For nearly half of the 2012 season, the ATP's Big Four have been firing on just three cylinders: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Roger Federer, and No. 3 Andy Murray have divvied up all the choice prizes while Rafael Nadal, down to No. 4 due to inactivity, has rested and attempted to strengthen his wobbly knees. Nadal is due back at the Australian Open, though, when—we hope—he’ll jump right back into the fray and once again make it a four-man race for the top year-end ranking.
With the tennis year now over, the three active partners in the Big Four had a chance to evaluate and reflect, and during this Thanksgiving week each one had an opportunity to appreciate, savor, and give thanks for their good fortune. That may explain why each of them took pen in hand to write a brief Thanksgiving Day note to his out-of-commission amigo, Nadal. We’re pleased to share them with you here.
I just wanted to reach out to you as a colleague and, I want to say, fellow warrior, to give you some thanks on this day that is so important to Americans, but not so much to anyone else. It’s like their crazy idea of “futbol”—and remind me in Australia to show you my Victor Cruz impersonation, complete with that crazy “salsa dance” celebration.
You know, it was, shall we say, real struggle for me to find motivation in 2012 after that year of 2011. And then we had crazy final in Australia to start the year. And let me say I apologize for the way I started yelling like a madman and pounding my chest when I won that one. It was not with any disrespect toward you. You played a great match even though you took so long between points that by set four I almost fell asleep on my feet waiting to return serve.
Anyway, after my great 2011, when I tagged you six times in a row (but who’s counting?) I was thinking you have capacity to make my life truly miserable—miserable!—in 2012. And after I got just one lousy set off you in the spring in those three matches, including the French Open final, I was thinking like, “Sheesh, doesn’t this guy get it? I’m just not into it this year. Why do I have to do this again so soon?”
I was really worried going into Wimbledon, and it wasn’t about Roger. I’m sick of how he looks like a sourpuss out there all the time now, but I’ll be the first to admit that he’s still got game, dopey one-handed backhand and all. And Andy Murray? Oh, please! I honestly think Neil Harman would have had more confidence playing against me.
No, amigo, it was you who had me running scared, you with that nasty, pig-sticker two-handed backhand and that “Vamos” upper cut that still brings them to their feet, like when some American rock star visiting my country shouts from the stage, “We love you, Belgrade!”
You and I both know Lukas Rosol isn’t fit to carry your racquet bag. And we both know that his win in the second round at Wimbledon wasn’t about forehand and backhands. It was about your knees. I feel for you Rafa, I really do. But I also have to thank you for pulling back at that point, because despite the way I played over the summer and fall, I never would have finished No. 1 without you being out of the picture.
So I owe you one, compadre. If you feel up to it, pop on over to Belgrade over the Christmas holidays. We party like it’s 1999 over here, and Jelena and I will show you and Xisca a great time—unless you bring Shakira instead! LOL!
Your buddy, Nole
This is going to have to be quick; Mirka is yelling at me to take out the trash and the twins are all over me to play Wii tennis. It’s a pretty good game, actually, although I don’t think the replays are any more accurate that that damned Hawk-Eye!
I should have reached out to you earlier, because I feel badly that we didn’t get a chance to play another Match of the Century or whatever at a Grand Slam in 2012. To be honest, I thought you might still be a little pissed at me for the way I left you out there twisting in the wind on those length-of-season and ranking issues. But I have to tell you, Rafa. A two-year rolling ranking? What were you thinking?
Anyway, the knees knocked you out in July. It’s a pity, really, but as they say, “that’s tennis.” But let’s not kid ourselves, I certainly benefited from your misfortunes. That’s why I am writing to you on this day of Thanksgiving.
Rafa, you helped made it possible for me to win Wimbledon again (and you know I never tire of winning that one, and not just because of all the really cool Wimbledon jackets, cardigans and handbags Nike makes me). Once I got past that ham-fisted caveman Djokovic in the semis, it was a cinch. But I still wake up in a cold sweat some nights thinking, “What if that were Rafa across the net from me in the semis—or final?”
BTW, don’t you think Andy Murray ought to think a little bit more about his grooming?
I hope that telling you all this gives you some comfort in this time of distress, and hope for the future. I can’t speak for the caveman or the surly Scotsman, but I’m looking forward to having you back. You and me, baby. It was never better. Not for tennis, not for us.
With thanks and affection, Roger
I hope your knees are coming along well and responding to treatment as you hoped. I know you spend a lot of time fishing, so you may not have been watching a lot of tennis these past few months. But guess what? I finally got to play for the Wimbledon title (I lost to Roger, but hey, who hasn’t?).
And get this: I won the Olympic singles gold medal in London, just like you did in Beijing, and I also took a silver in mixed doubles playing with Pippa Middleton. Just kidding, it was that Laura Robson kid. And—sit down now, and get a grip on the arms of your chair—I won. . . my first Grand Slam title!
That’s right. Me, a British subject—and Grand Slam champion! Oxymoron much????? It’s like freakin’ Don Quijote winning against the windmill, right?
The first thing I did after winning the U.S. Open, I went out and bought my border terriers each a new squeaky toy. Then I bought a book for Kim, so she has something to do while I play my DS. And then I fell to my knees and thanked God that I didn’t have to play you at all this year. (I’m not counting that walkover win over you in Miami in our H2H, and even asked Greg Sharko to keep it out of the official ATP record, too. Fair is fair!)
Okay, let’s not anyone kid anyone else here. Through 2011 and early 2012, I was still the guy who just couldn’t be expected to beat two other members of the Big Four and win a major. Last year was a great example: You beat me in the semis in the three Grand Slam events after the Australian Open, and you and I both know that even with the insane way Djokovic was playing, I might have had a shot.
I’m man enough to admit that you’ve been my biggest obstacle all along. I’m just 5-13 against you, while I’m 7-10 against Nole and I lead Roger 10-9 (don’t say anything to him about that when you see him in Melbourne, okay? I know you two are tight, but he’s a little sensitive on this subject). A lot of other people may not have picked up on this, but you were the real key to my success this year. Let’s keep it that way, unless you want to find yourself sleeping with the fishes instead of catching them. . . LOL!
Have a great holidays and take care of those knees. See you in Melbourne!