Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Reading the Readers: Truth vs. Modesty Edition
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Reading the Readers: Truth vs. Modesty Edition 07/19/2010 - 3:55 PM

Mc It's not easy to jump into the comments section of this blog after I've put so much—of my thoughts, my opinions, myself—into a post. The first negative one feels like a slap across the head. I don’t mind a harsh critique by email, but in public it can be cringe-worthy. Then, at some point while I'm scrolling, I get used to it. I have to, I guess. The comments generally get more negative as they go on. Still, I’ve got nothing to complain about. The fact that I can write a 2,000-word post about an obscure event from my own tennis past and have at least a few people read the whole thing is incredible.

For such a slow moment in tennis, last week was busy around here. I discovered how busy this morning. I had no idea this round of the Federer-Nadal war lasted as long or got as contentious as it did on “The Extraordinary Age.” I should have known. These fan battles are a blessing and a curse. I’m glad there’s a topic that makes people that passionate, and I’m amazed at the amount of thought and emotion that goes into each side’s arguments. But those arguments eventually end up going in circles. There’s only so much material—H2H, knees, excuses, Slams, Masters, knees, back, knees, Mono—to work with.

Since it’s still slow on court at the moment, I’ll use today to talk about a few of the subjects that cropped up in the comments last week.


From Tari, on "The Extraordinary Age": 

“I’m completely convinced that there are very few truly objective fans of Rafa or Roger. We’re all going to see it through the prism of our fanship.”

Anyone who likes pro tennis to the point where they become fans of certain players—which is everyone here, including myself—is going to have their judgment influenced when it comes to analyzing their favorites and their rivals. Your relationship with that player is probably more emotionally unconditional than it is with anyone else in your life. There’s no jealousy, the way there is with friends. There's no daily negotiating over who does the dishes, the way there is with spouses. Your fave player is a little like an idol, but unless he commits some kind of crime, he can’t let you down the way an idol who's actually part of your life can—losses won’t make you any less devoted. A fan is closer to a parent than anything else. Your favorite player is like your kid; you get nervous for him in the same way, and you forgive what other people see as his flaws, because you’ve watched him so closely for so long that you feel like you understand him better than anyone else. You understand that he’s not really making excuses or feigning modesty or being disingenuous, even if that’s the way it may sound to the rest of the world, to all those people who don't love him the way you do.

And you aren’t necessarily wrong. The insight that fans can have into their favorites was brought home to me while watching the Aussie Open final this year. Click here for the post, called "Bias Case," that I wrote about watching Federer as a fan in that match, and what it taught me. I’ll give you the short version here. 

While I do root for players in matches—I can’t help it, I like tennis too much to give up being a fan—I had rarely rooted for Federer in the past. I typically don’t root against him either. He’s a guy who I admire and respect, and who I like to watch, but he never really seemed like he needed another fan. He had it all under control on his own. But for some reason that I can’t explain, I was pulling for him in the Aussie final against Andy Murray. And suddenly I felt like I understood his game, his mindset, his weaknesses, his strengths better than I ever had. I’d never thought that he got particularly tight in matches, at least to the point where it adversely affected his game. Of course I know everyone gets tight, but I always believed Federer had such a rock-bottom confidence in himself that he could overcome nerves much more easily than others. Not true—I could tell when he was nervous in Melbourne, because, as a fan that day, I was nervous for him, with him. It made me think that if I could make myself into a fan of every player, I’d be a better tennis writer. Weirdly enough, right around the time of that match, Federer’s mother was interviewed about what it’s like to watch her son, and she said something about always being able to tell when he’s nervous. His mom is, among other things, another fan.

The upside is that watching one player that closely and sympathetically can give you insights into him or her that more objective eyes won’t decipher. The downside is that it can make you blind to other players’ virtues and get you to read sinister intentions into their words when they aren’t there. For example, Nadal is not falsely modest, the way his critics and some Federer fans maintain. Rather, he (1) legitimately believes he can and should lose matches, because that’s part of sports; (2) doesn’t want to motivate his opponents with that they call “bulletin board” material in pro football; and (3) is superstitious enough to err on the side of being too worried for a match, rather than overconfident. Hence his reluctance to call himself the “favorite,” even at the French Open. Nadal knows that in reality there are no “favorites.” It’s not a term that has any meaning for a player. There are seedings, and then there are matches to be played and won, and that’s it—anything else is just fan and media chatter and has nothing to do with how he approaches an event. To Nadal, the minute he began to think of himself as the “favorite,” is the minute he would begin to practice as if he were the favorite, and then play as if he were the favorite, and then lose as the favorite.

Likewise, Federer’s critics were wrong to accuse him of playing mind games with Murray before the final of the Aussie Open. Where Nadal goes for modesty, and his detractors see it as false, Federer does the opposite: He reflexively blurts what he considers to be the truth, even if it sounds immodest, and his detractors see it as either arrogance, excuse-making, or a head game. Before that final, Federer said it would be harder for Murray to win his first major against him than it was for Federer to win his first against fellow neophyte Mark Philippoussis at Wimbledon in 2003. In other words, he was saying, experience counts for something in these matches. That’s hardly a radical concept, and it couldn’t have been a stunning, will-weakening revelation to Murray.

Taking the good with the bad, the insight with the blindness, being a fan opens one eye wider at the same time that it makes it harder to see out of the other. As a writer who tries to be as objective as possible when it comes to putting my analysis down on paper, I listen to what fans say about their favorites, and take what they say about their rivals with a very large—like Guinness Book of World Records large—grain of salt. 

As the old song goes, "To Know Him is to Love Him." (Though Phil Spector wrote those words, so their validity may be questionable.) When it comes to tennis players, the better phrase may be: To love him is to know him.


From Rodrigo Guidolin, on “The Best of Her Time”: 

“Thanks, Steve, but there is no chance I could ever beat Budge, Tilden, or Gonzalez if we played with their gear. I think you’re overestimating how much athleticism means on the tennis court and underestimating those champions’ talents. Not fair dude.

The rest of your analysis I liked.”

Dude, let me start by saying that I appreciate the last line you added there, about liking the rest of my analysis. Disagreeing with me is fine, but it’s aggravating to read a comment that singles out a tiny aspect of a post and attempts to rip it to shreds without mentioning anything else about the other 99 percent of my argument. So I thank you for doing that, Rodrigo.

Anyway, I’m guessing that you are also the 500th-ranked player in the world. I stated last week that I thought that you could beat Don Budge “like a drum,” even if Budge was playing with modern equipment. I admire your modesty. More important to my argument from that post, I said that I thought Serena would crush Margaret Court and Chris Evert, and beat Navratilova and Graf most of the time.

First, let’s agree that the idea of time-traveling a champion from the past to the present day is absurd. If Margaret Court were 20 years old right now, she would have used different racquets from the beginning of her life, been coached to hit different shots, and trained completely differently. Her name probably wouldn’t even be Margaret. It would be Morgan, or Peyton, or Samantha—or maybe she would have been named after Evonne Goolagong or Steffi Graf, who knows.

Second, if we follow Wertheim’s hypothetical concept of giving those old players modern equipment, the next question is: How long do we allow them to practice with that equipment? For the sake of this parlor game, let’s say that Don Budge kept his 1930s game, but grew up using a modern racquet (an impossibility, but it's just a game). Maybe he would have been able to hang with you, Rodrigo, I don’t know. Maybe I over spoke. I’ve always thought that Rod Laver, if he had played with a current stick from the beginning, would have been able to use his game effectively today, even though he was only 5-foot-8. And in the past I’ve written about the continuity of champions in the Open era: Laver played Connors tight; Connors played Agassi tight; Agassi played Federer tight. Ditto for the women's side: Evert played close matches with Graf, and Graf played close ones with Serena. Within the Open era, there has been evolution in the sport, but there also been an ability by the best players to match their games up with the best from the next generation.

A good example of this is Evert. The soft-hitting Chrissie who won the French Open in 1975 with a wood racquet was not the same player who lost to Graf in the Aussie Open final 13 years later. Evert went down in that match in straights, but, using a graphite mid-size, she had made herself into a much stronger player, a much more modern player, than she was when she first turned pro. 

In the end, it’s probably best just to forget about asking which player of today would “beat” or "crush" which player from the past. There’s a reason why time travel is impossible.


From Northern Boy, on “Playing Ball: In a Dark Time”: 

“I’m curious, Steve, which parts of your story were ‘slightly fictionalized.’”

Everything in it was true, or as close to true as a 20-year-old memory can get, except for “Grimes,” my high school English teacher. And everything he did and said really did happen; it’s just that he was put together from the personalities and body types of two of my English teachers. One was the intimidator, the other was the modern poetry lover. I thought the composite was more entertaining.


I'll see you Wednesday with a preview of the hard court season.

