Category Archives: tennis
Sitting in the murky hollows of a bar in Shoreditch a few years back, I entered into a discussion-come-expletive-laden argument on who was the best tennis player of all time. Not the first alcohol fuelled debate on this topic, and after the enthralling Australian Open final, it is sure not to be the last.
My standpoint back then was that Grand Slam titles speak louder than megaphones and Rodger had not long before claimed the record. Pistol Pete Sampras, the man who was previously acknowledged by many of the game’s insiders to be the ‘greatest ever’, had recently anointed the Fed Express as a better player than himself. Rod Laver, the other candidate for the crown had refused to compare the players from different eras and in doing so remained boringly neutral on the issue, perhaps an unspoken nod to the Swiss. But with Federer passing the grand slam record and playing during his prime with an ease and fluidity that had never been seen before on the tennis court, I felt he had done enough to warrant the ‘best ever’ tag.
But by the rationale of my adversary on this matter, there was no way I could conclude that Federer was indeed, the best of all time, as his man Rafa had clearly built an unquestionable edge over him in head to head battles. Nadal had even beaten the him ‘in his own backyard’ when he dethroned Federer on grass in the epic 2008 Wimbledon final. Then a year later in Australia, Nadal induced tears from the Swiss Master where it became apparent that despite being held in such high esteem by so many from a historical standpoint, Federer was clearly not even the best player on tour anymore. How could the ‘greatest ever’ be so clearly dominated by another from his own generation?
Federer may have been slightly past his prime at this point but he was clearly no tennis pensioner, Nadal had been beating him on clay since 2005, and now had his measure across all surfaces. In term of overall head to head matches (helped by many of them occuring on clay courts) and particularly in slam tennis, Nadal had the wood on him to the extent that he could have doubled as a tree lopper.
My pal then pressed his point by adding that the class of opponent was also a relevant talking point, as much of Federer’s sucess had come at the expensive of Baghdatis, Roddick, Hewitt & Safin. Not exactly Agassi, Becker, Courier & Edberg who were the competition that Sampras had to deal with.
After the mist had risen, the logic of his argument began to settle and from then on, I switched my worthless vote to Team Rafa.
But I sit here today, a terribly confused tennis fan. Because if I choose to follow this very same logic, am I now to consider Novak Djokovic as the best ever player to hold a racquet?
After the monumental tussle with Nadal in Melbourne, the big serving Serb has now beaten the Spaniard in the last 3 grand slam finals, but it is this victory that the Djokovic will be drawing from in the future and that Rafa will be trying hardest to forget. Although Nadal still holds a slight edge in their overall record, Djokovic has now won their last 7 encounters and has taken his game to a level which appears unattainable for Nadal and his injury prone body.
The scariest part of all is, this could just be the beginning. For me, Novak resembles some kind of Tennis Terminator, and although Rafa did his best T-1000 impersonation, complete with body contorting liquid metal forehands, he was left with only the runner up plate & thoughts of Hasta la Vista.
But when the two players undoutedly meet again, it is difficult to fathom just how Nadal might go about toppling Djokovic from his perch. In much the same way Federer let his ascendancy slip back in 2008 on the grass of SW19, this loss in Melbourne could really represent the changing of the tennis hierarchy as it was a contest that will permanently etch itself into the psyche of both of these champions.
The match made for fascinating tennis and was a topsy-turvy encounter with both players looking destined for victory at different stages. Despite starting the stronger of the two, Nadal looked a shadow of his usual self in the 4th set, and faced 3 break points at 3-4 down with Novak seemingly cruising toward victory. But displaying the tenacity that’s led the us to revere the Spaniard, Nadal rose from the dead and had all the momentum going into the 5th set. Like a dazed heavyweight, Djokovic could barely walk through the closing stages and it looked a virtual impossibility that he could conjure the strength to continue as the match inched towards 6 hours. But he somehow found the energy and secured his 3rd Australian Open crown with a cool head and some big hitting. Nadal must really be wondering how he can beat Novak, knowing that he had the huge advantage over his opponent with an extra days rest and the fact that Djokovic’s semi final was also an epic, energy-zapping 5 setter.
So lets make the relatively safe assumption that with his amazing serve volley style, Sampras reached a level of grand slam success that left the likes of Laver, Borg & Emerson behind and hence, was anointed the greatest ever player. Federer eclipsed this record with his effortless ground strokes and an eerie ease that led him to take over the greatest ever title. Along came Rafa and with his intestinal fortitude, mental strength and superior head to head record against Fed, he snatched the tag for the briefest of moments. Enter No-Djo with his robotically consistent ground strokes and his ability to put the ball within a few inches of the line with amazing regularity, and as he now has the clear edge on Rafa, can lay claim to the title of the best of all time. Seems like decent sporting logic to me.
