousands of people
invested in the defeat of one or the other of the men in front of me. The money would
matter; but the tennis itself would go unnoticed. As for the players
themselves, this was just another match. Benneteau and Darcis played well, and
with variety, but the needle on the passion-meter didn’t move much. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Australia anymore.Or Indian Wells. Or any town
in which tennis is a popular sport. My seat, directly behind the baseline, gave
me a clear view of the half-naked pates of the Frenchman and the Belgian, which
only added to the distressing sense that tennis, in America, is past its prime.
Both men are nearing tennis old-age. Julien is 30 (he’s entered the dreaded
decade) and although Steve Darcis is only 27, it’s not going out on much of
limb to say that his best years on the tour are behind him.
Between the dreary lightening, the cold air, and the
half-empty stadium, I couldn’t help but wonder if this particular tournament
might not be appreciated much more somewhere else in the world—perhaps America
has forsaken the sport for good? Of my acquaintance, there are few people who
know the rules of tennis, let alone are aware that this country hosts many
tournaments other than the US Open and the March Masters. Who needs tennis tournaments when
we’ve got "America's Top Chef: Making Strange Food out of Non-Food Products" on TV every night?
As I mentioned previously, I’ve been very much looking
forward to seeing The Roddick Serve. Andy’s SAP Open quarterfinal match against
Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan (coached by his mother!) provided me with my first opportunity.
The Denis Serve (not too shabby either).
Even though Andy was hampered
by the ankle injury he sustained in his previous match, the serve was only slightly less impressive. His first serve percentage was a mere 54% in the first set and he
won only 25% of his second serve points, but the True Serve shone through just
often enough to bedazzle. I still remember the first time I really watched Andy Roddick serve tennis balls.
It was in 2009, just when I returned to tennis-viewing after a decade-long hiatus. I
remember doing a double-take when I saw Andy go up for the ball—I thought to myself: the game has changed a lot if that’s what serving looks like now!
I quickly learned that while Andy has expanded the possibilities of what a service
motion can be, his is still a rare bird.
Today, as I watched Milos Raonic rain down 140mph bullets
in the general direction of Ryan Harrison, it hit me why Andy’s serve has such
a special place in my heart: it’s the pause.
I’m generally not a fan of big serving, and Milos is no exception. I admire his
skill and his easy motion, but it’s all over too fast. My heart doesn’t go boom. Raonic, Isner, Querry, Anderson… the easiest, most accomplished service motions
are so smooth that they’re practically unnoticeable. But Andy Roddick’s has
that pause. His unique stance aside, Roddick's knee-bend takes a
fraction longer (perhaps because he uses so much back and torque?) and allows
for a space for tension to build. Where
will it go? How hard, how fast? Will this initiating battle-cry come with some kick up the T?The hang fire in Andy’s service
motion adds suspense and anticipation—and I’ll miss it when he retires.
Unfortunately, I thought more about Andy’s
eventual/impending retirement than I did about his serve during his SAP quarterfinal loss. While Roddick’s serve was mostly intact, his groundstrokes were seriously
ailing. Compared to Denis, there was virtually no pace on either wing—Roddick’s timing was off and his bodyweight often seemed to be pulling
backward as he himself tried to push forward. I’ve heard from other accounts
that it’s surprising to watch Andy in person because he doesn’t hit as hard as
one would expect off the ground. But even so, Friday night’s performance must have been severely limited by his bum ankle—the second injury in the same
number of months.
Our seats were right behind the baseline, so I had a clear
view of Andy as he walked to the backcourt after a change of ends. I can’t
remember if it was between sets, or after the first changeover in the second,
but Andy was walking toward us, head down, towel flung over his shoulder, when
he suddenly lifted his face and screamed, “Fight!”
The forceful exclamation cut to the quick. Along with an injection of hope and motivation, I felt a painful sense of futility. Roddick hasn’t been injury or illness free for a
significant stretch of time in, what, nearly two years? I heard tell that
Brooklyn Decker hinted/leaked/accidentally disclosed that her husband would
move into full time sports commentary in two years— when he’s finished with
tennis. On Friday night, I found myself wondering whether Andy would last
another two years on the tour.