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Posted by Sam 07/19/2010 at 04:43 PM

Good work Steve :)

Posted by cathy 07/19/2010 at 04:49 PM

great article Steve. no bad comments for you here :)

Posted by april 07/19/2010 at 05:18 PM

Great Steve! At last someone with objective on the Fedal debate! I don't see why a person can't love one of them but respect the other. I'm a Nadal fan but can still say that Federer is a genius

Posted by noleisthebest 07/19/2010 at 05:30 PM

Very"out of the abndance of mind" kind of article: unforced, logical flowing and actually saying something for a change (you usually get into those verbose , sugary overdone sentimental candy-floss let-me-impres-my-teacher- essays).
Keep being and observer Steve, and when you don't feel like observing, don't write....we'll understand :( because we'll probably become fans by then....

Posted by Northern boy 07/19/2010 at 05:42 PM

Very entertaining stuff indeed. I think I would definitely side with your sentiment about how major players from each generation played tight matches with those who would become the next generation, rather than Serena going back in time and crush all comers.

Maybe it's arrogant of me to assume I'm free from some sort of bias, but I would definitely consider myself to be relatively impartial on the Federer vs. Nadal topic. I love to watch them both as they are two of the most complete players ever to play the game as well as for the spectacular shots each is able to produce. But most often I find myself cheering for the player on the other side of the net: Soderling, Roddick, Murray, Del Potro, Davydenko etc. I truth I cheer for the underdog, not in hope that Fed or Nadal will lose, but that someone will play well enough to beat them, to earn their victory over two of the greatest in the game.

I was competing in a 4.0 tournament last summer in Calgary, AB, and had made the finals. We had some persistent light rain which enabled everyone in the clubhouse to watch the entirety of the Federer-Roddick Wimbledon final. Two of the ladies there were fervently cheering for Federer to win, but to me this was inconceivable. How on earth could you cheer for Federer, no matter how much you appreciate his game, knowing the circumstances surrounding both Roddick's career and his H2H with Federer?

Similarly, while Serena's brashness does not endear her to fans as well as Fedal, there's no disputing her game. And yet because she is the standard against which everyone else is measured, I get excited cheering for Azarenka, Henin, Stosur (whoo boy that was a great match) and Sharapova when they battle with her.

Even concerning Steffi Graf, my all time favorite player (a little odd perhaps considering I'm only in my mid 20's), I can remember watching the infamous Novotna meltdown and cheering for Jana to recover and take it. Because my passion is for sport, for competition, for summoning one's best and overcoming monumentally challenges.

I definitely appreciated the videoclip link provided last week to Natasha Zvereva's first win over Graf 10 years after the double bagel - at Wimbledon no less. What a satisfying triumph that must have been for Zvereva...

Posted by Gotham21 07/19/2010 at 05:51 PM


Scud was hardly a neophyte in 2003; this was his comeback year; five years older than Fed, played a USO FInal in lost to Rafter. He was much more experienced, by far, playing the upper reaches of a slam than Roger;

11 titles
4 OZ opens round of 32
2 Frenchh Open round of 32
USO Finall in 1998 (lost to Rafter)

Really unfortunate for him that he was denied his dream by a young, red hot genius...

Waddaya gonna do? *shrugs*.

Posted by Corrie 07/19/2010 at 05:52 PM

As always, a terrific piece. However, I know you can have a favourite player, but still be reasonably objective, like to watch his matches and hope he wins, without being a rabid fan. I wouldn't dream of having any tennis player as my idol, and I can certainly be critical of my favourite player and appreciate the qualities of his opposition. And I don't have to support him fanatically to understand what he's getting at when the media and others don't seem to because they're wilfully dense. It's not rocket science.

Maybe this is being a luke warm fan.

The whole problem is that if you write anything critical of either Federer or Nadal, anywhere, you do get jumped on by the rabid fan component. I don't know if it was like this before they came along, maybe everyone was more a lukewarm fan before them, but it is really ridiculous. I don't see anything positive in any of it, because it's sheer intolerance.

Posted by reckoner 07/19/2010 at 06:16 PM

steve, id argue that as an aggregate, there are generally more negative comments in bodos posts than yours, so either pete has thicker skin than you do or you beat him to the woe-is-the-writer angle

sycophantics aside, i think your columns form the backbone of the writing on this site, the flagship column if you will, and i wager most would agree

Posted by Rose 07/19/2010 at 06:32 PM

Steve, great writing as usual. Love all your posts.

But this line is just hit the spot "Your favorite player is like your kid".

Posted by daryl 07/19/2010 at 06:49 PM

steve i disagree totally. Tennis isn't football or basketball. I think tennis is more like baseball. There is no way that Roberto Clemente, Aaron on Mays wouldn't be great today.

Posted by MindyM 07/19/2010 at 07:07 PM


As someone who writes as an avocation, I can understand how vulnerable and exposed you feel when you write a blog. If you write something more personal and people don't get it, then it's even worse. I think one has to have a thick skin to handle the slings and arrows of those who are critical of what you write. I don't know that I have managed to do that yet.

I am a passionate fan of Rafa. I waited a long time to find my new favorite player. I have only had a special few over the years. The moment I saw Rafa for the first time at the 2007 Wimbledon, I knew that I had once more found "the one". It's an intoxicating feeling. However, I have tried to maintain a modicum of objectivity towards other players. I certainly respect Fed and his considerable achievements. There are things that he and his fans say that absolutely infuriate me, but my respect for him as a great player remains intact. There are other players whose tennis I enjoy watching, but that unique thrill is just not there. When I watch Rafa, I feel as though I am more alive. I can tell the moment he is in trouble, when something is wrong, well before the commentators see it. I have an intensely personal connection with him, even though I have never met him. I do not look at him as a saint or infallible. In fact, it's his humanity, how he perseveres in the face of losing, adversity, pain, all of this makes for an even richer experience.

I am not fond of the incessant arguments about which great player of the past would beat one of today's great players. These discussions are pointless, as far as I am concerned. I have seen them all through a lifetime of watching tennis. I have come to realize that it's best to just appreciate them for what they did in their respective eras, for the particular excellence and gifts they brought to this sport, for the memories they have left behind, the incomparable matches they played. So you won't see me participating in any of the hypothetical discussions about "what if, could have, should have", etc. I am just glad that they passed our way for whatever time they graced us with their presence.

Thanks for your great writing!

Posted by Yolita 07/19/2010 at 07:19 PM

"A fan is closer to a parent than anything else. Your favorite player is like your kid; you get nervous for him in the same way, and you forgive what other people see as his flaws, because you’ve watched him so closely for so long that you feel like you understand him better than anyone else."

You read me like an open book! I've been following Novak for 5 years now and that's exactly how I feel, I even call him my adopted son in jest!

Very perceptive of you, Steve!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/19/2010 at 07:20 PM

"In the end, it’s probably best just to forget about asking which player of today would “beat” or "crush" which player from the past. There’s a reason why time travel is impossible."

Steve, thatnls for redeeming yourself here. I thought your post about Serena beating the tar out of Margaret Court and Chris Evert was uncharacteristic of yo, and said so that day. I also think it was wrong-headed, or ill-advised, to make such prognostications, and I am glad o see you admit as much with the line above.

I had checked out the ATP tour ranings to find that Rodrigo Guidolin, who commwented and whom you quote above, is indeed (or was a few days ago) ranked #500 in the world.

But more important, in my mind, is our (I use the collective here) arrogance in thinking that our athletes whom we so admire today, would most certainly demolish -- tear limb from limb -- the athletes of the past. And I contend, and here's the real point, that the great ones of any era possess something extraordinary that propels them to the top of the heap. Granted, that heap is limited by time and space... and technology and training methods. But I truly believe that if you took all the greats from any era, amd put them together in any same era, and gave them the training and the tools necessary to make the most of their potential, not only would you have a helluva tournament, you'd see thoat those who fellow competitors exalted in their own time would indeed rise to the top of this multi-generational heap.

So, maybe Rodrigo's modesty was, in reality, an athlete's apreciation for that extraordinary characteristic that sports writers try and try and try again to pin down, and cannot. Because it must be experienced. Witnessing greatness is one thing, but being on the other end of it is quite another. Just ask Andre Agassi about the 2002 US Open.

Posted by CPM 07/19/2010 at 08:35 PM


Just wanted to say that it's much appreciated to see you wade into the comments on occasion -- and even more appreciated to see longer-form responses to things that get brought up in comments here. I think it's a great -- and smart! -- thing to do.

Posted by Tuulia 07/19/2010 at 08:36 PM

Excellent piece, Steve.

