The effect of Djokovic's dominance on Nadal, Fed's absence, more mail
• So Monday we
Ten months later? Well, the 25-year-old has slipped to No. 2 in the rankings, which isn't catastrophic. But look closer. He is 0-6 against the No. 1 guy. He's won "only" one major and "only" one Masters 1000 event. A player known for his fight and mental impenetrability, Nadal last week lost a three-setter to Murray, falling painfully short on big points -- the Spaniard was 0-of-4 on break points in the second set and won only four total points in the decisive third.
Historically, Nadal tends to gear down in late summer, all that summer grinding exacting a price. And all players are beaten up and beaten down by this point in the calendar. But Nadal did win two Davis Cup matches the week after the U.S. Open. And he did look fresh in Tokyo -- no player had broken his serve until the final.
What else could it be? I think Nadal is still gobsmacked by Djokovic. Think about Nadal's career. It's been a progression of success starting at a young age. Unlike Roger Federer, there was little in the way of early underachievement or critics growing restless. Starting as a teenager, Nadal ruled clay. He still had baby fat when he helped Spain win the 2004 Davis Cup. A few months later he was French Open champion. There were a few lapses but they were attributable to injury (and his parents' marital strife), which made for some adversity, but it's different from outright losing. While there were defeats along the way, no player "had his number" or created a real matchup problem. Certainly not Federer, whom he routinely beat.
Suddenly, it's 2011, Nadal is coming off a three-Slam year and poised for domination and ... Djokovic, that pesky Serb, turns into a world-beater. He isn't intimidated. He can hang with Nadal from the baseline. The stamina issues are gone. What works so well for Nadal against Federer (the loopy spin to the one-handed backhand; the relentless pressure) doesn't register against Djokovic. Nadal loses a few times and before he knows it, it's six straight matches, including two major finals. The entire balance of power has shifted. In some ways, this must be demoralizing in the extreme, a jarringly new experience. In other ways, I suspect this invigorates Nadal and gives him a real riddle to solve. No one saw this a year ago. But now, his ability to respond to Djokovic will figure heavily in his legacy.
• My magic 8-ball says, "Looks fuzzy. Try again." Who knows? A year ago, you could have said the same thing about Nadal. Then he wins "just" one major in 2011 and loses in seven of 10 finals. There's no question Djokovic rules the roost right now. But so much has to go right to win ALL four of the majors. No bad day at the office. No niggling injuries. No day of catching an opponent in the zone. Could it happen? Sure. You make a good case. When a guys goes W/SF/W/W in the Slams, how do you not take him seriously? But it's hard to outright predict such an unlikely occurrence.
• Federer, Federer, Federer. Swiss chap? Pleasant demeanor? Plays with a small racket? Likes Lindt chocolate? Name rings a bell. Yes, Federer has been laying low lately and has taken a pass on the Asian swing. Given his track record, you can't really call him out here.
But it's starting to look like Serena Williams was ahead of her time. Disagree with the structure of your Tour and number of "mandatory" events? You can fight in the court of public opinion. Or you can simply set your own schedule and deal with the fallout. It's late in the year. The players are injured. Asia is a long haul. Still, it's hard to overlook the fact that, in the first Masters event following the U.S. Open -- when the players shot Fort Sumter-style salvos -- only one of the top three men is showing up.
• Psst. Rosebud. I see your point, but it doesn't bother me. In other sports, logos cover the playing surface, the equipment and sometimes the jerseys themselves. Some branding at the net may be an eyesore, but I put it in the "cost of doing business" department.
• Exhibitions are for one night only. Big difference between a "one-off" and an event where you could play five matches in six days. And again, the mentality is totally different. Exhibitions are a dry run. There are no ranking points at stake. The media doesn't report on the result. You're almost indifferent to winning or losing. You can skate by at 80 percent. (To wit: When was the last time there was a trainer called to the court during an exo?) The person on the other side of the net is less an opponent than a partner on stage. I don't say this to denigrate exhibitions. I think they're often fun and a way to bring the sport to markets that can't (or simply don't) support a full event. But the vibe is totally different than it is for a sanctioned match.
