Sometime in 2013, Tomas Berdych apparently decided to enjoy the ride, instead of lamenting his fate as one of the have-nots in the Big Four era. While Stan Wawrinka got his famous tattoo to make peace with his role as a foil for the historic achievements of the Big Four, Berdych did something more low key – he joined Twitter. But, for Berdych, a player known for his short fuse on court and his tendency to pull back in key moments, letting the world in on his goofy sense of humor was a way of acknowledging that he had better start having fun with the career he had, instead of mourning the one that had been denied to him by the Big Four’s dominance.
Category Archives: Tennis
With more twists and turns than an episode of Scandal, the WTA tour’s 2014 season was nothing less than fascinating. From the resurgence of faded champions to the emergence of new stars, this year’s WTA tour had something for everyone. Here are my favorite stories of 2014.
1. Fierce Caroline
After spending the past three years as a part of Wozzilroy and contemplating family life and early retirement, Caroline Wozniacki found herself on the end of a public and abrupt breakup with Rory McIlroy on the eve of the French Open. Yet, seven months later, McIlroy’s name hardly comes up when discussing Wozniacki’s year, which is a testament to the savvy way the Dane has rebuilt her game and her life. Though often considered too “nice” to win the big titles, Wozniacki’s upbeat disposition served her well in 2014. To refocus herself, and, perhaps, the press from the cancelled nuptials, Wozniacki committed to run the 2014 New York City Marathon in support of Team for Kids, and ran it in an impressive 3:26:33, despite having never run more than 13 miles in training. She also turned a corner on the court, playing tough matches against “bestie” Serena Williams, and out-gritting Maria Sharapova, of all people, at the US Open during her run to the final. And, she even managed to become part of a more high profile sports couple along the way.
Outside my window in Times Square, a tuxedo-clad Roger Federer waves from the Moet advertisement from New Year’s Eve 2013. Perfectly coiffed, perfectly cool, and perfectly in control, it’s the Roger Federer who seems to have sailed through a record-breaking career without breaking a sweat. That Roger Federer is the perfect embodiment of Swiss precision, restraint, and neutrality.
Well, for those of us who have been watching the round robin portion of the singles tournament, there have been a lot more bagels and breadsticks than we anticipated or, in all honesty, wanted. But, after a topsy-turvy year, the four semifinalists advancing to Saturday’s semifinals are excellent ambassadors for the year that’s been. Needless to say, we’re hoping the matches prove to be much more competitive than the thrashings that took place in the round robin portion of the tournament. We’ve had enough breadsticks and bagels to last us a while.
If you blinked, you may have missed the first round matches in the ATP’s World Tour Finals in London. While the run-up to London had an exciting race to find out who would qualify, the first two days have reflected the general tale of the ATP these days: predictable wins for the top players. While not competitive, per se, the matches certainly were illustrative of the ATP’s 2014 storylines.
As the crowds enter the Billie Jean National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park, most walk over a plaque in the ground without giving it a second look. For those who pause to read the inscription, they would learn that they are walking past the time capsules from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs held at the grounds that now house the US Open.
In a time before widespread travel, satellite TV, or instantaneous worldwide connections over the internet, the World’s Fairs were a way to bring people and cultures together, and for each country to show off the best it had to offer. And, their time capsules were a way to show the people of the future – 5,000 years in the future – to see how people lived in the world of 1939 and 1964, and included items like Camel cigarettes, Life magazine, a Gilette razor, and an RKO newsreel.
The crowds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center have thinned out, from the masses that rushed in at the end of August. Today, two very familiar names left the grounds, not to return until next year: Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Expected to reach the final, as they or Rafael Nadal had for every single Grand Slam tournament since the 2005 Australian Open, Federer and Djokovic ran into two younger players who were able to break the stranglehold of the Big Three on the big prizes of the sport. A lot has been made of the fact that this is the first time that none of the Big Three will contend for a Grand Slam title in nearly a decade, and rightly so. In January 2005, Rafael Nadal had not won a single French Open title, Novak Djokovic had not made it past the third round of a major, and Roger Federer had only won four of his 17 Grand Slam titles.
In reality, at the time of the 2005 Australian Open, the Big Three were more like that talented Swiss guy with the weird hairdo who’s played well for a year or two, a promising Spanish teenager who had beaten Federer and Roddick once, and that funny Serbian kid. How times have changed.
On the second Thursday of the US Open, the singles tournament begins to give way to the larger community – the day session features one singles match, the less-popular men’s quarterfinal, and a handful of main draw doubles matches. Instead, the larger constituency of tennis – the people who play without the adoring crowds or rich endorsements, take over the courts, finding the act of playing at Flushing Meadows rewarding in and of itself. To placate the star-hungry ticket holders, the tournament organizers put together legends matches, featuring all-time greats, and former pros who may be on site doing commentary.
The day session crowds are noticeably smaller than those who came to see the earlier rounds in week one, and the ones that will appear, in their RF caps, for the night session to follow. Every stadium is sparsely populated, allowing fans to sit closer than they might usually. The men’s semifinal between Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych, was relatively uneventful. Berdych, perhaps bothered by the wind or the heat, or the listless crowd, was unable to find his range on his shots, falling behind quickly to Cilic, and coming unglued over a double-bounce call in the third set. Even though his rant against the umpire continued with vigor, Berdych fell meekly to Cilic in straight sets.
One of the oft-repeated laments of those observing the ATP’s golden age is that it lacks the intensity of the McEnroe-Connors era. It’s true – the quartet that has led the men’s game over the past decade is known as much for their niceness as for their shotmaking. The primary rivalry in the game over the past decade has been between two guys who spent 15 minutes giggling next to each other, and the closest thing to fireworks at the top of the game is when someone knocks over Rafa’s water bottles.
Anyone who is tired of the smiles, stomach pats, and good natured ribbing of the ATP tour need only take in a few WTA matches to find the intensity they’re missing. This isn’t about the played up, stereotypical “catfights” that have come out of the media coverage of the sport. Rather, it is the ferocity of competitors who are less concerned with popularity than with victory.
Attending the Rogers Cup in person for the first time, it was interesting to see tennis on its relative front lines. As a transplanted New Yorker, I am fortunate enough to be a subway ride away from the U.S. Open, whose rhythms and geography are now second nature. (Tips: have Chinese food in Flushing rather than eating at the grounds, buy your souvenirs as early as possible – the good stuff sells out.)
As with many things in New York, the U.S. Open is attended by many New Yorkers so accustomed to witnessing the extraordinary and expecting it to occur in their city that it’s not uncommon to see them texting while sitting in their thousand-dollar court-side seats rather than watching the goings-on below, a scene is repeated at many ultra-elite sporting events, including the Slams, whose court-side attendees include, well, the ultra-elite, whether or not they are tennis fans, per se.