I have no children, never wanted any, never will have any, so I have no actual parenthood to compare fandom with, but I've also thought it's a similar kind of a relationship. The real parents did all the really hard work, and we as fans just get to love and worry and hope for the best, hope the player is healthy, and happy on both personal and professional level, and then worry some more... And there are times when the player seems to be in need of a hug, and while the inability to help in any way is frustrating and painful, then we the fans must just trust the real parents to do the hugging. However, we do believe the player knows we love him, too. We are not there for titles and glory, tho we want them for our player because we want to see him happy and smiling. But we feel the love for him even more acutely when he's having a tough time and we suffer for him then, we are in agony when seeing him unhappy, stressed, in pain, frustrated. And seeing him really happy again after THAT, well, there's no greater happiness for a parent than that. :)

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Rafa Channel Slam Winner 2010! 07/19/2010 at 08:58 PM

Steve Thanks great post.Sometimes I think all fans lose their "objectivity"

Hey though isnt that the right of any fan though lol!

Posted by Russell 07/19/2010 at 09:34 PM

"to love him is to know him"
probably the most profound thing I've ever read from you

definitely true in the Christian life :)

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 07/19/2010 at 09:48 PM

From Tari, on "The Extraordinary Age":
“I’m completely convinced that there are very few truly objective fans of Rafa or Roger. We’re all going to see it through the prism of our fanship.”"

Totally agree...but that's just 'us.' What about you? As in the 'not so royal you' of the professional journalist. Fan? Objective observer? Something in between? Steve, you have said flat out several times that you are a Nadal 'fan.' OK, your choice. But then why should Fed fans..or fans of any other what you say when it relates to Nadal vis a vi other players?

Posted by wilson75 07/19/2010 at 10:04 PM

Steve, I believe you are one of the few in the media who didn't believe that Federer was playing mind games with Murray. He was stating fact and in the end his assessment of the situation turned out to be a correct one. I think your colleagues were either reading too much into what he said or were trying to add an edge to the final.

Posted by london 07/19/2010 at 10:19 PM

this post was absolute dribble because he did not use my comment. for shame on you steve!!!!

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/19/2010 at 10:22 PM


I really believe you write from your heart. I'm a fervent Rafa fan (not rabid at all) and I think that I'm reasonably objective about his matches. I'm also a fan of other players which must make me a FOOP too but I know that I am more objective about their matches than I am of those of Rafa so maybe there are varying degrees of objectivity. Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Very interesting article !

Posted by Bobby 07/19/2010 at 11:02 PM

Steve, I really enjoy your Reading the Readers series.

london, you're kidding... right?

Posted by Geellis 07/19/2010 at 11:05 PM

The problem with Steve's "major players of one era playing the major players of the next era tight" is it's wholesale failure to account for the times in their respective careers that these players played. laver would have played jimmy tight because he would have played a relatively young inexperienced jimmy. when graf played justine, justine was like 17/18 y/o. The point is, of course the old champions played the future champions tight cause the future champions were kids and nowhere near to coming into their best stuff. This is rather obvious cause the greats about which we're talking generally are not playing in the same generation. that's the whole purpose of the comparison. but it utterly breaks down cause the young pups are just too far from their best games for this to be very meaningful. This is especially salient given that the argument is generally not about whether a 40 y/o laver could keep up with a 18 y/o federer. the argument is generally whether a 25 y/o laver could beat a 25 y/o federer playing with modern equipment (no chance). of course, i agree that the different equipment would force different games. however, i'm not at all convinced that there's any reason to expect that the players who excel at one game style would necessarily excel at a totally different one. in fact, i'm fairly certain that's not likely.

Posted by for the love of sport 07/19/2010 at 11:08 PM

Steve, I do so love your writing...the most endearing quality about it being your ability to rest content with rich ambiguity, to be "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason"...I like the quality of your prose and I like the quality of the being behind the're a good man Steve Tignor...
Now for other things- I don't know if it is possible at all to be a fan of sport without picking a favourite-or at least wanting a particular team/player to win more than the other one...I mean can I watch sport with detached, purely aesthetic appreciation? Hmmm....I could be watching the Olympic luge event with very little understanding or involvement, but will find myself zeroing in on particular individuals, making a note of their timings, watching out for them in the next round.... I think there's a fair amount of identification, vicarious triumph and deflected aspiration in all our sport-watching and I think its inextricably connected with the activity, in fact the impulse of, viewing sport. The British Open for me this year was flat and fizzless because I can't (and that's MY problem, not his) deal with Tiger any more and there's no one else that I've learnt to love yet....And, oh, I fell in love with Nadal the first time I saw him in 2003, beating Carlos Moya at Hamburg in the first round...I had never seen anyone move like THAT, convert backhands into forehands from so far beyond the tramlines, play with such undiluted passion...I think I wished it were me....

Posted by Kishore 07/19/2010 at 11:47 PM

Steve..a wonderful piece. Your blog is the reason I keep coming back to and I'm sure most of the readers will agree with me.

Posted by CWATC 07/19/2010 at 11:57 PM

Well since I am quick to critisize where I disagree I'll chime in happily that I enjoyed this piece and agreed with most of it. The characterization of the fan's feelings about their favorite player as parent/child is insightful. Personally, I do not "forgive" my favorite player for every mistake I see him making from time to time in the sense of excusing them, but they don't change the feelings of protectiveness or the desire for him to have happiness and success.
But no question that the better you know a player, the more easily you can see when he really is being misunderstood.

Posted by Tim (Outlaw the Moonball!) 07/20/2010 at 12:12 AM

Tari is a friend of mine, but I must digress re her comment... some Fed fans like me CAN be completely "objective" and always post without prejudice or unfair judgments :)

I know Fred Federer can show up and shank his way to a loss, or TMF can show up and no one can beat him ... and that 16 Slams makes him the Slam GOAT, so Id say that's pretty fair and balanced, no?

Posted by highpockets 07/20/2010 at 12:17 AM


I love how you ALWAYS tie in a song or two ... you'd be so much fun on a road trip!

Did you write something awhile back about your favorite road trip songs?

Posted by zolarafa 07/20/2010 at 01:26 AM

So two articles by you and Bodo on the fans?!
Boy, it must be the slowest time of the tennis season!

I have given up fighting the fan battles. Too much time and energy for me. and they don't go in circles. They go in spirals, towards the infinity and beyond!

...and you are a great writer and a great tennis analyst.

Posted by remain anonymous 07/20/2010 at 02:02 AM

"I had rarely rooted for Federer in the past."

This is a joke. Do you really expect me to believe this?? I mean come on?? Man up!!!!!!!!!

Posted by TJ Hughes 07/20/2010 at 03:23 AM

Interesting that you found yourself backing Federer in the AO final. Could this be, in part, because Murray makes himself hard to root for? The talent's there, and he's a genuinely nice kid, but his on-court demeanour is so relentlessly negative. He's always looking for someone or something to blame; always looks like he wishes he was elsewhere. What fans want from their player, I think, is a total immersion in battle, a fierce, unequivocal commitment to each point, the "in-game amnesia" that enables a player to put each shanked forehand or double fault behind them and move on. The greats - all of them - had that gift. The merely very good - Murray, Djoker, Soderling, Berdych et al - are perhaps too mortal, too like the rest of us, brought low by a failure to escape their own frailties for the three hours it takes to win a match. I'm not trying to be overly critical. The list of true greats in the men's game in my tennis-loving lifetime is brutally short: Borg, Connors and Mac; Becker and Edberg; Pete and Andre; Roger and Rafa. (Okay, I suppose the hugely unlovable Lendl should be on there, and Guga in full flight at RG was unforgettable).

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Rafa Channel Slam Winner 2010! 07/20/2010 at 05:41 AM

TH Hughes You are a person after my own heart in the tennis world indeed.

My idol is Borg and still is today in many ways.Connors was the ultimate "street fighting guy" who just loved the centre court at the USO

Mac has there ever been a better set of hands in the game? maybe Edberg who was in my mind King of The Volley

Guga in full flight at RG simply "awesome" and also his hair lol!

Posted by Ted 07/20/2010 at 08:12 AM

The only reason why I watch and play tennis: RELAXING. Thanks to all who writes and contributes.

Posted by Colette 07/20/2010 at 08:51 AM

"If Margaret Court were 20 years old right now, she would have used different racquets from the beginning of her life, been coached to hit different shots, and trained completely differently."

The "evolution" of sports prowess is, indeed, about so much more than equipment. Over time, the bar continues to be raised regarding simply what the human body is capable of doing. (Consider sports like gymnastics and figure skating ... backflips WITH a twist on a 4-inch beam ... quadruple jumps, tho' still not quite the norm.) To get to the top, competitive athletes must rise to the challenge of the "new standards" in skills and pure athletic prowess, which requires an incredible level of training. Unfortunately, I believe we're also seeing that there's a price to pay, given incidence of injuries today.

Posted by Ethan 07/20/2010 at 09:32 AM

I loved Lendl - I bet he could ram Soderling's VOLVO FACE into any surface with his Czech Mate iron fist as Robin squeals the lyrics to Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti to him.

Posted by FED FRED 07/20/2010 at 09:39 AM

It is great to be a jerk and not tolerant
of others.

We all know that FED is the GOAT.

End of discussions...

