Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Bias Case
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Bias Case 02/10/2010 - 3:31 PM

Rn-rf We’ve heard a lot about objectivity in journalism. More specifically, we’ve heard a lot about what a futile, foolish, naïve, and outdated goal it is. Bloggers and talk-show mouths on both sides of the political aisle have beaten it into our heads that beneath the evenhanded veneer, the “mainstream media” is a cesspit of thinly veiled bias and demagoguery (love that word). I get it, I suppose, though I still prefer the primly informative old “MSM”—is it possible to outlaw the use of a set of initials?—to the rancorous self-congratulation of the blogosphere.

The skepticism has even seeped into the seemingly innocent and innocuous world of tennis, where the words of commentators and writers are routinely examined with a jeweler’s eye in search of bias against one player or another. I shouldn’t say “one player of another,” really; as anyone who has visited for more than a few seconds knows, there are only two players that fans care about to this degree: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The fueds between their camps swamp everything else on this website. You might begin a discussion talking about Don Budge’s hair or Frew McMillan's hat, and when you come back 10 minutes later it’s all Roger and Rafa.

Speaking for Pete Bodo and myself, I can say that each of us tries to be as objective as we can in talking about these two players while still conveying the emotion and excitement of watching them. Part of writing about the entire sport of tennis is not writing as a fan of one particular player. Still, neither of us could avoid rattling the cages of Federer’s and Nadal’s fans if we tried. Maybe the strongest testament to how good Federer has been is that his fans now seem to have something invested in his infallibility—he's allowed them to believe in perfection. I once thought of him as the President of Tennis; at this point he may be closing in on Papal status. But I’ve gotten it from both sides. I’ve been asked, by a Federer fan, “When are you going to start doing Nadal’s hair?” After a recent podcast, I was asked, by a Nadal fan, “Why don’t you just come out and admit you’re in love with Roger?”

Which means, I suppose, that I’m doing my job. But after this year’s Aussie Open final, I began to wonder, like the rest of the world’s bloggers and talk-show mouths, whether objectivity was possible, or even whether it was the best way to analyze a tennis match. I’ve admitted before that even though I’m a tennis journalist, I began as a fan and I remain a fan. I would hate to lose that irrational passion, and I would hate to have to write about a sport I didn’t care about. I’ve also admitted that, as far as Federer and Nadal are concerned, I’m a Rafa fan and a Roger admirer, even though I've liked them equally when I've met them one-on-one (I liked Novak Djokovic as well—he was the most outgoingly friendly of the three). 

I tend to root for underdogs and guys who don’t necessarily believe they’re the best there is—guys with doubts. For these reasons, I rooted for Agassi and admired Sampras (though I’ve come around more to Sampras’ style and demeanor watching him in old You Tube clips). For the same reasons, I root more often for Nadal, and find myself remaining neutral about Federer most of the time. As a fan and player of the sport, I find it impossible not to like and appreciate the guy who plays it better than anyone has, but there’s also a lot more excitement to Federer’s matches when he’s challenged than when he’s cruising. Either way, I’ve always given him all due credit for his success.

Still, I was surprised to find myself rooting for Federer in his Melbourne final against Andy Murray. I like Murray, I like his game, I want to see him win a major someday, and as I said, I like upsets. But in the previous round I’d been so impressed by the clinic in fluidity that Federer had put on against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that I couldn’t help but want to see tennis like that, and even root for tennis like that, again. I even found myself briefly believing, the way his fans do, that Federer plays tennis the way it’s supposed to be played, which is an attitude I’ve always found to be beside-the-point in sports. What was interesting was that as the match progressed, I realized that I was seeing Federer in a different light, watching him in a different way, than I ever had before.

In the past, I’d believed that he didn't get nervous—I mean really nervous, gagging nervous. Not having a stake in the outcome, I always just assumed he would win, and that deep down he assumed the same thing, and that most of the time we were right. Now, with Murray keeping the first set tight, I could see that Federer’s nerves do affect his play, especially on his backhand side. I had also believed that Federer’s periodic inconsistency was mostly the product of his trying to take the ball so early off the bounce. Now I could see that confidence played a role here as well; one miss would lead to a frown, which would lead to a worse miss. 

Along those same lines, I’d never read Federer’s emotions particularly well, the way I can most other players'. While his gestures were still minimal in Melbourne, I could make out more uncertainty and frustration in them, as well as more relief when things went well. Again, as a neutral observer, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that Federer thought many of his matches, even his Slam finals, were ever in doubt. I believed that, like Sampras, deep down Federer knew he was better than anyone else, and that it would be proven in the end. I was wrong; it may seem obvious in retrospect, but the man, like all other men, has doubts.

There was a simple reason for my new perceptions: I was feeling Federer’s emotions along with him. I thought about a conversation I had had with Tom Perrotta a few days earlier. We were trying to decide who got jumpier, Federer or Nadal. I said it was obviously Nadal, while Tom thought they both did pretty equally, and that they were both good at finding ways around their nerves. Now it was clear that I only thought Nadal got tight more often because, as a fan, I could see when he was tight and recognize when it affected his play. Nadal’s fans have credited me with being able to see, more than some other observers, that their guy isn’t just a one-dimensional grinder, that beneath the grunts and fist-pumps it’s his tactical sense as much as anything else that wins him matches. And it’s true—I’ve been surprised at the persistence of the idea, even among knowledgeable tennis writers, that Rafa does little more than slug the ball crosscourt and keep it in play for three hours. 

The flipside of this, however, is that I’ve had trouble seeing what Federer does tactically. I’ve written many times that his strategy seemed to consist of rallying patiently with his backhand until he found a chance to hit a winner with his forehand—it all seemed too easy to my detached eyes. In the Aussie final, my fan’s eyes could see that Federer’s tactical genius in this match was really a genius for courage under pressure, for recognizing and seizing moments, for ignoring his nerves and focusing clearly. Unlike Murray, when Federer needed a point, when he seemed in danger of letting the momentum slip away, he became less hesitant. If he’d been rallying passively for a few points, he would suddenly, at 30-all, take his first forehand and barrel in behind it. Or he would carve his crosscourt backhand just a little finer and send Murray just a little farther off the court. Or he would make life simple by playing meat-and-potatoes, serve-forehand tennis. Federer shares this genius of experience and courage with another Slam-winning veteran, Serena Williams. Their 28 combined major titles tell them that all things being equal, nobody is better than they are, so why shouldn’t they take the game to their opponents?

I knew that about Federer at an objective, intellectual level. But I had only rarely recognized that it’s a struggle for him the way it is for everyone else, that he begins with doubts. Struggling along with Federer gave me a deeper appreciation for how consistently he overcomes them. Does this mean that objectivity for a writer isn’t just impossible, but counterproductive? Do fans see the game better because they feel the game more? Is what we call fan bias really just a fuller recognition of the human side of a player? If so, I’ve got a big problem: How do I make myself into a fan of everyone I watch?

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Posted by Craig 02/10/2010 at 04:26 PM

An excellent, thoughtful post that brings some added perspective to a well-worn topic. I've been off work for the last week and have spent a lot of time enjoying the wonders of tennis on youtube. Watching Fed's matches, it is uncanny how many tight spots he was able to extricate himself from with good, aggressive play. What surprised me is that this is as true with respect to his "Primo Fed" period (04-06) as with more recent matches, where his propensity for Houdini acts are well-documented (Haas at FO 09, Roddick at Wim 09, Djoker at US 07).

I will not be so rude as to compare this piece to another slightly less evocative Nadal/Fed post from the last 24 hours.

