This week, Peter Bodo and Steve Tignor will offer their thoughts on some themes for the 2013 season, which begins next week.
If you follow tennis 11 months a year, you’re inevitably going to hear many statements repeated over...and over...and over. There’s a lot of air time for commentators to fill, and a year’s worth of columns for journalists to write, yet the game revolves around the same few personalities and issues, which crop back up with the reliability of the sun each morning. You know: Federer; shrieking; Serena; bad knees; no serve-and-volley.
As someone who fills one of those columns every day, I understand that it’s tough to come up with new ideas. Anyone who has read my assessments of Andy Murray for any length of time has a pretty good idea of what I think of his forehand by now. But there are a few phrases I could live without hearing again in the new year. Here, as we get set to launch into the next 11 months, are five of them.
1. “Tennis players may be the world’s greatest athletes.”
This is a favorite of boosterish TV commentators and highbrow over-writers. The statement is not without its basis in truth, of course: The pros combine athleticism, stamina, hand-eye coordination, and psychological toughness like few other sportsmen or sportswomen. But we already know that, don’t we? The presence of today’s top players, its Rafas and Serenas and Novaks and Rogers, should be enough to make the game legit in the eyes of the wider world. Having to proclaim it as well sounds a little desperate.
2. “David Ferrer doesn’t get enough respect.”
The Second Spaniard isn’t on many, or maybe any, magazine covers, which is too bad. And he’s rarely mentioned among the contenders for Grand Slam titles, which is slightly unfair considering that he’s the fifth best player in the world. But the man known as the Little Beast does get his props these days. This pro’s pro is universally lauded for making the most of what he has, and for not being a jerk about it. The trouble may come if and when Ferrer ever begins to beat the Top 3 on a regular basis—that’s when the lack of respect, from their fans, might kick in.
3. “I’d like to see [insert any player’s name here] mix it up and come to the net more.”
This is a commentator’s staple, and it’s understandable. I’d love to see a lot more net play, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s a realistic move for today’s players. Every one of the Top 20 men and women is at their best from the baseline—that’s where they’re going to make their money. When they try to mix it up, they’re not doing that other thing that commentators like to tell them to do: Playing to their strengths.
4. “Is this the beginning of the end for Roger Federer?”
Federer’s fans claim that their over-30 hero has been “written off” many times by the media; I don’t think that’s true. Except for one ESPN loudmouth who was half-joking, I haven’t heard anyone say that he was, literally, “done” at any point. But there is a tendency after each significant, and sometimes not so significant, Federer loss to pose the above question. Instead of wondering about something so vague and long term—what does the “end” mean, exactly?—it would be better to ask what each of his defeats mean for him in the short run.
If, say, he were to lose early at the Australian Open, I would guess that Federer himself would be thinking about how he can fix any problems by the time the next big event rolls around. There’s no question that Federer will slowly decline as time goes on; he has already descended from his three-major-a-year heights of the last decade. And while he says he’s planning for the 2016 Olympics, a lot could happen to change his mind between now and then. But it’s unlikely that one defeat in 2013 is going to spell the beginning of any kind of “end” of Roger Federer.
5. “How could they not build a roof at the U.S. Open?”
Every August, as the first drops hit the DecoTurf II inside Ashe Stadium, we hear these outraged words. As the rain continues to fall, we hear them again, more loudly and more often. Then, after the mind-numbing mist brings all play to a halt for a third day, we shake our fists in the air, in the direction of where the roof isn’t. I know that when it happens again in 2013 it will be impossible to hold our tongues, or our fists. And the anger will be justified: The Open is getting its comeuppance for believing, in the case of Ashe Stadium, that bigger always means better. But the arena went up in 1997, and the USTA has officially said that it has no plans to cover it, or any other court, in the near future.
The point is, the U.S. Open has no roof, it will have no roof in August, and no amount of condescendingly disgusted shakes of the head will put one there.
More Thoughts on '13
Bodo: Which Slam Will Surprise?
Tignor: Five Phrases To Leave Behind
Tignor: Players We Want To See More Of
Bodo: Who Will Regain Their Former Form?
Tignor: What's At Stake For The Big Names?
Tignor: Five Players With Something to Prove
Bodo: Which American Men Will Step Up?
Bodo: Which U.S. Women Will Step Up?