Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Closing thoughts

There's a Bible verse that's a favorite of mine. It goes something like this: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
There is no tennis player that embodies this more than Rafael Nadal. The man plays every point as though it is his last, as though he is terrified of defeat. But as hard as he worked at the Australian Open men's final, he came up short against Novak Djokovic. Again.
No one would doubt Nadal's status as a champion, not even after that loss. He carried himself impeccably, although his disappointment was obvious. Still, at some point, he and his team will go to the tape. They will observe that at the end of the match, Rafa spent an awful amount of time watching deep balls land before he even prepared himself to hit them. He was hoping they would go out. He was too careful with some shots, waiting for Djokovic to mess up. They'll find that Nadal didn't take that match and so he lost it.
Now, about Djokovic. He is a champion. He will probably go down as one of the best of his generation, and if he keeps it up, one of the best ever. But he is not Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Sorry, he's not. Would Federer or Nadal have collapsed to the court -- during a match -- acting for all the world as though he couldn't take it anymore, only to jump back up and run like a deer and hit winners all over the place? No. There's no doubt Djokovic was struggling physically, but he purposely made a show of making sure his opponent saw his antics in an attempt to throw him off. There's nothing illegal about it -- he's got every right. But it's why he's not Federer or Nadal.
Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title by beating Maria Sharapova like she stole something. I once had a phone interview with Azarenka, when she played in a tournament here in the Pittsburgh area. It took about 12 minutes longer than the final. This, incidentally, is why I don't get up at 3 a.m. to watch a women's tennis match. There is no matchup today on the women's side (not one -- I defy you to give me one!) that is guaranteed the same quality competition as Nadal-Djokovic, or Nadal-Federer or Murray-Djokovic or Djokovic-Federer. Not to take anything from Azarenka or Petra Kvitova or Sharapova or Samantha Stosur, but women's tennis is weak right now. And I think we can all stop saying, "Wait until Serena gets back." She's back and it makes no difference.

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