Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Failure's No Success at All
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Failure's No Success at All 08/10/2010 - 9:39 AM

Rf Yesterday afternoon I left you from a Rogers Cup site that looked something like an oversized soup bowl. Against all odds, though, the water dried and the players were dragged bleary-eyed from their hiding places in the lounge, handed racquets and balls, and forced to run around under the lights. You know how on Monday I listed all the reasons I could never be a pro? Chalk this up as another: Having to start your match five hours after you had originally prepared your mind and body to play it. In those kinds of cases, whether it's tennis or some other nerve-wracking activity, there typically comes a point when I just say: I don’t care what happens, I just want it to be over. That must a reaction that every pro has had to ignore or fight off hundreds of times.

By my estimation, three things of note happened during Monday’s second half. Ernests Gulbis won a tennis match. It's true, even if only a handful of people witnessed it—you really could hear crickets chirping all around the court. Gulbis was sharp to start against Thomaz Bellucci, but exceptionally tense when he was ahead. Gulbis lost the first three games of the second set, won five straight, then did his best to blow that lead. When he was down on his serve, though, he threw bombs, kept his composure, and even—now and then, here and there, you’d miss it if you blinked—showed some positive energy. Of course, there were a few vintage Ernestsian moments. When he was he was down 0-3, he walked past his coach, who gave him a fist-pump and said, “Come on!” Gulbis only response was to raise his right eyebrow skeptically, as if to say, "Really? Did you just watch the last three games? What are you so excited about?" Later, after missing a backhand, Gulbis looked at his camp and said, “I don’t feel it. I can’t feel it,” as if all was lost. On the next point, he wrist-snapped a brilliant short backhand up the line for a passing shot winner that gave him a break. There’s a touch of the tortured genius in Gulbis, though the emphasis so far in his career has been on the first word. A W is a W, but the main reason he won this match was that Bellucci, whenever it mattered, was reliably godawful.

The next must-see event was Roger Federer’s first post-Wimbledon press conference. This was notable for (1) the length of Federer’s answers—did he miss us? (2) his professed willingness at some point to play doubles with Rafael Nadal; (3) his assertion that he’ll do a trial run with Paul Annacone as coach through the U.S. Open; and (4) his upbeat attitude about having his kids on the road—“we put tennis first and family first.” Federer also referred to his life as “superstable.” All in all, sitting in a civilized and untwitchy posture, with his legs crossed in front of him, he appeared to be a man naturally and powerfully drawn to success. I am now officially waiting for a “Roger Federer’s 7 secrets to living your dream life” book series (really, I am, I can use it).

Later, too much later, we finally had a chance to see the No. 1 and 2 players, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, line up on the same side of the court for the first time since Ashe and Connors did it in 1976. While Rafa and Nole weren’t as odd a couple as those two must have been, they didn’t exactly gel as a team, losing to two gawky young unknowns in a super-tiebreaker. With the no-ad scoring and the promise of fireworks afterword, there was an exhibition-like feel to the evening. I didn’t see the whole thing, but from what I did see, Nadal looked energized while Djokovic looked flat. He missed returns and didn’t close at the net (a classic singles player mistake). Their opponents were tall and rangy and knew their doubles. They beat Nadal and Djokovic a number of times by simply going up the middle on them.

On the one hand, I’m surprised they lost, because Nadal had single-handedly won the doubles event at Indian Wells this spring, and the format gives him a chance to show a more aggressive and creative side to his game that he subdues for practical reasons in singles—he really can hit a stab volley lob winner. But I’m not really all that surprised. They would have had to play again this afternoon, and their partnership had already caused the tournament headaches. Before the event, officials had tried to sell tickets by announcing that Djokovic would play Tuesday night. That didn’t work with his doubles, so they had to move him to Wednesday afternoon. Big-name dubs will never be a sure thing on this tour. The Lavers and Rosewalls of the world played it because they needed the money. Now the top singles players run the show, and they obviously don’t need the extra cash. Conflicting agendas can make these partnerships as much trouble as fun. Still, a Federer-Nadal combination would be more than worth whatever it takes to make it happen.


That brings us to Tuesday, when the weather is supposed to improve. What should we be looking for?

