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Pebble in the Shoe 05/04/2009 - 4:37 PM

by Pete Bodo

At some point, the superlatives fail you, and just putting them down on paper makes you feel like a phony because they're not supposed to roll off your tongue (or fingertips) left and right. They're called "superlatives" for a reason - and dispensing them as if they were gummy bears seem, well, contrary to the whole notion of the superlative. So what am I going to say about Rafael Nadal, now that he's won his fourth Italian Open, and pulled ahead of all those other legendary players who once trod the golden clay of the Foro Italico?

Just this: Nadal might make us re-think how we view tennis history, and our collective baseline for greatness. That's what I found myself thinking this morning, trying to digest the full meaning of the news that Rafael Nadal had just won his third clay-court tournament in as many weeks, and bagged his 15th Masters Series title, moving ahead of Roger Federer - and just two titles shy of Andre Agassi's record 17 wins in those blue-chip events. All this, at age 22.

Rafa A few years ago, I wrote a post noting the odd (and counter-intuitive) way tennis in the Open era keeps churning out players who are are instantly hailed as unique talents of unprecedented dimensions, or once-in-a-lifetime grade champions. The claims hold water only if the "lifetime" in question is that of a dachshund. In my own career, I've seen half-a-dozen players singled out as potentially "the greatest," only to have someone come along in their own time to show the boast premature.

As I got my bearings in the game, I came to the realization that everybody can't be the greatest, ever. Some of this talk was just hype, some of it just an outpouring of enthusiasm. But there was also this uncomfortable disconnect at the bottom of it all: how could the game be that much "tougher," the standard so much higher, and the the players so much better when tennis keeps producing players who dominate, and accumulate major titles at a clip that puts many of their talented forebears to shame?

Pondering this, I came to one conclusion: the magic number that separates the top dogs from the not-quite-great is seven. If you've bagged seven or more majors, you're right there in the first rank with the best players ever, and whomever the GOAT is. Check out the theory; I'm pretty confident it's useful.

The other issue I resolved in my mind has to do with players of historic importance who did not get to play in the Open era. Our standard of judgment might be very different if, say, Pancho Gonzales had been able to play all the majors through the best years of his career. By refusing to allow professionals to compete at the Grand Slam (or other ITF sanctioned) events, the tennis establishment ensured that we would never have a truly accurate picture of the game's past, or establish a self-evident baseline for greatness. Hail, Pancho Gonzales, with his great grass-court game, might have won 20 or more majors (remember, he wa a force on the tour into his 40s) in that period with three of the four majors were on grass. How would we feel about Sampras, Laver, or Federer then? And how about Laver, the onlhy player ever to record two Grand Slams, one each in pre-history (the amateur era) and the Open era.

It's just something to think about. Anyway,Bjorn Borg had the entire world spellbound and lying on its back with four paws in the air until John McEnroe suddenly came along. Pete Sampras made us forget McEnroe (as well as McEnroe's own nemesis, Ivan Lendl), but then along came Roger Federer, piling up Grand Slam singles titles so fast that at one time, a fan could predict that Federer would wind up with 20 majors and not get laughed out of the room.

And then came Nadal, to perform one of the most visceral and graphic reputation demolitions we've ever seen. The Nadal vs. Roger Federer rivalry started as a charming pas de deux, danced out on clay (where Nadal led) and grass (where Federer led) with great discretion, politesse, and a ritual formality that did not challenge the status quo - that is, the notion that Federer was safely advancing toward GOAT-hood. Oh, Nadal might be remembered as the "go figure" guy - the exotic dude with the crazy strokes who just happened to present Federer with problems no other player could articulate. Sheesh, Roger lost that semifinal at Roland Garros to that kid Nadal, with the clamdiggers and ugly strokes. . .Go figure.

This theme was simple: Nadal was the pebble in Federer's shoe - more of an irritant than threat. And it was a good thing that Federer had some push-back from him, because you wouldn't want the prospective GOAT's journey to be too easy. So what if Nadal's  prowess on clay, even two, three years ago, made a powerful statement about Federer's mortality? Sampras never won the French either, and many pundits felt that his collection of 14 major singles titles wiped out whatever caveat his failings at Roland Garros suggested. So let's say Roger never wins Roland Garros, but ends up with 16, 18 majors. . . surely he has to be the GOAT, right?

Right. Or is it? Over the past year, the pebble in the shoe has become the boulder on the chest. Maybe it's just me, but everything Nadal has accomplished in the past 12 months has seemed just as relevant to, and a comment on, Federer's quest for Goathood. It all goes back to the perceptive line Mats Wilander dropped at the U.S. Open of 2007: How can a guy be considered the greatest player ever if there's a guy he can't beat in his own era?

Almost everything Nadal has done since I first published that remark (I paraphrased it here, but it's very close to the original) has underscored the oxymoron at the heart of this rivalry. Nadal's success couldn't be more damaging to Federer's case if the express purpose of Nadal's existence were to besmirch Federer. That realization has helped me understand why fans are so polarized when it comes to this rivalry, and it's made me question if this really is a "rivalry" at all. Rivalries usually involve two parties who are more or less equal; this rivalry has never quite conformed to that model, at any number of levels, including the head-to-head (in which Nadal has a disproportionate lead, 13-6).

Up to this point, I haven't thought of Federer vs.Nadal as a rivalry as much as a chase - the saga of the upstart Nadal trying to lift his game sufficiently to catch Federer. It only became a rivalry last summer, when Nadal proved that he could take the measure of Federer on a surface other than clay. Those last two majors in which the men met in the finals represented major no. 14 and 15 for Federer. Is there a more telling fact when it comes to the dynamics of this rivalry? I hope this isn't the case, but this rivalry might be less about two stars on a parallel track than two trajectories - one rising, one falling - that happen to coincide for a few brief and glorious Grand Slam moments.

Sometimes it doesn't seem like either man is eager to engage in a rivalry - for instance, can you imagine Federer and Nadal doing anything like those "guerrilla tennis" television commercials featuring Sampras and Agassi?  Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, they knew how to use their natural rivalry as a way to simultaneously exploit and enhance each other. Their rivalries took on a life of their own, and they added up to something that was far more than a sum of the parts.  I haven't sensed that kind of synergy coming from Roger and Rafa. To me, Roger has basically tried to pretend that Rafa doesn't exist, and Rafa has tried to pretend that he's just a humble, hard-working lad, trying to improve his game.

A few hours ago, I filed a post for ESPN on Federer and how he'd be best served if he looked ahead to the next few weeks as a time of opportunity (and no, I did not write the teaser caption on the tennis home page). I understand that Roger is holed up in Switzerland with the mysterious Monsieur Pierre Paganini, and not because they're collaborating on a violin concerto. Nadal hasn't officially dropped out of the Madrid Masters yet, and I'm very curious to see exactly what he's going to do. When you analyze how playing - or skipping - Madrid might affect Nadal, or Federer, you begin to see how shoehorning an event of Madrid's status into the ATP tournament schedule has far-reaching implications.