Posted by kjo 02/10/2010 at 04:34 PM

Steve, thank you for this honest and perceptive piece of writing. As a long-time Fed fan I've for years been attuned with his emotional ups and downs and so never understood the popular perception of him being "robotic" or whatever. Conversely, since I'm not a Rafa fan, in my head he is always mentally "strong" (altho' i do of course see the loss in confidence this year after his injury problems).
Your piece gave me chance to see how things appear from the "other side."

Posted by CL 02/10/2010 at 04:43 PM

Steve - this is a truly wonderful post and I genuinely...if a bit skeptically...hope that the thread doesn't devolve into the usual. But even it it does, it is worth it just for, "You might begin a discussion talking about Don Budge’s hair or Frew McMillan's hat, and when you come back 10 minutes later it’s all Roger and Rafa."

ROFL...thank you.

Posted by streams 02/10/2010 at 04:48 PM

Thanks Steve, like you I'm a Rafa fan and Fed admirer ... so I appreciated your articulate insights.

Posted by VJK 02/10/2010 at 05:00 PM

Opinion is one thing, but saying Federer won FO because Nadal wasn't in the draw is another (see Pete Bodo's intentional rabble rousing garbage). I started off Fed fan, and now I admire both. Nadal finds another gear in his determination to beat Federer that he just cannot find against other people. That's how much Federer motivates him. Due to these two, I love to play tennis again...let's leave it at that and hope they get to play again...

Posted by Master Ace 02/10/2010 at 05:04 PM

Agree that most conversations go back to Roger and Rafael no matter what site you read( and to name 2) as they are opposites on the court but are friendly and accessible off the court. In the WTA world, its Serena and Justine or Williams Sisters and Belgian ladies and in a few years, you may have Azarenka(ball busher) and Wozniacki(pusher) but not to the dynamics of Serena/Justine and Roger/Rafael.

Posted by HybridStrings 02/10/2010 at 05:07 PM

Steve: Thank you for writing a wonderful piece on the bias and objectivity. With respect to understanding what Federer does, it takes a while to truly appreciate what he does, especially when things matter the most. A case in point: last year against Tommy Haas, he hit an inside-out forhand from the ad-court for a winner off the second serve. He took the momentum away from Haas and never looked back. Just like that. One thing I got out of watching the AO final this year was that how wide the center of the court Federer was making compared with that of Murray. Once he pushed Murray outside the doubles alley, it was like taking a candy from a kid. All Murrey was able to do was doing his best to stay alive. Nadal, on the other hand, will stay with Federer by keeping the center of the court as wide as possible and move Federer. Too bad his style of playing is not truly made for the harsh tour schedule.

Posted by VJK 02/10/2010 at 05:08 PM

....OH and let's put a lid on this Fed-Nadal opinion business until their next match. I understand your livelihood depends on it, but please show some restraint till they play their next match. Anything insightful like whom the young guys like Delpo and Cilic model themselves after, or how Murray can shake off AO loss and try to get better for FO (with Nadal presumably injured), etc.?

Fresh veggies and meat please....

Posted by Rose 02/10/2010 at 05:09 PM

I always thought you had special insight as far as Rafa was concerned. The death in the afternoon was your best piece I would think. Keep up the writing

Posted by Jamaica Karen 02/10/2010 at 05:26 PM

Steve a fantastic post and so true. One of the parts that I loved was your comparison of Serena and Federer. It always makes me mad when I read articles about Serena and all I see are the words overpower, smothered, served, etc out her opponent, when in truth she employs tactics that you would not believe she employs. She thinks out there on the court and she does have a strategy in the same way that Fed and Nadal and all the other champions of our sport do. In addition, I like the fact that someone else sees what us Fed fans see. We see a champion who puts it all out there on the line, win lose or draw. Andy Roddick I think said it best when he said Roger does not get a lot of credit for how he fights out there. Sometimes it is not all about the fist pumps and the grunts and the shouts of Come on, it is about how mentally strong you stay in the moment and come out of it. Thank you.

Posted by thebigapple 02/10/2010 at 05:33 PM

Excellent thought full post.

Like most Fed fans I can look at his face and body language early in a match and get a good guess on the likelihood that he will win. But then many of us have been watching and "fanning" for him before he won his first major. The angel game with the ponytail - it has been a joyous, bumpy far.

Posted by Alpaca 02/10/2010 at 05:36 PM

Typically, it is clear to see if a writer is a fan of someone. I, for one, can tell by the writing, no matter how objective they are trying to be, that Steve and Pete are both Rafa's fans. Nothing wrong with that. I was watching the AO match between Gasquet and Youzhny whom both I like but not emotionally involved, I found myself enjoying the tennis more purely for their skills and tactics more so than watching Rafa or Federer whom one I like more than the other.

Posted by thebigapple 02/10/2010 at 05:41 PM


My typing sucks.

Posted by greenhopper 02/10/2010 at 05:46 PM


Posted by fae coleman 02/10/2010 at 05:49 PM

Nadal on the other hand will stay with federer by keeping the center of the court as wide as possible and move Federer.

Excatly, the A/0 final was disappointing wasn't it! as tennis fans we have been truly spoilt.
On topic though, a great piece Steve and I can relate to that, as a huge Nadal fan I am also a great admirer of Federers tennis.
Lets hope we see more of these two, Nadal so far has been the only one to challenge Federer consistently thus making things interesting, we are feeling a touch short changed with Nadal in question!

Posted by lpb (Susan) 02/10/2010 at 05:55 PM

Great post, Steve. Thanks.

Posted by md 02/10/2010 at 05:59 PM

brilliant article- well done - honest to a fault almost and wonderfully perceptive.

Posted by SwissMaestro 02/10/2010 at 06:15 PM

It is true however that eventhough Steve has declared himself a Rafa fan he has given Federer -and everyone else- credit when he's had to. I can also tell he likes Safin -specially the "canon-like" sound of his backhand when he riffles it down the line or Gasquet because when he is in his "microwave mode" no player can stand a chance against him while he is in that trance but that's what makes it good in my opinion because he writes it with passion, Steve did not fail to give Tsonga credit when he toyed with Nadal in Melbourne in 2008, or to Djokovic when he beat Federer in the other semi the very same year, so as long as the whole thing can be kept honest I think it is all good.

Posted by Maria 02/10/2010 at 06:35 PM

Nice article. It's actually clear if you have good intuition for this type of thing that Federer is often vulnerable and mentally fragile in his matches. This was mostly exposed against Nadal and also for a short while against Murray. In the 08 Wimbledon final for instance, his breakpoint conversion rate in the first two sets was simply atrocious, 1 in 20 or something like it. He played brilliantly to create the opportunities but then hesitantly over and over again. of course Nadal played phenomenally to defend against these break opportunities, but still, 1 in 20 says something about federer's psyche at that moment. He went on to save a couple of matchpoints in that final however, which was impressive. I don't think Roger's mental texture is like a solid block of self-confidence. His psyche, like his game, has a lot of nuances and a good deal of complexity.

Posted by Ozone 02/10/2010 at 06:36 PM

The post at Bodo's is a complete peice of cr** written under the disguise of wanting to stimulate some argument. I think he has gone completely senile wanting and craving for attention and posters.

Subjectivity is one thing...but that is just plain rabble rousing and meaningless as a point. That way you can question anybody's success if somebody else happens to be absent.

Even I feel that Federer has a clear match up problem with Rafa, and he knows that, and that also affects him mentally. But, except on Clay, Rafa has had to fight unbeleivably to get those 2 GS titles on non-clay surface from him.

