Yesterday, I listed five things I'd like to see more of before we call it quits for the year. Today, I'm going to focus on five things of which I've had enough for one year, perhaps even time immemorial, otherwise known as that long period between the resolution of the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
As I'm heading off for a week in Montana tomorrow, with no access to any sort of electronics (other than a hand-held GPS), let's get right to it. And don't worry, you'll have a fresh table set for your comments here each day while I am away, although the post might be a simple, repeated "vacation message."
5. Images of Rafael Nadal throwing his celebratory uppercut, knee up around his waist. It seems that photo editors never get tired of that shot, anymore than they do of the trophy-biting photo. I don't mind the latter so much. Sure, it's outlived its use-by date, but it's also become a tradition with Rafa so, as old hat at it may seem, it's appropriate. Rafa is biting another trophy. All is well in the world.
The uppercut photo is something different, and it tends to hammer away at the theme that Rafa is a young bull with a muscular, knockout game. This is still in some measure true, but it reinforces the cliché, still popular in some quarters, that Rafa is little more than a bull—a specimen. And that simplistic take was pulverized some time ago. So I say, bring on images of Rafa hitting the sliced backhand; making a desperate forehand scoop return while running toward the parking lot with his back to the net; throwing in the drop shot, which he hits with what always seemed to me a smidgen of reluctance. It's like he's thinking, I can't quite believe I'm actually doing this. . .Uncle Toni is going to kill me!
4. The great Williams sisters debate. You know, the one where one camp denounces them as gifted, arrogant opportunists bringing tennis into ill repute with their independent, self-serving actions and attitudes. Then their counterparts, veins bulging in their foreheads, respond by saying the Williams sisters are the best thing that ever happened to tennis. To me, both are in some ways true, and in some ways exaggerations.
That the sisters are great for tennis is so blatantly obvious that it doesn't even merit discussion. That they also, individually or jointly (none of this "you don't even know the difference between Serena and Venus!" business for now, either), can be opaque, imperious, too coy by half, indifferent to some of the more routine obligations of anyone who purports to be an "amabassador for the game," and maddeningly elusive also appears to be true.
But to me, the key issue is their longevity. Venus and Serena have had long, rich, productive careers. When people look back in a decade, nobody is going to nitpick their commitment to Fed Cup, the Roadmap, Indian Wells, or the player party before Wimbledon. Would we be better off if the sisters were more focused, their careers featuring a clear beginning, middle and end? I'm not so sure. Did Steffi Graf, who also had a long career but seemed terribly pained through most of it, "do more" for tennis than have the sisters? I think not. The record says that Graf was a more successful player, while Venus and Serena have been more successful personages—at least in elevating tennis in the general public's consciousness. They've done as much to further popularize tennis than anyone since Jimmy Connors.
The main problem here may be that many people, critics as well as fans, expect them to be more than what they are, or read more into them than the evidence supports. Let them be just what they are, the greatest sibling act ever in tennis, and perhaps the most amazing sports story ever created and told, going about their business in the way that makes the most sense to them. The truth always comes out in the wash, and it will in this case when you look in the record books.
3. Tomas Berdych. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, and you're . . . Berdych! After those fine performances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Berdych has effectively regressed into the unreliable competitor we've known and liked, if not loved—a headcase. And to think he had so many of us fooled for a while there, with what appeared to be his newfound consistency, based to a large degree to the fitness work he'd been doing.
Granted, if we're going to let Venus and Serena be the Williams sisters, we're also obliged to let Berdych be Berdych. And on balance it's not such a terrible thing to be. But I have a problem embracing such a predictably inconsistent player, even though the tours—and tennis clubs and public courts—are loaded with them. In that sense, Berdych is more representative than unique when it comes to his profile as "head case," and perhaps his biggest crime is showing off his spectacular unreliability on a stage which most comparably flawed players never reach.
Whatever the case, I've had quite enough of Berdych for one year, thank you.
2. Bag Check. How many more times do I need to turn on Tennis Channel to discover that deep within, say, Andreas Seppi's racquet bag lurks an iPod. Imagine that!
1. Vera Zvonareva, weeping, or looking like she's about to throw herself off the Brooklyn Bridge. Okay, Zvonareva's inability to hide her feelings and her willingness to turn on the tear ducts works out okay sometimes, like at the U.S. Open. After crushing Vera, Kim Clijsters got to play the Duchess of Kent to Zvonareva's Jana Novotna. This role suited both women to a T, as it sometimes seems that Clijsters' highest aspiration is to have people look at her and remark, "Aw, isn't she nice?" It sure beats being though of as a rude pig, I'll say that much.
But on other occasions, the weeping (in which a number of other players have also indulged) and general bummed-out-edness shown by some runners-up is inappropriate, mainly because it takes attention away from the one who deserves most of it—the winner. I'm not saying the runner-up has to stand holding his stupid crystal plate with a smiley-face icon plastered on his mug, but out of the respect for the winner the runner-up should always cowboy up as best as he or she can.
Have a great weekend and next week, everyone. I'll post a vacation message starting tomorrow.