There are many out there that say, why don’t we just shut the hell up and enjoy the tennis. Quit swabbling about the greatest of all time & stop and smell the can of freshly cracked tennis balls. But the debate is sure to rage on like the homophobia burning in the soul of Margaret Court. Given that it is a sport that is based around an, albeit a somewhat flawed, points & ranking system, the question will inevitably arise.
Maybe Rocket Rod did have a point in that it is difficult to compare those from different eras. But we are now in the unique situation that 3 of these guys are still currently duking it out against each other, so the question seems more relevant than ever. If the Tennis Terminator continues on his path of Grand Slam destruction and maintains this phenomenal level for the next few seasons, when it comes to this reoccurring debate over the greatest ever tennis player, it must be - advantage Djokovic.
The unmistakable metal ‘ka-khuck’ and subsequent fizz of an ice cold tinny being cracked open.
The sizzle of entrail-laden snags hopping around on the barbeque.
The competitive squawk from a flock of seagulls fighting over a chip.
The baritone knock of willow punishing leather the only way it knows how.
And wafer-slim, attractive, scantily clad Eastern European women wailing like banshees.
These are the sounds of summer and that last one is enough to put me off women’s tennis for life. Although I do not actively follow any women’s sports, I have a genuine appreciation for the talents and respect their place within the sporting domain. But when it comes to their tennis stars, do my ears really have to put up with all that shrieking?
One cannot discuss this noisy aspect of women’s tennis without some kind of shout out to the Queen of Shriek, Monica Seles. She paved the way for the Williams sisters, Sharapova and the host of other decibelly enhanced women on the tour. Many believe that crazy Gunter Parche took to Seles with some kitchen equipment because he was an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf. I propose that he’d just grown very tired of Seles’ constant vocal commotion.
But Seles’ mantle has long been passed over, and the woman now at the forefront of ruining tennis for the viewing public is Michelle Larcher de Brito. Have you heard this woman? Each shot is followed by a prolonged wail that would not be out of place on the set of Boogie nights. The failure to stamp out Gruntgate with Seles has led to an escalation where someone like de Brito can have the clear advantage of distracting her opponent whilst making women’s tennis an absolute earsoar for the rest of us.
Interesting that this is tolerated in a sport where there’s enough ‘shushing’ to appease a librarian, flash photography is the devil and the Umpire’s mantra is ‘quiet please’.
A friend of mine questioned the difference between this highly annoying habit of many of the top players and the controversial ruling against Serena Williams in last year’s US Open final, where her premature celebration resulted in a crucial point being awarded to Sam Stosur. As we all know, Williams became engaged in a very open spat with the umpire and did a pretty good job at (further) disgracing her reputation on the international stage.
The general line of thought is that Williams had control over her celebratory outburst where those that grunt do not. It’s involuntary, they cry - like breathing. If they banned the grunters tomorrow and they no longer had the hefty tennis cheques rolling in, I wonder if these girls would all of a sudden discover a way to hold their breath.
But even if we do concede that these horrible shrieks are, in fact, subconscious. Does that really even matter? Since when is that an excuse in sport? The whistle had blown but the ball was there and out of habit alone, I kicked it – yellow card. The ball hit my bat but was about to crash into the stumps, so I reactionally knocked it away with my hand – you’re out. But this exception is made in tennis to the detriment of non grunting opponents and fans alike.
Given, grunting in tennis is not confined to those playing in skirts. After all, Jimmy Connor was one of the all-time greats… and he could play some tennis too. But it would take a brave, or possibly deaf, person to argue that there is no difference in terms of irritability between a male and female grunt that accompanies a winner down the line.
The more I think about, the less right these ladies have to carry on like their breaking a stack of house tiles at karate class every time they hit the ball. It’s about time Mr Miyagi had a word and we stamped this out for good.
There is no doubt if the tennis hierarchy took a tougher stance on this, the tennis world would be a better off for it and if these women are so intent on making a racquet, we can only hope that it’s one they can hit a forehand with.
On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Australian Samantha Stosur claimed her maiden grand slam title in convincing style but the match will unfortunately be remembered for the antics of her opponent, Serena Williams.
The match was preceded by a moment’s silence, the unfolding and then folding of a court-sized American flag, the waving of a lot of smaller American flags, a parade of military personnel and a performance of the Star-Spangled Banner by Queen Latifa. By the time play was ready to commence, Stosur would have been forgiven for thinking she was an uninvited guest at a 4th of July celebration rather than participating in her second grand slam final.
Before the match the Aussie had announced that she would have to attack her more fancied opponent and she did just that, breaking Williams’s serve twice to take the opening set in 31 minutes.
Whether or not Queen Latifa had stayed to watch the game, by the start of the second set there was little doubt as to the biggest diva in the stadium. Facing a break point in the opening game, Williams hit what looked to be a winner and screamed, “come on”, as the ball sailed over the net.
Although Stosur didn’t make the return – and indeed barely got her racquet to the ball – the chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, ruled that Williams had hindered her opponent and awarded the point to the Australian which gave her the break and the opening game of the second set.