Watching Roddick I had the sense that
the competitive energy still flows like water, but that all avenues are really, truly no longer open. The sky is limited. When
his tennis career ends, Andy will move into another phase of his life.
Phase-two might well be more satisfying and gratifying than phase-one—but the
coveted Wimbledon title, or a second slam of any kind, will probably elude him. Of
course, it’s highly unlikely that Denis Istomin will ever win a slam or a
single one of Andy’s six Masters Shields, but under the grim fluorescent lighting in
San Jose's “Shark Tank,” it was Andy’s experience that mattered to me.
I'm a believer in the trite saying that tells us it’s
better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
It’s better, but it’s often harder.
Ahem, ah, well,... before I get too maudlin, let me take a moment to tell you that in the next SAP batch I'll have the antidote for love-lost: the power of youth! AKA: The Milos Storm and my new favorite kid in town, Ryan Harrison.
And in case you're still feeling overcome by the Andy-Roddick-Experience and the ephemeral nature of love & life, here are some photos I found on my camera from usage #1. Can you believe that sunlight can actually glow this gold?
So much to say, so much to say! This is going to take a few
posts, folks. First there are feelings to be described: A dreary numbness;
mourning & melancholia; loneliness; that sensation of vague oppression that’s
inextricably linked to bad fluorescent lighting; respect; regret; excitement; camaraderie;
and the pure delight of watching the game well played.
Then there are photos to sort through. Not only was this SAP
Open my first chance ever to see Andy Roddick play live, it was also my first
tennis tournament with my fancy-fangled DSLRWX5.3.b.Canon.Lexus.IMAGEisEVERYTHING
digital camera w/telephoto lens. The camera was given to me as a gift two years
ago. This is the second time I’ve ever used it.
I know, it’s sinful: Annual camera usage = 1/365 days. For
all I know the camera has already expired like so much tech-dairy. It’s
probably gone from “new” to “old news,” to “ancient as a C-colon-backslash prompt,”
(When is DOS going to go retro-cool?)
while gathering dust in my closet. But my doctor diagnosed me with a severe
technology aversion some years ago, and I’ve tried to do my best to take care
of myself ever since. I avoid gizmos, gadgets, and ipads like the pox. I mix my cookie-dough
by hand. And I make it a point to sleep in a hermetically sealed, technology-free,
writer’s-egg. (Don’t worry, while this might be borderline unethical blogger behavior,
it is not actually illegal.)
But I do try to
keep up. Did you happen to notice that I tweeted today? Three tweetledees and
one tweetldum. I even got retweetled, which made me feel quite special and very
brave. Brave enough, even, to take actual photographs with my Prius
hydrogen-cell camera. Lots and lots of pictures. Yes, apparently taking
photographs with a digital camera is quite a bit of fun and one can easily go snap-happy.
If the photos had a tangible form, the pile of prints would tower over my stack
of unread New Yorkers, so it’s going to
take me a bit of time to sort and edit— I ought to, at the very least, separate the photographs of tennis players from
the photographs of what appear to be scurrying, brightly hued, blurry beetles.
But this is all good practice for Indian Wells, right? At first,
when I downloaded all the pictures of colorful beetles onto my computer, I
wondered, why? Why post my amateur
efforts when I can just skip over to Daylife or Zimbio and click on the genuine
article? Then I decided, I’ll post them for the same reason that I write this
blog—for the same reason I’m determined to give the tweetledee the old college
try (at least during matches)—for the camaraderie. I want to take you all to
Indian Wells with me. I can throw adjectives and descriptive adverbs around all
afternoon, but I’d like to learn to point & shoot so I can share a fuller
version of my experience. I like watching
tennis with you all.
Anyway, I was pleased to see that a few of my photos
captured something of my SAP Open P.O.V. The above photo of Andy Roddick,
for example. How often have we seen him make that defensive-cum-arrogant hat
adjustment? I’ve always found that particular Andy-affectation oddly appealing
and I was happy to see it in person. Good thing, because in general, Andy’s
loss to Denis Istomin hit me like a punch in the gut while simultaneously overcoming my
senses with a dull seeping ache...