And the problem Rafa presented on Clay, was kind of adding up to Fed's mental challenge with him, because of the obsession to get FO title. IMO, the Wimby 2008 had a bit of hangover from the FO beat down.

For Federer, I think the bigger burden was being at the cusp of record books (Sampras count and FO title) and getting them is what has releived him more (as perhaps becoming a dad). Also, it is not exactly the case that once Rafa went away, Fed has been blazing everywhere - the FO last year was a close call with Haas, other opponents werent good enough on Clay, but Wimbledon was extremely close with Roddick (it is good for Fed Roddick doesnt practice backhand volley!) and he after all lost to Delpo at US open which he has been winning all the time. So, even that argument doesnt hold good.

Its just that, everybody thinks Federer again has wings now because of the recent Aussie open. While that may be a bit true, he is still a old Fed, not the one 2-3 years ago. Its just that Murray played like cr**, thats why Fed is looking so much good.

The discussion was framed very badly at Bodo's, its not worth commenting there, that would fall in to his wishes.

Sad that that blog has deteriorated like this.

Posted by Red⁺ = Legacy Solidified 02/10/2010 at 06:40 PM

Honest, thoughtful and well written.
Thank you.

Posted by Andrew 02/10/2010 at 07:08 PM

Steve: interesting thoughts.

I have put many electrons to the sword, at and elsewhere, trying to tell people that Pete does not have a Federer voodoo doll, and you have not sacrificed your first born to see evil prevail. Doesn't seem to count for much, but still.

I spent about twenty minutes searching for something Pete wrote about two years ago which I think is apposite to your musings about watching Federer deal with doubts in the AO final:

"The common theme here is neither the challenge of remaining positive, nor the importance of playing aggessively. It's the inner battle to do those things - an inner battle that is frequently a determining factor in tennis, as we saw in Ivanovic's semifinal yesterday. Having to fight that battle on court is a distraction, and it drains emotions and energy that might be better spent on something else Winning that battle for good - meaning that one day you wake up and realize you no longer have to have that grinding inner dialogue with yourself - is critical to becoming a Grand Slam champ instead of journeyman or even an unpredictable, inconsistent contender (Sveta, Marat, are you out there?).

One reason the best players win so often is because that struggle is long over; the smoke on the battlefield has cleared and dead and wounded former selves have all been carted off. The best players are free to focus on things, petty details, considerations and awarenesses, that are nowhere near as significant, but happen to be the luxuries with which the great competitors can fill their medicine chests. Isn't it striking, how freely and imperturbably the best players compete? Wouldn't it be great to have trained your mind so well that a Grand Slam final is, at least in the terms we're contemplating here, really just another match, decided by how you match up with an opponent, and how well you play?"

A bunch of us in a recent TW thread have been talking about our awareness that Federer was nervous from the get-go in his QF against Davydenko. Did he deal with it, or did his opponent make it unnecessary for him to have to do so any more?

Posted by daisy 02/10/2010 at 07:08 PM

was the aus open the first time you have watched federer play? im assuming you have watched him before but you obviously have had some kind of negative predisposition if you think that the fluid play that he displayed has not been apparant in several of his matches before.

and as for not being able to read federer's emotions before this event, just as one example,where were you during the french open 2009?
Clearly you were living under a rock probably because nadal failed to pass the 4th round.

but i guess better late than never to have these admissions.

Posted by AR 02/10/2010 at 07:19 PM

I do find it staggering that a tennis writer who has been witness to the last decade, is only just realising that Federer deals with nerves and doubts just like every other player in the history of the sport and his ability to rise above them is a large part of why he has the incredible resume he has.

Come on, how can people just assume that Federer wins so much because of his talent alone or because he's a better player or because he expects to win. Talent is obvious in so many players in history who did not acheive records to back it up. It is not enough to be a better player technically than most others. Safin, Nalbandian, Gasquet....

It is the PACKAGE of Federer, in which his talent is an ingredient. His physical strength, his hard work, his positivity, his mental strength, his refusal to panic, his ability to keep going when doubt is prevalant.... these are huge parts of him and his success.

Why do you think he is always switched on against Andy Roddick? Because he NEVER underestimates him. Instead he imagines "25 aces flying past his head all day". Against Marcos Bagdahtis in the AO 06, he was down a set and a break and his "hands were sweating" and he was thinking "If I can't hold serve I'm going to lose". In the fifth set of the AO 09, he walked up to the line having "no confidence" in his serve. Before the FO 09 QF, he couldn't sleep or eat and felt sick because he doubted whether his game was good enough to beat GAEL MONFILS, let alone win the tournament!

He doubts and has nerves and concerns just like everyone else. AND HE HAS TOLD THE TENNIS WORLD this time and time again. If commentators and writers don't seem to listen or can't seem to see when they watch simply because they assume he is going to win, then that's sad.

And I feel sorry for them. By allowing themselves to fall into the Federer is a robotic winning machine and completely ignoring the human side of him, they are missing out on something special. As someone who has observed Federer for years, it is apparent ability to OVERCOME his sensitive, doubting, emotional side to achieve all these incredible records which is the most amazing part of the journey.

Posted by Sher 02/10/2010 at 08:28 PM

> I’m a Rafa fan and a Roger admirer, even though I've liked them equally when I've met them one-on-one

It's a credit to you Steve, that I'm mildly surprised by this. I always thought you liked Federer more! And I'm a Federer fan. :)

I have no such doubts about Pete's loyalties, however, hehehe.

Nice thoughts. I find that fans because they have so much more time to dedicate to understanding their player will often know them better. But sometimes love is also blind, and that you cannot help.

Posted by ladyjulia 02/10/2010 at 08:31 PM

Great post, Steve!

I think we have to invest heavily as a fan for majority of the matches to enjoy a match. I don't follow WTA and I can see that sometimes the match gets boring for me because I don't have my favorite playing in that match. There is no emotional investment in the outcome.

Neither do i put in an effort to relate to the emotions that the players are going through.

Posted by Stewart 02/10/2010 at 09:02 PM

Wow Steve - just listened to your guys' podcast and I have to say - what a load of crap!!

Everything about the WTA is viewed through a negative lens while the the ATP gets a free pass. You don't think little girls are looking up to Serena as a great competitive role model? You don't think Sharapova is a tennis player first?

I've always said - why is women's tennis seen as weak when 9 different women have won Grand Slams in the past 5 years and only 4 different men have won slams on the men's side (and aside from Djok and Delpo's 1, the men's supposedly deep tour has been dominated at will by Fed and Nadal).

I'm a big fan of Azarenka, she played extremely well and her temperment's improved. Ivanovic and Jankovic SHOULD be the next big things, especially Ivanovic with her game, but they need to get it together.

I couldn't believe it when I heard Peter Bodo (who is one of the most out to lunch commentators I've ever heard) say that Ivanovic is a player without power or athleticism. She hits the ball harder than anyone aside from Serena and is capable of playing a well rounded game.

Posted by Corrie 02/10/2010 at 09:28 PM

I can't see why it's a revelation that Federer often suffers from nerves and doubts. An emotional guy like him, it's hardly surprising. He's talked about them plenty and it's one reason why he was such a slow starter in the Slam business.

It's obvious when he's nervous, which seems to happen in most major finals. He could hardly get through the last game of the French Open final. He looked nervous against Davidenko at first, and in the tie break in the final. What Pete Bodo calls Nadal being "in his head" is just more nerves in the big occasions they play.

