Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - There Will Be Sweat
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There Will Be Sweat 08/17/2010 - 9:39 AM

Nd I'm at the beach this week, so I'll wrap up Toronto (seems so long ago, doesn't it?) and do a quick preview of Cincy as I head out.

Tennis tournaments carve up time; you can live in them. When you look at a season’s worth, only four will become part of fans’ collective memory. Only four will mean anything after their final Sunday. Cincinnati had begun almost before Toronto ended. But while you recognize, in the back of your mind, the virtual irrelevance of the results in the long run, while it’s happening a tournament is a self-contained world, the whole world in a week. It begins all at once, a mass of striving spread out on various backcourts and played from morning until late at night. How long ago did I watch Ernests Gulbis knock a sweatband at a girl on a quiet evening in the Grandstand in Toronto, or see Sam Querrey and Kevin Anderson trade howitzers for three long, intensely muggy sets on Court 1? It seems like, in the hermetic world of a tennis tournament, a lifetime ago.

From that early free-for-all, the weeding process begins and a sense of order gradually materializes. You watch various players have their striving ended, face their farewell press conferences, and get in cars heading for the airport. Finally, it comes to Sunday, a day of fanfare in the stadium and frenzy in the pressroom. At the end of it, the computers get packed away and the wheely bags come out. Everyone says a temporary goodbye; with each person you see, you have to figure out when and where you’ll see them again. To live like this week after week would have its drawbacks and dangers—buffet dinners, airport fear, unlimited Haägen-Dazs bars—but the upside is that the little world will soon start over again somewhere else. You never say goodbye for good.

The tennis universe has picked up and moved itself wholesale to Cincy. Before they vanish entirely, here are a few stray images from Canada, the kind of stray images that give the little world its color and meaning, as temporary as it may be.

***

It’s three hours before the quarterfinal night match on Friday and I’m upstairs in what’s known as the Rogers Lounge, a gathering spot above the stadium for assorted VIP, as well as the press, whose members are invariably the most indifferently shaven and least expensively coiffed people in the room. I walk past a large table, which at first glance looks empty. But scattered around, at a safe distance, are little groups of people who all seem to be covertly looking in the same direction. When I walk back, I see what they’re looking at: Roger Federer is alone at the back of the table, leaning forward, sticking a forkful of pasta in his mouth. A glimpse into the glamorous life of the tennis superstar.

Later, during Federer’s match, I spot Paul Annacone in the same lounge, watching the final unfold from above. According to Federer, he can’t sit courtside when he’s playing Murray, due to LTA obligations. Annacone has a much better view of what’s going on and how points are developing from up here.

***

When I was younger, I’d read profiles of tennis players and shake my head at how one-dimensional their lives were. They all holed up in their hotel rooms and never bothered to see anything else of the cities they visited. Now I’ve begun to see some of the appeal of that hotel room. The good big bed, the deep darkness in the morning, the flat screen TV right smack in front of you, That 70s Show reruns on each night when you get back from work at 11:30. There’s not much more you can ask. Each day last week, there’d come a point in the press room when I would feel myself wishing I could get out of there and go, not to a museum or a concert or a restaurant or a neighborhood in Toronto, but back to the dark haven of the hotel room.

***

My only real-life Toronto adventure came on the first weekend, when my friend Tom Tebbutt, tennis writer for the Globe and Mail, invited me to play at his home club, the ancient and venerable and surprisingly large Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, founded in 1876 and home to a version of the Rogers Cup in the early 1970s. It was charming and absurd to see how modest the pro tour once was. “Center court” was the middle court in a line of five normal-sized club courts. The TV crew set up behind the back fences, and small temporary bleachers were constructed. That was the set up when Rod Laver reached the final one year.

