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Looking for an Edge 07/03/2012 - 6:36 PM

Nd“Is this a match, or a friendly?” The question came from former tennis and soccer player John McEnroe, who was commentating on the fourth-round encounter between Viktor Troicki and his fellow Serb Novak Djokovic. Troicki had just held his racquet up in Djokovic’s direction after a Hawk-Eye replay. McEnroe said, with a hint of sarcasm, “He’s apologizing. For challenging.”

Troicki’s performance was indeed a friendly one from Djokovic’s perspective. The top seed cruised into the quarterfinals while surrendering just seven games to his lifelong buddy. It was Djokovic’s 12th straight win over Troicki since 2009, and the third at a Grand Slam.

We’ve talked ceaselessly over the last few years about the mental toughness and unprecedented consistency of the Top 3 players, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Djokovic. But there are two sides to every tennis match. If those three are winning all the time, someone else has been doing a lot of losing. What’s going on with the guys on the other side of the net, the ones who keep getting beaten, over and over, by the big boys?

If you want to make a comparison to cycling, you might say that Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer each come with a team, like the lead riders at the Tour de France. The tennis versions of those teams aren’t trying to help their leaders, of course; they do their best against them. But whether it’s out of fear, or friendship, or too much respect, or total lack of belief, they never seem to block their way, either. 

Nadal thrives against a literal team, his fellow Spanish Davis Cuppers. Rafa’s career record against seven of his teammates is 63-10 (five of those losses came to David Ferrer alone). Djokovic is also money against his Serbian teammates; he’s 17-3 versus Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic. (Novak obviously needs to get a few more of his countryman on the tour.) As for Federer, he has also dominated his fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, to the tune of a 12-1 career record. But Federer’s ownership extends to the players, of all nations, that he has grown up playing. He’s 111-22 against eight guys (Roddick, Hewitt, Youzhny, Davydenko, Nalbandian, Ferrer, Malisse, and Fish) who are in the vicinity of 30 years old, Federer’s own age. Against the best of the next generation—Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray—Federer is 31-39. 

It’s hard to play a friend or a teammate. It’s even harder to believe that you're suddenly good enough to beat someone who has routinely thrashed you for the better part of a decade. And in general, the players who struggle against, say, Federer, also struggle against Nadal and Djokovic; Ferrer’s career record against the Big 3 is 10-40, and he’s ranked No. 5 in the world. The second tier is the second tier for a reason—they’re not as good as the first tier. But I don’t think they’re that bad, either.

A couple of nights before Djokovic’s win over Troicki, I watched some of the replay of Lukas Rosol’s upset of Nadal. The difference between Rosol’s playing style and demeanor, and the styles and demeanors of most lower-ranked players when they face the Top 3, was striking. He played with a glint of determination, aggression, and eagerness—a swagger. He didn’t bow down to his more famous opponent or let him dictate the flow of the match. Rafa likes to play slowly, so Rosol did the logical thing and play quickly. More important, he had a plan—go for the corners with every hanging forehand—and he stuck with it.

LRRosol's insane fifth-set performance has overshadowed everything that happened before it, but he gave himself a chance to win that match with what he did in the trenches of the second and third sets, when he wasn’t always in the zone. Many times he fell behind in his service games, but he didn’t lose confidence in his ability to use his game plan to come back. While Nadal’s poor returning that day helped, it would have been easy for Rosol to mentally pack it in at a certain point and walk away happy that he hadn’t been triple-bageled. But Rosol was right when he said later, “We’re all humans. Everyone can beat everyone.” That’s what everyone says, of course, but Rosol was one of the few who acted like the rule also applied to a member of the Big 3.

This is an age of respect among the men on the ATP tour, and Rafa, Roger, and Nole have played their parts in fostering that attitude. Each of them, in their roles on the ATP player council, has been a leader off the court as well. It must be difficult for the other guys to work up an edge when they face them. I’m not saying their opponents need to be unsporting, or try to distract them, or strut around spitting mad, but sometimes winning a match starts by getting under your opponent’s skin, or in his head, with your own swagger and self-confidence. No one, whatever his status in the game, wherever he is in the pecking order, should be immune from that.

One player who seems to agree is Federer himself. “What this victory of Rosol does to me,” he said last week, “is give great belief for other players that they can beat the top guys, which I think is great, even though it might not be that great for me down the stretch.” Part of me wonders whether Federer had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said that, but I’ll take him at his word.

So far there have been no signs of a post-Rosol future taking shape. Julien Benneteau, a 30-year-old who Federer has known since they were 12, couldn’t finish him off in the third round; 31-year-old Xavier Malisse (career record against Federer: 0-10), couldn’t capitalize on his injury in the fourth. And the immeditate future doesn't look much different. Federer plays Mikhail Youzhny, 30, next—career record against the Swiss: 0-14. Meanwhile, Djokovic has dropped just one set so far. Still, I’m with Fed and Johnny Mac. When I turn on a tennis match, whatever round it is, I don’t want to get a friendly instead.

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Days Like These 07/03/2012 - 1:36 PM

BBWhen the sky briefly cleared and Brian Baker walked back on Court 12, he was up 30-40 on his opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber's serve. The two players had managed to get in four games before the rains had come. It was just long enough for the slow-starting Baker to be broken. Now he had a chance to get back on even terms.

The players took their positions across from each other in the ad court. Kohlschreiber served a ball that Baker believed was long. But chalk flew, and it was called in. Baker eyed the spot, looked up at the chair umpire, and shook his head as he walked reluctantly over to the deuce court. There, Kohlschreiber fired another serve that Baker believed may have been out. Again he listened for an out call in vain. It was another ace, and Baker walked back to the ad court shaking his head again. The tone had been set. It was going to be that kind of day.

Baker weathered five surgeries and five years away and still came back to tennis because he loved the sport too much to give it up. He must have known, despite the fairytale fashion in which his comeback has played out so far, that returning to tennis also meant returning to days like these. 

Days when your undersized opponent hits 23 aces in three sets.  When the angled volleys you’ve been making find the net instead of the open court. When you slip and fall going for an overhead, when the close calls don’t go your way, when a slice from your opponent lands on the baseline and dies in front of you.

“I felt like there a few points where I was in position to do something,” a frustrated Baker said afterward, “and the ball would literally just stop. But that’s grass-court tennis.”

Days when, on the most important point of the match, at 4-4 in the second tiebreaker, you hit one of your best forehand approach shots of the day, only to watch as your opponent tracks it down and sends up a towering lob that lands smack on the baseline. 

Days, in other words, when you come out distinctly second best, and the only thing you can do is suck it up.

“He definitely came up with some good shots at the times he had to,” Baker said of Kohlschreiber, who never dropped serve. “I felt like any time I got a sniff, he would hit an ace on the line or hit one right inside the line.”

