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The Problem-Attacker 02/05/2008 - 3:44 PM

[All photos by our very own Rosangel! - PB]

You know who I've been thinking about a lot lately? Rafael Nadal. I suppose this is because of the progress Novak Djokovic made over the past eight or so months, as well as the degree to which Jet Boy has been spinning his wheels over the same period.

Rafa5_3So how big does Roger Federer's win at Wimbledon last July look now? To me, plenty big - if not as a career-shaping encounter then as a huge missed opportunity for Nadal. I'm open to the idea that Rafa hasn't been quite the same player since that loss.  Certain matches stay with a player much like a lingering cough or cold sometimes remains with us so long that we forget what it's like not to have it.

To attribute Nadal's results in the second half of  last season, and so far in this one, to that Wimbledon final would be presumptuous, unless Jet Boy indicated otherwise. But unlike, say, Federer's recent loss to The Djoker in Australia, there's some distance now between us and that Wimbledon final. It looms fairly large in the rear view mirror, although it's more useful as a reference points for events of the recent past than as a predictor for future ones.

Anyway, I've been thinking that Jet Boy is in a bind. A pattern has been emerging over the past few years, and it suggests that Rafa isn't as well designed to compete in an 11-month season as in a six- month one. Throw in Rafa's increasingly frequent struggle with injury and the case becomes even more persuasive. The long year presents special problems for a player whose game is nothing if not "effortful" and whose zest for combat denies him the use of cruise control.

I wrote some time ago that Nadal is a child of the sun and south, while TMF is a man of the chill and hard north. I stand by that, and believe that the actions and sensibilities of both men bear that out. We are each the sum of history, of particular times, places and antecedents, albeit subject to subversion to greater or lesser degrees - and with greater or lesser consequences.

In an earlier era still dominated by Anglo venues, values and game theory, Nadal would have been deemed a "novelty" - an exotic, volatile, idiosyncratic and unorthodox challenger who was as formidable in his natural environment as a leopard on the veld, but as lost on unfamiliar turf as that same leopard in the boreal forest. The game once was choc-a- bloc with such characters, right into the early Open era. You could call them "provincial" contenders ("provincial" really being more about surface and surroundings than specific geography; remember that for a long time European clay was considered an aberration). Of course, when the "provincial" contenders made the long trip abroad, they often floundered. So let me ask you this: if you had to cast TMF and Nadal as the city mouse and country mouse, is there any doubt over who would play who?

We resist this kind of thinking today for fear of causing offense and stereotyping. We also like to think of tennis as a "one world, one game" enterprise, dedicated to a level global playing field. This reinforces certain strivings for "fairness," never mind the big theme of the brotherhood of man. So we conveniently forget that a playing field is only level in a meaningful way if the athletes bring the same skills and mind-set to it.  Of course, man certainly is more adaptive than a leopard (and you underestimate the powers of a leopard in any environment at your peril). But it's easier to understand people if you see them through the naturally imposed filters.

Hence, Rafa's clay-court game is still a clay-court game, even when it's played on grass, just as a leopard is a leopard even if it kills a stag on an Alpine peak - something of which a leopard is more than capable. The hard bits for the leopard are navigating the foreign terrain and habits of its prey, and whatever degree of instinctual confusion it experiences while so doing.

Rafa4_3Okay, that's a pretty highfalutin' comparison. There are on-the-ground aspects to consider as well. Practically speaking, all players are subject to conditioning, which is why it's usually important for them to establish winning traditions on various surfaces or at a variety of venues early in their careers. Nadal has accomplished this, on a large scale, with his Wimbledon performances and Masters shields.

Yet you could argue that Jet Boy has achieved that mainly on the strength of his fighting spirit and exuberant athleticism; in this interpretation, those have overrun the built-in controls and determinants. In theory, Nadal should not fare nearly as well as he has on those faster surfaces, but then the New York Giants weren't supposed to win the Super Bowl. One of the main reasons we love sports is because of their potential for sedition; we love to see theory ruined and expectations blown up. It tends to reinforce our hope that anything is possible in a way that poses no threat to our equally strong conviction and hope that it is not.

One critical aspect of Nadal's nature is that the non-clay tournaments in which he does well tend to be different from the clay events in which he shines only in the particulars having the most to do with technique and strategy - areas that are of lesser importance to Nadal's genius than others. That is, he does well at events that suit him, in some temperamentally  rather than purely technical way.

Nadal's performance at Wimbledon last year was impressive to me because he kept his desire and spirits up despite the rain and gloom, not because he managed to cobb together a passable game to go with his mental and emotional strengths. The further Nadal gets from the warmth of the sun, the breezes that wash over a court, and the smell of freshly watered clay, the less well he does. Come the Paris Indoors, and he's a mess of conflicting signals - never a good thing for a predator. I think he responds to environment in as significant a way as he does to surface speed, and I know that's a pretty radical notion.