Even better for me was a chance to check out a small collection of hard-to-find tennis books that Tom has tracked down during his travels over the years. One dispiriting aspect of writing about the sport in the U.S. is that it simply isn’t taken seriously, either as a major sport or a writing subject. I don’t care if tennis gains significant mass appeal here—the chances are beyond slim—but I would like to think that what I do has some kind of history or tradition, the way golf and baseball writing do in the States. Tom’s collection was an eye-opener and an inspiration because it contained old volumes of the best British tennis journalists of their time. John Oliffe of the Telegraph, David Gray, Rex Bellamy, and three great Americans, Allison Danzig of the NY Times, Herbert Warren Wind of the New Yorker, and Al Laney, from the days when the sport was covered on a daily basis in the country’s biggest papers. The bookcase that held all of this history wasn’t big, but it was enough to make me feel that tennis writing has its place and its honor. It’s nice to be reminded of that now and then. It’s even nicer when you realize it for the first time.

***

What is a tennis tournament? To you and I, it’s part of our daily lives, maybe even our daily jobs. To its officials and ball boys and merchandise hawkers and food staff and ice haulers, it’s a one-week paycheck. But what is it to the average ticket buyer? They are, after all, the vast majority of people who will experience the event. Their time with the sport can be summed up in two very different scenes from last week.

1. It’s 7:30 P.M., a warm, bright Tuesday evening, and the stadium court is a rare sell out for an opening-round match. Roger Federer, the man who the city has come to see, is playing in a pink shirt. The atmosphere is half sporting event, half performance—I wonder how Federer doesn’t let himself get caught up in the latter. The fans run the gamut from upper crust/middle aged to young guys in baseball hats who feel free to yell whatever they like. Federer, the modern incarnation of the tennis gentleman in flannels, glides over the court and seems only to have to caress the ball with his racquet—it barely makes a sound coming off the strings—to send it exactly where he wants it to go. This is tennis as the elite of all elite sports. It stayed amateur for decades after other sports in part because it wanted to stay above those other sports, a clean little world of its own. Even now, in the pro era, when the money involved is obscene, its retains that elite status for most people. There’s an elevating effect to watching Federer; the people here seem to be looking up at him.

***

2. It’s early evening a day later and the Grandstand court is half full. Two players of relative distinction, Fernando Verdasco and Eduardo Schwank, are facing each other, but it’s no blockbuster—Verdasco is killing him. The sun is setting and the air has cooled, People sit back and put their feet up on the chairs in front of them. Not much is really happening; there’s no fan favorite out there. The entertainment level is just enough to keep people’s attention, nothing more (or less). There’s no sense of occasion, just a chance to see the traveling tennis world come through and watch how ridiculously good even its average members are—when Verdasco hits a forehand winner, the oohs from the crowd are a little like what you might hear for a tightrope walker at the circus.

A mishit sends a ball into the stands, where a spectator stands up and makes a one-handed catch. Everyone cheers; he takes a bow. When, after half an hour, Schwank finally wins a game, he raises his arms in triumph. The audience claps and whistles. When the match is over, there are spirited cheers that die away quickly. We stand up, raise our arms and stretch, and slowly shuffle out together. It’s the last match on that court; the tennis world has shut down for the day.

***

So, Cincy. The players have gathered again. Is it too late to do a preview? How about we just call it a "look ahead" then? I’ll give you a few possible highlights from each quarter.

***

At the top, Nadal could get a test from Taylor Dent right away. Tiebreakers may be in order, but on most days Nadal will be out of Dent’s league. The match to hope for here is a quarterfinal between Nadal and Tomas Berdych on Friday. We’ll see if Berdych is for real against players other than Federer.

Semifinalist: Nadal

***

Speaking of Federer, he should be OK until the quarters, though I’d love to see a Fed-Monfils fourth round at night. The bottom half of his section is fairly strong—Querrey, Ferrer, and Davydenko are all there. Is it time for Kolya to find his game again? It’s got to happen at some point.

Semifinalist: Federer

*** 

Murray, fresh from his Toronto win, will presumably struggle, but he’s been given the best draw of the top four, with Verdasco the highest seed near him. Based on very little, I’ll take a flyer on a another guy with talent who’s due to do something, Ernests Gulbis.