It wasn’t just Kohlschreiber’s serve that was clicking. Everything about his game was crisp. He hit 46 winners against just 12 unforced errors, and was 17 of 21 at the net. Nor was this performance a fluke. Kohlschreiber began his grass-court season with a win over Rafael Nadal in Halle, and he hasn’t lost a set at Wimbledon thus far. At 29, after 11 years on tour, he has reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, where he’ll play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He’s 1-5 lifetime against the Frenchman, but anything seems possible for Kohlschreiber at the moment.

PKHis secret?

“I just practice harder than before,” Kohlschreiber said.

This surprised at least one journalist. “Harder than before?” he asked.

“Yeah, harder than before. It’s nothing that I really changed in big steps. Was only small steps. But I think that’s the key.”

Kohlschreiber also credited the current crop of successful German women—Kerber, Lisicki, Goerges—with a push.

“Normally the women are more in the press,” he Kohlschreiber, whose countryman Florian Mayer is also in the quarters for the first time. “They’re having the better results. So we’re happy that we at least come closer to them.”

As for Baker, we learned a little more about how close he is to the elite, and how his game may hold up in that rarefied air. His serve was effective, as was his backhand; Kohlschreiber kept approaching toward it, and kept getting passed. Weaker, though, was Baker’s forehand return of serve. He mostly just tried to block it back safely, but ended up dumping it into the net anyway.

Baker’s attitude afterward was characteristic. He acknowledged the big picture: his success since coming to Europe two months ago, and his continued good health.

“If someone had told me," Baker said, "when I left—I think I was ranked like 220 when I came over here—and then to leave, I don’t know what I’ll be, maybe around 80, I would have been very, very happy that you told me that."

"Since I’ve been coming back it’s been about the health," he added, "and now it’s about the game. So that’s a good thing.”

Yet the tennis player in him couldn’t just shake off the loss that he had suffered a few minutes earlier.

“It’s been an unbelievable run,” Baker said, “Even though as a competitor [I’m] definitely pretty frustrated right now, to get that far, not to play your best match.”

That’s the way Baker has approached his comeback in general: With the perspective of someone returning after long time away, yes. But also without letting himself off the hook for a poor performance. He has his standards, and that won't hurt going forward.

What Baker may have re-learned from this match, and what he may remember most from it, is that what separates players at the very highest level often isn’t consistency or versatility or any of the things that separate normal players. In the pros, often it’s the ability of one player to do something extraordinary, something beyond the norm, that makes the difference. That’s what Kohlschreiber’s smack-on-the-line lob at 4-4 in the tiebreaker was. Baker responded to that shot by hitting a fairly easy backhand into the net. 

The health is there. The serve, the return, the backhand, and the overall game are there. The next step for Brian Baker? Finding a way to, like the guys in the Top 30, go beyond with them.

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Keeping Tabs: July 3 07/03/2012 - 10:20 AM

ILI go to bed, roof problems. I wake up, more roof problems. When I see the now familiar face of Wimbledon referee Andrew Jarrett, with his walkie-talkie and his classy hair, lurking in the back of a court, I wonder who would ever be possessed to take that job. Or is it the All England Club’s way of punishing someone for bad behavior? I thought the U.S. Open's ref, Brian Earley, had it bad during America's version of Watergate last year, but Jarrett can’t win this fortnight. 

There are whispers, though, of decent weather ahead. Hopefully we’ll forget all about Jarrett and the confounded roof soon.

***** 

Cover Up
The Mail sounds the main theme of the day, from a local perspective:

MURRAY UNDER A CLOUD: AS BIG GUNS REST UP ANDY COULD BE COURT UP AGAIN

When Novak Djokovic wrapped up his easy win in Centre Court yesterday, the crowd began to shout for Murray, hoping to get his suspended match with Marin Cilic moved there. Wimbledon didn’t bite. 

“The problems associated with moving matches between courts," an official said, "such as the stewarding, and the wish not to play another late night, all conspire to say our best option is to come back tomorrow. It’s a traditional daytime, outdoor event.”

Those may not have been the best, or the clearest, words—“stewarding”?—but I like the idea that Wimbledon is trying to fight the slippery slope toward indoor, nighttime tennis. It's a tradition worth keeping.

—Crazed English tennis fans also made the paper yesterday:

SERENA QUESTIONS SECURITY AFTER SHE IS MOBBED BY FANS FOLLOWING WIN

“I was literally knocked over,” Serena said.

But she wasn’t. Not even close. Never gonna happen, according to Serena.

Asked if she were frightened, Serena said, “No, I wasn’t scared. Nobody is going to knock me over, for real. I’d like to see that happen. Maybe that’s why I got on Court 2, because they knew I could back myself up.”

Serena wasn’t the only victim out there yesterday. Andy Murray, as the Mail puts it, “got a bit more than he bargained for.”

“As a gaggle of excited women put their arms around him, one hand slipped a bit low, giving him a pat on the bottom.” 

***** 

Equal Pay for Equal Value
Simon Barnes of the Times weighs in on the equal pay debate, and I’m happy to say that he agrees with me, and for the same reasons. The only problem I have is that he puts it more poetically than I did: 

I am baffled to find Gilles Simon going on about equal prize money for women at Wimbledon,” Barnes writes. “This lack of discrepancy is something that seems to offend some people to their very souls. They make points about women playing three sets rather than five and point out that the men’s final is invariably a hotter ticket than the women’s. What’s that got to do with anything? Wimbledon’s great strength is that men and women are in it together.

"Tennis was invented for that very purpose. [It] was devised as a garden recreation in which young men and women might dispose of the inconvenience of a chaperone. Wimbledon is all about men and women sharing the same sporting arena. The relative prize money is not about workrate or commerical value. It depends on the moral principle that men and women have equal value.”

As I type this, I’m giving that a round of applause.

***** 

Bad Views, Good Smells, (Possibly) Angry Birds
—The worst seat at Wimbledon yesterday? The Independent says it was behind either Dirk Nowitzki, who was at the AELTC to support Sabine Lisicki, or his fellow NBA-er Scottie Pippen, who showed up on Court 2 to cheer for Serena Williams.

—It’s safe to say that we’ve all wondered the same thing now and again: What does Goran Ivanisevic smell like? BBC radio's Clare Balding had the scoop yesterday:

Goran has, according to Balding, a “spicy, wooden” aroma, that is just “delicious.”

—The paper also reports on perhaps the happiest news of the day, the return of Rufus the pigeon-scaring hawk, who had been stolen from the back of a car parked on the grounds. Rufus was even interviewed on TV. Apparently he crushed Andrew Jarrett for his “bone-headed decisions.”

***** 

The Man from Easter Island
Ivan Lendl hasn’t wasted any time establishing his player box identity. He’s the man of stone, the one supporter of Andy Murray who doesn’t stand, cheer, dance, or even smile. What did you expect from Ivan the Terrible, the old Arsenio Hall gyrating fist-pump after every ace?

As the Mirror says, Lendl and Murray are:

STONEFACE AND THE SCOT

Sounds like a detective buddy show from the ’80s, a male Cagney and Lacey. Except that it would be canceled after two episodes.