Because Madrid is a Master Series event, Nadal is automatically entered. Will he withdraw? It's like a game of chess, sometimes, and some guys take more time than others, and not just because they need to adjust an undergarment.


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Posted by Rich 05/04/2009 at 08:10 PM

"Also, Fed has made it to 3 straight RG finals ... accounting for 3 of Rafa's 9 clay wins over Fed." - posted by Mike
And Rafa has made it to three straight Wimby finals. The difference being, Rafa broke through on his third attempt and Roger suffer the worst defeat of his life in his third crack at Rafa in the RG final.

Posted by Sunny nine 05/04/2009 at 08:11 PM

Whatever one's take on this subject is, it is difficult to take seriously the words of a guy (bodo) who has alluded to bias for Nadal all along. He has said that he has had issues w Federer in the past. It is too bad that we don't have real journalists in this sport. Objective ones. I like both players. Yes, a person can enjoy the play of the two top players; go figure. One doesn't have to choose a side. Can't anyone just love the game of tennis?

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 05/04/2009 at 08:20 PM

Well, the one thing you can always count on is unpredictability in tennis.

Watching the Djokivic Federer semi the other day I was struck at how Djokovic has changed his tactics from a few years ago. I believe it was in the 2007 AO, Federer won in the fourth round or so, and Djokovic was just blasting every ball with nothing to lose. Just crazy tennis, and Federer just shut him down.

But when Federer lost a couple of times to Canas, and of course, as the tour saw Nadal's success, the proper plan became clear -- play totally defensively and hope Federer has an off day. Conversely, Federer now seems quite a bit less patient to me then he was a few years ago, which is absolutely to be expected. I remember when Sampras was winding down his career, he was basically walking through matches in non-Grand Slam tournaments.

This combo of Federer being less patient and the rest of the guys learning to not give him pace results in the match the other day.

Djokovic just rolling balls back into play.

However, that is only half the story. Starting, to me, in the 2008, Federer's serve has gone absolutely south. His serve was always a weapon, and like his other shots, he seemed to be able to come up with big or well placed serves when he needed them.

At 3-1 up in the third vs. Djokovic, that was the time for a good serving game. What result -- just an absolutely brutal service game. He may have gotten one serve in, just terrible.

He did the same thing against Nadal in several big matches, some on clay, and Wimbledon 2008. Its not that Nadal came back from down a break. All great players have comebacks, its the massive service let down in terms of first serve percentage and placement from Federer.

I've always thought he should just slow it down rather than walk right up there and toss it. I mean, he doesn't need to do the 40 ball bounce thing, but at least take a bit of time. It seems so rushed now.

That's what I would change. Although why would Federer listen to an anonymous chap on Tennis.com :)

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 08:25 PM

I any ones playing career there is always The Straw That Breaks The Camels Back?

In saying that I truly felt in Wimbeldon 2008

That was the Straw that broke Roger in soo many ways.

Posted by Mike 05/04/2009 at 08:29 PM

True, Rich ... a true sign that Rafa is reaching his prime, and Fed is fading a bit. But it doesn't say a heck of a lot more.

Posted by TennisFan2 05/04/2009 at 08:30 PM

Aussiemarg, I agree, I think Fed was devastated by the Wimby loss (the breakdown that started with the proverbial straw at Wimby came out at this year's AO). In his mind, no one, could beat him at Wimby.

I just purchased the L. Jon book and am looking forward to his perspective on it.

Posted by Ryota 05/04/2009 at 08:32 PM

Has Nadal surpassed Federer? Hardly. Even Nadal knows this. To surpass Federer (to whom Nadal considers the best ever), he knows he still needs to win the USO and hold the #1 position a little longer. That's why I think this humble image he projects is not an image at all. That's how he truly feels.

I just don't get the vibe from Nadal that he's "entitled" to anything. That's why he works so hard I guess.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 08:34 PM

Tennis Fan I cant wait to read Jon's take on it myself.

Living in Oz,I will have to order it through my local book store like Petes "A Champions Mind".

Posted by Garro 05/04/2009 at 08:42 PM

Re: How can a guy be considered the greatest player ever if there's a guy he can't beat in his own era?

There were several players that had winning records against Pete Sampras in his day. I don't think this excludes him from being considered the all time greatest. A player can't be expected to have winning records against every single other player. Even though Rafa is pretty much invincible right now, someone will have a winning record against him sometime in his career.

Posted by Ross 05/04/2009 at 08:45 PM

Wow! Stay away for a while and there's a whole new cast of characters, if not new subjects. Of course, there's still (thankfully) Rosangel, keeping our records straight and pretending to believe in a "herd of GOATs."

Posted by Pspace 05/04/2009 at 08:49 PM

Is Federer the undisputed GOAT?

The answer has always been no. There are always arguments for and against Laver, Sampras, and Borg. He definitely belongs in that conversation. And, given the number of parameters and the weights that different people associate with them, it's unlikely that there'll be any consensus.

The more interesting question is about the rivalry of lack thereof with Nadal. The possibility of one guy rising while the other guy falls is plausible. But, it feels a little to neat to be real. There have been several rivalries where one guy has gone on streaks against others. For example, here is the Connors-Borg H2H:

http://tinyurl.com/dkc39m

From '74-'76 The record was 6-0 in favor of Connors and from '79-'81 it was 10-0 Borg. Overall 15-8 Borg.

Lendl-McEnroe H2H:

http://tinyurl.com/cg3of9

From '81-'82 it was 6-0 Lendl. In '84 alone, it was 6-1 Mac. And from '87-'92 it was 9-1 Lendl. Overall 21-15 Lendl.

All of these great rivalries had their ups and downs. I don't think we need to rush to any conclusions about Federer and Nadal. Federer is only 27 (28 in Aug), and has (in his words) a game that doesn't take too much energy. No reason he can't turn it around. Is he in a slump? Sure. Is this a decline? I think that's premature. Surely, a 13 time GS champ deserves a little time to regroup.

Posted by Christopher 05/04/2009 at 08:56 PM

"That's what I would change. Although why would Federer listen to an anonymous chap on Tennis.com :)"

Well, Dunlop, I do think he should listen to you. But if he DID listen to anonymous posters on this site, he'd be hitting a two handed backhand (but also hitting a lot more slice), getting coached by a team made up of Brad Gilbert, JMac, Borg, Wilander, Martina N., Harry Hopman's ghost. He'd have left Mirka, moved to Spain, become a serve and volleyer, be using a racket with a 108in head, etc. Overall, I'm usually glad he ignores us.

Posted by Carol 05/04/2009 at 08:56 PM

OSEGURA, you are so right!!!

Posted by frances 05/04/2009 at 09:02 PM

imjimmy- so based on your comment: rafa does belong to federer's age range just because he turned pro so early? does that imply that he reached his peak too late in his career? based on your comment, where do you think nadal really belongs?