I’ll be curious about Sergiy Stakhovsky and Tomas Berdych. One is coming off a Wimbledon final, the other an upset of a former Top Tenner. How good is the late-blooming Stakhovsky? This may give us an idea.

After that, we’ll get another curiosity: Ferrer vs. Nalbandian. This potentially superb matchup will hang on Nalby’s fitness. Unfortunately, that’s never something you want to hang anything on. Ditto for Baghdatis vs. Chardy on the Grandstand.

Then it’s Ernests vs. Soderling, a heavyweight slugfest (ugfest?) if there ever was one. Gulbis finished late last night, so you have to like Soderling.

I’ll also be heading out to tiny Court 1 to watch two Americans, Sam Querrey and Michael Russell, face off. It might not be much of a battle, considering that Russell lists Querrey among his least-favorite opponents right on the ATP’s website. But this 32-year-old has plugged away and survived for much longer than anyone would have expected. Russell also plays with pleasure and perspective, rather than the vicious focus that’s been the norm for so long. We'll see where that gets him, and what kind of form Sam is in.


Enjoy all of it, if you can see it. I’ll be back later.

PS: Can someone name the song where I got the (admittedly odd) name of this post?


Posted by GT 08/10/2010 at 10:03 AM


Posted by Klaus 08/10/2010 at 10:08 AM


Posted by cc 08/10/2010 at 10:35 AM

Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Bob Dylan

Posted by Bibi 08/10/2010 at 11:10 AM

What a negative take on the doubles match from yesterday. Do not like your tone in writing any more.

Posted by andrea 08/10/2010 at 11:32 AM

our coverage cut out just before the nadal/novak match started. would have been fun to watch anyway.

roger had said something before the french about how it was nice, from a presser standpoint, when nadal was not in wimbledon in 2009, since they (rog and rafa) always have to talk about each other. so, he was happy to have a break from speaking about themselves.

and inevitably, with nadal playing doubles with novak, the questions come as to why roger doesn't play doubles with nadal.

Posted by karin1492 08/10/2010 at 11:33 AM

What a negative take on his writing. Do not like your tone in writing ever.

Posted by tina 08/10/2010 at 11:36 AM

Gulbis didn't finish *that* late - what was it, 10:00? Tignor, will you be recording any video while you're there? (Since you are such a fan of YouTube)

Posted by Puffin 08/10/2010 at 11:37 AM

Very likely Roger gave full answers to press questions in the everlasting hope that journalists would, for once, correctly interpret/understand what he tries to say/mean during press interviews.

Many thanks, Steve, for giving us your thoughts on what's happening at the Rogers Cup.

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 08/10/2010 at 11:37 AM

Nice post Steve. It is true...for good, bad, or worse, Fed seems to be in the catbird seat of life. Does that undercut his motivation? Not according to him, though he might be the last to know. Neither he nor his fans will be happy if he can't bring himself back to his AO form and win some more Masters and Slams, but in the long view he is leading an enviable life.

Will Ernsie ever be able to really channel his talent on any kind of consistent basis? Stay tuned.

I too am looking forward to some interesting match-ups today.

No idea about the song...I could cheat and Wiki/Google it but that would be WRONG! :-)

Posted by meretricula 08/10/2010 at 11:51 AM

"Nadal had single-handedly won the doubles event at Indian Wells this spring"

not sure that's all that accurate - Marc Lopez is a very good doubles player, you know. there were matches where he was the one carrying Rafa! it really is a pity Rafa and Novak went out in the first round, though; I would have loved to get a chance to actually see them play.

Posted by johnsteinbeck 08/10/2010 at 12:02 PM

a dylan quote, out of one my favorite songs ever. how lovely!

Posted by Sherlock 08/10/2010 at 12:06 PM

Great stuff, Steve. Love your daily reports.

Oughta be a great day of tennis. So many intriguing matchups. Woo hoo!!

Posted by cfdman 08/10/2010 at 12:16 PM

for those of you interested here is a link to both video and transcript of Fed's interview.

Posted by Mr. T. 08/10/2010 at 12:40 PM

Steve - Am enjoying your onsite posts at what looks like a very good and competitive tournament. I liked the use of quotes to set up your reactions in the previous post. You would think that the talents of Nadal and Djokovic would take them far in the doubles but no such luck. I don't imagine they have ever played together before and teamwork is important in doubles. "Ernestsian" - excellent - doubt that word is in Funk and Wagnalls. You are making the tournament even more enjoyable by your presence.

