Posts Tagged ‘Wimbledon’

The Column I’m Waiting to Write

June 23rd, 2011 No comments

*Mar 01 - 00:05*The New York Senate — more specifically, the Senate Republicans — have been dithering over a marriage equality bill for a week now. They need better religious protections, they want it tied to other deals, they will allow a vote, they won’t allow a vote. On and on it goes.

As of 10:45 on Thursday night, it’s still unclear what the bill looks like (how extensive are the proposed protections? are they too great a concession to religious beliefs, allowing discrimination in their name?), whether the Senate Republican leader, Dean Skelos, is going to let his caucus vote on it, and what its fate will be should it come to the floor (as of now, it’s one vote short of the majority it needs).

Meanwhile, Obama appeared this evening at a gala gay fund-raiser and, it turns out, still hasn’t fully “evolved” on marriage equality. Would his eleventh-hour endorsement help push the measure through? Who knows, but I’m tired of waiting.

I’ll have a lot to say about this, one way or another, once something…happens or doesn’t happen, decisively. For now, I remain a slave to the computer and to Wimbledon.

The End of Federer (As We Know Him)

June 30th, 2010 No comments

Roger Federer has just crashed out of Wimbledon, losing to the clobberin’ Czech, Tomas Berdych. After reaching 23 straight semi-finals or better in Grand Slam tournaments, Federer has now lost in two consecutive quarterfinals. And this one was at Wimbledon, where he’d reached seven straight finals(!), winning six of them.

By now, we can discern a pattern: Federer, from now until the end of the career, will likely lose more than he’ll win against super heavyweight hitters like Berdych, Juan Martin DelPotro (who overpowered him in the US Open Final last year), and Robin Soderling (who torched him at the recent French Open). Today’s defeat, I saw coming down Broadway. Berdych beat Federer earlier this year, and the big Czech isn’t the same mental case he was until quite recently.

What’s going on? Some combination, probably, of an otherwise imperceptible decline in Federer’s great skills, and the emergence of this new generation of ball-whackers. They’re not especially young in tennis terms, but they’ve all come into their own at about the same time.

Federer will probably win another major or two, but he’s not likely to regain the No. 1 position, and will therefore fall one week short of Pete Sampras’s record for most total weeks on top. And I wonder how much he cares, really: There’s not much else he needs to accomplish in tennis, and he might be content to spend the back-end of his career (which might be quite a few years) as a Top Five player whose best shots still elicit gasps, but who can no longer be counted on to be standing at the business end of tournaments. (Indeed, after winning the Australian Open in January, Federer hasn’t won another tournament this year.)

There’s a nice piece on Federer in this week’s New Yorker (not available on line). Here’s a line from the Calvin Tomkins article that might console some of his fans. It did me:

“For five years, his more besotted admirers have counted on him to [win every tournament], and our expectations, as I’m coming to realize, have interfered with the unique pleasure of watching him play. Whether he wins Wimbledon or not this year, he will us…moments…when a ball in flight becomes more than a signifier of victory or defeat.”

A Father’s Day Proclamation I Can Love

June 18th, 2010 2 comments

Here’s a just-issued Father’s Day Proclamation issued by the President. In a document that praises and celebrates fathers and those who act as mentors (and calls for responsibility by all fathers), Obama adds this:

Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian.

The emphasized phrase is still startling to read, but not really surprising from this Administration. Although they’ve lagged on legislative priorities, when it comes to the stuff that the Oval Office — and the vast bureaucracy it controls — can do, they’re such a marked improvement over the preceding one that I feel as though I’ve just come out of a time machine.

I’m about to go watch a documentary about the Mormons’ role in Prop 8.  This Proclamation will provide a warm, insulating coat against what’s about to infuriate me. On second thought, maybe I’ll re-run the season finale of “Glee.” Or read yet more Wimbledon previews.

Shadows and Light — The Compromises of an Aging Athlete

February 1st, 2010 2 comments
Roger Federer poses with his Australian Open trophy on the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne on Monday, a day after capturing his 16th Grand Slam title.

Yesterday, Roger Federer captured his record-extending sixteenth title in a Grand Slam tournament, winning the Australian Open in a one-sided match against the latest pasty-faced Brit pretender, Andy Murray. (Here‘s a good summary of the match.) Murray, a Scot,  is an inventive and amazingly mobile player, and he’ll soon win one of these big ones: probably either the U.S. or the Australian Open (the suffocating pressure at Wimbledon might be too much to overcome, at least for awhile). But watching Federer cruise to yet another title, one had to ask: “Will this never end?”