Posted by Carol 05/04/2009 at 09:05 PM

Everybody likes to compare Nadal with Borg. Sorry but right now I think Borg is behind Nadal. Rafa is just 22 years old and he is already better player than Borg

Posted by frances 05/04/2009 at 09:07 PM

its quite interesting on how a lot of peeps talk about rafa has a lot of miles run on his tennis career-- almost as if a lot of people has already assumed that he will go out soon or rather he will get injured due to his game... and yet so far he's still healthy playing well, playing great.. i for one feel very optimistic about his longevity... I have no back ups for that, i have no specific reason why i think so.... i simply just believe that he has more to offer:P

vaMos RAFA!!!!!

Posted by Christopher 05/04/2009 at 09:15 PM

"Sorry but right now I think Borg is behind Nadal. Rafa is just 22 years old and he is already better player than Borg"

Carol-- Rafa is certainly having a dominant period, but he has yet to have as successful a career as Borg did. Personally, I think he will end up with a more successful career (and, I hope, more psychologically healthy retirement) than Borg, but he's not there yet.

Posted by thebigapple 05/04/2009 at 09:17 PM

Christopher, thanks for some sanity in the midst of this orgy of lunacy.

Posted by L.Rubin 05/04/2009 at 09:19 PM

"I understand that Roger is holed up in Switzerland with the mysterious Monsieur Pierre Paganini, and not because they're collaborating on a violin concerto."

That was effing hilarious, Mr. Bodo! Let's imagine, for just a moment, that FED is, in fact, putting the finishing touches on a violin concerto. I'm guessing that he'll call it "Requiem For a Mallorcan."

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 09:24 PM

Christopher - lol...

Its funny though about players as they speed up... You could almost tell just by looking at how little time AA took between first and second serves to know how he was doing...there was sort of a tipping point. Fast= playing well. Faster= Playing not so well. When Andre took to looking like a film from the turn of the century....fast and jerky.... then things were REALLY going down hill for him. I think Fed could do well to 'take a moment' now and then. Maybe go re-arrange some water bottles, ya know?

Posted by crazyone 05/04/2009 at 09:25 PM

Dunlop Maxply, I agree with you about Fed's serve. I think the decline in his serve has to do with his back problems and his worry about getting more back problems. He seems to be arching his back less and bending his knees less, resulting in a lower contact point and thus less effective serve. His serve is pretty foundational to his game, and was his way of getting out of tough situations, that serve of his is almost totally gone now, and I think that contributes to his pulling the trigger too early even on his groundgame.

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 09:28 PM

crazyone - I once bought a ping pong paddle that promised to increase the 'foundermentals' of my game. Maybe I should sent it to Fed.

Posted by sG 05/04/2009 at 09:29 PM

Interesting article, Pete. You put forth several intriguing precepts and questions, none to which I know the answer. The third paragraph for example, I returned to it again and again. Yes, a very interesting read; one to chew on. It doesn't feel complete though, as if this article is one in a series??? The structure is there, the challenge to how we see not only the context of Roger's and Rafa's rivalry (if it is that) but how we see the Open era itself and the masters within in it... I'd love to read more on what you've put forth.

Should we throw away our superlatives? Should we let athletes be athletes? Do we really need them to be super men in the classical sense? All questions which occurred to me as I read and re-read your piece. Yeah, I really like the article and I'd love a follow-up. Pretty please. ^_^

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 09:31 PM

Oh and on the upside re Fed's serve - it is still a reworking in progress but it is less totally gone now than it was in IW and Miami. I hear that the violin maestro Pagginnni has decreed that Fed needs to hang from his heels like a bat to realign his back and regain his serve.

Posted by Carol 05/04/2009 at 09:37 PM

thebigapple, we'll see the difference between "some sanity in the midst of this orgy of lunacy" or the reality

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 09:37 PM

Glad that Pancho Gonzales was mentioned. Perhaps the most gifted tennis player of all time. An earlier version of Sampras, except better.

I'm a firm believer that tennis is a sport where the earlier you start and the better the coaching you get, the greater the likelihood for success. Gonzales started playing at 12 with an inexpensive racket. Being from the wrong side of the tracks, Gonzales certainly wasn't nurtured by the Southern California tennis establishment.

That Gonzales accomplished what he did, in light of those beginnings, an indication of how extremely talented he was.

(Supposedly the only opponent that worried Gonzales in his prime was Lew Hoad. But Hoad's great weakness was a back that often went bad and didn't allow Hoad to play at his best.)

PSpace, 8:49. Strongly agree with your comments. If Federer can regain his health for an extended period of time, enabling him to improve his game and his confidence in his game, Federer can have much future success in the majors. Altho he may not be as brilliant as the 2004-2007 Federer, a 95% of that Federer is pretty damn good.

Sam, 3:54. Haven't read "The Rivalry." Have read positive comments regarding it. Was a fan of the Knicks in the late 60s, early 70s, when the Knicks were good and battled against Russell and Chamberlain in the twilights of their careers.

Have read Peter Vecsey's basketball column in the New York Post since the 1970s. He occasionally discusses college and pro ball of the 1950s and 1960s. Often fascinating.

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 09:45 PM

manuelsantanafan - everything I've ever read where pro tennis players of his era and journalists talk about him, makes Pancho Gonzales sound like a combination of Nuryev, the Incredible Hulk and Michael Jordan. He must have indeed been something special.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 09:52 PM

Yes indeed Pancho!

My dad was bleesed to see him play live.He told me many a story about him.

Dad said we was one of the most gifted tennis players he has seen,dad by the way also saw Laver play as well.

Though dad did mention he was a big headcase in the mental department the one flaw dad said on his overall brillance.

Posted by ndk 05/04/2009 at 09:58 PM

I think it's at least mildly debatable whether Federer was clearly the second best claycourter in 2007-8 - certainly 2008 - given that Djokovic ended up in Nadal's half of the draw at Roland Garros both times, and certainly made more of a match of it than Federer did in 2008.

So I completely disagree- I don't care who was in Nadal/Fed/Djokovic's half of the draw- Roger was the FO finalist 2006-2008, as well as multiple other tourneys on CLAY- he was definitely the second best player on clay during that time period. He broke Rafa's first great claycourt streak

Posted by Christopher 05/04/2009 at 10:02 PM

Carol-- The reality is that Rafa's career AT THIS POINT is not better than Borg's FULL CAREER. I think it's pretty sane to say we have to see Rafa's full career before we judge it. As I said, I think he will indeed surpass Borg. Of course I also thought McEnroe and Wilander would win more slams after their greatest years. We just don't know at this point. That's "reality."

Posted by Eman Liame Sserdda 05/04/2009 at 10:20 PM

http://tennisworld.typepad.com/thewrap/2009/05/the-rafa-rules.html

Posted by Ade 05/04/2009 at 10:27 PM

Pete,

With all due respect to Nadal's greatness, this article sounds like you are picking on Roger as to imply this "pebble in the shoe" bit applies to him only. Well,what about Nadal being the pebble in Djokovic's shoe right now with his big 1 slam accomplishment, or how about being the pebble in Murray's shoe who may not win a grand slam ever because of Nadal, EVER! OR, how about poor Roddick who had a pebble in his shoe by the name of Roger, who now (Roddick) walks the path of only holding 1 grand slam to his name?!

