Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Reading the Readers: Lots Left to Prove
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Reading the Readers: Lots Left to Prove 10/21/2010 - 4:31 PM

Va Federer has won. Azarenka is in. Jankovic is tired. New Haven is now women’s only. Forstmann is, among other things, a pretty hilarious interview. Now that we know the latest, it seems like a good time to look back and amplify a few discussions that took place in the commentary box here over the past week.


Steve. I hate to pile on...but a post like this is exactly why I can't stand Michael Silver--he picks the easiest, craziest, most moronic readers to respond to. Please, just don't start nit-picking at people's grammar. That's the worst.

Maybe you just needed to get this out of your system. You're too good a writer to bother with crazy fans. Just keep doing your thing.

Sigh...all hail the democracy of the internet message board!Ryan

No, I won't be turning into Michael Silver or Howard Stern. But at the same time, it’s easier said than done to ignore nasty comments when they’re directed at you, no matter how random or irrelevant they are. The main thing is I that wanted the tone to improve here. My job at the magazine/website has changed a little, and I have more time to read and respond to comments, so I’d like it if I, as well as everyone else, got as much out of them as possible.


The problem now with Murray is that the UK media only have him as a tennis hope and it has been like that since about the beginning of his professional career, as, then, both Henman and Rusedski were too near retirement to be any serious prospect for a GS anymore. So they jumped on Murray, who, even then, showed he should have what it takes to go all the way (after all, he won the US Open Junior event just the fall before).crazycaro21

Murray handles the pressure at the Slams pretty well. He does a good job of detaching himself from it, but it gets to him eventually. It did at Wimbledon each of the last two years, and it did in the Aussie final. He wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. As someone who has seen the kind of cartoonish scrutiny he’s under during Wimbledon in the U.K., I’m amazed he handles it as well as he does. Once he gets close enough to the title so that it begins to seem like a real possibility, that’s when it hits.

There was some talk after Murray’s title in Shanghai that winning there would only hurt his chances at the Aussie Open next year, because the expectations would grow. I’m not sure about that. There are reporters from the major British papers following Murray everywhere, like the President of the United States, no matter how well he does. There will be stories about him virtually every day whether he wins tournaments or loses in the early rounds. The hopes and expectations and recriminations are automatic for him Even losing can't save him.


What's wrong with saying fed has nothing to prove?

it's true. i think it's a statement that indicates that he has achieved so much, and stands as one of the best ever, that there is indeed nothing left to do to vindicate that position. it has already been established. no need for proof. it's not a rationalisation for losses, imo

this observation doesn't conflict with the continued desire to see him play and play well, and adjust to the new circumstances.Susan

And I say that the fact that these "nothing left to prove" comments (just saw one from a Rafa fan about Rafa the other day) tend to come -- no, ALWAYS come -- right after a loss by Roger is very revealing. When this topic was discussed recently on another forum, someone described such comments (nothing to prove, gravy, icing on the cake etc) as "self-comforting" for fans after a loss by their fave. Totally unnecessary, I think.

Also, I repeat...Federer's words (see his first presser on returning to the Tour about how he can beat these guys) and his actions (see his hiring of Annacone and his trying new things) show that he thinks that he has a lot more to do and to prove, if not to SOME of his happy and satisfied fans, then to himself. I admire this attitude, the attitude of a real champion.—Ruth

This was a mini-dialogue earlier in the week between two smart posters, Susan and Ruth. The argument is over the appropriateness of fans downplaying their favorite player’s loss by saying that he’s done so much already that “he has nothing left to prove.”

Susan’s point is that it’s true that, say, Federer and Nadal have nothing more to prove, because each of them has won all four majors and established themselves as all-time greats. Ruth’s is that it’s a protective cushion, a way of inoculating player and fan from the ramifications of any defeat. “OK, Federer lost to Nadal again, but everything is gravy after the French 2009 anyway.” “OK, Nadal isn’t the master of hard courts, but he’s still won all the majors.”

I side with Ruth on this one. Federer and Nadal have proven themselves, that part is true. But if they had nothing left to prove, they would retire. Nadal wants to prove he can stay at No. 1, he wants to make a run up the major title ladder. Imagine what he would feel like if he could surpass Borg in French Open titles; I’m sure it has started to cross his mind, and I’m sure he knows it would be an incredible achievement. Federer wants to get back to No. 1, and I’m sure he wants to change the head to head trend against Nadal. Not that he’s thinking, “I have to get it to 11-15 before I retire," but the natural competitor in him still believes that he’s good enough to beat Nadal anytime they meet. You know deep down Federer still believes he's the man. He wouldn't bother playing if he didn't want to show that to the world.