Sorry RAFA Fans

Posted by Archana 07/20/2010 at 09:43 AM

Nice post Steve

Posted by hh 07/20/2010 at 09:45 AM

why dont you writers fully investigate whether Nadal took/has taken/is taking HGH?Did Hulk Hogan take steriods?Nadal is not someone you can trust not to lie;tests and evidence could prove that he is a cheater.Think Marion Jones,Roger Clemons,ARod(baseball)....

Posted by 1963USCtennis 07/20/2010 at 09:48 AM

"the argument is generally whether a 25 y/o laver could beat a 25 y/o federer playing with modern equipment (no chance). " BS

when Laver was asked whom the "greatest" player was (paraphrasing here) his response:

"with a wood racquet I like my chances against anyone"

not everyone who has a clue about tennis agrees with Roger F as goat, If Nadal has been able to exploit Roger's backhand , I am sure any of the greats would figure this out too.

Posted by Servus 07/20/2010 at 09:53 AM

Posted by hh 07/20/2010 at 09:45 AM

why dont you writers fully investigate whether Nadal took/has taken/is taking HGH?Did Hulk Hogan take steriods?Nadal is not someone you can trust not to lie;tests and evidence could prove that he is a cheater.Think Marion Jones,Roger Clemons,ARod(baseball)....


Can you provide any evidence for your theory?

Posted by Nam1 07/20/2010 at 10:04 AM

Posted by hh 07/20/2010 at 09:45 AM

why dont you writers fully investigate whether Nadal took/has taken/is taking HGH?Did Hulk Hogan take steriods?Nadal is not someone you can trust not to lie;tests and evidence could prove that he is a cheater.Think Marion Jones,Roger Clemons,ARod(baseball)....


Can you provide any evidence for your theory?

I think this poster is asking the "writers" to look into providing the evidence!!!
Not content with the numerous reports and tests done by the ATP and the drug testing agency they use, I guess!!

Posted by ilovetennis 07/20/2010 at 10:14 AM

Well that's a great post, although I do disagree with you about the fan-player relationship.
It's true that when you're a fan you know your favourite player's game, but it's not that big of a deal to the extent that we liken it to the relationship between a parent and his/her child. After all, we watch the game to learn and be entertained and whoever we cheer for will be just and idol or a favourite player.

When I cheer for a certain player, I don't stick to him. You may find me cheering for Federer in this match but cheering for Nadal in that match, even if they're playing each other. I guess it all comes by sense -like: I feel like cheering for ... today-, I even cheer for both players in the same match. So I think it differs from one person to the other.

Whoever my fan or yours is doesn't matter as long as legends and champions keep playing, winning, teaching and entertaining.

Posted by David 07/20/2010 at 10:55 AM

Steve, I'd also like to use this opportunity to thank-you for the tribute to Natasha Zvereva. I had waited and prayed for years for her to finally defeat Graf. I knew she had the talent to pull it off and actually witnessing it was pure ecstasy!

Posted by @work 07/20/2010 at 10:55 AM

Nice post, Steve.

I consider myself a relatively objective fan (if that's possible) ;-) but can certainly relate to the parent-child relationship most of us seem to have with our favorites.

I think you hit the nail on the head when explaining Nadal's perceived false modesty as partly being of a superstitious nature.

Posted by Ginger 07/20/2010 at 11:22 AM

as usual a very nice article. A few thoughts. As to the current players always beating the older greats, we really would never know but I for one still consider "older" players among my favorites, that is I don't discard them to the trash can. I will always love Rosewall, Edberg, and Evonne. I think most people do continue to hold older players dear as they add new ones.

I think most folks who love either Fed or Rafa actually enjoy the other's game and appreciate him too. It might be that the most vocal and one sided fans are the ones that post comments that might not be 'reasonable" for the lack of a better word.

Posted by Tuulia 07/20/2010 at 11:37 AM

Ginger - the extremists in all areas of life shout loudest, so I believe you're right. :)

Posted by Steve 07/20/2010 at 11:38 AM

Gotham21: i meant scud was a neophyte as far as slam wins. he's played one final before, i think. a lot different from playing a 16-slam winner.

Geelis: the laver-connors match i'm thinking of was from 1975, the year after connors won three slams. laver was hitting big with him. agassi played a good us open final against federer in 2005, at federer's peak. its true that we didn't get both of these players at their peaks, but even though they were from different generations, when they got on court against each other, they played good matches.

CL: my job, like i said, is to be as objective as i can, and i try to do that. i can also criticize nadal:

Ethan: no more

Posted by Juliana07 07/20/2010 at 11:39 AM

@FED FRED 07/20/2010 at 09:39 AM

Rafa is better than GOAT Federer.

Posted by pov 07/20/2010 at 11:46 AM

Negative? Really? I'm surprised that there was anything negative written about that personal piece you posted. So again - thanks for it, it's a great piece of writing.

Posted by lollipop (flove those armada boys) 07/20/2010 at 12:18 PM

always enjoy reading your pieces steve. interesting take on a fan's relationship with a favorite player. we forgive our faves for their flaws, but sometimes we tend to get really down on our faves because we expect more from them. in that sense, i guess it could be comparable to the parent-kid relationship as well. i always get asked the question why i started watching Nole, or why I haven't given up on him yet. I think its because as fans we see this potential that other people see...and even personality wise we see this person that other people don't see. its interesting that we start to think that we understand our faves better than anyone else--its a feeling as if we know them so well..
i've always tried not to blind myself because of fandom, and probably through mere need for self-preservation I get down on him a lot and lower my expectations for certain tournaments. but in the end my expectations are just as high as they've always been. every time i try to give up watching one of my faves because i can't take the disappointment anymore--i end up coming back, because once you've watched a player long enough you feel like its worth it to just stick with him through the bad times because good times will come.

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 07/20/2010 at 12:24 PM

Steve - thanks for the response. And I actually do appreciate...and even to a certain extent, 'trust'...your objectivity.** But you must admit that you, and other bloggers, kind of throw a spanner into the works when you proclaim your fandom...or at least your 'high level of appreciation' for one player's game/personae over other players.

I don't think Christopher Clary of the NY Times would get away with that. Though in truth he might be accused of it by extreme supporters of one fan or another. Still, if you researched all the tennis reports he has filed, I don't think anywhere you would find him saying, flat out, 'Federer/ Nadal/ Murray,/Roddick, etc. is my favorite player to watch.'

And I don't mean to single out Clary - I think that most of the day in day out journalists pretty stringently guard against tipping their hand as to their favorite player, though I am sure they have a favorite, or perhaps a couple. So I think at least part of the problem, in so far as there IS a problem, is that here cyberspace we have kind of wandered into the nether world of journalism. I am certainly not the first to point that out, but usually it is in reference to political or cultural blogging where there are 'our' sites, and 'their' sites. But the same sort of issues come into play on sports blogging sites; where the lines between journalist, knowledgeable fan, provocateur and he/she who opines, become a bit muddled, IMO.

**plus, you write really well.

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 07/20/2010 at 12:29 PM

Oh, and i did see your Rafa and the Rules post earlier...very much appreciated. Though I doubt it will do much good. And anyway, truth is, at least in terms of violating the time rules, Rafa has actually improved quite a bit overall. Though, under pressure he can still quite flagrantly violate the time clock.

Posted by rcm 07/20/2010 at 12:48 PM

It seems to me that the "rabid" nature of some tennis fans to some extent mirrors the nature of political discourse on a lot of blogs these days. Is this just another reflection of the same atmostphere found in blog postings and cable TV commentary-which is amped up by the ability of anyone to respond immediately online? Is this just how we are these days?

The comments about other sports and about political and religious view are "rabid times ten" compared to what I read on tennis blogs or commentary. The comment sections in local papers are the worst.
Some of the same conventions apply across the board - like seeing the argument as clearly black and white, choosing ALL CAPITALS and EXCLAMATION POINTS and NAME CALLING as a means to (not successfully) bolster an argument, using selected statistics as "proof".
It's nice to see that others can give their personal view (maybe even including assorted anecdotes and statistics or helpful links) without seeming to demand the readers' agreement.
(That would be you.)

Posted by skip1515 07/20/2010 at 12:54 PM

Some are fans of a player. Others are fans of the game. Then there are fans of both.

(A Hegelian description of fandom?)

A woman I know attended the ATP Year Ending Championships in London last November, after much pre-planning and excitement over making the trip from America. When I saw her afterwards, and asked how it was, she said she hadn't seen as many matches as she might have liked but achieved her real goal, which was to see Nadal live and up close. Plus, as an added bonus for her, he took off his shirt.

Clearly a fan of the first kind.

Regarding the best of today versus the best of those thrilling days of yesteryear, it is a mistake to believe it's a matter of forehand v forehand, serve v serve, etc. While the greats of any era surely hit the ball beautifully, it's a cliche but nonetheless true that the difference is very small, and mostly mental between those at the very top and the pretenders to the throne.