The most puzzling aspect of Rafa's resume is his relatively poor performances at the sunny, warm, colorful US Open. But in this, he's similar to many other players who are essentially provincial. The American major has proven to be a formidable stumbling block for many players from outside the U.S., and often for reasons obviously having nothing to do with the surface - and everything to do with the full menu of New York's famed distractions. In fact, Roger Federer's ability to overcome the habitual European fear of the American challenge is a particularly powerful testament to his versatility and underscores the degree that he has transcended whatever provincial urges once defined him. His most valuable asset in that regard has been his cool temperament; he took measure of the event and then tailored his approach and game to ensure a good fit.

TMF is a problem-solver; Rafa is a problem-attacker.

That suggestion may ring true for those of you who are familiar with all those studies about how little boys tend to try to break through walls while little girls are more likely to navigate around them. Nadal's greatest strength, as well has his most outstanding weakness, is his boyishness. This is a lingering condition that all but defines him to many of us. It is why so many people love him, and why disliking him has always seemed to me a little like disliking a kid brother. Rafa is the Little Engine that Could, never mind that he what he "could" do is blast a tennis ball through your forehead with such force that it would leave a volleyball-sized exit wound on the back of your skull.

But for all his bellicose instincts (does anyone else spank the ball as gleefully as Jet Boy?), he continues to engage us with incredible charm and insouciance. We all know how Uncle Toni insists that Rafa not get a swelled head - that Toni makes Rafa carry his own bags, and has him sweep the court after practice. We all know that the photo ops of Nadal tend to produce images of Rafa blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, surrounded by Spanish journalists in some press room, rather than shots of him with a dude all in black on one side, and a ranking fashionista on the other.

Rafparis_3 Nadal has resisted, or is impervious to, sophistication. If Federer is the game's ambassador to the world, Rafa is its poster boy; frankly, I'm amazed that nobody has come up with a comic strip character based on Nadal yet; instead of lugging around a football or a security blanket, he could drag around a tennis racket. We love TMF for his skill, we love Jet Boy for his exuberance. If there is a caveat to that, it's this: Going forward, it may be increasingly difficult for Rafa to rely on exuberance (and in him, even his stamina, strength and will seem subordinate to it) to the same degree he has so far in his career.

What got me thinking along these lines has been Djokovic's progress. Another man of northern inclinations, Djoker has matured as a player at an amazing rate. I get the sense that he's measured up his mission with a cold eye and concluded, "I can do this. This is what I need to do to make this happen." Yet when I try to come up with a comparably simple (and perhaps simplistic) formulation for Nadal, I come up only with: "I go and play my game and I fight, we see what happen, no?"

That approach is disarmingly honest and touching. And like any child - or, in this case, manchild - Nadal does "touching" very well. I'm not suggesting that Nadal would benefit from an intensive course of Tennis Technique and Strategy, 101. It's too late for that, and the elements at play here go much deeper. The boyishness of Nadal, which has always been such a great source of his appeal, may also hold him back. A comparison with Bjorn Borg seems in order here. Borg, at 16, played like he was 23, and at 25 he played like he was 23. Nadal at 16 played like he was 18, and at 21 he plays like he's 18.

Of course, you can reduce the line items on Nadal's resume to X's and O's. Sure, he could flatten out his forehand, play more from inside the court on hard courts and really force the action. But it would be naive to assume that Nadal and his team haven't thought about that; it's more likely that Nadal's game has changed so little because: a: it works, and, b: he has a temperamental disposition to play the way he does.

Hail, at some deep level, he may enjoy playing the way he does too much to bother with all the rest of it. Leave that to the "students of the game" and to those who are more inclined to calculation. This kid is having fun in a way he has not outgrown yet.

Whatever the case, Nadal is only 21, and - injury aside - he's got plenty of time to figure things out. I've always liked my youth young, if you know what I mean.

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Posted by zonie 02/06/2008 at 09:56 PM

'I hate to break it to you but that store is not a golf store. By any stretch of the imagination.'

Now that is not entirely true.

Posted by Bismarck 02/06/2008 at 09:56 PM

*The first floor of FAO Schwarz also has enormous, life-sized stuffed animals, realistically-rendered and lovingly-constructed. Patrick and Penelope live on the first floor*

so it was more that kind of peluche it seems.

Posted by Aussie Ange 02/06/2008 at 09:56 PM

For a start Samantha, the girls would have to get past Mirka first. Already they would be in trouble. Not worth it really.

Posted by Bismarck 02/06/2008 at 09:59 PM

lol, zonie.

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/06/2008 at 10:00 PM

zonie - lolz!

at least he has good taste in peluches and didn't settle for the gift shop at jfk.

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:00 PM

No matter how mean I was- my younger bro and sis always did look up to me and just absolutely, no holds barred love me- they still do. I love them both so much too-- I appreciate who they are and I really enjoy seeing qualities in them I ever saw before. joy really

Posted by zonie 02/06/2008 at 10:00 PM

I have entirely too much time on my hands tonight.

