A Reaction Party
by Pete Bodo
Howdy. A sneaky little smile crept across my lips when I opened up our home page today to find it loaded with news suggesting that tennis is alive and well, recovering from the inevitable post-Wimbledon lull. The headlines tease us: Andy Murray cuts loose his coach as he begins the run-up to the U.S. Open (okay, that's "old" news by today, but this story has legs, and is likely to pay the bills for a dozen British reporters for at least a few months), Sam Querrey prevails in a bitter, lengthy duel with Kevin Anderson. . .The Bryan brothers take another step toward the all-time doubles title record. . . Ree-shard Gasquet busts through to the Gstaad quarters. . . Slammin' Sammy Stosur vaults to a career high No. 5 ranking and celebrates by making the third round at Stanford.
So let's stage a reaction party to the news of the day:
Murray: While this news was hardly a surprise (as soon as Murray was out of Wimbledon, strong speculation, supported by on-the-ground intelligence in London, suggested that he was unhappy with his coach, Miles Maclagan), the timing here is interesting. It doesn't seem all that wise to sack your coach and invite the inevitable, transitional turmoil (and deny yourself all those little things that a coach brings to the court on a day-to-day basis to make your life easier—like bottles of your pre-mixed energy drink) with just a few weeks to go in the Grand Slam season (as you can see in the photo above, Jez Green, Murray's strength and conditioning coach, is still very much part of the Murray team).
But let's face it, a player-coach partnership is above all a relationship. And if you've lost faith in it, sustaining it for practical or strategic reasons is a real drain on your mental and emotional energy (ever spend a few days in a hotel room with a girl/boyfriend once you knew it was over?). If you want to look at the bright side, Murray may be thinking it's gut-check time. Time to be a big boy, grab hold of his destiny, and put the knowledge accumulated through the past few years to work. Better to go it alone than with someone in whom you've lost confidence. Maybe it's time for Murray to get in communion with himself, see what he can do relying on his own instincts and accumulated knowledge.
It's easy to make a coach a scapegoat, and hard to work with one in whom you've lost faith. So this move may have a liberating effect on Murray. Let's face it, Murray is not a guy who's ever needed a lot of coaching in the X's and O's department. He's got a real, native, natural feel for strategy. As for technique (I've felt he needs to really sort out his serve), that stuff can wait until the off-season.
So maybe this is less a sign of turmoil than another step in the process of maturation. Another problem to solve and navigate on his way to completing a mission that's proven more complicated than it may once have appeared. I have faith that he'll manage that, because Murray is a born problem-solver (isn't that what video games are all about?). So I'm going to look at the upside and speculate that the liberating effect on Murray will outweigh the negative aspects of going without a coach.
Querrey: Surviving a two-and-a-quarter hour first-round match is always a good thing, but especially so for a defending champion (Querrey is the title-holder at Farmer's Classic in Los Angeles). Tennis is a one-step forward, two-steps back drill for all but the very top players. Let's face it, there's more failure than triumph in tennis, because as many as 127 of 128 players at any given event ends up a loser.
But the benchmark for Top 10 players is consistency, which is not as glamorous a concept or facility as coming up with a hot hand to win the entire shooting match now and then. But it produces a better long-term payoff. This was a good effort by Querrey, it will help his confidence. This is the kind of match you need to survive to become a regular contender at all tournaments.
Bryans: Bob and Mike are on the verge of reaping the rewards for the remarkable fidelity they've shown to the game of doubles, and for how much they've done to keep the game alive, period. Let's not forget that it was just a few years ago that the ATP was seriously considering so emasculating the doubles that the event would become meaningless. And it was the Bryans who led the charge, raising hail with the ATP and threatening a player revolt. The upshot was an organizational re-dedication to doubles. These guys deserve to win that record 62nd title in Los Angeles, near their home, and unless they get so jacked up that their heads simultaneously explode (which is always a possibility with these two), I believe they'll close the deal.
Gasquet: This is a wayward, erratic player and personality whose window is beyond the fully-opened stage and beginning to close. A tournament win would go a long way toward getting him on track to do some damage during the hard-court summer tour, even though Gstaad is a clay-court event. I like tales of redemption, although I'm not entirely sure this guy has enough positive virtues to merit one, or the character to write one. That's okay, though, those virtues aren't obligatory. In tennis, hitting the ball well is the best revenge—and all the justification any player needs.
Stosur: Frankly, I was a little surprised that Stosur melted away so quickly after the clay-court season, but it confirms the counter-intuitive theory that although her game is big, and her bloodlines are Aussie, she's saddled with too many shortcomings to really do well on grass. She must be glad to find herself on hard courts, where she'll find herself on firmer footing. Given that she's emerged as perhaps the quintessential WTA "professional" (it's refreshing to take a break from the diva narrative now and then), I think she's going to pick up right where she left off at the end of the clay segment. Watch out for her as the U.S. Open Series rolls out.
A side note/non sequitor: for about the 1,234th time in my life, I rewrote a paragraph (above) because I realized that in the original I used the gerund form of verbs (as in, headlines informed us of Murray "cutting loose," Querrey "prevailing," the Bryans "taking" and Stosur "vaulting." I'm not sure that it's technically "wrong" to use the gerund when the simple past (or present) is an option. I just know that the gerund is ugly and ungainly and should be used with utmost discretion, only when its absolutely necessary to describe an ongoing action (The Bryans are making progress toward . . .). Journalists are by far the worst gerund abusers. Feel free to join me in the SGH, or Society of Gerund Haters.
With that, I turn it over to you. I have a big weekend, with three of Luke's PS 87 classmates (and parents) coming up for a camping weekend here at the farm. Any idea how many marshmallows I have to buy for making that campfire staple, s'mores?