Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - So . . . What Was That About?
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So . . . What Was That About? 04/28/2010 - 12:57 PM

Rf Watching Roger Federer play the final two games against Ernests Gulbis yesterday in Rome reminded me of my favorite opening line from an album review. Greil Marcus wrote it in Rolling Stone in 1970, about Bob Dylan’s abominable Self-Portrait.

“What is this s**t?”

After his mind-bending mid-60s peaks, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, which threw all the old rules out the window, and his smaller, mellower, autumnal end-of-decade gems, John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, which showed what could still be done when you brought the old rules back, the long, weird, and deliberately irritating Self-Portrait was the first clear signal of decline, of exhaustion, of capitulation from Dylan. Is that what we saw yesterday from Federer? Was his loss to Gulbis his Self-Portrait? And by that somewhat dubious whimsical logic, will his 2010 Australian Open the equivalent of Nashville Skyline, a long walk into the sunset that was so smooth it deceived everyone into thinking he could pull it off forever?

I’ll start by saying that we’ve been here before, or close to here before. I wrote a post after Federer’s almost-as-ugly loss to Gilles Simon in Toronto in the summer of 2008 about how the world would be a different place if Federer never found his forehand again. He found it pretty quickly, in time to win the next Grand Slam, the U.S. Open.

The next thing I’ll say is that the end of this match was worse than Simon. When he was broken at 5-5, after Gulbis had, in Federer’s words, “donated” the previous game to him, it was as if Federer intentionally found different ways to get his forehand to land outside the lines. Over the last two games, the only shots I can remember him making were a few desperate stabs that barely crawled over the net. Federer had the match handed back to him, but he declined to take it. During changeovers in the third set he hunched under his umbrella like a chastened, fuming schoolkid, and tossed his empty water bottles behind him with exasperated disgust.

It was hard to read Federer’s mindset at those moments, and it’s hard to figure out why he’s performed so poorly at the Masters events this year, particularly at this Masters event. Like I wrote at the start of 2010, his season would be intriguing primarily because he was in a position that few, if any, players had ever reached. He was starting his tennis afterlife; Federer had reached every individual goal imaginable, but he still had years left on his career. Forget the inevitable physical decline, the question for the moment was: What would this do to his motivation? There really wasn’t anyone he could go to for advice.

But back to the physical for the moment. Decline, as we know, is inevitable. In fact, outside of the majors, it’s been happening to Federer for a couple of years now. His last dominant season when Rafael Nadal was healthy came in 2007. In tennis, I’ve always thought that age manifests iself not in loss of speed or power but in consistency, in the ability to do the same thing over and over with precision—ask Lleyton Hewitt or Pete Sampras. And there’s plenty of evidence for Federer’s lack of consistency in 2010, both from shot to shot and tournament to tournament. If the Gulbis case was extreme, it also wasn’t totally surprising from a shot-making standpoint. Federer is going to have bad days, he’s going to have very days, he’s going to lose.

What’s harder to gauge, of course, is the mental aspect, which brings us back to motivation. In his last three post-loss press conferences, Federer seems to have moved from bitterness to a bewildered acceptance of his newfound propensity for chucking away close matches. He was unhappy and even a little defiant in Indian Wells, but as you can see from the clip below, he was calmer in Rome, at least when he was answering these particular questions. He said he never felt saved, he couldn’t find his serve, he knows he’s got work to do (did he pick up “hard yards” from Brad Gilbert, by any chance? please give it back to him, Rog), he’s looking forward to the next tournament (he’s “curious” about what’s going to happen), it’s easier to take because he’s won so much, and that losing wakes you up to some of the things you're doing wrong. The only strange element to the video is the noise that Federer makes as he walks into the press room, in answer to the fans’ cries. I don’t know what he says, but there's a cranky old man aspect to it.