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 10:01 PM

Now, that sounds like a smart plan, jbrad. Being at the tennis center all day doesn't leave any time for cupcakes!

Cute, zonie.

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:05 PM

Tari- how bout? day: NYC night: Arthur Ashe baby

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:06 PM

I still have to figure out a way to organize a cheer group that spurns Rafa on to a USO title-- surely it can be done

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/06/2008 at 10:08 PM

errr jbrad I hope you means spurs...

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:10 PM

yes I mean that but I still typed spurn and thought it was correct- lol

thanks Snoo

*off to look up definition of spurn*

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:13 PM

oh gosh- that coulda gotten really tricky at some point in the future

no disdainful scorn from me towards Rafa- never!


Posted by Bismarck 02/06/2008 at 10:13 PM

i think spurn is like errh being not so fond of something/someone. at all. no?

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:15 PM

yeah Bizz- that sounds right

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 10:15 PM

anon: at least in my family, that theory of yours turned out to be wrong. Though interestingly, in some tennis families, the youngest turns out to be the star - so what's the theory worth?

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 10:19 PM

There is some serious writing and research on this older/younger sibling psychological thing, by the way...

Posted by Syd 02/06/2008 at 10:20 PM

Interesting, interesting column Pete. I am a won-over fan of Nadal whenever he is not playing Roger. But it strikes me that he is actually very mature for his age and in a language that is not his. And gracious. And as we used to say "well bred." He handles himself beautifully at the microphone, as well as during play, unlike one of his younger brethern. It may just be that he never achieves on hardcourts what he has on clay, or even what he's done so far on grass. And it may be that injury cuts short his brilliant career--let's hope not!!! But this year should answer a whole lot of questions about the top 3. Can't wait for the games to begin.

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:20 PM

although- can you imagine a fan group being all face-painted up, wearing matching outfits a la the player they're supporting- but yelling insults instead of cheering? has this ever been done outside of MadTV? it might be hilariously effective- though it could just as easily be wrong and uncomfortable-- it would need to be a group of comics for sure

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:23 PM

Rafa's got 1 sister only? what's her name and how old is she? I've only seen a pic from USO 07- never before or since... she had a great haircut last year

Posted by malimeda 02/06/2008 at 10:25 PM

Yeah, Rafa seems to be a lad with loads of personality. Hillarious, actually. It amuses me no end to check out his off-court photos and videos. My favourite ones must be from a Manacor night club, of Rafa partying with his pals, wearing a woman's ginormous, black, squarely-cut wig with long bangs. Looking ravishing and believably feminine, not far removed from a Port Authority street-walker though. The other set of photos are those famous Shanghai ones where he and Carlos Costa dance on the bar-top, with full club of people cheering at their feet. CC is kind of embarrassed and goofy, perhaps it was some kind of wager that they lost and had to perform this, but Rafa is so into dancing, hands up in the air, eyes closed, in tight faded torn-up jeans with huge leather belt, lifting up his shirt, revealing his six-pack and the top of his RED underwear and tweaking his nipple! Pure sex. Not shy whatsoever. And no country bumpkin.

Posted by Andrew Miller 02/06/2008 at 10:25 PM

Kind of disagree. I think tennis is a game that depends on improvement - and if anything Nadal's three french open championships, Federer's incredible dominance, and Djokovic' stunning Aussie Open victory attest to that fact. If Nadal were, say, Nalbandian, he simply would not win a second French Open. But because he's Nadal, and gets huger every year - on hard courts and off - he makes the Wimbledon final twice in a row, he matches his US Open results, he defends his French Open title, and he makes the Aussie Open semifinals - his best result to date at the ripe old age of 21. He couldnt have done any of it if he were not improving every year.

Neither could Federer, and neither could Djokovic. It was impressive how Nadal dismantled Roddick in Indian Wells last year - that result seemed to suggest that his return game improved on hard courts, which is always a good thing.

The only thing that surprises me are his matchups with Djokovic on the hard court. For some reason Nadal appears to go for too much against Djokovic, and then he really looks his age, rather than playing well beyond his age.

In any event, there is a reason Nadal's results at Grand slams are improving every year. And that's impressive. To knock off a Djokovic or a Tsonga for that matter, he will have to return well and become a bit more Agassi-like in my mind: crush returns and turn the tables on opponents without ruining the auto machinery and getting intimidated.

Agassi might have even done Nadal a favor by playing him in his last match at Wimbledon. He passed the torch to someone who learned at 20 what Agassi had at 29: you are only as good as your last day, so it makes sense to get one day better.

Posted by malimeda 02/06/2008 at 10:44 PM

Rafa's 5-year younger sis is called Maria Isabel, Maribel for short.

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 10:48 PM

I think the Rafa/Carlos Costa in Shanghai photos ought to be seen, now that they have been mentioned:

I'm not sure where the others mentioned are located, but they are pretty hilarious.