According to the Telegraph, Lendl developed his impassive style while watching his daughters at golf competitions.

ICE MAN LENDL JUST REFUSES TO LET IT OUT

“I don’t show emotion when I’m watching,” Lendl says. “I’m not falling out of the box. That’s not me and I don’t see any need to change my style.”

“I’ve a lot of training with this with my kids in golf,” Lendl went on, “in the many times I’ve caddied or followed them. I never showed any emotion or nerves then because it simply transferred to the kids. This is a higher level but the principle is the same.”

*****

Final Verdict
Heather Watson’s run is over, and her last headline has been written for the fortnight. Over the course of the event, she went from "my dear Watson" to "Heather in clover" to a vicious “terrier.” How did she end up, in the eyes of the press and the public? According to an Independent headline it was an open question:

HEATHER WATSON: HERO OR VILLAIN?

Villain? Our Heather? Really? Tough crowd. To its credit, though, the paper sides with "hero."

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Half-Crazy Monday 07/02/2012 - 6:00 PM

AkSometimes, it turns out, even persistence isn’t enough. On Monday Maria Sharapova joined her fellow French Open champion Rafael Nadal on the Wimbledon shelf. That’s the norm on the WTA side. No woman has won the two events in the same year since Serena Williams did it to kick off her Serena Slam in 2002. On the men’s side, it's a return to the norm. The Channel Slam has been completed three times since 2008 (twice by Nadal, once by Federer), but that came after a 28-year drought. 

Maria’s and Rafa’s losses are one more sign, as if we needed any more, that the time the pros are allotted to make the transition from clay to grass is absurdly short—they pretty much, as Jeff Spicoli might put it, wing it over to London. There are only four Grand Slams; we should give the players a chance to be at their best for all of them.

For the moment, though, the fact that we don’t isn’t bothering me. There’s something to be said for the sport having a few fresh faces and different characters in contention from one major to the next. I felt bad for Nadal and Sharapova as they walked off, having had so little time to savor their wins. But it also was a healthy reminder: Nothing is set in stone.

Today was Wimbledon's fabled Manic Monday, though this one grew pretty calm about halfway through. Rain cut the day short, except on Centre Court, where the roof gave us plenty to talk about and kvetch over. Here are a few of the day’s developments, some more complicated than others.

*****

Best Face
Sabine Lisicki appears to snarl when she tosses the ball up to serve. She raises her upper lip a little with the effort of starting her motion. It takes half a second to realize that there’s no menace in the expression.

Today Lisicki gave us another face, one she showed here last year when she beat Li Na, but which I can’t remember seeing since. I'll call it Sabine’s Flushed, Teary, Toothy, Overwhelmed Look of Stunned Joy (SFTTOLSJ for short). That’s what she flashed when, unable to hit a forehand winner on her first two match points against Sharapova, she just went ahead and drilled a second serve ace for the upset. Lisicki plays fellow German Angelique Kerber next. I’m not sure she’ll pull out the SFTTOLSJ for that if she wins, but here’s hoping we get to see it again soon.

Best Half-Hearted Attempt at the Wave
Serena Williams and Yaroslava Shvedova played a superb three-setter on Court 2 today (See my Racquet Reaction on it here.) Shvedova played with enough conviction and aggression that Serena herself gave her a little extra show of respect when they shook hands. But my favorite moment had nothing to do with the shotmaking.

During the changeover at 6-5 in the third, before Serena came out to serve for the match, the crowd began to do the Wave (known, apparently, as the Mexican Wave in the U.K.). The people in Shvedova’s camp enthusiastically joined in, including her mother, who managed to raise her left hand as the Wave came around a second time. Shvedova, despite having just been broken at 5-5 in the third, saw her and cracked up.

Golden or not, she’s a player to watch for the future, for her personality and her athletic game.

Best Improv Performance
Grass, or at least the “new” grass, helps a variety of styles thrive, and creativity is rewarded. Angelique Kerber is nothing if not creative. Her 6-1, 6-1 drubbing of Kim Clijsters featured a number of what you might call ad-libbed shots. There was a return of serve hit while she was in a crouch, with her racquet straight up in the air. There was a strange, stiff-armed forehand, and another hit while she was standing straight up. You don’t know what’s coming next with Kerber, other than the fact, these days, that it’s going to work. She now has 44 wins in 2012, the most in the WTA, and she’s in her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, with a good chance of going farther.

Saddest Farewell
I’d say that Kim Clijsters was “strangely unemotional” in her final match at Wimbledon, a 1 and 1 loss to Kerber. Except that it wasn’t strange at all. Kim did what she had done many times before when things weren’t going her way—she kept her head down and rushed herself off the court as quickly as possible. A meek wave was all she had left for the fans as she exited the court, and the tournament, for good. More than anything else, she looked embarrassed. Retirement can’t seem to come soon enough for her. 

Best Line
Viktor Troicki, after making an incorrect challenge, raised his hand in apology to his friend and opponent, Novak Djokovic. To which John McEnroe said, “He’s apologizing for challenging. What is this, a friendly or a match?” It was certainly a friendly performance from Troicki, who went down mildly 3, 1, and 3. 

Talking Point that Won’t Go Away
Last week Wimbledon organizers were criticized for leaving the roof on when the sun was shining. Today they were criticized for keep it open while it was raining. If I’m with the USTA, I’m loving this: See what you get, Wimbledon, for building one of those things. 

The ongoing issue is that the roof and London’s rain could combine to make Wimbledon  essentially an indoor event for the biggest names, something that no one, maybe not even indoor king Roger Federer, wants to see happen. A different issue, and unintended consequence, arose today. With a roof, Centre Court becomes by far the most desirable court, because your match is guaranteed to finish. This leaves organizers with a tough choice when it comes to Andy Murray. Do they, in the interests of giving the U.K.‘s top player the best chance to win, always assign him Centre Court? Or, in the interests of fairness, do you assign him to roofless Court 1 at least once during the fortnight, like the other top guys?

Today Wimbledon tried the latter for the first time in 2012. This allowed the two top men’s seeds on the opposite side of the draw from Murray, Federer and Djokovic, to play on Centre and be guaranteed of finishing on the same day. In the process, though, Murray’s match with Marin Cilic was held over to tomorrow because of rain, potentially forcing the winner to have to play on consecutive days (there’s more rain forecast tomorrow).

The U.S. Open has been rightly accused of helping its own with its scheduling decisions in the past, and some British observers thought Wimbledon blew it by not doing the same for Murray today. But I think you have to applaud their fairness to his main rivals.

Still with me? Still awake? The first bottom line is that, with a roof, discussions over court assignments aren’t just about status and respect—snagging one of those three Centre Court assignments can help a player’s chances in the long run. The second bottom line is that once the tournament is over, no one will remember or care who played where.