Semifinalist: Gulbis

*** 

Novak Djokovic has had success in Cincy in the past, but he may have a few tough opponents to contend with this week—Soderling, Roddick, Nalbandian, and Isner all stick out as dark horses. Even his first round, against countryman Victor Troicki, will be tricky (Troicki and tricky).

Semifinalist: Djokovic

Semifinals: Nadal d. Federer; Djokovic d. Gulbis

Final: Nadal d. Djokovic

***

If the weather is bad where I am, I may be pop in later this week. Otherwise, be thankful you can watch from your couch rather than having to play in Cincy in August. Whatever happens, there will be sweat.


 
136
Comments
 
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Posted by Tuulia 08/19/2010 at 08:14 PM

"Everyone knows that Berdych can easily defeat Nadal."

Really? :) Since when? Of course Tomas is a good player and he might still beat Rafa one day - he won't get a chance to try this tournament, of course. He hasn't won a set from Rafa since 2006 - on hc or any other surface - never mind beaten him, so the idea that it's sorta obvious he would - "easily" - is ridiculous.

Posted by tennis101 08/19/2010 at 09:25 PM

I never like steves predictions, actually he is wrong like 90 percent of the time, however in my book he is by far the best tennis writer... he is really good but he being the best, is a bit sad for me... hoping for better tennis writers..!!.. analysis has gone down the drain ..

Posted by tennis101 08/19/2010 at 09:30 PM

Great grammar class POV!!
However grammar is highly overrated.
our generation is all about new ideas..!! not the way the ideas are written.
regards,

Posted by Ryan 08/19/2010 at 10:07 PM

Nadal has been in good form but hard courts are not his favorite as seen today. He could be beat or beat anyone at this point. Gulbis can crush the ball and is another guy who can beat the best in the world.

Just finished watching Roddicks match and it was like watching grass grow. He stands like 20 feet behind the baseline and plays week tennis. If it wasn't for his serve, Roddick would be a top 40 player. I think he hit 3 forehand winners and 2 backhand winners. That may get it done over a rusty looking Soderling, but there is about a 1% chance that he can win a slam playing that way.

Posted by espnalanaldo 08/20/2010 at 03:47 AM

All this time I have been reserving my judgment on Chris Fowler's objectivity. (He is one of the commentators today) ... Until today's match of Nadal vs. Bennetaeau.

Fowler was asking BGilbert to ask Nadal basically that his game sucks. Instead, of asking a more positive spin of perhaps --- what did you do to turn things around and prevent losing at match point? What are your weaknesses. right off the bat. What a jerk!
Sure, he backpedalled later but his true sentiment is glaringly evident.

Thus, Fowler is exposed as nothing but a Roger butt-kisser, just like Mary Carillo, (just replay her effusive plaudits of Roger during the first few games at the 08 French Open) and JohnMac as well in the same Roland Garros final, and you will see. Did Fowler even venture to ask why Roger was having a tough time in Toronto last week, that eventually resulted in a loss to Murray?

Makes you wonder if these so-called journalists are "in" the payroll of the Roger camp. It is a legitimate observation as there seems to be this "heyhey roger is great chorus --- that Roger is still capable of winning 20th Slam. What a pipe dream!!! Only non-objective people and journalists will subscribe to the idea that Roger at 29 will keep on winning as if the current competition is as weak as when Roger was dominating a diminished unheralded group of Hewitt, Safin and Roddick. Not when Rafa came into the picture. Evidence?

7-14 in H2H. Nothing can be further from that statistical truth.

As I have maintained it before and time and time again, QUALITY > Quantity. Quality will trump 16 quantity anytime, anyday, anywhere.

How good is 16 when H2H is pathetically lopsided to a point that it may even get worse as 7-21. Then, you can GOAT your cheese on that one! Hah!

For whatever it is worth Jmac has been modulating his "tune" on Nadal lately, extolling the virtues of the improvements of serve, net play and adjusting defense to offense at critical and big moments.

(If only you can hear JMac so giddy when Roger luckily garnered his lone French Open and career slam in 09. Hollow vicrory or achievement indeed! Why? For crying out loud, Nadal was injured and cannot defend his title. That makes Roger just one lucky player. Lucky, indeed!