I mentioned “pre-cuses” last week, where you downplay your favorite player’s chances before a tournament. “Nothing left to prove” sounds like a post-cuse—from now on, no loss matters. Michael Jordan, the Federer/Nadal of basketball, said that no matter many titles he won, he went into every game trying to prove himself—to the crowd, to his opponents, to the world, to himself—all over again. He didn’t even have to think about it. Once he started playing, the competitive juices came over him again just like the first time he’d played. That’s why these kinds of guys—the self-motivated guys—keep going. That's why they love to do it even when they’ve already won it all. Because they always have something to prove, and all of their wins and losses matter.


I've never thought of it this way before, but I wonder how much the spectator fatigue during the seemingly 2nd tier fall season is due to....too much tennis on television.

Amidst all the hoo-ing and hah-ing over how poorly tennis is served by the cool medium (see: Wertheim today), virtually all of which I agree with, it's worth noting that before Tennis Channel, ESPN and online streams tennis fans rarely got to watch tennis live and could barely keep up with players' wins and losses. For most of the tennis world, most of the time, getting tennis news was a matter of scouring the box scores in a newspaper. Even that wasn't consistent; there were times we'd be able to follow the first few rounds of a tourney and then not know anything until it was over!

I wonder if, as a consequence of that, tournaments like the Stockholm Open weren't better attended. After all, it was the only opportunity for Stockholmians to see live professional tennis. Today they might not only be able to watch their hometown tournament on Swedish television, but they've been able to watch tennis all year long to a degree that far outstrips what was available when Mac beat Borg.
Is too much of a good thing is killing the fall season?Skip1515

Too much tennis on TV—I don’t know. I could see it working both ways. You see a lot of Federer on the tube, and that makes you want to see him in person. Or you see him so often already, you’re less likely to make a special trip to a city to see him one more time, even if it is live. There must be theories of publicity that address this—how much is too much exposure for a celebrity or athlete or politician? One thing that’s interesting to me is how the Internet will affect viewing. Being able to watch virtually every professional match anywhere on my computer almost makes waiting for the weekend to see the semis on the Tennis Channel feel ridiculously dated and  limited, the equivalent of watching the Wimbledon men’s final chopped to pieces on tape delay at 4:00 in the afternoon (yes, that happened). Maybe we’ll reach a time when there will be no bleachers at all; we’ll all be watching at home or at work.

Fan interest grows in an area when there’s a local star to cheer, and then fades when the star fades. Borg, and the next generation, in Sweden; Becker and Graf in Germany; Connors and Mac in America. No accident that Ion Tiriac took his tournament in Stuttgart and hauled it to Madrid a few years ago.


The number of Tier II players (and Tier III players), on the other hand, has been very strong. These would include Ivanovic and Jankovic, Dementieva, Azarenka, Kuznetsova, Safina and more recently Stosur. Wozniacki must be included in this group given her record, or lack thereof, against top 10 and top Tier competition. These players are all fine, talented, even very interesting and exciting players who share a common trait of great athleticism. But they have proved themselves undependable, and have excelled only in the absence of more accomplished players. Dementieva, Ivanovic and Jankovic have at least shown themselves capable of knocking off the big name players with signature wins, but all have faltered when they had big chances to win.Northern Boy

I’ve written about the lack of top tier women to debut this decade, but the flipside, as you say here NorthernBoy, is true as well. The second tier is pretty strong, with a lot of players theoretically capable of winning majors. I don’t know if anyone has an answer for why the tour has begun to develop this way. The opening of the Eastern bloc has changed the dynamic at training academies and led to a flood of new players and talent, but as this list shows, this generation has mostly landed in the second tier. Is there a difference in mentality or motivation among today’s young players that doesn’t allow them to dominate, or win with as much consistency as Navratilova, Seles (two Eastern European players gone west), Evert, or Graf? Or are they just not as good as the Williamses and the Belgians? Either way, the women’s sport has shifted east in the last 30 years, and the results of that shift seem to still be playing out. We may see another Navratilova someday, but this feels like a transition period to . . . ???

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Posted by BB 10/22/2010 at 05:17 PM

Just curious to know why Pete's posts generate many more comments than Steve's as I think Steve is the far superior and more interesting writer.