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Middle Sunday 07/01/2012 - 5:28 PM

SmcThe commercial extravaganzas known as the French, U.S., and Australian Opens are played continuously for two weeks. All of them begin with family-friendly festivities on the weekend before play begins, and none of them stop for a breath until the tournament ends a fortnight later. There’s even been, both voluntarily and involuntarily, a gradual creep beyond the two-week schedule in recent years. Roland Garros now takes three Sundays to complete, while the last four U.S. Opens have finished on a Monday.

Wimbledon stands alone in its insistence on a break from tennis, as well as a break from the sales of T-shirts, coffee mugs, seat cushions, and strawberries and cream (on the grounds, anyway; you can probably still fork money over on the tournament's website). Middle Sunday its called, with appropriate reverence. It can be a bummer for a fan, no doubt about it, but if you'll allow me a personal viewpoint for a minute, it has been a life-saver for many staggering journalists, including this one. In past years, after eight or nine straight days of 7 A.M. alarms and 11 P.M. walks back from the All England Club, I’ve woken up on the Middle Sunday at 7 again, gotten out of bed, and sat down at the computer before the fabulous thought hit me: I don’t have to work today. I’d lie down again and enjoy those deep, serious two hours of sleep that you tend to get when you absolutely must have them, and when you know no alarm will wrench you from them. 

Middle Sunday is the only day left in the tennis calendar when God, or at least rest, still takes precedence over worldly activity. It’s not surprising that it takes place at Wimbledon. It wasn’t until 1982, in its 105th year, that the tournament allowed tennis to be played on any Sunday. Until that season, the men’s final was played on the second Saturday—the legendary Borg-McEnroe final of 1980 was played on Saturday, July 5th. Wimbledon always worked a leisurely pace, though. In its first year, 1877, the event was stopped for three days so everyone could watch the annual cricket match between the Eton and Harrow schools. (Try, if you can, to imagine the U.S. Open being halted so we would all have time to see a series of high school basketball games in Queens.)

Still, I find it interesting that the last Saturday men's final, in 1981, again between Borg and McEnroe, was also the last one in which each player used a wood racquet. A brave new commercial future for tennis began the following year. Sunday was now a time for worldly activity.

The day off means a stroll past ancient St. Mary’s Church—its steeple at the top of the Village hill organizes the sky around Wimbledon—down to a peaceful All England Club, where the lucky 32 who are still in the tournament hit some balls in between their conversations with coaches and playing partners. After the hustle of the past week over these same grounds, there’s a luxurious sense of time to spare. 

In the Village, the action picks up. The tennis world gathers around the bars and cafés and tourist-priced Italian restaurants that line the main drag. For me, in the years I’ve been there, it’s been a day to leave behind the Village, and Wimbledon, and tennis, and take a long, swaying, sometimes stuffy train trip into central London, with some locally appropriate piece of music in my ears—the Kinks, the Clash, the Jam, Linton Kwesi Johnson (listen to them herehere, here, and here). The city itself has always been hard for me to navigate. Nothing seems to lead anywhere else, as it does in New York or Paris; even the Londoners I've met have been boggled by it. More than once on my Middle Sunday wanderings I’ve asked for the general location of a fairly major street and have received a shrug in return.

Not that anything monumental happens on these trips. I tend to seek out the same three stores each year: a crowded vintage sneaker place on Carnaby St., a distinctly uncrowded second-hand bookstore on Charing Cross Road, and a big bookstore on the same street, Foyles. On each trip to the second-hand store, I look at the same ponderously thick biography of Cyril Connolly and wonder if anyone else has opened its pages in the last 12 months. Best, though, is the absurdly dry banter between the idling clerks (or owners, I’m not sure), whose identities never change.

“I remember Sundays in my town,” one of them said in a dreamy tone last year, as if he were about to wax poetic about simpler times in England. “You would look forward to the church bells ringing in the morning, because that’s the only thing that would happen all day.”

Some sneakers, some books, some banter, and I’m back on the train to Wimbledon, back past St. Mary’s and down the narrow lanes of the Village. 

This year’s Middle Sunday in New York has also been a relief. But I remember, before tennis was work, having a different feeling about it. Maybe 15 years ago, a friend and I got together at his place that afternoon, planning to watch Wimbledon. I’d forgotten that there was no play that day, and we were disappointed to find out that the tournament took a day off, and all we would get were highlights from the first week. A rest was nice and everything, but we were sports fans and we wanted to see some tennis—that’s what Sundays were for!

The next day, when 16 matches went off around the grounds, made up for it, as long as you had your VCR ready. And it's easier now to keep up, with ESPN's extended coverage and the advent of the DVR. Wimbledon's method may seem frustratingly old fashioned on Middle Sunday, but it makes sense in one way. Monday's storm wouldn't be the same without the calm that comes before it.

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Keeping Tabs: July 1 07/01/2012 - 10:37 AM

YsOn Friday I said that I was attending a family reunion this weekend. That was the idea, anyway, until what I’ll call the Lukas Rosol of storms rolled through the Mid-Atlantic the night before and upended everything. Power was out through the region, and I was forced to turn around in the middle of my train trip to Baltimore. Which means I’m back with a special Sunday edition of the Tabs.

I will say that following Serena Williams’ win over Jie Zheng yesterday on Twitter as I traveled through New Jersey was pretty suspenseful. It’s nerve-wracking scrolling up through the Tweets and getting closer to the finish with each one. 

That match was just the start of another long day at SW19. Here’s what the papers had to say about it.

***** 

Muzza at the Buzza
The Mail hands Andy Murray an unlikely nickname:

MURRAY BEATS THE CLOCK IN HIS NEW ROLE AS CINDERELLA

There's a curfew at Wimbledon? Is this a left over law from World War II? The word was that Murray’s match with Marcos Baghdatis was going to be stopped precisely at 11 P.M., but officials later said they let it go a couple of minutes past because “an end was in sight.” It was nice of Baghdatis, who offered little resistance down the stretch, to make it so clear what the outcome was going to be.

—Elsewhere in the Mail, former player John Lloyd believes that:

IVO MUST BE PUNISHED OVER CHEAT CLAIMS

Lloyd cites the criteria for Unsportsmanlike Conduct in the 2012 Grand Slam Rule Book. It includes making statements “detrimental to the best interests of the tournament and/or the officiating thereof.”

Sounds like a fine is in order for Dr. Ivo, who said he had been cheated and asked for an apology from the tournament and even the BBC. Though Karlovic did allow that the 11 foot faults he counted in his match with Murray may have been on the high side. The number, it turns out, was seven.

***** 

Checking In, Checking Out
After Lukas Rosol’s miracle fifth set, Jimmy Connors dubbed him the quintessential “stopper,” a player who could stop a seed but go no farther himself. Jimbo knows his stuff. As the Telegraph put it

BUBBLE BURSTS FOR SORRY ROSOL
The conqueror of Rafael Nadal bows out with a whimper on Court 12 to German world No. 30

Here’s the Independent’s version of the events:

REALITY BITES FOR RUSTY ROSOL
After upsetting world No. 2 Nadal, the Czech is blown away

How quickly things can change. Rosol was on Court 12 this time. It sounded a little sad out there.