SAP Open photos, quarterfinal reflections, traffic jams, the trouble with orange shirts, the trouble with injured ankles, the trouble with arena lighting, the sassy pleasures of drop shot warfare & the joys of watching tennis with a friend who plays the sport with aplomb but rarely watches it, and therefore finds your wealth of extraneous tennisy knowledge super impressive and actually interesting. Imagine that.
A Question for Later (but not too much later): Do I drag me, myself and my compact car all the way back to San Jose in a few hours to watch Ryan Harrison and Milos Raonic play their semifinal match?
In the comments of my post about the Rafael/Refaeli photos there was some discussion of the virtues and evils of sexual objectification, as well as the virtues of being good (or bad) at striking a sexy pose. In response to all the thought-provoking commentary, I promised you all a post about the finer psychological points of attraction. But before I sort-of deliver on that promise, I want to take a moment to tell anyone who doesn’t already know that our witty Querido Rafa (aka Katrina) hit the big time this week. If you’ve seen her in the comments here or read her blog, you know she’s a tennis-psychic, Rafa’s best remote publicist, and an excellent, honest and completely biased humorist. Steve Tignor invited her to a guest-blog conversation on Concrete Elbow about the subtle (and occasionally excessive) art of being a Rafael Nadal fan. You can read both CE posts here and here. That Steve elected to begin his series on fandom with Rafa and on St. Valentine’s Day, makes me think that he's either been struck by one of Cupid's Rafa-arrows, or that he’s noticed a particular tendency of Rafa fans to love the “man” as much, or even more, than the tennis game.
This is not to say that fans of other players don’t love their man, or woman, as much as the game at hand—but I can’t help but notice that Rafa has particular subset of fan-base that is more powerfully fueled by female adoration. No other tennis player has an entire brigadeof love, for example! The only other player who comes close to garnering a similar “fan-girl” devotion is… Novak. In many ways, Djokovic and Nadal are vastly different personalities, but both are accomplished (for lack of a better word) flirts. In my opinion, Rafa’s brand of flirtation has more genuine sweetness than Novak’s—and Rafa appears to be less aware of using his powers for his own gain — but of course I’d say that, I’m a Rafa fan. When Rafael was defeating Novak on a regular basis, I had plenty of space in my soul to find Nole charming and clever. Seven straight Rafa-defeats have somewhat curdled the charm, yet I’m still able to see that Novak, like Rafa, is an attractive and seductive character. Sure, their styles are different, but the presence and mannerisms of both men exude the promise of something… “more.” Something a little bit like, well, love.
As I begin this post Andy Roddick is busy almost losing to
Denis Kudla in San Jose. Mr. Roddick is currently down a break in the third. Does Andy
not understand that I would like to see him play a tennis match before he
retires? He lost minutes before I arrived at IW last year. Mere minutes! I’m American: I’ve been to a baseball game (the A’s,
they lost); I’ve been to Superbowl parties and eaten food served in containers
made out of bread; but I’ve never seen The Andy Roddick Serve in-person. People
are starting to wonder.
And now I’m
starting to wonder if I’m going to leave work early on Friday to drive all the
way to San Jose to watch not-Andy versus not-Sam? It’s looking that way. Well,
if I get lucky I’ll also see RyRy versus Gael. No small consolation, really,
because I think that matchup has the potential to be one of the best of the
tournament—at the very least there will be lots of speedy zipping and zapping around
the court. So here’s hoping Harrison makes it through fellow US-of-A-er, Robby
Ginepri, and Monfils is able to fend off Dimitar Kutrovsky of Bulgaria.
Dimitar! What a fabulous tennis name, it calls to mind violent and slashing
weaponry. I hope he has a blade-like forehand, but not so razor-sharp that it
gives spaghetti-legs any serious trouble.
So yeah, that’s my SAP Open coverage for this week. In other
tennis news: In Doha: JJ lost to
Shahar Peer, Christina McHale defeated Shuai Peng in three sets, and Sam Stosur
got some of her own back against Sorona Cristea, (6-4, 7-6). In Rotterdam: Nicolas Mahut won more games against Roger in two
sets (8), than he got against Novak in three (-12)— but he still lost, Baggy
beat Bachy, and DelPo needed three sets to defeat Michael Llorda (somehow I
suspect this match was a fun one, talk about contrasting styles!)… and my plan
worked. I decided to blog on through Andy’s loss to Denis Kudla, and now it
turns out he won (6-7, 7-6, 6-4). Good news!...