It is such a bogus propping of Roger that after a dreadful 2008 that he can comeback and win again. Except, everyone is forgetting the biggest variable in the equation --- his main rival is not around to fight over the title --- mano a mano.

But, I digress. Fowler, no doubt is officially exposed. You think?

Posted by fred (vultures smelling blood?) 08/20/2010 at 04:29 AM

"7-14 in H2H. Nothing can be further from that statistical truth.
How good is 16 when H2H is pathetically lopsided to a point that it may even get worse as 7-21. Then, you can GOAT your cheese on that one! Hah!"

7-21 what are talkin'about ?!? Your post is non-sense, you're just a bitter rafa fan. But yeah, blame it on Roger, blame it on him because he reached so many finals on clay, I also wish he would have foiled before, like the good ol' Pete Sampras who never bothered going that far on clay...

Posted by ilovetennis 08/20/2010 at 06:42 AM

((wjr)):Feedforward, you need to get a life, are we in 5th grade or what?
What are you, nuts?
Just because you care about grammatical mistakes doesn't mean you don't have a life.
Oh, but ignorant people like just couldn't get it

Posted by Honeychile 08/20/2010 at 06:49 AM

What's with the personal attacks on this blog? This used to be a civil forum!

Posted by FED FRED 08/20/2010 at 07:26 AM

The Quarters at Cincy are amazing...

I think of the 4 matches anyone could win.
Murray seems ready to throw up his kilt but he could
still hook the fish.

The Joker is still wild but can he survive the heat of
Cincy and the Roddick serve?

Nadal is struggling to find his rhythm but so is the Maestro.

Who will win
Ohh My Gosh it is too close to call.

Posted by rafaholic (@TOtennisfan) 08/20/2010 at 07:35 AM

Factual error in this post. The Verdasco/Schwank match was played the same night as Federer's first match in Toronto. I was there that night - enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the Verdasco match. It ended just moments before Fed's match ended so I didn't bother going into Centre Court to watch. But they were definitely at the same time. NOT on separate days.

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 11:00 AM

hey ryan, roddick playing weak???? please look nadal first and state your opinion after, based on what i watch i would say that the one who was playing weak was nadal, and saying that roddick without his serve would be a top 40, its like saying nadal without his dirty tactics would be a top 40, or you dont remember that roddick beat easily nadal in miami, or you have amnesia??????? roddick plays better on hard courts than nadal, and if not go to see who are the hard court matches leaders, i dont see nadal even in the top 5............

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 11:03 AM

roddick have won 30 matches on hard courts and nadal only 18, so ryan show some respect to roddick...........

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 11:09 AM

oh my mistake, nadal just has won 15 matches on hard courts.........

Posted by @work 08/20/2010 at 11:17 AM

I'm all for showing due respect to all players not just Roddick.
Obviously Roddick has a good serve very well suited for hard courts but his accomplishments on any surface cannot be compared to those of Nadal.

Nadal has never been and perhaps will never be dominant on hard court but he has won 1 Grand slam, 5 Masters and 1 Gold medal on the surface.

Comparing the amount of matches played on the surface is not necessarily the best way to measure their results because hard is Roddick's favorite surface and he plays more tournaments (non Masters/GS) on it than Nadal does.

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 11:21 AM

well thats true, nadal only plays masters, but well roddick had beat him twice on hard courts and nadal had only beat him one time in 2008 when roddick wasnt with stefnski, so for example if theres a final between nadal and roddick in cincy roddick would win, nadal is the clay king off course, but on hard courts fed, rod, murray, djokovic surpass him......

Posted by @work 08/20/2010 at 11:33 AM

I think you're confusing surface match-up issues with overall results.

That's like saying that just because Nadal's h2h with Fed is 14-7 he's better than Fed.
On hard and grass they are pretty close, however Fed's results are significantly better overall: 4 AO, 6 Wimbledon and 5 USO titles.