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:53 PM

thanks malimedia

so Rafa's the oldest?
Isn't Fed the youngest? He has an older sister I think

Posted by jbradhunter 02/06/2008 at 10:56 PM

Rosangel said-
"I'm not sure where the others mentioned are located..."

uh huh, I don't believe a word of that sentence ;)

malimeda- I misspelled your name up there- whoops

Posted by SCT 02/06/2008 at 11:23 PM

"If Nadal were, say, Nalbandian, he simply would not win a second French Open. "

If Nadal were Nalbandian, he wouldn't have even won a first French Open ...

Posted by Aussie Ange 02/06/2008 at 11:44 PM

SCT: LOL but he would get to the final.

Rosangel: thanks for the photos at least he knows how to let his hair down. Love the red jocks.

You know what I would love to see (very OT) Rafa and co who play the soccer video games, the losing team run around the hotel lobby in their underwear. That would be priceless. I know they do that as Disco Tommy has mentioned it in one of his blog. Sorry if the sentence doesn't make much sense.

Posted by john smith 02/06/2008 at 11:54 PM

Not that I dislike Rafa and his game, but the history might show us something. If I go back and look at successful players who relied heavily on their strength to win matches, all of them "peaked" early and faded fast. Willander and Kourier are best examples.

I think Rafa is good. The problem is, he's only 21 and I'm already thinking of how much he has left in him. It's like a car of the year with 40,000 km... heavy workload.

He can win one or two more French Opens and that's it. He won't get better with time, that's sure...

Posted by beth 02/07/2008 at 12:15 AM

hey guys
back after some good Mexican food
birth order stuff is interesting - but not sure I buy it
My husband and son are both the first born of two - and are very different in their approach to life - although both are confident men
My daughter ,as the second ,does not have a competitive bone in her body where her own activities are concerned. She is the nurturer of my two kids . Jake is driven to succeed, competitive to a fault .
oh well - I guess there are exceptions to all those rules
Love the photos from Shanghai - does look like they lost a bet, doesn't it

Posted by john smith 02/07/2008 at 12:45 AM

Now, there is something I would like to explain about that No.1 spot.

It's about the will and mental strength. Some players are born to be on the top spot, some are there to be in the shadow. We must understand this.

To me, it looks like Rafa understands this perfectly. I see him happy with no.2 spot; for him it's like no.1 because he plays in The Mighty Fed era... remember. Given his respect to TMF he has never been a real menace to the throne, not even now when the difference in points is less than ever. HE DOESN'T HAVE IT! It's that simple... he cannot rule.

He knows it, Federer knows it and he's happy because of it... talks nice about Rafa in press, etc. Federer understands that Nadal's dominance on clay is not enough to throw him out of the top spot.

That's where we throw Djokovic in the mix. Now, he's quite an intruder in this one-sided fairy tale.
Young, gutsy, skilled... no problem there. Improving, no problem either.
Hungry for success, all court, wants to reach no.1 spot. We have a little problem there... then he started backing up his goals on court, beat TMF 2 of last 3 times they played... so he became quite a problem.

Wondering why Fed dislikes him? Think again... this kid has "it" unlike Nadal. I don't see the problem with fans cheering against him... in fact I think he feeds of it, grows bigger and stronger because of it. No better feeling than winning a game where everyone is against you...

Posted by Aussie Ange 02/07/2008 at 01:26 AM

You make some interesting points John Smith. The plot thickens. But are you seriously implying that Fed is only nice to Rafa bcs he knows that Rafa can't challenge him for the No. 1 spot. I don't think Fed is that superficial. And I don't think Rafa is happy being No. 2 all the time as the saying goes "Always the bridesmaid never the bride".

Posted by Papo 02/07/2008 at 01:41 AM

Rafa may be the god of clay, but it's unrealistic and unhealthy for him to play all those upcoming clay tournaments back to back. IMO, Rafa needs to take the long view this year. He should skip Barcelona and Stuttgart and concentrate on winning the three clay Masters Series tournaments and Roland Garros. These tournaments will earn him the most points.

He looked pitiful struggling with all those injuries during the second half of the season last year. Hopefully that's not the Rafa we'll be seing this year.

Vamos Rafa!!!

Posted by Tuulia 02/07/2008 at 07:09 AM

Samantha Elin - Like I was saying earlier, English is NOT Rafa's second language,it's his third. :-) The girlfriend is the same.

Aussie Ange - have you seen the youtube vid of one of those video games sessions? It's old, but fun. I haven't seen any underwear lobby pics, but I do remember seeing one of Rafa and Tomeu (=Bartolome Salva Vidal) crossing a hotel lobby crawling on all fours in Chennai last year...

Posted by Tuulia 02/07/2008 at 07:09 AM

Samantha Elin - Like I was saying earlier, English is NOT Rafa's second language,it's his third. :-) The girlfriend is the same.