Tilden was tough, make no mistake about it. Even out the quantifiable differences of equipment, training and a youth of playing with any of those details, and his court craft and willingness to play head games would still be formidable. Nadal, whose Gibraltar-like resolve would survive Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine, would still be at the top of the heap with Budge's 16 oz. racquet, gut and 85 sq inch head. I don't believe Serena could swing the same way, and hit the same shots, with Billie Jean's Wilson stick, but I'm very confident she'd have been in the hunt for titles, albeit with different strokes and tactics.

Ultimately, what makes them champions isn't how they hit the ball. It's how they compete. GOAT discussions really only entertain those who competed well; no one names Phillopousis, who hit the ball as well as anyone. That part of the great ones' games would transcend any shift in when they lived.

Posted by Rockin'Robin 07/20/2010 at 01:13 PM

Great piece Steve but there is something you failed to consider.
It IS possible to be a passionate fan of both Fed AND Nadal....many people might say that's unfair and taking the easy way out but why? they are the two best, the two most interesting, and since this is a sport where you liek the individuals, why not choose Federer and Nadal? Is it REALLY that strange? They are easily the two most popular.

Posted by Carrie 07/20/2010 at 01:20 PM

CL- I can't begrudge Steve for proclaiming some of his subjectiveness. I actually think that makes him more honest. I can not agree with you that there is a problem here and I find it refreshing to find a blog writer who tries to be fair, does not court myopic thought but also admits that he is human.

The truth is - he is not writing for the NYT here. He is writing for a blog. And personally I think he is one of the best at trying to be objective while admiting that he does have his perferences. I tend to think he is one of the fairest writers out there- and part of that fairness is he admits that he is human with some subjectivity as opposed to acting like he is completely objective when imo it can be very hard for tennis writers to be completely objective. (For example- I really like Neil Harmann but it is obvious imo when he writes about Delpo that Juan is not one of his favorites. I would kind of like it more if he would be more upfront about it to be honest.)

Posted by lilscot 07/20/2010 at 01:27 PM

Great piece Steve. It's funny reading the comments because they show the very truth of your article.

Posted by Michele 07/20/2010 at 01:59 PM

Great that you answered some questions BUT you failed to answer the one most often asked: When are you writing a book?

Posted by wonbok lee 07/20/2010 at 02:22 PM

your essay with a great insight makes me to believe that i am a federer fan therefore a nadal foe. although much like you(respect federer) i admire nadal's mental strength, will to win, touch at the net, volley and the fastness. i see federer getting nervous but not often nadal's nervousness. by the reasonable estimate of yours this makes me a dead on federer fan. i figure what you say is the sympathy factor. i sympathies with federer so much i feel his nervousness and miss more of nadal's.

other than the FO final the year federer seemed to be mastering nadal by getting closer to nadal progressively through monte carlo, very close final at rome i do not recall nadal getting nervous. that FO first set nadal later said he was frozen unable to move. fear factor must have been. when he realized the way he was he would only lose in a hurry he thawed himself to unleash his true ability.

about arrogance/confidence. if nadal had a few years of dominance like federer, losing 4 (?) matches to nadal only on clay and only another or two matches to other players in the entire year he may also feel he would win most likely heading to any matches. nadal was never in that position. losing many hard court matches to many payers for several monthes would certainly would not foster such 'arrogance' of feeling 'normally he would win' in most matches.

at the aussie open this year i nearly did not wish to watch henin/serena match. we had tickets already so we went. serena seemed not fit and it was a shame that only her strong serve prevented henin to be in position to move serena around. only if she could make serena run i thought the result could have been different. for me such matches are not interesting to watch. if only both players would bring all their ware to catch the trophy it can be a thrilling match i feel like the wimby, fedal final that ended in the dark.

Posted by FoT 07/20/2010 at 03:03 PM

Sometimes a fan doesn't really know WHY they are a fan of this player and not of the other. When Pete played Roger in that Wimbledon match, Pete was my #1 man. I followed Pete's career, rooted for him to win in every match. But in that particular match, there was 'something' about Roger that I found myself gradually pulling for him to win and I was very confused! I mean, PETE was my man - why in the heck was I now pulling for Roger? I still can't answer you. I just know that in that match, Roger stole my heart and I have been pulling for him to win every since. It was hard during 1999-2003 because Roger was up and down all over the map. But I STILL pulled for him to win in every match because he had surplanted Pete as my #1 player. So when Roger started winning regularly in 2004 and started dominating - I was in 7th heaven! When he broke Pete's record last year - that was just the highest I could feel in tennis.

Now - I know Roger's career will be winding down, but I don't care how much he has won in the past; I don't care how many times he has beaten an American (Roddick) - see, I'm American - I STILL pull for Roger to win EVERYTIME he gets on the court. I don't know why I feel like that for him, especially since he's not even an American! But I do. Even in Davis Cup or the Olympics - my heart still pulls for Roger.

Posted by Nam1 07/20/2010 at 03:24 PM

Re-Reading Steve's article reminded me about a question I have about the 25 second rule betwen points.

I timed Nadal for some of his games at RG and Wimby and rarely did he go over 25 secs, twice he was at 27-28 secs and once at 29 secs.. Obviously I was counting wrong since he appears to have gone over the 25 seconds at Wimby.

I am wondering if the clock starts as soon as the last point ends or when the server actually gets hold of the ball.

I am a recreational player and we dont really stick to the time rules at my neighbourhood courts.
Can anyone who plays tennis competitively please clarify for me?

Posted by pogiako 07/20/2010 at 03:33 PM

Some readers or bloggers do not appreciate the quality of your articles. They probably did not take Literature or English courses in high school seriously. Bodo's blog normally gets a lot of response than yours because Bodo's articles are more commercial and yours are more thought provoking. Your articles are very descriptive and I feel that I was there or part of it. I wish someday, you put together all your best articles in one book so I can read them again. Maybe in the future you start teaching high school literature or be script writer for movies or tv show so you can make more money.

Posted by Dogtennis 07/20/2010 at 03:39 PM

I think generally speaking the champions of earlier eras would hold their own quite well against the modern era. Tennis is different that a strength sport like football, where a modern lineman is 50 pounds heavier that say the 1960's Green Bay Packers lineman. Tennis has so many variables like skill and mental toughness that a great champion would be great in any era.

Recently I saw some footage of Chris Evert against Evonne Goolagong and was amazed at how good Evert was. Not only did she have her fabled consistency, but I was amazed by her shot making and her quickness - she had great anticipation and first step to the ball. Having seen that I think she would be quite competitive against the Williams sisters or Sharapova.

Another interesting game is to speculate how todays players would do if you gave them wood racquets. I think Fed and Nadal would still be the 2 best. Fed would be a great wood racquet shotmaker. And considering that Borg and Vilas played the topspin game very well with wood, you have to think that Nadal would do the same. Guys like Djokovic and Soderling would have to remake their entire game with wood.

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 07/20/2010 at 03:58 PM

Nam 1 - I believe it is when the last point ends....because the player can control when they get the ball from the ball kid. But don't quote me. ;-))

Carrie - I don't begrudge Steve his favorites either. Not at all. And I agree that his upfrontness does insulate him, to a certain extent, of the charges of bias. And yes, this is not the NY Times or The Guardian, (tho, come to that, I guess we would have to collectively label the British press as THE most least as far as Murray is concerned.). Still, this is a blog affiliated with Tennis Magazine, which, is, to the best of my knowledge anyway, a tennis journal staffed by journalists and reporters who abide by standards of journalism, objectivity being one of those standards.

I'm not sure there is a 'problem' either - which is why I put an 'if' in my sentence. Perhaps if all the bloggers here were like some of the posters...added a 'Vamos Rafa' tag to their name, or 'Go Fed', or 'The Ent Rules,' then the unknown knowns would be known.

Trust, but verify.

Ooohh...quoting Rumsfeld AND Reagan in the same post. There must be penance for that!

Posted by pogiako 07/20/2010 at 04:26 PM

I have seen pictures of Rafael at 15. He was not big. Then he came out as an incredible hulk at 18. Go figure. None of his family members is big. Tennis players normally do not have a lot of time to get that big because they spend more time practicing tennis. HH, you are right in doubting him. Everytime he got injured, he came back stronger than ever.

Posted by Steve 07/20/2010 at 04:34 PM

clarey doesn't write a blog, or at least i've never read one by him. he writes news articles for the most part. obviously with a blog part of the point is to put yourself and your opinions into it, and not just report dispassionately. my articles for tennis magazine are rarely as personal as they can be here. but in neither place am i just a fan of one player, or part of one "camp." i find myself rooting (never vociferously) for lots of different players on different occasions, just like many journalists do. it doesn't mean i don't cover the match or those players as objectively as possible. one point of the article above is that being a fan can actually help you analyze a player better; it just doesn't help you analyze his rival or his opponent. i know enough about my job to write about everyone fairly. the comments on a blog actually help reinforce that; bodo and i can't get out of line without hearing about it.

as skip says, there are fans of players, and fans of the game. i'm obviously the latter, and i need to be. i watch everyone, and i think of things to write about everyone i'm interested in, which means anyone who is any good. whoever plays in the wimbledon final—federer, nadal, roddick, tipsarevic—i'm going to be writing about it. i wouldn't like to do it so much if i wasn't a fan of the sport as a whole.