So, what does all this, the rancid forehands and the fairly low-key post-match assessment, tell us about Federer now and in immediate future? I’d venture to say that he's in an odd psychological position when he’s not playing a major, not playing for history. On the surface of his brain, he wants to win and hates to lose as much as ever. But motivation and will and desire are only semi-conscious attributes—you can’t fool your own mind into wanting something more than it really does. What was disturbing in the second set was how quickly Federer faded away after Gulbis asserted himself early. What was disturbing in the third was how he didn’t capitalize on his extra chance at 5-5, seemingly because at some level he didn’t think it was his day to win. That’s where the extra, unconscious motivation may have been missing: Federer couldn’t manufacture a win purely out of his will and his experience. I’m sure, at that point, that even Gulbis believed that Federer would make him pay for his double faults and choked forehands. Maybe, after the losses in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, Federer has become fatalistic about the Masters, maybe he’s starting to assume he won’t find his best game. Afterward, he even uttered a word that has never been associated with him: “I may have to get through some ugly matches.” Hopefully he’ll take that prediction to heart, but it can’t be a pleasant thought for the man who has always been aware of, and proud of, his “beautiful technique.”

There are plenty of mitigating factors to the loss. Gulbis is a good player; he can beat anyone (Federer made an interesting comment in his presser, about how much pace Gulbis can get on his second serve). This was also Federer’s first match on clay, his weakest surface. He lost early in Rome last year and went on to win the French Open. But if his present form continues, it will only get harder for him to summon his best on command at the majors. Or maybe it won’t—maybe that extra level of motivation will always be there for the big ones. The bottom line, as it always is with Federer these days, is that we won’t know the meaning of Rome until we see what happens in Paris. With him, no Masters result can be looked at separately from the ensuing Slam result.

Can the fate of Bob Dylan shed any light on Federer’s future? Self-Portrait was indeed a sign of decline, of artistic exhaustion and capitulation. And that exhaustion lasted for a few years. Then Dylan made Blood on the Tracks, which redefined what a rocker could do in his 30s—of course, it was also about break-ups and anger and regrets, but let's not worry about that right now. The point is, nobody asked “What is this s**t?” 


 
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Posted by Geellis 04/29/2010 at 04:25 AM

@jabheel@durbul.eyes.com
I'll not be eating any words. It is clear to me that Nadal is the ONLY player who can really be counted on to offer resistance to the Fed's GS immortality. If, however, Nadal's knees take him out of the picture, there's no reason for Fed not to continue collecting GS hardware. Murray and Djokovic have signaled only their own vulnerability, both generally and against the Fed, in GSs recently; so there's no reason to "expect" them to produce at the GSs anytime soon. With those two guys showing no signs of really challenging Fedal (or, for argument's sake, Federer) at the slams, where does Fed's competition, at the GSs, come from? If Nadal is healthy, ok, we have an heir apparent. But if he's not, the ailing King continues to reign until some unknowable point in the future. And that's what he plays for.

His supposed next-in-lines are, for various reasons, not able to take the mantle from him. So, will we eat our words like last year? For me, at least, I only hinge my hopes for a changing of the guard on Nadal. If he is physically unable to compete, I have, at this time, little faith in the other pretenders to the throne. This is especially true given the state of Del Potro's wrist. Now there's a player who, on his first at bat in a GS final, beat the Fed in, surely, what was the Fed's own house if not his NYC second residence. Murray, with now two bites at the apple, has played abysmally. And by his own reckoning, Djokovic is a mere shadow of the player that won the '08 AO.

Posted by Geellis 04/29/2010 at 04:34 AM

Steve,
I love the presser. I thought it was frank and very honest without any dramatics. He gave credit where it was due while blaming himself for his failings as well. Recognizing the other's players efforts while discussing your own failings is a match is a nimble balance we demand of players and many players often, some more than others, do a poor job of striking this balance (just as Serena, Djokovic, Murray, etc.). On the whole, I think he's right to look to Estoril where, hopefully, fewer good players will show up thus increasing his likelihood of going deep so that he can reach the better players at the tail end of the tournament and really begin to find his legs on clay. I, for one, would love to see another Fedal battle in the final at RG.

Posted by Geellis 04/29/2010 at 04:58 AM

Apologies for the internal redundancy of my post above. I made the same point at least twice.

Posted by dane 04/29/2010 at 08:03 AM

without losing we dont feel the sweetness of winning,federer failed to win the match so what?is that the end of his career?so what if he is old and cant play as good when he was younger?for me federer has already achieved great in tennis so win or lose i am a big fan

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/29/2010 at 08:36 AM

Nice piece, Steve.

I think Roger hit it on the head when he pointed out these two things in his presser (and I paraphrase):

1. It's always difficult when you first touch a new surface -- so yes, this was his first clay-court event and match, and there is some adjusting that needs to take place.