Aussie Ange - have you seen the youtube vid of one of those video games sessions? It's old, but fun. I haven't seen any underwear lobby pics, but I do remember seeing one of Rafa and Tomeu (=Bartolome Salva Vidal) crossing a hotel lobby crawling on all fours in Chennai last year...

Posted by *** 02/07/2008 at 07:24 AM

***He looked pitiful struggling with all those injuries during the second half of the season last year. Hopefully that's not the Rafa we'll be seing this year.***
"All those injuries"???? What 'injuries'? Where does this myth come from? The kid only had a bout of tendinitis in his knees like the great majority of other ATP players, as Andy Roddick was quick to point out, and this was cured by rest after the US Open. Nadal had no major injuries at all in 2007 and, in fact, he did not miss a single tournament through 'injury'.

Posted by Tuulia 02/07/2008 at 07:33 AM

Sorry about the double post. Shouldn't try to do this while at work I sppose :-)

Posted by mat. 02/07/2008 at 07:47 AM

Rafa may well be the older of two siblings but as the first nephew he was definitely brought up playing a very much younger 'brother' role to his young uncles in his close-knit family.

Posted by Rosangel 02/07/2008 at 07:52 AM

Some facts:
In 2007 Rafa retired in Sydney due to "injury'.

He also pulled out of playing Davis Cup after travelling to Geneva with the team after an injury sustained in practice (two of the Swiss players got injured as well, on the same surface). Subsequent to this, he missed Marseille:

After the US Open, he missed Bangkok due to the knee problems that bothered him during the US Open:

So, it's inaccurate to say that he didn't miss a single tournament through "injury".

By the time he got to Madrid and Paris, during the indoor season, he didn't look injured to me.

Posted by Rosangel 02/07/2008 at 08:02 AM

And, now I come to think of it, Rafa also didn't travel to the US with the Spanish team to play Davis Cup in the spring, citing the need to protect his foot - the after-effects of this old injury (due to which he missed the 2006 AO) have required him to wear special insoles to his shoes, and apparently these after-effects and the necessary adjustments are something that he will just have to live with and manage. The hard courts are not easy on his foot, according to his team.

Posted by *** 02/07/2008 at 08:12 AM

Tendinitis is not an injury, Rosangel, it is a condition...

Posted by rudy3 02/07/2008 at 09:17 AM

Oh man, John Smith...why must you make my coffee taste bitter.

Vamos Rafa! You have it in spades! Vamos!

Posted by Rosangel 02/07/2008 at 09:31 AM

anon: the injuries I cited earlier in the year were not related to tendonitis. If you make a sweeping statement and it turns out to be inaccurate (along the lines of no tournaments missed in 2007 due to injuries) then a correction seems in order.

Tendonitis can be - and by many doctors is - referred to as a chronic injury or an injury due to overuse. That aside, I completely accept that large numbers of players have had to deal with tendonitis, and that it's not unique to Rafa, and that it can also be described as a condition.

It is possible that problems with patellar tendonitis, which is what I believe Rafa has had to deal with, can be caused by problems with the way the feet are aligned, so it's perfectly possible that the knee issues were in some way related to or exacerbated by adjustments due to the earlier foot injury (combined, of course, with the amount of physical activity that someone like Rafa performs). I am still dealing with the after-effects of a similar foot injury myself. I still haven't been able to run (I've tried, but not much success), and there are still many days when I find myself needing to favour one foot over the other. I don't know when things will normalise, if ever. I'm fortunate that my living doesn't depend on my fitness or physical conditioning, and special orthotics haven't been considered in my case. I'm also very unlikely to put the amount of strain on my knees that a tennis player would, even when I do start running again.

Comments made by Rafa himself indicate that when he was dealing with the injury to his foot, he feared that he would not be able to play again. He also indicated at the end of last year that he had not been able to run in training, as before. I think when people discuss Rafa's injuries here, those who follow his career also have in mind the management of the old foot injury and its lasting effects - and quite a few people have made a connection between the state of the knees now and the old foot injury.

Posted by daylily 02/07/2008 at 11:06 AM

The number of fans in a tizzy over at induced me to come see what the clucking was all about. Frankly, i have to infer that those mother hens whose feathers are so ruffled have unnecessarily taken umbrage over this piece, Pete. Athough i must say, you haven't lost even a kernel of your ability to voice opinions so open to misinterpretation.

It's like telling Jewish or Italian jokes -- you must BE of those persuasions to be PC enough to tell jokes pertaining to your own ethnic roots. It follows that only rabid supporters of a sports figure (or political or whatever) are allowed to cast doubt on his/her abilities or lifestyle or character, etc. etc. etc. and get away with it. Woe betide he/she who criticizes their idol!