Like I said there is no doubt that hard court is Nadal worse surface but his overall results are better than most of those players you mentioned, with the exception of Federer. Can Roddick, Murray, Djokovic beat him on the surface? No doubt they can and they have! but can those players surpass him in titles and overall results? That remains to be seen.

Posted by @work 08/20/2010 at 11:45 AM

"On hard and grass they are pretty close"

In case it wasn't clear I meant close in their H2H on those surfaces. Obviously not close in GS results!

Posted by @work 08/20/2010 at 11:49 AM

GS and Masters Hard Court Results:

Andy Roddick: 1 GS - 5 Masters
Novak Djokovic: 1GS - 4 Masters
Andy Murray: 5 Masters

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 12:01 PM

yes, in tittles of grand slam, yes, but nadal has only one on hard court, and 4 masters on hard courts, the remain are in clay courts.......

Posted by wjjr 08/20/2010 at 12:03 PM

i don,t need to win us open, i already have.....5 times. 4 year end titles against top 8 in world. don,t need that one either, ooh and here in cinnci,i guess 3 times is enough? only thing i wonder about, why isnt there 1000 series on grass????id for sure have way more 1000 series titles then 16. more like 30....... shame, i have to find away to get up for these matches, motivation is tough... my career is complete,how about yours.....???? vamos delpo.........hurry back. tsonga where are you.

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 12:04 PM

@work i understand your point, i do understand that nadal is one of the greatest ever on tennis history as a whole, but hard courts are his nemesis.... and also due to his knees he cannot show his full potential because of the impact that it could have on his knees, probably thats the reason why nadal could not perform so well from august to the end of the year........

Posted by scoreboarding 08/20/2010 at 12:28 PM

Sebastian,
I understand your point too so no problem. I think it's obvious players like Nadal, Roddick, Murray, Djokovic are well above average.
One small correction though, Nadal has won 5 hard court Masters: 2 IW, 2 Canada, 1 Miami

Posted by sebastiandiplo 08/20/2010 at 12:38 PM

oh yes that one, i forget it ooooooops..........miami 2009

Posted by thooz 08/20/2010 at 08:58 PM

The Gods are being very kind to Fed in Cinci. He was gifted two matches due to opponents' injuries, and he just finished a nice little work-out against Davydenko in the Quarters, winning in straight sets. So a fresh Fed now awaits Nadal (hopefully) in the Semis. He couldn't ask for a better scenario in this final warm-up before New York. So he simply must step up and win this tournament. If he fails to win Cinci, the doubts about his regaining the #1 ranking will continue to linger. His most nagging problem since the Australian has been his inability to put away opponents when he has a comfortable lead. Even today against Davydenko, he was up an early break in the second set but gave it right back on his next service game. The 2006-2007 Fed would never have allowed this to happen---he would have put his foot on his opponent's neck, and mercilessly crushed it. I realize age has something to do with this recurring problem of late. It definitely takes a lot of energy to keep pressing your opponent. But the Fed of today should be able hold a lead at least two-thirds of the time. After all, he's still in his twenties. When he hits 30, I'll be more forgiving, and only expect this great champion to hold a lead half the time.

Posted by Mike 08/20/2010 at 10:21 PM

Yeah, Fed is one lucky dog. Lucky to have 16 slams .. lucky to have the best 3 year period in Men's Tennis history. Lucky to have won the FO ... a regular living rabbit's foot. He's even lucky enough to win when Rafa is injured, which is truly lucky ... as we all know that Rafa only loses when he's injured. Do I sound ridiculously irrational + biased? The difference between me and another regular poster that never gets called out is that I'm simply being sarcastic and wouldn't be foolish enough to try to raise my fave by putting down his chief rival ... over ... and over ... and over, again.

Posted by wlee 08/20/2010 at 10:47 PM

"rafa only loses when he is injured". really, he said he was in perfect condition in toronto, then did not reach the final. also perfect condition now in cincy just went down to baggy. take time away from nadal then he loses. on hardcourt when he was rank # 2 to roger's #1 for all those years he failed to reach the finals to give roger such a lopsided H-H, now for the only tournament in the last several yrs where roger is #3 and ready to meet nadal in the semis nadal failes to reach the semi. lord have mercy on the H-H of rog and rafa.

i bet federer will take cincy trophy.

