Dual-gender tournaments really are better, aren’t they? Yes, the women can get the short end of the court-assignment stick, but there’s an energy at events like Beijing that never gathers when the two tours go it alone. Put the boys and girls together and it’s like our favorite Vicarious High School is back in session.
It also doesn’t hurt that there are a lot more singles matches to see—the streams can get stacked four-high on my computer screen. Play started at midnight my time in New York; as I begin this post at 9:30 A.M., Rafael Nadal and Philipp Kohlschreiber are just walking out for the last match of the evening. Here are five things you might have missed in between:
1. That Old Fifth Slam Feeling Again
Yes, I’ve experienced a little of it this week, as I’ve watched Beijing. The tournament has looked and sounded like fun; nothing seems old hat for these fans. I know that some, or maybe most, of this has to do with the crowd’s reaction to Li Na’s matches—the vibe wasn’t quite the same for Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani, who were playing on a mostly empty second show court at the same time. But a fifth major, perhaps played at the end of this month, perhaps played indoors in China, would be a better way to finish the season than the segregated system the tours use now. At a fifth major, the stakes would be greater than they are at the tour championships, the tournament would have a higher worldwide profile, and more players could participate. The fall season in general would also mean more if it led to a major. The fact that it doesn’t is the main reason it has always been dismissed as greedy and pointless, and the main reason that casual fans tune it out.
Yes, I know this will not happen. I only had to see the look on Nadal’s face when the topic was broached to him a few years ago. This was, essentially, his answer that day: “There are four Grand Slams, not five.” Rafa obviously felt that there was nothing else that needed to be said.
But I say, if the four work so well, which they do, why not have a fifth?
2. Living for Today
Speaking of Nadal, he won the aforementioned match with Kohlschreiber in two tight sets—that’s often how it goes with those guys; Nadal is 11-1 against him, but it rarely seems easy. With the win, Rafa also upped his record to 63-3 for the year and 24-0 on hard courts, and extended his current winning streak to 19 matches. Afterward, I noticed an uptick in tweets and posts wondering whether he can run the table the rest of the way and finally conquer the fall. Be ready: The “best season ever” chatter has begun.
All of this is understandable. If a player goes 63-3, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if he can go 83-3. As of this moment, there doesn’t seem to be anything slowing Rafa down, either. But what if something does slow him down? He could play John Isner in the semis in Beijing. Say he lost that match in a third-set tiebreaker. I can hear the chatter making an immediate, whiplash-inducing 180. We might then hear: “He’ll never be able to finish a season.” Or, “He overplayed and hurt his knees again.” Or, “He’s still vulnerable on hard courts.” Or, “He’s never liked being No. 1; he’s already feeling the pressure again.”
This doesn’t mean we’re wrong for speculating, today, that Nadal could have the greatest season ever. And it doesn’t mean we would be wrong, if he lost on Friday, for speculating that he'll always struggle in the fall, and we were stupid to believe otherwise. In each case, we’re just thinking ahead, which is what people do. But it doesn’t change the fact that in reality, we’re always trapped in the here and now. Like anything else, when it comes to Rafa's season, the only thing that’s for sure is today.
3. P3tra vs. I5ner
If John Isner played Petra Kvitova, it would have to go five sets, right? They might even break 70-68 in the fifth. Neither of these two can do anything easily.
Last night Isner and Kvitova each won in three sets, as they tend to do. It was Isner’s 15th three-set win of 2013 and Kvitova’s 23rd, which is the most by any woman in a single season in 10 years. I’m guessing she would vote against playing three-of-five at the majors. Like Isner, she would be out there all day.
For now, they've survived and advanced in Beijing. Of course, nothing will get easier for these two distance runners. Isner faces Tomas Berdych next, while Kvitova goes up against Li.
4. Rocket on Rusty
One day at Indian Wells this year, Rod Laver was asked about Roger Federer’s future. Laver’s answer, paraphrased here by me, went like this:
“He’ll find after 30 that he has those days when he wakes up and the energy is there, and then other days when he wakes up and it isn’t there, and there’s no explanation for it. He’ll have to learn to deal with that.”
Laver was extrapolating from his own experience—the Rocket won his last major, in 1969, at age 31. Today, though, the Aussie's words applied with depressing accuracy to the fate of his countryman Lleyton Hewitt. After recording a solid win over Tommy Haas in the first round, Hewitt apparently had nothing left for Fabio Fognini and went out 6-0, 6-2. I wonder if Rusty woke up, looked in the hotel mirror, tried a “Come on!” and a Vicht sign, and realized that it wasn’t going to be his day.
5. Night Watch
What's worth staying up to see tonight?
Bernard Tomic vs. Richard Gasquet: With David Nalbandian gone, the pressure is on these two to carry the underachiever’s torch with an appropriately tragic brilliance. Tomic won a good one when they played at Wimbledon.
Sloane Stephens vs. Caroline Wozniacki: Caro has won their only two meetings, including one in New Haven in August.
Serena Williams vs. Maria Kirilenko: Is there any reason to think this will be interesting? A very slight one: Kirilenko has won two sets from Serena in seven matches.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Sam Querrey: Stan is 3-0 against Sam.
Roberta Vinci vs. Angelique Kerber: A slice here, a dice there, and these two could go all day.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: In which the possibilities of the backhand will be explored.