2. It seems easy, even too simple, when you are winning, and winning maches builds momentum -- ain't this the truth; and with three losses in early rounds of late, he's got to start winning soon and get those matches under his belt in order to build confidence and momentuum going into the next major in Paris.

No one understands this better than Roger. The only question worth asking is whether he's unconsciously motivated enough to dig out the matches he should win so he can make this happen. I, for one, hope so, but we'll have to wait and see. If he can turn the ship around in Estoril, then I think we're in for a great French. If not, I don't see how he'll be able to suddenly summon the will to win in Paris.

Posted by Corrie 04/29/2010 at 08:53 AM

Five pages analysing a top player's first (lousy) match on a new surface, a player who is rusty and short of match play and maybe a bit too focused on off court doings to boot. Amazing. I wonder what Fed would say if he knew.

Posted by jessida 04/29/2010 at 09:17 AM

Federer is only concerned about records. It's embarrassing to watch his effortless display of tennis. He should step aside & let players who STILL love the game play!!

Posted by Jay 04/29/2010 at 10:23 AM

Geelis: I agree with your 9:11!

Jessida: I get your point, but I'm not so sure that Fed is only concerned about records--many of his fans are, though, and they assume that his legacy is the only thing that drives him.

Steve: There is every indication that Fed still cares about winning every tournament that he enters. Fed shares the competitive drive of great champions who, while they know that some wins are more important than others, they still have the desire to win every time they put themselves into arena. Jordan tried to win every game, knowing that the playoffs are more important than the regular season. Tiger tries to win every tournament (big and small), despite knowing that ultimately, the number of major wins will be his greatest legacy. These early losses outside of the majors may not affect Fed's legacy, but they do affect Fed the player/competitor.

The really great ones thrive on, and crave competition, and thats why Fed will play until he is no longer viable. Success is addictive, and four tournaments per year is not enough for Fed, yet. Rather than being a disincentive, his legacy (which is already quite secure) allows that he is playing because he loves to play. In Rome this year, he just was not at his best. Happens to the best of them!

He may eventually cut his schedule to save his energy for the majors, as others did (most recently Pete, Andre), but he is not there yet. He has not had the latter career injuries that some of the former greats had at his age.

Some point to the way that his clay court season played out last year, as prologue for this year. I contend that although things worked out for him with respect to Roland Garros, he was not happy to lose early in Monte Carlo or Rome last year. Those losses were fate and circumstances, not a part of some "peaking" theory.

Posted by Sheka 04/29/2010 at 11:55 AM

Fed said , its not as bad as it looks. thats what he muttered.

Posted by charlie 04/29/2010 at 12:00 PM

fed says "that is mad"

Posted by Jamesss 04/29/2010 at 12:19 PM

Geellis, so there's no way Federer can't win French, or any other Slam for that matter if Nadal is healthy? And Federer didn't have any worries in 08? And And Federer also has needed everyone playing rubbish to win the slams? And when they haven't played bad, he loses, like Del Potro in USO? And we should discount Federer shanking BADLY in the last 4 sets, and serving 50 %, by deciding it doesn't matter how Fed plays, it's the opponents level (disregarding how difficult Feds game might make it) that is decisive? And #37 and #47 (Feds AO 1st and 2nd round opponents) are significantly worse than #43 and #33 (IW) or #102 and #61 (Miami)?

Well, it seems you have got it all figured out.

Posted by FedHead 04/29/2010 at 12:39 PM

It's never over until the fat man sings (or gets caught freebasing in his BMW). So this fan of the inimitable "Grateful Fed" believes that Rome was just a ripple in otherwise still waters.

FH

Posted by Geellis 04/29/2010 at 01:32 PM

@Jamesss
I like your sarcasm. Of course, I also like how you omit my saying that I supremely respect the singularity of both Fed's game and his achievements in tennis. Of course Federer can win RG if a healthy Nadal is in the field. At this point in their respective careers, however, he just cannot win said slam by going through Nadal. Recall that Nadal's first win against Federer was not on the Spaniard's beloved clay. His first win over fed came on the beloved HCs upon which the Swiss star has etched some of his greatest work. They have played 9 times on surfaces other than clay and Fed holds a slim lead, 5-4. I appreciate the homework you did to figure out the R1 and R2 opponents of Fed in the 2010 AO. However, statistically speaking, the top players play easier opponents in the opening rounds of the GSs than at the Masters. It's simple really, there are half as many seeded players at the Masters events. That means, the top 8 seeds can play the world No. 17 in round two of a Masters event and such a pairing is impossible in R1 of a GS.

