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Nadal to Retire in 2012

November 28th, 2011 2 comments

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You read it here first:

Rafa Nadal, the greatest clay court tennis player in history — and one of the greatest ever, period — will retire from tennis sometime during 2012.

Here’s what he said, just today, in discussing his preparation for Davis Cup (which at this point seems like an experiment on the players’ bodies, a torturous coda to a season that will never end):

“[M]ore than a lack of passion, it is a weariness from many years of playing at this level, week after week.”

Just tired because it’s the end of the year? No. Here’s what he said earlier this year, right in the middle of the French Open, which he’d then won five times:

“It’s my ninth year on the tour, and its completely the same feeling every year. You don’t have the chance to stop, never. I think for that situation we have a shorter career. So having a different model of ranking, of competition, I think we can have longer career, no? I [am] almost 25, but seems like I am playing for 100 years here on the tour. I didn’t spend a weekend at home since the week of Davis Cup before Indian Wells. That’s too much. Tennis is a very demanding sport mentally and physically. I won Roland Garros five times, but next Monday I am practicing on Queen’s. So that’s makes the career shorter for everybody.”

“We have four Grand Slams, we have nine Masters 1000, and the year is 12 months. I know that they’re gonna reduce two week but, seriously, is not enough. [We are not ] gonna have these changes for my generation, but hopefully for the next generations to have a better sports life. Because I think you need two months, two months and a half of rest at the end of the season. You have to practice. I never able to practice and to try to improve the things during the off-season, and that’s something I think terrible. Sometimes it’s like work. And, in my opinion, tennis is not work. It’s passion.”

Does this sound like someone who’s going to be around for long?

Borg, another player who had prodigious success at an early age, walked away at age 26 when he lost his single-minded focus, and, coincidentally, when he could no longer defeat John McEnroe. Now Nadal, age 25, has been thoroughly thrashed by Novak Djokovic all year (0-6, all in finals) and just got hammered at the WTF (World Tour Finals; get your mind out of the gutter) — 6-3, 6-0 — by that other guy in the top three. Federer was as up, and relentless, as Nadal was down, and despondent. With the possible exception of Serena Williams (who has taken some long breaks from the tour), I’ve never seen anyone so hard-working or passionate about tennis as Nadal. And that can’t last forever.

Rafa’s light is blinking red. He’ll be gone within a year. It’s easy to blame the length of the season (let’s!), but I just think that his style of play isn’t suited to a long career. I’m hope I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am.



How Incoherence Has Ruined Articles About Women’s Tennis

August 26th, 2010 2 comments

This just-published preview from Sunday’s NY Times Magazine is entitled “How Power Has Transformed Women’s Tennis.”

Based on its length, I’d guess that it’s the cover story. That’s potentially good, as the Times is one of the few major media outlets to give tennis the coverage it needs (and deserves). They also ran a long-form piece on Nadal in the Magazine a year or so ago, and featured Elena Dementieva — of all people — on the cover of their since-discontinued Play Magazine.

Good, that is, until you actually read the story. I could find no organizing narrative, no effort to make sense of interview comments that were all over the place, and no sense that the author actually knew anything about tennis. Fans, read it and tell me I’m wrong.

It’s Over: Federer’s Otherworldly Streak of 23 Consecutive Semi-Final Appearances Broken by a Sledgehammer

June 1st, 2010 No comments

I’d seen the future during the 2009 Australian Open, when Roger Federer fell down by a quick two sets to the hard-hitting Czech, Tomas Berdych. Scrambling and on defense, Federer mustered all of his considerable court craft (and a mental vacation by Berdych) to get through the early-round match in five sets. I thought then that Berdych and maybe one or two others had the arsenal to defeat Federer: height and torrid groundstrokes than would take away the great one’s time to create his inspiring masterpieces.

In last year’s U.S. Open final, Juan Martin DelPotro, another hard-hitting giant, blew Federer off the court in the fifth set. And then it happened again today — in the quarterfinal of the French Open, which was almost universally expected to feature a final between Federer and his personal bane, Rafael Nadal, he was caught and passed by the thumping, hammering strokes of Robin Soderling. After Federer won the first set, he let down just a bit (as he did against DelPotro last year), and Soderling stormed through the breach. By Federer’s last service game, the clearly rattled Swiss committed four unforced errors to hand the match over to Soderling to serve out — which he easily did, showing remarkable nerve.

One point sticks in my mind as emblematic of  the limits of Federer’s great genius. With a set point to go up by two sets to one, Federer tracked down an overhead smash. He executed a beautiful, balletic jump from the nether reaches of the court, well beyond the baseline, and hit a curving shot at full stretch. The ball was headed toward Soderling’s side of the net, where it would have dropped in for a set-ending winner, likely turning the match around. But not today! Soderling stretched upward (I’m not sure he’s capable of leaving his feet), reached over his head and hit an-over-the-back shot into the open court. Here it is:

After that, the whole thing unfolded with a kind of preditability — even though this is a guy Federer had defeated all of the previous twelve times they’d played. But he’s improved, and he’s not the same player here — especially under these conditions. Last year, on a similarly wet and heavy day, Soderling blew Nadal off the court on his way to a final against Federer, where he caved under the weight of destiny, as instantiated by Federer’s almost perfect game that day.

Federer had a great deal to lose. In addition to having his just…silly streak of 23 consecutive semi-final or better appearances in Grand Slam events (dating back to 2004!) snapped, he will lose the number one ranking next week if Nadal goes on to win the French Open. In that case, he’ll be one week short of Pete Sampras’s all-time record for most weeks at Number 1. And with Nadal almost five years younger and on the ascendancy once again, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever get it back.

But don’t expect Nadal to waltz through the final. I think Soderling has shown that he’s ready to step up and win the event. He’s already shown that he can take down both Nadal and Federer on clay. Now he “just” has to do it in the final. I’m reminded of a line from the justly forgotten Superman III, where Robert Vaughn says to a henchman:

I asked you to kill Superman. And now you tell me you couldn’t do that one simple thing?

Soderling just killed Superman. Now let’s see if he can take down the Hulk — for a second time, and when it most matters.