It probably will, and sometime soon. But these days, with rival Rafael Nadal’s career clearly in peril because of the persistent injuries his relentless style and body type make inevitable, it’s easy to see Federer as unstoppable. And part of the reason is that the past year has seen a new Federer: a man who realizes that his time at the top is limited, and that he can’t simply assume he’s going to win every match on his unsurpassed talent alone. Compromises have been made; some wise and inevitable, others disturbing (if slightly amusing).

Over the past year, Federer has added the strategic drop shot to his already formidable arsenal. For years, he’d eschewed it as a desperate, almost avulsive, way to end a point. Now he uses it against the Legion of Baseline Heroes, who stand back and blast away. Throw in a drop shot and watch their comfort level drop. He’s also added a violent second-serve return, no longer able to rely on his sliced or chipped backhand to get the point back on neutral terms. He didn’t do much of this sort of returning against Murray (and when he tried, it rarely worked), but the threat of it can have the desired effect of unsettling the opponent.

These innovations are smart, and, if anything, one might ask why Federer didn’t try them sooner in his career. The answer, of course, is that he didn’t need to.With the glaring exception of Nadal (mostly on clay), Federer was unbeatable. From 2005-2007, he barely lost any matches at all.

Now, it’s different. The general public, to the extent it follows tennis at all, looks to the four Grand Slam tournaments (mentioned above, plus the French Open) as the measure of success; there, Federer continues at his insane level — 23 consecutive semifinals, and 8 consecutive finals, reached; an average of more than two of these majors won every year for the past eight years; and so on. But Federer has been mortal for the past few years at all of the other tournaments. He now saves and marshals his best efforts.

Less savory are some of the other things Federer has been willing to do in order to keep winning. In his quarter-final match against the human ball-striking machine named Nikolay Davydenko, Federer was in deep trouble: Down a set and a break of serve, and almost down another. He rallied and won (of course), but he used a kind of perceptive gamesmanship to do so. After the first set, he took a bathroom break. This is permissible, and a regular practice of many players. (Even Venus Williams took such a break at this year’s Aussie Open, and I can’t recall seeing her do that before.) But Federer has long decried gamesmanship of any kind, calling out the whiny Novak Djokovic for his “injury” timeouts. Of course, when I heard why Federer took the time out, I was too impressed by his perceptive abilities to criticize him. Speaking to ESPN’s Darren Cahill shortly after the match, Federer said he was trying to survive until the sun went down; the match had been conducted under a late-afternoon sun, and Federer had said (almost poetically) that the ball was “half in shadow, half in light” so that he could only see half of it. Someone could construct a musical suite on this theme.

But what about Federer’s sophisticated mind-game (not really “trash talking”, to be precise) against Murray in the days before the match? Some of it was just funny: In the interview after his semifinal with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer said that the British hadn’t won a Grand Slam “in like 150,000″ years (74 is the slightly more accurate number). But in press conferences before the final, Federer turned up the heat: Murray would feel the pressure; It would be important for Murray — but not for him — to win the first set; Murray’s head-to-head winning record against Federer (which now stands at 6-5) was constructed when Federer “wasn’t at [his] very best”; Murray had cratered during the previous major final encounter (at the 2008 U.S. Open, also won by Federer in straight sets).

The tactics seem to have worked, but maybe they weren’t necessary. Federer enjoys amazing crowd support everywhere he goes, even against home-town heroes. This, too, helps him win. Is his new approach a risk to this capital of good will? Perhaps. And to what lengths will he go to remain on top? We’ll see. But these latest actions by the great Federer remind us that elite athletes will do what they need, even if the rest of us don’t like or understand it. Just watch and enjoy his sublime tennis, while it lasts.

Jeter and Federer, Inside-Out

September 13th, 2009 No comments

By an uncanny stroke of luck, I was at Yankee Stadium last night when Derek Jeter delivered base hit number 2,722 for his career, surpassing the tragic Lou Gehrig for the all-time team record. This NY Times tribute by George Vecsey sums up my feelings pretty well. At-bat for the second time during a lull in the squalls that fell throughout the day and threatened to postpone the game, Jeter smashed a single inside the first-base line. A righty hitter, he’s made a living by “inside-outing” the ball to right field. This isn’t the easiest way to get hits, but it works with relentless consistency for him; it’s an underappreciated kind of motor genius that’s allowed Jeter to pile up a mountain of (mostly) singles that will likely place near the very top of the all-time heap in number of hits.  I’d be shocked if he didn’t finish at least among the top ten in that category.

I typically attend exactly one game per year, at the invitation of an old law school friend who’s had season tix forever. This was my game for 2009, arranged a couple of weeks ago and, by great fortune, turning into an event I’ll long remember. I’ll have lots to say about the Yankee organization in an upcoming post (most of it not very good, I’m afraid), but for today I wanted to pause to acknowledge the relentless, consistency cum excellence of Jeter that sometimes covers a multitude of institutional sins.