Posted by weak4.0player 07/20/2010 at 04:40 PM

Laver. Great in any era.

Posted by Bhai Mirzai 07/20/2010 at 04:53 PM

When I first became a fan of Federer it was a very high-pace match that he played. It was really entertaining to watch. I mean the other guy would hit a good shot and Federer would be there in a hurry and hit a sweeter shot that the other guy could not get to. It was just so sweet to watch.

Now Federer is not playing like that anymore (kind of played like that at the AO --- that was the last sighting).

I still hope to see what we call the TMF ... I wish it could go on a bit longer.

Posted by Tuulia 07/20/2010 at 05:14 PM

oh dear, pogiako, you really need to get an appointment with an eye specialist :)

Posted by Carrie 07/20/2010 at 05:46 PM

*i watch everyone, and i think of things to write about everyone i'm interested in, which means anyone who is any good. whoever plays in the wimbledon final—federer, nadal, roddick, tipsarevic—i'm going to be writing about *

Steve- this is one of the things that I most appreciate about you. It seems to me that you are very good on this blog about giving players a fair shake. One of my favorite aspects of your writing is that you do seem to always try to look for the best in players even if they are not a player that you may have taken to your heart as it will.

CL- I do not view blog articles the same as articles that are in journals and magazines. I think one of the problems is that they tend to be lumped together when imo they can be quite different. A blog is more like an op-ed piece in the printed media- where opinions are allowed.It is a mistake imo to view a blog entry and news article as one and the same. I think there needs to be a distinction made- not just for Tennis magazine but also in general. So I do not feel that any journalistic standards are being muddied as you imply. I do not think we will agree on this matter so maybe it is best to leave it. Besides- Steve seems to be doing a good job of speaking for himself.

Posted by lilscot 07/20/2010 at 05:57 PM


Please don't sully such a nice piece of writing and such a harmonious discussion about the sport that we all love with such gossipy and unsubstantiated rumours. As is the case with a couple of others who have said the same you have or maybe you're all the same person, we'd appreciate it if you offered some kind of proof other than your own speculation. Teenage boys grow in all sorts of spurts and jumps. When I was sixteen I was only 5'2" and weighed about 125 lbs. By the time I was 18 I was 5'8" and weighed 160 lbs.

Posted by Ethan 07/20/2010 at 06:06 PM

Nadal has always been punypogiako.

Take a look:

You eroded soil specimen!

Posted by lilscot 07/20/2010 at 06:29 PM

Great pics Ethan. Now that's a naturally fit body. I used to be a physical trainer to pay for putting myself through college and am pretty familiar with what guys look like when they take any kind of steroids or growth enhancers. And Rafa's body is not one of them.

Posted by Juliana 07 07/20/2010 at 06:53 PM

@pogiako 07/20/2010 at 04:26 PM
_None of his family members is big_

Rafa's dad is big.

Posted by Tuulia 07/20/2010 at 07:20 PM

Juliana - not particularly. But more to the point, Rafa isn't, obvious also from that vid, btw. Anyway, all Nadal men have a similar body type, Rafa is just leaner and more fit due to age and profession.

lilscot, good comments. And a bit of harmony was nice for a while... :)

*waves at lollipop* different allegiances, but I know how you feel. Hang in there.

Posted by marilybutterfly 07/20/2010 at 07:37 PM

Interesting how all of the tennis media seems to have the same single minded talking points inregards to Serena Williams? I guess her detractors have resumed their negative propagandizing of Serena Williams!

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 07/20/2010 at 09:40 PM

Steve- well, maybe its a generational thing, ya know? I dunno... I see someone affiliated w/a newspaper or magazine and I assume a certain level of objectivity. Of course, I know that if, say, I was in Philadelphia and reading Philadelphia newspapers, I would be reading reporters who have an understood rooting interest in the Phillies. But just because, Davis Cup aside, tennis doesn't represent any one country, still less any one town, it seems a less justifiable default position to have favorites.

And it seems to me to put the writer in an awkward position. Suppose you write a blog absolutely raving, in a positive way, about Nadal. The sound of some readers yawning, as they say to themselves, 'oh there goes Steve wearing his fan boy hat again,' would be pretty loud. (Can a yawn be loud? hmmm?) And every time you write a blog comparing the achievements of Rafa to any other player, (it is mostly Fed now, but undoubtedly will be someone(s) else later.), your arguments start out with the handicap of presumed bias.

And I guess I just can't get fully behind the idea that the Steve, the Rafa fan who blogs, (even if we acknowledge, he is Rafa fan who is appreciative of other players.), can change, 100% into Steve, the journalist who holds himself to a different level of objectivity when he writes for the magazine.

In any case, I am very grateful you are willing to engage on these topics in such a fair and respectful way. It is all pretty small beer, but interesting, at least to me, as part of a larger story about how we get and exchange information. I appreciate both your time and the quality of your writing. Thanks.

Posted by Deborah 07/20/2010 at 09:51 PM

Steve, I really enjoyed your piece and I must admit I stay as far away from fan wars as possible. I am a Federer fan because of the beauty of his game. His game took my breath away as he seemed to have a level of shotmaking that defied belief while seeming to put forth little effort. No one else plays like him so I find it difficult to be a fan of anyone else. There are some I don't mind watching but none of the others on the tour can thrill me the way he does. His records and accomplishments are great and afford him true GOAT status but it is the dance he does as he moves across the court that makes me hope we have a few more years with him. As Agassi once said, " he's a beautiful thing to watch".

Posted by thooz 07/20/2010 at 09:53 PM

Great article, Steve. The psychology of a fan is indeed fascinating to dissect. When I look at my own preferences I find that I'm drawn to champions with a cool and calm demeanor. Hence my affinity for Borg and Federer. A great champion like Nadal turns me off due to his show-boating style on the court---the fist pumps, the angry scowls, the jumping up and down at the net before the match to try to psyche out his opponent---that's just too much machismo for my taste. However, this doesn't stop me from respecting him as a great champion. It's just that the emotional connection isn't there with him, so I always find myself rooting for his opponent.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Rafa Channel Slam Winner 2010! 07/20/2010 at 10:18 PM

Well as a tennis fan in general and appreciate players what they bring to the tennis court and to the game in general over the year.I too have my favourites.

After Borg retired really there was noone for me in a lot of ways though I still appreciated other players.Agassi who I loved he brought everything to the court and then some.

Then came this young Spainard who I had heard of and a lot of people had sung his praises.

Well he just aroused something in me they hadent been there for ages.Yes he brought back the passion in me.I then got to appreciate his game.

I have had the pleasure of watching him live which to me is another expierence all together.In ways he reminded me of a younger version of Agassi.

Its been a roller coaster ride in ways being a Rafa fan.Though you play every point with him he just takes you with him in many ways.His facial expressions are just worth the price of a ticket to me.Yes his he "shows" it all on the court and then some.Though to me and being a tennis fan of 40 years dosent discourage me at all.He is a amazing athlete and has the mind of a steel trap.I sit in awe of him in soo many ways.He is the Greatest Clay Court player I have ever seen.I have seen him play on his beloved clay and to me there is noone that holds a candle to him.He has improved over thes years and is not just a one surface Wonder at all.All credit to him.He still wants to keep improving.

I too can appreciate other players.Roger for one who is the greatest shot maker I have seen.His records stand alone.

Though Roger dosent have the same appeal for me as Rafa.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/20/2010 at 10:30 PM

The discussion between CL and Steve on journalists declaring their player preferences is interesting.

Ofcourse, there are no rules either way, but I have to admit that from the time Steve admitted that his favorite player is Nadal, I do read his pieces from another angle. That angle is obviously the writer being a fan of one player. Earlier, it was not easy to find out whether Steve was a Rafa fan or a Fed fan..but when I did have that information, I am able to see his article from another perspective altogether. Its again a sort of bias that creeps into me as a reader, just because I have that extra information.

Still, its not earth shattering to have that information since it is possible to be objective WHILE being a fan of one player and respecting the other and I think its prevalent in almost all articles I have read on this blog.

But I see CL's point of view also and Steve's point of view as well. Still, as it happens, everyone's human and its impossible to be involved in sports, enjoy it to its complete level and not be a fan of one particular player.

I think Fed said this as well in one of his interviews...he watches tennis as a fan, he gets into what it means to the particular player, the stakes that are at play at a particular match and so seems to enjoy watching tennis as much as we do as fans. I am pretty sure every journo/writer watching a match will be rooting for one or the other and have an emotional involvement in the outcome of the match. Otherwise, it can get tedious i suppose.

Posted by SR 07/20/2010 at 11:21 PM

Very interesting discussion CL, Carrie, et al.