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13......takes forever to count.

If Nadal can come close to the number of slams Roger holds, well, good for him!

But you only speak of 1 pebble, and there are lots of pebbles stuck in many shoes right now!

BTW, and who was the pebble in Sampras's shoe Pete???? The major pebble that eluded him the French Open? Can't wait to hear your answer on that one!

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 10:29 PM

Followup re: Pancho Gonzales.

Another area in which he made his mark involved his personality. In the opinion of many, the most miserable person to become a top tier tennis player.

Watching the Orlando Magic engage in a monumental collapse.

They just managed to get an 8-second violation called on them, despite lack of pressure on the ball by the Celtics.

Not sure if a true violation or another example of the referees screwing the visiting team in Boston.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 10:37 PM

Manuel Hey cant have it all? lol!

Personality or playing brillance.

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 10:38 PM

manuelsantanafan, may I call oyu manuel in the future? quicker to type..) - you make Pancho sound like the tennis version of Ty Cobb.

On the Boston Garden parquet, all calls favor the Celtics... I think it might be part of the city charter.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 10:41 PM

I can say with some conviction here having seen My Idol Borg play

That in areas of play Yes Rafa does it better full stop.

Of course people only judge you on your career titles and grand slams and the like.

Comparing Rafa now at 22 to Borg at the same age

Well Rafa's titles spell success and words.

But at the end of Rafa's career that will be the overall final judgement.

Posted by CL 05/04/2009 at 10:42 PM

Although, apparently even city ordered calls can't help, since Orlando wins

Posted by fangorina 05/04/2009 at 10:42 PM

Who ever says that "if it weren't for Rafa, Roger would have 4 RG's" must accept the reverse: that if it wasn't for Roger, Rafa would have 3 Wimby's. We really cannot presume that either would have won their joint-slam finals playing against other players. They probably would have, just like Sampras might have won RG if he could have gotten past Kafelnikov in the semi's that year. All if's. It is what it is right now. Roger is a GOAT candidate on the decline, and Rafa is a GOAT candidate in his prime. When they both retire, maybe they'll have passed Sampras, maybe they won't. They haven't yet in my opinion.

Posted by rafadoc 05/04/2009 at 10:51 PM

Pete: Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Ade: Great point. Nole and Murray have to be wondering what their careers would be like without Rafa around. And so goes the sporting world...but they are only 21 so...we will see.

Earlier posters were talking about Rafa's popularity in the U.S. I think his team is pretty calculated about his exposure and have timing down quite well. He did adorn the cover (well, one side-Christy Brinkley had the other) of "New York" Fashion Fall edition just as USO 2008 opened. Then there was the cringe worthy "Grapple in the Apple" promo. His team was talking to David Letterman and were considering an appearance IF he had won. This year in Miami he did an Anna Wintour photo/Vogue shoot at Four Seasons which will probably debut around FO/Wimbly-imagine IF he does pull that double and talk of the Calendar Slam ensue. Great timing. A lot of stars have to align but I think his team is waiting for the right moment. Why would Rafa care about this exposure? He probably doesn't. But, a breakthrough in the U.S. market sells Nike apparel, Kias, Babolets, etc. which means more money for them and more sponsorship dollars AND sponsorship opportunities.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 10:52 PM

CL, 10:38

You probably know that one of Andre Agassi's sisters married Gonzales. (Wife no. 6 for Gonzales) Andre's father hated Gonzales that he, allegedly considered paying for a hit on Gonzalez.

Speaking of Ty Cobb, his mother was tried for shooting and killing his father. (She was found innocent.) Supposedly pa suspected ma of having an affair, tried to sneak into his home one night, and ma, surprised by an "intruder" in the dark, shot pa dead.

Some speculation that what actually happened was that ma's paramour was actually in the Cobb home.

If so, proves that the Alman Brothers were wrong when they recorded "One Way Out."

Posted by dnrood 05/04/2009 at 10:53 PM

aussiemarg,

I would like to compliment you on your theme to appreciate Rafa today and not worry about GOAT titles and future majors. All the speculation and comparing of players is entertaining, but in the end there never seems to be a consensus opinion (and probably never will be).

Like you, this young kid named Nadal awakened a passion for the game of tennis in me that I don't see dissipating even when he is gone. I think I will always be interested and watch tennis for the rest of my life. I can't say I was a huge fan of the sport until Rafa came along. Now, I watch almost every tournament whether Rafa plays or not.

Posted by Dj 05/04/2009 at 10:56 PM


okay, I was the prophet in 2005 when I predicted the greatness of Nadal based on his "passion and mental fortitude" although I found his strokes beastly, brutish, and really ugly.

At that time, it was NOT fashionable to root for Nadal.

okay, Albert Arnold LaFon Gore was a prophet in 1950s when he studied global warming at Harvard although he was not a scientist, he took it so seriously that later a President Bush would call him an "ozone man" -- almost a lunatic.

Guess what, the prophet Gore went on to all-time greatness and won the Nobel Prize.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 10:57 PM

In my 10:52 post, penultimate sentence should have ended: "and the paramour did the shooting."

Second sentence should have read: "Andre's father hated Gonzales so much that he allegedly considered paying for a hit on Gonzales." (Working in Vegas, papa agassi probably where to go to arrange a hit."

Posted by Ross 05/04/2009 at 10:59 PM

manuelsantanafan - everything I've ever read where pro tennis players of his era and journalists talk about him, makes Pancho Gonzales sound like a combination of Nuryev, the Incredible Hulk and Michael Jordan. He must have indeed been something special.

Indeed he was, CL, as are Roger and Rafa.

Posted by Dj 05/04/2009 at 11:03 PM


Please please

spare the World

so much gloating

on Rafa's wins.

You would not want as much gloating

when Roger wins his 14th Slam

at midyear.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 11:05 PM

Dnrood Many thanks indeed.

Well I have played this crazy game called tennis since I was 10yrs old.

Witnessed some of the great champions.In my mind I have been blessed

I loved Agassi yes another one that brought out the fire in my belly so to speak.Actually Rafa reminds me in some ways to Agassi.

Now we have Rafa.I have Never seen anyone with the total concentration on every point that he plays,sorry Borg.

I have spent though in watching his tennis unfold to the point he is not at,many ulcers,high blood pressure etc,etc,

Though you know at the end of the day its been worth it.

I remember when he first won RG,I knew then there was something special about him that stood him out.I knew one day he would be the no 1 player in the world.Ok took a while.Though the climb has been so worthwhile.