…and it’s all terrible again. Just checked the twitta feed to
see about tomorrow’s schedule and Gael is out of the SAP on account of his spaghetti legs
(MRI needed on the knees) and Andy Roddick won his match on a sprained ankle? Well,
Denis Istomin is an interesting player, right? And Michael Russell is dogged. He's not quite up to David's level of doggedness, but a terrier all the same. Also, I suppose there’s always Milos.
Ah, February. The fun month.
Post-script: For those of you awaiting my post on the finer points of objectification & identification: my apologies. I really should learn not to promise posts by a certain date in time, because it practically guarantees that I won't deliver. So... I shan't be writing anything at all about half-naked photos of Nadal tomorrow morning. Nope.
Have you seen Bar & da boys? I was just directed to the Bar Refaeli/Rafael Nadal photographs for Sports Illustrated’s much-hyped, much-anticipated
(and always a little strange) Swimsuit Edition, and I must acknowledge that I
have “feelings” about this shoot. More feelings than I had about the barista
pulling a terrible shot of espresso for my this-is-Tuesday-it-must-be-an-Americano-morning.
More feelings, even, than I had about the life-sized and nefarious Rafa-puppet
(fancy that!). Enough “feelings” to need to air them in a mid-day, mid-week,
lunch-break blog post. So here goes:
All feminist manifestos aside, I wish Rafa hadn’t agreed to
lend his body to this particular venture.
Well, the week's end has ended and your friendly tennis blogger didn't see a single tennis match. However, she did get to go outside and run up various hills and is thus feeling much restored and fully prepared for a star-studded SAP OPEN this week. Yes, you're right, she's completely ignoring the fact that all name-brand action will be elsewhere, and is instead focusing all her energy on sending positive game-winning vibes in the general direction of Ryan Harrison. Let's go, Chino, all the way to the Super Bowl!
Anyway, seeing as how I didn't get to see any tennis, it's a good thing that someone thought to ask Rafael Nadal what he thought about the Davis Cup action this weekend. (That is what they were asking him about, isn't it?)
The Knicks win basketball games. Access to comprehensive healthcare is further limited for American women. JJ had her purse stolen in Paris and she tweeted about it, so at least we know they didn't get her iphone. Rafa is forced to point out the obvious: bad puppets don't get better, ever. It rains. There’s traffic. Cal Trans gets the zany idea that it’ll be fun to close the Bay
Bridge for four straight days. Your friendly blogger feels a little less
friendly. She goes and runs up a hill (because, oddly, this usually makes her
feel better) but she steps in a mud puddle on the way down. Arantxa Sanchez
Vicario’s parents spend 60 million of her dollars. (On second thought, muddy shoes really aren’t so
bad.) And John Isner upsets The Mighty Federated Express.
First Bjorn Borg loses his face and then Roger loses to Isner? What is February coming to?
Apparently, Isner defeated Roger Federer in four sets during the Suisse-US Davis Cup tie (in Switzerland, ON CLAY) by engaging TMF in long rallies. Really? John out-gunned Roger off the ground? Are we sure those “long rallies” weren’t actually “humunga-cowabunga
serves followed-up by rather average forehands?” Well, as much as I’m happy for the U.S. team,
I’m not pleased with this result and hope it doesn’t portend or
signify anything larger than itself. In other words, I’m not ready for Roger to
go by the wayside. And I don’t want tennis to go the way of the giants. Maybe
the Knicks would be interested in adding John to the roster too? Jeremy is rather hogging the spotlight.
Isner beat Fed to send the U.S. up 2-0 after Mardy defeated Stan 9-7 in the fifth. (Apparently, Stan failed to do enough preparatory hot tubbing.)
One thing's for sure, the American DC Captain must be feeling pretty darned clever right about now. I'm sure it was his scheme all along for Mardy to take the first point off Stan and then for John to... nah. Anyway, I don't know about you, but ever since I read Agassi's Open I can't look at Jim Courier without thinking about him drumming, drumming, drumming—boom ba da boom boom— deep into the Bollettieri night— as if he were on some endless, tennisistic shamanic journey. Boom ba da boom... can't you just see it?
