Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Madrid Memos
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Madrid Memos 05/14/2010 - 4:26 PM

Rf It’s one of the busier weeks of the tennis season, and I’ve been derelict in my blogging duties—my apologies. The players in Madrid have been running and swinging in a little red square in the corner of my computer screen, but I’ve had a hard time focusing on them or getting my head around their matches long enough to ascertain exactly how they’re doing. As you know if you’ve been over to Pete’s blog and seen our fabulous mock Tennis Magazine cover, our editor and friend James Martin is leaving to cover soccer at, at the same time that we’ve been wrapping up an issue of the magazine. In short, it’s been chaotic. It’s also been tough for me to lose a co-worker with whom I’ve spent 40 hours a week for the last 12 years. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do here when I can’t walk away from this keyboard and talk to James about the glorious histrionics of Novak Djokovic or the relative merits of the New Pornographers’ discography. I do know there will be, as there always is when you cease to see any friend as often you once did, expressions, phrases, jokes, ways of talking that I’ve used with James over the years that I won’t use again any time soon. Your personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around. At our going-away party for James, a former fact-checker for the magazine showed up. I hadn’t seen him for five years, but somehow, within a few minutes, I found myself making a joke in a certain way, with a certain tone in my voice, that I knew only he would find funny in the particular way I meant it to be funny. When he did, it was like we’d been talking every day. It will be like that, I’m sure, when I see James again, but until then, I’ll have to leave 12 years of elaborately honed inside jokes—the kind of jokes that can get you through 40 hours a week at a keyboard—behind.

So, anyway, along with all of that there has been a tennis tournament happening. Since, as I said, my attention has been at more of a remove than normal, I won’t attempt a sweeping summation of the event, or even try to tease out one specific idea into a lengthy treatise. It’s time for the sportswriter’s life raft of choice, the notebook.

—As I write this, Roger Federer has just yelled and scratched and clawed and fist-pumped and finessed his way to three-set win over Ernests Gulbis. Federer said after their last match, the Roman Ruin, that he might have to win “ugly” if he wanted to scrape his way back into form over the clay season. While this hasn’t been an ugly match by any means, Federer has been up and down, alternating between well-constructed first-strike rallies, deceptive touch shots, and wild forehand misses. For much of it, both guys went toe-to-toe and accepted the errors that came with the big swings. This was a game that worked to Gulbis' advantage, but over the last two sets Federer maneuvered him away from it and was able to employ a wider variety of weapons.

From Federer’s perspective the match reminded me of those that Nadal played in Doha at the start of the year. Like Federer, Nadal was mired in a fairly sustained slump at that point, and he had obviously decided that the only way out was to fight his way out—pretty, ugly, A-game, C-game, down a set and a break, it didn’t matter. For both guys, it was time to do some winning. Nadal didn’t go all the way in Doha, but he did set the stage for a return to form a couple of months later. And like Federer, he showed that the price of excellence, aside from the world-class talent and genetics and thick calves and all of that, is both eternal vigilance and a sense of when to make your stand. Wouldn’t it be nice if their co-returns to form led them to a final-round showdown on Sunday?

—I attended this tournament last year, but with the multiple feeds on TennisTV I feel almost as connected to it from my desk as I did when I was inside the Magic Box. I know that sounds like a shamelessly disguised plug for the site, but it isn’t; I really mean it—and besides, it's not necessarily a good thing. The second and third courts are just as sterile and depressingly echoey on TV as they are in person. It’s too early to say whether this venue’s design—or overdesign—was a success or not, and the center court has the blend of spaciousness and intimacy that you only get on secondary courts, like Suzanne Lenglen or the Grandstand, at the majors. But thus far I’d say the emphasis is on the "Box" rather than the "Magic." Three retractable roofs sounds great in theory, but to do that it was necessary, or the designer felt that it was necessary, to seal each court off from the world behind high walls and half-coverings. Unlike most tournament sites, when you walk around the Box, you can’t hear anything that’s happening on these two courts. The upshot is that, what should be a sun-filled outdoor spring event has been filled with some of the airless gloom that permeates most indoor tournaments. It’s interesting that, of the three clay Masters, the one that with the most atmosphere and fan appeal, at least from a television viewer’s perspective, is the one that has changed the least, Monte Carlo.

—Just who is this guy named Nicolas Almagro that we’ve been watching this week? Who is this guy laying it on the line, playing forcefully, reaching his first Masters semifinal (without losing a set), and celebrating with the kind of uncorked passion that we usually see only from Nadal? What did he do with the Almagro who swings for winners when winners aren’t there, who loves his strokes too much to temper them? Whoever he is, I’ve been waiting to see him for six years. Now the question is: Can this Nicolas Almagro remain as passionate against his fellow Spaniard and friend Nadal? Or will Rafa stick a cork in him?

 —Speaking of Nadal, let me isolate one moment, what I would say was the most telling moment, from his match against Monfils on Friday. Nadal was up 2-1 in the first; the early points and games had been long, but on the previous two rallies Nadal had missed badly, and Monfils led 40-15. Nadal reached 30-40, and then watched as Monfils floated a routine ground stroke long. As it landed, Nadal did a little jump and fist-pump combination. This is the kind of reaction most players save for when they’ve broken. Most of us don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, or even jinx ourselves, by celebrating the chance merely to get to deuce on our opponent’s serve. But Nadal wasn’t celebrating; he was generating emotional momentum. It worked: He broke and won the next three games for the set.

—Is the drop shot evolving? We see it on clay more than any other surface, but what’s struck me most this spring is not how often the players are using it but how well they’re hitting it. They seem to have gotten better as a whole just over the past month, to the point where the men rarely seem to miss it (of course, maybe I think this because Djokovic, who misses his share of ill-conceived drops, hasn’t been in Madrid). They hit them with freedom and nonchalance, from either wing, from anywhere and to anywhere. In this sense, the clay game is the most three-dimensional of any surface right now. But the most remarkable drop shot is owned by a woman, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Her abbreviated downward slash makes it look so easy I almost believe I can do it myself. There are limits, though, to what we can learn from the pros. It will be a while before the drop shot evolves for the rest of us.