Don't tennis writers do some background reading on, at the very least, the top players?

Posted by Corrie 02/10/2010 at 09:38 PM

AR, I wrote my post before I saw yours, and yours is spot on when it comes to the numerous things Federer has said about his nerves and doubts. I remember how he said that at match point in his first Wimbledon final how he was begging Phillipoussis to just miss so that he wouldn't have to hit something himself. Federer has always been very frank about his worries and doubts before and during big matches so I can't understand how this has escaped Steve's notice.

Posted by Bibi 02/10/2010 at 10:17 PM

Very nice post. I could feel nothing but a great admire for Roger after his match with Tsonga. I wanted him to win the AO and I could have never warmed up to him before.
Still, I am a true Novak fan.

Posted by Ja 02/10/2010 at 10:28 PM

Thank you Steve for another good reading. I have become a fan of your. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Christopher 02/10/2010 at 10:48 PM

As always, an insightful and interesting piece.

I remember thinking during tense points of the final, as I often do as a fan of Federer, "Well, though I am shaking like a leaf, I know HE'S not nervous. He's been in this situation countless times and usual won. You don't win 16 slams without nerves of steel."

Then, in one of the interviews after the match, Federer said of that ball he let go on match point when Murray just got to his drop shot, "I thought to myself, that's it. I'm going to lose in five. He's just taken my title." Now that's EXACTLY the kind of thing I would think. I was shocked to hear he thought it as well. I think this makes me respect him more for overcoming that, but I'll also be more nervous myself next time I see him in a similar situation.

Posted by ATP 02/10/2010 at 11:21 PM

Not trying to stoke the flames, I know that Fedal play you can't put the mental battle in a vacuum separate from the physical and technical. If Nadal feels he can have 2 or 3 go to moves on big points then he's going to be a lot less nervy than Federer who knows what's coming but can't do much about it. But here goes...

I think Nadal is the better player in the big moments, at least head to head. And probably overall. In my observation, I'd say Nadal can keep his level very consistent without having to red-line (play yahtzee) in those crucial moments. Whereas I think Federer consciously takes more risks (hits flatter, etc.) on big points almost as a response against the tendency of lesser players to play defensive and wait for an error. For Nadal I don't sense that he has to consciously tune himself to do that, that he can hit out (of course with his game he can be much more precise).

Posted by Annabella 02/10/2010 at 11:26 PM

Being safer in the bigger moments doesn't make you better in the big points.

The guy who has the courage to take the risks and put it on the line when the pressure is at it's greatest gets the vote every day of the week. Especially when he actually manages to pull it off 99% of the time :-)

Posted by FedNad 02/10/2010 at 11:38 PM

All I have to say is Steve's posts are insightful while Bodo's are "inciteful"....

Posted by jb (go smiley fed!) 02/10/2010 at 11:51 PM

Very nicely done Steve!

Good point about fans being able to see / tell more about 'their players' game than non-fans. sometimes the 'frazzling' of a fed or rafa (or any other player's) fan is actually justified, as fans can often tell when a player's game is off. Sometimes it can be they're not hitting their shots with enough depth, or their timing or movement is off, but they're very often spot on with their observations.

of course, full on frazzle over one missed shot can appear nutty; but often times if something is off, a fan will see it - even if their player is winning.

as for this.. " You might begin a discussion talking about Don Budge’s hair or Frew McMillan's hat, and when you come back 10 minutes later it’s all Roger and Rafa" - that made me laugh very very hard. cause of course, it is just so true; exasperatingly so!

Posted by lbk77 02/11/2010 at 12:23 AM

It is shocking that Steve was wearing his biased blinkers for so long (you do have to give him credit for admitting it). He has declared himself as no different from the biased political jouralists of the day. Even when you support one player, I think you have to be blind to not understand the game or emotions of the player you want to lose. If after years of watching Federer, it took so long for Steve to understand the obvious qualities of Federer, he must have not just stayed neutral toward Federer, he probably always looked away from him. Wonder how he could have written so many columns without any appreciation of the good and bad qualities of the clearly dominant player of this era.

Posted by Kristy (tennis-related moniker: Toppy Lob) 02/11/2010 at 12:24 AM

Tremendous post, Steve!

I think I know what you've gone through about Roger. Before, you viewed him objectively, as a fan of the game. But you are slowly becoming a fan of his -- I can tell. It reminds me of what I went through going from being a Boston Bruins fan to... a fan of their worst nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens!

I was horrified to find myself rooting for a team I had formerly viewed with loathing. (I know all this is much more exaggerated than what you described, but bear with me.) It seemed unfathomable. But my family lived in Ottawa (my parents were from Boston, hence my Boston fandom) and I saw more Montreal games than any other team's. I got to know their personalities, became impressed with their skill and finally, moved by their heart.

So, this matter of allegiance is complicated. It's irrational. It comes on you almost out of nowhere, but there is no denying it. Suddenly a team/player's struggles move you, and seem more moving than the struggles of the other guy/team.

I fear you're becoming a Federer fan. Not such a bad place to be.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 02/11/2010 at 12:36 AM

I even found myself briefly believing, the way his fans do, that Federer plays tennis the way it’s supposed to be played, which is an attitude I’ve always found to be beside-the-point in sports.

Hehehe, Steve. Careful. There's a Fed fan lurking inside of you.

Anyways, this pretty much sums up Federer's appeal.

Posted by annove 02/11/2010 at 01:42 AM

Great post Steve. I wonder at the possibility of objectivity at all; it strikes me as a bit of a fantasy to imagine that you are truly capable of presenting the world without some kind of skewed perspective. What are you some kind of robot journalist? :) Maybe you were trying for just being objective about the game itself? Just wanting to see a "good" match between players and feeling gratified when the best player for the day wins. Noble but seems mechanical and unrealistic. I guess that's why one shouldn't discount the fans of an activity, thinking their vision is limited or too biased. Afterall, look at how many Fed fans understood what you have only just now discovered about their guy.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 02/11/2010 at 01:53 AM

"The fueds between their camps swamp everything else on this website. You might begin a discussion talking about Don Budge’s hair or Frew McMillan's hat, and when you come back 10 minutes later it’s all Roger and Rafa."

LOL LOL LOL, so true.

*back up to finish reading post*

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 02/11/2010 at 01:56 AM

"Federer’s tactical genius in this match was really a genius for courage under pressure, for recognizing and seizing moments, for ignoring his nerves and focusing clearly."

Love this line too.

Posted by remain anonymous 02/11/2010 at 02:14 AM

Touch a nerve did they?? Insecurities becoming more apparent??? It's not about being biased, it's about being a man.

If you lean a certain way oown up up to it, and don't try and hide behind objectivity. Real reckognizes real, and anyone that's real will se right through it. Take heed.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 02/11/2010 at 02:23 AM

I don't know if anyone can really be objective. For me, the most sensible thing to do is to acknowledge where I'm coming from - and then try to keep an open mind and to be fair, and to check myself on this continually.

In terms of actual insight into players - I suppose it's kind of like reading poetry with a religious theme, in a way - for the moments of reading, in order to understand what you're reading as fully as possible, it's worth thinking one's way into becoming a Christian (or whatever religion is in the poem).

Also, for me, every player is unique - and they all have something in their games and/or characters to be a fan of.

Posted by noleisthebest 02/11/2010 at 04:37 AM

Here's something to ruffle your feathers: NOLE IS THE BEST AND HE DOESN'T FEAR YOUR MAN!