Posted by Leon 10/22/2010 at 08:56 PM

Consider some racing sport, track and field (long-distance race), or, even better (because I have a good example at hand), biathlon, where O.-E. Bjorndalen is the undisputed (and, alas, ageing) king. Alas, he is known as a relatively poor finisher. That is, when the race outcome is determined just on the very last meters of the distance, he tends to lose. Especially to a younger runner.
The fact, however, is that in overwhelming majority of races (as compared to his "rivals") Bjorndalen simply did not allow others to compete at those last meters, creating a huge gap before finish.
He is deservedly considered as "goat" (although biathlonists and their fans are wise enough not to use this term). Nobody attempts to call his legacy in question just because of some rare hot finishes he lost, even if to one and the same runner.

Have a clue?

Tennis is about winning tournaments, not H2H, that simple. Should it be organized more in a boxing fashion, it would be another animal. Say, several matches between the best two (to say more, equally distributed in different surfaces) in the end of the season, or so. Then we would see. But this sport is organized how it is. Plus rankings (that rarely lie, btw).

I am lazy to explore ATP statistics now but I think that in all tournaments Federer and Nadal were both in, the former has a visibly better overall results (not saying about other tournaments), especially at slams. Too many times Nadal simply did not reach those "last meters" to beat Federer at the very finish.
That's how it is, for the time being. Nobody knows the future.

All those H2H-health-fatigue-issues-work-ethics-unbending-will-unseen-modesty-against-arrogancy and similar stuff...that's for kids, Federer haters and journalists to keep fire, as they see it. Nadal himself has no need in them, he knows his tasks.

Posted by skip1515 10/22/2010 at 09:01 PM

Steve, my comment about my *earlier* comment was intended to clarify that ennui over tennis at this time of year is not *my* attitude, but that that ennui may be the result of casual fans not needing a live tennis fix because they've been able to watch it so much on television compared to years past.

Posted by Ivo 10/22/2010 at 09:57 PM

"BB 10/22/2010 at 05:17 PM

Just curious to know why Pete's posts generate many more comments than Steve's as I think Steve is the far superior and more interesting writer."

For this I have an explanation: you'll always get a greater reaction from the crowds if someone relatively "famous" (which Pete Bodo is in this little world of tennis journalism) says something which isn't very "intelligent" - greater crowds line up just to oppose it. E.g. I remember the thread where Pete suggests that under-hand serve should be used by the pros:). That generated a lot of feedback, i myself participated in that debate.
Hence if you look at all the comments with Bodo's posts, you will see often see that a lot of it is generated by the opposition to him - i.e. the number of comments is not all that counts, at least in my opinion.

Posted by CL 10/22/2010 at 09:57 PM

Interesting - just overall, I would say that since Steve instituted his new 'low tolerance for cranky posters' rules, things around here have actually gotten more cranky. Unintended consequence and all that.

BB - good question. Frankly, I think some of it is habit. And that Pete's posts seem to push more buttons.

Posted by Ivo 10/22/2010 at 10:04 PM

To Leon:
That's actually an interesting challenge to some of the statistics that were mentioned here. While I actually would not discount the H2H stats that Fed and Nadal have, I would be interested in the argument of who from these two did better overall when they entered the same tournament:
i.e. say they participated in XXXX tournaments and out of these how many grand slams did Federer win, how many Nadal, how many Master's...etc. Unfortunately this cannot be done both of them are still playing but it would be worth looking at over when one of them stops playing..i.e. take all those years where both were competing and see who they did in those years. But then again, what would you do about the time in which one or another could not participate in a tournament? Maybe we would discount those just for the clarity in numbers...
i.e. if there's anyone who wants to do that: count all the tournaments over the years in which both participated and tell us how the score line looks like?
I'd be interested in knowing this.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President.Yes Indeed I am A One Woman Show 10/23/2010 at 01:37 AM

Ruth LOL! I just saw your comment when you clarified

Yes you were right sorry If I misquoted you but you summed up what I mean to say about Roger.

Maybe I should have had a stronger coffee when I posted my thoughts lol!

Posted by MindyM 10/23/2010 at 02:59 AM

I think my name was mentioned as one who said something about Rafa not having to prove anything. I am not going to look back to see what I actually wrote, however, I don't necessarily agree with this "pre-cuse or post-cuse" idea.