Posted by Rosangel 05/04/2009 at 11:13 PM

ndk: Actually Djokovic won the same number of clay tourneys in 2007-8 as did Federer. Two, one a Masters Series. And I'd say he was closer to Nadal on clay in a couple of his encounters in 2008 than Federer came. He also played a terrific semifinal against Nadal in 2007 at RG, which left me at least with a whole lot of respect for him on the surface. In these comments I'm not measuring by stages in tournaments, I'm really measuring the two of them against Nadal, who obviously sets the standard on the surface. You really think it makes no difference at what stage a player meets Nadal in a claycourt tournament, regarding how his prowess on clay might be judged?

If you read my original post carefully, you'll see that I conclude that in the end there's much less of an obvious gap between the two players on the surface than there is between either of them and Nadal.

In any event, I was really responding to the suggestion that without Nadal, Federer would have won Roland Garros. But there always will be another finalist, and in 2007-8 that finalist likely would have been Djokovic, whose record on clay, and at Roland Garros, is pretty damned good. We have no idea what would have happened had Federer met Djokovic at Roland Garros in either year. 2006 the other finalist likely would have been Ivan Ljubicic - in which case I'd agree that Federer would have been the overwhelming favourite. But I wasn't talking about 2006, when Federer very clearly was the second best player in the tournament.

Posted by skip1515 05/04/2009 at 11:18 PM

"It all goes back to the perceptive line Mats Wilander dropped at the U.S. Open of 2007: How can a guy be considered the greatest player ever if there's a guy he can't beat in his own era?"

Notwithstanding that this is a paraphrase and not a direct quote, and not intending a defense of Federer but a critique of Wilander's comment....

1. It's not as if Federer has never beaten Nadal. Having a losing record is not the same as never beating someone. (Oy, do I know that one personally. It's all that saves my self-esteem.)

2. Imagine if you will, a player who *never* loses during an entire illustrious career except to one player, who they never manage to defeat. Best of all time or not?

As cited, the Wilander comment is specious.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 11:24 PM

speaking of homer basketball officiating . . .

in rockets-lakers game in los angeles:

1. lakers vujacic pushes rocket guard off balance. no foul called. rocket guard called for travellling.

2. bulls__t foul called on Yao Ming. his second. takes him out of game.

3. vujacic takes ball away from shane battier by clubbin him in eye. no foul called. battier left bleeding, gone into the locker room for stitches.

nba officiating is an abomination.

Posted by crazyone 05/04/2009 at 11:25 PM

Rosangel: given that Djokovic couldn't convert 7 set points against Federer at the USO, and that having come after he had beaten him at Montreal, I'd think the idea that Djokovic would have beaten Federer for the first time at the French Open final of 2007 highly unlikely.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 11:32 PM

crazyone, 11:25.

Djokovic got tight in that U.S. Open. Next time he was in a GS Final (AO 2008) Djokovic came thru.

First time Djokovic met Rafa in a Masters final (IW 2007), Djokovic was tight early, improved later, but lost.

Next time that Djokovic met Rafa in a Masters final, Djokovic dominated Rafa.

Just cuz Djokovic choked the on his first visit to "big stage" doesn't mean he won't greatly improve on revisits.

Posted by Sherlock 05/04/2009 at 11:32 PM

Hey, Ross, good to see you here again. :)

I love you hearing you and manuelsantanafan talking about Pancho. I just got a used copy of "Levels Of The Game" recently, and I'm looking forward to reading about some tennis history.

Posted by crazyone 05/04/2009 at 11:36 PM

yeah, I agree, manuelsantanafan. But the French Open of 2007 would have been his first meeting with Federer in a grand slam final, and would have occurred prior to his win in Montreal. So we're talking about what would have been a meeting prior to even the US Open of 2007. Based on the pattern you cited, I'm guessing he would have gotten tight had he gotten to a French Open final or Wimbledon final in 2007.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/04/2009 at 11:45 PM

crazyone, 11:36.

You are absolutely correct.

Speaking of interesting tennis history, I learned the following recently:

Many of us know Harry Hopman mostly for his coaching the Australian Davis Cup team and coaching players such as Gerulaitis, Mcenroe, and Mary Carillo at Port Washington, NY.

Back in the late 1960s-early 1970s, he also served as an unofficial coach of the Romanian Davis Cup that played a finals in the United States and lost 5-0. This team was led by Nastase and Tiriac.

The thought of Hoppman being affiliated with Nastase and Tiriac initially struck me as mindboggling.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/04/2009 at 11:51 PM

Manuel Goodness me you are a treasure trove of information?

Harry coaching the Romanian team in Davis Cup,Lordy what next

Darren Cahill secretly coaching the Russian team.

Posted by Sherlock 05/05/2009 at 12:00 AM

"Darren Cahill secretly coaching the Russian team."

So that's why he turned down Roger? :)

Hoppman with Nastase and Tiriac. Some interesting conversations there, eh? :)

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/05/2009 at 12:01 AM

aussiemarg, 11:51:

played in cleveland, ohio in 1969.

Tiriac was down 4-0 in fourth set (Romania already down 4-0 in matches) when Tiriac decided he had a plane to catch and walked off the court.

Hoppman not the coach of record but in the stands taking notes and giving advice to the undoubtedly receptive Nastase and Tiriac.

Speaking of Nastase, the always politically incorrect Nastase's nickname for Ashe allegedly was "Negroni." One time when he partnering Ashe in a doubles match, Nastase came out in blackface in order to color-coordinate the team. Ashe supposedly was amused on this occasion.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/05/2009 at 12:14 AM

Manual Gee Nastase always the clown hey?
\
Also with a great sense of humour I see.

Fancy coming out black face in order to colour-coordinate the team

Yes a true Fashionista of the game.

Posted by dnrood 05/05/2009 at 12:14 AM

Pete has written a great conversational article here and it has sparked some interesting debate. I fall into the category of posters who feel any player that has more then 7 slams should be part of the Goats pantheon. More then likely all would have had great success no matter when they played.

Roger not only qualifies for this group because of his GS victories but for his ability to reign at No. 1 with such grace and aplomb. He met everyones expectations for him for 3 years producing some of the greatest tennis ever seen. And yet to be written is the fact that he has set a standard of comportment for Rafa to attain as the new No. 1. It would be fitting that Roger would beat Rafa for his 14 and 15 GS titles considering their history together.

As for Rafa I think he is just now learning how to handle the responsibilities of being the No. 1 player. I think he has been a little tight and slight bit more prickly on court this year because of the learning curve. Also, and I don't know this for fact, but he definitely looks thinner this year and maybe its a result of the pressure he feels off the court that may have caused the weight loss. I just watched part of the 2007 Rome semi vs Davydenko and he definitely looks bigger there. Today his skin looks drawn and tight on his face, much like a Tour de France rider after the Tour.

Posted by VE 05/05/2009 at 12:23 AM

Pete,

Now THIS is the thoughtful Nadal post I was waiting for when you decided to discuss the loss of the muscle shirt. Welcome back. This talk of a GOAT, a single GOAT is pretty much ridiculous for exactly the reason you stated.