Posted by Trish Pham 02/11/2010 at 04:55 AM

I still just like Rafa. I pray for Rafa back.

Posted by noa 02/11/2010 at 06:55 AM

great post Steve, one of your best.

as a Fed fan i fail to understand how there are still tennis fans who dislike TMF - i mean forget his personality and his many trophies - his tennis, his T E N N I S is DIVINE !!!

how come it took you like 8 years to see that?? i didnt even like tennis that much till i saw the man play... he made me a fan of him, but also a fan of this fantastic sport.

Posted by fedfan 02/11/2010 at 07:55 AM

Thank you from a 'Fed fan' for this insightful post.

Posted by jopa 02/11/2010 at 09:19 AM

Wow, a lot of Pete bashing. I think rabid posters need to take a hard look at themselves and temper their outlashing. Pete's angles incite because he touches upon the sensitive areas, whether you agree or disagree with him. Apparently, being a polarizing writer means he's doing something right because he's held a large audience's attention for a long time.

Posted by Master Ace 02/11/2010 at 09:32 AM

Unfortunately, most of the tennis world look at the WTA in a negative light even on some WTA boards.
When Ana was winning pre French Open 2008, her forehand was a lethal weapon and her serve was adequate but I believe that when she lost to Lindsay at Key Biscayne earlier after she won Indian Wells, Lindsay hit most of her balls to Ana's backhand which was/is a liability. After winning the French, I believe most players started to target that backhand which may have led to her losing confidence and also after that, her thumb was an issue to the point where she had to skip the Olympics. In the end, Ana needs a dedicated coach and she needs to refocus on her tennis especially she has a lifetime contract with adidas and did the SI swimsuit(my favorite was her and the pink balls).

Posted by MikeDC 02/11/2010 at 09:43 AM

Very nice post to read. Does a great job of putting "fan" vs "admiration" in perspective. It's just plain silly for a writer to act as if they are totally objective, just as it's nonsense to expect a writer not to be fans at the same time.

I'm curious do you ever catch yourself "feeling" like writing about something ("Nadal Rules!") and then wondering if being a fan is biasing your observations? I can imagine there might be a tendency to overcompensate if anything.

Regardless, you seem to toe the line well... I would have guessed you were a Nole "fan" if anything to be honest... so you got me.

Posted by Master Ace 02/11/2010 at 09:49 AM

Part 2 of the WTA response.

I agree that the ATP does have more depth but when it comes to Slams, some leading contenders have mental lapses(this word is used by many posters on WTA players) at crucial times(ie - Nikolay chance to get a set and a double break lead but hit OH in the net, Novak known to have issues especially with the heat, Andy M not changing tactics against Roger). WTA depth has been there as illustrated in your post but it do not get the proper respect as the ATP depth does despite Rafael winning 6 Slams and Roger 12 at that time.

2005 starting with the French - Henin, V Williams, Clijsters(Rafael, Roger, Roger)
2006: Mauresmo, Henin, Mauresmo, Sharapova(Roger, Rafael, Roger, Roger)
2007: S Williams, Henin, V Williams, Henin(Roger, Rafael, Roger, Roger)
2008: Sharapova, Ivanovic, V Williams, S Williams(Novak, Rafael, Rafael, Roger)
2009: S Williams, Kuznetsova, S Williams, Clijsters(Rafael, Roger, Roger, Juan Martin)
2010: S Williams(Roger)

I only came with 8 instead of 9(feel free to correct me) but I got your point on the depth. When Justine had that year in 2007 when she won over 90% of her matches, she only lost to Lucie(first tournament that year in Paris after missing AO due to her getting a divorce), Serena(Miami - bageled Serena in first set and had match points but could not finish), Svetlana(Berlin - rain for that week and Warsaw plagued both tournaments where Justine won her title on Monday in Warsaw and in Berlin, she had to play 2 matches in one day once or twice in Berlin), Marion(very disappointing loss at Wimbledon where I feel she may have defeated Venus that year). After that loss, she won her last 25 matches to end the year capped off by that thrilling 3 set final against Maria(she eventually got it to 32 until Maria won at AO)

Posted by Master Ace 02/11/2010 at 09:52 AM

Final part of the WTA response:

Agree with Victoria temperment especially after Serena stepped up her level winning 13 out of the last 17 games by hitting clean winners. Now, will she be able to keep it up in Dubai next week. Jelena showed some promise in Fed Cup last week but Ana confidence hit an all time low as she lost all 3 matches that she took part of. Ana w/d from Dubai due to her shoulder but I wonder if some of that is confidence issues.

Posted by Master Ace 02/11/2010 at 09:54 AM

If I recall on Justine loss to Marion, I believe that match was moved to Centre 'cuz Andy R and Richard played a long 5 set QF match where Richard rallied from 2 sets down to win as he had 93 winners.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 02/11/2010 at 09:59 AM

Nice read, Steve. And the symmetry of the piece was not lost on me: the self-doubts of a tennis writer/analyst mirroring the self-doubts of the tennis champion. Good on ya, mite!

But I have to admit that judging by the "teaser" link on the homepage ("The best tennis analysts might not be intrepid reporters, but dedicated fans."), I expected this post to be peppered with some of the more astute observations and analyses of your and Bodo's readers. Nonetheless, your failing to deliver on that phantom promise did not in the least detract from the piece or from my pleasure in reading it. LOL

Coincidentally, as I watched this year's AO unfold, I thought of Federer's record of achievements, especially the then-22 straight semifinal appearances in the majors, as having as much to do with his maintaining a high level of fitness (read, availability or viability) as it does his prodigious talents. Topping that, I thought, is his ability to rise above the demons of doubt and fear that plague all sportsmen. With no desire to take this to the Fedal level, I do think that one sign of the Truly Greats is their ability to regularly combat and defeat those demons, both on a daily basis and in the biggest moments. There are many a great Athlete who cannot stomach that battle. And there are an equal number who can stomach it only when they are feeling especially good about the state of their game. Very very few can enter that ring with fear and doubt in their heads yet summon th ecourage that is in their hearts to embrace the battle.

Perhaps, in the end, a tennis player is more like a toreador than a prize fighter.

Posted by Cloud13 02/11/2010 at 11:21 AM

For fans (even Rafa fans), the debate is finally over: Federer is the best ever:

Posted by andrea 02/11/2010 at 12:00 PM

it is a shame for the other hundreds of tennis players who toil out there day after day, with nary an interest shown in them. murray, novak and del potro have gotten some face time and a handful of others here and there but this posting section never lights up with multiple posts over a debate about tsonga or cilic.

it is a bizarre thing indeed. who will we start obsessing over once fed and nadal are out of the picture?

Posted by TennisMessiah 02/11/2010 at 12:22 PM

Rafa & Roger = OWNAGE
When Rafa's not around I root for Fed
When Fed's not around I root for Rafa
When they meet in finals I root for Rafa
(Fed has everything) =)
They are both GOATs IMO..Fed just has more slams..
and Rafa's got the h2h..beating Fed to win all of his
slams =)

Posted by phil 02/11/2010 at 02:16 PM

The aus. open was never in dought Fed won the first two sets easily,he was never in trouble.After winning the first two sets,,the match was history,,No player has ever come from two sets down and won the match in the history of the open.With that in mind,,I didn't watch the third set. From a gamblers standpoint,,Betting murry would have been suicide.

Posted by Madhatter 02/11/2010 at 03:34 PM

Well, Steve, better late than never. Welcome to Federer fandom. What is it now? 600+?Guess, you just have to rewatch 599 or so. You'll see from fresh eyes what has lit up most of the tennis world this past decade. Nothing is more gratifying than being a fan of this man's tennis.

