So let's start with some intersport comparisons, a favorite activity here. A few minutes after the Super Bowl, I asked via Twitter if Giants quarterback Eli Manning is the NFL's Rafael Nadal, and Patriots QB Tom Brady is Roger Federer.
Both over Twitter and email, the responses came fast and furious. @chalk_flew_up wrote: "Team sport and individual sport. Comparison begins and ends there." @DTMBartemus wrote: "makes sense. Brady and federer the best all time, but strangely cant beat manning and nadal." @lizmcosker wrote: "ewww don't EVER compare manning to Rafa. That's just disgusting. Manning is a mediocre qb who gets lucky. Rafa is a god." There were other mentions of personal lives (yes, Federer did not leave a pregnant girlfriend to move in with a supermodel), and Federer does not have Wes Welker to blame.
And on it went.
Obviously, comparing a team-sport athlete to an individual-sport athlete is fraught. And Federer and Nadal have faced each other so many more times than Brady and Manning. And, still, my feelings Sunday night felt so familiar. Older, more accomplished and objectively more skilled champion is beaten by younger upstart who simply seems to have his number. Older great player shows streaks of brilliance during the contest and offers reminder of why he has accomplished so much. But the fates seem to be on the other side and, in the end, the pluckier, less conventional rival wins out. Older player still has a fine record, but this losing record against a rival calls his legacy into question. Sound familiar?
One of you noted that Brady-Manning (Patriots-Giants) is more about a matchup problem, whereas Federer-Nadal is about a mental problem. I disagree here; the two aren't mutually exclusive. Federer-Nadal was initially about a bad matchup. Righty versus lefty; high-bouncing topspin to a one-handed backhand; an adept volleyer getting discouraged by passing shots whistling by. But matchup problems morph into something mental. Knowing that the opponent can neutralize your strengths and exploit your weakness -- whether it's attacking a secondary or taking away your backhand up the lines -- those are seeds of doubt. Don't believe it? Wait until the next time Nadal faces Aaron Rodgers, er, Novak Djokovic.
• Let's leave Huber out of this for the moment. I'm even inclined to do what her opponents didn't and give her the benefit of the doubt. When most of us play tennis, we have a good sense of whether the ball bounced twice. But, hey, few of us play at that level, and I'm inclined to reserve judgment before calling someone a dishonorable sports(wo)man, which is about as severe an allegation as you can make.
Here's my beef: Clear and decisive evidence existed that, yes, this was a double bounce, and the point rightfully belonged to Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina. Any fan watching the live streaming was given access to the replay. So folks at home knew what had occurred, but the four players most affected had no clarity. That can't be right, can it?
• I just want to be clear: I'm not opposed to five-setters because I would rather be watching
Why, then, do we insist on making the men play best-of-five? Often on concrete. Often in heat. Often when there's no demand from either television or the fans. Why? Because it's always been that way? They used to play football in leather helmets, too. Then common sense prevailed and trumped tradition.
What about the notion that we lose the gravitas of the Grand Slam if matches are the customary best-of-three? From the quarterfinals on, you move to best-of-five. You still get Nadal and Djokovic in the final playing into the infomercial hours. But you go easier on the players' bodies during the first week. You miss Isner-Mahut. That's a small price to pay as far as I'm concerned.
Broader point: For better or worse, tennis has evolved rapidly and morphed into something totally different from what it was even a few decades ago. We need to acknowledge that and free ourselves from the yoke of, yes, tradition, but more generally outdated standards. During the ESPN broadcasts, I gather a commentator questioned the stamina of players and their gripes of fatigue. (I'm getting this hearsay so I'm reluctant to identify the commentator.) The "logic" was apparently: "Djokovic played only 80 or so matches in 2011. That's less than two a week. What's he complaining about?" Yes, if this were 1970s tennis, that would be a valid point. Today? Playing 80 matches a year is brutal.
• Thanks, Mark. I really appreciate that. But negative comments? I'm not sure what you mean by that.
• Here's what I never get: There are television shows that don't appeal to me. So I don't watch them. When a song comes on the radio that disagrees with me, I change the station. Never in a million years would I think to write a letter -- sweetened with profanity -- to the show's creator or the artist. But if I did, I'd think a specific point of disagreement -- as opposed to the generic, You suck -- would not only bolster my credibility but also help me rationalize such an anti-social act. Michael Scarpitti, I'm giving you the equivalent of a "let" here, pal. Is there a specific grievance you'd like to express?
• I'm handing this over to Dave of Des Plaines, Ill. And if anyone wants to run a regression, we'd be much obliged. (By the way, if I run a regression, does that count as a workout?). Here's Dave:
• I had two people look into this. The consensus is that this match is about four hours, 30 minutes if we remove the break to open the roof and if we remove 10 seconds from the 369 points that were played. DE of Baltimore came at it a bit differently:
Apart from the math, It's pretty interesting that Nadal served 37 more points than Djokovic, no? It tells you that one guy held his serve a lot easier than the other.
