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.
Tag Archives: The Changeover
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.
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.
Retirement in tennis isn’t an easy thing. It’s hard to go from being the best in the world to being just another wealthy 30-something (sometimes even 20-something) retiree who needs to occupy his or her time. There are countless tales of woe among the recently retired, from Bjorn Borg’s financial woes, to the embarrassing Agassi-Sampras squabble during a Hit for Haiti exhibition. And, until recently, aside from those who were fortunate enough to find jobs as commentators, few of the game’s greats stuck around the tennis scene post-career.
But, with Andy Murray’s hire of Ivan Lendl at the end of 2011, the floodgates opened for a number of high profile coaching assignments for other legends of the game, including Michael Chang working with Kei Nishikori, Amelie Mauresmo and Andy Murray, and Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer. Like with Murray-Lendl, these coaching assignments make sense. The one that had everyone a bit perplexed though, was Novak Djokovic’s hire of Boris Becker to provide inspiration. While I can’t say for sure I know what Boris brings to the team, as a long-time follower of Boris’ social media hijinks, I’m thrilled that there is a larger audience of people to witness Boris’ online game.
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.