Part of the problem for the Suisse DC team is that they're not fully feeling the tennis spirit on account of accidentally wearing their band camp costumes:
Good things that happened today: A friend of mine got us great seats to the SAP Open quarters; the Chili Pepper joined the Twitter; Robin “the Spaniard” Soderling temporarily transformed my blog into a hotbed of film discussion; Venus Williams entered a tennis tournament;this photo was posted (My best guess? Feli is trying to persuade Rafa that he'd look totally artsy-hot in a beret. Uncle T is being a good pedagogue and giving Rafa space to make his own grown-up decision, but Yogi Toni knows all. Real men wear Iberostar.);Robert Kendrick got to play tennis again after an eight month ban for a jet lag pill; and someone gave me a chocolate bar.
Not so good things that happened: Just about everything else.
Also the Contador thing continues. I’m not even a backseat-driver-armchair-expert on doping, so I won’t trouble you with my uninformed opinion. I’ll just say that from Barry Bonds to Lance to Marion Jones, I find it hard to muster much outrage. Most days, PED-enhanced athletes just seem like damaged products of a damaged system to me (the human system, not just the system of the sports world). Some days I think it might be easier just to let sleeping heroes lie. And on all days, I see no reason for bringing Rafa's biceps into the fray. Give the people the gods they want (or give better tests), and let Lance and Alberto fight for their souls in the fifth circle of Dante’s purgatory:
O Avarice, my house is now your captive: it traffics in the flesh of its own children what more is left for you to do to us?
What indeed? Clearly, Alberto and I have had a bad day. But never fear, good cheer is near! Oddly enough, it comes in the form of the wiry-whiskered Stanislas Wawrinka…
Because I got home from work too late to write anything substantive today; because I’d somehow never seen this photo before; because it’s February; because Robin is going to need all his battle armor if he’s gonna go-for-three and slay the Djoker at Roland Garros; just because…
After a weekend of hiking in Northern California, I think I’ve finally purged the Australian Open from my system. Who cares if Novak has a big ‘ol trophy when I’ve got fog-cloaked Redwood forests, secluded beach trails, and sunny hillsides to wander in? Right? There’s something about standing in the midst of trees so old they were there to see who won the Aussie Open during the Jurassic Period —and so tall that they regularly draw fire from Zeus— that puts watching-someone-else-lose-a-tennis-match into true perspective.
My favorite line ever about hiking comes from Sex & the City (really, it does): Carrie goes camping with Aiden and calls Samantha to tell her that she’s just discovered that “hiking is really just walking in comfortable shoes!” So, not only did I see wonders of the natural world this weekend, I got to do it in comfortable shoes. Perfect. I did not, however, see any tennis matches, so it was nice to return to the news today and learn...
It really feels over now. Yesterday, as I read yet another moving
about Djokovic defeating Nadal while Nadal downed his demons, I realized that I
wasn’t particularly… moved. It was no fault of the article at hand; it’s a lovely piece, packed with passages I'd endorse, such as this one: “We don’t
choose our sports teams, or our athletes. They choose us. We project
so many of our complexes, hopes and dreams onto them.” Absolutely.
Professional athletes play host to parts of
ourselves—positive and negative— that we have yet to fully live. Whether your
hopes were sliced on the razor’s edge of Nadal’s BHDTL in the fifth,
or went soaring with Novak's victory (not likely, on this blog), you had an experience of
your own deep desires in Oz—desires that have more to do with a fully lived
life, than they do with tennis. Maybe, like me, you were also confronted with
your disowned and shadowy arrogance—your sly cunning and every-man-for-himself viciousness—as you struggled to stomach Novak’s display of machismo in his moment of
triumph. Early this week the after-image of the Happy Slam burned bright in my
mind’s eye. Significant parts of me—call them projections, dreams, or even complexes— remained down-under, still reeling and
spiraling with the emotional chaos of it all.