My suggestion is start with FO09. His most hard fought slam win and ultimately, most satisfying so far. You will notice from first match to the 7th, every single one of his opponents gave him trouble. He fought and clawed through each win. When his opponents smiled at the conclusion of each match, it was because they knew they had given their all and was beaten fair & square. Just as Nadal is cordial towards Fed when Roger beats him once in a while (see Madrid 09). Hopefully, you will end this cockamemie that Fed's opponents fold or choke and give the match to him. Just a disgrace for an astute writer like you.

So, yay for Fed kinship! Good way to start a new decade.

Posted by Syd 02/11/2010 at 03:46 PM

Steve, so you admit it, your human and have your preferences! yikes.

BTW, you don't have to make yourself into a fan of everyone you watch. :) You just have to report on your chosen subject which happens to be tennis—on matches that are deemed worthy to see "print," by you, or by whatever pressures are brought to bear. As erm, it's your job?

Pete, I believe, has identified himself as an Opinion Columnist - at least in his capacity on this blog site as well as ESPN, and therefore not obliged to tow the "fair and objective" anchor. Sort of the Russ Limbaugh of the tennis boards. Just kiddin'!! sort of.

Posted by AA 02/11/2010 at 04:30 PM

At least the man is honest. But I had to hiss when you declared that Roger's emotions finally made sense to you. I mean, he's human!!!! Everyone of those players have nerves. Some express it differently from what you may be familiar with. Personally I don't care about Nadal( but can still recognize that he too has nerves on occasion. And what's up with insinuating that he is an 'underdog'?). Yes he won is slams by beating Roger but he blew out his knees doing so and Roger's still flying high.And strictly speaking I am not a 'fan' (hate that word) of tennis but I will watch anytime Roger's on. Why? because he plays tennis like a genius.

Posted by Andrew 02/11/2010 at 05:06 PM

I have to confess, I scratch my head a lot at some of the comments in the last three pages.

I think Steve has always been pretty clear on Concrete Elbow which players he was most personally drawn to - wasn't there a picture of Nadal on the old version of the blog?

This isn't some kind of scene like "The Godfather's" baptism sequence - Steve as Michael Corleone is asked by a priest "do you renounce Nadal and all his works?" and Steve says "I do renounce them."

Nor is it the case that Steve's saying "OMG! Roger Federer has emotions! Who knew! I guess that does make him a great player after all, whereas I, a mere tennis journalist, just thought he showed up and got lucky!"

Jiminy Cricket, you post a literate and nuanced piece of writing, and 90% of your commentators write "See! You just admitted you're a moron!" Sometimes a fellow can't win.

I don't expect Steve to change allegiances or see any reason why he should. I just like the idea that temporarily emotionally identifying with a player or team not only changes the impact of what you see at an emotional level, but also changes the information that you process during a match.

Posted by Madhatter 02/11/2010 at 05:40 PM


Who said anything about changing allegiances? Check Steve's last line: "How do I make myself into a fan of everyone I watch?"

You're one of my favorites posters and pretty humorous yourself. But where is that light heartedness here?

When posters take him to task for his admitted "bias", it is because he wrote articles about Federer in the past that was uncalled for. (see FO 09 "coronation" piece)

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 02/11/2010 at 05:59 PM

Just for once, I would like to see people disagreeing with an article on its merits or lack of them, rather than casting aspersions on journalistic ability, lack of preparedness, character, perceived bias or whatever.

Surely it's possible to think someone is wrong without also coming to the conclusion that they're a disgrace to journalism and/or humanity?

although I might *possibly* be feeling a little jaded from reading what feels like 12 billion posts of the "disgrace!!!" variety on other threads. :)

I think too, admitting to some form of bias - for example, being more drawn to one player than another - doesn't necessarily make everything you say about other players wrong, or unfair.

Posted by Ozone 02/11/2010 at 06:36 PM

jopa wrote:

Wow, a lot of Pete bashing. I think rabid posters need to take a hard look at themselves and temper their outlashing. Pete's angles incite because he touches upon the sensitive areas, whether you agree or disagree with him. Apparently, being a polarizing writer means he's doing something right because he's held a large audience's attention for a long time.

I have always said this, that not everything that Bodo does is bad. He has had wonderful posts. And given the status of Tennis, he is an asset overall, IMO.

But, that said, the "reality shows" are the most popular in cable television - why? because of their quality? They just get your adrenalin flowing one way or the other. I guess the word is "Sensationalism". Akin to National Enquirer articles.

I guess it boils down to "insightful" vs "inciteful" as another poster wrote. You can write on a sensitive topic and be the former than later. You may not get a large crowd to your site, only insightful folks. That is the cost of doing business and a choice one has to make.

Posted by Andrew 02/11/2010 at 06:53 PM

Madhatter: well, thanks for the kind words. I hope the Michael Corleone reference was fairly light hearted.

But if my overall tone is a bit peevish, it's from wading through what feel like hundreds of "Bodo - no, Bozo!!!!!!! - you're an idiot and disgrace to your so-called profession" slams on the currently active Fedal war thread on TW, then getting the same feeling jewell references above - that many posts seem to take the tack "oh wow, it took you this long to realize what a genius and TRUE CHAMPION Roger is, etc, etc, rinse and repeat."

Posted by fed.sampras.mac.borg.edberg.becker 02/11/2010 at 08:19 PM

Yes, fans see the game better because they feel the game more.
And yes Steve, you’ve got a big problem: you are missing out on something special... the most amazing part of the journey!

(AR, I love you)

Posted by ka 02/11/2010 at 08:28 PM

hi. it's funny i just started a blog about this and that. tennis is one of the thises and thats.and the day before you posted this i wrote an entry about biased sports coverage in the msm media being painted as objective journalism. espn is horrible. and you guys here have been pretty bad too. unlike the local sports journalist who gets to be a fan in about local sporting event they write, you guys don't get that luxury, but you still do it. i wrote that the best tennis blog out there is why? because gaulouises who posts there, even though she is an unrepentent fan is so knowledgeable about tennis, and her biases are really fun! i think you guys could learn something from her.

Posted by Vishal 02/11/2010 at 10:59 PM

Dear Steve,
Superb Writing ....... HONEST, SIMPLE & full of AWARENESS.
I am sure many can relate.
I cherish this post as amongst the best by Pete and You.

Posted by Ubertennisfan 02/11/2010 at 11:04 PM

Haha you can't write an article like this without sparking Fed/Nadal discussion, that's for sure. You would have had to omit all references to the two to even come close to keeping it on the original topic.

So without further do:

I've not thought Fed was mentally invincible against a tough opponent. He's never managed to crack Nadal in the FO and got progressively worse results against him there. He had lost other HC matches to Nadal before the AO loss. Just before his weak period, he went thru a very grumbly phase (Aussie commentators said they'd not seen him so "guttural" before... making odd grumble noises to himself... after this, I feel he turned the frustration outward a bit and started making more fusses with the officials than I'd seen before. I hear when v. young he was bad tempered but I haven't watched him during that period)

During/after his bad period, I don't think he had as much confidence as before, showing significant amounts of frustration at times. He's now recovered his confidence but I think knowing he can go down to people like Murray and Del Po means he will have concern and sometimes worry and frustration. But the worry will not be a 'fundamental' worry as much as before he took #15 and FO. It's a minor worry about winning the match/tourn... "life will still go on" even if he loses. It won't be so much of the "It's killing me" type of stress if he loses, because he's now achieved almost unanimous recognition as the GOAT, completed the career grand slam, passed the great Samp by 2 (and counting)... and has the most incredible record of SF and F appearances in GS tourns that may never be surpassed.