If I said something like another Rafa win would be icing on the cake this year, it's because it's the simple truth. Also, this business about "nothing to prove" seems to have been interpreted to mean something that it is not, at least in regard to Rafa. I think that this year he actually doesn't have anything else to prove. I am aware that he has set his sight on the year-end WTF in London, since he has never won there. It would be great to see him do well and, if he should come through and win, now that would really be icing on the cake as far as I am concerned!

Rafa winning the career grand slam and also winning RG, Wimbledon and the USO in the same year, has been the greatest of rides. Why on earth would I need to make excuses for his loss at Shanghai? It's not an excuse per se to state that your favorite player looks either mentally or physically tired. It's an observation. Why must it be misinterpreted as an excuse? If winning those three straight majors was easy, then it wouldn't have taken forty one years for someone to do it again. Rafa isn't a machine, he's a human being. If I watch him and say he's tired mentally, it's because I know my player. I don't have to make excuses for Rafa when he loses.

Posted by x-fan 10/23/2010 at 04:55 AM

As a long time reader of Steve's columns, I don't think things have gotten 'crankier' not by a long shot but I guess cranky is in the eyes of the beholder.

As to the 'nothing to prove' phrase I think it's just that. Some fans use it as a way of saying their favorites have done enough that a poor performance here or a loss there should not take away from their legacy. Of course there is always more to accomplish, reoords to set or break, head to heads to mend... :)

Posted by Mike 10/23/2010 at 06:01 AM

Ivo, the fact is that Leon is right on the money.

Individual match ups don't matter squat in the whole scheme of things ... it's how you play the field in your career. Regardless of how well Rafa has played Fed over the years, Fed has been top dog the majority of the time ... if Rafa had been the better all around player, he'd have been #1.

And before you go the 'injured, fatigued, etc.' route ... fitness, health, and avoiding injury are part of the game. All the woulda coulda shoulda in the world + 50 cents won't get you a cup of coffee at the end of the day

Posted by Larry in the Silicon 10/23/2010 at 11:35 AM

I think the reason that there are few posts is that posters are afraid of Steve's temper. I would not judge Steve for that, since I have one also, but I think that's the basic reason.

Posted by Ruth 10/23/2010 at 11:39 AM

x-fan: I'm glad that I read all the way to the end of the posted comments becuase I was going to write a comment that included your words exactly, "I guess cranky is in the eyes of the beholder," a few minutes ago; and I would have been accused of being a mere copycat. :)

I'm sure that Steve's intent was not to halt expressions of differences of opinion (thank heavens!), and I am glad to see that those have continued at CE absent the harshly dismissive comments and plain old nastiness --and, yes, maybe even crankiness -- that I think that Steve and everyone else (well, almost everyone else) hoped would end.

How long will it last? We gonna see, no?

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 10/23/2010 at 11:51 AM


With respect, I can't agree with your comment. I don't think Steve has a temper at all, I just think that for some reason his posts have tended to attract some unpleasant reponses and, dare I say it a few trolls. Now that it is being moderated, I think that things will change.

Steve and Pete have a different style of writing and I thing Pete's is more generalised.

Posted by BeautyAndJustice 10/23/2010 at 12:00 PM

Still arguing about Federer and Nadal and who is the better man? I like both men, not the other two Americans: Agassi and Sampras. Even though Federer is a little bit arrogant, he is not morally challenged like Sampras. But Nadal is the best of all. If Nadal meet one of these players on a court, he will most likely to beat them all. Here is my calculating winning percentages for Nadal: Nadal-Federer (65-35), Nadal-Sampras (90-10) and Nadal-Agassi (95-5). Nadal is on the top of the list for his tennis and also his good heart; he is the people's champion. And Sampras is at the bottom of my list for his moral standard. You want to hear a hilarious story about the two American rivals? Unlike the European rivalry, the American rivalry is much uglier and it dated back far long ago before the two Americans retired. Most visiblly, it showed at the Hit-for-Haiti charity match when Sampras served into Agassi face. So the story goes like this. After beating Agassi at the Canadian Open in Montreal, PQ Canada, Sampras drove to New York to visit friends. New York is a state bordering Canada, so some Americans can tune in Canadian channels to watch some shows. And a French sport channel occasionally shows a rerun of sport matches for people who missed the live telecast. So Sampras, staying with friends, watched a rerun of his match against Agassi, which he won. At a moment of the match, Sampras served an ace. A French tennis commentator called: "Un ace", which is "an ace". But in French, the word "ace" is pronounced like the word "ass". So Sampras who has no knowledge of French thought the commentator said "an ass". He got mad and said: "An ass, I am not an ass", "Agassi is an ass", "His name has this word", "My name needs two more "S" to make me a double ass'es". His friends said: "No, they mean you got an ace". Sampras said: "Oh, I thought they say that I am an ass". His friends said: "That's what you are, but in the match here you got an ace". Just kidding, folks! I have no problems with Sampras even though he showed, by dumping his woman, his low character. Nadal and Federer have much higher moral standard, don't they? Untill next time!