The Open era encompasses (approximately) 161 majors and most of the older greats either turned pro a la Laver, or ignored certain slams (usually Australia). I too have been wondering where the greatness threshold lies and I have a hard time arguing with 7 as the line. Here's hoping Rafa joins the pantheon...and soon

Posted by SUNNYROSE 05/05/2009 at 12:25 AM

Pete.
I liked the post but there is a difference in the Chris-Martina and Pete-Agassi rivalry. Today Roger is 28 and Rafa is 22. If you consider the rivalry Roger had with the players of his era which includes former world no.1's...Safin, Roddick, Hewitt, Ferrero etc, Roger has clearly dominated them throughout. Today he is losing to players more than 6-7 years his junior...a different generation. And moreover when we qualify someone as the 'GOAT' its not necessarily how many slams the player has won but how the player plays technical tennis. And I am sure Roger is far better in that department than Rafa.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (Nancy for London) 05/05/2009 at 12:39 AM

Obviously I am not a Rafa expert at all however I do feel he will have a better career than Borg (sorry AM). The reason I think this is the way Rafa approaches the game of tennis and always thinking ahead of what he needs to do to prepare and staying in the present. He also has a different personality than Borg. I don't think he will succumb to injuries as I think he is getting on top of that and he has people around him who will guide him in this area. The simple fact Rafa loves the game I think more than Borg.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 05/05/2009 at 12:48 AM

sunnyrose, 12:25:

And moreover when we qualify someone as the 'GOAT' its not necessarily how many slams the player has won but how the player plays technical tennis. And I am sure Roger is far better in that department than Rafa.

"Technical tennis." What's that?

Is GOAThood now determined in part, like figure skating and gynastics, by stylistic components separate from actual match results?

Posted by tigressadorer 05/05/2009 at 01:25 AM

test

Posted by BlueDog 05/05/2009 at 01:41 AM

SUNNYROSE-

Just for the record, Roger is still 27, he'll be 28 in august of this year. Let's not age him any faster than necessary :)

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 01:49 AM

Frances: I meant that since Rafa turned pro very early; he started produced meaningful results as early as 2004, was ranked #2 in July 2005, and has been a rival to Fed ever since. He was there competing with Fed for most(not all) of Fed's peak yrs (2004-2007). So yeah, their careers might be off by a few years, but Fed is not in another era , so to speak. I think the h2h and other comparisons are relevant.

Also W.r.t Rafa's career, there is some merit in the argument of a shorter carrier span. Because Rafa's game is so physical and he does not have a big serve, the inevitable 5-10% decrease in speed and intensity(in the near future) would hurt him more than it does to more offensive players (like Sampras or Fed). I'm not saying he would retire when he's 26 yrs old. But it's hard to see him in the top 2 or 3 at that time.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/05/2009 at 02:07 AM

Hey Pete and everyone,

I'm in the stable of GOATs camp...but to me there is quite a difference between 13 and 7.

Hm...I think Rafa's game has beauty, too, if not elegance...this probably makes me a lunatic, but there you are. :)

"I understand that Roger is holed up in Switzerland with the mysterious Monsieur Pierre Paganini, and not because they're collaborating on a violin concerto."

LOL! - but I'm with those who think Fed was always fit, aside from the mono complications. Maybe not as fit as a human being could be, but certainly as fit as he needed to be. *shrug* I did wonder about the fitness in the AO final, towards the end, he seemed tired, but how can you tell if that is mental or physical? It seems to me in both Wimbledon 2008 - *pauses to kiss Wimbledon DVD* - and AO 09 Roger underestimated Rafa slightly - at Wimbledon, thinking that Rafa would feel the loss of the third and fourth sets, and at AO, feeling that Rafa would be a little tired after the SF. Not disrespected Rafa - those are how the story would likely play out. I felt Roger got a little bit surprised in both cases.

What I've loved about this rivalry is the chase aspect, from Nadal. Federer at Wimbledon was the standard and Rafa seemed to set himself reaching that as a challenge. And even back in 2006, Rafa made life difficult for Feddy in the Wimbledon final, taking a set after being bageled - Federer seemed to me to look a little relieved at the end of that one. And very relieved in 2007. Although we should remember, in a way Roger was chasing immortality all through that time, while Rafa was simply chasing Roger. And, if one recognised that Rafa was a potential great (and this time last year there was a lot of "great claycourter, not much more" going around), one would have to see that at some point Rafa was likely to overtake Roger in rankings at least, given the difference in their ages. They're not exactly contemporary. Just a slightly different kind of rivalry to me, and one I find more compelling than many others. *shrug*

(in 2008 - Rafa *did* come back from a break down in the second set - he was 4-1 down and won the set 6-4, I think. I thought Federer upped his serve for the final three sets. But agreed his serve has been a bit absent lately - it just doesn't have that reliability. It looks more to me like lack of confidence than the back problem, however.)

Up until Wimbledon last year, the whole dynamic was like the Winter King and the Summer King for me, ritual slayings at FO and Wimbledon included. ;-) But the whole thing is so strange, in that it's as if Roger somehow called forth the one type of player who was the worst possible match-up for him, who could single-handedly pull down the "undisputed GOAT" dream.

What I would like to see Roger do, I guess, is to take on the challenge in reverse - to see Rafa at RG as the standard, win the 14th or 15th and beat Rafa at RG to do it - that would make the best ending to the story - although it ignores all the little things and inconvenient facts of age and match-up and stuff.

on the other hand, as a Rafa KAD, ouch if that happens. ;-) But I'd still be happy for Roger. (happier if Rafa was to take the USO, of course...) And there's no reason to believe that Roger isn't focussed on that RG. I expect him to do well there, although I can't say I'm confident of it.

I don't know about the mileage on Rafa's body. At the moment I think Rafa can probably do whatever he puts his mind to...I'd hate to see his career end the way 2008 ended, though. The year ending that way was sad enough.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/05/2009 at 03:23 AM

Just went to read the ESPN post...has ESPN changed its look slightly or did I approach from a different angle? Whatever - ugh, changes. *shudders*

LOL @ the "fondue spears" - created very strange image in head. ;-)

I don't know what else Federer *would* think about Madrid, except an opportunity to win on clay and maybe, hopefully, beat Nadal in the final, before Roland Garros. If he said that though, he'd get the fondue-spear-skewering for his supposed arrogance, no? If he wants to work on his game or his fitness in peace, more power to him...is that not what lots of people have been advising him to do for months? *slightly confused*

and if Feddy did pull out the win, I can't see that fact alone would make much difference to a potential match-up between Rafa and Roger at the FO. *shrug*

Posted by court1234 05/05/2009 at 03:28 AM

It's funny how things get lost in translation. Roger is a far better player then Sampras was on red clay..but the versatility isn't as much a factor if it doesn't translate to winning the big title. Lendl was far better then many give him credit now on grass...but his finals at Wimbledon didn't cement the argument of his greatness.

Give me Sampars SIX consecutive years as the Number one player in the world and a record 270 weeks at the top, to a 4 year run, however dominant, Roger was in that 4 year period. There is a chance Roger will end up this year 3rd or lower..