Unlike the show court with a closed roof," the Independent reported, "the wind blew and the sun dazzled; with the television cameras trained elsewhere, a far smaller crowd was heard only in isolated bursts and soon grew disappointed.”

Rosol is proof of the power of the Moment in tennis, and how, for most of us, confidence remains safely out of our control.

Or maybe he just didn’t spit enough this time. 

***** 

We Can Rebuild Him
The Express hands out a nickname for American Brian Baker, who was a winner yesterday:

FAIRYTALE COMEBACK OF BIONIC MAN BRIAN BAKER

But the paper saves its most interesting analysis for his opponent Benoit Paire’s “childish histrionics.”

“Paire was a moody menace and was jeered by the crowd when he sulkily dropped a towel on the grass and demanded a ball boy pick it up.”

Subtext: He's French.

***** 

The Roof is on Fire
Or at least on the hot seat. As Chris Clarey writes in the New York Times, the “roof is changing the tenor—and outcomes—at Wimbledon.”

This year, as rain has come and gone and matches have lasted late into the evening, each of the Top 4 men has played at least one of theirs indoors. The upside is that it makes for great theatre and atmosphere, and keeps the tournament from getting behind. The downside is that it turns Wimbledon at least partly into an indoor event, which it isn't meant to be. On Friday officials closed the roof early in the day as a precautionary move, because of forecasts that called for rain. But the sun kept shining through the afternoon. Is this a slippery slope towards more indoor matches? There must be a temptation, with England’s changeable weather, to simply keep the thing closed all day.

It wouldn’t be as bad if the roof at Wimbledon functioned like the one over a grass court in Halle, Germany. There it takes two minutes to close; sometimes it’s done as a match is being played. At Wimbledon it takes 45 minutes to close the roof and de-humidify the arena. Why one takes so much longer than the other isn’t discussed. 

*****

Striking Gold
When Yaroslava Shvedova gets on a roll, she really gets on a roll. Before yesterday, Shvedova had come the closest of any woman in the Open era to achieving a Golden Set—winning all 24 points. She had won the first 23 against Amy Frazier in 2006; losing the 24th must have been traumatic, because after finishing off that set, she didn’t win another game.

On Saturday, Shvedova redeemed herself by going the full 24 in her first set against Sara Errani (Shvedova also won the match this time). It was the first Golden Set at a Grand Slam, and the first since Bill Scanlon did it against Marcos Hocevar at Del Ray in 1983. 

One tidbit about Scanlon’s. He had been trying to make the switch from wood to graphite at the time, but was struggling. The morning of his match with Hocevar, Scanlon warmed up with Rod Laver, of all people, using a mid-size Wilson Ultra. He couldn’t keep the ball in the court with the graphite stick, and Laver started to razz him about it. (“You'd think he would have had more sympathy,” a hurt Scanlon said). Billy was so rattled by it all that he drove back to his hotel, picked up his trusty Jack Kramer woods, and won 24 straight points in a 2 and 0 win. The irony is that, after that match, Scanlon claims he couldn’t find the confidence to make the switch to a bigger frame, even as the rest of the tour was passing him by using the new equipment.

The whole Golden Set thing has bittersweet overtones for me. In the first round of a 16-and-under tournament in State College, Pennsylvania, in the mid-1980s, I won the first 23 points of the first set. On the 24th, I had a forehand and an open court down the line. I hit it wide.

As for Shvedova, she plays Serena next. She won't be golden in that one, but she certainly sounds dangerous at the moment.

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Playing With Calm 06/29/2012 - 7:23 PM

RFIn my preview of the tournament, I wondered if this year’s Wimbledon might end up being tennis’s version of Groundhog’s Day V. Little seemed to be standing in the way of a fifth straight Grand Slam final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. As we know, that movie was canceled rather abruptly last night, when Nadal went out to an extra on the set named Lukas Rosol. Twenty-four hours later, by the time Julien Benneteau had won a second-set tiebreaker over Roger Federer under the same roof where Rosol had worked his mad magic, the men’s draw was starting to feel like a sporting sequel to The Towering Inferno—the great ones were going down in flames.

In the end, though, this one did end up reminding me of many other matches from recent years. More specifically, it reminded me of many other matches involving Federer on the winning side, and a flashy non-closer from France on the other. We were treated to versions of both just last month in Paris, when Federer came from two sets down to beat Juan Martin del Potro at the same time that Benneteau’s countryman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, squandered four match points in his quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic.

Federer and Benneteau played their parts and stuck to the script. The Frenchman’s shot-making was brilliant for the first two sets, and again in the fourth. He slapped through his two-handed backhand for crosscourt winners and unlikely passes, finishing with 59 winners against just 32 unforced errors. 

As for Federer, he scrambled to keep up, and had trouble fighting out of his backhand corner. He was particularly annoyed, he said, with the way he gave back a break of serve in the second set. Most noticeable today, though, was his poor volleying. He was casual with his footwork and content to stab at Benneteau’s (admittedly very good) passes. Federer won just 22 of 39 points at net. Even when he tried different looks—an extreme slice here, some sidespin there—Benneteau handled it. It appeared that Federer would get back in the match when he held three set points on Benneteau’s serve late in the second, but the Frenchman had the goods again. He saved one of them with a neat backhand drop shot that Federer couldn’t track down.

“I hit the ball very well today,” Benneteau said. “I knew that if I wanted to have one chance to win, I should take control of the rally and not let him play and direct the rally with his forehand.” 

Serving big, Benneteau won the second-set tiebreaker going away. When he walked to the sideline nodding his head and clenching his fist, he began to remind me a little of the cocky Rosol from the previous night, taking it to a legend. Had something changed in the indoor air around Centre Court? Had Rosol given everyone new hope? Was Benneteau refusing to play his assigned role in this after all?

It didn’t take long for us to get our answer, and for the players to returned to the comeback script. Serving to start the third, Benneteau slipped while racing toward the net and landed on his arm. It shook him up for a while, he said—”it was important in a negative way.” Whatever happened, cocky Julian vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Federer, as usual, took advantage of his opponent’s lapse, running out the third 6-2. His comments afterward were interesting; it was actually when he got down two sets that he claims he able to calm down.

“I was more panicky midway through the second set,” Federer said. After losing that set, “I guess when I sat down, I said, All right, here we go now. Match has only just started. I tried to stay calm, and I was.” Federer credited the fact that he had been in that situation so many times before, though the identity of his opponent—Julien Benneteau, rather than, say, Novak Djokovic—might have had something to do with his positive attitude. 

Give Benneteau credit for gathering himself for a valiant fourth-set push, and giving this match a true dramatic peak. Unfortunately for him, all it did was offer Federer a chance to show what has made him so tough to finish off even after 13 years on tour, even when he no longer dominates so routinely. 

