Reading the Readers: Peace On Earth

by: Steve Tignor | December 01, 2010

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TENNIS.com

Ar Usually I have to brace myself when I click on the comments bar to find out what molehill is being turned into a mountain. But this time around it wasn't so bad. Even a post devoted entirely to the fans of Federer and Nadal failed to stir many hornets—maybe it was because the post itself was so long that everyone gave up (memo to self: bore them to death). Peace is a good thing . . . right?

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I have a question for Kamakshi and Steve—what rivalries from the past do you think would have been the most divisive regarding fan base with current technology?—Carrie

I remember having strong feelings about almost all of the game’s major rivalries. I came down on the side of Borg when he went up against McEnroe, but I switched totally to McEnroe once he started to go up against Lendl. I went for Steffi over Monica, Chris over Martina, Agassi over Sampras, Becker over Edberg—actually I can’t remember which side I was on there. Maybe it’s because they were both European, and didn’t seem to have much against each other. The one where I’d say that you absolutely had to take sides was McEnroe-Lendl. There was the Cold War aspect (at least if you were an American fan), there were the players’ totally different styles and attitudes to the game and to life, and, not least, there was the personal hatred between the two. On a couple of occasions, McEnroe wouldn’t even pronounce Lendl’s name correctly in the speeches after the match—he called him eye-van.

What’s interesting thinking back are the non-rivalries. Wilander and Lendl dueled a lot, but I don’t think they were rivals—Mats just didn’t seem like a rival kind of guy. Sampras and Becker also had their share of classics, but there was nothing but mutual respect there, and for fans, they didn’t represent different sides of anything. And McEnroe-Connors: A personal rivalry par excellence, but I don’t remember either of them inspiring armies of people to mass behind them. I guess they represented the same thing: aggressive, ornery, Irish-Catholic left-handedness.

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I respect and admire Federer (I don't understand how one can be a fan of tennis and not do those things), but admit that I do sometimes get miffed at the “he’s so smooth and perfect” comments. I shouldn’t. After all, it’s the smoothness and perfection that bore me. Obviously, those things aren't boring for Federer fans, so why shouldn't they celebrate those qualities?—Miri

One thing the TENNIS.com blogs have shown me, which I don’t think I ever quite realized before, is how many various opinions on any one subject are perfectly valid. Take Andy Roddick: You might see him yell a linesperson, get turned off by his attitude, and think that there couldn’t be any other conclusion. But then you go on the blog and there’s someone who is saying that she cringes at Roddick’s outbursts at times, but that his struggle with himself and the expectations that were placed on him to be the next great American also make her identify with him. And then you think: Yeah, that’s true, too; both reactions are true; there are a lot of truths to anything or anyone you observe, and participating in the conversation between those truths is the real pleasure of being a sports fan.

Ditto for the comment above from Miri. You might watch Federer and see how elegantly he plays and think, “How could anyone not love to watch that?” But then you see that there are people who don’t love it. I know this sounds kind of obvious, but actually being able to read so many perspectives drives it home: There are all kinds of exasperating elements to an Internet tennis blog/board, but it’s also freeing; you're free to find out for yourself what you really do think of a player, and you can let the various other opinions here add to those thoughts.

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So you think that Rafa was motivated by fear of embarrassment? You choose your words carefully, and that is why I take issue with this particular group of words? Really? Rafa? I don't know where you got that, but that’s not how Rafa rolls. He was motivated by what always motivates him—that fierce pride and will to win, that gritty toughness that makes him stay in the fight and battle. The word "fear" should not be used in conjunction with Rafa.—Mindy M

Fierce pride is not all that removed from fear of embarrassment—they’re intertwined. I know from playing that one of the things that I hate about missing a shot when there are people watching is the sense of failing in public, the raw embarrassment of it. I can only imagine what it’s like to have that feeling magnified a thousand-fold in front of a paying audience. I think, after the first set against Roddick, Rafa’s pride in being No. 1, which might be a new pride for him, kicked in—"I can’t go out like I did last year, I’m the top guy now, I have to represent."

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another write up with the Nadal was physically and/or emotionally tired crap. Nadal had 5 weeks off prior to WTF. Whereas Fed played and won Stockholm, Basel and had match points in the SF in Paris. Yet Nadal is the one flat at WTF? WTF indeed. If Fed could take out Murray in straights (and Murray won their prior two encounters) how come it took Nadal 3 sets and 3 hours to take him out in the SF?—mellow yellow

I thought I praised Federer’s serve and backhand and attacking plan sufficiently to avoid this type of comment, but I guess not. I did mention that Nadal looked weary during his trophy speech, but I wasn’t saying that’s why he lost—observing something about a player doesn’t mean I’m making an excuse for him. I’m not big on bringing up or focusing on perceived extenuating circumstances in general, be it knees, back, exhaustion, or a tummy ache. And when you win a tournament, you win a tournament, not just a match. If you finish your earlier matches more quickly and easily than your final-round opponent does (and the way Federer did last week), you’ve earned that edge.

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For the European audience, Tim Henman’s commentary is similar to Arias; no hyperbole, but rather illuminating analysis and objective opinions. Similarly, Mats Wilander pre and post match analysis is full of understated expertise and relevant commentary.—Abraxas

I’ve liked Henman when I’ve heard him at Wimbledon, much more than Rusedski, who I listened to throughout the fifth set of Isner-Mahut. Becker is good for a laugh always, but is intelligent as well, in that way that you can only get form having actually experience what the players are experiencing. Most people in tennis will tell you that Mats Wilander is one of the cooler guys in the game. I do like John McEnroe, though—good voice and pretty self-deprecating for someone who was No. 1. My former favorite was John Barrett—he's hilarious, if a little stand-offish, in person. I always wanted to hear a JB/Arias booth combination, but it was never meant to be.

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What about Cliff Drysdale...he's another one that gotta send out to pasture!—Julie

I only put this here because it made me laugh. I like Cliff. He’s the voice of tennis at its swankiest, and he’s been in all the tennis trenches—amateur champ, pioneering pro, ATP president, commentator. In general, I have more sympathy for commentators since I started doing the podcasts we do on the site. It's tough to get what you really want to say across in such a short amount of time.

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One question: Will the shortening of the ATP season mean that we won't be having Arias (and the WTF) with our Thanksgiving celebrations?—Ruth

I guess that’s true. Lengthen the season again!

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