—Hernan Gumy: the most intriguing new—or, at least new to the limelight—figure in tennis? What is he thinking?


Have a good weekend.



Posted by Ray T. 05/14/2010 at 04:52 PM

Good to see Almagro finally doing well on clay ! Another one who has not fulfilled his true potential as of yet...

Posted by loreley 05/14/2010 at 04:53 PM

Good writing.

Posted by MJ 05/14/2010 at 04:56 PM


Posted by Ty 05/14/2010 at 05:08 PM

Exactly, Nadal celebrating when his opponent makes an unforced error, it is so Henin like. That is why I do not like Nadal. Imagine if I was playing in my USTA Leaugue and I started jumping up and down when my opponent made an error, ridiculous.

Posted by april 05/14/2010 at 05:25 PM

great piece Steve and I know what you mean about your personality around different people!

Rafa played really well today...he kept his concentration and you could see him starting to move through the gears heading towards his best! After the Federer Gulbis match I think its going to be a Fedal final (YAY!) Good to see the other top players starting to hit their stride on the clay :)

Posted by april 05/14/2010 at 05:28 PM

And Ty most of the players fist pump when their opponent makes a mistake! I can count on one hand the players that don't and Federer, Serena, Jankovic Ivanovic are not on that list!

Posted by rgrace 05/14/2010 at 05:30 PM

First? Maybe?

Glad to see Fed get over the hump there.

Posted by rgrace 05/14/2010 at 05:33 PM

OK, I spent too much time reading the article. But that was a big win for the Fedmeister. This is a big tournament for everybody, but esp. for him. That said, the place sounds depressing. How, with a crummy venue, does Madrid get all the traffic? (Don't bother, I know the answer is obvious.) The way the Eurozone is going right now, and particularly Spain, in the financial markets, this might be the last year for big-time clay-court tennis in Spain. (and Portugal. And Italy... And...?)

Posted by TennisFan2 05/14/2010 at 05:33 PM

Nice write up for your colleague at the top - Steve.

I loved this line: "Your personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around."

Ever more so when it brings out the best in you, no? ;-)

Hoping Rafa breaks the MS record on Sunday in front of the Spanish crowd - what an accomplishment that would be!! If nothing else, the "Magic Box" would forever lay claim to hosting that record brekaing event.

Also cheering for Venus take the title in Madrid!!

Posted by TennisFan2 05/14/2010 at 05:35 PM

-2sp oops: record "breaking" event.

Posted by Russ 05/14/2010 at 05:35 PM

Doesn't everyone celebrate his/her opponents' unforced errors these days? I think nothing of it anymore.

Posted by zolarafa 05/14/2010 at 05:38 PM

At least Rafa does not belittle his opponents the way Federer does. The guy is a master in insulting his fellow opponents. Just last week he said clay is too easy. You just need legs!

when delPotro lost to him in AO 2009, he said, " I wanted to put him out of his misery"...

and many more.

Rafa fist pumps to his own block. He pumps up himself. He doesn't put down his opponent.

Posted by Rebecca 05/14/2010 at 05:40 PM

@ Ty - I think you completely missed the point. It's not the immediately preceding error that is being celebrated, it's the moment. Tennis is all about generating those brief moments of opportunity which determine the final win or lose. You can be playing great an entire set, but all it takes is one converted BP to lose all the work you put into that set. If you're at 30-15 and your opponent makes an UFE which you celebrate, then yes, of course it is ridiculous. But celebrating all the work that was done to create an opportunity can certainly help build the momentum needed to capitalize on the opportunity.

Posted by zolarafa 05/14/2010 at 05:42 PM

Gulbis just threw that match out of the window.

That should give him some perspective on what he needs to do. No matter how good he feels he is, he needs to be consistent and disciplined. That is what separats the top guys and most of all Rafa and Federer from the rest. They know they are good, but they do not stop. They want to improve.

Posted by Rebecca 05/14/2010 at 05:50 PM

On the topic of celebrating your opponent's UFEs in general: in terms of the psychological aspect, you could say that no UFE is really unforced or an error, it's just a matter of a better player against a worse player. We're predisposed to like action and winners, but a point won is a point won, whether it's because there was a gorgeous winner or because your opponent simply isn't playing well enough. In order to win, most people need a mixture of belief and delusion - belief in your own abilities, denial of another's ability to outplay you. Celebrating a critical UFE is just the affirmation that that denial is justified.

And put another way: if you and one other person are in a lottery where there are only two tickets, and your ticket was chosen, meaning you won the 1 million (therefore the other person "loses" the 1 million) is there something wrong about celebrating?

Posted by fedfan 05/14/2010 at 06:21 PM

Commiserations to you and Pete on your loss of friend and colleague, James Martin.

Posted by fedfan 05/14/2010 at 06:29 PM

Tennis fan 2. I'm cheering for Venus as well. When Steve picked her to get to the final, I thought he was joking, but there she is in the semis. I think she's a great player and love her wry, low-key personality.

Posted by Precious 05/14/2010 at 06:37 PM

Does that mean you don't believe in Gulbis?

Posted by C Note 05/14/2010 at 07:00 PM

Electric Version > Mass Romantic > Twin Cinema > Together > Challengers.

Your turn, Steve.

Posted by Kombo 05/14/2010 at 07:04 PM

whatever zolarafa, too often I've seen Rafa glare across the next after having a clean winner blasted past him. Fed's no saint, but let's not pretend the time wasting is anything but a momentum-busting tactic, or that he doesn't glare at opponents who dare to outwardly expressive as him, these are athletes we're talking about.

