Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open


Men's Tennis has been in very good shape for the past 4 or 5 years with the rise of Federer and Nadal, both arguably in the top 5 all time. Federer's lone weakness in being the greatest is Nadal, he would have 22 or so majors without Nadal around but he still did exceptionally well regardless. Personally I always root for Federer since he seems like the one genuine nice guy professional athlete in the universe. Nadal's polite enough and relatively standard for a successful Tennis pro, and he certainly shows a good deal of respect for Fed. Even though Federer was completely immortal for about 3 years sans the French Open he did eventually show some human emotions and is incredibly easy to sympathize with. At the moment he's maybe 75% as good as he used to be, which is still substantially better than everyone that isn't Nadal, but the little chinks in his armor seem to have inspired all the people he had 8-0 or 8-1 records against to win a few times.

I am a tennis fan because naturally I played Tennis in High School and while I wasn't all that great I played just enough to hit some really great shots or serves and a few particularly good matches, so I am fully able to appreciate the intricacies of the game and the incredible skill of Federer and Nadal. The really huge issue in Men's Tennis is that in a few years Federer will be out of the game and the only thing to stop Nadal is injury. Nadal does have letdowns in early rounds of majors, something Federer is famous for avoiding (23 straight semis, 10 straight finals at certain points in his career) and they haven't played in a major final in quite some time as a result. Once Nadal is finished, presumably much earlier than Federer agewise there really is no comparable players left. Nadal vs. Federer is the best Tennis ever to be played, and the next generation will have nothing quite like it, which for me at least sort of kills most of my interest in the sport. Tennis' success is predicated on one or two dominant players or rivalries, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, and Nadal sequentially have shown this, but it may be a few years before tennis recovers once Fed decides to quit.

I set my alarm for 5:00 AM and watched the Djokovic Federer semifinal, since disaster struck and Nadal was eliminated this was sure to be the most interesting match of the tournament.  I began watching early in the second set, which was wholly entertaining, but unfortunately Federer lost it despite a somewhat commanding lead, and never really recovered. It's the first time in a long while I can recall Fed losing in straight sets not in the French Open final vs. Nadal, though he had a few good games along the way and still showed some of the old brilliance. Djokovic is a very solid player and this is probably the second best rivalry in the sport at the moment. Fed, with the loss, still leads the series 18-6 or 18-7 but he'll probably be pissed about this one for a while. Djokovic is Croatian and has an army of followers who yell randomly and display absurd amounts of Nationalism, and as humorous as this can be sometimes it still rattled Fed at points in the match and I'm quite sure he passionately hates Djokovic.

The reason Federer has stuck around as long as he has (he has 16 majors and the career grand slam) is just to ensure people remember he's the greatest of all time by getting 20 majors or something. Even if someone did say Laver or Borg was better he'd just laugh and say, "Hey I've got twice as many majors morons." I don't think he's harming his reputation by sticking around when he's relatively old at 28 (Tennis prime is 22-24 or so) and he does still dominate the vast majority of the tour including Djokovic. Unfortunately unlike the old days he does have letdowns in majors where Nadal is already eliminated now, where back in the day it greatly strengthened his resolve. Still it is interesting to see if he can manage to win a few more majors before the end and solidify his placement, or if he'll ever play Nadal in a final again. The 2007 and 2008 matches at Wimbledon are the two greatest matches of all time by most measurements, and the 2009 Australian final was shaping up to be one though Fed lapsed in the fifth set inexplicably, I just want to see that sort of tennis played again in my lifetime. Every shot is an awesome on the run right on the line crosscourt winner but it still gets returned and each rally goes for 15 points... Ah memories.
Women'sWomen's Tennis is in much more dire straits than Men's, while Men's Tennis gradually gets faster and faster and the players get stronger and bigger (though grace ultimately still wins) Women's Tennis does not rapidly keep pace. As a result the game needs a dominant player like Henin as opposed to Serena Williams. Serena weighs 178 lbs according to the all knowing site, which is 30-50 pounds more than every other player except Venus. Venus however is 4-5 inches taller than Serena and that weight at that height (6'2 as opposed to 5'9) is not unheard of. But really just watch Serena play, she's like a football player; ridiculously muscular and powerful yet still fairly speedy. Eventually Women's Tennis might revolve around players like her but right now she has a comically absurd advantage over just about everyone. Fortunately she doesn't really seem to be all that interested in Tennis or she'd probably have more majors than Steffi Graf.
Reference is to last year's US Open where she threatened to shove a ball up some Linewoman's ass or something
 Justine Henin was dominant yet interesting in a way similar to Federer, where as opposed to overpowering the opponent she won through capacity to get every ball and hit good angled winners et cetera. Unfortunately she retired around peak and is no longer all that good (though she just retired again so this is basically posthumous). Women's Tennis needs a couple of Henins to rise and get extremely good to generate any great interest in this side of the sport, watching Serena dominate everyone just doesn't hold that much sway anymore.

The present number 1 Women's player is Caroline Wozniacki, who's actually pretty hot. I don't think it necessarily matters if you're hot as the champion as long as you're not exceptionally ugly like Amelie Mauresmo or Svetlana Kuznetsova. Unfortunately she's just not all that good. Wozniacki is a retriever, meaning she gets to every ball and just puts it in play conservatively, while that works pretty well for winning minor tournaments and sticking around forever it doesn't make you a compelling player in the least and prevents dominance at the majors. She may eventually win a major since the Women's side is so weak but it won't be due to any interesting prowess. Sharapova is less hot and more publicized but she also gets injured every 20 seconds like Yao Ming, which is unfortunate because she actually does well against the Williams sisters.

The Women's side success is generally altered by how successful the Men's side is, even an extremely dominant player like Martina Navritilova wouldn't generate much interest if someone like Federer wasn't around to bring the sport to the public consciousness. The Men's side still needs some American player to become hugely successful to make it at all marketable in the United States. I still feel that Tennis is easily the most watchable and entertaining individual sport and obviously has the potential for incredible competition but sometimes requires the stars aligning to achieve that competition.

Every tournament each player has to go through an enormous number of rounds just to reach the final, and this is the primary issue with Nadal vs. Federer, if they just set up matches that said "you win X Open with this victory" between them they could have had 30-40 matches while Fed was still in his prime, but instead we were merely fortunate to have gotten as many matches as we did. Most other human players can't continuously get to semifinals and finals and thus it is very hard for another player to emerge as the dominant figure in the sport or for another rivalry to form. Still, here's to hoping Federer gets his 20 majors, Nadal gets 4 majors in one year, and they play each other 3 or 4 more times in Grand Slam finals. Hope is what I live for.

No comments:

Post a Comment