So there I was in a cafeteria-style diner this morning, reading about Jeter and looking for news about the sodden U.S. Open, when I ran across an article about Roger Federer’s charmed year. More than one sports yakker (OK, all of them) have focused on one shot that the precise Swiss delivered at this year’s French Open as the inspiration for Federer’s renaissance. Down by a couple of sets and a break point to German Tommy Haas and on the verge of being bounced out of the tournament, Federer took a decent return of serve by Haas and converted it for a winner by running around his backhand side — and crushing an inside-out forehand within millimeters of the line. After that,  a renewed Federer ran out the match, the tournament, and then Wimbledon. Oh, and he and his wife then had healthy identical twins just in time for his return to the U.S. for the hardcourt season, where he’s continued to thrive all the way through to the U.S. Open semifinals.

And among Federer’s many ridiculous motor skills is the ability to hit this inside-out forehand, again and again, with lethal accuracy.  Doing so requires footwork and timing that the other players just can’t duplicate. For the sake of comparative elegance I’d like to say that this is his signature shot  in the same way that the inside-out base hit is Jeter’s, but Federer has so many options and so much expression in his game that one can’t really designate a signature shot.

But Jeter’s better and more complex than his inside-outing facility, too. Because he also has the ability to play his best when the stakes are highest. (Compare: Alex Rodriguez.) Sitting in a hotel room in State College, PA, with David asleep on the bed, I was startled from my drowsy hazy during the playoff game with the Oakland A’s in 2001 when Jeter appeared — from who-knows-where — near the first-base line to cut off a throw from right field and then shovel the ball to catcher Jorge Posada, who then applied a tag at home plate to the lumbering Jeremy Giambi, nailing him by an inch. Game saved, sweep averted, and the Yankees then went on to win the series. What on earth was the shortstop doing there? “That’s where I’m supposed to be,” I recall him answering, as though puzzled by the question.

What’s inside Jeter and Federer comes out in ways that continue to delight and amaze. Given the brutal logic of physical decline, neither can be expected to remain at the top of his game for much longer. Enjoy them.

Federer, Schmederer?

July 6th, 2009 No comments

Well, he did it. Yesterday, Roger Federer overcame a game and determined — and vastly improved —  Andy Roddick to win his sixth Wimbledon title, and to regain the Number 1 ranking that he’d rented to Rafael Nadal for the past ten months. But most significantly, Federer passed Pete Sampras, 15-14 in career majors  (commonly but incorrectly called “Grand Slams” — a true “Grand Slam” is winning all four majors1 in the same year), and is now the all-time leader….

Among the men. Margaret Court leads the whole tennis pack with 24(!), but few regard  her as “the greatest” because half of her titles came at the Australian Open, which, during the 1950s and 60s, when she played, was but little attended by non-Aussies. (Even Bjorn Borg, for example, who played in the 1970s and early 1980s only competed “Down Under” once during his career). Steffi Graf, regarded by some as the greatest female player ever, has 22 majors to her credit, but to some (see Frank DeFord), her accomplishment is tarnished because her would-have-been principal rival, Monica Seles, basically became a non-contender after her stabbing (by a Graf fan, no less). Seles had been routinely beating Graf and everyone else at majors, collecting trophies like complimentary mints. Oh, and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova each finished their long careers with 18 majors; were they better than Federer?

Is it possible to compare women’s tennis to men’s? Probably not, but the same should  likely be said about the effort to decide who’s the best male player. Is Federer “betterer” than Sampras? I’d say yes, as his greater variety and all-court excellence led to the capture of all majors, including the clay-court French Open. Federer: Four French Open finals, one win (three losses to Nadal, a force of nature on clay). Sampras: No French Open finals, even. But some would say Sampras faced tougher competition. I don’t agree, but that’s the point: We’ll never know. Rod Laver won the Grand Slam twice, and doubtless would have captured more than the eleven majors he did win, except that he turned pro at a time when pros couldn’t compete at the majors. How many majors did he sacrifice? Hard to say, because all of the best players were on the pro circuit. And on and on goes the debate, fun but ultimately fruitless.

Whatever the tennis gods think, we can agree that Federer’s accomplishments over the past several years, and yesterday, are just astonishing. His level of consistent excellence — 21 consecutive semi-final or better appearances — is even less likely to be duplicated than Joe DiMaggio’s preposterous 56-game hitting streak.

Watching the match yesterday with a family of divided loyalties, I was — as always — on the Federer side. But Roddick played with belief and heart, and now I want him to win…something big. Maybe the U.S. Open? He’s surely put himself back on the short list. Go, Andy!

Here’s how it ended:

  1. The Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon