Mornin', Tribe. We're in the home stretch now, heading for Shanghai, which is why I have sympathy for the elite players who have already qualified for the year-end championships. If you're Roger Federer, how on earth do you get up for a match with thunder-throwing Ivo Karlovic? Or what's in it for Rafael Nadal, as he goes up up against Filippo Volandri? How about Novak Djokovic, who gets to play ageless magician Fabrice Santoro - in front of Santoro's home crowd, no less!
A part of me is glad that the Paris Indoors is having a better year than it did in 2006, but another part suggests that this calendar thing really is kind of crazy. Oh, I know ranking points are important, as are head-to-heads and, quite simply, head-to-head-games (as in: If I wax Michael Llodra 2-and-1 tonight, I'll be in pretty good shape if we get drawn to play each other in the Australian Open!). But it still has be tough, which is all the more reason to bow to the players who live up to their seedings this late in the year.
Although we've had a healthy dose of controversy in tennis lately, in areas ranging from doping offenses to match-fixing (apparently, Llodra has now come forward with allegations of his own, which means we can still look forward to roughly 243 more ATP pros speaking out and making headlines about the "gambling problem" in tennis), the degree to which the players put forth their best effort at a time of year when the temptation to bag it must be enormous is a great comment on the basic integrity of the game.
Critics, especially sports fans who are not enamored of tennis, can't be expected to understand this basic reality: Tennis is organized in a way that may present more challenges than any other sport. The game is played year-round, on vastly different surfaces that have a dramatic impact on technique and strategy - a far greater impact, it seems to me, than you get in any other sport (where the greatest difference seems to be between natural and artificial turf).
Also, in tennis there are no teammates to pick up the slack for an ATP or WTA pro if he or she is, for any reason whatsoever, having a bad day. There is no coach to turn to in the heat of battle. A tennis player isn't even sure who he is going to play from day-to-day, or what even what time he will play. The Mighty Fed could end up playing Ivo Karlovic six times next year - or not once. In his three Gran Slam wins last year, Federer played 21 matches. He faced only three guys (Nikolay Davydenko, Djokovic, and Andy Roddick) more than once. That means he overcame 18 different games and temperaments in winning three majors.
Does any other sport demand a comparable ability to fly by the seat of the pants?
Okay, as I write this, the news comes across that Santoro has taken out Djokovic. Tom Perrotta just dropped by my office and we got to talking about the possibility that Djokovic, looking ahead to Shanghai, might not have been hellbent on winning the match. So much for the thoughts I just articulated.
But this brings us back to the latest episode in the serial bummer that appears to be Nikolay Davydenko's life these days - the $2000 fine he incurred recently for failing to give his best effort in a match against Marin Cilic.
I Wonder what Kolya is thinking now.
Anyway, I have to do a little magazine work, so have at it!