Obviously part of being an actual fan - as opposed to just an "appreciator" - is the visceral reaction that emerges when you watch certain players. I rubbed my hands together and happily plopped down on the couch to watch the Berdych/Roddick Miami final; the Djokovic/Tsonga AO war of attrition; the Roddick/Ljubicic IW serving clinic (actually that one was in person). The Fed/Sodering RG QF was a spellbinding display of power and placement. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these matches because, well, I love tennis.

However, with Schiavone/Stosur, I was choked up before it even started and leaping in the air by the time Schiavone got to match point. I buried my face in my hands when Gasquet lost the third set - and arguably the match - to Murray in Paris. And every one of Rafa's victories put huge goofy smiles on my face for the rest of the day. However, while I am certainly a fan of Schiavone, Rafa and Gasquet and not necessarily of Djokovic, Fed or Tsonga, I absolutely love watching ALL of them play. I cheer Fed on when he hits one of his spectacular winners...EVEN if it's against Gasquet or Rafa. My fandom has not prevented me either from appreciating excellent tennis from others and tipping my cap to them, or articulating flaws when I see them in my favorite players (Gasquet should have found a way to win that third set, no matter how exhausted he was after so many consecutive days of play. He needs to improve his fitness).

Most devoted sports fan are going to have preferences. Our hearts will recognize an aspect of a player or team's game/attitude/mental fortitude/personality and follow along. Rafa would have tipped his cap to Holland had they won. But when Spain did, he "cried like a baby". An emotional reaction we cannot control. However, as CL has rightly said, we CAN control the way we allow our emotions and preferences to impact our judgment. That said, it is possible to be a Rafa fan and extol his play in the RG final because, well, it was objectively extraordinary! It is also possible to be a Rafa fan and say that while he played an impressive match to beat Murray in the W semis, he did not bring nearly the same level against Berdych (and as it turned out, he didn't have to).

I agree with many above that Steve does a fantastic job of embracing wonderful performances and helping us record what we have just witnessed. I LOVED watching the famous Rafa/Novak Madrid semi last year and then reading Steve's account of it (which celebrated both players). If his honest admiration of Rafa spills over a little into this blog, well, I don't think any less of him. In fact, I'm glad to know that he has such a deep appreciation of gifted players and exceptional performances. I know that if Tipsarevic came out of nowhere to blow everyone away and win in New York, we'd get an enthusiastic-yet-fair write-up from Steve.

Posted by Tim (Outlaw the Moonball!) 07/21/2010 at 12:47 AM

this is just SO accurate for me too ...

A great champion like Nadal turns me off due to his show-boating style on the court---the fist pumps, the angry scowls, the jumping up and down at the net before the match to try to psyche out his opponent---that's just too much machismo for my taste. However, this doesn't stop me from respecting him as a great champion. It's just that the emotional connection isn't there with him, so I always find myself rooting for his opponent.

I get that for some its a turn on, tennis porn of sorts, but i cant stand it its a sheer delight to see a big ball basher blow him off the court ...

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/21/2010 at 01:48 AM

Tim, 12:47.

You may intensify said "delight" by adopting a tantric viewing approach on those special occasions.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 07/21/2010 at 01:49 AM

As a solid member of the "transition generation" which grew up with wood (ages 0-17) then went to aluminum (18-21), then graphite(19-on), I will testify that you can't just look at old film and attempt to say "it looked slower."

It in fact was a "bit" slower, but there are quite a few variables that are not immediately apparent. For starters, players now routinely play so far behind the baseline that the bigger swings which produce the greater MPH measurements are modified by sheer distance.

A tennis court is only 72 feet long, the area of that 72 feet that matters is the 36 feet on your opponent's side. You have to read the shot while it is on the other side of the net, no matte what era you play in. If Ken Rosewall stood inside the baseline (watch films of his play), he may be blocking slice backhands at about 80 mph from 33 feet from the net. If Rafael Nadal plays 11 feet behind the baseline, he has to hit his groundstrokes at 120 mph to achieve equal "rushing" if his opponent. I.e. for the Rosewall block/slice backhand and the Nadal cranked forehand to arrive at the net a the same time, Nadal has to hit his 33% faster because Nadal's shot is covering 33% more distance.

There is more to it than even that, but that's just one small factor.

This is not to say tennis does not change, but the beauty of the game is the variables. Wood --- graphite was a huge variable. Fans would do well to focus on the players who played with both.

Look up the youtube of the Connors/Laver indoor Ceasar's palace exo from the early 70's, on a lightning fast court, and tell me it looks "slow."

All that said, its an extraordinary time, you will have to live a long, long time to see the likes of Federer and Nadal playing in the same era, that I can confidently predict.

Posted by kym 07/21/2010 at 01:54 AM

The story on Nadal and Federer keeps on going! The world is divided and takes sides. Here in my family, we are crazy tennis fans. We are also a house divided. I am a Rafa fan as my mother who is seventy five years old. My nephew, seven years old, who said he can beat Nadal is a fan of Federer, and so is his dad. Whenever a grand slam match between Nadal and Federer comes we watch on separate TVs. And no matter how late or earlier the match takes place, we always wait and watch it, not its rerun. A rerun might be shortened due to the time constraint of a channel. Now the matter is not how many grand slams these two players might accumulate, it is how much longer tennis fans can enjoy great tennis by these two players. We know that, as Marcos Bagdatis said, both of them are good. If they are not the two best tennis players in its history, their rivalry could be the best. It is not a rivalry like the one of the ugly American pair: Agassi-Sampras. Who said: “I really envy Pete”? It is A.A.. Am I hallucinated or American tennis players don’t have class? An American tennis player wanted to stuff a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge! Another tennis player showed panty hose with her ass! Also one tennis player was jealous with his compatriot! One was caught with shop-lifting. And one threw up on a court! And of course I do not forget that the loud-mouth, number one public enemy tennis player is also an American. Who is it? It is JMc. Western European tennis players, not the Eastern ones, seem to have more class. Oh yeah, one Eastern tennis player pulled down his short! Another was caught with prostitution! And one beat his head to a bloody one! Please show cultural and pretty tennis. The rivalry Federer-Nadal is a healthy rivalry full of sportsmanship. We saw Nadal comforted Federer when the latter cried. And Federer missed Nadal and said Rafa was not in the grand slam of Wimbledon. Even the smaller rivalry between Murray and Nadal is healthy. Murray said that he liked to watch Nadal plays and wanted to play with him. People who have real talent often also have class. If I am not mistaken Federer has been or was a good will ambassador? And of course I know Rafael Nadal is already immortal. There is now a planet in our universe, called Nadal, named after Rafael. When I learn that Federer intended to play a few more years, I felt so happy. The rivalry after this one looks like to be the Murray-Nadal rivalry. This rivalry will be a healthy one too. Western Europe still shows that it is a subcontinent with culture; people have class. America lags this subcontinent culturally, so people have ass, not class, and it shows. No more please. Don’t make this an ugly sport. We want to enjoy pretty, cultural tennis for a few more years.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 07/21/2010 at 02:13 AM

Enjoyed the post & the discussion very much. :)

I so agree with this:

"The upside is that watching one player that closely and sympathetically can give you insights into him or her that more objective eyes won’t decipher. The downside is that it can make you blind to other players’ virtues and get you to read sinister intentions into their words when they aren’t there."

I remember when Roger had back trouble in early 2009, I read about it and the effects it had first in comments by his fans.

Sort of related - Steve Davis, aged 52, had the best run he's had in ages at the snooker World Championships this year, to the quarter-finals. He explained his sudden form by saying that a fan had written to his website, saying "Did you know that you're moving your head when you're playing your shots?" (this is usually a bad thing.) Davis took note. :) I wonder if similar things could happen with tennis?

On a slightly different note, I guess trying to be a fan of everyone is like trying to think and feel like any given poet felt, to try to understand their work as fully as possible.

It makes sense to me to know where people are coming from. I don't believe, though, that if you are a fan of one player or another, that you are automatically biased in what you say, or that you therefore come with a ready-made set of opinions. I sometimes get cross when I read "Rafa fans are all..." or "Fed fans always..."

It's always so much more complicated than that - I mean, you can be a fan and yet be more critical than others of your favorite's form or character, or you can be a fan and be biased in favour of or against particular narratives - for example, everyone has a slightly different code regarding injuries and when they should or shouldn't be mentioned. I know for example that I am biased towards believing what people say when they take a time-out, or when they say they are injured, whereas sometimes I feel that Pete, for example, starts off with the view that there's another, more sinister story behind all injury talk from *anyone*. I mean, there's usually a whole complex set of biases informing opinions and comments; for me, I'd rather know what they are, or at least know that people occasionally think about them. Besides, as with GOAT debates, sometimes thinking about where people are coming from and why can be more interesting than the actual debate. ;-)

I like the "try to be a fan of everyone you watch" approach; even if you're rooting for one over another. I get teased occasionally for liking pretty much everyone but then - usually there is something to like about everyone, if you take the trouble to look for it. :)

Posted by Tuulia 07/21/2010 at 04:54 AM

A lovely post, jewell.