There is in fact only ONE thing that Fed can do now that can add to his achievements in everyone's mind including his. That is, to get BETTER to the point of beating a FIT, in-form Nadal on all 3 surfaces (but even one, especially if Clay, would probably be enough). Oddly, my sense is that Fed doesn't really care about this one. He's satisfied with his achievements and is big/mature enough to be somewhat comfortable knowing there was one guy out there who was his Kryptonite as well as being the "ultimate clay" player. I think that speaks to the mutual respect they have for each other. I've always been impressed with Nadal's humility (I know he has aggressive on-court persona - it's like a fighting animal is unleashed from within a "nice guy" normally - but I think overall he is a seriously good fellow).

FWIW I'm also a huge Nadal fan and Fed admirer. I generally go for the underdog so I'm not normally cheering the Fed... but watching him play is amazing.

Posted by BlueDog 02/11/2010 at 11:36 PM

Great and insightful post Steve. I admire that you have a thick enough skin to keep posting such heartfelt and personal viewpoints, even knowing that the inevitable flames will occur.

I especially like your reminisces about growing up, and what the local tennis scenes were like for you. Keep up the great work.

Posted by tennis dress 02/11/2010 at 11:39 PM

I like to compare Federer and Nadal to Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Federer is definitely the Ernie Els of the tennis world. Both Ernie and Roger have very fluid, smooth, and effortless styles. They are so graceful but also deliver such power and it looks like it is easy for them and that they don't ever have to try. They just glide about. Then you have Tiger and Nadal who are both power players who aren't afraid to show their emotion. It is visually noticeable that they are swinging as hard as they can and they both deliver. What do you guys prefer? The flamboyant powerful aggressive style or the more passive, fluid, graceful, and sneaky quiet style?

Posted by JOLLY ROGER 02/11/2010 at 11:52 PM

If Roger had Rafa's cajones he'd NEVER lose and tennis would be PERFECT! Also Mirka would smile more.

Posted by Bhai Mirzai 02/12/2010 at 12:04 AM


Nice post, and really I, a huge Federer fan and a big Nadal admirer, have no problem with you being drawn to Nadal more. But ... I do not think the parallel you have between Agassi and Samprass, and Nadal and Federer is a good one. My own impression of Agassi was always that he felt that he had a better game than Samprass but that Samprass beat him because of one huge weapon. So you could see "here we go again look" whenever Samprass hit an ace or a service winner to get out of the jam.

Nadal is different. I think he always competes hard -- very hard. And he just tries to improve. And Federer, similar to Samprass, but even to a greater degree, feels that he is better. And I think that after he lost AO last year, he just felt that he lost that feeling of being the best (Rafa was clearly the best at that time).

It is a very diffent dynamics in my opinion. And now Federer seems to be back with a lot of confidence (agree here with Bodo). And apparently the only one who could dent it is Nadal. I do not think Federer is concerned about Davydenko, or for that matter Murray or Djokovic. They have not been able to dominate him in slams. But Nadal has as he has 6 - 2 record in slams against Federer (Of course 4 of those on clay where Nadal may be the GOAT).

I am waiting for next slam match between the two. It will be interesting.

Posted by Ubertennisfan 02/12/2010 at 12:09 AM

I should also mention I was impressed and entertained by this article Steve, really good work. You are informed, balanced, insightful.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 02/12/2010 at 01:23 AM

Thanks Steve.

Well I always find your posts "objective" to say the least.I am a Rafa fan though I admire Roger and the wonderful contribution to the tennis world he has brought thus far.I also admire a lot of other players for their individual skills as well.

Hey Steve you are only "human" and are entittled to your personal views.Though as a "sports journalist" I have always found you to be fair.

ps. Though keep going with the Rafa fan thingy he needs it especially at this present time lol!

Posted by ringworm 02/12/2010 at 02:33 AM

Fed-Nad = Graf-Seles

Posted by remain anonymous 02/12/2010 at 02:48 AM

I guess it's true, there is a sucker born every minute.

Stop with this. "I'm a fan of Rafa, but I admire Roger". Please, don't urinate on me and tell me it's raining!!! Steve, your favourite player in the game today is Federer, period. No if's and's or but's. He's probably your fave player of all time. Nothing wrong with that.

Own up to it. Refrain from writing smokescreens like this to hide behind. Well then maybe you shoud, cuz look how many went for it. It's true... there's one born every minute!!

Posted by yello fuzzy 02/12/2010 at 04:30 AM

I am wrote something about Serena without including something negative

one has to wonder where mens tennis would be today without Rafa and Roger
Roger needs Rafa as much as the game does, lets hope he gets his knee back in fighting shape. with just a handful of guys that can make Roger sweat,Rafa is the one guy that
can stand toe to toe with 'The Federer' and not wilt under the pressure

Posted by federer_legend 02/12/2010 at 04:52 AM

steve ,
i agree with most of what you wrote today , and as a fed fan i can feel his emotions every match , and of course i feel uncertanity about the outcome of his matches,but to be honest i thought that this feeling is because i am not expert .NOW after your post i started to trust my feeling more .
anyway i'd like to add one more thing about analysing teenis from the fan's point of view , when you do that you can't be very fair with the opposition (in your case as a rafa fan you can't be so fair with federer, and for me as fed fan i feel the reverse)
i guess that because when you are a fan of some one yes you can feel his game , his emotions but at the same time you believe in his ability more than any other observer ,in other words you feel his strength more than any one else and vice versa , i mean,i feel like rafa is so much beatable on hard courts (at least not as good as he is considered to be )and fed is a better player even on clay , so that may be because it's the truth or because i hope that this is the truth.

Posted by tina 02/12/2010 at 10:17 AM

*yawn* can we go back to Frew McMillan's hat?

Tennis doesn't have a President.

Posted by The Truth 02/12/2010 at 10:53 AM

I always enjoy reading your posts and once again you didn't disappoint;)Fantastic job Steve!Andrew,your post on 2/11@5:06p.m. was so spot on!AMEN!

Posted by Hadrian Wise 02/12/2010 at 11:24 AM

This is a good piece. It's central point, that being a fan of a player means you identify with them & so understand them better, is important & true.

Posted by Ruth 02/12/2010 at 11:49 AM

There is no doubt that Federer's game has improved and that he has matured as a person over the past 7 or 8 years; but one of the reasons that I have been able to remain a fan of his, in spite of the layers of deification that some of his fans try to pile on him, is that I can still see the younger, sensitive, sometimes nervous/rebellious player with the ugly pony-tailed hair whom I rooted for pre-2003 and who is still very present in the smooth, 16-Slam-winning, professionally hair- and clothing-styled player that we see today.

And as long as I can see that that other guy is still in there, both on the court and off (see the simple pictures of the family taken by Dad for posting in Facebook vs other options, see the USO mini-tirade etc), I will remain a Fed fan.

Posted by Swimming In Sludge 02/12/2010 at 12:17 PM

As a journalist you could be a fan of all players in addition to being a conveyor of facts.

Posted by Swimming In Sludge 02/12/2010 at 12:19 PM

If you want to do a comedy tennis piece, try being a journalist who accurately conveys the relevant facts but who despises the sport of tennis and all the tennis players.

Posted by Swimming In Sludge 02/12/2010 at 12:21 PM

In fact, that's what Tennis Magazine needs. A commentator who hates the sport of Tennis and rants and raves every day about how terrible it is.