It began with Federer serving at 5-6, 0-15, three points from an unwelcome trip home. For Federer, that meant it was “cue the clutch serves” time. At 0-15, he hit a service winner. At 15-30, he won the point after a good wide serve. At 30-30, he hit an ace. At deuce, he hit another service winner. Benneteau had been two points from the match twice, and if he had had a chance to rally, it felt like he was the superior player from the ground. Federer never gave him that chance.

It was more of the same in the tiebreaker. At 1-1, forced to hit a second serve, Federer came up with a gem of a kick that Benneteau couldn’t handle. At 3-3, reeling from another bad volley and forced to hit another second serve, Federer did it again, getting his kick to bite just a little more than normal. Again, Benneteau missed the return.

From there, the breaker was a dramatic masterpiece. All-court brilliance alternated with all-court nerves. Benneteau gagged two backhands—a shot he had hardly missed all day—yet also came up with excellent serves and passes. He didn’t totally choke. But the final twist, the subtle masterstroke, was left, as we knew it would be, for Federer. At 6-6, with his father unable to watch in the player's box, with the Evening at Wimbledon crowd fired up, Federer reached for a seemingly ungettable Benneteau serve up the T. He not only got it, but sent it back close to the baseline. Benneteau thought about taking it out of the air, but rallied instead. With a good look at a backhand, he jumped, swung . . . and hit it just over the baseline. Instead of match point, it was set point for Federer. The Frenchman never recovered.

Benneteau remembered the point later. It wasn’t his missed backhand he mentioned, but Federer’s return. “At 6-6 in the tiebreak,” he said, “I have a good first serve, but he return. Maybe I should have played a forehand volley, but it’s the only return he made like this during the match. When he was chip returning, it was shorter, not as good as this one.”

In that return, and in the two kick second serves he came up with earlier in the breaker, the true genius of Federer is revealed. It isn’t about elegance as much as it is about resourcefulness. He hit his best return of the match when he needed it most, and he found a different serve, a new wrinkle, after almost three hours on court. Federer is lauded for his variety because it’s easy on the eyes, but as a tactic versatility can be overrated—the best plan is usually to keep doing the same thing until it stops working. With those two kick serves, which may have won him the match, Federer—starring in his own version of Groundhog Day—reminded us of what has always made him special. He reminded us that creativity, variety, artistry in tennis don't have to be just for show.

*****

I have a family reunion to attend this weekend, so I'll be out of action tomorrow. But I'll be back for the biggest day in tennis, Wimbledon's second Monday.

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Keeping Tabs: June 29 06/29/2012 - 11:21 AM

IKWe probably talk about the “top guys” and the men's “Golden Age” too much these days. There’s not a whole lot that hasn’t already been said about the absurd dominance and consistency of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and to a certain degree Murray. On the other hand, there isn’t that much else we can say when it comes to the ATP. Even the Top 4's early losses just point up how rarely they occur. 

Watching Rafael Nadal look helpless against a possessed Lukas Rosol, part of me was shocked, but another part thought that this is supposed to happen every once in a while. Maybe not a loss to No. 100, but every champ has taken an early round lump or two. It’s just that the current champs do it so infrequently that you forget that in reality, not all that much separates No. 1 from No. 100 on a given day. So I’ll take this moment to mention, once again, the fact that Federer hasn’t lost before the quarterfinals of a major since the 2004 French Open; that Djokovic hasn’t lost before the quarters of one since the 2009 French Open; and that as of yesterday Rafa hadn’t lost before the final at Wimbledon since 2005. Those stats, rather than any upset, are what’s shocking.

On to see what the papers have to say about yesterday’s events, both the seismic and the less-than-seismic. 

***** 

Taking the Local Angle
The Mail gets both stories of the day into their headline:

BOUNCED OUT! NADAL IS STUNNED BY UNKNOWN CZECH ROSOL AND OPENS THE WAY FOR ANDY

But no pressure or anything, Muzz. Just try your best, that’s all we can ask. If you do that and still manage to blow it, we’ll only say nice things about you.

The bigger controversy, and thus the better headline, comes a little later:

IT’S A FIX! MURRAY’S WIN WAS BENT, SAYS ANGRY KARLOVIC AFTER SW19 EXIT
Ivo Karlovic stormed away from Centre Court with the extraordinary accusation that Wimbledon was fixed in Andy Murray’s favor

Dr. Ace was called for an unprecedented 11 foot faults, by far the most in his career, he said—the most “since I was 8 years old.” Karlovic said the calls always came at crucial moments, and that even after backing up, he was still tagged for them.

Elsewhere in the Mail, columnist Mike Dickson points out that up to 50 percent of Wimbledon’s linespeople come from outside the U.K.

*****

Simon Says Some More
The Independent put the latest episode in l'affaire Simon this way:

GILLES SIMON HAS ANOTHER SWIPE AT WOMEN . . . AFTER LOSING
The Frenchman, known as the “little chicken” for his spindly legs, caused a stir in the henhouse when he suggested that women did not deserve the equal prize money they receive at Wimbledon

This time Simon, rather than focusing on the time-on-court issue, went the “entertainment” route.

“I am for equal pay in life,” the sensitive Simon said, “but not in entertainment. . . . I believe men’s tennis is more interesting than women’s tennis. You have to be paid on that basis.” Simon also claimed that, even if they didn't admit it in public, every player in the Wimbledon men’s draw agreed with him.

He could be right. Then again, you could search for a long time before you’d find any group of people who don’t want more money for what they do. Simon’s idea that one tour is more “interesting” than the other, and thus deserves more money, is obviously just an opinion (slightly biased, perhaps), and a non-starter as an argument. The more plausible reasoning is that fans buy more tickets, and pay more, to see the men, so the men should see more of that money.

A few thoughts about that, with regards to the Slams in particular:

—It’s my feeling that, for most people, when they buy a ticket to the U.S. Open or Wimbledon, they’re buying a ticket to the event as a whole. Roger Federer may be the big draw for some people; Serena Williams may be for others. Mostly, fans want to be part of the spectacle, and women players have always been part of that spectacle. The Slams wouldn’t be what they are, and wouldn’t have as broad an appeal, if they weren’t dual-gender extravaganzas of tennis.

—Much of the money that a Grand Slam earns comes from television. Should we consider this when we divvy up the purse as well? Ratings for the men at Wimbledon have been higher in England, but the country has had two men, Andy Murray and Tim Henman, in contention in recent years. The nation also tuned in to see Virginia Wade when she was a contender in the 70s. A few years ago, in the heyday of the Williams sisters, Kournikova, and Capriati, it was the women who brought in higher TV ratings in the States. 

—We need to make a distinction between the majors and the dual-gender tour events when it comes to prize money. At the latter—Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, Madrid, Rome, etc.—the tours provide the prize money, and the ATP, the richer organization, provides more of it than the WTA. That really is a hard economic fact. The Slams, which aren’t tour events, allot their prize money as they see fit. 