• Who else thinks that Kevin Lynch of Eden Prairie, Minn., is eating steak tonight, getting a back rub tonight or is a little wealthier tonight? Suffice it to say you have won this bet. In a best-of-five match, we're talking about winning three sets in less than 20 minutes each. Walkovers and retirements notwithstanding, that simply doesn't happen MANY times.
You can find out match duration on a player's "playing activity" page on the
• Google/Wikipedia sure come in handy when we come across obscure references, no? (To that I say: katchagoogoo!)
I credit Andy Roddick with this sentiment: The heart grows fonder in the offseason. When the other sports turn the power down for many months, we get caught up in "Hot Stove" talk (cue: Google/Wikipedia) and anticipation (and labor law!). By the time it's spring training or training camp, we're fired up. It's tabula rasa. Promise hangs in the air.
In the case of tennis, there's no opportunity for this refraction period, as it were. Davis Cup is over, the Christmas holidays come and go and ... presto, we're getting scores from Chennai, Doha and Australia. It's like the Torah. It just keeps going in a loop.
Here's an intriguing idea an insider threw at me last week. What happens when a company decides that it's expanded too much and wants to contract? It buys back shares. What prevents the ATP from simply buying back those smaller, less-than-relevant events that clog the fall schedule and unnecessarily prolong the season? The Tour needs a presence in Asia and China, no question about it. But should there really be a week on the calendar for Basel/Valencia or for Vienna/St. Petersburg/Montpellier? Armed with that Hamburg ruling -- which agrees with the principle that the ATP reserves the right to organize its own schedule -- you'd think this would be feasible both financially and legally. Something to think about.
• Interesting. I'm not sure the Moneyball analogy quite works, since it was more about using new metrics (and ignoring old ones) to find hidden value. But I could see how some of you find that there is something off-puttingly calculated and risk-averse about Wozniacki, both in terms of her scheduling and her actual game.
To repeat the position here: Don't blame her for the top ranking or her industriousness. If you feel the ranking is undeserved, blame the computer system. Yet if the knock on me is that I amass points at smaller events and don't win the matches/tournaments freighted with the most significance, I might think twice about, say, playing the week before majors.
• It's the opposite of sick. It's the epitome of healthy. All credit for Evert's consistency. But all credit, as well, for her ability to avoid injury.
• Thanks to everyone who came out to the Gelfmagazine.com tennis event last Thursday in New York. That was great fun. We'll do it again sometime.
• Several of you mentioned this (including Brad Gilbert) and I wholeheartedly agree. It's great that Shanghai has found a title sponsor in Rolex, built a tennis venue capable of hosting a Slam and committed more than $5 million to this week's Masters event. But the absence of fans -- and thus absence of atmosphere -- is galling. Paper the town if you must. Anything to avoid the unseemly sight of all those empty seats.
• Eric Yeung of Sunnyvale, Calif.: "A recent headline: 'Azarenka upset by noisy fans in Beijing.' Uh, really? Trust me, Vicky, I've been in a jam-packed dim sum restaurant in the heart of Hong Kong, and I'll bet you can drown that out."
• How's this for a line score from the Sacramento Challenger:
 J Blake (USA) d A Kuznetsov (USA) 62 75
In the final, Karlovic beat Blake. That's a decent ATP 500 Series final not long ago.
• Repeat link: Thanks to Colette Lewis for
• Ubaldo Scanagatta
• An interesting
• My friend and colleague Kelvin Bias is screening his feature film directorial debut
Anthology Film Archives is located at 32 Second Ave at 2nd St. (Take the F to Second Ave and get off at the back end of the train). We will host a wine/beer reception in the lobby starting at 8:30 p.m.
• Billie Jean King
• Vera Zvonareva and Sam Stosur
• Going back in the archives, a reader found
• Came across
• An anonymous reader sent me
• This week's lost-long siblings comes from Nick D. of Montclair, N.J.: