Reading the Readers

Thursday, August 06, 2009 /by

Rs Here’s another first entry in an occasional series. Can you tell it's a little slow around the office? I'm happy to have a chance to give this blog more time.

I’ve struggled for a while over how to address reader comments. Their existence alone is a dilemma for me: I like to get them, I like to know people are reading, I learn from them, but I still have a hard time clicking on them right after I put up a post because I never know what I’m going to find there. A thoughtless or nasty remark near the top can make me feel like the whole process of writing a column was a waste of time. Not that that happens often at Tennis.com, a fact that I’m reminded of every time I write for another site (that will remain nameless).

The more significant issue for me is answering comments. When I’m done with a post, I feel like I’m spent as far as that topic goes for the moment, and revisiting it even to address reasonable questions or second intelligent observations a few minutes or hours later is a harder mental exercise than it might appear. 

So my solution for the moment is to take the best/most interesting/most germane/most humorous/most irritating comments from a given period of time—a week, two weeks, we’ll see—and respond to them in a separate post, of which this will be the first, and hopefully not the last.

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From Juan Jose on “The Survival of the Maddest"

I've also been thinking how one appreciates the quirky little things of the pros more than anything. Sure, one can always marvel at what the top guys/gals do so well, but sometimes it's a little more satisfying to see someone like Bartoli come up with a big win because of her eccentricities, not despite them.

I quote this because, in the wake of so much talk about Federer and Nadal, I found the chance to watch and then write about Marion Bartoli just as freeing and refreshing as JJ did. As a tennis writer these days, there’s a tendency to think that if you’re not talking about Rog or Rafa or both, you’re ignoring what really matters, you’re ignoring history But as a tennis fan, you know that the little things about all the players count as well. Add all the quirks up and you have perhaps the most human sport of all. That's part of history, too.

*** 

From VC on “Men for All Seasons"

In the Wimbledon match, Soderling was clearly playing his heart out with no pressure whatsoever, but Federer just came up with the goods when he needed it. If Soderling was smiling after that match, it was probably because he couldn't have done any more.

The reference here is to a line I wrote about how in Paris Robin Soderling had competed differently against Federer from the he way had against Nadal, and how after losing a tight match to Federer at Wimbledon, he walked off with a smile across his face. I used this as evidence that Jon Wertheim’s theory about Federer’s use of “soft power,” his friendliness to all and his regular-guy quality, helps take the edge off his opponents’ desire to beat him. I still believe Jon is right—and no, he wasn’t saying Federer does this as a conscious tactic (though he may start if he reads Strokes of Genius)—but I think you’re exactly right with this comment, VC. It’s just that if the Sod had thrown everything at Nadal and still lost, would we have seen the same smile?

It’s a subtle and opaque concept, Federer’s “soft power.” I would say it manifested itself at the French Open as a sense, from Monfils, from del Potro, from Soderling, that destiny was against them, that beating Federer in Paris would be robbing him of something he deserved—like dethroning a very benign king. Nadal seems to inspire this same feeling among some of the Spanish guys and clay-court specialists. Think of Almagro’s admiring comments after he was steamrolled by Rafa in Paris in 2008.

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From JohnC on “Beyond Rivalry" 

"’Rooting for one player means you can’t really root for his rival, or even like his rival.’ That's a mentality to which I cannot relate.”

The first line is a quote from my post and one with which a number of you had issues. Let me start by giving my full quote:

Rooting for one player means you can’t really root for his rival, or even like his rival—you’ve chosen your guy for a reason, even if you can’t explain that reason to yourself. Of course, there are exceptions, and I personally like both Federer and Nadal, but in general it’s a little like asking a Red Sox fan to enjoy a World Series win by the Yankees; or god forbid, asking a Phillies fan to shift his loyalty to the Mets for an evening. Rational assessments of the enemy are rare in all sports, and hardly mandatory. What's interesting about Tennis.com is that it’s become a neutral site frequented by partisans from both sides. There’s a lot of talking past each other and probably not a lot of minds changed in the process, but at least there’s talking, and at least you know the other sides' arguments.

I admit that as I was playing tennis later that day, I found myself thinking about that idea and regretting the way I put it. You certainly can root for the other guy to do well when he’s not playing your man. The point I was thinking of, and which I neglected to write down, is that since starting this blog and reading Pete’s blog, I’ve been surprised by how many tennis fans do see the world through Fed-colored (gold?) and Rafa-colored (pink?) glasses. It’s an attitude that I associated with team sports in the past, not tennis, and that’s why I mentioned the Yankees and the Sox. Tennis.com has shown me that, on the one hand, there are people just as passionate and irrational about their tennis heroes as there are in any team sport, and that on the other hand there are partisans of each player who can see the enemy’s side of things as well. As I said in my post, this site, unlike, say MSNBC and FOX, offers a place for each side to engage the other and not just speak to the converted. You can’t ask for much more than that, even if the results can be infuriating at times.

•••

From awow on “Beyond Rivalry"

“Nice article, though I think Pascal Maria's interpretation of events is a bit suspect. They were likely looking at him after every point because they were wondering when he'd call the match because of darkness...”

Damn, I hate to say it, but I think you’re right. The quote did seem too good to be true, but I couldn’t think of a good explanation. Still, I’m choosing to believe Maria’s interpretation, because it inspired me to think about how alone those three guys are out there in front of the world, alone on a very very high tightrope or mountaintop, and the kinds of emotions that must inspire. They may be rivals, but both Federer and Nadal must, at a deeper level, know that what they have in common—world-beating tennis talent and the will and nerve to use it—is so much more profound and significant than all of their differences put together. Nobody else on earth has scaled the particular heights that they have with each other.

There’s a time for reality—it was getting dark out, or it was going to rain—and there’s a time for poetry, wouldn’t you say?

***

From Orpheo on “The Player Next to You"

“Steve but...did you get the girl!!!????”

Let me fashion a different ending to that story for you:

You gaze into your future and see your fate clearly: You will never be rejected by the girl on the next court. But what will happen may seem even worse in retrospect. You'll become friends.

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