What many of those who are in a snit over this piece don't know is that Pete is a softie as far as Rafa is concerned. And, as someone above pointed out, much of his very best writing and analysis has been dedicated to the topic of Rafael Nadal. Yes, most of us agreed long ago that Pete could lose the nickname Jet Boy, for sure. It just doesn't say all of what should be evoked when giving Rafa a name for the ages, so perhaps just Rafa is enough.

So, vb'ers and the rest of you disgruntled fans, please understand that Pete isn't dissing or condescending to Rafa in any way. I've been worshiping at the Mallorcan altar for three years and it was perhaps partly because of my my incessant early defense of Rafa that Pete looked at him with more judiciousness. i would like to think so, even though i don't post here anymore and am not known by most of you as being a huge Rafa fan.

The brain and character of all people is what makes them so interesting. some, by virtue of their physical prowess, make themselves larger than life, but it's still the mind and heart that count most. Interesting observations here, all.

i've always thought of rafa as a tiger and fed as a jaguar. both catlike in different ways.

Posted by zonie 02/07/2008 at 11:19 AM

Hi daylily. I have been missing your posts and incessant defense of all things Rafa. Nice to hear from you and you make very good points.

Posted by malimeda 02/07/2008 at 11:43 AM

As for stereotyping Novak, have to disagree with placing him into the North tribe together with the Swiss guy. He's more in the middle. While a Mediterraneans are typically passionate but laid-back, your typical Balkan male is passionate but "crazy" (troubled, proud, volatile, what have you). We like to use the word INAT here to explain this character trait. It can't be properly translated into English, but it denotes a stubborn will to do someting albeit against all odds, even if it clearly harms you. You do it nevertheless, just for the fun of it, just to enjoy yourself while it lasts. And Nole has this trait in abundance: he will prematurely announce he's the future No. 1 only to be laughed at, but he loves the shock it provokes. The point with him is, he seems to have the quality to back that up.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 02/07/2008 at 12:05 PM

Dear Mr Pete,

Apologies for the belated answer (work and times zones) but I firmly stand by what I wrote yesterday about your op-ed piece (and it's nothing personal).

You are using simplistic cultural stereotypes to describe tennis players. Is it really what someone would do in an intelligent, well-researched and insightful piece of writing on the top 3 tennis players, their tactical ways and challenges? I don't think so. It's a laziness and to a certain extent an editorial strategy that intends to appeal to people's most superficial preconceived ideas and prejudices. Great really. Thank you very much. But of course, you are an Americano, a Yankee, so do I need to be surprised after all ??

I find problematic to REDUCE people to general cultural traits (not to mention that it's not even working with most of the example tennis history is giving us!whhaaat a German winning so many times on grass ?).

You did not like the expression “hiding cowardly”. I take note. Would “disingenuous” do better? Myself, I still prefer cowardly because using Rafa and Federer as exemplars for your “feel” is exactly that. It's a completely asinine description (if I may) of them of course but it's very safe in the end. So what is the “feel” you are trying to portray for Djokovic, then? Enlighten us about the Balkanic “ (...) combination of personal qualities and a unique, multi-generational history, shaped and conditioned by time and place (...)” as you so circuitously call that “thing” you are doing. I'm very curious really. Any other other ethnic group or culture you might want to address? You opened Pandora's box here. I "dare" you (if I may) to continue all the way. So, this is where cowardice and disingenuousness come into play.

Also you said: (...)“ In your comment, you make it seem like "combative" is part of this big ghastly stereotype, when it is anything but - a true stereotype would have Rafa as a laid-back, unambitious sun-worshipper.”-

**I never said that, now you are trying to distort my point of view.This is what I said: (...) ----So Rafa is all Mediterranean combative, instinctual "exuberance" while Fed is all Germanic "reasoning" and skills.(...).

-----Of course,well, you, perhaps, think that “Mediterranean” has a negative connotation too (I think that “laid-back, unambitious sun-worshiper.” is what you associate with "Mediterraneans" or at least it's how it can be understood). It was not my point at all, I do not see “Germanic reasoning” as a panacea (which is your case) while being “Mediterranean” and “combative” would be seen as an offending tag line. Now, again, you're projecting (and this time it's not even sociology 101 but pop psychology 101). It's the knee-jerk opposition and the gross (and idiotic I might add) oversimplification of 2 nice dudes' characterization that I was underlining.

Now to the GEM from your answer: (...) “Are you really going to look me in the eye and say that there are no distinctions to be drawn between Germans, Italians, the Irish and Mexicans, in broad cultural terms, habits and predispositions? Good grief, and here I thought sociology was a valid field of study!I think the characters we end up loving (just look to literature)often capture our affection because they represent something broad and general about their culture, time or place.


First, what does it mean? And second how tall are you?

No seriously, Mr Pete dont' go Margaret Mead or Bronisław Malinowski on me !! What you are doing is not closely related to sociology or anthropology and their understanding of social categories and cultures. What you are doing is actually the opposite, reducing people to little bits of anecdotes or traits (physical or otherwise) and inferring (actually it's implying but nevermind) things without evidence (and a lot of evidence actually contradict what you say). Hardly a noble intellectual pursuit.