I think, ultimately, however, you mistake my main point. It's not that Federer needs everyone to play poorly (even though it cannot really be gainsaid that Djokovic and Murray have been playing poorly over the past several slams) to win. But he is not the player today that he was 4 years ago and his fans should except that. And Nadal was, through '09 AO very much in his head. Just look at the man bawling at the trophy ceremony if you needed anymore proof of this. And if Nadal is healthy, there is really no question that he poses by far the greatest threat to Fed on all surfaces with the exception of the fast HCs at the USO. That said, remaining healthy poses its own problems for Nadal.

Posted by JohnC 04/29/2010 at 02:18 PM

After much pondering, I've solemnly decided I don't know ... what will happen with Fed over the next period. And I don't think he does either. So we wait and see.

Posted by Alexis 04/29/2010 at 02:39 PM

Federer played like crap and he lost. Big freaking deal. When you play like that... you should lose. But let's see... didn't the guy just win his 16th major not too long ago? Yeah... he did.

And it's not like anyone else has been dominating the TMS recently. Let's see.... Nadal won MC (after not winning anything for 11 months), Roddick won Miami, Ljubicic won IW, Davydenko won the Year End, Djokovic won the Paris Indoors (I think).

Seems to me that everyone has had their good moments and bad moments recently.

Posted by Alexis 04/29/2010 at 03:32 PM

http://www.tennischannel.com/news/NewsDetails.aspx?newsid=7294

Enough Said.

Posted by linex 04/29/2010 at 05:05 PM

Hi Steve as usual I enjoyed your post only that this time I forwarded it to my dear brother Felipe who also happens to be a great fan of Roger. These were the words that Felipe (owner of the most popular pub in Montevideo where Dylan, N. Young are usually played) who wrote in Spanish asked me to translate and post to you:

"The article is good, and the journalist from the Rolling Stone that he mentions is one of the best known in Rock, I even have an article of him in my book shelf at home about the recording of Highway 61 that includes "Like a Rolling Stone". The paralelism that Steves draws between these two number ones (Nº 1s) of the world is almost correct. Only that blood in the tracks, was already edited by Roger F, and that was when he recovered from the loss in Australia to Nadal in 09. In the life of a musician the career continues, and in the case of an athlete the carreer remains and life continues. It is impossible to be number one throught your entire life, and chances to rebound are not always available. It is clear that Roger already had many succesful records, and one great blood on the tracks (that in fact [linex] it is one of your favourite records. It could be that Roger has still a Time out of Mind to edit, which was Dylan's great comeback, after 20 years in the shadows. If that becomes true, there are still plenty of Dylan titles to go with Roger's career, since as of 1997- year when Time out of Mind was edited to date, Dylan has remained in the first places in the chart with the release of each new record".

Posted by Andrew 04/29/2010 at 05:40 PM

The noise federer makes at the begining of the video is a reply to one of the fans.

The fan is saying "hey man"

And Federer is replying " I ain't man"

I guess so

Posted by Dan Scarlett 04/29/2010 at 07:47 PM

I agree with the writer who said 'all Fed cares about is records'....(read: pride and insatiable ego) ....thus I think he really cared about this Rome because he'll be furious if Raafa wins and ties Andre( before he does) at 16 Masters !!
I hope Rafa does not play Madrid, but if he does--and wins---Roger wil be spitting blood!

Posted by Maplesugar (at home) 04/29/2010 at 07:56 PM

I enjoyed your article, Steve...I'm not going to over-analyze this loss. Gulbis is a great player and was match-tough. Roger didn't have the opportunity to get any momentum going. I couldn't tell if Roger simply resigned himself to the loss of the third set or if he was really trying to pull it out. I didn't see him roll up his sleeves and get down and dirty. Maybe that is beneath him? His game wasn't working, and that was that. Don't know. But this was an ugly match, and I hope he works on his game AND attitude. He's still my hero, but what was that s**t?