The Australian Open is nicknamed the Oz Open simply because
of the similarity of the words “Aus” and “Oz,” but I always found it to be a
fitting appellation for other reasons. First, it’s the dead of winter in the
United States, and the very idea of
it being summer somewhere else is a bit like getting a kiss on the cheek from Glinda the Good Witch. Second, it marks the beginning of the long journey home for both tours. And third, slams have a remarkable power to transport tennis fans to parallel, magic
lands. At a two-weeks-long slam, the road to the final is a winding one. It’s dotted with vivid and
colorful characters, subplots and distractions, and all manner of existential
tests and trials on the way to the battle-to-end-all-battles that waits at the heart of the story.
When I was a child, The Wizard of Oz series of books by L. Frank Baum were some of my most treasured novels. Did
you know that there are fourteen of them? Many people only know about the first, which Pink Floyd made into a famous movie starring Judy Garland and some small people. As a kid, I couldn’t have been happier to discover that my journey
didn’t have to come to an end with Dorothy’s first return to drab Kansas. She went
back to Oz over and over again, and so too could I! When I finished the fourteenth
and final Oz story (one for each day of a slam?), I cried giant, dolloped tears of a child bereft. The stories ended happily, yet closing the book felt like closing down a place inside myself—a place supersaturated with possibilities and adventures. My world was ending, the sky was falling, the Emerald City was fading from view, and I couldn’t imagine how I
would survive the return to the full-on mundanity of the third grade. (Little did I know that the third grade was a day at the beach compared to the sixth. Ah, the pleasures of youth.)
My mother, who was always made anxious by my tears, worked a
seeming miracle and unearthed yet more
Oz books. It turned out that an author named Ruth Plumly Thompson
had continued Baum’s series after his death, and had written almost two-dozen additional
books. I was in seventh-heaven—until I started reading. Plumly Thompson’s Oz
was nothing like the “real” thing. Not only was the land of Oz distorted and
all the wrong colors, but Thompson had taken away my heroes, or rather, my heroines.
One of the things that was so special about Baum’s Oz is the fact that the
girls got to save the day—Dorothy and the Princess Ozma reigned supreme—and I reveled in my identification with their ruling powers. Unfortunately, Thompson put a boy back in the driver’s
seat and sent Dorothy along for the ride in the sidecar. In a way, visiting Thompson’s
Oz was almost worse than letting myself mourn the loss of my Oz: Her version ran roughshod all over my memory-vision.
This is how I started to feel while reading all the post-Australian
Open articles. It’s not that the musings on the final, the tournament and the “meaning
of it all” aren’t informative or interesting. Some of the write-ups and articles are even beautiful.
They’re just not my Oz. Not my heroes. My Oz ended,
and as much as I hate endings, I have to let it go. Part of me can’t believe I
was ever so caught up in the experience in the first place. But for two weeks it was my nocturnal secret, much like reading novels with a flashlight long past my bedtime. In the cozy darkness the Australian Open ceased to be a sporting event, and became instead a place, a fantasy-world inhabited by a select cast of characters—namely, a collection of the world's finest tennis players, all of you, and Brad Gilbert.
Last Sunday, for nearly six hours, I virtually becameRafael Nadal—or should I say that
in my internal world, Rafa Nadal became me. While I’m happy for all the sportswriters
out there to keep pondering on the nature of the match and the men behind it—“Mr.
Manifest Desitny vs. the Self-Made Man”—I need to take a moment and acknowledge
that I’m back in Kansas. It’s February. And there’s no place like home.
So... I’m going to take a long-weekend from blogging, friends.
I’ll be around in case anyone wants to chat more things-Rafa or post-AO-symptoms,
but I need to rest my weary fingers and allow for a the time and space to return fully to my own body. But I shall return next week with a fresh
pair of eyes and some February fun! In these parts, February is all about THE SAP. Superbowl? Shmuperbowl. In the Northern Golden State we're all waiting for the Sam Querry/Bernard Tomic redux. Yes, indeed. This here is indoor hardcourt country, folks... Nothing at at all to do with the Giants beating the Niners in the playoffs, nothing at all. (#GoEliBTW)
This Independent article was written by a sportswriter I hadn't read before, Musa Okwonga. Apparently he’s primarily a football (soccer) writer and
has a book out called, A Cultured Left Foot. Great title. I tend to hope against my better understanding for good sports books, so maybe I’ll give this one a try.
the same way WWI was “the war to end all wars.”