I would be delighted to look you into the eyes and tell you that. but I guess I will have to settle with typepad for now.

I like the 3 guys and I don't think that they are mutually exclusive.I understand the need to categorize and to a certain extent simplify (or clarify) in order to explain and start a discussion but sorry, but there's nothing redeemable from that point of view in your piece.

apologies for the long post.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 02/07/2008 at 12:25 PM

Completely off-topic, but I just found this on the site ... posting the link here for all Fed fans (others please ignore :) ) -

Sorry if this is not the appropriate thread for this, but I didn't know where else to post it.

Posted by Pete 02/07/2008 at 12:59 PM

Frenchie wrote:

"But of course, you are an Americano, a Yankee, so do I need to be surprised after all ??"


Interesting turn of phrase, for someone accusing me of stereotyping. People never cease to amaze me.

Posted by Or 02/07/2008 at 02:27 PM


Everything is appropriate for that :) Aren't those photos fantastic? Some of them really makes his eyes POP.

Posted by highpockets aka "Madame 'Pockets" 02/07/2008 at 02:30 PM


You may want to examine your own predisposition toward generalities ("Americano, Yankee").

Let me give you an example:

Often when people first hear I'm from Northern California, they assume that I am a veggie-eating, tree-hugging liberal nutcase ... but then when they hear that I actually reside in California's Central Valley, they switch to assuming that I'm a Bible-thumping, narrow-minded, truck lover.

In actuality, I could be some of those things or none of those things, but it doesn't really matter. I am whatever they perceive me to be unless I want to show them who I really am ... and sometimes even THAT doesn't change their perceptions.

I am blonde and I love a good dumb blonde joke. That could either mean I'm stupid or I have a good sense of humor.

I guess what I'm saying is ... lighten up!

(I realizes some prejudices go much, much deeper, and I don't want you to think that I'm talking about those here ... I'm not.)

Posted by Chris 02/07/2008 at 03:52 PM

I appreciate the fact that journalists need to continually evaluate Rafa's progress, as well as his customary "second half fade" after Wimbledon (he is, after all, number 2 in the world). But honestly, I think the expectations placed on him by the press are a little much. Come on, the kid's only 21 years old and already has 3 gland slam titles. Granted they're all at RG, but if Andy Roddick had won three US Opens, I don't think anyone would be saying, "Yeah, but can he win on another surface?" (But, alas, that's the bias against clay.) Plus, if I'm not mistaken, Rafa's point totals - which have increased every year for the past three years - would be high enough to make him convincingly #1 in the world (only Federer's incredible accomplishments prevent this). So, I hope Rafa just keeps chugging along and doesn't pay too much attention to the press. It's true he may burn out by the time he's 25, but that's plenty of time to win a few more grand slams and place himself among the greatest of all time.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 02/07/2008 at 04:08 PM

Thanks, Or ... yeah, I think Roger looks devastatingly handsome in those pictures (swoon). Love the eyes (do they have golden flecks in them?), love the hair, love everything ...

Posted by Liwa 02/07/2008 at 04:17 PM

I wouldn't want to intrude on the discussion but I assumed from reading Frenchie's piece that she was being satirical with her "But of course, you are an Americano, a Yankee, so do I need to be surprised after all ??" comment. Showing how reductive and viscious stereotypes can be etc.

For my part, I enjoyed the article but recognise the short-comings/difficulties that cliches/stereotypes can arouse, although didn't see any offence in it.

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/07/2008 at 04:28 PM

"But of course, you are an Americano, a Yankee, so do I need to be surprised after all ??"

uh, this was a joke. I'm sure there's a special word for it. Irony maybe.

Posted by Bismarck 02/07/2008 at 04:48 PM

i read it like that, too.
TOF holding an ironic mirror in front of Pete´s face so to speak when using those "yankee" words.

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/07/2008 at 04:48 PM

Oy Liwa how did you post faster than me? grrrr...

(maybe cuz I'm lazy, one of the predispositions of my people.)

Posted by 02/07/2008 at 05:13 PM

Well Snoo, as a Northern European I was able to keep my feelings under control and focus on the matter at hand.. ;)

Posted by Liwa 02/07/2008 at 05:15 PM

That was me (Liwa) at 5.13pm. I think TypePad is going mental

Posted by Too honest, factual, accurate 02/07/2008 at 05:16 PM

Peter and Steve and others on this anti-Roger Federer and pro-everyone else tennis site are ALL United States, patriotic Americans and that's the biggest, NOT only, reason why they are how they are, think how they think, act as they act, say what they say, do what they do, etc. Non-American Roger has been dominating professional men's tennis for more than 4 years, and won 40 straight or so matches versus all and different Americans, and he is challenging all-time records already, at just 26 years old, of previous American greats, like Sampras, etc, and already passed Agassi, Connors, McEnroe, Chang, Courier etc. The patriotic Americans on this site can't and won't ever accept, appreciate, admire, enjoy, like, respect or approve of him because of that due to the nationalities differences, among other things. IF non-Americans Rafael and Novak and others in the future accomplish these same things Roger has, they will ALL be the same way to them too maybe. However, now it's just non-American Roger's accomplishments and dominance and challenging history of best tennis player ever, and better than ALL other American players, that these writers and some patriotic Americans and other anti-Roger Federer fans can't deal with and never will no matter what. That's all sad and pathetic, but true too, and honesty is the most important thing and characteristic and trait, not extreme bias against someone for NO good, rational reason, but that's the way some people are in today's society, especially Ameicans, unfortunately.