Posted by Jay 08/10/2010 at 01:53 PM

Thanks, Steve. I can't wait until to see some of these matches!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 08/10/2010 at 02:03 PM

This one had me in stitches, Steve. Thanks for the light-hearted report. Is there something about watching professional tennis in hockey-crazed Canada that brings out the hilarious side of the sport? At any rate, keep 'em coming.

"Gulbis finished late last night, so you have to like Soderling."

Don't be so sure. By playing late at night, our man Ernests wasn't likely able to geet into any mischief. That's got to count for something, no?

And will someone please give PMac a straw hat to eat for suggesting that the top singles players, if put together on the same side of the net, would beat the best doub;es teams every time? It's a different game, and he of all people should know that.

Now, two top singles players with all-court games who are committed to doubles and have developed some good chemistry? Sure, I'd put my money on THAT horse.

Posted by There's no success like failure 08/10/2010 at 03:26 PM

Federer said in his interview that Nadal had asked him to play doubles in Madrid several years ago, but that the rivalry was too intense at the time.
Hope there is some real tennis tonight.

Posted by Tallboyslim 08/10/2010 at 03:29 PM

Song: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Album: Bringing it all back home
Artist: Bob Dylan.

Posted by fedfan 08/10/2010 at 05:15 PM

Your lists of why you wouldn't want to be a tennis pro remind us of tennis' dusty traditions of character building and sportsmanship, which go back to the days when it was played by amateurs for nothing more exciting than a cup or trophy of some sort. The sport has gotten a bit sleazier as the prize money has grown exponentially, but in some respects, players are still expected to just suck it up, just as they did before they had things like tie-breaks, television broadcasts, and roofs over outdoor stadiums. Oddly I think this is one of the things players like Federer revere about their sport, it's traditions of stoicism. Nadal is the same way, which I think is partly why Federer seems to like him. They both are emotional and egotistical, I'm sure, but they both are punctilious in their observance of tennis etiquette, old school.

Posted by fedfan 08/10/2010 at 05:21 PM

Please don't prattle about Fed's tears when he wins or loses. Those happen after the match is over, and he's held his emotions in for however many hours his match lasted.

Posted by thooz 08/10/2010 at 06:02 PM

This is an important moment in Federer's great career. If he can win one of the tournaments before the US Open, then make a run to the finals in New York, then I would say he's well on his way to regaining his #1 ranking and winning a couple more Majors. Anything less than that will only increase the doubts about his longevity and motivation.

Posted by Tony 08/10/2010 at 07:23 PM

Nice post, Steve. And cool headline. Another great quote from that song: "She's true like ice, like fire." To whom on the WTA tour would it apply?

Posted by Northern boy 08/10/2010 at 07:27 PM

Great wins for the home crowd Canadians!

Posted by John 08/10/2010 at 08:09 PM

What a pleasure to read ST's posts, as opposed to the pompous, wordy Bodo. Straight and to-the-point, without all the histrionics.

Posted by freddy 08/10/2010 at 08:48 PM

fedfan - word on 'traditions of stoicism'. In Fed's case, perhaps this extends to preferring the odd poor line call to HawkEye :)

Posted by tacitus 08/10/2010 at 09:41 PM

to John,

I feel Tignor is like a journalist, where Bodo injects some insight. If I wanted matter of fact reporting, I would head over to the AP. Thanks for playing.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 08/10/2010 at 11:44 PM

Don't agree with the declaration that Rafa had single-handedly won the IW doubles title this year.

Marc Lopez, Rafa's partner at IW, is an accomplished doubles player and contributed considerably to the Lopez-Rafa team's success at that tournament.

Posted by Mike O'Donnell 08/11/2010 at 08:40 AM

Dylan's Love Minus Zero/No Limit

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

Posted by cheapjordanshoes 08/13/2010 at 03:47 AM

I was a tennis fan, I like tennis, thanks your article.

Posted by Texas Fan 08/15/2010 at 10:09 PM

I didn't notice a single shriek from Maria today! I am sorry she was hurting but it was much easier to keep watching the match!

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