Posted by Bobcat 05/14/2010 at 07:24 PM

Herman Gumy is thinking "Gulbis reminds me of a young Marat"! This kid will win a Grand Slam perhaps a US Open. His serve jumps and he is getting smarter and smarter. Fed out played him today even got him to rush and lose comamnd at the start of a point when it should have been Gulbis' pace. But he is entertaining

Posted by mel 05/14/2010 at 07:35 PM

To TY:
I think you completely lost Steve's point. And you said "Exactly..." Yes, you exactly missed the point. Rafa was celebrating an emotional possible momentum change as Steve put it; an opportunity to turn the tide in his favor. Those who follow Rafa know how he fights for each point and celebrates key points in all his matches. This is his way of pumping himself up and in no way meant to disrespect his opponent. Unlike Federer who always denigrates his opponents when he is upset. If clay is easy as he puts it, he should have won the French so may times before.
Did you watch the AO 2009 finals? Federer shamelessly cried and robbed Rafa of his celebration. All the time, Rafa looked so uncomfortable and even went as far as to give Federer a comforting hug. What a big baby!And do you know what Rafa always says when he wins a tournament? He always says "Sorry for your loss". Who else says that? Remembering to commisserate with the loser in your moment of glory is a great sign of compassion and empathy which Rafa has loads of, EXACTLY, no?

Posted by zolarafa 05/14/2010 at 08:02 PM

you can think all you want. what Federer says is all over the internet. He F bombs the umpire when he is losing. tosses the bottles and the ball kids have to go collect them. Has no respect for his opponents....But, you are entitled to your opinion!

Posted by zolarafa 05/14/2010 at 08:06 PM

and I am not getting into a fedal fight in here. This is my last post on this topic. I wrote that comment in response to Ty. Both Rafa and Federer are great players. Different attitudes though and I like Rafa's! that's all!

Posted by zolarafa 05/14/2010 at 08:20 PM

—Hernan Gumy: the most intriguing new—or, at least new to the limelight—figure in tennis? What is he thinking?

He is thinking: "I better go find somebody else. The way this kid ( Gulbis) is playing, I will lose my job very soon!"

Posted by stan 05/14/2010 at 08:20 PM

You are so naive mel! Nadal plays a psychological game, intimidating his opponents from the start (from tossing of the coin) with all his antics, and also time wasting (at times over the allowed limit) whenever the opponent is having the momentum. The so called compassion that he so generously showed at the end of the match (in stark contrast with his antics during the match) just emphasized his shrewdness.

Posted by stan 05/14/2010 at 08:26 PM

you are such a coward zolarafa, after belittling Fed and ran away to hide, and you claimed not trying to start a fedal fight!

Posted by frances 05/14/2010 at 08:27 PM

nice post steve -- like the rafa description on the moment!! luv it!!!!!

Posted by ladyjulia 05/14/2010 at 08:29 PM


Your first paragraph explains Rafa's emotional celebrations very well.Its not directed towards the opponent and I agree with you there. Its not about the opponent but what Rafa needs to push himself to win. Its not that he intends it as a disrespect.

The same way, is it possible that Federer does not mean to disrespect the opponent by "shamelessly crying" to steal Rafa's moment, is it possible that he cannot control his emotions after battling a match for 4 and a half hours and losing a GS title to the same guy for the 6th time?

So, if Rafa is not a big baby for needing to Vamossing at an opponent's UFE then how is Roger a big baby for breaking down when told to give a speech after losing a battle, the 5th GS final to the same guy.

Also...Roger may not say "Sorry for your loss" on the microphone in front of 20,000 people but he did go to Roddick's coach and told him that he was sorry there had to be a winner that day at Wimbledon.

Sure, Roger is no saint and is outspoken..but I doubt if he means any disrespect to his opponents. None of them really do. They are professionals and Roger and Rafa's behaviour is worthy of the sport and the sport is better off for it.

Posted by frances 05/14/2010 at 08:33 PM

"you are such a coward zolarafa"

gee Stan - at least zolorafa is mature enough to realize the isssue is going nowhere.. whilst your clearly the immature one.. describing nadal as schrewd... gees intimidation is part of the game ..part of life .. your just acting all confident as we speak and mind you sounding like your mister/miss "know all" because your "super nice super fair super honest super holiest like a saint" just won.. come one now had he lost today you would not be on this site lurking and typing on TW

Posted by frances 05/14/2010 at 08:40 PM


so sorry for the "Shrewdness" comment..

but i just wanted to point out that I'm glad that Federer won today... i think he really needed this win to "up" his game... by playing in every possible way to get out of the slump-- and happy that he did it here-- just ryt on time before the french open.. Just as i have mentioned before on how lots of people were worried about his recent form to NOT worry.. he elivates his game at the right time and right place.

And as for Rafa--soooooo happy that he is playing better and better game by game!!!!keep up the first percentage and break point and save conversion. I like the way how he really create this "happy moments" to give him the momentum and positive feelings.. keep fighting rafa!!!! vamos

Posted by siggy 05/14/2010 at 08:40 PM

Gosh darn it, I peek in here for a sec to see what the gentle posters have to say about our respective faves, and what do I run into... Steve's regulars, I recall as some of the most knowledgeable fans of the sport. What's happened here?!? *slinks back into the cave, none the wiser*

Posted by dn 05/14/2010 at 09:26 PM we go, the hitherto skulking fedlovers are back.... as far as I could tell, Gulbis threw away a match that was his to take...made ridiculous unforced errors and let federer off the hook. Towards the beginning of the match i found myself crossing my fingers for fed to win because i felt a little nervous about the prospect of rafa playing gulbis in the final!! but gulbis reverted to his old ways and fed squeaked through...any calls on ferrer-fed??