Posted by Too honest, factual, accurate 02/07/2008 at 05:20 PM

Americans, NOT Ameicans on last line above.

Posted by Liwa 02/07/2008 at 05:32 PM

I discovered the other week that Listerine is the cockney slang term for anti-American..
In rhyming slang Yank = septic tank (Seppo), and Listerine is an anti-septic.

Too honest's comment was a bit too Listeriney for my taste, as well as not accurately reflecting this site and its posters.

Posted by daylily 02/07/2008 at 05:39 PM

hi back, zonie, and thank you.

Posted by Randy 02/07/2008 at 05:52 PM

Who did Rafa beat in Chennai and AO that is any good? NOBODY any good, accomplished recently or ranked high.
Who did he lose to in those 2 tourneys? NOBODY any good consistently, accomplished, or ranked high.
In both tourneys, he was completely healthy, unlike Roger in AO, and still got blown out and demolished twice, like usual on most of his hardcourt defeats since last March.
Somehow, many people say that despite all my above facts, he has shown improvement on hardcourts this year (only one month) so far. He hasn't beaten or played anyone good, got 2 very easy, LUCKY draws, especially in Grand Slam Aussie Open, should've lost to Moya in Chennai semis, and got blown out twice (in both his losses). Somehow, that's considered and proven to be an improvement over the last 3 years on hardcourts.
The facts and stats prove otherwise, yet people ignore and deny them all.
That's typical of biased liars. Ignoring and/or denying proven facts, reality, and common sense and observation simply because that's who they are, and how they think and feel.

Posted by Kim 02/07/2008 at 05:56 PM

And how come, I am extremely surprised, that when Fed got easy draws, and it has been OFTEN, nobody mentioned it one word!!!

Posted by Moderator 02/07/2008 at 06:18 PM

Please be aware that Too honest, etc and Randy are both incarnations of one of our local trolls - instantly recognisable to the aficionado. Not that Moderators would wish to stereotype anyone.

Posted by highpockets aka "Madame 'Pockets" 02/07/2008 at 06:22 PM

Frenchie, Liwa, Snoo, Bissy,

I have to admit I didn't pick up on the "ironic mirror" stuff.

(slinks back into lurk status)

Posted by Interested Party 02/07/2008 at 06:26 PM

Pete, many of your points are valid but you oversimplify Nadal by classifying him as a puppyish kid. Sure, he's likable and charming, but a simpleton he is not. Indeed, I think he has a backbone of steel and maturity way beyond his years. I'm always impressed by his forthright take-no-BS attitude in press conferences. When he plays opponents, even older ones, I usually see THEM as the kid in the matchup, so obviously I see a lot of poise in Nadal. People who think he has already peaked are in for a big surprise, I believe.

Posted by Sam 02/07/2008 at 06:52 PM

"Too honest, etc and Randy are both incarnations of one of our local trolls"

Troll recycling - I didn't realize that they were environmentally conscious ...

Posted by Aussie Ange 02/07/2008 at 06:53 PM

Hiya Tribe.

It is a beautiful sunny morning over yonder in Perth, Western Australia and my view of the river is spectacular. Just wanted to share.

Hey Tuulia. The video you are talking about is it the one with him and Charly playing the video games and Charly winning.

I would love to see photos of the incident in Chennai. I know things like that are really private for the players but sometimes it would be nice to see what they are really like and their different personalities.

Posted by Tuulia 02/08/2008 at 04:02 AM

Chris @ 3:52 PM, Interested Party @ 6:26 PM - great posts!

Sam @ 6:52 PM - :-D

Aussie Ange - So you've seen the video...There wasn't really much to see in the pic I mentioned, to know that the incident took place was more interesting. Just imagine the two guys crawling across a big hotel lobby in a nice hotel, and you've got it. Losing a Play Station match or a bet nearly always seems to mean one has to do something silly in public. Men...

Posted by The Original French(ie)-The French Mouse 02/08/2008 at 04:34 AM

of course it was IRONY (or sarcasm and even perhaps a hint of sardonic slant) !!!!

How did people do when this ";)" was not part of the lexicon???

Posted by Moderator 02/08/2008 at 09:36 AM

Shutting down this thread.

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