The relevant law, Rule 26, states: “If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point”.
As Asderaki explained to Williams, “She touched the ball. The point was not over when you shouted ‘come on’”.
Analysts have since debated whether the ruling was overly harsh on the basis that Stosur was unlikely to have hit the return even if Williams hadn’t shouted, “come on”. There seems little doubt that Williams’s shot would have been a winner regardless of the pre-emptive celebration but the umpire applied the rule correctly.
If umpires were expected to apply Rule 26 only when a player would otherwise have hit the return, it would require a subjective assessment of the circumstances of a particular point and a subjective assessment of the ability of the player involved. It would create a situation whereby a premature “come on” might not be a violation of the rule if the opponent was, for example, John Isner because he was unlikely to cover the ground and make the return but it would be a violation if the opponent was a faster and more mobile player such as Rafael Nadal. And should the umpire also be expected to take into account whether Nadal was carrying an injury and not moving as well as usual on a particular day?
Umpires in grand slam finals should not be expected to provide such subjective judgments on players any more than umpires in the lower levels of tennis should be expected to know the abilities of every player they officiate.
The interests of good sportsmanship should be reason enough for the rule to be applied strictly.
While many will continue to argue that Asderaki ruled incorrectly, what hasn’t been the topic of debate is Williams’s reaction. Rather than accept the umpire’s decision and explanation, the 13-time grand slam winner responded, “Are you the one that screwed me over last time here? Yeah you are. You have it out for me and I promise you that’s not cool.”
After winning the next two games, Williams used the change of ends to continue berating Asderaki and told her, “if you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way ’cause you’re outta control. You’re outta control.”
In what must surely be one of the greatest examples of hypocrisy in sporting history, Williams then told Asderaki, “you’re totally out of control, you’re a hater and you’re unattractive inside.” If evidencing a McEnroe-esque temper and complete disregard for the official wasn’t enough, Williams also proved she also has a very short memory and with a straight face added, “Who would do such a thing? And I never complain”.
Channelling Chaz Reinhold in The Wedding Crashers Williams continued, “Wow! What a loser!”
Having suitably insulted Asderaki, Williams decided it was time to move onto bigger matters and gave the Greek umpire a reminder about her civil rights with a geography tutorial thrown in at no extra charge: “A code violation ’cause I express who I am. We’re in America last I checked.”
If being in America is the reason Williams believes she can “express” herself without censure, one can only assume she’s referring to the rights afforded by the first amendment to the US constitution.
Reconciling the Bill of Rights with the rules of a game might be an appropriate mental sandwich for a first year law class to ponder but this is a game that Williams has been playing for 25 years. Why has she waited until her 17th grand slam final to utilise the US constitution to usurp the rules of tennis?
On the basis of her comment, one can only assume that Williams has given the matter due thought and decided that the rules of tennis are indeed subservient to her freedom of speech; a freedom that so many Americans seem to think they enjoy to the exclusion of other nations. Presumably, therefore, Williams wouldn’t have had any objections if she’d found herself serving for the match and her opponent had chosen to express herself by screaming, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oye Oye Oye”.
Or does the freedom of expression only apply to Americans? In The World According to Williams, does the rest of the world have to follow the rules of the game while Andy Roddick (not that the rightly-respected Mr Roddick would so such a thing) can scream, “U-S-A, U-S-A”, just as an opponent is about to hit an overhead smash? If so, surely the likes of Sampras, Agassi and Chang would be riddled with regret to learn that they could have spent their careers yelling, “yo dude, good luck with that one”, after hitting a forehand winner down the line.
And let us not forget the other rights bestowed by the first amendment which in The World According to Williams would surely also be used to their full extent and in other tournaments on US soil. Who wouldn’t have tuned in to the 2005 Indian Wells Masters final if they thought there was a chance that Lindsay Davenport would be exercising her first amendment right to free assembly and staging a sit-in on her opponent’s baseline.
Not since Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski cited the Supreme Court in defence of shouting expletives in a restaurant has America’s much-vaunted right to free speech been so trivialised and personalised as it was by Williams in Sunday’s US Open final.
The rights afforded to individuals by the US constitution are extensive and the possibilities for applying them to the tennis court are endless. It’s an exciting time for those living in The World According to Williams.
Back on the court, a composed and dignified Stosur was able to ignore her opponent’s antics, held serve and broke twice to win the match in 1 hour 13 minutes. In doing so Samantha Stosur became the first Australian woman to win the US Open since Margaret Court in 1973 and her victory will have been celebrated by all but the most fervent American supporters.
Williams is currently on probation at all grand slam events following a suspended ban from the US Open for her outburst two years ago and it remains to be seen whether she will face further punishment for her latest violation. Regardless of official sanctions, she continues to do everything in her power to ensure she is remembered for her unsportsmanlike behaviour rather than her unquestionable talents.