Posted by petewho 10/23/2010 at 03:23 PM

Nadal , if he can keep the balance right ; has pretty good chance of beating Rogers record.

No one has any idea what Del Porto will be like , Murray is a choker , Djoker still lost playing his A game and the rest really dont matter.

The only person I see right now as having a chance of stopping Nadal is Del Porto on hard , and thats IF his wrist is ok.

Posted by petewho 10/24/2010 at 03:25 AM

The no 1 reason i disliked Pete was the lunatics he seemed to inspire as followers - not least a person known as Whisper on

I kid you know when I say that person is actually is insane , go look at his posting count over the years / do the math and boy you will be suprised.

I doubt there has been any one on the web who spent every waking second ( up-until Fed broker his record ) posting his claims / argument for Sampras being GOAT.

Other than that , i have nothing against Pete , I dont like him , but that one person alone on RST must of killed off his popularity like nothing else.

Petes serve is still possibly the single greatest shot in tennis ( when you conasider how bad his groudies became ) and he also had very underrated footwork .

Personality wise though he sucked , you could have Pete play any one and still had boring match - primarily because his game was so 1 dimensional , and his attitude more akin to contracted killer than sportsman trying to ambassador for the sport.

Pete never cared about any one , but i guess we're all wired differently and - in that sense just made full use of this capacity.

My only question is , if he plans on having singles exhibition with Nadal too -perhaps on caly or grass ?

That would be interesting , now wouldnt it ?

Posted by Mike 10/24/2010 at 05:56 AM

Nice to see Fed and Rafa playing dueling charity matches ... using their legendary rivalry for a good cause other than to frazzle their KADs is pretty cool. LOL

Posted by CL 10/24/2010 at 02:37 PM

Well, for what's it worth, Fed said in his post match presser in Stockholm that he didn't have anything left to prove. Except to himself.

Posted by john 10/24/2010 at 10:32 PM

put my in one of your posts pleaseeeeeeee :)

Posted by Yolita 10/24/2010 at 10:38 PM

Yes, Federer said that ... I wonder why ...

@ Tenis lv 10/21/2010 at 11:54 PM

I loved your post. I didn't know the numbers and hadn't thought of checking relative rankings. Very illuminating.

Posted by deeps 10/25/2010 at 12:19 AM

I wonder if we are framing the WTA debate the wrong way. Graf, Evert, Seles, Navrotilova did not all play at the same time. You had 1, at best 2 players at the top at the same time. And you have the tier 2 spoilers like Sanchez-Vicario.

Same with the ATP. As much as we like to talk about the big 4, 5, 6 or whatever number ESPN comes up with, two men are carrying the ATP. We really had only Sampras for most of the 90s. Borg and Connors were very dominant number 1s. Same with Rosewall and Laver.

And from that standpoint, the distribution in the WTA seems to be up to par. You have Serena. And we also had Henin for a large part of this decade. And Clijsters and Venus have been strong seconds. Its just that the tier I's lack of commitment to the full tour because of injuries, desire etc... means that the tier 2 is more exposed than usual.

Posted by susan 10/25/2010 at 07:58 AM

federer, stockholm interview, after he won the final:

“Early on, I think that feeling of wanting to prove yourself to the world and all the doubters is a very strong one, so you’re very aggressive in your ways of winning and not enjoying them,” Federer said.

“Today it’s much more of the enjoyment part because I don’t need to prove myself to anyone anymore, except to myself.”

Posted by Ruth 10/28/2010 at 01:51 PM

"... I don’t need to prove myself to anyone anymore, except to myself.”

Hallelujah! Eureka! Amen! Straight from the horses's mouth and all that!!

So glad I got to see this quote before the title of this RtR thread fell off the front page. So, Roger thinks that he just might have some things he wants to prove to himself (while we watch, of course). :)

Who knew? Well, quite a few of us, actually! LOL

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