Reading the Readers: Dec. 3

Tuesday, December 03, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

It’s the off-season for the players, but not for the readers. Here are a few questions and answers for your tennis down time. If you have your own question or comment for this column, please email me at stignor@tennismagazine.com.

*****

Steve,

Don’t you think it’s wrong for the players to complain that the season is too long, and then, when they do have time off, to play exhibitions?—Simon

No, I don’t think it’s wrong. From a physical standpoint, mental standpoint, and any other standpoint, exhibitions are not like tournaments; they’re not even like tour matches. They’re something like practice sets, and you wouldn’t think it was wrong for a player to get in a practice set during the off-season, would you?

I’m going to assume you’re referring to Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who embarked on a short tour of Chile and Argentina after finally finishing their long 2013 season. Now, if they had slogged through six weeks together, I would have said it was dumb and greedy. But they got their hits and giggles in quickly, fans saw a few cool shots of them on a glacier, and now we both have December to rest. Like Roger Federer last year, Rafa and Novak had a chance to play for tennis fans in South America, a place they rarely go. And while someone like Nadal may be set for life, I’m not going to tell anyone to turn down the $10 million he reportedly received to play four exhibitions.

I’m in favor of a significant off-season, not for the players’ sake, but for the game’s. It gives fans a chance to miss the sport, and savor it more when it does return. And I think it helps people understand what’s going on when there are individual seasons, with definite breaks in between, rather than one long, rolling, never-ending blur of results. 

You might say: I’d still rather have tennis to watch in December than no tennis to watch in December. I’d answer that the lack of it this month will make me enjoy it more when it comes back around next month. Anticipation is a big part of the pleasure of everything. 

*****

What is your projected Top 10 for the men next year?—Jamie

I will agree to play this game only if you agree to remember two things:

(1) I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2014. 

(2) If I say that your favorite player will not finish as high as you would like your favorite player to finish, this does not mean that I “hate” your favorite player.

That said:

1. Novak Djokovic

2. Rafael Nadal

3. Andy Murray

4. Juan Martin del Potro

5. Roger Federer

6. David Ferrer

7. Tomas Berdych

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

9. Milos Raonic

10. Stanislas Wawrinka

I realize that I’m not going out on any limbs here, but if there's one thing that all prognosticators know about men's tennis these days, it's that limbs have gotten very flimsy.

*****

Can you compare what happened during Saturday's Iron Bowl—the college football game between arch-rivals Auburn and Alabama—with anything you've seen in tennis? What about the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger and Rafa? That match didn't have a sudden, crazy ending, but it had everything else: A longtime, established champion (Federer/Alabama) against an insurgent rival (Nadal/Auburn); momentum swings (Federer saves match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker; Alabama QB A.J. McCarron throws a 99-yard touchdown pass), a time late in the match where we probably thought the favorite would quash the underdog's hopes. Plus, tons of drama, and a great crowd.—E.J. McAnuel

I was thinking about that when the Auburn-Alabama game was over. It seemed to me like the greatest football game I had ever seen, and I was trying to come up with comparable moments from other sports. Nadal-Wimbledon ’08 is about as close as it gets in this era of tennis for me, for all of the reasons you said.

The thing that was different, and that’s different about tennis and football, was the end. In tennis, you can’t have a freak finish like that. One player has to get to match point before he or she wins the match. Auburn, by running back a missed field goal with one second left, essentially won on Alabama’s match point—that adds a level of stunned, berserk, the world-just-turned-upside down bedlam to the celebration. But I guess Nadal beating Federer at Wimbledon in '08 did have some of that feeling, too.

It’s a cliché, but this year’s Iron Bowl was why we watch sports. I saw it with two other people in the room, and we all started climbing out of our seats, eyes bulging, hands gripping our armrests, as the play unfolded and the impossible suddenly became possible. It took a second to realize that this could be the end of the game, that Auburn could win, and, most incredible of all, that Alabama, and Nick Saban, could lose. 

My favorite part was the radio call by Auburn’s announcer, Rod Bramblett, which is already legendary—how many college football radio commentators become household names? Even better, though, may have been the contribution of his unnamed partner in the booth. When the runner, Chris Davis, breaks free, and there’s no one between him and the goal line, Bramblett’s co-commentator blurts, happily and helplessly, “Oh my God!”

It was, involuntarily, perfect. He was speaking for all of us.

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