***** 

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

SWISS MAESTRO STILL A PLEASURE TO SAVOUR BUT YEARS ARE AGAINST HIM

From one artiste to another: Simon Barnes considers “Late Period” Roger Federer in the Times. The result, as you probably guessed, is kinda lethal.

Shakespeare brought us the reconciliation of 'The Tempest,' Beethoven the Late Quartets and the Ninth Symphony. Joyce ended his last great book with the river merging with the sea, death merging with life. There is something of this elegaic mood in Late Period Federer. After his tyro works and his Middle Period of matchless dominance, he is now bringing us a different kind of brilliance. And it is no longer about mere winning.

Barnes go on to claim that Federer is “taking pleasure in being one of life’s semifinalists,” and that, like us, he realizes “that there is pleasure to be taken in his tennis unconnected with its effectiveness as a medium for victory."

To which I say: Go watch Dolgopolov if you like graceful tennis unconnected with effectiveness. The beauty of Federer is that he became more than Dolgopolov, or Gasquet, or Malisse, or Haas, or a hundred other pretty players. What’s historically special about him isn’t his elegance, but the way he has made elegance work; the way he became, like John McEnroe, more than an artist, and more than one of life’s semifinalists.

*****

Watching the Matches
Forget Rafa, Muzz, and Gilles, it’s the Mirror that tells what we really want to know:

PIPPA MIDDLETON’S WIMBLEDON PHWOARDROBE. DISCUSS
Game, set, matchy-matchy: Pippa plays it safe at Wimbledon in blue hues. Do you rate it, or do you hate it?

The Mirror’s verdict: “It’s not a look that’s about to set the world on fire, but it is oh-so Wimbledon."

The best part of Pippa’s ensemble? Her biggest accessory: "Hubba hubba brother James.”

***** 

Dogged Work
I’ve been wondering over the last couple of days what clever phrases the papers would come up with for Heather Watson while she’s still in the tournament (or before she’s “dumped out,” as they put it over there). I didn’t expect this:

TERRIER HEATHER WATSON OFF LEASH AND WINNING FRIENDS

From bubbly girl to vicious terrier in a day. Such is life in the papers.

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"Today Happened" 06/28/2012 - 8:24 PM

LR"When you first came to England, if someone had come up to you and said that you would beat Rafael Nadal in five, what would you say?”

Lukas Rosol: “Good question.”

*****

By the end of the fifth set, Lukas Rosol was doing something funny as he bent down to get into his return stance. He was taking shadow swipes with his forehand, over and over, as he waited for Rafael Nadal to serve. The Czech, ranked 100th in the world, had done it periodically through their second-round match, but there was a menacing quality to the motion now, or at least it must have seemed that way to Nadal. Rosol appeared to be so dialed in on his forehand, so deep in his own zone, so ready, that he couldn’t stop himself from taking his cuts, even before the point had begun. 

“Today I was somewhere else,” Rosol said after his 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win, the biggest Wimbledon upset since two-time defending champion Boris Becker lost to Peter Doohan in the same round in 1987. “I still can’t believe it. It’s like a dream for me. . . . In the fifth set I don’t feel anything.”

Rosol talked so quickly that he almost sputtered, as if he were just trying to get the words out of the way, as if nothing he said was possibly going to do justice to how he had played or how he felt now.

"A dream," he called it. Could the 26-year-old Rosol really have dreamed of something like this, of beating Nadal in one of the most fearless fifth-set displays in history, on a covered Centre Court reverberating with cheers? In his last five trips to Wimbledon, Rosol had lost in the first-round of the qualifiers each time. You could call him a journeyman, if his journeys to tournaments hadn’t been so short.

Asked what his expectations were coming into the match, Rosol said, “Just to play three good sets, you know. Just don’t lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.”

In one sense, this was a freak loss for Nadal. He had reached the Wimbledon final the last five times he had played the event, and he hadn’t gone out this early at any Grand Slam since 2005. But right from the start, from before the warm-up began, you could see that Rosol had come, as they say, to play, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated by his opponent, the location, or the moment. After the coin toss, Nadal did his traditional zig-zag sprint back to the baseline. Rosol may have been the first player I’ve seen who did the same thing on the other side of the net. He wasn’t going to let Rafa own the energy in the building, the way he usually does.

From that point on, Rosol seemed to me to be a sort of greatest hits compilation of three past conquerors of Nadal—Robin Soderling, Ivan Dodig, and Juan Martin del Potro. 

—Like Soderling, the man who had handed Rafa his most shocking defeat before today, at the 2009 French Open, Rosol got under Nadal's skin. He did something that distracted Nadal before he served and caused him to complain to the chair umpire (neither player would say what it was; the umpire, Jake Garner, told John McEnroe that Nadal thought Rosol was breathing too loudly). The two bumped into each other on a changeover; Rosol said that Nadal apologized. Later, the Czech fist-pumped in Rafa’s direction after a few of his winning shots.

—Like Dodig in his win over Nadal in Toronto last summer, Rosol played quickly. By the fifth set, he was taking 10 seconds between service points. The same way that he didn’t allow Nadal to own the energy in the arena, he also didn’t all him to control the tempo of the match.

—Finally, like del Potro when he beat Rafa in 2009, Rosol took the ball on the rise on both sides and launched flat rockets that took Nadal’s time away. Rosol, like del Potro and Soderling, fits the profile of a player who can trouble Nadal. All of them are 6-foot-3 or taller, which means that Rafa's high-kicking topspin ends up in their strike zones.

Still, none of those things can quite explain what Rosol did at the end. “In the fifth set he played more than unbelievable, no?” Nadal said. “That’s what happens when you play against a player who is able to hit the ball very hard, hit the ball without thinking and feeling the pressure. When the opponent wants to play the way he wanted to play in the fifth, you are in his hands, no?”

RNNadal also said, rightly, that he had played poorly earlier, and that grass can be a crap shoot. 

“Playing on this surface,” he said, “these kinds of matches can happen. Today happened."

Nadal singled out his return as a liability, and said that for the first three sets he hadn't felt comfortable or been able to dictate points. In the past, he had escaped early-round five setters at Wimbledon because he had been able to find the key return, the key break, the key scrambling get that would turn the momentum in his direction. Today, though, fate was against him. When he finally did find that key shot in the fourth set—a brilliant defensive lob—and rolled from there to a 6-2 win, officials at Wimbledon decided to close the roof. It took 43 minutes; 43 minutes in which Nadal’s momentum fizzled, and Rosol apparently downed a dozen energy drinks and went online to sell his soul to the tennis devil. (Actually, Rosol said he took a shower after the fourth.)

“I was playing well in the fourth set,” Nadal said. “Sure the stop this time didn’t help me. That’s the sport. That’s it.” At Roland Garros, it had been his opponent, Novak Djokovic, who had his momentum stopped by a delay. Today it was Rafa.

By the end of the fifth set, things had turned around so completely that Rosol was jogging to the sidelines at changeovers and showing no fear of anything. About to serve for the match at 5-4, in what most players would have considered the most nerve-wracking moment of their lives, Rosol jumped off the sideline bench well before the umpire called time. He had no doubts about what was going to happen next: ace, forehand winner, ace, ace. Game, set, match.