Posted by Andy 05/14/2010 at 09:45 PM

I'll second TennisFan2.

"our personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around."

I've never seen this reality articulated so well. Awesome.


Posted by rgrace 05/14/2010 at 09:45 PM

Zolarafa, Ty, can't we all just get along? :) At least settle your differences on the tennis court if at all possible!

Posted by houry 05/14/2010 at 09:58 PM

I agree with Andy and TennisFan2.....that your quote here is so brilliantly put, that I copied it for future reference in my personal repertoire......Well done.
"our personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around."

I have to admit, there couldn't be a more eloquent and well read Fanbase than those on this Tennis blog...I dare to invite Football or Hockey fans on a written dialogue based on their interpretations of each game or player.
And in saying that, Nadal, is by far, the most humble and athlete or tennis player or athlete there is...
He is an utter joy to watch to boot, and I for one couldn't be more exhiliritated that he is BACK, healthy and building his game beautifully to peak at the French and hopefully Wimbly....this is my dream of course! Hopefully one that will come true....
Vamos RAFA!!! Por Siempre.....

Posted by Limbo 05/14/2010 at 11:17 PM

I know Zola as I am a long time lurker (sometime poster). But I have to ask, what's the attack on Fed is all about? You usually won't do that. And TY just said he don't like rafa, and never in his post did he even mention Fed. So my question is, do you need to start a fedal war by dissing fed when he is not even mention by TY?

I believe that everyone is entitle their likes and dislikes and by not liking rafa does not equal to fed kad.

Posted by geoff 05/14/2010 at 11:22 PM

"Your personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around."

wow this really hits home. i'm leaving my job soon and moving cities, and i've been thinking a lot about this exact thing recently. this perfectly captures it.

Posted by daidra 05/14/2010 at 11:53 PM

This is incredible observation:

Your personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around.

But just remember that Daidra isn't going anywhere!

Posted by susan 05/15/2010 at 12:27 AM

I want to know more about Gumy. How did he do it? Credit to Gulbis, though. And I'm unashamedly on the Gulbis bandwagon. Please commence with the ridicule darts.

What will I do when my colleague near me moves on? He's revolutionised my life/mood at work simply by being...himself. The only person at work i share secret jokes with, usually phrases in the language of the country which have no contextual meaning but actually refer to previously very, very amusing events...perfectly timed, btw (if not, they wouldn't be funny). No one in the office knows what the hell is going on, which makes it even more delightful. Why are they laughing so much??!!

Posted by Lily 05/15/2010 at 12:27 AM

I just want to give my piece in here. If Rafa was healthy last year & did not have an injury, I am pretty sure that Federer will not win that French Open in 2009. Thank his lucky star, Nadal was injured. Vamos Rafa

Posted by TY 05/15/2010 at 12:29 AM

I just don't appreciate players celebrating when they are gifted an unforced error off a rally ball. Rafa is a good guy and brings a lot of intensity to each of his matches and I can appreciate that. During the course of a match he hits some spectacular shots and I think those justify celebration. I understand that many of you are Rafa fans, so I ask do you enjoy seeing Henin jump for joy after her opponent overhits a sitter?

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 05/15/2010 at 12:38 AM

"The same way, is it possible that Federer does not mean to disrespect the opponent by "shamelessly crying" to steal Rafa's moment, is it possible that he cannot control his emotions after battling a match for 4 and a half hours and losing a GS title to the same guy for the 6th time?"

Actually, Mr. Federer himself said that his reaction was not right to do to Rafa. I saw him in a YouTube spot, and he was being interviewed, and it was in German, with english subtitles.
I am not trying to be vague, I just can't find the clip.

for years Mr. Federer has made slights about Rafa in his pressers and interviews. It annoys me to no end. But it is not going to stop. Its just his personality.

Just as its Rafa's personality to wear his heart on his sleeve, show every emotion he has, and then humbly declare he is not the best.

Posted by Carrie *Despicable - and Now With Persecution Complex!* 05/15/2010 at 12:40 AM

For freak's sake, Steve wrote this post with positives about the players and once again it turns into a nasty Fedal war. So tiresome. Why does everything always have to be so negative and why do folks take so much joy in finding negatives? Ugh..... I love this sport but the repeated and nasty negativity here is really making me sad. It never ends. We have two great players but it seems like it is not allowed to appreciate both- just freaking venom and nastiness.

I am glad that Steve wrote about Nico. Like him I have been waiting ages for something to click with him. I hope it sticks because he has been a joy to watch in terms of his play and his lighter demeanor (and physique).

Posted by steven 05/15/2010 at 12:52 AM

To Kombo: Get real and wake up!

To Ty: Learn!

To Zolarafa: Cheers and more cheers!!!!

Posted by Stilianos 05/15/2010 at 01:09 AM

Regarding the Magic Box: Leaving the aesthetics aside, (too much metal for my liking), what good are retractabe roofs, if they do not close in time, so that matches do not get interrupted?

I believe that playing a few games in the rain, dampens the court, slows it down, etc. which means that there is a lot of adjusting to do. OK, I could accept that in monte carlo, a clearly outdoor tournament, but WHY build a roof, and let everyone (including the spectators) get wet and miserable?

During yesterdays match between RF and EG, the umpire had to repeatedly ask / order the croud to be ...less upset.
-Darling, did you get that umbrella I left by the door?
--No, why sould we, they have a roof there, don't worry...

Especially when they call it Magic Box!!

Posted by Geellis 05/15/2010 at 01:35 AM

Although you've already taken a beating, I feel the need to pile on. One would have to have lived under a rock for the past 10 yrs or more to not realize that there is no significant player in the last decade or more who was more humble than Rafa. Seriously. Just watch the kid. I think Rebecca said it best when she described tennis being about "generating those brief moments of opportunity". That's right. And Rafa understands better than any player in the past 25 years or so exactly the location and importance of those moments. But this "moment" is never about harming his opponent, rather it's about energizing himself. And that's, ultimately, a tolerable thing.