Posted by skr 08/21/2010 at 09:46 AM

well said wlee. many people don't understand the details of the 14-7 H2H. Nadal well knows that its not possible to beat Fed in faster surfaces like Cincy and Flushing Meadows. May be he did not want to face Fed in Cincy and go down in H2H. There is nothing Nadal can improve/change in his game to beat Fed in faster surfaces. Maybe, he can chase every ball as he did in 2009 AO and miss the next 2 GS.

Posted by Ayru 08/21/2010 at 02:03 PM

"Maybe, he can chase every ball as he did in 2009 AO and miss the next 2 GS."

WTF! I'm pretty sure I remember him getting decimated by Soderling at the French in 2009.

Posted by skr 08/21/2010 at 03:09 PM

Well, everybody knows that. Wasn't RG his territory, a sure win? Thanks for just objecting that. Looks like you agree for the rest.

Posted by Sam 08/22/2010 at 03:37 PM

Steve:
Your predictions went horribly wrong. I still enjoy your posts though. You are the most insightful write (IMHO) on tennis.com. One thing, why does the silly ticker say that Federer "regained" the #1 ranking by reaching the Cincy final? He came into Cincy ranked #2 (following his final in TO).

Posted by coolh 08/23/2010 at 11:01 AM

Mr.I-know-everything-Nostradamus Tignor was pompous and not shy to let us know that he predicted the Wimby winners.
He predicted Nadal to win Cincy.RF was going to lose to Nadal at semi.
Tignor is lucky to get paid to write his drivel and exercise his prejudice.
Here is a prediction that will be coming soon:RF to lose at semi,Nadal to win US OPEN 2010.

Posted by tennisforthebest 08/23/2010 at 01:15 PM

I am so happy that you are not a financial adviser or may be a bunch of people like you are that's why we are in such a big mess. Final was between Fish and Federer if you were up and saw the final not between Nadal and Djoker.

Posted by tennis101 08/23/2010 at 04:05 PM

Once again with the H2H record, its clear Nadal has the perfect game to beat Federer, and if he continues as he is doing he might be the best ever to play tennis, regardless of his style of play, that it just a bull of crap, every player has a unique style of play which is develop given his strengths and weakness, is like picking on roger because he has a great serve, or doing it against Sampras because he was incredible in the volley.

The way to select the best player is simple, get the one who wins more important tournaments, you can win all 9 Masters series shields, but still a 3 GS year would be better not to mention a Grand Slam Year. With this idea, Federer has 16 GS, and Nadal 8 , why in the world would you think Nadal is better? Gilles Simon also has a winning record against Federer , does this make him a TOP 10 player? NO! They just have a particular style that hurts Federer.

There is absolutely no question Nadal is the best player in clay, and he has a 7-14 record to federer because of that particular surface, and maybe if they had played more in hard or grass, nadal could have even a better record or a worst H2H, but thats impossible to know.

Nadal is a great player and could take all of rogers records, but for now, FEDERER IS THE GOAT.

If you root for Nadal, be patient, time will tell us how good he is.
If you root for Federer, enjoy it for now, records are bound to be broken.


Posted by pogiako 08/24/2010 at 03:27 PM

Rafael is catching up as expected. He has 1 AO and 2 W. He also has the same medical consultant as Lance Armstrong.

Posted by pogiako 08/24/2010 at 03:31 PM

Hey Steve, Where are you? I miss your noteworthy articles. Just continue not picking on Roger as the winner so he does not get jinxed.

I am ecstatic that Roger wins his 63rd title. Maybe the 64th is coming pretty soon. I hope its the big one. Good day for everyone!!!!!!!

Posted by prashant sharma 08/26/2010 at 03:06 AM

well....so much for 'informed predictions'. I hope steve would desist from making them in future...:)
Federer rules!

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