“I didn’t feel anything," said Rosol, who plays Philipp Kohlschreiber next, in what might seem like the most precipitous letdown in tennis history. "I was in a trance a little bit. I had my adrenaline so high, so I was playing good.”

Nadal accepted it, and he accepted the disappointment that came with this loss rather than trying to hide it. He said going out in the second round was harder than having it happen later, because he never gave himself a chance to win the tournament. When one reporter asked if the defeat would make him hungrier for the Olympics, Nadal refused to take the bait, refused to spew cliches about how this would increase his motivation.

“If you think that,” Nadal said, “you don’t understand the sport. When you win you have more confidence for the next tournaments. Is not when you lose [that] you have more hunger. That’s not the true. When you are winning, you feel more confident. When you lose, the confidence is less. That’s for everybody.”

In a sense, this loss vindicates Nadal’s long held views about the perilous and unpredictable nature of sports, of competition, of tennis. It vindicates the careful, concerned, almost superstitious way that he approaches his early rounds against lesser players, and the way he won't name himself the favorite at Grand Slams. It’s an approach that has been ridiculed as falsely modest, but after this evening the world must agree with Rafa: Anything can happen. Today happened.

Lukas Rosol agrees. “It’s sport, nobody’s unbeaten,” he said after beating Rafael Nadal. “We’re just people. We’re just humans. Everybody can win.”

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Keeping Tabs: June 28 06/28/2012 - 11:01 AM

PMPippa's in the Club today to see Murray the Ruthless Moaner, and the London papers are all over it. And her. And her brother James. According to the Telegraph, Pippa looked “relaxed, despite a barrage of attention”—that's a relief—though her brother unfortunately appeared to be "warm in a blue suit and suede loafers.” We’re also informed that the Cardigan she’s wearing is by “Orla Kiely, a favorite designer of the Duchess of Cambridge, and was originally 265 pounds and is now on sale at 132.50 pounds on their website.” We don’t, however, find out which price Pippa, surely the most glamorous woman in the world who “works part time for her parents’ mail order business,” paid for the Cardigan, if any. And they call these people reporters?

(Aside: Searching for a name for your twee indie-pop band? Pippa's Cardigan sounds like a winner to me.)

Moving on... 

***** 

That Word Again...
My wrangling with the Times of London’s website continues. They, or their server, don’t seem to want my money. But thanks to a friendly local reader and commenter here, I have finally been given a glimpse of a Simon Barnes column. It's about, naturally, Andy Murray. Barnes picks up on the theme of the moment—ruthlesness:

MURRAY MUST SUMMON THE RUTHLESSNESS TO BE A LEGEND IN OUR OWN TEATIME

I would be more convinced of the possibility of Murray being "ruthless" if the word wasn't so closely followed by "teatime."

Otherwise, Barnes doesn’t disappoint. His first sentence is perfectly impossible to understand:

“Andy Murray has made an awful lot of decisions in his life, but he didn’t half choose a bad time to be born.”

Other highlights from His Ponytail:

Murray’s “splendid fourthness”

Barnes’ observation that, “Murray does not have the demeanour of a self-conscious artist, but . . . he does love a well-made point. He loves the logic of it, the way one shot inevitably leads to the next, and finally to the kill shot: a painting executed in a few deft strokes.

Barnes’ conclusion about Murray and his struggles? Nothing too fancy or poetic there: He thinks the top three guys are too good.

***** 

Our Turn
Yesterday we bemoaned the state of Australian tennis. Every day we bemoan the state of British tennis. Today the Americans take a turn in the Indepedent.

UNCLE SAM’S SEARCH FOR A STAR GOES ON
Strip away the outsiders, the no-hopers, and the already beaten, and Uncle Sam is left with just Serena Williams to fly the stars and stripes

Roddick, who apparently, along with Brian Baker, qualifies as a no-hoper, drily countered reporters’ questions on the subject yesterday. “We’re not the only country which has not had success since 2003.”

The article tries to find a reason for our slip—it’s a world game now, our best athletes don’t play tennis, etc. Looking at two U.S. men who are in the draw, Roddick and Mardy Fish, muddies the waters even more in my mind.

The two of them grew up together, went to high school together, and worked with the same coach in Florida, Stanford Boster. Why did they both make it, when so many thousands their age didn’t? You could ask the same question about John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Peter Fleming, all of whom came out of New York in the 1970s. The city hasn’t produced a great player since, but these three guys who trained together all reached the Top 20.

It seems that great players can gather in small groups, at special moments, and together make lightning strike (or some more logical metaphor along those lines; I’m pressed for time). The more we try to standardize the production of champions, the more random it becomes. Who could have predicted Federer, from Basel, or Nadal, from Mallorca?

***** 

Fun in the Family
Andy isn’t the only Murray getting attention this week. According to the Express, his mum, Judy, is being given some credit for the success that a few of the British women, most prominently Heather Watson, have had at Wimbledon so far. Judy is the country’s new Fed Cup captain. Her secret? Fun.

“My mum has always been about having fun and trying to make it enjoyable,” her son Andy says. "If that has rubbed off on the girls and made them play better, that's a good thing. . . . It’s nice for the women to have a female coach around. You don’t see that very often.”

Judy’s sense of fun seems to have worn off on the bubbly Watson. Which leaves one obvious question: What happened with Andy?

***** 

No Snitch

COURT REPORT: ODESNIK HITS BACK AT SPY ACCUSATIONS

Remember when Wayne Odesnik had his two-year ban for possession of HGH cut in half by the ITF, because he had “assisted the authorities”? The assumption then was that Odesnik had given doping officials information about other players. Except that no other players appeared to suffer the consequences of that information. Yesterday, Odersnik, after his first-round loss, told us why. 

“I would 100 percent never say anything bad about a player or be a spy or something of that sort,” Odesnik “fumed,” as the Mail put it.

*****

A Missing Note
At the Tennis Channel’s site, Steve Flink has penned a nice ode to one member of the tennis community who is not at Wimbledon this year, Bud Collins. He's ailing and couldn’t make the trip to an event he’s been covering since 1968. In the press room, Flink believes that, “Something seems entirely off key about the music of Wimbledon being played without Bud being near the center of the melody.”

Steve goes on to recount how encouraging Bud was when he first came to the tournament as a kid in ’69. It’s a story every other tennis writer alive, including myself, knows well.

***** 

Treading Water
Yesterday I wondered what the tabs’ headline writers would come up with for Heather Watson, now that “elementary my dear Watson” has had its day. The Mail gives it a shot with:

HEATHER’S IN CLOVER! WATSON KEEPS SMILING THROUGH AND KEEPS WINNING

Hmmm, sounds like they’re treading water for now. They’ll have to up their game if Watson beats her next opponent, third seed Aga Radwanska. 

HEATHERING THE STORM, anyone?

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