Posted by cmac 05/15/2010 at 01:58 AM

Nadal does not celebrate his opponents errors. He pumps himself up because he's alway trying to play his best tennis. Don't you see how he talks to himself between points when he's unhappy with the way he's playing? Rafa gets upset even when he's winning if he didn't hit his last shot exactly the way he wanted to. He's a perfectionist. But, he never wishes the other player ill even though he always wants to win. I know it sounds impossible but...that's Rafa...and that's one of the many reasons why I (and his millions of other fans) love him. He's respectful but he's the ultimate competitor. He's compassionate but he expresses the joy of every great shot made and every game, set and tournament won. What other player do you know who say "sorry" at the net after he wins?

Posted by Kombo 05/15/2010 at 02:25 AM

*glare. rhythm-busting time waste while receiving. I won't cross the net before you, coz... I'm a control freak. etc. Just pay attention, it's all there for you to see. In addition to all the stuff you like.

Listen, all the platitudes have some merit, but to deny some of the grotty stuff is just plain ignoring what you don't want to admit.

Fed plays with his hair and can be snarky about opponents. There, it's true. And Im supposed to believe Rafa's a saint, give me a break.

Posted by Fern 05/15/2010 at 03:27 AM

Zolarafa: btw,
Gulbis just threw that match out of the window.

Of course he did. Fed fighting back and finding some form after a slow start had nothing to do with it. I like Nadal (a lot) but i'm sure if it was Nadal a set and a break down the posts would be all about his wonderful spirit and what a fantastic warrior he is (which i do think he is). As a Fed fan i'm just sick of hearing how Fed is an ungracious loser who gets lucky. He plays because he loves the game and wants to compete - why is that admirable in Nadal but egotistical in Federer?

Posted by Jamesss 05/15/2010 at 04:12 AM

"—Speaking of Nadal, let me isolate one moment, what I would say was the most telling moment, from his match against Monfils on Friday. Nadal was up 2-1 in the first; the early points and games had been long, but on the previous two rallies Nadal had missed badly, and Monfils led 40-15. Nadal reached 30-40, and then watched as Monfils floated a routine ground stroke long. As it landed, Nadal did a little jump and fist-pump combination. This is the kind of reaction most players save for when they’ve broken. Most of us don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, or even jinx ourselves, by celebrating the chance merely to get to deuce on our opponent’s serve. But Nadal wasn’t celebrating; he was generating emotional momentum. It worked: He broke and won the next three games for the set."

You saw that, I saw a player facing two break points taking about or over a minute between the next four points to slow the pace to help his "colm", something that is clearly not supposed to be allowed. I guess VamosRafa is an exception because "ooohhh his OCDs are so cute, how can you not admire that focus of frowning your forehead while raising your left eyebrow! And look how he positions his waterbottles! Isnt that just the cutes thing youve ever seen? And".

BTW, this is my last response to this blog, I'm not trying to raise a Fedal-war, just making a post that will undoubtedly not go well with Nadal fans but too bad for them.

Posted by jabeau 05/15/2010 at 04:23 AM

I see you get annoyed about the generalizations about Fed just as much as I do when people are describing Rafael. A week or so ago we were reading about how his Spanish minions threw matches...

"*glare. rhythm-busting time waste while receiving. I won't cross the net before you, coz... I'm a control freak. etc. Just pay attention, it's all there for you to see. In addition to all the stuff you like."

I thought he was accused of stalling the match while serving... now it's also when he's receiving. Mmm. I always took the gesture of letting people cross the net before him and shaking the ump's hand second as good manners.

Posted by Julia 05/15/2010 at 04:24 AM

How comments by players are intrepreted are in the eye of the beholder and their particular biases.

I'm neutral on the issue of Federer or Nadal, and I prefer other players to win, but I've never heard Nadal or Federer say a bad word about each other. I was interested to hear what Federer thinks about playing on clay, he certainly didn't say it was easy and he was especially complimentary about Nadal who he called an incredible player. His comments were perceptive, as they ought to be.

I'm interested in Gulbis and I was glad Federer had some big compliments about him too.

This place seems to be full of Nadal fanatics who are determined to twist every utterance of Federer into something uncomplimentary, whereas if you look at what they actually say they both seem to have huge respect for each other. Federer also said his problem wasn't clay, it was Nadal, which I thought was pretty honest and complimentary.

I'm wondering how Gulbis will turn out. Whether he's got the staying power to do the hard yards to win big.

Posted by Fern 05/15/2010 at 04:53 AM

I see you get annoyed about the generalizations about Fed just as much as I do when people are describing Rafael. A week or so ago we were reading about how his Spanish minions threw matches...

Jabeau- guilty as charged! I try not to engage in Fedal wars but have become tired of some of the Fed-bashing lately - totally off-topic posts suddenly appear describing Fed - yet again - as arrogant, smug etc -oh, and a post on another thread suggesting that the current world no.1 should 'stfu'. For sure Fed is direct and honest - and confident - but since he's been no.1 for most of the last 6 years, he has a right to be, surely?! For the record, i think the whole Spanish minion argument is deliberately provocative nonsense - and the same applies for unfortunate Stan, who had a bad match against an in-form Fed - Bodo has now devoted a whole post to Stan being a minion! When Federer and Nadal are playing well they beat most players most of the time - doesn't matter where they're from.