It's interesting how differently people see players. For instance, I would never associate a concept like "machismo" to Rafa, and in fact find the idea funny. Also, I've very rarely seen him angry on court, but some people seem to think he often is. *shrug* I wonder if people see players so differently to begin with and therefore like/dislike them, or if they like/dislike them for something first and then start seeing them accordingly - for instance, if they dislike them, a lot of things about them seem irritating, and that just further "proves" how irritating they are...

CL - I don't believe there really is such a thing as objectivity in writing about something one really cares about such as a favourite sport. It is often obvious what writers' opinions of various players are, who they like/dislike as people, whose play they admire or don't really appreciate. It's often clear enough whether they specifically say they're fans, haters, or something in between. I think that's only natural and I don't see any problem with it. Some writers are not really into what they write about (it's-just-a-job-writing), so if a non-tennis fan is writing about tennis the results are usually more or less a compilation of clichés and statistics. That may indeed be "more objective" in a way, but I don't find that type of writing interesting at all.

Posted by lilscot 07/21/2010 at 06:17 AM

It's always so amusing when someone continuously insults a player with derogatory comments about their behaviour, solely based on that person's own perceptions, and then thinks they are fooling everyone by adding something like, "however, this doesn't stop me from respecting him as a great champion."

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

Posted by Hoi Ha 07/21/2010 at 06:20 AM

"I think generally speaking the champions of earlier eras would hold their own quite well against the modern era. Tennis is different that a strength sport like football, where a modern lineman is 50 pounds heavier that say the 1960's Green Bay Packers lineman. Tennis has so many variables like skill and mental toughness that a great champion would be great in any era."

I wish I could agree - I remember watching Borg, Connors, JMac, Martina, Chrissie - I love them and I loved the way tennis was played back then too. But the game has moved on and the players are simply just better. That is the nature of sport.

I was a competitive swimmer at the international level in the 70's and 80's - even now I remember most of my best times in each event even though we are talking well over 20 years. I also know what the world record times were then too - to try and compare them to what the swimmwers are doing today is silly - they are so much faster today.

I swam during the East German years when the women were BIG (and yes on steroids and whatever else). I was big too (not on steroids of course) because I did weight training 4 times a week and swam 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. We worked really hard and we were beyond fit. But today swimmers are not as big as we were because advances in physiology and a better understanding of the science behind athletes and their bodies and muscles and muscle efficiency has introduced new training methods that are simply more effective, more streamlined, and bottom line create better athletes in their sport. So today I can tell you that swimmers actually train a lot less than we used to in our day and are much slimmer and less muscle bound than in our day as well because science has shown this creates better swimmers. And yes the swimsuits are better and more aerodynamic and made of special fabrics - but it's more than simply that - the science behind what it takes to create an athlete in a sport is getting better and better all the time and will continue to do so.

So - I strongly suspect, taking the equipment issues out of it, that Laver, Jmac, Borg etc etc would be wiped off the court today by the current crop of players - between the physios, the specialised training, the computer modeling of the mechanics etc etc. Sports science is just creating more knowledge and hence better athletes, in all sports, including tennis. Equipment is part of that, yes, but not all of it.

Posted by Aussiemarg Madame President,Rafa Channel Slam Winner 2010! 07/21/2010 at 07:48 AM

Steve I must say I have always appreciated "your eyes" and I guess after having being a tennis writer you too are human just like the rest of us and have favourite players.

Though in saying that I have always found you to be fair and non judgemental.

Hey your never going to please all the people all of the time.Which I am sure you are very well aware of.

Posted by FED FRED 07/21/2010 at 07:49 AM

O.K. Fans listen up and I will set you straight.

First, your American Idol Serena is done.
She is a super head case that is fat and happy....

If FED is not in the draw of a tournament it really does not count.

All anyone cares about is the FEDMIESTER.
Watch him win the USO.

Posted by FED FRED 07/21/2010 at 07:57 AM

There is no rivalry in tennis between FED and NADAL

16 SLAMS and all the ESPY's say
ROGER is the GOAT Cheese of all time.
Roger was even seeded #1 at Wimbledon without being #1 in the world
and a guy in the field that beat him in 2008.

8 Grand Slams is pathetic next to the great Roger's record.
The whole world acknowledges FED as the master of tennis.
His losses to NADAL are a fluke and do not really count toward Nadal being better.

Posted by lilscot 07/21/2010 at 08:05 AM

Tuulia: 7:20 p.m.

Lol. Not sure if you're a Seinfeld fan but, "serenity now, serenity now."

Posted by JB (FOOPs unite!) 07/21/2010 at 09:15 AM

lilscot - you can despise a player, not like their personality or not like their game and STILL have tremendous respect for them as a champion.

you don't have to LIKE someone to respect them.

I never liked jmac. don't like the tantrums. the gamesmanship. typically not even a great fan of his commentating at this point; though when he choses to actually analyze the match he's watching he can be brilliant.

I have tremendous respect for him as a champion. He had/has a great game, incredible touch, fierce competative instincts. He won a LOT. He was undeniably a great champion. Doesn't mean I had to like him.

*shrugs* not sure what that has to do with pigs wearing makeup.

Posted by JB (FOOPs unite!) 07/21/2010 at 09:23 AM

Hoi Ha - that's really interesting about the comparison with the swimming, from someone who was there! A lot of what you mentioned was training, knowledge of physiology etc. I think when you talk of comparing the generations in tennis, its not a matter of just changing rackets, its exposure training and fitness knowledge and techniques.

Since this is a theoretical discussion - the assumption has to be that the 'older gen' players get ALL the benefits of technology - NOT just the new racket / strings. Players would be 'fitter'. they would train differently, and they would imo, give this current generation more than a run for their money.

If you had trained and worked hard, knowing everything the swimmers know now - don't you think that you would BE much closer to the current level?

Posted by @work 07/21/2010 at 09:45 AM

Lilscot @ 6.17am
I'm with you there. It's hard to believe there is any respect whatsoever in the midsts of all the insults.

JB @ 9.15am
"you don't have to LIKE someone to respect them"
I agree with you but I think not liking someone and using every chance to insult them (which is what I think Lilscot was referring to) are two different things.

Posted by @work 07/21/2010 at 09:53 AM

Regarding the subjectivity in public articles I can appreciate both sides of the argument.
I applaud Steve's decision to disclose his own peference while trying to remain fair but I also understand others not wanting to openly admit their own subjectivity and leaving it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Posted by Steve 07/21/2010 at 10:05 AM

Dunlop: It's true, the laver/connors vegas match was pretty eye-opening to me.

laver's speed and shotmaking at 36 are amazing, as well as connors power. or maybe it's the sound in that arena. shots sound like cannonballs.

jack kramer had a good line about generational differences. he said something along the lines of: i'm not going to say that connors is a better player than budge just because colin dibley can serve 130 mph. the point being, i think, that there's more to tennis than pace. you can that a slightly younger laver could pretty easily have stayed with jimbo, a guy who at the time hit the ball harder than pretty much anyone ever had

CL: i was trying to say that at no point do i approach tennis as simply a "Rafa fan." i approach it as an observer and at times a fan of a lot of players, someone who tries to see what they do and don't do well. Djokovic is another guy i like, but i'm hardly blind to his flaws as a player or performer.

Posted by Juliana 07 07/21/2010 at 10:16 AM

@FED FRED 07/21/2010 at 07:57 AM
_Roger was even seeded #1 at Wimbledon without being #1 in the world_

"Since 2002, following an agreement made with the ATP, the Gentlemen’s Singles seeding order is determined using an objective and transparent system to reflect more accurately an individual player’s grass court achievements: The FORMULA is:
Take ATP ranking points at 14 June 2010, add 100 per cent of points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months, then add 75 per cent of points earned for best grass court tournament in the 12 months before that.
So, here is WHY Roger Federer, No. 2 in the rankings, is seeded No. 1, while the top-ranked Rafael Nadal is seeded second.
Federer currently has 8,525 ranking points but gets to add 2,150 points in grass court results from the past 12 months (2000 for winning Wimbledon ’09 and 150 for being runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, Germany, on Sunday). He also adds 75% of the 1,200 (900 points) points he received for being Wimbledon runner-up to Nadal in ’08.
Nadal, who has 8,745 ranking points, gets to add 45 points for reaching the quarter-finals of Queen’s Club in London last week and 75% of the 2,000 (1,500 points) he received for winning Wimbledon in ’08. He did not play any grass court events in 2009 because of knee problems.
So Federer’s ADJUSTED points total by the Wimbledon system is 11,575, and Nadal’s is 10,290." /Source: The Globe and Mail/

No matter how Roger is seeded, Rafa is better than GOAT Federer.

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