Posted by JohnC 04/29/2010 at 09:47 PM

Have now read all the comments, and a few thoughts:

1) People should really refrain from pretending to read Federer's mind -- the results are at best silly and at worst insulting.

2) Even if Federer bows out early at Estoril, Madrid and RG, he will still be number 1, and will therefore still surpass the Sampras record. This is because:

* Nadal cannot pick up any points until Madrid (max 400 if he plays, minus 600 if he skips) and RG (max of 1820 there), and he is a fat 4,000 points behind Federer even if he wins Rome, and

* Djokovic is about 3,000 behind but is defending 960 points before RG, so he would need to win Rome, Madrid *and* RG -- an outcome I am prepared to declare impossible, even if Nadal's knees fall off somewhere in the process.

3) But having had three early exits in a row, does anyone believe there will be another three in a row, including at a major? It's possible, of course, but surely unlikely.

4) So Federer will start the grass season as no. 1 with at least some points buffer, the extent of which will depend on how profound the current form slump proves to be.

Posted by Arun 04/29/2010 at 10:08 PM

JohnC: Thanks for those updates. We are in an interesting situation. I think Fed needs to win Estoril and reach the final of RG (irrespective of what happens in Madrid) to feel absolutely safe re his #1 rank (and week #287) at the end of RG. That will guarantee that he will have 8700+ ranking points by the end of RG and rank #1. In the week after RG, Rafa will have exactly 8700 points if he wins Rome, Madrid and RG (which seem very likely at this point). Adding Nole to the mix makes it even more interesting. Let's say Nole defends his RUP performance in Rome, Belgrade title, reaches Madrid final and at least a SF in RG. That will leave him close to 8400 ranking points.

Now these are not guaranteed to happen. But, if they happen we will have Fed, Rafa and Nole hovering between 8800 and 8400 ranking points, approximately. Fascinating, right?

Posted by JohnC 04/29/2010 at 10:49 PM

Interesting indeed, Arun. Of course, for Rafa to win Madrid he has to play there, a prospect that I rate no higher than 50-50. Team Nadal is being pretty cagey here, but my guess is that if he is feeling *any* knee twinges or other issues he will skip -- reclaiming RG is just too important, and they have repeatedly said that ranking points are not the issue.

For Nole, the problem is that even in a realistic best-case on clay, he then goes into grass, which is his worst surface by a country mile.

Estoril *should be* a given for Federer, but ... someone like Soderling could decide to wildcard himself in, given Roger's apparent vulnerability. Nonetheless, reaching the semis only of all three would be sufficient for Roger to hold #1. Or to put it another way, if Roger can't get the points needed for 8,700 from those three tournaments then he is in deeper trouble than most people suspect, taking the past couple of months into account, and would deserve to lose the top ranking.

Posted by JohnC 04/29/2010 at 11:02 PM

"reaching the semis only of all three ..."

Sorry, that was an overcount of the Estoril points. He would need to win Estoril and reach the semis of the other two to be "safe". Same conclusion though.

Posted by Arun 04/29/2010 at 11:06 PM

"Or to put it another way, if Roger can't get the points needed for 8,700 from those three tournaments then he is in deeper trouble than most people suspect, taking the past couple of months into account, and would deserve to lose the top ranking."
Exactly, JohnC. I hope he finds form in Estoril and Madrid.

Posted by susan 04/30/2010 at 12:06 AM

to sum up:
possible utterances by federer as he walks into presser:

"dan is the man"
"daddy's mad"
"bad match" then later,"yeah allez"
"that is mad"
"kiss my ass"
"dan's the man"
"it's not as bad as it looks"
"that is mad"
"I ain't man" (to fan's "hey man")

Now THAT is fascinating.

Posted by susan 04/30/2010 at 12:12 AM

seriously now, i can think of a certain linguistics professor who could create an entertaining lecture on the above. ;)

Posted by susan 04/30/2010 at 12:16 AM

i hope years from now we don't here fed or rafa dissing one another as joni mitchell has done recently to bob dylan. (a fraud, he and i are so unlike,etc). pretty shocking stuff. and i so liked Court and Spark.

Posted by jerkstore 04/30/2010 at 12:25 AM

Tranquillo Fed fans. Just a blip. He won't win the French either but he'll recover. Gulbis has been hot as of late and Fed is obviously rusty from his limited schedule. Three outta five vs. two outta three is what it's all about.

