The Year in Phrases

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 /by

So far we’ve discussed, among other things, the players, matches, points, disappointments, and train wrecks of the year on this web site. But what about its phrases? In the age of social media, the players' most memorable bursts, and outbursts, of words become a linguistic shorthand for fans. I mean, where would be without #trymybest, or #suddenfatigue, or #shutup?

Unfortunately, I had trouble remembering many hashtag-ready lines from 2013—I’m guessing Li Na must have given us a few pieces of comic wisdom along the way, but I can’t find them now. A small survey turned up the 10 phrases below that, at least for a time, took on a life of their own this year. If you recall more of them than I do, please share. Together, they tell the tale of the season as well as anything else.

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“Imagine playing it”

Leave it to a Brit to come up with something droll in his moment of triumph. Murray’s Wimbledon win made him immortal in the U.K., but it was this line, about the insane final game he had to survive against Novak Djokovic, that was still being shown on ESPN when I got back to the States two days after the match. “Imagine playing it”: Nothing more needed to be said.

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“I just felt a little bit overwhelmed”

This was Victoria Azarenka’s first answer when she was asked why she had called the trainer, and eventually left the court for 10 minutes, after squandering five match points against Sloane Stephens in the semifinals at the Australian Open.

The better quote from Vika after the match is probably, “I almost did the choke of the year.” And the most memorable line of all from the incident was the assertion from Stephens' coach, David Nainkin, that Azarenka had been “cheating within the rules.” But “overwhelmed” is the word that made Azarenka look especially bad, as if she had taken a break simply because she was gagging.

For the record, again, I think Vika was guilty of not being sufficiently aware of (1) how her timeout would affect her opponent, and (2) how it would be perceived by fans and press. But I don’t think she faked an injury.

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“For me, all four of them are boring players”

Ernests Gulbis stunned the tennis world when he uttered these impolitic words about the sainted Big 4. On the one hand, he was right: Most of the answers you get from Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray are predictable and routine. On the other hand, Gulbis was wrong: Their answers are dull on purpose; like any tennis player, the Big 4 get paid to win, and creating controversy doesn’t help them do that. 

Which is exactly why we need guys like...Ernests Gulbis.

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“Well, if he gets that far”

Bernard Tomic has never beaten Roger Federer; in fact, he’s only taken one set in their four matches. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to get in the Maestro's head. Bernie said the above words when he was asked, before the Australian Open, about his potential third-round match against Federer. At the time, Tomic was riding high after winning his first ATP title, in Sydney. He wouldn’t ride high much longer. Federer did indeed make it to the third round, where he beat Tomic in straights. It was mostly downhill for the Aussie after that. As the year went on, his traveling team was revealed as bizarrely dysfunctional, and his father was banned from the tour. Perhaps worse, despite Tomic’s enduringly weird game, he began to look less like a “genius” and more like just an OK pro.

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“It is the case, there is no space”

Outburst of the Year was a tough call: How can you choose between Jerzy Janowicz’s “How many times?” rant in Oz, and Troicki’s Johnny Cochran-esque “space” tirade in Rome? They were both classics that put tennis in the mainstream sports headlines for a day. Here's the latter:

But Troicki’s version, and the attention it got, may have been the more costly adventure. According to the judges in his ITF doping case, Troicki “came across to us as someone prone to exaggeration to make his point.” As in, perhaps, telling an umpire that you can see a ball mark from space? That’s not the type of thing that’s going to make you look especially rational or level-headed.

Troicki’s rant in Rome took place after he had refused a blood test in Monte Carlo, and before his tribunal hearing in London. You have to think the judges caught his act at some point.

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“Cool parties”

“There are people," Serena Williams told Rolling Stone, "who live, breathe, and dress tennis. I mean seriously, give it a rest. She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy, I’m so lucky'—it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

“She,” it was assumed, was Maria Sharapova, and Mr. Black Heart was her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, whom Serena was rumored to have dated the year before. (Though my first reaction was that Serena was talking about Victoria Azarenka and her boyfriend, RedFoo.)

In any event, Sharapova thought the words were aimed at her, so at Wimbledon she aimed a few back at Serena, and her “boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids.” 

By that point, the whole thing had ceased to be any kind of fun—if there were a Saddest Spat of the Year category, this would be the landslide winner. Thankfully, Serena apologized and the public war of words ended there.

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“Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker”

These were also sad words, and also uttered at Wimbledon, by the BBC’s John Inverdale. He was, for some reason, trying to imagine what Marion Bartoli’s father told her when she was young, to motivate her to become a better player.

Yet this story of cretinism had its silver linings. First, there was the backlash against Inverdale, which was intense, especially after his lame initial apology, in which he claimed he had just been trying to, you know, “poke fun, in a nice way, about how she looks.”

Then there was the retort from Marion’s father, Walter. “The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable,” he said, “so I don’t know what this reporter is talking about...She’s my beautiful daughter.”

Finally, and best of all, there were Bartoli’s words: “Have a I dreamt about having a model contract? No, I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”

She was on her game that week.

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“They left the Ferrari in the garage”

Radek Stepanek spoke these words after his Czech team beat the Serbs for the Davis Cup title. The “Ferrari” in question was Novak Djokovic, and the “garage” was the sidelines, which is where an absent Djokovic sat while his teammates lost the crucial doubles rubber to the Czechs. The Serbs didn’t appreciate the critique, and in their defense it was a tough call for a number of reasons. They needed Djokovic, who was coming off two straight weeks of tennis, to be fresh enough to win both singles matches; he’s hardly the world’s best doubles player; and the team they did send out there, Zimonjic and Bozoljac, had beaten the Bryan brothers in an earlier tie this year. In the end, though, Berdych and Stepanek played all three days, and they’re the champs again.

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“The story of my life”

What is the story of Roger Federer’s life? According to him, after he lost to Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open, it goes like this: “When I lose, people are shellshocked to see me play this way...But there’s no doubt about it, I’m trying hard out there to make it work. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”

What he meant was, when he wins, we say, "Federer makes it all look so effortless." And when he loses, we say that...Federer makes it all look so effortless. As in, was he even trying?

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“I made you”

Now we come to my favorite tweet and quote of the year: Serena Williams’ (probable) message to Sloane Stephens after their match at the Australian Open. Serena’s loss was Sloane’s gain that day. And judging by way Serena beat her when they played again at the U.S. Open, she’s never going to let her forget it.

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