Posted by Puffin 05/15/2010 at 05:22 AM

Nice post, Julia @ 04:24! Many thanks! It's so good to read a post that is objective, rational, non confrontational and true! :)

Posted by lendl 05/15/2010 at 05:54 AM

steve you missed the point with nadal's little fist pump at deuce. he is the only player that does this on a regular basis. it reflects his confidence in himself. he is not afraid to celebrate deuce because he all the time believes in himself to win. and if he doesn't win the game, he is confident he will eventually win the match.

that's why i don't like or relate to nadal. nobody has such self confidence. everyone else shows vulnerability, weakness, nervousness, emotional ups and downs. but not nadal.
i like to root for the human players, not the machines.
this clay season is boring because the results are predictable and the same- verdasco, ferrer, almagro and ummm oh yeah, nadal. no real competetion

Posted by Tuulia 05/15/2010 at 07:35 AM

Oh lendl, that was pretty funny, comparing Rafa to a machine that doesn't show feelings. You sound like you might even be serious - I don't know you so can't guess - but I'm giggling here... :)

And Steve, great writing, again, thanks.

Posted by lendl 05/15/2010 at 08:21 AM

tuulia, laughing is a very healthy activity so i hope you have lots of laughs through life. may our most heavy discussions be on tennis..

i didn't say he doesn't show feelings. he is very expressive. i ment his belief, toughness and confidence are like a machine. not his emotions.
he is always tough, believing in himself and the deuce fist pumps are a reflection of that. tennis pkayers dont fist pump early in games on other's mistakes or on deuce because they don't want to celebrate early, seem like fools. get ahead of themselves. they doubt themselves. he doesn't. so stable. give me players like myself- full of doubts.
also i can't stand nadal's rhythem of pkay. come on.. play allready. can't wait for you all day. so slow.. it is just his way of controling the match. he is a control freak if you haven't noticed his obssessive-compulsive habbits

Posted by Colette 05/15/2010 at 08:42 AM

Amen to Maria Jose's drop shot!! And btw, winning a tournament the week before Madrid seemed to be the kiss of death (or another argument against the jam-packed schedule).

Posted by Rafur 05/15/2010 at 09:44 AM

Nobody calling the Nadal match? Let's hope he has seen the light. 5-2 up in 2nd set. Almagro has done well though. Brilliant "notes" Steve. Good thing to do. Lets the readers think about things themselves!

Posted by Geellis 05/15/2010 at 10:56 AM

I've said it before and I'll say it again, there should be room to be a fanatic for one player (Fed or Nadal) and still have massive respect for the other. I'm a Nadal fanatic. I think the preternatural focus, and yes, the tics, make him one of the most incredible athletes I've ever seen. I love his tenacity, his ferocious competitive zeal (rivaled, I think, only by Serena amongst current players). That said, only an idiot could not admire the beauty, the sheer artistry of Fed's game at it's best. It is, quite simply, sublime. He has the most beautiful game of the past 20 years without question. Bodo has written a lot about fans of the beautiful game and, while I appreciate it, I'm not enraptured by it. I love Nadal's game because of its mix of explosiveness and tactical brilliance. And this is especially true on clay.

To those commenters who suggest that various of his tics are about disadvantaging his opponent, they've just never listened to a presser of his or watched, generally, how he's carried himself these past several years. They also have no clue about how uncle Toni makes him carry his own bags and often (if the hundreds of articles about him are to be believed) fly coach. So he is that humble guy that he appears to be and he's never intentionally trying to throw off his opponents. In fact, to answer another commenters point about Nadal critics switching from criticizing the length of time he takes on serve to the length of time he takes on return, that change results from the fact that he no longer abuses the time clock on serve. I haven't heard the announcers mention it, but I timed him on serve against Almagro and he was well within his 25 secs each time. Glad the Nadal camp have taken that arrow out of the quivver of the Nadal critics.

Posted by Jamesss 05/15/2010 at 11:10 AM

"I haven't heard the announcers mention it, but I timed him on serve against Almagro and he was well within his 25 secs each time."

Are you serious? If you are, I seriously suggest you to get your timer checked. From what I saw on both the Monfils and Almagro match, just the average, no pressure situation is about 20-30 seconds. That can the go easily up to 40-50 seconds on tight situations, or even more. I actually checked the time taken on 1-2, 30-40 at the second set of the match against Monfils just because the time taken at 15-40 amazed me, and it was 54 seconds.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/15/2010 at 11:47 AM

Nice article Steve. Nico ended up playing a great first set. Fantastic tennis. But he couldn't maintain that level and Rafa ended up with the win, quite handily in the end.

I didn't sense rafa taking too much time in between serves and I'm usually pretty sensitive to that. It drives me crazy when any player does it. I might time him tomorrow just to see where he's at.

oh and Steve, sorry about your losing your buddy James to a new job at ESPN. Sometimes who we work with makes the difference between really liking your job and loving it. Hope whoever gets his chair works out just as well.

Posted by Sandra 05/15/2010 at 11:52 AM

I know the quality of discourse here has fallen quite a bit over the last couple of years, but to actually read someone here (I believe his name is Jamess) criticizing a player for being smart enough to slow things down and be deliberate on the big points (especially when his/her serve is under threat) takes the cake for stupidity. It's the smart player who slows things down and becomes deliberate in those situations. It's what champions do. Losers don't - that's why they're losers.

Posted by Sher 05/15/2010 at 01:51 PM

I was attending the Magic box tournament this week, and I agree with your assessment on the emphasis being on the 'box' not the 'magic'. All the stadiums are metallic and lack any charm. The sounds of the tournament do not carry outside, therefore you can't get excited about another match you can't see and run over there just to catch the last couple of points, the way you do at other tournaments. The glass that separates the front section from the middle section in the centre court is placed as though to deliberately destroy any pictures one might want to take from the front row of B section (middle). It is actually better to be seated higher up.

With the metallic sheets separating the boxes, the court actually looks emptier than it is. even at capacity it looks like there are empty spaces all over the place until you realize people aren't supposed to sit there.

Basically, I wouldn't be surprised if Madrid started making more money then FO -- it is a well oiled money making machine.

