The shrinking of Federer and who will stop the Williams sisters?
Roger Federer's breakdown was shocking, but there is crying in tennis
Federer clearly needs to consult a sports psychologist and "staff up"
If Nadal's not on the threshold of history, his trajectory suggests he will be
Here I thought we had closed the retractable roof on the 2009 Australian Open. But after the remarkable men's final and even more remarkable trophy presentation, the questions/comments/laments keep pouring in. So a special edition Mailbag.
There were plenty of cracks about Roger Federer's meltdown. ("Where's the Dutchess of Kent when you really need her?" "Rod Laver, human onion." Richard Hinds quipped that Federer's real rivalry isn't with Rafael Nadal but with Victoria Falls. But most fans also realize that Sunday's final was momentous in its significance, a real "plot point" in the men's tennis narrative. Nadal has now beaten Federer on clay, grass and the democratic hard courts. There's no mono alibi, no darkness in the waning games. There's clearly a new king.
Here are five points, trying to incorporate as many of your thoughts as possible:
1) There is crying in tennis. Federer's breakdown was shocking but I thought it was a poignant reminder that a) the guy is human and b) he really wants to win. In no way did I perceive this as unsportsmanlike or selfish or "shamefully wimpy," as a surprising number of you wrote. Maybe an expert can help us but I suspect there's a bio-chemical thing going on here, too. You're done playing, you're done exercising, your adrenaline high is wearing off and all the stress hormones are fluctuating. As Federer noted, in any other round (or any other sport) you'd be taking a cold shower in the locker room, calming down. Here, you're "decompressing" in front of the world.
2) Federer needs to "staff up." We've spoken before about his need for a full-time coach. He's famously stubborn and, let's be honest, at 27, he's not about to retool his game. But an extra voice -- specifically savvy to countering Nadal -- is needed. Beyond that, Federer clearly needs to consult a sports psychologist. We're past the point where visiting a sports shrink carries a stigma. If the match itself and the drama afterward proved anything, it's that Nadal not only resides in Federer's head, but has squatter's rights. Time to figure out how to "treat the Nadal complex," as Mats Wilander puts it.
3) What of the GOAT debate? Losing so consistently to your rival, cuts against your candidacy. But it doesn't eliminate Federer from consideration any more than, say, the ritual failures on clay eliminate Pete Sampras. Let's take a step back: Federer was going for his 14th Major, playing in his 19th-straight semifinal. And let's remember, too, that the 6-13 record against Nadal, while troubling, is misleading. Before last week Nadal had never even been in the final of a hardcourt Major.
4) On to Nadal...as I wrote in Sports Illustrated this week, I think we need to readjust our perspective and now look at him as potential GOAT. If he's not yet on the threshold of history, his trajectory suggests he will be. Barring upset, on his 23rd birthday he'll have won his seventh Major. He's won all surfaces. And, time and again, he's proven that he is without peer in the mental-toughness department.
5) If Nadal didn't distinguish himself enough with his courageous tennis, his response to the postmatch dramatics was pitch perfect. Honestly, could you have scripted a more gracious reaction? This was a total improv job, too. Not as though an athlete has a canned response for what he'll say in the event that his rival sobs uncontrollably on the trophy platform. And what an extraordinary ability to compartmentalize: one minute you're fighting to the death; the minute the match ends, you're a compassionate human being. We've talked plenty about how Nadal has proven to be Federer's equal (and then some?) on the court. But he's a rival in the mensch department too. If his title was rendered a tad bittersweet -- "I can't enjoy 100 percent the victory, because I saw him cry," he told reporters -- he ultimately benefited from the opportunity to show such grace and empathy.
Do you have Darin Cahill's phone number?
I would think the real Federer would spell Darren Cahill's name correctly. But you have a point. If I'm a coach I start with this pep talk: "You served a dismal 51 percent and still pushed Nadal to five sets. We have a lot to work on, most of it psychological, but all is not lost."
I enjoy UFC as well, but attacking a streaking trespasser should not be encouraged! Someone using their naked body to interrupt your sporting activity does not give you the right to physically attack them. That cricketer is damn lucky he doesn't live in the States. (Of course, if he did, he wouldn't be a cricketer, now would he?) Seriously, if this how we solve our problems now? Someone invades your "space" so you just knock them to the ground? I hate the spectators making the sporting event "about them" more than anyone, but that doesn't excuse typical jock violence! (Remember high school?)
After all that soft sympathy for Federer and his crying, I'm taking a harder stance here. Seems to me once you trespass onto a playing field naked, you've forfeited your boarding pass. This isn't a sadistic high-school bully attack; and we're not talking about a savage beating here. A stiff forearm shiver to deter other streakers? I have no problem with that.
When Serena Williams thanked Dinara Safina for "putting on a great show for women's tennis" after their Oz Open final, was she displaying a) genuine graciousness b) tragic delusion or c) a commitment to the correct usage of the word 'irony'? Please let me know.
How about non-genuine graciousness? Give Serena credit here. What's she supposed to say? "Thanks, Dinara, for coming out in a jellified state, giving me my easiest match of the tournament and single-handedly setting back the tiresome equal prize money debate." While it's hard to imagine that anyone "genuinely" thought Safina put on a great show Saturday night, Serena made the best of an awkward situation.
And let's add this: I don't usually think of the Williams sisters as suffering from a lack of publicity. But for the third-straight Slam, the achievements of Tennis' First Family were shortchanged by the intrigue in the men's draw. Who will fill that WTA vacuum? Either Venus or Serena has now won three Slams, the year-end championship and two Major doubles titles to boot.
Another Roger-Rafa classic but my aesthetic pleasure was somewhat diminished by Nadal's new wardrobe. What a dull color palette for such a vibrant player. Don't miss the clam diggers too much, but Rafa -- please bring back the muscle shirts. (Even your lesbian fans miss seeing your guns.) Anyone else feel the same?
I'm not sure who deputized WI Dilettante (a great name/nickname) to speak on behalf of Nadal's lesbian fan base, but let the record reflect that the new outfit gets brutal reviews from you guys.
I am color blind, as are millions of people in the United States. The links in your columns are invisible to those of us with this problem. I have to move my mouse over each word in your story to see if there is a link. I enjoy your writing, but I rarely read your articles now because it is so frustrating. Making your articles color blind sensitive (with blue links, perhaps?) would solve this problem easily.
Honestly, this never crossed my mind. If there are other readers who share John's concern, drop me a line and maybe I'll just e-mail you the columns directly.
I say this, Jon, from the bottom of my heart, which is still reeling. I have been playing tennis since I was 2. I know a lot about tennis. Admit I must, I have been a fierce Fed supporter for years, and hence always slightly anti-Nadal. But you saw the match. You saw the whole tournament. I watched all the faces of characters in a grand play bend and stretch, sweating fiercely through uncharted emotion. All analysis aside -- I am now no longer a Federer fan, I am now a tennis fan. This image says it all.
On that note, have a great week, everyone!