LeBron, Fedal and Winning Hearts in the Big Four Era

With one 2010 decision, LeBron James chose the certainty of winning championships, but lost the love of his hometown fans and the respect of many others who follow the NBA. The decision he made on Friday, however, reveals that, having won his rings, LeBron now wants to be loved.

Cynics may note that, even with every advantage in place, King James ended up losing half of the finals he was in while in Miami. They may add that, as he approaches 30, his chance of winning as many championships as Jordan, Magic or Russell were rapidly dwindling, and that this return of the prodigal son was a deft way of lowering expectations and changing the metrics by which his career and legacy would be measured.

But, aside from the decreased presence of Andy Murray and Serena Williams courtside in Miami, what does The Second Decision have to do with tennis? It’s true that top tennis players these days don’t have to deal with teams, free agency, or deciding where to take their talents. However, they are not immune to the basic human desire that Lebron showed the world on Friday: they want to be loved.

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The Lion in Winter: Roger Federer’s Roaring Return to Relevance

Even in defeat, Roger Federer roars back.

Aside from a few shanked balls at 4-5 in the fifth set during Sunday’s final, Roger Federer is right where he wants to be.  True, the disappointment of failing to win the Wimbledon title was subtly etched on his face as he held his runner-up trophy and waved to his daughters.  And, a stuffy nose at his runner up press conference betrayed a possible post-match cry.  But, after the match, Federer, ever the realist, noted:

“I already have seven. It’s not like I need another one.”

Skeptics may point to this as a sign of Federer’s lack of grace in defeat, though his full statements demonstrated his respect for his opponent and the quality of the match.  But, make no mistake, in the midst of answering the expected questions regarding the loss, his ability to win another Slam, and his future, Federer made his message clear: I don’t need your pity.  I didn’t need this title to solidify my place in tennis history.  And I’m not going anywhere.

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It’s Hard to Be King: Rafa’s Wimbledon Woes

Rafael Nadal’s history at Wimbledon has taken a curious turn following his epic final with Roger Federer in 2008. Sidelined by his chronic knee problems, he didn’t play in 2009, only to return in 2010 and win his second title. In 2011, he lost in the final – the first of three consecutive Grand Slam finals he would lose to Novak Djokovic. And then it really gets weird – in 2012 he lost to Lukas Rosol in the second round, and then fell to Steve Darcis in the first round last year. Yet, Rafa’s loss to Nick Kyrgios this year felt different than his last two early exits from SW19. For the first time in his career, Rafa really looked the part of the veteran, attempting to fend off the attacks of a younger, confident rival who bounded across the court and relished the opportunity to take it to Nadal.

From 2005 to 2008, Rafael Nadal was prince to Roger Federer’s king, but an impudent prince at that. Even though Nadal routinely beat Federer on clay, Federer still reigned over the grass and hard court seasons. This arrangement suited the temperaments of both men – Federer enjoyed flying above his peers with his skillful displays, and Nadal embraced the battle to reach the top, conquering Federer, grass and hard courts along the way. Even though he was only in his 20s at the time, Federer was cast in the role of the veteran defending his turf from Nadal for virtually all of his reign at the top.

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Wimbledon Middle Sunday Reflections

In a sport that famously lacks an offseason, today is one of the few days in the year where the tennis world stops to take its collective breath. Like many of us, who are now tethered to work wherever we go, today’s tennis players spend much of the rest of the year training, playing matches, and traveling. Today, however, the players still in the Wimbledon draw will be forced to take a small break from the grind, and to reflect on the first week of the tournament – and the first half of 2014, while looking forward to their second week matches and their goals for the rest of the year.

Wimbledon is the perfect time and place for this forced break. Unlike the other majors, where players are housed in hotels, Wimbledon presents players with an opportunity to rent homes in the village, perfect for group dinners (Rafa’s pasta with prawns has been well documented on the Internet), Wii competitions, and a relaxed “home” atmosphere that is a rare luxury on the tour. In addition, the middle Sunday falls at the halfway point of the calendar year, and between the grueling clay and hard court seasons, where the majority of titles and points are won and lost.

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Roland Garros and Tenacious Longevity

During the rainy first days of Roland Garros 2014, many spectators wedged themselves into the small museum on the grounds honoring Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros for his aviation exploits during World War I. While most were simply seeking a dry place to pass the rain delay, those who were looking closely would have learned about the man whose indomitable spirit imbues the tournament that rewards those who share his iron will.

A sickly child, he took up cycling to improve his health, and became a champion cyclist, soccer and rugby player during his studies. Upon graduation, he developed an interest in automobiles, and, despite being financially cut off by his father who disapproved of his career choice, launched a successful business in automobile sales. But he changed course when he first encountered airplanes, became a pioneer in long distance flight, and was the first to cross the Mediterranean Sea by plane. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Roland volunteered for the French army, and served as a reconnaissance pilot. Shot down in April 1915, Roland spent nearly three years as a prisoner of war, but, after many attempts, managed to escape in February 1918. He returned to his aerial missions, but was killed when he was shot down in October 1918.

While there may not seem to be too many similarities between an early 20th century aviation pioneer, and the lycra-clad victors of the tournament that bears his name, this year’s champions both share Roland’s ability to adapt and to wring longevity from careers that seemed like they would be shortened by injury.

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Power Rankings: The Best Tennis Friendships

Whether it’s Serena-Sloane or McEnroe-Connors, tennis feuds have always gotten a lot of attention – maybe too much. While some players like Maria Sharapova take a strictly business approach, and don’t look to make friends on the tennis tour, like the rest of us, many others enjoy friendships with their co-workers.  So, let’s count down our favorite friendships on the ATP and WTA tours these days.

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