Posted by Nam1 02/12/2010 at 01:43 PM

what a difference from the last thread, now that a journalist has praise for Federer, this thread is stuck at 4 pages?? wher are all the Fedfans who were out in force in the last Rafa/Roger thread?

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 02/12/2010 at 02:42 PM

All players change slightly over time.

Nadal, for example, has toned down the dramatic celebrations he used to throw when his opponents missed an easy shot. Basically, as he went from a teenager with incredible talent to a multiple slam winner and finally to the number one ranked player in the world, it just became too unseemly to celebrate bricked shots by his opponent.

I took some heat on the boards years ago for pointing this out, and not just as to Nadal, but to most modern players, but I defy anyone to tell me that Nadal has not changed his demeanor in this area.

I don't think this is something that Steve has just noticed, I think it is clear that Federer is moving a bit in the other direction. A couple of years ago he held everything in. I have often said that Federer's great shots mask how much of a great defensive player and competitor he can be, but it is only recently, say, the past 18 months or so, that I begain to see Federer routinely throw a "c'mon" out there when his opponent missed a shot after Federer made some incredible gets.

Players are simply not the same at 19 as they are at 27. It may only be an 8 year time span, but in the life of a professional player its a long time.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 02/12/2010 at 02:48 PM

I should also say that I do not think that when you watch professional tennis, of either gender, that there is a "real person" underneath the tennis player you see.

What you see is exactly what someone is like -- you get insights into their character and feelings that is really displayed more obviously (to me, anyway) than any other sport.

Federer did not amass the record he has so far because he is fundamentally an emotional wreck (and if only he plays long enough we will all see the "true" him), he's fundamentally a very controlled person, who, whenever he no doubt gets upset, has the ability to get back on focus within seconds (not minutes).

For example, I would be shocked to learn in a few years that he became the type of father who yells at his kids. He might well be the type of father who is more distant and controlled tham some, but when he gets a bottle of formula spilled on him I doubt he flings it at the nearest wall.

Posted by FoT 02/12/2010 at 03:31 PM

I thought it was a pretty good article Steve.

I guess since I've been a fan of Roger's since 1999, I do see the emotions (more out-of-control emotions in his early career; and more 'contained emotions' now). But emotions - nevertheless.

Remember when they interviewed Roger on court after he beat Murray at the US Open? Roger said something like "I was getting sweaty hands and upset stomach all night before the match, and I was suppose to be the one with the experience"). So I do know these matches takes a lot out of Roger, yet - most of the time - he comes through.

Actually, in this 'later stage' of his career - he had been showing a lot of emotion on court (remember the 5-set match at the US Open or the 5-set match against Berdych at the AO, etc.?). Look at the emotion he showed at the US Open against Del Po. Personally, I like it when Roger 'seems' calm on court instead of 'losing it' because most of the time that means he's winning. I noticed during the AO final, Roger was almost all business on court against Murray. There were no 'Come Ons', but there were small things that I did notice. When Murray threw his racket down, Roger game him a long stare. If you're a fan of Roger (and I mean a real fan) - it's not hard to see the emotions during a match. I couldn't understand when people said they didn't like Roger because he was too robotic. I said "Roger?" nooooo... You had to look but when he hit a great shot, the fist pump with the 'racket' was there; or he would look into the stands at Mirka and give a nod with the racket, little things like that. Lately, he's been really showing a lot more emotion on court (French Open, etc.) because he's had more of a struggle winning.

I mean, I could go on and on about Roger because I love watching him and talking about him so much...but you did a pretty good job in this article. Keep up the good work.

Posted by FoT 02/12/2010 at 03:36 PM

Dunlop - great post. Also, I have heard Mirka said that she has never met a person more "positive" and 'happy' than Roger. She said he always looks for the 'good' in life or something like that. She said he is just a 'positive' person in life and Mary Jo said those kids have more love given to them than she's ever seen by Roger and Mirka. She said "those have to be the 2 most loved children I've ever seen" or something like that when she was in the commantary booth. Sure, he probably have bad qualities - but I'm sure it's good to be Roger Federer these days.

Posted by ho hum 02/12/2010 at 05:01 PM

"Please, don't urinate on me and tell me it's raining!!!"

remain anonymous - such paranoid ramblings only serve to persuade people that if it's raining, you can be relied on to rant that someone must be urinating on you!

Posted by remain anonymous 02/12/2010 at 06:35 PM

ho hum....

Thanks for further validating the statement there's a sucker born every minute. I appreciate it.

Posted by Bizquick 02/13/2010 at 02:38 AM

Darry Down Pip Pip.. Dilly Dilly Doo... Hey Nanny Nanny.... Rippety Pippety Poo.

Posted by JOLLY ROGER 02/13/2010 at 12:36 PM

To Ring Worm......Federer/Nadal = Graf/ true! Let's hope Mirka isn't into knives!

Posted by The Fan Child 02/16/2010 at 11:51 AM

I have often pondered - as a member of the loudmouth blogosphere - whether it is better to be a fan or remain nuetral. I'll always try to write nuetral (at least be careful to TRY not to offend anyone), but I'll always allow myself to be moved by what I love, admire, respect, about the tennis.

I've never had a problem admitting that I love everybody on tour - that's because I play tennis so often and each and every time I step off the court I think to myself the following thought: How the heck do these guys get to the level that they play at?

I know it's a process. I know it takes the kind of time I don't have. I know it becomes simpler when you're on the court for 5 hours a day for the first 20 years of your life - but there are many who fulfill the the time requirements and still end up nowhwere. The fact that everybody on tour had ascended to the Grand-Slam level - beyond the colleges, beyond the challengers, etc. - completely endears them all to me. they've made it, and whether they've lost there lost 15 matches, or have won 16 Grand-Slam titles, there is simply no way I can bring myself to condescend, belittle, or slander any of them.

And I think you make a great point about all of this watching and writing, Steve. Every player offers something amazing. Take a look at the much maligned Tomas Berdych - a player that people love to rip. He may not show you how to eek out tight matches, and his gut quotient may leave a little to be desired (relatively speaking of course, but remember we are talking about an unfathomably high level of tennis here), but if you want to learn how to take control of points with flat laser-like ground strokes, then you should pay attention to him when he is playing well. And contrary to what most people think, he plays pretty damn well pretty damn often.

Most of us love to play the game as well as watch it - so why not learn something from all the players on tour? Be a fan, be nuetral, be a journalist - be whatever the heck you like, because we live in the day and age where you can have your cake and eat it to.

Posted by joger 02/16/2010 at 05:04 PM

Though it's hard to believe, but Steve I just came here to read your columns as usual but with one intention too. Actually a question, when will you ever acknowledge Roger Federer as a true champion? And then by trying to find one of your texts where that question would have made sense to be posted I read this one that i omitted somehow a few days ago. I always thought you are the right man in the right position with a perfectly suitable job for him. But now I now that you are not only a good writer but a respectable tennis expert too. I wish you all the luck in your career.

George from Serbia

Posted by PB 02/16/2010 at 05:17 PM

Nice article. I'm a Fed fan and a Rafa admirer so I totally get your point.

The difference between you and Bodo is that you always write objectively ( I would never have guessed that you're a Nadal fan). Bodo on the other hand is always reluctant to give Fed his due.

Fed and Nadal are both wonderful players with contrasting styles, why can't Bodo just leave it at that instead of constantly bashing Federer. It's so juvenile esp. since it comes from an "expert."

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