Posted by susan 04/30/2010 at 12:33 AM

whoops. 'unalike' in previous post

i like ack's earlier comment about the david letterman bit. pretty much sums it for me, at this point in time.

sort of like asking 'how did the universe begin?'

Posted by JohnC 04/30/2010 at 12:47 AM

No, jerkstore, not just a "blip". It's not being beaten that's the problem (expect more of that -- four titles a year is a reasonable expectation), but by whom and how. If you're #1 then any loss to someone outside the top 10 is a bad loss, and if it is primarily a result of poor play on your part (regardless of how well Gulbis -- or Baggy, Berdy, or Benneteau for that matter -- were playing), it's double bad. Three in a row, triply double bad.

The question is whether this is a horrible dip in what every sensible person knows is an inevitable, though hopefully slow, downhill road, or a yawning chasm. The answer to this question is on Federer's racquet in the coming months. We can't know, but as Peter O'Toole admonishes Anothony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia" "Nothing is written!"

Posted by freddy 04/30/2010 at 08:27 AM

susan - wonderful!!!lol

geellis - despite your protestations to the contrary, am still not convinced that underneath the sheep's clothing, there doesn't lurk a Rafa KAD :-)

Posted by wjr 04/30/2010 at 11:18 AM

74and6 81and4 92and5............one set away twice,from winning grand slam.federer does,nt need to prove anything to anyone ever.what hes done for tennis,compares to what tiger has done. period. shall i go on.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/30/2010 at 05:02 PM

Steve, great post. My thought while watching the Gulbis debacle was that Federer is clearly ambivalent about what he wants to do. Does he want to put in the work and time to stay #1 or should he do enough to stay in the top4? Or should he bag it all and spend time with his babies. He said in the presser something about needing to practice like a madman before the french, but alot of his fans were under the impression that's what he'd been doing for the last several weeks.

This brings us to your article about Fed's motivation. He's got the major record sewn up. It's never going to be broken. It's an astounding record. But he has a very healthy ego and didn't like being introduced as the 2nd best player in the world at the AO 09 so would he be satisfied with being 'just' in the top 4? I don't know the man. Maybe what he really wants is to be at home with those beautiful girls. Whatever he decides, he's earned the right to do whatever he wants in this life. Best of luck to him.

Going to listen to the vid to see if I can hear something.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/30/2010 at 05:06 PM

Susan: "that is mad." is what i heard. 'mad' being 'wild' when he saw all the people coming to see him.

Posted by tina 04/30/2010 at 05:54 PM

I'm glad Gulbis is still in contention. I hate when players lose after they've just had an upset.

Annie - when it comes to records, never say "never" - the future might very well bring someone even more dominant than Fed.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/30/2010 at 06:03 PM

tina: ya think? The majors record is just so astoudning to me. but of course, never say never. true. I'm glad gulbis is still in contention too. Strange cus we just saw him in IW. He was at the hotel all the twibers were staying at. And I think he was knocked out in the first or second round. I'll go check. We just talked about his hair the whole time, not his tennis.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/30/2010 at 06:08 PM

Gulbis lost in the second round of IW to Kolya in straights.

Posted by Lump Of Kohlschreiber 04/30/2010 at 08:20 PM

I am back, for it is I with an opinion to share. Bob Dylan's "Self-Portrait" album was sheer genius! The man deconstructed not only music but himself as well. In light of The Archies could any other response have been valid? With Danny Partridge just around the corner Bob knew the times were a changing. Vapid times demand vapid answers and Bob redifined the word. I listen to this album 12 times a day and never fail to laugh until I'm sick. What could be better?

Posted by Alice 05/01/2010 at 04:37 PM

As both a tennis and Dylan fan I like the Dylan comparison to Fed, but I'm not sure how much you can compare the careers of artists and athletes. Artists have their whole lives and sometimes get better in middle or old age. Athletes have 15-20 years tops to compete at the highest level, and will usually begin to decline by their mid-30's or earlier, at an age when people in other professions are still considered young and up-and-coming. An athletes career is almost like a dogs life - 7 years to every 1 normal human year.

That being said I do have one Dylan comparison to add - I think last years French Open was Feds "Blood on the Tracks" - a long, hard epic journey - though with a happier ending than Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" album.

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