An example? I'm entering the stadium with a bottle of water. They search my bag, tell me to throw out the water. I drink the water, attempt to put the bottle in my bag....But no! Alas, having an empty 250ml bottle in my purse is against the tournament rules. In fact you cannot carry any food or water or even food containers or water containers on the grounds.

I have no idea why. Either the organizers are afraid I will attack someone with an empty plastic water bottle, or they are worried about the funds I may be intending to spend on their food & drinks. Stay classy, Madrid. (I don't often get to say that a north american tournament is classier than a European one, but Toronto Masters has WAY WAY more charm than this one, and I don't even like hard-court tennis.)

Other than the overall feeling of being wrung out for your cash, I enjoyed my experience. The fans get very excited about their favourites...for example, only the barest of acknowledgements was given to Isner's existence on the court, but Rafa received a wave from the stadium.

To sum up, any FO official that has ever attended this tournament is only worried about one thing, that someone will inject a dose of charm and class into it; until such time as that happens there is no competition. I've stayed to watch boys and girls matches in RG because of the ATMOSPHERE of that stadium. Wimbledon is simply incomparable -- a tennis theater. Monte Carlo, which I have never attended, makes me wish I was there every time I see it on TV. I have always loved Rome's old stadium, perhaps because of the epic battle Roger and Rafa have fought there -- I have no feelings about this new court. Madrid could be SO much more than it is now.

Hey, maybe if there's a Federer/Nadal final, there'll be some history laid down at this Madrid tournament and then we can enjoy it better? That would be very welcome! :)

Posted by LOL 05/15/2010 at 01:54 PM

Wow, Sandra. Now cheaters are champions. Way to go with that spin.

Posted by LOL 05/15/2010 at 01:56 PM

I've watched Nadal enough to see he isn't humble at all. Have you watch how he behaves at Davis Cup ties? Total boor.

Posted by sportsbuff 05/15/2010 at 02:53 PM

It is disgraceful how people who've achieved nothing at all in their own lives have the temerity and the classlessness (new coinage to show my utter disgust at the level to which this discussion has fallen!) to knock down great champions and players like federer and nadal who have given so much joy to many millions of tennis lovers. Get some class u people, and more importantly...get lives....

Posted by Lena 05/15/2010 at 04:04 PM

Fed v. Ferrer right now: Fed should be up 4-1 in set 3, and so you have to wonder what's going through his mind during a game like the second game of set 3, Fed receiving, and mashed 3 break points! Weak back hand retures receiving a second serve. Stats will likely reveal that over the last few years Fed has missed many break chances by mashing a 2nd serve return on a relatively easy serve to receive.

Posted by Lena 05/15/2010 at 04:07 PM

and he just blew another opportunity to get to break point, with a weak BH return of a second serve....

Posted by Lena 05/15/2010 at 04:21 PM

nothing like a little proactive tennis to right things! But an equal number of unforced errors as winners will not do it tomorrow....

Posted by Voltaire 05/15/2010 at 04:55 PM

Hey Steve-You are in form again! Love the way you talk about Steve's going-away. I guess you didn't want to sound too melancholic though obviously there's pain. Agree in toto that our personalities(part of) bubble up when there's an appropriate outlet....I've experienced this personally when me and my friend keep talking in the most abstract terms/keep laughing while the rest wonder what the hell is so funny! Back to tennis....Roger is back to playing tennis I mean his kinda tennis....clean hitting/graceful footwork and clutch serving when needed. Didn't see much of Nadal though....but he seems to be back to a level of belief where he knows he'll ultimately prevail however much Almagros of the world bust their guts! Hope the final has different outcome than the last yr. I am passionately wishing that Rafa bagels the Sod in Rolland Garros....Sod's celebration hurts even now. Time for retribution;-)

Posted by Yolita 05/15/2010 at 09:07 PM

Do people here actually enjoy tennis?

It seems to me that whatever Steve writes about, it always becomes an excuse to fight over Nadal and Federer. Don't you get bored? You always say the same things!

I think it would be a very good idea, after tomorrow's final, of course, to spend at least one week without mentioning either of those two players, there are so many other players around!

You might all rediscover the joy of watching tennis!

Posted by Tim (Year of Red Rogie ) 05/15/2010 at 09:41 PM

geez AMAZING how a Fedal war can break out, and Im nowhere to be seen on this thread for days and days, but the usual mama Lions ARE all around... coincidence?

playing the victim has zero to do with me being around to push buttons as im always accused, its so so clear now to me ... fabulous discovery!

Posted by naughty T...urbane gentleman 05/15/2010 at 10:21 PM

Tim clearly the mere thought of you is enough to enrage the rabble...
Fudd fist pumps others mistakes??...yeh.. ok... sounds like good drugs. gimme

Posted by Andrew 05/15/2010 at 10:40 PM

Egad. X is the most humble, genuine person on the planet, while Y is arrogant and self-centered. Au contraire! Y is a model sportsman, and X is calculating and fake!!!!

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, X and Y respect each other, look forward to good tennis matches against each other, and (if they weren't fast asleep right now) would be quite bemused by the attribution of saintly qualities to themselves, and startled to learn how utterly heinous their rival is.

Posted by federgurl (Here's to GSFed, 4 for 4 in '10) 05/16/2010 at 12:26 AM

I'll second TennisFan2.

"our personality is never entirely your own; different parts of it rise to the surface with different people, as if drawn to the light in their faces, and then descend back to the depths when they’re not around."

I've never seen this reality articulated so well. Awesome.


I concur that Steve expressed this beautifully, but it did bring to mind a similar idea developed none too shabbily by C.S. Lewis decades ago:

"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald [J.R.R. Tolkien]'s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend....Of course the scarcity of kindred souls - not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices - set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases."