• I'm not offended so much as I'm baffled. Apart from the (homo)sexual implications, I take "tomboy" to mean a rugged, sports-minded female who's low-maintenance -- if not altogether indifferent -- about appearance. Jo Polniaczek is a tomboy. (Kids, look that one up.) Victoria Azarenka? Not so much.
• Another Russian hothead who
• You're talking crazy, Brandon. We have Fed Cup fever. Why, there must have been at least dozens of fans watching that showdown in Worcester, Mass., on Super Bowl Sunday. We have Davis Cup. We have events in Sud de France and San Jose and Amsterdam or Rotterdam or, well, one of those dams. Oh, and Memphis. Don't forget Memphis. The cynic would say that, yes, tennis does itself a disservice holding a Grand Slam event two weeks into the year and then taking on a lower profile for the next several months. I prefer to think of tennis as the Academy Awards show. You come with a big-ticket prize early to rope in the audience (Natalie Portman wins Best Actress for her role in
• We all hate hypocrisy, but I'm not sure this is our strongest example. First, there is a history of a woman removing her top after
• If I'm reading you right: Both Russians could bang with anyone from the baseline, but over the course of a 128-draw tournament, both were highly susceptible to at least one match of yippy serving. And once the serve starts to go, the whole foundation of the game starts to erode. That's about the only similarity I can see. The two are temperamentally different; they have different games (Dementieva was a great athlete and shaky fighter; Sharapova is the opposite); and, of course, Sharapova takes the court every time knowing that, for whatever else might occur, she has three majors on the books!
• I have a two-letter answer, in no particular order: "V.T." Seriously, television calls the shots, as is the case at so many sporting events. You pay a big rights fee, you get a lot of say as to when matches are held. Australia's Channel 7 clearly thought that a prime-time final would draw superior ratings to a Sunday-afternoon final. So it was changed accordingly. Obviously one of the drawbacks is that the staff was forced to stay until well past midnight. My guess is that if this is the trade-off for an insta-classic final that turned in boffo ratings and was water-cooler talk worldwide, so be it.
• Quick Ricky Williams tennis story to appease @ravicnn. So in the summer of 2004, I was working on a piece for
I recall telling him to marry the two and time his vacation to the Australian Open. Fast-forward six or so months. In January, I get a call from someone in the Australian Open media credential center. They had been contacted by an American photographer requesting a credential. They were unfamiliar with his work, but apparently he had used my name as a reference. Could I vouch for a photographer, Ricky Williams? I didn't attend the Australian Open that year, but from what I gather, Ricky Williams worked the photo pit -- the other snappers unaware that the large black man alongside them was a starting NFL running back and former Heisman Trophy winner.
• A clap of the racket to Mark Miles, the former ATP CEO who ran the point on Indianapolis' successful Super Bowl hosting.
• No way does
• Reader from Montreal: "I would like to suggest a new feature for your column: stories of encounters with grunters in club tennis. I offer mine from last week:
I was playing on a court. There was a male grunter on the adjacent court. Every time he hit the ball, he grunted rather loudly. Sometimes this would happen in the middle of a shot me or my partner was making (it was loud enough for both of us to hear it clearly). We asked him to tone down the noise, and he said he would try. But after two or three shots, the decibel level increased again. We stopped and asked him to tone it down again, and he now responded that that is tennis, that is what you have to put up with if you were in a tournament, etc. So I started grunting when I hit a shot, way louder than him, and my partner made exaggerated noises, too, when he hit his shot. Some women players two courts over started yelling at us to stop, and we did. We then noticed that the original grunter from our adjacent court stopped grunting altogether most of the time. We were happy.
"So, perhaps what Aggie Radwanska should do next time she plays Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova is to do exaggerated grunts or shrieks when she hits a shot to disrupt her opponent's concentration. Then maybe the umpire can draw the line and tell both players to stop making those sounds. I, for one, do not want to watch women's tennis anymore when Shriekapova and Shriekarenka are playing!"
• Let the record reflect: On Jan. 13,
• Here's some
• "Baseball is an individual sport disguised as a team sport" --
• Nick of New York was the first to note
• Andy Pasternak of Reno, Nev.: "Movies with tennis? My favorite involves this future Oscar winner playing tennis with his future father-in-law: Tom Hanks in
• Brian Highland of San Diego: "Regarding grunting vs. screaming: Yes, it's the pitch! Gender only comes up because guys can't scream. It should be noted that most of the women don't either -- it's only a few who are so loud it hurts. I actually ignored this topic until I watched a Sharapova match. I thought I would eventually get used to it, but ended up muting the points and unmuting between points to try to catch the commentary."
• Adicecream of Baltimore: "May I add one name to those who were missed in Australia: Dick Enberg."
• Tricia Callender of New York sort of has long-lost siblings: "I remain unconvinced that
• Jason of Honolulu: "So I can't find the right pictures, but when watching the first round of the Australian Open, I could've sworn Victoria Azarenka was beating