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 03:54 AM

""Give me Sampars SIX consecutive years as the Number one player in the world and a record 270 weeks at the top, to a 4 year run, however dominant, Roger was in that 4 year period.""

WORD!

Posted by dj 05/05/2009 at 04:09 AM


Rafa himself said

Federer is

Greatest

of

All

Time.

The biggest compliment is from your arch-rival

not from a columnist or poster.

Posted by Eoin 05/05/2009 at 05:19 AM

Rafa is obviously top dog,a monster mentally and physically. If he stays healthy, I really don't see anyone beating him at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. I believe he will go into the USO on the verge of Grand Slam greatness. Its going to be a fantastic season.

I don't think Fed will regain his confidence or form in 2009, and will be lucky to finish at World number 4. He hasn't beaten any of his closest rivals this season, and Murray and Djoko will overtake him, thats for sure. He needs a coach and a new perspective on things. He also needs to change his tactics and start coming to the net more, especially on grass and hardcourt. He has the speed, the volleys and the net game. It obvious he can't beat his rivals from the basline anymore, those days are gone.

His kid is coming as well and that will be a major distraction. Anybody that says your first kid is not a major distraction to one's professional career doesn't know what they are talking about. I really can't see Fed winning a slam in 2009.

Posted by Corrie (not Carrie or Cory) 05/05/2009 at 06:25 AM

Can't we wait until their careers are over before we even think about GOATS? Only then will there be the necessary perspective. I think the best approach is always to think in terms of a select little herd of GOATs, because it's impossible to say one player from one generation is better than another later one. I'm sure both Roger and Rafa will be in this little herd, in fact they may well be top dogs, to mix animals. I think Lendl is definitely in it too, though he seems to get overlooked so much.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 06:46 AM

Corrie, you're right that we should wait until their careers are over. It's still too premature to be singing Roger's requiem, or to place Rafa on a higher pedestal than Borg (!). But I disagree that we should select a small herd of GOATs and be done with it. That's way too easy and takes all the fun out of the debate!

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 06:50 AM

BTW Pancho Gonzales said this as early as in '95: "I rate [Sampras] potentially with anybody, including Lew Hoad." And he considered Hoad the best ever. You do the math. :)

Posted by Rosangel 05/05/2009 at 07:12 AM

crazyone: well, that's the beauty of speculation - we may all see different possible outcomes. If Djokovic had met Federer in the Roland Garros final in 2007 and lost, his match with him at the US Open later that year could have been a different story - I mean, it's not as if Djokovic didn't have chances there. Plus if there had been no Rafa, Djokovic might well have been the Wimbledon finalist that year as well. Djokovic was a rapidly-rising talent at that point - who is to say that earlier Slam final experience might not have helped him to a Slam win earlier?

But I still say that it's possible that he could have won RG 2007, based on the way he was playing at the time, and his level of comfort on the surface.

Posted by Aussiemarg{Madame President in Comma Rehab in 2009} 05/05/2009 at 07:21 AM

Gee I wish the word or term "Goat" was never invented

How many players have we seen in the past and say present have been exceptional players in their own right won slams etc and havent had this over used expression put on them.

This post isnt about "Goats"

Posted by Corrie (not Carrie or Cory) 05/05/2009 at 08:03 AM

AM, I think Pete's post is about the road to Goathood and how pebbles can become almighty rocks in barring the way. I can see how it gets tedious to some while fun for others, those who like speculating about how it'll all end up in the future. I'm sort of in the middle, which is why I like the idea of a small herd.

I do disagree with Pete saying that Fed tried to ignore Nadal's rise. I seem to remember he sang his praises back in 05 and often more recently. At the AO he seemed quite indignant that Nadal was being underplayed in favour of Murray being annointed the favourite. In the last year he has said several times that he sees Nadal as his main rival and threat. Although now it's getting to the point where Roger doesn't even seem much of a rival to the top three.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:05 AM

I normally don't get into the Fed-Rafa debate (others do plenty of that already). That said lemme tackle the question that Wilander supposedly asked at the '07 USO: "How can a guy be considered the greatest player ever if there's a guy he can't beat in his own era?"

Now, I do enjoy and respect Mats' commentary, but this question has always struck me as specious. Take a close look at the Fed-Rafa H2H that Sam posted earlier:

Clay - Nadal leads 9-1
Hard - tied @ 3-3
Grass - Fed leads 2-1.

As you can see, it's only on clay that Rafa has been able to dominate Roger. That brings us to the point I raised last week: We should be wary of the counting game 'cause there are no MS events played on grass. Imagine there have been as many MS events on grass as on clay. If so Fed and Rafa surely would've met more than only 3 times on grass. Does any1 here think Roger wouldn't have won most of the matches? Yeah, exactly.

So it's not like Rafa has had Fed on a leash in their rivalry, yet at the same time it's clear that Rafa is beginning to gain the upper hand. Now I know it's been said that Fed and Rafa belongs to a different semi-generation, but 5 years aren't that big a gap (Connors and McEnroe were born almost 7 years apart.), and history has shown that most tennis GOATs continue to win Slams at 28, 29 or 30 years of age. That's why the next two or three years (including this one) will be crucial for Fed. If he fails to pass or even tie Sampras in Slam counts there will always be the "GOAT of the weak era" label affixed to him (unjustly, I know), but if he does persevere and amass a few more Slams he will have joined the highest echelon of men's tennis. Let's see if TMF can put the "Mighty" back in his name.

Posted by just a note 05/05/2009 at 08:05 AM

Hello to all! Well AM that's a problem I always seem to have when multiple posts are open, where do you post??;))

Posted by Aussiemarg{Madame President in Comma Rehab in 2009} 05/05/2009 at 08:12 AM

Well to have the term "Goat" used in its true form

As it has been used in the past of players

One has to win the 4 grand slam titles

Presently Roger hasnt been able to win at Roland Garos

Rafa hasnt been able to win at the US OPEN

So we will have to see how the future pans out

Agassi hey remember him?

He holds all of the 4 slams not concurrent of course.

Posted by deeps 05/05/2009 at 08:27 AM

I would bring up another number 10 - for deciding who enters the stable of GOATs. 7 marks the great players form the good and 10 as the cutoff for the GOAT debate - Tilden, Borg, Laver, Sampras, Federer. 11 if you don't want to include Tilden. Ok it includes Emerson too but we all know Emerson doesn't really count in any discussion of that era.

Federer was the second best clay courter of 2007 on virtue of reaching finals in all the tournaments he played and winning two - Estoril and Hamburg, defeating Nadal in one of them. The only semis Djokovic reached was RG that year - now he may have defeated Fed if he had been on Fed's side but one clay court event doesn't make him the second best of the season.

I can see the argument for 2008 being tighter, Djokovic repeatedly reached the semis against Nadal and won the Rome masters. His results were a lot more consistent - however Fed did defeat Djokovic at Monte Carlo (yes it was a sore throat but he still lost) and that tips it on Fed's side in my eyes.

Posted by Master Ace 05/05/2009 at 08:35 AM

Know this is a red meat post but typepad has been on breakfast break(lunch or dinner in other parts of the world) since 6:20 AM TW and all tennis action has started for the day.


Look like Cornet slump will continue as K Bondarenko is serving for the match leading 6-4,5-1 while Dulko has gotten the break back in the 2nd set and is trying to break Jankovic again to win the set to force the decider. If Dulko wins, Venus will be number 3 in the world.

Posted by just a note 05/05/2009 at 08:36 AM

Read this on "The Ticker" - don't know the date so could be old news to some -

"Two sisters, Karli and Tanya Timko, have won the boys doubles title in the Pittsburgh region's high school league.

The pair decided to compete in the boys division of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League tennis competition after the girls' event was discontinued.

'A lot of the boys have been good sports but there have been a couple sour apples," Karli Timko told a local newspaper.'"

Love it!!

Mmmmm, equal opportunity?! "girls event discontinued". I'm so glad they used their brains and didn't give up.;))

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:39 AM

deeps, if we were to include pre-Open era GOATs I think most experts would also put Budge, Gonzales, and maybe Kramer in there. I'm sure Kramer would stick up for Vines, but he left the tennis scene too early to be considered, IMO.

Posted by deeps 05/05/2009 at 08:42 AM

NP, I will concede that the lack of grass events skewed things in Rafa's favor in the H2H. But I refuse to concede that Rafa's inability to perform consistently on hard before 2008 skewed the H2H. The hard H2H has always remained close to an even split.

While it is fun to speculate Rafa as a possible GOAT, its too early to put him there based on just 12 months. He still has to get number 7 - Pete's theoretical number. And its too early to write off Fed too. Unless Rafa goes on a rampage or totally falls by the wayside, I would wait a couple more years before anointing him anything. And whatever Rafa does, Fed's place in the stable is a lock.

And Fedal are contemporaries - they have been 1 and 2 for close to 4 years now. However both have not yet played at their peaks at the same time (something like Borg-Mcenroe) - this is Nadal's peak and Fed's was 2006-2007 and that is where the what if they had played at their peaks simultaneously argument comes. And it could still happen, Fed's only 27 - he could always find that form back - after all Agassi and Connors both had late resurgences.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (Monaco FTW Estoril 2009) 05/05/2009 at 08:42 AM

It took me a while to workout that typepad has gone home for the day.

Posted by deeps 05/05/2009 at 08:43 AM

Okay NP, then 11 it is. The weird thing is nobody has 9 or 10 in the Open era.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:51 AM

deeps, I've said before that Rafa was already an excellent HC player as early as in '07, so we don't actually disagree. And we also agree that it's too early to start writing on the walls about Fedal's GOAT credentials.

Posted by Master Ace 05/05/2009 at 08:52 AM

Rosangel has posted Your Call for today so this post can stay a red meat one.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:53 AM

deeps, I think 11 is reasonable. How can you argue against Laver's & Borg's magic #?

Posted by TennisFan2 05/05/2009 at 08:59 AM

AM, three cheers for Agassi. Is it any wonder why so many of us Agassi fans are Rafa fans as well?

We were fortunate to see Agassi's last professional win at the US Open - even at the end of his career he was fantastic to watch in person. His career was a joy to watch from the hot pink mullet days to the all white and bald years (piratas and muscle t's to collared shirts - hmmm - what's with Nike anyway).

Can't say enough about what Andre meant to professional tennis.

I believe Rafa will follow Andre in the career slam - even as a die hard Rafa fan for many years I am just not sure a calendar slam can be done in this era of tennis (the schedule is just so demanding). Even Fed in his prime couldn't do it (and I believe he belongs in the GOAT stable).

As far as one GOAT - I think it's a silly debate. There are so many reasons players can't be compared over decades. Better to enjoy the great ones while they are playing - there are so few that can really transform a game - I believe BOTH Rafa and Fed have been transformational for the men's game.

Posted by Rosangel 05/05/2009 at 09:18 AM

*I can see the argument for 2008 being tighter, Djokovic repeatedly reached the semis against Nadal and won the Rome masters. His results were a lot more consistent - however Fed did defeat Djokovic at Monte Carlo (yes it was a sore throat but he still lost) and that tips it on Fed's side in my eyes.*

And what about the painful blowout in the Roland Garros final?

I haven't been trying to build the case that Djokovic was definitely the number two claycourter in either 2007 or (more possible) 2008. Just that that honour is at least mildly debatable - in 2008 (and maybe earlier) Federer didn't look like the "clear" number two claycourter to me.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war 05/05/2009 at 09:19 AM

Hey again all.

*joins in the cheering for Agassi* - wonder if you can put a numerical value on winning all four Slams that would bump Agassi up to hypothetical 10 or 11? Pspace?

I don't like Agassi missing the hypothetical cut-off. ;-)

if there'd been more Masters Series on grass, perhaps Rafa would've learned to play on grass earlier (he seems a quick-ish study on that surface). I'm not convinced there would've been such a huge disparity in the H2H. But then it could've worked plenty of other ways too. *shrug*

I suppose my point is, it's the way it is, really. Would've, could've, whatever...didn't. *more shrug*

Posted by Syd 05/05/2009 at 09:29 AM

Mike, very well said. Great points. Thanks for adding some perspective.

Posted by Syd 05/05/2009 at 09:35 AM

Dunlap;

Word. When he lost his service in the third at Rome v Djokovic, it was over in I think they said the game took two minutes. He was rushing his serve like crazy, and didn't seem to have a plan. It was in fact, bizarre. Clearly, there's now some sort of psychological thing happening here with Roger on serve.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/05/2009 at 09:38 AM

Jewell: re agassi. 'how 'bout if you win a career slam you automatically gain entrance into the goat club?

Posted by Tfactor 05/05/2009 at 09:40 AM

Well of course I have to join in the cheering of Andre Agassi.
Give me quality over quantity every time! :)
Also, I must say that even for someone like me who is not particularly fond of clay, I find the way in which most people want to overlook it or even exclude it -just because it is a player's preferred surface- somewhat amusing.
I guess clay is the stepson/daughter of the playing surfaces. I certainly can't imagine anyone making the same kind of arguments when talking about a player's hard court results

Posted by deeps 05/05/2009 at 09:42 AM

Rosangel,

I agree - 2008 isn't as clear cut as the results suggest. Fed beating Nole at Monte Carlo makes me favor Fed but a case can be made for both. I disagree with earlier though - consistency is important and Nole had no consistency on clay till 2008. He didn't meet Fed cos he found it hard to get past most clay courters not because he would end up on Nadal's side. And I don't think any other player troubled either Fed or Rafa in that period.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/05/2009 at 09:42 AM

Tfactor: ah and i just love the dirt. clay and grass mean tennis to me, not hc. i guess i'm very traditional.

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