Posted by Account Deleted 05/16/2010 at 05:22 AM

Totally agree with Andrew. My first time posting though I have been reading for a while.
I am also really sick of the constant bickering and would far prefer to read informed commentary from other tennis lovers. Sorry, but the wars are a turn off.

Posted by Tony 05/16/2010 at 06:25 AM

Hi, I've not posted for a while because I have nothing possitive to say.
In my opinion the spanish players are somehow intimidated to beat NADAL. (just an opinion)
Wow, a NadalFederer final. This is not really intriguing anymore.
I wolud like to say that FERRER played his heart out and I want to aknowledge that. He was fantastic. I watch each game he played on the each of my seat and got teary eyed when he beat MURRAY and lost to FEDERER.
No one here mentioned this. so I did.

Posted by The Fan Child 05/16/2010 at 04:39 PM

The sidecourts totally lack appeal on the television, that is for certain. It's a shame. I am really starting to warm up to center court though - when it is packed it really comes alive.

What do you guys think about the Madrid website? It looks hip but I can't find anything on about overbuilding.

Posted by Sophia 05/16/2010 at 04:57 PM

I thought Peter Fleming hit the nail on the head on Sky commentary when he said both players were feeling the effects of not having played each other for a year. I thought both looked pretty tense and struggled at times to get back into the rhythm of playing each other. This rivalry is huge and so much rests on every match - that tension was the heart of the encounter for me today, rather than it being an amazing match in terms of the actual play.

Federer will take a lot from a few of his tactics in the second set working and gutsing it out to the tiebreak. He's also surely got to have gained a heap of confidence from his week overall. He's not at his best right now, but he warmed up the tank well before getting back to Paris with some great play an good wins.

Nadal probably still doesn't like that court and playing in altitude, but it's job done and onwards to RG having played well in spells and turned around a few matches when he was playing poorly. He hadn't beaten a top 5 player since Indian Wells last year if I remember rightly and I thought he seemed aware of it on court today. He looked nervous to me for large sections of the match, as he has obvious signs when he feels tense. Like Roger, he's phenomenal, so he still played magnificent points. I think the confidence of having beaten a "top guy" again is the last piece he needed before heading to France. Who knows what will happen in Paris, but I think he could well give us a monster run similar to 2008.

Posted by Sophia 05/16/2010 at 05:02 PM

EDIT - I was wrong above, Nadal hasn't beaten a top 4 player since Djokovic at MADRID last year.

Point remains had been a while!! :)

Posted by Rafanatic (marguritaspecial ) 05/16/2010 at 06:38 PM

Why do these RAFA haters always find a way to try to bring him down I do not know . RAFA is the best thing to happen to tennis in years yet still the haters can say nothing good about him but I forgot you are haters . Rafa is one of the most respectful young men I have ever seen in sports today he is a joy to watch he is gracious and a credit to his generation I wish him good fortune and hope that he can win the FO . I also hope that he wins the USO so that he can have his golden slam . as to the haters I say hate on because that changes nothing good luck RAFA many more wins are in store for you especially over Federer .

Posted by Fromme madrid 05/16/2010 at 07:02 PM

I think you should revisit The magic box in a better mood... I have been in several 1000 masters and The 3 boxes aré way ahead of anything you can see

Posted by Larry 05/16/2010 at 10:14 PM

Hernan Gumy is coaching Gulbis? I remember Gumy as...

Where have you gone, Hernan Gumy?

Posted by ping pongme 05/17/2010 at 06:53 AM

I think Nadal just got lucky to win against Roger. His gameplan really works only need more accuracy.

Posted by 16GS 05/17/2010 at 07:26 AM

I do not think that it was just a lucky day for Rafa to beat again Roger, but as I always says, the same and only tactic: Play his back hand as Tony would say to his nefew!!!
The big difference will shows in Paris, as Rafa has already reached his climax, while Roger is still on his way to ... (what a big difference in the game of Roger between Rome through Estoril to Madrid)

Posted by e normous 05/17/2010 at 12:52 PM

I'm not a particularly perceptive watcher of tennis, but to me it seemed that a) sometime near the end of the first set Federer started letting his backhand go (ie. stopped holding back) and b) that pretty much every time he got it right, it put Nadal in a fairly disadvantageous position on court, much more so than Federer's usual tactic of running around the backhand and hitting an inside out forehand. However I also noticed that despite this, Federer almost always seems to be looking for the inside out forehand. Even when he did hit the backhand, his initial movement always has the feel of someone looking to play a forehand.

Not to oversimplify things, but I think he's just got to quit being scared with his backhand and stop always looking for the inside-out fh. From the point of view of someone who wants to see Federer doing well against Nadal, I will say that - assuming they meet in the French - if Federer can get himself to play freely and without inhibition, I'll be happy, regardless of the result.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 05/17/2010 at 02:31 PM

"Your personality is never entirely your own;" ...

Isn't that the truest and most eloquently put line by Steve ? Best line I've read all year !

Posted by TennisRone 1000 05/17/2010 at 02:39 PM

....I like e normous comment re: the I/O Fed FH.....especially on clay....regardless....he still has his work cut out for him vs. Nadal on clay. Heck....everybody has their work cut out for him there. There are probably 3-5 men that have a chance just b/c they are tall enough to blunt the Nadal power on clay and re-direct it back at him (Mr. Soderling, for one).'s a herculean task to beat Rafa on the surface.

I have to admit....I'm a Fed fan that is in career afterglow. I mean....i feel guilty asking more of him. How much more can we ask? 10 more GS titles? Not making every GS SF for the rest of his career? Thankfully the guy is still motivated to show up and is healthy enough to still swing the stick at a high level.

That doesn't mean a Fedal GS final won't get me fired up....but....

To be the scope of history....Fedal from here forward will be interesting as if Rafa can win the lion's share of future matches on ALL may be the only asterisk you have to place before the name of Roger Federer in tennis history. be fair.....I think I can live with that.

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